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> Tips For Keeping Your Campaign Fresh!, Lets make this sticky worthy/search worthy
The Jake
post Jan 29 2010, 06:37 AM
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This topic seems to come up time and time again, and I know I want to try and get a brain dump of everyones ideas on how to make your campaigns fresh, exciting and memorable. How do you stop your game from stagnating? Stave off player boredom.

These should all be used sparingly, but in the right mix, I’ve found they are a good way to keep players amused and interested:

I figure I’ll kick off a few ideas:

1) Use Pre-Generated Adventures: Dusk, Ghost Cartels, SR Missions. If your campaigns are the same, it could be due to something as simple as your own brain patterns and behaviours. Sometimes we find it difficult to change. Otherwise we lack the energy/patience. Running a precanned adventure can mix things up a bit. Occasionally it will give you a different spin on the game which could help long term.

2) Start the adventure in the middle of combat: “You grabbed the suitcase are pinned down behind cover. Six Halloweeners are around the corner with MP5s laying down suppressive fire. What do you do?” This is great to stop players dragging their feet prior to starting the session. Kick start it with a bang. Let them think on their feet and react quickly or face the consequences.

3) End it with a cliff hanger: Not to be overused but a great way to end a long adventure and pique player interest for next session. E.g. True villain is revealed as the players realise that their employer isn’t who they think it is – it is the Big Bad!

4) Bluebooking: Get your players to write up what they want to do in their downtime (inbetween sessions). This allows for additional character development without consuming game time.

5) Don’t be afraid to kill off key NPCs: I used to be really afraid that some players would think I was too attached to NPCs in my campaign, especially retired NPCs. I figured nothing will make more of a statement than killing off my retired character in the first session of a new campaign. Such deaths can be used to spur along major plotlines or send a message.

6) Don’t be afraid of big wins for the PCs: So the PCs just rolled an insane number of success and just cakewalked your final encounter. They didn’t even burn Edge. Don’t despair. Let them celebrate it. Sure this might screw you up short term, but you can probably find a way to turn it to your advantage later. Besides, occasional big wins like this are good for team morale. This leads to my next point.

7) Don’t be afraid to crush them: Inverse of point 6. Sometimes the PCs will be outmanned, outgunned, outskilled, outmagicked or just generally outclassed in every way. Don’t be afraid to set these events up. I have two rules for these situations however 1) they should either know well in advance what is coming or b) if they are literally chucked in the deep end, I always leave a way out. Lets assume you take point 2 – fine, change the Halloweeners to battle hardened street samurai , mage and rigger with an overhead flying drone and LMG. Maybe they didn’t realise there is a manhole in the room that they hadn’t covered? If life isn't challenging and they can breeze through everything then what the hell is the point? This point is especially valid if the PCs insist on taking on that Big Bad when they had all the forewarning he could mop the floor with the PCs and their entire families.

8 ) Red Herrings: Don’t be afraid to throw them the odd red herring. Players often do this well enough by latching onto something they perceive as important when really its not. Can be a useful distraction as you hit them with something else.

9) Short time frame: I’ve found that players will over plan every single adventure if you let them to the nth degree. I’ve found two ways to address this! Firstly, short time frame. Mr. Johnson wants the job done in 24 hours. Non-negotiable. There might be reasons for this that are perfectly valid (“Prototype will expire before then”, “I have already made travel arrangements”, etc).

10) Impose Requirements: Extension of 9 – ensure that the client imposes some sort of restriction on the job. These could be perfectly valid – ranging from using a specific weapon (same Ares Predator used to murder Mr. Johnson’s father), leaving a calling card (leaving a rose that the Johnson has left for all his other victims) or otherwise insane (wear clown masks while doing the job). Short time frame/short leash dramatically affects the particulars of the job.

11) Have the employer tag along: Extension of 10. Maybe the Johnson has a valid reason for tagging along. Simplest explanation is they have specific insider knowledge they are not willing to share. Or maybe its so they can…

12) Double Cross the players!: So the PCs pull off number 6 – the uber difficult, steal prototype widget from secret Mitsuhama facility and get away scott free and totally clean. Just when they think they’ve got away, at the meet the Johnson and his mooks attack the PCs with a barrage of gunfire and spells. WTF?!?!

13) NPC relationships: Help the players to build up relationships with NPCs. Focus on the runner’s personal lives and not just their careers. This is a common mistake. What do they do in their downtime? What are their hobbies? My PCs most of them are into clubs, drugs and generally living the fast life associated with career criminals. They have some relationships with go-go dancers, strippers, they’ve also got a solid friendship with their NPC rigger. One player had a budding romance with an NPC cop. The point is they care about these characters and as such, they are instant plot hooks. Stuck for an adventure? Your NPC buddy has developed a tempo addiction and asking you to bail him out of trouble since they ripped off a bunch of cash off someone to buy drugs and have no way to pay it back.

14) Flip the tables!: Great for a one shot -- make a BUNCH of NPC characters and then tell the players they are going to play these NPCs for this one session. Maybe their characters are in jail and a bunch of their NPC buddies are going to stage a jail break? Maybe they are going to play a bunch of mooks working for one of their enemies and have to execute a plan? The trick is to tell the PCs that any karma they get will be awarded to their main characters at the end (just so they actually put some effort into this). Also tell them bonus karma will be given to the player who truly stands out that evening.

This is just a start, but I hope other people can add to this list! Keep it going.

Cheers

- J.
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Method
post Jan 29 2010, 07:03 AM
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15.) Vary the adventure structure.

16.) Present the PCs with a moral dilemma:
Put the team in situations where they have to choose between the lesser of two evils or where there is no obvious right answer. Make them think about the implications of their choices for their characters and the game world. Reward good roleplaying that results.
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Artemis
post Jan 29 2010, 08:32 AM
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17.) Special Guest GM. If you have someone unassociated with your group (whom you have vetted) who GMs bring them in to help run a mission, the different style can mix things up and bring players out of their comfort zone as they are dealing with a different Mr J.
Make sure ground rules, and houserules are laid down, and where possible use a canned mission or at least make sure your happy with it.
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The Jake
post Jan 29 2010, 09:32 AM
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QUOTE (Artemis @ Jan 29 2010, 09:32 AM) *
17.) Special Guest GM. If you have someone unassociated with your group (whom you have vetted) who GMs bring them in to help run a mission, the different style can mix things up and bring players out of their comfort zone as they are dealing with a different Mr J.
Make sure ground rules, and houserules are laid down, and where possible use a canned mission or at least make sure your happy with it.


I wanted to do floating island style GMing using this method with the other two GMs in my group. The other two were not comfortable with my suggestion because they were worried they might accidently infringe on metaplots I had prepared but were left unspoken. Also there would be limitations which they would feel stifle their creativity.

I'm convinced it could work still but some GMs are not as flexible.

- J.
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Blade
post Jan 29 2010, 10:34 AM
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Another rainy day in Seattle. Your frige is empty. You get a call from your fixer:
"You're free tonight?"
"About time! You've got a job for me?"
"Laura dumped me."
"And you want me to break the knees of her new guy?"
"No, I just want to talk to someone about it."
18.) Drop the routine.

19.) A runner's life is not made of runs only. A runner can do favors for a friend, have his own personal projects, want to party, have to take care of a friend's baby... He can also find himself in situations he isn't responsible for, such as a gang war or a full-scale riot.
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Ascalaphus
post Jan 29 2010, 11:47 AM
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QUOTE (Blade @ Jan 29 2010, 11:34 AM) *
Another rainy day in Seattle. Your frige is empty. You get a call from your fixer:
"You're free tonight?"
"About time! You've got a job for me?"
"Laura dumped me."
"And you want me to break the knees of her new guy?"
"No, I just want to talk to someone about it."
18.) Drop the routine.


LOL!

20. Build them up to them fall: pick some NPCs, use them a couple of times to annoy the party, so that finally defeating them will feel so much more gratifying.
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Aerospider
post Jan 29 2010, 12:07 PM
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21. Get creative with the props
Give the players a different selection of reference material each time, varying the quantity, quality and style. Maps, illustrations, mugshots, technical specifications, file printouts, camera footage, sound clips, coded messages playing around with these things won't reinvent the adventure itself but the flavouring can be significantly altered.

In a game I played long, long ago the GM handed us a printout of an e-mail sent to us by a previously disregarded NPC. It seemed completely lacking in useful information and though we went back to it time and again it seemed a complete red herring until several scenes later we noticed a hidden message (comprised of characters deliberately left out of words) and it saved our lives in the end scene.
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Smokeskin
post Jan 29 2010, 12:39 PM
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22. Don't let players think during combat. Keep action fresh and fast paced and stressful, instead of letting them work out the optimal strategy. When their turn comes up, they declare what to do right away, or they lose their action that pass. I once played a system where players and NPCs declared actions in reverse initiative order (lowest initiative declares first, so better initiative not just had longer to think but knew what the lower initiative chars would do and could counter them), then resolved the actions from highest to low. It worked really well, but I never got around to looking at how it would work in SR (it makes high initiative A LOT better that you not just act first, but know what everyone else is going to do for the rest of the pass).

23. Give out bilateral information. Prepare notes in advance to pass to players. It provides lots of roleplaying options and forces IC talk instead of OOC descriptions. If you decide the rigger has background knowledge about how the target corp spiders operate, pass a note to him and let him tell the other players. Let a player look at a building layout for a few minutes one session, then take it back - the next session, they have to hit a building the PC has previous knowledge of, and the player can contribute with what he remembers (or remembers wrongly!). You can even make the info pivotal. At the meeting where they hand over the goods to Mr Johnson, force the players to remain IC, then pass a note to one of the players that they spot a concealed sniper - why is the sniper there, how does he communicate it to the other PCs, what if warning the others means the sniper starts shooting, does he just dive for cover and risk blowing the meeting. Letting the Face spot the sniper is especially mean, since he has to keep talking while considering it.

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Hagga
post Jan 29 2010, 01:00 PM
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24. Keep them wondering. They should never think they've got a handle on things. Ever. That leads to them becoming "creative" in ways that end with dead PCs. Plus, it's the sixth world and they're shadowrunners - nothing is certain. If it takes a cyberzombie troll singing show tunes in a gimp suit while laying down assault cannon rounds, do it.
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Wesley Street
post Jan 29 2010, 01:34 PM
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25. Set up major encounters or even adventures that can only be successfully completed without violence. Those Charisma skills are there for a reason.
26. Switch up the theme. If you've run several run-and-gun adventures, try a mystery or political thriller.
27. Change up your setting. Seattle isn't the only sprawl in the Sixth World. Make your own from scratch or expand upon a sourcebook from an earlier edition.
28. Create a reason for the team to be a team other than "they're the best at what they do."
29. Encourage and reward your players to work outside their comfort zone. Got a player who typically plays a cybered-up troll who crushes skulls? Encourage him to try out a pixie magician.
30. Don't be afraid to get weird. Encourage your players to try new concepts... like an all-sasquatch runner team.
31. Get your hands dirty with the flavor text. Describe the bubble gum stuck on the sidwalk, the moldy box of NERPS in a side alley, the hum of the ad blimp hovering in the sky, etc.
32. Encourage cooperative world-building. Get your players to help you describe location pieces, NPCs, etc.
33. Don't become "predictably clever". If every Johnson is a back-stabber out to sabotage the PCs for his own self-interest, your players will begin to hate you. It's okay to run well-composed and straight-forward A-to-B-to-C adventures. Not everything has to have a Twilight Zone-style plot twist.
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Aerospider
post Jan 29 2010, 01:57 PM
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34. Make the NPCs quirky (i.e. realistic)
Give them personailty traits and goals that are relevant to the decisions they make. Either the PCs can do some background research and second-guess the NPC(s) or else they can be totally surprised. This works well for positive traits like honesty and loyalty when the players assume everyone is out for themselves and driven purely by money.

35. Character goals
Encourage the players to think in terms of what their character wants for themselves then create adventures where this is a sub-plot or even the entire plot. Examples: acquiring rare/expensive gear, finding a specialist teacher, solving an urban legend, getting access to a resource-rich node, accessing a deltaware clinic, forming a gang or criminal syndicate, acquiring leverage against a powerful NPC. Best approach would be keep prep work vague but expansive and let the players drive the run.
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Nightfalke
post Jan 29 2010, 02:37 PM
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36. Remember there are 5 senses
You can describe how something looks or sounds and create a believable experience. But really attempting to bring the other senses into your world brings the world to life! Smell is a big one I like. Wet dog, smog or car exhaust, sewer stench, insense, perfume, girly smelling lotions, etc. Taste and touch are harder to bring to life, but still possible. The gritty feel of the grime in the wind brushing past your face. The cold metal of the desk you are hiding beind. The hot bits of shrapnel landing on your hand after a bullet slams through the desk you are hiding behind. The acrid taste in your mouth as you walk through an industrial area with all the pollutants in the air.
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Saint Sithney
post Jan 29 2010, 10:39 PM
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37: Life is Full of Opportunities
Don't be afraid to derail your own adventure. Set up standard incidental sideplots like a "snatch and go" or a "protect and liquidate" style scenario which you can subtly introduce during play. Do the players notice that woman being chased through the alley they just passed on the way to case their target? Did they hear about a big deal going down while they were working their contacts? Are the players going to independently pursue these things for their possible rewards, or are they going to focus on their stated goal to make sure Mr. J gets what he's paying for? You can keep these plots on ice and dangle them around a bit from time to time. If your players aren't fully engaged in what's going on already, they'll bite.

e.g. Fixer: Sorry man, I'm having trouble getting my hands on that Plastique you wanted. I've spent the past week setting up this big deal between X and this messed up out-of-towner over in Y. I swear, I had to babysit that creepy shit for days before he agreed to the deal..


38: The Door Swings Both Ways
Initiative shows interest. How do you get your players to show initiative? You can always give them the opportunity to backstab their employer. Maybe the guy they were sent to liquidate was trying beat Mr. J to some massive reward. Maybe now that they've ventilated their target, they've got the info he had, and they've got a way to beat Mr. J themselves. Maybe it's time that you helped your team create some bad blood. It's not like Mr. J wants them walking around, knowing what they know.

e.g. Mark: Oh god! You fucking... no.. god don't kill me! You can have my part of the code! It's right here! Take it! That will get you to the second marker...
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Tyro
post Jan 29 2010, 11:12 PM
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39: Make Knowledge Skills Relevant
If one of your players has Knowledge (Fine Wines), have their fixer arrange a meet at a wine tasting. If someone took Knowledge (History), give them background information. Simple things like knowledge of the common roots of a proud aristocrat or a decades-old scandal could prove vital for anything from blackmail to a better understanding of campaign NPC's. This works well in conjunction with Rule 23: Give Out Bilateral Information; if you only give the information to the player whose character has the knowledge skill in question, it forces roleplaying in order to get the information to the rest of the party.
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Method
post Jan 29 2010, 11:22 PM
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40.) Get non-corporate. The SR world is full of potential employers- government entities, private think tanks, non-profit groups, local militias, religious groups, Policlubs, magical groups, etc. Varying the types of employers the group works for can drastically alter the feeling (and implications) of a run.

41.) Encourage PC directed runs. Most PCs have built in plot hooks or personal agendas. Occasionally they will come across opportunities to pursue their own goals. You should encourage your players to construct well thought-out back stories at character gen, and if they present something you like say "Oh thats good. You should pursue that."

42.) The job is just the middle part of a run. When you are designing an adventure that revolves around a job for the PCs, spend some time thinking about what comes before the job and what happens afterward. Often a Johnson and his agents will have already invested considerable time, energy and money into surveillance and info gathering. Perhaps some of those involved stand to benefit if they can snatch the Mc Guffin before the PCs. After any job there is fall out. Careers destroyed, companies ruined, lives lost. Maybe Mr. Johnson's employers decide to cover their tracks and he re-calls the runners to help him (and them) survive a clean up operation.

43.) Actions have consequences. That guard you killed has a family... including a brother... who happens to be a LS detective.
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lonewolf23k
post Jan 30 2010, 03:22 AM
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Going to pull a tip from an old Pyramid Online magazine article I loved..

44) Fight Dirty. If your Big Bad isn't planning his defenses like Sun Tsu or fighting his battles like Miyamoto Musashi, then he deserves getting his butt kicked. Remember that your typical Evil Mastermind usually has high Intuition and Logic, and has some substantial resources at his disposal. He should have some substantial defences at his disposals, beyond your usual armed guards, spirit bodyguards and grid firewalls. If that Mastermind is worth his salt, he's going to have done his research on your PCs, knowing who they are, what they can do and can't do, and more importantly, who or what they care about. Even the most vicious, brutal troll street samurai goes from "killing machine" to "helpless puppy dog" if you wave a picture of his ailing mother in front of his face, while telling him you know where she lives.
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Daylen
post Jan 30 2010, 03:27 AM
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45) Kill a pc or two so the rest know it could be them next.
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tagz
post Jan 30 2010, 04:38 AM
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46) Never throw away an NPC or PC sheet. There's always something fun you can do with those dead, left in another sprawl, or just forgotten characters. Maybe that PC DIDN'T die... and now he wants revenge on the team that abandoned him a year ago.
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The Jake
post Jan 30 2010, 10:02 AM
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QUOTE (lonewolf23k @ Jan 30 2010, 03:22 AM) *
Going to pull a tip from an old Pyramid Online magazine article I loved..

44) Fight Dirty. If your Big Bad isn't planning his defenses like Sun Tsu or fighting his battles like Miyamoto Musashi, then he deserves getting his butt kicked. Remember that your typical Evil Mastermind usually has high Intuition and Logic, and has some substantial resources at his disposal. He should have some substantial defences at his disposals, beyond your usual armed guards, spirit bodyguards and grid firewalls. If that Mastermind is worth his salt, he's going to have done his research on your PCs, knowing who they are, what they can do and can't do, and more importantly, who or what they care about. Even the most vicious, brutal troll street samurai goes from "killing machine" to "helpless puppy dog" if you wave a picture of his ailing mother in front of his face, while telling him you know where she lives.


I'm reminded of Marv from Sin City:

Marv: I'm on my feet for about ten minutes before the cops kick them out from under me. They don't ask me any questions. They just keep knocking the crap out of me and waving a confession in my face. And I keep spitting blood all over it and laughing at how many fresh copies they come up with. Then along comes this worm assistant district attorney who turns the recorder off and says if I don't sign their confession, they'll kill my mom. I break his arm in three places and I sign it.


- J.
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Daylen
post Jan 30 2010, 03:41 PM
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thats why mom needs to be packing and know how to shoot... actually anyone in the family should.
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Method
post Jan 30 2010, 11:45 PM
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Like this lady.

Now back on topic.

47.) Change the canon. If your players are familiar with SR, change the canon to keep them guessing. Maybe in your world the UB really is just a charity organization. Maybe Lofwyr is the good guy and Dunkelzahn's will is just an elaborate revenge conspiracy (or is it?). Maybe Renraku still owns and operates the Archology- in league with Deus. Changing the history of the world will keep things fresh and keep your players on their toes.
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Glyph
post Jan 31 2010, 01:39 AM
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48.) Don't confuse GM knowledge and NPC knowledge. Have NPCs react realistically. Don't have them act on information they shouldn't know. Have them make reasonable assumptions, even if you, as the GM, know better. Have them use tactics that make sense for their intelligence and training - not every NPC will be a tactical mastermind. Keep in mind that they aren't all seasoned warriors, either. Have them flee in panic, or huddle in a fetal ball behind cover, or run out into the killing ground to try and drag their wounded buddy back to safety. Treat even security guards as individuals, not video game mooks.

49.) Make skill an absolute, not a sliding, scale. When the GM automatically scales the entire game world up along with the PCs, it makes their accomplishments seem wasted. And they are never going to be satisfied with a certain power level if they never feel it. Challenge the players by offering them better-paying but more dangerous jobs. Not by having the mall security guard's pistols go up by one, because the adept's did. If the group gets Panther assault cannons, send them on a paramilitary adventure. Don't have the local gang get Panther assault cannons, too. A couple of caveats: first, this doesn't mean that NPCs have to be static, and second, this doesn't mean that the GM shouldn't slip in the occasional ringer to shake things up (maybe that mall guard is a Desert Wars vet).
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lonewolf23k
post Jan 31 2010, 05:43 AM
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QUOTE (Method @ Jan 30 2010, 06:45 PM) *
47.) Change the canon. If your players are familiar with SR, change the canon to keep them guessing. Maybe in your world the UB really is just a charity organization. Maybe Lofwyr is the good guy and Dunkelzahn's will is just an elaborate revenge conspiracy (or is it?). Maybe Renraku still owns and operates the Archology- in league with Deus. Changing the history of the world will keep things fresh and keep your players on their toes.


Honestly? That's my default mode for any campaign in any setting. And in that spirit..

50) It's your campaign. Make big changes if you want to. Want to kick-start a mob war in Seattle? Feel like having one of the Big Megacorps fall down and replace it with one of your own creations? Want to replace the President of the UCAS with some opportunistic pseudo-dictator for some real dystopian fun? Want to add a new critter, infected or metavariant type? Why not? What're they going to do, send the Canon Police after you?
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Neraph
post Feb 2 2010, 12:40 AM
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I don't know if this will get Stickey'd (I think it should), but it definately got bookmarked.
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Rystefn
post Feb 2 2010, 02:03 AM
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QUOTE (Method @ Jan 31 2010, 12:45 AM) *
47.) Change the canon. If your players are familiar with SR, change the canon to keep them guessing. Maybe in your world the UB really is just a charity organization. Maybe Lofwyr is the good guy and Dunkelzahn's will is just an elaborate revenge conspiracy (or is it?). Maybe Renraku still owns and operates the Archology- in league with Deus. Changing the history of the world will keep things fresh and keep your players on their toes.


My personal favorite is making PepsiCo one of the Big Ten. When one of the players puts a stint in a Frito-Lay corporate penitentiary in his backstory, you know you've made a change that got their attention (in a good way).
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