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Once again, the classic Role-playing vs. Roll-playing discussion has emerged in our group. It inevitably comes up every once and a while. One of our occasional players (when he is town) is quite the drama nerd (hey!) and tends towards strong characters and heavy storylines. Another of our players likes dice and shooting things in new and exciting ways. The rest of us tend to fall in the middle. What seems to have been a compromise is what we've fallen into (and can't seem to get out of) in what I call scenario-based gaming. Myself, and some of the other players, became interested in Shadowrun via MechWarrior and more importantly BattleTech. In BattleTech, the scenario is well defined and regulated, and the victory conditions very strict. In carrying over from BTech, I largely ended up using RPGs as freestyle tactical games. The mission is what's important.

In ShadowRun, we often play each run as a stand alone assignment. A fixer gives the team a mission, and we figure out how best to complete it. Once it's done we move on to the next. Lately, we've added more free-flowing style campaigns with an overarching goal, and each run is self-directed steps. But in each case, the GM creates either a mission or an environment, and the players approach it to complete it or manipulate it. The few attempts at story hooks and plotlines usually get inadvertently brushed over with the focus being so completely on the mission. Character development largely focuses on style and methodology employed in these scenarios.

That being said, I have two questions:
1) Any other groups play like this? What's been your experience with scenario gaming, and deviations into more plot heavy campaigns?
2) Most of us have forgotten how to do much else, so we tend to slip into scenario gaming regardless. Since I'm GMing, what are good methods to add a light plot hook without cramming it down peoples' throats? Most of us enjoy scenario gaming, but I would like to spice things up a little bit.

That is all.
the only real reccomendation i can come up with is to think about books you've read and movies you've seen--look at how those characters were 'drawn into' the plot of the movie. copycatting probably won't work, but it will help you start thinking in the right vein.
First of all, try having several jobs be from either the same Johnson, or the same employer through different Johnsons. Each run is part of a bigger puzzle. Take a look at Harlequin (the original) if you can get ahold of it for what I mean. While it shouldn't be too obvious that the runs are connected, smart runners should be able to figure it out. For instance, the following might happen:

1) Team is hired to steal an item from an aerospace company
2) Team is hired to break into a facility and replace one device with another (provided by the Johnson) and bring back the one that's been removed
3) Team is hired to take that item into a third facility and and do much the same job as in 2.

What's the catch? Well, the Johnson from Company A (the team's employeer) wants to frame Company B for sabotage against Company C. His plan is to get another guidance system/whatever from the company that makes them for company B. Unfortunately, the device from the company isn't as "authentic" as he would like, so he sends the runners to replace the one Company B is currently using with the fake one. Now, the Johnson has what he wants and sabotages it. The sabotaged device is then inserted into Company C's hardware and hilarity ensues. (this works well for the probe race)

The PCs might figure it out along the way. What will they do? Keep going with the job? Sell out Company A to Company B or C? What if Company B figures it out? What will they attempt to do in retaliation to either the runners or Company A?

I guess one of the biggest things you can do to help go from isolated scenarios to a more plot heavy campaign is to not just present jobs, but work out why the job is being carried out. From there, the PCs may become more and more embroiled in the plot until they help drive it.

Reoccuring villans are also good wink.gif
make good use of enemies, and other flaws that the characters thought were just freebie points.

an interesting twist on the recurring villain is the recurring rival. it's not that they're evil or they killed your baby sister or anything--they're just on the opposite side, all the damn time. maybe your johnson and their johnson have a feud, that they're fighting out through your team and the rival.

there's also the betrayal route--say, a trusted fixer, who suddenly turns on you because he got a better offer. or the 'wrong place, wrong time' setup--say you and your team bust into some compound just in time to see the Star bust in from the other direction, and right between you and them is the dead body of some exec.
Their characters have families? Involve them biggrin.gif

Good advice wink.gif at Blackjack's Corner in the Shadowrun Archive.
Or next time a mission goes bad, make sure it goes really bad: leave one (or a few) character in jail, or wounded in such a way that he can't easily be cure, or leave the group stranded in the middle of nowhere... Whatever it is, do not provide them with an easy or obvious solution. Let them figure it out, and make creative and unexpected moves pay more than the usual ones. Keep track of the people they interact with to solve their problem(s), and make those reappear later on (cashing in favors, wanting to join, looking for revenge, whatever).

Also, start introducing NPCs who don't want to be paid in cash for their services, but in favors/errands/lessons/etc. That will encourage more freeform interaction with your world, without necessarily falling into the over-dramatic.
John Campbell
In the campaign I was running, one PC had six points of Hunted, and another one was in the shadows to find out what happened to his vanished father (no character generation mechanics involved, just good background) . I ran those guys for a month before they even saw their first Johnson... and they haven't solved either problem yet, so their more conventional runs (which they were doing largely to fund their private endeavors) have those undercurrents still present. I'd been intending to increase the proportion of stuff that was motivated by their goals and actions relative to the stuff that was just random missions that anyone could've been picked for... we may be resuming that campaign, though, and I know some of my players read this board at least occasionally, so I won't get into too much detail.

I love it when players give me backgrounds I can work with. I'd far rather run things that the PCs have personal motivations in than Yet Another Variation on, "Hey, if you go do X nasty thing to NPC group Y, we'll give you money." I figure that when the PCs start saying to each other, "Okay, guys, let's go do X nasty thing to NPC group Y just as a public service," or, "just to get them out of our hair," then I'm doing my job right...
White Knight
There's nothing wrong with sceanario-based play. In fact, this how I tend to think of Roleplaying plots by default. I used to do it a lot until I moved and met people who just happened to have a different style (which was annoying when I later made an attempt at GMing - the styles/expectations didn't mix well*). Do you really need to change much if what you're doing works?

* I'd planned to move on to a different mission and leave the last one entirely for the moment when they started to try investigating the target: "Right, let's figure out why Mr J wanted that file." All well and good but I hadn't planned for it and my first reaction was "Why?!" I didn't find it realistic really, it's not the reaction to a completed mission I'd expect from a runner. I think they only did it because they expected that was what they were meant to do to further the plot. Back to the point now:

A simple approach would be to take a moment to explain to the players before the game roughly what you are attempting to do. A simple outline of the 'game structure' or similar. It might work.

I tend to think of this style as episodic and I treat each scenario as a separate episode of a TV series. With that in mind you can swipe some of TV's methods. For example, things like B-Plots, Arc Plots and Sequels. Try watching TV series in which the basic premise is that the main cast are given missions to perform and see how they handle it. I wouldn't recommend The A-Team but modern Star Trek and Stargate SG-1 work like this.

Some ideas of varying quality:
(Some merely related to adding spice.)

B-Plot: Running alongside the main mission (the A-Plot) is a second story. This is usually unrelated and not strictly important, although the two plots may cross at certain points. You run the risk of ignoring or forgetting it, however, so try to make it matter in some way - either to a character or to part of the A-Plot. Not following this plot could result in unfavourable consequences. At least material things (like loss of contacts or contact-level degradation, increased rent, visits from thugs) if not more ephemeral character issues.
eg. a romance, planning a suprise birthday party, a contact comes to character X with a minor yet urgent problem, martial/family issues like attending school meetings, Fat Tony the Loan Shark want his money back, any standard sit-com shenanigans...

Arc Plots: You are doing this so I'll just mention it and move on. You could just encourage the players to be more proactive.
eg. Go out and get the information ahead before the competition gets going or find whoever keeps trying to kill them before he does so again.

Sequels: I imagine you're doing this anyway but it provides continuity and a story line without requiring the rigid structure of an arc-plot.

Cascading Background Detail: Not huge but it could work. Start with some background detail or minor point of continuity and take it further each episode. Then have it start to effect the characters themselves. Make it get worse the longer they ignore it but don't craft any specific plots around it.
eg. Jimmie the Snitch meets with character X with a black eye one week, next time he's heavily bruised, after that a broken arm and he's too distracted to provide much info, a week later he's in intensive care and can't help the runner at all, much more and Jimmie ends up fish food and X loses a contact. What's happening? Should/could X do something to stop this?

Unknown Mission: The old stand-by of "You wake up in a forest and you can't remember how you got there" is available if you want it. This may force them into proactivity, especially if they're half way through a mission and the targets want their stuff back (or whatever).

Skip the intro entirely: Start in the middle of the action (like a Bond film in many ways). The intro can then be completely ingored or filled in retrospectively. Although this does require even more of a precrafted plot. Starting at the end and trying to tell the plot in flashback form is another method. This might add spice if nothing else.
eg. "The thugs infront wind the windows down and open up on you with Uzis...who's driving?", "Ninjas burst through the restaurant windows just as your main course arrives"

Antagonist Makes the First Move: What about making the characters entirely reactive instead? "Someone's trying to kill them and they don't know why." Again, GM-made but the players will have to decide what to do about the problem rather than have the conditions dictated to them. Find and kill the attacker? Run away and hide? Change identity? Discover the reason for the attacks and solve it? Beg forgiveness? Pay off the attacker in some way? Cause bigger problems for the attacker? And so forth.

Sub-game: It works with computer games, which are necessarily pre-scripted, so it might work with an RPG. Give the option of suspending the normal flow of missions in favour of something quick. Be sure to provide some benefit to reward the players. This may provide an incentive for pursuing non-mission goals and secondary objectives.

A subtle carrot and stick approach might be effective. Don't force them but provide an added benefit for following the plot hook, even if it just means keeping the money for themselves.
1) Any other groups play like this? What's been your experience with scenario gaming, and deviations into more plot heavy campaigns?

I never engage in scenario gaming and perfer story driven campaigns for a couple of reasons.

1. I like a story. A story has a beginning, middle and an end, not just a chapter from the middle part.

2. It's far more immersive, and therefor, in my opinion, better. The immersion comes from getting attached to your character, as well as getting familiar with the environment he or she moves through. Possibilities open up when you know more about your contacts than that he or she is a level 2 contact. You know that he or she is a gambling junky, off of which you could base a lot of play.

3. It taxes the creative centres a lot more, since falling back on stereotyping or caricatures will leave you bored quickly. So it behooves you to make a character that has some long lasting appeal.

4. It taxes your flexibility a lot more, since you're encouraged to role play more than roll play. And not role playing in the sense that you're the decker and I'm the mage, but actual role-play-role-play. You have to think and behave like an actual everyday (meta-)human being does, which requires more than "Oh, I'm the decker, so I code a lot during downtime."

2) Most of us have forgotten how to do much else, so we tend to slip into scenario gaming regardless. Since I'm GMing, what are good methods to add a light plot hook without cramming it down peoples' throats? Most of us enjoy scenario gaming, but I would like to spice things up a little bit.

This has been mentioned before, but I'll reitterate it because it's so very useful: Let your players work for the same Johnson on a multiple of runs, each being moves towards something grander. They'll pick up on it eventually.

Also, do your homework; create a nightclub that the Johnson hangs out and spots new talent at. Don't let it be Club Penumbra or Dante's Inferno, they're both so incredibly done to death. Make one yourself, and know who's at the door, who runs it, who the bartenders are, if they have gay prostitutes hanging around the men's room, if they have candy girls, what kind of music they're playing, if the owner/manager has any underworld affiliations, etc. Know all of this, down to the name of the guy at the coat-check, because it breeds familiarity. Familiarity to which your players will undoubtedly respond.

Hey presto! Plot- or story driven gaming is born!
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