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Recently I've run into an issue with my Shadowrun campaign for a number of reason, the most key of which is that my players have hit the 180-250 karma level where they've started to ascend to levels of power that would lead to them being considered action movie heroes with better life expectancy.

Some background:

  • Most of the players are "owned" as it were by a prison megacorporation (slightly non-canon) and sold out as mercenaries with either cortex bombs or magical doohickeys to keep them from escaping. I've used this to tone down guns, but the mages remain very, very deadly.
  • My players started out last August/September as either entirely unexperienced roleplayers or non-Shadowrunners, so I've taken a low-lethality stance (we've had two deaths the whole time, and one came after no less than five "Are you sure?" prompts that the player ignored and the other happened when a player decided his chronically hospitalized character [courtesy of grenade-jumping] should just pass away rather than being a burden), so killing them is out of the question.
  • The players actively press for "assault cannons", which I find an iconic Shadowrun weapon to the point where I won't ban it; I've retooled them to have a higher cost and Street Index, but I need to handle when the players get out of jail.

I've been throwing vehicles at them, but most of them go down in a shot or two, mostly due to assault cannons, though the mages have been known to manabolt or stunbolt pilots of vehicles and steal them or let them crash and burn.

Last session I had a drone-adapted main battle tank suppress the players, and one player by dumb luck of incredibly difficult rolls managed to rip its hatch open, get another player in, and that player then rewired it (via phys-adept centering plus electronics genius) to roll through the city blowing up stuff at random to cover their escape.

How can I keep the awesome flowing when my players are at such a high tier of power, without restricting their character development or relying too heavily on narrator judgement? They're so powerful already that nothing I throw at them is a challenge unless it's a drone, and that's tedious.

Does anyone know of SR-3 content that's like epic level stuff for d20?

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4 Answers

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The scale and power of the Big Ten should not be undersold. Nor should the power and insanity that one experiences with a Horror. Shadowrunners are just a bunch of dudes, really. They're just really good and professional dudes. Ticking off the different corps or governments of the world can and will buy retribution from those corps if the cred is enough. And having the prison being a major hub of the players and where they are kept, there's a really good answer to this.

Have a mega corp purchase the Shadowrunners.

Honestly, this is the natural progression of your game. You are having the runners hit a Karma level that screams retirement or world-changing efforts. They can't continue to play as random chaos anymore. They are too powerful to continue to ignore, from a mega corp standpoint, and are good only two ways. Theirs or dead. The runners have shown Saeder-Krupp that they are good and can piss off a great dragon. If I was running Lofwyr as a business man, I would see the potential that these runners could offer, given that I could buy and contain them. Else, I'd just buy them to have them executed to get them out of my hair. As a great dragon that's in charge of the most profitable Big Ten in the world, I have so much cred that I can throw at a problem, I might as well bury the players in mountains of it to suffocate them.

Really, the best you can do at this point is show the runners that they can't be ignored anymore. No matter the power level of a PC in Shadowrun, there is always something bigger, tougher, and meaner. I'd go so far as to tell you to sic a cyber zombie or two on them. Not the player driven ones, but an honest to god walking abomination of magic and technology. From the flavor of the game and the durability and deadliness of it, it's the perfect thing to send at the players if you want to test them at this point. And most corps can claim to have one in their back reserves to clean up messes like your Shadowrun team if they absolutely have to.

But even if they can down the cyber-zombie, there's still the question of where they go. And honestly, I think it's time to roll new characters. A year-long campaign that's sprouted a few 250 karma players means it's time for a change of scenery. Have the runners take on their last challenge, break free from the prison they've been in or die trying, and retire the campaign. Keep all the flavor, even put some of the old PC's in as NPCs in the world if they survive, and roll up new characters. It's the kind of thing I see and say "It's been a good run, so let's go out in the biggest bang we can and start fresh". But, again, that's my two cents on if I was running the game.

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I like this a lot; I've actually considered retiring the campaign before. If it continues, they're going to find themselves in the ownership of Saeder-Krupp (thanks for the idea!), and Saeder-Krupp wouldn't necessarily mind detonating them; the ones with magical bonds aren't necessarily going to keep adventuring after that. –  Kyle Willey Mar 6 '12 at 14:24
    
+1 for busting out of prison. As I was reading the question, I kept asking why they hadn't had a run at the guards. If I can take down an MBT, I should be able to hack/pick a few maglocks. –  Pulsehead Mar 6 '12 at 14:32
    
If you want to be especially mean, you can throw in some twists to the campaign. They have cortex bombs in their heads. Have they even tried to ID the ware? Maybe it's nothing more then a chip in their brains to make them think that. Psychological mind-games like this from the prison would be great. At least give the players a way out while being bought by SK. Give them the small window of oppertunity to try and escape. Or maybe they like the idea of being part of the mega corp, since it'll pay well and they're protected. Just some hooks for your last run. –  CrystalBlue Mar 6 '12 at 15:42
    
I prefer your answer to mine. You address the elephant in the room. I like the approach of keeping some of the PCs in-world as powerful NPCs. I did this once with a SR campaign and it worked pretty well. –  Erik Schmidt Mar 6 '12 at 23:58
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I played a high-level SR2 game for quite some time, and know others who did also, and although one cannot necessarily use existing adventures, the system handles it just fine.

Here are some points to keep in mind:

  1. SR3 does not give high-karma people immunity to multiple low-karma people, especially if the low-karma people are well equipped. Sniper rifles are more than a match for most armor--and while you can dodge a single sniper easily enough, try dodging two or three or five consistently. Explosives are hard to resist and easy to use. Even an adept specializing in hand-to-hand combat is still in danger, due to TN penalties, from three or four adversaries. Your most powerful magician will be hard-pressed to do anything given three or four lower-level mages shielding each other and countering anything the magician does. Likewise with multiple entry-level deckers against one skilled one. Likewise with lots of cheap drones against one rigger with good equipment. And so on. Let the mechanics work for you, here: as they grow in power and take on bigger jobs, assume that they're going to go up against more resources, which can simply be more of the same.

  2. Are the PCs really the most powerful people in the world? That seems hard to believe. So, make adversaries who are similarly skilled, or who possess rarely-found abilities (but who might be worth deploying, given how important the situation is). As one example out of many, consider cyberzombies. No ordinary entry-level team of runners should encounter one, or if they do, only one. But your team, now? Maybe they'll find themselves doing something so important that their adversaries have assigned two cyberzombies as guards (or as assassins...).

  3. Shift the emphasis of the games from raw power to puzzles and mystery, where the characters' combat abilities are critically important but only after the right portions of the mystery have been solved. One can also set things up so that the characters have an advantage if they split up (e.g. if they need to perform some sort of physical search), which then makes it easier to give them a challenge individually. (You can't do too much splitting up without disrupting game play, but it can be very effective if done sparingly and for good reason.)

  4. Develop superior tactics in response to theirs. Manabolt on pilots? I generally disallowed that anyway, as the aura isn't really visible through physical objects. You probably can't change that, but you can use tinted glass. Assault cannons? Fine. Let the opposition have assault cannons too and see how they like their vehicles being destroyed (and don't forget rules for crashing and damage and so on). Do they take walking for granted? Monowire trip lines. And so on. This ends up turning into constant escalation ("I can't see the pilot? Okay, I have my fire elemental manifest in the cockpit!"), but you should be able to get quite a few adventures' worth of excitement before they've figured out a counter to every trick you can come up with.

  5. Go beyond traditional SR plots. Break into a facility and steal something? How dull. Have the job be to break into a facility and make something. They can't just shoot it out until they're done; they'll have to be much more clever about it. Have them get involved in a coup (or preventing a coup) in some small country. Have them get hired as bodyguards--now instead of gaining the luxury to plan everything out and spring a surprise, they have to react to the surprise.

These sorts of things kept my games going well into the high hundreds of karma. Because of the dice mechanics, even characters with thousands of karma are not invincible, though they are very, very capable.

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I'm curious about the sorts of adventures the PCs are getting into at this point in the campaign. It may be that more lethal individual encounters are not the answer. You may just need to have the PCs get noticed by a truly powerful opponent. When PCs get really badass, one of my favorite GM tricks is to determine that a bad guy the PCs took down a while back was a friend/relative/lover/whatever of a powerful politician/dragon/dragon-politician/CEO/whatever.

This powerful enemy sees the PCs as a problem. The enemy can bring large numbers of goons/warriors/critters/whatever to bear on the PCs, but more importantly she can grease palms, get the PCs on Most Wanted lists, engage in smear campaigns, turn their friends against them, and so on. The PCs can't fight these attacks with weapons. They have to start thinking more strategically, because they face and opponent that can overwhelm them with numbers. While they may be able to take out a drone-adapted MBT, a cavalry troop of them is a different story.

Once they realize they can't blast their way through everything, they'll seek to avoid combat, instead of initiating it at will (at least when going up against #1 Powerful Enemy's minions). They'll have to probe for weak spots, conduct more thorough intel-gathering, and forge alliances in order to take down #1 Powerful Enemy.

I freely admit that this approach only works if you actually want to shift your campaign to one focused around a single extremely powerful enemy.

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Actually, they deal with powerful enemies by shifting jurisdictions; before they were getting rented out as mercenaries they had to be very careful that their jobs did not take them to any American continent, Japan, or Germany, and they have ticked off a dragon (Lofwyr), the entire UCAS population (there's this little story about a bridge and a bomb), and Renraku (how both the fatalities occurred). Oh, and Tir Tairngire, who they stole bloodpebble armor from. They have to avoid Russia and Ukraine now since they got messed with by a Horror. They are a walking collection of enemy-makers. –  Kyle Willey Mar 6 '12 at 0:31
    
Plus, the shapeshifter almost got one-shotted by the drone tank, saved only because I chose not to invoke the chunky salsa rule just that one time. But anyway, my first point is that I need to find a way to present good foes; I've thrown all sorts of things at them, and I plan on throwing massively powerful stuff at them, but the rub is finding it (I let my group bloat to 8 people, which means even if only three-quarters of them show up they're packing a small army's arsenal). They have been better at doing probing around and low-firefight work recently, at least. –  Kyle Willey Mar 6 '12 at 0:34
    
Recent adventures have basically been heists, somewhat downplayed due to the fact that the group never gets together as a whole anymore (meaning important story stuff gets stopped before it happens), and toward the end the players usually fail a roll or something (hey, it's Shadowrun after all), then wind up having to blow their way out of wherever they are. I've been tossing impressive firefights like candy just because we had a month of hiatus and the players were getting bored. I could post the exact adventure they ran if you are interested; I actually made a map for it. –  Kyle Willey Mar 6 '12 at 0:37
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Interesting. So are any of these myriad enemies proactively seeking out the PCs? It seems like with so many enemies, the PCs would be spending all their time avoiding assassins and the like. Jurisdictions seldom keep black ops from staying inside borders, no? –  Erik Schmidt Mar 6 '12 at 1:04
    
The Tir seeks out the shapeshifter, who is using the bloodpebble armor (to give him an edge in his fox form), Renraku's satisfied for now (i.e. the players have already suffered enough for this fiscal quarter), they've all gotten identity swaps for the UCAS and the like, and so they're pretty much just in trouble with Russian and Ukrainian people right now, though they're never in that jurisdiction. They're also technically in a max-security prison, with cortex bombs or magical ward things that are non-canon, preventing most official efforts. Once they break free they'll be back in hot water. –  Kyle Willey Mar 6 '12 at 5:41
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Lets address a few of your issues.

First as has been pointed out your heroes have attracted attention. They will need to escape the prison. The prison is not going to let them go even if they have reached the end of their supposed sentence. So what I would do is start applying pressure from the prison that will increase the hero's desire to break free. The challenge to get out should serve for a few good adventures.

Once out they will need to keep their heads down. Anytime they get any signifigant hardware have the prison catch up with them and force them to choose to flee and give up their heavy gear or stay and be caught. I would probably even warn the players that these types of purchases attract more attention. This will help keep the damage level low.

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They're multiple-time international terrorists, they'll never get free; their sentence is pretty much summed up as "yes". The prison itself isn't really an enemy to them; it's just another private corporation that's giving them angst. They all have cortex bombs and the like, so if the prison has a gripe, it's either fully within its power to blow them to smithereens (by triggering the bombs) or if the players remove the safeguards they'll be off with moderate freedom (and massive bounties). –  Kyle Willey Mar 6 '12 at 16:58
    
I'm also not sure how the prison would track the players; the cortex bomb has some additional stuff built in, but if that's removed the players are fine, and the magical wards don't actually let the prison kill or track the bio-rejecting mages (though they can keep them in control by threats to their friends). Throw in the fact that the characters have always used secret underground methods to get everything, and the only way they get caught buying black market stuff is if there's a sting operation or they discuss it too loudly in public. –  Kyle Willey Mar 6 '12 at 17:00
    
@KyleWilley - If they get free they will have massive bounties on their heads as you say. So anytime they pop their heads up someone would be more than happy to cash in. Making bigger purchases turns more heads so bigger purchases are going to be more dangerous for them. Criminals are willing to turn on other criminals especially once they have collected the creds from the players. Besides the corps do not really care about the black market enough to stop them. The corps will have their informants in place all over in every legit or shadow business there is. –  Chad Mar 6 '12 at 17:06
    
And my suggestion was to start applying pressure to make the players want to escape. –  Chad Mar 6 '12 at 17:08
    
They already want to escape, and I've told them that planning it is fine with me; I'm actually thinking about designing a map of the prison facility for them. –  Kyle Willey Mar 6 '12 at 19:12
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