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I'm having trouble creating NPCs for my game, especially regarding their number and their equipment. Their skill level is ok, but these points are problematic. I know that most of the time, the non-violent approach is better, but sometimes, it just ends up as a good old gunfight ;)

Number: let's say I want my characters to face a group of gangers (low equipment, low training), or a squad of heavily equipped Renraku soldiers (good equipment, good training). How can I evaluate how many of them to put against the PCs? Are 6 gangers as much of a threat than 2 Renraku soldiers? Or 3?

Equipment: As long as I keep to the basics (gangers have basic unmodified guns, and some armored jackets, while Renraku soldiers have military grade armor and expensive guns), it is kind of ok. But where do I put the limit for High professional rating NPCs? Cyberware is limited by the essence, , but what about non'ware equipment?

For exemple, the soldiers could have the highest possible armor, with modifications. They could be full of nanotech. They could wield ¥300K weapons. If they have drones, are they going for the ¥2K-¥10K range, or for the ¥50K+ range? Can they afford biodrones? They could even have tanks with Pilot/Signal/etc buffed up to 6, or even above, and use them as drones, why not?

I'm using extreme examples, but I hope you see my point. How do you find the minimum - maximum limit on what gear the NPC will have?

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Yup, read it already, but it focuses more on the reward for the run, the answers don't mention the number of NPC in the opposition, or how much equipment they carry :) –  Scrollmaster Oct 4 '12 at 21:35
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Cool. Yeah, working out NPCs seemed like an afterthought in that question. That's a good demonstration of why it's important to ask only one question per post. :) –  SevenSidedDie Oct 4 '12 at 22:18
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1 Answer

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The Rules of Shadowrun 4th Ed

Guidelines for determining typical opposition are provided in the Grunts section detailing Professionalism Ratings starting on p281 of SR4Anniversary Edition. Sample groups, their tactics and gear, as well as their reactions under fire are provided. The default assumuption appears to be that these groups exist, the characters are able to inform themselves of what threats exist, and therefore can choose to engage or not, or at least how to engage.

What I mean by this is rather than the GM deciding that the group should run into a group of gangers, the GM and the players are aware of where in the city groups of gangers normally hang out. If the players cross those zones, they know what they are risking, and can be prepared accordingly. Likewise, if they choose to go up against corporate guards, or they know that a corp might hire a hit squad if they get wind of runners sniffing around, they have a sense of what that means.

Run Playtests, Track the results with the players

I don't think you can find clear-cut threat ratings for opposition in the game. While you can generate your own guidelines by carefully tracking what your PCs are capable of getting their hands on, and track the statistics of what numbers of similarly equipped opponents they can handle easily, with difficulty, or only with great sacrifices, you might need to consider another approach.

If you prefer to use a rubric to determine threat ratings, and given the wide variety of options open in the game, experimenting to inform both yourself and the players about the effects these different options can contribute, their average performance with the stats and gear they have, and the limitations of equipment, spell, and skill combinations is a good use of time so that each person has an effective in-universe perspective on what a typical combat will be like.

If nothing else, this will let you become accustomed to setting appropriate die pools for planned and unplanned encounters which won't produce any unwanted outcomes, such as butchering the players by accidentally outclassing them. Once this is done, even if your calculations of a threat are a little off, the players will have enough combat experience to make better tactical decisions - including breaking off the engagement if they notice that the fecal matter is being randomly deployed by an oscillation device.

Allow the players to make informed choices

Information is the real weapon for any successful group of runners. Approach the design of the play environment as you would any other sandbox setting and stat things out according to what makes sense. How many guards does Renraku put in patrol units in their holdings? What gear would they assign? What conventional and runner threats do they normally face and how does this reflect their numbers and loadout? The same holds true for the gangers. What kind of gear can their resources realistically access in the setting you are building? How do they support themselves? How many individuals can those resources support? How famous is this gang, and what are they known for?

Provide information about regions in the city to the characters who are from there. Remind them of it as they cross into those territories so that they know to be as prepared for threats as their characters would be just by virtue of having lived there. Give them the information that they need to choose a threat or choose to walk away, to obtain the specialized gear they might need to neutralize a threat, or to opt for extreme stealth.

In short, set potential encounters, determine the amount of intel that can exist about the threats surrounding those encounters. Make the common knowledge and common sense about the encounter truly common in the player group. Let the group choose to act or not.

Surprise encounters can still happen

Outside of runs and planned encounters, the determination of opposition can still be handled without using published threat ratings, or needing to go beyond those provided in the core book.

If events in the session dictate that something should happen, such as an out of the frying-pan and into the fire kind of event, you can run a seat-of-the-pants encounter by focusing on the characters in it. Build the location for this surprise encounter to allow for interesting and effective tactical choices, including retreat. Remember the pain and shock of injury and possible death can totally demoralize untrained or unprepared groups and make surrender, retreat, or crazed scattering seem like a good idea.

Have a reason for any encounter to take place, and make sure that both you and the players can evaluate the importance of completing their run versus staying in an unexpected firefight 'til the bitter end. Why are the gangers in that territory? Where are they going and why? From where? Who sent them? If they are on their own turf and the PCs intrude, why don't the PCs know about them? What violent and non-violent options are open to both sides?

This is not so much about threat rating as it is about internal consistency in the setting, and the ability of characters to operate realistically within it.

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Since Runeslinger's got the answer mostly covered, I'll only add a few cents. When I'm having to design a group of people or an encounter, I try to run with the idea of a dice pool in mind for that particular type of encounter. Usually, I use a 4 DP for anyone that's not trained or used to combat, a 6 DP for average, 8 DP for trained, 10 DP for well trained, and 12+ DP for highly skilled and trained. This would be without modifiers. If you throw some gangers at the PC's, their gun skills should be around 6 or 8. For a strike team? 12 to 14. –  CrystalBlue Oct 9 '12 at 13:05
    
Thanks for the DP rule of thumb. So for the number and equipment, you just arbitrarily decide them based on logic and descriptions, and then stick with it? –  Scrollmaster Oct 9 '12 at 22:54
    
We decide what fits, and stick with it. Part of that is, as @CrystalBlue mentions, by keeping the final Dice Pool in mind, part of it is based on what they would realistically have based on the access to and availability of gear in your setting (p312, SR4). –  Runeslinger Oct 10 '12 at 8:49
    
Right. Gangers might have a smattering of sawed-off shotguns, crappy SMGs, and pistols. No good modifiers there. Corp Sec's going to have smart links, heavy body armor, skill wires, specialization in the type of assault rifle they're using, a rigger running a TacNet. Even though I sit with a DP of 14 for corp sec, that number can go up to around 19 if I add the modifiers. And for numbers of guys, that has more to do with what you think they'd have. Corp Sec would normally have 12 guys, 6 on patrol around an area with 6 others on break or on cameras. –  CrystalBlue Oct 10 '12 at 12:54
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