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I am planning on starting a new 4e campaign. I was thinking that I would like to do a campaign that follows more of a Shadowrun style experience. My thought is that the entire campaign will take place either in or around a single city. The players will get hired by various guilds or rich patrons to perform various illegal actions against other similar organizations. The players will need to come up with how to accomplish the tasks while avoiding drawing too much of the wrong sort of attention.

I intend to do this campaign with the D&D 4e ruleset (or possibly Next). As such, I'm looking for a well established city that could play host to this campaign, something with a lot of information I could draw upon and that would likely be big enough and seedy enough to play host to the sorts of organizations that would employ the services of "shadowrunners". My first thoughts were Waterdeep or Calimport, maybe even Gloomwrought.

Do any of you have suggestions of where I might set this sort of campaign, and the books that I should pick up? Any general advice for this style of campaign would be great as well. Thanks!

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closed as too broad by GMJoe, Wibbs, LitheOhm, MadMAxJr, C. Ross Aug 3 '13 at 14:22

There are either too many possible answers, or good answers would be too long for this format. Please add details to narrow the answer set or to isolate an issue that can be answered in a few paragraphs.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

Have you seen Eberron? Baring the cyberpunk future aspect of shadowrun, Eberron has technology, big cities, intrigue, and lots of fantasy races interacting with one another. – Joshua Aslan Smith Jul 31 '13 at 14:13
This question seems a bit broad, as a 'correct' answer would have to include both a setting recommendation, and advice on how to construct this kind of campaign once a setting has been chosen. Maybe it should be re-written and resubmitted as two separate questions? – GMJoe Aug 1 '13 at 4:16
I can see your point, but MrJinPengyou already provided a great answer to both questions below, so I see no need in splitting it. – Viper Bailey Aug 1 '13 at 22:50
up vote 6 down vote accepted

Shadowrun style campaign to me is defined by players taking advantage of conflicts between parties that have a lot of resources and power. Shadowrun on its own is not restricted to one city and you don't need to restrict to one city at all.

A campaign like this can be boiled down to the following elements:

  • Characters working in the grey zone
  • Contacts and streetwise will be important
  • Betrayal, corruption (magic and social) and absence of trust

Characters working in the grey zone

Unless you make use of alignments, you should discard their importance right away. Reason being if a character is a cleric of a good or lawful good god, some activities related to this kind of campaign will conflict with character's alignment. Unless you take a good liberal look at it and say that a lawful good character can use motivations to explain why he would assassinate, steal, infiltrate and spy. Another bet would be to have all characters be closer to neutral than the two extremes (CE and LG).

Contacts and streetwise will be important

Having contacts is essential in a game like this. Shadowrun or not, if you play a game in which your PC are dealing with great enemies, they need contacts. I don't remember 4E covering mechanical aspects of contacts but I would use a liberal approach and simply ask the players who do they know. You can give them free contacts based on their Charisma modifier (min 1) and ask them to describe them in the limits of the setting.

A character playing a Warlord for instance may tell you he knows a guy working for the city watch and he owes him a favour for saving his life years ago. A rogue may have a romantic business with a member of the local thief guild. Any time they would use their contacts simply make a judgement call if they are available to help and how. NPC with big influence and power are usually busy.

Betrayal, corruption (magic and social) and absence of trust

Even if the whole setting happens in a candy world and everyone is happy, make sure the players see the world differently. The city described in any book can be seen from the other angle. It's not because pollution, rats and crimes are not described in full detail that they are absent. Far from it. Noir should be the major theme of your campaign. From my personal experience Eberron is perfect for that. Sharn is a great city for political tango and Shadowrun-esque game. The city is huge and there's multiple layers to exploit (both metaphorically and litterally as the city is built on levels).

Make the employer insist on being anonymous and the characters should watch their back because you never know when that Mr. Johnson could have them lock and tell everyone he captured criminals sent by another lord to steal from him.

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That was such a great rundown. I'm going to use a lot of your suggestions for sure. I'm not familiar with Eberron, so I hadn't even thought about using it as a setting. Perhaps I'll go pick up the book. Thanks again. – Viper Bailey Jul 31 '13 at 15:47

I think many of the Forgotten Realms cities could work well for this. You have already mentioned Waterdeep and Calimport, I also think Neverwinter could host such a setting. Any city of a pretty reasonable size will have a bit of a seedy underbelly.

Another suggestion would be Lankhmar from the old AD&D Lankhmar - City of Adventure source books (based off of Fritz Leiber's - Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser series). I'm not sure how easy it would be to find the books but I remember it had quite a bit of information on the underground and various political going-ons in the city. It might be worth checking out for some ideas.

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Sigil, City of Doors, would work really well for this sort of campaign. Not only do you have a bustling city with a wide variety of districts, intertwining factions, and a mysterious leader, it also has access, via portals, to every other plane of the multiverse. That way, you can send your "runners" off on missions located in fantastical locations very easily.

Perhaps a local Sigil lord hires the PCs to steal an artifact from the Elemental Plane of Fire, hoping to use said artifact to vanquish the city's Merchants guild. Or perhaps the PCs must smuggle illegal goods from one plane to another, via Sigil's many portals. Or perhaps an extraplanar creature is murdering the city's civilians, and the PCs are hired to track it down. There's a lot of possibility in Sigil that goes beyond another city without the same diversity.

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