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I am gamemastering a Shadowrun 4 adventure (fan-made) and have maneuvered myself into a situation that I don't know how to get out of. I do not have much experience as a GM, only as a player, and I am not deeply familiar with the Shadowrun world.

The Situation

The PCs were hired to find a missing person and broke into the person's workplace. There they found a secret underground facility of the Ares corporation and grabbed important documents to sell them. Together with the documents, they also took a locus (magical device that allows using ley line energy).

When the PCs went back to the elevator, Ares personnel were already there and held them at gunpoint. A Johnson showed up and demanded return of the documents and offered a large sum of hush money plus safe conduct out of the corporate extraterritorial compound.

The PCs insisted on being allowed to leave the compound first before returning the documents. During this conversation, the PCs copied the data to a drone that was also within the compound. Then, they threatened the Johnson that the drone would publish all the data if something happened to them.

The Johnson didn't want to be blackmailed and fired an EMP grenade, destroying the drone and all PC comlinks. After that, one PC went crazy and killed the Johnson.

The Problem

I told the players that there are many security guards and it wouldn't be wise to start a fight. I don't want to kill the PCs, because although what they did was stupid, it was only one PC's single action that the other PCs couldn't really prevent. Also as an inexperienced GM I'm unsure whether the situation is partly my fault.

How can I let them escape (barely) alive without making Ares look totally incompetent?


Additional Info

  • We are playing roughly in the middle between Pink Mohawk and Mirror Shades styles. The PC who killed the Johnson usually does not tend to unnecessary violence.
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  • \$\begingroup\$ What kind of game are you running on the spectrum of Mirror Shades to Pink Mohawk? Sounds like one of your players thinks the game is closer to Pink Mohawk than you do. \$\endgroup\$ – Draco18s Aug 8 '18 at 13:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Draco18s Good point, it never occurred to me to classify play styles. I updated the question. \$\endgroup\$ – magra7 Aug 8 '18 at 15:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ I am not sure what you mean by "a Johnson showed up". Although many make a living acting as a Johnson, in the situation you describe I do not think they fulfill the role. People may confuse him with the one who originally hired the runners for this job. \$\endgroup\$ – Szega Aug 16 '18 at 13:24
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You could easily argue there's no way those runners are getting out of there under their own power. However, that doesn't mean that they all have to die and the end of the campaign. Here's how I would deal with the situation as you describe:

Don't let them escape - have Ares turn them into an asset.

Have the guards fight them with non-lethal ammunition and tactics, such as Stick-n-Shock rounds. Incapacitate the PCs - they're unconscious, and at Ares' mercy. However, the party has just demonstrated a willingness to resort to extreme violence even in the face of very difficult odds, which makes them exactly the right sort of group to throw at a certain kind of corporate problem that you don't mind being dealt with in a very loud and unpleasant way. Remember that, in general, the corps tolerate the existence of shadowrunners because they need them to do deniable dirty work.

Now... maybe the Johnson isn't really dead. Medical technology is very advanced in the SR setting, after all, and he could be resuscitated if a DocWagon team gets there fast enough. Or maybe he is dead, and there's a different high-ranking Ares suit you have to bring in for this. Either way, the suit recognises the potential in having this team as an asset for a certain kind of job - so they install some leverage (such as the cranial bomb augmentation) in the unconscious runners. When the party finally come to, they're all strapped in to a transport, toting some shiny new gear and being given the details on the secret Aztech facility in the jungle they are compelled to do their very best to destroy, on pain of cranial bombing.

This way, you get to impose a consequence for how badly they screwed up the run - which is only fair, as by the sound of things they really made a mess of it by making a series of unwise decisions and demands - but you don't have to kill them, and the party gets to keep playing the actual game and doing cool Shadowrunner things - they're just under the thumb of a megacorp. There's a lot of places you can take it from there depending on what the players enjoy; that might be a series of runs at the behest of their new Ares "employers", or maybe an exercise in the party figuring out how to free themselves ASAP. Maybe they use the situation to get in deep with Ares, all the while planning to eventually free themselves and turn the tables on them. Either way - you get to give them a serious consequence without killing the game, and open up new opportunities for the story.

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The best part about secret underground facilities in Shadowrun is that it has to cut both ways. The guards that Ares has stationed there are the guards that are there and more aren't coming unless you've decided that The Unseen are involved (given your question, I'm assuming this isn't the case). So from a personnel perspective, things won't get worse.

As for what can be done regarding the odds as they currently are, nearly everything is SR operates online. And an EMP grenade was used. Canonically, it fried the drone and the players' commlinks...so far. What about the fire suppression system controls that determine how much smoke is enough to trigger the system to activate? What about lights? What about the guards' commlinks and other communication systems? Last I checked, EMP is not very discriminatory.

As you've described it, this was no small EMP. It's radius was large enough to impact a drone, which I assume was in another room. That sort of radius causes problems.

I don't know the nature of your Johnson, but if you simply make him look inept, the impact is isolated to his actions while keep the real threat of Ares intact.

I recommend that you have the lights go out, the sprinklers turn on, and a bunch of guards cursing about how their comms are down because of that idiot that just showed up last week (or whatever makes sense for your story). Folks might be shot during the blind fire, but the players should be able to at least escape the room to a location that has better cover and fewer guards.

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I like the answers from both Carcer and Pyrotechnical. Another option (with variants) is...

They get captured - then they escape

The guards take the PCs into custody, probably using non-lethal weapons, and take away their toys. The PC who killed the Johnson gets an extra beating, translating into scarring/burning that makes the PC hideously noticeable or requires (costly) cosmetic surgery to fix. Then the PCs get a chance to escape, not because Ares are hopeless at security (they aren't!) but because:

  • the real team of shadowrunners that the PCs were a distraction for let them out to provide more of a distraction; or
  • Mr Johnson Mk II from Ares faction B arranges for them to have a chance to escape (possibly in exchange for a future favour) in order to discredit whoever is responsible for security; or
  • Security Executive A deliberately lets them go with an opportunity to snag a file full of misinformation they want Aztechnology to get their hands on (possibly posing as a Mr Johnson from a different faction as per the previous dot point

Ensure that the NPC/s responsible for the PCs escape takes the time to debrief them on how badly they messed up before letting them out of their cells. This, combined with the loss of gear and complete mission failure, should serve as both a lesson and a punishment.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I like this answer, too. It's good as a milder alternative to the solution I proposed, and it's less disruptive to the story you were in the middle of, which might be very important if you were trying to run a prewritten adventure as the OP suggests they are. \$\endgroup\$ – Carcer Aug 8 '18 at 11:08
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While nick012000 gave a similar answer, I'd like to offer a different flavor and expand:

Have another corp attack the compound to let the PC escape in chaos

Just as Ares soldiers raise the guns to execute the PCs, a wall(ceiling) blows up on them. What looks like a whole army of (I actually don't know Shadowrun lore, only broadly understand the setting, so let me steal Aztec from another answer) Aztec troops poor in through the hole.

Imminent death is over now, here you have a LOT of options. The rival soldiers can quickly move forward without noticing PCs, after all, after that EMP they're not in the digital world, and if they got concussed by explosion they might lie looking dead, and without being imminent threat, no reason to check on them. THe players then can run out the hole to freedom. Or they can notice the PCs, and still run forward, throwing something like "Amateurs" at them.

Better yet, make PC actually move through the chaotic fighting. Let them hear some info from other rooms. Soldiers shouting something like "Where are the documents?" if you want Aztec to target the same documents, or "Where is he?" to show that they're after the same person the PCs want to find.

I'll stop now, but there are a hundred other cool ways introducing another actor could work - that corp can have any number of goals. Like, one of the players is an illegitimate son of a corp CEO and the attacking force had been payed to retrieve him NOW?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ The corp referenced is fully named "Aztechnology" - often shortened to "Aztech", or "Azzie" (e.g. "The Azzies are here", "Those are Azzie troops"). \$\endgroup\$ – Carcer Aug 9 '18 at 10:56
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There's also another possible answer to that conundrum.

Don't let them escape

They've done a stupid thing? Kill them. For a lot of people TRPGs are more fun when actions actually do have consequnces. "Immortal" PCs aren't good for adequacy of their plans and spontaneous decision making.

How viable that option is depends a lot on how invested your players are in their characters, and it doesn't sound like they made an actually big mistake to get the punishment of total party kill, so it might not be the best option in your case, but never write it off. Also, there are less "nuclear" variants too:

Firstly, instead of killing the whole party, you can try and frame the situation so that only one character, ideally the one who made the mistake, will be sacrificed. To make the game memorable you can talk to him beforehand, and ask him to sacrifice himself so you don't have to kill the whole party. Most players would love going out in a blaze of glory. For example, trap them in a narrow corridor with an army chasing them. The sacrificed player will then stay back and hold off waves of enemies so the rest of the party can get away. You can even give him some boons, just make it clear that he gets to stay on his feet with 0 hp only because he pays for it with his character and that option is not always on the table.

Secondly, you can later revive them. I don't know how common that is in the world of Shadowrun, but it's your game and you can add whatever you like to it. So, the players get killed, and wake up later, being revived by either sinister or benevolent entity that wants something from them. You can say that a day passed, or a million years, if you want to shake up your game in the process (lol, that's a funny way to transition to a game of Starfinder or something).

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A completely different group of Shadowrunners happens to attack the facility right after the PCs get captured, giving them an opportunity to escape in the chaos.

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