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One way or another almost 95% of all the Shadowruns I either played or was GM in, somehow got to the point where the players would either:

  1. gather building plans and/or
  2. use their existing collection of sewer map to escape.

With this knowledge and the right equipment and contacts a lot of runs seem to be a piece of cake, unless you really start to throw $random_stuff at them that seems very out of place.

At least one of the PCs would have appropriate contacts or funds on a high enough level to arrange for explosives, professional hacking, or high-value equipment.

How do you handle stuff like that? Do you just throw stuff at them to find the point where they break, risking that the PCs inevitably die? Is this just a failure of the GM to react properly?

How do you handle recurring "contact abuse"? I mean, technically it is not even "abuse" if you call your "best buddy: high profile hacker" and even pay him a nice sum for his services. But in a meta-gaming sense, in my humble opinion it is abuse, because any time your GM presents you with "electronic obstacle" you overcome it just by "calling a guy".

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    \$\begingroup\$ I won't answer because I'm not familiar enough with Shadowrun, but isn't this how contact-based mechanics are supposed to work? \$\endgroup\$ – Arkhaic Oct 25 '14 at 23:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ This looks like two different questions- you might want to break the part about "Contact abuse" into a separate question in order to get more focused answers. \$\endgroup\$ – Chuck Dee Oct 26 '14 at 0:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Arkhaic well, yes and no. From my point of view, contacts do add flair and options to a character but should by no means be like the "easy mode". -wraith808 for me its just facets of the same "problem" \$\endgroup\$ – longbow Oct 26 '14 at 1:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ The nature of the site is that it handles single focused questions a lot better than 'faceted' ones. Someone could give a great answer to one part... and ignore or give a not so good/incorrect answer to the other. Hard to vote for answers like that. \$\endgroup\$ – Chuck Dee Oct 26 '14 at 2:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ @longbow I probably don't need to tell you this, but I enjoy stating the obvious: Be aware that contacts are a thing players must pay for, so they expect them to be an advantage; If you make them less useful, your players may stop dealing with them. \$\endgroup\$ – GMJoe Oct 27 '14 at 3:00
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Things change.

  1. Information in my Shadowrun campaigns always had a shelf life, particularly when it related to something important. Corps don't sit around waiting to be screwed. They practice active security.

    • Corps start to get wind of the fact that 'runners are making use of the sewers, so they make changes to the areas where their facilities interact with the sewer systems. Those sewer maps that worked like a charm a month ago run you right smack into a nifty new trap this time.
    • Misinformation is cheaper than making infrastructure changes. Perhaps a corp puts the word out that the sewers can no longer be trusted. They introduce uncertainty by spreading a variety of rumors.
    • For good measure, they find the lowest gang in the neighborhood and tell them to watch the sewers. A sweet bounty awaits them if they bag a 'runner or two.
  2. Contacts are people. They don't like being treated like ATM machines.

    • The next time you call in a favor, the contact brings up the fact that the balance sheet is rather unbalanced. "Instead of me doing you a favor, I want you to get rid of these Yakuza who have been on my ass for the last couple of weeks. Then we'll talk about your favor."

    • The aforementioned corps may have laid down some heat after the last tip from a contact resulted in damage to the corp. They don't have to know who leaked the info to make life difficult for the contact. "Look, internal security at Lone Star is breathing down everyone's necks right now. I can't tell you what you want to know, unless you double the usual rate. My ass is on the line, so ka?"

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The way to deal with players who fall into a pattern is to throw them curves that disrupt the pattern and force them to adapt. The hard part about this is doing it in such a way that it doesn't just look like you the GM are picking on them. (You are, in a sense, but you're also trying to keep the game from being completely pointless.)

It's quite likely that the PCs have made a few enemies over the course of their adventures...maybe even ones they aren't aware of, like the upper-level bosses of some people they thwarted. These enemies fall roughly into two groups:

  1. Weaker enemies. Have them compare notes and find a reason to work together against their common foe (the PCs). This can be especially effective if the groups have complementary skills, especially if they can lead the PCs into thinking only one of their old enemies is after them, then hit from an unexpected direction.

  2. Stronger enemies. These guys have resources of their own, and are often far less scrupulous about how they use them. Maybe they find out who the PC's favorite equipment suppliers are, then buy them out (Sorry guys, I don't have that today!) or substitute faulty goods (which fail at a critical juncture). Or they get the name of their go-to hacker buddy, and kidnap a relative (or the buddy!). Perhaps they try to pin some kind of crime on the PCs, who then have to be very careful who they talk to in order to avoid getting nabbed by law enforcement. Maybe they own that building, and have made a few changes that aren't in the official blueprints. Or maybe they hired a hacker of their own, and found a way to freeze the PC's assets so that they can't just throw money at the problem. Perhaps they used some leverage on someone in the sewer department to get some work done that will totally screw up the utility of that old easy escape route.

The basic idea is to take something the PCs count on, and make it a vulnerability instead. This can be especially powerful if you're able to build the story carefully, and eventually make it clear that this isn't just some random thing...it's personal. Somebody wants payback for something the PCs did to them, and they're going to get it. Preferably slowly and painfully. Done properly (and with a group that appreciates a good challenge, rather than just the Butt-Kicking of the Week), you can turn the PCs' collective world upside-down for a while...and have the players thanking you for it. Just figure out motivations, and plan out tactics and counter-tactics based on those established PC patterns.

One thing to remember while you're at this is to avoid making everything mechanics-dependent in resolution. It's role-playing, not parcheesi; include plenty of elements that require more than just a skill roll for success. Drop clues that need actual putting together; make them talk to actual people to get information rather than just looking it up. And foreshadow some things so that later on, the players can look back and see that those innocent little bits of info you were dropping were part of a bigger (and uglier) picture.

It's a lot of work, but it is oh so worth it.

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