Recently, one of my players suggested that streets and buildings felt too empty when we are playing Shadowrun. Other than many RPG, a lot of Shadowrun takes place in crowded cities, with the protagonists using the metro, casing a firm's lobby, or meeting someone in a club. So, usually there are lots of people around the runners and there is no shortage of things to see and hear around them, not mentioning information streaming in from their Augmented Reality overlays.

Even before, I usually made note of what kind of district they are in, and how that changes the type of buildings, as well as the types of people and activities they can see. I've described how Sararimen rush to work, how they have to weave through a crowd and someone bumps into them, or have had someone try bum a smoke from them.

Subsequently, I've been experimenting with ambience pieces from Tabletop Audio such as e.g. Dome City Center.
Obviously, it is beyond the capabilities of a GM to describe such an overcharged environment in full detail, but I was hoping if you had some suggestions how to better convey crowded areas full of colorful characters.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I've seen How to convey the tone of Shadowrun, but feel that it has a different focus. \$\endgroup\$
    – Murch
    Commented Sep 7, 2015 at 14:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ Holy amazeballs, thanks for the Tabletop Audio link! Brilliant stuff! o.0 \$\endgroup\$
    – fgysin
    Commented Sep 7, 2015 at 15:14

2 Answers 2


What a GM is picturing in his mind and what players are picturing in theirs can often diverge if the setting isn't properly communicated.

I use several tricks that have helped me: audio, visual, encounter.

You already have the audio cues down, have you tried a visual cue? Print off an image of a bustling city street or grand central station and post it on the GM screen facing the players. You already have mentioned the noise and bustle - maybe your players are not listening.

Come up with a table of 100 things you may overhear or encounter while walking a busy street. In the process of brain storming, you will come up with several great ideas. Randomly throw one of these in as you play. A player can't ignore your descriptions if some random person gets in their face for stepping on their cloak or bumping into them accidentally.


Key in on what makes a place feel crowded.

Audio - check, you seem to have that.

Visual - The above suggestion is pretty good. Art pieces, Filled with people.

Physical - Here's a bit of playtime. Your team is casing the lobby of a metro building. With your face trying to get a feel for the guard's walks and shift timings. Every so often , make them re-roll to find the guard again as someones or somethings get in their way.

  • Another casing the joint: don't just give numbers, make them count. The lobby was filled by a hundred bodies. No, no no.. The lobby was so filled with body heat from the lunch crowd that your breath stopped steaming. The voices of a hundred gossiping lunch goers make it difficult to hear your sub-comms.

And finally,

  • You thought you knew the way to the door, but due to the press of the crowd, your now turned around... Roll skill check to re-align to your objective.
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm confused by the sentence "don't just give numbers, make them count." How would I make my players count something they can only conceive from my verbal description? I think some of your sentences are meant as things I could say: If that's what you mean, it would be easier to understand if you were to put them in quotations or emphasized it by using italics. \$\endgroup\$
    – Murch
    Commented Sep 14, 2015 at 19:12

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