An alternate mapping system for an alternate movement system.
(Originally published at Stuffer Shack, September 12, 2017)
Shadowrun: Anarchy is the narrative-heavy, shared-storytelling, alternate ruleset for Shadowrun. Among other differences, it has a non-traditional, abstracted movement system that lends itself to “theater of the mind” style encounters -- more-so than a lot of other RPGs. The GM and players don’t need to know how many meters/squares away a shooter is; she is either Close, Near, or Far. During a player’s Narration, they may take one Movement. Simple.
The Shadowrun setting, however, lends itself to “splitting the party” -- more-so than a lot of other RPGs. Team members have distinct roles. The Rigger and Decker stay in the van, the Sniper scales the building across the street, and the Face tries to infiltrate the facility dressed as a nun, etc. These are heists after all, and you cannot always run around in a murder ball during a heist.
This juxtaposition of abstract distances and archetype specialists can sometimes lead to one of four pitfalls:
Nobody knows where anybody else is in relation to themselves or their goals. Is the Street Sam in position to intercept security? How many narrations until the drones catch up? Does the sniper have LOS at this angle? You can spitball, or say yes to everything, but saying yes to everything robs the player’s choices of gravitas just as much as saying no to everything.
Spreadsheet Distance Accounting (that only the GM can understand). Alice stayed in VR while Billy used 2 Narrations to move. Alice is 2 Movements away from Billy. Billy is Far from the getaway van. Security is Far from Alice but they used the last 2 Narrations to get closer (so 2/3 Near?). Charles is Near the Van but coming from the other direction, (so 4 movements from Billy?), etc. In a lot of situations this doesn’t matter, but it could be important in maintaining narrative tension.
Distance is meaningless, time is meaningless, action is meaningless. Imagine your runners are infiltrating a secure facility to find a secret lab. Everyone is in position and the GM has set the scene:
Narration 1: “I move to open the first door I see; behind it is the secret lab.”
Screw it; let’s just use a map. A lot of Roll20 maps or Googled floor plans can help the players get an idea of positioning but then you are mixing your abstract movement with measured distances. Can one Movement get you Near your target? Can one Movement get you down the hall, through the door, and up the stairs to your teammates? Using traditional maps can push toward de-abstracting movement; now your Movements are equal to a certain distance because the hallway through which you are moving is a certain length. Using a traditional map can also detract from the shared-storytelling of Shadowrun: Anarchy. When a player looks at a floorplan map, they tend to look for the doors rather than imagine where doors could be. This is where node maps come in.
Non-Traditional Node Maps
Node maps are not a new concept. Node-based Scenario Design has been expanded and elaborated upon by others extensively. These nodes generally refer to metaphorical points in a plot (Node A: discovering the murder, Node B: uncovering the first clue, Node C: uncovering the second clue, Node D: putting the clues together to solve the murder). The players could hit Node C before Node B but they need to uncover both clues to continue to Node D.
Node maps are also used for geographical place settings in an adventure (Node A: the sleepy village, Node B: the scary woods, Node C: the haunted castle in said woods). The players cannot find the castle without traversing the scary woods but the distance and direction are not precisely defined nor important.
Consider these examples as “macro-nodes”; each node represents a great potential of space or time. The clues in a mystery plot could be miles apart or weeks between. The haunted castle could have twenty rooms in it or a hundred. Node mapping is very useful in designing non-railroad runs, but it doesn’t alleviate the pitfalls above. For this, we need “micro-nodes”.
These nodes represent the discrete, interconnected areas of a macro-node. Imagine the haunted castle above. Each of the castle’s rooms, its courtyard, its rooftops, and its moat would all be represented by a node. Each doorway, hallway, or secret tunnel would be represented by a connection from one node to another.
In a more shadowy example, imagine a corporate lab facility. It has offices, security checkpoints, several lab areas, mechanical (HVAC) room, etc., each represented by a hex on the node map. Each area or node is furnished with what the players might expect (the lab has test equipment and vats with green goo, the security checkpoints have bored CorpSec NPCs). They are connected by lines that could represent a door, a hallway, an elevator, or a stairwell. Some nodes have more connections than others. Some nodes act as barriers to other nodes (you must pass Security Checkpoint 1 before moving to the offices). It doesn’t matter to the map if the labs are square or circular. It doesn’t matter to the map if one room is above another or adjacent to it. The node map shows themes and connections, not dimension.
Applying the abstraction from Shadowrun: Anarchy becomes easy after this. The following would apply:
Moving from one node to another takes one Movement.
Moving from one node to another might entail combat or require a Skill Test, such as hacking the mag-lock (Hacking), or forcing open the door (Strength), or rappelling down the elevator shaft (Athletics).
Moving to a specific spot within the node takes one Movement (such as taking cover behind a crate, closing on a specific enemy, or moving to a jackpoint).
Moving between unconnected nodes might require a Plot Point or a Perception Test (such as finding a ventilation shaft, or climbing out one window and back in to another).
Weapon range within a node or to an adjacent node is considered Near (unless you have moved to a specific spot, then it might be Close).
Double-time it (the Plot Point) allows you to move two nodes OR it could allow you to bring along another PC during your Movement.
In Shadowrun, where hacked AR maps and prior surveillance are common, feel free to draw out the entire node map when appropriate. Adding to the node map is as easy as drawing a circle and connecting it to the other nodes, so correcting a mapping oversight or adding a player’s new idea is simple and quick.
Minis (or icons for online games) work well on node maps to track relative positions. Draw the nodes on your map large enough to hold a few minis, but not so large that you are tempted to draw a detailed map inside the node. If you want to represent a particularly large area, such as the east and west sides of a parking lot, simply cut the node in two, use two adjacent nodes, or label the node as Far (it takes 3 movements to traverse).
Node maps should probably be avoided if you are not mitigating one of the pitfalls. If the players are not splitting up or splitting up would cause no added danger, no need to track relative positions. If the pacing of the Scene is not important relative to the objective of the Scene, then the number of Narrations (and therefor Movements) is unimportant. If the setting of the Scene is vast or uncomplicated (like a parking lot or a stretch of street), it might be best to avoid the nodes and just call the distance Far. If slogging through the nodes takes up more time than the action of the Scene, you have probably drawn too many nodes. If you look at your node map and you have essentially drawn a straight line, it might be better to re-evaluate the entire Scene.
As the GM, you will need to decide when a Scene will be enhanced or hindered by use of a node map.
Edit: Here are some great samples by reader and GM, Eric Vicaria: