Tips for running well-paced, meaningful combats in Shadowrun: Anarchy and house rules for combining NPCs into small Units.
Nothing says Shadowrun like a 30-second gunfight that takes 3 hours to finish. With initiative passes, the action economy, modifier application, multiple-test resolution, etc. the process can be drawn-out even when the stakes are high and the action is cinematic.
Shadowrun: Anarchy eliminates and mitigates many of the factors that slow down a good fight. But even in a narrative-heavy, rules-light system, a combat can drag out if the proper measures are not taken. A fight can easily devolve into grinding down Condition Monitors if you are not vigilant (or at least prepared).
Here are my top 3 methods for speeding up combats (when they need it).
#1 Stop Rolling Dice
Put them away and tell a story.
Is the stealthy assassin sneaking up on a wage-slave to quietly break his neck? Is the sniper taking aim at the unnamed and unaware bodyguard of your mark? Is the team mopping up the last remnants of that go-gang? Put down the dice and think about the story you are building. Is the combat the point of this Scene? Is the chance of failure adding anything to the narrative? Maybe not.
As a GM, it might be better to say, “The wage-slave never sees it coming. How do you handle that?” or “You took out the go-gang leader. How do you take out the rest of his crew?” Remind the players that you give out Plot Points for good Narrations, and then remember to give out Plot Points for good Narrations!
This could also happen when we realize that not every group of NPCs will fight to the death. Groups surrender, groups flee when their numbers dwindle, and normal people stop fighting when they are severely injured. Start thinking about retreat when the NPC’s numbers are less than half. Obviously, some threats never flee; they could be mindless, determined, or simply well-trained and well-paid.
#2 Focus on Objectives
Another way to keep the pace of the combat moving is to focus on the Tactical Objectives of a Scene rather than the Armor and Condition Monitors of the enemy NPCs. These Tactical Objectives are likely different objectives than that of the overall Contract Brief.
A Contract Brief’s objectives might be:
But Tactical Objectives change from Turn to Turn, might not be known in advance, and might look closer to this:
Get to cover before the drones pass over
Seal the door before the CorpSec reaches the hallway
Hack the comms before the guards call for back up
Get to the choppa!
Don’t force the Tactical Objectives on the runners; make the runners decide what their objectives are and then enforce them. If the runners ignore these Tactical Objectives, or they insist on holding their ground, or they just murder-hobo their way through the Scene, don’t be afraid to call Mission Failure or at least call upon the near limitless resources of the enemy.
The only thing that focuses a runner team better than an inbound Renraku Red Samurai HTR team is two inbound Renraku Red Samurai HTR teams…
#3 Combine Mook into Units
Mooks are nameless, faceless, interchangeable henchmen and minions in a Scene. When they are in large groups, they are even more nameless, faceless, and interchangeable. You can combine identical enemy mooks into abstract Units (call them Hordes or Gangs or Fireteams) which act as a single Unit. You can use Units alone, alongside individual NPCs, or in groups of multiple Units.
Some features of Units include:
Units use a single Combined Condition Monitor that represents the unit as a whole, so you do not have to track individual CMs.
Units use their Threat Level (see Anarchy Threats) in place of rolling hits for many Tests (Thug-1, Ganger-2, Street Runner-3, and Prime Runner-4), so you can cut down on excessive dice-rolling.
Units combine attacks using Teamwork Tests, so you never roll more than once per target.
Units also use Threat Level as a form of Group Edge, which can be spent on Tests and on one-time use of Armor, so you don’t have to track individual Edge or Armor.
The initial concept of Units is not difficult to understand but there are a few aspects of the game that have to be altered in order to use them (such as AOE damage and Plot Points). After that, using Units becomes very intuitive. Here are the house rules:
UNIT COMBAT (PDF Link)
If you are a gamemaster, the most important thing about using Units is to never fully abstract them to the players. This concept is for the GM’s benefit only. Your players should feel like they are fighting a team of well-trained corporate security, NOT one nebulous mass of hit points and gun barrels. Keep the Narrations cinematic and keep the numbers to yourself.
Also know that Units of higher Threat Levels (3 or 4) are seriously dangerous. The Threat Level represents not just raw dice pools but also the use of small unit tactics, better use of cover, overlapping fire, etc. A single target in the cross-hairs of five HTR CorpSec is in real (and realistic) trouble.
Example: Four runners (Martial Weapon, Flux, Tennessee Tophat, and Skunky Brewster) encounter a standard 5-man Corp Sec Fireteam (Threat Level 3). They use the stats of Corporate Security from Anarchy Threats which means, among other things:
They have 8 dice for Firearms and Close Combat, 9 Armor, a Combined Condition Monitor (CCM) of 50, and Group Edge of 3 (same as their Threat Level). They also reroll 1 die on Firearms Tests and +1 Plot Point each for a total of 5 Plot Points that the Unit can use from their Shadow Amps.
They are going first, but Martial is set up with his sniper rifle and saw them coming. He spends a Plot Point on Shake it up to go first. He rolls and gets 5 hits vs the Fireteam's 3 hits (the TL of the Unit). With 2 net hits from a sniper rifle, that is 11 damage - enough to take one out. I want them to stick around a bit longer, so I spend one of their Group Edge to subtract 9 (their Armor value) from the damage. The Fireteam takes only 2 damage as the first round grazes body armor, but Martial has two attacks and rolls the same for the second shot. I want to save some Group Edge for later attacks so this shot connects for the full 11 damage. The Fireteam has taken 13 damage; they now have a CCM of 37. I narrate one going down and one taking damage.
The Fireteam goes next. They get a total of 3 Attack Actions or Teamwork Tests (because they have at least 30 CCM left). You can imagine the remaining "injured" Corp Sec is hunkered down or reloading or repositioning. They decide that Martial is a threat to them so they focus fire on him. They use 1 Attack Action (8 dice) and 2 Teamwork Tests (3 dice each, their Threat Level) for 14 dice. They get 4 hits and reroll for a 5th hit vs Martial's 3 hits to dodge. They also use one of their 5 Plot Point to Live Dangerously and get an Exploit. Martial takes 8P damage from their SMGs and will go last on his next Turn from the Exploit.
Flux is up next with a Fireball spell. He makes a Spellcasting Test and gets 5 hits vs the Fireteam's 3 (their Threat Level again). With 2 net hits, that Fireball will do 18 damage (6 base plus 12 from the two net hits). Narratively speaking, he has hit 3 guys in the blast. I don't like this, so I spend their second Group Edge to reduce the damage by 9. The Fireteam takes 9 damage so they now have a CCM of 28. I narrate one burning to death and another frantically putting flames out. If that was a Manaball (AA) instead, I could not have used Armor on that.
The Fireteam decides that the mage is the new threat so they spend a Plot Point on Get Revenge. One Corp Sec fires back at Flux and spends the last Group Edge to pre-Edge his Firearms Test. With 8 dice plus 1 from pre-Edge he gets 4 hits and rerolls for a 5th hit vs. Flux's 3 hits. The SMG does 8P damage to Flux.
From here we have a lot of options:
Tophat could crack one with his baseball bat or cast Chaotic World on the whole Fireteam.
Skunky could brick one of their SMGs to stop one Corp Sec from attacking or participating in Teamwork Tests or brick their Reaction Enhancers to remove Plot Points.
The Fireteam could spend 2 Plot Points on First Aid to heal their CCM back up to 30 in order to get 3 attacks.
The Fireteam could spend a Plot Point on Surprise Threat to call for back up. Maybe another Fireteam shows up or a Corp Sec Mage.
Once the Fireteam's CCM is below 10, it could be considered broken and flee OR you might just count it as a single injured mook OR you might just ask the next player to Narrate how they take him out.
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