Shadowrun 5E “Not With a Whimper” Session 2 Report

Our first Shadowrun 5E role-playing adventure continues with tense negotiations and a bombing investigation.

Note that since my players will read these I have to avoid spoilers and background information while the current mission is still in session. Look for our epilogue episode and write-up for more in-depth analysis and feedback.

Watch our sessions live on twitch.tv/gorbash722 every Sunday night beginning at 9:30pm Central!

Read the Session 1 Report

Our sophomore session for our very first Shadowrun adventure picked up during the briefest of down times. My players were attempting to question their new captive and get the DocWagon vehicle started when they were accosted by a roving band of Halloweeners. This was set up as a semi-randomized battle with three main outcomes – 1) the players fight off the gangers, 2) the players talk them down or negotiate or, 3) the players drive away.

Given the aggressive tendencies of my players I predicted we would go with outcome 1, but when the players decided to try and drive away (which would’ve been a very difficult Pilot Ground Craft test), I had the lead ganger grow impatient with his knocking, ripping the rear doors off the vehicle and having everyone roll for initiative (I rolled an astonishing 8 success for his test to open the doors).

The elf adept, who also acts as the group’s face with superior social skills, acted first thanks to his crazy high initiative score, and he immediately decided to bargain with the lead ganger. This actually segued us into outcome 2, and the elf quickly negotiated for their release. The Halloweeners wanted the fancy vehicle, so after a successful negotiation test, I allowed them to trade the vehicle for their lives. To my surprise the players accepted, gingerly stepping out of the vehicle and practically waving goodbye as they strode down the path with their NPC captive, avoiding an entire battle.

Shadowrun Now Without a Whimper Scene 3

Without their vehicle and stranded in a bad neighborhood my contingency plan kicked in, and I had an NPC we previously met in the bar roll up in an armored truck to help out her boss. Jeremiah Redd was still being protected by the runners through this grand mess and he finally got a chance to give the actual mission to this new rag-tag team: investigate the now destroyed bar and figure out who was behind the bombing.

The investigation allowed me to reuse the previous scene pf the half-destroyed bar, which was wonderfully helpful to cut down on building and crafting in Roll20. Also I spent a lot of time building that scene and was damn proud of it!

I layered in a bunch of clues that the players could’ve found throughout the bar and tried to leave this section much more open. They approached cautiously, which I had warned them about, though I had no intention of including any combat in this scene. Up till now the entire adventure had been a series of crazy events and I wanted to give them some down time and use investigation skills and inference rather than social and combat skills. They also got a fun chance to actually talk to each other and formally meet each other’s characters.

A combination of Perception, Demolitions, and Hacking skills lead to the rear alleyway, a barely functioning security camera, and a blown out car registered to a Jay-T’s Automotive. The players did the right thing in calling up Redd once they collected some evidence, though I had Sue-Z pick up the comm and had a fun bit of mysterious role-playing.

Shadowrun Now Without a Whimper Scene 4

At this point the players made it a bit farther than I expected them to this session, mainly as they had avoided a potentially lengthy combat sequence earlier! They made it to Jay-T’s, a set that had numerous entrances with an emphasis on a stealthy approach.

Disappointingly, the runners immediately went for the front door and disabled the lock and alarm using a combination of Locksmith and Hacking. The elf adept stealthed his way inside with 2 hits on 9 dice, but I rolled a killer 3 hits on only 4 dice on the nearby video camera on the opposed Perception check. Feeling bad I gave the player a chance to do one action before the camera swiveled over and spotted him. He dove into the room behind a shelf but rolled only 1 success, and the camera spotted him, tripping the alarm and activating a pair of roto drones.

Combat in Shadowrun has a lot of annoying complexities. Tons of environmental and range modifiers come into play, as well as melee attacks, cyberdeck hacking, spells, etc. It’s overwhelming and we’re all definitely still learning, so any combat sequence takes us quite awhile. I’m sure we played things wrong (indeed some times realizing on the next round) but the Roll20 character sheets help kept the pace flowing for the most part.

The drones were all offense and no defense and that was definitely reflected in the brutal and fast combat sequence. One drone did some significant stun damage to both the elf and the troll while the other was dispatched in an Edge-boosted roll from the Street Samurai’s rifle. In a funny moment the elf had his revenge by killing the other done with his knife.

I was very thankful that I wrote down a bunch of notes as drone stats are slightly different than metahuman foes. I was able to use a character sheet for the roto-drones with all the appropriate programs and stats which helped immensely. Even then I was scrambling to figure out what their defense was versus the decker’s hacking attempts.

Although the runners were in the middle of a hostile environment, one that was now aware of their presence, we had to take a break there as we’d gone past our normal cut-off time of midnight. We had to look up a lot more rules in this session, particularly pertaining to combat modifiers and Matrix hacking. I need to get more familiar with how deckers operate and also which rules we actually want to use as I’m pretty sure we weren’t playing the decker correctly in terms of hacking into the Matrix and using the VR Initiative.

The adventure should wrap up next week, and depending on time we may just do the epilogue and recap portion as part of that session.

My Favorite Dragon Age Inquisition Companions

As much as I loved its insane amount of content, Dragon Age is still very much a BioWare RPG, and a large part of the experience lies in the well-written and interesting companions.

You can also read this post over on my Game Informer blog

Four Months and 75 hours later and I finally saw the credits roll on Dragon Age: Inquisition. I knew it was going to be a long one but releasing in November had the horrible side effect of trying to keep up with a sprawling RPG during the busy holiday season. Dear developers: Please release all 50 hour+ games in the Summer!

I’ve previously written on the problems of super long games but to be fair Dragon Age Inquisition is about as long as you want it to be. Felt like 70% of my time was spent just blissfully exploring the incredible amount of content that was offered, and I loved that I always had an overwhelming amount of areas to explore and quests to try. At some point I had to just force myself to get back on track with the main story (which I quickly outleveled) and ended up beating the game at level 20 with at least two areas barely explored (Hissing Wastes and Emerald Graves) and many more only half-finished.

As much as I loved the insane amount of content, Dragon Age is still very much a BioWare RPG, and a large part of the experience lies in the well-written and interesting companions. I thought I’d turn my thoughts on the game into a ranked list of all nine Dragon Age: Inquisition companions.

You can read more about my inquisitor and my predictions for the game here.

 

1) Cassandra

The very first companion you get is also the best, a concept that’s fairly common in RPGs. Your first friend and ally tends to be the most strongly written and the most directly tied into the main events of the story. As a former Seeker of Truth Cassandra embodies everything about a traditional Dungeons & Dragons-style Paladin, but her steadfast honesty and confident demeanor made me quickly fall in love with her. She’s also incredibly useful on the battlefield serving as your initial tank and becoming quite adept and handling mages and demons once she unlocks her templar abilities. Despite playing a warrior myself I almost never left Skyhold without her, and she was the first one I’d always go to check with in between outings. At the end of my game she became Divine, and I was proud and confident that she would lead the Chantry and the world into a prosperous era.

2) Varric

Oddly enough I rarely ended up using Varric in Dragon Age II. I enjoyed his personality but my Hawke was a Rogue and I loved using Isabella, so Varric rarely got to come with me. In Inquisition I played a warrior, and archery skills were just as powerful, if not more so than Dragon Age II. Certainly attacking from range afforded him a bit more survivability and I loved his artificer tree and those flashy grenades he threw. Personality wise Varric is the ultimate best bud – friendly, loyal and constantly cracking jokes even in the midst of terror and dread. He was my go-to Rogue for most of the adventure and I was always glad to have his good-natured insight and Bianca’s power.

3) Vivienne

Most RPG companions tend to be various forms of the rogueish archetype, but Vivienne is almost a polar opposite. She’s calm, elegant, and not afraid to flaunt her stature and power. She could be perceived as power-hungry but ultimately she wants what’s best for the world, which typically happens to align with her own desires. I loved the way she talked, layering in ‘darling’ and ‘my dear’ in a deliciously disarming fashion, and her high cheekbones and flawless skin added to her regal look. I could also gush about her usefulness on the battlefield – as an ice mage she’s useful in just about every situation, and her knight enchanter specialization is easily the best in the game, turning her into an off-tank or secondary DPS if you want to run up and whack things with spectral swords. The mages in the Dragon Age world have always had the best abilities and Vivienne gets the best of those.

4) Dorian


Dorian’s story is so analogous to many real people’s it’s almost painful. Running away from his life and responsibilities in his not-quite-evil empire of Tevinter because his father threatened to change his sexuality via blood magic instantly endeared him to me, and he was the first companion I befriended. Dorian was funny, cultured, sassy and a powerful fire mage. Fire can both burn and fear people, making Dorian almost unfair to use against humanoids, and his necromancer skill tree gave him the always fun ability of Walking Bomb. I give Vivienne the slight edge but I ended up trading off between the two for the majority of my adventuring.

5) Cole

Cole is definitely the most interesting and different of the companions. As a spirit inhabiting a dead mage he’s similar in concept to what BioWare did with Anders and Justice in Dragon Age II but the execution is far more fascinating here. Battling the red templars means I got a full blown mission that introduced him and his creepy and poetic way of talking, and his skills as a shadowy assassin fills his personality quite well. I also quite enjoyed his character mission when you find the templar responsible for his death. Unfortunately in creating the guard system for warriors BioWare really left rogues behind – especially those that eschew archery to get up and hurt people. Cole had lots of fun abilities but required a high level of micro management. Still, I used him when I could (he’s especially fun in the story mission where you enter the fade).

6) Iron Bull

Bull! Gotta love the big fun-loving brute character, which BioWare seems to love as well. I never used Vega in Mass Effect 3, a dumb meat-head that got in the way of the much more interesting aliens, but Iron Bull is all kinds of awesome. Every team needs an Iron Bull – heavy cursing, heavy drinking but incredibly loyal, fun and powerful. Unfortunately as a 2handed warrior myself I rarely had room in my party for Iron Bull. When he eventually gains enough skill points to max out his ravager tree he becomes a huge DPS asset with more survivability thanks to the guard system. He was my go-to for dragon fights and I loved talking to him in Skyhold, I just rarely used him in the field. His rapport with his own company of badasses was really fun, too.

7) Blackwall

Blackwall went through an odd rollercoaster for me. Initially I hated him; he was the stoic, boring warrior and skills-wise he was almost exactly like Cassandra, whom I loved. Thus Blackwall was almost never used until he got his champion specialization. Of course then I chose champion for my 2handed warrior and I’d rather take Cassandra for her personality and differing abilities. His character mission was fascinating, however, and my female warrior was trying to romance him as he was surprisingly sweet and reverent toward the Inquisitor. By the end his story fell flat for me, however. I freed him from prison fairly late in the game and barely had any special conversations or scenes with him afterward. Annoyingly it wouldn’t let me continue my romance with him despite doing all his quests. Blackwall is the perfect example of an interesting concept but a poor execution.

8) Solas

The above seven companions I generally enjoyed, but now we get to the ones that just fell flat for me. As a mage that specializes in the fade Solas is very useful on the battlefield, so my main beef with him is simply that I loved the other two mages much more. Solas is aloof, haughty and dare I say a bit boring. It’s irksome that he apparently is way more tied into the main plot than I realized (the end scene caught me completely off guard) as I rarely ever talked to him and never did his character quest. Sorry Solas but haughty elf that looks like The Mummy just isn’t going to do it for me.

9) Sera

I could easily describe Sera as the Borderlands character. She’s zany, irreverent, chaotic and rude. Now, I like Borderlands and the characters in that universe, but she just didn’t fit in my Inquisition at all. I appreciate that there’s a prankster style character but I enjoyed Cole’s enigmatic gags and scenes much more than Sera’s annoying hatred of everything noble or privileged. I role-played my Inquisitor as a fairly serious warrior and leader, and Sera rubbed her in all the wrong ways. I nearly parted ways with her after a particularly heated argument. Don’t get me wrong, I love that her kind of character was included, and it would be boring if the particular kind of character I role-played got along swimmingly with everyone. Power wise she was worse than Varric in every way, and I much preferred Varric’s specialization.

 

All of the pictures here I captured myself from my game, save Cole whom I forgot to take a picture of. How appropriate!

And there it is! Another BioWare game completed. I loved my time with Dragon Age: Inquisition but due to the length don’t see myself replaying it anytime soon. I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences with the game and companions in the comments below.

You can also read this post over on my Game Informer blog

Introducing Our New Weekly Shadowrun Tabletop Role-Playing Adventures!

Last year my friends and I gathered together with the power of Skype, Roll20, Google Sheets and .PDFs to fulfill a longstanding desire to play tabletop role-playing adventures over the internet.

We’re all in our 30s and my closest friend lives 200 miles away, with the farthest living several states over. We see each other about once a year during a glorious New Year’s Eve get together where we mostly play board games.

Shadowrun 5eDespite our love of everything nerdy and game-y we missed out on playing traditional pen and paper role-playing games growing up. I was the only one with any experience with Dungeons and Dragons (2nd edition) and even I’d only played a handful of sessions.

We started up an official weekly, live streamed role-playing group playing Pathfinder last year, and it was an absolute blast. Unfortunately over the course of a few months we only got through one complete dungeon crawl and were halfway through a second adventure before our GM dropped out due to personal reasons.

Fast-forward several months and we’re back ready to tackle the awesome virtual role-playing utility that is Roll20 and go on more adventures, with two major changes. First, I’ll be the Gamemaster! Our old GM is still MIA and I’ve always fancied myself the creative story-teller type. Also as a stay at home dad and part time writer I generally have the most time among my friends to devote to this venture.

The second big difference is we’ll be playing Shadowrun Fifth Edition. Even while we were in the midst of playing Pathfinder (which is basically just DnD) I talked about how If I tried my hand at being GM, I’d definitely do Shadowrun.

Shadowrun anniversary cover

Though it has existed since the 80s I’d only tangentially heard of Shadowrun growing up. I had seen the box art of the old Genesis and SNES games but never played them. I thought the cyberpunk motif was cool but at the time was balls-deep into the fantasy worlds of Dragonlance, Discworld and the Forgotten Realms.

It wasn’t until Harebrained Schemes ran their successful Kickstarter project to create a new tactical Shadowrun game that I began to take interest. While I didn’t back it at the time, I bought and played it right when it came out in the Summer of 2013 – sneaking it onto my backlog gaming schedule.

I loved that game, but even more I loved that universe and the concept of urban fantasy + cyberpunk. Dystopian mega-corporations ruling the world, whole sections of cities run by gangs, easy access to drugs and weapons – it was all very much 80s sci-fi and I adored it.

We read through the Quick Start Rules and got together to choose from the pre-generated characters and learn about the game. I crafted the one-module beginner adventure (Food Fight) in Roll20 and we had our first session last week. I didn’t live stream it as it was still very much a learning experience for everyone involved and didn’t want the added distraction. But I did record and upload it to my YouTube channel in case anyone wants to go back and see Where It All Began.

Next everyone will be creating their own characters and we’ll spend our next session going over character creation for the first time. Since one of our runners will be taking a lengthy vacation at the end of March, we won’t be officially starting our weekly live streams until April.

The plan is to live stream every Sunday evening starting at about 9:30pm Central and running for 2-3 hours on my twitch channel. I also plan on uploading each session to YouTube (broken up into easier size chunks if I have time) as well as recapping them here on my blog.

I really look forward to this fun new way to hang out with friends and family every week, and I’d like to keep it up for as long as we have fun with it. See you in the shadows, chummer.