A year ago, I wrote about the Most Memorable Character Death in one of the games I ran. Half the time I tell this story, it’s a “dumb player” story; the other half of the time, it’s my “worst GMing moment” story. From a game running standpoint, it’s one of those moments where I reevaluated how I run games and it actually made me a better GM. The Most Memorable Character Death hasn’t changed in the past year, nor do I think it’ll change in the future.1
Let’s head back several years to just after Shadowrun 4th Edition came out, to Fort Worth/Dallas, the largest sprawl in North America, just as rush hour is about to start….
The mission is to find someone in protective custody and make sure they don’t testify in an upcoming trial. The time is late afternoon on a workday, about four: rush hour traffic is starting. While two members of the team are way over in Fort Worth and one is way up north in Denton, the fourth decides she’s going to break into the target’s house (in central Dallas) and snoop around. She does this without telling anyone on the team; when one of the runners calls her while she’s on the way to the target’s house – basically to give her a chance to let the team know what’s up – she says that she’s “got something to do” and will call her back later. So there we are, with a solo runner about to break into a house that is under police surveillance. No plan. No backup.
I should point out that there were several problems with this player leading up to this.
I really didn’t want to have infighting or inter-party conflicts, so I told everyone that I wanted to have a game session where we spent time creating characters together. She showed up with a fully created character, a cop that’s trying to redeem himself. There was a lot of stuff in that character to justify screwing over the other runners. And she played the character in a way that hosed the others: not sharing intel with others and other things like that. So this really wasn’t a surprise.
She gets to the neighborhood, walks around the block, and sees that the backyards in the neighborhood are all fenced in (brick walls, really). The target’s house is three houses in. She decides to scale the fences, and hop backyard to backyard until at the target house. Okay, climb check, I say. She rolls. Fail. Rolls again. Fails. Rolls again. Fails. Rolls and finally makes it into the first yard. After three of these fences, she’s in the back yard. Okay, there’s a sliding glass door that leads to the kitchen. You can see the wooden stick that is used to keep the thing shut. She decides to shoot through the glass to knock the bar off. Do you have a silencer on that pistol? No. Bang, miss. So she shoots again and the door shatters.2
Let’s just cut to when she’s running away on foot from the police in a residential neighborhood, coated in neon green marker paint courtesy of a police drone.3
Now, coated in glowing green paint, running up the middle of a residential street from police officers that are chasing her, is when she calls the runners for back up. The nearest runner, up in Denton, would have been 45 minutes away if it wasn’t rush hour. But it was. From the time of the initial phone call to the attempt to run away from the police on foot, about two hours of real time had passed. Everyone at the table was just watching in stunned silence at the slow-crawling train wreck, unable to do anything.
So, after she was captured, the player was gleeful – she reminds everyone that her character had photographic memory and knows a lot about the other runners. She’s looking forward to the next session where the runners will have a daring rescue on a police station to spring her character before the cops get her to spill the goods on the crew.
Instead: the runners hack into a garbage truck, ramming it into the police car she’s being transported in, killing everyone inside.
- I don’t normally kill player characters. That’s weak sauce. [↩]
- When she finally got inside and started looking around, I asked what she was looking for. You know, like hidden matrix files, or perhaps information about a close relative or friend she could follow up on in case the target gets in touch with them, or maybe a surveillance camera watching the place whose feed the runners can follow back to whomever has the target. Something. Her response: “I don’t know.” Seriously. Absolutely no fucking plan whatsoever. [↩]
- Her amazing plan of escaping once the police were entering the house: Exit through a ground floor window to the street, walk up the block, cross over, and come back down the block on the other side of the street so she just appeared like a curious onlooker instead of actually getting away. Anyway, that’s when the police drone tagged her. [↩]