Tension was thick at the table last night (last night, try 3 hours ago really...) Players were a bit down trodden. One character had lost an arm. Another was running on one wound box left in stun damage, caught between a troll with an Heavy Machine Gun and a Physical Adept with a pair of rapid fire auto-pistols. Another player was unconscious. Help was very far away. Worst of all? the VIP the group was supposed to protect was unconscious and on the ground closer to the enemy than to the players. As a GM, it was probably one of the hardest things I've done in a long while.
So What Happened?
The scene above is close to the end of a gunfight in my Shadowrun game that ended with a team of 3 runners successfully getting the VIP away from my PCs. Granted, the runners had help from 6-12 gang bangers and a high class corp merc that provided distraction for them, but the point is they won. In other words, at least for that fight, the PCs lost and they ended up playing through 4-5 rounds of just getting beaten up under very bad circumstances. Why so bad? because they got ambushed from an angle that was supposed to have been covered.
An Unfair Situation
The situation above is totally unfair. Think about it. You have 5.5 PCs (I say .5 because one player arrives late and is still not 100% sure he can actually do at times) and they're going up against 12 gangers, 3 shadowrunners built like them, a high level sniper that they're not aware of, and the whole fight is started on terms even more unfavorable to the PCs than a normal fight could be. It's honestly the kind of session that in a lot of cases I would claim the GM was being a dick, and here I was doing it to my players.
Now, I have reasons for everything that happened. For one thing, two of my players have 3 very powerful enemies between them and all made the roll to show up (and in fact take over) this particular story arc. Other things making the situation come from die rolls and NPC interactions that put other things in motion. Finally there is the beginning of an upcoming story that might be told that put a spin on things. The bottom line is though that I put my players in a very unfavorable position. During the latter half of it I was trying to justify ways to make things easier for them, to make it easier to win. Now, after the game, I'm proud to say I didn't do it.
Why didn't I do it? Well, a couple reasons. One, I am specifically GMing Shadowrun to bring these kind of situations around, run through them, and make them a part of my arsenal. Sometimes the chips will be in the player's favor. Sometimes the chips will be completely against them. Being able to survive both is what makes a good character great. Being able to play through both is what makes a good campaign great. That doesn't make it easier in the moment though. Int he moment it is all tension and serious faces (especially if your players are in character) mixed with sporadic reminders of "I can't do anything, I'm unconscious/dead, remember?"
Still, the funny thing about RPGs is that often parts that suck while doing them are great after. The key to doing those parts is to trust your players. I am sad to say that somewhere, deep down inside, my trust of players (not necessarily my players specifically, but players in general) was apparently harmed somewhere along the way. Today though, I decided to trust my players. It got me through the fight. It got the group through to the next fight (which they roflstomped) and, well, I think it did things very well.
Why do I think things went well? The post game conversation. People were so excited that everyone was cutting everyone off with points. People had insights. People had fun. People liked the other team of runners. My players reminded me, without saying it directly, that this is what they want. They want to be pushed, challenged, and made to work for it. Not to be coddled. Not to be given the hand up when it isn't directly coming from their IC actions. They want to earn it. My job as the GM? To give them that chance to earn it.
It felt good trusting them. It felt better having it pay off. I very much liked Shadowrun before. I am down right excited for the things that may be coming next now.
((apologies if this is incoherent, it's being written right after session as I haven't had much chance for writing lately.))
18 hours ago