Forgetting the Fundamentals

So, I’ve been trying to get through my backlog of Shadowrun material of late.  I’m behind in my sourcebook reading by a substantial amount and I’m trying to get up to speed before I head off to GenCon in the summer.  In reading through “Run Faster”, I got to the chapter entitled ‘Bosses and Betrayers’… a chapter about the relationship between runners and Mr. Johnson.  Reading it drove home one fact…

I had forgotten one of the fundamental truths about Shadowrun:  Mr. Johnson is an asshole.

They way my players deal with Mr. Johnson is always kind of glossed over in terms of how the business transactions are conducted.  They meet the guy, agree to terms before doing something dastardly and then go get paid.  Occasionally, Mr. Johnson sets them up and they go looking for payback…

But Mr. Johnson never has the runner’s best interests in mind, that’s a given.  But lately, we’ve kind of used the meets for a simple “what’s the job and how much do we get paid?” before getting down to the nuts and bolts.  Then, at the end, they deliver the macguffin, demand compensation for hardships Mr. Johnson neglected to mention and move on.

But… Mr. Johnson is an asshole.  He doesn’t want to pay the grease beneath his boots for their services… he’s a conniving, scheming sonuva bitch with a personal agenda and a massive retainer.  He’s a pivotal adversary in nearly every Shadowrun and I’ve been relegating him to a sidenote, just so we can get into the action.  Some of my best villains have been former employers in previous editions… so what changed?

Perhaps, it’s the fact that I have players that have been gaming with me forever and I just want to give them what they came for.  Laziness I’m sure plays a role in that as well.  I can own that I kind of assembly line my material to some degree, so I can run games more often, rather than develop material fully… though I have found that extra effort typically goes unused as my players have a way of destroying all of my plans from the word ‘go’.

Nevertheless, the majority of my players have been around the block many times now.  So maybe it’s time for a little more duplicity from Mr. Johnson… keep the runners on their heels, so that after dealing with whatever massive disaster they just encountered, now their face has to bring their A-game, just to make sure they get their cut from a man who would much rather keep his money and take what he wants off your cooling corpse…

So, for other GMs out there, how do you portray your Mr. Johnsons?  Are they the double-crossing, scheming reluctant partners of runners that they were destined to be?  Or are they little more than plot devices that facilitate the main event?  Perhaps something in between… what makes the employers of your Shadowrun game unique and exciting?

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~ by 1nsomniac on April 28, 2015.

One Response to “Forgetting the Fundamentals”

  1. Here’s a question: does there always have to be a Mr. Johnson? Who says the runners have to be hired to do something? Reason I ask is that having every run follow the same basic setup (get hired, go after the MacGuffin, find the “Surprise!!1!”, get out of Dodge, got get paid, rinse & repeat) will inevitably get stale, no matter how creative the setup and the surprise are.

    For example, what if they simply came across a rumour of the existence of something really valuable that would be worth stealing? You could almost guarantee the group would try to steal it on their own if you also happened to make it something that one or more of them really wanted for, say, upgrading their own gear.

    The other alternative, of course, is that Mr. Johnson could actually be the villain. He isn’t just trying to get services on the cheap, he’s actually setting the runners up to not get out of this alive. He doesn’t expect them to bring the MacGuffin back – like Dr. No, he just expects them to die.

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