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[Spoilers] Shadowrun - Dawn of the Artifacts - Dusk and Midnight (books 1 & 2) - Story Issues and Fixes

Isida Kep'Tukari

Upfront, I'm a player in a Shadowrun campaign, which my husband is running. We're working through the Dawn of the Artifacts adventure series, finished Dusk, and are roughly halfway through Midnight. I am not looking for spoilers for any other books in the series, but wanted to get some potential tips from other GMs or players for some story problems we've encountered thus far, hence SPOILERS for those two adventure books we've played.

Our gaming group consists of myself, a married couple, and another friend. All of us are familiar with D&D, but Shadowrun was new for all of us. My husband had played a lot of it, but that was an older edition, so we've all been learning the rules together. Because the players are all new to this game, there is a certain level of frustration as we attempt to adjudicate problems together, find rules, and wonder out loud at the massively terrible organization of the Shadowrun core book. Seriously, it's awful. In order to figure out a single game mechanic, you often have to have the book open to anywhere from 2-4 places to get all the information.

*cough* But that's a beef with the core book, and not the main problem.

The problem is with the "climaxes" in the Artifact storyline. At the end of the first book, our characters were trying to get Ms. Johnson out of Lagos (a feral city) and encountered a huge ghoul pack in a confined alley. It became abundantly clear, as the GM kept putting more and more minis on the board, that we had no chance of fighting them all off. Hell, we might not even be able to all escape. My mage was pulling a latch-ditch attempt to have a summoned earth elemental moved an abandoned car so that we might be able to away, when the Johnson suddenly erupted like a magical supernova and all the ghouls fell down.

She had not, let it be said, register as Awakened, and my mage had assenssed her earlier.

Ok, fine, deus ex machina moment, we are going after artifacts, weird stuff is going to happen from time to time.

Later, we're chasing another mage that was making off with the McGuffin. Despite us pushing ourselves to the utmost to get there in time, neglecting the pretty bad wounds we'd taken in getting out of Chicago in one piece, we only arrived at the landing field in time to see her ship take off. Apparently the adventure is written so you arrive either exactly when her ship is taking off (at best) or after (at worst). It didn't matter that we had busted ass to get there, the dramatic moment remained the same.

Fine, fine, story needed some drama.

Again, we chase said mage and the McGuffin to another city, and holed up in a safehouse for less than an hour to briefly regroup and see if our rigger/hacker could locate our rogue mage, or if my mage could go astral and try to hunt her down. But for the first little bit, we were all trying to heal up a little (at least our Stun damage), as everyone was walking wounded from nearly non-stop fights. This part of the adventure was essentially timed, and nearly everyone but the cyborg street samurai with dermal plating was carrying around a lot of Physical damage that we couldn't take time to tend to heal any more than we had. (Everyone had already used First Aid kits or been the recipient of my mage's Heal spell, but we were all still down many boxes.)

Then suddenly, and without warning, a dozen guys with guns surrounded our "safehouse" and began shooting through the windows.

(And as a point, the DM mentioned later that the ritual our Johnson (who'd we'd been dragging around) had been using to get a general fix on the McGuffin (but only every day or so, because it's time-consuming and draining, natch), had been sending up a big astral signal that the bad guys had tracked. Fine, fine. So even if my mage wanted to put up the most minimal of astral barriers to try to hide the Johnson's presence, we still would have been hosed because even the weakest astral barrier takes an hour. What-the-hell-ever.)

Yeah yeah, we probably should have set up perimeter guards or gotten some drone cameras or something. Again, all the players are new to Shadowrun, so we're learning a lot of lessons the hard way.

In the ensuing bloodbath, the already-heavily-wounded orc face/sniper went down, my low-Body mage nearly faceplanted, our Johnson nearly died, and our street samurai fell on a grenade, which luckily was for stunning instead of for blowing stuff up.

Then! A powerful NPC sniper/cyborg/mage we'd briefly met in Lagos arrived! With three friends! And shot all the bad guys dead! Then healed us all up (as much as he could) with more than double the dice pool my mage could have mustered in top form! And said he'd go with us to find this rogue mage! Huzzah, we were saved!

At this point, the group got a little pissed. We'd had two deus ex machinas and at least one blatant point where our actions, no matter how diligent, couldn't get our characters a break. This group is much more familiar with D&D, and aren't used to carrying such a damage balance for so long. It's gotten to the point where some characters are taking substantial dice pool penalties to everything they do with no chance of reprieve, because we can't stop to heal (long-term healing is the only option left to us, and we can’t take it because of plot time constraints). In addition, I have already heard grumbles from some of the other players about the lack of character progress. Again, we’re used to D&D, where advancement comes regularly and in substantial chunks, instead of a point-based system like Shadowrun, where bits and pieces of your character advance in fits and starts as you gain Karma.

I know my husband the GM is running the modules as written, because he doesn’t do well with making up things on the fly. But since we’ve had two deus ex machinas in one-and-a-half books, I fear there are more on the horizon.

My questions to you, fellow players and game masters, are thus: Has anyone else encountered these problems with this adventure path before? Did they have any suggestions or alternate GM ideas to avoid or change these deus ex machina encounters and at least make the players feel like they’re not being led around by the nose and rescued by their parents at regular intervals? We know it’s not the GM’s fault, as he’s clearly playing these books straight, but it’s really starting to cheese the group off.

For reference, the group consists of:

Red – Changling (SURGE I) street samurai, heavily cyborged, unarmed combat monster, nearly impossible to hurt, and occasionally difficult to control once she gets started fighting.
Vienna – Orc sniper/face, low pain tolerance, cyber trail is constantly erased, good Firearms and Negotiation.
Alita – Orc ninja/adapt, honorbound and vengeful, perceptive, sneaky, lethal with blades, shuriken, and grenades.
Trouble – Orc rigger/hacker NPC, good at what she does, no physical skills, easily distractible.
Blue Crow – Human hermetic mage, good summoner and caster, wide spell selection (several health, including Heal, also Stunball, some scouting spells), low Body, high pain tolerance, high Gremlin rating (barely able to use any tech).

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First Post
I don't want to come off as an ass-hat, or try in anyway to say that your Husband / GM is bad.

Being a player and being a GM of any game, can be a challenge. I played 2nd and 3rd edition SR prior to taking up running. It was rough the first time. I knew how to do things as a player, but did not realize how much the GM had to do in the background. But I learned. And it took time. The hardest part is being able to change things on the fly. I had a run setup, even had the place mapped out, but also put a audio warning at the entrance. They decided to heed the warning and left. Quite unusual for them. So I ran a little sideways, got them back to Seattle; had Mr. Johnson contact them; and sent them onto where I wanted them to go anyway. They never realized it until I told them after we had stopped playing. I NEVER count on the players to do exactly what I want; and He shouldn't either.

The only piece of advice I can give you is to hold on. Things will improve. Not knowing how things went down, or how much prep work he put into the game; he might want to re-read things the afternoon prior to the game. Go through the few sections of the book that he thinks the group will get too. If it looks like things will go beyond that, He might want to stop the game, let everyone know that he is not ready to go on. As friends, they'll give him a hard time; but they will understand.

Also, as he gets more comfortable with the role of GM; he might start creating his own runs. I find those are really the best; I know the run inside and out, because I wrote it.

Isida Kep'Tukari

Aye - I know he's read the adventures in advance, but from things he's said, it seems like there is a decided element of poor writing in the adventures themselves. He had to do some GM fiat things this session just to get us to the point where we could be effective. And while he does have excellent talent as a player, one thing he doesn't do particularly well is think of adventures on the fly. Between that and the fact everyone is so new at the game we're all spending inordinate amounts of time looking up each rule, some of the other players want a suspension on this game once we're done with the current book (which would be book 2 out of an adventure arc of 6).

I am having fun with my character and the setting, despite my own frustrations, but others in the group are much more restless than I. I think we all would have been happier if we had done several smaller runs in Seattle instead of this world-hopping adventure. If we end up returning to Shadowrun after our hiatus, I may have to work with my husband on some original adventures for the group, rather than the pre-made adventure books, if this theme of deus ex machina permeates the entire adventre.

Or, alternately, I am just going to see if he'll let me read the adventure and try to fix them together.


I haven't played those modules (although I know from later publications that they are quite high powered and several of the most powerful beings in Shadowrun are involved) but from your description I have to agree with gdonwallace somewhat.
There might be some problems with the modules or not, but the inexperience of your GM and the other player does seem to play a large factor.
I really do suggest to play your own adventures at first to build up familarity with the rules and especially the setting. There are dozens of jokes about D&D player playing Shadowrun in the community and deep down there is some tiny truth about them. Shadowrun playes very differently than D&D, not only mechanically.

Edit: I just checked and the artifact series specifically tells you that it is not designed for novice players. So unless the GM has tweaked it you are likely playing, to use D&D terms, a 10th level adventure with 1st level characters. As for the first Deus Ex Machina, it seems you get it the wrong way. If it really is scripted like this in the adventure then likely to give you a hint at who you are dealing with (I have a pretty good guess. Female elf, right?) and make you start asking questions and do legwork instead of just brushing it away with "we are going after artifacts, weird stuff is going to happen from time to time". In my experience the need to gather information on your own is something many D&D players struggle with when playing Shadowrun.
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Isida Kep'Tukari

Yeah, I don't think Hubby might have seen the "not for novice players" note. We had one little one-shot, and then one adventure he made up on his own between books 1 and 2, but the rest have been the artifact series.

From what I've seen, I believe as D&D players we're not paranoid enough, not ruthless enough, too trusting, and too used to going into every fight thinking we're going to win. We don't yet know enough to run away. Also, as newer players, pretty much all of us put our contacts as a last priority. I don't think anyone started with more than two, and no one had any one rated above a three in either category aside from one player, and that contact won't help us worth beans in the situations we're facing. We have little to no information lines, we don't have a dedicated hacker (only an NPC rigger), and the one player who's playing the face rarely plays that type of person, so misses many opportunities to get us info (I believe).

We're contact-light, karma-light, ignorant and inexperienced. And nearly every single time I see the GM roll for our enemies? Unless they're Goon Squad #1, he's rolling a double handful of dice, which is more than two of our characters typically have in any dice pool.

*sigh* I need to have a long talk with the husband.


The mindset required to play Shadowrun is quite different than for D&D. You are not the big heroes who can take on everyone. Instead you are small cogs in the machine and have to stay under the radar of those in power. Any acts of violence has to be calculated. That is a very different experience and it is likely that even with a better, novice friendly adventure not everyone in your group will be satisfied.

Anyway, I do not know if there are modules for Shadowrun beginners. Maybe some of the Missions modules. Also, this year Shadowrun 5 will be release and it will have introductory stuff for new players. So when you are pausing anyway you might scrap your current campaign and wait for the SR5 release (unless you are unwilling to buy a new book).
Also, try the dumpshock forums for advise on Shadowrun.