By: Marc Renouf
Arti: "...tactics?! You know about this strange thing?"
Marc: "As a matter of fact, I do. I also have stuff on military-style small unit tactics."
Generally, you want things like interlocking fields of fire (which allow more than one operative to
engage a single target from different directions), overwatch (use the rules for held action in SRII,
i.e. sammi comes around the corner into the waiting caress of a hail of 7.62mm FMJ), suppressive fire
(see the rules for suppressive fire in Fields of Fire), and other nasty stuff. Actually, you have quite
a bit of it already if you are using duckback sighting and cover. Those are extremely important.
Also don't deprive your goons of the abilities of communications and sensory detection. For example,
instead of having two goons blast around a corner and hose, have one goon use 1 simple action to look
around the corner and make a perception test (to spot all possible targets if there are more than one
and to determine the placement and threat assessment of those targets. That goon then uses his other
simple action to duck back into full cover (totally out of the players' line of sight) and use his free
action to convey the information obtained in either word or gesture (i.e. a one word/gesture way of
pointing out the most significant threat). Then goon 2 (whose action is held till this point) ducks out
around the corner and takes a single shot/burst at the target designated by the first. Goon 2 then ducks
back into full cover, or stays out and covers the hall, depending on the result of his shot.
Also, you might want to allow the holding of simple actions, i.e. you can jump out, fire a burst, then
hold your other simple action in case someone else comes into the hall. If something happens and you
decide to use that held action, it can only be something that could be accomplished in a simple action.
It works wonders.
As far as sensory detection goes, thermographic vision is the drek. It doesn't take long for someone's
heat signature to bleed through a wall or door, probably only about two combat rounds. So if a PC or NPC
stays put for any length of time, assume the PCs or guards know where he or she or they is(are), and can
act accordingly (like hose through the door or wall). Better still, this is not blind fire since you can
see the target, although you may want to apply a small (+2 ?) modifier for the fuzziness of the bleed-
* A note on moving when wounded. It may be stated as such in the original rules,
but I don't think so, so I'll state my "house rule" on running when wounded. I apply the wound penalty to
a person's walking speed [which is their Quickness], down to a minimum of 1 meter; further the penalty is
applied before the running modifier. As such, a human with a Quickness of 4 and a moderate wound has a
walking speed of 2 and a running speed of 6. It may seem harsh, but keep what wounds mean in perspective.
Could you sprint as well if you were 30% dead?
- Don't go into combat alone. Nobody likes to be outnumbered, especially the bad guys. Unless
your operatives are extremely competent badasses, they will come in twos and threes. SWAT teams like to
have something like, one guy break down the door and get the hell out of the way, while the three guys
behind him quickly enter and take up overwatch positions, engaging and neutralising hostiles as
necessary. In two or three man teams, you have all the benefits of combined firepower, multi-directional
line-of-sight, and bounding overwatch capability (I'll get to this later), without having to take
headcounts to see if anybody is missing. If you can look around and see two other guys, you know you're
in the clear.
- Communicate. Don't underestimate the power of the forward observer. The information age has
shown us that knowledge is power. Use it. By sending in a drone, the operatives may know the position of
any hostiles, hostages, or innocent civvies caught in the fray. By having that sniper-spotter also carry
a laser microphone, he can not only spot a target but he can listen to what that target is saying. If
the party is dumb enough to make plans on site, use that against them and have people waiting for them in
ambush. If one operative knows some crucial bit of intelligence, he'll pass it along to his buddies. So
assume that if one of them can see you, they all know where you are (roughly at the very least).
- Plan ahead. If a situation has developed, SWAT/Military deckers will have downloaded stuff
like building plans, etc. so they may know the most likely places the party may be. They will also know
the layout of the building, And may be able to exploit service access, crawl-spaces, maintenance tunnels,
etc. They will also know which ways NOT to come in. Stepping down to the "security goon" level, it is
entirely possible that the security personnel may have "secret doors" leading between critical areas to
speed up deployment and add an element of surprise. It is also possible that these security tunnels may
not appear on any building plan the players will ever get hold of. Talk about goons coming outta the
- Do your homework. Once on site, some hotshot recon weenie will get a picture/voice print/DNA
sample of the perpetrator(s) (again, the little drones are wonderful for this). From this, those same
SWAT/military deckers may be able to determine the ID of the perp(s). They will use this to the best of
their advantage; for example, say the SWAT team finds out that Bad-Ass George, the notorious samurai, has
holed up inside a building with his team of runners. Say poor George has a criminal record. Uh, oh. Say
this record tells the coppers that ol'Bad-Ass has a cybernetic inhaled filtration system and Wired-3.
Wow. So maybe instead of tossing in just those Neurostun canisters, they'll throw in some EMP grenades
too, just special for George (BTW, an EMP [E-lectro M-agnetic P-ulse] grenade is a CP 2020 thing, but
perfectly plausible in today's day and age, and appropriate for Shadowrun. It's pretty much death to
cyberware). And even if that doesn't work perfectly, they know who their primary target is, right? Also
keep in mind that the identities may be determined before the cops even arrive (like from the footage of
various security cameras, etc.) Forewarned is forearmed. This is not even taking into account the
possibility of obtaining a material link (drop of blood, piece of hair or skin), which is a whole
different ball of wax.
- Cover your butt. Don't have your operative step out into the open, especially when he or she
doesn't know what's out there. Partial cover, movement modifiers, etc. can all play significant roles.
Especially now that the revised rules for cover are out (in Fields of Fire) there is more than just the
basic +4 modifier. Optimize your position and maximize your cover.
- Cover your buddy's butt. Suppression fire is your friend. It allows you to keep your
opponents' heads down while you do something else. And if the cretin is dumb enough to step out into the
line of fire, he gets hit. Many times, its easier to hit with suppressive fire than it is with regular
fire. You generally hit with fewer rounds, however. Makes sense. Also, overwatch is important. Control
your field of fire. scan it, and if anything moves, vape it. This works well in Shadowrun because held
actions are already written into the rules. Also, use bounding overwatch. This is a combination between
principles 1. and 6. Basically, it's this. When you have multiple operatives, one or more take up
overwatch while the rest move forward. Once they get forward, they in turn take up overwatch while the
ones who were on overwatch before move past the new overwatchers into a position even farther to the
front, and the process is repeated. Somewhat slow, but at least you have a better chance of being alive
once you get to where you're going. The principles of overwatch and suppressive fire go well together.
For example, operative A maintains suppressive fire on a doorway (behind which hides a cretinous
shadowrunning slimebag) while operative B gets in position unmolested and takes up overwatch on said
doorway. Then operative A drops the suppressive fire and gets into cover (also, op A could fire his
weapon empty, so that satisfying "tink" of the empty magazine lulls the runner into complacency). At
this point cretinous shadowrunning slimebag thinks to self "Ha! Goon is sans ammo! Now is the time to
make my move!" Wrongo, "dead" cretinous shadowrunning slimebag. Keep in mind that since the runner's
head was pinned down, he may not have seen op B move up (the ideal situation) and may be taken totally
by surprise (ouch, no dodge). You may want to just take the shot and allow the runner to dodge as a
surprise test may not go favourably for the goon. It's up to you.
- And speaking of surprise... Ambush is a good thing. Even your typical corp goon with Reaction
4 and Threat Rating 2 rolls 6 dice, target number 2 (as they are laying in wait), for an average of 5
successes. The chromed street monster with wired-3, yielding reaction of, oh, say 12 rolling at T# 4 is
only going to get 6 successes on average. So even a wimpy corp goon can give a Sammi a run for his money
under the right circumstances. Imagine what a SWAT trooper with Reaction 6 Threat Rating 3 would be like.
And even if the Sammi beats some of them, he may not beat them all. Also, the bonuses to Reaction from
BattleTac are added to the dice rolled for surprise tests, so this can get ugly when facing well-equipped
- Throw in all the other stuff from various sources as well. In the Lone Star Sourcebook it
talks about Astral backup whose sole purpose is to hose enemy mages by forcing them to turn off
locks/foci/etc., banishing or controlling their spirits or elementals, and killing their spells before
they reach their targets. Fields of Fire has stuff on tactical computers, target designators, etc. that
can make any runner's or target's day quite unpleasant.
- Concerning cover. A useful rule for both PC and foe is to allow inadvertant hits through
cover. The way I run this is as follows: Say your target number to hit someone with your Ares Predator
is a 6 without cover. Say the target is hiding behind partial cover, for a total target number of 10. If
the shooter rolls no successes at the high target number, but would have hit without the cover, the shot
still hits, but the target has the benefit of the cover as armor from the hit. In some cases (where the
barrier rating of the cover is higher than the power level of the shooter's weapon), the shot would be
considered a miss. Say in the above example, the target foolishly takes cover behind a bunch of empty
55-gallon barrels (barrier rating of maybe 4). The shooter rolls a 2,2,3,5,8, and 8. None hit the target
alone, but the two 8's would hit otherwise. Thus, they actually do hit, but the power level that the
target would resist is only a 9 - 4 = 5 before the target's armor due to his cover. This kind of
situation is realistic and makes people think about what they are using for cover. It's especially
useful for suppressive fire. You will rapidly see players taking more care in what they hide behind.
- Limit your opponents' visibility. Smoke and flash grenades are wonderful for giving you an
extra little edge, especially when trying to move into a better position. Under cover of smoke,
operatives may be able to move totally unmolested into positions that offer far better tactical
- Position. Optimize it, as I said before. When working in conjunction with others, try to get
the targets into a cross-fire situation. To clarify, cover is often only uni-directional, meaning that
if you were to shoot from the side, say, instead of from the front, the target may have less, or even no
cover. And in this situation, with multiple opponents shooting at you with less cover mods, you will
eventually run out of combat pool and get hit. Also, cover that actually is omni-directional often
limits your abilities to escape. If the shadowrunner decides that his position has become untenable and
tries to retreat, he may need to go over or through his omni-directional cover, which will probably be
considered difficult ground, thus making it harder to dodge effectively.
- Stay out of trouble. Once the shadowrunners enter someplace where they are likely to meet
opposition, that opposition should be smart. Instead of charging in and trying to hose them down, have
them wait, send a few guards around in behind the runners, lure them into areas that you have control
over, that limit their escape options. Herd them into natural cross-fire areas. Control them and trap
- Speaking of traps... Never underestimate the value of an anti-personnel mine. If the SWAT or
security forces know that the party is coming or have the time to deploy them, traps work well,
especially when used in psych-ploys (attack the runners, leaving a moderately obvious avenue of escape
that is booby-trapped like all get-out). Even in improvised situations, a grenade and a length of wire
can be a moderately effective trap, especially when deployed to cover a retreat that may be followed up.
- Divide and conquer. To keep from getting flanked into a crossfire situation, exploit every
opportunity to separate the opponents' forces into smaller groups that are more easily dealt with.
- Assessment. Critical to any combat situation is the ability to keep tabs on exactly what's
going on at all times and in all areas of conflict. In many instances, this very concept is a veritable
pipe-dream, and combat is nothing if not chaotic and confusing, but it is important to give it your best
shot. In this type of situation, security forces often have an easier time of it. Surveillance drones,
security cameras, good radio communication, and a knowledge of the layout of the facility can be
invaluable. It is absolutely essential that whoever is in charge of the security forces keep abreast of
what's going on. Keep in mind the note on communication and the sharing of intelligence in the last post,
as all of those points are applicable here. If the opposition starts to break through in a location,
then security needs to know a) where the opposition can go, b) where the opposition is likely to go, c)
how long it will take them to get there, d) whether delays will be of any use, e) what the opposition's
target is worth, and f) what are acceptible losses to keep that target out of the hands of (or safe from)
- Contingency planning. After assessing the situation, the head of security must weigh his or
her alternatives; shore up the flagging defense with reinforcements? Pull back and allow the opposition
in deeper to draw them into an ambush? Fight a rolling retreat to delay the opposition until help can
arrive? Let the opposition get to their target and trap them there? These are all questions that should
be going through the chief's mind, and they are questions that the GM should think about. Too often,
runners will mow through the first layer of resistance and then waltz around a facility because the GM
isn't thinking like a security chief. Know what you're protecting, and know your options.
- Retreat. So things are going badly. The opposition is too strong, too quick, or too numerous
to be able to contain. Well, the first thing to do is to pull your people out before they get geeked.
How do you do this? Well, remember that point from the last article about limiting your opposition's
visibility? The easiest way is to pop smoke, flash, and/or gas grenades to slow your enemy down and keep
them from seeing your retreat. This is a delaying tactic in and of itself, as the runners will either
need to let the smoke clear or will need to advance somewhat blind. When there is suddenly smoke
everywhere and all the firing has stopped, the runners are forced to wonder if it's a retreat or an
ambush that they're about to walk into. And if they just see smoke, they may not realize that you've
popped both a smoke and a NeuroStun grenade together. If they're not prepared, they may walk right into
it, thinking that it's just normal smoke.
- Ordered retreat. Taking things a step further, say you want to retreat, but you want to do it
in a fashion that will maximize the likelyhood of your operatives surviving. An excellent way to
accomplish this is by using the principle of bounding overwatch (described in the last post on tactics)
in reverse. Units to the rear take up overwatch positions (potentially laying down suppressive fire) as
units to the front fall back past them. This type of maneuver requires precision, training, and a cool
head to keep from turning into a rout, but when used effectively, it can open up a lot of distance
between the goons and the runners without sacrificing too much in the way of casualties or ground lost,
especially if you can keep your opposition pinned down while you pull back to a safer, more defensible
- Defense in Layers. Retreat sends a message to your opponent loud and clear. It says, "you're
kickin' my butt, and I'm gettin' the hell outta here." But it doesn't have to be telling the truth.
Consider this: you have put operatives into hidden ambush locations. Your standard goons retreat past
them, running balls-to-the-wall and screaming for mama. Your opposition follows the goons, knowing that
they have your guards on the run. Suddenly, they blunder into your hidden ambush, comprised of the
reserve operatives who waited until the last second to spring their trap. Alternately, you could allow
the opposition to go past your lurking operatives, such that said operatives will later enter the fray
behind the runners, coming at them from a direction which they probably won't expect (because they've
already "cleared" that ground) and from which they almost certainly have less cover. The factor of
surprise in and of itself could tip the balance of the engagement.
- Redirect. So the head-on defense hasn't worked. How about redirection? By putting up a stiff
resistance in certain areas, you can herd the runners into areas where you have a stronger defense, or a
terrain advantage, or make them take a longer route that gives you valuable time to prepare your next
layer of defense.
- Area Denial. The question comes up, if I can't beat my opposition head-on, how can I put up a
stiff resistance in certain areas? The answer is area denial weapons. Like I said before, never
underestimate the power of a good anti-personnel mine. Knowing or suspecting that an area is booby-trapped
to drek makes it a lot less likely avenue of attack. Grenades, mines, gas, sentry-guns, drones, or
suppression fire can all be used as impromptu area-denial weapons. Even inconveniences like heavy
security doors that require cutting or demolition, or an officeroom full of cubicles with lots of hidden
nooks and crannies (any one of which could hide lurking goons) can give the runners pause. Making it
look like there are more security assets present than there actually are can work almost as well as
having a strong defense in an area, and it's usually much cheaper. One of my personal favorites is
flooding a hallway with smoke, as it forces people to wonder just what's down that hallway. When
presented with an easy alternative (the hallway that has no smoke), the alternative is usually the one
that's taken, especially in a time crunch situation where the runners are in a hurry.
- Speaking of being in a hurry, think about delaying tactics. Closed doors (even simple ones),
locked doors (even wimpy ones), blocked doors (even if just with the boss's overstuffed chair), debris,
stopped elevators, blocked stairwells, ambushes, booby-traps, redirection. All of these things cause the
runners to have to slow down (because if they don't they pay the price). And having a decker gunning for
you on matrix overwatch opening all the locks does you exactly zero good when some enterprising guard
has wedged a door shut with his empty clip or cut the power cables to the elevator winch. Slowing down
on a run when security knows you're there is generally a bad idea, as every second that ticks by is
another second in which reinforcements, Lone Star, or something worse might arrive. Block every exit
around where the runners are if you can. Once they are on the site, keep them there (this is especially
true when dealing with an extraterritorial facility). Once more security forces or the authorities
arrive, there are more goons to throw at the opposition, so any delays you can throw at them increase
your chances of success. Furthermore, if you delay long enough, the runners may just decide to cut their
losses and pull out. If you can keep them from getting what they came for, your mission as a security
chief is complete.
- Make the Fraggers Pay. Virtually any guerilla tactic can be used defensively. Hit-and-run
attacks by security will leave the opposition confused, delayed, and hopefully wounded. For that matter,
wounds are better than death because they slow you down (see the note
[*] on movement
immediately after this point), and there may just be the chance that you'll capture some or all of the
opposition for later interrogation. Oh, the possibilities... In any event, quick, hit-and-run
engagements initiated by security are significantly less likely to incur casualties on said security
force, because you can pick the time, location, and duration of the engagement. Show up out of thin air,
take a few shots or bursts, and fade back deeper into the installation. At worst you've wasted a little
ammo, at best you've caused some serious damage to your opposition.
Finally, I would like to make a comment on the applicability of these guidelines within the Shadowrun game
system. It has been said that tactics are useless because of the rapidity with which SR firefights take
place. I'm sorry, but I don't remember the last firefight that lasted less than five complete turns, and
that was against a vastly outnumbered foe. Generally combats take much longer, with engagements running
into the minutes. Surprisingly, this doesn't significantly add to the amount of time it takes to run
combats since much of the time is spent moving and jockeying for better position rather than rolling gobs
of dice. This in and of itself adds a dimension of realism to the game.
Also, I've said it before and I'll say it again, modifiers are the life-blood of the Shadowrun game system.
If the only modifier you remember is the -2 smartlink mod, it's no wonder combat is over so quickly. Even
just cover, movement, range, and visibility can totally screw a target number and push it into the double-
digits. In combat, you tend to spray a horde of rounds in your opponents' general direction with little or
no effect. The exceptions to this are ambushes and combats that take place at incredibly short range in
open terrain. In the long run, you'll probably roll less because you won't have to roll the NPC's body-
resistance and knockdown so much :)
The final thing that you need to take into account is what you ultimately want out of your game. If you
want cinematic, by all means go with the quick-and-dirty option. But this has its disadvantages as well.
Generally, normal and even buff goons will be meat for the runners. Your players will probably go through
your NPC's like papiere-mache, a situation which often leads to PC vs GM power escalations that rapidly
get out of hand. On the other hand, if you play your goons smart, remember your modifiers, and go with a
higher level of realism, even weak goons can give experienced runners a hassle in certain situations.
Then, the runners have to rely on planning and coordination rather than brute-force to succeed, which I
always imagined was the point behind running in the first place. The trade-off here is more stuff to
remember or keep track of. With practice, though, this gets easier with time. In the abstract, one system
is no better than the other, it's just a question of gaming style. I pride myself on the level or relative
realism (barring the initial suspension of disbelief required to even play the game) that can be achieved.
I think it makes the game enjoyable on a more reasonable level.
If for no other reason, give some of the subjects mentioned herein a try just to see the looks on your
players' faces when they are vastly outclassed by weaker foes with a little bit of tactical know-how.
In any event, the previous discussion dealt with ways to make things difficult for runners from the
standpoint of being able to defeat them successfully using mediocre (but smart) goons. However, it should
be pointed out that even when played well tactically, the goons might not always have the upper hand. When
dealing with a group of runners that has their heads together and is using a solid plan, life for the
goons can get tough. So what do said goons do? That's right, they use smart tactics to turn the situation
around, and those defensive tactics can mean the difference between life and death. It can mean the
difference between having the runners complete a total cakewalk of a run, or making them work hard for
every inch of ground they gained.
So when things start to go badly for the goons, how can they keep from being totally overwhelmed?
Again, and like always, I want to put in my quip about target number modifiers. Without them, tactics are
meaningless. What good does filling a hallway with smoke do if you are going to forget to tack on the
visibility modifiers? They are easy to remember, or you can make a little reference sheet that has all of
them listed. Movement (shooter and target), cover (shooter and target), wounds, visibility, range, or
other random situational target mods can make a huge difference in the nature of the engagement. They have
the effect of making smarts and careful planning as important as the Firearms skill and the Reaction
(Initiative) attribute, which would not otherwise be the case.
Hopefully, these suggestions will get you thinking about situations where the goons can do their best to
snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Using these kinds of tactics can make even goons who are losing
ground a serious threat. Runners may think they have the upper hand, but let them. Let them get cocky, let
them make mistakes, and then let them pay the price for those mistakes. I can virtually guarantee you that
they will be a lot more careful about how they approach these kinds of situations.