Shadowrun Newbie GM Guide

So, you just purchased your first Shadowrun corebook.
You started flipping through it, and you want to get your group together to give it a shot.

And chances are good, that you might be a bit overwhelmed, even if you are hyped to run the game.
Why not turn back on that a bit, then?

Let me give you a few pointers towards setting up your first Shadowrun game and going from there.

Take note: This is all this is! A set of pointers for a tight, fun first experience. This is not a “How to set up your epic cyberpunk campaign?” post. The advice and hints presented here are meant to get you and your friends started with Shadowrun, having fun in your first few sessions and giving you a steady base on which you can then build up your future games. As such, I will try to keep my biases to myself as best as I can and not push you towards my personally preferred style of Shadowrun.

This is not a “follow these steps and never stray” checklist.
This is a “think about those and re-think them later after you get some personal experience” guide.

Let’s start, then.


1st Point of Advice – Decide on what you want to focus on.

This is the most basic piece of advice to give, and it applies to pretty much every game out there. But while some games offer a very streamlined approach for a newbie GM (The old ‘meet in a tavern and get hired’ stereotype, for example.), others offer more freedoms right from the start.

And while Shadowrun is not as hard to pin down as, say, Transhuman Space, it does have its share of turns and dials you can manipulate to get wildly different experiences.

  • In which city will you set your game?
  • What power level do you want to start with?
  • Will the PCs work mainly for megacorps, criminal organizations, smaller-scale corps, neighborhoods, mysterious patrons or something else entirely?
  • What composition will your team consist of?
  • How far do you want to go on the “Magic and Machine” axis?
  • All of those will change your game up in very striking ways. Take these two examples:

    The traditional “Mixed group of runners operating out of Seattle, doing jobs for everyone, brushing up against both Magic and High Tech regularly” setup.
    And a decidedly non-traditional “A team of riggers and street sams operating in the Rhine-Ruhr Megaplex, working exclusively for mid-tier corps, never really brushing up against magic” setup.

    Think about this. Think about what kind of game you feel comfortable running. This will, in turn, give you a better focus for the rest of your game prep. If you, for example, know that you don’t have any Mages/Deckers/Riggers in your group and that your PCs won’t encounter the Yakuza and Mafia at first… Well, that’s several sections of the book you don’t have to tackle yet. And if you know that you’ll have a social character, two combat characters and a tech-focused character, that’s another good set of information, telling you which part of the books to give more attention to.

    Also, and this is something I’ll never stop stressing for ANY game: Involve your players in this! It’s okay for you as the GM to have a general direction in which to take things. But if you want your players to have fun, ask them about what they’d like to do/experience/play as well. If their ideas sound cool and/or workable to you, include them. And if they express interest into something you can’t/won’t/don’t want to accommodate in your first game, tell them so. Not in a hostile or aggressive manner, of course. Just calmly explain why can’t do that yet. And, yes, “I’m sorry, I don’t think I’ll be able to digest the rules for X until our first game.” is a valid reason.

    One special “ruling” I include in pretty much all the games I run, no matter the rules-set or setting, is this: “After we all have enough experience with the game, setting and rules, all of you will be able to re-work your PCs. Either optimizing them or changing them completely. No XP will be lost. Nobody will be penalized.”

    This makes people more comfortable playing PCs they might not be 100% on-board with, as they know that if they really dislike it, they’ll be able to change it later.

    But involving your future players into your prep is an amazing way to get both more involved players AND a good set of pointers about where to focus your efforts. It might even change your original plans, for the better.


    2nd Point of Advice – Communal Character Creation.

    Before you sit down with all your players to create the PCs, you should make sure that you, as GM, are familiar and comfortable with the character creation rules. Create a few characters by yourself in preparation. Get a feeling for the set-up and flow and organization of the process. Be ready to answer questions. And use sticky-notes to mark the important areas in the rule book. This prep is essential. It will make character generation go by much quicker and smoother. This will help build confidence and ‘hype’ for the coming game.

    There are few things worse for a new game with new players than a slow, arduous, bumpy character generation session. It makes the game’s rules look more complicated than they are, and it lowers confidence in the GM. It might put people off from the game in subtle, minor ways.

    But it can be avoided easily. So do avoid it.

    And, yes: Communal Character Creation. Sit down all your player and create characters together. Let them bounce off ideas with each other, let them ask questions about the setting and the game. If you talked with them about the structure/content/ideas for the coming first game, this is also a good venue to let all of them know about the thoughts you had since then, and give feedback on those.

    Also, trust me in this: Sometimes players will ask questions whose answers will help even those who didn’t think to ask that particular question.

    This session can also be used to introduce the PCs to each other, to sort out how they met and how they feel towards each other. It can also be used to lay the groundwork for the first “real” session.


    3rd Point of Advice – It’s Okay To Say No. It’s Also Okay To Let Players Read Rules.

    If you don’t think that you can get your head around a particular set of sub-rules (Rigging, Magic, Decking), it’s okay to tell your players to please not play such characters for the very first time.

    It’s a much better idea to get comfortable with the basic rules of the game before branching out and diving into the more complicated sub-systems.

    And if, after a few sessions, a player wants to play a Decker or Shaman or Rigger or Mage… Let them read the rules. Let them help you with this task. Make them the initial “table expert” for their particular specialty. They should know everything about their particular specialty, from character-centric rules to GM-centric rules. So that you can rely on them to support you whenever you engage their set of special skills. (You have to trust your players here, as well. If they’re in for a fun game, they won’t hold information away from you to make things easier for them. Don’t second guess whatever they tell you. And if they ever make a honest mistake, don’t be an ass about it. Everybody makes mistakes from time to time.)

    Whatever you do: Keep to the core rules for your first few forays into Magic, Decking and Rigging!
    You can get the sourcebooks and put everything in them to use later.

    If a player wants to introduce advanced rules from a sourcebook before you are ready, gently tell them “Not yet, please wait until we’re all more secure and comfortable with the rules.”

    You do not need to start with every option, every supplement and every advanced rule. And if you have a more experience player in your group, lasso them in to help you, but make sure that they don’t push you towards taking on more than you can handle. There’s no shame in taking things slowly and deliberately. And it always makes for better games.


    4th Point of Advice – A Basic First Session is Best.

    This one comes from personal experiences: For your very first session, make a very simple, A->B->C kind of run.

    Something REALLY simple, like: “Break and enter into this warehouse, get/steal this item, bring it to me without being followed.”

    Make sure that the Johnson is just a random shmuck, someone not in the employ of a major or mid-tier organization of any kind.
    Make sure that whoever is guarding the item your PCs are to liberate is also of no consequence. Random, low-level gangers without connections and influence.
    Make sure that the place said item is found is in a shitty area where police response is unlikely and/or really damn slow and unenthusiastic.
    Basically, make sure that even if your players let it all go to shit, that it doesn’t make them immediate targets of a AAA corp and a powerful street gang or criminal organization.

    This can be fun, but it’s the kind of fun for experienced players who know what they’re getting into, and an experienced GM who knows how to weave a net of background politics and consequences that are fun to live through and untie during play.

    Through the character creation session, you should know what PCs you’re designing the run and session for. You know their capabilities, their skills and qualities and gear. Create everything around that. If there are no mages, don’t throw in magical defenses. If there are no deckers, don’t throw in data they can only get through decking. If there are no riggers, don’t put the item behind security only a rigger could defeat/disable/counter. (There’s a strain of sadistic GMs out there who, for some reason, do shit like this. Don’t be like them. This only makes people unlikely to ever want to play Shadowrun again.)

    Give each PC a scene when they are invited to talk to the Johnson by a fixer or friend or fellow PC. Let them describe how and when they are spending their time when they’re called. Let them describe their PC in looks and characterization.

    Then spend some time on describing their travels to the meeting place. In those descriptions, focus on the mood, theme and feel you want to convey. Describe what makes your chosen city memorable. You don’t have to be all poetic and super-talkative here. Just point out the things that are important for the kind of game you want to run.

    Neon lights, rain-slick streets, cracked facades on buildings in run-down areas, heavily armored corp-cops patrolling the streets and ignoring obvious crimes, desperate gangers trying to protect people on the streets they live in, high-fashion shoppers mingling with rent-a-cops and wageslaves on the streets of a downtown recreational center, BTL-junkies chipped-in and lying in their own vomit with insipid grins on their dead faces.

    Try to have an image of your city and your 6th world in mind. Have it as light or dark as you want it. Decide how public magic is in everyday life. And be ready to let your players experience it through their characters.

    Then make the meet with the Johnson memorable as well. Decide on how comfortable their Johnson is with all that. Perhaps they slip up and mention their real name. Perhaps they’re ice-cold and almost bored. Think about what they let be known up-front and what they only remember to tell after being asked and what they can’t know (It’s unlikely for the Johnson to know if a herd of devil rats made their home in a nearby sewer, for example). Let them talk to the Johnson a bit. Let them negotiate a bit. This should be the first time for skill use. (Negotiation, on-the-fly research, judging the Johnson’s character…)

    After that, let your players prepare. This means, that you should have several things prepared and read to go: The location of the run with interior and exterior plans. Stat profiles for any guards and critters likely to be found there. If you allowed deckers, you should have the layout and stats for the matrix defenses of the location ready. You should have a few NPCs on hand that can be asked for information about the area and/or specific location. Even a few pieces of hidden/secret info the players can suss out via research and tenacity. Perhaps even a small side-job in the area, if you feel comfortable enough with such a thing. (“You’re going to the docks, near Warehouse 13? While you’re there, could you smash the windows of Warehouse 14? I’ll make it worth your while. … Danger? No, no. Don’t worry! It should be abandoned right now.”) – And as you know which skills your PCs have access to, you should tailor the research portion to those skills.

    The run itself should be a straightforward, tutorial-like affair: Throw in some skill-use (sneaking, defeating security systems, bullshitting their way past a guard or passing-by potential witness). Throw in some combat (guards, critters, automated defenses). Throw in some dynamic roleplaying and thinking-on-their-feet situations (inter-party dialogue about a surprise, witnessing something else going down, having to quickly adapt a plan because a piece of info was out-of-date).

    When they get the gizmo, let them drop it off, congratulate them via the Johnson and let them feel good about a job well done.

    Hand out cash and Karma, roll credits.

    And then IMMEDIATELY ask your players about what they liked and what they disliked. Relax, get comfortable and talk about the session. Take notes about what your players will tell you. Take notes of your own thoughts. Take their comments seriously, don’t be defensive and don’t take negative feedback personally. Ask, and take the answers seriously and take notes. You will get some of the best feedback for further session this way. You might even get some surprisingly cool ideas for plot-hooks this way.

    And no matter how basic the first run is, you will be surprised at the hilarious errors of judgment, plans going wrong and players picking up sub-plots where you’d never expect them. Roll with all of those. These are the things that will cause the best “Back then, in a game…” stories, down the line.


    5th Point of Advice – Pay Decently.

    As a Shadowrun GM who read the core book of any edition you will quickly realize that the advice given for how much to pay your runners is… Lacking, frankly. Sadly.

    Apart from very specific jobs done for specific reasons (revenge, charity, favours…), every job taken should pay enough to cover all and any expenses AND a sum of money per PC that is enough to advance the State Of The Art factor of your group to a level you’re comfortable with.

    Tuning the paygrade is one of the major ways in which you, as GM, can pace the campaign’s progress tech- and gear-wise.

    Again, this is something that seems obvious, but it’s something that’s too easily forgotten or put aside.

    I like to pay out in such a way that, after expenses, the PCs can either all afford a nifty item that’s important to their individual role. That way they can decide to either get an immediate, small upgrade to some part of their gear or to save up and wait a run or two more to get a juicier upgrade.

    For me, that’s often to the tune of [5000¥+run expenses+1 month of medium lifestyle upkeep+some randomization]/Runner. This is because most of my players tend to take medium lifestyle as their default. And yes, that means that the person who lives on High or Luxurious… They have to scrounge and penny-pinch and take side-jobs and loans and push for a more frequent rate of taking runs to afford more than smaller upgrades. If more than half of my players were to change to High lifestyle, I’d up the default paygrade. This would simulate the nebulous “rising in the ranks” for a team of Shadowrunners. It makes sense that after some time they would mostly accept higher-paying runs only.

    But this is something that you will have to feel out for yourself and your group. Just make sure that the first job they take and accomplish allows them to pay next month’s rent and afford something nice. Otherwise… What’s the point for them to continue? (Both as players and PCs.)

    Something similar is true for Karma as well, but it’s much easier to find a comfortable rate there. Simply decide what level of skill you’d like your players to be able to regularly rise and hand out Karma accordingly. Here, I’m fond of giving a base amount that would allow each player to raise two Level 3 Skills to Level 4 per session, with some added variance for specific events in-game. This lets them advance quickly enough for my taste. You might like a slower or even faster rate. And that’s fine. As always: Talk to your players what kind of speed they prefer.

    And if your opinions differ wildly, it’s time to sit down and suss things out with them, openly and honestly.


    6th Point of Advice – Ignore Things You Might Have Picked Up On The Net.

    Especially one thing: “The PCs will always be betrayed by their employers.”
    This one bit is often repeated again and again all across the internet and even outside of it when people discuss Shadowrun.

    And you are to flat out ignore it and not act on it and not let it influence your games in any fashion.

    The whole “Every Johnson is a dick who screws over the runners” thing is a stylistic device that has been blown out of proportion over the last three decades. It’s a meme, basically. A bad meme that needs to disappear because it’s hurting Shadowrun as a game.

    Yes, it is a dark, semi-dystopian, cyberpunk setting. And in those settings, betrayal and backstabbing does happen. Should happen, even.

    But NOT every time. Not even the majority of the time.
    It should come as surprise and perhaps even as a shock to the players.
    It should come with a narrative reason behind it, come from a motivation that can be understood, when uncovered. (There are few things worse than an NPC screwing over the players for no reason but “The GM thought it would be ‘fun’.”)

    You don’t have to screw over the PCs at every turn. There’s no better way to kill of a Shadowrun campaign, actually. Players feeling like shit because no matter what they do, they’ll get backstabbed is a recipe for players who want to drop the game.

    The same goes for other things you might have picked up that have to do with Immortal Elves, Dragons, Conspiracies and the feasibility of Shadwrunner Culture.

    Ignore all of that, and make sure to start the game with nothing but your own ideas (and of course those of your players). With time and experience, you will pick up other sourcebooks, perhaps even read some of the older releases. Perhaps even the novels. And from there, you will be able to pick and choose whatever you, as a group, want to include in your own games.

    Don’t ever feel forced to play in a way that is propagated online. Be it here on RPGnet, the official SR forums, dumpshock, reddit or wherever else.

    If you want to play a high-action game in which “all guns blazing” tends to work surprisingly well? Go for it!
    If you want to play a game of sneaking, planning and stake-outs in which shots are fired only when things already went bad? Go for it!
    If you want to play a trippy campaign of astral travel and deep-matrix operations? Go for it!

    It doesn’t matter what people on the internet think about what your’re playing. As long as you’re having fun, you’re golden. There’s no “one true way” of Shadowrun.

    Pink Mohawks, Black Suits, Mirrorshades… Mix and match and do whatever you and your players have fun with.

    This seems obvious, yes.
    But it can’t be overstated.
    The only thing that matters is your game, your table, your players, your fun.

    If you, as a new Shadowrun GM, should have questions, DO ask them online.
    But even as a newbie, you should feel more than free to disregard any answer that reeks like nothing but: “You should do it this way, because this is how I think it should be.”


    Some resources and media for a budding Shadowrun GM

    Here are some novels, music and game resources for you to take a look at and help you with your games.

      Sheets and Game Aids:

    Wordman Sheets for 2nd, 3rd and 4th Edition
    Wordman Sheets for 5th Edition
    Shadowrun 5th edition character generator
    Make Your Own 5th Ed Sheet (Takes some work, but is an incredibly powerful tool.)
    5th Edition Cheat Sheets
    5th Edition Hayek Cheat/Summary Sheets:
    GM Screen
    Skills & Qualities
    Combat
    Gear
    Magic
    Matrix
    Rigger

      Novels:

    2050s Shadowrun: Secrets of Power, novel trilogy by Robert N. Charette
    2070s Shadowrun: Shaken, novel by Russell Zimmerman

    Both of these are excellent and well worth a read. And they’ll guide you into the world of Shadowrun, both in its classic and its modern incarnation.

      Music:

    Scandroid by Scandroid
    Selection One by mitch murder
    VA​-​11 HALL​-​A EX – Bonus Tracks Collection
    Tokyo Run by woob
    Overrun_exe by woob
    Neotokyo NSF by Ed Harrison
    DarkScapes Volume One by Circuit Scream
    Cyberpunk 2017, a free album by ASURV & ALOEPOLE

    And my own Shadowrun 2050s Spotify Playlist

    Gothtober 2017 – 31st October / Chiasm – Isolated

    Welcome all, welcome all, to this, the final day of Gothtober 2017.

    It is Halloween this night, and we will spend our night revelling. Be it through dancing, gaming, gathering or sex. Or a combination of all, by whatever means you choose.

    But whatever you do: Make it memorable.

    Don’t just do it by rote, or because you are being pressured into it or out of habit. If any of those is what gets you to commit to an even tonight… Cancel said event. And think of something else to do.

    Even a night spent at home, with your favourite movie and a good pizza is a better and more positively memorable way to spend your time than to go to an even you don’t really want to be at.

    “No gaming is better than bad gaming” is a credo at a forum I’m a regular at. And, well, that’s also fitting for parties and movies and music and sex and… Well, ok. Maybe not Food and Drink. But those might be the only two reasonable exceptions to that rule.

    Anyway… If you can and want to spend tonight with your friends: Ask them. Plan shit. And if they can’t, seriously think about going to a club or party alone, but in a good mood. And if you can’t do that, don’t mope about it.

    It sure as fuck sucks if you can’t spend time with friends, yes. But… There will be other times. Other dates. Other special occasions. And destroying this night will do nothing but, well, destroy this night. It will not make your friends magically appear. It will not let time pass any quicker. It will not make you feel any better.

    So, cook something delicious and/or comforting. Or order out from your favourite place. Choose a movie or show or game you really like and put that on for tonight.

    And just… Enjoy yourself.

    Don’t let society tell you that you’re somehow “doing it wrong” just because you’re not out partying.

    Good times are good times, even if spent alone.

    And, as much today’s song seems to be linked to the text that went before… It only very tangentially is. Because I chose it after writing said text. Like, waaaaaay after. I really couldn’t decide on which song to use today.

    But, earlier this morning, I caught a glimpse of Bloodlines, and… It clicked.

    And in a magical twist of fate, it DOES have a connection to today’s topic.
    And to today’s picture.

    And so I will make a recommendation to everybody who can’t get out or doesn’t want out tonight: Go to Steam or GOG and purchase “Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines” (It’s five bucks on both, today!). And then get the most recent fan patch from here: http://www.moddb.com/mods/vtmb-unofficial-patch

    And then just play one of the very fucking best RPGs, Vampire games, horror games and goth games ever made and still unsurpassed.

    …And hope that nuWhite Wolf at some point realizes what made the World of Darkness special and fun and stops the fuckheads currently in charge of fucking it all up…

    Eh, whatever.
    Today’s not for moping. Today’s for having fun.

    And Bloodlines is DAMN good fun.

    Just like Isolation is a damn good song.
    I hate the fact that Chiasm never got the recognition she deserved back when her song was chosen for the Bloodlines OST. It should have been pushed all across the globe in all the goth clubs.

    It wasn’t. It should have, but it wasn’t. And that sucks.

    So I will push it today, with giving it the crowning spot in my little projects.

    31 days of Gothtober.
    31 pictures.
    31 blog posts.
    31 songs.

    And Isolation by Chiasm gets to throne above them all, by being chosen for Halloween.

    31 songs, across the 80s, 90s, 00s and 10s. From small acts and big ones. Classics and b-sides.

    It was a great experience. And I will be doing it again next year.

    Thank you all for listening and reading.

    Happy Halloween!

    Gelsenkirchen Erle Hospital, 30th of October, 2017

    Gelsenkirchen Erle Hospital, 30th of October, 2017

    Gothtober 2017 – 30th of October / Ministry – Every Day Is Halloween

    For the people who know me, the following admission will be yet another “Yep, that’s Matt…” moment: I couldn’t fucking decide which album’s version of this song to link.

    No, I don’t mean “which version”. I mean: “Which album cover should appear when people see the embed?”.

    Early Trax? Every Day is Halloween? Trax! Box? Toronto 1986?

    It would be the very same song in each instance, but… Well… Shit like this matters to me. Sometimes I get hung up on inconsequential things and focus way too much time and energy into them. Most of the time, the payout is ridiculously minuscule. It /matters/ to me to get it /just right/. But for people who only see the end result, most often the reaction, after I tell them about what I just spent minutes or hours ‘perfecting’ is: “What difference would it have made?”

    And, well, most of the time?
    Not a single damn thing, for them.

    But it matters to me.

    When I work on something, stuff has to be just right. And I measure that in millimeters, seconds and tiny details. I will painstakingly re-create a logo I want to use if the only version I can find online is too low-res for me and it’s within my capability to create a better version. Even if I /know/ that nobody besides me would care. Or even notice.

    And this happens in all creative efforts I engage in. Roleplaying campaign prep, writing, creating digital art, curating playlists…

    Many, many moons ago… (Well, ok, maybe just 11 years.) …I actually took the favourite album of a dear friend and very, very carefully shaved seconds off of the “white space” between tracks so that at the end she was left with her favourite album, but about half a minute shorter if she’d listen to it from first to last track in one sitting.

    Why? Because I once made an off-hand comment to her: “If I could, I’d give you more time as a gift.”. And so, in a roundabout way, I did. She’d save some time without losing anything from the experience of listening to her favourite album.

    I made this comment, and I just HAD to follow through once I thought about that one thing. And then I went so far as to re-create the actual CD. I got high-res album cover and inlay copies, I sourced a printable file format copy of the CD art and I went for high quality paper. And then I assembled it, and she was left with a CD that was a near-perfect copy, just… About half a minute shorter.

    At other times, I spend half an hour switching between various albums on Spotify to find the one that would provide the most “authentic” experience when embedded into a post that about 50 people max, world-wide, will end up reading. Ah, well.

    Upsides and downsides to everything in life, right?

    About today’s picture and song combination: They go hand in hand. As we’re just a day away from both Halloween and the end of this particular blogging adventure, I wanted to strongly and directly express something that’s dear to me:

    The idea that people need to “normalize” with getting older needs to fucking /die/.

    In a dumpster fire. A hot one.

    There’s nothing wrong with retaining a sense of self and individuality after turning “adult”. (Whatever the fuck that even means nowadays.)

    And fuck all the old, stuck up assholes complaining about younger people having dress styles, tattoos, piercings and hair styles and colours that don’t conform to their reactionary sensibilities.

    A proud, violent, stiff middle finger to all of those.

    And I just /love/ the fact that slowly but surely things are changing. People with non-mundane styles, wearing and showing them off obviously, are getting into more and more important and powerful positions.

    This is one of those situations in which “fighting them from the inside” seems to be working. Let’ continue doing so.

    Nobody should be forced to have to juggle two lives, two sides of themselves, in their day to day life because of the tender sensibilities of people unable to cope with changing societal mores and youth culture.

    If I can deal with Snapchat, all those older than me can fucking deal with some ink, die and surgical steel.

    Even Cradle of Filth fans, for example, are as good, if not better, teachers as the people who are braindead enough to like Pitbull. Why would you ever leave your children in the care of someone showcasing such blatant bad taste and judgment? *shakes head*

    Rhine-Ruhr Megaplex. October, 2017.

    Rhine-Ruhr Megaplex. October, 2017.

    Gothtober 2017 – 29th of October / And One – Military Fashion Show

    One thing that continues to draw me into various Goth soundscapes is that the really good acts manage to inject a sense of coldness to topics that traditionally aren’t handled in such a manner.

    Take today’s song as an example: It’s a tale of lurid, emotionally intense sexual escapades. But it’s presented in starkly cold, mechanical manner.

    And I oh so very much love it.

    While I do also enjoy and love the emotional and vibrant examples of Goth music, there’s just something about a really well done “cold” song that makes me really happy.

    And while many of those are great to dance to, there’s one particular thing I tend to use them for outside the club: Concentrating and focusing.

    Mathematical beats, cold vocal delivery and calculated rhythms lend themselves very much to help me focus my mind and get down to work.

    There are many genres I use for that. Jazz. Classical. Baroque. Ambient (Especially the stuff I like to label as “Space Ambient”). And various forms of Electronic music. (Tangerine Dream and Software like stuff.)

    But also, well, cold goth stuff. Be it EMB or Industrial or Future-/Synthpop or even Coldwave.

    There’s just something about that kind of stuff that helps me to get my mind set on one task. And it’s one of the very few exceptions to one rule I have: Music with lyrics is not for working.

    Most of the time, it isn’t. But not with cold goth sounds. They just put me at ease enough that I can dedicate most of my brainpower to work on the task I want to work on.

    Which is why I might have had this particular song playing on one-repeat for the duration of me writing this particular post. ;)

    And, well, yes…

    I DO have memories associated with this song. Trivially fun ones of nights partying and dancing and laughing. And less trivially fun ones. But I won’t talk about those. This kind of music doesn’t just help with focusing on writing related tasks is the only think I’ll say about it.

    P.S.
    After talking to a friend about this project, I want to leave one slight piece of commentary here: The song I chose for this Gothtober are not meant to be some sort of “Best of Goth, Ever” selection. Not even a “Best of Band’s Output” collection, either.

    The songs I chose here are songs that fit, in whatever weird and convoluted way, to the picture and/or story I chose for that particular day. And sometimes I remember a song, or have one in mind, and seek out a motive and/or story to set to it.

    All three elements inform each other through very weird, internal connections of emotional attachment, memories and just general sense of je ne sais quoi.

    In a few days, the “Matt’S Gothtober 2017” playlist will be ready. And it will have 31 amazing songs. But not… Well… The /best/ songs necessarily. Just the best ones for that moment in time where I was choosing songs. :)

    Düsseldorf Völklinger Str, 26th of October 2017

    Düsseldorf Völklinger Str, 26th of October 2017

    Gothtober 2017 – 28th of October / Solar Fake – Such a Shame

    Travelling is amazing.
    Especially if it’s done to meet good friends.
    Less so if it’s to leave said friend.

    The picture you’re seeing?

    I’ve been at this central station a lot.
    A /lot/.

    I’ve taken trips to Berlin, Mainz, Frankfurt am Main, Darmstadt, Tübingen, Hamburg, Oldenburg, Copenhagen, London and nearly all of Rhine-Ruhr from there. For many years, it has been my central transportation hub. Back when I had both time and money to spend as freely as possible.

    I’ve taken those trips during all the hours of the day and the night.

    And I’ve taken those trips often.

    Almost always to meet awesome people for awesome times.
    A few times I’ve actually driven several hundred kilometers just to attend a party or a concert or, once, a movie night with someone dear to me.

    As The Killers said: When We Were Young.

    Those are bittersweet memories now.

    Some of those people are, sadly, gone from my life now. Some drifted apart. With some there was a falling out. One… Ceased to be. Some I pushed away.

    Most are still with me, though. Thankfully. And I’m making good progress to get some I thought lost completely back into my sphere of influence. Because, surprisingly enough, even after ten years without greater contact, there still is enough common ground, common interests and common ideology to reconnect on a level almost as deep as before. … Yeah, I had both skill and luck when it came to choose friends.

    But still, even after reconnecting… It’s not as easy to meet up as it was back then. Even with some who live near by. Time has become a currency harder to come by than money for some.

    The most stupid and infuriating moments happen when one of us has the time to spend freely, but the other doesn’t. Because they’re bound by work to whittle away their precious time in this world to perform tasks just to be able to survive. To live. To have the resources to spend.

    Such a damn shame.

    I’m really not far off of waving the red and black flags with a dagger in my teeth these days, the more I think about how people have to basically pay with their time on this planet to be able to afford food, shelter and comfort. It’s just… It’s both unfair and inhumane.

    But, as angry as those thoughts make me, they aren’t the reason why I make this a Gothtober post.

    The reason is, that traveling by train, at night, to and from intimate friends?

    There’s almost no better muse there is.

    I’ve written so much on those train rides.

    For my journals. For my campaigns. For my short stories. For my various projects.

    Seeing the nightly landscape pass me by, feeling the rumbling of the train, listening to focused and well designed playlists, having either emotional anticipation inside or feeling flushed from a warm good-bye after an intense and intimate meeting with a friend… That’s the stuff. Better than any drug. Better than any sudden inspiration.

    And it’s a connection to all those writers that are seen as the greats of Gothic Literature. People like Byron, Shelley, Stoker and Poe.

    It’s easy to find oneself in a mindspace near to theirs when in those specific physical and emotional circumstances.

    And there are few things more goth than pouring out your soul’s innermost thoughts when you’re either anticipating hugging someone you hold dear after a long time, or just after you’ve been hugged good-bye by them and are experiencing the first pangs of sadness because you miss them already.

    Travel.
    Meet friends.
    Create Memories.
    Write.

    Don’t let time pass you by.
    Don’t just be passive.
    Don’t just consume.

    Do not go gentle into that good night,
    Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
    Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

    And don’t be fooled: Spending your precious time with good friends, doing frivolous things?
    That’s a very bright thing to.

    Essen Central Station, 26th of October, 2017

    Essen Central Station, 26th of October, 2017

    Gothtober 2017 – 27th of October / Beborn Beton – Another World

    The fun part about being part of a subculture is basically having access to a whole different layer of society, shopping and partying than the people who remain inside the mainstream.

    There are shops, clubs and bars only you and the ones like you will know of. Where you’ll congregate regularly without any intrusions by outsiders due to a myriad of reasons. (Perhaps it’s really far out. Perhaps it looks weird enough to turn away strangers. Perhaps the regulars have staked their claim over the years. Perhaps it just looks really freaking weird from the outside.)

    Half a lifetime ago, there was a bar/pub in Gelsenkirchen catering to Metalheads, Goths, tabletop roleplayers and LARPers. It was called “Die Taverne” (The Tavern) and it was a beautiful, great little place.

    It was also on a four-way intersection, in a part of the city nothing else pub-like was standing, behind two cemeteries and with a totally unassuming facade.

    So the only people who knew about it were you and yours… And taxi-drivers. And they loved us. Because, wouldn’t you know it? Metalheads and Goths tend to be both friendly and tip well. So whenever you got into a taxi and said: “To the Tavern.” and the taxi driver didn’t know what you were talking about, you just had to say: “The place with all the black-clad people.”. And their eyes would light up, they’d smile at you and bring you there without a problem. You also never had a problem calling a cab to get home, no matter how late. … It pays to be friendly, folks!

    Besides all that, it was also a place to meet up with friends, chat with strangers that could quickly become friends and just sit back in a quiet corner, giving the servers a sign so that they’d discourage people from crowding you.

    One of my favourite memories there was December in 2001. My parents were away, my sis was busy with her own friends and I wasn’t in a relationship at the time, so… I didn’t really have anything good to do. So I just hopped on the bus, walkman and three MCs with me, and headed to the Tavern. Through the wind and the snow. When I got there, I was cold and wet and slightly cranky due to a broken down bus.

    I was still early, mind. Early for “bar hours”.

    So the bar was more or less empty apart from a waitress and the owner and three other regulars who were lounging at a corner table. So, as it was still at least an hour until people I knew would show up, I straddled up to the bar and got myself a stool to sit down on.

    The waitress was new, but had seen me a few time in the months before. And she immediately noticed the grumpy, sullen look on my face.

    Without a word, she went behind the bar, got me a glass of Bärenjäger (Mead Liquor. Like… Mh. Really high-proof mead with a molasses-like viscosity. ). No charge, on the house, with a smile.

    I saluted her with it, and sipped it slowly, listening to the Sisters of Mercy playing, watching the snow pile up outside.

    The whole situation warmed me. Physically and emotionally.

    So in short order, I was able to interact with humans again, and thanked for this kindness. She just smiled and shrugged. And we started chatting. I started helping her out with a few tasks behind the counter (the owner knew and trusted me, so that was no problem) and in due time my friends arrived, and the night went on to be amazing.

    Two weeks later, I got there again, and SHE was having a bad time. So I went up to the bar, ordered a Bärenjäger, got it, slid it over to her and told her to start talking. She blinked at me. Hesitated. Then took the glass, started sipping and started talking about trouble with her boyfriend and her parents. And for the next hour, we just… Talked. I listened. Gave advice where I could, kept my mouth shut where I couldn’t.

    When the first tide of other guests started to arrive, she felt much better. And for the rest of the night, I got free refills on non-alcoholic beverages. I hadn’t asked for it, but the owner had noticed that I cheered her up, and he was a cool guy as well. So… Yeah. (It REALLY pays to be friendly.)

    From that month on, until she left for a new job in the city she went to university in, we always chatted with each other. Not as close friends, no. But as confidantes. More than acquaintances. A… Limited, focused friendship. And we’d always look for a way to give the other a free drink first without either of us getting suspicious of the other doing so.

    It really was Another World.
    That kind of interaction, in that kind of decor, with that kind of in-built trust between patron and barkeep… It was a perfect combination only found in that one place.

    I miss it. Dearly.

    To you, Taverne.
    I’m drinking a Bärenjäger in your honour tonight.

    Gelsenkirchen downtown, 25th of October, 2017

    Gelsenkirchen downtown, 25th of October, 2017

    Gothtober 2017 – 26th of October / Covenant – Pulse

    I wanted this day to have Memories as a track. But, ironically enough, I have more memories with Ritual Noise than with Memories. So Memories will have to wait. And probably get an utterly unrelated story and picture to go with it. Such is life.

    Anyway. Yeah. Memories.

    Those flickery bastards tend to haunt me right now. I hope it’s not my very own midlife crisis.
    Although, to be fair, I tend to use them more to learn from past mistakes and progress forward in a more positive fashion than the few years before this one. So, I think, it’s just my mind using past experiences to teach me lessons I should have internalized years ago, but couldn’t for mental health reasons.

    11 years.

    That’s how long ago this song came out.

    And I still remember listening to it while driving a car, a sleepy friend on the passenger seat, oscillating between dozing off and nodding along to the beat while watching the other cars streak by on the A43, heading from a late night party at our university back to her place.

    When I noticed that, I rejoiced. I hadn’t thought that she’d be into Covenant. … It didn’t take long for me to find out that she was into quite a few things I wouldn’t have thought, because I let stupid first impressions and assumptions make me think less of her than she deserved.

    But this changed. Quickly. Impulsively. Amazingly.

    That’s not the point of the story, though.

    The point is that one night. Listening to the whole of Skyshaper, with her in my car, driving from Bochum to Unna, taking a slightly longer route to get more out of the music. To get more talking in. Because after Ritual Noise finished, Pulse started playing, and that finally woke her up completely. And she started chatting with me.

    About music. About hobbies. About life, dreams, fears, the future and the present.

    Cars kept streaking by, cities went by, roads were changed, the engine remained a steady rumble under Covenant’s steady beats.

    And above it all, was the conversation. It took turns into less and more intimate subjects. It made us both smile, laugh and grin. It made us both fall silent and think for heartbeats. And it was wonderfully platonic. With an undertone of flirting, but still platonic at the time.

    Just like a first kiss between lovers is often a fiery, electrifying event, there’s something equivalent between two people becoming friends:

    That first good, unfettered, topic-jumping talk.

    The one where you finally feel confident and trusting enough to just lower your shields, go to Condition Green, tell your Head of Security to take five and start /talking/. Not smalltalk. Not idle chatter. Not meaningless pleasantries.

    The real deal.

    Telling stories of your past. Giving the other person glimpses and looks of your true, inner self. Daring to touch upon topics that might get awkward. Asking and answering questions about sensitive topics.

    And totally, utterly forgetting about the flow of time.

    Skyshaper is about an hour long.
    That drive managed to loop it 1.5 times. 90 minutes.
    90 minutes which felt like 9 to us both.

    So I arrived at her place, she invited me up, we put on some of her favourite tracks, huddled under a blanket and continued to talk.

    When the sun rose, I remembered that I actually had to be somewhere that damn day, so she laughed and grinned at my absent-mindedness. We hugged and I got into my car and drove home.

    Listening to Skyshaper again. Smiling/grinning like an idiot.

    And a wonderful friendship was born.

    This is why I’ll always have a stupidly high opinion of Skyshaper.
    That one post about “intense experiences make you bond with music” rings true again: I had an /amazing/, intense experience to the whole damn album. So every time I listen to it, I remember that night. And I smile. And things seem a little bit brighter.

    I feel like I need to make a, probably obvious, point here: Talk. Talk to your friends. Talk to people you like and think might become friends. Risk a drowsy morning if you get the chance to just talk long into the night, no matter how old you are. Making a new good, true, close friend is worth more than having a perfect day at work. Those blend into the daily grind soon enough. A close friend is bound to stay with you for a damn long time.

    Also, and I can’t stress this enough, listen to fucking Skyshaper.
    Preferably when you’re driving. Be it alone or with a friend or even partner.

    10 tracks. All of them fucking /winners/.
    Ritual Noise. Pulse. Brave New World. Sweet & Salty. Greather Than The Sun. 20hZ. Spindrift. Those 8 are my favourites.
    And even The Men and The World is Growing Loud are excellent, even thought they hit a slightly different, more chill, spot.

    So, the next time you get to drive a car while it’s dark (and raining, if you want the /perfect/ experience!), put on Skyshaper.

    I promise you: You will /not/ regret it.
    It really is that damn good. And it aged beautifully. (That is to say: They could release it tomorrow and it would sound fresh and feel new.)

    Rhine-Ruhr Megaplex, Night of the 25th of October, 2017

    Rhine-Ruhr Megaplex, Night of the 25th of October, 2017

    Gothtober 2017 – 25th of October / Vangelis – Blade Runner Blues

    I wasn’t kidding, those few days ago.
    So I actually took my own advice and did what I told you all to do: Went out in shitty weather, to a shitty place, with great music in my ears.

    You’re a seeing a picture I took during the trip.
    Sitting in the bus, lights streaking past me, suddenly a set of blue-lit windows, out of nowhere. So I took a quick snap.
    All while listening to the Blade Runner OST.

    And the Blade Runner Soundtrack is just… It’s sublime.
    It will forever be Vangelis’ masterwork for me.
    Especially in the Esper Edition Mk.2 Bootleg I have at home. That thing is a fucking treasure. It’s something techno-barbarians in a post-apocalyptic future will fight bloody wars over.

    You think I’m joking? … I’m not.
    It’s one of my most treasured musical possessions.

    Getting it was stupidly convoluted, but worth every week spent following up on contacts of contacts of contacts.

    It was one of my few real-life Shadowrun moments, tracking down some serious paydata through the ‘net and real-life.
    I eventually got a copy in Berlin, during a quick data-drop at the then-central-station shortly before visiting a friend.

    I can’t describe the joy I felt when I finally had in my hands. (That was before the internet made acquiring it a triviality…)

    And the Esper Edition of the OST is, in itself, a piece of Cyberpunk-come-alive artefact.

    It was compiled by serious Vangelis freaks, using studio-sourced cut tracks and full-length versions of songs you only hear snippets of in the movie. They spend considerable time, effort and energy to bring all of it together and compile it into a near-perfect whole. Extending a masterful soundtrack into a sublime one.

    And it remains a timeless classic. Both in its original form, and as the Esper Edition.
    It’s just so… Perfectly dark, moody, intense and powerful.

    By now, you’re probably asking yourself what it has to do with Gothtober though, right?

    Well… Take one of the coming October nights and put on Blade Runner.
    Then turn off the lights, and watch it with your cellphone turned off.

    Just like the soundtrack, the movie is dark. Powerful. Intense. Byzantine. Opulent. Grimy.

    It’s not The Crow. It’s not Nightmare Before Christmas.

    But it’s a very good example of why for me Cyberpunk and Goth always were very intertwined. They feed off the same Zeitgeist and ideas, but simply focus on different aspects of it. And by now, in 2017, most Cyberpunk music is firmly inside the Goth umbrella. Just ask Covenant about Tears In Rain.

    I’ll also include an embed to my Shadowrun 2050 playlist at the very end of this post.
    You might know a few of the artists contained therein. ;)

    Rhine-Ruhr Megaplex, 24th of October, 2017

    Rhine-Ruhr Megaplex, 24th of October, 2017