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Shadows over Baltimore


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Characters sometimes appear unexpectedly. This may be deliberate (a planned ambush) or accidental (two unlucky security guards stumble into a group of shadowrunners breaking into a top secret research lab). Surprise simulates these and similar instances. The following rules apply to critters as well as to characters. Note that non-sentient objects (astral barriers, foci, programs, IC, etc.) cannot be surprised.


A surprised character is caught off guard and can do little except watch events unfold. Surprise occurs on a character-by-character basis. A character walking into an ambush set by two opponents, for example, may be surprised by one of his enemies but not by the other. Surprise normally occurs at the beginning of combat, but it is possible for surprise to happen within a Combat Turn as well.


Surprise and Perception

Surprised characters are normally unaware that a situation that they need to react to is forthcoming. This normally occurs because they either failed to perceive something (they didn’t get enough hits to notice the concealed sniper) or because the gamemaster decides that they didn’t even have a chance to perceive it (they blithely walk into a room they expect to be empty, but it’s in fact filled with relaxing guards).


In some circumstances, gamemasters may wish to give a character the chance to be alerted that something is about to happen. The best way to do this is to make a secret Perception Test for the character. If the character is lucky, he may, for example, hear approaching footsteps, notice the smell of cigarette smoke as he approaches the corner, or just get that tingly feeling that someone is behind him. A character who succeeds in the Perception Test is alerted in some way, and receives a bonus on his Surprise Test (see below).


The surprise rules below apply to all situations, whether all the parties involved are caught off guard or whether one or more parties are intentionally ambushing others.


Surprise Tests

To resolve surprise situations, all participants must make an Initiative Test (Reaction + Intuition). Note the number of hits scored for each character—this is the threshold that other characters need to beat in order to act against them in the first Initiative Pass. Characters who have been alerted in some way receive a +3 dice pool modifier on this test.


At this point, the Combat Turn begins, and characters roll Initiative as normal. During the first Initiative Pass, however, characters are considered surprised by any other characters who scored more hits than they did on the surprise test.


A character who is surprised may not directly act toward or react to characters who have surprised him—this includes friends as well as foes. Surprise only counts in the first Initiative Pass. Once the second Initiative Pass begins, the effects of surprise no longer apply.



Characters who are planning an ambush and have delayed their actions while they lie in wait for the arrival or appearance of their targets receive a +6 dice pool modifier on the surprise Initiative Test. Ambushing characters, however, are automatically not surprised by the characters they are ambushing—assuming they are aware of the movement and actions of their target(s). If the ambusher is unaware of his prey’s activities (for example, he is waiting for someone to enter the room so he can leap out from behind the door, but he doesn’t know when that will be), he still receives the +6 modifier, but must check for surprise as well (he may not be prepared when the target walks through the door).


Note that it is possible that the character(s) performing the ambush may get a lower Initiative Score than their targets. If a target is surprised, this doesn’t matter. If a target is not surprised, however, he should be given a free Perception Test to notice the ambush. If he succeeds, he knows what’s coming and can pre-empt the ambushers. If he fails, however, he has no idea what’s coming, so the gamemaster should delay his action until the ambush commences.


Surprise Within Combat

Surprise may also occur within combats that have already started. A security guard may, for example, walk in a room to find a shadowrunner trying to strangle his partner. Whenever new characters are unexpectedly introduced to a combat situation, the gamemaster should make a surprise test between the characters already involved and the ones just entering, and apply surprise effects as appropriate. The characters already involved in the combat do not have to check against each other for surprise.


Effects of Surprise

Characters who are surprised cannot take any actions that directly affect, impede, or counteract characters that have surprised them. This means surprised characters cannot attack those who surprised them, nor can they dodge or defend against attacks from those characters. The surprised character also cannot react to those characters’ actions in any way. The surprised character can, however, carry out other actions that are not specifically directed at any surprising characters, such as dropping prone or readying a weapon (but not firing it).


Note that friends may surprise as well as foes. A character caught in an ambush situation may not react to his friend’s warning to duck, for example, if the friend also surprised him.


Surprise and Glitches

Characters who glitch on their surprise tests may still react as appropriate, but they also jump or take an otherwise startled action, perhaps knocking into something or dropping something they were holding. The gamemaster determines the exact effect of the glitch. A character who gets a critical glitch on the surprise test is either absolutely oblivious or flat-footed. He is considered completely surprised and cannot take any actions, including FreeActions. Effectively, that character loses a pass. The character may act normally in the next Initiative Pass.

Further Combat Rules

Combat Turns

Ranged Combat

Melee Combat

Other Combat Factors

Combat Defense

Combat Damage

Vehicle Combat

Matrix Actions

Matrix Combat

Drone and Rigger Combat

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