One of the best ideas that I got when I started my newest Trail of Cthulhu campaign was the concept of the player owned “Shop”. The shop is a focal point for the campaign, as both enemies and allies learn of it and start to interact with the characters “On their turf” so to speak. It also provides numerous layers of intrigue and communally building it with my players was a terrific experience. Put simply, what it did was help get my players into the world and gave them a sense of ownership over something important to the game. This idea also works in other mediums as well such as various roleplaying games I have played like Baldurs Gate 2 with the stronghold mechanic and Shadowrun Dragonfall, where your safe house is in a small community with different NPCs who give jobs, information and so forth.
For my two Shadowrun Games I am running with Mostly Flesh and Steel (Shanghai, China) and Icarus Protocol (Tenochtitlan, Aztlan), I felt one of the best ways to give my players an introduction in how the world worked was to have an established home base. Like with the store, the players communally describe the safe house where their runners meet and generally tend to do some of their business. Adding descriptions of it, does it smell, was it used by former gangs, is it in an architecturally interesting building and so forth. To further deepen this aspect of creation, I also decided to mimic a character like perk and negatives system, so that the players could customize what services and benefits their communal hide out might offer them.
When building the safehouse safehouse, both games get 20 starting Karma and then a range of different benefits they can get by purchasing friendly NPC traders, a scrap pile, easy matrix connections (or especially secure ones) and so forth. There are also a range of negative karma options as well, much like character creation, which can add some further Karma to their total. For example their safehouse might be built on top of a rotting former insect spirit hive (never fun), could have dodgy wireless or might light up in astral space like a gigantic beacon to the right viewer. I am still fiddling with the totals a bit, but an example of a safehouse might look like this:
The old corporate waterfront housing bloc has seen better days, but is now a fairly secluded and out of the way place to crash after a difficult run – or just from Shanghai’s Razor Sun security forces. Sure it stinks of rotting fish and the ocean, leaks quite a bit and has unpleasant neighbors, but it has solid connections to the matrix, more than a few dodgy black-market traders, a great bar and it was built out of this shit that reflects magic – dulling the astral presence of casters from those observing outside. Minding, that kind of benefit also tends to attract the wrong crowd at the same time but that’s why you never leave unarmed.
Of course my players build the description up piece by piece first, notably by describing a feature of the place like how many rooms it has, is there a balcony, does it have a lot of computers and wires about and that sort of thing. The parts here that reflect what can be bought with Karma under this system are the following:
Positive: Easy Matrix Access. Improves the die pool for decking related tests at the safe house.
Black-Market traders. Gives quick access to the right kinds of equipment or exotic things if the players desire it. Can be a bit of a pitfall as well as it can draw extra attention from security forces.
Astrally Dull. Enemies can’t easily find magic users astral signals while they are within the walls of this place.
Negative: The Wrong Crowd. Building has unsociable individuals inside it who may be quite hostile or potential problems (In this case due to the context, potentially mad or crazy magicians doing lord knows what in here).
Unpleasant features. Building may stink of something distinct such as rotting fish or thrown out stuffer shack trideo-celeb perfumes that failed to sell. Can be a disadvantage for when enemies are attempting to find where the group may be hiding the good old fashioned way.
And so on. The overall goal of this process is to give players an immediate connection with both the world and how their characters live within it. It also establishes a point that is of special importance for them to preserve and potentially have to defend when their activities become noticed. This can be used as potential bargaining chip against the characters, such as an enemy threatening their home or to help raise the stakes of a run (risking accidentally exposing where they are while fleeing for example).
Another benefit this provides, one I can’t understate, is it also gives a nice location to have obviously recurring NPCs to interact with. This can provide a source of news, build relationships and help potentially easily justify in the games narrative why runners may need to leave (such if a player can’t attend IRL) or potentially find missions for themselves. Recurring characters and NPCs your players can build relationships with are another important source of roleplaying and narrative complications/drama. When Renraku finds out your character has a relationship with the bar tender at the local dive, it could later add an interesting debate to a run later when its revealed Renraku’s Red Samurai have them and demand that player hand over data designated for another Mr. Johnson…
In terms of mechanics, for much of these benefits and penalties in terms of design, I’ve been looking at the core 5th Edition rulebook on page 74. Originally I wasn’t going to give any strong mechanical ties for the safehouses, but after looking at the home ground rules decided that it could be an interesting idea (with the characters 20 Karma being able to buy roughly two of those benefits or something equivalent, once I make a full list anyway). The negative qualities roughly being of the same power in terms of advantage/disadvantage, but only giving a boost of 5 Karma (so getting an extra positive quality costs 2 negative ones). Like other aspects of character creation, I decided to cap the maximum possible Karma for this process at 40, which so far seems to be a good idea (it means you need 4 negative qualities to afford all 4 positive ones).
Certain negative qualities once the party is more experienced can be permanently solved by means other than purchasing the negative quality back with Karma as well. For example, a bad neighborhood is actually something that can be solved with a judicial application of bullets. Either way, I hope this process works as well as the one from my Trail of Cthulhu game and I get a couple of interesting safe houses to work with. Noting of course that a runner doesn’t have to live in the main safehouse inherently, it’s just a place that the group tends to go to most and represents their most safe/secure interests (or at the very minimum what they could afford).