One of the often debated aspects of Shadowrun is how much a successful run is worth. If you play by the book then it’s it is more profitable to steal cars than do runs. If listen to the internet and pay your characters well then the game loses the cyberpunk element as characters can often perform 1 or 2 jobs and retire. Running the sandbox adds an additional difficulty in not knowing where the next run is going to come from and how many runs are going to be active at the same time. So how do I, a sandbox GM, price a shadowrun so that the players are rewarded fairly?
For me it’s a balance between forcing the characters to live day-to-day and rewarding them so that they can purchase the next upgrades. To price a run I consider the run’s difficulty, Mr Johnson’s relationship with the PCs and if the players are requesting any new gear. With these three factors in mind I compare them against the total cost of the character’s lifestyles so that completing 1 run a month is just enough to support themselves.
For a normal difficulty run is just the group’s total lifestyle cost and additional runs within the same month allow the characters to by that new gear before they need to pay another month’s rent. For easy or difficult runs I add or subtract nuyen based on comparative ratings. For example, an easy run might involve going against characters and devices with a rating of 1 or 2. A difficult rating instead might mean ratings of 5 and 6. For difficult runs I might factor in the cost of cyberlimb replacement if it’s going to be especially nasty. Unfortunately one of the aspects of GMing a sandbox is you haven’t detailed the run to any degree but experience and comparing ratings can often give an indication of the run’s difficulty.
To add variety Mr Johnson’s relationship with the PCs will often come into play. Has he had a history of low-balling the characters? Does he have a high negotiation rating? Has he ever met the PCs before? These all come in to play and influence the price moving it up and down by a 5 or 10% accordingly.
Lastly, if a player is keen on a piece of gear I’ll figure out how much it costs to acquire the gear and if it will add anything to the game. Based on this I will either design a run to acquire the gear or ensure the PCs get enough “difficult” runs to acquire it in a timely manner.
This is the method I use to ensure a gritty game while still ensuring the PCs can purchase the next piece of gear, even if it’s still fresh from last night’s underground cyberfight.