Instinctively, I go for simple rule systems. I try to focus on the Role-Playing side of things, and I try and keep the game administration to a minimum. Sure, roll a die to simulate the randomness of the real world. Otherwise, tell me what you want to do, and we’ll take it from there.
Recently, however, I’ve been playing a game that is the exact opposite of this, and wouldn’t you know it, I’m actually thoroughly enjoying myself. The game is, of course, Shadowrun. Now in its 5th edition, the rules were streamlined, and the Corebook is written very linearly.
And here are the 6 reasons I find this game really great.
1 – Background:
Ok, disclaimer; although it is my first time playing the Shadowrun RPG, I’ve been playing other games set in that universe (card, board, PC) for more than 20 years. So I REALLY love the setting. In 2012, magic returned to the world, following an ebb and flow that was described by the Mayans in their calendars. Some people realised they had magic powers and some mutated into elves, dwarves, orcs, and trolls (they had the genes, but the lack of magic in the environment kept it latent).
It is now the 2060s, and we are left, after a lot of political and social upheaval, with the 6th World: A universe where elves have cybernetic implants, orcs hack into the Matrix (a global 3-dimensional representation of the internet), and dwarf street samurais kill as fast as they hit. They usually start with the knees.
It’s William Gibson's Neuromancer married with Tolkien. HOW CAN YOU NOT LOVE IT!? Oh, and the US president is a dragon. In human form. Did I mention that? I feel like I should.
There are dozens of books, both novels and settings, covering most of the world, and they show a fascinating evolution of the in-game universe over the decades.
2 – Characters and Backgrounds:
The characters will be from one of a few playable races, human, elf, dwarf, orc and troll, each with various racial bonuses. Where Shadowrun comes into its own is that it has a classless system. You don’t pick Street Samurai (street merc) and get loads of skills with it, you pick loads of skills TO MAKE YOU A BETTER STREET SAMURAI. There is no reason why you couldn’t be a Jack-of-all-trades, but you wouldn’t be a master of anything. Although classless, there are half a dozen broad ‘jobs’ a Shadowrunner can have, the Shaman (magic user), the Decker (hacker), the Rigger (mental control of vehicles and drones), street samurai (street merc, usually weapons-savvy), the face (huge charisma), and a couple more. So if you want to play a magic user, you should keep your skill selection in that area, and perhaps not be too concerned about, say, hacking. Obviously, always pick some guns/gun-related abilities.
3 – The Dice:
Dice rolls in Shadowrun are both simple and complicated. You roll d6’s with 5 and 6 as successes. If more than half your dice come up as 1’s, that’s a fail (called a Glitch). Simple, yes? Well, not quite. For a simple roll, something you’re not brilliant at, you might roll 4 dice. For something my character is amazing at, I’m rolling 10d6; and I’m a starting character. With bonuses, our Face (high charisma social guy) is rolling 12d6 to persuade/lie to people. It gets busy, FAST. Combat is where it gets interesting, as you roll for attack and your target does the same to defend.
4 – Character Creation:
This is the only item where I feel I should put a small hazard sign. Character Creation in Shadowrun 5e is straightforward, but time consuming and roundabout. If you’ve never done it before, plan for a couple of hours, minimum. It all starts with a table. This table has columns, one with various amounts of skill points, another with money, another with attribute points, and so on. You then pick, say, one amount of money. You now cannot pick any other number from that same line. So if you pick the highest possible number of Skill points, now you cannot pick the highest number of anything else, nicely balancing the character. You then spend these points (which then relate to number of d6 rolled) to buy Skills, Attributes, etc Its complex, sure, but not that bad, really, until it comes time for the gear. Cthulhu help me, there’s guns, gun mods, fake ID’s, drones, drone weapons, computers, programs, vans, motorbikes, clothes, cyberware…. I COULD go on.
Don’t let me push you away, though. The book is pretty good at telling you what you need to do, and it follows a logical sequence.
5 – Gameplay:
You pick an action, roll the combined Skill + Attribute Bonus number of d6 and see how many came out 5 or 6s. The varying number of successes (said 5 and 6) tell you how good you were at that action. Or you rolled more than half the dice as 1’s and now the drak hit the air recycling unit.
With a knowledgeable GM, this is a game you’ll remember for ages. The cyberpunk dystopian Blade Runner-esque environment closes around you. You’re Shadowrunners, shady mercs sent on jobs (‘Runs’) for private or Corporate clients. It can be as simple as delivering a package or killing someone. The limits are yours to choose.
6 – Overall:
In the name of all that’s good and fluffy, PLAY IT! Don’t let the size of the Corebook or CC put you off. It’s really the hardest bit. And the level of detail your character will have at the end of it is almost unparalleled.
And always remember: Shoot fast, punch hard, and NEVER cut a deal with a dragon.
Rui is a Portuguese scientist that, after ten years doing strange things in labs, decided to become a teacher. Then, two years ago, like he was bit by a radioactive D20, RPG’s came into his life, and he’s now juggling teaching, playing and GMing quite happily. He lives in the UK with his partner Joana, an ungodly number of potted plants, 4 to 5 RPG’s at various stages of completion (and across as many rule systems), and maps, cursed idols, evil necklaces, and any other props he can get his hands on. He’s been writing for HLG for a few months, and is one of the resident vloggers. He can be reached at @Atomic_RPG.
I am become death, destroyer of worlds.