Shadowrun! It’s the oft overlooked and sometimes reviled cousin of Dungeons and Dragons. As a franchise, Shadowrun does everything Dungeon and Dragons does. It’s got novelizations, board game and video game spin-offs, and is even up to five editions! Some of these editions even vary wildly from one another to the point where you may as well be playing a different game when you use a different edition.
Despite this, Shadowrun sometimes feels like it’s cursed to live in the shadows (Ha!) of Dungeons and Dragons. It’s not without reason, though. After all, their 5th edition core book is about 500 pages long, all of which you must have AT LEAST a passing familiarity with. By contrast, D&D has three core rulebooks, but you only need one of them to know the rules, and it can be treated more like an encyclopedia if you know what to look for.
Enter Shadowrun: Anarchy. This is a ruleslite and scalable edition of Shadowrun. Today, we discuss the edition of Shadowrun that breaks all the rules, so strap in, chummers!
1) The Setting
For the uninitiated, Shadowrun is a game set in a dystopian, cyberpunk future. To make this even more nutso-buttso, it’s our world 50 years from now with magic having returned to the world in 2012. Magic here refers to spells, otherworldly energy, and all manner of supernatural critters. Critters, such as otherwise ordinary wild animals that were made more vicious because of the influx of magic, vampires and ghouls whose conditions are literally a disease, or even the god-like Dragons who, in Shadowrun, are embodiments of magic itself.
While technology advanced rapidly in Shadowrun, it’s still very familiar to the technology we have today. What’s a comm-link? It’s like a smart-phone. What’s the Matrix? The Internet. Why is everything, including my gun, connected to the Matrix? Probably the same reason our world has WiFi slow-cookers.
Being set in an alternate version of our world works to great effect in Shadowrun; it makes everything much more immediately relatable. For anybody like our Corporate Overlord Josh Heath who is interested in promoting diversity and inclusivity, this is a very useful quality. If you’ve lived on planet earth, you have a place with some emotional attachment in Shadowrun, and that’s a good starting point for imagining yourself in a different world.
2) The Rules Are Still Very Similar To Core Shadowrun
As mentioned earlier, Shadowrun 5th Edition has some dense rules, which makes it difficult to cut things out or simplify them without damaging the feel of the game. Shadowrun: Anarchy is a fine example of this; it drastically simplifies things, and something does get lost along the way.
However, the end result still resembles Shadowrun: fists full of dice that either end in a total miss, or an accidental kill. There’s still the divide between magic and cybernetics; going too heavy on one makes the other impractical. That je ne sais quoi they call Edge is also still present, allowing somebody who’s otherwise not special in any way what-so-ever to somehow accomplish big things through dumb luck.
Shadowrun: Anarchy is a narrativist take on Shadowrun, but it still still remembers that it’s Shadowrun, and most importantly, that it’s a game. The story is much more important in Anarchy, sure, but they don’t neglect players (such as yours truly) who want the figurative crunchy bits they can sink their teeth into.
3) Gameplay Is Scalable
Shadowrun Anarchy, to contrast many of the other editions of Shadowrun, doesn’t have a lot of content; not explicitly written in the book, at least. There is a few basic lists of everything you’d expect: weapons, tools, spells, NPCs and sample characters.
For folks who find these lists lacking and want more, Shadowrun Anarchy does include methods for padding them out. The first such method being a conversion guide, which describes how to bring a character, spell, or other thing from the more detailed versions of the game into Anarchy. Since Anarchy is the simpler of the two, this usually means stripping away details that Anarchy doesn’t accommodate, such as the difficulty of acquiring a given item or learning a spell.
The second method is the “Shadow Amp” creation rules. Shadow Amp is the name Anarchy has given to spells, traits, cyberware, and other stuff that would otherwise amplify a shadowrunner’s abilities. These are guidelines which can be used to create anything your imagination can dream up.
Though if you’re really pressed for time, such as introducing a strange new piece of technology or magical artifact mid-game, there’s even a guideline Shadowrun Anarchy has for completely improvising new things: it gives a 2 dice bonus (or penalty!) to whatever it sounds like it would.
The conversion rules, character creation, shadow amp creation, and the various sample lists means that Shadowrun Anarchy comes with numerous ways to play, both out of the box and for those who want to take their game a little bit further.
4) It’s Not Dungeons And Dragons
Dungeons and Dragons is the one game almost everybody in the tabletop gaming fandom has some familiarity with. Despite this, though, it doesn’t really do a good job as a “common language” among RPGs; it’s too wildly different from everything else that exists.
In fact, it can be argued that there really isn’t any unifying thread between RPGs other than they’re played around a table and dice get thrown around. In other words: if you want to overall become better as a GM or a player, exposing yourself to different games is the thing to do.
After all, different rulesets are suited to different games. Shadowrun’s tendency for rolls to be either wildly successful or hilariously pitiful allows for more incorporation of improvisation, especially in it’s more narrativist form as Anarchy. Any plans, be they the players’ or the GM’s, aren’t guaranteed to happen without a hitch.
And if that sounds like a familiar scenario in other games you play, what better way to practice handling it than playing a game where such a scenario is commonplace?
Aaron der Schaedel’s claim to fame before being the resident weeb of High Level Games was a series of videos he did breaking down the rules of Shadowrun 5th Edition. They’re still available on his now scarcely updated YouTube channel.
Picture Reference: https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/194759/Shadowrun-Anarchy
I am become death, destroyer of worlds.