I’m branching out! I got myself a copy of the Shadowrun beginner box (actually part of the ‘Digital Tools‘ package) and a few of the beginner adventures (or ‘runs’ or whatever they’re called). This was after playing Shadowrun Returns and Dragonfall on the PC.
It’s a neat setting, but I have my reservations about the system.
The Sixth World
Shadowrun is set in our own world, in the nearish future. There’s one difference in Shadowrun’s world history though: in 2011, magic (re)appeared in the world. This led to alittle bit of turmoil as you might imagine, as people dealt with this event, and also the appearance of new races like elves, dwarves and orcs.
The history and setting of the Shadowrun world is rich and detailed, but it’s essentially a typical gritty sci-fi setting, but with fantasy races and magic. Cities are dominated by giant mega-corporations, who often have more power than the countries they are in, there’s enormous wealth and technology divisions between ordinary people, and the average gang war is as likely to involve fireballs as AK-47’s. Oh, and several countries and corporations are run by ruthless, incredibly intelligent dragons.
I think the world would be perfect for a first foray into sci-fi for d&d players, even if it’s early 90’s roots show through sometimes, it’s just a shame about the actual game mechanics…
How to Play
Instead of a d20 like d&d, Shadowrun uses the ‘good old’ d6. Every 5 or 6 rolled is a ‘hit’ and your stats and skills determine how many dice you roll, plus or minus any modifiers. So for example if you’re trying to jump a gap, rather rolling a d20 and adding your +4 acrobatics skill to try to reach a DC of 15, you would roll 7d6 (using your agility stat and gymnastics skill) to try to get 3 hits. And if you were trying to jump that gap from a slippery surface you might lose a die, so that you’re rolling 6d6 instead.
It’s fairly simple and straightforward (at first glance), although I think it makes it harder to get a feel for your odds of success. What’s the chance of getting 3 ‘hits’ if you’re rolling 7 dice? If you lose 1 die due to some modifier, how does that affect your odds? Probability is hard, it took me long enough to get my head around the benefits of ‘advantage’ in 5e!
The other thing you immediately notice about Shadowrun it that there aren’t any classes or levels. So if you want to make a shotgun-wielding shaman with a robotic groin you can. Earning experience earns you ‘karma’ that you can use to improve stats, skills, or anything else. You can spend karma as and when you like, so you can dribble out cheap upgrades to things like skills, or save up to get that all-important ‘body’ upgrade you need.
What this actually means is that I’d have no idea where to start if I wanted to create (or even upgrade) a character. As far as I can tell though, there are a few archetypes that character tend to be built around:
- Street Samurai – essentially a fighter, you’re the best at killing things. I don’t really understand where the ‘samurai’ part comes from. The 90’s I guess?
- Mage – throw fireballs, visit the ethereal plane, you know, the usual.
- Shaman – a bit druid-y, but with more emphasis on communicating with, and controlling spirits.
- Adept – channels magical power into their body, rather than spells. A monk then.
- Rigger – download your brain into a car, tank, drone, whatever. Not really sure I understand this one.
- Hacker – hack things. Like on the computer, not with an axe.
So Many Things!
My main problem with the system is that it suffers from rule-bloat, an affliction that seems to strike many 90’s RPGs. From the rulebook I had (remember this is the beginner set), I counted 8 separate magical skills alone. And there isn’t a skill for melee weapons or guns, there’s one for ‘clubs’, one for ‘blades’ (which then lumps axes, knives and swords together), one for ‘pistols’, one for ‘automatics’, and so on…
Let’s say you want to shoot someone: total your combat skill and attribute, apply modifiers, and roll that many dice. The defender rolls based on their reaction and intuition. If you got more hits than the defender, you hit them. Oh no, did you check your weapon’s accuracy limit? Maybe you didn’t get enough hits… You did hit? Now determine the potential damage by totalling the number of ‘net hits’ (hits over the defender’s value) and weapon’s damage value. Finally, compare the total damage to the defender’s armour rating to see how much got through.
…wait, does your pistol have enough ammo? Did you reload last turn? No of course reloading isn’t one action! You first have to take the ‘remove clip’ action, and then the ‘insert clip’ action. But don’t worry, those are simple actions, you can take two of them per turn.
I hear trying to work out what happens when you throw a grenade in an enclosed space is about the worst: rules for how far you threw it, rules for how the blast reflects off walls, rules for characters being stunned by the blast, rules for damage to the building, and so on.
Steal the Best Bits
As I said, I love the setting, but have almost no interest in ever trying to run a proper Shadowrun game. So I think my next project is going to be: create a Shadowrun-esque game for 5e.
I’m not going to try and do a full conversion, just take the flavour of Shadowrun into a system I can use. Wizard’s released an Unearthed Arcana called Modern Magic which will be my starting point.