Sunday, June 27, 2010

The best and worst of Shadowrun

After D&D the first role playing game that I ever got into was Shadowrun. I don’t remember what got me started, I assume I saw it at the game store or read about it in Dragon or something, but I immediately thought that it was a super cool system and such a great counter to D&D. So much about it was very different and new, but it had some consistent anchors to the familiar world of fantasy gaming that I knew. There were orcs and magic and rumors of dragons, but there was also dermal plating and boosted reflexes. Something called a rigger and street samurais. I’ve played in a bunch of Shadowrun campaigns over the years and the game is always a good time, but I have to be honest that the mechanics of the game are pretty awful. Sometime in the semi near future I plan on running a mini campaign when our D&D DM is away so I have been doing some thinking about it lately. Here is my list of the best and worst aspects of Shadowrun.

The best:
1) Cyberware. Totally bad ass. Internal implants that link your eyesight to the barrel of your gun? Check. Air filtration built right into your respiratory system? Awesome. Boosted reflexes that keep you twitchy and three times as fast as anyone else? Required for any chummer to survive when the drek hits the fan. Essentially the magic items of Shadowrun, cyberware allows your character to far surpass what a normal human is capable of.

2) Native Americans. When magic returned to the world of Shadowrun one of the first people to get on board were the Native Americans. Embracing their shamanic past, America’s first people reclaimed the heartland of America and now wield more power than ever before. It’s not just the Indians though, the history of Shadowrun is well thought out and interesting. Dragons appearing in Japan, corporations running the show behind the curtain of glass and steel skyscrapers, and Goblinization. This is a very engaging and fully formed world that Shadowrun exists in.

3) Lethal combat. If a bunch of jacked up, cyber enhanced gun jockeys are having it out in the street with flechette loaded assault rifles people are going to die. And they do. In mass quantities. Lethality in Shadowrun is no joke. Even if you are heavily armored Troll with dermal plating, two well placed shots are going to take you out. It is not easy to keep a character alive in this game, which I’m fine with. This is a risky line of work. If you can’t handle character death I suggest that you leave the shadow running to someone else and go play 4th edition D&D.

The worst:
1) Too many D6’s. I have a lot of D6’s, more than any reasonable human being could possibly have a need for. Except if you play Shadowrun. Since the game only uses the D6 and most checks are opposed successes it requires an obscene amount of dice. More than most players would have. More room to roll them than most tables have. When dice are cutting into space that could otherwise be used for food, there is a problem. And that is a lot of math that tends to slow the game down. Now in it’s 4th edition, the game continues to stubbornly stick to this clumsy system. I don’t get it. I’m not sure what advantage it is providing. Though it is sort of fun to roll that many dice at once.

2) Deckers. You can’t have a futuristic cyberpunk game without computer hackers, known in Shadowrun as deckers for the hooked up cyberdecks that they carry. I get it, in the future information is a big commodity and these guys know how to get it. What they also know how to do is slow down the game for everyone else while they spend a half hour hacking into some mainframe and fighting lethal programs as the rest of the party stands around. In the last couple of games that I played in everyone agreed to just sort of outlaw deckers for that reason and either have an NPC replace their skill set or just make all computer type stuff kept to a minimum. And really, who wants to be a decker? They make clerics look popular.

A couple of years ago I was awakened real early one morning by a phone call from an unknown number. I answered it and was met by a cold voice saying, “You ready to run the shadows?” It was silent as they awaited my response. I was clueless but eventually put together that it was someone that I had played Shadowrun with years ago inviting me to join him in a new game. Unfortunately at the time my schedule was not very conducive to another weekly game so I declined, but I always loved that phone call. That is one of my favorite aspects of Shadowrun.

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