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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Shadowrun 5th Edition - The Essentials

I run four role-playing games a week.

Monday: Dungeon Crawl Classics
Wednesday: D&D 5th Edition Adventurer's League
Thursday: D&D 4th Edition
Sunday: Shadowrun 5th edition

Dungeons & Dragons 5e is just rolling out. People on twitter and in my game store are frothing at the mouth over the new Player's Handbook. But all I really care about is Shadowrun.

Why? The Shadowrun 5th Edition rulebook is a jumbled, 500-page mess. The rules are ridiculously complicated.

And yet every session is awesome. We have motorcycle fights. My players pick up babes and dudes in sleazy bars. They meet noir-ish detectives who smoke cigarettes and say things like:

I'm an occasional drinker, the kind of guy who goes out for a beer and wakes up in Singapore with a full beard.” (I steal quotes from Raymond Chandler novels)

My runners live with a ridiculous college party girl named Lacey Heels. She stole 40,000 nuyen for them. They went to the dean of her college's house and blackmailed him into giving her all A's without her having to attend classes.

There have been bar fights, motorcycle thefts, motorcycle races, motorcycle explosions, corrupt politicians and a gigantic cyberzombie that nearly killed our orc street samurai. It took him over a week of convalescing to recover from the wounds.

In the last 6 months of our 5e D&D campaign, I have tried to get the campaign to have the "reading-a-novel-and-I-can't-put-it-down" feeling. We instantly had that feeling in the first session of Shadowrun and it shows no signs of slowing down.

The characters are building relationships, the players are invested in the story, and they even care about some of the NPCs. It helps when you luck out and end up with a "superstar" NPC that the PCs can't get enough of. The characters love Lacey Heels and have adopted her meticulously-planned partying lifestyle (She keeps a schedule. Sunday is Cuddle Day, for example. You have to put on your pajamas and cuddle all day).

Here are what I think are the essential things you need to know and do to get a good game of Shadowrun going.

1. Listen to Podcasts

Check out Critical Glitch. Listen to this session of Hiddengrid. It has a combat where you can get the idea of how things work, and it's very funny too. The main thing you will learn is that Shadowrun, despite all of its' hard-to-find rules, is a very loose game. The story is largely in the hands of the players. This game is all about investigations, planning, sneaking and intense shootouts.

2. Know the Basics of Combat. Take Notes in Advance!

It is so hard to find the sample NPCs in the pdf. Do this in advance. Take the enemy stat block and distill it to the core. NPC stats are on page 381 - burn it into your brain! Get a piece of paper, or make a word file to refer to during the game.

This game is all about rolling a certain number of d6's (this game only uses six-sided dice). Each 5 or 6 rolled is counted as one "hit".  The more "hits", the better you've done.

If you're using these ganger stats pictured here, mark this down:

Initiative: 6+d6
Attack: (gun) 8 dice, 8 physical damage, -1 Armor Penetration
Defense: 6 dice
Armor: 13 dice

You should know that Attack is Pistols + Agility, Defense is Reaction + Intuition, and Armor is Armor + Body.

That's it. once you have this down, you can run Shadowrun. 

Take notes on any items or rules situations that may come up in the session at hand, like the car chase rules or drug stats.

Remember that Initiative is weird. After everyone goes, subtract ten from everyone's initiative total, and pass through again with everyone who still has a positive number for initiative.

3. Read a Shadowrun Novel

I generally do not enjoy fiction. I can binge-read non-fiction like Into the Wild or William Shatner's Star Trek Memories (and I don't even like Star Trek), but I can't force myself to get through most fantasy or sci-fi novels.

So I did some research on Shadowrun forums. The general feeling is that a good book to start with is Into the Shadows, a book full of linked short stories by different authors.

I tried it but couldn't get into it. So I went with plan B. A guy on a message board declared that "Nigel Findley is Shadowrun". Nigel wrote about four Shadowrun novels, and a pile of Shadowrun supplements. I always liked Nigel's D&D Spelljammer stuff. His flavor text that told you how to feel and what you said always amused me, but also grabbed me by how well it flowed.

I tracked down his first Shadowrun novel, 2XS, and I read the whole thing. It is about a private detective who gets mixed up in a too-complicated conspiracy involving a cyber-drug called 2XS. The book is valuable because it gives you a feel for the setting and demonstrates a lot of its' concepts. I especially loved his depiction of what it is like in the Matrix:

"The pitch-black sky is crisscrossed by intermittent beams of light in more colors than have names, each looking solid as steel. The 'ground' is black, too, with the same kind of network of intersecting lines. And scattered throughout the space between are big glowing icons that represent nodes within the Matrix. I could pick out the shapes of the ones nearby-a perfectly mirrored sphere, a ruby-red pyramid, an image of the Space Needle, a pagoda glaring in eye-piercing green-but the ones more distant were just specks of light. Toward the electron horizons, the discrete icons blurred together until they looked like an impressionist cityscape shining into a starless sky."

I also appreciated that our hero was not some trenchcoat badass superdude. He got scared a lot and he ran away quite a bit. Dirk Montgomery was mortal. He didn't have all the answers, but he was determined to find out what happened to his sister. And he'd cozy up to the ice-cold corp babe who was somehow involved, if she'd just stop trying to kill him.

My favorite character in the novel was Buddy, a decker (a person who plugs into The Matrix). She was in her 50's and had a fairly pathetic apartment. All she cared about was The Matrix. Inside The Matrix, she was a beautiful woman in a green gown. Dirk assumed that this was how Buddy used to look, and how she still saw herself. Her "meat body" was merely an inconvenience.

4. Populate Your World with NPCS and Locations

Find out in advance who your players' contacts are (each character has a few NPC friends aka "contacts" who can help them get information or items). Get ideas from them on what their contacts are like. Make a list of interesting people for the PCs to meet. Let your style shine through. You'll need surly gang members, weary bartenders, haughty corporate types, down on their luck homeless dudes, and a buddy with a heart of gold who can get you any illegal weapon for a reasonable price.

Make up a bunch of bars and dance clubs each with a different gimmick. Most Shadowrun games are set in Seattle, so you can dig through the pile of sourcebooks and take or modify locations to suit your taste.

5. Check Out a Published Adventure to Study the Structure

The modules are fun to read. They are not like D&D adventures. This game is all about getting hired, getting double-crossed, and above all else - investigation. Your heroes need to do their legwork or they are in deep trouble. The adventures give you a good feel for how the game can be run, and what things you need to have ready for your scenario to run smoothly. Some of the most well-regarded adventures include Queen Euphoria, Dreamchipper and Mercurial. Remember that these are from an obsolete edition, so you'll have to fix the stats to run them properly (which doesn't take long). They cost a measly four bucks!

6. Know What You Need to Know, Slowly Roll Out the Rest

Find out what your players are running, and read up on all of the relevant rules. Don't worry about the rest. If the party has a spellcaster, read up on magic. If the players are using pregens, look them over and take notes on what you need to know. The pregen sheets are weirdly organized. We have played four sessions and the players still can't find stuff on them.

7. Gear Is a Big Deal

Shadowrun is all about the gear. Guns, cyberware, grenades, security devices and motorcycles are what the game is all about. Know what your players have, and use a few new devices each session, to show your players the cool stuff and to encourage them to use it.

8. Dig Up Inspiring Art to Help You Come Up With Ideas

All you need to do is start on page one of this thread. There is, as of now, 122 pages full of Shadowrun art to use as you will.

9. Know the Healing Rules (Page 205)

Your heroes probably won't get hurt much. But when they do, it is a big deal. Your runners are going to want to have medkits (they give bonuses to your healing dice pool) and the First Aid skill. They get a chance to heal physical damage within the first hour of taking it. Then they roll to heal once per day. This makes sense. I mean, you just got shot. You're likely going to be in bed for a while. Our orc street samurai spent a week of rest and still hadn't fully healed.

Once they have some money, your runners will want to buy Doc Wagon contracts. Doc Wagon is a company that sends ambulances of medical people with guns who will drive into a warzone if necessary to pull you out. If a medical personnel dies during the extraction, you'll be charged an extra 20,000 nuyen.

And remember, a critical glitch on a healing roll is bad. Which is why you...

10. Do Not Forget About Edge!

Edge points can be used to save you, basically. You can spend an edge point to re-roll every die that missed (!), to move to the top of the initiative order, to negate a glitch, and most importantly it can be used to sort of save you from dying.

Steven A. Tinner of Critical Glitch said that Edge was a little secret of the game that can help insure that you don't ever die. Which is nice!

Your bad guys can use Edge, too. They have edge points according to their professional rating. You might want to use this sparingly, or only in "boss fights", until you see how your group fares in combat situations.

Do not let the rulebook dissuade you. Shadowrun is a game worth playing!


Anonymous said...

This is a Cortex hack for SR. I've not played a session yet, but Cortex runs like a movie. I think it would help get past the ruleset of SR5 and into the cool world of Shadowrun.

samurai said...

What an excellent, and well organized, blog post. I have loved Shadowrun since it's introduction, but life just kept getting in the way. Long story, and i don't want to bore you, but i am finally getting into playing 5e, SR: Returns, and anxiously awaiting a tablet version of Online.

The purpose of this post is to thank you for writing it up, and sharing it. I am going to be sharing it with a Facebook Group Page that i manage, 'Shadowrun Christian Underground', as well as the new group of SR players who we are beginning a campaign with.

~ john
~ aka samurai
~ aka Cryptid
~ aka Râdîr

Sean said...

Anonymous: Thanks! I will check it out.

Samurai: You are welcome. I appreciate the kind words and the link! I played some of Shadowrun Returns when it came out and I thought it was pretty good.

Shot of Entropy said...

I would buy it tonight based on my love of Shadowrun (1st edition and 20 year anniv.) but can't get over the excluded errata. When I know they have a third printing, I'm in. Thanks for your excitement and review!

Sean said...

Shot of Entropy: From what I understand, they are coming out with some boxed sets geared towards giving a streamlined presentation of the rules. I think one is called "alphaware" which comes with poster maps and stuff.. so keep your eyes peeled!

Miguel Ascaso said...

In fact attack pool for gangers is 8(9) because of laser sight's wireless bonus (if turned on).

Chad Branscum said...

I am just DMing my first SR this weekend and I just found this.
I have been reading your blogs for D&D for a little while mainly for DM help but stumbled upon this.

You have no idea how helpful this little blog post has already been!!
Thanks for what you do.

Sean said...

Chad: Awesome! Thanks so much. Shadowrun is really cool but man the rules can be daunting. It's worth running, though... one of the coolest and most unique settings out there, IMO.