What's up with Shadowrun?

I’m just now learning to play Dungeons & Dragons, after wanting to play the game ever since I first heard about it in high school (20+ years ago). I get the impression that it’s a fairly popular game :wink:

But I came across another role-playing game several years ago: Shadowrun. I spotted it on the shelf at the comic book store, and started reading the description of the game. The whole concept of the game immediately grabbed my attention: It’s the year 2050, and technology has advanced drastically. At the same time, Magic has returned to the world. So the game revolves around the changed world that combines amazing technology and magic, megacorporations and metahumans. I picked up a copy, and proceeded to study the game. I had fun generating different characters, figuring out the combat systems, learning how to run a game. I bought a number of supplemental books. I devoured the novels that were set in the Shadowrun universe.

Despite all that, I never actually played the game. You see, I could never find anybody else who was into it. Even amongst my fellow Magic: The Gathering players, people would say, “I used to play that. It was cool, but now I’m playing [insert another RPG here].” I did come across a Shadowrun video game for the Super Nintendo, but it was pretty lame.

Having nobody to play with, I set my Shadowrun books aside and moved on to other things for the next few years. So now I’m learning to play D&D, and I thought, “hey, maybe this groups would be interested in taking a stab at Shadowrun!” I learned that Shadowrun is now into Version 3.0, so I set out to purchase a new rulebook. That’s when I discovered that none of the stores where I used to buy Shadowrun stuff carries it any more. Further research revealed that the game had been sold by the original publisher, FASA, to a new company called FanPro or some such thing. In Germany. Germany? What the…?! The game was centered on Seattle and Chicago! Reading the Shadowrun Web site revealed that FanPro is working on getting the new game materials translated into English, and that there are no plans to make future Shadowrun novels available in the U.S. Dang.

Is anybody here familiar with this game, and can you explain why it became unpopular enough to be sold clear out of the country? Was it just not fun? The only clue I have is something my D&D DM said: The combat system was too complicated.

I have played the game (and even GMed some), but I have 2nd edition.
!st edition and 2nd edition differ radically (weapons had 3 stats in 1st ed, down to 2 in 2nd. I think armor works different too)

I am unfamiliar with 3rd edition, not sure how different it is to 2nd.

I don’t think combat is all that complicated (no more than other games)
Not having the novels is not a big deal IMHO.

http://www.shadowrunrpg.com/resources/faq.shtml if you haven’t found that already.

good luck chummer

My old gaming group ran a Shadowrun campaign once. The setting is very interesting, but the gameplay just wasn’t much fun.

The game mechanics require a LOT of dice rolling. I hear this was toned down somewhat in the third edition, but when we played it was not unusual at all for a character to have to roll 12 dice at once. For hacker or rigger characters, 20+ dice rolls are not unheard of.

Not only do you have to roll a lot of dice at once, you have to roll them often. I’ve seen games with combat systems that required the dice to be rolled more often than in Shadowrun, but I don’t think I ever played one. You also have to roll for a wide variety of actions, including many social interactions that I’d think would be better handled by role-playing.

The gameplay is not very balanced, either. Characters sometimes seem very limited in what they can do, yet in many cases a well-designed character can accomplish almost anything if they use enough dice pools. I made a physical adept character who was almost invincible in combat, usually got to act twice in a combat round before any NPC, almost always killed enemies in one attack, and could effortlessly shrug off damage even if it was supposedly a ‘Extremely Difficult’ thing to do. I eventually started doing insanely dangerous stuff that broke the flow of the adventure we were running just to see if I could get my character killed, and I never had more than 3 points of damage. This was with a very good GM who followed the rules precisely and never cut players any breaks, the kind of guy whose AD&D campaigns killed off 80% of our characters before we made level 4.

Character development is also weak. Shadowrun is like the old Gamma World in that starting characters begin very powerful. I made a character with resources as his top priority (you have to decide the order of priority of Skills, Attributes, Resources, Race, and Magical power), and I was surprised to find that I had enough resource points available that I could start off independently wealthy, owning two helicopters, and married to a wealthy simstim star, for the cost of being human, not having any magical ability, and having merely gifted instead of extraordinary attributes (compared to a normal human). This made it very difficult for the GM to keep the adventure on track - when I decided I wanted revenge on the antagonist of the adventure (who was supposed to be highly protected and essentially untouchable until the final confrontation), I was able to use my resources to locate him and destroy his limo in the middle of Seattle rush hour with my remotely-piloted attack helicopter. Yeah, the GM could have made things hard on my character in retaliation (if he decided to continue the adventure freestyle) but he was unable to stop me - and he did throw everything within reason to stop my insanely audacious revenge. Characters have too much power, and get stronger with every karma point.

It’s a great idea, but I think it would be very difficult to make the game fun with the rules as written.

Hmmm. I wonder how hard it would be to convert Shadowrun to the d20 system…

I imagine it would be extremely difficult, as the combat system doesn’t have anything similar to THAC0, Armor Class, or even Hit Points.

In Shadowrun, when you attack someone you roll a lot of dice, trying to get as many as possible to meet or exceed the target number (based on target size, range, and a few other factors) to hit the enemy. How many successes you have determines how effectively you hit the target. If you get more successes than you needed to hit, the weapon does more than it’s normal base damage based on the number of excess successes - if you have a target number of 5 and you were four of your dice came up 5 or better, an attack that normally does Moderate damage will do Serious damage - unless the defender can cancel out some of those successes.

At this point the target gets to resist, by rolling a lot of dice against a target number based on the type of weapon they just got shot with and possibly modified by the skills and abilities of the attacker. The more successes that are achieved, the more levels the damage is reduced - i.e. a handgun may do base damage of Serious (which is 6 points), but if you make enough successes, you might reduce that to Moderate (which is 3 points), Light (1 point), or you might end up unharmed by it at all. Some kinds of armor give automatic successes against certain kinds of damage. There are different kinds of damage resistance, based on different stats and equipment, some of which do not apply against certain kinds of damage. Some weapons do stun damage, which works pretty much the same as physical damage, but if you take enough stun damage the excess crosses over into the physical damage meter.

EVERYTHING in the game has the same number of hit points - 10. The difference between a 10 point dragon and a 10 point child is that the dragon has a lot of body points (used to determine how many dice it can roll to resist damage), automatic successes due to tough skin, and is going to have a much higher target number on it’s attackers rolls, so to hurt a dragon you have to have a LOT of attack dice and get a lucky roll, while a child (or any normal human) is not going to be able to resist the attack of a moderately skilled player, and the player is likely to have so many extra successes that an attack that would only do Moderate or Light damage will be bumped up to Deadly. As you lose hit points, you get larger and larger penalties to all of your dice rolls. If you get to 0 hit points you will die without extraordinary measures.

And all characters and important NPCs also have points that can be used to re-roll dice or get automatic successes, as well as dice pools that can be added to the number of dice you can roll based on various circumstances, some only usable once per encounter, which can cause huge arguments as to what constitutes the end of one encounter and the beginning of the next.

Try and convert that to d20…even if you gave up on the whole concept of all weapons conceivably being scalable to ‘one hit one kill’ with a good enough roll and the idea of all character damage degrading players ability, I wouldn’t know where to begin assigning hit points to characters and monsters, or determining the damage ranges of various weapons (as all weapons do L, M, S, or D damage), the differences between the weapons, characters, and monsters is the combination of a number of skills and target numbers and special circumstances.

12 dice? piffle. I played a game of Champions (I think, one of the superhero games) and rolled 48 6 siders. I was playing Obsidiman, who is made of stone and weighs a lot. I jumped from a hieght onto somebody. I think it was 1 die for every 100 pounds or something.


I’ve heard of that happening in some math heavy systems, esp. when dealing with falling damage - in AD&D falling damage goes up to 20 six sided dice, at which point you are considered to have reached terminal velocity. But that’s not something that comes up very often.

A Shadowrun starting character that has a Driving Pool in addition to the Karma Pool, will have to roll more than 20 dice frequently as SKILL CHECKS. In a typical combat including remote vehicles, the pilot is rolling 20 six sided dice at least once for each 6 second combat round. Similar situations come up for computer combat and magic use, but it’s the most common for those who have something similar to the ‘Rigger’ archetype, you can tell people who play those characters by their highly developed wrists. :slight_smile:

And normal combat frequently requires 10 or 15 dice rolls as well.

Thing is, I like the Shadowrun game mechanic in theory. It’s basic ideas are very elegant and make a lot of sense, there just needs to be some way to simplify when characters are using more than two die pools for a skill.

I got ahead of myself, I forgot to add Combat Pool and the skill roll in there.

For fun, you may want to check out the cyberpunk thread I’ve got going elsewhere. The idea that someone is considering playing Shadowrun may be an interesting counterpoint to some of the opinions there.

As for the game itself: why? It’s full of fun teenagey angst but the plot is absurd, even by RPG standards (I’m paraphrasing from a review I read years ago and forgot the author): “So let me get this straight, it’s a future where Japans own everything, people implant all manner of computer things in their skin but the world’s really in trouble because a group of North American Plains Indians performed a shamanic ritual according to a Mayan Death calendar and awakened Celtic supernatual beings?”

You acknowledged this in your OP, but consider the above take for a moment. That’s generally the first impression of anyone who picks up the book and doesn’t go, “cool, look at all the guns” IME.

As for why it got sold clear across the world: nobody wanted it. When FASA went out of business, the only thing they had of any real worth was Battletech (which is arguable considering that they went out of business). WhizKids bought that and the rights to Shadowrun for thier collectible fighting thing (IIRC), but the original rules for both Battletech and Shadowrun (and other games, I assume) went to your German company.

From my days playing this (admittedly, it was the 1st ed), it wasn’t particularly complex, but not very intuitive and even after months of on-again-off-again, we were still having trouble remembering things. The worst was designing the damn networks for the decker and having everyone sit around for hours while one character essentially tries to figure out a password.

But, some people like that sort of thing. If so (and you seem like you do), more power to you, but the above is basically why people don’t like the game.

…wow… Nobody tailored rules to fit their gaming styles? You see a problem with a game… you fix it.

My friends and I played Shadowrun religiously our first two years of high school. We moved on to Vampire because it was “sexier” and girls would play with us.

The world it created was fantastic. (didn’t a dragon end up becoming president?)

The SNES game is crap… the Genesis game is actually REALLY good. A little bit too much time spent running around doing errands until you can level-up but other than that it handled all the aspects of the Shadowrun table game really well.

The problem with Shadowrun (with us at least) was that there were too many of those things an eventually we decided that we weren’t playing Shadowrun at all.

Of course, our 10 year-old rules for 1st ed AD&D were hilaroius too, but seriously…

There was always one person who wanted to use the rules as stated and in our 10-or-so circle of people who played, not one could make it through a session without relying on the book and comparing notes with another person.

Vampire, fortuntely, took all the glamor of the -punk part and I don’t think we ever looked back.

It would be pointless. The d20 system is much more complex, does less, and plays much rougher. Take it from me - I’ve played more than enough to know this. If you absolutely had to, take d20 modern and just play with Shadowrun as the setting.

No, it doesn’t. The plot has no angst at all. It is totally angst-less, unless you put it in yourself. You can play it like Vampire if you wanted to, but it naturally lends itself to anythign from a dark conspiracy game (3rd edition) to a good-guys-expose-corruption game (1st edition) to a hack n’ slash game (2nd edition).

It more complicated that that. FASA died - but the guy who owned it started Wizkids and sold himself the B-tech and Shadowriun licenses. Now, either he re-licensed the right to make and sell Shadowrun material to Fanpro or sold them the material outright. Fanpro isn’t doing crap, really.

Yes. This was an amusing thing, and also delved into the strange politics where people of the the new world have to try and figure out who and what is a citizen. The editions are not entirely consistant about it, BTW. Also, Dunklezahn (the dragon) “died” on his inauguration night… but that is a another story and far more complicated that it appears.

On the story line:

 There were a *lot* of different writers, and the various materials had some things that were unlikely, some things that were impossible, and some things which were downright silly. The storyline is steeped in the fears and dreams of the '80's - but it works and provides a strong backdrop for gameplay.

On the balance:
Yes - your characters are expected to be 1-in-100,000 at worst. You can expect to face serious competition at that level, too. If you don’t feel challenged, then your GM is doing something wrong. I say this with all due respect and don’t mean to ofend anyone, but while there’s little an average guard can do to you, there’s a lot that a smart opponent of any level of personal power can do. In combat with anyone remotely normal, however, you can certainly win.
On the system:

 The system isn't the absolute best I've seen - but it is top-notch. Don't be intimidated by large handfuls of dice. Once you know what you're doing it plays very smoothly, with just enough chance to make even the most skilled Shadowrunner sweat.

Handy tip:
One common rule is to let any character with a number of dice equal the target number (or target +1) forego their roll and simply assume success. This only works up to TN 5. Smooths things out considerably.
Shadowrun is a very easy system to make material for. d20 fights you every step of the way, but Shadowrun is as smooth as silk.
I am biased. Shadowrun was my first RPG - it’s what got me into them. Now I’m going Pro. I hope one day to bring Shadowrun 4 back onto the market, so I’m hoping to be able to revitalize the game.

This man speaks the truth.

Myself, the most fun I’ve had with PnP RPGs is with a Shadowrun (as we call the missions). The setting is just too cool. It can be as serious or silly as you want–in one campaign I was a cyclops with low, low intelligence, who went into a bar, picked a fight, and finished off the day drinking a barrel of antifreeze (whoops!). Shadowrun is sophisticated enough that your enjoyment of the game really depends on your GM, not the ruleset. (Compare to D20, which is too simplified to have much fun with, imho).

There’s also a Shadowrun card game. Since I moved to New Jersey I haven’t found anyone who owns the cards–my friends and I bought groups of them off eBay a couple years ago–but it’s a fun game to play nevertheless.

Well, I was in my early 20s when I first discovered the game :slight_smile:

That’s something I thought of, too. It also occured to me that combat could get pretty complex in a situation involving multiple “planes”. For example, a team could be making an assault on the bad guy’s building, and end up with their Decker doing cyber combat on the Grid attempting to bypass the building’s technological security systems, while the team Shaman is engaged in astral combat to defeat the magical defenses. Meanwhile, the two Street Samurai, the Combat Mage and the Rigger are storming the walls in the “meat” world. And of course there’s a couple others standing by protecting the Decker’s and Shaman’s meat bodies while they’re in their respective realms…

I forgot to mention that it was 2nd Edition I got wrapped up in.

Do you mean starting your own company to do this? And do I correctly infer from your statement that there was a Version 4.0 in the works before FASA closed up shop?

Yes. www.distanthorizonsgames.com We’re doing d20 right now, but if we can get profitable from our upcoming print releases we may branch out and hire more people.

Not as far as I know. FASA was very secretive. But my [business] partner worked on truly game changing material (vast amounts of cyberware, computer, rigging , distinctions/demerits, and magic options) which let people scale things a lot and play really unusual, but useful characters.

One that I came up with (but never played) was an elderly man, minor magic powers (less than adept), but lots of money and powerful contactcs. He was born, well, when I was in the early 1980’s - and thus has a vastly different perspective on the world. Another character started off as a merely excellent rigger/techie. Over the course of many, many games became extremely magically powerful and influential. It took over a year of defying death in every game to earn that, but I became one of the world’s movers and shakers, magically speaking.

We’ve also had less-extreme games, which went along well until I realize everyone had twinked their characters in direct defiance of the rules I set down regarding character creation. Bastards. :smiley:

This material is already plentiful and solid enough to let us put out at least eight books! I want to bing Shadowrun back for another reason as well: the fight back against the d20 juggernaut. To that end, I hope to revitalize the entire line, with a PC game (with a discout for the game book), music CD (available free with the game book).

Looks interesting. I’ll keep checking back at your site to keep up with what’s going on.

Regarding the massive dice rolls for Shadowrun, I have an idea. I’ve looked at several dice-rolling programs available for the Macintosh computer - I’m sure there are even more available for Windows.

Each player having a PC at the table would take up too much space, and having one PC so that the GM/DM can make everybody’s rolls for them would take some of the fun out of the game. So, what we need is a handheld, computerized dice roller. It would need a 0 - 9 keypad, buttons for each kind of die, and a method for modifying rolls (+1, etc). The display would show not only the total of all dice (for d20 games) but also the result of each individual die (for games like Shadowrun).

I tried a dice rolling program a few years ago that had a neat feature that allowed people to play tabletop RPGs online with other players. It would allow you, after making your roll, to e-mail the result to the rest of the group. It wouldn’t let you modify that e-mail, so no cheating. (Hey wow! I’ve rolled six consecutive 18s!) That way, you would make your roll and then click “send” and the DM and everybody else could see your result.

I’ve only played a few times, but I’ve always thought it was a blast. The excessive amount of dice gets a little frustrating at times, but the environment and our characters were just so much wacky fun. Of course, as with all gaming, a good deal is dependent on the GM and the other players.

I am probably biased though. One of my favorite characters that I ever created was for that game. Satori, the shotgun-wielding demoltions expert and part time prostitute, on the run from the Yakuza with nothing but her sawed-off, her duffel bag of C-12, and her Johnny Cash collection. Good times…

Another vote for Shadowrun game system being a PITA. I distantly remember a fight between a guy with katana versus one with a SMG - and the fight went on forever, with lots and lots of die rolls. Also, IIRC cyberstuff was incredibly powerful compared to inherent abilities, so during character creation you’d want to maximise money, and stuff in as many implants as you could afford. That’s not neccessarily a bad thing, but I dislike systems where you need a lot of study to create characters who aren’t wimps.

But, as others have mentioned: If you like the setting but the game system doesn’t work, just ditch it and replace with something else.


That seems like an odd way to handle it. Why not treat it as a move through maneuver with a velocity equal to the distance you’re falling (30" max to take terminal velocity into account)?

That way, assuming 75 str or so (with density increase on) and 30" you’d be doing around…25d6 damage. Of course, if the GM was feeling particularly cruel, he might make the target calculate knockback into the ground for another 18d6 damage (or so). :slight_smile: God, I love Champions. Any system that lets me figure that out off the top of my head and gives me guidelines for determining how big a crater is created is A-Okay in my book. :smiley:

Back to the thread, I played a fairly short 1e Shadowrun campaign way back in college. It was fun. Some of the rules systems were counter-intuitive, but once you started playing you get used to it fairly quick.

I have no problem with the idea of a d20 conversion, but I think it’d be tricky getting magic to feel right. You’d probably have to scratch and rewrite the magic system from scratch, which would be a pain.