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RPGPundit's Blog: Opinions on Shadowrun

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This was written back in June 4th, 2005, before 4th edition had been released:

Having just opened a bottle of $100 Scotch, I feel I am now in excellent condition to comment on a game that is far from my favourites, but that needs to be mentioned for some interesting new developments: Shadowrun.
Now, I have NEVER been a Shadowrun fan. I think that the game got off to a pretty piss-poor start and got worse as time went by.  From the very beginning, I found the setting somewhat interesting, but it suffers from the opposite infirmity that Blue Rose does: interesting setting, everything else about it sucks.
The rules were practically unmanageable from when it first came out, and had only gotten worse with each successive edition (well, 2nd may have been a little better than 1st, but not enough to matter).  3rd edition, released after the collapse of FASA in (no surprise) the late 90s, had done nothing to better the system, and a lot to make the setting more problematic.  3rd was largely a fan-run effort, and suffered from the inward-perspective of any fan-run effort (imagine if a bunch of rabid trekkies took over the Star Trek franchise; they produce lots of anally retentive stuff that appeals to other totally apeshit fanboys, and completely alienate everyone else from the franchise).  Topping that, Shadowrun bought into the story-based concept of metaplot from the very beginning, and sweet crap did they do it to the nth degree. Essentially, the combination of unbelievably archaic rules, byzantine even by the standards of other late-80s origin games; and a metaplot that required dozens of books to even begin to understand the intricacies of the setting combined to insure that 3rd edition suffered a serious loss of players and gained virtually no new ones.
But now, at long last, the people at Fanpro (who publish Shadowrun) have determined not to let Shadowrun fade into obscurity.  They have recently announced that they will be releasing a 4th edition of Shadowrun, with a radical reworking of the rules and settings.  To address the two principle problems Shadowrun faces (rules complexity and setting complexity) they are reworking the rules to run on a streamlined smooth mechanic (in other words, what has come to be expected of RPGs following the revolutionary advent of D20), and pushing the setting forward several years in order to facilitate a new player's ability to smoothly work his way into the setting, without having to buy and review a dozen books.  In theory, the game will be playable right off the bat, requiring no setting-reference to any of the books of the previous edition.  They're also doing a lot of work to update the setting to a style more functionally appealing to modern expectation and using less of the outdated tropes of the more antiquated "cyberpunk" styles of the previous editions  (for a game supposedly set in the 21st century, Shadowrun always seemed like it was really set in the late 1980s, like many a bad b-grade sci-fi movie of the times).  At the same time, the game is still definitively Shadowrun.  Its still got the street-samurais and urban shamans, orc football players and matrix-cruising neuromancing deckers. Its just that now, people who were always kind of interested in the ideas of the game but never willing to bother with the amount of money and energy required to engage in the pointless effort necessary to get into Shadowrun can have a jumping-in point, with rules that run smoothly, and long-standing practical problems addressed (like riggers that have to stay in the car while everyone else breaks into the building, or everyone else in the party having to sit on their asses while the hacker breaks into the network, or the aforementioned datedness problems like the matrix always seeming to feel more like the 1980s BBSes than the internet circa 2005, much less the futuristic evolution thereof).
What has the response been on the online forums at, where the shadowrun fanboys congregate? In many cases, a very predictable case of the Swine flu.  A dedicated cadre of drooling obsessives have wet themselves with rage over the proposed changes, seemingly failing to comprehend that without said changes, Shadowrun will be doomed into obscurity.
Or maybe they do realize that, but just don't care. For too many years, Shadowrun has been "their" game, their own private little fantasy world, where their own selfish needs were met. This fear or loathing of the idea of new people actually getting into the game (or more accurately of the game adapting to let new people in, rather than the totally unrealistic and irresponsible idea that people should have to adapt to get into the game) has led to proclamations that the new edition is not Shadowrun, that its being dumbed down, that Fanpro only wants 12-year old D&D kids and doesn't care about its darling long-term customers, etc etc. ad nauseum.  Sentiments that only betray the extreme disconnection said fanboys have with the rest of the modern hobby, and their totally undeserved sense of elitism and superiority over those who until now have decided Shadowrun wasn't worth the effort.
The reality is that Fanpro is finally getting the idea of being once more a serious player on the RPG industry scene, and not a haven for rejects from a William Gibson novel to engage in dick-waving contests about their knowledge of minutiae from the "Rigger XVII" sourcebook. And what these fanboys really don't get is that this is as much for THEIR OWN GOOD as anything else. If the option is between Shadowrun turning into a revitalized popular game that is both profitable and relevant, or of slowly fading away through the inevitable ravages of time and a total lack of vision, gradually losing players until all that's left is two guys in "elven decker" cosplay outfits talking about neotokyo, there's really not much of a debate as to what would be preferrable to the majority of fandom.
And if some of the rest of us actually find a new edition of Shadowrun playable enough to get into it, then it's mission accomplished for Fanpro, and nothing the fanboys should be scared of.

Change that leads to progressive growth is good, and I for one look forward to being able to finally, at long last, welcome Shadowrun to the 21st century.

They got elves in my cyberpunk.


Anything else is arguing about piddling details.

Heh. :D

Shadowrun struck me as a case of "they don't know what the fuck they're talking about." Cyberpunk made for a nice  dystopian trope, but it was nothing to hang a dynamic world on.

Put simply, cyberpunk was the marxist view of capitalism carried to a ludicrous extreme, with blinking lights and topped of by an Aristotelian view of humanity. In short, it made so many mistakes concerning fundamental human nature and historical processes it wasn't even funny. Loads of fun for the politically, economically, and sociologically clueless; but for anyone with even basic understanding of how the world works, it stunk.

Shadowpunk is what you get in a crisis situation. Trouble is, crises end. Things settle down, the rule of law returns. Either that, or a despotism is emplaced. Either way the climate changes to disallow freelance runs. It's either retire or get hired.

Now, this can happen over time. Centuries even. But it will happen. Take Western Europe after the collapse of the Roman Empire. As early as the 8th century parts were undergoing some degree of recovery.

Shadowrun violated a basic rule of setting creation, keep the mundane plausible. Human society is as mundane as it gets, and it follows simple rules. Shadowrun violated those rules.

I look at it differently. While FASA/Fanpro marches SR history forward with new sourcebooks, if you look at the period as frozen in time there are many opportunities to role-play different situations in all parts of the world. If a campaign gets boring, alter time and pick it up in a new location with new people. Redefine the established history of previous campaigns. Replay or revise the historical events of the SR timeline itself. It can be as dynamic or as static as necessary depending on how much the player enjoys suspending disbelief.

I picked up SR at 3rd edition coming straight off D&D and, while it was expensive and the rules are hard to learn, I don't regret a thing. I haven't read all the changes in SR4 yet, but it does appeal to a certain (read: different) audience so consumers (fanboys or otherwise) who don't want the product have every right not to buy it.

It's a win/win situation after all since SR3 fans have more than enough sourcebook material to keep playing and Fanpro can keep making money off the SR license.


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