Good morning and welcome to another edition of P&PTuesTAY! We've got a good one for you today, as I was able to play a one-shot of Shadowrun 5th Edition and it was glorious!
First off, a little background on Shadowrun for those who aren't in the know. Some of you may be familiar with the console game from the SNES/Genesis/MEGA CD, and some may have read about or played Shadowrun Returns, the recent spiritual sequel. As it is fitting and quite appropriate, I will quote the Shadowrun Wikia page:
“Shadowrun is a role-playing game set in a fictional alternate universe. Shadowrun combines cyberpunk and high fantasy to create a near future world where technology has advanced beyond our understanding, powerful mega corporations control everyday life, and magic and classical fantasy races have returned to the world.”
“Watch your back, shoot straight, conserve ammo, and never, ever, cut a deal with a dragon. “
Shadowrun is sci-fi/fantasy role playing. It has elements of both science fiction with the dystopian setting, cybernetics, high-tech weaponry and the world of corporate espionage. The fantasy element comes in with the inclusion of orks, trolls, elves, dwarves, magic and, of course, dragons. While some would argue that those settings don’t go together well, I would counterpoint that Shadowrun is now in its’ 5th edition, and that the developers have done a fantastic job at world building and giving these disparate elements a good foundation for existing together in the world. Having played 2nd and 3rd edition Shadowrun, I was excited to be able to try out 5th edition. I have always enjoyed playing in the Shadowrun universe, and the gents I was playing with were some of the ones I cut my teeth on the game with, so that added to my anticipation.
Our session started with the handing out of the pre-gen characters, to speed up gameplay and let us all dive into the session headfirst. While it’s great to “roll your own”, getting a pre-gen character for a one-shot allows the player to focus on mechanics and role play without worrying about developing a character concept and back story. I rolled the dice, and found myself playing an Ork Street Samurai who I promptly named “Me’hh”. Our party was a mix of mages and combat specialists, all suited for the mission we were about to embark on. The game master had decided to put us through his own take on the train robbery scene from the Firefly television show, and we were in for quite the ride. The adventure started off with us receiving our assignment, picking up two specific boxes of cargo from the train. From there, we dropped us right into the action.
Me’hh and another character, a mage, started on the train as passengers. The other 4 characters were on a small stealth drop-ship trailing the mag-lev train. Me’hh was designated to provide some classic misdirection so the mage could sneak back to the cargo area and located the specific cargo we were after. Me’hh immediately stood up, and loudly asked no one in particular, “HEY! WHERE’S THE SHITTER ON THIS TIN CAN?” As expected, this drew the attention of everyone in the car and let the mage pass undetected toward the rear of the train.
Walking to the back of the train car, Me’hh continued to make a scene, rattling the bathroom door as though it’s locked, grunting and sounding as though he’s going to be ill. As he moves back, “checking” each bathroom, he gets to the dining car. Behind him, he notices a man wearing tan clothing and a backpack get up and start following him from car to car. A conductor confronts Me’hh, and when pressed for the bathroom information, attempts to send Me’hh back to the front of the train.
Me’hh then fake-pukes, catching the conductor off guard. The conductor escorts Me’hh into the dining car’s restroom, where he proceeds to continue making all kinds of vomitous racket, loudly exclaiming “They served me cat! I’m allergic to cat and they still served it to me!” “BLAAAAAARRRGH”. Finishing up his amazing acting job, Me’hh then walked out of the bathroom wiping his chin, sidles up to the dining car counter, and immediately orders some booze to “get the taste of cat out of my mouth”. The waitress brings him a small glass, and he looks incredulously at the tiny serving. He leans over the bar, pulls the liner from the garbage can and then proceeds to convince the waitress to fill the garbage can with all of the booze she can.
Meanwhile, Me’hh’s mage partner makes his way back to the cargo cars, and climbs up to the roof, where he finds a locked vent panel. He manages to force the vent, and looks down as 4 guards point their guns up at the vent. Rolling away quickly, the mage barely escapes rolling off the roof of the car, and mentions the guards on his comm device.
With garbage can o’booze in arm, he then drags the waitress over to a table, where he proceeds to share the booze with her and fake as though he is getting lit. Suddenly, Me’hh’s comm device picks up the update from his mage friend. Me’hh then gets up with the can o’booze, turns and spills the entire container of alcohol on the gentleman who’d been tailing him. “Oh, scuze m’man... sorry to get you all.. liquored up..” he says, laying on the drunk act for all it’s worth. This time, however, it doesn't play. “Why you stupid, pig faced son of a-UURK” – he gets cut off abruptly as Me’hh lifts him by his neck and presses him to the wall. “WHAT did you call me?”, exclaimed Me’hh. As the man wiggled in his grasp, a small sub-machine gun falls from the man’s pack to the ground.
Thinking quickly, Me’hh screamed, “HE’S GOT A GUN!” and proceeded to beat the man senseless, tossing him around the car as though he was an overstuffed piece of luggage. That does the trick, and the 4 guards from the cargo car quickly come to the aid of the gent being beaten. “Agent Cooper, are you OK?” the guards ask the beaten and battered man. Me’hh takes that moment to scoop him up, use him like a piece of cover, and charge his way through the group of guards. Making it through the rear door of the dining car, he shuts the door quickly, and bashes the keypad with the butt of his pistol, effectively locking the door.
Looking around, Me’hh sees the magnetic coupling for the train cars, and without thinking, pulls his small belt of 3 high explosive grenades, sets it down near the coupling, then pulls the pins and dashes into the next train car. Seconds later, there is a deafening explosion as the grenades go off, shattering the coupling along with the adjacent sections of the train cars. The front of the train goes careening down the track, while the car that Me’hh is in bucks hard, then slows to a stop. Me’hh straightens his coat, then proceeds to head toward the cargo cars.
At that moment, 4 more guards come into the train car from the rear door, and fire on Me’hh in retaliation for the explosion. Passengers scatter left and right, as Me’hh takes the brunt of four automatic rifles punching lead into his chest. He drops forward, face first, onto the floor of the train car and issues a rough moan as his lifeblood seeps out into the car.
In short order, the 4 other mercs on the drop-ship pull up on the stopped train cars, and start laying waste to the guards. The sniper picks off 4 of them easily, as another mage, a ganger, and another street samurai drop to the train. The mage and ganger take off to the cargo cars, and the samurai sprints toward where Me’hh fell. The street samurai silently drops down in front of the open door, and easily drops the 2 guards looting Me’hh’s body, taking them by surprise.
With a quick high-rating medpak applied, Me’hh is back on his feet, and both the samurai and Me’hh head back to the cargo cars, where the rest of the crew has located the cargo and begun loading it onto the drop-ship. And, wouldn't you know it, the cargo is baby dragons…
Thus endeth our tale.
Shadowrun is also known in P&P circles as “that game where you throw handfuls of D6s for your rolls”, and that is also a pretty apt description of the earlier editions of Shadowrun. It wasn't uncommon for mid-level characters to be rolling 10-14 D6s for each bullet of a burst shot from a handgun, and the mechanics are that you balance successes versus failures and you want to have lots of successes. Lots of damage, lots of mitigation, LOTS of rolling. LOTS OF ROLLING.
That much rolling has two standard side effects. One effect is that every action can feel like it’s happening on an action movie level, which can be great for a game master to use for descriptive purposes. The second effect is that it could involve lots of dice counting, counting and stat-crunching, which slows down the action and the pace of the game and is counter-intuitive to what you want in an action sequence.
In Shadowrun 5th Edition, the designers have managed to reel in some of the massive dice rolls while maintaining the end result – combat that can still flow and have that action movie feel, while retaining speed and all of the deadly results one would expect. All action checks are based on a stat plus a skill, and weapons have Ratings, which allow them to be powerful while reasonably managing your dice pool.
The system also has undergone some serious upgrades to the cybernetic experience, and the act of “decking”; travelling in and using the game’s virtual reality rules to affect systems in real time. Imagine jacking into the Matrix (yes, it’s a virtual world, and for those wondering, it predates the movie franchise by MANY years..) and haxoring a surveillance feed to guide your team through an Ares weapons-testing facility. Using your gear to remote-control a set of combat drones to cover your samurai’s escape from said facility. Plugging into the control board for your stolen DocWagon and careening down the street – the hacking/decking is is one aspect of play I didn't get to experience, but I can’t wait.
My experience is that Shadowrun still plays much like it did in previous editions, with some general streamlining of the combat experience. All of the combat and skill checks that took place during the game happened quickly, and only impeded gameplay when I required an explanation of what I was rolling against and why. I highly recommend playing this if or when you get the chance – it’s a boatload of chaos and fun wrapped in a pretty sleek and easy to understand system.
Whew! This was a LONG one. Now, it’s YOUR turn! If you've played Shadowrun in the past, are playing it now, or WANT to play and have questions, let me know in the comments. I’ll do my best to answer your questions with my rudimentary grasp of 5th Edition, and if I can’t answer, maybe another P&Per can.
As has become the norm for P&PTuesTAY!, below are some links about Shadowrun to learn more. As always, thanks for reading, and I’ll be back next week with another P&PTuesTAY!
Shadowrun Universe (Hub for official Shadowrun offerings)
Shadowrun Wikia (Unofficial Wiki for Shadowrun – covers all editions)