Daring Dungeon Dives: Shadowrun

Hail and well met, all you jarls and lasses! As always, it is I, your humble Dungeonmaster, and today I will be running you through one of the most intimidating role-playing experiences to be found on any game store shelf. The 500-page behemoth that is Shadowrun.

For those who haven’t heard, and it would be surprising if most people, at least in the states, had heard of it; Shadowrun is a cyberpunk role-playing game that takes place in a magic heavy, completely corporatized future earth. The game features a dice pool system wherein skills and attributes are represented through a pool of six-sided dice that the player uses to make skill checks. This in and of itself is not a particularly stellar system, but as with most great things in life, the exciting part is in the details. Y’see the great thing about Shadowrun is its richly complex gameplay that breaks down everything, and I do mean everything. From specific weapon types, to the difference between public, private, and corporate knowledge, to the various contacts and assets players have as a resource in the game. Shadowrun is a game that encourages players to flesh out their character as much as possible and oftentimes is as much about bookkeeping as it is about fighting bad guys and rolling dice.

So what gives? Why has Shadowrun not seen the rapid success of role-players like Dungeons and Dragons or Pathfinder? Is it a classic example of too much of a good thing?

Well, yes and no. Shadowrun is a game that has actually seen a surprising amount of success overseas. It is very popular in countries like Japan and the UK, and the first few editions of the game were released well after the US got its first major taste of cyberpunk in 1982 with Bladerunner. It would seem that a general lack of interest in the setting or subject matter is not what is holding Shadowrun back.

I think the major complaint from most critics of Shadowrun is that the game is crunchy as can be, and very much takes a shine to the bookkeeping, number crunching, reference reading half of role-playing, rather than the simple, “let’s kill some bad guys with my pals” style. The game gets very much bogged down in its own system, and can, at least for players who are new to, or else not properly seasoned in role-playing, feel very much oppressive, and at times superfluous. It is not a game that is easily accessible to new players, and that makes it a hard sell in a gaming marketplace that trends toward lighter games.

The game is also notably heavy from a lore perspective. Shadowrun has a fictional history spanning well over 70 years, and that can be sort of a dealbreaker for role-players who aren’t necessarily interested in reading a small novel’s worth of lore before beginning the process of creating a character. And to keep on the topic of role-playing, the game can often feel like it pigeonholes players into playing a specific archetype of character. Shadowrun is a dark setting – a dark setting that discourages one of the most compelling archetypes of character that one can play in an RPG, the archetype of the classic hero. It is arguably a setting with no heroes, only protagonists, and for a lot of players, particularly those of a more classical fantasy bent, that can be a problem. Everyone in the game seemingly falls into various shades of neutral or evil, never rising above their setting to be truly heroic characters.

Now, to come to the defense of Shadowrun, which in the interest of transparency is one of my favorite RPG’s, it is a fantastic game for a few specific styles of player. Shadowrun offers one of the most fully fleshed out, and deeply realized worlds to be found in any role-playing game. It creates a setting that is very exciting to explore, that of a neo-capitalist future earth, which is both uniquely stylized, and very familiar to players of all shapes and sizes. It’s safe to assume we all live on Earth, and so the setting gives players actual, real places that we all know and can identify with. This creates an interesting dynamic, where players who find themselves engrossed in the lore of the game, can explore how the world that we live in is, was, and will continue to be in this dark new setting, but also gives players who are less interested in the how and why, a world that is interesting enough to fill novels on its own, and is an absolute joy to explore and role-play in. Every single character, job, and adventure in the game feels unique, and absolutely tailored to the player. It is rare that a game of Shadowrun will ever feel stale, samey, or otherwise uninteresting.

So what’s the verdict? Do we like Shadowrun? Do we hate Shadowrun? Well, hear me out. Shadowrun is one of the most top-heavy role-playing games out there. It does not come easily or quickly recommended to new players. It is also not a game for those who find themselves disinterested in the concept of a crunchy RPG with a lot of mechanics to chew on. What Shadowrun is, is a game that is made for those who love a particular setting and want the very best that this genre can offer to fulfill that fantasy. Cyberpunk is not new ground to tackle as far as roleplaying is concerned, what with games like Cyberpunk 2020 and the new Android: Netrunner expansion for Genesys; what Shadowrun does that sets it apart from the crowd, is offer a level of immersion that I have yet to see from a role-playing game in more than a decade of experience with the genre. It is an intricate game that offers some of the most diverse mechanics, unique characterization, and oftentimes visceral roleplaying that I have ever seen. All in all, Shadowrun is not a game for everyone, but it is a game that is at least worth looking at if you are a fan of the genre, and want a new experience that is particularly in-depth comparative to most of what you may have played.

Don’t forget – you can pick up everything you need to get started with Shadowrun on our website! Plus, if you’re a local, we have plenty of space to host your next Tabletop RPG adventure – just give us a call to inquire about space! That’s all I have for today, so until next time, may you always find work on the dark streets of the future, and keep a pile of D6’s handy. Cheers.