RISK IS THE REWARD
THE ODDS ARE AGAINST YOU.Of course they are. The other side has more people, more firepower, more money, more everything. What they don’t have is you—your brains, your guts, and your willingness to put everything on the line. Your job is to make that count.
Dungeons and Dragons Meets Cyberpunk [ edit ]
Shadowrun, originally created by FASA in 1989, is another RPG that, like Cyberpunk and GURPS, has been an industry stalwart. The game's sixth and current edition was released by Catalyst Game Labs in 2019, the game's 30th anniversary, but throughout the years the game has maintained a cadre of fans addicted to its unique setting.
Shadowrun is set in the year 2072, and the game's core conceit is that an event called "The Awakening" occurred at the turn of the century, transforming many humans into fantasy races, and bringing magic back to Earth. The chaos that resulted nearly led to a new dark ages, but the world was "saved" by megacorporations, leading to a dismal cyberpunk future that they control.
In short, Shadowrun crosses the genres of cyberpunk with fantasy, creating a dark future setting with cybernetic limbs, hackers, and evil corporations ... but also elves, orcs, and magic. As one might imagine a game that essentially offers "cyberpunk Dungeons and Dragons" makes for rich gaming material, and Shadowrun has spawned countless gaming supplements throughout its various editions.
However, while the game's setting has wide appeal, the rules of its latest edition haven't appealed to everyone. We'll talk about that in a second, but first let's look at those rules.
Shadowrun, Sixth World (6th Edition) - Rules SummaryCollapse
Character Creation [ edit ]
To create a "shadowrunner" a player spends 400 "BP" (build points). As a point-based system there are no traditional classes: the game provides templates like "Bounty Hunter", "Hacker", and "Radical Eco-Shaman", but they are just pre-designed builds, and players are free to create any kind of character they want.
Metatype and Qualities
To begin they select a "metatype" (ie. race) for the character. The core book includes options for humans, elves, dwarves, orks, and trolls, and every race except human provides special benefits, while also costing extra BP (eg. Trolls, the most expensive, cost 40, while Dwarves are only 20).
Next, the player can buy "Qualities", which are a bit like Advantages/Edges/Feats in other systems, as they provide benefits such as having animal empathy, being lucky, or being a magician (with each Quality having its own point cost).
After that the player buys the character's attributes. There are eight attributes; essentially the D&D set, except Dexterity has been split into Agility and Reaction , and Wisdom has been split into Intuition and Willpower. Each attribute point costs 10 BP, except for the final point in a stat which costs 25, and only 200 points can be devoted to attributes.
There's also two special attribute, Edge (ie. luck, which can be improved) and Essence (the character's life force; it can't be raised, but like Humanity in Cyberpunk, it can be lowered if the character gains cybernetics). Magical characters also have a "Magic Resonance" attribute, and every character has a (derived) Initiative attribute.
Next, the player buys skills, which rank from 1 to 6, with each rank costing 4 BP. There a fairly large number of skills to choose from, each of which has an associated attribute.
There are also "skill groups", which cost 10BP instead (eg. instead of taking Longarms, Pistols, and Automatics, a player could buy the "Firearms" group), and "specializations", which cost 2BP, or 1BP for knowledge skills (eg. a character who wants to be better at shooting revolvers in particular could buy a specialization to gain two extra dice when shooting them ... but not with any other pistols).
Finally, the character needs to assign their resources. This will include purchasing gear (weapons, armor, and non-combat), cybernetics, or magical spells, adept powers, technomancer resources, or contacts (ie. acquaintances). Again, all of these can be purchased with BP (eg. 1 BP provides 5000¥ of gear, while spells cost 3 BP each).
Once that's complete, they simply have to decide on their background story, and they're ready to play.
Core Mechanics [ edit ]
Most rolls in Shadowrun are skill checks, which involve rolling a number of d6 equal to the character's rank in the particular skill, plus their rank in the corresponding attribute. For instance, a character attempting to sneak with an Infiltrate skill of 4 and an Agility attribute of 3 would roll 7 dice.
Every die which rolls a 5 or a 6 is a "hit". Many actions only require a single hit to succeed, but others have a "threshold" (which the GM is encouraged to keep secret) which requires as many as 4 or even more hits to succeed. Many skills have specific tables detailing how many hits are required to use that skill (using escape artist to get out of ropes is a 4, but escaping from a straitjacket is a 6). If a character scores extra (unneeded) hits, the action succeeds with extra flair.
If the action isn't immediately risky a character can exchange rolling 4 dice for a single automatic hit, but a character has to either buy or roll all hits; they can't mix the two.
If half of the dice rolled or more are 1's, the action "glitches": even if it succeeds, some other negative consequence results (eg. the character might succeed at jumping over a table, but knock over a beaker of acid on top of it in the process). If a character glitches and scores zero hits for the roll, it becomes a "critical glitch", and something really bad occurs instead.
Occasionally no skill will apply to a roll, in which case the GM will choose an attribute (or often two) to use for the roll instead. For instance, maintaining one's composure when faced with a monster is a Will + Charisma roll.
Finally, a character can spend an Edge (from a pool that's based on their Edge attribute) before rolling, to add a number of dice equal to their Edge attribute to the roll. If those dice roll 6's, those 6's count as two hits instead. Alternatively a character can spend Edge after a failed roll, but in that case 6's only count as a single hit.
Combat [ edit ]
In Shadowrun combat order is re-determined every round. This is done by having every participant roll their Initiative attribute, and then they add that attribute to the number of hits rolled. Edge can be used on the roll, or one Edge can be spent to guarantee first place ... unless another participant also spends an Edge.
Many characters in Shadowrun can take multiple actions in a single round of combat. Such characters get to take an action as normal on their turn, but then after everyone else has gone they get a second (or possibly 3rd-plus) "Initiative Pass". Since being able to act multiple times before others can is extremely powerful, having multiple Initiative Passes is extremely desirable.
On their turn a character can take a single Free action and either two Simple actions or one Complex action. An example free action would be dropping something, a Simple action would be firing a weapon, and a Complex action would be firing an automatic weapon or reloading one.
Characters can also walk (their movement rate) for free, or they can spend their Free action to run instead. Either way, if a character moves they're considered to be moving for the entire rest of the round, up until they next act.
Attacks are made using the appropriate weapon skill (and corresponding attribute), but instead of needing a fixed threshold the attacker needs to beat the defender's roll, which is a pure Reaction check unless the character took a Full Defense combat option (in which case they can add their Dodge or Gymnastics skill), although they might get bonus dice from things like cover. There are also various special rules for different types of weapons. eg. automatic, shotguns, etc.
If a character is hit they take either physical or stun damage, depending on the weapon used. The defender makes (another) roll, of their Body attribute plus their armor's DV (Damage Value), and each hit reduces the damage taken by one.
If damage gets through it is applied to the character's appropriate damage track (either physical or stun). Each player has 8 + 1/2 their Body physical, and 8 + 1/2 their Will stun: once either track is filled the character goes unconscious. However, after the first three points (and each further three points) the character takes a cumulative -1 wound modifier to most rolls the character makes.
But is it Any Good? [ edit ]
The appeal of Shadowrun's rich fantasy cyberpunk setting is undeniable, but when it comes to the games rules, things are a bit less rosy. On Drive Thru RPG the game has 65 ratings with an average score of 3/5. Similarly on RPG Geek, but with only five reviews, the average score is 6.4, ranking Shadowrun's sixth edition 738th among all RPGs on the site.
Now this doesn't at all mean that the game is unplayable, and it has plenty of five star reviews. It's just that in some regards the game is a bit ... poorly tuned.
As a simple example, some characters using magic or cybernetics can achieve multiple Initiative Passes, allowing them to act multiple times in a combat round. Many other characters can't, so this leads to some of the table being twice (or more) as good as their fellow players, and that isn't fun overall. Another complaint is that each attack often requires four rolls (attack, defense, damage, and armor), which leads to slower combats.
Because of this, some fans might instead want to opt for the game's fifth edition: it ranked a much higher 98th place on RPG Geek's rankings. Alternatively, while Shadowrun certainly pioneered the fantasy cyberpunk genre, it's also possible to play that same genre using another rules system, like say GURPS. GMs can even still use the many Shadowrun sourcebooks for inspiration and adventure ideas.
Still a Great Option For Fantasy Cyberpunk
But again, if you're willing to navigate some slightly unbalanced rules, and want to play the latest edition of the game, Shadow Run "Sixth World" (Sixth Edition) will let you play that cyberpunk dwarf/elf/troll/etc. that your heart desires, and take them on "shadow runs" (criminal enterprises) against the settings' many dark corporate overlords.