Shadowrun 4th Edition

[Gaming 101] Games to Start With Part 3: Science Fiction

Space. The Final Frontier. Locally, sci-fi has not had much luck getting off the ground (bad pun, I know.) That said, there’s a wealth of games that are worth checking out with their own (often dark) visions of the future.

Eclipse Phase by Posthuman Studios
Taking place in a transhumanist future where mankind has transcended the constraints of a physical body, Eclipse Phase has players taking the role of agents of Firewall, a secret society of agents dedicated to stopping Extinction-Level threats. The technology level of this game is almost staggering, as being able to switch your mind from body to body to suit a given situation is almost commonplace, and conspiracies and strange alien horrors born of our own technological advancement haunt humanity.

Shadowrun 4th edition by Catalyst Game Labs
Magic came back, and the future is weird. Dwarven hackers and Elven street samurai conduct clandestine missions for mysterious corporate benefactors in this no-holds barred cyberpunk meets fantasy rpg. Having been around for 20-something years, Shadowrun is no pushover, and has a massive metaplot full of opportunity for the enterprising party with a quick trigger finger.

Dark Heresy by Fantasy Flight Games
Innocence proves nothing. Take on the role of the agents of the Inquisition in this dark future rpg set in the world of Warhammer 40k as you try and root out the devious machinations of humanity’s countless foes. While the rest of the world fights for mankind’s survival, you’re there to purge corruption from the inside.

Rogue Trader by Fantasy Flight Games
Leave the witchhunt to the Inquisitors, Rogue Trader puts you in the helm as one of the starfaring space pirates of the Imperium. Money is the only thing that matters in Rogue Trader, and it is your duty to the empire to make a profit no matter what, even if it means dealing with the Xenos while the Inquisition isn’t looking.

Deathwatch by Fantasy Flight Games
Enter the Adeptus Astartes, mankind’s angels of death against their enemies. As one of the fabled Space Marines of the Imperium, take on the missions that no other can handle. Armed with the very best equipment, and genetically modified to become superior to any normal human the Deathwatch are a special team of mixed Space Marine Chapters sent to take on only the most dangerous of missions.

Tomorrow, we tackle Alternate History and Pulp!

If you’re interested in picking up any of these in hardcover, you can order them directly from Gaming Library.

To place an order, please go to Gaming Library’s special order express page :

Take note that placing an order there doesn’t mean you’re committed, rather the Gaming Library team will be giving a quote and you can now choose whether to push through with the purchase or not.

Drivethrurpg’s New Year, New Game Sale!

Being from a third world country means that I have to be very picky about what I spend on, and sales like these are a perfect way to cut loose and pick up a bunch of neat books.  All the sale items are corebooks, which is an excellent idea to get new players into the hobby without having to shell out that much.

In this case all items are being sold for $11.00 (roughly Php 485.00) each.  That’s ridiculously cheap, even here.

My personal recommendations for games in this sale to consider are:

The sale is up only for the next six days, so I highly recommend picking up the stuff you want right away before it ends.

[Let’s Study: Shadowrun 4th] First Impressions Scorecard

After taking a bit of time to study up on the various systems involved in Shadowrun 4th edition, I think I’ve got enough of a grasp of it to give a first impressions report on the game as a whole, from the perspective of a GM.

So, after about a week or so of delving through this wonderfully laid out, beautifully illustrated, and incredibly dense rulebook, here are my first impressions:

  • If pretty books are your thing, this is a PRETTY book – To be fair, I’m looking over the 20th anniversary edition, but man it’s pretty.  Good layout, wonderful art, and tables that are easy enough to read.
  • Rules: High Complexity, High Density – Take Runeslinger’s advice: Go slow, start with basic combat and gear, then make your way up to Magic, Tech and Riggers.  This is not a ruleset that goes down easy in a single read, and may frustrate some first time GMs and players, but the rules are consistent and well written.  Definitely not a system you can expect to pick up a day before you plan to run it and expect to pull it off  well.
  • Deep and Detailed Setting – As far as settings go, it’s easy to see that it really does have twenty years of thought put into it, and the setting has gone through a lot of change to make sure that it doesn’t end up outdated.  There’s a lot of potential for this setting, and the characters aren’t confined to being criminals that take on risky jobs for money.  I’m pleased that my initial, uninformed opinion of the setting was dispelled quite soundly.
  • GM Advice – Actually, I couldn’t find a solid section in the book that actually talked about running a game.  Sure it’s all over the book, tucked away in various paragraphs when discussing the various facets of the game, but first time GMs might end up a little lost.  That said, they had a great deal of examples for damn near everything from task resolution to character generation, which is a definite plus.


If you’re a veteran rpg player with a good handle on more traditional systems (as opposed to Indie games) and are looking for a game that will handle your Cyberpunk or Urban Fantasy needs, then go grab Shadowrun.  If you’re new to the hobby, feel free to pick it up but remember that it can get very complicated at parts.

Thankfully, there’s a strong and loyal following of people who love this game, so finding people who will answer your questions and point out your mistakes (just like Nychuus did with my error concerning the Glitch rules) isn’t going to be very difficult.

I’m pretty happy with my attempt to understand Shadowrun.  I hope that my attempt to take a peek into it has given people an idea of what the game is like.

[Let’s Study: Shadowrun 4th] Systems: The Wired World

The other half of Shadowrun’s equation is the cyberpunk side of the game.  That said, it looks like that the people behind Shadowrun 4th edition were more than willing to detail everything with the same thoroughness as they did with magic.

I found this particular chapter to be well written, taking the time to slowly get the reader to become familiar with the terms and concepts of the Wireless Matrix and the devices that make interaction with it possible.  I’d go into deeper detail, but I don’t want to reveal too much system info. That said, the chapter goes into topics such as:

  • Various Devices and their properties
  • Getting into the Matrix via Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality
  • Programs that can be used with the Matrix
  • Hacking the Matrix, including Cybercombat and Security Responses
  • Technomancy
  • Rigging

I have to say that if I needed a nice, crunchy system to handle Hacking like how they do it in Ghost in the Shell?  I’d definitely look at Shadowrun 4th first.  The system is detailed enough to handle all sorts of situations without it degenerating to just a bunch of contested skill rolls.  I’ve noticed that it’s easy enough to draw the drama out of a hacking scene by reducing it to just rolling against a number, and the various Security Responses detailed in the book make for great ideas to keep the pressure on.

However, it’s becoming clear that Shadowrun does have quite a few heavy systems that add on even further to the GM’s mental workload. Given the depth by which each of these subsystems go, coupled with the fact that running isn’t really complete unless you’ve got a little spellslinging and hacking going on (often at the same time) I can’t blame people for giving up on it.

I suppose it’s an opinion thing though, as well as a rule tolerance bit.  I like HERO, but I liked it because it has one central system to handle most (if not all) situations.  Shadowrun has a mini-rulebook for each facet of the game.  I can see it getting really slow if the group’s new, or if the players are rules-adverse.

[Let’s Study: Shadowrun 4th] Systems: Magic


I’m no stranger to complex systems, but I have to admit that the magic system for Shadowrun 4th edition is… well, it’s robust.  It never really occurred to me that Shadowrun could actually have a Magic system that detailed, given that my mindset was still well-rooted in the idea that it was a cyberpunk game.

So, caveat to those who are new to Shadowrun.  Magic is very much a part of the game, and the system can be overwhelming.

So, fluff aside, the Magic system relies on several skill groups purchased by a Mage character:

  • Sorcery – The art of actually casting spells
  • Conjuring – The art of summoning and relating to the Spirits of the world
  • Arcana – The ability to inscribe magical knowledge into a physical form via formulae
  • Enchanting – The art of imbuing items with magical properties

This doesn’t mean that all Mages are the same however.  While they all have the same mechanical backbone, there’s plenty of opportunities to differentiate one’s magical practice by creating one’s Tradition.  Old hands at Mage: the Ascension might be more than happy as Traditions are mechanical representation of the Mage’s Paradigm.  However rather than being a personal casting style, each Tradition represents a larger practice of mages.  Hermeticism and Shamanism are both given as examples of Traditions.

Spellcasting steps seem pretty straightforward, but definitely reminds me of Mage:

  1. Choose a Spell
  2. Choose the Force of a Spell (in Mage: the Awakening terms, the spell’s Potency)
  3. Choose a Target
  4. Roll Spellcasting + Magic
  5. Determine Effect (depending on the spell’s description)
  6. Resist Drain
  7. Determine Ongoing effects

All spellcasting can trigger something called Drain, which represents the magical backlash of bending supernatural powers to a Mage’s will.  Mages can (and do) try to resist this Drain effect, but if their efforts fall short, they suffer Stun or Physical damage as the forces they wield tears into their mind and body.

Aside from basic spellcasting, Mages can also contact and request services from the spirits.  Spirits are detailed quite well and the similarities with the World of Darkness are also apparent in my eyes.  This helps out somewhat, given that there’s a large chunk of the Magic chapter that was dedicated to the art of conjuring, negotiating and banishing spirits, as well as what the Spirits can do for a cunning mage who knows how to negotiate.

Aside from the traditional Spellcaster and Shaman archetypes, there’s also a nod to the Adept, or the magical warrior.  Adepts are those that turn their magical abilities to hone their bodies into weapons.  I believe the whole Wire-Fu superhuman stunts fall under the Adept, giving rise to a possible (and definitely amusing) concept of a Cyborg Wuxia to go with the more popular Street Samurai.

Add rules for Foci, Enchanting Items and Totem-like Mentor Spirits and rounding off with a sizable spell list, and you’ve got quite a magic system under the hood.  Certainly not what I was expecting, but it does seem to be able to hold water.


The complexity is a good thing in terms of rules, though I do worry about the players of Mage characters.  A lot of the people I know wouldn’t mind plumbing the depths of the Magic system, but if Cybernetics and Hacking being as complicated as the Magic system is, I can imagine how GMs eventually feel overwhelmed.

So far Shadowrun is certainly showing the fact that it’s been around the block a few times.  The rules are solid, but definitely extensive… and I feel that the 4th edition corebook really has the best of the prior 3 editions stuffed into one corebook.  It’s daunting to the new GM, but definitely rewarding if they manage to chew their way through it.

[Let’s Study: Shadowrun 4th] Systems: Basic Task Resolution

Well, as an old hand at the World of Darkness Storyteller system, I was pleasantly surprised to see the similarities to Shadowrun’s own task resolution system.  This is a definite plus for me since it feels like sitting in an old favorite chair, in a way.

Shadowrun relies on a dicepool system involving d6’s.  Much like in the World of Darkness, Shadowrun’s system calls on assembling a pool of dice equal to a character’s attribute + skill + modifiers against a set target number of 5.  Any dice that turn up 5 or 6 are called Hits, and the number of Hits are compared towards a Threshold which determines whether or not the action was successful.  Thankfully most actions have a Threshold value of 1 (something I think I might stick with, relying instead on negative modifiers to denote the complexity of a given action.)

If the negative modifiers somehow outnumber the attribute + skill dice pool, then the action automatically fails unless the player decides to spend Edge dice.  Edge is an attribute that works in a similar fashion to Action Dice or Willpower systems of other games.  It represents the little something extra that the Player Characters have to push luck their way.  Edge can be used in a variety of ways, but most commonly it can add dice to a given dicepool as well as activate something that Shadowrun calls the “Rule of Six.”

The Rule of Six applies to a dicepool whenever it is modified by adding Edge dice.  This rule basically allows sixes to count as a Hit, and be rerolled, giving another opportunity for that die to score another Hit.  What I’m not certain of is if Edge dice rerolled by the Rule of Six can trigger a Glitch.

Glitches are a two-step hybrid of Complications and Critical Failures.  If half or more dice of a dicepool end up as 1’s, then it’s a Glitch, wherein not only does a character fail, but they also suffer an additional misfortune that makes life just a little more complicated, but not necessarily more life-threatening.   However, if a dicepool ends up with a Glitch and no Hits, then it’s considered a Critical Glitch, which is definitely disastrous.  Anything from a misfire, to accidentally shooting someone on your own team, or some other FUBAR situation.

Critical Successes are also present in this game, with characters who roll 4 or more Hits above the threshold rewarded with additional benefits, the chance to narrate their own badassery or occasionally earning Edge back at the GM’s discretion.

One of the neater optional rules that I saw here is the fact that you can actually buy Hits for non-stressful rolls, a quick and streamlined way to keep the story moving.  The exchange rate is a little bit on the expensive side: 4 dice per Hit bought, but the elimination of uncertainty is a nice thing to have now and then.

So far, so good.  Task Resolution again passes with flying colors, it’s easy enough to understand, has a few neat tricks that makes life easier, while still retaining the “fun” of Critical Failures.  The Glitches should keep a game like Shadowrun interesting, since it’s the unexpected that keep runners on their toes.

Tomorrow, we’ll move on to the more specialized sections, starting with Magic and then Technology.  Shadowrun is looking pretty stable so far, and I’m hoping that there aren’t any unpleasant surprises waiting for me.

[Let’s Study: Shadowrun 4th] Character Creation

I’ve recently been trying my hand with Shadowrun’s Character Creation, and so far I’m liking it.  I’ve always been partial to point buy systems, and Shadowrun falls squarely under this method, so I’m a happy camper.

Shadowrun’s character creation was meant to be flexible, to grant the player a good amount of freedom to make a character that fits their concept.  While it’s not as extensive as HERO, I have to admit that the character creation for Shadowrun can get pretty involved, say, around the level of a starting Fantasy Craft character.

The book did have me scratching my head to find some information at parts (I overlooked the sentence that mentioned that characters started with a value of 1 in their Edge Attribute for instance.) but it’s generally well organized.  The character construction mechanics aren’t anything too different from the types we’ve seen before, but that’s no reason to dislike it.

In fact I found the character generation process to be relatively painless.  I imagine that the difficulty and time for making characters ramps up the moment you involve magic or cybernetics, however, so first time players should exercise a bit of care when going for characters that utilize those mechanics.

At this point I’d like to say that owning a physical dead tree version of the book is incredibly handy in character generation, as flipping back and forth pages in pdf format just takes up time.  Even with bookmarks I find myself taking up too long to make a rules lookup, or shopping for gear or spells.

That said I’m getting a positive vibe from Shadowrun so far, and it’s seriously climbing up my personal ratings as far as “Might be something I’d run” goes.  I’m hoping to be able to put more time into studying the system further, especially since I’m going to be tackling the actual mechanics of task resolution next.

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