Back to the Shadows

I cherish those moments when I happen to stumble upon an unexpected gem that I never in my wildest GameMastering dreams would think a company would ever put out. I had one of those moments recently.
Let me tell you about a chromed up cyberpunk love affair with high fantasy that I had through high school and well into college. It was with an eclectic grab-bag of awesome called SHADOWRUN.
My first exposure to SHADOWRUN was not actually the role-playing game proper. It started back in the early 1994 with our family’s usual weekly trip to the local video rental store, and while I was perusing the game section like always, a peculiar Sega Genesis title caught my eye…

…It was strange mix to say the least. On the cover, there was an elf computer hacker, some Native American chick with magic glow around her hands, and some crazy guy in warpaint firing machine guns at some bad guys in suits. I looked on the back cover to see what this game had to offer, and it had the most mind-blowing description for any video game:

The year is 2050 and the megacorps rule by the power of information. Everyone is on file in the global mainframe…everyone but you and a handful of “invisible” outlaws called shadowrunners. Move through the grim and magical realities of futuristic Seattle and uncover a diabolical plot that could destroy the world.

*Team up with spell casting mages, wire-headed deckers, or mythic orcs and trolls of the distant past.

*Take on a variety of shadowruns including: Cleaning up the streets, jacking into the Matrix for a big time cyber-heist or pulling off a risky “corporate Extraction.”

*Stalk the cities in real time combat and glide through the virtual battlefield of the Matrix, where an encounter with Black ICE may be your last.

Great! I had my game for the weekend!

When I played the first few minutes of it, I was instantly hooked. I was spellbound by the strange mix of a futuristic world with its guns and virtual reality computers, and the fantasy races of old with sorcery working side by side. On paper, one might be tempted to think “this will never work,” but there is some kind of magic in that strange chemistry; it works. It’s hard to explain how, but it works. It’s akin to the feeling of discovery had by the first individual who decided that peanut butter tastes awesome with chocolate, ushering in the holy birth of the Reeses peanut butter cup.

I fell in love with the “sixth world.” I showed it immediately to my friends, and we all thought it would be awesome if there were an actual Shadowrun role-playing game. Weeks later, I went to my local hobby shop to see if any new RIFTS books were in (yeah, I think everyone goes through a Palladium phase, but I got over it), and I spied a familiar picture…

cue “Dream Weaver” by Gary Wright

…and decided immediately that Palladium, RIFTS, and all of its ilk can take a long walk off a short pier. My money was buying SHADOWRUN! By the very next weekend, my gaming group was running the shadows, and we ran them ever since. Sure, we’d play other games, but Shadowrun was always a constant. We jumped into it in its second edition, and we’ve seen it evolve into third edition, the division and folding of FASA (the company that produced Shadowrun) and finally settling into a redesigned fourth edition, where it resides currently.

Shadowrun spawned an awesome Genesis game, an alright Super Nintendo game, a Sega CD game that was only available in Japan, a HUGE novel series, and plenty of other merchandise. It was nova-hot, and it wasn’t losing too much steam. In 2007, FASA Interactive (the non-defunct half of FASA) decided to release an abortion-worthy crap-tastic first-person shooter that pretended that it was Shadowrun, but that went the way everyone knew it would…being reviled by fans and folding the company that produced it. It even made Catalyst Game Labs, makers of the current incarnation of Shadowrun, feel the need to distance itself from this tragedy by posting a disclaimer stating the the XBox game was “loosely based on Shadowrun” and is really “Shadowrun in name only.” It’s pretty sad when the franchise you made a game for decides you’re an embarrassing bastard child who doesn’t deserve to be heir to the throne.

Oh, God…I could watch this all day!

The fourth edition of the RPG, however, changed the game…and it was a drastic change. Radical paradigm and rules shifts made the game a totally different animal. Many key concepts remained, but the game was now based on a hard target number on a six-sided die rather than the fluctuating difficulty numbers and open-ended rolls. The new ruleset also favored standardized dice pools for everything. Some didn’t care for it; some even hated it. Well, I suppose I’m not one of those people, as I wasn’t quite as hung up on the rules set as others might be. There are one or two things I don’t really care for, but oh well. They’re minor complaints.

One huge change in fourth edition was to the world itself. Real world technology has started to catch up to the future of Shadowrun, especially in the wireless department. Naturally, the world of Shadowrun has to evolve out of necessity. The Seattle landscape has taken on a more Mass Effect/Minority Report feel with implementation of augmented reality, tailored commercials, super hologram technology, realistic androids, et cetera, et cetera. While I don’t mind the dabbling in the sleek “ipad” look of 2070 Shadowrun, I kinda miss the Blade Runner-esque neon dystopia.

I tried for awhile to do some quick conversions to play Shadowrun 4th edition rules in the original 2050 world, but I grew frustrated at putting more work into Game Mastering than I got out of it. I wanted to use all my old adventure books again…but I didn’t want to bother with all of the converting on a weekly basis.

Then, while compiling my GenCon 2012 list, I decided to distract myself by seeing what’s new with Catalyst and the Shadowrun franchise. I knew about Jordan Weisman’s (Papa Shadowrun himself) “Shadowrun Returns” project [Harebrained Schemes], and I knew about the upcoming Shadowrun Online [Cliffhanger productions] (I have an interesting story about SRO for another time), but what I wasn’t prepared for was a book I had never expected to come out….

Konichiwa, chummer! You’ve been missed…welcome back!!!

…when I read the description, I was floored. Taking a look at the cover closer, I have to ask if it’s just me, or do three of the Shadowrunners on that cover art look AWFULLY familiar?  This was EXACTLY what my game needed! It took my idea (I’m not accusing Catalyst of having a datajack to my brain, or anything), and ran with it, producing a campaign book that takes your Shadowrun 4th edition games back to its roots; the sixth world I fell in love with so many years ago. It felt like getting in contact with an old friend you haven’t seen in the past 15 years.

Rewind and Reload

Chrome eyes. Computers called “decks.” Big hair, big cyberlimbs and bigger guns. It’s Shadowrun in the year it all started. Take a step back to Shadowrun’s roots with Shadowrun 2050, a book that combines Fourth Edition rules—the smoothest, most accessible rule set Shadowrun has ever had—with the setting that first made the Sixth World a legend.

Shadowrun 2050 has everything players and gamemasters need to dive into the grimy beauty that kicked off one of the greatest roleplaying settings of all time. With information on how to adapt Fourth Edition Matrix, gear, and magic rules for the 2050 setting, as well as in-universe information about the powers of the world, what shadowrunners will be up to, and who they’ll be running into, Shadowrun 2050 puts a new twist on the classic setting.

Captain Chaos. Maria Mercurial. The Laughing Man. Sally Tsung. JetBlack. Hatchetman. Nightfire. And the Shadowland poster who just called himself The Big “D.” These people and many others are waiting for you in the year that started it all, a setting brought back to life with new, full-color artwork showing the chrome, dirt, neon, and darkness that was in the heart of Shadowrun when it started and remains at its core today.

Shadowrun 2050 is for use with Shadowrun, Twentieth Anniversary Edition.

The PDF is already out, but I really want to wait for the print edition of it, and I’ll bet dollars to Nuyen that it will be another item on my GenCon shopping list.
So, thank you, fine folks at Catalyst Labs; you made this mage very, VERY happy!

…now shut up and take my Nuyen.

Check out everything Shadowrun at: (Community site for Shadowrun Tabletop, Shadowrun Online, and Shadowrun Returns) (Catalyst Labs’ Tabletop Shadowrun site)

Donate to Shadowrun Online! They’ve got a Kickstarter program underway!

Posted on July 25, 2012, in Books, Text Review and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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