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Shadowrun 4th edition cover
Designer Jordan Weisman
Bob Charrette
Paul Hume
Tom Dowd
L. Ross Babcock III
Sam Lewis
Dave Wylie
Fourth Edition:
Rob Boyle
Adam Jury
Steve Kenson
Michelle Lyons
et al.
Publisher FASA Corporation
Fantasy Productions
Catalyst Game Labs
Publication date 1989 (1st edition)
1992 (2nd edition)
1998 (3rd edition)
2005 (4th edition)
Genre(s) Cyberpunk fantasy
System Custom
Set in the same world as Earthdawn,
millennia later (2072 AD)

Shadowrun is a pen-and-paper role-playing game[1] set in an imaginary future where huge corporations control the lives of their employees and the return of magic has altered people, politics and power. When conflicts arise the corporations, governments, wealthy individuals and even organized crime can subcontract their dirty work to specialists. The most skilled of these specialists, called shadowrunners, have earned a reputation for getting the job done and have developed a knack for staying alive. In this game the player characters are shadowrunners who try to accomplish the mission presented by the game master.

The Shadowrun world is cross-genre, incorporating elements of both cyberpunk and urban fantasy. The game is set approximately 60 years in the future of present-day Earth, and includes an account of important events from now until the time of the game. As in many near-future cyberpunk settings, Shadowrun includes advanced computer technology and sophisticated cybernetic implants. Unlike in a purely cyberpunk game, in the Shadowrun world, magic returns in 2011. Among other things, this causes humankind to split into subtypes, and some people take the form of elves, dwarves, orks or trolls. Likewise, some animals turn into the familiar monsters of fantasy, and both monsters and human magicians gain supernatural powers. By the second half of the 21st century, when the game is set, these events are accepted as commonplace.

To create a character for Shadowrun, the player selects whether the character will be human or one of the human subtypes, and makes choices regarding body augmentation (cyberware), magic abilities, skills and gear. During play the players roll 6-sided dice to decide the outcome of their efforts, be it talking their way past a security guard, hacking their way into a corporate network or shooting their way out of a gang war. Upon completion of an adventure the GM awards points, called Karma, that allow the character to improve their attributes or abilities.

The Shadowrun role-playing game has spawned a Shadowrun collectible card game, a Shadowrun action figure game, four video games, two magazines, an art book and more than 75 novels. In addition to the main rule book (now in its fourth edition) there have been over 100 supplemental books published with adventures and expansions to both the rules and the game setting.

[edit] Production history

Shadowrun was developed and published by FASA Corporation from 1989 until early 2001, when FASA closed its doors and the property was transferred to WizKids (a company founded by people from FASA). WizKids licenses the RPG rights, originally to FanPro (who were already publishing for the German version), and currently to Catalyst Game Labs (a publishing imprint of InMediaRes). WizKids itself produced an unsuccessful collectible action figure game based on the property called Shadowrun Duels.

The Shadowrun role-playing game, various expansions, and a Shadowrun collectible card game have won Origins Awards. The fourth edition also won the prestigious independent Ennie Awards for Best Rules as well as for Best Product in 2006.

Shadowrun's fourth and current edition was released at GenCon in August, 2005, and brought significant changes to the game's system and setting. The new system caused some controversy among fans, although third-party reviews were positive. FanPro USA had some problems with their production schedule and the game was out of print from December 2006 to April 2007. In April it was announced that production and development of the game was changing hands to the aforementioned Catalyst Games, and publishing of the core game and new supplements has resumed.[2]

[edit] Setting

[edit] Races

Characters in Shadowrun can be humans, orks, trolls, elves and dwarves, as well as certain diverging subspecies (known as metavariants) such as gnomes, giants, minotaurs, etc. As magic returned to the world, Humans began to give birth to elf and dwarf infants, a phenomenon called Unexplained Genetic Expression (UGE). Later, some juvenile and adult humans "goblinized" into other races (mostly orks, but also some trolls). The term "metahuman" is used either to refer to humanity as a whole, including all races, or to refer specifically to non-human races, depending on context. With the return of Halley's Comet new human variants called "changelings" arose. While not as many people were affected by this change as the previous "goblinizations" it was enough to spark new controversy in the Awakened World, especially since changelings were frequently regarded as mutants or freaks due to the large variety of exotic traits they show.

Two of the metahuman races have fictional languages. Many elves speak Sperethiel which some of them, being immortal, remember from the last age of magic. Some orks speak Or'zet, which was forgotten until the will of an assassinated dragon released the Or’zet Codex to the public.

Additionally, a virus known as the Human Meta-Human Vampiric Virus (HMHVV), with many variant strains, has been known to cause further change, frequently resulting in fierce abominations that are no longer human and sometimes no longer even sentient—bandersnatches, banshees, dzoo-noo-quas, goblins, ghouls, nosferatus, vampires, Wendigos, wild Fomorians, and other creatures, depending on the victim's original race.

Dragons are also present, but these are NOT available as player characters. Dragons are very powerful physically, magically, and finanicially (in Shadowrun, there is no such thing as a poor dragon). The dragons found that the riches they had horded and their intelligence allowed them to gain a great deal of influence very quickly, they have embraced capitalism.

[edit] Game background

The game is set 63 years in the future,[3] following a great cataclysm that has brought use of magic back to the world, just as it begins to embrace the marvels (and dangers) of technologies such as cyberspace, omnipresent computer networks, genetic engineering, and the merger of man and machine called cyberware.

The emergence of magic, the outbreak of the VITAS plagues (Virally Induced Toxic Allergy Syndrome), the Computer Crash of 2029 (caused by a complex and nearly unstoppable computer virus called "The Crash Entity"), the Euro-Wars, in which the western-European countries once fought off an invasion from neo-communist Russia and then a pan-Islamic invasion like that of 800 years ago, and the fevers for independence of Amerindian tribes, Chinese provinces, etc. left the world's governments tumbling and falling. With the fall of the existing political structures, mega-corporations emerged as the new superpowers.

[edit] The nations

As the world endured the string of state-changing events and conflicts, the political landscape fragmented and reformed. In North America, for example, some nations broke apart and reformed, as was the case with the Confederated American States and the United Canadian and American States; others became havens for specific racial or ethnic groups, like the councils of the Native American Nations or the Elvish principality of Tír Tairngire; and some, like the California Free State, simply declared independence, or became de facto corporate subsidiaries like Aztlan to Aztechnology. Despite the new role of megacorporations, many nations still hold considerable sway through economic, social and military means.

[edit] The corporations

The monolithic "enemies" of the Shadowrun world (borrowing heavily from cyberpunk mythos) are the corporations, dubbed "megacorporations", "megacorps", or simply "megas" or "corps" for short. Megacorporations in the twenty-first century are global, with all but the smallest corps owning multiple subsidiaries and divisions around the world. They are the superpowers of the Shadowrun universe, with the largest corporations having far more political, economic, and military power than even the most powerful nation-states.

In Shadowrun, corporations are effectively "ranked" by the amount of assets under their control, including material, personnel, and property, as well as profit. These ranks are A, AA, and AAA; AAA corporations are top tier. Most corporations in the AA and AAA level are immune to domestic law, responsible only to themselves, and regulated only by the Corporate Court, an assembly of the ten AAA-rated corporations.

All AAA-rated and most AA-rated corporations exhibit a privilege known as “extraterritoriality”, meaning that any land owned by the corp is sovereign territory only to the corp and immune to any laws of the country within. Corporate territory is not foreign soil but corporate soil, just like its employees are corporate citizens, though dual citizenship in a corporation and a nation is common.

The AAA corps, as well as numerous minor corporations, fight each other not only in the boardroom or during high-level business negotiations but also with physical destruction, clandestine operations, hostile extraction or elimination of vital personnel, and other means of sabotage. Because no corporation wants to be held liable for damages, it has to be done by deniable assets, or shadowrunners, invisible to the system where every citizen is tagged with a System Identification Number (SIN).

Shadowrunners fall outside the structured corporate world. Many are outcasts, having risen from the streets or fallen from corporate or government ranks. Their ranks include idealists and pragmatists, professionals and amateurs, disillusioned ex-corp/government/military personnel who have thrown off the shackles of corp society to achieve freedom and those who have never known any life outside the shadows. The one thing they have in common is that through necessity or by choice, they work in the shadows cast by the gigantic corporate buildings. Players of Shadowrun most commonly assume the role of these shadowrunners.

[edit] Technology

Despite the Crash which caused much data corruption, technology advanced at a tremendous rate. Cyberware, technical implants, and Bioware, genetically engineered implants which enhance a person's abilities, emerged. Characters can also augment their bodies with nanotechnology implants.

[edit] The Matrix

Originally, direct neural interface technology enabled humans and metahumans to directly access computers and the Matrix, the global computer network restructured after the 2029 Crash. Access to the Matrix was accomplished by "deckers": individuals that have cyberdecks which are futuristic equivalent to modern day laptop computers. These interface machines are connected to the brain through a Datajack generally located at the temple or behind the ear. (The "behind-the-ear" jack was most common with Riggers - vehicle and drone specialists - who required better connection with the motor centres of the brain, rather than to the higher brain functions.) The "deck" would then be plugged into a port that is connected to the wider Matrix.

In Shadowrun 4th edition, the Matrix rules have changed, thanks to the setting's constant evolution and a drive to match real world technological developments. After the second Matrix crash in 2064, Matrix technology was moved away from the wired network and led into a wireless technology. This technology was originally proposed in the early 2060s by Transys Neuronet and Erika, now part of NeoNET.

The most noticeable difference between the Matrix in the 2070s and the earlier editions is that wireless technology has become completely ubiquitous. Communications and Matrix access is provided through wi-fi nodes placed throughout the infrastructure of just about every city on Earth, fulfilling a service similar to contemporary cell towers - but as these nodes are as numerous as telephone poles, only a tiny percentage of their range is necessary. The nodes of all electronic devices a person carries are connected in a similar manner, creating a Personal Area Network (PAN). People access their PAN with their Commlink, a combination personal computer/cell phone/PDA/wireless device available either as an implant or a head-mounted display. This access can be the total sensory immersion common to cyberpunk fiction, or a sensory enhancement by which the virtual features of one's physical surroundings can be perceived and manipulated. The Matrix of the 2070s is thus not only a virtual reality, but an augmented or mixed reality.

Cyberdecks are obsolete, so "deckers" have once again become "hackers". In turn, the otaku of previous versions (deckers who did not need decks to access the Matrix) have evolved into technomancers, gifted individuals who possess an innate connection to the Matrix that permits them to access the wireless network without hardware.

The use of the term 'Matrix' in the Shadowrun game to refer to an immersive virtual world predates its use in the popular feature film The Matrix. In Shadowrun, the Matrix is the global communications and information network that is the successor to the internet, navigable with a VR interface.

[edit] Magic

Those able to actively interact with the magical energies of the Sixth World are known as awakened. An awakened character's power in magic is linked to their Essence statistic. A magic user's approach to working with mystic energy is called their Path. The Awakened fall into three general Paths: Magicians, Adepts, and Mystic Adepts.

Magicians are able to cast spells, summon spirits, and create magical artifacts called "foci". All magicians follow traditions that determine their understanding of magic.

Adepts use magic internally in order to accentuate their natural physical abilities. Adepts can run on walls, use mundane objects as deadly thrown projectiles, shatter hard objects with a single unarmed blow, and perform similar feats of incredible ability. All adepts follow a very personal path (Path of the Warrior, Path of the Artist, etc.). This path normally determines their abilities which might be very different for any two adepts: while one might demonstrate increased reflexes and facility with firearms, a second might possess unparalleled mastery of the katana, and a third might be able to pull off incredible vehicular stunts.

Mystic adepts, also known as physical mages, are half magician and half adept. They distribute their magic power between the abilities of both.

[edit] System

[edit] Mechanics

The Shadowrun game mechanics are based entirely on a 6-sided dice system.

The game is skill-based rather than class-based, but archetypes are presented in the main book to give players and gamemasters an idea of what is possible with the system.

Shadowrun (3rd edition) cover

Before the fourth edition, skill and ability checks worked like this: All actions in the game, from the use of skills to making attacks in combat, are first given a target number that reflects the difficulty of the action which is then raised or lowered by various modifying factors, such as environmental conditions, the condition of the character, the use of mechanical aids, and so forth. The player then rolls a number of dice equal to their level in the relevant skill, and the number of dice rolled that meet or exceed the target number determines if the character is successful performing the action and the degree of success the character has. As an example, a character with a high firearms skill not only has a better chance at hitting a target than someone with a lower ranked skill, but also is more likely to cause more damage to the target. Target numbers may exceed 6, in which case any dice that show a 6 have to be re-rolled (a target number of, e.g., 9 is reached by rolling a 6 followed by at least a 3; thus, a target number of 6 and one of 7 are identical). For even higher target numbers, this procedure has to be repeated; thus, an action with a target number of 20 (like attempting to procure military-grade weaponry) will only succeed if 3 successive dice rolls result in sixes, and the fourth gives at least a 2. This system allows great flexibility in setting the difficulty of an action.

In addition to this basic mechanic, players can use several task-specific dice pools to add bonus dice to certain tests, though dice that are used do not refresh until the end of a turn. This adds an extra tactical element, as the player must decide where best to spend these bonus dice. For example, combat pool dice could be spent to improve attacks or to improve defense, or some of each. Players also have Karma Pool that can be used to reroll any dice that failed to reach the target number. Karma Pool refreshes rarely, typically once per scene or less, at the GM's discretion. The combination of Karma Pool and dice pools gives players a considerable amount of freedom to decide how important a task is to their character. Two characters with identical statistics could perform very differently on the same tasks depending on their priorities (and thus, allocation of dice pools and Karma Pool).

[edit] Archetypes

Although the skill system is freeform, certain combinations of skills and equipment work well together. This combination of specialization in skill and equipment is known as an archetype. The most notable archetypes are Street Samurai, characters who have heavily augmented their bodies with cyberware and bioware and focus on physical combat; Adepts, characters who have magical abilities that increase their physical combat abilities; Hackers who are experts at manipulating computer networks, while being able to augment themselves; Riggers who augment their brains to achieve fine control over vehicles and drones; and Magicians who cast spells and can view emotions and call spirits from astral space.

However, the archetypes are not character classes: the player is allowed to cross boundaries. Restrictions are not imposed by the system itself, but by the player's specializations. Because character-building resources are limited, the player has to weigh which game resource he wants to specialize in and which he has to neglect. This allows high character customization while still ensuring that characters are viable in the setting.

[edit] Character creation

Standard die with Shadowrun logo

The fourth edition of Shadowrun uses a point-based character creation system. Earlier editions used a priority-based system with point-based character creation as an advanced option. Priorities are divided into race, magic, attributes, skills, and resources. All things that do not explicitly fall under the first four classifications, including contacts in third and earlier editions of Shadowrun, are given cash-equivalent values to be bought with resources.

Shadowrun characters are created with contacts, friends and acquaintances who serve as key nodes in the character's social network and who will often help the character out. Through the contacts system, players may uncover information that their characters cannot independently acquire. Additionally, players can often negotiate for the use of skills that their characters do not themselves have, a radical departure from most role-playing games.

[edit] Essence

Essence is a measure of a living being's lifeforce. All humans and metahumans start with a value of six (although critters may start with a higher or lower Essence). It powers magic, and as essence fades, so does magical aptitude. Cyberware, bioware, nanotech implants, extreme cases of substance addiction, and other major changes to a being's body can damage its essence as well. Generally, if a being's essence ever reaches zero, it dies. Cybermancy allows metahumans to survive with an essence rating of zero or less.

[edit] Karma

In third edition and earlier, players were awarded Karma points as a game progressed. These points are usually added to a total called Good Karma, which can be used to boost attributes and skills. Skills that are already well-developed cost more Good Karma than skills which are undeveloped, which helps encourage specialized characters to become more flexible by spending Good Karma on weaker attributes. Karma also makes characters more powerful in general because every tenth (or twentieth for metahumans) point is added to the Karma Pool instead of Good Karma. The Karma Pool allows players to re-roll dice or "purchase" additional dice in certain situations. Karma can even be used to avoid certain death, at the cost of all Good Karma and Karma Pool points.

In fourth edition, Karma Pool is replaced by a new attribute called Edge which can be used in most of the same ways as the third edition Karma Pool. Experience and character advancement is still tracked with Karma, although Good was dropped from the name as it no longer needs to be distinguished from the old Karma Pool.

[edit] Fourth edition changes

With the new edition, major changes to the rules system were adopted.

Out of the original six attributes (Body, Quickness, Strength, Charisma, Intelligence, and Willpower), Quickness was split into Agility and Reaction, while Intelligence was broken into Intuition and Logic. A new attribute called Edge was introduced to replace Karma Pool. Instead of starting from a base, characters buy their Magic attribute like a normal attribute. The statistic originally called Reaction has had some of its functions taken over by the new attribute by the same name.

The initiative system was modified to affect only the order of actions, not the number of initiative passes. The number of initiative passes taken by a character is now determined solely by external influences, like implants, magic, and drugs. It is no longer possible for an unmodified character who is not under the influence of magic or drugs to have more than a single initiative pass, except through the use of Edge.

Several of the archetypes were modified. Deckers were merged with riggers and renamed hackers. Many distinctions between shamanic and hermetic magicians were removed, and the magic system was designed to allow many other variant traditions. Otaku - individuals who have the same roles and abilities as deckers, except without needing any cyber augmentation or technology - were renamed Technomancers.

Skills were changed from the target number system to a "hits" system. The target number is fixed at 5, and to complete a skill test, a player takes a number of six-sided dice equal to the skill and its linked Attribute, and rolls them, counting the number of dice that show 5 or 6 as "hits". The number of hits is compared to a pre-determined amount (or Threshold) set by the GM for the roll. If the number of hits equals or exceeds the threshold, the roll is a success. This mechanic, not coincidentally, happens to very closely match the new World of Darkness system. In addition, dice pools were removed, eliminating most of the tactical allocation of dice during combat, spellcasting, hacking, and other activities. These changes were intended to speed up the resolution of skill tests and combat.

The "Rule of One" of previous editions has been changed. A "glitch" is when at least half of the rolled dice come up 1s. A glitch results in a minor inconvenience or setback for the player, though it does not necessarily mean failure as long as enough hits were still scored. However, if a person rolls a glitch while scoring no hits at all, it is considered a "critical glitch", and is substantially more serious or potentially even fatal.

Rules for combat, magic, hacking, and other activities were changed to accommodate the new skill system. The modified rules are typically similar in outline, but the details are necessarily different.

Since the rules in the Fourth Edition are mechanically dissimilar to those in earlier editions, balance issues differ between editions. Characters from previous editions do not easily convert to the new edition with their strengths and weaknesses intact.

There were a few changes to the fictional setting in the Fourth Edition. The main premises remained unchanged while the timeline advanced by five years. The largest change in setting was the addition of a global wireless matrix that allows people to have augmented reality displays: visual overlays on real-world scenes. This encourages hackers and technomancers to join their teammates physically rather than provide matrix backup from a remote location, a change designed to make coordinating and integrating online and real-world actions easier for the GM.

There were also other changes to Shadowrun society at large, as illustrated in the flavor text. For example, up to this point, cursing had been illustrated with a variety of colorful made-up words, such as "drek", "frag", and "slot". FanPro eschewed these in SR4 (to some player complaint, as many fans believed this added social color to the game) and decided to use their contemporary, real-world counterparts.

[edit] Influences and links

Shadowrun is linked to Earthdawn, and is set in the "Sixth World", where Earthdawn is the "Fourth World" and our modern-day Earth is at the tail end of the Fifth World. Such links are not necessary for play, but they allow crossover potential.

The concept of the "Worlds" is directly linked to the ancient Mayan belief that the world is renewed every five thousand years. Incidentally, the ancient Mayan calendar will restart in December 2012.

Shadowrun is influenced by the writings of William Gibson (particularly Neuromancer), who reacted in a less than favourable light to its release.

…when I see things like ShadowRun, the only negative thing I feel about it is that initial extreme revulsion at seeing my literary DNA mixed with elves. Somewhere somebody's sitting and saying 'I've got it! We're gonna do William Gibson and Tolkien!' Over my dead body! But I don't have to bear any aesthetic responsibility for it. I've never earned a nickel, but I wouldn't sue them. It's a fair cop. I'm sure there are people who could sue me, if they were so inclined, for messing with their stuff. So it's just kind of amusing.[4]

In December 2005 Robert Boyd from Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland robbed a lingerie shop at knifepoint in Belfast while wearing a blonde ladies wig. During his trial Boyd stated he was playing Shadowrun, specifically the role of criminal elf Buho, at the time and may have "blurred reality and fantasy". Two jurors believed his story, but ten did not and he was convicted of robbery in March 2007.[5]

[edit] Spin-offs

[edit] Novels

FASA released 40 Shadowrun novels in collaboration with Roc publishing between 1991 and 2001. Shadowrun novels went out of production between 2001 and 2005, making the books produced towards the end of FASA's ownership of the license hard to find. A 41st novel was announced, but never released.

In 2005, WizKids began publishing new Shadowrun novels, again through the Roc imprint of the New American Library. Six novels were released in the new series.

In 2008, Catalyst Game Labs (An InMediaRes Productions, LLC company) announces the return of novels for Classic BattleTech, MechWarrior, and Shadowrun. The announcement states that the first of the all-new Shadowrun novels will appear tentatively by early 2009.[6]

Several additional novels were published in foreign languages only. More than 30 novels have been written in German, by German and Austrian authors published by Heyne (since 1991) and FanPro (since 1997).

[edit] Video games

Four video games have been developed based on the Shadowrun franchise, the first in 1993 was an action RPG titled Shadowrun developed by Australian software company Beam Software (now Melbourne House) for the SNES console. The second also titled Shadowrun was for the Sega Mega Drive in 1994 developed by US company BlueSky Software. The third game was an interactive fiction adventure game developed by Japanese company Group SNE in 1996 for the Mega CD console, again titled Shadowrun. A fourth game for the PC, titled Shadowrun: Assassin, was to be released in 1998 by US company FASA Interactive. However, the game was cancelled.[7]

The fourth and latest game released is a first-person shooter for the Xbox 360 and Windows Vista and is titled Shadowrun. It was developed by FASA Interactive, owned by the Microsoft Corporation, which is also producing the title. This latest title is the very first game that allows cross-platform play between Xbox 360 and Windows Vista users on the Live for Windows service. Despite sharing the same name as the RPG, the video game has sizable differences from it; as the publishers of the Shadowrun role-playing game stated at the time of the video game's release, "Microsoft rewrote the timeline and setting for this game, so it is not in continuity with the tabletop RPG. It may be more accurately described as a game loosely based on Shadowrun."

In September 2007 Microsoft closed FASA Studios (and the FPS official forum), and licensed the Shadowrun electronic entertainment rights to Smith & Tinker, a company owned by Jordan Weisman, an original creator of Shadowrun. Details at Smith & Tinker's website hint at the development of a MMO.[8]

[edit] Machinima

Rooster Teeth Productions produced a machinima mini-series in 2007 titled 1-800-Magic, using the Xbox 360 Shadowrun game.

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  1. ^ Staff (October/November 1989). "Review: Shadowrun". Space Gamer 2 (2). 
  2. ^ InMediaRes Productions LLC. Enters Negotiations for the Classic Battletech and Shadowrun Licenses from Wizkids Inc.
  3. ^ The First through Third Edition books were set exactly 61 years in the future from their release dates (giving the game a start date of 2050). This was bumped up to 65 years for the Fourth Edition, but publishing delays as the game switched publishers dropped the difference to 63 by time of publishing.
  4. ^ the peak (19/10/1998) arts: Cyberpunk on screen - William Gibson speaks
  5. ^ BBC News
  6. ^
  7. ^ Nightmare and Kurt Kalata. "Hardcore Gaming 101: Shadowrun". GameSpy. 
  8. ^ Carless, Simon & Chris Dahlen (December 7, 2007). "Weisman Licenses MechWarrior, Shadowrun, Crimson Skies Rights From Microsoft". 

[edit] External links

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