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A Primer on Shadowrun, a Great Non-Fantasy RPG

I’m more than a hacker. I hate it when they call me that. They don’t have a clue. They only know what I tell them; what I let them see. I wouldn’t still be breathing if I were just a hacker. I can’t count on all my fingers and toes how many times being just a hacker would have cost me my life. No, I’d have better luck counting the scars from the bullet holes. And don’t let that throw you…Yeah, I’ve fielded a few bullets, but I’ve thrown a thousandfold more.  

Image: “Sneaker – Shadowrun” by danyiart on

The worst and most of mine came on a double-cross. I handed over the goods to the corp that hired us, but instead of creds me and my crew got lead. The jobs nowadays aren’t done when you get your creds, they’re done when you’re home and safe…and maybe not even then.  My crew – they know. They know I’m not just a hacker. They know me better than my folks; than my “friends.”  

We get by. We get by because we don’t ask many questions. Questions…those are dangerous. More dangerous than bullets. In fact, they usually precede the bullets.  And questions…they draw attention. Attention is dangerous, too. No, it is better do the job, get the creds, stay under the radar, and live to run another day.  

This is especially true now that magic is on the rise again. Used to be that bullets were the worst you had to worry about while running. Not anymore. And the change in times necessitated a change in our crew. We’ve got a gal now who can torch a runner with a thought. We’re fighting fire with fire literally and figuratively. But there’s no shortage of jobs. Or fire.  

A Primer on Shadowrun: The World

The world presented within the pages of the Shadowrun Core Rulebook is intriguing. The world is corporate (more on this in a minute), magical, technological, violent, and dark. And we get to run around in it!

The earth is dominated by ten megacorps who are each vying for an even larger slice of the world’s pie. Since they have all the gold, they’re your employers – though not all at once. And while the word “evil” is relative, it might still be applicable to each. They can hire you for any number of jobs:

  • Data thefttumblr_mz9cuek7l91rhi1gzo1_500
  • Burglar
  • Destruction
  • Extraction
  • Insertion
  • Delivery
  • Protection

Just to name a few. And your employer isn’t necessarily to be trusted. You’re on his side, yes, but he might not be on yours.

I wouldn’t call the fictional world cyberpunk, but both “cyber” and “punk” on their own accurately describe the visuals you get. In fact, according to the art within the book there is no such thing as day. I’m sure that’s not accurate, but you get the picture. Everything in the world seems to have a rough edge, as well. Violence is king…or maybe money. It is very much a chicken-or-egg question between the two, and your experience in-game will be motivated by the latter and dominated by the former.

A Primer on Shadowrun: First Impressions

The gameplay in Shawdowrun is reminiscent of Dungeons and Dragons. Why reinvent the wheel, right? But there are some significant differences.

I’m still relatively new to D&D, but the one thing that has struck me most about Shadowrun are the skills. Now, just at a glance, magical spells are far fewer and more limited in Shadowrun than in D&D. However, skills are available to all characters and you use skill points or skill group points to purchase them. Additionally, when you purchase skills, you purchase it by rating. The higher the rating, the more adept you are at that skill. A zero with the pistols skill mean you know to point it away from you when you pull the trigger. A 12 or 13 (highest levels) makes you more like Christian Bale’s character in Equilibrium.


I also feel like there is a greater need for diversity in a party. You’re not just running into a place, killing all the things, then looting the bodies. And there are new dimensions when it comes to combat. In D&D, when a dragon lands in front of you, anyone in the party can choose to engage. In Shadowrun, there is the possibility of cybercombat that not everyone in the party can participate in. Your hacker might be on his or her own. And you might not even be able to do a job if you’re party isn’t properly equipped. In D&D, so what if you’ve got five fighters. In Shadowrun, that severely limits your pool of work.

And I really like that. In my current D&D party, we’ve got three melee types, a cleric, and a warlock. We rolled our characters without much dialogue or attention paid to the types. Heck, the closest we really came to that was when we added a player after a session and he said, “Y’all got a warlock?  No? Then I guess I’ll be a warlock.” I realize our methods are not representative of the norm when it comes to party formation, but you can get by that way in D&D. I’m not so sure that would be sufficient in Shadowrun.

There’s also a mechanic called karma within the game that operates a lot like the achievement system that the guys over at Crit Juice leverage while playing D&D. You can earn it in game according to the whims of the game master and spend it in a number of ways to improve your character or affect gameplay.

And my last takeaway from the rulebook: It’s all d6s, baby. Everything. So for newer players the questions isn’t “So I roll a d20 now, right?…And then a d8?” but “How many d6s?”

A Primer on Shadowrun: What Is Your Experience?

I’ve yet to flip through one of the campaign books, but the world and the diversity inherent in the character creation process certainly have my attention. I do believe that, at minimum, I will generate a few characters and give a campaign setting a go.

You can get the Shadowrun 5e Core Rulebook from Amazon. Or you can buy the Beginner Box Set if you want a cheap means of entry.

Has anyone in our readership played the game in its most recent incarnation (5th edition)?  What are your pros and cons? Do you recommend it? Let us know in the comments!

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