|RPG published by
Catalyst Game Labs
|Rule System||Custom d6 Based
(Roll over Dice Pool)
|First Publication||1989 (1st edition)
1992 (2nd edition)
1998 (3rd edition)
2005 (4th edition)
2009 (20th anniv. ed.)
2013 (5th edition)
Shadowrun is a tabletop fantasy/science fiction RPG that first became popular in the early 1990's. It spans multiple genres due to having a large and diverse setting full of plot hooks, providing all your Cyberpunk, Horror, Crime, Post-Apocalyptic, and Mystery needs.
In short, Shadowrun is what would happen if William Gibson and Mercedes Lackey had a love child.
It's set in a dystopian near future where megacorporations have taken over as the superpowers of a world (our world, in an alternate timeline specifically) whose political boundaries are shaken and fragmented. Players play Shadowrunners, the criminal elite: expert thieves, spies, bodyguards, saboteurs, assassins, or whatever else that earns them Nuyen (cyberfantasy futurebucks) who sell their skills to whatever megacorps, crime lords, or police bid the highest. Dragons and Magic play just as big a part of life as computers and guns. In fact, they often overlap.
- 1 History
- 2 Setting
- 3 Gameplay
- 4 Editions
- 5 Other Products
- 6 Software
- 7 Gallery
- 8 External Links
The game is set in a world that is awesome to play in and fail to live in. The history of Shadowrun begins with, of all things, a truckers' strike in New York. The strike lasted for about three months, causing massive hunger not just in NYC itself but across the whole state. New Yorkers being New Yorkers, this resulted in massive rioting. One particularly inspired group of rioters attacked a truck belonging to Seretech Corporation, believing that it was full of food. Predictably, it was actually full of infectious medical waste, and the corporate security assigned to the truck ended up gunning down 200-something civilians to save Staten Island from getting plagued. The United States Supreme Court vindicates the actions of the Seretech employees, choosing to concentrate on the whole "saved thousands of lives" part rather than the "ended hundreds" one. This, combined with an attack on a Shiawase Corporation-owned nuclear power plant, set the stage for corporate extraterritoriality, a principle which essentially turned corporations into their own sovereign states and made corporate land untouchable by national laws. This is why Ares Macrotechnology can tie you up in the basement and forget you exist without invoking the wrath of your government.
A few years go by, and a whole bunch of awful shit happens; Israel nukes Libya, New York gets fucked over by an earthquake, and Japan gets into a war with Korea. This last one is important, because Korea decides those Japanese sons of bitches are going down and launches a fuckload of nukes at them. However, the missiles never reach their targets. Japan then overruns Korea and creates the Japanese Imperial State. Meanwhile, the US is telling the Native Americans to bite the pillow and drills for oil on their reservations (again). Naturally there's some resistance, so the US deals with it in their usual calm, reasonable way:L shipping all the protesting Natives off to concentration camps. During this time, some terrorists from the Sovereign American Indian Movement take over a US nuclear silo and launch a single Lone Eagle ICBM towards Russia. As with the Korean ICBMs, the Lone Eagle is never heard from again.
Things are then quiet for roughly ten minutes before a disease called VITAS takes the top quarter off of the Earth's population. While everyone's still reeling from losing one out of every four people they ever knew, the craziest shit on record happens. People start giving birth to Tolkein-style Elves and Dwarves. With all the shit going on in the world, nobody wants to hear about your pointy-eared baby, and the backlash is substantial. Finally, on December 24th, 2011, it all goes to hell in a handbasket. Dragons are recorded flying over Japan, ley lines in the British Isles start flickering on, and an activist named Daniel Howling Coyote leads a now apparently bulletproof group of Native Americans right out the front gate of one of the concentration camps and into a sandstorm. The Mayan calendar was right- the Fifth World that humanity had lived in for all this time was ending, and Earth has officially entered the cycle of existence the Mayans called the Sixth world. 2012 comes. Magic is back- or more precisely, it had never left in the first place. In reality, countless beings that had lived in the Fourth World had been in hiding through much of human history, and the low ebb of magic in the world had kept the elves and dwarves from manifesting their characteristic features, making them indistinguishable from ordinary humans until the Sixth World came about.
The final phase of the Great Shitstorm is set in motion, and lines are being redrawn all over the map. First, Daniel Howling Coyote reappears and declares that the whole west half of the North American continent is now a coalition of countries called the Native American Nations. The US is all set to slap them down hard, but Daniel and a few of his closest friends perform the soon-to-be-infamous ritual known as the Great Ghost Dance. It's at this point that people start to really accept that magic is now a thing; rather than do nothing like every other ritual dance ever recorded by modern man, the GGD blows the tops off of volcanoes all over the US. Shortly afterwards, ten percent of pubescent humans in the world suddenly turn into Orks and Trolls in a process called Goblinization that involves random hardened calcium growths growing on their body. It's painful, and not exactly treated like your typical case of acne. If you thought pretty little Elf babies made people mad, this shit caused some blown gaskets. Religions all over the world simultaneously get to their feet and screamed "WE KNEW IT ALL ALONG!" and "WHAT THE SHIT IS THIS FUCK!?" resulting in a lot of split faiths, ranging from believing that Jesus/Mohammed/Siddhartha were Dragons, to Ku Klux Klan-esque hate groups worldwide looking to wipe out everything that didn't exist back in 1950. Subsequent race riots cost a lot of very confused people their lives, although plenty of folks stepped in on the side of the mutants, resulting in large numbers of casualties on all sides and breeding a lot of bitterness. Within time, many old faiths splintered into warring sects or radically restructured themselves, with various forms of paganism becoming the dominant faiths of the world.
Fast forward a bit: the internet is destroyed by a super-virus, and a bunch of cyber-commandos kill it in virtual reality combat. In true computer fashion, their VR tech goes from room-sized to book-sized within ten years. The VR Matrix replaces the Internet. The southern United States split off into the Confederate American States. California threatens to join them, so the US says 'fuck you' and kicks them out. The remaining northern states then bro it up with the remains of Canada, forming the United Canadian and American States. Two Elf nations form in North America and Ireland, a Ghoul nation forms in Africa, and a nation of weird beasties forms in the Amazon. Mexico, which is almost completely run by the Aztechnology megacorp, renames itself to Aztlan and starts dabbling in blood magic (really REALLY fucked up shit). A Dragon is elected President of the UCAS and is then assassinated at his inaugural ball, with him leaving behind a cryptic will promising huge sums of cash to anyone who develops certain technologies (like VR connections Dragons can safely use), financial assistance to mothers who keep their metahuman children, and a bounty on Blood Mages. National governments lose more and more of their power in the face of corporate influence until the Corporate Court replaces the United Nations as the great global political alliance and national governments are little more than figureheads. People are identified in corporate and national databases by their System Identification Numbers (SINs), but an increasingly large number of the poor, referred to as SINless, lack one and the basic human rights that come with it. People are increasingly born with an inherent gift for manipulating mana, and magic becomes as much a part of everyday life as electricity.
That's the history of Shadowrun up to the start of First Edition, from the in-game years of 1999 to 2057. Take a second to process all of that crazy shit. You may be wondering where the players fit into all this madness. Well, ever since that truckers' strike in 1999 an underclass of criminals has slowly been gaining influence and importance. Often SINless, they are untraceable ghosts in the machinery of the world, simultaneously free and enslaved. They are deniable assets used by corporations, nations, and even wealthy private citizens to snipe at each other without sparking off feuds or wars. They steal, they hack databases, they weave magical illusions, and often they kill. They are called Shadowrunners, and your character is one of them.
Since then, even more crazy shit has happened. The Matrix was destroyed in a fight between another super-virus and a mad AI, and replaced with a wireless version accessible from almost anywhere while the devices that can be used to tap into it have shrunk from essentially a Casio keyboard strapped to your back to a smartphone or smaller; megacorporations have risen and fallen in their dozens; Halley's comet flew by and fucked with magic something fierce, transforming people into bizarre half-animal hybrids referred to as "changelings"; and people have started being born not with magical talent, but with biological wi-fi hardwired into their brains. And through it all, Shadowrunners have not only held onto their power, but have achieved a sort of collective celebrity, becoming permanently ingrained on global culture.
Talk about job security, eh chummer?
The world has gone through quite a few changes, both political and environmental. Generally, no matter where in the world you live chances are good in the world of Shadowrun it is either a wasteland populated by the homeless, monsters, and toxic/magical/radioactive waste dumps, or its an endless sea of sprawling buildings in various states of occupation and repair filled with the homeless, monsters, and gangs/corporations of ruthless assholes.
- In 2014, a Native American leader calling himself Daniel Howling Coyote started the Ghost Dance War with the aim of removing every trace of colonial occupation from North America after the Megas used their newfound power to landgrab everything. The US Armed Forces really had no edge against Howling Coyote's magical resources; in 2017, Howling Coyote claimed responsibility for the simultaneous eruption of four volcanoes in the Cascade Mountains through a ritual called the Great Ghost Dance. The war ended with the Treaty of Denver, which ceded most of western North America to the Native American Nations. Some time later, Daniel cut all ties with the NaN out of disappointment with what they had become and vanished without a trace. The Native American Nations consist of:
- Algonkian-Manitou Council, which controls most of present-day Ontario, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan, with a slice of Alberta including Calgary. Its capital is Saskatoon.
- Athabaskan Council, which controls most of present-day Alaska, Yukon, Northwest Territory, Nunavut, and the northern portions of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and the little nibble of Manitoba not controlled by other NAN states. Its capital is Edmonton.
- Aztlan was a founding member of the NAN, but is no longer part of the Sovereign Tribal Council. It consists of modern-day Mexico and most of Central America and a chunk of South America. Aztlan is little more than an arm of Aztechnology, the AAA megacorp that truly runs the state and pushes its aggressive expansionism. Air quality in Tenochtitlan (formerly Mexico City) is even worse than it is today.
- Pueblo Corporate Council, which controls most of present-day Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona, and Colorado, the entirety of Utah, and chunks of California, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. It came to the rescue when Los Angeles was wracked with disasters and now administers the city. Its capital is Santa Fe.
- Salish-Shidhe Council, which controls all of present-day Washington except the greater Seattle area and most of British Columbia and Idaho. It administers the BC Interior formerly controlled by the Tsimshian Nation as a protectorate. Its capital is Bellingham.
- Sioux Nation, which controls most of present-day Montana and Wyoming, western portions of the Dakotas and Nebraska, and an eastern slice of Colorado. Its capital is Cheyenne.
- Ute Nation, which dissolved in the wake of Crash 2.0 and was effectively sold to the PCC.
- Tír Tairngire (Shir Sha-irn-gi-ray) is the elven state that controls most of Oregon and a slice of Nevada and contests territory in northern California. It was born by fiat of Lugh Surehand and his inner circle, unilaterally seceding from the Salish-Shidhe Council in 2035. It's basically a state for snooty, prissy elves to be snooty and prissy and talk about how they're better than everyone else. When Surehand was deposed, the system became a little less oppressive but got taken over by the Telestrian family in the 2070's when Mary Louise Telestrian became the reiging Prince of Tir Tairngire
- The United Canadian and American States is what remains of Canada and the USA after the secession of Quebec and the Treaty of Denver.
- The Confederate American States seceded in the wake of the unification and the UCAS called California's bluff, so it's also free of the Union.
- The Republic of Québec seceded from Canada in 2010 so it could be even more French. It didn't recognize the Business Recognition Accords that govern corporate extraterritoriality until after Crash 2.0 as a condition for NeoNET to help rebuild the country's infrastructure. It's opening up to the world as a result and becoming a little less French in the process.
- The California Free State is everyone's bitch. Tír Tairngire invaded it in the north and was only stopped by the Great Dragon Hestaby, who told them both to quiet down and get off her lawn. Aztlan invaded it in the south and when the state governor asked Japan for help, Japan invaded it from the west. Los Angeles was hit with disaster after disaster and in the most recent quake, most of it fell into the ocean.
- Denver is a free city, officially the Front Range Free Zone, administered jointly by the parties to the Treaty of Denver. When the Great Dragon Ghostwalker (who may be the long-lost brother of former UCAS dragon president Dunkelzahn) emerged in 2061 with an army of spirits, flew to Denver, and ripped the Aztlan sector a new asshole. He then declared the Council of Denver subordinate to himself and kicked Aztechnology out, giving their territory to the CAS. Needless to say, nobody wanted to argue about it.
- Seattle is the default setting for Shadowrun. It's an exclave of the UCAS within Salish-Shihde Council territory. The Seattle Metroplex incorporates Seattle itself, Renton, Tacoma, Redmond, Bellingham, Bellevue, Auburn, Snohomish, Fort Lewis, and Puyallup. Most of Puyallup was devastated in the eruption of Mount Rainier and a chunk of Redmond was irradiated after a nuclear power plant disaster; those areas are colloquially known as the Barrens as they are places where utilities, government services, and law enforcement don't go.
- Chicago is Bug City and home to the worst Metahuman hate crime event with the Sears Tower bombing in 2039, when the Universal Brotherhood invoked an Insect Spirit Hive 2055, drek only got worse withe CZ being established.
- Elves unite and stage a coup in Ireland, creating a police state where all non-Elves are a second-class citizen, and Elves are judged by their (often bullshitted) claims to ancestry or their magical prowess. Even those families who do technically have a claim to nobility and are Elves aren't assured respect, as the secret police of the government are quick to give anyone they envy the boot (or muzzle if the boot doesn't work fast enough). The ruling government is sometimes called "Noggins" in a derogatory manner. The opposition to the Elves lead to the resurrection of the IRA, which includes all races including Elves who are unsatisfied with the Elf-centric state of their land.
- Germany has refractured, lessening their industrial and political power. To counteract this, they have a series of treaties that force them to cooperate with each other and make them be recognised as a single country on the international scale, forming the Allied German States. The overall effect of this has been to create what is essentially a German USSR.
- Japan is no longer a true democracy, having returned to the worship and rule of a divine Emperor, and is now called the Japanese Imperial State. Below him is a three-branch political system with the "Diet" as a senate and congressional body, a Judiciary branch, and an executive branch with a prime minister. Their response to the rise of metahumanity was passage of the Yamato Act, which involves deportation of all metahumans to quarantine at concentration camps on Yomi Island while avoiding any of the political squabbling or racial tensions of the rest of the world.. During the years leading up to the Sixth World, nationalism had increased to the point Japan had rebuilt its military again. Japanese corporations rose steadily in prominence, and Japanese influence lead to the "Nuyen" replacing the American dollar by becoming one of the most accepted currencies worldwide. With the loss of stability of the former United States, Japan invaded and captured large parts of California as well as the Philippine islands. They continue to test their neighbors, particularly China, constantly with military demonstrations. Within Japan, society is strictly controlled and firearms are rare. Large portions of Japan remain undeveloped outside of the megacity sprawl, protected to maintain the idea of heritage and cultural identity. Kempeitai, secret political police, enforce the will of Japan even on the megacorps and membership is required to obtain any kind of higher education. Kempeitai have loyalty only to Japan, and overall resemble a combination of the Nazi Youth and SS in behavior and function. By the time of the 5th edition Shadowrun year, the Japanese have begun to slowly drop their anti-meta views including abandoning Yomi Island to the Huk.
- The Philippines were conquered by Japan early in Sixth World history, resulting in the Huk rebellion reemerging to reignite the World War 2 conflict. This time however, the Huk are supported by the black dragon Masaru.
Amazonia, owned by Great Dragon Huapula was formed when the awakened forces took over Brazil and turned it into an ecofriendly nation with parts of Columbia, all of Venezula which led to a war with Atzlan which the amazonians lost.
Do not go to Tasmania it will eat you alive...LITERALLY. Apart from that the only real difference is the speed at which Australian's can drink and kick ass...both of which have improved greatly.
These are the real powers in the Sixth World. With the benefits of extraterritoriality, megacorporations can make their own workplace laws, issue their own currencies, and maintain standing armies the envy of major nations. Every CEO aspires to make it to the big table of the Corporate Court and become a AAA. As of 2075, the "Big Ten" megacorps, which all have representatives on the Corporate Court, are:
- Ares Macrotechnology: American. Subsidiaries include Knight Errant Security. Their premiere business is in the arms industry, though they are also leaders in space exploration, having purchased NASA from the US government. Its corporate culture is very regimented and hierarchical, as befits a company that personifies the military-industrial complex. Very chillaxed as far as shadowrunning goes; they have a reputation for not tracking you down to kill you after a job on their territory unless you really fucked up, and they don't tend to murder the runners they hire afterward.
- Aztechnology: Mexican. Subsidiaries include Stuffer Shack and the entire country of Aztlan. The most outright evil megacorp, Aztechnology also has some of the best PR in the world to keep the skeletons in the closet, such as their regular use of blood magic, their origin as a front company for three Mexican drug cartels, and their attempts to monopolize the world's food supply. They've appropriated Mesoamerican culture for their corporate image and engage in imperialism by proxy through Aztlan's expansion into South America, which has gone about as well as can be expected for any evil organization banning Catholicism in Latin America. Running for them is a good way to destroy your professional reputation among other shadowrunners, as well as to get cut up for spare parts by your new bosses. And if you run against them, try not to leave any hair or other traces behind, or they'll use it to track you down.
- Evo: Russian/Japanese. Subsidiaries include CrashCart. Formerly known as Yamatetsu, the fiercely xenophobic leadership of the company has given way to a free spirit and the ork son of the company's founder. Its core markets include augmentations of all kinds and metahuman-friendly products.
- Horizon: American. Appeared out of nowhere in 2061 as a media-focused megacorp, jumped right to AAA in '65, and maintained a suspiciously squeaky-clean image until it came to light that they were experimenting on technomancers and engineered a massacre in South America.
- Mitsuhama Computer Technologies: Japanese. Entertainment giant. A Yakuza money laundering front that went horribly right, so much so that half the yakuza outright went straight because it was making more money than the crime. Though, if they want some yakuza muscle on the payroll, they don't have to jump through any hoops to get it. The "Zero Zone" is their trademark security method, wherein they kill intruders on sight with no surrender asked. Their jobs tend to be a mixed bag, here meaning that half the time they pay well and go off without a hitch and the other half they try to pay you in lead after shitty intel already killed half the team.
- NeoNET: American. Formed from the merger of Novatech, Erika, and Transys Neuronet after Crash 2.0. Its core markets are in the telecommunications fields. Its corporate history stretches back decades to Fuchi Industrial Electronics, the creators of the first-generation cyberdeck.
- Renraku Computer Systems: Japanese. Currently focusing on acquiring a share in every consumer market in order to make their brand as ubiquitous as possible. Their arcology in Seattle had a little incident over the 2059 holiday shopping season, by which we mean an insane AI with a god complex took it over and started horrifically experimenting on the inhabitants before crashing the whole matrix on its way out. The Red Samurai are RCS's signature elite security force.
- Saeder-Krupp: German.The biggest megacorp in the setting. Its chairman and majority shareholder is the great dragon Lofwyr. Experienced shadowrunners know not to take jobs directed at S-K or its subsidiaries, as Lofwyr is a major micromanager who does not suffer losses from his hoard or undercutting his authority, and his version of downsizing involves literally eating you. It is Lofwyr who gives us that common adage "Never deal with a dragon." Its core markets include heavy industry, finances, mining, and automotives (BMW is one of its foundation companies).
- Shiawase Corporation: Japanese. The first megacorp and still majority-owned by the Shiawase family, which means that every major corporate decision is made with undercurrents of family tension undercutting the whole situation. Notably invested in biotechnology, agriculture, and nuclear fusion. One of their family members became Empress, but as her dad used to use her as a guinea pig for his experiments, it backfired. A lot.
- Wuxing: Chinese. Founding member of the Pacific Prosperity Group, a corporate association designed to check the influence of the Japanacorps. Very quiet and mostly-unknown, like Horizon if it took its meds. Its core markets include entertainment, finances, and logistics.
Notable AA and A Corps
- DocWagon: For-profit medical services. Their services include high-threat response teams trained to enter hazardous situations to extract their clients.
- Lone Star Security Services, Inc.: Municipal law enforcement. They had the contract for Seattle until the tempo crisis of 2072, when Governor Brackhaven ended the contract and signed with Knight Errant. Stereotyped as brutal and corrupt.
- Proteus AG: Transhumanism. The company is shrouded in mystery and misinformation.
- Universal Omnitech: When DocWagon fixes you, odds are they're using UO products. UO is a major player in cyberware and biotechnology and may be on the verge of passable clones. Its CEO, Thomas Roxborough, turned into a pile of goo after an experimental treatment for an autoimmune disorder went horribly wrong; he now lives in a space station and communicates via the Matrix.
- Zeta-Imperial Chemicals: Pharmaceuticals and healthcare. The soulless Big Pharma. They have no sense of ethics and have created bioweapons used in the first EuroWar, dumped toxic chemicals into the African market as health supplements, and developed the nanoweapon codenamed Surtr.
- Telestrian Industries: Elven Mega with most of the shares belonging to the namesake family and the ones who thwarted a Universal Brotherhood plot to turn Seattle to Bug City. One of their members, Mary Louise Telestrian, is the reigning Prince of Tir Tangire.
Shadowrun doesn't have a class system per se, but the priority system is basically a class system in a clever disguise. Prior to Fourth Edition, the priority system was the default character generation method; players assigned priority to five categories, which determined how important those categories are to the character concept: attributes, magic, race, resources, and skills, with higher priorities giving greater quantities or qualities of the desired category. If you wanted to play a mage, you had to make magic your #1 priority. If you wanted to play a non-human, race had to be lower priority. Later books expanded character creation systems to a point-buy method, which allowed greater flexibility than priority, and karma generation, which assigned a karma value to everything and allowed you to spend a pool of karma to build your character the same way as you would advance in experience.
Characters are basically the sum of their skills. All functions in Shadowrun are based on a related skill or stat rating, or a combination thereof. Through Third Edition, task resolution was Attribute + Skill vs Target Number. If the Target Number was higher than 6, you had to roll at least one 6 and then add another roll; in practice, TNs of 7, 13, 19, and so on were no different than TNs of 6, 12, 18, etc.
Despite the system being classless, there are still broad archetypes. The major divide is between Awakened (magically active) and augmented (cybernetically enhanced), and further divided into roles below. The limit to any character's magic power or cybernetic enhancement is his Essence, a measure of how "whole" they are. Installing cyberware costs Essence and the attribute, rounded down, is the cap to the Magic or Resonance attribute; losing Essence also knocks down your Magic/Resonance attribute. When Essence hits zero, the character's body dies as his soul no longer recognizes it as "self" and moves on to the afterlife. A mage or technomancer raises their attribute cap by one each time they initiate or submerge; e.g. a mage with two grades of initiation and an Essence of 5 has a Magic attribute cap of 7.
Biologically, all player characters are human. After the Awakening, magic interacts with ill-understood bits of DNA to transform people into fantasy creatures in a process dubbed "Unexplained Genetic Expression." Elves and dwarfs change in utero; a few years later, regular people started transforming into orks and trolls, usually quite painfully, a process informally called "Goblinization."
Human - Regular humans still exist and are still the majority metatype around the world. With the advent of metahumanity, old-school racism has taken a back seat to new types that oppress the other metatypes for being "unnatural," "abominations," "unclean," or whatever hollow excuse uneducated human trash can come up with to attack defenseless people who happen to look different.
Elf - Tall, pretty, and arrogant. Yep, that's an elf. Some have delusions of superiority, such that they've created entire nations for elfkind, Tír Tairngire (formerly Oregon) and Tír na nÓg (formerly Ireland). A few (notably Ehren the Scribe and Harlequin) claim to be immortal and lived during the Fourth Age, a time thousands of years ago when magic last cycled into existence.
Dwarf - Short, stubborn, and resilient. Yep, that's a dwarf. They have an affinity for technology and dislike magic.
Ork - Big, tough, and strong, the average ork would be a successful NFL linebacker. Multiple births are far more common among orks than any other metatype; combined with their accelerated life cycle (orks become old geezers around fifty), this creates a lot of tension between orks, who just want to be treated with dignity, and humans who see them as slightly above rats.
Troll - Really big, thick skin, and a bunch of horns. The average troll is around three meters tall. If you're a really tall guy, you know how hard it is to get by in a world designed for people around 5'10". Trolls experience that up to eleven (feet). Everything is child-sized to a troll. They have to get beer by the pitcher.
Metavariants - Think your snowflake isn't special enough? Well, other books brought out metavariants, "subspecies" of each metatype. Want to play a minotaur, gnome, hobgoblin, or something else? You can now.
Changelings - What, still not special enough? When Halley's Comet made its latest pass through the solar system in 2061, mana levels spiked and a second wave of Goblinzation hit the world, called "Sudden Unexplained Recessive Genetic Expression." Now you can live out your furry fetish and be an actual catgirl or dragonboi, or something even wilder thanks to the mix-and-match nature of the changeling metatype.
Metasapients - They're not human and never were, but are sapient and capable of interacting peacefully with metahuman civilization, in some cases even qualifying for citizenship. Things like sasquatches, centaurs, pixies, nagas, and shapeshifters are viable character types, but all come with disadvantages like being uneducated (because of not living in metahuman society), incompatible with commercially-available augmentations, and even being incapable of human speech.
Artificial Intelligence - After Crash 2.0, AIs started appearing. They weren't as powerful as the three that fought during the Crash, but are as varied in personality as metahumanity. Being entirely software, they need to live in hardware, be it a beefed-up commlink or a drone. They make excellent riggers and hackers, but are crap at interacting with the real world.
The Infected - Not a metatype unto themselves, but when a person contracts Human-Metahuman Vampiric Virus (HMHVV) and doesn't get treated before it makes its changes, he becomes Infected. Depending on metatype and strain of HMHVV, you become some type of vampire. Strain III HMHVV turns anyone into a ghoul, a blind but dual-natured obligate cannibal. There is no post-change cure for HMHVV, even after decades of research and experiment.
Typical character roles
Runner teams, as any teams built up of professionals, tend to have their members highly specialized. Roles are varied and often combined, but generally most teams have these roles:
Muscle - Either heavily cybered Street Samurai (often just called a "Sammy") or Awakened Adepts, whose unusual physical abilities depend on the magic they channel through their bodies and their self-belief. Muscle deals with direct physical threats and are expected to be capable of dealing and soaking massive amounts of damage, coupled with high Initiative Passes count, allowing them to act more frequently in the real world than their opposition. It is also a good idea for Muscle to have some infiltration skills to cover up Shadows and at least marginal intimidation skills. Despite the popular Hollywood image, making Sammies and Adepts into actual sword-wielding melee warriors is only encouraged if you want to see your character dead - though it's not as bad in fifth edition as in previous editions, due to various balance changes.
Shadow - Physical infiltration specialists. Those are usually either special Adept builds or non-Awakened characters using specialized implants. Naturally, Shadows are expected to be as unnoticeable and observant as possible, making implants and powers that allow them to hide from sight or perceive outside human spectra highly popular. Shadows should also be capable of full-on breaking and entering, requiring some hardware skills and specialized gear.
Face - The social player of the party. The Face is the one who deals with the employers (typically a go-between traditionally called a "Mr. Johnson"), gets the gear needed for the job, and has all the right contacts and the cunning plans to come ahead of the opposition. Many Faces are also the ones to hire the hideouts for the team and some of them make excellent impersonators, using magic or specialized implants to assume disguises. While Face is a relatively straightforward role mechanically, it is frequently the most intellectually tasking and roleplaying-heavy, since it often falls on the Face to arrange the team's planning.
Mage - The astral cover. Mages are all Awakened, but still come in different traditions and specializations. While some rely on direct-effect spells which allow them to whip out bagfuls of damage dice, fly, dodge bullets, and more, others count on summoned spirits to do the job for them, without risking direct opposition or at least having some heavy support at hand. Mages' ability to astrally project makes them valuable assets for scouting, especially long-distance one. Given enough time and resources, they can get almost anyone in the world with ritual spellcasting, and naturally, Mages are also the only magical healers a shadowrunner team can hope to get. There's also absolutely no defense against a Mage except another Mage (or a quick bullet, leading to the basic and often given advice "Geek the Mage first"), so the runners depend on their mage's counterspelling abilities and guard spirits heavily. Not everyone who is Awakened can be a Mage, as it takes training to be more than a liability to your local community. Shamans, on the other hand, receive guidance from dominant spirit Totems.
Adepts can amplify their own attributes and talents and have access to unique Adept Powers, but they can't use conventional spells or astrally project, making them more like Street Samurai or Shadows in practice. In fact, they can't perceive astral space at all unless they buy the specific power that lets them do so, a weakness shared with their traditional magic-using hybrid, the Mystic Adept. Finally, Aspected Magicians are "diet" mages, only skilled in a single category of magic, e.g. a spellcaster only or a summoner only. They're very good at that category, but can never use any form of magic outside that category.
Decker/Otaku (Hacker/Technomancer): Before the Crash 2.0, Matrix intrusion relied on specialized hardware setups often built into a device the size of a skateboard, the archetypal cyberdeck. The decker maintained such a rig and used it to break into Matrix security for his team. His Awakened counterpart was the otaku, a teenager with the odd ability to interact with the Matrix without a cyberdeck; he still needed ASIST hardware and a datajack, but he didn't rely on a bulky and horribly expensive piece of tech to do his thing. The otaku lost their abilities as they aged, a process they called "Fading." After the Crash 2.0 and the Wireless Matrix Initiative, the times of the decker and otaku were over. In their place emerged the Hacker and the Technomancer, respectively- the former are mundane boys with a head full of 'ware and a commlink the cost of a house, and the latter are believed to be the "evolved" form of otakus that retain their skills as they age, and can also compile and command sprites (which are essentially the Matrix analogue of spirits). A Shadowrunning team depends on the Hacker (or Technomancer- in practice, their abilities are more or less identical) to find the info that the Face's contacts can't or won't provide, break into opposition's hosts to fiddle with security systems, intercept their data exchange or do the rest of other things a hacker can be doing with a computer. Most hackers are known to be couch potatoes, but between wireless networks and wireless-inhibiting building walls, they have a good reason to have some actual infiltration skills. Hackers also frequently moonlight as Riggers. Recent security measures introduced to the Wireless Matrix have brought the use of a new generation of cyberdecks modified to interact with the new Matrix and bypass security systems back into vogue, making the terms "hacker" and "decker" interchangeable again.
Rigger - The drone specialist and usually the driver for the party. Riggers are mostly the ones to pimp out rides for shady shadowrunning biz, and their swarms of drones can rival Muscle and Shadows at their jobs. While rigging presupposes spending a lot of your time "jumped in", wearing your drones or vehicles as your own skin, many Riggers also double as hackers. The high Logic needed for hacking and rigging also makes Hackers and Riggers the most likely candidate for the team's paramedic.
Released in 1989. The introduction to the world of 2050. The game's basic mechanics are introduced, the tone is set, and along with it come a ton of sourcebooks.
Released in 1992. The year is 2053 now, and the ruleset is essentially a polished First Edition. Generally regarded as an improvement over the first edition of the game, as is often the case for second editions.
Released in 1998. The year is 2063 and more new goodies are available. Magic and Matrix rules were altered in this version, but all sourcebooks from all editions still work with no serious hassles. However, the general granularity and complexity of the game system increased a lot with the game's third edition. The game changed publishers for the first time during this edition, moving from FASA's hands to those of WizKids and Fanpro.
Released in 2005. The year is 2071. The system got a major overhaul, as fourth editions tend to bring. A lot of mechanics were simplified, starting right from the dicerolling: rolling a dice pool with variable target numbers and Rule of Six always in order, hoping to get at least one roll over the target number, has been replaced by rolling a pool of dice with the target number preset, and then counting successes - dice with numbers rolled over said target number. A player can spend Edge on a roll to gain the Rule of Six and a pool bonus equal to Edge or reroll any dice that failed.
The new system is disputed to be more restrictive in the resolution of conflicts and character options. The new rule system also naturally renders most of the crunch from older edition books obsolete; the fluff contained in them, however, is still valid. And character creation got upgraded to the use of build points, which touched off a nasty war between the "priorities" guys and the "BP" guys about whose system is more archaic and abusable.
Also, the Matrix rules have undergone a complete overhaul (justified in the fluff as a shift to wireless following a network crash just after the 3e splatbook "System Failure") to hypothetically allow hackers to do their thing without leaving the rest of the party inactive. Still, hackers prefer to break into systems out of the heat of combat if at all possible, so, while the issue has been made less severe, it is still present.
The most discussed difference from the previous editions is, surprisingly, the change of street jargon. While justified by almost ten in-game years passing since the third edition, a good deal of old-time players still believe that replacing "deckers" with "hackers", "cyberdecks" with "commlinks", "chummer" with "omae", or "otaku" with "technomancer" is too severe a change. That being said, older 'runners in-game would continue to use the older slang (remember, never trust anyone old in a profession where they ought to have died young).
20th Anniversary Edition
An update for the 4th edition, it's a basically a re-release of the core rulebook in full color with all the errata applied, new (and good) artwork and more structured layout. It is still fully compatible with SR4E, and the errata for the original release of the core rulebook can still be found on the Catalyst site.
Released in late summer of 2013 to coincide with the release of Shadowrun Returns. Foreshadowed in the last Fourth Edition sourcebook, the Matrix has been revamped again, changing hacking from threshold-based tests to opposed tests, more closely mirroring normal skill tests and speeding up Matrix interactions and combat considerably. It also allows hackers to mess with devices that have open wi-fi channels, giving impetus for hackers to stick close to the team to shield their own electronics from foul play while harassing the enemies' gear at the same time. Random pieces of gear have "wireless bonuses" that improve their functionality as long as you take the risk of announcing your presence or an enemy hacker (or just a dick hacker nearby) wrecking it in the process. Most of these bonuses are silly things like the silencer that has a microphone that wirelessly tells you if somebody heard your shots or throwing stars that grow control surfaces on their edges.
To counteract absurd dice pools, the rules introduce limits, which cap the number of successes you can use in any test and are derived from doing algebra on your attributes. Some pieces of gear increase limits, usually as their wireless bonuses. In practice, limits mean a relatively untrained troll is likely to beat a trained elf in a fistfight.
As of 2074, the current metaplot concerns an insidious mind-altering nanotechnology program called "cognitive fragmentation disorder," transmissible by contact with infected nanotech the same way HIV is transmitted by infected bodily fluids. Also like HIV, there's no cure to be found yet. Unlike HIV, CFD is intelligent and appears to be a hive mind using its infected "head cases" to accomplish some sort of long-term plan that may include taking over a megacorp base on Mars.
Consensus is that Catalyst Game Labs cannot into editing and the line editor is allergic to both errata and criticism. Every book has slapdash organization, with game rules scattered throughout fluff sections rather than being collected into a single chapter for simple reference. Important Matrix info like rules for encryption and decryption aren't in the core book, instead promised in a later Matrix-focused book that took about two years to hit the shelves. The writers are also Third Edition grognards who brought the priority system back as the default character generation method and continue to uphold the katana as the most awesome melee weapon evar. And the trillions of granular rules and redundant skills for every little occasion combine all the ballast and scuttle of every previous edition, with little effort made to modernize.
Seven video games exist for Shadowrun, six of which are available in America, and five of which are good.
The first came out in 1993 for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, and shamelessly rips off chunks of William S. Gibson's "Neuromancer" (right down to the name of the protagonist, Jake Armitage) as the player wakes up in a chop shop and deals with the fallout of a run gone horribly wrong, gains the favor of the Dog spirit, and ultimately, solos a motherfucking Great Dragon. (A little one, but still.) While enjoyable for casualfags, more serious fans of the franchise may be grumpy with Shadowrun SNES for playing loose with magic, cyberware, and the fact that having a bunch of the latter is supposed to do serious shit to your expertise in the former. And the gameplay is clearly having a hard time adapting something originally intended for a mouse and keyboard to a controller. Jake's still popular though, appearing in a number of actual adventure modules and the recent Shadowrun Returns title's "Deadman's Switch" campaign.
The second was released in 1994 for the Sega Genesis, and is widely held as a worthy use of the license. In this particular game, protagonist Joshua must piece together the puzzle behind his brother Michael's death on a run into Native American-held territory, making a name for himself in the Shadowrunning biz along the way. Fans cite the expanded tactical opportunities (read: being able to move around and dodge bullets in doing so) and immersive Matrix depiction (real-time combat against unique IC types and messing with a variety of system nodes) as this game's greatest advantages over its SNES counterpart.
The third game is the Japanese-only one, made in 1996 for the Sega CD and set in Japan rather than Seattle. It plays more like a text adventure (i.e. Sega CD smash hit Snatcher) and its rare action sequences suffer for it.
The fourth video game adaptation of Shadowrun came in 2007 for XBox 360 and Microsoft Vista. While being designed for Vista should be fail in itself, Microsoft went to great lengths to fuck with the storyline in order to make a dime-a-dozen FPS out of the license - so much that the Sixth World Wiki claims it "may be more accurately described as a game loosely based on Shadowrun." Since Catalyst holds a decent bit of clout with the Sixth World Wiki and other parts of Dumpshock, it can safely be assumed that Microsoft's treatment of the Shadowrun franchise has been officially disavowed.
Which is good, because in April 2012, Hairbrained Schemes LLC (operated by Jordan Weissman of Battletech fame) in conjunction with Smith & Tinker procured the rights to Shadowrun and made a new 2050's based game available on several platforms. Under the "Shadowrun Returns" project title, these guys raised a $1.5 million Kickstarter payout to make "an old-school Shadowrun" vidyagame happen. They also threw things at the Executive Producer form the 2007 game as he held up a cardboard sign that said "SORRY!" Features mechanics obviously ripped from XCOM: Enemy Unknown, some of the best cyberpunk genre writing in the market and...unfortunately plenty of railroading. Despite this, the fact it was released for Steam alongside the newly established "Steam Workshop" system which allows players to upload their own created content as instantly installed mods for players to peruse gave the game a massive amount of replayability as older campaigns and homebrew stories were adapted into the game by fans (as well as shit like dating sims).
The story for the game begins as your character, down on their luck, receives a message from an old member of their crew. Postmortem. He tells you that he had a device installed which will send this message upon his death, and the moment you solve his murder you will receive a megafuck payout of Nuyen from his rainy day fund. You return to Seattle and make the Seamstresses Union your hangout as you get drawn into an elaborate story leading from solving the mystery of the "Emerald City Ripper" through breaking the number one rule of Shadowrunning; never cut a deal with a dragon (number two of course being never deal with that asshole Harlequin) as the largest megacorps in the world pool their resources into giving you the tools necessary to prevent Seattle from becoming Chicago 2 (meaning, giant nest full of a combination of fucked up near-immortal insects and even worse, insect spirits). The player character is the primary protagonist, although you befriend several fellow 'runners including: a romantically involved pair named Coyote and Paco, a Native American Shaman named Shannon Half-Sky, Dodger the Elven Decker from the very first short story in the Shadowrun universe from the first edition, and Jake Armitage from the SNES game.
The game was followed by DLC called Shadowrun Returns: Dragonfall, later released as it's own game titled Shadowrun Returns: Dragonfall Director's Cut. Dragonfall centers around a group of 'runners in the Flux State of Berlin and the greater Allied German States. Being the unofficial leaders of their own Kiez, the Kreusbazar, the player inherits leadership of the crew from the former leader Decker of the team and their old friend, Monika Schäfer. Players are given far more control over the story than the last game with the bulk of the Runs being able to be taken at any time, a large number of sideplots, and a large cast of characters who's stories the player has control over through your interactions. The player has a constant crew with their own stories consisting of the older Dragonslayer Shaman/Mage (and former Punk Rocker who participated on the side of the metahumans in the worst of the race riots, the Night of Rage) named Dietrich, Glory the medic/Street Samurai who after her VERY fucked up childhood found herself in a Branch Davidian style cult to a Toxic Totem of the Adversary Spirit and replaced most of her organic parts with mechanical ones to rid herself of her Essence and free herself as much as possible from his grasp, Eiger the Troll ex-special forces Street Samurai sniper who was sent on a secret and illegal operation which was fucked up by an inexperienced member of her crew causing her to be blacklisted and forced into the shadows resulting in a control freak with no patience for inexperience or arrogance, the optional member of the crew Blitz who is a former ganger Decker that deals with his past contacts. Your Face is Paul Amsel, an older gentleman who runs all of the non-Run related business for the crew. Plus your half-Hellhound Dante. The plot involves the return of the Dragon Feuerschwinge and her small army, with some subplots involving everything from some of the shittier sides to political groups and the megacorps through the next big Matrix threat, an AI on an unprecedented scale who may or may not be a major player in the 2070's cyber scene as it takes on the personas of Deckers it fries with one of it's victim's handles still posting on internet forums almost twenty years after his death. Shadowrun Returns is referenced as a news report mentions the Emerald City Ripper early on his rampage, allowing players looking to play the same character to make Dragonfall the prequel to Returns. The actual gameplay mechanics were improved, with far more tilesets added and the Adept play experience made viable, in addition to being able to save anytime rather than only at the end of a scene. Players who purchased the Director's Cut were able to play the Returns game with the improvements.
The third game, also standalone, called Shadowrun Returns: Hong Kong just had a similarly extremely successful Kickstarter (1083% funded at the time of writing with 28 hours left). The game is expected to feature a totally revamped experience for Mages and Shamans, as well as a redone Matrix sequence. Hairbrained Schemes have said that SR:HK will continue with the gray morality, dingy world of the past two games with further emphasis on reputation as players deal with various groups including criminal Triads, the everpresent megacorps, and the police. The new crew consists of Gobbet the Ork Rat Shaman, Duncan Wu the Ork ex-security Street Samurai, Is0bel the Dwarf Decker of Somalian refugee descent, Racter the Russian Rigger, and Gaichû the ex-member of Renraku's (in)famous Red Samurai security who refused to commit Sudoku after contracting the Ghoul virus. The game is also coming with its own short story to act as a prologue to the game. Their journey takes them to Kowloon Walled City. A slum that makes Redmond look like paradise to put it very lightly
The two released Harebrained Schemes Shadowrun Returns games were met with the massive approval of both the Shadowrun community and the general video game enthusiast community, an impressive feat. Hong Kong looks to be a continuation of that success.
- Official Shadowrun Page
- Shadowrun Wiki
- A forum used to roleplay as the in-universe Shadowland site.
- The old Kickstarter page for SRR
- Shadowrun Hong Kong Kickstarter The game funded successfully and launched on August 20, 2015.
- The C.L.U.E. Files, a collection of horrible derp that Shadowrun players submitted their GMs to in the distant past
- Some Shadowrun Modules written up by a namefag from /tg/'s Shadowrun general thread.