I got given Shadowrun 5th Edition for my birthday by some absolute legend. Shadowrun in 1989 through to about 1994 used to be the game that I ran. First and second edition with most of the supplements we had some real long term runners in the game and some great plotlines running. But Earthdawn ruined all of that as I moved into that system as well and we all decided that we had seen enough of the dirty streets of Seattle and so we moved into the ruins of Parlainth.
|Nice new logo for the new edition|
Well, I have played a couple of games of fourth edition and am slowly working my way through the tome of fifth edition, reading it every night in bed and making some headway. I am excited to go back into this style of game. After all, what am I but a low-tech decker with all my computery science knowledge, programming skills and interest in building software solutions to problems 🙂 William Gibson would be proud.
Plus, I want to see that I can use this system to tell the right stories. When I was younger and running the system I started telling the wrong stories and toward the end of my stint I told a few that were along the right path. I think the fact that I was not telling the stories that mattered to me may be the reason I moved away from Shadowrun and into Earthdawn which is much more centrally focussed on telling the right tales.
So, you probably are wondering what I am talking about with this right and wrong story thing. Well, it largely is a personal thing but as I have aged I have found that the stories that matter are the personal stories of the characters being played as opposed to the stories that I manufacture for them to bring to life. To be great stories you need to build great personalities in game that have strengths and flaws and listen to those aspects and what they bring to the tale. A run into a Renraku R&D facility on an extraction of a scientist is a stock standard thing in Shadowrun and will present the players with a goal. But tying that run up somehow with the personal abilities or fears of a player and that is where the real story is.
See, I used to believe that the story of the run as a whole was what mattered but in reality it is window dressing. It could just as easily be a story about getting a decker into a body shop to find the details of where the business is harvesting their biotech tinged hearts from. Interesting stage dressing but the story is not alive until it is inhabited by the PC’s. It is easy as a GM to become tied up with the window dressing because by and large it is the window dressing that you make. it is your contribution up front to the game and so you can be forgiven in thinking that it is super important. You may spend hours tormenting the old grey matter to come up with some realistic twist or double cross that will blow the players mind but even that is not the right story. The right story is the one that the players tell. What if their actions ruin your double cross? Some GM’s would still force it through because they spent the time working on it. It is at these times that you have moved to the wrong story.
Earthdawn built a system that really favours the right story and I think it is this reason that made us as a group move on to it. It was definitely a sub-conscious decision that made this occur as I can tell you right now, my idea of the right story has only consciously appeared over this past year of gaming. Many of the new school games has really defined what it takes to have a good game (at least from my perspective) and that tells me that designers are now asking the question “What makes a good game?” I should have come to this conclusion earlier as I teach a computer game design class and that is precisely one of the things that I ask them to do. I ask them to look at what they are doing and ask “Is it fun?” and “Why is it fun?”. With those questions you can then cut out all the stuff that is not fun and make your game better.
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These new school games say to be a fan of the players. What that means is not necessarily drag out the pom poms and a cheer leaders outfit but it means be fair with them and roll with their story. It si their interactions that build the game and if they do something unexpected do not force them back into what you designed, play to find out what is going to happen. Players will instinctively get that they are changing the world as opposed to games where they are simply telling the pre-scripted story.
We had quite the discussion on one of my regular posts about Shadowrun and its system and if it is set up to tell these kinds of stories. +Stuart McDermid is a great proponent of indie games and a fount of knowledge on them. He pointed at the Sixth World hack for Dungeon World as a possible option that will focus on the right stories. This put a couple of noses out of joint although Stuart meant it in the best possible way. I agree with Stuart that the option is a good one and has some really strong reasons to follow it up. But I have a brand new shiny book that was given to me and I love reading big shiny new RPG’s so I started with fifth edition to see if it is a system that can tell the right kind of stories.
I am saying that what I have read is actually very encouraging. The building of a character really focusses on the character and their story. It has moved from brief descriptions on how to put a functioning character together for a run to a series of short build sections that are focussing on building a character persona, foibles and all. The inclusion of flaws and the definition of contacts (both which existed in 4th edition) is pointing at creating characters that feel real and have the feeling of dropping in to a game world that is a pre-existing space. There are even many bits of fiction throughout the book that are used to define the game but also seem to focus on the weaknesses of the character and their redemption through running.
You can probably tell that I am liking this version of the game. I like that the delineating lines of an archetype are beginning to blur in this version. You may not necessarily need a decker to do x, or a street samurai to do y as they describe actions and abilities in a much more broader framework and often give multiple options of achieving the same result that can be done across the board. This is excellent and shows they are taking the focus off what your character can do to who your character is.
That said the weakness in the game is the number of rules. Shadowrun 5E is an impressive tome and it literally tries to cover this broadness of task resolution with heaps of different rules. There are large sections where it is like the barrens for artwork (read there is none) and when you are reading rule after rule it can be hard to read. I do work with Pathfinder though so a system with lots of crunch is not going to make me shy away.
Anyhow, I am well down the path of thinking about my first games. I like to start on a personal level for a game or two and I already have people hovering over the idea and putting a character or two together. I am looking forward to giving it a try and seeing if my understanding of the game (that it it can tell the right stories natively) is a reality when I play it will be exciting. It has been slow going as things have been incredibly busy at work and look like there is going to be little slow down in the coming weeks.
It is great to see this evolution of the game. I am really energised to have a go of it in the near future and I will report back after I have run my first few games so you too can find out if this new edition encourages a greater focus on the character than the story. Until next time keep rolling!