Into the Shadows
Thanks to the promise of a new online “table top” game with some friends, I’ve been spending some time getting reacquainted with one of my very favorite pen and paper RPGs, Shadowrun. I’vebeen a fan of Shadowrun for a long time. A loooong time. It was the second pen and paper I ever played (what seems like ages ago) and it was extremely influential in shaping what I think is nerd-cool.
With the success of the Shadowrun Returns Kickstarter campaign, the game is back on a lot of people’s radars. I thought I’d use that opportunity to share why its been one of my favorite games for the better part of twenty years.
My first Shadowrun book was the classic first edition, featuring Dodger, Sally Tsung, and Ghost-Who-Walks. That was a fantastic book, full of Lief Jones’ surly, warty caricatures, not to mention the greatest introductory adventure of all time (I think we played Friday Night Firefight about a dozen times…). I read that book until the binding broke and the color pages fell out. That was back in the day before I even realized that you could invent your own scenarios, so I wore out the classic modules as well–some of my earliest gaming memories are of Maria Mercurial, Frosty, and the mysterious Harlequin.
Then began my love affair with the Sega Genesis game. If I had to rattle off my top ten video game RPGs, choosing from my first to my most recent, Shadowrun on the Genesis would definitely be on the list. Quite possibly in my top 5. It was definitely the first sandbox game I ever played, and play it I did. Admittedly I had more time to kill back then, but there aren’t many games that I’ve played nearly so much. I practically melted that cartridge through.
Second edition was a bit of a blip to me (you’ve gotta love Tim Broadstreet’s inspired art, but I missed Lief Jones), but I was way into third and now fourth edition. The game has changed hands several times, of course (hell, Topps owns it now, and every book ships with a stick of nasty-ass gum), but it has never stopped being one of the more interesting and inspired games on the FLGS shelves. So what is it that I find so captivating about Shadowrun?
Well it starts right there on the cover–“Man meets magic and machine.” Shadowrun was doing mash-ups before that was a thing. It turned genre on its ear in a way my young brain didn’t think was even possible, but more importantly, Shadowrun did it well. The alt future-history of the setting continues to captivate me as it grows and changes. In fact, it’s one of the very few games that I feel truly benefit from the inclusion of a metaplot. Twenty years later and mysteries laid in first edition are only now coming to fruition (and yeah, probably differently than was imagined by the game’s original creators, but I’m a fan of not throwing out what has come before, except for every Batman movie between Keaton’s 1989 flick and Batman Begins…). Events like Dunkelzahn the Dragon’s assassination and his subsequent bequests make the setting seem vital and alive, without crowding the PC’s out of the setting with Mary Sue NPCs. In fact, the NPCs are one of the setting’s best elements, since their role is generally relegated to sourcebook talking head (another cool element that makes the world seem so alive is the Shadowland/JackPoint format, where NPCs serve as comment thread posters to in-game essays about the setting).
So what’s the point of all this gushing about Shadowrun? There is none, really. I’m just excited to be as excited about the game now as I was twenty years ago when it first started to impress itself upon me. With Shadowrun Returns around the corner, I’m looking forward to a renaissance of interest in the property, which will hopefully compel the current licensees to continue turning out decent products (though this Amazonia BS needs to take a hike). Shadowrun Returns? For some of us, it never went away.
Just remember the Golden Rule, chummers: “Watch your back, shoot straight, conserve ammo, and never, ever cut a deal with a dragon.”