I'm just about to get into a Shadowrun campaign, so I figured this would be a good time to blog about this role-playing game's world and system.
First, the game Cyberpunk came out in the late '80s and was all about a future where everything was disposable, people replaced their bodyparts with cybernetics as casually they would getting an ear pierced today, and attitude was everything. Chrome and mirrorshades got you far. Not long after, Shadowrun came out with a similar background with some twists - magic had come back into the world and the world's history was a bit different from Cyberpunk (and our own).
I say that magic came BACK into the world because, as it turns out, magic operates on a cycle - during some points in the cycle it's not in effect and at other points it's loosed upon the world.
It just so happens that in 2011...magic is back. Dwarven and Elven babies begin to be born to human parents, a couple of dragons are spotted, and people start to be able to manipulate the power of magic.
By 2017, many Native American factions have formed and are taking back their land from the United States through full on war, culminating in The Ghost Dance where Daniel Howling Coyote led a magical ritual that caused three volcanoes to erupt simultaneously, ending the war, pretty much in the Native Americans' favor. They'd won back some of their lands.
By 2021, Goblinization occurs - about 10% of the population start turning into Orcs and Trolls as their genetics fully express their true forms in this phase of magic.
Add to the magic part that the corporations are, in essence, their own governments with their own laws and pretty much rule the world, as well as the fact that covert ops have become the de facto method of conducting much of their business, and you have Shadowrun.
The game system is based on dice pools using 6-sided dice (d6). Characters have attributes (physical and mental statistics) and skills (learned actions). Add the attribute number to the skill number and that gives you the number of dice to roll to attempt an action; any 5s or 6s on the roll are successes. Harder actions may require more than one success to carry out the action. And...that's it. That's the basis for the rules of the game. Things get a little more complex when you bring magic and decking (hacking) into the picture, but once you have the basics down it doesn't take much to get the other rules straight.
The latest edition - the fourth - brought many positive changes with it. The biggest for me was making everything wireless from weapons to toasters to cars to cybernetics.
With the wireless world, hackers (formerly deckers in earlier versions of the game) became more useful and were able to actually join their runner teams in the field. Using Augmented Reality (AR), they could interact wirelessly with real-world items (locks, drones, etc) and hack them right then and there without having to jack into a port somewhere and sit in a coma-like state while their team did the field work miles away from them. Add to this that pretty much every device is wireless and hackers become even more dangerous. Security has a gun to the head of your teammate? Hack the gun so that it won't work, IM your street samurai friend that they're safe, and watch the show. Hackers became more useful, dangerous, and part of the team all with one gaming concept.
The fourth edition was a great leap forward for me and the fifth edition is coming out this summer, promising to be grittier and more streamlined. You can rest assured that I'll have a copy as soon as it's available!
If you're an RPGer, definitely try out Shadowrun - you won't be disappointed. Just remember, above all else, NEVER deal with a dragon!