Tag Archives: Shadowrun

RPGaDay 2016- Day 20 Most challenging but system I have ever learned.

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I’m not a huge fan of complex games systems, I’ve played a few and I tend to find that they get in the way of the game. As with a great many in the roleplaying community, I’ve moved towards a preference for rules light systems that favour flexibility over rigid details that cover every minor occurrence in a game.

In terms of games that I considered complex at the time, it’d be AD&D 2nd ed. It was the first rpg that I properly played, the first I ran, the first I learnt and given that I was in my early teens at the time, it was a pretty damn complex game but it was also the game that set me on the path i’m on today, decades later.

For games that at truly complex, maybe Shadowrun, 3rd is probably the most complicated i’ve ever gotten properly to grips with. Shadowrun is one of those systems that has rules that cover everything, including the infamous chunky salsa rule for rebounding shockwaves from explosions. If you ever want an interesting challenge, check out the various rules for building and creating your own cyberdeck and programs in Virtual Realities 2.0.

The most complex i’ve read and tried to get to grips wth is Alpha Omega. That game has something like 12 modifiers that apply to EVERY SINGLE COMBAT ROLL, including, attacker’s stance (lying down, crawling, crouching ducking, standing), defender’s stance, attacker’s movement speed, defender’s movement speed, relative distance between attacker and defender, cover, concealment, lighting, distance between attacker and defender and more. That’s all before you get to monstrosity that is it’s magic system.

 

RPGaDay- 2016 Day 19, Best way to learn a new game?

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The best way to learn a new game kind of depends on whether you are running a game or playing it, there is some overlap, but there is a much greater onus on the person running the game than those playing it.

Starting with playing, I honestly believe you can just show up and have the DM walk you through the game, starting at CharGen and working through to a very simple adventure that highlights the key components of the game, usually combat, exploration, social interaction and skill challenges.

Personally, as a player I like to get  copy of the rules of any game i’m going to play, ahead of time, so I can familiarise myself with CharGen and the rules that are likely to be applicable to the type of character I want to play.

As a DM I think the job is harder. The job of the DM is to learn pretty much all of the general rules of the game and be able to walk the players through the system. Thats not to say that the DM need know all the rules straight away (if ever really) but they should know all of the basics so the game can run reasonably smoothly and then they should note down any additional questions to check between sessions. In most cases, between those first few sessions, the DM will likely have a fairly long list of questions but as the campaign develops it should dwindle to nothing.

Personally, I also like to get a pre-written adventure when I’m learning the game, one written by the games designer preferably. This lets me understand how the game is intended to be run and played and helps me understand how to create my own stories within the framework of the game. I know a lot of people frown upon pre-written adventures but they are something that I find to be a great resource, even if I never run them.

At the end of the day, learning a game can be a painful process, especially if it’s a complex system, like Shadowrun or Alpha Omega, but as long as everyone is on the same page, forgives mistakes and are willing to adapt to week by week changes in how the rules are interpreted until things get settled, then it can be a very rewarding and exciting change from the norm.

RPGaDay- 2016 Day 15, Best source of inspiration for RPGs?

It used to be books, I am, or more accurately was, a voracious reader and since I’d read a significant amount of literature set in the games that I wanted to run or play in then I could use that to my own ends. That’s changed though, I have significantly less free time and so when I’m running a game virtually all of my reading time is usually devoted to the rules and adventure, as opposed to wider reading. I still use books as inspiration and I still recommend certain novels to people who want to play certain games, 2XS and House of the Sun for Shadowrun, The Chronicles and Legends for Dragonlance, At the Mountains of Madness and The Dunwich Horror for Cthulhu and many others.

For me, nowadays, it’s TV, far more than even movies (though I saw a whole lot of Numenera in Guardians of the Galaxy). TV has advanced to such a state that it’s held almost in the same regard as film, actors don’t see it as a step down if the show is right (say like True Detective) and networks pump massive amounts of money into shows with Game of Thrones reportedly costing $6 million per episode and Walking Dead around $3 million. Plus, with the rise of traditionally fantasy and sci fi genres in the mainstream, like the aforementioned Game of Thrones and Walking Dead, plus the surge in popularity of Comic Book movies, more subjects that would traditionally be too niche for the mass market are being greenlit.

This means I can find great, hard edged sci fi, like in The Expanse, or fantasy like Shannara or Game of Thrones, it means that I can see settings and themes I love treated seriously and with respect and that helps me form ideas in my head how I want to run games or what kind of character I want to play. If I want to understand how close nit a criminal organisation might be then shows like The Sopranos can help me, if I want to understand gangs then Sons of Anarchy, the Shield and the Wire all give me different perspectives on different types. If I want source material for Deadlands then I need look no further than H*** on Wheels or Deadwood.

I’ve even found inspiration for games like Call of Cthulhu in TV shows recently, with Season 1 of True Detective essentially being about a worshiper of Hastur and with more supernatural shows like Sleepy Hollow essentially being a mash up between Cthulhu NOW and he forthcoming Pulp Cthulhu. H***, Hunter the Vigil is literally embodied in the TV show Supernatural in everything except name and all this is before I start looking into lower budget shows like Dark Matter and Killjoys that make perfect inspiration for Traveller, Firefly (which has its own show anyway) or anything in a space operah setting.

Inspiration for RPGs can come from anywhere but, today, I find it most prevalent in TV as the world embraces geekdom, as ComiCon becomes a mass market spectacle and people tune in every week to find out what an orphaned girl with 3 pet dragons might do next.

RPGaDay 2016- Day 9, Beyond the game, what’s involved in your ideal session?

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My ideal session is made up of things that complement the game, since I roleplay to play the game. It’s all about the right people, the right atmosphere and the right time.

The right people are, generally, people I know well, since roleplaying is about being comfortable enough to let yourself be someone else and thats hard to do if you aren’t at ease with your fellow gamers.  It’s more than that though, its about the right people for the game that i’m playing. I have certain friends who detest anything to do with Lovecraft and so playing Call of Cthulhu with them is the wrong choice and i have others who hate having to do background reading or minute resource management and so Shadowrun, at least the way I play it, probably isn’t for them. Likewise an anime game like Big Eyes, Small Mouth isn’t for me, I just don’t get the themes.

The right atmosphere links with the game and it’s one of the most important things to make a game work properly. For something like Shadowrun I like to use emails for contacts, tablet computers to send maps to players and generally as much technology as possible to try and reinforce the hi tech theme of the game.

For Call of Cthulhu I play by candlelight, with no books on the table, no tablets, no phones, just paper, pencils and characters along with whatever props and handouts I provide. I find that this helps build the slow paced and intense atmosphere that Cthulhu needs to properly work.

The right time links with the atmosphere but it also relates to how my players are feeling, what pop culture items have piqued our interest and even what time of year it is. If my players are obsessed with a particular sci-fi TV show then a sci-fi game is probably appropriate, if everyone is playing a cyberpunk card game then a cyberpunk game is appropriate. As for what time of year it is, well it’s not worth starting to play call of Cthulhu in the height of summer, you can’t build up horror why it’s blazing with sunshine.

Roleplaying is all about the game for me, I see my friends socially at other times and catch up with them then and so  when it comes to game time I want to play. So, for me, the ideal session is made up of all the things that complement the game and make it great.

RPGaDay 2016- Day 8, Hardcover, softcover or digital? What’s your preference?

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I have quite a lot of roleplay spanning numerous systems, settings and companies. I think I worked out that if I tried to put them on a single shelf the shelf would need to be around 30 feet long and that alone is very telling when asking whether I prefer a physical copy to a digital one. When comparing those two formats physical will always win for me, as it does with books, because there is an intangible something about holding a physical book in your hands, experiencing the smell as you open it (few things are better than that ‘new book smell’) and unlocking the knowledge within.

That’s not to say that digital doesn’t have its place. I personally think that, in the modern world, all physical books should come with a complementary digital copy, for ease of transport and to save wear and tear on the copy. In the age of the tablet digital books are a very useful tool and save the back of many a DM who can carry all the books they need in one small device rather than breaking their backs with bags full of books. I own many a digital RPG book, some I pick up just to see whether it’s worth getting the physical book, others to complement my collection. Some companies, such as Catalyst even do digital only releases of short sourcebooks to help supplement the physical releases and I think this is a great way of exploring parts of a setting that otherwise may not see the light of day.

Still, it’s physical books for me and, when choosing between Hardcover and Softcover I’ll go with the hardcover 9 times out of 10. The reason for this is that they are just much more hardwearing than their softcover counterparts and the state of my books matter to me, I like them to look pristine. That’s not to say that they shouldn’t be used, they should, there is no point having an RPG book and letting it sit unused and unloved, not fulfilling it’s purpose, but I’d prefer that they not fall apart.

The other reason that I prefer hardcovers books I because that’s the format that almost all of the limited edition version of books come out on.

My Shadowrun 5th ed limited edition core book is hardcover-

Shadowrun 5th Edition, Dragon Edition, Front Cover

My Call of Cthulhu 7th ed Kickstarted books are hardcover-

Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition, Kickstarter Limited Edition, Keepers and Investigators Guides, Covers

I don’t own a single softcover limited edition. Now softcover has its place, it’s perfect for boxed sets (and I wish more games had boxed sets nowadays #bringbacktheboxedset) and it’s obviously cheaper to produce and buy. I do also find that really thin books that are hardback, say things under 100 pages long, just feel strange and don’t look right at all.

Given the choice I’ll always go for a hardcover but digital has a place for those with limited space or who prize the ability to transport move their collection easily and softcover is good for those who don’t care about condition and who want to get books a little cheaper.

Portfolio of a Dragon: Dunkelzahn’s Secrets- A Shadowrun Sourcebook Review

Name: Portfolio of a Dragon: Dunkelzahn’s Secrets
Type: Sourcebook
Publisher: Fasa Corporation
System: Shadowrun 2nd edition
Setting: Shadowrun
Pages: 112
Cover: Softcover
Price: Out of print
Rating: 5.0 Stars (5.0 / 5)

 

 

Portfolio of a Dragon: Dunkelzahn's Secrets, Front Cover

 

Portfolio of a Dragon: Dunkelzahn’s Will is a sourcebook for Shadowrun 2nd edition published in 1996 by FASA Corporation and written by Steve Kenson. The book covers the fallout of the 2057 UCAS Presidential Campaign which was won by the Great Western Dragon Dunkelzahn and was then apparently assassinated on the night of his inauguration in front of the Watergate Hotel in Washington DC.

While what actually happened is covered in the Dragonheart Trilogy of novels by Jak Koke this book takes a more immediate look at what happened and who might be responsible as well as dealing with what this means in game, setting up plotlines that would run for a great many years.

Portfolio of a Dragon: Dunkelzahn's Secrets, Back cover

So, like all Shadowrun sourcebooks from 1st-3rd edition Dunkelzahn’s Secrets has a full colour front and back cover and the rest in in black and white. The cover is a close-up of Big D’s head, breathing noxious fumes and the back is just a copy of the same image with the generic blurb superimposed over it. Inside it follows the standard style of this period of book, with a Shadowland into promoting recent and upcoming books including Threats, Calfree and Target UCAS before taking a slightly different approach and giving an extended introduction that explains the timeline of events leading up to Dunkelzahn’s Assassination and how to use the book.

The book itself is split into 7 broad sections-

  • · The Dragon’s Last Dance
  • · The Last Testament and Will of Dunkelzahn
  • · Fallout
  • · The Players
  • · The Sleeping Dragon
  • · Who Watched the Watchers
  • · In The Cards

 

Much like later books like Renraku Arcology Shutdown, much of Dunkelzahn’s Secrets if in game fluff and written as stories and experiences from people in the setting and how they have been effected and involved in the events surrounding Dunkelzahn’s death and his will.

The Dragon’s Last Dance is written as an in game news account of the assassination, starting prior to is and concluding with the known ‘facts’. The style is designed to describe a video reel, with lots of fast cuts between shots and reactions from those who witnessed what amounts to a contained nuclear explosion in the heart of the UCAS capitol. It’s a fun chapter, one that gives a different view of the events that nicely contracts the normally cynical view of runners.

The Last Testament and Will are actually two separate sections that broadly make one in game document. The Last Testament itself is a single page written by Dunkelzahn to discuss his death, the likely media frenzy and to cover his feelings about the state of the world in 2057. Then there are a couple of pages of Shadowland discussion between The Lady of the Court and Wordsmyth about their feelings on the Last Testament and it’s made very clear that they know him very well. Long time Shadowrun readers will know these two and their involvement in the wider metaplot of the time.

The Will consists of 200 items willed to various people around the world, some meta-plot characters such as the Great Dragons Lung and Hestaby or Richard Villiers of Fuchi (at this point). Others are just random and serve as plot hooks, either for the GMs or the wider metaplot such as finding what lies behind door 429 at the Berlin Saeder-Krupp offices or the 50,000 nuyen/year promised to Lawrence Edward Grafton as long as he stays chaste. The whole thing is a fascinating read, I feels like you are learning secret nuggets of information and it makes you massively curious as to what all the cryptic references mean.

From the Will it’s hard to pick a favourite but I think mine is “To Art Dankwalther, I leave the sum of 34,586,224,739.58 UCAS dollars. According to my calculations and accounting for conversion from the original currency, inflation, and 1 percent interest per annum, this settles my debt to your ancestor for the gold piece he kindly lent me for the last meal we shared.” It’s that or the one that offers a wish to any person presenting a ticket stub to a concert in Nashville that served as Maria Mecurial’s one and only foray into country music. The Will is available free on the Catalyst Website here and I recommend you check it out if you haven’t.

Fallout covers a number of topics that were directly affected by the death of the dragon. Initially there is the discussion of the possible culprits, with names like Vice President Kyle Haffner and Lofwyr being thrown around along with political opponents and terrorist organisations but no tangible proof is offered. Then the chapter covers the various beneficiaries of the Will, the Corporations or Corporate affiliated individuals (such as Fuchi’s Miles Lanier acquiring a seat on Renraku’s board) and how the corporate world will be shook up and how this will likely impact the runner community.

The Draco Foundation and Nadja Davier both get mentions in the Fallout section since the Will creates a new international power in the foundation and elevates Nadja (Dunkelzahn’s personal assistant) to a true international power player as the head of the Draco Foundation and the person directly responsible for administering the Will and it’s estimated 100 trillion nuyen’s worth of assets.

After Fallout is The Players, which covers all the major players in the setting, following the benefits handed out by the will. It’s not just the AAA’s that get a mention here, private individuals, investment companies and smaller corps all get a mention as Captain Chaos tries to provide an update as to who and what has gained and lost power. Given how close to the event the supposition is, a whole lot of it ends up flat out wrong but there are good number of interesting nuggets of information that a GM can use to build plots, especially if they are running in 2057.

I like the fact that The Players covers lessor known/less well covered holdings, things like Brackhaven Investments, Humanis Policlub, Proteus and even the UCAS government are covered. If there is one thing lacking in the Shadowrun fluff it’s information around governments and the established AA corps like Proteus.

The Sleeping Dragon takes a look at a couple of the larger items willed by Dunkelzahn and provides theories as to why they have been gifted to particular people and individuals. Specifically it looks at the items willed to Wuxing and Lung, the Great Eastern Dragon who was given Coins of Luck and what this could mean for the world going forward.

Who Watches the Watchers covers stories from Runners who previously worked for Dunkelzahns, knowingly and unknowingly and looks at how running the shadows will change in the wake of his demise. It gives insight into a side of Big D that wasn’t covered before, the part that shows that there was a lot more too him than the benevolent wyrm who hosted a TV show and wanted to be president and it provides evidence that Dunkelzahn may have been manipulating mortal affairs in ways people just hadn’t considered.

Finally In the Cards is a short 10 page story by Talon, the mage associated with Assets Inc, Dunkelzahn’s own private runner crew, albeit Talon joined after the dragon died. It’s a nice little story that covers one of the items in the will, an antique Tarot deck that was gifted to Dr Miles Swinburne, the father of modern magic and it serves to show how much impact just one of the items on the will can have on.

So by now it’s probably pretty obvious that I really like this book. For me Portfolio of a Dragon: Dunkelzahn’s Secrets is a heady hit of nostalgia since it came out right when I first got into Shadowrun and was exploring the metaplot. On top of that I’m one of the few people who really likes the metaplot that involves the Immortal elves and the links to Earthdawn and this book has so many nods in that direction that it really makes me happy.

Portfolio of a Dragon: Dunkelzahn's Secrets, art

The writing is of fairly high quality as Shadowrun books go, since it’s FASA and the FASA era books tended to be better edited and formatted than the Wizkids or Catalyst stuff. The art is average for Shadowrun, which it pretty weak in general aside from a few specific covers (especially Elmore’s epic 1st ed cover). I’d like to be able to point to a standout piece of art but there isn’t anything with the image above being probably the best in the book.

The effect of this one event on the fluff cannot be understated enough, with the ripples being felt in numerous novels (including the Dragonheart Trilogy, Worlds Without End and Tails you Lose), campaigns including the Renraku Arcology Shutdown and Survival of the Fittest and beyond .

If you are a Shadowrun collector then this book is an absolute must have, it’s a nexus point for the fluff, with novels, adventures and sourcebooks all culminating here and then starting fresh with the fallout from the apparent assassination of a creature that was universally loved, a friend to runners and corporations, an associate of both Tir’s and the Immortal Elves in general, the leader of the Great Dragons and the UCAS President, Dunkelzahn.

Prime Runners, A Shadowrun Sourcebook Review

Name: Prime Runners
Type: Sourcebook
Publisher: Fasa Corporation
System: Shadowrun 2nd edition
Setting: Shadowrun
Pages: 104
Cover: Softcover
Price: Out of print
Rating: 2.0 Stars (2.0 / 5)

Prime Runners, Front Cover

Prime Runners is a sourcebook for the Shadowrun 2nd Edition roleplaying game. It was published in 1994 by FASA Corporation and was written by Mark Gascoigne and Carl Sargent. Prime Runners is an NPC sourcebook containing 41 different NPCs for GMs to pick up and drop into their game as needed. Each NPC gets 2 pages, or there abouts, that provides in game statistics and skills, an illustration, character background and plot hooks. As the title of the book suggests, the NPC’s in this book are considered to be at the top of their game and therefore may prove to be an interesting challenge or a powerful ally depending on how players interact with them.

Prime Runners, Back Cover

The book follows the style of all early Shadowrun sourcebooks, which is black and white throughout aside from a handful of full colour images, in this case of some of the NPC in the book. There is a vivid full colour image on the front of the book, in this case of a runner riding on the roof of a car as explosions abound around him, and a little blurb on the back telling you what the book is about.

Prime Runners, Contents

The book splits into 5 sections-

  • Introduction, a brief section just describing what the book is and what it contains
  • Welcome to the Freak Show, which lists 34 of the NPCs that are most likely to be friendly to the PC’s
  • Prime Terrors, which is a further 4 NPCs that are generally going to be antagonists in a story, including a serial killer and 2 terrorists
  • Wolfram’s Gang, which is a generic gang that makes up the rank and file that runners will face day after day. There are 3 example characters provided here.
  • Threat ratings, which provides some rules and guidance around creating encounters and how to balance them against your PC’s abilities.

I won’t detail every character, there are far too many and so i’ll just go through a couple that I like the look of as an example of what you find inside.

Martin de Vries, Vampire Hunter. I picked Martin since he’s a character that I know from the novel The Terminus Experiment (which I talk about on this post) and because he has duel illustrations, both in the colours section and in his bio.

Martin de Vries, Bio photo

Martin de Vries, Colour

The book gives a nice rounded history for Martin, it describes how he was an accomplished mage and scholar, studying in the Netherlands before moving to Oxford and then Yale. He became a grade 3 initiate with the Ordo Maximus and became increasingly obsessed with a secret conspiracy of Vampires who intended to bring a powerful Astral entity to the world, one that would make Toxic and Insect spirits look like irritable toddlers. Somewhere along the way Martin managed to contract vampirism himself, likely deliberately in order to better understand his prey and he picked up a strange artefact that allows him to increase his essence far in excess of normal levels and therefore limit when he feeds.

Now Martin spends his nights hunting and draining vampires, trying to trace the elusive conspiracy he knows exists and occasionally crossing paths with groups of runners who had better hope they don’t cross him or look particularly toothy.

For hooks the book describes that Martin de Vries would be a very strong source of information for runners who need help taking down vampires and it also advises that he sometimes hires runners to help him on particularly difficult hunts. The conspiracy that Martin hunts could make the basis for an entire campaign if the GM chooses to run with it, tying the PCs fate and that of Martin de Vries inexorably. As a final note the bio makes reference to Martin having lost his weapon focus in the fight that turned him into a vampire and so he would dearly love to be reunited with it, or similar, and he would go to great lengths or pay large sums if someone could help him with that.

Rhonabwy, bio image

I chose Rhonabwy as the 2nd example because, being British, I love the idea that the great Welsh dragon is a real thing. I also thought that the Great Dragon was one of the more interesting and established NPCs in the book. Unlike the other NPCs Rhonabwy gets 4 full pages, as befitting a Great Dragon, and the great majority of this goes into explaining the history of the beast since he woke up on 22/02/2012.

Rhonabwy woke up near Carmarthen in Wales and subsequently destroyed the surrounding area in what he described as a fit of ‘post hibernation trauma’. He’s since spent a considerable amount of money in paying compensation to the families who lost property and loved ones. This generosity seems to be ingrained into Rhonabwy’s personality as he is known to pay well over the asking price for any property or land he intends to appropriate.

From the perspective of his affairs, the most likely reason the runners might get involved in his affairs, Rhonabwy is deeply invested in a significant number of mis size corporations as well as apparently owning 4-7% of AAAs Ares and Shiawase.  He also appears to be quite the political player, seemingly supporting metahuman rights around the world as well as, in rather a contradiction, supporting secessionist and terrorist organisations in a variety of places, including both Tir’s.

The book does a solid job of playing up the secretive and apparently baffling motivations of a Great Dragon, providing a number of explanations as to Rhonabwy’s motivations but ultimately leaving the decisions up the the GM. This is particularly the case with regards to the rumours abounding about the relationship between Rhonabwy and a Sea Dragon in Cardigan Bay. Personally I like the suggestion that these are the two dragons of Arthurian myth, I think that fits well with the setting and the later confirmation of the existence of Excalibur in big D’s will.

For hooks the book doesn’t really provide much that is concrete and instead suggests that runners would rarely know of Rhonabwy’s involvement, either as a Johnson or a target, since the Dragon is far too clever for that. It advises that the runners may be hired by a nature spirit working for the Dragon, and if they were to find out that Rhonabwy was involved it would be over the course of a several runs, maybe an entire campaign. To my mind it would make sense for one of the targets of Rhonabwy’s ire, maybe one of the Tir’s, hire the runners to implant some information in Rhonabwy’s network that allows them to predict where he may next attack them. As with any run involving a Great Dragon, only the most accomplished of runners should even be considered as an opponent.

As a final point I very much like the Shadowland remarks on Rhonabwy, particularly the reply to the comment made by a poster named ‘Merchant Banker’. The reply simply reads “is that your real name, or is it just rhyming slang?” If that doesn’t mean a whole lot to you then I’d perhaps suggesting googling it, but to an Englishman, even one from outside London, I find that pretty damn amusing.

Looking at the book as a whole it has a few good points, the write up of Rhonabwy being of them, and a good number of negative ones. Art in particular is lacking in the book and while the colour images are nice, albeit with an art style that isn’t really in keeping with the style of the game as it looks more comic book, some of the black and white bio art is atrocious, in particular Rhonabwy’s.

Prime Runners is touted as containing the very best runners for the players to interact with and meet and to my mind this should include some of the more iconic characters from the setting, people like Dodger, Ghost Who Walks Inside, Dirk Montgomery and Argent. Unfortunately the book doesn’t include many known character at all, at least not to me, there is Martin de Vries, although his novel was published some time after this book, and there is Michael Sutherland a decker from the books set in the UK like Black Madonna. It’s a shame as it feels a bit like a missed opportunity to me.

On the whole Prime Runners is a pretty weak book. It has some use, especially to GMs who struggle for NPCs on the fly, but in general it’s feels much more like a cash in than a genuine attempt to try and expand the setting. It’s a rare miss for early Shadowrun, since most of the books have great content (just not necessarily great art) and tend to all help build the settings rich history. I’m happy to have it in my collection but i’m also happy that I didn’t pay too much for it, around £8 if memory serves. It’s not a common book but unless you are after a complete collection it’s not a book i’d suggest spending a lot of time and money seeking out.

Jacking into Android Netrunner

Netrunner Logo

 

Before I get into my experience I should probably explain what Netrunner is. Netrunner is a Living Card Game from Fantasy Flight Games that is based in their Android Universe. Android is a dystopian cyberpunk setting and Netrunner pits runners against megacorporations in a hacking battle in the digital world. It is based upon the WoTC Collectable Card Game of the same name (from the 90’s) but as opposed to being set in R Talisorian’s Cyberpunk 2020 universe it is set in FFG own Android setting. Those familiar with Cyberpunk 2020s Netrunners or Shadowrun’s Decker/Hacker/Technomancer concept will be immediately familiar with the idea of the setting.

I recently decided that Fantasy Flight Games don’t get enough of my money, what with my ever growing X-Wing collection, Arkham Horror, Mistkatonic Horror, Elder Sign and the other, innumerable board games they produce that I seem compelled to buy. So I decided to get into Netrunner, I’m not sure how that happened as I’ve vowed for a while not to, as it’s not exactly cheap to buy into for a completionist, I’m guessing I’m feeling a lack of Cyberpunk in my life since the conclusion of my Shadowrun campaign last year.

Now, under normal circumstances I won’t just buy into a game, especially one with so much content, so with that in mind I figured I should play a couple of games first, having only really played it once or twice before and not really understanding it then. I got in touch with a friend of mine who has been playing and collecting since release and arranged a couple of intro games, just using the base decks from the core box.

Netrunner, Core Set, Front of Box

It goes without saying (because I’m writing this) that I was hooked pretty hard, pretty fast. I loved Collectible Card Games when I was a kid (one day I might do an exploration of my Blood Wars, X-Files and Mythos collections) but as I’ve grown I just can’t buy into something with a blind booster element and FFG have gotten around this with the Living Card Game mechanic. Living Card Games work almost exactly like a collectable Card Games (like, say Magic or Pokémon), but they don’t have the blind element, every core box, every datapack, every expansion comes with the same cards as the others of the same name. This means that if you buy a copy of the Datapack Opening Moves you will get exactly the same cards as everyone else who bought it and this means that there are no rare or chase cards and there is little to know secondary market for cards.

So, within 24 hours of those first games I bought into the system. I was pretty fortunate to find someone on Facebook who was selling a core set, 4 datapacks and the first deluxe expansion for £50, which is about 50% off retail. This seemed like a solid entry point and so I went for that. I also, almost immediately started playing games on Jinkeki.net as this meant I could play at a moments notice, without leaving the house or even the sofa.

My first thought was to try to find the factions that most suited me. Netrunner has 2 different sides, Runners and Corporations and both players will play both sides as part of a normal game. There are 3 Runner factions, Shapers, Criminals and Anarchs and each seeks to win the game in a different way. For me, I was immediately drawn to Anarchs since they seemed to be very close to the traditional Shadowrun Neo-Anarchist although I’m advised that Shapers are probably the easiest to use to learn the game.

Netrunner Core Set Runners

Corporations are split into 4 factions, each representing a different megacorporation in the Android Universe, Wayland, Jinteki, NBN and Haas Bioroid. Like the runners, each of these play differently but Haas Bioroid is certainly the easiest to learn Corporation play. I couldn’t help but draw comparisons to Shadowrun megacorps here with Wayland being Mitsuhama, NBN being Horizon, Jinteki being Renraku and Haas Bioroid being Saeder Krupp. Despite being strongly drawn to NBN and Jinteki I started playing with Haas as I wanted to learn the game quickly.

Netrunner Core Set Corps

I’m not going to go into the mechanics, there are dozens of video’s on YouTube demonstrating play and the rules can be found here . Needless to say both sides work differently and utilise different rules for how they play. Victory is determined by the first person to score 7 Agenda points or when the Corporation has to draw a card and can’t, as they have run out or the runner has to discard more cards than are in their hand. Both sides, as well as each separate factions, have different ways and means to achieve any or all of those conditions.

My introduction to the game was pretty straightforward after those first games. A friend, who ‘d also convinced to buy in, and I agreed to first use basic core decks, then with decks constructed from the core set and finally decks constructed from the core set, plus a single deluxe expansion. This latter condition is because I’ve signed up for a tournament, 2 weeks into playing, and it’s designated as a beginner tournament and so players can only build decks from the core set and a single deluxe expansion. As we’ve been playing I’ve gradually learned what different cards and builds do, how to refine a deck, and how to try to win via specific means. A runner deck that mills the corporations draw pile to win via them not being able to draw is very different to one that wins via stealing agenda.

Netrunner is quite an easy game to get into. The rules are complex by necessity, since both sides work differently, but there are very few situations that reading the rule book won’t quickly and easily resolve. When buying in just a single core set is enough to get you started and give you a feel for what you like. After that I’d suggest this Reddit Thread for what to buy to expand upon your chosen factions, it’s a little out of date now but it’s a fantastic resource for new players.

Buying in to play competitively is a completely different matter. To compete at a fairly high level you basically need to buy everything, including multiple copies of the core set (2 or 3 depending on your build). Fortunately you only ever need 1 of any expansion, since each gives you 3 copies of each card, the most you can include in a deck, but the core is a different matter, with only 1 or 2 copies of some key cards being included.

The longer you wait to buy in for competitive play, the more it will cost, to a point as FFG have confirmed that a cycle rotation system will take place once a sufficient number of cycles (sets of 6 datapacks) have been released. When cycle 8 is released, cycles 1 and 2 will be rotated out from legal combative play and then every 2 new cycles thereafter will result in the two oldest being removed.

I do have a couple of criticisms of the game. Firstly, the core set, it needs to have 3 copies of every card or 1 copy, so you either get everything you need or you aren’t wasting money on duplicates by buying multiple copies. My understanding is that the Game of Thrones LCG 2nd Edition has actually gone this route, with 1 copy of each card in the core set. Second is the complexity that the game has reached now, which makes it very hard for new players to break into the competitive scene. All games have this to a degree, my other FFG obsession, X-Wing, certainly has that same issue and it’s not one that’s easy to combat, since existing players will always want more depth and it’s needed to keep the game fresh but that doesn’t make it easier for new players.

My last couple of criticisms are personal. Firstly, I’d love the game more if it was set in the Shadowrun Universe, not Android, I cannot express how awesome I’d think that would be and, honestly, I have a hard time not thinking it in those terms already. Secondly, the cards should be printed on acetate, like Gloom, with circuitry around the edges as this would make them look 1,000 times more awesome.

With those small niggles aside and the only one that’s actually a real problem is the core set one as it does actually lead to a very minor secondary market on the cards you only get 1 or 2 of in the core set, Netrunner is a fantastic game. It plays quickly, it has amazing tactical depth and it takes real skill to properly craft a rounded deck and make it work well, there is an art form in making a deck that guarantees you can do something with any given combination of cards.

I’ll keep with the game. The Mumbad cycle of cards is due out shortly and so I’ll start buying them as they release while rounding out my older collection. I’m looking forward to my first tournament on 06/12 at A Fistful of Dice in Portsmouth and I’m going in with low expectations fully assuming that I’ll come dead last. I have my decks ready, an Anarch Deck and a Haas Bioroid Corp deck and they’ve been tweaked enough that I’m happy with how they should play (even if I can’t quite get it to work yet). I’ll post them up over the next few days, as reference, and I’ll write something on how the day went next week, so check back then

#RPGaDAY 2015 Day 23, Perfect Game For Me

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If I knew the perfect game for me, that’d be the one I’d be playing and if it wasn’t an actual rpg, it’d be one I’d be wring myself. The best I can do is try to think of the kind of things I look for in a new game since the quest for the ‘Perfect Game’ is never ending.

I guess, first of all, it probably has be low tech. I find low tech games are easier to run and the perfect game is easy to run. Anything up to Call of Cthulhu 1920’s or 30’s is fine since tech is pretty rudimentary up to that era but fantasy is preferable in all honesty. That leads to point 2, it has to be easy to run. By this I don’t mean rules light (I’ll get onto rule density in a moment), but it has to be intuitive, for the DM and the Players. Everyone has to be able to get on with the rules and understand them without feeling like they are studying for an exam and, when the DM makes a judgement call, it feels like it makes sense in the context of the rules.

It has be relatively rule light. I’m not a fan of games that have almost no rules because rule help define how the world works. Certain games, like Shadowrun, would lose something without the complex rules because they are built into the high tech nature of the world and help define the wealth of options available, but games that can pull this off are rare and require an investment of time that neither myself nor my players are able to commit to now. Rules light-ish, is the sweet spot for me. By preference something perhaps a touch more detailed than Numenera but a little less so that, say D&D 5th ed, would be perfect, actually, something around the detail and complexity of Savage Worlds is about right.

It has to have a plot point system or some kind of token that DM’s can use as a reward or a means to drive the story a certain way without it railroading, that players can also use to modify the story and stay involved in the world. I’ve found player engage a whole lot more when they feel that they can manipulate the world in intangible ways, like the DM can, through the use of plot points and they stop a game stagnating when a solution to a problem isn’t immediately evident.

I actually like the DM not rolling dice, like Numenera. It’s weird and takes time to get used to, but it works really well and prevents the players ever feeling like it’s the DM vs them. It means that the DM is unable to fudge the dice, regardless of whether it’s for good or ill, without the players knowing and so it makes any adjustments to the results more about the story than about the roll itself.

I like strong narrative prospects with a detailed world and, ideally, a system that supports exploring and social interaction as much as combat. Now, granted, social interaction doesn’t need to be detailed in the same way but it should support players who aren’t as confident in speaking as their charismatic bard character and it should be able to reward people for just trying.

Finally, it needs to be able to support multiple modes or styles of play. I want a game that lets me run high adventure style quests in the same campaign that lets me run deep psychological horror and urban based investigation. I want to be able to use any idea I have and the game world and system support that, within the framework of a single game, without having to fudge things or break immersion by trying to shoehorn in some kind of sanity mechanic.

The closest any game has come so far is probably Numenera, since it’s a rules light science fantasy game, in the distant future, with the ability to explore strange places, talk to strange creatures, experience the horror of space and the high adventure of cloud cities while allowing XP to be awarded and spent to drive the story forward. My only issue is that it’s a little rules light, but still, that’s not bad and I’m curious to see how much closer to perfect the Cypher System core book is.

#RPGaDAY 2015 Day 21, Favourite RPG Setting

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This is another tough one, after 20+ years of gaming I’ve gained huge amount of love and respect for a number of settings, for different reasons and what my favourite varies based on my mood and whatever I’m running/planning at the time. I can narrow it down to 3 and that’s where I get stuck-

  • Planescape
  • Shadowrun
  • Dragonlance

Looking at Planescape, that was the first setting I collected to any great degree and remains a firm favourite to this day. I think Sigil is a fascinating place and is literally full of possibilities, absolutely endless possibilities.  I like the fact that you can do anything in Planescape, send PC’s to any setting, use any enemy and we’ve stories on a scale that can’t be managed on the Prime Material Plane. Additionally I love the art work and style of Planescape with it’s almost Victorian London feel and it’s rough, jagged lines.

Shadowrun is different, where Planescape is vast and endless, Shadowrun is immensely detailed on a very small scale. As I’ve mentioned before, Shadowrun is probably the single most detailed setting I’ve ever read or played, with fans of the world being able to follow and debate political careers and campaigns and chart the rise and fall of Megacorporations. Shadowrun presents itself as a living world, evidenced by the way the sourcebooks are written in game, with commentary from Shadowland (and later Jackpoint) members who provide detail, rumours and background. Shadowrun works as a logical progression from the real world and evolves as a result of our own technological advancement and I appreciate that as it always feels futuristic.

However, at the end of it all, I’s probably say my favourite is Dragonlance, but it’s a close call. Dragonlance wins it out because it’s a setting I’ve loved and lived in since I was 9 years old. For the longest time I refused to even consider running it as an rpg setting, fearing that I couldn’t do it justice, but when I finally did run a party on Krynn I found that my love for the world helped me craft a deeper, more involved story. Dragonlance works because it doesn’t run like normal D&D, the lack of magic items, the absence of the cleric (in the War of the Lance era anyway), and the requirement that all mages take the Test means players need to think more about how to approach encounters.

Dragonlance is fantasy at it’s best and the fantasy that people want to play, it’s swords and sorcery, it’s romance and love, tragedy, elation, comradeship and more all rolled into a deep and interesting world.