Shadowrun, Third Edition
Author: Michael Mulvihill, Robert Boyle, et al
Company/Publisher: FASA Corporation
Page count: 336
ISBN: Unknown - Hardback edition doesn't seem to include one.
Playtest Review by Joseph Walsh on 08/10/98. Genre tags: none
I started playing Shadowrun, FASA's magic-and-cyberpunk game, the same day the first edition arrived at my friendly local game store. That was during my third year of college, if I recall correctly. I GM'd it for a year or so, and we got a lot of value out of that book. It was a fun game, and the deadly combat met our standards of the time. Eventually, though, marriage, jobs, and all that other real-life stuff got in the way of our gaming time, so we left that system and many others behind, so we could concentrate on just a couple of old standards (Traveller and Hero System), playing only once in a while. As far as I was concerned, that was it for Shadowrun and me.
Then my wife and I played in a Shadowrun game at GenCon '98. The GM, Kim McGraw, did a fantastic job of running the game, and my wife and I had a blast (as I'm sure the other players did). We had so much fun, we decided to buy the latest edition of the game.
So we go to the exhibit hall, and lo and behold there's the Third Edition softcover. But what's this? A note, saying the limited edition hardcover will be available tomorrow at 1:30 PM. Hmm. Well, we figured we might as well try to get one of those. If we missed it, then we'd still be able to get a softcover copy.
As all those who were at GenCon '98 on Friday know, the books didn't arrive until around 3:30. And, the line was humongous. So we went elsewhere until around 4:30, then came back. We ended up waiting in line for only fifteen minutes or so. The amazing thing is, the copies we got were in the low 500 range, which means FASA sold more than 500 copies in a little over an hour! Yow!
At $30 for a signed, hardback, numbered, limited edition, though, I can understand why they sold so briskly. And not only that, the game's gotten a lot better over the years!
With Third Edition, FASA set out to simplify their rules system. No longer is magic handled under an entirely different system from the rest of the game, for example. And, the book provides a much more effective description of how to play the game and how to use each subsystem. On top of all that, they provide 16 archetypical starter characters so play can begin immediately after learning the rules.
The central game system is fairly clean. It uses D6's, with each die individually being compared to a target number. The number of dice to be thrown is based on the attribute or skill being tested, plus dice from a variety of "pools" that are renewed periodically. The player rolls the proper number of dice, then adds up the number of successes. That determines the degree of success achieved. The result is a sytem that is both simple and exciting; quite a feat!
The book itself is well thought out. The first 50 pages gradually take the reader from the abstract world of fiction (which serves to show what the Shadowrun game world is like) to the basics of Shadowrun's gaming system. The next 250+ pages provide the details of each system in turn, collecting all of the information related to a given system under one heading. For instance, the "Vehicles and Drones" chapter starts out with a discussion of riggers (the characters who drive vehicles and use drones the cyber way), moves on to vehicle attributes, how to handle driving task throws (called "tests" in the Shadowrun game), then goes through vehicle sensors, vehicle combat, and so on. Character creation, magic, the matrix, contacts, spirits and dragons, street gear, and genral game play are given similar treatment. The final pages of the book provide the reader with the basics of the default Shadowrun setting of Seattle.
On the down side, the system isn't as clean as I would have liked. For example, one can't use the "Hacking Pool" in tests to resist damage from "gray ice" or "black ice", which are essentially computer viruses that can affect the human system through cyber links. While I can understand the mechanics and play balance reasons for such a restriction, on the face of it disallowing such usage of the Hacking Pool makes no sense. Why shouldn't something called 'hacking' be effective in thwarting a virus? Some of other pools have similar restrictions, making it a bit more difficult to play the game the first few times without opening the book frequently.
On the style issue, they did pretty well. As mentioned, the writing is clear and entertaining. The editing is better than average for RPG's, at approximately 1 glaring error per 10 pages, but that's still not up to the mainstream publishing industry standard of about 1 such error in 100 pages. Another down side is that FASA fell prey to putting an artistic graphic at the top of every page, which is, IMO, a less effective use of page area than simple white space. After you see the art a couple of times, it becomes uninteresting, although it's still making the page look busy.
Still, I'd recommend Third Edition Shadowrun to any gamer who likes his or her cyberpunk with a liberal dose of magic mixed in.
Style: 4 (Classy and well done)