Featured Product: Shadowrun 5th Edition – Characters (Part 2)

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Shadowrun 5th Edition – Characters (Part 2)
By Aaron T. Huss

Welcome to Part 2 of the Featured Product series for Shadowrun (5th Edition) published by Catalyst Game Labs. Part 2, Characters, discusses character types, creation, and overall structure.

SHADOWRUNNERS

Characters in Shadowrun are called Shadowrunners. The name is quite fitting as they are meant to be mostly stealth when performing their missions, avoiding possible death. While reading through the book, it’s quite obvious that the system and setting is designed around a core grouping of Shadowrunner archetypes. However, Shadowrun does not actually have archetypes, or rather, at least not what we’re used to. There are no archetype mechanics, but Technomancers and magic wielders have specific mechanics required for their use. Other than that the sky is virtually the limit. But when reading through the content, and the fiction, you can see that Shadowrun is designed around a core collection of Shadowrunner types covering all the major aspects of encounter types. This is a good thing.

Shadowrunners can be anything you want them to be. But as is necessary in all role-playing games, there has to be some type of balance between character types. By designing the system around the specific archetypes that perform the most important functions of the game, there is a sense of balance and synergy across character creation. Yes you may want to stick with the character template and yes you may end up with one character focused more on healing than combat, but you aren’t pigeon-holed into the standard templates virtually required by games like D&D 4th Edition. In other words, Shadowrunners in any combination should be completely usable in forming a strong team as there is a simple balance across all ends, as opposed to when missing a given archetype makes your missions considerably more difficult.

Granted, this is dependent on the game the GM wants to run, as certain skills and abilities may be required. But as long as you are able to create characters with any combination of skills and abilities, you will always have the ability to create any character type. You can thus take one of those staple Shadowrunner archetypes and tweak it for the campaign, or simply focus on advancing skills that are being used most often as written by the GM. You’re not hampered by character classes, and by designing balance across all aspects, it’s easier to mix and match to create what you want.

CREATION

By far, Shadowrun has the most interesting character creation method I’ve ever seen. Each character has five basic aspects. Those aspects are rated by priority. Each priority produces a balanced number of points to be spent on the following creation steps. This is how they balance the characters. No one character can have too much or too little. The combinations are not endless, but these are simply ways of establishing which aspects of your character are more important (such as skills versus attributes). From there, you can proceed with ultimate flexibility in creating the character you have envisioned. If you want a Street Samurai with a bit of magic ability, go right ahead. If you instead want a Street Samurai with lots of skills for survival and stealth, absolutely! You’re never hampered by the options available. You may be hampered by what the GM says is necessary to play the campaign, but your imagination is allowed to run wild.

As stated above, most Shadowrunners will fit into one of the standard archetypes, just tweaked to match a different style. Unlike epic fantasy, you probably won’t find hundreds of different character types in cyberpunk, just different flavors of the same (or similar) type. Again, this isn’t bad and it’s very easy to call your Shadowrunner something different.

Shadowrun also uses Qualities, a mechanic that has numerous names across numerous games. These qualities are the little things that make your Shadowrunner different from others by adding little things such as ambidextrous. As is also common, there are positive ones that cost points and negative ones that give you points. This is a fun balancing system, but if the negative ones are role-playing hooks with little consequence, they can easily and quickly be forgotten about. But players will be apt to take them because it gives their Shadowrunner more positive qualities. Even if they have an in-game drawback, it sometimes put extra effort on the GM to constantly remind players of those drawbacks. Basically, I would always like to see these mechanics have move obvious drawbacks to the character, such as a reduction to a stat or skill, plainly displayed on the character sheet. While some may offer this, it’s not always the case. A perfect example of this is ‘Elf Poser’. Yes it has a drawback, but it could quickly become a forgotten one.

Once you get through the basics of creating your character, cybernetics and gear can become tricky. There’s a lot to choose from, and plenty of money to spend. However, what’s right for the character and what’s usable in the campaign. I suggest sticking to a pretty tight group template to determine these types of questions along with consulting with the GM on what gear is absolutely necessary.

OVERALL CHARACTER STRUCTURE

I’m not going to sugar-coat this. I’m a huge fan of classless RPGs and I thoroughly love ones that gives you every skill available and allows you to pick and choose which ones you want, not forcing you to choose a specific character type to determine which skills and abilities will be available. I also really like the priority system as it forces you to make structured decisions depending on what type of aspect of your character is the most important. I’ve seen people take hours to min/max their character by going back and forth between attributes and abilities to get the highest/most ratings for whatever they think they need. This method states that if you want a lot of x, you have to sacrifice y. There is little going back and forth and you can’t have one and another at the same priority. No character can simply be okay at everything, they have to have some type of focus. It’s essentially a force min/max, but as designed in the system.

Keep in mind, this is just at character creation. Character advancement allows you to take your Shadowrunner in any direction desired. Thus, your Shadowrunner has a specific “training” at the start of the campaign, and then the sky’s the limit. This is similar to systems that use character backgrounds instead of classes. Define what they do at their creation, not what they’re capable of doing as they progress throughout their career.

Part 1 | Part 3 | Part 4

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