Shadowrun 4th Edition as Points of Light D&D

My group and I love Shadowrun.  We absolutely love the setting but the rules can be a huge problem.  Most of us started with 3rd edition and have had a love/hate relationship with 4th edition.  As a result we haven’t played anywhere near as much as we used to and have trouble keeping a game together (plus Real Life distractions – growing up sucks).

However, I have been thinking about ways to make 4th edition work.  I think I may have hit on it with the Points of Light concept that is a hallmark of D&D 4th edition (ironically they both have the same edition number).  At its core, Points of Light is a world where there are just small, scattered havens of civilization and goodness in the world with a whole lot of wilderness, monsters, dungeons, and evil temples separating them.  Mighty empires and civilizations have fallen and the current world is in a degenerated state.  The player characters are heroes that brave the dark wilderness to rid the world of threats and to protect civilization.

So how does this relate to Shadowrun?

A world where evil and greed predominate and traditional political and social structures have broken down?  If that doesn’t sound like Cyberpunk then I don’t know what does.  Compound that with the elves and magic of Shadowrun and you can hardly see any difference between Shadowrun and D&D.  Just paste the themes of “What is Human?” and “What is reality?” on D&D and you have Shadowrun!

Why is this inspired by Shadowrun 4th Edition?

I’ve never felt the need to tinker too much with the setting of 3rd edition.  Generally the rules fit with the game world as presented.  However, several of the changes made to the technology and legal structures in 4th edition has rendered it difficult to support the setting with the rules.  The ubiquitous, stealthy, and constant surveillance means that it is possible for organizations to protect themselves from undesirables.  Also, the various corporations and governments handed out free SINs after Crash 2.0 meaning that only those who choose to be marginalized are marginalized.

For anyone who enjoys Shadowrun 4 as written I am not trying to tell you that you are having bad, wrong, fun.  This is our hobby so whatever is fun for you is good enough.

All that being said there is zero reason not to apply this thinking to any version of Shadowrun.

The Neo-Anarchist Movement

A concept from earlier editions was that runners were part of, or at least sympathetic towards, the Neo-Anarchist movement. This economic philosophy considered the 6th world to be a form of Capitalist Feudalism where utility was being destroyed by the oligopoly created by the Corporate Court and the Megacorporations. The Neo-Anarchist goal is to tear down this new world order and free everyone from the corporate yoke. My idea takes the Neo-Anarchist philosophy and stamps the Good alignment on it (to borrow from D&D).

Why Neo-Anarchism?  There are plenty of other cultures that wouldn’t want shiny new SINs after Crash 2.0 and that would prefer to exist outside of the Corporate Feudalist structure.  Gangers spring to mind immediately or perhaps a shadowy sect of mages.  Societies that work outside the bounds of the “mainstream” culture of the world.  What is it about Neo-Anarchism that makes it desirable as our bastion of civilization?

The answer is that it provides what players can view as a noble cause.  It makes sense to our modern culture that slavery and greed is a bad thing and that it should be opposed.  It would also make sense for peaceful and moral civilians to want to belong to such an organization.  This means that there can be true innocents for the runners to protect and a normal society that is more familiar to players who likely aren’t hardened criminals (I hope!).

Plus, it’s definitely Punk!

Other Cultures

With all that said any culture, including Corporate Feudalism, can be the theme for a game.  It is best to think of a character’s culture as his D&D alignment.  With the assumption of Neo-Anarchism as the Good alignment we could define the following (as an example):

Lawful Good = Lone Star Security Inc.
Good = Neo-Anarchists
Neutral = Sovereign governments
Evil = Megacorporation
Chaotic Evil = Gangs or Syndicates

What this does is it allows the GM to quickly define how his game is going to work for his players.  By restricting character creation to the “good” and “neutral” alignments characters will be limited in their cultural choices based on GM definition.

The alignment structure also allows the GM to quickly flip the basic assumptions.  If the GM feels he’d rather run a game of corporate counter-intelligence agents then the Megacorporations become the Lawful Good alignment with sovereign governments falling into the Good alignment and syndicates into the Neutral one.  Characters would then be limited to some combination of those alignments.

Table discussion of these categorizations can also provide a quick means of reaching consensus on what sort of game everyone is looking for.  If the table reaches an impasse then it’s time to break out a different game.

Neo-Anarchist Enclaves

Getting back to the Points of Light they become Neo-Anarchist enclaves under this system – places where similar minded people can take refuge from the corporate world and support one another. Enclaves provide essential services for runners that they can’t reliably find elsewhere.  Safe houses, black market dealers, information, and services. More importantly they allow the runners to do all this outside of public scrutiny and without leaving a data trail.

The key to this is reliability and consistency.  Every culture has its own Points of Light but the runners won’t be able to claim these competing Points of Light as safe havens.  As members or supporters of Neo-Anarchism they are always welcome in the various enclaves and always have access to goods and services (provided they have money or barter items).  Of course, each enclave is still a community so anyone who causes too much of a disturbance – violently or socially – will not be welcomed back.

Other Enclaves

The enclaves of other cultures are not completely off limits to the runners.  Contacts can provide runners access to their enclaves similar to any other good or favour.  Treat these as favours from the Contact.  The runners are allowed into the enclave as guests of the contact so if they misbehave then the contact will be upset and potentially lose access to that enclave.

Mixed Groups

It is not a requirement that all the runners be Neo-Anarchists.  Perhaps one is a gang member instead or a made man for a syndicate.  In the case of mixed groups like this all the enclaves are open to all the runners but they will be guests of team mates for any “foreign” enclaves.

Run Sites

Whereas D&D has its dungeons, temples, ruins, and dragon lairs Shadowrun has Zero-Zones, research labs, industrial facilities, and corporate boardrooms.  Each of these and the many different variations represents a run site.  This is the set piece of the mission where the GM has already determined the opposition, floor plan, security layout, and loot.  The distinguishing feature of the run site is that it is a destination – the runners are purposefully travelling to it in order to fulfill a mission.

The Slaughterhouse

This is a different type of run site based entirely on the ideas of Angry DM’s Slaughterhouse concept.  In this case the run site is not a discrete location but a broad region that is split into several different zones similar to a Metroid game (seriously, go read Angry’s post).  This covers off runs that don’t have a set location – for instance an extraction, gang war, or investigation.  There will often still be discrete run sites within the zones but there is also a broader theme for each zone.

For example, lets say that several of the gangs have gone to war in Redmond and this is posing a threat to the local Neo-Anarchists.  They dispatch the runners along with a strike team to bring the Barrens under control again.  So the GM splits Redmond up into 4 zones with a run site in each and in the middle where all four intersect.  Each zone is under control of 1 gang led from it’s associated run site.  The run site in the middle is a neighbourhood where all four are trying to operate – the genesis of the problem.  The runners can then either kick butt or chew bubble gum until they have met the victory conditions of the 4 zones.

The key thing to keep in mind here is that each zone is inherently hostile to the runners and will continuously challenge them until they can fulfill the victory conditions (assuming any exist).  This hostility is what differentiates a Slaughterhouse zone from a wilderness area.

Another example could be an investigation.  In this example we will create 6 zones arranged in two rows of three.  Each zone will have opposition from factions that are trying to prevent the runners from getting the information.  Once the runners have achieved the victory condition in each zone – gotten the information they needed – this opposition goes away.  Once they’ve fulfilled all 6 victory conditions then they have finished the mission.

Urban Wilderness

Anything that you don’t define as an enclave or run site becomes Wilderness.  For the most part in Shadowrun the wilderness will be an Urban environment.  The idea is that these areas aren’t inherently hostile but can create random complications or encounters for the runners as they move through or explore them.

For example, the runners may have to travel through an upper middle class suburb of Renton in order to get to a corporate run site.  The GM decides that along the way they will encounter a soccer mom and her two kids.  Likely the runners will stick out like a sore thumb so being a middle-aged White woman she can’t resist sticking her nose into other people’s affairs and decides to start harassing the runners because they don’t belong there.  If the runners don’t handle things carefully the cops may get involved and thus more complicated.

The best part of this approach is that you can completely ignore any rules and implied setting.  The ubiquitous, hidden, and cheap natures of security in Shadowrun 4th edition makes it very easy for neighbourhoods to safeguard themselves against runners.  This approach just writes them off.  The wilderness also provides a good way for GMs to adjust the pacing of the game.  If most of the session has been legwork then a random encounter could spice things up.

Downtown Militarized Zone

One of the nice things about hand waving a lot of the security problems is that we can have some fun with the wilderness areas. The best part of it is that we can reintroduce the Downtown Militarized Zone (DMZ).  The idea here is that come nightfall the Downtown core of the city turns into one large running battle between local law enforcement and the gangs.

Actual Wilderness

With the NAN, the magical regrowth of forests, and toxic zones Shadowrun is full of actual wilderness to explore. These are exactly the same as Urban Wilderness but encounters consist of actual environmental hazards as well as dangerous denizens.

Final Word

A lot of this just seems like a rehash of tools from the GM’s toolkit but honestly it does feel like a very different way of playing Shadowrun.  Often it is easy to compartmentalize games and ignore how the style of one game can help improve another.  Even if “any good GM should have already been doing these things” it is at least a good mental exercise to see what one game would look like under the world building assumptions of another.

Another reflection is that this is a very location based view of Shadowrun.  Here the action and the definition of the game is revolving around actual physical locations.  A D&D alternative to this would be Dave the Game’s 5×5 design method.  This method is more events driven.

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