If there’s one RPG truism that irks me, it has to be “There’s no wrong way to play RPGs, if you are having fun you are doing it right!” It isn’t necessarily that I believe this statement is false, it’s more that it’s not helpful in any way and it sort of implies that “fun” is the end all to playing a game at the table. Having fun is why we play, it isn’t how we play.
It’s so generic that it isn’t useful. Every person is different, and every group is made up of different people with wildly different tastes and expectations from a table top game. Some groups can have a good time sitting around a table, regardless of system or type of being run, or the skill of the GM or players. Some groups like or require a very specific experience to enjoy themselves.
So instead of just saying “You’re having fun so you are doing it right!” Keep your brain on and ask yourself some questions after your sessions are over.
What worked in the game, what didn’t?
What could work if I iterated on it?
Why was a particular session fun?
How can I experiment and introduce new things to keep it fresh?
Is the game helping or hindering me in what I want to accomplish, narratively or mechanically?
Are the expectations of me and my players in alignment?
I ask myself these types of questions in mid-session during the breaks, or after the sessions are over. Fun is important, it’s the most important probably. But don’t stop there. Asking yourself these questions helps you GM and adapt to groups with different expectations.
Last week for my DnD group I ran a marathon of a session, lasting about 6 hours. It was great fun and at the end of it I was extremely happy with the quality of the roleplay from my players, and while I fludged up the combat a little bit (I’m not the best at running 5e combat, especially on Roll20.) it still went really well. It’s inspired me to write about something I’ve seen in the bunch of games I’ve played in and ran myself, the Hammer and Nail Problem.
If you don’t know what I mean, here is an explanation from Wikipedia:
“The concept known as the law of the instrument, Maslow’s hammer, Gavel or a golden hammer[a] is an over-reliance on a familiar tool; as Abraham Maslow said in 1966, “I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.”.”
To see where this crops up, let’s look at the character sheet for DnD 5th Edition.
Notice anything? Most of the sheet is dedicated to things that are used in combat, with a section dedicated to skills and a space on the top-right for your Personality/Ideals/Bonds/Flaws. It is nice those things are there to keep players referencing character traits to help roleplay, but in my experience it rarely comes up. Stats come into play in combat, as do saves, HP, AC, the space to put your attacks. In fact most spells in the game are tailored towards a combat use.
“So what? Isn’t that what Dungeons and Dragons is about, hitting monsters with swords and spells?” you might say, and to that I say…you’re right. DnD is absolutely about those things. It works best when the game is mostly about dungeon crawling and using the pointy-end on monsters. But unless all your players are strict wargamers then the game shouldn’t JUST be about those things, and if you aren’t careful the game can drift in that direction. When it looks like all you have is hammer, everything starts to look like a nail. Compounding that is the fact that human beings are creatures that crave variety. Unless you are on the spectrum you probably don’t enjoy literally doing the same thing over and over and over and over and over and over again, it gets stale. Spice up your game and invite your players to think about what they can do besides clubbing things on the head each time. Here’s some tricks to doing so.
Let a player get away with a stupid plan that (probably) should not work
In my last session, a character wanted to use their animal handling skill to defuse some aggressive tigers. Now, combat had already started, but this person was driven by the fact that she didn’t want to harm cute kitties (I empathize.) So she rolled her animal handling skill, got a 23! In my version of the fiction this totally should not work, given that the tigers were raised and taught to be man-eaters. However in the spirit this post I met her in the middle. I allowed it to work but only for a certain amount of rounds, and the other tigers were still oncoming. On the other players turns they took cues from the first and decided to try their hand at it. Some of them failed, but now this combat has turned from using their swords to stab tigers, to surviving an onslaught of beasts in order to calm them down and avoid killing them if possible. It says something about the characters that they’d be willing to sustain major injury in order to solve the situation this way, it’d be much easier to Use Sword on Kitten. Alternatively if the players come up with an articulate a well thought out plan..let it work with minimal rolling. This concept is basically the tried and true GM-advice of saying “Yes, and..” but I prefer it phrased the other way if a player’s idea is a little too stupid. The “No…but.”. Then again if I feel like it will shake up the experience a little bit I might even let a hyper-stupid plan work.
Present situations that cannot be solved by using swords.
This one simply involves baking in some variety in your campaign and/or dungeon. The Five Room Dungeon method is a quick and easy way of doing this. Once you’ve done it a few times you will see that you can really do any combination of the item’s listed here and even expand on them. Avoid a Door Kickers scenario, where every room has bad guys sitting in it waiting for the party to open the door. That particular scenario can be fun, but not when it’s all you’re doing for 3+ hours.
One thing I particularly hate though is outright puzzles. Often times it plays out in the same way as it does in adventure games, “Guess exactly what the designer was thinking or you can’t progress”. So heed the advice in the Five Room Dungeon method, “puzzles” don’t mean to solve a riddle necessarily, or a block puzzle. It means any challenge that cannot be overcome with combat. Along the same lines as using encounters that can’t be overcome with combat necessarily the other thing is to have the goal of the party in a combat to not simply slay the opponent. Grab the MacGuffin and run out of the room before the overpowering threat kills you. Defend an NPC/PC as they try to complete a ritual against a horde of weaklings. Run through a gauntlet of bad guys to escape a crumbling tower. If you are playing with players who are slow to adapt to this kind of stuff then it’s best if you make liberal use of foreshadowing or telegraph what is going to happen. If they don’t…well I guess the rocks fall on their head.
Give the antagonists a sense of self-preservation.
Unless the antagonists the PC’s are struggling against are actually mindless (gelatinous cubes, golems, robots, most undead.) they probably will not fight to the absolute bitter end and will try to plead with the party, run away, pay them off, beg forgiveness or opt for being taken prisoner as opposed to an immediate death sentence. This might not work if the party has already killed multiple people who have tried this tactic on them. Then it’s reasonable to say that their bloody reputation has caused almost every enemy they come across to fight to the death because they know they won’t be spared. Hopefully it never gets to that point.
Not only does this make the conclusions of combat more exciting due to unpredictability, it also adds some dimensions to the bad guys. He might be the leader of the cultists who has gone around kidnapping people and sacrificing them..but he’s still rational. He would prefer imprisonment and the chance of escape rather than the surefire death should he fight til the bitter end.
The TL;DR version
If the plan is stupid but might have some remote chance of success, let them try it.
If the plan is sound and well articulated, let them try it with minimal rolling.
Present scenarios and threats that can’t be solved with swords
Help the party establish goals that might include not simply killing stuff. Short or long term.
Give combat itself alternative “win” conditions other than dropping Baddies to 0 HP.
Make Antagonists somewhat intelligent or at least self-preserving, unless fictionally it makes sense for them not to be.
Metal of the day. Sleep. Listen to it right god damn now.
Let’s get Meta.
I’ve discussed a little bit here about how big well known settings can make it tougher to hook your players narratively into the game, given that different players are bound to have different levels of knowledge. The same is true when in regards to meta-gaming. For instance players whom have intimate knowledge about aspects of the game world are able to and typically do include that knowledge into what their characters know, even if narratively it would make more sense for them to not have that knowledge. The problem with this is that it makes the players have unequal footing when it comes to their ability to perform tasks within the game world. Bobicus the wizard knows that Salamanders are vulnerable to cold, but only because the player who plays Bobicus knows that. Jillius’s character doesn’t know that because Jillius’s player doesn’t know that.
Now this type of issue usually isn’t too bad considering the moment Bobicus does extra damage with cold, he passes that knowledge onto the other players and most likely the characters too. A Good GM will see this coming, especially if he knows his players and sometimes I will prompt knowledge-skill rolls to assist ignorant players to those things assuming that their characters knowledge of something makes fictional sense. It seems like pretty obvious stuff (and maybe it is.) but I see a lot of GM’s missing the opportunity to do this and help bridge the gap a little bit.
The bigger problem with meta-gaming and player knowledge is that breaks the immersion of almost everyone involved. The second Bobicus the Wizard proclaims that Salamanders are vulnerable to cold and attacks it with Cone of Cold without establishing prior why or how he knows that suddenly pulls player’s perspective from inside the minds of their character to the game’s mechanics. As a player and a GM of Dungeons and Dragons I have certain levels of meta-game knowledge. But when I am a player I’m very careful about using it because it ruins my own immersion and more importantly the immersion of others.
Of course most types of meta-game knowledge are not limited to the settings themselves but to the actual systems those settings use. Let’s not beat around the bush here, due to it’s popularity Dungeons and Dragons is the game that lends itself most to the meta-gaming mentality with Pathfinder coming in second. Meta-gaming DnD and Pathfinder is most likely a common trap that players have unwittingly fell into rather than a conscious decision on the part of the player to engage in it.
So what do I do?
So let’s talk solutions. Firstly I’ll discuss the most obvious and preemptive solution then I’ll address what to do if you are playing Forgotten Realms in Dungeons and Dragons.
The Preemptive solution: Homebrew it. Create your own monsters, your own world with its own rules. Or combine it with the players ideas on the fly, or some mixture of both. It also has the added effect of placing a greater importance on non-combat skills, especially knowledge skills. A meta-gamer in Forgotten Realms might as well never bother using Arcana or Nature when it comes to identifying what a monster is, but if you are playing a homebrew he literally has no outside game knowledge to draw upon. That goes double if you aren’t even playing DnD.
The Goddammit I’m Running DnD in the Forgotten Realms setting solution: Here the solutions are a bit more specific. Firstly allow for meta-game knowledge to work in certain situations, but give the setting details an unknown twist to subvert the extent of the players knowledge. It’s probably not a good idea to simply re-write well-known monsters or aspects of the setting wholesale as it’s kind of shitty, and it defeats the purpose of running an established setting in the first place. The Salamander releases an agonized screech as your magical cone of cold rushes over him, but slowly the color of his scales begins to turn blue (The Salamander is now resist cold and vuln fire instead, its resist changes based on the element it was last hit with.)
Secondly, you can just invent your own monsters entirely. This takes a bit more work and in doing this you have to be very detailed about describing the monster and liberal with allowing knowledge checks to give clues on how to defeat the monster. Additionally when the characters pass these knowledge checks it’s an invitation to ask them how they know that, and fill in additional details about the character and their place in the world.
Before I begin my rant let me say that like Shadowrun I have lots of fun playing Dungeons and Dragons, but unlike Shadowrun I think DnD is actually a pretty good game. I have fun GMing it, and I have fun playing it. It’s just their source materials are poorly edited and one of the books should be about half the size it really is. Now let’s get to ranting.
PHB, Player’s Habitual Backtracking
First 7 pages are fine, typical RPG book introduction stuff.
Chargen is actually pretty quick and decent, except classes should be before races, shouldn’t they be species technically? I prefer the burning wheel name of stock. The long lists of class features/feats is gated behind leveling so Chargen doesn’t feel like a slog and avoids analysis paralysis. For new players (new to RPGs even) this is a good thing Generally no trap builds either from what the community says. Except for Beastmaster Rangers, universally regarded as dumpster-tier.
Alignment is still as stupid as ever. No need to elaborate on this, there’s plenty of critique out there and I agree with almost all of them. Save for looking at this from the perspective of a new player, if it’s written down in the book it must be important right..right?..RIGGHTTT? No.
Backgrounds are pretty useful, but this is one area where they should probably added a few more options. Also I like the random tables of bonds and flaws to help people add small details to their character, contrasted with the large paragraphs of stuff they showed as examples. My only gripe here is that the backgrounds are located at the back of the book for some reason when they are a part of character creation.
Inspiration is one of the main mechanics of the game, and it isn’t laid out until you get to the Backgrounds section about 120 pages in. For touting it as one of the new features of your game you sure buried it in there, and not much time is dedicated to it. I like the idea of Inspiration as a sort of reward for players adhering to the fiction of the world and their character. However it doesn’t seem they put too much effort beyond “The DM gives this out when he thinks you RP’d good and that’s it.” The players are limited to just one currency so there isn’t even a real metagame drive to try to acquire more of it in the same way a lot of (almost all) narrative-style games have a sort of meta-currency to help drive play. The failure to develop this mechanic doesn’t affect the game in any negative way but it does serve to highlight the fact that DnD is primarily about two things, hitting things with your sword and talking to people to get rewarded for hitting things with your sword. It’s about combat and everything on the character sheet points you to that.
The spell list is goddamn awful. They repeat the same mistake in the monster manual in that they order things in the most useless way possible, alphabetically. This is a players handbook, not a dictionary. Gives separate summary spell lists for each class which is fine, but then does not specify on what pages those spells can be found, and if you are a new player you’ve probably little idea what these spells can actually do so you must look at them first.. Then it goes to go on to list all the spells in detail ALPHABETICALLY, what the fuck. They should have had them listed by level of the spell (you know, as would be useful, especially to new characters who can only cast level 1 spells.) Additionally they should mark next to those spells which classes can cast them, like this. Bolded is my addition
Casting Time: 1 action
Range: 60 feet
Components: V, S
You hurl a bubble o f acid. Choose one creature within
range, or choose two creatures within range that are
within 5 feet o f each other. A target must succeed on a
Dexterity saving throw or take 1d6 acid damage.
This spell’s damage increases by 1d6 when you reach
5th level (2d6), 11th level (3d6), and 17th level (4d6). Classes: War-Wiz-Sor-Cle-Bar-Pal-Ran
You can argue that they did it this way to converse on ink, but I think they could have shaved text elsewhere (like in the oh-so-useful Multiverse section.) to make their book more usable. Other than all this the PHB is basically fine, it’s fine.
Dungeon Master Self-Help
Again I will be looking at this from the perspective of a new or newish GM looking to run his first game of Dungeons and Dragons, or his first campaign. The source of the problem partially is that the PHB came out way before the DMG did, most of which contains all of the corerules for being able to run the game, so the DMG must be filled with some fucking amazing sage advice with how to make this game run great right? Well let’s see.
It starts off in the worst way possible by presenting to the reader what they should be doing first, making up details of the entire world, no the entire MULTIVERSE as a starting point. Now I wouldn’t claim to be an expert GM but I do have enough experience to know that this is the absolute wrong way to have a novice GM, let alone the potential of a novice GM playing RPGs for the first time to start.
As far as the actual content of the Worldbuilding Chapter..it’s okay I guess. The ideas it gives you are just that, ideas. You can literally do anything and so much of this chapter is either a) overwhelming and useless to novice players right out of the gate or b) A waste of time to experienced GM’s cause they already know what they are doing or are going to do as far as worldbuilding. It has no original or creative ideas and more painfully contains no systemsormechanics to help generate or reinforce the concepts of the worldbuilding. It’s just a bunch of hot air that is unneeded because people are already familiar enough with fantasy tropes as it is. To illustrate my point here’s an overview of all the topics in the firstchapter of the DMG.
The Big Picture
The Gods of Your World
Mapping Your Campaign
Languages and Dialects
Factions and Organizations
Magic in your World
Creating a Campaign
Tiers of Play
Flavors of Fantasy
Flavors of Fantasy I found particularly amusing because it suggests you can use DnD to simulate other sub-genres of fantasy, such as mystery, intrigue, wuxia, dark fantasy, mythic and etc. Of course it gives no details here as to actually -do- those things. No rules are suggested nor are there mechanics to reinforce those themes the DMG says it supports. Then after deciding on this the reader or implementer of the advice of the DMG gets to the next chapter.Surely now we’re going to get some meat and potatoes advice on how to make this game sing. Chapter 2: Creating the Multiverse. I’m sure someone new will find all this information very useful.
The problem with all this is that this information is placed at the front of the DMG, which suggests to the reader that they potentially should be creating all this content first before even starting to play which is absolutely wrong. A new GM should not waste their precious time coming up with bullshit the players of a new campaign will have zero chance of interfacing with. In my Shadowrun post I alluded to <this post> detailing why giving your players your dissertation on your setting is probably the most god awful way to begin a campaign. GM’s should focus on developing things the players can directly engage with right away for their first session. If that does overlap with the grand details or ideas you had for your setting, great! But more likely you’ll spend hours deliberating over minutia your players will not give a flying fuck about, at least not right away.
Creating Adventuresis the next section and I find it’s actually somewhat decent advice. It runs through some familiar styles of adventuring but more importantly it gives you random tables as seeds to generate the overall structure of an adventure. I need not expound my love for random tables again, it’s just another case of them being useful to remove some of the creative load off of the GM.
Next up is the actual rules of the game, with suggested difficulty checks and examples on how to use stats/skills in certain situations. Surprisingly it contains some useful information to the potential DM, but I’m not giving it points for doing something it’s supposed to do. Following that is the Dungeon Master’s Workshop, a section devoted to potential rule variants. In my mind these variants don’t really seem to offer much in terms of variety, the honor and insanity systems seem like something any amateur designer could come up with. I haven’t tested out the steps to Creating a Monster yet but from what I hear they actually work well even if they are explained poorly.
Book of Beasts
Not a whole lot to say about the Monster Manual but remember my bitching about how the organization/layout of the Spell lists makes it so actually using it involves a lot of flipping back and forth and cross-referencing? Same problem here. Monsters aren’t organized by CR (Challenge Rating.), nor are they organized by environments they are commonly found it. Instead they are in alphabetical order and sometimesbut not always by type. What the fucking fuck. If you go to look up Gelatinous Cube, you’d look under the G’s right? Nope that’s in O for Oozes. But there’s no section for Undead, you have to look in V for vampire and Z for zombies and B for banshees. Wight Tarrasque Fomorian. Thank goodness for resources like Kobold Fight Club
Additionally, metal of the day is Panopticon’s new album Autumn Eternal.
For starters let me get one thing out of the way. I had a great time playing Shadowrun, it helped me produce some memorable gaming moments and I had a blast portraying my NPC’s and the unique setting and there are mechanics in the game which I think are of value and help drive play in fun ways (ex: The equipment and contacts systems.). I will be the first to admit that I have very little patience for slow, crunchy, “tactical” combat and so some of my criticisms you should take with a grain of salt. Even If you love the game and think its flawless, more power to you. But even if hyper-simulation is your thing when it comes to tabletop games, there’s still got to be some better and more effective ways to go about it.
9/10 people agree, this editing is terrible.
The game goes through the introduction of the various concepts of Shadowrun and cyberpunk in general, VR simulation, globalization, etc. Mega corporations form the main antagonists of the Shadowrun world. Sure there are other foes like street gangs, bug spirits, crime syndicates and potentially governments. But the zaibatsus dwarf them all in scope and in ability. It’s a lot of fluff that precedes the actual real mechanics of the game, which isn’t a problem in concept but rather in execution.
The trouble is that there’s so much of it to plow through and much of the information isn’t useful to either player or GM at this stage of the book. Now most reference points I have to other RPG books for comparison is mostly fantasy games (F20) which is perhaps unfair due to the ubiquitous of Dungeons and Dragons in the hobby. Everyone knows Dungeons and Dragons, so informing the players in these games is less necessary since we’re already familiar with the common tropes. Even so if you are buying this game then that assumes you’ve either a) Liked the games concepts and setting or you are already a cyberpunk fan and this is the biggest product on the market for it, (this is me) b) Played the video games and thought the same thing, or c) You were roped into doing this and you don’t really care about it either way, just get to the part where I can decide what cool guns I get to shoot people with.
Putting so much fluff front loaded onto the book is just poor design, most people want to crack the book open and start reading about the things they’ll actually be doing on a moment to moment basis. You all hear those horror stories about the GM who starts a campaign off by giving you his 50 page word document about all the intricate details of his pet creation and rambles on in the first session for an hour before the players get a word in.This is a little like that. Much of how I feel about the fluff of a game and its presentation can be found better explained and written here.
The rest of the editing and layouts gaffs are too numerous to name, but mainly it has to do with the consistent flipping back and forth in order to get the procedures for how to properly resolve mechanics, sometimes over a hundred pages to get the full explanation of how something should work. Things other games take seconds to resolve.
Even hardcore Shadowrun fans have to admit that the Character generation method in the core book is dumpster-tier, and even Catalyst Games revamped it with different options in their Run Faster splat. First the book outlines what it calls character concepts (or archetypes). The Face (talky guy), Spell-caster (mage or shaman), Decker (the hacker), Technomancer (what? Someone who..uses hacker-spells. Or something, I still don’t know), Rigger (Drone guy/the driver) and Street Samurai (Shooty McStabby).
The system then introduces the concept of the Priority System. Essentially you choose various aspects of your character and then choose on a scale of A through E (best to least) how much of the thing you have or how good you are at it. Without getting into the step by step details of how this process works, I’ll summarize it with this. It takes a long fucking time to generate characters by hand and it doesn’t even give you all the unique customization you would want out of game that presents itself like this. Hell, even using chargen assistance programs like HeroLabthe process can take forever, especially for newcomers.
Now this really isn’t a huge problem in itself, lots of very good games have very long and detailed customization. For instance Burning Wheel chargen is very detailed, it explains everything your character was from birth to the exact moment of the first session, including where they fit into the setting of the game, their skills, knowledge and motivations. With Shadowrun it takes two hours to find out how strong you are, what things you own and how good you are at using those things, and whether or not you’re addicted to drugs. In the game’s defense they did remedy this a bit with Run Fasterby introducing Sum to Ten and a Life-path system. But oddly enough the game seems sort of stuck in the past and reminding me a lot of 3.5 Dungeons and Dragons. Lots of splatbooks, lots of little modifiers to add up whenever any action is taken. The overall design of the game actually feels very old and lots of more modern systems have realized that its better to have 1+2+3 = 6 rather than make the player do 12+7-2+1-2+1-5-6 = 6. Why make us make those extra steps to arrive at the number 6. Speaking of steps..
Actions, or why does this take forever?
Let’s get into my biggest pet peeve with this game which is that actions take way too much effort and time to resolve, particularly combat. I’ll go through the steps of actually shooting a person without any goofy modifiers thrown in at first. Keep in mind Shadowrun is a dice pool game of d6’s, and rolling a 5 or 6 is considered a hit (or success), which breaks down to about ⅓ chance to roll a hit on any given die. Here is a some-what min-maxed PC shooting at a Professional Rating 1 (in the fiction, a sort of experienced street thug, or low level security.)
PC- Roll the Attacking pool. Combat Skill + It’s governing attribute. For example Long Arms 4 (dice) and Agility of 6, so total of 10 dice.
NPC Thug- The defender rolls his defense pool, usually Reaction + Intuition attributes. which are 3 and 3 respectively, total of 6 dice.
If the PC’s hits are greater or equal to the NPC’s: the attack succeeds, if the NPC’s are greater: it misses. Additionally keep track of the net hits (Attacker Hits minus Defender hits.)
Assuming the attack succeeds, the defender then rolls its Soak test against the damage value of the weapon (this is an integer, NOT a dice pool) . His Body attribute + his armor (value is in number of dice.). For example rolling a Body of 4 and armor of 9, so 13 dice and gets 4 hits.
The defender then takes the DV (Damage Value) of the weapon and subtracts his Soak test hits from it, taking that much damage.
Now that is the simplest version of the action, now let’s take into account how it plays with all of the rules in place, all of the modifiers for recoil, environmental conditions, cyber-ware, traits and everything else. Part of this is adapted from a Cheat sheet I found on one of the Shadowrun community forums. AP = Armor Penetration, DV = Damage Value. Both values are integers not dice pools.
Choose the weapon and ammo you want to use, and
note their DV and AP.
Choose a fire mode that you want to use.
Add your Agility Attribute to your pool.
Add the correct weapon skill to your pool.
Add the bonus for laser sight or smart-link to your pool.
Subtract any Wound Modifiers from your pool.
Subtract the number of rounds fired this Phase from the Progressive Recoil Compensation total. If this number is below zero, that’s your recoil modifier. If the recoil modifier is less than zero, subtract it from your pool.
Roll your pool dice, note your hits.
If your attack is from a shotgun, tell the gamemaster; the defender loses defense pool.
The defender rolls defense pool and subtracts their hits from your hits. If your net hits are zero or less, stop now.
Add your net hits to your weapon + ammo DV; this is your modified DV. If this number is greater than the defender’s armor (modified by your weapon AP), it causes Physical damage, otherwise it causes Stun damage.
Tell the gamemaster your final modified DV. The defender will attempt to resist the horrible damage you have just caused
Did you get all that? Now do that every round with every PC. Got 5 PC’s? Get ready for an average of 13 steps per player or 65 steps per round of combat, not counting extra steps for accounting for the traits of the characters or environmental modifiers. Also not counting the actions the NPC’s will take. Nor the fact that decker’s and magicians who are in Astral/Cyber space use their own rule set ups and different attributes to attack as well as defenders rolling different abilities. Oh, and don’t forget to keep track of glitches, which is where on your dice roll over half of them are 1’s. On every roll. Don’t forget! (I forgot a lot.)
Also keep in mind that the core book itself does not explain these steps in simple terms, it uses paragraphs and entire pages to explain 1 or 2 of these steps.You can see how slowly the combat and actions in general resolve and why a single combat in this game can take hours, especially for newcomers. Of course I myself had the lucky privilege of having the very first action taken by a PC was throwing a grenade. Fuck.
Initiative or lack thereof
Okay, so the initiative system is actually interesting, though it presents many of the similar kinds of issues I have with the conflict resolution/combat. Initiative equals your Reaction and Intuition attributes + 1d6 (can be more if you take certain positive qualities in chargen or if you’ve cyber-ware) if in meatspace, and other stats if you are in astral or cyberspace. This means your initiative if somewhere around 10 if your attributes are decent as well as your roll. The main mechanic being at the end of each round of combat (every participant getting a turn.) All scores are subtracted by then and then whoever has a number greater than 1 goes again, in theory it’s supposed to get across the idea of certain actions being faster in cyberspace as well as chromed up people in meatspace being very quick. Another thing with the initiative score is that you can sacrifice X amount of it to do specific actions, usually defensive ones. This is actually a decent concept, but I am unsure if it was necessary to tie defensive reactions to make combat more dynamic to initiative which can already be long-winded. Don’t forget after every participant has a score of 0 or less, you re-roll the initiative and start the process again, all this combined with normal conflict resolution makes combat a slog through tar-filled swamps.
I could go on and on, but I won’t. Instead I’ll just provide a list of more things I think is a problem with the game or pet peeves. Here we go.
Too many separate rule sets to handle the various archetypes
Riggers are…not well thought out, they are planning to release a splat to fix it.
Wireless Matrix makes no sense, they released a Splat book to help with that.
Astral Space makes some sense, they released some splat books for it too (sensing a trend?)
Juggling all three spaces is tough for newer GM’s, even veteran ones who are new to Shadowrun
The vehicle combat rules..just..what?
No mechanics to enforce the games concepts of oppression/monolith rule of Mega Corporations or party opposition
GM Advice is largely worthless, lots of fluff about what to throw at them, no advice on how to mechanically do it.
Game assumes you will create enemies from scratch (as in Chargen them!) from scratch to oppose the PC’s
So that sums up most of my thoughts about Shadowrun. Would I run it again? I’m not sure, there is a lot of good fluff in the book about how to portray its world and its setting but probably other games do the mechanics of cyberpunk better. Or maybe I’m just totally wrong.