I first heard about Shadowrun: Anarchy a month before Gen Con 2016 when I joked about a rules-light Shadowrun on Twitter. I was shocked to discover there as such a thing nearly ready for publication. Shadowrun: Anarchy is a roleplaying game that is based on the system Catalyst Game Labs used in their Valiant Universe (Comic Book) and Cosmic Patrol roleplaying games. A 48-page “prototype” version was available for purchase at Gen Con and the full 218-page pdf went on sale just recently.
I’m debating running Shadowrun: Anarchy or The Sprawl next time I run a Shadowrun-like game. This post, I’m laying out my take on Shadowrun: Anarchy.
The game looks like it hits at least two of the three things I want in my games these days: player investment and an emphasis on storytelling. Quicker combat is also a sticking point for me, but that’s because long involved combat scenes tend to derail narrative momentum. I’ve run game sessions where an hour was taken up with seconds, not minutes, of in-game time full of combat maneuvering. When this happens, the story being told gets put aside. But Shadowrun: Anarchy’s Narration concept seems like it might solve that issue.
The biggest thing with the default way to play Shadowrun: Anarchy is an element called Narration. Each turn, each player around the game table has the opportunity to narrate the story. This is more than just saying what that player’s character does. Capital-N Narration also includes creating elements in the game world: not just adding new NPCs and plot twists, but also directing what those players do and the effects of those events in the game world. Importantly, during combat the players get to narrate just one “combat action” for their character before moving on to the next character. While they’re doing that, they may create actors in the space. If a player says that a Knight Errant patrol car slowly comes around the corner, like the cops are scoping out the surrounding area, well, a patrol car comes around the corner, prowling down the street.
This gets me to thinking that combat might be more interesting here than in other games, allowing for the narrative to continue.
The one thing about fight scenes in Shadowrun: Anarchy that gives me pause is we’re still doing Shadowrun-levels of damage and the characters all have Shadowrun-level damage tracks. I ran a few numbers to see how long it would take to fill a character’s physical damage track in both versions of the game, being shot with an Ares Predator IV and wearing six points of armor. While it came out to the same number of rounds/Narrations, we skip a lot of math and an extra bunch of dice rolling in Shadowrun: Anarchy.
In SR:A, the attacker and the target rolls against each other, adding net hits to the damage value of the weapon. This number is applied to the armor first (so 9P damage is split 6 to the armor and 3 to the physical damage track), degrading the armor. And that’s that.
In SR5, there’s math: subtract the armor penetration value of the weapon (and ammo) from the target’s armor, then the target rolls Body + that modified armor value, subtracts hits on that roll from the 11P damage value we got earlier, and that number we get is how much physical damage is taken.
So good news: we’re skipping those resist rolls with guns in SR:A, so it seems to be faster.
Magic is even better: in addition to the resist rolls being removed, there is no Drain in Shadowrun: Anarchy nor are there tactical calculations for what Force to cast that spell at. Casting a Lightning Bolt spell is a simple opposed test. That spell has a damage code of 6P/AA – that AA means “armor avoidance”, which means that net hits on this spell attack bypasses armor. The example in the book has Coydog rolling 4 hits and the target only getting 2, so she has two net hits. The spell does 6P damage and those two net hits means 2 of those 6 go straight to the target’s physical damage track. The remaining 4 might degrade the target’s armor, with the rest going to the target’s damage track.
That same spell in Shadowrun 5: Determine what Force (level of power) to cast the spell (we’ll go Force 6). Make the spell attack roll, like in SR:A. Do a damage resistance test (Body + Armor Value – Armor Penetration Value) to reduce damage value. Record elemental effects of the spell (dice pool penalties on all actions for 1 turn, dropping initiative by 5, other stuff for electronic equipment like drones which involves more dice rolling and bookkeeping). Resist Drain (a hermetic mage would roll Logic + Willpower against a target number of 3 for this spell, fail and take damage to either Physical or Stun damage track based on the number of hits (not net hits) rolled in the first spell attack roll).
Anarchy, again: Cast spell. Make one opposed roll. Assign damage. Move on.
Maybe Shadowrun: Anarchy isn’t as bad as Shadowrun when it comes to combat time. Skipping over all those rolls and calculations does speed things up a bit. Plus, the players are doing some neat stuff here with the lowercase-n narration. I think I like that.
Where this shines is hacking the Matrix. In regular Shadowrun, when it’s the hacker’s turn to do stuff, the other players can just take a break and go order pizza, paint a house, or raise a child from infancy and send them off to college. But with Narrations hitting quick beats and zipping around the table, stuff happening in the Matrix is faster than ever.
Player investment and the focus on storytelling looks to be so strong in this game as long as your players are on board. I like the concept of Narration, but the game seems to just dip the player’s toes into the ocean of story creation. “All a player has to do is describe what his or her character is doing, such as engaging in a firefight, exploring a Matrix host, or summoning a spirit, as well as adding some descriptions about what happens around them when they do what they do.” However, that patrol car at the top of this post? They can’t just say that car comes around the corner. They have to spend a Plot Point and then the patrol car appears. Do they get to say what happens with that patrol car? The rules say that the GM “makes any actions or die rolls for enemies the characters may encounter”, so maybe not. That line about the players describing “what happens around them” isn’t as wide open as it appears. But still, that line about the GM specifically says “enemies” and not “NPCs”. So maybe they can.
Oh! There’s also Ghostbuster’s Ghost Die in here! Players (not the GM) can spend a Plot Point to roll a different six-sided die with their next roll. This die doesn’t count for successes or failure: if you roll a 1, something bad happens; roll a 5 or 6, something awesome happens. Cool because you want to roll this thing to have a 1/3 chance of awesomeness occurring. Not as cool as Ghostbusters because you have to spend plot points to be able to roll it. But still, kind of interesting.
Strange thing: Technomancers – people that can access and manipulate the Matrix without using hardware or software tools – have several references to sprites as if they’re a thing. There are a few paragraphs about compiling a sprite, and how the sprite has its own NPC sheet complete with a damage track, defense dice, and stats, but there are no stats for sprites in the book. In Shadowrun, sprites are the Matrix equivalents of magical summoned spirits. Spirits are there, sprites aren’t. Oops.
Also on that note, there are a few areas in the book that apparently were using an earlier version of the rules that weren’t completely reconciled. There’s a Tasking skill for technomancers that covers sprite summoning (instead of compiling, the language used later). But in the rules for compiling sprites, the skill to be used is Hacking. Or how the term “Lead Narrator” was changed to “Game Master” somewhere in development, but there are still references to the “LN”. These types of things should have been caught in the proofing stages, but hopefully Catalyst Game Labs has let the book go out as a pdf to let external eyes look over the book and catch a few things before it goes to print. (And we get an updated pdf.)
So it looks like Shadowrun: Anarchy is hitting my three major desires with a game, but I’m still wary of how combat might resolve. I’ll need to play this once or twice to really get my brain around it.
Up next: The Sprawl.
- Shadowrun’s damage value for an Ares Predator is 8P while Shadowrun: Anarchy’s is 6P [↩]
- Ex: The target had 3 points of armor. The first two net hits go to physical damage track, leaving 4P damage left to be assigned. Three of the 4P go to the armor, destroying it. The last 1P goes to the physical damage track. The target now has no armor and has taken 3 points of physical damage. [↩]
- Shadowrun: Anarchy’s game currency to let people at the table muck about with the storytelling or do special in-game actions. [↩]