If you haven’t been following along these past few weeks, I’ve been going back and forth between Shadowrun: Anarchy and The Sprawl for my next Shadowrun game. ((Assuming there is a next Shadowrun game in the plans.)) The decision was surprisingly difficult to make. Initially, I was certain that The Sprawl was going to be the game for me, but the more I read Shadowrun: Anarchy, the more I was leaning towards that. Until I looked at The Sprawl again, then that looked better. But then I’d look back at Shadowrun: Anarchy and that one…

It’s close. But I think I’ve finally made up my mind.


Last week, someone tweeted me his experience with these games. From his playing The Sprawl, Niels said that game is better for a campaign instead of a one-shot. He is currently reading through Shadowrun: Anarchy, and feels that game is just the opposite.

You know, I think he’s right. Just look at what characters do with experience.

When advancing characters in The Sprawl, you start unlocking new moves for your character (or increase your stats once ((normally)) to a limit of 2). This implies that as your character gains experience, she’s learning how to do her job better. But in SR:A, we’re looking at buying gear and weapons with Karma, or saving up a while to increase her stats and skills. ((Or remove a negative quality, which the game suggests not doing, as that gets rid of storytelling conflicts.)) The Sprawl‘s advancement system unlocks new abilities; Shadowrun: Anarchy‘s seems to add another die to roll.

One thing I always had difficulty with in earlier versions of Shadowrun was power creep. As soon as one character grabbed Wired Reflexes 3, gangs simply weren’t a threat. If I wanted to throw some gangs at the characters, those gang members would need to get Wired Reflexes themselves, just to be a threat. ((And then the protagonists that didn’t have any advanced movement augmentation would just sit there while the threat level of the NPCs passed them, but not their crew’s Molly Millions.)) When I look at the advancement system in Shadowrun: Anarchy, I’m seeing more of the same. Although the way the game actually runs, I don’t think it would have as much an impact here.

Even then, unlocking new abilities is cooler than just adding on an extra die to do the same stuff.

That’s why I’m agreeing with Niels. If I’m running a one-shot, Shadowrun: Anarchy would be fine. If I’m going to run a longer Shadowrun game, I’m using The Sprawl.

Of course, with The Sprawl, there’s going to be some heavy living involved. That Touched setting isn’t going to be ready until at least March of 2017. ((Hamish said that he was going to run Touched at a convention at that point and hopefully it would be a more-or-less final version.)) So wait until then or make my own Shaman and Mage (and Elemental Mages for that SR2 flavor) playbooks, adapting the rules for magic that’s in the six-page beta.

Those pseudo-Touched playbooks I would need to create also bring in another wrinkle: cybernetics. See, in The Sprawl, everyone has cyberware — but Mages and Shamans typically don’t in Shadowrun. This wouldn’t be much of a problem, excepts the how and why your character got bits of metal installed ties into the world. Possibly someone owns you because they paid for the cyberware. Why did you get that installed? There’s a good story hook there.

But not so with the Mage or Shaman. No cyber means that tie into the world is missing. For the Mage, it’s most likely questions like who paid for that Th. D. and where did you study? But the Shaman is different: that type of character is chosen by a totem spirit and can be completely self-taught. It’s trickier to get those same ties — the thing that could get her owned by some organization — involved in that character’s creation.

Speaking of shadowy organizations, I need to mention the Corporate Clocks, which are a lot more versatile than the name suggests. The Sprawl is set up to have the opposition be corporations, but that’s not all Shadowrun is — at least to me. In my last Shadowrun campaign, the greatest threats were two organized crime families. Two political campaigns were probably next in line with two megacorporations coming in, tied for third. Oh, and they were about to get into some bug nests. ((When I got into Shadowrun, I had just missed the whole Universal Brotherhood mega plot. My first SR purchase was Bug City, a sourcebook for the game — I’ve always wanted to set a campaign there, but for some reason my players have never ever ever wanted to.)) The Corporate Clocks can handle these easily. Except I’m not sure what happens when these clocks are filled: say once Aztechnology’s clock fills, is Aztechnology’s constantly at 2400? Threat clocks seem natural: at midnight, the threat happens. But a Corporation’s? There may be something I’ve missed in my read of the book.

But that shouldn’t bother me too much. My preferred game style is a series of short campaigns. You might recognize the structure as based on television programming.

When I first discovered Shadowrun, we wound up creating a longer narrative by borrowing a story arc plotting concept from that new show on television, Babylon 5. Back then, drama television shows were mainly episodic. Star Trek: The Next Generation came along and you could watch any episode at random and, as long as it wasn’t a two-parter, you’d be able to follow along and have a great standalone experience. Babylon 5 showed up and suddenly there was a story arc that went through the show, a season at a time. Sure, you could watch a random episode and have that same experience, but if you watched the whole series, it was a more rewarding experience.

My first time playing Shadowrun, we did that. Three seasons were plotted and when we got to the end of the season, we’d decide if we were going to continue or not.

Perhaps that’s the answer with filling in Corporate Clocks. Hit 2400 hours on one or two and we’re in the season finale.

But that’s my particular bent on how I like to structure games. If I was more involved in game days and wanted to bring a one-off game to the table, I’d probably go with Shadowrun: Anarchy because we don’t need to worry about advancing characters in a one-shot, so that abstract Karma money/point-buy thing doesn’t matter. With wanting to run a short television series season campaign, I’m going with The Sprawl. Even if that means trying to do something with separating Cred from Reputation somehow.


  • g

    Random visitor here: In case you still feel like playing SR and are still open to other options than what you discuss here in this post, do check out, if you haven’t done so yet, “Sixth World”, which is a Dungeon World hack (version 26 or better, or perhaps the online tweak found at swse.neocities.org.) If you feel extra curious, do take a look at the SR5 hack (collection of house rules that reduce 5e to a light game) called “Simsense” found at pavao.org as well.

  • Thomas

    I had an old version of Sixth World floating around my hard drive somewhere, I think. I’ll check it out, even though it’s a Dungeon World hack instead of a PbtA hack. Although Dungeon World is a crazy popular PbtA game, it does things that I’m not too keen on and in my experience, every time one ventures in to an actual Dungeon, the game just falls flat — outdoor stuff, cool; dungeoneering, not so great. Being a riff off of DW instead of AW, where moves build story elements, it’s not something that grabs me right off the bat.

  • Thomas

    You know, I probably should unpack that DW bias a bit more, but that would make more of a longer discussion than just a reply to a post.

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