Paul Perry's Reviews > Shadowrun

Shadowrun by Jordan Weisman
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Feb 01, 2011

it was amazing
bookshelves: fantasy, sf, society, techno-thriller, rpg, roleplaying-game

Ah, one of my all time favourite RPGs. It is in the second half of the 21st century. Magic has returned to the world, large sections of the population have mutated into new sub-species of humanity (which become named dwarves, elves, orcs, trolls, etc, for their resemblance to figures of myth), mega corporations hold more power than nations, a new information structure that replaced the World Wide Web allows true immersive cyber reality, nations have fractured and monsters can be found in the dark back alleys.

in concept, it always sounded to me very much like some old-fashioned, sword&sorcery, Tolkien fanatic Middle Earth Roleplaying gamers had the following conversation:


Larry: dud, did you read Neuromancer yet?

Curly: man, that was so awesome! and i'm just reading a book called Snow Crash, where this hacker is REALLY a hacker because he's like awesome with a katana!

Moe: wow! that sound's awesome! i thought some more katanas would have made Neuromancer even better. you now what else would have made it truly awesome?

Larry and Curly: What man?

Moe: some like orcs and trolls and elves and wizards...

all: woooooooow



and, to be honest, the first edition was a bit like that, with a horribly clunky system, but by third edition not only had the system evolved into something more workable (and a few tweaks of my own improved further, like making dice rolls open-ended and allowing multiple successes) the authors had begun to use the ideas of fracturing society (and humanity) to point a mirror at some real-world issues. the most obvious is racism. when skin colour is no longer the most obvious physical attribute, and the blueprint of what is human has to be suddenly expanded to include shapes so far from the baseline this obviously causes problems (as Terry Pratchett once said "black and white live in perfect harmony - and gang up on green").

Three examples. One adventure involved the characters encountering the ghost of a young orc boy in a hospital and their investigations uncovering that a leading politician isn't who he had seemed. In the early days of 'goblinisation' (as the process 'mutation' was called) a wealthy couple swapped their suddenly deformed young son with an foundling, who grew up to be the politician. The city of San Fransisco is now a protectorate of Japan (in the desettlement that resulted in the break up of the USA Japan moved into to 'Frisco to protect Japanese interests and stayed) the changed human subtypes are not granted citizenship and are forced to live outside the city, crossing checkpoints early in the morning to work at menial jobs - a clear analogy to the Palestinian territories today. In earlier editions, the descriptions of the orc and troll subspecies (or meta humans, as they are called) described them as having a higher physical strength but low intelligence, and being largely nocturnal. In third edition, these sociological reports are referred to, but the question of whether the intelligence discrepancy is down to educational discrimination and the so-called nocturnalism down to not wanting to mix more than necessary with other people when you're treated like a mutant.

Throw in lots of action, gunplay, car chases, cyber crime, political shenanigan and gunplay (i know i mentioned it twice, the players like their big guns) and you have an entertaining, involved background in which to grow interesting characters and have some stonking adventures.
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