The Developer's Say: Shadowrun Third Edition
by Mike Mulvihill
A lot changes in nine years.
In 1989, FASA introduced Shadowrun to the world. The combination of the two very distinct genres of fantasy and cyberpunk (or near-future dystopia) was a bold stroke for the industry. The fantasy world is populated by elves and dragons, saturated with magic and focused on good versus evil. The cyberpunk world is a world of darkness and shadows, guns, robots, mental programming and oppressive monolithic entities waiting to strip you of your soul. In a world shadowed by megacorporations and restricted by big government, there is no good, only shades of gray and evil. Despite the dramatic difference in these two worlds, FASA's creative staff at the time, and specifically Jordan Weisman, felt confident that these opposites could be combined into an appealing, exciting new world. In a further stroke of inspiration, rather than creating some fictional world or planet as the setting for this fiction, they decided to use Earth, with its familiar historical background, fears and trends. The result of this innovation was a remarkable fictional background that intertwines the worlds of science fiction and fantasy to become a unique entity that is neither and both at the same time.
Oh yeah - they also created a game.
You hold in your hands the third edition of that game. The world is the same. The difference is in the attitude and the presentation-and yeah, in some cases, the rules have changed.
Why change anything? The simple answer is because we had to.
Nine years ago, the competition for a new roleplaying game was another new RPG. Today, the competition comes from every angle-home satellite dishes, the world wide web, computer games, interactive game sites. Something created nine years ago to compete against other RPGs had no real chance of holding its own against these innovations.
So we changed everything we could.
New look, new attitude, new approach, new perspective. Sounds like a bad advertising campaign, and it would be if it wasn't so darn true. Nine years is a very long time in game years. In 1998, the game of the near future where man meets magic and machine looked, felt and played like a game of the past. We found that to be unacceptable. So we set out to revamp the game under the guidance of two mantras: First, the Shadowrun world is strong, creative and alive; leave it alone; and second, the presentation of the rulebook is old fashioned and fails to entice people into playing; change that!
For two years, I ate, slept and dreamed Shadowrun, and I still couldn't find rules in the rulebook. And if the devoted fans of the game are frustrated by the main rulebook of the game, which I hear from them every time I go on-line, to a convention, or to a game store, you have to know you're not winning new fans to the game. Clearly, we needed to rethink the organization and presentation of the game. That meant including more examples, creating a useful Game Concepts chapter, presenting like information together, and expanding the Gear section to include all the information needed in one place, among other tasks. Sounds simple. In reality, it was very hard!
In the nine years the game has been on the market, we have put out multiple rulebooks to try to correct, adjust and clarify the rules, and in some cases create rules that weren't there but needed to be. These books succeeded in accomplishing these tasks, but in the long run we always ran into the same problem-if you pick up the Shadowrun rulebook, you don't have the rules you need to play the game. The Matrix rules were in one book and the rigger and drone rules were in another. Magic was adjusted in a third and other rules were clarified in a fourth-not a very user-friendly game system. Years ago, people might not have objected to buying multiple rulebooks to get the complete game, but if you tell today's roleplayer that he needs to buy four or five books just to get the core rules of your game, you might as well fold up your tent and go home. Again, a concept that sounded simple was actually very difficult to execute.
We wanted SR3 to serve as a primer for shadowrunners and shadowrunning. That meant taking a new perspective on the rules and giving a new tone to the writing. We needed to show the players how to play the game, create a character, use skills. You, the player, needed to understand who a shadowrunner was and what a shadowrunner does. The game is meant for you to play and we had to find a way to get that across. We felt the more we addressed you and showed you how to do things the more fun you would have and the more time you would spend with Shadowrun. And you guessed it-doing that was very, very difficult.
Finally, we needed a new look. The FASA art staff went to work recreating the look and feel of the world of Shadowrun within these pages, focusing on the runners themselves. Not so difficult by my standards-but bleeding-from-the-ears difficult for the art staff.
So that being said, do we have a better product? I can state with total confidence, "YES." The look and feel of the book gives Shadowrun an exciting new visual impact, graphically illustrating what shadowrunning is, how it's done and the world it is set in. The presentation of the rules provides examples that focus on who you are in the game, what you do and how you do it. Even the new rules we added make the game much more understandable and easier to play. Magic now uses the same mechanics as the rest of the game. Skills have been simplified, offering standard defaults as well as more options. Initiative has been reworked so that everyone can contribute to the team as early as possible in combat.
Nine years is a really long time, yet we are totally confident that we just set Shadowrun up for another nine-year run.
See you in 2007!
Have Fun! Play Shadowrun!