Category Archives: General

Creating Shadowrun Fiction for the Sixth World Game Edition–or, Meet your Editor, Mr. Johnson

(Note: The Rigger Dossier intended for release this week will be made available at a later date. In its place, we present this in-depth look at upcoming Shadowrun fiction.)

By John Helfers

I’ve been editing fiction for Catalyst Game Labs for several years now, and I like to think I’m pretty decent at it. But even though I’ve commissioned dozens of stories and novels, some projects still require a bit more of a hands-on approach due to their unique nature. And along with that uniqueness often comes a deadline that is just as immovable as anything else in publishing.

Just like the one for this article was. How was I supposed to write about overseeing the creation of six interlinked novellas set in the new backdrop of the next edition of Shadowrun, and featuring the new characters from the Beginner Box Set and take you through how that all came about?

While I was staring at my computer screen, trying to get the words flowing, the core idea hit me: for all intents and purposes, a tie-in fiction editor is a lot like a Mr. Johnson in the Sixth World.

Exactly like them, in fact.

I receive my assignment from the corp: It all started when the CGL overlords (well, one of the overlords) Randall Bills started a thread (or perhaps an e-mail) about how to tie our fiction line into the upcoming release of the next edition of the Shadowrun roleplaying game. I assured him that this was a great idea (it is), and of course I could commission a series of six original interwoven (!) novellas, all featuring a team of runners out to score some kind of major run on a corp, and have the first one ready to publish in about 45 days from initial concept (!!), with the next five to follow in two-week intervals leading up to the launch of the new Shadowrun edition this August.

I assemble my shadowrunning (shadow-writing?) team: Next, I had to pull together the group of writers I would hire to handle this trickier-than-usual job. Commissioning six Shadowrun novellas is easy; commissioning six novellas whose plot paths cross over one another and weave in and out as the story progresses is a very different item. I needed to find writers I not only could trust were familiar with the Shadowrun universe, but who were also solid writers that would play well with the rest of the group. If we didn’t have cohesion as each writer turned in their separate plot for the others to tie their stories in to, the whole project could fall apart.

Fortunately, I’ve been editing this IP long enough that I know several excellent writers who can turn in wonderful stories on relatively short notice. I also had contacts on the gamebook side of SR, and Line Developer Jason Hardy put me in touch with a couple writers who had been working hard on the core rulebook, were experienced in writing Shadowrun fiction, and who were also free (and willing) to tackle this project in the limited time frame it required.

So, relatively quickly, I assembled my team: game designer and writer Dylan Birtolo; two Shadowrun, Sixth World writers, Brooke Chang and CZ Wright; professional game guy and Shadowrun enthusiast Bryan CP Steele; former BattleTech editor, and current Shadowrun and BattleTech freelance writer Jason Schmetzer; and to wrap the whole thing up into a nice neat ending, the same Jason M. Hardy (because he didn’t have enough to do with overseeing the creation of the new edition) who gave me his author list in the first place. Once again, no good deed goes unpunished.

I give the team their assignment and turn them loose: I brought the team together on our online Basecamp project managing site and pretty much let them loose on figuring out the who, when, where, why, and how the overall plot would go down while I kept tabs on how things were progressing and weighed in on ideas and answered questions when needed. The authors all came together nicely, and soon the ideas were flowing fast and furious.

I take the results of each section of the overall mission and make sure they work for the parameters I’d been assigned: The novella manuscripts started hitting my inbox, and that’s when I really got to work in editing and shaping each piece to make sure they fit our vision of what the overarching story was going to be. I’m pleased to say that everyone has delivered stellar work so far, and I have no doubt that the rest of the pieces will be up to the high bar of the first three stories we’ve published.

When the last of the stories is completed, I will make sure the runners…er, writers are all paid for their work, and I’ll enjoy the satisfaction of having overseen the completion of another successful mission in media tie-in publishing. The job’s only half done at this point, with me still having to review and make sure the last three stories bring our story to its exciting conclusion. But I have every confidence that the rest of my writing team will do it justice.

Okay, so there was no posturing for respect on the mean streets or last-minute double-crosses among the writers (good thing, too) or betrayals from the corp itself—the closest thing to any obstacles I encountered was that some of the authors needed a few more days to complete their stories (and one time cover art was delayed, necessitating a rescheduling of the publication of one novella). Frag, I even work on a computer for 99 percent of the time, so I don’t even get so much as a paper cut nowadays.

The team I put together worked like a well-oiled machine that gave me the results I wanted, and the final product is a great introduction to the exciting world of Shadowrun, Sixth World. I completed my assignment (or will), making my corp happy and allowing a very talented group of writers to show all the Shadowrun fans what they can do. In short, I executed like a true Mr. Johnson.

But now, as I’m re-reading this, maybe editing tie-in work isn’t all that hazardous, and perhaps I’m stretching that editor-as-Mr. Johnson analogy a bit too far…

Nah…

  • May 1: Initial Announcement
  • May 8: Product Overview
  • May 15: Developer Overview
  • May 22: Setting Overview
  • May 29: Developer Q&A
  • June 5: Fiction Announcement
  • June 12: Shadowrun at Origins preview
  • More to follow
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Shadowrun, Sixth World Setting Overview

By Jason Hardy, Shadowrun Line Developer

While last week’s post focused on the rules of Shadowrun, Sixth World, today I want to talk about the game’s Sixth World setting, which is a key element of its success. It’s not just the unholy hybrid of fantasy and cyberpunk that make it compelling, but also the way the ongoing storyline has evolved over the years. With dragons, spirits, and sasquatches wielding significant corporate power, AIs and other mysterious entities roaming the Matrix, and spell-casting gangs spreading chaos through the world’s cities, the Sixth World is vibrant and exciting—and always throwing challenges at shadowrunners.

Talk to any Shadowrun fan and they’ll tell you stories—maybe about the Universal Brotherhood, or Renraku Arcology, or the death of Dunkelzahn, or Crash 2.0, or the fight for the future of Chicago. The unfolding story over the past thirty years has kept players and readers entertained, as stories play out in both sourcebooks and fiction.

That tradition continues with Shadowrun, Sixth World. Last week I talked about the upcoming plot sourcebook Cutting Black and the campaign book 30 Nights. While I don’t want to spoil any of the upcoming plot details, let me say that they start with Ares making a big move against the bugs, and the various responses to that destruction will reshape the world. The events are big, multi-pronged, and provide lots of chances for shadowrunner involvement. These aren’t events that happen over shadowrunners’ heads—they’ll be right down in it, dealing with world-shaking events and trying to survive while figuring out just what happened.

While these events are important, they don’t cover all the stories of the Shadowrun universe that need to be told. Novels, novellas, and short stories play vital roles in immersing readers in the universe and sharing unforgettable stories. From classics by Nigel Findley, Tom Dowd, and Robert Charrette, to new favorites like Russell Zimmerman, Jennifer Brozek, and R.L. King, Shadowrun has been Home to great stories and storytellers. Which means I’m very excited to talk about the fiction that’s coming up!

We already mentioned the six-part series of novellas called The Frame Job. They’ll cover the four characters included in the beginner box set, as well as a bonus character, then have a Sixth novella wrapping the whole story up. Dylan Birtolo wrote the first one, Brooke Chang wrote the second, and talented writers such as Bryan Steele, CZ Wright, and Jason Schmetzer will take on the other characters. Then I’ll be delighted to wrap it up!

But that’s not all the Shadowrun fiction that will be coming your way! Jennifer Brozek has a new novel called Makeda Red coming your way. It starts with an extraction on a luxury Party Train, and it’s every bit as fun as that concept implies. And more is in the pipeline, so keep your eyes peeled for future announcements!

Word about Shadowrun, Sixth World is starting to spread! EN World has a review up of the Beginner Box, Diehard Game Fan put up an unboxing, the Shadowcasters Network continues to cover the rules and upcoming books, Meeple Monthly and GTM have articles about the game (the latter includes a new, double-sided poster), and more reviews will be coming up—we’ll link to them when we see them!

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Shadowrun, Sixth World Developer’s Notes

From Jason Hardy, Shadowrun Line Developer:

Shadowrun, Sixth World is coming soon!

Wait, Shadowrun, Sixth World isn’t out yet? But I’ve been thinking about it for years! Playing it for more than a year! How are other people not playing it? Development time can be so disorienting.

There was a time—six years ago, to be specific—when I threatened physical violence to anyone who said the words “sixth edition” in my presence. (The threats didn’t work. No one is ever scared of me. But I digress). Fifth Edition took a lot of effort to produce, and I didn’t want to think about starting that whole process again. But then there were a few years where I didn’t have to think about a new edition, and I could recharge. Actually, that’s not entirely true, because every time I play a game—whether it’s one I worked on or not—I’m kind of thinking of a new edition. I’m looking at what works well, what works differently than intended, and what possibilities might open up with a tweak here and there. So when the time came to envision the next edition of Shadowrun, I had a few ideas, as did the excellent roster of Shadowrun writers and gamemasters I could tap into.

All those ideas needed a framework, of course. As we started our work, we decided the sixth edition of Shadowrun needed to possess three main qualities:

  1. Be no more than 300 pages long;
  2. Use D6 dice pools; and
  3. Feel like Shadowrun.

Those last two points are related, because it’s tough for a game to feel like Shadowrun if you’re not rolling a healthy handful of D6s. But there’s more to it than that. Combat specialists, spellcasters, conjurers, adepts, faces, deckers, technomancers, riggers, enchanters, weapon specialists, and more all need to exist, and they all must have different and meaningful ways to contribute to a run.

In this edition, all that had to happen within 300 pages. Which is a trick. Fifth Edition, not counting the index, is 466 pages; the anniversary edition of Fourth Edition was 351 pages, and Third Edition was 325 pages (minus the sample record sheets). Second Edition is a lean 284 pages, but it had no bioware, no technomancers, no alchemy, and no qualities, to name a few things that have changed in the intervening years. The book that started it all is an even leaner 207 pages, but along with the elements Second Edition didn’t have, it lacks things such as adepts and foci, and it offers only twenty guns—heresy! (Fifth Edition has 52, while Shadowrun, Sixth World will offer 53–we didn’t cut back much on those options!) All this is to say that streamlining the core rulebook back to 300 pages was not going to be easy.

It’s important to note that simply making the book shorter doesn’t, by itself, do any good. You can make any book shorter by simply ripping every third page out, but you end up with a book that makes no sense. Making the book shorter only is useful if the game also becomes smoother to play. In other words, we didn’t just want a shorter game—we wanted one that moved faster and was easier to get into, while still offering lots of meaningful options. We also didn’t want this to be Shadowrun: Anarchy for the simple reason that Anarchy already exists. Anarchy represents a more extreme end of the rules-light spectrum than Shadowrun, Sixth World–one way to understand the difference between the two is that the gear rules and listings take up about seven or eight pages in Anarchy, compared to fifty pages in Sixth World. Did I mention we wanted to offer lots of options?

Anyway, this means that if the rules were changed, they needed to be changed with an eye toward enabling players to do the things that they wanted to do more quickly. Combat should be faster. Hacking should be smoother and more intuitive. Magic should adapt to be just what the caster wants it to be. And so on. So what, specifically, did we do? Here’s a sample:

  • Expanded Edge: Yes, one of the things we did to streamline the game was to make one function much more detailed. But stay with me for a second. The definition of Edge has shifted—rather than being that undefinable something extra you reach for in a tough spot to help put you over the top, Edge now represents the accumulated advantage you get in opposed situations. Whether you’re fighting, spellcasting, hacking, or negotiating, you’ll have a chance to earn and spend bonus Edge. And you should spend it—if you’re not gaining and spending Edge regularly in Shadowrun, Sixth World it might be time to rethink your tactics. Or find less formidable opposition. Gaining and spending Edge replaces a lot of other functions in the game, like calculating situational modifiers, dealing with recoil and armor piercing, and environmental modifiers. Edge also provides a chance for a character to really have an impact when it’s time to spend it.
  • Fewer action types: There are two, Minor and Major. That’s it! You get one Minor and one Major per turn, with an additional Minor for various circumstances, such as reaction-enhancing augmentations or spells. One Major Action may be traded for four Minor Actions, or four Minor for one Major.
  • Simplified initiative: You roll initiative at the start of an encounter and then don’t re-roll it. Certain actions or effects may change your initiative score, though.
  • No limits: Limits served a valuable function of balancing attributes and providing different opportunities for rule effects, but in a streamlined ruleset, they are not needed. Limits on most tests and Force for spells have all been removed.
  • Skill list narrowed: SR5 has 80 skills, while SR6 has 19. That’s a big difference. There’s definite streamlining there, but it comes at the risk of characters not being distinct from each other. To deal with that, players can still select specializations but can also upgrade a specialization to an expertise, giving their character +3 bonus dice instead of +2, and once they  have an expertise they can select an additional specialization. This will provide characters with chances to become truly distinct.
  • More intuitive Matrix: This is an ongoing goal, and it’s always fun to try to make Matrix activities happen alongside and in parallel with the other actions. Deckers will have meaningful things to do and ways to get in, make things happen, and get out—all while trying to avoid the watchful eyes of the Grid Overwatch Division, of course.

Those are some of the major changes, but far from the only ones. We haven’t talked about Attack Ratings, the uses of armor, changes to Knowledge skills, revamped spell design, new vehicle stats, cyberjacks, and more. I hope this gives you a taste of the upcoming changes, and I look forward to you all playing Shadowrun, Sixth World as much as I have and will! And look for more information on this blog each Wednesday in May!

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Catalyst February Shadowrun Street Dates

The following products have a Street Date of FEBRUARY 18, 2015:

CAT27004_Shadowrun-Run Faster_Cover
Shadowrun Run Faster, Standard Edition ($49.99)
Every step, every advantage, every millisecond counts. The streets of the Sixth World are mean, and if they want to stay alive, shadowrunners need every advantage they can get to gain a step on the opposition. Fortunately, Run Faster is full of them. With it, you can learn about more metatypes for characters, including hobgoblins, giants, centaurs, and sasquatch; acquire new qualities, such as Disgraced, Hawk Eye, and Lightning Reflexes; and, if you dare, dabble with the dangerous and deadly Infected.

CAT27004LE_RunFaster-LimitedEdition_Cover
Run Faster also has advice on fleshing out characters of different metatypes, expanded contact and lifestyle rules, and alternate character creation methods to help ensure that players can build exactly the character they want.

All these options make Run Faster a crucial companion to players who want to get the most out of their Shadowrun, Fifth Edition core rulebook.

Shadowrun Run Faster, Limited Edition ($74.99)
Run Faster Limited Edition book includes a bonded red leather cover with gold foil stamp and a de-bossed graphic.

Shadowrun: London Falling
London Falling ($19.99)
London—where the thick fog (sounds nicer than smog, doesn’t it) makes for some truly deep shadows. Every crooked street, every cramped building holds a secret or two, as well as a person or two who will go to great lengths to ensure those secrets are kept. There is, for instance, the dark secret of a minor noble who has not been seen in Parliament in months. And the researcher who has a startlingly large amount of people interested in his work. The courier who carries one secret in his head and another in his gut. And an explosive secret that has been festering in the West End Underplex for years or even decades.

Skilled runners have the chance to uncover these secrets and more, but they’d better be ready for the forces of the world that would prefer to keep things covered up. They are tenacious, dangerous, and, perhaps most surprising for England, not at all polite.

London Falling features four adventures for Shadowrun set in London. Initially designed especially for gaming conventions, these adventures are now available to all players who want to dive in and see if they can survive the challenges of the Big Smoke. London Falling has stats that allow it to be compatible for both Shadowrun, Fifth Edition and Shadowrun, Twentieth Anniversary Edition.

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