Shadowrun: Anarchy: Why We Took a Cue

Gen Con is rushing down on us, and one of the things I’m most excited about is getting the prototype version of Shadowrun: Anarchy into gamers’ hands. Since that’s about to happen, followed by the push to get the full version off to print, it’s a good time to start talking about how the book came to be—and why it is what it is.

The reason to bring Shadowrun: Anarchy into being is simple—people kept asking for it. I love Shadowrun, Fifth Edition and look forward to further expanding and detailing that ruleset, but I also see the value in something that you can learn and play quickly, where the focus is the story and the rules are there to help the story move along. In early 2015, I kept having conversations with people interested in such a system, to the point where my thinking went from “Should we do this?” to “How should we do this?”

Answering that question meant looking at an asset we already had in hand—the Cue System that was first used in Cosmic Patrol and then in the Valiant Universe Role-Playing Game. I love Cosmic Patrol’s fast pace and the way it draws all the players into shaping a shared story, while the Valiant RPG showed the system’s potential for holding more mechanics, allowing more depth and variety of characters without sacrificing speed and simplicity. Still, if we were going to try to adapt the Cue System to Shadowrun, it was going to have to change even more. Some critical issues that arose during development included:

  • Could we move the system from a series of progressing dice—attributes in the Cue System improve by going from D4 to D6 to D8 and so on—to pools of six-sided dice, which is a critical part of making a system feel like Shadowrun?
  • Could we adapt the Cue System’s shared-gamemaster structure into one that allows a more traditional, single gamemaster as an option, or even one that uses a single gamemaster as a default?
  • How many connections could we make between Shadowrun, Fifth Edition and Anarchy so that players may move from one to the other?
  • How could we introduce magic, combat, and the Matrix so that all elements feel usable without overly complicating the game? What about spirits? Technomancers? Riggers?
  • What is the balance between providing the information the players need for the game to work and providing too much information so that it becomes off-putting?

These are not easy questions, and they were not answered easily or right away. One answer we saw pretty quickly was that the Cue System could work—we could bend it and stretch it into what we wanted it to be while working with its cooperative storytelling strengths. We had the bones we needed—our work was fleshing it out.

As we look into the development process, we’ll talk about how we answered some of the other questions I mentioned, and why we chose what we chose. For this post, let’s answer the first question: Six-sided dice pools are go! Having a simplified list of skills and connected attributes allows us to use dice pools that grow as characters improve, and allow the same virtues of scaling up that we get in Shadowrun, Fifth Edition. If it’s a Shadowrun role-playing game, we want to be able to roll six-sided dice, so that’s what you’re going to get!

How did we answer those other questions? Future posts will let you know!

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