March 13, 2014
Complexity Within Simplicity
Last week, after our session of Wrath of the Righteous, a fellow player and I were discussing the overall concept of Shadowrun and how, complexity-wise, it falls into that interesting frame of being mechanically complex, with a very complex setting/story, and yet still managing to hold on to a very simple premise that is quite easy to grasp. While talking to him, I realized that this may actually be one of the game’s greatest strengths. Allow me to explain.
The crunch of Shadowrun is very complex, requiring players learn different rules sets for each sort of character you want to play and requiring Gamemasters to have a basic understanding of them all. Using magic is different from using the matrix. Spellcasting works differently than alchemy, which is also different from ritual casting, enchanting, or summoning, though they are are all magic, and the same is true of decking, technomancy, and rigging although all three of these things use the matrix to varying extents. Combat is much more complicated than many other games, as it has to allow for all of these varying factors as well as modern/futuristic firearms, swordplay, and vehicular variants. All in all, the game is one that you never really stop learning. Even experienced players will often find that they are doing something wrong, or find a rule that was overlooked on accident, and the whole game will change for them.
The fluff is no less detailed, with a very intricate history and so much political and social intrigue that it would make George R. R. Martin blush. There are layers upon layers of conspiracy and lies that no one person in all of the Sixth World knows, yet all shape the world as a whole, making it what it is. Characters are thrust into this world of competing Mega Corporations, Great Dragons, crime syndicates, politicians, and street scum and are asked to be willing chess pieces in their elaborate games, rarely ever knowing what greater machinations are in the works.
Yet, on the most basic level, the game is about a team of individuals who come together, take a job, prep for the job, do the job, and then get paid for the job. That is it. You are basically playing corporate mercenaries. A typical game consists of getting a crew together (the player characters), setting up a meet with a “Mr. Johnson” (an employer), negotiating payment for a job, doing all the prep-work the job will require, pulling off the job (which is usually the majority of the session), and then getting paid all so they can do it all again next session. Few other games can boast such a simplistic layout for an average session – save maybe go into dungeon, kick down door, kill thing, take treasure, repeat until cleared dungeon, find new dungeon, repeat.
The complexity of the mechanics makes it so no two characters are ever completely alike. The complexity in its setting gives you an interesting backdrop for your campaign. Yet it is the simplicity of the game’s focus that ensures players coming back. The the suspicion of the J-meet, the excitement of planning a heist, the suspense of of job itself, the exhilaration of a great pay-out, all of these things come together to make the experience of Shadowrun something to remember.
Many military-based games follow a similar premise, but the constraint of being part of some greater body takes something – a sense of freedom, maybe – away from the players. Being free agents, being shadowrunners, is apart of what makes the whole thing work.
As always, thanks for reading and I wish you all good gaming.
Image Credit: Catalyst Gamer Labs