Starting Your Shadowrun Bookshelf (1)
Well, well, well. Another new Shadowrun GM enters the fold and asks the question that I posed last week yet didn't answer (switching topics to a rant on the way the sourcebooks are organized). That question: What do you get to start playing Shadowrun?
You need three things. Friends, imagination, and the Shadowrun main book, also called the Big Black Book because it's big (about 300 pages), black (the cover), and a book (duh).
From there, I'd recommend looking into getting the Grimore and the Street Samurai Catalog. And get a map of your town or the largest nearby large city to base your adventures out of.
From there, you'll want to decide how your campaign should go. High magic? Your next purchase should be Awakenings. Geared against a certain foe? Try a copy of Threats, Tir Tairngire, Aztlan, the bug books, or Underworld Sourcebook. Want to start out in a different place than somewhere nearby? Pick up a local sourcebook -- Seattle Sourcebook, Bug City, NAGNA, Denver, California Free State, Tir Tairngire, London, Germany, Aztlan, or Tir na nÒg.
Let's look at the books classification by classification.
Bodyware: Cyber- and Bio- have their first add-ons to the game system in Street Samurai Catalog. Basic items like Boosted Reflexes and eye and ear modifications are given stats here. Combine this with the gun information in the first part of the book, and you'll have a reference book that the combat-intensive characters would like. Then again, if you're not concerned about the cyberware, you have the stats for all the weapons in the back of the Big Black Book, under Sourcebook Updates.
The bioware is introduced in Shadowtech, a sourcebook yours truly doesn't have. My reason for passing this up time after time? There's nothing that really caught my eye. Thumb through it at your store, see if it's something you want to introduce in your campaign.
More cyberware is contained in Cybertechnology. A very good book with additional rules for the effects of cyber in the society of 2057. More cyber, more secrets of the game world, and an index of every bit of cyber on the streets make this a wise investment. If wanting to go the chrome/vat line, I'd purchase the books in that order: SSC, Shadowtech, Cybertechnology.
Decking and Rigging: If you want a decker as one of the initial characters in the PC's group, I strongly recommend picking up a copy of Virtual Realities 2.0. VR2.0 revamps the Matrix runs; adds a whole new mess of rules to your game.
My advice: don't let a decker be a first-time gamer's starting character. Use NPC deckers when first starting out, simplifying the NPC's Matrix runs to a die roll or two. After the players (and you) realize all that the decker can do and what the decker's role in the Shadowrun game system is, let them play a PC decker.
For rigging, I'd do the same thing for similar reasons. Quite frankly, the vehicle rules are a mess. Wait until September '97 for Rigger 2 to come out. I'd discourage someone who wanted a rigger character (unless both you and the player know how the vehicle rules work) and try to downplay vehicle chase/combat scenes. The Rigger's Black Book, a first edition sourcebook, is being used by many current GMs to resolve vehicular rules, with many conflicts. Wait for Rigger 2 or be prepared to wing it quite often.
Magic: If you want to introduce magic into the game or have a magically-attuned character, the Grimore is a must. This should be the second book purchased by first-time gaming groups. Expanding on the spell library started in the Big Black Book, this book also has rules for creating your own game spells, rules for gaining more knowledge in the ways of magic, and rules to expand spirits, astral space, and magical adepts in your game. A must buy, possibly should be combined with the main book -- if FASA would gut the obsolete decking rules and unnecessary Seattle pages... But that's last week's column.
Awakenings is the next step in magic. More rules, more spells, more ideas. A very good book that includes a complete list of spells (including an index linking book and page to spell). Good to get, but a starting campaign can always wait to pick this one up.
Firepower: The Street Samurai Catalog expands on this. From better, bigger pistols to silent Narcojects; from swords to shock gloves; from gun accessories to full-body armor, this is probably the only gun book your group will ever need from FASA. Again, I'll remind you that you do have the stats for all these in the Sourcebook Updates section of the Big Black Book, but you won't have descriptions of such items as the Flash-Pak, Narcoject Pistol, or Boosted Reflexes. This moved from my "skip it" to "gotta have it" book list.
Like Awakenings being the next step for magic, so Fields of Fire is the next step for firearms. However, this book isn't needed by your average shadowrunner whose job is to sneak in, do something quietly, then sneak out. No, here are your military grade bang-bangs. Military Specification Armor. Mortars. Tanks. Missiles. If you're playing a military themed game or just want too much firepower for Joe-Bob Runner to have, this is your book. Not needed for starting GMs.
Other books you might be thinking of purchasing initially: The Shadowrun Companion is a neat little package, but not needed. This book includes a different system for character generation, advanced rules, tips on running a game, and alternative campaign concepts. The last bit -- the alternative campaign concepts -- might be worth looking into if you don't want to play the standard shadowrunners. Six different game themes are featured here: ambulance team, media unit, law enforcement, high-magic, special ops, and gang warfare themes.
But if you want an organized crime game theme, you'll want the Underworld Sourcebook (and possibly the Mob War! adventure pack). Explaining the Mafia, the Yakuza, the Triad, and the Seloupa Rings and their places in the Sixth World, you'll be able to introduce the rulers of the shadows to your campaign.
Along with these books, I'd lump in Shadowbeat. Some call it the most useless sourcebook, I give it a hearty two thumbs up. Simsense, music, sports, and the media are all represented here. Yep, the media -- ever see the Max Headroom show? Rules for media personalities are featured here, so if you're thinking about the media themed campaign from the Shadowrun Companion, you'll need to look at this book.
Next week, we'll look at the world that Shadowrun is set in and those sourcebooks (as well as a quick glance at the bad guys and the groups/things that can affect the Sixth World). But first, a note about this column and next week's column:
If you've been reading along with the intention of getting a few of these books, you'll probably realize that you want four of these right now to begin. This is where you get your players together and introduce them to the game system. If someone wants to play a shaman, have him buy the Grimore or have him split the cost with you. If someone wants to play a vat-grown assassin, have her get Shadowtech. Just remember that you don't have to buy everything. Well, at least everything but Sprawl Maps or DMZ.
Anyway, next week is the world and the forces behind it. See you then, same bat-time, same bat-channel.
On to Part Two.