Monday, December 6, 2010

New Character Archetypes for Shadowitz

In one of my last mentions of Shadowitz, I made mention of a new take on physical mages and technomancers, and promptly said no more about them. Oops.

Now, I don't have hard rules for either of these, because my group is pretty happy with the characters they have and no one wants to play one of these, but I've kicked around the ideas anyway. While both would require more development to flesh out the specifics and turn these into character packages that offer the same robust options that other character types have, I think there's a lot of work done in the system to support them already.

See, while I've read endless pages of posts on various Shadowrun forums about how it was a feature, not a bug, that the game was actually a 4 in 1 kind of system, with rules for running the Matrix having nothing in common with rigging, which was entirely different from physical combat, which only had some minor similarities to magical and astral tasks, I claim from nothing more authoritative than my own personal experience that it didn't come off as much of a feature. I didn't like it. In fact, the last by-the-book Shadowrun game I ran ended not because the story ended, and not because of some irreconcilable intra-party conflict (a historical favorite), but simply because I couldn't stay on top of the rules anymore. The decker had bought the advanced Matrix books, the mage was looking into metamagic options, and then the rigger bought a drone and wanted to start getting into electronic warfare. When a physical adept killed a dragon with nothing more than a knife and some externally sustained spells, I knew I was clearly missing some very important stuff in the flow of the game, and no matter how much more I studied, I was going to get buried in the details, so I called the campaign to a close. Besides, that intra-party conflict was coming soon.

That experience has led me to design rules with a particular methodology. All aspects of play don't have to be identical. In fact I think mechanical differentiation is necessary in order to emphasize character differences. That's my big complaint about technomancers as written in 4e, in fact. While I haven't given the rules a thorough playing, on the page they look and feel an awful lot like sorcery, just in a different setting. Anyway, there should be mechanical differences, but, and here's where I break from many prior versions of Shadowrun and a whole lot of other games too, those differences should be on the character side. On the GM's side of the screen, I'm shooting to make everything pretty close to uniform.

From my own experience, I know that I'm not going to use a ton of fancy mechanics in a fight. I might trick out a couple of NPCs to try something in a scene, but if I go into a combat with 6 NPCs each loaded up with options as richly as my PCs, 90% of that's not getting used. Either I'm going to forget about them, or, more likely, they'll get mowed down before they get to most the fancy stuff.

And to be completely honest with you, my "to do" list for my campaigns does have NPC creation at the top, but it's to create interesting, recurring characters. Yeah, I do prep for my adventures, but often I'm scribbling down combat stats an hour before game time. It's much more important for me to get the personalities of play in place, and maybe review whatever notes I had on ongoing PC plot threads and the like. That sort of thing will see more use in the game, and will make the game better than any number of mechanically intricate combat opponents will.

So what's any of this got to do with technomancers and physical mages? Truth be told, not much. However, the above explained stance informs my design ideas for these two concepts in that any additional options will all be on the player side to manage. If one of my players does wind up playing a physical mage or technomancer, my job in engaging him will not change. I'll still be rolling the same dice in the same way for the situations. The same basic system runs all character types now, and will continue to.

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