Thursday, October 12, 2006

Shadowrun: Why it fails!?!?

artwork by klaus scherwinski; copyright fan pro (I think); used without any permission whatsoever;
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Before I talk about Shadowrun, I want to mention briefly that XCrawl is the worst execution of a great idea I've ever seen in gaming. This is beyond amateur publishing. This was juvenile.

Yes. That's a harsh thing to say. Yes. Professional courtesy dictates that I not speak poorly of someone else's product in a public manner. Yes. This is better served as a letter to the XCrawl team, who as I understand it aren't making the game anymore.

Yes. I know you're turned off by my assertation.

But, today's post is for the good of everyone and I would be remiss if I didn't tell you WHY XCrawl fails on every level in an article about why I love and hate Shadowrun at the same time.

XCrawl's basic premiss WAS the WWF meets Dungeon-crawling. A brilliant concept. Probably the most original in 10 years. Imagine playing a hulked out bad-ass celebrity who goes into pre-made (choreographed) dungeons for the entertainment of the fans. You could have rivalries, where you and your nemesis enter the dungeon at opposite ends, in a race to defeat the "dragon" first.

You could have story lines that involve other "Characters" running in and spoiling your kill, or hitting you while you're fighting the orcs. You could be a "face" or a "heel." You could have entrance music! Guest stars! Announcers! Valets!! Cage matches!!!

God. The list goes on. Every WWE fan was drooling at the potential of this product.

But it never delivered.

Instead, the book was a little over 200 pages, over 120 of the devoted to HISTORY.

120 pages devoted to HOW the world got this way; devoted to what came before; devoted to something that has nothing to do with my character.

On any level.

Who f**king cares?

Who cares about the 3,000 years BEFORE XCrawl?

What kind of toxic shroom were these clownshoes smoking? They even spent at least $500 on that cover that my good buddy Christopher Appel painted for them.

I won't even dignify this product with a proper link or copyright. Here's the link to Chris' site where he doesn't include this product in his gallery.

XCrawl is an abomination. It's the worst kind of offense to gaming. It doesn't even try to be a game. It's not even a novel disguised as a game, like Dark Sun or Fading Suns.

It's a list of things that happened before my character concept was born, that my character can't get involved in, can't change, and can't care about.


Really smart.


I think I'm done bashing XCrawl.

On to Shadowrun.

I played first edition Shadowrun (in college), the first weekend of its release.

We enjoyed it, despite the ridiculously complicated character creation, but never played more than a session and a half of it.

It just wasn't for us.

I heard rumors of groups who loved it, of math nerds making characters with 75 points of initiative, and FASA's sales made it the 2nd best selling game in the '90s. After all, it was perfect gateway drug for those fed up with the ren faire-induced, kit-exploitive, bard-happy 2nd edition miasma that had become Dungeons and Dragons. Even with its inexplicably clumsy rules, a shadowrun dwarf with an autocannon was twice as fun to play as a 2nd edition D&D dwarf with a crossbow.

Second edition came, cleaning up some of the "broken" rules and angering those engineering snobs who thought they'd made perfectly realistic orc twink bad-asses that could chew through school busses filled with copies of Champions. The game sold well and still I didn't care.

Everyone in socal was playing it and the local convention was either games of D&D, Vampire, or Shadowrun. I ran ruleless In Nomine LARPS.

Years went by and interest in Roleplaying faded. I got a job designing games and I stopped looking at products like this that would have no impact on what we made at AEG.

Let me say that Dunkelzahn's death at GenCon (94 I think) was probably the greatest EVENT marketing in gaming history. I wasn't even there, but I've still heard the story from about 2 dozen sources.

Then last summer, rumors of a 3rd Edition of Shadowrun surfaced. I was actually excited. The era of complicated dice and handfuls of d6s was over. Finally, the game would mirror Vampire or d20 or perhaps be a fuzion of good ideas.

And of course a world reset would give me an opportunity to read up on everything and build the world to my liking.

I couldn't wait... although a print run error would force me to wait almost a year... I could wait.

And boy was I disappointed.

Once again, the game opened with long-winded, era-theme vernacular detailing the 50 years leading up to the present.

50 years. More time than my PC has probably been alive.

I reiterate. Who cares?

50 pages of introduction and fiction later, I was less interested in the game.


Your game text is supposed to excite me. It's supposed to make me want to play your game.

Why, oh why? Why did you have to throttle my gaming experience.


I never did finish the book. I glanced over the rules. Saw that they hadn't changed much. Grimaced at the art on pages 65 through 68 and generally put in a pile of MAYBE games.

I've since moved on to designing my own stuff and I have no interest in persuing a campaign involving Shadowrun.

But, I'm not going to let that stop me from handing down a little bit of advice to all you juinor designers out there who really, really want to publish your Dinosaur-Cowboy game.

Making Your Book Readable: A Primer
I've been begging a lot of game designers to do this for years.

It's a brilliant introduction to a book and helps the end-user get excited about your book.

A primer. Everything you write should have a primer. In fact, after a year of book releases, you should have a book that's a primer on the game... telling player's exactly what their PCs would know about the world and DM's exactly what's going on.

But in the case of a new release, a 1,000-word overview for the PCs and another 1,000-word overview for the GM isn't a lot to ask. Anyone that spends $40 on your book can read 1,000 words before jumping into the meat. To give you an idea of what 1000 words look like, read half of this post. If you've taken the time to design an entire game world, you can spend two hours writing up your world Primer.

Your job as a game designer is to entertain a little and give me enough rope to entertain myself (wait, that sounded dirty). Gamers are getting older and aren't buying your long-winded books anymore because they aren't fun. They aren't innovative. They aren't breaking new ground. They aren't anything I've seen a hundred times already.

They stopped being fun back in 1995. Okay. Actually, the last fun book was the Iron Kingdom's Monsternomicon. And the new Warhammer Fantasy Companion is going to rock on toast (I already read most of it). But with 200 books releasing every day, that's hardly a stellar batting average.

Find a new way to present the material.

Find a new way to present the art.

Find a new way to play the game or don't bother killing the trees necessary to clog up your warehouse.

ASIDE: Bad Religion, Only Entertainment is playing on my iTunes right now. Ha.

Okay. My rant is done.

The moral of this story is that there's a lot of great ideas out there. Everyone is due for at least one. But execution is key. Learning how to make something well and organizing properly it is a crucial ingredient in game design.

If you want stream of consciousness, read the original 1st edition PHB and DMG. If you want organization and quality control, check out the 3rd edition of that same line.

Okay. The 4th edition.

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