Following our recent trend of D&D homebrew and other useful tips, I’m back with some Shadowrun tips. There’s no doubt that one of the most fun things you can do as a GM is build a world that your players get to explore. Worldbuilding is satisfying in ways that just writing the twists and turns of your campaign isn’t. Without further ado, let’s get into it!
Canon or Fanon?
The first thing you have to decide when building a campaign from the ground up is whether or not to use a pregenerated campaign or not. Every tabletop RPG offers these, and some of them come with extra goodies, which I’ll get into later. Shadowrun’s lore, at least in 5th edition (which is what I run), takes place around the year 2056. The era in history is the Sixth World, a time when magic becomes reintroduced. It’s ushered in by elves, orks, and trolls being born to human parents. Thus, humanity becomes meta-humanity. With this advancement comes the advent of bioware, cyberware, and other technological advantages and hindrances. Technomancy evolves out of magic, which allows its users to communicate with the ever-present matrix without an interface, ie. a cyberdeck. Shadowrun’s hub is Seattle; the epicenter of the west coast.
That’s the basis of all campaigns. It’s the tone of Shadowrun, and there’s no getting around it. Much like D&D takes place in a medieval setting, Shadowrun is very, very ’80s cyberpunk. Comes with the territory.
When you choose to run with a pregen campaign, the book you’re following along in will give you a specific background, plot, and focus in line with the setting. When you choose to build your own campaign, you can play around with things like the city it takes place in, the year, and how daily life will affect your players. It doesn’t even have to take place on earth.
However, Catalyst Labs has done a damn good job of creating their universe. Unless you have a desperate desire to make up your own foreign land, it’s widely accepted that you’ll use a neo-city as a base setting.
One of the most daunting things about starting a session in Shadowrun is helping your players through character creation. Unless they’ve done it before, and unless you’ve studied it to a T, you’re gonna have some difficulty. That’s a series of articles for another time, though.
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of pieces of gear that a character can potentially acquire in Shadowrun. Everything from guns to broken bottles to food to drugs is accounted for. I don’t find any of the gear lists lacking in anything; however there are some situations you’d be in that require some homebrew items.
One instance being: in the campaign I run currently, there is a character who became a test subject for new forms of cyberware. Shadowrun already has different grades of the stuff: used, standard, alpha, beta, and gamma. Each has its tradeoffs and advantages. Used cyberware is cheap but will affect its user negatively. Gammaware drains its user less but is a luxury item and is almost never available at character creation. For this campaign, since it’s set around a hundred years after Shadowrun’s suggested date of 2056, I homebrewed a type of experimental cyberware: sigmaware.
Stuff like this is encouraged. I can detail the changes in another post, but adding a bit of flavor to the world is something that helps draw players in and get their attention.
Visual References & Handouts
I personally think Shadowrun benefits a lot from handouts. Players have access to maps, character profiles (but not their stats), what the world looks like, and where everything they interact with is in proximity to them. Much like having a physical dungeon available for D&D, having a map players can refer to brings ’em just a little closer to the campaign. It feels tangible.
If you’re talented with a 3D printer and modeling software, there are plenty of tactile things that characters interact with over the course of even a one-shot run: credsticks, fake IDs, weaponry, and even main NPCs are things that can benefit from having a tangible thing attached to them. Of course I realize not everyone has a 3D printer, so that’s a bit of a long shot.
The final thing I’d suggest here is having gear cards. I’ve mentioned them before and won’t go into detail here, but they provide a visible reference for each gun, spell, and program your players can obtain. Well, not all of them, but enough to skirt by. It also makes shops easier to set up.
Final Thoughts & Preparations
As far as worldbuilding goes, that’s about all the advice I can give, other than just have fun with it. You’re creating something that you get to share with others that are going in entirely blind. They’re discovering things that you’ve set up just for them, and to me that’s what being a GM is pretty much about. Even if a session goes awry, you’re all experiencing this thing together. And who knows, your players may teach you things about your world that you never knew.
A final word, though: GMs, invest in a set of 100 or so d6. Sure, there are apps that roll dice for you, but who doesn’t want to chuck 42 dice onto a table for their run pool and count how many hits they get? Also, your players might forget theirs one week and it’s good to have your players covered.
Featured image is from Catalyst Labs.