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I started to read about Shadowrun as a setting and I'm currently reading the rules and they are really intimidating. There's a lot to know as a player since every aspect of the game as it's own set of rules. Even more as a GM since you need to deal with all of them.

How do you start a game of Shadowrun when there are tons of specific rule for specific situation? For instance Technomancy and Magic are very complex (from a DnD 3.5 perspective). Should I simply read the book from cover to cover and try to retain everything?

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Getting a character generator like Hero Lab to help you understand the steps for character generation may be helpful. – Rob Aug 14 '12 at 14:35
You'll find that you will have way more problems with the amount of possibilities and information available in Shadowrun. It's as modern a world as ours, with instant communication and an internet to look up things, but also with advanced biotech, nanotech, genetic engineering, magic and a ton more features like this. – Martin Sojka Aug 16 '12 at 10:03
up vote 9 down vote accepted

There is a lot to remember and when just starting out with the system, expecting any single person to be in full possession of all of it from the start is unreasonable. That said, adopting only parts of the rules at one time, or just narrating the abilities and results of the professions and aspects you are not prepared to run yet will lead to inconsistencies in the campaign and open you up to the risk of accidentally misrepresenting the flow of the game to the players.

  • My solution to this is to divide the labour.

Generate, or have volunteers generate cheat sheets for the specific systems of the player characters. Review these with the appropriate characters when you can. The goal here is to familiarize yourself with the procedures and expectations, while training the player at the same time. Between the two of you, things should go smoothly in play. As sessions progress, your knowledge of the system will grow and your reliance on the player's assistance will lessen. As an added benefit, the player will more quickly become adept at using the character's skills and abilities and can then focus on personality and immersion.

  • The second step is to explicitly practice.

In the early stages balance your sessions to allow for scenes that focus on 1) using specific aspects of the system (start small and get progressively larger) and 2) specific aspects of the setting. Expose yourself and the players to practice with the mechanics, and to interaction with the world and its characters.

  • The third step is to know what is possible, and to know what is possible now

Unless you have a huge group, you will not have a full representation of character professions and types at your table. As everyone develops a stronger awareness of the setting, their thinking will likely expand incrementally to include options which they cannot perform, or have not yet seen. If you really are not ready to include an aspect of play in a session or scenario, be prepared to explain why it was not possible in that particular case. Don't rule it out, or just invent a result, build up the background of your tale by knowing what got in the way of that option. If you start out without using magic, eventually the players may wonder why they never meet any mages. The explanation helps make the setting yours, and it builds anticipation for the day the mages do show up.

  • The last tip I have is to accept that this game will take time to learn

Build good locations, interesting missions, and compelling NPCs. Encourage well-developed personalities in the PCs with room to grow into the setting and establish roots that may not be obvious at the beginning. Take everything in stages, but start from a solid overview of what the 6th World holds.

The system is daunting at first. It gets better.

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Welcome to Shadowrun!

Setting player expectations is important. It's OK to tell them you don't know everything about the game. One approach I've used:

Go through the character creation process with the players, taking everything nice and slow and making sure everyone is sharing the process with each other. Then have the characters get into a fight. Make sure everyone knows this is just to familiarize yourselves with the mechanics. Have a firefight. Summon an elemental. Have the rigger bring a drone into the fight. Switch things up a bit and run through it again.

This gives the players familiarity with the rules, but also with the balance between technology and magic that is so important to Shadowrun. It's easy to think you're a badass because your Troll Street Samurai has a Panther Assault Cannon, until she encounters a Combat Mage. Exposure to skills and combat resolution also helps players understand a bit more about the Shadowrun setting.

The best way I've found to ease everyone into the setting is to limit the geographic scope initially. Set the characters and the first few adventures inside this range, and manage your NPCs accordingly. Just as Japanese domestic politics don't directly affect me on a day to day basis, the goings on between UCAS and the Tir only need affect player characters when you're ready for it.

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As with learning any new system, read the book cover-to-cover to get an understanding, then concentrate on areas that are of interest. Many new GMs I know will have the rigger and decker be NPCs just to reduce the amount of "worlds" they need to juggle.

I'd recommend that you take the sample characters and have them run against each other until you understand the rules for mundane combat (just guns, knives, and fists). Then add in a physical adept for magical stuff. Next, add in a magician for sorcery, and finally bring in spirits/elementals and their services/powers. With NPC deckers/riggers, you can just hand-wave all the rules (and they always get what the GM decides is best for the story). Sooner or later a PC will die and the player will want to play a decker or rigger. Let that character in, and concentrate on reading up on the rules. Play the new vehicle/Matrix rules like you did the combat system above. Just take it a step at a time, and you will do fine.

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One step at a time. Run a series of short games (time-limited to a few hours of play) focusing on one aspect only: combat, hacking, magic, yadda, yadda… This way you can all learn the rules as you go along. The aim here is to explore the rules and not roleplay.

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If you don't have a player or two that knows the system already, then the popular method among my gaming circles is that the GM establishes a world, and each player is responsible for a fairly one-dimensional character. The first few sessions of the game will mostly rely on you being humble and accepting when you're wrong, or just having the humility to say to the player "how does this work from your perspective?" It's a bit rocky, but you should let the players know that you will let them fidget the characters as you learn what will and will not be part of your campaign. The best way to keep advantage with the two direction learning system is to remind the players that if they can do it, you can do it right back. Thankfully SR4 has a large portfolio of stock stereotypes.

As anyone who plays World of Darkness will know/accept: You can't have everything all at once until you cultivate a working knowledge of the system. So (if the above doesn't fit your group,) you can also do what White Wolf does at a much more expansive scale, which is take one archetype at a time, break it down, and figure out if active characters of that type fit your gaming world. Remember that you don't always need stats / pre-built characters; the NPCs can just simply have default levels of dice pool "Novice" = 3 dice, "Veteran" = 5, "Expert" = 7 and crank the plot device where needed.

Lastly, my personal favorite method of learning a game isn't reading the core book like a novel. Instead I have a couple characters that I like to play in any game and try to work through character creation to get the results I want, one character at a time. For me, this is a great mental indexing method but it may not work for everyone.

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