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Combat, The Matrix, and Riggers:

As we all know, the Combat chapter can be all but ignored, because all shadowrunners sneak in, silently perform everything and get out without a hitch.

…Yeah, that’s an old joke. I’m sorry.

In any case, Combat is quite similar to 4e’s style, but there are notable differences; as some other things in this book, I feel there are some positives, but some extra negatives as well.

The chapter itself is actually set up rather nicely; charts and such I find are easy to read and understand, so from a layout perspective, it’s well done. As for the content, it’s simple: roll initiative as always(highest to lowest), begin the pass, declare actions, resolve actions of acting characters, and then go down the line according to Initiative scores. However, there’s some old school here; you roll Initiative dice(from 1 to 4d6), add to your Initiative score(Reaction+Intuition), and then, for extra passes, subtract 10. I have a soft spot for the 1e-3e ways, so I’m digging this. (So in the case of someone with an Initiative score of 21, and then someone else with a 7, the 21 would go, then the 7, then the 21 would subtract to 11, and he’d go again, and then so on.) Edge can be used to go first.

Melee attacks are still Complex Actions, while firing a shot is still a Simple Action, so anyone who wished melee was a simple action, sadly, it’s not. (Even as a melee fan, I admit this rule never bothered me too much, but YMMV.)

There are pages and tables of modifiers which I’m not really going to go over since it would make this review about sixteen parts instead of three.

I’m going to touch on Interrupts. This is pretty cool I find. Essentially, you can declare an Interrupt not on your turn and take a -5 to your Initiative score in the process. You can declare to Block(add your unarmed skill to block an incoming melee attack, it’s not like going on Full Defense as it’s a one-time deal), Dodge(Add Gymnastics to your defense, same thing, also: Dodge as a skill is out, it’s all Gymnastics now), Hit the Dirt, Parry, Intercept(attempt to counterattack, cannot do this if you have no Initiative left), or go on Full Defense for a -10 to the score. It’s a nice, solid system so you aren’t sitting there like a patsy in between turns(though it could drag combat on rather efficiently.)

Armor this time around is much more simplified. Armor got beefed up, but you can no longer stack it, and it’s no longer Ballistic and Impact; it’s just one Armor skill. While part of me kinda likes the ol’ Ballistic/Impact cross, I can see why they did it, and i don’t think it really loses anything. Stacking armor does nothing, but there are certain pieces of armor, like shields, that can add bonuses to your already armored self(but you start taking Encumbrance due to your Strength score. So someone with a low Strength using a Riot Shield will take a hit to their Agility and Reaction scores.) Actually, it’s pretty clean cut and smooth, and I don’t have any complaints here(also, the game managed to make Strength-while not super-important-more than the useless dumpstat it was in SR4. For the record, Recoil uses Strength to help it out as well.) Finally, if the Power of the attack doesn’t beat the Armor, it’s Stun damage(a rule I always liked.)

The rest of the rules-vehicle, first aid, and so on, are listed in a nice, clear, concise manner as well.

Combat, in some test runs I did-can, as I mentioned, potentially run a little long. (Yet another reason why I don’t particularly like non-critical glitching; it just adds another layer of drag-out. I don’t mind stuff going long due to feints and parries, but there you go.)

The Matrix chapter is nicely written, with lots of jargon to help get you into what’s generally seen as a more complicated part of the game, so you’ll find out what GOD is fairly quickly, for example. It has more small sidebars for important info; for example, what a non-hacker would want to use(like Change Icon.) It even goes through a typical situation on how folks would use AR and VR.

Oh yeah, nowadays ‘Hackers’ is more the catch-all term; Technomancers are, of course, the folks who sorta treat it like ‘Matrix Magic’, and they brought back the Decker term, as well as cyberdecks. Thank you, guys. As far as I’m concerned, it was always deckers. I refused to believe they changed the term to generic ‘hacker.’ Tastes and all.

Going through varied Matrix situations helps a lot in understanding it, and with the way stuff works, a GM can still run deckers and technomancers in a party and not end up turning it into the dreaded ‘queue key adventure.’

Deckers also will be playing another important role…and one that’s had a lot of controversy, and one that I’m not sure if I agree with 100% myself. I’ll be getting into that in a bit when I discuss cyberware.

Technomancers are sort of the ‘mages/adepts’ to the Decker’s ‘Samurai’ in that analogy; only in their case, they are greatly improved, IMO, from their SR4 counterparts. Technomancers in those days suffered big from being able to do anything else crippled them in, well, Technomancing. Nowadays you can actually, gods help you, play a Technomancer that isn’t a walking target in the meat world with low stats in everything except their important ones. They can go through Submersion like a magically active person goes through Initiation, though Technomancers seem to have more trouble slaving things, like cyberware, in addition to having to submerge to deal with vehicles now, so by all intents and purposes, they took a nerf in other areas for being able to come out of the gate with more competence in multiple skills.

It’s actually kind of interesting-but I notice deckers feel less threatened by Technomancers than cybered folks do by mages. I don’t know a lot of decker players who feel like they’re left behind like cybered players do. Deckers still have high upkeeps(good decks are expensive, programs cost money, agents cost money, the build and repair stuff that they likely want to have are skills and resources, and so on), but it seems that they managed to nail some sort of balance that makes the deckers feel like they’re less ‘expendable’ or something.

Much like the Matrix chapter, Riggers get their due-and yes, they’re called Riggers again and not bloody ‘Vehicle Hackers.’ I have to say this chapter impressed me for a similar reason as the Matrix chapter; it took something that was shown as pretty damn confusing in the past(have you ever read the 2e/3e decking and rigging rules? It’s a fun time, and by fun I mean special.) As with many parts of the book, ‘easy does it’ is the name of the game and it talks you through everything with good uses of sidebars, examples, and useful page numbers listed.

I never thought I’d see the Rigger rules so easy to understand, but they pulled it off.

Magic:

Mojo’s seen some changes; some good, some perhaps not as good.

Cyberware still hurts magic as always, but it might be a little worse now, given that you don’t half the lowest of cyber or bioware anymore. Then again, if the mage sticks to high cost, low Essence Bio(bioware IS still low essence), they can become a nasty piece of work. Character creation handles mages of all stripes great, at least.

Magic rules are just as clear-cut as the rest, listing everything in the same manner. Really, this keeps up through the whole book, making stuff so much easier to understand.

When casting a spell, you choose it’s Force. You can cast a spell up to twice your Magic rating…but if the number of hits after the Limit is applied exceeds your Magic rating, Drain is physical, which is actually kind of nasty. They also introduced Reckless Casting, where you can cast a spell with a Simple Action instead-at a +3 Drain modifier. That can also be nasty(for both sides.)

The Spell List is familiar; old standards like Stunbolt and Manaball are around. (Stun spells no longer have less Drain than their physical damage causing counterparts.)

Adepts are quite awesome in this; and that is another level of controversy at the moment. I play both sams and adepts, and reading these rules, I can understand where this comes from. Now, I’ll say this much; they aren’t the indomitable gods that some of the complaints make them sound like, to be able to walk into a room, snap their fingers, and make all traces of samurai disappear with a single thought. But they’re very good. They have had some nerfs, however. One will find making a pornomancer(Re: twinked out social adept) is much harder this time, and Critical Strike is more expensive.

On a bright side, Critical Strike now applies to weapons-which, honestly, manages to push weapon adepts past unarmed adepts now. Which, I have to say…this is coming from someone who likes Unarmed adepts…as well they should be. They’re swinging swords and axes at you. They SHOULD have advantages over someone without a weapon! Now, I imagine when martial arts rules come into play unarmed ones will climb back up a bit, but they DO have the advantage of Killing Hands(being able to hit things with Immunity to Normal Weapons), which melee weapon adepts need to invest in a Weapon Focus for(said focus also boosts their melee ability on top of that, though, so it’s not like it’s a bad investment.) That’s not to say unarmed adepts are weak-they aren’t at all-but they gave weapons-based adepts a much needed boost.(Weapon foci are actually quite feasible to get at the beginning, as well, if your GM is cool with that kinda thing.)

Social adepts are still very good, by the way. Non combat adepts will find that they have to pay just as much for their bonus dice now-and that, I think, was probably a change for the best.

Mystic Adepts are very awesome. Rather than being forced to split their Magic score(far too harsh on them in the past, IMO), they now spend Karma(which, I’m told, is meant to be higher than it is in the book-5 Karma per PP) to get Power Points. At the start, this comes from their Bonus Karma, and that’s the only way they can get Power Points. So on one hand, they can actually get quite a few at the start, on the other, they’ll probably suck down most of their Bonus Karma to do it. Fair trade off, IMO, though there are mumblings that they seem a bit overpowered. I don’t feel they are; they need to take Magic A through C on the list for priority, they can’t project astrally, and like Adepts they need to purchase Astral Perception. Of course, they run the risk of spreading themselves too thin as well.

Alchemy allows mages to bind spells to items, almost making classic magical items, like a potion or wand. This is actually a neat touch for those who wish to play a more Artificing style mage.

Initiating still costs Karma and time, of course. Would-be Initiates would probably want to wait until whenever a Magic sourcebook hits and the rules for reducing costs come in(for groups, ordeals, and whatnot.) As powerful as magic can be, though, I can see why it’s pretty costly, and honestly think those rules are pretty on point for what they give.

I forgot to mention-it’s great to see some of the Totems back(no Coyote in the core book, though?? Come ON!) and they now include benefits for Adepts who wish to take them.

Welp, stay tuned for part 3, where I’ll go over the last part of the book, including gear, cyber, and the like(and a couple more elephants in the room when it comes to that.)

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