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There’s been some discussion going on about the ‘nerfing’ of unarmed combat in Shadowrun, particularly that you can’t stack the damage beyond infinity anymore.

Now, look. I’ll make it clear; I love me some unarmed characters. I mean I love the shit out of Hokuto no Ken and Souten no Ken, my favorite manga type stuff(when I read it, which isn’t often) is ‘Huge Manly Dudes with Shaggy Hair and Big Eyebrows Beating Up Other Dudes.’

That being said…in SR4, after all the sourcebooks-stuff got completely redonk. I mean Monster, my favorite super-handsome Fomori(Fomori+Cosmetic Surgery=Very Hot Fomori dude who looked like a 10 and a half foot tall Jackie Estacado with horns), could essentially pulverize anything with a kick. I mean he was completely optimized and made with the OLD karmagen system and completely ridiculous but was fun for a couple of games(he’s now a super-powered street legend in my SR world, which is the normal SR world with some different NPCs.)

But, to be honest, stuff had to be pulled back. The regular opposition couldn’t really challenge groups of runners anymore, because single runners could take them out with 20P unarmed damage codes, or, from a weapons perspective-highly customized full-auto guns loaded with AV ammo with practically no recoil that rendered Military Grade Full Body Armor into swiss cheese in one round.

So, naturally, SR5 is out now, and the power level is back to ‘Normal’, as what usually happens with new expansions, before the sourcebooks hit. And I almost guarantee we’ll be seeing ways that they help keep stuff under control-where you can still be a badass, but it might take a little bit to be the ULTRA badass.

Apparently some think that to be a useful unarmed adept you need to be able to one shot every type of enemy, regardless of armor, power, prestige, Edge, or whatnot. I’m not sure how this started. It may be a chicken/egg thing with two types of starts. Hell, it probably varies by table.

Some tables may have started with highly optimizing players, and the GM was forced to meet that, making the players improve more, etc. The other side may have seen very, very vicious GMs who put the players against such nasty stuff they felt they had to start doing crazy things. In any case, the power level is back to ‘normal.’

Here’s the thing. The sample adept I made, Downfall, hits for 11P. This is, regardless of what anyone says, extremely hard. He kicks as hard as a gun shoots someone for. There is no armor penetration on it yet(I’m guessing we’ll see Penetrating Strike come back in the Magic sourcebook), but still-he can-and I have tested in several things-take out anything up to and including Professional Rating 4 enemies single-handedly, sometimes in one round, and not even by surprise.

Now, beginning unarmed adepts are going to likely run into some trouble with stuff like Red Samurai and Tir Ghosts, with skills of 8-9, stats of 5-6 before modifications, 3d6 initiative, and full body armor and helmets. Guess what-maybe a starting character isn’t *supposed* to solo one of them right out of the gate?

I should also say-I’m someone who prefers a more ‘cinematic’ type of game, but even in over the top cinematic movies, there are enemies whom the hero has a nice ‘Boss Fight’ against. Arnold in Commando, for example, is awesome. That movie is over the top as hell. He takes out mooks, and even better mooks, left and right. But he still has his ‘Boss Fights.’ Matrix in the movie doesn’t kill Bennett instantly. He has a knockdown fight with them. Many, many highly cinematic movies have their ‘Boss Fights.’ There is nothing wrong with not being able to one-shot a tank coming down the street at you.

Also, what’s wrong with team-work? My Adept has his own strengths, and the team sniper with APDS ammo has his, for example. The team sniper? Now that character could probably, through the use of surprise and that nasty gun, be able to one-shot one of the heavy armor Red Samurai. But…well, he can’t really take that sniper rifle certain other places to take care of other targets. What’s wrong with characters having little ‘things’ they’re good at?

For example, unarmed adepts are excellent at discreetly taking out ‘soft targets’. I’ve pit Downfall against Armor Jacket wearing people-with decent Dodge and Body to boot-and he can one shot them. Sometimes two if they get luckier on the roll. They CAN deal with heavier armor foes(I should note that, in the SR4 book, the only NPCs that come with the Super Armor with Helmets are stuff like Red Samurai and the like-standard cops and security-even BETTER security, even Knight-Errant Lieutenants-use armored jackets), but they need to get the element of surprise on them to tip things in their favor.

The ‘Gun-Nuts?’ They have strengths. They deal in things like cover-fire, and when it comes to the actual shootin’, they deal very nicely with ‘harder’ targets. Heavy weapons folks deal with the Really Hard Targets, like vehicles. Is a regular gun specialist useless because they can’t one-shot a vehicle like the Heavy Weapons specialist? Guys, people have their specialties. Others might have a more generalist spread.

But apparently being unable to kill anything with a punch anymore makes you a ‘scrub’ in some people’s eyes. I have no idea, besides the guesses I took above about dealing with extremely harsh GMs who pit endless armies of power-armor wearing, Panther-Cannon wielding Prime Runners against regular Shadowrunners.

Now, let me jump on the other side a second; the loss of potential unarmed damage does have a *couple* of drawbacks. For one, it sort of makes the Old Wuxia Master a little more obsolete. He can’t quite get a lot of damage anymore. Now, a high skill could help with staging it up, but he definitely isn’t what he used to be. Yes, a harder hit is more damaging in reality, but in this case, I kinda think heading a little away from reality might have been better, though it would have been rough to try to balance out the ‘Old Wuxia Master’ with ‘Musclebound the Musclehead.’

The other small drawback IS that weapon adepts are more damaging now, flat out, than unarmed. Now, again-yeah, they’re using weapons, and I don’t think this instance of realism is *so* bad, since Weapon adepts pretty much were second fiddle for an entire edition. Weapon Adept’s advantages at the moment are A. Extra damage and possible reach and B. Armor penetration. Their disadvantages are A. Needing a weapon focus to do things that unarmed adepts can do with Killing Hands, and B. Needing a weapon itself, which means you need to conceal and hide the thing. Unarmed melee adepts are essentially the reverse. They might not do the sheer damage or have armor penetration(at the moment, this could be equalized), and B. NOT needing a weapon or active focus to do what they need to. It’s a trade-off, though I think what’s happening is this:

People had a power shift in their characters, and are chafing against it. It’s understandable, sure. It does suck when an old concept doesn’t work anymore in a new system, and I always hope that at least most can make it out.(Here’s a note: Not being able to kill everything you come across with one roll does not mean a character is ruined. If you think it does, then perhaps a different game would be more your thing; a Supers type game, perhaps. I don’t say that as snarky, either-I say that as genuinely, ‘Maybe you’d like a crazy Supers system.’) I remember between SR2-3 and SR4, when Dikote disappeared, weapon-based melee adepts feeling some of that sting. In SR3, I will say, the tables were a little more even than 4. Dikote was insanely powerful for melee weapon folks. In older editions(for those who didn’t get to play them), damage was sort of a ‘Power’ and ‘Damage Code.’ The Power was what you had to roll against, and the Damage Code was how much damage it did-which used to be a condition monitor with Light, Moderate, Serious, and Deadly. Everyone’s Monitor was 10 boxes long. A Deadly wound would fill in all 10. Serious would fill a base 6. Moderate 3, and light 1.

Dikote added +1 to the Power and +1 to the Damage code of a weapon. So a Katana(which was normally Str+3M in those days), would become Str+4S. Against Vehicles or hardened armor, melee weapons would take a -1 to their Damage Code(and I believe use half power, but it’s been awhile.) Dikote meant they’d do *regular damage* which is where you heard about Street Sam+Dikote Combat Axe vs. Armored Truck stories where the sam won. Dikote was vicious stuff.

Now Unarmed adepts in those days used to choose the ‘level’ of their Killing Hands-L, M, S, or D, for .5, 1, 2, or 4 Power Points.

Now, in the older days, it was a bit rarer that magically active people took cyber or bioware. They took some, sure, but they were generally a little less augmented in those days than in SR4. Often they’d take maybe an Essence’s worth(boosted reflexes, cybereyes, or a smartlink or something, but remember with the old Priority system, Full Mage was prio A, Adept/Aspected Magician was Prio B, period, so they often didn’t have a ton of money.) Now cyber folks? They could hang-Dikote worked for them like anyone else, and unarmed cyber folks took Bone Lacing.

I just wanted to give a little background, btw, of how power has shifted over time a little bit. Dikote was removed in 4e, and yeah, weapon adepts sorta suffered-and then unarmed types were boosted through the roof.

Now people actually have, well, things they’re good at, and things they might want to rely on other team-members for. Remember Teamwork? Was that so bad? I don’t just mean ‘the decker decks, the rigger rigs, the mage mages, and the combat people combat’, I mean more in there. Maybe Mage 1 is more into conjuring and Mage 2 is more into spellcasting. Maybe the unarmed combat specialist has his strengths of being able to paste soft armor targets quickly, while the sniper/longarms expert takes care of harder targets, and the rigger has his mounted heavy weapons to take care of those pesky vehicles. Sure people can have backup skills and that’s awesome.

Runners can still be ‘one man Armies’ like Matrix in Commando. Just perhaps they might *actually* have to deal with a ‘boss fight’ once in awhile that they can’t blow past in one roll.

And once again a disclaimer: This was written by a person who A. Loves unarmed combat on characters in Shadowrun, and B. Prefers cinematic games and has houserules that help with them. (Hell, I’m knocking down the prices on some cyber and bioware because I feel they’re a bit too expensive, for example.)

Also-for the record, if you don’t like it that much-if you can’t stand the fact that runners can no longer one shot anything or anyone in melee from the getgo-then houserule. Use the old variant of Critical Strike. Bring the old Martial Arts rules back(they’d drop into SR5 perfectly.) Bring back Dikote if you want. It’s your table, do what you want with it. No one is going to break down your door and stop you.

I wanted to edit this with a comment- I’m not saying ‘don’t make characters who can do other things’. By all means, make a weapons adept who can hold his own if he loses his sword and can fight a little at ranged if need be. Make a decker who can pull out a staff and hang in melee if it comes to it. Give them all some backup social or repair skills or something. I wasn’t speaking of that as much as ‘Don’t be so hasty to call an unarmed character useless because he can’t take out super heavy armor targets instantly like the Sniper can or blow up vehicles like the Heavy Weapons specialist can.’

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