Now that I'm in a Shadowrun game I've been thinking more about Shadowrun.
With limited opportunities to play Pathfinder or 4e, the differences between the two make me feel like the level and feats mode of thinking might create problems. (Feel. This might just be inherent stuff which for whatever reason feels connected to an unrelated bit of game mechanics.) Pathfinder seems heir to the 3.5 problem where it's possible to completely dick yourself or feel left out. 4e seems to make everyone about the same power level although now everyone feels kind of generic. This kinda fits the feel I'm getting for both games, where 4e seems like a great thing to grab off the shelf when suddenly you want to play D&D, and Pathfinder is a better system for a big, long lasting campaign.
I haven't thought enough about game design to know whether all systems come with some inherent ideas, like for instance big chunky defaults which are best to stick with (make the elf a wizard, you can't go wrong playing a human, etc) and if so how they apply to Shadowrun. What's certainly true is that Shadowrun feels
more terra incognita, especially because 4e's radically different from 3e.
Shadowrun feels like it lasted this long because of it's weird generic-not-generic feel. There doesn't seem to be as much of really big obvious focus (mechs, Lovecraftian monsters, chivalry, The Force), the fantasy aspects offer more flexibility, the tech has gone from living-in-the-future to very-possible-future, and the real world as a basis offers familiarity and flexibility. So fun generic-not-generic feel, a ridiculous number of options, and the feeling of being able to be more effective regardless of character choice is a good thing. Though more about that in a second.
I really like 4e Shadowrun's rules so far. The same way Eclipse Phase had neat rules for generating a ridiculously huge range of characters, Shadowrun is similarly nicely flexible. Definitely not a character generation system for pick up games though. The mechanic of getting to roll lots of dice, as affected and possibly negated by conditions, I think makes rolling dice "feel" more effective. I'm not the guy who keeps missing on single d20 rolls, I'm the guy who got 2 successes out of 6 dice I could roll and unfortunately my opponent got 3 successes. That sort of thing. I'm not sure how I feel about the glitch rules, but I'm very happy to get rid of exploding 6s. That definitely feels like a special occasion thing and I haven't yet seen anyone spend Edge in a way where it's come up, but that's a special occasion. I like the initiative system so far. I like the damage system so far.
I've been wondering about theme though. Going beyond Shadowrun, though I think the wide range of things Runners can do really highlights the issue, all the characters can be involved in a firefight. Sort of the big thing where you know everyone's going to be involved. D&Dish games can definitely feel like progressing from one firefight to the next, a little like The Matrix Reloaded
. But then how do you keep people involved while playing to a diverse set of skills? I get the feeling that larger groups necessitate more and more shared encounters to keep people interested and involved and that leads to three possible things I'm wondering about;
- Could one of the big things any GM can do is using individual focus as a way to rotate breaks for the rest of the group?
- Come to think of it, is this one of the things which suggests 3-5 people in a group, so's nobody's out of it for very long and it's easier to keep everyone doing their specialty area?
- Is this something where, especially in a larger group, it would be good to have the players come up with some sort of secondary focus for themselves? Every group gets into firefights, but would it be helpful to have more guides for what players want to do than just trying to figure out what 3-8 individuals would like to do?