Shadowrun 4.0 Quick-Start Rules

By on 24 January 2013

Man, the 80s: Caddyshack; those chunky white LA Gear trainers; the Ewoks in Return of the Jedi; New Kids On The Block; Gary Gygax’s Cyborg Commando. Gosh, the 80s got so many things wrong.

Happily, the 80s also got so many things right: Debbie Gibson; Dirty Dancing; hacky sacks; Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit; Back To The Future; oh man, Debbie Gibson; and hey, sneaking in at the tail end of the decade, the first edition of Shadowrun.

I had a lot of fun playing Shadowrun in the early 90s before college saw me drop RPGs for ~15 years. When I did get back into RPGs around ~2007, I dived deep into hippie RPGs like Dogs in the Vineyard and Love in the Time of Seið; it was cool to see that Shadowrun was still kicking around—and into its Fourth Edition, wow—but I didn’t really take much notice.

I’m still plenty fond of the energy and colour of Shadowrun (SR); recently I thought I’d investigate the current edition using the Quick-Start Rules provided as a free download on the current publisher’s website.

I grok that the intent of the product is to introduce a grabby slice of the SR system, and that if I want the whole pizza I’m gonna have to upgrade to the full fat SR 4.0 core rules. So, with that context in mind, is the Quick-Start Rules package like a sweet slice of the heavenly Debbie Gibson … or is it like so much snot from a Garbage Pail Kid?


Great Scott chummers! In terms of production values the Quick-Start Rules PDF is a gazillion miles away from the spare black-and-white layout of my battered first edition Shadowrun books. (Like, #duh!) Full-bleed pages with plenty of paintings make a nice fist of communicating the colourful and energetic fusion of fantasy and cyberpunk that is the Shadowrun setting. +1 Karma.

Shadowrun Quick Start Rules Cover

“Eat APDS chummers!”

Happily, the layout isn’t just a thin veneer of appealing chrome. Each landscape page has two columns of text in a wide central column; this text is nice and legible, and the content flows naturally from one topic to the next. The chunky margins are used to contribute rules examples, snippets of colour about the setting, and call-outs defining jargon such as Target Number and the like. +1 Karma.

The Quick-Start Rules PDF is a fine example of thoughtful layout and pedagogy, tick good.

What Do I Get For My Money?

The free PDF clocks in at 20 pages, comprising:

  • a potted introduction to the elements of a SR character such as Attributes and Skills;
  • the basics of the D6-based dice pool system;
  • a solid explanation of the combat system, minus some of the bells and whistles present in the full-fat game;
  • a perfunctory introduction to the Magic and Hacking rules; -1 Karma.
  • a vignette that you can use to explore the combat system;
  • character sheets for four pre-generated Shadowrunners, complete with cut-out guides. +1 Karma.
  • a very welcome and useful rules summary sheet; +1 Karma.
  • an advert pushing the Shadowrun 4th Edition product line.

Tell It To Them Straight

Chummers, 20 pages sure feels like a lot for quick-start rules, but I reckon I’m just used to small-press RPGs.

A quarter of the page count is devoted to the combat system; the 4-page bundled vignette is just a thin slice of colour that exists solely to exercise the combat system; when you add up the page counts, you’re looking at near half the text being devoted to combat. This being a quick-start product, the combat system is a pretty spare and unsatisfying experience, sorely lacking in the necessary richness of options that you get in the full version of the game. -1 Karma.

Shadowrun Quick Start Rules Sample PageI grok that it’s a quick-start package, I do … but a product that just boils down to a thin gruel combat system is selling the Shadowrun game short. The rules for magic and hacking, two of the big draws of the fantasy-cyberpunk Shadowrun setting, are given short shrift—and hey, I get how it difficult it is for it to be any other way, because doing right by those signature elements would sink the whole point of a quick-start package. -1 Karma.

Shadowrun is a big, rich, sprawling mass of setting and game, one that fuses cyberpunk and fantasy tropes; I’m hard pressed to think how you could package a quick-start product that would do that sprawling mass justice. These Quick-Start Rules are a solid attempt, but an unsuccessful one I reckon. (It burns me to write that chummers, because the text is clearly the product of some stylish effort. #madprops and +1s to the folk at Catalyst for a solid attempt at a difficult product.)

The Quick-Start Rules were useful in keying me in to some of the rules differences between the first and fourth editions of the game, but that’s about all she wrote. What they ain’t is compelling as something to bring to the table and play; if you like what you see in these Quick-Start Rules, plump for the full version of the game.

Chummers, I #heart Debbie Gibson; I don’t much #heart these Quick-Start Rules.


Dwarf Hacker

About Pete Douglas

Pete Douglas is a colonial with a great line in belted coats. Indie Pete is the name he scribbles on sign-up sheets at UK conventions, where the lad runs RPGs ranging from the hippie and sexy—Love in the Time of Seid—to the homespun and heartwarming—Mouse Guard. Late 30s, 5’10”, sober, LF a dish for STR, plate spinning, and mutual basket appreciation.

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