As I have mentioned several times I am a huge fan of Shadowrun. I love almost everything about the game from its living world with new and interesting events happening all the time to its concise and well thought out rules. Shadowrun, for me, offers the perfect mix of action and role playing and really opens itself up to all kinds of gamers.
Recently I purchased the Runner’s Companion combo pack which gets you the pdf version of the book and the hard bound version when they release it. Most likely I would have waited for the hard bound version if my next game were not starting soon but as it is starting soon I wanted the new options available for my players. I also figured that it gave me the opportunity to write a brief review of the book in a somewhat timely fashion.
What the Companion Offers
The book is divided into eight sections with each section offering different material both in the form of crunch and fluff. The sections in order are:
- Starting Out
- Survival Tips
- Alternate Character Creation
- Alternate Character Concepts
- New Qualities
- Advanced Contacts
- Advanced Lifestyles
- Life on the Run
The first section Starting Out details a number of things that players do not necessarily think about when building a Shadowrun character, but probably should. Primarily it discusses how individuals become runners and what role they will fill on a team.
Shadowrun allows for very diverse character builds which is great but sometimes its hard to tell what role a character will fill on a team. This section does a good job of making it clear where a character can fit in and ways to make that character more useful for the team. Most importantly this section explains that combat roles only make up a part of a Shadowrun team and while being useful “under fire” is a good thing it certainly is not the end-all and be-all of a Shadowrunner. In truth, from my experience combat is more of a last ditch option in Shadowrun than anything else.
The section ends with a “Character Quiz” which has twenty thought-provoking questions for players about their character. I have always been a fan of quizzes such as these as they nudge a player into committing to things about their character and aid with sub-plots and such.
Survival Tips discusses ways to be a good Shadowrunner. This section is good for both GMs and players as it helps each wrap their mind around some of the game concepts that might be a bit foreign to them. Shadowrun is such an amazingly well-detailed world that sometimes it’s hard to get exactly what is going on or what the players should be doing. This section can help with that.
The third section, Alternate Character Creation, was the section I found the least useful. It offers alternatives to build points going so far as to bring back the old Priority System. As I found the Priority System rather poor I was glad to see it wasn’t used when I picked up SR4, and seeing it again didn’t exactly thrill me. Obviously it’s only there for players who want to use it but from my perspective it was an unnecessary addition to the book.
On the other hand the Karma System which is also included in the book seems interesting. It allows a player to build their character with karma points from the beginning, rather than build points to start and karma later on (karma being the experience point system of Shadowrun). I’m still uncertain whether this system is entirely necessary, but if a GM happens to be worried about their players over-specializing the Karma System could be a good solution. Raising skills and attributes with Karma is exponentially more expensive and thus starting out using karma instead of Build Points will create more diversified characters.
The fourth section is Alternate Character Concepts. This section offers everything from alternate metatypes to AIs as characters. Some people are probably not thrilled to see the Changelings back as playable characters because they felt the SURGE (Sudden Unexplained Recessive Genetic Expression) caused by Halley’s Comet was silly (some have said anime-like), but as always these characters can be left out of any particular game.
Shapeshifters are also back but the BP system fixes their brokenness by making it cost a bundle to be one. I remembering letting someone play one using the priority system back in SR2 and then spending the rest of the game regretting it. They also warn that ‘shifters can be disrupting in games and while the concept is pretty neat I am not sure I would go down that road again for a PC.
The book also details infected characters, which are characters with some version of the HMHVV infection. These are generally creatures like ghouls and vampires who have been mentioned in previous books but for whom character creation rules have been lacking. For the most part I appreciate the addition of these alternate character types but I think GMs need to be careful. For me, having one vampire in a group might prove interesting but a group consisting of a cyclops, a sentient AI, a free spirit, a SURGEed character (who looks like a dwarf with the head of an elephant and 360-degree vision) and a banshee would just be too silly and could distract from the game rather than add to it. Again these are my opinions and some groups will see no trouble with this at all.
The next section is possibly my favorite and details New Qualities. I love qualities both for the bonuses and negatives they can provide and for the assistance they give in detailing a character’s background. Just a quick glance over the options when I first got it gave me ideas for NPCs and suggestions for some of my players. As always with a game like Shadowrun the GM needs to pay attention to what the character is taking as some of the options may not be appropriate for all games but their inclusion, from my perspective, is welcome.
The sixth section, Advanced Contacts, gives information on things such as using groups as contacts, with sample groups and how to run leg work in your games. It also discusses Enemies (available as a negative quality from the previous section) and has a list of sample contacts. This section is fairly simple and straightforward but certainly feels information-rich.
The Advanced Lifestyles section will be a dud for some players but is brilliant in my mind. Some players forget that their characters are running for a reason which goes beyond the adventure of it or mere survival. Runners run to get stuff, like good food, better entertainment, cooler houses, etc. This section talks about these kinds of things and offers an advanced system for keeping track of them. While some players and gamemasters will likely skim this section over and then ignore it I found it an interesting read and will likely implement the options it presents.
The final section, Life on the Run, is, well, exactly what it says. While it is completely crunchless it is an interesting read for players and GMs who need help with getting their head in the game.
The book ends with a complete list of the BP cost of the qualities from this book as well as other sources. This has become standard in all the core books for Shadowrun and is a very welcome addition. For example the back of the Arsenal book listed all equipment, its cost, and where to find it.
My Take on the Runner’s Companion
While I appreciate the Runner’s Companion and think that it is a very interesting and useful book I have to admit I wonder if it should have been called a Core Rulebook. The other Core Rulebooks include Street Magic, Arsenal, Augmentation and Unwired, and detail magic, equipment, physical augmentation like cyberware, and the matrix respectively. These four books seem far more geared toward being core books as they each tackle a very specific aspect of the game. While some might argue Arsenal veers away from Core status as it is mostly a list of equipment, the rules for drones and vehicles provided keep it in the Core category in my mind. On the other hand the Runner’s Companion feels far more optional as a lot of it is optional rules and optional character types.
Overall, however, I appreciate the Companion and am glad I purchased it. The qualities alone provide enough crunch to make the book worth picking up and the fluff in the book is interesting and useful.
I think my biggest complaint lies somewhere in the layout of the book. I have had some difficulty finding things as I have been scrolling through the pdf. This might be related to the fact that I am viewing it on a computer however so don’t let this one complaint dissuade you from purchasing the hard-bound book when it comes out; finding things is probably easier when you can actually flip and scan pages.
I think the one thing I miss from the Shadowrun Companion back in SR2 is the alternative game types. That book, unlike this one, included rules for playing a DocWagon team and other such concepts. While the change of name from Shadowrun Companion to Runner’s Companion made me guess this information would not be included, I was still wondering about it. Certainly a book that tells you that you can play something like this isn’t necessary and a group could run a game like this without “permission” but some rules guidelines would be nice. I sort of assume they will eventually come out with something like this, perhaps in a new version that will be more of a GM guide than a player’s guide.
While the book isn’t strictly necessary, no book beyond the base book could be called necessary for standard play. Also I would have to say that this book probably falls slightly behind the other Core Rulebooks but certainly comes in as more useful and important than the plot books or location books. Anyone interested in qualities or alternate meta types should certainly pick the book up and GMs will find it useful for diversifying their NPCs.
Feel free to sound off with your own opinions!