Tabletop Review: Shadowrun/Battletech Quick Start Rules

Shadowrun/Battletech Quick Start Rules
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
Page Count: 65 (35 Shadowrun, 29 BattleTech)
Cost: Free
Release Date: 06/15/2013

The third Free RPG Day 2013 release we’re looking at this week is the flip book from Catalyst Game Labs. On one side is the Quick Start Rules for Shadowrun and on the other side is Battletech. It’s a very cute way to promote both games and it gives a gamer a chance to try out not one, but two different systems. Size wise, this two pack is one of the largest Free RPG Day releases, dwarfed only by the massive Vampire: The Requiem andLamentations of the Flame Princess releases. Both have a beautiful full color glossy cover and are by far the most striking covers of the releases this year. Even in a store that was 90% Pathfinder, there was enough interest in Shadowrun from newcomers to decide to do an impromptu play session of the Shadowrun adventure. That was impressive to see.

If you picked up last year’s quick start rules for these systems, than MUCH of the content is going to be familiar. In fact, the entire Battletech side is the same release in last year’s edition. You can also pick up a free electronic version of these rules from DriveThruRPG.com. The Shadowrun rules are about 75-80 percent the same as last year but the big difference here is that while the 2012 release was for 20AE/Fourth Edition, 2013’s release is for the upcoming FIFTH EDITION release! That was pretty much my reason for picking this up.

The Shadowrun Quick-Start Rules contained simplified Matrix Rules (This is for newcomers after all), explains the new Limits concept that well, limits the number of successes you can roll and the slight change to combat Initiative, but there are a few subtle other changes as well. For example, the new QSR has a piece on defaulting, the font is clearer and the layout is easier on the eyes. As well, two of the characters from last year’s Quick Start Rules (Bounty Hunter and Combat Mage) have been replaced by a Combat Adept and a Street Shaman. The two characters that have returned (Hacker and Street Samurai) have completely new stats though! Unfortunately the Hacker is still called a Hacker instead of a Decker. Boo! BOO I SAY. Cyberdecks are back, so use the proper descriptor. Whoo, decking! I’m really happy with the new rules as they’re very organic changes, but I can see people either hating or loving the concept of earning “marks” in the matrix. I think the rules and their descriptors in this QSR are far more welcoming to new players than the 4e QSR, and really that’s what’s most important.

Shadowrun has become so insular that it’s very hard for a newcomer to just jump right in thanks to the all-encompassing metaplot. Several times on Free RPG Day I was asked at several stores what is the best book to just jump into Shadowrun with and I had to honestly think about it because 4e ending up more about writing the metaplot first and gamers second. I ended up honestly saying, “Wait for 5e” because I didn’t want a bright eyed eager new comer to pick up a supplement, see references to a dozen other supplements and realize they’d have to read all of those for the book to actually make sense. Don’t get me wrong, I love Shadowrun but 4e ended up in the same dark, anti-newcomer style of product releases that killed White Wolf’s original World of Darkness line and my big hope is that 5e will be so much friendlier than that, because the system NEEDS new blood badly.

The enclosed Shadowrun adventure, “Fast Food Fight is similar to last year’s “Food Fight 4.0” in that both adventures are a basically hack and slash shoot out inside of a fast food chain restaurant, but aside from the core concept, everything is different. New enemies, new layout, new plot hook, new everything. So even long time Shadowrun fans can try out this adventure without feeling like they’ve played it before. That means vets like myself and complete newcomers can join in together and experience 5e for themselves, which is the perfect way to play this. Newcomers get to see firsthand the love and passion Shadowrun fans have for the system and setting and vets can help bring new people in by sharing war stories and filling in the blanks not provided in the QSR. “Kid, stay the frag away from Aztechnology. Just…yeah. They’re evil.” The adventure is fun and completely metaplot free, which is another bonus. I was very happy it mostly followed the Shadowrun Missions layout, which the best format I’ve seen to teach new GMs how to run an adventure.

I have to admit that the QSR set here really made me optimistic for 5e. The final few 4e releases from earlier this year did not impress me to put it lightly and I was worried that “The Year of Shadowrun” was going to be one of the weakest in recent history. Thankfully the QSR has me wanting to shove this in the hands of anyone I know who says, “Man I loved the video games but never played the tabletop.” Eventually these rules will be on DriveThruRPG for download, but I really hope it is sooner rather than later so some hype can be built amongst newcomers and casual gamers.

So….Battletech. Honestly, I have never played Battletech. I’ve read the pre- CGL books, but I never had an inkling to play the game. The one thing I can say about it is that there was a table of devout Battletech gamers in my high school cafeteria in the 90s that loved the game to the point where it honestly scared all the other gamers away from them and the system. I’m talking like I wouldn’t have been surprised if one of them penned the Necronomicon equivalent of the game and then the roof of the school game off and a giant Gundam like thingie reached down and pulped him only to fly away as quickly as it came. The good news is that that’s how a lot of people I knew discover Palladium’s Robotech RPG, which had cooler mechs, better rules and made constantly reference to a cartoon we love in our youth.

Anyway, Battletech has changed SO MUCH since those days. Instead of 100% being focused on mechs and mech combat with mech miniatures and mech violence and mech mech mech mech, CGL turned the game into more about role-playing than roll-playing, where it’s more about playing a character in the Battletech world, political intrigue and the majority of the characters don’t actually pilot an oversized humanoid robot that gets gallons to the mile. I like the changes but I still have no interest in ever playing the game. I mean, I cover enough systems as it is (Shadowrun, D&D, DCC, Call of Cthulhu, WoD, NWoD, Castles & Crusades and occasionally something else). I don’t need a new system – especially one that has several releases a month. Shadowrun 4e was about as prolific as a system as I am willing to invest in.

The rules system for Battletech are very similar to Shadowrun. You have almost the same attributes, both games are d6 based, your burn Edge, you have skills and so on. Health, Traits and Skills are done slightly differently and combat is a completely different ball of wax, considering Shadowrun has the Matrix, Magic, Dragons, Yeti and Battletech has giant death robots, but just from reading the quick start rules, I’m fairly confident you could learn one game really easily if you have exposure to the other. Setting and storywise, the two games are extremely different and I don’t think I feel comfortable trying to explain Battletech as my limited knowledge of the current setting would do the game a disservice. That said the rules are easy to learn, especially if you already know Shadowrun, and the QSR gives you six characters to choose from. I will say I was not impressed by the adventure included in the Battletech QSR, but that’s because it’s extremely brief, does absolutely nothing to help a new GM learn or run the system and is easily the most unfriendly thing to new gamers I’ve seen in a while. It’s pretty terrible.

So, thumbs way up for the Shadowrun side of things and thumbs slightly down for Battletech due to the QSR being far less newcomer friendly… which is the whole point of a QSR set. The Battletech side of things is doubly troubling since it’s the same exact release as last year. At least this preview of Shadowrun, Fifth Edition should have long time fans chomping at the bit for the release as well intriguing newcomers to branch out and try a new (first?) RPG. Well, at least until they see the price tag for the core 5e book ($60) and the Introductory Box ($50). Ouch. Don’t’ worry though chummers; that’s pretty standard a price tag for a physical game these days, so might I suggest a digital download from DrivethruRPG.com? It’ll be cheaper, lighter and easier to take with on public transit.

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