PSA: Don’t Touch Shadowrun As Long As the Colemans Are At Catalyst

So, the 6th Edition of Shadowrun is emerging, and it looks likely that there’ll be a certain amount of controversy and probably at the very least a bit of an edition war over it. (Its sudden announcement and the short time span between announcement and release, without much of an apparent playtest period, and the sloppy editing on many recent books from Catalyst Game Labs were, in retrospect, probably red flags.)

But that said, I regret covering 5th Edition core and Anarchy to the extent that I already have on this blog, regardless of how 6th Edition pans out. The problems of 6th Edition may well turn out to be yet another symptom of a significant illness at the heart of Catalyst Game Labs: namely, that some years ago it emerged that two of the firm’s co-owners (Loren L. Coleman and his wife) had pocketed a substantial amount of company money and used it to build an extension on their house, and had only managed to avoid getting run out of the company and/or criminally prosecuted because of the near-cultlike loyalty paid to them by other major figures in the company. This resulted in, among other things, masses of freelancers not getting paid for their work – freelancers who in some cases could have really, really done with that money, in a “I need this to get by” way as opposed to a “It’d be real nice to have a slightly bigger house” sort of way.

I’d completely forgotten the controversy, because it happened at a time when I wasn’t paying any attention to Shadowrun at all and consequently I only paid passing attention to it when it happened. Courtney over at the Hack & Slash blog has covered the controversy in three blog posts which bring together most of the significant evidence, and it’s enough to convince me.

As I understand it, Loren Coleman is still one of the people calling the shots at Catalyst. As long as that’s the case, I’ll be avoiding any Catalyst products. When Catalyst was tested in the balance, Catalyst was found wanting: specifically, Catalyst’s head honchos decided to side with their personal friends, the Colemans, despite a sustained and long-term pattern of siphoning cookies out of the cookie jar on their part, by retaining them in the company and by not prioritising obtaining money for the freelancers (through legal action if the Colemans wouldn’t put their hand in their pockets themselves) above and beyond making sure that the Colemans didn’t suffer any negative effects of their own awful behaviour.

Given the industry’s reliance on freelancers, I increasingly feel like I’d rather spend money on publishers who actually make a point of paying them. If the old regime were still in charge at Chaosium and still indulging in their infamously slack payment habits, I might feel the same about them; as it stands, part of the reason I’m such a keen advocate for the new regime is that they’ve made paying their debts and doing right by their freelancers an overt priority going forwards.

I can’t trust that Catalyst won’t leave their freelancers high and dry again in the future – if not because of another Loren Coleman hand-in-the-cookie-jar moment, then because of some other crisis where the company leadership decides that the personal comfort of them and their friends takes priority over their contractual obligations to freelancers. And when you add to that the way Coleman just plain got away with it, well, it sticks in my craw to think of my money going to Catalyst as long as he’s involved.

Anarchy In the Sixth Age

Shadowrun 5th Edition may be gratifyingly huge, but that comes at a price: it’s one of the crunchier RPG systems out there, to the point where some may find it a bit unapproachable. To my tastes, it’s at the point where if it were a bit more crunchy I’d be disinterested, and as it stands I would rather not engage with the system for the purposes of a quick one-shot game because the effort involved in engaging with it would be enough that it doesn’t quite feel worth it for a game that brief.

In principle, then, I was very interested in Shadowrun: Anarchy, a game which adapts the rules-light Cue System to Shadowrun and thereby offering a setup where character stats resemble truncated versions of the full-fat Shadowrun equivalents, allowing you to strip-mine existing Shadowrun supplements for source material whilst sticking to the lighter rules system offered here.

The issue with the book is that I kind of feel like it’s misread what people actually wanted on this front. Whilst plenty of people down the years have expressed a wish for a more rules-light take on Shadowrun, what I think most of them actually wanted when they expressed that wish was, in fact, a rules-light take on Shadowrun – namely, a system which would support the same traditional RPG experience that Shadowrun is good at, just with far less fiddly bits. What Catalyst Game Labs seem to have interpreted this desire as is as a desire for some sort of narrativist indie game which made at least a token bid to break out from the classic traditional RPG format into some sort of shared storytelling business.

Continue reading “Anarchy In the Sixth Age”

Succumbing to Shadowrun

I am a late convert to Shadowrun. Despite coming to the hobby in the 1990s, when Shadowrun was at its prime and the 1990s zeitgeist it rode so successfully was at its peak and I was a teenager and therefore at that time of life when you are most likely to find such things TOTES BADASS, it always seemed to be a bit goofy to me and my peers. The feeling was that Shadowrun went a step too far into the goofy with its inclusion of fantasy elements; if you wanted fantasy, D&D and other games served you perfectly well, if you wanted cyberpunk Cyberpunk 2020 was the gold standard (with GURPS Cyberpunk getting some kudos too, partly because GURPS was strong at the time and partly because of the ill-conceived Secret Service raid). If you wanted both fantasy and cyberpunk at once, that was… well… a little odd – and with its inclusion of elves and dwarves and orcs and dragons, Shadowrun seemed to the outside observer to incorporate fantasy in a kind of a cheap, lazy, Tolkien-imitating way which didn’t seem like it could mesh well with cyberpunk themes.

At some point after the early 1990s, Shadowrun dropped off my radar altogether. New editions came and went; FASA collapsed without me noticing, and a curious dance of licences and ownership ensued. 2007 saw the ill-conceived Shadowrun first-person shooter come out on the XBox 360 and flop abysmally – it managed to alienate fans of the game by excising almost all the lore and presenting a hollowed-out, oversimplified shell of the setting, whilst the decided lack of atmosphere or aesthetic depth combined with issues with the game itself ensured that a new audience would not be enthralled by it.

Then the Kickstarter happened for Shadowrun Returns, which I ended up backing for the sake of supporting new isometric-style tactical CRPGs. I ended up enjoying Shadowrun Returns a lot, liked the sequel campaign Dragonfall even more, and right now I am starting to play Shadowrun Hong Kong and loving it to bits. As a result of that, I’ve finally decided to give the tabletop RPG another look; it’s on its 5th Edition right now, and I also took a look at a copy of 2nd Edition to see if my dislike of the game back then was justified by more than setting snobbery.

Continue reading “Succumbing to Shadowrun”