Posted on by Scott Delahunt

Concluding Lost in Translation‘s look a adapting tabletop setting is Shadowrun. Originally published in 1989 by FASA, Inc, the game is currently on its sixth edition, called Shadowrun Sixth World and published by Catalyst Game Labs. The game is a cross between cyberpunk and high fantasy, with elves, dwarves, orks, and trolls being subspecies of humanity and dragons control major corportations.

The core idea is that magic returned in 2011 in an event known as the Awakening, an event marking the shift from the Fifth World to the Sixth as per Mayan calendars. This Awakening of maigc leads to a year of chaos across the globe and the first dragon sighted on Mount Fuji in Japan. However, this is just the topping to other problems going on. In the US, the Shiawase decision of 2000 allows for corporations to claim extraterritoriality, where a properly demarked site is its own corporate sovereign nation. With a pandemic in 2010, the economy is strained and governments collapse. In North America, the First Nations take advantage of the chaos to reclaim land, forming the Native American Nations. Naturally, Canada and the US take umbridge with that and strike back. What the military forces weren’t expecting was the use of the Great Ghost Dance to be magically backed.

In short, the world is hosed, governments have no power over corporations, and the threat of a new pandemic makes living look bleak. Relevant to our times.

In the game, players are shadowrunners, the cut outs and go-betweens as corporations use every possible advantage to get an edge over the rest. Shadowrunners are freelance deniable expendable assets, dirty deeds done for reasonable rates, taking on corporate security to extract valuable information or personnel for a paycheque. Characters can be magically active or they can be cybered so much they vibrate while standing still. Hackers, called deckers, can tear through intrusion countermeasure, or IC, like tissue paper. Riggers are the getaway drivers becoming one with their vehicles and capable of commanding an army of drones. Corporations, though, get the same access to equipment as player characters, possible more as business has the budget and characters have to find someone willing to sell or out and out steal the gear.

The default approach for a campaign is that player characters are shadowrunners, being hired for a number of jobs. The characters can come up with their own ideas, either for payback or to assist someone, but the typical game session will follow the same standard format. However, there are other possibilities. Characters can work for the main medical provider, Doc Wagon, as a High Threat Response Team, and be on the lighter side of grey. Or the characters can be members of a gang trying to protect their turf. Perhaps they could be corporate troubleshooters with a steady salary and medical benefits. There’s room for variation.

Adapting the setting shouldn’t be difficult. The presented game play is perfect for a movie; a heist along the lines of Oceans Eleven, Leverage, or The Italian Job provides the scaffold to build from, then add elements from the game. One of the characters is one of the subspecies. The muscle of the team has cybernetics. Use one of the Triple-A corporations in the game as the victim. Add the cyberpunk in, mix with the fantasy elements.

For television, follow a team of shadowrunners. Leverage was able to present a heist movie in about forty-five minutes in every episode. The draw was the characters and how they’d execute a job. Of course, the setting has its darker side, as if being a corporate-run dystopia wasn’t enough. With magic came beings beyond humanity’s ken. Insect spirits looking for host bodies. Blood magic. Magically changed viruses that lead to vampirism. Adding an episode or two to focus on the magical side of the setting allows for horror to be added to the cyberpunk/fantasy mix.

The main drawback to adapting the game is the setting. Describing it to Marketing would be trying to explain cyberpunk, Tolkien fantasy, heist movies, and then combining them. High tech and magic tend to sit in separate worlds, with exceptions such as Star Wars. Even that movie, A New Hope took time and effort before being picked up by a studio.

Once past the hurdle called Marketing, the next problem is budget. The different realms of the setting will have a different look. Reality is going to have contrasts between clean, glistening corporate enclaves and the grimy streets the characters live in. The virtual world is going to need its own look, with icons for everything without necessarily looking like a clone of Tron. The magical realm should look appropriate, beckoning, waiting, eerie, and dangerous.

Even the mundane world will require work. To reflect the game setting, the core metahumans – elves, dwarves, orks, and trolls – need to be seen. With how metahumanity came about, it’s possible to have a Caucasian dwarf, a Black elf, an Indigenous ork, or an Asian troll. Diversity is going to be needed; everyone gets downtrodden except the one percent. That said, unlike BattleTech, there aren’t centuries of history to choose from. It’s easiest to take the world as per the current edition. Shadowrun is always in the now, whether the now is 2050 like in the first edition or the 2080s of Sixth World. It may be easier to hand wave the technology in the setting by using the later date.

Shadowrun would be a challenge for a studio to adapt, but the setting is rich enough to make the effort pay off. As with all adaptations, the success depends on the effort made by studios to recognize why a work is popular and to keep that the heart of the new work.

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