Friday, October 30, 2009


The only role-playing game I ever seriously thought about playing has turned 20. I never did actually play the game, but if there was something that was going to get me to buy multi-sided dice and huddle around somebody's card table in their basement or rec room, Shadowrun would have been it. I actually owned the guidebook up until my last move, and it provided a fair amount of inspiration for me. (I've never thought of it before now, but it occurs to me the blend of the supernatural/paranormal and sci-fi that is the hallmark of the game may well have been in part the inspiration for my main body of work.)

For those not familiar with this particular RPG - back in the days when that meant dice and well-worn books and card tables and not fancy CGI effects - the premise was a simple one: in a "Twenty Minutes Into The Future" type device, sometime in the near future magic returns to the world in all its forms. Dragons, wizards, orcs, trolls, etc... in short, take your standard Dungeons and Dragons motifs, all the sci-fi trappings of a cyberpunk convention, mix them all together with a mercenary-based system of gaming, and you have the basic gist. The actual setting of the game as played was a bit farther into the future, I think, about mid-point or so in the 20th Century, but the turning event in their particular history had already occurred some time back, so trolls carrying lasers was commonplace for the inhabitants.

Of course, some of the technology that was supposed to be in the future now looks kind of... quaint. Which is also an issue if you're trying to do near-future sci-fi. (The topic of a forth-coming post.) Very few people foresaw the revolution in cell phones and those little hand-held computers so many of us carry now. (Better known as iPhones, Blackberries, and the like.) On the other hand, I don't think anyone who played the game ever expected the future to be like that anyway.

At least I hope not, as it was all rather dystopian. In that regard somewhat unoriginally so, as it was all big corporations ruling the future, but I'm guilty of that particular trope myself. I say trope rather than cliche in a hopeful tone, there, but certain aspects of it carried a somewhat dismal tone. Which makes sense in an RPG, because after all if it's all sunshine and rainbows, what is there for characters to do?

I also have to wonder how many of the guys writing urban fantasy - and possibly some of the women - were in some part influenced by the game. It occurs to me that the whole "magic and tech don't mix" motif was one of the rules of the game: magic users in the game didn't get any of the nifty cybernetic enhancements the non-magic characters could get. Of course it was all set in a more futuristic time than the majority of urban fantasy, but there's some of it out there. I think. .... If not there will be when I publish. So there.

Anyway, as I said at the outset it provided some inspiration for me, and used to sit on my bookshelf. I think I may have to go out and purchase the anniversary guidebook, just to put it back on my shelf again so that, when the mood strikes, I can mine it for ideas.

.... Still not buying the dice, though.

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