Creating Sol “Sunny” Phylnn, the blind Buddhist elf, was an overwhelming yet positive experience. Building a character in Shadowrun requires strength of character in the real world; it is an act of endurance, creativity and humility. For those who have never heard of Mr. Phlynn, or if you were wondering where the hell an elf would learn about Buddhism, check out my introduction to the Sixth World.
Now, two weeks later, very little has changed on the knowledge front. I’m still sleeping with a .pdf of the core rulebook under my pillow and hoping for osmosis to kick in. (No my bed doesn’t really store .pdfs, and no you can’t really learn this way even if it did… at least not until we invent some sort of biocompatible datajack.)
Despite my best efforts toward proving otherwise, I had to embrace my inner Jon Snow and admit I knew nothing. It is what makes these tabletop RPGs so esoteric, the intimidating amount of context that must be digested before even humoring the idea of taking part in a campaign.
This catch 22 – that one should play the damned game before understanding it, yet playing requires having a character, which in turn requires a (semi)functional grasp of what you’re aiming to accomplish – is nigh impossible to overcome in a vacuum.
I offset my ignorance by reaching out to the interwebs for guidance, where I discovered the Shadowrun community on reddit.
First and foremost I did a lot of sorting through old threads. WARNING: If you don’t, some redditors may pounce at the chance to chop your bloody head off for posing a question that has been asked too many times. During these searches I stumbled upon an open-source application called Chummer.
It takes care of a lot of the meticulous nitty gritty, handling the input of attribute, skill and spell points while keeping track of available Karma (xp), NuYen (cash) and the various calculations derived from a heap of decisions made along the way. The software even exports your character into a neat HTML table, which can be updated with ease.
The moment my plan of attack was finally figured out marked exactly when I had learned enough to be dangerous. Flipping through e-books, downloading fancy tools, and accessing a database full of advice given to the would-be runners of yore, none of it amounted to much. I was equipped with a map but no compass. Too frustrated for caution, I defaulted to my usual strategy of jumping first and questioning later.
I dedicated many sleepless nights to the steep, uphill climb that is breathing life into a tabletop avatar. Slowly but surely Sunny was starting to take shape. I had a general design in mind, even figured out some of the finer details, but had no clue how to best fill the gaps between conceptualization and actualization. How was I to know, for example, whether a blind character could interface with an augmented-reality feed when trying to connect via electrodes?
That’s where /r/Shadowrun’s insight proved invaluable. After starting a discussion about the nuances of spell selection, a sentence I previously thought reserved for Hogwarts, some particularly knowledgeable users offered to critique the character sheet I exported from Chummer. They were more patient than I would have been, and only because of their supervision did I manage to get through the process (mostly) unscathed. Hell, I even ended up with a colored sketch based off a brief character description I wrote up.
All that was left to be done was actually play the game. My shaman of a shadowrunner faired rather well last weekend. Sure he almost died, twice no less, but he also brought a much-needed, not-so-punchy disposition to our group’s dynamic.
Once again we were tasked with finding a missing person, though the corporate-driven tension from last session was replaced by a supernatural flavor. Sunny took point throughout the investigation, being that he’s at home amongst all things occult – especially when compared to the retired boxer, kamikaze rage machine, and computer-savvy conman that make up the rest of the crew.
Just as I was finally starting to feel at home with my spooky gumshoe, a car chase ensued. Well, they were in a car, a semi truck to be specific, while we had elected to try and rob said truck using street bikes. The plan was simple, our cause relatively just: to prove our loyalty to a new contact by pulling off a heist that would make Robin Hood proud. My failed attempt at casting a spell designed to cause an accident resulted in the semi swerving right into my measly motorcycle. I was roadkill for the remainder of that little jaunt.
Luckily the rest of the guys made with the shootin’ and lootin’ despite my fizzled efforts. We got the goods, redistributed everything to the poor, huddled masses of Newark, and then proceeded to run recklessly into a fight involving a powerful fire elemental. We didn’t quite find our missing fella so much as find his marred remains, but our employers paid us out anyway. A runner’s got to put food on the table, after all.
Every two weeks I’ll have another chance at testing my mettle as a shamanic novice in a cyberpunk sandbox. Perhaps it was inevitable, that these confessions would lead to my joining a formal group of sorts, though I can’t help from chuckling at how much I don’t miss mashing buttons on a controller in front of a screen. Expect Sunny to pop back up now and again between the usual rotation of Tabletop goodness.