This guide is meant to describe basic RPG mechanics, provide an introduction to the lore of Shadowrun, and help new players orient themselves during character creation and early missions.
Welcome to Shadowrun Dragonfall
If you have decided to try Shadowrun Dragonfall, you probably already know that RPGs are Role Playing Games. You may have picked this title up because of the setting, recommendations, or experience on tabletop. This guide was designed for beginners, but I think everyone can find some useful tips within.
But first, we’ll talk about the setting of Shadowrun Dragonfall. In a neighboring timeline, Earth is a corporate dystopia. Mega corporations have the same rights as countries to form armies and conduct warfare. Terrorists, and industrial accidents create environmental and radioactive catastrophes all over the world. International tensions are high, and legitimate governments transition to authoritarian imperialism or collapse. New diseases emerge which are highly lethal and transmissible.
Then a magically active cycle starts at the beginning of the 21st century. Latent bloodlines emerge, and fantasy races suddenly surface worldwide. Elves and dwarves are suddenly born living side-by-side with frightened people. Dragons appear, and they explain some of what is happening (they keep a lot of secrets and are constantly hoarding wealth and power). Canada, Mexico, and the United States of America as we know them are unrecognizable due to rioting, losing what was essentially civil war with the Native American tribes (which now have magic), and several successful assassinations of first world leaders.
Then cybernetics and monstrous races (goblins, orcs, and trolls) arrive on the scene. Due to riots, plagues and natural disasters, hundreds of billions of dollars if not trillions have been lost. Rebuilding will take decades. The death toll in approximately a 20-year span exceeds a third of the population. The remnants of Canada and the USA form a new country, the United Canadian and American States (UCAS). Mexico is replaced by Aztlan, a corporate country that practices blood magic through sacrifice. There are several independent states, cities, and Native American nations sharing the North American continent with UCAS. The internet collapses due to a nasty computer virus.
A few years later, humanoids turn on the matrix. The Confederated States of America announce their secession from the union. A vampire virus is discovered. There are multiple variants of undead wandering about. New blood sports rise in popularity, and cybernetics are permitted in baseball. Russia ends up in a 20-year war with Ukraine, and Europe is destabilized. Then the events of Shadowrun Returns occur in Chicago.
Shadowrun Dragonfall has you starting on a heist in anarchist Berlin. So, how do you play? How do you want to? Let’s see if this guide helps you decide.
RPG Mechanics Used in Shadowrun
Shadowrun Dragonfall uses Attributes, Skills, Action Points, equipment, and other modifiers to determine chance and degree of success. It balances resource management with Skill challenges. Some challenges may be easily divided into a pass or fail. Others are nuanced. A simple check may mean hacking into a terminal without the password. A complex example is chance to hit and damage. The core of the system is simple, roll dice to achieve a target number to hit, then roll damage. Let’s get started with Attributes and Skills. We will return to our examples throughout the guide.
The Attributes and related Skills in Shadowrun Dragonfall are:
No related skills.
1) Close Combat:
A) Melee Weapon
2) Throwing Weapons
1) Ranged Combat:
A) ESP Control
3) Drone Control:
A) Drone Combat
1) Spell Casting
2) Chi Casting
1) Spirit Summoning:
A) Spirit Control
To improve your character in Shadowrun Dragonfall, you will spend Karma points. At the beginning of the game, you can select an archetype with recommended attributes and skills, or you can create a custom build. When creating a custom build, all of your Attributes are set to 1 and then adjusted based on the race you chose for your character. I strongly recommend creating custom builds.
You can increase Skills up to the parent Attribute/Skill’s level. Quickness is the parent Attribute of Ranged Combat, and Ranged Combat is the parent Skill of Rifle. To increase an Attribute or Skill you will spend Karma points equal to the level you are acquiring. Improving Quickness from starting at level 1 to level 2 costs two Karma. To improve Rifle to level 3, you will need to increase Quickness again to level 3 for three Karma, then increase Ranged Combat three times to level 3 for six Karma, and then you can increase Rifle three times to level 3 for six Karma. In total, this costs seventeen Karma. Depending on your choice of race, it may cost less.
Now that we know how to improve the Rifle Skill, let’s discuss how Attributes and Skills affect our chance and degree of success. Quickness and Ranged Combat determine your base chance to hit. The Rifle Skill modifies the damage dealt. Other modifiers will be discussed in future sections.
To hack into a terminal, you will need to invest in Intelligence and Decking. Often Skill checks will list a required minimum Attribute or Skill to succeed. If your meet or exceed the minimum, then you have succeeded. Checks like this may seem simple, but they may chain together with other challenges. For instance, requiring Decking level 3 to log in to the terminal and Decking level 5 to turn off the security turrets or an excursion in the cyberspace matrix to access secret files.
Equipment and Cyberware
Outfits and cyberware are critical ways to develop Attributes and Skills in Shadowrun Dragonfall and remain flexible with your Karma points. Different gear will have Attribute or Skill prerequisites to use it. The chance a rifle will hit and how much damage it does is largely determined by the rifle you are using. You could be using an old AK that has no requirements, a state of the art smart-linked Heckler and Koch the requires a data-jack and several points in the Rifle Skill, or a minigun that requires investing in the Strength Attribute due to its massive size.
Rifles have an ideal range band. An assault rifle, like the AK above will be less effective against targets that are far away. A sniper rifle, will be less effective point blank, but will make short work of distant foes. Smart-linked guns, will have better hit chance than their generic counterparts, but damage and range will remain the same. Some guns will have different firing modes, and you may need to develop the Rifle Skill to use them. Single fire, burst, and full auto will impact your hit chance and the number of shots you take. It is also important to mention that each gun uses ammunition and must be reloaded when the clip runs dry. This adds more considerations to the evaluation of success and degree.
There are temporary bonuses from spells, drugs, and cyberware in Shadowrun Dragonfall. They are almost exclusively compatible with combat. Some add to your hit chance like the “Aim” spells. Others grant you additional Action Points so you can try more times. Now we can begin to discuss modifying our environment and target.
Your Targets and the Environment
Calculations are also modified by many variables unique to each target. To continue our example, the Quickness attribute and Dodge skill directly oppose chance to hit for physical attacks, and armor provides a flat reduction to damage suffered. Body reduces damage suffered further. The hit chance and damage are reduced further by cover. Armor also reduces damage suffered. Anyone can also stand in environmental effects, like smoke grenades, to further reduce hit chance.
There are several ways to overcome each of these. Let’s start with cover. First cover is directional, and less effective the steeper your firing angle becomes. Try to flank your target to catch them out of cover. If you can’t flank the target, a stun grenade may break their cover. When a target loses all of its action points due to negative effects, they become stunned. They won’t be granted cover bonuses, and they won’t act on their next turn. Finally, if you don’t have the ability to strip your target’s action points, try hitting them with a Close Combat attack (note, thrown weapons count as CC). Being hit by a CC attack will knock enemies out of cover.
Next, how to overcome armor. First, use weapons with higher damage. It is important to scale up your equipment as your characters progress. You can also strip armor in a few ways. Some attacks ignore some or all armor. The FN HAR rifle ignores 2 armor. Some attacks shred armor, reducing it permanently or for a limited duration. The strip “Strip Armor” spells are effective. My last tip is to pick targets by priority and focus them down. Prioritizing targets means eliminating the softest targets first in most cases. Why should you have all of your characters use their action points targeting a bullet sponge when there is a glass cannon 10 feet behind it? If you are struggling in an environment, try moving out of line of sight. Then set an ambush.The AI will often break cover and run right into it.
All of the tools in your kit are technically available to your enemies’ too. Surviving as a Shadowrunner takes bravado, cunning, teamwork, and luck. Don’t be afraid to use your consumables. Drugs can give you the Skills and Action Points to overcome a challenging foe with ease. Med kits can patch you up before, during, or after a fight, and it’s easier to win when you don’t drop to 0. Fetishes can provide you with a disposable distraction (tank). Perhaps the most important thing is you have a crew. Build synergies, and support each other… Also, pet Dante. He’s a good boy.
I have by no means covered everything. Like what is essence? Play the game. I am certain you will figure it out. I didn’t feel it was necessary for this guide.
I’d like to thank the team at Harebrained schemes for bringing life to this setting. I have never played on tabletop, but I have enjoyed reading a few of the older editions’ rules. This game made an intriguing setting and system significantly more accessible.