Alternative rulesets for Shadowrun: rules-light options

There are various hacks of Shadowrun into rules-light narrative-first RPG engines. These fall into two broad categories:

  1. PbtAs (Powered By The Apocalypse), games that take mechanical inspiration from the seminal and influential RPG Apocalypse World.
  2. FitDs (Forged in the Dark), which use mechanics from Blades in the Dark1.

This style of RPGs can be divisive; many people love them2, some find their light-touch GMing style and emphasis on narration over crunch to be too far away from the Shadowrun feel they crave. You’ve little to lose by checking them out though!

For SR play, a few rules-light narrative-first options I really like are:

  • Shadowrun in the Sprawl (donation) takes The Sprawl ($15) (a straight-up cyberpunk PbtA game) and blends in the urban fantasy elements we love about Shadowrun. You need those two books to play, but nothing else. It makes for an impressively breezy, fast-paced system - you can play out an entire run, soup-to-nuts, with a few complications and twists thrown in, in a few hours. But don’t mistake that for being easy on the players. They’ll still have to make hard, hard choices.
  • Runners in the Shadows ($15) is a Shadowrun-inspired FitD. You don’t need any other books to play this. This is quite a light touch hack, as the core Blades in the Dark book is already very close to Shadowrun anyway – being a game about desperate criminals doing risky heists in a world of dubious morality.

  1. An argument can be made that Blades in the Dark is itself a PbtA, as although it doesn’t draw on Apocalypse World mechanically it definitely shares a lot of key design principles. But that’s a side-note here. ↩︎

  2. I am one of those people. ↩︎