Alternative rulesets for Shadowrun: Sprawlrunners
Savage Worlds ($10 PDF, $40 hardback) is a generic RPG engine which has numerous supplements and rulesets in all sorts of genres, from the high fantasy of Savage Pathfinder to the Weird West of Deadlands and the post-apocalyptic The After. But no matter the setting, Savage Worlds prides itself on always being Fast, Furious, and Fun!
This cartoon is an excellent overview of the core Savage Worlds game mechanics, if you want a taste of the basics.
An overview of Savage Worlds
Savage Worlds has many characteristics that make it a good fit for playing Shadowrun:
- It’s a classless system
- Its rules are (much!) sleeker than Shadowrun’s, but it still has plenty of tactical depth to combat (in the distant past, Savage Worlds descended from a tactical mintatures wargame.)
- It has rich character creation, with a large array of unique abilities to choose from.
It’s worth noting there are some characteristics that make it not to everyone’s tastes, however.
SWADE’s core dice mechanics are a little more chaotic than Shadowrun’s. The interaction between the exploding dice mechanic and how SWADE determines success level means a small number of rolls – less than 1%, but not none – will produce results that surprise you. This is quite different to Shadowrun, where the boundary of outcome of a roll is much more pre-determined; the odds of a critical failure are almost zero and staggering successes are capped by the number of dice being rolled.
Whether it’s the PC getting a lucky shot at the Big Bad and taking half his life in the first round of combat, or the single NPC goon who refuses to die because he keeps passing Soak rolls, once in a while the dice will shock you. Your mileage may vary if you think this is a bug or a feature. My table loves it!
Playing Shadowrun in Savage Worlds
Savage Worlds been a popular choice for playing Shadowrun via various fan-made hacks for many years. I’m going to mention two specific options based on more polished commercial releases.
Weighing in at a svelte 71 pages, Sprawlrunners ($7 PDF, $25-35 POD) is the all-killer-no-filler Shadowrun ruleset you need.
Bias AlertI moved my in-progress Shadowrun campaign to Sprawlrunners a couple of years ago and have been very happy with the result. In the rest of this document I have attempted to remain neutral but here I abandon all claims to objectivity; I really like Sprawlrunners.
What you get in Sprawlrunners
Sprawlrunners takes the core Savage Worlds rules and adds everything you need to play in a classic era Shadowrun 2050s setting, including:
- Rules for cyberware
- Physical adepts
- Two arcane traditions – hermetic mages and shamans – each with their distinct feel
- Gear listings
- Decking (via wired connections and VR only - no wireless, no technomancers)
- Riggers (including a variety of drones and rules for jumping into vehicles)
The book is careful to make the minimum set of adjustments to Savage Worlds necessary, making it easy to learn and easy to modify and tweak.
For example, all character improvements (including getting cyberware fitted, learning new spells, increasing skills, etc) is handled via Savage Worlds’s Advances (basically, levelling up.) Nuyen-tracking is eliminated, and replaced with a flexible pool called logistic points. LPs are used to purchase the gear needed for the mission ahead, which the characters then discard and replace for the next mission – just like in a heist movie.
Sprawlrunners covers a wide range of options for weapons with a few dozen basic statblocks (“light pistol”, “compact SMG”, “assault rifle”, etc) which the players can combine with a few dozen modifications and variations (“burst-fire mode”, “smartgun adapter”, “folding stock”, etc.) It walks a good middle line between allowing players the breathing room to build signature items of gear for their character, without overwhelming new players with too many options.
Tweaking and expanding Sprawlrunners
The author of Sprawlrunners, Manuel Sambs, is quite open that it was designed first and foremost as a toolkit for GMs to build the game they want. As such, it has been kept easy to tinker with; a neat and tidy base that can be used as-is or expanded to your tastes.
I have my own extensive houserules and expansions for Sprawlrunners elsewhere on this site, including wireless Matrix, rules for downtime actions, expanded cyberware, and more!
In addition, there are several excellent commercial expansions for Sprawlrunners.
- MagusRogue has a Technomancers supplement ($2 PDF, 10 pages) with several variant rulesets for introducing technomancers into Sprawlrunners.
- He also has Guide the Sprawl ($4 PDF, 17 pages), which includes rules for Voodoo, mystic adepts, metasapient variants, toxins and drugs, alchemy, and more.
- Sambs himself has written Furious Magic ($1 PDF, 5 pages) which is a ground-up alternate magic system for Savage Worlds. Although not explicitly designed to work with Sprawlrunners, it pairs very well with it.
Beyond these, Savage Worlds has a wide range of settings and expansions to draw upon for inspiration for further modifications. Compared to hacking on the Shadowrun ruleset, this is process is a joy; I find Savage Worlds to be much easier to work within.
If you prefer a crunchier approach, another option for using Savage Worlds to play Shadowrun is the cyberpunk setting Interface Zero 3.0 ($20)/. Unlike Sprawlrunners, IZ has more of a maximalist take on gear, with a very large selection of weapons, cyberware, etc. Take those two, and add on this (free) fan-made hack (which cleverly uses pre-existing Savage World rules for fantasy elements like magic and metahumans) and you get yourself a pretty neat Shadowrun system.