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Game Design Document

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This article is intended to give a complete overview of the Shadowrun Awakened game. This document is intended to give both outsiders and new members a full description of the game.



Shadowrun is a tabletop role-playing game created in 1989. It is set in the far future and includes a fusion of sci-fi and fantasy themes. The game's setting was principally based in cyberpunk, a genre always set in a future gone bad where technology and rampant corporations have corrupted the world. Virtual reality, cybernetics, and bio-engineering are commonplace; however, society itself is divided between decadent 'haves' and desolate 'have-nots'. Shadowrun remixes the genre by injecting magic and fantastic creatures, suggesting that there is a hidden continuity between the gritty future and ancient legends and folklore.

In this world, players would assemble as teams of mercenaries, known as "shadowrunners", who would performs tasks, or "runs", for individuals and organizations. Usually, these missions were illegal activities involving theft, assassination, or kidnapping. To accomplish these tasks, characters not only fought opponents, but were also forced to navigate an underworld populated by scoundrels, bystanders, mortal enemies, and uneasy friends. The players were rewarded for surviving a story and achieving a goal on each run, not just for their capacity for violence.

The fundamentals of Shadowrun's gaming system were very distinct from other games of the time, most of which were modeled after Dungeons & Dragons. The primary weapon was a gun, not a sword. Characters had a customized skillset supporting the player's unique purpose, they weren't made with a cookie cutter. The primary means of advancement was accomplishing goals within a story, not just walking through a gauntlet of monsters. Most importantly, characters were never the absolute "good guy" in a situation and there was no compulsion to be.

Twenty years later, Shadowrun has gone through four editions and the new nexus of gaming is not on a table, but on the internet. Nowadays, massively multiplayer online games have fallen into a predictable mold based on the success of a single early predecessor. The unique facets of gameplay offered by Shadowrun, story-centric goals, purpose-driven characters, and a focus on inventive setting, could offer a new breath of originality in the genre.

Learning More About Shadowrun

While most contributors to the project are long-time Shadowrun fans, others are not. If you need to educate yourself on the world of Shadowrun, there are several places on the web filled with content on running the shadows.

Shadowrun: Awakened

Shadowrun: Awakened (SRA) is an open source attempt to create a massively multiplayer online video game based on the Shadowrun roleplaying game. Awakened seeks to offer a virtual Shadowrun world where players have all the experiences that can be found in the pen & paper game. The project is pursued from a fan's perspective and strives to draw inspiration from tabletop experiences over standard MMO cliches. Mirroring the advancement of the pen & paper game, Awakened will be true to the fourth edition ruleset as much as possible. Thus, the year is 2070 with more than 50 years of established Shadowrun canon to flesh out the world. Intentions for this project are to represent the Shadowrun world in 2070. A gritty, violent, fatalistic, rainy, desperate world. .

Attempting to compress the Shadowrun universe into the current mold of MMOs, there are certain aspects irreconcilable aspects of Shadowrun that perturb the existing conventions of the genre. In broad terms, the average MMO exists as an infinite treadmill that keeps the player moving along forever, yet never truly takes them anywhere. We want to present stories driven by characters and shaped by meaningful player decisions. In the average MMO, death is an inconvenience. It imposes a token progress penalty and often requires tediously traveling back to your previous location. In Shadowrun, death is an unrecoverable condition that has the singular solution: make a new character.


Every second of their experience should be as noteworthy and exciting as possible. Instead of walking just to reach an objective, players will always be focused on traveling a path that tells a story. They stories will always have a 'why' not just a 'what', and they will always have a consequence for the player.


The game will take place in and around the Seattle Metroplex in the fictional year 2070. The city will contain various districts with varying inhabitants, Environments will range from skyscrapers to slums, mansions to wastelands, from the mountains of the Cascades to Puget Sound. Players will meet rich and poor, defenseless and deadly, magical and mundane. The only constant will be the contrasts amongst the world of Shadowrun where characters can be magical creatures, cynical bastards, armed to the teeth, and all of the above.


The bread and butter of any merc is the "run". Missions in Shadowrun: Awakened hope to transcend the usual grindquest and enter into the realm of episodic stories, each with their own beginning, middle, and end. They may start out simple, steal the data then get away clean, but most of the time something will go wrong or there will be more than meets the eye. Players will always have a justification for putting their lives on the line, most often beyond just the nuyen. Players will interact with a fleshed out cast of NPCs that have meaningful influence on the player's story and that may grow into friends and/or enemies. Finally, players won't accumulate missions in an abstract to-do list, they will dedicate themselves to a single story at a time because their life and reputation are riding on it.


While there will be many standalone missions in the world with palpable consequences, the ultimate storytelling experience will be formed from building long story arcs out of missions undertaken in series. These "storylines" will connect the deeds of the player into a long-running plot with twists, revelations, and far-reaching consequences. They will feature larger-than-life characters and actions that test the mettle of the players, expand their characters, and deliver an intricate experienced shared by real-life friends in unreal situations. Three storylines are currently envisioned, each themed on a different large aspect of Shadowrun: the street, the Matrix, and magic.

Open Play

Players will always have the option to explore, because even when they're not doing a mission, they should still be on an adventure. Interactions in the world that aren't part of a mission are generally referred to as "open play". In open play, you can engage in gang warfare for territory, street racing, astral quests, or hacking data havens. They may be things that are always available or privileges that must be earned. While some may interleave with activities performed on missions, most will be standalone experiences done simply for fun.

Core Gameplay

The following describes the basic components of the player experience in-game. This includes what the player can do and how they do it.


Characters in Shadowrun are in a unique equilibrium of power. As characters gain more experience, they can be enhanced, but never transformed from ants into gods as in classic MMOs since bullets are always a threat, even from starting characters, and starting characters are very easy to make deadly. In game terms, this means that the power-level for characters progresses very flatly and players must be enticed by more than raw power to continue playing the game.


Shadowrun is a skill-based character system where players create a unique in-game specialty by selecting skills from a large list. With few restrictions on who can take particular skills, unlike in class-based systems, the system allows for a flexible player-defined character creation process. The system we implement will be based in the Shadowrun 4th Edition character rules and will include the Race, Attribute, and Qualities mechanics as well as skills. This includes character features such as being an adept, magician, or technomancer; or an alternate race like Elf, Dwarf, Ork, or Troll.

Character generation will be possible through either a simple or advanced mode. The simple mode will ask the player a sequence of questions concerning their desired abilities then generate a character on their behalf, allowing the player a chance at the end to make final low-level customization. The simple mode will likely omit most qualities and only allow for pre-packaged sets of gear during character questioning. The advanced mode will simply load a character customization system and allow players to allocate their own character statistics; allowing for all qualities and custom inventory.

The items available to characters will include the full gamut of Shadowrun gear including: gun, explosives, armor, tools, cyberware, nanoware, and bioware. The gear from 4th Edition will be streamlined. For instance, ammo can only be bought per-clip, Augmented Reality items will come as a kit, and only items with supporting game mechanics will be included. Gear will still retain the mechanics concerning availability and legality, meaning some advanced weapons will not be available on character generation, acquisition may be non-trivial during play for some items, and there will be punishment for possession of illegally carried weapons if discovered.


The two fundamentals of Shadowrun combat are time and guns. Those who act first and most often will virtually always triumph. Guns complement the innate speed of characters by firing many times in each round, giving characters the ability to strike at a distance, and delivering the possibility of a one-shot takedown. These two key elements combine into a fast and often deadly experience that only slightly diminishes in danger as characters improve in the game.

The other aspect of timing in Shadowrun, aside from the fact that faster characters act sooner and more often, is that not all actions take the same amount of time. Basic tasks, such as firing a single round, translate into actions that can be taken for free or multiple times per turn. Complex actions, firing a fully automatic weapon or casting a spell, can only be done once per turn. This will create the framework for what can be done by characters in combat amongst the possibilities of wielding firearms, melee weapons, and spells, along with specialized actions such as suppression fire.

There are only two tried and true solutions for being shot at in Shadowrun: be behind something or be out of the way. Characters will have to take cover or die in most fights and the combat rules will fully reward hiding behind barriers. If caught in their enemy's sights, quickly moving out of the way will be a necessity. Just as in fourth edition, the combat system will feature a passive dodge, where fast characters are always afforded a chance to naturally avoid being shot at, and a timing-based active dodge that will afford the player a great chance of avoiding damage at the cost of time available to attack. Of course, armor and character toughness will play a role in mitigating damage should the need arise, but the threat of combat in Shadowrun should always keep the players feeling vulnerable.

In the interest of fairness and playability, while it will be possible for one shot to incapacitate a character, it is difficult to justify preserving the instant death possibilities in Shadowrun. The envisioned death mechanic will allow players to stave off death as long as they have Edge points left to burn, but preferably the players will be able to stop death without resorting to Hand of God techniques by using first aid, magical healing, or DocWagon. In order for the latter techniques to work, there must be time between when characters are incapacitated and their death. If we work to guarantee there is always an opportunity that need only be taken by another, it means that loss of life will only happen in catastrophic situations where the entire group has failed or the players are abandoned.


The primary in-game controls will be mouse and keyboard. The game will take after modern third person games, focusing on support for multiple mouse buttons, left hand keyboard commands, and hot-keys number and function keys.

Characters in Awakened will be able to stand, crouch, lie down, jump, walk, run, sneak, crawl, and climb their way through the world. Movement speeds and jumping distances will be primed off of Shadowrun 4th editions statistics (EG 25m per turn run, 10m per turn walk) then honed for usability. While "platforming" has never been a focus for Shadowrun, some characters, such as Adepts, require support for very tight controls on jumping and climbing maneuvers. Also, interactions with walls for active cover and holding objects is expected to be included to a certain degree.


One element will be exploring the game world, as each area is under a different faction's control. Not every area in the game will have the same resources available and missions may require traveling to strange places.

We will strive to make many areas in the game persistent and public, that is, able to be entered by any and all characters at will. However, for dramatic purposes, there will inevitably be a need for some locations to be private to particular teams undertaking a mission. For instance, if every top secret installation could be attacked at any time, after a certain population size, they would be under attack at all times. While this could be an intriguing open play element, it is not conducive to drama. One day we do wish to incorporate multiple teams being specifically sent into the same instance to accomplish orthogonal or conflicting goals.

Transportation in 2070 will be many faceted. Buildings in the dense urban areas have grown into dense tangles of sky-bridges, helicopter pads, and monorail stops. Pedestrians in Seattle can go virtually anywhere in the contiguously connected urban sections without fear of being stuck in traffic. When players do get on the roads, it will be to flee from trouble or cross town where public transportation fears to tread. Compared to other MMOs, the cars and monorails in Seattle will feel instantaneous compared to walking across entire continents. And when the world finally grows beyond the borders of Seattle, just hop over to Sea-Tac and ride the Sub-Orbital to Denver.


From corporate buildings to The Matrix, technology has a far-reaching scope in Shadowrun. Wherever there are machines, there will be the possibility of subverting their function and turning them against their masters. Hackers in Shadowrun specialize in such activities and will be an invaluable asset to any Shadowrun team. The accessible technology will include door locks, gun turrets, alarm systems, drones, and information systems.

The ubiquitous interface available to hackers is known as Augment Reality (AR). It will allow hackers to see the technology in the world around them overlaid with their normal sight, allowing them to network at all times. All technology with a wireless connection, every computer, machine, and electric razor by 2070, will be accessible to characters with enough tech to decrypt the signal, slice the security, and reprogram the kernel.

When a hacker can't get the job done in the AR, they will be able to dive into the pure virtual reality know as The Matrix. This fully immersive simulation allows computers to be represented as places and people as avatars. Dangers faced in The Matrix may manifest as physical detriments, meaning only the bravest hackers enter, but for the highest security systems and most sensitive information, then they must venture into the digital dominion of the machines.


Magic in Shadowrun is available to only a select few who choose to follow the path. They must work outside of technology in a world where the toys often make the runner. Their power enables them to cast spells to damage their enemies, conjure spirits to do their bidding, and enter a parallel world beyond our own.

Spellcasting is the most utilitarian skill a magician can possess. Whether it is to kill or to heal, to block with a barrier or levitate with a thought, spells offer a means beyond normal reality to get the job done. The power is not without consequences. Channeling otherwordly power through the metahuman body causes fatigue on the will that may ultimately render a magician unconscious and helpless. Their power must be used sparingly.

Conjuring involves mastering entities from beyond reality, manifestations of primal forces long thought to be superstition or myth. Again, the ability of magicians to control their forces is based on their limited capacity to channel the potent forces casually known as magic. Spirits will work not just as servants, but companions.

Finally, the gifts of an Awakened character often grants entrance to the very home of magic itself: Astral Space. Magicians will be able to extend their perception into the parallel world of life energy and magic, seeing the emotions and magic in all things. The most powerful will be able to separate their own spirits from their bodies and project into the astral plane. In this place, they will move unrestricted by reality, threatened only by the awakened denizens of astral space itself.


The primary plan of action for any Shadowrun team is to not be detected for as long as possible. This means a majority of the adversarial situations in Shadowrun will involve sneaking, not gunfire. Awakened will feature characters able to see their surroundings in various spectra of vision; including low-light, thermographic, and ultrasound. Characters will be able to listen for trouble and security systems will feature trip-beams, security cameras, and drones. Environments will be built to give players a challenge to sneak, crawl, and climb their way past security. Sometimes it will be necessary to plan a diversion or deploy an ambush to achieve objectives, allowing players to convert stealth into advantageous surprise in combat.


The attraction of MMOs is the social aspect of participating in a story with other players. NPCs will also be affected by these values. Socializing in-game will deal with not only conversing with humans, but also simulating a society of NPCs that hold players accountable for their choices. The foundational mechanics to measure social interaction will include reputation, street cred, and attitude. These concepts do not translate so much as extend ideas in Shadowrun since they must simulate the aspects of the game largely left up to the GM when around the tabletop.

Bars, clubs, and restaurants will be the social hubs of the game. They will be populated with numerous useful NPCs, open play elements, and useful services. We want to encourage everyone to use them and new players to get to know about them as a resource of help and information. Inhabitants of the shadows will include all kinds of Seattlite: thugs, corporate execs, bartenders, terrorists, shamans, simsense stars, politicians, and squatters. They will vary from anonymous citizens to trusted allies or hated enemies. Some will be able to remember past interactions in order to flesh out a character arc.

As players accomplish tasks and perform deeds, characters will accrue a social perception amongst the NPCs in the game. Cultivating this "street cred" will enable the player to gain greater trust and prominence, bringing them more profitable and challenging opportunities. When players are effective, trustworthy, and reliable street cred will increase. When players fail missions, are captured, let allies die, or especially sell out their comrades, then street cred goes down.

Each player in the world will associate with factions in the game gaining a positive or negative Reputation rating. This will ultimately result in rewards or revenge coming to the character over time. We will seed storylines for each faction that will allow players to nurture their reputation in organizations by undertaking missions (thus, we will have a "Mafia campaign" and "Yakuza campaign" and "Horizon Campaign" and so on...). Unlike the standard rewards in-game like karma and money, the social rewards of reputation and street cred will fluctuate over time instead of always grow with time in-game. Players will, through their choices as well as success or failure, alter their disposition in the world without altering their personal abilities. They will align themselves with higher powers, be hung out to dry for stabbing a back, or make hard choices for the greater good.

NPCs will react to characters with an attitude based on the character's street cred, reputation, and innate qualities such as charisma and race. Nuanced interactions will be included such as aligned factions, enemy factions, reputation with enemy faction, loyalty/hatred of an associated contact or enemy with a mutual relationship to the PC and minor NPC (i.e. henchmen of your enemies have bad attitudes toward you), street cred, charisma, and race. Other factors on the table may include aesthetic features of character (obvious cyberware or choice of clothing may factor in).