Creating a Shadowrun Campaign

When I look to start a new Shadowrun campaign I have a few steps I go through before I am happy to look at characters:

  • Agree on the Storyline
  • Get an Overview of the Storyline
  • Make Character Creation Limitations
  • Have a Character Creation Session
  • Determine Character Advancement and Story Modifications


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Shadowrun is quite a different game. It’s about being a criminal in a world where no one has any real rights and the only way to be yourself is to exist in the shadows.

Characters have a few different options for a core storyline. Firstly there is the timeframe – the game of Shadowrun is set from 2050 to 2080 with each year in our world advancing the game setting by a year (or more with a new edition). The eras covered are roughly:

  • 1st Edition – Set around 2050 (there is a 4th ed suppliement for this as well) where the technology is bulky and magic has more of a price. It has been 21 years since the crash that set back technology and the world and made people disappear from recorded history as the World Wide Web (Matrix 1.0) died.
  • 2nd Edition – Set around 2053. Not much has changed in the world but magic is easier to wield and the use of Shadowrunners by the corporations is commonplace.
  • 3rd Edition – Set around 2060 the universal brotherhood was outed and a city was nuked. A dragon was elected president (!) and then killed and Fuchi corporation split into three separate mega corporations leaving the top spot open from grabs
  • 4th Edition – Set around 2070. This time the aftermath is another Matrix crash (2.0) as well as dealing with AI’s, the return of Halley’s Comet (more magic changes), the sudden appearance of another great dragon and technology getting a wireless upgrade. Decks disappeared and technomancers (magic styled hackers) enter the scene.
  • 4th Edition (20th Anniversary Edition) – Set around 2072 with the underworld currently waging a massive war.
  • 5th Edition – Set around 2075. Decks reappear and really large dice pool are reduced. This is also the first rules that does not go in depth into the history of the setting. So if you start here you will have a lot of research ahead of you to know what happened in the past. This does include interesting storylines around technomancers, awakened drugs, artefacts (and time travel), Dragon wars and Horizon.
  • Anarchy – Set around 2077. This has seen the arrival of a Matrix born disease CFD and the construction of Matrix 4.0.

Besides when a game is set there’s also what characters the players will be as it can have large scale impacts on how the adventures are being run.

  • Independents – Taking contracts from Johnsons who employ them on behalf of another, only working together as long as its convenient.
  • Mercenary Company – Still taking contracts but work as a team and have everyone’s back (assumed most groups at this level).
  • Sponsored Team – Working for a specific group, though able to take on other missions as long as they don’t work against your primary group.
  • Affiliated Team – You are actually members of the group such as a corporation and gain their support as long as you follow the line they provide you with. This includes “Court of Shadows”.


So now you know the time-frame and what sort of team is going to be built it’s time for the GM and the players to determine how they are going to build their characters. First choice is rules as there are seven sets of base rules from which to build characters. Shadowrun does not apologise for its rules complexities… it revels in it. You can go very deep into the various rules when building characters and running the game so knowing what your intended level of play is going to be helps pick the right rules for that situation.

Now that you have a rules set in mind (usually the latest rules as they’ve cleaned it up after each release) you decide on whatever Magic, Technology, and Racial options the players and GM are happy to include. This is more than just what is in the core rulebook as there are many options in the setting. Now that you have an idea what everyone can build the next issue is what build system: they range from priority, points buy to karma. My favourite is the karma system as that matches the character advancement rules and means one less rule set needing to be understood. Shadowrun already has Skills, spellcasting, adept powers, technomancy, hacking and enhancements which all have unique interactions.


Before starting play you have to define how and when your going to reward the players for their characters. Every session, every completed mission, ad-hoc, equally, allow money to be transferred to karma, or karma to money, and downtime between adventures. All those options change the game play greatly. Personally I like any option that keeps everyone on an even standing with the same Karma after trialling all of these options in my last campaign.


Shadowrun is a rewarding game, if you can get your head around the rules, or you can try the simpler Anarchy rule set they released if you just want to try out the amazing setting. For my next Shadowrun game I will either be using the Anarchy rules to see how they work out, or I will be using the Genesys rules as I like the setting but would like to see the effects with different rules under it that support the narrative play style I like to run.

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