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The Shadowrun Primer
This primer is not intended to replace or supplement the books of
Shadowrun. Instead, it's intended to help explain and clarify some points
for new players who may have difficulty figuring out the information in the
books. It's intended to help our new players gain an understanding of the
Shadowrun rules more quickly and ease them into playing this great game.
All players are strongly encouraged to purchase at least Shadowrun,
3rd Edition from Wizkids, LLC, as soon as possible. See the section on
our Getting Started page.
Because we want to see people buying the books, the information below is
by no means complete. The sourcebooks always have the most authoritative
rules, and they are a good investment for any Shadowrun player. Plus, they
help support the good people at Wizkids who have created this game that we
There will be no real reference below as to how to accomplish character
generation, or how these stats are derived. The code and help files within
the game provide enough information to do most of the math for you. Also,
these rules are written according to the house rules of Shadowrun Denver and
may vary from the official rules of Shadowrun.
Part 1: Dice and Stats
How do Dice Work in Shadowrun?
Shadowrun uses nothing but normal six-sided dice for all rolls. In
general, when you roll a die, you take the number that shows up for that
die's result. However, if you roll a six, you get to reroll and add the
result. You get to keep doing this if you re-roll another six.
Let's say you have five dice. You roll them and get:
1 3 5 6 6
You may then reroll the two sixes. They come up a 3 and a 6:
1 3 5 3 6
However, you get to add the previous six that you rolled. So the totals
1 3 5 9 12
Next, since that last die rolled a second six, you get to reroll it. It
comes up a 4:
1 3 5 9 4
Since you get to keep adding, you add the previous 12 to it, and wind up
1 3 5 9 16
How do you Make Tests?
Almost all die rolls are part of a test: you are, in other
words, attempting to succeed at some task.
In a typical test, you are
rolling one of your stats in an attempt to perform some operation. You
might be rolling your Pistols skill in an attempt to shoot someone,
or rolling your Sorcery skill to cast a spell. Or rolling your
Quickness attribute to try to avoid falling off that ledge.
When making a test, there are three basic variables:
- What kind of test is it? The three types are Open,
Targeted, and Contested.
- How many dice are you rolling? Usually, you will be rolling a
base attribute or skill, but dice can be added from pools or from other
augmentations. For example, when making certain kinds of Body tests,
trolls receive an additional die to use for resisting damage.
- What is your target number? For targeted tests, there is a base
target number; for open tests, there isn't. Nonetheless, you may still
experience target number modifiers. For open tests, these raise or lower
your highest roll; for targeted tests, they lower or raise your target
number. Target number modifiers are very important in Shadowrun -- in many
cases, they have more to do with how successful you will be than your number
of dice. For example, a piece of cyberware called the Smartlink-II
subtracts two from all your target numbers when shooting somebody.
There are three basic types of tests.
- Open Tests. This is the simplest kind of test. Essentially, you
roll your number of dice, with no specified target number. You're just
trying to roll as high as you can. The highest result of any one die is the result of your roll.
You then subtract out any target number penalties. Let's say you're rolling
five dice on a Intelligence test for perception, to spot something.
You have a +2 TN penalty from lack of light. You roll your five dice and
2 4 5 8 11
roll. Your highest result is that 11. However, you must subtract that TN
penalty of 2 from it, meaning your effective roll is a 9.
- Targeted Tests. This is the most common type of test. You will
have a target number that indicates the difficulty of your task. You roll
your number of dice; each die whose roll is greater than or equal to your
target number is considered a success; each die whose roll is less than or
equal to your target number is a failure. A roll of 1 is always considered a failure. Target number
modifiers add to or subtract from your target number. Let's say your base
target number is a four, but you have wound penalties of
+2. Your target number is now,
effectively, a 6. You have
10 dice to roll for this test.
1 1 2 3 4 4 5 8 10 11
Since the 8, the 10, and the
11 are all above the target number of
6, then this roll scored three successes.
- Opposed Tests. During a contest,
both you and your opponent will make a roll. The target number for the roll
will usually be based on a stat of your opponent. The person with the most
successes will win. For example, to decide
the price for a piece of gear, you make a Negotiation test versus a target
number of your fixer's Intelligence. Your fixer rolls his
Negotiation against a target number equal to your
Intelligence. If you get more successes, the price is lowered by
five percent for each success. If your fixer gets more successes, the price
is raised by five percent for each success.
A roll of all ones on a test is considered a botch. It's
generally a bad thing to have happen.
What are Dice Pools?
Shadowrun has a whole series of dice pools available. Most of these are
derived from other stats on the game. You can't buy dice pools, or increase
them directly with karma. You can only increase the stats to which they are
linked, or in some cases purchase Cyberware in order to increase them.
A dice pool is basically a reserve of dice. You can use these dice to
add to any roll of the appropriate type for that pool, effectively
'spending' the dice. Once spent, they are gone until that pool refreshes
(typically at the start of each combat turn). Karma pool is a
special case, and is discussed in the next section.
As a general rule, you may not spend more dice from a given pool than you
have of the basic skill. For example, if your Pistols skill is
3, then you may use at most three
dice from your combat pool, regardless of how many you have left at that
point. Using those 3 dice would
give you a total of 6 dice to roll
for the test. Once spent, those three dice are gone until the start of the
next combat turn.
The following is a listing of pools, and a brief description of what they
can be used for. As a general rule, you cannot use dice from more than one
pool on a single roll (Except Karma Pool, discussed later).
- Combat Pool: Used to add to attack
rolls (melee, unarmed and ranged); dodging; and resisting damage from
ranged, melee, and unarmed attacks.
- Task Pool: Used to add dice to
certain intelligence-related operations, such as build/repair tasks. Given
only by certain pieces of cyberware.
- Control Pool: Used by Riggers only.
Control Pool can be added to driving tests, dodge tests used while rigging,
and other activities involving use of vehicles.
- Hacking Pool: Used by Deckers when
performing matrix operations and hacking into things.
- Spell Pool: Also called 'Sorcery
Pool'. Usable by mages when casting spells and resisting drain from spells. Also
used during spell defense.
- Astral Pool: Only available to
initiated mages while astrally projecting. You can't start the game with an
initiated character. It can only be done after you accumulate karma and
What is Karma Pool? What's it used for?
Karma Pool is a somewhat special case. In Shadowrun terms, Karma is
equivalent to the concept of 'Experience Points' in other game systems. On
Shadowrun: Denver, you get it for good roleplaying, running plots,
participating in plots, or other miscellaneous things the admins wish to
reward. You can spend your karma points to raise attributes and skills,
learn spells (if awakened), and many other useful things.
Your karma stat has two values. The first represents the number of
unspent points of karma your character has. As you earn points, this stat
goes up. As you spend them, it goes down. The second value represents the
total number of karma points you have earned since being created (your
"total karma"). This stat goes
up, but never down.
Permanent Karma pool is earned automatically as you accumulate total karma. For
humans, permanent karma pool is earned at a rate of one permanent karma pool point per ten
points of total karma you earn. For metahumans, it's earned at the rate of
one permanent karma pool point per fifteen points of total karma you earn. This rate
continues until you have a total of eleven points of karma pool. After that
point, the number of total karma it takes to earn another karma pool point
doubles to 20 for humans, 30 for metahumans. These rules are different from
the standard Shadowrun rules.
As its name implies, permanent karma pool, once earned, is not usually
spent. When you normally spend karma pool points, you are spending them
from the temporary pool. This pool refreshes at the end of a scene,
defined as whenever the characters have time to catch their breath, the end
of a mission or run, or basically when the GM says so.
Karma pool is the only pool that does not refresh each combat turn. When
a pool refreshes, it means that all points are considered unspent once
again, and the temporary pool is back equal to the permanent pool.
Karma pool can be used for the following:
- You may spend a point of karma pool to reroll all failures from your
previous targeted or opposed test. In other words, if your target number is
4 and you roll 6 dice and get:
1 2 3 4 5 8
You may spend a point of karma pool and reroll the
1, the 2, and the
3. Any successes you get on the
reroll add to your total number of successes.
You may do this as many times as you wish. However, the second reroll
costs 2 more karma pool points. The third reroll costs 3 more karma pool points. To
roll a total of four times, for example, costs a total of 6 karma pool points.
- You may spend a point of karma pool to reroll all dice from an open test.
In choosing to do so, however, your highest die result from the first roll
is lost. As above, the first reroll costs
1 point. The second reroll costs
2 points. The third reroll costs
3 points, and so forth. To roll a total of four times costs a total
of 6 karma pool points. This rule is different from the
standard Shadowrun rules.
- You may spend karma pool points for extra dice on any single test, at
one point of karma pool per additional die. Each additional die may be
rolled and, potentially, rerolled with the others by the expendature of the
appropriate amount of karma pool above. You may 'buy' a number of extra
dice in this manner equal to your base skill or attribute only. This rule varies from the standard
- If you roll a botch, you may immediately spend a single temporary karma
pool point to avoid the botch. You may not, however, use karma pool to
reroll dice from the botched test.
In certain rare circumstances, you may actually wish to spend permanent
karma pool points. This is very seldom done except in life-or-death
situations, because karma pool points spent in this manner can only be
regained by earning more karma. However, the following options are
- You may purchase additional successes on a roll by burning one permanent
karma pool point per success. Karma pool points spent in this manner are
gone forever. You must roll at least one success naturally before
- The Hooper-Nelson Rule: You may spend permanent karma pool dice
in order to lower the target number of an action. Each karma pool die
burned permanently in this manner reduces the target number of the test by
one. This must be declared before the roll is made. Karma pool points
spent in this manner are gone forever.
- Hand of God. In some situations, your character may choose to
spend all of his/her karma pool dice to receive the 'Hand of
God'. In other words, even though your character would have died, instead
he/she miraculously survives through nothing more than game-master fiat.
Characters may perform this action only once during their lifetime, and the
gamemaster is by no means obligated to allow it.
Combat Turns, Initiative, and Initiative Passes
In Shadowrun, combat time is broken down into a series of combat
turns or rounds. Each combat turn is three seconds in length. During
this time, each character involved in the combat will get to act at least
once, under normal circumstances.
Your initiative roll determines when you go, and how many times
you get to go, during the round. The round is broken up into initiative
passes. Initiative passes have no fixed quantity of time; instead,
they're a stat-based abstraction.
Each time your turn comes up during the combat turn, you will receive a
full action. A full action consists of one free action plus either
two simple actions or one complex action.
The flow of actions in the combat turn is simple. First, you roll
initiative. In most cases, this can be done with the '+init' command. Look at your sheet, in the
Attributes section. Under Initiative, it will show a format
like "4+1D6" or "11+4D6". To roll initiative, you will roll the number of
dice indicated, then add the number at the beginning. So in the first case,
if you roll a 6 on your one die,
then your initiative for that combat turn is
10. In the second case, if you roll
1~3~5~6 for your dice, your total initiative score will be
26. Unlike other rolls, sixes rolled on your initiative roll do not
get re-rolled and added.
At the beginning of the combat turn, each character rolls initiative.
During the first initiative pass, everyone gets to go, in order of
decreasing initiative. The highest initiative roll goes first, followed by
the next highest, and so forth. During the second pass, all characters with
initiatives above 10 (non-inclusive) get to go, again with the highest
first, the lowest last. In the tird pass, all with initiatives higher than
20 get to go. And so forth.
The following tables should help clarify. Suppose the characters
involved in a scene roll the following initiative scores:
In this example, the full actions would be awarded in the following
First Initiative Pass|
Second Initiative Pass|
Third Initiative Pass|
Fourth Initiative Pass|
In the above table, Buttcracker gets to go four times because his
initiative is above 30. Mageboy and Goon #2 only get to go once, because
their initiatives are 10 or below. Once all initiative passes have been
completed, a new combat turn begins.
Your initiative result is also modified by wound penalties. It is, in
fact, possible to end up with a negative result for your initiative score
after subtracting out wound penalties. If that's the case, you don't get to
go at all that round.
Damage and Wound Penalties
Every character in Shadowrun can handle exactly ten points of damage of a
given type. No more, no less. No matter how badass you are, you have only
ten effective 'hit points' of damage you can take.
There are two types of damage in Shadowrun: stun damage and
physical damage. Stun damage is recovered fairly quickly; time and
rest will cause you to recover it without too much difficulty. Physical
damage must be healed, either naturally (over the course of a long period of
time), with medical attention (which still takes a while), or through the
use of magic. Stun damage typically results from some drugs, dump shock for
riggers and deckers, some spells, damage from some weapons, or damage from
fists and hand-to-hand combat. Just about everything else is physical.
The damage system in Shadowrun is somewhat abstracted. Wounds are
classified into only four levels, each of which corresponds to a certain
number of boxes of damage.
||Light Wound||1 box||+1|
||Moderate Wound||3 boxes||+2|
||Serious Wound||6 boxes||+3|
||Deadly Wound||10 boxes||+4|
The wound type determines the amount of damage it represents. If you
take an L wound, followed by an S wound, you have a total of
7 boxes of damage on your sheet. If you take two M wounds, then you have 6 boxes of damage -- the equivalent of an S wound.
Each character has two 'tracks' for keeping track of damage. Stun damage
is tracked separately from physical. If you take an S stun wound and an
S physical wound, then those do not add together. Instead, they are
tracked separately; you have, in effect, two different wounds. If both of
them were physical, or both were stun, on the other hand, you would be
unconscious or dying, depending on the type.
The only crossover between the tracks occurs if the stun track overflows
into the physical track. For example, assume you took two
S stun wounds. That would be twelve boxes of stun. Since this is enough to
fill your stun track, you will go unconscious. In addition, the extra two
points will overflow and result in physical damage. Stun damage can kill if
the target is already badly wounded.
If you reach a total of 10
boxes of damage in your physical track, you are unconscious and bleeding.
Without medical attention, you will die. A character does not instantly
die, however, until filling the physical track and taking an
additional number of boxes of damage greater than or equal to his/her
In the table above, there is a column labelled Wound Penalty. If
you have sustained a number of boxes of damage in a given track equal to the
damage for that level, then you will be subject to the corresponding wound
penalty. For example, if you have taken 6 boxes or more of damage, whether those came from
two M wounds or one
S wound, then you will be subject to a wound penalty of
+3. If you have only taken one box of damage, then your wound
penalty will be +1.
Wound penalties from the stun and physical tracks are cumulative with one
another. If you have taken 5 boxes of stun damage, and
7 boxes of physical damage, then your total wound penalty will be
+2 plus +3, or +5.
Wound penalties apply to every roll you make, with the
exception of damage resistance rolls (not counting spell resistance rolls).
Even your initiative result will be reduced by the amount of your wound penalty.
A wound penalty acts to increase the target number of your roll. So if you
have wound penalty of +5, then a
test that would normally occur versus target number 4 is now made against target number 9.
Whenever one character attacks another, the intent is, of course, to do
damage of one form or another, stun or physical. The amount of damage that
is done is a function of various factors.
First, every weapon, spell, or attack form that can do damage has a
damage code. The damage code consists of a number followed by one of the
damage levels (L, M, S,
or , D. For example, most heavy
pistols have a damage code of , 9M, while a narcoject dart has a damage code of
6D. This is called the 'base
damage' of the attack.
As a general rule, the character making the attack will make some kind of
roll. For shooting someone, it will be a Pistols test. For casting
a spell, a Sorcery test. For blowing something up, a
Demolitions test. In each case, the attacking character must gain at
least one success on the roll, or the attack fails.
Once the attack is made, the attacker has an opportunity to resist the
damage. In some cases, it is handled with a dodge test, followed by a
damage resistance test. In other cases, the character must resist the
effects of a spell or suffer the damage. In other cases, the damage
resistance test is the only recourse open to a character. The base target
number for the damage resistance test is the power of the attack --
the number in front of the letter.
In almost all cases, these resistance tests subtract from the number of
successes that the attacker achieved on the initial roll. The attacker's
successes on the roll are subtracted from the defender's successes in
resisting the damage. The result of this subtraction yield the number of
net successes on the attack.
In general, the number of net successes is used to scale or
stage how much damage is actually inflicted. Every two net successes
in the attacker's favor stages the damage up one level (from
L to M, from
S to D, etc). Every two
net successes in the defender's favor stage the damage down one level (from
S, from M to
L, from L to nothing.
Your successes when making an attack stage the damage up, making it more
powerful. Your successes when resisting damage stage the damage down,
making it less powerful. It takes
4 net successes to fully resist
M damage, but 8 net
successes to fully resist D
Let's take an example. Johnny Sammie decides he wants to shoot Bob.
Because it's close range, with no other mitigating factors, Johnny's target
number for the attack is only a 2.
He rolls 5 dice for his
Pistols skill, plus another 5 dice from his Combat Pool. He scores a
total of 8 successes. Ouch.
Bob can spend some of his combat pool to dodge, but he chooses not to.
He's got lots of armor. Six points of it, in fact. Ballistic armor subtracts its
rating from the power of the attack, so that
9M becomes only 3M.
Nonetheless, Bob has his work cut out for him. In order to take no damage
at all, he must negate Johnnie's 8
successes, plus get 4 more successes
to stage the M damage of the
weapon down to nothing: a total of 12 successes. Tough order.
Bob has a Body attribute of
4, and he chooses to spend all of his combat pool in this attempt to
soak damage. He rolls a total of 16 dice, but gets only 11 successes. Bob's 11 successes are subtracted from Johnny's
8 successes, giving a net total of
3 successes in Bob's favor. That
stages the damage from the pistol of M down one level, to
L. Bob takes only one box of physical damage, which now gives him a
+1 penalty to all die rolls he
makes from this point forward.