Shadowrun & Lethality

Shadowrun has always been a gritty roleplaying game, whose lethality was rather legendary. It simply wouldn’t do to run head-long into a hail of bullets and expect to survive. No matter how augmented or jazzed up your character was, even a Troll cyberzombie goes down if enough guns or spells were brought to bear.

Fourth edition was made an order of magnitude more lethal than third edition. In return, fourth edition decided to scale down the healing times. Personally, I always enjoyed the long, realistic healing times, but truth be told, they could throw a monkey wrench into the timeline of a story and was therefore often circumvented by GM ex machina where a sympathetic/opportunistic street doctor or mage would present themselves.

In fourth edition, stun damage is healed by rolling a Willpower + Body (1 hour) extended test. Physical damage is healed by rolling Body x 2 (1 day) extended test. This means that with a body and willpower of 3, you’ll likely recover 10 boxes of stun in ten hours, and 10 boxes of physical in ten days, the latter implying that you can heal back from a deadly wound in only ten days.

A caveat here is that if you roll a glitch, you double the time for that extended test run. So 1 hour becomes 2 hours, and 1 day becomes 2 days. The likelihood of that is relatively low, which means that barring a critical glitch, you’ll be out a maximum of 20 hours for 10 stun, and 20 days for 10 physical.

Optional rules were provided to make healing more realistic, like adding damage modifiers to the extended test, effectively meaning that the threshold for success on the extended test run is the total number of damage modifiers you’ve incurred. Another optional rule suggests using only Body, instead of Body x 2 to test for healing physical damage.

Personally, I think I will go with the first rule, to just tweak that lethality of fourth edition without completely breaking the flow of the game. I could always fall back on a GM ex machina, if necessary. Also, I want to develop something that would dictate whether or not the damage done to a character warrants some sort of augmentation, but I have to think about that.

On a related note, I recently read a post on Reddit that suggested that most roleplaying games are systems of advancement and that Shadowrun’s fourth edition (and to a large extent all of the editions of Call of Cthulhu) is so lethal that the only way to ensure advancement is to not die. This idea is reinforced by the fact that the more conservative players who tend to hold on to their characters the longest, are the ones to advance to higher levels of power.

Sure, if playing Bunkers & Badasses is your thing, then perhaps Shadowrun isn’t your thing. Personally, I enjoy the grit and realism.

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