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My full presentation and review of Anarchy

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Carmody

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« on: (09:30:42/10-20-16) »
I took time to read Anarchy, and read it again, before posting this review.

Overall I am really pleased by the book. That’s really what I was hoping for when it was first announced.

Good points
  • Narrativist, rule light system
  • Should be easy to tweak it to get a more usual gameplay approach (less narrativist) while keeping the simple rules
  • It’s still Shadowrun, really, I mean almost nothing of shadowrun is lost, provided you agree to roleplay some stuff rather than having extensives rules
Bad points
  • Bad editing. I hate to say that but there are far too many errors / missing stuff / leftovers from drafts / etc. in the rules. I hope it will be addressed soon by the errata team.
  • There are many advice about how to gamemaster and play Anarchy, but as a newcomer to narrativist systems, I would really have appreciated more information to understand to which extent can players decide what’s happening during their narration, maybe exemples could have done the trick.
  • More information about Matrix, Rigging and Magic should have been added for newcomers to Shadowrun. It is a shame because in my opinion it prevent the book from being really usable alone.

Not everybody, however, would be interested in Anarchy, I’d say, give Anarchy a try if you are not interested in modeling precisely every effect of everything through the rules, and / or if you want to concentrate on the story as a whole rather than just on how your character will react to events.
On the other hand, if you like to browse in an extensive of equipment, if you like to find every little trick, every little piece of gear and of optimization to make your character better, then Anarchy is not what you are looking for.

That being said, here is the full review, chapter per chapter. It is not very well organized, hope you will find that useful nevertheless.

1) Credits (1 page) because people working on a book need to be recognised ;-)

2) Preface (2 pages) from a Shadowrun old timer who explains us how he came to prefer lighter rules systems than he used to, and why Anarchy is perfect for that. I happen to have made the same “journey” and also prefer lighter rules nowadays and, even if it is not perfect, I also really think Anarchy does things right.

3) Table of contents (2 pages) because it’s practical. As opposed to some SR5 books, the table of contents lists chapters as well as first level sub-sections, which makes it useful.

4) Synchronicity (novel, 6 pages): interesting story, it features all three aspects of the world, physical, magic and matrix, but concentrates on the “action” of a run. I would have appreciated to see some legwork and facing. Note that several characters are fully described later in the book, along with many other sample characters.

5) Introduction (1 page + 1 full page illustration) details the content of the book.

6) Bleeding on the Edge (Sixth world description, 15 pages). This is a shortened version of SR5’s Live in the Sixth World chapter:
   - Everything has a price section remains in a shortened version
   - Days that shook the world is a short history section (~1 page), that was badly missing in SR5 corebook. It’s good to have it back!
   - Where to run section from SR5 is missing, which I think is reasonable choice to reduce page count, especially since there is a full chapter on Seattle later on.
   - A day in your life section from SR5 is missing also. As this section was describing what a shadowrun is, I would have liked to see it in Anarchy. However Anarchy provides many Contact briefs (Anarchy’s name for scenarios, see later) so it somehow compensates for the lack of this section.
   - Opposition section remains in a shortened version
   - most of the other sections also remain
Overall this is a good section, I just regret that “A day in you life” section is removed.

7) Rules of the Street (24 pages), yeah that’s it, 24 pages of rules and you’re done (well, not really as character creation and “gear” are covered later, but still that’s short and that’s good).
The core mechanic
At first glance the core mechanics are close to SR5 ones, you roll Skill+Attribute+modifiers against the opposite dice pool (no threshold here, the various difficulties are represented by different dice pools). There are however only 5 basic attributes instead of 8, and far less skills (Anarchy’s skills are more or less equivalent to SR5 skill groups). Furthermore, modifiers are waaaay simpler: there are wounds, shadow amps (see below), essence lost in some rare cases and… everything else is grouped in a single modifier at GM discretion. Many many SR5 modifiers and rules are just managed through narration, or just neglected:
   - Recoil? handwaved!
   - Knockdown? handwaved!
   - Environnemental modifiers? handwaved!
   - Situational modifiers? handwaved!
   - Ammo capacity? handwaved!
Then there are Shadow amps. Shadow amps is the way to model everything apart from attribute and skills: cyberware, bioware, spells, focus, cyberdeck, cyberprograms, drones, rigger console, adept powers, traits, and I’m sure I forgot several of them. All of that is handled through simple mechanisms, or even just through narrations.
On top of that is regular gear, weapons and armors have simple stats (basically all weapons of the same type have the same statistics, but you can still slightly optimize weapons), all the other items are purely here to allow for a narration.
The basic Matrix rules are really simple and should work well, there are many optional rules for those who want to add some extra details. I like when rules are presented that way, it makes it easier for groups to select what they want to use and what they want to discard.
The Magic section is similar to the matrix one: the rules are simple and should work well. There are rules for spells and spirits, not for ritual magic or alchemy. However I feel those two fields being less action oriented, narration is better than actual rules, so we’re good!
The vehicle and drone combat section provides rules that seems simple enough, there are however many missing data regarding drones / vehicle statistics and how to acquire them. Enemy and friend drones seems to work differently (or, most probably, the rules have changed during playtesting and the document is not fully updated). Once that will be fixed, I’m confident however that the rules will work well.
However, Matrix, Magic and Vehicle sections are lacking some information regarding what matrix/magic/rigging is and what can be done within. For example the words persona, sprite, complex forms, etc. are used without being really defined. Astral planis defined through one small paragraph, etc. This will of course not be an issue for any of you, but for newcomers to shadowrun it may become problematic.
The last section contains additional rules:
breathing rules: among all the things that are not precisely modeled in Anarchy, for a good reason, I cannot explain why they decided to add an optional rule for this rather than to cover barriers for example. But eh, why not? it does no harm.
Environmental conditions, those are more useful to me
Mind control, those effects can be tricky to balance between useless and “I win” button, so some guidelines are welcome

The narrativist side
Yeah, core mechanics are good, but what makes Anarchy a real different game is its narrative approach, I’ll try here to explain the impact. You should know that while I am really interesting in narrativism in RPG, I am kind of newbie here, as I never played a game which gives that much power in the hands of players. Please keep that in mind when reading the following.
Anarchy exchanges Action Phases for Narrations, during which the active player “has a chance to play out and describe their character’s actions, along with other elements of the story going on around them.” In combat situations, a narration allows a player to perform one combat action, while in non-combat situations the length is more variable. Once the narration of a player is over, the game continues with the next one.
The narrating players are not limited to the actions of their characters, they can also describe other elements of the story going on around them. This sentence is both amazing and really confusing to me. How much of a story can a player describe? Nowhere in the book are there guidelines or examples. Players with more experience in narrativist games may not require that, but not everyone is an expert narrativist player! I guess the boundary between what is managed by the GM and what the players can play with varies from group to group, maybe even from game to game, but general guidelines are missing.
As opposed to SR5 action phases, Narrations are used in most situations, not only combat situations. I guess the idea behind is to make sure each player and character has his moment, and that each player can move the story forward. There is a special “exception” rule call talk time which says that in some phases many players want or need to be involved in a conversation and that turns and narration can be suspended. This basically covers discussions with NPC with several players involved, or time take to build the plan.
And what about that Cue thing? Cues are basically the favorites sentences of you character, they are here to help players with their narration, both to stay in-character and to get ideas when they are short. Sadly, there is no real game mechanic behind.
Plot points are a resource which allows GM and players to add twists in the plot. Some are beneficial to the player using it (double movement, small heal, free attack) others are some kind of bets (add a glitch die, which is an extra die which can result in a critical success on a roll of 5 or 6, or a critical glitch on a roll of 1). But some other are real hindrances thrown by one player or the GM to the group, like adding a surprise threat.
Perception is another field where narrativism kicks in: on a successful Perception test, the player shall detail what his character discovers. Ehhh… ok, if you say so but once again some more details would be greatly appreciated by a narrativist newbie like myself: My understanding is that as a GM I can ask for a Perception test, and reveal what the players see if they are successful, and players can do the same during their own narration. But if they have a good idea, why risking not being able to exploit it by asking a Perception test rather than just stating what they see?
And finally, there is no money in Anarchy! not that all money has disappeared in shadowrun world obviously, but there is no need to track every single nuyen. As there is no price for gear, there is no need for nuyens. Important equipment is handled through shadow amps, therefore karma, and for regular equipment I understand it is either readily available, or should be a basis for an interesting scene. The only part that slightly worries me about this absence of money is the negotiation with the Johnson, it seems to be it is a mandatory step of every shadowrun and I do not see how to handle it in Anarchy, at least from a roleplay point of view: players are rewarded with karma, which can be used to buy equipment as shadow amps, however they will not negotiate karma point with the Johnson… I’ll have to figure that out.

8 ) Building Street Cred section (4 pages), where players and GM alike learn how to play Anarchy well! It gives useful advice about how to find inspiration during one’s narration. Unfortunately it does not give any guidelines about how much a player (not GM) can alter story elements other than his/her character. I’m pretty sure there is not a single answer to this question, but this is the case for many other aspects and it did not prevent them to be covered in the book. As a newbie in narrativist gameplay, I really lack insight about that.
There are then optional rules to make the game more traditional (which means less narrativist), this could definitely be helpful, as it help all groups to find the balance that fits them. And other optional rules regarding Initiative. While I understand why the former are in this section, I do not really understand what the initiative rules do here, they would fit better in the rule section in my humble opinion.
Overall I am disappointed by this section, I expected more help about how to play Anarchy.

9) Controlling Anarchy section (4 pages) is packed with advice to game masters, to handle the mess the players will inevitably create (if you doubt it, just remember the mess they can do when controlling only their characters, now imagine what it could become if on top of that you give them some control over the world!).
Surprisingly it’s at the beginning of this section that you get the better description about what a player can decide, well, better here than nowhere. There are then advices about how to ensure the storytelling is properly shared among players, how to help a player in lack of inspiration, how to keep the story more or less on track.

10) Forces of Chaos section (12 pages) details character creation and progression. Not much to say, except that it is simple and works well. Some more details about shadow amps creation would have been welcomed, but I guess it will be fixed as part of the errata.

11) Street People section (67 pages) is dedicated to people, both PC and NPC. It contains 30 archetypes, each with half a page of illustration, half a page of description and a full size character sheet, really ready to use (as opposed to SR5 Archetypes). A few statistics to give you an idea:
   - 17 men / 13 women
   - 10 humans / 5 dwarves / 5 elves / 6 orks / 4 trolls
   - 6 mages / 3 deckers / 1 technomancer / 2 riggers / 3 faces / 8 street samouraï or otherwise warrior / 3 adepts / 1 infiltration specialist / 3 others
Clearly the is Great! much choice, ready to use character sheets, good balance of characters. Good job guys!
Then there are the NPC, 25 NPC (including 6 spirits and 1 sprite). The basics are covered, which is good, however I would have appreciated to get some more critters, different levels of mage (as for fighters with corporate security, soldier, elite soldier) and of gangers. I would also have appreciated a small description for each one of them.

12) The secrets of Seattle (12 pages) is a description of Seattle, district by district. It is nice to have it here, to make the book more of a standalone product. Fun fact, this is presented as a JackPoint post, with shadowtalks. Too bad there is not some kind of introduction to JackPoint.

13) Happening World (44 pages) contains 37 short scenarios, some of them are designed to be a short campaign. I read several of them, they are short but this is what is needed for Anarchy, as the goal is for all the players to build the story, not the GM to railroad them.
It’s nice to have that many, it allows for quick unforecasted games.

14) Anarchy and Fifth Edition (11 pages) is split in two parts:
   - 5 pages to detail conversion between SR5 and Anarchy (in both directions). It’s nice to have this available, but it would have been as good as a free pdf than in the book.
   - 6 pages of example shadow amps, covering all kind of amps. It is really useful but I am somehow puzzled to see that here and not in the character creation chapter, right next to the amp creation rules. Well, at least it exists.

15) Index of Anarchy (4 pages) always useful

16) Shadow Slang (1 page) One full page of slang, great!

17) Character sheet (1 page)
« Last Edit: (14:22:17/10-20-16) by Carmody »

Beta

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« Reply #1 on: (13:31:07/10-20-16) »
I have a question I've been hoping to see answered in one of the reviews, but so far haven't -- so randomly I'm asking in your thread.

Does the technomancer/decker balance look better in Anarchy than in 5th edition?  (I would guess that the use of similar shadow amps makes where they get those amps from more of a moot point, but I really don't know)
Jawsey  --
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Carmody

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« Reply #2 on: (13:40:07/10-20-16) »
Decker and Technomancer basically use the same rules to create shadow amps (as do all other characters) so there is no imbalance here.
Basically, the decker / technomancer difference is mainly in the fluff you create around the amps.

Gingivitis

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« Reply #3 on: (14:06:50/10-20-16) »
The only real difference is in defense.  Defense on deckers is Logic + Firewall (usually about 8-9), technos is Logic + Logic (usually 10-12) which can be boosted by the Infusion complex form.

Deckers have a cyberdeck that acts like armor (kind of) but technos take damage straight to their Stun or Physical.

After that and sprites, they are basically the same: Shadow Amps and skills.
Shadowrun: Anarchy Resources (GM Screens, Character Sheets, New NPCs, House Rules) at: www.surprisethreat.com

Hobbes

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« Reply #4 on: (14:19:12/10-20-16) »
I have a question I've been hoping to see answered in one of the reviews, but so far haven't -- so randomly I'm asking in your thread.

Does the technomancer/decker balance look better in Anarchy than in 5th edition?  (I would guess that the use of similar shadow amps makes where they get those amps from more of a moot point, but I really don't know)

Technomancers win, but only sorta.  Deckers have an Amp tax that Technomancers don't.  Deckers have to cough up 2 points for a Shadowamp to get VR access, and then another 2 Amps for a Cyber Deck.  The Basic Cyber Deck does give small mechanical advantages so it's not a total sink, and Deckers can stack other benefits on to these amps.  And Deckers ceiling is higher as Cyberdecks and Programs are the only stacking Shadow Amps in the game.  IMO, Technomancers make better hackers because they don't have the Shadow Amp tax, but it's fairly close.

Also Deckers get access to Cyberware of course.  Technomancers can't have Magic Amps, and get tagged with an Essence penalty if they load up on Cyber Amps so TMs in the meat are going to be worse off then Deckers as plain ole gear based amps are pretty limited.  But since a Decker has 40% of their Amps tied up in just being a Decker this isn't such a big deal.  And of course Technomancers have access to Sprites, that Deckers don't.

Overall it's close enough mechanically that you should pick Technomancer or Decker based on flavor choice.  IMO of course. 

Beta

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« Reply #5 on: (15:12:52/10-20-16) »
Thanks for all the techno/decker info.

Sorry to have diverted people from the review -- consider me answered and return to that original topic, please :)
Jawsey  --
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Marzhin

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« Reply #6 on: (10:01:01/10-28-16) »
I did a quick article (in French) about my experiences after playing Anarchy for the first time last night. They are essentially in line with what Carmody is saying above: the rule system still feels like Shadowrun, the simplified mechanics are well thought, the sample characters are awesome... all in all, there's a lot to like.

However discussing our experience afterwards my players and I came to the conclusion that each group will have to decide where they want to put the limit of the "shared narrative". My players had played Shadowrun before, there were familiar with the Sixth World, but having to narrate parts of the story themselves left them confused and they didn't really know what/how much they should say, and they were always worried of "messing the story / universe".

I think in the future my group will probably use Anarchy's system and some concepts (the plot points for instance), but with a more classical "GM is the storyteller" structure. And fortunately, I believe Anarchy is flexible enough to allow that without issues.
« Last Edit: (10:05:09/10-28-16) by Marzhin »
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