March 6, 2015: John Harper's Kickstarter project for Blades in the Dark went live. I don't think I'd ever heard of John before then; I'm pretty sure a tweet from Adam Koebel sent me over to the page. I read the description and immediately thought, "This guy read my mind, and decided to fix every complaint I have about playing Shadowrun."
Defined crew types, a flashback mechanic to prevent too much time spent on planning versus doing, an emphasis on team work, high-paced gameplay, factions that react to the PCs, leading to actual consequences for actions...I loved it at first read.
But I have a personal rule, that I never back a project the first time I hear about it. I let myself follow a project, and then when the 48-hours until ending notice pops up, I look back at a project and make a final decision. I've broken this rule twice: my first Kickstarter, the Veronica Mars movie, and for Blades in the Dark. I couldn't stop thinking about the game the next few days. I even tried watching the actual play video, but the use of Google hangouts and generally low production turned me off (itmejp's really spoiled me when it comes to AP production value).
Still... the game kept coming to mind. I loved Dishonored; I loved The Wire; I loved the potential to adapt this game to Shadowrun. I backed Blades three days after its launch.
Six months went by, and in SEP 2015 I decided to start tinkering with a Shadowrun adaption of the game. Some family members were interested in potentially playing a Shadowrun game, but there was no way 5 extremely busy people were going to devote the time to learn 5e. After a month of casual development I had a set of Shadowrun specific playbooks, but I hit a wall: how to adapt factions to Shadowrun? Factions as they stood made little sense to me in the Shadowrun world, because why would big factions like the megacorps know who the PCs are, but if we used only street-level factions, didn't that eliminate the you-against-the-overwhelmingly-powerful-corrupt-corps feeling of the Sixth World?
Work intensified at my day job, and I set the project aside.
I kept thinking about picking it back up, but John Harper mentioned off hand that he might create some unofficial playbooks for Shadowrun and was working on rules for magic. I decided I'd just wait for his version. Months more passed and Catalyst Games announced Shadowrun: Anarchy. I decided to wait for their rules-lite Shadowrun. With either John or CG making something, why should I bother?
Two things changed. First, over the year, I played a lot of Shadowrun 5e. The amount you never mention to coworkers because there's being "the geeky one" and being "do you live in your parent's basement?" pariah level of geeky. As I played, I found myself dually frustrated by the 5e rules systems and the way Shadowrun lore seemed so far away from my 1e/2e memories as a kid. Shadowrun, as one person put it, left the cyberpunk genre for something more transhumanist. I missed the game with a definite political statement about the world and how we treat businesses over people. I missed the focus on empowering indigenous and oppressed groups to fight back. I missed Nerps.
Second, GenCon came around, and with it, the prototype rules for Shadowrun: Anarchy. Once I got a copy, I realized the game did none of what I wanted from an alternative ruleset. This is not to say SR:A is fundamentally a bad game, it just wasn't a game I wanted to play. I listened to interviews and read comments by people in development, and realized that the influence of people like Adam Koebel, Steven Lumpkin, and John Harper on my ideas about game development had moved me in a direction very far away from the SR:A team; we had fundamental conflicts about basic design principles.
In my frustration with SR: A, I decided, "Fine, I'm going to make the game I want to play."
Hundreds of hours later, that game became Karma in the Dark.
This blog is a mix of game design analysis, commentary on issues affecting indie dev spaces, and some personal reflections.