House Rules for 3rd Edition Shadowrun

Table of Contents

          This file is a 3rd Edition update of my house rules originally created for 2nd Edition Shadowrun.  While a number of them found their way into the new 3rd Edition basic rules, FASA was again somewhat disappointing in their lack of fixing a number of glaring problems.  As such, this document has been updated and expanded to make it compatible and consistent with SR3.  If you're still playing SR2 (or more likely have blended elements from both of the newer editions), my house rules for 2nd Edition Shadowrun are still posted for your convenience.
          As a general philosophy, I try to keep the house rules that I use fairly simple and straightforward to maintain playability, while still capturing enough detail and realism to be entertaining. Most of these rules taken singly may result in little appreciable change, and may not seem like much. Collectively, however, the little things add up. Where possible, I simply stick with the published rules, so many of these additions are simply using old rules in new applications (such as martial arts skill and aiming in melee combat). Some (like the autofire rules) are a little more complicated on the surface, but function in a manner fairly consistent with the rules upon closer examination. And some are merely my interpretations of the rules as given because FASA is too lazy to tell us specifically how they should be used (like my extended grenade rules). In any event, I strive to bring fairly high levels of realism into my campaign, so those of you who want dramatic house rules that allow your characters to leap tall buildings in a single bound will be disappointed. Those of you who want your characters to have more options in combat or who want to make your campaign richer in flavor may find what you’re looking for.
          Also, you may be noticing that this file is pretty long. This is primarily because I have gone to some length to include numerous examples to illustrate how these house rules are used in play. Though this makes the file somewhat lengthy, it is my hope that it will be more clear and easily usable as a result.
          Finally, I'd like to thank my patient players for putting up with my tinkering. The reason these rules work as well as they do is due in no small part to their feedback and willingness to try new things. And bitch when something's broken. I'd also like to thank Damion Milliken, whose careful eye and well-thought-out suggestions have fixed more than a few loopholes in earlier versions of these rules.
          For purposes of simplicity, these House Rules will be divided up into several sections, each one dealing with a single topic. Please note that some sections make reference to previous sections, so their order is intentional. So here we go...

Modifier Changes

          There's one change to ranged combat modifiers that I felt needed to be made (and have felt has been needed since SR1). Namely, the -1 for stationary targets, +0 for walking targets, and +2 for running targets. Why did FASA do this? Why not go from the same base-line (target and shooter both stationary)? So, what I did is make a stationary target a +0, a walking target a +1, and a running target a +3.  For those of you who have any experience with firearms, you will appreciate this small but important distinction.  Basically, it reflects the fact that shooting at stationary targets is not as simple as they make it out to be, and even walking targets can be difficult to lead correctly.  As such, a "perfect shot" (i.e. one at short range, with no cover, both shooter and target stationary, no wounds, no recoil, etc) has a target number of 4, just like every other baseline target number in the game.


          Hurray!  They fixed it in SR3!  Now you can actually dodge shots like you could in SR1, a mechanic that makes a hell of a lot more sense than the old SR2 mechanic of simply adding Combat Pool dice to your Body Resistance test and calling that a dodge test.  Since you are not actually dodging the bullet, but rather merely trying to get out of the shooter's line of fire, it should be equally easy/difficult to dodge no matter what weapon is being used, as bullet type/speed/trajectory really makes little difference.  Hence the target number of 4, regardless of what is being shot at you.  Yay, FASA! (and how rarely do I say that?)  However, I would like to suggest a few minor clarifications/additions:

          If the target fails to get more successes than the shooter (or declines the opportunity to dodge) and is actually hit, the target may allocate any remaining (if you have any left, that is) Combat Pool dice to be used in the Body Resistance test.  Note however that this is often the worst way to go.  With dodging the shot outright as described above, you only need to generate one more success than the shooter to be missed entirely (i.e. no Body Resistance roll is necessary).  With "rolling with the hit" you also have to reduce the weapon's base damage code.
          For example, if a shooter generated 4 successes against a target with an Ares Predator (9M), the target would only need 5 "dodge" successes from the dodge test to be missed completely.   Unfortunately, if the same target simply took the hit and used the Combat Pool dice to augment the Body Resistance test, 8 successes would be needed (as the attacker has staged the damage up to 9D).  While target number modifiers to the dodge test and the presence of armor will change the odds, players should be aware of the trade-offs.
          One clear bonus that adding Combat Pool dice to the Body Resistance test has, however, is that they only need to be declared when the test is actually made.  As such, they aren't "wasted" if the target misses as dice used in the "dodge" test are.  However, one must still consider which course of action is more prudent given the actual situation. Play the odds; that's why there are dice, neh?

Delaying Simple Actions

          Already included in the Shadowrun rules, the concept of delaying actions (SR3, p. 103) allows characters to hold their actions until a later time. Though it does not state it explicitly, all of the examples they give imply that a character’s entire action must be held. In my game however, I allow characters to perform one simple action and hold another. Since the option to delay an action is in and of itself a free action (SR3, p. 105), this should be perfectly reasonable within the bounds of the rules as written. Not a house rule per se, but not something permitted explicitly within the rules.
          Hence, on the combat phase in which he or she can act, a character can use one simple action (to fire a single burst, throw a grenade, change a clip, or whatever), use the free action to delay, and still have a simple action left over. If at some later point (before the next combat phase in which he or she can act) the character wishes to use the held action, only something that can be completed in a single simple action may be attempted. Hence, no casting of spells, firing of fully automatic weapons or the like is allowed (as these are complex actions). Note that if the held action is used before the character’s next available full action, the character will be unable to act for another 10 full combat phases after using the action, just like for normal delayed actions.
          This capability can lead to some interesting situations, and gives characters a little more latitude in exactly how and when they are going to spend their actions.


          As originally written in Shadowrun, no weapon, no matter how powerful the attack or how many successes were generated by the attacker can kill someone in one hit. Though Shadowrun 3 addressed that problem with the "Deadlier Overdamage" rule (SR3, p. 126), there were still some problems (like needing the power level of the attack to be higher than the target's Body). We've used the following rule since SR2 came out, and it has worked well enough that we have chosen it in favor over the published rule, mainly because of its simplicity.
          Basically, the system works as follows; after a Deadly wound has been inflicted, successes are used as normal to stage damage into overflow, starting over at Light. So a weapon doing Serious damage with four net successes behind it would cause Deadly damage, followed by another Light damage (which would go to the overflow monitor). Similarly, six net successes would cause Deadly damage, followed by a Moderate, resulting in a Deadly wound plus three boxes of overflow damage filled. Colloquially, we would call this "Moderate over Deadly" damage, and it is annotated as M/D.
          Careful observers will note that precisely the same "wraparound" will work for damage that occurs when inflicting a Stun wound. Thus, a weapon that does Serious Stun with six successes behind it would do Deadly Stun plus a Moderate Physical wound. As an extreme example, the same Stun weapon with sixteen successes behind it would do a Deadly Stun, a Deadly Physical, and Serious overflow Damage, utterly killing someone with a Body of 6 or less in a single blow. Smack!
          This system keeps the standard "two successes per damage category" system intact, and thus is consistent and easy to remember. Be warned that it makes the game a touch more lethal, but then again, getting shot at generally is.

Moving While Wounded

          For the most part, the target number modifier system used in Shadowrun reflects the difficulties inherent in trying to accomplish things while wounded pretty well. The one area where it falls short, however, is in the area of movement. Characters with 9 boxes filled on their physical condition monitor can sprint just as quickly as those who aren't wounded. What's up with that?
          To more accurately reflect this idea, I use the following simple rule: The appropriate initiative modifier for a given wound level is applied to the character's Quickness for the purposes of determining his or her movement speed while wounded (to a minimum of 1). Thus, a character with a Quickness of 4 and a Moderate wound would have an effective movement rate of 4 - 2 = 2 meters per combat turn (walking). Further, the modifier is applied to the movement speed before the running multiplier. Hence, if the above character were human (running multiplier of x3), he would have a running speed of 6 meters per combat turn.
          While this may seem a bit harsh initially, it's important to keep wounds in perspective. Even a Moderate wound is nothing to laugh at. Could you run as well if you were 30% dead?

Ignoring Wound Modifiers (or "Chew the Pain")

          Sometimes even the best laid plans will go awry and a character will end up taking a wound. In some cases, taking even a small wound can be devastating, simply because the wound modifiers it inflicts make getting out of a difficult situation even less likely. Fortunately, real life is replete with examples of people slugging their way through terrific damage or injury in order to accomplish something. I'm sure we've all gritted our teeth, steeled ourselves to pain, and pressed on at some point in our lives.
          So how do we reflect this in the game? I allow characters to engage in an activity that we have come to call "chewing the pain." Put simply, the character spends a complex action and makes a Willpower test. The target number for the test is simply the total number of boxes filled on the character's condition monitors. No modifiers apply to this test. Every success allows the character to ignore a single box of damage from their highest monitor for the purposes of determining their wound modifiers (including the modifier to their movement). The reason the highest monitor is reduced is both to keep wily players from keeping their Serious wound mods and ignoring their Light Stuns (as lower wound levels are easier to "chew"), and to be more realistic. When your leg is hanging by a thread, your stubbed toe is the least of your concerns, neh?
          But there's a catch: First, in addition to taking a Complex Action, the benefit only lasts through the character's next initiative pass. Second, if the "chew the pain" test nets any successes, the character adds an additional point of damage to their Stun condition monitor when the wound modifiers return (i.e. after the character's next pass). This reflects that rush of pain you get after you gut it out.
          For example, Samurai Slim has just taken a Serious wound. He's bleeding pretty badly, and his opponent is still out there gunning for him. Slim knows that if he can make his next shot count, he has a decent chance of getting out of this alive. Steeling himself against his wounded body's protests, Slim elects to "chew the pain." Slim's player rolls Slim's Willpower (5) against a target number equal to the total number of boxes on his condition monitors (thankfully, Slim has no Stun damage, so his target number is a 6 thanks to his fresh Serious wound). The test results are 1,1,3,4,8, for a total of 1 success. As such, Slim gets to ignore 1 box worth of damage on his monitor. So for the purposes of calculating his wound modifiers, Slim has only 5 boxes, which is only a Moderate wound (+2/-2). On his next action, Slim ducks out around his cover, making every attempt to make his shot count, knowing that after his action he'll be back to +3/-3, and he'll have picked up and additional +1/-1 from the resulting Stun wound he'll take.
          As another example, consider Slim's partner Wyrm. Wyrm is sitting there with a Moderate wound. As a spellslinger, Wyrm has also given himself two cases of Light Drain. So Wyrm is looking at three boxes of physical damage and two boxes of Stun. His Willpower is a 6, and he's trying to steal himself to pull off a killer spell to cover his escape. His target number for the "chew the pain" test is a 3 + 2 = 5. He rolls 6 dice, miraculously getting 3,4,4,5,7,9, for a total of 3 successes. Remember that boxes are taken off the highest monitor first, but as you take boxes off, which monitor is higher may change. After using only one success, Wyrm is looking at an equal 2 boxes of Stun, 2 boxes of Physical. As such, he must split his remaining successes equally among his monitors, resulting in a final "effective" wound level of 1 box Physical, 1 box Stun. Thus, Wyrm's final wound modifiers for his next action are a total of +2/-2.
          Both the adept power of Pain Resistance (SR3, p. 170) and Damage Compensation bioware (Man and Machine, p. 72) can be of use when electing to "chew the pain," as they tend to make the resulting Stun damage from successful chew attempts less onerous. Further, if the number of successes on the test would drop the wound below the character's Pain Resistance or Damage Compensation threshold, the character feels no pain (though he or she will still take a box of Stun damage after the next initiative pass). Lastly, it should be pointed out that Trauma Dampers (Man and Machine, p. 75) also work with this house rule. Yes, Virginia, that does mean that you'll never take that one box of Stun from successful chew tests. Keep in mind that you still lose a Complex Action, though, so there is still a downside.
          Finally, note that I also allow characters who have suffered a cumulative Deadly wound (which would ordinarily result in unconsciousness) a single opportunity to "chew the pain" as well. If their test's successes would drop their effective wound monitor below 10 boxes, they remain conscious and act as normal (though in all likelyhood they're still operating as though they had a Serious wound). Keep in mind that this only lasts for a single initiative pass. As such, in order to remain conscious, the character will need to spend every other action "chewing the pain" in order to remain conscious, and will eventually rack up enough Stun that they'll be unable to to generate any successes, and will thus fall unconscious. The most common use of this last ditch effort is to get into cover and self-apply a trauma patch (though occasionally the "blaze of glory" approach has appeal as well).


          Perhaps the most heinous of Shadowrun's vanilla rules is the "all or nothing" autofire system. Under the current rules, each full-auto burst is a set number of rounds, all of which either miss or hit, depending on if the attacker gets any successes or not. Because of this, we have taken the following approach. This one's a little more complex, so pay attention. It's based on the Open Test concept as orignally described in Shadowbeat (pp. 10-11), and which was later adopted into the core rules for SR3 (p. 39).  Why FASA didn't figure this out for themselves I'll never know, but here goes.  I'll try to make the math in my examples come out right (unlike FASA).
          So, a goon has a garden variety AK-97, no bells, no whistles. He decides to open up on a shadowrunner standing stationary in the open, in broad daylight, with no cover, at short range (like that's ever gonna happen). So basically, the target number is a 4, for ease of explanation. Or rather, the target number for the first round is a 4. The goon is weak (no recoil reduction from Strength as per Cannon Companion, p. 103) and isn't using the weapon's stock (the dumb-ass is firing from the hip), and so gets no recoil compensation whatsoever. Thus, the second round is subject to a +1 recoil mod. The third round is at a further +1, or a total of +2 from the base target number. Thus, to hit with all ten rounds, the goon needs a 4 + 9 = 13. It's normal so far. The goon opens up, rolling 6 dice, and getting a 1,3,4,4,5,10. Under normal SR3 rules, this would be a miss.
          However, where did the first few rounds go? Recoil hadn't affected them yet. Aaahh, but the goon got a 10, which would be the result of 7 (1 free plus six at +1 each) rounds of recoil. Thus, instead of missing completely, the goon hits with an incomplete burst of 7 rounds, with three stray rounds ripping through the nearby crowd of innocent bystanders (didn't I mention them?). So, the goon has one success, and the target (who didn't dodge), resists 15D (8M + 7 rounds, 7/3 = 2.333, which means 2 stages up). Ouch. Better than a miss. Damage and staging are figured from the highest result, so typically, unless your roll results in a bunch of a single number (four 9's as your highest rolls), you'll only have one success and be unable to stage the damage up further. If, however, you have multiple successes that would hit with the maximum number of rounds allocated to a target (max target number or higher), then each of these counts as a success for the purposes of staging damage (just as they would for a single shot or burst). So if our goon had rolled a 13 and a 15, both would have been sufficient to hit with all ten rounds sent at the target, and both would count for staging the damage up. Thus, the target would have to resist 18M/D (see overdamage rules above, three stages up for the number of rounds that hit, and one more for the shooter’s two successes). Ouch.
          But what if the target had dodged? In such a case, you take off one of the shooter's successes for each of the target's dodge successes STARTING FROM THE HIGHEST. Thus, if the target got a single dodge success, the goon would have been left with a 1,3,4,4,5. The five hits with only two rounds, so the power level of the attack drops from 15D to 10M. Good for the dodger. If the target got 2 dodge successes, the goon would have lost both the 10 and the 5, leaving the two fours. Note that in this case, the goon has two successes, which is enough to stage the damage up, even though he only hits with a single bullet. Thus, the target takes 9S. Whoops.
          Please note that as always, the tie goes in favor of the attacker. If the target's dodge successes take off all of the shooter's successes, the goon is left only with rolls that don't have a sufficiently high value to result in more rounds hitting, and the target must resist the base, single round Damage Code of the weapon. Thus, in the previous example, if the target rolled four dodge successes, he would have tied the attacker. As such, the goon would hit with only a single round, and the target would resist the weapon's base damage code of 8M.
          You will also note that it is occasionally possible to dodge into more damage, especially if the shooter has quite a few of a single number result, like a whole mess of 5's. This is representative of the fact that even though fewer bullets hit you, they hit you in more critical areas. It's hard to dodge a lead hose, and you may screw yourself. Zigged when you shoulda zagged. As a bonus, though, lower power levels often result in more Body Resistance successes, especially once armor is figured in. Practically speaking, this rarely happens during the course of a game, but if it does and if it bothers you, simply give the dodging player the decision as to how many of his or her dodge successes to apply.
          To make the example a little more complicated, say the goon was shooting at two targets, standing 2 meters apart in ideal conditions. He decides to allocate four rounds to each (using the other two walking his fire between them). He rolls 2,3,5,5,8,13. Against the first target, the 13 is a hit with all four rounds (4 + 3 uncompensated recoil = 7 < 13), so the first target takes 12S. Note that if the first target gets no dodge successes, the 8 would be a hit as well. Because of this, the shooter would have two successes, and thus be able to stage the damage up to 12D. Ouch. Again, remember that any roll that would hit with the maximum number of rounds allocated to a target (or more) counts as a success for the purposes of staging the damage, just like a normal shot.
          The second target is not only subject to more recoil, but also to the +2 secondary target modifier. So to hit the second target with the seventh through tenth rounds (remember that the fifth and sixth are used walking the fire onto the second target) is a 4 + 6 unmodified recoil + 2 = 12. Thus, the seventh round out of the barrel hits its target on a 12, the eighth on a 13, and so on. Since he got a 13, the goon hits the second target with 2 rounds, for 10M damage.
          If the second target gets even a single dodge success, he takes only the base damage of the weapon (as a tie goes in the attacker's favor). Two dodge successes and he is missed entirely. If the first target gets any fewer than 5 dodge successes, he gets hit. Alas, it's worse to be the first guy in the chain, just like in real life.
          Recoil compensation serves to increase the number of rounds hit at the base target number. Thus, in the previous example, if the goon had been using the weapon's stock, he'd have hit the second target with one more round (4 base target + 5 uncompensated recoil + 2 = 11), for a total of 11S.
          While it may look complicated counting the shots, knowing which bullet has what recoil, etc, it's actually quite simple. Basically, it's just an easy way of determining how many rounds actually hit. With a little bit of practice, it becomes very quick to figure out. Once you have the hang of it, you can throw in things like tracers, multiple targets with different cover, etc, and it's all done the same way. Quick, simple, and infinitely more realistic that the published rules.
          Statistically, it also falls right within the realistic norms. Typically, out of a full-auto burst, only about the first three or four rounds hit in normal combat situations (where target numbers to hit an opponent are frequently 10+), which is realistic. That's why they make three-round burst limiters, neh? But there will be instances where being able to spray lots of rounds will be a real advantage, especially when recoil compensation is figured in. But you will go through more ammo. Also be aware that this makes automatic weapons extremely dangerous, which is as they should be.

Burst Fire

          Right, so under the rules as written, it's actually harder to hit with burst fire than it is to hit with autofire (because each burst adds a +3 recoil modifier for a total of +6, but 6 rounds of autofire is only +5 recoil modifier). This doesn't seem right. Another easy solution is at hand, however: The first burst adds only +2 to the target number. This reflects the first "free" bullet.
          Furthermore, it should be pointed out that the autofire mechanics described above apply to burst fire weapons as well. In other words, if the shooter "misses" due to recoil, the target may still be hit, albeit with an "incomplete" burst (the damage for which is still calculated as per SR3 p. XXXXX). Example: Sub-gun Larry is firing his favorite Ingram Smartgun at a ganger punk. The target is in medium range (Target number 5), Larry is stationary (+0), but he's taking 50% cover (+4/2 = +2). The gun is smart (-2), but Larry's target knows what's good for him and is running (+3). Furthermore, it's night in the city and there's a light drizzle coming down, which the GM says warrants a further +2 visibility modifier. Finally, for the first burst, the recoil modifier is +2, bringing the total target number to 5 + 2 - 2 + 3 + 2 + 2 = 12. Larry rolls his skill of 6 and puts in 4 Combat Pool dice, resulting in 1,1,2,2,3,3,3,3,4, and 8. A complete and utter miss. Taking the second burst, Larry's target number rises to a 12 + 3 (recoil) = 15. electing to keep what Combat Pool he has left, Larry rolls his 6 skill dice and gets a 1,2,4,5,5, and 13. Technically this would be a miss, but by our "incomplete burst" mechanic, Larry would hit his target with a single round. His target must then resist the weapon's base damage code of 7M.

Suppressive Fire

          This one's quick and easy: any firearm may be used for suppressive fire regardless of its rate of fire. Yes, it may be less effective to suppress an area with a semi-auto pistol than with a minigun, but you should at least be able to try. Other than this minor addition, suppressive fire still works exactly as described in the Cannon Companion, pp. 106-107.


          Similar to autofire, grenades have a sort of all or nothing kind of badness to them as well, especially when trying to lob your favorite variety of IPE at a horde of corporate goons. The old rules didn't make them nearly lethal enough, but the new rules for explosives in SR3 ("Optional Grenade/Explosives Damage," p. 119) help somewhat, and will be used as a starting point for this house rule.
          The thrower of the grenade chooses his or her weapon of maximum destruction, primes it, picks a target, and lofts the pineapple. That is, the thrower picks a location and tosses the grenade, with the target number modifiers, range, etc. being calculated for that location. Note that the location may be a person or just an arbitrary spot on the floor, and because of this the target numbers may be a little tricky to figure. For instance, what is the target number to throw a grenade through an open doorway? What is the target number to throw a grenade over an obstacle? Generally, I assign target number modifiers as though someone were sitting exactly where the grenade is to be thrown, so as to reflect the fact that it may be more difficult to toss a grenade up a staircase, through a narrow opening, or whatever. If the thrower picks an actual person (rather than just a location) as the target, then the target numbers are figured normally. Once the target number for the throw is determined, roll the thrower's Thrown Weapons skill plus whatever Combat Pool is being allocated in addition. Count the successes. Every success reduces scatter as per normal rules.
          As a side note, it is possible to prime grenades for either impact detonation or timed detonation. Priming grenades for impact means that the grenade detonates in the same combat phase in which it was thrown. This allows the opponent very little warning that something is coming (see below), but priming for timed detonation (a la SR3, p. 118) allows the thrower to make more difficult throws, like bouncing a grenade off a wall or rolling it down a staircase. Generally, making "bankshots" with grenades incurs target number modifiers, but the capability is there if needed. I usually assign a +4 penalty for every radical direction change a grenade must go through before it reaches its target. As such, if the thrower misses, the GM can easily calculate which bounce the grenade failed to make, and can calculate scatter from there. In instances like these, it is possible that the grenade may land nowhere close to the target, and may even land back at the thrower’s feet. Whoops!
          Once the final location of the grenade has been determined, it becomes necessary to determine the actual damage inflicted. The GM now rolls a number of dice equal to half the Power Level (round up) of the blast for every character in the area-of-effect, and the target number for this test is a 4. This test will hereafter be referred to as the "Blast test." The successes on this test count for the purposes of staging the damage up. Note that this is exatly the same as the blast rule from SR3 (p. 119). This mechanic actually works pretty well, and keeps grenades from becoming either too powerful or too weak.
          Keep the chunky-salsa effect/blast-channeling in mind, as upping the power level also allows the grenades the opportunity to get more successes on the Blast test. Similarly, cover should reduce the Power level as well. A simple way to figure this is to take the percentage of the target behind cover (as described in the expanded cover rules in Cannon Companion, p. 97-98) and multiply it by either a) the Barrier rating of the object providing the cover, or b) the Power level of the blast, whichever is lower, rounding down. This reflects the fact that for flimsy objects, even having lots of cover won't help too much, whereas for heavy barriers, part of your body is still exposed. Thus, for a "ground zero" Power Level of 10, standing in 50% cover (partial cover, +4) behind an object of Barrier Rating 8 would reduce the grenade's effective Power Level by 4. Standing in 75% cover (+6 modifier) behind an object with a Barrier Rating of 4 would reduce the grenade's effective Power Level by 3. Standing in 50% cover behind an object with a Barrier Rating of 32 (reinforced concrete) would reduce the grenade's effective Power Level by 5 (in this case half the Power of the original blast, which as you will recall was a 10). Remember that cover is figured from where the grenade lands, not from where it is thrown. Finally, brittle substances may shatter from grenade blasts and actually increase the amount of shrapnel flying around (like a plate glass window, for instance). Such materials do confer the bonus of their Barrier Rating for the purposes of Body Resistance test target numbers, but actually add a number of dice equal to their Barrier Rating to the grenade’s effective Power Level when making the Blast test. This reflects the fact while the blast may have been blunted somewhat (making it easier to resist on Body), the likelyhood of taking shrapnel is far higher (by giving the grenade a greater chance to stage up damage).
          Note that when I say "Barrier Rating" I mean the actual, unmodified Barrier Rating of the object providing cover. I've never been happy with the standard Shadowrun mechanic that doubles the Barrier Rating against blast weapons, as blast weapons are notoriously good at knocking down doors and walls. Hence, when determining both cover or protection from blasts as well as the effects of blasts on barriers or other objects, I always use the unmodified Barrier Rating.
          For example, Willie Pete is throwing an Offensive grenade at his targets. They are hiding behind cover, and they are three meters apart. Willie Pete decides that the ugly goon is his target, and so goes for him. His target number is a 5 (medium range) +4 (opponent's cover) +2 (half of his own cover), +1 (poor visibility conditions) = 12. He rolls his 6 Thrown Weapons dice plus 4 Combat Pool, for a total of 10 dice. Willie Pete gets a 1,1,2,5,7,9,10,14,14, and 16. Wow! That's three successes against the target. The scatter die comes up a 2, so three successes is sufficient to put the grenade at the ugly goon's feet, making the power level pretty much a 10 (unfortunately for Willie, the target’s cover provides no blast channeling). At this point, the GM makes a Blast test for the ugly goon, rolling 5 dice (half of the Power level of the grenade at this range), target number 4. He generates 3 successes. That means the ugly goon would be resisting 10D (although Impact Armor will help reduce the power level for the Body Resistance test as per standard blast rules). The pretty goon is in a bit better shape. Since the grenade landed at the ugly goon's feet and they are three meters apart, the power level drops to a 7 (-1 power per meter). If there were some cover or barrier between them, it could drop even further. In any event, the GM rolls 4 dice at target number 4, and generates 2 successes. Thus, the second goon must resist 7D.
          As a recipient of such damage, the targets are allowed to dodge as described above. Each success negates one of the successes on the grenade’s Blast test, with a tie going in favor of the grenade. If the target's successes exceed the grenade’s, the target dives clear, drops prone, gets into the blast shadow of something tough enough to protect him or her from the resulting boom, or just gets lucky.
          Note also that grenades set for timed detonation can be subject to throwback (see throwback rules in Cannon Companion, p. 107). Since dropping prone is a free action and movement is not an action but a modifier, I allow characters who see a timed grenade land nearby to either begin moving towards cover (or just away from the grenade) or drop prone (which is usually a good idea if one has partial or incomplete cover from the grenade and wants to make the most of it before the grenade goes off). How much distance they move or how much cover they get depends on the situation and the character’s Quickness. If the grenade is primed to go off on impact, however, they may not even get the chance to drop prone or run away. In these instances it is usually best to resolve a surprise test to determine whether or not characters will have the chance to try to save themselves in this manner.
          With these easy-to-use rules, you can allow grenades to do grievous damage to tightly clustered opponents, which is exactly what a grenade is for. Further, grenades used on open ground are far less effective than grenades used in closed areas, which is also what grenades are for. Finally, these rules make the game mechanics of how grenades function much more realistic and allow players many more options when using them or facing them.

Heavy Pistols

          This one's fairly easy: heavy pistols have power levels that are way too high. When you consider that a submachine gun is generally firing the same caliber cartridge as a heavy pistol, through a longer barrel, and yet still has a lower Power Level, you know something's wrong. Furthermore, as written, heavy pistols are better at piercing armor than assault rifles. No.
          Fortunately, the fix is easy: heavy pistols have a damage code of 6M or 7M (instead of 9M or 10M). This brings their Power Levels more in line with other firearms.


          Another annoying rule by FASA is that scattershot is treated like flechette ammunition for the purposes of upping the damage code. Why? For instance, if you get shot with scattershot before it has traveled a sufficient distance to begin spreading, it's still one damage code higher than a slug would have been, even though it's almost exactly the same mass hitting you. And the argument that it hits more vital areas because of the spread doesn't wash, because that's reflected in the lower target number.
          As such, shotguns do the same damage regardless of whether they are firing shot or slug munitions. Thus, a Remington Roomsweeper does 9M standard when firing shot ammunition. Slug ammunition is resisted with standard Ballistic armor, and scattershot is resisted with Ballistic or double the target's Impact armor, whichever is higher (still like flechette in this regard, reflecting the fact that pellets make poor penetrators).
          For all of the folks out there who want to rend and tear their enemies with reckless abandon (and for all the munchkins lurking out there - you know who you are), it is of note that I have included an ammunition type called "scatter flechette" that fires a cluster of sharp projectiles, rather than a single dart like normal flechette ammo. It offers the best of both worlds (i.e. it spreads like shot as well as upping the Damage Code like normal flechette). Similarly, it is reasonable to use things like "scatter needler" (see the Neo-Anarchists' Guide to Real Life sourcebook, p. 30), explosive slugs, armor-piercing slugs, or whatever.
          Also, the scatter rates are a bit out of whack. Using the scattershot rules as written (SR3, p. 177), buckshot can come blazing out of the barrel in like a 30-degree cone. Having used shotguns, I can say from experience that this is just plain wrong, even for sawed-off’s. Because of this, I have ruled that the shot must travel a number of meters equal to twice the current choke setting before spreading another half-meter in radius.  This solves most of the unrealistic spread problems found in the Shadowrun rules as published.
          Another problem with shotguns is that the mechanics for them break down at extreme ranges.  The reason for this is that even after a shot pattern has spread to a diameter of 7 or 8 meters, the Damage Code is still a 2S.  If you're not comfortable with a shotgun still having a 2S damage code all the way out to its maximum range, you can use a variation in the burst/autofire rules in reverse.  Basically, for every three drops in Power Level, there's a corresponding drop in damage code. If the Damage Code drops to nothing, the shot becomes ineffective (meaning that while it may hit, and while it may sting and/or scare the shit our of your target, it won't do any actual damage). Either that or the pattern has become so spread out that you may pass pellets on either side of the target without hitting him or her.
          For instance, consider the following situation: Using the above described rules, a Mossberg CMDT is firing shot ammunition.  It's base Damage Code is a 9S, and the shooter has set the choke to a 2. Recall that the choke distance is doubled before spread is applied (as described above), so shot travels 4 meters before spreading/increasing the chance to hit/decreasing the power level. This shotgun's damage profile would look like so:

Distance: < 4m 5-8m 9-12m 13-16m 17-20m 21-24m 25-28m 29-32m 33-36m > 36m
Damage Code: 9S 8S 7S 6M 5M 4M 3L 2L 1(2)L Ineffective

          Obviously, setting the choke to a higher value keeps the shot pattern more tightly grouped, which increases your ability to effectively damage targets at longer ranges (which is pretty much exactly the case with real shotguns).
          It is often the case that more than one target will fall within the radius of the shot pattern.  In such cases, it is possible that more than one target will be hit by the same shot.  It should be pointed out, however, other targets after the first must be declared secondary, tertiary, etc.  As such, they are subject to the +2 target number modifier. The beauty of it is, you don't need to roll again, just look at the numbers to see who got hit.
          For example, "Shotgun Exley" decides to open up on a pair of fleeing suspects with his Defiance T250.  He has his choke set at a 5. The first target is 20 meters away, the second (a faster runner) is 30 meters away.  Exley declares that the closer suspect is his primary target (meaning that the farther is his secondary target).  The first target is in medium range for the weapon (base target number 5), but the second, at 30 meters is at long range (base target number 6). His target is running (+3 modifier as described in Modifier Changes above). Light conditions are not the best (because suspects never flee where you can see them clearly), giving Exley another +2. But at least he's unwounded, bringing the base target number for the first target to a 5 + 3 + 2 = 10. But the target number drops, because of the spreading shot pattern. At 20 meters, a choke setting of 5 has spread twice (or four times by the canon rules - but they are unrealistically sucky, so we'll say it spreads twice as per the house rule described above), meaning that the target number to hit the first target has dropped to a 10 - 2 = 8. For the second target, the shot pattern spreads again, dropping the target number to a 7, but higher range category (another +1) and the +2 secondary target number modifier brings that back up to a 10. Thus, Exley needs 8's to hit the primary target and 10's to hit the secondary.
          Exley rolls his Shotgun skill of 4 and dumps all 4 allowable Combat Pool dice into the roll. He gets a 1,1,2,3,4,5,8, and a 11. This means he has two successes on the first fleeing suspect (enough to stage the damage up), and 1 success on the second. Unfortunately for Exley, the second target is far enough away that the Damage Code actually drops below the base by a level (as the pattern has spread 3 times).
          Easy, simple, far more realistic.

          Also keep in mind that shotguns can be used for suppression.  The mechanics are simple if you just apply the rules for shotguns to the basic mechanics for suppressive fire (Cannon Companion pp. 106-107). Work shotguns just like other weapons, but rather than allocating all their effect on a single 1m x 1m target area, use the spread to figure out how big an area the shotgun's fire "covers" with suppression. When calculating the target number for a target actually hit by suppression fire, apply the same -1 per spread that you would normally. Similarly, decrease the power level (and damage code using the rule above) as normal. Note that at a spread of 1m in diameter, the shotgun is still covering the same area as normal suppressive fire - but it covers it slightly more thoroughly as the shooter gets a -1 to his suppression fire target numbers from the spreading of the pattern. He's blanketing the area with shot rather than piercing it with a comparatively small bullet hole.
          Note that if the shot spreads to cover more than one 1m x 1m area, you're likely to hit more folks, albeit with less damage. Further, since it takes 1 round per meter to "walk your fire" between adjacent suppressed areas, you may be able to get "overlap" of your patterns as you walk your suppressive fire across an area (hey, nobody ever said that autofire shotguns were a polite way to suppress the enemy).
          Keep in mind, however, that with increased shot pattern comes decreased damage. Very quickly, you'll run into a situation where the power level has decreased to the point that whatever cover your target is hiding behind will be unaffected by your attack (i.e. the power level will drop below the Barrier Rating of the cover).
          For instance, "Gunner Thompson" wants to lay down suppressive fire on a doorway at the end of the hall to keep the sec-goons' heads down while his buddies finish bypassing the maglock into the top-secret lab beside them. He uses the rangefinder in his cybereyes to calculate the distance (20 meters). Since it's a double doorway, he'd like to be able to suppress the whole thing at once, because he doesn't know which side the goons might be coming from. Fortunately, he's carrying a Mossberg CMDT-SM. As long as his shot pattern covers 2m (the width of the doorway), the GM rules that he doesn't have to split his shots to cover different 1m x 1m sections of the doorway. As such, his pattern needs to spread twice (to a diameter of 2m). So in order to spread twice over a distance of 20m, he needs to set his choke to a 5 (or 10 by the sucky canon rules), which he does using his cyberchoke. Heh.
          He then opens up on the doorway with two bursts. Since the Mossberg CMDT-SM is capable of burst fire, that allows Gunner to dump 6 rounds into his suppression fire, which will cover the doorway for the next 10 phases (or until his next initiative pass under SR3). So if any poor sucker steps out into that doorway, they'll need to make a Dodge(4) test and generate 6 or more successes (yeah, right) to avoid being hit.
          So Sec Goon A steps out like an idiot, and fails to generate enough Dodge successes to avoid getting hit. Now Gunner gets to make a standard Ranged Combat attack. His target number is a 5 (medium range) modified only by wounds, cover, and the +2 suppression modifier (movement and visibility mods don't apply to suppressive fire). Fortunately, Gunner is unwounded. Cover is a slightly different matter, and depends on how the goons expose themselves. Finally, the shot pattern has spread twice so as to cover the entire area, bringing the "to hit" target number down twice. So if Goon A is a dope and takes no cover, Gunner's target number to hit him would be 5 + 2 - 2 = 5. Gunner will roll his Shotguns skill of 6, generating 1,3,5,5,7,10. Youch! That's 4 successes! Remember that it's the base power level of the weapon that's used for staging, so Goon A needs to resist a 7L/D wound (9L/D base, but the shot pattern has spread twice, dropping the Power Level of the attack by 2).
          Had Goon A played it smart and taken partial cover by only exposing part of himself in the doorway, Gunner's target number would have been a 5 + 4 + 2 - 2 = 9. As such, only the 10 is a successes, and Goon A would have taken a simple one-round hit at 7S (9S - 2 for spread).
          In other words, it pays to stay the hell out of the suppressed area. Autofire shotguns work extremely well for suppression fire, which is precisely why such weapons as the H&K CAWS and Mark 3 Jackhammer were designed.

          Because I'm a sick bastard, I also apply the drop in target number (and power level, and damage code) when calculating if random folks are hit by stray rounds, and what damage they take from those strays. Heh. Blazing away with a shotgun is a remarkably good way to hit people you didn't mean to. Sometimes spread is not your friend, and can result in catching unintended civvies or poorly positioned team members in your shot pattern. Like anything else, a shotgun has an intended use and may not be appropriate for any given situation.
          Finally, the last minor change stems from the fact that shotguns are notoriously good at knocking people down (generally because of their poor penetration characteristics). Because of this, shotguns do not halve their Power Level for purposes of calculating knockdown target numbers.
          By including just a few simple rules (less spreading, decreasing damage code for three spreads, and area suppression) you can make shotguns both more realistic and more effective for their intended role without making them overly powerful.

Cover (firing through)

          Yet another oversight, the current Shadowrun rules don't take quality of cover into account. Whether you're hiding behind four feet of concrete or a rice-paper shoji panel, it's still just +4 to hit (assuming half cover). My rule is this: if you don't have any successes that hit with the cover modifier, count how many successes you'd have gotten with half the modifier. This is the number of successes that hit "through cover." Damage is staged as normal, but the target gets the benefit of the barrier rating of the cover when resisting damage.
          Obviously, if the barrier rating exceeds the power level, the target is safe. Otherwise, even a "miss" by SR3 rules could result in the target taking damage under these new rules. The purpose of this change is to force people to be aware of what they're hiding behind. It can make fire-fights in favored urban environments like restaurants and bars a lot more dangerous as there's not a lot that's good to get cover behind.
          Two caveats, here, though. The "half cover modifier" penalty reflects the fact that the shooter may not be able to see the entirety of the target's body, and as a result may be shooting at a location he or she is simply guessing the target is in. However, if the shooter is using blind fire, he or she may actually have no idea where the target is. As such, when using blind fire, even hitting with the +8 is through cover (as per standard rules), and anything else is a miss. Similarly, if the target is taking cover behind something transparent (such as a pane of armored glass), there is no question where or how they are standing, sitting, or squatting. In this case, count any successes that hit without the cover modifier as a hit through cover.

Trusting your Cover

          Consider the following: Shadowrun pretty much assumes that fire combat will happen in the "firefight" type setting, with opponents blazing away at each other in a rapid, chaotic fashion. The penalty to the target number for shooter's cover reflects the ducking, turning, and moving into and out of cover, and the awkward way you have to stand to get off the shot while still staying protected. Imagine standing partially covered behind a corner. You aren't going to just stand there motionless and hope that your opponent can't hit you. You are going to move, dodge, weave, etc. In those times you are moving, you may briefly lose sight of your opponent. When you pop out again, you need to quickly "reacquire" your target, adding to the difficulty (and thus the target number) of the shot, and hence the penalty associated with firing from cover (as described in Cannon Companion, p. 97).
          But there are going to be instances when your "cover" shouldn't really count against you due to your positioning or what you're hiding behind, because you're basically staying stationary and just blazing away. Consider the sniper in his carefully constructed hide. Though he has quite a bit of cover, he's set it up such that his cover doesn't really impede his ability to take the cold shot.
          The concept to think about is one of "trusting your cover." In other words, you're depending not on your movement within cover, but rather just the cover itself to protect you. You're keeping cool and taking care of business and praying to whatever gods there are that no one returns accurate fire. How does this work in game terms? Basically, I allow characters in cover to ignore the penalties to their target numbers provided they meet one simple condition: they cannot dodge until their next full action.
          The situation where this will get the most use is during surprise (see SR3, p. 109) encounters. During your first ambushing shot, you'll have set yourself up such that your cover doesn't obstruct your shot, and you won't be trying to evade return fire because there isn't any coming your way (yet). Note that due to the turn mechanics used in Shadowrun, this rule would seem at first glance to benefit faster characters. However, when you factor in delayed actions, even fast characters can get hammered when trying to abuse this rule. Note also that if anyone decides to suppress the area, you're probably screwed, as suppressive fire is avoided by dodging (see Cannon Companion, pp. 106-107).
          Finally, just because you happen to trust your cover to protect you doesn't mean it can't be fired through.

Called Shots

          Per the standard 3rd Edition Shadowrun (SR3, p. 114), a "called shot" can either result in an increase in the damage code or targeting of a specific external system on a vehicle-sized target. Like the rest of the Shadowrun system, this is a bit of an abstraction, but one that seems to work fairly well. These rules keep the existing mechanics in place. However, I've expanded the options. As such, I allow not two but five options to the player calling the shot. The player can either:

          Option e) doesn't increase damage, up the damage code, or anything else, but can oftentimes end in a result that is important for the player. For instance, a called shot to the eyes with a shuriken may produce no significant life-threatening "damage" per se, but it will deprive the opponent of his sight, giving him a +8 modifier for all his subsequent combat tests.
          Also, nowhere is it stated or implied that only a single type of called shot can be made at one time. You want to avoid armor and up the damage code when you shoot your opponent? So long as you stack the penalties (for a total of +8 in ranged combat), go for it.
          Furthermore, simply calling a shot and failing to get the desired result does not mean that the shooter misses entirely. As such, I use a mechanic identical to that outlined in the firing through cover section above. Namely, if you fail to hit with the full called shot penalty, count the number of successes that hit with half the modifier. The result is the number of successes the shooter has, but the shot is treated as normal firing. The reason for this is simple - the basic shot assumes that the shooter is aiming for the center of mass of the target. If the shot deviates by say, 20 cm in any direction, chances are good that the target is still hit. If the shooter is attempting to target a head or leg or what have you (whatever is appropriate for their desired option), the same deviation may be a miss. Or it may not. Hence, using this rule, the shot will still hit, although it won't yield the desired called shot effect, and there will be fewer successes than if the shooter had simply shot at the target normally (as the target number will be higher). Still, it's better than a clean miss, and more realistic.
          The above mechanics work for stacking called shots as well. Say for instance that Pistol Pete wants to shoot his target and make him hurt. Unfortunately, his target is in heavy security armor and Pete came ill prepared, loading only Gel rounds in his Ceska Vz 120 (whoops). As such, Pete decides that he'll make a called shot to do physical damage, as well as a called shot to avoid armor. At short range, in optimum conditions, Pete would need 4 + 4 + 4 = 12 to pull off this shot, which would result in the target resisting 4L Physical damage with no armor. Say Pete rolls and gets a 1,1,2,3,3,3,5,5,7,9, and 10. So close. By SR canon, this is a complete miss. Sucks to be Pete. But wait! Using the above rule, Pete would hit with one full called shot penalty and half the other (4 + 4 + 2 = 10) - which is still a hit. So Pete hits his target, but only gets the benefit of one of his called shot options. Which effect is applied? I leave that decision to the shooter. In this case, Pete decides that it's better to avoid his opponent's armor, and so settles for 4L Stun with no armor. Had Pete not rolled the 10, his highest would have been a 9, which would still be a hit, but without either of the called shots taking effect (4 + 2 + 2 = 8). As such, his target would resist 4L damage with the full benefit of his heavy security armor. In other words, his target would laugh. Had his highest been a 7, Pete's shot would have been a clean miss.

Called Shots in Melee Combat

          Similarly, note that called shots can be used in melee combat. In hand-to-hand combat, called shots work exactly as outlined in the Cannon Companion (p. 85) with two important differences: first, the target number penalty is only a +2 as opposed to a +4. This stems from the fact that visibility modifiers are halved at melee range, and it's much easier to grab someone by the head than it is to shoot them in the head. Second, instead of the overly detailed mechanic for only using the armor of a given location (which is totally different from the rest of the canon SR3 rules, and which totally ignores the fact that nowhere in SR do they tell you what kind of armor covers which locations), simply remember that all five of the above options are still available in melee combat. As such, players may wish to sweep opponents or knock them prone, either of which would be a "game effect" called shot. As another example, taking a weapon from someone in hand-to-hand combat would be a "game effect" called shot. Slipping your stiletto through the gap in your opponent's flak jacket is a called shot to avoid armor. Kind GM's may wish to have certain game effects (such as a sweep, throw, or disarm) succeed even if the opponent resists all the damage of the attack (i.e. the attack succeeds but the opponent stages all of the damage down on the Body Resistance test). The inclusion of this reasonable rule allows a whole new range of options available to players who like flashy techniques and daring situations.
          Again, remember that stacking called shots will work in melee combat as well. You want to throw your opponent in such a way that he lands hard (game effect and up the damage code)? Stack the modifiers (for a total of +4 in melee combat) and you can make the guy land in a painful heap. And last but not least, remember that an attack that doesn't hit with the full called-shot modifier may still result in a hit as described above.

Called Shots Against Targets in Cover

          Often times, called shots can be (as far as pure game mechanics goes) somewhat silly. For instance, if you take a called shot at someone who has 6 points of cover, you are still aiming for an exposed/vulnerable portion of their body. Do you pay just the +4 modifier? Do you stack them for +10? After all, if someone's head is sticking out over a wall, it shouldn't be too much harder to hit than if you were shooting at his head when he was standing out in the open. Yet even if the point you're aiming for is exposed, you may not be able to discern how your opponent is standing, where their balance is, or how they're likely to move. As such, compensating for it or "leading" your target point correctly may be more difficult than it would be if your target were in the open.
          Because of this, the way I handle these situations is very similar to the house rule for firing through cover described above. To reflect the fact that you may not be able to accurately gauge where your target is because of blocked line of sight, add half the called shot modifier to the full cover modifier. So calling a shot against an opponent who is only 50% exposed would be subject to a +4 (partial cover) + 2 (half called shot) = +6 modifier.
          Note that since smartlink II is better at placing shots than the original smartlinks, called shots are easier. Shots using smartlink II have only a +2 modifier, so halving this becomes only a +1 when making called shots against opponents in cover.
          One caveat here, though. Since I allow the stacking of called shots, it's important to penalize every called shot after the first with the full +4 penalty. This reflects the fact that finding a single exposed target that is going to do give all of the effects you want will be very difficult. It also protects against a statistical oddity whereby making a whole mess of called shots at once is actually easier against targets in cover than it is against targets in the open. Hey, if you want to be Rambo, pay the modifiers.
          Note the concepts outlined in the section on firing through cover as well as called shots can work hand-in-hand. That is, you make a called shot against a target in cover. If you miss with the called shot modifier (which is halved against targets in cover a described above), halve the modifier again. Thus, you still hit the target normally. If you fall shy of that mark but would have hit with half the cover modifier, your shot still hits normally, but the target gets the Barrier Rating of his or her cover as hardened armor for the purposes of the Body Resistance test.
          For example, Pistol Pete is shooting at a target who has 6 points of cover. He decides to make a called shot to increase the damage code. Firing his trusty Ceska Vz 120 (which he has remembered to load with hard ammunition this time) in ideal conditions, his target number is a 4 + 6 (cover) + 2 (half the called shot modifier) = 12. If he manages to roll a 12, his target is hit and must resist 6M damage (before staging for any additional successes Pete might have). If he rolls an 11, he still hits, but the target need only resist 6L, as Pete didn't have a result high enough to make his called shot. If he rolls an 8 or higher, he still hits his target, but the damage code is 6L and the target gets the Barrier Rating of the cover as hardened armor when resisting the attack. If he rolls a 7 or less, he misses completely.
          Though slightly more complicated than the straight-up SR3 rules for called shots and cover, these house rules can be used in conjunction to allow for a lot more realism in combat situations. This kind of detail is tremendously useful in a number of situations that one might find in Shadowrun, such as when your target's "cover" is a hostage. Having the capability of calling a shot against a target in cover and knowing precisely when that "cover" is hit can make for some very realistic and interesting encounters. It also gives both the players and the GM more options in a firefight at the cost of very little added complexity.

Knowledge Skills (or "How obscure is it?")

          One of the things I was most intrigued about with 3rd Edition Shadowrun was the way Knowledge Skills were handled. Finally, somebody gave some thought to fleshing out characters and proposed a system that was both flexible and easy.
          Unfortunately, it also lacked any kind of structure to make it useful within the overall context of the game. How do the example Background Knowledge skills of "Alcohol/ Elven Wines 2/4" and "Elven Wines 4" differ in game play? Does the guy who takes the more obscure skill get screwed? Does the guy who takes the more general skill get some kind of benefit for free? The section on handling knowledge skills (SR3, pp. 89-90) simply says that one person will "likely know more specific detail" than the other. This is pretty vague, and while it was done intentionally in order to abstract the use of knowledge skills, it leaves something to be desired when it comes to Knowledge skills that might be of critical use within the course of a game.
          In order to solve this dilemma, I've instituted the following classifications of Knowledge Skills: General, Detailed, Intricate, and Obscure. Careful observers will note that these are exactly the same categories used on the "Knowledge Skill Table" (SR3, p. 96). At character creation (or when the skill is first learned), the player and GM determine what level the skill falls into. From there, it's just a simple matter of treating the target numbers given in the "Knowledge Skill Table" as a sliding scale. In other words, the more "obscure" your skill, the more likely it is that you'll know "obscure" things that fall into your area of expertise, and the less likely you are to know how that relates to more general information.
          The scale of target numbers then looks something like so:
Character is
"General" skill: "Detailed" skill: "Intricate" skill: "Obscure" skill:
General info 3 5 8 12
Detailed info 5 3 5 8
Intricate info 8 5 3 5
Obscure info 12 8 5 3

          So when your level of skill and the knowledge you're seeking match up, the target number for your Knowledge Skill test is a 3. If the skill level and knowledge type are one level apart, the target number is a 5, two levels apart yields a target number of 8, and fully three levels apart (general skill trying to get obscure information or vice versa) is a target number of 12.
          Consider the following example: Tom and Jerry are wiseguys. They both have a Street Knowledge skill pertaining to the Mafia. Tom has decided to stick with the basics, so he takes the "Mafia" skill. This is similar to the "Criminal Organizations" skill given as an example in SR3, but is a little more specific. As such, the Gamemaster rules that the "Mafia" Knowledge skill rates as a "Detailed" skill. Jerry, on the other hand, wants to be the guy in the know. He wants to be the kind of wiseguy who knows everybody in the family and can tell you how Vinny Sixguns and Vinny the Nose are related. He opts to get a little more in depth and go with a Knowledge skill of "Gambino Family," which the gamemaster rules is an "Intricate" level skill. At this point, neither is specialized within their chosen skill.
          So Tom and Jerry are hanging out at a local fettuccini joint one day when another wiseguy walks in. Both players announce that they would like to figure out who this guy is. The GM secretly knows that this person is none other than "Lefty Lou," brother of one of the lesser-known Gambino capos, and further, that this is "intricate" level information. As such, it falls under both the Mafia and the Gambino Family Knowledge skills. Both players roll 4 dice (their respective skill levels). Tom's Mafia skill classifies as "detailed," which is one step away from the kind of information he's trying to get. That makes his target number a 5. He gets one success (general knowledge, no details - Tom thinks the wiseguy is a Gambino, but can't put a name to the face). Jerry, on the other hand, has an "intricate" level skill, which means his target number is only a 3. He gets three successes (detailed info with a few things missing - Jerry knows the guy is a Gambino, knows his name, and is pretty sure he knows which crew the guy operates with, but he can't remember if he's the capo's brother or cousin).
          But what if the situation were reversed? Say another wiseguy walks in (what are the odds of that in a fettuccini joint?). The Gamemaster knows that this second person is a member of a rival family. Tom and Jerry are both curious about this guy, and wonder if he's a Gambino. The GM decides that this is "detailed" level information. So now Tom's target number is a 3 and Jerry's is a 5. Tom rolls his 4 dice and gets two successes (detailed information with some points inaccurate - Tom knows the guy isn't a Gambino, and thinks he's a Lucchese when in actuality the second wiseguy is an O'Malley). Jerry gets no fives at all. He figures the guy's a player, but he doesn't know him. Must be a business partner from outta town.
          This example illustrates very clearly both the strengths and weaknesses of taking skills of various levels. If Tom and Jerry compare what they know, they'll realize that a close relation of a local capo is meeting with out-of-town mobsters from other families. This could be very important information that might otherwise pass them by.
          So how does specialization fit into all this? Basically, specialization allows the character to have a higher rating in some facet of the original skill, but that specialization will keep the level of depth of the parent skill. A specialization of a "detailed" skill is treated as "detailed" skill itself, and simply allows the character to roll more dice in certain situations. So if Tom decides to specialize his "Mafia" skill, since it's a "detailed" skill, its specialization will also be a "detailed" skill. Tom decides to specialize in "Money-Laundering Schemes." As such, Tom has a fair bit of knowledge about the Mafia as an organization on the whole, and has a better chance of grasping stuff that relates to the organization's methods of laundering cash. He'll have a harder time telling you exactly how individual families do it (that would be "intricate" and increase his target number), and he's not sure how the Yakuza do it (that would be "general" and again increase his target number), but he understands the principles that apply to the Mafia as a whole.
          While this kind of rating of skills into various categories may seem complicated on the surface, it's really quite easy to pull off during the game. It also adds a lot of depth to the way Knowledge skills are used and makes for a much wider variety of strengths and weaknesses without overly benefitting or penalizing those who take more obscure skills.

On the Topic of Stealth...

          Okay, for the first time ever in the history of the Shadowrun rules system, there has been an actual section of the book dedicated to telling you how to use one of the most important skills in the game - the Stealth skill. The problem is that the mechanic that they chose to use is not a particularly good one. Don't get me wrong, I think that the Open Test has its uses, I just don't think that this is one of them. This opinion is largely borne out after having used the Open Stealth Test mechanic for nearly three years of SR3 play, so don't think I'm just blowing smoke with this one.
          As such, I'm going to approach use of the Stealth skill just like virtually all the other skills in the game, and make its use an Opposed Success Test (SR3, pg. XXXXX). In other words, there is a target number for a goal, and the player may roll a number of dice equal to the skill plus any appropriate modifications (certain types of cyberware, etc). His or her target number is dictated by the difficulty of sneaking or hiding in the environment in question. Those wishing to spot the character will also make a test (i.e. a Perception test) against a target number dictated by the difficulty of perceiving the character in that environment.
          The trick is knowing what the target number is. Like everything else, it usually starts out at a base of 4 for the average stuff, and is modified by the difficulty of the action being performed. Stealthing over dry leaves and twigs is difficult, sneaking over soft moss is easy. Sneaking through a door is difficult, but trying to cross a concrete floor without making any noise is not too challenging. The GM is encouraged to use the appropriate existing modifiers, as they already apply.
          For instance, melee visibility modifiers (which are half of ranged combat visibility modifiers) should apply to Stealth rolls, as it's a hell of a lot easier to crash into stuff and make a lot of noise/motion/racket when you can't see where the hell you're going. Stealthing over "difficult ground" is harder too, because you are more likely to slip and fall, or make ripples that give away your position, or whatever.
          "But there are specializations to the Stealth skill," you say. How do we handle them? For instance, there's a difference between the Stealth of sneaking (AD&D "Move Silently" for lack of a better analogy) and the Stealth of hiding (AD&D "Hide in Shadows"). In order to get into position in the first place, you have to use Stealth to get there, meaning there is a chance you might be seen. If you manage to get to your location unseen, you need to make another roll, a completely new Stealth roll, to adequately hide yourself. Again, modifiers would apply, as hiding in a rustling pile of dry paper garbage is a lot more likely to give your position away than simply hiding in a bush. Grasses move, saplings wave, and water ripples, all of which can make the Stealth of concealment more difficult.
          So far, we've dealt with primarily with the person Stealthing. But what about the observer? The observer gets a Perception test to try to spot the sneaking character. "But wait, how can the observer possibly generate more successes given that his target numbers may be very high due to visibility modifications, distance, cover, or whatever?"
          Here's a rules mod I call the "observation tally" that I've allowed as something to make hiding and finding people who are hiding a little bit more realistic. If you look long enough, you will eventually spot someone who's hiding. But you have to actively be looking (i.e. spending actions making Perception checks). If this is the case, every time you get a success, you "save" it, just like in Interrogation Operations in the Matrix (see SR3, p. XXXXX). Note that "saving" a success doesn't mean you roll fewer dice next time, just that you already have one success towards your chosen task; similarly, your next Perception roll is not subject to the +2 penalty for "trying again". Recall that the base target number for Perception tests is a 4, modified by visibility, distraction, wounds, etc. When the observer builds up more successes (over multiple turns, most likely) than the person hiding, the observer "spots" the person hiding. You can then easily revert back to the Perception Test table (SR3, p. 232) to compare net successes and what level of detail that gives. One success might give you a revelation like, "Hey, I think there's a guy over there!" or may give you the direction that an attack is coming from. Two successes is more along the lines of, "There! Right there! Can't you see him?!?!" With four or more successes, you can see all of the pertinent details, probably with enough clarity to be able to dodge the shooter's rounds without visibility penalties (see dodge rules above).
          Typically, when someone is sneaking into a position, I allow possible observers a free Perception test to try to spot the sneaking character. Once in position, however, observers need to actually spend actions to try to spot the hiding character.
          Consider the following example: Bart the Sniper is setting up shop. He has moved unobserved to his position, and, uses his Stealth skill of 5 to conceal himself in some tall reeds. The GM sets his target number as a 5 (as the reeds are a bit tough to see through, but the reeds will rustle with his slightest movement). As described above, I set Stealth target numbers based on what the person is trying to accomplish versus the difficulty of accomplishing it successfully without being perceived. The base target number is (as always) a 4, modified by the difficulty of doing whatever it is they want to do (in this case a +1). So Bart gets three successes. So he's lying prone in the weeds, aiming at his target. Observers need at least four successes to see him hiding (one more than Bart, as a tie goes in his favor). Their target number varies depending on what Bart is doing.
          Hanging out is a lot less obvious than firing (an "obvious action" -4 T# bonus to Perception tests). Trust me, it can be extremely difficult to locate a sniper if they don't want to be seen (and they don't) and they take the proper precautions (which they do). Like all Perception tests, the base target number is a 4 (routine task). The GM decides that the offer concealment (basically cover with a Barrier Rating of 0). The GM sets the level of concealment offered by the reeds at +4 (50% cover). So adding +4 for the level of concealment, and +4 for his camouflage clothing, the final target number for observers is a 12. So in broad daylight, someone would need at least four 12's to see Bart before he opens up (provided they didnít see him sneak into position in the first place). If Bart's targets aren't aware that he's waiting for them and are not actively looking for trouble (i.e. out for a smoke and not using actions to make Perception tests), I assign a +2 "distracted observer" mod on top. Similarly, if it were night, I would also apply the appropriate visibility modifiers on top of the heap, making Bart pretty much invisible (without the drain!).
          Once Bart begins to fire, however, the target number to see him drops tremendously. His targets are no longer distracted. He is performing (or has performed) an obvious action (firing a gun). Suddenly, you only need 8's to see Bart. It is here that the merits of silencers and sound suppressors become obvious.
          Even when they can't see him, I would allow the observers to take shots with the blindfire penalty (+8) to reflect the fact that if you blaze away in a general direction, you might get lucky. Given that Bart is prone (+2) and probably at range (base t# of 6 or higher), the actual target number to hit Bart once you have clue that he's out there somewhere is like a 16 or more. Suck! But if Bart were continuing to fire, observers could continue to spend actions making perception checks. As soon as they built up four 8's, they could see him well enough to take a shot. And once they have spotted Bart, remember that his reeds provide pretty flimsy cover (Barrier rating 0, meaning they can easily be fired through).
          But perhaps by this point it is already too late. Perhaps Bart only needed one shot. Now his observers no longer have the "obvious action" bonus. Perhaps he can simply sit tight and wait, making them roll a total of four 12's (or possibly higher) to see him. Perhaps he needs to get up and beat feet quickly, abandoning stealth for speed. It all depends on what people do in the situation.
          I generally rule that the "obvious action" modifier applies for the rest of the combat round, as there may be shaking ferns, moving grass, or blowing trash that was disturbed by the muzzle blast of the weapon, or perhaps a small wisp of gunsmoke. These little telltales will take a second to "calm down" or disperse. If the attacker gets surprise, however, the observers typically only get one shot at it (even though they can't "act" against the sniper, they still get their surprise action to try to locate the source of the shot). If they don't see him during the action he takes his shot, and he's patient immediately afterwards, they may never find him, which is how military snipers tend to operate. If the sniper continues to fire, however, he's still subject to the "obvious action" in any round in which he fires.

Stealth and Surprise

          You may be wondering how the Stealth skill can be used to aid in laying an ambush for someone. Shadowrun includes basic rules for surprise situations (see SR3, p. 109). In addition to simply allowing those who are lying in wait for their opponents and holding an action to get a -2 to their target number, I also add the net number of successes between the hiding character's Stealth roll and the observer's Perception roll to the observer's target number for the Surprise test.
          For example, Sneaky Sam (Reaction 4) is lying in wait and has achieved 2 successes on his Stealth test (after all modifiers). His opponent, Wired Willy (Reaction 12) is ambling along thinking about how he's going to spend the score from his last run. The gamemaster calls for a Perception test to see if Wired Willy can spot Sam. Factoring in visibility, cover, and Willy's distraction target number modifier, Willy gets zero successes on his Perception test. Uh, oh. That means Sam has two net Stealth Successes. So Sam (who is holding an action) has a Surprise Test target number of (4 - 2 = 2). He rolls his 4 Reaction dice and gets 3 successes. Wired Willy, on the other hand, has a target number of (4 + 2 = 6). He rolls his 12 dice and gets only 2 successes. Whoops! Looks like Sam's got the drop on poor Willy.
          Note that if Willy had scored more than 2 successes on his Perception Test, he would have spotted Sam lying in wait. It's up to the gamemaster to figure out whether Willy spotted the ambush before it was too late, or whether Sam knows he's been spotted, and what to do about it all.
          This rule is easy and fairly realistic, and provides a subtle check on heavily wired characters, as even opponents with a high Reaction can get bamboozled if someone sneaks up on them properly.

The Observation Skill

          Since we’ve dealt with sneaking and hiding, I’d like to throw in a little something for the observer as well. Namely, since Perception tests are based off of Intelligence, there is a hard limit to the number of dice that someone can roll to try to notice a sneaking opponent. There is no upper cap for skills, so this would seem to mean that Stealth is inherently more powerful. Yet one can train oneself to be more observant.
          The vanilla Perception rules (see SR3, p. 231) allow characters to use the Awareness specialization of the Stealth skill in complement, under the theory that knowing how to sneak will make you better at spotting people sneaking up on you. But what about people who can't sneak worth a damn but are really observant?
          Because of this, I have created a special skill that I call Observation. It can be purchased at character creation and is raised like any other skill. During a Perception test, a character may use his or her Observation Skill as a complementary skill for his or her Intelligence test. This is directly analogous to the Aura Reading Skill (see SR3, pp. 86-87).
          This skill is intended to be wider in scope than the Awareness specialization. Hence, Observation is a General Skill. It will be particularly useful to players who want characters with investigative backgrounds. Having a complementary skill that can augment Perception tests and yield those extra little details will allow characters to get all Sherlock Holmes on their opposition.

Aiming in Melee Combat

          In melee combat, it is useful to consider the concept of aiming. In actual combat, opponents tend to circle a bit, sizing each other up and trying to set each other up for the attack that will count. To reflect this, I allow aiming (as per standard "Take Aim" action, SR3, p. 107) to apply in melee combat with only a few minor modifications.
          In order to aim effectively, however, the character must declare beforehand whether he or she intends to aim for an attack, counterattack, or parry. This reflects the fact that setting up an attack may leave you open, while setting up for a defense does you no good if you aren't attacked. You only get the aiming benefit for the type of action you have declared. Characters who aim for the attack do not get reduced target numbers if forced to counterattack before their next action, and characters who aim to counterattack or parry do not get bonuses if they decide to simply attack on their next action. Just like real combat, a judicious mixture of caution and aggressiveness is often the key.
          As per standard aiming rules (SR3, p. 107), recall that each simple action spent aiming can reduce the target number by 1. The maximum aim that people can sustain is equal to half their skill, thus someone with a skill of say 4 could get a total of -2, which is actually enough to negate a melee called shot modifier entirely. Granted, it takes a few actions of shuffling stance, changing distance, and psyching out the opponent, but it can be useful when properly applied. Also note that as per standard aiming rules, the bonus of aiming is lost if the character takes any type of action or is forced to spend Combat Pool dice for any reason (including dodging).

Martial Arts and Melee Combat

          This particular system emphasizes mainly the rules as they already exist, with a few minor additions, rather than a total reworking of the unarmed combat system. There are plenty of house rules out on the net that start out by scrapping the existing system and get less coherent from there. For these rules, the GM need not have a wide-ranging, extensive list of all the martial arts out there, nor have a comprehensive list of different kinds of attacks, each with a different damage code or reach. What a pain. Melee combat in Shadowrun is, after all, somewhat abstracted. Having said that, however, one can incorporate a fair amount of detail and intricacy into the combat system using the tools already provided in the SR3 rules.
          The first thing to note is that many of the rules described in previous sections of this document apply to melee combat as well as ranged combat. For instance, dodging, aiming, and especially called shots can all be used in melee combat. You want to throw your opponent, thus making him prone? Called shot. You want to disarm your opponent? Called shot. You want to poke your opponent's eyeballs out, thus subjecting him to blindness penalties? Called shot. You want to do physical damage with a punch instead of stun? Called shot. In fact, most of the special maneuvers detailed in the Cannon Companion section on martial arts (pp. 90-92) can be accomplished with game effect called shots. Many of them already have a +2 target number modifier, so just to keep things consistent and easy, I have simplified virtually all of them into that category in order to make it all streamlined and consistent.
          The last thing I'd like to address before getting into the rules proper is that I've dropped the base hand-to-hand Unarmed Combat damage code from (Strength)M to (Strength)L. This has come about due to a series of long debates about just how much damage a fist or foot can do (disregarding skill). Light Stun damage holds more in line with the amount of damage that unskilled people can generally inflict on each other, and gives some incentive to using a club or sap rather than just punching someone. Yes, a skilled fighter can be deadly, but this is more accurately reflected in the game mechanics by an increased number of successes staging the damage higher rather than a higher base damage code.
          This system assumes that the various martial arts are each separate, general active skills (as per Cannon Companion, p. 88). Be aware that this will punish people quite harshly in certain situations, and will make the differences between styles very distinct (more on this below).
          Rather than divide martial arts up into a bunch of different types of special attacks or defenses for each style, and limiting access to those special maneuvers via an arbitrary level mechanic, the difference between the various arts becomes more clear in actual practice. Basically, I run melee combat this way: I ask the question, "is the character attempting something that the character's art teaches and is good at?" If the answer is "yes," then the player can roll the dice corresponding to his martial skill. If not, then the character will be forced to default. Ouch. But this is realistic. What does the Tae Kwon Doka do when surprised and brought to the ground by a wrestler? Wrestling is not something generally taught in Tae Kwon Do, and hence, the player must default when attempting to counterattack. Similarly, when engaging in a stand-up fight at a reasonable distance, the wrestler is forced to default. And if he or she wants to shoot in and bring the opponent to the ground? Called shot. Possibly following some aiming, maybe not.
          Next, we can get into specialization. In my campaign, specializations are generally a specific kind of technique. For instance, a particularly ruthless Karateka might have Karate(insert type here)/Lethal Strikes of 6/8. Thus, when trying to inflict physical damage to his opponent (a called shot), he rolls 8 dice. When simply fighting in a normal stand-up fight, he rolls 6 dice. When down and dirty in a biting, scratching, hair-pulling brawl on the floor, he has to default. Thus is the warrior built.
          By comparison, a Judoka may have Judo/Throwing at 4/8. This kind of fighter is very accomplished at getting in on an opponent and taking them to the ground from standing, but his grappling, joint-locking, pinning, choking, and other Judo skills are weaker. His punching and kicking skills are weaker still, as he must default. Nevertheless, if he can throw his opponent, perhaps that gives him the time he needs to get away, move to a better position, or draw his gun. Heh. Throwing also causes normal damage (as it is a game effect called shot).
          As another example, an Aikidoka may have Aikido/Re-direction of 3/5. When counterattacking, the Aikidoka is using his opponent's force and momentum against him, which is something he is very good at. As such, he rolls all 5 dice, with a maximum of 5 Combat Pool. This is a dangerous skill because using it does not require a called shot, making it unwise to attack such a person. But offensively, this Aikidoka doesn't pose as much a threat. When attempting some Aikido related throw, push, sweep, take-down, control pin, or unbalancing technique, only 3 dice, with a maximum of 3 Combat Pool are rolled. And when trying to pull off a picture-perfect front axe-kick or a left hook, the poor Aikidoka must default, robbing him of the ability to use his full Combat Pool.
          At this point, some may be asking if there's any benefit to taking any kind of martial arts, and the answer is yes, to a point. The "Brawling" skill covers any kind of unarmed melee combat. As such, Brawling would seem to be the ultimate skill to have, as it covers all circumstances. Yet it's not overly refined, and to model this, Brawling is considered the skill that all other martial arts can default to, and furthermore Brawling must default to itself. Yes, this means that someone who is simply using Brawling has a +2 modifier to their target numbers, and can only use half of their Combat Pool. Still, a skilled brawler can be a dangerous opponent, simply because they always have the ability to play a game their opponent is not so good at.
          In this very simple way, GM's can reflect the various strengths and weaknesses of the different arts without having to remember lots of different attack types, different reaches, strange time requirements, etc. All the GM has to know or remember are the various strengths and weaknesses of the different arts. Styles like Karate (in all its variations) are good in stand-up fights, styles like Judo and Jujutsu are good at grappling, styles like Aikido and Tai Chi are good defensively. Some styles are more rounded than others, which is fine. Most martial artists will recognize the fact that some arts are more "combat effective" than others. Granted, your munchkins will want those arts, but that's up to individual GM's to curtail.
          Just a few other examples off the top of my head:

          So with very little work on the part of the GM, it becomes quite a bit easier to really show the differences between the skills. This type of breakdown also shows how it is always better to fight on your own terms than someone else's. Use what you're good at, and try to keep the other guy from doing the same. All the modifiers still apply to everyone equally, it's just that some people roll more dice at things than others. When combat pool is factored in, a difference in skill of 2 is a net of 4 dice difference. Ouch.

          For example, consider the following situation. Sluggo is having a good time at the local club, when a suit-sporting corporate dandy-boy slumming for the evening spills a drink on poor Sluggo's new silk shirt. Not one to let such a social faux-pas go unmentioned, Sluggo gets in Corp-boy's face. Verbal abuse ensues, with each party avidly participating. Then Corp-boy makes the mistake of saying something about Sluggo's mother. Now it's on.
          Since both characters are pretty much in each other's faces waiting for the other one to swing, the GM rules that there's no chance for surprise (i.e. neither party can get in a good sucker-punch). So the GM calls for a regular Initiative roll. Neither combatant is wired, but Sluggo manages to get two actions this round, whereas Corp-boy only gets one. Sluggo, never one to sit back calmly, takes a swing. Sluggo is a Brawler, with a skill of 6. He has a total of 4 Combat Pool dice at his disposal. Corp-boy has taken weekly "aggression management" courses at his local company enclave, enough to have a Tae Kwon Do skill of 3. He has a total of 4 Combat Pool dice as well. Sluggo is looking for maximum damage, so he makes a called-shot to increase the damage category from (Strength)L to (Strength)M. Since there are no friends involved (at this point), the base Target Number is a 4. The GM rules that the dim lights and strobe effects in the club are enough to give a +1 visibility modifier to melee combat. So Sluggo's Target Number is a 4 + 1 (visibility) + 2 (called-shot) + 2 (Brawling default) = 9. He rolls as many dice as he can (his skill plus up to half his skill in Combat Pool dice), which is 9. He actually manages two successes. His opponent opts to go the simple route and just counterattack Sluggo. The GM rules that there are no special circumstances (yet), this is a stand-up fight (for now), and Corp-boy is attempting something his art is good at (kicking people in the sternum when they come after you). His target number is a 4 + 1 (visibility) = 5. He rolls his maximum of 6 dice and gets 3 successes. Sluggo is hit! Fortunately for Sluggo, Corp-boy is a milquetoast, so he's only Resisting 3L. Sluggo handily resists the damage.
          Now his opponent has an opportunity to act. He elects to press his (perceived) advantage and show this ruffian what a real man can do. He attacks, and once again the GM rules that no special circumstances apply, so his Target Number is once again a 5. But this time he only has one Combat Pool die left, so he rolls 4 dice. He rolls poorly and gets no successes. Uh oh. Sluggo, on the other hand, has taken some measure of his opponent. He elects to make a called-shot to throw his opponent (game effect, resulting in the opponent being prone). Once again, his target number is a 9. He still has a Combat Pool die as well, so he rolls his 7 dice and manages to get a success. Corp-boy is in trouble. Since this is a game-effect called-shot, he still has to resist Sluggo's basic Strength (5)L damage. Rolling his Body of 4, Corp-Boy gets only 1 success, and is now saddled with a Light Stun. Worse still, he's prone in melee, meaning that attackers get a -2 bonus to hit him. Even worse still, it's now Sluggo's action.
          Now Sluggo gets basic. He elects to simply attack his foe, so bells, no whistles. His target number is a 4 + 1 (visibility) + 2 (Brawling default) - 2 (prone target) = 5. He rolls his 6 dice and gets 2 successes. Corp-boy feebly tries to counter from the ground, but now he's lightly stunned. Worse still, he's no longer fighting his game. Since he's not doing something that his skill teaches or is good at (fighting from the ground), he must default. If he had the Brawling skill, Corp-boy could default to that. Alas, he does not, and must default to his Strength Attribute. So his Target Number to counterattack is a 4 + 1 (visibility) + 1 (Light Stun) + 4 (Attribute default) = 10. Not surprisingly, he gets no successes, and must once again resist damage (which Sluggo's successes have staged to 5M). Let the stomping begin.
          The moral of the story? Sluggo loves his mother.

          With a little bit of knowledge and imagination, a GM can come up with easy-to-use specializations for all styles and all situations. And the more you know about martial arts, the more options your players will have. Improvise within the scope of the rules when necessary, like the pressure point attacks above. Very quickly, your campaign will have a much more well-rounded martial arts combat system that's quick and easy to use, as well as lending itself to giving your players more options when faced with unarmed combat.
          Finally, some of these same principles can be used in armed combat as well, especially the aiming and game effect called shot rules. Martial arts often have a cross-over between armed and unarmed combat, and a good fighter will know both.
          Using the above rules, I've seen characters who were skilled martial artist types enter into melee combat with a pistol-wielding opponent, punch the opponent once (to stun him and basically up his target numbers in game terms), disarm the opponent (game effect called shot), throw the opponent (another game effect called shot), then shoot him with his own gun while he was down. I swear, it looked like something out of a Steven Seagal flick. Actual elapsed time was two combat rounds, so combat still goes pretty quickly, especially between wired opponents. But that's a fact of life. Any martial artist will tell you that actual combat is over quite quickly. This system just lets you do more interesting stuff in those few seconds.

Quick Drawing Melee Weapons

          Since firearms may be quick-drawn (see SR3, p. 107) and used as a single action gunslinger style, it stands to reason that melee weapons can be quick-drawn and used in melee combat in the same action that they are drawn from their sheaths. Indeed, the very art of iaido is based on the premise that drawing and cutting with a sword should be done in a single, fluid motion. As such, melee weapons follow the same-quick draw rules as firearms, with the exception of the concealability requirement. So any weapon held in a proper sheath or within easy reach can be drawn and used in a single complex action so long as the wielder successfully completes a Reaction(4) test. Weapons not within easy reach or those held in inappropriate places (like a switchblade in the pocket) incur a +2 target number modifier to the Reaction test. Weapons in hard to reach places like concealed boot sheaths or under multiple layers of clothing can not be quick-drawn. Note that cyberware generally does not need to be quick-drawn as deploying it is usually a free action (see SR3, p. 105)
          Note that this capability is purely mundane and supersedes the Adept power "Quick Draw" (Magic in the Shadows, p. 151). The reason I've opened this rule to any character (rather than just Adepts) is simply because iaido and other rapid "draw-and-cut" or "draw-and-smack" maneuvers really aren't that difficult, and should not be limited exclusively to Adepts. Besides, I'm sure the Adept players can find more than enough stuff on which to spend the half point they'll save.

Ties in Armed or Unarmed Combat

          As written, if a character attacks and is counterattacked by his opponent, a tie in the number of successes would indicate a hit for the attacker and a miss for the counterattacker. As long as there is a counterattack in Shadowrun melee combat rules as written, there will never be an instance where either a) neither combatant gets hit, or b) both combatants get hit.
          Rather than just having the tie always go in favor of the attacker, I allow the attacker a choice. The first option allows the attacker to have the blow be a hit for both parties. Since neither party has net successes, both the attacker and the defender make Body resistance rolls against the base damage of their opponent's weapon. This option is useful when the attacker is more heavily armored or is wielding a more devastating weapon than the counterattacking opponent. It reflects the idea that there will be times when a character may need to sacrifice himself or risk taking damage in order to accomplish his or her goals.
          The second option is to have neither side score a solid hit, resulting in neither side having to resist damage. A flurry of blows, counters, and ripostes that results in no hit.

Improvised Melee Weapons

          As a mental exercise, what if you wanted to hit someone in melee combat range with the butt of a gun? What skill is used, and what modifiers apply? I would classify that as an Armed Combat attack, as a weapon is being used (in this case an improvised club). But this brings up that point that there will be times when characters may not have weapons ready, and will have to use what's around them to defend themselves. They may need to grab the nearest object and flail away with it, no matter how awkward it may be. Thus, I will introduce the concept of "improvised weapons."
          Typically, I apply a +1 or +2 target number modifier for using an "improvised weapon." Which level is assigned depends on how unwieldy the improvised weapon. A crowbar wielded like a baseball bat might only be +1, but a four-lug tire iron (the cross-shaped kind) would be +2. A ball-peen hammer is only +1, but a 16-pound sledgehammer would be +2.
          Note that the +2 modifier for using a gun in melee combat applies when you are firing the gun. The reason for this is that it is very difficult to line up a shot when you're very close, especially in a situation where your opponent is moving quickly or is hanging on to you (as often happens in melee). For using firearms as melee weapons however, I'd say +1 for the pistol and +2 for the rifle (unless there is a bayonet affixed, in which case I'd drop it to +1). Thus, if you are trying to butt-stroke someone with your M-22, you'd have a +2 to your target number. If you're trying to skewer them with the affixed bayonet, or trying to pistol-whip them with your Ares Predator, then you only have a +1.
          When it comes to the damage code of the improvised weapon, I may add or subtract from the power-level depending on the weapon that is most like the object being used and how close in size and mass the improvised weapon is to it. Hard, heavy weapons (like the aforementioned crowbar or butt-stroke) may get a +1, whereas light, soft, or fragile weapons (like a beer bottle or a hold-out pistol) might get a -1. Thus, an improvised weapon that was like a club but heavier (like the aforementioned crowbar) would have the base power level of a club (Strength+1) +1 for its weight/length, bringing it to (Strength+2)M.
          Keep in mind that this applies to virtually any improvised weapon. A pool-cue is like a staff (although it might be lighter and thus suffer a -1 to the power level), and gets the bonus of +2 reach. Anything can be a weapon, a chair (+2 improvised club, normal damage), a chain (+1 improvised flail, normal damage), a mop (+2 improvised staff, -1 power), a broken bottle (+1 improvised knife, -1 power), a bayonet (+1 improvised spear, normal power), or whatever.
          Also, remember that thrown weapons can be improvised as well. Just like a thrown club or knife, a brick, bottle, or salad fork can be thrown as well, with similar difficulties as described above.
          By including the concept of improvised weapons into your game, you give your players a lot more options when it comes to using what's around them, especially in those circumstances where weapons are not allowed (meets, exchanges, high-class locations, or high-security installations).

Weapon Breakage

          Cruel GM's may wish to check for weapon breakage when a blow has been successfully parried, or when a tie has resulted in neither side taking damage (as described above). In such instances, simply have each combatant make a Strength check, with the target number equal to the Barrier Rating of the opposing weapon. Generally, I assign a Barrier Rating of 8 to small wooden weapons (like clubs or canes), a 10 to large wooden weapons or small metal weapons (like staves, polearms, or knives), and a 12 to steel weapons (like swords). Quality or customized weapons may be a point higher, improvised weapons may be a point lower, and Weapon Foci add their Focus Rating to their Barrier Rating. A success on the Strength test indicates breakage, so it is possible to break both combatants' weapons this way. Done in this fashion, weapon breakage is uncommon, but can add a significant amount of uncertainty and tension to Armed Combat at the cost of very little extra effort.


          The very first archtype in the Shadowrun II basic rulebook was a bodyguard. But nowhere within the original Shadowrun rules, nor in any sourcebooks that follow, nor in 3rd Edition Shadowrun do they give rules for doing basic bodyguard things, like pushing your client out of the way of an attack or intercepting a bullet meant for another.
          Because of this, I have created a new active skill called "Bodyguard." It can be purchased at character creation like any other skill, and is raised like any other active skill. The Bodyguarding skill dictates the maximum number of Combat Pool dice that the bodyguard may allocate to the client. In order to do so however, the bodyguard needs to be within arm’s reach of the client and must be able to act on the client (in the case of surprise tests). In essence, it allows a character to use his Combat Pool to protect other characters from physical attacks the same way a mage can use Spell Defense dice out of his Magic Pool to protect other characters from magical attacks (see Spell Defense rules in SR3, p. 183).
          Typically, the most appropriate use of this skill happens during surprise situations (see SR3, p. 109). For example, Dead-Eye Dick wants to geek Louie the Suit. Unfortunately, Louie has employed Mr. Bennet as his bodyguard. Dick leaps out of a shadowed doorway, his gun at the ready. A surprise test is in order, and everyone rolls a Reaction test with a base target number of 4. Dead-Eye Dick, lying in wait with held action gets a –2 modifier, for a final target number of 2. He rolls a number of dice equal to his Reaction (5), and gets 4 successes. Louie, thinking about his latest quarterly balance sheet, gets a +2 modifier for being distracted. He rolls his Reaction (a mere 3), and gets no successes. Mr. Bennet however, is paying attention. He rolls his Reaction (an 8) against the base target number and also gets 4 successes.
          At this point, under the standard rules, Mr. Bennet would have to stand helplessly by as Dick unloaded his heavy pistol into poor Louie, since Mr. Bennet can’t act directly against Dick. Further, Louie wouldn’t get the chance to dodge, as he was completely surprised. But lo and behold, Mr. Bennet has a Bodyguard skill of 5. That means that while he can’t act directly against Dick, he can allocate up to 5 of his own Combat Pool dice to Louie. Mr. Bennet chooses to allocate all 5. Since the allocation of Combat Pool dice to the client is done in precisely the same fashion as allocating Spell Defense dice, Mr. Bennet still has time to perform other actions, such as draw his gun, begin aiming for the next combat round to follow, or whatever, so long as he doesn’t act directly against Dick. His actions also happen simultaneously to Dick’s as they scored the same number of successes on the surprise test. Dead-Eye Dick rolls for his shot as normal, taking a single simple action to aim, and the other to fire. Counting all of the appropriate modifiers, he comes up with two successes. But Louie gets the chance to roll the 5 Combat Pool dice that Mr. Bennet has given him in an attempt to dodge (see the rules on dodging above). Louie gets three successes, and thus Dead-Eye Dick’s shot is a miss. Curses! Foiled again!
          Had Dick beaten both Louie and Mr. Bennet, however, Mr. Bennet would have been unable to allocate his dice before Dick shot. Nobody ever said bodyguard work was easy. Further, if by some odd stroke of coincidence Louie and Dick had scored more successes on the surprise test than Mr. Bennet, our poor bodyguard would have been caught standing around like a dope as his client got shot. However, had Mr. Bennet beaten both Louie and Dead-Eye Dick, he would have been able to act directly against our would-be assassin (say by quick drawing his pistol and shooting Dick as he stepped out of the doorway) as well as allocate Combat Pool dice to Louie (just in case Dick proved hard to take down). Note that any Combat Pool dice that Mr. Bennet allocates to Louie are unavailable to the bodyguard for other actions.
          There will be a few instances where it may be necessary to "take the bullet." In order to do so, the bodyguard merely declares his intent to interpose his own body between the shooter and the target. When the shooter fires, the bodyguard can roll his own Combat Pool dice to dodge into the shooter’s line of fire. If the bodyguard gets more successes than the shooter, he has successfully taken the bullet. The bodyguard must then resist the weapon’s base damage and check for knockdown as normal. Since this does not require the bodyguard to be able to act on the client directly, it comes in handy on those occasions where the client gets more successes on the surprise test than the bodyguard (though if the shooter goes first, the bodyguard still can’t act in time).
          Outside of a surprise situation, the bodyguard can allocate Combat pool dice to the client just like a mage can with Spell Defense. "Taking the bullet" however, requires an available simple action (which may have been held for just such occasions). While simple and straightforward, these rules add a lot to the game, and allow careful, quick, or observant characters to undertake bodyguard missions in a more realistic and entertaining way.

          So these are a few of my house rules. They may not seem like much, but they actually can make the game a lot more interesting and challenging. If anyone has any questions concerning these rules or would like further examples, feel free to ask.

Marc Renouf