I was one of the lucky few to get a copy of the Origins release of Shadowrun 5th edition (5e). I’ve played 4th edition and love it, but what do I think about the new edition? Let’s go into detail.
TL; DR-Great changes to a great system to make things run faster and better. 9.5/10
Physical Book-The physical book has to at least be five pounds! That is impressive itself. Just that alone pretty much justifies the $50 price tag, but wait there’s more! The art is gorgeous and it’s on high quality glossy paper. No, your sweaty hands will not rub off the ink. I hate cheap paper and ink… Based solely on the book quality, I was very happy.
Mechanics-While the game world may have changed, the mechanics really haven’t. Take a skill, add the proper attribute, and roll that number of dice. Quick, easy, fast. That makes the game feel like Shadowrun. You take a brick of d6’s, roll them, and pray for 5’s and 6’s. Classic fun. What did change is some of the smaller details. I’ve seen two really big ones that stuck out in my mind: limits and attributes in tech. In Shadowrun 4eA, you could roll 30 dice and get 30 successes (if you somehow do, buy a lotto ticket), but this doesn’t really make much sense. You shouldn’t be able to bench press a Buick if your body and bones would break under the stress no matter how strong you are. In the same way, if you are a silver-tongued devil, but you can’t read a person worth a damn, you can’t really do amazing feats of persuasion. The limits in 5e prevent you from doing too much at a time. Limits have also been added to gear to indicate that cheap gear is cheap for a reason (it doesn’t work that well). The second thing is how much tech is dependent on attributes now. To defend against a hacker you now use the abilities of the person it’s attached to or who is controlling/protecting it. As someone who played a 4e hacker, it just stuck out in my mind as I ran the game. There are smaller details like no multiple attacks in a round, just more penalties to the defender, but all and all the rules feel like Shadowrun, and that’s a good thing. But at the same time, the game removed a bunch of smaller details from 4e. There were fiddly bits that really didn’t make things better, they just added complication and that only served to keep the uninitiated out. I tell you now, this edition of Shadowrun is the most user friendly for the hardcore runner and the fresh faced chummer out there.
Character Generation-Here is why I think 5e was created. I LOVED 4e Shadowrun because of the customization, but that customization scared away more players that I can really count. At character generation, you can build some impressive creations, but you can also make a problem that will only frustrate you to no end. 5e fixes this by adding a five by five grid for character generation. If you can play simple Sudoku, you can now make a Shadowrun character in about 10 minutes. The grid makes life SO MUCH EASIER! Basically, you pick what you think is most important for your character: race (plus bonuses), ability points, magic ability, skills, and money. The higher the row you pick, the better the items in that row. This reinforces the mechanics and theme quite nicely. Great mages can’t have too much money, but they don’t need much because it’s all internal. Deckers and Riggers need nice toys, but magic isn’t important to them. Pick how important things are to you, pick the row of that and move on. Skill points and ability points are now 1 to 1 at character generation making life that much easier for quick start games and GM doing demos (THANK YOU!). My only problem is gear is still hard to do. I’m waiting for the gear packs to come out and make character generation an even easier process.
Theme-Shadowrun is cyberpunk. Rolling d6’s for everything is an abstraction, but no more so than rolling a d20. Aside from the realities of RPGs and dice, the game and theme work excellently together. I was somewhat iffy on the limits, but they really make things feel more “real” in my fake fantasy game. I even like the new rules for extended tests. The quick thing is you can repeat some tests, but each time you do you lose one die. Lose all the dice and you can’t get any better on some task. Using attributes makes the tech heavy classes have to spread a bit more evenly on their persons instead of just buying new gear. The priority system drives home choices you make and how they affect the person you’re playing before you even touch dice. That makes me happy. What I almost play a game making my person (one that will not kill my person as I make them, looking at you Battle tech!), it makes me happy. Again, this edition of the game makes me very happy.
The elephant in the room-I’ve gushed over this edition for over a page, but the big question that I think most of you will ask is, is 5e worth it? I had a friend ask me because less than 2 years ago, I bought all the 4eA books and now they are not really useful. And after reading the book, and playing the game, I have to have to say a resounding yes! The game is different enough to make it more fun. I loved 4eA, but this game makes it better. No messy character generation. Fewer complicated rules for complication’s sake. Less obfuscation to keep the more casual gamer out. I was less happy when I bought my first Shadowrun 4e book then a year later bought the beginner box and had to get a 4eA book, but the 5e book is worth it on many levels. It’s over 5lbs for one and for two the game feels right. It’s fun, fast, and quick. It feels like Shadowrun should feel, and I know that hard to get just right (fun). The game moves quick now. You don’t have one character steal the show by making 6 attacks in a round; more people get to shine in even clumsy GM hands (fast). And finally, you don’t have the character generation problem. When I ran my first demo of the game, we had two books and 7 people who did not have a character. Two hours later, we had fully fleshed out mages, riggers, snipers, and adepts. This makes the game quick. And this quickness makes it available to more gamers. I really do hope this is the year of Shadowrun. Even better, by making a new edition, I am less intimidated by the number of books out there. In 4e, there were so many books, it was hard to know where to start; now I think I’ll be able to get them as they come out. If you’re listening Catalyst, check out 13th ages’ model where I buy from a friendly local gaming store and you give me a free PDF. That would make my day….
GM fun-I love the game, but only GM’ed a few times before. Since this is a new edition, I’ve decided I want to break more into GM’ing this game since we are all on equal footing. Since this is an RPG, the players immediately went off the rails and destroyed the well written plot within minutes. I had to improvise quickly. Using the new rules and book, I was able to keep the game rolling quickly and we all had a great time. This looks very promising.
Non sequitur-Now a days, I do most of my reading about RPGs on my ipad. This book came out only as a giant tome (yes, Catalyst, your book is so big it’s a tome not just a book). It was somewhat strange to read this book about the future on ancient paper….I’m getting the PDF when it comes out (July 11th and ~$20, yes, you should go get it)
Summary-New, approachable edition of the game. For ~$20 it’s worth every penny for the book. Got get it! Great changes to a great system to make things run faster and better. 9.5/10