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Written Review – Shadowrun 5th Edition

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I’ve played a lot of tabletop RPGs in my day, though one of the ones I picked up late in the game was Shadowrun. I am a big cyberpunk fan and enjoy both the story and aesthetic the genre spits forth. There’s so much entangled in a cyberpunk world that the idea just brings a beautiful dystopian image to my head that makes me feel all warm and connected within my android skin.

Seriously, though, Shadowrun is great. It offers players the ability to mix both fantasy and cyberpunk to interact with a world that’s rich like none before it. Just recently Catalyst Game Labs offered up Shadowrun 5th Edition, a brand new edition of the beloved cyberpunk/fantasy tabletop RPG. This new edition has expanded upon everything 4th Edition brought with it, and it offers players to take an even bigger step into a world of magic and technology.

Aesthetics and Presentation

I received a copy of the book via a pdf file, and even so I can say it’s beautiful. The artwork is smooth and full of action. What’s better is that it all makes sense to be placed where it is, and it fits the game’s theme. Too often have we seen RPGs where the artwork looks like it’s placed in certain places simply to just be there. The color scheme compliments the artwork as well, and the text isn’t too big or too small. All together, the font, color scheme, and placed artwork help bring the world that’s presented in Shadowrun come alive.

When it comes to presentation, the Shadowrun 5th Edition book has it in the bag. There’s plenty of fluff throughout the beginning of the book that helps provide fiction for players to read. It’s sort of like a story within a story, and while it’s common with most RPGs, Catalyst used a great formula for where to put each piece of fiction. Combine this with the correct artwork placement and you’ve got a real nice presentation on your hands. The pdf makes me want to pick up a hard copy of the book just so I can ogle at it.

Gameplay and Mechanics

The game’s world itself has changed a little bit, but from what I can tell the overall mechanics and gameplay haven’t shifted that much. Whenever a player attempts to do something they simply take the skill, add their attribute, and roll a certain number of dice. It’s the same process as the previous edition, wherein you count the successes and any 1’s you’ve rolled. Successes still count as 5’s and 6’s, so you need to pray when you roll.

One change that’s noteworthy, however, is the addition of Limits. These can definitely affect the outcome of a skill roll, as they limit the maximum number of hits. These limits are based either on a character’s stats or gear. As an example: weapons now have a limit on accuracy, which will now limit the amount of hits you can count no matter how many dice are in your pool because of your Agility and Pistol scores. To me this makes sense, as no matter how skilled a character is with a weapon, they’re still relying on the weapon to perform the task.

One of the biggest pieces of a tabletop RPG is character creation, and in Shadowrun that’s absolutely no different. The 5th Edition ruleset replaces the older 4th Edition Build Point system with the Priority System, which many older Shadowrun players should recognize. Different priorities are put in place to determine a character’s metatype (race) and special attribute points, non-special attribute points, skill points, starting wealth, magic use (or resonance), and more. There’s still Positive and Negative Qualities that, when given to your character, offer bonuses. Positive Qualities cost Karma, while Negative Qualities give Karma. Each character automatically starts with 25 Karma to spend.

Something that I really enjoyed was that SR5 includes a very easy-to-follow step-by-step process to help players with character creation. The entire section is laid out in a user-friendly format and isn’t scattered all over the place like in some other RPGs. Something else that’s easier, still, is that Catalyst has added a special section in character creation called Finishing Calculations so that you don’t have to flip through the book looking for formulas.

Concluding character creation, the skills in the book have been laid out and given full details. This means no more looking about for what a skill does, searching forums, or having to call a friend. Each skill has its own description, and despite losing the Dodge skill, everything else pretty much remains the same. SR5 very much follows the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” outlook.

Usually where the meat and ‘taters are in an RPG is combat. Combat in SR5 hasn’t changed all that much, though some slight modifications have made their way in. The Limits system really makes a difference here, as well as when deciding which equipment to buy/pick up. What’s important to note here, though, is that weapons have been tweaked to do much more damage than before. Seriously, sniper rifles are DEADLY.

Rolling Initiative is a bit different now, but it’s not too hard to figure out. You now only roll a few dice, determined by your Initiative attribute, rather than tossing a whole shoebox full. Initiative is determined by subtracting 10 from your roll, just like it used to be, only now your result will be smaller.

Eventually you’ll get to a section on Gear, which is huge. Honestly it’s probably the most confusing part of the book, but with some time you’ll get through it. The section goes over everything one may need when making runs to break the law, including weapons, armor, and even vehicles. Technology has moved ahead in SR5, as the game is now set in 2075, and in the short time we’ve jumped there’s been a significant jump in electronics.

The Verdict

I dabbled in Shadowrun 4th Edition for a bit before this became available to me, and I have to say I’m glad I didn’t get too far. If you were ever looking to get into Shadowrun, don’t waste time picking up an older edition and make sure you grab SR5 once it fully releases. The book is set up wonderfully, and it even has an added section for GM support, which has been really lacking in previous editions of the game. With minor tweaks and changes that make sense, Shadowrun 5th Edition just may be the best version of this game yet. I’d say that it’s a great time to be a runner in the Sixth World.