Why you should be playing Shadowrun 5th Edition right now

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In 2013, Catalyst Game Labs brought us the newest installment of the Shadowrun Universe, with the 5th edition of the role playing game that takes place in the 6th age.  I’ve never played the previous editions, though I’ve always wanted to.  While my go to RPG is Dungeons & Dragons, there was never a Science Fiction game that really floored me.  Alternity came close, with some interesting choices, but never enough options for my liking.  Anyways, I can’t remember if it was late 2013 or early 2014, but my co-DM wanted to play some Shadowrun.  I was all in for a change, especially something more Science Fiction oriented.  The group seemed to agree and off we went.

I’m the type of person that needs to have the hardcover book in my hand.  I immediately jumped on amazon and ordered it for about $40.  Luckily I had prime shipping at the time, so it came within a couple days.  The book is a monster at almost 500 pages, but boasts beautiful artwork on almost every other page.

After cracking it open, I found out that it is the year 2075 (approximately), and is in a future dystopia themed setting that sets you up to play as Shadow runners, who are those that skirt the law to make a living working for large corporations, that may include jobs of all types, including smuggling, infiltration, bounty hunting, stealing data payloads among other things.  It’s dangerous, you need to think on your feet and always be 5 steps ahead of everyone else, otherwise your shadow-running days will come to a quick end.

I was surprised to find that you didn’t even get into character creation until page 62!   While I found it odd, it was nice to get a very detailed background on the current world and what to expect.  It makes more sense to get the background first, as knowing the type of world you’re in, will make it easier to determine what type of character you would like to play and how well he/she would fit into the mix.

If you don’t already know from reading some of my other posts, is that I’m a power gamer.  I’m not the type who is looking to exploit the game, just someone who enjoys optimization and customization.  So, I skimmed through the background info, knowing I can come back at any time and delved into making a character.  One of the things I really like about Shadowrun, is the give and take concept with the priority system.  There are 5 main priorities to take and you can assign each of them a priority A,B,C,D or E respectively.  Once a priority is assigned, it can’t be used again.  For instance, if you picked attributes at priority A, you’re looking at 24 points to spend on Strength, Intuition or perhaps Reaction.  Priority A is off the table and can no longer be used for the other 4 items to be prioritized, which are Magic, Metatype, Skills and resources.  It really forces you to flesh out the type of character you want to have or need, in order to build it.  I went with a Decker and you can see him in one of my previous posts, here.

So one important thing I’d like to mention about the Shadowrun system, is the rules, their placement and on occasion, their complexity needing a little work.  One of the main frustrations I found when making my characters, was that the rules were not clear.  Take this priority table below:

attribute table

So I’ve picked my priorities, but I quickly ran into an issue.  What do the #’s in parenthesis mean for the metatype?  What does a Magic 6 mean?  What does skills at a 46/10 mean?  It wasn’t clear.  I read through the chapter, looking for some semblance of what these #’s were, but found nothing.  I feel like a lot of the rules written in this book were expecting you to have played previous versions, which unfortunately, I had not.  I can understand that most people don’t jump into a new RPG at $40 with no prior knowledge, so Catalyst probably assumed that most of the revenue would be coming from those that played previous versions, but the clarity was definitely lacking as someone new to Shadowrun.

Another one of my issues, more often than not, when looking for an answer, I would find it in obscure passages, 180 pages after the topic was discussed.  A good example would be the discussion of lifestyles on pg. 95.  Then, on page 375, they talk about team lifestyles and how you can live together with someone else and only pay 1/2 the cost of a lifestyle + 10%.  Something that would have been good to know earlier and now you have to go back and change.  I found this tidbit in the GM’s lifestyle section, something I may not have even decided to read as a player, but puts more nuyen into the player’s pocket, while giving opportunities for players to intertwine their backgrounds.  Again, something that should have been mentioned earlier.

I personally had to create my own document to capture important notes on key things that weren’t explained well and couldn’t be found in the obvious places.  I think they should have separated, large and bold in a note or put some type of symbol for key pieces of information found nested within paragraphs.  Plus, though you don’t want to be repetitive, should have kept all relevant information together, where possible, even if it means repeating.

Now don’t get me wrong, the book is jam packed with information and I do understand it is not always possible to keep the information in the same place, especially when it effects other rules.  One of the great things about this system, is that it does try to cover everything you can think of.  They even have rules for treading water.  While I love the system, it can be a lot of information to take in and I’ve seen on some of the other players faces who are just getting started with Shadowrun, the confusion and the feeling that they are overwhelmed.

We were also really lucky too, for the fact that our GM is well versed in all character concepts and rules, and so was therefore able to help us move forward without much page turning.

One of the things I think Shadowrun does really well, is give you options and customization.  You could make two Dwarven riggers and have them be completely different in concept.  One could focus on all types of drones, one could be surveillance only, one could have no drones and focus on being a master of all vehicles, sporting guns on them to boot.  Two Deckers could have completely different programs.  One could be in it for cyber-combat while another is more infiltration.  That’s even if you have two of the same in a group.  There are MANY different types of concepts including street samurai, covert ops, smuggler, combat mage, face, tank, rigger, bounty hunter or weapons specialist.  I play in a group of 7-8 people and we have seen NO overlap and lots of diversity in our characters.  Plus, you can make combinations of concepts too.  You aren’t pigeonholed into JUST a rigger or JUST a smuggler.  I made a infiltration specialist who is covert ops, has a cyberdeck (and necessary infiltration programs) and is a martial artist to boot.  The customization is limitless.

Another thing I like about the rules system is that to perform any test, you use your appropriate skill and attribute, take that # of dice (d6) and roll.  For every 5 and 6 you get on the die, you get a “hit”.  If you have more hits than the defense test the GM rolls, you win the test.  Granted, there are some variables that can include bonuses or penalties to your dice pool, but that is the meat of every roll in Shadowrun.  For an example of a penalty, if the skill required is not one you took or have, then you can only roll the dice for your attribute, with a -1 penalty to your dice pool.  It’s interesting, it works and it’s a lot of fun rolling 15d6 to see how many 5’s and 6’s you’ll come up with.  There are times when you roll more 1’s than 1/2 your pool and you get a “glitch”, or if you do the same and not a single die hits, which makes it a “critical glitch”.  These make for some great storytelling and side quests to clean up the mess you just made.  They don’t seem to happen that often, but when they do, it’s pretty damn fun.

Another reason why I enjoy playing Shadowrun so much, is because it really makes you think strategically what you are going to do next.  Combat is somewhere between uncommon and common, but by all means, the legwork before a job, the surveillance, the approach, the assumptions, etc., make planning the biggest and most enjoyable part of the game.  Because this is the case, role playing takes the drivers seat, which is something our group has really needed for a long time.  As a DM for Dungeons & Dragons, role playing was never my forte, but I have been continuously working on it in order to make the game come alive in ways they haven’t in the past.  Though I’m not the GM for Shadowrun, there are many more opportunities for role playing and seeing how effective it is at adding to the role playing experience, I’m looking forward to implementing it in my D&D campaign as well.

Overall, if you like RPGs, this one is a winner.  Will you do some book surfing for some of the rules?  Yes.  Will you enjoy just about every second of game time?  Damn right you will.  It’s a fantastic system, with a setting that borders on a darker theme.  Well worth every penny and is why you should be playing Shadowrun 5th edition right now.

– Jinx

About jinx_the_bard

Longtime Dungeon Master, tabletop and video gamer. Been playing D&D and Shadowrun on and off most recently. Ran a post apocalyptic, paragon, 4th edition D&D campaign for a couple years. Running a 5th edition campaign now called "The Fall of Astia". Enjoy Borderlands 1, 2 and even the Pre-sequel (which I tend to play with fellow author Ness), Fallout 3 and 4, Bioshock and Skyrim. (Games this good never get boring) I also indulge in Magic The Gathering, mostly in the Legacy and Modern formats. Please feel free to contact me at dungeonmaster.bm@gmail.com for any questions, thoughts or things you'd like to see featured on our site.