Shadowrun 5th Edition: Coming Soon to a MegaCorp Near You!
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    Shadowrun 5th Edition: Coming Soon to a MegaCorp Near You!

    A new edition of the game which slams high fantasy and cyberpunk together in one of the most popular role-playing games of all time! The heart of the game setting - a blending of magic and science fiction, cyberpunk and fantasy, the Matrix and Great Dragons – remains intact, and enthralls role-playing aficionados generation after generaton.

    Personally as a veteran gamer, Shadowrun was a formative part of my role-playing experiences early on, when the role-playing game industry was just beginning to kick into high gear. While many role-playing games entered the market back then, Shadowrun stuck out among the crowd, thumbing its virtual nose at the concepts of genre purity by offering the best of both worlds to scifi and fantasy gamers.

    And now Shadowrun 5th Edition Core Rules is coming out next week, offering yet another edition to fans who might wonder why a new version of the game is coming out so precipitously following Shadowrun 4th Edition and the 20th Anniversary Edition (SR4) released in 2009. So it begs the question:

    Is this new edition of Shadowrun a rehash of rules, or is it cutting edge, like the latest trend in cyberware?



    Shadowrun 5th Edition

    • Line Developer: Jason M. Hardy
    • Writers: Jennifer Brozek, Raymond Croteau, Mark Dynna, Patrick Goodman, Jason M. Hardy, Robyn “Rat” King, Adam Large, Devon Oratz, Aaron Pavao, Steven “Bull” Ratkovich, Scott Schletz, Malik Toms, Michael Wich, Thomas Willoughby, Russell Zimmerman
    • Illustrations: Michael Komarck (cover); (interior) Gordon Bennetto, Joel Biske, Echo Chernik, Victor Corbella, Brent Evans, Phillip Hilliker, David Hovey, David Kegg, Ian King, Igor Kieryluk, Jeff Laubenstein, Melanie Maier, Daniel Masso, Jeremy McHugh, Raven Mimura, Mark Molnar, Victor Manuel Leza Moreno, Lee Moyer, Alessandra Pisano, Mark Poole, Tony Shasteen, Klaus Scherwinski, Andreas “AAS” Schroth, Christophe Swal, Eric Williams, John Zeleznik
    • Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
    • Year: 2013
    • Media: PDF (489 pages)
    • Price: $20.00 (PDF available July 11th from DTRPG / Hardbound pre-order $36.07 - available from Amazon)


    Shadowrun 5th Edition
    is the Core Rulebook for the most recent revision of the popular and long-running scifi/fantasy role-playing game series. The new release comes complete with all rules and resources needed for players and game masters to play the game. This includes character generation rules, skill resolution, and combat rules for mundane, magical, and matrix battles. Shadowrun 5th Edition also includes guns and gear, spells and cyberware, as well as a variety of vehicles, all to outfit a ‘runner for action. For game masters, there is extensive information on building a Shadowrun from the inside-out, on managing a game and a campaign, as well as threats from mundane and magical enemies. The hardbound edition also includes codes to get special online gear in the upcoming Shadowrun Online game, coming out later this year!


    Production Quality

    The production quality of the Shadowrun 5th Edition Core Rulebook is superb, with a beautiful design, and amazing work from a large number of writers. The layout is an easy-to-read, two column format on a white background, with special information and tables appearing in black-bordered red boxes, with white or yellow lettering that jumps out to the reader. The rulebook’s red/black/white motif lends an edgy and dark feel to the reading experience, perfect in this reviewer’s opinion, for a the topics at hand.

    The PDF version of Shadowrun 5th Edition has a well-organized set of bookmarks, for easy navigation throughout the book. And this in addition to a massive five page table of contents, and six pages of index – both of which are type-faced in a font which is 2-3 sizes smaller than the rest of the books text! So whether one buys the PDF or hardcover of the book, finding the rule or information needed to play the game is not going to be a chore. There are also four pages of tables useful during the game at the back of the book, which could be copied for use at the gaming table – although I’m sure that those tables will also appear on a Shadowrun 5th Edition GM Screen… perhaps a future release?

    Previews of the Shadowrun 5th Edition rulebook can be found here on Drive-Thru RPG.

    The artwork in the Shadowrun 5th Edition Core Rulebook is absolutely stunning eye-candy, as the fans of the game would expect from a brand-new release. From the front cover, with its depiction of a team of ‘runners taking on a massive insect spirit, to the many interior illustrations of combat action, gear, and enchanted critters, the Core Rulebook is a pure visual extravaganza. Almost all of the illustrations are in full-color, with a few well-rendered, heavy ink drawings scattered about the pages.

    The total effect is a book which is enjoyable to read, with the art definitely enhancing the overall experience.


    “Everything has a Price”


    Right off, I want to make it known that I am writing this review with respect to players and GMs who are familiar with the Shadowrun game and setting. I am placing particular emphasis on facets of Shadowrun 5th Edition that have changed since the 20th Anniversary Edition (4th) of the game. If you’ve never played Shadowrun before, I apologize for not going into the game in detail, but I could write a review of several thousand words, and still not cover all the aspects of the setting and system.

    Before starting writing my review of Shadowrun 5th Edition, I had the chance to pose a few questions to the game’s Line Developer, Jason M. Hardy. And one of the first things I asked him was to tell me what some of the main design goals for this new edition of Shadowrun:

    One of the main goals was to reflect the "everything has a price" theme that has been featured in promotional materials. We want Shadowrun characters to [have] the potential to be awesome, but we want that to come with trade-offs. We want players to think about what they're doing, why they're doing it, how they can really make the character they want to have, and whether it will be worth the price. We felt that theme fits very well with Shadowrun, because that's what shadowrunners have to do in the Sixth World all the time.
    The theme is expounded upon right from the very first section of the book, Life in the Sixth World, where the price of living in a world where magic, megacorps, ‘ware, and the shadows all can take their toll on a character. Underscoring this theme is the collection of short stories which appear throughout the book – a set of tales penned to remind players of the dystopic theme of the Sixth World, and the consequences of running in the shadows.

    As with the SR4 core rules, this section also covers what life is like in 2075, including information on a range of topics. Here the writers discuss politics, nations, and megacorporations; the law enforcers, gangs, and organized crime; night life, entertainment, and sports; and of course, magic, the Matrix, and shadowrunning. It’s all fluff-heavy but succinct, an entertaining read overall, and provides a good primer to the nature of the Sixth World setting.

    The next three sections of the Shadowrun 5th Edition rules cover the basic game concepts, character generation rules, and skill descriptions, all used when creating a Sixth World alter-ego to play. As far as game concepts, dice pools, thresholds, and glitches have changed very little in the new edition, and the types of tests remain pretty much the same. However, a new rule called Limits can definitely affect the outcome of a test’s successes, limiting the maximum number of hits. These limits are either based upon a character’s inherent limits (stat based – Physical, Mental, Social) or to a gear limit. For instance, weapons now have an accuracy limit, which limits the number of hits you can count regardless of how big your dice pool from Agility and Pistol skill adds up.

    As for character generation, the Build Point system of SR4 has been replaced with a new version of the Priority System (A-E), which players of older SR editions will recognize. Each priority is assigned to generate the character’s metatype and special attribute points, non-special attribute points, magic or resonance use, skills and skill points, and starting financial resources. The standard races are all represented, as are the various types of magic slingers and adepts, and the Technomancers. Positive and Negative Qualities have also remained a part of character generation, and starting characters have 25 Karma which can be used to buy Positive ones, or gain extra Karma from Negative Qualities. Starting Karma can also be used to make modifications to after character generation ends.

    There is an excellent step by step guide to take players through the character generation process, and I particularly liked the addition of a table to handle Finishing Calculations, so that a player doesn’t have to thumb through looking for the formulas. Doubtless some Shadowrun veterans (including this reviewer) will be relieved by the change to return the Priority system, given the comments which pop up on forums and blogs referring to overpowered or “munchkin” SR4 characters.

    That’s the setup for making standard characters, however, characters need not start at the same power level for a campaign. The writers have included two alternative gameplay styles for creating either Street-Level (“newbie”) ‘runners or highly advanced Prime ‘runners, which would definitely change the dynamic of a Shadowrun campaign. I really liked this idea, and I could see myself running a Street-Level campaign for veteran players who want a greater challenge.

    The skills section describes all the skills with details, as well as skill groups, and skill specialization, which are essentially the same as they have previously been in SR4 – except that the Dodge skill has been removed and is sort of one with Gymnastics now. Interspersed in this section are tables showing details about certain skills, such as Climb skill modifiers and a big table of Social modifiers to apply to the various social skills. I should note that characters do get some free points to use on buying Knowledge skills, so the skill points generated by the Priority system can be spent mainly on active skills.

    These character generation changes are key to another design goal mentioned by Mr. Hardy:

    Another primary goal was emphasizing characters' skills and attributes. As much as possible we want those two things to be the principal drivers of the dice pool. They should be what makes [sic] a character awesome. Their gear certainly will help, but it's what they are, not so much what they have, that will truly set them apart. Mechanics such as limits and the increase of the cap on skills from 6 to 12 are based in this goal.

    We also wanted to increase simplicity where we could. Shadowrun still going to have complexity— and that's the way we like it – but there were certain opportunities in the game, like the change in armor ratings and the return of the priority system in character creation, that gave us a chance to make things a little simpler.
    I certainly feel the Priority system has some advantages here, over the lump of Build Points in SR4. I’ve just recently worked with some neophyte Shadowrun players, and those 400 BPs can look a mite intimidating to break down and work up into a character.

    Combat has had some changes made to it, including how initiative is rolled, how defense rolls are taken, and how armor works. Much of this has indeed been streamlined for easier comprehension and implementation. Initiative, for instance, has been reduced to rolling only a few dice and adding an Initiative Attribute, rather than rolling a pile of dice. Initiative passes are determined by subtracting 10 from the roll, as it was done in a previous edition. Other facets, such as armor penetration, Physical and Stun damage, wound modifiers, and exceeding the Condition Track have remained relatively unchanged.

    Accuracy limits, as previously mentioned, are going to be a major factor in how much ramping up damage occurs, but it should also be noted here that weapons do a lot MORE damage in Shadowrun 5th Edition. For example, the Ruger Super Warhawk is limited to only 5 successes per attack because of its Accuracy (ACC) rating. However, it starts out doing 9P damage (compared to the SR4 version at 6P). And sniper rifles have become deadly in SR5, with AP values of -4 to -5, and powerful base damage averaging around 13P.

    Did I mention that the Physical and Stun Condition tracks are still about the same size as they were in SR4?

    Subsequent sections, after the Combat rules, focus in on The Matrix and both deckers and technomancers, rigging and riggers, and magic along with sorcerers, shaman, and all manner of adepts. Some of the rules in these disciplines have again been streamlined, with another of the major design goals in mind:

    Mr. Hardy
    : We also wanted to make the three systems of the game— physical, Matrix, and magic— more parallel, so that the same mechanics work across the board.
    Sadly, I did not get a chance to playtest how well the rule mechanics and changes make the three types of combat “more parallel”. But from my reading, I can see how several key changes in the rules are going to try and achieve that goal – and I’m all in favor of making combat styles interlock better, and hopefully, faster to resolve.
    One section I was very pleased with was the one entitled Gamemaster Advice. I rather felt that in SR4, the aid and advice given to GMs was a bit lacking, and concepts needed to run a scenario or a campaign was actually scattered around the book. Here, in Shadowrun 5th Edition, the writers devote over 50 pages – more than a tenth of the page count – to giving useful information for GMs to use when running a game or a campaign. The sub-section on Designing a Run is beautifully written, as is the advice for handling a full-blown Campaign. And the tables for assigning Cash and Karma Rewards are great tools to have at the ready - especially when you’re running an impromptu session with a randomly generated run (yeah, that’s in there too).

    There is another section detailing various enemies ‘runners might face: NPCs and critters. The writers kept the system for Grunts and Lieutenants, as well as the Professional Rating system for their threat level. The sub-section describing critters is a bit sparse in actual creatures, although all the details for critter powers and weaknesses are included here. Personally, I would also have liked to see illustrations of the various critters detailed here in Shadowrun 5th Edition, but no such luck, which I thought was a bit of an oversight if the book is purchased by a Shadowrun neophyte.

    When I asked Mr. Hardy what new aspects (rules, features, etc.) of SR5 the fans are going to like best, he replied:

    Well of course I hope they will enjoy all of them, but if I had to pick out a few that I'm very fond of, I would include reckless spellcasting, which is the ability to cast spells faster if you're willing to accept more drain, and the revised matrix rules, which make hacking more like the rest of the system and more approachable. I think the priority system will help make character creation a little simpler, and I also like little things like the addition of the seats that [sic] for vehicles.
    The final section on Gear is fairly massive, covering everything a Shadowrunner might need on a mission, from firearms to vehicles. Although the game setting has only moved on a few years to 2075, there are some new updates to gear, such as firearms and cyberware, showing how quickly technology advances in the Sixth World.

    At the end of the Shadowrun 5th Edition Core Rules is the massive index I mentioned earlier, along with a selection of important tables, a random run generator, and a character sheet. The designer also included large prints of the Berlin and Tenochtitlan cityscapes, and a collection of all the covers from SR1 to SR5. There’s a full page plug for the upcoming Shadowrun Online, with mention that the hardbound version of the core rules has an offer for in-game gear, a code that can unlock guns like the Saeder-Krupp Spraydown and the Skua Special, or even Sledge’s Sword mentioned in Shadowrun: Stolen Souls.

    When I mentioned the apparent tie-in between the table-top experience and the online experience, Mr. Hardy was a bit cagey in his answer, but had this to say:

    We have some very exciting plans for overlap. While each game will of course operate in its own space, there are some significant plot lines that will play out in both the role-playing game and Shadowrun Online. I can't give out too many details of this overlap right now, but I think it will give great opportunities for players of both games to shape the Sixth World.

    Overall Score: 4.4 out of 5.0


    Final Conclusions


    Well, I tried my best to contain myself during the review, but now I can freely admit I am absolutely thrilled by the new Shadowrun 5th Edition Core Rules. The SR5 core rulebook is not only visually stimulating, but is well-organized and a pleasure to read - and most importantly, comprehend. A great many of the changes made to the rules seem not only reasonable, but needed in order to create a more user-friendly game system. And although the lore has not had much time to evolve since SR4 came out, there are some “fluffy” new bits added to the setting information and background.

    The tie-in with the anticipated Shadowrun Online is also an exciting detail of the new edition, albeit we don’t have much to go on other than a tantalizing hint from Mr. Hardy.

    Making the game available in both hardbound and PDF format is great news indeed, and the price point is well within a range that players and GMs might consider investing in both for use with their games. So Shadowrunners get ready: the PDF is going to be out for sale in just one week! And for only 20 bux you too can be playing the newest, and possibly best, edition of the Shadowrun series!

    Author’s Note
    : This Reviewer received a complimentary pre-release copy of the product from which the review was written.

    A Special Thanks
    to Catalyst Game Lab and Managing Developer Randall Bills for granting me the opportunity to write this pre-release review.

    Grade Card (Ratings 1 to 5)

    • Presentation: 4.5
    • - Design: 5.0 (Great layout and superb writing; excellent explanations of game mechanics)
    • - Illustrations: 4.0 (Gorgeous cover and interior art; “Darnit, where are those critter illustrations”)
    • Content: 4.25
    • - Crunch: 4.5 (Great rules revisions, particularly for character generation; “bye bye munchkins”)
    • - Fluff: 4.0 (Rehash of some fluff, but great new stories and additional fluff enhance overall presentation)
    • Value: 4.5 (Excellent price for the hardbound; but a great price on the PDF!)
    Last edited by Morrus; Friday, 12th July, 2013 at 05:11 PM.

  2. #2

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    How does it handle conversion of previous edition materials as my group hasn't played since 2nd edition?

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    So, it's a bit like 'back to the roots' but with more streamlined/standardized rules? It sounds like it's closer to 2nd edition than 4th edition to me.

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    So basically it's just 4e with some tweaks?

    edit: I'm only really familiar with 1-3e and I don't seem to recognize the terminology mentioned at least.

    Build points? Priority system? Accuracy? P as a damage type? SR2 you had L,M,S,D for light, moderate, severe, and deadly (conditions on the damage track) along with the target number to resist in front.

    For instance, the Super Warhawk mentioned did 10M damage. And sniper rifles did 14S or 14D for the Barrett
    Last edited by trancejeremy; Thursday, 4th July, 2013 at 11:04 AM.

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    P only means Physical Damage. Like older Edition it has a "S"tun and "P"hysical Condition Bar. The Number is the Default Damage .. so 12P means 12 physical Damage. The Damage Increases with the Attack-Successes and decreases with Armor+Body Successes.

    Characters can usually take 8-12 Damage per Bar.

    By the way, RPG.now has several Preview-PDF's.

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    Quote Originally Posted by RaeneJagad View Post
    How does it handle conversion of previous edition materials as my group hasn't played since 2nd edition?
    Frankly, it doesn't. The rules in this edition are far too different from 1st-3rd Edition to really convert a character. It'd take less time and energy to re-make it from scratch. 4th Edition, you won't have this problem as badly, but I'd still rather remake the character for this edition because the differences in a lot of gear (bonus to dice pool vs. bonus to limit) can make or break a character.

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    Quote Originally Posted by trancejeremy View Post
    So basically it's just 4e with some tweaks?

    edit: I'm only really familiar with 1-3e and I don't seem to recognize the terminology mentioned at least.

    Build points? Priority system? Accuracy? P as a damage type? SR2 you had L,M,S,D for light, moderate, severe, and deadly (conditions on the damage track) along with the target number to resist in front.

    For instance, the Super Warhawk mentioned did 10M damage. And sniper rifles did 14S or 14D for the Barrett
    No, it's 4A stripped down to the bone and rebuilt. This should catch you up.

    Priority is how you made characters in 1st-3rd Ed core (there were build point options in SHADOWRUN COMPANION for 2nd and 3rd Ed). You have five categories (Race, Attributes, Skills, Magic Talent, and Resources) that you assign a priority A, B, C, D, or E. You start off with whatever that priority says, so if you choose Priority B for Attributes, you get 20 points to raise your Attributes by.

    Accuracy is a new mechanic in the game and is a subset of Limits. In SR5, when you make a skill test, you roll a number of dice equal to an Attribute + a Skill. Every 5 or 6 that comes up is a "hit". You count up all your hits and that's your result. However, your maximum number of hits on any given roll is equal to your Limit. So to fire a gun, you roll Agility + Pistols and count up your hits. Your Limit is the gun's Accuracy, so if your gun's Accuracy is 5, that's the most hits you can use on the test, even if you rolled 7.

    In SR4, damage was changed a lot. There are now only two types of damage - Stun and Physical. You still stage wounds like you did in SR1-3, but instead of going from M to S or whatever, you just increase the number of boxes of damage you do. So the 6P in a gun's damage rating meant that a base hit did 6 Physical damage (the equivalent of a Serious wound in the old system). The attacker and defender then stage that number up or down, depending on who got more sucesses on the damage resistance test.

    It's a big difference, but if you can unlearn the rules from previous editions, it works out far better. It's also more realistic in how it treats armor (in this case, if the damage dealt is less than the armor rating, the round doesn't penetrate so you take Stun damage instead of Physical...more like how modern ballistic armor works in the real world).

    My review will be up on Ain't It Cool News tomorrow (I talk a lot more about Magic and the Matrix in mine), but the short version is I really like this edition. And I've been playing Shadowrun for almost 2/3 of my life at this point.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Abstruse View Post
    Frankly, it doesn't. The rules in this edition are far too different from 1st-3rd Edition to really convert a character. It'd take less time and energy to re-make it from scratch. 4th Edition, you won't have this problem as badly, but I'd still rather remake the character for this edition because the differences in a lot of gear (bonus to dice pool vs. bonus to limit) can make or break a character.
    Was more thinking about the entire collection of adventures and campaigns I have.

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    Quote Originally Posted by RaeneJagad View Post
    Was more thinking about the entire collection of adventures and campaigns I have.
    Thatshouldn't be as much of a problem aside from converting the NPCs and matrix systems. Not nearly as bad as 4e was. The system feels more like earlier editions so you can play in the 2050s era without TOO much houserules.

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    Brilliant - thanks.

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