Shadowrun Sixth World Beginner Box Review

The Shadowrun Sixth World Beginner Box due for release at Origins this June will be our first look at the new edition of the now 30-year-old Shadowrun game system. This new edition promises to be a more streamlined experience for new players while still satisfying veterans, but does it live up to that promise?

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To start with, let’s take a look at what you get. The retail price for the boxed set is $24.99 and I think it’s worth it. I’ve done an unboxing video on my YouTube channel if you want to know what the components look like.


The two rulebooks – the Quick Start Rulebook and the included adventure “Battle Royale” – are very nice quality. The pages are thick and glossy, the cardstock covers are sturdy, and the binding tight so it won’t fall apart if you look at it funny. The character dossiers won’t really work as character sheets on their own because they’re also on the thick, glossy paper which means they can’t be written on by anything other than a felt-tip pen or a marker, but they are good for references for each of the characters.

The deck of reference cards are a bit smaller than standard poker size, but are incredibly thick stock with a strong coating, meaning they’re unlikely to bend and may be resistant to modest liquid spills (but don’t hold me to that). The dice are the same style as Catalyst has sold for years. They fall into that category of dice that look awesome but aren’t quite as readable as standard dice for playing. The purple-on-black design makes these about a 7/10 on the readability scale. There are also 12 dice included which is enough for the Beginner Box characters if the group passes them around, but you’re going to want more dice (particularly for the Face pregen who has a dice pool of 14 for some skills). There’s also a giant poster map, one side featuring the two locations from the adventure and the other side a map of Seattle, the game’s default setting. I want to get the Seattle side framed.

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The rules themselves are, in fact, streamlined from previous editions. In fact, the Quick Start rules are only 24 pages long and well-organized by section so you’re not flipping around too much the first time you’re reading through trying to figure out stuff. A good deal of the crunchy mechanical nature of Shadowrun has been shifted to the new Edge System, which I’ll go into later. But first, I want to talk about what hasn’t changed.

Characters have eight main attributes and two to three special attributes. The main attributes are Body, Agility, Reaction, Strength, Willpower, Logic, Intuition, and Charisma. Every character has the special attributes Essence and Edge, while magically-active characters will also have Magic (for Shadowrun fans, the Quick Start doesn’t make any mention of technomancers at all). Attribute ratings typically range from 1-6, though the pregens include one character with a 7 and another with an 8.

Skills range from 1-9 and the skill list has been greatly reduced in number from previous editions. For example, rather than having separate skills for each different type of gun (pistol, SMG, assault rifle, sniper rifle, etc.) or different type of melee weapon (edged, bludgeoning, unarmed), there are just two skills: Firearms and Close Quarters. It also seems as though some other skills have been combined, as Con seems to have replaced a lot of the social-related skills. The pregens start with between five and nine different skills and none of them start with a rating higher than 6. There are also 2-3 knowledge skills for each character, but that’s not really pointed out anywhere in the Quick Start rules so it’s mostly just for background in this. The same goes for Qualities (positive and negative options for characters similar to feats or advantages/disadvantages), which are only mentioned in the Quick Start for their background value with no mechanics attached (though it appears they’re calculated into skill and attribute values).

Task resolution is handled by a D6 Dice Pool system. You roll a number of six-sided dice equal to a Skill and its linked Attribute (Agility + Firearms to attack, Magic + Sorcery to cast spells, etc.) Every 5 or 6 is considered a Hit, and to succeed you need to get more hits than the Threshold for the task or, if it’s opposed, more hits than the other character. Also, if at least half of the dice on any roll are a 1, you have rolled a Glitch which is a setback of some sort (this can happen whether or not you succeed on the test). Dice pools can be modified with more or fewer dice depending on circumstances, but it’s far less frequent than other editions thanks to the Edge System.

This is the biggest change in Sixth Edition. During each encounter (whether it’s a combat encounter or just trying to con your way past a guard), you have access to your Edge Pool. At the start of a session, your Edge Pool is equal to your Edge Attribute. The start of each action, you may have a chance to gain more Edge depending on circumstances, like a tactical advantage in a fight or a piece of gear. You can spend Edge once per action for some sort of advantage, and different advantages cost more edge. Some Edge effects can only be chosen before you roll and some only after, with each one clearly marked on the chart in the rules. This isn’t the full list, but it will give you an idea the sort of things you can do with Edge:

For one Edge, you can re-roll one die. For two, you can give an ally +1 Edge or negate 1 Edge of a foe. For three, you can buy an automatic hit on a test. For four, you can add your Edge Attribute in dice to the roll, re-roll all failed dice, or heal a point of damage. For five edge, you can force the target to count 1s and 2s toward determining if they’ve rolled a Glitch. You can spend more than 1 Edge on a single advantage (for example, spend three Edge to re-roll three dice), but you can only spend Edge once per action.

Your Edge Pool has a maximum cap of 7, and odds are you’re going to be getting at least one or two Edge points every round, so the system encourages you to spend Edge a lot. After the encounter is over, you can only keep a maximum amount of Edge equal to your Edge Attribute and anything more is lost. However, you don’t get extra edge back if you’ve got less than your Edge Attribute. I think my only issue with this system is the three different terms all with the word “Edge” that gets a bit confusing (Edge Attribute, Edge Pool, and Point of Edge), but the system does work rather well once you sort out which one is which.

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Combat flows a lot faster than previous editions due to the new action economy. Initiative is rolled once and then set, so you act in order one after the other similar to games like Dungeons & Dragons. Characters can take one Major and one Minor action on their turn, plus an additional Minor action based on their Initiative stat (which means every character is going to have at least two Minor actions, but ones with big speed-boosting cyberware or magic effects may get three or four). Movement is simpler as well, as you just spend a Minor action to move and you move 10m, though there’s also a sprint option if you need to move more than that. You can also trade four Minor actions for one Major action, so especially speed-focused characters may get to attack twice in a single round. Oh, and initiative may be set but you can still shift around within order. One way to do so is to spend one Edge to add three to your Initiative score (which you can do multiple times with the same action).

Attacks are simple. First, you determine who (if anyone) gets any Edge. Step one is to compare the attackers Attack Value (determined by weapon and range) and the defender’s Defense Value (determined by armor). If the attacker’s AV is four or more, they get 1 Edge. Next is to look for situational modifiers (like a melee attacker having the high ground, or an attacker having low-light vision in a dark room when the target does not) which gets another Edge. Finally, you check if any gear gives Edge to one side or the other.

Next, you roll the attack, which for guns is Agility + Firearms versus Reaction + Intuition. If the defender gets more hits, the attack misses. If the attacker gets more or they tie, the attack hits. Each success the attacker rolled more than the defender adds +1 damage to the base damage of the weapon. Finally, the defender attempts to soak the damage. They roll their Body score and each hit cancels out one damage. Remember that Edge can only be used once per action, so the defender has to pick whether they want to use Edge on the dodge attempt or on the soak roll since they can’t do both.

Okay, so three dice rolls to figure out if an attack hit may seem like a lot to players used to other systems, but this is a great streamlining compared to other editions of Shadowrun, where so much time was spent calculating a lot of “+1 for this and -2 for that and +2 for this and -1 for that” for both sides in each attack.

The Magic system has been streamlined as well, with the number of skills required going way down from previous editions and your Magic attribute is more important than it has been for a while. The main limiting factor on magic is still drain, which is stun damage taken due to the exhaustion of channeling the mana to work magic. Spellcasting is broken into three stages, Adjust the Spell (which allows for increased damage or effects at the cost of more drain), Roll Magic + Sorcery to see if the spell works, and Soak Drain. The drain level varies by the spell and, with combat spells, you can increase the damage by +1 for every +2 drain. You soak drain by rolling a dice pool of your Magic attribute and another attribute based on your tradition (a mage uses Logic and a shaman uses Charisma), with each hit reducing drain by one.

Decking is…you know, I’ve never had a problem with the decking system in any edition of Shadowrun so I’ve never felt it was nearly as complicated as everyone thinks it is. But if you thought the system was complicated before, it’s incredibly easy now. I’d say it’s too simple for my personal taste, but this is the quick start rules and it implies that there are more options to add depth if you want in the core rules. There are only 12 different actions you can take in the Matrix, seven of them classified as Illegal actions and five Legal actions. If you’re trying to do something legal, it’s Electronics + Logic. If it’s illegal, it’s Cracking + Logic. All tests are opposed by the system, typically by the device or host’s Firewall score (though it varies depending on the action). Each hit a system makes defending against an Illegal action is counted up as your Overwatch Score (basically the Matrix’s built-in security noticing your illegal actions). Once your Overwatch Score hits 40, you’re immediately kicked out of the Matrix, your deck is destroyed, and your physical location reported to the authorities. Thankfully, you can reset your score simply by logging out for a bit before logging back in again, but it’s something to keep an eye on.

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So that’s the rules…what about the included adventure “Battle Royale”? This is hands down the weakest part of the entire boxed set in my opinion. The plot of the adventure is a take on the classic starting adventure “Food Fight” from Shadowrun 1st Edition. That adventure was “The party is in a convenience store. A gang comes in to rob it. Fight.” This one adds layers of complexity that’s a bit much for an introductory adventure and it requires a bit of lore knowledge to understand a lot of it.

The basic plot for Battle Royale is that the party is in a convenience store when they notice a bunch of gangs in the alley outside surrounding a limo. Four different gangs, many of them rivals. There’s also a political element with the occupant of the limo that requires a knowledge of the current metaplot of Shadowrun to really understand what’s happening. I am being a bit vague to avoid spoilers as what the gangs are doing and their motivations are come right at the start of the adventure for the gamemaster, but the players won’t know. Either way, the adventure hinges on the players sticking their nose into what looks like a volatile situation with no guaranteed payout and, in a morally-ambiguous setting like Shadowrun, they’re just likely to just mind their own business unless directly provoked.

The adventure itself isn’t badly written. The layout is good and easy to follow, the writing is solid, the directions clear. If this adventure were on its own, I wouldn’t have any problems with it. But as the introductory adventure to Shadowrun, I don’t think it works because the setup doesn’t feel very Shadowrun. There’s no meet with a Johnson to get hired for a run, no planning, no paranoia or betrayal, none of the hallmarks of what make Shadowrun’s core game premise what it is. They just took the concept of “Food Fight” (which was less an adventure and more just a quick scenario to demo the combat rules) and expanded on it rather than create something that worked as an introduction.

Thankfully, there’s a lot of NPCs included with the adventure (and as cards as part of the included reference deck) so you could easily craft a scenario that’s far more Shadowrun for your group or grab an introductory adventure from a previous edition and swap in the new NPCs. It wouldn’t be hard to use the materials presented to throw together a “Corporate executive kidnapped by gang, go rescue them” run that’s more fitting. Or you could just run the old Food Fight by just grabbing a half dozen of the gang NPCs and putting them in the store. The old mess table is in “Battle Royale” for missed shots so you can randomly decide what sort of item exploded off the shelf (“The bullet misses you and hits a jar behind you that covers you in roll red roll chunky roll meat!”), so you can still have fun.

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The four pre-generated player characters are interesting, making a good mix but also having a lot of room to grow. There’s Frostburn, the Ork Combat Mage; Yu, the Elf Covert Ops Specialist/Face; Rude, the Troll Street Samurai (who actually doesn’t have much cyberware); and Zipfile, the Dwarf Decker. While I haven’t seen the character generation rules yet, none of the characters seem to suffer from the terrible unoptimized builds of other editions, so they’re actually playable as they are without tweaking. Each character has a single-page character sheet with all the info you need to run them. Yes, the character sheets are one page. Yes, for all the characters. That’s how streamlined the game’s gotten.

The character sheet itself is in the middle of a two-page spread, though, with sidebars explaining what everything on the sheet is so it’s easier to find what you need. Personally, I’d recommend copying the character sheet over to another page so you can write stuff down easily and just use the dossier’s sheet as a reference if you need it. The rest of the booklets are taken up with backstories for each character, roleplaying tips, some examples of how the character fits into a Shadowrun adventure (like what they do when meeting with a Johnson to get hired for a run), and tables customized for that specific character (so Zipfile has info on hacking while Frostburn has magic tables).

Overall, the Shadowrun Sixth World Beginner Box works as a good introduction to the new rules both for new players and veterans wondering what’s changed. It’s also the perfect tease for the full core rulebook due out this August as it hints at a lot of rules systems that the Quickstart doesn’t cover (and not just character generation). It’s not going to have a lot of longevity, though, since there are no character advancement options, no gear aside from what the PCs start with and the NPCs have, and only the one adventure. But I still think that the components like the poster map of Seattle and the dice on their own are worth the money for veteran players and the $24.99 price for everything you need to play makes it a good sweet spot for those curious about Shadowrun and want to know if the new edition works for them but who aren’t ready to dive into the full game. Speaking of, the Shadowrun Sixth World Core Rulebook is due out this August with a retail price of $49.99.

Disclosure: A review copy of Shadowrun Sixth World Beginner Box was provided by the publisher at no cost to the author of this article. Also, the white specks on several of the images are not part of the actual design but because my scanner sucks. Which is a shame, I think the speckled look goes well with the new bisexual lighting design on everything. And for long-time Shadowrun fans, I'll have a video review on my YouTube channel this week more centered on looking at the product from that viewpoint.
 
Last edited:
Darryl Mott

Comments

Abstruse

Adventurer
@Abstruse I am guessing that this might happen; from what you have seen in the character dossiers would it appear that concentrations and specializations will be in place for extra edge? For example: firearms, pistols, ares predator 5
The only character with a specialization is the troll street sam Rude, and his specialization just seems to add extra dice to the dice pool like previous editions.
 

Saelorn

Adventurer
The idea is to get the players constantly thinking about where they are in combat and what the situation is and having them adjust to always have the upper hand so they're always getting 2-3 Edge per turn, and also spending that edge every turn or two because you can't really stockpile it - the cap is 7 and you lose anything over your Edge attribute that you don't spend at the end of the encounter.
My big concern is that Edge feels a lot more like a game mechanic, and less like something that makes sense with how the world works. Sure, 3E had a lot of fiddly modifiers, but they all made sense from an in-character perspective. I'm afraid that I'll be placed in a position to take particular actions "because it generates Edge" rather than because it makes sense on its own.

Do you know whether all of those Edge-related factors also have a direct impact, aside from the Edge? If I have thermographic vision in a dark room, do I also negate the darkness penalty to hit, or is it all rolled up into the Edge mechanic?
 

Abstruse

Adventurer
My big concern is that Edge feels a lot more like a game mechanic, and less like something that makes sense with how the world works. Sure, 3E had a lot of fiddly modifiers, but they all made sense from an in-character perspective. I'm afraid that I'll be placed in a position to take particular actions "because it generates Edge" rather than because it makes sense on its own.

Do you know whether all of those Edge-related factors also have a direct impact, aside from the Edge? If I have thermographic vision in a dark room, do I also negate the darkness penalty to hit, or is it all rolled up into the Edge mechanic?
I mean, it is a game mechanic. But it's a single mechanic that replaces a bunch of other mechanics. Edge is an expression of one side having an advantage - you know, an "edge" - on the other side. So there is no darkness penalty to hit. Because such a penalty only really matters if it affects one side but not the other. If you're in a dark room and both sides have low light or thermographic vision, how is that different functionally from a well-lit room? So why have penalties for it if it just affects both sides equally? All that does is slow down combat by making attacks miss more often. But if you have low-light or thermo and I don't, THEN you have a distinct advantage over me. So you get a point of Edge.
 

LlSinopa

Villager
Played original edition, second edition, 3rd edition and 5th edition... and yes, will play 6th edition

So long as the mechanics don't get in the way of your collective story telling and you're having fun then the game is good.

Thanks for the review, I'm looking forward to 6th edition.
 

Staffan

Adventurer
My big concern is that Edge feels a lot more like a game mechanic, and less like something that makes sense with how the world works. Sure, 3E had a lot of fiddly modifiers, but they all made sense from an in-character perspective. I'm afraid that I'll be placed in a position to take particular actions "because it generates Edge" rather than because it makes sense on its own.
If the mechanic is well-implemented, things work the other way around. You don't do things because they generate Edge. You do things because they put you at an advantage, and that advantage is reflected by gaining Edge.
 

Mustrum_Ridcully

Adventurer
Sounds surprisingly interesting.
I mostly remember SR3 (my first RPG!), and the crazy amount of modifiers you had (or at least could) consider was something that made it really difficult and headache-inducing to run.

I haven't played SR4 (I think?) or SR5, but what seemed to be missing for me was the lack of the combat pool. I like the idea of having a game resource you need to manage to get yourself advantages.
Maybe the new edge system can replicate that feeling somewhat.
 

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