New Shadowrun!


Fifth Time’s the Charm by Neko_Bijin!

It’s amazing that Shadowrun has lasted this long. The setting is a mix of Gibson’s Neuromancer (1984) and elements brazenly pinched from other settings. One can imagine the creators asking, “Well, why can’t I be a mage with a machine gun? Why can’t my dragon horde include stock certificates and negotiable bonds? Also: you know what Blade Runner really needed? Trolls.” The setting inspired computer and console games, a series of novels and a D6-style role-playing game. Now a 5th edition of the paper-and-pencil RPG has hit the shelves and answers the burning question: can a franchise as thoroughly 1980s as Q*bert make the transition to the modern day? (Also, does anybody want to play RPGs anymore?)


Yes and maybe. The 5th ed. rulebook is as massive as a phone book (remember those?) and gives us a glimpse at a shocking future in which computers are portable, interface directly with the user (no keyboard!) and connect wirelessly to a global “matrix.” A terrible future in which multinational corporations control the world! An impossible future in which it is normal to carry assault weapons on the street. Where tattoos are worn by pretty girls and not just old sailors. Zounds!

The book includes everything you need to play except dice and friends (though there’s a collectors’ edition that includes them). Characters are built on points (now called karma) that purchase skills and attributes. Tests are conducted by rolling the requisite number of dice and counting the number of successes (5’s or 6’s) against the difficulty of the task. This is similar to (but different from) the 4th ed. system. What’s entirely new are “priorities,” which remind me of the diceless system for role-play in the R. Zelazny Nine Princes in Amber setting. The player is able to set “priorities” for the character which give bonuses at the point of creation by ranking in order of importance 5 qualities: metatype (race), attributes, magic/resonance, skills, and resources. This new system should emphasize flavor and de-emphasize min-maxing, the bane of all RPGs.

As you might expect, this hefty volume includes numerous full-color images of the “6th World,” a generous grimoire of spells and an obscene selection of firearms. The damage table is a nice throwback to FASA-era gaming: fifteen boxes in three columns that track damage and the deleterious effects thereof. Simple! Little else in this book is, though. Shadowrun is a very clever system, but it’s never quite as simple as it could be. It’s telling that from edition to edition the setting remains largely unchanged (though computer technology has had to advance in order not to seem laughably anachronistic), but the dice system is constantly getting tweaked. By my lights there was nothing wrong with the 2nd ed. system of rolling a fist-full of dice and then rerolling the sixes.

You should own a copy of Shadowrun 5th ed. Unfortunately, it’s sold out already, so you’ll have to steal mine. And I’m a Troll street shaman, so good luck.

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  1. If you made it to GenCon this year for the debut, you got to play Shadowrun 5th ed. with the authors and stand on a long line to buy special editions of the rules with fancy covers and slick paper. The rest of us had to wait until last week for delivery.

    Technically you can still buy the book if you count e-books, but I want a library that will survive the apocalypse.

    Curse me for writing after bedtime: I spelt h-o-r-d-e for h-o-a-r-d. What a maroon!

  2. Mister Trog

    10/18/2013 at 6:16 pm

    Don’t sweat the spelling error Neko. We’re all just happy there’s still more Shadowrun in the world.

  3. Me too, Chief.

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