Review – Shadowrun, Core Rules, Fifth Edition

22 July, 2013

Shadowrun Core Rulebook, Fifth Edition, which is the newest version of that classic game system.  Like all new editions it has changes, some which are improvements and others which may or may not be but without a doubt it is a well laid out and pretty to look at.  If you are a fan of Shadowrun, it is definitely worth taking a look at the latest version of the core rules.

Catalyst Labs has released the fifth edition of the Shadowrun core rules, to coincide with the Year of Shadowrun, and it is a beautiful presentation, nearly five hundred, full color pages.  It covers all you would expect, and all you need to start, as far as gaming in the Sixth World is concerned.  The basic system, a dice pool system, works well and the rules show how to use it very clearly.  The major change from the last edition is the introduction of ‘limits’ usually based on the characters’ statistics and divided into physical, mental and social (with some exceptions we will look at in a moment) which are tied to various skills and limit the maximum successes a character can achieve.  Honestly, not sold on the limit system though it can be overcome by use of edge, a special statistic that represents a character luck and ability to overcome trouble, but still not convinced that it adds anything beyond extra complexity to the system.

The character creation system returns to the priority system where you choose a set of priorities for you character (species, skills, statistics, resources and magic) and those give you the pieces needed to assemble your character . . . but some of the choices then include a nested set of sub-choices and you are given a block of points, which you can add to by taking flaws, to customize your characters.  The advantage of a priority system over a point system, in theory, is that it makes choices clear.  This system seems to me to combines the worst aspects of both, that priority systems are naturally more limited and deny flexibility with the point tracking and bonus seeking of a point-based system.  There are a set of sixteen pre-built archetypes, so you can pick up play directly (though it would have been nice if the priorities used to built them were noted so you would have an idea of what a particular set of build choices lead to).

Skills are nicely presented though, oddly, it does not mention under gymnastic that it is the skill used for dodging in combat.  Combat has been made more interactive, at a slight increase of complexity for the initiative system, and more deadly than 4th edition both of which strike me as positive changes.  Weapons have an accuracy statistic that determine their success limit, rather than using the character’s physical limit, and even melee weapons have an accuracy statistic which seems a bit strange to me.  Vehicle combat gets its own section and it looks as though it is properly integrated with the rest of the combat system now.

As it is a new edition, the Matrix and hacking rules have been revised again.  They seem to be much clearer now and the technomancer rules are properly integrated into the system, the greater importance of the Global Overwatch Division in matrix security.  Riggers are (for the first time) properly included in the core rule book with rules that dovetail nicely with the vehicle combat rules (as they need to).

As for the Matrix, so for Magic, the rules are cleaned up with enchanting and alchemy enhanced and a new type of magician (at least to me), the Mystic Adept who combines adept abilities with the full range of magic (except for astral projection) which strikes me as quite powerful.  Overall, the magic system looks clean and as easy to use as it is likely to get for Shadowrun.

The Game Mastering advice is quite good, especially about discussing with a group what everyone wants out of a campaign.  Good advice on structuring games especially for the traditional shadowrun (and a set of random tables for inspiration), using non-player characters, appropriate threats and rewards is presented.  Contacts are further detailed and rules for favors are systematized.  Creatures, toxins and drugs round out the game master’s section.

The book ends with a list of useful gear ranging from weapons to vehicles, cyberware to surveillance equipment.  Certainly everything needed for initial forays in the world of 2075.  Lastly there are a selection of full color art ‘plates’ including covers from all of the previous editions of Shadowrun.  These are quite nice to look at.

While I am not thrilled by the general limit system, though I like their application in spellcasting and the matrix system, and the return to the priority system overall it is a solid edition of Shadowrun and if you are a fan of the setting, it is well worth taking a look at.

Disclosure: As a featured reviewer for RPGNow/DriveThroughRPG, I received my copy of this product for free from the publisher for the purpose of this review.

One comment

  1. […] in the skills section which skill is used for dodging, something noted by Sean Holland over at Sea of Stars. For your reference, it’s […]

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