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Review – Shadowrun: Sixth World Companion

23 May, 2022

Shadowrun: Sixth World Companion, Shadowrun: Sixth World Companionis a long-awaited book, with the rules for alternate character building systems, meta variants and infected characters, optional and clarified rules, changelings, new qualities and more. It is a needed book but it could have been better with some odd missteps along the way. Even more so than most core books, Games Masters will probably want this just for the optional rules, which address many of the concerns that people have had with the new edition of the rules and players will want it for the wealth of new character options.

Shadowrun: Sixth World Companion is a core character book. It is designed to provide new general options for character building and development. Note this is a long review and you can just take the summary above or if you feel you are interested in my detailed critique, read on.

As is usual, it begins with a brief introduction about what is in this book. Next is the required short fiction section, and the only fiction section in this book, which shows some unusual runners in action.

The first section is Runner’s World which is just . . . odd. It spends about four pages written from an in-world perspective breaking down the traditional roles in a runner team (muscle, face, techie, rigger, mage) and talks a bit about what happens on runs. Who exactly is this for, anyone buying this book is likely to be into the whole Shadowrun setup and does not need to be told things like “The face’s jobs are to mingle, negotiate, trick, intimidate, and sometimes interrogate.” It just seems really out of place to me. The next subsection is Ways to Play Shadowrun, which talks about adjusting power levels up or down, playing other types of people ranging from Slice of Life to Artifact Hunters or members of a Sports Team or Street Gang (but not DocWagon team, which is another classic non-runner option for some reason). Some fun ideas here but they all could have been further fleshed out to make them easier to play.

Next is Exteriors and Interiors, again, starts with some in-world advice about what you show to people by how you present yourself and how to use that to your advantage, pretty straightforward advice but sometimes overlooked. The next section is about thinking about how your character presents themself and how their choice of qualities and lifestyle affect that. Next, the return of Twenty Questions to help define your character (and suggestions on how to reward players who take the time to help build hooks for the GM).

Then we have Building a Shadow which goes into detail about alternate character generation methods: Sum to Ten, Point Buy and Life Path. Each has its strength, Sum to Ten and Point Buy increase flexibility in character builds while the Life Path helps you to build a story around your character’s background. It is good to see the Life Path version back as it is a fun way to build a character.

The next section is Suit Up which is a variety of PACKs, which stands for Pre-Assembled Character Kit, which are, as you would expect collections of useful gear on various themes (decker, street samurai, drone rigger, vehicles, weapons and so on and so on). While I like the idea of PACKs, especially for quick character generation, I am not sure if this is the best place for them. It takes up a little over twenty pages (more than one tenth of the book). It seems, to this reviewer, that it would be better suited for a PDF and not a main book, where it would be easier to add new PACKs and adjust old ones as new supplements come out. One of the reasons I would advocate for such a strategy in the future is because things like the missing essence costs for the two rigger PACKs (and a missing list of augmentation bonuses for one of those). Also, showing this reviewer’s age, I remember when being a decker did not eat all of your essence and why does no one have a datajack? Only two out of the eighteen cyber/decker PACKs have them. Also, again just this reviewers personal preference, but what is up with so many heavy weapons on vehicles? Of the ten normal-ish vehicles (i.e., civilian vehicles) that are armed, three have assault cannons (including one on a motorcycle!), three heavy machine guns and two rocket launchers. Not my style man, just way too much, also concealing that level of weaponry on a modified stock civilian vehicle (even in a pop-up turret) strains believability.

Types and Shadows looks as the variants of metahumanity, also what defines a metavariant in world, and at the other sapiens that are recognized in the Sixth World. There are five metavariants of dwarves, five of elves, two of human and four of each for orks and trolls, quite a wide variety from small gnomes to massive giants. Unfortunately, there are almost no illustrations in this section, one of a cybered dwarf that might be one of the metavariants and another of a cyclops. These really, really need illustrations with comparison to something every day, like a standard modern door, so we the readers can really get a good feeling for what it means when a giant is said to be three meters tall. Or how small a gnome or a pixie really is by comparison to an average person. Without illustrations it is really hard to envision what the metatypes and metavariants, especially the larger one, are like. The problem is not quite as bad in the sapients section, which adds centaur, merrow, naga, pixies and sasquatches to the pool of playable beings, with art of pixie driving a motorcycle (cute), a Sasquatch in a suit (but nothing to compare him against size-wise) and maybe a picture of a centaur at the end of the section. But how big is the average centaur? What does a ten meter long (and just under one meter in girth) naga look like compared to a person? How small are pixies (it is not mentioned in their description)? Can a Sasquatch use troll sized items? How can a GM reasonably adjudicate things in relation to the size of beings without useful references? Now, there are a bunch of charts at the end of the section with average height and weights for the metatypes and sapients (which do not always match the written descriptions) but they are not so useful, this reviewer is not good at imagining what a .8 meter tall gnome or 2.7 meter tall cyclops would look like next to a car or what a height of 6.9 meter height even means for a snake-like naga?

Next up, the infected in a section called Darker Alterations, which talks about those who are infected with HMHVV (Human MetaHuman Vampiric Virus) which comes in a variety of strains (three in fact) which effect the different metatypes in different ways, except for the Krieger strain which turns all of those infected by it into ghouls. There is quite a bit of information about what is know about the virus, how it has changed and how it affects its hosts. An interesting read. It is followed by rules for creating Infected characters, along with a note that some GM may not allow infected player characters so ask first, which I suspect (hope?) will get a lot more use for creating opposition for shadowrunners than used as player characters. Nice to have to hand to scare the players with. Also new disease rules, used hear specifically for HMMHV but adaptable to other things, a new “drug” (‘Renfield’), a negative quality, and three new creature powers.

Express Yourself details the effects of the SURGE (Sudden Unexplained Rapid Genetic Expression) on people where it created changelings, people with radically different appearances and genetic makeup, some of which happened in regional clusters. Some of those region clusters are noted here, such as the Egyptian cluster where people changed into being reminiscent of the gods of Ancient Egypt, or the Indus cluster where there were suddenly people with too many arms or tiger heads, the theory being that local belief shaped the manasphere (local magic) which in turn created those clusters of similar changelings. After that, there are rules for the changeling. The ones that come from one of the clusters have fairly predictable changes, enough that they have particular named types that come from those areas, which can be taken as a package. There are also options for random generation of alterations, if you want to go that route. There are a fair number of positive and negative metagenic qualities most of which are physically visible, one of the reasons changelings have had so much trouble, everything from blubber to mood hair (which is exactly what it sounds like), fangs to quills, animal heads, wings and tails. Quite a variety for people who want to have a really unique character. Unfortunately, some of the qualities are unplayable (such as Insectoid Features, Progeria and Nocturnal) the karma you get for them would never be worth the disadvantage of suffering from them. However, nicely, all of the information of the qualities is gathered in charts at the end of this chapter.

The next part is People of Exceptional Quality is a selection of new, you guessed it, qualities (yes, they have gone all out for pun section titles this time around). Twenty-four new positive qualities and twenty-four new negative qualities, nice balance there, unfortunately many of them show that they still have not fully mastered their own system. Many Edge gaining qualities, Relentless Tracker, I am looking at you, are still out of balance and the entire set of qualities still need to be totally rebuilt (which is addressed in the next section but not well). Now, there are some needed positive qualities, supporting leadership, teamwork and alchemy which this reviewer highly approves of. Some of the negative qualities are returns of classics (Borrowed Time, Hunted), some provide interesting limited bonuses with their disadvantage (such as All Business, Finesse or Hooder) which is a nice design and nice way to define a character. Unfortunately, some are, again, so punishing that no one will ever take them (Glitchy and Injury Prone come to mind). Others seem to be ways for players to justify acting like jerks in game (but he is a Combat Junkie! But she is a Killer!) which is always a bad design call to this reviewer’s thoughts on game design. This section ends with four Quality Paths, chains of qualities you can buy based on character arc: Critter Bond, straight forward, though there no way to return the critter to the wild without being penalized for it, which seems odd. Obsession is a cool concept, the character is totally driven to accomplish something, consequences by damned! Favored Weapon does what it says on the tin, not much to say beyond that. Vendetta is really conditional, requiring a Heat Score of 15 or higher to be able to take it, but it does not cost Karma, so it could be an interesting twist but your teammate are not likely to be happy with assassins or bounty hunter popping up all the time, so use carefully. Overall, some really good options, some really poor options, and a lot of questionable design choices.

Ways to Play follows and it is a collection of optional rules that you can use to modify the game to fit your play style. The first two pages are about variant rules for edge gains and use along with a half-hearted fix for the Analytical Mind/Attribute Mastery problems which does not really help, rather those Qualities either need to be fully rewritten or just flat banned (as they are in this reviewer’s campaign). Some of the other Edge related ideas are quite good though, Banking Edge seems worthwhile as it potentially turns Edge into a shared resource. There are some good new optional edge actions as well. Some optional healing rules which can act as a lethality slider bar (add in bleeding and increased overflow lethality of you want to make people fear combat). Then Magicians and Mundanes, which includes rules for Transhumanism (which functionally overwrites two of the new positive qualities, so odd choice), free will, new limits on spirits and a variety of other things including some errata (the spirit types from Street Wyrd get vulnerabilities and Enchanter adepts get known spells at character generation, both important changes), a small change that makes Alchemy much more viable and more minor tweaks. Rules to make area effect attacks less lethal. New armor rules to improve the value of armor and more ways to use the Strength attribute (both major part of critiques of the Sixth World Edition from some quarters). There are extended combat options, matrix and rigger notes, new rules, including trading karma for cash and vice versa, addiction rules, expanding information on SINs and licenses. Social combat rules with new edge actions. Advice on building your own qualities, which the previous products (and even this one) do not fully conform to, indeed, they even have as an example of building your own quality, a version of Analytic Mind (called Logical Problem Solver) which costs 12! (Which in a round about way proves this reviewer’s point about Analytic Mind/Attribute Mastery being undercosted, but they still have not owned up to it in the main rules, very frustrating.) And, lastly, new ways to use wild die, which is a vastly underused mechanic in the game. There is a great deal of really good material in this section but it is scattered and not indexed (though they are noted in the table of contents). A bit of these rules had already incorporated in this reviewer’s house rules from previous discussions which is amusing.

(Meta)Human Resources is all about contacts, providing ways to distinguish between different types (academic, corporate, street and so on, ten types in all), new rules for gaining contacts at character creation, ways to increase contracts and then all of the contacts from the core book are given a suggested connection rating and type or types. The connection rating on many of these strike me as low, the core book says someone who is new to town would be a 1, while a gang leader might be a 4, here a fixer or a Mr. Johnson, people whose profession is knowing the right people to get things done are both put at 3 (and the noble bartender is only a contact of 1!). Then we get a whole collection of new contacts, twenty-six of them, ranging from armorer to store owner, each of which has a list of similar contacts. And, again to show that the connections are too low on most of these, the news reporter has a connection rating of 2, the same as the average soldier. The rules for favors, expanded definition of what the loyalty rating actually means, and the rules for group contacts really make this chapter useful for the GM in working out how to work out what contacts will and will not do and at what price in a campaign.

What You Get breaks down lifestyles into a more granular system allowing the customization of living places and safe houses, with positive and negative qualities for the life styles as well, with positives being things such as houseplants, inconspicious and meta-accommodating: while negatives are quirks such as corporate owned, leaky faucet or spouse (!!). Interesting but it does not seem fully built out, there are no positive qualities for such items as, a garage, solid Matrix connections, secure comms or workshops, no negatives for being in gang or syndicate territory, again, much like the section on PACKs, these seems like it would have been better suited to a separate undatable PDF (and as this reviewer recall, how it was presented for previous editions). But, for all that, an amusing section that some players will enjoy, but it remains as having an unfinished basement.

A Most False Impression contains expanded rules for Reputation and Heat, reputation as set up in the core book, is strange enough, really being a reputation for how visibly violent a runner is and if you are willing to help after violence takes place, yes, there are a few other modifiers but it is mostly about violence, as framed in the core it is more a public perception reputation and has little to do with the runners success or professionalism, though the GM could choose to make it so. The suggestion here that you track it for multiple factions without any good advice on what should shape those reputations (beyond that corporations like to make money). Though they do have a good chart for how reputation affects the runners relation with a Mr. Johnson and other employers. The same suggestion for Heat, tracking across multiple groups, which is an indicator of how much official attention the runners have attracted, tracking it across multiple groups seem challenging, especially as heat from one group can affect others. Additional rules for fencing items, buying items, bribery and ideas on how to tweak these systems for use for other groups.

We end with Anatomy of a Shadowrun, which walks through a brief scene in a game showing the action and how it plays out in the rules. Sometime the rules used are noted with page numbers, but not always. Overall, a nice thing, but, again, does it really belong here?

The book concludes with an index of tables, a repeat of the tables for the metatypes and variants, and the positive and negative metagenic qualities. And that’s that. No full index.

So, what to think about all of this? Honestly, there is a lot of good stuff here and much this reviewer will use in their campaign but there is also lots of, well, what seems like filler, space that could have been used much more productively to expand on the strengths of the product. To this reviewer mind it needed:

• More information, illustrations and size comparisons for the metavariants and metaspaients. What is provided is the bare minimum for using them in a game, much more could have been done. The same for the Changelings from the various clusters.
• A worksheet (or better yet, a link to a PDF, this can still be done) with all of the optional rules from Ways to Play so that a Games Master can easily list which rule they are using and the players can know what to expect.
• Sorting out the mess that is Qualities currently, especially with them scattered out over multiple books and poorly indexed within those books. That would be another nice PDF, a list of all of the Qualities and where to find them.

My other critiques are embedded in the section notes above. I do apologize for such a long review but there is just some much to unpack in this product.

Note: The drivethruRPG link is an affiliate link and if you purchase through it, this journal will receive a small sliver of the money.

3 comments

  1. Just a note on your review in the metavariants section. Your counts are off. I agree on the art and look forward to the german version of this which I’ve heard may have much of what you are looking for in that arena soon(TM). I also do agree that it would be nice to have a “Qualities Compiled” PDF type of document at some point, but motivating for that would need to come from the Fans and Buyers.


    • How are my counts off? 5 Dwarf, 5 Elf, 2 Human, 4 Ork and 4 Troll metavariants.

      Well, if the German edition has a size chart, please send it my way and I will praise it to the skies!

      The “Qualities Compiled” would be an easy PDF to put together and would aid ease of use considerably, something that Catalyst should be working on. If your game is smoother and more fun to play because of such simple things, usually that is a good call (also it would advertise the Qualities available in those other books to encourage people to look at and, hopefully, buy them).


      • *bangs head on desk*. brain bleed. The counts were off in my head, I was counting base as well as metavariants and was suddenly like “but I could’ve sworn I had six total dwarfs now.”

        I’ll happily join you in cheering/rooting for a Compiled document. As for a motivation to look at and buy, that has proven to be untrue. Lore content is loved by those who read it, but too many individuals do not really delve into the Lore as they could. In a game as large and potentially complex as SR is, combined with the trend for less patience in players, then mechanics are surviving over lore predominantly.

        When the German/ADL version comes out, I’ll let you know but I think you’ll be faster at those notifications than I will be.



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