The New Hotness: Shadowrun 5

Laying it all out on the table - I liked Shadowrun 4th edition. I didn't love it, but I liked it. I liked the continuation of the long-running setting and appreciated their attempts to bring it more in line with the modern era of ubiquitous portable wireless computing. I could enumerate on both hands (it took more than one) the various ways in which the rules fell down, but they were easy enough to fix with house rules if they bothered you that much - and I can't recall a game of "straight" SR4 that I ever participated in.

So, I was understandably keen to see what they had done with SR5 when it came out. I was... hard on them when it did, when the PDF version became available and... I want to say riddled with problems, but that's not fair. Most games have some errata after they're released upon the world, after all. No, the issue that I had was that the problems were very low level, and seemed to reflect a remarkably narrow playtest. Had no one played a Dwarf or a Troll and run into the problems with the way they had worded the sections on additional lifestyle costs for these smaller and larger characters? Didn't anyone try to munchkin out a Mystic Adept and show them just how overpowered the hybrid magical characters were? It didn't bode well for the future.

The errata was, I think, rather longer in coming than it should have been, but managed to address most if not every issue that had been reported to the forums. So it seemed like a good time to maybe give the system another whirl.

And I'll be damned if it isn't my current favorite setting-specific game on the market.

Part of this is the sheer number of other systems I have toyed with since delving into SR4 back in the day - it broadened my appreciation for what they've done with the dice pool mechanic in SR, and the various concessions to abstraction that every game must endure. Another part was the release of the "gear" book (Run & Gun) and the "magic" book (Street Grimoire), providing two of the four core supplements that I consider not just essential but sufficient (the "cyber" book - detailing advanced augmentation, and the "wireless" book - detailing riggers, deckers and technomancers being the other two legs).

It isn't all wine and roses, mind you. A system this detailed is necessarily wordy, and the indexing and cross-referencing is insufficient to my mind - a searchable PDF is not just handy here, but almost necessary until you've started to internalize some of the rules and rule tendencies. The character creation system is a throwback to much earlier editions and uses a priority ranking system to determine your metatype, skills, attributes, magical or technomancer abilities and starting cash. This results in characters who have to make some concessions in at least one area, but hamstrings my more advanced character design ideas. I suspect there's a perfectly valid point-buy based system underneath the priority system, but have yet to fully suss it out myself.

All in all, I was reminded of the sorts of things that people were saying about D&D Next when it came out - that it was a game that seemed to want to entice in the players of the oldest editions, but also those who had played the later ones and enjoyed them. Character creation feels like SR3 or earlier, but the omnipresent wireless feels like a continuation of SR4. The reintroduction of cyberdecks and deckers is a definite nod to the old feeling of the earliest editions, where you wanted if not needed specialized gear to be a VR hacker, while the concept of dice pool limits is a wholly new mechanic intended to unify and streamline the whole package.

I'm sure I'm already overselling this game, but I have most assuredly consumed the fruit drink when it comes to SR5. When I, picky gamer extraordinaire, have to wrack my brain for things to dislike ("well, the addiction rules aren't written very well, and may not model reality very well...", "I miss the SR4 rules for autofire, and think these are too abstracted...oh wait, they reintroduce some of that back in in the optional rules in Run & Gun...") I suspect it might just be worth the high hosanas for a change.

Comments

  1. Interesting. I haven't played Shadowrun seriously since the first edition, but I like to keep an eye on it from time to time. It's not going to displace GURPS in my affections any time soon, but there's a lot of fun there, and many things worth pinching for the cyberpunk campaign I'm working on.

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