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So, in the rebirth of this blog(which will be dealing with a lot of Shadowrun stuff, and yes, still videogame stuff as well), I decided to open it with a review of 5th Edition.

This review will be long, and in 3 parts. The main reason for this is that I’ve played the game for nearly two decades now, and I felt like I owed it to be nice and in-depth with this review.

If you want the ‘basic gist’ of my thoughts, just turn to Part 3’s end section where I settle my thoughts into a neater checklist.

Without further ado…

Life in the Sixth World:

Life in the Sixth World goes over the basics of the world; touches on corps, megacorps, and bits and pieces of things going on around the world. It does a pretty good job of setting the stage. It actually explains little things(example jobs you might go on, places where you may meet, and so on.) It runs down, in a couple of paragraphs each, things like legwork, the plan, etc. It does it’s job of introduction.

While us old folk are ‘been there, done that’, newer folks could appreciate it. Excited folks who ‘just want to run’ might find their eyes glazing over, however, when it comes to spelling out all the top AAA corps and the organized crime(though it’s interesting to see the introduction of the Native American organized crime ring). The gangs are mentioned, though not gone into detail. I’d say new players shouldn’t be required to read it, but definitely might find the bit on shadowrunners/running useful to go over.

It follows describing bits and pieces about the matrix, politics, education, and essentially is the primer of ‘What IS exactly going on now in 2073?’ I have to say I found myself pretty interested in reading some of the stuff, and I’ve been playing since around 1994. (I particularly liked the sidebar which went down different places to shop for different things, from ‘no frills’ to ‘luxury.’ )

They don’t go into a few things(like how common/easy Delta Clinics should be to find), though that could be something I suppose a GM can just say for their game. I guess, being a GM with more of a lighter touch and who lives by the ‘Make (/%&¤ up that’s fun’ who even changes the world’s canon in my home games, I don’t particularly need this info as I can just say what it is and be done with it-but there are people who want hard, fast rules for Delta clinics and such, so perhaps maybe in whatever augmentation-oriented sourcebook that will likely come out they’ll touch on that.

Shadowrun Concepts:

This chapter begins some of the more rule-oriented discussion. It explains the dice, how to preform tests, and all of the basics you’ll need to know to play the game. It’s largely similar to SR4 here(5’s and 6’s counts as hits, hits over a threshold are net hits, and so on), but they kept the same glitch and critical glitch rules. Now, I’ll be frank; I don’t like the glitch rules. I don’t mind the critical glitch rules as much(when you fail a roll and end up with over half 1’s on top of it), but I didn’t like the glitch rolls in WoD, I didn’t like them in SR4, and I don’t like them now. One of the first things I did back in the day was nix the glitch rules. For me, it can end up extending things above and beyond. While I think somehow they’d work in a more comedy-action themed run, generally speaking, my experiences with glitches have been this:

Samurai Jack: Okay, I preform a great combo that I had found in that old game that I had recently played to the attacking ork. And…I hit, but I glitch.

GM: Well, you roundhouse kick the ork and because your physical Limit is through the roof thanks to your full-conversion body, he goes flying back and sticks into the wall with a splat. However, your trenchcoat gets caught on the fire escape, and you’re stuck. You’ll need your next turn to get untangled. Now, let’s see what the enemy human does *rolls* And he glitches as well. Okay, so he fires the shot which Tom the Dwarf will need to resist, but the gun falls out of his hand and he stumbles around trying to pick it up, so he’ll lose his next turn.

Shaman Jane: I cast a stunbolt toward that human. And…I glitch.

GM: Okay, so you cast the spell, but slip on some ice and begin skating around the alley.

Samurai Jack: Whoever is watching this fight on a trid must be laughing their asses off.

GM: We’ve been here a goddamn (/”&#”¤ hour now because people keep glitching. QUIT GLITCHING MY GOD

…Yeah, really. IMO, fine for a comedy game, or for people who insist on having another layer of whatever, but they should be CLEARLY marked as ‘Optional’ with all of the disadvantages that entails(including needlessly drawing out the possibly already-lengthy combats.) I’m not so bad on critical glitches, simply because they’re the classic ‘Roll a 1’ situation. I mean, sure, these could be not used as well, but they at least fit better, IMO, than glitches, which really scream ‘optional rule’ more to me. But YMMV there, different tables, different experiences and so on; I’m just giving my opinion of them. Also, I find some of the ordinary glitching rules rather harsh. Glitches are not supposed to cancel successes, but I’ve seen some instances(like a Quick Draw holster) of them doing just that.

Limits:

Limits are getting their own little section here, because they’re new. Essentially, they are a new way of capping hits, and have seen some controversy with their inclusion. Essentially, there are Inherent Limits(from your attributes, figured out by a formula), and Gear limits(which is included with the gear.) Edge can push past these, for the record. Gear Limits over-ride natural limits(so someone using a gun would use the gun’s accuracy and not their Physical Limit, even though firing it is linked to Agility.)

So, for an example, Samurai Jack has his Katana, which has an Accuracy of 7. He rolls his Agility 8+Blades(Swords) 5(+2), which is 15 dice. Now, 15 dice averages 5 hits, but he gets damn lucky; he rolls 8 successes. Unless he blows Edge, he can only use 7 of these, due to the katana’s Accuracy. If he were punching or kicking an enemy, his Physical limit is 10 because he has that converted cyberlimb body from hell, so he’d have been able to use all the successes(but the base hit wouldn’t have done as much damage, thanks to the Katana’s Str+3 Damage code.) I’m not going to go into pages of the rules here, that’s what you buy the book for, but that’s the overlook of it.

Now, as for ‘do I think this is a positive or negative change…’ my answer is ‘a bit of both.’

Putting the emphasis in some ways of staying top of the line gear-wise makes sense from a game-world level. Shadowrun does involve people wanting to get the greatest toys, and the greater the toy, the more successes you’re allowed to roll with it. It makes sense that even a super-expert welder may not be able to pull a miracle with the hand-held mini torch. (He can, but he’ll have to use Edge.) It also, in a sense, helps keep die pools from going too super-nutsoid. Well, it doesn’t prevent it flat out, but it makes it a bit less desirable since Tom the Dwarf Pistols Specialist might see ‘Well, sure, I can get my Pistols skill another die but at this rate I’m hitting my Limit left and right, maybe I’ll up something else, instead.’

Also-and this is going to be an extreme YMMV option-it makes things less ‘one shot, one kill.’ Our games are a bit more cinematic and a bit less ‘everyone dies, all the time.’ We can, and have, lost people, but we don’t play ‘kill ’em all’ highly lethal games. This is pretty much awesome for us in this way, as the Limits-particularly of gear-make it so that things aren’t potentially as terrible. Again, this is very much YMMV as some people like their Shadowrun to have body counts on the PC side that makes it look like Dark Souls: 2070+ edition, but that’s not us, and I like this.

Now, for the downsides. You NEED to use Edge to get That Lucky Roll sometimes. No more is there ‘the shadowrunner takes the crappy gun and manages to roll all 12 of their pistol dice as a success’, which I think takes away something. I feel that it also makes Edge even better than the stat could possibly have ever been. I mean, it was always a god stat, now it’s essentially THE God Stat, the Stat to Rule Them All, even making Agility tremble in it’s wake. Edge didn’t NEED any help to be more awesome, but it certainly got it with this.

Another thing is it takes away from the person with ‘that custom piece of gear.’ Where before, someone could have had that old shotgun that they lovingly cared for, making sure it stayed very much in good repair and everything, and even tweaked it out; but where before, they were perfectly dangerous with it, nowadays, they’re putting themselves at a distinct disadvantage.

When I mentioned above about ‘making things less everyone dies’, that also has the side effect of ‘possibly making combats freaking long.’ If gangers(with Accuracy 4 weapons or something and Armor Jackets) are going against each other, it has, in some test combats I ran, the ability to turn into West Side Story, UCAS edition. With Limits of, say, 4, Ganger 1 blasting someone with a low Accuracy gun, and then the person resisting cuts that down to a base success and then resists even more of the not-so-hot damage, they keep going and going(and a few Light wounds on both sides will mean less dice, which can mean even LONGER combats.)

I’ve babbled on long enough about Limits, so I’ll continue on here.

Attributes and such haven’t changed since 4e, really(though it feels like the ‘average’ is back to 3 instead of 2.) The rest of the chapter goes on touching on the concepts of cyberware, magic, Resonance, the Matrix and the like, and a bit on Edge(which now has the ability to push past limits, as said.)

As a chapter, it does a good job of at least explaining how the game works, and it is quite easy to understand.

Creating a Shadowrunner:

Ahh, a nitty-gritty chapter. Plain and simple-I’m very much into the new system. It’s Priority, but it’s MUCH better than the older Priority systems. Like the other books, it takes players through some examples of character creation in a very neat, clean, and understandable manner. It really is probably the best ‘How to make a character’ tutorial in any Shadowrun book that I’ve seen. Lots of plus points for this.

Another huge plus point; it spells out rules for how to play different styles of games, on both Street and more Prime, cinematic levels; actually listing priorities and such for them-what mostly changes are the Resources, Contacts, bonus Karma(will get into that), and gear allowances. My minor nitpick with this is that Prime should really allow A. Beta-grade cyber to be available at character generation, B. No limits on how many Attributes can be at the max, and C. a higher Availability than 15-I’d say 16 would have been better here. Street seems well-tooled, and Prime, as it is, seems very solid.

[For a side note, our table has never used Availability at character generation-not since the GM who introduced us to it as teenagers in the 2e days avoided using it. We use a ‘get crap that makes sense for your character’ rule along with a ‘don’t be a dumbass’ rule and it’s worked fine for us for almost two decades. So anything really regarding things like Availability is completely off my own personal radar-whatever the book says doesn’t affect our games in the least, so if I sound rather apathetic or lenient toward these matters, that’s why.]

One strange quirk is, when listing Qualities, it specifies some as ‘dependent on GM approval.’ In my longtime experience, every Quality was ‘dependent on GM approval’, so it seems a bit redundant from my PoV.

The priorities, as laid out, work similar to the old way, but have some definite changes.

Race can be chosen from a variety of slots, and where you pick your race affects how many extra Special Attribute points you get; Edge, Magic, and Resonance. Humans can be picked from A to E, Elves from A to D(with D giving them no bonus points; elves get the second highest number of Special Attribute points with Humans getting the most), Orks and Dwarves from A to C, and Trolls have to be A or B. They get the least amount of bonus points, probably to make up for the high amount of bonuses they get. I think it fits quite well.

Magic and Resonance can also be chosen at a variety of levels. What you get from this, though, is picking Magic in a priority level gives you A. A free Magic or Resonance score of X, B. a choice of a certain number of spells/Complex Forms, and C. A number of skills at a certain level. Full magicians, Mystic Adepts and Technomancers must be A, B, or C, with Adepts and Aspected Magicians going from B to D.

These scores can be increased with Special Attribute points. So a Dwarf Gunslinger Adept can take Race A and Magic C, and use some of his 7 SA bonus points to increase the Magic 4 that he gets from taking Magic at that level to a 6. (The only way to go beyond the 6 is to take Exceptional Attribute; and this also affects Magic or Resonance-however, Lucky is needed for Edge, and Humans still have the Edge Max of 7.)

It’s a very good change and actually makes one think about where they want to place their priorities.

Attributes and Skills are well-done, and actually serviceable with the amount of points you get. Priority A is quite loaded, and even Priority E(only used for magically or Resonance active metahumans) is usable(though not GOOD, it is Priority E after all.) Attributes all start at the Metahuman Base(listed in the book), and you add these on a 1 for 1 basis(1 Primary attribute is allowed at max(Special ones aren’t counted in this limit); a thing I’m not a fond of-I’m a fan of the ‘go ahead and dump a lot of stats but don’t cry to me when it comes back to bite you in the ass later’ method-but it’s easily houseruled away if you don’t like it.) On the bright side, the final point does NOT cost more, which is nothing but a positive change from before.

Skills are interesting; there are two numbers listed. The number after the slash is how many Skill Group points you get to spend. You need to take Skills of at least C to get any Skill Group points(if you have them lower, you can add them with Bonus Karma, again at the end.)

Nuyen is inflated(as are the costs of some things in the Gear section to account for this, but that’s later on.) Priority A nails a regular-power character 450,000 smackaroos to play with.

The change to Mystic Adepts is nice; no longer do they have to be deficient in everything, but they spend Bonus Karma to get Power Points.

Qualities are purchased with Bonus Karma, and you get Bonus Karma for taking Negative Qualities. It’s actually a pretty cool change since you don’t end up with stuff on a 1 for 1 basis. In the old game, taking 35 BP of Negative qualities meant you get 35 BP to play with and probably increase stuff a lot, but in this, the stuff is increased as if it were increased in game, so if you already have a high score in something, it’s going to be expensive to increase it with the Bonus Karma.

The Positive Qualities are well done, nothing terribly overpowered, but all useful(I do think First Impression is a bit overpriced for what it does. Guts, working on magical fear, I think is a bit more in line, though I actually think that could have cost 7 instead of 10.)

The Negative Qualities are a mixed bag. Some are well done(Allergies and Addictions, with better rules for dealing with addictions and another, Extreme level to allergies-also, Grass is now uncommon, thank you megacorps), but some other ones are…not so good. Incompetence only gives 5 Karma, but needs to be an entire skill group. IMO, just because someone tried to take Incompetent: Paper Airplane Making doesn’t mean it needed to be hit THIS hard. Forcing a skill group should have it’s bonus Karma at least around 10. The new Sensitive System double hoses Magically Active people, and with cyber a real choice these days for mages, it’s not the free points it was in the 2e-3e days, and I feel this was unnecessary. Loss of confidence is cool sounding but oddly worded I feel, and Uncouth and Uneducated are as bad as ever, guaranteeing no one will ever take these qualities. They’ve had issues for years and *still* haven’t gotten reworked.

Skills are still available as singular, and some in skill groups. Skill groups have been streamlined to all be 3 skills, except for the Mechanics Group, which is 4. This works well. Specialization costs 1 skill point and you get +2, just like in SR4. (So a Pistols 3 is 3 skill points, Pistols(Semi-Automatics)3(+2) would be 4 skill points.) Note that because skills are purchased on a 1 for 1 basis with Skill Points, 3 skills with specializations could have been 3 non specialized skills and then 3 more skill points to get more skills with, or increase skills with. A joyous change: Skills are no longer limited to 1 at 6 or 2 at 5: have as many 6’s as you want, including skill groups…but of course, don’t cry when you can’t mix chemicals, play the piano, or tie your own shoes.

Finally, said Bonus Karma is used to do some final tweaks to your character, with costs in the book. It’s a nice way of doing some of those little customizations you may not have gotten to do before.

And now, the first elephant in the room of this game; a change that, IMO, would go in the ‘Top 5 Negative Changes of SR5’ list. It regards Knowledge and Language skills, and it is bad, bad, bad and should have been playtested out of existence. I hate to put on my angry Kenneth Parcell face here, but ‘No, thank you.’ That is the change of Knowledge Skill points being reduced from Logic+Intuition x 3 free points to x 2. There is zero good reason why this change should have happened. No, it doesn’t make choosing them more meaningful, it makes it less. Because you know what’s going to disappear? Goblin Rock. David Bowie Cosplay Stores. Fine Wines. Homebrewed Beer. 20th Century Videogames. Hybrid Capybara-Owl Sanctuaries.

Want to know what’s going to stay? Languages, Security Procedures, Gang Turf and Politics of X, AKA, ones that actually have somewhat of a chance of keeping you alive by knowing them. (Yes, yes, I know a GM can say ‘That very large troll man with the extremely good cosmetic surgery, the makeup and the big, poofy hair comes up to you and demands to know where the closest David Bowie cosplay store is because the comic con is coming up and his codpiece broke and he’s going to throw you off this bridge if you don’t tell him where it is’ but come on now.) This change not only shouldn’t have happened, if it did, the amount of these points should have increased to x4 or something, not decreased. Houseruled immediately in my game back to x3(and maybe even the aforementioned x4.) This rule I easily see being houseruled in about 90% of the cases anyway, so I don’t even know why it’s here. There is no upside to it. It should be taken out in errata, pronto.

Ahem. Rant over. I had to get that out, because again, it’s easily one of the top negative changes.

Let me roll out something positive: The fact there are notations and page numbers for important information, as well as sidebars with other important information, and easy to find charts-it’s all wonderful, and makes character creation that much more fun.

The Archetypes are quite well made, for the most part; I’d say they’re almost on par with 3e’s archetypes in terms of usefulness. Much better than 2e or 4e’s archetypes(though I still hold that 3e had the best of the bunch.) An amusing Azzy nitpick: only 2 dwarves? I’d have made, for example, the Brawler Adept a cigar smoking Dwarf mafioso or something just to get the 3/3/3/3/3 split of all the races. (All in all, I won’t focus much on these as they don’t really change or affect the game, IMO. If I had to change anything else, I’d have, for fun, made the Gunslinger a troll and the Bounty Hunter an elf, since the latter’s been a troll for three books now and the Gunslinger adept could stand to be more hard-bodied.)

Thanks for sticking with me so far, and in the next part of the review, I’ll be going over Combat, the Matrix, and Magic, so stay tuned!

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