Why I like Shadowrun 6 – A Review
There are two systems and settings which will always have a place in my heart. Shadowrun is one of them. Vampire: The Masquerade is the other. When Catalyst Game Labs released the Sixth World Edition of Shadowrun back in 2019, I was not eager to switch over. In my experience, a new edition of Shadowrun needs at least two printings until I can work with it. In December, I finally got my hands on the PDF of City Edition: Seattle, which is the current printing of the Core Rulebook.
With all the critical reviews in mind, I expected the worst when I began reading through it. But, besides some minor flaws I will point out (including my solution to that), I am not disappointed at all. So let’s have a look at it, shall we?
The Setting of Shadowrun
Shadowrun is a dystopian, near future setting in a world much like earth. It starts out with earth as it was in 1989, but then spun an alternative timeline that was continued through the editions. The sixth edition is now set in 2080. The world of Shadowrun features elements of fantasy and cyberpunk. You will find dragons, fantasy species like elves and, of course, magic here, but also augmentations and the typical high tech, low life approach of the cyberpunk genre.
Old nations have disappeared, new ones have formed and the true power, according to some, lies in the hands of a few megacorporations. How well you can live in that world depends if you have a SIN or not. If you haven’t, you will, in most cases, live your life in poverty, deep in the slums of the sixth world. Ways out? Go to the corporations, get a SIN and all the rules that come with it. Be a sports crack and get a stipend for the university. Be one of the lucky people born as an “awakened”, a magic user. Others become Shadowrunners. Shadowrunners are deniable assets everybody can hire to do their legal, semi-legal or straightway illegal work. But even most Shadowrunners don’t make their way out of the slums. They are just working to maintain some sort of life, outside the law and the neon-world of the corporations.
Shadowrun is a d6-based dice pool system. That means that you grab a specific number of d6, your dice pool, and roll them. Then you count your 5 and 6, which are the hits of the system. The more hits you have, the more successful you are. If more than half of your dice shows a 1, you rolled a glitch. If you also have no hit on your pool, it’s a critical glitch.
Basically, there are two types of tests in Shadowrun. Yes, I know there are actually four, but hear me up.
The first type is a Simple Test. That means you roll your dice and want to score a certain number of hits, the Threshold. That is the most straightforward test. The second type is the opposed test. You will use this in combat whenever someone is actually trying to oppose your actions, and so on. The Opposed Tests mean, you will roll your dice pool, the opponent will roll their dice pool, and whoever got more hits, will win. As simple as that.
Then there are Extended Tests and Teamwork Tests, which are basically “children” of the Simple Test. In Extended Tests, you will roll a simple test for a specific timeframe. You continue to do so until you have the total hits needed for this test. This will determine the time you need to complete your task. In Teamwork Tests, you assign the “leader” of the test, and every member of the team that helps rolls their Simple Test. The leader will add their hits as dice to their pool when they perform the last test.
Now that we have the basics covered, let’s have a look at the changes that Catalyst pointed out in the introduction:
Expanded Edge, which is now a core element of the system
Simplified weapon stats, which will determine edge.
Armor is not part of the Damage Resistance test.
Simplified action structure.
Spells don’t use Force.
Changed functions of Matrix attributes.
First, I must confess that this list quite pleases me. With Edge, I had to read things up, but the rest of the list, besides the Matrix-Stuff, was like a “hell yeah” and rose high hopes. With Matrix, I have to say that we didn’t have a hacker or technomancer while playing fourth of fifth edition, so these are all new to me, too.
This system is a great idea to make things more flexible. You gain edge because of some advantages you have, like Cyberware, the better weapon, or magic. Then you spend it to buy Edge Boosts or perform Edge Actions. The more Edge you spend, the more powerful these boosts and actions are. This system is on its basis a great idea, and you have many sources of edge available. BUT, and that is the major downside, they limit you to two edge per combat round. This was one of the major critic points I have read about sixth edition, usually worded a lot harsher.
Luckily, since I am german, I could grab the “Hinter dem Vorhang” rulebook by Pegasus Press and apply the optional rule from there. If you use some sort of translator, like deepl or google translate, you might get the book, even if you are not speaking german at all. It is full of awesome content and provides “fixes” for the most urgent problems of the sixth edition.
Simplified Weapon Stats
Instead of armor penetration and recoil compensation, we now have the more abstract attack rating. This is determined for every range increment and for every type of attack. Be it your trusted Predator, the Katana of your fellow Sammy, or the spells of your favourite (or not so favourite) wizard. Yes. Magic users use it too. And the same system applies to the Matrix and to drone combat. This is what I love about this system most! Sure, you need to calculate these attack ratings when you are changing something about it (for example, a new addon to your weapon), but the basic system to compare attack and defense for edge remains the same through each type of combat. That makes stuff easier and faster.
Simplified Skill List
Basically, this means we only have the skill groups from fifth edition left. Done. Personally, I am quite happy with that solution. Especially in combination with specializations and expertise, which can narrow down the skill further and make a character individual, without forgetting how to pull a trigger on another weapon. You may have one specialization and one expertise assigned for one skill. That number is, in my opinion, enough.
If you want to have more to that, you can just house rule that you may have more specializations to a specific skill, but I will not do this. Also new: Knowledge Skills don’t have ranks anymore! One Knowledge Skill Point will buy you one Skill or one Language Rank, with your Native Language free, as usual.
Languages have four Ranks now, ranging from “Basic Knowledge” to “Native”.
Armor is not part of the Damage Resistance test
Yeah. And not part of the damage reduction. Basically, as written in the rules, it’s not part of anything besides Edge Determination. For me, this was the “Are you kidding me?” moment. I immediately decided that I will house rule this one, and Pegasus Press jumped right in. In Firing Squad you will get armor modifications that bring back the damage reduction – at insanely high prices. Like… really high.
Not much to say here. The limits to tests are gone, so if you spend enough edge and are very lucky, you may outshine a professional as a beginner. I think this is not the worst decision, because “lucky shots” are absolutely possible. You just can’t rely on them.
Simplified Action Structure
This is one of my favourite parts. In the fifth edition, you got multiple initiative passes in one turn, a free action, a simple action, and a complex action. Are you still with me? Fine. We now have simpler structures. No multiple initiative passes. No three different action types.
You will have one major and one minor action in your turn. Each additional initiative die beyond the first will grant you an additional minor action. You may use four of your minor actions to perform a second major action. Everybody acted? Move on to the next turn.
For me, this system speeds up combat, which is desirable. But my group focuses more on roleplaying results than actually throwing dice. That is where an additional thing comes into play – fleeing opponents. If an opponent gets more damage than their professional rating, they will either give up or flee. I love it!
Spells don’t use Force
And another system I quite like. While you may still change your spells by giving them AoE-Effects or improved damage, they have now a “Fireball (TM)” variant. This makes specific base damage for a specific drain. Each modification will increase (or sometimes lower) that drain. As readers of WIRE may already know, I love flexible magic systems, and this one is a definitive part of that!
Changed function of Matrix attributes
The Matrix rules are nothing I have been into in the fifth edition (or any edition earlier than that). We just didn’t need them, so I can’t say much about the changes here. In our actual sixth edition campaign, I have a technomancer. Which means I can say how easy these rules are to understand for somebody never encountered that specific part of the game.
For me, and my player, these rules were easy to get. The examples could absolutely clarify some questions that raised while reading the rules, and while there may still be specific rules to look up during the game (or in preparation), the basics are easy to understand.
I would recommend, however, that you take advantage of the “Character Dossiers” available in the Beginner’s Box, if you have that available. In other words: Make the tables your player needs to access available to them in a “dossier”.
The character creation is the last part I want to cover in this article, because this will be, most likely, the first part a beginner encounters in this system. Besides reading the Introduction and the Game Concepts chapters, of course.
Find your Concept
As usual, you begin your character creation by defining a concept. This section has been expanded, and will give you some narrative hints about who you want to be. You select your role, and then answer some questions that help you define how your character will act during the game. What I miss here are some hints about the more important attributes for a specific role in the team. Besides that, it will give you a rough idea about the tasks you can fulfill, but usually, you can choose whatever you like. Want to play a lately awakening hacker who now has problems with that while using the matrix? Go for it!
Metatype and Priorities
Next you will select your Metatype, and Catalyst, you could do that better! You need to go back to the game concepts and select your specific Metatype there, or flip forward to the Metatype Attributes Table. Note down your Racial Qualities and your maximum attributes. This table was where I recognized another change to the fifth edition. Metatypes in the fifth edition usually started with a higher score in their racial attributes, this is not the case in the sixth edition. All attributes will start at one (as stated in the attribute section of the Game Concepts) and rank up to the metatype maximum.
Time for priorities! The priority system works as usual. You select your Metatype Adjustment Points, Attributes, Skills, Magic or Resonance, and Resources by assigning them a Priority from A to E. You can take each priority once, and you can take each column of the table once. So you will end up with one A, one B, one C, one D, and one E.
How many Adjustment Points do you need?
This table has some trip-wires in them. Let’s go through this step by step. The Metatype Adjustment Points will grant you a specific number of points to adjust certain attributes. And there is the trick. You may adjust the following things with them:
Magic or Resonance
Your Metatype Attributes
That means, if you are a human without magic or resonance, you may only adjust your Edge with it, up to 7. You already start with 1, so you only need 6 points. If you encounter that system for the first time, look up how many points you can actually spend from these adjustment points, and then go for the priority that either covers these or is short of adjustment points.
The Frame of your Character – Attributes
Attributes are for sure the most important part for most characters. Especially since you can get money way easier through your adjustment karma. In the sixth edition, you will get fewer attribute points for priorities B to E than you did in the fifth edition. Therefore, many people on Reddit or in the official forums recommend using priority A for attributes. To make things a little simpler: The average human in Shadowrun has a 2 in every average attribute. To get all your attributes to 2, you need 8 points, so priority D. Since you are going to fight, cast spells or do other things where your attributes have impact, I recommend Priorities A, B or C for them.
Things I’ve learned before – Skills
The next enormous chunk will be skills. Since we have only 19 Skills in the sixth Edition, you will not need as many skill points as in the fifth edition, but they are still powerful. Keep in mind that from these skills, three (Astral, Conjuring, and Sorcery) will only be available if you are a full wizard or some sort of spellcasting adept. Another one (Tasking) will only be available if you are a Technomancer and have a Resonance Attribute. Also, keep in mind that if you want to pick a specialization here, you will need to spend a skill point on these. I usually go for Priorities B – D here, depending on what kind of character I want to create.
To cast or not to cast? Magic and Resonance
Magic or Resonance is the most difficult one to decide on. Money is easy to get through customization karma, but if you play an awakened or digitally awakened character, you will deal with magic/resonance. For everybody that doesn’t, this is a straightforward decision: Priority E.
That said, you can get away with a Priority C to Magic/Resonance, if you pick D for Metatype and don’t spend any of the adjustment points on Edge. Or just start off with a lower Magic or Resonance attribute. In every case, to start with a Magic or Resonance attribute at 6, you need to spend karma or adjustment points on it. So keep that in mind. Sadly, there is no “one size fits all”-solution here.
Money makes the world go round
Money is another tough part. There are concepts that need a lot of money, others will not. But since you already should have settled your other priorities, just take the remaining one for money. In future blog posts, I will show some character creations and explain further why I make these decisions.
Time to make it yours – Customization Karma
Once you spent the points, you have because of your priorities; you customize your character with 50 Karma. Buy the qualities you want and need, spend Karma on money, round up your character. Then, finally, and if your GM approves your creation, it’s time to go to the (digital) table and roll some dice.
I have to admit, I quite like the sixth edition. While it is second nature to me to fiddle around with a system, there were only two things I needed to house rule initially. There may be other bits and pieces that come up during the campaign, but right now, I want to test the system as it is. Our first sessions revealed it is easier to get for a beginner, and moves on faster. It also forced me to overthink my preparation, and make more marks on books – or just wing it.
Giving my players their needed tables in a print out helped a lot, since the book then stays with me, and doesn’t need to pass around every minute. If I have to rate the system, I will give it a solid 4 out of 5 stars!
What do you think about this edition? Do you want me to cover some specific character concepts, or even specific parts of worldbuilding in the next posts? Leave me a comment below.
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