Shadowrun, Fifth Edition—The Next Step

Shadowrun 5 Logo with Text

When the Shadowrun development team gathered in the secret headquarters of Catalyst Game Labs (okay, in a pleasant living room near Seattle) to discuss Shadowrun, Fifth Edition, one of the first questions why had to answer was: Why? That was a simple one: Because we wanted to. But then the questions got more complicated.

Such as this: What are the guiding principles of the new edition? That one was stickier, which is why it was a good thing that there was a fridge full of sodas nearby. Here’s what we came up with.

  • We like Shadowrun, Fourth Edition. In our minds, Fourth Edition did a lot of things right. The rules were more streamlined and easier to use than ever. Having Attribute + Skill as the basis for dice pools is good. Fixed target numbers are good. And many other things are good. We wanted to be sure the strengths of Fourth Edition remained in place.
  • Everything has a price. As we talked about Shadowrun, it became increasingly clear that this is a central issue facing shadowrunners. Everything they do is a trade-off of some sort. They trade the safety and security of a corporate job for the freedom of an independent life. They put their lives on the line in exchange for the chance to make a big score. They trade a piece of their soul for bleeding-edge gear to make them better, stronger, faster. All these choices bring them benefits in the end, but all of them have a price. That should be reflected in the rules. Runners should be able to get benefits they need—if they are willing to pay what those benefits cost. Nothing should be free.
  • Players are the heroes. The success of a player character should be based on who they are and what they can do—the Attributes at their core and the Skills they’ve worked hard to improve. That’s where their dice should come from as much as possible. And when we’re designing plots and adventures, the focus should be on shadowrunners doing awesome things, not being players in someone else’s story.
  • Amp up the cyberpunk. We love the cyberpunk Shadowrun started with, but we also realize that a lot has changed since the days when cyberpunk first took root. While it’s true that some of the genre tropes are dated, there are pieces of it that still resonate. Like a distrust of authority. The battle of individuals against dehumanizing institutions. Technology as both a tool and a threat. And a dystopian world where it’s a struggle to survive with at least a piece of your soul intact. We want the rules and the setting to reflect this atmosphere.
  • Make it awesome. Shadowrunning should be dangerous, it should be difficult, but it should also provide players the chance to do impossible and amazing things. There should be dice rolls that make everyone at the table whoop with surprise, excitement, or possibly dismay. These rolls should form the basis for stories told years later. If you want to try something dangerous but just crazy enough to work, the rules should help you find a way to make that happen.

Those are the goals. How did we implement them? That’s what we’ll be discussing in future blog posts. How well did we do? You’ll be the judge of that!


A note on the different Shadowrun games coming down the pike

The initial declaration of the Year of Shadowrun included announcements of a card game (Shadowrun: Crossfire), a minis game (Shadowrun: Sprawl Gangers), and a board game (Shadowrun: Hostile Takeover). That, quite naturally, led to some questions. How were all the games going to relate to each other? Did the fact that we were doing a miniature game mean Fifth Edition was going to be more minis focused?

We can’t answer all the relevant questions here (partly because we haven’t been able to read them all yet), but we can offer a few re-assurances. First, all of the developers of the games are committed to making the games feel like Shadowrun. It’s not just a matter of putting the right pictures on some random game—the rules of each game should pick up elements of Shadowrun rules and atmosphere so that they all feel they belong together. Second, despite this relationship, the properties stand alone. The card game is it’s own thing, and the cards will not be part of the role-playing game. The minis game is also separate, and Fifth Edition does not have an increased focus on minis.

And third, we want to share more info with you. There’s already been one development blog posted about the card game, and there will be development blogs about all of the upcoming games so you can get a look under the hood and read what we’re thinking. We hope this will get you as excited about these games as we are!

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  1. Posted January 15, 2013 at 4:23 am | Permalink

    One of the great draws for me, waaaaaaaaaaaay back when SR(1) came out, was that the Magic system had a Drain rating. Even Magic has it’s price.

    I’m glad to hear that you’re trying to keep the system of 4th edition intact. I think many SR fans out there, when they heard that SR5 had been confirmed, had feared that the 4th ed. system would be overhauled/scrapped & replaced with something completely different.

  2. Raven
    Posted January 15, 2013 at 4:32 am | Permalink

    I’m getting excited for 5th Ed. I was just about to re-acquire SR material to start up again, so I’m waiting with bated breath.

  3. Darryl Mott Jr.
    Posted January 15, 2013 at 5:00 am | Permalink

    What makes Shadowrun great – what has ALWAYS made Shadowrun great – is the metaplot and fiction. Growing up in a small town, I had problems getting a group together to game regularly. When given the choice, everyone around me would rather level up to slay the dragon rather than get karma to avoid dealing with it. The single biggest problem I’ve had with Shadowrun ever since the Crash 2.0 is the horrible, horrible treatment given to the amazing world. I’ve avoided 4A like the plague because I loathed the idea of a word so detached from the visions of Weisman, Dowd, Hume, and most importantly (RIP) Findley. 4A never felt like the living, breathing world it was in every single other edition of the game. There’s been potential in the last crop of writers, but I really hope you embrace the past while advancing toward the future.

    Oh, and bring back exploding 6s. I really miss that.

    • jhardy
      Posted January 15, 2013 at 5:08 am | Permalink

      I hope we can make the world feel like you want it to! I certainly respect all the writers you mention.

      And we at least have exploding 6s when you use Edge …

      • Posted January 15, 2013 at 8:56 pm | Permalink

        Oh gods, I *still* have nightmares about those exploding 6s…….

  4. Posted January 15, 2013 at 5:04 am | Permalink

    As tempting as it is to give into the nostalgic bent of SR/SR2, please don’t bring about another Matrix upheaval. SR4’s treatment of the wireless world as inherited from where we live in this day and age was absolutely brilliant, despite my love of old school Shadowrun and its clunky VR. AR is really the way of the future, it exists now, and the way SR4 ties into our own current reliance on mobile devices and our “personal area networks” seems considerably more well timed, relevant, and identifiable.

    As for suggestions – maybe a little more narrative pull on humanity vs. machine, the blurring of the definition. Maybe opening the world of the 2070’s or 2080’s to the eternal Cyberpunk debate: artificial (ie vat grown or cloned) organic vs. cybernetic (android, cyborg) synthetic. What defines humanity? When does scientific endeavor become playing god? All them good ole fashioned existentialist Cyberpunk tropes! Shadowrun has delved a little into the similar concepts in the past (anyone remember Cybernancers?)

    And hey… more guns!

    • jhardy
      Posted January 15, 2013 at 5:07 am | Permalink

      AR is definitely not going away. And your thoughts about what defines humanity are definitely things I’ve thought about and want to explore!

  5. RDA
    Posted January 16, 2013 at 5:11 pm | Permalink

    Posted this on the SR4 forums, but figured I’d repost here. 🙂
    PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE include some sort of “SR Lite” version for us folks who can’t hang with crunchy rulesets. SR is, hands down, my favorite setting and my group has tried several times since 2000 to run a campaign. Inevitably we give up. The game bogs down with rules checking/complexity. Personally, my mind simply doesn’t operate in a way that makes it conducive to current, crunchy SR rules.

    I do not care if it’s a ‘tacked on’ version that has gaping holes, and little playtesting. ANYTHING is better than nothing because my group just can’t play SR4 in it’s current state. I don’t think we’re the only ones. Having a streamlined version would also expand the audience, I suspect. I’m sure many GMs are intimidated by the rules.

    Thanks so much!

    • Grend
      Posted January 24, 2013 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

      This is exactly what I would like to see. A “simpler” version of the rules added in for those of us who like less crunch. As a side benefit, it might help bring in new players. The current version of SR is not a learning curve, its a learning Everest.

    • Palladion
      Posted January 29, 2013 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

      Shadowrun rules are something my gaming group got hung up on as well. I would love to see a “rules lite” version to introduce people into the rich setting of Shadowrun, without taking hours to explain everything (that I barely remember myself).

      • jhardy
        Posted February 1, 2013 at 9:42 pm | Permalink

        We plan on having a few lighter options coming up–watch this space!

        • RDA
          Posted February 21, 2013 at 11:13 pm | Permalink

          Hallelujah!! Thank you jhardy!!! 😀

        • Posted October 6, 2013 at 7:19 pm | Permalink

          Remember, GM’s can drop rules, modify rules, and ignore rules as needed for the story.

    • Eidolon
      Posted June 25, 2013 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

      Run it with Savage Worlds + Interface Zero. 🙂

  6. pater
    Posted January 18, 2013 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

    As RDA mentioned before, streamlining is definetly something to look into. It was actually something that turned my group away in 3rd Ed and I were not capable to reintroduce the much better streamlining of the 4th Ed. Although our stories are always great to remember (Shadowrun is a fantastic setting!), there were always tons of books around and the main rulebook looked liked I was writing exams about it with thousends of notes inside 🙂

    Something I want to see is the weight of guns and equipment! Carrying around a Panther Assault Cannon should have a price, not only the problem of having a big gun. Even if the rules for encumberence stay optional, I want to know how heavy all that equipment is!

  7. Shinxy
    Posted January 18, 2013 at 7:35 pm | Permalink

    In the announce post you talked about supporting deadlier combat. Can you talk a little bit about what that means?

    • jhardy
      Posted February 1, 2013 at 9:45 pm | Permalink

      That will be the topic of an upcoming post. But basically, I wanted to increase players’ options to take someone down quick with a great shot. The trick, of course, is not making it un-fun for players by making them die quickly …

  8. John Veron
    Posted January 19, 2013 at 2:35 am | Permalink

    Please fix the summonin of spirits by mages.
    A typical combat can turn out that a mage summons a spirit every songle round.
    They don’t care about loosing them in combat because its so easy to summon them

    I liked the times when you had to pay money and time to get a fire elemental.
    This spirit thing is really not working.
    Cheers, john

  9. Posted January 19, 2013 at 7:20 pm | Permalink

    Here’s hoping it’s not being rushed out to cash on the new video games popularity.

    • jhardy
      Posted February 1, 2013 at 9:44 pm | Permalink

      No, we’ve been planning this for a long time. The video games coming out was a very happy coincidence.

  10. Posted January 20, 2013 at 10:12 pm | Permalink

    Best Shadowrun news in a long time. There were some good improvements in 4th edition (i.e. Augmented reality), but so much kept me away (lack of cyberpunk, the lack of diversity in the magic system, and more). Really the biggest problem with 4th edition was that they brought in a whole new system rather than learning lessons from the previous editions. It was too much of a reboot both mechanically and plot wise. I hope the development starts out with learning from things that didn’t work out from previous editions and keeping the good while improving on the bad.

  11. Ubeen Haad
    Posted January 22, 2013 at 2:46 am | Permalink

    SR4 Did everything right and advanced the story line of the game, which was much needed. While some of the mechanics where not new in a game environment (attribute + skill and fixed target numbers) The game was modernized, streamline and well written. Who can remember the slow clunk of the SR2 and 3 matrix combat? Fixed!

    The notes on the sidebars of a page giving the location of specific rules or information was brilliant. Having to have your hand stuck between several pages of the rules book or sticky notes to find information fast? While visiting the nostalgia of the past we can glean insite into the futre. Lets hope SR5 advances the love of the game and genre as well. There are ALOT of fans waiting to see if you can succeed like SR4 did, or is this just a reason to publish new books?

    Looking forward to great things for 2013 the year of shadowrun!

  12. Rafael Moreno
    Posted January 23, 2013 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

    Well, streamlined rules, ok, but I am not afraid of complex rules, as long as they are clearly written.

    I don’t know what you guys think but I miss a rulebook that is rulebook only. I would prefer buying a Seattle 20XX as a suplement but having a basic rulebook focusing only on combat, magic, matrix… Just like in GURPS, a rulebook and scenarios books to buy separetely.

    I know shadowrun is all about the scenario, but the rulebook is and always was not well organized, you have to go back and fourth to grab all info on character creation, combat, etc.

  13. StHubi
    Posted January 24, 2013 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

    I am really looking forward to get my hands on Shadowrun 5th Edition. Are there plans/possibilities for converting characters from 4th to 5th Edition? On the one hand I would be happy to have the option, on the other hand I would not bother to make my group start out with fresh characters 😀

    • jhardy
      Posted February 1, 2013 at 9:42 pm | Permalink

      Yes, we will provide a character conversion guide.

  14. chrids
    Posted January 25, 2013 at 4:01 am | Permalink

    please do a public beta test!

    • GeorgeWill
      Posted April 17, 2013 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

      Agreed. Wizards of the Coast is currently doing this for the next iteration of D&D and it is a great system where the community gets a taste of what is coming out next along with the opportunity of submitting their praise and constructive feedback to help make the game great. Please consider doing something similar.

  15. Harlequin
    Posted January 25, 2013 at 9:57 am | Permalink

    I JUST finished purchasing a bunch of books for SR4, please do not make them irrelevant. I am willing to try out 5th edition but if its a fully standalone set that doesnt blow 4th edition out of the water in some meaningful way, I dont see how I can convince my group to make the jump readily.

    I look forward to reading more about the actual mechanics of the new system.

  16. zombeefunk
    Posted January 31, 2013 at 3:27 am | Permalink

    I hope some of the 4th edition material will be compatible.

  17. zombeefunk
    Posted January 31, 2013 at 3:33 am | Permalink

    My son discovered my old 1st edition books and I recently purchased a 4th edition book for him. His 12 year old buddies love it. I hope the 5th edition will allow use of some source material from 4th edition.
    Thanks for making such an awesome game. It is good to see my son and his friends eating pizza, rolling dice, and talking about the adventures they are creating for future games. Keep it up development folks you rock.

  18. guildsbounty
    Posted February 5, 2013 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

    I’ve wanted to take up shadowrun for a while now, but there’s just so much content in 4E that it’s hard to take it all in…I’m really looking forward to getting in on the ground floor of 5E. Can’t wait!

  19. dstuffle
    Posted February 13, 2013 at 12:27 am | Permalink

    And I was just comming to check out what I needed to get to get back up to speed with SR4.

    Gads I get tired of buying whole new editions of games and all the supplements every few years. D&D lost me when they announced 5th Ed just months after they finally got the 3rd (and final) players handbook for 4th Ed out.

    Shame that Shadowrun decided to do the same.

    • jhardy
      Posted February 13, 2013 at 1:17 am | Permalink

      Sorry if you find it to be too soon. Fourth Edition premiered in 2005; the last of the core rulebooks, Running Wild, was released in 2009.

      • dstuffle
        Posted February 13, 2013 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

        20th Anniversary Edition was only released in August of 2009. That’s just over 3 years old.

        • GeorgeWill
          Posted April 17, 2013 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

          I don’t like buying updated core rules or source books over and over again either, but keep in mind that Shadowrun 4th Edition has been running since 2005 which is one of the longest time frames for any tabletop RPG. Additionally, SR4A retails for $44.95 ($3.30 for 12 months) which was a great deal considering everything that was included inside.

          Personally, I think that Catalyst Games has done a great job with the source material and keeping SR4 running as long as possible. My only concern is that the 4th Edition books and materials will be too difficult to adapt to the new SR5 rules, which will make them unusable. I hope this is not the case.

  20. Adam B
    Posted February 13, 2013 at 7:38 am | Permalink

    I was wondering when and where we can be a part of this, is there an option to test it like sprawl gangers? Also can we expect to see this for sale at Gencon this year? That seems like the ideal platform for launching so many new SR items. BTW I love SR and am thankful and excited to see you guys giving it all this new energy and support!

    • jhardy
      Posted February 13, 2013 at 10:39 pm | Permalink

      Our plan is to have the game available this summer, so if all goes well it should be at GenCon. Playtesting is in the end stages now, so at the moment we are not looking for new playtesters, but thanks for being willing!

  21. Celarius
    Posted February 24, 2013 at 10:13 am | Permalink

    Hello, I confirm what has already been said about the need to simplify the rules. IMHO it could be done in at least three ways:

    1) Less maths. e.g., when calculating damage in combat, you have to substract the Armor Protection of the weapon from the Armor Value of the opponent, but anyway, who is walking around without any kind of armor in 2074? It would be easier just to include the AP modifier in the Damage Value of the weapon.

    Ideally, I would even use a simplified combat system like in Ars Magica, with only one roll par character: one for attack (exceeding successes added to Damage Value), one for dodge (successes compared to the attack and, if dodge fails, then soak – based on Con and Armor – deducted from the damage). This would make things much quicker, and much easier to learn for new GM/players…

    2) Drastically simplify the way the rules are explained in the rulebook. e.g., as a new player, if I want to know how to cast a fireball on my opponent, if have to follow the steps of Spellcasting (SR4A p. 182 ff), then read the rules on Counterspell (SR4A, p. 185) but adapt them according to the nature of the combat spell (physical, mana or indirect, SR4A, p. 203 ff), then read the rules about Drain (SR4A, p. 184) and adapt them according to the spell (SR4A, p. 205). I’m sorry to stay, but this is just impossibly difficult to follow for any new player. The same could be said of combat rules (one must all the time jump back and forth from the combat chapter to the equipment chapter), Matrix rules, description of spirits, etc.

    3) More than all, please provide precalculated stats for NPC and prerolled PC. It is really of no use to know that this NPC has base Attributes and Skills of x and y, if I must thereafter consult every page of the equipment chapter in order to find the characteristics of each of his weapon : all I want to know as a GM is the number of dice I must roll for an attack and the DV it does if it hits. Of course, it’s even worse with spirits, whose Attributes are expressed as a multiple of the chosen Power…

    In conclusion, I find SR’s setting immensely great, especially all this wireless stuff which really gives us a glimpse of tomorrow, but please, pleaaaaase, fix the rules!

  22. DeclaredYuppie
    Posted March 4, 2013 at 3:13 am | Permalink

    I’ve just gotten back on a Shadowrun kick, and I’m hesitantly excited to see a 5th edition around the corner!

    I agree with those who feel a simpler rule system would be a great improvement. The genre, setting and writing have always brought me back to Shadowrun. I think the balance of cybrepunk-nihilism with a dab of fantasy-optimism works great not just as a setting for stories, but serves a great platform for roleplaying. Also, Shadowrun’s always been at the top of its game at making the banal interesting- a lot of players are just as engaged in descriptions of StufferShacks and clothing vending machine shopping as they are in the runs themselves.

    On what to make “simple” about 5e, it looks like a lot has already been decided. For my part, I’d love it if Shadowrun moved to more of a “skirmish” ruleset similar to what Pinnacle does with Savage Worlds or WotC tried with D&D-4e. Given the development of a Shadowrun Minis game, is there any chance that the rules from that might be expansive enough that it could be ported to a RPG setting? Meaning- could it handle PCs versus mooks, stealth/intrigue scenarios, etc?

  23. Andrew M
    Posted March 6, 2013 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

    Are any changes planned to the magic system. Specifically to the direct damage spells (stun bolt etc.) which do not allow a damage resistance chance. I love 4A edition but I as a GM I hate the direct damage spell mechanic. With just a willpower roll and no damage resistance roll it means exiting combat with high level NPCs can be destroyed by one action with a mage throwing a force 10 stun bolt (the drain is so low they can risk the physical drain). It feels like there should be some form of damage reduction roll, at the moment it is a take it all or take nothing roll.

    • jhardy
      Posted March 12, 2013 at 3:00 am | Permalink

      Yes, we’re looking at ways to better balance the various types of spells.

      • Andrew M
        Posted March 18, 2013 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

        Thats good to hear, again it feels with shadowrun that the fans are being listened to. Many thanks.

  24. Jared
    Posted March 21, 2013 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

    I don’t want to see Shadowrun devolve into a DnD 4e simplistic system, but I do have some qualms about 4th SR. First, the advent of real- world wifi was unexpected and while your inclusion of it in your system was brilliant, I believe it also kind of messed with the cyberpunk flavor. Second mages and hackers. If you have ever played MtG, you’ll have heard of Shahazerad. Its a card that has the players play a sub game of Magic within a game of Magic. Playing a Mage or hacker essentially means playing sub games of Shadowrun. GMing that is a headache. Plus the rules for both are very separate and distinct from the other. Also, since casting fireball can get you killed, they’ve both devolved into “rogues” with trap finding in the astral and the matrix, and then they clean the party’s trail afterwards. And that’s essentially my gripes with the system. Don’t dumb it down, but try to find a way to not have to run three games at once.

    • jhardy
      Posted March 21, 2013 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

      Good comment–we’re working to do that!

  25. Garvin Anders
    Posted April 14, 2013 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    I would want to see more magic. For me, it’s what separates out Shadowrun and makes it distinct from other Cyberpunk games. I enjoy playing a Mage (although to be honest, while drain was a thing, I would still cast spells in combat) as do a number of my friends. So I hope you don’t push us Mage/Shaman/Adept players off into a corner.

  26. living
    Posted April 16, 2013 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

    i dont agree with a lots of comments.
    im not very familar with the sr4 rules (my group is still playing sr2, and i read the sr4 rules only one time a year ago). but what im afraid for is a all-simple-system. the sr-dice-system gives a lot of possibilites and is more fun than a simple d20 system. but it has the problems with inbalance. but if i remind right, there has been a lot of improvments in sr4.
    50% of the fun of sr is the detailed rulesystem. u can build your runner exactly the way u like it with all advantages and disadvantes. and its so much fun to spend hours to improve your runner details for details. but all this need a complex system. you cant specialize your runner with a “roll one dice and hit a 5 to-kill” system or fixed armor rating in the weapon power niveau. its not that hard to substract 2 numbers. and there are a lot of differences for runners. you cant stealth in an military grade armor, etc etc, so you have to decide whats more important in the given situation.

    i agree that the rulebooks are messed up. its hard for starters to learn how things work. but if you succed you got much more fun out of it.

    the only fucked up rules were for decking (sr2). u could not integrate a decker in a run, u have to play the decker seperate to the team and that’s not possible without long breaks for each player.

    i hope for sr5 to be a system without min/max and other abuse (i guess that got fixed in sr4 a bit:), and with much more details. i want to decide what cyberware is every fingertipp seperatly, and to choose my cyberarm to give a huge increase in str over a short period of time or a medium increase over a medium period. i want to customise as much as possible about my runner. and i want that this customisation has influence over the game mechanic.
    everyone who want simplicity dont has to use these rules.

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