Shadowrun Fifth Edition Cover: Crafting An Icon


Shadowrun has the greatest fans in the world. Ever. With as much passion as any game’s fanbase and three times the attitude, SR fans are very particular that their favorite setting should be illustrated correctly. And of course they are rabidly vocal when you get it wrong, so it’s best not to piss them off. When it came time to design the cover for Fifth Edition, the quest was on to create one of the coolest images in the history of the game. Because this fanbase deserves the best.

That’s a tall order though. After all, Shadowrun has had a lot really freakin’ cool covers. A core rulebook cover should inspire a whole new generation of dirty deals and shady adventures in gaming. Just crafting the art notes for the cover took over a month, which included wrangling the Development Team and beating them into submission (this is Shadowrun after all—that’s how things get done). So I hijacked the development summit and spent an afternoon running them through the covers of every SR product ever released – discussing the good & bad, right & wrong, and explaining what it was about each that made these images strong or weak.

There actually is a method to my madness though, a secret formula for creating an “icon”-grade image. For all of you who want to know the secret for creating images, here’s what you need to know.

There are three specific types of image:

  • 1. The character(s) as the hero [example: SR4 Runners Companion]
  • 2. The story as the hero [example: SR4 Spy Games or Dirty Tricks]
  • 3. The setting as the hero [example: SR4 Seattle 2072]

When it comes to creating the cover for a core rulebook, the cover should deliver in all three categories. And it has to do that while showing a scene that embodies what it means to be a character in that world. Admittedly that is a very hard thing to do, so we started with what it means to be a shadowrunner. Once we had that down, other elements became a lot clearer.

We wanted the primary focus to be a team of runners. They were the number one focus and should take center stage. A small well-rounded team was deemed best, with a nice mix of metatypes, genders, and backgrounds. And NAN influences, of course (gotta have that on the core cover).

We wanted to show them in action, doing something absolutely shadowrun-esque. In short order we settled on the team breaking into a megacorp building. After all, what could be more Shadowrun than that?

The setting was established by putting the break-in on the roof (where there would justifiably be lighter security measures), which gave us a chance to put a city in the background to reinforce the world of megacorps and shadows. We decided against making the city distinctly identifiable and opted to make it non-descript, so it could be anywhere in the world.

That gave us a good start. Now it was time to amp up the story’s intensity. Part of crafting a good image is to make both the heroes and the villains look strong, powerful, and competent. No one is impressed when Superman (pretty boy with huge powers who wears tights) defeats Lex Luthor (bald, middle-age white guy with no powers.) If anything we root for Luthor just because we like the underdog. Same thing with characters. And besides, megacorps didn’t take over the world by being weak or stupid. So it was time to add that “oh sh**” moment and call in a security team capable of kicking ass in the Sixth World.

For the storytelling, it was really a matter of putting all these opposing elements into a scene that plays out for anyone with SR knowledge to identify what’s going on. No plan ever survives contact with the enemy, and sometimes all it takes is one stupid security drone on a roof to blow your infiltration plan to hell. So we added a freshly dispatched security drone (plus some damage it did, because if you get noticed, you risk pain. Nothing comes without a price). Our runners are obviously tough enough that they aren’t running from the security team and instead hold them off while breaking through the door on the roof. You just know they are going to get in there, which of course makes you wonder exactly how they intend to pull off their mission with a nasty SecTeam on their heals. The mind spins with possibilities.

Finally it was time to add the last secret ingredient—finding an artist with the chops to handle an image this complicated. Thankfully I have a phenomenal corps of artists, and among the five who I knew could handle it, Michael Komarck’s name quickly rose to the top of the list. One dark backroom deal and a few months later, and we have one perfectly crafted dose of awesome ready to launch a new generation of Sixth World gameplay.

Because you all deserve the best!

In the near future we’ll provide wallpapers of the cover, as well as show off the final graphic-designed cover!

Brent Evans
Art Director
Catalyst Game Labs

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  1. StHubi
    Posted February 21, 2013 at 10:00 pm | Permalink

    When I read “Conspiracy Theories”, I was wondering if there is something in it hinting at the next edition of SR. Seeing this insect spirit on the cover shot makes me believe, that I hit gold with my choice for my current campaign :)

    That’s a really great cover! I can already see a lot of the good elements of SR in it.

  2. Inertia
    Posted February 22, 2013 at 12:53 am | Permalink

    This is the most engaging Shadowrun cover I have seen, yet! I particularly enjoy the colors and use of space everywhere in the piece. The best part for me is the use of perspective. I can imagine my player character standing on the roof as part of the action. I really hope to see more from this artist!

  3. Posted February 22, 2013 at 3:14 am | Permalink

    Wow, I really hope that’s not the final version, the 3D graphics are really obvious.
    Also, is that… is that a fragging bug spirit the security’s summoned?

  4. Silva
    Posted February 22, 2013 at 4:16 am | Permalink

    Wow, It has it all: the NAN influence, insect spirits, corps, the action looks serious, etc. Im amazed.


  5. Draca
    Posted February 22, 2013 at 8:17 am | Permalink

    I only say Ares

  6. Tee
    Posted February 22, 2013 at 10:41 am | Permalink

    Could also be an illusion spell, trying too fool runners into believing it’s a bug spirit ;).

  7. rodriguez
    Posted February 22, 2013 at 11:37 am | Permalink

    Hmmm, its quite a while since I played SR but back then runners were thiefs and violent thugs, not heroes.
    Times change I guess…

    • jhardy
      Posted February 23, 2013 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

      Perhaps “protagonist” is a more accurate word. They’re the main characters of the story, the pivot-point around which things happen.

  8. Almiriad
    Posted February 22, 2013 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

    Really nice picture and nice way of explaining how it was crafted !

    Like danvolodar, is that a bug spirit ?? O_o

  9. Zero
    Posted February 23, 2013 at 10:35 am | Permalink

    So, the ARES security is summoning a BUG SPIRIT… Something is going terribly wrong in here

    Cool cover by the way

  10. Joel
    Posted February 23, 2013 at 11:46 pm | Permalink

    Ah Ares. Sold out to the enemy. Time Kinght fell.

  11. PD711
    Posted February 24, 2013 at 11:19 pm | Permalink

    I love this cover art.

    I think art should inspire a sort of “I wanna be THAT guy!” kind of feeling, and I get that feeling from this image. It should inspire you to fill in the blanks about the characters, and this image does that.

  12. Mournclaw
    Posted February 24, 2013 at 11:20 pm | Permalink

    I can certainly see how it appeals to the fans. It’s a picture to stare at and have the inspiration coming fresh every time. For the uninitiated, however, one can only see that as a messy mix of just about everything in the game.

    “It reeks badly of too much trying…”
    Well, that’s what I’d say if I would have never played shadowrun. But if the fans are the group this is aimed at, it’s a job well done.

  13. tantoedge
    Posted February 25, 2013 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

    I dunno which is better, the fact that Wuxing, Shiawase and Horizon have their logos within a few metres of each other (nevermind Ares wedged in next to the hacker), or the duplicated soldiers running in.
    Meh, beats the pants off all the other covers. Save the original with Sally Tsung. She was hot, and this cover offers no cleavage.

  14. Art Steventon
    Posted February 27, 2013 at 9:13 pm | Permalink

    Looking nice!

    I’ve a major soft spot for Larry Elmore’s original cover (it was one of the first RPGs I bought for my own collection rather than borrow a copy), and this is a great update.

  15. Oldschoolgamer
    Posted March 1, 2013 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

    I think nice cover exept for all these shiny 4th-Ed. AR displays. Havn#T you annouced the return of the decks? Where are they?
    And by the way, what the heck is happening in the corner downleft?

    Ps: Yea my 1Ed-Core Cover is by way the best SR cover ever.

    • jhardy
      Posted March 2, 2013 at 1:12 am | Permalink

      Check out the Matrix post I’m about to put up for some info on cyberdecks.

      • Oldschoolgamer
        Posted March 5, 2013 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

        I’ve done. I will defentivly try out the 5th. from right the beginning.

  16. TZ
    Posted March 13, 2013 at 8:25 pm | Permalink

    Makes me think of the old SR2nd cover. Good times.

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