Q&A with Shadowrun Line Developer Jason Hardy

Welcome to this week’s Shadowrun, Sixth World update! For this week’s post, we’ve scoured various internet outposts to find some common questions about Sixth World, and asked Jason Hardy, Shadowrun line developer, to answer.

Is Sixth World an attempt to simply fix the problems that some saw in Fifth Edition, or is it more of a ground-up re-envisioning of the Shadowrun game as a whole?

Definitely closer to the latter. I wouldn’t say it’s a total re-envisioning—we still have dice pools of D6s, we have the same attributes, and many aspects are the same as previous editions. But we did not want to simply tweak or adjust Fifth Edition–we wanted this to be a whole new edition, with new concepts and a different feel. We also wanted to streamline the game—which is the subject of the next question!

In streamlining the Sixth World rules, did the developers take any cues from other game systems and their recent editions on what to do or not do?

Short answer: Yes. Longer answer: I play games a lot, so I’m always looking at lessons to learn from other games. In particular, I looked at a lot of ways of making adjustment to dice and dice pools, to see how the math on each of those work out. Adjusting threshold numbers, adding more dice, adding +1 to a die, re-rolling a die—all of those have different effects, and knowing what those effects are was important in designing the game (I have a lovely spreadsheet with fun stats!).

I also looked at one element crucial to role-playing games, and that is giving a range of characters meaningful choices. Without going into details, I’ve seen games that do a great job of it, and I’ve seen games where some types of characters seem to only be able to choose from a small range of actions, so they end up picking between one or two alternatives most of the time. We tried to emulate the former!

Who did the developers turn to for input on revising the rules for Sixth World? How was the system playtested and what tweaks were made as a result?

Lots of people! The initial phase of development was more of a reaching-out phase—we spoke with people who weren’t in the trenches of day-to-day Shadowrun work to get their thoughts on different ways Shadowrun could reinvent itself, so that we could get fresh ideas. We also reached out to freelancers working on Shadowrun, especially those with lots of in-the-trenches gaming experience.

Playtesting went through several phases (fun fact: the core playtest document was updated and re-circulated 12 different times during the playtest process). Throughout the process, I ran games with a variety of people—Catalyst staff, experienced Shadowrun players, and people new to Shadowrun. The freelancers working on Shadowrun ran several playtests as we were in the early stages of forming the main structure of the game.

Once we had a basic structure in place, the playtest broadened. We have a large group of non-staff, non-freelancer playtesters we use for a lot of different games, and many of them stepped in to run games. This gave us the perspective of people coming to the ruleset with fresh eyes, having not been involved in any of the early development of this game or in any writing of SR5 rules.

The changes from this process are numerous. A few examples:

* The very first set of playtest rules had a lot of what is now part of the Edge in a separate sub-system. Playtesters thought it would be good to combine all the systems into Edge. That was a good idea.

* There were many playtest ideas on ways to reconfigure skills to make them easier to handle while also providing ways to make a range of characters. The Specialization and Expertise system came out of that.

* Early playtest documents focused on the Combat uses of Edge. The intention was always to expand it, but that was given special urgency by playtesters emphasizing that Edge needed to be woven into multiple areas of gameplay.

* Playtesting is also good for making small tweaks—damage values, Karma costs of qualities, drain values of spells, and more were adjusted in playtesting.

How long will it take for the various sourcebooks for all the character classes to come out? Will I have to “downgrade” my character to what’s available in the core rules until those books are available?

The combat sourcebook will come out by the end of this year. As with Fifth Edition, the other core books will then come out regularly as they are developed and written. We will have a character conversion guide that will help with bringing a character into the new edition, but we simply cannot put put rules that covered more than 2,000 pages in Fifth Edition in a single burst, especially since the last books developed for Fifth Edition haven’t come out yet, so I was working on them while also working on Sixth World. Getting all the core books out in a single year would require at least a year where I wasn’t working on anything else, and that’s not something I can do!

When will Missions change over to using Sixth World rules, and will my character have to be reset to use only what’s in the core book?

If all works the way we have planned, the first Neo-Tokyo Missions will be dual-statted for both Fifth Edition and Sixth World. We hope those will start flowing out this fall. That means you should have at least half a year before having to make the conversion to Sixth World to play Missions. If the dual-statting goes smoothly, we can explore extending it.

Have you made any changes to riggers, their rules, or how they’re incorporated in runs? Will rules for riggers come earlier in the release schedule than in the past?

Yes. Vehicle stats are greatly changed—in some ways, they’re one of the ways the rules became a bit more complicated, if only so vehicle movement could be tracked without the abstracted chase rules of previous editions. Matrix rules have been changed, so with them rigging rules have been adjusted, though that level of detail is beyond the scope of this post! Between drone rigging, vehicle operation, and taking over other vehicles and drones, riggers should find plenty to do.

The timing for the rigger book and other books has not been decided yet, though I’ll just take this opportunity to point out that Rigger 5.0 came out more than three years ago, less than halfway through the Fifth Edition cycle!

What would you say to those who are concerned about the reduced number of Skills in Sixth World?

First, the goal of specializations and expertise is to give players a way to differentiate characters with this smaller skill set. I hope that will be useful and give characters their own feel. Second, if, in the end, you prefer the longer skill list of previous editions to the list in Sixth World, that’s okay. I long ago came to grips with the fact that no single edition of Shadowrun will be everything to everyone. Everyone will like the things they like, and I just hope Sixth World provides rules and tools a substantial group of players can use to have fun!

Can you talk a little more about Edge, and why Sixth Edition changes how it is used?

The process of how Edge evolved is the longest, most detailed process in the whole game. So I’ll try to make a long story short! Ish. So, the first thing I focused on when it came time to move past brainstorming and put rules to paper was combat. I wanted the whole combat process to move smoother and for combat to resolve faster. I saw a lot of things to tweak the process, but in the end, many of them boiled down to one thing: It takes a long time to calculate dice pools. Modifiers can come from a lot of places, and remembering to look at all these places, while also remembering the size of the modifiers, can be complex. I wanted to streamline that whole process. The first step in that was combining a lot of weapon stats into a single number called Attack Rating. That number is compared to a Target’s Defense Rating, and, in the initial system, if your Attack Rating was sufficiently higher than the Defense Rating, you’d get what was called a Chip, which would represent your accumulated advantage in the fight. The idea was that other things, such as good tactical execution, would give you more Chips. Then playtesting showed us that the Chip system had similarities with Edge, and things would work best if Edge was expanded, rather than introducing a new meta-game currency. Once that merger was in place, the work was to find how to implement Edge across the system. So deckers, faces, riggers, technomancers, and whoever else hits the shadows gets a chance to build up Edge and spend it in a spectacular move.

How did you balance the need to streamline the core rules against the complexity and detail that many Shadowrun players enjoy?

That was a tough one! In the end, I think it’s about making a good framework for the game. The basics of Shadowrun are simple—find a skill for the action you’re going to attempt, add ranks in that skill to ranks in an associated attribute, roll that many D6s, and count how many 5s and 6s you get. You’re either trying to beat a threshold established by the gamemaster or the number of hits from another character. That part isn’t hard to master. The complications come with all the attachments, which means that in the end, it’s about not overloading the core system with attachments. The way Edge works in Sixth World gives players plenty of opportunities for their choices to have and effect in the game while making it easier to determine what that effect is.

Why should an established Shadowrun player pick up Sixth World?

For the adventure and challenge! Game rules offer structure and limits, with the players seeing what cool things they can pull off within that structure. Just like designing a new character, new rules give you a chance to see what you can make happen with new trappings. In Sixth World, combat should move faster, and your opportunities to do spectacular things should come about more frequently. You also might have an easier time getting people who found the longer Fifth Edition book too daunting into the game!

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Shadowrun, Sixth World Setting Overview

By Jason Hardy, Shadowrun Line Developer

While last week’s post focused on the rules of Shadowrun, Sixth World, today I want to talk about the game’s Sixth World setting, which is a key element of its success. It’s not just the unholy hybrid of fantasy and cyberpunk that make it compelling, but also the way the ongoing storyline has evolved over the years. With dragons, spirits, and sasquatches wielding significant corporate power, AIs and other mysterious entities roaming the Matrix, and spell-casting gangs spreading chaos through the world’s cities, the Sixth World is vibrant and exciting—and always throwing challenges at shadowrunners.

Talk to any Shadowrun fan and they’ll tell you stories—maybe about the Universal Brotherhood, or Renraku Arcology, or the death of Dunkelzahn, or Crash 2.0, or the fight for the future of Chicago. The unfolding story over the past thirty years has kept players and readers entertained, as stories play out in both sourcebooks and fiction.

That tradition continues with Shadowrun, Sixth World. Last week I talked about the upcoming plot sourcebook Cutting Black and the campaign book 30 Nights. While I don’t want to spoil any of the upcoming plot details, let me say that they start with Ares making a big move against the bugs, and the various responses to that destruction will reshape the world. The events are big, multi-pronged, and provide lots of chances for shadowrunner involvement. These aren’t events that happen over shadowrunners’ heads—they’ll be right down in it, dealing with world-shaking events and trying to survive while figuring out just what happened.

While these events are important, they don’t cover all the stories of the Shadowrun universe that need to be told. Novels, novellas, and short stories play vital roles in immersing readers in the universe and sharing unforgettable stories. From classics by Nigel Findley, Tom Dowd, and Robert Charrette, to new favorites like Russell Zimmerman, Jennifer Brozek, and R.L. King, Shadowrun has been Home to great stories and storytellers. Which means I’m very excited to talk about the fiction that’s coming up!

We already mentioned the six-part series of novellas called The Frame Job. They’ll cover the four characters included in the beginner box set, as well as a bonus character, then have a Sixth novella wrapping the whole story up. Dylan Birtolo wrote the first one, Brooke Chang wrote the second, and talented writers such as Bryan Steele, CZ Wright, and Jason Schmetzer will take on the other characters. Then I’ll be delighted to wrap it up!

But that’s not all the Shadowrun fiction that will be coming your way! Jennifer Brozek has a new novel called Makeda Red coming your way. It starts with an extraction on a luxury Party Train, and it’s every bit as fun as that concept implies. And more is in the pipeline, so keep your eyes peeled for future announcements!

Word about Shadowrun, Sixth World is starting to spread! EN World has a review up of the Beginner Box, Diehard Game Fan put up an unboxing, the Shadowcasters Network continues to cover the rules and upcoming books, Meeple Monthly and GTM have articles about the game (the latter includes a new, double-sided poster), and more reviews will be coming up—we’ll link to them when we see them!

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Shadowrun, Sixth World Developer’s Notes

From Jason Hardy, Shadowrun Line Developer:

Shadowrun, Sixth World is coming soon!

Wait, Shadowrun, Sixth World isn’t out yet? But I’ve been thinking about it for years! Playing it for more than a year! How are other people not playing it? Development time can be so disorienting.

There was a time—six years ago, to be specific—when I threatened physical violence to anyone who said the words “sixth edition” in my presence. (The threats didn’t work. No one is ever scared of me. But I digress). Fifth Edition took a lot of effort to produce, and I didn’t want to think about starting that whole process again. But then there were a few years where I didn’t have to think about a new edition, and I could recharge. Actually, that’s not entirely true, because every time I play a game—whether it’s one I worked on or not—I’m kind of thinking of a new edition. I’m looking at what works well, what works differently than intended, and what possibilities might open up with a tweak here and there. So when the time came to envision the next edition of Shadowrun, I had a few ideas, as did the excellent roster of Shadowrun writers and gamemasters I could tap into.

All those ideas needed a framework, of course. As we started our work, we decided the sixth edition of Shadowrun needed to possess three main qualities:

  1. Be no more than 300 pages long;
  2. Use D6 dice pools; and
  3. Feel like Shadowrun.

Those last two points are related, because it’s tough for a game to feel like Shadowrun if you’re not rolling a healthy handful of D6s. But there’s more to it than that. Combat specialists, spellcasters, conjurers, adepts, faces, deckers, technomancers, riggers, enchanters, weapon specialists, and more all need to exist, and they all must have different and meaningful ways to contribute to a run.

In this edition, all that had to happen within 300 pages. Which is a trick. Fifth Edition, not counting the index, is 466 pages; the anniversary edition of Fourth Edition was 351 pages, and Third Edition was 325 pages (minus the sample record sheets). Second Edition is a lean 284 pages, but it had no bioware, no technomancers, no alchemy, and no qualities, to name a few things that have changed in the intervening years. The book that started it all is an even leaner 207 pages, but along with the elements Second Edition didn’t have, it lacks things such as adepts and foci, and it offers only twenty guns—heresy! (Fifth Edition has 52, while Shadowrun, Sixth World will offer 53–we didn’t cut back much on those options!) All this is to say that streamlining the core rulebook back to 300 pages was not going to be easy.

It’s important to note that simply making the book shorter doesn’t, by itself, do any good. You can make any book shorter by simply ripping every third page out, but you end up with a book that makes no sense. Making the book shorter only is useful if the game also becomes smoother to play. In other words, we didn’t just want a shorter game—we wanted one that moved faster and was easier to get into, while still offering lots of meaningful options. We also didn’t want this to be Shadowrun: Anarchy for the simple reason that Anarchy already exists. Anarchy represents a more extreme end of the rules-light spectrum than Shadowrun, Sixth World–one way to understand the difference between the two is that the gear rules and listings take up about seven or eight pages in Anarchy, compared to fifty pages in Sixth World. Did I mention we wanted to offer lots of options?

Anyway, this means that if the rules were changed, they needed to be changed with an eye toward enabling players to do the things that they wanted to do more quickly. Combat should be faster. Hacking should be smoother and more intuitive. Magic should adapt to be just what the caster wants it to be. And so on. So what, specifically, did we do? Here’s a sample:

  • Expanded Edge: Yes, one of the things we did to streamline the game was to make one function much more detailed. But stay with me for a second. The definition of Edge has shifted—rather than being that undefinable something extra you reach for in a tough spot to help put you over the top, Edge now represents the accumulated advantage you get in opposed situations. Whether you’re fighting, spellcasting, hacking, or negotiating, you’ll have a chance to earn and spend bonus Edge. And you should spend it—if you’re not gaining and spending Edge regularly in Shadowrun, Sixth World it might be time to rethink your tactics. Or find less formidable opposition. Gaining and spending Edge replaces a lot of other functions in the game, like calculating situational modifiers, dealing with recoil and armor piercing, and environmental modifiers. Edge also provides a chance for a character to really have an impact when it’s time to spend it.
  • Fewer action types: There are two, Minor and Major. That’s it! You get one Minor and one Major per turn, with an additional Minor for various circumstances, such as reaction-enhancing augmentations or spells. One Major Action may be traded for four Minor Actions, or four Minor for one Major.
  • Simplified initiative: You roll initiative at the start of an encounter and then don’t re-roll it. Certain actions or effects may change your initiative score, though.
  • No limits: Limits served a valuable function of balancing attributes and providing different opportunities for rule effects, but in a streamlined ruleset, they are not needed. Limits on most tests and Force for spells have all been removed.
  • Skill list narrowed: SR5 has 80 skills, while SR6 has 19. That’s a big difference. There’s definite streamlining there, but it comes at the risk of characters not being distinct from each other. To deal with that, players can still select specializations but can also upgrade a specialization to an expertise, giving their character +3 bonus dice instead of +2, and once they  have an expertise they can select an additional specialization. This will provide characters with chances to become truly distinct.
  • More intuitive Matrix: This is an ongoing goal, and it’s always fun to try to make Matrix activities happen alongside and in parallel with the other actions. Deckers will have meaningful things to do and ways to get in, make things happen, and get out—all while trying to avoid the watchful eyes of the Grid Overwatch Division, of course.

Those are some of the major changes, but far from the only ones. We haven’t talked about Attack Ratings, the uses of armor, changes to Knowledge skills, revamped spell design, new vehicle stats, cyberjacks, and more. I hope this gives you a taste of the upcoming changes, and I look forward to you all playing Shadowrun, Sixth World as much as I have and will! And look for more information on this blog each Wednesday in May!

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Preview the Lineup of Shadowrun, Sixth Edition Rulebooks, Sourcebooks and Game Aids!

Hot on the heels of our announcement launching Shadowrun, Sixth Edition, it’s time to take a closer look at the blistering fusillade of action-packed books, games, and swag that will shake the Sixth World!

BEGINNER BOX, $24.99 (JUNE)

The Shadowrun Sixth World Beginner Box is the easiest way to dive into the intrigue, grit, and action of one of the most enduring role-playing settings of all time! It includes everything needed for a game, including quick-start rules, character dossiers, an adventure, gear and magic cards, dice, and more!

NEO-ANARCHIST STREETPEDIA, $34.99 (JUNE)

The Neo-Anarchist Streetpediais your definitive guide to the Shadowrun universe. With hundreds of entries, it covers corporations, shadowrunners, politicians, nations, cities, criminal organizations, and more. Even better, it gets to the point and tells you what you need to know now, so you hit the streets a little smarter than you were when you woke up this morning.

NO FUTURE, $49.99 (JULY)

No Future is the Shadowrun guide to Sixth World culture, including information on music acts, trid movies and series, media sources, and sports, with a look at some of the voices bubbling up from the underground and demanding attention. With detailed setting information and relevant rules, No Future adds new elements and depth to Sixth World role-playing.

NOTE: No Future was originally released in PDF format earlier this year as a sourcebook for Shadowrun, Fifth Edition. The short rules section was updated to the Sixth World system for its print release. An updated PDF will be available upon No Future’s print release, and all customers who previously purchased the book in PDF format will receive a free upgrade to the updated PDF.

SHADOWRUN SIXTH WORLD CORE RULEBOOK, $49.99 (AUGUST)

Shadowrun, Sixth World is the latest edition of one of the most popular roleplaying games of all time.

  • The new edition is easier to play and learn than it has ever been, yet it still offers the roleplaying depth that is a key part of the Shadowrun experience.
  • The rule system is built around gaining advantages and taking risks, building up to spectacular moments that are part of great gaming sessions!
  • Faster gameplay and conflict resolution keep the game moving and plunge players ever-deeper into Sixth World intrigue.
  • More pre-generated characters plus character creation rules allow you to design and select exactly the character you want to use in the game.

Limited Edition, $99.99

Executive Edition, $199.99

  • Details to come!

ROGUE’S GALLERY: AN NPC DECK, $19.99 (AUGUST)

Whether on the desperate streets or in the Machiavellian high-rises of the corporate elite, dangerous people lurk in every corner of the Sixth World. And they’re in here, too, with a quick backstory, a hook, and streamlined game stats. Bring the Shadowrun universe to life by putting these characters at your fingertips and in your game!

DICE & EDGE TOKENS, $19.99 (AUGUST)

Tossing a handful of dice to out-maneuver or out-gun your opponent always brings a rush. Especially when you’re spending some Edge to boost your actions. Add more dice to your Shadowrun game, along with a great way to track your Edge!

PRIME RUNNER MINIATURES, $19.99 (AUGUST)

They’re rough. Tough. Ready for action. And you can fit five of them in your hand. Bring Sledge the ork street samurai, Coydog the elf shaman, Gentry the human decker, Hardpoint the dwarf rigger, and Blanco, the troll weapons specialist to your game table and let them unleash chaos!

GAMEMASTER SCREEN, $29.99 (SEPTEMBER)

Experience a gamemaster screen unlike any other. Features include a large outward-facing pocket for the insertion of various scene inserts—included in the pack—to change up the players’ visual experience. A variety of interior card pockets allows the GM to quickly and easily track NPCs, and other reference cards. Finally, a series of Reputation trackers are built directly into the screen, enabling a runner team to track their heat from Ares to Aztechnology, and more, changing up the games as they play. (Note: the image above is a teaser; the full image will be revealed at a later date!)

CUTTING BLACK, $49.99 (SEPTEMBER)

A new edition of Shadowrun requires new stories, and Cutting Black launches Shadowrun, Sixth World with a bang! Following on the immersive style of classic Shadowrun books such as Universal Brotherhood and Bug City as well as newer successes like Dark Terrors, Cutting Black sets up storylines full of dark dealings and intrigue that will shake the Shadowrun setting and inspire game campaigns for months or longer. Players and gamemasters alike diving into the new edition will need this book as a resource to find out what’s happening in the Sixth World and to keep up with its twists and turns.

30 NIGHTS, $39.99 (OCTOBER)

30 Nights is a detailed campaign book to help players learn and have fun with Shadowrun, Sixth World. It introduces players to new rules and new plot lines, plunging them into the growing chaos in the UCAS as they look into the source of a mysterious blackout plaguing Toronto. The adventures can be played as a single gaming session to introduce players to the new rules, multiple sessions hitting highlights from the adventures, or a detailed campaign propelling the players through each of the 30 nights of the blackout and ensuing chaos. This book includes a laminated, poster map of Toronto, with expanded content.

DEEPER INTO THE SHADOWS

Don’t forget, we’ve released numerous 30th Anniversary items on our website, from hoodies, to t-shirts, to lapel pins, deluxe metal dice, and more. Keep an eye on the Catalyst Store for more fantastic offerings to celebrate where man meets magic and machine.

While we hope that you’ll check out Shadowrun, Sixth World, feel free to continue your Shadowrun, Fifth Edition adventures and adapt the exciting upcoming plotlines to meet your gaming group’s desires.

We’ve got more inside looks at Shadowrun, Sixth World coming—stay tuned! In the meantime, don’t forget to check out our growing website at www.shadowrunsixthworld.com. An all-new News section is now live, and join our mailing list on that site for unique future opportunities.

  • May 1: Initial Announcement
  • May 8: Product Overview
  • May 15: Developer Overview
  • May 22: Setting Overview/Fiction Announcement
  • May 29: Developer Q&A
  • June 5: Rigger Dossier
  • June 12: Shadowrun at Origins preview
  • More to follow
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