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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