Monthly Archives: April 2013

Shadowrun, Fifth Edition free preview available NOW!

Shadowrun 5 Logo with Text

All right, you heard the announcement. You’ve seen the video. You’ve read some of the development blogs we’ve posted. You want more. You want to see what Shadowrun, Fifth Edition is going to look like, you want to read some of the text, you want to see some of the art we’ve been talking about. And you want it now, and you want it free.

Well, who can blame you? Fortunately, we’ve got just what you want! A free preview of Shadowrun, Fifth Edition is available now! Check out some short fiction, some art, and the skyline of Tenochtitlan! You can get the PDF at the Battleshop or at DriveThruRPG.

One very important note: We’re still adding corrections and proofing notes, so this PDF is the pre-proof edition. Page references, typos, and other matters will be corrected before the final release.

With that said, go check out that PDF! Enjoy!



Say, did you notice that the file is called “Preview #1”? I wonder if there will be more …

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Sprawl Gangers Designer Diary 5

Shadowrun 5 Sprawl Gangers Logo

Brawls erupt on the streets of Seattle, blood spills into the gutters and bullets are almost as common as rain.

This is the world of Sprawl Gangers.

When designing the game, I wanted to add more depth to the battlefield than just relying on different weapons and terrain. To give players more interesting options during the game, Sprawl Gangers gives each gang a number of specialists, each one with their own unique contribution.

Today I’d like to cover possibly my favorite of the specialists; the Decker.

Deckers are console cowboys, master hackers that can access the wireless world of the matrix using their cyberdecks and control any connected electronic device.

Some of these electronic devices are part of the terrain for Sprawl Gangers – certain markers are designated as “nodes,” and these are access points for a decker to hack into the matrix. A decker that successfully hacks a node gains an advantage – and this is often represented by additional objectives for a Mission’s victory conditions. In addition, a decker that controls a node can scan it for paydata—important information that the gang can then sell after the battle for significant financial gains.

In the cyberpunk future of Shadowrun, electronic devices are everywhere; this includes cameras, sensors, and a multitude of other means of tracking a gang’s movement. A decker can access and use this information to provide “Matrix Overwatch,” helping his gang defend against sneaking opponents, providing early warning of attacks to protect his friends, and even assist with planning the gang’s next moves in the ebb and flow of the battle.

Deckers can also use the matrix to inflict penalties on enemy gangers! A decker can fill an enemy’s field of vision with augmented reality spam, making it difficult to connect with any target. Advanced weapons are not immune to a decker’s charms, either—a smartgun link can be switched off through the Matrix by a skilled decker, rendering a weapon temporarily useless.

Some pieces of terrain are also hackable; they can be controlled by a decker. Doors can be closed and locked, bridges can be retracted, and elevators lowered to street level or frozen in place to strand an enemy ganger on top of a precarious position.

Deckers can enter cybercombat with other deckers, engaging their opposite number in a duel of hacking skills through the matrix. The Black Hammer program is a form of Black IC (intrusion countermeasures), a dangerous set of code that can inflict harmful neurofeedback into an enemy decker’s brain, possibly injuring or even killing him.

Ultimately, deckers won’t turn the tide of battle all by themselves, but they are nigh-essential to the gang’s overall ability to improve and grow over the length of the campaign. Deckers provide access to additional funds, help control the battlefield, and give the gang more flexibility to react to the changing tides of combat.

Ross Watson

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Crossfire: Damage Tracks

Shadowrun 5 Crossfire Logo

In a previous article on Teamwork in Shadowrun: Crossfire, I wrote briefly about the damage track on each obstacle. In this article I’ll expand on that topic by telling you the story of how we got there.

The early versions of the game were vastly different from the final design. The main elements that survived are the Black Market and general deck-building concept, and the idea that obstacles show up to threaten the runners.

We started out with a simple HP number on each obstacle. It represented the total amount of damage you needed to defeat the obstacle, much as you’ve seen in many other games. To make the game cooperative, we allowed multiple players to defeat an obstacle together.

In order to combine cards from different players, we experimented with simultaneous turns. This direction had some major problems. To be efficient with their damage dealing, players had to talk very explicitly about their hands. That didn’t feel good, so we tried not discussing our hands; but that led to a game of chicken to see who would play the first card. For example, if an obstacle has 6 HP and players A & B each have a 4-damage card and a 1-damage card in their hands, while players C & D each have 2- and 3-damage cards in hand, what should happen? Player A tries playing a 1-damage card. Player B follows with the same. Player C adds 3 damage, for a total of 5, but then player D has to waste damage. Why wouldn’t player A play a 4-damage card, then player B pass, and player C play a 2-damage card? Without explicit hand sharing, it was hard to communicate well enough and frustrating to play, and we felt a little stupid trying to force it to work out.

There were plenty of other problems with simultaneous turns, including fighting over who gets to make the first buy out of the Black Market. In the end we felt we had to abandon that design.

So we tried taking turns and using counters to track the damage dealt to everything. The gameplay was okay, but there were a lot of counters and a lot of math. It also wasn’t interesting enough overall, though it was sometimes interesting to figure out what you wanted to defeat first; but then you’d just do that, making the game too easy. We needed another hurdle for players to overcome—we wanted players to first figure out what they should defeat, but then sometimes have trouble figuring out how to actually get the job done.

We were also starting to feel that the runners were all the same. In an RPG party, each player makes a unique character whose skills defined their role in the team. We wanted the same thing for Crossfire.

Finally, we hit upon the big break. We broke up the HP of each obstacle into a series of smaller bites. Instead of 8 HP, an obstacle would have HP of 3, 2, 2, 1. This helped clue players in to how to spend their card damage. You have a card that deals 3 damage? You should be the one to start damaging this obstacle. You have only 2 damage? You should wait, or you could combine cards with 2 damage and 1 damage to deal the 3 damage.

At the same time, we added colors to these new “damage tracks” and to the cards the players use to damage the obstacles. That 8 HP obstacle now looks more like: 3, Green, 2, Black, Black. If you’re holding two Black cards, you know what your role will be in defeating this obstacle. If you’re not holding any Black or any Green, you know you’re going to be responsible for the 3, the 2, or both.

This design philosophy also gave us the “we want to, but we can’t” scenario that we were looking for. When there are several obstacles in play threatening to drop you, the team has to figure out not only the ideal order to beat them, but also the efficient order to beat them given what cards are in the players’ hands and whose turn it is. Making these decisions together as a team turned out to be very fun and very interesting. It also gave each player a clear role in the team, one that we were careful to reinforce with the configurations we provide for the starting decks of each role.

—Gregory Marques, Lead Designer

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SR5 Art Blog: The Character As The Hero

Shadowrun 5 Logo with Text

It’s time to throw out some good tips to those of you out in fandom who like to draw stuff for your games. One of the coolest things about working on an awesome property like Shadowrun is that there is a massive, thriving, active fanbase out there running amok without any constraints at all, and expanding the collective shadows in an organic way that is all their own. I freaking love that, and the fact that most of SR’s best artists came out of that creative mosh pit makes them all the better in my opinion. In fact some of my favorite illustrations were unofficial fan images. So it’s with the fans in mind (and the chance to expand my art corps) that I wanted to leak to the community some art tips and clues about illustrating a new generation of awesomeness here in Shadowrun, Fifth Edition.

In my first blog (about our process of crafting a cover image) I mentioned that there are three specific types of images – the first focusing on the character(s) as the hero. This is by far the most likely type of illustration that gets attention from the fans. When composing the scene and composition for a character pic, the #1 priority is making sure the character gets the full-tilt diva treatment. Here’s what I mean:


    1. They get at least half the space in the image. This one’s pretty obvious when you think about it, but you’d be surprised how often young artists get distracted with all the details they want to shoe-horn in that their character gets nudged off to the side. In this type of image the character should simply get the most real estate in the image. All other elements are secondary.

    2. They get the most detail. When illustrating the character in this type of shot, that character (and their various accessories) should get at least 60% of the details in the image, and should take at least 60% of your time when working on it. All the other elements added to the scene in either foreground or background are merely stage dressing to reinforce the cool-factor elements of your focal character(s.)

    3. They get the best lighting. I recommend thinking of your shot like a movie set (with you as the director) and identify where exactly you want your lighting (and shadows) to hit in order to make the strongest image. If the lighting is coming from below, it will give it a sinister feeling. Harsh lighting from above can have more a gritty “interrogation” feel to it.

    Remember that in a noir setting like this, the shadows you lay in are often more important than the highlights. I recommend fully 50% of your character and the background be dark, harsh shadows.

    4. They get the focus. This is a great tool to use, and AAS (one of our main SR artists) uses this better than almost any artist I’ve ever seen. Everything else in the shot can be blurry but if your character is in focus the viewer’s eye will go right to it. This works for foreground and background elements as well. Great trick.

    5. Body language reinforces their personality. I once saw a great tutorial using only stick figures where an artist drew Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman as stick figures, and it was instantly clear which characters they were simply by their body language. Since 80% of communication is non-verbal (split between body language and facial expression), it is critical to get body language right. If you don’t, no amount of shiny details is going to make it read correctly. Figure out what personality and emotion the character should be radiating, and get that right before adding any other details. This is the best time-saving trick I know.

    6. Strong silhouette. In a character-centered image, we want them to stand out from their surroundings. Make sure the visible shapes that define them are clearly visible, and eliminate any element that may confuse their shapes with the setting. Nothing should make them blend in with their surroundings. They own that room.

    7. Tilted or level – it matters. This is a simple yet important tool in your arsenal. If you want to give your image a sense of danger or to feel like something is wrong, just rotate it slightly in the frame so that the “ground” level and frame level are not the same. It doesn’t have to be major, but I find that a slightly off level of 5-7 degrees rotation will make a big difference. The flip side of the coin is that drawing your scene level within the frame of the image will give it a sense that everything is fine and safe, even if the scene you’ve drawn is showing something totally contradictory to it. The key is that your scene in the frame is the eye of the beholder, and if the viewer is seeing it level then they must be safe regardless of the danger they are seeing. So set up your scene either level or tilted depending on which reaction you want from the viewer.

    8. NEVER use a soft edged brush on a Shadowrun character. Never never never. There are no soft characters in Shadowrun. If you ever even think of using that airbrush tool in Photoshop you should slap yourself, throw your stuffed animal collection under a lawn mower and then go eat some five-star Thai food to burn any lingering “furry” tendencies from your gut. Once you’ve crawled your way back to the drawing board you’ll be in a much better frame of mind for illustrating Shadowrun characters.

When it comes to crafting the character as the Hero, quite often the composition you choose becomes more important than how well you illustrate the character. We all want to dive straight into detailing the metallic gleam coming off the shells ejecting from the gun’s breach, or the tattoos and patches on gang leathers, but every artist needs to put in the time and build the image’s foundation right or the character will come off weak. Setting up the shot right will make or break your images – and when you get it right all your player buddies will notice. Fortune and glory must surely follow. Or perhaps a contract to draw for a mega gaming corp (not that I have one in mind of course.)

Good luck!

Brent Evans
Art Director
Catalyst Game Labs

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