Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Shadowrun 5, Part 1 - The Setting

It's funny coming back to a game after skipping an edition. It's a rare thing for me, I can only think of a few games where it's happened, and none of them were games I spent as much time with as Shadowrun. I picked up 1st edition around the time it came out, 2nd edition when it came out, and 3rd when it came out, and played and ran at least a short campaign in each one. We had a blast and over time I have picked up every book published for those three editions. I was a pretty solid fan and it was one of our main games of the 90's. Then in 2004 the 4th edition came out and changed a lot of the core setting and mechanics of the game and I skipped it - never bought a single book, did not run or play a single session of it. But that was then and this is now.

Nine years later the 5th edition is out and is supposed to be bringing back some elements of the older editions (you know a lot of this sounds familiar, what is it with 4th & 5th editions of RPG's?) and I decided to give it a look. Since it's a futuristic game I decided to go high tech and get the PDF instead of the printed version. This is written from the point of view of a long time fan who hasn't paid attention since 3rd edition but is willing to give the new stuff a chance. I'm breaking it into at least two parts - setting and mechanics.

If you're not familiar with the game, allow me to quote myself from an earlier post:

The background (which I assume most people know by now) is a baseline cyberpunk society recovering from a worldwide internet crash when the world is unexpectedly invaded by the Player's Handbook. Suddenly walking around town with a katana makes sense, especially if you have wired reflexes, body plating, and a friendly mage nearby to heal you. You can get claws like Wolverine, guns like Neo, and throw spells like Dr Strange, although probably not all in one character as magic and cyberware tend to not get along.

That's the basics.

This will probably always be the definitive cover for me
I've decided against doing an exhaustive page by page review - there is a lot of book here -  so let me hit the high points as a returning player/GM:

  • There is a lot of short fiction in here, at the beginning and spread throughout the book. Normally I think a little goes a long way when it comes to this kind of thing but so far it hasn't annoyed me.  I think SR is unusual in that the stories do closely reflect how the game typically works for most groups, and they effectively communicate how it's supposed to feel. So I'm OK with this approach.
  • Early in the book there's a page of the slang used in SR and after skipping most of the past 9 years I still knew what almost all of them meant. It felt like a familiar place after reading through that and realizing I was not as out of touch as I had feared. This is another atmospheric touch that I liked.
  • There is a section on what is effectively the "theme" of the game: that everything has a price. This section breaks it down from the "price" of magic to cyberware to the corps to the shadows - very nice and again, setting up a consistent feel for the game.
  • There is a short overview of the world and who runs each part of it. Brief but effective in highlighting that some of it is familiar and some of it is completely different.
  • Then we get to a more detailed focus on a typical character with several sections including "A day in your life", "what you might be doing", and "The Opposition" which focuses on the megacorps of 2075, organized crime, and the other groups you might encounter violently.
Now all of this is in the first 40-something pages of the book. The rest of the 400+ pages is general rules, combat rules, sections on each "power source" from magic to the matrix and the rest, a bunch of gear, and a pretty hefty gamemaster section. I haven't finished reading all of that yet, and it looks pretty heavy, but old SR was pretty intuitive so I'm hoping this is as well. Also, it seems to have more illustrations than the 3rd edition books at least so I'm not staring at multi-page walls of text describing gear with no visuals as in that edition - that's a good thing.

Although this new cover has grown on me
As a returning player/GM I will say so far, so good - I like what I'm reading. The timeline has moved up from the 2060-something I remember to 2075 so there are some changes but at the same time there are a lot of familiar names and places. The default setting is back to Seattle but other options are mentioned. The gear and guns seem familiar enough and the full-VR Matrix has a role again in addition to the wireless augmented reality Matrix that came along in 4th edition. Magic is magic and most of the old stuff seems to be accounted for as well. There's a very familiar feel about it, from the language to the world, to how tings work, to the outlines of the shadowrunning life. I am very optimistic about this one.


David Larkins said...

Apparently there's a "2050" supplement that takes the 5e rules back to the original setting, too. If you're feeling really nostalgic, I guess. ;)

Barking Alien said...

Like you I too have missed an edition...or two. I am not sure.

We played the hecked out of first and second but after that it was hard to get of game of Shadowrun together. My past groups and I were always quite venturesome and there were just too many other games to try.

You don't mention much about the mechanics. Am I to assume that is coming in a later post?

Digital Orc said...

I agree about the definitive cover.