Shadowrobo, Part 3

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Let’s Do Some Crime

I don’t like building facilities in Shadowrun. It’s a lot of work to map them out, there aren’t any good guidelines in the core book for what’s a reasonable level of expense and challenge, and my group tends to figure out how to skip to the end. Good on them (I encourage it), but it winds up meaning I do a lot of mapping and security layout work that never gets used. Atomic Robo‘s science systems suggest a way to lessen that work considerably.


Use the brainstorm rules when you want to offload a lot of the security design to the players. This works pretty identically to the standard rules, except the players use any skills they can justify rather than Sciences, representing various steps of research and investigation into the situation they’re trying to overcome. Just like the standard rules, you run three cycles of the players competing to get to be the one that states a fact (and the GM naming one if all the players fail), with a final phase to decide on the hypothesis aspect. The facts and hypothesis become what’s true about the situation, giving the GM a lot of guidance for laying out the run (and some facility aspects).


Conversely, the invention system works well for when you’ve laid out a scenario and want to establish that there’s a profound blocker before it’s safe to proceed. That is, there’s a special layer of technological or magical security that is over and above what the team usually has to deal with. An invention, therefore, becomes just however the crew is going to bypass this unusual difficulty: a rare widget, secret codes, suborning someone with access, etc. With some catches involved, you can run a large part of the session around putting together materials for the run; once they have them, the run itself may be rather easy, with the drama being about creating the invention.

Resources and Organizations

The Tesladyne Industries organization rules in chapter 12 work very well for setting up corps and the PCs’ own resources. Rather than one overarching player-controlled org, under this system:

  • Whenever the PCs are hired by a corp or other large group, that entity has its own Resources mode. Antagonistic corps may also have a Resources mode (used as a gauge for what they can bring to bear and what their intel can determine about PC activities). For corps, AAA corps have a Great Resources, AA corps have Good, and A have Fair. They should usually have one focus and one specialty skill (often Armory or R&D for the major corps and Intel or Transport for the police agencies).
  • The PCs have their own organization that represents a much more loose collection of the crew’s pooled reputation, wealth, connections, etc. It should be named after whatever their team name is.

All organizations get a Mission Statement aspect, and that’s immediately known to the PCs (and they should come up with their own for their team org). All plot-important orgs also get Pressure aspects, but the players likely only know their own team’s pressures to start. The pressures on other orgs go a lot way to explaining their agendas and why they keep hiring runners or having runners sent against them, and figuring them out will go a lot way to moving the PCs from reactive to proactive. Only the player’s org accumulates Title aspects, but does not have an innately refilling Supply (see below).

When the PCs are on a mission for a corp, they can often use its Resources rather than their own as “expenses” for the run. This may only be available if they know who they’re working for so they know what kind of stuff to ask the Johnson for (even if it’s in a plausibly deniable way). For every point using these items increases the GM’s fate point reserve, also make a note that they have a point of debt that they have to pay off if they don’t return the items at the end of the run. (The reason to keep the items is that they may be better than what the PCs can get through their team org.)

The PCs’ team org starts at Fair Resources with no focused or specialized skills. The players can advance individual skills per the normal rules (paying their own character points to increase them). To upgrade the whole Resources level, the players need to accumulate rewards.

At the end of a run, come up with a rough reward level:

  • 1-3 points for the wealth of the employer (3 is for a AAA corp)
  • 1-5 points for the overall danger of the run
  • 0-3 points for mission success and secrecy (3 is for ghosting the run with all objectives completed)
  • Subtract up to five points for failing to meet secondary objectives, collateral damage, and generally making a mess
  • Subtract the debt rating for any items the PCs requisitioned from their employer and lost or kept

Whatever’s left is the payment for the run. Add this to the fate point Supply on the team org’s sheet. This is the only way to add Supply (the org doesn’t refill it naturally based on total aspects like in the rules). Like normal Supply, these points can be spent as fate points for anything that can be justified as spending money or using team resources. Once they’re spent, they’re gone until new rewards are earned.

At 10 points in Supply, the team’s Resources becomes Good. At 30 points, it becomes Great. Spending Supply below these thresholds drops the team’s Resources back down to the appropriate level.

Shadowrobo, Part 2

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Weird Modes

Within the frame of Shadowrun, these modes aren’t really that weird. Most PCs will have at least one of them, with some oddball Concepts allowing you to take more than one.


An adept, or physical adept, has innate magical control over her body, allowing a wide range of seemingly impossible stunts. Some such individuals are “mystic adepts” and can also take the Mage mode with this one.

Associated Skills: Athletics, Combat, Notice, Physique, Stealth, Will (this is essentially the Martial Artist mode from AR and represents a standard adept; for adepts with social powers, feel free to pick different skills)

Improvements: None

Sample Stunts: The Martial Artist mode’s stunts work great as examples.


A decker is the most elite of the hackers, totally at home in virtual reality. He uses an incredibly powerful and incredibly illegal computer “deck” to accomplish his hacks, and has built in cybernetics to seamlessly connect to the Matrix.

Associated Skills: Burglary, Contacts, Deceive, Notice, Provoke, Stealth, Will

Improvements: None

Sample Stunts: Most stunts for a decker will be gear stunts, representing the deck itself and specialized programs running on it.


Riggers are to vehicles and drones what deckers are to the Matrix: a combination of mental cyberware and advanced computer “rig” designed to help control vehicles like extensions of their own bodies.

Associated Skills: Burglary, Combat, Notice, Stealth, Vehicles, Will

Improvements: None

Sample Stunts: Most stunts for a rigger will be gear stunts, representing various vehicles and drones.


There are a wide variety of ways to install tech into and improve your body in the Sixth World. While just about anyone might have a few pieces installed, a full-on cyborg has given up a substantial part of her essence to become more than human.

In addition to compels to the Concept aspect about this loss of essence, a character with this mode cannot take the Adept or Mage modes.

Associated Skills (Street Samurai): Athletics, Combat, Contacts, Notice, Physique, Vehicles

Associated Skills (Bioware-Augmented Face): Athletics, Deceive, Empathy, Physique, Rapport

Improvements: None

Sample Stunts: A wide variety of stunts can be justified with various pieces of cyberware and bioware; look at the Robot and Mutant modes for ideas. For more fiddly cyberware, you can bolt on the Cyberware rules from the Fate System Toolkit.


A mage is an individual born with the ability to channel mana and affect the spirit world. This is accomplished by spiritual awareness and the use of spells and rituals.

Associated Skills: Conjuring, Notice, Will, Every spell as its own skill (i.e., spells work like Science skills for the Science! mode, see below)

Weird Skill: Conjuring

Overcome: Use as a Lore skill for spirits
Create an Advantage: Summoning a spirit is a specific kind of advantage creation
Attack: Banish summoned spirits
Defend: Defend against summoned spirits

Essentially, use the conjuring rules for Storm Summoners in the Fate System Toolkit, with Shadowrun flavor.

Weird Skills: Spells

Each spell has up to two applications around its theme. You technically have access to all spells at your mode rating, but you should probably work with your GM to come up with a few of them that you’ve pre-agreed upon. Remember that, like Science, you have to individually focus and specialize each spell if you want it to have a higher rating than the mode.

For using these skills, use the Channeling rules from the Fate System Toolkit, with the individual spells replacing the “Channeling” skill.

Improvements: Specialize one trained skill, Focus one trained skill

Sample Stunts:

  • Astral Perception: Use Notice to perceive on the Astral Plane.
  • Astral Projection: (Requires Astral Perception) Enter a trance to generate an astral body that can move extremely quickly and interact with things on the astral plane (using your normal skills). Spend a Fate point to use magic on the physical world when projected.
  • Signature Spell: Add a weapon or armor rating to one of your spells, or make it one that you can “fast-cast” without having to tag an aspect or take damage.

Shadowrobo, Part 1


Do you have the Fate-powered Atomic Robo RPG yet? This will make much more sense if you do. If you preorder, you get the PDF right away.

I’m probably running Shadowrun wrong. I get the vibe that the normal way to run it is a gritty, simulation-heavy crime drama where you can’t buy much for a nuyen but lives are cheap. I tend to run it much more like Leverage: as a pulpy tale of quirky master criminals that are rare enough in their awesomeness that the system they’re robbing has a hard time adapting to the threat they present. So keep that in mind.

With that style of running, the Atomic Robo rules immediately jumped out at me on reading as highly in-tune with my style of GMing Shadowrun. So we’ll see if there’s anyone else in the intersection of “Runs Shadowrun,” “Has Atomic Robo,” and “Loves Leverage.” In general, I’m erring on the side of trying to keep the rules drift from AR minimal, so there’s a good bit of “give the rules descriptions a Shadowrun flavor” rather than thorough hacks to make the game more like the normal SR rules. If you have Fate but not Atomic Robo, some of this will make a little bit of sense, but I recommend going ahead and getting AR. It’s good.

This will be a multi-part series.

Picking Aspects

Shadowrobo inherits AR’s lack of a Resources skill. Unlike AR, the assumption is that you’ll be doing runs to make money, rather than having a permanent job with relatively easy gear requisitions, and I’ll hopefully get to some systems about that later. But it does mean that your wealth is not specifically expressed as a skill, and the various members of the team are more or less in the same boat (of needing to do runs to make money). If you want a character who’s better at managing money or has a trust fund and just does runs for the fun of it, by all means represent what would be a Lifestyle in SR with your Omega Aspect or tailored stunts. And if you live on the streets and fritter away every nuyen you earn, that’s an excellent use for a compel-happy Omega Aspect as well.

Similarly, so much of the effects of race in SR can be modeled by just using it to justify particular skill choices, so there’s no specific rules for that. You should probably include it in your Concept Aspect, as that will let you make a custom weird mode if you want it to be really important, or just use invokes and take compels when it’s relevant to the story. But if you want to play, say, a troll whose massive physical stature doesn’t mean much except when fate points are in play (e.g., you didn’t buy much Physique), that’s perfectly fine and right in keeping with how the Fate system works in general.

Remember that the Sixth World has a lot more “weird” modes that are actually pretty common, unlike the standard assumption for AR, so if you want access to ‘ware- or magic-based modes, don’t forget to mention it in your Concept aspect. This is particularly important because that allows the GM to model things like essence loss and drain (which don’t have very deep systems in this conversion) with compels if it makes a better story.

Adapting the Standard Skills

Shadowrobo uses the same standard skill list from AR.

Some of the weird modes will get weird skills to fully flesh out what you can do in Shadowrun, but, in particular, hacking falls mostly under the purview of standard skills. That is, you use Burglary to break through data security, Contacts to track down information online, Deceive to trick a system, and Stealth to get through it unnoticed.

The idea behind this is twofold. On the one hand, there’s very little security that isn’t electronic and networked, and even human observers have all kinds of electronic aids, so there are limited options for a burglary- or stealth-expert that can only get past purely physical security. On the other, there have been several generations growing up in the information age at this point in the setting, so it doesn’t really even make sense to think of “computers” as a separate discipline that some people are completely ignorant of. That is, your decker is probably well trained (as represented with focuses, specialties, aspects, and stunts) to be the best at solving computer problems, but any runner can do some basic computing in a pinch. If you want to make an old-school thief who’s hopeless at computers or a hacker that’s unprepared for a physical lock, represent that with an aspect and prepare to soak up the compels.

Other than computer-related skills, a lot of the skills are also used without much modification to represent magic and ‘ware. Since Fate is a results-based system, if you really want to differentiate the troll with a natural Physique, the adept with mystically augmented strength, and the samurai with built-in servos, do it with Stunts and Mega-Stunts.

Standard Modes

The standard modes in Shadowrobo are Soldier, Face, Thief, and Operator.


Maybe you were actually part of the military before retiring to the shadows. Maybe you were a “soldier” in a gang, learning your trade on the streets. Maybe you moved to a martial-arts monastery and studied real hard for ten years or your family was wiped out by drug dealers and you swore yourself to revenge. Whatever the case, you have a strong baseline of physical and combat skills.

This has the same skills as AR’s Action mode (Athletics, Combat, Notice, Physique, Provoke, and Vehicles), and similar stunts are probably appropriate. It’s a good mode for anyone to grab some facility in combat, and often serves as an additional mode for samurais and adepts that want to be real badasses.


There comes a time in the formation of every group of runners where they realize they’re going to have to find some burned corporate marketer or salesman or hit up their fixers for contact info for a quality grifter, because none of them can con their way out of a paper bag or talk a Johnson into paying a living wage. You’re the one they make talk to people.

This has the same skills as AR’s Banter mode (Contacts, Deceive, Empathy, Provoke, Rapport, and Will), and supports similar stunts. It’s the kind of mode where, if you have it, you’re probably going to put it pretty high, hoping that some of the other party members will at least have it as their Average mode. But they all left it off the sheet entirely because now they have you to do all the talking… so they can get better at shooting people.


Most crews pay lip service to getting in and out without it requiring a storm of bullets, a suitcase of explosives, and a busy day for the local coroner. In order to actually achieve those lofty goals, it helps to have members trained in the arts of thievery. Your skills are partly physical training, partly computer hacking, and all about getting paid without requiring a body count.

This has the same skills as AR’s Intrigue mode (Athletics, Burglary, Contacts, Deceive, Notice, and Stealth), and supports similar stunts. It’s the chassis on which to build a decker that actually goes into the building and most other flavors of ninja.


The more organized crews often realize that it’s worthwhile to have a member that stays in the van, providing surveillance and support from a more objective perspective (i.e., not getting shot at while making decisions). This individual often also fulfills the role of getaway driver, even without a control rig. Since the other members of the team tend to expect some kind of above-and-beyond for the greater safety, the operator also tends to be the one to do a lot of the initial footwork and setup for a job.

This mode is not reflected in AR, and has skills that cover a range of support options (Burglary, Contacts, Notice, Provoke, Rapport, Stealth, and Vehicles). Invent stunts in that vein. It’s often paired with Decker for a hacker that doesn’t come inside, with Rigger for obvious reasons, and for anyone else that wants to round out their support skills.

SR5: Point Based Resources

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I’ve been running Shadowrun for the last few months, and one of the rules elements that’s a little too old school for me is the cash management aspect. First, there’s the giant lump sum at character creation that requires a spreadsheet and several hours to negotiate, making chargen a giant accounting chore (particularly if the player’s and GM’s totals don’t add up the same). Second, there’s the fact that cash expenditures are actually pretty solidly firewalled into three types without any real acknowledgement: ‘ware (which is essentially alternate character powers and progression to magic and which already have an additional solid limiter in Essence), lifestyle (which is theoretically a huge social limiter but doesn’t actually have any solid rules attached), and tools (which are used directly to accomplish a run).

So this is my first pass at a system that dramatically simplifies and abstracts the resources system, as is the current trend in game design. Long term, I would probably convert item costs directly to point ratings, but for now I’m using the lazier method of using digits in the price plus ranking (as described below). More experienced Shadowrun players feel free to let me know what hilarious exploits this will create in the comments 🙂 .


Convert your Resources priority to the following:

Priority   Major Resource Points   Minor Resource Points  
A 7 20
B 5 13
C 3 7
D 2 4
E 1 2


As per the normal rules, ‘ware is limited to an effective availability of 12 at character creation (so characters with access to alphaware may still use standard for rare stuff to be able to get it to 12 or less). Also, per normal, it is still limited by your Essence. Beyond those limits, you use Major Resource Points to pick a whole class of ‘ware, and any of your upgrades can be that class or less.

One major resource point gets you minimum access to ‘ware. At that level, you can only afford Used Legal Cyberware. You can get as much of it as you want, but your Essence is likely to fill up quickly.

Past that, you can spend major resource points on a one for one basis for the following upgrades:

  • Standard/New: You no longer have to buy Used
  • Alphaware (Requires Standard): You can now get Alphaware in addition to Standard
  • Bioware: You can now get Bioware in addition to Cyberware
  • Restricted: You now have access to R availability ‘ware
  • Forbidden (Requires Restricted): You now have access to all legalities of ‘ware

For example, two characters with Priority C both decide that they’d like to spend all three of their major resource points on ‘ware. The first decides to be able to get New Legal Bioware, while the other chances access to Used Forbidden Cyberware.

You can spend minor resource points as major resource points for one piece of ‘ware. For example, you could spend six minor points to buy a piece of Alphaware Forbidden Bioware even if you have no other ‘ware. If you were one of the characters in the example above (and had already spent three major points) it would only cost three minor points per piece of Alphaware Forbidden Bioware.


You spend major resource points to purchase your lifestyle. This counts as a permanent purchase, but the GM may feel free to deduct rewards (see below) if he feels scraping together rent is a major portion of play, and game activities might cost you your lifestyle. However, the player is spending a major portion of her character creation budget to be rich, so that should be respected as much as other chargen decisions are.

  • Streets (0 points): Purchasing Power 2, Influence Group -3, Acting Group -1
  • Squatter (1 point): Purchasing Power 3, Influence Group -2
  • Low (2 points): Purchasing Power 4, Influence Group -1
  • Middle (3 points): Purchasing Power 5
  • High (4 points): Purchasing Power 6, Influence Group +1
  • Luxury (5 points): Purchasing Power 7, Influence Group +2, Acting Group +1

The group bonuses or penalties are to any skill tests for that group (Etiquette, Leadership, and Negotiation for Influence; Con, Impersonation, and Performance for Acting). Feel free to waive the penalty for social rolls against characters of equal or lower social standing, but the group’s Face will have an uphill battle in polite circles while reeking of squalor, and even a good clean and costume change isn’t enough to hide mannerisms ground in on the streets (i.e., this is not a commentary on poor people, it’s a mechanic to keep your players from shorting their lifestyle because poverty doesn’t keep them from being an awesome cyborg).

You can spend or receive minor resource points for the normal lifestyle options:

  • Special Work Area: 2 minor resource points
  • Extra Secure: 3 minor resource points
  • Obscure: 1 minor resource point
  • Cramped: +1 minor resource point
  • Dangerous Area: +2 minor resource points

You can also spend minor resource points to obtain a safehouse/backup residence. Spend minor points equal to the major point cost for that level of lifestyle, and you can’t exceed your main lifestyle rating. A safehouse doesn’t adjust your purchasing power or social mods, just gives you an extra place to stay. You can purchase options for it in the same way as for your main lifestyle. For example, you could buy an Extra Secure, Obscure, Cramped Low safehouse for 5 minor resource points (assuming your main lifestyle was at least Low). You cannot gain net minor points from a safehouse, drawbacks can just reduce the cost (e.g., you can’t claim you have a cramped squat in a dangerous area for +2 minor points).

Purchasing Power

You cannot buy ‘ware with purchasing power. You can get anything else.

When you buy an item with purchasing power, you can get something with digits in the price equal to the purchasing power rating. For example, purchasing power 5 can get you a 45,500¥ Erika MCD-1 cyberdeck, because it has a five-digit price tag.

  • If multiple similar items share the same pricing tier, you get the cheapest within that tier. For example, the character got the Erika cyberdeck even though the Microdeck Summit was also five digits, because the Erika was the cheaper option.
  • You can spend minor resource points to move up the options within a tier. For example, purchasing power 6 and three minor points would get you the Renraku Tsurugi cyberdeck (fourth on the list of 100k+ decks).
  • You can go down a digit to get the highest item in a tier. For example, a purchasing power of 7 would let you get the Fairlight Excalibur with no minor points spent (because it’s the highest six-digit deck).

At character creation, you may have:

  • One item at your Purchasing Power; spend additional minor points equal to your Purchasing Power for each additional item at this level
  • Two items at your Purchasing Power -1; spend additional minor points equal to half (round up) your total Purchasing Power for each additional item at this level
  • Four items at your Purchasing Power -2; spend one additional minor point for each additional item at this level
  • A reasonable stockpile of items at your Purchasing Power -3; the GM will tell you when you’re going nuts
  • Functionally unlimited items at your Purchasing Power -4; at High Lifestyle, you can buy all the bullets you want

You still have to spend minor points to go up items in a tier, even for additional purchases, so it’s often wise to spend the minor point cost for the next purchasing power up, if available to you. For example, at a High Lifestyle with Purchasing Power 6, it might often be worthwhile to spend 6 additional minor points for another six-digit item, then drop down to the highest five-digit, than to spend points to upgrade a five-digit item in a packed tier.

You can’t spend minor points to exceed your highest purchasing power. If you live on the streets, you’re going to have to beg your rich teammates to kit you out if you don’t want your contribution to the team to be your fabulous knife.

Run Rewards

Runs should award minor resource points instead of cash (and in addition to Karma). Why do these rewards go further for those with better lifestyles? Because money management is their superpower, maybe. Minor resource points should probably be given out at a similar rate as Karma (with fluctuations for good feelings vs. total bastard runs).

After chargen, you can spend minor resource points for the following:

  • Buy a single piece of ‘ware (using the rules above, but you can finally dispose of the 12 availability limit). You can theoretically go higher than alphaware, for 1 point for each step up, but it’s up to the GM whether you have access to better grades, and it may be a run reward just to get access to purchase a single piece of betaware or better.
  • Buy additional gear (using the purchasing power rules; e.g., minor points equal to total purchasing power to get an item at your max rating, one per item at rating -2, etc.).
  • Permanently increase your lifestyle. This costs ten times your current maximum Purchasing Power and upgrades you to the next lifestyle step. Yes, for the low cost of 20 minor resource points, you can finally abandon your life on the street for a nice squat. Remember, it’s not just about buying the apartment, but making investments to keep you there.

Shadowrun: Alternate Cash Rewards

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After their first run, my group wondered why the cash rewards table in SR5 incentivizes turning the run into a total cluster. As written, the table mostly gives rewards for getting into fights; if you ghost the mission, getting in and out with the objective and no one the wiser, you get paid very little. It seems like that should actually get you paid quite well indeed.

By my count, the current table should give rewards from 3k¥-40k¥ base, plus 100¥-1300¥ per negotiation hit, so this hack tries to stay in a similar range (but see the notes about increasing rewards).

Setting Up a ‘Run

During negotiations, the Johnson should outline which elements from the table he thinks the runners are likely to encounter. This sets the minimum agreed upon payment (i.e., you can go ahead and add up those numbers including negotiation hits and state “I’ll pay you X”). As a GM, figure out the Johnson’s actual agenda and level of knowledge; assuming he plans to deal fairly, it’s in his interests to try to figure out exactly what the group will encounter and no more. If he tells them something might be an issue and it isn’t, he may overpay. But if he leaves out something, he may pay more for it.

After the run, total up what actually happened (according to what the players encountered), and how much the chart says that was worth. The runners are generally expected to demand double the difference as additional pay. This might be reduced to only 1.5 times the difference if the Johnson gave them at least a week and it was reasonable that they could do research on their own. If the Johnson pitched the entire project as knowing very little, and gave them at least two weeks to investigate and plan the run, this is reduced to just the difference (i.e., he only has to pay what the actual chart total suggests), but what kind of Johnson wants to appear that ignorant? Meanwhile, if the Johnson gave them a last second offer and claimed to have all the information for them, nobody would argue if the ‘runners demand three times the difference.

For example, after negotiating and hearing the basic terms, a run works out to be worth 4,000¥ a piece. But after the mission, the chart suggests what they actually did should be worth 6,000¥.

  • Under normal circumstances, they should expect to demand 8,000¥ (the 4k base plus doubling the 2k difference between expectation and actuality).
  • If they had a week to investigate and mitigate their risk, they can demand 7,000¥.
  • If they were told explicitly that the Johnson didn’t know much and had two weeks to prep, the 6,000¥ suggested by the chart is what they get.
  • If the Johnson sent them in blind and in a rush, they can actually demand 10,000¥.

Expenses and Increasing Rewards

It probably makes sense to let the runners charge an extra share for expenses (i.e., act as if there’s an extra member of the team when payment is determined). Runners who regularly give the Johnson an itemized list and stay under the their expense budget (i.e., accept only enough of the expenses share to cover actual expenses) probably deserve a reputation bump.

The standard reward range generally only pays out 10k¥-20k¥. This leads to forum advice that players should never expect to have any serious ‘ware other than what was bought in chargen, because the difference between actual payments and the money you can start with at a high priority is so great. If you want your players to actually plan to buy upgrades of value, particularly if you play infrequently and/or have long lifestyle-cost-heavy downtimes, you should double, triple, or even quadruple the standard rewards.

The Chart

Base Cost: 1,500¥ + 50¥ per negotiation hit

Situational Modifiers

Average opposing Dice Pool +(Dice Pool/3)
Highest opposing Dice Pool +(Dice Pool/6)
Could easily be outnumbered three to one in a combat situation +1
Could easily be outnumbered (any amount) by critters +1
Target has at least three non-watcher spirits +1
Target has easy access to non-internal security (e.g., Lone Star or Knight Errant) +1
Run risks public exposure or raised profile as natural part of the run +1
Run brings runners into direct contact with a notably dangerous part or element of Sixth World lore +1
Run is out of town or otherwise far from known resources and escape routes +1
Run is way out of town (i.e., severe logistics and escape issues) +1

Final Multipliers

Standard Ethics +0%
Cold Hearted +20%
Good Feelings -20%
Standard Run +0%
No non-target deaths or major property damage
(target is less likely to make a big deal about the crime)
Runners were not identified in any obvious way
(much harder to trace the crime back to the Johnson)
“Ghosted” the Run
(target may not even discover that a crime was committed for some time)
Deaths of non-security personnel
(anyone died other that those that were paid for the possibility)
Deaths of significant asset
(not including actual targets; i.e., someone died that was important enough to attempt vengeance)
Significant property damage
(targets may try for revenge just to recoup infrastructure costs)
Runners left significant clues as to their identities and those of their employer -10%

All modifiers and multipliers are cumulative.


  • The group is hired to steal some paydata.
    • The Johnson expects that the target mostly employs scrubs (+1 for average die pool less than six) but has a couple of skilled guards (+2 for a highest die pool around 12). There are potentially a lot of the scrubs, so the ‘runners could easily get outnumbered three-to-one (+1). He makes all this clear to the group, and (after three hits on the negotiation), offers them 6,600¥ a piece (plus the same as an expense budget).
    • What he left out was that the the targets had been beefing up their mystic security, and they had a pack of Hellhounds (+1) and several spirits (+1); and those actually brought up the average opponent dice pool to over six (+1 beyond the expected). Despite this, the group took the extra time to do it without deaths or major damage (+10%) and without being identified (+10%). They count up that they were actually owed 13,860¥
    • Since that’s a difference of 7,260¥ from what they were told, they actually demand 21,120¥ a piece. Maybe next time, the Johnson will give them more time to plan, and try to do some more legwork on his own first.
  • Another group is hired for some wetwork.
    • The Johnson expects them to sneak in and take out a high profile target. If they do it right, they’ll get the 12-die-pool target alone and have few other encounters (12 average and highest pool for a total +6). The target has mage backup, so the Johnson warns of spirits (+1) and the possibility of a call to Knight Errant (+1). This is a Cold Hearted run (+20%), and the Johnson expects them to get in and out with only the target dead (+10%) and without being identified (+10%). For all this, and with three hits on negotiation, the Johnson expects to pay 18,480¥ a piece.
    • What actually happens is that the group screws up and Knight Errant shows up. They wind up lowering the average die pool they fight (just because they fight so much Knight Errant backup) to 9 (-1 to average threat), but they do manage to have to take out a 16-die lieutenant (+1 to highest threat). They’re certainly outnumbered three-to-one (+1), risk public exposure (+1), wind up doing significant deaths and property damage (-30%, plus the loss of the 20% from the expectation of not doing that or getting identified). At least they get the target. When counted up, they were actually only owed 11,550¥ a piece.
    • The Johnson grudgingly pays out the 18,480¥ he promised, since they did at least complete the job, but resolves to never work with this crew again.

Shadowrun 5 – Crafting

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The SR5 core rules don’t have much more than a paragraph and a chart for bonuses on crafting (p. 146). Notably, it doesn’t really give any guidelines on costs or difficulties. I’m sure that information is coming in a later supplement, but my players want to start working on designing robots now. Hence, this represents my pass at a homebrew crafting system for my game.


The Base Threshold of an existing item is equal to its Availability rating x Legality factor (x1 for unrestricted, x2 for restricted, and x3 for forbidden). If the availability is –, this is equal to the digits in the price +3. For example, an Ares Predator V is availability 5R, so has a Base Threshold of 10, a Ford Americar is availability — and 16,000¥ so has a Base Threshold of 8, a flashlight is — and 25¥ so has a Base Threshold of 5. This is a rule of thumb based on the complexity of items often tracking with their availability; the GM is encouraged to adjust the Base Threshold for things that seem like they should be easier to find schematics for and create than their legality indicates.

The Build Interval for an item starts at Short (10 minutes) for items that cost less than 10¥ and increases by one step per digit of the cost (e.g., something that costs 300¥ is three digits and thus has a build time of 1 hour). See the extended test intervals chart on page 48. All crafting rolls are extended tests. It’s up to the GM whether long builds consume all your waking hours for the whole period, or whether you’re only doing them around your ‘runs and other errands. For really long builds, it’s probably best to let the crafter take breaks without harming the project.

The Base Cost of an item is based on the cost within the gear lists for existing gear, and pegged as closely as possible for new inventions. If you have existing items that are being repaired or used for parts, they contribute their individual cost based on how damaged they are. For example, the GM rules a Ford Americar from the junkyard is nearly totaled and only worth 20% of its price of 16,000¥, so contributes 3,200¥ toward any attempts to repair it or use it for parts.

In general, you can double the effective Threshold of an item to reduce the Build Interval by one step, and halve it to increase the Build Interval by one step. For example, a Ford Americar normally has a Base Threshold of 8 and a Build Interval of Exhaustive (1 week); by increasing the Threshold to 32, the Build Interval becomes Long (1 hour). This cannot reduce the Build Interval below Quick (1 minute) or over Mammoth (1 month).

There are four ways to use the crafting system:

  • To repair or tinker with an existing item: This does not require schematics (but they help), and is based on how damaged the item is.
  • To create an item from the existing gear list: The primary reason for doing this is that you can’t manage to get it through social channels or you want to make sure it’s made from untraceable parts.
  • To create something based on existing gear but improved/altered: This lets you get a little more punch out of your gear, make it more concealable, or otherwise create something that’s similar to an existing item but not really supported.
  • To create something totally new: This lets you make something that is totally unsupported by the existing gear list but within the possibilities of the fiction, like robots and power armor.

Repairing and Tinkering

Use the rules on page 228 for Matrix Damage.

For repairing physical damage, the GM should come up with a rough approximation of how close to totaled the item is; how much of the structure of the item remains intact vs. fully functional? For example, a heavily damaged but still driveable car might wind up at 50% totaled:

  • The Base Threshold is equal to this percentage (e.g., if the Base Threshold was 10 and the item is only 20% towards totaled, the effective Threshold is 2).
  • The Build Interval is based on the price of the item. As noted above, the effective Threshold can be doubled to reduce the Build Interval by one step (e.g., that Threshold 2 item can become Threshold 4 to reduce the Build Interval from a day to an hour).
  • The Base Cost is equal to this percentage of the item’s value (e.g., something that is 20% damaged will cost 20% of the item’s cost to repair to full). Any additional parts for the inefficiency of repair are assumed to be rolled up into the lifestyle or kit costs; PCs that are doing a lot of repair work out of a non-lifestyle based kit or shop might be expected to rebuy that item periodically as spare parts are used up.

For example, the GM rules that the player’s Ford Americar is heavily damaged and is 50% totaled. The effective Threshold is 4 (50% of the base 8) and it would take a week Interval based on its 16k cost. But the player chooses to reduce the interval by two steps to 1 hour, making the effective threshold 16 (doubled twice), and now we have the example from page 48. The car only contributes half of its 16k cost due to being 50% damaged, so will cost 8,000¥ to repair.

Use the modifiers from the Build/Repair Table on page 147. See the next section for how to determine if you have the Plans/Reference materials.

Tinkering allows the user to install upgrades or switch between standard options. It assumes that the crafter has all the parts required and is just trying to put them together.

  • The effective Threshold is equal to half the Base Threshold of the highest component. For example, an Armor Vest is Availability 4 and Fire Resistance is Availability 6, so the effective Threshold is 3 to add Fire Resistance to the vest.
  • The Build Interval is based on the total Price of the combined items. That Armor Vest is 500¥ and the Fire Resistance is 250¥ per level, so it takes an hour to apply level 1 but a day to apply any stronger coatings (since they increase the price above 1,000¥). As usual, the crafter can double the Threshold to reduce the Interval by one step (e.g., at Threshold 12, the interval on that vest upgrade can be reduced to half an hour).
  • The Base Cost is 0, assuming all components are on hand and the crafter is just putting them together.

Creating an Existing Item

This item will have exactly the same stats as an existing item. Cosmetically, it may look a little different, but you’re really just trying to get an existing item; maybe because you can’t afford the corp’s markup, you don’t want it to be traceable in any way, or because you don’t have a good enough Face or contact to get it through proper channels.

To make such an item you need the proper schematics (you’ll still get the plans/reference materials bonus):

  • The effective Threshold is equal to the item’s Base Threshold – 10 (if the result is 0 or less you can assume the item is so common that the plans are easily available on the Matrix).
  • The Interval works normally. There is no cost other than standard bribes and fees that come out of your lifestyle.
  • Roll Computer if you’re searching for the plans online, Negotiate if you’re tracking them down through contacts, or some other skill that you can convince the GM makes sense.

For example, you’re trying to create a deck that’s equivalent to a Novatech Navigator. It’s Availability 9R so has a Base Threshold of 18 and an effective Threshold of 8. It has a six digit price so it has an Interval of 1 month. You can double the Threshold normally to reduce the Interval (and you should; ferreting out complicated deck schematics isn’t a fast process).

You can also acquire schematics through in-game actions; the extra gravy on a ‘run might be grabbing plans for miscellaneous items the corp makes while you’re already grabbing the paydata.

Once you have the schematics:

  • Base Threshold works normally (Availability x Legality) and is not further modified.
  • Build Interval works normally.
  • Base Cost is equal to the normal Cost of the item. You can double the Base Cost to halve the Base Threshold. You can halve the Base Cost to double the Base Threshold. You can only double or halve the cost once.

For example, now you have the plans for your deck and want to build it. It’s still 9R so has a Threshold of 18, an Interval of one month, and a Cost of 205,750¥. If you were really trying to get a deal on it, you could reduce the cost to 102,875¥ if you think you can hit a threshold of 36.

If you end the extended test without meeting the Threshold (either because you ran out of dice or out of time), the GM might rule that you have a Prototype (see below).

Improving on an Existing Item

The existing gear lists are incredibly comprehensive, so it’s probably difficult to find a modification to the stats of one item that aren’t very similar if not identical to another item. In that case, you should just treat it as creating the other item using the rules above.

If you’re trying to make modifications that the existing gear won’t cover, the GM should first have a good long think about whether those modifications might make the item too good. An item with the stats of a sniper rifle and the concealability of a pistol is probably better than intended, for example. This is all very dangerous territory, so try not to be offended when your GM denies something that feels like a blatant attempt to break the system, even if you didn’t intend it that way.

Once you and the GM have agreed that what you want is reasonable, the GM will come up with an Availability rating and Cost for the item based on the most similar other items. If the GM feels like the modifications are especially complicated to implement, the Availability should be increased by a point or two (and, thus, increase the ultimate Base Threshold).

In addition to having the schematics for the base item (see above), you need to design the modifications. This is an appropriate Knowledge test with the same Threshold, Interval, and Cost as finding the schematics (again, see above).

Once you have the schematics and the modification design, use the rules in the above section to actually build it.

Creating Something New

Once you’re in the realm of something that isn’t really all that similar to anything in the gear lists, you’ve begun a delicate negotiation with the GM. Ultimately, you’ll describe what you want and the GM will try to give it stats, Availability, Cost, and even rules based on what does exist in the gear list.

Unlike building a standard or modified existing item, at this stage it’s as much about the design as the build. Make an appropriate Knowledge test to create the schematics as above, but without the -10 reduction to the Threshold; you’re not just modifying something here or getting by on common Matrix knowledge. If you don’t think you can make the Threshold to start with, you can use the Prototype system (see below).

Once you’ve gotten the design worked out, you can start building as per the normal rules. As with other builds, if you don’t quite get it done, you might still have a Prototype.


If you end any kind of build before getting the required hits, you might be left with a prototype: a version of the item with worse stats, a high chance to Glitch, and the ability to teach you how to improve your next attempt at the item. When creating something new, if you don’t get enough hits on the Knowledge check to create the schematics, you can attempt to build toward whatever hits you did get to deliberately create a prototype (e.g., if the Threshold was 18 and you only got 9 hits to design, you can’t get more than 50% of the build threshold either).

A prototype should have its stats reduced based on how close you got to your target (e.g., if you only got 50% of the necessary hits, the item is reduced by whatever 50% means to the GM). Additionally, a prototype has an increased chance to Glitch; when using the item, treat the wielder as having Gremlins 1 (or +1 if you gave your prototype to someone that already had gremlins; see page 81). Finally, the item’s effective Cost is reduced by the same factor for purposes of using the prototype toward another attempt to make the item.

Whenever a prototype Glitches and the crafter is in position to make note of what happened (i.e., is wielding it, is close by, or is getting a detailed after-action report), make a mark. Every time the item gets Glitch marks equal to its Base Threshold, you get a +1 to your skill total on the next attempt to design or craft that item (to a maximum of half the Base Threshold). For example, a prototype gun similar to an Ares Predator V has a Base Threshold of 10; for every 10 Glitches, the crafter gains +1 to the next attempt to build/design the item (to a max of +5).


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Prepping for an actual Shadowrun playtest/potential ongoing campaign, here’s a procedure for developing a plot and character web in the style of Smallville. It’s similar to Dresdenville and Heroville, but with even fewer direct hooks into the character sheet. Even though the process doesn’t demand additions to the character sheet, players should attempt to buy anything they link to with a positive relationship in a way that makes sense for the system (as a contact, safehouse via lifestyle, quality, etc.).

Each player should assign priorities (A-E to Race, Magic, Attributes, Skills, and Resources) and decide on character generalities before proceeding, but shouldn’t do too much actual point spending (to leave room to tweak based on the chart results).

As usual, go around the table for each step and sub-step before proceeding on to later steps. Whenever you draw an arrow, define the relationship. There can’t be more than two arrows between the same two nodes (and those have to be reciprocal).

The possible nodes for this process are:

  • PC (Square): These are the player characters. Start by adding each of these to the map but don’t connect them until later.
  • NPC (Circle): These are contacts, antagonists, and other known quantities. The players shouldn’t feel obliged to make all these friendly: it may be better to define your own principle antagonists and have a general idea of their capabilities rather than letting the GM make them in secret.
  • Location (Rectangle): These are locations where the players expect to spend a lot of time when they’re not on ‘runs. They may be clubs, places of business, whole neighborhoods, interesting landmarks, etc. They’ll tend to be important for meeting clients, investigating, planning, and laying low.
  • Macguffin (Pentagon): These are items that are likely to come up as objectives for ‘runs. The players will really only know their names and the relationship of groups or NPCs to them, but giving them an interesting name makes it more likely they’ll come up in an interesting way. In general, their style should match the Priority that placed it: magic (something magical), resources (some kind of tech), or attributes (some kind of information).
  • Canon Group (Triangle): This is an official corporation, gang, cult, etc. from canon setting material. This is how you vote for which groups you’d like to see heavily invested in the campaign, and establish some idea of what their initial goals are and who they’re connected to.

Step 1: Priority A

  1. If your Priority A is:
    1. Race or Attribute: add an NPC
    2. Skill or Resource: add a Location
    3. Magic: add a Macguffin.
  2. Add a Canon Group.
  3. Draw an arrow from one of the NPCs or Canon Groups to a PC.
  4. If your Priority A is
    1. Race: add a Location
    2. Magic or Skill: add an NPC
    3. Attribute or Resource: add a Macguffin.
  5. Draw an arrow from one of the Canon Groups to an NPC or Location.
  6. Tag one of the NPCs based on your Priority A (see Tags, below).

Step 2: Priority B

  1. If your Priority B is:
    1. Race or Attribute: add an NPC
    2. Skill or Resource: add a Location
    3. Magic: add a Macguffin.
  2. Draw an arrow from your PC to an NPC.
  3. Draw an arrow from your PC to a Location.
  4. Draw an arrow from an NPC to a Canon Group or Location.
  5. Tag one of the NPCs based on your Priority B.

Step 3: Priority C

  1. If your Priority C is
    1. Race: add a Location
    2. Magic or Skill: add an NPC
    3. Attribute or Resource: add a Macguffin.
  2. Draw an arrow from your PC to another PC.
  3. Draw an arrow from your PC to an NPC, Location, or Canon Group.
  4. Draw an arrow from an NPC to another NPC.
  5. Tag one of the NPCs based on your Priority C.

Step 4: Priority D

  1. If your Priority D is:
    1. Race or Attribute: add an NPC
    2. Skill or Resource: add a Location
    3. Magic: add a Macguffin.
  2. Draw an arrow from your PC to another PC.
  3. Draw an arrow from any non-PC element to any other non-PC element.
  4. Tag one of the NPCs based on your Priority D.

Step 5: Priority E

  1. Draw an arrow from one of the NPCs or Canon Groups to a PC.
  2. Draw an arrow from an NPC to a Canon Group or Location.
  3. Tag one of the NPCs based on your Priority E.


For the current Priority, if you chose:

  • Race: Assign a race to the NPC. This can be any of the standard PC races, including human; NPCs that end the process without one default to human.
  • Magic: Assign a magic praxis to the NPC (Mage, Physical Adept, Shaman, Mystic Adept, Technomancer, etc.) or declare that the NPC is non-magical. NPCs without such an assignment default to no magic.
  • Attributes: Assign a method to the NPC (Agent, Operator, Conspirator, or Bystander; see below).
  • Skills: Assign a signature Skill Group to the NPC. The NPC is guaranteed to be good at the chosen Skill Group; other skill choices for the NPC are up to the GM.
  • Resources: Draw an arrow from one of the NPCs or Canon Groups to a Macguffin.


A method outlines an NPC’s general method of interaction with the world (colored by other tags and relationships decided for the NPC):

  • Agent: This NPC tends to be active in the world, and in the thick of things. The character is usually a ‘runner, guard, detective, or someone else used to face-to-face confrontation.
  • Conspirator: This character tends to be a social string puller who tries not to have anything directly traceable. The NPC is usually a face or Mr. Johnson.
  • Operator: This NPC tends to be active but at once step or more removed. The character is usually a mage, hacker, or rigger, or someone else that works directly but remotely.
  • Bystander: This character tries not to get directly involved. The NPC is usually a merchant, fixer, or other contact.

Contact’s Rating

Optionally, you can assign a fixed Connection Rating to each NPC that the PCs must spend to buy that NPC as a Contact. This keeps characters defined as movers and shakers from being purchased at low Connection Rating levels, and allows players that both want to have the same NPC as a Contact to know which Rating to take.

  • If the NPC seems like he or she should be very highly connected from the way the chart lays out (e.g., it’s implied that an NPC is high up in a corp or nationally recognized), the GM can simply assign a Rating over 6 that makes sense. This character will not be valid as a starting Contact, but might be befriended officially later. This shouldn’t be done for NPCs on the map that clearly have a relationship with a PC that implies that the player planned to buy the NPC as a Contact.
  • Otherwise, count the number of non-PC lines attached to the Contact (i.e., either to or from other NPCs, Groups, Locations, and Macguffins). That’s the Contact’s Rating; it should generally be between 1 and 6 and, thus, valid as a starting Contact.


Here’s a potential web created by the above system, using data I threw together to test it (click to enlarge):


System Review: Shadowrun 5e, First Look


This is a little off my normal schedule, but I received an early copy of Shadowrun 5e to review, and it made sense to get the review out before the game is generally available later this week. As the title indicates, this is a high-level review from reading only; I hope to do an in-depth playtest review when time and player availability allows.

The last copy of Shadowrun I’ve owned and played was second edition (with a light skim of fourth edition for a game that didn’t happen), so I may give praise or blame for certain rules features that may have been introduced in previous editions. But that seems fair: praise for keeping a good mechanic into the new edition and blame for not removing a bad one. I’m pretty well-versed in the background for the game, via various friends that are mega-fans, so I feel like I have a pretty good idea of the world the rules are trying to model.

In general, this review will probably serve more of a purpose of “if I haven’t really gotten into Shadowrun before, is this a good edition to jump on?” than “is this edition an improvement over previous editions that I have loved?” (I suspect the people that are likely to ask the second question are going to buy the new edition no matter what I say).

General Impressions

On reading through the book, I had a number of consistent impressions:

  • This is a really, really complicated system with lots of fiddly subsystems.
  • It’s probably not nearly as complicated as 2e.
  • Nearly every system is accompanied by an excellent example of play sidebar that immediately clarifies anything that was confusing about the mechanic.
  • Mechanics are repurposed whenever possible, and even very different mechanics are defined and presented in consistent ways. This means that the many disparate subsystems, while daunting on a first read through, are probably something you’ll be able to remember easily after a few sessions.

This book is almost all crunch, with huge systems for combat, hacking, driving, magic, gear, and all kinds of other things. It’s nearly 500 pages of these in fairly dense text. And yet, though I’d expect to grumble and have to look up and reread sections the first few times they came up, I don’t doubt that I’d be able to find the right mechanics and apply them consistently and fully at the table as a GM. That’s a pretty big win, just for a start.

Core Mechanics

Shadowrun 5e uses a dice pool system:

  • Add Attribute + Skill + other Modifiers.
  • Roll that many d6s.
  • Count dice that show 5 or 6 as successes (“hits”).
  • Compare total hits to a difficulty (“threshold”); if you exceed the threshold, margin of success (“net hits”) usually means enhanced success in some way.

Obviously, this is very similar to the dice system in the most recent World of Darkness games, only using d6s instead of d10s. Unlike nWoD, you only reroll 6s for extra successes in certain occasions, but the smaller dice range should make the success probabilities pretty similar at 33% per die. In general, it seems that you’ll probably roll somewhat more dice than you would in WoD, with players potentially getting up to the 20s of dice totals with really high attributes, skills, and modifiers and likely starting new characters around 12 dice for their focus capabilities. Fortunately, d6s in large numbers are more easily available and useful than d10s, and they’re less likely to go flying off the table in a big double-handful of dice rolling.

While sometimes rolls are against a fixed difficulty list that suggests that focused characters are very likely to succeed at most tasks, it seems like rolls are more often intended to be contests where both actor and defender roll a large pool of dice and compare hits. I’m not sure I’m totally happy with this system, since it seems like it’ll make many things very swingy (with random rolling on both sides of the action) and slower than they’d need to be (with two players having to total successes). It does make it possible to make difficulties more granular (each die is on average a third of a threshold) and gives defenders more opportunity to use tactics, but I suspect you could just divide the defender’s total by 3 to get a fixed difficulty that’s very similar to rolled results with less swing and time at the table.

One thing the game introduced that I’m really not fond of is the idea of glitches: if you roll more 1s than half your total dice pool, you glitch (and critical glitch if you have no hits). The main thing that bugs me about them is that, due to requiring more than half your dice to be 1s, the probabilities are very odd: if you add a die to an even die pool, you more than double your chance to glitch (e.g., it’s easier to roll three 1s on five dice than on four). Statistically, the chance to get a glitch is almost nonexistent if you’re rolling anything close to a competent die pool, so except for annoying bad-dice-luck events they’ll really only mess up your low-pool desperate rolls (which are more likely to get no hits and be critical glitches). They’d be easy enough to just pull out if you don’t, like me, think a fumble mechanic adds much to the game, but they’re used pretty consistently for various systems and it’s unclear how much of a balancing mechanic they’re meant to be. At the end of the day, it’s probably a fine mechanic if you feel like adding a chance to screw up due to dice luck adds to the game’s grittiness, though I wish they’d smoothed the chance of it so adding a die to an even pool didn’t increase your risk of glitch.

An interesting key mechanic used throughout the systems is the idea of a Limit; if you get more hits than your Limit for a roll, you lose the excess. For many rolls, the Limit is a derived physical, social, or mental trait; if you make a character that’s uber-specialized, your limit for those specialized rolls might be lower than if you’d raised your attributes more consistently. For combat rolls, the Limit is usually based on the Accuracy of your gear; highly expensive, aspirational gear is much less useful to you before you have high enough traits that you’re bumping against the Accuracy of cheaper gear. For magic, the Limit is usually a risk-vs.-reward tradeoff; you decide up front that you’re going to risk higher drain or other penalties by setting a high Limit, rather than risking that you’ll lose hits to a low one. This idea should allow characters to grow more naturally in power over time than is typical for a skill-based game (usually you can shoot to the top of a single skill and begin to threaten the biggest problems of the setting).

Specific Mechanics

Character Creation

Character creation has returned to a priority system (which had disappeared in 4e) where you have to rank your race, magic capabilities, attributes, skills, and resources rather than going middle of the road on all of them or dumping a couple and being excellent at a couple. Unlike the priority system I’m familiar with from 2e, races and magic are more finely grained so it’s no longer “if they’re not your highest priority make them your lowest priority.” Specifically, even a human gets some bonus points for raising race above the minimum priority and there are a bunch of gradations of magic such that you have some minor magical talents unless you put magic as your absolutely last priority. In general, the priority system should encourage players to make somewhat less min-maxed characters than a completely point buy version would.

One thing that the system does feature is the current level conundrum: you spend points out of your priorities to raise things on a one-for-one basis in character creation, but then raising things with experience (“karma”) costs more for higher level traits after character creation. You’re really incentivized to raise all the attributes that matter up to their racial max and all the skills you want to excel at up to the level six chargen maximum. Given that you already spend karma rather than freebie points to finish your character, and chargen is already pretty complicated and involved, they could have made the whole character creation process use karma if they wanted to make higher traits cost more. Conversely, since the game features a detailed training system that already requires time investment so you can’t just rocket up skill ranks, they could have made karma costs not inflate based on trait level. With the system that exists, I foresee experienced players make a lot of idiot savant characters with as many important things as possible maxed out rather than with a more even spread of starting traits.


Like the general systems, combat in 5e has a lot of the elements of previous editions but streamlines them a great deal. They’re still deep and complicated, but less daunting that previous editions. The high points are:

  • Initiative is rolled every turn, and for every 10 points of your total you get an extra action. Interestingly, defensive actions and other interruptions eat into your total initiative, and having the extra actions are meaningful but not completely overpowering. One of the cool things about this kind of initiative is that you can do things that take an action and last for one combat round that still benefit you, because you rolled high enough to go again this round.
  • Damage divides between Stun and Physical based on weapon type. The way this interacts with armor is actually really interesting: you have to roll your armor to reduce incoming damage, but if its base rating was higher than the damage, the deadly physical damage gets reduced to much less terrifying stun; one of the more elegant ways of modeling bullets and blades getting blunted but still bruising that I’ve seen in a game engine.
  • There are lots and lots of situational modifiers and deep subsystems. For example, to make cyberware that augments your aim in various ways, there need to be lots of different penalties possible for aiming that those cyberware upgrades can reduce. These are generally well-thought-out and used consistently, but you’ll still probably be flipping around in the combat section for your first several fights to make sure you’ve captured all the necessary modifiers.

On the whole, combat seems like it’ll run pretty slow at the table until you really internalize the modifiers that apply to you most often. However, the game is also fairly lethal and features characters that would prefer to get in and get out without having to fight, so the slow combat might work fine for a few small encounters per session before the run and then the big “drek hits the fan” setpiece battle that finishes it off.


One of the rolls specifically called out for a group of ‘runners is a social primary character, the Face, so the rules need to support that guy not feeling like he wasted his build. The game has foregone trying to build an elaborate social combat system, and instead created several specific niches for social skills:

  • Social skills are integral to negotiating higher pay (and cash rewards for gear upgrades are major portion of character advancement).
  • High social skills are necessary to do social scouting: a high-social character will be able to con his way into a location to get intel and possibly even provide another way to break and enter for the group.
  • The Leadership social skill allows the Face to give out combat buffs to the party.

In general, the Face will probably have as much to do as any of the other specialized group roles, all while following a traditional “we roleplay a conversation and roll dice once” method of table interaction rather than a more social combat-style blow by blow.

And, as a bonus, the social skills aren’t locked into the traditional lie/persuade/intimidate model.


There are two flavors of hacker now: the traditional decker who uses a hacking deck and programs to defeat security, and a more Neo-style mage that can access wifi with his mind. Both look very different on initial inspection, but thankfully use a consistent set of traits for most actions affecting computers (though each has a variety of add-on options in the form of programs or technomantic abilities).

The majority of hacking is done via standardized actions using the consistent four traits. Access to these actions is purchased in a pretty straightforward manner, which is very nice since my last experience was needing to have real life desktop software to manage all the purchases deckers had to make in second edition.

Apparently in 4e there was a big push to move most hacking to an augmented reality space so the party hacker wouldn’t disappear into a mainframe to have a solo session with the GM every game. 5e has re-instituted the importance of virtual reality and getting your hacker deep into a building so he can connect directly to the device with the paydata on it, which seems liable to recreate the problem of the rest of the players sitting around while the hacker does his thing. I suspect that this is less of a problem than it was in earlier editions for a few reasons:

  • The hacking systems are pretty straightforward, so the hacker’s spotlight time ought to be only a few minutes once you’ve got them down.
  • Hackers can still do a decent amount of stuff wirelessly and in real time, so they can attempt to hack enemy equipment and drones in combat.
  • Many of the party roles get things that demand a solo scene, so you should be able to give spotlight time to the other players equal to what the hacker gets.


I never really got the point of the Rigger in earlier editions: he’s a guy that controls his car with his mind. This edition does a few things to make the Rigger cool:

  • The car chase rules are some of the best I’ve seen, and the party’s Rigger is going to be the best at doing car chases.
  • Small flying drones are easily available, so your Rigger has something to do in combat and a reason to go into the building rather than staying with the car (since wireless control degrades over distance).
  • In general, Rigging uses a lot of the hacking rules, so Riggers have a lot of interesting things to do in conflict with rival hackers and Riggers.

I’m still not totally sold on the Rigger’s appeal over other roles in the game, but, then, I never play the engineer in Team Fortress either. People love that guy, so I can see why people might love the Rigger and all his wonderful robot toys.


I didn’t make it all the way through the magic chapter at more than a skim, but, like most of the other systems, magic seems like a cleaned up version of earlier editions. Spells seem much more straightforward to purchase and use than previous editions, and they’re arranged into groups that have consistent overall mechanics (e.g., all the combat spells figure their damage in a consistent, scaling way). Physical adepts are still awesome.

Final Thoughts

I came to the realization while reading this edition that Shadowrun really is conceptually what you’d get if you took most of the tropes of classic D&D and created a sci-fi setting to support them. It’s a game about mostly amoral oddballs that pit their skills and magic against a dungeon to come away with treasure. There’s lots of room to grow in power, and having more money means that you can get better and better toys to improve your ability to then go get even more treasure.

And 5e does a really great job with all of that: the rules reward deep player investigation with unfolding power and options, there are lots of mechanically interesting and varied things to pit your ‘runners against, and there’s a potentially endless use for more money to buy shinier and shinier gear. It’s the kind of thing that you could play for a long time as a regular game without getting bored. I’m looking forward to giving it a real playtest, even though my own tastes tend to run to more lightweight engines like Technoir for my dystopian sci-fi, and I think anyone that’s interested in the genre and would find fun in a crunchy, mechanically deep system might find a lot to love about Shadowrun 5e.