Why should you play Shadowrun 3e?

The ultimate evolution of the OG game mechanics

By u/JessickaRose

Source: https://www.reddit.com/r/Shadowrun/comments/f89hka/which_edition_of_shadowrun_faq/finibbk/

If I misremembered something or forgot something, please feel free to correct, but I’ll just ignore any “but X edition is better because Y” responses, that’s not what I’m here to do. I just want to clarify a few things that are often misunderstood, and explain key differences.

I’ll try to keep it sweet and compartmentalised, and I won’t get bogged down in which is best and why you should play it. I play 4eA at the moment, and we’re unlikely to go back to 3e but it definitely did some things better than later editions in my opinion.

People get bogged down and scared because ‘high target numbers’, but in most circumstances it’s no more or less crunchy than 4eA, indeed many of the modifiers are literally the same number, they just modify the base of 4 rather than adjust from your dice pool. In either case, number of successes equates to degree of success. The difference is simply rolling a fixed dice pool based on skill+stuff against that modified number, or rolling your modified dice based on skill+att+stuff pool against 5.

3e also has dice pools based on your stats. (not the same as what 4e onwards calls “dice pools”) - Combat/Spell/Hacking - which allow you some flexibility as to where you want to really put in the extra effort. You also have a Karma Pool, which naturally grows over time as you earn karma. In later editions, these mechanics became ‘Edge’ but as taht is just an attribute you can boost it doesn’t reflect gaining experience the same way.

It’s a more deadly system, the way damage is stepped from L through to D means a lot of damage can happen very quickly, you only need 4 net hits to step from M (3 boxes) through to D (10 boxes). You can bleed out fast, and you only ever get one Hand of God, which is very costly. Furthermore, armour acts to reduce the target number of a soak roll, but the roll itself is only your Body dice - so a Body 2 mage is going to get hurt no matter how much kevlar you wrap them in.

However, while more deadly, 3e is more forgiving of cinematic action gameplay. Your dice pool will never say ‘no’: Jonny the Mage can pick up that discarded shotgun, take that shot in the rain through eyes filled with blood from casting drain, and take down that last bad guy whose only illumination is a flickering street light to save the day. It probably won’t happen with 2 dice against a target number of 37, but he can try (and I’ve seen people pull off even more remarkable feats that the whole table enjoyed).

I think that may be the point where people get the bad impressions from it, as there isn’t really a ‘no you can’t’ point of running out of dice, because there will be a number you can crunch out to say ‘you need this to do it’. That can make it a little slower to work out the nuances, as those less than practical actions come up a little more, but the payoff is characters pulling off superhuman efforts, which is part of role playing and part of why you spent a fortune on that ‘ware.

Defaulting between weapon types is more logical; you take a +2 modifier for, say, picking up an Assault Rifle when you do not have the Rifle skill. +4 to default to a stat.

Perception is just an Int roll, not a skill. Athletics and Stealth are their own skills as well, so between these I think you’re not stuck with quite so many “must have” skills, like Climbing, Running, Infiltration, Shadowing, and indeed Perception which limits choices outside of them. That streamlines things a lot outside of combat, as well as in creation.

There are a couple of creation systems, both point build and priority.

No Vampires, no AIs, no Free Spirits, no Pixies, no Sasquatches… Changelings came in in YotC.


Mages and Shaman are much more distinct.

Mages are depicted as scholars, they summon Elemental which they must bind to their will, they’ll have a Hermetic Library, they’re not bound by the whims of a Totem, although they might have a bent based on their Tradition.

Shaman are more primal, they have to follow a Totem which gives them bonuses and penalties, and a path of behaviour. They summon Nature Spirits which are bound by Domain, and can’t call upon an army of them as Mages can Elementals - however, they’re free, on demand, and offer a little more versatility. Some Totems switch out Nature Spirits for Spirits of the Elements.

There are other Traditions with their own selections of Spirits and rules such as Voodoo and Wuxing.

Spellcasting is much the same regardless of tradition. However, unlike later editions, spells are learned by Force, so if you want to overcast a Force 9 Powerbolt, you’ve got to learn Force 9 Powerbolt as an individual spell - which is a tough roll just to learn the spell.

Magic Loss is kind of a big deal, it can happen just from taking Deadly wounds, it isn’t recoverable except through initiation, and you have to offset with Geasa - so you’re not likely to risk using slap patches. If you don’t offset, you lose it forever.

Spell Defence also means allocating some of your Sorcery and Spell Pool to that, which means you have less to be offensive with. Because yeah, Sorcery is a skill, Ritual and Counterspelling aren’t separate, nor are Binding and Banishing separate from Conjuring.

I think Magic is a little less strong in 3e than 4e because of how spell defence works.


Cyberlimbs allow for breaking down of pieces and partial installations, like if you have a cyberarm, you cut the price of the dermal sheathing on the rest of you by 20%, or if you want to install a smartlink and already have an image link and the induction pad can be installed in that cyberarm, you only need the limited simrig and processor. Limbs add more body rather than damage boxes, because you get 10 boxes regardless of how tough you think you are. Dermal plating, bone lacing etc also adds to Body, not armour.

Having loads of ‘ware would also increase your signature for targeting by sensor weapons.

Bioware uses its own “bio-index”, which is even worse on magic than cyberware, as it doesn’t just reduce your magic rating, it does so in a way you can’t offset with geasa.

I think this actually offers better granularity and they are actually easier to track as separate systems than “one costs half the Essence of the more expensive pile”. Though the effect on magic is really harsh.


Drone-riggers and getaway-driver-riggers are more distinct through skillsets, expense, and do not mean you can also try your hand at decking. Learning to rig a CCSS system to take over a building can be useful though.


Is very much its own thing, probably a bit too far from the rest of the group. You have data size and memory to think about, I/O speeds of your connection, and might end up running a different dungeon crawl to the rest of the team. Definitely possible to run a combat decker and go in with the team, hack standalones/closed systems, depends how your GM sets you up, but it’s also entirely possible to be playing a completely different game.

Your own team is also less liable to get Hacked themselves, Electronic warfare is something only the rigger might worry about, because Wireless is a very limited thing, so no Hacking the security team’s guns either. There might be sentry guns and stuff you can play with, but the kind of Matrix overwatch is I think a bit different.

There are no technomancers, and otaku (a sort of prototypical technomancer) are bad.