Why should you play Shadowrun 5e?

The last ‘complete’ version

By u/Deals_With_Dragons

Source: https://www.reddit.com/r/Shadowrun/comments/f06b1w/what_edition_to_start_with/fgs0sch/

  • While 5e is not without issues, it is in general a fully working, complete edition. Meaning there are a lot of supplement books you can use. A few of them are really good and pretty much spot on their theme (for example Chrome Flesh, Rigger 5.0, Street Grimoire).
  • It has a large community and was the latest edition people generally consider playable. You can ask a lot of questions.
  • A lot of the background material from 4e is compatible and the rules are often “close enough” to make easy adjustments. This means even more material for 5e.
  • While 5e can be deep and crunchy at times, you can also easily handwave/ignore/change/simplify rules so it’s working for your table.
  • 5e resembles our own world (technology!) closer than the old ones did. So if you’re looking for a “projection of our world in a dystopian future” you’re closer with 5e than with 2e.

By u/adzling

5e is the most recent complete edition, as a result it has the most sourcebooks and most up-to-date vision of what the 6th World would like in relation to real life.

Core mechanics work pretty well and are quite simple and oddly elegant (attribute + skill = pool).

Situational modifiers that add or subtract from the dice pool are easily fine tuned by the GM, impose meaningful variables on the chance of success, and reflect the reality of the environment / world pretty well.

Success thresholds (how many successes you need to succeed) are easily understood and reasonably reflect the difficulty of succeeding at any particular task.


In 5e speed (initiative / dodge), competency (dice pool) and resilience (armor and body) works as one would expect in a game that reflects “Matrix” movie style combats. Depth and nuance of character building allow you to build a “Neo” type who can literally dodge bullets or a “Hulk” who can shrug off smaller caliber firearms and light melee weapons. It’s “cinematic” but retains enough relation to reality that armor can stop bullets and a 600 pound Troll hits with more force than a 6 lb Pixie. Gear choices significantly affect the outcome and bear a reasonable relationship to action movie reality. While it’s possible to “break the game” by building for the extreme this is mostly controlled by the realities of the 6th World – your GM isn’t going to let you walk down the street in heavy armor with an assault rifle or combat axe without attracting Lone Star and likely heading to jail. This creates the all-important dynamic of choosing your gear to suit the situation.

Weapons and armor include significant variance and customization options (important for the combat focussed PCs) that import meaningful choices on the player/ PC.

This nuance and depth is critical for delivering meaning to the combat focussed characters’ choices. It’s one of the shining successes of Shadowrun in general going all the way back to 1e.


One of the requirements of a heist type game like Shadowrun is usabe rules for social interaction and cons. Luckily 5e’s social rules don’t suffer from the inane rules bloat that other sub-areas do (looking at you, rigging and matrix). Social is mostly a question of opposed dice pools and modifiers and that’s just fine. Toss in some bonus modifiers for good RP and you’ve got all you need. Need more depth and nuance? Cutting Aces provides some good ideas on how to essentially use teamwork tests within the scope of conning someone.


5e’s magic system is very similar to prior versions and works out of the box without modification, well almost. The core issue of “magicrun” (whereby magic trumps everything else) is an unfortunate side effect of the continuous expansion of magic power within the mechanics and supplements. You know this is a problem when all your players turn up to the table with a mage or mystic adept. There are some very easy ways to mitigate this via houserules (ban reagents for increasing limits, restrict the number of active spirits at once, ban mystic adepts, etc). You might not feel this too much if your players are relatively low-powered, but even straight out of chargen savvy players with mage characters can be almost obnoxiously powerful. This only gets worse the longer you play. GMs should keep a weather eye on it, lest the mage players start to overshadow the rest of the table.


While 5e’s Matrix does address the shortcoming of 4e’s script-kiddie syndrome that rendered deckers irrelevant, it feels like it was written by someone who was reaching for detailed, nuanced mechanics and edited by someone who failed to playtest it. The end result is a confusing mess of overly complex, nested systems that utterly fail to address the core aspect of any RPG; IT MUST BE FUN. The action economy also renders almost all Matrix activity less effective than just shooting the person / thing / target. The supplements help, a little, but it’s hard to fix the core rules without fixing, you know, the core rules. This is sad and a terrible miss in a game that is meant to embody a mashup of Cyberpunk and Fantasy.

Vehicle chases / rules / rigging

Perhaps the worst aspect of Shadowrun 5e, the entire vehicle rules section is utterly atrocious. Riggers are a confused mess where it’s not even clear what attributes to use with the various vehicle control options and even if you do figure it out / houserule it riggers still suffer from Multiple Attribute Dependency (MAD). The vehicle chase and movement rules are an example of what goes wrong with poorly abstracted mechanics. Due to this abstraction simple questions like “how fast does my vehicle go” are not even answered. Rules that were bolted on afterward in Rigger 5.0 don’t help much either. The Swarm rules are terrible from a balance perspective and inane from a common sense perspective. Overall it’s best to ignore the chase rules and heavily edit what’s used from the supplements.


Like all Catalyst Shadowrun products 5e suffers from extensive copy-pasta, resulting in rules that make no sense, that reference non-existent rules from prior editions and mechanics not matching the descriptions. The worst offender is the Street Grimoire but you will find this particularly pathetic example of editing in almost all Shadowrun products somewhere.

Perceived vs. Real complexity

5e is perceived as a complex system, but is it? Yes and no. As you can see from above the core mechanics are very simple and easy to grok. The complexity comes from all the small details and the three overlapping subsystems of meat, matrix and astral. While those three subsystems have always been present in Shadowrun (and hence always upped the complexity level) it’s also true that 5e’s complexity was increased by the many “fiddly details” for these subsystems and the many supplements across which these are strewn. To some degree that’s what happens when a game has as many supplements as 5e does, however it’s exacerbated by Catalyst’s poor layout and editing. This is not unique to 5e, it’s present in all Catalyst products and is a product of their poor line editing in general. This can be dealt with to some degree by the judicious use of cheat sheets that summarize and condense these modifiers however it can be very daunting for someone learning the system for the first time. There are ways to manage this information overload by chunking how you learn Shadowrun into meat, matrix and astral sessions, using the aforementioned cheat sheets and simplifying/ hand-waving stuff you cannot remember in the moment.

The advantage of depth and nuance in an RPG

So we’ve covered why Shadowrun in general and 5e in particular is complex and often perceived as more complex than it is. The question that follows naturally from this is “why would I want to play a complex system instead of one where I can learn it in one session”? The answer is nuance and depth. Systems that tilt towards simple are great for introducing new players but tend to be terrible for long term durability. In the end all characters of a specific type end up feeling the same with little differentiation. With 5e there are so many ways to build AND PLAY a character that they almost never feel or work the same. Everyone’s an individual with nuanced and unique options that drive characterization in a meaningful way.