Why should you play Shadowrun 6e?
Editor notes & links to resources
- Chargen tools - Genesis (free), Herolab Online ($).
6e, aka Sixth World Edition, aims to be a fast-playing version of Shadowrun. This is meant to contrast with the previous editions where the natural flow of roleplay tends to be repeatedly interrupted by searching for dice pool modifiers or obscure rules.
For good or for ill, much of the crunch from previous editions has been weeded out. On the upside it keeps the game (and therefore the fun) moving, but on the downside many players who are used to Shadowrun’s long-established run as an ahem “game with a high threshold for system mastery” may find this 180 degree change in direction jarring, unfun, or both.
6e has matured considerably since initial release in 2019. It’s uncharitable, but fair, to say it was rushed out at that date. Since that initial release there has been significant errata to clean up sloppy editing and choppy rules. However, you never get a second chance to make a first impression and unfortunately for some players these improvements simply were too little or too late to change their minds.
As of this writing, the expansion rulebooks for combat (Firing Squad), magic (Street Wyrd), rigging (Double Clutch), and pop culture/media (No Future) are available, with more resources (Companion, Matrix) coming out later this year.
Please consider an updated-for-2022 Pro/Con list:
Simplified skill list – there are two or so skills every shadowrunner should have, and most archetypes only require 2 more skills on top of that. The 5e corebook’s 79 skills becomes just 19 in 6e.
Simplified initiative and action economy – there are no “initiative passes” as existed in previous editions… everyone gets one turn per round. Bonuses like wired reflexes now give you more actions during your one turn per round.
Matrix hacking rules are the fastest-playing version yet – they are functionally very similar to those in 5e, with the major difference being access is gained at the entire network level rather than icon by icon. In 6e you don’t have to waste time rolling dice to get marks on every single file or device you want to hack… once you’ve hacked access to the host, you’ve got access to everything the host controls!
Any metatype can do any role – in 6e everyone’s attributes begin at 1 and you can pick any metatype right from the get go at priority E (higher metatype pick gives you more attribute points for the attributes where they’re ‘better than humans’).These design changes serve a couple desirable ends: metatypes that have always been thinly veiled analogues for racial minorities are no longer mentally penalized, and you can build any metatype to perform any role without having made the “wrong” choice. Trolls are just as good at being deckers as anyone else, and anyone can be as good a close combat specialist as a troll!
Status effects – this is a new concept to 6e. There are 25 different “statuses” in the CRB that give consistent rules for all sorts of different conditions like being blinded, in cover, on fire, etc. Many effects inflict statuses rather than having their own custom rules that might be slightly different from a mechanically similar one.
For example, rather than there being slightly different rules for invisibility vs concealment, there’s a single status that both the spell and critter power apply and use the exact same rules for.
Combat is generally less dangerous than prior editions – arguably, the least lethal Shadowrun has ever been in any edition. While some might think of this as a downside because it’s somewhat more difficult to one-shot anyone in 6e… I’d call it an upside because honestly who has fun being one shotted? NPCs can use snipers too, ya know!
The two most common complaints you’ll hear about 6e is that “strength does nothing” and “armor doesn’t help”. Both statements are really talking about the same thing: when you get hit you get hurt, but you probably won’t die. These complaints should be taken in the spirit of “I don’t think strength helps ENOUGH” and “I don’t think armor helps ENOUGH”. Because it’s objectively true that you do in fact benefit from strength in close combat and you are in fact better off wearing armor than not.
If a complaint is not about strength or armor, then it’s likely about not liking the new Edge system. There’s nothing wrong with opinions, but bear in mind that 6e is as big a break from 4e/5e as 4e was from 1e/2e/3e and the new Edge system is the reason why. People are going to have opinions about that, and hostile viewpoints tend to be more vocal!
Rather than being a measure of luck that manifests as meta dice manipulation tech, Edge in 6e has a hugely expanded role. In addition to dice manipulation, Edge also serves as the mechanic by which positive and negative modifiers are applied to a test. Lastly Edge also serves as a meta currency you spend to perform special actions like calling a shot or disarming someone.
- If you prefer crunchy, detail-driven rules systems, then 6e is likely not for you.1 Rather than having specific rules codified for this modifier or that, in many cases 6e simply looks to gamemaster discretion based on the specific context that’s going on in play. Furthermore, the rules tend to be written in conversational language rather than a precise, “rules lawyerly” way. Errata cleaned up many ambiguities, but the concept of “if it’s unclear, then the GM decides” is very much baked in to 6e’s bones. That’s not for everyone.
- 6e did away with Force for spells. That experiment diverges from every version of Shadowrun before this one, but the execution strikes a decent balance between keeping spells from being neither OP nor useless. It’s listed as a downside here because Force wasn’t removed across the board: spirits and foci still have Force, so it makes Force-less spells seem all the more jarring.
- 6e didn’t always commit to the new Edge mechanics. Occasionally you’ll still see rules that add or subtract dice to your pool. This inconsistency means you must keep straight which times you modify a roll by altering the number of dice rather than using the Edge mechanics.
- While 3 heavy waves of errata have made the 6e core rulebook an improved product, it does mean there’s a “right” version and a “wrong” version of the core rulebook to buy. You absolutely want to get the third printing (Seattle City Edition) as either hardcopy or PDF. If you bought a first or second printing of the core rulebook from Catalyst’s online store or DriveThruRPG you can download the Seattle City Edition. Unfortunately this leaves people who only own an obsolete hardcopy in the poor situation of having to buy another copy, or making do with a booklet-sized errata add-on.
Editor's noteThe below writeup is now quite old, and the situatiuon with 6e has changed a bit as time has gone on. I am keeping it here for posterity but the writeup above from u/The_SSDR is more relevant now.
Sooo…. 6e. The newest and without much doubt most divisive edition of Shadowrun with the big overarching goal of simplifying things. While having several similarities with 5e, it also features some huge changes.
The biggest of them is the new edge system. Instead of being a limited resource used for powerful effects, gaining and spending edge is now common during a session and can also be used for smaller effects, e.g. rerolling one die or increasing the number of a die by one. Many modifiers and qualities were changed in gaining edge and it is now a central part of the system. It also is the most debatable mechanic of the system, bringing its own slew of issues. Many of the problems I am mentioning later on are at least a bit tied to the edge system. Therefore, before starting with 6e, I highly recommend reading more about it beforehand. If the problems it creates might be a dealbreaker to you, don’t try this edition. Edge is so deeply embedded in 6e that it is nearly impossible to houserule it out without changing half of the book.
I’m giving now a quick overview of the most mentioned pro’s and con’s of 6e. If not explicitly stated otherwise, you can assume that I share the public opinion due to my own experiences with the edition.
- Simplified Skill List. That is especially positive for the matrix. Combat skills might be too grouped up for some though, when looking for houserules (and trust me, you WILL do houserules - but this is very likely true of any version of Shadowrun), you will sometimes see that combat skills are actually a bit split up again (including me). All in all though, it’s better than the 5e list.
- Simplified initiative and action economy. While true that it might not represent the speed of street sams enough and also has a sudden jump in damage output at a certain threshold, the reduced bookkeeping makes up for it.
- Handling of knowledge skills.
- German supplements for 6e. They are awesome, trust me. Go Pegasus! Yes, call me fanboy here, but they are really doing a great job. Also, the german core rulebook is laid out better and includes many (so far exclusive) errata. If you can speak german, you definitely have an advantage here.
“Simplification” of Matrix. Some say it’s noticeably simplified, others say it’s no better than 5e. For me, most of the noticeable simplification in the matrix is due to the simplified skill list and simplified initiative. Taking that out, the rest is only slightly simplified and slightly more intuitive due to rewording things, removing one mark/access level and removing grids. So yeah, it’s improved, but not as much as other ones let it seem in my opinion. Still, I take it :) However, I urge you to houserule matrix search, in its current state it’s broken and actually not intended to work this way.
Attack Rating and Defense Rating. Some weapon stats are merged into Attack Rating, which describes the general effectiveness of weapons. Armor (and some other things) adds to Defense Rating. The concept of simplifying offensive and defensive stats this way is interesting, but in its current state, it’s heavily underbaked. It just determines the gain of one single point of edge (or the non-gain of it). Also, with the range of possible numbers being quite limited (base Attack Rating is from 1 to 14), weapons all feel the same. There was a tease though that in the incoming splatbook Firing Squad these two stats are getting more meaningful, so hope is not lost here.
Priority table. A huge improvement here is that every metatype is available for Priority E to C. You can therefore always take the metatype you like without gimping your character. However, it has problems in other areas. Several options are near impossible to take for building a viable character (Attribute E), others are way too powerful or too cost effective (Attribute A, Metatype C). Humans are not a viable metatype. The options are therefore actually more limited than they already are due to using the priority table chargen. I just did an homemade version of karmabuy for my players.
Strength is almost meaningless. With the recent errata, there is nowhere a direct impact on the damage of melee attacks. The most it does is increasing your Attack Rating (a bit more on that later), which translates to an edge, which most times only translates to ⅔ of a hit. So basically a little child can challenge a dragon to a boxing match and both will do the same base damage. Other than that, it’s used almost nowhere.
Armor is almost meaningless. It isn’t relevant for the soak test anymore. That leads to problems like the ones we have for strength. If you ever see the joke of bikini trolls, it’s because of the crazy nerf to armor in 6e.
Skills cost the same as attributes. Because an attribute affects several skills, it is something that just can’t be right.
The majority of qualities and flaws are off at least karmawise and sometimes even effectwise. The usual suspects here are Analytical Mind, Focused Concentration and Impaired Attribute. Analytical Mind in its original form is so cost effective that in my opinion there is not a single character who should not take this quality. In Debt is nicely done though, really like this flaw.
Confusing, missing or contradicting rules, While also true for (at least some of?) the other editions, 6e is the worst here. It is said sometimes that without knowledge of 5e, it is harder or even impossible to play 6e.
Bad editing and layouting. Similar to the point before, while also true for 5e, it’s worse for 6e. German rulebooks excluded though.
Rules contradicting shadowrun lore. By far the biggest offender here are the changes to bullets which would lead to a complete turnaround of the weapon industry lorewise without a reasonable benefit AND also violating rule zero of Shadowrun.
Rules contradicting the design goal of simplification. Again, ammunition, which price calculation suddenly got an additional layer of complexity. It’s often said that 6e missed their design goal. For me, it’s only partially right because of the listed pro’s which are quite impactful. It’s also debatable if the edge system is a simplification or actually brings more complexity.
Mages being even stronger than in 5e. Have to see it more in action, but so far, I would share that opinion. Direct combat spells are a total joke though.
Driving rules. The amount of vehicles you can choose that have doable piloting tests for an average driver is quite limited. January errata did an essential buff to rigger controls though, so riggers are at least a bit playable now (but still in a bad position overall).
Keep in mind that right now we are in a phase where there can still come a potentially bigger amount of errata. So maybe, with just a bit of patience, some of the issues are going to be addressed. If you want to try it out now, DON’T buy the physical version as of now. Because the first printing is missing an huge amount of errata, it’s unusable. Get the PDF (which can be updated) and wait at least for the second printing if you like physical copies. That also applies to the german core rulebook.
Editors note – I personally think SSDR is over-stating this as a “con”. If RPGs had a sort of 1-to-10 scale for crunchiness, with (I dunno) GURPS being an 8 and Honey Heist a 1, then Shadowrun 6e is only ½ or 1 point below from the other editions. It’s a bit less crunchy in a few places, and asks a bit more of GMs to adjudicate details, but don’t confuse it for a narrative style game like Fate or Shadowrun: Anarchy, or even a middleweight game like Savage Worlds. It’s still not that style of game. But that’s just my opinion! And it’s not SSDR’s! ↩︎