Which edition of Shadowrun should you play?

Why this is a difficult question

When it comes to Shadowrun editions, there are no easy answers; only annoying compromises. Sorry!

Each version of SR comes complete with a significant number of foibles and fiddly bits, and I can all but guarantee that some of those are going to drive you mad. Every version of SR comes with bits you’re going to want to patch or houserule over. There is no clear winner in that department.

To make things worse, a lot of people get emotionally attached to their favourite edition, come to terms with its faults, and then like to get in arguments online about it1. So this can be a contentious topic to discuss, despite the fact that it’s a really common-sense question for a new player to ask.

So, setting out to write this doc, I thought the fairest way to do it was: attempt to give you some moderately objective facts about each version, then give the microphone to one or more ride-or-die megafans of each version in turn to make the case why this is the one you should play. Hopefully this will give you a rounded perspective; though not, perhaps, the easy answer you were seeking.

Before we start: obvious tie-breakers

Given that there is no right answer, there’s a couple of factors that might make the decision for you without much further thought:

  1. If you or anyone at your table already has some experience of one specific Shadowrun version - probably pick that one. Shadowrun can be hard work to get started with. Prior experience smooths over that significantly, so it is pretty valuable.
  2. If you or anyone at your table already owns a lot of books for one specific Shadowrun version - probably pick that one. Unless you’re desperately keen to spend more money, anyway.
  3. If community support is important to you - strongly consider 5e. It’s currently the most commonly played edition, and therefore has the liveliest threads. If you ask random questions on community forums or Reddit, you’re more likely to get good answers quickly if they’re about 5e. It also has the best selection of digital tools available, such as chargen utilities, or Roll20 character sheets if you play online. It has the largest number of fan-made materials, like quick reference documents. Finally, it has a huge number of officially published sourcebooks available.

  1. I am not innocent of this, either. ↩︎