A few more thought on Shadowrun 5th

So, I’ve been following the developers blogs for Shadowrun, 5th edition. I had a knee-jerk reaction when the announcement came out… I was upset about the new announcement but mostly I put it down to having a case of change/edition fatigue. I love Shadowrun 4th/Anniversary Edition and I really don’t want 5th to disappoint me.

But the more I read about it, the more I’m sure it is going to. Check out the Shadowrun tabletop blog if you want the whole story but essentially, the last two posts have been about this new concept, Limits. Essentially, limits will cap dice pools based on Gear. If you have a light pistol (to use their example) you can have a dice pool of 6 or a dice pool of 20, you can still only keep a maximum number of successes equal to the gun’s accuracy rating (in their example 3).

It really brings to mind the Roll and Keep mechanics from old L5R or 7th Sea. I wasn’t a fan of roll and keep in those games and I’m even less fond of it here. The reasoning strikes me as sound – from the point of view of what outcome they want to create – in that they posit that this will create less of a dependance on gear and generate more of what a character can do from their stats and skills. They also state that they hope it means that players will use a wider selection of the available gear in the game over the perceived behavior of 4th Ed players.

I’m reminded that I’ve heard this promise before… right, D&D 4th Edition. And instead, 4th Ed built the gear right into the base math of the game with a prescriptive power curve that ultimately left me cold – and meant that PCs were more reliant on their gear/bonuses than ever before.

And players who only used a small sliver of the available choices in 4th ed – because they wanted the best/more efficient/effective equipment in all situations, will likely do the same in 5th ed… it won’t take long for the internet to point out the most abusable items within the paradigm and then that’s what will see use by that subset of players.

The discussion of Stat Limits also gives me pause. The rationale is to encourage more general characters who don’t overemphasize one type of stat (or worse, min/max). Now, not a fan of min/maxing myself – I tend to make generalist characters anyway… But why would a game want to punish someone mechanically for making a character creation choice to lean in one direction? Which is honestly how this seems to go. I mean, the game already has a reaction to someone who spends all their points on one facet of their character… they didn’t spend any points on those other facets. What is the need for another mechanical layer that serves only to reinforce the difficulties accompanying a player’s decision?

I mean, if you want to encourage players to make more generalist characters, build that into the player and GM advice, create a wider range of challenges that require more than just a team of super-specialists, or other less, number-y solutions. Limits seem inefficient as a game element as well, requiring an addition layer of rules on top of everything else going on at the table. Plus it creates cases where Stat Limits will take precedent, sometimes gear Limits will take precedent.

I don’t really get it. That’s probably clear to all by now, but really, read my post, read the design blogs and somebody give me a reason to understand how Limits are at all a good thing?

As always, thanks for reading…

Oh – and apparently Hacking equipment is going back to the Cyberdeck terminology… ugh.

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7 responses

  1. You do realize that the limit system is already in SR4A, right?
    It’s just the spellcasting rules applied across the board. And those rules do a great job of keeping spellcasters from breaking the game. This is a good idea.
    Get the failure that was D&D 4th out of your head. This has nothing to do with it. This is Catalyst taking the best parts of the edition you love and putting them to good use.

  2. I do realize that spellcasting has a version of a limit system built in already. Unfortunately, there are significant differences between the limit system being described and the current “limits” to spellcasting. First, the spellcasting limit is a choice that can be made to purposefully limit the number of maximum successes you allow yourself on a circumstance by circumstance basis. Already carrying some Stun, don’t need full power, putting it in a focus? You can choose to lower your maximum potential. It’s an interesting gameplay choice made during the process of play, not set in stone at one juncture. You can also void that limit by choosing to overcast – an interesting gameplay decision with real consequences that you choose to accept in the moment, because of circumstance, to accomplish your objectives.

    That’s the first set of problems with taking the “these rules already exist approach.” Because Limits as described in the developers blog don’t work like this. They are hard limits built into gear (and possibly stat categories) which set artificial limits on character capability, restrict choice, and limit interesting gameplay choices (as currently described in the blog) with the exception of using Edge – which was already an interesting gameplay choice in its own right without being linked to this new limit rule.

    But the second problem is this: a rule that works really well for one – limited – subsystem in a game is not necessarily suited to being a ruling principle of the whole game. I know we don’t know everything yet – heck, we hardly know anything – but limits as described in those blog posts are Not like spellcasting, do not enhance gameplay (that I can see) and do not reflect taking “the best parts.”

    I appreciate the sentiment of waiting til we know more and not panicking. I also appreciate that 4th Ed was a poorly written set of mechanics with very good intentions. I predict that Shadowrun 5 is headed in the same direction. It’s easy, as an artist, a writer, a designer, a planner (I wear several of these hats at work) to get an idea and run with it and think it’s great and at some point you need to step back and ask, “is this really making something better or am I just enamored of my idea?” Happens to me all the time. I really wish they would do that with SR5. The developer responses to the negative comments on the blog actually seemed defensive rather than constructive (in a respectful way, but still defensive). That’s a bad sign to me too.

    I apologize for the long response – I should actually have mentioned the point about the developer linking this to spellcasting above because that had all been on my mind, your comment (thank you, by the way) just reminded me to make those points.

    I suppose what I want to know – if you believe this is a good idea that will make the game better – which you seem to… I want to know how this makes the game better. I can’t see it. And sometimes, you know, I need to take a step back and see it another way…

  3. While I like the roll-and-keep system of L5R and 7th Sea it is a very different sort of dice pool system from SR4/5. I do not see a lot of value in adding more fiddly parts to the dice system of SR, especially one that add new stats to track.

    However, I do like the idea of allowing the skills to go up to 12.

  4. See I find the idea of stat limits in Shadowrun somewhat odd given that there is at least a slight emphasis on stat specialization in the game. The augmented characters and traditional magic users especialy encourage at least some degree of specialization, so I am unsure what is trying to be accomplished by this mechanic.

  5. @seaofstarsrpg
    I’m not sure yet how I feel about skills going to 12. I can see a value to it, but I also can see a down side. Strangely, I also think it is opposed to their other stated goal of reducing specialization on characters. The value of the 6 scale is that it caps out and forces you to broaden your skill base… With 12 it is entirely possible that you’ll see even more min/maxing as people climb to that upper limit.

    @8thseadog
    You’re right. And not only does the game encourage a slight lean toward specialization, the fluff/concept does as well. You are a team of specialized experts coming together to use all your skills.

    Besides which, you still run into the math problem wall of creating challenges for all characters. I mean, that’s why I hire a Face, right? So I don’t have to be the one negotiating. The problem is, the challenge that is appropriate for the team Face will not be appropriate for the guy on the team who just wants to be able to do a little fast talking. Which is how it is now, but expectation already sets that up going in, whereas the new system will be more ambiguous about it – if all is as it seems.

    Truly odd.

  6. I gave up on SR4 after playing it a few times and realizing everyone was regularly rolling 12+ dice on most tests (compared to the 5-8 average of SR1, SR2 and SR3). The static TN of SR4 seemed like a nice idea but in practice, it diminished the fun of re-rolling 6s from the older systems. And while they did try to bring that aspect back (i.e. exploding 6s), it just wasn’t the same when you’re rolling a drekload of dice (even after switching to smaller dice). SR4’s combat system was very unappealing as well (especially the unnecessarily complicated AP vs. Armor aspect).

    Raising the Skill limits to 12? Geez. Adding another pound of dice to Shadowrun is NOT appealing.

    I prefer the bare-bones rules of SR2 with some house rules mainly to fix the Initiative system (but understand it’s not for everyone…especially power-gamers).

  7. I was a big fan of Shadowrun 2e and I completely feel the same way about huge dice pools… but something — and I can’t really perfectly explain it — about 4e just really worked for me. I’ve rarely just gotten into a game, enjoyed reading a game, the way I did SR4. I know it’s not perfect… rigging is a pain in the ass, and the hacking rules are still weird, but this game with just a little judicious tweaking/houseruling in a few small places makes it work just fine.

    And that just really put me in that mindset… I would have loved to see a revised/edited 4th edition that helped out a few of it’s issues rather than a completely new game.

    Ah well.

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