Shadowrun – 5e and Me

So, I just had a birthday… maybe I’m feeling old. I suppose I could be that guy now. I’ve been tinkering with my Shadowrun/Dogs of War conversion or whatever you want to call it. I’m enjoying it and hoping to have something to show off soon. I made the mistake of reading the Shadowrun 5e, preview #3.

They’re making me pull my hair out. I mean – I already know I’m not happy with this game but really, are we actually going back to the priority system? How is that a good idea? I remember sitting down in the 2e days and making notebooks full of characters using the priority system and coming to the stark realization that the priority system is painfully limited and disheartening to use. I was one of those who did my own conversion to get a point-buy system for 2e because what was in the book just made me so sad.

A priority system is terribly limiting. Why is it that every troll has less skill points than every human? And why would anyone ever choose to play an elf? (Okay, to be fair – 4e has this problem too… elves are just… ugh). Ultimately though, the priority system creates this really weak funneling effect on character creation that pushes characters even more to be cookie-cutter look-a-likes. The typical shadowrun character is probably already going to bear a strong resemblance to others like him/her but priorities exacerbate the problem. Probably my least favorite part of the priority system in the old days (which we are apparently returning to) was having my money doled out to me in very specific parcels. The resources column is probably the worst part of the whole deal.

I really racked my brain to try and figure out why they would return to a priority system when they already have a great point-buy system created (which would have needed barely any tweaking to make nearly perfect). I really cannot come up with anything. I read an interesting piece the other day about applying a priority system to D&D the way Shadowrun did it… and everything that writer put forward as a virtue of the system had me cringing. Find the two posts here and here.

I feel it might be fair to say that his exploration of certain points about old school D&D is very surface. This is not an accusation, merely an observation. I doubt he meant to get too deep. The fact that he threw out the old, “Drizzt sucks” bone to the crowd gave me a chuckle and a headshake. Anyway. The second post strays more but between the two of them you get a sense that the author is a fan of scarcity. I contend that priority systems don’t really create much in the way of real scarcity – they simply create a different, and in my opinion, inferior system to get to the same thing that point buy does. As he mentions earlier – randomness creates a weird magic when applied to games. Rangers and paladins did have a certain mystique. Because people in the world knew that if you were a ranger, you were special. They’re just aren’t that many rangers. And even after ruminating on these posts though I still find myself asking, why go back to the priority system?

And I don’t have any better answers than, 1) just to give me something to rant about or, 2) just because it is “the way we used to do it.” Because it’s not (again, in my opinion) better design by any stretch of the imagination. The one point I really thought about – that it was faster – did give me pause. I thought about this. Sure, it might be faster because everything on your character sheet gets broken down into neat little boxes – but then you have to spend the points in those boxes and honestly, it doesn’t actually seem that much faster – just more restrictive.

I get it – I’m just a crazy old guy who hates 5e… nothing to see here. But everytime I read anything about 5e, as someone who loves Shadowrun, I find myself just shaking my head and wondering what the heck they are thinking. The more I read the more this game turns me off. I can’t for the life of me figure out how this was their answer to “what would a new edition of Shadowrun” look like.

I really feel like I should stop reading these previews. They only depress me. I just always hope that when I read the next preview it will be the one to draw me in, make me a fan again… and then it just makes things worse. Oh well. I’m working on a version of Shadowrun that I know will make me happy and I’ve been pulling together all of my old creations to start adding to the blog as permanent resources. Until next time – thanks for reading.

OH! And I am super-excited that Man of Steel is finally here!


6 responses

  1. Being over here on the other side of the planet has insulated me from a lot of the radical evolutions of some of my favorite games. CoC editions are more about covers and organization than changes (until now), I decided to stop buying WoD material as Revised was drawing to a close for reasons of space and practicality and didn’t have to deal with players who wanted to try the new edition, I didn’t have my 2nd Ed Shadowrun stuff here so when I got a yen to play SR I bought the 5 main books of 3rd Ed – didn’t get to play – then went whole hog on PDFs of 4th Edition… which I have also not yet played.

    This new edition of SR has me wondering about how I should approach it. My shelves are no less full, in fact I had to squeeze in more, and my access to players and time to play has shrunk to ridiculous lows since I took my current job. One thing I do not want to do again is buy another succession of the Core + Magic + Cyber + Gear + Matrix quintet. For practical reasons, a 5th Edition of a game that I enjoyed in 1st, loved in 2nd, think I liked in 3rd, and am weirdly pleased and disappointed by in 4th, may not be a useful place to put my money when I have all of those older editions. I haven’t had time to go over the previews and discover if it tilts in a way I will appreciate, and that is important to consider, too. I have talked about the changes with a 4th Ed GM who is heavily into the game as his primary one, and like what I have heard so far.

    I enjoyed the priority system and the choices it forces on you. That said, the point you raise would definitely affect long-term play. I am not sure SR would ever be my main focus of game to run (I much prefer to play it) but if it were, the issue you raise would concern me.

    I think if you do start an SR resource here, a lot of older players will appreciate it.

  2. Allow me to present an opposing viewpoint. The last Shadowrun game I ran I presented to complete newcomers. We tried out 4e and character creation took the entire night of the first session with about half hour of gaming afterwards. Since this group can only meet about once a month when everyone is in town this is entirely unacceptable. The problem with pointbuy systems, especially when you have a tremendous amount of points (>100 is a lot to toy with), is that players who like options will explore them, and then worry too much when creating the character whether the points they are allocating are good enough, inadequate or superfluous. Far too much deliberation for my tastes. What made matters worse is that Shadowrun is pretty lethal, and the sample adventure of the stuffer shack followed by an improvised chase and showdown ended in a complete TPK due to some poor rolls. Spending hours creating characters only to have them blown away in a matter of seconds left a really bad taste in my players mouths.

    I had them try out the Priority system in 2e in our second session, character creation took a whopping 20 minutes plus 10 more for resource shopping. It was quick, easy and allowed us to get right into the game. The speed with which it was done also meant they weren’t terrified of losing a character. I think this problem persists in any heavily customized game, you are required mechanically to invest quite a bit of mental effort into the character and losing them is a huge turn off. Personally I like having a couple chummers get fragged and have them roll up a few more by the time the scene is over and they are back in their hideout.

    The problem you mention about cookie cutters from priority which essentially forces the same choices for certain archetypes is very true. I don’t have any quick fixes to deal with such a problem.

  3. @Redhobbit

    You make a fine point about not wanting to take a long time to make characters. This is often an argument I hear in favor of priority (or other simple) ideas on character creation and I can’t argue it. With few exceptions (Shadowrun 4e being foremost) I find that I generally prefer games with lower mechanical input needed to make characters.

    What I predict (and again, I realize that I’m predicting – but it is an educated guess I’m making from the clues I have) is that the priority system might speed up character creation some but the overwhelming wealth of choice is going to remain in 5e, especially once the splat books arive (5E versions of Arsenal, etc.). Also, despite the paralysis that might come from having just a big batch of points – the priority system only removes one layer of that – by pre-breaking down the points into smaller buckets. You still have to spend those points and 5e will have no shortage of ways to spend those points.

    Overall – If it were just the priority system, or just the wired/wireless gear stuff, or just the return to old language/ideas (decking), or just the limits systems (well, maybe not the limits system, that’s just awful), I could probably get onboard with 5e… but everything together is just making a game I have no interest in playing.

    Ultimately, the priority system is just one more nail in the coffin.

    Speaking of which – I’ve run two fairly meaty campaigns of Shadowrun under 4e, several one-shots, and played in several other games and we’ve had very low turnover through death (I’m sure it happens). Also, as someone who recently blew through 5 PCs in 8 levels in a Pathfinder game I was playing in – you’ll find I’m not one who even comprehends why players worry about character death. If a PC dies, make a new one. If you can’t get back in the action right away – you’re a grown-up (or maybe not…) – you can handle a little delayed gratification. The idea that everyone has to be “always in!” doesn’t really sway me much. I just think it’s not a necessity to a good game as some folk do.

    1. I don’t no the particulars the new Shadowrun edition nor am I familiar with a lot of the jargon you tossed out but it seems like they’re throwing the baby in the with the bathwater, I believe that’s the proper way to Wonka a quote. Speeding up creation is a great thing but if they have a mess of different ways to add complexity from the get go then I don’t think the priority system is going to accomplish much. Still without seeing it in action I can only make generalizations.

      It could be due to my relative inexperience with 4e and also Shadowrun in general, but it seemed to me the characters were very fragile. It’s been a while but I recall one being one shotted from a grenade, another was massacred in a sword fight and the final character was run over by a bike gang one too many times. Pretty excellent way to go if it wasn’t the very session.

      I’ve got no problem with people having to wait to get back into the action but I find Shadowrun 4e to be the biggest offender of long drawn out character creation. There are so many ways to funnel your points and so many to begin with that your possibilities really are endless. In my mind character creation in excess of 20 minutes is the extreme. Ironically, this mindset didn’t occur until I started DM’ing for a few years, as a player I absolutely loved spending a day or two fiddling with mechanical synergies and various books creating a character. Funny how things change.

  4. Whoa,
    I really think an easier system is needed, given the discussions. Bring on the DoW/BoL- conversion!

    Got the pdf of the fifth edition, and a headache from all the rules – but I love the setting fluff.


    My own house rule version for 5e. Let me know what you think. I have a whole set of house rules under the shadowrun overhaul page.

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