Fan Favourite RPG Shadowrun Now In Its Sixth Edition

I got my hands on the first edition Shadowrun core rules in 1992, and loved everything about the setting. Admittedly, the year 2050 seemed a lot more distant then than it does now. I haven’t played Shadowrun as a tabletop roleplaying game since the mid-1990s, but it is a world that remains near and dear to my heart.

I was intrigued to learn that Catalyst Game Labs officially announced the release of the sixth edition of the tabletop RPG franchise to mark its 30-year anniversary in May this year. The Shadowrun: Sixth World Beginner Box was released at Origins Game Fair in June, and the Shadowrun: Sixth World core rulebook debuted at Gen Con in August.

meeting-in-alleyNow the Shadowrun core rules are available to everyone. You can buy the PDF and pre-order the print version on the Catalyst web store, or you can get the PDF on DriveThruRPG.

The first and most noticeable change is that the year is now 2080 – thirty years after the original release.  But what else has changed? The new edition also follows the trend of other RPGs – most noticeably DnD 5e – of streamlining and simplifying the core system to attract and retain new players. Evidently, Catalyst Games has retained the core of the Shadowrun mechanic: gather as many d6s as you can and roll them. It’s a pretty satisfying experience in gaming, I can assure you. At the same time, there’s a certain feel to Shadowrun that marks it out from other tabletop RPGs, even those that share its modern urban setting or cyber-punk aesthetic. It was clear that the designers did not want to lose this feel either.

One of the most promising changes in this edition is the unification of the game-clock so that the PCs in the ‘meatscape’ and those in the Matrix are playing the same game at the same time. I was very pleased to see this picked up by the designers:

One of the biggest historical challenges with the Matrix was how it was always it’s own self-contained mini-game. Stop if this sounds familiar: The decker needs to access a system to get a piece of information or control a device. These things happen at a different rate than the rest of the game, so no one else can do anything during this time. Time for the rest of the group to go play video games or pick up a pizza until the decker and GM are done.

Shadowrun has had to periodically re-invent its technology system, partially because it has been taken up comprehensively in popular culture (the Matrix, anyone?), but also because real world technological advances have occurred that the game anticipated, but not precisely. One of the biggest examples of this the spread of wireless technology to every facet of the modern experience. As the designers noted, the changes to the Matrix in previous editions have kept a pace with technological milestones, but technology moves quickly and the in-game Matrix did not always reflect what was happening today, let alone the future.


There are changes to the combat system, to the available action types (there’s only major and minor actions now), a single roll for initiative, and a reduction from the number of skills from 80 down to 19, and these all seem positive at first glance. Arguably the most interesting change is to what is called the Edge System.

Each player has access to an Edge Pool, which you can access during each encounter or interaction which you can spend or burn for some sort of advantage. In previous editions, a character’s Edge was that something intangible that they could draw on (pluck? luck? moxie?) in a tight spot. Now Edge is better described as the accumulated advantage you have in opposed situations – more like having the edge on someone or something than a personal quality. So fighting, spellcasting, hacking or negotiating allows a player to earn and spend Edge. Different advantages cost more edge. Some Edge effects can only be chosen before you roll and some only after. You can re-roll die, give an ally a bonus, generate an automatic success,  heal a point of damage, and so forth. Gaining and spending Edge replaces a lot of other functions in the game and provides those cinematic moments where characters pull off incredible feats against the odds.

And if nothing else, it is this aspect of Shadowrun that makes it different from most other RPGs. Your character is not a hero, not destined for greatness, not on one of the 17 stages of Campbell’s journey. You are an entirely dispensable mercenary for hire, a nobody in particular, and you are constantly in danger in a very lethal world. Walking around the wrong corner could snuff out your character just like that. It’s a game of survival, and in that game, edge is the difference between making it or not. Ironically, that could be true for the fate of this edition as well.

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