Review of Shadowrun 5th edition

Shadowrun 5th edition is a table top role-play game.

This review is a little short and does focus on what I consider the main failings. I would love to be able to give it a much more balanced commentary but my first observation should explain why.


It’s big and it’s complicated.

Essentially, if you haven’t played an earlier edition of Shadowrun, this is a meaty read. The rules book is very complex and sadly jumps about all over the place in terms of content. Items with direct relation to each other appear to be split up throughout the rules. It took four adults (each with their own copy of the rules) five minutes to double-check the possible penalty involved in running into combat.

Character creation appears to be alarmingly complicated. I say ‘appears to be’ because I confess I couldn’t invest as much reading time as the rest of the group and therefore only lightly modified an included character template instead of doing a full build myself.


One combat turn = 3 seconds = many initiative passes.

The initiative turns are interesting with the ‘pass system’. Once initiative is rolled, the combat turn lasts as long as it takes for each relevant party to take the appropriate action or actions on the number they achieved, in descending order. 10 is then subtracted from all the numbers and it goes around again. If anyone was lucky enough to get an initiative of over 30, then another 10 is subtracted and it goes around again. Pivotally however, only those who can subtract 10 and still have a valid number left get those extra actions.

Example: HalfDead gets 32 initiative, Jack Knife gets 28, Jane gets 14 and Mickey gets 9. The bad guy goes on 22.
Initiative pass 1: HalfDead, Jack Knife, the bad guy, Jane, Mickey.
Initiative pass 2 (-10): HalfDead, Jack Knife, the bad guy, Jane. Mickey has run out of initiative and can’t go again until next full round.
Initiative pass 3 (-20): HalfDead, Jack Knife, the bad guy. Jane is also out this pass.
Initiative pass 4 (-30): HalfDead.
New initiative roll.

Now, I actually think this is not a bad way of showing speed. There are two things about it that I think become unbalanced in play.

  • In a group of 5 players, the time it takes people reasonably new to the rules to find out and double-check things takes a bit of time. In the above example, every player that ‘falls out’ of an initiative pass is then subject to dead time. This may get better with determination and refusal to quit, and an associated speeding up of each person’s round.
  • The other difficulty is the amount of movement that is allowed per character doesn’t scale with their initiative. So in the above example, HalfDead gets to have four whole turns, but can only move the maximum metres allowed before having to start rolling to see how much further he can stretch out. For ranged characters (those specialising in guns, thrown weapons, magery or decking) that may be alleviated somewhat. For melee specialist characters, not so much, especially if you used all your movement in the first pass to get to the bad guy who was down by pass 2.
Big fights don’t seem to scale well.

Our group (5 characters) set up to defend a warehouse against a series of staggered attacks by bad guys.  We spent eight hours in total on that fight.  In game time sense, we think the whole thing played out in 2 minutes (if each combat turn was 3 seconds in total).


Overall verdict: absolutely fabulous cyberpunk setting. Enjoyed the setting a lot. Didn’t enjoy the complexity of the system, which was worsened by too much cross referencing required in the main rules.

One thought on “Review of Shadowrun 5th edition

  1. I’m playing SR5 with my brother-in-law. The system is clunky and the rulebook is abysmally organized. The cross-referencing required to run magicians, deckers, and riggers is crazy. Never mind the modifiers you have to track when people start using automatic weapons in long bursts or autofire. The designers picked odd places to get granular, and skimmed over other things. It’s particularly jarring in a rulebook as long as this one is. I’ve played a few editions of Shadowrun, and some of these problems go back to the old editions.

    If you want to read a biased, overlong, but very entertaining “review” of SR5 by an ex-FASA employee, try: Some of the things pointed out in the thread are non-problems unless you game with horrible munchkins, but I think they hit on the worst issues.

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