Thursday, July 11, Catalyst Game Labs will publish the digital version of “Shadowrun” fifth edition, with printed books coming to stores sometime in August. Jason Hardy, Shadowrun’s Line Developer, said, “We worked to make this version of the rules approachable to newcomers as well as robust for veterans, so I hope the game appeals to anyone who is intrigued by the possibilities the setting presents.” Hardy has managed the creation of “Shadowrun” books for four years, including the development of the new edition.
Since the original “Shadowrun” RPG was released in 1989, “Shadowrun” has been known for its intriguing mix of genres–a dystopian future where mega-corporations have the most power and cybernetically enhanced mercenaries do illegal jobs for them, but magic and shamanism have also emerged, along with fantasy races such as elves and trolls. Think William Gibson meets “Dungeons and Dragons.”
It has been eight years since “Shadowrun” fourth edition and in that time real-world technology has evolved a lot, catching up to the fictional tech in the “Shadowrun” setting. “New tech and new weapons give us a chance to throw new toys into the game, as do advances in medicine and genetics,” said Hardy. “Original editions did not anticipate wireless networking, while cyberlimbs and implants of our time have not yet caught up with “Shadowrun” (though they are making progress).”
Beyond actual tech, the new edition was informed by modern questions about technology. Hardy said, “The modern world presents several themes the directly relate to what “Shadowrun” is about, things like the role of the individual versus the oppression of monolithic organizations, how technology can be used both to promote and to subvert freedom, and the role wealth and other factors play in determining how technology and other crucial resources are distributed. Those are very current concepts, and “Shadowrun” is poised to tell stories directly related to them.”
Roleplaying games have also evolved in the years since the last edition of “Shadowrun,” with a rise in indie RPGs, thanks to the likes of self-publishing and Kickstarter. Some of the indie philosophy has rubbed off on the new “Shadowrun.” “There so many game options out there, and players have played so much, that are really quite good. So we wanted to present some challenges and make players have to think about how they are going to accomplish what they want to do, and how they are going to make themselves awesome. We tried to build in challenges and trade-offs so that players would have to think about what they have to give up to get what they want,” Hardy said.
Beyond shifts in tone, what about actual rule changes? “The game plays faster and smoother than it did in the older editions. The changes we made were geared toward focusing on how the skills and attributes of a character are at the core of what makes them awesome,” said Hardy. “We introduced a mechanic called limits that forces characters to think about how they balance their attributes and also somewhat limits the amount of bonus dice they get from gear. We made a new use of the Edge attribute to allow people to ignore limits, and provided a way for Edge to refresh more frequently, encouraging players to be daring and creative in their roleplaying.”
One of the biggest draws in “Shadowrun’s” rules were characters called Deckers that hack into a three-dimensional virtual-reality version of the Internet called the Matrix–remember these concepts are from 1989, predating the Matrix film by a decade. So how does “Shadowrun’s” fifth edition approach hacking? Hardy said, “We focused on two things: Making the rules consistent with other parts of “Shadowrun” and making the system approachable. We also wanted to better reflect the type of Matrix the megacorporations would want to have. A free and open Matrix does not serve their interests as well as one they can control and crack down on. It’s a scarier and more dangerous place to run, but we like it that way.”
Ultimately, all of the changes and updates made to “Shadowrun” are to make a better game for its players gaming in that unique setting. Hardy said, “Do you want to play a mage scrounging in the dark corners of the world for that secret something to boost your power? A decker steering clear of the relentless security of the Matrix in order to liberate exclusive nuggets of information? A street samurai straining to maintain a code of honor on streets that seem to demand compromise at every turn? If these or any of the other stories interest you, we are here for you and ready to roll!”