Review: Seattle Sprawl Digital Box

I’m going to review Catalyst Lab’s “Seattle Sprawl Digital Box”, with a special focus on this product being a digital product. This review is based on a review copy provided by Catalyst Game Labs.

PRODUCT: Shadowrun: Seattle Sprawl Digital Box Set
AUTHORS: Raymond Croteau, Jason M. Hardy, James Meiers, O.C. Presley, Scott Schletz, R.J. Thomas, Malik Toms, Thomas Willoughby, CZ Wright, Russell Zimmerman
COMPANY: Catalyst Game Labs

A quick rundown of the content.

Included are three books (Ruling the Queen City, Emerald Shadows and Tangled Threads), a really nice and high-res map of Seattle, available both in PDF and PNG, a PDF of 24 NPC cards (2 pages per character), a small district-coded map of Seattle with Gang and POI information (spread over two PDFs), a PDF containing 11 “map cards” (intended for quick on-the-fly assembly of at-the-table combat maps) and the “Instruction Sheet”. The price point is 24.99$.


Let me be up-front here: The price point is fair. Yes, it is more useful for players who are new to Shadowrun than to veterans, but this argument simply can’t be a deciding factor for a game that’s in its 5th edition but still retains a continuing core identity and does not reboot itself. Veterans of earlier editions will have to accept that they already know much of the background and history. Catering mostly to them would be abandoning newer players, which would be worse than repeating some information in my opinion. It falls on the developers and writers to present those known facts in an interesting and fresh way and mix them well with new information. And I do think that they generally succeeded here. But there are, sadly, some problems.

Most of them come from the smaller content coupled with the fact that it’s a digital product.

Overview (and Comments)

The map cards.

11 small map pieces that can be printed out and assembled to form a quick and dirty combat map for use at the table. But they are contained in a 55-page PDF in which each card repeats 5 times. This seems like a lazy carbon-copy of the physical product, for which such multiplication makes sense if you want to allow players to build maps with repeating pieces (malls and such). But when it’s a PDF, a single copy of each piece would be perfectly adequate. We can decide how many to print ourselves.

The other, and sadly worse, negative point is the quality: They are rather low-res and frustratingly tiny cards. Printing them out in their original size nets you with quite a bit of wasted paper but if you print them out larger, they don’t look particularly good.

It would have been a better idea to issue those as individual PNG files with a higher natural resolution and thus allow players to more easily “assemble” even in something as basic as Paint before printing, allowing for a better user experience.

Reference Map

The second complaint I’ll issue against the combined POI, Gang Information and District map. Those are basically four pages that were spread across two individual PDFs which could have easily been one. Again, it seems like those were two individual cardstock cards in the physical release and so this was imported into the digital release without some fiddling.

I have no issue with the information contained! It gives you a semi-street-map of Seattle, marks each district with a distinctive colour and then offers up short-form information about Gangs and POIs and in which district each of those can be found.

But the map itself is found on the 2nd page of the “Gang Card” PDF, and the POIs are on the separate “Map Reference Card” PDF. For ease of use on tablets I would have combined both into one “Quick Reference Map” PDF, lead with the Map and follow with POI and Gang info.

The Character Cards.

24 NPCs that can be quickly inserted into a game set in Seattle and which give a portrait, a quick background and full stats for each NPC. It’s a small, but really useful piece of content. They can also all be used as PCs so that you’re set for convention games or one-shots or visiting players. Really cool.

I’d actually suggest that Catalyst release collected sets of developed NPCs like this as regular mini-PDF/digital only content. 24 themed NPCs for a variety of situations (DocWagon Personnel, Wageslaves, Security, Organized Crime Members, Clubbers…) which are laid out in a way to facilitate use from a tablet as well as print-outs.

Two complaints I feel I have to state. One is a hefty dose of re-used art. And yes, I do realize that it clashes with my earlier comment about repeated content. But several portraits used for those cards were archetypes or prominent art pieces. I understand that the art budget would have probably been stretched by commissioning 24 new portraits, but at the same time, it did feel a bit cheap.

And there’s Kevin. Kevin, as per his illustration, is clearly either an Ork Poser or an Ork that’s otherwise pretty Human looking. But by his stats, he’s a simple Human. That one discrepancy felt like there was a change between the “character as-is” and “as he was when art notes were handed out”.

But apart from the seen before pictures and Kevin, I really dig that part. High marks.

The Seattle Map.

It’s gorgeous.

There really isn’t much I can say about it. It’s 4200px x 6000px and sized for 53.3cm x 76.2cm (21×30 inches) printing. It is devoid of markers or text of any kind, and it shows the Sprawl at night in nice black/red/blue contrasts.

And then there are the three books.

This box set gives us:
“Emerald Shadows”, a 90-page book about Seattle and its districts.
“Ruling the Queen City”, a 50-page book about the people and organizations vying for power.
“Tangled Threads”, a 30-page book of 8 locations and one short adventure.

Emerald Shadows

The book is the meat of this box. And I do adore the decisions that went into how to structure the book. After a cool short by Russel Zimmerman and a very short general overview about Seattle, you reach the ‘meat’ of the book: A district-by-district chaptered rundown of Seattle.

Each district chapter starts off by giving a short overview over the district in question, some demographic data and is then further broken down by information based on the following categories:

Special Occasions – Festivals, gatherings, conventions, local holidays
Crime Scene – Who controls local crime. Wo tries to get in. Who is on their way out.
Where to Shop – Famous and/or interesting shopping opportunities.
Where to Squat – Hotels, Hiding Spots and associated locales.
You Won’t Find This Elsewhere – Unique features of each district.
Opposition Report – What will try to interfere with runners in each district.
Help Wanted – Classified ad style and short-form run ideas geared to each district.

This includes Outremer, the islands included in the Metroplex area as well as the Ork Underground, which is in the process of being incorporated as a fully-fledged district.

The entries are all written by a fictional character and not as objective facts stated by a real-world author. The writing is then punctuated by Shadowtalk segments by Shadowrunners, giving more context, critiques or conflicting information.

On average, each district gets 5 pages of treatment (10 for the Outremer islands as a ‘whole’) so it’s not the most in-depth look at those districts, but it counteracts the short word-count with something much more important: Playability.

Coming from a GM’s perspective, almost every paragraph is filled with ideas for something to include in their own game. From people to places, from short encounters to multi-session runs.

>From a player’s perspective, each section gives just enough guidance and help to anchor a PC to the city with ties to something, or someone, that is ‘established’. And this is a great help to many players, especially those who are new to a game. It also helps players to get a picture of how society flows outside of the shadows, which is always a huge plus for me.

Would more word-count for each district have been bad? No. Of course not. In fact, I would again not be averse to digital mini-supplements for each district, fleshing them out some more. Adding more people, more locations, more rumours, more dynamics, more run ideas. But only because the way it was presented here showed that this is indeed a good way to create content for a city.

Ruling the Queen City

Opening with a short by Raymond Croteau, this 50-page book then starts with an intro chapter which throws a quick glance on the status quo of Seattle, follows this by explaining how it got to this status quo and closes with… A short discussion on how to traverse Seattle, how to get in via Land, Air and Water and how to get around in via walking, transit, driving, air and water. This short, 3 page, chapter doesn’t fit the rest of this book at all. Content-wise it fits much better into “Emerald Shadows”.

Apart from this bit, the book gives a nice and, again, at-table-play oriented view about current Seattle politics and the upcoming election, as well as the people and organizations involved in them. It sets up Seattle as the stage for some truly cut-throat politicking that is sure to create jobs for runners all across the spectrum. From gutter rats to edge runners. Fond memories of Super Tuesday raise their head here.

While it’s focused on politics and power plays, it does have the added benefit of fleshing out the motivations (obvious and hidden) of several Shadowrun key players when it comes to Seattle, which is a big bonus even for campaigns that don’t deal directly with the power struggle. Knowing what a particular group of people wants helps in creating stories focusing on or featuring said groups and their opposition.

A chapter about Knight Errant and how they operate in Seattle (coupled with a few paragraphs about Federal Agencies and the Correctional Service) as well as a chapter on the current state of policlubs and other organizations close this guide to Emerald City power plays. And for me, as someone who used Lone Star for almost 20 years now, even this short update on Knight Errant as the new main ‘police’ force was a great and informative read.

Tangent: I do have to note that there is at least one mention of the detestable “Stonecutter’s Guild” and the idea that there are worldwide metahuman racial cultures around that was introduced to Shadowrun 5. I vehemently disagreed with the idea when it was introduced, and I still do so now. This is pushing Shadowrun towards a silly and ridiculous notion of “worldwide dwarven conspiracy every dwarf on the planet belongs to and can get ostracized from by acting in anti-conspiracy ways” that has never been a part of Shadowrun and never should have been introduced. It does not make sense in the world as it was set up and developed since the first edition of the game. It’s effectively a step back towards silly, overtly fantasy “one race, one culture”, idiocy that both Shadowrun and Earthdawn always stood against.

Tangled Threads

30 pages of GM goodness split up into “Seattle Spots” and “Seattle Plots”

But again, sadly with some faults that could have been avoided if this product would have been re-created for its digital release a bit more. And again, it’s because of maps. Specifically, it’s about 5 full-page location maps. They all look great, and could be really great hand-outs/at-the-table resources, if they only had been included on their own, as high-res PNGs for either good quality printing or high-res digital display. Disappointing, really.

But, having said that, this book really is great. The seven locations offered up are a Corporate Housing Complex, a Conference & Recreation Center, a Critter Research Lab, a Magical Library, a Restaurant/Bar, an Executive Retreat, a Corporate Law Enforcement Facility/Jail and a Corporate Re-Education Camp.

All of those come with a thematically satisfying description, statted NPCs and hooks for runs.

You can quickly insert any of those into an already ongoing run or use them as the focal point of a run of their own. The included NPCs are a nice addition to any GMs repertoire as well.

Then we have Seattle Plots.

5 linked mini-adventures/runs split up into three plot points each, all under the dome of the currently ongoing Proposal 23 campaigning (Making the Ork Underground a fully-fledged district of Seattle).

I haven’t run it myself, so I can and will not speak about its merits as a mini-campaign. But from reading through it, it does give enough pointers and information to the GM so that creating a satisfying set of sessions based on its premise should pose no great problem. It also does something I’m strongly in favour of: It makes the PCs focal to a big change coming towards Seattle, setting up a struggle inside the city involving any and all power players. And giving a good reason for the PCs to remain involved, helping to shape Seattle for the future.

It also does something I also greatly favour: It discusses what to do /and what happens in-game for some time to come/ if the PCs take the unexpected way to end things. Even though this is a major plot of which I’m sure we’ll read more as time goes on, the writer gave the GM a set of guidelines how to progress with Seattle even if the PCs go against expectations. Kudos for this.


Yes, I have my contentions with the product, mainly I’m not happy with how it was translated from physical to digital product. I’m also not a fan of the typos I found when reading through it all. Although, as this is a comp copy, it’s possible that those are fixed in the full release. And it’s always possible with PDFs, so I will not weigh this too strongly. But it does show that Shadowrun, as a line, still needs to get back on track after several of 5th edition’s early releases were editorial disappointments.

The content itself, though? Full marks. Apart from the points of contention I mentioned in the review, I can’t think of anything that would make me dislike it. It is a very good Seattle product that manages to use a low page-count for maximum effect: Making the city relatable and playable to GMs and Players both.

I can only hope that upcoming “Digital Box Set” products will receive some more TLC when it comes to their translation from physical to digital. But I’m happy with what the writers delivered.

Notice for Physical buyers: If you are reading this review and are considering buying the physical box, bump up the “Style” score by one, as most of my complaints will not bother you.

Shadowun 5th Edition Review


Shadowrun 5th Edition Core Rules Review [Review PDF Copy, obtained on the 24th of June, 2013]
by Matthäus Cebulla

Welcome, dear reader, to a review that was somewhat of a small odyssey for me. This is not just a simple, “read and rate” review. I took care to focus on three distinct areas of the game.

1) Beginner Friendliness

2) Digital Compatibility

3) And, of course, the game and book itself.

Before starting with any of this, let me bring out my own experiences and biases. It is only fair that you know from what background my own perception will come from.

Even though I did not start with 1st Edition, Shadowrun was the first RPG I played, slightly over twenty years ago. 2nd Edition, yes. Even though it was called “2.01D”, as it was the German version. But, still. I stuck with it, through all that which came after. I even managed to acquire a copy of 1st Edition to round out my collection.

Settings-wise, I don’t think I ever left something I call the “Era of Findley”. I stopped caring about the setting developments about when “Year of the Comet” hit the shelves. 4th Edition put me even further away from it all. While I really loved the rules, the setting just left me cold.

This is what my background looks like. Keep this in mind and decide for yourself how to weigh it against all that which will come after. If you want to skip the longer parts, use your browser’s search function to look for “[Conclusion]”. This will be featured four times in this review. Once here, and then after the end of each section.

Let’s submerge ourselves then.

1. Beginner Friendliness

My methodology here was to put the game to the test with parts of my current Shadowrun group. One player who is utterly new to RPGs, and one player who is new to Shadowrun. I let them create PCs on their own and then played a short scene, after a quick rules run-down. During the creation process, I was there to ask some questions, but didn’t interfere in the process in any way.

There were two players tested. S and M. S is an utter RPG newbie. She hasn’t played a game before, and Shadowrun is pretty much her introduction. She does have a SR2 PC, but its creation was distinctly “hand-held”. She chose to create a Technomancer.

M is a Shadowrun newcomer but RPG veteran. He chose to create a Fence.

As outlining the whole process would be a small publication in itself, I will present the collected comments during all this.

Both players enjoyed the fact that the traditional “History” section is now a “This is the world of…” section. While I, as a veteran, missed the caustic treatment of Shadowrun’s history by Captain Chaos, I also have to agree that this is a good thing. It helps new players to the setting, or the edition, to jump right into the thick of it. And while it makes for a great bit of back-story, S (who I kind of indoctrinated with SR lore last year) remarked that a run-down of the current state of affairs was of more use to her in creating a character than a breakdown of the socio-political consequences of the Shiawase Decision. She was also (most likely correctly) quick to point out that most Shadowrunners would not be history majors.

Both players then proceeded to the “Concepts” chapter and were delighted to see that it actually offered just enough of a breakdown to let them think a bit about the mechanical side of it all.

During the character creation proper, it was again S who helpfully pointed out that both the examples as well as the reminders were very helpful in keeping her straight and making sure that she did not lose herself in all the details. Both she and M were happy with the layout of the book in general and the character creation process in particular.

S did have a problem/point of critique though, which I think will apply to all “special attribute” character types (Technomancers, Magicians, Adepts): Choosing their complex forms/powers/spells does take one out of the general flow of character creation and leads to someone having to familiarize themselves with some involved material on-the-fly. For this, she commented, it would be handy having someone there who could quickly sketch out all the extra-rules and help with the decision process of what to get.

Playing through the short scenes (letting the Technomancer hack a fortified office and letting the Face play through a negotiation, an intimidation and a seduction) showed that both players managed to make good choices with the instructions, reminders and pointers given by the book.


Shadowrun 5th might still be a typically crunchy and, to some, imposing RPG (it IS Shadowrun, still), but it made sure to be as friendly to people entering the sixth world as it could be. There are still newbie pitfalls (especially when it comes to the more rules-involved character types.), but they are not insurmountable if one takes the time to read not just through the first three chapters, but also the basics of the hacking and magic chapters. This might not come as a great surprise to anybody, but I think it’s poignant that even with this caveat, a total RPG newbie was able to create playable, working characters.

If your players are into the idea of playing a game of Shadowrun, you WILL be able to just give them the book and let them take it from there, with only minimal assistance from you.

Definitely a very positive mark.

2. Digital Compatibility

This is not Nova Praxis Augmented Edition. It’s not anywhere near the Nova Praxis Augmented Edition. It still is the almost literal translation of a US Letter format, print book into PDF.

But in this, it’s a good translation. Clocking a measly 43MB while being 489 pages in size, there are no grounds for complaint there. This includes some quite nice, four-page-spread, high definition, “posters”. It also includes sharp, easy to read layout with an easily readable and good looking semi-serif font.

Using a (now rather old) iPad2 and GoodReader, it was nothing but swift and flashy. Using an Acer Iconia A210 and ezPDF it was slower, but still serviceable.

The bookmarks are exceptionally well done. There are no ifs or buts. If you want to find something, you will find it via the bookmarks.

Something I really appreciated was the hyperlinked TOC. I would have been even happier if the Index was similarly connected. Although I suppose that that might have led to some significant size increase, as the index is very well done and very extensive, without feeling bloated. It actually is a great help.


While it might be just a tad faster, it is a very digital friendly PDF.

If you own a semi-modern tablet, it will be a smooth experience.

3. Shadowrun 5th Edition – The RPG

Here comes the hard part. Reviewing the fifth edition of one of my most beloved RPGs, after having had a clear and open distaste for its direction during the last edition. As I mentioned in the preface, I will try to keep it as objective as possible, but I cannot promise any subjective pieces sneaking in. For that case, I have laid out my experiences and biases earlier. So, please keep them in mind.

Let me start with the things one can be most objective about: The layout and organization. They are both excellent. It is hard for me to write this, but it is true. The book is clean, clear and sharp. The text is always legible, the font is easy on the eyes and the sidebars/text boxes are distinct and topical.

The TOS and the index are near-perfect. It should not be a surprise, but after some recent experiences with other RPGs, it still is. Both sections are useful and, most importantly, usable.

There is just nothing wrong with either of them.

When it comes to organization, I touched on something that I liked in the first section of the review: The book really is organized in a very logical manner which is also quite play-inductive. I also really liked that Riggers got their own, fully fledged-out chapter this time around, giving them a prominent spot besides Hackers, Spellcasters and Adepts.

As of now, the TOC have been posted as preview material by CGL (, so you can take a look and see how well it works for you.

Taking a step back from layout and organization let me tell you about the art. I love the art. I really do. Whoever was the art director for this book (Brent Evans, for the curious.) deserves high praise. There is a ton of really wonderful new artwork, as well as a smattering of some old pieces. And the pieces that we know from 1st and 2nd edition have now been used to great effect. Not only do they bring a short glimpse into the game’s past, they also simply fit where they are.

Another art-related point is something that is dear to my heart. Most of the people I game with are women. My sister is a gamer, my girlfriend is a gamer and many of my closest friends (all female) are gamers. So, you can imagine that I took a hard look at the content of the art. And what I saw was a surprise. A good one.

The SR5th artwork can call itself “inclusive” with all honours. Not only are the women depicted clothed and posed in sensible (yet cool and setting-fitting) ways, they are also very much VISIBLE. I admit that Shadowrun never was that much of a problem in that regard, but SR5th really manages to hit the right spot.

And while there are some “sexy” pieces there, they are neither the majority, nor stereotypical, nor are they depicting only females. Or only Homo Sapiens Sapiens, for that matter. There is one really striking piece of a bare-chested, sexy, male, Troll gang-member, for example, which was really refreshing.

And, yes. I took the time to show the art in the book to a few female friends, just to double check myself. They confirmed my initial impression. Which made me really glad. It’s still refreshing to be able to show an RPG core-book to a female friend and be sure that she will see a good selection of cool, hard, capable female “character role models” in there.


Now comes the part which I’ve been dreading. Going for the rules. The hardest part to review well.

Let’s get one thing out of the way: I really like them.

There are some things I still dislike, yes. I’m still not a fan of how wireless is handled, especially when it comes to WiFi benefits of cyberware. But, basically, this is the only thing I don’t like.

SR5th introduces the new concept of “limits”, and while this has already drawn the ire of some people, I can’t say that I don’t find it intriguing. It offers a great way to show how augmentations (By the way: Calling cyberware and bioware “Augmentations” seems to be a really well though-off nod towards Deus Ex, which I approve of. While I’ll still call them ‘Ware in my games, I feel that this will help players new to Shadowrun get the picture quicker.) actually augment a character besides giving some rules-exception or some extra dice. Inserting the right piece of ‘ware into your PC and suddenly being able to use a higher limit gives it a real oomph. Even in higher-powered games.

The new edition also goes back to the priority system in character creation, but gives it a twist. Putting a higher priority into race now actually makes sense, even when you’re Human, as the Race column now also offers “Special Attribute Points” which can be spent on Edge and Magic or Resonance. Which nicely leads to another change: Neither Magic nor Resonance start at six now. You can actually play a weaker magical/technomantic character who then builds up his potential up to the limit, before going with initiation/submersion.

Sideline: Character Generation Power Level alternatives are there right from the start, helping GMs who want to play a lower or higher powered campaign. There are also other “optional rules” boxes strewn through the book, which help out GMs tailoring the game to their group’s tastes.

Going with this, Edge got a few new areas to be used with. While I understand why some people might (and do) dislike it, I have to again state that I really like it. It helps push the kind of game I want and like to run, where the protagonists get some unexpected boost from time to time.

Then comes the part that always stuck out with Shadowrun: How well do the rules for the different sub-mechanics interact? How well can you combine a Face, a Shaman, a Decker (They are Deckers again! There are also Decks again!) and a Rigger into a single group and run it at the same time?

After having tried it out with three archetypical scenarios (1. Subtle Insertion 2. Combat 3. Data Steal While Combat Is Running Around It), I am glad to say that you can do it really well this time around.

The rules for the different sub-mechanics are well designed and work really smooth. There is even a really long an in-depth example in the book how a Rigger and a Decker go at each other with some hacking and some drone action and some pure social stuff going on at the very same time. There are still the occasional speed glitches when someone does something purely out-of-body, like going full-VR or entering an Astral Realm, but even then the way they re-worked the rules means that you do not have two or three separate games going on at once.

My pet bug-bear always has been the Matrix side of things. And I am very happy with how it turned out to work and even feel. It’s not tied to any Real World technical background, which is a blessing. The distinction between AR and VR is explained well and in a concise manner. The main hacking rules were sitting clear in my mind after a single read-through. (The same for the Rigging rules, really.)

There is also still a “tinkering” element with Deckers, but it is not to the detriment of one being fun to play. As one example, each of the stock decks comes with an attribute spread that the Decker can re-distribute on the fly, while also changing his program load-out to match any given situation.

The way programs are now handled, as a modifier to the deck’s capabilities and the Decker’s actions, sits really well with me. Riggers can now also use some of those Matrix Programs, but with their own twist on them.

Both Deckers and Riggers use the same AR and VR “worlds” for their concentration. Both can interact, but both are still distinct from each other in a meaningful way.

And while it might be a point against the system for some, the current Matrix rules let me blast the Hackers (1995 movie) Soundtrack and actually feel like I am Hacking The Gibson. And for me, this is a very good thing indeed.

In basic terms, the same can be said about magicians and adepts of all stripes. The rules for spellcasting, counter-magic, conjuring, enchanting and alchemy (My, I really do love alchemy! It was an unexpected addition and it offers for new possibilities of one-use, player-created “artefacts”.) are all clear and easy to follow, with a multitude of great examples to them.

Sideline: I will not repeat it again, but I want to make it clear: The examples in this book are exceptional. Not only are they all really well designed and clearly written, illustrating the rules they are a companion to, they are also a wonderful non-fluff way of setting setting-tropes and expectations. They are almost all humorous while being informative, they offer a varied cast of characters and a glimpse at the street-side of the sixth world. Really well done.

The rules for Technomancers as well as the Astral Realms are somewhat more involved, but not by much. Even though “my newbie” created a Technomancer, I would still suggest that they are saved for a second campaign by novice players and/or GMs.

If I am not mistaken, that leaves two chapters to be reviewed. Gamemaster Advice and Helps And Hindrances. AKA: Behind the Shadows and Critters And NPCs.

If I may, I will start with the Critter/NPC chapter.

I miss the illustrations to each critter type, to be honest. While I never used them as much as other GMs, I always found that their illustrations offered a valued point of setting-feel information. Especially for the various Dragons. But, that is a very minor critique. The powers are all there and their usage is well explained.

The NPC part meets with more enthusiastic approval. It offers both rules and advice for Contacts as well as adversial NPCs of both lower and higher threat levels. And it does so really well.

The re-working of the Connection rating to reach from 1 to 12 made for a smoother curve between “Squatter” and “AAA CEO”. It’s a small change, but it’s well appreciated.

This chapter, along with the GM Advice chapter, shows a reason why almost 500 pages are a good thing in SR5th’s case: It’s chock full of good GM help that, in earlier SR editions, was relegated to the “companion” sourcebook.

The rules for using Contacts to their fullest are a great read and give both players and GMs a nice reminder of why they always were an integral part of Shadowrun’s character generation. Their importance and usefulness is clearly defined. Helping groups new to SR to appreciate them, and reminding veteran GMs to not water them down.

I have been mentioning the “GM Advice” [X] a good few times by now, so let me finally to the GM advice section.

It is one of the single best GM Advice chapters/sections in any core rulebook I have ever read. It is not just the typical “Be fair” or “You might want to be prepared” drivel you read so often, but actual help and guidelines tailored to Shadowrun and the campaigns you might be expected to have in the Sixth World. (Yes, short blurbs for fan-favourites like DocWagon and Ganger campaigns are included.)

There is also some really well written advice on pacing and motivation and scene-work. There even is a small and short “Random Run Generator”, which (while being bare boned) actually creates the skeleton for some archetypical runs a group might face.

Also, there even is an example in the GM Advice chapter. It is very meta from my point of view, but it illustrates something I really want (and already have been) praise the book for: It actually is strongly helping you to understand and internalize all its rules and concepts and ideas as well as possible. And it does so in a well-written and well-thought-of manner. And it is not just useful for rookies. As I have mentioned, I have been with Shadowrun for about twenty years now, and I still found it helpful in a non-condescending manner.


The high page count has been used to create something that I gladly see as the current edition of Shadowrun. It has made this book a clear written, beautifully laid-out, lavishly illustrated and well designed entry into the Shadowrun universe.

It managed to keep all the things Shadowrun fans love about the game, while also streamlining many aspects of it, and making it highly accessible to new players and new GMs.

There are still some things I personally did not like in it. The way WiFi and Cyberware/Equipment is handled, for example. While I understand that the designers had to deal with the things SR4th handed them, I still don’t like it. I like it more than in SR4th, but I still don’t really like it. It feels too forced. Not like any sort of natural evolution. It doesn’t help that, basically, 2075 cybeware does the very same things, in the very same ways, as 2054 cyberware.

The limits actually help a bit here, as they give augmentations something else to boost metahumans in.

But there never is the perfect system. At least I never found one to date.

I even have to wonder what will await us in the inevitable “Companion” Sourcebook, as quite a few of the traditional additions from earlier editions of those books are already in the core book.

And I also have to wonder how they plan to make the boxed set even more newbie friendly. I might purchase it just to quench my curiosity.

Final Verdict?

Passed with full marks. I was a sceptic after SR4th, but I’m back into the fold now.

Shadowrun 5th reads well, plays well and looks excellent.

If you have even a slight interest in Shadowrun, I will not hesitate to tell you that this is the perfect edition for someone new to jump in with.