Here’s where I post reviews of SR products and resources.
Firing Squad (Combat Splat Book)
For – Players and GMs
Overall – 8
Crunch – 8
Fluff – NA
This is the first of the “splat” books for SR6 – the more-or-less usual advanced combat rules. The usual: more weapons, more armor, weapon customization options, tactical network, and martial arts rules. In addition to the usual content in one of these books, there are some new sections: more codes and rules for the Honorbound negative quality, and discussion/rules regarding PTSD. Rounding out the book is a portfolio of new Grunt/Lieutenant stat blocks.
The weapon and armor customization bits are nice – much longer descriptive text blocks than in the core rulebook, with some nice options, without getting overly fiddly with special rules. The only weird thing is the organization – the armor customization rules are in the Armor chapter, while the weapon customization rules are in a separate chapter, after the Armor. Minor complaint, but weird.
When it comes to the tactical network and martial arts rules, they are the usual. I rarely find them useful, as they add a significant amount of complexity for minimal gain. When it comes to the tactical network, I try and encourage that kind of tactical thinking on the part of my players, hand-wave it as “the decker is handling the tactical network” and not add any additional dice rolls to perform coordinated actions. Your mileage may vary.
There are a bunch of Edge-base advanced combat actions, that I’ve yet to try, but seem intriguing, and yet another clever use of the Edge system. If you like the Edge concept, I think you’ll like them. If you don’t like the Edge system, this is probably going to further annoy you.
The section on violence and PTSD is…interesting. I’m really not sure how much I want to use these rules. I appreciate the intent – mental trauma from combat is a very real thing. I just don’t know if I want to simulate it in an escapist cyberpunk fantasy RPG. I prefer to handle such character aspects in a more free-form fashion, rather than having a system per se.
As with 30 Nights, the final section is a bunch of stat blocks for various Grunts and Lieutenants. It is a fantastic resource for GMs, and justified the book on its own. Need some different law enforcement officers or corp sec goons? This has bunches to choose from. Joy.
Overall, it’s a good splat book. I’d rather have a vehicle/rigger book, but for a combat book, it’s exactly what it needed to be. A bunch of kit and optional rules that you can use (or not) as you want, with the bonus of a bunch of opposition stats. A must have for GMs, and a nice treat for players.
30 Nights (Campaign Book)
For – GMs
Overall – 8
Crunch – 9
Fluff – 6
This is the campaign/adventure book that goes with the Cutting Black plot book. It consists of three major sections – a 12-page writeup of Toronto, scenario outlines for 30 nightly runs (hence the name), and a 9-page section of stat blocks for various entities that show up in the scenarios.
Having spent some time in Toronto on business trip, the Toronto writeup is tolerable. Nothing particularly noteworthy or vivid. It has the usual references that you have to be a long-term resident to get (I presume), along with a number of plot hooks, many of which get picked up during the scenarios.
The scenarios themselves are the heart of the book – each night getting a 2-5 page writeup. They are organized into threads, with different nights linking together to tell an ongoing story. The write-ups are relatively sparse, but give enough for a GM to work with. While they are set in Toronto, it wouldn’t be that hard for a GM to move to another blacked-out city. Considering how often most groups can play, actually running the full set of scenarios is a good year or two of material.
The stat block section is great, and is useful to GMs regardless of whether or not they intend to run any of the campaign scenarios. This makes the book a solid buy from my perspective, at least as a PDF.
The chief weakness of the book, for me at least, is the lack of location maps. The poster map of Toronto is lovely, but I find such maps less useful in practice than they are in theory. I generally just use them to estimate travel times when runs end up spreading around. Tactical-scale maps are of much greater value, and it’s been a while since a Shadowrun book had them.
That one complain/wish list aside, it’s a solid book.
Cutting Black (Plot Book)
For – GMs
Overall – 6
Crunch – 2
Fluff – 8
This is the first plot/setting book for 6th edition, and covers events in the latter half of 2080 and early 2081, focusing almost entirely on events in UCAS. It’s mostly a “fluff” book, in that there is very little rules-related material. It’s hard to talk about the fluff part without spoilers, but the short version is that major changes happen, maps are going to have to be redrawn, and several mysteries/conspiracies/plots get introduced and advanced. A lot of it touches on the ongoing Ares/Bugs plot lines, and (sort-of) resolves some of that long-running thread. A lot of the book touches on events in Detroit. It also includes extensive write-ups on post-events Detroit (30 pages or so), (oddly) Atlanta (5 pages), and Ares.
I have three big problems with this book, most of them coming down to the book being not very useful to the GM (see the spoiler section below). If your game is set in an affected city/area, the changes are tremendous, to the point that it’s probably going to disrupt any campaign plots you have running. While this is always an issue, the events are such that it’s going to be extremely difficult to ignore.
Before we get to the spoilers, my basic take is that it’s an ambitious plot book, and while the execution is in many respects realistic for the setting, it’s difficult for a GM to actually use in their campaigns. Form has triumphed over function. The Form is great. The Function leaves a lot to be desired.
(Spoilers) From a plot perspective, this book is one of the more ambitious fluff books in a long time – on the level of Dunkelzahn’s death, and the Dragon Civil War, or the “edition change” books like Storm Front. The events basically wreck UCAS, and don’t do any favors for Quebec either.
(Spoiler) Big Problem 1: While the book is presented (as usual) as a set of posts to Jackpoint, with commentary, it makes the book very hard for a GM to use. Things are presented out of chronological order, so if you want to know what happens in August, for example, you have to scan through the entire book.
(Spoiler) Big Problem 2: There is no timeline of events, which would have made Big Problem 1 much less irritating. Indeed, it’s not really clear from the text when certain (big) events happen. Like when a given city gets blacked out – for some, it’s clear, for others, it’s really not.
(Spoiler) Big Problem 3: The blackout events are not explained sufficiently, particularly from a game rule perspective. Partly, this is to emphasize the mystery of it all, but the downside is that GMs don’t have sufficient information to really deploy the events in their campaign. How does the blackout effect work? What is affected? What is the duration? For example – is cyberware affected by it? Is it damaged, or permanently disabled? Do devices brought into a blacked-out zone stop functioning? There are hints in the fiction bits, and the answers are sometimes implied, but it’s not enough.
(Spoiler) My other issue with the book is that some of the events described are…difficult to believe. Beyond the EMP-like attacks are their somewhat vague effects, the disappearance of the UCAS III Corps is extremely peculiar. Partly this is reflected in the text and shadow commentary – it’s a real WTF? But it’s such a WTF, and the event is so poorly described, it’s hard to figure out what (supposedly) happened. It’s 50,000 people moving through a populated, friendly territory, just vanishing. And the text doesn’t make clear what was observed, and how it happened.
Shadowrun 6th Edition
For – Players and GMs
Overall – 7 (of 10)
Crunch – 6
Fluff – 8
Sixth edition is a fairly significant change from 5th Edition, which was mostly a refinement of 4th edition. The major changes are:
- The Edge system. Harkens back to the old “pools” of the early editions, but a lot more flexible. I haven’t played enough to really get a sense of how well it works, but it is a neat idea in concept. Kind of like D&Ds 5th Edition Advantage/Disadvantage concept, it takes what used to be tables of modifiers, and turns it into a generic and abstract system. Albeit a lot more complex than D&Ds. This new system permeates everything in the new edition.
- Formalized statuses of various types. My favorite addition in 6th edition – now there is a single set of statuses that define the impact of fire, electricity, cover, etc. Not as well integrated into the system as Edge (e.g. Noise should have been made a Status), but still very nice.
- The Skill tree is radically simplified. The number and types Skills changes from edition to edition, and in this case, it’s a lot more streamlined than the craziness that was 5th edition.
- Decking is once again overhauled, in the never-ending quest to make the Matrix integrate better into the game. Decks have been split into cyberjacks (a new implant) and cyberdecks, which is an interesting choice. Having done a few sessions with Matrix elements, it’s been pretty successful, but the overall architecture is not very well defined.
- Armor has been seriously nerfed. It got out of hand in 5th edition, with insane dice pools from armor. Now it is reduced to a source of Edge. Weapon damages have been reduced as well, to balance it. But I’m not sure if it balances out. It feels weird to me.
- Grenades/explosives have been reworked. Much cleaner now, but they are extremely lethal. Which is realistic, but may not be as fun/balanced. Don’t know yet.
- Reworked the vehicle rules a bit. 5th edition went too far in simplifying the vehicle stats, and 6th corrects this. It’s not as crazy as 3rd edition (which I actually liked), but it’s at least useful now.
Fluff-wise, I think 6th does a better job conveying the setting than 5th did. 5th was oddly lacking much of a reference to the history of the setting, which is one of the more fun aspects.
One of Catalyst’s goals was to make the core book shorter – 300 pages. Which was a nice goal after the massive 5th edition book (a hair under 500 pages). I actually like this a lot, as it makes things less intimidating to new players. However, they did end up leaving some elements out of the rules, which would have been nice to have. Binding spirits is out, as is any provision for delaying actions in combat, for a few notable examples.
Much has been made of the errors and omissions in the book, which Catalyst is greatly criticized for. While I think those criticisms are justified, they are also a bit overblown. Sure, there are errors, typos, missing references and the like. Another editorial scrub would have been useful, but it’s not that bad. They are updating the PDFs, and there’s nothing absolutely critical missing.
Overall, 6th edition shows promise. I think whether or not you like it is mostly going to come down to whether or not the Edge system works for you or not. If you don’t like it, you aren’t going to like 6th, because it’s everywhere. If you are starting a new campaign, or with new players, I’d recommend using 6th. If you are established in 5th, I’d stick with 5th, mostly because all of the various “splat” books (advanced rules for different things, like vehicle customization, etc.) are all available.