Shadowrun 5: Raising the Glass Ceiling


It’s no big secret anymore, chummers; Shadowrun Fifth Edition is on it’s way, and like it or hate it, there are going to be some changes. Now, before you toss your dice, burn your 4th Edition books and flip the game table, there are a few things you’ll want to keep in mind.

First of all, Fifth Edition is keeping all of the basic systems of Fourth Edition. This isn’t like coming off of Third Edition where you basically had to learn the game from the ground up. Dice Pools are still calculated in the same way, and all of the tropes you’ve come to expect are present and accounted for.


We like Shadowrun, Fourth Edition. In our minds, Fourth Edition did a lot of things right. The rules were more streamlined and easier to use than ever. Having Attribute + Skill as the basis for dice pools is good. Fixed target numbers are good. And many other things are good. We wanted to be sure the strengths of Fourth Edition remained in place.


Second, with all of these things in mind you can rest assured that conversion of all 4th edition material should be null sweat. Certainly, with any new edition comes change, but the change shouldn’t be as jarring.
With that said, there has been a recent developer blog post by Randall Bills entitled “Where do dice come from?” The title is a bit misleading, as it really doesn’t concern itself with where your dice pools are coming from; no, chummers, it’s FAR more interesting than that.

Allow a wizard a digression, Shadowteens. I have to tell all of you about the ONE thing I really raged against with Fourth Edition Shadowrun; perhaps some of you hated it, too…


…Skill Caps…


In previous Editions of Shadowrun, 6 was kinda the magic number for progression to perfection. 6 was the high unmodified human stats. In previous editions, however, if you really wanted to burn the Karma, you could push those limits up to 50% past your metahuman “maximum,” such as a 9 for humans. In second edition, it was an optional rule; In third edition, they went ahead and made it an official rule.

Skills were a different critter. There were NO maximum caps on skills in second or third edition. You could advance to your heart’s content. The only difference in editions was that the Karma costs fluctuated.

All of you know where I’m going with this. Shadowrun 4 had a dreaded “glass ceiling” of development. 6 was now the skill cap. You could push it to a 7 if you took the right Advantage, and you could only do that for ONE skill. This is a bit of a problem, chummers. You mean to tell me I can be as wiz at computers as FastJack with a few points of Karma and an Advantage? If I’m a seasoned hacker with a Hacking skill of 4, the best hacker in the sixth-world is only tossing 3 more dice?




Six is not that hard to get for a skill during game play. If a specialist runner has a few key skills, he hits his maximums in a few sessions. Well? Then what? That hacker is as good as he’s ever going to get, and there’s no room for improvement. Well, I suppose he’ll just start building up some peripheral skills while he’s got nothing new on the horizon. It could be YEARS later, and he’s no better off than he was back then.



Awakened characters had it a bit harder with choices in what to drop their Karma on. Mages and Shamans of all editions had to spend Karma to:



1) Learn spells
2) Bind Magical Foci
3) Raise their Magic Attribute (4th edition)
4) Raise their Magic Skills
5) Initiate



Yeah, Fourth edition was especially hard on the Awakened. It’s fair, though, because a single awakened can be a powerhouse! A single well-placed spell could take out a group, a good conjurer had a personal army of spirits that are immune to mundane weapons, and best of all…



…the Awakened Magic attribute was effectively UNLIMITED.



Let’s look at it this way, my fellow mages: If you were a magical powerhouse with a 6 in magic and decided to initiate into the greater mysteries, becoming grade 1, you have now increased your MAXIMUM Magic stat by 1. The rule is that your maximum initiation grade is equal to your Magic stat. Let’s say you had the Karma to Initiate to grade 6, placing you at a Magic of 6 and an Initiate Grade 6; Your MAXIMUM Magic stat can be a whopping 12! If you were REALLY ambitious and figure you’re going to show Karl-Heinz Zessler a thing or two about magic, you can supercharge your new max Magic stat to 12…which just made your maximum initiation grade a 12, and if you wanted to Initiate your Grade to 12, congrats, your new Maximum Magic is a 24. By that time, though, you’re looking at spending HUNDREDS of Karma to get that high.


Still, that’s a lovely thought, no?



While all of this is going on, your mundane pals are slumming it, maxing skill after skill to the lousy cap of 6, having peaked LONG before you even started initiating.



Digression over.



Long tangent, eh? Well, that’s how many of us felt about skill caps. The awakened always had a new project to work on when he capped his Spellcasting. In fact, most mages are Karmic black holes…while their mundane companions sit on a fat stack of Karma wondering what in the hell to do with it.



It looks like this little problem is about to change…



Shadowrun 5th edition is going to raise the skill caps!


We felt that putting skill caps at 6, as Fourth Edition did, forced players to look for other ways to build their dice pools besides enhancing their skills. We decided to raise skill caps to 12, giving characters more room to grow. We didn’t want to make it easy to get there, though—the Karma costs of getting that final level are very high, because we wanted it to be clear that getting a character to that level was a sign of real commitment and dedication. Not to mention survivability.


Chummers, this is a HUGE breath of fresh air for players. Sure, they still capped skills at 12, but I have a feeling that the karma cost curve is going to increase exponentially when you push to a 7. No more peaking early, Shadowrunners! You now always have something to shoot for when spending Karma! Even if you make a wiz-drek hacker with a starting Hacking skill of 5, you have a long way to go before you can say you’ll leave FastJack in your digital dust…far from it. Fourth edition would have you two matched in 3 or 4 Shadowruns. Now, with FastJack most likely having a Hacking skill of 10-12, you’re at least going to have to DOUBLE your skill rating to stand toe-to-toe with him.



This simple alteration to the rules at the very least doubles your campaign life. Sure, the awakened are probably hitting their heads against the wall knowing that their magic skills now require MORE karma to maximize their potential, but hey, that’s the price of power.



When compared to previous editions, this is a very generous cap. Sure, it’s still a cap when previous editions didn’t have one, but one has only to look at the “Prime Runners” book to look at some of the best in the shadows. The highest skills seen in the book flounder at 10 and 11. If that’s where the BEST are peaking, then a 12 cap is nothing to sneeze at!

That's about the size of it...

That’s about the size of it…

Raising the skill caps does have it’s drawbacks, however. See, in previous Shadowrun editions, your dice pool was merely your Skill rank. Fourth edition made your dice pool your Attribute plus your Skill rank. Figure in your bonuses and gear, and that’s a LOT of dice you’re tossing. That becomes unmanageable very quickly. Well, the boys in R&D at Catalyst have thought about that, too.



After capping your stat and skill, you had to look to gear to increase your dice pools. Once you maxed yourself out, you were COMPLETELY reliant on gear to make you better. The advancement paradigm shifts completely from Karma to Nuyen. I’d call that a design flaw. Catalyst thought it was, too. They wanted an emphasis on the character’s skills and abilities, and less on gear. This is a good thing; an emphasis on gear sounds WAY too “World of Warcraft” and not “Shadowrun.” Conversely, gear is GOOD! We love our cool gadgets and Shadowrunning toys! If the emphasis is totally on skills and nothing on gear, what good is it? If I can do just as well at Hacking with a ¥100 Meta Link commlink as I would a ¥8,000 Fairlight Caliban, why the hell would I waste the Nuyen?



Introducing Shadowrun 5’s newest mechanic:

The answer we came up with was limits. This is a concept that exists in Fourth Edition, namely in the Force of a spell. When you choose the Force of a spell, you are limiting the number of hits you can count from your Spellcasting Test. If we spread that concept, introducing different sorts of limits, then that was an area where gear could have an effect. If you want to have a big dice pool, you need to build up your skills and attributes; but if you want to be able to take full advantage of that dice pool, counting as many hits as possible, you need the right piece of gear.

Weapons in Fifth Edition have a statistic called Accuracy. This represents the limit imposed by that weapon, that is, the number of hits you can count when you roll your test. Got a sweet sniper rifle that can shoot the wings off a fly from a kilometer away? That’ll have a high Accuracy, and you’ll be able to use a whole bunch of hits from your dice pool when you make an attack with it. If, on the other hand, you’re stuck with a broken-down pistol with a cracked barrel, well, you could be one of the world’s great marksmen, but you’re still going to have trouble hitting the side of a barn with that thing. Then again, maybe you’re not built with a high skill in pistol, and a cheap, low Accuracy gun is just about right for what you roll.



So, now the number of hits you can actually APPLY are generated by your gear. This forces players to still have to stick with S.O.T.A. equipment if they want to be on top of their game. Also, this makes sense from a thematic standpoint. It doesn’t matter that you can put a round through a flea’s hoop at a hundred meters; if you’re packing a Streetline Special against a charging troll, you’re not going to have quite the chance of hampering the incoming hurt as much as if you were holding a Ruger Super Warhawk.


Accuracy also opens up a whole new avenue for gear, and that should thrill lots of runners out there! gear is going to come in many more varieties now that the parameters have changed. Let the gear splatbooks FLOW!


The Accuracy stat gave us the chance to make gear have significant effects on the game without ballooning dice pools. But that wasn’t the only effect they have—when you add something like this to game infrastructure, the effects tend to show up in different places.

They do indeed, Randall.



Here’s the hundred-nuyen question, though. If weapons get “Accuracy” as a new statistic to limit success application, will this mechanic also apply to non-combat skills? Will comlinks have a “Processor Rating” that caps how many successes you may apply on Hacking tests? Will Medkit ratings cap First Aid rolls? Will an appearance mechanic cap your successes on Negotiation or Seduction tests? How far does it spread? Will non-combat tests be capped by GameMaster adjudication?



Well, chummers, only time will tell that in a future blog post or playtest document, as my crystal ball is a bit dim at the moment. Either way, I think the skill cap increase and accuracy statistic are both very positive changes.



I do know ONE thing for absolute certain…



…I can’t WAIT to dig into Shadowrun Fifth Edition!



Original Blog Post:

Posted on February 4, 2013, in News, Role-Playing Games, Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. I was introduced to Shadowrun during 4th edition. So I was initially turned off by the huge increase in skill caps in 5E. “It’ll take YEARS of playing now for a character to get enough karma to max out their main skills!” I took to the internet, looking for an explanation for why they would have done that. Your post was very illuminating. It makes sense now. That was the point.

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