I can admit when I was wrong. As a huge fan of Shadowrun, 4th/Anniversary edition, I was disappointed by the release of 5th edition and some of the changes made to it. After a while, I revisited 5e though, and I’ve come to appreciate it in its own right. The new edition certainly does some things to really help clean up some of the weaknesses of Anniversary edition but it also has a few weaknesses of its own. I thought, as I am now running an active 5e campaign, that I’d break down some of my thoughts on the new edition.
The Priority System
Look, I know this is a return to form for SR, as priority based character creation has been around since the beginning. I… still don’t like it. One of my players makes the argument that it significantly helps ease the burden on new players by giving them some guidelines to work through. He’s right about that, and 5e did a good job of loosening the reins a little bit in terms of making priorities not so choking. The ability to spend free karma to expand a little in any given category and the special attribute pools tied to metatype are nice additions.
I would argue that the true difficulty in any given category of spending is in what to do with the points and that priorities don’t really address the true problem of knowing what’s important and how to best spread your points around, while also limiting how you spread them around. 5e’s solution to addressing Skill Groups (for example) is a weird bit of bolt-on, “these didn’t really fit” that unfortunately pushes a useful tool into the background. The rigidity of attributes and money is also a problem for me, but that’s an argument for another time.
The new system of limits was one of my least favorite changes to come out as part of the 5e system. Limits seem to adversely affect some character types (Deckers) more than others (any fighter type). Limits are easy to manipulate for the most part, create a new layer of cognitive load for players, and either seem to be a source of extreme frustration (again, Deckers) or very little of a factor at all.
While I do appreciate that limits tend to curb the occasional “I got 20 hits” nonsense that could happen in 4e; I don’t know that it was such a problem at the average table. It still feels to me like it was a solution in search of a problem. Also, because there is only one Physical limit but two limits built off of mental stats, it creates a weird ranking of importance among the physical stats. That is offset a bit by the importance of Agility to skills and the importance of Body to survival, but it still feels like an issue.
Where limits shine is in their ability to do things like become the threshold for Knockdown tests (rather than straight Body). Also, “limits” were always an implicit part of spellcasting and the new implementation feels like it strikes a very good balance for me.
Probably my greatest disappointment so far is the new armor system. It is “simpler” but at the cost of a great deal of interesting interaction. Basically, armor now comes in three levels. You have 8 points of protection, 9 points of protection, or 12 points of protection. As those points also correspond to the amount of mod-slots you armor can take, there is, effectively, no incentive whatsoever to take anything except the 12 point Armor Jacket.
In Anniversary edition, armor explicitly covered specific parts of the body. In 5e armor is just generic “all shots hit center mass.” Yes, I know there are called shot rules in the splatbooks but those don’t really solve the problem. There is really no diversity to armor anymore. With damage values increased to account for the single armor number, now that there is no Ballistic vs. Impact consideration, the trade off is that – in conjunction with limits – it becomes imperative to do the most damage possible to even have a chance of hurting an opponent. An average Ork with a Body of 7, an armored jacket (12), and a helmet (+2) is practically a tank. Anything less than 8P base damage is going to make it very hard to significantly affect that character – assuming they have even a decent REA + INT. The trade-offs inherent in the old armor system made it a little harder to “math” the game.
So, there’s still some stuff I don’t like. But there are positives. The rules are clearer when it comes to things like Riggers and Technomancers. Edge is more important again, which is nice for human characters. The metatypes do feel more balanced than they did in 4e.
Overall, it’s a good game that I unfairly maligned when it first came out. I’m not sure I’ll ever get over my love for 4e/Anniversary. It was the system that rekindled my love for Shadowrun after missing all of the 3rd edition era. But I’m enjoying 5e and I think that, for the forseeable future, my runners are going to enjoy it too.