Shadowrun Sixth World, Part Five

“Risk it all!”

That’s the tagline for this new edition. In 5e, it was, “everything has a price.” I think the design team must come up with a pithy sounding phrase and build mechanics around it. Wouldn’t be my choice. But hey, we’ve reached part five of my assessment of Sixth World (6W) edition of Shadowrun and we’re ready to talk about the central mechanic that everything else is built around: Edge.

Allow me to quote from the beginning of the Edge section, “Much of Shadowrun, Sixth World is structured around gaining and using Edge. One way to think of Edge is building up tactical advantages that culminate in a sudden move toward victory.” That’s a bit of a departure for Edge from the last two editions, where it was more a moment of luck when things just break your way.

As you’d guess, Edge is fluid in this system, with you gaining it and losing it in a constant series of comparisons against the opposition. Mainly, you gain Edge from qualities, sometimes gear (judgement call), and the Attack Rating vs. Defense Rating comparison for nearly every action. You can only spend Edge for one type of boost per action.

The writing in this section feels amateurish again, with the attempts to blend in some fun-gamer-stuff with the actual presentation of the rules that just falls flat. There are a number of ways to spend Edge including Boosts and Actions. The Edge Boosts are things that you spend Edge to give you a better chance at something like re-rolling a die or adding a +1 to a die roll (like changing a 4 to a 5 to make a hit). There are so many Edge boosts and they are going to be so prevalent in the game session that I’m pretty sure they’ll end up causing analysis paralysis for some players. Like, what is the exact best way to maximize my spend? I’ve seen this happen in AGE system games with spending Stunt points and in the Fantasy Flight narrative dice systems.  When presented with so many round-to-round choices, play can grind to a halt as players pick from their menus – having the exact opposite effect of what is intended, which is to make play more exciting.

These Edge boosts are another example of shifting rather than simplifying the cognitive load. The basic dice mechanics of Shadowrun are dirt simple for good reason. You roll and look for fives and sixes on the dice, you also check how many ones you got. Easy to do at a glance. Now if every four or one is an option to change to something else – or hell, spending two points to raise a 3 to a five, then you are slowing down play by filling a design space that works well without being over-designed.

To add to the stress of the new boosts, several of them are “behind the screen” boosts, in that they affect the GM’s rolls or NPCs. For example, you can spend two Edge to remove an Edge from an opponent. That’s only worth doing though if you are sure the opponent has Edge, or how much Edge. It’s also important to note that the opponent may or may not be spending Edge or may be gaining it from sources you don’t know about so throwing away two of your own for almost no gain is… not a good choice.

A similar problem arises with a 5 Edge Boost that causes your opponent to count 2s as glitches (I assume on a single action, though it’s not specified). Not only does this also ramp up the cognitive load for the GM but it also could – again – be a wasted spend. If the GM doesn’t roll any 2s, then you spent 5 Edge on nothing. You likely won’t know because the GM will usually be rolling behind a screen. And either you trust your GM and are disappointed because you spent 5 Edge for nothing – or you don’t trust your GM and assume their lying when they tell you it had no effect. Not saying it couldn’t ever work, but the odds are not in your favor. Even assuming that you are earning 1-2 Edge per combat round, spending 5 all in one go is a big investment, especially considering that you almost certainly have something better to spend it on.

Edge Actions are those better things.

Edge Actions are enhancements to normal actions gained by spending a certain amount of Edge in conjunction with that action. So, for example, you can spend four points to negate the dice pool splitting for multiple attacks and attack all targets with your full dice pool. It’s worth noting that multiple attack and attack actions don’t have any limit on how many multi-attacks you can make except that you have to split your dice pool. So… this Edge Action is ridiculously powerful in that you could attack more people than you have dice for – an entire swarm of devil rats, a whole horde of feral ghouls, who knows – and just keep rolling full attack pools against all of them until you run out of ammo. It also isn’t entirely clear how this interacts with the firing modes for firearms either.

Compare that 4 point spend to Big Speech, which is a social Edge Action and it allows you to roll your action twice. The first time as a teamwork test with yourself which adds hits to your second roll. Again, this just slows down play, isn’t well balanced against the previous expenditure, and is potentially a huge letdown when you blow the first teamwork roll and can’t spend Edge to help yourself out because you’ve already spent Edge this action.

Oh, and Knockout Blow is literally everyone’s new best friend. For just two edge, if you hit an opponent and do more damage than their Willpower rating (likely around 3 for most non-caster, non-face types) then you can instantly fill up their Stun Condition monitor. Fully, so it will take them hours to recover. That costs two Edge.

There are more but you get the point. The value of Edge is wildly unbalanced and again, play testing should have caught most of these issues. And it seems fairly clear to me that they did play test at least the Edge system because of something else that comes up in this section. But there’s one last thing to cover first.

The Wild Die. Not strictly an Edge mechanic, this is a new “risky” mechanic that creeps in to some tests. You add a wild die into your pool that follows different rules from the normal dice. It doesn’t replace a normal die, just adds in on top. Rolling a 5 or 6 on the Wild Die counts as 3 hits. But if you roll a one of the wild die, it counters all the fives you rolled on the test so only 6s count as hits. I’m guessing this will only come up rarely – because rolling a 1 on the Wild Die is almost an automatic cause for spending 1 Edge to change that into a 2.

But yeah, that whole thing about play testing Edge. I’m pretty sure they did it because one of the touchstones of the Edge section and a theme they return to often in the book is the concept of preventing players from abusing the Edge system. It’s mentioned at enough length and repeated enough that I’m pretty sure that’s a response to actual player behavior they saw during testing or just intuit will be a common issue at tables for GMs to deal with. If you’re that worried about it, you’re probably on the wrong track.

To close this out, first, I’ll say that it’s not always everyone’s play style to want to constantly have to juggle “luck points” that require constant babysitting and shifting around. But you’ve built your whole system around it. Top to bottom, Qualities, AR and DR, the armor system, even Mentor Spirits are all about Edge. And with the profusion of ways to earn it and the amount ambiguity and judgement calls involved, it is going to be annoying as hell at the table.

Second, I’ll return to a point that I have made before. Much like Limits in 5e, it seems like the current design philosophy behind the Shadowrun game is one of, “let’s make up a cool mechanic for this edition!” As a wise man once said, the designers “were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.” Did the game need a complete overhaul to suddenly be all about Edge? Is it a sustainable game design strategy? Will 7th edition be completely different again? How will it fit in the plethora of splat books that will inevitably be released? Just because a potential “design space” exists in a game, that doesn’t mean it needs to be messed with. It might work perfectly well the way it was for the specific reason that it works the way that it does.

I get that game design is hard. I’m not going to pretend that it isn’t. And I get that cool ideas come along and you want to try them out. But Sixth Edition is largely a mess, starting with its insistence on building a mechanic that touches literally every part of game play and reverberates through the empty, slapdash design in other spaces that just really burdens the GM and creates exactly the kind of problems I’ve rambled about in other posts.

I don’t know if I’ll write anymore about Sixth World Edition. It’s a poor entry into the history of a great franchise that doesn’t do the game or its fans any favors. I can only hope that someone at Catalyst takes the game away from Jason Hardy before he does too much more damage to the legacy.

As always, thanks for reading.

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