This is certainly a topic that has been running around in my mind for a time. I was introduced to Shadowrun in the mid 2000’s, and was lucky enough to be able to play in a few games (and run a few one shots) over the subsequent years. As a setting, it’s one of those strange concepts that just works. On the surface it would be hard to believe that fantasy and cyberpunk could fuse together into something coherent, yet here we are talking about it!
As of the time of this article, there have been six editions of Shadowrun (current edition as of 2019), and for people new to the Sixth World a great deal of confusion about which edition you should play. With every incarnation comes not only a change in rules and mechanics, but adds another X years of lore onto an already robust setting (this includes technological advancements). To make it easy, I have broken down my humble suggestions as to which editions are the most and least preferable:
First & Second Edition – Simply put, no. These editions are too rough around the edges. The setting and flavor is right, but the mechanics are finding their footing. I respect both editions for essentially creating the setting, but that does not excuse the inherit flaws.
Third Edition – Yes! This edition is what many would call the quintessential classic Shadowrun experience. It has all of the hallmarks of the lore with some streamlining of some previous flaws.
20th Anniversary Edition (4th Edition) – Yes! This edition makes several changes to the mechanics, but also make the Matrix wireless. Said wireless tech really changes the landscape and playability of the game, and adds new lore.
Fifth an Sixth Edition – Don’t be tempted! Both Five and Six mark a time of regression for the setting. I imagine there was too much backlash about the changes in Four (Especially the wireless stuff) resulting in what can only be described as mechanical backpedaling.
It is my opinion that the Third and 20th anniversary Editions marked the points of highest quality for the setting. Third Edition brought with it a slew of supplementary material and lore that put it leagues ahead of it’s predecessors. On that same note, the 20th Anniversary Edition changed just enough to make the setting a little more interesting while giving new opportunities for certain types of players (Deckers).
Flaws ‘a Plenty
The strange truth to Shadowrun is that each edition is flawed in some way. As a GM you will have to pick the flaws you can live with. Every edition is like a pile of misshapen stones, and you as the mason will have to pick and choose which you want to make a standing structure.
If you are totally new to Shadowrun and want to get an idea of it, I would highly recommend the games by Harebrained Schemes. There are three games in the series and each one provides a new backdrop (Seattle, Berlin & Hong Kong), and gives even the most novice players a great representation of what Shadowrun is meant to be. Also, for the avid reader there are plenty of novels to choose from!
So what do you think? Let us know on Discord!