A short while ago Shadowrun 5th edition was released. I've played a lot of Shadowrun a long time ago (mostly SR2 and SR3, some SR4).

So what are the main differences that someone coming from Shadowrun 4th Edition (or 20th Anniversary Edition) to Shadowrun 5th edition should know about?

Kind of a follow-up to this question about SR4.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I have no first hand experience with either 4th or 5th edition, but there's a thread on rpg.net called Sell Me/Unsell Me Shadowrun 5e that you might want to look into. (I'm doing the same, as after a long, long while - 2e - I might be getting interested in SR again.) \$\endgroup\$
    – OpaCitiZen
    Commented Jul 12, 2013 at 11:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ Also, I've just noticed that Catalyst has put out a 30 pages long, free, introductory quick-start pdf for SR5e. Might give us the idea about what's what and what changed. \$\endgroup\$
    – OpaCitiZen
    Commented Jul 12, 2013 at 12:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ Iunno; the Quick Start, in my opinion, doesn't really highlight the differences all that much; stuff like rapid casting, for instance, is omitted due to space concerns. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 13, 2013 at 20:14

3 Answers 3


The major changes I noticed between the two editions are as follows:

Limits prevent characters from being overly min-maxed. Each of them is centered around an attribute that is typically dumped in normal characters; the most important attribute for the physical limit, for instance, is Strength, though other attributes weigh in they have the same impact as Strength does alone. This means that you can't build a "never gonna fight close quarters" build and just dump strength and expect to do well in other physical areas, encouraging a well-rounded thing.

Mystic adepts get a huge buff. I'm not exactly sure that this is a bad thing; they still can't astrally project, but they get the powers of both mages (other than astral) and phys-ads pretty nicely. Were they still using the BP system, this would be a flaw, and I'm not sure about allowing them as the third pick on your priority system, but I think the reason that people are upset is because they don't astrally project as much as they should when not a mystic adept.

The priority system really makes things a lot better. It prevents some of the worst cheesing during character creation (don't get me wrong-it's still possible, but you have to know what you're doing and make some sacrifices).

Combat's been changed rather heavily on the bookkeeping, but not so much the execution. The Accuracy limit keeps pistols from killing Great Dragons, which is a nice touch, but also discourages just dumping into the newly increased skills and maxing them out right away. It also makes smartlinks a more tangible advantage, as do laser sights. Armor is now a single rating for stun and physical, which makes it a lot easier for new players to understand, and, in my opinion, more realistic.

Hacking's a lot better. Mind you; the wireless thing contains some logic holes and gimmicks with the new benefits it gives stuff like cyberware or laser sights, but hackers can enjoy a target rich playground with new rules for hacking that make prepping a hacker 90% easier and playing one about 50% easier; GM'ing hacking also became a lot easier. In addition, some of the more broken technomancer stuff has been revised so you now have a reason to play a decker instead of a technomancer every single time.

All in all, it's faster and more streamlined. If you want my "reviewer" version, you can check it out on my blog, but I've said pretty much everything I said there here, only without the sales pitches.

  • \$\begingroup\$ At first sight, Mystic Adepts look like a ridiculously good deal compared to regular Magicians. They trade astral projection for access to full Adept powers. The problem is: they need to buy their Power Points with karma, and from what I understand, they need to do it at character creation. There's no way to buy Power Points later, except during initiation. They probably work better as Adepts with access to spells than as Magicians with Adept powers. Which is probably how it should be. \$\endgroup\$
    – mcv
    Commented Dec 13, 2018 at 17:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ @mcv they also work as "I'm a mage, but I traded in my ability to astrally project for the ability to spend a bunch of karma on physad upgrades". If you think of your physad upgrades the way that other people think of their cyberware upgrades... \$\endgroup\$
    – Ben Barden
    Commented Jan 8, 2021 at 20:20

Major differences I noticed:

Priority system is back

The priority system at character creation makes you take decisions about characters. Each priority level (A to E) comes with specific benefits depending on where you want to put them. If you want your budget to be the top priority (A) you'll get 475k to spend. If being a Mage is your top priority you'll get the Magician title (different from Aspected magicians) and you'll get Magic 6 with 10 free spells and 2 magic-related skill group at 5. It helps give a certain uniformity to your group but also makes character generation faster for new players.


Everybody talked about it and we all know how it affects almost every roll (rolls with two attributes are never limited). Buying better gear or having higher attributes will get you a higher limit. Also having less Essence reduces your Social limit so you can't have an Essence of 1 and be a Face.

Setting wise

Not much changed in 3 years. Basically the Cyberdecks are back and they are simply overclocked commlinks able to host Attack and Sleaze programs (essential to anything illegal). Wireless is more common now (we could argue about this but the gear clearly list wireless features for almost every piece of gear or accessories you can have). The reason behind this is mostly to encourage hackers to leave their comfy coffee place and join the group so you can hack directly into enemy's gear and potentially fry their gun.


Now for hacking you must deal with noise. Basically this is the mechanical way to push the deckers to join the party a little bit instead of staying in the van in VR. Over a certain distance or under special circumstances (like heavy commercial traffic or special materials) you'll get a noise penalty to your hacking abilities. Hacking works a little faster because of the Mark system (1-4 marks on an icon gives you different level of permissions) instead of the huge flow chart necessary to get admin rights. They introduced the Grid Overwatch Division (or GOD) as a way to make hacking short and stressful. I don't know if GOD existed before but when you fail a Sleaze action you increase your overwatch score by the number of hits (not net hits) the GM rolled (in secret). When you reach 40, it's over. Also every 15 mins you increase your score by 2d6. You can analyse the system to know what's your score and take action depending on how daredevil you are.

Initiative system

Initiative was changed a little. Instead of rolling your score and adding the hits you roll a certain amount of d6s (1d6 basic, 4d6 in Hot Sim VR etc.) and add to your score. At the end of the pass you subtract 10 and if you are above 0, you can act again in the next pass. This is highly controversial in my group but me as a GM I like it. You you actively defend yourself with total defense or other special actions you decrease our initiative score by 5 or 10 depending on the action.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Initiative controversial? This sounds exactly like it was in 3rd edition. True, 4th is more streamlined by separating initiative passes from initiative, but it loses some of the flavour. \$\endgroup\$
    – mcv
    Commented Feb 19, 2014 at 13:21

There is also a new system for Alchemy (enchanting) and Rituals.

It's possible to store a spell in a object (named "preparation") with a trigger (command, contact or time).

The rituals are new rules (curse, circle of protection, homunculus...) but contain also ancient things (wards, watchers).

The astral projection is a little bit different.

I think the SR5 rules for magic are better than SR4 rules.


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