Thinking about running a Shadowrun game. I'm a 2E vet. Have not played any other editions, but have 5E core rulebook. I'd like to know which edition is most streamlined. You'd assume the most recent edition would be most stream-lined, but 5E is actually quite daunting. I know Shadowrun is not a rules-lite game, just looking for the simplest version of it to introduce new players to.

By streamlined I mean:

  • Has the fewest core rules that I must remember. It's OK if there are a lot of optional sub-systems. For the record, I don't consider decking to be an optional sub-system.
  • The core mechanic is quick to resolve. 5E looks like it has this one over 2E, but I think 4E uses the same core mechanic as 5E.
  • Is least over-whelming to players who are new to the system, i.e. will let them participate in character creation without spending all night on it, and without forcing us to use pre-gens to avoid the hassle.
  • Has (reasonably) logically organized content. There are a lot of complaints on the inter-webs about poorly organized content in 5E.
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    \$\begingroup\$ This will probably not be that much help for you, but it is worth noting for other people coming across this question: The german 5e books are in many cases a lot better when it comes to organizing content. At least compared to the original english books. \$\endgroup\$ – Patta Mar 7 '16 at 15:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ Worth noting for posterity's sake, but if learning German is easier than grokking the book in English, then 5E has some serious problems, lol ;P \$\endgroup\$ – He'sJustThisGuyY'know Mar 7 '16 at 15:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ I would not go that far, but in some cases its close :D \$\endgroup\$ – Patta Mar 7 '16 at 15:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ Would you be interested in answers that are Shadowrun hacks of other systems? \$\endgroup\$ – Mike Riverso Mar 7 '16 at 21:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for the offer. As written, this question pertains only to the editions of the game released by the publishers. While I'm curious about hacks of the game, it isn't fair to answerers to change the basis of the question to include hacks at this point. Also, to include hacks in the list of Shadowrun editions makes the question impossibly broad. \$\endgroup\$ – He'sJustThisGuyY'know Mar 7 '16 at 21:55

I've played and run a couple of sessions using 4E anniversary edition, and I've bought, read and planned sessions for 5e but never got to actually playing it.

With that said, I've found 4e to be less of a hassle to run in general, but more complicated to build characters for because it is entirely modular using a build point system rather than the priority system that is back in 5e. To answer your question point by point

  • You only need the core book in either 4e or 5e, there are not a lot of optional systems in it but all the rules are in one book.
  • The core mechanic to resolve is the same, but in 5e you have to keep track of limits which adds some hassle to the game. The matrix also seems easier to follow at first in 5e, but then technomancers have changed and use different powers than hackers, you have to keep track of your matrix "heat" score and your marks. In the end, to me at least, the matrix was as complicated as 4e, just a different kind of complicated.
  • 5e is definitely easier to build characters for because you have easy choices with the priority system. 4e does showcases archetypes in the books and how to build them, but the characters do not fit perfectly the system and are suboptimal. There is no easy starting point or gauge for your character until you know the system a little bit
  • In both edition I found the rules parts of the game to be spread throughout several chapters, intertwined with fluff and easy to miss.

In this light, and with the experience I had, I would definitely go with 4e more than 5e. Considering you have zero experience with either, and you want players to build characters quickly and participate quickly, 5e seems a little better suited for you.


The most streamlined edition by far, is Shadowrun: Anarchy. It's explicitly a light-weight system that doesn't try to simulate everything in detail the way the regular Shadowrun editions do.

Of the regular editions, I hear good things about the SR4 20th Anniversary Edition, which is apparently a lot better organised than the original SR4 core book or SR5. Sadly, I don't have it.

I'm not familiar with decking in SR4, but I've heard that decking in SR5 is a lot smoother. In other areas, I think SR4 is slightly smoother, even if only due to the lack of limits.

The advantage SR4 and SR5 have over older editions, is that they got rid of variable target numbers. That was certainly an interesting mechanic, but lead to weird results sometimes.

Ultimately, though, every edition of Shadowrun is monstrously complex. Character creation is greatly helped by software. Herolab, for example, makes it really easy to fiddle with your priorities and compare the results. It's quite expensive, though. But if you can afford it, it's a good investment.


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