[RPG] How to learn how to play Shadowrun 5e


I have recently bought the Shadowrun 5e Core Rulebook, because I like the setting and would like to start a campaign with a few friends — each of who have experience with Tabletop RPGs in general, but not Shadowrun.

My problem is that I am absolutely overwhelmed with the system and just the sheer amount of information there is.

My question essentially is: Do I have a chance of learning Shadowrun on my own (or rather, in a group of noobs) — and if so, how? – or do I have to play with veterans before?

Best Answer

Yes, you can.

Though shadowrun is surely a complex game system. It is by no means impossible to learn by yourself. The game is designed to cover three different aspects of the setting:

  • Mundane: These are the rules for mundane people, those who can neither cast spells, nor are willing to bend the matrix to their will. This covers a lot of the game rules actually, from combat to contacts and finding a job in the shadows.

  • The Astral: These are the rules for the mystical aspect of the setting, the other world, magic spells, spirits, rituals and characters who can channel their chi into their fists.

  • The Matrix: Here we have all the technological stuff happening, from security cameras, to the cybereye of the guards blocking your path. These rules are the realm of deckers and technomancers, and those characters should know those rules more than any of the other two.

This is also how the world is divided in the setting, we basically have three different worlds with different rules about how to interact with them. But each of these worlds are an important part of the setting on their own, with a lot of lore and mechanics involved.

The GM is expected to know all of this. But he doesn't necessarily have to memorize those rules. Whenever you decide to GM your first shadowrun adventure, try starting with one of the beginner adventures (or Missions). These are well-written adventures that will guide you through a normal shadowrun, convering all aspects of a regular adventure: finding the job, doing legwork, running the shadows, figuring out the plot twist, and finally, getting paid for it.

If you haven't already, take a look on the Quickstart Rules, these are ideal for convention play, as they are simplified rules and provide an example of play with a short adventure scenario so GM and players can get a feel of the system. The Splintered State is an introdutory adventure for 5th that deals mostly with corporations and the intrigue between them. While the Sprawl Wilds is a collection of convention adventures designed for short sessions (4 to 6 hours).

You can also delegate jobs to your players so they can help you out. If a player wants to be a hacker, ask him to make notes of the rules that are relevant to hacking things, infiltrate nodes, cybercombat and erasing his tracks. If one of the players is a mage, ask him to make notes of the summoning rules, how spirit services work, what each of his spells do and how to resist them, etc.

Of course, being such a rich setting, the more you read, the more you will know. So don't feel discouraged by the overwhelmingness of the game system, you don't have to use all the rules at once.

Personal experience

My personal experience with the setting is this: We played a couple of shadowrun games back in 2nd, but without any magic or mystical races, only humans. We had a hacker and other mundane characters and they ran through a few jobs i gave them.

Few years later, with a different group of people, i decided i wanted to play the 4th edition (the book is gorgeous), i read most of the core rulebook, asked my players to make some characters, we sat down and played the introductory adventure found on the Runner's Toolkit. It was a blast and an immediate success. Then we kept playing more and more, i kept reading the core book and bought the other hardcovers, and eventually we were all familiar with the rules.

5th edition came in, we migrated without issues and still play it now and then.

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