Shadowrun 6e/5e comparison


I’ll try to make this open to everyone but will probably end up talking about certain things in the context of someone who already knows Shadowrun. If anyone has any questions about something I don’t explain well enough, please ask and I’ll go into further detail when I can!

Also, since this is turning out to be longer than I expected, I’ll be breaking this up into several posts, probably covering one or two chapters or concepts in each post.

The book itself:

The book itself feels the same as any other book published by Catalyst. Full-color, a hair over 300 pages, it’s thinner than the Shadowrun 5e core rulebook but not nearly as thin as the 4e 20th Anniversary book was.

Let’s hope the bindings for this one fare better than the last set, Catalyst had a rash of 5e books whose bindings just kinda…fell apart. Probably didn’t help that 5e was damn near 500 pages, but still…

Major Changes

Limits are gone. 5e used Limits to try and impose maximums on the number of successes you could generate with different skill tests, but it mostly just felt like unnecessary paperwork when I last tried it, so I’m somewhat glad they’re gone.

Combat has been simplified. Now things like recoil, accuracy, and whatnot are all condensed into an Attack Rating for a weapon, meaning you don’t need to pay attention to as many little modifiers every time you attack. Same for armor. I’ll get into specifics below.

Magic has changed, but not as much as they said they wanted to. Matrix has been simplified now that you don’t have to spend time marking everything you want to hack, now you just get to the hacking. Gear section is kinda light, but most of Shadowrun’s gear ended up in splatbooks anyway, so that’s kinda expected.

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Character Stats:

The basic stats for Shadowrun are all still here: Body, Agility, Reaction, Strength, Willpower, Logic, Intuition, Charisma, Magic, Resonance, Edge, and Essence.

Physical Stats:

Body – Your physical constitution and how hardy your body is. Works into your Physical/Stun damage tracks (SR’s equivalent to HP) as well as resistances to poisons and the like.

Agility – Hand/eye coordination, flexibility, nimbleness, etc. Affects athletic skills and some combat skills.

Reaction – How quickly you react to things. Affects some defensive rolls, vehicle control skills, and some drone-related skills.

Strength – Raw muscle. Affects your ability to lift/drag/carry as well as some physical skills and unarmed combat.

Mental Stats:

Willpower – Used in a lot of magical skill tests, pain/damage resistance, and certain types of defense against magic.

Logic – Important for tech-focused characters, represents internal ability to rationalize and deduce. Used for some knowledge or deduction skills and for a lot of tech skills.

Intuition – Gut feelings, flashes of insight, etc. Is involved in Initiative checks, perception tests, and some magic resistance.

Charisma – Your winning smile, your imposing figure, or just being fabulous. Used for many social skills.

Special Stats:

Magic – Represents the amount of power a magic-user has to draw on. Used in magic-based tests like casting spells and summoning spirits.

Resonance – Basically Magic but for technomancers who use it to hack with their brains with no special hardware.

Edge – This is basically a Luck stat. You can spend Edge points to affect die rolls, outright buy successes on a die test, or permanently burn points off the skill to do things like cheat death if the GM allows it.

Essence – Your “humanity” score. Having cyberware implanted removes points from your Essence, and losing Essence lowers your ability to have Magic. If you hit 0, you essentially have no soul left and are dead.

To note: They’ve squished the stat ranges a little. In 5e, for example, Trolls started with a 5 in Body with a maximum score of 10, and the same for Strength. In 6e, they start with 1 and have a maximum of 9. However, their maximum Charisma went from a 4 in 5e to a 5 in 6e.


Gonna derail a bit and talk about the changes to Edge here. It seems one of the major brainwaves of this edition was to make Edge a much more used thing, so they’ve expanded the uses of Edge and how you can gain/lose it.

What Edge Is:

Edge is basically a luck stat. In 5e, Edge was mostly just used to add additional dice to tests, reroll misses on tests, adjust your Initiative, or cheat death, so Edge was really only gained by GM fiat for things like good roleplaying, achieving character goals, or even “impressing the group with good humor or drama”. Basically, you got Edge back when the GM said so.

6e changes this in large ways. You start any given session with a number of Edge points equal to your Edge stat. You can gain or lose them as you play, up to a maximum of 7. After a “confrontation” (i.e. a combat, a hacking session, a major social scene, etc.), you lose any Edge points you have over your Edge stat. If you end the confrontation with less than your stat, you stay at the lower amount until you gain it back in another one.

Gaining Edge:

You can now gain Edge points in many, many more ways than before. Gear, spells, character qualities, social situations, all these things will give Edge points. You can still gain them through GM Fiat like 5e for good roleplaying or being a good party member, but there are actual game mechanics that will give you the majority of the Edge you earn.

For example: If you are making an attack, you compare your Attack Rating (I’ll get into this later) to the target’s Defense Rating. If your Attack Rating is 4 or more points above the target’s, you gain an Edge point. If it’s 4 or more BELOW their Defense Rating, the target gains an Edge point. (Yes, this means that NPCs/mooks/etc. will be gaining and spending Edge just like players. I’ll reserve opinions on whether that makes things more complicated in combat until I’m able to possibly play a game or two, but I suspect it will.)

Spending Edge:

Edge boosts are now split among 5 groups, based on the amount of Edge they cost:

1-Edge boosts:

Reroll one die on a test. You can spend multiple edge to reroll multiple dice in this way.

Add 3 to your Initiative score before a combat starts.

2-Edge boosts:

Add +1 to a die roll. Make a 4 into a 5 for that one extra success.

Give an ally one Edge point.

Negate one Edge point of an enemy.

3-Edge boosts:

Buy one automatic success for a test on top of your dice roll.

Heal one box of Stun damage.

4-Edge boosts:

Add your Edge stat as additional dice to your dice pool for a test, and cause all dice in this roll to become “exploding dice” where any natural 6s allow you to roll an additional die. Notably, the extra dice are exploding as well, so if you keep rolling 6s you keep rolling dice.

Heal 1 box of Physical damage.

Reroll all failed dice on a test.

5-Edge boosts:

Count 2s for a glitch for a target’s test in addition to 1s.

Create a “special effect”. This might be something like causing steam pipes behind you in the corridor you’re being chased down to burst to blind/delay your pursuers, cause sirens to be heard approaching the area to scare off some attackers, or anything you and your GM can come up with that would be a potential game-changer and put some stress on your enemies in a situation.

Additionally, there are some Edge Actions that are listed that combine with an action you may be performing that cost varying amounts of Edge to invoke but can do things like enhance speeches, fire from cover without the normal cover penalty, do the “movie shot” where you shoot the gun out of someone’s hands, etc.

Burning Edge:

You can still permanently burn a point off your Edge score to either buy an automatic pass of a single test with 4 net successes, or to cheat death. Cheating death still works the same way it used to, where it may mean you don’t die but it doesn’t remove you from the situation you’re in. The book’s example is “It may be that if you’re wearing concrete shoes at the bottom of the Puget Sound, you can burn an Edge point to not drown and allow you to find an old, discarded (but still usable) scuba tank, but you’re still underwater with cement shoes”


Magic changed a bit between 5e and 6e. Along with the removal of Limits in general, Magic no longer requires a Force to be declared when casting. The basics of making a Spellcasting test are the same, but now instead of having to pick a Force you can either cast the spell as is or decide if you want to Augment the spell via either increasing the base damage, increasing the area of effect, or for area-effect sustained spells, shifting the area covered. Augmenting a spell now just increases the amount of Drain you have to resist.

Spellcasting still works pretty much as it always has, you roll your Spellcasting test (Sorcery skill + Magic attribute) and either the spell describes what happens with the successes you get, or your target(s) (in the case of combat spells) roll their Resistance rolls to see if they mitigate or ignore the spell.

There was talk at some point in the developer talks for this edition that they wanted to make the Magic system modular and not have to rely solely on pre-defined spells. There are hints of this with certain spells like Elemental Armor, but they mentioned that they wanted to be able to take spells like Fireball and change the element on the fly into an Iceball or something. This doesn’t seem to be in the core rules, so either they’re going to be putting that into a splatbook somewhere down the line or they forgot about it. Knowing Catalyst, either is possible…


Thank all the stars in the heaven, they got rid of that stupid Marks system! For reference, in 5e, when a decker or technomancer wanted to hack into things, they needed to spend time placing Marks on their targets before they were allowed to do much to them, and marks were cleared if you logged out.

Now, instead of Marks, they implemented an Outsider/User/Admin level-of-access system which applies host-wide. You can use the Brute Force action to hard-hack your way to User or Admin level access, or you can go the more sneaky way of Probing the host to expose a backdoor (which even calls out that that specific backdoor will be available for a certain number of hours after the probe) and then use the Backdoor Entry action to go immediately to Admin access.

They seem to have replaced the concept of simple “datajacks” with a new thing called “cyberjacks”. Your cyberjack gives you your Matrix Firewall and Data Processing scores along with a Matrix Initiative boost for some of the better ones, while your cyberdeck gives you your Attack and Sleaze attributes.

Illegal actions still raise your Overwatch score, and when you hit 40, the Grid Overwatch Division zeroes in on you, dumps you out of the Matrix (like they did in 5e), and now bricks your cyberdeck (which is new).

I didn’t seem to notice anything in this edition about Matrix actions happening any faster than any other actions, so hopefully it avoids the problem older Shadowrun editions had of “If you have a hacker doing things at the same time as other people, be prepared for those other people to be really bored for an hour while the hacker does his thing”


Gear section is…a Shadowrun gear section. This is probably where most people spend the most time in the book, drooling over the various guns and cyberware. Seems kinda light, but as I mentioned above, Shadowrun always put the majority of its gear into splatbooks anyway, so that’ll probably be expanded later.

It’s noted that they kept the concept of “wireless bonuses” for various gear types, so leaving your guns online will net you minor bonuses at the expense of making them potential hacker targets. Some of the wireless bonuses still seem silly, like silencers having a way of notifying you if someone nearby moves quickly in response to you firing a silenced shot.

Weapons now list a general Attack Rating instead of having different stats for Accuracy, Recoil, etc. Now the Attack Rating combines all of those into a value that’s variable based on your distance from the target and is compared against the target’s Defense Rating when attacking.

Much of the same gear exists no matter the edition. Credsticks, communications jammers, RFID tags and their erasers, various types of software for things, fake SINs, fake licenses…These haven’t changed much.

Cyberware still has “capacity” where mods can be slotted in. They have a kind of neat picture in the Cyberlimbs section showing various limbs, and one of the cyberlegs has a velociraptor claw on it.

Character Creation:


6e moves thinking up your character’s planned role, backstory and motivations to be the first thing in the Character Creation chapter. Roles have basically been boiled down the the four following major roles (though they note that these aren’t end-all-be-all descriptions, just major categories and that there can be overlap once you start fine-tuning your character):

Arcane Specialist: Adepts, Mages, Summoners, Shamans, etc. all fall under this. Tossing spells and summoning spirits.

Face: The sweet-talkers.

Street Samurai: Non-magical combat specialists in all forms.

Technology Specialist: Technomancers, deckers, and riggers all fir in here. Bringing a drone army, hacking the Matrix, and info gathering are all here.

Once you choose what kind of character you want to make, you think up their history and how they got to where they are now and how they feel about the rest of the world.

After background, you move on to actually creating the character itself.

Like (most) previous editions, character creation still happens via the Priority system. You have Priorities A-E, and give one priority to each of Metatype (Human, Ork, Elf, etc.), Attributes, Skills, Magic/Resonance, and Resources (starting cash). Certain metatypes require a minimum priority level to achieve. They’ve changed a few things, namely:

When you select your Metatype priority, you gain a number of Special Attribute points based on the metatype you chose which can be placed into your Edge, Magic, or Resonance stats (as with 5e), or now also be used to improve the one or two stats that a particular metatype has that can be set at a starting level above the normal 1-6 range. I believe this is intended to balance out the fact that these metatypes no longer start with increased bases for certain stats (see above re: Trolls and Body/Strength)

Additionally, certain metatypes (namely Human) can no longer be chosen for some of the higher Priority rankings for metatype.

Attribute points per priority level are identical to 5th edition. You pick the amount you want via Priority, and spend those on your main attributes. Like 5e, you can only have one attribute at its natural maximum at character creation.

Skill points per priority level changed somewhat. In 5e, you would get a number of skill points plus a number of skill group points. Skill groups used to be things like “Firearms”, where items like Longarms or Pistols were skills inside that group. Now, you just get base skill points as skills have been condensed and skill groups are no longer a thing.

Magic/Resonance per priority level were reduced a bit. In 5e, picking Magic at priority A as a mage would give you a Magic of 6, two free Magic skills at Rank 5, and 10 spells for free. In 6e as an unaspected mage, you get a Magic of 4. You get a number of starting spells equal to the Magic the priority you selected x2. Similarly, technomancers get a number of starting complex forms equal to the priority’s Resonance x2.

Resources is just cold, hard nuyen. The amounts changed a little, but overall it’s still the same.

You can then select your Qualities (both positive and negative) to a maximum of 6 total Qualities and up to 20 bonus Karma to give your character some extra benefits or drawbacks, and then you get 50 extra “customization Karma” to spend just like if you were advancing your character (or to trade for more cash). It’s slightly notable that they actually moved the Qualities list later in the Character Creation chapter, so you can skim the Creation process a little faster. Also, I don’t seem to see the verbiage around having a maximum amount of leftover Karma after character creation, so unless they errata that at some point you can theoretically just hold onto all 50 customization Karma until you get a better direction for your character to start advancing in, maybe.

Once that’s all done, you buy your initial gear with the nuyen you got from your Resources priority plus any extra you got by spending Karma. They do call out you can’t keep more than 5,000 nuyen past character creation, so spend all of it between Gear and Lifestyle.

After your character is created, the final steps of detrmining how many contacts and knowledge skills they get, plus doing the final calculations of unarmed Attack Rating, Defense Rating, and Initiative.

Does Character Creation use the ‘priorities’ common to older editions? I know it had issues, but I liked how it made players think “my character is special because they put priority A in…”

Yep, I’ve got half that section written up but was working on the Matrix section next. Priorities are still in place, but they’ve been tweaked a bit.

Skills and Combat

Skills work pretty much the same as they always have, you take your skill rating plus the associated attribute and roll that number of dice, trying to get a certain number of successes to beat a target number or opposed roll. The list of skills has been condensed a bit though, along with the removal of skill groups. The notable changes:

Firearms is now just a single skill instead of having separate ones for Pistols, Longarms, etc, which have now become Specializations. You no longer need to take specializations in specific types of weapons (heavy pistols, for instance), you just specialize in Pistols in all forms. Same with Blades/Clubs/Unarmed Combat being rolled into the Close Combat skill, many of the Charisma skills being rolled into the Con skill, and many of the athletic skills like Swimming and Gymnastics being rolled into the Athletics skill. In general, it seems like they took the D&D 5e idea of skill condensation and ran with it.

Knowledge Skills have changed, they’re basically just a specialist skill you can take to call on knowledge of a particular aspect of something (like Hacker Groups, or Troll Thrash Rock Bands). They no longer have ranks, but might allow you to make a test with another skill or reveal additional information when using another skill that’s related to your knowledge skill. Language Skills are now just special Knowledge Skills that have specialization ranks to increase your fluency in the language in question (from basic, to Specialist, to Expert, to Native speaker).

Combat has been streamlined with the skill condensation along with the condensation of gear stats. Every character, on their Initiative turn, gains one Major action (like attacking) and a number of Minor actions equal to 1 + the number of Initiative Dice they have. You can use a Major action to perform a Minor action, and you can trade 4 Minor actions up to perform a Major action. You can never start a player turn with more than 5 Minor actions, so it seems like you can’t completely trick out a character to have a million actions more than everyone else. (A minor editing note here, it seems like this section probably should have been the first thing in the Combat section rather than getting nearly buried a few pages in. It took me a few times flipping through this chapter to find this bit while writing this up.)

Weapons list one or more Attack Ratings (generally one for melee weapons, several for guns based on the standardized range categories). Every character has a Defense Rating that is made up of their Body stat plus any armor they’re wearing. Those are used to determine whether any extra Edge is given out during that combat round. Then an opposed test of the appropriate weapon skill + attribute is made versus the target’s Reaction + Intuition check. The number of successes on each side is totaled up, and if the attacked got more successes than the target, the attack is successful. Net hits over the amount the target rolled on their defense test are added to the attack’s damage. The target then rolls a Body test against the damage value to attempt to reduce it, and then the damage is applied to the appropriate condition tracker (Stun or Physical, based on the damage type of the weapon). Modifiers might be applied based on Edge spent, whether a character is Prone or not, but the basics are still the same as they used to be.

A minor note on the Defense Rating thing:
I’m slightly perplexed as to why they added this in to this edition. The ONLY thing it seems to do is determine whether bonus Edge is generated for either party during an attack. Armor only adds to this rating, it doesn’t actually affect damage resistance in any sort of way. Even mods like “Fire Resistance” don’t actually reduce Fire damage, it just cancels out the Burning status effect a number of times equal to the rating of the mod, after which point the mod is used up and useless.

I see that the damage values across many of the weapons have been squished down (in 5e, the iconic Ares Predator pistol had a damage value of 8 Physical, where in 6e it’s down to 3P), so maybe they’re banking on the lower damage values getting balanced out by Body rolls…but that just seems to me like it’ll make gunshots potentially ignorable, which…isn’t really the way that’s supposed to work. I’ll have to see how it plays before I can really speak more on that.

I’m also perplexed by the fact that this edition has apparently been in development for quite some time, the book JUST released…and there’s already a multi-page errata available for it. The PDF of the core rulebook isn’t even available on Catalyst’s web store and they’re already errata-ing the book.

I shouldn’t be surprised though, Catalyst has always been…rather lacking in the editing/proofreading department.

GenCon rush? Eclipse Phase 2 had some similar issues. The current Backer PDF has some ugly layout issues and typos in it. Maybe not as severe as you suggest, but annoying.

Maybe, but this isn’t just minor typos, this is a large number of changes in table values, a couple of tables that were apparently missing from the book entirely…Some were things that are fixing where it’s clear that two teams working on different parts may not have been talking to each other right…

I mean, Catalyst (as I mentioned) has always been lackluster in the proofing department, but even I’m surprised at this. I’ll still probably try and give this version a go just to see how it plays, at least, but I’m seeing a lot of talk in other places about other major editing gaffes in the book and things that were endemic to Catalyst’s usual practices (lack of attention to feedback, lack of extensive playtesting, etc) this feels like something that definitely might have been rushed solely to publish in 2019 to claim it for the 30th anniversary of the game.

I think you may be right that it’s the anniversary. Maybe that and GenCon combined?

The EP2 stuff is mostly minor from what I’ve seen. One annoying bit is literally a couple images are placed to overlap… But it’s a section covering available bodies/sleeves/morphs, specifically the human-derived ones so it’s basically two overlapping ‘paper doll’ style images and less noticeable. (Later parts get wackier, because it’s game where spending a few months in a giant spider crab that can survive in a ridiculously wide pressure and temperature range is totally normal.) Also the usual to be expected typos.

The first printing of EP1 was done several years ago with Catalyst as the publisher, I think: I don’t know why they split, but they went their own way for the follow-up books and other material. In that case, it might have been that EP has been a secondary gig for a lot of the contributors, I think. Also EP is very big on everything being Creative Commons licensed when possible.

Hm. I just found what is either a gigantic oversight or a MAJOR nerf to Street Samurai and anyone else who buys cyberlimbs.

SR5 states that cyberlimbs all come with their own Strength and Agility ratings, and when you’re making a test, you take the average of all your limbs for the test unless the test is solely being handled by the augmented limb. Limbs start with their Strength and Agility at 3 and can have their Strength and Agility upgraded when the limb is purchased.

SR6 states that cyberlimbs have ALL their Physical attributes set at 2 to start, and when making a test you always use the lowest value among all the limbs unless the test solely involves the augmented limb. Limbs can have their Strength, Agility, or Armor upgraded via capacity inserts, so theoretically you can upgrade a limb after it’s been purchased.

The problem comes in that “all Physical attributes” mention, because one of the physical attributes is Body, which is what governs damage soak tests. Now, using that rule I mentioned above, if you take damage, you’re not using your actual body’s Body attribute for your damage soak test, you’re using the lowest value among all your limbs (torso is considered a limb), which is going to be 2, because you can’t upgrade Body on cyberlimbs, just Strength, Agility, and Armor.

This…is not discussed in the errata. What the hell, CGL?

So cyberlimbs make you more likely to get hurt?

Apparently. They do still add one box to your physical condition monitor (basically your physical HP) when installed, but as-written they make it more likely you’re going to take damage, so…it’s not really a good tradeoff. I’m hoping that was just oversight…

What, no cyberzombies? :slight_smile:

That seems silly about the cyberlimbs. Maybe make a house rule that you can upgrade Strength and Body in them or just not use that rule at all?

That was Cyberpunk 2020 and their Cyberpsychos. Shadowrun, to the best of my knowledge, doesn’t have an equivalent, it won’t actually LET you go to 0 Essence or below if you go by the book, but I believe it does say that if your Essence drops to 0 you’re just dead.

Maybe. I think the easier thing to do would be to house-rule it so that cyberlimbs only have their own Strength and Agility attributes (like the previous edition did) rather than ALL the physical attributes.