The massive Rigger-book for Shadowrun clocks in at 194 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 3 pages of ToC, 1 page introduction/editorial, 1 page of advertisement, 1 page inside of back cover, 1 page back cover, leaving us with a massive 185 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
This review was gifted to me for the purpose of a prioritized review by my faithful patreons.
Well, before we do, let me explain there, for a second, my own history with Shadowrun. In case you didn’t know it: I absolutely *love* the setting of Shadowrun. I’ve played the classics and Shadowrun is the one single roleplaying game where my experience as a player exceeds that behind the screen. Shadowrun is a game I have experienced primarily from the perspective of the player and I’ve participated in a *LOT* of Shadowrun games throughout the years. My stance towards Shadowrun, as a rules-system, however, is ambiguous at best. The basic premise of the whole system is founded upon rock-paper-scissors, which is fine in theory.
In practice, a properly played pet-class tends to be utterly OP. Both my own experiences playing magic-users, in particularly shamans, and the stunts I saw riggers pull off in 3rd edition…well. Let’s just say that both riggers and magic-users tended to be the sole survivors when everyone else died. This issue, much like deckers being separated from the group while in the matrix, is to a certain degree system-immanent. Shadowrun, as a whole, is very much a ROLEplaying system that derives its appeal mainly from the superb flavor of the lavishly constructed world depicted in hundreds of glorious novels and flavor text, less so from the rules that support it. At least to me. You may well come to different conclusions, but those are the ones I drew for myself.
That being said, after 4th edition (let’s just pretend that didn’t happen, all right?), 5th edition seems to have streamlined a lot of the issues and reduced them, at least a bit. The emphasis on rock-paper-scissors is further strengthened and mages, in particular, are no longer the automatic “I explode your head” killers; they still are brutal, but…well. So is the whole game. 5th edition seemed like the better game to me. Well…then I started digging in…and I was somewhat…I don’t know…shocked. You see, Shadowrun, in Germany, by now is in the hands of Pegasus, an established publisher of quality RPG-material that actually makes me get Cthulhu material when I can afford it in German as opposed to English. Why? Because the books often are inexpensive, gorgeous hardcovers, with bonus-content, edited and streamlined and, more often than not, vastly superior to the originals.
Well, Shadowrun 5.0 similarly diverges rather significantly between the US and German iteration. On a curious glance, the errata for the basic rules seem to be about the same length – but that pretty much is about it: The glitches and their quality showcased in the books are different. If you take a look at the English errata, you’ll see entries like “The Biotechnology skill should be added to the biotech skill group.” In the German errata, you’ll see entries like “The tsar of the Seattle Vory is called Aleksander Blottky.” Both erratas feature significant hiccups, but the issues in the German iteration are much less pronounced and game-influencing. Better organization of rules, better structure…you get the idea.
So yeah, I’m very much accustomed to the German Shadowrun rules, but, for the purpose of this review, dug out the English rules and began digesting them; after all, this review tackles the English version of Rigger 5.0.
Why all this lead-in? There’s a reason for that. The core-book, rigger-wise, did not provide much in the range of options, which pretty much renders this an almost required addition to make the concept of the rigger as diverse and rewarding as it should be. This is, thus, for all intents and purposes, the central core book for playing riggers and, as such, it can be considered an obligatory purchase for all groups of runners featuring a rigger, so ka?
Great. There are some things you need to take into account though. If you’ve been purchasing the SR books, you will expect a certain amount of metanarrative in the plot-lines of the fluff accompanying the crunch. In this book, while present, we get less of these, so yes, this is a huge, crunchy colossus. We begin this book, thus, with introductory fiction as well as a rigging 101, which also introduces and explains the respective tasks and things to be aware of when playing a rigger – this general introduction to the matter at hand certainly is appreciated, as it does establish a base-line for interaction of riggers with other characters; it makes them feel slightly less like a subsystem of their own. It is also here that we get game-rule explanation on repair/scavenging for parts as well as electronic warfare, including brief sections on swarms.
Positive and negative qualities, including various life modules, allow you to customize your rigger according to your own preferences and, as a whole, they seem to be pretty much in line with SR’s 5e established contexts.
After this section, we dive right into the vehicle-section, which, while perhaps the original intent of rigging as a whole, its essence, is in practice only the secondary calling of riggers: From helicopters, to t-birds and zeppelins, the chapter is massive: From Ares Segway Terriers to Thundercloud Mustangs, the motorcycles are diverse and pretty cool. Similarly, the cars and haulers presented are awesome. Why? Because a *ton* of them come with absolutely stunning full-color artworks that really drive home the unique flair of SR: When you first look at the rendition of the Mack hellhound with its massive cannons…you drool. More than a bit. The armed and deadly BMW Blitzkrieg bike also put a smile on my face. But the vehicle-section is not, in the least, in fact, reduced to land and air vehicles – boats, from Aztechnology Nightrunners to the bubbled Evo Water Striders or the sailed Corsair Panther, even looking at these vehicles will make you want to pilot these – something no other rigger book has ever accomplished for me. I already mentioned the ample aircrafts, so what about the things most riggers pilot in game?
What about the drones? Well, after a fluffy breakdown on the roles of diverse megacorps in the arena of drone-creation…or, more significant, their modification. Drones may have all their Mod Points already spent (think of this as an essence equivalent to judge modification capability): The drones here have the following notation: Body X (Y), where X denotes the Body rating of the drone, Y the available points – these may often be the same, but don’t necessarily have to be – the higher the Y value, the more modification options the drone has. Body is the only attribute that cannot be increased, with all others being fair game, with each increase costing increase -1 mod points. An increase of +2 would thus cost 1 point. Seems simple, right? The issue here, and one that unfortunately has been a heritage issue of Shadowrun’s crunch, is that the crunch simply isn’t as precise as it should be. An increase by +1…would it cost 0? Or 1? I assume 0, but the lack of a minimum-value, something easily inserted, is just one of the ample examples where, from a roleplaying games-design perspective, the rules-language simply should be more precise.
On a more formal nitpick, while I really enjoy the SkyGuide as an option, I do think that some unique means of getting a modified, illegal access to SkyGuide benefits would very much be within the means of a good rigger’s purview….but this is just me nitpicking. From minidrones to more massive ones, this section also sport various different options for riggers, with ample of neat artworks – though less of them than for the vehicle section. And yes, this includes anthropomorphic drones. While this chapter, as a whole, is pretty inspired, it is in the following chapter that fans of riggers from previous editions will get the delightful tools to create their very own customized drones and vehicles.
And the modifications are VAST in scope. As in: there are so many options herein, it is just putting a smile on my face. Alas, the aforementioned issues within the precision of rules-language becomes more apparent here: Let’s take the basic weapon mount, one of the most common modifications a rigger will employ: The book differentiates between fixed and flexible weapon mounts…which is pretty cool and makes sense. Fixed mounts need you to maneuver the drone/vehicle. Simple, right? Well, it would kinda be…but Shadowrun, as such, has no facing rules in the traditional sense, which requires the GM to basically maintain that the expenditure for a flexible weapon mount actually makes sense, when, at least to some extent, the rules should have provided some reason as well.
The section also sports various alternate propulsion methods (including walkers and rocket boosts!), but, oddly, no options to simply add…you know…wheels. As a whole, though, this section does provide a lot of the cool modifications you want. The book also has several diverse options to enhance the driving rules with nuances regarding terrain, speed and control and the book concludes with a massive array of diverse tables that collate the numerous vehicles for your perusal.
Now I already did show you a couple of the minor hiccups that suffuse this book and there are a couple of these to be unearthed in the errata-posts online -if you take these into account, you certainly get a great book, but my policy as a reviewer is to rate only what we actually get in the final book, not any erratas not included in the main meat of the book. A metter of taste and perhaps final note should be given on the sequence of chapters – personally, I think the organization, already an issue in quite a few Shadowrun-books, could have been a bit clearer, since we first get vehicles, then drones, then modifications – personally, I would have considered general rules for drones and vehicles, then a list of the respective vehicles and drones and then a chapter on modifications to be a more didactically prudent way to showcase the material – from the general to the specific…but that, ultimately, is a halfway personal gripe. Then again, I actually experimented with this book a bit and all players I showed this to required some serious page-flipping as well as a bit of confusion…for a book of this size, the lack of a proper index is jarring and very user-unfriendly.
Editing and formatting, on a formal level, aren’t bad and, as a whole professional…but also, in particularly regarding the finer details of the rules, less precise than they should be. Layout adheres to a drop-dead gorgeous two-column full-color standard with absolutely stellar, inspired full-color artwork throughout the book – this is, aesthetically, an absolutely glorious offering. My version of the book in its electronic version has no bookmarks, which constitutes a comfort-detriment.
Mark Dynna, Jeff Halket, Jason M. Hardy, Adam Large, Aaron Pavao, Scott Scheltz, R.J. Thomas, Malik Toms, Thomas Wiloughby – that would be the team that brought you this book and they did, as a whole, a nice job. The massive book is, at least in my opinion, the best rigger book I have seen so far. The rules, as a whole, prove to be less prone to abuse and creation of super-drones than previous editions…though riggers, as has become a tradition in Shadowrun, can end up being nigh untouchable killer-characters. This is, however, probably not a bug, but a feature, depending on your own take on the subject matter.
As I’ve mentioned before, if you even remotely consider the option of playing a rigger, then this book pretty much should be considered to be a must-have addition to the game and I certainly get the amount of love this book has garnered. At the same, the book is not, as some may have you believe, a perfect take on the concept – as mentioned before, there is a significant array of errata to be found on the world wide web. This does not mean that this book is bad; quite the contrary. In contrast to the takes on riggers of previous editions, this book feels more like an organic component of the main game, less like an add-on. Particularly in direct comparison with 3rd edition’s rigger-supplement, this is almost a complete success; definitely in the aesthetics department.
The most grievous complaints one can field against this pdf, ultimately, pertain the organization of the book, which makes finding the precise information you’re looking for harder than it should be. And it is here that this review goes full circle. While not perfect, the German iteration of SR’s 5th edition was better organized. The lack of an index in this book further hurts it in the comfort department to a certain extent – not enough to seriously tarnish the book, but enough so that I can understand the people complaining about this book’s flaws.
In the end, I consider Rigger 5.0 to be the best Rigger book I have laid my hands on. It may be a flawed book, but it is also an inspired one. Perhaps the one, most serious complaint I have against it, boils down to the fact that this seriously had a shot to get as close to perfection as an SR-book on the subject matter has ever come – and failed to capitalize on that chance. While this is, thus, a must-have purchase for SR-groups that want to use rigging, much like the 5th edition’s core rules, it ultimately is a solid, but not perfect book with rough edges. Still, the great components do offset this to a certain extent, which is also why I’ll settle on a final verdict of 4 stars.
You can get this massive Shadowrun-supplement here on OBS!