Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Dumpstats, Gear & Limits

I wanted to touch on Limits, one of the new game mechanics in Shadowrun 5th Edition. Limits are used for every test in Shadowrun. They provide a hard limit for the number of successes that can be applied to a test. For example, in 4th Edition, if a player wanted to fire a pistol they would roll their Reaction + Pistols, and would apply the hits they rolled to the damage of the pistol. This works great, but it allows a few strange scenarios.

Let's look at an example. With a Agility of 6, and a Pistols of 6, the player is rolling 12 dice. Assuming one third hit, that's 4 successes. That's enough to take a hold-out pistol up into one shot, one kill range. Which, makes sense for a highly skilled user, even if it is a little off putting. Now, as I'm sure anyone who's ever rolled dice knows statistics mean little in the real world. Let's take that same test, and assume the player rolls really well, with 8 successes that same hold-out pistol has now shot up into combat rifle damage. That just doesn't make sense. This is where limits come in, and really shine.

Every test, every piece of gear, has a limit. For firearms it's accuracy, for active skill checks it's a calculated limit using your attributes. In our hold-out example above the accuracy of the firearm is a 4, or 5, depending on the model, that means that the player can use at most 4, or 5, hits. Granted there are ways to get around this using Edge, another game mechanic that we'll go into later, but for most tests you're stuck with your limit.

For gear this enforces a sort of "state of the art" mentality, as your character improves, you'll find you're losing more and more hits to your gears limits. This encourages players to update their gear, to purchase equipment, and cyberware to push those limits even higher, or to simply accept that the amount of damage they can do with their bargain basement Street Sweeper shotgun is sadly, limited.

Limits also effect skills, in fact limts apply to nearly every skill test. Skill tests in Shadowrun 5th Edition are limited by a calculated maximum based on a players attributes. Let's look at an example I've seen time, and time, again. Take your average magic user. Nearly every player I've seen builds a mage, and uses the physical stats as their dump stats. Body, I don't need no stinking Body! In 4th Edition this was safe, you could get away with having a few dump stats, without too much pain. But, in 5th Edition, with limits, these dump stats hurt, a lot.

Let's assume the following spread: Body 2, Reaction 4, Strength 1. Our mage knows that he might have to move, and needs to be able to react, but he's not terribly worried about his body, or strength, he has hulking Street Samurai to absorb bullets, and spirits to do the heavy lifting. How does this effect his Physical Limit? It's a 3 folks. That means, for any physical test he can apply no more than three successes. Want to climb a rope? Want to scale a wall? Want to simply run away? Hope you don't need to swim.

Limits don't prevent you from performing a skill, they simply prevent you from performing a skill well. Our mage above, with a Climbing skill of 12, and a Strength attribute of 1, the player is rolling 13 dice. Regardless of the number of successes they can use at most 3 hits. So, he can climb, but he's not climbing quickly, or with any grace.

Limits provide an effective method of limiting end-game power, veteran characters become more and more reliable, able to pull of dangerous, or highly technical actions reliably, yet they can't simply walk through a platoon of enemy guards, even with all the dice in the world, they are still limited by their own bodies, and the quality of their gear. As a GM, this opens up a much longer campaign view.


  1. I definitely like the limits mechanic. It isn't something entirely new to Shadowrun, but it's certainly more widely applied in 5th edition. Mages and Shamans have had limits to some degree as far back as 3rd edition.
    Something else I think that is cool about limits is the ability to break them using Edge. It just adds an extra level of cool factor to an action when a PC (or perhaps an extra scary factor for NPC's) uses an edge to accomplish something special.

    -Mr. Johnson
    The Arcology Podcast

  2. Great job explaining the reasoning behind limits. I agree that they make the game much more "long term" than previous editions. It seemed like there was no motivation to upgrade gear or cyber previously, but I think limits have definitely changed that. In addition, as you pointed out, they dramatically alter character creation as there are almost no "dump stats" any more.

  3. Thanks for the post. But you've highlighted an issue I have with the limits. Let's take your Physical limit of 3 with Gymnastics 12 example. Why should the character be penalized for spending so much time trying to improve his gymnastics, to overcome the limitations of his body? Wouldn't it make sense to have the skill increase that limit to represent skill over pure brawn? (E.g. Every 3 levels in a skill increases the limit with that skill by 1. In this case, his limit with Gymnastics would be 7, but he still couldn't swim with more than 3. Training would matter more in this case).

    1. I think there is training in technique and training in theory, and it wouldn't matter how much technical skill you had in any discipline if you didn't train your body. Also if you age, or cease to train, your 'skill' might not decrease, but 'something' of a physicality will be lacking. Or maybe you can only muster 'three' hits but you do it every single time without fail, yet you cannot push the envelope any further without physical training - look at a sprinters body, for example.

      In this specific case, Gymnasts are very strong and agile, and require quick reflexes to transition. It may not seem appropriate for a 14 year old Romanian girl to have a strength of 4, but almost every game system is lacking a strength vs body weight mechanic so it's a bit of a bind.

      In light of this I do think the idea makes sense to have specific limits, but since this has mainly been introduced to kerb combat, should combat skills be excluded from the proposed increase?

  4. I totally ate it. One of the three things I totally ate in SR5 is this limit (the other two are the new damage for direct spells, and the attributes, I like an A Attributes character with 5 everywhere, not 4, and it's not playing someone above the average joe to just have 16, 14 or 12 points to distribute with options C, D and E... I won't use it, I do not agree at all. But still, the art work is fabulous and I do like a lot of things in it... I don't like other things, they are manageable with house rules, like the three things I cannot stand. Luckily. Still, the game have been playtested, if no one argued about this limit or the low attributes, so be it. It won't prevent me to make the house rules I need to play the game. I just have to wait the game to be in french for my non speaking english fellows... :)
    One of my house rules, though :
    1 hit per three dices. Always active for Npcs or Absorbing damages. The Tank Troll with 30 dices as 10 hits.
    The natural limit is always a bit on, instead of throwing 12 dices, I ask to throw only 6 with 2 hits. I absolutly not see why putting a gun on an npc head, and shooting a bullet could only score the gear limit hits. No way.

  5. I was quite excited to hear (via The Arcology Podcast) that someone had a Blog out specific to Shadowrun. But by the 2nd post (this one) your credibility is tanked by lack of understanding of some very basic mechanics.

    Pistols (most, if not all, combat skills) links to Agility not Reaction.
    Gymnastics (and Climbing) link to Agility not to, I presume you intended it to be, Strength since your mage example has a 1 STR and no AGI listed. Running & Swimming are indeed linked to STR but your specific example of 13 die for Gymnastics is either incorrect or misleading since no AGI attribute is listed.

    Also, your comment "in fact limts (sic) apply to every non-opposed active test" is a bit misleading in that limits only apply when a Skill is involved. Any test based on only attributes, i.e. Standard Defense (AGI + REA), Composure (CHA + WIL), Lifting/Carrying (BOD + STR) do not have limits.

    1. Good catch on the Agility v. Reaction mix-up. I'll correct the post to reflect the correct link. In the example above I meant to use Climbing, not Gymnastics. Another good catch. Both issues have been corrected.

  6. One additional benefit that I've found showing up from the inclusion of limits is that player "hot streaks" have been mitigated somewhat. I've had a single player roll 80-90% successes on several rolls in a single night. Not only does this allow their character to overshadow the other PCs and run roughshod over any competition, it makes Edge much less valuable in a game session. With limits in place, each character can only get one of these over-the-top successes by spending Edge, which keeps a lucky player from spoiling things for the others.

    1. This is a good point, and one that I think you can take even further. Limits make the 15+ dice pool monsters from 3rd and 4th Edition moot. Sure, roll that many dice, that doesn't make you any better then a 5 dice pool character, if your limit is low.