Shadowrun, Cutting Aces, Deep Shadows Sourcebook, 5th Edition

5.6 Overall Score
Rules Clarity: 5/10
Usefulness: 5/10
Production: 7/10

A few new pieces of gear, a few new character options.

Bad game design, bad concept, and a lot of Constantinople.

Shadowrun, Cutting Aces, Deep Shadows Sourcebook, 5th Edition
Catalyst Game Labs

Ahh, the misery this game has become. That I have lived so long to watch Shadowrun come to Cutting Aces.

Cutting Aces is the 6th World guide to con artistry”, the introduction tells us. The book fails already in its concept. Con artistry is the domain of the Face archetype, but Faces, who specialize in social skills, can do much more than just be con artists. They can also be leaders, investigators, interrogators. A character with strong Charisma and social skills almost always has enough character creation resources left over to do something else, as well – medical skills, weapon skills, vehicle skills, performance skills; alas for the long-faded Rocker, Run Faster pg. 165. Many Faces are Awakened; magical traditions that use Charisma as a drain stat are a natural fit for the role. Cutting Aces ignores all of that.

The title Cutting Aces is a failure. It refers to a real-word card sharp technique, which would be covered under the Palming skill. This book offers no new material on or uses for the Palming skill. It makes no rules references to card games at all. People Skills or Social Engineers would have been better titles.

Instead of being the Face book, Cutting Aces offers the chapter “The Grifters’ Bible”, which is redundant expansions of the social skills that make them more complex by transforming them into long equations that invite min/maxing and discourage roleplaying, while also failing to make them any more inventive or versatile.

It also has the chapter “The Art of Confidence”, which describes a lot of con games with catchy titles, just in case your PCs want to be snake oil salesmen or a Taingirian Prince.

And, absolutely, totally inexplicably, Cutting Aces devotes more than one in four of its pages to information on the Free City of Constantinople, a place that isn’t any more or less suited to con games than any other 6th World sprawl. Shadowrun has done this for years, packaging two very different things in one book. It has always been dumb. If you want Constantinople, you have to pay for some con games. If you want con games, you’re going to get Constantinople, too – at an upcharge. A much better arrangement would be to package Constantinople together with some other locations (maybe Athens, for an Aegean sourcebook), and let Cutting Aces be the Face book.

Cutting Aces does include some new spells, Adept powers, Qualities, and equipment. Some of it is very cool – voidblack coating – and some of which is so badly designed you wonder if these people have played Shadowrun. Don’t give me a pen with a camera in it; give me rules for hiding sensors in everyday items. And the Shaman’s Tuxedo has no karma bonding cost, a low nuyen cost, and is not a focus, but is a powerful magic item for summoning. This is dumb, overpowered, and breaks all the rules.

The “Information For Sale” section is another example of the low quality of this supplement. It describes various kinds of information on individuals that might be purchased in the 6th World, along with a nuyen cost. What it doesn’t do is explain how any of this relates to existing rules like Matrix Search or Legwork with contacts. It includes “Market Scan: Compiles a list of all vendors of an item, reducing the availability index for that purchase.” It fails to say how to do that, or how that fits in with the standard rules for acquiring gear in the basic book.

Social Software Subscriptions (Cutting Aces pg. 144) deserve special criticism. A character may subscribe to a pay service online, which provides them with information about their target gathered from online sources. This provides a small social skill dice pool increase in very limited circumstances. For example, MonaLisa has an availability of 12F, costs 250 nuyen per month, and provides +2 dice to attempts to use facial recognition to identify someone.

So it’s complicated, hard to get, provides very little advantage, and has to be tracked monthly. Also, Shadowrun already has existing rules for matrix searches. So it’s redundant, too. Do they get, you know, game designers to work on these books?

Finally, Cutting Aces is supremely irritating in that it makes references to things from other supplements, and even from within itself, without giving page or book references. The fluff section “Fast and Loose” includes a sentence which begins, “Ares’ difficulties, NeoNET’s implosion, and Horizon’s PR blunder in Amazonia and the chaos around Yellowstone have left the Americas without a reliable megacorporation…”. But it explains none of any of that. It doesn’t even point me in the right direction to find out about NeoNET’s implosion. The ‘Belgrave’ Sword Cane is described as having “scanblock”, but the book doesn’t offer a definition, nor point me in the direction of one.

So if you have a date in Constantinople, then Cutting Aces is a good placebook with a few pieces of gear included. Otherwise, at $25 for the PDF, it is more liability than asset, and is not recommended.


Author: Brian Downes View all posts by
Brian Downes is a writer who lives in Orlando, Florida. His novel, The Berlin Fraternity, about a man who hunts vampires for the Third Reich, is available on the Kindle and through He enjoys pen and paper roleplaying games and geek culture. He clearly remembers waiting for The Empire Strikes Back to hit theaters, and vindicate his opinion that of course Vader was not Luke's father. You can't trust Vader's word!

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