An often-asked question on the ShadowRN mailing list is, "Which books should I buy next?" usually accompanied by a short list of books that the person asking the question already owns.
There is no easy answer to this question, because it depends not only on what you already own, but also on the situation in your gaming group: what kind of characters are in the group, what the players want to have or do, where the gamemaster wants the campaign to go, and so on.
If you are completely new to playing Shadowrun, or have played already but don't own any books yet, the best place to start is with the Shadowrun, Third Edition main rulebook. (Don't bother picking up earlier editions even if they may be cheaperthey won't be 100% compatible with new releases.) If you don't intend to be the gamemaster, this book is all you really need.
For those who do intend to be the gamemaster in a group, technically this is also all you need. However, you'll probably want to buy the Shadowrun Gamemaster Screen, Third Edition as well, plus one or more adventures. The adventures are not absolutely essential per sé, but will help you get a feel for typical Shadowrun adventures, and thus aid you in creating your own adventures later on. Most adventures are suitable for use by a beginning gamemaster, although special mention must be made of First Run, which was specially designed with novice gamemasters in mind. However, it's highly recommended you stay away from adventures such as Divided Assets, Harlequin's Back, Mob War!, Blood in the Boardroom, and Renraku Arcology: Shutdown for the moment, as these are better suited to more experienced players.
After playing for a while, what books you should buy next becomes dependent for a large part on the direction you want your character or the group to go in. However, in general it can be said that you can best concentrate on books that either provide additional information for the types of player characters in the campaign, or that give background information for the gamemaster relevant to the kind of adventures the group tends to play.
For a guide to the books that fit the various types of characters, see the section titled The Books, below. It's probably best to concentrate on books that you think will really add something to the game for example, if no one really complains about lack of choice except the group's decker feels that the options for the Matrix are too limited, there's no need to get gun or vehicle books, but Virtual Realities 2.0 would be a good choice.
Also note that, if you're not the gamemaster, you can only buy those books which you think will come in handy for your character. A street samurai doesn't have much need for Magic in the Shadows, for instance. However, it's best to ask the gamemaster which books he or she does not want you to read (yet).
For gamemasters, most likely the best book to get is one that describes the area in which the campaign is set. For most Shadowrun games, this will be Seattle therefore, New Seattle is an excellent choice as one of the first sourcebooks to add to your collection. (The Seattle Sourcebook is a good second choice, especially if your campaign is set in the early 2050s rather than around 2060.) After this, your best bet is to choose books that fit the characters in the campaign, as mentioned above, and/or books that deal with organizations the characters will likely get to deal with. For instance, if the campaign will focus on the criminal elements in society, you can buy the Underworld Sourcebook; whereas for a campaign that will feature mainly corporations, Corporate Shadowfiles (if you can find it) or the upcoming Corporate Download will prove much more useful.
This site provides reviews of all Shadowrun books for exactly this purpose: they allow you to see what each book is about and decide if it's what you need for your campaign. Reading the reviews and the backs of the books in the game store will help you make the decision.
What are you reading this for? if you consider yourself a veteran Shadowrun player, it's doubtful you need to be told what books are handy for your campaign I have this feeling you own most of them already anyway :)
The following list gives an idea of what kind of characters each FASA-published book is useful for, so you can pick books that suit your group, your character, and/or (if you're the gamemaster) what you want the players to encounter.
This list uses shorthand notations for different character types, as follows:
>Any book not included in the lost is recommended for gamemasters only. This can be for various reasonsadventures, for example are not realy intended for the eyes of the other players, while location sourcebooks (books that describe countries or cities) can be read by the other players, but they generally have little use for them because the books don't provide much that can be used to make a character.
|Book||Mostly Useful To||Notes|
|Cyberpirates||All characters||This book is only handy if you play in (or want to run) a campaign where the player characters are pirates rather than shadowrunners.|
|Cybertechnology||Street Samurai||Mainly useful if you're bored with the cyberware available from other books, and/or want background ideas for street samurai. About half the book is only really useful to the gamemaster.|
|Fields of Fire||Mercenaries, Street Samurai||For weapons and related equipment, this is a good choice. It also has optional rules for combat situations and a text about what it's like to be a mercenary.|
|Magic in the Shadows||Magicians||All kinds of options for magicians, giving much more choice for your character.|
|The Neo-Anarchists' Guide to Real Life||Al characters||A book with a lot of little things that are nice to own in, or know about, the Sixth World.|
|Rigger 2||Riggers||The book to buy if you play a rigger, or if vehicles feature heavily in your campaign. 'Nuff said.|
|Shadowbeat||All characters (though mostly the gamemaster)||It may not look like much at first, but it 's a goldmine of background information for the Sixth World.|
|Shadowrun Companion||All characters||A book with many character options and extra rules. Not recommended for beginning players, but those with Shadowrun experience may find it a good buy. Be sure to get the version for the set of main rules you use, as there are both second- and third-edition versions of this book.|
|Shadowrun, Third Edition||All characters||If you want to play Shadowrun, your group should have this book. It's that simple.|
|Shadowtech||Deckers, Riggers, Street Samurai||Those looking for new implants, chemicals, and other such things will find this invaluable. However, in mid to late 1999, a new book will come out that updates Shadowtech to third edition so you may want to wait for that.|
|Street Samurai Catalog||Mercenaries, Street Samurai||Should you be after guns, equipment, cyberware, or other combat-related items, this is a good book to look out for. However, all equipment stats are in the second edition main rulebook, and the third edition main rules incorporate many items from this book into the equipment tables.|
|Target: Smuggler Havens||Criminals||If you're planning to make your character a smuggler, this gives good background information. It's also useful in a Cyberpirates campaign.|
|Underworld Sourcebook||Criminals||For all kinds of information about organized crime in Shadowrun, you should look no further than this book. It's not very useful for campaigns where the Mafia etc. don't feature heavily, though.|
|Virtual Realities 2.0||Deckers||Any decker should not be without this book, especially if you still use the second edition rules VR 2.0 makes decking much easier. Third-edition players will find more options in this book than in the third edition main rules.|