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Catalyst Game Labs
Catalyst Game Labs
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Shadowrun: The Assassin's Primer
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 10/29/2013 08:04:35
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/10/29/tabletop-review-shadowr-
un-the-assassins-primer/

Wetworks is a very tricky thing to pull off in a tabletop game, even one like Shadowrun. Players, and thus their characters, tend to look at themselves in a heroic light, so it’s generally very hard to get a group of characters to take on a Wetworks mission, especially if the target can be considered good or innocent. A mission to prevent an assassination, sure, that’s easy enough to get PCs to accept. You can generally even get them to take an assassination mission if you’re killing a really big bad guy, like an Aztlan uberpriest or horrible serial murderer. That’s similar to the “raid the dungeon to snuff out the evil necromancer in order to save the village” motif from fantasy RPGs. Killing a good NPC trying to whistleblow on an evil corporation though? At least one PC seems to balk every time, thus causing the adventure to be thrown out, and a lot of GM planning goes out the window. Even Shadowrun adventure writers have had to deal with this headache and throw in some caveats for those types of missions when they are actually published.

So enter The Assassin’s Primer. Although fifteen of the seventeen pages in this document are JackPoint style fiction, this is a great look at assassins. More importantly, you are given an example of how to make a “noble professional killer” in addition to a religious fundamentalist, a patriotic abattoir and a ruthless psycho who just happens to love murdering things. Not only are there interesting character designs here, but it will make playing and/or designing Wetworks adventures all the easier. There are four very interesting positive qualities and one negative one in the two pages of actual mechanics in this piece. The benefits and drawbacks are enticing and unique enough to make a gamer curious about playing an assassin, and they come with enough background information to give a GM plot threads aplenty while also helping the player to flesh out the back story of their new killing machine.

The majority of the piece is JackPoint style fiction, as I mentioned earlier. If you’re new to Shadowrun (Fifth Edition just came out after all), this means that the fiction is done from the point of view of a speaker, or rather a writer, on a super secret chat room/message board/web forum in the Matrix. As the piece goes on, you’ll see side comments and even conversations occur between JackPoint members. It’s the most common way the metaplot occurs in Shadowrun, and you’ll quickly grow to accept if not outright enjoy it.

Our speaker for this piece is new to Jackpoint, and unfortunately, it looks like his first post is also about to be his last. Quietus, as he calls himself, is about to be killed by his employer (an all too common occurrence in the Sixth World I’m afraid) for reasons we will never know. Before he goes, he decides to spend his remaining time creating a primer on assassins to help them be better understood in terms of what they do and why they do it. Oddly enough, Quietus states he is a lurker to ShadowSEA and is posting his piece there, but ShadowSEA hasn’t really been used for advancing the Metaplot since, well, 2050 I guess. I’m not sure if this was an error that got through editorial, if this is actually meant to be a piece for ShadowSEA and not Jackpoint (Which would be quite unusual) or something else. Still, longtime Shadowrun gamers will probably see that and wonder what exactly happened here.

The text is pretty straightforward. Quietus talks about who becomes an assassin and why, including his own personal transformation from starving Grecian refuge into a death dealer. Oddly enough, Quietus’ name and his story, coupled with what little information we are given about his teacher, had me wanting to crack constant Assamite jokes in this review, but it would be all too easy. Plus, if you’ve never played Vampire: The Masquerade, it would be lost on you. ANYWAY, Quietus breaks assassins down into three categories: the desperate, the psycho loonies and the idealists (generally those who believe they are killing for a greater cause). There’s also some great advice on weapons, armor, needed skills and other basics on how to be an assassin, and it’s all wonderful advice – for playing a character/NPC, NOT going out and doing it for real. There’s a lot of great content here for players and DMs alike here. Little bits and considerations most gamers overlook but shouldn’t.

There’s some great JackPoint interaction here too. There’s one huge hilarious bit from Clockwork the Hobgoblin, as it turns out he and Quietus have worked together before. We get to see what is hopefully foreshadowing the death of Haze. We get to see why it is so hard to believe /dev/grrl and Slamm-O! haven’t been shot dead yet on one of their runs. We get to see that Picador survived Storm Front more or less intact. So on and so forth. As just a piece of JackPoint fiction, The Assassin’s Primer does an incredible job of being both informative and entertaining. As piece on Wetworks operatives and how you can do them while still viewing yourself with a white hat on, I don’t think I could have asked for a better supplement. Okay, maybe a few more pages of mechanics or some tips on how to make a Wetworks adventure run smoother when a character refuses to take part. Those things would have made it even better, but you know what I mean.

Overall, I’m exceptionally happy with The Assassin’s Primer. It’s well written, imparts a lot of great information from an in-game point of view, a way to play a “lawful good” style assassin and some interesting new character creation bits. Oh and a new gun. The Assassin’s Primer might be a bit overpriced for those of you who only want rules, stats blocks and the like, but hopefully CGL will come up with something more towards your liking down the road. For those that like Sixth World metaplot in-game fiction, there’s a lot to love here.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: The Assassin's Primer
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Shadowrun: Missions: Chasin' the Wind (5A-01)
by Optimistic C. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 10/28/2013 10:41:00
I am a new GM to Shadowrun after loving the universe for decades. As a Gm who had mainly only ran players through Dungeons and Dragons, I was very unsure about myself and whether or not I could get confident with the fluff and rules in order to run Shadowrun. Fortunately, the fluff is so engaging that it was a pleasure to research. The rules, however, were very intimidating. Thankfully, Bull and the Missions team have given the community a great offering in the form of the Missions adventures.

There is simply NO better value for the Game Master than the Missions line of products. In particular, this first Season 5 offering: Chasin' the Wind, not only takes the long view, by not giving out all information that runners may want (Missions tend to reveal major plotlines over time), but also puts everything the GM needs right at their fingertips. Worried that you won't be able to calculate NPC dice pools on the fly? No problem, it is right there in the book. Still not sure how to navigate a negotiation test or how legwork works? They got you covered, detailed right there in intuitive layouts. All of this for $5.95.

Chasin' the Wind, without giving out too many plot details, finds the runners in Chicago, a forsaken wasteland of a city, with forces moving in to capitalize on the chaos. The runners are sent to do a job in the former Containment Zone, and end up getting hired for a second job, with the potential to play one or more Johnsons off each other. Classic Shadowrun fare. Having said that, it looks like this mission sets up lots of interesting hooks for the future Season 5 runs, which, if Season 5 is as good as Season 4, makes this new GM very happy!

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Missions: Chasin' the Wind (5A-01)
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Shadowrun: The Assassin's Primer
by Sean H. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 10/26/2013 15:26:57
The Assassin’s Primer provides information about assassins, killer for hire, in the Shadowrun setting. While I was worried about the choice of professional killers for an early sourcebook, after all Shadowrun characters can be quite violent enough as it is, the (in game) author of this work advises restraint and minimizing damage beyond the target. Such things are welcome in the realm of character (and player) advice. Beyond that, it provides a useful -if short- reference to the types of assassins and a basic overview of how they work.

Shadowrun: The Assassin’s Primer, is a short piece on assassins and other killers in the Sixth World, how and why they operate and some advice on what sort of skills and tools they will need to survive and prosper. It is a good general overview and of use to shadowrunners as the tricks of the trade overlap considerably.

The only new toy is the venerable (very by 2072) SVD sniper rifle and there are five new assassin’s creeds (code of honor) qualities, four of which are positive and one negative, which give a few more tools to flesh out hitters but some of them are definitely better suited to NPCs. There is also a short section for the GM on integrating ‘lone wolf’ characters (like assassins) into a game, which is nice.

Overall, a not unuseful resource and a good read, but nothing really new is presented here. It may be best suited as a handout to new players to shadowrun as an “in game” introduction to some of the main themes of the setting.

Disclosure: As a featured reviewer for RPGNow/DriveThroughRPG, I received my copy of this product for free from the publisher for the purpose of this review.

Note: Read more reviews and other gaming articles at my journal https://seaofstarsrpg.wordpress.com/

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: The Assassin's Primer
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Shadowrun: The Assassin's Primer
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 10/26/2013 11:57:45
Written as a last message from a professional hitman who reckons that a former employer is going to tidy up loose ends by killing him, this is advice for any Shadowrunner who intends to kill... be it for a living or as collateral damage during a 'run. Let's face it, when did you last get through a 'run without killing someone? Yeah, we know. Self defence.

It's a dispassionate look at the trade of killing. Not sociopaths for whom a paycheck merely selects who to kill, not cold-blooded individuals for whom the target has no more meaning than a paper one on the range, nor some wide-eyed kid who fancies being an assassin but has no idea how to go about it. Stealth, precision, planning are key, not rushing in yelling and firing like there's no tomorrow... because if you do, likely there will be no tomorrow.

Even if you are protesting that you'd never take on an assassination job, the information about how good assassins operate may come in useful if someone takes out a contract on you. Forewarned is forearmed.

The author, one Quietus, claims to be honourable at heart, and to prove this shares his code, that he lives by (and others die by). It makes for interesting reading. The discussion then moves on to the skills an assassin ought to develop. Most are loners, self-sufficient, rather than teamworkers like most shadowrunners so things like weapons training, stealth and deception, physiology, psychology, planning, burglary skills, repair/maintenance and even magic need to be understood as there isn't anyone else to call on. Likewise, having the right tools is also essential... and that doesn't necessarily mean a sniper rifle with lots of accessories. (However, should you think one is useful, full stats are provided for an old but tried and tested Soviet one.)

The discourse winds up with some advice for aspiring assassins. This is followed by some out-of-character thoughts on lone wolf characters. Perhaps an assassin hires in 'ordinary' shadowrunners to provide a particular service, or maybe you have one who is not quite so much of a loner and can work in a team... he just steps apart to do his thing, just as the hacker or someone astral sensing does. A selection of codes of honour are provided, with game-related advantages and disadvantages to each one.

An interesting and thought-provoking read. Having assassins about is not for everybody, but even if you only use them as antagonists, you can now portray them with considerable depth.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
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Shadowrun: Missions: Chasin' the Wind (5A-01)
by Andrew M. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 10/17/2013 12:15:53
Chasin' the Wind is the first installment of Season Five of Shadowrun Missions, the open play arm of the Shadowrun RPG. It's designed to be playable at a convention in four hours at a table of people who have never played together before. Missions follow a fairly predictable format of Meet->Legwork->Fight->Plot Twist->Fight->Get Paid. I mention this caveat because I think it's important to note that what works for a mission may or may not always work for a home campaign that you run in your basement.

Season 5 of takes place in Chicago, a city famous in Shadowrun lore for winning the "Worst Place on Earth" award a number of years running (a predictably competitive category in the Sixth World). Slowly, very slowly, emerging from the horrors of insect spirits, gangs, a military quarantine, and a host of other problems, Chicago is still more than a little rough around the edges, but it's a place where you can put in a dishonest day's work for a dishonest day's pay. Which is to say, it's the perfect place for a shadowrunner.

Chasin' the Wind is very much a "win friends and influence people" run. The players bounce from one job to the next in rapid succession, piece together how some of the jobs are connected, and (hopefully) tie up the loose ends. At the end of it all, they have a healthy batch of new contacts to serve as a jumping off point for the rest of the season. This is great for players who are planning on investing a lot of time into season five, but it makes it hard for the GM to fit everything into a four-hour block. If I were running this in a home campaign, I would absolutely break it up into two sessions. There are some classic Shadowrun elements (the horrors of a secret lab, the wonders of an underground bazaar) that GMs love to describe and players love to linger over, but it's very hard to do that when players need to rush from scene to scene.

By the same token, this is also very much a, "first session rules introduction" run. All sorts of elements of the new edition's mechanics are highlighted, which gives all sorts of different types of characters a chance to shine. The adventure doesn't always spell out how players can overcome obstacles. Instead of saying, "there are guards: players can shoot them, bribe them, or distract them," Chasin' the Wind simply states, "there are guards." Shadowrun players have an uncanny talent for coming up with outrageous solutions to straightforward problems, so I don't think it's possible for an adventure to cover all the contingencies, but a newer GM might want to roadmap some of those encounters before sitting down to run things, at the very least cover the Shadowrun trifecta of "shoot, sneak, talk." Some people have criticized this aspect of the run as not giving the GM enough detail, but I think of it was giving the GM enough freedom to tailor things to the group in front of him. I've heard of groups who shoot their way through the entire thing; conversely, the first time I played this as a PC, we never fired a single bullet.

Without giving too much away, important aspects of the plot don't really make all that much sense. Open play requires a certain suspension of disbelief to work anyway, so I'm not too worried about that. If at the end of four hours, people at the table feel like they had a good time, that's really the point. For the GM with a steady group who values narrative continuity, things are going to need to be tweaked, otherwise expect questions like, "How did a military-grade research facility with a sign out front survive the apocalypse?"

There are a few balance issues. One optional encounter that doesn't forward the plot in any way could easily leave at least one player dead. Unless the players are battle-hardened vets, GMs are best served by skipping it. A major NPC that the characters aren't required to fight (but could), is an alarmingly strong combatant. The NPC's lethality isn't really that important to the story, so I'm not sure why it was added other than as a gotcha for trigger-happy players. (As a longtime GM of Shadowrun, I should say that I almost always fully endorse gotchas for trigger-happy players, but generally skip them in people's first game).

So yes the plot is choppy and the GM needs to really think about balance in a few encounters, but I'm still giving it four stars (on the basis of being a missions game). Why? Because it works. Players get a sense of the city of Chicago (where winters still suck) and some of the major players they're sure to see again. In addition to some of the classic atmospherics I mentioned earlier like the secret lab, players face classic Shadowrun choices--do they do the right thing or do they sell out? Do they allow themselves to get sidetracked to help others? These sorts of tensions are at the heart of the Shadowrun universe and Chasin' the Wind does a good job of capturing them.

As a final note, the production levels for a $6 product are very good. At least one minor cut & paste error caught my eye, but nothing that made the product less functional.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Missions: Chasin' the Wind (5A-01)
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Shadowrun: Fifth Edition Core Rulebook
by Matthew G. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 10/17/2013 00:52:48
Overall there's some very nice stuff in this edition and a few things I like from previous editions have made a comeback. Unfortunately there are a few pieces of key information missing and at times the layout left a little to be desired. Overall a solid product.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Fifth Edition Core Rulebook
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Shadowrun: Dirty Tricks
by Sean H. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 10/16/2013 16:50:35
Dirty Tricks provides information about politics in the world of Shadowrun, which is a vicious and dangerous game even more so then today. It is a useful reference for games masters who want to mix politics with their games or just understand the way such things work in the Sixth World

Shadowrun: Dirty Tricks, a Deep Shadows Sourcebook, begins with the usual short piece of fiction, next it moves into a short primer on politics, focusing on what makes voter tick and what tricks are used to manipulate them. There is some good information here, mostly using mid to late 20th century examples. It then moves onto scandals, executive entertainment (escort services), and taking the bullet (bodyguards and security). These sections contain good general information on politics and are a useful reference for both the GM and players.

After laying the groundwork for political games (in both sense of the word) it moves on to various political hot spots:
• Seattle, at the exact point that Proposition 23 is going to the vote . . . and its immediate after effects. It’s a good time in old Seattle, oh, yes.
• UCAS, an overview of the politics including the upcoming presidential election, senatorial races and various local flashpoints. This provides good adventure seeds and some additional background on the hot issues in UCAS politics (and how they affect runners) is provided at the end of the section.
• The South, mostly about the CAS but also some information of Aztlan and Pueblo, there have been big changes in that region which have opened up jobs for shadowrunners.
• Tsimshian, politics at the edge of the NAN, a small nation and in rough shape -and thus open to Shadowrunners- but it gives a window into some of the wider debates as well.
• United Kingdom, the Mother of Parliaments is not in the best of shape, new politics, new coalitions. This section is very much an overview of the current situation in the UK with a few hints towards potential jobs.

Next, the Power Brokers section gives some details on the secret societies and individuals who shape politics from behind the scenes and what their goals are, probably. Not sold on conspiracies myself, but they do make good gaming fodder.

Lastly, Game Information, a slim six pages of how to apply the information in the book and at least two plots hooks (but not more than four) for each section of the book.

If a GM wants to bring politics to the front and center of their Shadowrun campaign, this is the book for you, otherwise, it is a useful reference as to how politics work in the former US parts North America (with some new info on Tsimshian and the UK). Though, oddly, the California Free State is only mentioned obliquely, you would think that the UCAS and CAS would have a little more interest in it.

Disclosure: As a featured reviewer for RPGNow/DriveThroughRPG, I received my copy of this product for free from the publisher for the purpose of this review.

Note: Read more reviews and other gaming articles at my journal https://seaofstarsrpg.wordpress.com/

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Dirty Tricks
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Shadowrun: Missions: Chasin' the Wind (5A-01)
by Edward K. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 10/14/2013 21:40:21
originally posted on www.throatpunchgames.com , a new idea everyday!

Ring Side Report- A review of Shadowrun Missions: Chasin' the Wind (5A-01)


Publisher-Catalyst Game Labs
Price – ~$6

TL;DR- Good start to this season of Shadowrun Missions setting the stage for the rest of the season 90%

Art-This season actually has some amazing art. I think it's better than the last few seasons I've seen. Good player handouts as well. 5/5

Story-It's a short intro adventure that introduces the NPCs that the characters will interact with all season. It establishes the themes well of exploring the burned out history of Chicago as well as showing the set pieces that the players get to play with. The plot itself isn't the most extraordinary Mission I've played/ran, but the mission's main focus is to get the major contacts into the players mind as well introducing the character of Chicago. And, at this, the mission does this extremely well. 4/5

Execution- Standard mission writing style and adventure setup. Every portion of the mission has the same setup. I would prefer some italic text to help separate box reading text from gamemaster text, but that's my own hang-up. Once you get used to this style, it's a good way to organize a living game. Another problem is the way missions are reported. There isn't a web portal like some other Living games and the results are reported via a online forum. Again, it's not a major problem, but it's a minor annoyance. 4.5/5

Final Thoughts-Good intro game. It's a bit hung-up on needing some hardware expert skills, but otherwise every other character has a role to play. Go get this and play it with your home group. Looks to be a good season if this is the intro. Welcome to Chicago! 90%

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Missions: Chasin' the Wind (5A-01)
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Shadowrun: Fifth Edition Core Rulebook
by Paul H. D. B. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 10/14/2013 13:24:50
The look of Shadowrun has never been better. This edition brings a dazzling, techno-punk look to the sinister, globally capitalist Earth of the genre. The aesthetic appeal of the book is one of the things that hooked me when I first saw it. The illustrations are more life like than ever before and create a technical as well as mystical, intrigue.

The history of the Shadowrun universe is absent, but the explanations of what things are and how they work make up for it splendidly. The Fifth edition wonderfully reveals what is needed in order to survive, who is who and what is what. Establishments, rules, regulations, organizations are all beautifully covered in the pages of this book. All the tools to begin writing your Shadowrun chronicles or roleplaying the game are here for the taking.

Shadowrun never fails to impress me. In fact, each and every new edition reinvents the wheel a little and improves the content. There have been no massive leaps since the fourth edition, but the ones that have been made are compelling and engrossing.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Fifth Edition Core Rulebook
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Shadowrun: 4th Ed. 20th Anniversary Core Rulebook
by Paul H. D. B. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 10/14/2013 08:37:21
At first this special edition appears to be a rehash, a recombinant of the Shadowrun universe. True, the original information is reiterated, the state of existence that veteran readers of the genre know by heart, is referred to yet again, but this is done in a completely original and creative way. What came before is addressed from a fresh, new perspective that is very compelling because it is give by a person, a native of this dark, dreary projection of the future. The book also expands on the Shadowrun universe, adding additional layers to its history and creating events that bringing new and imaginative concepts to the writer's desk.

The art is evocative and inventive. It gives a great first impression to those who are unfamiliar with Shadowrun and offers a new look to Catalyst game labs' world of the late 21st century. The digital quality is indeed high. It makes me believe that no print edition is necessary because the clarity of the images is so fine.

Well done, CGL, keep up the good work. You deserve nothing but praise.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: 4th Ed. 20th Anniversary Core Rulebook
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Shadowrun: Fifth Edition Core Rulebook
by Jason C. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 10/11/2013 18:30:59
Shadowrun was the first game I ever turned my nose up at.

Oh, uh, okay, that's a bad way to start a four-star review. Let me go over in some detail why that's relevant and why it makes me rate Shadowrun 5e as I do.

It's 1989. The whole world is changing. The Berlin Wall is coming down. Acid rain is a problem. Ayatollah Khomeini places a bounty on the head of Salman Rushdie. (A Republican President enacts a gun control measure?!) It's been five years since William Gibson's Neuromancer, and young JD is just old enough to read and understand it. Cyberpunk encapsulated the post-nuclear fears and anxieties of the 1980s - okay, so maybe we weren't going to blow ourselves up, but we weren't going to reach the stars either. We were just going to screw each other over for money, like we always had.

So there were two major cyberpunk games that came around at that time: Cyberpunk (2012 and then 2020...remember when 2012 was "the future"?!?) and Shadowrun. I played them both. I preferred Cyberpunk. It was clear to me at that time that the core of cyberpunk was a noir aesthetic - the troubled antihero, a toxic relationship, a technological misifre, all combining for bad purposes. The glitter and glitz in a cyberpunk world was unquestionably a bad thing - corporations and their mercenaries were bad guys - they made the world worse. The most memorable weapon in any cyberpunk novel, after all, was a sawed off shotgun in a duffel bag. You have to be crude to be technical.

So neither Cyberpunk 2020 nor Shadowrun really had what I was looking for but Cyberpunk 2020 at least was closer. Adding in magic and swords and elves just made 14 year old me roll my eyes. I was better than all that dammit. ("Of course I play D&D, why do you ask?")

Nevertheless, I did play Shadowrun in editions 1-2, and even owned a copy of Shadowrun 1e at one point. My favorite character archetype, for reasons that should be clear from the above, was the low-cyberware, no-magic detective, who acted, talked like, and had the ethos of a hard-boiled 1950s private eye. Not a single group ever had a clue about what the hell I was doing in the game. Somewhere between editions 1 and 5, the no-magic Detective character archetype disappeared, and as much as I enjoyed my 1e character, I can't say it's a bad decision (see below for why that is.)

These days, cyberpunk's relevancy is different. The smartphone in everyone's pocket changed everything, but the corporatization and consumerization of increasingly global culture was just as inevitable as we thought and feared. And as an older, more relaxed dude, I am fine with elves and orks and whatever in cyberpunk if it makes for a good game. I don't need to be loyal to William Gibson anymore. He'll do all right without me, a concept my 14 year old self could not grasp in his fierce loyalty to what was Right, Dammit. So when a friend insisted she really loved Shadowrun (I mean REALLY LOVED Shadowrun) I figured I should give it another look and the core 5e book was the ideal time for me to jump back in and see what's what.

I was able to recognize quite a bit from my 1e days. Character creation is done by assigning priorities to different aspects of the character: magic, equipment, skills, and so on. You can be a human, ork, elf, troll, or dwarf. The system is a die pool system with successes counted, using handfuls (sometimes double handfuls!) of six sided dice. You roll them and count 5s and 6s (and sometimes, for bad outcomes, 1s.) The core system seems solid. Complexity is iterated in many ways, with different layers of equipment, implants and magic manipulating your die pool (and your opponent's) in various ways.

Some other reviewers have commented negatively on Shadowrun's complexity. I understand the theory: this is a pulp action game about orks in armor-plated three-piece suits with machine guns and swords fighting dudes, so why the hell do I need to roll to attack, the bad guy rolls for dodge, I roll for damage, then they roll to absorb the damage; there's plenty of other systems out there where I just roll once, or not at all, and we go on to the next thing? There's a good reason for this complexity, which I get to a bit later when I discuss the reward cycle of Shadowrun. It is definitely not a downside, but yeah, if you like simple RPGs, go somewhere else.

There are many specialized subsystems, from hacking vehicles and computers (and computerized weapons, even those carried by your enemies) to magical summoning and vehicle combat rules. No starting player should be expected to learn all of these - GMs should introduce them one at a time. If a character is a magic-based character, give them the basics of magic and have them defeat some bad guys using just those basics before you start introducing weird stuff.

The Matrix system seems much more intuitive and straightforward than I remember 1e being (thankfully). A significant amount of functionality in the Matrix is reduced to putting "marks" on things and manipulating them in various ways. You know, like the spyware you probably have sitting on your hard drive right now! It's clear to me that Shadowrun has benefited from some actual experience with what the Internet turned out to be.

The world of Shadowrun is sketched very simply but vividly. I have the advantage of having forgotten damn near everything in the years since 1989 (not just things related to Shadowrun, sigh). So I can get excited about a crazy map (also available on Catalyst's site for free download) and imagine what Aztechnology is like from the name and the three line description of it rather than worry about what was in a supplement somewhere in 2002. Yet I can go to those supplements if I want more information. I appreciate that the world is described in ways that focus on the experiences of the player characters. It's a world where things are just unrecognizable enough to give me permission to make it my own. "A war zone in San Diego?! What is that like? That sounds amazing! I wanna do a mission in wartime San Diego!"

I'm annoyed to find the "magic Native American" thing has survived. When I was 14 I was too dumb to see what a bad idea this was. It's fairly easy to alter in a home game if (like me) you are squicked/grouchy about appropriation/oversimplification of the huge diversity of native beliefs in various urban fantasy works (not just Shadowrun by any means.) Don't get me wrong, it's pretty great to have a North America dominated by resurgent tribal alliances who survived the breakdown of previous national governments. But do some work to look at and think about what that would be, even sixty years later (and in a world where native families may include elves and trolls.) I won't go into a ton more detail, just point you to Google - there's lots of native voices out there who are discussing this issue (again, with respect to all fantasy media, not just Shadowrun) and there's a lot to learn from listening to them that can only improve your Shadowrun experience.

That leads me into the other critique of Shadowrun I have, one ironically I developed more as a grownup rather than as a 14 year old. The typical Shadowrun experience is that the characters are hired by a shady personage to do some shady deed in a dangerous but deniable way. They are then paid and they get more cool equipment, magic or improve their lifestyle so that they can be hired to do something more shady, more dangerous and, naturally, more lucrative.

Before I go further, I should note that the Shadowrun system in the 5e corebook nails down this cycle really hard. The complexity of the system is tied to this reward cycle extremely tightly. It matters in this system whether you get your reflexes boosted, whether you improve your armor trenchcoat, or if you toughen your skin with biological modifications, even though the end result of all three is that you take less damage in combat. The reason the system differentiates these is so that you can have fun shopping for, building, stealing or looting various combinations of these advantages. Nobody ever got excited in FATE switching a +1 gun for another +1 gun. But in Shadowrun you can get a gun that maybe gets you to fire just a tiny bit faster, but not quite so accurately, or a gun that is better at very-short ranges, and so maybe that gun's better for the job you're going on in the Qwerty UI Corporate Headquarters, well known for being a maze of twisty passages all alike. 5e really grabs onto this level of complexity and differentiation and runs with it. Without this level of complexity, the reward cycle wouldn't be as effective.

But in the Shadowrun setting it's clear that people who do this kind of shady work for the corporations are part of the problem, part of the forces making this world terrible. It's hard to get me, at this point in my life, excited about playing a game where the game world would simply be better off if I didn't play, unless there's some mechanical point to doing so - although White Wolf vampires are awful monsters, the Humanity struggle keeps me from feeling like I would be doing the right thing by not playing. In Shadowrun, greed has made the world ugly for so many millions of people for so many decades, and greed is exactly what your character must possess in order for the reward cycle of job -> pay -> cooler gear -> better job to work. (When I was 14, I didn't care - I was dreaming about all the cool stuff I wanted and a game to scratch that imaginary itch was just right.)

So it's to a GM's advantage to really think about this reward cycle and what you want to do. If you've just got a bunch of rowdy players who are really in it for the tactical challenge, then you're good to go. If you're just doing a one-shot and you're only going to cycle through it one time, you're fine. But if you have people like me who will be looking for other motivations, it will be to your advantage to think about what other things shadowrunners could be fighting for or against, other situations that could force them into taking Just One Last Job, or ways to subvert or alter that cycle to the benefit of others.

(This is also why the Detective needed to be cut or at least turned into the magical Occult Detective - someone who rejects the whole premise of the game setting may be fun for 14 year olds like young JD basically trolling their best friend's Shadowrun game, but it's not the best idea to try to get characters on the same page.)

The only other nitpick I have is that as a PDF, there are several pages with sidebars with colored backgrounds and white text, which are hard to print out effectively. But in general the PDF is very high quality: well-bookmarked, the text is selectable for copying and pasting key passages, and although it's large (since the book is long), it seems well equipped for at-the-table use or between-sessions reference.

It may sound like I'm a bit down on Shadowrun, or that I'm giving it backhanded praise. That's not my intention. 1e was a landmark product in the hobby and 5e preserves and expands that legacy. Although 5e is complex, it's complex for a good reason tightly tied to the cycle of play. It's imaginative and action-packed. The setting material is evocative without being too constricting. It's clear that Catalyst continues to work at improving the system and making things like hacking and magic more interesting and comprehensible. And frankly $20 for a 477 page book of this thoroughness and density is a brilliant price.

I can't forget to mention the cool one-page "random run generator" at the end. This is the most fun page you'll ever have in any Shadowrun book. Roll on it a few times and you'll find you're smiling with how eager you are to try out the results.

Shadowrun is an exciting game with a lot going for it. You might hit a few bumps here and there, but hopefully you can navigate them as I think I have. I'm psyched about running my first Shadowrun game ever, and I'm going to use the 5e corebook!

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Fifth Edition Core Rulebook
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Shadowrun: Sprawl Wilds
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 10/10/2013 23:15:49
The collection represents a very clever move on the part of Catalyst and comes highly recommend. Firstly, the compilation offers four modules, collected from the convention circuit and made available to all fans at an extremely reasonable price (by current pricing, you'll pay $3.00 per module which is fantastic value). Secondly, the modules come dual-statted, showing both the rules for 'Shadowrun Fourth Edition (20th Anniversary)' and 'Shadowrun Fifth Edition', making the product accessible to players of both editions. The dual-stats are unobtrusive, and Catalyst does a good job (as expected) with layout to make it so.

The four modules offer a wide variety of locales, so each has a very distinct flavour. The break down is as follows:

Manhunt - on the surface, this appears to be an investigation centred around an aquaculture farm in the Barrens, but as we all know there is a lot more to the story than this simple premise. The setting was very interesting, and well-thought-out, and The Barrens were described in very believable terms. It offers a nice balance of investigative and combat scenes, but players who enjoy lateral thinking and in-depth role-playing will find a lot of satisfaction. Another nice touch are the notes which foreshadow to the GM how particular PC actions will influence the outcome.

Carbon Copy - this is tied to the 'Shadowrun Missions' (like the next module) and really you need to know a bit about the backstory to really enjoy this one. That said, it is a solid investigative module with some serious moral choices underpinning the end.

Ashes - set in the Ork Underground against the Proposition 23 Agenda, this is really a survival story set against racial hatred. The terrain can be used to great advantage in this module, as well as the political and religious beliefs of the Underground inhabitants.

Humanitarian Aid - rounding off the compilation is a seriously creepy offering. Ostensibly called to an isolated island for a simple job, the 'runners find a viral outbreak, astral disturbance and a final showdown with a horrifying foe.

I found the balance of module content and locations to be extremely satisfying. Each of the stories has enough to make it stand out form the others in the collection and create a memorable role-playing experience. The overall quality is very high, the artwork consistently good (nice to see some Jeff Laubenstein pieces in this title), and the editing issues which have plagued Fourth Edition releases are absent.

You would be hard pressed to find a collection of modules at a better price, and I'd highly recommend these for both the novice GM (I'd run 'Manhunt' and 'Humanitarian Aid') and veteran GMs (go with any of the modules) alike.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Sprawl Wilds
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Shadowrun: Missions: Chasin' the Wind (5A-01)
by Angel B. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 10/07/2013 00:42:13
I picked this up as a way to get back into the setting, and I have to say its a great area of the world! The wild, frost bitten area in the Containment Zone with the declaration for reclaiming lands gives the missions setting the feeling of the land rush of the old west!

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Missions: Chasin' the Wind (5A-01)
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Shadowrun: Splintered State
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 10/04/2013 06:48:14
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/10/04/tabletop-review-shadowr-
un-splintered-state/

Splintered State is the first adventure for Shadowrun, Fifth Edition that isn’t from the Shadowrun Missions line. Although to be honest, since the adventure uses the same formatting as Shadowrun Missions, follows up some of the storyline threads from the last season of Missions and looks and feels like a double length adventure from that series, it’s hard not to instinctively look at Splintered State as a post script to the Seattle adventures. Unlike Shadowrun Missions though, Splintered State is completely in black and white and it has nearly twice the page count. That said it also has a little over twice the price tag as well. Season 5 of Shadowrun Missions costs a little under six dollars per adventure and Season 4, which Splintered State ties into, costs $3.95 each, so you could get two or three adventures using the same format for the same cost as this. Why the higher price tag? I’m not sure save for the fact it’s the first adventure to start touching on plot points from Storm Front, the last Metaplot release for Shadowrun, Fourth Edition. We get to see a little more regarding the fall of Kenneth Brackhaven, Governor of Seattle, but more importantly, we also get a bit more of the mysterious weirdness “infecting” various people of the Sixth World including some beloved Jackpointers.

Splintered State is meant to be an introductory adventure into Shadowrun, Fifth Edition. It’s meant for rookie characters and to help a group of new shadowrunners not only make their name, but really get thrown into the deep end of Seattle intrigue and see whether they can sink or swim. Now note I said characters rather than players. While I think Splintered State is an excellent adventure for showcasing the new rules and system for Shadowrun, I hesitate to say it’s a good adventure for introducing people completely new to the setting. After all, the adventure makes heavy use of the metaplot that came before Fifth Edition, along with a cast and characters that have a lot of back story and baggage attached to them. As such, long time players with new characters will have a blast with this adventure while newcomers will have to stop and ask questions almost constantly about various players and megacorps that rear their head throughout this adventure. I personally feel an introductory adventure should be more handholding and explanatory about the setting and mechanics and Splintered State just doesn’t do that at all. I mean, when you throw in Jake Armitage and a back story that stretches back to First Edition as an Easter Egg, you’re obviously NOT writing for the newcomer crowd. Now it does do a great job of guiding a new GM through running the adventure and pointing out how players can go off the rails or make incredibly stupid (lethal) mistakes, but from brand new players. I think they would need something a little friendly to their inexperience and lack of Sixth World knowledge. So basically, Splintered State is a fun and frantic adventure that gives new characters a lot of potential contacts, allies and enemies, but it’s a little too intense for people who are touching Shadowrun for the first time.

Splintered State revolves around a very special comlink – one that used to be possessed by a special agent trying to bring Governor Brackhaven down. The good news is that it can do just that. The bad news is that this particular agent has the same problem that seems to have affects characters like Fastjack. The good news is that the comlink is worth a LOT of nuyen in the right hands. The bad news is many sides want the comlink and are willing to kill for it. The good news is the PCs end up getting their hands on the comlink. The bad news is the PCs end up getting their hands on the comlink. What follows is a set of potential, bribes, betrayals and battles as the players have to decide what to do with the comlink. Anything from getting bullets to the brain or collecting well over 100,000 nuyen can occur depending on how the characters play their cards. Hell, you could get the money AND the fatal injuries depending on the actions taken.

In a sense, the players have five sides that they can take. You have Ares, Mitsuhama, Brackhaven, the Law and “Screw you all.” If you’re using experienced characters, especially those that have been through Season Four of Shadowrun Missions, you’re pretty much guaranteed to side with DA Oaks and Tosh because you probably have them as contacts with a high rating while Brackhaven probably has already tried to murder you more than once. The Law is the lesser or the five evils but new characters and especially new players might not realize this, causing the comlink to fall into the hands whichever side makes the best offer. I really enjoyed the dynamic layout of the adventure and how it plans for any of the five sides to be taken, along with the repercussions of each.

Splintered State offers a lot of handouts, maps and NPC data, which as I have said earlier, make running this adventure pretty easy. It’s well written and laid out, and contains all sorts of ways to scale the difficulty of the adventure and also gives some tips for what to do when players try to think outside the box. If you’ve ever run or read a Shadowrun Missions you know what to expect. Splintered State does tie heavily into the metaplot of fourth AND fifth edition Shadowrun, and the results of this adventure will be felt in later releases for the system, so if you like that sort of thing, you and your team can play the adventure and read about it in future releases. For newcomers, this is a great way to tie emotional impact into the memories of a fun session of gaming. Some gamers however may be turned off the whole “everything is metaplot first and foremost” aspect of Shadowrun. For that I can only offer two solutions: don’t play or just ignore the metaplot. You can write your own campaign or version of Shadowrun if at any time you start to feel like you have to purchase and read every release in order to understand what is going on story-wise.

In the end, Splintered State is a really fun adventure. It’s probably a dollar or three overpriced and it really doesn’t feel like an introductory adventure for new players as much as it does for new characters, but it’s well designed, touches on all the tropes of the setting and gives you a large look at some of the key players and issues currently taking place in the Sixth World. If you’re familiar with the rise and fall of Kenneth Brackhaven and have enjoyed the drama, than you’ll definitely want to pick this up to see the continuation escalation of events. You can easily modify the adventure to fit your older, more established characters if need be. Bottom line – Splintered State is well worth picking up for long time Shadowrun fans, but newcomers can probably skip it as it’s not as newcomer friendly as it wants and/or needs to be.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Splintered State
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Shadowrun: Missions: Chasin' the Wind (5A-01)
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 10/02/2013 06:28:11
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/10/02/tabletop-review-shadowr-
un-missions-5a-01-chasin-the-wind/

Okay, chummers, rise and shine, and don’t forget your booties ’cause it’s cooooold out there today! That’s right, this brand new season of Shadowrun Missions kicks off in Chicago smack dab in the middle of winter. Midwest winters are the worst because not only do you have temperatures well below freezing, but the winds can sometimes send the chill factor to as low as 100 below zero Fahrenheit. If you think that’s bad, imagine how it must feel to have a cyberlimb in that weather! Perhaps a more reckless character can be dared to lick a cyberdeck that’s been sitting out all night in the cold.

Now if the weather wasn’t horrible enough, there’s one big thing about Chicago in Shadowrun that you have to remember…or should I say BUG thing? That’s right – they call Chicago “Bug City” for a reason thanks to the infestation of bug spirits that plagued the city in the 2050s. New to Shadowrun? Then the best way to get caught up may be by playing the new Shadowrun Returns video game released earlier this year. If you’re not into video games, I would suggest either the novel Burning Brightor the classic second edition Shadowrun release, Bug City. You don’t need to experience any of the above to really enjoy this season ofShadowrun Missions, but all three are lot of fun, they’re cheap and they really will help you to understand how insidious and horrifying Insect Spirits are.

So with all that out of the way, let’s talk the actual plot of Chasin’ the Wind. What starts off as a simple routine everyday run (Well for Shadowrun) where you’re upgrading some Matrix nodes in the containment zone so your Johnson can piggyback off a pirate matrix grid turns weird. While in the Containment Zone (The quasi sealed off section of Chicago due to the whole bug thing), the PCs are contacted by one Simon Andrews, who works for Lofwyr, CEO of Saeder-Krupp – one of the biggest Mega-Corps on the Sixth World…and also a great dragon. Now you all know the adage, “Never Deal With a Dragon” when it comes to Shadowrun, right? Well, as true as it is, you also don’t want to get on the wrong side of a dragon by telling them to slag off. It’s also very lucrative to have a S-K contact who will vouch for you. So the question then becomes whether the PCs want to take a new, also seemingly easy mission or if they want to leave well enough alone. If the runners do take up Andrews on his mission, they’ll find themselves trying to locate a under the radar lab that has cut off from the outside world more or less thanks to being smack dab in the containment zone. From there, players will be sucked into a game of dragon politics, a secret cloning experiment and trying to run down a certain something that was missing from the lab.

I absolutely loved this mission as it’s a great introduction to how creepy and insane Bug City can be. This adventure should be run with a heavy atmosphere of paranoia and creepy spooky dread. To say Bug City should have similar tones to say, a Chill or Call of Cthulhu game is not that far off the mark. After all, there are hideous things lurking in the shadows everywhere in Chicago’s CZ and if your players aren’t ready to frag everything that moves, you’re not doing the location right.

One thing I discovered while running this adventure is that the more experience with Shadowrun a player has, the more likely they are to go off the rails and screw up. That’s due to knowledge of the location and insect spirits in general. By the time the players had investigated the lab, half the party was convinced that it was a secret bug location where they were cloning technomancer bodies for insect spirits to inhabit. I almost felt like Plan 9 was a PC in our run through of this adventure. Inevitably when someone from Aztechnology offered the players money to find a homeless person who happened to look just like the cloned bodies they saw earlier, conspiracy theories hit an all time high and well, there was no way they were helping Aztlan’s crazy blood mages. They shot first and asked questions later, leading to the first time I have EVER seen a Shadowrun Mission manage to go so completely and utterly off the rails. I mean these adventures are designed to be pretty hard to deviate from, but it sure happened here. Now had the PCs all been relatively new to Shadowrun without any knowledge of how messed up Chicago is, this would have been a fairly straightforward run without any of the, “Obviously there are going to be bug spirits in this adventure. BUG SPIRITS EVERYWHERE!” attitude. So GMs, keep in mind that this could happen to your game too, but you know what? Let it? Chicago, and especially the CZ, should be one of the freakiest places in the Sixth World and if the players let the city’s reputation run wild in their brains, it’ll be an all the more memorable experience for the party.

So now that we’re done with content, let’s talk about the good, the bad and the ugly. First up – the Good. With Season Five of Shadowrun Missions comes a new crisper, cleaner layout. You’ll notice each page has a set of bookmarks on the right hand side, which makes for quicker perusal and access to the information you want instead of scrolling through the entire thirty-five page PDF. This makes GM’ing with the PDF a lot easier too. I didn’t think it was possible to improve of the Shadowrun Missions design, but I was wrong – this thing is snazzy and so much easier on the eyes. As well, Shadowrun Missions still use the same layout, ensuring that a GM’s hand will be held from beginning to end. From ways to adjust the challenge of each scene, to a list of possible ways players can go off and mess things up for themselves, Shadowrun Missions are a GM’s dream come true as they make running a game exceptionally easy. Even somewhat relatively new to Shadowrun or tabletop gaming as a whole can take a Shadowrun Missions PDF and run it passably. These things really should be the gold standard for published adventures. In the case of Chasin’ the Wind, I ran this adventure SIGHT UNSEEN. It showed up in my inbox, I gathered some players and I ran the adventure AS I READ IT just to see if the SM format is as nigh foolproof as I thought. Guess what? The players didn’t realize it for a second. Granted I’ve been playing Shadowrun since the early 90s, but I feel this shows just how well designed the SM format it.

Now the bad. There’s a price increase. Shadowrun Missions used to be $3.95 a pop, and because they were cheaper than a comic book, I regularly called them the best deal in tabletop gaming. Well, the price tag has raised two bucks, so now it’s $5.95 for a mission. That equates to a little over a dollar an hour, so you’re still getting a great deal, just not AS good as in previous seasons. I am glad to see that the Missions stayed in full colour as I remember Bull stating they might have to go black and white. So while the price increase isn’t a deal breaker, the two dollars extra per Mission may add up for gamers with a shoestring budget. Just a head’s up.

Finally the ugly – the new Shadowrun Missions logo. Ick. That might be the worst logo I’ve seen in a long time. Ah well, art is pretty subjective, right?

All in all, Chasin’ the wind is a great start to this new season of Shadowrun Missions. It’s creepy, it’s low key and far more subtle than your usual Sixth World adventure, but not every missions has to be a save the world or take down a mega-corp’s insidious plan sort of deal. Chasin’ the Wind is a great way to introduce gamers to Bug City and I can’t wait to see where the rest of the season take us.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Missions: Chasin' the Wind (5A-01)
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