Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2012/08/15/tabletop-review-shadowr
If you’ve been paying attention to the metagame story that’s been going through the Sixth World over the past few years then you know that metahumanity’s relationship with dragons has become…strained. What’s more is that inter-dragon relationships have been pushed to the breaking point as well, with three factions developing. You have Lofwyr, the Loremaster of the dragons, and his faction that believes his race is above humanity and should be viewed with awe, respect and deference by all. You have Hestaby’s faction, which believes more or less view that metahumanity and dragons should be working together rather than engaging in petty squabbles. The third faction is that of Alamais, who basically believes humans are rather tasty and are best left as either snacks or for inflicting heaping amounts of mental and physical abuse on. Basically side three is the Sabbat from Vampire: The Masquerade. Catalyst Game Labs has been on a slow burn with this large subplot, but it all comes to the forefront with this newest supplement for Shadowrun: The Clutch of Dragons.
For those who might expect The Clutch of Dragons to be a set of adventures revolving around a core theme similar to Jet Set or Hazard Pay, you’ll be disappointed as there isn’t a single adventure in the book (although there are plenty of potential ones that enterprising GM can easily make after reading this book). As well, if you’re the type of gamer who wants stats, mechanics and “crunch,” then you too will likely be disappointed as the only stats in the book start on page 133 and only last for twelve pages. Much of what is in those twelve pages are stats for some big name players in the metagame including Harlequin,albeit it his are just a reprint of what can be found in Street Legends Supplemental.
So with all that in mind you’re probably wonder what you’re getting with The Clutch of Dragons. Well, it’s all in-game fiction and flavor text. In fact, aside from the actual Shadowrun novels that have been released throughout the years, this is probably the largest amount of straight fiction I’ve ever seen released in a Shadowrun product. So basically, if you don’t care about CGL’s Sixth World and just use the setting and mechanics to do your own thing, The Clutch of Dragons is going to be close to worthless for you. For everyone else though, you are going to absolute love this book. I know I personally have loved the Shadowrun fiction released in the past few years and CGL has done an amazing job with this book here. Of course, compared to a Shadowrun novel, you’re getting half the page count for two to three (or more!) times the cost, but true Shadowrun fans won’t care as they’re getting a ton of new revelations about the Sixth World, some high quality fiction, and a nice oversized book (or PDF, depending on how you buy this) that will keep them entertained from beginning to end.
By now you’re probably wondering what’s actually in this book, right? Well, there are nineteen sections to the book but each falls under one of two categories (although one, as mentioned, is twelve pages on mechanics and stats). The first could be classified as JackPoint articles. For those new to Shadowrun JackPoint is the most common way CGL talks about in-game happenings. It’s a chat-room of sorts for the best Shadowrunners in the Sixth World. It’s where they gossip, trade information, and snark on each other. The second category would be short fictional stories. We’ll cover the JackPoint articles first because they make up the majority of the book.
“War at 10,000 Meters” is a basic overview of the state of the Sixth World in regards to dragons, their politics and their outlook on metahumanity. It’s the longest section in the book and contains information on the four biggest name dragons: Sirrurg, Ghostwalker, Hesaby, and Lofwyr. The article contains lots of commentary by members of JackPoint and helps to introduce newcomers to these big four great dragons while also refreshing veteran gamers of what’s all been going on in regards to these fire-breathing reptiles. “Echoing the Roar” offers the flip side – metahumans who are big players in this growing conflict between mortals and dragons. You get a nice look are Harlequin, Quicksilver, Nadja Daviar, the UCAS government, Johnny Spinrad, and finally the Corporate Court and a quick general overview of Megacorps. “Trickle Down Effects” is about various groups that have their own agenda in the divide between dragons and how they how to manipulate pawns (and thus Shadowrunners) to make things go in their favour. The most interesting thing about this chapter is how it looks at various Shadowrun tropes like doing wetworks, stealing, extracting and the like and hopw they might be given a new twist by this new onslaught of intrigue.
From there, the JackPoint articles are focused on specific dragons. Each article covers that singular dragon, their motives, motivations, allies, enemies and potential end games. You’ll get to read about Aiden, Celedya, Henequen, Damon, Fucanglong, Kalanya, Naheka, Perianwyr, Urubia, and my personal favorite Great Dragon…The Sea Dragon. None of the above dragons are as famous/infamous in Shadowrun lore as the “Big Four” (Although Lung might make it a “Big Five”), and so it’s totally understandable if even a longtime Shadowrun fan doesn’t recognize one of those ten dragons, and double so if they can’t pronounce them. That’s the truly great thing about this book. You get to look at a lot of mid-card or up and coming dragons that might not have had the spotlight thrust on them in your campaign or much of CGL’s metagame, but all that’s over now. With these ten chapters, you can really get to know these dragons and decide how much of an impact you want them to have in your campaign. They are a pretty varied sort and I loved reading about them instead of the same old, same old dragons. I really loved seeing people on JackPoint speculate that perhaps The Sea Dragon is actually the most powerful dragon in the Sixth World and how she’s by far set up to be the most dominant if WWD (World War Dragon) ever does take place. Good for her. As I said, she’s always been my favorite.
Now to look at the fiction within The Clutch of Dragons. The first story is “Enter the Dragon,” which is about a Shadowrun team being set up by a dragon. Not in a bad way, but rather tested to see if they would make suitable allies/pawns for him. It’s a pretty good read, although it can come off somewhat disjointed the first time you flip through it, due to characters just showing up in the narrative without any introduction. “War at 10,000 Meters,” although firmly a JackPoint article, begins with a one page story about a talismonger being butchered by some drakes. “The Things We Do For Love” is a two part story about Harlequin, although other big players in the Sixth World such as Ghostwalker make an appearance. As a story, it would have probably flowed better if united as one, but in the context of the book as a whole, it makes sense as to why it was divided into two parts (one in the middle of the book and one at the tail end). This story sets some big things in motion and my guess is that by the end of 2075, either Ghostwalker or Harlequin will be having a hard time with simple concepts like breathing and blinking. It’s an odd choice to go this route (although Harlequin was originally conceived of as a dragonslayer back in the day) and Harlequin actually comes off more than a little unhinged and as the antagonist in his own story. It’ll be interesting to see where they are going with this. Nice Chris Jericho reference in this one too.
The final piece of fiction is entitled “War Room” and it probably deserves its own paragraph. It’s a peek inside a meeting of Lofwyr’s dragon allies as they discuss what to do about Hestaby, Alamais and Sirrurg. I found it particularly interesting because Lofwyr comes off as especially ineffectual here and seems to only hold on to any position of power within the dragon community because he’s arguably the most physically threatening of the dragons. I never really got that feel from Lofwyr before this and I’m not sure that’s what CGL actually was going for. If it was, it really changes the dynamic of how SR fans view the head of Saeder-Krupp. It also appears that Lofwyr’s side is extremely undivided unlike the pro-metahumanity side of the Dragon race, which appears pretty solidly united. Honestly, if anything, it made me feel like Lofwyr isn’t long for his role as Loremaster, which I doubt is actually going to be the case, but man, as good as the story was, the biggest and baddest dragon in the game felt rather…sub-par amongst his own kind here.
All in all, I loved The Clutch of Dragons, but that’s because I really love the metagame story Catalyst Game Labs has been putting out for the past few years. When I actually PLAY Shadowrun, I rarely make note of or use the metagame though, preferring to tell my own weird stories and not make my players feel like they have to read (or buy) everything that comes out for the system to stay on top of what’s going on in the game. White Wolf tried to make their metagame canon and required reading back in the days of the OWoD and it damn near killed the company, which is why I like that CGL uses the metagame primarily for flavor text and then optional content like this. Again, if you don’t care for CGL’s fictional narratives, you probably won’t want to bother with this book at all, as it’s 95% of the content here. If you’re also looking for stats and mechanics, this really isn’t worth your $18/$29.99 because it’s not what you are looking for. If, however, you love reading about the Sixth World along with the cast and characters of that dwell within it, then this is more than likely the book for you. It’s a really great read that you won’t want to put down (Of course, due to the sixe and page length, reading this in one sitting is not recommended.) Basically if you want the roll-playing, this isn’t worth your time or money, but if you’re all about the role-playing, this is one of the best books CGL has put out for Shadowrun this year.