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Shadowrun: Mission: 04-10: Romero and Juliette
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/27/2012 23:12:19
Call me naive, but I went into this episode with very different expectations. Given the title, I expected a tale of tragic, doomed love (and possibly a corporate extraction), but nothing could be further from the truth.

The plot hinges on some familiarity with a convention exclusive module offered a few years ago, which is not easily accessible anymore. To be fair, there is a sidebar summary of the events in that ‘run, but it is no substitute for the full module. I’d still like the opportunity to run the preceding module to give this story more context, and the release of this SR Missions instalment would be a good case for a ‘reprint’ (or whatever the correct term is for digital publishing). I noted that ‘Assassin Nation’ suffered from poor editing, and this is even worse. There are a lot of typographical errors and there are some layout concerns which make the end product look less polished. As with ‘Assassin Nation’ I’d like to see Catalyst invest some time into rectifying these errors and re-releasing a better copy.

That out of the way, let’s look at the plot. To be honest, it is very simple and straightforward, and it does lack the flair I’ve come to associate with this season of ‘runs. The plot meanders through various scenes, and the general story is disjointed by two scenes in particular which seem to offer a new direction, but fail to deliver anything meaningful to the resolution of the game. The choice of antagonist, whilst billed as ‘creepy’ by the authors, actually has more potential to turn the game into a slugfest more reminiscent of a first person shooter than an RPG. It felt at many turns as though this was a missed opportunity for highlighting the really sinister nature of the magic-infused Sixth World.

An enterprising GM with time on their hands can turn this around, though. The structure exists for a basic plot which could be reworked and remixed to create something memorable. Given the framework is there, plus NPCs, stat blocks and some interesting locales, it is worth the $3.95 as ideas fodder. I’d never consider running this ‘as is’, but have covered my printed copy with sticky note alterations for when it does see play. I’m not a fan of writing ‘runs from scratch, so even though this isn’t ideal, it does give me a starting point, and for that, I’m happy to pay the nominal price tag.

Shadowrun has a lot of potential to showcase the horror genre without resorting to zombie hordes. There are far richer sources of more intelligent, sinister horror, and I’d encourage any GM with this module to seek them out.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Mission: 04-10: Romero and Juliette
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Shadowrun: Mission: 04-09: Assassin Nation
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/27/2012 22:08:52
‘Assassin Nation’ continues the fine season of Shadowrun Missions and manages to offer something new, exciting and engaging (as the season is winding up). The metaplot for the season has focused on the passing of a Bill to create a new district in Seattle – the Ork Undergorund. Obviously this is not as cut-and-dried as a zoning permit, and every man, metahuman, and corporation has a stake (and something to lose) either way the Bill falls.

As real progress is being made, the runners are hired for a simple job. Good money, short job, easy pickings. Null sheen, what could possibly go wrong?

I won’t go into details as a lot of the plot does rely on a lack of spoilers; but the module offers treachery and betrayal, break and enter, investigation and detection and some serious consequences for the team if it all goes wrong, or they make bad choices. The main advice I’d give any group is to try and keep thinking a few steps ahead – the scenes are mostly written to be played at a brisk pace, so the chance of ‘acting in the moment’ is quite high. This will lead to a lot of ‘roleplaying challenges’ and will affect the outcome of the scenario drastically if they stack up.

A lot of old characters return, with plenty of opportunities to develop those relationships which players of the previous episodes in this season will have come to rely upon. It also introduces a brand new, and interesting, villain who I hope will appear in later modules.

The writing is uniformly good, the layout lends itself to quick reference and my ‘fast and loose’ style of GMing, although the number of typographical errors have multiplied, which do detract from the reading enjoyment. It would be nice to see these fixed and new, higher quality (in terms of editing) version released soon.

That said, this product is well worth the $3.95 pricetag. Catalyst have been very canny about the price point and this is – by far – the best value for money product the company produces. I have mixed feelings about this season now – whilst the direction of this module has me excited, I’ll be sorry to see such a great season come to a close.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Mission: 04-09: Assassin Nation
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Shadowrun: 2050
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/24/2012 00:35:07
2050 was going to be an easy sell for a nostalgic grognard like myself. Most of my memories are of cutting my teeth on SR2, with an overly large dose of conversion between the SR1 books and modules. I was entering this book with the idea of a trip down memory lane, but there is a lot more to this book.

The basic premise is simple – this is the sourcebook for those folk who want to explore shadowrunning during the year 2050. By the current timeline, that’s about two and half decades ago. What becomes immediately apparent is how much work the respective companies who have worked with SR have put into the setting throughout the publication history. This showcases the roots of the setting and is an excellent yardstick for how different the setting of SR4 is from it’s beginnings.

The book gives an overview of the world at this point in future history, covers the ‘Big Eight’ MNCs, law and order, popular culture (Maria Mecurial, Jet Black, Queen Euphoria all make an appearance), followed by an almanac of three sprawls (Seattle, Chicago and Hong Kong). The rest of the book covers the types of jobs available to runners in 2050 (handy for any timeline, really), and the rules for creating a character for this period (bearing in mind the lack of commlinks, Technomancers and anything more advanced than an Ares Pred II). The nice touch here is that the authors took all of the archetypes from SR1 and gave them an SR4 update. You’ll see little nods like that throughout the whole book, and they are tastefully done – that is, neither cheesy, nor inaccessible to the new reader. Slang, magic and gear round off the book – but the depth of material here is great.

Weighing in at 144 pages, this is a cleverly designed book overall. It is jam-packed full of content from rules to setting information, and the writing style is uniformly excellent. It is very clear that a lot of work went into pulling this book together, and it deserves to become a fan favourite. The art is great throughout with some recycled pieces (which is very appropriate given the topic) and the layout of the book makes it a pleasure to read.

I’d highly recommend the purchase of this supplement just based on the nostalgia factor, but after reading through the book, it is clear that 2050 has so much more to commend it’s purchase. If you’re new to the setting, this might inspire you to check out the back catalogue of material, and pick up a few of the classic modules. Whilst those will require a bit of conversion work, it’s well worth the effort.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: 2050
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Shadowrun: Mil Spec Tech 2
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/19/2012 21:40:04
MilSpec Tech 2 continues to fill the need experienced by most SR GMs and players - a resource which gives access to more guns, drones and vehicles. For some reason, no matter how many previous books including variations of these three types of gear you read, you’re always open for one more. MST2 is presented as a file hacked from Ares, complete with CorpSpeak and a running commentary from the usual suspects which makes a book of equipment stats much more readable.
The highlights for immediate insertion into my campaign are:

- The Tan Dem, a humanoid shaped drone deployed at dangerous sites as security, or in areas where a corp is too stingy to pay for flesh-and-blood troops. Given that they come with weapon mounts as standard, a GM can have a lot of fun building unique variations on this theme.
- The Nizhinyi BMV-3, a 2.9million nuyen troop transport that is also spawning an Ares-funded MMO, and the GD Longstreet, the preferred LAV of the CAS military. Both have a cool visual signature, and more than enough firepower to make a hot zone a very unpleasant place to be (or turn a perfectly liveable area into a hotzone).
- The Ares Pulse Fire reminds us that this is a futuristic setting and that lasers are still coming a long way from their roots in SR1.

There are plenty of warships, submarines, planes, helicopters and rocket launchers to round off the catalog, and it feels as though not a single page is wasted material. This is several steps up from what a regular team will be able to afford; but is the perfect accompaniment to recent books like ‘War’, ‘Hazard Pay’ and ‘Spy Games’ and provides a lot of new opportunities for militarised mayhem in your SR4 game. It is reasonably priced, and production values remain at Catalysts’ usual high standard.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Mil Spec Tech 2
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curse the darkness
Publisher: Growling Door Games, Inc.
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/03/2012 01:22:34
I’ve wanted to let the ideas and mechanics of ‘Curse the Darkness’ rattle about in my head for a while before posting a review – I think that the game deserves nothing less than measured consideration. It is one of those games that appears (especially given the relatively slender nature of the volume) to be very simple and straightforward. In many ways it is – and then you start to start to actually think about what is being proposed.

The setting for the game is one in which an unknowable entity has decided that ideology (whether political, religious, economic – any excuse humans have concocted to delineate ‘us’ and ‘them’) will be outlawed. Any ideological expression will be noticed by Him and He will send Them to mete out justice of a particularly brutal kind. ‘They’ are the shadowy creatures which exist in a world that is accessed by any shadow in the world – a place simply called the Between. People can travel through the Between, making civilisation quite mobile.
In order to show that He was serious, His power was exercised; wiping entire cities off the map and punishing those who disobeyed His will. The net result is a massive loss of human life, a disaggregation of human civilisation and a single rule ‘look after each other’ which is lethally enforced.
The default setting for the game opens ten years after His decree and asks whether characters will take a stance (and ‘light a candle’) or will submit (and ‘curse the darkness’).

Character creation is very simple, yet the impact of a single character on the game can be quite deep. The basic character generation is a points-buy system against four traits and a single Scope. A Scope defines something about your character that you can call upon to influence the success of your activities. For example ‘spent five years in Scouts’ might give you a bonus to if you need to start a fire; or ‘professional baseball player’ might be called upon if you have to sprint a short distance. During game play, you can define up to four more Scopes. This helps you design and explore your character through actual play, and lends a humanistic, dynamic sense of narrative.
All of the action resolution is based on decks of cards to represent fluctuations in your traits and also to resolve any opposed actions. This relies on the GM and the players setting up a series of agreed outcomes, assigning cards and then storytelling the end result. What evolves is a game which is highly collaborative, story-driven and imaginative.

Character death is quite common, and this impacts the game in two ways. Firstly, the GM should be ready to offer an NPC forward to write a player back into the game with minimal fuss. Given how quickly characters can be generated, this shouldn’t be a problem. Secondly, fallen characters can trigger Memory Conversations in the survivors. This occurs when one of the survivors starts a conversation focused on remembering the fallen, offering details about their life. Others can join in, and the experience generates Memory Points (which have a number of uses). In this way, characters are encouraged (and rewarded) to not only find out about each other, but to mourn those who have been lost.

I said the game appeared simple mostly because of the ease of character generation and the straightforward mechanics but it does have layers of hidden complexity which emerge through play. The single unifying idea of the game – His destruction of ideology and a commandment to ‘look after each other’ – can create a lot of debate. Is this actually a bad idea? Is there anything wrong with a society which abandons all of the beliefs which divide us in order to simply ‘look after each other’? If you knew that deviating from the rules could be fatal, would you still do it? These are the core concepts with which players of this game must grapple, and there are no easy answers. In this, I think every group will react differently, and that level of personalisation for the game is strong selling point.
Likewise, the mechanics, whilst simple, offer almost limitless opportunities to tell a good story. Players have to be committed though to telling stories of failure and sacrifice as much as heroism and success (if anything a lot more of the former). They have to be prepared to take chances, tell a good story, make decisions which are sound for the narrative, and take the hard knocks on the chin. It is a gritty, hard setting and this is reflected in the stories which are told.

Aesthetically, it succeeds in supporting the genre. The layout lends itself to a sparse look, interspersed with graffiti (the product of some of the Kickstarter backers) and black-and-white photos (which fit the mood, and are shot with an eye for detail and quality). The sections are logically presented, and the example of play is not only much-needed, but well-executed. There is a range of good GM advice sprinkled throughout and the reader can tell that this is a very practical book.

This game will not be for everyone. The collaborative storytelling won’t work for every group, but the subject matter should spark some interesting conversations. Even if you aren’t sure that your group is up to this type of play, I’d highly recommend that you give it a try. The only game that this comes close to for me is ‘Summerland’ which is a similar rules-light, post apocalyptic story-driven game. ‘Curse the Darkness’ is an imaginative and intelligent piece of quality work and I’d urge every role-player to try it at least once. Like me, though, you might want to read it cover to cover and then let it rest in your head for a while. You’ll be glad you did.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
curse the darkness
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Leverage: Hitters, Hackers, & Thieves
Publisher: Margaret Weis Productions
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/30/2012 20:48:38
‘Hitters, Hackers & Thieves’, like ‘Grifters & Masterminds’ is a splat book to round off the main roles in the Leverage RPG. It follows the same format for each of the roles, namely:

- an overview of the role and the history which has shaped it
- at least 20 new talents (all of which offer versatility for your character. The Talents offered in all three sections were excellent, with strong attention to the thematic elements of the role)
- a completely unnecessary grab bag of potential NPCs (36 pages of them)
- and a few elements unique to each role.

With the clear exception of the NPCs, this book wasted no opportunities to add something valuable to the play experience in Leverage. The writers were ‘spot on’ in their ability to channel the style to emulate the mannerisms of the TV characters (I could hear Hardison in the back of my head all the way through the Hackers chapter). This level of skill should be acknowledged and congratulated.

The additional elements I found most interesting included:

- [Hackers] new rules called ‘Exploits’ which provide an extended narrative for many of the hacker-related electronic activities. Having played games with this component before (Cyberpunk 2020 and Shadowrun in particular), I was glad to see that the writers acknowledged that sometimes playing a Hacker-style character can be dull and dice-heavy and have taken some steps to make it more interesting.
- [Hitters] the opening section to this chapter is excellent and should be required reading for all gamers. It explains very simply why gun-enabled violence is never a good idea, why murder should be off the table in almost every circumstance and why people who use guns are cowards. It fits perfectly with the mood of Leverage and backs up the section with rules to support a player being ‘one of the good guys’. The Talents in this section are a good mix of the Fighting Styles and RP elements.
- [Thief] this presents some new rules for designing neat locations and the security elements, backed up by two lists; ‘Cool places to break into’ and ‘Cool things to steal’. Both lists are well-developed and any GM should be able to grab the examples given and run a full Job with them. The variety here is pleasing (from faked DNA to expensive art to a special recipe for fried chicken) so there is something to please everyone.

The book is then rounded out with three differently-themed Tech Jobs and a section on Troubleshooting in Tech Jobs. The Toubleshooting section, whilst only one page, covers all the common-sense elements concisely and is good value.

Overall, this is a good book and well worth the investment to own. The writers for this supplement have shown a solid grasp of the concepts and have endeavoured to offer something unexpected for all roles. The layout and art (with the exception of the NPCs) is extremely pleasing, clear and easy to read. What is great to see is that at the moment, you only really need the core book to play – but these extra books have transcended ‘splat’ and offered something meaningful to make the game deeper rather than simply broader.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Leverage: Hitters, Hackers, & Thieves
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SAS Support Kit (interactive version)
Publisher: White Wolf
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/20/2012 23:22:56
This support kit is a highly useful product in that it offers players and Storytellers alike the opportunity to structure their work (and characters) in the same format as other formally published SAS materials.
Overall, I found the interactive portions of all pages to be in working order, and the clean layout that SAS provides will be a welcome addition to my usual scrawled notes.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
SAS Support Kit (interactive version)
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Leverage: Grifters & Masterminds
Publisher: Margaret Weis Productions
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/02/2012 22:04:18
‘Grifters & Masterminds’ is really a sourcebook which does what is says on the tin. In many ways, combining the two roles (a trend continued in ‘Hitters, Hackers & Thieves’) into one sourcebook keeps the material focused, rather than writing unnecessary content to spin out a splat book for each role.

The book is divided into three sections, as such:

‘Grifters’ covers all of the basics of what the role should achieve in any story and the basic emotional and psychological traits of those who are involved in this trade. It offers twelve new talents (with no dead wood – I can find a use for all of them), descriptions of long and short cons and a host of cover identities. Whilst everyone playing this role will find something useful, I think that those trying out the system for the first time will be especially pleased. The nature the Leverage RPG (from a mechanical and conceptual viewpoint) is quite divergent from how most mainstream RPG experiences work. Having some articulated tools and ideas to fall back on will be greatly appreciated by both players and Fixers alike.

‘Masterminds’ is a smaller chapter but no less useful. It gives an overview of the role again, and provides some very practical tools such as the ‘Plan Framework’, a section about when the job goes horribly wrong and a range of new talents (again no wasted space here). As with the ‘Grifters’ chapter, this is doubly useful for the Fixer and the player. The ‘Mastermind’ is – in my opinion – the hardest role to play in the game and this goes a long way to equipping players of all ability types to undertake the role.

‘Fixers’ is the tail-end chapter and ties everything together nicely. The authors tackle plot twists, designing long-running games (‘season by season’ as they name it) and even a quirky section on running Leverage in other settings (such as medieval England, in Victorian Steampunk or even a sci-fi setting). This was tucked away in the chapter and I feel a great little gem for the sourcebook. The alternative settings even went so far as to create concise alternate-Leverage crews to showcase each genre. It concludes with a section on Fixer-less games – which are actually achievable, though not for the faint-hearted.

The only criticism of the book was the sample NPCs. There are twelve per role, each taking a full page. I think that twenty-four pages (one quarter of the book) could have been used far better, and the photography chosen for these section clashes very badly with the aesthetic of the rest of the book. All was not lost in these sections, however, as you could mine them for the Assets described in each write-up and import those into your game.

Overall, I think that this book (NPCs aside) is an essential addition to the Leverage RPG and the wealth of practical advice it offers pitches the product to both the Fixer and players.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Leverage: Grifters & Masterminds
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Elric of Melnibone
Publisher: Mongoose
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/02/2012 20:58:12
This newest iteration of the Elric is definitely based on a keen love of the books, and the attention to detail comes through in the writing and in the thoughtful approach to how this type of game differs from standard 'sword and sorcery' fare. There is extensive information about the world at large, timelines and gazetteer-style entries for major cities, and plenty of cultural information which can be mined to make this a unique experience.
Where possible, the authors have backed up their descriptions or commentary with excerpts from the novels, which cleverly uses Moorcock's excellent grasp of language and imagery but also tethers the discussion firmly to the source material. Realistically, this is the only Elric sourcebook you should need if you are a fan of the novels too. There is plenty of campaign advice sprinkled throughout and care and attention have been paid to giving the games master the right tools for the job.

The only let-down was the layout and art. The art is a very simple black-and-white style, and is not used very often (often six to seven pages of straight text at a time); which for a 'modern' sourcebook is quite out-of-step with the other publishers I know and read. However, if this was a deliberate attempt to emulate old-school supplements, then the feel is certainly evoked well. I haven't been able to find any information on the design aspect of this book online, so I can't make an informed decision on this aspect of the production qualities.

On the whole, the writing is good, the homages to the original sources are cleverly done, and the book stands very well on its own as part of the Elric mythos.

EDIT: The price has been dropped on this item significantly, and at current price ($9.99) I would see no reason to delay a purchase if you are even a casual fan of either older versions of the game, or the novels.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Elric of Melnibone
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Shadowrun: Used Car Lot
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/24/2012 17:56:14
‘Used Car Lot’ is a supplement which I can see having a great longevity on my bookshelf, in the same way the ‘Riggers Black Book’ has stood the test of time. The main premise here is that sometimes runners either don’t have a lot of nuyen to throw around, or simply need a vehicle for a single purpose or run. In those times, cheap and (generally) reliable are the watchwords and the vehicles in this catalogue deliver.

There are twenty-six vehicles in the first section to choose from and cover the opulent (like the Rolls Royce Phaeton), the sleek and fast bikes (such as the older Yamaha Rapier, and its armoured and awesome big brother the BMW Blitzen 2050), off-road campers (the Ford Bison and the more luxurious Rolls Royce Prairie Cat) and those that simply scream ‘action chase scene’ (take one look at the Lockheed-Chenowth Light Strike Vehicle – you’ll see what I mean). Land rovers, pickup trucks, sedans, armoured assault vehicles (including a win for DocWagon) and a moped for the environmentally conscious runner round off the section.

‘From Across the Pond’ then deals with a selection of Eurocars, and opens with a Troll-sized motorcycle guaranteed to make it onto your players wishlists. The rest is certainly interesting and well worth including; although the Eurocar President looks a small conversion job away from becoming a Batmobile (and has halfway decent armour to back up this imagery).

The art is all appealing, the layout clear and designed for quick reference and the content extremely practical. For the (re)usability of this product, the pricing is excellent, and so it deserves richly all five stars from this reviewer.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Used Car Lot
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Promethean: The Created Demo
Publisher: White Wolf
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/23/2012 00:49:27
I looked into this after repeated references to the game on the 'Darker Days' podcast, and it intrigued me - especially given that it is a limited-run product line like Geist.

This does give you almost all of the tools required for a decent understanding of the game. It provides you with all of the base World of Darkness rules, a full set of pre-generated characters and a module which should give a full nights' play (if not more).

The core themes of 'Promethean' are articulated clearly, and it does present as a very dark game that may not suit every table's tastes (much like Geist). The demonstration kit pulls few punches, and asks for a number of moral choices from the characters as they try to unravel the plot. There are a couple of forced choices, but this is cast in the light of being typical to the setting, and I don't feel that mature players will take exception to them.

I wouldn't recommend this for every group, but I do get the feeling that this is a sleeper success from white Wolf Studios. The types of games you can tell with this do require a depth of emotional maturity, and after reading through this, I feel that chronicles would be best when well-defined in terms of play length and also require a lot of forethought by the Storyteller. That said, it is the sort of play experience which has the potential to be immensely rewarding at the same time.

I'll definitely be looking to trial this with my regular gaming group, and have placed an order for a physical copy of the rulebook - I really want to learn more about this game.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Promethean: The Created Demo
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Shadowrun: The Twilight Horizon
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/22/2012 23:03:32
Even though Horizon has received a fair amount of attention in the last year, products like this show that it is warranted. In previous editions, the familiar mega-corps like Ares and Renraku were continually referenced, but to give the true vision of an evolving game world, new players are required. Focusing on Horizon gives Catalyst a new mega-corp to flesh out and to show that change is not only possible, but a constant, in Shadowrun.

The choice of Horizon and the inner workings of its management is one which resonates with the readers modern sensibilities, yet extends these concepts to firmly root them in the cyberpunk genre. I made reference to this in my review of ‘Fistful of Credsticks’, and the writers have done an excellent job of continuing this work. The combination of the sinister Consensus (and how it can be manipulated) as well as the BTL-styled methods of employee engagement all show how truly Machiavellian the mega-corporation of the future can be. The opening and concluding chapters of this book are really the benchmark for how this is done. To be honest, it makes me want to run a game focused on the player-characters as Horizon employees, and then maybe (just maybe) leading to an extraction as they uncover the truth behind the company.

The book also includes a setting chapter for Las Vegas, which is fairly short, yet hits the mark. There is plenty of information here to build a ‘run (or full campaign) with and enough interesting quirks to make the location memorable (murder snow, anyone?). This section reads well, and the continuing BBS-style commentary is always welcome. These comments, littered throughout all sections of the book, are perhaps the unsung hero of the SR line. Those who follow the sourcebooks and various aspects of metaplot will always find tie-ins to other products and oblique references – the understanding of which makes you feel a little like the member of an inner circle.

The next fifteen chapters run in a similar vein to recent products like ‘Jet Set’ where the Plot Point system is used to give an almost fleshed out plot. It contains enough ideas to kick start a good few sessions, yet will require some work by the GM to make it flow smoothly. They are definitely not full modules, but with a couple of hours work they can be.

It was gratifying to see the range of situations and potential runs in the book, as there is a mix between melee, matrix and mystic in flavours. Again, the overarching statement about these chapters is that they are written well, and there is a solid attention to detail. It will be interesting if Catalyst decides to create more material for books like this and release short ‘PDF Plot Point’ books akin to their other smaller publications. Coupled with ‘Missions’ it could be an interesting way to fill the module niche for the line.

I like this new format for Shadowrun sourcebooks, but it is very firmly aimed for the GM. Whilst the final chapters do have some new Simsense data which could be acquired by PCs (no entirely sure they’d want it though), it is predominantly a storytelling tool. Overall, Catalyst has given us a sound product which extends the metaplot in a logical and interesting way, and I look forward to the game designers taking a similar approach with other corporations.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: The Twilight Horizon
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Only War: Core Rules Beta
Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/25/2012 00:23:38
In many ways, this is the model for successful games design to which every company should be paying attention. ‘Only War’ works conceptually, financially and ethically on a number of fronts and FFG should be congratulated.

Firstly, is the nature of the release. By ‘Beta Rules’, I expected to see a fairly slim volume indicative of the final game. Instead, I was (pleasantly) surprised to receive 267 formatted pages which look as though they are only missing the final full-colour and full-page glossy art to be be ready for printing. The black-and-white nature of the book is kind to the printer and for $20.00 you still feel that you’re receiving a quality product. As for the price tag for a beta product, I also received an email to inform me that the $20.00 for the beta would come off the cost of the final version of the .pdf upon release. Well done, FFG.

That said, onto the book itself. For those familiar with ‘Dark Heresy’, ‘Rogue Trader’ and ‘Death Watch’ there should be no mechanical surprises whatsoever. The game works on the basic d100 princicples of its’ predecessors, with the rules being interchangeable with the other systems. In many ways, this product is the perfect accompaniment to the other games, as Inqusitors from ‘Dark Heresy’ should be able to recruit guardsmen (especially the Storm Troopers in ‘Only War’), there are reasons for a regiment to work with Rogue Traders, and definitely to provide support in ‘Death Watch’ campaigns. The interoperability of the rules between the games is a massive advantage, whilst those new to the system will still have a fully-fleshed out rulebook which stands admirably by itself.

The premise of the game is to play a unit of Guardsmen – by far the most numerous (and expendable) military asset of the Imperium of Man – in the pursuit of various missions. Those familiar with ‘Death Watch’ will be notice that the rules for constructing missions are almost identical. There are a range of complications to keep life interesting as well as a swag of new kit that can be assigned for the completion of the mission.

‘Only War’ introduces a unique element to character creation in terms of the Comrade. This individual is assigned to a PC (unless you play a Commisar or Storm Trooper) and offers mechanical benefits for their presence. In doing so, they are a useful companion (comrade-in-arms) that a GM could flesh out with their own motivations and back story should they wish. Also, as these are effectively a second PC, it increases the unit size to a more believable level (ie five PCs plus their comrades equals a ten-man squad). There are plenty of rules around the comrade, including injuries and death (and how not to abuse them as a living shield) and also requisitioning new comrades. On this note, the requisition rules for equipment add an extra element to the game, especially given that some non-combat skills can grant bonuses to tracking down that ‘special’ item. The random equipment table also offers a host of opportunities to anyone wanting to take the role of the bent quartermaster or simply run a bit of a side business with other Guardsmen (amazing what those guys in the other platoon will pay for a lho stick when they run out, isn’t it?).

The developers clearly saw that the tread-heads in the audience would be appeased with vehicle rules, and they are present with most of the recognisable vehicles in the Guard represented in the book. The Front/Side/Rear armous system will appeal to war gamers and most of the vehicle entries read like a Codex with upgrades for weapons and the like. There has been effort made to ensure consistency in nomenclature between the tabletop battles and the RPG books, which is excellent. I’m not sure how many times PCs will be able to comandeer a Baneblade, but if they do, the GM has the rules.

Likewise, there are very straightforward rules for representing the theatre of war. It is rare that the mission will only involve the handful of Guardsmen portrayed by the PCs, so these rules allow the GM to have a cast of millions, somplete wiht artillery and mechanised assault which can form a stunning (and manageable) backdrop to the story.

I can see this fast vying for top spot on my FFG shelf at home, due to the human-ness which shines through and the versatility of play experiences. To play a foot slogger in 40K has to be an incredibly dreary (and fatal) experience, but the designers have made it an exciting prospect and I’m looking forward to exploring the human dimension of these war stories. Whilst it is the grim darkness of the 40K universe, you could easily adapt this to play in the tones of anything from ‘Dad’s Army’ to ‘The Dirty Dozen’ to ‘The Expendables’ or ‘Inglorious Bastards’. I’d highly recommend serving this with a side dish of Dan Abnett’s ‘Gaunt’s Ghosts’ series which will help you to visualise the non-combat core elements of a game like this.

Whilst this is a Beta, I haven’t spotted any immediate changes (after two readings cover-to-cover) but actual play will be the true test – and I can’t wait to do so. I just have to find a GM willing to let me play a Commisar now…

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Only War: Core Rules Beta
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Shadowrun: Sprawl Sites: North America
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/19/2012 22:49:07
‘Sprawl Sites’ could very well be a time-poor GM’s best friend, although if you do have the temporal resources to invest you’ll find a wealth of great ideas which could be extrapolated for full-blown runs. The design of the book is very simple – there are eight varied sites (from the Barrens to a Lone Star Precinct to a Trideo Studio and more) complete with a bit of descriptive flavour text and relevant history and then a host of plot hooks. Those familiar with the 2e ‘Sprawl Sites’ book should feel a sense of familiarity here. There is clear evidence of some forethought into the breadth of plot hooks and there is specific reference to covering a spectrum of moral choices- some are simple protection jobs, whilst others involve wetwork with civilian collateral damage. There are plenty which play on characters’ existing contacts; a simple effort of changing names and filing off serial numbers will suffice. An effort has also been made to provide hooks which leverage unique atmospheric elements to each location – it is very difficult to translate them to another locale (I’m thinking of the No Tell Motel section in particular).

The actual text of the book is half (16 pages) of the total page count; with the second half given to two full-colour maps of each location. The first copy is for GMs and has a full key of rooms and the like, whilst the other is clearly for players. As someone who very rarely uses maps with the players (and miniatures even less than this) I didn’t get a lot of value from this section. Individual value will vary on this section, dependant on group play preference.

I’ll be integrating this into my standard GM kit for Shadowrun, and have already printed a copy and attacked it with a highlighter for future reference. Given the price point of other recent small-size SR products though, I question whether this should have been indexed at the same cost. In terms of quality, ‘Sprawl Sites’ is clearly the equal of ‘Magical Societies’, ‘Safehouses’ and any of the Shadowrun Missions series, yet has a starting price quadruple that of these titles. Bringing the price to an equivalent level would be a sensible move for this otherwise sound and useful product.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Sprawl Sites: North America
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Shadowrun: Magical Societies
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/18/2012 00:49:33
‘Magical Societies’ is in line with the short-form books that Catalyst is using to supplement their larger, substantive titles. That is, a short, focussed, quality piece of work which seems like a mini-sourcebook, or left-over chapter which can still stand in its’ own right. This book, whilst not essential to gamers, is interesting and relatively well-priced enough to warrant further interest.

In twenty-three pages, the book fleshes out why Shadowrunners would want to work with Magical Societies (and more importantly why the society would want anything to do with shadowrunning potential members), with thoughts offered through the usual suspects of the Shadowland BBS (or at least its’ more modern equivalent). The rest of the book is then given over to a host of societies.

The sampling is quite good in terms of the types of flavour offered by each group. Mixed in are street-level houngans, multi-gang mages, globe-spanning megalomaniacs (who may or may not be blood mages), and arm of the Vatican, the unofficial back-up of local law enforcement, a dojo with a social justice bent and more societies besides. Each is given about a page and a half, complete with an ‘stat block’-like entry covering the requirements for membership, secrecy levels and connection ratings. Where possible, there is commentary either from other shadowrunners or law enforcement reports to contextualise the information.

The product does feel like a mini-sourcebook of sorts, but presents no new mechanical information at all. It might have been a nice touch to include a few new spells, foci or talismans unique to each group, but this is a minor gripe. When reading through this, I thought it would make a fine companion to the first chapter of ‘Hazard Pay’, especially given the flavour fiction in the latter book. Combined, they would be a great tool for a run involving a secret society when things have gone horribly wrong.

The writing is up to standard (although the editing is not, and shows some spelling, capitalisation and grammatical errors consistent with the last couple of Catalyst books I have reviewed) and the art is of a high quality. What is clear is that Catalyst doesn’t regard the recent spate of short sourcebooks to be a lesser, cheaper option – but rather puts the same production qualities into these. It is easily on par with other short books such as ‘Safehouses’ and ‘MilSpec Tech’. I’m looking forward to seeing more of these, provided that they are seen as supplemental to, rather instead of, the larger more substantive sourcebooks.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Magical Societies
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