Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/09/05/tabletop-review-shadowrun-firing-line/
Firing Lines is a collection of previous conventions exclusives bundled into one black and white compilation. Not only does this give Shadowrun fans the world over a chance to get adventures that were previously nigh unobtainable, but they get to do it for a fraction of what the dreaded secondary market would charge for them. Now this fact alone should make the adventures a must buy for a Shadowrun collector, but Bull and his team have gone the extra yard yet again. All the adventures contained in Firing Line can be played with both Fourth and Fifth Edition rules, bypassing the usual edition wars whining that comes whenever a new version of any game comes out. Hate Fifth Edition and spend time on the Shadowrun message boards decrying CGL and all who write for them? Good news – you can still cling tightly to your 4e books and get new content for them. Loathe Fourth Edition and all it stands for? Here are another four adventures that you can play with the new rules while waiting for something that ISN’T a reprint to come out for 5e. This idea of dual stat’ing long out of print and/or hard to find adventures was an awesome idea back when CGL did it with Sprawl Wilds in July and I’m glad to see the trend continuing. Will we get anymore collections of old Shadowrun Missions done in this manner? I certainly hope so!
So sure, getting four adventures in one PDF for three bucks a piece is an obviously awesome deal, but of course you also have to consider the quality of the adventures in question. That means we have to do take a look at each one and if they are worth your time because four adventures for twelve bucks is a good deal but four TERRIBLE adventures for twelve bucks is not. First, let’s start with the format. All the adventures in Firing Line are done with the Shadowrun missions format, which I absolutely adore. I think the layout and style of these adventures are the best on the market today, with every possibility and contingency getting covered. Shadowrun Missions are laid out in such a way that even a rookie or inexperienced GM can run one of these with little to no problems. In the hands of an experienced GM, each of these adventures can be easily customized with all the pertinent data in easy to find spots. I’ve been saying this for the past three years but it still holds true, if you want to learn to GM, be it Shadowrun or any other system, grab a few Shadowrun Missions and read them over and over again, seeing how things are laid out, flow and presented. These things are awesome.
Our first adventure in the Firing Line collection is Lost Islands Found. The discovery of a new island has always been one of the biggest bragging rights for explorers and it continues even into our own modern time. In the Sixth World, it gets far more complicated thanks to different borders, magic powers, dragon machinations and more. In this adventure we get MAGICAL islands that will only be around for a brief moment in time before returning to the aether. Now the rush is on to explore, exploit and excavate the islands before time is up. The players are hired to extract a college professor on behalf of the Atlantean Foundation to get him to lead the expedition to these strange islands and also providing bodyguard like support for the exploration team once that first mission is accomplished. At the same time, a crazy group known as the Knights of the Dragon have got it into their heads that these new islands are the home of Dunklezahn’s spiritual remnants. This of course means the Knights of the Dragons are recurring antagonists throughout this adventure and will inevitably make the PCs wants to murder them repeatedly. What players find on the island will remain protected from spoilers, but needless to say, the action is fast and frantic in this one, while also giving a GM a chance to paint a picture of a highly memorable one time location that his or her players can reminisce about for a long time to come.
The second adventure in this collection is Deconstructing Patriots, where we move from Seattle to Manhattan. This adventure really requires a strong knowledge of the events around Crash 2.0, the New Revolution and more. As such, the adventure’s going to be lost on people new to Shadowrun with Fifth Edition but is still playable. It’s an interesting affair to be sure, but probably left best in Fourth Edition and with those that have a long running experience with the metaplot. It also doesn’t help that the adventure suggests you should buy a previously released PDF separate from this one to make it work.
Deconstructing Patriots is a pretty straight forward extraction run. The PCs are hired to nab an Ares employee and then are given a counteroffer by Ares to betray their current employer and give the target back for more money, Now in this regard, Deconstructing Patriots is a very newcomer friendly affair that hits on all the tropes and tenants of a paint by numbers run, including potential betrayal on all sides. If there was a way to have the adventure without all the political/crash backstory required to make the why and hows of this adventure make sense, this would be a great experience for a newcomer. A newer or more casual GM won’t be able to make that happen, but a more experienced one WILL be able to. Perhaps the best thing to do is for a person well versed in Sixth World Lore to take this adventure and use it with people new to Shadowrun and help teach them the basics why shrugging off the metaplot.
The third adventure in this collection, Congressional Conspiracies is a direct sequel to Deconstructing Patriots, and so you will run into the same inherent problems for running this adventure with newcomers and especially those for whom Fifth Edition is their first taste of Shadowrun. The adventure does work best as a one-two punch with the previous one too, so there are a lot of limitations in trying to make Congressional Conspiracies a one shot adventure, a throw away affair or anything close to a good choice for new players. It can work, and Cthulhu knows the adventure tries to be extremely inclusive to gamers no matter how they come to this adventure,but it falls a bit short in this regard to me.
With that out of the way, Deconstructing Patriots is a pretty interesting adventure, even if it feels like it was written by Vince Russo. There are so many swerves here ranging from the original missions idea presented to the team being a crash and burn to being hired by the side you were trying to humiliate in the previous adventure. Players might need a scorecard when all is said and done to remember which side they are one and who they have helped but this being a Shadowrun Missionsadventure, the GM actually has one! Players will also be working directing for The Man this time – literally, as their employer is none other than the Director of Strategic Intelligence for the CAS! From then on the PCs will have two missions to complete – although as usual, something isn’t what it seems. At least there’s an homage to the ol’ Fast Food Fight adventure here. Another fun adventure and a great choice to have reprinted, although a very odd choice to have as one of the first playable adventures for Fifth Edition because it’s so intrinsically tied to an older system.
Our final adventure in this collection is Stormcrow Undone and it takes us back to Bogata in the midst of the Amazonia/Aztlan War. Like a lot of Shadowrun fans during the 4e/20AE era I think Catalyst Game Labs devoted far too much time, energy and resources to something very few people actually cared about and that how they ended the war in Storm Front was terrible across the board. So as you can imagine, my reaction to having to revisit one of the lamest aspects of the previous edition’s metaplot didn’t thrill me. Of course, I never got to read or play this adventure when it originally came out, so who knows? It could have turned out to be a bright spot, right? Right?
Well…yes actually. The crux of the adventure has you getting hired by Amazonia to get of the horros that Aztlan is committing. A lot of players (and thus their characters) won’t do pro-Aztlan missions as they are completely evil through and through and while Shadowrunners are supposed to be mercs pure and simple, that tends to be the minority in practice. Mercs with a heart of gold or anti-heroes tends to be how PCs act or view themselves and so anytime an adventure pushes a pro-Aztlan agenda, there is often friction or outright refusal from at least one character in a group. So instead of risking an adventure where players will revolt and thus leaving the GM to scramble, Stormcrow Undone has you definitely in the role of the White Hat here, which helps makes the adventure more accessible to all players, especially newcomers to Shadowrun who might be used to protagonists bring “good guys.” Plus long time Sixth World fans love to see horrible things happen to Aztechnology, so hurrahs all around!
The adventure is a bit convoluted in that your characters first have to get to Columbia, then have to be stuck in a situation where helping Amazonia is their only way out, both of which aren’t things a published adventure should put on a GM, especially in the case of a Shadowrun Missions. A published adventure should never just drop the adventurers a few chapters into the story. Otherwise what’s the point of purchased a published piece instead of writing something for your players on your own? The adventure suggests just kind of waving away the getting there and crux of being stuck there, but players generally bitch and moan about adventures that start off where a huge chunk of story is missing, so my advice is to play out the precursor to all this or at the very least, write up an opening explaining what happened and what went wrong. If you have a more tolerant or less anal tentative group, I will say the “set up” for this adventure is somewhat hilarious.
Stormcrow Undone is one of the better Bogota related adventures out there. Players have to focus on camerawork over out and out violence or corporate espionage, and so it really forces players to change up their usual game plans and strategies. There are a lot of horrors and atrocities to witness here and players will become a target of Aztech’s forces. With everything from a full blown riot down to the usual fire fights, there is still a lot of combat here and even with the awesome Shadowrun Missions layout, the climax of this adventure will test ever a hardy GM with all that is happening at once. It’s a fun experience for everyone involved though, and that’s what counts.
All in all, Firing Line is a nice collection, especially for the price point and doubly so when you remember that these adventures were one time convention exclusives. The adventures aren’t as good as those in Sprawl Wilds and they aren’t as inviting to newcomers, so my advice would be to play that collection first and then move on to Firing Line once the PCs have some Karma under their belt. Now here’s hoping we start to get some Fifth Edition releases that aren’t reprints, am I right?