Having usually kept my games in Seattle or Denver, there hasn’t been a lot of call to pick up this book. After reading it, I have realised exactly how wrong I was not to do so. California Free State offers a great diversity of experiences, settings and play styles that allows the GM to give the players a different game to that which they are accustomed to.
The writing style that SR has always used in their supplements (in terms of the running commentary/BBS posts) really shines in this book. As the issues raised (everything from politics, racism, the environment, smuggling, travel and of course the corporations) can be quite dry, the discussion points really help to breath life into the region. In some cases, the discussion board posts are longer than the ‘information-heavy’ segments, and this is welcomed and entertaining. Just reading through these sections with an open imagination will kickstart any campaign.
There has been a lot of effort expended in ensuring that each sub-region has it’s own flavour. Los Angeles, San Francisco, The Mojave and the Big Sur all feel like really distinct areas and if evoked well (and there are many tools for enterprising GMs), the players should easily distinguish each place. There are plenty of opportunities to play at the ‘guns and dice’ level if John-Woo-style action is your thing, but some sections (especially San Francisco) allow you to engage with some very heavy topics – which I welcome in a game like Shadowrun. There is a central them (not sure if it was intended or not) of racism throughout the book, with the Tir, Fuchi, NAN and Hestaby’s forces all accused of various acts against (meta)-humanity, and this issue crops up in Shadowrun in a lot of other supplements too. Handled well, this is something that could be easily explored in your own game and provide some great realism to the setting. However, if this is not something that you want in your game, that’s fine. Like I said, it’s not a huge part of the book and there is heaps of other material well worth the price of admission.
I wish I’d found this a lot earlier than now. My next SR game, however, will be making strong use of this supplement.