The original ‘Harlequin’ was a fine module, so it was an ambitious undertaking to offer ‘Harlequin’s Back’ and expect similar results. However, after re-reading this, I’m sure that the sequel stands up just as well as the first iteration, almost twenty years after its’ release. It is also worth noting that Shadowrun books from this era are becoming increasingly difficult to locate in good condition, so hats off to Catalyst for allowing the fans access to PDF copies of the older editions.
‘Harlequin’ was written in a modular format so that it could be play around your existing campaign – but ‘Harlequin’s Back’ is designed to be played one module after the other. Make no mistake, this is an extremely dense campaign that will offer a lot of gaming time. The format is five interlocking modules, each penned by a different author (Carl Sargent and Nigel Findley each write a chapter, much to my pleasure) which form a single unified story. The modules need to be played in order to make the most sense.
Where the developers have truly excelled is in making each module stand alone in terms of the feel, mood and theme. Players will find themselves embroiled in a Post-apocalyptic sci-fi, a Western, a Fantasy and a story with abstract philosophy before the end of the journey. There is a great blend of play experiences, but this does stand apart from the usual Shadowrun fare due to the philosophical and metaphorical elements woven into the plot. The authors have done an excellent job of conveying a sense of gravity to the plot, enabled by the imagery and the choices offered during each story. There is ample opportunity for most of the archetypes to shine, but there are some caveats which are openly discussed at the beginning of the book.
In terms of Gamesmaster support, it follows the format Shadowrun fans will recognise and is liberally sprinkled with advice throughout. I’d definitely not recommend this to a group or GM new to the setting, but rather for those with a decent amount of experience. As the style of module, and links to a grander metaplot are quite different, I don’t feel that it would be a great entry point to Shadowrun. Likewise, the group does not need to have played through ‘Harlequin’ beforehand, and there are notes for the GM to adapt the play experience if this is the case.
This deserves, quite rightly, to be seen as one of the best Shadowrun books produced by FASA. I’d highly recommend buying ‘Harlequin’ as well (which is also available in PDF) and reading the two back-to-back (as I did). I you play, or run Shadowrun, these two modules need to be part of your play experience at some point.