Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2011/09/01/tabletop-review-shadowr-
I have to admit, it’s always hard to review an adventure when it’s the final leg of a series of adventures which create a larger story. It’s even harder to do so in this case as New Dawn is the first piece of the Dawn of the Artifacts series that I have received. As such, I’m sure there will be things from the previous three DotA adventures that I might miss. Just a warning in advance.
New Dawn feels like it is designed primarily for veterans of Shadowrun. It’s made for long running character or those with a very powerful build. It’s definitely NOT an adventure you want to throw at people new to the game, but it is one you can easily scale up or down based on the power level and experience of your troupe. As well, the adventure names no less than ten additional supplements besides the core rule book that a Gamemaster should have. Note that none of these supplements like Corporate Enclaves or Street Magic are truly needed, but having them will help the DM better formulate the adventure, as well as tailor it for the players. I’m always a bit disappointed when a published adventure hints that you need this many additional supplements as it makes things harder on the GM (and players’)’ wallet. Still, if you picked up this adventure (or are even thinking about it), you probably have most of the supplemental material New Dawn references already.
One of the things I love about Shadowrun published adventures is how GM friendly they are. Adventure scenes are broken down into nine different categories that will really help a new or inexperienced GM with telling the story. For a veteran GM though, they can use all of these helpful hints and plot hooks as stepping stones for running the adventure the way he or she knows will entertain their players. New Dawn is no exception and so even if you haven’t played the previous three chapters, the adventure gives you ways to run this adventure as a standalone. No prior knowledge of the prior adventures is requires. I love that. It’s the hallmark of a well-made and flexible adventure. You’re also given a nice summary of the previous adventures (half a page, but at least there is something). Even people running the whole campaign can make use of this as a refresher of sorts. After all, if you’ve been playing/running the adventures as they come out, it’s been a while since part three.
The artifact your team of runners will be searching for in New Dawn is Shantaya’s
Compass. Your mission is to find the artifact and return it to Ehran the Scribe. Of course, organizations like the Yakashima Corporation and the Atlantean Foundation are looking for it as well, and by proxy – the players. You’re given a pretty solid description of the physical and astral aspects of the Compass, but even the GM isn’t told exactly what it does. What comes next is a search all over the Pacific to find the artifact. It was a lot of fun to see an adventure cover four locations. Players will be travelling to Hong Kong, Karavan, Neo-Tokyo and finally…Portland, OR. One of these things is not like the other, eh?
I really liked that the team gets the artifact in the first fourth of the adventure and that instead of that being the conclusion, it’s really the kick off for the majority of the events that unfold. I don’t want to spoil why the adventure continues on, but it’s a nice hook and the reveal makes a nice stopping point if you have to break the adventure into several play sessions. The second and third sections are my favorites as the former (intentionally or not) contains an homage to old 50s adventure comedy films with a character ending up betrothed to a tribal princess and the latter reminded me a lot of a cyberpunk The Prisoner. The people I ran this with made a LOT of references to “the island” (as well as the Simpsons) in the third arc. Out of character of course. You don’t see a lot of pop culture references in Call of Cthulhu (the system I’ve spent most of this month reading and reviewing adventures of), I’ll tell you that! The fourth act involves a massive battle aboard a cargo ship in the middle of the Ocean. Although running this battle and all the factions involved has the potential to be a nightmare for the GM, it’s the only real “battle on the ocean” I can think of in a published Shadowrun adventure, so I really enjoyed the uniqueness here.
The first three acts are pretty straightforward, but the fourth is one of the most chaotic scenes I’ve seen in Shadowrun outside a video game version of the franchise. With three rival organizations and the players all going after each other, this battle is a four way dance that takes a lot of tracking by the GM in order to keep it flowing properly. A kind GM will have all four sides killing each other while an especially cruel one will have everyone attacking the players first and foremost since they have the artifact. There really is no right or wrong way to play who attacks who, but with well over two dozen enemy combatants and the player characters all engaging in massive acts of violence, a GM needs to keep careful track of where everyone is. This is one of those rare times when I actually find miniatures work with Shadowrun, even if said miniatures are just quick sketches of where everyone is after each round of combat. There are a surprisingly amount of cargo ship maps on DriveThruRPG.com or RPGNOW.com for those that want to run this scene that way.
One of the unexpected surprises in the adventure is the appearance of (and interaction with) Harlequin. For those of you who were surprised and dismayed that this iconic elf didn’t appear in Street Legends, you get him here. You won’t get his stats though, which I personally think is a good thing. They don’t need to ever give Harlequin’s stats, but I can understand why some people want them. The same is true for Erhan the Scribe and Jane Froster. Some characters shouldn’t have stats.
Although this is the fourth and final piece in the Dawn of the Artifacts series, New Dawn does contain a few bits that lead into another book Artifacts Unbound. Technically that makes this the fourth in a series of five, but as Artifacts Unbound is a campaign book (160 pages, which is roughly the size of three of the DotA adventures), Catalyst Game Labs is marketing it somewhat separately. Artifacts Unbound is scheduled for release in the first half of 2011, so if you’ve been a fan of the DotA adventure series or you just like to read all the Shadowrun published material, you’ll want to keep an eye out for that.
So, is New DawnDawn of the Artifacts adventures to make this work, but having them does give you a much clearer picture of the larger story being told. If you’re planning to pick up Artifacts Unbound, you might want this and the other DOtA adventures to help flesh that out, but I’m sure that book will contain a recap of these four in some way.
This is such a different piece from the Shadowrun Missions like Rally Cry that it was a lot of fun to look at. New Dawn is only nineteen pages longer and the price tag is two to three times (based on whether you purchase a pdf or in paperback) than one of the Shadowrun Missions. I found that a bit odd, especially as SMs are in full colour and New Dawn is in black and white, but I guess the higher price tag reflects that New Dawn actually is going to have some affect on Sixth World canon/continuity while Shadowrun Missions are just shorter, simpler affairs. If forced to pick between the two, I’d half to go with Rally Cry because it’s a) in color, b) more of a political intrigue piece, which I prefer, and c) cheaper. New Dawn is a longer affair however and is a wonderful mix of balls-to-the-wall guns blazing violence and story bits where guile, intrigue, stealth and diplomacy rule the day. It’s definitely something I enjoyed reading as well as GM’ing sections of. The bottom line is that New Dawn made me want to pick up both Artifacts Unbound and the rest of Dawn of the Artifacts, and that tells me the adventure did its job, and did its job well. 2011 has really been a wonderful year for Shadowrun products and like the others that I’ve reviewed over the past few months, New Dawn isn’t a “must buy,” but it is a well written entertaining piece you won’t regret picking up.