Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2011/09/30/tabletop-review-shadowr-
Hey man. I’m going to let you in on a little secret. That new Lady Gaga album? It sucks. You know what? That new Miley Cyrus album? It sucks. That new Happy Mondays album? I don’t know if there is one, but if there is? It sucks. I can say this, ’cause I know. ‘Cause I’m a Teiko Ikemoto fan. You don’t know Ikemoto? Man, she’s only the first ever artist to sell a one hundred million copies of a single album. Madonna, Elvis, Hendrix, Sinatra, Yankovich? They’re all second rate compared to this J-Pop superstar. It’s just too bad my fellow ‘Runners and I had to utterly destroy her life. But a contract’s a contract and Horizon’s offer was too good to pass up.
…and so begins Anarchy Subsidized, the newest adventure for Shadowrun by Catalyst Games Labs. This lengthy adventure is the second in the “Horizon Adventure” series, and like A Fistful of Credsticks before it, players will learn that Horizon pays extremely well, but also has some unorthodox requests. In this case, it’s all about destroying the reputation of the world’s most popular musical artist, Teiko Ikemoto so that her current contract holder, Mitsuhama, is only too happy to transfer it to Horizon for pennies on the dollar…or whatever passes for pennies on the nuyen in the Sixth World.
As you can already tell, the plot for Anarchy Subsidized is quite different from the typical missions you find in Shadowrun. Even more interesting is that this one adventure will last your players several sessions. The adventure itself suggests that it will take about six sessions to play through, although it can easily double that if you add padding, side stories and pratfalls. The events of Anarchy Subsidized take place over a nine to twelve month period, so expect this adventure to be the focal point of your campaign, if not the ENTIRE campaign. I know the thought of devoting that much time to adventure might put off some GMs, but for others, this will solve all their problems regarding planning ahead and where to take their players next. It all just depends on how much you prefer to run published adventures.
Anarchy Subsidized is broken down into seven scenes. Now, the short little Shadowrun Missions like Smuggler’s Blues have seven scenes too, so don’t let that fool you. Each scene also focuses on a different skill set, so a balanced party is best, as always. The first scene is the token “introduction with Mr. Johnson” bit. The second scene is a “test run” to make sure the players are good enough to do the main job. The third through seventh are all character assassination. All seven scenes are a mix of intrigue, muscle, and critical thinking. In fact, a lot of the combat can be avoided if your players are witty or stealthy enough. I should also point out that the fifth scene is pretty Matrix intense, so if there is a PC geared toward decking, they get to take center stage for much of that one. The sixth scene will probably be everyone’s favorite as it’s a large mix of action and stealth as you storm a corporation’s broadcast center. There’s also potential for a good deal of unintentional comedy. When we ran this there was a lot of dry cool action wit comments with lines from Office Space, Die Hard and Executive Koala flying furiously. “Now I have a machine gun too. Ho. Ho. Ho.”
One of the more interesting aspects of the adventure is that players will inevitably have to deal with some ethical and moral issues. This is something that doesn’t come up that often in Shadowrun adventures as a lot of characters both PC and NPC tend to be anti-heroes at best. As well, missions tend to involve attacks against some large faceless corporation. It’s one thing to hack into a company and steal millions from them or to prevent an evil organization from getting their hands on an ancient powerful artifact. It’s quite another utterly destroy the life of a single person, especially one that turns out to be an innocent idealistic teenager. Some players and even some PCs might balk at aspects of this adventure and the things you have to do, leading to in-party fighting. This can make for some excellent role-playing opportunities and help players that have just been playing a “‘Run and gun” character to flesh out their PC. Of course things won’t be so cut and dry the further into Anarchy Subsidized you get, but for players and/or characters that see things in black and white, this adventure can affect them and how they view ‘Running dramatically. Some players will definitely put the welfare of Teiko over their contract, others might think they Horizon is the lesser of two evils or is actually doing what it has to in order to help Teiko even if it seems a bit horrific in the short term. Still others will strictly stick to the job they were paid for. There’s isn’t any specific approach that is right OR wrong, but no matter how each individual player decides to react, the entirety of Anarchy Subsidized will make for a very memorable campaign indeed.
Another really interesting aspect of Anarchy Subsidized is the point system that runs throughout the entire adventure. In each scene characters can earn or lose adventure points based on actions they take. The points are cumulative across all seven scenes and the end score determines the ultimate fate of Teiko Ikemoto. This reminds me a lot of some old TSR Advanced Dungeons & Dragons tournament adventures and I love the mechanism behind it. Some gamers might poo-poo it as a little too “video gamey,” but I personally think it’s a great way to measure the troupe’s success. After all, they might totally screw up one scene, but have enough points that they can still get a positive culmination for the entire adventure. The GM running this will need to keep careful track of the current “score” for the players as a few points either way can have a dramatic effect on Teiko’s fate, as well as those of the PCs. The important thing is NOT to let the players know what their score currently is as you want the end result to be a surprise. My only real complaint about the adventure is that the point section is at the very end of the adventure. I’d have preferred to have a breakdown at the end of each scene as it would make for easier record keeping – at least the way I do things. Still, that’s a very minor quibble that will both only a fraction of the GMs that run this.
I also love how Anarchy Subsidized primarily takes place in Neo-Tokyo. Catalyst Games Labs has been really good at making sure a lot of published adventures have been in locations other than Seattle. 99 Bottles was set in Thailand, New Dawn took players to Hong Kong, Karavan and Neo-Tokyo and so on. There’s been a real push towards Asian locations and themes as of late and I dig it. For those looking for something other than the dreary Pacific Northwest (Hey, I used to live in Portland.), this should make your day.
Look, I’m an old school gamer. I can pull out something like a Second Edition AD&D adventure from fifteen years ago and see that it cost roughly ten dollars. I can look at publications today that can cost two to three times that. So fourteen dollars for Anarchy Subsidized is a wonderful deal, especially when you realize it’s an entire campaign for that cost. It’s basically six-seven adventures and it’s guaranteed to last your group for a long time. The price tag gets even better when you realize you can get a pdf version for only eight bucks via DrivethruRpg.com. Cthulhu bless the digital age. I’ve reviewed a LOT of Shadowrun merchandise over the past few months, and out of them all, I can easily say that Anarchy Subsidized is the best of them. The mission, in all its forms, is so unique that it can’t help but be memorable. It gives a great deal of roleplay potential from beginning to end, and the book provides numerous subquests and spin-offs to keep everyone busy for months (if not longer) without needed to purchase another adventure. Everything about Anarchy Subsidized highlights just how versatile Shadowrun can be. It’s more than just “shoot up target X” or “hack computer Y.” The missions are only limited by your imagination and this is easily one of the most creative and intriguing published adventures I’ve read all year, regardless of systems. Honestly this is the sort of thing I’d throw at someone after they’ve played a few Shadowrun Missions to get them thoroughly hooked on the setting. It’s that good. CGL’s been on an incredible roll since this summer and Shadowrun shows no sign of slowing down any time soon.