||Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2012/03/20/tabletop-review-shadowr-
I was actually kind of surprised when Catalyst Game Labs announced The Twilight Horizon, if only because they’ve done three Horizon based adventures in the last year alone. We’ve had A Fistful of Credsticks, Anarchy Subsidized, and Columbian Subterfuge, all of which were great adventures (Anarchy Subsidized even won our Adventure of the Year award), but there had been so much focus on Horizon that I assumed that time would be spent on one of the other mega-corps to balance things out. Instead, we’ve now got a campaign book that is (mostly) devoted to Horizon, along with XXX adventures focused around Horizon, the city of Las Vegas, or both.
Like most campaign/adventure anthology hybrids that CGL puts out, you’re not getting fully fleshed out scene by scene scenarios for your gaming group. The adventures that books like this, Corporate Intrigue and Jet Set contain are bare bones. They give you the basic plot, important information and how the adventure should flow, but other than that, the GM/DM/Keeper/whatever is on their own. This means the adventures here are best in the hands of experienced Shadowrun GMs. Streamlining adventure content like this forces a GM to be more creative and it allows them to be more flexible with how the adventure unfolds. At the same time, if you don’t know the system or the setting like the back of your hand, there’s a good chance you’ll stumble at some point – especially if the players known Shadowrun better than the GM. Of course the solo missions and the excellent Shadowrun Missions line give you every tiny detail along with multiple possibilities that could occur within each scene of the adventure. Those are what a new or less experienced GM should pick up. Then once they feel confident about their ability to run adventure or even put them together, they should go for a campaign book like this. There’s no right or wrong as to which adventure style you should go with. Just see which best meshes with how you like to run a game and stick with that.
There are a few minor nitpicks as some reused art and a whole host of spelling/grammatical/typographical errors, but if you purchased the PDF, you’ll probably see those cleared up in later updates. With that out of the way, let’s talk about the twenty different sections within The Twilight Horizon and see if Catalyst Game Labs’ newest Shadowrun book is worth picking up.
1. Bust. This short piece of fiction revolves around private dick Jimmy Kincaid and his attempt to find a kidnapped man and his son. It’s a really good piece and it sets the stage for the Vegas aspects of this book wonderfully. My only complaint about the story is that it ends somewhat abruptly. It feels like there should be more of the story, with at least the climax or perhaps even a full half of the plot to go. I’d really have liked to see this finished. Perhaps we’ll see that with the interactive fiction line CGL has going. 1 for 1.
2. Horizon Today. This section of the book takes place in Jackpoint, the Shadowrun forum for the elite of the profession. Here we see the runner titled “Sunshine” giving a breakdown of what’s going on in Horizon today. Like most Jackpoint sections this section is written from Sunshine’s point of view with the occasional commentary by other runners thrown in. I liked the writing style here but unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of substance to go with the style. As this is meant to be a book about Horizon, you would think the actual section on the company would cover its history, the key players and its rise to Mega-Corp status. Instead it’s just mostly talk on the Consensus, the program that guides the company’s actions and policies, and information about a growing feud between Horizon and technomancers. Again, it’s interesting and well written, but it falls extremely short of what should have been here. This is written as if the person reading it already has read (or owns) every bit on Horizon CGL has published. The likelihood of that…isn’t good. Newcomers and Shadowrun fans on a budget should have been thrown a bone here. 1 for 2.
3. Vegas, Baby. This section starts out with a quick piece of fiction about the ‘Runner Mechanic, and then it goes into a JackPoint style sourcebook on the city of Las Vegas. This section is told primarily by Turbo Bunny, although characters like Mechanic and Sunshine. It’s the longest section in the book and man, it’s exceptionally well written. This is exactly what “Horizon Today” should have been. Hell, it should be the standard bearer for any city/location piece CGL does from NOW ON. You get an in-depth look at Vegas, important districts, a list of casinos, a look at movers and shakers and more! There’s even a time a timeline for Vegas going back to 2010 to “modern day” (for Shadowrun). These twenty pages alone are worth the price of admission. 2 for 3.
4. Self-Preservation. “Self Preservation” begins the adventure section of The Twilight Horizon. In the first adventure, the players have someone cheesed off Horizon enough that the mega-corp has put a hit out on them. I really didn’t like this adventure if only because it highlights the problem people will run into with the more vague adventures like this. There’s no real reason WHY Horizon is after the players; the GM is forced to come up with one (the book gives some half-hearted examples though) . Even worse, if players have actually done the Horizon based adventures, this is more likely to annoy them than be something they have fun with because the situation simply won’t make sense to them. There has to some suspension of disbelief after all. The adventure has the players trying to influence the Consensus to veto the hit that is out on them by doing things like infiltrating Horizon to fixing the Academy Awards. Again, this is hard to believe, because if a Mega-Corp puts a hit on you, getting inside it is going to be insanely tough. I don’t know. This adventure just felt implausible and too far-fetched to be believable, and this in a game where we’re approaching a Dragon Civil War or where anthropomorphic personifications of fire can run an orphanage that is secretly a breeding ground for insect spirits. Even the adventure finds itself to be incredulous at times. The eventual SHOCKTWIST ending makes it all the more eye-rolling for everyone who sits through it. Play this one at your peril. 2 for 4.
5. Technomancer Uprising. A good chunk of this adventure is actually a recap of a trid (newscast) transmission here a technomancer calls out the mega-corps and the UN on their unwillingness to grant technomancers equal rights. Said technomancer also then goes off on Horizon for the hypocrisy of their would-be pro-technomancer stance in light of their actual actions. From there we go into the adventure itself, which has runners digging up information on Horizon to see if their public stance on technomancers actually matches what they say and do when the camera are off them. It’s a pretty intense adventure that will drastically change things for not only Horizon, but technomancers around the world. It’s all a very grey area adventure, and it will have characters (and better yet, their players) debating on if the ends do justify the means. Most interesting is all the extra information about other current Sixth World storylines characters can discover in the first leg of the adventure. “Technomancer Uprising” can be used as the step stone for other adventure arcs, which is a nifty added bonus. 3 for 5.
6. Friends in the Right Places. This adventure is a quasi-continuation of the last one. Here, the Runners will be engaging in four missions on the behalf of Technomancer. The adventure is evenly split between resucing/protecting technomancers and politicking between various militant groups. I like the balance between violence and diplomacy here as it gives a variety of characters a chance to shine. This adventure also airs a huge dirty secret about Ti Tairngire. All in all, it’s a pretty important adventure to the metaplot and a lot of fun to run through. 4 for 6.
7. The Heart of the Head. This is one of the most intense adventures I’ve read in a while. No matter how the runners play it, lots of people are going to die and the PCs will more than likely have a hit out on them by a major organization. Doing this mission will also adversely affect Amazonia in its war against Aztlan, cause civil unrest in the Tir and more. This is definitely an adventure a GM needs to think twice about running because no matter how the players complete this, their days amongst the living are more than likely numbered. I’ll come right out and say that there is a 99.99% chance one of your characters will be killed horribly by Clockwork. Yes, THAT Clockwork. Now, this is a well written adventure and I enjoyed it very much, but it definitely is going to call into question what lines the players are willing to cross and whether or not the side they are serving is actually as bad, if not worse than the corporation they are trying to take down. Like I said, this is INTENSE and it’s not only a campaign changer, but a Sixth World changer to boot. 5 for 7.
8. Desert Howl. For those that pay close attention to the metaplot and/or Jackpoint sections of Shadowrun books, the fact that Haze is your Mr. Johnson in this mission should either be enough to get players to agree to this adventure sight unseen, or have them run screaming for the hills. This adventure has you playing back-up for Haze as he combs the Mojave desert for…something. That something turns out to be spirits. LOTS of spirits. What happens next depends on the fast talk prowess of the characters…and the ability o keep Haze’s snark to a minimum. It’s a fun little adventure with lots of monsters instead of the old sneaking around corporate HQ standby that the other adventures in this book are full of, so “Desert Howl” really stands out because of that. It’s a nice change of pace and a lot of fun. 6 for 8.
9. Metahumanity Ablaze! Burning Man comes to Shadowrun. Well, it’s not REALLY Burning Man, as it takes place in Death Valley and it’s a little more anti-corporation than the really thing, but Metahumanity Ablaze! Is definitely an homage to it. This is a really fun conspiracy laden story in which nothing is what it seems and the combination of a strange festival and corporate intrigue makes this a very memorable adventure. Note that it’s a very long one, with eight full scenes to go through. It make take two or three sessions to complete depending on how off track things get, 7 for 9.
10. Inside the Smile. Working for Aztechnology always seem to be an issue for some PCs as they’re generally made out to be the most evil of the megacorps. Of course, if you’ve been playing all of the adventures in this book successively, you’ll probably be willing to work with just about anyone if it means doing damage to Horizon. Does that include Aztech? If so, the players will be heading back down to Bogata to not only grab some Dawkins Group hostages but then imitate them and infiltrate the most secretive branch of Horizon. This adventure requires players to be good as espionage and subterfuge, which is always something I enjoy. Don’t worry though – there’s some mindless violence towards the end. Another fun adventure and another one where PCs will probably have internal conflict about what they are doing. 8 for 10.
11. The Depths of Revenge. So this is a direct continuation of the previous adventure and once again it’s going to force players to really decide who they think is worse: Horizon or Aztechnology. Now, if the PCs are simply cold blooded mercs, there won’t be any real discussion. Otherwise, the climax of this adventure is well…pretty outright evil as the players will be assisting in wonton slaughter. The neat thing about the adventure is that they are given a chance in the climax to change sides and prevent the slaughter…which of course means turning on their client, but this not only makes for good storytelling, but it also shows the writer realized the adventure might be a hard sell to players and built in a nice backup plan so GMs don’t have to scramble. I love it when adventures cover all possible angles. 9 for 11.
12. Astral Weakness. Hey, you? Do you like the Ocean’s Eleven Movies? Ever wanted to see how a casino heist would play out in the Sixth World? Well, here’s your chance to experience it. The PCs are hired to hit a casino and take only a single object from it – a mysterious artifact. Sure it’s a MacGuffin, but I was shocked it took this long to get an adventure with this plot. It’s a short adventure, but it’s fun, has some good comedy potential and since most players have never done a run against a casino, you’ll get to see your friend wrack their brains coming up with all-new, all-different strategies. 10 for 12.
13. Vision Quest. This is a tie-in to the previous adventure and also something only experienced GM’s should try due to the fact the players will be split into teams of two or three and you’ll have to constantly cut back and forth between the scenes going on to keep anyone from feeling neglected or bored. If done right, this is a pretty impressive adventure and it’s one players can’t “beat” – only survive through. It’s a tie-in to the previous adventure, nets players triple the usual Karma and is a great way to enforce that PCs adventures don’t always end after they get paid; there can be long running consequences. 11 for 13.
14. Red Rain. This is the third adventure in what I call the “Kaze” leg of the book, albeit it only subtly connected. Hopefully none of the characters you “know” are attached to Salt Lake City in any way. It’s damn near completely underwater in this adventure. Ten days straight for torrential rain with a colour that seems more at home in Vampire: The Masquerade than in Shadowrun. Anyone with half a brain would know this is not a location to go to – it’s one to run the hell away from. So of course your PCs are going in exchange for a dumptruck full of nuyen. All this for a single person and their computer program too. Some players/characters might have a problem helping one person when literally hundreds of thousands are dying, drowning, starving and so on, but that really allows for a good deal of role-playing. It’s rare when runners are actually there having to deal with a (un)natural disaster like a flood or hurricane, so it not only makes for a good setting, but also throws runners off their usual course of action. After all, it’s one thing to point a gun at a corporate stooge and take their data. It’s another to leave a bus of orphans to drown. This is kind of a feel-good adventure in a lot of ways, which is rare in Shadowrun. You also get a nice look at how Renraku (?) actually cares for its employees, which is another nice touch. 12 for 14.
15. Tracking Trouble. This adventure also takes place in Salt Lake City, about two to three weeks after “Red Rain.” It seems the water falling on SLC has magical properties and while people are interested in those, the people behind the flood ate interested in something else – making a bigger, longer and more dangerous storm hit Las Vegas. This particular adventure thankfully centers on the fomer and it’s a straight hijacking and delivery run. It’s simple, straightforward and well done. 13 for 15.
16. The Breaking Point. This is another extremely dramatic adventure and it’s a great way to cap off the playable portion of the book. Players are going to have to deal with a two-fold crisis in Vegas. The first is The Consensus going homicidal, albeit in Horizon’s usual PR-driven way. The other is the return of Kaze and its attempt to turn Hoover Dam (aka The Dam in the Sixth World’s time) into a foci for one of the largest rituals ever performed. Have fun with both of these prongs kids. The adventure is pretty taxing and most characters won’t make it out alive unless they are smart, lucky and possible purchased the Street Legends trait by saving up 50 Karma throughout their career. It’s a pretty insane affair which will see everything from Street Samurai doing battle with their own cyberware down to a massive battle of wits with an insanely powerful spirit. This adventure is quite memorable if you’ve played the other adventures in this book. But it loses a lot of the drama and tension if you haven’t. Still, like everything else in The Twilight Horizon the adventure is well done and definitely worth experiencing. 14 for 16.
17. Character Trove. All the NPCs you’ll need for the adventures in this book. Always handy to have and even handier to have them in one spot in case you want to use these in other adventures. 15 for 17.
18. The Late Show. A short story displaying the aftermath of “The Breaking Point.” It’s cute, to the point and highlights the real problem with The Consensus which is that even the best human can be a jerk at times. 16 for 18.
19. Appendix. A JackPoint ending that covers Simsense programs. Doesn’t really fit with the rest of the book but it does a fine job of explaining the topic to newcomers while giving some in-depth detail to long –time Shadowrun players. You also get an interesting look at the Horizon corporate structure and how very different it is from the typical 9-to-5 corporation. 17 for 19.
All in all an 89.4% quality rate. That’s extremely good. Most of the adventures are well written and fun to play through and several are quite memorable whether or not you care about the game’s meta-plot. I can’t say I LOVED any of the adventures in here like I have in other adventure anthologies but out by CGL, but what’s here is of consistently good quality across the board. Even the two things I gave a thumbs down to still had some strong points. All in all, this is definitely a collection well worth picking up if you like running pre-made adventures. You get thirteen adventures, a high quality guide to Vegas and a few assorted other things for only eighteen bucks. Twilight Horizon might be a game changer for the kinder, gentler mega-corp, but it’s one hell of a ride.
[5 of 5 Stars!]