This mammoth tome is billed as the 'core combat rulebook' for Shadowrun 5e, and provides a wealth of detail to supplement and expand on what the core rulebook has to say on the matter. A lot of it is gear - weapons, armour and suchlike - but that in many ways is the least important part, however much your characters like shopping. There are loads of new rules too, but again whilst they will enhance combat by giving you more options, these too are ancillary. The best bits are the more thoughtful ones. Advice on tactics, working as a team, and how to use all the new weapons and combat actions to best effect. In essence, it's a graduate school for shadowrunners, how to develop from being mere street scum to a force to be reckoned with.
But as always, we begin with some fiction. A compelling tale of a 'run going wrong fast, how familiar does that sound? Then the first chapter, Fight for your Life, presented as an online discussion of various aspects of combat along the general lines of what you don't know is the thing that kills you. It looks at fighting itself, weapons, armour, hand-to-hand brawling, tactics, teamwork and the creative use of explosives. Some of this you may have considered already, some may be new to you, but study it well. Someday it may save your 'runner's butt. It's the sort of advice that any beginning character would love to have before he steps out into the underbelly of whatever city he's in.
Next comes Arsenal, a massive listing of just about any weapon you can imagine. It's not just firearms either, perhaps you'd fancy a Highland Claymore (it's a sword, not an explosive...) or want to go all Indiana Jones with a bullwhip, and there are plenty others that are even more exotic. The firearms range from tiny holdout guns to heavy artillery. One novel one is the Shiawase Arms Puzzler, which breaks down into component parts that are disguised as items you might legitimately be carrying, everything from jewellry to commlink accessories, so you can take it someplace you are not supposed to be carrying a weapon. Each is illustrated and comes with description, commentary and a stat block.
Then Armour and Protection does the same for all the stuff you need to keep you safe - as it's pointed out earlier in Fight for your Life, it's really rather silly to spend loads on fancy weapons then skimp on protection. That nice shiny weapon is of no use to you if you are no longer alive to wield it. Neat items include several lines of designer combat wear, so you can look smart and stay safe at the same time. Of course, depending on what you are doing and where you are doing it, a full suit of heavy-duty armour may be more appropriate. That's here as well. Then it all gets exotic. People ignore you if you're dead, right? So why not have some armour specially-rigged so that any damage looks like a kill-shot and fall over when you're hit. Let the brawl move away, then get up again... On a more practical note, you'll also find all that you need for environmental protection - be it too hot, too cold or underwater or even out in space that you want to go!
The next chapter is Tactics and Tools, and here we get back to the discussions that make this book particularly fascinating. It's all about taking small-unit tactics beyond that Shadowrun standby, 'geek the mage first'. Building a team, defining roles, communications, and then holding it all together when the lead and spells start to fly, again this is well worth study if you want your team to be truly effective rather than relying on strength through superior firepower. Veterans will recognise a lot of what is here, but it is no great leap to apply basic military small-unit skills to a group of shadowrunners even if they are less disciplined than a squad of soldiers. The rule mechanics to enable you to model these techniques are included to make this section even more potent... and there are more 'tools of the trade' to empower your group to operate at peak efficiency.
This is followed by Killshots and More, which looks at effective combat, the actual delivery of force part. Options to make combat even more deadly, and ways to pursue non-lethal yet effective methods of putting your point across on the battlefield. Again every suggestion comes with the game mechanics to put it into action. Perhaps you'd like to call shots with precision accuracy, or produce devastating effects based on what ammunition your are using. You'll find plenty of ideas here, along with novel combat moves and much, much more.
Next, Staying Alive addresses other dangers that you may face. Environmental hazards, extreme weather conditions and the ills that come with them - dehydration, sunburn or frostbite... you name it, you'll find it here along with the rules to implement it in your game. Man-made problems like pollution and radiation are included as well. Or perhaps you'd rather venture into the air, under the sea or into the blackness of space?
Then there's Blow Up Good, everything you might want to know about the combat applications of explosives. You may think that blowing stuff up looks like fun, but it's dangerous - and not just in the obvious way, for example you might like to consider the legal implications of being caught with a load-out of illicit explosives. It doesn't matter if you want to purchase or make your charges, or if you want to drop a building or a troll, just about everything you need to know is here.
Finally, there's a another piece of fiction, Hostile Extraction; and an accummulation in one place of a whole stack of useful tables.
Overall, this takes combat to an art form, with plenty of ideas to enhance the use of violence in your game, coupled with the equipment and rules additions to make it happen. Even if combat is not your favourite part of role-playing, this will make you reconsider joining in the next brawl with enthusiasm!
[5 of 5 Stars!]