Originally published AT: http://diehardgamefan.com/2012/04/20/tabletop-review-shadowrun-parabotany/
Too often Shadowrunner players and GMs alike focus on two things: A run itself or a city. Many opportunities to really get to know a location, be it flora, fauna or even a simply layout are often left ignored. This disappoints me as the Sixth World is not just one where dragons and vampires do battle on a corporate level. It’s a place where magic and folklore have come to live and intermingled with a cyberpunk setting. It’s a place where living things have been Awakened to view reality in whole new ways. That doesn’t just go for humans and metahumans alike; other living things like animals and even plants have Awakened as well. I was always a big fan of Paranormal Animals of North America back in the days of First Edition, as were many FASA fans back in the day. Unfortunately this doesn’t seem to have translated to the newer and or younger players of 4e/20th Anniversary Edition Shadowrun as Parazoology was kind of met with a shrug or a “meh.” Thankfully Catalyst Game Labs isn’t dropping the idea and is continuing to build on the “Shadowrun‘s not just about fragging things for nuyen.” Aspect. This is where Parabotany comes in.
In Parabotany, we are given a look at nearly fifty different plant species of the Sixth World. Some are Awakened, some are Blighted, and some are just plain weird. Each plant species is given its own individual write-up, along with commentary from Jackpoint ‘runners and some in-game information about the plant’s stats, powers, qualities and so on. You’ve got plants that sooth the savage beats, plants that can be made into extremely addicting drugs, plants than cunningly eat other living things, plants whose fruit calcify organic material if digested, and even a banana tree that can walk around! I absolutely loved Parabotany for this. To me, supplements like this are what Shadowrun is all about. You are getting a ton of world background and bits of flavor you might never actually use in a game, but JUST IN CASE – here it is. It’s a wonderful read-through and any GM worth their salt should pick this up to get their imagination kickstarted. Maybe they’ll come up with an adventure all about one of these plants. Perhaps they’ll create a botanical creation of their own. Maybe this will remind the person who reads this about all the daily issues that the Sixth World has but that so few games rarely touch on – like the lack of “real” food, the overabundance of soy-based products and that agriculture is still just as important as corporate intrigue or political machinations.
Parabotany isn’t just a rundown of a few dozen plants. It also has a wealth of other bits of information. You’re given some updates about Dunkelzahn’s will (that related to agriculture), and a look at alcoholic beverages of the Sixth World. I loved this section because so many gamers will have their characters drink a beer or hard liquor, but without realizing what exactly that means – especially in Shadowrun. We get a look at the current state of wine in the Sixth World, both in terms of grapes and an algae/yeast based derivative known as Pelagos. There’s a small section on Tir Tairngire drinks, half a page on various “beers” another half a page on drinks like sixth World sodas, scotch and caffeinated drinks, and then a nice bit on chocolate. Admit it – most of you playing Shadowrun never stopped to think that there really isn’t any true alcohol or candy bars in the Sixth World. This alone is worth an adventure. Maybe players are hired by Nestle (or whatever megacorp owns them) to uncover a large grove of cacao plants that are guarded by free spirits who are tryin to keep the plant alive/unBlighted from all the crazy crap that is in Africa in the 2070s. The simplest realization that the Sixth World lacks or outright doesn’t have something that we do can make for a wonderful adventure and again, this alone is why Parabotany is a must read.
The last half dozen pages of Parabotany give you in-game rules for plants, descriptions of new powers that are associated with Awakened/Toxic plants, how design your own paranormal flora and even guidelines for making compounds, fetishes, and foci out of these special plants. Absolutely everything I could want on the subject of freaky plant life in the Sixth World resides in these fifty-one pages. Words can’t describe how much I love this supplement.
My honest opinion is that everyone who is even remotely interested in Shadowrun should go out and get Parabotany. Sure there’s nothing in here that will help a GM figure out how to create your typical clichéd run on a megacorp to get some file or kidnapped person of interest. What is here however should help any GM realize how they should be falvoring these types of missions so they don’t feel predictable or like something his or her players have engaged in countless times before. Maybe the runners will encounter a building filled with teapot ferns. Your decker (sorry, HACKER) can’t turn that early warning system off. Maybe the team is hit by a weapon that fires Slum Slime spores instead of bullets or fire. Watch them struggle to deal with that! The bottom line is that Parabotany is a wonderful example of how creative and outside the box EVERYTHING can be in a Shadowrun game. Even if you don’t use the material contained within this supplement, just reading it should be a wake-up call to how weird and wonderful the Sixth World is and that there’s so much more to it than wetworks or forging documents. Here’s hoping we see a lot more of this type of supplement down the road.