Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2012/11/14-
Dirty Tricks is the latest Shadowrun sourcebook from Catalyst Game Labs. Appropriately enough, this 162 page tome on political bribery and scandals was released on Election Day for the United States. At first I was surprised that Dirty Tricks was going to be this big. After all, at the end of 2011, they released Conspiracy Theories. It seemed like there would be a lot of overlap. Indeed there is a degree of that; something the book makes mention of several times. However Dirty Tricks fleshes out a lot of things I felt were unpolished in Conspiracy Theories, giving you far more detail so that newcomers to the game can get something out of this book (although it is still best in the hands of Sixth World veterans). In a perfect world, both books would have been one complete text, but who knows? Maybe I can convince CGL to do a “buy one, get one half off” or some or sort of bundling of the two over at DriveThruRpg.com, as both books paint a complete picture on the wacky political spectrum of a world where corporations have more rights than humans, were trolls can run for public office and Slow Loris Shamans can dictate public policy (Please actually make a Slow Loris Shaman someone…)
One thing you need to know about Dirty Tricks is that it is 98% fiction. Only the last ten pages or so are going to give you actual stats and data that is applicable to your tabletop game. Everything else is either short fiction stories or metaplot doled out in the old JackPoint forum style. This doesn’t mean there isn’t valuable information for your own personal Shadowrun campaign. Just the opposite in fact. It’s just you’re not getting rules, stat blocks and numbers for how to run a political scandal in your game. That’s really how it should be. Something like this needs to be acted out, not decided by the roll of a die. So I love the way the book handles this topic, but you are going to have to read through a lot of fiction and remember that due to the JackPoint format, some of what you are hearing is fact, some is exaggeration and some is outright falsehood (albeit not necessarily purposeful on the part of the speaker). An enterprise GM will walk away from this book with a good idea of how to do a run where players are trying to dig up dirt on a political candidate/incumbent (or suppress it), but they’ll still need to actually write the adventure themselves. The most help you’ll get in that regard from this book are twenty-seven individual paragraphs, each of which are plot hooks for different potential adventures.
There are fifteen chapters in Dirty Tricks. As mentioned earlier, fourteen of which are fiction and one is a chapter for the GM with a little bit of info on how to run an adventure where politics in the focal point. The fictional pieces are well done. One is about the attack on Aztech’s food processing facility by Sirrurg (ouch!) while another features Jimmy Kincaid (last seen in The Twilight Horizon sourcebook) in a rare positive and uplifiting Sixth World tale where good wins out over evil. Remember kids, just because Shadowrun is a darker world than our own, it doesn’t mean every story has to be gloom and doom. Then we might as well be reading Warhammer 40,000 stuff. As always the fiction is a lot of fun and helps set the mood for the rest of the book. The only story I’d give a thumb’s down to was “Memory in Time.” I didn’t care for the plot, pacing or writing.
Of course though, it’s the JackPoint segments that make up the bulk of the book and what you want to hear about. I’m happy to say all of it is pretty good. There are a few minor quibbles I had regarding the writing of the book as there were some errors about culture, local, voting demographics and the like that don’t quite match up with reality and that could have been fixed/rewritten with a little research. One example is that the section of Maine read like it was odd or rare that they have an Independent holding a Senate seat during the 2070s. However, Maine has and always love political candidates that eschew parties. Just look at Angus King. He was Governor for Cthulhu knows how long and just became a Senator. Part of this could simply be the way this section was written, but whether it was poor verbiage or just the writing/editing team just not knowing Maine’s political history, this kind of threw me for a loop. Something similar happened with Minnesota. One of the candidates is Jesse Ventura III, meant to be the grandson of “The Body” himself. Well this is impossible. Jesse’s kids are Tyrell and Jade. He doesn’t have a son named after him and thus there’s no way to have a grandson who would pull a Hubert Humphrey the Third. This is pretty common knowledge and also easily found via something like reading about Jesse in a book or via the internet, so as much as I appreciated the shout-out to a man I worked for whilst I was in college, this just felt sloppy to me. Now, little quibbles like this aside, 99.99% of the people who pick this up aren’t going to catch these errors and so they won’t care. It’s still a VERY entertaining read. It’s just CGL’s bad luck that the main Shadowrun reviewer out there worked on Ventura campaign in the late 90s, lives in Washington D.C., has two Political Science degrees and thus notices little things like these errors and inaccuracies all too easily. What are the odds?
Some of the things you’ll find in Dirty Tricks include:
Kay St. Irregular talking about how one obtains (and holds onto ) power through not-so-legal and outright illegal means. The dead even rise and vote Republican – just not for Bob Terwilliger.
How to properly intimidate voters and commit obscene acts of fraud.
Sunshine breaking down just how a scandal explodes.
SeaTAC Sweetie gives a lecture on the sexual appetites of politicians (my favorite section in the book)
What it’s like on the opposite side of a political based Shadowrun.
A look at all the major political offices up for re-election in the CAS and UCAS along with a detailed look about each state (and some specific cities) and the people running. Wonderfully done, but as I said earlier, it has a few inaccuracies throughout it regarding our mutual shared pasts (ours being reality and the Sixth World).
The history and result (!) of Proposition 23, which has been a focal point for much of the Shadowrun Missions line of adventures this season. I was a bit surprised the result was revealed here, but it makes sense since this IS a book about politics. I guess I was partly expecting it to play out in an adventure. Twenty-two pages alone is devoted to this, making it the longest topic in the book, but hey, it’s Shadowrun and it’s a Seattle focal point, of course it’s this in-depth.
A whole section devoted to Tsimshian. This was probably the worst section in the book. It wasn’t bad, just very dull and this is the one area where newcombers to Shadowrun will be the most perplexed. It’s not given any real history like other bits. You’re just kind of thrown in to the current status of the nation.
Winterhawk, The Smiling Bandit and newcomer Chainmaker lead us on a merry romp through the politics of the United Kingdom. This is another chapter where people won’t know what is going on unless they’re really been reading sourcebooks on the UK. Otherwise they won’t know who the Lord Protector was (in terms of title and perhaps living state….Blah!) or what’s up with the mysterious figure known as the Pendragon. Another place where background information could have been very useful for newbies, but at least it’s not as bad as Conspiracy Theories in this regard.
In my second favorite bit in the book, Plan 9 leads us through a look at the Black Lodge and also how he systematically checks things out. It turns out there is a method to the madness of everyone’s favorite conspiracy theorist. I loved this look into the research patterns of my favorite JackPointer, as well as a look at my favorite mysterious faction in the game. No mention of Killer BOB or Laura Palmer though.
There are a few other things here and there. Danielle De La Mar is brought up for some reason. She is a relatively obscure character save for the appearance in Jet Set so her being brought up ever so slightly in an indicator that the character is about to get some big time exposure, especially with her “censor the Matrix” campaign. There are also hints that FastJack still isn’t quite right (Shedim? Dead and a Matrix ghost now? Senility setting in? You decide!) and that someone big is still after Snopes (but why and who?) . The vast majority of the book is a solid and entertaining read from beginning to end. The price point ($25 for a PDF) might be too high for some, especially when compared to things like Vampire: The Masquerade 20th Anniversary Edition which for five bucks more, gives you a full colour PDF and nearly four times the page count, but for hardcore fans of the system, this is one of the better books CGL has released this year. If you have the money to spare, definitely considering picking up Dirty Tricks, especially if you are remotely interested in politics or need some inspiration for something other than the usual run on evil mega-corporations.