Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2015/05/12/tabletop-review-shadowrun-lockdown/
Shadowrun Lockdown is the tabletop tie-in to the new Shadowrun video game, Shadowrun Chronicles: Boston Lockdown. For those of you finding Shadowrun Chronicles to be too much of a mess to play through, or prefer the tabletop game to video games, this is the probably your best way to experience the storyline. Oddly enough, there are three ways to pick up Lockdown. The first is by purchasing it as a $9.99 add-on to Shadowrun Chronicles through your Steam account. This was, until this weekend, the only way to get Lockdown. $9.99 sounds like a fantastic deal for a Shadowrun PDF, especially since CGL, along with Games Workshop and Onyx Path Publishing, tend to have the highest prices for their digital release. It’s not unusual for a 32-40 page supplement for Shadowrun to cost five bucks, so ten bucks for a full sourcebook – that might be the best deal the game has ever seen. Unfortunately, to get that $9.99 price tag, you do have to buy a $39.99 video game that is almost unplayable at times due to server issues (It’s getting fixed. Honest!). This is why I tend to refuse to buy online only video games, because they eventually shut down or don’t work well from the get-go. In essence, you’re just renting an online RPG, and god forbid it comes with a monthly fee to boot. Anyway, the only other way to get Lockdown is if you splurge for the SEVENTY DOLLAR “RPG SUPER DELUXE PACK” version of Shadowrun Chronicles and holy crap, it’s not worth that price tag. My advice is that, as good as Lockdown is, wait for a Steam sale and by the basic version of Shadowrun Chronicles and get the sourcebook that way. The cost for it will probably be reduced on that sale as well. Your last option is to purchase the book directly through DriveThruRPG.com… for $25. That’s a huge increase from the Steam price, but you also don’t have to buy a forty dollar video game to boot. So $25 for just the book, or $50 for the book and a video game. Again, waiting for a Steam sale is probably your best bet, as you’ll end up getting both for the same price as the DriveThru only options. You probably won’t have to wait long for a sale with the reviews Shadowrun Chronicles has gotten. However, Lockdown is arguably the best release for 5e so far, so it just depends on if you’re willing to play the waiting game or not.
I’ll be honest, I tend to LOVE Shadowrun, but Fifth Edition hasn’t done it for me. Oh, it hasn’t been the mechanics, although I know some people would love to play Edition Wars over that. It hasn’t been the writing. I honestly feel that Shadowrun has the best overall team of writers in the business right now. For me, it’s been the metaplot… which is telling, as it’s usually the best part of Shadowrun. Like a lot of people, I find the current CFD (a nanotech based “disease” where AI takes over carbon based lifeforms) to be terribly done. It has some potential, but quickly became the worst storyline in Shadowrun history. Yes, worse than the Aztlan-Amazonia war… which was something I didn’t think could be possible. Stolen Souls was horrible, and from looking at reviews from people besides myself and fan commentary across the net, my opinion on CFD seems to be the majority (It’s totally okay if you actually like the CFD metaplot though. It’s all opinion. I will not fault someone for liking something I hate or vice versa.) I’ve found it to be so bad I’ve stopped buying/reviewing Shadowrun releases for about a year. I get too many other review requests on a weekly basis, and I’d rather do something that slag on a game I otherwise love (and the poor authors stuck with some bad storylines).
However, Shadowrun is stuck churning out this part of the metaplot because they’ve backed themselves into a corner with it. It was Shadowrun‘s Roman Reigns. They put all their money on this one storyline and when the audience gave it a collective thumbs down, they weren’t really prepared for what that reaction. Unlike the WWE which hotshotted the title to Seth Rollins, CGL decided to run with the ball anyway and see if they could take their feces sandwich and make it the tastiest pile of poop they could. A good writer can’t salvage every bad editorial decision (Behold comics books as a great example), but they can make the bitter pill easier to swallow. Thankfully, CGL has the best collection of fiction writers in the industry right now (except for Fire & Frost and Hell on Water. Those are the exceptions) and that’s exactly what has happened here with Lockdown. This book takes the worst aspect of Shadowrun right now in CFD and even adds the things people have said would make the concept even stupider like going from a third rate cyber Invasion of the Body Snatchers to a third rate cyber Night of the Living Dead (We already have Shedim. We didn’t need nano-zombies). Yet somehow, the entire Lockdown sourcebook not only works, but it works really well. Perhaps it is because Lockdown is extremely isolated and closed off rather than being a world-wide epidemic. Perhaps because it is video-gamey and it’s easier to accept tons of two-dimensional cannon fodder in this. Perhaps it’s just the quality of the writing. Most likely, it is a combination of all things, but for the first time Shadowrun‘s CFD is tolerable. Who knows, this might finally be the catalyst to jettison it from the Metaplot (thank Cthulhu) and actually have me willing to review Shadowrun full time again.
So now, let’s talk Lockdown proper. Like any Shadowrun release. If you’ve played the video game Boston Lockdown, then you have some idea of what you’ll find in this sourcebook. For those who haven’t played the game, Lockdown essentially does to Boston, MA what Bug City did to Chicago, IL. This is a huge game changer for Shadowrun as essentially, the Boston metro area is quarantined with no way in or out. Yes, even runners and Megacorps are finding entry and/or escape extremely hard, but it needs to be. CFD is running amok, there are three powerful dragons in the mix and although there are supply drops, Boston is essentially what you see in a post-apocalyptic game. Granted, if people wanted a post-apocalyptic RPG, they’d be playing something else, but it does work here. More importantly, it still feels like Shadowrun even though you are in an isolated location. You’d be surprised how many runs you can get out of a situation like this.
Scattered throughout the book are occasional pieces of fiction. They’re entertaining and set the tone for the section that follows each one. The common character in all of the fiction pieces is a runner named A.J. who shows up as the narrator for actual section of the book later. However, A.J.’s narration section is apparently posthumous so reading fiction featuring him after this point is a little odd. You’ll also notice that the book is not laid out chronologically. This can be a bit odd, especially for those who haven’t picked up the tabletop version of Shadowrun before and just got this with their game purchase. Being a long-time fan of Shadowrun, I knew the score, who everyone was and what was going on, but the layout of the book could have been a LOT more newcomer friendly. Being newcomer-friendly has always a weak spot with CGL’s version of Shadowrun, and so this is no exception. The book does assume you are EXTREMELY familiar with Shadowrun. and especially Fifth Edition which takes place during the 2070s. Again, this is not a problem for longtime tabletop gamers. However, newcomers or those that are only used to the previous video games for the PC, SNES, Sega Genesis and Sega-CD, will probably be quite lost, especially since those games take place during the 2050s and use first and/or second edition Shadowrun rules. It’s okay though. Most of CGL’s version of Shadowrun sourcebooks and supplements take the form of Jackpoint narratives – which is essentially a chat room where runners get together and swap stories, secrets and snark. As such most of the book reads like short inter-connected fiction stories rather than a manual of mechanics and rules. So at least newcomers will get a level of entertainment rather than a bunch of jargon and rules. Those are almost always towards the back of a book, making for easy use in an actual gaming session. So if you’re new to Shadowrun and you like the world and writing style of Lockdown but you feel you are missing something, you are. Considering getting the core rulebook for Shadowrun, Fifth Edition to get a really strong overlay of the Sixth World and the mechanics that run the game. God knows Shadowrun Chronicles doesn’t really play like the tabletop game – which is neither bad nor good. I just don’t want you to think it’s a straight rules-port.
Lockdown begins with “A Runner’s Guide to Boston” which some of you might remember from the truly terrible Boston Adventures PDF, which comes with some versions of Shadowrun Chronicles. I was pretty cruel to that PDF because it did so many things horribly wrong and was littered with typos from beginning to end. Here in Lockdown you get that same section cleaned up, formatter correctly and edited. Yes, there are still a lot of typos and grammatical mistakes in Lockdown. It’s a CGL book and admittedly, they have some of the worst editing in the industry but oh man, is there a night and day difference between Boston Adventures and Lockdown.
Besides the part of “A Runner’s Guide to Boston” that is in both Boston tie-ins, the Lockdown version adds Jackpoint commentary and a lot more content. You get an overview of the Megacorps and how they are dealing with the Boston situation, along with some AA and non-profit organization. There’s also a long section on the local medical scene. This is especially noteworthy due to all the mishaps and carnage going on in Boston at this time. Hopefully you have that platinum Doc Wagon card in Boston chummer. You’ll also get a quick overview of the political mover and shakers in the metro area, a look at what the local dragons like Damon, Celedyr and others are up to, and even the local gang scene, be it small-time thuggery or large scale organization.
I have to say I loved this whole part of the book. It was well written and fun, without a dry or dull moment to be had. More importantly, it was the first time I’ve laughed at out at an official CGL release for Shadowrun. Unless you count the April Fools 2013 release, Rigger 4, which was fantastic. There were two very funny moments to be had in the Jackpoint commentary. Lockdown reminded me of the one thing I miss most about the FASA era of Shadowrun and that was the wonderful sense of humour the game had. CGL’s Shadowrun is closer to Warhammer 40K‘s GRIMDARK in tone and worldview than first and second edition’s scathing satire and dry wit. As much as I enjoy CGL’s take on Shadowrun, things like Lockdown and the Harebrained Schemes 2050 era videogames remind that the Sixth World didn’t use to be pure doom and gloom. Things like Rigger 4 show that the SR4/5e team is capable of some great comedy. It just isn’t something that ever really occurs in an official release anymore. So yes, two laugh out loud moments make the Shadowrun‘s zombie (CFD) apocalypse the funniest release CGL has put out for Shadowrun, and that’s a really odd thing to say when you think about it.
The next section is “Lockdown Timeline” and it’s here where you start to get a semblance of substance regarding what it going on in Boston. In the previous section, things were just hinted at vaguely. Here you get actual names, dates and events. I think Lockdown would have flowed better if this was first, especially for newcomers, who will be lost with the allusions and assumptions. Still, it’s a well written section and vets of Shadowrun will probably appreciate spoilers of events gradually being unfolded. In this way, Lockdown does read like a novel stated in medias res, which is somewhat uncommon for a gaming sourcebook. As the source book goes on, you get more and more concrete data, which allows a GM to share the first part of Lockdown without giving any spoilers while also not having to spend hours setting up the backstory.
From there we getting “Locking the Hub,” which is more Jackpoint commentary but this time it’s on what (lies) the media is telling the general public compared to what runners and the Megacorps know. You get a very detailed look at security around the QZ (Quarantined Zone) with a pretty stark look at how insanely hard it will be to get in or out of Boston once drek goes down. From there you get a rundown of what Miles Lanier(!) knows about the incident and a lot of dirty laundry the Megacorps don’t want the average person (or any person really) to know about. Eight different top top top top top secret projects are named, along with what corporations are to blame for them. Fun stuff. “Who’s Inside” gives you a list of major NPCs that are in the QZ. Dragons, corp heads and even Tommy Talon show up in Boston, although the latter appears to be a bad fake. From there we move to “Street Legends of Boston,” which is ten pages that covers twenty-four+ runners in the QZ for your GM to throw at you, be they ally or antagonist.
The longest section in Lockdown is “Inside the QZ: A Wanderer’s Guide.” This takes up nearly fifty pages and is a district by district look at the Boston metropolis, told from the point of view of two characters. It’s an excellent read and by far, the highlight of the book. I do miss the old city guides for games that were so prolific in the 90s, especially the 2e Vampire: The Masquerade “By Night books. This was probably the best look at a single contained area in Shadowrun since titles like Bug City, Tir Tairngire: The Land of Promise and California Free State. I would love to see more city guides for 5e, especially with the writing staff they currently have. A new pure Tir book, a look at the Carribean, parts of France, Bhutan, and so many other places would make for fantastic sourcebooks. Seattle, Denver, Berlin, Hong Kong, London and the like and been kind of done to death. There’s more to Shadowrun then those five cities and this “Wanderer’s Guide is exactly the type of thing I’d like to see more often for the Sixth World. I don’t want to give any spoilers, but it’s a great read, gives you some interesting information about the area, a look at the movers and shakers in the QZ and most importantly, a metric ton of plot threads for a GM to use with their gaming group.
This brings us to the four adventures in this sourcebook. All four work best as a mini campaign with your runners trapped inside Boston during the “epidemic,” but there is no reason why you can’t pick and choose from the collection if you don’t like some of them. The first adventure is “Beantown Bound,” and as you can imagine, it’s about your runners going to Boston. This run is before the Quarantine occurs though. It’s a completely separate mission. It just happens that drek hits the fan while you are in the middle of this mission. “Beantown Bound” makes a great intro adventure to a Boston based campaign and even nets you a nice NPC henchmen/Runner in training or an ally in Knight Errant if you play your cards the right. “Beantown Bound” is laid out nicely, using the Shadowrun MissionsLockdown or played Shadowrun Chronicles, it’ll be a huge swerve to find themselves trapped in the QZ. Even if they have played the video game or read parts of this book, playing a parallel adventure to the events of the game is always fun. Look at Green Ronin’s Dragon Age and how decently that sold.
The next adventure is “Trainyard Troubles.” Here’s you’ll be working for the Megacorp MCT or the mob (depending on how “Beantown Bound” ended), trying to clear out a gang from the trainyards. Unfortunately the gang isn’t a straight forward group of punks with pikes, chains and Ares guns, but what run ever goes as smoothly as planned, am I right? This adventure gives you your first taste of CFD head cases, but it’s also got a single scene that might be a trigger for some gamers. Remember, QZ + CFD = no real laws or rules and so some people get even more depraved that ever. As such the runner can stop or ignore a kidnapper/rapist. The scene is just kind of in there as an aside/sidequest and has no real bearing on the rest of the adventure, so if you’re not comfortable running it, or some of your players might dislike the experience, you can excise it with null sweat. There is also the possibility of running into some CFD sufferers that aren’t so bad for body snatching AIs and a young child in distress…that well, my team murdered pretty quickly because they felt it was obviously a CFD setup. Was it? That’s for them to live with.
Adventure numero three is “Digging Deeper.” This is a set of six “events” that are really short adventures bundled together as one connected piece. There are potentially three more “sequels” that can occur based on your actions. Essentially you break into the MIT&T Containment Zone to retrieve something and after the words gets around of your success, many other organizations are interested in hiring you for very similar missions. Because you’re hitting the same target over and over, there is a lot of room for comedy, and repeat NPCs. We had a lot of fun with this one, but admittedly, we ran parts of it for laughs, almost like a sitcom due to “AGAIN? REALLY? We just took ten steps out of the location.”
The final adventure is “Bringing Down the House.” This is not only the last adventure, but it’s the most important one as your team decides who gets all sorts of damming information about the outbreak (and who caused) it. This means your choice determines what the general populace learns and what Megacorp gets hit badly (if any). Your choices to give the info include Knight Errant (your original hirer), Aegis Cognito, Ares, Aztechnology (boo!), EVO (just as big a boo as Aztech this time around), Horizon, Lone Star, Mitsuhama, Monobe International, Neo Net (another big boo!), Renraku, Saeder-Krupp, Shiawase, Wuxing, and Zeta-Impchem. Obviously, the more evil the company or the more they were behind the events that lead to the QZ, the more they are offering your team for the info. There are a few exceptions to this rule but remember, in Shadowrun if the money is too good to be true, it usually is. My players were torn between Monobe and Mitsuhama. Either choice ensured that two vile companies would get hurt severely (one perhaps destroyed altogether!) and provide the public with a lot of actual knowledge instead of media hype. What can I say, my players are white hats, more or less. In the end, my players went with Monobe since they offered twice as much money (and a special awesome bonus) in addition to ensure an ending as close as possible to “bad guys get theirs.” I’m not trying to influence the vote amongst SR fans to ensure one of these two corps win, but really, these do have the most story potential for the writers, and I’d love to see what they do with the result if either Japancorp wins.
The final section of the book is “Game Information.” If you’ve been waiting for mechanics, stats, gameplay and lists of things, you finally get it here on page 198. You get nearly thirty pages of content, which is pretty good for a Shadowrun book. Personally, I prefer the narrative, but if I didn’t enjoy the mechanics, I’d just buy the only novels from the 90s. In this section you’ll find a lot of info on CFD, although much of it is a rehash from Stolen Souls. There are some very interesting new options that a CFD sufferer can use in-game. We do finally get an answer for two quasi-cures, both of which are interesting. The game still strongly insists you don’t get a PC CFD though, which makes sense as it’s obvious CGL is still trying to work themselves out of the corner they boxed themselves into with Stolen Souls. There are also some new drugs, cyberware, devices, weapons and the like to use in your campaign. Everyone will love the “Crazy-Repller!” There are also discussions on a new dragon oriented ley line around Salem, Noice in the matrix and a trove of NPCs for use in your game. There isn’t a lot for a crunch fan compared to the amount of narrative in Lockdown, but what is here is pretty nice.
So there you go: Lockdown is easily the best gaming release for Shadowrun this year. It’s better than the video game it is a tie-in for (although give Cliffhanger a chance to fix the issues. Had the game been a non-online affair, it would actually be quite nice) and it’s relatively cheap for a CGL sourcebook. Now, is it worth getting the video game and the sourcebook for $50 or should you just get the book on its own? That’s up to you. Again, the Steam summer sale will probably see Shadowrun Chronicles: Boston Lockdown with a nice discount, so you might want to get it then. No matter what though, you really should get Lockdown if you’re a fan of the current tabletop game. I’d love to see more city books like this in the future.