Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2011/08/08/tabletop-review-shadowun-street-legends/
I have to admit, I’m always a little worried when a company publishes stats for the icons or legends of their gaming world. This is because when this happens, gamers fall into one of three camps: those that simply want to read and take note of the characters, those that will then make a list of all the discrepancies between said published stats and the previous appearances by those characters in fiction or other adventures, and those that will want THEIR characters to have equal or better stats. I think we all know people that fall into the latter two camps. Perhaps we were even there ourselves (or god forbid, still are) in our younger days.
At the same time the publication of this book made me wonder who would be in it. Would some of the characters from the 16-bit era Shadowrun video games make it in (No, I will never stop bitching until I get those re-released.)? Would classics like Harlequin, Sam Verner, Striper and more show up in here or would it be just a list of NPCs that no one had ever heard of with the word “legends” thrown on them to sell them to an audience that might otherwise balk at the $44.95 price tag? In truth the book is a little of both (but alas none of the characters I named above or Joshua, the Sega Genesis protagonist, show up here) and although you might not use any of the characters within the book, the layout, narrative and short fiction contained within definitely makes Street Legends worth flipping through, if not outright purchasing.
Street Legends provides its purchaser with thirty-two “legendary” NPCs, a historical background of sorts, and their stats. This is accompanied by six short fictional stories that feature many of the characters highlighted in the book, along with several who aren’t (perhaps for a volume two). If you’re a long time Shadowrun fan, you might be a bit disappointed that quite a few big name icons don’t appear here. As mentioned above, you won’t see Sam Verner, Harlequin or Striper, but you also won’t see characters like Joshua, Stark, Frosty and other Shadowrunnners of their ilk. I’m actually happy about this as again, I’d rather see these characters be SO legendary that so one has any conclusive data on them. This is a good move on the part of CGL as it prevents the disappointment and bitching that occurred when, say, TSR published Raistlin’s stats for Dragonlance, or White Wolf did the same with Vlad the Impaler for Vampire: The Masquerade. Some characters are best left hidden in the shadows (no pun intended). That’s not to say that all of Shadowrun‘s most famous characters are absent. Tommy Talon, who has appeared in several of the old Shadowrun novels is on full display here. The writers of Street Legends even do longtime Shadowrun fans a nice favor by pointing out exactly which novels these set of stats apply to. Even better, this helps younger or newer Shadowrun fans know which novels to track down if they like the character. Both (along with nearly the entire original run of Shadowrun novels) are available on Paperbackswap.com so you can get the books for only S&H. Anyway, several well known characters like Tommy Talon do appear in here, so for those of you look for say, Blackhawk, might be disappointed by their absence can find other recognizable characters within these pages.
So the book doesn’t actually cover the crème de la crème of Shadowrun characters from First Edition to now, but it DOES provide a nice collection of characters that CGL has either pushed or will be pushing to the forefront of everyone’s favorite future cyberpunk-ish dystopia and even if you are one of those who will be disappointed that certain characters aren’t in the book, you will be happy with the collection of who (and what) is in here. My personal favorites were Cerberus, Winterhawk, Elijah, Tess van Hama and Lugh. However, every character here is interesting and no matter who you are, you’ll find someone you’ll absolutely adore and from there, it’s only a step or two until you figure out how to make them appear in your own campaign.
What I loved most about Street Legends is the format of the book. Unlike most supplemental handbooks that are told by an out of character narrator giving you all the information in a dry clinical fashion, Street Legends is almost entirely in character, with the stat blocks of each legend being the only exception to this. The entire book takes place in the actual world of Shadowrun via JackPoint. Think of Jackpoint as WBS.net where several of us used to play tabletop games online in the mid 90s (Yes, I’m THAT old) meeting Facebook and a dash of Microsoft Outlook thrown in. It’s a place where Runners from across the Globe can meet to trade news, insults, gossip and contact information. The premise of Street Legends is that Fastjack, who can best be described at Jackpoint’s moderator for the purposes of this book, has gotten several Runners to write biographies on other Runners. As the book says, these aren’t the most famous or infamous runners. They are, however, the runners, that people are the most willing to talk about, for better or for worse. Each character “bio” is a Runner telling the life history of another Runner or major player in the world at large. There’s even one autobiography in the mix. Because many of these stories are second or third hand, both the reader AND the GM have to decide for themselves what parts are fact and what parts are innuendo. This allows for character customization and GMs to come up with plot hooks that can tailor the characters in Street Legends to their campaigns and not the other way around. Even better, you’ll get comments and even the occasional squabble from other Runners reading the bio in question. Sometimes the subject matter themselves will even comment, which is a delight and very realistic. Even if you don’t plan on using any of these characters in your Shadowrun campaign or hell, even if you don’t have a Shadowrun campaign at all, it’s a lot of fun to read this book and it works just as well as a short story anthology as it does a gaming supplement.
One of the other things I loved was the inclusion of an optional rule in order to help the legends stand out and keep them from saying being killed by one of your players who really just wants to railroad the game and be a prick (come on, we’ve all been there) with rulesmastery instead of wanting a good narrative. Any character can achieve Legendary Status if they a) accrue 500 Karma and b) spend 100 of that Karma on Legendary Status. This means that your players will have to not only save like Scrooge McDuck if they want it, but you’ll have to have quite a long campaign for them to achieve it. Legendary Status allows a character with this trait to roll successes on 4s, 5s, and 6s. This is nothing to sneeze at and it allows a DM to showcase why these particular NPCs are legends in the world of Shadowrun without really risking a haphazard die roll if they are running a campaign where everyone wants roll playing instead of role playing.
Perhaps my only real complaint is the lack of diversity in the book. Out of thirty two characters, the breakdown is as follows: 20 humans, 5 elves, 1 orc, 1 ghoul, 2 variable, 2 dragon, and 1 vampire. I was really disappointed that there was a single Dwarf or Troll. It would have been nice to see those races represented in some way. Alas, they aren’t here, so fans of those races will have to go on the CGL blog and say, “Why do you hate Trolls like WoTC hates Gnomes?”
So is Street Legends worth $45? Honestly, I have a hard time recommending a supplement of nothing but NPCs for that price, especially since most of the people who would be willing to fork over that much cash for something like this will want it to be filled with famous characters who don’t even get a mention by name in here, much less a section devoted to them. It’s especially hard if we compare this to something like Dungeons & Dragons‘ Neverwinter Campaign Setting which comes out next week and for five dollars less you are getting an entire setting and fifty pages more content, so comparatively you’re getting a better bargain there. Unless of course you’re not into replicating a video game experience with pen and paper…
Now I can’t say the same for the electronic copy of the book. At only twenty five dollars, you’re getting the exact same version of Street Legends but without the weight. For twenty five dollars you’re getting a full color high definition pdf with beautiful art and 186 pages of excellent storytelling/character backgrounds. If you look at Street Legends as both a gaming supplement and a fiction anthology, you’re getting a very good deal here. Like all my other 20th Anniversary compatible Shadowrun products, I can load Street Legends onto my Kindle and have all my resource books for a campaign with me –all with a net weight of less than a pound. If twenty-five dollars still seems a little pricey to you, do one of two things. First, remind yourself it’s a nearly 200 page full colour book and second, go look at the preview of the book up on sites like RPGNow.com and try before you buy.
Overall, I’m very happy with Street Legends but Shadowrun also has a special place in my heart along with Call of Cthulhu and the old TSR Marvel Super Heroes games as my favorite systems/settings combinations. Street Legends isn’t something a Shadowrun fan or gamer NEEDS, but it a lot of fun to read due to how the book is laid out along with the constant “in-character” narrative of Fastjack and its users. I’m happy with owning Street Legends but the price tag on this book of nothing but NPCs might make this a pass for those with limited disposable income.
To learn more about Shadowrun, you can either visit the game’s official website or the official Facebook page. You can also download a set of Quick Start Rules here. Once I get my hands on a copy of the Runner’s Toolkit, I can let you know if that’s worth picking up for you Shadowrun newcomers as well.