Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2011/09/22/tabletop-review-shadowrun-99-bottles-of-yakuza/
Man, Catalyst Games Labs has just been turning out Shadowrun stuff lately, haven’t they? Last month we had Street Legends and Dawn of the Artifacts and July gave us Rally Cry. It’s all been high quality stuff and extremely affordable. Only Street Legends will put you back more than ten bucks. Compare that to what we paid in the FASA days with an adventure like Blood in the Boardroom costing you twelve bucks and we can see that Shadowrun gamers have really benefited from CGL releasing books in PDF form. You’re getting the same great level of quality but for a fraction of the price.
I bring up Blood in the Boardroom from 1998 for a very good reason. Both adventures feature the Yakuza, both feature a civil war of sorts, and both have your players getting caught in the middle of a corporate conspiracy. Both adventures differ greatly from each other from this point on, but old school Shadowrun gamers who enjoyed BitB will definitely get a wave of nostalgia from 99 Bottles of Yakuza and might even want to bring back (and update) the characters they used for that.
You’ll find one odd thing about the adventure here. The cover of the adventure simply refers to itself 99 Bottles, but the adventure itself continually uses a longer title – that of 99 Bottles of Yakuza. I’m not sure why the cover doesn’t have the full title or if this is something that got past editing, but I’m going with the longer title, if only to help people find this better if they look up the adventure in a search engine.
Much like Street Legends, the adventure begins with a short piece of fiction before giving you the nuts and bolts of the adventure. In this case the story is about Shinoda Yoshinori and his “rise” to Oyabun of the Yakuza (think Mafia Don) in Bangkok. Now some might wonder why the Yakuza is being used in Thailand. Well, they’re currently a force over there now, so why not in the future? From there, Shinoda hires the players to investigate who is behind a recent spree of bizarre Yakuza murders, ones that involve members of the organization being turned into giant pickles – and not the kosher dill kind either.
Like most Shadowrun adventures, 99 Bottles of Yakuza is broken down into various scenes along with hooks to get players to care about the adventure, potential subplots, and red herrings, and ways to increase or decrease the challenge level of each section. I love that they do this as it makes their adventures accessible to not only long time Shadowrun veterans like myself, but people new to running a game. What really makes this adventure stand out from the typical Shadowrun one, is that players are on a timeline here. Every day, member of the Yakuza are being murdered and the more that survive through the adventure, the more profit there is to be made. As well, there is an optional battle at the end where you get help from the surviving members, so it is more than a little bit helpful for players to solve the mystery as soon as they can. Because strict timelines aren’t something you usually see in a published Shadowrun adventure, this might throw players for a loop, especially if they “lose” by not succeeding in their mission by the end of the timeline. Shadowrun is a little more geared towards action than say, Call of Cthulhu and so some groups, especially those primarily in it for the combat, might have difficulty with this adventure. The adventure suggests you roll 2d6 for each game day that passes and the result of the roll is how many Yakuza die. According to the adventure, that gives you between six and thirty six days to do the adventure. My advice is to ignore this bit and actually set an exact date for the adventure based on what you know about the players. If they’re not the best as figuring out puzzles or detective work, give them a longer adventure. If your team of players are hardened runners or are extremely clever, give them a shorter timeline to really challenge them. After all the last thing anyone running this wants is for your team to be making progress and for them to lose because you keep rolling 10-12s.
99 Bottles of Yakuza is extremely well written, and keepers will be especially happy with the sheer amount of detail and back story the adventure provides them. You learn a lot about the current climate of Thailand, the politics and feuding between the gangs of the area (including internal struggle) and the rise of an odd Indian (Hindi, not Native American) cult that has become in organized crime. There’s enough information about the region here that, coupled with the results of the adventure, you can set up a mini-campaign here if you and the players want to see the fallout from running this adventure and the choices they made during it. There’s even a nice hook to get players to Thailand in the first place if they are currently somewhere else. The adventure is open ended and you can run most of the scenes in whatever order you need to, which really helps with the sliding timeline aspect. Of course, it also means, that players can waste time on a lot of red herrings or erroneous conclusions, causing a lot of Yakuza to die horribly.
The optional end battle is pretty intense as there are a lot of bodies shooting off magic and/or bullets so if you run it, make sure you have everything lined up well ahead of time as it’s going to be hectic and you’ll need to know where dozens of characters are at all time. It’s not as insane as the end battle of New Dawn, but that’s only because the latter had multiple factions all trying to kill each other in a pier six brawl. This is “just” two large sides trying to mow the other down. The adventure suggests instead of rolling for every possible character to base the results purely on how the players do. If you’ve ever played the video game Kingdoms Under Fire, it would be exactly like that where how your army does is in direct proportion to your main character’s specific success. I like this idea as it cuts down the amount of work the Keeper will have to do, but there are still a plethora of NPCs to keep track of.
With a price point of $4.95, 99 Bottles of Yakuza is comparable to the Shadowrun Missions line of adventures and it’s something I can heartily recommend to any Shadowrun. There’re a lot of opportunities for characters to flex their mental muscles as well as their inductive and deductive reasons skills. Don’t worry though, as there are plenty of opportunities for violence and intrigue as well. This makes for an evenly balanced adventure that gamers of all types are sure to enjoy. It’s a great chance to get your characters into a new locale and with all the gang warfare and potential for political uprising in the area, your team just might decide to stick around. After all, one night in Bangkok and the world’s your oyster.