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Glimpses of the Unknown
Publisher: White Wolf
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/16/2011 17:33:06

You know that a product is going to be good when the intro fiction sends shivers up your spine and fires your imagination for Chronicle ideas. By the end of the book, I only had three words - top notch product. This is worth way more than the 6.99 price tag and I sincerely doubt that anyone would have enough free time to implement all of the really well-thought-out ideas - so you will get years of mileage from this title.


Essentially, 'Glimpses of the Unknown' offer a look at the 'weird stuff' (or as the writers term it 'Unnatural Phenomena') that leaks in through the Woprld of Darkness. The rationale is that in a world where there are blood-sucking monsters, rage-filled werewolves, stitched-together people and faerie-abductees, there has to be some residual oddness sloshing about.


The multitude of ways that this can manifest are detailed in each section, demarcated by game. There are a range of 'Seeds' which are one paragraph inspirations for stories and 'Plotlines' which are much more fleshed out ideas. All of the games receive a few new rules or useful game mechanics too.


The beauty with the product is twofold. Firstly, there is enough information in both Seeds and Plotlines to act as the catalyst to a game. You'll need to invest some time in building plot, but the ideas are brilliant - I could see potential for everything in this book. The Plotlines offer a little more in terms of aligning the ideas to a particular, but leave the idea open-ended, which I find quite valuable. The second aspect worth mentioning is that the ideas are easily transferable (and some even more interesting) if you transplant it to another game. The 'Waste not, want not' Plotline for Changeling, for example, would be an awesome Werewolf game and create a lot of tension if done well, whilst the 'Pussy Cat, Pussy Cat' Plotline (from the same section) could easily be redone for Mage. An enterprising Storyteller will be able to re-purpose and leverage the ideas here for any World of Darkness game (I'll be using it in my oWoD chronicles) or even any horror or urban game. In reading through the book, I could find nothing to complain about - hence it receives one of my rare 5-star ratings.


This aptly named product has given me a glimpse into the creative genius currently on-board at White Wolf and I'll be looking forward to any future multi-game products they release.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Glimpses of the Unknown
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White Wolf GenCon 2011 Promotional Materials
Publisher: White Wolf
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/16/2011 17:14:32

I've been wondering for a short while what direction White Wolf would be taking in the future. There has been a lot of references to the Old World of Darkness, Print on Demand, Digital-only Products and not a lot of firm information. To be perfectly honest, I didn't expect any concrete details, especially given the business model White Wolf were interested in pursuing.
This overview of the product release schedule provides those details, and there is some very exciting stuff in here. The folks behind the wheel at White Wolf seem to have a very clear vision backed up by extremely good products for 2011/12. Grab this file, and take a look for yourself - there is something for everyone in here from Translation Documents to Changeling: Victorian Age and lots of new SAS material.
Enjoy!



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
White Wolf GenCon 2011 Promotional Materials
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Shadowrun: Street Legends
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/11/2011 22:20:54

These kinds of titles are just pure fun - and if you approach them in this fashion then you can't go too far wrong. I really have to be 'in the mood' to read through a book of NPC's as most that are published (I'm thinking of D&D in particular) are dry catalogues of characters who are cooler than the PCs and achieve this 'coolness' by breaking established rules.


Not so here.


'Street Legends' is actually quite a good read. Whilst I have always enjoyed the BBS-esque format of Shadowrun books, this one diverges and instead presents each NPC from an in-character perspective. The interspersed fiction is welcomed, and is quite well-written. As with the 'Sixth World Almanac' the fiction is used to change gears and provide some points of differentiation for the reader.


As for the actual characters chosen, it is a very eclectic bunch - mostly drawn from the newest iteration of SR (there are some exceptions, but not many). Does this detract from your enjoyment? Certainly not. What I would like to see, though, is a Volume 2 focusing on the 'old school' runners from previous editions - that would be a very neat supplement. There are methods of brining any of the NPCs into a standard campaign, without them overpowering the plot and taking centre stage, but any GM worth their salt can do this. The only disappointment for me was that there didn't seem to be an even enough spread among the types of characters offered - I feel that Catalyst could have covered a greater range of meta-humans. The meta-humanity angle seemed to be a missed opportunity, especially given the current 'Shadowrun: Missions' plotline.


In summary, it is a well-written, fine addition to your shelf, virtual or otherwise. It is fun reading for any Shadowrun fan. Ultimately, your appreciation (and use) of this supplement will purely depend on what your intended use for the title is. The newly discounted price makes it somewhat more accessible (and worth the price of purchase) - I certainly would not have paid USD45.00 for this PDF title.


I'll finish with the same thought as I started - if you want something that is a bit of fun to read then certainly pick up this latest SR4 title.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Street Legends
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Ships of The Black Desert: MC-30 Command Module
Publisher: Blue Max Studios
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/03/2011 05:14:31

Another awesome addition from Blue Max Studios which will have you wanting to purchase a lot more from this range. Suitable for any sci-fi setting (but with D6 stats), this outlines the full deck plans for a self-contained module. The idea is well imagined, and there is a strong internal consistency to the design that makes it more playable and believable.
The deck plans are interesting and would be extremely useful to minis games as well as RPGs. Overall, the production values are great, the text clear, well-written and easy to digest; whilst the graphics are sharp, and despite the maps being well-populated with furniture and fixtures, each icon is easily recognisable.
Hoping to see a lot more cool designs coming from Blue Max.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Ships of The Black Desert: MC-30 Command Module
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The Danse Macabre
Publisher: White Wolf
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/30/2011 02:23:10

'Danse Macabre' covers a heck of a lot of ground in 256 pages, so I'll cover the four main elements I saw as useful. Bear in mind that there is a ton of other stuff, and your value may vary depending on the type of chronicle you play or run.




  1. Tiers of play. Introduces the concept of three tiers to run your game to. Each tier represents a concentric expansion to a new level, geographically, thematically and in terms of power and responsibility. Each tier is given enough detail to be useful, but the true gem here is in the description of how each Clan operates at the various levels. It covers their passions, their schemes and what really matters at each level, giving the Storyteller some good anchors for a chronicle. All new Requiem (and even Masquerade) ST's should read this section.




  2. Clans: Revisited. We're treated to a re-examination of the Clans here as the non-mechanical aspects are teased out and the question of 'Why play a ..." is answered convincingly. There is a lot of possibility from this chapter and I'd strongly suggest that all players should be given the section on their chosen Clan to read as a refresher. It should act as a spark to reinvigorate and reinvestigate why they are playing their character.




  3. Masquerade. The idea of types of Masquerade is introduced, a (sometimes disposable) mask that the vampire wears to blend with humanity, or even to explore their humanity in new ways. The monster who tries to be human is often the core of the Vampire game, and these ideas give you some additional tools to aid in your story.



  4. Social combat. I'm including this as it was very 'take it or leave it'. Whilst there are some good ideas here, I've never been a fan of mechanics for social interaction, so my interest waned rapidly.


As you can see, a very strong assortment of components that makes the book greater than the sum of its parts, but in doing so makes it appeal to varying degrees based on personal taste. Overall, I think it is a good product, well-produced and (now that it has been discounted) reasonably priced.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Danse Macabre
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Shadowrun: Spy Games
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/30/2011 01:53:23

Whilst the title may have folk thinking of 'James Bond' this is well worth a read as the definitive guide to Denver. Whilst the Spyware is a major attraction (new toys!), it was the sections on Denver that I spent the most time poring over.


In the usual fashion we are treated to the 'official' version of events and facts, whilst Fastjack, Fianchetto, 2XL ad Mika all enlighten us as to the reality of the corp-speak. These comments break up the information very well as everything from travel, the Olympics, security and corporate interests in Denver are covered in detail. For the GM, there is a host of new information covering the impact of the Olympic bid on Denver and how the aftermath of the games and a looming renegotiation of the Treaty of Denver affect an already fractious city.


Criminal elements get a nice update, drawing from information established in the Shadowrun Missions modules from a few years back and firmly establishing those games as part of the continuity.


The last part of the book covers Intelligence Agencies throughout the world and how Magic has played a role in redefining the espionage business (all interesting reading, and roots this book very solidly into the Sixth World). There is a surprisingly large chapter with Adventure Seeds (25 individual seeds in total) so that a GM can tailor an espionage-themed game to their (and their groups) tastes easily. As we have come to expect, there's a small catalogue of new equipment too - all spy ware, 2070's style.


If this is what we can expect from future 'Deep Shadows' sourcebooks them Catalyst has made a move in the right direction and will be seeing a lot more of my hard-earned nuyen.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Spy Games
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Trail of Cthulhu: Bookhounds of London
Publisher: Pelgrane Press
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/30/2011 01:41:22

'Bookhounds' is a fine addition to the Cthuhlu Mythos and really plays to my sensibilities of what a Cthuhlu game is all about - the price of knowledge. This supplement offers your characters the opportunity to track down rare books of forbidden knowledge (for a variety of reason) through estates, auctions and even word-of-mouth in 1930's London. the new Occupations and Skills are well-matched to the setting, and the new rules on creating Bookshops are a lot of fun (in terms of making a Keeper and the players seriously think about the tone of the campaign). Whilst the Occupations are clearly designed to be integrated as a party, there are enough subtle differences to ensure the party cohesion will be tested from time to time.


The sections on the Book Trade, running a Book Hounds campaign and the sample module are all well-written, thoroughly engrossing sections that offer more inspiration than a rational (?) Keeper could realistically achieve. It sets out very clearly that there are a number of themes that can be explored and no two 'Bookhounds' games need be the same.


Likewise, the Monsters section is focused and useful - I can see plenty of opportunities for any of these to insinuate themselves into the game in a meaningful way. The last chapters of the book have a slew of maps, floorplans and reading lists - all of inestimable value to an enterprising Keeper.


In all, the book wieghs in at 185 pages, but the skill of the authors means that there is a lot more information in here than you'd think. The writing is very focused, but incredibly engaging and the general themes of the game are explored in a thought-provoking manner. I'd recommend this for any game that uses exploration of the unknown, such as Dark Conspiracy, Mage or even Nephilim. There are simply too many ideas to pass up. If you'd like to play in a 1930's 'Cthuhlu meets Warehouse 13' game, then buy it now.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Trail of Cthulhu: Bookhounds of London
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Shadowrun: Mission: 04-02: Extraction
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/30/2011 01:15:27

I have been extremely impressed with how far 'Shadowrun Missions' have come in the last few years. The production values have been steadily improving and with it, the overall writing quality.


The Extraction has been the quintessential run in the game and it would be a daunting task to present it in a way that will satisfy fans. However, the premise is sound; and the main NPC 'extractee' is delivered as a highly intelligent (yet ultimately naive) character that is a lot of fun to portray. the warring factions all have individual motivations, bourne out in their descriptions and actions that make running this module a pleasure. Word to the wise is that given the nature of the plot, and the number of different factions involved, this is highly non-linear in actual play. This requires some forethought by the GM and prep to ensure that you understand the NPCs and the organisations involved. That said, there is plenty of reference material (clearly labelled) in the module to help you out.


This could be used as a single night's play; but if you're using this at home, there are endless opportunities for stretching out the suspense, action and tension.


Looking forward to the next one in the series - these are the reason I've returned to running Shadowrun after a couple of years away from the game (and loving every minute of it).



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Mission: 04-02: Extraction
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Shadowrun: California Free State
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/15/2011 22:11:23

Having usually kept my games in Seattle or Denver, there hasn’t been a lot of call to pick up this book. After reading it, I have realised exactly how wrong I was not to do so. California Free State offers a great diversity of experiences, settings and play styles that allows the GM to give the players a different game to that which they are accustomed to.
The writing style that SR has always used in their supplements (in terms of the running commentary/BBS posts) really shines in this book. As the issues raised (everything from politics, racism, the environment, smuggling, travel and of course the corporations) can be quite dry, the discussion points really help to breath life into the region. In some cases, the discussion board posts are longer than the ‘information-heavy’ segments, and this is welcomed and entertaining. Just reading through these sections with an open imagination will kickstart any campaign.
There has been a lot of effort expended in ensuring that each sub-region has it’s own flavour. Los Angeles, San Francisco, The Mojave and the Big Sur all feel like really distinct areas and if evoked well (and there are many tools for enterprising GMs), the players should easily distinguish each place. There are plenty of opportunities to play at the ‘guns and dice’ level if John-Woo-style action is your thing, but some sections (especially San Francisco) allow you to engage with some very heavy topics – which I welcome in a game like Shadowrun. There is a central them (not sure if it was intended or not) of racism throughout the book, with the Tir, Fuchi, NAN and Hestaby’s forces all accused of various acts against (meta)-humanity, and this issue crops up in Shadowrun in a lot of other supplements too. Handled well, this is something that could be easily explored in your own game and provide some great realism to the setting. However, if this is not something that you want in your game, that’s fine. Like I said, it’s not a huge part of the book and there is heaps of other material well worth the price of admission.
I wish I’d found this a lot earlier than now. My next SR game, however, will be making strong use of this supplement.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: California Free State
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Vampire the Masquerade: Giovanni
Publisher: Moonstone
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/15/2011 21:16:47

Moonstone’s run of Vampire and Werewolf comics were a well-realised project, focusing on either a single Clan/Tribe, or on a signature character. In Giovanni, the plot revolves around an art auction, for a ‘lost’ piece of art created by a Kindred painter. Pietro, Madeleine and Isabel take centre stage and those familiar with the Giovanni will already know these names. There is room for character development and there are some very nice insights into how these individuals work on a very personal level. The plot is simple on the surface but makes use of a number of threads that are all woven into the main story. The artwork, whilst not on par with heavy-hitters like Marvel or DC, is still pleasing (and on the same level as most Vertigo titles) and presented in colour. The authors obviously have a good grasp of the medium and write well for this format.
I’ve collected together the print copies of most of the Moonstone comics and they are uniformly good. At this price, there is no reason to skip over them. They are also reusable in terms of giving you some plot ideas, or even a spark for a new character, so they are just as useful as anything else on your gaming shelf. Lastly, you might even consider buying a few for new gamers to give them a taste of the respective games as they are quite faithful to the oWoD.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Vampire the Masquerade: Giovanni
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Legacy of Disaster
Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/12/2011 01:05:29

This is actually quite a good introduction to L5R for a group that has very little (or no) experience with the game. It does present a heavily cut-down version of the rules (and a small grimoire-worth of spells for the shugenja) that makes getting to play a swift experience. There are enough rules to play out the entire module, and they capture the flavour of the system very well. Groups wanting to continue will need to purchase the rulebook.
The story in the module is, on the surface, very simple, but in true L5R style, there are many layers to peel back. It is possible to cruise through the module in a linear fashion, but there are a wealth of opportunities to engage with the social structure, etiquette and customs that make Rokugan such a rich setting. There are political and face-saving schemes afoot in the background, with plenty of clues and opportunities for characters to chase down leads (in a respectful manner, of course). There are a number of ways that the plot can be resolved, all with their own ramifications and enough meaty choices for philosophical souls to mull over.


The only detraction in this was the way in which the pregenerated characters are set out. they simply run on from page to page, and cutting them out to hand to players is a nightmare. I would strongly suggest that AEG take a look at how Catalyst handle their quick-play characters. Catalyst presents double-sided half-page characters with a small illustration; with the sheets easily cut, or torn out and distributed. Not so with this AEG product.


that said, this issue isn't insurmountable (more an annoyance), and the quality of the module more than makes up for it. I'd highly recommend this to absolutely anyone who has ever looked at L5R and thought 'it looks interesting...' It is indeed, and this module showcases why.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Legacy of Disaster
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Forsaken Chronicler's Guide, Part 3: To Transform
Publisher: White Wolf
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/12/2011 00:43:02

‘To transform’ is the latest in the four volumes that will comprise the Forsaken Chroniclers Guide. Whilst initially hesitant at a chapter-level release, I have been reading each instalment a lot more thoroughly than a whole book and have been enjoying this format immensely.
This chapter sets up the idea of running a parallel chronicle which both exists at the modern era, but also in the Sumerian City of Bau and gives advice on using flashbacks to tell two concurrent, interwoven stories. It’s a great idea, and certainly not a new one, but this gives the ST two storylines in short paragraphs that can be literally cut-and-pasted onto index cards to build a viable story. There will obviously be a lot of work for the ST in such a chronicle, but a large amount of the grunt work is given to you in this section.
The second section explores the ramifications of removing the code that ‘Uratha must cleave to the human’ and some of the practical aspects of keeping the Law and also throwing it out in your chronicle. There are a host of expanded rules, including more developed ‘social combat’, and lots of other advice that makes for interesting reading.
Lastly, and the definite highlight of the book is the chronicle of unity. The idea of Conclaves is put forward as ways to unify the Uratha in groups that are dedicated to a common cause. A range of examples are presented that could easily fit into any chronicle. Interestingly, there is discussion on why the politics of wolves are very different to humans and why democracy isn’t a widely-held concept in these sorts of groups. This sets the tone for power struggles and how one gains prestige within theses Conclaves. Top it off with some solid storyteller advice and some new rules and you have by far the strongest chapter in the book (and my favourite next to the Predation Chronicle section in ‘To Rebuild’).
Like those instalments before this, it is a mixed bag, but even if you only find one chapter to your liking, the price tag is worth it. I’m looking forward now to seeing what White Wolf does with the last publication for the Chroniclers Guide.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Forsaken Chronicler's Guide, Part 3: To Transform
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Forsaken Chronicler's Guide, Part 2: To Rebuild
Publisher: White Wolf
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/12/2011 00:28:06

‘To rebuild’ is an very interesting addition to the Forsaken line and really conveys a very different vision of the Spirit World. The main focus of the opening segments is on the ‘Predation Chronicle’. In this type of chronicle, the PCs are actively engaged in hunting and consuming (sometimes) spirits for Essence. A variety of motivations for doing so are given (and they all make sense from a Werewolf point of view); as well as creative alternatives which align with each of the types of Renown in the game. There are some great thematic storytelling tools and ideas in this section, and extended rules and advice for running a Hunt are offered. It caps off a brilliant chapter with a discussion on two types of antagonists. The Damuth are apex predator spirits, that consume everything from ideas and dreams to the Uratha. There is some advice on designing them around real-world predators, and the example (based on the blue-ringed octopus) is pretty damn scary (and made even more so by the somewhat disturbing accompanying artwork). The second are the Su’ur, the Uratha who have become addicted to consuming spirits and now can only be nourished by preying on the Uratha. Again, the example given is chilling and could be used to great effect.
The second section dealt with ‘The Circuit’ or ‘Fight Club for Uratha’ and didn’t do too much for me. Whilst the writing and ideas were very sound, the ideas just didn’t grab me in the same way as the Predation Chronicle.
The supplement ends with ideas for a Resistance-themed game, and offers an alternative look at the WoD through the Uratha. This has a lot of potential, especially as it gives a wide range of tools for the ST, but then goes on to give advice and new rules for players to tailor a character to this type of chronicle. Well worth reading.


Overall, I like the modularised format of this supplement. The design is well-thought-out and there are practical ideas for running slightly skewed version of the setting we all take for granted.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Forsaken Chronicler's Guide, Part 2: To Rebuild
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Shadowrun: Runner's Toolkit
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/09/2011 23:13:53

As far as introductory adventures go, ‘On the Run’ is absolutely excellent. As always, they have stuck with the formatting that veteran players will easily recognise (‘Tell it to them straight’, ‘Debugging’ and the like) which makes each scene self-contained and very easy to run. For this module only, though, the authors have gone one step further in providing page references to all the rules required for each scene so that a GM can easily cross-reference and arbitrate rules calls without endlessly thumbing through SR4. Even GMs like myself who have a decent handle on the rules will appreciate the opportunity to brush up on their knowledge.
The run itself is well-developed, with a nice blend of free choice and set plot; as well as showcasing a wide range of the types of encounters that make Shadowrun a unique setting. The authors should be commended for their attention to making the setting come alive and ‘showing, not telling’. The NPCs are interesting and have a wide range of motivations which is ample fodder for creative GMs. There is a good ratio of Legwork and action and the ending gives the characters a chance to move in their own direction, rather than simply going through the paces. This would be a great starting point for a campaign.
My only criticism is that as a ‘first run’ it would have been nice to see some pregenerated characters in the back of the book. I feel that this addition would have made it a little more attractive to new groups wanting to try out the game – but even without these, the module stands up well by itself and should be on every Shadowrunners bookshelf (virtual or otherwise). Oh, and whilst this is written for newcomers to the game, there are some very nice nods to previous editions of SR that will make veterans of the game smile.


The rest of the kit is exceptional, with some really high-quality, attention to detail pieces. The ‘Quick Reference Charts’ will not leave my side at any game, and will save me tons of time; whilst my players are already fighting over the complied ‘shopping list’ that happens when you take all of the tables from Arsenal, Street Magic and Augmentation. One of my gripes with the SR4 books is the distributed nature of the tables, so these will be a very handy resource.


Overall, this is worth it just for ‘On the Run’, but the extra goodies make this worth having.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Runner's Toolkit
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Mirrors: Bleeding Edge
Publisher: White Wolf
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/09/2011 19:53:26

'World of Darknes: Mirrors' was an exciting title. Basically, it gave you all of the tools to disassemble the nWoD and refashion it in the image that best suited your gaming group. It gave a wide variety of genres, new rules and some alternative character creation rules. 'Bleeding Edge' represents one of the chapters that didn't make it into this book, and the modular format of these extra chapters does represent good value. The reason I say this is that with any compilation of alternate settings and rules, your value will be determined by how much you actually use. In this way, you are able to select from the extra chapters what material you want to pay for.


That said, 'Bleeding Edge' is a remarkably ambitious piece of work. It seeks, in 23 pages, to cover the cyberpunk genre and integrate it into the WoD - no mean feat. Overall, it gives good background information about the genre (which I think all Shadowrun and Cyberpunk GMs should have to read) and sets the tone as to why this would be a good fit for White Wolf's setting.


It offers some additional backgrounds that are contextualised to this genre, none of which are game breaking and they all add their own machine-oil and chrome flavour to the game. The archetypes are well-presented and would be a great starting point for a new gamer, someone not familiar with the genre, or an ST looking for some good NPC starters.


However, where the product falls down is in what could have been included (but what not). Whilst cyberware does form an integral part of any cyberpunk setting, it is glossed over with minimal rules. The overall writing is very brief, as demanded by the breadth of scope and the space dedicated to making it happen. What I would have liked is a supplement about twice this size, where the author would be allowed to take their time and explore some of the concepts a bit more.


As a starting point, this is very good. It sets the tone and provides enough of the basic tools that an enterprising Storyteller could fill in all of the white space and make a really good game. And that is the caveat here - pick it up certainly (and you'll enjoy it), but expect to be doing some additional work to make this a viable additional to your game.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Mirrors: Bleeding Edge
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