(Originally published at http://screenmonkey.blog.com/?p=21)This is the digital version of the upcoming beginner box set for Shadowrun, 5th Edition and the Runners Toolkit: Alphaware set. Included with the purchase was a coupon set good for $5 off a physical copy of the Beginners Set, $10 of the Runners Toolkit: Alphaware or $20 off both as a preorder from Battlecorps, the Catalyst web store. So if you are planning on getting both sets you can basically consider this to be a somewhat free preview.
Except for the dice, these two box sets contain everything you should be getting in the boxed sets. The Beginner Box includes The Edge of Now, an excerpt from the 'Life in the Sixth World' chapter from the core book, fronted by a new piece of short fiction. It also contains the already freely available quick start rules and five complete sample characters, as well as an excerpt from an upcoming Shadowrun novel, Fire and Frost. The last piece of content is the booklet for Ms Myth, one of the sample characters. It contains basic information on how to run the Troll Face, how she would normally react, what's important to her, and how she would normally do her job. For someone new to Shadowrun this last part might be the most valuable thing in the box. Anyone can figure out how to run a combat specialist or mage based on previous experience with RPG's, but running a face might be a little difficult to get a handle on right at the beginning. The booklet is partially player resource, part GM, as it also includes the bones of a solo run geared towards the characters particular skill set. In this case, it's a basic extraction, something else a lot of people are not going to have experience with outside of Shadowrun. The solo run is incredibly basic and shouldn't take more than a couple of hours to run, but can be a good basic intro to the basics of Shadowrun.
The second part of the toolkit is the Alphaware section. This includes regular character sheets for all five sample characters from the basic box as well as four more booklets with everything that was in the Ms Myth booklet from the basic set, including the sample beginning runs customized to each character. In general, each framework puts the individual characters through the paces of their chosen archetype, including such tests as repairing drones for the Rigger, Hacking for the Decker and of course some combat for the Street Samurai.
There is also a map of the sixth world version of North American and a poster, A GM screen insert with some useful tables and summaries of the sample characters, as well as two other Booklets. These are the Rules of the Streets and Plots and Paydata.
The Map is useful to show newer players how the world is divided up at this point, although it could have benefited from being color coded to allow an easier time of explaining the political boundaries. The GM screen is really just two pages, one the character summery (something I plan to steal for my own games) and a page of tables from the core rulebook. These tables are the Ranged and Melee combat modifiers, including visibility and defense modifiers, Perception tests and basic testing thresholds. Also included are a list of the most common actions and spellcasting summary and a combat turn summary. In all, it's a useful item, but I hope the full GM screen is a little more thorough (I know it's already out, but I don't have a copy yet).
The Rules of the Street booklet is the one I was most looking forward to, and the main reason I'm thinking of picking up a physical copy of the box sets. It condenses all the info from the core book down to a 90 page booklet. It removes character creation, fiction and a lot of details about the setting, but has all the core rules laid out in an easy to reference fashion. It even includes a full gear section, something that many booklets of this type neglect. Since one of the parts of character creation that always takes the longest is gearing up, it would be nice to have a second copy of this part of the core book at the table. I'll probably still bring my core book to the table, but this will be what I actually reference.
The next item in the box is the Plots and Paydata booklet for GM's. This includes advice for game mastering Shadowrun and six different adventures fleshed out to show the basic concepts and run types the characters will normally face, from combat and surveillance to infiltration and extraction. These are all fairly basic and should be able to be run in a single session, but can easily be beefed up to run over several sessions. The booklet also includes NPC's and descriptions of the maps that are also part of the set.
Speaking of maps, these are fairly detailed single page maps that have both GM and non-GM versions of each of the eight maps. Some of these are reprinted from Sprawl Sites: North America, but others are new to me (or are in a book I never got, which is quite possible)Nothing really remarkable, but they make good generic maps and play aids. The included maps from sprawl sites are Low Income Tenement Housing, Train Station, Barrens Block, and Gambling Den, with the ones I haven't seen being Luxury Hotel, Dowd Street, Parkview Advance Research Complex and Kondorchid Facility
The last real piece of the box, and the one I am most disappointed in, was the cards. There are 110 individual cards in the box set, but several repeats. The spells are nice to have, as long as you already know what they do, as they only include Type, range, damage, duration and drain. There are basic descriptions of each spell, but the full game rules normally wouldn't have taken much more space. You get two of each spell card, of which there are 16. As far as weapons, there are 19, three of which are the Ares Predator V. Two of the weapon cards, the sword and Browning Ultra Power are also day-glow yellow, although I think this was an error, hopefully one that will be corrected before final printing. There are four firearm accessory cards, 9 armor card (3 each of the lined coat and armor jacket) and one armor mod, 6 Commlinks (Including a double of the Renraku Sensei). There are also 4 decks (nice to see pictures of these),12 programs (I'd like to see a complete deck of these actually, as they are one thing that can be switched around a lot on a run), 2 drones the Rotodrone again being that hideous day-glow yellow, 4 vehicles, again with the bulldog van being day-glow. There are also 7 other pieces of common equipment, including slap patches, goggles and ear buds. The med kit is once again day-glow. The last ten cards are cyberware, including arms, legs eyes and ears with various mods loaded to them. These ones I really think are hard because they are so individual, but they did a nice job of giving the standard options a lot of people choose.
Overall, I liked the presentation of most of the box sets, and will probably use my coupon for Alphaware at least, although I might spring for both. The low spot was the cards included, So I will probably make my own rather than use the provided ones, but the starter characters and the rules summary books I think are a really good value for someone trying to get their friends to play.
[4 of 5 Stars!]