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Shadowrun: Tales from the UCAS: Age of Rust
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Sean H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/28/2020 12:07:41

Shadowrun: Tales from the UCAS: Age of Rust is a missed opportunity, a sourcebook for the Omaha, Nebraska, region which is undergoing a period of unique instability and change making it a potential hotspot for the sort of work Shadowrunners do. Unfortunately, it fails in providing anything beyond the most basic plot hooks and minimal background material.

Shadowrun: Tales from the UCAS: Age of Rust, is location/adventure resource for Shadowrun, Sixth World Edition, expanding on the situation in part of the UCAS and providing adventure hooks.

It begins with an introductory piece laying out what the situation is in Omaha, Nebraska, where due to border shifts and changes in the UCAS, NORAD has withdrawn from the Offutt air force base here (where it apparently relocated after the creation of the NAN) leaving a massive economic and political hole in the local area. But with instability comes opportunity for some and that is what this work tries to present.

The next seven pages (almost half of the product) are game world artifacts, conversations, reports and such like talking about the situation in Omaha followed by two pages of in-setting analysis from commentators. While a fun way to present data, this could have been condensed a bit more to provide more room for other material.

Next we have some information on the city of Omaha itself, which is only two and a half pages and somehow fails to mention organized crime or notable fixers, both things that visitors from the wrong side (i.e., shadowrunners) might want to know something about. Nor does it mention the local Henry Doorly Zoo, sport teams, universities or a host of other cultural things that might be of interest.

The next section is on looting NORAD, while I entirely approve of base crawls as a style of adventure there is not much here to help out a GM. It suggests that weapons (naming AK-97s as a potential find, a Russian made weapon, really?) and ammo might be found and what magical assensing can show at the only three locations it names on the base. In fact it only devotes a page and a half, and almost a page of that is what they can find assensing, to what could be really interesting exploration mini-campaign. A huge missed opportunity.

Lastly there is a new vehicle and a half explanation of one of the strange events which refers the reader to a PDF only sourcebook for a previous edition! As the last page was only half used, they could have as least explained it in broad strokes.

While an interesting read it is simply not very usable as is, there are plot hooks but no useful support is for them and one, I quote “More information about what Buzzard Transit is up to will come in future books” which essentially says, do not use Buzzard for anything but background because otherwise we will contradict you in a future published supplement. No maps, and it needed at least three: one for Omaha, one of the local area (to show NAN encroachment) and one for the base. No index either but that is at tolerable for such a short work.

Note: Read more reviews and other gaming articles at my journal https://seaofstarsrpg.wordpress.com/



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Tales from the UCAS: Age of Rust
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The Pike Pole
Publisher: Inferential Studios
by Sean H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/21/2020 15:09:51

The Pike Pole, a nautical themed weapon, presents just that. it gives a brief history of this sort of weapon and how they have been used along with ideas for a how a character could have learned to use one.

Several variations on the pike pole, both mundane and magical, are included each with its own illustration.  As are rules for trip and disarm attacks using the weapon.  All well and good except it is a tool turned into a weapon that is just better on all levels than weapons made as weapons.

As listed, it does not have the heavy or two-handed properties yet has reach and does a 1d10 damage for 5 lbs of weight and 1 gold (or 5 gold if you want the improved one that gives you a small bonuses with the maneuvers).  It is a spear with a hook, it should do spear damage (1d8) and have both the heavy and two-handed properties to bring it in line with other pole arms (and the trip and disarm should be added to other weapons as well, if you are giving out those maneuvers).

A good idea and excellent presentation of the weapon, but it just too good mechanically.  However, that is easily fixed.

Note: Read more reviews and other gaming articles at my journal https://seaofstarsrpg.wordpress.com/



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Pike Pole
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School of Awakening
Publisher: Dungeon Masters Guild
by Sean H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/21/2020 14:41:37

Wizard School of Awakening: How to Make Friends presents a new arcane traditions for wizards one that specializes in imparting magic life to objects, awakening them as it were.

The mechanics are quite fun, allowing the wizard to create two "thoughtlings" (awakened objects) at 2nd level and then more as they gain levels, to a maximum of five, each has its own personality (of a list of tweleve ranging from haughty to silly) which gives it or its creator access to special abilities.  As the wizard grows in power they can awaken larger objects and magic ones as well, eventually gaining the ability to build a magical "homestead" which will maintain animate objects at the wizard's home.

There is a lot of potential for fun and interesting interactions between the awakened object and the wizard, and other people too, but there are some questions.  Can the awakened objects speak for example?  Or how does an awakened shield move?  Why does a large awakened object only have 3 more hit points than a tiny one?  Why do they inflict force damage when they attack?  A little more attention should have been paid to such questions.

From a Dungeon Master's perspective, some advice of how to cope with someone who know has a character plus at least two awakened object (and maybe a familiar too).  That could easily double the party size!  Also several of the ability granted by the awakened objects personalities (kind and lazy especially) could cause some balance issue as they strike me as subtly powerful.

Overall, a very fun and inventive class, one that would be very well suited to a solo campaign.  A DM will have to weight if they will fit into their campaign and how to balance them if they do.  But, mostly, a job well done here.

Note: Read more reviews and other gaming articles at my journal https://seaofstarsrpg.wordpress.com/



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
School of Awakening
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Creator Reply:
You bring up a lot of excellent points and ideas! Thank you loads for your feedback, I'll see how I can address these questions and issues when I revisit the class in the near future! I'll see if I can clear some of these up soon in the FAQ, though some may take me some more time to get around to. Again, thank you very much for taking the time to not only read but review the School of Awakening : ).
Shadowrun: Firing Squad (Core Combat Rulebook)
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Sean H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/13/2020 21:51:19

Shadowrun: Firing Squad is the first sourcebook for the Sixth World Edition of Shadowrun covering combat, always an important part of the game. The new equipment, combat options and advice widely expand the tactical choices and the discussions of the role of violence and its place in the world and characters’ lives allow for interesting roleplaying if that is your focus. A must have for any Shadowrun GM and any player who enjoy combat focused characters.

Shadowrun: Firing Squad, is the Core Combat Book for Shadowrun, Sixth World Edition, expanding on the combat side of the game through new gear and new rules and options. Pretty much everything a street samurai could need.

It begins with a short introduction laying out what is in the book, then we have one of the ubiquitous fiction sections, before we find the Weapons Rack section, more new toys for the violently inclined ranging from new melee weapons to guns of all sizes to crowd control water cannons. More options are always good and there is something for just about everyone, lethal, less lethal, probably non-lethal, big, small, it is all here. There are also new ammo types (two) and gear mods (though more of those later). Even a combat chainsaw (from the Ash Arms)! It does fill in some needed gabs, like a portable flame thrower but has some strangeness, such as why the ‘Xiphos’ Tactical Gladius, which is literally modeled on the classic Roman short sword, is an exotic weapon? The second part of the weapons rack section is new weaponry from rEVOlution Arms, weapon designed by Monads (if you have not been following the metaplot, human bodies and brains inhabited by AI) which all use the wild die, which has not seen much use in the game until now, and include wacky things like laser weaponry, PULSE stunners, and more. I have serious game balance questions about some of them (PULSE stunner I am looking at you) but they mostly seem like interesting bleeding edge technology to add to the game.

Suit Up comes next, which is defense to the previous section’s offense, it also introduces a “social rating” for clothes and armor that affects edge gain in social situations (surprise!). So you get everything from Ares customized ‘Bug Stomper’ armor and Mil-Spec armor to high fashion from Armante and Vashion Island. There are also a wide variety of possible modification to armor, some of which are extremely effective and will be highly sought after including one (“mystic weave”) which actually provides some protection against magic!

Customizing Weapons follows which is a section about . . . customizing weapons. Long, short, heavy, light, guns, melee, guns that are melee weapons, it is all here, get the precise weapon you want. My favorite has to be custom style which lets you get a social bonus from a properly decorated gun!

Honing Your Edge provides advice on planning for combat and basic tactics. Much of this is in character, in game world discussion which makes it more interesting. But there are also rules for tactical formations and tactical networks to give mechanical effect to the applied tactics. This is followed by Sharp Combat which includes 32(!) new Edge Actions and two new Edge Boosts. This seems like a lot of Edge Actions, because it is, but it includes all of the sorts of special maneuvers that were separate actions in previous editions, wrapping them all into Edge Actions makes sense. Play will see if tracking all the Edge Actions becomes unwieldy and if they are all relatively balanced. This section ends with Martial Arts, giving players more things to spend their precious karma on in exchange for additional options in combat. The new form of martial arts developed in the Sixth World is easily my favorite part of this section.

These Violent Delights looks at the use of violence as a tool, especially for people such as shadowrunners, both in a moral and practical context, this discussion is again almost all in world. Then it looks at some of the codes of honor existing in the Sixth World, adds a new negative quality of Pacifism and has some additional tweaks to the heat and reputation rules.

Violent Ends looks at the trauma receiving and inflicting violence can cause to people both from an in world perspective and gives mechanical rules for suffering and recovering from trauma. While I appreciate the concept and the deeper understanding of the problems of violence, actually using such rules to inflict trauma on characters seems likely to make players unhappy, so I would suggest discussing it with them before using these rules.

The last section is Fighting Forces which provide statistics for various security forces, paramilitaries (read Humanis) and gangs. Especially for the security forces I would have liked a little more information about standard unit size, expected deployments and, although basic tactics are mentioned, I would have liked that expended on as well.

The book concludes with tables of new equipment, which is nice but would be better if: 1) it incorporated the weapons from the core book, and 2) if the rEVOlution Arms listing included what sort of weapons they are as the alphabetical listing of names is not always clear. The armor list does include the armor from the core book to include the new social rating. As is sadly usual, there is no index.

Note: Read more reviews and other gaming articles at my journal https://seaofstarsrpg.wordpress.com/



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Firing Squad (Core Combat Rulebook)
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Shadowrun: 30 Nights (Campaign Book)
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Sean H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/25/2020 08:37:24

Shadowrun: 30 Nights is a Campaign Book for Shadowrun detailing Ottawa and setting 30 “Nights” worth of adventurers there. There is some good information and some interesting adventures, some of which can be adapted to other situations, but not a required book unless you want to play in Ottawa or need ideas for adventures set during the Blackout part of the metaplot.

Shadowrun: 30 Nights, is a Campaign Book for Shadowrun, Sixth World Edition, letting players experience the UCAS blackouts (as discussed in Shadowrun: Cutting Black) directly.

It begins with an introduction with describes the terrible things that happened in the 1977 New York Blackout and leads into a brief discussion of the layout of the nights/ adventures. Then there is one of the required fiction pieces. Next we get a description of Ottawa, UCAS, it is short (twelve pages) but useful including such things as talismongers and weird mana zones within the city but it is lacking a map of the city, which would be exceedingly helpful as places are continually referenced in the city description and the adventures that follow.

The meat of the book is the 30 Nights, each one a situation that must be coped with, overcome or avoided. The nights are divided into several chains of linked sequences if the GM wants to focus on particular themes.

The adventures are varied, starting with building up a safe haven followed by traditional shadowrunner missions, some mysteries, some magical threats, a mixed bag. Most are more adventure frameworks than full adventures requiring considerable work from the GM to make playable. Many of them look fun but a few have real issues. One of these is a mystery where you are trying to learn about a sinister group performing rituals, there are three points where to move to the next stage one particular clue need to be found and that right leap must be made to move forward, and two of those require getting information from people who are likely to be uncooperative if not hostile. This is poor design. Another in a jail break from a Lone Star containment facility that is covered in less than three pages and has no map (in fact, nothing has a map).

Also, there is some issue with the framing of the whole Blackout/30 Nights, it is predicated on something all mysterious knocking out all the functioning tech in multiple cities across the UCAS. So, for the entire adventure period, there is no way to reliably access the Matrix, no power, no vehicles, the GM is reminded not to screw over decker and rigger characters with this by directly trashing their stuff but they are still crippled as characters. There is a little discussion of this in the first few nights but not much about practical things such as how do you network with your contacts without the Matrix (no phone, no text) and no working vehicles?

There are a great number of NPCs, both named and generic, given stats in the back of the book along with a new creature and many new creature powers. Weirdly, there is an index to the NPCs right after the NPC section which is alphabetical, exactly as they are organized just a few pages before. Now, if this also noted which Nights the NPCs showed up in, this might actually be useful however, it does not and just seems like repetition (and, no, there is no other index).

There is fun to be had here but the GM should not be expecting to be able to pick the book up and use adventures, additional work will be needed. The GM should also make sure this kind of semi-apocalypse setting is what the players are interested in, as it is Shadowrun but maybe not the play experience everyone is looking for.

Note: Read more reviews and other gaming articles at my journal https://seaofstarsrpg.wordpress.com/



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: 30 Nights (Campaign Book)
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Shadowrun: Cutting Black (Plot Sourcebook)
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Sean H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/09/2020 14:14:57

Shadowrun: Cutting Black is a sourcebook for Shadowrun and lets you know how and where the metaplot is going with the Sixth World edition of the setting. It is mostly written in an engaging “what is happening?” style gathering fragmented information and shaping it into something coherent. It is almost all primary “in world” data with no authorial analysis, so you only get to see what the people involved can see with no explanations or looks behind the curtain. If you like that sort of sourcebook, it is a fun ride. I have some issues (placed at the end of the review to avoid spoilers) but I found it an engaging read.

Shadowrun: Cutting Black, is a Plot Sourcebook for Shadowrun, Sixth World Edition, this particular book provides an overview of what changed in the world as the editions rolled from 5th to 6th. Spoilers ahead so stop reading the review here if you want to experience them first hand

The material in this product is presented as an in game artefact of information, which is interesting, if disjointed, presented with information scattered and covering weeks of actual time as it was reported on the shadow boards. The information gathered from fragmentary news reports, first hand data being broadcast and other scraps of data that could be dug up.

Following an introduction, laying out the theme of the book, as is traditional, there is one of the ubiquitous fiction sections and then another, shorter one, leading into Ruptured Detroit. Long story short, Damien Knight and Ares brought all the toys to stomp a massive bug hive under Detroit and it did not go so well. Ares losses were huge, Knight is gone and Detroit turned into a battle ground between bugs and people and mixes of the two. This event is the catalyst for the rest of the events that follow.

Next section, Ghost Army, the UCAS mobilizes and sends a major force to intervene in Detroit and it just vanished. Roughly one hundred thousand soldiers and their equipment (and the area they were passing through) just gone. No explanation given but some very evocative stories from investigating where the army vanished from.

Next section, Blackout, which details the UCAS Government’s response, including abridging the Business Recognition Accords that gives the megacorporations such power. Then cities start going dark, all power and technological systems failing, the cause: unknown. But it causes havoc throughout the UCAS and only the UCAS.

A long fiction section leads to UchrASh which details further bad things happening to the UCAS, invasions from Quebec and some of the NAN states, which are not very successful by cause more troubles. Chaos erupting among the political classes in DeeCee and drumroll please St. Louis and Seattle breaking away from the UCAS to become free(ish) cities.

Detroit Now looks at what the current state of play is in Detroit, who has power, what kinds of opportunities are there to make money and what survived the bugs and the bombs. A great resource for Detroit after the disaster.

Next Atlanta, somewhere outside the UCAS!, gets an update in Atlanta Now! A short section bringing Atlanta up to date and its new status as the home to Ares Macrotechnology. But nice to see the CAS getting some time.

As the Dust Settles looks at some events outside of the UCAS even: the fall of the UK’s New Druidic Movement government and what replaced it, problems in the NAN and Quebec, and a little more.

The last page of the book is the only new game information with Sixth World stats for insect spirits. However, without support material, they are not very useful in and of themselves. No index.

Cutting Black is an interesting read but the lack of actual, well, information on what is happening (rather than just the in-game perspective on it) is deeply frustrating for a GM. Yes, it is a new edition, the Game Designers want to shake things up and tease new secrets to reveal later. I get it. But it makes it far less useful as a resource than it could be. Worse, from the perspective of me as a GM and my Shadowrun game (and I suspect for other long running SR campaigns), it makes a set of big, setting changing moves in the Metaplot . . . that cut across how my Shadowrun campaign has been developing the setting. I have a deep and abiding hatred of major changes made to the setting without involving the people who actually play and GM the game. And the changes here are significant enough that I either have to totally change my campaign or part ways with the new metaplot. As the new metaplot as presented in the book is rife with major actors taking stupid pills, unexplained choices, continued privileging of magic and dragons over megacorporations and technology and other sheer absurdities, I know which I am path I am following. So, while this book was an interesting read, it has almost no use to me as a Shadowrun sourcebook.

Note: Read more reviews and other gaming articles at my journal https://seaofstarsrpg.wordpress.com/



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Cutting Black (Plot Sourcebook)
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Shadowrun: No Future (A Cyberpunk Sourcebook)
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Sean H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/02/2019 22:20:49

Shadowrun: No Future is a sourcebook for Shadowrun and lets you know what the media landscape is like in the Sixth World of Shadowrun. It casts a wide net covering music, popular entertainment, news, sports and more. If you like this level of world building, this is the book for you, for others, there is general information on the world and run ideas but perhaps not enough to make this a required purchase.

Shadowrun: No Future, is a CyberPunk Sourcebook for Shadowrun, this particular book provides an overview of where culture is in the Sixth World, ranging from music to sports, media to fashion. The limited amount of game mechanics for the version I reviewed were for Shadowrun, 5th edition, but the cultural information is edition independent.

Following an introduction, laying out the theme of the book, as is traditional, there is one of the ubiquitous fiction sections, then begins Look Forward in Anger which looks at the power of the media to shape perception in the Sixth World and how the corporations use that to maintain their grip on the world. Each of the major megacorporations gets a short write-up of how they deploy their media power and how its works. And maybe, just maybe, how you can fight back.

Blitzkrieg Bops looks into the music scene of 2080, new music genres, who are the current stars and what happened to some of the old ones. It also looks at venues, up and coming acts from all around the world and some notes on sythlinks. It ends with a section on making music with rules for playing a rocker and making music (or other art), both live and recorded, unfortunately, the rules are essentially unusable with parts verging on incomprehensibility.

Creation Starts With Darkness covers what is being broadcast (streamed, whatever) that makes it way as part of the public perception of the world. Initially focusing on popular shows with considerable discussion of how they portray the world around them. There is a surprising amount of potential plot and adventure fodder here and that is just the show! There are also discussions about geographical hubs of activity (all North American sadly), media corporations and some of the people who hire Shadowrunners in the mediasphere. Also much flavor in the form of series guides, broadcast schedules and more. There is a page, just a page, on pornography in the Sixth World, which just skims the surface of the subject but is no less amusing for its brevity.

Next, after some fiction, is Leading & Bleeding about the news media in 2080 which is entirely corporate controlled and follows the corporate line almost all the time. A description of the corporate playbook for media control follows along with the major corporate players. Next there are the organizations fighting back against the sterilized and manipulated news. There are implied plot hooks here but they are not as frequent, clear or fun as in the previous one.

The Thrill & Agonies delves into sports, mostly professional, and the place they have in defining communities. Several “future” sports are included such as Combat Biking and Urban Brawl and information on how all of the sport have adapted to cybernetics, magic and metahumanity. This is all great background material but a little light on the adventure potential though the suggestions on fallen athletes becoming Shadowrunners, and the pitfalls thereof, has potential both for player characters and NPCs, Logos or at least colors for the new sports teams would have helped to flesh out this section and made it more useful, at least from my point of view.

We Suck Young Blood is about cool hunters, influencers and how the corporations aim to make some money off of them (and you). This implies certain sorts of missions and games and some of the corporate players are mentioned but it is not properly expanded on and there is no real guidance to how to incorporate these ideas or corporate groups into a run or campaign. Which is a shame as there are some interesting thoughts here.

Lastly, there are new toys: musical, cybernetic, fashions, weapons (of course), printing presses and other exotica. Fun as usual but nothing particularly game breaking but certainly good thematic support.

While the entire product does not match the superb chapters on music and media, it is an amazingly useful resource for making the Sixth World feel like a real place for the characters (and their players). However, if emphasizing that side of the game world is your jam, get this right away.

Note: Read more reviews and other gaming articles at my journal https://seaofstarsrpg.wordpress.com/



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: No Future (A Cyberpunk Sourcebook)
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Shadowrun: The Neo-Anarchist Streetpedia
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Sean H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/10/2019 15:26:05

Shadowrun: The Neo-Anarchist Streetpedia is a sourcebook for Shadowrun and lets you know a little bit about a lot of things in the Sixth World of Shadowrun. It is edition agnostic, making it a useful book no matter which edition of Shadowrun you play though timelinewise it is set at the start of the new Sixth World Edition (2080), so some of it could be spoilers for games set earlier in the timeline. It is a fun read and a good way to provide an in-game look at the world to players but by no means a required book.

Shadowrun: The Neo-Anarchist Streetpedia, is a Deep Shadows Sourcebook for Shadowrun, this particular book provides an overview of just about everything important in the Sixth World, from a NeoAnarchist perspective of course.

As is traditional, the book begins with one of the ubiquitous fiction sections, then moves into From the Ashes, Neo-Anarchism, which explains the background to and current state of the Neo-Anarchism movement in the world of Shadowrun.

Then, the meat of the product, the data here is organized alphabetically, with some exceptions, such as famous AI (Artificial Intelligences) being tucked inside the AI definition. But the information is apportioned haphazardously, as you would expect from something that is presented as being crowd-sourced, which is often annoying at least to this reviewer. Nations often get short shrift, this is especially annoying for countries that have never appeared in sourcebooks or whose last appearance was more than a decade ago, to only get a paragraph light on details and high on snark (and some nations, like the Scandinavian Union, do not even get that).

There is also a missing referenced entry, Omnistar references that it is a combine of DocWagon, Lone Star Security and Manadyne and to refer to the individual entries . . . but there is not one for Manadyne. Very unfortunate.

But for all of these flaws, it is still a useful and interesting resource, giving the “state of play” at the beginning of 2080 and the Sixth World edition.

Note: Read more reviews and other gaming articles at my journal https://seaofstarsrpg.wordpress.com/



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: The Neo-Anarchist Streetpedia
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Shadowrun: Better Than Bad (Deep Shadows)
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Sean H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/23/2019 19:07:12

Shadowrun: Better than Bad is a sourcebook for Shadowrun and provides support for characters “hooding” or helping the little guy. As that is a campaign style that has not seen much support for this edition, I was pleased to see this book as it is a style I like to see. If you are interest in that style of pay, or Azania which also gets explored in this product, it is a worthwhile purchase but probably not a priority.

Shadowrun: Better than Bad, is a Deep Shadows Sourcebook for the 5th edition of Shadowrun, this particular book covers the idea that Shadowrunners can actually do good in the Sixth World and not just be corporate stooges along with a visit to Azania (formerly South Africa).

The book begins with one of the ubiquitous fiction sections, then moves into A Light in the Darkness, talking about “Hooding” doing good for the community and striking against the powerful, named after Robin Hood (of course). Various of the organizations that oppose the corps are covered ranging from self-help groups to full on terrorist organizations, something for everyone and a bit more. It also includes a pitch to fight the power, rock on Opti (aka Old Crow, active NeoAnarchist and host of the NeoAnarchist podcast).

Another fiction section leads into It’s All About Power, which are a bunch on in world pitches for hooding jobs across the globe from Atlanta to Mumbai, these serve as nice adventure seeds as well as giving information about what is happening across the Sixth World. A useful section is “Turning a Profit without Charging Money” which talks about the rewards for doing good beside money. It then turns to looking at some of the organizations and networks, such as the Draco Foundation and the New Underground Railroad, who are trying to do good work. A discussion of getting hired for this kind of job, for whom the contact is generically referred to as “Ms Smith” (as opposed to the corporate Mr Johnson) and how working with such non-professional tends to go very differently from the usual run along with some example run ideas and a set of random tables for generating more (though one of the tables is missing a result line).

Next we move onto the location-based section of the product, welcome to Azania (formerly South Africa) and specifically the Pretoria-Witwatersrand-Vaal Metroplex. If one wants to run some adventures in Azania, this will give you the information to do so including places to visit, what the Megacorps are up to (short but let you know what area is controlled by each, making it easy to link them to run), the political situation (more fodder for runs), and notes on likely opposition from the security forces and criminal elements. There are some new para-animals including dangerous paratypes of rabbits! The way SINs work are slightly different here with the addition of color codes and that is detailed along with the problems having the wrong codes can cause.

Jacaranda Citizens presents fifteen NPCs, mostly who operate at Hooders in the PWV sprawl, many of whom could be employers or allies, with one or two targets or enemies. I would have liked to have seen more adventure hooks and fewer stats (about five pages are consumed with stat blocks). The section ends with two new qualities, one positive and one negative, and a new mentor spirit that has the worst mechanical downside of any mentor spirit, a real, what were they thinking moment, as it has the potential to trigger “you cannot play this character is this adventure.” Bad design choice.

Being Less Bad looks at the nuts and bolts of being a hooder, from an in game perspective, and gives a lot of general adventure ideas in the process. Solid section and a good read.

Building a Hooder is where all the new toys are, the “grey tech” items which provide protection from magic (but are not recommended for magically active characters) and includes a drug (“blight”) that really messes up magically active beings. There are two new spells, two new adept powers, eleven (more) new qualities: seven positive, two masteries, and two negative. New Life Path modules for characters from the Azanian Confederation are provided. It concludes with some new rules with more uses for karma and street cred.

The book ends with tables to generate Hooding runs which are useful for inspiration as well but sadly, no index.

Overall, a useful book though I remain not entirely sold on the sourcebook/location book combo. I am all for encouraging less violent and more help the people style of play, part of any cyberpunk setting should be the focus on the do it yourself, build a community aspect of punk part of the name. So, I entirely approve of seeing that focused on here.

Note: Read more reviews and other gaming articles at my journal https://seaofstarsrpg.wordpress.com/



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Better Than Bad (Deep Shadows)
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Shadowrun: Kill Code (Advanced Matrix Rules)
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Sean H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/21/2019 21:32:34

Shadowrun: Kill Code is a sourcebook for Shadowrun and providing a useful (and clearer?) overview of the Matrix and how the rules system for it works, with general technological tools more options for technomancers and more information on the state of the Matrix. However to get best use from Kill Code you will need at least the earlier sourcebook Data Trails and several other source books. Unless you are running a Matrix, and especially Technomancer, focused game, this sourcebook is not a priority.

Shadowrun: Kill Code, is the Advance Matrix Rule book for the 5th edition of Shadowrun, this particular book expands ways to interact with and explore the Matrix for hackers, technomancers and others. As well as providing new tools and troubles for all involved in Matrix work.

The book begins with one of the ubiquitous fiction sections, then moves into a section titled “So you want to be a hacker?” which begins with a brief (in world) description of the history and current state of the Matrix, the global computer network. Followed by the Manual of the Matrix which redefines the Matrix for game play, referring back to the main rule book with page numbers and everything. Followed by How to Hack 101, which walks through the basic rules systems used for Matrix hacking. Not a good sign when you have to spend sixteen pages of a supplement to explain how the rules in the core book are suppose to work, but nice to have it clearly laid out. Then there is one new rule (reckless hacking) and a section of eleven new matrix actions, including the delightful named Squelch (which stops communications) and Subvert Infrastructure, which cover many of the things hackers need to do as shadowrunners. The Gamemaster’s Grimoire of the Matrix comes next and gives some advice for GM (naturally) on how to present and use the Matrix in play, including a nice chart for Matrix runs and advice on how the different types of hosts work and how to use them. It also answers the big question of the Matrix changeover of 2075 and what the Foundation of the new Matrix is. This is both welcome and surprising at Catalyst has a long tradition of hiding the vital “secrets of the world” in their novels and never explicitly explaining them in their source books. So, well-done Catalyst and please continue including vital setting information in the RPG source books.

Next we have Dips & Chips which includes new gear for hackers, technomancers and non-Matrix types, things for runners and tools for the corporations. There is a lot to digest here and GM will probably want to introduce part of the new runner oriented gear slowly so as not to totally upset the balance of a campaign. But lots of fun things here to provide advantage for, and against, hackers and technomancers ranging from weaponized spam to new decks and the corporations even get three new types of IC (rah?).

Disc Jockeys & Lightstream Riders provides new positive (four) and negative qualities (nineteen!) for hackers, though the writeup on a few (such as Echo Chamber) are not as clear as they should be. A set of life modules, for that variant character generation system, for hackers and technomancers are also provided.

Data Streams follow another fiction section and provides paths for technomancers to follow: Sourcerers, Technoshamans, Machinists and CyberAdepts, each emphasizing a different aspect of the technomancer abilities and each gaining access to a unique complex form; these function in a similar manner to traditions for spell casters gaining advantages, the most game changing is the technoshaman being able to summon great form sprites which have very powerful abilities.

In the Flow adds eleven complex forms for technomancers, new positive (fourteen, seven of which can be taken by non-technomancers and one that can only be taken by non-technomancers) and negative (eleven, six of which can be taken by non-technomancers) qualities, two new sprites (companion and generalist), three new sprite powers, seven new optional sprite powers, and seven new echoes. Paragons allow for a mentor spirit like relationship for technomancers following by following the ideals of various Matrix-based paragons who aid in certain tasks and hinder others but allegiance to the Paragons in a fairly fluid thing and can be gained, lost and switched with comparative ease.

A Million Icon Bloom gives information on technomancer tribes, which are societies of technomancers (and, occasionally, others) who aid each other especially for submersion and advancement. Pretty much what you would expect with some useful bits about how to interact with these tribes for non-technomancers.

Diving Under gives some advice for those having to fight technomancers. This is an odd section, part advice and part commentary but almost entirely devoid of in game commentary. I would have liked to have seen more here especially a discussion of how corporations work to “technomancer-proof” their operations.

Infinite Realms details a few of the weird “resonance realms” that exist in the far corners of the Matrix and can be visited by technomancers. Interesting but of limited use unless you are playing a technomancer focused games. Reversing the Current look at those technomancers who have embraced the “dissonance,” the other aspect of the technomancer’s understanding of the Matrix. Three paths for dissonance users are provided each with their own tricks and abilities.

Null Signs brings us back to the Null Sect, first mentioned in Dark Terrors, which is a Matrix based and created set of being that seek to purge the Matrix of all beings and things with ties to the physical realm. An interesting idea but not sure what can be done with it in play and a lot of effort is spent spinning them into a major threat though to what end I am unsure.

Into the Wild talks about the “wild matrix” the parts that are not overseen by corporation or governments or, sometimes, any structure at all. Not quite the same as resonance realms as these can be accessed by anyone willing to leave the safety of the regulated Matrix. It also talks about who would be interested in paying you to go there or pay for data brought back from the wild.

The final section is The Core of Consciousness which provides more information and variants on the technocritters, animals with technomantic powers, and technosapients, beings of the Matrix, both first seen in Howling Shadows. Some fun creatures here that can be used by or against runners. More information about the xenosapients of the Null Sect is also provided (including some GM only information).

Kill Code is a mixed bag, there is some good information, such as making the Matrix rules a bit clearer but this should have been published as a free PDF for all players of Shadowrun (perhaps with the addition of a flowchart) as it is one of the more confusing subsystems in the rules. But it follows the trend of making magic, in this case technomancy, always ultimately much more powerful than what technology can provide hackers with. For some reason, I find that annoying as no one path should be objective the best when there are multiple paths. But overall a useful book for those campaigns that delve deeply into Matrix but primarily only for such campaigns.

Note: Read more reviews and other gaming articles at my journal https://seaofstarsrpg.wordpress.com/



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Kill Code (Advanced Matrix Rules)
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Gostor: Nymph (5e)
Publisher: First Ones Entertainment
by Sean H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/26/2018 14:33:41

Gostor - Nymphs: Minor Goddesses, a new race for D&D 5E, by Jean-Philipe ‘JP’ Chapleau provides exactly what it promises, the race of nymphs, nature spirits or the most minor of goddess, inspired by Greek Mythology in a playable form.

A short background of the place of nymphs is followed by the types of nymphs. A few paragraphs on using nymphs and four paragraph length adventure seeds

Nymphs, as presented here, have three playable subtypes: underworld, forest and waterway, while wild nymph and hags are noted for story reasons, and sky nymphs appear as monsters. They seem balanced though all, naturally, have some magical abilities.They are supported by two backgrounds, whose features need clearer definition of how they should be used, and one new feat, which really seems more aimed at NPC nymphs as it makes the character an ally of hags.

Two new "monsters" round out the product, sky nymphs (which oddly, cannot fly) and wild nymphs, both which have a very minimal descriptions outside their statblocks.

While this product achieves its aims, there is so much more it could have done. It only allows for female nymphs, for example, while males would have another name there is no reason for nature spirits to be confined to one sex. Some tables for suggested characteristics to go with the backgrounds and a magic item or two would have really solidified the usefulness of this product. As it is, it seems of more use to a DM than players, but even then it would have been nice to have had more support material.

3.5 rounded up to 4.

Note: Read more reviews and other gaming articles at my journal https://seaofstarsrpg.wordpress.com/



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Gostor: Nymph (5e)
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Worldbuilding Theory
Publisher: Dancing Lights Press
by Sean H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/29/2018 16:23:24

Interesting advice book for roleplaying games masters and, to a lesser extent, players and writers. It discusses on of the three pillars of a game world (the other two being characters and adventures) and it does this through a consider amount of repetition of the framework of how it is discussed, useful and self-reinforcing but a little tedious at times. It places the various parts of world building in context of genre of fantasy (dark, high and so on) and setting (contemporary, medieval and such). Useful advice to keep in mind, nothing groundbreaking but solid, useful advice.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Worldbuilding Theory
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Shadowrun: Street Lethal (Advanced Combat Rules)
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Sean H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/30/2018 16:51:11

Shadowrun: Street Lethal bills itself as the Advanced Combat Sourcebook for Shadowrun but it is not that, there are new toys, some crazy bleeding edge technology, and some excellent information on corporate security along with updates on mercenaries, pirates and militias in the Sixth World. But apart from one rule section with very narrow applicability, there is not really much to make it an “advanced combat sourcebook,” it is however a very useful sourcebook, especially for a Shadowrun GM, but it could have used a more accurate subtitle.

Shadowrun: Street Lethal, the Advanced Combat Sourcebook of the 5th edition of Shadowrun, while it does not actually add that much in the way of rules it provides new weaponry, for player characters and NPCs, information on how Corporation Security works, and studies the role of mercenaries, pirates and militia in the Sixth World.

The book begins with one of the ubiquitous fiction sections, then moves straight into new weapons, with a detour through the role of less lethal weapons and the current status of some of the major weapon producers. Normally the new toys are in the back, but here they are front and center ranging from various handguns and new melee weapons, for day to day use, to machine guns and grenade launchers with a variety of new less lethal options. Also, one modification for armor is provided so defense is not totally neglected. Some of the new weapons fill useful niches, other fun and a few silly, the new weapons from Krime! mostly being in the later category (a sledge hammer than fires shotgun shells?). Several charts collect all of the weapons from this section (and this section only) for quick reference.

The next section is Military and Future Weapons (or toys for the GM), mostly comprising interesting ongoing projects from the corps such as new planes (the Blood Hawk) from Aztechnology. But there is a twelve-page section supposedly on the tech being developed in a secret base in Africa which includes gravity manipulation technology . . . This is so out there and so game and world changing that I am surprised it was not just mentioned in a thowaway section rather than page after page of stat for things like anti-grav powered vehicles, gravity grenade (no, really) and gravity force fields. I just cannot see how this section is supposed to be used, not only is such tech tonally different from anything else in the game world and it is too big of a change to suddenly add to the setting. Sure, we have magic, but now we have technology that totally breaks the laws of physics too. Why? I cannot see how this makes the game world any more plausible or interesting, just more unreasonable. Equally, even if you decide to use this crazy tech in your game, how do you do so without turning into a whole different game? This tech is not cyberpunk, it is space opera. After that it settles down a bit to Ares working with memory-wiping technology (ala Men in Black), smart bullets and anti-magic armor. Then there are microwave, sonic, centrifugal force and genetic weapons, plasma shields, warframes and powered armor (which, for some reason, is just not allowed to exist in Shadowrun in a usable form), anti-dragon weaponry, comments on atomic weapons and new nanobot and matix weapon just to cover all the angles. Apart from the one odd section noted above, this part of the book is packed with inspiration for runs and problems to happen on runs making it quite useful for the GM.

Opposition Report: CorpSec may be the most useful section of the book from the GM’s perspective, and it is not bad for players either, it begins with discussion of both what CorpSec does and how they do it, discussing active and passive security and a whole range of interesting subjects to help the GM think about how to make things secure (and make runs interesting and challenging for the players). It moves on to how each of the Big Ten megacorps approach security with some supplemental information for smaller companies and specialized subgroups. This chapter is rounded out with CorpSec themed qualities, life path modules and yet more new toys. The weapons included here are not collected in a single page reference nor are they included in the one are the end of the first section.

Unconventional Warriors covers mercenaries, pirates(!) and militias of the Sixth World, starting with a brief overview of the International Mercenaries Association, the licensing organization for mercenaries who ensure a particular code of conduct and professionalism among its members and tries to clamp down on unlicensed mercenaries. A good organization to have around and it makes sense for the world. Several mercenary groups are covered, some of which have been reference before, some of which are new and two of which are outside of the IMA and definitely enemy groups. While this is good world background it is probably of limited usefulness in most campaigns. The pirate section covers both groups and locations which makes it easy to plot intersection with where your games take place, everyone needs a pirate themed game on occasion, right? The militias are organized armed groups with political agenda, not terrorists but they may work with such. Again, lots of good adventure ideas here and they go out of their way to show what sort of work runners could find with these groups. The section ends with new qualities, new life path modules and NPC stats than can be used for members from these various groups.

Lethal Arts New Techniques and Options is where the new rules are, building from the small unit tactics rules, this adds mixed unit tactics as a skill and a bunch of maneuvers that can be executed with it along with a set of new maneuvers for small unit tactics. These are pretty much the only rules introduced in the book and they are of marginal utility.

The book ends with a set of Adventure Seeds, which I approve of, and almost all of them hook into pieces of the book, also a good choice. A few needed a little more fleshing out, but still a good addition. What the book does not end with is an index or a compilation of the new qualities and life modules, which are split across two sections, as are the new weapons and equipment (setting aside the bleeding edge tech) making finding some things more difficult than needed. A chart of all the new weapons and separate ones integrating them into the existing equipment lists would be a useful PDF addition.

Street Lethal is an interesting resource providing new tools for the GM and players, but it lacks focus, covering a lot of ground in different directions. But, on the GM side, it is well worth it for the information on corporate security and new toys to dangle in front of the characters.

Note: Read more reviews and other gaming articles at my journal https://seaofstarsrpg.wordpress.com/



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Street Lethal (Advanced Combat Rules)
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Shadowrun: Shadows in Focus: Morocco
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Sean H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/18/2018 21:11:39

Shadows in Focus - Morocco is a location sourcebook for Shadowrun and provides useful information on Morocco and its environs that would be useful to the sorts of people who are Shadowrunners. It is the sort of book you need if you are going to run a game set in or around Morocco.

Shadows in Focus - Morocco is a location sourcebook for the 5th edition of Shadowrun, this particular book covers the shadow nexus of smugglers, corporations and nationalism that exist in the Morocco of the Sixth World.

Morocco is a gateway to the Mediterranean and Islamic worlds so it serves as a nexus of trade, legal and illegal, as well as a gatekeeper of the Gibraltar straights. In the Sixth World, it suffered heavily during EuroWar II which saw it invaded by European forces driving back the Islamic forces which had used it as a stepping stone to invade Spain. Morocco has rebuilt with heavy corporate aid making many see the government as a puppet of megacorporate interests. The truth is more complex with the Morocco government, corporations, traditional social groups and other factions all vying for power.

With smuggling, corporate power plays and corruption permeating the government, there is considerable work for career criminals such as Shadowrunners. But they have to play the game according to local rules if they want to go far which means keeping magic and cyberware out of sight as much as possible and not offending the Islamic faith when you can manage.

As far as mechanics go there are two new animals (the Atlas Bear and the Barbary Lion), five new Life Modules for that character generation system, and some suggestion on how to model the cultural dislike of cyberware.

Shadows in Focus - Morocco is an interesting resource providing enough information to set missions in Morocco as well as a variety of potential adventures (though some adventure seeds to really spark ideas would have been nice).

Note: Read more reviews and other gaming articles at my journal https://seaofstarsrpg.wordpress.com/



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Shadows in Focus: Morocco
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Shadowrun: Dark Terrors (Plot Sourcebook)
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Sean H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/16/2018 16:12:45

Shadowrun: Dark Terrors is a sourcebook for Shadowrun and provides a lot of information, a lot of interesting information on the dark corners of the Sixth World but not a lot of advice on how to use or incorporate that information into a campaign, especially an ongoing campaign. I enjoyed the read but, for me, there is almost nothing I can or would use in my ongoing street level campaign. I am not sure who the target audience for this book is, it seems like it should be a GM’s book but there is just not enough here to hang campaigns on, in many cases there is barely enough to hang an adventure or two off of. Equally, players can read it and be scared of the horrible things out there but there are not any tools to help you fight the terrors. So, ultimately, I am not sure what this book is for beyond pushing the metaplot(s) forward (especially on CFD) a little.

Shadowrun: Dark Terrors, is a Plot Sourcebook for the 5th edition of Shadowrun, this particular book covers a variety of dangers, threats and evils, primarily magical in nature that exist in the Sixth World.

The book begins with one of the ubiquitous fiction sections, then moves into The Heart of the Hive, which provides new information about the insect spirits. There is a fair amount of in-game story in this section that ultimately does not provide a lot of actionable (or adventurous) data, much is implied but very little is confirmed. And when dealing with a megacorp, it is nice to know what is going on. Game wise, there are many new types of insect spirits, a few of which prey on other insect spirits, along with rules for playing a free insect spirit which would be interesting but very dangerous (both from and to the other characters).

Marooned Spirits talks about the fate of the shedim, body possessing spirits, which were a major threat but since the gates to their place of origin have been closed they are less of a danger but still a danger. They remaining master shedim are plotting something, and whatever it is, it is best for everyone on Earth that they are stopped. The shedim section ends with new creature powers, primarily shedim specific ones, and some preconstructed shedim who showcase the new powers.

Paint it Blacker discusses the latest machinations of the sinister Black Lodge, a conspiracy of powerful magicians, and calls out some of their members. Let me just express a personal opinion, I do not have any use for the Black Lodge in my campaign and I do not find them interesting or plausible. Why does the setting need an evil magical conspiracy group that apparently outwits dragons and governments while twirling their mustaches and chuckling? So cliche. Can we just stick with the megacorporations as the villains of the piece?

The section entitled Monads and CFD deals with just those subjects, mostly bringing this long running storyline to a tentative close with “cures” for CFD finally available. Personally, I am pleased to see an end to this plot-line, while I applaud Catalyst for making a technological rather than a magical threat a major plot point, making it one that overwrites people’s personalities, thus stealing player autonomy, was a dead end in playability from my viewpoint.

The Hidden Faction details the latest convoluted political twists and turns of the Seelie Court for those who need more wacky fae for their games. Followers of the Elder God looks into those who are seeking artefacts and magical knowledge tied to the fourth world (the last time magic ruled) from the files of the Ordo Maximus, a secret and massively powerful vampire conspiracy (yes, another magical conspiracy!) but the items, information and creatures are interesting (though not provided with game statistics). This section at least has some explict plot hooks though they do not strike me as being very useful.

Dwellers of the Deep Foundation dips into the hidden recesses and foundations of the Matrix, and my, there are some strange things going on there. Including Matrix spawning beings, called the Null Sect, who have their own agenda for whom and what should be using their “home.” Additional there is a proto-nation of AIs and other strangeness afoot. This chapter relies on the ownership of the Data Trails soucebook and references both the Howling Shadows and Run Faster books. Fascinating setting materia but challenging to incorporate into a campaign and very niche.

The Ghoul Queen and her People takes us to the much talked about the nation of Asamando after a brief tour of how various other nations and groups are dealing with the expanded threat of the infections that created vampires (and their subtypes) and ghouls. Asamando gets a good and engaging travel log from three in setting character viewpoints. It paints an evocative image, very well written, but apart from setting up future survival horror scenarios does not really give the GM a lot of ideas or tools for how to use Asamando in a campaign. The section concludes with new awakened powers (which reference a host of other books), a new magical tradition (Dark Magic), three new metamagic techniques (two for the infected and one for blood magic) and nine infected archetypes, mostly enemies but one or two that might be allies.

The last section is Untamed Metaplanes which looks at several dangerous metaplanes that people might wish to visit or end up in along with some in-game hooks for why characters might want to risk body and soul to go there. Also there is the Hudson Valley which is chock full of astral portals and gateways to the metaplanes for those seeking to travel without all of the ritual rigamarole, while it is light on details the Hudson Valley could be a fun setting for some adventures or even an entire campaign, but the information here is just a starting point.

Dark Terrors is an interesting resource providing lots of tantalizing hints to things happening in the Sixth World but very little solid information or plot hooks to work with making it a very strange book. It is a fascinating and, mostly, enjoyable read but at the end, I am really not sure what to do with it.

Note: Read more reviews and other gaming articles at my journal https://seaofstarsrpg.wordpress.com/



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Dark Terrors (Plot Sourcebook)
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