Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2012/12/03/-
Although the bulk of Shadowrun sourcebooks and adventures tend to be about corporate espionage and counter espionage, I tend to find the ones that explore other aspects of the Sixth World to be my favorites. Maybe it’s because the writers and publisher are taking a chance by talking about something else. Maybe it’s because it’s fleshing out the setting so that enterprising GMs can do more than the run of the mill run. Of these, the “ParaXYZ” books tend to be my favorites. Back in the 90s I think every good Shadowrun player had a copy of Paranormal Animals of North America. It was a lot of fun and is one of the more memorable FASA releases for the system. Earlier this year, Catalyst Game Labs gave us Parabotany, which I absolutely loved. Again, it added a whole new dimension to the Sixth World and really got players and GMs alike to think about how robust the setting can be.
Now we’re back with a similar concept. We’ve already covered animal and vegetable paranormals, so what does that leave? You guessed it: Minerals! Unlike the aforementioned releases, as well as Parazoology, which basically devoted a page (or half a page) to a specific creature complete with equal parts game mechanics and JackPoint snark, Parageology is written like one big JackPoint article, with only two pages and change devoted to how the various discussion topics work in-game for those that want to use them. This means that those looking for something stat oriented are probably going to want to look elsewhere. However, those that are more interested in story and the fleshing out of the Sixth World will probably love this. I say probably because even though I found Parageology to be a lot of fun, I can see a lot of gamers finding it dry and almost too clinical in its approach. Parageology reads more like a college lecture than your normal JackPoint article. Now I happen to like lectures, but I know that’s not the case for everyone. As well, because it’s thirty pages of discourse on ley lines, minerals and geomancy, not every GM will have a use for the topics at hand. Still, if you’re like me and you’re interested in the world at large in Shadowrun rather than just the latest Megacorp and Dragon gossip, you should find Parageology fascinating and a source of many a plot hook.
There are two other small issues that potential purchasers of Parageology might have with the book. The first is the art. If you go in thinking that this will have pictures similar to other Shadowrun releases, full of characters in full action shots, you’re going to be disappointed. This is about geology, after all. The art is nothing but pictures of maps with lines across them representing the types of mana lines in the Sixth World and where they run, or mockups of what an Awakened mineral looks like. I’m very happy with the art (although some maps could be less busy and/or bigger, like Europe’s), but as the art is very different in theme and style than most Shadowrun products, some gamers might walk away unhappy with what’s here. Of course, you have to wonder what they were expecting from a book entitled Parageology then.
The other small issue is the price point for the book. $7.99 for a thirty page PDF is a bit pricey, especially when you consider that the topic at hand is a niche one and that you can get Shadowrun releases with a larger page count for far less. Take the Shadowrun Missions adventures. Those are $3.95 and are about ten pages longer than Parageology on average. Elven Blood was FIVE adventures, and it cost only $6.99. Like Parabotany, this is a pretty expensive release for the page count, and considering it’s a niche product, gamers on a budget, even those that are interested in the topic at hand, may turn this down in order to get a bigger bang for their buck.
Now with those quibbles out of the way, I can honestly say I loved Parageology. You get a pretty intense discourse by Rockhound about everything you could possibly want to know about the geology of the Sixth World. The book is written in JackPoint style, which means you’ll see various shadowrunners comment, make addendums and drop snarky comments throughout the piece. The book starts off with a discussion about the three types of mana lines in the Sixth World (Dragon, Ley and Song) along with the Sha and Shen effects that might affect each line. Sha is when a mana line gets blocked by negative energy. Shen is the exact opposite, and refers to a massive surge in a mana line brought on by multiple lines converging when and where they aren’t supposed to. From there, the book launches into a thirteen page discourse on the major mana lines of the world, first broken down by continent, followed by breaking it down even further into specific locations. Each continent is given a map with all the lines of the three different types placed accordingly. It’s quite interesting to see where the locations are, as well as what physical landmarks CGL chose as important for mana. There are some contradictions between the map and the text though. For example, the maps don’t show any lines through Dee Cee (Washington D.C. to non Shadowrun players). I found that to be odd, especially after the text made such a big deal about how the architecture in the city has screwed things up big time for mana lines. Aside from a few odd bits like that, this section is very well done.
From there, Parageology dips into two other topics: True Elements and Awakened Minerals, both of which will be of interest to any campaign that is artifact hunting heavy or where players like to make their own foci and/or magical items. True Elements are unstable bits from the four core elemental planes made manifest on Earth. These True Elements are much sought after as magical reagents. True Fire and Water can also be used with metals to give them the Primal Forged quality.
Awakened Minerals are a bit different from what we think of with Awakened plants, animals or humanoids. These minerals aren’t self-aware or able to consciously use their inherent magical powers. Instead they’re just highly prized pieces of rock that have a noticeable effect on magic and are used in very expensive doo-dads. There are six minerals and five alloys discussed in this section. Their powers range from being able to reflect spells to detecting magic. Each one of these Awakened bits of earthen by-product has the potential to be a story hook or plot point for those GMs that prefer to make their own adventures.
The JackPoint part of the book then finishes off with a bit of a treatise on geomancy and geomasonry. It tells the difference between the two, along with some examples of structures made by either category. For those that play geomancers or geomasons, this section alone will be worth the cover price, but like the potential audience for Parageology as a whole, this is a pretty small group. After that, the final two pages of the book tell how to use all the information contained within in game terms. You get rules for each type of line, Sha and Shen events, some new Advanced Metamagics, cost of the True Elements and Awakened Minerals and more. They’ve crammed a lot of quality mechanics information into these last two pages, so for those that want rules rather than story from your sourcebooks, you’re still getting all you need on these topics in this sourcebook.
I have a hard time recommending Parageology. On one hand, it’s a topic I’ve been eagerly waiting for Catalyst Game Labs to get around to, and I really enjoyed reading it. On the other, Parageology is overpriced for what you are getting, it’s very dry compared to most Shadowrun products and there are places where the text not only contradicts other Shadowrun books, but where the maps and text in this same book don’t match up completely. It’s also a very niche topic that only a small amount of Shadowrun players will care about, and an even smaller amount will actually make use of in their own campaigns. If you are like me and are interested in the concept of parageology, then you’ll love this book devoted to it, in spite of its flaws. If the topic has never occurred to you and the idea of it doesn’t instantly have you brimming with ideas to throw at your gaming troupe, then this is a safe piece to skip. Let’s call it a thumb’s in the middle, as it’s a well done, if not flawed, book that will appeal to a very small targeted audience.
[3 of 5 Stars!]