‘Dirty Tricks’ is a book that I feel SR has needed for a while. A seemingly dichotomous proposition exists in a world like Shadowrun – does anyone actually care about governments or ascribe them power in a world where a triple-A megacorp realistically wields more power? This book answers that question well, and keeps a firm eye on situating the political machinations of the Sixth World at the Shadowrunner’s eye-level.
There was certainly scope for this to read like a bad political science textbook, but instead we are treated to the wide-ranging (yet always on-topic) posts of the JackPointers we all know and love. Before I dive into the review, I will express my hope that the chap on p. 157 is a foreshadow of a future product?
Mysterious masked men aside, let’s take a look at what you get.
The point is though, that whilst the SR American government has outsourced a lot of non-essential functions (police, welfare, etc) to corporations, there is still a role for government. Whilst people are essentially owned by corporations in the 2070’s, their sense of self is often still bound to geographic and ethnic ideals, and the government is one representation of these connected ideals (it’s a nice theory, anyway). Make no mistake, however, the book underlines all of this with the clear reality that most politicians are in the race for personal power, glory and more nuyen – so very little has changed. If you’re after specific examples of this there’s a great little discussion on Seretech decision and how that changed the political landscape. I’ve always thought that this is the case that the SR game world was built on, so it’s only right that it gets some treatment in a book like this.
The opening fiction sets up the fact that Proposition 23 is the main political discussion of the Sixth World (at least in the Americas) and was an extremely enjoyable way to open the book. We’re then plunged straight into a series of chapters covering opposition intel, voter intimidation, bribes, cons, and even the , err, romantic pursuits of those in office. My favourite section was ‘Taking the Bullet’ by OrkCEO. Apart from the interesting side of the character (a former runner who now heads up a private security firm), the rest of the chapter covered all of the practical aspects about security detail ‘runs. Given that the concept can be applied to a range of other settings (ala Queen Euphoria), this is quite a valuable chapter for both GMs and players alike.
The next block covers the political landscape in Seattle, the UCAS, the South (CAS), Tsimshian and the UK. Whilst each section is individually interesting, I’d recommend taking a break between each chapter. There is a lot of information in here, and despite being well-presented, it is a lot to take in over one sitting. The only major surprise here, was the Proposition 23 results, which I honestly thought would have been in ‘SR Missions’ for continuity, rather than here. But still, the decision does make sense. Of particular interest was the section on the UK, but that’s only because I’m hoping to run a campaign based out of London in the near future. A political run might be just the thing to drop the runners in the drek and see what happens.
It closes out with a discussion of the main power groups such as the Black Lodge, Human Nation, and Illuminates of the New Dawn; followed by a few pages of plot hooks in the style that we’ve come to expect. Basically, there is no wasted space here, with solid value offered in terms of the hooks (although there would be a significant investment of time to make them into full ‘runs).
The approach taken to the writing is consistent with the mood of the book. I read these types of sourcebooks to be immersed in the Sixth World, and the reliance on fiction and Jack Point posts to deliver the information is a very effective choice. The little touches (such as the note on the Jack Point log-in page that you’re ‘registered to vote in 5 different locales with 3 different SINs’) situate the book in-world and show the sorts of (appropriately) ‘dirty tricks’ which are employed. The artwork is consistently good (one of my favourite pieces is on p. 128), and gone are the typographic errors present in many earlier products this year.
I know almost nothing about US politics (mostly as I don't live in the States), and I did feel a little trepidation about my lack of knowledge going in. However, the authors haven’t delivered a treatise on the inner political workings of the US; but rather a functioning sourcebook for fictional game world that is easy to read and could potentially be used at any table.
[4 of 5 Stars!]