Shadowbeat- A Shadowrun Sourcebook Review

Name: Shadowbeat
Type: Sourcebook
Publisher: FASA Corporation
System: Shadowrun 1st Edition
Setting: Shadowrun
Format: Softcover book
Size: 28cm x 21.8cm x 0.9cm
Pages: 104
Price: Out of Print $15.00 at publication
Rating: 4.0 Stars (4.0 / 5)

Shadowbeat, cover

Shadowbeat is a setting background book for Shadowrun. I as written by Paul R. Hume and released by FASA Corporation in 1992. The sourcebook is set in 2052 and uses the 1st edition ruleset, although there are no weapons or armour within the book so little to nothing needs amending in order to make the book usable for the 2nd or 3rd editions of the game.

Shadowbeat is one of my favourite of the early Shadowrun books and it’s the first book that really expands the setting beyond the typical Shadowrun fare of runner vs corporation. Shadowbeat covers such topics as sports, movies and by extension SimSense, TV, music and pop culture in general helping to add depth to the Shadowrun universe.

The artwork on the front and throughout the book is ok, but not amazing. I’m not sold on the shocked reporter trying to interview the dragon on the cover and the style throughout, especially the colour art, is very 80’s, which was standard at the time. The black and white drawings, of equipment and the like, is nice though and I always find having an image of an item helps me when visualising my character.

If there is one criticism I have of Shadowbeat, it’s that it seems to be more or a response to aspects of Cyberpunk 2020. Cyberpunk added Rockers and Media as class archetypes, letting players play anarchistic musicians who incite the oppressed masses against the corporate machine or investigative journalists working for guerrilla and pirate news companies. Shadowbeat brings all of that firmly into the Shadowrun universe and while i’m happy to see it’s inclusion it still feels like Shadowrun was trying to copy it’s inferior cousin.

Shadowbeat is fairly typical in length, at just over 100 pages, and generally follows the standard format for a Shadowrun sourcebook. Unlike the later books it’s not written as an ingame runner resource and doesn’t have each chapter prefaced by Captain Chaos. Instead it’s written as a player and GM resource, providing specific information about aspects of the world that have only really been touched upon before in adventures.

The book has roughly 8 chapters, split down into a number of subcategories. Those categories are-

  • Music
  • Broadcasting
  • TV
  • News
  • Sports
  • Simsense
  • Archetype Additions
  • Gear

Music, as expected for  Cyberpunk style book written in 1992, has a heavy emphasis on Rock and Rocker style characters. The chapter splits between in game background source material and rules, giving you sufficient information to run and play characters with a focus in music. From a rules point of view the chapter gives you information on acquiring and building a reputation, booking and playing gigs and recording chips for distribution. The source material discusses the different types of music in the awakened world, including astral rock and different racial takes.

Broadcasting is a short chapter that discusses the different ways in which media is broadcast and received in the 6th world, which includes traditional methods along with the matrix and trideo. The majority of the chapter is given over to rules and character options for increasing a runners own home telecommunications set up, including what kind of upgrades come as standard for the various lifestyle levels.

The TV section gives a general breakdown of the kind of TV shows that are aired in 2052 and culminates with and in game TV guide. Generally discussed are soaps, sitcoms, gameshows and Running Man style lethal gameshows. One notable omission, that I think would likely still be very popular in 2052, is reality TV. It’s an interesting gap that really highlights the age of this book and shows how TV viewing habits have changed in the last 20 years.

The in game TV guide is an excellent addition that i’ve used several times to to highlight to my players that the world does extend beyond covert runs against Megacorporations by career criminals.

Shadowbeat, 2052 TV Guide

News is, understandably, still big business in 2052 and so this is one of longest chapters in the book. The chapter, rather surprisingly, doesn’t actually provide much background information on the the various news channels in Shadowrun, or the ways that folk get their news in the 6th world. Instead the chapter focusses on how a player might run a journalist characters. It breaks down covering a story into 3 basic stages and provides specific rules on how to research a story, conduct interviews and eventually release the story for maximum effect.

Sports is also a sizeable chapter and both traditional US sports such as Baseball, Basketball and American Football are covered, along with the newer sports of Urban Brawl and Combat Biking. Tradition sports have lists of the teams and include information as to how the sports have reacted and adapted to the inclusion of metahumans, cyberware and physical adepts. Additionally the topics of women in sports, amateur sports and the Olympics are covered, albeit briefly.

The newer combat sports of the 6th world are given a more detailed look. Both Urban Brawl and combat biker are given fairly detailed rules, full lists of teams and breakdowns which give you a fairly good idea how they’d play out. The Urban Brawl rules are particularly useful if you want to run the adventure A Killing Glare .

Simsense is almost entirely fluff based. It covers the specifics around what simsense is, how it is produced and the various types and stages of production. Also detailed are the various ways that enterprising criminals have managed to get in on the simsense racket, including California Hotsims and BTL chips. Simsense has always played an intrinsic part in Shadowrun for me, probably because of the 2XS novel and then how it has expanded from simple experiance ships to full on personality programs such as those used by the Yakuza in Bunraku parlours. It has immense possibilities in adventures and so the information in this chapter is pretty exciting to people like me.

After simsense comes the rules part of the book, which is split into 2 sections that cover character options and gear. The character options part provides details on new skills, job descriptions and pay packets for working for networks or as part of labels. There are also some limited details on SINS and how more reputable rock stars and athletes need them in order to actually make a living at their chosen profession.

Gear is fairly standard, but as I said at the start, it doesn’t include weapons or armour. Provided are prices and rules for cameras, musical instruments, simsense rigs and recording equipment and basically everything that a character that want’s a side career in a media based job might need in order to mae their way in the world.

The production values for the book are pretty standard for an early book and the overall layout and style is comparable to books like the original Seattle Sourcebook. It’s mostly black and white, aside from a few character archetypes in the middle of the TV section. The artwork is passible and far from the worst i’ve come across in a Shadowrun product.

Some of the information is a little dated and the two later 3rd ed books State of the Art 2063 and 2064 have similar information within then, albeit updated by a decade in game. Shadowbeat is a solid book with a plethora of information that isn’t really contained elsewhere within the Shadowrun line and, for that reason, it’s definitely a product I would recommend if you are looking to expand your Shadowrun games beyond the more common fare.

Bottled Demon- A Shadowrun Adventure Review

Name: Bottled Demon
Type: Adventure
Publisher: FASA Corporation
System: Shadowrun 1st Edition
Setting: Shadowrun
Format: Softcover book
Size: 28cm x 21.8cm x 0.9cm
Pages: 64
Price: Out of Print $15.00 at publication
Rating: 4.0 Stars (4.0 / 5)

Bottled Demon, Cover

Bottled Demon is an adventure for Shadowrun, published using the 1st edition rules. It was written by James D. Wong published by FASA Corporation in 1990. Bottled Demon was the 6th adventure released for Shadowun. As with all 1st-3rd ed Shadowrun adventures, this book follows the standard Adventure Tree format, which I find particularly easy and convenient to run.

The cover depicts a woman wearing a tribal headdress and posed to suggest that she is engaged in something magical. Next to her floats the idol that is the subject of the adventure. The art is good, although prior to reading the adventure I could have sworn it related to bug spirits based on the picture as the markings on the headdress suggest the woman is a Wasp Shaman or the like. As it is, that couldn’t be further from the truth as she is, in fact, Arleesh, the Great Feathered Serpant.

The adventure is set in the year 2050 and in Seattle. While there is little, aside from the handouts, to date the adventure, allowing it to be set in any timeframe (most recently I ran it in 2061), many of the locations are directly tied to Seattle and therefore the GM will need to make some changes if they want to run the adventure in another city. As the rules are 1st edition, some changes will need to be made to make the adventure compatible with 2nd and 3rd edition, although these are mostly restricted to weapons and armour. Running the adventure in 4th or 5th edition may prove more challenging as the GM will need to update all of the rules specific information.

PLEASE BE AWARE, PLOT SPOILERS AHEAD.

The basic plot of the adventure follows the PC’s as they accompany a Johnson while he tries to sell and item to an elf named Blackwing, only for things to go south pretty quickly when Lone Star busts the meet and their Johnson gets killed. The players then end up that item, which turns out to be a very powerful, and somewhat cursed, magical totem. To top it all off their faces are all over the news as they become wanted for their involvement in the clash with Lone Star.

During that initial encounter the players also hear a rather important name, Blackwing. Now, it should be noted that this is written as Bloodwing in several places in the book and even changes between Bloodwing and Blackwing during the same piece of text. The name is definitely Blackwing and he’s important because he shows up in two other Shadowrun adventures, Dragon Hunt and Corporate Punishment. By the latter he’s advanced to a more prestigious position within the Tir Tairngire. It’s important to remember to name Blackwing as he shows up in a couple of places through the adventure.

The party have a couple of run in’s with others hunting the totem, including their Johnson’s former Magical Group and Lone Star. The latter serves as a nice way to kick start the adventure if it starts to stagnate, by having a random bystander recognise them and call in Lone Star in the hope of a reward.

Investigating the Idol teaches them that it’s pretty powerful, that using it boosts spells significantly and, maybe, that it’s rather addictive to use, having a very ‘One Ring’ aura about it. If they ask around they get pointed towards an elderly Dog Shaman named Trixie who advises them to destroy it, for their own safety but mentions that only a Dragon would likely be capable of such a task Fortunately she knows of a prominent one in town, the CEO of Lochlann Investments, Geyswain. The adventure name drops a little here by pointing out that another dragon that lives in the sprawl, the Security Chief for United Oil, Haesslich, is out of town on business. Fans of the Secrets of Power trilogy will recognise that name.

Getting a meeting with Geyswain and convincing him to destroy the idol is actually easier than expected. I played it to the dragons advantage and actually had him convince the runners that he’d need payment for the arduous ritual but, ultimately, he was just trying to conceal his desire to possess it. This was a good way for me to have him engage them in a mini-run side quest on a pro-bono basis. Regardless Geyswain is intent on getting the idol and the adventure covers several contingencies he has in place.

Just after this the runners get stopped by a vehicle in the street, a vehicle containing a beautiful woman (pictured on the front of the book). The book has a couple of scenarios for when this takes place but it has to be after they visit Geyswain and helps if it’s before they manage to lose their wanted status. The woman uses the fact that Lone Star is after them, timing it so she appears just as they need a place to hide, to get them into her car. She introduces herself as Arleesh, the Great Feathered Serpent (that’s right, one of the Great Dragons) and doesn’t hide her aura in case anyone wants to check. She tells the runners that only a Great Dragon can destroy the idol and tells them to go and steal it back.

After this the runners, ideally, just need to clear their name. My players did this by contacting the investigating Lone Star Officer, Grissim, and offering him Blackwing in exchange for leniency. There were a few finer details but it was a good plan and a bigger win for Grissim, given the number of assassinations attributed to Black Wing, and so he went along with it. That also went down well although, little did the runners know, but Blackwing actually had diplomatic immunity and so walked free from Lone Star, and they’d made an enemy. On the flip side, they’d dealt with Grissim fairly and so they gained him as a level 1 Lone Star Contact.

This leads to the final showdown of the run, between the runners and Geyswain at the Lochlann Investments Building. The set up has them meet up with Arleesh and hear her plan before someone decks into the Lochlann matrix to discover that it’s empty and unprotected. This should seem unusual. The runners roll up to Lochlann and use the classic damsel in distress con to get inside, or they would if anyone was on guard which should be another alarm bell.

Inside there are a couple of dead guards and Arleesh advises the runners to head downstairs, to the security room to take care of any other security before disappearing to conduct her own search. The runners find the place trashed, with almost all the security personnel dead before heading upstairs to Geyswain’s penthouse floor office.

The penthouse office takes up the whole top floor and has been converted into a desert for the comfort of the dragon, giving a nice contrast to the otherwise city based run. When the runners arrive they find that Geyswain has been consumed by his desire for the power of the idol and has gone stark crazy, leading to the inevitable fight with the dragon. Arleesh doesn’t show up during the fight, unless the GM needs her to bail the PC’s out, and her motivations aren’t really explained as to why, aside from the fact that she’s a Great Dragon and can pretty much do whatever she likes.

However Blackwing does appear and helps the party out, assuming they are willing to throw him a gun since he’s been disarmed and this gives them the opportunity to get on his good side, especially if they made an enemy of him earlier in the run (as mine did). Aside from this the fight goes as well as can be expected. If the party aren’t ready and prepared to fight a dragon then it could go south pretty quickly and the GM might need to bring in Arleesh to save the day. Fortunately Geyswain is pretty much insane at this point and so won’t he won’t be intelligently fighting so much as acting like a rampaging beast.

During the fight Lone Star and Grissim surround the building, meaning that the party will need to do a little bit of talking to finally escape. The run ends after the Geyswain is defeated and Arleesh has drained the idol of it’s power, leaving the statue inert. Blackwing claims the statue as Tir property (offering the runners up to ¥50,000 in exchange for it) and again flexes his diplomatic immunity to escape unscathed. Given the threat posed by the dragon the party should be able to talk their way out of the situation as they have prevented a much bigger incident and Grissim a reasonable guy.

All things said Bottled Demon isn’t a particularly long or difficult run, aside from the final showdown with Geyswain but if they go into that prepared then they’ll likely be ok. There is good potential for the runners to make friends and enemies though out their journey and if you are planning on running Dragon Hunt or Corporate Punishment then the running theme of Blackwing will add a nice bit of continuity to your game.

My only real criticism is that it’s yet another early adventure that involves a dragon, which, when you look at my previous reviews of Paradise Lost and A Killing Glare (add links), goes to show how many of the early adventures included dragons as protagonists. I don’t object the dragons as such, and the showdown with Geyswain is thematic and different because he’s been corrupted by the idol but it’s still a little bit of dragon overload.

That said, it’s s solid adventure and it’s nice that it features Lone Star so prominently throughout, something that often gets forgotten later on. Grissim is a typical hard boiled kind of detective and the fact that he’s actually a good guy, one of the few in the early Shadowrun dystopia, makes him a good addition to the run.

Bottled Demon is one of the few Shadowrun adventures that I’ve both played and run and it’s a blast from both sides. It’s short enough to play through in a couple of sessions, or a single long session, and it includes several opportunities to expand the plot and throw in side runs. It’s not the best of the published runs, but it’s solid enough that it’s certainly worth a look.

 

Star Realms Deck Box – Review

Name: Star Realms Deck Box
Type: None Collectable Deck Building Game Accessory
Publisher: White Wizard Games
Size: 103mm x 110mm x 75mm
Price:  £6.00 (approximately)
Weight: 98g (empty) 563g (full)
Rating: 4.0 Stars (4.0 / 5)

Star Realms Deck Box

Having watched my Star Realms collection grow in recent months, combined with having decided to sleeve my whole collection it was becoming quickly apparent that I wasn’t going to be able to keep storing the set in the original box. First of all I picked up some cheap Ultra Pro deck protectors, since they’ve served me reasonably well in the past, but it wasn’t long, maybe a couple of weeks, before they began to show signs of wear and cracking.

Cracked Ultra Pro Deck Box

This was a little annoying, mostly because it meant I’d have to find another solution and so I hunted around for other solutions, although I’d spotted the official one a while back and had my eye on it. Deck protectors can run from the absurdly cheap, like the Ultra Pro’s, which were less than £2 each, to fairly expensive with some harder wearing options running to over £20. With that in mind it seemed like picking up the official one would make the most sense.

As seems to be a common trend for Star Realms I couldn’t find a UK supplier that sold the official deck box at all, never mind about at a reasonable price. In the end I used an Amazon seller in the US, the same one I sourced my Gambit set from, and managed to get it for a shade over £10, delivered, which was firmly in the mid range as far as deck boxes go.

Star Realms Deck Box, Top

The official deck box is a nice looking accessory. Not only does it have the Star Realms logo emblazoned on it but it is covered in full colour art from the game and that makes it look a hell of a lot better than the bright green Ultra Pro’s I had been using. The deck box is double sized, meaning it can house my entire collection, comprising of the base set, Gambit set and all 4 Crisis expansions, all sleeved and still have room for the rules and another couple of future expansions.

The box is made of a thin but solid plastic stock, not dissimilar from the Ultra Pro’s, but that doesn’t feel like it’ll be prone to cracking. It’s sealed with a Velcro strip on the front and, when open, shows two compartments to hold the cards. One compartment holds the cards horizontally and lies on the bottom of the box and the other sits vertically attached to the lid.

Star Realms Deck Box, Open

Inside the box you get 2 dividers, which have a full colour image on one side and are particularly useful for separating the starting decks from the Gambit cards and Trade deck.

Star Realms Deck Box, Dividers

Additionally the set comes with a card, which can only be obtained via this deck box or the larger deck box, the Mercenary Garrison. This is a nice little extra that doesn’t add so much to the game that you have to buy the deck box to remain competitive, but it’s certainly nice to have.

Star Realms Mercenary Garrison Promo Card

There isn’t much else to say really. I particularly like this deck box, not only because it holds my whole collection, but when I take pictures of the games we have on hand for games night, which I post to my Twitter (@nogamesnoglory), it serves to represent Star Realms a lot better than the green Ultra Pros ever did. Do you need to pick this up? Not really, any of the plethora of deck boxes on the market would serve the same purpose, but it’s certainly nice to have and it looks pretty awesome.

Star Realms Deck Box, Full

Numenera Character Options Review

Name: Numenera Character Options
Type: Player Options
Publisher: Monte Cook Games
System: Cypher System
Setting: Numenera
Format: Softcover book
Size: 28cm x 21.8cm x 0.9cm
Pages: 96
Price: £17.99
Rating: 4.0 Stars (4.0 / 5)

Numenera Character Options, cover

The Numenera Character Options book is a supplement for the Numenera Roleplaying game and is written by the games creator Monte Cook. It provides players with more options for Descriptors and Foci and also provides numerous further options for the various character types.

As with all of the Numenera products the book is full colour and lavishly illustrated with artwork on almost every page. The front cover depicts and action packed scene with two adventurers engaged in using their abilities. As this is Numenera the characters both look mostly human but, on closer inspection, can be seen to have traceries of neon light cousing through their bodies or biomechanical looking suits of armour. It’s a solid image that promises that the reader will find interesting and exciting new options inside.

The book is split into 7 sections-

  • Introduction
  • Character Type Options
  • Descriptors
  • Foci
  • Optional and Additional Rules
  • Character Portraits
  • Index

The introduction runs to a couple of pages and just sets the scene for the book and how it can be used. Like all Numenera products the book has a sidebar that explains how the main rulebook will be referenced throughout the product. This is a feature that I particularly like as it makes cross referencing between books a whole lot easier.

The Character Type Options chapter provides additional abilities for the 3 Types (classes in the game), being Glaives, Jacks and Nanos. Essentially these are more powers are each of the various tiers of the game, new fighting moves for Glaives, new tricks of the trade for Jacks and new eateries for Nanos. There are several new options provided for each Tier of each Type, in some cases as many as 8 new abilities are listed and my party have found these to be a great supplement to the ones in the core book and Players Guide. The extra powers here allow for real versatility within the Types and so two people can play the same Type without treading on one another’s toes.

The Descriptors chapter is split into 3 sections, each with new Descriptors for a players to use with their characters. The first, General Descriptors, adds a further 24 Descriptors to those provided within the core book. They are of the same style and cover things such as Noble, Wealthy and Perceptive. This section also introduces negative descriptors, which provide an interesting alternative to the generic positive ones, and while they still provide bonuses and hindrances as normal they also provide great roleplaying opportunities and give the GM inspiration for intervention.

The second Descriptor section provides 13 Location based Descriptors that allow you to define your character by where they come from within the Kingdoms of the 9 World. This is a nice addition as one of the few things I struggle with in the game is the setting and, more specifically, the general societies that exist in it. Grounding a character within the setting helps players become more engaged in the world and that can only be a good thing.

The final Descriptor section provides another 6 races for players. As in the core book, playing a none human race (at least one that isn’t just cosmetically different from a human), replaces your character Descriptor with the race. While I don’t use the different races within my game, aside from a mutant, I like the diversity they provide because the 9th World should be full of weird and wonderful beings that range from ordinary human to extra-dimensional, mineral based, plant people. This section also includes new mutations for Mutant characters to utilise.

The next chapter covers Foci and it provides a further 25 Foci for your players to choose from and these are just as evocatively named as those in the core book with titles such as Travels through Time and Possesses a Shard of the Sun. Overall having more options to choose from simply expands what your players have to work with then trying to make up something that invokes their imagination and having an expanded Foci list really helps with that.

The additional and optional rules section is a little misleading as it doesn’t really provide many optional rules. Included are some basic details around character customisation and modifying abilities but the bulk of the chapter covers additional connections for the Foci from the core book. This is nice as it provides some additional ways that the party can be involved with each other before the campaign starts but, overall, I’d say this chapter if just filler.

The Character Portraits chapter provides, rather unsurprisingly, a series of images that players can use to depict or inspire their characters. There are 24 in all and the art is pretty good across all of them. Again, it’s not really a required section and feels a touch like filler but it’s useful for people who like to have a visual aid.

Finally comes the index, which is worth mentioning because it includes all the Descriptors, Foci and Types from this book and the core book and provides page references for them, giving you a single point of reference for the information. Like the sidebars throughout the book this is a very useful tool for players and GMs and cuts down on the time it takes to find something specific.

Overall this is a very solid book with a lot of great content. It’s well written, lavishly illustrated and the production values are high. There is a little bit of filler content, around 14 pages or so, but that’s not to say that you won’t get any use from it, only that it’s not really required and could have just as easily been added to the Numenera website. Monte Cook continues to impress me with his work on Numenera and it’s a game I will keep supporting for as long as it’s around. On a final note it’s worth pointing out that all of the Types, Foci and Descriptors in this book can also be used for The Strange, the other Cypher System game, with very little modification needed and, I expect, several will be usable with the Cypher System core book when it is released.