Category Archives: Retro

Tasslehoff’s Map Pouch- Age of Mortals

Name: Tasslehoff’s Map Pouch- The Age of Mortals
Type: Accessory
Publisher: Sovereign Press
System: Dungeons and Dragons any edition
Setting: Dragonlance
Pages: N/A
Cover: Softcover
Price: Out of print
Rating: 3.0 Stars (3.0 / 5)

Tasslehoff's Map Pouch- Age of Mortals, Cover

There are some things in a collection that are considered prized possessions, items that mean more to you than they would to others because of their rarity, because of their link to a cherished memory or because of who gave them to you. Tasslehoff’s Map Pouch- Age of Mortals is one such item for me and it’s for all 3 reasons and more.

Tasslehoff’s Map Pouch- Age of Mortals was released as part of the D&D 3rd ed range of Dragonlance products that Sovereign Press produced. At that time Sovereign Press, owned by Margaret Weis, had licensed Dragonance from Wizards of the Coast and was producing a line of books that covered various periods from the classic ‘War of the Lance’ line all the way into the ‘Age of Mortals’ and ‘War of Souls’. Tas’s Map Pouch was released as part of a series of map based accessories and was the first product in that line.

All the maps were drawn by Sean Macdonald and the cover art for the set was created by Larry Elmore and Ken Whitman. The cover is particularly nice, being a really good up close illustration of the irrepressible Kender behind a table of maps, that may or may not be his but are definitely about to make their way into his possession.

In the set you get 12 maps. Eleven of these are A4 sixed small maps and then there is a single poster sized map. The maps included are-

  • Ansalon in the Age of Mortals- this is the poster sized map.
  • Solace
  • The Tower of High Sorcery in Wayreth
  • Citadel of Light
  • City of Teyr
  • City of Solanthus
  • City of Sanction
  • Nalis Aren- The Lake of Death
  • Storm’s Keep
  • Darkling Hall
  • Ansalon in the Age of Mortals as drawn by Tas
  • The Desolation

Tas's Map Pouch- Age of Mortals, Poster Map

I’ll start with the poster map as it’s one of my most treasured possessions. As expected the map covers Ansalon in the Age of Mortals, which means such things as The Desolation and the Great Swamp are depicted since huge swaths of the continent were reshaped by the Great Dragons during this era. Also, because of the era, there are some notable changes to the map from the more well-known earlier periods and the most prominent is the absence of the maelstrom in the Blood Sea of Istar.

While it’s not my favourite era it is a truly stunning map, accurately showing the scale of the continent (which is much smaller than you’d think at around 1300 miles wide and 870 miles long) and defining the individual regions. While I know where places are, seeing them in context helps bring the setting to life in a whole different way and being able to actually point to places during games really helps my players understand where they are and what is close by. I like the fact that the map also references other continents like Taladas and Ithun’carthia and shows their locations in relation to Ansalon as we as showing where notable places like the Isle of Gargeth would be.

The map has hundreds of locations named on it, from major cities like Palanthas and Solace, to holy sites relevant to individual gods (who are no longer relevant in the Age of Mortals) and other places of interest such as the feared Dargaard Keep. I’m sure that some places have been missed, perhaps because they aren’t relevant to the setting in this era or because they were only ever mentioned in passing in a single novel or sourcebook but, to my mind, everything important seems to be on there, everything I’ve looked for anyway, and so it seems to pretty complete.

It’s not really relevant to the review but when it was in production you could buy directly from Sovereign Press and, if you did, you could request it be signed by Margaret Weis. It’s this signature that makes the map so valuable to me, and it reads ‘May Dragons fly Ever in your Dreams, Margaret Weis’.

Of the other maps nearly all are of recognisable locations to fans of the fluff but there is one exception and that’s Darkling Hall-

Tas's Map Pouch, Age of Mortals, Darkling Hall

Darkling Hall doesn’t exist in the fluff for the setting as far as I’m aware and was inserted as a location that GM’s could use to make their own stories around. I like this idea as one of the biggest criticisms of Dragonlance as a setting is that PC’s can never really live up to the legends of the character sin the main fluff and so adding an interesting and exciting new location helps drive a different approach.

Darkling Hall looks to be a temple to all of the dark gods, located somewhere near a place known as the City of Shadows (which I confess to also not knowing so I presume it’s also an invention for this map). It is 8 sided with an alcove for each of the gods surrounding a area, perhaps a reflecting pool, which shows the constellations of the evil gods high as they would be seen in the night sky. This central chamber is known as the Chamber of Trials and each god appears to have a trial associated with them, such as the Trial of Immortality for Chemosh or the Trial of Vengeance for Sargonnas.

The only explanation given relates to the Hall of Warning which looks to be the entrance and this takes the form of a written warning that advises that those of evil intent can pass a single challenge to ‘dwell among their kind’ while good hearted individuals must face all 8 challenges. There is a lot of possibilities that the DM can expand upon in using this room with each element providing more and more story opportunities.

Tas's Map Pouch, Age of Mortals, Solace map

No collection of maps for Krynn would be complete without a map of Solace, the city famous for being the start of the Companion’s quest during the War of the Lance. Solace is about as iconic a place in the Dragonlance setting as it’s possible to have and it’s nice to see a full colour map of it. As it’s set during the Age of Mortals the map legend includes things like the Last Heroes Tomb, commemorating those who dies during the War against Chaos as well as the Academy of Sorcery founded by Palin.

The Inn of the Last Home is, of course features, as is the Trough, the rougher tavern at the opposite end of town that is generally frequented by mercenaries and other lowlifes. As expected the drawing is filled with trees, as befitting Solace, although a great many dwellings now cover the ground as well since the settlement has expanded over the years since the War of the Lance.

Tas's Map Pouch Age of Mortals- tower of Wayreth

Another nice inclusion is the Tower of High Sorcery in Wayreth. While the sourcebook Towers of High Sorcery contains significantly more information about the tower, it doesn’t include a map and for a place that may well be visited by just about any Wizard character in the game, having a map is a nice thing, even if you never actually need it to run the Test of High Sorcery.

This map is split, covering an aerial map of the compound and then a floor by floor breakdown of the two towers that make up the Tower itself. The only downside really is that having a map takes little bit of the mystery out of the location, a place that should inspire wonder and dread in equal measures, but you can’t have it both ways.

Of the other maps 3 cover cities, Teyr, Solanthus and Sanction and these are of great use when running the game as I find being able to properly help player orientate in a city helps it feel more real and so bring the setting alive in their minds. Of the 3 only Sanction is what I’d call a tier one city, having been the site of numerous important events, especially in the Age of Mortals and beyond. On a personal note though, I like having Solanthus as my own games invariably end up in middle Solamnia at some point and Solanthus makes a good stopping off place. Personally I would have preferred Palanthas but that may well have appeared in the later War of the Lance or Legends map collections.

Two of the maps cover citadels/fortresses, these being Goldmoon’s Citidel of Light and Storms Keep, headquarters of the Knights of Takhisis and Ariakan’s personal abode. Neither is a must have but as both are of great importance during the period, being the symbolic seats of power for the opposing sides of light and dark, they are a solid inclusion.

Tas's Map Pouch, Age of Mortals, Nalis Aren Map

One map is of a wilderness location, being Nalis Aren, the Lake of Death that was once the great Elven city of Qualinesti. These isn’t much to this one, just a short legend defining where notable features of the city, such as the Tower of the Sun, were and the body of the great green dragon Beryl. To be honest this didn’t need to be in the set, it’s an important feature of the period but the map doesn’t really show anything and fluff in the Age of Mortals book more than suffices to cover this.

The last two maps are area maps. One is Tas’s own map of Ansalon in the Age of Mortals (if the signature is to be believed) and serves to be a solid in game hand out of the world. The other is a similar map of the Desolation, the north eastern area of Ansalon that has been taken over by the great red dragon, Malys and turned into a veritable hellhole. Most notable here is the location of the kender city of Kendermore, destroyed by Malys due to her hatred of that race. This map is apparently the property of the kender Kronn Thistleknot, presumably the descendant of the kender hero Kronin Thistleknot.

On the whole this is a nice collection. At the time of release it wasn’t prohibitively expensive and so it made for a nice addition to the collection. It had neither crunch nor fluff and no source material is included to support anything, something that isn’t really a problem but it would have been nice to perhaps have details of where supporting fluff could be found in within the Dragonlance range.

I’m happy with it, but I know I have rose tinted glasses for the setting and especially because of the signed poster-map. There are certainly weak maps in the set, like Nalis Aren, but those that are good are really good and nice to have. I wouldn’t pay a lot for the set and that makes it hard to find now in the UK if Amazon and Ebay are anything to go by, but if you do see a good quality copy out there for something resembling retail price it’s certainly a worthy addition to your collection.

 

Portfolio of a Dragon: Dunkelzahn’s Secrets- A Shadowrun Sourcebook Review

Name: Portfolio of a Dragon: Dunkelzahn’s Secrets
Type: Sourcebook
Publisher: Fasa Corporation
System: Shadowrun 2nd edition
Setting: Shadowrun
Pages: 112
Cover: Softcover
Price: Out of print
Rating: 5.0 Stars (5.0 / 5)

 

 

Portfolio of a Dragon: Dunkelzahn's Secrets, Front Cover

 

Portfolio of a Dragon: Dunkelzahn’s Will is a sourcebook for Shadowrun 2nd edition published in 1996 by FASA Corporation and written by Steve Kenson. The book covers the fallout of the 2057 UCAS Presidential Campaign which was won by the Great Western Dragon Dunkelzahn and was then apparently assassinated on the night of his inauguration in front of the Watergate Hotel in Washington DC.

While what actually happened is covered in the Dragonheart Trilogy of novels by Jak Koke this book takes a more immediate look at what happened and who might be responsible as well as dealing with what this means in game, setting up plotlines that would run for a great many years.

Portfolio of a Dragon: Dunkelzahn's Secrets, Back cover

So, like all Shadowrun sourcebooks from 1st-3rd edition Dunkelzahn’s Secrets has a full colour front and back cover and the rest in in black and white. The cover is a close-up of Big D’s head, breathing noxious fumes and the back is just a copy of the same image with the generic blurb superimposed over it. Inside it follows the standard style of this period of book, with a Shadowland into promoting recent and upcoming books including Threats, Calfree and Target UCAS before taking a slightly different approach and giving an extended introduction that explains the timeline of events leading up to Dunkelzahn’s Assassination and how to use the book.

The book itself is split into 7 broad sections-

  • · The Dragon’s Last Dance
  • · The Last Testament and Will of Dunkelzahn
  • · Fallout
  • · The Players
  • · The Sleeping Dragon
  • · Who Watched the Watchers
  • · In The Cards

 

Much like later books like Renraku Arcology Shutdown, much of Dunkelzahn’s Secrets if in game fluff and written as stories and experiences from people in the setting and how they have been effected and involved in the events surrounding Dunkelzahn’s death and his will.

The Dragon’s Last Dance is written as an in game news account of the assassination, starting prior to is and concluding with the known ‘facts’. The style is designed to describe a video reel, with lots of fast cuts between shots and reactions from those who witnessed what amounts to a contained nuclear explosion in the heart of the UCAS capitol. It’s a fun chapter, one that gives a different view of the events that nicely contracts the normally cynical view of runners.

The Last Testament and Will are actually two separate sections that broadly make one in game document. The Last Testament itself is a single page written by Dunkelzahn to discuss his death, the likely media frenzy and to cover his feelings about the state of the world in 2057. Then there are a couple of pages of Shadowland discussion between The Lady of the Court and Wordsmyth about their feelings on the Last Testament and it’s made very clear that they know him very well. Long time Shadowrun readers will know these two and their involvement in the wider metaplot of the time.

The Will consists of 200 items willed to various people around the world, some meta-plot characters such as the Great Dragons Lung and Hestaby or Richard Villiers of Fuchi (at this point). Others are just random and serve as plot hooks, either for the GMs or the wider metaplot such as finding what lies behind door 429 at the Berlin Saeder-Krupp offices or the 50,000 nuyen/year promised to Lawrence Edward Grafton as long as he stays chaste. The whole thing is a fascinating read, I feels like you are learning secret nuggets of information and it makes you massively curious as to what all the cryptic references mean.

From the Will it’s hard to pick a favourite but I think mine is “To Art Dankwalther, I leave the sum of 34,586,224,739.58 UCAS dollars. According to my calculations and accounting for conversion from the original currency, inflation, and 1 percent interest per annum, this settles my debt to your ancestor for the gold piece he kindly lent me for the last meal we shared.” It’s that or the one that offers a wish to any person presenting a ticket stub to a concert in Nashville that served as Maria Mecurial’s one and only foray into country music. The Will is available free on the Catalyst Website here and I recommend you check it out if you haven’t.

Fallout covers a number of topics that were directly affected by the death of the dragon. Initially there is the discussion of the possible culprits, with names like Vice President Kyle Haffner and Lofwyr being thrown around along with political opponents and terrorist organisations but no tangible proof is offered. Then the chapter covers the various beneficiaries of the Will, the Corporations or Corporate affiliated individuals (such as Fuchi’s Miles Lanier acquiring a seat on Renraku’s board) and how the corporate world will be shook up and how this will likely impact the runner community.

The Draco Foundation and Nadja Davier both get mentions in the Fallout section since the Will creates a new international power in the foundation and elevates Nadja (Dunkelzahn’s personal assistant) to a true international power player as the head of the Draco Foundation and the person directly responsible for administering the Will and it’s estimated 100 trillion nuyen’s worth of assets.

After Fallout is The Players, which covers all the major players in the setting, following the benefits handed out by the will. It’s not just the AAA’s that get a mention here, private individuals, investment companies and smaller corps all get a mention as Captain Chaos tries to provide an update as to who and what has gained and lost power. Given how close to the event the supposition is, a whole lot of it ends up flat out wrong but there are good number of interesting nuggets of information that a GM can use to build plots, especially if they are running in 2057.

I like the fact that The Players covers lessor known/less well covered holdings, things like Brackhaven Investments, Humanis Policlub, Proteus and even the UCAS government are covered. If there is one thing lacking in the Shadowrun fluff it’s information around governments and the established AA corps like Proteus.

The Sleeping Dragon takes a look at a couple of the larger items willed by Dunkelzahn and provides theories as to why they have been gifted to particular people and individuals. Specifically it looks at the items willed to Wuxing and Lung, the Great Eastern Dragon who was given Coins of Luck and what this could mean for the world going forward.

Who Watches the Watchers covers stories from Runners who previously worked for Dunkelzahns, knowingly and unknowingly and looks at how running the shadows will change in the wake of his demise. It gives insight into a side of Big D that wasn’t covered before, the part that shows that there was a lot more too him than the benevolent wyrm who hosted a TV show and wanted to be president and it provides evidence that Dunkelzahn may have been manipulating mortal affairs in ways people just hadn’t considered.

Finally In the Cards is a short 10 page story by Talon, the mage associated with Assets Inc, Dunkelzahn’s own private runner crew, albeit Talon joined after the dragon died. It’s a nice little story that covers one of the items in the will, an antique Tarot deck that was gifted to Dr Miles Swinburne, the father of modern magic and it serves to show how much impact just one of the items on the will can have on.

So by now it’s probably pretty obvious that I really like this book. For me Portfolio of a Dragon: Dunkelzahn’s Secrets is a heady hit of nostalgia since it came out right when I first got into Shadowrun and was exploring the metaplot. On top of that I’m one of the few people who really likes the metaplot that involves the Immortal elves and the links to Earthdawn and this book has so many nods in that direction that it really makes me happy.

Portfolio of a Dragon: Dunkelzahn's Secrets, art

The writing is of fairly high quality as Shadowrun books go, since it’s FASA and the FASA era books tended to be better edited and formatted than the Wizkids or Catalyst stuff. The art is average for Shadowrun, which it pretty weak in general aside from a few specific covers (especially Elmore’s epic 1st ed cover). I’d like to be able to point to a standout piece of art but there isn’t anything with the image above being probably the best in the book.

The effect of this one event on the fluff cannot be understated enough, with the ripples being felt in numerous novels (including the Dragonheart Trilogy, Worlds Without End and Tails you Lose), campaigns including the Renraku Arcology Shutdown and Survival of the Fittest and beyond .

If you are a Shadowrun collector then this book is an absolute must have, it’s a nexus point for the fluff, with novels, adventures and sourcebooks all culminating here and then starting fresh with the fallout from the apparent assassination of a creature that was universally loved, a friend to runners and corporations, an associate of both Tir’s and the Immortal Elves in general, the leader of the Great Dragons and the UCAS President, Dunkelzahn.

Prime Runners, A Shadowrun Sourcebook Review

Name: Prime Runners
Type: Sourcebook
Publisher: Fasa Corporation
System: Shadowrun 2nd edition
Setting: Shadowrun
Pages: 104
Cover: Softcover
Price: Out of print
Rating: 2.0 Stars (2.0 / 5)

Prime Runners, Front Cover

Prime Runners is a sourcebook for the Shadowrun 2nd Edition roleplaying game. It was published in 1994 by FASA Corporation and was written by Mark Gascoigne and Carl Sargent. Prime Runners is an NPC sourcebook containing 41 different NPCs for GMs to pick up and drop into their game as needed. Each NPC gets 2 pages, or there abouts, that provides in game statistics and skills, an illustration, character background and plot hooks. As the title of the book suggests, the NPC’s in this book are considered to be at the top of their game and therefore may prove to be an interesting challenge or a powerful ally depending on how players interact with them.

Prime Runners, Back Cover

The book follows the style of all early Shadowrun sourcebooks, which is black and white throughout aside from a handful of full colour images, in this case of some of the NPC in the book. There is a vivid full colour image on the front of the book, in this case of a runner riding on the roof of a car as explosions abound around him, and a little blurb on the back telling you what the book is about.

Prime Runners, Contents

The book splits into 5 sections-

  • Introduction, a brief section just describing what the book is and what it contains
  • Welcome to the Freak Show, which lists 34 of the NPCs that are most likely to be friendly to the PC’s
  • Prime Terrors, which is a further 4 NPCs that are generally going to be antagonists in a story, including a serial killer and 2 terrorists
  • Wolfram’s Gang, which is a generic gang that makes up the rank and file that runners will face day after day. There are 3 example characters provided here.
  • Threat ratings, which provides some rules and guidance around creating encounters and how to balance them against your PC’s abilities.

I won’t detail every character, there are far too many and so i’ll just go through a couple that I like the look of as an example of what you find inside.

Martin de Vries, Vampire Hunter. I picked Martin since he’s a character that I know from the novel The Terminus Experiment (which I talk about on this post) and because he has duel illustrations, both in the colours section and in his bio.

Martin de Vries, Bio photo

Martin de Vries, Colour

The book gives a nice rounded history for Martin, it describes how he was an accomplished mage and scholar, studying in the Netherlands before moving to Oxford and then Yale. He became a grade 3 initiate with the Ordo Maximus and became increasingly obsessed with a secret conspiracy of Vampires who intended to bring a powerful Astral entity to the world, one that would make Toxic and Insect spirits look like irritable toddlers. Somewhere along the way Martin managed to contract vampirism himself, likely deliberately in order to better understand his prey and he picked up a strange artefact that allows him to increase his essence far in excess of normal levels and therefore limit when he feeds.

Now Martin spends his nights hunting and draining vampires, trying to trace the elusive conspiracy he knows exists and occasionally crossing paths with groups of runners who had better hope they don’t cross him or look particularly toothy.

For hooks the book describes that Martin de Vries would be a very strong source of information for runners who need help taking down vampires and it also advises that he sometimes hires runners to help him on particularly difficult hunts. The conspiracy that Martin hunts could make the basis for an entire campaign if the GM chooses to run with it, tying the PCs fate and that of Martin de Vries inexorably. As a final note the bio makes reference to Martin having lost his weapon focus in the fight that turned him into a vampire and so he would dearly love to be reunited with it, or similar, and he would go to great lengths or pay large sums if someone could help him with that.

Rhonabwy, bio image

I chose Rhonabwy as the 2nd example because, being British, I love the idea that the great Welsh dragon is a real thing. I also thought that the Great Dragon was one of the more interesting and established NPCs in the book. Unlike the other NPCs Rhonabwy gets 4 full pages, as befitting a Great Dragon, and the great majority of this goes into explaining the history of the beast since he woke up on 22/02/2012.

Rhonabwy woke up near Carmarthen in Wales and subsequently destroyed the surrounding area in what he described as a fit of ‘post hibernation trauma’. He’s since spent a considerable amount of money in paying compensation to the families who lost property and loved ones. This generosity seems to be ingrained into Rhonabwy’s personality as he is known to pay well over the asking price for any property or land he intends to appropriate.

From the perspective of his affairs, the most likely reason the runners might get involved in his affairs, Rhonabwy is deeply invested in a significant number of mis size corporations as well as apparently owning 4-7% of AAAs Ares and Shiawase.  He also appears to be quite the political player, seemingly supporting metahuman rights around the world as well as, in rather a contradiction, supporting secessionist and terrorist organisations in a variety of places, including both Tir’s.

The book does a solid job of playing up the secretive and apparently baffling motivations of a Great Dragon, providing a number of explanations as to Rhonabwy’s motivations but ultimately leaving the decisions up the the GM. This is particularly the case with regards to the rumours abounding about the relationship between Rhonabwy and a Sea Dragon in Cardigan Bay. Personally I like the suggestion that these are the two dragons of Arthurian myth, I think that fits well with the setting and the later confirmation of the existence of Excalibur in big D’s will.

For hooks the book doesn’t really provide much that is concrete and instead suggests that runners would rarely know of Rhonabwy’s involvement, either as a Johnson or a target, since the Dragon is far too clever for that. It advises that the runners may be hired by a nature spirit working for the Dragon, and if they were to find out that Rhonabwy was involved it would be over the course of a several runs, maybe an entire campaign. To my mind it would make sense for one of the targets of Rhonabwy’s ire, maybe one of the Tir’s, hire the runners to implant some information in Rhonabwy’s network that allows them to predict where he may next attack them. As with any run involving a Great Dragon, only the most accomplished of runners should even be considered as an opponent.

As a final point I very much like the Shadowland remarks on Rhonabwy, particularly the reply to the comment made by a poster named ‘Merchant Banker’. The reply simply reads “is that your real name, or is it just rhyming slang?” If that doesn’t mean a whole lot to you then I’d perhaps suggesting googling it, but to an Englishman, even one from outside London, I find that pretty damn amusing.

Looking at the book as a whole it has a few good points, the write up of Rhonabwy being of them, and a good number of negative ones. Art in particular is lacking in the book and while the colour images are nice, albeit with an art style that isn’t really in keeping with the style of the game as it looks more comic book, some of the black and white bio art is atrocious, in particular Rhonabwy’s.

Prime Runners is touted as containing the very best runners for the players to interact with and meet and to my mind this should include some of the more iconic characters from the setting, people like Dodger, Ghost Who Walks Inside, Dirk Montgomery and Argent. Unfortunately the book doesn’t include many known character at all, at least not to me, there is Martin de Vries, although his novel was published some time after this book, and there is Michael Sutherland a decker from the books set in the UK like Black Madonna. It’s a shame as it feels a bit like a missed opportunity to me.

On the whole Prime Runners is a pretty weak book. It has some use, especially to GMs who struggle for NPCs on the fly, but in general it’s feels much more like a cash in than a genuine attempt to try and expand the setting. It’s a rare miss for early Shadowrun, since most of the books have great content (just not necessarily great art) and tend to all help build the settings rich history. I’m happy to have it in my collection but i’m also happy that I didn’t pay too much for it, around £8 if memory serves. It’s not a common book but unless you are after a complete collection it’s not a book i’d suggest spending a lot of time and money seeking out.

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.

 

A Killing Glare

Name: A Killing Glare
Type: Adventure
Publisher: FASA Corporation
System: Shadowrun 2nd Edition
Setting: Shadowrun
Format- Softcover book
Size: 28cm x 21.8cm x 0.9cm
Pages: 
Price:  OUT OF PRINT
Rating: 4.0 Stars (4.0 / 5)

A Killing Glare, Front Cover

A Killing Glare is a pre written adventure module for Shadowrun 2nd Edition written by Louis J. Prosperi and published by FASA Corporation in 1993. As this adventure is written with the 2nd Edition rules in mind it transfers fairly easily to the 3rd Edition ruleset but it will require some work on behalf of the GM is they want to run it in 1st, 4th or 5th edition.

The artwork on the cover is nice but doesn’t really bear any resemblance to the plot overall. I’d guess that it is supposed to depict an Urban Brawl game but since none of the characters featured seem to be wearing any kind of similar uniform, beyond some vaguely similar colours I’d say it looks more like generic gang violence than Urban Brawl. As was normal for this period the image is situated in the bottom centre and the adventure title is positioned above that with the standard circuitry surrounding both, this time set onto a crimson and black background

As always, the obligatory warning, this review feature SPOILERS!

The adventure is set in 2054 and primarily revolves around the Shadowrun sport of Urban Brawl, which in simple terms, is effectively competitive gang warfare with the aim of getting a ball into a the opponents goal.  It is set just before the final game of the season the Super Brawl which just so happens to involve the local Seattle team, the Seattle Screamers pitted against the New York Slashers. The runners Johnson is none other than Screamers Coach, “Baby Joe” Johnson (a literal Johnson) and the job is to find out what skeletons his star players, a pair by the name of Punch and Judy, have in the closet.

Unknown the runners, Baby Joe is in deep debt with the Mafia and the only way he can cover those debts is for his bets on the Screamers to come good and, for that he needs Punch and Judy. Unfortunately for Baby Joe, Punch and Judy have pulled out of the game after being threatened by the Mafia, who have placed some bets of their own on the Slashers. Despite what he tells the runners Baby Joe really wants some dirt on Punch and Judy that he can use to blackmail them into playing.

Sitting in the background of all of this is the true past of Punch and Judy, which adds a wrinkle to the plot. Punch and Judy are former shadowrunners who used to work for Aztechnology as part of an elite elven team. Back in 2048 they were on a run and they discovered that the Azzies were performing genetic experiments on metahumans (I know, that’s a huge shock). Owing to their own meta status this enraged the whole team and they trashed the data and ran, leaving the Azzies behind. Aztechnology, not being a forgiving bunch, put a hit out on the team and all but 3 were iced, Punch, Judy and a burned out mage named Bubba.

So the runners start making enquiries and this leads them to Bubba, who is somewhat hesitant to help them but eventually relaxes only to have Azzie hitmen burst in just as he starts to talk. A brief skirmish ensues and Bubba either escapes into the Puyallup Barrens or they manage to take down the hitmen and subdue him. After interrogating him or searching his apartment the runners find out about the shadowrunning history of Punch and Judy and that the hitmen work for an Azzie affiliated fixer named Keane. 

For the runners, the fun is just beginning, they are next approached by the Mafia, who have heard that they are investigating Punch and Judy and want to know why, and who hired them. The Mafia use heavy handed tactics to indicate that they have a vested interest in the Screamers losing the Super Brawl and suggest that it might be better for the runner’s general well-being if they back off.

The next day Bubba’s is found dead and the runners are squarely in the frame, being the last people known to have seen him alive and, in the worst case, being seen to be chasing him across the Puyallup Barrens. From this point onwards the runners need to keep their heads down, which is easier said than done with the increased Lone Star presence due to the impending Super Brawl and the influx of Slashers fans to the sprawl.

By this time the Azzies have sent a new assassin, their top guy, named Kyle Morgan (who shows up in the earlier Mercurial adventure) and his associate, the Western Dragon Perianwyr and they have picked up the runners trail. Tailing them from a meet Kyle and some heavies approach the runners as they reach their doss and try to question them regarding what they know. Kyle intends to kill them but want’s to learn what they know first. Generally speaking a fight will break out and the runners should be overwhelmed so that they can be rescued. It’s worth pointing out that the dragon is only present in astral form here so it won’t intervene directly (unless a runner is foolish enough to go against it in the astral) but it will throw all of it’s spell pool towards providing Kyle with spell defence. 

Just as things are going south Punch and Judy show up and rescue the party, driving Kyle off. They stick around long enough to answer a few questions and get a few answers regarding who is investigating them and why, before riding off into the night. 

The runners then return to Baby Joe and let him know what they’ve found out. How this meeting goes down depends on what they have told the Mafia and  what they told Punch and Judy but, best case scenario he asks for their help in making sure that Punch, Judy and himself are safe until the big game. In my case this didn’t happen as the runners had told Punch and Judy too much and so they got their pay and that was it. My runners did arrange for a VIP package for the game though, held in Seattle’s Stadium as one of the team was a big Urban Brawl fan and a Screamers supporter. 

The big climax comes after this final meeting, when the runners see that Kyle Morgan has infiltrated the game and is gunning for Punch and Judy. The runner should feel compelled to help, regardless, as Punch and Judy saved their lives, and so there was a mad dash across the city to reach the area of the Barrens that the game was being held in. From there they have to infiltrate the field of play and neutralise Kyle and Perianwyr before they manage to take out Punch and Judy. This leads to an epic battle as any fight involving a dragon should. 

It’s a solid adventure and the standard adventure tree format works well again here. It flows nicely and there are sufficient moments of action, stealth and etiquette to let all types of runners shine. The writing isn’t great and there are quite a few errors throughout the book with references to Screamers being incorrectly written as Slashers etc.

Part of the attraction to the adventure is that it’s certainly not timeline specific as only 2063 and 2064 have the winners of sporting events detailed in the State of the Art books. It’s nice that another aspect of the world is covered in more detail as well, I find it adds depth and it really helped my game that one of the players had Urban Brawl as a background skill. A Killing Glare does have the basic rules for Urban Brawl included in it but I’d also suggest getting hold of Shadowbeat if you want to run this, as it covers most of the cultural information for Shadowrun.

Paradise Lost- A Shadowrun Adventure/Sourcebook Review

Name: Paradise Lost
Type: Adventure/Sourcebook
Publisher: FASA Corporation
System: Shadowrun 2nd Edition
Setting: Shadowrun
Format- Softcover book
Size: 28cm x 21.8cm x 0.9cm
Pages: 80
Price:  OUT OF PRINT
Rating: 5.0 Stars (5.0 / 5)

Paradise Lost, Shadowrun

Paradise Lost is an adventure/sourcebook for Shadowrun 2nd edition, written by Nigel Findley and Tom Wong and published in 1994. To date this book represents the only adventure and the only in game source material written about the Kingdom of Hawaii with the only other material being the novel House of the Sun, also by Nigel Findley.

The book is obviously named for John Milton’s epic poem of the same name but while there are analogies between the fall of man and the Shadowrun universe there are no similarities between the poem and the adventure. The front of the book is in the characteristic style of 1st and 2nd edition Shadowrun, with a large central picture with the title above it and an etched circuit board effect around the outside. The artwork is almost postcard like, with a beautiful woman on a sunny beach with ‘Aloha!’ written above her. in front of this are two shadowrunners descending an escalator wearing leis. The cover art perfectly epitomises the tone of the adventure, bright sunshine, beautiful beaches and dangerous people.

The book is split into 2 parts, the adventure, named Paradise Lost, and the sourcebook for the Kingdom of Hawaii both set in the year 2055. The adventure is 54 pages long and the sourcebook is is a further 11 with the extra 15 pages being given over to advice for running the adventure, the prologue and some game information covering new Totems specific to Hawaii.

It goes without saying that there will be spoilers from here onwards

The adventure is fairly straightforward and plunges the players headlong into a plot involving a couple of local Hawaiian corps, a potentially groundbreaking decking device named the AFD (anti-flatlining device), AAA Megacorp Mitsuhama and a local terrorist group named Aloha. The adventure follows the standard adventure tree format of 1st to 3rd ed Shadowrun and, as is often the case, it works very well, allowing flexibility while still giving enough detail to cover all the pertinent points. the adventure used the 2nd edition rule set and so can easily be played in 3rd ed but wil require some work by the GM to convert it for the  1st, 4th or 5th edition rules.

It starts with the runners being hired in Seattle (or whichever sprawl they call home) to investigate whether a hit on the corp developing the AFD was really a piece of corporate espionage or a prearranged plan to cover the device being sold on without the knowledge of the owners and recover any remaining AFD prototypes.

The runners are flown out to Honalulu, put up in a fancy hotel and introduced to a contact while they investigate the hit but what makes it a little interesting is that they are told in advance that while getting equipment into the island isn’t hard, getting it back out is and so they can only rely on what they are willing to lose or what can be sourced locally. I like this a it forces the runners to live by their skill and wits rather than their equipment and resources.

The first step is to break into the facility that was hit and try to find more information but it just so happens that Aloha (Army for the Liberation of Hawaii) are breaking in that same night to makes urge that there were no lose ends from the hits. After finding out what they need the runners find another related facility on a nearby island and head out there via boat only to find an MCT crew there and end up rescuing an MCT operative, who happens to work undercover for Aloha, and engaging in a high speed boat chase escape punctuated by the appearance of a Kracken. My players loved this part and put some physical barrier spells to excellent use to delay and destroy the boats chasing them.

After interrogating the guy they just rescued the runners find out he gave copies of the AFD data files and a prototype to Aloha and with a little persuasion he is willing to lead the runners to the Aloha HQ. This begins the final stage of the run and pits the runners against the might of Aloha, on their home turf. The runners manage to procure a VTOL to take them to the remote mountainous base.

Infiltrating the base will generally start with stealth but, unless the players are really careful will inevitably devolve down to combat. Aloha’s base is well guarded and all of those inside are devoted to the cause and so will defend it with their lives, meaning that when the everything goes south the party will end up having to clear the place room by room and will face some fairly stiff opposition including street sams and magicians.

The final confrontation is with the head of the organisation, a reclusive individual reported to be a powerful magic user but he turns out to be a whole lot more than the runners expect as he is, in fact, a feathered serpent. This final confrontation can go a couple of ways as the wyrm is willing to negotiate (assuming that the party think to do so)  but most likely a rather deadly confrontation will ensure inside the dragons cavernous chambers. This makes for an epic and suitable end to the run but can obviously be exceptionally deadly if the runners aren’t tough enough to take on a dragon.

After they recover the data and prototypes they can arrange passage back to the mainland and and get paid, with no shenanigans from the Johnson, unless you decide that there should be. Obviously the fallout is that the runners have a MCT and potentially a terrorist organisation somewhat upset with them, but that’s just another day at with for a shadowrunner, right?

It’s a good adventure, it’s challenging without being exceptionally difficult, it has a few nice scenes and it’s in a new and exotic locale so it can be dropped in nicely when you want to change the pace of your campaign. The final showdown with the Dragon is a nice touch as defeating a dragon always leads to a feeling of success.

Paradise Lost, Shadowrun, Kingdom of Hawaii

The sourcebook makes up the second part of the book and I really like its inclusion, more adventures in exotic locales should imclude a sourcebook section. It’s a short section but it’s enough to properly give you an idea of the general lay of the land in the Kingdom of Hawaii and a basic understanding of what the shadows are like there.

Included is the standard ‘facts at a glance’ which shows an overwhelming majority of orks amount metas on the island (22% of the total population) along with details on the climate (warm and sunny, even during winter), how you get in and out and what the general geography looks like. After that the history of the islands is explained, including how it broke away from the U.S. In 2017.

The chapter also includes some details on modern Hawaii, including it’s political family, economy and culture. This last is tied deeply into the attitude of the islands as there has been a strong re-emergence of traditional Hawaiian traditions and beliefs, which has lead to greater sympathy for those who favour greater autonomy from megacorporate influences, in particular the terrorist group Aloha.

Honalulu is given someone the spotlight as it is the destination that the runners will visit in the adventure and the greatest focus of shadow activity in the Kingdom of Hawaii. As normal this focus covers schooling, law enforcement, transportation, crime and shadow activity, albeit briefly as each is covered only in a paragraph or two.

The book finishes with 4 new shamanic totems that are specific to the Kingdom of Hawaii and would make particularly good inspiration for a PC who wanted to play a Kahuna. These totems are Honu (turtle), Kohola (whale), Mo’o (gecko) and Nene (goose).

Paradise Lost is a solid addition to any Shadowrun collection, not only is it a great adventure but it is the only place to get source material on the Kingdom of Hawaii and for a completion it’s like me, this makes it a must. It’s not the easiest book to get hold of, my search took me several months and a few failed attempts and, even then, it’s wasn’t exactly cheap, costing me more than double its original retail cost for a copy in average condition. Still, it’s certainly a book I’d recommend to anyone who wasn’t so  fun and interesting adventure that lets their players lake a little departure from the norm.

Paradise Lost, Shadowrun, Rear Cover

Shadowrun Novels, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

 

Shadowrun, all novels

In a twist to the normal articles about games and gaming, I’d write something about one of the purest forms of fluff that exists in any game setting, it’s line of accompanying novels. First up, probably my 2nd favourite line of fantasy novel, Shadowrun.

Now, before I get into it, I feel it’s worth pointing out that I realise that Shadowrun novels are never going to win any awards, they are masterful works of fiction and they aren’t going to revolutionise the genre. They are trashy, pulp sci-fi novels, of average quality at best, but that doesn’t mean I love them any less , in fact it might just make me love them that bit more because they know what they are they don’t hide it or pretend to be anything different, in fact them embrace it.

I’m not going to go into a huge amount of detail about each book, I’ll give a brief synopsis, my opinion if I have anything to add and then  rating, out of 5.  This will also just include, for now, the dead tree format releases and not the ebooks and enhanced fiction stories. If i haven’t read a book i’ll say so and I’ll update the list as and when I read them.

Into the Shadows, Trade Paprback Cover

Into the Shadows– Original Trade Paperback- The book that started it all. This is an anthology of loosely linked stories, one of which, was later developed into the first book in the Secrets of Power trilogy. It’s not a bad novel but it feels different in tone from the Shadowrun that came later. Image courtesy of http://shadowrun.wikia.com/2.0 Stars (2.0 / 5)

Never Deal With a Dragon, cover

Never Deal with a Dragon– The first in the Secrets of Power trilogy and adapted from the short story Into the Shadows in the previous anthology. It follows the extraction of the wageslave Sam Verner from Renraku and his introduction to the SINless world of Shadowrunners while searching for his sister. This is the book that started my love of Shadowrun and is a key book for anyone who wants to properly understand the horrific dystopian world of 2051.It also introduces several characters and themes that continue to develop in the setting up to the present day.3.0 Stars (3.0 / 5)

Choose Your Enemies Carefully, Cover

Choose Your Enemies Carefully– The second Secrets of Power novel. Sam continues his search for his sister and his own power grows as Sam begins to understand his true nature as a Shaman. Again, not terrible and it certainly conveys the grim tone of 2050. Being English, I like the fact that even this early in the Shadowrun line, England is developed.3.0 Stars (3.0 / 5)

Find Your Own Truth, cover

Find your Own Truth– The third and and final in the Secrets of Power trilogy. Sam undertakes a powerful magic ritual and reenacts the Great Ghost Dance, the event which kickstarted the Awakening in order to save his sister. A magnificently epic end to the series of books and one that really helps to introduce people to the power that can be unleashed by those with the will to do it.3.0 Stars (3.0 / 5)

2XS, Cover

2XS- The first book about Dirk Montgomery and the first book by the best of the Shadowrun authors, Nigel Findley. Dirk is a PI who gets drawn into a plot involving a Megacorporation and an other worldly menace. Not only does the book contain the introduction of dirk but it also introduces the legendary Argent and his team The Wrecking Crew. Fantastic novel that really introduces the threat of Insect Spirits into the setting.5.0 Stars (5.0 / 5)

Changeling, Cover

Changeling– Life as growing up and as a Shadowrunner from the perspective of a human that becomes a Troll. This is an interesting look at the setting as it shows what kind of prejudice a human that goblinizes Troll is subjected to. Overall it’s an average book but with an interesting twist as it is set in both 2039 and 2052.3.0 Stars (3.0 / 5)

Never Trust an Elf, Cover

Never Trust an Elf– This follows one of the characters from the Secrets of Power, Kham, the ork as he gets drawn into a plot involving powerful else an even more powerful dragons. This book also contains a bit of a cameo from Dodger, another of the characters in the Secrets of Power trilogy and possibly the best decker in the world. Despite the characters and the subject matter, I didn’t like this one, I found it hard to read and a struggle to get through.2.0 Stars (2.0 / 5)

Into The Shadows, cover

Into The Shadows– This is a reprint of the Trade Paperback book. The story, Into the Shadows has been changed for another named A Plague of Demons.3.0 Stars (3.0 / 5)

Streets of Blood, cover

Streets of Blood- The first Serrin Shamander and Lord Geraint Llanfechfa novel. This one is set in England in 2054. Honestly, I haven’t read it so I can’t comment any more than that as to how good it is.

Shadowplay, Cover

Shadowplay– Another Nigel Findley novel. The main characters, Sly and Falcon, get embroiled in a plot between Megacorporations that has it’s history grounded in the Crash of 28 and threatens to grow into all out Corporate war. Another great read and one of the better books in the series, i like the fact that it goes into some detail about Cheyenne in the Sioux Nation as this area hasn’t ever really been deeply expanded beyond Native American Nations (1/2?) and the recent Cheyenne in Focus.4.0 Stars (4.0 / 5)

Night's Pawn, cover

Nights Pawn– Getting out the shadows is never easy, as Jason Chase can attest, Megacorporations and interfamily conflict seem to get in the way. This one covers area’s around Denver, as well as travelling to a few other locations in North America and details some of the lesser know professions in Shadowrun, such as smuggling and Coyotes across the American/Aztlan boarder.3.0 Stars (3.0 / 5)

Striper Assassin, cover

Striper Assassin– Striper first appeared in Into the Shadows and then again in the Secrets of Power trilogy. Striper is a were-tiger and an accomplished assassin. This is primarily a revenge plot story set in Philadelphia that provides an interesting insight into the mind of a Shadowrun shapeshifter. I struggled reading this because of the bizarre present tense that it is written in but Striper is a fascinating character and the primal nature of Shadowrun shapeshifters is interesting to explore.2.0 Stars (2.0 / 5)

Lone Wolf, cover

Lone Wolf– Shadowrun from the other side of the law, at least partly, as Lone Star cop Rick Larson takes center stage. As you can expect, something goes wrong and Rick ends up being hunter by Lone Star and needing to resort to getting help from the very people he usually tries to bring down, Shadowrunners. Argent shows up in this one again as does Dirk Montgomery for a very brief cameo. The story in this book actually links, subtly with Nigel Findley’s previous offering, 2XS and with the excellent Shadowrun Retuns game, by Harebrained Schemes.4.0 Stars (4.0 / 5)

Fade to Black, cover

Fade to Black– The first real foray into New York state as an extraction goes wrong for the runner team and they end up being hunter by a private military firm and a number of AAA and AA Megacorporations. Some really interesting background into Newark and the various zones it’s divided into as well as some interesting uses and explanations of ritual magic.4.0 Stars (4.0 / 5)

Nosferatu, cover

Nosferatu– The second Serrin Shamander story. This is another I haven’t read so I can’t speak as to the subject or quality of the novel.

Burning Bright, cover

Burning Bright– Kyle Teller, a mage gets hired to find the missing son of a CEO in Chicago, 2055. As the plot unfurls on of the biggest events in the Shadowrun timeline takes place as a huge Insect Spirit hive is uncovered and Ares Macrotechnology utilise drastic measures to destroy it, resulting in the legendary Cermak Blast and the creation of the Chicago Containment Zone. This is a great book, easily one of the best in the entire Shadowrun line. Not only does it describe a landmark point in the history of the setting but it also provides great insight into Spirits, and their motives, as well as summoning and the Astral Plane.5.0 Stars (5.0 / 5)

Who Hunts the Hunter, cover

Who Hunts the Hunter– The second of the Striper novels. Striper seeks to hunt down those who stole her cub and exact her revenge. This is the first book to truly introduce New York in any detail and it provides further insight into the mind of shapeshifters while asking the age old question of whether man is the most evil of all beasts. This book also see’s the return of Bandit, a shaman from Fade to Black. This is certainly better than the first Striper novel and, despite still being written in 1st person, present tense, is an easier read.3.0 Stars (3.0 / 5)

House of the Sun, cover

House of the Sun– The second Dirk Montgomery story and the last Shadowrun novel written by Nigel Findley. Dirk repays an old debt and travels to the Kingdom of Hawaii only to fall afoul of warring factions in the corporations, the government and the rebels who just so happen to be lad by a dragon. The book has a very different tone to 2XS, owing to the fact that Hawaii is bright and sunny, but this is still an excellent book and is easily the equal of 2XS. I apologise about the state of the cover for this picture, my copy suffered an unfortunate accident and I’m in the process of trying to replace it.5.0 Stars (5.0 / 5)

Worlds Without End, cover

World Without End– Aina, an immortal elf, faces down a Millenia old enemy who has resurfaced in the sixth world. This book was originally meant to be the conclusions to a trilogy known as The Immortals, which was to start with 2 Earthdawn novels, Scars and Little Treasures but Little Treasures was never published and Scars was only published after Worlds Without End. it’s not a bad book but if you don’t have any interest in the Immortal Elf metaplot then it won’t interest you at all. It’s nice to see Tir Na Nog make an appearance in a book and I’m a big fan of Harlequin so I liked it but it’s still only part of a story.3.0 Stars (3.0 / 5)

Just Compensation, Cover

Just Compensation– Upstanding citizens Andy and Tom become try to uncover a secret plot that lies at the very heart of UCAS Government and Military and need to turn to shadowrunners for help. I don’t know whether it’s Robert Charrette’s writing or the story but I struggled with this, as I did with Never Trust an Elf. Charrette clearly knows the subject matter well and cares about it but I found reading this book slow going.3.0 Stars (3.0 / 5)

Black Madonna, cover

Black Madonna– The third Serrin Shamander novel. Another I haven’t read.

Preying For Keep, cover

Preying for Keeps– Shadowrunners are brought in to retrieve data stolen from a corporation but get drawn into a deeper plot involving corporate war and organised crime. The first really pulpy Shadowrun novel. If any book seems to demonstrate the change from the dark and gritty Pink Mohawk style of 1st and 2nd edition to the more Black Trench coat style of 3rd edition, its this. It actually a lot of fun to read and the runners feel more like action movie stars at times than the beaten down SINless of earlier offerings.4.0 Stars (4.0 / 5)

Dead Air, cover

Dead Air– Corruption is rife in all elements of life in the sixth world, even in the ruthless and bloody sport of Combat Biking. This isn’t a great book but it gets points for taking a look at a hitherto untouched aspect of the setting, it’s sports. Shadowrun is practically unique in that even it’s sports are detailed and have rulesets made for them and so having a novel with central characters who are star athletes adds some extra depth to the setting overall. 3.0 Stars (3.0 / 5)

The Lucifer Deck, cover

The Lucifer Deck– Magic and machines mix again as a corporate experiment goes wrong and an extra dimensional demon into the world. One of the things I like most about Shadowrun is the level of detail that applies to the world, it’s probably the most chronicled single setting ever created but every now and then something happens that seems completely at odds with everything that seems to be known and this is one of those times. This is a poor book, it tries to do something different by introducing a demon/spirit of light that can travel down fibre-optic cables and effect the matrix but it feels like fan fiction more than an official novel. It’s one saving grace is that is shows the racial prejudices that are rife in Shadowrun and despite how common it is in the setting it’s not often touched upon in the fluff.2.0 Stars (2.0 / 5)

Steel Rain, cover

Steel Rain– Another book that I haven’t read.

Shadowboxer, cover

Shadowboxer– A run goes south for Adam Two-Bears as he tries to track down the meaning of the word ‘IronHell’. Set in and around Miami this books detail another location that isn’t particularly well detailed in the fluff. It’s an average book that has an completely unexpected twist part way through that is both fascinating and utterly bizarre.3.0 Stars (3.0 / 5)

Stranger Souls, cover

Stranger Souls– The first book of the Dragonheart Saga. In the wake of the assassination of President Dunkelzahn, a Great Dragon, his personal team of shadowrunners, Assets Incorporated, investigate who could have killed Dunkelzahn and why. You’ll either love or hate this as it’s less Shadowrun and more superheroes on steroids. The book ties in with the events of the Shadowrun Campaigns, Super Tuesday and Harlequin’s Back and leads into Portfolio of a Dragon, Dunkelzahn’s Will.4.0 Stars (4.0 / 5)

Headhunters, cover

Headhunters– A sequel to Preying for Keeps, featuring the same team. This time Jack Slater and his team are hired to steal a corpse from a funeral home but they are not the only people who want the body and all is not as it seems. This is darker and grittier in feel than the first book but doesn’t manage to be quite as good. Parts are set in the Ork Underground and it’s nice to actually hear some descriptions of that iconic Seattle location.4.0 Stars (4.0 / 5)

Clockwork Asylum, Cover

Clockwork Asylum– The second book in the Dragonheart Saga. The story of uber runner Ryan mercury continues as he continues in his quest to find Dunkelzahn’s killer. At the same time a Cyberzombie, inhabited by a powerful free spirit blames Ryan for the death and looks to enact revenge all against the backdrop of the rising power of Aztechnology. As with the first book it’s stupid in scale and power but the events of the book should not be overlooked as it has a significant impact on the setting as a whole.4.0 Stars (4.0 / 5)

Blood Sport, cover

Blood Sport- Another book I have not read.

Beyond the Pale, cover

Beyond the Pale- The third and final book in the Dragonheart Saga. The trilogy reaches it’s suitably epic conclusion as Ryan and Assets Incorporated, along with a few new friends in the form of Harlequin, Aina and Frosty, look to prevent Aztechnology from completing their ghastly ritual that will bring untold Horrors to Earth centuries ahead of time. If it’s possible this book takes the power level and ups it further, to the point of bordering in ludicrous. A solid book that has massive ramifications for the setting as a whole.4.0 Stars (4.0 / 5)

Technobabel, cover

Technobabel– An Otaku named Babel awakens with no memory of who he is or what has happened to him. To make matters worse, a whole lot of people, including a Megacorporation appear to be after him and he has no idea why. A good book that sets the background for parts of the Renraku Arcology Shutdown and the Brainscan Campaign.4.0 Stars (4.0 / 5)

Wolf and Raven, cover

Wolf and Raven– Dr Raven works with a group of runners lead by Wolfgang Kies and tries to help people and protect the world from undesirable types acting almost like modern day Robin Hood types more than traditional shadowrunners. This isn’t a book I enjoyed, I have to say I lost interest early on when a character called Kid Stealth was introduced because, as much as I get that this is a Sci-Fi setting i just couldn’t take any professional criminal called Kid Stealth seriously, he sounds like a bad 8Bit computer game character. 2.0 Stars (2.0 / 5)

Psychotrope, cover

Psychotrope– Five deckers, unknown and unrelated to one-another are the only hope for the entire of the Seattle matrix and it gets taken down and it’s inhabitants trapped inside. This book also provides background to the Renraku Arcology Shutdown as it introduces the psychotropic programming that Deus uses to create banded. In interesting book, not least of which because it takes place over a span of just 10 minutes or so, an eternity in the matrix, but next to no time on the outside. 4.0 Stars (4.0 / 5)

The Terminus Experiment, cover

The Terminus Experiment– A small local Seattle security firm with ties to organised crime is involved in a plot to mutate the HMHVV virus and effectively provide immortality through vampirism. Not a great book, the premise is ok but it becomes far more of a cyberpunk Van Helsing than a Shadowrun novel. 2.0 Stars (2.0 / 5)

Run Hard, Die Fast, cover

Run Hard, Die Fast- Prime Runner, Argent’s past comes back to haunt him as an ex girlfriend reaches out to him for help. Argent assembles a crew on short notice and goes to work in LA and the Pueblo Corporate Council. as always, it’s nice to see another location explored and the Pueblo lands feel suitably different to the wider world. Argent is a great character, although he appears to have literally every piece of cyberware known to man, to the point that he can’t have more than .1 essence left, even if it’s all delta grade. 3.0 Stars (3.0 / 5)

Crossroads, cover

Crossroads– The first in the Tommy Talon series of books. Talon, Talon is drawn back home to Boston and into a conflict with local corporations and a powerful spirit with ties to his past. Talon takes a step away from Assets Inc takes center stage in his own story, also becoming the single most features character in the Shadowrun Novel line. This is a good book that feels more grounded than the Dragonheart Saga and has a neat plot that isn’t too convoluted or complex just for the sake of adding more twists.4.0 Stars (4.0 / 5)

The Forever Drug, cover

The Forever Drug– Romulus, a freelance investigator with the Halifax, Nova Scotia Lone Star department, who also happens to be a dog shapeshifter, discovers a dangerous new drug that gives the most euphoric high, before killing users. For all it’s faults, I actually liked this book. It’s a more light hearted view of life as a shapeshifter, in a place where they can be legal entities (unlike the UCAS). As a dog is a very different creature to a tiger the mindset of Romulus is vastly different to that of Striper, to an almost comical degree (like him getting the urge to put his head out of the window of moving cars). It shows a different side of Shadowrun, away from the harsh lights of the big sprawls making it feel much less dystopian than perhaps it has a right to.3.0 Stars (3.0 / 5)

Ragnarock, cover

Ragnorok– Tommy Talon book 2. This time Talon travels to Germany to track down an archaeologist who appears to have vanished with the ancient artefacts he unearthed and ends up getting caught up in a fraternal battle between two of the most powerful siblings on the planet. A good continuation of the Talon series that expands upon the backstory of his team. Despite the love of Shadowrun in Germany this is the first English language novel that spends any real time there and it shows the disparate nature of that anarchic state. 4.0 Stars (4.0 / 5)

Tails You Lose, cover

Tails You Lose– When a scientist is extracted from a Vancouver Corporation it’s down to it’s head of security, Alma, to find out who did it and how. An interesting take on the extraction story as you see at least part of it from the other side of the law. Some parts are drawn directly from Dunkelzahn’s will, which is nice to see since it’s supposed to have have such a massive effect on the setting and some lesser known elements and enemies within the universe are explored as well, unfortunately just not all that well. 3.0 Stars (3.0 / 5)

The Burning Time, cover

The Burning Time– Tommy Talon book 3. Talon returns home once more to face down an old enemy one last time and is reunited with a friend long thought lost. This is a surprisingly weak final entry in the Talon series. It feels like Stephen Kenson tried to wrap up more that was possible in one book and ended up rushing the job.3.0 Stars (3.0 / 5)

Born to Run, cover

Born To Run-The first in the Kellan Colt Trilogy. A young girl, Kellan Colt searches for answers about her past, and her mother, while trying to become a shadowrunner. When it was first announced that there would be new Shadowrun novels I was excited but that quickly turned to disappointment upon when I read Born to Run. I’m sure if you are new to the setting then it’s a great introduction but to me it read like Shadowrun for children with the main character being young, naive and utterly inept but somehow surviving and making friends. Had Kellan existed in Robert Charrette’s, or Nigel Findley’s Shadowrun she would have likely met a quicker and less pleasant end. 1.0 Stars (1.0 / 5)

Poison Agendas, cover

Poison Agendas– The second Kellan Colt novel. Kellan goes on her first real Shadowrun and obviously gets in over her head. A better title would have been ‘My first Shadowrun’ and then it could have been 20 pages with big colourful pictures. At least Dragonlance had the good sense to release a full ‘young readers’ series and deliberately tone down the setting as opposed to just being insultingly poor. This is mildly better than the first book, mostly owing to the fact that it has a Toxic Spirit in it and that particular enemy has been sorely under-represented in the novel line. 1.0 Stars (1.0 / 5)

Fallen Angels, cover

Fallen Angels– Kellan Colt, book 3. Kellan’s past finally catches up with her and her questions get answered. I know I’ve read this but I really don’t remember much about it, leading me to believe that it was as poor as the previous offerings in the trilogy. As I don’t remember it It’d be unfair to give it a rating.

Drops of Corruption, cover

Drops of Corruption- I haven’t read this book.

Aftershock, cover

Aftershock- I haven’t read this book.

A Fistful of Data, cover

A Fistful of Data– I haven’t read this book.

Spells and Chrome, cover

Spells and Chrome- A collection of short stories set in the 2070’s of Shadowrun 4th edition. There isn’t anything particularly inspiring in here but owing to the fact that it was the only post Crash 2.0 book in publication for quite some time, it gets a little boost.3.0 Stars (3.0 / 5)

Fire & Frost, shadowrun novel cover

Fire & Frost- This is the first release in Catalyst’s new line of Shadowrun novels set within the 5th edition timeline. This book is trade paperback sized, not mass market paperback sized and so is larger than all of the previous releases, aside from the initial release of Into The Shadows. I have not yet read this book.

Dark Resonance, Shadowrun Novel Cover

Dark Resonance- Another trade paperback sized release. I haven’t yet read this book.

The Universal Brotherhood- A Shadowrun Adventure Review

Name: The Universal Brotherhood
Type: Adventure
Publisher: FASA Corporation
System: Shadowrun 1st Edition
Setting: Shadowrun
Format- Softcover book
Size: 28cm x 21.8cm x 0.9cm
Pages: 88 (handout) and 56 (adventure)
Price:  OUT OF PRINT
Rating: 4.0 Stars (4.0 / 5)

The Universal Brotherhood, Cover

The Universal Brotherhood is an adventure written for the first edition of the Shadowrun Roleplaying game and is set in the year 2050. It was written by the late, great, Nigel Findley (Unleash Your Inner Abilities) and Chris Kybasik (Missing Blood) and was published by FASA Corporation in 1990. This was actually the first adventure published for Shadowrun, aside from Silver Angel that came with the GM screen and it kicks off the whole Bug Spirits arc continues into 5th edition over 25 years later.

Universal Brotherhood, contents

You get 2 books in this set, with a thin card protective cover. The first book is by Nigel Findley is Unleash Your Inner Abilities and is a substantial Player’s hand out for use with the second book, the adventure named Missing Blood by Chris Kybasik. The protective cover is full colour and features an excellent piece of art featuring a Wasp Spirit stood in an alley beneath a prominent Universal Brotherhood Chapterhouse sign.  The back of the cover features artwork of a photo of an Ant Spirit and  a note written in blood warning against playing the adventure, both drawn so it looks like they have hastily been taped to the back. It’s a nice looking cover and it looks suitably ominous, especially if you know what Bug Spirits are…..

Universal Brotherhood, back cover

As always, a disclaimer, this is a review of an adventure and naturally in includes spoilers for the adventure itself as well for the Shadowrun timeline. If you plan on playing through The Universal Brotherhood I’d suggest that you don’t keep reading…..

Before I get into the contents of the books I want to provide a little bit of context. Before Immortal Elves, before Dunkelzahn was assassinated, before the Arcology was overtaken by Deus, before Crash 2.0 there was the Universal Brotherhood. The Universal Brotherhood was, on face value, an altruistic organisation akin to the YMCA, set up to help the most needy, those who lived SINless lives, the weak, the neglected and the oppressed. It was supposed to give them a sense of community and purpose and to help them unlock their inner abilities. But this is Shadowrun and no-one is that altruistic without an ulterior motive and the while the community promised by the Universal Brotherhood was real, it had a very sinister purpose, Insect Spirits.

The Astral Plane in Shadowrun has always been closely linked with the Natural world. Elementals represent the basest forces in the world and Spirits are ties to physical places, man-made or not, taking on the very characteristics of those places. Even the Totems followed by Shaman tend appear as natural or supernatural creatures that embody the characteristics of a type of belief or personality. Rarely though, without extreme coaxing from a Magician ,does a Spirit or Elemental appear as a creature rather they appear as personifications of places or beliefs. Insect spirits defy that trend, further highlighting the truly alien nature of them.

Insect Spirits go on to feature heavily in the early Shadowrun metaplot, from the novels 2XS and Burning Bright, to the adventure Queen Euphoria and the sourcebook Bug City. Even now, Insect Spirits continue to haunt the metaplot into 5th edition with the events surrounding Ares Macrotechnology and Knight Errant in Chicago and even feature heavily in the first Shadowrun Returns game by Harebrained Schemes.

Universal Brotherhood handout, Unleash your Inner Abilities

So the first book in the set, and the one I suggest you, as the GM, read first. It is an 88 page book designed primarily has a players hand-out and a significant amount of the background to Missing Blood is included in here. The book is split into 2 parts primarily. The from and back cover are thin card and full colour while the rest is black and white and takes for format of a Matrix conversation that has been printed out and, to this end, the book is actually bound along the top edge, rather than the left side, so as to give the feeling of being informal notes.

The front cover shows a prominent Universal Brotherhood logo and looks like a flyer and this continues into the inside front cover which reads as a leaflet promoting the Brotherhood, that runners may be handed out on the street. In back cover and inside back cover tell a very different story and show 4 photos of Insect Spirits noted with red pen describing what the author believes they show.

Universal Brotherhood, Handout, Back cover

The first part of the book, which takes up the first 77 pages, is a detailed Matrix conversation between a journalist named Rick Devitt and his friend Zeb Wanderly regarding their investigation into the Universal Brotherhood. It has been posted to Shadowland in October 2050 and the age of this product is evident since the Shadowland Sysop is listed as Control and not the iconic Captain Chaos.

This part of the book follows the investigations made by Rick Devitt from his initial curiosity with the Brotherhood through to it’s inevitable grisly end. This is an excellent piece of fiction and really serves to convey the horrific and sinister nature of the Universal Brotherhood and Insect Spirits.

The second part of the book is significantly shorter and serves as a draft of the final report that Devitt and Wanderly intended to release on the true nature of the Universal Brotherhood. It is split into 3 chapters, History and Organisation, Links with Governments and Corporations and the Insect Spirits themselves. Part two finishes off with a letter from Wanderly stressing the importance of the truth about the Universal Brotherhood being revealed before the file is ‘corrupted’. A short Shadowland conversation and a message at the very end indicates that the Shadowland server was attacked and destroyed and  Zeb Wanderly’s body was found in an torched apartment, yet more evidence of the true threat posed by the Universal Brotherhood and the Insect Spirits.

I won’t go into any more detail regarding the contents of the book, it’s far to extensive and, frankly, Nigel Findley was a much better writer than I’ll ever be and I’m not sure my description could do it justice. I can just say that it is truly worth reading, even if you never plan on actually running the adventure.

Universal Brotherhood, Handout, Back cover

Missing Blood is the actual adventure in this set. It’s a 56 page long softcover book that follows the standard Shadowrun ‘adventure tree’ format. The front cover shows the title, the logo of the Universal Brotherhood and then the title repeated over and over, in horizontal lines faded I the background. Just over halfway down, on the right hand side of the logo the faded word Blood is changed to Bugs!! Before the Missing Blood title continues to repeat. In this little detail the ominous and hidden nature of the Insect Spirits is highlighted and I think it’s a nice touch.

The adventure starts as many Shadowrun adventures do, with a table of contents followed by a little framing fiction and then an introduction that provides the year, which other products are recommended to make the most of the adventure and the plot synopsis. The adventure book is all black and white, as normal and mine actually has a slight printing error in the framing fiction that looks like the page was moved in between ink layers and so there is a slight ghosting effect to the typeface.

The adventure itself is pretty straight forward, the runners are hired to locate a women named Victoria, the mistress of a wealthy Renraku executive. Victoria has gone missing with an expensive necklace that the Exec needs to give to his wife in two days. The only clue they have to go on is her address and the fact that he knows that she was affiliated with the Redmond Barrens chapter of the Universal Brotherhood.

The truth is somewhat more sinister, the mistress has been chosen to become the host for an Ant Spirit and so has been made to disappear by the Brotherhood. During the course of the adventure she resides in a cocoon in the basement nest of the Redmond Barrens chapterhouse, slowly transforming into an Ant Fleshform and still in possession of the necklace.

From here the runners collate clues and delve deeper into the Universal Brotherhood connection, eventually visiting the chapterhouse and being brushed off, even if they try to feign interest in joining (the Universal Brotherhood are understandably wary of people that ask questions). The runners have a run in with a group of Ant Fleshforms as they follow up on one of the leads and this gives them their first real taste of just how significant a threat that Bug Spirits can be and how far reaching the influence and plans of the Universal Brotherhood can be.

Throughout the course of the adventure the runners can acquire a copy of the extended hand out ‘Unleash your Inner Abilities’, along with a few others provided at the end of the adventure book and they begin to learn the truth behind the Universal Brotherhood. This all leads to the inevitable showdown as the runners assault the Brotherhood chapterhouse to try and recover the necklace.

All in all it’s not a bad adventure but it’s not particularly great either. The only thing that really sets it apart from any generic run is the inclusion of the Insect Spirits and the truly stellar player hand out. As I’ve mentioned the adventure employs the adventure tree format which is one of the better formats for an adventure and really sets Shadowrun adventures apart from other, contemporary, settings.  The format basically provides a distinct series of scenes, each that provide hooks for further investigation and these hooks are further scenes. This means that the adventures are very flexible around how the players investigate as opposed to being written chronologically, start to finish as is more common.

The set as a whole is fantastic and it’s one I sought for a long time before finally finding  copy on eBay some years back. The production values are high, particularly with the hand out with the only criticism being that the thin card protective cover is very prone to wear around the top and bottom of the spine because it’s basically just a folded piece of thin card that holds the adventure and hand out like a wallet.

For anyone who is an avid collector of Shadowrun this is a must and is surely one of the harder products to find, especially in good condition. It’s not a landmark adventure in the timeline like Brainscan or Harlequin’s Back, but it’s well written and it provides great insight into the early setting. Nigel Findley is pretty much the definitive Shadowrun author as far as I’m concerned and anything by him is worth reading if only to truly grasp what the world is like for the average person.

The adventure is written in the first edition rules and so will likely require some conversion for just about anyone since the rules change from second edition onwards. It’s also pretty specific to the timeline, since the Universal Brotherhood get exposed and shutdown shortly after so it’s not an adventure that can be easily lifted into 2075. I ran it in 2060 with the runners being trapped in a malfunctioning simsense game but it was a stretch.

I wish that I could grade this adventure in two parts because I think the hand out absolutely deserves a 5/5, it really is that good and is absolutely riveting to read, but unfortunately the adventure is only average at 3/5 so I have to give this an overall average of 4/5.

Renraku Arcology Shutdown- A Shadowrun Sourcebook Review

Name: Renraku Arcology Shutdown
Type: Sourcebook
Publisher: FASA Corporation
System: Shadowrun 3rd Edition
Setting: Shadowrun
Format- Softcover book
Size: 27.5cm x 21.3xm x 0.6cm
Pages: 88
Price:  OUT OF PRINT ($15.00, approx £10.00)
Rating: 5.0 Stars (5.0 / 5)

Renraku Arcology Shutdown, cover

Renraku Arcology Shutdown is a timeline event specific Sourcebook for Shadowrun 3rd edition. It was written  by David Hyatt and Brian Schoner and published by FASA Corporation in 1998. It is a softcover book with colour covers and a black and white interior throughout.

Renraku Arcology Shutdown details the events surrounding the takeover of the iconic Renraku Arcology in Seattle by the AI Deus in 2059. Like so many Shadowrun Sourcebooks it is primarily written from an ingame standpoint via conversations between members of the Shadowland BBS and information gathered by that community. The vast majority of the book is devoted to ingame fluff with only the final 17 pages being given over to rules and game information.

The book is split into a number of sections chronologically looking at the Arcology starting from before the Shutdown and running through to early 2060. There is certainly enough information in here to use as plot hooks to include the Arcology Shutdown in your campaign but I have found that this particular book works best when split down as a series of handouts used to augment your game and as a companion to the Brainscan Campaign, which specifically deals with the events surrounding the Shutdown and plays them through to their conclusion.

As with all of the 3rd ed sourcebooks Renraku Arcology Shutdown starts with the inevitable Shadowland Hub page that acts as advertising for recently released products. For the record the recent releases at this point were Cyberpirates, Target: Smuggler Havens, Rigger 2 and Blood in the Boardroom. The upcoming releases were New Seattle, Magic in the Shadows and Corporate Download.

In addition to the advertising the book provides some little snippets of in game news including the announcement of Novatech’s acquisition of a Corporate Court seat, the disappearance of Renraku CEO Inazo Aneki, the Opening of the Astra Space Preservation Society in Chicago and details surrounding the rise of the Otaku and their various ‘tribal’ disputes.

The book opens with some framing fiction involving Dodger and Megeara, which helps build the background, especially if you plan on running Brainscan. After that there is the standard introduction from the iconic Captain Chaos (dated 10/02/60). this time discussing the series of events that were witnessed at the inception of the Shutdown. As is usual for this era, Captain Chaos also provides the introduction to the various chapters.

Chapter 1 is an in game propaganda piece that describes the Arcology from the point of view of someone who works at Renraku and is introducing new workers to the building. It comes with a little introduction from Sherman Huang, Renraku America President, that feels like so many corporate introduction speeches that we’ve all heard in our real lives and for that reason I find it quite amusing. This chapter, that covers the Arcology Residential Zones, Matrix, Recreation etc.

Chapter 2 is an anonymously uploaded diary written by a 10 year old inside the Arcology at the time of the shutdown. It describes the disappearance of his father and the emergence of the first victims of Deus’s cyberware implantation experiments. The chapter has a very sinister feel to it, made worse because it’s written through the eyes of a child.

Chapter 3 is a transcript of an emergency Corporate Council meeting called by Renraku in response to the Arcology shutdown. As you’d expect there is a significant amount of posturing between members of the Council who represent the major Mega-corps. Significantly this chapter provides some background to the Shutdown, including some mentions of the elf decker Leonardo and introduces Brigadier General Amanda Coulton, who is in charge of the UCAS National Guard who spend the next 18 months trying to reclaim the Arcology.

Chapter 4 is a personal favourite,  entitled Shutdown! it covers a conversation between the best of the best in the Shadowrun decking community, Captain Chaos, Dodger, Ronin, FastJack….. amongst others and it links the top datahavens in the world, Seattle, Denver, Singapore etc. These drek hot deckers are discussing the emergent AI when their system gets hacked by a group of Otaku loyal to Deus.

Chapter 5 gives some leaked details into the type of drones that deus is developing inside the Arcology and makes an excellent in game handout to forewarn any runners who plan on trying to break in.

Chapter 6 describes the various types of Banded, White, Blue and Green. Details are provided as to what their specialisms are and what kinds of cyber/bio-ware packages they have. Again this is written from an in game point of view and so makes an excellent handout to prepare your runners for what may lie ahead. The chapter also introduces Pax, leader of the White Banded and Deus’s most loyal servant, almost his High Priestess since the Whites tend to think of Deus as a Machine-God.

This chapter also provides a much updated view of the inside of the Arcology, including the changes made by Deus. These changes can be as simple as repurposed Hospital facilities to the Classrooms used to psychoactively brainwash and train children as the next generation of Banded to the dreaded Mazes, which are huge multi-floor deathtraps created by Deus to test new creations.

Chapter 7 details the resistance, a pivotal group in the Brainscan campaign and the key source of reliable information coming out of the Arcology.It’s written from the point of view of one of the few escapees, Peregrine who knows better than most what is going on inside. The chapter introduces key characters within the struggle to defeat Deus and explains what has happened to many of the top Renraku employees trapped within the Arcology.

Chapter 8 is a further piece of framing fiction, this time as an in game journal chronicling a run within the Arcology. The author is Devon Eurich, resistance leader and former Renraku researcher turned shadowrunner. This journal serves to provide a first hand account of the nightmare that has become of the Arcology matrix under the sway of Deus and the Whites.

Significantly this chapter introduces Deus’s Ultraviolet Host and mentions the Grendel Project, both of his are key components in the final act of Brainscan. Also, it introduces Deus in person, as he confronts Devon within the Ultraviolet Host. This last makes for an interesting conversation since it shows Deus to be more than simply an AI Overlord or computer gone mad. Deus is shown to be complex, determined and ultimately almost human in his desire to be free.

The final section is devoted to Game Information and covers much of the crunch that has been suggested in the fluff to this point. There are details and specifics of the Banded, their various ranks and cyber/bio-ware packages as well as statistics for the various drones that Deus has created. There is also a breakdown of the number of people inside with a breakdown by meta-human species.

The Game Information chapter also gives some basic information around getting in and out of the Arcology, for anyone foolhardy enough to try, and provides a strong overview of the security forces that surround the building, along with their equipment, capabilities and how likely they are to spot intruders. Unsurprisingly this chapter is also where you find out the Security Sheaf for the buildings matrix (lets just say that it’s not a great idea to try and deck in) and the stats for the internal remote control networks in case you happen to have a rigger in your party.

The last few pages provide some adventure hooks and Errata so as to update Otaku (who are pretty important to the whole plot) and a few other outdated Matrix and Decking rules that aren’t really fit for purpose.

Finally the last 3 pages are a Floor Index for the Arcology which is of exceptional value if you plan on sending a team inside. Want to know what’s on floor 134, thats fine it’s middle class housing, floor 281? Hydroponics. 311? Air Traffic Control.

This is an exceptional sourcebook, one long awaited for it’s detail on a truly iconic building. It honestly works best as a companion to the Brainscan Campaign (published 2 years later) but even if you have no intention of ever running the Arcology Shutdown as part of your campaign it makes for impressive background material to use to make your campaign world seem alive. The Arcology Shutdown dominated the news for over a year between late 2059 and May 2061 and the likelihood is that most runners would at least know someone who was trapped inside.

Throughout the entire book there are news reports in sidebars that provide actual in game updates as the average SINner would experience through mainstream media and then the various chapters, published on Shadowland provide the whole story and can be handed out if your runners choose to dig a little deeper.

If possible get the PDF and Sourebook, since the former is easier to break up an use as handouts and the latter is an essential part of any Shadowrun collection. The book is certainly geared towards GM’s more than players and I think thats for the best as GM’s should disseminate the information inside as they see fit.

There isn’t anything bad I can say about this book, aside from it’s rarity and price on the resale market. To me it was a Holy Grail item, one that I desperately wanted and took a long time to get hold of because of the relative cost. Fortunately for me I have a wife that understands and feeds my addiction, and so when I couldn’t justify buying it, she could.