The Universal Brotherhood, Cover

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)
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.

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