Tag Archives: Roleplay

RPGaDay 2016- Day 4, Most Impressive Thing Another’s Character Did?

RPGaDAY2016

The most impressive thing I ever saw a character do, bar none, was in an epic level game I ran as an extension of the campaign I mentioned in the last post. After the world was saved the party returned as heroes, were granted marriages and lands and even kingdoms, they opened up magic schools, started druidic circles and generally went on with their lives.

I thought it’d be fun to do something with those characters, kind of a last hurrah, and so i converted up the old 2nd ed D&D adventure A Paladin in Hell and set them on it. One of the first encounters, tailored for the party, was an ambush at a tavern, 9 Pit Fiends, banished from the world at the end of the last campaign, Teleported in and attacked the party. I figured this would be an entertaining and trying encounter for the 22nd level party, one to impress upon them the seriousness of the task ahead. I was wrong.

So very, very wrong.

The Pit Fiends dropped in and took their surprise round, causing a little damage and we wen down to initiative. It was at this point that Pit Fiends move like Gelatinous Cubes when compared to the speed of a 22nd level Arcane Archer (remember it had been a while since the main campaign ended and we’d been playing low level games since).

Lightning Quick the Arcane Archer unleashed a volley of arrows from his Artefact Bow, hitting with a full 7 attacks and dropping, literally killing, 7 of the 9 Pit Fiends in a single action. The other two, thinking twice about the people they’d trifled with were about to Teleport out on their action but it didn’t even come close to that, they were dead before they could blink.

So, the most impressive thing i’ve ever seen in a character do, kill 7 Pit Fiends before they can even act in combat, when it’s the Pit Fiends who set and sprung the ambush.

It’s hard to challenge a party at that point…..

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.