Fun fact: I actually have no experience with Shadowrun whatsoever. Yes, I know it’s pretty much a classic and one of the bigger fish in the gaming sea…and, yet, here we are. So when I got a chance to review the Fifth Edition of the game, I took it.
WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: First and foremost, this is the 5th, and most recent, version of the game. The books clocks in at 489 pages, making for a hefty tome. The PDF is about $20, about a third of what the print version is going to retail for, it looks like. Shadowrun is a mix of fantasy and cyberpunk sci-fi elements, a lot of which have now been seen over the years. The system uses a d6 dice pool system, with 5s and 6s for successes and “Glitches” occurring when half or more of the dice rolled come up 1s. The world is ran largely by megacorporations, and people deal in both Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality while Magic is a fairly commonplace element.
WHAT WORKS: I like the fantastic elements like the elves and dwarves and orks and trolls, blending them with the modern world. The magic system has some very neat points to it, with my favorite part being the mentor spirits. The book is a gorgeous piece of work, with some impressive art. There is a “random run generator”, essentially a random adventure generator, which I always love. Character creation levels are provided, so you can start campaigns with street level newbies, capable warriors or power players.
WHAT DOESN’T WORK: In-game fiction doesn’t do too much for me, anymore, and there seemed to be a lot of that here (maybe it was just my perceptions), especially for the price. I’m not a fan of the approach taken with the system…for the most part, I’ve moved towards “lighter” systems over the years, and a skill heavy system like this isn’t really in my wheelhouse (75+ skills is a bit much for me).
CONCLUSION: Shadowrun isn’t really for me. I’m not surprised, as cyberpunk isn’t a genre that really interests me, and when I do have a desire to scratch that itch, I have a perfectly good Savage Worlds alternative waiting for me (Interface Zero). The book never really “clicked” for me, making it difficult for me to engage with it, and I think that might be the “Dracula” effect: In short, all those trends that Shadowrun kinda helped set are a bit overdone now, and so it has a bit of a “been there, done that” feel to it. That said, if the system were more my speed, I really think I could get into the setting due to the “magic plus sci-fi” mish-mash. Not a bad product, just not my cup of tea, unfortunately.
Open-ended adventures are always a good thing, IMO. One of Silver Gryphon Games’ newest releases is just that, an alternate history sandbox adventure called Milecastle 42.
WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: This 27 page adventure costs $5 and is, in a nutshell, Romans versus Zombies. The PCs are stationed at a Milecastle, essentially a lighthouse which is part of a series of such houses 5 miles apart. The night before, Milecastle 42 signaled in desperation but now their light has gone out, so it’s up to the PCs to investigate. The PCs are given objectives and guidelines and then turned loose to investigate Milecastle 42 as they will. The outpost, of course, has been overran by zombies (this isn’t a complete surprise, as the Romans are living with the plague in this reality) and most of the zombies are capable of little more than pack mentality and animal cunning. That a more intelligent foe is directing them shouldn’t be a big surprise, but where the adventure really wins out is in the climax, which comes out of left field in an awesome way.
WHAT WORKS: The “Final Boss” is really kinda epic. The page numbering is all in roman numerals, which is a nice touch. I love a good, open sandbox adventure.
WHAT DOESN’T WORK: All the characters are going to be a bit “samey” by the nature of the game, as PCs are built off of a template that is customized.
CONCLUSION: A fun one shot or convention game, Milecastle 42 also allows for a few options for continuing the game depending on the success or failure of the PCs. I’m not a big fan of what amounts to pregens, even though I understand why they’re there, but as I don’t run a lot of one shots or convention games, I’m not really the target audience. If you’re not tired of zombies yet, or if you want them in a different milieu, then Milecastle 42 is well worth picking up, especially for its “OH CRAP” moment at the end of the adventure.
Another one shot/convention style adventure, this one casts the PCs in the role of pirates who learn that there’s always a bigger fish…
WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: This nautical adventure weighs in at 22 pages and $5, and is also part of a bundle that includes deck plans for a freighter by Dramascape for only 99 cents more. Players are given a template to customize, as well as a primer on the rules of pirating. The adventure is pretty straight forward: The PCs get to raid a ship, get overtaken by a bigger ship (a shark-shaped submarine, in fact), and wind up bumping noses with the biggest fish in the sea. References to pulpy authors abound and genre fans will surely catch the nods. It is built as a suitable convention or one shot adventure, though tips are provided for expanding it beyond that point.
WHAT WORKS: The layout is gorgeous, and I think a lot of folks will appreciate the assumption that the PCs are actually playing pirates and not Disney Pirates. The crazier, pulpier elements are a nice touch without getting into full blown supernatural.
WHAT DOESN’T WORK: Act Two essentially hinges on the PCs essentially becoming subservient to an adversary, which is hard to pull off without frustrating players. The editing on the version I received left a lot to be desired, but that may have been cleared up in the final retail release.
CONCLUSION: While I appreciate the pirates, the adventure just doesn’t click with me the way a lot of other Silver Gryphon stuff does. It’s not a bad product, and the bundle with the Dramascapes map is a great deal, and Djinn of the Deep may well hit that tonal middle ground between Pirates of the
Spanish Main and 50 Fathoms. Recommended if you’re
wanting pirate fun without the fantasy weirdness of 50 Fathoms.