Sunday, 9 September 2012

Shadowrun 4 Quick-Start: A Review

So, as the classic GM with my finger in way too many pies, I'm thinking of starting my group on Shadowrun. So, I've advised them to download the Shadowrun 4 Quick Start Rules, which also includes sample characters and an introductory "adventure".

To start, the layout is nice - the artwork is vibrant and well-suited to the tone the Quick-Start is aiming for, and feels better integrated than some of the Core Rulebook art. Even the rules layout is strictly superior - everything is contained in a few pages, and flows well from one topic to another (the Core Rules, even the 20th Anniversary Edition, has a tendency to wander and scatter its rules about the book).

The Sample Characters are a bit "meh" - a Troll Bounty Hunter, Human Street Samurai, Elf Combat Mage, and an Ork Hacker. The first three are all (obviously) combat-oriented, which leaves the Hacker in the sticky situation of being able to do stuff outside of fights, but needing a bit more protection than the others during combat. An extra character or two (maybe a Dwarf Face, to round out the Races, or a Smuggler) would even up the skill-based to combat-based ratio. Then again, Shadowrun does have a heavy focus on combat, but it would be nice to have a few more options. Fantasy Flight Games does a great line of 40k RPG Quick-Starts, and will frequently put up extra characters for these adventures - something Catalyst could take note of.

Further reading might also show that the Street Sam is a lot more combat capable than the others - to the extent that, for the first few session, he'll shoot first, more, and better than anyone else. This would be fine, if he wasn't so much more effective than the other sample characters.

The adventure included is where the whole thing falls down. Well, that's unfair - I actually like what they've got down, it's just what's missing that's the problem - and what's missing is an actual adventure.

You see, the basics of it are as follows: it's 4AM, and you're all hungry - so you go to the local Stuffer Shack for horrible (yet delicious) fast food. As you peruse the aisles, a woman and her screaming child wander in - just minutes before an explosion rocks the store, scattering the assorted NPCs around and allowing egress to a gang - more specifically, a low-level ganger hit-squad. They're looking for the woman with the baby, with plans to kill the pair of them. Will you stop them, or help them out for a few bucks?

An interesting little scenario, to be sure - both the description and the read-aloud text are very descriptive, without being too wordy. The background characters are well-thought out, with a few behaviours they might fall into, depending on what happens (and enough information to let you make a judgement call on what they might do in other circumstances). It even has a really in-depth map (with key) and description of all the products in the aisle, along with uses for some (my favourites being hints for Hackers to unlock first-aid supplies and hack cars in the parking area, for use as weapons, and a table to determine what bursts when you miss a shot, along with a description and effects like making the floor too slippery to stand, or coating you in enough gunk to throw your aim off).

But what you are given is just some set-up and a combat encounter. The resolution should be finding out why these dudes wanted to kill a defenceless woman and a child, for God's sake! This information is presented during Brandeen's profile, and at the end of the section describing the combat-stats of the hitmen, we get a sidebar that reads:

If Brandeen survives, she will thank the runners profusely for saving her and Cody’s life, and may even try to explain her theory concerning the attack (which would be the truth) and possibly look to enlist the runners for some payback against [the guy who ordered the hit].

So, instead of maybe an actual run to find out why she almost got shot, she just tells them what she thinks happened, and it turns out it's right. Oh well, back to our regular lives, I guess. There's no onus to go and find out what happened, no effort to draw you in. Just a flat denouement and the chance to loot some corpses. If I ran this (which I kinda doubt I will), then there would have to be some major changes. So, what's the point in having Quick-Start rules if I need to spend time changing them up to be usable?
Also, as a product designed to draw in new players to the setting, it has one big issue - lack of information. For example, what does Brandeen want you to do? Kill the guy? Industrial espionage? Plant evidence of a crime the guy didn't commit? Bankrupt him? Who knows. And, even as an experienced DM, I would have trouble planning out a mission like any of those if this as my only experience of the game - thus making it kinda pointless. The point of a intro-adventure is to provide a wide experience of the setting you are conveying - and there's just not enough information to allow you to go any further with your game.

All in, a mixed bag - worth it for the simplification of one of the more clunky rulesets out at the moment, but anything that isn't directly rules related isn't worth the free you downloaded it for.

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