Saturday, February 22, 2014

Review: Shadowrun Digital Tool Box

This is my first review in a little while so apologies for that. Also apologies to the kind guys at Catalyst for giving me this to review several weeks ago and not getting around to it (sorry Randall.) I've been stuck in property purchase hell. Anyway moving along.

So the Shadowrun: Digital Tools Box is now available from DriveThruRPG, and this consists of the digital versions of the upcoming box set for Shadowrun; Beginner Box and Alphaware. The two sets complement each other (it was originally planned to be one large box set but I believe it got so large it made sense to split it down) and there is a definite progression and solid connection between them. Even so I'll take them one at a time.

Beginner Box 

So lets start with what do we get in our virtual toolbox.

First up we have the Instructions sheet. This is obviously made for the physical box set as the first instruction is to get to know the six-sided dice. Basically it's a walk through of the order in which you should read the books and components. This is pretty common in modern box sets (Edge of the Empire Beginners Box Set did the same thing) so nothing strange here.

The Edge of Now is the introduction to the setting and starts with a short story introducing us to the heroes from the 5th edition rulebook fiction; Gentry, Coydog, Sledge and Hardpoint. The rest of the book is basically background material culled from the main 5th edition rules, Life in the Sixth World, info about shadowruns, background on the corporations and general setting information and a couple page overview of Seattle. At 26 pages it crams enough in for a beginner to get a vague flavour of the world, but other than the fiction there's nothing new here if you've read the core book.

Next up are 5 two page character sheets for new players representing our four heroes from the fiction and a new Ms Myth character, sort of a streetwise face/security consultant. The new character is the most interesting as she sets the stage for a concept that carries over into the Alphaware box (more on that box later.) 

The new concept is the character dossier. The Beginner Box comes with an 8 page dossier for Ms Myth which gives a pretty detailed background, information on her contacts and roleplaying hints for player the character. Also included is a very nice 2 page section on favoured tactics for the player playing the character which is very appreciated for the target audience of the box. Also included is a 2 page solo run if the GM wishes to take the character through an introductory run with just the one character.

The only bad thing I can say about the character dossier is the lack of them for the other characters. They are found in the Alphaware box, but I think they should be included in the Beginners box instead as it's more of the target initial audience who will get the most mileage out of the concept.

The Quickstart Rules give a simple quick and concise overview of the main rule points, as expected. It also includes a new version of the classic Shadowrun staple adventure, Food Fight. A quick reference sheet for the GM on the PC stats and a one sheet GM screen round out the booklet. It does the job reasonably well and is newly put together for this box set, it bears little to no resemblance to the quick start rules from last years Free RPG Day.

Rounding out the box is a rather solid excerpt from the upcoming novel Fire & Frost to help wet the appetite for new Shadowrun fiction.

So what's good? The characters are good, the dossier idea is excellent (did I mention that already?) and the quick start rules definition do the job. 

So what's not so good? Well the only criticisms I'd have is that the character dossiers for the rest of the characters really should be included in this box set rather than the Alphaware box, and I would like to see a more substantial adventure in a beginner's box to introduce new players beyond just the expanded Food Fight.

All in all, a really good attempt with a few minor criticisms, however I'm not the target audience. Could I run an adventure or two with this? Absolutely.


Now this section is where the meat of the download content is, and it's pretty impressive all in all.

We have the instruction sheet, same as the Beginners Box, but it starts strangely by referring the players to the Edge of Now booklet which isn't contained in the Alphaware set (at least not in the digital review version I received.) I think there's an assumption written in that both sets are available to the reader which is certainly the case in this digital copy, but may cause some confusion if the print version ends up the same as the digital copies, but maybe the booklet will be reproduced in both boxes.

Rules of the Street is a substantial 90 cut down version of the SR5 rules. At 90 pages it's obviously not massively cut down, most of the core rules are here. Some of the nuances and more specific rules may not be present (such as the grenade chunky salsa rules) but all the major ones are present and correct including a 20 page gear section. Sometimes it amazes me how you can reduce a tome like SR5 into a more accessible package and they clearly manage it well. Not so sure about the art on page 2 however, unless it's a deliberate Cyborg Commando homage the cyborg our elf ninja is attacking is not very Shadowrun to my mind.

Next up we have new more detailed character sheets for the five characters presented in the Beginners Box and the character dossiers for the remaining four.

Cards PDF. Here we have a 110 page PDF of two card sets, Spell cards and Gear cards. Basically simple cards that detail the pertinent information about the more common spells and pieces of equipment. These have been on sale for a little while (and I bought a physical set of them in the store just yesterday.) Handy for some groups, not all will make use of them. However I can easily see these being very useful for beginning players who buy these box sets in physical form. 

The next book is Plots and Paydata, an 82 page GMs book. Now often these books are just GM information, experience rules etc and an adventure tucked in the back. Not quite in this case. Yes it starts with the GM advice (condensing the phenomenal GM advice section in the core rulebook) and contains the same Food Fight adventure from the Beginners Box set, but then it differs from most.

This book doesn't just contain an intro adventure (the aforementioned Food Fight.) Oh no. This booklet contains a min-campaign of 5 connected adventures. And they're pretty good as well. That's 30 pages of mini-campaign, enough to keep a group going for 5 or more sessions. Not bad. Not bad at all.

The remainder of the book is taken up with explanations and details around the maps that are included in the box (good old Sprawl Sites) that include decent sets of adventure hooks (some are pretty fleshed out and taking almost half a page on their own) and a decent section of NPCs and contacts for the players to interact with.

Finally we have two sets of maps. One is a double sided map of North America in the Sixth World on one side and a nice poster size version of the final box set cover image by the talented Echo Chernik.

The other set are sprawl site maps. These are 8 locations taken from the Sprawl Sites: High Society and Low Life and Sprawl Sites: North America map sets that were released last year. 


All the material is presented to the same high quality as the SR5 main rulebook. That is decent amounts of art, all full colour and using the same new layouts and styles as the 5th edition line. It all comes across as very professionally done.

For beginners to the game these box sets will be very useful in physical form, and also in digital as this material currently is. For more established players there is definitely useful stuff in here such as the maps, cards, beginner characters and dossiers etc if you're starting a new campaign. The mini-campaign is pretty good as well.

The only real thing I would say against it is not about the digital version really, but is about the final print versions that will come out of it. That is the repetition of some stuff and their separate availability. Mainly the card decks and maps. They're available outside this box and some will already have them. Sure it's useful to have extras but that may be a consideration for established players purchasing the physical set.

As for this digital set, it is retailing for $19.99 over at DriveThruRPG and I honestly believe it's easily worth that price for what you get. Even for established players. So yes, this gets a two thumbs up chummer.

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