Review (w/o spoilers)
Me and my players kicked off Shadowrun 5th Edition by playing through this neat module. We’ve played four sessions with three to four hours each, but that said, we are kind of slow. If you keep things straight and don’t, say, demolish the local Mafia building using white phosphorus rockets, you should be fine with 10 hours play, max.
Splintered State features some choicy parts of the Shadowrun gameplay. You get conflicting interests, intrigue and shadow politics as well as ambushes, tough-as-nails combat situations and some matrix action. You don’t see much magic in this module, but a mage or shaman might come in handy in some situations.
This book is ideal for new players. It underlines some of the special Shadowrun elements you might not encounter in systems like D&D or WoD. It emphasizes the importance of connections. Which connection you call to cut a deal can make a huge difference. The ubiquity of the matrix and secret corporate data are *the* key component of Splintered State. And finally, you get to see different kinds of meets, some set up on your own, some set up by the Johnsons.
Also you come around Seattle quite a lot. The key scenes are set in Downtown, the Redmond Barrens and in Fort Lewis. Your runs may range from the very basic street level to the highest corporate sabotage, depending on the runners‘ choices. Every setting piece has a characteristic feel to it, and conveys the Shadowrun-flavoured cyberpunk mood. You couldn’t ask for more.
Crunch-wise, every single (even remotely possible) combatant has some stats. You don’t need to jot down your own stat-blocks, and that’s pretty neat. Also you get all the necessary information, down to the damage code of the weapons, and even some connection ratings.
Some minor nagging:
- It is still a module. There will be some minor to major railroading involved, since the book cannot cover endless possibilities. The gamemaster can soften the railroading, of course, but a gamemastering newbie might not have this experience.
- The book expects a certain kind of runner. It should, but this can lead to some problems regarding character motivation. The ‚debugging‘ sections offer only a limited range of hints to fix this, and they all work on the player level.
- Only one influence rating is noted. But since the runners may gain other connections, the ratings for these NPCs should have been listed, too.
You can definetly squeeze some fun sessions out of this module that cover some major changes in Seattle. It update players and characters alike and throws the right into the fighting pit that is the Seattle Shadows.
Spoilers / Hints for GMs
I had some pretty experienced runners to play this module. All had about 70 karma, since they were played in 4th Edition.
- Scene 0: You can expect to have at least one runner that tries to trick the Knights. This scene is the weakest of the whole book and my players did not try some stunts just because they trust me. You should try another way to engage your runners. Maybe stack up the payment for the job in Scene 1 and throw in the street gang for a little smackdown. My runners were barely motivated to run for 1000 Y each.
- Scene 3: Character motivation. If your runners are more paranoid and cautious than greedy, you’re screwed. Mine did not necessarily want to sell these paydata. They were curious, but did not believe that they could squeeze enough money out of it. I had to do some pretty obvious nudging and I felt, my runners did this for the plot. You, as a GM, should have another incentive at hand.
- Scene 4: Be prepared for a car chase. My runners wanted to talk in a driving vehicle, so my grunts had to attack out of their limousines. I did not know the rules for car chases and it ended up pretty improvised. The scene was not nearly as scary and surprising as it ought to be, since a rigger’s car is no easy target.
- Scene 5: This scene annoyed my players most. The Chimera assassins are heavy stuff. They killed one of my runners that had used all of his 7(!) edge to fight the assassin. Still, he did only kill her because I permitted a last, heroic action. My other players got out heavily wounded and did not have any chance against the assassins. Advise your players that they can, and in fact should, carry some arms and armor into the zoo that they can work with. Or else they are basilisc food.
- Scene 7: My runners had a pretty ridiculous plan to extract the data, but it worked. I noticed that the Stoddard Security guards are incredibly weak. Even the elementals did not stand a chance, as they both simultaneously popped up and were killed in one complex actions of my mage and my street samurai. You should throw in the guards en masse. They fall like flies.