DriveThruRPG Review – Investigations & Androids + Off World Colony

An impressive ruleset that skillfully converts D&D 5E into a cyberpunk sci-fi setting, along with an excellent adventure that uses those rules.

Review copies of “Investigations & Androids” and “Off World Colony” were provided by the publisher. Find more tabletop RPG reviews on my website and YouTube channel.

Support my work via Patreon.

Designed by: D. O. Sebastian

I adore a good cyberpunk setting. Blade Runner. Shadowrun. Dredd. Altered Carbon. Even The Expanse, in some ways. In fact when I began DMing and playing online sessions via Roll20, we originally started with Shadowrun (and then switched to D&D 5E because Shadowrun’s rules are super ugly).

Investigations & Androids” smartly takes the core malleable d20 gameplay of Dungeons & Dragons and converts it into a classic cybernoir theme. It’s extremely well written and organized, focusing on the most important changes while letting the original ruleset do most of the heavy lifting.

The 80+ page rule book includes four new classes, nine new races, four new backgrounds, new or altered techpowers (spells, basically) as well as biomods, weapon augmentations, and several new maps and NPC statblocks.

I’m also reviewing “Off World Colony,” a companion adventure that utilizes all of those rules. Sadly it’s only a part one of four (as yet unreleased), but the level 1 adventure includes three chapters that perfectly blends open world exploration within a structured environment, allowing for fun choices and character building within a space-staged murder-mystery plot.

Continue reading “DriveThruRPG Review – Investigations & Androids + Off World Colony”

PAX South Preview: Re-Legion is a Cyberpunk RTS with Cults [PC Gamer]

Read the full preview at PC Gamer

Every religion starts with a prophet. Ours was about to fall to a pack of unbelieving citizens before even getting a decent following. “Just a second!” says Mateusz Pilski, co-founder and lead programmer at Ice Code Games, demoing the recently announced RTS Re-Legion at PAX South. While he was busy explaining the initial set-up of the demo our starting forces fell, and now our prophet’s in danger of being swarmed by non-believers.

Pilski micro-manages the prophet around the rabble, firing off some holy lasers of righteousness while staying ahead of their fists. The prophet is clad in purple robes and a closed helmet encircled in spikes. He cuts an imposing figure among the urban sprawl of this glitzy cyberpunk world, but some folks are less than impressed.

Read the full preview at PC Gamer

Gaming Backlog Final Thoughts – Shadowrun: Hong Kong

Another fun Shadowrun adventure, but overall weaker than Dragonfall as the series hits its gameplay limits.

I have finished another backlogged game via Rogue’s Adventures. You can read my latest Final Thoughts below and also on my gaming blog on Game Informer.

Developer: Harebrained Schemes

Publisher: Harebrained Holdings

Release Date: Aug 30, 2015

Franchise Fatigue. It happens to the best of them. Many times it’s a “it’s not you it’s me” kind of situation. Maybe you played a bunch of entries in a row, or maybe a sequel simply doesn’t do enough to differentiate itself form its predecessors.

I didn’t think I’d start feeling Franchise Fatigue in the Shadowrun games. Shadowrun: Hong Kong is only the third game after Harebrained Schemes resurrected the series through Kickstarter several years ago. Continue reading “Gaming Backlog Final Thoughts – Shadowrun: Hong Kong”

Shadowrun 5E “Splintered State” Epilogue & Recap

Our very last recap episode of our final Shadowrun adventure, “Splintered State.”

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Watch our sessions live on twitch.tv/gorbash722 every Sunday night beginning at 9:30pm Central. Catch up on previous sessions on YouTube.

And so we come to the end – not only of our latest Shadowrun mission, but also our campaign, and Shadowrun Fifth Edition. The official published adventure “Splintered State” acted as our grand finale, after some modifications. From here we’ll be moving on to Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition for a change of pace.

This was probably one of our more interesting recap episodes, since this was the first pre-published adventure for Shadowrun I’d ever used. Our previous three adventures were all originally written and crafted by me, for better or worse, and I wanted to try using an official adventure at least once.

Some time during our previous adventure I decided that I’d had enough with Shadowrun’s obtuse rules and complex systems, and wanted to draw our campaign to a close. Though “Splinterd State” would only be our fourth mission, we’d have been running our campaign for six months. Given my players’ recent run-in with Knight Errant law enforcement in the form of a refused quest-giver, I decided that “Splintered State’s” introduction via arresting all the players would work perfectly.

I tweaked a bit of plot and switched out several NPCs to make them work for our campaign. My players got a kick out of seeing these returning NPCs. The various characters I created along the way were defeinitely the highlight of the campaign – from Jeremiah Redd the cockney-accent ork gang leader to a rival street-runner gang that had escaped them before, I had a lot of fun bringing in old friends and foes back into the mix [Session 1].

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Unfortunately the plot of the adventure is needlessly steeped in backstory and information, when it simply comes down to having a McGuffin that other factions want, and will kill for. I’ve learned that my players are not fans of not knowing what to do next, but I feel this adventure did a good job presenting the options clearly and laying out their next steps, such as Dietrich calling them directly to buy the commlink at the zoo [Session 2].

The zoo (Session 3) went over really well. I was impressed how the PCs handled scouting it out, smuggling in guns and generally being very prepared. Too bad they got ambushed anyway! It felt very ‘Gotcha!’ since there was nothing they could have done when the elite Chimera assassins showed up. Thankfully the assassins leave quickly before murdering the players, but it was a nicely tense situation. Dietrich suffering from multiple personalities was also a fun roleplaying opportunity for my players to deal with.

For some reason every adventure has one player that takes the majority of the damage. Previously it’s usually Ursev but this time Falkirk took heavy amounts of stun damage, and actually dropped unconscious during the final battle back at the safehouse – from an ally NPC’s errant grenade [Session 4]!

Before the final battle the PCs had the choice of who to sell the commlink to – opting to only even talk to the ‘good’ choice, the underground resistance trying to undermine the evil racist Governor Brackhaven. The published adventure has lots of different options and outcomes available, which meant as a GM I had to build a TON of NPCs and we ended up using less than half of them. Wouldn’t have been so bad if I could’ve used them in future missions but as I mentioned above – this was our final Shadowrun adventure.

shadowrun splintered state

Everyone was generally very positive and pleased with this adventure. They loved seeing old NPCs crop up and have meaningful roles, and they enjoyed having a clear objective halfway through (meet Dietrich at the zoo) but different options on how to approach it. They weren’t terribly keen on using their contacts during the initial commlink investigations. We hadn’t used the contact system very well in previous adventures, and it’s another obtuse and somewhat strange system in Shadowrun.

I love Shadowrun’s setting. When we first started talking about doing online role-playing again early this year, I immediately jumped at the chance to do Shadowrun. The sci-fi cyberpunk setting with fantasy races and magic is just so damn fun and interesting. Too bad the rules are kind of awful! After six months I don’t have much of a better handle on many of the systems, and we purposefully cut out many of the more complicated things like recoil and most matrix stuff. The fifth edition rulebook is also a bloody mess that’s terribly organized.

After six months I’m ready to move on to a different rule system and setting. I miss monsters, I miss loot, I miss dungeons. I think my players will really excel at the D&D gameplay and story flow more-so than Shadowrun’s. I’m really glad we tried Shadowrun and I’ve learned a lot as a GM, and look forward to continuing our online role-playing adventures with a fresh ruleset and setting. I’ll definitely keep the Shadowrun mantra of Shooting Straight, Conserving Ammo, and Never Dealing with a Dragon.

Shadowrun anniversary cover

Watch our sessions live on twitch.tv/gorbash722 every Sunday night beginning at 9:30pm Central. Catch up on previous sessions on YouTube.

Shadowrun 5E “Splintered State” Session 4 Report

The runners try to sell the valuable commlinks and end up in the middle of a firefight.

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Watch our sessions live on twitch.tv/gorbash722 every Sunday night beginning at 9:30pm Central. Catch up on previous sessions on YouTube.

Things wrapped up rather swiftly in our final session of “Splintered State.” The end of the published adventure is quite open-ended and very reactionary depending on whom the players decide to sell the commlinks to. I opted to eliminate the optional final run and instead use the meet as a staging ground for our climactic finale.

The commlink the players find early in the mission is mainly an excuse to suddenly make the runners big targets for many large organizations. They’re hunted and attacked through several scenes before everyone decides to play ball and offer them money.

Shadowrun splintered stateThere’s a bit of story going on but none of it really matters to the immediate plot. It was a bit unfortunate to be introducing this whole other plot involving FBI Agent Dietrich and Governor Brackhaven on top of our finale. To make it work I retconned Gregory Zane, one of the parties interested in the commlink and a shadowrunner working for Brackhaven, the main villain of our campaign.

The players had an opportunity to actually sell the commlink to Zane, as well as Ares or Mitsuhama for a sweet chunk of change. They chose to take the nobler path and sell to Eliza Bloom and Project Freedom, who vowed to take down Governor Brackhaven’s racist and terrorist activities. In hindsight I should’ve made Jeremiah Redd (their friendly fixer they rescued in “Not with a Whimper“) a member of Project Freedom. It would’ve fit perfectly since he was an ork and one of my players questioned him about it. I backpedaled not knowing if that would create some weird plot holes at the time, but it would’ve fit rather nicely and at least tied a few things together.

Instead my players were still left wondering why Zane went to all this trouble to hound them throughout the campaign, and attack them at the end. The players were in the midst of selling the commlink to some Knight Errant forces (whom they had actually battled previously in the adventure) when Zane showed up with a bunch of his own team to kill everyone and take the commlinks.

The final battle was filled with a dozen NPCs, but I quickly killed off many of them off screen to create a sense of chaos and deadly force. Zane’s team murdered most of the Knight Errant forces, then Mauta triggered some C4 she’d strategically laid around the windows and exits of their safehouse, killing some of Zane’s runners. The players had Detective Tosh Athack on their side, but hilariously my first roll with him caused an errant grenade to go off right in his face, knocking adept Falkirk unconscious.

shadowrun splintered state

The runners were actually pretty well fortified in the safehouse, and handled the battle fairly easily. Mauta’s sniper rifle is a one-woman wrecking crew, and nearly one-hit killed both Zane and his partner mage (the woman on the boat that mind controlled everyone at the end of “Road Rage“). Tosh took some heavy hits but revived Falkirk enough to get him up and stabbin’. Soon Zane had to retreat pitifully along with the mage and a single runner providing covering fire.

The players had successfully fought them off, and completed the transaction. Altogether they received 180,00 nuyen for their trouble, a huge increase compared to previous adventures, as well as a bunch of Karma points and some new contacts like Tosh. While the villain and overarching plot came up a bit flat, I think overall “Splintered State” did a fine job highlighting my players’ strengths of tactics, combat, and socializing with fun NPCs. Look for our full “Splintered State” recap episode next week!

Watch our sessions live on twitch.tv/gorbash722 every Sunday night beginning at 9:30pm Central. Catch up on previous sessions on YouTube.

Shadowrun 5E “Splintered State” Session 3 Report

All hell breaks loose when the runners meet-up with an important contact at the zoo.

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Watch our sessions live on twitch.tv/gorbash722 every Sunday night beginning at 9:30pm Central. Catch up on previous sessions on YouTube.

Working off an official published adventure has been an interesting experience. It’s incredibly handy in a lot of ways, with lots of pre-made stat blocks for all the NPCs, hefty amounts of colorful descriptions, and even suggestions for how to tweak the challenge level of various encounters. Even then I can’t help but modify and change things to suit my needs. I can’t get into spoiler-y stuff just yet, but the recap episode should be especially fascinating.

In last night’s session the players had a clear objective in front of them – meet FBI Agent Seth Dietrich at the zoo. He offered to buy back his commlink for a cool 100,000 nuyen. While the pay was certainly nice, my players were much more interested in getting some answers to this confusing mystery.

Having a clear focus of where to go and what to do greatly motivates my players into tackling the objective in some fun ways. In this case they wanted to scope out the zoo location the day before the meet, and check to see if they’d be able to smuggle weapons in. I may have made them a tad paranoid – not only is the world of Shadowrun generally violent, but this adventure has been especially action-packed as the players have been attacked left and right.

In fact on their way to the zoo they noticed a car following them, and opted to pull over and ready their weapons. It proved to be a solid move as they made short work of the crazy cyborg Night Hunters that poured out of the car to attack them. A combination of Ursev’s ball lightning centered on the car and a barrage of bullets put most of the them down. I did the rest by rolling a 0 on a leaping charge attack from a very wounded attacker. I had him sail past his target and splatter on the sidewalk. Hey, as long as it’s fun I don’t mind failing miserably with my NPCs, and I’ll always play it up.

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At the zoo it was fun describing the various para-animals that inhabited the enclosures. Falkirk did a great job scouting out the areas and finding a hiding spot for their weapons that they tossed over the wall.

They next day they waltzed in through the entrance. Well, all but Saran the decker who really wanted to hack into the extensive security in order to bring his gun inside. He had failed at this task the previous day, also for no reason other than wanting to walk in with all his gear. His team mates balked at this and finally talked him down, where he went back to the car. I don’t think the decker role suits the player very well, but that’s also on me as someone who’s still not totally on board with how decking (or rigging) work in the obtuse Shadowrun rules.

Inside, the other three retrieved their weapons and met Dietrich in the reptile tunnel, next to the basilisk exhibit. Unfortunately while Dietrich’s body was there, his mind was not. It was currently occupied by someone named Jake Armitage (whom you may recognize from the old 16-bit Shadowrun game or the recent Shadowrun Returns).

Armitage was just as confused as the players as to his situation, alluding to the title of the adventure as well as the confusion surrounding the missing commlink. Like any good mystery it led to more questions than answers – especially when an unseen sniper tore a hole through Armitage/Dietrich’s throat at the height of their confusion.

shadowrun basilisk exhibit

All hell broke loose in the zoo – what you thought this was going to be easy? A pair of highly skilled assassins opened fire on both sides of the players as the basilisks burst through the glass. Falkirk and Ursev were sitting ducks, but Mauta actually got the jump on one of the assassins by being nonchalant at one end of the tunnel.

There were only two assassins but they were both more powerful than any of the PCs (skill and armor wise, at least). The players were also slightly under-equipped since they couldn’t smuggle in Ursev’s battle axe or Mauta’s sniper rifle. Thankfully for them the assassins didn’t want to stick around with UCAS Military Police converging on the location. They left the runners after a single round (though not before doing some significant damage) to deal with the basilisks.

My players have proven heroic in the past so I played up the screaming and crying of the crowd during the chaos, and had one basilisk attack a group of huddled school children in a corner. My players responded immediately with charging melee attacks and Mauta’s deadly shots, making fairly short work of the overgrown lizards – though not without a briefly enjoyable scare as one of them partially petrified Falkirk.

Saran was able to watch the video feeds and then shut down one of the assassins’ cyberware and weapons, further hastening their retreat. Unfortunately he really didn’t have anything to do for the round or two where only the basilisks remained – a bad design on my part. It speaks to our ineptitude at thinking of things a decker/hacker can do, most of which isn’t written in the adventure.

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The players were able to blend in with the chaotic, surging crowd leaving the zoo, and escaped with relative ease. Mauta managed to grab the pouch of credsticks and a 2nd commlink that Dietrich had on him – something I specifically mentioned to the players during the conversation and hoped they’d remembered about. Maybe they’ll find some answers in this commlink.

They also have several pending messages from some contacts and unknown parties, no doubt pertaining to this hot potato of a commlink they have in their possession that everyone wants to get their hands on. This was one of our more enjoyable sessions with lots of laughter, jokes, and fun heroic moments in combat. Tune in next week!

Watch our sessions live on twitch.tv/gorbash722 every Sunday night beginning at 9:30pm Central. Catch up on previous sessions on YouTube.

Shadowrun 5E “Splintered State” Session 2 Report

The runners reach a safe house to investigate the mysterious commlink, and survive a surprise attack.

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Watch our sessions live on twitch.tv/gorbash722 every Sunday night beginning at 9:30pm Central.

I spent a lot of work this last week preparing for last night’s session. It payed off, as my players made it much farther than I anticipated, though not so far that I ran out of material.

The session opened at the semi-cliffhanger from last week. The PCs were just exiting the motel room where they found a mysterious commlink among a group of bodies, only to run into some old foes. Sam’s gang wasn’t about to start talking, remembering how the PCs had killed one of their own in an earlier altercation. The players could’ve sneaked out, but Falkirk opted to say howdy, and we rolled for initiative!

Crazy enough, Sam’s group of street thugs are not particularly strong, but I was rolling the best I’d ever rolled in my game master career. I was getting 4 and 5 hits on like 6 or 7 dice (in Shadowrun a hit is rolling a 5 or 6 on a d6, so a 33% chance). Suddenly this easy-looking fight turned painful as everyone was taking some damage.

It didn’t help the PCs that they were stuck between wanting to flee and wanting to fight. They had an easy escape route that their foes couldn’t follow, but they hesitated for a few rounds as everyone took shots at each other. Finally they ducked outside (after killing another gang member) and escaped with the commlink and their lives.

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The runners licked their wounds at a safehouse I gave them courtesy of Jeremiah Redd. I’d anticipated that we’d need another grid-map so I had a back-up generic apartment I could throw in in case the runners just wanted to get somewhere.

It worked out well and the PCs were given some down time to heal and analyze the commlink. For the first time in our shadowrunning career the PCs were given a fairly obtuse puzzle involving the commlink, and had to use investigations and their contacts to gain as much information as they could. I thought I helped as much as I could, offering up more information than what the published adventure suggested, and fudging a few thresholds to help speed things along.

Like the stealth mansion moments in the last mission, the investigation didn’t go over as well as I’d hoped. Most of the players felt dissatisfied at the confusing revelations they received involving the Ork Undeground, Governor Brackhaven, Operation Daybreak, and the commlink’s owner, FBI Agent Seth Dietrich.

Interestingly, instead of wanting to quickly offload the commlink or sell it to the highest bidder, the runners wanted to find out more information about the commlink’s evidence. There was one avenue they didn’t go down that might’ve helped give them some more information, and I probably should’ve found a way to just give it to them to help ease the frustration. As much as I like doling out tantalizing clues and mysteries, above all the experience should be fun and enjoyable, never frustrating.

At the end of their investigation I threw them a bone slightly earlier than the adventure suggested, moving them directly into Scene 4. Agent Dietrich himself called the commlink and set up a meet between he and the PCs at the Fort Lewis Zoo, with a promise of 100,000 nuyen. The PCs wanted to go scope out the zoo immediately, so I unleashed the scripted (but variable) attack on their safehouse.

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This time the tables were turned. The Knight Errant forces that attacked were low in number (only four) but each was very strong, and supposedly a match for the PCs. Ha! Mauta took one turn to completely destroy the mage, while the rest all got in hits on Black Knights, while my rolls struggled to connect at all.

Seeing as how they were cops and not mindless thugs, I had them retreat after taking heavy wounds and losses. The PCs wanted to pursue but I shut that down immediately with suppressing fire as they retreated. The PCs were left with yet more questions about what they’ve gotten into, but it was time for our session to come to a close.

Hopefully utilizing this oddly dense yet simplistic published mission as our finale won’t backfire terribly, but I’m somewhat worried based on the dialogue between the players during the investigation. They’re basically overthinking and worrying about everything, which is not at all how I thought their normally gruff and violent reactions would go. We’ll see what the future holds; hopefully it stays fun. It also might be a lot shorter than I was thinking given how far they made it this week.

Watch our sessions live on twitch.tv/gorbash722 every Sunday night beginning at 9:30pm Central.