Shadowrun: Corporate Intrigue
Publisher: Catalyst Games Labs
Cost: $24.99 ($18.00 for .pdf format)
Release Date: 12/27/2011
Get It Here: DrivethruRPG.com
2011 was a great year for Shadowrun. We gave it our “2011 RPG of the Year” award after all. The adventures especially have been great. Whether it was the short but excellently done Shadowrun Missions line or the pricier full length adventures like Anarchy Subsidized, New Dawn or 99 Bottles, Catalyst Games Labs was in top form last year. So of course when Corporate Intrigue was released in the tail end of 2011, I was pretty excited. Eighteen adventures for eighteen dollars? Even if half the adventures outright sucked, it was still sure to be an insanely good deal – especially for the DMs that don’t write their own material. There’s a couple catches though, which is how CGL was able to offer so much content for so little nuyen.
The thing you have to realize before you pick this up is that all of these adventures are for experienced DM. Unlike the vast majority of adventure releases CGL has put out for Shadowrun this year, the ones in Corporate Intrigue are bare bones by comparison. This isn’t a bad thing mind you, as it allows the person running the adventure more flexibility and creativity, but it also means that same person has to do more prep work and plan for every eventuality. Compare that to other Shadowrun adventures where each scene is broken down, you are given specific dialogue to read and even tips on how to scale the mission for your players. So Corporate Intrigue probably isn’t the best choice for someone who is just starting out running a Shadowrun game or for those that want a little more structure to their purchased adventures. You do get a plot summary and the general flow/resolution of the adventure along with stat blocks for everything players will encounter. Again, this paradigm shift is neither bad nor good – it’s simply a different way of releasing adventures and it’ll be up to each individual as to which they prefer. I personally like both formats although again, this is definitely geared for a more experienced DM while other adventures released this year offer hand holding for newcomers.
The other thing to remember is that these adventures are for specific players. In other words, those with a high build total or those that have been playing their characters for a long time. Some adventures expect that the DM and players have been following not only the overall meta-plot closely, but are familiar with other Shadowrun products released this year. At the same time, a lot of these adventures also give cursory material about characters, situations and events in published supplements so experience and ownership of these previously released products aren’t a must. I’ll really happy about this, as it was a big bone of contention for me with Conspiracy Theories. Again, this is not a bad thing. It’s just these aren’t adventures you would throw at either new players or low build characters. This of course makes me wonder how a collection of “adventures for newcomers” done in this same style would fare. Things that introduce key concepts in-game to players like “Holy crap! Aztechnology is pretty damn evil!” or “Bug Spirits and why they suck.” But I digress. We’re talking about the content in Corporate Intrigue after all. So with nineteen sections (eighteen of which are adventures), the best thing to do is provide you, the reader, with a quick (mostly spoiler free) breakdown of each along with a straight thumb’s up or thumb’s down for each one.
1. Knives Out… This isn’t an adventure. Instead it’s a six page (seven with the full page art piece) rundown of the ten biggest corporations in the Sixth World. It’s all done with “in-game” characters giving a basic rundown of each company and their current state in the meta-plot. It’s very well done and fun to read. Each adventure also starts off with either a bit of in-game fiction or “JackPoint” characters talking similar to this. If you’re new to Shadowrun, this intro sort of thing is done with all their products and it’s to set the tone and provide flavor. 1 for 1.
2. Nothing Personal. This first adventure starts things off with a bang and it’s one of my favorites in the collection. You have a Shiawase employee named Kosuke Ito who is trying to leave the company before they move him to a new office – one that is six feet underground. Ito convinces Horizon (another big corp) to extract him in exchange for signing with them. It’s the players job to get him out before Shiawase lines a coffin with him. There’s an unexpected doublecross on the players though, which merely adds to the fun as well as the intrigue around Horizon. If your players have been doing Horizon adventures like Columbian Subterfuge or Anarchy Subsidized, this will be a great addition to that series of adventures. 2 for 2.
3. Project Imago. This is another neat adventure. Here players will not only have to sneak into a super top secret R&D facility by NeoNet, but you’re also going to have to deal with a plethora of e-ghosts. This adventure is as close to an outright survival horror experience that Shadowrun can provide. It’s an adventure with a lot of intrigue with a lot of unexpected betrayal (on all sides) and is the type of mission players can’t “win.” Instead they merely hope to survive. I like these type of missions as they are a wonderful change of pace from the usual stuff in Shadowrun. It’s also a great adventure to throw out at players who look at missions as “won/loss” affairs. 3 for 3.
4. Runaway Train. This is the first adventure I have negative marks for. Basically the adventure involves you sabotaging a high speed freight train, killing dozens of people. My problems with the adventure are threefold. The first is that it takes place in Africa, specifically Nairobi, which is not a place experienced players or characters would go to willingly for in-game reasons. This makes the adventure very hard to pull off. Nine times out of ten players will have their characters say “Frag you Chummer.” and not do the mission. The second is that some players will balk at the fact the missions isn’t so much a grey area as you’re actively injuring (and killing) innocent civilians in it. The third is that the adventure both reads and plays like a “DM Vs. Players” affair, where the characters are constantly screwed over from beginning to end. It’s not badly done, but it is something that just doesn’t come across as fun to play OR run. 3 for 4.
5. Freedom, Finally. This is a neat little adventure that not only lets characters interact with two big “name” characters from the Sixth World, but it’s a very creepy adventure to boot. In “Freedom, Finally,” characters are going to uncover a corporate conspiracy that involves a mass of Technomancers being kidnapped and experimented on in insidious ways. Of course is there any way that being kidnapped and experimented on isn’t insidious? They’ll discover a horrible new form of technology that is not only alive, but completely insane to boot. Oh, and they’re a knock down drag out fight with some truly creepy cyborgs at the end. The adventure is a lot of fun and it should turn off players to the corporation this adventure revolves around entirely. The only downside is that gamers who haven’t kept up with (or simply don’t care about) the metaplot or “name characters” ofShadowrun might not care who the two characters they are working for/with are. Still, a good Gamesmaster can make it work without any real fuss. 4 for 5.
6. Coins of Luck. This is a neat little adventure but ones whose climax will fall flat on its face depending on what type of players you have. If you have people that are role-players rather than roll-players, it should be fine. However if you have players that like to metagame or view a tabletop game as something to “win,” you might want to look for a different adventure to play through. “Coins of Luck” puts your characters into a three way battle for a Coin of Luck, a mysterious artifact. Characters will travel to Hong Kong and eventually to Kowloon Walled City, where they will have to deal not only with the illusions of the Yama King, but also infighting amongst the runners brought upon by the powers of this magical monstrosity. After that players will have to decide which of the three factions to give the coin to – their original employer, a second faction, or a Dragon. Either way, they are pissing off two sides and will have to deal with the ramifications of such. The other neat thing about the adventure is that CGL is encouraging players to log on to their forums and tell them who they gave the coin to. Whoever received the coin from the most players will have it in future Shadowrun official storylines. This is a really neat idea and I hope people take part. 5 for 6.
7. Feng Shui. This is a neat little adventure. Both Seattle and Vancouver are bidding for the new Wuxing corporate HQ to be built in their city. Both want it (and the money it will bring in) and the players are hired to sabotage the efforts of one city on behalf of another. It sounds pretty cut and dry but characters will have to go on several fetch quests and then dupe an extremely old and powerful Geomancer. This is actually a pretty good adventure not only due to content, but to get players to the Seattle area in the first place. We went with Vancouver, WA rather than Vancouver, BC however as it not only made more sense in-game, but because many of us have lived in the Pacific Northwest at one point and we went we the “Live in Vancouver, shop in Portland” adage so many of us know. 6 for 7.
8. Dreaded Palace. This is somewhat of a tie-in to “Freedom, Finally.” “Dreaded Palace” takes places to Geneva, Switzerland where the Matrix has been down and out for some time. It’s a weird little adventure where a group of discordian technomancers appear to have permanently disabled the Matrix in the area. It’s a pretty dull affair where you have to figure out who has damaged the Matrix and why. Usually I like the more detective/research based adventures, but this one just didn’t do it for me. Other problems with the adventure include a lack of any real resolution and a need for players to be extremely intimate with the metaplot for the climax to have any effect whatsoever. “Dreaded Palace” felt like it was written more for people that work in Shadowrun than actual players, many of which will be underwhelmed or not care about the “shocking reveal” at the end. Pass. 6 for 8.
9. C.Y.A. This adventure is actually the first of several in this collection hat revolve around the Ares Excalibur Rifle. Unfortunately it’s not only the worst adventure in this series, but the worst in the entire collection. It’s another “Players Vs. DM” situation but it also puts players directly in black hats instead of grey or white ones. This means the adventure is going to be unsalvageable part way through depending on the players and or characters you have here. Honestly, as someone who has played Shadowrun on and off for two decades, I can honestly say this adventure left a bad taste in my mouth just reading it. Basically, the players are covering up severe issues with Ares’ newest weapon. This means an attempt to make the weapon look feasible, meaning that people (including fellow Shadowrunners and perhaps even friends/allies of the players) will die because of their actions. Players will then eliminate people who have given bad firsthand accounts of the weapon and then help rewrite the reviews to be positive instead of negative. Finally, you get betrayed by the psycho Ms. Johnson behind the whole thing and will have other teams of runners on your players for some time. This is really only an adventure that works if you have a team of completely psychotic characters that only care about getting paid. Otherwise, this adventure simply won’t run anything close to the way it was written. This is one of those that is neither fun to run or play. 6 for 9.
10. Sucking Lemons. This is the second of the Ares Excalibur series and thankfully, it is much better than the first. I’m not just saying this because the plot revolves heavily around a Cyberdeck and a phantom lawsuit. In “Sucking Lemons,” Ares has tried to spin all the negative PR the Excalibur has received into something akin to campy positive stuff. Like how Thankskilling is a “so bad it’s awesome” movie. Unfortunately, where there’s smoke, there has to be fire and some people are starting to realize there isn’t any. The players are brought it to uncover the truth behind the Excalibur Rifle and why Ares is outright making up stuff like shelving the rifle on account of an Intellectual Property lawsuit. Basically “Sucking Lemons” is a mirror to “C.Y.A.” Here characters are uncovering and revealing corporate fraud and misdoings rather than being outright evil. It’s a hell of a lot easier to get players to do this one and neither the players or characters want to take a shower after finishing it. 7 for 10.
11. Making Lemonade. This is the final adventure in the Ares Excalibur trilogy. Much like C.Y.A, players and characters alike are going to feel dirty doing this one and because of the amoral actions involved, some are going to outright balk at doing this. It’s not going to be a smooth adventure to run at all depending on your troupe’s makeup. Again, characters are called in to make Ares look good by whatever means possible, even though it includes things like framing an innocent (and actually good person, which is rare in Shadowrun) Ares employee for the Ares foul-ups instead of the actual psycho behind it. In fact the whole second leg of the adventure hits you over the head with “What you are doing is bad. Very bad.” Again, this is going to make some players decide to back out of doing it. For a lot of DMs, you’re going to want to have alternate avenues planned out well in advance for when characters decide to cancel the mission. The third leg involves kidnapping and up and coming Renraku employee and forcing him to defect. There’s no way that this ends well for anyone involved. Much like “C.Y.A.,” nothing here feels like it was thought out very well and there’s no real conclusion or resolution to this thing. It’s not something I can recommend at all. 7 for 11.
12. Lights Out. If you’ve already played Columbian Subterfuge (or are planning to), “Lights Out” is a great adventure to tie in with it. After all, the characters are already in or around Bogota to begin with. Here you’ll be helping El Diablo Tigre to take out a series of power plants controlled by the Saeder-Krupp corporation. Sure, on one hand it’s bad to deprive lots of people of electricity and water, but these S-K plants are not only polluting the local area in a extremely toxic fashion, but they are warping things in a truly bizarre way. There are some pretty big challenges here and a potential for players to do not just a double-cross, but a triple-cross. Either way, characters will leave this adventure which some notable enemies. I enjoyed this one, although it’s hard to get characters to Bogota unless they are already there, which is why I recommend this as a post Columbian Subterfuge piece. 8 for 12.
13. Evidence of Bodies. This adventure takes characters to another part of the Amazonia-Aztlan war, this time to Pereira, Columbia. It’s a good adventure with one problem – characters will be working for Aztechnology, which is arguably the most evil corporation in the Sixth World. Just the fact this is the employer will have some characters and/or players saying no on principle. The good news is that the adventure is primarily recon and investigating a series of mysterious attack on the city that have left hundreds of civilians (and Aztech employees) dead. Aztechnology can’t investigate directly for fear that their presence will just escalate the violence, so they bring in a team of Shadowrunners (the players) to minimize the loss of life and prevent a high profile. This is a very different take of Aztlan as a whole and I enjoyed the adventure. It’s a very gore filled affair however. Like the two Ares adventures I couldn’t stand, character may have to do some very amoral actions here and set up two actually good aligned (well, as close to good as things get in Shadowrun), but unlike those Ares adventures, the writer here realized players may choose to doublecross out outright screw over Aztechnology and has put in bits on how to do that as well as the ramifications of making that choice. Awesome. 9 for 13.
14. The Villiers Divide. This is a weird adventure to be sure. You’ll be taking part in an internal civil war between the two heads of NeoNET – Samantha and Richard Villiers. Players will be not only trying to make Samantha Villiers look bad to other major NeoNET players, but there will be a lot of wooing involved. Players will try to get a key member of Samantha’s side to defect – by nearly any means necessary. The climax comes when a player has to try and seduce Ms. Villiers themselves. This is a very outside the box adventure with a lot of opportunity for dark comedy. I liked how outright weird it was and it should be a lot of fun to play through. 10 for 14.
15. Insubstantial Rumors. This is the first in a series of adventure around a cover-up over Corporate Court Chief Justice Hino and it’s up to the characters to find out and reveal what in going on. In this first adventure, players are hired by a member of Lone Star who has a mad hate-on for Aztechnology. She’s discovered that Hito’s last five rulings related to Aztechnology are dramatically different than the precedent Hito has set in the past and she wants you to discover why. Characters will definitely detect that something is afoot, but only hints of a much larger conspiracy yet to be revealed. This is a pretty good introductory adventure to this series and it ends in an extremely dramatic fashion. It should definitely have players and keepers alike wanting to run the rest of the series. 11 for 15.
16. Floating Secrets. This is a follow-up to the previous adventure. Investigating the goings-on around Chief Justice Hito takes characters to a location they have assuredly never been to before – the Zurich Orbital Habitat. This adventure will test players and gamesmasters alike as they have to deal with concepts like zero gravity, cramped locations, a lack of weapons and being as far from home as you can possibly get. Four days is Zurich is a massive undertaking and should make the characters for life. Getting on to the station will be surprisingly easy. It’s the legwork and getting off that may prove the challenge – especially if anyone discovers why the characters are there. This is one of my favorite adventures in the collection and longtime Shadowrun fans should be pretty happy with the chance to hit ZOH. 12 for 16.
17. Hard Facts. This is the third in the Judge Hino series, although it’s only tangentially connected.
Here Evo is actively destroying locations tied to the Judge Hino conspiracy, along with all those connected to those locations. The goal here is to get to one (or more) of these locations before Evo does and save some of the proof (and lives) connected to the conspiracy. This is a short adventure, as well as one that is pretty cut and dry. It’s good for what it is but it’s the weakest in the series so far. 13 for 17.
18. Cold Facts. This is the final adventure in the Judge Hino series. Here the source of the conspiracy is revealed along with the whys and hows. This is the final climactic bit of the series and it involves as much violence as it does espionage. Depending on how characters do, the resolution of this adventure should dramatically shake up the Sixth World’s corporate landscape. Evo should be going the way of Umbrella Corporation , but we’ll have to wait and see if that’s how CGL is going to play things in the metaplot. All in all a fine end to the series and the adventures in Corporate Intrigue as a whole. 14 for 18.
19. Character Trove. Stats blocks for NPCs you might encounter in these adventures. Nicely grouped and easy to use. 15 for 19.
All in all, about eighty percent of Corporate Intrigue is really well done and recommended for experienced GMs who like to run published adventures but want less handholding than is usually found in most Shadowrun adventures. At eighteen dollars, you’re basically paying a dollar per adventure which is a good deal across the board no matter how you look at it. Some of these are quite clever and outside the box which will make running them as much fun as playing them. Corporate Intrigue is a nice way for Catalyst Games Labs to end the all star year Shadowrun had in 2011.