Shadowrun: Hazard Pay
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
Cost: $34.99 ($25 for the PDF Version)
Release Date: 05/09/2012
Get it Here: DriveThruRPG.com
When I first heard about Hazard Pay, I was expecting it to be like other recent Shadowrun compilations, like The Twilight Horizon, Corporate Intrigue and Jet Set. All of those books were about a third flavor text, then two-thirds adventure rundowns. So imagine my surprise when Hazard Pay turned out to be more like Conspiracy Theories, in that it was ninety to ninety-five percent in-character metaplot flavor text, ten percent mechanics and absolutely no adventures at all. That really threw me for a loop. The fact that Hazard Pay plays out like this isn’t a bad thing, as all this substance without rules-mongering really makes the book feel more like a collection of Shadowrun fiction than a supplement. Now, whether you’ll like that or not depends on why you read/purchase Shadowrun books. I love the setting and tend to be more about the story and light on the rules when I run Sixth World stuff for my friends and/or test group, so I found this wonderful. However, if you’re looking for exact rules on damage that is taken when your space suit ruptures or exact mechanics for running combat in zero gravity, this isn’t the book for you… although you should probably pick up Arsenal.
Hazard Pay is divided into five topics, preceded by an opening short story, and ends with a “Game Information” recap which compiles all the in-game rules and stats found within the book. This is a nice way to close out the book, as it ensures that everything is in one area, making it easier to search for a new vehicle, spell or weapon. Each of the sections in Hazard Pay goes pretty in-depth about each topic, as well as the history of the “region” in general. I loved that they gave a historical background in addition to what is going on in the current time period of the game. One of my problems with Conspiracy Theories was that the writing assumed you new all the past stuff that has gone in the Shadowrun setting up to that point, making little or no attempt to explain things to newcomers or casual fans. My thought has always been that every supplement can (and will) be someone’s first exposure to a game, so they need to be as inviting as possible. Hazard Pay hits one out of the park in this regard.
All of Hazard Pay is written from the perspective of Jackpoint. Now most Shadowrun books have some Jackpoint version in them, but there aren’t a lot where the entire book is written as if it takes place on the Sixth World equivalent of a chat room/message board. I personally love this style, but I know there are some gamers that skim over these. Again, if you are looking for hard rules or adventures, this isn’t the book for you. If you want substance and style without rules, though – you’ll love this.
The first section is “Protectors and Despoilers” and talks about environmental activist organizations in the Sixth World, followed by a rundown of some infamous Toxic Shamans, Insect Shamans and Blood Mages. I really enjoyed this, as Shadowrun has always spent a lot of time on pollution, but rarely goes in-depth about the cleaning up or who does it. This section alone will give GMs plenty of ideas for campaigns you don’t normally see in Shadowrun. Perhaps you’ll have an entire team of players working for a specific environmental organization, taking out polluters, or engaging on runs against large corps who are despoiling the land. Maybe you’ll have a team comprised of people working for several different environmental organizations who are trying to work together, but also realize only one non-profit is going to get an elusive grant and/or a bounty. The sky is the limit here. The same is true for all the “despoilers.” You could craft multiple adventures based on players picking up the bounties for some of these guys and gals. “Protectors and Despoilers” really can let players and GMs look at the Sixth World in some neat new ways.
“Deep Sea” pretty much says it all with its title. This section looks all the different things going on in the oceans of the Sixth World. Topics include floating prisons, salvage and recovery operations, living in an underwater research and development labs, floating corporate owned metropolis known as Arkoblocks and ancient ruins. You’ll get to read what all the mega-corps are doing out at sea and even read a journalistic expose on the true cost of living out on the ocean. Sure, water based runs have been covered before in several other adventures and supplements, but this bring a few new things to the table and includes some things that an enterprising GM can easily turn into an adventure or three.
“Arctic Wastelands” covers both the Arctic and Antarctic and how technology and metahumans alike have to adapt when in extremely cold temperatures. This was my favorite section of the book as it went really in-depth as to what happens to a Runner when exposed to the cold and all the dangers that await one there -and it did it without reducing things to “take x number of damage per y.” It gave everything in real world terms while staying completely in-universe. That’s a sign of a quality supplement. We get everything from atmospheric phenomenon to things the average gamer might not think about such as how easy it is to sunburn in flat snowy regions to how different kinds of clothing can help or impair one in inclement weather.
It’s also worth noting that there are several new spells (and one Adept ability) in this section. It’s also the first to include “plot hooks.” These are sidebars with that contain about one to three paragraphs of potential adventure starts for GMs that need a little push. I’m not sure why the earlier sections don’t jave these but everything from “Arctic Wastelands” on does, but while it’s a nice idea, it really makes the book feel thrown together or piecemeal. About here is where I thought that CGL might have been better off doing this book as five eight dollar short supplements rather than one big book. It would have made them more money in the long run and let gamers pick and choose which environments that they wanted to read about. After all, not everyone is going to care about all five sections here.
A few last thoughts on “Arctic Wastelands” before we move on. The first is that this section also has a nice range of creatures, both Awakened and otherwise to help flesh out an adventure or even a campaign set in this part of the world. I also noticed what appeared to be direct references to At the Mountains of Madness and Who Goes There, (which is the inspiration for John Carpenter’s The Thing). Of course maybe it’s just because I know both of those stories like the back of my hand and I have just reviewed FIVE straight new Chaosium releases for Call of Cthulhu, but the thought of a Shoggoth Vs. Lowfyr made me all kinds of giddy.
“Space” is the fourth section in the book and my least favorite. It’s not that it wasn’t well written; it was. It’s just that we’ve had quite a few space related adventures from CGL lately that this doesn’t feel as novel as it should. I also own Arsenal, so for me, it felt kind of like a “done that, been there” piece. Now for newcomers or those that haven’t played any of the recent “Runners in SPAAAACE!” adventures, this section will actually be really interesting as it breaks down all five regions of space, how to get up there and how insane it can be to try and do a run on a space station, satellite or shuttle. The history of space exploration in the Sixth World was extremely well done and I loved Orbital DK’s “Guide For Not Becoming Dead in Space.” There’s some information here about various facilities that players can do a run on and even a nice little “get out of dying horribly” card that you a GM can use when players mess up in the form of the SRS (Space Rescue Service). Honestly the SRS, with its odd paradox of being extremely white hat oriented in a game where 99% of the population is wearing grey or black and yet is funded by ALL TEN megacorps was the most interesting thing in the section to me.
We finish things off with “Deserts.” Again, because there are so many published adventures that take place in the Middle East or with desert conditions (several recent ones like Damage Control or Metahumanity Ablaze from The Twilight Horizon), I wasn’t as interested in this as I was the arctic and environmental bits, but it was still a solid read. Shadowrun really isn’t a game where players and GMs tend to keep track of food and water, so it was nice to get a description of how to work dehydration and other hot weather effects similar to what “Arctic Wastelands” gave us earlier in the book. It is of note that this is the only section that doesn’t start off with a story and that just goes straight into JackPoint, which again makes the book feel thrown together. There isn’t a lot of substance to this section though, as it pays lip service to the events around Las Vegas, gives a little info on the Mojave, a little on the Sahara and a bit on a few others like the Gobi or the Aussie Outback, but it’s definitely the lightest, weakest and least interesting section of Hazard Pay. If it was up to me I’d have excised the desert bit and have included asmaller sections – one of the Ring of Fire (or volcanic activity in general) and then increased the “Deep Sea” pages with info on whirlpools, tsunamis, the effect of hurricanes on these manmade structures and other water based events that I’m surprised weren’t covered here.
One final note, I was surprised by the sheer amount of typographical errors that plagued this book. I thought Damage Control was bad in this respect, but it honestly felt like there was something on every page of Hazard Pay. Whether it be a duplicated sentence, two sentences mashed together so that you can’t make sense of either or just some strange nonsensical word vomit, I’m a bit shocked at all the errors that made it past CGL’s editorial staff here. It’s like their editors are getting worse instead of better with their jobs. It doesn’t ruin the book by any means, but it does become a very noticeable distraction that makes the book feel sloppy and rushed.
All in all, I thought Hazard Pay was a decent read. It did feel like I was reading what was meant to be five didn’t supplements crammed into one big one and the entire book really needed another run or two through editorial before being published, but like Parabotany, there are some really nice outside the box ideas that will do wonders for a creative GM looking for some new and interesting adventure ideas to run his players through. Basically “Protectors and Despoilers” and “Arctic Wastelands” are well worth the price of admission, “Deep Sea” is enjoyable but could have used some more fleshing out, “Space” was interesting but the topic has been covered more than enough by CGL lately and “Deserts” was lackluster. At $35, this probably isn’t a must buy for anyone, but if CGL does decide to break the book down into five smaller PDFs, run at them brandishing money in exchange for the two sections I outright recommended. I do think this is my favorite 4e Shadowrun cover of all time though…