Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
Page Count: 112
Re-Release Date: 11/27/2012 (Originally released in 1992)
Get it Here: DriveThruRPG.com
Shadowbeat was always an odd book and twenty years after its original release, it might be even odder. Shadowbeat is a collection of odds and ends from across the Sixth World that most gamers and their GM would never really thinking about needing to know or use in their Shadowrun campaign. However, the content within is so deep and well written (some might say overly anal retentive and rules-lawyery) that for those few who would actually want to know or use any of the information contained in Shadowbeat, this thing is a veritable cornucopia of content.
The key to remember with Shadowbeat is that it is a rulebook/supplement that covers everything BUT Shadowrunning. It’s meant to fill in the blanks of the Sixth World and also provide players and GMs alike a chance to run a character other than a Shadowrunner while still using FASA’s setting. The majority of the book is meat over mechanics, so it’s not too hard to covert the content contained in Shadowbeat to 20AE (the most recent edition) rules. Still a bit of the content is out of date since this takes place in the 2050s rather than the current 2070s time frame and a good chunk of what’s written here is out of date with today, such as where certain sports teams are located (Charlotte Hornets? Houston Oilers?) or changes in journalism over the past two decades. It’s not the book’s fault – it’s more a matter of the writers couldn’t predict the changes that would occur in real life, much like wireless internet would occur thus making the concept of decking a throwback or outdated (hence why CGL made things go wireless when they got the rights to the game). Because of this you’ll want to tweak things a bit even if you are playing a 2050s game so as to keep the nitpickers in your troupe quiet.
Shadowbeat can basically be divided into five topics: Music, TV, Journalism, Sports and Simsense. Each section gives information on how these industries work in the 2050s and give a lot of in-depth information on each. Some sections, like Journalism gives you page upon page of rules on how to play reporting in a mechanical sense, giving rules and rolls for investigating and interviews. This is a bit much for me as these are all things that could be handled by role-playing rather than roll-playing, but it’s pretty impressive that someone sat down and did this. The rules for recording/playing music are a little more realistic in terms of what you’d want players to roll rather than act out. After all, that elven rocker’s player might have a terrible voice IRL.
The section on music talks about the popular instruments of the 2050s, rock ‘n roll variants, the use of magic in music and how to run a character (or team) that is a musician and the type of rolls and mechanics that comes with that type of PC. You also get descriptions of various fame levels and what that corresponds to game-wise. After all, an indie rocker who just uploads his music to the Matrix can be an effective Shadowrunner. It’s quite another thing if you release a platinum trid every year and have to perform gigs every night.
The section on networks and popular trid shows was pretty interesting to me. It gives you a full list of the major networks, what they show and most importantly, who controls them. You also get information about smaller, indie stations and even pirate channels. You’re also given a list of the six most popular types of shows in the 2050s, along with examples of each. Of course, in the mid 2070s, where Shadowrun is currently taking place, most of these shows are off the air or would be on whatever passes for TV Land/Nick at Night. I found the bits on 2050s sitcoms and soap operas to be the most interesting.
Shadowbeat‘s section on journalism is both the longest and most in-depth in the book and it really feels like this was meant to be its own standalone supplement with how deep and detailed it is. It’s the only section to have specific information on playing a player character of this type and the sheer amount of mechanics. It’s only twenty pages long but honestly it feels like an entire other book that you’ll be slogging through. It’s a wonderful read if your eyes don’t glaze over at the sheer amount of mechanics you are expected to need/know as a reporter as generally news and the people who reported it are background NPCs or there just to push PCs in the right direction in the usual game of Shadowrun.
The sports area is where Shadowbeat is most interesting, but also the most outdated. As I mentioned at the beginning, a lot of the teams that survived the breaking up of the United States don’t actually exists today. Of course in 1993, who saw the Brewers moving to the National League and the Astros to the American League? Seriously! Fixing the names of teams and the like is pretty easy to do though (replace the aforementioned Oilers with the Texans for example) and it is pretty interesting to see what sports have thrived, died off or stayed about par for the course in the Sixth World. It’s also interesting to see what sports allow cyber-augmentation and why. Of course the most important part of this chapter is that it gives the history and full rules for Urban Brawl and Combat Biker, two big sports of the time period, although you really don’t see either mentioned much by CGL these days. Through this whole section I thought about how fun it would be to make a PC who was an ex Urban Brawl player or perhaps a baseball player for a Japanese team who goblinized at the peak of his career and thus was banned (Japan is even more racist than in real life in Shadowrun). Heck imagine playing an entire campaign about a Combat Biker team!
Finally we have Simsense. To someone who has never played Shadowrun think of simsense as a version of postcognition or psychometery, where one experiences something in the past that happened to someone else. It’s not like skillsoft where a person suddenly is able to know a language or perform a skill they wouldn’t normally know how to do. It’s memory rather than technical. It’s a very long and detailed read; perhaps more than you’d ever need to know about it. Of note is the addiction aspects and potential side effects from prolonged usage.
All in all, Shadowbeat is okay. I never had the desire or need for it back in the days of first and second edition. It just didn’t seem applicable to my, or any other Shadowrun games my friends were running back in the day. Now twenty years later, it’s still an odd duck, chock full of detailed information on outdated subjects that are only of use to a very niche audience. There aren’t a lot of people playing FASA style Shadowrun these days and those playing CGL style won’t get much use out of this. For those really interested in 2050s sports, TV and journalism though, this is a pretty good deal for eight dollars. For everyone else, this is a well written but easily unnecessary sourcebook.