Tabletop Review: Shadowrun: The Way of the Samurai

Shadowrun: The Way of the Samurai
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
Page Count: 19
Cost: $4.95
Release Date: 01/12/2013
Get it Here: DriveThruRPG.com

I was always a big fan of the original Street Samurai Catalog back in the early days of Shadowrun. So when The Way of the Samurai was announced, I was really hoping it would be either an updated version of that classic text for Fourth Edition, or at least an homage. Unfortunately, what we got was a bit of a letdown for the same reasons The Land of Promise failed to live up to the original Tir Tairngire sourcebook. Both The Way of the Samurai and The Land of Promise needed more substance, a clearer focus, better writing, and more of an incentive for gamers to pick up the PDF. Where 4E really could have used a full-length in-depth look at the Street Samurai, especially since so much focus is on technomancers and magic users these days, CGL decided to go with a very short supplement, most of which is fiction rather than the much needed mechanics, and then end things with a few hastily thrown together ideas that I can’t see too many players choosing to use. The end result is a mediocre and problematic piece whose ideas would have probably been better off debuting in Shadowrun, Fifth Edition which comes out later this year.

The Way of the Samurai starts off with a three piece fiction story. It’s…okay. It’s neither bad nor good, but you can tell the piece was shoehorned to fit all the new Street Samurai subtypes. The narrative feels a bit stilted, while the dialogue is fine. It’s not a shining example of Sixth World fiction, but it serves its purpose and introduces the concept behind this supplement.

Unfortunately, this is followed up by what is easily the worst Jackpoint section that I can remember. They already had a setup with the piece of fiction, so they didn’t need to do the same thing with the Runners at Jackpoint. This section, where the conversation is led by the Jar Jar Binks of the Sixth World (except far less likeable) Slamm-O, is where he discusses pirating a pre-beta version (which would be an alpha) of a popular video game franchise and the updates made to the melee characters in the game. OF COURSE the different melee archetypes are the exact same as the actual street samurai subtypes being introduced in this piece. Unfortunately, the writing is so terribly done, with constant winks and nods to the fourth wall and going in and out of kayfabe that I had to check and see if CGL had hired Vince Russo circa 1999 to write this piece of drek. It’s that badly done. As a person who has worked extensively in both the tabletop and video game aspects of our industry, I can honestly say I was embarrassed by this Jackpoint segment, as it’s pretty much the exact opposite of how you would want to write gaming characters talking about a parallel aspect of the industry. Everything is just so ham-fisted and shoehorned into these four and a half pages that the tacky narrative just had me thinking, “Holy crap, if this is how ‘The Year of Shadowrun’ starts off, I am honestly scared to see the quality of the other things on the schedule for this year.” At least Shadowrun can only go up from here this year? That’s about as positive as I can get on this section.

Both pieces of fiction take up half the supplement, which was really disappointing to see. Street Samurai get so little focus these days that one could have easily written an entire full length sourcebook for them. Instead you get nine and a half pages of mechanics. It gets worse though, because of those nine and a half pages, FIVE of them are devoted to premade character examples. This is a terrible decision, considering how many pregenerated archetypes are already out there for the game and in books people already own. I get maybe doing one to show off the new subtype option, but five different characters taking up a full twenty-five percent of the supplement? That says to me one of two things: the team behind the piece couldn’t think of enough substance to put into this supplement and thus it should haven’t been put on the schedule, or the entire piece was simply a quick cash grab to sell people four and a half pages of optional mechanics at the equivalent of a dollar a page. Either way, neither says anything good about this piece.

So let’s talk about those actually pages that are of use to the game itself. You get a whopping ONE PAGE of content on the new subtypes. Again, if all you actually had was a single page of true new content, why not save it for something else, or Fifth Edition? Basically, Street Samurai get seven new subtypes, under the category of Qualities. These subtypes each cost 10 BP and have their own unique requirements. If a character qualifies for more than one subtype, they can purchase them with their BP, but you can only purchase each one once, so no doubling up on the bonuses. A universal requirement is that the character has to have an Essence Score of 2.99 or less.

Bodyguard gives a character +2 to Perception checks and gives you either Ready Weapon or Take Aim as a free action. It’s okay. Mercs gets a 10% discount when purchasing a chosen type of merchandise from a chosen contact, which is nice until the contact dies somehow. You also get +3 to your dice pool modifier when trying to sell/fence goods of your chosen type, along with only suffering a -1 penalty to running attacks on ranged combat and +1 bonus on ranged defense cover. So Merc gives you a lot of varied stuff, all of which can be helpful. Panzer gives you bonuses against fear and they can ignore two boxes of wound modifiers that can’t be stacked with other abilities. Meh. If it could stack, Panzer would be worth it. As it’s written, it’s a hard sell. Razorboy gets +1 to Street Knowledge skills, which can be very nice, depending on the build, and either +2 to Intimidation checks or +1 DV (Damage Value) with implanted blades. I’d go with the latter personally, but I can see where the former is useful. Ronin lets you reduce the Essence Cost of either bioware or cyberware implants by ten percent. Unfortunately, there is so little detail given to the mechanics, it doesn’t say if this is ongoing from when you purchase the Quality or if it becomes retroactive. If it’s not retroactive, players that take this will have to really keep track of things on their character sheet somewhere (as will the GM). The essence cost reduction also comes with a crapload of restrictions, making this the least thought out and most poorly written of the options. Ronin also get +1 DV with blades or +2 on defensive reaction tests. Meh. Sharpshooters no longer have to half their skill when calculating how many actions they can take with a ranged weapon. This can be huge depending on the character build, especially since it is applicable to any ranged weapon. Finally, we have the Street Ninja, which halves called shot penalties.

It’s also of note that the Street Ninja appears to be either the exception to the rule about only being able to purchase a quality once, or it highlights the poor editing job the piece has. At the beginning of the section it reads, “Each Quality may be taken only a single time.” Yet under Street Ninja, the last line of the description (and section) reads, “The Quality can be selected multiple times if the player wants both of the extra bonuses.” So, just a head’s up that this either got through, or it’s the only one of these subtypes than can be purchased multiple times. If it’s the latter, it’s a poor idea to let one of the seven be stackable, not only because you’d be wasting 20 BP to get the two different options (+1 die on either surprise or infiltration – so not worth it), but if you’re going to introduce a new concept in a throwaway supplement that has maybe a page of value, keep it all or nothing.

Now I’m sure some of you will look at the new qualities and think, “Oh God, they’re turning this into D&D 4e!” Well, that’s not the case. D&D 4E plays like an MMORPG where every character has a limited specific role they can do properly. The new qualities are merely an optional bit that is meant to enhance a Street Samurai rather than pigeonhole them even further. So don’t worry, you won’t have to play your Street Samurai as a bodyguard if you take the Quality because you meet the requirements. It’s just a poorly conceived naming convention.

Finally, you get two and a half pages of new cyberware bundled packages. Of course, you need the book Augmentation to make heads of tails of this section, which means that unless you own it, this section, like the rest of this supplement, is pretty much worthless. Overall, this is the worst Shadowrun supplement I’ve seen CGL put out in years. Only a single page is actual content that can be used by everyone that picks it up. ONE PAGE. Half the piece is mediocre to outright terrible fiction, and the rest is of no use to gamers unless they really like pregenerated characters or own Augmentation. This is so terribly done you have to wonder what everyone involved with this piece was thinking. It’s truly a terrible way for “The Year of Shadowrun” to begin, and it’s the first non adventure I can honestly tell you to stay the hell away from. It’s a waste of money no matter how you look at it.

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