Tabletop Review: Shadowrun: Sprawl Wilds (Fourth and Fifth Edition)
by Alex Lucard on July 18, 2013

Shadowrun: Sprawl Wilds
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
Page Count: 88
Cost $19.99 ($12.99 PDF)
Release Date: 07/11/2013
Get it Here: DriveThruRPG.com

Shadowrun: Sprawl Wilds is a reprint of four previously published Shadowrun Missions adventures collected and bound into one document. I’ve been praising the Shadowrun Missions line since I started reviewing tabletop games here at Diehard GameFAN as the best adventure format currently available, and you can’t get any of the Missions in this collection at DriveThruRPG.com or from CGL’s website, so it’s nice to see them collected here. As well, the price point is pretty solid. Usually Shadowrun Missions are $3.95 each, or less than a comic book. So the PDF price of $12.99 is a further discount on adventures that really are the best deal in gaming today. It’s such a crazy good price point that the cost alone is reason enough to empathically recommend this product to you as you’re getting four adventures for basically the price of three. The $19.99 “regular” price is a bit high, however, especially as these adventures are black and white and we’ve been spoiled by color adventures through this line for the past few years, so it’s hard to recommend at THAT price simply because it’s silly to be charged $4.99 for adventures that usually costs $3.99 if you buy them separately. So if you’re on the fence, get this collection NOW rather than later while the price is awesome rather than slightly overpriced compared to normal.

Another thing worth noting about Sprawl Wilds is that this is not your typical reprint. After all, we just saw the release of Shadowrun, Fifth Edition and as such, these Shadowrun Missions adventures have been reworked to be playable by both the new rules set and the old 20AE of Shadowrun. That means everyone wins with this collection. A big fan of the new edition (as you should be!)? Then you can replay some classic adventures with the new system and see how they compare? Absolutely hate the new rules and want to cling to fourth edition until they pry it from your cold dead hands, chummer? Well you can still play these adventures as they fit the version you love best. See? Everyone wins…except first through third edition fans that is.

If you’ve never played a Shadowrun Missions before, you’re missing out. As mentioned for THE PAST FEW YEARS, I’ve yet to find an adventure layout better than the one used with theShadowrun Missions line. Everything is laid out so wonderfully, even a brand new GM can run one of these. Then for the long time Sixth World Veteran, there are ways to scale the adventure up or down depending on the player’s skill at the game and/or the build levels of the characters. These things just flow so smoothly, I recommend them even to non-Shadowrun fans as an example of how to outline an adventure with the least amount of chance for GM screw up or confusion. I’m really glad the first official adventure release for 5e is simply taking some old SM adventures and giving them the new rules set. Fifth Edition is the perfect chance to jump on to Shadowrun for the first time and giving newcomers a set of easy to run, play and understand adventures is the best thing that could have happened for the game, especially as it had become far too insular and newcomer unfriendly towards the end of 4e.

So now let’s talk about the adventures themselves. There are four of them here and as they are four adventures, the quality does vary. The collection starts off with Manhunt and it’s a personal favorite of mine. Back in the day (AKA a few years ago…) I turned this adventure into a Shadowrun/Werewolf: The Apocalypse crossover, which is surprisingly easy to do once you read the text (I don’t want to spoil it.). Basically your characters have been hired to investigate a string of mysterious animal killings up by a hydroponics farm. Not your usual Shadowrun, is it? Well, it stays that way throughout, believe me. The adventure features some unusual antagonists and NPCs. It’s a great introduction into just how weird the Sixth World can be as well as showcasing how not every adventure needs to be wetworks or industrial espionage. The Plastic Jungle is always a memorable and far underutilized backdrop and I love that this collections starts with Manhunt as it will really stick out in the minds of newcomers and also keep them from being introduced to the system via the usual tricks and tropes. Character will use a range of skills, many of which aren’t killing things related.

The second adventure in this collection is Carbon Copy. I honestly didn’t remember this one at all, and the events seemed out of place since it’s the “third” appearance of the Mayan Cutter and a major Shadowrun Missions character that was alive all throughout last season has a pretty good chance of being axed here, so I had to go look and discover that this one is an all new adventure just for the collection. Nice! Well, not so nice for CHARACTER NAME REDACTED, as I’ve always liked them. Boo-Urns. Of course the synopsis is written in a way that had me thinking they were definitely killing a certain Knight Errant NPC that is quite popular with Shadowrun fans, but thankfully that was just a very bad turn of phrase not caught by the editing team.

Carbon Copy is a fun little adventure, but there is one rather big problem that lessens its impact. While it is nice to have a new adventure, without any connection to the two previous Mayan Cutter adventures, the importance of who and what the Mayan Cutter is or the potential death of a longtime NPC will be lost on a lot of people who picked this up. Even more important, as the first adventure collection for Fifth Edition, Sprawl Wilds is the first introduction for a lot of gamers to Shadowrun and already they’re going to be in over the heads thanks to an adventure that harkens back to a veritable dump truck load of Fourth Edition metaplot points, making it a bit confusing and inaccessible to newcomers – the exact problem I feared we would see with Fifth Edition and the EXACT OPPOSITE thing you would want to see with the only premade adventures currently available for 5e. Now don’t get me wrong – the adventure is quite good, but it would have had far more impact had it been released in the closing days of Fourth Edition.

As the first truly new adventure for Fifth Edition you get a well written story but it does breaks every cardinal rule and commits every faux pas one can when it comes to releasing something for new players and a new system. Seriously, this would be like me writing for Vampire: the Requiem and then having the entire adventure reference Vampire: The Masquerade Second Edition and the death of Lodin, prince of Chicago or some such. Had Sprawl Wilds been a Mayan Cutter collection, this would worked so much better for both longtime Sixth World fans and newcomers alike. Instead you get an adventure that is awesome (I can’t stress that enough; I really liked the adventure) if you are a longtime fan of the metaplot and Shadowrun Missions in particular or if you are new to Shadowrun it becomes a mediocre experience that highlights the disconnect between the current writing staff at Catalyst Game Labs and their need to bring (and keep) new gamers into the fold instead of writing for the longtime SR zealot, because eventually that audience is going to dry up. So much for hoping Fifth Edition would be less about the metaplot and more about the game and gamers.

Adventure number three is called Ashes. It’s been modified a bit from the original version, at least metaplot wise. Now the adventure takes place after Election Day and/or Dirty Tricks with Proposition 23 passing. This changes the adventure slightly, but not enough that it affects the outcome or flow. People who played the original Ashes might be a bit disoriented and like, “That’s not how it happened,” but GOOD! It’s like the old B1 In Search of the Unknown or a Tunnels & Trolls in that you can replay it and still get something new out of it. As well, the changing of the metaplot actually makes the adventure a little more welcoming to newcomers as Proposition 23 is done with and they aren’t coming into the middle of this massive metaplot aspect that is actually already said and done from the closing days of Fourth Edition. It’s done and over with and so the changes let the players cleanly deal with Fifth Edition instead of retconning bits of Fourth Edition and I like that. An introduction to the Ork Underground in this collection is a wonderful idea, as it’s a defining aspect of 2075’s Seattle. Out of all the Ork Underground adventures, Ashes was also the easiest and most inviting to newcomers because the others were so intricately woven around the then upcoming referendum vote that a complete rewrite would have been needed to make them work. Even better, Ashes contains a nice primer on the Underground and its various sections, making sure new players and GMs alike will be able to understand its organization (or sometimes, complete lack thereof) and how different it is from the rest of Seattle.

The actual adventure itself is another high quality affair. What was supposed to be a simple courier job explodes into something else entirely – literally. What then follows is one of the more open ended Shadowrun Missions ever written. Don’t get me wrong; it’s still basically an on-rails shooter, but there are so many different things for players to do (or attempt to do) and a myriad of directions the adventure can go, that it really tested the Missions layout back in the day and proved how incredibly solid the format is. If Ashes hadn’t been written in the SM format, I think a lot of new or inexperienced GMs would have been lost or let things got to pot. Instead, the format of these adventures keeps things nicely contained while still listing (and organizing) all the possible outcomes of the sheer chaos and bedlam this adventure degenerates down to. Ashes is very different from the stereotypical Shadowrun experience while also introduces players to a regularly occurring location within Seattle, so it’s a wonderful juxtaposition of things that will be all too familiar to players as they get more experienced with the system and location while also reminding them that not every mission can be solved by a decker and a metric ton of bullets. This is another great choice for the collection and although I’m not generally a big fan of retconning adventures timeline wise (system wise is fine), Ashes is one of the better examples of this actually succeeding.

The fourth and final adventure is Humanitarian Aid, which got a sequel in the latest edition of Shadowrun Missions entitled ugh…Romero and Juliette. Yes, R&J was easily the worst Shadowrun Missions adventure of the season, and arguably ever, and it was lambasted from here to DrivethruRPG.com and back to ever major Shadowrun site out there, but good news everybody – Humanitarian Aid is written by a different person altogether, it’s of a much higher quality and it actually gets how to use a shedim correctly! So if you’re had the misfortune of sitting through Romero & Juliette and the inclusion of this adventure feels you with worry that Humanitarian Aid is just as terrible – sigh in relief because it most certainly is not.

Humanitarian Aid is a great way to end this collection, not just because it features a pretty powerful end boss which lets the collection end with a pretty powerful and memorable battle, but it’s another adventure that breaks from the usual, “break into location A and steal Object B or kill Person C” format that it is all too easy for homebrew adventures to fall into. At the same time it does bring into play one of the big Mega-Corps for the first time (Horizon – run technomancers, run!) in this collection and revolves around a nice kindly mission where you are retrieving a vaccine for a town in need. Clearly the players have a pure white hat on for once and they’re doing a mission where they can feel good about themselves, actually be as close to heroes as it gets in the Sixth World and earn some figurative Karma in addition to the literal Karma that acts as the XP system for Shadowrun. Of course things are not as easy as this adventure also introduces the shedim to newcomers. Shedim are not the Hebrew demons of lore, at least not in the Sixth World. Instead they are astrally existing spirits capable of possessing physical bodies. They’re a pretty loathsome and fearsome enemy in the Sixth World (although perhaps not as creepy as Insect Spirits, which thankfully show up in this collection, but just wait until the Chi-Town Rumble season of Shadowrun Missions starts up!) The whole adventure is a thrill ride from beginning to end and I’m happy Catalyst included Humanitarian Aid in this collection as it’s a great introduction to balls to the wall combat Shadowrun style, the Shedim, Horizon and how even the simplest mission in theory can go haywire, but also it gives newcomers and vets alike a chance to finally own this adventure which while, cited recently, hasn’t been availably digital before now (at least that I can recall. Hey, I’m old!).

Overall, Sprawl Wilds is a truly top notch collection. You get reprints of three well done adventures and a brand new one. I loved them all, even if one is too metaplot heavy for newcomers to truly get into. The price is especially good, and doubly so when you consider this is the first time any of them have been seen since 2010’s convention season. The Shadowrun Missions format is exactly what I hoped I’d see for the first official Fifth Edition adventure release(s) as it’s a great way to help people learn the system as well as keep GMs focused. This is simply a wonderful collection across the board and, while not perfect, is an easy recommendation to all Shadowrun fans out there new and old, fourth edition stalwarts or those who heartily embrace the fifth rendition of the Sixth World.



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