Shadowrun: Splintered State
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
Page Count: 72
Release Date: 09/30/2013
Get it Here: DriveThruRPG.com
Splintered State is the first adventure for Shadowrun, Fifth Edition that isn’t from the Shadowrun Missions line. Although to be honest, since the adventure uses the same formatting as Shadowrun Missions, follows up some of the storyline threads from the last season of Missions and looks and feels like a double length adventure from that series, it’s hard not to instinctively look at Splintered State as a post script to the Seattle adventures. Unlike Shadowrun Missions though, Splintered State is completely in black and white and it has nearly twice the page count. That said it also has a little over twice the price tag as well. Season 5 of Shadowrun Missions costs a little under six dollars per adventure and Season 4, which Splintered State ties into, costs $3.95 each, so you could get two or three adventures using the same format for the same cost as this. Why the higher price tag? I’m not sure save for the fact it’s the first adventure to start touching on plot points from Storm Front, the last Metaplot release for Shadowrun, Fourth Edition. We get to see a little more regarding the fall of Kenneth Brackhaven, Governor of Seattle, but more importantly, we also get a bit more of the mysterious weirdness “infecting” various people of the Sixth World including some beloved Jackpointers.
Splintered State is meant to be an introductory adventure into Shadowrun, Fifth Edition. It’s meant for rookie characters and to help a group of new shadowrunners not only make their name, but really get thrown into the deep end of Seattle intrigue and see whether they can sink or swim. Now note I said characters rather than players. While I think Splintered State is an excellent adventure for showcasing the new rules and system for Shadowrun, I hesitate to say it’s a good adventure for introducing people completely new to the setting. After all, the adventure makes heavy use of the metaplot that came before Fifth Edition, along with a cast and characters that have a lot of back story and baggage attached to them. As such, long time players with new characters will have a blast with this adventure while newcomers will have to stop and ask questions almost constantly about various players and megacorps that rear their head throughout this adventure. I personally feel an introductory adventure should be more handholding and explanatory about the setting and mechanics and Splintered State just doesn’t do that at all. I mean, when you throw in Jake Armitage and a back story that stretches back to First Edition as an Easter Egg, you’re obviously NOT writing for the newcomer crowd. Now it does do a great job of guiding a new GM through running the adventure and pointing out how players can go off the rails or make incredibly stupid (lethal) mistakes, but from brand new players. I think they would need something a little friendly to their inexperience and lack of Sixth World knowledge. So basically, Splintered State is a fun and frantic adventure that gives new characters a lot of potential contacts, allies and enemies, but it’s a little too intense for people who are touching Shadowrun for the first time.
Splintered State revolves around a very special comlink – one that used to be possessed by a special agent trying to bring Governor Brackhaven down. The good news is that it can do just that. The bad news is that this particular agent has the same problem that seems to have affects characters like Fastjack. The good news is that the comlink is worth a LOT of nuyen in the right hands. The bad news is many sides want the comlink and are willing to kill for it. The good news is the PCs end up getting their hands on the comlink. The bad news is the PCs end up getting their hands on the comlink. What follows is a set of potential, bribes, betrayals and battles as the players have to decide what to do with the comlink. Anything from getting bullets to the brain or collecting well over 100,000 nuyen can occur depending on how the characters play their cards. Hell, you could get the money AND the fatal injuries depending on the actions taken.
In a sense, the players have five sides that they can take. You have Ares, Mitsuhama, Brackhaven, the Law and “Screw you all.” If you’re using experienced characters, especially those that have been through Season Four of Shadowrun Missions, you’re pretty much guaranteed to side with DA Oaks and Tosh because you probably have them as contacts with a high rating while Brackhaven probably has already tried to murder you more than once. The Law is the lesser or the five evils but new characters and especially new players might not realize this, causing the comlink to fall into the hands whichever side makes the best offer. I really enjoyed the dynamic layout of the adventure and how it plans for any of the five sides to be taken, along with the repercussions of each.
Splintered State offers a lot of handouts, maps and NPC data, which as I have said earlier, make running this adventure pretty easy. It’s well written and laid out, and contains all sorts of ways to scale the difficulty of the adventure and also gives some tips for what to do when players try to think outside the box. If you’ve ever run or read a Shadowrun Missions you know what to expect. Splintered State does tie heavily into the metaplot of fourth AND fifth edition Shadowrun, and the results of this adventure will be felt in later releases for the system, so if you like that sort of thing, you and your team can play the adventure and read about it in future releases. For newcomers, this is a great way to tie emotional impact into the memories of a fun session of gaming. Some gamers however may be turned off the whole “everything is metaplot first and foremost” aspect of Shadowrun. For that I can only offer two solutions: don’t play or just ignore the metaplot. You can write your own campaign or version of Shadowrun if at any time you start to feel like you have to purchase and read every release in order to understand what is going on story-wise.
In the end, Splintered State is a really fun adventure. It’s probably a dollar or three overpriced and it really doesn’t feel like an introductory adventure for new players as much as it does for new characters, but it’s well designed, touches on all the tropes of the setting and gives you a large look at some of the key players and issues currently taking place in the Sixth World. If you’re familiar with the rise and fall of Kenneth Brackhaven and have enjoyed the drama, than you’ll definitely want to pick this up to see the continuation escalation of events. You can easily modify the adventure to fit your older, more established characters if need be. Bottom line – Splintered State is well worth picking up for long time Shadowrun fans, but newcomers can probably skip it as it’s not as newcomer friendly as it wants and/or needs to be.