Tabletop Review: Shadowrun: The Assassin’s Primer

Shadowrun: The Assassin’s Primer
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
Cost: $4.95
Page Count: 17
Release Date: 10/25/2013
Get it Here: Drivethrurpg.com

Wetworks is a very tricky thing to pull off in a tabletop game, even one like Shadowrun. Players, and thus their characters, tend to look at themselves in a heroic light, so it’s generally very hard to get a group of characters to take on a Wetworks mission, especially if the target can be considered good or innocent. A mission to prevent an assassination, sure, that’s easy enough to get PCs to accept. You can generally even get them to take an assassination mission if you’re killing a really big bad guy, like an Aztlan uberpriest or horrible serial murderer. That’s similar to the “raid the dungeon to snuff out the evil necromancer in order to save the village” motif from fantasy RPGs. Killing a good NPC trying to whistleblow on an evil corporation though? At least one PC seems to balk every time, thus causing the adventure to be thrown out, and a lot of GM planning goes out the window. Even Shadowrun adventure writers have had to deal with this headache and throw in some caveats for those types of missions when they are actually published.

So enter The Assassin’s Primer. Although fifteen of the seventeen pages in this document are JackPoint style fiction, this is a great look at assassins. More importantly, you are given an example of how to make a “noble professional killer” in addition to a religious fundamentalist, a patriotic abattoir and a ruthless psycho who just happens to love murdering things. Not only are there interesting character designs here, but it will make playing and/or designing Wetworks adventures all the easier. There are four very interesting positive qualities and one negative one in the two pages of actual mechanics in this piece. The benefits and drawbacks are enticing and unique enough to make a gamer curious about playing an assassin, and they come with enough background information to give a GM plot threads aplenty while also helping the player to flesh out the back story of their new killing machine.

The majority of the piece is JackPoint style fiction, as I mentioned earlier. If you’re new to Shadowrun (Fifth Edition just came out after all), this means that the fiction is done from the point of view of a speaker, or rather a writer, on a super secret chat room/message board/web forum in the Matrix. As the piece goes on, you’ll see side comments and even conversations occur between JackPoint members. It’s the most common way the metaplot occurs in Shadowrun, and you’ll quickly grow to accept if not outright enjoy it.

Our speaker for this piece is new to Jackpoint, and unfortunately, it looks like his first post is also about to be his last. Quietus, as he calls himself, is about to be killed by his employer (an all too common occurrence in the Sixth World I’m afraid) for reasons we will never know. Before he goes, he decides to spend his remaining time creating a primer on assassins to help them be better understood in terms of what they do and why they do it. Oddly enough, Quietus states he is a lurker to ShadowSEA and is posting his piece there, but ShadowSEA hasn’t really been used for advancing the Metaplot since, well, 2050 I guess. I’m not sure if this was an error that got through editorial, if this is actually meant to be a piece for ShadowSEA and not Jackpoint (Which would be quite unusual) or something else. Still, longtime Shadowrun gamers will probably see that and wonder what exactly happened here.

The text is pretty straightforward. Quietus talks about who becomes an assassin and why, including his own personal transformation from starving Grecian refuge into a death dealer. Oddly enough, Quietus’ name and his story, coupled with what little information we are given about his teacher, had me wanting to crack constant Assamite jokes in this review, but it would be all too easy. Plus, if you’ve never played Vampire: The Masquerade, it would be lost on you. ANYWAY, Quietus breaks assassins down into three categories: the desperate, the psycho loonies and the idealists (generally those who believe they are killing for a greater cause). There’s also some great advice on weapons, armor, needed skills and other basics on how to be an assassin, and it’s all wonderful advice – for playing a character/NPC, NOT going out and doing it for real. There’s a lot of great content here for players and DMs alike here. Little bits and considerations most gamers overlook but shouldn’t.

There’s some great JackPoint interaction here too. There’s one huge hilarious bit from Clockwork the Hobgoblin, as it turns out he and Quietus have worked together before. We get to see what is hopefully foreshadowing the death of Haze. We get to see why it is so hard to believe /dev/grrl and Slamm-O! haven’t been shot dead yet on one of their runs. We get to see that Picador survived Storm Front more or less intact. So on and so forth. As just a piece of JackPoint fiction, The Assassin’s Primer does an incredible job of being both informative and entertaining. As piece on Wetworks operatives and how you can do them while still viewing yourself with a white hat on, I don’t think I could have asked for a better supplement. Okay, maybe a few more pages of mechanics or some tips on how to make a Wetworks adventure run smoother when a character refuses to take part. Those things would have made it even better, but you know what I mean.

Overall, I’m exceptionally happy with The Assassin’s Primer. It’s well written, imparts a lot of great information from an in-game point of view, a way to play a “lawful good” style assassin and some interesting new character creation bits. Oh and a new gun. The Assassin’s Primer might be a bit overpriced for those of you who only want rules, stats blocks and the like, but hopefully CGL will come up with something more towards your liking down the road. For those that like Sixth World metaplot in-game fiction, there’s a lot to love here.

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