Book Review: Sail Away, Sweet Sister (Shadowrun)

Book Review: Sail Away, Sweet Sister (Shadowrun)
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
Cost: $1.99
Page Count: 33
Release Date: 4/22/2014
Get it Here: DriveThruRPG.com

Sail Away, Sweet Sister is the latest piece of “enhanced fiction” for Shadowrun. Enhanced Fiction simply means that at the end of the short story you get stats for the characters you just read about and maybe a few brief bits of mechanics. Sail Away, Sweet Sister is actually a direct sequel to a previous piece of enhanced fiction, Another Rainy Night, which was released a little over two years ago. That’s a long stretch between stories that are only two dozen pages in length, so I did find I had to re-read Another Rainy Night to remind myself of everything that happened in the previous tale. It’s worth noting that Sail Away, Sweet Sister can be read as a standalone, but it works FAR better if you read them both back to back. Otherwise you’ll miss some details and nuances that only carry over if you are familiar with both tales. The story is written in such a way that assumes you are familiar with Another Rainy Night which may cause a little bit of confusion in those that pick this up first. You’ll see reference to previous events and players that aren’t explained at all here, but were in Another Rainy Night, so just a head’s up there. Unfortunately, Another Rainy Night still has the $4.99 price tag attached to it. I was happy to see that CGL read my review of Another Rainy Night, because I said the sweet spot for a short piece of fiction like this would be $1.99. Lo and behold, that’s the price tag on Sail Away, Sweet Sister. Now if only they could go back and reduce the price on Another Rainy Night, everything would be awesome.

Sail Away, Sweet Sister also plays off another long untouched Shadowrun plot thread, this time from Storm Front, which closed out Shadowrun, Fourth Edition in April of 2013. In this case, we finally get to hear more about how vampires, ghouls and other “undead” are becoming more photosensitive while also suffering from stronger urges and hunger pains. Like Another Rainy Night, I’m glad to see someone over at CGL finally doing something with these dangling plot threads left over from 4e, but unless you’ve read both Another Rainy Night and Storm Front, you probably had no idea about the changes in the HMHVV community, both physically and socially. So for people to Shadowrun Fifth Edition, you’re probably going to feel out of the loop with this story, especially since it happens smack dab during Fourth Edition dates-wise. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t read it, just that you’re getting a story that is a few years (in-game and real life) behind the current meta-plot currently featured in Shadowrun.

When we last left Dr. Thomas McAllister and Knight Errant copy Lydia Bowen, they had finally put an end to the Mealtime Killer, a notorious serial killer who had killed roughly two dozen people before it was finally put down. In Sail Away, Sweet Sister, we learn that much like Doink the Clown, there is more than one MTK, perhaps many more. While the first MTK was someone obsessed with Thomas McAllister, the revelation of who the second is hits far closer to home with our main character as it is his sister. We also learn more about the Fear the Dark organization, which appears to be either a vampiric terrorist organization or a group of vampire traditionalists who want a return to the pre-Twilight version of vampires who are the natural predators of meta-humanity, which fears and loathes them. Hey, maybe it’s both! We don’t really get enough details on Fear the Dark, which heavily implies this will be continues in either another short story, supplement or sourcebook. Let’s just hope it doesn’t take another two years to get the next part.

We get a lot of new characters with Sail Away, Sweet Sister. There is the enigmatic Minotaur, Jericho and the dwarven vampire Seamus, which really makes me think Patrick Goodman (author of the story) is a big wrestling fan as there seems to be a lot of subtle nods to it in his stories (hence the earlier Doink reference). I liked both characters, especially Seamus as he is a good reminder that not all Sixth World vampires are turning into second rate Vampire: The Masquerade wanna-bes. I also liked his fire elemental sidekick. I have a soft spot for friendly fire elementals as one of my own characters from back in the day had one. You’ll also meet Thomas’ ex-wife and of course, his sister Lenore. The cast is really well done in this book and even characters who only show up for a cup of coffee, like the two Lone Star agents, have very fleshed out personalities. There’s more character development in these twenty-four pages than you see in some gaming-licensed novels, which is impressive.

That’s not to say that the story is flawless. I felt it was a little too paint by numbers in that I’ve read several vampires stories with the same basic plot and resolution. The only difference here was that it involved a Shadowrun setting. I had déjà vu for much of the story, knowing exactly how it was going to go down long before I reached the actual pages confirming what I already suspected. The ending also really falls apart for me as it got really cheesy and flew in the face of the character development we’ve seen in not just this story but Another Rainy Night as well. It wasn’t hackneyed, but it was paint by numbers. I also really didn’t like that the story seems to be setting up Sixth World vampires for becoming VERY White Wolfish, complete with a Beast (or Monster as it is referred to here) that can control a vampire’s action when hurt or hungry. I’m really hoping this was a one-time case of schizophrenia (or some other mental derangement equivalent) brought on by being a vampire rather than have it turn out HMHVV is going to cause sufferers to have a more bestial second personality (or god forbid demon or extraplanar entity possession) as that’s not only stupid, but it takes away a lot of the uniqueness of Shadowrun “undead.” If I want angsty vampires fighting themselves over the eventual erosion of their humanity, I have V:TM or V:TR for that…not to mention that old Shadowrun/cyberware guide for V:TM that was published back in the mid 90s. So overall, I’d say I’m happy we got a continuation of Another Rainy Night but that Sail Away, Sweet Sister is nowhere as good or original a read. I’m hoping this was just ring rust after being away from the characters for so long and that the third installment in the series (if there is one) will be back up to the same level of quality we had in Another Rainy Night.

I should end this review by bringing up the “enhanced fiction” part. You get stat blocks for Thomas, Lydia, Lenore, Karla and Colonel Anne Ravenhurst. You’re also getting Fourth AND Fifth Edition stat blocks for each of the aforementioned characters. The 4e stats for Lydia and Thomas are ripped straight from Another Rainy Night, which is a good thing as it shows continuity. If the stats blocks were wildly different, I’d have to wonder what was up. I’m really glad to see stats for the two latest editions of Shadowrun as is helps ease edition wars and lets fans of each game use the characters without having to do any conversion. We also get two new SR5 positive Qualities, a few new weapons and a page of mechanics on drug called Renfield and how it affects those who take it. All in all, there is something for Shadowrun fans who like the fiction and/or the mechanics, so everyone who picks this up should find something to enjoy here.

So if you’re still with me, here’s what you need to know. Is Sail Away, Sweet Sister as good as Another Rainy Night? No. Should you still pick it up? Absolutely. While the story isn’t as good, it is still a fun read and even with the flaws I talked about earlier, you’ll end the tale wanting to know what happens next. That’s a good sign. It’s also a LOT cheaper than Another Rainy Night. The mechanics are well thought out and if that’s all you want from one of these releases, Sail Away, Sweet Sister is definitely the better choice, although Another Rainy Night DOES have some neat vampire hunting ammo. While not great literature by any means, Sail Away, Sweet Sister is entertaining and gives Sixth World fans the continuation of the story they have been waiting over two years for. The price point is perfect too, as even if you don’t like the story, it will only set you back two bucks. Again, let’s hope we don’t have to wait another two years for another installment of the continuing adventures of Thomas McAllister or a year for another slight update on the changes to HMHVV sufferers in the Sixth World.

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