Tabletop Review: Shadows in Focus: Sioux Nation (Shadowrun)

Shadows in Focus: Sioux Nation (Shadowrun)
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
Cost: $7.99
Page Count: 39
Release Date: 01/06/2015
Get it Here: DriveThruRPG.com

So 2014 wasn’t the best year for Shadowrun. Sure we got the Dragonfall video game, but the tabletop side received a lot of grief from critics and fans alike in regards to what came out that year. I’ll admit it was probably the worst year the game has had in the past five or so, but it wasn’t as terrible as some doom and gloomers made it out to be. You know what though? It’s a whole new year. Time to start over and more importantly – start off on the right foot. Case in point – Shadows In Focus: Sioux Nation. I’ll admit these are my favorite kind of supplements. You get a solid look at a specific location in the Sixth World with a lot of fluff and a dabbling of mechanics at the end. I’m never happier than when the current SR writers look at places that have been left untouched for several editions or that have never been covered at all. I’m still pushing for a Caribbean or Samoa based piece but for now the Sioux Nation supplement satisfies me and then some. It’s a region that hasn’t really been tackled since third editions Shadows of North America and it hasn’t been tackled WELL since Nigel Findlay wrote Native American Nations, volumes 1 & 2 back in 1e/2e days of the game. Fans of the original pieces on the Sioux Nation will be quite happy with the attention to detail and quality in this piece. In fact there was only one really big error I found and that was the supplement kept referencing Fargo as part of the Sioux Nation when in fact it’s in the UCAS. The map in Sioux Nation clearly shows this but the city is actually right on the North Dakota/Minnesota border which is why it’s often referred to as “Fargo-Moorhead” because only the Red River (and state lines) separates the two cities from being one. Speaking as someone that had to fly in there in August, 2014 I can say the characters in this piece are correct in that not a lot happens there. At the same time there were a LOT of “No Vampires Allowed” signs for some odd reason. This amused me but in conjunction with this supplement made me think there is either a Sixth World story by Patrick Goodman to be had there…or some Vampire: The Masquerade piece.

So, let’s actually talk about Sioux Nation. This was one of my favorite pieces released for Fifth Edition so far, mainly because it’s a look at one of my favorite places in the Sixth World and because it was so well written. The Sioux Nation is SUCH an important part of Shadowrun lore and the fact it is rarely mentioned these days shocked me. Doubly so with the influx of new players via 5e and the video games that would otherwise overlook while this might be the single most important country in the Sixth World. Not in terms of power or politics mind you, but because this is where the Sixth World BEGAN. It was Howling Coyote and the Great Ghost Dance that caused the deviation from our reality and the one in the Shadowrun universe, so if you’re new to Shadowrun this is a piece well worth getting just to familiarize yourself with the area. This is especially true for those that have just read the recent novels or played the video games. Sioux Nation gives you a lot of history as well as the current landscape of the country. Some of you might pause at the $7.99 price tag for a supplement of less than forty pages, and I can understand that. However, it’s better to pay $7.99 and see if you want to try the tabletop game via a well written supplement than pay $50 for a core rulebook you’ll need errata for anyway and that you might never use. So for people on staff here at Diehard GameFAN who are interested in trying the tabletop version of Shadowrun, Fifth Edition, I’d probably give them the Digital Tool Kit first and then this supplement second.

Sioux Nation is written in a similar fashion to most CGL Shadowrun pieces. The booklet is written from the perspective of Jackpoint (A Matrix Hotspot for in the know runners for you new chummers) where someone (or in this case, several people) has written up a dossier on a topic with the occasion comment from other members. You’ll learn all sorts of great info on the Sioux nation with this piece such as the fact it comprised much of what we call Montana and Wyoming with a bit of Colorado and the western end of the Dakotas and Nebraska. You’ll discover that tribal politics are pretty similar corporate and UCAS politics. It is nice to see that the Native Americans of the Sixth world have a higher education, literacy and income rate than those in a lot of our real world reservations. I know 4e and 5e have gone Warhammer levels of Grimdark over the more laugh out loud satire we often saw in the FASA version of the game, but this was a nice bright spot in the 2070s of the game. It’s also telling that Angelos in the Sioux Nation are living on reservations now and that they are regarded as little better than free range prisons. As above, so below I guess. I would have liked to have seen the Sioux be the bigger man than what Joe Honkey did (and to an extent still does) to the Native Americans but this is probably the more realistic take on what would happen if the tables suddenly turned thanks to things like magic and Dragons showing up on our doorstep.

Think of Sioux Nation as a faux travel guide. You have the visitation rights, how to enter the country, topography, climate information, important landmarks and people and major cities. Enterprising GMs will be able to form dozens of plot hooks, if not full adventures, out of the various sections in this supplement. About the only thing missing is an in-depth look at the different tribes that live within the Sioux Nation, but that is due to hitting page count more than anything else. For most gamers, the sections on Government, The Shadows and the Law will be of most interest as you’ll get to see some of your targets and the punishments for messing up there. For people who want to MAKE a Sioux Nation based character for Shadowrun, the military section is probably something you’ll want to bookmark since all citizens are conscripted for at least a year of service. Of course, there’s also a section on corporations but it’s markedly different from what you usually see in a Shadowrun piece mainly because there isn’t a focus on the MegaCorps in this piece. It’s A or smaller companies, which was really cool.

The first thirty pages of Sioux Nation are pure fluff as some people call it, but honestly I prefer the world background and storytelling in Shadowrun 5e to the mechanics, so I’m pretty happy with what’s here. The last ten pages are for written for those who want some in-game information and a little something crunchy to play with. It starts off with a nice transition from storytelling into stats with a set of ten plot hooks you can flesh out into adventures. Then you get information on what it means to be a Sioux Shadowrunner or a Shadowrunner in the Sioux Nation (probably smuggling). Clothes, Language, prejudice and even how some things are different. For example a Sioux character getting a (very) minor version of the Mentor Spirit quality for free. At the same time qualities such as Orc/Elf poser work…differently here. There’s also a look at six character archetypes and how they are viewed (as well as operate) differently in the Sioux Nation. Deckers should especially take note.

For those looking to build a character, there are eight skill packages. Some are worth it while some are not. Names do seem to be applied arbitrarily here. For example the “SDF One Year Wonder” package gives you Automatics 3 (Assault Rifles +2) and Unarmed Combat 2, but the Sioux Army Veteran only gets Automatics 1 and no Unarmed Combat. They also don’t get disguise. I’m sure there is a reason or this that makes sense to the devs but in my head, I would think the veterans would have all the skills of a one year conscript but beefed up in addition to extra skills. There’s also a new version of “My Country, Right or Wrong” for the Sioux called Code of Honor: Nationalist. After that you get a small section on equipment and then nearly twenty adventure seeds. Yes the piece is extremely heavy on world background and storytelling rather than focusing on much in the way of mechanics, but honestly I prefer that. If all they printed were straight up mechanics in a supplement, CGL would have some extremely dull releases.

Overall, I’m very happy with Shadows in Focus: Sioux Nation. This is the type of thing I’d like to see more of. I was not very happy with metaplot pieces like Storm Front and Stolen Souls because things were not going in good directions in-game or out-of-game. From the looks of message boards and other reviews out there my opinion was far from being in the minority. Focusing on fleshing out areas of the Sixth World in 5e without forcing bad ideas or poorly thought out ones that could have been good) throughout multiple books (Remember the Bogota conflict?) is probably the way to go after the year Shadowrun had in 2014. It lets the writers flex their creative muscles without leaving gamers feel railroaded and everyone gets interesting outside the box pieces to boot. I’d much rather read about the a part of the sixth world that has been left alone for a while than yet another Seattle/Bug City/London piece so if we can get another half dozen or so supplements like this in 2015, I think Shadowrun will be in excellent shape. If you’re one of the people who really didn’t care for last year’s output, you’ll be happy to know that Sioux Nation is a return to form and that last year was probably just new edition blues for everyone. The real trick is to see if CGL can keep the momentum going. I wish the piece was priced at five dollars as that would probably be a sweet spot for it, but it’s selling well as is, so if you have the disposable income to spend, grab this and either discover a new part of the Sixth World you’ve never visited or engage in some nostalgia (Depending on when you started running).

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