Review: Catalyst Game Labs – Stolen Souls (Shadowrun)

Stolen Souls
Stolen Souls is a sourcebook for the fantasy cyberpunk Shadowrun, written by David Ellenberger, Jason M. Hardy, Philip A. Lee, Scott Schletz, and Michael Wich and published by Catalyst Game Labs.
By Cape Rust

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Catalyst Game Labs started going a different direction with their sourcebooks a few years ago and at the time, I thought it was brilliant, Stolen Souls made me pause and have to reassess that. Shadowrun is now on its 5th edition and each edition has had its ups and downs, but the game setting is one of the all time greats and keeps people coming back. Stolen Souls could have actually been broken down into three separate products, with lower price points that might have worked better. Stolen Souls is about a disease known as Cognitive Fragmentation Disorder, or CFD, Manhattan, and essentially a runners guide to extractions. When viewed as separate products, two out of the three subjects covered in this book are great and useful, while the third makes for good seasoning, but isn’t crunchy.

The first part, and largest part of this book, deals with many, many aspects of CFD. Imagine watching documentaries on AIDS, Ebola and the Black Plague, then watching Hollywood movies about them, but having all of those facts and fiction never get resolved. I still enjoy the narrative style that most of the Shadowrun sourcebooks take, but when it produces a major event, or in this case a plague-like epidemic, and no cure, that narrative feels like a strip joint where the dancers get up on stage, dance around but never strip, and you still walk out with your purse or pockets empty. Diseases like CFD in an RPG can lead to tons of interesting adventures; however, when there are no mechanics given to cure or even halt said disease, then it just becomes yet another thing the person running the game tends to ignore. Sure I could easily come up with something that that would slow down the spread of the disease and infecting one of the players would be a great motivator for a group to break into several highly secured facilities to try to find a cure or a retardant, but Catalyst Game Labs didn’t even throw that option out there. They didn’t mechanically present even a tale that showed possible random symptoms or effects of CFD. Like AIDS, CFD is a mystery wrapped in an enigma, but for the person who is running the game and has to play God, that lack of information quickly degrades from interesting to useless. Catalyst, you gave me the disease, but no cure. Yes there are still some really interesting uses of CFD, but overall it will not have much play in my Shadowrun 5th edition games.

The section on Manhattan could have been a much larger sourcebook and in typical Catalyst fashion was well done. Prices for transportation throughout the city was given as well as the prices for the fake credentials one might need to get around. This is the kind of crunchy goodness we as players want. We want maps with descriptions, we want to know what gangs are active and where they are located, we want landmark information and local history, we want to know who the major players are and what they are doing. Catalyst gave all of that and if it hadn’t been wrapped around the CFD epidemic, it would have been even better.

The Extractions section was crunchy and had some good information. Many experienced runners might dismiss the information as stuff they already know, but that just scratches the surface, there are some really good extraction concepts, as well as some tactics and techniques that the most jaded players could actually use. I enjoyed having the people who actually make the game give me hints on the types of vehicles that are the best to be modified to look like the standard Lone Star Patrol cars or a Doc Wagon. This is the kind of nitty-gritty crunch that I crave from Shadowrun products.

Overall, this book bordered on overpriced fiction, the biggest saving grace was the crunch at the end. I love reading the Shadowrun fiction, but over 150 pages about a disease that affects everyone and has no cure, well that is overkill of epidemic proportions.

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