Court of Shadows
Court of Shadows is a sourcebook for the fantasy cyberpunk Shadowrun RPG, written by Jason M. Hardy, Cassandra Khaw, R.L. King, Aaron Pavao, Grant Robinson, Scott Schletz, Monica Valentinelli, Pete Woodworth, CZ Wright, and Russell Zimmerman and published by Catalyst Game Labs.
By Cape Rust
Shadowrun has gone Faye.
Court of Shadows is an alternate campaign setting for Shadowrun 5th Edition. The Seelie Court is the focus of this setting, how it works, and who or what makes it work. This setting includes descriptions of the fairies, sprites, and other enchanted creatures that mingle in that infamous court. The court has a longstanding, dysfunctional relationship with the material plane and recently stronger connections have occurred allowing denizens of the material plane to infiltrate or get snared in the complex happening in the Seelie Court. This setting captures the magic and intrigue of that dream world.
Before I give you my “two cents”, I feel I should explain that Court of Shadows is touted as part of a larger Catalyst product run that will be Shadowrun Anarchy. Not many details are given for Anarchy, but I have this feeling it will really open the Shadowrun world up. I mention this because Catalyst was nice enough to mention the release of Anarchy without much detail in this product. This is important because too often companies release products out of context and that is exactly how they are taken.
From a layout standpoint this is a solid product. The review copy Catalyst Games provided was an electronic version. They used page tabs that were really cool, but not functional in the PDF version. I would have loved to have been able to touch one of those cool tabs and been electronically whisked away to that tab. This was something that would have been cool, but was not even in the realm of deal breaking. Catalyst has been very good about finding a format that works, based on input from gamers and sticking to it. It isn’t perfect but it works, the same way your (insert generic sedan name) gets you to work on the daily. The cover looks great, great enough that I wasn’t bothered one bit by the re-use of the same picture as you open the book, albeit in its full glory. The rest of the art throughout this book was hit and miss as it normally seems to be with Shadowrun products. There were some amazing photos that were exactly where they needed to be while there were others that seemed recycled from past Shadowrun products and a few seemed to have nothing to do with the text they were near.
I was very disappointed that there were not more illustrations in the creature description section of this product. Several common Faye are mentioned, and their stats are provided, however not graphically described. I have a good idea what a Kappa looks like in a world created buy another company that involves large magical, highly intelligent, serpent-like creatures and subterranean detainment facilities looks like, but not one in this world. This might seem small, but it really made this product fall short. The page borders seemed big, they were well done, however I could have used more text and less page borders. I was impressed that the folks at Catalyst were able to embrace the wild natural theme of this product, while maintaining the hard chrome, techno feel that I have come to associate with Shadowrun.
Now for the crunch…..
Most of the crunch of this product was contained in the people of the court section and the creatures of the court section and of course at the end in the Playing in the Seelie Court. Because of the nature of this product, less crunch was needed than I have pined for in past reviews. The Seelie Court is a study in change and extremes. Everything a character might think to be true is a lie and can change in the blink of an eye or on the whim of the Queen. If you are thinking about running a game in this setting, you have to know your stuff. While this book gives some great information, trying to stay ahead of your players with only the information in this book would prove difficult at best. I have a feeling people who are familiar with settings like this, and who have read some type of outside material or read books involving the Faye, will be drawn to this product, so it shouldn’t be a big deal.
I’m fairly neutral about settings that deal with Faye, this setting while interesting hasn’t swayed me much. The descriptions about the Seelie Court jive with other stories and descriptions I’ve encountered in other game systems and books, the integration of this setting into the Shadowrun world was well executed. After getting halfway thru this product I got a very distinctive White Wolf feel about this product, well actually it felt like a White Wolf product met the famous What to Expect When you are Expecting book. Here is what I mean. White Wolf tackled this type of setting with their Changeling setting and did it well, then we get to the part that must have you scratching your head.
How does What to Expect When you are Expecting have to do with this? If you haven’t read that book here is how most statements in that book go. Question: Is something wrong if my urine is darker than normal while I’m pregnant? Answer: Yes that is completely normal, no need to worry; or there could be blood in your urine because your baby is dying and you should seek medical assistance right away! You can see how statements like this would cause some panic. The nature of the Seelie Court is much like the aforementioned situation. This book is full of advice that seems to contradict itself, sometimes in the same sentence. Some advice a reader might encounter will sound something like this: Manners are very important at the Seelie Court even the perception of a slight can get you killed, however being too polite can be seen as a weakness and being weak can make you a target. I ran into this type of advice so often it became background noise. I know this was purposeful, because like it or not, this is historically how the Court works. This is fine, however from a Referee standpoint it becomes really hard to establish and maintain a situation like this. If your players are not familiar with this setting, then things get even more difficult.
This is the setting some of you have been waiting for; this is the setting some of you have been fearing. I won’t be introducing this setting to any of my games until I get a better feel for what Anarchy has to offer and how it will change the way I run Shadowrun games. This is another solid product from Catalyst games, but it does not fall into the “must have” category. For those of you interested in this setting, get it. For those of you who want to add some extra planar intrigue to your current campaign or want to have that “ace-in-the-hole”, this product is a solid investment. If your runners are looking for trigger time and technology, this might create some disappointing sessions. I give this a very respectable green thumbs up, unless that would offend the Queen, then I’ll just stand in the corner and observe, but that might be taken as rude so I’ll interact with some of the other court members, but not too much because I could say the wrong thing and that could create enemies…..