Books for Role-players: John Helfers – Shadowrun: Spells and Chrome

Shadowrun: Spells and Chrome
Shadowrun: Spells and Chrome is a Cyberpunk/Science Fiction/ Magically delicious anthology edited by John Helfers and published by Catalyst Game Labs.
By Cape Rust

Spells and Chrome is an introduction novelization for the Shadowrun 4th Ed. RPG. If you are not familiar with Shadowrun, it is a world like none you have ever encountered. Imagine a dystopian future where mega-corporations are governments unto themselves, a world where magic and technology dominate life. In the world in 2072, magic has awoken and technology has become a new religion. Children are born as Humans, Elves, Trolls, Orks, Dwarfs, and even stranger creatures. After several worldwide crashes of the matrix (Internet), a new breed of magicians known as Technomancers has been born. These Technomancers can inhabit the matrix with a force of will rather than wired connections. Shadowrun is named for Shadowrunners: the people who do the jobs that that the mega-corporations don’t want to dirty their hands with. Shadowrunners are the soldiers in an undeclared war where cybernetics, magic and luck are the weapons.

If you have played past editions of Shadowrun then you have already seen that in the Shadowrun world of 2072 a few things have changed. There are still fixers, Faces, Mr. Johnsons and riggers, but the world has yielded the aforementioned Technomancer. If you ever played a Decker or built a Deck you know how quickly that could sap the fun out of Shadowrun. 4th Ed. takes the deck development Fun Nazi away and streamlines some of the more inelegant rules from previous editions. Don’t worry, you will still need at least 23 D6s. Spells & Chrome aside from being a good read, attempts to indoctrinate old runners into the revised world of Shadowrun while introducing neophytes to the unique setting.

Spells and Chrome drags you through the wet streets of Seattle all the way to the hot and stinky streets of Lagos with 15 new stories by some of the best in the business. The cover is typical Shadowrun, evoking feelings of the cover of the 20th anniversary 4th Ed. rulebook while still being noticeable to owners of the basic 4th Ed. and previous editions. If there is an elf, someone casting spells, someone with a Katana and a Drone or futuristic looking vehicle on the same cover, there is a good chance that you are looking at a Shadowrun product! The cover of Spells and Chrome maintains these schizoid elements and takes old runners back to their happy dark place where trust gets you killed and no one can be trusted.

Anytime you have an anthology, you are bound to have stories that are better than others and Spells and Chrome is no exception. I would have to say that I really enjoyed 12 of the 15 stories, and the rest were readable, but not my cup of soycaf. The world of Shadowrun is complicated, but these stories have a way of bringing you in quickly and making things easier to comprehend. There are plenty of Shadowrun books out there, but few of them are set in 2072 or 4th Ed., depending on how you look at things. The Shadowrun sourcebooks have some great stories in them, but Spells and Chrome is a great $5.00 USD introduction tool. Several storied RPG franchises have supplemented themselves with fiction and in most cases they have been very successful; standouts include Wizards of the Coast, FASA (when they owned Shadowrun) and White Wolf. Works of fiction like Spells and Chrome are wonderful resources for both players and GMs.

For players, reading these stories gives them a sense of how the world they will be gaming in actually works, smells and feels. These stories have the added benefit of giving players some great ideas for characters or aspects of their characters. All of the authors describe actual gear and cyberware that is available in the game. Most people have a basic understanding of artificial limbs, but Shadowrun cyberware can be daunting and the player that understands how sound dampeners work, should have a better chance of having more fun at the table while their character’s chances of succeeding in the shadows increases.

For GMs, Spells and Chrome is rife with adventure ideas and possible NPCs that could easily make some cameos in their games. NPCs and their back stories can be real time sinks. I always advocate GMs using any resources they can to make their lives easier and to make the game more fun for players. What better meets those requirements than a well-developed character that has a pre-generated and interesting back story? Some of these stories would work just fine by simply inserting your player’s characters. Inserting your players into situations found in Spells and Chrome won’t work so well if your players have read the book. The only saving grace in that situation is that when players are involved, no plan ever survives the initial dice rolls and no matter how hard you plan, your players will always do the exact opposite! If some or all of your players have read Spells and Chrome, they might enjoy running across a “familiar” face.

Spells and Chrome will not go into history as the best book ever written, but it is a damn good read. This book worked for me as a reader of sci-fi and as a fan of Shadowrun. There were a few references that I was able to catch because I have played Shadowrun, but if I had never played the game it would be like a younger child watching a Bugs Bunny cartoon; the kid laughs his/her head off even if they don’t get all of the jokes. I wish there hadn’t been such a focus on Technomancers, but they are the new kids on the block and their concepts and abilities are far from simple. Spells and Chrome is worth your time and money; players could almost view it as a mini-sourcebook or a supplement, while your everyday sci-fi fan should enjoy a variation from the standard space going fare.

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