Review: Catalyst Game Labs – Cutting Black (Shadowrun)

Cutting Black
Cutting Black is a supplement for the fantasy cyberpunk RPG Shadowrun, written by Scott Bieniek, Brooke Chang, Kevin Czarnecki, Francis Jose, Clifton Lambert, O.C. Presley, Scott Schletz, RJ Thomas, and Thomas Willoughby and published by Catalyst Game Labs.
By Aaron T. Huss

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Cutting Black is a “plot sourcebook” for Shadowrun according to the little subtitle on the front cover. Inside you will find a location sourcebook filled with goodies written between the lines covering Detroit and a bit of the greater UCAS. The “plot” part consists of a series of chapters that loosely describe a number of events going on in the Motor City and events relating to Ares. This is the 10,000ft overview, and really any GM might not need anymore description than that.

Shadowrun is a one-of-a-kind game. Besides the fact that it is powered by its own unique mechanics, it contains an incredibly rich setting with a long history in the RPG industry. In the past several years, Catalyst Game Labs has taking this concept to the next level and continually moves the setting forward to keep it growing and add even more canon to a setting already filled with it. It also contains a theme that is truly unique and imitated abroad, although rarely as effectively as Shadowrun. Capping all of this off is Catalyst Game Labs desire to place you, the reader, in the driver’s seat of a high action, dangerous setting using rich narrative in a variety of formats.

Cutting Black is not your standard sourcebook. It is a delve into a series of events centered on Detroit and the actions of Ares, presented 99.9% in narrative format. But this isn’t someone reading a book to you, no way, that would not be Shadowrun-like; this is a roller coaster ride of exciting text covering an array of narrative styles – blog posts, press releases, chat rooms, forums, instant messaging, articles, and a collection of sidebars the GM can use as-is or as a template to take all this narrative source information and create a mission or campaign. Of course, Catalyst Game Labs actually does that for you in a follow-on release, but more on that a different day in a different review.

Cutting Black is cool, fun to read, and so not boring! At its core, it is a sourcebook that provides a wealth of setting information, but it really doesn’t stop there. Players will find all sorts of new things to incorporate into their characters background or give them ideas on what type of missions they’d like to partake in. GMs will find a ton of setting information they can incorporate in a number of ways, or even just take Detroit and create an entire campaign around it. Setting fanatics will find the same continued growth of the Shadowrun setting they can either incorporate elsewhere or just enjoy as a great read, giving it a definitive spot on their bookshelf.

I will say one thing though, if you’re expecting a simplistic presentation with mechanics that are easy to reference, you’re looking in the wrong place. You won’t find that here, unless you read the narrative and follow between the lines, extracting it as you go, writing it down bit by bit, creating your own mechanics, blah, blah, blah. You get it; it’s not a crunch book, it’s a fluff book that you can magically turn into crunch if you want to!

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