City of Crime
"Thatís a bit harsh." Thatís what the game store cashier said when I purchased the latest sourcebook. The cover is a painting of an assassin, and boom, right there is his most recent victim, smoke still coming out of the hole in his head. Yes, a bit harsh, but it fits in well with the product weíre reviewing this week, the Underworld Sourcebook sourcebook (that's what it's called) and the Mob War! adventure pack.
Reviewing two items at once might be thought of as odd, but that's what Underworld Sourcebook (Stock 7123) and Mob War! (Stock 7326) are, an odd combination. Reading through these, I had the feeling that it was once a single product, a sourcebook about the size of Aztlan (the sourcebook, not the nation). Information is repeated in each book. Which is a necessity, as the customer who purchases just one book would be lost without the basic information. But that adds to the feeling that at one time, this was just one product later split into two -- tack on some more gangs to up the page count and separate the Seattle stuff to an adventure pack.
Stephen Kenson does do a good job on both books. Stephen Kenson, responsible for several adventures and a sourcebook, takes the late Nigel Findley's criminal organization concepts and fleshes them out for 2058. In particular, the Seattle scene is targeted here, mainly in Mob War!. The look the big four get are overviews, much like the corporations in Corporate Shadowfiles.
The sourcebook has a similar structure as Findley's Corporate Shadowfiles. The first section is devoted to how the organizations make money and how they conduct business, followed by a look at the different organizations. There is a system for charting the rise and fall of the four criminal organizations much like the system for the megacorporations. But unlike Corporate Shadowfiles, Underworld Sourcebook doesn't take up 75% of the book talking about business practices, but delves into Shadowrun's big four. Here is the meat of the book.
Each of the four organizations -- the Mafia, Yakuza, Triad, and the Seoupla Rings -- are given their own section. Each section is divided in a similar format (although different people in 2058 are supposed to have written different parts, the basic structure is the same while the tone and style of presentation are different). First the poster talks about the history of the organization up to mid-20th century, then how the organizations exist in Shadowrun's world. After that, the sourcebook describes the structure of the organization in question. And following that are organization specifics, such as the yakuza's relationship with certain megacorps or the magical nature of the Triads. But the neatest part for a GM or player that isn't in a Seattle based game was in the Mafia section.
Only the Mafia section gave names as to what the different groups in North America are called. We now know that the Chavez family controls Dallas/Fort Worth, that there is something not quite right about the New Orleans capa... That sort of thing. To find out what the names of the Yakuza gumi or rengo are in different cities, you'd have to find a copy of the out of print Neo-Anarchist's Guide to (most of) North America. Seoupla Rings and Triad organizations not in their home town or Seattle? Few names are available. Instead of providing even more gangs (a fetish FASA seems to have), that space could have been used to list the names of groups outside of Seattle.
An "It's about time" award goes to FASA for presenting some information on the Seoulpa Rings. FASA presents this fictional group with their origins in the 2030s and 2040s. Supposedly one of the major contenders in the underworld and just now, about seven years after the Shadowrun game system's debut, we have more than just one paragraph describing them (SR2, p275) -- a paragraph missed if your game isn't set in Seattle.
Following the big four is a bit on gangs. Different levels of power are listed for the gangs, as are more gang types, and various smaller organizations -- the remnants of the Russian Mafia, ethnic and racial Ďmafiasí, the cartels, and an elite assassinís guild. Also included are four policlubs (no Humanis though) and a few cults, rebel groups (including more information on one from the FRFZ), and eco-terrorists. FASA, we have plenty of gangs already - how about more of the terrorist groups, cults, and how about those magical groups that were promised in this sourcebook?
Mob War! goes into the ramifications resulting in the assassination of the capo of Seattle. Split into four main parts, the adventure supplement provides the GM with plenty of information on the Seattle scene. And -- like Underworld Sourcebook -- how to set up a campaign centered around the organizations. Mob War! and Underworld Sourcebook also devote space to explain how to use the four alternative campaign styles offered in the Shadowrun Companion.
The adventures in Mob War! are numerous, about two dozen, the blurb claims. And surprisingly, five or six adventures are fleshed out, given up to a full page for each adventure. The other adventures are one paragraph plot summaries for the GM. Some are good and look like fun to run. But some aren't even adventures -- they're encounters. One has the runners attending the funeral of the late Don O'Malley. That's it. They're just at the funeral. Another has the runners around a corner when a kidnapping attempt is being made. No adventure there, just step around the corner and shout, "Hey you!" and watch the prep run away leaving the victim. But these encounters make up the minority of actual run ideas presented.
These products are a good source for the GM who wants the lowdown on the criminal underworld. I'd rather have the information in the two books be presented in only one book. Combine the two, get rid of the repeated information and the new gangs. You'd have a nice packed 128-page sourcebook for slightly more (or perhaps equal to) the cost of the Underworld Sourcebook. I recommend the two books, with the wish that they were one.