What Do I Know About Reviews? Chicago Chaos (Shadowrun Anarchy)
When Shadowrun Anarchy first came out, I picked it up not long after it released. I was interested in the setting, but I had never heard anything about the mechanics of the system to recommend it to my tastes. Anarchy was a lot of fun, with a lot of potential, and some really interesting organizational choices that hindered its clarity.
I finally got to play ShadowrunAnarchy at a convention, which I greatly enjoyed, so when Chicago Chaos, the first supplement for Shadowrun Anarchy, came out, I definitely wanted to see what was going on between the covers.
Pages of Chaos
This review is based both on the physical and PDF versions of Chicago Chaos. It is a 128-page supplement, and does not include an index. There are about 20 characters in the central section that can be used as both NPCs and as pre-generated player characters. I don’t have enough Shadowrunproducts to verify this, but it appears to share art with various other Shadowrun products, as many of the characters included are iconic characters to the Shadowrunsetting.
Formatting includes bold headers and a two-column page layout, using yellow headers for chapter divisions. Individual pages are easy to follow and read, but navigating the book is completely dependent on the table of contents.
Introduction and Plan B
The introduction explains the contents of this supplement, including that the book has a short story, character stats, mission briefs (adventure outlines), and new rules for species and gear.
The short story follows a monster-hunting runner on a mission in Chicago, and this story does set the expectations for how the Chicago setting differs from the overall environs presented in the core book.
This section details the setting of Chicago in the context of the Shadowrun universe, and details the history of the city from its literal, real-world beginnings, to the present, including issues with the bug spirits and the return of the corporations. The era from the 2011’s awakening on is much more detailed.
Because this is presented as online information, there are commentaries from various personalities on aspects of the articles, and there is some amusing back and forth in the actual historical section. Locations, locally important corporations, and organizations get their own sections, although these are generally only a few paragraphs long.
Not having been a long term, deeply invested Shadowrun fan, I can’t confirm my suspicions, but earlier in Chicago’s Shadowrunspecific history, there are a LOT of male coded names that are in charge of politics, gangs, and organizations. I suspect that this is an artifact of setting elements that were introduced throughout the 90s, with the inclusion of more female coded names being a development of more recent years.
That’s not to say there probably weren’t female runners in the setting from the beginning, but there definitely seems to be a bias towards men holding positions of authority in larger, more powerful organizations.
I can’t speak to other materials, but reading this section, Chicago feels more like a hybrid of urban fantasy and cyberpunk tropes, compared to the general setting material, that felt much more weighted towards cyberpunk tropes alone, but also with fantasy races and magic doing some of the cyberpunk stuff. Spirits, curses, haunted skyscrapers, damaged astral space, and ghouls reinforce this feeling for me, especially since the corporations aren’t as dominant in the Chicagoland area.
The next section presents a lot of characters that are formatted on the standard character sheets and are suitable for use as pre-generated player characters. Like the core book, some of these pre-gens do double duty as NPCs in some of the mission briefs, which makes their utility for this specific product a little less useful.
In addition to the fully pre-gen presentation, there is an expanded range of NPCs for use in the game, including bug spirits, shedim, cyberzombies, chemical spirits, possessed dragons, and even stats for countermeasure programs.
It feels like this is a useful spread of new stat blocks to add to the game, especially with additional supernatural opponents and the countermeasure stats, which were inexplicably absent from the core rules. It just feels odd that some NPC quest givers do double duty as pre-gen characters.
The contract briefs are basically mission outlines that can be used to generate adventures in the game. After talking with some of my friends from the FLGS who participate in the ShadowrunMissions organized play program, some, if not all, of these adventures are derived from existing Shadowrunadventures.
The adventure outline is very flexible. It gives objectives and mentions what NPCs are cogent to the story, but often the mission brief is more of an outline where the group can run a quick and simple scenario, or add a lot more content, depending on the decisions the group makes. The mission brief will hit the high points of what the player characters must do to get paid.
Some of the mission briefs start to form a story arc. Not every story flows directly into the next, but several NPCs show up in multiple missions, providing some consistency. Several of the adventures towards the end of the contract brief section do start to feed more directly into one another, and these resolve the current state of affairs in Chicago, regarding the bug spirits and the current status quo of the corporations in power.
Some of the adventures include potentially the most fraught element of the setting, shamans, but as presented, using NPCs that are indigenous people, and given that Anarchyis more open-ended with its magic system, it feels a little less appropriative and reductive than some treatments of shaman that I’ve seen in Shadowrun.
Catalog of Chaos
The Catalog of Chaos includes more Metatypes and Metavariants, as well as more example Shadow Amps that can be used for character creation or advancement. It also includes more example qualities, including negative qualities.
In general, I’m a big fan of more example Shadow Amps, because I’m not sure the math on creating them from scratch in the core rulebook quite works out, at least when trying to recreate the existing amps. Some of the Shadow Amps have the same mechanical effects as other, previously presented Shadow Amps, but the text points this out, and explains that writing up the Shadow Amp in a slightly different way makes the mechanical effect thematically appropriate for characters that may not want to take the previously existing Shadow Amp, and I agree with this logic, especially since there is more than enough new material to make up for a few similar amps.
I’m kind of cold on some of the new Metatypes/Metavariants. I’m not sure what having dryads, gnomes, oni, or formorians say about the story, because they really are just introduced as slightly different elves, dwarves, orks, and trolls. Changelings are an interesting addition, as they seem to represent random supernatural mutations.
The Nartaki, a human variant originally found in India, with blue, red, or gold skin and multiple arms, feels kind of cringey to me, especially with such sparse story reason for them appearing. I’m not an expert by any means, but I can’t find much about any mortal species in Indian folklore having multiple arms—it seems to be a trait associated with gods and other fully supernatural beings. Because of this, it feels like a very reductive way to say “what sounds Indian? Multiple arms? Sure, we’ll do that.” I was hoping we would be a little more conscious of introducing shallow cultural elements by now.
Chicago Chaosfeels a little more organized than the core rulebook, just by virtue of not hiding the game rules or character creation in the middle of the other content being presented. I love that the game is flexible enough that the contract brief outline structure works for presenting entire adventures in just a few pages. The new game elements are very useful for making characters more varied when paired with the core rules, and Chicago, as a setting, feels like a much better utilization of both urban fantasy and cyberpunk tropes than the overall setting material in the core book.
The Johnson Screw Job
Double dipping on pre-gens and NPCs feels a little confusing. The lack of context on what it means to the setting to introduce the new metatypes feels like the text still half expects players to buy the main Shadowrun line in addition to the Anarchy products. The books still presents some of the problematic elements built into the setting, but avoids wallowing in the worst aspects of those elements.
Qualified Recommendation–A product with lots of positive aspects, but buyers may want to understand the context of the product and what it contains before moving it ahead of other purchases.
Chicago is an intriguing setting within the Shadowrun universe, and I feel like it gets more interesting highpoints outlined than the overall setting did in the core rulebook. If you are already onboard with Shadowrun Anarchy, the additional creatures and Shadow Amps make this a way more enticing purchase, but if you are already invested in the main Shadowrunline (especially with a new edition coming out), this may not be as important for you.
This is definitely a product that complements the core rules well, so a lot of the functionality of this purchase is going to come from a previous investment to a product line that hasn’t had too many releases.