While at GenCon, I make a lot of impulse purchases. I was at the Catalyst Game Labs booth to see what was new for Shadowrun. I noticed that they had done something for Shadowrun that I had not seen before. It was an alternate setting book.
I did very well in that I did not scream take my money, now!
The Court of Shadows provides a setting in the Shadowrun universe that incorporates faeries, the seelie court, and all the magic and intrigue that these things entail. It was at the top of the pile as I made my way to complete my purchases.
The book itself is a gorgeous artifact. It is a full color hardbound book that comes in at a respectable 192 page count. The cover art is gorgeous and very evocative of the faerie and faerie courts. The art is very suggestive of the Morrigan of celtic mythology which is a definite plus for me. This art is used again as the end pages of the book which I found to be a nice touch. I also enjoyed the art throughout the book. It does an excellent job of highlighting the feel of wonder and strangeness that should be associated with the fae.
The pieces of fiction that are found throughout the book are a key piece to the book. They provide and excellent picture for how the faerie and the seelie court would function within the Shadowrun universe. In particular, I like the opening piece where the runners have been doing jobs for one particular Johnson and the last job sees them being told whom they had been working for and how the tilt has changed the game and brought them into the court.
Similar to previous Shadowrun books, Court of Shadows is presented like a collection of data that has been drawn together by Shadowrunners to keep their friends informed. The information gathered is designed to give an overview of the seelie court, how it functions, as well as descriptions of major players, places, and things of interest.
Having read the book, I have mixed feelings about it.
Let’s start with the positive.
I like the idea of an alternative setting for Shadowrun and I love that they would start out with the seelie court. The book does an excellent job of capturing the feel that I would expect from a seelie court setting. It has the high magic that I would expect from the faerie and it ties the faerie and their lands into the Shadowrun universe in a wonderful fashion. I appreciated how they tied the fae to the different ages and the cycle of mana. Having played through Harlequin and Harlequin’s Back, the writers have definitely done their homework. The descriptions of the court and how it works gives a good picture of the byzantine diplomacy that is an everyday fixture of the setting. The ever shifting panoply of signs an signals and the many layers that any one thing can hold is inspired. In particular, I like the side bar that talks about color. It addresses how the court itself is so overwhelmingly colorful and yet the meaning behind the use of color is not so simple to suss out.
I love the descriptions of the factions. Each faction has many layered agendas that provide both excellent hooks for play as well as providing points of reference for how and why each faction exists. In addition, I like that each faction is somehow tied to the material plane. The means can be simply that the faction is named after a card from the Sixth World Tarot. These are magical artifacts that have unknown abilities that are appearing on the material plane. Other factions take a stance somewhere on the spectrum as to how the fae should eal with the world now that the connection has been reforged. These ideas run from integration to isolation and points in between. This provides excellent points of ingress for players as well as jumping off points for game masters to create adventures.
The stylistic change to hacking is also inspired. The fae live long lives and memories become the anchor that drags them down into ennui and madness. To combat this, they strike deals with mortals to hold large chunks of memories. These mortals are called Coimeadai. They are the targets of hacking because everything is remembered, you just have to know who saw what happened. I like how these beings are treated as technomancers even if they were not before striking the bargain with the fae. It creates a unique obstacle for hackers as well puts a different spin on this idea in the game.
One of my problems with court of Shadows is that the style of play that it supports is not something I have ever found in a game of Shadowrun. The closest I have come has been the afore mentioned Harlequin and Harlequin’s Back. The book itself mentions a rules set that is being released for Shadowrun entitled Anarchy that fits much better with this setting. With it feeling so different, I felt like it could have done with more advice around running games here.
The book also feels a bit thin for an alternate setting. Court of Shadows gives lots of flavor but it is light on details. The book mentions that this setting is a metaplane. This implies that characters get here are either brought by the fae for some purpose or are powerful enough to get here on their own. Other means of ingress are mentioned but little detail is actually given. The geography of the realm is hinted at but, outside of the castle, everything is painted with a broad brush. A listing of people of import and creatures is also provided but it suffers from the same lack of more information.
the books gives tantalizing bits of information on the who’s and what’s of this new realm but leaves a lot of work in the hands of the game master to provide the flesh to the bones that are provided.
Overall, I still give three bear paws out of four to Court of Shadows. It provides and interesting setting for Shadowrun that supports a very different play style than your standard run. I love anything that handles the fae and the Seelie court and this book does a good job of capturing the feel that I would expect. I just wished that it offered more in the way of actually setting information or guidance to the game master that was planning on using this as the basis for a new game or a way of expanding an existing game. A great addition to library for any fan of Shadowrun or the fae.