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Review – Shadowrun: Power Plays

25 June, 2021

Shadowrun: Power Plays is a sourcebook, specifically a “Runners Resource Book” for the Sixth World Edition of Shadowrun covering the Big Ten Megacorporations who, let’s face it, run the Sixth World in a very real sense. While tagged as a Runner Resource, it strikes me as more a book for Games Masters who want to know what is going on at the higher levels so that they can decide what filters down to the level of hiring runners for. Overall, an interesting read with some excellent chapters and lots of inspiration for games.

Shadowrun: Power Plays, is a Runner Resource Book for Shadowrun, Sixth World Edition, providing a look at what is going on in the corporate world, as the megacorps are the primary villains in the world, knowing what is happening with them is important.

It begins with an introduction, as expected, this one talks about why the megacorporations get talked about so much, tldr: because the rule the world. One of the ubiquitous fiction sections follows then we begin.

Power Networking begins with a discussion of how the systems work that keeps the corporations in power and throws around terms like “postcapitalist corporatism”, “neofeudalism” and “zombie capitalism” but that section (thankfully) is thankfully short. It then moves into useful things, like what the letter rating means, what corporate scrip is (corporate internal money) and how it is used. A short section on the Zurich Orbital Bank and the Corporate Court and how they reinforce megacorporate power. And lastly, short overview of a few of the groups that oppose corporate dominance.

The next ten chapters are one for each of the Big Ten megacorporations, in alphabetical order:

Ares, big guns and big money, has fallen down to number nine in the rankings after the . . . kerfuffle in Detroit and then with the whole UCAS. But they are still big and swinging to try and move back up from their new home base in the CAS. It gives a lot of details about Ares corporate culture and what pies Ares has fingers in. As Ares’ CEO is about to step down there is a seven-way (or maybe already down to six) competition for who gets the big chair. All of this means job opportunities and there are some more snippets of adventure seeds in the shadowchatter. Lastly there are two new qualities, one positive and one negative, tied to Ares. (And a NERPS ad at the end of the chapter!)

Next is eveyone’s favorite villain, Aztechnology, it starts with the usual spiel about how while runners hate Aztechnology, the rest of the world loves them because of reasons (propaganda, false news, and so on) which I have never found convincing. Aztechnology has offended too many people with long institutional memories (the Catholic Church and Texas among them) for them to be continually perceived as so saintly, but that is my point of view and not the official canon take on it. But this mask, as it is described in the book, has just suffered a huge blow in the form of a massive data-breach the fall out of which will certainly show up as the timeline continues to advance. Light on directly actionable adventure seeds but setting up big for the future. The two new qualities, again one positive and one negative, one directly tied to Aztechnology, the other adjacent to their practices (Blood Magic Resistance).

Next we transform into EVO, the transhumanity focussed corporation, and the troubles and benefits it has received from accepting Monads (the AI-human fusions that were the major metaplot of the previous edition) as part of EVO. There is considerable discussion of internal conflict within EVO and how that is damaging the company. The new Monad inspired tech is causing waves especially the “anti-gravity zeppelins” that could revolutionize shipping. There are implied things for Shadowrunners to do, (join in the corporate schzim, highjack anti-gravity zeppelins) but no real support for any of it. This chapter just falls flat to me and I am not entirely sure why. Though the fact the new EVO-themed qualities, both positive, are not interesting (or worth the points to my mind) certainly did not help.

Next on the horizon is Horizon, the media corporation and smallest of the Big Ten. Horizon seems to operate under the work smarter, not harder paradigm, primarily producing non-material things: entertainment, advertisement, reputation polishing, spin doctoring, this is where Horizon excels. Horizon is guided by the Consensus, a computer program that constantly analyses the thoughts and opinions of its employees and uses that to shape the actions taken by Horizon. More successful corporate citizens have higher scores in the Consensus and their opinion weigh more heavily in the consensus (so there are political games to manipulate that score). There is a section on the sorts of jobs that Horizon hires for, usually data manipulations in various forms, and how they expect them to be done, which is quietly and without leaving traces, and how they deal with shadowrunners. All useful information along with implied adventures, nothing concrete though. The two qualities are both positive and includes a version of the previous edition’s “Too Pretty to hit” which uses Charisma for defence, but no indication how this should interact with the social armor rules from Firing Line.

Mitsuhama Computer Technolgies, now the largest and most powerful of the megacorporations (and that is saying something). Though how it became so is rather circular, it is the most powerful because it is the largest and is the largest because it was the most powerful and absorbed so many smaller corporations . . . Though it is also the premier magical corporation and known for their “Zero Zone” policy for their corporate holdings, making them shoot to kill areas, which I have always thought was a bit foolish but such is the Shadowrun way. MCT is now struggling to integrate all of the new pieces into the greater whole, leading to extractions both against and within Mitsuhama. Additionally, MCT is exploiting the metaplanes, strip mining is the term used, and clawing every advantage it can. So, much to build off of and inspire missions. The two qualities are odd, I think they are negative but it is unclear.

Renraku with history to current activities, engagingly written and gives a sense of what the corporation has done to keep its status among the top corporations. Renraku is an interesting corporation, aggressively seeking out new opportunities to keep ahead of the game, it feels like a living corporation. Combined with some discussion about how Renraku handles hiring shadowrunners and how said runners can leverage working for Renraku to their advantage, hopefully. The new qualities are interesting with one interacting with contacts in an innovative way.

Next up, Sadler-Krupp, everyone’s favorite dragon run megacorporation. Due to recent trials and tribulations, SK is not longer the largest mega and that makes Lofwyr, the dragon in charge, unhappy, and no one likes an unhappy dragon. So SK is planning to claw its way back to the top and you had best not get in their way. The section of how SK interacts with runners is useful and the new qualities are interesting and both could easily be reworked to apply to the other megas as well.

Shiawase, the one that started it all in the Shadowrun timeline, it was a set of court decisions around Shiawase that established the idea of corporate extraterritoriality. It remains a powerful corporation with ties to the Japanese Imperial family and a long term view of business that has served them well. Shiawasa is both the archetypical megacorporation and Japancorp with these traits are reflected in how they do business both with shadowrunners and the rest of the world. There are some potential adventure hooks, especially for games set in Seattle (where Shiawasa has purchased the former Renraku Arcology!). The section end with three(!) new qualities, all positive, though I think Human 2.0 is over-costed for what it provides.

Moving to the newest of the mega, Spinrad Global! Brainchild of Johnny Spinrad, that living fashion trend, and built into an AAA corp by a merger with Global Sandstorm and the “rental” of a seat on the Corporate Court. Spinrad has gone from strength to strength, but can that continue? Well, that is the question, the corporate cultures of Spinrad and Global Sandstorm do not mix well and the new corporation has no lack of rivals. It will be a wild ride, one way or another. The new qualities are odd, the Fashion Influencer seems like it needs more information to make sense, after all if you are an influencer, people should recognize you, yes?

And we are finally to Wuxing, the last of the megas alphabetically, based in Hong Kong they are the only Chinese megacorporation. Wuxing are masters of finance and feng shui and have leveraged both in their climb into the top tier of corporate power. Wuxing finds itself beset by enemies from without and, possibly, from within as well, but they remain powerful, using magic that other do not expect. Their long term goals are ambitious, unifying China, so probably outside of the scope of most runs but there is smaller scale trouble for characters to get involved in. Wuxing only has one new quality and a new trait for gear (“cheap knockoff’).

At the end a couple of pages gives a few words for some of the surviving AA corporations, the tier below the megas. Sixteen are noted of which one is Korean, one is from South American (and noted as being a front for the cartels) and the rest are North American, European or Japanese. That seems like a missed opportunity to expand the range of corporate players.

As is sadly usual, there is no index, which is especially problematic in a book full of NPCs and twenty new qualities. A page dedicated to the ranking of the megas and another with Fin could have been put to much better use. An interesting book and vital for Games Masters and others who wish to stay current with the metaplot. However, many of the new qualities need to be cleaned up and better explained to fit into the current rules design. It certainly in an interesting read though and provides a lot of things to ponder.

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