Review – Shadowrun: Hack & Slash

5 January, 2023

Shadowrun Hack & SlashShadowrun: Hack & Slash is a sourcebook, specifically a “Core Matrix Rulebook” for the Sixth World Edition of Shadowrun covering, well, the Matrix and computer system in general as well as how to mess with them. It contains much useful information and the Matrix and those who use it and some of those who try and defend it from hackers. Players of hackers and, especially, technomancers will want this book and GM should have it on their to acquire at some point list as well.

Shadowrun: Hack & Slash, is the Core Matrix Rulebook for Shadowrun, Sixth World Edition, providing a look at the wonderful world of computers, telecommunications and hacking, as well as the more mystical parts of the Matrix for technomancers and their friends.

It begins with an introduction, as expected, this one talks about how the book is organized. One of the ubiquitous fiction sections follows then we begin with the actual material with a section called Wild & Free, which talks about what the Matrix is from an in-game perspective. The answer to that is a bit of a mess as they have decided the divorce the Matrix from anything resembling a technological underpinning and making it all technomanctic woo instead. Not a decision I agree with and it does not make a lot of sense, totally a violation of the law of conservation of energy as well as creating a host of other issues. That being said, it is a good attempt to try and make some sort of sense of it and provide both context and potential adventure ideas (the section on Virtual World Disney is quite good for example).

Next is a Field Guide to Hacking, which talks about what hackers do and how their do it (from an in-game world perspective) and then a bunch of new and clarified rules about how to do so. With some mention of the value of working with a team for various ends, especially for social engineering, as it is almost always easier initially to hack people than systems. There are new matrix actions, including fairly absure “cinematic” ones which I am sort of surprised were not better constructed as option edge actions rather than just randomly tacked on at end. There is also a glossary which is interesting and amusing, as among other things it defines “brick” only as “slang phrase for an optical chip stack” even though it earlier books it is used in the modern way to describe a piece of electronics made inoperable. Well, I found it amusing.

Gadgets & Gizmos follow providing new, well, gadgets and such. It starts with cyber-heck, an attempt to get some of the functionality of a cyberjack implant without all the messy surgery. New rules for building custom cyberdecks and having them built in all sorts of things to carry it in (including building your deck into a keytar!) which is fun. I think they could have done more with how to make interesting runs about getting vital components and materials for building decks but it is a useful enough chapter. There are also new ways to tap into systems, new uses for RFID tags and how to make your comlink better. All good things and allow more variety but expect it to become more difficult to hack that executives comlink, I bet the corp has installed the latest securelink on it.

Elegant Architecture looks at hosts in the Sixth World, which, just as in today’s world, hold all the tasty data that criminals want. It explains the game rules and prices to build various aspects of hosts, which are interesting but more examples would have been good also with advice for how various corporations use these in practice. It ends with a section on ultra-violet hosts which create a specific new reality more real than real to those plugged in, so if you want to play another genre within Shadowrun, here is how you do it.

Digital Toolbox looks at the wonderful world of writing your own code and programs. After setting some basic ground rules it moves into new Commlink Apps, which has some fun things and helps commlinks be more than just phones and Ids. Next, new cyberprograms including a bunch that do there thing and then crash and must be reloaded before using them again, which is an interesting idea. Lastly, there are rule for programing agents and how they work, a useful tool but potentially a lot to keep track of for both the GM and player. It interesting subcase of agent in the ‘cyberkit’, an agent loaded into a portable device and usable as a limited plug and play ‘hacker in a box’.

Techno Tools looks at new tricks for the technomancers, all rules, no world explanation, starting with new complex form, many of these are new ways to act as a team and support player, ways to manipulate programs and hardware to help friends. But also some that will, in all likelihood, annoy and frustrate a GM, forms that get around data bom book. Lastly, there are data structures, which are in essence, foci for technomancers because technomancer bs, negate encryption and lock down IC, and even one that lets them take control of another’s cyberware and use them as a puppet. The new echoes primarily build and expand on the existing one in the core did not already have enough advantages over decker, why not give them more? If you get the impression that I am not a particular fan of the data structures section of the chapter, you would be correct. Unlike magical focis they do not scale in cost with usefulness and you get to bond (sorry “integrate”) with them for free if you are the one who made them, oh, and you do not have to have any special skill, it uses Tasking to make them. There are no limits on the number of data structures a technomancer can have, no NuYen cost if you make your own, nor is there an equivalent of foci addiction to worry about, all the bang for none of the bucks.

Points of Sprite covers, you guessed it, new sprites: Assassin, probably unnecessary. Defender, sure, this one makes sense. Modular, for flexibility when you do not know how the situation will changes. Music, for creative pursuits, an especially nice add. And Primal, chaos manifested and often uncontrollable. Ther are new ways to use spirits, new commands and the addition of Sprite Reputation to mirror how spirits feel about their summoners. Also rules for free and ally sprites, just to make the sprite equals spirit formula complete.

Quality Hacking covers new qualities, both positive and negative. There are twenty-three new positive qualities unsurprisingly almost all are tied to the Matrix, a few are only usable by those using a cyberdeck, but a few can be used by all, such as Data Haven membership. Good to see Online Fame back as well. Overall a good selection and incorporate some interesting new ways to gain Edge, tied to specific actions, which is a good design space I think. Only thirteen negative qualitites most of which are interesting though Data Liberator is an odd one and one that it would be best to discuss with your playgroup before taking (especially if it is roleplayed and not just used mechanically). There is a new Quality Path for Cyberadepts, technomancers who integrate themselves with cyberware, which seems like an interesting path. This section ends with some advice about designing your own Quality Paths, which is a good chance for GM and player to make a unique character development path.

Union Forever looks at various groups especially Emergent Groups which are (by definition) comprised of technomancers and others who can be part of the Matrix naturally. Emergent Groups again mirror magical groups providing many of the same benefits and, indeed, the rules here are incomplete without those in Street Wyrd which discuss gaining a losing loyalty within a group. Some of the example groups are interesting including a group of Triad technomancers and more information of the group that created the new Matrix.

Virtual Life looks first at protosapients, life forms that exist in the Matrix, and xenosapients, intelligent beings that exist in the Matrix, and technocritter, animals that have abilities that interact with the Matrix and electronics in various ways. The protosapients are often pests and occasionally dangerous predators in the Matrix, all are dangerous in their own ways and should be used lightly. The xenosapients are being from the Null Sect, a set of intelligent digital lifeforms that have their own, mysterious, agenda but who are usually hostile to people. Xenosapients, and the Null Sect, seem that they are really designed to be a campaign of their own. Technocritters take advantage of technology to further their own purposes ranging from Bastet, awakened cats who use their ability to manipulate technology to make their lives easier, to Pachyderm, emergent elephant who actually like protect data There is potential for interesting complications on runs from technocritter, but, again, they probably should be used with a ligth hand. All of thes new creatures have new powers which are defined.

After the creatures are defined, there is a section on Intelligence Revealed, providing rules for Artificial and Emergent Intelligences, emergent ones being artificial intlligences with access to the resonance and thus technomancer-like abilities. This really needed to be its own chapter with a lot more information on what being an AI means, thoughts on how they percieve the world and so on. There are five listed types of AI/EI with different ranges of statistic and innate abilities, but they are only defined, sort of by their innate abilities, there are no suggestion for how roleplaying a Pilot AI (which have evolved from piloting software) might be different from a Realms AI (no idea what they evolved from). They get access to their own positive and negative qualities, specialized rules for advancement and healing, and codemods, the AI version of cyberware. So much packed in and almost all of it mechanics. How are these intelligences viewed by the world? What might they want? What are some themes to explore if playing an AI or using one as a GMC?

Last, in this overstuffed Virtual Life chapter, there are Paragons, essentially mentor spirits for technomancers (because anything a magic user has, the technomances has to have an equivalent of) and new Technomancer quality of Resonance Streams which allow a technomancer to become exceptional in one aspect of technomantic abilities, such as the Technoshamans who can do things with sprites that no one else can.

At the Base looks at the foundations of the new resonance built Matrix and what has changed (since it was last looked at back in the 5th edition sourcebook Data Trails) It starts with a discussion of how it is thought that the foundation Matrix works, probably, maybe. It also provides a framework, and then rules, for delving into the deep resonance and ways to bring your friends along too, as their skills can be useful even if they are not technomancers or hackers in the strange resonance realms. This could lead to some potentially interesting adventure ideas and missions. It also includes rule for a foundation destroying weapon, which is an excellent plot device, though probably not something you want to let your player characters to get hold of . . .

Infinite Memory looks at technomancers (“which should not exist according to physics” according to the first section in this chapter) and how they do what they do. Probably, maybe? It remains slightly mysterious. After that, it is straight into the Resonance Realms, the places beyond . . . well, somewhere. There is first a travelog of the various places you can go from an in-game world perspective and then the rules for traveling there and why you might want to.

Know your Enemy looks at the scourge of hackers everywhere the Grid Overwatch Division or, as they are known, GOD. This gives the GM some more options in using this organization, and not just as a giant boot to stomp on the team hacker/technomacer, but also provide the information for the full boot treatment. There is also new IC including psychotropic IC which can temporarily reprogram the brain of those subject to it, icky.

The product end with Matrix Business, a set of fout short adventures, a bit more than seeds and much less than full modules. I am honestly not sure how usable any of them are. The first is suppose to highlight than everyone can be useful in the Matrix but does not give useful advice on how to make that happen in play. The third requires the players know information from the Shadowrun: Dragonfall video-game to really make it sing which seems poor design for book based roleplaying.

Naturally, there is no index or gathering of charts at the end, as is too often the case.

Overall, a useful sourcebook but it does not come across to me as vital as some of the other core books. Obviously, if you are running a decker-centric campaign or, especially, a technomancer focused game, this book will be of great help. But instead of adventures, this reviewer would have liked more information on AI and how they interact with the world and how people in the Sixth World use and experience the Matrix that would have been much more useful. I feel that technomancers are given way too much and on a platter, while tech users are left behind even with cyberjacks that eat money and essence and cyberhacks that just eat money even if agents very slightly close the gap between the two.  And, yes, I continue to harp on this in my reviews, the idea is that there should be some parity between the two paths, technology and magic (which technomancy is, and this product entirely reinforces), but the recent editions have privileged magic at every opportunity making magic always the right choice mechanically which violates the basic duality of the setting.

Notes: the DriveThruRPG link is an affiliate link and if you purchase through it, this journal will receive a small sliver of the money.


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