Let's get the negatives out of the way first. The cover is ugly. Really ugly.
Okay. That was the negatives. The rest of the review is going to be shameless adoration of the goodness that's inside. It will be boring but at least it will give you a good idea of the content.
The subject of Augmentation is cyberware and bioware implants, plus the newer nanoware and genetech. The book is a beautiful mish-mash of toys and flavour-text, all easily dropped into a running game without upsetting things.
Through out the book, artwork is a little sparse but good quality. And content packed this tight, you ultimately wouldn't want any of it to be cut for the sake of the pictures. Layout is the same clear and easy format we've had in the other 4th edition supplements so far. Most of the flavour text takes the form of articles written by experts in their fields, interspersed with comments from some of the regular Jackpoint commentators that are being established as 4th edition's own micro-soap opera. They don't distract and actually add quite a bit in terms of atmosphere and game ideas. I'd say the balance between normal text and comments is just about right in this book. We don't want to get into the run-on conversations of previous editions.
The sections are as follows:
Stitches and Spare Parts
. This is an overview of medical science and practice in the year 2070. It isn't a huge section at eighteen pages, but it serves as an excellent introduction to what is and isn't possible and (often more the point) what is and isn't legal. It's tremendously rich in detail and I love off-hand comments the make the setting real, such as how elves and humans have been known to OD when taking something cut for a troll's physiology, or in character complaining about the hassle they get off the law for “driving while chromed.” This section also outlines the big players in the medical arena and what they're up to. The whole section is virtually simmering with idea-fuel for hungry GM's.
A small rules section, fills out the rest of this chapter giving a list of new positive and negative qualities for new characters and a clump of optional rules tweaks sneak in there too. I particularly like adjusting the healing times to slow down player recovery. But then I'm just mean.
. This section is one of the first ones most people will turn to. It has a lot of nice toys for the discerning street samurai and also has the rules for customised cyberlimbs. I'll come back to the latter in a moment as it's something a lot of people really want to hear about. Again it opens with several pages of pure atmosphere gold... but who cares? We want toys, right?
I can't cover each and every thing in here but they range from the purely cosmetic to the wonderfully useful. Long time players of Shadowrun will be delighted (or terrified) to find that Move By Wire makes its reappearance in this chapter along with jaw-dropping goodies such in built in radar. (“Sneak past me now, you little bastard”). There are several minor tweaks and variations such as ceramic bone lacing (hard to detect) and Skillwire Expert Systems, as well as new cyberweapons. And my personal favourite - a perfectly crafted message from player to GM saying “Kill me now please,” - Kid Stealth legs make their return. Now I just need a player insane enough to buy them.
What else? Oh yes, the cyberlimbs. To summarise – the developers seem to have heard the cries of those who want an old fashioned chromed to the max samurai, and they have given us our answer. The weak little cyberlimbs in the core book are apparently standard limbs that one would buy off the shelf. Yes, you can get mods on them like armour et al, but they are essentially your run of the mill model. What Augmented provides are customised cyberlimbs. Now it's possible to have a troll with a decent cyberlimb for example. With the new rules, you can also squeeze a decent amount of armour / reinforcement on them for the be all and end all of bullet sponges (armour on individual limbs stacks, rather than averages). Not that being a bullet sponge has ever been a good idea in the lethal setting of Shadowrun, and you'd be far better off putting your cred into decent reflexes etc. But for those who want strong metal limbs, Augmented provides. Be prepared to pay big cred for the heavy stuff, however.
I have skipped a couple of things in this chapter. There are rules for second hand cyberware (less nuyen, more essence) and we finally get cannon support for some of the things that we thought should be possible, like turning off a cyberlimb's tactile sensation. There's also redlining your cyberlimbs which I like to refer to as the high-interest credit card of combat potential.
I was wrong to say earlier that there was only one negative, however. Skimming through this chapter again has just reminded me that someone saw fit to put hovercraft feet into this chapter - 'Skimmer Discs.' I don't know who that was but bad developer. Bad!
. This section does for bioware what the last chapter does for cyberware. A lot of cyberware has bioware equivalents and its been made fairly clear in 4th edition that real muscle is the new synthetic muscle. This seasons Shadowrunner will be kitted out with the latest organic implants and if a character has somehow spent their way through the core book and is looking for more, there's a few new things to try out.
But more than that, this chapter contains a lot of answers to mild inconsistencies or unanswered questions in the setting. Just what can you do with cloning, how long does it take, etc.
There's nothing radically new amongst the biotech, the most interesting toy to me being the one that lets you reshape your face in real time to alter your appearance. Orthoskin upgrades exist for the combat fetishists. Symbionts are new and don't do anything amazing in game terms, but are a source of odd little abilities for characters that can stomach the “yuck” factor.
The main thing that leaps out at me in this chapter is my favourite quote of the book:
"Oh look, I've just rolled my eyes so far back that I can see my brain."
Sometimes the snippets of dialogue in this book really made me laugh. But I suppose readers of this review want to hear about the juicy stuff. Well tough, because I really want to emphasize that the writing in this book is exemplary throughout and the Genetech chapter contains a lot of fluff material and setting atmosphere. It's also the first mention I've seen in 4th edition material of metatype variants, e.g. minotaurs and hobgoblins. I don't know if this is good or bad as I'd guessed that the new developers were playing these down. But if anyone can pull off these things in a logical way, I have faith that the 4th edition crew can.
Still, I suppose you can
have too much of a good thing. For the amount of crunch you get in this chapter, there's a very large amount of fluff to support it. The big crunch things in this chapter, imo, are genetic optimisation (increase your attribute maximums) and augmented healing (like it sounds).
. Like the previous three chapters, we get a lot of background material and run-suggesting dialogue. The actual nanoware is pretty varied. There's not much that's a must, but there are lots of little tricks such as real-time adjusting fingerprints and retinas. Riggers and hackers would also be advised to read through the chapter carefully for a couple of nice surprises.
. We've had enough atmosphere and fluff now. By this point, we're practically living in the Sixth World ourselves. So the Advanced Medtech chapter just plunges straight into dice modifers. We get an optional rule for serious wounds which I'm using and personally think adds to the game by etching up the realism several points. There's nothing more entertaining to a sadist like myself as watching a PC try to run from gunfire with a fractured ankle. Sadly it hasn't happened yet. (I'm investigating the possibility of slipping them some loaded dice.) We get costs for care in delta-grade clinics, costs for purchasing your own clinic (and auto-docs), times for implanting cyberware, rules for botulism and biowarfare agents. There's lots in this chapter and any GM's game should be enriched by dropping the odd element from it in to a run.
The Cutting Edge
. Now this chapter is special. If the rest of the book is a bit of a toy box, this is the big kids stuff. We have three things in this chapter and I'm not going to say much about them, but they're good. In reverse order of wow, we have biodrones – nothing you couldn't guess at or improvise yourself, but nicely presented and thought out, cyborgs – interesting fluff, great potential, but waiting for Arsenal to be released to really come into their own... and Dun dun DUN!
Cyberzombies. Yes – they're back and their worse (as in good) than ever. To anyone who isn't familiar with these bastard creations of technology and magic from previous editions they can be summed up in three words: 'Death,' 'Death' and 'Cool.' You thought that last word was going to be 'death' as well and it probably should be because these things are killing machines. But they are also far cooler than their cheesy name might suggest. They're leant an extra layer of tragedy by some lovely first person writing that just screams 'plot idea' at you. I don't know who wrote the cyberzombie material but full respect is due them. It's some of the best writing in the book.
General comments on the above? I came across nothing that would require retroactively changing anything in an existing game. That's good. But even better, is I didn't find anything that really upset the power-balance in an existing game. None of it really renders the existing material in the Shadowrun core book redundant. That's extremely good. For the most part, the new stuff, though it raises the ceiling on the power of augmented characters, balances things with cost and availability. It gives non-awakened characters things to aim for as they develop. The most likely conflict, such as it is, would probably be the new cyberlimb rules. There will be some characters out there that wish they'd got customised limbs straight away, rather than the ones in the core book which we now know to be “off the shelf.” But a GM can easily find ways of remedying this in game and hey, the new ones are expensive anyway so it's not as if characters with the original types have been entirely cheated. For the rest, so long as a GM doesn't let a player become a cyberzombie (there goes your game!), I think it's all fairly balanced and well-priced.
In fairness, some might find it fluff-heavy, though I enjoyed it all. But there's so much crunch packed into this book, that I don't think anyone could complain.
One final thing that might be worth saying is that my general rule is to buy PDFs for things I think I'll use mainly myself as a GM, and books when I know my players will want to maul them arounf the table. In this case, I'd say get the book format regardless because this is really something that you will want to sit there and read through properly. It's an absolute joy to read and I can't recommend this supplement enough to anyone who plays or is interested in the Shadowrun setting. If you're deciding which supplement to buy, then you might want to get Street Magic first to have the extended magic rules. And if you're entirely new to the Shadowrun setting, then you might want to get Runner Havens for the background. But I don't think any game wouldn't benefit from this book.
But I still deduct one point from style for this book, because of that bloody cover.