Shadowrun is a very popular Cyber-Punk RPG, probably because it is the only game system to successfully integrate magic and hi-tech, and the fact that is has such a rich background or “universe”. In fact, it is the rich background that really does justice to Shadowrun. It is possible to play Shadowrun without knowing any of the background material (lots of big guns to keep the kiddies amused) but so much is missed out on if it is. Playing Shadowrun without even a cursory appreciation and knowledge for its “lore” is like kicking a football around the park compared to playing in the FA World Cup.
The copyright on Shadowrun was held by FASA, then FanPro and is now held and licensed by a number of companies (see Wikipedia). Shadowland-Oz (my Shadowrun Website) has been developed for MY GAMING GROUP and for our RPG game only. I am NOT making a profit from this, nor am I condoning or encouraging copyright violation or piracy in any form.
WELCOME TO THE SHADOWS
It is the dawn of the 2060’s. The world is changed, some say Awakened. A long lull in the mystical energies of the universe has subsided and magic has returned to the world. Elves, dwarfs, orks, and trolls (& their varients) have assumed their true forms, throwing off their human guises. Creatures of the wild have changed as well, transforming into beasts of myth and legend. The many traditions of magic have come back to life and shamans and mages have carved out a place in the new world for themselves and their powers. Many aspects of the Awakening remain mysteries, but modern society fights on to assimilate the ways of magic into a technological world.
The decades that followed the Awakening were years of panic and turmoil, as the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse seemed to race across the Earth. Cultures that had never lost touch with their mystical pasts began to use magic against the great nations that had suppressed them for so long. The vast global telecommunications network collapsed under an assault by a mysterious computer virus. Dragons soared into the skies. Epidemics and famine ravaged the world’s population. Clashes between newly Awakened races and the rest of humanity became common. All central authority crumbled and the world began to spiral downward into the abyss.
But man and his kin are hearty animals. Out of the devastation and chaos, a fragile new social order slowly emerged. Advanced simulated sensorium (simsense) technology helped eradicate the last vestiges of the computer virus and replaced the old telecommunications network with the new virtual-reality world of the Matrix. Amerindians, elves, orks, and dwarfs formed new nations. Where environmental degradation and pollution have made many areas uninhabitable, eco-groups wage war on polluters and Awakened powers use incredible magics to heal the earth. Central governments have balkanised into smaller nations and city-states, as fear of the world’s changes drives wedges between people of different backgrounds. Vast metropolitan sprawls known as metroplexes cover the landscape; these urban jungles swallow whole regions. Police departments unable to contain crime waves and civil unrest have been privatised or their work contracted out to corporations.
Megacorporations have become the new world super-powers, a law unto themselves. The entire planet speaks their language, as the nuyen (¥) has become the global monetary standard. The megacorps play a deadly game, paying pawns in the shadows to help them get an edge on the competition. Meanwhile, corporate executives and wage slaves hole up in their own enclaves, safe behind layers of security and indoctrination. Outside the walls of these arcologies and gated communities, whole stretches of the sprawls have become ungovernable. Gangs rule the streets; the forgotten masses grow, lacking even a System Identification Number (SIN) to give them any rights. These outcasts, dissidents, and rebels live as the dregs of society, squatting in long-abandoned buildings, surviving through crime and predatory instincts. Many of them attempt to rise above their miserable existences by slotting addictive BTL (Better-Than-Life) chips, living vicariously through someone else’s senses. Others band together, some for survival and some to gain their own twisted forms of power.
Technology, too, has changed people. No longer merely flesh, many have turned to the artificial enhancements of cyberware to make themselves more than human. Some acquire implants that allow them to directly interface with machines, like deckers who run the Matrix with a cyberdeck and programs, or riggers who jack into vehicles or security systems and become one with them. Others seek to push the envelope of their physical capabilities, testing themselves on the streets against other street samurai. The human of 2060 is stronger, smarter, faster than his predecessors.
In the world of 2060, the metroplexes are monsters that cast long shadows. And in the cracks between the giant corporate structures, shadowrunners find their homes. Entire societies live and die in a black-market underworld, exploited and abused, yet powerful in their own way. The Mafia, Yakuza, and other crime syndicates have grown explosively as their networks provide anything that people will buy. Shadowrunners are the professionals of this culture where self-sufficiency is vital. When the megacorps want a job done but don’t want to dirty their hands, they need a shadowrun, and they turn to the only people who can pull it off: the shadowrunners. Though only the blackest of governmental or corporate databases even registers a shadowrunner’s existence, the demand for his or her services is high. Deckers can slide like a whisper through the databases of giant corporations, sorting away the only thing of real value — information. Street samurai are enforcers for hire whose combat skills and reflexes make them the ultimate urban predators. Riggers can manipulate vehicles and drones for a variety of purposes. Magicians, those rare folk who possess the gift of wielding and shaping the magical energies that now surround the Earth, are sought after to spy on the competition, sling spells against an enemy, commit magical sabotage, and for any other purpose that their employers can dream up. All these individuals sell their skills to survive, taking on the tasks too illegal or dangerous for others to dare.
WHAT RUNNERS DO
Shadowrunners commit crimes, usually for money. When a corporation or other sponsor needs someone to do their dirty work, they look to the shadows. As “deniable assets”, runners make advantageous — and expendable — tools.
Runners usually operate in teams. A team can be any combination of runner types, depending on what the players want to do. The team should have a plausible reason for working together, such as being old friends or cellmates, having the same interests, or even being forced together by circumstance. Different teams will have different capabilities and the Gamemaster (GM) will plan accordingly. For example, one team may excel at breaking and entering, while another might be a squad of bruisers who work best as hired muscle.
Runners have contacts, who represent other potentially useful people they know. Some of these will be other underworld types, like a gang member or a hit man. Others may be ordinary people, useful for information or for “special arrangements” — for example, the corporate secretary who lets you know when the wiz research scientist you’re supposed to kidnap will be leaving the building.
The most important contact for shadowrunners is the fixer. A fixer acts as a middleman and can usually help the runner find gear, other contacts, or work — all for a fee, of course. A corporation or other employer that needs shadowrunners sends someone to a fixer to ask for recommendations. If a team of runners has a good reputation and meets the job requirements a meeting is arranged to discuss details and haggle over payment. Because such matters are highly sensitive, anonymity is par for the course and employers of this type are known simply as “Mr. Johnson”.
Mr. Johnson may not always be a corporate representative. The world of Shadowrun is rich and complex, with many people and groups who may need to hire runners to accomplish certain goals. A criminal syndicate may hire runners to strike at rivals, a mage may hire them to acquire certain rare materials for magic use, or Joe Neighbour may need to find the terrorists who kidnapped his wife. Regardless of the sponsor, if a job involves doing something dangerous and potentially illegal, it’s a shadowrun.
Shadowrunner teams may even take the initiative, doing jobs of their own accord. For example, a player runner may have a grudge against a certain megacorp, or perhaps he doesn’t like how a certain gang treats people in his neighbourhood, or she may decide it’s time to get her criminal record erased.
Runners accomplish their tasks by working the streets for information, calling in favours and markers from friends and contacts in the shadows. They take whatever action their job requires: surveillance, theft, breaking and entering, even murder.
Runners do these things because they are survivors. Many of them grew up committing crimes to get by or perhaps they obtained special training somewhere and want to put it to use. Some may have extended families to feed and no other source of income. Many of them prefer the freedom of the shadowlife, controlling their own destinies as opposed to being a wage slave in some drab corporate business park kissing corporate hoop all day. Others enjoy the thrill of running, thriving on the risks. Finally, some are inspired to run by a sense of social justice; they want to damage the powers-that-be however they can while providing for the underclass. These runners are known as “hooders” for their Robin Hood outlook.
BASIC RUNNER TYPES
The following terms refer to runners who specialise in various fields:
Street Samurai are physically enhanced combat monsters. With cyberware implants and combat skills, they attempt to be the quickest, meanest, and strongest killing machines on the streets. Many of them cybernetically boost their reflexes to get an edge or boost their strength so that they can inflict more damage. Many are also lethal with firearms and almost all have a smartlink cyberware system installed for increased precision in shooting. Some fight for honour, some because they get paid for it (usually called mercenaries), and others because they are insane enough to go up against anything.
Deckers are skilled at computer programming and manoeuvring through the datastreams of the virtual-reality telecommunications grid known as the Matrix. They use special, custom-built computers known as cyberdecks that allow them to project their minds directly into three-dimensional reality. By illegally logging on to the Matrix, deckers can run search routines, tap phone calls and break into system hosts to retrieve data. They use a variety of programs to accomplish such operations, as well as attack and defence programs should they engage in cybercombat with another decker or an Intrusion Countermeasure (IC) construct.
Riggers have a piece of cyberware known as a vehicle control rig (VCR) installed in their bodies. The VCR allows them to interface directly with suitably adapted vehicles, seeing through the vehicle’s sensors and controlling it as they control their own bodies. Riggers can use a remote-control deck (RCD) to do this from a remote location and may even control several vehicles or drones at once in this manner. Many riggers specialise in drones, remote control vehicles of varying sizes and capabilities used for surveillance and combat. Certain riggers, called security riggers, use their cyberware and skills to jack directly into a building’s security system; these runners become living monitors that can react instantly to intruders.
Mages are one type of magician runner, known for using thaumaturgical abilities in a scientific manner. To mages, magic is about knowledge and structure. Mages cast spells, perceive and project astrally, and conjure elemental spirits.
Some Asian magicians, known as Wu Jen, follow a path based on the concepts of chi (life force) and wuxing, the five stems or elements: wood, fire, earth, metal, and water.
Adepts, the modern-day ninjas and berserkers, use magic to enhance the body’s abilities. Adepts tend to be athletically orientated, with good stealth and combat skills.
Shamans are magicians who follow a totem of some sort, such as Coyote or Dragonslayer, and embody that totem’s characteristics; or follow a similar spiritual way, such as the Asian magicians who follow the Shinto tradition of Japan or the samans of Siberia. To shamans, magic is attunement with the forces of nature. Like mages, they can cast spells and astrally project and perceive. They also conjure nature spirits and Spirits of Man.
Koradji are magicians who follow a shamanic tradition from Australia, most of whom are Australian Aborigines.
Voodoo is a magic path from the Caribbean that follows spirits known as loa (the term is both singular and plural).
These basic runner types are just the tip of the iceberg and are not meant to define a set of runner classes. Players can create a dizzying variety of runners using the runner creation rules — for example, a detective runner who relies on charisma and skill as opposed to cyberware or a covert operations specialist who has all the gear and cyberware necessary to penetrate electronic defences. The only limit is your imagination.
Shadowrun is set only forty years in the future, but the world has gone through tremendous changes. Some of these changes are reflected in various settings in which shadowrunners are sure to find themselves. Two of the most significant are the Matrix and the astral plane. The Matrix is the cybernetic analog of the worldwide computer network and telecommunications grid &8212; the successor to the modern day Internet (and telecommunication system). Only a character equipped with a cyberdeck or cyberterminal can enter this “cyberspace,” which appears as a vast lattice stretching away to infinity.
When a decker jacks into the Matrix, he leaves his physical body behind and projects his consciousness through the simsense capabilities of the cyberdeck/cyberterminal into the Matrix’s virtual reality. The decker’s mind is represented by his persona icon, which can have any appearance its programmer wishes. The same is true for the entire Matrix landscape and all the stylised icon constructs resident within it (representing hosts, programs, IC, other deckers, general matrix users, and so on). The Matrix is constantly alive with the hum of data traffic — faxes, phone calls, e-mail, tridlinks, program frames, exploring and working personas, and more.
Within the Matrix, everything operates at the speed of computer processing or thought, and so time goes by much more swiftly than in the real world. A decker can traverse the globe in seconds, hopping from local to regional grids, or even through satellite uplinks and back down again. Huge constructs that represent a myriad of hosts dominate the datasphere. Many of these are public and accessible, serving as databases, social clubs, gamerooms, or PR offices. Others are private, layered with IC and security measures and patrolled by corporate deckers. These hosts contain the deepest, darkest secrets of corporations and other entities.
The astral and meta-planes are other realities entirely. Only a full magician can perceive its depths or project her consciousness there-in. Those who take astral form can move through the astral plane at the speed of thought, but few magicians can stay within this realm for longer than a few hours. The astral plane (and the meta-planes) is the home of spirits, beings of quicksilver and shadow, a realm of mystery and danger. It parallels our own physical plane, seeming almost to mirror it. The auras of living creatures and magic are reflected upon it, where those skilled in the art can read them. The theory goes that the astral is actually sustained by the life force of the Earth and its creatures. From the astral plane, a magician can read the emotional imprints that linger on various items. Sufficiently strong feelings may even pollute the astral atmosphere. Sterile corporate offices, murder scenes, and toxic dumping grounds, to give just a few examples, all have their own distinct (and unpleasant) astral “flavor”.
The meta-planes are even more strange and mysterious, each one different from the others.
Shadowrun contains many more interesting settings, too numerous to mention more than a few here. Players may find themselves in corporate arcologies, self-contained and self-sustainable mini-cities that house thousands of corporate citizens; Awakened lands, where metahumans and dragons work together to purify the often polluted Earth; or the cold edge of space, where humanity is slowly populating numerous orbital habitats while it plans for more. And there is always the sprawl, the urban decay that spreads like a blight across the land. Even corporate thugs and cops fear to tread in its many shadowy regions.
In Shadowrun, the megacorporations make the laws, and they tend toward laws that favour themselves. Any shadowrunner knows that the corps will bend or break the law whenever they need to. When the corps choose to break the law, shadowrunners get involved as deniable assets. Therefore, when runners hit the streets, they also tend to break the law — a lot. Depending on their current objectives, random chance, or the actions of opponents, lawbreaking can occur in a variety of ways. Most runs involve several specific criminal operations, many of which are described below.
Datasteals are jobs where a decker hacks into a computer system host and steals information. This can often be done from a remote location, though the decker always faces the danger of being traced and raided by police or security forces. Many computer hosts remain disconnected from the Matrix for security reasons, requiring runners to break into a facility in order to access the computers directly.
Extractions are frequently arranged by corporations who wish to steal valuable personnel from other corporations. Top research scientists, skilled financial agents, and other suits with valuable knowledge are hot commodities, and are suitably protected. The “victims” in many extractions are willing targets — employees who have decided to defect to another corp. Some corporations consider certain personnel so valuable that they would rather see them dead than working for a rival; attempts to extract these people may fall afoul of deadly contingency plans.
Courier runs are glorified delivery jobs. Most often, the object to be delivered is of strategic or monetary importance, or is otherwise valuable and so needs protection from others who want it. Runners hired for this job must make sure the object reaches its destination safely and intact.
Smuggling is similar to courier work, though smugglers usually have their own specially equipped vehicles for sneaking goods across borders and outrunning (or outgunning) the law. Smuggling can be quite lucrative if the runner knows the markets. Such work usually goes hand in hand with piracy, as pirates are often the cheapest source for illicit goods. Smuggling is done through various means and with many different vehicles, but the smuggler’s choice is undoubtedly the Scout-class, vectored-thrust, low-altitude vehicle (LAV) known as the thunderbird, or t-bird.
Wetwork is assassination, pure and simple. Many runners refuse to take these jobs, and view dirtying their hands for money in this way as vile. The world of 2059-60 contains many factions, each with multitudes of enemies who they may find most convenient and cost effective to simply remove. Corporations or underworld figures sometimes place bounties on certain individuals; collecting on these can be profitable, if risky.
B & E stands for breaking and entering. Most runs involve B & E in some way, whether to steal research, commit sabotage, plant false evidence, or otherwise further the nefarious plot of this week’s Mr. Johnson. Security in the 2050-60’s has become an art form, ranging from mundane retinal-scan maglocks to concertina-wire electrified fences to patrolling spirits to full-blown security riggers. Any runner team worth its name is going to need the know-how, the creativity, or the brute force to bypass these defenses.
Hooding is robbing from the rich to give to the poor, a definition that has gradually expanded to include any run spurred more by a commitment to social justice than anything else. Examples include destroying a pollution-producing factory, mugging the Yakuza protection-racket enforcers and returning the money they stole to the neighborhood, or defending a metahuman community from attacks by human supremacists. Some, especially the corporations, view many such acts as “terrorism”, while more cynical people may view such social concern as a weakness to be exploited.
Structure hits are sabotage runs intended to do structural damage to the target that will cost time, nuyen, work, and perhaps more to repair or recover from. Runs of this nature often involve large explosions, making demolitions a useful skill. Structure hits can be accomplished via other methods, however, from smart corrosives to rampaging elementals to pushing the right button at the wrong time.
These types of criminal operations are just the beginning of a long list of shadowrunning possibilities. Some runs may be simple investigations, or may involve low-level criminal activity such as BTL-dealing, Matrix bank fraud, or holdups. Breaking the law can easily become an everyday occurrence for runners. In fact, some runners break it simply by their existence, because they possess illegal cyberware or practice magic without a license. While some runners have legitimate jobs, many do not have SINs, and so they work and travel with false identities. Much of the weapons and gear associated with shadowrunning is also restricted, and so runners must take care to cache their gear and maintain safehouses.
So, hack into Shadowland-Oz, one of only two Shadowland nodes here in the Land Down-Under. Shadowland-Oz is run by Lieutenant Lawless, a friend and compatriot of the renown Captain Chaos, the Sys-Op of the original and most famous Shadowland node of the all — Shadowland Seattle. Here you’ll find complete achieves of all Shadowland’s and the Nexus’ information — everything a shadowrunner needs, wants, and doesn’t have to know.
And remember the old proverb: “Watch your back; Keep your ammo handy; And never deal with a dragon!”