2072. Handbasket still in motion.
Since the turn of the century, the world has changed in unimaginable ways. The mystical energies of the universe have been steadily rising in power and concentration, bringing magic back to the world—the Awakening. Elves, dwarfs, orks, and trolls 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 returned—magicians from all walks of life have carved out a place for themselves in the new world. Though many aspects of the Awakening remain mysterious, modern society has learned much about the workings of magic and how to harness it as a force just as important as technology. 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 mystic heritage used magic in uprisings against the nations that had suppressed them for centuries. The vast global telecommunications network collapsed under an assault by a mysterious computer virus. Dragons soared into the skies. Epidemics and famines 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 hardy 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. Amerindians, elves, orks, trolls, 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 magic to heal the earth. Central governments have balkanized 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 privatized or had their work contracted out to corporations. Mega corporations are the new world superpowers, a law unto themselves. The entire planet speaks their language; the nuyen is the global monetary standard; and the highest court in the world is the Corporate Court, made up of members of the top ten megacorporations. 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 escape their miserable existences by slotting addictive Better-Than-Life (BTL) 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 content with the limitations of flesh, many have turned to the artificial enhancements of cyberware to make themselves more than human—stronger, faster, smarter. Others prefer more natural enhancements, augmented organs grown in clinic vats: bioware. Still others deck themselves out in powerful and wearable computing equipment, and manipulate the Matrix or vehicles as if the optical chips and run-flat tires were parts of their own body.
In the harsh reality of 2070 where profit is the most important mistress, the bigger the metroplex, the deeper the shadows. In the cracks between the giant corporate structures, criminals of all shades find their homes. When the megacorps want a job done but don’t want to dirty their hands, they turn to the only people who can pull it off: shadowrunners, deniable assets. Though only the blackest of governmental or corporate databases will even register a shadowrunner’s involvement with a corporation, the demand for his or her services is high. Hackers slide like whispers through the databases of giant corporations, spiriting 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 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 permeate the Earth, are sought after to spy on competitors, sling spells against an enemy, commit magical sabotage, and for any other service that their employers can dream up. All these individuals sell their skills to survive, taking on tasks too dangerous for others; many of them illegal, all of them unsavory.
Welcome to the dark side of the future, pal. It’s going to be a hell of a ride.
What Runners Do
Shadowrunners commit crimes, usually for money. When a corporation or other sponsor needs someone to do 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 character 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 being forced together by circumstance. Different teams will have different capabilities, and the gamemaster should 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. While runner teams will want to work within their strengths, a staple of drama is the protagonists being pulled out of their element and over their heads. Runners have contacts, who represent other potentially useful people they know. Some of these will be other underworld types, such as gang members or hit men. 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 more you rely on any particular contact’s skills, information, and resources, the more you’ll owe them in the end—even between long-standing contacts, money and favors are usually necessary to grease the wheels. A player character’s relationship with a contact need not be friendly. Sometimes, the people who can help you out the most are those you like the least.
The most important contact for shadowrunners is the fixer. A fixer acts as a middleman and can usually help the runners 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 Neighbor 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. Just like Mr. Johnson is anonymous, so may be the sponsor—if the price is right, most running teams don’t care who’s paying. Misdirection is common, and Johnsons will often try to drop false clues, leading runners to think that they’re actually employed by someone else entirely. Shadowrunner teams may even take the initiative, doing jobs of their own accord. For example, a player character may hold a grudge against a certain megacorp, or dislike how a certain gang treats people in his neighborhood. Maybe he decides it’s time to get his criminal record erased. Other jobs may be politically or socially motivated; the character or runner team may be members of or regularly work with far left or far right political groups. In the Sixth World, everyone has dirty work that needs doing. Runners accomplish their tasks by working the streets for information, calling in favors and markers from friends and contacts in the shadows. They take whatever action their job requires: surveillance, theft, breaking and entering, violence, 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 business park kissing corporate ass all day. Others enjoy the thrill of running, thriving on its 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.
Here is an example characters
Combat Mage Covert
Radical Eco shaman