Life in the Shadows

The world you live in may not be pleasant, but it’s still the one you wake up in each morning, and it’s where you need to figure out how to live your life. Here are some of the keys to surviving, and even occasionally enjoying, those waking hours.

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The Matrix

When you want to amuse yourself in your downtime, this is where you start. Music’s on there, movies are on there, sports broadcasts, virtual nightclubs, chat rooms, epic battles on twisted landscapes, and so on and so forth.

The Matrix is around most of us every minute of every day, so much that we don’t think about it much. We just use it. Most of the time we use it as augmented reality (AR), an overlay that adds information and occasional glitz to the world around us in the form of augmented reality objects, or AROs. You can also go whole-hog and dive into virtual reality (VR), leaving your meat body behind for a trip into the realm of pure information. While the speed of VR is convenient for hackers, most people like the ability to use the Matrix while carrying on with their lives at the same time.

With AR, the Matrix is constantly around you. As long as you’ve got the right gear, messages from friends pop up as floating windows hovering in your field of vision, moving as you move. Stores you walk by tell you about their current sales customized to your preferences. Music and video samples are everywhere, waiting for you to open them with a quick gesture to see if there’s anything you like.

How do these music and movies match up to your taste, and how do they know where to find you? The magic of corporate control. You see, the Matrix has gone through two major Crashes, and been re-invented after each one. After the second one, back in 2064, the Matrix made the leap to wireless, and along with that it moved into a neo-anarchist ideal of freedom and openness, a network open and accessible to anyone with the tools to log on. That lasted a good decade until the corps realized there was a resource out there they weren’t exploiting. After confessing that sin to their respective clergy and saying a few Hail Marys, the corps went about setting that mistake right, instituting more controls over the Matrix so that they can better shape what goes where. Naturally, their best customers get the best bandwidth, while the less resource-endowed are left to deal with spotty access and slow traffic.

Unless we know how to play the game. The clampdown of corporate control has re-ignited the battle between hackers and the overseers of the Matrix, as shadowrunners look to exploit the weaknesses of the new system and stay one step ahead of security. With the Matrix being almost entirely cloud-based, storage is vast and information is everywhere, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to find. Exclusive, protected hosts keep unwanted visitors out and carefully watch those who are there, and the agents of the Corporate Court’s Grid Overwatch Division are everywhere. If you want to try something illicit on the Matrix, remember that GOD is watching.

But that’s mostly another topic. For now, just know that everyone and everything is on the Matrix, but the easiest things to find are the things programmers are betting you want to buy.

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Matrix Musts

You don’t log on to the Matrix—you live on it. It’s there all the time, woven into everything you do. But there are some things that are more effective and interesting to do than others— here’s a couple.

Watching sports on the Matrix is a completely immersive experience. Sure, you can just watch the trid like it’s some old flatvid or something, but you can also get right into the game, placing yourself on the field with AR players all around, seeing what they see, watching plays unfold around you, hearing the crowd cheer like it’s cheering for you. It finally makes you feel justified when you use “we” when talking about your favorite team. This can be particularly intense when watching sports like urban brawl (a kind of ultra-violent, city-based capture the flag) and you walk into an ambush the same time your favorite player does.

Clubbing options abound in the Sixth World thanks to the Matrix, as your can virtually attend any nightclub in the world—provided, of course, you can get access to some of the private hosts. Dante’s Inferno in Seattle has long been popular, but it has become even more so thanks to the international clientele that visits nicely and moves to the best of the hottest acts in town.

For general knowledge, Aetherpedia is a must. It may not always be definitive, but the speed of updates makes up for that. If you need some background about some part of the world, check there first—just remember that it’s a first step to finding more info, not a comprehensive compendium of all knowledge.

Getting Around

One thing you need to always remember in the Sixth World—after “Everything has a price”—is corporations love predictability and live to control. Take GridGuide, marketed as the ultimate convenience for the commuter. It’s a programmed control system for your personal vehicle that takes you where you want to go with little input from you, the driver. And by golly, traffic flows more smoothly when everyone uses GridGuide and you can do other things while you drive, so it’s great. Of course, GridGuide only works where the corps want it to work, which is fine for corporate drones on their daily commutes, but no good at all if you need to go into the barrens or a not-generally-open-to-the-public industrial area. And even if you’re in approved areas, GridGuide doesn’t respond well to emergencies, like evasive maneuvers or quick getaways. In fact, if you try to do anything GridGuide doesn’t think is wise or safe, the system is going to drag you down. (But doesn’t it always?) If you ever intend to go off the beaten path, or to maybe do something out of the ordinary, you’re going to need to learn how to drive, and you need to have a vehicle that does not depend on the power of the grid.

If you’re traveling from city to city or country to country, you can rely on your personal vehicle, but there are other modes of transportation available. Trains and buses are available in most sprawls, and they can take you from sprawl to sprawl. The security in intra-city transit is pretty light; if you have the nuyen, you can ride. You may need to pass through security, and your SIN will be checked for longer trips, but on trains the scanners are cheap and easily fooled. Plus, you get to ride a bullet train, which tends to be awesome. If they remembered to clean it.

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If you opt for air travel, you’ve got three choices: regular, suborbital, and semiballistic.

Semiballistic is the fastest and the most expensive; it can get you from Europe to North America in less than an hour, and you’ll pay through the nose for the privilege. Security is tight. SIN scanners are top-of-theline and nearly impossible to fool. All weapons will be checked (don’t even think about explosives), and all cyberware must be deactivated.

Sub-orbitals are slightly slower, slightly cheaper, and slightly easier to infiltrate. Slightly. Sub-orbital passengers are usually megacorporate clients, and the corps want them to feel safe. Security is tight, and violations will be dealt with harshly.

Regular air travel is for regular people. Security is present, but quality varies from provider to provider; if your fake SIN and forged documentation are good enough, you should do fine.

Of course, if you want to avoid public transportation altogether, there are ways to get around. Hitch a ride in the back of a cargo van, or in a container ship, or as part of a drone convoy. And then there’s the almighty t-bird, the favorite choice of smugglers, spies, and anyone else involved in illicit border crossings. There are several different types of t-birds, but they have a few common characteristics: they’re small, maneuverable, capable of landing in tight spots, and able to fly low to avoid radar. Learn how to pilot one of these babies well, and you’ll never lack for work. Or anti-aircraft fire from folks you’ve pissed off.

Paying Your Way

If you live in a civilized part of the world, you likely have not ever held actual cash in your hand. Money is transferred between bank accounts (usually in the form of nuyen, which is the world’s leading currency) to settle debts; on those occasions when people want to severely limit access to their accounts, they use credsticks, small pieces of plastic with a specified amount of nuyen encoded on them. That’s how you pay for things; if you use cash, you’re either in some backwater part of the world without Matrix access, or you’re a time traveler from the distant past.

While the nuyen is the most common currency in the world, some nations have their own currency, though they generally use the nuyen alongside it. Larger corporations, including the Big Ten, also have their own corporate scrip, which can only be used in their holdings. Corps love paying in scrip, as it means the money they put out will eventually come back to them, but shadowrunners hate it, as no one wants their spending options limited.

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Entertainment

The Matrix is a lot of things, but to most of the general populace, it’s the greatest anti-boredom measure ever developed. The vast amounts of trideo streams, music, games, and whatnot available on the Matrix could distract any individual for several lifetimes.

There is a constant war between corporations trying to find ways to wring more money out of the Matrix and consumers trying to get as much as they can for free. With the new, more controlled Matrix, the corps have gotten the upper hand in this battle, but there is still enough free or low-cost entertainment to keep the public sufficiently anesthetized.

Music

Music’s been around since homo erectus noticed different things made different noises when you hit them, and it’s not going anywhere. (Though frankly, some of it sounds like Neanderthals banging rocks. But there’s no accounting for taste, right?) Point is, whatever your taste in music may be, you can find someone playing it. For classic rock fans, the legendary Maria Mercurial is on her comeback tour, laying down the mighty riffs that made her a star back in the ’50s, and Concrete Dreams is once again calling down the thunder. Orxploitation, the sound of the streets, continues to be blasted in sprawl barrens, with CrimeTime acting as the oldschool standard bearer for the movement. Disposable electro-pop will never die, no matter how many stakes we bury in its pulsating heart, with the Latch-Key Kids currently playing the leading role in blasting annoyingly catchy ditties into everyone’s lizard brain. And elven folk exists for those who don’t like their music turned up to eleven, with Tír Tairngire icon Deirdre showing everyone how it’s done.

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Trideo

Sometimes you just gotta plop down in your favorite chair (or on your favorite floorboard if all the furniture has been burned for heat) and let flickering images take over your brain. For these times, trideo is there for you, bringing you the latest in news, sports, and entertainment programming. While 3-D was clumsy and clunky in its earliest years, now it drops you believably into the middle of the story. And the level of immersion is up to you—stick with the visual and audio versions if you want simplicity, or plug into simsense to get the full-bore, multi-sensory, emotion-enhancing experience. You can watch sports events as if you were in the stands, or you can buzz around the field, seeing the game as the players see it.

There are fictional trids for every taste. The Tortinis series provides the slapstick and physical comedy the masses love, while the hit Water Margin has spawned an action series about shadowrunners fighting government corruption in Seattle (a theme that has gained extra resonance thanks to recent scandals in Seattle Governor Kenneth Brackhaven’s administration). Like reality shows? Toxic Hunter takes you to the most blighted spots in the world and puts host Brennan “Heavy” O’Dell against the local critters; his recent battle with a pack of ghouls in Lagos was a ratings winner, while Combat, Combat, Combat puts you right in the middle of the action—literally—as it utilizes actual firefight footage from around the world, straight from the combatants’ cyber-eyes to your nervous system. The classic Neil the Ork Barbarian, a favorite of your parents when they were kids, has gotten a slick upgrade and reboot that puts you, the viewer, right in Neil’s furry boots. First-person medieval sword-swinging, fur-bikini-slashing, muscle-flexing action—what more do you want?

Sports

If the twentieth century was about figuring out how to turn professional sports into big business, the twenty- first was about how to best use sports business to benefit other corporate interests. Basketball, baseball, football, soccer, and hockey still draw crowds, but now fans can follow their favorite player’s MeFeed, watching the trideos they watch, listening to the music they listen to, and learning about their favorite fashion and foods—all of which you can buy with a quick gesture at the right ARO. Where kids once dreamed of following their idols by working hard to earn their way into the big leagues to become stars in their own right, they’re now content to just buy as much of their idol’s lifestyle as possible.

The megacorps have also been growing new sports that give consumers/fans the addictive rush of fast-moving action and bone-crushing violence. Right now the most popular new sports are urban brawl and combat biking. Urban brawl is a no-holds-barred variant of capture- the-flag played on city streets with guns and magic. Combat biking is something like polo, only played on motorcycles. By psychopaths.

Food

Back when overpopulation of the world was a serious concern, people turned to the mighty soybean as a promising food source (when combined with lentils and green food dye, it makes a tasty … oh, never mind). It’s packed with protein, very versatile, and fairly easy to grow. Thanks to several global plagues and ecological disasters, world population is not quite as big a concern as the amount of arable land on the planet, but the net result is the same: Soy is a major food staple. Soykaf is the beverage that gets us moving in the morning, soyburgers are a popular lunchtime choice, and tofu is to our dinners what chicken was in the twentieth century. There are a few restaurants and grocery stores here and there that sell real meat, but they tend to be beyond the budget of all but the most affluent.

While meat is rare, sugar substitutes are plentiful. The megacorporate food producers of the world know how much people like their sweets, and they know satisfying cravings keeps populations in line. The Stuffer Shacks and other convenience stores of the world are filled with Sweeteez, Krak-l-Snaps, and other nutrition-free foods that give corporate drones and poor shadowrunners a small bit of pleasure in their lives.

Sex

I thought about calling this section “Romance,” but threw that out because there ain’t nobody doing the box of chocolates, bouquet of roses, and horse-drawn carriage ride in the park anymore. Then I thought about calling it “Dating,” but it’s not like you can ask Jane the leather-clad razorgirl if she’d like to go to the malt shoppe with you Friday afternoon. So I decided that since I’ve been straight up with you so far, I’ll call the primal urge what it is.

So yeah, people in the Sixth World have sex. In plenty of ways, in plenty of combinations, and across all metatypes; gender is no object. You got a fetish, you can be damn sure that someone’s ready to indulge you.

Like everything else in the world, sex has been commodified, a slickly packaged product designed to make you forget it once meant something real. Prostitution thrives where it’s legal (about 99.998 percent of the known world). Some brothels cater to specific fantasies, stocked with body types or metatypes their customers want. If your fantasies are more specific—and you don’t care much about the human cost of your actions—head to a bunraku parlor, where the employees are pretty much puppets, surgically altered and implanted with personafixes so that they become stunning imitations of simstars and other celebrities. For just a few hundred nuyen, you can spend an hour pretending you’re someone they’d give the time of day—or whatever you have in mind—to. A booming, and less exploitive, industry is simsense porn, which lets you feel everything the actors look like they should be feeling. (I know some actors in these things—it’s a job with every wiggle choreographed and fake shriek rehearsed. You don’t want to experience the kind of boredom they’re really feeling.)

With sex and prostitution being as open as it is in the Sixth World, you might think it reduces the opportunities for blackmail. You’d be right. But only partly. There are still some taboos, some lines that should not be crossed. Many spouses tend to expect fidelity (and property laws still favor the wronged party), so finding incriminating evidence of cheating is still effective leverage. Also, sex with children (though the definition of “children” varies from place to place) is out of bounds, and bestiality and necrophilia are the kind of things that can negatively impact a career if they come to light. In the end, your job is to know the basic sexual mores of the area you’re in, so you can use violations of those mores against select people.

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Where to Shop

You need stuff, and there is a vast array of vendors whose every moment is dedicated to selling you stuff. What a great world, huh? Anyway, here are some representative store chains to give you some idea where to go to get what you need.

DEPARTMENT STORES

Luxury: Lordstrungs, Lacy’s
First-Class: Fallon and Nelson, The Beaux
Family Style: Wordsworth, Lears and Mervins, Meyer’s Superstores
No Frills: Kong-Wal Mart, Saver’s Central, WeaponsWorld

GROCERIES AND CONVENIENCE STORES

Luxury: Society Grocers
First-Class: Meyers Groceries, Natural Vat Foods
Family Style: Allenson’s Groceries, Carrefour, Carry&Save, SAMS Virtual Marketplaces, Quickway
No Frills: Stuffer Shack, Loco Foods, MiniMart, Buy-Low Foods

RESTAURANTS

Luxury: Azteca International, The Edge, Takuri’s, Trattoria Pagilacci’s
First-Class: Green Village, The Gravity Bar, La Gallaria, Kau Kau’s, Purple Haze
Family Style: Gracie’s for Ribs, Bosco’s, McKraken’s Seafood, Bangkok Hut, Maximillion’s
No Frills: Cap’n Beef, McHugh’s, Nacho Mama, Nukit Burgers, Street Pizza, You Should Not Eat So Much!

HOTELS

Luxury: TripleTree, Lucas, Hilton, Sheraton, Elysium
First-Class: Westin, Gold Lion Inn
Family Style: Wylie’s Gala, Rubikan Int’l
No Frills: Rent & Rest, Comfy Cubicle, Aston’s Moneymakers, The Cubes

COMPUTERS AND ELECTRONICS

Luxury: Nybbles & Bytes, Gate’s Computer Showcase
First-Class: Hardware Etc., Blood Monies Software
Family Style: Software Sellers, Microdeck, DeGear’s Electronics
No Frills: Computer Exchange, Hacker’s Delight, Kennedy’s Used Electronics

CLUB FRANCHISES

End of the Earth, Farnsworth’s, Miami, Dante’s Inferno, Equilibrium, Flair, Congregation of Rhythms

SPECIALTY CHAINS

Armanté (Fashion), Body + Art (Bodyart), Life by Evo (Design Megastore), Lord’s AutoShops (Auto Repair), Lore Stores Inc., Pentagrams (Talismonger), Robyn’s (Hardcopy Bookstore), Facets of New York (Jeweler), Link’n’Fix (Commlink Repair Clinic), Zoé (Fashion)

Staying Healthy

Staying healthy in the world ain’t easy, and not just because people are always pointing guns at each other. There are plenty of other threats to your health to worry about.

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In the early twenty-first century, the world was an overcrowded mess. Then a new disease came along and wiped out about a quarter of the population. Whether it was the planet’s way of rebalancing the ecosystem or something we did to ourselves is still debated, but Virally Induced Toxic Allergy Syndrome, or VITAS, was nasty. It triggered something akin to anaphylactic shock—even in people with no allergies—and people suffocated to death when their respiratory system swelled shut. There’s old video around the Matrix of victims fighting to inhale; it ain’t pretty.

Every now and then a new strain of VITAS raises its ugly head—nothing anywhere near as bad as the first outbreak, but it keeps the medicos on their toes. Then, in the 2040s, we got something entirely new: the human- metahuman vampire virus, or HMHVV. This did not, as the name implies, give victims the power to change into bats or wolves. What it did do was leach the body of radiation-fighting pigment, stop the production of red blood cells, spurred dental development, and shut down the digestive system. Victims, no matter what color they began with, turned dead flesh grey, had to stay out of the sun, grew fangs, and needed copious amounts of fresh blood to stay alive. That last part’s important—they are not immortal. If you’re ever trapped in a barrens alley with some nosferatu closing in on you, a few bullets in the right place will stop them for good.

As was the case with VITAS, there are a number of strains of HMHVV which cause different types of pseudo- undead, including ghouls, banshees, and things that don’t match legends. The dark alleys of Sixth World got a little darker with this virus.

But the Sixth World doesn’t need to rely on viruses to mess you up. There are a staggering number of mind-altering drugs, from the street favorite novacoke to the mind-bending zen, from the pure combat rush of kamikaze to the astral sensation of deepweed. If there’s anything you want to feel, there’s a drug that delivers it. We’ve also got new forms of addiction, like better-than-life chips (BTLs, or beetles). To make one of these, take your basic simsense recording of some powerful emotional experience, then amp up every bit of the content. Want a bigger adrenaline rush than surfing a ten-meter wave, or a more brain-crushing thrill than skydiving from the stratosphere? Want to experience something better than sex? Then upload a BTL right into your brain. Fair warning, though: You might find reality pales in comparison, and you’ll spend the rest of your life enduring the pale shadows so you can have a few moments of full-color BTL bliss.

So we’ve got your viruses, we’ve got your drugs, and we’ve got all the other diseases and situations that have been killing metahumanity for hundreds or thousands of years. The question you need to ask yourself now is, how do I get help once I’m messed up?

Public health systems range from inadequate to non-existent. There’s just too much money in medicine to leave it to the do-gooders. You want medical care of any sort, it’s going to cost you.

The best care is provided by the healthcare corps, and as long as you’re willing to shell out a pile of nuyen, you get the works, including the best technology and ambulance service to anywhere in the world, even combat hot zones. But you probably don’t have that much cash, or you wouldn’t be slugging it out in the shadows. Still, you might be able to afford some basics, like medics who will pull your bleeding carcass out of the barrens and stabilize you until your spellslinger friend arrives with a heal spell. That may not sound like much, but it can save your life. That’s why most shadowrunners with any sort of rep at all buy a basic contract with one of the providers. The venerable DocWagon is the most popular, with decades of experience navigating the meanest streets, but Evo’s CrashCart, with access to the parent corp’s cutting edge med tech is gaining ground.

If you can’t afford a medical contract, you can always go to one of the hospitals or clinics run by the med corps and pay for whatever you need at the moment. If you can’t afford that, you need a street doc. If you survive more than two runs, chances are you’ll pick up some basic first aid, like how to keep blood from spurting everywhere. The more runs you survive, the more you learn. Some runners have a real knack for anatomy and first aid and earned a rep for doing good work; injured runners took to seeking them out and before long they had a sideline practicing unlicensed med in severely non-sterile locations. Sometimes you’ll find a real doctor operating a street clinic. Or former doctors now on the streets due to addiction, crime, incompetence, or some combination thereof. A lot of us tend to find the upgraded former runners to be more reliable than the downgraded doctors, but in the end, whichever you choose, you’re taking a risk. Especially if you’re looking for someone to install a secondhand cybereye, cheap.

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Life in the Shadows

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