Shadowrunning for Fun and Profit

gunslinger_adept_by_django_red-d6e9pid.jpg The first thing that you need to know about the Sixth World is that what you don’t know absolutely will kill you. So will what you do know. In fact, it’s safe to assume that anything and anyone you see or don’t see has both the potential and the desire to kill you.

That’s good info to know, but not enough to keep you alive. If you’re going to run in the shadows, you’re going to do the kind of drek that can make everyone in the world—law enforcement, corp security, some average dude who doesn’t like the way you look—angry and/or scared, and they’ll often react to that anger/fear combination by trying to take you out. If you want to stay alive and keep getting hired to run the shadows, you need to know how the world works. So here’s a rundown of what the Sixth World is, how it got there, and some of the power players who make sure a few people stay on top while the vast majority of the people wriggle uncomfortably under their mighty thumbs.

Everything Has a Price

Read the sentence in the header there. Read it again. Got it? Good. Because if that’s the only thing you take away from this, if that’s the only thing you learn, then you’ll still be getting something valuable about the world you live in. You walk around this world, you’ll see a lot of heaps, and each one of them’s got someone perched on top of it. Every megacorporation has its CEO, governments have their chief executive, gangs have their lieutenant or head man or chief head basher or whatever the hell they decide to call it. Even that one block in the barrens that has nothing more than a rusty dumpster, an abandoned car, and a shed whose roof has caved in has a scary-eyed guy named Rastool who scared off all the other scary-eyed guys so he can claim that spot as his own. Each of them figured out what they would have to pay to get to the top of that particular heap, and each one of them ponied up when the time came and paid it.

So this is what you need to know. If we’re going to talk about payments, we need to talk about currency. What I mean is, we need to look at the things you might need to give up in order to get ahead.

Magic: Paying With Your Mind

When magic came back into the world in 2011 (didn’t know about that? Better check the timeline) and elves, dwarves, orks, and trolls started scratching and clawing for power alongside humans, it didn’t take too long for people to start trying to get a handle on how to use all the new mana floating around for themselves. Turned out some people had a knack for it. While the rest of us were wondering what they were looking at with glazed eyes and weird expressions, they were figuring out how to channel and shape streams of mana—a sort of magic energy that seems to be just about everywhere. Turns out, if you can suss how it’s done, you can use mana to set the air on fire, make people do things they’d never do, or other truly esoteric and/or insane things. And mana wasn’t just for the spells and stuff we think of as magic. It gave some people the strength to punch through walls, others can shame a cobra with their reflexes, and there are some who can outrun a cheetah; and that’s just scratching the surface. And you know all those magic goodies from legends and fairytales and myths? We got ‘em all. Enchanted swords, magic rings, wands, amulets, mojo bags, every potion you can think of all exist. Not that they always work the
way they did in the stories. Don’t just grab the sword of a legendary warrior and expect to slice and dice like she did, for example. But, magic is out there, and people are using it. It’s not easy—it can be draining, physically and mentally, and some people push themselves to the point where their sanity drips out of their ears in a nice, steady trickle. That’s the price, and it’s often gladly paid.

Corporations: Paying With Yourself

The way corporations work in the Sixth World isn’t really anything new. It’s just the latest iteration of the might-makes-right way of doing things. There’s a lot of legal history we could cover to help you see how things got to this point, but in the end it boils down to one word: extraterritoriality. That’s the word that allows corporations to say that whatever happens in their holdings, on the buildings and lands they own, is subject to their laws—and no one else’s. Gaining extraterritorial status was a long-held dream of many of the world’s largest corporations, and when judicial decisions in nations across the world gave it to them, they spent several years pissing on themselves and each other in utter delirium. Then they figured out their infighting was cutting into their bottom line, so they cut back on fighting each other and concentrated on pissing on the rest of us.

Not every corporation in the world has extraterritorial status. To understand who does, you have to know about the Corporate Court, the body the megacorporations created when they realized they were spending too much time solving their disputes by ravaging entire small countries. The Corporate Court is sometimes mocked as a toothless entity, a puppet of the world’s largest megacorps, but its thirteen justices manage—usually—to keep open warfare between the corps from breaking out, and that’s at least worth something.

As part of its duties, the Court has created a ranking system to tell you how big and powerful a particular corp is. At the top is the Big Ten, the AAA-rated, corps, the most powerful megacorps in the world. The main thing you need to understand is that these guys are bigger than big. Think of the world’s largest manufacturer of computer equipment. Then add in a powerful magic supplies broker. Throw in a few banks, an insurance firm, an entertainment conglomerate, and a snack-food giant, and you’re still not a tenth of the way to forming one of the Big Ten. They employ millions and control trillions of nuyen. Each and every one of them owns a piece of land within one hundred kilometers of you, unless you’re in the Sahara, the Amazon, or at the bottom of the ocean. And maybe even then. These are the people in the world who have the nuyen, and we want it, which means they determine what the rules of the game are. We just play it—and see how far those rules can bend.

Augmentations: Paying With Your Soul

Every bit of who you are can be improved with the right piece of gear. Think you’ve got quick reflexes? You can be quicker, thanks to an artificial neural network that’ll make you faster than a nervous jackrabbit. Think you’re strong? Switch out the muscles you were born with for a set that’s been custom-grown for power and efficiency, and you’ll take strong to a whole new level. Think you’re charming? Implant a set of specialized pheromone dispensers, and people will swoon when you walk by and nod enthusiastically when you talk.
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And that’s just for starters. You can put actual plates of armor on your skin, or lace your bones with metal so your fists and legs deliver crushing blows. You can make your senses sharper, your brain faster, and you can implant knowledge you never learned in school. (Possibly because you never went to school). You can replace entire pieces of your body with artificial replicas full of extra strength, nimble agility, secret compartments, and hidden weapons that provide very unpleasant surprises at just the right time.

But it’s not free. And we’re not just talking money; there’s a higher price to pay. All this stuff is useful and great, but it’s artificial, and your body knows it. Each time you get one of these augmentations, you give up a piece of yourself. You lose something inside of you, the essence of metahumanity. We don’t quite understand what “it” is, but we know this much—the more artificial you make yourself, the farther you get from actual life. If you get too far, whatever animated you is going to disappear, until all the gear you bought just collapses and becomes indistinguishable from any other pile of silicon, steel, and chrome. So go ahead and get yourself augmented up, but understand that each time you do this, another piece of your metahumanity slides away.

Life in the Shadows: Paying With Your Blood

The megacorporations of the world prefer a docile population, a world of people who do whatever work they’re told, build anything, carry anything, sacrifice anything for the mega, and then spend all their money in the company store and be glad they got it so good. Sheep. That’s how megacorps see metahumanity: a vast herd of sheep they have to keep in line to serve their purposes.

Which means the rest of us face a stark choice: Accept their drek. Or not.

For some of us, corp life is not a life. The megacorps own enough in the world. They don’t need to own us. So we drop out and find another way. We do the jobs corps won’t parcel out to their regular employees, the things they don’t want connected back to them. Espionage work; missions of theft, sabotage, and assault—maybe even assassination, if you swing that way. That’s how we survive. We still have to dance to the corporate tune to some degree, but if we live right and build up our skills, we can become the best at what we do and get paid what we deserve. Then, maybe, instead of being one of us, scrambling under the heels of the powerful, we can be one of them, and remake a small part of the world in our image.

But if we’re going to survive, we have to find work. There are dozens, hundreds, thousands of jobs out there. You can make money off them, but each one will cost you something. You’ll get a scar from a bullet that should have killed you. A leg that aches in the cold ’cause you broke it crashing your motorcycle on one of your less-perfect getaways. A missing arm because you were standing just a bit too close to a bomb going off, and a working cyber model is pricy. A fried brain lobe from lingering in the Matrix a second too long with security closing in on you. And that’s just what will happen to your body. You’ll be double-crossed, betrayed, and abandoned. You’ll see trusted friends turn on you and watch others die right in front of you. You’ll have every last bit of you tested in ways you can’t imagine just to see how much you can endure.

And if you succeed? If you stay alive? Money, first of all, but more. You become a legend. You join the ranks of the people we tell stories about, the shadowrunners whose names we all know. Dirk Montgomery. FastJack. Sally Tsung. The Smiling Bandit. You’ll have lived your own life, survived, and even thrived. You’ll have stuck it to every man the Sixth World has to offer.

As long as you can pay the price.

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Shadowrunning for Fun and Profit

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