Shadowrunners are the elite criminals of the Sixth World. When conflicts arise that cannot be solved by legal means, the corporations, governments, wealthy individuals, and even organized crime will subcontract their dirty work to deniable specialists.
Shadowrunners fall outside the structured corporate world. Many are outcasts, having risen from the streets or fallen from corporate or government ranks. Their ranks include idealists and pragmatists, professionals and amateurs, disillusioned ex-corp/government/military personnel who have thrown off the shackles of corp society to achieve freedom, and those who have never known any life outside the shadows. The one thing they have in common is that through necessity or by choice, they work in the shadows cast by the gigantic corporate buildings.
A shadowrunner can be a lot of things, from a specialist operator with military background to Barrens trash trying to work her way out of the hole she was born in. Ask three runners where they come from and, you’ll get five answers. But, something undeniably sets them apart. It takes a special kind of individual to put her life on the line to do other people’s dirty work—someone a cut above the average metahuman. A runner lives a dangerous life, and not just when the bullets are flying. She gets the job done by any means she deems necessary, and she gets paid for it. It takes someone with the right skills, attitude, and a flexible moral compass. Those who run the razor’s edge for kicks and fame are probably suicidal or sociopathic.
There are almost as many reasons for a person to become a shadowrunner as there are shadowrunners.
So what makes a shadowrunner?
Where does he come from? Why does he do what he does?
What kind of background produces such an individual?
Falling into Shadow
There are many reasons why people become shadowrunners. Most often, it is out of necessity, often due to a sudden event that causes a dramatic upheaval, such as a corporate sell-out, a betrayal,
or a violent tragedy. Some are victims of circumstance, or casualties of the rat race with no other way of cashing in on their talents. Some leave their lives voluntarily, preferring freedom from the shackles of mind-numbing corporate drudgery and the emancipation to whatever authority they once acknowledged. Some people simply end up in the shadows. To just as many, it’s a means to survival. For others it’s a means to an end, a step on a longer path to revenge, self-validation, or redemption—seeking in the shadows satisfaction or answers they cannot find in the light.
Most do it for the money, the prestige, or both. A rare few claim to do it for the adventure and the challenge of the job. When designing a new character, one of the most defining elements should be his background. To one extent or another it should impact his skillset, his outlook, his knowledge base, his contacts, and more often than not his motivations.
Fallen from Grace
Many shadowrunners start out as legitimate citizens with promising careers. Something happens, and they find the lives they had planned and dreamed slipping between their fingers. They slip
through the cracks and find themselves in the shadows doing their best to survive and thrive in the Sixth World.
Such runners, typically, have some skills left over from their lives that they turn to new purpose, along with contacts in various government, corporate, or other legitimate society positions.
They have either somehow dealt with their SINs or still have them weighing them down. While adapting to life on the other side can be hard, such runners are usually served well by their insider’s familiarity with the inner workings, prevailing attitudes, trappings, and procedures of the system—be it the megacorporate machine, military complex, government bureaucracy, or a tribal culture.
Rising from the Gutter
For some, shadowrunning is a step up the food chain. Scions of the many gangs, organized crime syndicates, and the barrens of one of the Sixth World’s sprawls, they’ve clawed their way up from
the streets. These runners have already had it tough and are often willing to do anything to stay out of their former lives.
In most cases, they’ve never had SINs or have earned criminal SINs somewhere along the line. What skills they have, they’ve picked up on the streets and in what passes for schools in the lower class inner cities. Many still owe debts of loyalty, gratitude, or money to their former allegiances that enabled them to forge themselves into what they’ve become.
Most maintain strong connections and contacts among underworld and street-types and are intimate with the street-level realities of the city and its movers and shakers.
Born to the Dark Side
By 2050, a few runners hail from the shadows already. It has been decades since shadowrunners became a fixture of Sixth World life, and there are second- and even third-generation shadowrunners working for Mr. Johnson. The families of fixers, street docs, and veteran shadowrunners that have followed in their parents’ footsteps tend to know the people their parents knew, moving through the shadow society that is their birthright. They learn early on to make the most of their talents and find their niche in the urban ecology. They often hone their abilities and skills under the watchful eye of veteran runners and talented specialists.
Such shadowrunners join the extended shadow community early on, making contacts and solidifying a reputation. They are better connected than most and well-versed in the intricacies of the local criminal and corporate scenes.
Role of the Shadowrunner
The Sixth World is one of fractured power bases. It is filled with nations, sovereign corporations, criminal syndicates, powerful individuals of myriad origins, and even a few influential street gangs, magical groups, and other organizations. All of them want what any powerful entity wants: more power. The powerful have a few obstacles in this pursuit, however. With so many vying for power, there are a number of places— geographical, political, or virtual—that lie between these factions and outside of their bounds. Large entities, such as nations and corporations, move very slowly and do not have the institutional nimbleness they need to capitalize on most opportunities. Individuals and small entities, on the other hand, either do not have the resources or easily become targets when they move against their rivals’ interests. The shadowrunner moves in the figurative shadows between the looming powers that be. She is both a criminal and an agent of change. She moves swiftly where corporations and other organizations only creep. She has the ability and resources to complete her job where others do not, and the anonymity to make retaliation futile against both herself and her employer. In a way, shadowrunners are vital to the economy of the 2070s. They certainly help move money and goods, both as tertiary sector participants and secondary sector clients. As a vehicle for the machinations of the powers that be, they move resources between different “markets,” which makes them one of the factors preventing the world from devolving into a series of strongholds. Of course, staving off a dark age is a poor trade-off for having one of the most dangerous jobs on (and off ) the planet and a severely reduced life-expectancy.
No man is an island, and this is doubly true in the shadows, where no one can afford to stand alone. In the dangerous streets of 2070, even for the most competent runner it’s impossible to cover all the angles, and it’s essential to have someone you can trust watching your back (regardless of whether he’s motivated by selfinterest or friendship). Whether they have worked together for years or are assembled by a fixer or Johnson for a single job, the essential component for a successful operation is a shadowrunning team. And the key to a successful team is versatility: building on members’ strengths, covering each others’ weaknesses, and complementing one another’s skill sets. The simplest way to achieve this is for members of a team to possess complementary roles. Typically, each team member is the “go-to guy” for particular duties, although it is not unusual for individual skills to overlap and have people that act as a fallback for teammates in certain roles. A team composed exclusively of specialist gunbunnies or faces might will be stymied by a magical or purely Matrix-based threat. By the same token, a team of investigators or matrix specialists would be handicapped if they have to face a heavily-armed SWAT unit.