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> The Missing Ingredient is Crime, Shadowrun has a giant gaping omission
martindv
post Jun 24 2009, 10:38 PM
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This comes from the suggested viewing thread. So the original post has been expanded quite a bit.
QUOTE (Bob Lord of Evil @ Jun 23 2009, 04:44 PM) *
So...what sort of criminal resource are you looking for?

I'd have thought that there would be something like a resource for what the criminal mind and world is like in, I don't know, a book called Runner's Companion. But I would be too optimistic. After all, in twenty years Shadowrun has used the same sentence over again in its four core books to describe a shadowrunner and that is that.

So, eff it. I'll do it my damn self.


The missing ingredient in Shadowrun is crime.



See, for all of the focus on magic and technology—which in turn is at its base taken from stealing real world concepts and examples of both—and a lesser extent on the fact that Fourth Edition was designed to focus on a core story involving a group of characters who opine and act on the world around them through the collected fiction in the books, the fact of the matter is that Shadowrun is, as one person famously put it, a game where you play characters who shoot people in the face for money.

Well, it used to be anyway. Now, explaining exactly how or what the game is supposed to be (because like it or not, there has to be a default setting/premise or the thing just doesn’t work) is rather difficult. It’s difficult even though a book was written to specifically focus on the underworld, but it still missed the point entirely. There is a glaring hole in the work output and focus within the game on the basic element of the game—the criminal element, and the criminal character. This is a systemic omission of the game. Even when it was more true to its cyberpunk roots, crime was never really the issue. Cyberpunk wasn’t about criminals. It was a science fiction subgenre that pitted the relatively powerless against the powerful using technology as a defining concept of implementing plot elements and as the end unto itself.

No doubt this is due to the writing talent for RPGs comes from fans, and right now there is no crime genre in the RPG industry which can be directed across the industry towards a game like Shadowrun, which is ostensibly a game about playing criminals. There is not shortage of fantasy and science fiction fandom within the RPG playing, and writing, community. Those elements have been played way up over the years within the game with relatively successful results. However, there seems to be no place for the crime genre fan within the current Shadowrun line, or even for much of its history to be honest, to contribute. You can look at the list of Jackpoint shadowtalkers and notice that there aren’t a whole lot of professional criminals on that list. The one who most fit the role, Fatima, was killed off last year. That in a way speaks volumes about the very dearth of a focus on criminals and criminality. Riser is the other. A writer’s PC turned canon NPC, he has had no prominence whatsoever in Fourth Edition to date.

So, that’s the problem. There is a whole, rather exciting, fandom of the crime genre out there. But as far as it seems, none of it has any ties to RPGs, and thus none to Shadowrun. It is a staple of the mass market paperback field and has even expanded into the graphic novel and serialized comic book market through imhaprints like DC’s Vertigo (and now the Vertigo Crime imprint) and Marvel’s Icon imprint, which publishes the Criminal serial by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips. IDW is about to publish the first graphic novel adaptation of the Parker novels by award-winning comic artist Darwyn Cooke. That said, the fictional material is out there in written form alone. Film and television have also mined the field pretty well for inspiration and outright production of content in or based upon this genre as well as its brother genre, true crime. With that in mind, this hopefully ongoing column is intended to address the very obvious lack of material on crime within Shadowrun.

The standard concept that has been used to describe Shadowrun for the last twenty years has been some variant on the cyberpunk genre combined with the fantasy genre. Well, that's just wrong. The overarching premise, the foundation of character activity, the goddamn name of the game, is CRIME. That's our genre. That's the sea that the game swims within. Now, as far as setting goes Shadowrun certainly combines elements of the cyberpunk and fantasy genres. But it's not cyberpunk. And it's not fantasy. However, I can understand the confusion, especially when you look at the game material from the first edition and the second edition until about 1994 (Which, coincidentally or not is the year Earthdawn was introduced and forcibly retconned down the throat of Shadowrun's timeline).

At that time the material was cognizant of the fundamental themes of cyberpunk literature and referenced it in part through the creation of, and the filtering of in-game material through, the Neo-Anarchists. Just as example, the first chapter of The Neo-Anarchist's Guide to North America is a Neo-Anarchist manifesto complete with a mini treatise on the economic principles of the Pareto distribution (which, ironically, has come to be a prominent economic principle as of late) and why it supported the campaign for neo-anarchism. Aside from that, the megacorporations and even the major political figures were essentially nameless, faceless brains at that head of these imposing economic and political monoliths. No one knew much about the CEOs of the Big Eight and frankly, what the fuck difference did it make? The chances of a shadowrunner encountering Richard Villiers in 2050 were nil. It wasn't going to fucking happen. Ever. Fast forward a decade and the campaign book First Run (which should tell you that it was geared towards starting characters) contained an adventure, Supernova, where starting-level runners meet Richard Villiers and his AAA megacorp's chief of security (who was another major plot character at the time), and face off against a cyberzombie (which was and remains one of the baddest motherfuckers as far as plot devices go). It almost bears repeating it's so fucking ludicrous. The starting-level runners meet Richard Villiers and his AAA megacorp's chief of security, and face off against a cyberzombie. That right there tells you all you need to know about how cyberpunk the game is.

Cyberpunk is a sub-genre of science fiction. The distinction from the sci-fi genre is that it focused on the way humanity interacts with science and technology, and in the face of its affects on people and society. It's evolved from the term made up in the 1980s into something far more encompassing than the story of a dark future where technology was a tool and an end unto itself, and in reflecting the punk asthetic and mindset created a world where technology became the great equalizer. In effect what he created was a study in man vs. technology. It's even been applied retroactively to encompass older science fiction works. But the punk part is also quite important, especially in a game like Shadowrun where the characters are members of the criminal underclass. But the punks don't simply eschew society like the criminal world that has been discussed so far. It is also subversive of the co-opted, top-down monoculture created by the corrupt and venal machinations of monolithic entities: megacorporations. This is why the shadowrunner world in the first five years was synonymous with the neo-anarchists. The megacorporations which they opposed, and fought against, reflected the corrupt right-wing, corporatist world which punk has always fought since its inception. They're fighting Mussolini's corporatism, a form of fascism that emphasized monoculture and a corrupt form of capitalism that was dominated by a coordination between the most powerful members of the state and the largest, most powerful corporations.

Those are the cyberpunks in Shadowrun. But, in case you haven't been paying attention, that doesn't reflect anything like the criminal protagonist of the crime genre. Frankly, the professional doesn't care for politics. They don't care what is sick or wrong about society that needs to be fixed or fought. The criminal, who is almost always a thief at his core, lives his own life free of ostentation. He isn't fighting society. He just doesn't want to get caught, and frankly there's no better way to draw attention to yourself than picking a fight with The Man. The thieves don't piss off The Man. The Establishment's got all the money, and if it's as corrupt a world as Shadowrun (which is actually a Dark Future setting) then there criminal syndicates integrated into the power structures of legitimate society--in which case, drawing attention to yourself and fighting the system makes you an enemy of people in your world who have no qualms about killing you, because force of violence is how "justice" (street justice, perhaps) is meted out in underworld disputes. In Shadowrun, the Japanese Yakuza are intrinsically linked with the Japanacorps and MCT in particular (They founded it) because that's how they roll IRL. But now they're spread across the globe on the coattails of the Japanacorps' global economic hegemony. Until the specific Yellow Peril concept popular in 1970s-80s fiction, the monolithic Japanese megacorporation and its Yakuza collaborators, was tossed aside around the turn of the century, this made being a cyberpunk a very dangerous, foolish enterprise for professional thieves; for shadowrunners. As the megacorp cultures diversified, so did their affiliated syndicates. And this made being a cyberpunk shadowrunner suicidal.

QUOTE
In the sixties, still another type of antihero evolved... the true outlaw; the professional thief and professional killer. The most successful of these characters was Parker, the laconic and coldblooded gunman... Parker and others of his type are hardly Robin Hood figures; they steal for personal gain and would ridicule (or shoot) any of their number who suggested giving all or part of the spoils to someone else. Their only redeeming quality is that they seldom steal from or kill anyone in the mainstream of society... They have a certain code and they operate within its boundaries.

- Bill Pronzini. Gun in Cheek, p. 172


It'd be nice if there was any evidence over any of the sourcebooks I have read that someone at some point read something about criminals. Sure, there's Underworld. But like I said, it reads like a research paper on criminal organizations (and then had to fill space with various cults and policlubs whose criminality was limited at best).

Let me begin by saying that the Parker novels are legendary within the crime genre. They’re required reading and over the five decades that they were written have come to define many of the characteristics and archetypes of the genre, especially with regard to the Parker himself.

QUOTE
Westlake was such an influence on so many other writers, it’s kind of like looking back at Knut Hamsun or Ernest Hemingway. So many things came from him. You go through the list of characters that are based on Parker. Harvey Keitel in Reservoir Dogs. Robert DeNiro in Heat. The list goes on and on. Any cool thief character, you’re like, “Oh, they’re doing a Parker.?

- Ed Brubaker. Darwyn Cooke talks about his graphic novel adaptation of “The Hunter?


Ed Brubaker knows what he’s talking about, which is both due to and a reflection of his own reputation in the rapidly-growing field of crime graphic novels. The novels create a world where there are only the three character types listed in the Characters of Crime post: criminals, marks, and innocent victims. That is the heart of the story, and that is the heart of the concept of Shadowrun. Even the police are not so much characters in the stories as they are an unseen force of nature—something to be avoided at all costs lest you suffer the Wrath of God.

The crime genre world is predicated on the existence of a systemic structure to the underworld. There are established organizations and groups, as well as people who float around unaffiliated and everyone knows and understands their place within the world. This is not normal society. It a wholesale rejection of normal society and its reliance on the Rule of Law and legal institutions. The very existence of the world is in part based upon the idea that the people within cannot trust or function within the existing order. This is certainly true when you look at the creation of immigrant organized crime syndicates that serve to police a population that is eschewed from the rest of society and puts its faith in their own organizations. Although to be honest, most come from the pursuit of power and the coalescing of power in an attempt to consolidate and expand interests that are inherently illegal. In the genre, the criminal has his own society. He interacts with normal people and society on a regular basis, but the key is that he is not and never will be normal or legitimate. That world is filled with the other two basic archetypes: marks and victims. It’s the consumer base that sneaks off into the criminal’s world to have a taste of the illicit. But to paraphrase Willie Sutton, it’s also where the money is. This is especially true of the thieves. There’s money to be had if you rob from other criminals, and that is a situation that occurs. But the big paydays would come from hitting major criminals and/or syndicates, which is like hitting the cops. You don’t do it lest you incur the Wrath of God. So instead you go where the money is.

QUOTE
For us to live any other way was nuts. Uh, to us, those goody-good people who worked shitty jobs for bum paychecks and took the subway to work every day, and worried about their bills, were dead. I mean they were suckers. They had no balls. If we wanted something we just took it. If anyone complained twice they got hit so bad, believe me, they never complained again

- Henry Hill. Goodfellas (1990)


There is an inherent disrespect and disinterest in the legitimate world. It’s reinforced by keeping within their insular community, and the people around them who actually know the criminal character are either criminals themselves or willing accomplices such as family. And as such there are aspects of the world that they don’t know about, deal with, or give a fuck about. Does knowing or caring about politics help them or their job? If not, who gives a fuck? You don’t become a career criminal because you are acclimated to the day-to-day minutiae of society. Fuck that shit. You don’t fit in, you don’t care, and you certainly don’t have a personal or financial stake in the general nonsense of daily life or in the bullshit normal people care about, or are supposed to care about. These are people who aren’t ostentatious about their criminality because they give a fuck about the law. They try not to break the law or draw attention to themselves because it’s bad for business, especially if it gets them sent to prison. The leadership of the Aryan Brotherhood can run their fiefdoms from supermax cells. The professional criminal whose trade is, at its heart, thieving and robbery cannot.

QUOTE
[T]he modern state is a compulsory association which organizes domination. It has been successful in seeking to monopolize the use of physical force as a means of domination within a territory.
- Max Weber. “Politics as a Vocation?.


The underworld of crime fiction is in effect a rejection of the state and society and the imposition of a replacement where force is not monopolized by any single entity. It is in effect anarchic in that anyone can use force, but it is backed up the principle that anyone can use force, so keep your shit to yourself unless you can assert your dominant force. To be more blunt, don’t draw shit to yourself by causing a ruckus unless you are willing and able to murder the assholes you are fucking with. When murder is the only way to keep everyone in line, there is a considerable interest in heeding and respect other individuals’ interests. This in effect makes the fictional underworld almost hypercapitalist, and sometimes it’s even acknowledged as such like the boardroom meeting in The Godfather. “After all, we are not communists.?

This is a conservative world in that there is a structual deference/respect for authority. In this instance it is authority that has earned its place not through law or other means but through force. So force is the dominant means of accumulating and maintaining power in the underworld. But the fact of the matter is there is a deference, especially for freelance independent thieves and other likeminded criminals like yourself, to this structure because they generally can wield a Hell of a lot more force against you than the other way around. And a lot of these individuals running the gangs and syndicates aren’t just going to kill your character, but their families and everyone they know. Because they can.

What makes a professional criminal that—a professional—is largely based on the development of a mindset and a code; this is the way things are going to be, and this is how I’m going to do it. The first part is accepting that you’re no longer living in normal society. You’re not normal, you’re a criminal. Everything that you do is a reflection of that. The way you live is predicated around the fact that you commit crimes for a living, and so every time you interact with normal people it is through this lens. Most people are random bystanders living their and are removed from you. Other people are marks for you to ply your trade against because they have something that you want, or that you can get with what they have. And some of them, actually all of them in their own way, are threats. You do everything around them not to draw attention to yourself. You’re not Scarface. You’re a glorified thief. Attention is poison. The more people notice, the more likely someone thinks something isn’t “right? and the sooner it is that the police get involved. And the last people on Earth you want to know you exist are the fucking po. Rule Zero: DO NOT GET CAUGHT.

So you devise a code, like every other fictional criminal protagonist from Parker onward. You establish boundaries of what you will and won’t do: personally, professionally, generally. You have to decide what is the extent to which you commit time and energy towards a job against a mark. You have to know how close you are with your crew and contacts, and what happens if someone crosses the line on the job or not. Everything you do, if you want to succeed for any decent length of time, must be considered and ruled upon. It is an evolving thing, but one which you need to take seriously. This is the kind of thing you spend nights ruminating upon while sitting in prison after your second collar, when you decided “Fuck the risks. This is what I am. This is what I do. This is what I will do.?

Parker was married, until his wife was murdered. Do you want a family? How closely can you keep them? Do you get them involved? Do you let them become involved because they’re from that same world themselves? Or are you Tony Soprano? “Twenty years of marriage, I’m not going to make you an accessory after the fact.? Like I’ve said in other posts, you’re living in the underworld. And some of the people against whom you may transgress have no qualms whatsoever about murdering your wife and kids along with you. Torture and other violations optional.

How do you pull a crime in public? Do you say anything? Does anyone in your crew? Are you efficient or thorough if you cannot be both? You probably ought to consider how to deal with the varying reactions people may have when you shove an M-4 in their face. Of course the giant elephant in the room is what happens if the cops arrive. There is serious merit to surrendering and pleaing down and biding your time. In Heat the haul was expected to be approximately eleven or twelve million dollars. That’s motivation to do a Hell of a lot of things that twelve thousand certainly isn’t worth.

Many if not most criminals around have families. There are even sociopaths—borderline or flat-out fucking psychopathic—with families. The important thing to consider is that the way these things generally work in reality and fiction is that family is important. Their family. You’re playing a selfish fuck who uses force to take what he wants illegally. By that measure, the chances of you giving a fuck about anyone else—let alone their kids or family—is fucking nil. The defining characteristics of your world, your criminal society, are force and ruthless individual self-interest that would make Ayn Rand call you a cold-blooded bastard.

This is something I recently got into a discussion with here. The shadows attract and are inherently appealing to people who meet an increasing number of DSM criteria for sociopathy/psychopathy. The single most defining characteristic is the almost inhuman level of selfishness that criminals are known for or described (fictionally) as possessing combined with a lack of empathy on a scale that goes from less than normal to nonexistent.

Even a psychologically normal person thinks and works differently under these circumstances. They live in a world where the only way order is actually maintained is through the use of violence; of violent force upon another as a response to transgressions—real and imagined. That makes reactions in the real world considerably different. It’s why you go loaded for bear to rob someone. If you have to shoot it out with the police, then that’s the way it is. You’ve decided to engage and at that point all restrictions cease to be. If that means killing or maiming an innocent bystander—be they eight or eighty—then that’s it. That’s up to you, but it’s something that is not what a normal person does. And that just reinforces the fact that you’re not playing a normal person. “Normal? for you is different. The rules don’t apply to you, and instead the ones that do are basically the ones that don’t get you killed by another criminal or, god forbid, the police.

QUOTE
All fences are informants

- Michael Mann. Heat, Director's Commentary (2005, based on the 1995 release)

And I couldn't help but think "And that would almost certainly make all SR fixers informants as well."

There’s a reason why there are so few career criminals, and even fewer old ones. The smart ones leave as soon as they have enough to survive out of the shadows. The not so smart ones… don’t. The latter can be sunk for any number of reasons, but the biggest set of threats out there is from the people around them. The namesakes of this piece are the semi-legitimate people in your sphere of influence. They’re the people who aren’t thoroughly enmeshed in the underworld. Basically, everyone who isn’t a professional thief (or worse) like yourself, or someone in a larger crew like a gang or syndicate. Even then people rat, but that’s a relative rarity that they just walk into the FBI field office and sell out the capo. They get snagged because they trusted someone whose world only crossed into theirs. In Shadowrun terms, they trusted their contacts and their contacts sold them down the river.

The reason is simple: People in the straight world have shit to lose just for dealing with you. They’re not professionals and didn’t accept all of the risks that you did. By the very fact of them working with you, they can go to prison; they can lose their livelihood; they can lose everything. You know those risks and pissed on their shoes. Jail? Big fucking deal. The real Neal McCaulley (the one who inspired Heat) spent 2/3 of his life in prison. He didn’t give a fuck because the rewards of the scores he did take down were worth the stretches in prison.

So the lesson here is simple, kids: Do not trust your contacts. You can do business, sure. But they are doing you no favors. They’re dealing with you because they are coerced, paid, or hung out to dry. None of those incentives is typically enough for a normal person to face prison time, and if the difference is between you and them; you’re going down and they walk away.

At their core, none of these men plan to do this forever. Because they know that if they make enough money to retire that there’s no point in continuing to risk their lives. If you get into enough gunfights, you’re eventually not going to walk away from one. To continue increases the odds that you’ll either be incarcerated or killed, and that’s not something you want.

So you live by your Code and within the confines of your criminal world while avoiding being noticed or caught, and maintaining that vast mental gap between you and your world and the rest of the law-abiding society. And when the opportunity comes along, you plan your jobs and do them with as few strings as possible to tie back to you or to create motivation for pursuit. And then you retire off with your loot until you accumulate enough to walk away, or until you find the next job that can get further towards the goal of not having to risk your life and freedom, even though that’s what you do as part of your everyday existence. In the end the goal is to get away from both worlds and find a hardy individualistic path on your own with your collected loot.

QUOTE
Very few people choose to become shadowrunners. More likely, they are thrown into the life by a chaotic and uncaring world.

Runner’s Companion. P. 19


That is pure, 100% bullshit. I love how that book in particular spends so much of its first chapter ostensibly explaining who and what a runner is (and failing miserably) and laying all of the blame for people becoming runners on circumstance. What a bunch of hippie leftist nonsense. All of the events listed as being life-changing reasons that make people become runners are just that: events. There is a world of difference between being utterly betrayed or being a ten-year special ops sergeant who blew one job, and making the decision that you are no longer a normal, law-abiding person; that you are going to become a professional criminal with all the trappings and bullshit that entails.

I think I put it pretty bluntly earlier that forming said code is an intrinsic part of becoming a professional thief; a career criminal. And that long-term act is certainly conscious and purposeful. At any time along the way, your character could have bowed out. “Fuck this, I’m going to be a fry cook.? Even the fucking protagonist on Burn Notice still got relatively legitimate jobs while living with his mother in Miami after being hung out and left for dead by the CIA, and he was burned mid-job in Africa with a pissed-off agent ready to murder him.

And all of this is at the expense of the fact that at its core the game is about criminals. It’s not complicated. You steal shit and/or shoot people in the face for money. In the beginning, middle, and end every shadowrunner is a thief. You’re a face or a shooter: you still take shit that isn’t yours. Shaman, street mage, whatever. You’re a thief. If you’re in a crew, and you’re not running an alternate campaign (e.g., DocWagon crew, all that shit from the old Shadowrun Companion books) you’re a fucking thief. All of this other shit is just a means to an end; tools in the toolbox.

And so the problem is (I did have a point) that there is a diminshed or nonexistent consideration of team dynamic as being a robbery/theft crew. Every Marine is a rifleman. Every shadowrunner is a thief.
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BlueMax
post Jun 24 2009, 10:51 PM
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QUOTE
And so the problem is (I did have a point) that there is a diminshed or nonexistent consideration of team dynamic as being a robbery/theft crew. Every Marine is a rifleman. Every shadowrunner is a thief.


This is a huge post. Its well written but it has one flaw. The attempt to define a Shadowrunner is specious. Shadowrun is a game system, how a group plays is up to the individual group. If Tom Dowd himself came in and told me otherwise, I would still hold my ground.

I cannot argue any of the other points as your game and mine diverge. When I run Shadowrun, it is fantasy future. Your game clearly shoots for realism. Not that there is anything wrong with that, its just not for me. If I don't have to set my suspension of disbelief to 11, the game is no good for me.

Your work is very passionate. Be wary of public displays of passion, not everyone has passion and they live by engaging those with passion in a feedback loop. Trolls are the vampires of the net.

BlueMax



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the_real_elwood
post Jun 24 2009, 10:55 PM
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QUOTE (BlueMax @ Jun 24 2009, 04:51 PM) *
This is a huge post. Its well written but it has one flaw. The attempt to define a Shadowrunner is specious. Shadowrun is a game system, how a group plays is up to the individual group. If Tom Dowd himself came in and told me otherwise, I would still hold my ground.

I cannot argue any of the other points as your game and mine diverge. When I run Shadowrun, it is fantasy future. Your game clearly shoots for realism. Not that there is anything wrong with that, its just not for me. If I don't have to set my suspension of disbelief to 11, the game is no good for me.

Your work is very passionate. Be wary of public displays of passion, not everyone has passion and they live by engaging those with passion in a feedback loop. Trolls are the vampires of the net.

BlueMax


Amen to that. The beauty of an RPG is that the system allows you to do many things with it, and you're only limited by your creativity.

Plus, I hate it when people (even the sourcebooks) tell me what the "mindset" of my character ought to be. That's basically telling someone what and how to roleplay. It's entirely possible to come up with a character concept outside of that, and as long as you roleplay it well, what's the issue?
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Dumori
post Jun 24 2009, 11:07 PM
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I didn't have time to read all your post. On my Ipod that is one he'll o alot of text. However shadow running is and is sated in cannon as quasi legal. As in the corps won't press charges and will likey just hire you to get back at whoever hired you in most cases where you are tracked down.

Also you might want to wait till the Vice source book comes out as that will cover crime.
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Shamrock
post Jun 24 2009, 11:18 PM
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Honestly, my players have always acted the part of criminals. They know what to expect from me as a GM as far as campaigns go, and never had any qualms about it.

Shadowrunners are criminals, yes, and MOST of them are thieves. But then you get the individuals who, as you said, shoot people in the face for money. They don't need a reason to do it. (IMG:style_emoticons/default/biggrin.gif)

I first got into Shadowrun in around 1994 when the SNES and Genesis console games came out (yes, I know, I'm a newbie compared to a lot of you). These very clearly spelled out the criminal element involved in Shadowrun, and when I finally learned of it's existence as a Tabletop RPG I snapped it up as quickly as possible. After reading SR3's source material and learning more about New Seattle and the world of 2060 as a whole, I was able to appreciate even further what I wanted as a GM for the game, and my players have always given it to me. =) Sure, I'll run the off pre-printed non-criminal adventure (the SR3 stuff in Amazonia comes to mind), but then there's the stuff I write...

I sent a group of runners to the UK to break in to a corporate office, find and steal/corrupt/forge data to besmirch the head of a corporation that the Mr. Johnson in charge had a beef with. I had plans to have them taking place in a number of activities involving revenge assassination, breaking someone out of prison by force or stealth, and blowing up an entire corporate warehouse. All this from a Mr. Johnson who's a crimeboss who prefers to keep his hands from getting dirty.

I also know that despite how they feel about criminal activity in reality, they would play along perfectly.

So yes, the criminal element IS downplayed, but it doesn't mean it's gone. As a GM, you're well within your rights to steer the players into jobs that play up your expectations of the game world.

Right now, I'm actually running an ongoing SR4 campaign where my players have the full run of New Seattle, and they're loving it.
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The Jake
post Jun 24 2009, 11:28 PM
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Despite the wall of text written by Martindv, his post is spot on.

I'm a BIG fan of all these sorts of films - Goodfellas, Godfather, Heat, Ronin, etc. I draw my inspiration from a lot of these references and try to keep it more 'real' in that sense.

I like a lot of the writing but some of the points you make, for example about Runner's Companion (specifically the comment about runners being "forced" into that career) - I am not a fan of either. It doesn't strike me as realistic and goes against the grain of previously established material.

Obviously suspension of disbelief comes in play. I'd wait and see if the new source book Vice addresses a lot of your points. (IMG:style_emoticons/default/smile.gif)

- J.
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Dumori
post Jun 24 2009, 11:31 PM
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Too much criminal in corprate jobs brakes the game but out sdie of working for corps on extraterritorial ground hove got a much deadlyer playing feild the syndicates take stuff personaly and even hooding can get you on the wrong side of the law some time the job that's easy to pull will have higher conciquense that the harder job of hitting a highly secure R&D lab.

Also you are no newbie. I got in to SR just over a year ago at the age of 16.
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Angelone
post Jun 24 2009, 11:37 PM
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Looking at the list I see most if not everyone is a criminal, the only debatable one in mind is Sunshine. Kane most definately is one, he's been a pirate/runner since the 50s.

My groups have also focused on the criminal side of tjings. Maybe I'm not getting it. I'll reread your post later.
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Ancient History
post Jun 24 2009, 11:47 PM
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We actually go into this in some detail in the forthcoming Vice book.
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Blade
post Jun 25 2009, 10:22 AM
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Something to keep in mind, though, is that it's the 2070s, not the 1930s, nor today.

The have-nots of the 1930s who turned to crime were members of the society. Even if they were poor, lived in slums and had a hard time finding a job, they still had the possibility of living legally. They had rights before and after they started on the path of crime.

The have-nots of the 2070s aren't members of the society. They are Sinlesses which in some places is just illegal. Living is enough to make them criminals, even if they aren't doing any criminal activities. In any case, they don't have any rights.
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Regiment
post Jun 25 2009, 11:41 AM
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The Gangsters of the early to mid 1900's of American culture have been glamorized to the point of fiction.

Crime is supposed to be an Element in Shadowrun. Not the Entirety.

When you make a wonderful setting like our beloved fantasy cyberpunk we discuss here daily, and turn it into CSI:New Seattle, you take a great setting, a great concept, and a great genre and make it drearily boring.

I don't know about the rest of the folks (for certain), but I'm pretty sure I can vouche for them in saying that they don't want to play a game where the Role in Role Playing is sitting in front of microscopes and waiting for labwork to finish so you can follow scientific clues through databases. Or the magical or matrix version, thereof.
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Chibu
post Jun 25 2009, 12:07 PM
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Yeah, I must agree that your posts are very well written Martin. But... we play a cyberpunk game. It suits us.

In fact, most of my characters do have specific problems with some "The Man" or another. Are they misguided and their causes hopless amidst the vast machine that is society? Oh probably. But that's not the point. The point is, we can all sit around and watch our world fall apart. We can watch the governments of the world pass things like the Patriot Act. We can sit around watching the corporations pump toxic sludge into out drinking water. Or we can try to do something about it! Is it hopeless? That's what everyone tells me. They don't see the big picture though. It may be hopeless for one kid to change the world. But what if someone else sees? What if they, by my actions begin to understand as well? And if two people learn from them? It's possible, then that after a time change may occur. Is the work of this one person fruitless? Well that depends on how may times your re-define the terms.

Or not.
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Eugene
post Jun 25 2009, 12:26 PM
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I agree with you that some would love to set Shadowrun within the "crime" genre as defined by Stark's (Westlake*) Parker, et al. And there are some RPG resources (like d20 Mafia and the 50+ scenarios written by its author available free online) which fit that bill.

But in most of those stories the protagonist is usually a loner who trusts no one - part of the point is seeing how all these relationships break as the pressure increases and things go wrong. As an RPG, though, the dynamics are a little different. The players have to be able to trust each other, at least. In a lot of crime stories, things don't end well for the protagonists; that's not going to keep a RPG going, though.

But more than that, a lot of people play Shadowrun NOT for the crime element per se, but mostly as an excuse to do the modern fantasy bit with a lot of action. People walking around with miniguns, tossing grenades, having monofilament sword fights, going up against gun emplacements and armies of drones and all sorts of things aren't crime genre things to do. Yet plenty of people who play Shadowrun love to do just that.

So I'd argue, really, that most people see Shadowrun as a action-espionage game where the players just happen to be criminals. Shadowrunners do all the kinds of things that spies in thrillers and movies do - including lots of illegal things - it's just that they don't have implicit government backing.

*Though his comic caper Dortmunder series better fits my temperament, and perhaps better models what actually happens in a Shadowrun.
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EnlitenedDespot
post Jun 25 2009, 12:29 PM
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Not to knock too hard against the OP, but quite often a 'professional' or 'career' criminal starts out as an opportunist/amatuer thief and learns his/her 'craft' from, well, the simple way is to say experience (getting away/getting busted/spending time in jail/learning from fellow jailmates their techniques/getting out of jail and meeting the right people to go at it 'better' this next time). The fundamental drive behind most thieves or criminals is opportunism, which is quite common if not prevalent in most societies.

Desperation also helps permit the commission and justification of criminal activity on the part of the one committing the act.

Anyhow, from my observation of the setting of Shadowrun, runners are doing things that are often illegal but kind of operate in a gray sort of area. There are laws, and for extaterritorial megacorps, the law is whatever the hell the megacorp wants it to be whenever the hell it wants it to be. Much of the work done by shadowrunners may not involve 'shooting people in the face for money,' and honestly I would have to say that good teams doing an excellent job could probably avoid shooting just about anyone in the face (it's also bad for business in the long-term, usually).

Also, the situation painted in Shadowrun is pretty bleak. If you have no SIN (or not the right one for the country you're in), you have no rights. You can't get a job, you can't get most if any forms of legitimate housing, you kind of don't exist. If basic functions of life become difficult or impossible, you turn to what you can do--illegal activity.

A modern correlation to this is those who end up having felony convictions in their criminal background. People in today's society with such a record find it difficult (if not impossible) to get most jobs, especially if the conviction was theft-related. Hence, many of these individuals may simply turn to what they 'know' or what they know they can do that will generate income--more theft.

Megacorporations are really above the law (making your own law that is however the hell you want it despite the fact that right outside your doors is a set of federal law?) and are the ultimate representation of capitalism honed to the extreme (also resulting in extreme exploitation). Some of the things Aztechnology has done or is believed to have done are just plain horrible. There is some feeling of social justice I think I would have stealing from Aztechnology.

So, if you have no SIN, can't function in normal life, and normal life features an oppressive exemplar of true capitalistic exploitation humping you for the last ounce of profitiability it can gouge out of your mutilated excuse for a life, then how much of a crime is it, really, to take the money from these oppressive bastards?

It feels a lot more gray than a 'criminal' in today's society would be perceived, that's for sure.

Lastly, there is no requirement of shadowrun that people conduct crimes as a group. There are plenty of things to do within this setting that do not involve theft/murder.

I do admit there is somewhat of a slant on the portrayal of the elements of circumstance and psychological disposition on the part of why people become shadowrunners (as depicted by the books). I believe part of this slant is to try to provide the opportunity for the PCs to feel somewhat heroic in their actions, as while playing the villan is neat and all, many people deep down want some sense of being a hero.

That being said, this setting does have a lot more circumstance encouraging crime and criminal behavior than our modern day does, at least as far as I've interpreted the setting.
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Cheops
post Jun 25 2009, 03:21 PM
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I agree whole heartedly with the OP and some of my games have featured court room scenes and jail time. We even had one game go long enough that one guy sent up early in the campaign actually did his time and was available to rejoin the team (player was enjoying his replacement so the guy ended up as a contact for the group). Focusing more on the criminal side and less on the heroic, fantasy future that seems to be the default for SR4.5, has led to some very fun times for our group. (and we don't do that CSI bullshit...we play the criminals not the Star)

Quite often our runs feature us going out and knocking over stores to get the gear we need. One character ended up a "made man" because he got caught with a van full of C4 (or whatever it is now) and needed legal representation. Day jobs for us tend to be dealing drugs or jacking matrix feeds for the barrens. Its not for everyone but then we like to pick sand out of our teeth while we play.

If we want larger than life characters we have Earthdawn or Exalted for that.
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Blade
post Jun 25 2009, 04:12 PM
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QUOTE (Cheops @ Jun 25 2009, 05:21 PM) *
Focusing more on the criminal side and less on the heroic, fantasy future that seems to be the default for SR4.5


I'm wondering why you get this feeling, especially after the frequent statements of the devs that SR4 was meant to go back to the "street" roots of Shadowrun or after the release of a campaign that's definitely far more gritty and "street-level" than some previous campaigns.
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Warlordtheft
post Jun 25 2009, 04:24 PM
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QUOTE (The Jake @ Jun 24 2009, 07:28 PM) *
I like a lot of the writing but some of the points you make, for example about Runner's Companion (specifically the comment about runners being "forced" into that career) - I am not a fan of either. It doesn't strike me as realistic and goes against the grain of previously established material.
- J.


I don't have the books in front of me, but I also recall that the RC mentioned other source of runners. Including gangers and those born to runner parents. Granted any slightly experience runner can join a corp-as long as he has valid sin, and no criminal record. So forced may not be the right word.
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Synner667
post Jun 25 2009, 05:30 PM
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Personally, I think the main post is a load of pretentious bulldrek.

1) Shadowrun v1-2 was quite clearly not about being a criminal, but about being characters who live and work in the fringes of society, in the cracks between the megcorps. Many of the protagonists in the books are not criminals - Argent, Dirk Montgomery, Sam Verner [for example], but they do work in that grey area. May of teh archetypes are not criminals - Mercenary, Private Investigator, Tribal, for instance. The whole thing of all shadowrunners are gun-toting criminals is a SR 3-4 thing, wiping away huge sections of SR history.

2) Cyberpunk is a sub-genre of SciFi, but many of the books and fictin that SR and CP2020 are derived from don't involve criminals, per se - Bladerunner is a story about a policeman who falls in love with a target and goes on the run, Robocop is about a 90% cyborg conversion policeman, Bubbblegum Crisis is about a band of vigilantes [who unofficially work with the police], etc. Sure there are crimes in volves, but they're not criminals per se.

3) Interesting that the criminals mentioned and people want to portray are the "glamorous" type - not really representative of the criminal element [muggers, fraudsters, blackmailers, mutilators, thugs - or the most common in life, spur-of-the-moment opportunists], just the ones that are fun for players to portray. The fact that people want to portray criminals and not non-criminals doing the same things probably says more about them than anything to do with SR.

4) So what if DC or Marvel are doing comics about crminals ?? They do more books about Zombies, but that's not a reason to turn SR into CyberZombie 2150 ?? Watchmen is a world-renowned comic about a bunch of people, of which only 1 has "powers", so why not turn SR into CyberSuperHeroes 2150 ?? The logic is flawed, i'm afraid.

5) SR is an RPG, with many potential ways to play it. Playing nothing but sociopaths is fine if that's what you and your group want to play. But your apparent desire to play gun-toting tugs is not a reason for the whole of SR to degenerate even further into thuggery and limited characterisation - a minoity of a minority of a minority of a characterisation in what is a universe of opportunity for all sorts of characters and archytypes, let alone the 80-90% of whom aren't even involved in the SR milieu.

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Cheops
post Jun 25 2009, 05:41 PM
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QUOTE (Blade @ Jun 25 2009, 04:12 PM) *
I'm wondering why you get this feeling, especially after the frequent statements of the devs that SR4 was meant to go back to the "street" roots of Shadowrun or after the release of a campaign that's definitely far more gritty and "street-level" than some previous campaigns.


TBH I haven't read or played Ghost Cartels yet so take this with a grain of salt. Also it is based on my table experience.

The power level available to starting PCs is what is causing this. The Priority System in RC and the changes made in SR4A (I'll play nice) have gone a long way towards addressing this. Also the inexpensive means of protecting anything in SR4 meant that it felt a lot more like I was having to scale and hold back the opposition to the PCs than in SR3. These things combined made it feel like SR4 was more focused on the characters which is a hallmark of heroic settings (ED and Exalted) whereas my group preferred to have the game feel more bleak, where no body cared.

It got to the point about a year ago now where the facilities were either impossible for the PCs to infiltrate or else ridiculously easy (without scaling to those particular PCs). This to us made it seem more like D&D. On the one hand that is good, since it means that it becomes more about the story as opposed to the run. On the other hand it means that facilities were more like dungeons in D&D that are custom built by the bad guys to be appropriately challenging to that particular group of characters. It was so bad in fact that in the very last game I ran we had a rule where we just skipped the facility infiltration and role-played out the results as part of the story. Of course that didn't work well either since it negatively impacted certain builds.
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BreakerTwoSix
post Jun 25 2009, 05:53 PM
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excellent post martindv, right on the money, so to speak
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Machine_From_God
post Jun 25 2009, 05:59 PM
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I can agree with the OP, and his passion does come through quite clearly. This is the kind of problem that can't really be resolved to everyone's happiness. So we'll probably agree to disagree.

But I feel you have a much more absolutist view of the criminal protagonists depicted in crime drama and in Shadowrun. Criminals who have families and friends they care about, most often yes, in thier own criminal society. People in the mob and other syndicates often bond with their fellow criminals like soldiers do in war, because they face deadly danger together. So they are not totally anti-social, just anti-main stream society. Shadowrun has always been very clearly aligned with a somewhat leftist, anarchist bent, as seen in the Neo-Anarchists being main protagonists. But Shadowrun easily glamorizes the shadowrunners and makes them sympathetic not only for story reasons, because if they were utterly cold blooded criminals like you describe it would just be a dark future crime setting, and makes them human and interesting, by showing they didn't choose this life. But in Shadowrun, how many people chose the life and world they live in? Their world is cruel and unfair and heavily biased towards the megacorps and those who serve them. The SINless lack rights and protections and oppurtunities, so they often turn to crime as their means of sustenance. That element has always been there, and it has been shown IRL as well. If people are denied stability and oppurtunity by society at large, they will make their own way in defiance of the law and those in power.

Shadowrunners are also, in general, not the kind of professional criminals you describe. They syndicate members they know and fight and deal with are. Those are the professional thieves with their codes and vendettaes and hatred of the 'straight' life. Shadowrunners, by the definition the game provides, are independent and unaffiliated for the most part. Thus comes their use as deniable assets. If MCT used yakuza goons for its illegal dealings, then it is easier for the syndicate to be broken when soldiers turn state's evidence. So they turn to independent shadowrunners for runs. Shadowrunners often have connections to the 'world of thieves' as the Vory v Zakone would call it, but they are not 'of' it. They are outside it, existing somewhere in a limbo between professional criminals and corporate special forces, neo-anarchist street thugs and independent political activists. They form their own 'society', different from that of the syndicates of professional criminals. Shadowrunner clubs, message boards and the Shadowland nexus form the core of this 'shadowrunner society'. There isn't much of an overall code, but runners have their own strong moralists who don't tolerate those who wantonly engage in murder and rapine; people who do that are not runners. Runners are professional in a way that is different than mafia soldiers; they have to engage with people more legitimate than their own, semi-legitimate selves. They deal with Johnsons and contacts, and covertly disguise themselves and infiltrate corporate installations. A Mafia soldato just walks in, takes what he wants with threats and violence. Shadowrunners use a lighter touch because they don't have the Family for backup. Shadowurun, I feel, as always painted the syndicates as the kind of ruthless professional criminals you depict.

'The life' of shadowrunners attracts those without strong connections and with useful skills and offers them a chance at great reward, without the attendant risks of working your way through a syndicate. Shadowrunners don't engage in drug or gun dealing, vice industry, fraud and extortion as a matter of course, like the syndicates do. Those crimes target innocent victims as marks for the mobs, which would make their perpetrators unsympathetic and merciless. The syndicates are often depicted as such in shadowrun, different from runners. Rare are the runners who take murder for hire jobs, at least thats what the book emphasizes. Runners are not assasins usually, but skilled infiltrators and thieves. They steal from one corp for another most often. The monolithic and inhumane nature of the corps makes this not automatically an evil act, like mugging a pedestrian or selling drugs on the corner is. That directly hurts someone who is likely innocent. The corps, through their continued actions, show themselves to be cruel, selfish and indifferent to the suffering they cause. It is felt that their actions make what shadowrunners do some form of karmic justice; those who rob, kill and steal, who oppress and control, reap the rewards of their inhumanity when someone does the same back to them. The shadowrunners are also semi-legal because some runs have no illegal activity involved, though most do. But also, each megacorp is a nation and law onto itself, so stealing from one might be a crime, but the 'law' one violates is hardly unbiased and is often nothing but tyranny for the corps own benefit, and no one elses. The fact that local and federal law starts at the corp's boundaries is also undermined by the fact that even the law of real governments in Shadowrun is corrupt and flawed. Racism, prejudice, economic bigotry are all widespread, and the SINless are without much legal protection at all. So in a way there is already anarchy; but plenty of strongmen and dictators around to enforce their desires at the end of a gun. So the law lacks moral certitude, no matter from where it stems in Shadowrun.

That is not to say runners are not or cannot be the merciless figures that have been advanced here; they certainly can be. I for one struggle with some runners ease with using deadly force against corporate security forces. I don't mean elite defense forces with ware to the gills, combat armor and machine guns with mages for backup, I mean like regular schmoe security guards in the lobby in stupid uniforms with badges sewn on with only a panicbutton and a stun baton. The former are deadly warriors who one cannot afford to play with kid gloves with, and the latter is just a regular guy doing a job. He might interfere with you and try to stop you, but he's a metahuman being, fulfilling his job and duties in defiance of you. He's not the monolithic corp and its cruelty; he's just a guy, with a life and a family to feed. How a shadowrunner deals with these moral choices, to me, governs what kind of a person they really are. What 'a shadowrunner' would do in the situation is determined by EACH shadowrunner, because they all make their own codes, and their 'society' at large will be unlikely to judge them, aside from their teammates. Really each runner team is its own syndicate and society, so only among that context does much of the OP's argument hold true. A team COULD be like that, but it would probably become a syndicate. As an aside, what about willing extraction runs? A scientist wants out from under his corp and found a better offer. His corp might think taking him is stealing and you are a thief for it, but he thinks your his rescuers.
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Bob Lord of Evil
post Jun 25 2009, 06:30 PM
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Martindv...

You and I are on different pages it seems. I really don't need anybody to tell me how to play a criminal. I thought that you were talking about actual techniques used by criminals. (IMG:style_emoticons/default/biggrin.gif)
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nezumi
post Jun 25 2009, 06:59 PM
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Good post, but really, about 200% longer than it strictly had to be (IMG:style_emoticons/default/smile.gif) Brevity is the soul of wit and all that.

There are a few reasons why Shadowrunners are rarely, 100% stone-cold criminals, which need to be taken into account;
1) Shadowrunning is not the most profitable, safest criminal career available for most of these characters. Sams can make more in the mob, riggers in the military, deckers as dirty accountants, mages as whatever they want. The primary advantage running has over these jobs is specifically the freedom of being a freelancer, which allows them to have personal morals and political goals.

2) Hard criminals are less likely to cooperate for a prolonged campaign. Generally most characters in an SR campaign are more or less interchangeable (through in-game and out-of-game considerations). They are also very rarely custom groups pre-defined and properly balanced. They rarely have a history to encourage proper team work or such. They are rarely handpicked as the best of the best (and therefore irreplaceable). If they're hard criminals, they aren't bound by a common creed. They're not the A-team and they're not Mission Impossible. Therefore, inter-party betrayal is common, and shadowrunning is less tenable as a long-term criminal investment. A group of neo-anarchists or robin hoods is more likely to be stable, and therefore successful, over the long term.

You can of course do a hardened criminal campaign. But it's sort of an aside, not the primary campaign setting. You can buy specific books for it, or create that setup easily with what's provided, but it isn't the campaign specifically targed (just like mercenary, gang or spy campaigns). There's certainly nothing stopping you from running this, and many groups fall into it anyway. But there are very distinct reasons why, given the dramatic impetus and plot setup they're aiming for, the idealistic, humanistic shadowrun line continues to be so popular.
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Cheops
post Jun 25 2009, 07:40 PM
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QUOTE (nezumi @ Jun 25 2009, 06:59 PM) *
2) Hard criminals are less likely to cooperate for a prolonged campaign.


Uh...isn't this a gang? (unless you are exclusively talking about crack-heads looking for a fix) Hard criminals that band together for mutual protection and support? Who says that survival and - maybe prospering - isn't a creed? So a runner team is essentially a gang of criminals with a professional demeanor. Except that a lot of them aren't professional in conduct.

That's probably a big difference. Professionalism in conduct versus having a profession. All runners are professionals in that they are paid to commit crimes. They are professional criminals. That does NOT mean that they always act like professionals. Look at it from the point of view of professional sports. You've got one player who drinks, whores, and doesn't work out, another who uses steroids, and one who works hard every day and strives to be at the peak of performance (Babe Ruth, Barry Bonds, and Ted Williams). They are all professional athletes but only one is acting like a professional.

Carry that into shadowrun. You've got one guy who kills people at the slightest whim, someone who is dangerously addicted to BTLs, and one who spends his down time reading up on the latest advances in security systems. They are all professional shadowrunners but only one is what we'd call a professional. I think you'd be pretty hard pressed to find a starting campaign where everyone fits into that last category except by common consent.

Anyone who survives on crime can be called a professional. Not all of them act like professionals. Those gangs who do act like professionals usually end up "graduating" to "criminal organizations." So another way to look at it is that shadowrunner teams are either gangs or "mini-"syndicates.
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Larme
post Jun 25 2009, 09:02 PM
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I don't think that Shadowrun is a crime genre game at all. Shadowrunning is against the law, but it is tolerated to some degree or another by every legal entity, because they all make use of it. The way the OP defines it, crime genre is about a rejection of mainstream society, and the ever-present notion that mainstream society wants to crush who and what you are, if it can. But I think the authorities tacitly permit Shadowrunning, as long as they're able to say "not my job." And since the crimes are pretty much always committed in a different nation's territory than the one where the criminals live, they're always able to say that.

In that way, Shadowrun is more like a game of espionage. One nation pays some spies to disrupt another nation. The nations just happen to be corporations or criminal organizations. It's really and truly a game of war, only it's a small scale war fought by proxy in order to gain small advantages, not win big victories. After all, in a world of nuclear weapons and worse, fullscale wars are a serious drain on profitability. Everyone wins if things are kept to the shadows, one corp can get the edge in a certain area for a short time, but nobody collapses, and casualties are kept low.

What is the real crime in Shadowrun? I'll tell you: terrorism. I don't think the books focus on it all that much (because the game is about Shadowrunning, after all), but that's the thing that the authorities really want to stop with all their might. Terrorism is typically a crime from within the nation against the nation. The authorities have incentive to stop it and punish it, because it damages public confidence and productivity. Shadowrunning, by contrast, is a crime from within one nation directed against another nation. Does UCAS have much incentive to stop someone from hurting Renraku or Horizon? Not really. If you want a game of crime, you need to play a team of terrorists, not a team of international covert ops mercenaries. Shadowrunners are more like a secret defense contractor-- you pay them, they get the job done. And since it's part of a war (albiet a cold war), nobody decries it as being a criminal act, they just hire their own contractors to get back at their enemies.

That's probably the primary difference. In crime, it's Criminals vs. Authorities. In Shadowrunning, its Authorities vs. Authorities. Or maybe Criminals vs. Criminals, because everyone hires shadowrunners to mess up everyone else. The world is so fractured and chaotic that there is no law in any meaningful sense. Not only is it different within the same small geographical area due to the mass balkanization, there are vast Z-zones with no meaningful laws at all. And for the SINless, the concept of law is a joke. Laws do not protect them, and do not apply to them. They aren't people who've decided to exist outside of mainstream society, they have been actively forced out. They are not so much criminal as they are ignored. The authorities don't mess with them because they don't technically exist -- catching them earns you no points, they don't get trials, they just get warned, beaten, or shot. Not to mention that most systems of law are essentially corrupt to the core, to the extent that they apply.

So, in sum, I think the OP displays a failure of imagination. In decrying the problems with Shadowrun, he is stuck in his own modern mindset about what the world is, what law is, and what crime and punishment are all about. He hasn't been through two crashes and the Awakening, he can't conceive of a world that looks very little like this one. Shadowrun was basically lifted, in its entirety, from William Gibson, the father of Cyberpunk, and then had all the fantasy elements grafted on. So to say that it's a crime game and not a Cyberpunk game... that's a joke, right?
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