Thursday, April 24, 2008

Shadowpunk 2050

Reading about how well Shadowrun 4th edition has been doing since Catalyst Games has taken it over has gotten me to pull out my core rulebook to take another look at it. While doing so I've decided to put down how I'd change the setting if I was to run a game using the Shadowrun rules. First though, I'm going to indulge myself by describing my personal history with the game.

Shadowrun was exactly the right thing at the right time when it came out in 1989. Cyberpunk dominated the science fiction market, but swords & sorcery dominated the RPG market. Shadowrun mixed the two in a way that made both seem fresh and new, at least to my young eyes it did.

I convinced my college buddies to give it a try, and they soon came to love it, despite my tendency to put annoying techno music on repeat during the sessions in an attempt to create "atmosphere". In fact, they came to love it more than I did as I eventually began to dislike the rules system as a game master. Despite my problems with the rules, we continued to play it on and off until we all graduated. After that I boxed up my books and didn't really follow the game. I didn't even realize there was a 3rd edition until just before the 4th edition came out.

When I first heard about 4th edition, I was curious as to how they would update the game. The original timeline for Shadowrun has long since been invalidated by history, and many of the supposedly revolutionary technologies described in the first two editions look quaint and antiquated by the standards of the twenty-first century. I was curious whether or not they would retcon the background to take all of that into account. They chose not to, instead keeping Shadowrun in the realm of "alternate history" instead of shifting it back into the "improbable future" it was originally. What the did to was to update the tech to make it seem more futuristic, playing off our current wireless world and taking it to further extremes. They also advanced the game's timeline to 2070 (the original game was set in 2050).

This is a creative way of doing things that allows people to bring existing campaigns into the new edition if they so choose. It really isn't for me though, not anymore at least. I'm a much different person than I was in 1989 and the appearance of elves, dwarves, orcs and trolls into the modern world doesn't seem nearly as interesting to me as it once did. On the other hand, the appearance of magic still holds a certain interest, perhaps stimulated by my reading of the Dresden Files books.

While I'm in no danger of actually having a chance to run the game, I have some ideas as to how I would do so if I got the chance. Overall, coming up with these ideas was a fun little exercise, but it's kind of scary how easy it is to come up with a reasonable scenario for everything to go to hell even without the introduction of magic. Here's a brief history of my Shadowrun setting (which I'm calling Shadowpunk 2050 for now) broken up into major phases:

The Pacific Rim War: The US slides out of its first place position as a result of debt and inflation. The slide is accelerated when conflict erupts between China and the US, hurting the economies of both countries and preventing China from becoming the next superpower as many expected. One of the casualties of the conflict is the internet, which is all but destroyed as a world-wide network by warring Chinese and US hackers.

The Euro-Nippon Alliance: The EU and Japan collaborate on re-connecting their elements of the internet, improving it as they do so. The resulting system offers support for a virtual reality interface and as a result it becomes commonly known as the Matrix. Continued cooperation between Japan and the EU leads them to create a new monetary union. The orignal name for the resulting currency is to be the euren until the unfortunate English homophone is noticed. After much debate the currency is called the neuyen instead.

The Corporate Independence Movement: In the meantime, most multi-national corporations attempt to disassociate themselves from both belligerent countries. The only exceptions being those primarily concerned with selling weapons to one of the two sides. Several corporations attempt to assert rights formerly only held by nations. This works in many areas, but not everywhere. The end result is that throughout much of the world corporations have more power than ever before.

The Magical Awakening: Sporadic conflict between the US and China continues until the sudden re-emergence of magic into the world. The resulting chaos forces both nations to turn inward and leads to a cease-fire between them as they attempt to deal with their internal problems. The effects of magic are felt everywhere, but are particularly disruptive in the more religious areas of the world, which include portions of the EU due to immigration. Those areas where religious feeling was weaker, or where the predominant religion was more accepting of magic, suffered fewer disruptions. Japan was one of those areas.

Superpower Balkanization: Both the US and China are unable to keep things completely together in the face of multiple crises they are forced to deal with. Several areas on the borders of China declare independence, including Tibet, Mongolia and Hong Kong. In the US, failures by the Federal government to deal with problems in the western states leads to their succession. An attempt to use military force fails spectacularly in the face of mutinous soldiers who either join the forces defending the western states, or refuse to fight their former comrades. The result is a collapse of the Federal government and a new collection of regional alliances between individual states.

The Recovery: The Matrix begins a natural spread from where it began, helped by corporations looking to cash in on recovery efforts. Although the Matrix was intended to be more secure and "controllable" than the old internet, the need to also make it harder for hackers to destroy leads to an even more de-centralized system than the old internet. The result leaves plenty of opportunities for those with a motivation to avoid corporate and government control to do so.

2050: The Euro-Nippon Alliance (ENA) is now the most powerful governmental force in the world, but outside of their territory, and sometimes even in it, they are often rivaled by corporations. The world is filled with brushfire conflicts involving both corporations and the plethora of new nations and states that have popped up. Many of these conflicts happen covertly, with various parties hiring independent operatives to do their dirty work for them.

The goal of this little exercise was to come up with a setting that would hold some similarities to the classic Shadowrun and cyberpunk settings while losing the metahumans and taking account of the changes that have occurred since the late eighties. Making Japan a major power, and allowing for at least a partial balkanizing of the US are some of the elements I personally consider to be key to the feeling of the genre.

Another goal was to minimize any changes needed to be made to the core rules. For now, the only rules changes needed to play in this setting are to ignore anything that deals with metatypes, as there are none, at least not for PCs and the general population. There are intelligent non-humans out there, but I haven't decided how pervasive they are. I also haven't decided if they have been around, lurking, until the appearance of magic, if they were spontaneously created by that appearance, or if they came from elsewhere after the appearance, although I am leaning towards the latter.

I may look at further expanding this background in the future, or I may never come back to this setting, but I want to share what I have in case anyone can use it.

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