Shadowrun: What Is A Shadowrunner?

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  • What Is A Shadowrunner?
  • Shadowrunner Archetypes

Shadowrun began as a tabletop RPG with a setting that effortlessly blends fantasy and sci-fi to create a deeply complex cyberpunk world of intriguing history, compelling lore, and exciting encounters. With technological marvels that border on magic, and magic that borders on make-believe, it's a wonderful universe to explore, whether it's through the tabletop game, video games, or the various novels set in the world.

Central to this setting are the shadowrunners, specialists for hire. If you have a ton of money and you want something done, you can be sure that a shadowrunner can do it for you – legality be damned.

What Is A Shadowrunner?

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. -The Shadowrunner, Runner's Companion

When boiled down to the core concept, a shadowrunner can be defined as a person who goes on shadowruns. So, now the question is "what is a shadowrun?" This, too, needs some explanation.

In the world of Shadowrun, there are two facts you need to be aware of:

  1. Magic was (re-)introduced to the world in 2012, which brought about an age of metahumans (think, "standard fantasy races"), mutated animals, dragons, and the omnipresence of the spirit world.
  2. Technology is more advanced than you could conceive and the world seems to be run by megacorporations with more power than some actual nations. The extent of their power cannot be overstated.

It's a world of cyberpunk, through and through, with a sprinkling of magic for good measure. This makes it the perfect backdrop for a world of greedy megacorps, corrupt governments, and the scheming elite to wage war against each other covertly, through the contracting of third-party agents and the organization of shadowruns.

Those that make a living from a life of jobs and missions and the dangers that those bring are shadowrunners. They are specialists who adopt street names and often do away with their morals in the pursuit of nuyen, the new global currency. They may fall into this life as a last resort or crave the prestige and the notoriety that comes with the post.

Sometimes we do the right thing. Sometimes we shoot people in the face for money. -Starting Out, Runner's Companion

Hiring shadowrunners is how megacorps and other powerful figures in the world of Shadowrun circumvent the laws. Shadowrunners are known as "deniable assets," meaning without proof of who hired them, megacorps and the rest can stay assured that whether the shadowrun is successful or not, they're in the clear – shadowrunners are the safest way to break the law.

The lesson is this – the game is rigged. The cards are stacked. The dice are loaded. It's the same as it always was. Every cycle. People in power exert power. Little people cower in their homes, think what they're told to think, and buy whatever product will help them forget how horrible their lives are for another day. And that's why we don't *play* their fragging game. We don't swallow their drek sandwich and politely ask for another. It's why we run the shadows. That's where real life is, kiddo. -Harlequin, Shadowrun Returns

Shadowrunners are so useful to those who wish to circumvent the law through the use of specialist freelancers that particularly effective and renowned shadowrunners may even be freed from prison if they commit to going on a shadowrun for whoever owns the prison. This highlights how crucial they are to the machinations of those with real power and the smooth running of the economy.

Shadowrunner Archetypes

Broadly speaking, a shadowrunner will often fall into one, two, or even more categories depending on their skillset. You can think of them as broad character classes in a world where everyone has access to every skill tree at the same time.

Street SamuraiPhysical fighters who enter combat with guns, swords, or any other manner of weapon.
AdeptWarriors who blend magic with their physical form, tapping into their willpower to evoke magical effects while they shred enemies up.
MagicianMages who can tap into the spirit world, summon spirits, and cast spells. Depending on their magical tradition, they can be Mages or Shamans.
DeckerHackers with technological expertise and knowledge of the Matrix, a computer network that has gone through multiple changes over the various editions of Shadowrun to keep up with real-life developments in technology.
RiggerExperts in vehicles and drone combat, they let their rigs do all the hard work while they operate from afar.
FaceCharismatic negotiators and usually the person who does the talking for a team of shadowrunners.

Geek the mage first. -Traditional Shadowrunner Rule

While these archetypes are well known, there are vastly more specializations and team roles that shadowrunners can build into. From demolitions to information-gathering, anything that you can conceive being useful on a shadowrun is something a shadowrunner can specialize in.

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