What Runners Do
Shadowrunners commit crimes, usually for money. When a corporation or other sponsor needs someone to do dirty work, they look to the shadows. As “deniable assets,” runners make advantageous—and expendable—tools.
Runners usually operate in teams. A team can be any combination of character types, depending on what the players want to do. The team should have a plausible reason for working together, such as being old friends or cellmates, having the same interests, or being forced together by circumstance. Different teams will have different capabilities, and the gamemaster should plan accordingly. For example, one team may excel at breaking and entering, while another might be a squad of bruisers who work best as hired muscle. While runner teams will want to work within their strengths, a staple of drama is the protagonists being pulled out of their element and over their heads.
Runners have contacts, who represent other potentially useful people they know. Some of these will be other underworld types, such as gang members or hit men. Others may be ordinary people, useful for information or for “special arrangements”—for example, the corporate secretary who lets you know when the wiz research scientist you’re supposed to kidnap will be leaving the building. The more you rely on any particular contact’s skills, information, and resources, the more you’ll owe them in the end—even between long-standing contacts, money and favors are usually necessary to grease the wheels. A player character’s relationship with a contact need not be friendly. Sometimes, the people who can help you out the most are those you like the least.
The most important contact for shadowrunners is the fixer. A fixer acts as a middleman and can usually help the runners find gear, other contacts, or work—all for a fee, of course. A corporation or other employer that needs shadowrunners sends someone to a fixer to ask for recommendations. If a team of runners has a good reputation and meets the job requirements, a meeting is arranged to discuss details and haggle over payment. Because such matters are highly sensitive, anonymity is par for the course, and employers of this type are known simply as Mr. Johnson.
Mr. Johnson may not always be a corporate representative. The world of Shadowrun is rich and complex, with many people and groups who may need to hire runners to accomplish certain goals. A criminal syndicate may hire runners to strike at rivals, a mage may hire them to acquire certain rare materials for magic use, or Joe Neighbor may need to find the terrorists who kidnapped his wife. Regardless of the sponsor, if a job involves doing something dangerous and potentially illegal, it’s a shadowrun. Just like Mr. Johnson is anonymous, so may be the sponsor—if the price is right, most running teams don’t care who’s paying. Misdirection is common, and Johnsons will often try to drop false clues, leading runners to think that they’re actually employed by someone else entirely.
Shadowrunner teams may even take the initiative, doing jobs of their own accord. For example, a player character may hold a grudge against a certain megacorp, or dislike how a certain gang treats people in his neighborhood. Maybe he decides it’s time to get his criminal record erased. Other jobs may be politically or socially motivated; the character or runner team may be members of or regularly work with far left or far right political groups. In the Sixth World, everyone has dirty work that needs doing.
Runners accomplish their tasks by working the streets for information, calling in favors and markers from friends and contacts in the shadows. They take whatever action their job requires: surveillance, theft, breaking and entering, violence, even murder.
Runners do these things because they are survivors. Many of them grew up committing crimes to get by, or perhaps they obtained special training somewhere and want to put it to use. Some may have extended families to feed and no other source of income. Many of them prefer the freedom of the shadowlife, controlling their own destinies as opposed to being a wage slave in some drab business park kissing corporate ass all day. Others enjoy the thrill of running, thriving on its risks. Finally, some are inspired to run by a sense of social justice; they want to damage the powers-that-be however they can while providing for the underclass. These runners are known as ’hooders for their Robin Hood outlook.