The year is 2060. The world is changed, some say Awakened.
A long lull in the mystical energies of the universe has subsided and magic has returned to the world. Elves, dwarfs, orks and trolls have assumed their true forms, throwing off their human guises. Creatures of the wild have changed as well, transforming into beasts of myth and legend. The many traditions of magic have come back to life, and shamans and mages have carved out a place in the new world for themselves and their powers. Many aspects of the Awakening remain mysteries, but modern society fights on to assimilate the ways of magic into a technological world.
The decades that followed the Awakening were years of panic and turmoil, as the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse seemed to race across the Earth. Cultures that had never lost touch with their mystical pasts began to use magic against the great nations that had suppressed them for so long. The vast global telecommunications network collapsed under an assault by a mysterious computer virus. Dragons soared into the skies. Epidemics and famine ravaged the world’s population. Clashes between newly Awakened races and the rest of humanity became common. All central authority crumbled, and the world began to spiral downward into the abyss.
But man and his kin are hearty animals. Out of the devastation and chaos, a fragile new social order slowly emerged. Advanced simulated sensorium (simsense) technology helped eradicate the last vestiges of the computer virus and replaced the old telecommunications network with the new virtual-reality world of the Matrix. Amerindians, elves, orks and dwarfs formed new nations. Where environmental degradation and pollution have made many areas uninhabitable, eco-groups wage war on polluters, and Awakened powers use incredible magics to heal the earth. Central governments have balkanized into smaller nations and city-states, as fear of the world’s changes drives wedges between people of different backgrounds. Vast metropolitan sprawls known as metroplexes cover the landscape; these urban jungles swallow whole regions. Police departments unable to contain crime waves and civil unrest have been privatized or their work contracted out to corporations.
Megacorporations have become the new world superpowers, a law unto themselves. The entire planet speaks their language, as the nuyen has become the global monetary standard. The megacorps play a deadly game, paying pawns in the shadows to help them get an edge on the competition. Meanwhile, corporate executives and wage slaves hole up in their own enclaves, safe behind layers of security and indoctrination. Outside the walls of these arcologies and gated communities, whole stretches of the sprawls have become ungovernable. Gangs rule the streets; the forgotten masses grow, lacking even a System Identification Number (SIN) to give them any rights. These outcasts, dissidents and rebels live as the dregs of society, squatting in long-abandoned buildings, surviving through crime and predatory instincts. Many of them attempt to rise above their miserable existences by slotting addictive BTL (Better-Than-Life) chips, living vicariously through someone else’s senses. Others band together, some for survival and some to gain their own twisted forms of power.
Technology, too, has changed people. No longer merely flesh, many have turned to the artificial enhancements of cyberware to make themselves more than human. Some acquire implants that allow them to directly interface with machines, like deckers who run the Matrix with a cyberdeck and programs or riggers who jack into vehicles or security systems and become one with them. Others seek to push the envelope of their physical capabilities, testing themselves on the streets against other street samurai. The human of 2060 is stronger, smarter, faster than his predecessors.
In the world of 2060, the metroplexes are monsters that cast long shadows. And in the cracks between the giant corporate structures, shadowrunners find their homes. Entire societies live and die in a black-market underworld, exploited and abused, yet powerful in their own way. The Mafia, Yakuza and other crime syndicates have grown explosively as their networks provide anything that people will buy. Shadowrunners are the professionals of this culture where self-sufficiency is vital. When the megacorps want a job done but don’t want to dirty their hands, they need a shadowrun, and they turn to the only people who can pull it off: the shadowrunners. Though only the blackest of governmental or corporate databases even registers a shadowrunner’s existence, the demand for his or her services is high. Deckers can slide like a whisper through the databases of giant corporations, spiriting away the only thing of real value—information. Street samurai are enforcers for hire whose combat skills and reflexes make them the ultimate urban predators. Riggers can manipulate vehicles and drones for a variety of purposes. Magicians, those rare folk who possess the gift of wielding and shaping the magical energies that now surround the Earth, are sought after to spy on the competition, sling spells against an enemy, commit magical sabotage, and for any other purpose that their employers can dream up. All these individuals sell their skills to survive, taking on the tasks too illegal or dangerous for others to dare.