Here we have a player submission – an alternate shadowrun history. Actually, I’m not quite sure where this is supposed to fit in; it matches neither the canon shadowrun history nor the modified version that’s in use in the current game. I’ve added some annotations afterwards to make sure the current players know which is which. Like all game-related submissions it’s worth some bonus karma, although – since it’s going to be somewhat difficult to use – only one point in this case.
The End: A Shadowrun Story
This is a little gift to some of our Shadowrun players. Some of you won’t enjoy it, and that’s OK. It’s not for everyone. It is a primer on how and why society collapsed to the point where random violence is often shrugged off even in good neighborhoods and whole nations disintegrated.
We most honestly say the End of Everything really started at the height of human civilization, in the post-Cold War era. (1)
A lot of things happened. Fusion power happened. Advancing computer technology happened. These made transportation inexpensive and easy, even for small quantities.
Terrorism happened. During this era, terrorist movements gained strength and began to radicalize at an increasing rate. In the United States, Amerindian terrorists even attempt to fire a nuclear weapon at Russia, prompting new national security laws and the internment of Indians in camps. But this pattern was repeated in many other areas around the globe. (2)
The transnational, or One World, movement happened. In the early 2010’s, this semi-formal organization formed in many of the more advanced and stable states. It was both a cause and a result of increasing lack of identification. Simply put, many relatively well-off “global citizens” simply had no real identity, and they wanted to create a world government (not unsurprisingly, ruled by people like them). This is soon infiltrated by radicals, and split into violent and peaceful groups. Both supported global terror directly or indirectly to bring down national governments. The movement has broken down completely by the 2050’s, and is largely thought of as a bad joke. (3)
VITAS happened. This horrific virus spread easily and killed quickly, and kill it did, by the hundreds and thousands and millions, everywhere. Starting in the poorest nations, it killed more and faster than any other illness. The developed world was spared the worst, as VITAS was not usually fatal with decent medical care (it was much like pneumonia). But it did weaken the economies and cause shortages, and gave momentum to the One World movements. (4)
The One World movement weakened national identities in many nations. Global terror made people doubt their own societies. VITAS, however, forced governments to make the hard choices which killed them. Resources for surviving could be more easily supplied in urban areas, and the disease seemed worse there. But rural areas suffered gravely, and as governments simply ignored them, many started ignoring governments. Nations decayed as large portions of most societies stopped paying taxes to apathetic central governments. Those governments often deliberately ignored regions which often promised nothing more than terrorist and headaches. (5)
At the same time, those outlying regions were starting to come into magic. Developed nations and wealthy regions had no edge or advantage there (not yet, anyway), and magic could be used by terrorist and guerillas to brutal effect. No amount of guards could peer through even the weakest Invisibility spell, for instance. (6)
At the same time, magic’s return meant that paranormal animals emerged and Goblinization arrived. At first, this wasn’t very impressive. A few odd practitioners of tiny tricks attracted little notice, and even the discovery of large “undiscovered” animals was more a simple news item than a world-shattering event. But magic grew stronger. Monsters – like dragons and other dangerous beasts – returned to the world.
And although the human race started out adding elves and dwarves, orks and trolls soon showed. Unlike elves and dwarves, their arrival was brutal, shocking, and sudden. Large numbers of them died in the process. People demanded to be protected from the unknown disease. Orks and trolls, shunned by society, banded together or were herded into camps. Violence against the newly goblinized was common, and all of this contributed to more and more social anxiety and decay. Society collapsed a little further and shuddered on.
The Crash happened. The Crash of 2029 came from the introduction of a truly monstrous creation. The Virus, as it was called, was the most sophisticated program ever devised. Armed with incredibly sophisticated code attacks and lethal biofeedback, it killed many of the best and brightest programmers using the latest datajack technology. It struck with record speed and infested every major computer cluster on the planet. Although the virus was soon purged through the creation of early decker technology and the development of cybercombat, it annihilated many of the world’s greatest banking and computer technology companies. (7)
The rise of megacorporations sped up the process by filling the void. Megas were largely formed by companies banding together to survive the chaos by having the largest, most varied and versatile business entity. Any one segment might be broken, but the company could always survive, retrench, and reinvest. Megas were everywhere, and could operate in areas where governments fell apart. They invested in security services and developed an attitude of brutality towards guerrillas and terrorists, an attitude national governments frequently lacked. (8)
Megacorporations also provided an outlet for the more passive One World bunch, who simply became corporate citizens. They had what they wished – citizens of the world, without national identities, with old national governments weakened to the point of collapse in many cases. Of course, as with most things, what you asked for somehow never turns out to be what you wanted. (9)
Behind the Scenes
Many of the events of the 2010’s through 2030’s, those which formed the basis of the Shadowrun universe, were orchestrated through a force which no one even knows about. A handful of elves, made immortal through a magical artifact from the last magical age, survived the magical down-cycle. Several of them had plans for the world. They are armed with powerful magic, eons of observations about human society – and utterly primitive moral codes in their filthy black hearts. (10)
Simply put, most of the Immortal Elves are what you’d expect from an early bronze age barbarian chief given access to high technology and magic. They deliberately set about weakening existing societies and expanding social rifts in order to remake the world into the form they wanted: themselves on top. In the late 20th century, they found they were able to use more magic than simple tricks, and with less work than under most of the down-cycle. (11)
They used this to amplify social leaders whom they found useful. Even a relatively middling leader could become amazingly gifted with the advantage of large Charisma, Willpower, and Intelligence bonuses and generous donations. The One World movement was definitely one such tool (which fell apart after they removed their gifts from movement leaders). The Immortal Elves also probably funded and supported some of the most dangerous terrorists. (12)
They were probably not behind the two biggest shocks to the world, however: VITAS and the Crash of 2029 are not their style. VITAS was probably natural and the Virus was much more technologically complex than the Immortal Elves could handle. (13)
But the Elves did do many other, more subtle things. Many of them made a deliberate effort to destroy religion, another social cohesive which usually frowns on magic. They promoted a sort of cold materialism, but liked anything in preference for a real belief or faith, even in any kind of decency or goodness. Given the behind-the-scenes actions of amoral power-mongers willing to make bargains with the vilest of monsters, this may have been a mistake. (14)
Since – as was noted at the beginning – this doesn’t really match the game history for the current game, here are some notes on what is, and what is not, applicable.
1) Well, this was the peak to date of the total human population (in Shadowrun it hasn’t yet recovered from the plagues, wars, and transformation of many of its members into other subspecies), as well as the period with the greatest proportion of the population living under at least nominally democratic governments. Respect for “human rights” might also have been at a peak, it’s arguably waned in Shadowrun. Still, technology has continued to advance, the largest political entities in history were well before this period, and humans have continued to achieve new things.
2) Personally, I’m torn between saying that terrorism hit it’s peak with the Mongols (largest area terrorized), with WWII (largest number killed), or with the Khmer Rouge (largest percentage of the local population killed in recent history). Of course, the term has been diluted to a pejorative label for pretty much any group the user dislikes, as is amply demonstrated by the difficulty in agreeing on a definition (the US government has made several attempts, without real success) and by the practice of labeling entire countries as “terrorist regimes”. For example, China, Great Britian, Iran, Iraq, Isreal, Egypt [and the rest of the middle east], Brazil, and the United States are all labeled “terrorist regimes” in various places. Chinese sources have even labeled the Dalai Lama a terrorist, which – I suspect – is stretching even the vaguely-defined current limits of the term a bit.
3) The “One World” movement doesn’t turn up in either the canon or modified histories. I suspect that the need to identify with a group is a symptom of a lack of a strong personal identity – but much of the human race seems to feel the need, ergo this is a normal condition. More notably, “Global Terror” might make a good name for a supervillian group, but truly extremist organizations – pretty much by their nature – tend to be small and incompatible with each other. After all, their recruits are drawn from those few who take a particular extreme position, believe in it fervently, and are thus intolerant of even minor variants.
4) Plagues and shortages might drive people to espouse a (rather abstract) political position, but wouldn’t they also divert a lot of people to local goals? Many communities become insular and self-isolating under stress. This still helped the breakup though, if only because so many communities started to believe that they were on their own anyway.
5) On a practical note, as of the 2000 census, approximately 70% of the United States population lived within the boundaries of urbanized areas – about 2% of the land area of the country – and the number is increasing. If you throw in the suburban areas, you get closer to 90% of the population. By the time VITAS appeared, it was closer to 95%. For the same investment of effort that it took to save one rural victim, you could save several urban victims. As importantly, Virally Induced Toxic Allergy Syndrome was most dangerous in the cities: that’s where casual exposure to pollution-toxins was highest. The focus on urban areas might have appeared callous and dismissive to the relatively few victims in rural areas – who had a better chance due to the lower stress on the local health care providers anyway – but it was quite logical.
6) This bit just doesn’t work well. Since the distribution of mages followed the distribution of population, the more heavily populated – and thus usually more developed and wealthy – regions got most of the new magicians, even including the shamanic types. There are plenty of urban totems.
7) It’s worth noting that “The Virus” could only directly kill people using Cyberterminals – which had just been invented. It caused a grand total of 25 direct deaths. It did make quite a mess of the worlds data and communications systems though, and the resulting economic dislocations, the near-collapse of distribution and transport systems, and similar troubles, killed a great many people indirectly.
8) This is less stressed – in part due to having less time to develop in – in the current game timeline than in the canon timeline.
9) As noted earlier, the “One World” movement isn’t really a part of the current game history.
10) Well, the involvement of an artifact is debatable even in canon as far as I can find out (the canon simply seems to make them dragon crossbreeds), their magic was very very limited during the low-magic period, and human society has been changing far faster than they can adapt. The canon does have at least a few of them engaged in hunting down sleeping dragons during the low-magic period though.
11) In canon – and in current game history – they arranged to seize control of the Tir’s (Ireland and an area near Seattle), and instituted some pretty racist elf-superiority social notions. The immortal elves did originate in a fairly high – if magically instead of technologically based – civilization though. It’s just that only the most ruthless ones survived the magical crash and several millenia without much of any personal power beyond what they could get by manipulation.
12) Magic was actually quite limited at the time. There really isn’t much of anything in the canon or the current game history about the Immortal Elves supporting terrorists. They might have of course, but such people make very unreliable tools. I’d expect them to have founded and nurtured their own orders of fanatic followers however – which is free information for the current game.
13) This is very true. Despite the canon attempts to make one of them out to be a super-inventor-decker, the notion of ancient immortals being entirely comfortable with modern technology – much less super-inventors – seems unlikely at best.
14) There was a bit in the “Magic and Death” (from an old sourcebook) which implied that at least two of the Immortal Elves had been attempting to weaken human religious beliefs (this may or may not be accurate in the current game history). Even in canon, they apparently had very little success (religions are still going strong) and their motives were unclear. As a side note, only some religions frown on magic, quite a few others embrace it.