First up for today, it’s another player contribution – some information on the most common kinds of gangs to be found in the Shadowrun setting, especially in Seattle.
Gangs in Shadowrun stretch from the insane to the businesslike, and fill every niche in between. There are many reasons why, but a big reason – perhaps the fundamental reason – is simply that gangs or tribes are the only socially cohesive unit in much of the world. Go into the Barrens, or some other urban nightmare, and the law basically ceases to exist. The only safety or even identity lies in criminal organizations. Heck, many children don’t even have a family or home. They’re dependant on handouts or gangs to survive.
Street Gangs are the classic gangs – a band of underemployed types who claim some turf and defend it from all comers. They may be simply the local street pack or a defensive alliance, but most of them support themselves by drug and BTL peddling, moving illegal items across their home ground, mugging the odd passerby, minor thefts, small scale scams and rackets, and demanding protection money from locals. This brings a small income, but they lack connections or real power, so local street gangs just scrape by.
Street gangers are usually young, poorly educated, and somewhat undernourished. They have very little to lose and protect their neighborhood tenaciously. Gangers like this are usually erratically armed, with a collection of knives, clubs, and cheap guns.
Street gangs with some promise wind up joining the tough regional gangs, which provides them with better business and a lot more resources to draw upon. These gangs, like the Ancients or Cutters, are regional in scope and may have thousands of members. These are organized into local chapters; member are expected to help each other out and take direction from the gang leadership.
These gangs vary in brutality. The Cutters are utter bastards to each other, and “discipline” tends to be lethal and very competitive. The Halloweeners live in hard neighborhoods and are concerned with survival. Traitors would be killed, but others are simply warned or kicked out of the gang, which is often lethal enough in the Barrens or even the worst Downtown neighborhoods. The Ancients fall somewhere in between.
Street gangs usually have particularly violent initiations. The most common form is a simple many-on-on beatdown for a few minutes. The entrant can defend him- or her-self, but is faced with as many opponents as can get a leg or fist in. Those who give a good accounting may be respected, while the weak or cowardly may well fail the “test.”
Leaving street gangs likewise varies a lot. Some allow a similar mass fight to leave. Others claim you until death. In some gangs, older members may have settled down to some kind of job, but are still part of the gang or even its leadership. In very tough urban zones, nobody has anywhere to go but the gang, and middle-aged gang toughs are nothing unusual. It’s simply the weird and often brutal life in the Sixth World.
Likely contacts: Syndicate Lieutenant; local Store Owner; Fixer; Police Officer
Thrill gangs are not like other gangers. They don’t need to gang. They do it because they like it. They might be bored suburbanites or psychotic college brats. The one thing they share is a need to belong and reliable, legal means of financial support.
Thrill gang members, or thrillers, tend towards two possible extremes. The less violent are usually of the aforementioned “bored suburbanite” category. They may raise a little hell by drinking under the age limit, spray-painting buildings, or stealing street signs. Their bark is far worse than their bite, however, and most go on to become investment bankers or network administrators or something. The only real danger lies in pinning them into a bad position (literally or figuratively). They frequently have better gear than common street gangs, and may respond with heavy pistols and medium body armor if seriously threatened.
As long as they don’t do anything seriously violent, the police leave this kind of ganger alone. It’s not worth the hassle of dealing with a corporate middle-managers angry about their kids being arrested just to make a minor drug bust or reclaim a stolen traffic sign. (In Shadowrun, if that’s the worst you’re getting up to, you’re probably considered a model citizen!)
The other kind of thrill ganger is something you don’t want to meet. Yes, these jokers are not street punks. They didn’t have hard lives. That’s what makes them scary. They’re outright sociopaths, who may get good grades in college by day but spend their nights mugging civilians and beating anyone they can. Gangs of this type are usually not all crazies, but are led by one or a pair of true psychos with high charisma and nasty dispositions
These individuals locate weak personalities and forge them into a gang. Their minions are often brutalized and serve loyally, thinking they belong. They belong, all right – to the sociopath, as property to be disposed of when it runs out of utility. The sociopath usually leaves this life behind and takes power in a corporate life behind a façade of normalcy. A few others find criminal work which allows them power and free reign with their brutality, such as pimping or dealing drugs, or even joining a Syndicate. Certain organizations even keep an eye out for individuals matching such a sociopathic personality profile, in order to recruit them specifically…
Likely Contacts: Company Man; Police officer;
Go-gangs aren’t all that different from Street gangs, except with motorcycles or cars. That tends to cause many other differences, however. Even with a cheap squathouse to live in, keeping a decent bike running takes some money. Because of this, go-gangs run a lot of guns and drugs, since they need the cash coming in regularly. While they will have some turf (maybe just a flophouse or bar) that they call home, go-gangers don’t control blocks or neighborhoods like street gangs.
They do, however, fight hard to keep other go-gangs from riding on “their” highways. It’s more a matter of pride than money. Still, “owning” that roadway gives you a the right to control drugs shipped down it. Syndicates usually go along with this, as Go-gangers make cheap if somewhat unreliable couriers. Syndicates are often the very first to jump on the Go-gangers when they cross the line or start engaging in mindless brutality.
And Go-gangers do. It’s a way to mark their turf and make the cops think twice before crossing them. Major highways are usually free of too much trouble, but lesser roadways can get pretty nasty. Go-gangers damage or deface other vehicles on the road, but stories of them driving around with missile launchers and machine guns strapped to their hogs are usually complete fabrications.
Go-gangs and Street gangs have an interesting symbiosis. Go-gangers often run the weapons and drugs around for the street gangers, and they don’t really compete for turf. However, they are both brutal criminals and they frequently have nasty rivalries. Some of these stem from prison feuds or competition over drug-pushing. Because of this, a Go-gang and Street gang overlapping turf tend to either have either purely businesslike relationships, no interest at all, or an intense, almost gruesome hatred.
Likely contacts: Syndicate Lieutenant; Bartender; Mechanic; Smuggler
A directed gang is something a little scary: a gang which overlaps a lot with terrorists. These are rare or unheard of in most areas, but tend to infest a few thoroughly. They usually occur when a particular ethnic or cultural group is heavily exploited and brutalized by and occupying power. (This is the gang’s view; the grievance may not be justified or even real). The gang retaliates through terrorist-like actions and matches violence with violence. The gang is usually discrete about its membership and movements, and aims to steal money, supplies, and weapons from their enemies.
These movements lack a serious ability to change the situation, and are rarely able to form a guerrilla movement. They simply don’t have enough numbers or power to change government policy or gather the loyalty of the everyday man-on-the-streets. Despite this, the government probably views such groups with horror bordering on fear, and reacts with shocking cruelty to any such challenge. In order to make it through the day, the gang is necessarily ruthless and survivalist. Many are also marked men and women who would be executed by the government if they tried to return to “normal” life.
Examples of these kinds of gangs in official Shadowrun material include Kazuyuki Geva in Calfree, and the Haida National Front in Tsimshian.
Likely contacts: Sympathetic Citizen; Fence; Arms Dealer
Meeting at the Crossroads
Gangs meet at different points and places. Whether in prison or the streets, they do interact. There’s only so much world out there.
A gang is both an identity and a business. So are the syndicates (Mafia, Yakuza, and Seoulpa Rings). The syndicates are large and powerful, and they frequently employ gangs to do their dirty work. They may force rivals to work together, and punish those who don’t comply. Gangs (as mentioned) often meet in prisons, and enemies on the street are usually enemies in the pen. And gangs of similar stripes can fight over turf and the rights to fight.
The other area where gangs meet is competition, and these can be very important. In the Seattle Downtown, Redmond, and Puyallup districts, gangs routinely meet on some neutral ground to fight, race, bargain, gamble, and otherwise compete for glory. It’s one of the few times they can meet peacefully, and they use the opportunity to show off. Expect full gang colors, flashy new cybernetic implants, and customized vehicles. Getting admission to these events (a cross between a convention, a prison yard, and Tijuana at Spring Break) can be tough: invitations are based on personal connections and personal friendships. You don’t just wander in off the street, unless you have a deathwish.