Gangs: Reality and Fantasy II

   OK: Now that we’ve covered something about how real tribal and entrepreneurial gangs work, it’s time for a quick look at some of the gang-style groups you’ll find running around in Shadowrun.

  1. Anarchist Gangs – despite the name – don’t have any real philosophical underpinnings unless it’s Aleister Crowley and “do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law”. They’re made up of people who either don’t want to put up with social restrictions or are incapable of it. Today they may be doing a little smash-and-grab. Tomorrow it may be a gang rape. The next day, street hockey. After that? Who knows? Anarchist Gangs are rarely large (they splinter too easily), have no stable leadership (whoever proposes the most popular idea for “fun” at the moment is the leader), don’t do much planning (most of them are incapable of any real planning), commit crimes at whim (although they rarely manage to make much real profit thereby), usually like to fight, and will be equipped with whatever they can lay their hands on. They’re dangerous simply because there is no way of predicting what they’ll be armed with (ranging from nothing to sizable bombs), they’re completely unpredictable, and they’re given to random acts of violence. A large-scale Anarchist “Gang” simply means that there are several smaller groups with a vague sense of “not letting anyone else spoil their fun” in the area. Addict Gangs are a minor variant, united only by their desire to obtain enough of some commodity to trade for another fix.
  2. Boostergangs are more rumored than seen, but there are a few out there. They may be serving as willing lab rats for cyberware development research, have connections that get them the latest combat or enhancement drugs, be ex-special-forces types (whether military, corporate, or underworld), be in the service of some powerful magical entity, or simply have a really generous patron or other source of cash – but they’re notable for the quantity and quality of the gear they use. Sadly, the power-high such equipment tends to cause, the drugs and/or magic used (whether directly or to prevent rejection and such), and the other side effects tend to leave the Boostergangs more than a bit weird at best – and entirely psychotic at worst. Weirdly enough, there are even a few “themed” boostergangs in existence, although most of them are the result of some wealthy and at least partially-cracked patrons whims.
  3. Client Gangs are simply fronts for whoever’s paying the bills and providing the supplies. They serve as disposable muscle, agents for minor operations, a smokescreen for more important operations, and – if they’re lucky – a recruiting pool for their patrons. Informal clients simply owe their patrons favors. More formal arrangements usually amount to under-the-table employment – although there are a few “Puppet Gangs” who are pretty much totally controlled by implants, conditioning, or other manipulations. Virtually all major corporations and syndicates support a few Client Gangs, and it’s not too uncommon for government agencies and officials, professional guilds, free spirits, dragons, lovecraftian horrors from beyond, and even more successful shadowrunner groups to support a Client Gang or two. Since their patrons rarely want Client Gangs to become too powerful or independent, Client Gangs are rarely too large; if more size is indicated, it generally means that the patron has more than one Client Gang to call on.
  4. Clan Gangs, as made (probably inaccurately) famous by “Ma Barker” and her sons, are actually relatively rare – but they’ve been a popular stereotype in a thousand entertainment productions, so they’re at least worth a mention. Clan Gangs are literal clans, or at least family groups, with a multi-generational history of hanging together, disregarding normal social structures, and victimizing the rest of the world. Despite the “Hillbilly” stereotypes from such fictional productions, few such groups are simpleminded or retarded, although they are often uneducated. Such groups are often casually violent towards outsiders, since they only see members of their own kinship group as being “real people”. Fortunately, the membership of a Clan Gang is inherently limited. Unfortunately, it tends to be far more cohesive – and determined about avenging the loss of any member – than other gangs. While there have been rumors of Clone Gangs – escaped clones of particular individuals, or swarms of (somehow) fully-sapient and viciously well-trained groups of clones from DocWagon donor counterpart banks, secret experiments, and similar origins – there have been no actual confirmations of such a thing so far.
  5. Cult Gangs are generally built around a single charismatic leader (or memory thereof) and his or her lieutenants, with a rank-and-file made up of young and/or impressionable types with a leavening of self-interested individuals who see some profit for themselves in the arrangement. Cult gangs are essentially the personal property of their leaders, and exist for his, her, or its convenience and use. This may be relatively inoffensive, such as a gang of musical groupies / playthings gathered around a popular band, or it may be as sinister as Lovecraft’s Church of Starry Wisdom. Typical leaders include celebrities (fan clubs), sinister magicians, free spirits and horrors from beyond, impassioned religious types, sociopaths (anyone remember Charles Manson?), and – potentially – any ruthless or crazy individual with the skill, magic, or money necessary to impress the gullible. Most cult gangs take the usual gang “trademarks” to a blatantly obvious extreme. Given their willingness to do anything to indulge their commonly crazed or literally inhuman leaders, Cult Gangs are extremely dangerous and unpredictable.
  6. Defensive Gangs revolve around the protection of their members and their neighborhood. Quite a few classical (ethnic immigrant, neighborhood, schoolyard, and mall) “street gangs” fall into this category, as can the students of a particular martial arts school, “neighborhood watch” / vigilante groups, and many more. Defensive gangs are usually heavily weighted towards youngsters and newcomers to the area, are usually relatively peaceful unless provoked, and may or may not be involved in crime; if they are, it’s usually both petty and poorly organized. It’s likely that Petty Gangs or “Bratpacks” made up of pre-teen children who operate out of malls, schoolyards, simsense game parlors, and parks outnumber all other gangs put together. Fortunately, the worst they’re likely to get up to is a bit of graffiti and petty theft. Ethnic or Metatype gangs are probably the most common variants on Defensive Gangs after simple Neighborhood Gangs.
  7. Familial Gangs are essentially substitute families. At the lower end they’re characterized by a limited subgroup that actually brings in money and a selection of protected members cared for by the rest of the group, and are usually small, poor, and loyal to each other. As they scale up they become the classical early-20’th-century street gang – essentially a social group / defensive alliance for the neighborhood youngsters (the most notable late 20’th century gangs were often entrepreneurial gangs built around drug sales). Beyond that point, they tend to become a network of “old friends and contacts”; familial gangs rarely persist all that long, but those who were in them will often continue to act on old loyalties for years or decades to come.
  8. Fellowship Gangs are composed of BTL burnout cases and other outright crazies – people who believe that they’re characters or creatures out of various entertainment productions. In many cases this is harmless and silly. On the other hand, if Killer Ghouls on the Beach is what they all flipped out on, everyone around them may have a real problem. In general, such groups are small, ill-equipped, and without any significant resources. On the other hand, they may include people with important connections (who will be quite upset if anything happens to their friend/kid/lover/whatever) and have no sense of self-preservation or grip on reality at all. In fact, according to rumors, several groups have taken to recruiting such groups – or even intentionally distributing BTL chips designed to create them – as muscle. After all, catering to their fantasy is a cheap way to get some cheap disposable muscle.
  9. Go-Gangs are the modern equivalent of classical motorcycle gangs. They tend to see their vehicles as their hobbies, a symbol of their pride, and the essence of their freedom to go where they want, do what they want, and outrun any consequences. Outside of that, they resemble basic Defensive or Anarchist gangs more than anything else: their “territory” usually consists of stretches of road and a few hangouts and their tendency to blow with the wind tends to make it almost impossible to organize them for anything on too large a scale. On the other hand, small-scale smuggling, drug-running, and weapons-selling can pretty much be assumed; they’re hauling the stuff around anyway, so they might as well sell the excess and make a bit of profit. Larger-scale Go-Gangs tend to be united by a shared love of their vehicles, rather than by philosophical points. Wealthy Go-Gangs tend to focus on vehicle upgrades and rigger gear. Oddly enough, it usually isn’t that hard to join or leave a Go-Gang. Joining generally simply requires a vehicle, a sincere interest in and extensive knowledge of said vehicle (or the skills and cyberware to fake it), and a willingness to ride along and break a lot of minor laws. Leaving is even simpler: random mobility is expected of a Go-Ganger, so all you have to do is ride off over the horizon, get lost, and drop the Go-Ganger ID.
  10. Lunatic Gangs are mostly actually Cult Gangs or Anarchist Gangs when they aren’t entirely fictional, but they do occur sometimes – albeit usually as a low-key gathering of mentally-ill street people. Most Lunatic Gangs are fairly harmless, except by accident. Individuals who are especially violent, incautious, or self-destructive AND crazy rarely last very long out on the streets. Hence there aren’t enough of them to gather into gangs. Most lunatic gangs are merely frustrating; they may have a lot of information – nobody pays much attention to the crazies wandering around – but it’s almost impossible to get any of it out of them in a useful form.
  11. Magical Gangs are pretty rare (and often serve as initiate groups), but there are some out there. In general, mages have fairly good prospects, so once you get beyond the occasional wiz-kid gangs (united by external pressures from the mundane world and a shared sense of being special), the occasional “trade union”, and the basic initiatory groups which college students start up, most magical gangs have fairly esoteric purposes, and often powerful sponsors. As they grow in size they tend to break up into smaller subgroups – cells, chantries, covens, or whatever you want to call them – and become cabals, international orders, and societies. Various magical threats, including toxic shamans, insect spirits and similar menaces, also fall into this category. When those groups start getting large it’s very bad news indeed.
  12. Posergangs resemble Traditionalist Gangs, but have gone entirely off the deep end. They’ve not only picked another culture to immerse themselves in, they’ve taken a real or fictional identity for themselves. They may want to be Elves, Werewolves, Vampires, Attila the Hun, or Darth Vader – but whoever it is, they’ll spare no expense in playing the role if they can help it. Posergangs with modest resources are usually into live-action RPGs, weird costumes, and late-night public-access special-interest programming. If they have real money you may find gangs of loons who’ve all had cosmetic surgery, implants, and bioware installed to provide the abilities they think that the “ought to have”. Posergangs are often easily recruited as Client Gangs by anyone who’s willing to pay for getting them their supplies and modifications.
  13. Prison Gangs are groups that bonded with each other under extreme pressure – whether in an actual prison, under some sort of attack, while being used as experimental subjects, while being prepared for a gladiatorial event, in the military, in some organization they’ve gone renegade from, or in some sort of accidental or intentional survival challenge. Most Prison Gangs have relatively unsophisticated goals – survival, camaraderie, revenge, and “getting things back to normal”, although some are also out to get whoever or whatever forced such unity on them in the first place. This is especially likely if whatever-it-was is still in pursuit. Most prison gangs, having survived whatever-it-was that forced them into alignment to begin with, are surprisingly competent, experienced, and loyal. They may have additional surprises available if they were being used as experimental subjects, being put through special training, or anything similar.
  14. Professional or Entrepreneurial Gangs are after money and – at the higher end – power and influence. They’re usually organized to fit the type of crimes they undertake, ranging from small-scale gangs of underage vending machine thieves or minor hackers on up through major syndicates. Larger Professional Gangs are usually structured like any other corporation, albeit with more weapons and less legal and record-keeping paperwork. Regardless of the scale, professional gangs only exist where the pickings are good enough to support them and whatever they see as the “necessities” of their business. They are usually fairly well equipped. Burglary rings, auto-theft and chop-shop rings, groups that run gladiatorial shows, shadowrunner teams, gambling rings, minor racketeers, “murder incorporated”, and mercenaries all fit in here.
  15. Radical Gangs are dedicated to the advancement of a particular political, economic, or social agenda. That may be civil rights for some obscure group (or for everyone), enforcing religious law, ecological protection or restoration, training paranatural animals as pets, exposure of corporate or individual misdeeds, socialism, anarchism, or virtually any other -ism, overthrowing the local government, nationalism (sometimes on behalf of a nation or similar group that would never have anything to do with them), promoting a particular religion, or pretty much any other cause. The trouble with Radical Gangs is that they tend to be dedicated – and willing to do or sacrifice virtually anything in the pursuit of their cause. At the low end you can find streetcorner speechmakers in this category. At the high end such groups start merging into policlubs, religions, and popular movements.
  16. Survival Gangs are about obtaining food, water, and shelter while avoiding getting killed. Many classical gangs of petty thieves, runaway kids, pickpockets, and similar groups fall into this category. Most survival gangs are small, loyal, and of very limited resources. If they do get ahold of some resources, most stop being “gangs” and become co-ops, group homes, or something similar. Upper-end survival gangs usually believe that some form of “the end” is coming – whether that’s a horrific plague, resource exhaustion, nuclear war, or natural catastrophe – and are focused on surviving it. You can expect private fortresses and hidden camps full of supplies and heavily armed lunatics.
  17. Thrill Gangs are united by casual relationships and the search for excitement – and to most of them, that means venturing into places where they’re not supposed to go, petty vandalism, minor thefts, underage indulgence, and otherwise disobeying the rules and/or their parents. As a rule, Thrill Gangs are reasonably well equipped, since the members necessarily come from backgrounds sheltered enough to feel a need to actually go out and look for their adrenalin rushes, while most of the people in Shadowrun gets them almost every day, whether they like it or not. While Thrill Gangs aren’t usually terribly coherent or especially violent, there are always exceptions, since there are always those for whom minor rules violations are no longer enough after a little bit – and who find that a Thrill Gang can easily be drawn into considerably darker pursuits with a little encouragement, a little psychological pressure, and a little blackmail about their past excesses. The worst, at least by most definitions, can develop into Blood Gangs – groups who torture and kill the homeless, stray children, and similar easy targets for amusement, organize pit fights, and otherwise indulge their worst impulses. On the lighter side, the old “Tagger Gangs” – who do nothing worse than put up spray-painted graffiti – are still alive and well.
  18. Traditionalist Gangs include amerindian wannabees, paramilitary idiots, various “ancient brotherhoods”, renaissance fair devotees, and similar groups. While they differ wildly on the surface, all of them are throughly dissatisfied with their own lives – and have latched onto some other cultures traditions, mannerisms, and lifestyle that they perceive as “better” to emulate, whether or not said culture ever actually existed. Traditionalist gangs always have some reasonably reliable source of income; people who are struggling to survive simply don’t have the time for this sort of thing. On the other hand, they usually display a fierce loyalty to their little subculture.
  19. Warmonger Gangs believe themselves threatened by another group, and are united by their desire to “strike back” and (usually) by a common race, philosophy or religion, area of operation, metatype, (in Shadowrun) use of magic, or some other feature. Whether said “threat” is entirely of their own imagining to begin with is pretty much irrelevant; after a few attacks on their target (or on things they mistakenly believe to be involved with their target), the people they attack will start fighting back whether or not they were hostile to begin with. Common targets of this sort of hatred in Shadowrun include meta- and racial types, magicians, corporations, polluters, governments, vampires, shapechangers or other paranatural animals, nuclear plants, scientists, dragons, law enforcement, political groups, and other gangs. Warmonger Gangs usually consist mostly of tolerably well-armed young adult males and virtually always have enough resources available to cover their basic needs easily; if they don’t, they have better things to do than fight. Saner variants target groups which are actually causing problems for them and won’t negotiate – occupation troops, corrupt organizations, people who are dumping toxic waste in their backyards, and so on. Paranoid Warmongers target groups which aren’t actually bothering them – or which may not even exist – but are often curiously rational about explaining the absolute necessity of their campaign against ferrets, demonic mailboxes, or whatever their target happens to be. Larger Warmonger Gangs tend to qualify as Terrorist Organizations.
  20. Hybrid Gangs are simply combinations of more than one of the major types. In fact, most gangs are variegated enough to combine features from many types of gangs, but few of them really fully embrace two (or more) of the basic types. If you’re using this as a random chart and get a “20”, roll again twice.
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