Saturday, May 26, 2001

Shadowrun Rants

The Following is a collection of Rants about Shadowrun.  Shadowrun is a Table Top Roleplaying game.  The game is set in the future of the 2060's-2070's in a world where magic came back; it is cyberpunk meets Fantasy.  It has two major magical traditions in the game, Hermetic magic and Shamanic magic.  From 1997-2001, I had a website dedicated to the Shamanic magic tradition in the game.  The site was called Dreamsinger's Circle.  So here they are.

Magick and Munchkins

One thing that has driven me absolutely bonkers in Shadowrun is how Munchkins view Magick. Most want to play the dark manipulative master, who wears all black, everyone respects and fears or they play the down right combat monster mage from hell. Yeah Right. When they do play shamans which in my experience is rare they go for the Totems that illicit fear and foreboding. For example I have seen them play the following totems Raven, Wolf, Tiger, Wolverine, Lion, Griffin, Gargoyle, Owl, Shark and etc. I have yet to see them play something like Dog, Mouse, Raccoon, Beaver or Rat. They first look at the bonuses and the disadvantages and find the one who has the best combat or manipulation spell bonuses. Then they look at the prestige of the Totem, very few would lower themselves to play say a Prairie Dog Shaman or a Squirrel Shaman. Finally it is attitude; they want the Bad Asses, the ones whose symbolism instills fear and respect.

All Munchkin Magickal types want to be feared and respected. Funny thing is in the groups I have Gm'd and played in; they become the butt of the jokes. Most of them are cardboard, no real background or they keep the character's background from the other players and characters. I had one Munchkin Hermetic Mage in the past that blew the identities of his team mates on his Cable Vid Show. He also cut a deal with Lonestar. Let's just say at the time both player and character were not very popular. One thing that is a problem is most of the Munchkin Magickal types are very selfish and do not understand what Shamanism is all about.

Shamanism is about serving one's community and Totem. Most Munchkins want their characters to only serve themselves. The player who played the character I mentioned earlier played a Celtic Raven Druid who followed the Celtic Goddess Morrigan. This Character, who I will call BattleCrow here, fled Tir Nan Og before his enemies could kill him. The Player understood the service part but still had to play the closest thing to a Physical Mage at the time (1st Ed and Early 2nd Ed). He ended up creating a gang of BattleCrow wannabes who he called the Chosen, they became his community. However the chosen more often than not served BattleCrow than the other way around. The Player in question had to be feared, respected and idolized. Once again his characters fell into his usual trap. If one plays a Shaman one must choose a community to serve. One's Tribe, One's Neighborhood, or just one's immediate circle of friends.

Another point of contention I have is most Munchkins do not get the Totem/Shaman Relationship. When I posted my Call Of the Wild article, I had one young Munchkin ask why didn't I say instead of losing all one's magick for misbehaving just allow the Character to be a Hermetic Mage. I tried to explain that it is punishment you become a Mundane for blowing it. A character must not be rewarded for not following his totem, so when he loses it all it should be ALL. No Magick. He becomes blind to that part of him and it is meant to be a bad experience almost self destructive. Now I did not come up with all of this from my imagination. I read much of Shamanic Lore and learned that this was the least of the typical punishments. Most Shamanic Cultures say if a Shaman loses his magick he dies. This is due to how magick is tied to the complete essence of the Shaman. To disobey one's Spirit Teacher is to pay the ultimate price according to Most Shamanic Cultures. In the Article I do have rules to get another Totem, but the road is hard and rough. The Shaman has to prove to the Totem that they have REALLY learned their lesson and WILL NOT REPEAT their previous mistakes.

Most Munchkin Shamanic types I have seen hate any restrictions and will fight rules like those covered in Call of the Wild. Most of the Munchkins I know though are good role players and when they take a Totem they follow the Totems restrictions and personality. But some of them have not understood the nuances of some of the Totems. Among many Native American Tribes Wolf is seen as the Elder, Teacher and Mentor, not just the Hunter and Warrior many portray. When Playing a Shaman I suggest you try to find out the symbolic meanings of the animal see what all that the Totem could encompass. When I did it I learned more than I thought I ever could about Shamanism and Totemism.

Well that is my not so Humble Opinion.

Secrets and Lies

I love concept characters as do most of my players.  A word for the wise though, if your character has a secret your Gamemaster will reveal it to the other players through a scenario.  I once had a Player get upset because I had several runs related to certain parts of her character’s background that she wanted to be left alone.  First thing if you are in my campaign any part of your character’s Background is fair game for me to utilize as an adventure hook.  Sorry Folks but most Gamemasters cannot leave well enough alone when it makes a good story.

The Character mentioned earlier was a Japanese Ex-Patriot Elf who escaped the tribulations of being interned in Yomi.  She was a Rocker Mage and was an Oyabun’s daughter.  Well I ended up creating the rest of her family including a Martial Artist Adept Ork brother who was a member of the Oni-No-Yoosoo from my Organizations page, a Yakuza Ninja sister who wanted to kill all of the abominations that shared her lineage, and a little Elven girl sister.  Needless to say I had fun with it, but the Player was upset with the Family runs.  She seemed to dislike the fact I let lose most of her character’s secrets.  However those runs were very fun for me, they helped introduce some of my favorite NPCs although now they are seriously altered.  Funny thing about this is as a Gamemaster the player in question created more havoc than I ever thought of.  She would have done the same as I if not worse.

Now I let my players know ahead of time anything they create for their background is fair game (he he he).  If you have an enemy you thought you left moving to Seattle, wrong they found you and have been tracking you down.  If you think your new identity is foolproof, it is not.  As a Gamemaster I will wait for the character to accidentally let it slip, then in comes the enemy.  Remember as a Gamemaster it is our jobs to make things tough and interesting for the characters.  It is all part of what makes Shadowrun fun.  I am not saying that everything is going to be rough.  I will let up, but just to give the characters a false sense of security

 Shadowrun follows the idea of whatever does not kill the character makes them stronger.  As a player I loved it when my Dolphin Kahuna (Hawai’ian) Shaman was hunted down by the Renraku Executive that led to Riptide leaving Hawai’i.  The whole adventure led to Riptide changing his face and his Nome de Guerre.  I thought it was a fun adventure and it made things much more interesting. Realize folks that this is just a game and let even the frustrating parts be in fun. 

That is My Not So Humble Opinion

Shamanism and Shadowrun

Well a friend of mine said why not do a rant on how Gamemasters and Players portray shamans.  I thought about it and figured I covered it in Magick and Munchkins.  After thinking about it, I realized that Magick and Munchkins only touched the tip of the Iceberg.  I have some trouble with some of the way that FASA has portrayed Shamanism and related Magickal Traditions.  They leave out a lot and show only a small part of the equation. 

Let me start with things FASA has overlooked.  First let it be known I have some friends that follow the Shamanic path and the Wiccan path.  I have read extensively to better understand these paths.  Shamanism is also a path that interests me greatly as well.  One of the things that bothered me is that FASA has only shown Shamanism from the point of someone born into the Culture of the tradition that they follow.  With Magick returned the Totems and Idols would be speaking to those whose connections to that culture are not strong or the Culture’s Shamanic Tradition is lost.  Think of a Irish-American in Boston that gets a wake up call from Serpent or Bull, or an African-American in Los Angeles getting noticed by Lion or Ogun even though they had no proper contact to Shamanism or Voudoun.  I was glad how they presented that concept from the point of view of the Celtic Druids and Nature Magicians in Europe

However there are several lost Shamanic traditions from Europe I think they did not cover.  One of them is the Seidhr Tradition of the Teutonic peoples.  They followed animal totems and revered the Goddess in the form of Freya.  That tradition would have been prevalent amongst the Norse, the Ancient Germanic Tribes, and the Saxons of Great Britain.   Another idea is the Egyptians could have two traditions side by side a Nature Magick tradition and a Shamanic one.  Think of all those Animal headed gods and the like and how they would translate in a Egyptian form of Shamanism. 

I also have trouble with the manner FASA has portrayed Wicca.  They do it as strictly a Nature Magick tradition.  I see it as a mixed Nature Magick and Standard Shamanic.  One thing is many theorize that Wicca is the descendant of a European tradition of Shamanism that was Matriarchal.  In my campaign some who hear the call of Wicca also hear the call of an Animal Totem.  I could easily see a Wiccan follow Cat, Raven, Wolf, and Fox to name a few.  Some of those I know who follow that path in Real Life do follow an Animal Totem and they revere a deity.  In Shadowrun terms they would only be a Wiccan Shaman but still follow a deity.  In my campaign the rare leaders of Wicca are the Nature Magicians.  At least three out of every thirteen or so.

Back to the idea of European-Americans being called upon by a totem.  First is FASA’s view of Celtic Druids is too restrictive.  I would rather say that a Celtic Druid can leave the Islands and make new sacred circles anywhere they call home.  I think one would see groups of Celtic-Americans do just that.  Some gain tribal status as a pink skin tribe and so on.  Areas I think Groups of Celtic-American Druids would be found is in the Pacific Northwest, Boston Metroplex, Nova Scotia, New Foundland and the former Saskatchewan.  In Many Dances of Shamanism I cover many ideas of how a European-American and African-American would approach Shamanism under these circumstances.

In my tenure as a Gamemaster and Player of Shadowrun, I have seen some portrayals of Shamans that had me cringing.  First, PLEASE NO STEREOTYPICAL NATIVE AMERICANS.  I mean like, Tonto, can smell Bad guy in the Wind, Kemosabe.  Give me a break.  Native Americans are usually native English Speakers.  There is a tribal accent but today and in the Sixth World it would be very slight. 

Second, DO NOT OVERPLAY THE MYSTICAL ANGLE.  Shamanism is a mystical path, but it is very down to Earth.  Its tenants are based on being one with the Physical and Spiritual world.  In Shamanic Cultures, the Shaman is the bridge between the Real World and the Spiritual world.  Without being firmly anchored in the Physical Plane many traditions believe the Shaman would be lost in the Spiritual plane forever. 

Thirdly, NO MR. MIYAGIS.  I mean the whole idea of a mystical not get to the point till the last minute is only found in Student/Teacher relationships not between a Shaman and the general public.  And the reason for it in the Student/Teacher relationship is the Teacher is trying to teach the Student a new way of looking at the Universe.  To do this the Teacher must get past the garbage modern society has dished out to the Student. 

Fourthly, NO ULTRA-PRIMITIVE TYPES.  IN Shadowrun they exist but they are the exception not the rule.  Remember, even a Shaman grew up with TV, Guns and other modern conveniences.  I had a friend who played a Wolf Shaman, whose fellow players were surprised his character carried a Predator II.  In the Sixth World It is very rare for someone to grow up not knowing what modern technology is.  Those areas were they are unfamiliar are the most remote areas of the World and even they have been invaded by Western Man and Modern Technology.

I am not saying you cannot portray a Primitive or a Mr. Miyagi type but understand what is means and the consequences and implications behind such Characters.  Also Try not to stereotype too many of the Totems.  Some have meanings one would not think of.  In Native American Lore the Wolf is the Mentor, Teacher, and Advisor as well as the Warrior and Hunter.  He would be fierce with his enemies but gentle with family and friends.  Bear can be deceptively slow, because when needed he will be extremely fast.  Ever see a Charging Bear not a Pretty sight.  Plus a totem chooses a Shaman based on internal characteristics not external ones.  So one could see a big man follow Hummingbird or Mouse, or a small person follow Bull, Bear or Gator.  As Yoda said, Size Matters Not.

I covered some more of my Shamanic Pet Peeves, but by no means all of them.  So there may be more to this Tirade.  LOL 

This once again is My Not So Humble Opinion.

Shadowrun Magickal Stereotypes

OK Folks, here I go again about Magick in Shadowrun but this time I am going to tackle the Stereotypes of Magickal Folk in Shadowrun.  I have already covered a several shamanic stereotypes.  Well, I missed a few. Here we go.

Shamans as Slobs, In the Shadowrun sourcebooks there is mention of the Odd Couple clone Vid-show called Odd Coven.  The Shaman in the Vid-show is presented as a slob and disorganized.  That is a major generalization.  I can think of a few totems that would not be that way.  Mouse, Squirrel, Cat and Eagle I see as very organized very clean and sharp in appearance.  Fox is another that would fit this bill.  Shamans are a bit more improvisational with regards to their magick, but that does not mean that all are disorganized or slovenly. 

As to the reverse Hermetics as Neat Freaks, well not all Hermetics are the same.  I can see a few like the absent minded professor or mad scientist with notes and formulas spread out all over a room.  Ritual materials scattered in the room would be more common than some might think.  Street Mages may also more likely be less organized than their refined colleagues.

Shaman as uneducated and less worldly, I can see this in more Primitive types from remote areas.  This is the 21st Century so more Tribal types would be educated at least to High School diploma level.  I can think of a few NAN Universities that would have Doctorate Studies in Shamanism.  It may not be as common as Hermetic Studies and Ph.D.s in the UCAS, CAS and Europe, but they would be common in the NAN, African Nation and others Shamanic Nations.  

Hermetic as educated and worldly.  Well Folks I could see a few naive Mages who learned their craft intuitively or were taught by a family member.  Also I think Mages from that Lower Classes would be less likely have a Degree, especially certain Metatypes.  I think I would be uncommon to see an Ork or Troll Street Mages with a Thaumaturgaical Degree.  I can see some Street Kid Learning from some old Geezer Mage who has become a hermit in a condemned building.

Shamans as from the Lower Classes.  Think of this, a Shaman whose family have always been Shamans or Chiefs in the Tribe or some rich kid who hears the call of Dog.  The Gift and the totems do not differentiate between Rich and Poor, so you would see affluent and influential Shamans as well as those from humble beginnings and origins.  Some back to land types would shun wealth and its trappings but not all Shamans would do this.

Hermetics from the Upper Classes.  Like I said above the gift does not differentiate between rich and poor.  The sourcebooks mention Corporations going into the barrens and testing kids to recruit those magickally active into the corporate service.  Some would slip in between the cracks especially certain Metatypes, like Orks and Trolls.  I could see some late bloomers too slipping between the cracks and learning their magick after a lifetime under another path.

Remember folks, when creating a Character look at all the possibilities.  Create a few who break through stereotypes.  Have a Tiger Shaman who likes to wear silk suits and trade stocks or a Hermetic Mage who has focuses made from refuse items like old tin cans and coke bottles.  Everything is possible have fun letting your imagination run wild.

Well once again is My Not So Humble Opinion.

Shadowrun Websites

Well Folks this rant is the result of a recent chat in the AOL GIX section.  A few of us were discussing the quality of Shadowrun Websites on the Internet.  Many are great resources for the game, but there are a quite a few that in my opinion are not worth it.  It seems as though too many of them regurgitate the same stuff.  My main problems with Shadowrun websites are too many are reprints of stuff that exists on other pages, too many are all graphics and no substance, and finally too many seem to put out the same kind of stuff: spells, guns, equipment, PCs and NPCs.

First the reprints, too many sites reprint or plagiarize content from another site.  Folks please be original and if you do borrow something, credit the original.  There is a site online that used one of my totems and credited me.  I am glad; it is nice to know people like my stuff enough to use it.  When done like that I see it as borrowing and no problem.  Using something of mine or someone else’s and not crediting them, I see as outright theft.  On my site a few totems are based on other peoples work.  I have changed a few things, but I still credit the original folks.  As to those who mirror what is on another page with permission it is fine, but I would still like to see more original work.

Second the flash but no substance sites, come on folks enough.  There are too many non-Shadowrun sites like this.  One problem in this area is an incomplete site that includes all that the owners wishes to do, but has not gotten around to doing.  When I posted my site I had tons of stuff ready.  I only posted links that were active, not ones I had planned to have.  Folks, before you post a site try to have a good number of stuff ready.  I have seen too many sites that are just a list of what the author intends to do.  Graphics are great, but they are just window dressing.  The meat of the matter is the source material.

Finally the same old stuff, too many sites post spells guns, equipment, and Characters (PCs and/or NPCs).  Not that I do not like these things, but too many sites are just only that.  Folks be creative.  There are things you can do that are fun.  I posted gangs, Rocker Bands, articles and anything I can think of.  Heck, at one point I was tempted to do a Ultimate Fighting type Federation with Pro-Wrestling type gimmicks.  I still may do it.  Heck someone could update the Professional Sports teams listed in the Shadowbeat Sourcebook (some teams have moved since the book and new teams have been added all together).  What I am trying to say is we need more stuff that is off the wall and interesting on Shadowrun Websites. 

I am by no means saying all Shadowrun sites are like what I am ranting about, but about forty to fifty percent are.  I have seen many good ideas, not all of them will I use or did I like.  However I liked the creativity and that the author was trying to do something new.  So those who are being innovative and having fun, more power to you.  Those who are putting out the same old stuff try something new and let you imagination and weirdness run rampant.

Well once again is My Not So Humble Opinion.