Shadowrun (4th Edition)
Shadowrun is set only sixty-three years in the future, but the world has gone through tremendous changes. Two of the most significant are the Matrix and the astral plane—two “settings” that will come into play no matter where your shadowrunner is on the globe.
The Matrix is the sweeping term generally used to refer to the worldwide computer network and telecommunications grid—or, more accurately, the millions of wireless computer networks and devices that, together, compose the Matrix—a mesh network with no central body. The Matrix is used for all types of communications—voice and vidphone calls are routed through the Matrix, as are text messages and emails.
Almost everyone in developed nations uses the Matrix on a daily basis for work, education, and recreation. In fact, most people are online all of the time, constantly interacting with the Matrix via their commlinks and augmented reality (AR) overlays. Almost everyone has their own personal area network (PAN), a micro-network linking together all of their personal devices with their commlink as the central router and Matrix hub. This wireless connectivity gives users a great amount of freedom, as they can access their files and resources from virtually everywhere, and interact with nearby devices and networks using AR visual sight cues and other sensory data to bring them information on the fly. This technology is described in detail in The Wireless World, p. 216.
Of central interest to most casual users are geo-tags that broadcast AR Matrix data that is linked to a specific location. For example, a geo-tag at a shopping mall may broadcast a mall map, information about new stores, and current sale specials. A geo-tag at the Seattle Department of Motor Vehicles would direct you to the proper line, desk, or terminal, inform you of the necessary ID requirements, and offer driving safety tips to everyone entering and leaving.
Matrix users can access multiple systems at once—they may be downloading their email in one augmented reality “window,” referencing research documents in another, and watching the security cameras mounted in their child’s daycare in a third.
Many Matrix services are public and accessible, such as some databases, social clubs, game rooms, or PR offices. Others are semi-private—dating services and stock market trading sites, for example—available to the public in exchange for a one-time or subscription fee. Others are private, layered with IC and security measures and patrolled by corporate hackers. These hosts contain the deepest, darkest secrets of corporations and other entities.
THE ASTRAL PLANE
The astral plane is another reality entirely. Some magicians can perceive its depths or project their consciousness therein. Those who take astral form can move through the astral plane at the speed of thought, but few magicians can stay within this realm for longer than a few hours. The astral plane is the home of spirits, beings of quicksilver and shadow, and is a realm of mystery and danger. It parallels our own physical plane, and auras of living creatures and magic are reflected upon it, where those skilled in the Art can analyze them. The theory goes that the astral is actually sustained by the life force of the Earth and its creatures. From the astral plane, a magician can read the emotional imprints that linger on various items. Sufficiently strong feelings may even pollute the astral atmosphere. Sterile corporate offices, murder scenes, and toxic dumping grounds, to give just a few examples, all have their own distinct (and unpleasant) astral “flavor.”
Beyond the astral plane are the metaplanes, realms of magic accessible only by initiated magicians. Little is known about the metaplanes—of which there may be an unlimited number, or only one, depending on whose theories you believe. Initiated magicians can travel to any metaplane they choose, though some have strict entrance requirements.
BEYOND THE BASICS
Shadowrun contains many more interesting settings, too numerous to describe in detail here. Players may find themselves in corporate arcologies, self-contained and self-sustainable mini-cities that house thousands of corporate citizens; Awakened lands, where metahumans and dragons work together to purify the often polluted Earth; or the cold edge of space, where humanity is slowly populating numerous orbital habitats as it expands into the void. Most metahumans make their homes in vast urban sprawls, from the glittering skyscraper penthouses of the corporate elite, to the winding homogenous masses of corporate housing enclaves, to the crumbling and blighted ghettos long ago abandoned by civil authorities to gangs and worse. Even corporate thugs and cops fear to tread in many of the sprawl’s shadow regions.