Welcome to the Sixth World, Welcome to the Shadows
It is the year 2075. The world has changed, some say ‘Awakened’. Decades ago an onslaught of cataclysmic natural disasters ushered in the beginning of the Sixth World. Runners may not know much about history, but there is one date that everyone remembers – 24 December 2011. That was the day the great dragon Ryumyo emerged – flying out of Mt Fuji, terrifying all those nearby. But that was just the beginning. Mana storms scoured the Australian continent, killing millions. In Ireland, forests grew at supernatural speeds, covering the country and transforming it into what would become the elven nation of Tir na Nog. Standing stone circles, much like Stonehenge, erupted from the ground, all across the British Isles. Floods, hurricanes and earthquakes rack the world, killing millions more. The following decade saw the emergence of more and more dragons, civil wars erupt in every direction, and the gradual formation of an entirely new world order. What’s more some people began to show signs of magical abilities – only we didn’t have any Hogwarts to send them off to. These magic users were treated with fear, suspicion – sometimes reverence, but usually violence. Drek, some people treat ‘em with violence now.
One group of people had known this was coming – the Mayans. That date was significant on their ancient calendar, and academics now believe that this Awakening of ours isn’t the first to have happened. You know those old stories about knights and elves and faeries and dragons? Well, let’s just say there’s nothing ‘fairy’ about those tales.
Anyway, the rest of us should have seen this coming too. Prior to the Awakening millions of babies had started being born with strange features. Doctors called them deformed, but anyone with a set of eyes could tell they resembled the dwarves and elves of old. No one knew what to do, so we labelled this phenomenon ‘Unexplained Genetic Expression’ and moved on as best we could. 2021 was scarier. That’s when goblinization or ‘kawaru’ began. One in ten humans all around the world mutated into new humanoid species – orks and trolls. All those atrocities that were committed back in the 20th century? Ain’t nothing compared to what happened that year. By 2023 these new types were finally granted equal protection under the law – metahumanity was the way of the world. But of course, by that time it was too late. The fear and prejudice wasn’t going anywhere fast.
But hey! At least we’ve got the Matrix! Imagine the Internet of old, but totally reinvented using Virtual Reality technology. Oh, and as of a few years ago everything is wireless. Wiz, right? The Matrix isn’t just something you can interact with, it’s a place you can go. VR technology means that jacking in is something like visiting another world – the physical rules of reality don’t apply, and what you can do it limited only by your programming abilities – oh, and your system admin I guess. And the Grid Overwatch Division, otherwise known as GOD. Point is, if you know what you’re doing you can kind of get away with anything in there.
And I guess I should warn you about the corps.
There was a time when the highest law of any land was the decrees put down by national governments, and all bodies in national borders, individuals and corporations alike, were subject to those laws. But there was a time even before that when the only law of the world was power, and you could do what you wanted as long as you had the strength to keep anyone from stopping you (of course, history’s full of evidence that this has always been the case, even when national governments held sway). The state of the Sixth World, then, isn’t really anything new. It’s just the latest iteration of the might-makes-right way of doing things. The only real change is that once upon a time governments were able to restrain corporations, or at least enforce some limits. Not anymore.
Back in 1999 a ‘corp called Seretech won the right to maintain private armed forces, then in 2001 the legendary Shiawase decision granted extraterritoriality to the megas.
Extraterritoriality. That’s the word that allows corporations to say that whatever happens in their holdings, on the buildings and lands they own, is subject to their laws—and no one else’s. Gaining extraterritorial status was a long-held dream of many of the world’s largest corporations, and when judicial decisions in nations across the world gave it to them, they spent several years pissing on themselves and each other in utter delirium. Then they figured out their infighting was cutting into their bottom lines, so they stopped fighting one another and concentrated on pissing on the rest of us.
Not all the ‘corps are megas of course, but they don’t call them megas for nothing. Even if you can’t see it, you can bet that one of the Big Ten owns, sold, produces or manages everything you’ve ever bought, sold, ate, drink or shat on.
If you’re going to be a runner for longer than ten minutes, you’re going to work for one of these guys, and if you’re going to live in the shadows for more than a day, you’re going to get screwed over by them.
The tiny cracks between the ‘corps in society? That’s where you come in. Entire societies of street gangers and crime syndicates live and die in these cracks, and dodging amongst all this madness – well, that’s where you live and work. The Megas are ruthless, and will do literally anything to get ahead. Runners? They do the dirty work. This doesn’t always mean wetwork, but it sure as hell means doing something illegal.
Who you are, and why you run. In this world, those are about the only two decisions that are up to you.