In a street gang campaign, the player characters are all members of the same gang living in the urban jungle of the metroplex (or even different gangs if the gamemaster is feeling especially brave). The gangers are not hardened, experienced shadowrunners, in fact they’re not really shadowrunners at all for the most part. They are simply trying to survive in the ‘plex and maintain their turf against all other comers.
Starting characters in a gang campaign should begin with a lower Rating Threshold than the starting 6 for shadowrunners, probably more like 5 or 4 for maximum Attribute, Skill and Force ratings. The gamemaster will probably want to restrict access to a lot of equipment and cyberware, at least at first.
The benefit of this sort of campaign is there is a lot of room for character development and growth and there aren’t likely to be many problems with too much power accumulated by the characters. The players have to like the idea of playing little fish in a big pond, however, and understand that they aren’t going to be the uber-runners of the past mowing down whatever opposition gets in their way.
The Fledgling Shaman/WizKid Mage: This character is the magical muscle of the gang. Gangs with magicians in them are rare, and this character should be the only magician in the group (with the possible exception of the Burned Out Mage, below). This character can follow either the Shamanic or Hermetic tradition or the Voudoun tradition in Awakenings. The character’s starting spell ratings cannot exceed 4 except through the use of force modifiers like fetishes.
The Burned-Out Mage: The burnout is an older character who is a kind of mentor-figure to the Wiz Kid mage and some of the other members of the gang. He’s been there and done it all and now he’s pretty much washed up as far as magic is concerned. He has a fair amount of magical knowledge, but not a lot of ability left. He’s made up for some of the loss with cyberware and the rest with knowing when to run. For every Magic point the burnout sacrifices to something other than cyberware, he gains either +1 Attribute Point , +3 Skill Points or +5 Force Points.
The Street Squire: This character is a street-samurai wannabe. He’s got the attitude and he’s getting the chrome. All he needs is the experience and the chance to break into the biz and make a name for himself. The Street Squire carries himself with a proud air and follows a code of honor that he sticks to. He’s a bit more naive than the experienced veteran samurai, because his ideals haven’t been tarnished by as many years of experience.
The Ganger: The archetype right out of the book, which can be used as is. This character is the backbone of the gang and probably has a fair amount of background with them.
The Enfant Terrible: The Enfant Terrible is a baby decker who’s really good, or really lucky, for someone their age. Decking is often considered a “young-uns” business in a lot of cyberpunk worlds and some very skillful deckers can show up at a pretty young age. The Enfant Terrible’s main limitation isn’t skill, it’s equipment. Their cyberdeck probably isn’t all that hot, but they might have some good programs if they wrote ’em themselves. Keep in mind that a lot of street gangs are going to consider a decker more of a “luxury item” than a tech who can fix your trideo or your walkman. A decker is going to have to constantly justify their presence to some members of the gang.
The Techie: A techie has a natural gift for working with electronics of all kinds. He’s the one who makes all of the gang’s technojunk work, patching things together from salvaged junker that SINner society throws away. The techie might also have some Computer skill and ability to handle the Matrix, but not necessarily. He’s usually a little short on combat skill, but long on all sorts of technical know-how.
The Corpkid: The corpkid is a runaway, a young person who got a bellyfull of courage and enough ideals to bolt from his comfy corporate haven out onto the streets. Most runaway corpkids get chewed up and spit out on the street, but a few manage to survive out on their own, using their unique skills. A corpkid character may start the game with neural-based cyberware from Shadowtech, to reflect the access to higher grade cyber that the corps have. A likely role for the corpkid is that of techie or baby decker since they will tend to have more technical backgrounds than most other characters.
The Gang Warrior: A physical adept character just coming into full use of his abilities. Most street-level physads are unaware of their true natures or, if they know they are adepts, are entirely self-trained. Most of their powers will revolve around survival on the mean streets. Because their magic allows them to exceed normal limits, gang warriors begin as fairly powerful characters, likely to be important in any gang that values physical prowess (and most do).
The Rider: The Rider character’s specialty is driving, almost always motorcycle riding since most gangs rarely have access to better vehicles. The rider will probably not have a vehicle control rig (that may be a future goal), but they always have a good variety of Vehicles skills and Vehicle B/R skills. The rider character will likely be in charge of maintaining the gang’s bikes and other vehicles.
Urban Tribal: An urban tribal is a ganger, often a metahuman or tribal, who follows the “ancient ways” of his people adapted to city life. Some entire gangs go for this motif, dressed in leathers and tribal symbols and treating the ‘plex as an “urban jungle” that they hunt through. Some urban tribals go for various retro-style weapons, but just as many prefer modern equipment.
Gamemasters running a street gang campaign will have a lot more work to do in setting up and running adventures. A lot of the traditional Shadowrun adventures don’t work with gangers who are not professional mercenaries like most shadowrunners. Gamemasters can make interesting use of some of the published Shadowrun adventures that include gangs by turning them around and running them from the gang’s perspective and involving the player characters in the plot. Adventures like Ivy & Chrome, Dreamchipper and Elven Fire are interesting when looked at from the gang’s angle.
Some other gang-based adventures can include:
Turf War: An obvious ganger adventure is when the gang becomes involved in a conflict with a rival gang over turf rights. Perhaps the rival gang is backed by a powerful player like the Mob, the Yakuza, a corp or even something like a free spirit. If so, the player characters are going to have to be careful and an outright assault against the rival gang would probably be suicide. How can the characters protect their neighborhood from these invaders?
Lost Sheep: The gang encounters a corpkid out on the streets who ditched the high lifestyle for any number of reasons. Will they try and help or leave the kid and pretend they don’t notice? What if someone (or several someones) are after this kid because they have something valuable they took with them when they ditched their comfy corporate quarters?
Initiation: The characters are attempting to join a gang and have to pass through the gang’s rites of initiation, which could include surviving in the urban hell of the ‘plex, confronting an area supposedly haunted by ghosts or ghouls, critter wrestling and anything else the gamemaster cares to think of.
Lost Boys: A vampire is moving in on the gang’s turf and he has turned several members of a rival gang into vampires or vampiric pawns. How are the characters going to deal with this bloodsucker when they discover that some of their enemies have become superhuman?
Moving On Up: Of course, if a gang campaign begins to lag, the gamemaster can always “graduate” the characters to full-fledged shadowrunners status and start over.