Shadowrun is suited to campaign settings rife with economic corruption, the desperate and abandoned poor, powerful corporations who control the social fabric, shady underworld groups and street gangs in conflict. Sounds rather like a vision of Greece after the default, if you were to chuck in a bit of magic. So let’s do that! And what better way to do it than through a resurgent Greek mythical pantheon. And, for that matter, if Greece’s default were to drag Europe down, we would also see Italy and Ireland fall into chaos – and what do they have in common but a history rich in pantheism and magic? How would we construct such a near-future shadowrun campaign?

In comments to my previous post, Paul tried to describe a worst case scenario for Greek default:

Greece comes up to a pay day for the public sector and has no money to pay in. They issue IOUs. The public service goes in strike shutting down hospitals. A run on the banks begins and everyone withdraws their money in Euro. The banks collapse. No medicine is being imported into the country or moved to hospitals. Petrol imports stop and the prices go through the roof, preventing the transport of food and other critical supplies. The entire economy locks up because no one can get to work. Farms lie fallow or with harvests rotting in them because farmers can’t use their equipment. Food and potentially power/water shortages start to hit major cities leading to rioting. The police haven’t been paid or fed so they join in. The damage to property and life is massive. Refugees head to neighbouring countries. Eventually international aid arrives, food and petrol shipments unlock the ability to provide basic necessities of life but medical support remains at the level provided via international aid (i.e. broken bones are treated, people with cancer aren’t going to get drugs worth more than tens of dollars – which I believe is most of them). Restarting the economy from this situation is chaos, it’s basically shut down and had spiralling cascades of defaults.

Now let’s suppose that Greece has a pantheon of sleeping gods, but they were roused by some mischievous figure in one of the resistance movements (New Dawn sound like contenders, but anyone will do). They see a country in chaos and desperate for a guiding hand, so they start letting their magic seep out again. How could they have been roused, and what would the implications be for Greece and Europe? I have a few ideas …

Witch Hunter Rebekka

In this version of the campaign, the PCs are members of a top-secret Greek government organization that was tasked with keeping supernatural threats under control, like the organization from Witch Hunter Robin or Double Cross 3. Unfortunately, their organization was abolished as part of the austerity package insisted on by the European Central Bank, and they suddenly find themselves unemployed in a world where the supernatural is suddenly given a free hand. Perhaps they embark on a solo quest to find out what’s really happening, or maybe they set themselves up in some seedy downtown office and start selling their services to corporations and gangsters who have discovered that the dark side is coming for them. And during this maybe they notice a pattern. Perhaps there are other, similar organizations throughout Europe, and as Europe unravels in the wake of Greece’s chaos those organizations too get shut down or worse.

An orthodox priest, a banker and a schoolgirl walk into the Parthenon …

Perhaps the secret organizations working to protect Europe are not government run, but maintained instead by the churches. In Greece this means the Greek Orthodox church… so what do they do if they are approached by a banker, who does a sideline in hacking, who has discovered evidence that something behind the trouble was planned – that much of Europe’s chaos was actually schemed up by some sinister cabal that saw a chance to create chaos in Italy, Greece and Ireland at the same time. The mechanism is economic collapse, but the goal is to revive old, dark gods – the pagan gods of Ireland and the Southern Mediterranean that the more modern churches drove out. So who do they turn to? A motley group of PCs who have special powers and a can-do attitude, perhaps drawn from the many warring street clans and gangs that have sprung up in the chaos of the default and the political struggles that followed.

A conspiracy of bankers

Of course! What else? We all know that the major banks are servants of satan – let’s make it official! Perhaps the whole economic collapse was engineered to create the kind of chaos necessary to create space for new gods, to generate new, radical and subvertible political movements, and to force the collapse of the secret bulwarks that the Europeans have established against the dark powers that used to rule Europe. Perhaps European history is a long story of dark powers manipulating politics, and the modern European Union was a post-war project to try and drive them out of society and politics. It was working fine – until someone had the silly idea of setting up a common currency. Then the dark powers saw that they could use mundane, financial means to tear the entire European project down, along with all its political and cultural movements against the kind of chaos on which the dark powers depend for their success.

This whole conspiracy would take place in the halls of power, in the boardrooms of banks and sinister organizations, would be traced through emails and secret meetings and currency transfers through shady swiss bank accounts. It’s the perfect conspiracy for a couple of street hackers to slowly track down and unravel in the course of their dubious work – running in the shadows of the corporations, they find a deeper, darker conspiracy at play than mere political corruption … and all of it focused on unleashing old powers long forced down by the church, the enlightenment and the scientific revolution. We all know that our enlightened, materialistic world view depends on the special social order made possible by wealth and the absence of war and political conflict. What better way to unravel it than to engineer economic chaos, poverty and political disruption in the heartland of the old gods – Greece!

A New Dawn for the Gods

Another possible campaign would involve not a conspiracy of bankers, but a conspiracy of radicals. In this campaign, political movements proliferate after the default. Some of them are very violent and become popular very quickly, and as Greece slides into poverty and political paralysis the conflict between these street gangs explodes. Many are also connected to criminal groups and also to ethnic groups – Macedonians and Albanians, Turks and African migrants, for example. Many of them are easily infiltrated by people with authoritarian tendencies, and one of them – probably New Dawn, but others could be imagined – is soon overtaken by a man with special powers, a descendant of one of the Greek gods whose powers have revealed themselves during the chaos. He begins to impel his movement towards the revitalization of the gods, and as other gangs see it they also begin looking for new powers to fight with – perhaps they begin to research alchemy, or bring their ancient gods from across the sea. The PCs, investigating minor crimes as adventurers in the post-default chaos, suddenly begin to discover hints that people are dragging up bigger powers than they have ever seen before, and realize that the street-fighting and political conflict is taking on a religious flavour – with the gods returning to the world as the fervour increases. The fevered political environment of a country in chaos and conflict is a perfect place for new powers to emerge, or old powers to revitalize themselves.

Exploring the Genesis

Shadowrun is set after the cataclysmic events that changed the world. Those events are history, and their effects taken for granted in the Shadowrun setting. But I’m fascinated by how they could have come about, and what the world would have been like when magic was being unleashed. Perhaps an imagined economic and social cataclysm in Europe is a good way to construct those events, and gives us a chance to run an adventure right at the time of the genesis of the world Shadowrun takes for granted. I’ve always imagined that such a catastrophe would not necessarily be a physical one, but some kind of cultural and social upheaval that made gaps through which magic and gods could flow. Catastrophic economic problems and social conflict in Europe offer just such a setting. From something completely mundane like a run on some banks, to dragons ruling the sky … could you run a campaign all the way from beginning to end, and create the world of Shadowrun from whole cloth?