How does a successful shadowrunner live— not only staying alive day to day, but when looking out for the long term?
FASA’s work seems to suggest that most runners exist at a Low lifestyle, always ready to be on the run when Lone Star thugs or corporate goons bash in your front door, which is part of their standard operating procedure whenever they get the idea you’ve been naughty. (R. Talsorian Games’ Cyberpunk 2020 goes one step lower: player characters are assumed to have no fixed residence, getting around with nothing but what they can carry.)
In any Shadowrun game I’ve ever heard of, player characters tend to amass respectable hunks of nuyen. If they’re going to live to enjoy it, where’s it all going? Paranoia can be expensive.
In general, if a runner wants to stay at something higher than Low lifestyle, they’re probably going to need to set themselves up with a cover identity. It seems sensible for a runner team to set up a group of companies. A common plan is to set up two offshore companies (in different nations) and one local one. When you get paid for your run, you shunt the funds into your first offshore company, have that company then shunt them over to the second one, and have the second one send the funds to the local one, which then disburses effective “salaries” and “bonuses” to the runners, paying their taxes. With a believable job and bills, a runner’s ID will generally be safe— as long as they don’t give anyone on the streets a chance to point them out.
False identities are important for paranoid runners. ID’s leave data trails, and it’s important to be difficult to track when you’re on a run or just hiding from the fifty different corps and gangs you’ve pissed off over your career as a shadowrunner. Keeping them maintained can be tricky, but having a variety of different ID’s linked to different places may allow you to suddenly return from your long absence in a different country to take up life as a mild-mannered consultant relaxing on the pay from his last job. Keeping up the ID and the associated place to live can get expensive, but would you rather be caught with your pants down when the drek hits the fan? With many different ones, it’s possible to distribute your funds in such a way that someone attempting to paralyze you can’t simply freeze all your accounts pending tax investigations. Secure bank accounts are very important in such times.
One of the big problems with crossing borders with your fake ID is passport databases. Background checks finding that you’re in the UCAS when you’re logged as having left for the Allied German States but never returned could make people somewhat suspicious. (One way to cope with this is simply to assume as a gamemaster that you get your passport stamped as you come in, but that exits aren’t monitored.) Using an ID for nothing but travel is a sensible precaution. Still, you may need to get your decker to break into the UCAS passport databases in order to make sure that your background information checks out properly.
Giving out your phone number can be a bad move in the shadows. Cellphone activity can be traced to a particular cell, which is enough for dispatching goon squads. Telephone service can usually be traced at least to the corner call box, if not to your actual residence. One call from someone foolish enough to be monitored by some flavor of spook could compromise you.
Voice mail is popular with runners: they leave you some mail, and you pick it up at your convenience. Pagers, which simply broadcast over their entire area of influence, are similarly useful. Deckers can trivially reroute calls all over the planet, and there are many decker groups that offer shadowy voice mail with all the bells and whistles of multiple rerouting and heavy encryption, giving you the opportunity to keep in touch with your shadowy chummers without taking terrible risks.
Of course, unless you have prearranged encryption set up with one-time pads, your most sensible move is to simply use the phone to arrange a meet— and that’s where codes come in. Indirect references (“the place we met time before last”), euphemisms, and outright codes (memorised or stored in headware memory or even a skillsoft) can make life difficult for the spooks who are trying to make your life difficult.
“Could you destroy the earth with the power of your mind?”
“EEEGADS! I hope not! That’s where I keep all my stuff!”
— the Tick
FASA often assumes in its modules that everybody and his dog knows where the runners live. This is a perfectly sensible assumption if you have plenty of contacts who know where to locate you and you’re a well-known figure not to mess with as far as the local street gang’s concerned. If you maintain an effective secret identity, this is less believable. However, sometimes you just can’t go back to your place, whether it be because it’s being watched or because you don’t want it compromised. That means you need other solutions.
Runner teams will often need to go to ground someplace; they may make a point of avoiding their own residences when on a run, to avoid bringing back trouble in that direction. This is where safehouses come in handy.
A safehouse does not cost as much as an entire chunk of lifestyle, because it only needs to have the rent and utility bills paid. (Depending on the lifestyle, it may also require bribes to the local gang.) If the entire runner team is preapproved for the safe house, they can simply decide to crash there if they need to avoid leading people back to their own residences; the safehouse itself might be paid for by automated credit deposits set up for untraceable routing by the team’s decker, or even maintained as corporate housing by one of the holding companies the runners have created for added cover. A safehouse may even be a favorite coffin hotel. (They run from 20¥ - 35¥ per night normally, but one might gain access to the security cameras for an extra fee...)
|Lifestyle||Month||To Own||Month||To Own||Month||To Own|
For long-term stability, sinking 100 times the cost of the rent (plus utility bills) into an account that pays interest should be able to keep such an apartment indefinitely. (An amount sufficient to buy a place will keep the rent and bills paid just from the interest, based on the table to the right, extracted from Sprawl Sites, will make it easier to recover your capital if the place gets blown up, and is in fact cheaper if the place is Medium or Large. So much for investing in real estate; it’s no wonder there are so many slums if only Small apartments are more profitable than just living off interest.)
Low lifestyle places are cheap and tend not to get many questions asked, but security is mostly physical: bars over the windows, old-fashioned locks taking keys, peepholes in the doors. Middle lifestyle actually gives you doors that are nontrivial to kick down, maglocks, and intercoms that can give you a bit more warning to escape out the back or into the sewer. High lifestyle places actually have ID scanners, video intercoms, alarm systems, and guards. As long as you have the right taps in the security system letting you know if Lone Star is politely showing their search warrants to the management, you can get a lot of warning to clear out (though you have to be careful when smuggling your assault cannon into the garage, and explaining those bullet holes in your van to your neighbors might be tricky...).
Nevertheless, cruel gamemasters may sometimes decide that a player character has managed to get someone pissed off enough to blow up his residence, along with its mainframe, enchanting shop, and vehicle facility. Properly paranoid runners take steps to avoid this sort of trouble, but they still prepare for the worst by stashing the most important things elsewhere.
Runners are very seldom going to actually walk around with all their fake ID’s on them, unless they have shadow credsticks designed to carry these things. Credsticks can also be lost, stolen, or destroyed, and a wise runner has a number of places they can recover their credsticks from in case of such events. Weapons, ammunition, clothing, and armor are all things one might wish to stash in various locations around the city or even the world. Having only a single cache can be dangerous, of course, if it is compromised. Having many of them costs extra. Ain’t life a bitch?
Bank safe deposit boxes are useful for keeping small, valuable items; larger lockers are often available in train stations and coffin hotels. Such lockers are usually extremely durable and have a very limited connection to the rest of the management’s system: an ID system is on the front, and credstick terminals are on the front as well as inside. One can easily plug a certified credstick into the slot inside and the locker will not open save for the proper passcode, thumbprint, retina print, or what have you, and the rent will quietly be ticked off the credstick until it runs dry; alternatively, one can pay for a given amount of time in advance, or fork over a deposit that will generate monthly interest sufficient to pay the rental fee. (Management can usually override these things if they believe there’s a genuine bomb threat or there’s a very broad search warrant in use, so it’s usually wise to take additional precautions with the contents of such lockers.) Such caches will run from 10¥ to 200¥ a month, depending on the size, location, and security involved.
Storage spaces are also handy. They come with similar security measures as the lockers, and take up space varying from a walk-in closet to having enough room for a couple of vans, a bunch of drones, and loads of guns and ammunition. Consult a Shurgard place for sample prices (convert dollars to nuyen), and add extra if the runners want extra security.
Courier work can be very sensitive in the 2050’s, and there are a myriad boxes and briefcases designed to keep things secure. The most common brands are armored boxes with anti-tamper circuitry attached and a variety of small ports inside. Different sorts of modules can be attached to such ports: credstick modules allow you to plug in a credstick, and at a given level of tampering the ’stick will be wiped; data modules do the same with optical chips. Screamer modules can trigger cellphone calls to let you know someone’s tampering. Thermite modules can usually destroy the contents of the box, and plastique modules can even make it explode, killing everyone in the area as well as destroying the box’s contents. Options include internal padding to preserve optical chips from shocks; double-walled, astrally secure boxes devoting a substantial amount of space to supporting anaerobic bacteria for a given period of time; Faraday cage quality isolation using room-temperature superconductors, making it impossible to see inside using even modern quark-spin resonance scanners.
Deckers who have put a great deal of effort into their cyberdecks and the programs running on them aren’t going to let someone wipe out all their source code just because one place blew up. The source code is data, and it can be kept in all sorts of locations on the Matrix (including virtual safe deposit boxes attached to their [hopefully] bulging bank accounts), as well as on optical chips in the same places other runners staff more tangible things. Hermetic mages will often do so with expensive libraries.
Runners should always be ready with surprises for the people making trouble for them. James Bond-style gadgets are wonderful for this, but even at lower price ranges it can be as simple as having an extra concealed holster with another weapon in it or a small monofilament-edged blade sewn into the lining of your jeans where you can get at it when you’re handcuffed. If you know you’re walking into trouble, having the local gang paid off to create a distraction when you don’t report in over your cellphone every five minutes could save your life.