It seems like the turnover rate for talent in the shadows is pretty rapid these days. With the fallout of the second crash only just settling, the advent of Technomancers, and the chaos in the Yucatan, not to mention the Tempo craze sparking a syndicate war and the election in Seattle hitting it's stride, shadowork is plentiful, and not everyone is up to the challenge.
So, we've taken on ourselves to plum expert knowledge. Some of the veterans of the shadows have volunteered their insight and experience for your edification. Listen to what the people here have to say. Much of it could very well save your life.
Running the Shadows
Subject: Tactical Considerations
Teams today seem to have grown up on a steady diet of action movies: a collection of individuals who do not coordinate or plan. I've been playing overwatch for my team for the better part of a decade, planning and monitoring and ensuring backup methods. My team is known for it's ability to survive the worst odds. We're known for luck. Let me be the first to tell you: luck is the last resort for survival, and never the first resource for success. You wanna make a rep getting the job done with style and professionalism, know your tools, do your homework, lay the groundwork, and always have two ways out.
Know the Team
If you're a team, you've got to know one another. It's a statistical fact that groups that are thrown together and have not worked together before have a much lower survivability rate. This is as much a matter of miscommunication as it is a lack of familiarity. Sit down and get to know your coworkers. Figure out what everyone is good at and what role they will play in the operations to come. If you're really into it, develop strategies and tactics that make use of your abilities. I know a small team of magic users, three mages and an adept. They've come up with a dozen different maneuvers, everything from using the adept as a spotter while they pelt the enemy with spells and curses from afar to using various sustained enhancement spells and spirit assistance to send her into any op.
Knight Errant teams work together in virtual SWAT training grounds. Renraku Red Samurai are trained together from day one, and become like family. The secret of my team? Online gaming. Seriously. They get you to think of each other in a tactical sense, and you start realizing how your teammates think and act. Those little instincts can save your life in a firefight.
All information is power. Knowing who is hiring you can give you all kinds of info: what kind of job to expect, what kind of opposition, and what kind of things you can ask for in the negotiation.
You hear a name dropped, you hear a product, a company, anything, you look up every lead, every angle. You never know what info can save your life or turn a profit.
Learn the lay of the land. Find the floor plans of any buildings you'll be entering, and know every way in, out, and where anything you need or should fear might be coming from. Know the fire lanes and the ventilation. Know the surrounding buildings, the local security rating and provider and how long it takes them to respond to an alert. Know the local lay of the land, and the routes to and from your safehouses.
If the target has a matrix presence (and any person or place will), hack it. See how far in you can get without making any waves, scout it out and see where and how the system is vulnerable.
If you have the time, take the time to watch your target. Learn patrol patterns, daily habits, security systems, anything you can. Whether you get a local guard drunk and hear his stories or steal a personnel file, stakeouts build a living schedule of your target.
Keep your ear to the ground about who else might be working the job or any other jobs nearby. Someone else makes an extraction the night before yours, security is going to be up and you'll have to be ready for it. There might even be competitors for the job YOU are doing, and this biz is first come, first paid.
There is no such thing as knowing too much.
Setting the Stage and the Getaway
Odds are, any job you get is going to cover some territory. Security is designed to have rally points, supply lockers, etc. You can cover the ground early with supply drops and prepared traps. Uniforms and disguises can get you into a location or close to a target, and new ones can help you evade pursuit. Get a few cars set up in rented garages to help in a get away. A rented locker can have spare weapons, IDs and clothing. I've even known a few occasions where prepared explosives can cover any kind of contingency, or timed data worms or drone strikes can offer a distraction.
The point is, you can have control of the situation if you are properly prepared. You let them have the control, and you can expect to play the game by their rules. Whether you want to win or lose... well, that's up to you.
You ever wonder where your hacker learned to twist code, or where your team mage got his doctorate in Hermetic Sciences? "Everybody comes from somewhere," that's what my dad always used to say. There's a lot of paydata in digging up the past, and not just for blackmail: you know where someone comes from, and you know who they can call on for help, who is out to get them, what makes them strong, what makes the weak, and so on. If you work the shadows, you know how to pump your contacts for into. But consider building dossiers on your friends as much as (if not more) than your targets. You never know when that data is going to save your life.
That being said, sometimes it's just easy to wonder where runners and the like come from. What attracts someone to life as a SINless fugitive who commits crimes for cash? Everybody comes from somewhere. Here's some of the places runners come from.
A lot of the expendable shadow talent can trace it's roots to dirty back alleys and slum tenements. A lot of street youth have no choice but to join a gang: they have the flash colors, money, guns, a sense of belonging and someone to watch your back, but most of all, respect. Without a SIN, there aren't a lot of options for employment, and most of those involve 70 hour work weeks for less than minimum with no benefits and no security. If you're not working a shit job, working for a pimp, or outright homeless, your options are illegal.
Moving up into the shadows is usually a step up in the world. It means you are calling your own shots, making the big money and surviving the dangerous jobs. A runner
As hard a life as this is, it's fertile ground to grow the skillsets necessary to survive the shadows. You learn how to sneak, how to fight, when to run, and how to get by with the minimum necessary equipment. A lot of runners from the street have a network of contacts that includes fences, dealers, gangers and the like, and they can get a lot of info and support there.
The bad news is that a lot of these runners have a chip on their shoulder. Growing up rough can mean you think you've got something to prove when slick Mr J comes in with an offer, and growing up in a shantytown doesn't do much to educate on basic hygiene or manners. It's also hard to get away from a past in a gang. You never really leave, and even while you can still call on them for help, the door swings both ways, and they'll want to make use of their old chummer with the wiz skills.
In their element or during hard times, a street runner knows how to make things work and gets things done. Once the rules of high society come into play, they often stick out like a sore thumb.
As much as we love to loathe company men, a lot of the best runners come from the other side of the fence. The corps enjoy extraterritoriality, meaning an entire corporate culture, complete with corp teachers, corp farmers, and corp soldiers. These soldiers run the same gamut of specializations as any other can: intel, bodyguard, even full out combat troops for the Desert Wars or special forces (such as the Renraku Red Samurai or Aztechnology Leopard Guards). A lot of mages start out here, too, with corporate testing done from childhood to spot magical talent at an early age. These kids grow up leaning their mojo at high-end universities like MIT&T or any of the Mitsuhama tutelage grounds.
Company men leave the safety of a corp for a lot of reasons: the need for freedom, witnessing unconscionable acts, a glass ceiling they can't breach due to gender, race, metatype, and more. A corporation means a steady paycheck, reliable gear, and never going hungry, but it also means never being able to say no. A lot of ex-corp runners think that right is worth everything.
Former company men enjoy training on par with the enemy, as well as intimate knowledge of corporate operations and tactics. If your hacker used to be a security spider for Renraku, odds are he remembers a few backdoors in the systems he used to watchdog. Their contacts run the gamut from old comrades to secretaries to Mr Johnsons they trust, and any other connections they cultivated in their own time. They also benefit from any inherent gear they may have acquired in their tour, from cyberware to commlinks.
Coming from a corp does mean that there is, more often than not, a file on you dancing in their datacores somewhere. Before making the switch, whenever possible, a company man will try to have themselves burned from the system as thoroughly as possible, but it's highly unlikely they can get every scrap of data. A copy of their file is almost always on someone's commlink, in isolated data storage offline, or somewhere else. Sooner or later, this can come back to haunt them, especially if the are in the middle of a run against their former employers. Even worse is if they have a ritual sample of the former company man, meaning they live only a chant away from being found… or worse.
Company men are ideal for upscale urban ops, forged in and haunted by their previous association with the very entities they now work against. They know their employers and enemies intimately, and that edge puts them a cut above the rest.
North America is less likely to see these ex-spooks than in Europe, which flooded with the collapse and reformation of nations. This might explain why runs in Europe tend to be much more cloak than dagger. Still, the occasional former CIA, FBI, NSA and such find their way into the shadows, along with their more violent-minded Sioux Wildcats, Green Berets, and even Tir Paladins and Ghosts.
The government works much like a corporation when it comes to the bureaucratic landscape of warfare and intelligence, and the reasons for leaving are much the same. There is the added emphasis on deserting or defecting when they've failed at a mission or discovered things about this own side which makes them more of a liability than an asset.
Government training and equipment is generally slightly below, if not on par, with corporate equivalents, though generally with a much broader view of their potential opponents. Spooks generally must combat the corporations and rival governments, as well as mole hunts and double agents from within. Government operatives generally suffer (or benefit) from an enhanced sense of paranoia. It is often when this paranoia becomes justified that they strike out on their own. Special Forces are generally more familiar with surgical strikes, kidnappings and wetwork. They make excellent runners right out of the gate.
Vanishing from government employ makes it even harder to get a SIN, and at the best of times results in a simple disavowment. Their training often makes up for this, supplying the agent with the necessary knowledge to vanish and become self-sufficient. For a spook, combat training is secondary to knowing how to make the system work for you, and makes information a deadlier weapon than a monofilament whip. Tactics and intel are the cornerstones of successful ex-spook runners.
Whether former Knight Errant, Lone Star, Hard Corps or any of the dozens of other police forces, beat cops, SWAT and every other kind of cop has the potential to get into trouble with their superiors for whatever reason. This is a lot like the corporate, and is, in a way, a subset, every since the majority of security providers became privatized.
A cop has the benefit of their training with weapons and investigative techniques. They also have a great wealth of experience with the shadows, and may have made some friends there before they jumped the fence. Their training generally includes detective work, forensics, and/or combat and SWAT, making them well-rounded runners for all kinds of work.
The downsides are their reputation, their records, and their circumstances. First, the rep: most runners have it out for security, having been harassed or worse by the boys in blue. An ex cop is without the benefit of his backup, and may see a period of hazing before they get some respect. Their status as former cops also means it's quite likely they are still in a database somewhere, making it easier to connect them with a crime. The circumstances by which they left the force are of the most importance, though: were they crooked, or did they leave because the powers that be are too crooked for them to abide? Drugs, bribes, etc, knowing why they left gives you insight into their problems, and how well they can be trusted.
In the end, taking an ex-cop in your team gives you the benefit of their training and practice, and plenty of know-how about how cops work and how to avoid them. How much you trust them is up to you, but if they can earn that trust, they can be worth the risk.
Broad ground, to be sure, but the shadows play host to a lot of runners who were former Doc Wagon employees, university students, paranormal investigators, eco-terrorists, corporate programmers, and so on. These are much harder to classify, but each can be understood by their past. Even the most individualistic have come from some group or another, and the great odds are that they hold contacts and training from those days. As always, keep your eyes and ears open, and be willing to make educated guesses and use deductive reasoning.
Subject: New Ways to Die
People don't really change, and history is just a reflection of the present. War is inevitable, and people will always spend far more effort finding ways too off each other than save each other's lives. Let's face it: it's a Hell of a lot easier to destroy than create, and the 70s bring us a whole new toybox of chaos to unleash on each other. But it ain't easy keeping up with the SOTA, bleeding-edge killpower every industrial body in the world keeps putting out, so I'm here to hellon [Auto-Translate/Sperethiel: share/trade/exchange] a few new and improved ways to end people.
Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes...
The metahuman body is the first weapon you have, and mankind has spent thousands of years refining techniques to cause hurt without receiving it. Your average search engine will find you a load of tutorsofts for boxing, karate, and literally hundreds of other techniques, ranging from the world over and specializing in offense, defense, or even just staying in shape. What you WON'T find info on are a few styles you probably haven't heard of, many of which are too new, too dangerous, or even guarded by tradition.
Caromeleg - Originates from the Tir, this is an Elvish martial art which, if you believe the hype, is actually thousands of years old (No, I have no idea HOW that works). While there are some forms and poses for the Hell of it, Caromeleg focuses on startling movements: the actual force of the blow isn't generated until the strike is quite close to it's point of impact. This means you confuse and disorient your opponent. Great masters of this style can often strike with blinding speed from perfectly casual positions. Of course, this being an Elven martial art, you won't find anybody but Elves using it, and even then, it's considered extremely poor taste to teach it to one born outside the homelands.
Firefight - If you haven't heard about this one, it because it's that new. Ares is wheeling out the sims and classes for this magnum opus of pain inspired by the action movies of the past hundred years. This is, to my knowledge, the first martial art ever developed around a firearm, and it teaches a variety of maneuvers enabling the student to use their weapons at intimately close range, stressing spatial awareness and applied geometry and basic physics. No, it's not high on math, but the masters are always seeing angles and fire vectors. The only people who've got a lot of practice with this one are the Ares boys in black at Knight Errant who developed it, so you never know if you should expect it from the fuzz on Seattle's streets. Personally, whenever I see a KE with two irons in his holsters and eyes that seem to follow lines along the environment, I know to keep my eyes on him.
Ninjitsu - I remember playing Little Mutant Vic Ninja Cyber Assassin 8 about ten years ago. I can't imagine anyone in modern civilization who HASN'T heard the term "ninja". It conjures the image of a small, black-pajamad, shuriken-throwing, sword-weilding badass who runs up walls in those little toe shoes. Isn't it funny how the prevalence of something in the media does absolutely nothing to reduce it's actual effectiveness? Ninja are real, the product of traditions and training dating back millennia. There isn't much I can tell you beyond the intel files I've read and my own single encounter with a ninja several years ago in Japan. Ninja are fast, silent, and deadly. While I can speculate about the possibility of Ninja with cyber mods, the ones we faced were all adepts. Their style is designed around stealth and speed: grace is incidental. They do not mess around, taunt, or show off. They kill as fast as they can, leaving zero residual trace. In a stand-up fight, they rely on speed to execute a kill as quickly as possible, since this is primarily an offensive art which leave little room for blocking or even thinking defensively past how to escape. The only people who would know REAL Ninjitsu are those taught by the masters of Ninja clans in Japan, nigh-monastic orders (assuming they have not changed since their last historical observation). Getting in is the only way to learn, and getting in requires absolute, genuine loyalty, which is generally a lifetime contract.
Wildcat - An oldie but a goodie, the Sioux special forces developed this as a high-efficiency combat style drawing from such inspirations as jiu-jitsu, kung fu, and aikido for a martial art designed for speed. Wildcat is not flashy, instead purely focused on terminating an engagement as quickly as possible. Presses and grapples are combined with pressure points and throws, often utilizing the opponents strength against them. Wildcat fights are generally done within five seconds, and have little value to impress beyond results. Training is obviously available for Sioux, but every now and again a teacher pops up in the shadowcommunity willing to teach for a price.
What the Eyes See and the Ears Hear...
Perception is the first element of combat: Helen Keller was a horrible marksman. There's one particularly canny general in the second world war who set up a big camp of fake jeeps and tanks and barracks that Hitler insisted be bombed. After the bombs fell, wasting valuable time, fuel and ammo, he set it up again. The camp got pounded three times before Hitler gave up. Meanwhile, how many lives are saved by having the right camoflage, or a smoke grenade at the right time? Deny your foe the ability to perceive you, and he might not get the chance to strike back. In a world with AR, magic, and holograms, the game just got upped.
Augmented Reality - It doesn't take people very long to get used to thing, let alone become dependent on them. People today look at AR and wonder how they ever got along without it, much like they did with the original Matrix, the internet, cell phones, plows, fire, etc. It's taken for granted so much, in fact, that someone is likely to be so used to looking at graphics they don't notice when reality and overlay don't match up. And it's so much easier to keep your eye on the pretty lights than the bland reality. Clever security planners have commissioned the talents of graphic designers to craft AR images that look like the real thing, creating false walls and door (ala Looney Toons), reinforcements, or my personal favorites, optical illusions. Keep one eye on the real world, kids.
Holograms - Of course, sometimes it's your meat eyes that lie to you. While holographic projectors have become a reality, the advent of AR makes them impractical. Still, they have their uses: concerts, home entertainment, and decoys on the field of battle. Senator Schwarzenegger was in a movie about memory implants almost a hundred years ago where he used a hologram decoy. You can do the same thing. But remember: so can they.
ECM - As old as yelling over the enemy's radio to cover their comms, ECM and ECCM (That's Electronic CounterMeasures and Electronic Counter-CounterMeasures) are the not-so-quiet wrestling match for the airwaves. Jamming radio frequencies breaks coordination and real-time battle updates between corporate security. Again, this is a two-way road. And they'll have the benefit of a security spider working to break your ECM with his ECCM, all the while trying to jam you in turn with HIS ECM. The riggers and hackers reading this and all nodding and looking at you with an "I-told-you-so" expression.
Cyber-Hacking (Eyes and Ears) - Your super-wiz cybereyes and ears can see into the infared spectrum and hear into the ultrasonic, but if they aren't old-school wired and have no wireless presence, they can be hacked. That means going blind or deaf, seeing or hearing things that aren't there, or being blitzed with confusing/maddening sights and sounds. Use some wire or a skinlink and keep yourself safe from those bastards, and whenever possible, turn it against them.
Getting In Your Head and Under Your Skin...
Direct Neural Interface (DNI) and nanotechnology mean machines interface with you on a subliminal and submolecular level. Technology affects us in so many ways we've become numb to it. Ignorance is bliss... and the shortcut to a bodybag.
RFID - Radio Frequency Identification tags are EVERYWHERE: your clothing, your commlink, your fridge, your candybars, and in every device you own. They make life easier by communicating into your Personal Area Network, but that means they can be traced. You have to have every tag disabled before you go anywhere you don't want to be seen. Tag erasers should be standard issue for every runner, and used religiously, both before AND after the run. Just as banks used to use invisible ink sprays on criminals, these days they use aerosol projections of tracking RFIDs to mark and trace your ass while you think you're getting away free and clear. Remember, sometimes they are stealth ones, only turning on occasionally to transmit before sleeping again. Be thorough.
Pheromones - Sure, it's in that cologne that gets you laid, but what about the spray that makes you sleepy and happy... when you should be trying to aim? Never underestimate the power of the pheromone. Air filters can offer a bit of protection against this, and dwarves tend to have a little more resistance than others, but be ready. This silent trick can have you humping your teammates or cowering in the corner... even after your escape. Alternately, that spray you can't smell yourself CAN be smelled by those security Hellhounds and biodrone Barghests. Get some alternative pheromone sprays to counter the corp skunk shit all over you. And for goodness sake, launder your clothes after every run!
Psychotropics - This applies to hackers more than others, but it can happen to ANYONE who gets their gear hacked and has a direct neural connection. Black IC (that's IC that aims for your neurons instead of your hardware) designed with psychotropics leaves a little bit of subliminal conditioning with every hit, conceivably making you into a Manchurian Candidate who will email your identity (and those of your teammates) to the corp, turn your gun on yourself or your team, or just pass out. Less immediately threatening are the ones that just make you love that corp, buy their crap, or imprint a phobia or compulsion into you. Psychologists and SENSE engrams can help heal the damage... and they ain't cheap. Invest in Bio-Feedback Hardening for your gear, even if you aren't a hacker. Never, EVER let them into your headmeat!
Nanites - Take everything I said about RFIDs and pheromones, now add nanite sprays of carcerands and cutters. They can trace you, hack you, slice you, or act as a ticking bomb in your bloodstream, only deactivated if you do the bidding of the one who put them in you. Your best (and only reliable) defense is a new compound on the market called Blue Goo. This injection is actually a solution of counter-nanites, swimming free in your blood to take down any other nanites introduced afterward. The only other option you've got is to start shooting yourself with a HERF gun (EMP), which is a 50/50 shot, at best. Nanites are a brutal new technology for corporate security, and for the moment, they have few defenses to counter them.
The Awakening was a game changer like no other. As of 2012, the world had to keep a whole other plane of existence in mind. Magic, mystical critters, and paranormal phenomena throw an arcane monkeywrench into the whole shebang. I can only imagine how simple things bust have been in the 20th century, when it was just closed circuit cams, trained dobermen and automatic rifles.
Illusions - This is the major league version of what I said about AR earlier. These illusion spells affect you on the psychological level, meaning even cybernetic eyes fall for the ruse. Illusion magic can have you thinking there are guards where there aren't, can make you feel like your armor is burning hot, or you are crawling with insects. They can snuff out the light, drive you into intense agony or (if you're lucky) incapacitating orgasms. Your best bet is an act of will: disbelieve the magic, and you interfere with it's ability to "interface" with you.
Astral Patrol - A corporate security mage can project as well as your team mage can, meaning they can spot your recon-minded pal. They'll also use a number of bound spirits to keep watch for astral activity on grounds. Stay silent magically to avoid being spotted. From what I'm told, astral forms move at the speed of thought, and if you're seen, it takes them a blink to get back to their meatbod and hit the alarm. Advanced mages can learn metamagical techniques to mask their presence and spellwork. I'm not a mage, myself, but it pays rich dividends to know how the spellslingers do their job.
Watchers - These are smaller spirits, and while they can work as patrolmen, they can also tail you or distract you. Think of them as lesser versions of those RFIDs.
Petit-Brume - A new kind of astrally active aerosol agent, these usually come in grenade form. Give it a toss and it throws up chaos in the astral, keeping the enemy blind and distracted.
While denial of perception is a proactive measure, it's also often a dead giveaway. Stealth is passive, and often paramount, to the job.
Ruthenium Polymers - Not the newest, but it's taken some lovely technological leaps in recent years. A body suit, armor, you name it, can be given an integral coating of ruthenium polymers and microcams to record what is on one side of an object and project it onto the other side, effectively making you a a chamelleon. This only works on the visual level, but that's the primary sense for most people, so give it a shot. Combined with others, it makes for a sweet suite of stealth systems.
IR Camo - This is the stuff that keeps you invisible in the infared spectrum by regulating the levels of heat your body exudes. These will baffle thermal laser tripwires and the thermoptics of some metahumans and sensor systems.
...and Carry a Big Stick
It all started with black powder. Ancient Chinese chemists would be proud (or horrified) to know how far their invention has carried the course of history in the millennium or so that we've been shooting each other.
Electronic Pistols - It sounds stupid, especially when you consider that your gun becomes a bit more vulnerable to EMP, but e-pistols are pretty amazing when you consider their silence, reduced recoil, and the caseless ammo leaving no traces.
Rail Guns - Yep, they're real now. Carrying a rifle the size of some metahumans is not every runner's MO, but when it comes to putting holes in the opposition, few things compare. They punch through hardened plate with ease. Just remember you've got to carry a power source AND ammo. And good luck finding THOSE on the black market.
Lasers - These made their media breakthrough in a few Ares simflicks right before hitting the market for real. From pistol to rifle to vehicle mounted weapon, laser technology is now an (expensive) option. Power packs can be switched out for a fast reload, and are rechargeable, meaning you don't have to buy more ammo, just pay more for your electricity bill. They also have the benefit of being mostly silent and piercing (melting) armor very well. The downside is how hard they are to buy, how expensive they are, how tough they are to fix, how bright the beam is, and the degradation of the beam through smoke. They lose range and punch FAST through the haze.
Pain Inducers - The technology went public in the early 21st century, but it only became handheld recently. Another laser pistol, this one emits microwaves to cause an extremely painful burning sensation. As long as the beam is held on the target, you can count on them dropping everything and writing in pain. Most of the benefits and drawbacks of lasers apply, but this one is nonlethal... at least, in prescribed doses.
Monofiliment Bola - Take the razor lethality of monofiliment wire and combine it with the projectile range of a bola, and you end up with a weapon only a sadist or a psychopath would use. Still, effective. Frighteningly so...
For this to be comprehensive would take WAY more time than I have, but this is a taste of the tech and tricks waiting for you out there. I invite anyone to chime in with their own elements I've left out. Meanwhile, shoot straight, conserve ammo, and take it from a Tir exile: Never, ever cut a deal with a dragon.
By: Vanishing Acts
Subject: Saturday Jones
It's inevitable. We do our best to stay off the grid, but at some point, everyone in the shadows needs to know how to disappear. Did you fuck up a job? Left behind blood or tissue they can use to ritually track you or start a DNA profile for a file on you? Didja get set up? Or maybe you haven't done anything wrong, and you need to make someone else vanish for a while (not uncommon for kidnappings and bodyguard duty). It's the 70's, friend, and there are more ways to track you now than any other point in history. You've got to stay one step ahead of them in a dozen different ways: physical, digital, magical, clerical, and a slew you'll likely never see coming. Maybe this'll give you a few tips the next time you need to take a vacation from the heat.
The most important thing you can do is be proactive. Lots of new runners make the mistake of thinking they don't need bolt holes, that they can just check into any old doss when the shit hits the fan. WRONG! Backups and failsafes are the bread and butter of survivors, and any runner who's made it past their first year in the biz will tell you that your contingencies are life preservation insurance. You've gotta have somewhere you are never seen visiting to retreat to when things go blackest. This safehouse, as it is generally called, can take a lot of different forms: I've heard of and seen everything from a shack next to the monorail to a converted crawlspace to a permanently leased motel coffin to luxury highrises and out-of-state mountain cabins lakeside. One particularly morbid gentleman actually keeps a mausoleum open for residence. For all this seeming variety, your safehouse should include the following:
* A low signature. This means the bills are paid on time through anonymous accounts, or there are no bills to pay. A squat in the barrens has no paperwork, so it can't be found. A high rise can be held under a false SIN crafted just for this purpose, with a fake persona "living" there to keep up appearances, bills paid by automatic debit from dummy accounts, trust funds, and so on. Make it a place they won't find via any connection to you. You should be the only one who can make the connection between it and you. It also means no surfing the Matrix under your usual profiles while under cover. Digital trails can lead them to you very quickly.
* Necessary supplies. If you have that 'legit' location with amenities included, this is less of an issue. But an isolated or off-the-grid location like a shed, bomb shelter, or attic will need those bare necessities you take for granted: food, water, bedding, and a place to shit. A spare set of clothes, bathing materials, and something to keep your mind occupied (Matrix games, books and literature, exercise and tutorsofts are all decent options. Self-improvement is always a good way to keep busy). If you've invested the right money into the location, there's no reason you can't enjoy your time under the radar. Call it a professional holiday.
* Mystical isolation. This is like low signature, but must be kept in mind especially because of the nature of magic. Mundanes often forget that they can be tracked via the Astral, and if there is a viable sample of their blood, hair, skin, etc anywhere their pursuer may find it, it can lead right to them. Have your hideout warded (not too expensive to have done, and common enough to go unremarked) to throw off ritual tracking, astrally projecting mages and spirits on the hunt for you.
These are the basics. With advance preparation, you can have one (or more!) places to hang your hat, or hide someone or something away from prying eyes. Just apply these rules to whatever or whoever you need to vanish.
The best way to approach the situation is not from the defense, but the offense. Put yourself in the position of the hunter. If you were going to look for a runner, how would you go about it? Ask the advice and opinion of others in your field. What could they do to stymie your work? What obstacles, what actions, would make them harder to find? Those are the things you should be doing.
Of course, there are a number of ways you can still be proactive. Prevention remains the best medicine, so take the time to keep your tracks invisible. When I was young, my mother put on an old 2D cartoon of Alice in Wonderland. There was a creature that had a brush in it's tail, and would dust away it's own footprints as it walked through the tulgey wood. The best runners know to take their cue from this beast. Before a run, exfoliate as much loose skin and hair as possible to reduce physical traces you might leave behind. If you are shot or wounded and you leave blood on the walls, have a mage with a Sanitize spell or start spraying ammonia or other over-the-counter cleaning chemicals on it. Rich runners have used nanite carcerand variants that release chemical compounds to taint samples when exposed to air, but I think this is a little hit-or-miss. Too new to be trusted. But still, it could be the best new approach in a long time. Use gloves to prevent fingerprints. Wear glasses, disguises, and so on to prevent visual identification, and whenever possible, use alternative walking styles, voice warpers and the like. And for goodness sake, use codenames! Nothing gives you away like a name.
In the digital realm, there are a number of ways to remain off the radar. Remember, there are RFID tags in goddamn near everything, now, so you could theoretically be traced by the RFID in your underwear, your jacket, or the still-digesting remains of the candy bar you ate an hour ago. Get a tag eraser ASAP and use it religiously. It's not even illegal, technically. Make constant use of fake SINs and licenses, and be sure they don't pick up any kind of info trail. Info trails begin when you walk out the door. You stop in a Weapons World window to look at the new Predator 4 firmware upgrades package, and the smart systems have already scanned you, tagged you, and started a profile about you as a potential buyer. If you were a legitimate citizen, this would make your browsing life easier. But you aren't, so it becomes part of a paper trail leading back to you. If the SIN is never used for anything illegal, and you're very careful about when you use it and what you use it for, you can generally afford to keep that info trail. If not, you need to strip and/or burn that SIN. Selling it for such a purpose to a programmer or fixer can net you a few cred... or put that info up for bidding. Your call.
You can also take care to have files pertaining to you erased. I've seen hackers go about it themselves, design worms to scour the net deleting any info on them they can, or services available at the Helix offering data sweeping. Last I heard, within-24 service for a few years went for about 200k. A worthy investment, to my paranoid mind.
That being said, there are times when you really do need to get the fuck out of Dodge (Or Seattle, or Neo Tokyo, or wherever). All the wards and fancy firewalls in the world can't beat some good old-fashioned miles between you and the enemy. Good locations to lay low are any out-of-the-way town or suburb, especially if it has little Matrix and/or corporate presence, or places that are awash in borders (like Denver). Once you cross a border, the people chasing you get caught up in paperwork if they cross it themselves. In Denver, it is possible to be within one mile of up to five borders at a time, easily. More if you really hunt around for the optimal political-landscape-LaGrange. Crossing a few borders rapidly can put a severe crimp in your pursuers' pace.
Loose lips sink ships, and they get sloppy runners flatlined. You know how you're always calling up your connections, laying the legwork and doing your research when you're looking for someone? That's a two-way street, and it pays to control what info about you is out there. Some people just stay tight-lipped about their lives with the people they know, but the clever ones (who don't mind lying to their friends and associates) spread misinformation. False addresses, hangouts, and so on, to throw the tracker off the trail. The truly ruthless even leave traps in their wake: I remember a runner back in 60 who had a team of Cross Seraphim after him. He had laid the groundwork for people to find his address at an apartment in Puyallup. When the Seraphim stormed the place, they triggered the explosives he'd left for whoever was after him. After a while, the cost of finding him was too high, and they gave up the chase.
The very best disappearing acts are for keeps: genetic recoding. I know of a few clients who decided to change their very DNA coding to escape their past. A month of floating in DMSO-nanite cocktails can turn a Japanese man into a CAS woman, different in all ways: voice, retina, blood and tissue, and so on. Of course, a top-notch series of false SINs still help there, and effort to change the astral signature can help tremendously, but, as the old song goes, "I can change my mold." If you have the money, that is.
For those who are willing and able, it is possible to dissappear. There is always an escape route, a second chance, a new lease on life. It may not be your own, but if it comes down to dying in your own shoes or living in someone else's, I think the decision is obvious.
Subject: The Subtle Art of Negotiation (Or, How To Get More Nuyen For Your Work)
After Crash 2.0, I took over a number of my old comrades' operations, spending four chaotic years connecting people who needed illegal goods to the people who could supply them. This meant learning how to be a businessman, a criminal, and an expert in understanding both the legitimate and shadow markets. I've worked with and for numerous Johnsons, mercenaries, and runners, as a fixer and fence, and I've learned a thing or two about the commerce each undertakes.
Every run begins with contact through someone like me, connecting you to someone who needs your services. I arrange the meeting with your prospective employer, and you go from there. Now, when you sit down wherever the hell it may be to discuss the details of your potential job, one of the most important factors to all involved is how much you'll be paid to do it. Some runners let their fixer do all the negotiations, which can be the smart thing to do, since wheeling and dealing is what we do for a living. But some people want to know how to get more on their own. I respect that. So I'm going to give you a little insight into the process of haggling: how much to ask for, how to get them to like you better, how to get more value out of what you get, how to avoid pissing them off, and how to ensure future work.
First off, your fixer ain't doing this for free. Oftentimes, the Johnson is presenting a percentage finder's fee to the fixer, but it's not a sure thing, and if you've got one who you actually trust and respect and want to keep around, find out if they got their cut, make sure they get it one way or another, and throw in a little something extra to show them you appreciate the business. Remember, these are the people with the phone numbers. You wouldn't have the vast majority of the paycheck if they didn't go playing matchmaker for you. 10% is considered standard, but may rise or fall depending on your relationship and the services offered in either direction.
Once you've got the meet set up, it's time to do some digging. Your fixer, if they really know their stuff, can toss you some tips on who you are working for. It's common practice for Johnsons to put some effort into misdirection regarding who they work for. Example: a Shiawase Johnson may not be Japanese, and his suit will have cuff links with a subtle Aztechnology motif on them, in an effort to get you, you clever little street scum, into thinking you've observantly sussed out who he really works for. Seriously, appearances are worth dick if he has the cred. Why do you want to know who he works for? Many reasons, one of them being the preservation of your hide. If you pissed off the security chief at Saeder-Krupp, where revenge is traditional and draconian, you'll want to know if this is an S-K John who's job is to set you up on a suicide run. It also gives you an insight into who's toes you might be stepping on, precisely what attitude to use, and what kinds of payment they can offer. More on that later.
Remember a minute ago when I said appearances mean dick? That only applies to the Johnson. YOU have to look the part of whatever hes looking for. Again, your fixer can give you the heads up on what kind of work they want and what kind of crew they're after. Street work, thug work, there are some times when breaking out the street leathers and piercings is the right thing to do to impress Mr. J. The rest of the time, it pays to dress appropriately for business. The classic run is contracted by a megacorporation, meaning the Johnson is on the payroll, and is used to handling things in a corporate manner. Make them feel more comfortable by wearing a decent suit, and treat it as a job interview. That means following the basics of making a good, professional impression:
1) Be confident, not cocky. They are looking for a professional, not a poser.
2) Be assertive, not pushy. They can - and will - walk away the moment they feel out of control.
3) Be accommodating, not obsequious. You can walk away, too. Reach an agreement.
This is the basic foundation, but how you paint it is for the Johnson's benefit. Be aware of etiquette: a Yakuza J expects a different set of manners than a Mafia J, a Corp J, and a gang boss. Knowing the difference can save your job, and net you some extra cred and respect, to boot. A faux pas can cost you work, now and in the future.
A while back there was a file posted on the old Shadowland boards boosted from a Fuchi Johnson who basically wrote the book for the Johnsons who followed. Among the myriad, often-literally cut throat methods he outlines, one of them is of vital interest to you:
*** Begin by offering no more than 80 percent of the payment. These people invariably attempt to negotiate higher fees, sometimes even presuming to double your opening bid. If you offer 80 or less of the approved payment to begin with, you can 'bargain' with them up to the total sum authorized, leaving them convinced they have 'won' without cutting any deeper into Fuchi America's profits than you superiors have deemed acceptable. Beginning your bid below the 80-percent threshold may even allow you to pay the SRs less than the maximum authorized ammount. Fuchi America appreciates such efforts to save the corporation nuyen, and is likely to reward the conscientious employee accordingly.
On those occasions where it is not possible to hold the SRs to the aproved payment, a certain 'overhead' is authorized - generally 20-25 percent of the approved payment. When bargained down within this overhead, the SRs will believe they are receiving 150 percent of the initial offer, which should be sufficient to satisfy even the greediest of these criminals. DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES EXCEED THIS 25 PERCENT OVERHEAD. There are always more more SRs than there are assignments available, and Fuchi America's profits must always be the prime consideration. If the asking price of any given group of SRs exceds the overhead, walk away from the meeting. Our staffers will contact another group of SRs ASAP. ***
This means if you get too greedy, you get dick.
While some jobs are worth more or less depending on circumstances, the bottom-line for these jobs, per runner:
Assassination - 5K
Bodyguard/Security - 200/day
Burglary - 2k
Courier Run - 1k
Datasteal - 20% of the value of data
Distraction - 1k
Destruction - 5k
Enforcement - 1k
Extraction - 20k
Hacking - 1k x host system security value
Investigation - 200/day
Smuggling - 5k
Never accept less than this.
Speaking of which, don't forget to negotiate expenses. It's expected that a Johnson will reimburse for ammo, fuel, visas, travel tickets, and so on, assuming they don't offer them up front. I know a great many runners who would rather arrange things themselves and be reimbursed, since the Johnson will find it harder to screw them thereby, but it's less likely the runner will get fully reimbursed. Many new runners forget to include expenses as part of their fee, then end up eating the cost. Don't make the same mistake. It does not come out of your pay, it does not come out of your rep. By the same token, this counts only for mission-neccessary expenses, and anything you get will have to be approved by the Johnson. So don't go buying a Yellowjacket with ruthenium armor and some ATGMs and expect the Johnson to think you needed it for a datasteal.
Now, there IS a way you can get a little more value out of your run, potentially. You can negotiate for goods, services, and so on in leiu of cash. Cyberware and it's installation, programs, weapons, information, even stocks. This is a mixed bag: you'll probably get the better value if it's something your employer can provide first-hand (again, it ALWAYS pays to know who you're working for), and you don't have to go through shadow chanels to get it (No delays, etc). You can also get it cheaper, meaning more value for your payment. Of course, the downside is that you may be getting product on their terms: it's loaded with RFIDs, it's hot gear they needed to ditch, it's experimental and you're the guinea pig, etc. If it's a wireless device (and what isn't, these days) it may have programming to spy on you or malfunction if used against it's sponsor corporation. This can apply to credsticks, too. Always get gear checked out by someone you trust, and spread the word when someone fucks you over. Remember, reputation is a two-way street, and the irony of this business is that without trust, there can be no business between criminals. Those who forget this don't get work. It's that simple.
If electronic cash is your thing, the best way to handle it is via escrow service. Most banks offer escrow. For those who don't know what that means, an escrow service holds goods or funds for one party for another to pick up. When both parties report satisfaction, the funds go as they are intended. This holds to the trust issue I mentioned earlier, but it also means that if YOU report dissatisfaction, THEY can't get their money back, either. It's in their best interests (and yours) to play straight. Whenever possible, insist on escrow. It's considered professional and within reason to do so, and if so, they'll foot the bill for the service (about 10% of the held value).
An interesting side note to bear in mind: when a run goes south on account of a Johnson giving you false info, whether it's a set up, a tailchaser, or a suicide run, you are alleviated of a great many obligations. You've got the right to walk away and keep the downpayment, or complete the run for some extra reputation. This means that if you've got principles, if there are lines you won't cross, you need to lay that out in the negotiations. Don't get sanctimonious, they are hiring criminals, but be firm on the lines you won't cross. If you're squeamish, and the Johnson wants you to cancel some corper's kids as a message, politely inform him that this is not the kind of work you do, and leave. If he tells you to terminate all targets at an address when he knows you don't kill kids, and all the targets there are infirm children, you have every right to walk away leaving the job undone. Just be sure the shadow community knows you were lied to, and that you didn't fuck up the job.
So remember, pay the people who keep you running, always do your research, never accept less than your bottom line, get straight answers about your work from the Johnson. Stay professional at all times, and you'll keep your rep solid and your account full. And if you need someone for negotiations, I'm happy to get you more for my cut.
Subject: Magic for the Mundane
During a few runs recently, I've noticed that a lot of the new kids think of magic in very video game-like terms. This is a dangerous mindset, since the corporate mages won't be so misinformed. With that in mind, I thought it might be nice to provide a simple primer on magic for anyone who'd care to take a look.
Since 2011, magic has been a fact of life. Some people, possibly because of a genetic predisposition, Awakened, which is to say, manifested magical powers. In the beginning, it was chaos as those with the Talent tried to find a way to control their powers. Even today, when a child shows signs of Talent (usually right around puberty, though there are exceptions), their powers manifest in random, uncontrolled outbursts, like imaginary friends manifesting as summoned spirits, or clairvoyant jolts. Everyone seemed to have a different answer as to how these powers worked. Some devout Christians claimed it was God that gave them their power. Their spells took the form of prayers, the spirits they summoned appeared as saints and angels, and so on. Shamans felt the call of totem spirits, and with their completely different take on magic, it still worked. Some treated it as a science, testing and applying Hermetic principles until they found "just the right way" to make a repeatable magical effect. The point is, once a mage finds a paradigm to understand magic, they bring their powers under control. A Hermetic Mage, a Quabbalist, a Cat Shaman, and a Voodoo Houngan can all cast similar spells via very different trappings.
How Magic Works
There are several worlds, alternate dimensions that exist in real-time with this one, layers of reality. The closest, and most applicable, is the Astral plane. Before the Awakening, the barrier between the Physical plane (where you and I and all our stuff is) and the Astral (where spirits, magic, and mana swim about) was thick and almost unbreakable. The Awakening is best understood as the thinning of the barrier between the worlds, allowing them to cross over.
The power behind magic is called mana (or ki, or quintessence, or whathaveyou). The Astral swims with it. It is invisible and intangible, and cannot be affected by anything but living beings. It is affected by emotion and willpower, and can be shaped to produce a virtually limitless number of effects. The best way to think of magic is the manipulation of mana. Sorcery shapes the mana to produce a spell, while Conjuring uses mana to summon or affect spirits.
Now, with the Astral so full of mana just waiting to be shaped, you'd think a mage would be the most powerful being in the world. Luckily, this is not the case. Consider the metahuman body a converter between this world and the next. Channeling magic through the body is exhausting. The more mana being shaped, the greater the strain, commonly known as drain. This drain can fatigue a mage if they cast spells within the limit of their talent, or cause physical harm if they push past their limits, known as overcasting.
Sorcery is used for spells. Spells can do all kinds of interesting things, like changing physical appearance, curing a hangover, becoming invisible, launching fire from your fingertips, levitating your remote across the room, and so on. What it CAN'T do is teleport, summon, or create matter, nor can it bring someone dead back to life. It cannot be intelligent or affect the space/time continuum (no going back in time, or zapping into the future). It can try to tell the future, but that takes great practice and is never certain. It also cannot affect anything to which the caster has no link. There must be some kind of non-technological connection, which means that a mage can shoot a fireball at you if he can see you (physical sight counts as a link), but not if he can only see you through video monitors. He can divine your location if he's got a lock of your hair, but not if someone simply gives you their name.
Conjuring is the art of spiritcraft. It can be used to summon spirits to serve the conjuror, and can be used to banish other spirits. Spirits can be bound to lasting service, otherwise they only remain under the mage's control until the next sunrise or sunset, whichever comes first. Spirits can do a number of services for their masters: patrol and security, assistance in battle and research, guidance and spying, and more.
Full magicians can also perceive and project their souls into the Astral. With their Astral sight, they can see spirits, other mages, magical effects, barriers and so on. They can perceive auras to tell if someone is lying to them, what their emotional state is, and if they have cyberware. Astral sight can reveal the emotional residue of a location (such as a crime scene), and to detect the nature of a creature, such as an Infected or Awakened metahuman. Projecting leaves their body in a comatose state, leaving them to fly at the speed of thought. A projecting mage can spy and scout, or travel to other metaplanes of existence (though this is a bit of a deep topic, and quite outside the scope of this thread). The projecting mage can also cast spells in this form, but the drain bounces on to the body, as though it was overcast.
Some Awakened do not use their magic externally, channeling it within to become Adepts. Adepts take many forms, from the hyper-fast martial artist of simflick tradition, to the alarmingly alluring negotiator. Adepthood may be considered the super-enhancement of the self through magic, much like cyberware, but with far more potential and no damage to the body. Also much harder to develop. An Adept can learn to shapeshift their features to become a chameleon, enhance their skills to become masters of their craft, or become super athletes. They don't suffer from drain generally, and cannot project. They have far less potential power than a mage, but also have fewer drawbacks.
There are a rare few who combine both these traits, dividing their talents between Adepthood and Magecraft. These Mystic Adepts are considered a midpoint, as they have the flexibility of both, but cannot project, and are not as capable in either arena as a specialist.
Ritual work is also of note. With a sample of the target, spellwork can be done at range. Oftentimes corporations keep a coldstorage blood sample of their citizens, so if they are extracted, they can use ritual tracking to find them. This principle can be used to locate runners, if any got shot and left an intact sample. This is a good reason to sterilize the scene if you leave anything that can be traced back to you. There is more than technology to fear when it comes to being tracked.
So, those are the basics. There is, of course, quite a bit more, but these are the important things to remember. As always, feel free to ask if you have further questions.
Subject: Neccessary Starter Programs
When you're starting out, you've got to know what programs are going to save your headmeat, and which are just showy. Sure, Black Hammer is scary as drek, but it's not half as useful as, say, Analyze.
Analyze will let you detect hidden icons, evaluate matrix constructs, and see them coming before they can strike at you. Scan does the same thing in RL: you can look for nodes and devices you can hack. In other words, it's smart to keep this on ALL THE TIME, even if you're not a hacker. It'll tell you when someone else is trying to get into YOUR system.
You're going to need to find shit sooner or later if you're the hacker. Research is a boring, time consuming, and vital skill, and you'll be the best at it if you've got the Matrix at your fingertips. So invest in a good Browse program. It'll shave time off, and spare you the joys of spam.
If you just want to stay silent and sneak in their system (which is both traditional and smart), Stealth is the obvious choice. It's the difference between you being the ghost in the machine and the rampaging intruder. And even if you do want to muscle you way into system dominance, isn't it best to strike first from hiding? Or be able to cloak your escape?
Getting into a node is like breaking into a home: you can forge the keys, or use a crowbar. Exploit is a program to either muscle the door open or slowly push it. This runs the risk of detection, but works faster than forging your way in. To forge your way in, use Spoof, which can generate a false ID to let you in. As an added benefit, you can use Spoof to send misleading data packets to throw a Track program off your scent.
When it comes to crashing a system, or knocking down the IC that just can't be fooled, your Attack program is bread and butter. It attacks their icon and crashes the system. It's the best all-around combat program, as it is equally effective against pure data constructs (IC, Agents, etc) and other hackers' icons. If you're facing another hacker, though, you can punch right through to their synapses with Black Hammer (which will kill them), or Blackout, (which will knock them into dreamland).
IC and hackers can and will strike back, so you need an Armor program to reduce the damage they can do your icon, and Biofeedback Filters, which reduce the synaptic shock if THEY use Black Hammer or Blackout. A good biofeedback filter will also reduce dumpshock if you log out too quick. Medic is another good choice to repair your icon after a fight, or keep your agent running smoothly.
Simple Matrix operations require you to have Edit, which lets you change up files like records or passcodes, and Encrypt, which code your operations and transmissions. You don't encrypt your transmission with your teammates, and any drekhead can listen in. And then all the codenames in the world won't save you.
Later on, you'll get to know and love things like Command, which lets you control devices you hack into. Turn off the security camera, take over the enemy drone, freeze the elevator or get a system agent to follow your orders. Data Bomb is a fun way to booby trap your own system if someone tries to get in, or leave a way to dissuade people from picking up your trail. It does them some damage if they don't know how to get to it correctly, and if you want, it'll take out the file you attached it to, as well. A fun way to alter records of yourself when they dig through the system looking for your data trail. They'll be using Defuse to disarm the bomb... and someday, you may have to use Defuse too.