"He has an AK-97."
This actual quote comes from a guy I encountered at a con a few years
ago. It was actually made to Dan, who had asked the perfectly
innocent question, "So, what's your character look like?" as we
introduced Winterhawk and Ocelot into a one-shot game
run by one of our fellow con-goers.
The characters had just met up and gotten their job (which
I can't remember anymoreit wasn't terribly memorable), and
naturally Dan and I were interested in the other characters.
"So, what's your character look like?" he asks the guy sitting next
"He has an AK-97," was the reply. The guy turned to check
something on his sheet, seemingly convinced that he had
given us a full and sufficient answer.
"Yeah, okay," Dan continues, "But what does he look
The guy looks up. "He has an AK-97," he repeats. He seems a
bit confused to be asked again.
Dan and I turn to each other, shrug, and give up. The game
continues; I think the AK-97 was important at some point, but
I'm not sure. I fell asleep halfway through the game.
I read somewhere (I think it was in an essay by one of the
original Chaosium guys) that a gamer should think of his/her
character as a game piece. As a player, your character is one
of the few things (possibly the only thing) that you have control
over. The GM controls the world, the opposition, and your character's
level of monetary and Karma gain; the other players control the
other characters. But your character is yours and yours alone.
I just can't figure out why anyone would want to take such a
great opportunity and sum it up as, "He has an AK-97."
When I run games, and when I play in them, I want to see player
characters rich in history, motivation, and well-thought-out
possessions. When I'm GMing, it goes without saying that the
players will be filling out the "20 Questions" section in the
Shadowrun book, but what I really like is more than that.
The kinds of characters I really enjoy playing with (and running)
are those whose players know them well enough to answer nearly
any question thrown at them. What does the character value?
What does he like to do with his spare time? What kind of clothes
does he wear when he isn't running (or when he is)? What would
he do on a date (or does he even go on dates)? What are
his views on religion? Money? Politics?
Okay, so maybe there are a lot of folks out there who don't
enjoy going into that level of detail. But what about the important
stuff? If your character has Wired Reflexes 2, where'd he get
'em? Is he running from the corp that installed the wires? Did
he get them when he was in the military? Is his mother one of
the world premier cyberdocs, using the character as a test case?
Or if you're running a rigger, where
did she get her multi-hundred-thousand-nuyen vehicle? Did she
steal it? Build it herself? Get it as a gift from a rich uncle?
Did the shaman get all those nifty foci by pulling them off
dead bodies, or was he a respected member of his tribe trying to
right the wrongs of the world? If he knows more combat spells
than health or illusion spells, why is this so? How does he
relate to his totem?
Remember, Shadowrun characters don't usually start out as
wet-behind-the-ears kids fresh off the turnip truck. They are
(usually, at least, in my experience) professionals with
thousands of nuyen's worth of training, cyberware, and gear.
They've had lives before they became runners, and like real
people, their past lives have shaped what they are today. If
a character is going to have any credibility at all, this has
to be true (unless you're running one of those oddball types
who woke up in a tank and can't remember anything past three
days ago, in which case you can safely ignore all this stuff. Or
maybe you can't. Just because your character doesn't know
anything about his past history and where he was before he
woke up in the tank, you certainly should. Otherwise,
things about his past couldn't pop up at inopportune times and
drive the character to distraction. You'd be missing out on
a lot of fun if you didn't know these details).
You're going to be spending a lot of time with this character.
Why not take a little time to get to know what makes him or
her tick? I can almost guarantee that it'll pay off in the long
Even if he does have an AK-97.