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"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 anymore—it 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 to us.

"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 like?"

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 run.

Even if he does have an AK-97.