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I don't understand the point of Shamans in Shadowrun. In a world full of technology and magic, I don't see how the Shaman tradition can be roleplayed and mentioned without making the players scratch their head about where they come from. How can I present them effectively as part of Seattle's population. Some kind of environmentalists? I didn't found any mention of Seattle being a really polluted area and all images in the book paint the streets as clean (and rather empty) locales.

So I guess my question would be: How can I include a shaman as a bad guy for a run that the players need to deal with. Where can I read about Shamanism and their role in the setting?

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How can I include a shaman as a bad guy for a run that the players need to deal with. Where can I read about Shamanism and their role in the setting?

My Shadowrun experience is mostly 1st and 2nd edition but I don't think the fundamental idea of a shaman is that different in any edition of SR.

In Shadowrun a shaman is, traditionally, defined by their totem. The totem heavily influences the personality and drives of most shaman. Some would say the totem shapes the shaman and others contend that the shaman is drawn to the totem that fits their "true self" best. There are countless origin stories of shaman that support one camp or the other. The end result is the same, shaman and totem spirit are of like mind. So pick the totem accordingly.

If you want to use a shaman as a foe pick a totem that fits. It doesn't have to be that this NPC is "evil", it could just be their goals are mutually exclusive with the goals of the party. This can even work out to be more dramatic as, from a certain point of view, the goals of the NPC can be understood. So, for an urban shaman I'll go with a Dog, Raccoon, Rat or Raven. All of them will do well in a city and make excellent foes but not necessarily evil foes. Dog is very loyal and a true defender, imagine being on the wrong side of a Dog shaman. They don't give up and will not stop coming for you. Raven would be fun too. The motives of a Raven shaman could be very mysterious. In some cases they have none, it was all just done for the fun of the game or as misdirection as Raven strikes in another direction. And if you really want evil it is hard to beat the Spider totem, such a shaman is a mastermind, plans within plans having counter plans with backup plans. Also, if there is an SR4 variant of the toxic shaman that will really cause the PC's trouble. The toxic spirits of the cities are twisted creations full of all the foulness better living through chemistry can create. They are brutal and brimming with rage.

As to how the Shaman fits in with the world, think about it like this. The clash between old and new, magic and tech, the rational and the spiritual are heavy influences in the world of Shadowrun. That was kind of the point with having a world in which magic and tech stand side by side. While Shadowrun looks like a high tech, future world setting it is much more. It is a world that embodies the duality of the human experience. The comfort of what is old and has always been next to the trill of new creation. That is magic and tech. Friction.

That said it should be noted that not all Shaman are Luddites. Shaman will use tech, some more than others. That seems to be influenced by the person's life before hearing the call of their totem. And some totems have less problem with it in general. Take Raven for instance, the spirit is a classic trickster and may well find some forms of tech to be fascinating and rife with possibilities for entertainment (tricks). Fox may use tech at a critical moment just because the opponent would not expect it. On the other hand a shaman of Eagle will be one of the least likely to ever use tech of any type.

While Shadowrun:Denver is mostly 3rd edition it is the most expansive Shadowrun repository I have found. It has a section for fiction that has some stuff you may want to read. The log section may be entertaining as well. There is a section for...everything. Go and check it out, you may spend days reading.

If you have the time to read some of the Shadowrun novels do so. They can do wonders when it comes to helping you get a feel for the world.

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Most of my experience is from Shadowrun 2nd ed, but not all Shamans necessarily need to be nature loving. Toxic shamans actively oppose nature in some ways. As other answers mentioned, shamans with totems like rat or cat or (to a lesser degree) dog actively prefer cities.

One way to think of it is that shamans are just magic users that follow emotion and artistry more than their hermetic cousins that try to make magic very akin to technology. Most Shamans will tend to prefer non-polluted environments, but non-polluted doesn't always mean non-urban. Shamans will have a totem, but whether that is truly an independent entity or an aspect of the characters own psyche is deliberately left up to the GM. (The novesl sort of went back and forth on it).

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It might help to think of Shamans as a form of Cleric: an Eagle Shaman tries to bring about what Eagle desires, as a totem rather than a bird. Depending on your mythology (and of course the shaman's interpretation) this would include bravery, avoidance of pollution and punishment of polluters, reverence for high places... A Rat shaman, on the other hand, would be quite keen on the growth of cities and spread of garbage, so long as his group gets their share of the goodies.

(Note: this isn't canonical, but it may be a helpful way of looking at the class)

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The 20th Anniversary Edition includes a Radical Eco-Shaman as an example player character. Shamans aren't ignorant about tech, they just have (for example) an anti-corporate agenda for companies they feel are polluting and destroying the planet. I'm sure someone's dumping something somewhere in Seattle.

As for an adversary on a run, here are some ideas.

  • The runners are trying to infiltrate a building for data theft that ecoterrorists are about to blow up.

  • Similarly, they're trying to kill the scientist that the runners just kidnapped/rescued.

  • Their ire is earned when a particular run has environmental consequences.

The History Lesson chapter includes all sorts of examples of what the Native American Nations are capable of when they're angry. Imagine that on a lesser scale, and corps hiring runners to deal with the situation before it escalates to that.

There's no reason for you to typecast a shaman as an ecoterrorist, of course. Ruthless business executive shaman sounds awesome.

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I got the mental image of a Steve Jobs-ish CEO-shaman haunted by a totem of such flawless perfection that he will bend all of the corporation's resources towards producing a physical version of it, regardless of the costs. –  Tacroy Dec 24 '12 at 23:02
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On the other hand, the good old "eco terrorist able to cause an earthquake with his thoughts" is always a nice thing. –  Scrollmaster Dec 25 '12 at 1:45
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