In the Shadowrun setting, I find it hard to envision what a shaman does all day. What do shamans do for a living if they are not shadowrunners or security personnel of one sort or another (be it for a tribe, or gang, or whatever)?

In tribal societies shamans had or have ceremonial and political roles that don't translate well into a fractured (post-)industrial society. 9-5 jobs can be ruled out for many shamans for philosophical reasons. Healer or entertainer (can be done with magic in SR) are not compatible with all totems. Neither is life as a squatter on the street (some totems are associated with cleanliness, and a life as a thief and grifter may not be ethically acceptable). What does a non-shadowrunning shaman do to earn his bread; does his or her command of spells and spirits come into play here?

The background of this question is twofold: How do I make a character (or antagonist) who is actually the result of a biography, and not of optimization towards a shadowrunning career? And how does day to day life in the 2070s actually work for some of its inhabitants; can I use this to add texture?

  • \$\begingroup\$ All the jobs you ruled out because of one totem can be taken by those shamans of other totems. Can you be a bit more specific, especially about the totem of your shaman? \$\endgroup\$ – nvoigt Feb 23 '14 at 6:42

The question is a bit broad and rather subjective, but I think it's a good one, nonetheless. There are as many answers as shamans, though: it depends on the person and their circumstances as much as on their totem.

Here, let me present a few examples I'd consider stereotypical (though YMMV, wildly, of course.)

First of all, imo, practically any shaman can be, you know, a shaman. :) A spiritual leader like a priest, for a group of people willingly associating with the totem and with the belief system and mythology the totem is a part of.


Bear: She's a pro trainer in a gym or a health club in the suburbs. She can show you how to get stronger (like her), and she can fix you up quick if you get hurt.

Cat: She's an independent coach who helps you get on with your life and land on your feet when in trouble. Or she's a private investigator. Or an independent reporter (with her exclusive, highly popular online channel about business, health, celebrities, art, fashion, cooking, whatever.)

Coyote: He's a con man. Some companies might think he's working for them as a salesperson. Big mistake.

Dog: He's a janitor at a local school. Or works in a kindergarten.

Eagle: She's an environmental activist working as a lone agent for a large organization. A ranger, perhaps?

Gator: He's an officer, or overseer working for a wastewater treatment company. Or perhaps even its CEO.

Lion: He's also a CEO, probably of a startup (developing games and/or surveillance software), that will be worth zillions in a few years.

Owl: She works as a flight instructor, specialized in night flights. (Day flight training is handled by her companion, with whom they have a small company.)

Raccoon: He's an art buyer, traveling the world, hunting for the most exquisite pieces to buy. Or to, you know, acquire. Somehow. Anyhow.

Rat: I know it's a stereotype, but if anyone, she's a squatter.

Raven: Just like Coyote, she's a con artist, working rural areas under the guise of a salesperson for a firm providing exclusive funerary services.

Snake: She's a traveling advisor / internal affairs inspector / lawyer for a megacorporation.

Wolf: He's a lumberjack. Or a farmer. And he's not alone.

Well, that's my take on most likely shaman professions / occupations. But, remember, it all depends on who they are and where they're coming from. :)

And, of course, spells and spirits and magical stuff do come into play in most of these cases, should they be needed and useful.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ This is great stuff. I'll wait a bit with accepting, Let's see what someone else turns up. +1 \$\endgroup\$ – mart Feb 23 '14 at 15:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ You know, Eagle could also be a quality control manager in Shiawasee's environmental quality branch. Being not exactly /always/ peaceful, Eagle could also be a security manager in a corp, in charge of metaphysical security. \$\endgroup\$ – Jason M. Batchelor Feb 25 '14 at 20:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ Dog could be a spiritual advisor and friend and/or bodyguard for a politician or a higher-up manager in a corp. \$\endgroup\$ – Jason M. Batchelor Feb 25 '14 at 20:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ I could also see Gator as a tenacious lineman in an Urban Brawl team, Lion as the (female) head of a security firm, Owl as a bouncer, night-shift rentacop, or security advisor. Rat could be a "tunnel rat" in an arco, one of the people who takes care of fixing things in tight spaces, evicting people and critters in the lower levels of an arco. Raven would just appear to be a bit classier, maybe she is the tarot-reader faking her readings to conceal her magical skill. \$\endgroup\$ – Jason M. Batchelor Feb 25 '14 at 21:05

Full mages and shamans are about half as common as doctors, and can do impressive things if they can even master a few spells. They will usually be fairly well off as a result: if you can cast healing spells all day, you should be able to make plenty of money, but there are plenty of alternatives.

  • If you can cast combat spells, you should be able to make a good living in mining or demolitions without ever having to be in a profession that involves combat. With specialized spells, you could even have an exterminator who can rid a structure of termites or bedbugs without having to tent the place. A clever firefighter could make good use of combat spells as well, destroying fires and fallen debris that has trapped people.
  • If you can cast detection spells, there are plenty of routine jobs involving inspection that don’t even require detective work. Many business deals will conclude with each side bringing their own detection specialist to cast lie-detection spells.
  • Illusion spells may be popular in the entertainment industry, but even more so in medicine as a substitute for anaesthesiologists.
  • Manipulation spells are great for emergency responders, civil engineers, and more.
  • Summoning nature spirits is cheaper than elementals, though it usually does carry other costs for keeping the spirits happy. Insurance companies should be very happy to pay a shaman to summon a City spirit to help prevent accidents at a construction site. One shaman on a search-and-rescue squad would be invaluable. Just look at each domain and ask what people do mundanely in that domain, and then ask what could happen if a shaman showed up to ask the local spirit to help out.
  • Shamans have traditionally been counselors, and will only get better at it if they can cast spells that help them figure out someone’s problems that they might not be able to articulate verbally.

Shamans may not all be 9-to-5 types, but as rare as spellcasters are, the economy will shift to accommodate their needs.

The bottom line is that almost all full spellcasters, and most adepts, are likely to be rather well off and will need to have some fairly strong story reasons to be running the shadows instead of getting superb pay for honest work. They may have invented spells that are more useful in a mundane profession than when running the shadows; talk with your GM about coming up with them as background. (“Slay Vermin” pays really well for an exterminator— but if it also affects Insect spirits, you could wind up drafted in an emergency, and that could lead to all kinds of interesting stories.)

ETA: The next fun design exercise is to figure out, for each spellcasting lifestyle, what kind of wrong turn it takes to turn them into a shadowrunner. e.g.:

“I used to be an exterminator, of sorts. Eagle doesn’t approve of just blasting termites out of existence, so I have Control Swarm and Control Vermin spells that that lure insects and rodents out of buildings for relocation someplace better. I would command whole termite hives to vacate their burrows, crawl into a heap of rotting wood in the back of a pickup truck, and I’d cart them off to productive lives in waste-cellulose processing where the methane they generated was used in cogeneration. But a guy bribed me to send a hive into someone else’s house, and yeah, the spirits said he was a jerk, so I went along with it. I had no idea he was the third son of the Renraku Vice President of Marketing and Communications...”


Don't forget that some characters don't really recognize their true calling early on, or their own magical natures until later in life. It could be that Eagle has been sitting quietly, patiently guiding Sally into a career that Eagle thinks is best for her, but Sally has no clue about it and is just pulling 9-5 as a secretary in the security office because that's what was available when she was job searching.

There is also the general stigma attached to some Totems that people may not want to broadcast. Dan's been flying under the radar, desperate to keep his abilities unnoticed. He's got a wife and a baby girl to provide for, and doesn't want to rock the boat or get assigned to a Special Ops team like his older brother Mack, but Dragonslayer is really itching for some action and glory when the Shadowrunners just happen to break into the floor his cubical is on...


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