As part of the unique formula of Shadowrun, I think it’s important to look at the character options for a given game, and the simplest, easiest way to start off is to take a look at the Races, or Metatypes recognized in the setting.
Shadowrun acknowledges five player character Metatypes, each of which we’ll tackle for this particular article. Much like traditional fantasy races, the emergence of these Metatypes have splintered Shadowrun society into various communities. As with many rpgs, Humans are treated as the Vanilla race, the baseline by which all the other Metatypes are drawn from. In Shadowrun, this is actually built into the setting fluff, as the Metatypes are all formerly humans who had their true selves revealed with the return of magic to the world.
That said, let’s to take a look:
These guys resemble the standard Fantasy Dwarves that we all know and love, though beards are not a strict requirement. I like how the game draws on old lore regarding dwarves, keeping the fact that they’re good craftsmen, and bestowing them with Thermographic vision so that they can see in the dark. The Dwarven staple of being hardy and resistant to toxins is present in Shadowrun as well.
I’m glad they kept to a stereotype that’s easy enough to understand. I’m also glad that they didn’t keep the Scottish accent as part of being a Dwarf. Already I’m considering the possibility of having a brilliant, if abrasive Filipino-turned-Dwarf (akin to the local Dwende) just to pull off a non-standard Dwarf concept without having to go full-on Mary Sue.
Shadowrun’s take on the Elves is by far one of the most amusing renditions I’ve seen. In a spin on pop-culture, the Elves are the new celebrities, their natural grace and beauty lending them quite well to being right in the spotlight as media darlings. The Elves are also the one Metatype that is loved by popular culture, as opposed to the Dwarves, Orks and Trolls, who are discriminated against, or even outright reviled.
Aside from being prettier, more agile and more popular, the Elves also have low-light vision. There doesn’t seem to be a downside to being an Elf, but I think that sort of thing carries it’s own kind of trouble if the GM gives even a few minutes of thought of how people might react negatively to someone they’re jealous of, or too well to someone they idolize or admire.
Shadowrun decided to take the stereotype of the Ork and temper it with a little more humanity. I’m glad to see the Orks treated with the same level of care as the other Metatypes. Rather than to paint them completely as an entire race of thugs and lowlifes that have the emotional and intellectual capacity of nine year olds, the Orks here are actually pretty stable.
Sure they’ve got their physical differences, but the Orks come off as the most “human” of the Metatypes. They’re not particularly revered, or intelligent, but they eke out their own lives in the same way that the humans do.
Shadowrun’s Trolls are the impressive physical specimens that most popular fiction paints them to be. Thankfully Shadowrun turns the stereotype again on it’s head in the sense that they’re not stupid. Like the elves, looks dictate a lot of how people relate to the Trolls. Shunned and feared for their appearances, the Trolls don’t have it easy.
That said, their physical superiority makes it tempting to fall into less… savory professions, where beating people up or intimidating people is something that the Troll excel at. Add a few more advantages like Thermographic vision like that of the Dwarves and natural armor and the Trolls really can be a danger in combat.
I’m not sure why that is, but every Metatype aside from Humans blessed with some sort of low-light or thermal vision. Sure modern technology can even those odds, but it does tend to highlight the fact that the other races are “alien” to the human template.
Society as presented by Shadowrun is compelling so far. I like the racial divides, and how those can be played up or down depending on the person running. The Metatypes are interesting, but they don’t define everything about the character. Reading a bit more about them has given me a little more appreciation for how Shadowrun put their own spin on the races, making sure they bow to both the popular perception of them, without being a complete knock-off of D&D or Fantasy Fiction by making sure that they tweak it in a way unique to Shadowrun.