‘From the Tabletop’ is a series I’ve started as a testament to my capabilities as a writer, to help demonstrate my ability to create interesting characters with varying personalities and (if applicable) the development of that character over the time I’ve spent playing them.
The first character I’d like to showcase in this series is my Russian Shadowrun street samurai: Viktor “Wasp” Pavlovich.
Creating an identity through mechanics
When I was first working on Wasp I already knew that our Shadowrun team consisted of a Technomancer (essentially a magical hacker), Shamanistic Mage and a Street Samurai (warrior/tank, typically the muscle of the team) specializing in Automatic Weapons and then there was me. I had no interest in playing a Rigger (drone specialist, mechanic & engineer) or an Adept (a melee/small arms specialist, typically). My team was very specialised in Short-Medium range combat, but we didn’t have anything to provide genuine Long-range capabilities, granted we had a Mage but typically a Manabolt or Fireball spell can’t reach the same distance as the bullet from a Terracotta Arms AM-47 sniper rifle with an Improved Range finder attachment.
So with the role I wanted to play in mind, I went about building my character who, at the time was simply ‘Runner’ because I hadn’t assigned him a name yet. Typically when it comes to creating a Shadowrun character I build them ‘Quality-First’, which means I look at their personality and identity mechanically and then add the flavour after I’ve established who and what they are. This character was going to be an expert marksman, so I picked the trait ‘Sharpshooter‘ which enhanced his ability to use a mechanic known as Called Shots. Called Shots enable the player to target their attacks towards a specific part of the body of their target, be it vital organs, limbs or even genitals.
When a character has the Sharpshooter trait they receive a penalty against any non-Called Shots they fire, this penalty provides a mechanical incentive to play like the character is designed to be – a marksman who doesn’t fire whenever he can, but when it is most opportune for him to do so. The next trait I picked was a negative one: Addiction (Alcohol, Moderate), in the world of Shadowrun many people resort to some kind of vice to cope with the oppressive and violent world around them – some take up BTLs (a type of Virtual Reality drug), Street-drugs (Novacoke, Nitro, Cryo or even Bliss), Sexual deviancy or even Alcohol. I went with the latter because spending your money on whiskey or vodka is a hell of a lot cheaper than constantly buying your next hit of Nitro or god-forbid a new BTL.
At this point, I had two qualities, but you can’t really call an alcoholic sharpshooter a personality. The next two traits I chose were negative impacts on the characters emotional processing – Impassive & Poor-Self-Control (“Vindictive”) I chose these traits as they felt to me like a thematic choice, it makes sense to me that someone who has regularly been involved in murder and carnage would grow accustomed to it if not cold to the violent acts of their day-to-day lives. This was my reasoning for choosing Impassive as it renders your character emotionally stunted, potentially even sociopathic or for such a violent character: psychopathic in nature.
The second emotional trait I mentioned was Poor-Self-Control (“Vindictive”), PSC (Poor Self Control) is a varying trait in Shadowrun, it works similarly to Addiction, your character has some kind of psychological need/complex but its flavour and mechanical intentions differ depending on which variant of PSC you choose. A character with PSC Attention-Seeker will intentionally do boisterous and attention-grabbing things to steal the spotlight, a character with PSC Sadist will intentionally prolong the suffering of their opponents for the pleasure they derive from causing harm.
I wanted this character to be Vindictive to further the idea of him being psychologically & emotionally ‘broken’, what greater way to highlight this than having his primarily expressed emotion be one of the sexier deadly sins? Wrath. Anger is a very primitive, almost feral emotion that highlights the explosive instability of such a hollow person, someone who fills the void in their heart with booze, violence and an illusion of stability which can be cracked with the slightest of insult, a dangerous person with a truly explosive temperament.
The next two positive traits I chose were: Made Man & Bilingual, the latter is self-explanatory, Wasp can speak both English and Russian as his (mechanically) Native language. Made Man, however, provides the reason for his bilingualism. I further added to the thematics of a broken if not deranged criminal by making Wasp a member of the Shadowrun’s Russian Mafia – or one of its branches, anyway. Wasp grew up with two parents who were members of the Vory, he initially grew up in Russia before his parents were relocated to Seattle and became part of the US branch known as the White Vory, whereas the Russia-based branch is known as the Red Vory. Wasp was not only raised in an environment where violence, drugs and criminal activity was common but also somewhere that the Russian language would be frequently used interchangeably.
These aforementioned Qualities/Traits build up what consists of Wasps personality mechanically, though there are some traits such as Albinism, Ambidexterity & Biocompatibility (Cyberware) that are there for gameplay advantages, rather than character building.
Writing the backstory
With the characters qualities and gameplay-stats sorted out, I gave him the runner name Wasp, because the idea of a marksman Shadowrunner reminded me of the animal, though I’m not entirely sure why. This next step in character creation is what a lot of people find to be the most enjoyable: Writing the backstory.
Wasp is designed with the concept of being a dangerous criminal with a fragile ego and a drinking problem, so to reflect this I built his backstory up to focus on the important parts of his life: From falling in with the White Vory organization at the age of sixteen to his big defining event – The day Wasp killed his parents. The Made Man quality in my eyes is a one about being loyal to your organization, to take time out of your week and potentially even miss out on a run because the people who made you asked you to.
It was with this in mind that I decided, the big event that broke Wasps psyche was when the White Vory rounded up known moles for the Seattle Yakuza ring and executed them at a local dock. Wasp was given the task to prove himself as loyal to the Vory by making what some might see as either an unforgivable act – to choose between the Vory and his Family. Wasp inevitably chose the Vory as they were all he really knew, but this event was what drove the final nail in the coffin for Wasp, the event that turned him to extreme body augmentation and culled what few emotions remained within his very soul. It was around this time that Wasp began to drink excessively, developing a dependency on alcohol which was only encouraged by his contacts in the Vory.
With the combination of his marksmanship, sociopathy and alcoholism Wasp naturally fell into the life of a Shadowrunner.
Wasps character development
Over the course of Wasps campaign, his character has gone through a handful of character-arcs, the first of which was his Vory Grunt stage, where Wasp simply did what he was told by his superiors wherever and whenever they asked him to, this arc began to change when Wasps team were hired by the White Vory to launch an attack on one of the local Yakuza operations active in Seattle. This mission demonstrated to Wasp how the Vory was incapable of defending its members from local opposition. This flaw in the Vory was only highlighted by the fact that the assault was launched to rescue the daughter of the local Vory branch’s daughter. This instilled a sense of doubt in Wasps mind about the state of the Vory and whether his allegiance to them was of any real value for himself. This doubt was only nurtured by the constant rejection from the Vory when his team were in need of a job.
Wasps second arc saw him take a darker turn and dive deeper into his criminal nature, consuming alcohol at an alarming rate and even making the call to waterboard a person of interest at one point, despite having already gained the information the team required from them. This particular arc ended during an intervention from Wasps team regarding his alcoholism – which led to him being body slammed through a wall in the safehouse.
Wasps final arc is still in progress with the rest of the teams story coming to an end soon, but at this point in time Wasp is purchasing explosives from his team’s network of experts, planting them at each Seattle-based Vory operation Wasp knows of with the intentions of going off the grid and putting a (metaphorical) bullet in the head of his old family.
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