The Criminal Element
In a world where the rich have become wealthy beyond their wildest dreams and the poor have become more destitute than ever, it’s no wonder that so many people have turned to lives of crime. It isn’t just the poor and desperate who lie, cheat, steal, and murder though; even the rich, hungry for ever-more power, will often stop at nothing to further elevate their own status.
It’s no wonder, then, that gangs, street thugs, loan sharks, and even the Mob are alive and well in 2096. In addition, changes in world culture have given rise to new forms of criminals, including hacker gangs known as Ghost Cartels, guns-for-hire known as Street Runners, and even Astral thugs known as Wraith Butchers.
Gangs battle it out in the slums and ghettos of the world’s cities and constantly war over turf, resources, and whatever scraps of respect they can attain. Police often ignore the petty crimes that gangs commit as long as they’re carried out against each other, but when a gang oversteps its boundaries and starts mugging citizens or robbing local convenience stores the police are forced to intervene.
Occasionally the police send squads of gangbusters into a sprawl to take down particularly powerful groups of ruffians, but for the most part their stance has been to let them kill each other for the good of mankind.
Of more importance to the police is organized crime. Centuries-old organizations such as the Mafia, Yakuza, Triad, and others still exist and continue to silently terrorize the public even as they gain in wealth and power.
In addition to these constant threats, a new breed of organized criminals has arisen. Known as Ghost Cartels, these underground organizations are highly adept at stealing and decrypting data from the world’s computer networks. By employee Ghosts – people who are capable of psychically projecting their own presence into the ‘Net – they can sneak into virtually any computer system and make off with bounties of information which they either sell to the highest bidder or release to the public to bring dirty secrets to light.
Many such organizations employ other criminals as well, including Dealers, Fixers, and all manner of armed thugs. After all, all that information would be useless if it weren’t in the hands of someone who knew what to do with it or if it never saw the light of day because the Ghost who grabbed it was shot in the back of the head before he could go corporeal.
Even the law isn’t safe from corruption.
Nowadays, most police forces have been privatized or are, at the very least, commercially sponsored; it isn’t uncommon to see a uniform that says “L.A.P.D. brought to you by KojiCorp.” Though the police are still generally seen as a good thing – after all, they do (mostly) serve and protect the innocent – they’re not without their faults. It’s easy to buy off most cops with a little bit of Wealth or some influential backing, but offer too little or speak the wrong words and you’ll find yourself in grapheme cuffs faster than you can say “it wasn’t me!” Cops in major cities spend most of their day interrogating citizens and demanding to see their registration, which can be faked easily enough. However, cops have a quota of illegals to bring in every month and they’re not above erasing someone’s identity chip if it means meeting their numbers. Most of the time it’s best to avoid them unless you’re a ranking corporate drone whose sudden apprehension would be looked poorly upon by the very companies that sponsor them.
Perhaps the single deadliest breed of criminals, Wraith Butchers have earned their name by slaughtering Astral travelers.
Though Astral travel isn’t very common, when a soul does leave its body to travel in the incorporeal realm there is always a chance that he may encounter one of these human monsters.
What makes the act of butchering wraiths (Astral travelers) so difficult to detect is that there is no physical trauma to the body. When a soul is killed on the Astral Plane, their body remains completely intact but simply ceases to function on its own; it first goes into a comatose state and then, unless hooked up to life support within hours, shuts down and dies. Medically, it appears as though the body simply stopped functioning.
No form of medicine is able to detect that the physical body’s soul had been destroyed (or sucked of its energy).
What motivates these criminals is uncertain, though many suspect that there is power to be gained by devouring the life force of another being. Others may be simply attempting to assassinate competition, while still others are simply serial killers with a twisted and mostly-untraceable method.
Wraith Butchers must, themselves, travel to the Astral Plane to attack their target, which means they also need to be skilled in Astral Projection and Astral Combat. Because the number of such skilled people is small, and the number of butchers an even smaller percentage of that segment, encounters with butchers are rare. Still, utterances of their existence have become increasingly common and their presence should not be ignored, especially now that magic devices exist that enable nearly anyone to try their hand at Astral travel.
Though technically illegal, street running has become one of the fastest-growing professions for urban residents. It’s a rough, dangerous life that caters to no-one, but those who can prove their mettle manage to eke out a good living.
Street runners come from all walks of life, from slummers who got tired of living in squalor to under-appreciated corporate drones who are looking to add a little excitement and adventure to their day (and flex their medical benefits). Oftentimes groups of street runners will work together on several jobs in a row, but in other cases they form and disband groups for any given mission before even getting to know each other’s names.
One important thing to note is that Street Runners aren’t part of any greater organization.
Each one is a sort of independent contractor in his own right. While some form groups that stick together, others simply come and go like the breeze, preferring not to get too attached to anyone who might wind up dead tomorrow.
Street running is a dangerous way of life, and those who opt to perform such mercenary jobs must be willing to shoot a few bullets – and take some. Because of the illegal nature of the trade, there exists little hope for high-quality medical treatment and many runners wind up getting stitched back together by back-alley street docs who work on the sly.
Despite the risks, those who take up street running and find they have a knack for it often make quite a lot of money.
What do Runners do?
Street Runners need to be willing and able to do a little bit of everything, or at least be able to put together a team that can cover all of its bases. It’s rare that a single street runner will be working alone, since most high-paying jobs require several different, highly-specific skill sets.
Generally, a runner will speak with a Dealer who knows someone who knows a guy who needs something done without anyone knowing about it. Though it sounds like something out of a high school sitcom, the fact is that nearly anyone with money can (and does) hire street runners to do nearly anything. Oftentimes, runners are hired to do dirty work that more reputable sources don’t want to be associated with: corporate espionage, assassinations, data theft, and so on.
Runners may also be hired to serve as temporary bodyguards, escorts, and delivery men. In the case of the latter, their packages usually contain some sort of illegal, dangerous, or illegal and dangerous material that needs to be safely, securely, and covertly delivered to another party.
Without street runners, much of the world would cease to operate. They’re the stitches that sew together the seedy underbelly of the city and keep its guts from falling out. With that in mind, most player characters in the world of Psi-punk will be Street Runners, tasked with all sorts of missions that will earn them wealth, infamy, and at least a few war wounds.
Psi-punk Copyright 2012, Accessible Games; Author Jacob Wood