My current “live” project is Altered States, an Alt-History Technothriller Shadowrun. Let’s break that down.
Alt-History: This doesn’t occur in the canon Shadowrun timeline. Altered States has its own timeline, with many events that are similar to the canon (such as a VITAS plague) and many others that are wholly new. There are several differences, among them being:
The US still exists (but is almost balkanized). The NAN has collapsed (plus it had different boundaries in America, and never existed in Canada). There was no Resource Rush and no Seretech and Shiawase decisions, so no corporate extraterritoriality. Mexico, India, and Coastal China (the Republic of China) are the top three nations. UGE and Goblinization occurred at the same time in 2012 (an event called the Emergence). No Immortal Elves or “4th World” Great Dragons. No Toxic Shamans. And so forth.
Technothriller: Altered States is a technothriller campaign, best described as “Shadowrun, as written by Tom Clancy”. Technothrillers are military- and spy-oriented. They focus on national clashes, espionage, special forces units, and bleeding edge developments. James Bond, Jason Bourne, and Evelyn Salt (from Salt) are all inspirations (as well as Clancy’s novels, obviously).
Player characters are specially trained agents of the government, instead of criminals. Other than that, it’s pure Shadowrun.
Play involves stealing data, blackmail, wetworks, destroying facilities, infiltrating installations, extracting people, and all the other Shadowrun goodness players have come to know and love, just in a different context: instead of breaking into a Renraku gene lab, you’re breaking into an Aztlan air force base.
Many of the changes in the history of the campaign are to support the themes of the campaign (countries instead of corporations) and to develop some aspects of the setting more than in the official material (such as the alt-VITAS post, forthcoming).
Shadowrun: This is a cyberfantasy setting, just like Shadowrun’s. It has hermetic mages and shamans, paranatural creatures, and Orks, Trolls, Dwarves, and Elves. It has hacking, rigging, and cyberware. It is still Man meets Magic and Machine.
It isn’t a -punk setting, and draws inspiration from other sources. But it is definitely Shadowrun.