Inspired by the recent landing of a probe on a comet, I started thinking about an old meta-plot for a roleplaying game that I always thought was really creative and interesting.
I really enjoy a good metaplot, the large over-arching stories that some game build into their settings. Shadowrun, the fantasy-cyberpunk mash-up game has had many of them. Shadowrun advances their world’s storyline and in-world calender at a rate similar to the real passage of time. It’s generally about 60 years in the future from whenever the real world date is. The in-game world is currently about 2075 (2014), but back in 2061 (2003) the setting experienced the return of Haley’s Comet, an event I sadly never got to play, but always thought was a really interesting metaplot idea. It was covered in the 3rd edition books “Year of Comet” and “Wake of the Comet.”
So I should say up front that most of my experience in Shadowrun is with 4th edition, largely the 20th anniversary edition. I’ve never played the Comet meta-plot in person, and I’ve honestly never even read it. What I know of it is from secondary sources, friends that did play it, bits of setting history in more recent books, online synopsis, Shadowrun timelines, etc. In other words, I don’t actually know how well the books were written. I haven’t seen the details, only the broad ideas… and I really like those ideas.
The comet was used in some very creative ways, especially for this setting. First of all, it became a symbolic target for the AAA mega-corporations. There was a very public space-race to get a probe on the comet before anyone else, a task requiring a lot of science, technology, and engineering. In other words, a lot of really good excuses for runners to get hired to sabotage launches, kidnap scientists, steal prototypes, and generally do what shadowrunners are paid to do.Of course, Shadowrun isn’t just a setting about a sci-fi dystopian future; it’s also got magic and monsters. The nature of magic in the setting is cyclical, it rises and falls, and is directly connected to the world. Magic and magical creatures require a strong “astral space” to exist, and that’s tied to the living world or “Gaia sphere.” All of this was tweaked, temporarily, by the comet. It’s passage through the inner system and it’s closing near Earth spiked the magic in the world, increasing background magical values in many places and generating strange phenomena. A fraction of people underwent transformations into new and strange supernatural creatures. New paranormal creatures appeared in nature. Dark spirits, only able to exist when magic is powerful, started to appear. In short, a lot of fodder for Shadowrun plots. Magical researchers in the world would want to know more, gather evidence and samples, etc. The appearance of terrible threats would require heroes to battle against them, and cultists to worship it. Both would draw Shadowruners and Corporations into various plots.And that’s where you get a great metaplot for a cyberpunk/fantasy setting. The triggering event, the comet, gives great excuses to mix things up for both the sci-fi and fantasy aspects of the setting, and in ways that easily lend to adventure hooks for the disposable and occasionally heroic assets that the PC typically are.
Frankly, I worry that reading the actual books would be a bit disappointing.