Harebrained Schemes, the devs behind Shadowrun Returns and the standalone expansion, Dragonfall, hit Kickstarter again to fund the next chapter set in Hong Kong. Full disclosure — I backed it. Seemed like a no-brainer for me after how much fun I had with both Returns (and how I missed out on backing that one) and especially Dragonfall.
Their pitch is up front on why they’re hitting the crowdfunding path again – they’ve got a project set, they’re ready to churn out an adventure in the middle of this year, but they want to add more to what they’ve got much like what a relatively recent CRPG success story, Divinity: Original Sin, had also done. For that CRPG, Larian Studios had already spent two years on building the game, but they wanted to do more than what their budget allowed and the quality pretty much speaks for itself.
I’m pretty excited over what they’re going to do with Hong Kong, but the pitch didn’t dive too deeply on why Hong Kong could be a huge playground simmering over with intrigue, backstabbing, dangerous runs, and exotic social mores.
There’s a lot of reasons to get excited about it outside of it being a massive, sprawling city with an incredibly rich history, and most have to do with what the Sixth World has done to it by the 2050s. By 2056, which Harebrained is targeting as the campaign setting, the world is hovering right at the cusp of some really big changes to the Shadowrun universe.
The Kickstarter pitch lays out why covering hooks such as its location and status as a business engine for Asia before taking it down to street level with talk of how guanxi will factor into your relationships with everyone around you and your party. But there’s a lot more that it’s not telling you, subtle wrinkles beckoning from the tabletop materials like the “Shadows of Asia” supplement which covers the region as it appears in 2064. Even though that’s eight years ahead of where Harebrained is going, there’s quite a bit of other material in the book to bring everyone up to speed and get excited about the possibilities.
The Hong Kong Free Enterprise Zone was “rescued” by the corporations who stepped in wielding their extraterritoriality like giant umbrellas, essentially taking over the city which declared independence from China in 2015 with help from Great Britain. Before that, Xinjiang seceded from China in 2013 and Tibet walled itself off using magic in 2011. Things weren’t looking good.
After a number of other major incidents including a major earthquake setting off one of its nuclear stockpiles causing widespread destruction, China fragmented following the collapse of the central government in 2018 and the ensuing civil war with warlords taking over large swaths of what was left Three Kingdoms style. As for Hong Kong, it weathered everything just fine.
At first, the corps tried running the city themselves until they found out how tedious and distracting mundane things like trash collection and road maintenance turned out to be. So, they appointed a council of regents made up of representatives from major corporate powers to handle all of that noise while their parents did the real work.
Needless to say, this means that there’s a lot of nuyen flying around Hong Kong and a lot of opportunities for ‘runners to take on contracts in an exotic corner of the world.
The Hang Seng Index (really does) makes its home there, sort of like Hong Kong’s version of the DOW focused on the largest companies in the Hong Kong stock market (and quite a number from China) that trade on the exchange. By 2056, you can only imagine how much it’s grown since then as a leaderboard among rivals providing plenty of opportunities for each to upend one another using more “direct” methods.
Here Be Dragons
Not just one, but three, dragons are vying for power in the region around this time – Lung, Masaru, and Ryumyo. All three are also classed as “great” dragons meaning that they’re among the largest and most powerful of their kind.
Lung’s domain is in Sichuan in the heart of what is left of China after it fractured into warring states following the collapse of the Party in 2018. Masaru, the first dragon to awaken in the Sixth World, claims the Philippines as his home and Ryumyo (a former protege of Lung) is in Japan. All three are well connected, have legions of followers, very powerful, and think as dragons do weaving plans that might not make sense to you or I now but will in fifty or so years.
As you can already guess, they also have rivalries, particularly Lung and Ryumyo. Masaru also doesn’t have a lot of love for Ryumyo, either, considering that military forces from a resurgent Japanese empire had taken over the Philippines under the pretense of protecting corporate interests years earlier. Right now, in the 50’s and led by Fuchi, they’re “helping” to rebuild (or, depending on who you talk to, exploit) the country with rebels doing their best to push back.
Just to give you an idea from a crunch perspective of how Shadowrun has set up its dragons, no stats are officially listed for any of the major wyrms (until 4th edition, anyway, and even then, only for two of them). The 1st edition core book simply described where great dragons might live as “wherever they want”.
The idea is that they are meant to be the deus ex machina, the mythic movers and shakers behind multiple thrones, of the Shadowrun universe along with a few other key NPCs. They’re not meant to be “taken out” by ordinary shadowrunners. At least the big names aren’t, because there’s a slew of smaller wyrms out there, too, (like Eliohann who was given stats in 1991’s Dragon Hunt adventure module) that have been put within reach from time to time.
The potential here to be involved in a far-reaching tit for tat between three very powerful and ancient rivals is a box of hooks just waiting to be snagged. Throw in a 30 year corporate conspiracy, and Hong Kong has a ringside seat to some exciting stuff that could get nasty in a nanosecond.
May You Live In Interesting Times
You’ve got Yakuza, the Triads, Filipino rebels, Korean organized crime, not to mention all of the other shadowy elements working for the corps, the dragons, and anyone else that wants a piece of the lucrative pie that is Hong Kong.
There are also the warring states over in China just across the way, each vying for ultimate control as when ol’ Qin Shi Huang had to contend with when he finally united the country in 221 BC. Each warlord is trying to do the same thing and you can bet some of that is spilling over into the shadows of Hong Kong, too. Good time to be a ‘runner as long as you can live long enough to spend the nuyen.
Also “feng shui”, but in the Sixth World where magic is once more reality, it takes on an entirely pragmatic meaning to those who know how to wield it. Having that window or doorjamb out of place might actually have subtle, tangible effects on certain things other than being an eyesore.
Mighty corporations are paying top dollar to have buildings designed and positioned “just right” to make the most of whatever harmonious balance exists in whatever space they occupy and with the dawn of the Sixth World, professions and cottage industries of magically inclined experts have cropped up to make the most of it. Players have also gotten a taste of this with Shadowrun Returns and Dragonfall via ley lines (also called by some as “dragon lines”).
You can bet that in Hong Kong, that talent is in as much demand as a good shadowrunner who isn’t above breaking a few windows or adjusting a few wooden beams at a construction site to throw things off for the right price. And that there are going to be those willing to spill lead and blood to keep them from doing just that.