Loan Sharks and Death Blimps — The Origin of Kane

When you get really heavily invested in a roleplaying game, it’s common to fantasize about having your characters make it into the canon of the game. When I wrote for Shadowrun, I threw in a few characters I’d made, sure, but the most extreme, and probably the most memorable, was not my own.

When I played Shadowrun, I wanted my runners to survive — I prided myself on few character deaths, since in this game dead meant dead, and there was no coming back. I was not the stealthiest or the most cunning player, but I picked my battles and kept my head down. In our house-rule-modified first edition, and in the official second edition, even the “team tank” could get brought low by any GM who gave the enemy quick reflexes and a reasonable level of firepower. This was just sensible play.

And then there was Kane.

Kane was the well-loved character of a friend of mine we will call Mathias and leave it at that, for the sake of privacy.

The Shadowrun wiki entry on Kane is here. It takes the info I threw into the Shadowrun Companion and Cyberpirates and embellishes on it; it looks like he inspired other authors to flesh out his story over the years. (I must admit, I haven’t read much Shadowrun since I stopped writing for them.) I can’t speak to the legend they created — but I can tell you the story of what it was like gaming with him.

Kane was a rigger, a human (in this case) with a cybernetic vehicle control rig that plugs into a car, an aircraft, or a drone. This gives them unparalleled control over the vehicle. The usual use of this in the game is that the rigger is the getaway driver, team tank, and anti-vehicular gunnery specialist, since it’s a lot easier to fire a heavy machine gun from your Batmobile than it is to lug it around and take the punishing recoil by hand. In the character creation system of Shadowrun, riggers don’t have to spend too much on cyberware, but they go to town on tricking out their vehicle in case of clashes with gangs, cops, dragons, or whatever else comes down the pike.

The more literary-minded among you may note that Kane bears a name similar to that of the first murderer in the Bible, who was cast out everywhere. Trust me, this prophetic naming was a total accident — not on my part, because Mathias named him — and because Kane got kicked out of several countries, one at a time. The major difference from the character in the Shadowrun Companion, is that Kane is portrayed as a pariah among runners… in our circle of high school gamers, we loved playing with Kane, because we had a crazy-ass time, almost always at Kane’s expense.

Allow me to illustrate. Buckle up and get a cup of soykaf, chummer, because this is gonna be long.

A Little Background

In our lunchtime-and-weekend high school campaign, it was the fashion for the GMs to give a few Karma points (experience) to any of us who wrote up a little backstory for our character. Mathias jumped on that, and wrote a story about how Kane got his awesome driving, gunnery, and aircraft skills — he served in the Air Force of the Confederated American States and had a lover named Kat, who was initially from Belarus and flew with him during the CAS’s border battles with Aztlan. Kat got shot down and captured, and Kane had sworn revenge, but he didn’t like the CAS’s inaction — they wrote her off as a low-value POW, so Kane parted ways with them. He ended up in Seattle, where the campaign was initially set. We all said, “Cool story, bro!” and welcomed him aboard. We were still pretty new to the game, and hadn’t had a rigger in the crew before.

At the time, our runner team weren’t doing a lot of published modules, and were doing jobs based on our contacts. We had a former company man archetype who’d taken a bunch of Mafia contacts and named himself The Godfather. (Not the most original moniker, but show me a sixteen-year-old whose every word was Shakespeare and I’ll show you a liar. ) I was a elf hitmage who’d taken both a yakuza boss and mafia don as contacts because I wanted the exclusive air of an independent contractor. The GM ruled that this could work — so long as we didn’t take jobs involving Yak/Mafia competition. There was a new gang in town full of ass-kicking martial artists (if I recall, they were named after the Crimson Fist, since David, our GM, was a big Warhammer fan), and we were to infiltrate and put the hurt on ’em. Kane was up for the challenge.

Next Time, Try Magna-Volt

As it turned out, one of the party was in the Crimson Fist, and had neglected to mention they wore a crimson sash as part of their outfit. Lesson learned… always ask for a physical description of the other characters. The rest of us were drugged and woke up on a slow boat to China, as killing off the Mafia was tantamount to declaring war. At this point, Kane asked what happened to his incredibly expensive car that he’d parked in the gang’s garage. “Well, what sort of security did you have on it?” asked David.

For some reason, that to this day Mathias only knows, he said, “It’s like that Lotus in For Your Eyes Only, it just blows the fuck up when you break the window.”

So that was Kane’s first Pyrrhic victory. Three or so bad guys dead, and Kane was out a giant pile of nuyen.

As for our own fates, we caught a seaplane back to Seattle (it was delivering mail to the ship a la Tintin adventures) and met our betrayer at the airport with a bunch of Crimson Fisties. Outnumbered in the faceoff, we swore on our honor that we would not harm them again, and they left us alone. Of course, a more overriding force than a shadowrunner’s honor is usually their ego, their reputation, and the Mafia code of “you do not fuck with me.” So, our betraying player got his character sniped the next session, and we proceeded to take out the Crimson Fist the hard way. Kane scrounged together enough nuyen out of the job to buy his next vehicle, a hovercraft.

David rolled with the Mafia theme and set forth a new problem: the private police corporation Lone Star was declaring war on shadowrunners with five highly-touted super-cops. There was a super-fast reflexes guy, a rigger, a troll street samurai that was pretty close to what Cyberpunk called a full-conversion cyborg, and a mage or two. Kane was instrumental in picking off two of them — I did an astral search to locate two of the cyber-types as they were getting lunch, and Kane hit them with an antivehicular missile. (Yeah, the Rigger archetype in the basic book started with one. Those were the days, right?)

Our betraying player, Adam, had learned his lesson and returned as an elf gang member (“Demonspawn,” if I remember correctly), and this time he was loyal unto death. He got captured and taken to an interrogation site, and we used his location to pinpoint where the remaining supercops were stationed.

The gang member resisted interrogation, and though the GM gave the player a chance, he spat in their faces and Lone Star straight-up executed him. While I and our physical adept moved in for the kill on the Lone Star mage, Kane provided the distraction by opening up with the hovercraft’s heavy weapons. He and the troll duked it out in a blaze of glory, and Kane sped off into the city. It should be noted that high school kids playing Shadowrun do not have the most coordinated sense of planning, and we split up to get away — me shapechanged into a hawk, the physical adept on a bicycle, and Kane with all the cops in the entire Seattle metroplex chasing his hovercraft. (It should be noted that they all literally sped right by the physad, who dinged his bicycle’s little bell at them.)

That was how Kane got kicked out of Seattle. The hovercraft went to the water, he shot down a pursuing helicopter, and fled out to the ocean, determined to make for California Free State. We did some math on how much fuel he had, and David ruled that he could do it.

“Man,” I said. “You know, as much as I like my hitmage, I’ve been designing a bunch of characters it’d be cool to do a few runs set in California.” There was some agreement (I lent David my copy of The Neo-Anarchist’s Guide to North America), and a new campaign of alternates emerged, all thanks to Kane.

I Wish They All Could Be California Runners

The California campaign was pretty nuts. One of our first jobs was for the military to insert a team of commandos into North Korea. (At that time, there was absolutely no in-game guidance as to the nature of the Korean peninsula, so our GM went with some Cold War vibes.) I played a former FBI street sam (“Death Angel,” if I recall… and yes, the character hated his moniker as much as you do). I also had a spare Shark shaman character I’d never tested before that I handed off to our physad’s player. The shaman’s name was Requiem, not because he was musically inclined, or because he held Mass, but because that’s a scientific name for the family of sharks that includes the great white. Mathias grabbed Kane, and we were off to the races.

It turned out that we were in a serious military operation. We were launched off a cruise ship and Kane turned on the active masking that prevented the hovercraft from being detected. We rode motorcycles overland to a city, where Agent D, leader of the commandos, planted a suitcase.

“Okay, it’s time to fragging evacuate,” he said. We booked out of there at top speed. Whammo. The suitcase nuke, because that was what it was, went off. We hadn’t been told that was the job, because we were the backup, and shadowrunners get bad ideas if you let them too near that kind of firepower.

The EMP killed the electronics in our vehicles, but fortunately I, Requiem, and D all had sky-high Body attributes, so we could jog for hours. We reached the hovercraft, which was far away enough to be unaffected, and began our evacuation. The only problem was that the NK Army and Air Force were scrambled, and a helicopter spotted us as we went overland. It had missiles that were starting to get a lock on us, thermal masking or not.

“I got it,” said Requiem’s player. As a Shark shaman with a specialty in combat spells, plus a totem advantage for combat spells, and maximum points in the area-of-effect vehicle-killer Power Blast, he was gonna take out that chopper no problem. All he had to do was be able to get a line of sight for the magic to work. So he opens up the top hatch.

“Oh, fuck that, I wanna take him out,” Kane said. Mathias turned to the GM. “I press the automatic hatch closer.” BAM. It slams shut on Requiem’s head. He takes a Light wound.

Now, the problem with Shark shamans is that if they’re wounded… at all… they go berserk for three rounds minus the successes they make on a Willpower test, meaning roll 6 sixes on a small handful of dice. Requiem had a great Willpower, but the test was tough as hell to beat. So he went berserk.

Inside the hovercraft.

Whammo. He hit us with 16 dice of Power Blast. Kane took a Deadly wound. I, with my great Body attribute, was hurt but alive. Requiem dropped, unconscious, from the drain of the spell, the damaged hovercraft crashed, and there was still a chopper aiming missiles at us.

Severely wounded but playing the former hero street sam, I grabbed Kane, smashed open the hatch with my cyberarm, and leapt out of the wreckage before the missiles hit like every G.I. Joe cartoon ever made. Requiem never made it out, which was fine, because his player wasn’t invested in the character and all of us were gonna wring his neck anyway. I got into the trees and put a trauma patch (emergency medical drugs) on Kane. Agent D, being the hypercompetent NPC commando, radioed for a pickup and we eventually got to a stealth sub off the coast. Kane got medical attention and lived to see another day. But he was out the cost of a hovercraft.

Death Angel, I think, pulled one more job against the Imperial Marines with Kane, but then got out of the partnership while they were both still alive. Whatever the case, the California Free State made him persona non grata, so he went to the Confederated American States. Kane needed new wheels, and proceeded to buy a tricked-out Saab Dynamit, the fastest car in the game at that time. We’re cool with it, but when we asked “where’d you get the dough?” Matthias responded, “Oh, I still have some Seattle mobsters as contacts, so I borrowed money from them.”

My jaw hit the floor, but I didn’t dissuade him, because this shit was hilarious. We continued to play some alternate characters and did a rescue misson — we got Kane’s girlfriend and wing-woman Kat back from Aztlan. So Kane was now on the shit list of three countries.

Then we put Kane aside for a while. I think that was about the time I played a physical adept and we did some underground cage fighting adventures and some missions based on Top Secret/S.I. modules. We cleaned terrorists off of oil rigs in the North Atlantic and generally had a good time. Mathias played some fun characters like a door-kicking former SWAT cop, a survivalist nutjob, and an even nuttier guy who thought he was a bear, but always, in the back of our minds, we knew we wanted to return to Kane, because the punch line was coming.

Oops, I Hit Him Again

Junior year of high school, the shoe dropped. We started up in Seattle again. Kane had gotten cosmetic surgery to avoid being recognized, but I dusted off my hitmage character and cheerfully remind Kane that he now owes the Mob the cost of a Saab Dynamit (250,000 nuyen plus!) with loan shark interest. I was pulling for him — besides having bonded with the guy, I wasn’t going to take a contract to whack him when he was much more valuable to the Family as a shadowrunner. We went after a gang running a Better-Than-Life chip ring (Shadowrun’s equivalent of drugs, on computer chip) in a warehouse on the Mob’s turf. Do the job, get paid, cancel some debt. It was a deal, all things considered.

I got to the roof shapechanged into a pigeon and took up a position. Kane screeched in through the warehouse door, picking off the guards in an amazing display of gunnery. I resumed my normal form in the rafters, and dropped a sleep spell on a swath of ’em while our other characters took out more. But what we missed was the slamhound.

Slamhounds come from some William Gibson book or other; they’re anti-personnel cyber-dogs with suicide explosives attached. One of them rammed Kane’s car and took out the front axle. He turned it into a controlled crash. We finished off the gang and most of us — the sane ones — grabbed a truck full of contraband and blended in with the traffic. Kane, not wanting to leave his super-fly car, decides he’s going to wait for the cops and fast-talk them into believing he was just driving down the street and got caught in the crossfire of a turf war. You know… as people with a hundred K of cybernetics including a smartgun link do in their car sporting a hidden turret.

David, who was a skilled GM, had a pretty good bullshit detector. So did the cops he roleplayed. Kane’s Negotiation skill was okay, but not spectacular. He needed spectacular.

So the rest of us showed up at the meeting spot to congratulate each other and get paid, and we asked, “Where’s Kane?” He’s not with the cops any more — no, the Mafia bailed him out and they were on the phone. In the background we hear “Oh, no problemo, we have him — HIT HIM AGAIN, MUNGSIE! Great to hear you guys got the goods, ’cause Kane sure don’t.”

We turned over the BTL we’d gotten away with, paying off some of Kane’s debt. The Mob stopped pounding Kane’s expensive new face, and he was good for another mission. They wanted a hit on a mob informant who had turned their home into a fortress protected by the Official Knight Errant Security PackageTM and lesser mobsters were scared to take on these Ares corp-cops.

We ran this game over at Mathias’ house one weekend, and one of his friends from another school showed up with a combat-fiend street sam named the Edge, swimming in cyberware and bioware. (This was a particularly potent combo in early Shadowrun.) “Cool deal,” we said. In what was now our standard procedure, I astrally scouted the area and took out an elemental and a mage in astral combat while Kane and the Edge took on the perimeter. Shit went south, and The Edge took out a few Knight Errant roughnecks.

“I’m gonna dive behind Kane’s car for cover,” he announced. Cover was good stuff in Shadowrun; even if it didn’t stop bullets it made them far, far less accurate. If you were out in the open at short range, whoever went first usually killed the others.

“Got it,” said David. “Kane, your turn’s up, they’re coming down the yard with automatic weapons, what are you doing?”

Mathias, who had just been at the door paying for the pizza, said something to the effect of “Well, drek, hoss, I stomp on the accelerator!”

The Edge had a very surprised look on his face as, since the car was now a moving target and he wasn’t, the Knight Errant cops took the path of least resistance. He was riddled with bullets. Were it not for his awesome last-ditch bioware, he would have died.

Upstairs, I found a married couple with a personal bodyguard in the safest room in the house, and plugged the bodyguard and husband. Mission accomplished, I fled the scene and called it in.

“Did you get her?” said the Mob contact.

“Her?” I asked. “You know, normally there’s like a dossier on the target for this kind of thing.”

“Didn’t ask for one, did ya?” David grinned.

“Not even a name?”

“It’s an androgynous name, you know… like ‘Chris’ or something.”

“Be right back,” I told the Mob. Rather red-faced, I took to the air, found and took out the target, and helped heal the Edge a little (it wasn’t easy to heal the cybered-up types in early Shadowrun, where magic and technology were often at odds). The gist was, we all lived, and Kane was another step towards getting out of debt.

Ready to be done with Kane’s financial straits, we needed a big score, so in our next session, we targeted a Yakuza boss in a mega-yacht off the coast.

After conferring with my yakuza boss to okay the hit (no sweat — he was from a rival family), we teamed up with two new characters, a physical adept with maxed-out stealth and unarmed combat, and a cybered-up elf street sam based on Warhammer 40k‘s Eldar, dual-wielding monowhips. By now I’d figured out that Adam (the player who had the Crimson Fist character, the elf gang member, this elf and half a dozen others) had fun when he designed his characters as badasses. They were certainly nastier killing machines than mine, but he didn’t mind at all when they died. This worked out great — he’d grab all the attention, kill a few of the toughest enemies, and after they’d kill him, I’d mop up the stragglers. And Adam got to experiment with new and interesting character builds.

This mission was true to form. We got a dinghy and some wetsuits, cased the ship, and slipped aboard. Adam’s attention-getter charged, killed, and died, while the more stealthy of us picked off guards. Kane, who was not the stealthiest, stayed near the waterline with a monomolecular saw. He cut into the hull and crept into the cargo area. That’s where he found the mother lode.

The yakuza were using the yacht to smuggle weapons, BTL, and straight-up gold bullion for money laundering purposes. Kane didn’t manage to make off with it unscathed — he ran into a guard below decks and took a few wounds in the process of taking him out. I showed up, healed him, and after the yak boss was dead, we realized the ship was sinking due to Kane’s hole below the waterline. We got away, but we didn’t stay away for long.

I did some calculations based on the rules for magical crafting. If a unit of pure gold was worth X amount for a tenth of a kilo, how much was a single gold brick worth? It was probably at least 3 kilos, right? Even absconding with a few of them was going to pay off Kane’s debt big-time and make the rest of us rich. All we had to do was get it off the bottom of Puget Sound. We added some SCUBA gear to our wetsuits, bought a few rapid-inflation balloons so we could float some cargo to the surface, and Kane traded the first bar of bullion he’d pocketed for a mini-sub.

Of course, David wasn’t going to let us do this unopposed. The yaks knew how much the sunken ship was worth, so they showed up in force. What followed was a lot like the old Bond movie Thunderball, with spearguns firing in a pitched battle on the ocean floor, and a gigantic yakuza wereshark that ripped a hole in Kane’s new ride. Our physical adept beat the crap out of the shark (I told you he was maxed-out), and we put a spear through its brain to stop any regeneration shenanigans. We looted an amount that wouldn’t break the game. I graduated from the rules’ “moderate lifestyle” apartment to buying my own house, and Kane’s debt was paid in full.

Now that we’d gotten a taste for buckets of money, however, the other players and I started to scheme. We’d gotten used to Kane’s habit of getting vehicles shot out from under him, but they were frickin’ great distractions, and we had a fence who could move stolen goods. So I hatched a plan based on a scene in the movie Black Moon Rising and a newfound spell I’d learned, Control Thoughts. “We’re going to celebrate,” I said. “Kane’s coming along with Kat and her entire rigger gang stuffed into a van, to the most expensive restaurant in town at the Seattle Space Needle. What kind of cars are in the parking lot?”

David smiled. “They’re amazing. There’s Mitsubishi Nightsky limousines, there’s Saab Dynamits, there’s Eurocar Westwinds, there’s Toyota Elites….”

“Is there valet service?” I asked.


“Good,” I said. “I go up to the valet and hit him with a Control Thoughts, and stick a gun in his face. I say ‘You don’t want to get hurt, so I’d like the keys to the Mitsubishi Nightskies, the Saab Dynamit, the Westwinds, and the Toyota Elites…” I tossed the keys to the rigger gang, and we started to make off with ten or so hideously expensive cars. Who needed a Mr. Johnson contact to make money?

David put up a fight — there was at least one rigger staying in an armored limo with a turret — but he was seriously outnumbered. We took him out and absconded with several million nuyen’s worth of vehicles.

“You’re not going to get anywhere near market value,” David said. We were cool with that. The rules for selling contraband in the basic book suggested 10-30% of the list price, but some of that could be multiplied by the Street Index, and even 10% of a 250,000-nuyen-plus limo was not bad for one night’s work.

“So, whatcha gonna buy?” I asked Mathias, who could now afford a backup vehicle and a facility to stash aircraft. He always talked about starting up a racing team, but we knew he was a long way from retirement. He had the skills to fly a plane or helicopter. Was he getting one?

“I want a blimp,” he said.

“Come again?”

Mathias wasn’t kidding. In the first-edition Rigger’s Black Book, they had these huge cargo-hauling dirgibles. Because they didn’t generate a lot of heat, they had a high base Signature rating, which could be modified into sky-high numbers that meant missiles couldn’t lock on. And it had tons of cargo space and a big Body rating, so it could haul his car, the whole team, and whatever heavy weaponry, armor plating, and electronic countermeasures he wanted. (I think he added stadium speakers eventually so he could play Ride of the Valkyries at all of Downtown Seattle, but don’t quote me on that.)

He took it for its maiden flight down to the Confederated American States to take out an anti-metahuman militia that thought it’d be a good idea to rub out my elf hitmage. (I’m pretty sure they were buddies with Adam’s new character, but he wasn’t around that day, so we decided to cut him off from any potential “Crimson Fist Part 2” scenario.)

Since Mathias had told me missiles were lousy against the blimp, I snuck onto the compound and took out the guards who had point-and-shoot assault cannons. The drek hit the fan and they opened fire on the blimp with small arms that did nothing and missiles that couldn’t lock on. Kane responded with a heavy machine gun and a belt of 1,000 rounds of ammo. Finally, the rigger had the last laugh.

“Holy shit,” we players said. “It’s a death blimp.”

Because the compound was out in the middle of nowhere, and the militia didn’t rely on police protection, there wasn’t a police response. We headed back to Seattle, mission accomplished. And I handed Kane one of two assault cannons as a souvenir. I kept the other one in a secret room in my residence. I only used it once. (Handy hint for gamemasters — if it’s in the bad guy’s hands, you can expect it to be in the players’ hands soon enough.)

Then Kane tried the same trick in a populated area.

I had switched off to my physical adept, favoring stealth as we got our decker in for a datasteal. Kane had a remote deck ready so he could accompany us inside and command the blimp to pick him up when we wanted out. We dropped down over a fence that had monomolecular wire at the top. Inside, alarms went off, (I don’t think a crew of 16-year-old boys in the history of Shadowrun have ever managed NOT to set off an alarm). We ran, top speed, past the security walls slamming down and the knockout gas that was spraying. Kane opened up a few windows for us with the death blimp’s heavy machine gun.

“What’s on the police band radio?” asked Kane.


As was our pattern, we took to the streets to blend in. I think I pole-vaulted over the fence using my physad’s staff. Kane climbed the fence.

As a reminder… this fence was the one with the monomolecular wire at the top. Kane suddenly had a Serious Wound where his hand used to be. But he got to his blimp.

That’s when the Seattle Metroplex Guard launched fighter jets from McChord Air Force Base, aiming directly at the gigantic aerial threat. They fired missiles… and David realized the inadequacy of any kind of missiles trying to roll 12s on six-sided dice. The heat-seeking missiles homed in on somebody’s backyard barbecue in Bellevue like a scene out of Blue Thunder.

“They close in to machine-gun range,” David announced.

“It so happens I have a heavy machine gun, of equal range” said Mathias. With a vehicle control rig, he jacked in with his brain. He didn’t need a hand to pilot. “Draw, motherfucker.”

Technically, the jets probably should have had rotary assault cannons as their air-to-air weapons, but Kane now had a weapon of equal range to that, too, so that’s Monday-morning quarterbacking. Kane beat their initiative and gunned down both Eurofighter Air planes. As the pilots ejected and the wreckage crashed into Puget Sound, the sound of cheering shadowrunners could be heard in Seattle, chanting “DEATH BLIMP! DEATH BLIMP!”


Of course, what we were really cheering was Kane — Seattle’s most-wanted shadowrunner. Goofy as he was, with all the mistakes he made, his story was a lot more colorful than most of my characters. Setbacks just didn’t phase him. He got a cyberhand, and he had some more adventures — I think he was along for the time we pulled a hit on a dragon. I don’t think he ever died, even when we went to India or Amazonia. But all good things come to an end, and a little before we moved away to college, our gang ceased to play together.

When it came time to put my experience to use in the Shadowrun Companion, I cast about for good voices for shadowrunners, and there was no way in hell I wasn’t going to include Kane. Whenever he made a comment in the book, his signature file would say “FBI’s Most Wanted #9… and dropping!” but the running joke would be that it constantly changed every time he commented, listing his most-wanted status in practically every major country in the world. Sometimes the numbers would drop closer to #1, as he was busy living the high-octane life of a shadowrunner, and dared law enforcement to come after him.

I never gave Kane’s real name — I don’t think it was John Kastle as the later authors chose. I think Kane was his given name, but I don’t recall the surname on the character sheet. I lost contact with Mathias over the years, so I don’t know if he ever picked up a Shadowrun book to see his character immortalized in print. Campaign Kane never got a Federated Boeing Eagle or a panzer, because the death blimp was really more practical until some years later when the Rigger 2 book came out and the rules acknowledged that it’s super-easy to hit a blimp. (They’re literally bigger than the proverbial barn wall.) So, I like to think that Kane would, eventually, get back in the cockpit of a fighter jet, like he was in Mathias’s short story, decades ago.

So… here’s to Mathias, and here’s to Kane… and, thirty-some years later, a game that certainly qualifies as unforgettable.