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Posted in Duran Keep
And so it begins...
I was at the Temple this morning talking with Toring about needing to stretch my legs. I've learned about all I could from him and the eladrin of the Twilight forest.
Erathis will surely guide you on your quest for knowledge. You should seek out companions for your adventures. Erathis teaches us that we each have a part to play in the greater order of things. You are quite knowledgeable and skilled in the arcane arts. That alone may not be enough in these dark times, though. You would be wise to find those with skill that compliment your own.

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More Information Pamphlet
So, Wednesday's game was probably the least planning and forethought I've put into any mission for this campaign, and I still thought it went over pretty smoothly. In fact, I even ended up switching the order between this game and the next, because I really want to put some effort into what is now going to be the fifth game, tentatively titled Digging Up Some Dirt.

Understanding the Manasphere, Part II
Dr. Ellen Farley ThD, Dr. Philo Sexton PhD ThD, Dr. James Standingbear MD ThD, et al.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology & Thaumaturgy

The first part of this pamphlet was a refresher on the basics of astral space. This part will be a primer on phenomena one may encounter on the astral or physical planes.

Background Count
Mana originates from the metaplanes and covers the Earth, gathering around lifeforms and forming the astral plane. However, it does not necessarily cover the planet evenly, as the flow can eddy and swirl in some areas, surging through ancient ley lines, and pooling up in some places. Magical scholars refer to the level of ambient mana in any given place as background count. For a majority of the planet, the mana count is typically 0, though in some places the level of mana might be weak causing a negative background count, while in others it may be built up causing a positive background count. For all but the most skilled magicians, it doesn't make much difference whether the background count is positive or negative; anything but a 0 background count makes using magic more difficult. In areas of negative background count, mana is harder to gather and shape into spells or use to summon spirits. In areas of positive background count, the mana is so abundant that attempting to control it is akin to controlling a gushing fire hose.
  • At the lowest end of the spectrum are mana voids, places where there is very little to no mana to be found. Magical researchers and others who bother to quantify such things would say that a mana void represents anywhere between a -7 and a -12 background count. As the natural manasphere of the Earth tappers off at the edge of the atmosphere, all of space is considered to be one great mana void, with the exception of pockets of very weak mana near orbital stations or lunar colonies. Other mana voids include the so-called "blind spots" on the Earth's surface, found in areas of tremendous pollution (the SOX radioactive wasteland) or heavy manipulation of the local manasphere (the nation of Aztlan). A mana void can actually cause harm to mana beings within it; dual-natured beings, astrally perceiving or projecting magicians, and spirits can all receive lasting physical harm. It is recommended that you never astrally perceive or project while in a mana void (many mages will drink heavily or take a high dose of tranquilizers just before boarding a suborbital flight).
  • Areas of relatively low background count are called mana ebbs. Mana ebbs range from -1 to -6 background count. In these areas, magic is difficult but usually still possible. Astral space appears dimmer than usual to those attempting to assense within a mana ebb. Spirits and dual-natured beings are not hurt by mana ebbs, though they do find them uncomfortable.
  • Places of great beauty or strong emotional significance can cause mana to pool in the area, forming a domain. Domains have a background count between +1 and +6. Strong domains are often called power sites or astral nexi. In some cases, domains can form a line connecting two power sites, sometimes straight as an arrow and other times winding like a river. These are called ley lines, though other names for them include mana lines, dragon lines, or song lines. On the astral plane, domains are bright and can be as obvious as swirling eddies of mana. Domains are a common sight here on the campus of MIT&T, though a dedicated team of geomancers and cleansers work hard to keep the background count in check to make magic easy and comfortable for novice students.
  • An exception exists to the general rule that a positive background count makes magic more difficult: aspected domains. By their nature, almost all domains are aspected in favor of one tradition or another. Magicians of other traditions still find that the domain hinders their use of magic, while magicians of the tradition the domain is aspected towards will find their potency greatly increased. For instance, in a shamanic-aspected domains, shamans find their spells and spirits to be more powerful, while hermetic mages find it more difficult to cast spells or summon elementals in the first place. Mana lodges form an aspected domain in favor of its creator's tradition.
  • The final type of background count are mana warps, areas where mana surges and flares chaotically. These are, like domains, usually caused by areas of great emotional significance, though most recorded warps happen in areas of intense negative emotion such as the death camp at Auschwitz. Mana warps have a background count between +7 and +12. Mana warps are too turbulent to allow aspecting. Being exposed astrally to a mana warp is as dangerous as attempting to tap its power; it is impossible to see anything besides seething madness and senseless chaos. Many magicians who astrally perceive within a mana warp suffer lasting psychic damage and mental illness.

Mana Surges
While background count is permanent or semi-permanent in an area, sometimes mana can unpredictably spike in an area and quickly recede again. This usually happens in areas of extensive magic tampering as the natural tide of mana sloshes uncontrollably. Magic within a mana surge behaves erratically, and no two magicians can expect consistent results. Casting a spell or summoning a spirit within a mana surge might fail completely or else find the strength of the spell or spirit increased or decreased at random. Sometimes the results are even more beyond understanding, resulting in a temporary curse of sorts on the magician, dubbed the "Witches' Mark" with bizarre effects.

Mana Storms
Sometimes the highly concentrated mana in a domain or mana warp can spill out into the world, creating a mana storm. These swirling and chaotic areas of unleashed mana are moving zones of background count equivalent to the domain or mana warp they originated in, and mana storms that come from an aspected domain will maintain the same aspect. On the astral plane, they appear as swirling clouds of mana, crackling with energy, while on the physical plane they manifest similar to violent weather patterns, but with the added illusory effects typically found in a Confusion or Chaos spell.

In some particularly charged places and times, the mana in a region can spontaneously form creations in the physical world. These alchera (a word borrowed from the Arrernte Aborigines of Australia) typically take the form of natural terrain such as lakes or rock formations but can also assume the forms of man-made structures such as buildings, bridges, or even ships. They exist only for a short time, and often occur on important dates such as anniversaries of notable events or dates of astrological significance such as an equinox.

Manifest alchera are insubstantial, simply an image created out of pure mana, and will appear as a ghostly, translucent object; many believe that some or all UFO sightings might be caused by manifest alchera. Materialized alchera assume an actual physical form in otherwise unoccupied space, such as a building simply appearing on a flat piece of ground. Though materialized alchera are solid, they still give off an apparent otherworldliness, such as emitting a fog or being cold to the touch. Being inside a materialized alchera as it appears or disappears is disorienting, but rarely dangerous. The final type of alchera is referred to as "replacement" because it can take the place of existing terrain, sending part of the "real world" away and taking its place. Examples of replacement alchera include rivers or small canyons appearing where previously there had only been flat ground.

Both materialized and replacement alchera are dual-natured constructs, existing on both the astral and physical planes. Some researchers here at MIT&T believe that alchera may be attributable to an intersection between the physical world and the metaplanes. Alchera of all three types are not unheard of on and around campus, probably as unintended side effects of some of the magical experiments.

Astral Shallows
In some parts of the world, the barrier between the physical and astral planes occasionally weakens, a phenomenon referred to as astral shallows. While in an astral shallow, even a mundane can see the astral plane. The auras of other people become visible, as do spirits and other astral forms such as spells and barriers. This astral perception is every bit as detailed as a normal magician's astral perception, though it is a bit more cluttered as it is overlayed on top of the physical world, rather than shadows of the physical world. A magician who can astrally perceive at other times finds switching his perception back and forth to be much easier while in an astral shallow. These astral shallows are harmless and usually only last for a matter of hours. Again, astral shallows have been observed here on the MIT&T campus, though usually for very brief periods and in very localized areas.

Astral Rifts
Unlike harmless phenomena like alchera and astral shallows, astral rifts can be more dangerous and must be approached with caution. Astral rifts form a bridge directly from one fixed place in the physical plane to a place on the astral plane, allowing anyone to astrally project, whether they are a magician or not. These rifts do not always have an obvious presence on the physical plane, usually appearing as a shimmer or similar to heat ripples in the air or sometimes as an aurora-like glowing haze, though occasionally they are obvious tears in physical space, showing as brightly luminescent.

In some cases, astral rifts can even connect to the metaplanes, allowing a person to travel there without having to pass the Dweller on the Threshold. However, non-Awakened and the uninitiated must use the rift to return to their bodies; if their body is moved from the rift's influence on the physical plane, return becomes impossible and their astral form dissipates leaving their body in a permanent coma. Further adding to the risk of using a rift, the exact metaplane it connects to is often undetermined, potentially delivering a traveler to a particularly deep metaplane. Some astral rifts are known as "deep" rifts and posses the power to physically draw victims into its area of influence and then force them into projecting into the metaplanes.

As the School of Thamaturgy is looking out for the safety and well being of the students here at MIT&T, astral rifts have only rarely been opened on campus and in those few cases, they have always been locked down or otherwise controlled within a few minutes of first being observed.

The Metaplanes
Though not a phenomenon, the metaplanes are still not fully understood. Where the astral planes are an alternate realm that exist in the same space as the physical plane, the metaplanes are even further removed. They are innately indefinable but represent a wide variety of places, realms where the spirits reside, many bearing strong resemblances to ancient mythical places such as Shambhala, Hyperborea, or the Navajo emergence lake.

In almost all cases, a magician needs to be an initiate to gain access to the metaplanes. Doing so involves extensive careful preparation, then passing the Dweller on the Threshold, and finally completing one or more trials once in the metaplanes in order to achieve the goal of the metaplanar quest. This goal might be to conceal an astral signature, perform an initiation ordeal, learn a metamagic technique, or gain power over a spirit.
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Chalk Up Another One
I got another letter from my dad's office yesterday. Pretty much said the same thing as the last one:

Mr. ********, (*Sorry, kiddoes, I'll always be Fat Nerd to you*)
It has come to our office's attention that you persist in your efforts to reach Senator Hadris Nuon by attempting to compromise the local mainframe. He wishes to remind you that his contact information is available as public record, should you need to reach him. Senator Nuon has informed us that he does not wish us to press criminal charges for your trespass at this time, but he also wishes it be known that such intrusions cannot be permitted in the future. He also personally asks that you handle with extreme discretion the information you gathered during your recent viewing of his personal comm records.

(*This final part is the real kicker*)

In closing, the Senator wishes you a Happy Birthday, congratulates you on your recent accomplishments, and hopes for your bright future.

Office of Senate: Security

Happy birthday?? In a warning letter from the security goons?? Either all this government crap has finally addled "Senator Nuon's" brain, or this is the best gag gift I've ever received. No jokes here, as the idiot letter came with 500 nuyen. 500? What am I even supposed to DO with that? And it came a week after my birthday anyway! Don't get me wrong, Dad has always been an asshat, but this is a new low even for him. I'll be damned before I become some corporate or government flunkie like him. Ha! Worse, that he was a corp goon, THEN became a govie goon.
I find myself torn over my favorite part of this letter: the "should you wish to reach him" bit, or the EXTREME DISCRETION bit.
1. We have nothing to talk about.
2. I hack the site because it's fun, and because I like to add to my collection of letters from his office, and because I know he'll never do anything about it. He could never admit to siring me, nor could he bear the annoyance my arrest would cause his campaigning. Which brings us to..
3. You think I CARE what floozy tramps he's sleeping with? Call 'em escorts, call girls, or common whores, just because you pay more for it doesn't make it any classier. "Personally asks" my ass.

Eh, comm's going off. Looks like the team's got a meeting with a new Johnson. Oooo, and it's on the matrix this time! I'll check back in with you after the meeting and the mission. As an aside, remind me to brief you on the new team--we got some real wackjobs and weirdos this time through. Not that it's bad--they get the job done. They just make it very...interesting.
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One more from the ShadowSea Data Haven, then I'll probably call it a day.

Connecting VPN...
... Matrix Access ID Spoofed
... Encryption Keys Generated
... Routing Connection Through Anonymizer
> **********
> ***************
Connected to <ERROR: UNKNOWN NODE>

?unknown node? >> ShadowSea >> Message Boards

> Okay, guys. I have some bad news. Phage was doing some reconaissance into the Azty systems, trying to find out about these anomalous auctions that were mentioned in News You Can Use. It looks like she got into a slugfest with some nasty stuff while she was in there, and I don't think it was anything put there by Aztechnology network security. It may possibly have been some psychotropic black IC, which would be some pretty bad news. In any case, she's been unconscious for several hours, so she isn't talking about what she got her can kicked by or what she found in their systems.
> SqueakTheMouse

> Psychotropic black IC? Sorry, I'm not a hacker like the rest of you guys. Can someone enlighten me?
> Spirit Man

> "IC", or ice, is intrusion countermeasures, the stuff that keeps just anyone from hacking any given node and does it's best to try to keep the hackers out. "Black" ice means it's nastier than usual in that it can cause damaging biofeedback, signals sent back through your matrix connection that'll fry your brain. And "psychotropic" means it's even nastier than regular black ice, because it can actually cause lasting neurological damage, rewiring your brain to behave in a different way. A lot of hackers might call it "programming" you to do certain things, usually by installing neuroses like phobias or compulsions.
> Uplink

> So who's this Eidolon guy who commented on your News You Can Use post?
> Slice

> The question you should be asking is "what is he?"
> Wake the Devil
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Information Pamphlet
Another matrix download, this time primarily for the magic users. This is just one of three write-ups I'm putting together to help describe exactly what it's like to be Awakened in Shadowrun. This is part one of a two-part informational pamphlet given out to thamaturgy (magic) students at MIT&T, and is mostly just setting background info for the players. The second part will be put up eventually, and will actually contain some foreshadowing of a few things you'll likely have to deal with in the coming games, so Noghri and Hush will want to pay attention. I have in mind a third write-up for a few days hence, but it will again be mostly informational and not necessarily have any direct bearing on the campaign.

I'm also going to give these three write-ups, the News You Can Use, and any other future write-ups each their own page in the wikis, so you can find them easily without having to slog through the backlog of front page posts.

Understanding the Manasphere, Part I
Dr. Ellen Farley ThD, Dr. Philo Sexton PhD ThD, Dr. James Standingbear MD ThD, et al.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology & Thaumaturgy

This pamphlet is intended as a primer for incoming students to MIT&T. If you have been accepted into the School of Thamaturgy, you likely already know some about magic. Perhaps you already know a spell or two and how to assense, and maybe you have even already learned to astrally project. What follows are brief descriptions of the astral plane, or "manasphere", and some of the magical phenomena that one may encounter in it. Part one will be a refresher of the basics that you likely are already familiar with, and part two will deal the more obscure information, such as alchera and mana voids. Since this will just be a brief overview, anyone who finds this material interesting is encouraged to take Dr. Lancaster's cource on advanced astral projection.

The reason for this pamphlet is that we feel that all Awakened students need to be aware of the potential dangers involved. Here at MIT&T, we take every precaution necessary when performing magical experiments, first researching the proposed method extensively, and then using very powerful wards and barriers during the actual experiment. However, despite all our best attempts at understanding it, magic remains a largely unpredictable force. With that in mind, students should be prepared for oddities and accidents while on campus, and prepare for themselves the best defense: knowledge.

The Astral Plane
The astral plane exists in the same space as the physical plane, as sort of another "layer" of reality, but composed entirely of mana rather than of matter. All non-living physical objects are visible on the astral plane, casting a "shadow" of sorts by appearing to astral perception to be a dull, grey, mostly transparent form. However, living objects show their auras on the astral plane in a mottled cloud of bright color. Those experienced at assensing can read these colors to gain a lot of information about a subject, including physical health, emotional state, what sort of cyberware or bioware implants they may have, and even whether they are Awakened or a technomancer.

You might also be able to astral project, allowing your consciousness to leave your body and travel through the astral plane. In doing this, you gain an astral form and can move at great speeds, passing unhindered through the auras of people and the shadows of physical objects. However, you will be solid in relation to any other astral form, such as mana barriers. Spirits almost always exist as astral forms, since they usually have no physical form (except when they materialize on the physical plane). Just like while on the physical plane you can only cast spells against other physical objects and beings, while on the astral plane you can only cast mana spells against other astral objects and beings.

Non-living objects can also exist as astral forms, called constructs. Spells are the most predominant example, in that they have form and substance on the astral plane. A spell sustained on a person will appear as a haze or cloud surrounding the person's aura. If the spell was cast and sustained by another person, it will appear as a "tether" of sorts, linking the caster to the spell itself; those versed in counterspelling can "cut" this tether, ending the spell.

Mana Barriers
Mana barriers, such as wards, are another prevalent type of construct. These exist as walls in astral space, preventing passage to astral forms, although a spirit or projecting magician can usually attempt to "push through" the barrier if it is not too strong for them. Most mana barriers are hazily opaque walls, making it difficult to see anything on the inside. However, to the creator of a mana barrier, it appears transparent and presents no hindrance to astral movement.

Wards are a useful and easy, though temporary (lasting a number of weeks) form of astral security that any Awakened being can create and maintain, which surround a portion of astral space with mana barriers on all sides. All the student dorm rooms come pre-warded, though these wards will disolve after about six weeks. Before that time is up, all students will be taught the warding ritual and will be expected to refresh their ward or create a new one. The "mana barrier" spell can also create a smaller-scale mana barrier for a shorter duration.

Dual-Natured Beings and Astral Perception
In some cases, beings are dual-natured, existing simultaneously on both the physical and astral planes, having an astral form while remaining in their physical body. Spirits that have materialized a physical form and some Awakened animals are dual-natured. Any time you are using astral perception while remaining in your physical body, you become dual-natured. While dual natured you can cast physical spells on the physical plane and mana spells on the astral plane. However, be careful as there are ways to injur yourself while astrally perceiving. Just as your astral form can pass through the shadows of physical objects but your physical body would be stopped by them, your physical body can pass through a mana barrier unhindered but to your astral form it would be like walking straight into a wall.

The Earth itself is actually one very large dual-natured entity, often referred to as Mother Earth by shamanic magicians. Anywhere that hasn't been paved, built upon, or excessively polluted, the ground beneath your feet will actually have an astral form and even a dim but present aura. However, unlike most astral forms that are solid in relation to other astral forms, the ground is more similar to a mana barrier that is more porous than usual but also much thicker. Attempting to push through the earth while astrally projecting will be met with slow progress, and the possibility of becoming lost, in which case the astral form is disrupted, sending the magician back to his body but leaving him unconscious for a time. Due to being opaque and more risky to push through, simply constructing something underground is a means of astral security that is often considered as an alternative to wards.
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