Aces

   Since Shadowrun is starting up again, and at least one of the players wants to make a Class-A Enhancement Mage – basically a sort of upgraded physical adept – that’s the file that’s going up today.

   Physical adepts are the first expression of meta-humanities potential for innate powers – but there is a step beyond. The so-called “Aces” (a name apparently derived from some old work of fiction), first appeared in New York City – but have since appeared in a wide variety of other locations. All exhibit powers equal to those of a full mage or shaman, if far more rigidly channeled. Like a physical adept they simply have powers. Unlike a physical adept, such powers may extend far beyond themselves and their magic rating is effectively doubled for the purposes of purchasing powers. Some powers exclusively available to Class-A Enhancement magi are listed below.

The Superheroics Skill:

   Aces who need a power-use skill usually refer to it as “Superheroics”. It works a lot like “Sorcery”, and is used with most of an Aces powers, this skill also governs an aces ability to “push” or try power “stunts”. One such push or stunt is usable per adventure for each level of “superheroics” the character possesses. Concentrations apply to characters with a unifying theme, specializations are in particular powers. Note that it is possible to use a “stunt” to apply the characters “heroic pool” against an attack. Dice from the characters heroics pool may be used to enhance an inherent spell, try tricks with other powers, target your energy bolts – or pull off a weird maneuver with your flight.

Power Limitations:

  • Limitations are the ace equivalent of Geasa, and are used to reduce the cost of particular powers.
  • In general, a limitation must make sense for the power in question. Having to have space to spread your wings and maneuver makes sense for flight. It doesn’t make much sense for projecting bolts of flame – although any ruling as to “relevance” is necessarily up to the game master (and – inevitably – to how persuasive the player is).
  • Secondarily, a limitation must actually cause problems for the character to be worth anything. A protective effect which manifests as growing grotesque-looking scales all over your body when you activate it may make you more identifiable and attract unwanted attention – and so may be worth a modest modifier on the cost. If you can’t turn it off, and people regularly mistake you for a supernatural horror, it may be worth a larger bonus.
  • Limitations are rated according to how often they cause problems for the character.
    • Class-I limitations are worth 25% off and come up relatively rarely. Examples include needing some minor talisman to wield a power, being incredibly conspicuous or easy to identify while the power is in use, having to gesture and invoke the name of a power to use it, having to take some weird drug to activate the power for a brief period, your power only has a “limited energy reserve” and must be recharged before you can use it once it runs out,
    • Class-II limitations are worth 50% off, but come up pretty much all the time. Examples include a power that only lasts for a little while and causes drain when it ends, a boost to strength that can only be used when smashing through walls, extra dice which function as a pool rather than as a bonus to each roll for a high-speed character, a combination of three or four Class-I limitations, making the character look monstrously freakish, needing a blatant gadget or suit of powered armor to use a power, only being able to use a power a few times before having to recharge it –
    • Class-III limitations are worth 75% off, but must render a power almost useless. Examples include combat enhancements which can only be used when you’re defending a particular temple, effects which cause massive drain and fail to work if the user cannot handle it, a combination of several Class-II limitations, or more

Aces and Initiation:

  • Aces may undertake any of three unique “Ordeals” in order to reduce the cost of initiation:
    • A “Radiation Accident” allows the GM to pick one of the characters three new abilities and to spend 1/3’rd of any resulting magic points. This particular Ordeal may be repeated indefinitely.
    • A “Theme” forces all the character’s abilities to be related to a particular conception – Winter. Man Of Bronze. Storm Master. Shadowwalker. Whatever. While this ordeal may be repeated up to three times, the GM will tend to become more restrictive with each repetition.
    • A “Weakness” causes the character to suffer from some mental, power-related, or physical “problem” if (when) he’s confronted with a particular stimulus. The problem may be unreliable powers, being repelled by “holy” objects, being poisoned by argon, that your powers won’t work on something or in the presence of something (say, “cold iron”?), or even some form of a limited “energy reserve”.
  • Ace Initiatory Groups are normally called “Hero” or “Villain” Groups. They work exactly the same way as the usual groups.
  • Aces who can create Foci can create power foci containing Ace powers. They may also opt to leave powers which only affect or act through the focus permanently on.

General Rules

  • Ace powers are always unique, often weird, and can be “tweaked” in a wide variety of ways. The special effects are up to the Ace in question, and is determined when the character is set up. Boreas, master of winter, might have “hyperspeed” as an ice slide, “entangle” as ice projection, and so on. “Killing Hands” could indicate venom, a paralyzing touch, or a palm of flames. In general, special effects have minor side effects. For example, the “palm of flames” is good for lighting fires, heating cups of coffee, and providing enough light to find you keys, but it sets off smoke detectors, its pretty easy to tell when its been used on someone, and doesn’t work well under water.
  • Ace powers may double the base rating of an attribute, skill, or other rating without any problems. Boosts beyond that cost twice as much up to an upper limit of tripling the base value.
  • Ace powers are not cumulative with similar magical enhancements. With the exception of Reaction enhancements they are compatible with Cyberware and Bioware. They are always compatible with Geneware.
  • In general, all “Critter Powers” are available to Aces. It’s all magic.
  • A vast and absurd multitude of unusual ace powers are obviously possible. If a character is looking for a power that’s not on the list, and can’t be stimulated by tweaking something that is, consult your GM. He should be able to give you a price on it after you describe the power. Note that using this option just to slip some horribly abusive power past the GM is known as “asking for it”. Even if your game master refrains from arranging for something nasty to happen, he or she is still entitled to raise the price and prohibit the character from advancing otherwise until it’s been paid off. Of course, if said GM later decides to reduce the cost on some ability that didn’t turn out to be as good as he or she thought it would be, just accept the bonus.

Specific Ace Powers:

Celerity

  • 2/4/6 points to act every 8/6/5 initiative counts instead of every 10.
  • .5 points per +1 added to a character’s movement multipliers. This affects all available movement modes. For boosts to Quickness see Enhanced Attributes.
  • 2/3/5/8 to gain the equivalent of Wired Reflexes I/II/III/IV. Even for aces, level IV is usually the limit.
  • 1/2/4 points to learn to deflect incoming Thrown/ Projectile/Energy weapon attacks. Roll (Reflex + Combat) pool with a target number of 4/6/8 for Long/Medium/Short range attacks. +2 points to also protect those within arms reach.
  • .25/.5/1 points to take an extra Free/Simple/Complex action once each scene during your initiative.
  • .5/1 points to reduce a specified, non-attack, simple action to a free action/complex action to a simple one.
  • 3 points to act first, regardless of initiative, in any one initiative pass during each combat turn in which the user would normally get an action.
  • +3 points to default directly to the skill success table rather than common sense while leaping, jumping or trying to run over unsuitable surfaces.

Computer Emulation

  • This ability allows the user’s brain to act as a computer – although a Direct Neural Interface (see Neuralware) or Datajack is still required to make effective use of this ability.
  • 3. The user’s brain can replicate the functions of an Actlink, Knowsoft Link and a Level (Cha) Transducer (see: Neuralware) as well as a Display Link, Audio Link, and (Int x 1000) Megapulses of Headware Memory. The user may adapt minor programs (CAD/CAM, Word Processing, etc – designed for computers but basically “unrated”) for personal use by either writing or purchasing the program in question and expending one karma point. Rated programs cost Karma equal to their rating to adapt, but can be obtained or written in the same fashion. After adaption such programs are immune to SOTA penalties. Some characters get this just so as to be able to run various pieces of Proware conveniently.
  • 5. As above, plus the user’s brain can now operate as a full-fledged cyberdeck, with MPCP = (Int+Will+Chr)/3. Persona Ratings; Bod = (Will), Evasion = (Int+Chr)/2, Masking = (Will+Chr)/2, and Sensor = (Int). Response = (Int+Will)/2 +3D6, Armor = (Will), I/O = (Int*100), Hardening = (Will/2), Available Memory (divided between active and storage at whim) of [(Int+Will) x 1000 MP], and “Hot” ASIST. In all cases, round up. Unfortunately, “Damage” to the “Icon” or “Deck” is taken directly by the user. Fortunately, damage to “programs” “repairs” itself at one point per hour if the user’s physically healthy. Damage to MPCP or Persona “Programs” “heals” at one point a day. Virus Codes, such as Worm, do not affect the user.
  • 7. The user is now a full-blown Otaku, gains a +1 to his or her Mental Attribute Limits, suffers a -1 to his or her Physical Attribute Limits, and enjoys the use of the “Channel” skills (Access, Control, Index, Files, and Slave), Specialization, and Automatic adaption to “sculpted” systems.
    • There are several major variations on the Otaku. “Cyberadepts” equate to hermetics. They receive a +1 bonus on the effective rating of their complex forms. “Technoshamans” receive a +1 bonus on their effective channel ratings. “Servomystics” “draw on the power of matrix spirits”, gaining a +1 bonus on the ratings of their “persona”. “Netshapers” can improvise programs that they don’t really have by spending (Multiplier/3 + Rating) dice from their hacking pool. Last, but not least, “Cyberpriests” get occasional advice, data, or aid, from their “patron” AI’s.

Enhanced Attributes

  • The cost of enhanced attributes involves three factors: how much, how high, and how many.
  • Add +3 to the cost if the attribute allows incredible feats, defaulting directly to the skill success table rather than to common sense. In general, each +1 up to twice the base attribute value costs .5, and each +1 from (2x+1) to (3x) the base value costs 1. Enhancing a second or third attribute doubles the base cost. Enhancing third or fourth attribute quadruples it.

Enhanced Senses

  • Enhancing an existing sense costs .25 and covers things like IR vision, hypersensitivity (-4 to relevant target numbers), protection from sensory overloads, and so on.
  • Adding a new sense or mystical sense, such as the ability to “read” emotions, sensitivity to magic, blind or radar sense, or a “danger sense” which prevents surprise, costs .5.
  • For weird senses, the following rule-of-thumb applies: 1 success supplies general information but no details, 2 supplies some details, 3 provides a good evaluation, and 4 or more provide detailed information. Close examination has a target number of 2, nearby of 3, in visual range 4, and further than that will be a 5 or 6.

Extra Dice

   Extra dice may be purchased for skills, resistance to particular effects, or for particular types of rolls. The cost depends on the level of enhancement, how often the roll comes up, and the nature of the roll. In general, extra dice apply each time the roll comes up, but may not more than double the base number of dice used. Unfortunately, extra dice are difficult to price fairly: a few properly-chosen extra dice may be invaluable to one character, while that same purchase would be completely useless to another.

  • The base cost is .25 per extra die.
  • “Automatic Successes” – dice which are automatically considered rolls of “12” and may reroll from there – double the base cost. This is cumulative with other multipliers, such as the x2 base cost for bonus dice for Magical Skills. Automatic Successes for Conjuring thus cost 2 points each. Characters who require even higher numbers may double the base cost again for each additional +6, up to a limit of a base of 30 at 16x the base cost. Automatic successes do not apply when you default to a skill in place of a more appropriate one; they’re just bonus dice in that case.
  • For Skills:
    • Combat, Technical, Build/Repair, and Knowledge skills double this cost. This is cumulative, hence a Technical Combat skill, such as Firearms, costs four times the base cost.
    • Specializations, such as “Escape Artist” half the total cost.
    • Magical Skills are purchased normally for specialities (“Banishing Watchers”), at double cost for concentrations (“Banishing”), and at quadruple cost for the general skills themselves (“Conjuring”).
  • For Resistances:
    • Rare effects – such as versus diseases and toxins, being knocked down or back, resisting magic loss, being injured in a vehicle crash, arrows, extremes of weather, or Illusions – are purchased at the base cost.
    • Uncommon effects – such as versus mental influence or damage from melee attacks – cost twice the base cost.
    • Common effects – such as versus drain, damage from bullets, or when resisting magic – cost four times the base cost.
    • Very Common effects – such as physical attacks – cost eight times the base cost, and are rarely worthwhile. It’s usually better to simply boost the underlying values.
  • For Types of Rolls:
    • Rare types of rolls include perception with secondary senses, escaping bonds, countering off-hand penalties, or when performing rituals. Bonus dice for such rolls are purchased at the base cost.
    • Uncommon types of rolls will often include counterattacking, disarming, healing, and when both feet are off the ground during a leap. Bonus dice for rolls in such categories cost twice the base cost.
    • Common types of rolls include counterattacking, when making perception checks with a particular primary sense. Bonus dice for these kinds of rolls cost four times the base cost.
    • Very Common types of rolls include making perception checks, when working magic, when performing technical tasks, and when attacking. Bonus dice for these kinds of rolls cost eight times the base cost.

Inherent Spells

  • Inherent spells operate much like the ordinary versions, but the user is immune to drain, uses the Superheroics skill for any required rolls, and has an effective force rating equal to his or her essence. Characters who take spells which must be sustained take the usual penalties for doing so. Spells with L Drain cost 1, M costs 2, S cost 4, D costs 6, and V costs 8.
  • A character may opt to limit a sustained spell which could normally be applied to others to himself or herself alone, in which case it becomes a permanent innate ability. Any physically-based personal enhancement spell so modified is considered subject to a Class-I limitation as well.
  • Some of the more common requests along these lines have included
    • Flight (in general a physically-based personal enhancement spell) has a drain of M for running speeds, S for motorcycle-type speeds, and D for aircraft-type speeds.
    • The ability to tangle people up in webs, vines, nets, or whatever is M, S if you can also use the effect to make barriers and/or move through your own barriers easily.
    • Leaving no traces is normally L for ground movement, M for tinkering with electronics and such, S if you want to be able to do things like kill people while leaving no clues.
    • Wall-Crawling, Clinging, or “Spider Climb” is a M drain existing spell, although an Ace may want an improved version.
    • Power Drain temporarily reduces the victim’s essence rating by 1 at S, 2 at D, and 3 at V. Flesh contact is normally required, adding range increases the drain level by +1.
    • Teleportation is discussed in the Sparrowhawk Grimoire. Suffice it to note that it’s very expensive and the range is very short.

Luck

  • 1 point per point added to your Karma Pool. Such points cannot be used to buy successes (this option can be added for another .5 points each, in which case they return the next session). In either case they cannot be contributed to team karma pools or spent on self-improvement.
  • 4 points to get a miraculous escape, usable once per session.
  • 1/2/3 points to get a minor/notable/major lucky break once per session.
  • 4 points to give all opponents a +1 penalty on all of their target numbers against you. This may be taken up to three times.
  • 6 points to reduce all of your target numbers by one.

Metamorphosis

  • 0/.25/.5 to create “comics code shadows”/a single alternate costume/any normal outfit desired as needed. This includes the ability to camouflage yourself with the usual results.
  • 2/3/5 to be able to conceal 1x/3x/5x (Magic Rating) pounds of material inside yourself, detectable only by a detailed astral inspection. +2 points to be able to keep such items functioning.
  • 3/6 to be able to squeeze through spaces which are obviously too small or to escape from bonds/become entirely intangible.
  • 5 points to be able to absorb, store, and discharge some form of energy, +3 points to be able to do so with fine control and manipulation. The GM may opt to modify these costs dependent on the energy type.

Mystic Strike

  • You may supernaturally enhance your unarmed attacks.
  • .5/1/2/4/7 points to inflict L/M/S/D/V lethal damage in HTH or 1/3/6 points to raise the usual M stun damage to S/D/V. In any case this counts as a magical attack.
  • 1/2/3/4 points to deliver an attack with a simple touch/at a range of (magic) meters/at a range of up to (20 x Magic) meters/within LOS. Range modifiers do not apply.
  • 1 point to make your unarmed strikes explosive, at -1 power/meter. Most characters spend another +1 point on personal immunity.
  • 1/2/5 points to increase the power of your unarmed attacks by (Magic/3), (Magic/2), or (Magic) via some form of elemental attack. +1 point to be able to vary the type.
  • +1/2/3 points to be able to delay the effect of your attack for up to (Magic) days/weeks/months. +1 additional point to be able to trigger it on command, although this is limited to a maximum of (Magic) delayed attacks at any one time.
  • +2 points to have the effect continue for (Magic/2) turns.

Negate Penalties

  • .25 per -1 negated from uncommon penalties, such as for Movement, darkness, for fighting multiple opponents (double cost if it also negates their usual bonuses), or recoil.
  • .5 per -1 off of common or voluntary penalties, such as those for called shots, for using magic against high-tech targets, or firing blind.

Power Pool

  • Every 3 points invested in a power pool provides 1 point which can be shifted into any power suited to the theme of the pool as a free action. Power pools must have a restrictive theme; they’re not licences for omnipotence.
  • Common themes include Darkness, Magnetism, Solar Powers, (Element) Manipulation, Illusion Generation, Plant Control, Transmutation, Vibration, Telekinesis, Telepathy, Animal Powers, and Shapeshifting. Severely restricted themes may provide a pool of 1 point for every 2 invested.
  • For +3 points the user may add a secondary, related, theme. For example, an Ace could be a master of Light and Darkness, a Telepath/Telekinetic, or control Electricity and Magnetism.
  • The Game Master should feel free to disallow any power which doesn’t clearly fit a theme, any theme which seems troublesome, or power pools entirely.

Skill Mastery

  • .5/1/2 points for 2/4/6 skill levels that can be shifted around given a few hours of study and practice. Such “Floating” skill levels cannot raise a skill above 6.
  • 1/2/3/4 points to be able to spontaneously translate human and metahuman/exotic species and alien/computer/ encrypted languages.

Vigor

  • 1/3/5/8 points to regenerate one box of damage per Hour/Minute/Turn/Initiative Count. +1 point to gradually regenerate lost limbs and organs, +1 to gradually recover drained essence up to your current maximum. Often will not affect damage from particular sources.
  • 2 points to get an additional damage monitor.
  • .5/1/3 points to adapt to any single environmental condition (extreme heat, breathing underwater)/a package of related factors (e.g. Water Adaption; water breathing, pressure adaption, eye adaptions for underwater, etcetera. Another character might take “Need not breathe, drink, eat, or sleep)/survive in any environment. This does not offer protection against attacks, only against reasonably stable environments.
  • 2 points for immunity to damage from any single elemental effect, such as “Fire” or “Electricity”. Yes, “Time” – and thus immunity to aging – is a valid choice, as is “toxins” or “pathogens”. .
  • 5/8/12 points to purchase partial invulnerability – 3/5/7 automatic successes against any external damaging effect (i.e: not versus drain). Specialized versions, such as psi- shields, bulletproof skin, energy resistance, etcetera half the cost.
  • 1 point to automatically stabilize when mortally wounded.
  • .5/1 point per point of inherent Impact/Ballistic armor. This is cumulative with worn armor, but is limited to a maximum of +6.

Weird Science

  • “McGuffins” are universal gadgets like “Utility Belts” or “Sonic Screwdrivers”. They can be readily adjusted (via Superheroics rolls) to accommodate an immense variety of features, with a total equivalent mundane cost of 5KNY per .5 cost up to a cost of 7, 90K for 8, 120K for 9, 160K for 10, 200K for 11, and 250K for 12. Unique features are possible, but their costs must be assigned by the Game Master.
  • Gadgets with arcane functions may simply be treated as Power Pools with an “item required” geas included.
  • Both types of functions may be combined in a single item.
  • Being a Gadgeteer simply requires taking a severely restricted form of a Power Pool with additional requirements -a Kit (to modify things) or Shop (to build them), weird Requirements, a Gadget, strange Side Effects, and occasional Dramatic Failures – which reduce the cost to 1 to 1. In general, the user describes and names his or her gadget, announces what strange components are going into it and what side effects he or she considers most likely, and makes a Superheroics roll. Each success (the target number is set by the GM) will let the gadget work once in a dramatic situation (tests don’t count). The GM should keep the exact target number secret; characters should never know if their gadget will work this time.
  • Characters should, however, have a general idea of whether or not it’s a high number though, since they may opt to put in side effects to reduce it. Minor side effects reduce the target number by 1-2, major by 3-5, and catastrophic ones by 6-7. GM’s may also allow -1 for any of the following conditions; Large laboratory, special components, extra time, and a “good” explanation of the device. Attempts at “Weird science” can fail spectacularly if no roll comes within at least 6 of the target number.
  • Modifying items using weird science is a lot easier, but such items only work once per success rolled, regardless of drama. Modifying a stereo set to work as a white noise generator is quite possible, and fairly simple. Turning a microwave and a TV set into a radar system is fairly difficult. The GM will, as usual, give your weird scientist some idea of what the target number is, but will not provide the exact value. Serious failures may wreck the base device, or may simply result in a device that doesn’t work properly. In some cases it may do something else entirely, explode, or simply appear to work without accomplishing anything.
  • Using Weird Science requires turns or minutes to modify things, hours or days to build them. Interestingly, the bigger the emergency the less time it takes.
  • As a side effect, Gadgeteers may roll Superheroics and check their pockets once per scene to produce some minor tool or implement, such as a screwdriver or a wrench. While the target numbers are, once again, set by the GM, they’re rarely very high for this. Karma works as usual; “Wait a minute! I’ve got one after all!”. Optionally, if they only fail by 1, they can produce a tool which is close, but not quite the item needed – although it can substitute for it at a penalty.
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Elemental Physics

Physics, Technology, and Limits in Fantasy Universes:

   Quite a few game-worlds use some version of “Elemental Physics” – some combination of magic and the “elements” of Fire, Earth, Water, and Air. Most also include a dualistic pair of spiritual elements or forces, whether as a single entity with two aspects or as an opposing pair. They may call them Life/Death, Positive Energy/Negative Energy (or Chi), Void/Shadow, Light/Darkness, Purity/Corruption, Good/Evil, Spirit/Abyss, or Creation/Destruction – but the general trend is clear: you have good stuff and bad stuff. Composite elements like “Wood” or “Metal” usually get tossed out because they’re too easily transformed into other things.

   A few systems throw in some weird magical or extradimensional forces which corrupt the natural order of reality, and a vague principle of “purity” which counteracts such corruption, but that isn’t really required.

   Nevertheless, there are strong similarities between such worlds and reality. After all, the basic mechanics of the world have to be familiar enough to play in. At the most basic level, the seven Fundamentals of Physics pretty much invariably apply:

Fundamentals of Physics:

  1. Matter can be broken up into very small independent bits.
  2. The bits may stick together fairly firmly or move around, but they don’t normally pass through each other.
  3. You have to push or pull on it to change what it’s doing at the moment.
  4. If there’s twice as much matter, you have to push twice as hard to get the same amount of change.
  5. Pushing on the same side adds up. Pushing on the other side subtracts from the push on the first side.
  6. Gravity affects most matter; it pulls/pushes down hard enough to make most materials fall at the same speed.
  7. Matter that is being pushed on from both sides gets squeezed; the forces don’t just disappear.

   In more “technical” terms these rules cover the particulate nature of matter (1), it’s basic physical properties (2), inertia (3), mass (4), vector forces (5), gravitation and the equivalence of inertial and gravitational mass, at least for basic situations near a planetary surface (6), and pressure/impact (7). All the apparent complexity of Earthly Newtonian physics is due to the fact that the number of little “bits” involved is extremely large. Trajectories, hydrodynamics, friction, leverage, et al, are pretty complicated to describe from the “outside” – but arise automatically from these seven basic rules.

   So the physical basics – the rules governing trajectories, impacts, weights, levers and pulleys, pneumatics and hydraulics, sailing ships, whirlpools, friction, gears, springs, and other clockwork – all work perfectly well.

   It’s in chemistry and higher physics where things start to break down. In Elemental worlds there are no conventional “atoms”, no “electrical forces”, and no “subatomic particles”. There are no elements other than the five or six basics. All the various metals and materials of the world are simply combinations of those basic “elements”.

   In such worlds “Chemistry” – or more properly, Alchemy – involves awakening the elemental energies of materials and changing the proportions of the fundamental elements that make them up.

   Materials do not “burn” in elemental worlds: the elemental Fire within them may be more or less eager to escape, and adding more Fire to an item may stir up the Fire within it and start the process, but Air is not required. It’s simply that Fire likes mixing with Air more than it likes mixing with Fire and Water. Water, of course, tends to enjoy company. It will absorb quite a bit of the other elements, but readily takes on some of their properties in the process. Earth doesn’t really pay attention, and tends to retain it’s own structure regardless of the presence of the other elements. Air mixes readily with almost anything, but separates out again readily as well, while the spiritual force of choice permeates and links everything, but is usually passive or reactive at best.

   Corrosives (“acids” and “bases” do not exist) are simply over-aggressive Water. The various metals can be transformed into each other fAirly readily (although it is very difficult to achieve the delicate elemental balance of gold and silver). The skill of the smith is far more vital than the raw materials in achieving a metal appropriate to the use. Gemstones are simply Fire – or sunlight, the purest form of Fire – caught in Earth. None of these things are of that much value compared to craft and magic.

   Explosives are simply Fire-rich materials from which the spirits of Fire are eager to escape – to the point of being frantic. Explosives, matches, and similar items and materials produced in n lands where the elements are fairly quiescent are touchy and occasionally offensive to more active spirits. Explosives produced in lands with active spirits, or where frequent meddling has kept the spirits more wakeful, are horribly unstable – 10 to 20% likely to go off at the slightest chance or provocation. Those who want to use explosives in such lands are well advised to invest in importing less touchy stuff, rather than risking the use of unstable home brews.

   Electricity does not exist. Lightning is simply a manifestation of over-excited Fire spirit, messages within the body are carried by the element of Air – which is why a constant supply of it is needed to sustain life – and light is simply a weak and diffuse (if very fast-moving) form of Fire. Friction “wears away surfaces” and “produces heat” because it stirs up the Fire within the substances involved and encourages it to come out. There is no static electricity. Amber may glow when rubbed on silk, but its because Fire from the cloth – which will degrade a little when a bit of its Fire is drawn from it – has been drawn into it.

   Refraction does not exist in the conventional sense. Water twists and distorts light passing through it because Water absorbs a part of the light and because it is it’s nature to conceal its depths and offer alternate possibilities. Lenses, sheets, and pieces of glass and crystal may reveal things, but it’s because revelation is the nature of crystal, not because of light refraction. A crystal lens could reveal personality traits, strange energies, lies, or glimpses of the future, let you see through people’s clothing, show what is far away, translate what you view through it, or magnify small objects, all depending on the type and quality of the crystal and on the skill and knowledge of its crafter.

   Unfortunately for would-be industrialists, heat in elemental worlds is not a measure of energy. It’s simply a measure of how much raw unbound Fire is in something. Rising temperatures will cause materials to expand and drop in density a bit – simply because the Fire takes up some room in a gas or liquid (it usually occupies the tiny hollows in a solid) and is virtually weightless – but there is no great increase in pressure or expansion-cooling effect to drive a steam engine, internal combustion engine, or turbine. The only viable sources of power are muscles, wind, Water, descending weights, and magic. Theoretically you might be able to tap into the tensions between life and death or creation and nothing – the rough equivalents of fission and fusion power for elemental worlds – but those energy sources usually seem to be reserved for the elemental lords and Gods respectively.

   Secondarily, while industrial and assembly-line processes are possibly, they are limited by the spiritual natures of the elements. Alchemical results – such as the creation of acids, explosives, and alloys and the extraction of compounds, drugs, and poisons – are achieved as much by spiritual communion with the materials as by physical manipulations, and cannot be effectively scaled up. Alchemy is doomed to remain an art, rather than a science.

   A similar communion is involved in the production of other items. In such worlds, even items of ordinary quality are invariably well- designed for their purposes, nicely-balanced, of well-chosen materials, and of what citizens of the world today would call expert- to master-level craftsmanship.

   Remember: when you’re comparing skills, in most such worlds people routinely achieve levels of skill even without formal “magic” which anyone living in the real world would consider blatantly magical – physicians capable of swiftly and flawlessly repAiring major wounds are the most blatant example, since – in almost all such settings – the widespread prevalence of combat virtually requires it.

   That doesn’t mean that you can’t use muscle- or power-driven mills, looms, lathes, sewing machines, hammers, presses, and assembly lines. It just means that early industrial processes with limited human and spiritual involvement produce items of substandard quality. More modern systems – with virtually no spiritual involvement – produce greatly inferior items.

   Only a master craftsman, working from the beginning with his own hands, can stir the spirits of his materials enough to create a true masterwork, suitable for building legends around. Using aides and simple muscle-driven machines – or magic – to reduce the time and effort required limits the possible quality of the results to one level below the maximum (on whatever scale is in use in the game) and makes it slightly harder to achieve even the lower levels of craftsmanship. Using aides and simple power-driven machines to (greatly) reduce the time and effort required reduces limits the quality of the final results to two levels below the maximum and makes it notably more difficult to achieve any level of craftsmanship. Using more advanced power-driven machines, such as duplicating lathes, limits the results to three levels below the maximum level of quality and makes achieving even that quite difficult.

   A spirit-mage willing to perform regular rituals of appeasement could reduce or negate most of these penalties, but mages usually have better things to do than hanging around to conduct appeasement rituals (even if they aren’t inclined to simply recommend that you stop annoying the spirits in the first place).

   Similar problems apply to agriculture, wherein a personal relationship with the spirits of the land, plants, and animals increases production and quality more than “efficient” – but impersonal – “modern” techniques. It’s not that industrialization is impossible, its simply that – under the usual circumstances of sufficient production and an obsession with quality – it doesn’t pay.

   There’s room for mechanization-without-penalty in basic materials processing, such as picking the stones out of clay for pottery, grinding flour, removing the seeds from raw cotton, spinning thread, and in similar occupations where even the spirits aren’t expecting anyone to really pay a lot of attention.

   On the biological side, plants take in Fire from the sun, use Earth to define their structure and store the Fire, and Water to drive their slow movements, healing, and growth. They use virtually no Air and those in an area usually share a collective spirit, linked by their traces of the spiritual force – the catalyst which allows them to bind the other elements together.

   Animals use Earth to define their structure and to resist external forces. Without it, they would be nothing but soft masses, like seaweed. They use Water to grant their bodies flexibility and to absorb the signals of the outside world. Without it they would lack motion and senses. They use Fire for energy and speed; without it they would fall into stasis and their spirits would depart. Sadly, while Earth is stable, Fire and Water slowly leak away, and must be resupplied regularly if the body is to continue to function. Animals use Air to communicate, both with each other and to carry the commands of their spirit through the body. However, since Air is unstable and readily leaks away, without a near-constant fresh supply they will become paralyzed, lose awareness of their bodies, and their link to their spirit will fail. In animals, the Spiritual Element is passive, leaving them reactive and inclined to live for the moment, but in intelligent beings it is active, giving them full consciousness. In some worlds, some or all intelligent beings can tap into their spiritual power directly, but that’s an optional extra.

   “Biochemistry” does not exist. Poisons and diseases thus operate somewhat differently: they either destroy vital tissues and organs directly or create elemental imbalances. Diseases and poisons which paralyze by disrupting Air, transform the victim into stone, dissolve them, or cause them to burst into flame are all possible, and may result from either physical or spiritual causes.

   While there are occasional messy cases when a spirit goes wandering – usually in dreams – or is otherwise detained, Death is usually straightforward in elemental worlds; when a spirit can no longer maintain an active link to its body, the creature is dead. Up until that point healing virtually any wound is relatively simple: get the pieces lined up and tucked together properly, provide a bit of the appropriate elemental forces – whether via magic or by judicious use of appropriate herbs – and watch the wounds close up. Scarring or incomplete healing may occur if the pieces are not-quite properly lined up or if some malevolent magic warps the process, and amputations may occur if you can’t find the missing piece or can’t get it lined up properly (the liquid contents of the eye are especially prone to this sort of problem), but even these problems can be overcome with active (or occasionally even passive) magic and enough effort.

   Energies derived from other realms represent both a corruption of the natural order and a link with the realm in question. Creatures must be reasonably tough and of some consequence to sustain the strain of hosting such energies. Those which are too weak will be killed by the strain and those which are of no consequence are insufficiently anchored in the world to resist the pull of another realm. Mosquitoes, small birds, and similar creatures can be touched by the other planes, but are simply drawn into them rather than being changed or corrupted by them. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, most realms are finite; their energies may corrupt regions, or large numbers of people – but they cannot corrupt the entire world without exhausting themselves. If such a realm wishes to take over the world (common enough, since the usual role of corruption in a setting is to provide opposition), it must target and claim powerful creatures, who can mold the world to its liking without forcing it to expend its own resources. There is little point to gratuitously corrupting powerless farmers, areas beyond a sufficient base, and similar grandiose stunts. There may be occasional special stunts, but they usually simply aren’t cost-effective.

   Alien energies are usually static, but can progress like an infection when an active link to the source realm exists, whether due to some blood relationship, to foolishly calling on such energies to work magic, or due to the presence of some gateway or artifact.

   Finally, while Inertia, Mass, and Forces are all simply minor characteristics of the elements, and are easily manipulated by magic, Gravitation is not: it’s derived from the structure of the planes: it is the nature of an elemental realm to draw to itself what belongs to it. Rise high enough, and you will pass beyond the reach of the local realm – and likely into another plane. Tunnel deeply enough, and gravitation will reverse – attempting to draw you back, either towards the center or before you pass into a deeper realm. Draw enough of the energies and matter of one plane into another and you will establish a bridge between them – what Earthly scientists might describe as a “gravitational bridge” or “wormhole”. The investigation of such things lies, fittingly enough, at the borders of physics in most elemental worlds.

   While the great elemental events of elemental realms – large-scale weather, earthquakes, currents, volcanoes, tides, mountain-raising, and other large-scale geological, meteorological and hydrological events – are under the dominion of the great elemental spirits, they are theoretically manipulable. Still, mages capable of influencing events on such a scale, or over the lengths of time that manipulation on such a scale would probably require are few and far between in any realm if they occur at all.

   Celestial events, such as the movements of the sun, moon, stars, and planets, and the great cycles of day and night, are often reflections of events in independent realms, and are beyond the direct reach of the inhabitants of other realms. Attempts to reach those celestial domains by simple travel are usually ineffectual, whether due to the failure of magic and technology between the realms, due to being unable to control where you arrive, due to interference by local powers who don’t want visitors, or simply due to their extreme difficulty. Still, occasional great heroes are usually reported to have succeeded.

 

So what can and can’t you make?

   You can make precision watches and clocks, mechanical reapers, cotton gins, spinning jennies, sextants, dishwashers, production mills, fountain pens, vacuum cleaners, zippers, bolt-and-tumbler locks, bathospheres, babbage engines, gas masks, printing presses, crayons, gas lighting systems, compressed gases, hot air balloons, blimps, and dirigibles, pneumatics, hydraulics, and better ships. You can even make weak steam engines powered by external air pressure and the partial vacuum produced by condensing steam – but they’re very low-powered and use tremendous amounts of fuel for the amount of power they yield.

   You can’t make electrical and electronic devices (from light bulbs and batteries on thru telegraphs, telephones, motors, computers, radios, and x-ray machines), conventional compasses (there are magical equivalents), telescopes, microscopes, eyeglasses, cameras, and other items depending on refraction, internal combustion engines, automobiles, effective tanks, nuclear weapons, or industrial chemicals.

   If you do decide to start an industrial revolution you’re going to have to settle for lower quality and nurse it through a lengthy initial stage where it costs far more than it produces. If it was easy, it would have happened already.