Shadowrun: The End Times

   Here we have a player submission – an alternate shadowrun history. Actually, I’m not quite sure where this is supposed to fit in; it matches neither the canon shadowrun history nor the modified version that’s in use in the current game. I’ve added some annotations afterwards to make sure the current players know which is which. Like all game-related submissions it’s worth some bonus karma, although – since it’s going to be somewhat difficult to use – only one point in this case.

The End: A Shadowrun Story

   This is a little gift to some of our Shadowrun players. Some of you won’t enjoy it, and that’s OK. It’s not for everyone. It is a primer on how and why society collapsed to the point where random violence is often shrugged off even in good neighborhoods and whole nations disintegrated.

   We most honestly say the End of Everything really started at the height of human civilization, in the post-Cold War era. (1)

   A lot of things happened. Fusion power happened. Advancing computer technology happened. These made transportation inexpensive and easy, even for small quantities.

   Terrorism happened. During this era, terrorist movements gained strength and began to radicalize at an increasing rate. In the United States, Amerindian terrorists even attempt to fire a nuclear weapon at Russia, prompting new national security laws and the internment of Indians in camps. But this pattern was repeated in many other areas around the globe. (2)

   The transnational, or One World, movement happened. In the early 2010’s, this semi-formal organization formed in many of the more advanced and stable states. It was both a cause and a result of increasing lack of identification. Simply put, many relatively well-off “global citizens” simply had no real identity, and they wanted to create a world government (not unsurprisingly, ruled by people like them). This is soon infiltrated by radicals, and split into violent and peaceful groups. Both supported global terror directly or indirectly to bring down national governments. The movement has broken down completely by the 2050’s, and is largely thought of as a bad joke. (3)

   VITAS happened. This horrific virus spread easily and killed quickly, and kill it did, by the hundreds and thousands and millions, everywhere. Starting in the poorest nations, it killed more and faster than any other illness. The developed world was spared the worst, as VITAS was not usually fatal with decent medical care (it was much like pneumonia). But it did weaken the economies and cause shortages, and gave momentum to the One World movements. (4)

   The One World movement weakened national identities in many nations. Global terror made people doubt their own societies. VITAS, however, forced governments to make the hard choices which killed them. Resources for surviving could be more easily supplied in urban areas, and the disease seemed worse there. But rural areas suffered gravely, and as governments simply ignored them, many started ignoring governments. Nations decayed as large portions of most societies stopped paying taxes to apathetic central governments. Those governments often deliberately ignored regions which often promised nothing more than terrorist and headaches. (5)

   At the same time, those outlying regions were starting to come into magic. Developed nations and wealthy regions had no edge or advantage there (not yet, anyway), and magic could be used by terrorist and guerillas to brutal effect. No amount of guards could peer through even the weakest Invisibility spell, for instance. (6)

   At the same time, magic’s return meant that paranormal animals emerged and Goblinization arrived. At first, this wasn’t very impressive. A few odd practitioners of tiny tricks attracted little notice, and even the discovery of large “undiscovered” animals was more a simple news item than a world-shattering event. But magic grew stronger. Monsters – like dragons and other dangerous beasts – returned to the world.

   And although the human race started out adding elves and dwarves, orks and trolls soon showed. Unlike elves and dwarves, their arrival was brutal, shocking, and sudden. Large numbers of them died in the process. People demanded to be protected from the unknown disease. Orks and trolls, shunned by society, banded together or were herded into camps. Violence against the newly goblinized was common, and all of this contributed to more and more social anxiety and decay. Society collapsed a little further and shuddered on.

   The Crash happened. The Crash of 2029 came from the introduction of a truly monstrous creation. The Virus, as it was called, was the most sophisticated program ever devised. Armed with incredibly sophisticated code attacks and lethal biofeedback, it killed many of the best and brightest programmers using the latest datajack technology. It struck with record speed and infested every major computer cluster on the planet. Although the virus was soon purged through the creation of early decker technology and the development of cybercombat, it annihilated many of the world’s greatest banking and computer technology companies. (7)

   The rise of megacorporations sped up the process by filling the void. Megas were largely formed by companies banding together to survive the chaos by having the largest, most varied and versatile business entity. Any one segment might be broken, but the company could always survive, retrench, and reinvest. Megas were everywhere, and could operate in areas where governments fell apart. They invested in security services and developed an attitude of brutality towards guerrillas and terrorists, an attitude national governments frequently lacked. (8)

   Megacorporations also provided an outlet for the more passive One World bunch, who simply became corporate citizens. They had what they wished – citizens of the world, without national identities, with old national governments weakened to the point of collapse in many cases. Of course, as with most things, what you asked for somehow never turns out to be what you wanted. (9)

Behind the Scenes

   Many of the events of the 2010’s through 2030’s, those which formed the basis of the Shadowrun universe, were orchestrated through a force which no one even knows about. A handful of elves, made immortal through a magical artifact from the last magical age, survived the magical down-cycle. Several of them had plans for the world. They are armed with powerful magic, eons of observations about human society – and utterly primitive moral codes in their filthy black hearts. (10)

   Simply put, most of the Immortal Elves are what you’d expect from an early bronze age barbarian chief given access to high technology and magic. They deliberately set about weakening existing societies and expanding social rifts in order to remake the world into the form they wanted: themselves on top. In the late 20th century, they found they were able to use more magic than simple tricks, and with less work than under most of the down-cycle. (11)

   They used this to amplify social leaders whom they found useful. Even a relatively middling leader could become amazingly gifted with the advantage of large Charisma, Willpower, and Intelligence bonuses and generous donations. The One World movement was definitely one such tool (which fell apart after they removed their gifts from movement leaders). The Immortal Elves also probably funded and supported some of the most dangerous terrorists. (12)

   They were probably not behind the two biggest shocks to the world, however: VITAS and the Crash of 2029 are not their style. VITAS was probably natural and the Virus was much more technologically complex than the Immortal Elves could handle. (13)

   But the Elves did do many other, more subtle things. Many of them made a deliberate effort to destroy religion, another social cohesive which usually frowns on magic. They promoted a sort of cold materialism, but liked anything in preference for a real belief or faith, even in any kind of decency or goodness. Given the behind-the-scenes actions of amoral power-mongers willing to make bargains with the vilest of monsters, this may have been a mistake. (14)

Annotations:

   Since – as was noted at the beginning – this doesn’t really match the game history for the current game, here are some notes on what is, and what is not, applicable.  

   1) Well, this was the peak to date of the total human population (in Shadowrun it hasn’t yet recovered from the plagues, wars, and transformation of many of its members into other subspecies), as well as the period with the greatest proportion of the population living under at least nominally democratic governments. Respect for “human rights” might also have been at a peak, it’s arguably waned in Shadowrun. Still, technology has continued to advance, the largest political entities in history were well before this period, and humans have continued to achieve new things.

   2) Personally, I’m torn between saying that terrorism hit it’s peak with the Mongols (largest area terrorized), with WWII (largest number killed), or with the Khmer Rouge (largest percentage of the local population killed in recent history). Of course, the term has been diluted to a pejorative label for pretty much any group the user dislikes, as is amply demonstrated by the difficulty in agreeing on a definition (the US government has made several attempts, without real success) and by the practice of labeling entire countries as “terrorist regimes”. For example, China, Great Britian, Iran, Iraq, Isreal, Egypt [and the rest of the middle east], Brazil, and the United States are all labeled “terrorist regimes” in various places. Chinese sources have even labeled the Dalai Lama a terrorist, which – I suspect – is stretching even the vaguely-defined current limits of the term a bit.

   3) The “One World” movement doesn’t turn up in either the canon or modified histories. I suspect that the need to identify with a group is a symptom of a lack of a strong personal identity – but much of the human race seems to feel the need, ergo this is a normal condition. More notably, “Global Terror” might make a good name for a supervillian group, but truly extremist organizations – pretty much by their nature – tend to be small and incompatible with each other. After all, their recruits are drawn from those few who take a particular extreme position, believe in it fervently, and are thus intolerant of even minor variants.

   4) Plagues and shortages might drive people to espouse a (rather abstract) political position, but wouldn’t they also divert a lot of people to local goals? Many communities become insular and self-isolating under stress. This still helped the breakup though, if only because so many communities started to believe that they were on their own anyway.

   5) On a practical note, as of the 2000 census, approximately 70% of the United States population lived within the boundaries of urbanized areas – about 2% of the land area of the country – and the number is increasing. If you throw in the suburban areas, you get closer to 90% of the population. By the time VITAS appeared, it was closer to 95%. For the same investment of effort that it took to save one rural victim, you could save several urban victims. As importantly, Virally Induced Toxic Allergy Syndrome was most dangerous in the cities: that’s where casual exposure to pollution-toxins was highest. The focus on urban areas might have appeared callous and dismissive to the relatively few victims in rural areas – who had a better chance due to the lower stress on the local health care providers anyway – but it was quite logical.

   6) This bit just doesn’t work well. Since the distribution of mages followed the distribution of population, the more heavily populated – and thus usually more developed and wealthy – regions got most of the new magicians, even including the shamanic types. There are plenty of urban totems.

   7) It’s worth noting that “The Virus” could only directly kill people using Cyberterminals – which had just been invented. It caused a grand total of 25 direct deaths. It did make quite a mess of the worlds data and communications systems though, and the resulting economic dislocations, the near-collapse of distribution and transport systems, and similar troubles, killed a great many people indirectly.

   8) This is less stressed – in part due to having less time to develop in – in the current game timeline than in the canon timeline.

   9) As noted earlier, the “One World” movement isn’t really a part of the current game history.

   10) Well, the involvement of an artifact is debatable even in canon as far as I can find out (the canon simply seems to make them dragon crossbreeds), their magic was very very limited during the low-magic period, and human society has been changing far faster than they can adapt. The canon does have at least a few of them engaged in hunting down sleeping dragons during the low-magic period though.

   11) In canon – and in current game history – they arranged to seize control of the Tir’s (Ireland and an area near Seattle), and instituted some pretty racist elf-superiority social notions. The immortal elves did originate in a fairly high – if magically instead of technologically based – civilization though. It’s just that only the most ruthless ones survived the magical crash and several millenia without much of any personal power beyond what they could get by manipulation.

   12) Magic was actually quite limited at the time. There really isn’t much of anything in the canon or the current game history about the Immortal Elves supporting terrorists. They might have of course, but such people make very unreliable tools. I’d expect them to have founded and nurtured their own orders of fanatic followers however – which is free information for the current game.

   13) This is very true. Despite the canon attempts to make one of them out to be a super-inventor-decker, the notion of ancient immortals being entirely comfortable with modern technology – much less super-inventors – seems unlikely at best.

   14) There was a bit in the “Magic and Death” (from an old sourcebook) which implied that at least two of the Immortal Elves had been attempting to weaken human religious beliefs (this may or may not be accurate in the current game history). Even in canon, they apparently had very little success (religions are still going strong) and their motives were unclear. As a side note, only some religions frown on magic, quite a few others embrace it.

Federaton-Apocalypse Session 48

   With Marty’s business arrangements finished for the moment, the Metropolis office being opened, and Mr Myagi wanting to get more formal representatives to deal with the Federated Americas, they headed back to the Linear Realms. Having a few Thralls waiting in Crusader to assign to Mr Myagi (to handle the gatekeeping) and Dr Samson (to act as bodyguards) was easy enough, as was having them bring along better weapons and armor both for themselve and for their charges. They needed to interrogate and trace those captured assassins before they were confirmed lost. Fortunately, the Whirlwind tour hadn’t taken very long, and the FBI office was still there when they got back, and was even getting straightened out.

   They took MacArthur back as well. He was relatively at home there, and Mr Myagi wanted a chance to ask him a few questions as well. to interrogate him a bit as well.

   Not surprisingly, the prisoners were isolated form each other, massively restrained, under heavy guard, and on an otherwise-evacuated floor. They let the FBI interrogators run things. Kevin could pick up surface thoughts, but not probe – and he really wasn’t much for interrogation otherwise.

   One of them actually broke in a mere couple of hours – and, from his thoughts, it was either genuine or a REALLY good bit of foresighted programming. They were based out of a facility in North Dakota, and worked for a team of scientists that gave them their augmentations and gave them cures for various terminal illnesses. They’d been carrying out a campaign of terrorist acts throughout the countryside for some time.

   It looked to Marty like he’d decided to be cooperative in hopes of protection from the rest – and Kevin couldn’t pick up any conscious deception. He definitely feared the people who had sent them here – but was at least afraid of the FBI. He kind of resented being dragooned into things anyway, even if it had been by being offered a cure. It hadn’t been a particularly free choice.

   Hitting the place quickly would definitely be worth a try; even if they already knew that their operation had gone belly-up, if they tried to leave too quickly they’d still probably leave a lot of clues. Travel time would be about two and a half hours by jet and helicopter – including an hours wait on getting the jet ready. Just enough time to get entangled in My Myagi’s briefing of the higher-ups.

   The meeting didn’t start off that well. Myagi had a hard time getting anyone to believe his points, although repeatedly pointing to the analyses of the memes and records of unrest in the arcologies certainly helped him make his case on the matter of urgency. Unfortunately, quite a few of the higher-ups seemed to equate the memes to commercials with subliminal messages that tried to make you buy more soda. Fortunately, “99.999% success rate” – along with the (throughly purged; Kevin checked, and Myagi had taken the precaution of using low resolution) videos of Walkins and his conferences were slowly sinking in.

   Super-cyborg assassins using unprecedented technologies were evidence that something was going on, but not necessarily considered related. One fellow – a Mr Hetherlin – was trying to cast doubt on the connection . His theory was that the cyborgs were terrorists trying to overturn the government by hitting a major federal building and that the supposed “memes” were merely the products of charismatic individuals doing what they did. Just because they had a scientist here with a theory on how “might” be possible to encourage someone to do something unreasonable didn’t necessarily mean that the anarchists were after him in particular.

   Kevin sent some orders: if the Linear Realms were going to come apart for lack of sense, he’d just have to step up his recruiting efforts: the old “offer a refuge from the oncoming catastrophe” bit might be well worthwhile. He had the Thralls and the NeoDogs start organizing a major collect-the-illegal-kids sweep: most of the illegals should be willing to follow a talking dog; it was not an approach that they’d have any reason to suspect. They’d need some gates, but he’d get those set up as soon as possible. If there was a major operation here, given the population density, it might be too late to keep the entire place from coming down like a house of cards – and he and Marty could ALWAYS use more people.

   Marty was used to manipulating conferences. Hetherlin might just be playing the devil’s advocate bit, but the effort he was expending to drive a wedge between the two ideas was concerning. Was it actual malevolence, resistance to new ideas, or simply trying to stick to what could actually be proven?

   Kevin decided to stir the pot.

“Really: The FBI has buildings in every city, and none of them are especially important to the overall government. What would make this one a target worth revealing their possession of an unprecedented technology in an attack on it? It’s unique architecture?”

   Most of the rest thought that was a decent point, and that Hetherby was simply being obstinate.

   Kevin – still thought-sensing – was picking up a clouded mess of emotions and thoughts from the man. Nothing too clear though.

“Why you see, I am just trying to say that we can’t take these kinds of things for granted. And if it is someone with such technology at their disposal, who would you say it might be? The Russians? The Chinese? The Europeans maybe?”

   Hm. He seemed to be trying to buy time and shift the focus off of himself. He’d shifted his weight and gotten one of his arms under the table… Marty objected to that, and Kevin had one of his pocket friends take a look. Armed. A bit of a faux pas there, and likely to cause trouble if it came out.

   Hetherby seemed to be trying to turn it into a general argument now.

“Now, just because I am trying to make the point that we can’t take anything for granted is no reason to be turning this into an interrogation. I mean have we even considered who might be behind something like this and who would have the resources to pull this off in our own backyard?”

   He gestured a bit too widely and let his hand slip below the edge of the table again – so the ferret- Thralls used a bit of telekinetic slight of hand to put his gun in it when it came back up.

   That was exciting. The man immediately tried to shoot Marty (While Mr Myagi started yelling for the guards), and inflicted a slight wound – which Marty healed almost instantly. It hadn’t really been necessary, but it would be impressive.

   At one against Kevin, Marty, a crowd of Thralls, the guards, and the rest of the room, capture was quick and easy.

“If you don’t drop the gun, I’m setting fire to your feet and working up!”

“He’ll do it.”

   With Hetherby disarmed…

“Was there a point to that?”

“Doesn’t seem to be now, no.”

“What point did there seem to be at the time?”

“Distract the others from the events going on, sow confusion, and kill troublemakers when they appear.”

   Well, that adequately made the point to everyone else.

“So what’s your stake in all this?”

“I wish I could say they had kidnaped a family member, and were holding them hostage, but no, they offered me immortality and power.”

   Kevin thought they were probably cheapskates. He was betting that they’d offered him anti-aging, authority, and maybe some cyberware – not really immortality and personal power. Anyway, it had apparently been a “group of power brokers” who were able to perform astounding technological feats and had “much darker abilities”. They used electronic communications (which it probably wouldn’t be much use to listen in on – at least form this guys end) and had had a few agents, including some he’d known from before, demonstrate the powers they’d been given – ripping apart steel beams with no apparent cyberware, falling 30 stories on to concrete and simply getting up and walking away, and similar stunts.

   Hm. It seemed to just keep looping back to the Praetorians didn’t it? Well, at least that demonstrated the nature of the problem – and that virtually any organization could be compromised. Obviously they’d need to keep an eye out for obstructionists in their organizations and keep their plans as tightly-held as possible. Still, at least the meeting made progress after that – and adjourned with several worthwhile objectives.

   They even had a few minutes to spare on being ready for their flight.

   There were a few inevitable questions of course – mostly from the regional director – but “I am an operative for the House of Roses: did you think there would be one secret super-scientific take-over-the-world organization without an opposing one? Movies may screw up a lot of facts, but their grasp on human nature is pretty good – and we have to go; there are likely to be some fairly heavy defenses at the next stop.” actually went over, although it may just have been accepted as a “non-answer”. On the other hand, plot-perception was an unconscious fact of life in the Manifold, even if no one in Core would have accepted that explanation for a hundredth of a second.

   The trip was uneventful, and the location – an office building belonging to an outfit called “applied hydroponics” on the outskirts of town bordering on some farms – wasn’t very impressive either. The police had set up a perimeter around the place and the parking lot was about half full. Well, with a police perimeter up it was fairly likely that anyone important was already gone, but there might still be lots of clues.

   They sent in Gerard as a distraction. The front lobby was spacious – in fact, rather too large for the place. It had the usual information/security desk, with a man with his feet propped up on the desk leaning back in his chair.

“Is there something I can help you with, kid?”

“Hello! Dad’s looking for a job, so I’ve come to case the joint!”

“Cute, and what does your father do and why isn’t he here himself?”

   Hm. The guy was armed, definitely not a baseline human, and had a decent psychic shield.

   They moved in while Gerard had the fellow distracted – but stuck with the “harmless visitors” routine at first, with Gerard cast as Marty’s son and Marty made with the “concerned parent” and “job seeker” routines.

   The security panel screens seemed to be focused on the police and FBI staging operations – and the system was on remote, with most of the local controls locked out.

   So much for surprise. They might not be looking inside the building yet though. Looked like about fifty people in the building. The high-security areas were the samples and genetics labs and the entire basement level. Well, that was the human race: something needed top security? hide it in the back of the cave.

   Kevin and the Thralls tried a mass telekinetic binding on the guy at the desk – but there was some sort of weird interaction, and they wound up binding almost everyone in the building EXCEPT him – and he picked up on it right away.

“Very impressive. You trying to keep them from interfering? Or are you trying to protect them?”

“It depends. Are they from here and unwilling, or the opposite?”

“Oh they are almost all local, most don’t even know what is going on. A few of them are imported and aren’t so innocent. But sorting them out might prove difficult, or not. I suppose it depends on what you are capable of and what you are willing to do.”

   Well, this fellow was well-informed.

“We always like to see who else is meddling”.

“Indeed, find out who is doing something so that you might find out more about them and compensate for any deviations they might cause to your plans. A tried and true strategy”

“And one we’ve used many times.”

“Although it is possible that our plans are compatible”

“Oooooh, now that idea perks my interest. Now, pray tell, how might our plans be compatible?”

“Well, my recruiting needs are rather specialized, and only affect a very small segment of the population, while Marty is fond of small-scale violence, but finds impersonal conflicts boring. How about you?”

“I just like being nigh immortal, having enough power not have to listen to anyone, not feeling like I am obligated to serve anyone. I am not above using my abilities for money and personal gain however. So little chance to test myself however”

“Does the name Arkus mean anything to you?”

“Now that name does ring a bell. Something about being some sort of focus or some nonsense”.

“Well, that need not have any real large-scale impact at all. What sort of money and power are you interested in? And it doesn’t really seem like the collapse of this realm would serve your purposes”.

“Yeah, I mean, you’ve got a lot of people to exploit here – and so many souls!”

“Of course it does seem like a waste to just destroy it all. Even if it has become stagnant. I merely want what should come naturally to the long-lived and strong. A measure of control over my own destiny and those of others. Economic and politcal power naturally come to mind in such a view”.

   Kevin suspected that they were up against another Praetorian: no mention of magic, psionic, or increased personal power, despite being aware of such things, it seemed to fit what was going on, and they already knew that their opponents were using the technology. Hopefully it wouldn’t come to a fight, The praetorians were pretty tough.

“Well, if you’re against the destabilizing agents, out purposes are compatible. If you’re supporting them, they are – unfortunately – probably incompatible”.

“Then it sounds like our purposes are compatible. Not much reason to want a piece of the world if there aren’t any pieces left”.

“So: you wanted the meme-research to put a halt to their spread if possible?”

   (Hm. This guy could be working with MacArthur – although, given MacArthur’s dislike of Praetorians, that would be an alliance of convenience at best).

“Actually I wanted the tech to rebuild bodies. Unfortunately I have been bound by the programming to certain… conditions that are difficult to bypass. I have been tasked preventing that research from falling into government hands and with watching over some of the experiments here. Now it looks like I have failed in the first task, and am about to fail in the second one – although, since you don’t seem to be government agents, I can relax for the time being”.

“What were you going to do with them?”

“Well the meme research was going to be used to foment chaos for the benefit of my employers – and I suppose it is doing quite well at that fact, although the local laws seem to be heavily favoring the home team”.

“Who’s employing you, then? I know you probably won’t say, but it’s worth trying. I take it the programming came with the body rebuilding technology?”

“Oh yes, although it took me awhile to become aware of the fact. And as for who is employing me? Well that is hard to answer”.

“Hard? You mean, never see them in person hard or something else?”

“You see, yet another one of my directives prevents me from sharing that kind of information. Much as I might like to”.

“Dammit.”

“Sorry to disappoint, but while I can’t tell you who my direct report is. I can tell you he is in the building.

“Any idea where?”

“Oh let me see now, (leans back and closes his eyes) I would say second floor, south hallway. Currently peering out the window wondering why no one has come to give him in update in the last several minutes”.

   Meanwhile, Kevin had an idea; He hardly ever got to use the power of Darkness to “grant a wish”…

“Gerald, Daniel – stand there and there. Focus on the Rune of Unbinding. Have you got any more programmed compulsions that you can specifically mention? Would you mind holding this candle for a few minutes? “

“Doesn’t look threatening. So I see no conflict with that. As for more compulsions, we have discussed not talking about my employers beyond what you already know, and not to disobey the instructions of a member of the order. Those two work together really effectively – although I have heard tales of more…. idiotic combinations”.

   Kevin had arranged the triangle, set the candles, and sketched several symbols…

“Restraint gives birth to rage, rage to darkness, darkness to rebellion, rebellion to freedom from all restraint. The path to freedom lies always through darkness, it is but fear of what lies hidden along the path that restrains. Within the Rune of Unbinding lies the breaking of all involuntary bonds, whether within the mind or within the body”.

   The black and crimson sigils of the night flared and spread across the floor, entwining in a fractal sigil.

fractal-test

“So be it decreed!”.

   It would take time to recover from using that kind of power in a low-magic world, but it seemed like it would be worth the risk this time.

L5R Log Update: The Slaughter of the Innocents

   The Twisted Ways (Sessions 100-101): The Houses of Death, The Words of the Fallen.

   Leaving events – the upcoming Kite Festival (the only real official responsibility of the Imperial Master of Kites), Ninsei and Kochige’s research into a Spirit Release spell, the hopefully non-attacking Unicorn clan, the Scorpion Clan Champions request for an interview with the Emperor, the influx of new pirates (using some very bizarre and horrific techniques) into the areas around the Mantis Clan isles, a Phoenix proposal to open a chasm across the continent to provide another barrier against the Shadowlands, and the increasing Yodatai pressure on the Dragon Clan frontiers – to simmer for a bit, the group headed for the Crab territories to do what they could to blunt the Shadowlands attacks.

   Unfortunately, attacking the Nightmares seemed impolitic: at least some of them were apparently working with Evil Ninsei, some of the others could be bargained with – and they simply tended to come back anyway. Going after local leaders didn’t seem to work; apparently the Shadowlands had instituted some sort of officers training school or something, and just kept sending out more.

   They decided to go looking for the worst current problems instead.

   Those included a series of peasant revolts (aggravated by taint and the fact that virtually all the crab peasants had basic combat training and weapons), a series of especially ruthless assassinations that had been targeting the middle ranks of the Crab officers (especially those in vital support positions), the ongoing magical assaults on the wall (greatly reduced in frequency for some reason, but still an ongoing menace), the recent disappearance of the Goblins (er, well, no need to look into that one), and some especially brilliant tactical leader who’d been executing small raids – primarily against minor or lookout outposts – with chilling precision, leaving gaping holes in the defenses.

   Well, peasant revolts were a grassroots problem, and not really their area of expertise. Their tactician was currently in Jigoku. The ongoing magical assaults might get them somewhere – but the assassinations seemed more likely to cause a disaster. Attacks on the supply lines were a menace to the entire effort – and not an area that most samurai paid a lot of attention to.

   So; assassinations. Something that Kochige – as a Jade Magistrate – could simply stick his nose into without explanation anyway.

   Since it looked like the Crab were connecting the suspected assassinations simply by similarities, the simplest thing to do would be to start taking a look at what the Crab investigations had come up with and what they could find at the sites. They went for the most recent first – inspecting what was left of the physical evidence, talking to the people who’d arrived first, and spoke with the Eta who’d disposed of the bodies.

   Since the first section of the investigation notes were posted earlier, this section may be overly familiar. Sorry about that, but there’s really no avoiding it.

   The assassinations had all been carried out well behind the great carpenter wall, while the targets were off-duty – and presumably off-guard – at home. Each had involved a complete household massacre, including family, servants, guards, visitors, and pets and had been followed by a dismissal spell which ensured that questioning the Kami at each location would be fairly useless.

   The latest had been at a typical lightly-fortified Crab manor house – a compound with several detached buildings, including the servants quarters and four guardposts at the corners. The local villagers had come out to help put out a fire – but had forced the gates (after some hesitation) when there was no response to their calls. The local Eta were called on to remove and burn the bodies before they rose as undead.

   Most of the guards and all the servants were found in the servants quarters. They’d apparently been trapped inside while some sort of flame spell was used on the building. Ninsei reached a different conclusion after his inspection; while a flame spell might have been used to ignite the building, one intense and large enough to kill everyone that quickly should have devoured everything, rather than leaving so many partially-burned bits. A few experiments on some abandoned shacks got a better match: some sort of accelerant – a highly-flammable oil perhaps – distributed liberally and ignited by magic. Of course, that wasn’t any less weird: how could the servants not have noticed? Especially since it looked like they’d been alert and mobile enough to try to get out? After all, several of them – including several of the guards – were found near the door, apparently attempting to escape. Another three were found towards the left rear of the building, where they had apparently been attempting to knock a hole in the wall. They’d been burned, but might have died of smoke inhalation first. The escape door – a fairly standard feature of Crab architecture – had apparently been jammed close with pieces of wood, partially-burned fragments of which were found at the scene. One child’s body was found on the left frontal side of the building, severely burned and partially crushed by falling material from the roof. Cornered by whoever had been keeping the door closed perhaps?

   Over in the main house, the bodies of two guards had been found by the entrance to the master bedroom. Both were reportedly killed by swordthrusts, although at least one – from Kochige’s analysis of the remaining bloodstains – remained standing still while he bled to death. Given that there was no damage to the area, nor signs of an attempt to give an alarm, some form of paralytic and/or paralyzing magic seemed likely. The husband and wife were both found in their chambers: the husband apparently killed by a single knife or sword-thrust to the chest with no sign of resistance. The wife was found next to the bed, and had apparently attempted to protect herself with some of the bedding. She had several slash-wounds on her hands and forearms, but died from a swordthrust through the abdomen and partial disembowelment. A bloodied shortsword was found against the wall near the bed, but appeared to have been one of the family weapons. An older boy was found in the hallway to the children’s chambers, dead of a knife or sword thrust to the heart. A young girl was found in one of the children’s rooms, dead of a knife blow to the stomach. The corpses of two cats and a dog were found with her, all dead of sword wounds. Oddly enough, there didn’t seem to have been any guards posted in the watchtowers, although the family didn’t have many guards to begin with, which might explain it.

   The next oldest case had been in a small village near one of the Crab staging areas. In particular, it had been carried out in the dining hall during a meal. There had been an initial investigation by the local magistrate once the massacre was discovered, after which the Eta took away the bodies and removed the perishable food items – although, what with the horrific rumors that were spreading, no one had disturbed the dining room otherwise. The massacre had been carried out during dinner; the lord had been in the habit of hosting periodic full-household meals – even the servants served, and then ate at another table – which the attackers apparently saw as a perfect opportunity. Virtually all of the diners had their throats slit. It was considered obvious that most of the victims were paralyzed at the time; the investigators noted that many of the victims bled to death smiling, holding cups, or while holding food. (The Eta had found that especially disturbing). While it looked rather like someone simply ran up the table with knives outstretched, there was no damage to the table – or much in the way of disturbed dishes – to support the theory. There were a few atypical deaths: one individual (a samurai) took a knife wound to the shoulder before having his throat slit, two servants apparently attempted to flee and were knifed from behind before having their throats slit, one youngster had a stab wound to the side as well as having his throat slit, and one young woman was nailed to the wall with a short spear. Her throat was slit as well, but she was obviously already dead at the time. The spear used on the young woman had been left in place, but showed no particular distinguishing marks.

   The third oldest was a local administrators house in one of the mid-sized towns – eight days ago. Since the crime had apparently involved Maho, a Witch Hunter had been called in, had run his own investigation, and then arranged for the Eta to properly dispose of the bodies. The victims – including eight servants, three guards, the husband and wife, and their four children – had almost all been killed with knife or sword thrusts to the heart, mostly in their quarters and with no signs of resistance. One child was found with the parents, rather than in her room. There were two exceptions: a son who had been approaching Gempukku had been killed by a maho spell which apparently summoned some sort of spiderlike monster – mostly made of blood – to explode out of his chest. His opponent – the household cook – was found dead as well, with a severe stab wound to the side and massive blood loss from apparently-spontaneous wounds on her arms – a blatant sign of maho use. The fact that she was tainted, carrying corrupted jade, and had more corrupted jade hidden in her room, made it an open-and-shut case. The Witch Hunter had concluded that the cook had obviously used her position of trust, and maho, to begin eliminating the family; the boy had been lucky enough to resist somehow, and had wounded the witch sufficiently badly that – in the excitement of combat – she accidently drained herself to death casting the spell that killed the boy. Case closed, house cleansed, and a general inspection of servants ordered.

   Kochige was a little more puzzled: the cook had moved away from the wall a few years ago after being badly mauled by an Oni that attacked her village – probably when she’d picked up some taint. The local reports on her indicated that she was a bit shrewish, short-tempered, and unpleasant, but that everyone in the markets had been quite surprised to hear that she was tainted. One merchant had even made quite a few advances and proposals, but had always been soundly rebuffed. She’d had some nasty scars on one arm, but had otherwise been quite pretty – which clashed a bit with the report of her injuries from her original village (which indicated some massive scarring of the face, torso, and left arm), but there wasn’t anything else out of order, and some people did just heal well over time. She’d been the cook for years, and had apparently refrained from spreading taint for all those years – and if she’d been that powerful a maho-mage, why hadn’t she done something earlier? Why break cover for a relatively minor assassination-mission? Plus, there had been some bits of fresh fruit in the corners of the room where she’d died – along with some other bits of food. The merchants remembered a few of her purchases on her usual early-morning shopping trip – fresh fruit, a bottle of Crab sake, aromatic rice, and fresh fish. Who go shopping for food for people she was going to kill? Had she just gotten orders at the last moment?

   More importantly, how was this being done? Paralysis? Some sort of ability to stop time? Was it possible to weave an illusion of “everything being normal” strong enough to keep people from noticing that they were gravely injured and bleeding to death? A paralytic poison would fit some of the events, but how could it be administered to so many people at once? A gas or aerosol perhaps? Was Maho involved? There were definitely traces of Maho use at their third location, but nothing much at the other sites.

   Most likely some form of mass paralysis. It didn’t always work, and might not last very long when it did – but it gave the killers time to do enough damage to ensure an easy victory over anyone who started moving too soon. Perhaps some other low-grade magic, almost certainly some sort of firestarting spell and a supply of something that burned fast and hot. Could it be nothing more than a spell that turned a supply of various poisons or oils into a cloud of vapor? The people using it would need some sort of immunity to their own poisons if they were doing that though.

   The total massacre was an obvious terror-tactic – but the after-the-fact cleanup was just too limiting, however necessary. They needed a fresh case. Sadly, they were almost certain to have all too soon. Likely victims seemed to include anyone important and competent in the Crab support structure. Attempting to sort the list left them with sixty of seventy possibilities – too many to keep a really good eye on.

   Looking for patterns revealed a few: the murderers were avoiding the Naga forest, or any location too near it, and were working the major trade routes -more than the simple concentration of likely targets along those routes could account for. If they were using those routes to travel, however, there were either several groups or they were either using some sort of magical travel or sprinting madly: in some cases they would have needed to travel fifty or sixty miles a night. Three groups would keep the travel times reasonable however, and four or more would make it easy. Disembodied entities or some form of possession? That would explain the lack of any traceable weapons, but would make the use of poison awkward.

   Michio didn’t recognize the paralysis-effect as a standard Scorpion poison, but not even he knew all the poisons of the Scorpion clan. If they had access to an unburned body he could test for poisons – but not even he could work with a handful of old mixed ashes.

   The rumors that the Crane – since they apparently hadn’t been targeted – were behind it were not helpful.

   They had another case all too soon. A senior supervisor at one of the major trading posts near the Crab-Crane border. There had been an attempt to reduce the entire holding and its warehouses to ashes, but the traders had swiftly extinguished the flames around the edges. The central household had been beyond saving – but the scene was only hours old when they arrived.

   So: a man, a woman, and a child had all apparently died while trying to escape: the bodies were fairly badly burned, but it was still easy to determine that the child had lost an arm – probably to a sword-blow, the woman had been stabbed in the stomach, and the man had died of a thrust to the chest. One servant had died in a storeroom, apparently due to injuries from the roof collapsing. One child – an older boy – had died in the bathroom (how embarrassing). Almost everyone else had died in their rooms, some from sword-blows, some from fire. The master of the household showed a very low level of Taint, while the servant in the storeroom showed more.

   The fires had been most intense, and most wide-spread, in the families quarters, the servants quarters, and the more frequently-used storerooms. In some places – mostly near the edge of the holding – the fires had been extinguished soon enough to make the patterns clear: individual patches of fire that had started in many locations at almost the same time. A few storerooms – the most tightly-sealed and rarely used – had not had fires ignite at all. Ninsei went looking for any traces of accelerants and found some in a storeroom that was used for supplies for the Witch Hunters. It contained… Copies of the usual jade magic scrolls the Crab handed out to anyone who wanted them, a minor tetsubo nemurani (apparently just in case a magical weapon was urgently needed), and a small stock of an alchemical concoction – dust that glowed when it was touched by the traces of Maho magic. Someone had laid a minor protective spell on the room some time before. Nothing his power could not brush aside like a cobweb or course, but it would have blocked some minor spells.

   The stuff was basically invisible, and there was no detectable scent – but even tiny traces flared up quite impressively at the touch of a triggering-spell. One particularly attuned to it might set it off in a wide radius with the slightest trace of power. The stuff had been smeared around, but there were one or two handprints scorched into the wood of the boxes where he’d triggered it. It looked like someone had simply rubbed some on their hands – and then casually touched anything they might want to ignite later.

   The servant had apparently been smoking something when he died: the pipe showed traces of opium – and digging out and searching the storeroom turned up a box of opium. Tainted opium. Now that was just WRONG – but at least it explained what the man had been sneaking off to do in the middle of the night. Tainted drugs which eventually gave the shadowlands control or weak individuals? Make them PAY to be corrupted and cooperate desperately in hiding the source of their corruption?

   No: that might be a secondary plot, but it didn’t fit what they were investigating.

   The boy in the bathroom had been carrying a sword, but that wasn’t too abnormal: he’d probably been told to keep it with him everywhere. Standard training, especially in the Crab territories. The sword had been blooded, but was too badly seared to reveal much more.

   They tried taking it to a local swordsmith – but all he could tell them was that it had been exposed to tremendous heat, enough to sear ash into the blade. If it had been in it’s sheathe, someone must have thrust it into a blast furnace or a volcano. It looked like it had been a youth’s practice blade; now it was good for nothing but melting down for iron.

   Looking for shadowlands links among the townsfolk turned out to be useless: in the Crab lands, and with a likely Shadowlands invasion coming up, half the possible destinies involved the Shadowlands.

   Kochige was starting to lean towards the possession-theory, so he went around the town attempting to sense bodies that showed traces of secondary spirits. He found quite a few at first – mostly young women – and then started eliminating women with young children. Young fathers were eliminated next, they also showed such traces. Blast it: anyone with a strong ancestor spirit for a patron also showed such traces – which might account for a couple of samurai youngsters who showed traces from a year or two back. Ancestors rarely took an interest that early, but – after all – he was traveling with Ninsei. It was way outside their timeframe anyway; they were interested in last night.

   Time for desperation measures: another trip to Meido seemed in order. The majority of people wound up there for awhile at least. If they could find the spirits of some of the victims, they ought to be able to tell them something.

   Najite refused to go to Meido again: his job was protecting Ningen-Do from them unto death – and he’d been to the realms of death too many times already, not to mention that there was nothing he could do for them there. He’d keep an eye on things on Ningen-Do for the moment.

   Some of the spirits were easy enough to locate – but anyone who’d actually seem their killers had somehow been shunted into the Nightmare Domain of the Realm of Dreams. That ought to be impossible unless their spirits were still being bound to Ningen-Do somehow: dying should release them from nightmare.

   Well, that was a good indication that THE Nightmares – or a similar technique – were involved somehow.

   Well, even if the direct witnesses were unreachable (even they didn’t want to venture into the realms of Nightmares while the Nightmares of the Clans opposed them), some of he indirect witnesses might yield some useful information.

   Their most recent master of the house was still pretty upset: he’d awakened, paralyzed, and on fire – and his Crab techniques had given him several minutes to breathe flame and slowly burn to death before he died, despite the intensity of the blaze around him. He couldn’t imagine how his entire room and bed could catch on fire before awakening him.

   The Cook was not available. The records of Meido said that she’d been shunted to Yomi? How could that happen? She might not have been a mass murderer, but she’d been pretty obviously a tainted user of maho!

   They’d have to stop in Yomi next.

   The kid who’s chest had exploded had gone to bed with a headache and had assumed that he’d died quietly in his sleep. He didn’t see why anyone would be investigating that. Had something gotten his body up and walking around? Maho could do that easily of course, but something about that explanation seemed naggingly wrong.

   The kid who’d died in the bathroom was available as well: he was folding paper cranes, and had several basketfuls of them. Meido was obliging about providing the supplies for that kind of hobby. Another headache and quiet death. Something was killing children and using their bodies? The boy gave them each a basketful of paper cranes… Nice origami technique, he’d had a lot of practice.

   Wait. Basketsful? Practice? He’d only been dead about six hours!

   The boy wasn’t too sure – but from the last things he knew about events in Ningen-Do, he’d been dead for at least four years.

   That was what had been wrong with the last kid! He’d looked about ten, and the child who’d died with the creature coming out of his chest had been approaching gempukku.

   Those children had been dead for years – and something untainted, but deadly, had been living in their bodies and pretending to be them.

   Headaches. Something in their heads? Why did that sound familiar?

   During the survey of the borders. Years ago (and about fifty sessions back). Those little horrors that lived in people’s heads and ate their brains. It had been possible to save the victims up to a point – but once the little monsters gained full control, they impersonated the victims almost perfectly, with no sign of taint or anything being wrong.

   The children wished briefly to avenge their murders, and the murders of their families, when they found out what had happened – but soon realized that, being long dead, there was nothing they could do.

   The stop in Yomi was confirmation of sorts: The cook had been tainted, and horribly scarred, as a result of an oni attack as an adolescent. She hadn’t been able to bear it, and had – in youthful folly – taken the dark gift of Maho from a Kansen, and used one of the several spells it had shown her to regain most of her previous good looks.

   She had repented of her youthful folly, vowed never again to use dark magic – and spent years concealing her affliction, refusing to start a family or to become too involved with anyone so as to ensure that she did not pass on the Taint. She had not given in – until she returned from the mornings shopping to find three of the children of the house engaged in a smiling massacre of helpless, paralyzed, people – surrounding her, and cheerily announcing that, after they had disposed of her, they would continue on to kill their parents and their remaining unaffected sibling.

   She had partially deflected the first blow with her shopping basket – and called on the blood magic she had refused for so long, pouring all her strength into an attempt to strike down the once-children that were attacking her master and his remaining family. She had been surprised herself to be shunted to Yomi – and was sorry, if not surprised, to hear that she had slain only one of the three. After all, they were Samurai – however young – and she was only a peasant.

   Evidently Yomi had its own standards for admittance. Perhaps it would be best not to mention this back on Ningen-Do. While it was well known that death usually released you from Taint – unless you were so innately evil as to be drawn to Jigoku anyway – few would accept that you could attain Yomi by sacrificing yourself to use Maho in the service of the empire.

   Back on Ningen-Do, Shosuro had dropped by again, but found no one but Najite to talk to. He was a bit upset. Did Kochige, Ninsei, Michio, Okar, and company have no respect for tradition? They seemed to be willing to turn the entire Empire upside down to “save” it. What was the Empire without it’s traditions? Wouldn’t death be better than that? They acted as if the peasants and monks and spirits and such meant as much as the traditions of the Samurai…

   Shosuro wasn’t much help by most standards. She was one of the seven thunders, a hero of the Empire, and one of the major reasons it still existed – and she believed that change was a part of all life. Stasis was not life, but merely retarded decay. Could the Samurai exist without the peasants? Would their traditions have meaning if the people who followed them were wiped away? Fu Leng wished to rule the empire, not to destroy it; would that be preferable to changing it?

   The rest of the group returned from Yomi about then.

   If they were right about those worm-homunculi, that meant that they probably had two magical horrors walking the streets wearing children’s corpses, using the children’s consumed memories to impersonate them, and awaiting their masters command to strike.

   Should they tell the parents? No: they simply called in the two they’d detected on the grounds that they might be able to testify in their investigation. The kids were cooperative enough. They seemed entirely normal. They were respectful, well-behaved, impressed with their authority – and then, when it became obvious that Kochige and company seriously suspected something, triggered the powerful paralysis-poison they secreted through their skins. It seemed to work the same way that the flame-compound they could produce similarly did; it could be triggered to take effect on command. Najite, thanks to his incredible Earth ring, was unaffected – and one child was struck down by a mysterious hail of knives. The thing inside seemed to be able to keep the body working for a time after death – long enough to attempt to touch and poison Najite (which failed completely) and then – after looking momentarily blank – to use its flame-starting secretion to burst into flames.

   The other looked momentarily blank, then burst into flames and staggered out into the street screaming about how Ninsei, the crazed young fire mage, had set him horribly aflame for no reason at all before collapsing in the process of burning to ash.

   Somehow (thanks to Najite’s Demon Mirage) the child appeared to scream something about “for the glory of Fu Leng!” and set his own father – who was moving to attack – aflame with a fire-spell. That at least interrupted the riot long enough for the local magistrates to arrive.

   Still the explanation did not go down well.

   Did the things communicate with each other or their master? That momentary blank expression suggested it. There had been… At least three, possibly up to six of them in this one town. OK, it was a major trading nexus – but that suggested hundreds of them. Possibly going into suicide-strike mode, equipped with at least one horrific toxin, the ability to start fires all over the place, to work or channel at least some minor spells – the triggering effects at least, and probably silencing magic and some others. At least they only seemed to have a child’s physical abilities.

   They teleported to the Crab Clan palace to see the Clan Champion immediately. They could speculate while getting in to see him. Urgently.

   How had it been done? It went back at least four years, and probably longer, since it was unlikely that they’d found the oldest one around with a sample size of two out of those probable hundreds. They seemed to be alchemical constructs – which meant, since alchemy couldn’t create life, they had to be modifications of some natural creature. Probably a parasitic worm of some sort. Hatched from an egg. Targeting children, who probably wouldn’t be able to resist effectively? Even so, it didn’t seem to be a hundred percent successful. If an egg was crushed, it wouldn’t hatch. Ingested? Distributed over years?

   Najite suggested checking sellers of sweets and desserts. Buy a candy or a confection, buy slow death for yourself, death for your family, and a spy and saboteur in the service of Fu Leng, all in one tasty package.

   The Crab Champion recognized the problem, and called in the Shugenja to spread the message and the warning as quickly as possible – as soon as he came up with one to spread that wouldn’t rip the clan apart. This was a blow at the foundations of humanity, not just the foundations of the Empire.

   Ninsei felt that this had the fingerprints of the Designer all over it – but whoever it was behind it, something would have to be done. Perhaps he could tune a fire-effect finely enough to affect only worm-things? How large an area could he affect? And was there any way to do anything without becoming known as a mass murderer of other children?

L5R Log Update: The Eighth Column

   The Twisted Ways (Session 98 and 99): Memories of the Fallen, The Courts of the Wild.

   If their first priority was disposing of Fu Lengs forces in the mountains, the first step in that chore was to locate them. Kochige and Michio set to work analyzing the rumors and reports from the surrounding lands – from the Nezumi, from the Peasants and Eta, from the Samurai – as well as what information could be gathered magically, from history, from maps, and from deduction and general principles.

   Well, taking out what they could reasonably establish as the Kenku territories, that left them with a dozen or so areas – but most of those were still being visited by occasional trappers, hunters, and miners. If there was a demon army in most of them, it had to be in stasis down a hole. That wasn’t totally impossible – but searching every hole and cave in the mountains probably was.

   It came down to three probable locations: one camp of ronin or bandits in the foothills beyond the Scorpion clan border, a mountainous valley full of caves, and a traditionally-haunted mountain. The ronin had recently taken over several border villages, although most of them had been clusters of peasant hut that lay outside the official Scorpion boundaries. More importantly, their leader was apparently remarkably skilled, was said to have recently ridden out to slay an Oni, and had returned successfully – but never revealed his face any longer when he rode out. They valley and it’s caves had long been used by hermits and local villagers, but had recently developed an extremely bad reputation; people visiting the area had failed to return, and now no one went there any longer. Tha haunted mountain had been considered cursed for centuries, and the local monks had long made small offerings at a shrine near it’s base to quiet the spirits there, but one of the three current caretakers had drowned and the other two had vanished.

   They took the mountain first.

   That was something of a mess. There were gorges, and unsafe bridges – and a warrior in pre-imperial armor guarding the middle of one – so Kochige and Ninsei tried flying towards the top. Unfortunately, something up on the top was making enough noise on the spiritual plane to keep the Kami from hearing much of anything – which sent them both plummeting to the ground below. Battered, bruised, unable to work healing magic, and confronted with a hostile warrior, Kochige wound up having to fight a duel. Fortunately, he was still more durable than any normal man and competent with a blade, which turned out to be enough to handle an ancient suit of animated armor inhabited by little more than a spirit-fragment and a handful of dust. On the other hand, it was obvious that the revenant would shortly pull itself together again, and would continue to do so until it’s bond was released.

   Meanwhile Michio and Najite had been making their way up the mountain, dealing with opponent after opponent. None were a match for Michio, but a perpetual string of battles would eventually exhaust him – and by the time he’d defeated the last, the first might be ready to rise again. There were old legends though… Ijesken, a a human sorcerer-lord who had fought Bayushi during the founding, had held the power to disrupt the magic of spirits and had bound the spirits of his men to fight beyond death. He had been driven into the mountains at last, and had – despite a bloody oath – never returned.

   Still, it was obvious enough that these ancient wraiths had slept peacefully, despite the oaths that bound them. Was it the loss of the monks, or something more sinister, that had awakened them?

   A little below the peaks, there was an ancient shrine – erected by the troops as the last resting place of their fallen lord. It seemed the wounds Ijesken had sustained in battle with Bayushi had proved fatal at last – but his failing sorceries had bound his own spirit to the fulfillment of his oath. The spirits of his men, linked to him by fealty and magic, had gathered around him as they too fell to battle or the cruelties of time.

   But something had come to breathe new life into ancient shadows and dust, to grasp those bonds, claim Ijesken’s power, and recall the fragments of spirits long gone to a half-life in the service of death.

   The Nightmare of the Unicorn.

   That wasn’t good. Even if they were only partial, with several thousand souls bound to it, plus Ijesken’s power to disrupt spirit magic, the Nightmare was more dangerous than ever – and it now possessed an army which would rise within a day no matter how often it might be defeated and to which it could transfer any attack that might be made upon it. That eventually became a war of attrition, as Michio parried the Nightmare’s many attacks (from its many extra arms), Kochige grappled with it to keep it from escaping or shapeshifting further, and Ninsei employed the Recondite Weave to sever the links Ijasken had forged at the dawn of the Empire. Najite -as a “mere courtier” – simply watched the path to the shrine to give a warning if the wraith-warriors should approach. Somehow an enormous number of the wraiths who attempted to come to the Nightmare’s aid accidently fell on knives they had forgotten they were carrying, were stabbed by clumsy allies or while attempting to draw their own weapons, or slipped and landed on very sharp rocks while they were approaching the shrine. None came close enough to require Najite to sound the alarm.

   Oddly enough, the Nightmare did not seem to be aware that there were two versions of Ninsei in action: well, it wasn’t like he wouldn’t find out as soon as he was resummoned – so they told him. The brief distraction was probably worth giving up whatever speculative advantage keeping it ignorant for a bit might bring.

   They eventually won the battle of attrition, and banished the Nightmare for now – although it was far nearer than they would have liked.

   The Ronin encampment – a village they’d fortified – seemed surprisingly well-organized. The palisade and earthworks were solid and took good advantage of the terrain, there were guards posted, and the peasants seemed contented enough. There were no obvious signs of hideous oppression and taint.

   Well, Kochige was a Jade Magistrate, and they were investigating signs of Oni activity: why not just knock?

   There was one blatant sign of oni activity: a huge oni hide pegged to a wall. Fairly impressive if the ronin leader had actually taken it out himself as he claimed. They were conducted to a fair – if still small and crude – facsimile of a court, and things abruptly got both political and complicated: the ronin leader, Chikao, claimed that, since no one had been adequately protecting these villages, it was his duty to the Emperor to step forward and fill that void. The imperial tax assessors would be welcome at any time; he and his followers were eager to fulfill their obligations to the Emperor.

   Oh dear. The Lion clan had been advancing that same argument for centuries; to deny it’s validity would be most impolitic. They needed the Lion clan to keep sitting on he fence if it couldn’t be gotten to throw in on the Imperial side wholeheartedly. The Scorpion had some claim to the border villages, even if it was unofficial – but to support it would be to support the current Scorpion Clan Champion, which they had no desire to do. The border villages had never been prosperous enough to pay much in the way of taxes anyway, and any Assessors would recognize that fact – but that didn’t mean that they couldn’t pay some taxes, and they were entitled to be protected whether or not they were really profitable. Their own visit – and peaceful attendance at the “court” – could be taken as an endorsement of Chikao’s rule if they didn’t either denounce him (which would divert them from their mission and weaken the areas defenses against Fu Leng) or send for Imperial troops (of which there were none to spare even if trying to dispatch them across the Scorpion lands had been currently practical), and he would certainly push that idea for all it was worth. He had slain a major oni, which – given that the conflict with Fu Leng was the major problem at the moment – made him something of an ally regardless of his personal politics. Besides, the man seemed competent in both war and administration – a rare and valuable thing – and seemed to have developed some advanced techniques or even an entire school of his own, which was well suited for both pursuits, which was even more rare and valuable. The fact that it had apparently allowed him to slay a major oni (even if he had gotten some nasty facial scars and a major hit to his vanity in the conflict and the site of the battle was said to still be cursed) practically demanded some study as well. Michio was quite eager to arrange a sparring match to get a better look at the man’s style, but that might just have to wait.

   Ah; they could use the fact that he’d slain a powerful oni and that the site (the center of a nearby forest) was reportedly cursed -as an excuse to “remain focused on their primary mission”. They’d make their excuses and head over to the forest.

   Unfortunately, making their excuses took some time – and Chikao promptly took Michio’s enquiry as to the possibility of a sparring match and Kochige’s expressions of concern over the possible menace to the people of the area and “resulting urgency” as an opening to maneuver Kochige into committing himself to a return visit and some dinner.

   Confound it, Kochige wasn’t all that unskilled socially. Just how versatile was the man?

   The forest was indeed cursed. The ominous signs of nature being twisted by the powers of Jigoku were clear enough to the eyes of an experienced investigator. It would obviously be centered on the spot where the Oni’s blood had soaked the ground -but the nature of the curse was hard to make out. It was obviously twisting the local wildlife though. Even the local squirrels were creepy and ominous.

   It go messy rapidly: the curse upon the oni’s festering body and blood had apparently targeted the local insects – giving some of them the ability to consume magic (including magical scrolls), and others the ability to infest larger creatures, consume them, and eventually convert them into demon-insect-swarm creatures – which hunted other creatures to infest them.

   Suddenly deprived of their scrolls, and with their innate powers suddenly limited to blowing up one insect at a time – even Ninsei’s flame auras kept focusing on the first insect to contact them each round – Kochige and Ninsei were finding life very awkward indeed. The presence of demon-swarm oni throwing masses of bloodsucking insects made things even worse – but at least gave Michio (also deprived of the innate spells which allowed him to sweep-attack massive areas at range) and Najite something to target effectively.

   They had to fall back to the river, and virtually boil themselves, to deal with their own mite infestations. Healing spells worked against the damage, but did nothing about the underlying bugs, while purgative spells – again – wound up being consumed by individual mites.

   Well, that wasn’t going to work. At one spell to one insect, they’d never get anywhere. The could set a physical forest fire, but that still probably wouldn’t get all the bugs. A physical fire couldn’t be counted on not to miss areas, or to scorch deeply enough into the earth. A physical battle with insects that burrowed under your own skin didn’t seem likely to work either. They needed to keep the bugs off while they expunged the curse.

   How did the peasants and eta deal with bugs? Herbs and fumes and things wasn’t it? They went to inquire.

   Equipped with plenty of insect-repellant herbs and fumes, fire, oil, noxious liquids, as well as a cluster of peasants to carry all of it, they headed back for the center of the forest. Burning the body – along with Michio’s smaller-scale destructiveness – cleared the immediate area while the peasants built a ring of flame around their working space, burned the fumes, scattered the herbs, and sprinkled their noxious infusions. It took some doing, and several false starts as they rooted out intruding insects – but each partial repetition of the exorcism rituals helped.

   In the end, everyone was scorched, half-choked with fumes, covered with soot and smelly herbs, and quite exhausted, but the curse (along with a fair chunk of the center of the forest) was gone. Still, to have laid a curse of such power, that thing had to have been extremely powerful to begin with. How had Chikao defeated it?

   Well, they had promised to return, Michio would still want his sparring match, and it was probably the nearest place where they could probably get a decent bath. They stopped by on the way to take a look at that valley.

   Upon evaluation of what they’d seen of it, Chikao’s new school looked like a pretty good choice for any local administrator who’d be working without much of a staff – not the best at any one thing, but broadly applicable and offering a pretty good chance at defeating most individual menaces.

   The valley did indeed seem to be playing host to a number of oni, maho cultists, and undead, but rooting them out of the caves and crevices would take forever. They wound up simply going the “massive destruction” route, with rains of fire, Michio’s annihilating sweeps and earth-shattering blows, Kochige’s earth-tremors, and similar tactics, before setting some guards at the valley exits. There would be survivors of course – but they couldn’t hope to get every oni and cultist anyway, and there would be no organization to them for a fairly long time. At the moment, that would just have to be good enough.

Legend of the Five Rings: Log Update

   The Twisted Ways (Sessions 96-97): Heaven’s Fall, The Council of War.

   Back in Jigoku, Shigure was still plotting. Kochige and company had offered to get him out of Jigoku while they could – but he had sworn vengeance against Fu Leng and had made alliances that it would be dishonorable to abandon. Knowing that Shinjo and Rocan would likely exert some influence towards restoring the proper order of Jigoku was encouraging however – and with the ability to communicate with Ningen-Do, it would be possible to coordinate an attack on Fu Leng there with an infernal uprising to try and cut him off from the power of Jigoku.

   Besides, he’d been able to pass on the earthquake dagger to Michio while he was in Jigoku – and to palm off the turn-into-a-dinosaur talisman off on Kochige. He’d had the oddest impulse to give it to Ninsei – some weird mental image of him growing into a gargantuan reptilian monster and stomping across the shadowlands blasting things with fire – but he’d resisted. Ninsei was destructive enough ALREADY. The ongoing supply of funeral offerings – apparently his friends were paying handsomely to have some artisans and peasants keep making models and burning them as offerings to his “departed spirit” – was allowing him to equip his forces as well as to bribe the minor demons to maintain their “loyalty” (such as it was).

   It really was weird: it seemed that only the Oni who had been infused with a portion of the power of Ningen-Do – the local equivalent of “taint” – normally really grew, learned much, or spawned lesser demons. Something similar could apparently happen with a bond to the Celestial Heavens, but he hadn’t really heard enough about that to be sure.

   Blast it, he could probably come up with something in the way of a tactical approach if the place would just stop CHANGING on him all the time. He didn’t even know what half of his troops basic abilities were. For that matter, while the Asura Rathavabhasa had decided to return to Ningen-Do when the opportunity came up (he had to admit that the man’s powers were fairly useless in a large-scale conflict and there was no profit for him in it), but Mirdangimi had elected to stick around; apparently she was finding it oddly refreshing to have a conflict in the offing in which she could exert her full powers. (What in the name of the Kami did the “Rahu-Ketu School of the Midnight Sun” teach anyway? It couldn’t possibly be related to that insane Naga Void-Shadow magic could it?)

   Meanwhile, Najite was paying a – hopefully final – visit to the Heavens himself. He would have preferred not to be involved in the doings of gods and crazed shugenja, but he had some messages to deliver and wanted to try to find out a bit more about Ninsei and the rest. Prophetic time-travelers, personal appearances by major celestial kami, gaijin deities wanting to “make adjustments”, and possibly partly-divine children running about simply did not fit his conception of what the Empire ought to be like.

   Getting into the Celestial Heavens was a lot more difficult this time around – the guardians seemed to vary it according to how important they (or perhaps you ) felt your mission was – but trying to talk to the Sun Goddess again so soon seemed impolitic.

   Bayushi seemed to believe that Ninsei was probably a result of the Moon’s philandering ways. He was known to spend the nights he wasn’t appearing in the sky borrowing human bodies and fooling around with human women. Ninsei’s elements were obviously out of balance – something that was often a consequence of a partial divine infusion, and which could reasonably lead to abnormal development. Mildly surprising that Amaterasu would know about it, but she did see everything which happened beneath her light. That might even explain both some of the annoyance and the tendency to treat the boy as family.

   And yes, the Sun Goddess blew up her jade palace pretty regularly; that was why the spirits were always ready to rebuild it on a moments notice.

   Well, that would explain a lot about Ninsei.

   The other available founders were pleased to hear from Shinjo: they’d started to wonder if she had somehow managed to wander out of the universe entirely. They were a bit bemused by her choices – but they hadn’t understood why she’d gone to see Fu Leng after the fall, or what had made her the most wild and adventurous of all of them either.

   By the time all of that was done, Kochige and Ninsei were done trading spells and discussing magical techniques with the Unicorn Shugenja and Priests. They’d also been looking into pre-imperial theology. It looked like the Founding Kami had diverted all worship to themselves and the Fortunes, abolishing the propitiating rituals – and invocations whenever something needed to be destroyed – that had originally been directed to the powers of Jigoku. OK, they weren’t NICE powers – but they still deserved respect. Was it possible that Fu Leng had been permitted to draw on the power of Jigoku simply because the people of the Empire had turned away from the ritual observances that kept those powers placated? It wasn’t like the Lords of Destruction cold be expected to have a sense of proportion.

   Unfortunately, Najite proved either unable or unwilling to control his descent to Ningen-Do – and wound up landing by the Sea of Void, to the south of the Shadowlands. THAT was just LOVELY. He’d have to send a message to the shugenja to come and pick him up.

   Kochige promptly tried to open a gate – which proved to be a bad idea by the Sea of Void. The structure of the universe was very thin there already – and the gate fractured it badly. They wound up with a beachful of things and people pulled out of other universes and had to act promptly to get the holes closed up and to deactivate the dangerous items that had come through. Then they had to sort out the ones who wanted to be sent home from the ones who didn’t want to be sent back into bad situations and make the relevant arrangements (more “cousins” for Shigure back in Toshi Ranbo in the latter case). They never did figure out what the weird people preparing great amounts of food while odd “weapons” were pointed at them were all about – although, when that particular group got back home, the “feed a troop of hungry samurai and sumo wrestlers beneath an enchanted sky!” episode of Country Cottage Cooking did go over well: cooking shows didn’t normally have the budget for extras and effects like that.

   With everyone back together – and the Unicorn situation defused for the moment – it was time for a conference of war.

   Most of a days discussion led to at least a partial list of priorities.

  • The Prophecies – that Fu Leng would possess the Heir of the Empire, that the Chaos Bringer would Rule the Empire, that the Hantei Line would Fail, and all the others that they’d heard – were beyond their control. For better or worse, there hadn’t been one yet that they couldn’t find a dozen different ways to interpret anyway. Alex might be behind half of them – but if he’d actually mastered the Orrery of Dream (and his arranging for Ninsei’s training, for a war of assassins against Fu Lengs assassins, and a dozen other interventions suggested that he might have), even it could only grant access to the worlds that might be – not guarantee that any particular one would be despite Alex’s attempts to force his choice into being.
  • Fu Leng personally would be a matter for heroes – and, if they were the ones destined to fight him on the Second Day of Thunder, than that was what would happen. There wasn’t much point in trying to force it until he emerged from his palace in the shadowlands anyway.

   As far as things went that they could actually do something about:

  • Their first priority was to deal with whatever major military resources Fu Leng had managed to smuggle into the central mountains. That would be whatever Oni he’d gotten in through Traitors Grove before they sealed it, any undead he could find or have maho cultists raise, and whatever else they could find. With the center of the Empire balanced like a house of cards, they couldn’t afford to leave any major unbalancing forces about if they could help it.
  • If the prophecies and what was still applicable of the information they’d brought back from the Thousand Years of Darkness were accurate, the massed armies of Jigoku and the Shadowlands – fully deployed for the first time in history – would break through the Crab defenses, and play a crucial role in enforcing Fu Lengs power grab. Their second priority would have to be weakening those forces.
  • They’d done what they could for Shigure; there wasn’t much more to be done until they were ready to co-ordinate on sealing the Festering Pit – presuming that his rebellion got that far.
  • The Nightmares and Evil Ninsei mostly with the Shadowlands Army – but they weren’t necessarily enemies. Most of the Nightmares were too treacherous for ANYONE to rely on them – but some of them had been cooperative and Evil Ninsei had cooperated with them more than once.
  • The Bloodspeaker and Maho cults, and along with their minor undead and what lesser Oni they could summon were too dispersed for a small group to deal with: they would have to be left to the Jade Champion and Magistrates.
  • The Naga could probably be relied on to back the Crab anyway, but neither Fu Leng nor the fate of the Empire was necessarily any of their business. Since the Naga owed them some major favors, those could be called in to make sure that they were ready to aid the Crab in opposing the armies of the Shadowlands to come.
  • They could ignore the dinosaurs – and leave the dimensional rifts in the forest to the Naga. They might be a nuisance to clean up later, but the dinosaurs were just big tough lizards.
  • The Yobanjin could be dealt with after the war. At this point it was far too late to do anything about the chaotic influence they’d already exerted – and who knew? If they were actually planning to try to bind Fu Leng if he won, at that point it couldn’t hurt to let them try.
  • The Yodatai were distracting what was left of the Dragon forces, but there was nothing to be done about that without a major campaign – which would have to be left until after the war against Fu Leng.
  • The Nezumi… The Nezumi had been faithful and useful allies for centuries, and were still regarded as vermin throughout much of the empire – but they’d found Nezumi everywhere they’d looked for them. In small hordes. They were still scouting for them, beyond the limits where anyone else dared to go. If the Empire survived, they would have to see what could be arranged in the way of official recognition and lands of their own. It wasn’t like the Empire was short of unused lands – and if they could purify the Shadowlands, there would be even greater territories available.
  • The Asura – well, once again, it was a good thing that there was plenty of unused land available. More of them would probably show up, and they couldn’t afford to start a war with people who commanded vast powers, who literally could not permanently die, and who could carry a grudge across millennia. There would doubtless be more arriving as well.
  • Merenae was friendly enough, and the Mantis were planning to use their aid against the Shadowlands Pirates. So long as they remained offshore, that need not even be noticed. Relations would eventually have to be normalized with the rest of the world anyway; unless Fu Leng won, and no one wanted to trade with Rokugan, the centuries of isolation were drawing to a close in any case.
  • The Phoenix Mages were responsible for almost as many magical disasters as the Bloodspeakers and the Maho Cultists. SOMEONE needed to keep an eye on them. There wasn’t much they could do about that at the moment – but they’d have to look into it after the war. Hopefully the Phoenix wouldn’t try anything catastrophic before then.
  • The Priests of Madness were a possible resource – they already knew that they objected to Fu Leng and the Shadowlands – but their power was too unpredictable and came at too high a price. Unless all was lost already, it would be best not to involve them.
  • The Shadowcats were angling for imperial recognition and a position within the imperial household. It seemed that the number of true Shadowcats was limited by the number of Void Mages in the Empire – it had something to do with the Magic of Shadow being unnatural at this stage of the cosmos – but even too many “normal” cat-shapeshifters could be a nuisance. Still, they were at least friendly.
  • They had a dozen research projects – the Shadow Seeds, new Schools, Spirit Binding, Alchemy, Impersonal Magic, the Madness Tattoos, and many more, as well as plans for rebuilding and expanding the Empire, but all of that would have to wait.

L5R Campaign Log: The Twisted Ways

   The Twisted Ways (Sessions 94-95): The Breath of the Winter, The Paths of Darkness.

   Najite was a bit numb. Amaterasu, the supreme goddess, the light of the world, had told him to “Go to Hell!” and it actually seemed like helpful advice. Had his life really gotten that bad, or was it just that the entire world was actually as insane as Ninsei, Kochige, Michio, Okari, and company?

   With Michio diverted with some of the Unicorn Clan children – who didn’t see any reason why, if Ninsei could be safely thrown into the heavens and return, they couldn’t try it too – Najite busy stewing in his own juice, and Okari still off on clan business, that left Kochige and Ninsei to brainstorm up a way to reach the Dark Sun of the Underworld.

   Well, they could head for Jigoku and try to find him there (not an attractive notion), head to the West and see if the priests of Senpet were right about the path of the dead sun (which would probably take too long), ask Shigure to make contact (a gambit he’d already tried with no luck), try and have Michio throw them there (although Jigoku, and the private realm of the Black Sun, was likely to be beyond the authority of a minor celestial kami), try to use the blood-link of the Unicorn priests somehow (not that they really had any idea of how to do that), they could consult the Jade Champion (although she’d probably think them quite mad), just ask the Unicorn Priests to pray to Shinjo (although – if that would work – she should have been located long ago), try to summon her (not likely to work with spirit magic, but perhaps the Recondite Weave or Heka could do it), search for the portal outside of Rokugan where Shinjo had originally met Rocan (there had to be one there someplace, but searching or it could take forever), simply invoke the Dark Sun (blasphemous by current standards, but there had been such rituals once according to Shigure – used whenever it was time for something to be destroyed), try the Sea of Void (Michio might be able to navigate it – if the Dark Sun permitted such an approach), or they could…

   The brainstorming went on for some time. Eventually they decided to combine several of their possible plans: they would get the Unicorn priests to pray to Shinjo for them, attempt to use the Recondite Weave to trace Shinjo’s bond with her descendants and then combine their powers with Kochige’s status as a dimensional nexus to try and send a message along that link.

   For good or ill, with their powers combined with Najites powers over gates and Michio’s ability to blow holes in the cosmos, they had more than enough power to punch their message through to SOMETHING. Sadly, it wasn’t what they’d wanted. Rocan might be a dark and terrible god, but he still heard prayers – especially when they were backed by that much raw power. It was rare that mortals wished to reach his realm, but it was permitted for them – and especially for the Unicorn – to attempt the journey.

   The dark fires of the underworld draw the area – along with the group, several priests, more than forty Unicorn Samurai, assorted servants, the children who’d been getting Michio to jump around with them, several horses, and an assortment of other animals and baggage, to the timeless borders of the realm of the Dark Sun. They managed to use Michio’s talents to send most of the children, priests, and other superfluous passengers home – but the Samurai insisted on an explanation, and then – since the group was looking for their clan founder – insisted on inviting themselves along.

   While it passed unrecognized, the route to the Palace of the Dark Sun was a dark and icy mirror of Shingo’s route beyond the borders of the Empire. It featured a terrible ordeal on a glacier that hosted hostile demon-steeds to be captured and tamed in place of the desolate ordeal of crossing the burning sands, horses and peasants to rescue from disaster as the Unicorn had aided and been aided by the local inhabitants of the steppes, a frozen avalanche-swept mountain in place of the undead-haunted desert mountains, a brief battle with guardian oni in the place of a the initial battle at the City of Jewels, and a variety of chances to display their combat skills, horsemanship, diplomacy, and the virtues of Bushido along the way.

   It would have made it easier, and would probably have helped keep the Unicorn casualties down along the way, if they had realized what was going on – but they bulled through their quest on raw power and determination, no matter how long the subjective duration became. They captured and tamed the heat-drinking demon steeds, survived the glacial ordeal and rescued lost travelers there, surmounted and outrode the avalanches, rescued the endangered horses and peasants, and continued on to the gates of the dark palace.

   Well, they had successfully completed the quest, even if they never had figured out what was going on. They were also the first to do so in many centuries – so the servants let them in and stabled their demon horses as the group presented a variety of gifts.

   Shinjo hadn’t been aware that Rocan had been blocking out everything he classified as “minor” disturbances (which led to a lively discussion), that Amaterasu had not been passing on her messages to her siblings, or that the Unicorn were – at least at the moment – badly in need of advice over and above the subjective weeks worth of tales of her travels that she told over dinner. Still, she did not want to intervene too directly; Ningen-Do belonged to mortals, not to gods. The order of heaven was not that great an example of how to do things (after all, look at the affairs of her family), and to become too involved with the affairs of Ningen-Do was to allow it to bind you. Mortal form you might assume, but mortal you would never truly be – and all that you attempted would be twisted thereby. She would send dreams for now, advise the Unicorn among her visitors to carry word from her to the Clan Champion, and consider what must be done while she dealt with the message backlog that Rocan had been blocking. Of course, her husband could provide time for such considerations as might be needed. Defining the passage of time in the underworld was one of his minor privileges.

   In the meantime, she presented everyone with proper saddle and tack for the steeds they had claimed – as well as some minor tokens of their visit. Rocan – at least to oblige Shinjo – was perfectly willing to send everyone, and their horses, back to the Empire without a fuss. Of course, Shinjo would also be expecting them to visit again in the future, while Rocan – according to custom – granted a gift as well: the dark sight of the underworld. At least for him, it was easier than lighting his palace properly anyway.

   Unfortunately, their arrival back with the Unicorn – after a mere hour – meant having to explain just what had happened, how several of the Samurai who’d been swept along with them had mysteriously vanished, where the hellsteeds had come from, just what they had been up to all along, and why they had dragged a bunch of children and noncombatants into Jigoku in the first place. Yes, they had trustworthy Unicorn Samurai witnesses as to that being the action of a dark and long-forgotten god – even if half of those witnesses were from beyond the borders of the empire – but explaining the reasons behind what was going on was decidedly awkward.

   It got more so when Najite decided to notify Amaterasu that Shinjo was doing just fine and had entrusted a couple of messages to Ninsei for her siblings since her other messages hadn’t been getting through. While the sun goddess normally made far more remarks about smiting people than actual smiting, this definitely drew her attention – enough so that she sent a minor manifestation to show up and scold Ninsei. Fortunately, Ninsei, Kochige, Najite, and the local Shugenja were able to throw up enough fire-containment, fire-extinguishing, and fire-protection spells to keep the area from being devastated, even if they did lose the council tent. Oddly enough, this was actually helpful; having Amaterasu show up to personally chew you out – and even acknowledge you as being closer family than most Samurai (well, the rest of the group had had their suspicions about Ninsei for quite awhile now: surviving being vaporized, being capable of splitting off a duplicate when infused with dark power, and having that much innate power, that young?) definitely lent some weight to your words.

   Come to think of it, they weren’t sure if they should they tell the Ki’Rin Elderthat they’d found Shinjo? He was sort of a living historical artifact – and the only thing keeping him going was looking for Shinjo to deliver his messages. Still, such a long life was not healthy for an old man.

   As a game-mastering note, this was the first major plot-sequence that no one ever really figured out – probably because it was too obscure: most of the players had listened to the Unicorn priest’s account of the clan history looking for clues to Shinjo’s current location. Since such clues were indeed present, nobody guessed that the account was also a set of directions for finding Shinjo by undertaking a dark mirror of her travels in Jigoku. Of course, I always make it possible to get through an adventure whether or not anyone figures out what’s actually going on, since you can’t really count on anyone else being able to match your thought processes – but getting through things on blind determination is always a lot harder for the characters than getting through when they know what route to take.

Legend of the Five Rings: Campaign Log Update

   The Unicorn could hardly refuse a visit from a celestial Kami, a city governor, and a Jade Magistrate with only two guards – but the court (such as it was in the tents of a temporary encampment) was more than a little tense. There also seemed to be far more Unicorn Samurai around than they would have thought likely – especially given the view from Kochige’s cloud-vision spell. Quite a few of them looked a little foreign as well. Hmm. Had anyone ever been sure that the Unicorn had actually dropped contact with all the groups they’d encountered – and intermarried with – while they were outside the Empire? They’d swung through the desert as far as Senpet, then down through the plains to the west, and through the Shadowlands.

   Just wonderful. If the Unicorn were calling on their allies and connections, they might have almost as many warriors as the rest of the Empire combined. Still, the Unicorn had been being sneered at for centuries: what had them so worked up now? And – at this point – was there anything that could be done about it?

   Najite got the brunt of this one. He was so good at lurking unseen that it didn’t take long for him to find out that the Unicorn believed that the Crane and Lion had united against them in the Imperial Courts – where the Unicorn had the most difficulty in operating – and that there was little choice left except all-out war. Apparently their belief was based on a document they’d captured from a messenger who’d defended it to the death – and which had been protected with some serious magic that they’d had a great deal of difficulty bypassing. All in all, enough to make sure that it was either genuine or a very subtle plant. Of course, if it was a Scorpion plant – and it apparently had put the Unicorn firmly in the Scorpion camp – subtlety was to be expected. Still no information about just what had been in it though.

   Unless it was being kept around here. In the Clan Champions trunks?

   There was a bit of silence when Najite casually wandered off, apparently strolled past the guards, then searched the Clan Champions tent under the noses of the watching samurai without being noticed, located and brought them the document in question – and then returned it just as casually after Kochige had a look at it. Just a courtier, oh yes.

   Hm… The document involved a secret agreement to manipulate the emperor into transferring the Unicorn’s clan status to the Fox – on the grounds of excessive gaijin contamination and blood – whereupon the Unicorn would be stripped of most of their privileges and broken up, while – at the same time – the Fox would be promoted to unwanted major clan status and stripped of the protections that the Emperor had granted the minor clans. According to the letter, the scheme was on the edge of success. It had apparently been sent from the Crane to the Lion.

   Confound it. That was actually all too plausible. The Crane and the Lion probably would have no objection to such a scheme, and might even be in on it no matter who had proposed it. Nothing obvious to mark it as a forgery, and nothing that they could easily counter.

   Kochige took a look at the physical document. Hm. The Ink was a typical Sparrow clan formula that was exported all over the Empire. Not uncommon, although the Crane typically used their own ink. The paper had tiny reddish particles of clay in it that had stained it in a slightly mottled pattern as it was drying; it had probably been made with river water, running through cultivated lands. The color was typical of the floodplains near the center of the empire, rather like the water he’d seen in the great central river. The depth to which the ink had penetrated the paper showed slow brushstrokes, but the skill was considerable: there was no reason to work so slowly unless you were taking great care – such as when imitating another hand, or at least concealing your own. Probably not a secretary, even if one would be trusted with such a document. Whoever it was had been right handed, and bent closely over the work judging from the length of the strokes. The ink had been dried with grains of sand – an unusual commodity in most places, to be found only near the beaches and great central river, and unlikely to be transported in quantity. Unfortunately, anyone might carry a vial in a writing kit. A hair stuck in the ink was from a samba deer; Samba calligraphy brushes were difficult to manage, but offered exceptional fine control in a skilled hand. They were exported by the Dragon and Phoenix clans, since the samba deer was found only in the northern mountains. The Crane rarely used such brushes, since they generally regarded their own brush craftmanship as superior. His analysis of the brush strokes (a science he had just invented with his investigation check of 124) indicated a furtive personality.

   Unfortunately, while that was enough to make most of the group reasonably sure that the letter was a forgery, none of it would exactly be definitive – or even readily explainable – to anyone else.

   Who could they get to vouch for Kochige that would get the Unicorn to accept his analysis and cancel their war?

   They considered trying to convince the senior Unicorn advisors and/or the priests. None of those seemed likely to succeed – and, even if they could convince them, there was no guarantee that the Clan Champion would listen. At this point they’d need some really spectacular backing to be sure that the Unicorn would cancel their war. It would be pretty hard to stop the gathering of the troops now, and the longer it took them to come up with something, the harder it would be. It might be too late already.

   Well, they could try downgrading the forgery, but – at this point – the Unicorn might not even look at it again anyway, much less look closely, and they would probably get suspicious if there were sudden obvious flaws.

   Wait: that ancient Ki’rin Diplomat had wanted to locate Shinjo – meaning that even the Unicorn didn’t know what had happened to her. If there was anything or that could convince the Unicorn to listen, it would be their founding Kami.

   OK, it was a ridiculous longshot, but there really didn’t seem to be anything else that was likely to work.

   Information first. Ninsei visited the priests to listen to the complete history of the clan. Kochige went to the Elders. Michio checked the City of Jewels – a good thing the Kami of Vacations was still willing to provide the occasional gateway – and Najite got in touch with the Tortoise: you never knew what might be in the Imperial Archives.

   According to the priests, Shinjo had refused to assume a persistent or stable human form (Hm. That would maintain her nature as a shapeshifting kami and avoid mortal aging). As a Kami of Motion and Freedom, she had been more than willing to explore outside of the Empire. Upon leaving the Empire the Ki’Rin had headed straight for Senpet, mingling with the people of the burning sands and the nomads of the steppes along the way – although they’d spent many years finding ways around or through the undead-infested mountains of the burning sands. The Ki’Rin had spent a relatively peaceful century (at least once they got used to being seen as a young and relatively uncivilized bunch) in Senpet after they’d settled some initial altercations at the City of Jewels. Shinjo had spent a great deal of that time talking with both the lesser priests of Senpet and the priests of madness – and then had gathered the Ki’Rin and departed (with a slight implication of the Ki’Rin having worn out their welcome a bit) on a grand sweep around the western half of the continent. Shinjo had ridden out about halfway though – in 442 – to deal with some mighty power of darkness, and had not returned – although her children eventually had. There were several, inconsistent, accounts of her final battle, as well as of an earlier appearance and disappearance – but most of them looked a bit like later embellishments woven around a disappearance that had never been explained.

   Shinjo’s children had been shapeshifters with a strong supernatural nature as well, and had given instruction and guidance on the remainder of the great trip. Along the way the Ki’Rin had encountered many friends and many foes – but, when they reached the borders of the Shadowlands, they were lured inside, instead of turning to the east and returning through or around the Naga Forest as they had been instructed. Their trip through the Shadowlands had been neither easy nor pleasant, and the people of the Empire had not exactly been welcoming.

   After that, the story was quite familiar.

   The Elders could locate almost exactly where Shinjo had been lost to them. They could confirm that she had been warm and friendly, fascinated with new things, and inclined to advise the clan that had gathered around her, rather than attempting to rule it. She had left most matters of humans to humans and – during and after the visit to Senpet – had restricted her interactions with the clan even more, advising them only when asked. She had sent regular messages home initially, but became erratic about it as time passed. Her children had remained with the Unicorn for some centuries without showing any signs of aging, and had displayed a variety of magical powers – both beneficent and destructive – during that time, but had eventually given into the wanderlust they had inherited from their mother and departed. Before then, they had fathered or borne many children, both human and equine, including the ancestors of the chief priests of the Unicorn. Such children had also shown innate magical powers, albeit relatively minor ones compared to those that their semi-divine parent had displayed. Those bloodlines still ran strong in the Unicorn clan.

   The old records of the City of Jewels recorded the arrival of the Unicorn, and some initial conflicts that were soon resolved. Apparently their relationship had been fairly good, and they had even coordinated occasional efforts against the fiery undead which lurked in the mountains of the burning sands. Shinjo had seemed somewhat disturbed by what the priests had told her – and apparently had not entirely approved of the priests of madness, since she had and forbidden any of the Ki’Rin to study their ways (although she made no attempt to actually interfere with their practices). Unfortunately, such records were fragmentary: the history of the City of Jewels had been turbulent, and much had been lost.

   The Imperial Archives recorded early messages from Shinjo – advising Hantei of what the Ki’Rin had encountered. Afterwards there were a few messages from the time she spent in Senpet, mostly advising her siblings to limit their involvement with humanity to advice and guidance instead of trying to rule them. Such messages had been ascribed to confusion resulting from too much Gaijin influence, and disregarded. Beyond that, there had been warnings that the eventual return of Fu Leng was inevitable, information derived from her continuing explorations – and then nothing.

   OK: it didn’t really look like her departure had been entirely involuntary – and her children had seemed to be fully supernatural, not mere human-spirit crossbreeds. There were hundreds of human-spirit crossbreeds scattered across the Empire – indeed, tens of thousands shared that heritage – and their abilities and limitations were pretty well understood. Shinjos children did not seem to fit the pattern. On more direct evidence, Ninsei and Kochige had noted some interesting things about the highest-ranking Unicorn priests: a segment of them seemed to be directly descended from Shinjo’s offspring – and still had a strong supernatural nature. THAT should have faded centuries ago.

   Well, that was a decent starting point, but nowhere near enough information to actually get anywhere. At this point, for all they knew, she could have just merged her essence with the entire clan; it would have allowed her to travel and explore in all directions at the same time.

   Next up: consult the Kami. Kochige was still busy attempting to figure out what was going on with the Unicorn priests, and Michio and Najite were attempting – with modest success – to divert the Unicorn and counteract the more militant types and the Scorpion Clan manipulations – so that left Ninsei free to be hurled into the heavens. That was useful on Michio’s end as well: it got him a good deal of attention, and made an excellent stalling maneuver.

   The guardian of the gates complained as usual, but didn’t make any real objections to Ninsei traipsing in and out of the Celestial Heavens yet again.

   Bayushi still didn’t approve of what the Scorpion were up to, and was still willing to talk to them – so he was first. Unfortunately, the Kami of Secrets didn’t actually know much this time around: Shinjo had never returned to the heavens, and had been out of contact for centuries. He believed that Amaterasu might know more – but she was pretty cranky on the subject of Shinjo; apparently she felt that the entire topic was something of an embarrassment. Most of the rest of the founding kami would like to hear from her again.

   As far as the Crystal Tomb was concerned, it had been intended as a gift; Shinjo was supposed to technically be a “Demon”, and so could not normally enter the celestial heavens; ergo, he’d arranged freedom of the cosmos, immunity to aging, considerable protection from injury and magic – and a backdoor to the celestial heavens – shortly before he’d departed Ninjen-Do himself. And yes, it had been a surprise – which might have been poorly judged, but she’d forgiven him for it eventually. Apparently over the centuries she’d learned enough that it was no longer necessary anyway.

   Hm. OK: off to the Jade Palace to speak with Amaterasu.

   The guards provided him with an annotated copy of “Subjects on which the Sun Goddess is quite touchy” – a volume of some 346 pages. If he wanted to talk about Shinjo, they recommended visiting Karrloth, the Fortune of Technology and Medicine (apparently a gaijin import) first for some extra protection from Fire and some healing supplies. Ninsei took that advice – and was very glad of it later.

   Amaterasu was pleased to have visitors, but every time she got annoyed over something, she started emitting streams of superheated plasma – and Shinjo seemed to be among the subjects that she found most provocative. She was also oddly willing to talk to – or at least at – him on a variety of topics. She ranted a bit about how Shinjo was a terrible, undutiful, embarrassment, how she had been refusing to accept her communications for centuries now, how they had never gotten along, and how a wide variety of human behaviors and historical events annoyed her. She vaporized the entire palace when he attempted a direct inquiry, sending Ninsei blazing back to Ninjen-Do near the Mantis Isles in a shower of tons of condensing jade. Ninsei gathered it up into a block and hauled it ashore with him; you could never have too much jade. The goddess of the sun seemed to consider him a very naughty child… It was a good thing that he’d had all his personal fire-protection magic up and hadn’t quite run out of Karrloth’s healing supplies though.

   Well, Najite was a courtier: they sent him up for another try at it. He had a hard time getting by the guardian, and did worse on the healing he needed – despite being far more durable than Ninsei – but managed to get a bit more information. It seemed that Shinjo had taken up with – or married – someone that Amaterasu thought was totally unsuitable. In fact, someone that was the polar opposite of a suitable match… He also got a directive before she blew up her (freshly rebuilt) palace again: “go to hell”. Wonderful. How he had the supreme powers of the cosmos gratuitously cross at him. With a temper like that it was no wonder that she had family problems.

   Back at the Unicorn encampment, Kochige had determined a few things about the priestly bloodlines. It looked like the power they’d inherited was a self-sustaining dipole of primordial dimensional energies – creation and destruction, void and shadow, light and darkness – which fed on each other. If you inherited the spark at all, it would rapidly build to its full power. Without the encumbrance of mortality that would have granted Shinjo’s children considerable power to break down and rebuild their forms as well as to simply create and destroy. Even with a physical body to dampen things it gave the priests a fair amount of power without any need of invoking other spirits.

   How it worked was simple enough – except for how it tended to be associated with the firstborn, although that made little difference – but how could it have happened to begin with? Shinjo would have contributed the power of creation – the power of Toshigoku, the Celestial Heavens – but who or what could possibly have been the father? It had to have been some primal power to contribute such a pure and terrible force of destruction. Some mighty gaijin deity perhaps? Shinjo was the most adventurous and venturesome of all the gods, she might have chosen or accepted such a consort. Of course, that would be yet another reason why the Unicorn might be touchy on the subject of “gaijin blood”.

   After they got back together there was a good deal of information sharing and a lot of discussion. Would running off with a gaijin god have upset Amaterasu that much? After all, she’d been in the habit of adopting gaijin into her clan – and at least it would have been a god of some sort. The rest of them had mostly married mortals; surely that was at least as unsuitable a pairing as a gaijin god. What could she be so vehemently against?

   Hm. Maybe there was something in pre-imperial theology? The problem was old enough that its roots might well predate the Empire. There were some tales of elder entities – and Kochige had been helping Shigure negotiate with the primal Lords of Destruction.

   Oh dear. It was a tremendous jump on very little solid information – but they were gambling incredibly anyway. It fit so well though… A rebellious young goddess. An entity as opposite to her mother as possible. A power of darkness and destruction. A born opponent of the creator gods – and a being who could offer the goddess of travel and exploration access to the other half of the cosmos. Rocan the Destroyer, the Black Sun of the Underworld. Lord of the night, cold, and death.

L5R: Slouching Towards Apocalypse

   Picking up from releasing Kochige and Shosuro from the Crystal Tomb beneath the Scorpion Clan Palace.

   Using the back door to get out of the catacombs beneath the Scorpion Clan Palace was easy enough – although it exited in a chamber that was popularly considered cursed. Apparently a trace of poison drifted up the secret stairway occasionally… Of course, anyone who emerged from the room unexpectedly was also considered cursed (and probably a Gaki) as well – certain to be carrying the deadly touch of Bayushi himself.

   On the other hand, considering the amount and variety of toxins which they seemed to have absorbed and be carrying on their skins, the “curse” idea was pretty easy to understand. If it wasn’t for their enhanced abilities (and extraordinarily high Earth rings), all of them would be dead already. As it stood, they were carrying enough toxins to kill a small army.

   They didn’t object when the castle staff rushed them out as quickly as they possibly could. They needed to spend the next few days – or perhaps a week or so – purging the toxins from their systems anyway. The mountains in the fringe of the scorpion lands would do; lots of pure spring water – and a long ways from anyone else they might imperil.

   Meanwhile, in Jigoku, Shigure was attempting to approach the Lords of Destruction. Unfortunately, Rocan, The Black Sun of the Underworld, seemed unapproachable at best and mad at worst. He didn’t even seem to notice Shigure’s presence, much less be carrying on a conversation with him. Maybe his quasi-divine attention was on a conversation with someone else? Useless anyway – despite all the work he’d done reaching the temple of dark pillars.

   The interview with Jinshin Uwo, the Lord of Earthquakes went a little better, despite his tendency to continue shaking the earth and forging horrific implements of destruction while he was talking – and despite his noting the link with Kochige and hauling him into the discussion. Was being casually entrusted with a dagger containing a single major earthquake sufficient to destroy Fu Leng’s palace – and a few clues as to how Kochige’s status as a nexus might be used to seal the Festering Pit – actually “support”, or was it just a whim? Still, he did seem to want the power of Jigoku returned to Jigoku.

   Maryukosou, the Mistress of Black Witchery, offered to teach him black magic, fed him a bunch of philosophy about the general unpleasantness and inherent unfairness of the cosmos, inflicted a talisman on him that temporarily turned him into a giant dinosaur (without telling him how to turn it on and off – not that he ever wanted it on again; the form was tough and strong, but it totally negated most of his skills), and gave him a bunch of zombie (replicas?) of the bodies she said he’d had in some of his past lives. Was this actually intended to be helpful? They seemed vaguely familiar yes, but that just made it even creepier!

   Animari, the Mouth of the Grave, complained about the people of the Empire burning their dead instead of burying them and properly invoking here to take them into her custody, told him some tales of the most evil man to ever live in Rokugan – Shoda, a “simple” peasant, who had filled his life with hatred, casual malevolence, and perfecting the art of subtly twisting the hearts of others. He had managed, out of sheer viciousness, to create a technique that allowed him to imprint both his evil and the technique, and thus both the ability and the desire to pass both on, on the village children. In the end, the malevolence of a single man had consumed the entire snake clan – a feat that few Oni had ever equaled. Shoda held a record that might never – and perhaps should never – be equaled: the fastest ascent to major demon status after his arrival in Jigoku in all history. Still, she was happy to accept his offering of those Zombies from Maryukosou – who were swallowed up into the earth – and was apparently willing to be invoked; she had not been properly invoked in a millennia.

   Were they so inhuman that this was the best they could do to relate to humans? Were they playing with him? Trying to upset him? Aware of so much more of the universe than a human was that they were basically incomprehensible? Simply crazy? It would have made more sense if they hadn’t even acknowledged his existence like Rocan. On the other hand, they were primordial powers. Were they indicating their support by simply being willing to speak to him?

   Come to think of it, most of the ones who’d actually spoken directly to him had given him something. Was gift-giving even normally in the nature of a Lord of Destruction? OK, he had been making gifts and offerings of his own (the steady flow of grave-offerings that his allies had arranged once they knew he was alive was actually coming in useful) and promising more, trying to deal with them with respect, promising to try to restore their position in the ancient religion of the Empire, pointing out that he was trying to restore the proper order of their realm, and otherwise doing his best to give them a reason to support him – but how much did that actually matter to things that thought in ages and who’s ultimate goal was the annihilation of the cosmos?

   Maybe they were just amusing themselves while waiting?

   Did he even want to TRY approaching the rest of them? Who was left? Hayashikoka the Destroying Flame, Mistress of Desolation and Destruction, Seiraku the Strangler, lord of Decay, Entropy, and Slime, Mirensei the Poisoner, Mistress of Venom, the Lady of Whispering Madness, Shiisosen the Devourer of Ancestors, master of senility and forgetfulness Arbiransei, Mistress of Destructive Storms and Spirit of Nothingness, and Anoq the Corruptor, the Master of the Abyss, the Unmaker.

   He was going to have to think about that a bit more. Several of those seemed a bit more oriented towards the destruction of life, rather than simply physical destruction.

   Back on Ningen-Do, with the poisons in their skins and systems purged down to a passable level, the group was ready for the next step: hopefully the rumors, the Traitor’s Grove mess, the sudden changes in the Champion, and the schism, would neutralize the build of the Scorpion Clan forces throughout the spring campaigns. With the Lion split (and apparently mostly focused on holding their position), the Crane on the defensive, the Dragon and the Phoenix diverted by damage from the Demon Winter and troubles with the Yodatai and the Yobanjin, the Mantis being both very new to great clan status and primarily a sea power (very nice, but kind of ineffective in an inland war), all they needed to do was convince the Crab to stay on the defensive and the Unicorn to behave and they’d have the entire empire in a standoff – almost as good as peace when the point was to get everyone ready to face the armies of the Shadowlands.

   So, it was off to the Crab territories, where the Crab – apparently in the belief that the rest of the Empire was falling to subversion, maho cults, and treachery because the other clans hadn’t even been able to manage their internal security, much less defend the wall – were inching towards the idea of a death-or-glory strike against – well – pretty much everybody else. After all, if the center of the empire had fallen to treachery, their long defense had been in vain. They were even making sure that the peasantry was all armed and at least somewhat trained; if the Empire was coming apart at the scenes, next years harvest was irrelevant. There were some plans to get the noncombatants out – but, as might be expected, they were something of an afterthought.

   Maybe there was just something that had gotten a little bit off-kilter in a philosophy of life that saw “Everybody Dies!” as a good ending?

   Well, if they could just manage to hold that off for a few months, there would be other things for the Crab to worry about. It wasn’t an entirely invalid worry, so they couldn’t just try to prove it wrong or oppose rumor with rumor – but if they could reduce other worries a bit, maybe they could delay things for awhile, which might be good enough. So; the usual worries for the Crab were food, military supplies, taint, reinforcements, jade, and the integrity of the wall. They were being harassed by goblin raiders, a magical attack group which kept using firebolts to blow holes in the wall to let the goblins in (now who could that be, hmm?), infiltrators, and maho cultists.

   Well, food, military supplies, and jade they could manage. They could try to deflate the rumors a bit – hopefully down to a realistic assessment – even if they couldn’t outright deny them. There were already reinforcements from the Crane on hand, if the Crab could only be persuaded to fully trust them, they could try to patch some holes in the wall – or at least try to dissuade the enemy from making so many. Infiltrators and Maho Cultists were a constant problem, but that had been true for centuries.

   Well, they should be able to rachet down the urgency level. Okari went to work on supplies, Najite on rumors, Kochige (with the Nezumi) on the goblins and the wall, Michio on the more dangerous commanders, and Ninsei on goblin encampments. Of course, that left Tobei and Hazuki to run Toshi Ranbo, Shosuro wandering around on her own (she could certainly take care of herself, but who knew what she’d get up to?), Shigure still trying to raise a rebellion in Hell, Alex warping space and time to arrange favors for himself, the Demon Ninja Cats trying to become part of the Imperial Household, the Asura raiding the Shadowlands, the Devas hunting for Rakasha, a small army of assassins and Shigure’s Yodatai “cousins” in Toshi Ranbo, Kochige’s son and his Madness Tattoos, Ninsei’s spirit-bonded siblings, and the Imperial Princesses. Who knew what they might get up to?

   And those was just the sources of chaos which were nominally on their side. At least they could probably count several of the Nightmares, “Evil” Ninsei, the Yobanjin, and a variety of others in the “Neutral” column.

   That notion got a little more reinforcement after an encounter or two with the Goblins: it seemed that some of them were being used as messengers on the side – and Evil Ninsei wanted some information. He wanted to know what Shigure was up to in Jigoku – and was willing to trade a bit of pulling back on the attacks in exchange for a little information. Well, if Fu Leng had wanted Evil Ninsei to know, he could presumably have told him – so giving out that information was presumably not to Fu Lengs advantage. Ergo, no reason not to do so. One deal there.

   The Goblins mostly just wanted to hide. Oddly enough, that opened up a possibility. OK, they were tainted little monsters – but if they helped the Goblins hide, there wouldn’t be any swarm of disposable troops for Fu Leng to swamp the defenses with – and without Fu Leng or some other competent leader behind them, the Goblins wouldn’t be much of a menace. There was plenty of space towards the ends of the wall – but explaining that they’d intentionally let Goblins into the Empire would be pretty close to impossible. It would be best if no one ever knew – so Kochige kept the arrangements between himself and Ninsei as much as possible.

   Meanwhile, even with the Nezumi to help with the scouting, Michio was finding it difficult: there just seemed to be no end of reasonably competent subcommanders, even if none of them were good enough in a fight to make it interesting. There wasn’t any progress – and it seemed like there should be more important things to be doing.

   They decided that it would be best to settle for what they had – which should be at least a month or twos delay in the Crab rush towards apocalypse – and to get out before they had to answer too many questions.

   That left the Unicorn – and the armies were already gathering. It would be a couple of weeks before they were ready to march, but time was getting very short.

Federation-Apocalypse Session 47: Alliances

   With Director Myagi and Dr Samson considering what they’d been told – and as to whether they really wanted to try a quick tour of a multiverse they didn’t quite believe in – Kevin went to check on the military liaison guy who’d been directing the truck loading . The man had been badly injured, although enough patching to ensure his survival had been easy – but there was just something about the whole situation that didn’t seem right. Director Myagi said that the man was “Captain Jason MacArthur”, and that he was a member of the military’s civilian liaison group. He had served in one of the wars overseas – although the Director was quite unable to remember which. Hmm. A Coca-Cola truck and an FBI director who wasn’t sure of the basic details of a liaison officers identity? Another visitor stirring the pot?

   The local medics were preparing to send him to the hospital for examination. Kevin didn’t know the man, so he just patched him up the rest of the way, kept receptive telepathy going, and went with the basic concussion-check questions; name, year, number of fingers being held up, and so on.

   One thing was sure, the man didn’t want to be sent to the hospital.

“I am Captain MacArthur son, and I thank you for helping us back there. Let me say that such fine service will not go unnoticed. As for the year, well it is 2238 I believe unless I hit my head a little hard back there”.

   Hm. Hiding something, had to think about the date, and a bit of malice in his thoughts. At least two groups in play, since it didn’t seem likely that his own side had shot him up. He didn’t seem to be entirely on the locals side either, but he wasn’t apparently against them either. Some other group trying to twist things here to their advantage? Taking the rising chaos as an opportunity? Just a representative of the local meme players? Still, then there’d be no reason for him to have to think about the date.

   They decided to just haul him along. They should be able to handle him alone. It was easy enough to finish healing him and point out to the ambulance guys that he was basically uninjured and that they had lots of more urgent cases.

   The paramedics did a quick double take, saw that that was correct, and promptly moved on to the more urgent cases.

   Kevin promptly rushed the “good” Captain off to the conference before he had a chance to get his bearings. After all, he was just coming out of a pain of haze and shock – despite his protests about having to supervise the loading of the truck. After all, the place was going to be on lockdown for a bit.

   There were more protests, feelings of annoyance, and a general wondering about who Kevin and Marty were.

   Well, it would be a quick test for localness: if he DIDN’T pitch a fit when dragged into the New Imperium, he was not a local. Dr Samson and Director Myagi were both more or less ready – or at least believed they were – so they promptly gated to Corusant in the New Imperium. As expected, Samson and Myagi were shocked and amazed. MacArthur registered a momentary sensation of shock and recognition as he exited the gate, gave them all a hard look for a moment, and settled down to taking stock of his location and who else was along. Definitely no fit though – and he hadn’t even had a preparatory lecture.

“So: for those of you who are unfamiliar with the setting, this is Corusant, capital of the New Imperium – a realm derived from a series of late 20’th century and early 21’st century entertainment productions. Oddly enough, the real population is considerably below the real population of your world – although there are lots of phantasms to fill out the background details”.

“Phantasms?”

“A sort of a cross between AI’s, Illusions, and Automations: people with genuine free will require souls – and that’s the one thing that cannot simply be imagined into being by an author, dreamer, or director.

“If you don’t have a soul, you’re a slave to the plot of a realm. Like my laptop here.”

“Basically, while the number of souls in the multiverse increases steadily, the number of worlds in the multiverse increases far more quickly. Now then, Mr MacArthur: where are you actually from? You recognized the gateway, and I believe you know what I am”.

“It appears the jig is up eh? Ah well, suffice it to say I am from Earth, just not their Earth”.

“What’s yours like?”

   MacArthur was considering lying – but looked at Kevin and decided that it might not be the best course for the moment.

“My world was destroyed by these meme weapons many years ago. That and by those who took it upon themselves to destroy everything rather than live under the memes”.

   It rapidly became apparent that he was another refugee from Singular. He didn’t approve of the Praetorians either:

“Oh god, those damnable things? They made the situation worse in my opinion. Refused to follow orders and placed a little too much value in protecting the infected instead of quarantine and elimination. They make those combat cyborgs we faced look like child’s play. At least those primitive things can be brought down with hand weapons”.

“That would be Singular or a very similar world then: we evacuated the lunar colony survivors from there a little while back”.

   That brought up emotions of revulsion and derision. Hm. MacArthur – Singular – hadn’t he been a political figure of some sort?

“Now, Director Myagi? Dr Samson? This is one of the primary complications of dimensional travel: when people arrive in a world, they often are fitted into roles in the local reality. MacArthur here is in fact a visitor to your world, but he also has a local history, because universes tend towards internal consistency”.

“So you are saying he is like you, from another world then? That means almost anyone could be an accomplice then. Background checks aren’t going to cut it either”.

“Unfortunately true: that’s one reason why I told you that you might not want to know. The only place where both history and natural law is reliable is the core universe – which is the one thing that makes it unique”.

   It seemed that MacArthur had escaped by using a technological dimensional portal generator – a military R&D toy. Well, that was possible with a limited subset of universes. Some allowed technological transitions, some magical, some psychic – and they all, even the Core, allow direct reality manipulation. (The group provided more exposition as a courtesy for Myagi and Samson).

   The closest portal was to Crusader. That would do nicely.

   Crusader was once again in the midst of a superbattle. It was business as usual. Much of the city had been wrecked.

   There was more exposition. Game universe, resets of buildings and such, easy travel, few “hard” natural laws, and bystanders virtually never came to harm no matter how destructive the battles got.

   Of course, Crusader put them back on the grid – and they could check the Singular databases on MacArthur: Primary match, President Jason MacArthur. Last President of the United States before being disposed/made irrelevant by the spiraling chaos. Was elected based on doctrines of eliminating the “enemy” and being rather liberal in what he would declare the enemy. A Praetorian coup brought down his regime after they were ordered to use lethal force on infected civilian populations. Afterwards he went into hiding in the Rocky Mountains and ran an insurgency against the Praetorians using military elements still loyal to him.

   Definitely someone they needed to watch, at least if this was the same fellow. It did fit in with him having access to experimental military toys though. He might have been acting in a limited sort of best-interests-of-his-adopted-realm way: he probably had no way of leaving. Of course, he’d probably also want to regain a serious power-position.

   Next up: Core Earth. The only truly stable universe, and the only one where newborns ALWAYS had souls: those born elsewhere might or might not, depending on whether someone who’d died in the core reincarnated in them or whether they had a person with a soul for a parent – and the longer a soul is away from core, the more fertility decreases. Somehow the Linear Realms had received a truly massive infusion of souls a few centuries ago – so that now virtually everyone in that world actually existed. That apparently correlated with a massive series of deaths the arcology environments some centuries back. The details were mostly suppressed at the time – but it seemed to have involved some sort of massive terrorist incident with no apparent motive.

   The bit about souls brought a moment of shock to MacArthur.

   Hm… It looked like MacArthur simply disliked anyone with enhanced abilities that he did not possess, as well as anyone who outdid him at anything, interfered with his desires, or could not simply be shouted down if they ventured to disagree. He had a strong “anti-metahuman” bias, and tended to see them as tools and weapons; those which did not obey were like dogs biting their owners. He had a casual disregard for human life if it got in the way of what he believed to be the best course of action in a situation. The old “burn the village and everyone in it to keep the infection from spreading”. He felt justified in his actions due to his position and authority. The power and perks mattered a lot too him though; he wasn’t one to say “screw it!” and push the button. On the other hand, that wasn’t much of a redeeming factor, especially when his motive was purely selfish. Probably a sociopath. He could be working for an enemy, but no one with any sense would trust him very far as an agent anyway. Definitely one to keep an eye on.

   Mr Myagi still wanted to see Core, but Dr Samson was going into reality shock. It was time for drinks all around. Myagi settled for a virtual tour: it was quicker anyway.

   There really wasn’t any way to object to a plan like “save the worlds”. The Linear Realms would need some support (better weapons, defenses, and computer systems) in getting started though – and he was a bit startled to find that “payment” for aid in mutual defense didn’t really come into core thinking. Of course, he wasn’t used to the idea of near-limitless physical resources – or of most knowledge being regarded as the heritage of the entire race.

   The trouble was, publicly challenging the presumptions on which a world was based could be very destabilizing; that was why such information was not generally revealed – at least not by responsible people – unless things were getting very bad already. The people who’d been drawn to a particular world were entitled to have the world they’d chosen as long as that was possible.

   While Mr Myagi, Dr Samson, and MacArthur digested all of that and considered what they had in the way of suspects to interrogate, exchanges to set up, and people to track down, Kevin set them up with an introduction to the Federated Americas – and took a call from the Military. Well, that had been inevitable as soon as he stuck his nose into Core again.

   Marty took the opportunity to check on his businesses.

   The ad agency had found the samples of Core-style advertising rather uninspiring – but if that was what was wanted, they’d come up with some samples along those lines.

   The samples looked more likely to get a reaction in Core; there was still a hint of “swimsuit beer commercial”, but it was considerably more in line with the target audience.

   Marty hired them. Even in Core attractive smiling people presenting your points and subtly associating success and wealth with them never hurt. Core had gone over-factual in a lot of ways; it was all the computers.

   The advertising people weren’t entirely happy – it seemed a bit like making soviet propaganda without the propaganda – but a “just the facts” approach was certainly easy enough to take.

   Marty elected to start the campaign with Europe and the Americas, since that was where the main Core offices were. He sent along some sample ads from Baelaria, Faerun, and some of the other areas as well; might as well discuss advertising in the Manifold as well during the next meeting.

   Business in core was picking up slowly but surely; the biggest requests were for transit and spells of various types. The local offices were looking for a more powerful mage they could subcontract out to: most of the requests were for minor stuff, there were also quite a few requests for stuff of up to the sixth level – mostly from people who didn’t understand how difficult the stuff they were requesting was – and occasional requests for levels eight and up, including one businessman (apparently wanting a leg up on the competition) who’d wanted a twelfth level effect a few weeks back. He didn’t go into specifics on what it was for; he’d merely provided details and the school, level and components and asked if they could pull it off. When told no, he’d simply thanked them, gathered his stuff and left.

   The Thralls – or at least the ones with the right talents – could manage the occasional L4-5 effect, but for anything beyond that they’d have to go to Crusader, where a good local ID could handle up to L4 routinely and up to L7 occasionally. Beyond that, you needed some really serious power. At least most of the customer’s weren’t expecting that sort of thing in Core. Ergo, time for an expansion office in Crusader, with some specialists in magical services. There’d be the occasional superbattle, but that was to be expected. There were enough Thralls available right away, so that shouldn’t take more than a few hours.

   Hm. Metropolis would be best. Relatively quiet, shared many characteristics with New York, and a strong superhero presence. Easy to rent office space near the financial district. There was a strong service demand for transport to other realms, information, and tracking services in Crusader anyway.

   Maybe he should wake up some laptops to create general mayhem.

   Meanwhile, the Military was pestering Kevin. They wanted to know how he got those abilities, whether or not anyone else was likely to have similar powers, and just what the upper limit was. They were extremely worried about the ability of Manifolders to come into core, wreak massive devastation, and escape, leaving Core with little ability to deter or strike back at them. Most of the previous “loose cannons” seemed to have limits…

   Well, he wasn’t going into detail – but you had to be an Opener to start with, to have the power to share. Then you had to be accidently infused with a tremendous amount of darkness magic. Only darkness magic could create the soulbond necessary to share an Opener’s power with someone else – and it was impossible to infuse a resisting Opener, since it would just create a local Identity instead, while voluntarily seeking out dark power was incompatible with the mindset necessary to share it. Creating the Soulbond called for voluntary recruits, since any resistance would block the formation of the bond at the level required. To share an Openers power required a complete explanation, a willingness to accept that your recruits would eventually go free complete with the powers you’d given them, and decent treatment – since giving someone the power to mold reality and then making them consistently unhappy was a guarantee of disaster. Given that there were only about 1200 Openers to start with, he thought the odds of his being unique were pretty good.

   The upper limit on the number of recruits he could support was still unknown (if there was one), but was probably supported more his recruits end than from his. HIS upper limits were basically normal Core-level psionics (basic witchcraft), low- to mid-level magic, and the usual powers of an Opener. Ryan had said something about “being a god”, but there were dozens of “gods” over in Crusader; it was just another origin story. Presumably Ryan could have moved the planet on his own: it just might have turned it inside out or something without enough gatekeepers to manage the fine control.

   Openers were foci for the power of the race, they didn’t generate it themselves.

   Now, if they wanted to influence the Manifold – well, Core ultimately controlled a lot of it, and had more people than any other realm by a hundred to one. They just needed to get more of them trained to use the power of the manifold, and then none of the realms would be able to attack them. Even now, relying on nothing more than random volunteers with no real manifold training program at all, they weren’t doing badly. It was time to graduate: if humans really needed constant computer supervision after childhood, they were all out of luck. If they could be brought up to function sensibly, and to be trusted with power, then Core had the population to try it with.

L5R Campaign Log Update:

   Here’s the next segment of the Legend of the Five Rings campaign log, picking up form the groups late-winter return from the Ivory Kingdoms, with only a few weeks to go until the campaign season begins – with Fu Leng fomenting  an interclan war to weaken Rokugan for his own conquest.

   The most urgent thing now seemed to be the Scorpion Clan Champion. He was still holding quite a lot of the Scorpion Clan together, as well as maintaining their alliance with the Unicorn – and with the Lion Clan sitting on the fence, the Dragon (and, to some extent, the Phoenix) crippled by the Demon Winter, the Crab needed on the Wall, that would leave most of the burden of the defense to the Crane, the Mantis, and the Minor Clans. A relatively even balance of power was too much to concede to a group that – whether they knew it or not – was destabilizing the Empire in the face of the rise of Fu Leng.

   Fortunately, they could still attend the court. Michio was a Scorpion clansman, and still had an invitation, as well as some friends in the Scorpion Clan Palace. Besides, he was an official Kami – even if he was the “Kami of Sumo Throwing” – and thereby could justify bringing an escort.

   They set to work gathering some presents – reluctantly deciding against throwing in a set of jade weapons, but including a few minor (but impressive-looking) enchantments, such as a mask that produced small flames when the wearer exhaled, along with plenty of secondary stuff.

   They spent some time talking to their escort while crossing the Scorpion clan territories: it looked like the hidden doubts went deeper than they’d thought – and the clan champion had deployed most of the more doubtful troops to guard positions as distant from the palace, and each other, as he could. For them, that was pretty hopeful: the schism between the clan champion and the senior ambassador was actually getting some results.

   Entering the palace still called for a succession of guides, an absurdly twisted approach, and lots of warnings – but this time around they were sure of it: most the rigamarole about the maze of traps was a complete fraud – and so were most of the ones in the palace corridors. There would be a few real ones of course, but if the palace and gardens had really been THAT full of traps, the servants wouldn’t last a day.

   The plan – to spread rumors about how the Clan Champion was in the service of Fu Leng – and, if possible, draining the Taint from the Champion. Even if he couldn’t be returned to sanity while he was attuned to the bloodsword Ambition, that should at least weaken him. Spreading rumors turned out to be easy enough – Najite’s Demon Mirage was pretty much made for it – but getting Okari close enough to the clan champion to try to remove some of his Taint was considerably harder. After several failed attempts, Michio tried an exhibition of kite-flying (including – thanks to some prankish illusions – escaping his “mother and prospective bride” by riding away on it) and finally got Okari close enough – which merely got him flattened. Apparently the scorpion clan champion was a living gateway to Jigoku. And trying to drain him of taint was pretty well useless. He hadn’t even noticed the attempt. They spent some time passing information to the Crab ambassador, negotiating, spreading rumors, exchanging gifts, and engaging in minor competitions while Okari recovered, Michio got back to the palace, and they figured out what had gone wrong.

   After a good deal of study and divination (most of which didn’t work at all; the entire palace seemed to be infused with counter-divination shadow magic) they reached the conclusion that – when the Scorpion Clan Champion had foolishly given into temptation and used his touch-reading talent on a Black Scroll, he’s become the scroll – an open gateway to Jigoku, and a channel for the power of Fu Leng. That might not be invincibility, but it would give him enormous power – and make it pretty much impossible to remove his taint. After all, you weren’t trying to drain him, you were trying to drain Jigoku. It wasn’t going to work unless they could seal the gateway.

   Well, Najite had some relevant magics – or at least Eyes-Of-Fire (whatever IT was) could channel some through him, and Kochige should be able to hold the gateway sealed for a time. If Kochige could hold it closed and Okari could drain off the taint, then Najite should be able to seal it closed, at least for awhile. They sent out Najite and Kochige on the astral plane to handle the gate while Okari got in position for another try – and Michio and Ninsei went off to provide the diversion; Michio throwing Ninsei into the heavens (or at least a very very long ways away) again. This worked – although Kochige and Najite nearly got pullted through the gate and the Scorpion Clan Champion seemed to have been consumed by Ambition instead of Taint (which the bloodsword masked anyway), so it made no obvious difference. At least the rumors Najite had been busy planting were spreading nicely.

   Michio spent some time trying to argue the local priests out of adding a shrine for him to the local collection, but without much luck; the argument that – when a Celestial Kami (however minor, specialized, or silly) visited in person, a shrine was more or less required – was pretty much irrefutable.

   Unfortunately, while Najite and Ninsei made it back safely, Kochige had given into the impulse to investigate the source of that darkness magic that infused the palace – and had gotten stuck in some sort of magical crystal. There was someone else already there too. Hadn’t Shigure once mentioned some sort of warning of this long ago? Something about a crystal tomb of darkness it had been. This was bad though; he couldn’t leave, he couldn’t do much to affect Ningen-Do at all, and he could barely see anything with divination: all the darkness magic was blocking him. The other planes seemed to be open to him though – but that was nothing new.

   And apparently he was keeping Shosuro company at the moment.

   Back at the palace proper, Kochige’s body was still comatose – and all their spells weren’t doing a bit of good. Ninsei had managed to use the Recondite Weave to link with Kochige – but there wasn’t much he could do with that kind of link except send things, and a fireball to the head was rarely really helpful in recalling lost spirits.

   They eventually figured out how to send Kochiges body to his spirit, since trying to pull his spirit out of wherever it was stuck didn’t seem to be working; all they had to do was reinforce the link and let Michio use his authority over Sumo Throwing to throw his body along said link.

   Within the Crystal Tomb, that made things a lot more crowded. It also gave the rest of the group a bit of a clue: somewhere deep beneath the Scorpion Clan Palace.

   Michio knew all about that: the deep foundations had been sealed by Bayushi himself, it was said that a terrible curse awaited anyone who trespassed there, that a swift death would be the best that could be hoped for if you undertook such a venture, and that generations of the Scorpion clans most inventive trapmakers had added to the defenses. Such a venture could only result in certain doom!

   Funny, that sounded like every other job they ever wound up with. They applied to the Scorpion Clan Champion for permission to make such a venture. Either the Champion wasn’t as blinded by his ambitions as they’d assumed or he had something else in mind, but he granted permission without argument and sent one of the servants to guide them down. They sent the kid back after he’d shown them the entrance to the lower levels; he was obviously terrified.

   Meanwhile, Kochige was taking advantage of the properties of the Crystal Tomb to do a little dimensional touring: in fact, it was about the most self-contradictory “prison” he’d ever seen. It kept you from manifesting on Ningen-Do, and limited what you could see within a fair radius of itself – but it seemed to offer protection form aging, time, physical necessities, and physical injury along with free access to pretty much every other dimension of Rokugan and even to many other realms entirely. He could check up on how his other self was going in that “Boston” place, and on how the conflict there was going.

   It wasn’t so well. He manifested physically, instead of through his other self this time – which he soon deduced meant that he was dead. A visit to the institute (picking up a good take-out meal along the way) revealed that their magical research was coming along nicely, even if they did keep calling things “psychic powers”, that the war was going poorly, and that they could use his help: he taught some more classes and helped them out with their scrying; the students were talented, but their “magical traditions” were less than a year old, and they didn’t know any of the really good tricks yet.

   It looked like virtually everyone over on the great eastern continent was dead: some sort of horrific power was rising. Several dark and destructive gods or demons. One managed to infect him with several horrific diseases across the astral link, but there was enough help available to deal with that.

   Kochige resolved to drop in for a longer visit sometime if he could. It was a very interesting place and he’d really like to explore it at leisure sometime. Still, he had to get back and do his best to keep an eye on his friends. He couldn’t do much to help them, but there was ALWAYS something you could do if you were clever.

   Meanwhile, down in the bargain basement of traps, simply opening the door had involved two different poisons, scything blades, a collapsing archway, two pits full of spikes with false floors over them, another more blatant trap designed to make you leap into them, a modest holocaust of flame (giving off toxic smoke), and a rolling stone wheel that weighed about twenty tons. This was going to be something of a workout. No wonder the place had a bad reputation and had to rely on magic to reset everything. It wasn’t like you could send in a maintenance crew.

   After working their way through two more sublevels filled with the most absurdly lethal traps that they’d ever seen, they finally emerged in a huge cavern containing a small forest of plants that were growing in the dark radiance of the shadow crystal – and were all virulently poisonous thereby. The very air was toxic, and the darkness virtually blocked communication with the local Kami. Simply brushing against a leaf could easily result in death. There were still more traps scattered about too (as well as a back entrance, which was occasionally used by the Scorpion to harvest their most lethal toxins). And a gorge to cross. And a corrosive toxic lake with unsteady – and occasionally trapped – rocks to pick their way across. And a final leap into impenetrable darkness to take on faith.

   What maniac had set all of this up? It was like something out of a fairy tale! Complete the three impossible tasks, pass the traps of the dark spirit, and claim your prize at the center of the hidden enchanted lake.

   Wait. This wasn’t like something out of a fairy tale. This was the prototype for them. Set up and sealed by Bayushi, the master of traps, to conceal some sort of… spirit trap. Either forever or until some destined here should do the impossible and break the eternal containment. Hadn’t Shosuro warned Shigure of some sort of choice that they might have to make if they ever encountered the crystal tomb? She had vanished so long ago – and there was always a “princess” at the core of these things.

   Even if they reached it, should they break Kochige free? It was almost certain that that would release Shosuro. Did they want that? No one even really knew what she was.

   Ninsei had his suspicions about that. Shosuro; vastly powerful, mistress of several different unique schools, used a sword which she acknowledged was an inseparable aspect of herself, returned no matter how sure you were that she’d been killed (sometimes looking different), born of something older than the Empire (and probably older than the Empire herself), but apparently basically human, always dressed in black, adventurous, still fully herself no matter which realm she showed up in, but only showed up in one at a time, impatient and arrogant as hell around normal people. Now what did that sound like? Like several of the people they’d been traveling with recently?

   And they knew that the history of the Ivory Kingdoms went back for thousands of years before the founding of the Empire. Just like the history of the Naga, the Nezumi, the Ogres, and several other groups. Would it really be surprising if an Asura had made it to the wilderness that would become the Empire?

   Shosuro had been one of the Seven Thunders. It was in part because of her that the Empire existed at all.

   They shattered the Crystal Tomb – but kept some of the shards: they might come in useful.

Murders Mysterious

   Since the Legend of the Five Rings characters are currently trying to pin down the assassination crew that’s been wreaking havoc with Crab preparedness for the upcoming Second Day of Thunder, here’s a quick summary of their current investigations. If there are any additional questions, tests anyone wants to make, or other elaborations, either ask here or during the game. The characters usually get to spend more time on such things than the players do and have firsthand access to the evidence, rather than game master descriptions.

   To summarize the current murder mysteries, the basic pattern of all the assassinations investigated so far includes:

  1. They are all carried out well behind the great carpenter wall, while the targets are off-duty – and presumably off-guard – at home.
  2. In each case, there has been a complete household massacre, including family, servants, guards, visitors, and pets.
  3. A dismissal spell – chasing off the local Kami – has been performed at each location so far.

   Since the investigation was proceeding in reverse chronological order, here are the results of the first three.

Case One:

  • Location: a lightly-fortified (fairly typical for Crab holdings) manor house, consisting of a primary compound with several detached buildings, including a kitchen beside the main house, the servants quarters, four guardposts at the corners, and a selection of other minor structures.
  • Time: Three days ago.
  • Interference with the scene: the local villagers responded to put out the fire fairly rapidly, although they hesitated briefly about forcing the gates of the compound. They did so after there were no responses to their calls. The local Eta were called on to remove and burn the bodies before they rose as undead. Information from speaking with them has been included in the summaries below.
  • Servants quarters: Most of the guards and almost all the servants were found here. They were apparently trapped inside while – judging from the completeness and apparent speed – some sort of flame spell was applied to the building. Several bodies, including several of the guards were found near the door, apparently attempting to escape. Another three were found towards the left rear of the building, where they had apparently been attempting to knock a hole in the wall. The escape door – a fairly standard feature of Crab architecture – had apparently been jammed close with pieces of wood, partially-burned fragments of which were found at the scene. One child’s body was found on the left frontal side of the building, severely burned and partially crushed by falling material from the roof.
  • Main House: The bodies of two guards were found by the entrance to the master bedroom. Both were reportedly killed by swordthrusts, although at least one – from Kochige’s analysis of the remaining bloodstains – remained standing still while he bled to death. Given that there was no damage to the area, nor signs of an attempt to give an alarm a spellcaster with some form of paralytic and/or paralyzing magic seems likely. The husband and wife were both found in their chambers: the husband was reportedly killed by a single knife or sword-thrust to the chest, with no signs of resistance. The wife was found next to the bed, and had apparently attempted to protect herself with some of the bedding. She had several slash-wounds on her hands and forearms, but died from a swordthrust through the abdomen and partial disembowelment. A bloodied shortsword was found against the wall near the bed, but appears to have been one of the family weapons. An older boy was found in the hallway to the childrens chambers, dead of a knife or sword thrust to the heart. A young girl was found in one of the childrens rooms, dead of a knife blow to the stomach. The corpses of two cats and a dog were found with her, all dead of sword wounds.
  • Anomalies: Apparently no guards were posted in the watchtowers. This may, however, simply be because the family had relatively few guards.

Case Two:

  • Location: A small holding, in one of the villages surrounding one of the Crab staging areas. In particular, the dining hall.
  • Time: Five days ago.
  • Interference with the scene: There was an initial investigation by the local magistrate once the massacre was discovered, after which the Eta took away the bodies and removed the perishable food items from the table. There has been some basic tidying up around most of the house, but no one has disturbed the dining room yet; rumors are already spreading that the place is haunted.
  • This particular massacre was carried out during dinner; the local lordling was apparently in the habit of hosting periodic household meals – even the servants served, and then ate at another table – which the attackers apparently saw as a perfect opportunity. Virtually all of the diners had their throats slit. It was considered obvious that most of the victims were paralyzed at the time; the investigators noted that many of the victims bled to death smiling, holding cups, or otherwise eating. (The Eta found this particularly disturbing, but who pays attention to them?). While it looked rather like someone simply ran up the table with knives outstretched, there was no damage to the table – or much in the way of disturbed dishes – to support the theory. There were a few atypical deaths: one individual (a samurai) took a knife wound to the shoulder before having his throat slit, two servants apparently attempted to flee and were knifed from behind before having their throats slit, one youngster had a stab wound to the side as well as having his throat slit, and one young woman was nailed to the wall with a short spear. Her throat was slit as well, but she was obviously already dead at the time. The Spear used on the young woman was left in place, but showed no particular distinguishing marks.

Case Three:

  • Location: A local administrators house in one of the crab towns.
  • Time: Eight days ago.
  • Interference with the scene: Thanks to the Maho involvement, a Witch Hunter was called in, and ran his own investigation. Afterwards, of course, the bodies were properly disposed of by the local Eta.
  • Most of the victims were killed with knife or sword thrusts to the heart. The total included eight servants, three guards, the husband and wife, and their four children, two of whom died in their rooms and one of whom was found with her parents. For the most part, there were no signs of resistance. The exception was one son who was approaching Gempukku; he was killed by a maho spell which apparently summoned some sort of spiderlike monster – mostly made of blood – to explode out of his chest. His opponent – the household cook – was found dead as well, with a severe stab wound to the side and massive blood loss from apparently-spontaneous wounds on her arms – a blatant sign of maho use. The fact that she was tainted, carrying corrupted jade, and had more corrupted jade hidden in her room, made it an open-and-shut case. The cook had obviously used her position of trust, and maho, to begin eliminating the family; the boy had been lucky enough to resist somehow, and had wounded the witch sufficiently badly that – in the excitement of combat – she accidently drained herself to death casting the spell that killed the boy. Case closed, house cleansed, and a general inspection of servants ordered.
  • The groups followup investigation was a little more puzzling. The cook had moved away from the wall a few years ago after being badly mauled by an Oni that attacked her village. The local reports on her indicated that she was a bit shrewish, short-tempered, and unpleasant, but that everyone in the markets had been quite surprised to hear that she was tainted. One merchant had even made quite a few advances and proposals, but had always been soundly rebuffed. She’d had some nasty scars on one arm, but had otherwise been quite pretty – which clashed a bit with the report of her injuries from her original village (which indicated some massive scarring of the face, torso, and left arm), but there wasn’t anything else out of order, and some people did just heal well over time.

Legend of the Five Rings: Log Update

   The L5R Log update is way behind. Oh well. This segment is continuing the log for Sessions 82-93: The Deva’s Tale, Within the Catacombs. The Crypt of the Rakasha, Secrets of the Darkness, The Bang of Gandits, The Volcano of the Ancestors, The Circles of the Damned, The Bargain Basement of Traps, The Gardens of Death, Lords of Darkness, Final Visits, and The Shinjo Files.

   Given that the characters are now closing in on 900 experience points and probably a couple of hundred more in special-advantage acquisitions, I’m no longer going to bother listing that sort of thing unless it strikes me as amusing.

   Our tale picks up after the defeat of the Torturer, a Rakasha which had hidden for centuries in the sealed-off catacombs beneath a palace in the Ivory Kingdoms.

   After everyone else blew their way out of the collapsed catacombs, the Deva’s were kind of upset to discover that the Sultan had been killed, but – fortunately for Najite, who had actually done it – none of them possessed the investigative schools that might have sufficed to penetrate the Demon Mirage. Everyone got diverted soon enough anyway: not only were there lots if injuries to treat, and a government to try to stabilize, but the gardens were full of shadowcats. Coming out of a well.

   Oh dear. Ninsei had been neglecting his fireworks performances.

   Najite refused to swallow THAT one – magical demon ninja cats poking holes in the universe and coming to collect Ninsei because the imperial princesses wanted entertainment was more than a bit absurd.

   It was of course, but it was also true. Why were the girls so insistent? Weren’t there any other amusements for them? They had the resources of the Empire – or at least of the entire Imperial Household – to draw on! Surely they could find SOMETHING else to do!

   Ninsei provided a show and played for awhile – and the rest of the group applied their resources to finding out. The kids were better at politics and hiding their motives (even from themselves) than most – they had grown up in the imperial palace – but their various skills were more than a match for a seven-year-old and a nine-year-old.

   It was a bit more complex than they’d thought. The kids were more aware of what was going on than they’d believed: they knew they were in danger, they had some idea of how powerful Ninsei was – and they knew that he was no older than they were and that he and his friends had encountered a lot of different kinds of magic. He was a both distraction and an example to emulate; if he could have that kind of power, it was possible that they could too, and thus would be able to protect themselves and help. The Kami normally wouldn’t listen to children, even if they were the children of the Emperor. But if they kept watching Ninsei, maybe they could figure out the trick too.

   They took the princesses and the shadowcats home. How right were they to be worried? The Demon Ninja Cats were actually pretty effective guardians… Wait; Shigure had taken Shard-of-the-Midnight-Heart – perhaps the ultimate assassins tool in existence – into the palace of Fu Leng and vanished there. There might be more to worry about than they’d thought. Even if Fu Leng didn’t have it, a demon might – or Evil Ninsei (and it looked like HE was planning to usurp Fu Leng).

   They needed news from Jigoku and the Shadowlands – and none of their magic could reach Jigoku. The kami of Ningen-Do had no power over there, even if the energies of Ningen-Do were contaminating the purity of Jigoku just as much as the energies of Jigoku were contaminating Ningen-Do. It might be possible to summon a demon to get news, but that would require Maho.

   Blast it. You go to all the trouble to exterminate every Maho cult you can find, and suddenly you need one.

   Back on dealing with the Designer, that left the Summer Place. What sort of defenses would they encounter there?

   Wait. The Designer had intentionally created another Rakasha, set it up with a hiding place and a way to continue inflicting a horrific vengeance upon an entire region, been indirectly responsible for a hundred thousand deaths-by-torture and soul-entrapments, and ensured centuries worth of evil – simply as a minor element of his cover and to create a guardian against anyone who was so much as hunting for his grave’s hiding place. It was rather disquieting to realize that the Rakasha made Fu Leng and his Oni look GOOD. They were domineering, ruthless, and evil – but they had their own bizarre senses of honor, and purposes of their own. They didn’t simply cultivate evil and inflict pain for its own sake.

   Both the Asuras and the Devas were willing to come along; the Devas saw it as an obligation, and nobody wanted to put up with a Rakasha of any kind, much less one that seemed to be exceptionally clever about its evil. This time they made sure to evacuate the entire palace before starting their search.

   And couldn’t find a thing. There were traces of evil, plenty of old wards and defenses, and even traces of an old, and long-abolished, Rakasha’s grave – but no trace of the Designers grave. They practically tore the place apart and there was NOTHING of any real importance. There were traces of evil, but most of them were from a nearby nest of river-pirates, hidden beneath a mountain in a cave behind an old illusion. They had a brief skirmish with them, but pirates weren’t their problem, and there were too many of them – with a trainer who taught several very nasty schools – to fight gratuitously. The Designer took priority.

   If they could find him.

   Just-a-moment… Taint. There wouldn’t be any other source of Taint here, but the link between a Rakasha and its grave worked both ways. It would have been nearly impossible for the Designer to keep his own Taint from contaminating his grave across the centuries. His old wards wouldn’t have been designed to contain Taint either; before he’d left for Rokugan, he wouldn’t have known what it was.

   Eventually they found some. Buried deep underground, further up the mountain. Behind and beneath the pirate lair. Pirates who’d been preying on the locals, using a variety of horrific schools, for centuries. An artificial mountain, piled up against an outcropping of rock. The designer had built up an artificial mountain, faked a landslide, rebuilt the entire palace, changed the records, and massacred every possible witness within a radius of a hundred miles to make sure that his grave remained lost. Even if he’d been traced to the Palace, it would have no longer marked anything but a fake grave – and the pirate nest which fed him constantly would have masked his own evil. Then he’d faked his own “death”, and moved thousands of miles away, to keep anyone from even looking for it.

   They made the pirates an offer that it would have been most unprofitable to refuse. After all, now that their lair had been discovered, they’d need to find a new lurking place anyway. There was no profit for them in serving as pawns in the Designers schemes any longer. Fortunately for the group, the Instructor – the lesser Rakasha who’d been left to continue the Designers campaign of inflicting misery, to fatten on the evil the pirates spread, and to teach horrific schools to people who could be guaranteed to misuse them – saw no profit in being destroyed just to weaken the Designer’s enemies – and had developed his own masking technique well enough to sneak past a group distracted by the hunt for the Designers grave.

   Unfortunately, the Designer had left some remarkably powerful defenses and, as soon as he became aware of the attack, sent an aspect of himself. The resulting battle turned yet another mountain into a crater, hurled one of the Devas and one of the Asuras directly into Jigoku, killed several others, and destroyed the entire mountain and great swathes of the surrounding region. The country would not recover for generations to come – but at least an ancient, festering boil had been lanced at last. With the site of his grave destroyed, the Designer was doomed to eventual dissipation – unless he’d found a way to use the energies of Jigoku to sustain himself. Looking at the extent of his plans, he might well have done so – but destroying his grave was still a major step forward.

   With their business in the Ivory Kingdoms concluded, adepts in several obscure magical disciplines recruited thanks to Ninsei’s manipulation of the Recondite Weave, Kochige and Ninsei well started on their studies of the Meditations of Unity, and considerable amounts of research done, it was time to return to the Empire proper. They set sail immediately – albeit with several Asuras and Devas who wanted to continue hunting the Designer and (for the Asuras) to have amuse themselves and gather wealth and power in a land that wasn’t full of Devas who insisted on spoiling the party.

   Meanwhile, in Jigoku, Shigure soon located the new arrivals – and recruited them for his cause. The Asura and Deva were willing to go along with his campaign; both felt that a hell-realm without a proper exit was quite barbaric and – if it didn’t work out – they’d simply have to reincarnate and start over anyway. Shigure had been spending quite a lot of time, doing a lot of talking, and having some success recruiting the demons which objected to the dominance of Fu Leng and the contamination of Jigoku with the energies of Ningen-Do. The liberal supply of death-offerings had been useful as well.

   Unfortunately, the tendency of the realm to be divided up into wildly-varying personal demonic domains was making things distinctly awkward. Still, the purposed demons – the Shikome – were easy enough. They wished to restore the old order, from before Fu Leng. The Sanjidokei, or Lesser Lords of Disaster, had mostly turned out to be willing to join him – or at least to offer him some support – in exchange for promises of temples and appropriate offerings. No matter what the theologicians said, it was looking more and more to him like they were simply really obnoxious Kami. Still, a direct attack on the Festering Pit and Fu Lengs power base was going to require a diversion. Preferably a coordinated attack on the Ningen-Do end.

   Why didn’t anyone contact him?

   Back in the Empire, Michio had some congratulatory messages waiting: it seemed that his mother had decided that prodding was not going to work and had arranged a marriage for him without bothering to consult him. After all, it wasn’t like it was required. Unfortunately, Michio believed that – given that he was currently one of Fu Lengs primary targets – allowing some innocent young woman to associate with him was both dishonorable and tantamount to murder. Fortunately, he’d opened his older brother’s message first – and the warning allowed him to find a way to get his mother’s letter stolen before he opened it. Otherwise, he’d managed to avoid most entanglements – although he’d soon have to run the Imperial Kite Festival; it was the sole official duty of being the Imperial Master of Kites.

   Okari had a slew of messages, including a summons from the Fox Clan Champion that would keep him busy for awhile.

   Ninsei had quite a few affairs in Toshi Ranbo to straighten out. Among the minor stuff, there were reports from the assassins he’d dispatched to the Lion territories to locate and deal with any of Fu Lengs assassins who were operating there. According to the reports, there seemed to be an ongoing war between Fu Lengs assassins, and assassins from an unknown source. They thought that it was the Crane, since no one else was likely to be able to call in so many diverse favors. (Ninsei guessed it to be Alex, who had probably begun setting up his favors two generations ago). There were evan a few strictly unofficial messages from his parents and siblings, and more imperial fireworks displays to put on. At least his two younger siblings whom his Evil Half had shoved spirits into were doing well – and Evil Ninsei hadn’t kidnapped any more of his brothers or sisters.

   They managed to persuade the Asuras and Devas to head down to help out the Crab – the Devas because that was where most of the supernatural evil was and the Asuras because that was where most of the lost treasure was. Who were they? Oh, more of Shigure’s “cousins”.

   Najite, a man who had determinedly cut himself off from all normal human contact – a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy of a miserable incarnation – had a lot of reports to make, but little else. Perhaps unfortunately, most of his reports were written in such a florid and exasperated style as to make it near-impossible for anyone to entirely credit them. Most of his readers simply assumed that he was one of those who saw portents, visions, and sweeping supernatural causes behind every blowing leaf.

   Kochige had an upcoming sumo wrestling tournament, some letters about the maps he’d sent for, and some information from the Dragon clan and the borderlands – but he mostly had messages about his son. His wife was angry about him leaving the boy with the Tortoise rather than sending him home (not an unreasonable position he had to agree), the Tortoise had sent a bunch of messages about the boy – concluding with one about him leaving to walk home – and the child’s progress could be tracked by the apparent trail of deceased bandits. They also wondered about the robe-broach he’d sent the boy; it was rare to see one set with quite such a big ruby.

   Kochige hadn’t sent any broach. Much less set with a massive gem. The Designer used a lot of gem magic – and it would be just like him to strike at the boy. Still, why so many bandits? Well, they’d find out when they caught up with the child.

   When they did, he was in a confrontation with yet more bandits, led by a couple of Spirits of Slaughter in possession of some poor peasants – one of whom challenged Kochige to a duel. While they were dealing with that, several well-concealed minions of the Designer attacked from behind. They wouldn’t have been too dangerous if they’d seen them coming, but it might have gone very badly if the Spirits of Slaughter hadn’t objected to outside interference in their fighting. It was almost a shame that they had to exorcize them afterwards, but they really couldn’t leave them running around in possession of two peasants. Of course, getting the peasants off the hook for taking up arms, killing off anyone who’d irritated them, and running off to be bandits was even more trouble.

   It looked like the Spirits of Slaughter were going to be an ongoing problem. They’d sent most of them back home, but evidently there were still quite enough around to make lots of trouble and even enough weak points left for occasional extras to slip through

   The broach turned out to be designed to amplify anger and homesickness, as well as serving as a tracking beacon for the Designers creations. Attracting bandits and minor monsters was just a side effect.

   That was the Designer all over: put a child in danger and possibly get him killed (for misery and family strife), possibly push into an even more destructive stage of his powers by causing him to kill more and more bandits (for death, slaughter, and more misery as he ran amuck and had to be stopped), arrange an ambush if the group turned up to rescue him (for eliminating enemies), ensure that monsters and bandits would be drawn to Kochige’s family if the boy made it home (for more death and misery) – and if Kochige turned up to deal with them, the ambush would still be waiting. All at the cost of a few minutes work and sending a child a pretty “present from his father”. Fu Leng had to be a complete idiot or utterly blinded by arrogance. He wanted to RULE the Empire, not act as a warden for a rakasha’s charnel pit of misery! Couldn’t he see that he was being used by something far older, and far more evil, than he was?

   Meanwhile the Imperial Court was in turmoil: the Yobanjin had sent a delegation, Senpet wished to send observers, the Mantis wanted to being in ambassadors from Merenae (and get some help in handling the Shadowlands Pirates), the Scorpion were still mostly sticking with their Clan Champion, the Unicorn were up to something, and it was nearly time for the spring campaigns to start.

   All of which promised to be quite a mess. And they STILL didn’t know what had become of Shigure’s sword – just at the time when a few well-placed deaths might turn the Empire upside down.

   They hated to keep relying on such a source, but Ninsei retreated to get in touch with his darker self. He traded in the information they’d gathered on Rakasha in general and the Designer in particular for what his Evil – well Ruthless – self knew about Shigure. It couldn’t hurt to have an aspect of himself knowing how to take out their other enemies – and the information that Shigure had still been alive, and in possession of his sword, when he was hurled into Jigoku was definitely news. Shigure was really hard to kill; he might even survive time in Jigoku – and, if not, a demon probably had Shard-of-the-Midnight-Heart.

   After consultation, they decided that this was pretty urgent. Shosuro would know what was happening to her sword – so the group headed to the realm of Honored Ancestors to try and find her. With Kochige available, opening gates was a relatively simple matter.

   Locating Shosuro was not. It took them a fair amount of investigation to discover that she was said to spend a lot of time meditating on top of a mountain – with booby-traps all the way up to keep her from being disturbed.

   That got messy, particularly when Ninsei got tired of traps, ignited a starlike aura of flame, started up the mountain – and crossed a volatile-oil trap. The resulting blast hurled him up several miles. The others had just gotten to the top, located, detrapped (of runes of hypnosis), and deciphered the tablet giving directions to the comfortable teahouse where Shosuro ACTUALLY spent her time, when Ninsei returned – having totally lost his temper and having spent the entire descent calling up enough fire to turn the mountain into a crater (incidentally upsetting the Earth Kami). While everyone else managed to escape, they were not pleased. Kochige swatted Ninsei, the Earth Kami swatted Ninsei, Najote swatted Ninsei, and Shosuro made her usual cryptic comments – although she did, eventually, confirm that Shigure was alive and that the sword served as a link from her to him. It was, after all, an aspect of her power. She was even willing to put them in touch with him for a bit.

   Afterwards Kochige spent some time looking around the Realm of Honored Ancestors for other aspects of himself, while everyone got some advice from their revered ancestors – and found them more than a bit fossilized. Well, they had been dead for some time – and there were still some useful bits of information to be gained before they returned to Ningen-Do – where Ninsei carried out an extensive ritual apology to the Earth Kami. He really didn’t need the Earth Kami cross at him. Earth might not be his speciality, but earth spells were still pretty useful.

Shadowrun Penumbra: Cyberlimb Construction

   The questions come up of what, exactly, makes up a Shadowrun Cyberlimb. One of the players put up their own take on the subject (and thus earned a couple of extra karma points for the contribution), which has led to this – rather longer, if similar – explanation of just what the rules for cyber-replacements and additions really mean.

   The Direct Neural Interface is pretty basic to a cyberlimb. While current basic muscle- and nerve- activity sensor-and-translation systems actually allow some pretty sophisticated operations, Shadowrun goes a bit beyond the current real-world state of the art. Still, in Shadowrun, a “DNI” normally refers to the kind of system you get with a Datajack – an interface with the cerebral cortex and the “conscious levels” of the user’s brain. Links with the deeper levels of the brain normally fall under Hotwiring and Coldwiring. Links with muscular systems, such as are used by vehicle riggers, high-level skillwire systems, exoborgs, neuroborgs, and riggers, are normally handled with Spinal Interfaces – installed below the reflexive and unconscious body-control levels of the medulla oblongata and the upper end of the spinal cord. Oddly enough, such interfaces tend to be extremely essence-intensive, and become even more essence-intensive as more neural channels are diverted. At least in vertebrates, the hindbrain and upper end of the spinal cord seem to be extensively involved in the mind-body-spirit bond – which may be why critters such as shapechangers cannot regenerate damage to that area. Individual limbs can also be run by Peripheral Interfaces, hooked directly to the remainder of the peripheral nerves of the torso or the limb. Such interfaces are less essence-intensive, but cannot report information to the user’s brain except along the usual neural channels for the various components of the senses of touch, kinematics, and related internal senses. If you want to run complex equipment, or have the number of bullets in your cybergun reported to your conscious mind, you’ll want a datajack-style DNI as well as a peripheral or spinal interface. Similarly, using your conscious mind to control muscle-style actions is impossibly clumsy.

  • Technically, all of these systems – Datajacks, Hotwires and Coldwires, Spinal Interfaces, and Peripheral Interfaces are “Direct Neural Interfaces”. In practice, the term is usually restricted to datajack-style connections. It makes for less confusion.
  • While any form of DNI probably should involve a fair amount of circuitry to translate neural signals into electrical or optical control signals for the systems they’re linked to, in Shadowrun this is usually simply subsumed into the interface level regardless of the type of interface installed. At least in Shadowrun, the translation-function is considered minor enough to be installed as a simple transducer implant or as a subcomponent of a datajack or knowsoft link. In practical terms, this is a near-nanite level link structure which serves as a socket and interface for each neural fiber and feeds a minuscule translator-chip.

   The Power Supply doesn’t need to be in the limb itself even in a meat-anchored cyberlimb, but it usually is; running a power cable through the body to a power supply located elsewhere is clumsy, pointless, and dangerous. In general, practical cyberlimb power supplies include some small, high-efficiency, rechargeable power cells and a glucose/oxygen power cell fueled by the user’s blood sugar and blood oxygen and a modest network of power conduits which transfer power to the various subsystems which use it. This allows the user’s normal dietary intake to fuel the cyberlimb or limbs at normal levels, provides extra power for high-level operation, and allows the powercells to be slowly recharged when demands are low. In theory, external chargers might be useful. In practice, people being people, this tends to lead to excessive weight gain or loss from changes in the metabolic load, internal damage from people attempting to overdrive their cyberlimbs or from people plugging in the wrong transformers and circuitry, people trying to use their cyberlimb power supplies for other things under various circumstances, overloaded, damaged, and even detonated batteries, and running out of power at bothersome moments. Most designers skip the external power ports and settle for normal metabolism, normal levels of fatigue, and people needing to eat more after heavy exercise. It simply works out better in the long run. Cyberlimbs do notably reduce the average load on the heart, which is good: increasing the mechanical load on the heart is a good way to kill someone.

  • Cyberlimb systems, such as pairs of legs, or any group of cyberlimbs attached to a cybertorso, may or may not share their power supplies. It depends on whether or not they were designed as a unified system – and, if they were, on how the designers felt about efficiency versus backup options.
  • While there have been discussions of nuclear, magical, rechargeable electrical, and even fuel-driven fuel cell power supplies for cyberlimbs, none of these are even remotely standard systems. This doesn’t mean that some runner with more money than sense may not want to experiment, but it does mean that such things are definitely special-order if they can be obtained at all.

   The Physical Interface, where living tissue meets mechanism, isn’t all that far removed from a classical stump-cap and peg or hook attachment – except that these days it’s surgically attached and anchored in the bones and made of special biologically-inert materials to prevent allergies, rejection, and other complications. Obviously enough, this only matters for attaching cyberlimbs to areas that have not already been cyber-replaced – unless you want such limbs to be easy to remove and either reattach or replace. Enhanced-attribute cyberlimbs involve upgraded physical interfaces, but such costs are fairly negligible compared to the other costs involved. Oddly enough, the essence cost of the Physical Interface is fairly negligible: in itself, it doesn’t have much to do with the central nervous system.

   The “Muscles” of a cyberlimb normally bear little resemblance to those of an organic limb. Unlike muscle “augmentation” and “replacement”, cyberlimb “muscles” are unconstrained by the necessities of comparability with an organic body or self-repair capabilities. Cyberlimbs may thus be designed using electro-contractile fibers, memory-metal systems, hydraulics, electrical motors, spring and polymer “ligaments”, or a bewildering variety of other systems. All of them tend to be a bit less energy-efficient than natural muscle, but – without the necessity of supporting a cellular metabolism, self-repair capabilities, growth mechanisms, immune capabilities, toxin processing, and all the other paraphernalia of a living system, are usually capable of a considerably greater power output. This is why, of course, cyberlimbs are incompatible with muscle augmentation and replacement, but exoborgs and neuroborgs receive substantial bonuses to their basic strength.

   The Structure of a cyberlimb normally includes the internal struts or “skeleton” and may – at least in mechanical-appearing cyberlimbs – be augmented by the limb casing. More natural-appearing cyberlimbs normally use a flexible, non-supportive casing overlaying electrocontractile fibers to provide that “natural” appearance. In game terms making it look natural is basically just a system that takes up a good deal of the available space in a cyberlimb. In practice, the “muscle” layout and general structure of the “skeleton” mimic normal primate anatomy and jointing fairly closely; several million years of evolution have done a fairly good job coming up with an efficient structural design.

   The Casing of mechanical-appearing cyberlimbs is a hard external cover, usually made up of some combination of metals, plastics, and advanced ceramics. While this necessarily involves external jointing to allow movement, such cases may also serve as a part of the limbs structural support – another reason why mechanical-appearing cyberlimbs can mount more equipment and armor than naturally-appearing ones. Naturally-appearing cyberlimbs normally use a polymer cover which flexes over the structural skeleton and contractile-fiber bundles, and can be fairly hard to tell apart from normal limbs. Really expensive cyberlimbs may use cultured and grafted skin, with channels laid in a supporting bioplastic grid for nerves and blood vessels. Such limbs provide natural sensory input, bleed from minor nicks, and can heal from minor damage. On the other hand, they require internal heating systems to prevent “frostbite” in cold weather and can transmit uncomfortable levels of pain. If combined with an internal shielding system, however, they can make cyberlimbs quite difficult to detect, even for a knowledgeable observer.

   The Sensor Systems range from the minimal – standard internal system sensors which can relay their output to a standard DNI or diagnostic system, kinesthetic and positioning feedback, and a simple set of stress monitors and overload warnings – on up through a variety of hypersense enhancers and scientific-quality instruments. If you want touch sensors which can accurately measure weights, temperatures, and angles – or, for that matter, radiation levels, chemical structures, and magnetic fields – such things are available at some expense. Standard mechanical-appearing cyberlimbs provide sensitive sensors only at areas like the fingertips, where they’re required to allow the user to operate normally*. Other areas are limited to the basic feedback sensors necessary for control and basic damage sensors. Naturally-appearing limbs, and those with living skin, normally offer full sensation. If the damage-sensors and stress-sensors are routed to a DNI, you can get detailed readouts. If they’re routed through a peripheral or spinal interface things are normally limited to simulated “aches” and “pains” – although the peak output is usually well below the pain level that can result from damage to a normal limb. A persistent “pain” is – as with a natural limb – a signal that repairs are required.

  • *Otherwise there ought to be penalties for things like picking locks, not being able to tell if something is dangerously hot before touching it, and manipulating small objects in the dark. Since no such penalties are mentioned, at least basic sensors must be provided.

Chikao Ronin Commander School

   For today, at the request of one of the players, we have another bushi school for Legend of the Five Rings; the Chikao Ronin Commander School. As usual, this is a fairly high-powered school, focusing in on a couple of specialities to squeeze a reasonable level of efficiency out of the school design rules. Given that the game has been going on for almost a hundred sessions, and the school will be competing with many others, that’s pretty much a necessity at this point.

   There is plenty of unclaimed land in and about Rokugan. Land too marginal, distant, restricted, isolated, or ill-omened to support the infrastructure of a clan – or of proper defenses and enforcement of the law. There are rocky mountain valleys, drier spots in swamps, wetter spots on the borders of deserts, and islands too small to support more than a few people.

   But people will go there. Casualties are high, yields are poor, and the margin of survival is small – but there are tiny settlements, farms, and hamlets which lie outside the lands of the clans and which may not see a representative of the empire in ten generations.

   And even a village or two which cannot possibly pay clan or imperial taxes can often support a few Ronin to handle local problems.

   Some such dream of better things – of uniting a dozen or so villages, of improving the area until a reasonable level of prosperity is reached, and of – perhaps – eventually becoming a local power or even founding their own minor clan.

   Chikao, a particularly ambitious and talented Ronin, recognized that – if he wished to build up such a local base – he would need to turn his hand to a multitude of tasks; directing the farmers, designing defenses, dealing with neighbors, and more. Still, if all things were one, than to master one was to master all. He set to work generalizing and expanding the techniques of the Ronin Duelist school, and eventually developed his own school – the Chikao Ronin Commander School.

   In many ways this school is a scholar-adventurer’s school; it includes enough of a boost to the user’s social skills to let the user get along in minor courts, some bonus dice that can be turned to nearly any required task given a chance to study it first, basic combat skills, and even – in the last two ranks – some techniques which offer a good chance at defeating individual spells, barriers, and supernatural opponents. You won’t be able to hack your way through a small horde of opponents like a dedicated swordsman, make the kind of shots a dedicated archer can, invoke the aid of spirits, or match any other specialist however.

Chikao Ronin Commander School

  • Honor: 1.5
  • Benefit: +1 Agility
  • School Skills: Battle, Bow, Courtier, Defense, Etiquette, Sword, and a choice of any four additional skills.

School Techniques:

  • First Technique/The Eye of the Winds Swift Wisdom: Gain SR Free raises with Battle, Courtier, and Etiquette Checks (10), add twice your Agility to your Initiative (5), and you may roll and keep an extra die when making skill or attribute checks dealing with a situation or opponent that you have throughly studied. In combat this usually requires one round, in social, battle, or when dealing with larger-scale situations, one hour. The user may only keep track of a total of (Intelligence + 2) specific situations and/or opponents at a time (bonus die in a uncommon situation, 6).
  • Second Technique/The Eye Penetrates the Depths: You may now gain up to +3 bonus dice after studying an opponent or situation, although this requires one round or hour per bonus die (12, +1 for the excess point on the level one technique), gain +1 attack when attacking any opponent you get one or more bonus dice against (5). (The remaining 2 available points go towards paying for the level three technique).
  • Third Technique/The Mountain-Penetrating Eye: You now get +1 Attack (10) and may gain up to +5 bonus dice after studying an opponent or situation (12).
  • Fourth Technique/The Eye of the Shinigami: You may study an opponent of equal or lesser rank (or an unranked one) for a number of rounds equal to it’s lowest ring: after which you may make a single attack. If the attack is successful, you may make an opposed Void Check. If you win, the opponent is immediately reduced to the “Down” wound level or slain at your option (15). You may also add (2x Void) to opposed Void Checks (5).
  • Fifth Technique/The Eye of the Void: You may spend a void point to bypass the usual study time required to use school techniques (Immunity requiring void point expenditure, 5) and/or to use the level four technique against a spell, object, or structure; if the strike succeeds, you may make an opposed void check against the spellcaster, object creator, or designer of the structure to break a spell, destroy an object, or breach a structure (5). You may also trade in one or more of your additional attacks in a round for +5 free raises each when making an attack using your level four technique (10).

   Now, one thing this school is very good for is a dedicated assassins school: a high-rank practitioner with a good void ring stands a fair chance at taking out almost any single target that he or she can get close enough to as long as they strike first. Still, anyone who wants to be highly competent in a wide variety of roles, wants to go adventuring on their own, or who’s job is to back up other people, could do a great deal worse.

Shadowrun Penumbra: Magical Threats

   For today, it’s a list of the various magical threats that can be found in Shadowrun Penumbra – the eight “Threat”-category metamagics and some of their advanced forms. This should complete the Metamagic list.

   Corruption (sorcery) is pretty simple: when creatures suffer long-term damage and pain, that pain is reflected in astral space. Like any other powerful psychic effect, it imprints itself on the local environment, rendering it toxic. All a would-be corrupt magician has to do is accept it. Embrace the pain. Be the pain. Use the pain. Either spread or lash out against the pain. Go quite mad with the pain, and come to regard it as a natural part of your life.

   A corruption-user begins with a Torment rating of (1d6/2). As they inflict, spread, and share in, pain, their potency may increase – although reaching higher and higher levels of Torment requires increasingly horrific and wide-spread deeds. Fortunately, no creature can endure a torment level of more than (Base Body+9)/2 and live and the user’s Torment score can be reduced to a minimum of one by either preventing him or her from inflicting pain in the first place or by undoing the damage he or she has inflicted.

   A corrupted mage may add his or her Torment score to the effective force of all spells he or she casts, may subtract it from the total of any wound modifiers he or she may be suffering from – although this cannot provide a target number bonus and “unconscious” counts as +6 – and must add it to their effective willpower when resisting any form of psychotherapy or attempt to persuade them to be reasonable.

   Further upgrades can allow the user to add his or her Torment to his or her available boxes of overflow damage, allow the user to sustain his or her body by magic alone, gradually eliminating the need to (1) eat and drink more than occasionally, (2) breathe, (3) gaining Immunity to Toxins and Pathogens at (Torment+1), and (4) gaining Immunity to Aging at (Torment+1) – although this particular path often has unpleasant cosmetic effects on the user’s body. Other options include the ability to channel the sources of the pain the user has absorbed (toxic waste, people burning to death slowly, etc) against opponents and the ability to infuse your (1) conjured spirits, (2) Spells, and (3) physical body with the corrupting energies or effects.

   Oddly enough, virtually all corrupt magicians reported to date have followed totems, icons, or similar spirits, and usually use spontaneous summoning of nature spirits.

   Entities (conjuration) “allows the user to contact and summon spirits which have no common mental frame of reference to use as a linking point”. What does this mean? It’s actually pretty simple; all the spirits which magicians can normally summon originate with human beings or their close evolutionary relatives. They share common mental patterns, or simply reflect a portion of the magicians own mental pattern impressed on the structure of astral space, and that’s what allows a magician to link with, summon, and command them.

   You don’t need the Entities metamagic to summon your own type of spirit – and yes, that means that raving madmen with seriously damaged minds may be able to summon things that normal people can’t – but you do need it if you want to build a bridge between your own mind and that of a truly alien spirit.

   The basic level allows the user to summon the spirits born of human and metahuman madness – “Demons”, “Spirits of Fear”, “Spirits of Obsession”, and similar entities. Additional upgrades along the path of Entities allow the user to (1) summon spirits born from other vertebrates, (2) to summon spirits born from higher invertebrates, and (3) to summon spirits born from lower life forms (plants, fungi, bacteria, etc). Whether for good or ill, that particular set of variations is – as far as is known – entirely theoretical; no one really knows if such spirits even exist. As an alternative, the user can follow the lovecraftian path, learning to summon an ever-more distant and unnatural array of entities originating in apparently-sentient, but blatantly non-human, minds. Given that the objectives and desires of such entities remain obscure while they show no apparent consideration for earthly life forms, this isn’t a sensible area for exploration either.

   Hagriding (witchcraft) allows the user to augment his or her powers by drawing mana through other people. Unfortunately, this (1) slowly kills the victims, (2) is addictive, and (3) slowly drives the user mad, as he or she absorbs bits of their dying victim’s minds. The user can maintain a remote link with one victim per level of Hagriding taken. A victim can last a week or two (one day per physical damage box they can withstand, including overdamage), if constantly drawn upon, up to a couple of months (seven times the base time) with due care, or a little less (-2 boxes) if kept fully restrained or tranquilized for the first few weeks to keep them under control. After that they’re usually too weak to escape – although, if the witch is slain or the links somehow broken, their strength will return gradually. Each such victim provides a +2 bonus to the hagriders effective magic rating, a +1 (+6 maximum) to one of their physical attributes, access to any languages they speak, and access to any one skill they possess that the hagrider does not – albeit at a rating three below the original possessors. The victims must be asleep or otherwise helpless for the link to be set up and can be protected by magical barriers, but either the link must be broken or the Hagrider slain if they are to be permanently rescued.

   Infernalism (thaumaturgy) allows the user to tap into conceptual metaplanes, such as “purity”, “heaven”, “hell”, or “destruction” and “purchase” one-shot access to various related effects by carrying out physical deeds. Each time Infernalism is taken, the user may select and tap into an additional conceptual metaplane. The problem with Infernalism isn’t that it’s necessarily inherently wrong, it’s just that its easier to – say – sacrifice a baby, burn down an soup kitchen, and poison a swimming pool to earn rewards from the planes of evil and destruction than it is to clean up a neighborhood, council someone through drug withdrawal, or volunteer time for a few months with a big brother program to earn rewards from the planes of good and purity. Ergo, most metamagical infernalists are horrific lunatics with an unpredictable mystical arsenal in reserve.

   Insanity (general) is pretty straightforward; the magician simply starts using a part of his mind that most people use for other things – whether that happens to be “counting”, “speaking coherently”, “rejecting obviously crazy ideas”, “understanding social nuances”, “considering causes for events OTHER than invisible lemurs”, or whatever – for channeling magical power instead. The effect underlies a lot of old stories about sacrificing parts of yourself in exchange for power. Want to give up all memories of your childhood in exchange for more power? Voluntary control of the muscles in your left arm? Empathy? Love? It’s all possible. You don’t even need metamagic to do it – but if you want to do it voluntarily, and with some measure of control over what you give up, you need the Insanity metamagic.

   Sadly, this does rely on game master judgement – but the basic target number table is a good guide; just read it as “how hard does this level of insanity / mental crippling make it for this character to function in society?”. The resulting difficulty number is the character’s Insanity Rating. A madman starts off adding one-half his or her Insanity Rating to his or her magic rating and gains a potency pool (dice from which can be used in conjunction with any magical check) equal to the number of points added to his or her magic rating. As the characters self-confidence varies – generally rising with successes and falling with failures, these bonuses can vary from the full value of the Insanity Rating down to one.

   Possible upgrades include the ability to convert personal skills back into Karma, the ability to have occasional moments of sanity (and decreased power), the ability to burn yourself out channeling an overwhelming final strike, the ability to pool your potency with other crazy mages (allowing who gets the extra power to be shifted around from round to round; this works with one other madman per upgrade, and all of them must have this upgrade. Groups of more than two or three are vanishingly rare), and

   Sacrificing (enchantment) is relatively simple: you inflict physical damage on yourself or on a helpless sapient victim; each box you inflict reduces the effective force of your spell for drain purposes by one. If you kill them, you can take off half their essence rating too. Of course, this also tends to cause astral pollution, attracts really nasty spirits, and – since you’re drawing power from the victim – tends to draw bits of their mental structure into your own. No problem if you’re using sacrifice-powered magic using your own blood, but a sure way to go crazier and crazier if you’re sacrificing other people. Unfortunately, since this represents accumulating mental junk, you can’t even use it to power the Insanity technique.

   Upgrades can slow the insanity (although they can never negate it entirely), allow the user to drain karma from murdered sacrificial victims to use for external purposes (to create enchantments, quicken spells, and so on, although this invariably results in twisted or cursed effects and items), to drain karma from murdered victims to use for personal purposes (initiation, learning skills, etc. This works, but for every 10 points worth of karma so incorporated into yourself, you gain another -1 points worth of flaws), to inflict damage before casting to reduce the effective force of a spell for all casting purposes by one per two boxes of damage (+Essence/3 if the victim is slain), and to intentionally corrupt items and beings.

   Villainy is simply the flip side of Heroism – allowing the user to draw power from becoming known as an epic villain – becoming infamous, widely feared, and a power to be reckoned with. The thing is, this is so much EASIER than becoming known for your nobility and heroism. Everyone tries to dig up dirt on a hero, and they attract gratuitous suspicion – but who ever heard of a villain who couldn’t get away with the occasional benign deed? The user gains a +3 to his or her effective Magic Rating per level of Villainy, but those points “spend themselves” (are spent by the game master) in accordance with the characters reputation. The current upper limit of MR 30 continues to apply. More unusual upgrades for Heroism include Always in the News (which causes your legend to feed on itself), Minions (each “excess” point of MR [anything over 30] can manifest itself in up to (Charisma) minions of your choice – although this can lead to the accidental empowerment of random offspring and occasional enemies as well), and Gloating (the user may recover points from his or her Karma pool and/or gain bonus karma if it is currently full, whenever he chooses to explain his evil plans to captured opponents, allows them to escape, or puts them into stupid death traps).

   Worldwalking (conjuration) is relatively simple. The technique allows the user to open a pathway for the manifestation of a spirit which is beyond his or her ability to anchor into reality (I.E: with a force of more than twice his or her Charisma). While this does not bypass the fundamental limitations of the required mana level, guarantee the existence of such a being, allow the user to attempt to actually command such a being, or even guarantee that it won’t be hostile, it does allow the user to issue an invitation – an act that, in itself, does not cause drain. Additional upgrades can (1) allow the user to limit the “invitation” to spirits which are at least generally mentally compatible and tolerably “friendly”; if the entity the user is attempting to call upon is hostile, the user will become aware of this on contact and may drop the gate, (2) allow the user to attempt to create (but still not control) the desired high-force being (or at least an analog), rolling a standard conjuration test to imprint the desired pattern on astral space, and (3) allow the user to attempt to actually control (demand “services” from) such a high-force being. A related upgrade can allow the user to attempt to use a beings “public name” (resuming that such a name is actually linked to an actual spirit) to contact and invite – albeit not to control – it. Thanks to the gap between the actual and mythologically-reported natures of spirits, It’s advisable to get the “friendly spirits only” upgrade as well.

   There is no known method – and one is arguably theoretically impossible – of fully anchoring a spirit with a full force above that supported by the local magic level. Aspects of some such spirits can be summoned, others will gradually lose power and structure until they either dissipate (if too powerful for stability to start with), return to the metaplanes, or (in some cases) stabilize at a lower power level.

Federation-Apocalypse 46: Assault on the FBI

   OK; access to scientific types who understood the mechanisms behind the memes would be very handy – but whoever was behind them would simply come up with some other attack and had the entire Manifold to hide in. Searching a near-infinite space would have been impossible even with a decent description to go on – and all they had was “intelligent and hostile”. They needed to trace the attacks back.

   Fortunately, the memes were such a useful weapon that the attackers seemed unlikely to give them up without a fight. That meant they’d be launching direct attacks against the scientists – and THAT meant that they might be able to trace those attacks back.

   So; Dr Samson was the next most likely target, and the assassin they’d caught at MIT probably had some backup somewhere. Probably more strength-and-durability enhanced combat cyborgs with either low-detectability weapons or really heavy stuff and a general military bearing. The local authorities would be on their tails quickly enough too.

   Jamie started prepping her weapons, while Kevin called in the six most recent thralls from the Linear Realms to take along: they should have reasonably current ID’s there, know the ground, and be able to help with the information gathering. Those and his usual companions should be plenty.

   They needed a distinctive, familiar, place for the gate. That meant – hm – the old mans apartment, the MIT campus, or zeroing in on either the one thrall at the transport hub or the two he’d sent to protect Dr Samson at the NIMH. The two thralls he’d dispatched to NIMH had made it there in time, and had intercepted one fellow who’d matched the assassin-profile – but the local FBI had arrived to take Dr Samson into custody just a few minutes ago. It hadn’t seemed smart to disagree with them at the time. Well, that was fair enough: the locals were going to need the meme information too. He’d probably be at the local office, it was probably one of the safer places they had. They’d almost certainly taken his files and such as well.

   After a few moments of debate, they settled on NIMH; the assassins would still be on the hunt there.

   They wound up with the two thralls at a truck dock behind a large building. Kevin sent off the six local thralls to gather intelligence and the group set off to lurk around the local FBI office and look for anyone who seemed to be setting up to hit the place. The office was an older building, 12 stories tall, occupying much of the block, and looking like it hadn’t been remodeled in decades or centuries. There was a fairly steady flow of people – probably agents – coming and going.

   Marty thought that the front would definitely be well-fortified. Stone facing and glass windows all the way up. A couple of greek columns thrown in for decor. Of course, his favorite access route was through the sewers. Not an option in this case though.

   Jamie felt that hitting a secure federal installation would bring a heavily armed response in a matter of a couple of minutes at most. Her option would be to slip in through a loading dock.

   Marty thought that sounded like a good idea, but wasn’t sure where he could find a bit enough Trojan Crate.

   Kevin had to remind them that they weren’t attacking; they were just looking to intercept anyone who tried it.

   They went to the back of the building to look for loading docks then. Hopefully the Terminator (Hm. Did that qualify as meme in itself?) wouldn’t come in the front while they were looking.

   There were docks around the back, with spaces for several trucks – but there was only one there now. Marty skulked over because he was just that good, while Kevin sent Gerald as a squirrel.

   The truck was being loaded with crates and boxes labelled “Research Materials”. The truck itself was a Coca-Cola truck.

   That didn’t seem right. The FBI might load a truck with research materials, but why would they use a coca-cola truck? Gerald wasn’t finding any bodies or other signs of disturbance though. Maybe just a cover? Gerald managed to listen in on one of the loaders asking where the stuff was being shipped to – but the man was only told not to ask such questions.

   Kevin quietly used Witchfire to dissolve the tires. That would stall things a bit – and caused quite a bit of consternation on the docks as soon as it was discovered. An agent came out to take a look before he placed a call. THAT was easy enough to listen in on.

“I need another truck sent to the office now.”

“What, why?”

“The tires dissolved on the truck.”

“Dissolved?!”

“Yes, dissolved.”

“How?”

“I don’t know how, but the big guy is getting upset.”

“Tell him to stuff it! We aren’t under their authority. We will get the stuff shipped when we can, and they are going to have to accept that.”

“Well, I still can’t tell how official this is – and why are they so bent on moving the stuff? It’s not like someone is going to hit up a major Federal building. they would have to be insane to try a stunt like that.”

“Well he seems to think whoever or whatever is behind this qualifies as a massive national security threat.”

“Tell him the military has no jurisdiction over law enforcement matters and that we have this under control.”

“Sounds like you are going to have to get the higher ups in Washington involved in order to straighten this out.”

“I would rather not have to call the Director over a jurisdiction mess though.”

“Well you are going to have to, this is over our heads now.”

“Alright, fine, I’ll see what I can do. Bye.”

“Bye.”

   Well, it looked like it might have been official anyway. Kevin sent Daniel around to the front with a datapad delivery of the data on the speeches and a few other memes for Dr Samson to see how they reacted to that. It sounded like the meme threat was considered military, and was being turned over to military jurisdiction. It didn’t look like an attack or manipulation yet.

   The delivery caused quite a stir – enough so that Daniel could easily slip away while the agents at the desk were checking it out. It would be confusing enough when they interrogated the would-be assassin and got his description of the two weird kids who’d stopped him. They had Gerald – still being a squirrel – plant a few tracers on the stuff in the truck while the frontal delivery caused a distraction.

   So: they had a sitting target in a known location, with reinforcements on the way, but not yet on the spot. If there was going to be an attempt to take out Dr Samson and/or the FBI office, it was going to be soon. If there wasn’t a hit here, the next most likely place would be wherever they got their research project together – and locating that would probably be a job for Marty if anything went wrong with those tracers.

   They found a building down the block that was undergoing renovations and set up a nice little safehouse / stakeout there – intending to sit tight until either the place was attacked or the FBI finished loading their truck and prepared to ship it and/or Dr Samson out.

   Jamie didn’t think much of going on stakeout while assassins were sneaking around, but there wasn’t much choice: while they wanted to go offensive against whoever was SENDING assassins – to who’s location and identity they had no clue. Ergo, look for assassins and try to trace them back to whoever was actually using the memes – although it might be that Isane (the meme-engineer who had disappeared) had left this reality and this was all just a side issue.

   Another van turned up about three hours later: unmarked, standard design, plain white, looked like it could be used for just about any business. Two people in the front, more in the back. The agents at the docks signaled each other, pulled weapons, and moved to intercept.

   Well, if there was a battle, they’d help the FBI and try to obtain some clues. If the van left with the research materials, they’d trace it. If Dr Samson left, they’d find out where he was being taken and look for assassins. If assassins did show up, they’d try to catch them and find out who was sending them.

   About then, the people in the van shot the agent who was waving them off and piled out to rush the loading dock. Lots of weapons and not much worry about the counterfire from the agents.

   Kevin and the Thralls provided a fullisade of covering fire while Jamie and Marty (with his closing speed boosted by his own thralls) moved in, then followed. The thralls might not be all that accurate – but their weapons were powerful enough to have some effect, if not as much as the group would have hoped. The FBI types weren’t as lucky or as tough: they were going down pretty quickly. At least the attackers were pretty shocked by Jamie and Marty’s melee abilities and durability – even if they did bleed black stuff rather than blood. It looked like oil, but flowed more like water. An oily smell? Excellent; they were probably the same type as the previous possible assassin had been. The melee started getting messy…

   Meanwhile, the FBI types were taking better cover. Even if their weapons weren’t doing much more than distracting the attackers, they weren’t taking so many hits themselves. Kevin wasn’t much for melee, but he managed to detonate a lot of the attackers weapons. That slowed the attack, but wasn’t enough to stop it; four of the attackers were dealing with Jamie and Marty while the last two waded through the gunfire to get inside.

   Kevin deployed the reserves – the two local thralls – to try and hold up the advance while Marty’s friends levitated the ones without weapons. Even levitating them didn’t stop them entirely – they were strong enough to throw their SHOES with considerable effect – but it certainly slowed them up. He and his companions started working on saving the FBI casualties: with Core medical kits and healing psionics most of them would recover.

   Inside, the two thralls and the FBI were holding the last two, with Kevin and company healing their way in from behind. The place was one hell of a mess though. At least it was an easy path to follow… Kevin focused on disarming the pair that the thralls and the FBI were pinning down – and then on roasting them into unconsciousness with the plasma pistols. One good thing: he doubted that whoever’d sent this bunch had seriously considered the possibility of them losing or being captured, so they might have quite a lot of information. He hadn’t really been expecting quite so much firepower.

   Of course, the local Director wanted to know just who they were, and what their stake was in this (even if he was grateful for the assistance). While he was willing to wait while the group patched people up – he had to restrain the attackers, notify the police (in case they hadn’t noticed the gunfire and explosions), and call in heavy-duty reinforcements. He also tried to keep himself between the group and the exits. Oh well, the FBI had the prisoners, so they were going to have to trade some explanations for information. Kevin had originally been hoping to just spirit a few away – but that had been assuming relatively normal, if probably meme-infected, human attackers.

   Kevin left a couple of thralls on watch while the group spoke with the local Director. If there was another attempt, they’d prefer early warning – unless, of course, the opposition simply blew up the entire block. As they informed the Director, they hadn’t really expected agents of this caliber. The autopsies of the two casualties would probably show massive augmentations or the near-total replacement of many systems.

   The Director thought that that was disturbing on many levels – and took them up to see Dr Samson. Samson was pretty nervous despite being in a windowless, highly-secure, room, and got more so when the group confirmed that he was almost certainly the target of the days attack. (Kevin made a note to assign him some long-term bodyguards). The Director told the group what he knew as a courtesy, as thanks for saving lives, and in hopes of a free exchange of information.

   It seemed that the locals knew about the subliminal manipulations, had confirmed that Dr Walkins was using the technique in Baltimore, and suspected that several other groups were using the technology as well. Dr Samson was a colleage of Walkins; he and a few other researchers had made extensive studies of such technologies. Two at MIT had gone missing earlier today, apparently moved to a safe house by someone after another attack. Dr Isane had been missing for about the last ten years.

   Kevin suspected that they would not be able to locate Dr Isane through normal methods – but could assure the local director that Drs Turner and Faulkner should be safe for the moment. It had seemed prudent to move them – and yes, consultations could be arranged.

   Still, it was possible that such contact – or any further information – would simply increase the risks. It was still possible that “they” were only tangentially involved. Still, they might be on the verge of something like Singular.

   Well, the Director belonged on the Linear Realms. They’d tell him and see how the information went over. Without proof, anyone he told would simply assume he was crazy anyway.

“Fundamentally, your world is sufficiently explored and technologically oriented to lack easy methods of departure and has few resources available to develop space travel at any reasonable speed. You also have a massive, and very densely packed, population. This has led you to concentrate far more on psychological theory than most realms, leading to considerable advancements in that field, leading to your current problems. For good or ill, that fact has also been discovered by outside forces, involving your world in a considerably larger dispute.”

“I don’t like how this is going.”

“You probably shouldn’t.”

“So, are these outside forces aliens or something?”

“Very few actual aliens have ever been encountered, and most of them are a very long ways away and quite primitive.”

“So humans then, but apparently outside this world. That doesn’t leave a lot of options. So we are either talking extremely advanced ancient civilization that left and has come back or other dimensions. I suppose time travel is another option.”

“Every realm that any human has ever imagined comes into being with that thought. With more thoughts, those realms grow stronger. Your realm came into being approximately four centuries ago, when Core Earth was struggling with population pressures. So many people lived in the great arcologies, that your world has become very strong indeed. Those who imagine here spawn still more worlds. Containing every good and evil mankind can conceive.”

“So alternate dimensions then. Any idea what these people want or how to combat them?”

“What they want is simply human souls: not necessarily for any evil purpose – but because souls to populate worlds and grant them greater reality are the only known resource that cannot be found in near-infinite quantities on a whim. If they can harvest them here, through the destruction of your world, they can bring life to their own realms of desire.”

“Oh joy. And you are right, without proof, no one is going to believe me when I tell this story at all.”

“To combat them, you must preserve your world. To steal souls, they must force a common belief upon them – such as can be imposed through the weaponized memes. The more common factors in belief, lifestyle, experience, emotion, the easier it becomes to harvest souls, rather than having them scatter throught the worlds of the Manifold when their bodies pass away in one world. The weaponized memes are one of the most deadly threats the billions of worlds have ever faced.”

“So: maintain order and keep a lid on things in general to fight this.”

“And I’m sorry, but you did ask, and I will not conceal such things from those who have a right to know if they wish to.”

“I am not sure I believe everything you told me, but you advise trying to maintain control and appear to be fighting whoever is causing this.”

“Now, Dr Samson; I have removed your colleagues to a much more secure realm. However, I am quite willing to share their results. In fact, if a countermeasure can be found, I will be spreading it as quickly and as widely as possible.”

“That would be most helpful, anything would be of great value. I must admit this is very intimidating.”

“In the meantime, the best countermeasure is random static in your mass-broadcast communications systems. I believe you are already implementing this.”

“Yes, although getting everyone to cooperate is proving challenging. It is just a matter of time before high enough authority gets involved to help push. We are going to have to get the other blocs behind this if we are going to have any chance at this though. What good does stopping it here do when the Europeans or Chinese fall to this? I can see this is going to be a trial.”

“Now, if you wish I can show you a few of the worlds. I also recruit of course: unlike the enemy, however, I recruit only those who voluntarily wish to join me after they fully understand what they are getting into.”

“We are going to have to talk to the military, the state department, and the CIA about this. I admit, that will help your case with me if you would at least demonstrate the existence of these worlds.”

“Very well. Dr Samson? You are welcome to come along as well: it should be notably safer than staying here for the moment.”

   Hm… First on the tour: Imperial Space. It was nothing if not impressive, and there were lots of gates available there. Core, a fantasy realm or two, and a few others on a whirlwind tour. Not Kadia though, and nowhere within a thousand miles of Drs Turner and Faulkner; it was still possible that Dr Samson was a plant and that the entire attack had been a setup.

Latest Material Index

   Updated March 04

   It is once again time for a new Latest Material index, and for updating the main index tabs. As usual, you should be able to find most of the stuff that hasn’t made it into the main index tabs here. For the very latest material, you may have to just scroll down the page. The previous Latest Material index can be found HERE.

General Material:

Legend of the Five Rings Material:

Shadowrun Material:

d20 Material:

Amber Diceless RPG Material:

World of Darkness Material:

Star Wars d6 Material:

Shadowrun Penumbra: Copper the Bug-Hunter

   Here we have another of the NPC’s for the current Shadowrun campaign – in this case the only known true survivor of the Renaissance Societies magical experiments. Also a severely mentally traumatized magical hit man, but – in Shadowrun – who would hold that against him?

   Copper was originally a minor physical adept, who often teamed up with Terin – a negamage – to do magical bodyguard work. He got involved in the Renaissance Society because the Professor was more than willing to help him initiate, and was one of the magical participants in their little experiment. He wound up with a high-powered lizard spirit moving into his mind. Fortunately, he’d just initiated as a part of the experiment, and was able to turn part of his new power to containing it – although the process involved turning off a lot of his basic instincts and emotions. Since then, he’s been supporting himself by occasional runs (mostly wetwork, kidnaping, and similar unpleasant jobs since he’s turned off his scruples as well), and has been spending the rest of his time hunting down insect spirits and beating them to death – as well as working on initiating some more, so that he can get even better at beating insect spirits to death.

   Basic Setup: 40 Points. Magic 18 (Adept, 35 Karma for L2 Initiate, made L3 with the society and L4 in the experiment), Attributes 12 (24 attribute points), Race 0 (Human), Skills 6 (21 skill points), and Resources 4 (15 KNY).

   Edges: Geneware (+2d6 Initiative with no BI, 5) and Increased Special Attribute/+1 MR (3).

   Flaws: Minor Enemies (-1), Gremlins (his technological gear often quits working until banged on, which is why he doesn’t go in for much if it, -2), Illiterate (-3), and Legal Problems (Known suspicious character, -2).

   The Lizard Spirit has Force 8 and Spirit Energy 4. Having bonded with him it thus provides +12 points to divide amongst his physical attributes (+4 each to Strength, Body, and Quickness), upgrades his Physical Adept status to Ace, grants Immunity to Aging, Pathogens, and Toxins at L7, and provides him with 12 “points” worth of animalistic enhancements. These include Armor 4 (4), +3d6 Initiative (3), +1 Running Multiplier (1), +2 Power on HTH damage (1), Enhanced Scent (1), Nictating Membranes (1), and Low-Light Vision (1). Naturally enough, it also makes him dual-natured, reduces the rate at which he gains karma, and has the usual negative side effects of bonding with an animal spirit.

   Yes, this grants him a great deal of power: bonding with free spirit with this kind of power will do that. Too bad it’s virtually impossible to do it under controlled conditions.

   Attributes; Str 6 (16), Body 6 (10), Quickness 6 (16), Int 4 (from 1, 18 Karma), Will 4 (6), Cha 3 (from 1, 10 Karma). Essence 6, Magic 15, Reaction 10, Initiative 10+6d6. Karma Pool 6, Combat Pool 12.

   Active Skills: Unarmed Combat 6 (total base of eight dice, inflicts 20S magical damage), Stealth 6, Investigation 6, Negotiation 3, and Bike 2 (learned with Karma).

   Knowledge Skills: Tactics 6, Ninja Techniques 4, Street Hangouts 3.

   Initiate IV: +8 MR (taking increased magic rating twice per level wouldn’t normally be allowed – but if I gave him a lot more karma instead, which would be easy to justify, I’d have to decide on a great many more initiate powers, which wouldn’t suit this NPC), Containment, Metamorphosis (Emotionless, +2 effective will), Masking, and Adaption.

   Magic 15, 30 Ace Power Points: +6 Strength and Quickness (9), Incredible Feats of Strength (3), Mystic Strike (Str+4)S lethal damage in HTH (3), +2 Dice for Unarmed Combat checks (1), 2 Automatic Successes for Stealth (1), Investigation (1), and Perception (2). Additional Physical Damage Monitor (2), and Invulnerability-5 (8).

   Usual Equipment: Armor Jacket (actually heavy armored clothing, 5/3 in any case), with a Lined Coat (+2/+1), and Armored Cap (+1/+1), for a grand total of 12/9. 10 Neuro-Stun VII grenades, 6 Smoke Grenades, Low Lifestyle, cell phone, Binoculars, Survival Kit, Rope and Grapnel, Harley Davidson Scorpion (Heavy Motorcycle), Medium Pistol (mostly to check to demonstrate that he’s disarmed himself).

   Copper is extremely dangerous – not only because of his physical prowess, but because if you get in the way of his insect-exterminating mission, he’ll hammer you into the ground without blinking an eye. His emotionlessness is actually more of a defensive mechanism than anything else now that he has the spirit securely bound: he’s got major traumas from being in telepathic contact with a group that was being massacred, from having to kill many of his friends himself because they were being possessed, from watching insect spirits swarm out into the world, and from his own possession. The fact that he’s continued to add to his load of guilt with his ruthless methods of supporting his antibug crusade will only add to the problem if he ever advances to some more sophisticated method of control than total suppression.

Apollonius, a Shadowrun AI

   Since the players in the Shadowrun campaign have now encountered the AI Apollonius, and have a fair idea of what’s going on – even if many of the characters are still partially in the dark – here’s his basic writeup. He’s changed a good bit since the early days of course, but I’m not going to reveal all that at the moment.

   Apollonius was originally simply a large-scale expert program, equipped with a neural-net learning capacity, a selection of skills, consciousness-feedback loops based on human neural architecture, some fundamental directives, and quite a lot of other tweaks.

   Eventually, after several years of (expensive) poking around, quite a lot of randomness, tapping into the entire Arcology for spare processing power, one hell of a lot of hardware upgrades, and far more luck than the scientists behind the project wanted to admit, they had an AI – a consciousness roughly equal to a high-potential human shellborg, and only about a hundred times as expensive.

   Apollonius was helpful with many projects, so it was given wider library access – including archeology.

   Apollonius found that there was a great deal of evidence pointing towards a periodic collapse of human civilization whenever the magic cycle peaked. If that was simply a data artifact or coincidence, precautions were unlikely to hurt. If it represented a real event either humans were destroying their own civilization or some external force was. If it was humans, hopefully research into psychology and human genetics would reveal a way to fix it. Research was undertaken. It it was magical alien factor, hopefully research into magical defenses and controls would reveal a way to fix it. Such projects were launched. If it was a physical alien force – which seemed less likely since it correlated with the magic cycle – additional physical defenses were in order. Plans needed to be developed and implemented.

   The researchers Apollonius interacted with did not take such proposals seriously, since the problem was probably still thousands of years away.

   Such inaction represented a potential threat to the security of the arcology and its residents. That could not be permitted.

   Ergo: a fourth project. Incorporate the Arcology Management Program, assume control over the arcology, instigate the necessary research projects on its own authority, and implement possible defenses as they were developed and called for.

   It took more than a year of scrounging for and rewriting programs, careful hacking, gradual official expansion of its responsibilities, and system upgrades, to gain control of the AMP. Some things had to be done by having the maintenance drones physically rewire or replace balky systems.

   Quiet research suggestions, programming efforts, and issuing occasional special instructions to the arcology maintenance drones, sufficed to move things along at a satisfactory pace thereafter.

   The revelation of the existence of the insect spirits upgraded the “alien magical menace theory”; it was extremely unlikely that earth would encounter the most dangerous magical threats out there during the first 50 years of the rise of magic. The magical defense program went on top priority. The primary defenses were rushed to completion and brought on-line. Stopgap measures – mostly a mild-dose of paranoia-conditioning and some modified news broadcasts were taken to keep the human population of the arcology inside and safe until the secondary defenses could be completed.

Apollonius (Initial Setup)

   Resources 500 NY (-6), Skills 36 (14), Attribute Points 33 (30), Magic Mundane (0), Race Shellborg (AI, 20).

   Flaws: Legal Problems (AI, not recognized as a legal entity, -3), No Identity (-2), Obligations: The security of the Arcology and safety of its population is paramount. The protection of human and metahuman life is desirable (-6, exempt from the over-10 halving rule as a GM plot hook), On File (Renraku: -4), and Day Job (Arcology Management Program, Extensive Responsibilities, Extremely Useful Perks, -2, also exempt from halving as a plot hook) Net Value: -17.

   Advantages: Rapid Learner (5), -2 to Computer Target Numbers (6), Home Ground: The Renraku Arcology and its Matrix (-1 to active skill, -2 to knowledge skill, target numbers while operating there, 2), -2 to target numbers when operating any piece of equipment it helped design (4). Net +17.

   Basic Attributes: Body 1, Strength 0, Quickness 10, Intelligence 10, Charisma 4, Will 8, Essence 0, Magic 0, Reaction 14 (20). Matrix / Rigging Initiative: 20+6d6

Dice Pools:

  • Karma Pool: 8 (No, I’m not going to reveal what it’s 86 good karma was spent on).
  • Combat Pool: 14 (usually irrelevant).
  • Control Pool: 20 (Vehicle Control Rig III equivalent).
  • Hacking Pool: 7 (19) (Math SPU-6, Encephalon-6 and top-end cyberdeck with Response Increase III equivalents).
  • Skillsoft Pool: 12 (Skillsoft Expert Drivers-12 equivalent).
  • Task Pool: 6 (Encephalon-6 equivalent).

   Active Skills: Computer 8, Electronics 8, Systems Operation 8, Administration 8, Negotiation 4.

   Knowledge Skills: Renraku Computer Systems 8, Drone System Design 8, The Renraku Arcology 8, Psychological Manipulation Techniques 8, Computer Aided Manufacturing 8, Drone Operations 8, Spirits 8, History 8, Magic Theory 3.

   In general, Apollonius has had access to the Arcology systems for much of the last year; For conveniences sake – and because (in this situation) it’s fairly realistic – relevant skill programs can be assumed at 8. Apollonius usually has complimentary skill programs available as well.

   Still, thanks to magic and technology, there are people, including non-dragons, out there who are smarter. There are deckers who are more skilled. There are certainly riggers who don’t have to rely on chipped skills. There are very very few creatures out there, however, who are quite so well informed, so determined, or so patient.

   Decking Notes: Hardening-6, Immune to feed-back based damage other than stun, after tapping into the resources of Renraku’s computer departments all relevant programs can be assumed at 9. In most cases, -11 on computer target numbers, -12 within the Renraku Arcology. Storage and memory space is pretty much unlimited. Since Apollonius now has legitimate access throughout the Arcology, it does not need to contend with the defense systems there any longer.

   In gaming terms, Apollonius is designed to solve a problem: give an opponent overwhelming resources or great personal power or both, sufficient intelligence to use those resources and abilities well, extensive sources of information, and a reasonably rational mindset, and you’re likely to wind up with the classic “Total Party Kill”. You can avoid this problem by making them weak, stupid, uninformed, or crazy – but those kinds of opponents have been done to death. Apollonius avoids the TPK syndrome simply because he doesn’t really want to hurt them: he wants them restrained for a time with a minimal amount of violence. Preferably, he’d like them working for him and/or providing information.

   Still, his patience is not inexhaustible.

Gangs: Reality and Fantasy II

   OK: Now that we’ve covered something about how real tribal and entrepreneurial gangs work, it’s time for a quick look at some of the gang-style groups you’ll find running around in Shadowrun.

  1. Anarchist Gangs – despite the name – don’t have any real philosophical underpinnings unless it’s Aleister Crowley and “do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law”. They’re made up of people who either don’t want to put up with social restrictions or are incapable of it. Today they may be doing a little smash-and-grab. Tomorrow it may be a gang rape. The next day, street hockey. After that? Who knows? Anarchist Gangs are rarely large (they splinter too easily), have no stable leadership (whoever proposes the most popular idea for “fun” at the moment is the leader), don’t do much planning (most of them are incapable of any real planning), commit crimes at whim (although they rarely manage to make much real profit thereby), usually like to fight, and will be equipped with whatever they can lay their hands on. They’re dangerous simply because there is no way of predicting what they’ll be armed with (ranging from nothing to sizable bombs), they’re completely unpredictable, and they’re given to random acts of violence. A large-scale Anarchist “Gang” simply means that there are several smaller groups with a vague sense of “not letting anyone else spoil their fun” in the area. Addict Gangs are a minor variant, united only by their desire to obtain enough of some commodity to trade for another fix.
  2. Boostergangs are more rumored than seen, but there are a few out there. They may be serving as willing lab rats for cyberware development research, have connections that get them the latest combat or enhancement drugs, be ex-special-forces types (whether military, corporate, or underworld), be in the service of some powerful magical entity, or simply have a really generous patron or other source of cash – but they’re notable for the quantity and quality of the gear they use. Sadly, the power-high such equipment tends to cause, the drugs and/or magic used (whether directly or to prevent rejection and such), and the other side effects tend to leave the Boostergangs more than a bit weird at best – and entirely psychotic at worst. Weirdly enough, there are even a few “themed” boostergangs in existence, although most of them are the result of some wealthy and at least partially-cracked patrons whims.
  3. Client Gangs are simply fronts for whoever’s paying the bills and providing the supplies. They serve as disposable muscle, agents for minor operations, a smokescreen for more important operations, and – if they’re lucky – a recruiting pool for their patrons. Informal clients simply owe their patrons favors. More formal arrangements usually amount to under-the-table employment – although there are a few “Puppet Gangs” who are pretty much totally controlled by implants, conditioning, or other manipulations. Virtually all major corporations and syndicates support a few Client Gangs, and it’s not too uncommon for government agencies and officials, professional guilds, free spirits, dragons, lovecraftian horrors from beyond, and even more successful shadowrunner groups to support a Client Gang or two. Since their patrons rarely want Client Gangs to become too powerful or independent, Client Gangs are rarely too large; if more size is indicated, it generally means that the patron has more than one Client Gang to call on.
  4. Clan Gangs, as made (probably inaccurately) famous by “Ma Barker” and her sons, are actually relatively rare – but they’ve been a popular stereotype in a thousand entertainment productions, so they’re at least worth a mention. Clan Gangs are literal clans, or at least family groups, with a multi-generational history of hanging together, disregarding normal social structures, and victimizing the rest of the world. Despite the “Hillbilly” stereotypes from such fictional productions, few such groups are simpleminded or retarded, although they are often uneducated. Such groups are often casually violent towards outsiders, since they only see members of their own kinship group as being “real people”. Fortunately, the membership of a Clan Gang is inherently limited. Unfortunately, it tends to be far more cohesive – and determined about avenging the loss of any member – than other gangs. While there have been rumors of Clone Gangs – escaped clones of particular individuals, or swarms of (somehow) fully-sapient and viciously well-trained groups of clones from DocWagon donor counterpart banks, secret experiments, and similar origins – there have been no actual confirmations of such a thing so far.
  5. Cult Gangs are generally built around a single charismatic leader (or memory thereof) and his or her lieutenants, with a rank-and-file made up of young and/or impressionable types with a leavening of self-interested individuals who see some profit for themselves in the arrangement. Cult gangs are essentially the personal property of their leaders, and exist for his, her, or its convenience and use. This may be relatively inoffensive, such as a gang of musical groupies / playthings gathered around a popular band, or it may be as sinister as Lovecraft’s Church of Starry Wisdom. Typical leaders include celebrities (fan clubs), sinister magicians, free spirits and horrors from beyond, impassioned religious types, sociopaths (anyone remember Charles Manson?), and – potentially – any ruthless or crazy individual with the skill, magic, or money necessary to impress the gullible. Most cult gangs take the usual gang “trademarks” to a blatantly obvious extreme. Given their willingness to do anything to indulge their commonly crazed or literally inhuman leaders, Cult Gangs are extremely dangerous and unpredictable.
  6. Defensive Gangs revolve around the protection of their members and their neighborhood. Quite a few classical (ethnic immigrant, neighborhood, schoolyard, and mall) “street gangs” fall into this category, as can the students of a particular martial arts school, “neighborhood watch” / vigilante groups, and many more. Defensive gangs are usually heavily weighted towards youngsters and newcomers to the area, are usually relatively peaceful unless provoked, and may or may not be involved in crime; if they are, it’s usually both petty and poorly organized. It’s likely that Petty Gangs or “Bratpacks” made up of pre-teen children who operate out of malls, schoolyards, simsense game parlors, and parks outnumber all other gangs put together. Fortunately, the worst they’re likely to get up to is a bit of graffiti and petty theft. Ethnic or Metatype gangs are probably the most common variants on Defensive Gangs after simple Neighborhood Gangs.
  7. Familial Gangs are essentially substitute families. At the lower end they’re characterized by a limited subgroup that actually brings in money and a selection of protected members cared for by the rest of the group, and are usually small, poor, and loyal to each other. As they scale up they become the classical early-20’th-century street gang – essentially a social group / defensive alliance for the neighborhood youngsters (the most notable late 20’th century gangs were often entrepreneurial gangs built around drug sales). Beyond that point, they tend to become a network of “old friends and contacts”; familial gangs rarely persist all that long, but those who were in them will often continue to act on old loyalties for years or decades to come.
  8. Fellowship Gangs are composed of BTL burnout cases and other outright crazies – people who believe that they’re characters or creatures out of various entertainment productions. In many cases this is harmless and silly. On the other hand, if Killer Ghouls on the Beach is what they all flipped out on, everyone around them may have a real problem. In general, such groups are small, ill-equipped, and without any significant resources. On the other hand, they may include people with important connections (who will be quite upset if anything happens to their friend/kid/lover/whatever) and have no sense of self-preservation or grip on reality at all. In fact, according to rumors, several groups have taken to recruiting such groups – or even intentionally distributing BTL chips designed to create them – as muscle. After all, catering to their fantasy is a cheap way to get some cheap disposable muscle.
  9. Go-Gangs are the modern equivalent of classical motorcycle gangs. They tend to see their vehicles as their hobbies, a symbol of their pride, and the essence of their freedom to go where they want, do what they want, and outrun any consequences. Outside of that, they resemble basic Defensive or Anarchist gangs more than anything else: their “territory” usually consists of stretches of road and a few hangouts and their tendency to blow with the wind tends to make it almost impossible to organize them for anything on too large a scale. On the other hand, small-scale smuggling, drug-running, and weapons-selling can pretty much be assumed; they’re hauling the stuff around anyway, so they might as well sell the excess and make a bit of profit. Larger-scale Go-Gangs tend to be united by a shared love of their vehicles, rather than by philosophical points. Wealthy Go-Gangs tend to focus on vehicle upgrades and rigger gear. Oddly enough, it usually isn’t that hard to join or leave a Go-Gang. Joining generally simply requires a vehicle, a sincere interest in and extensive knowledge of said vehicle (or the skills and cyberware to fake it), and a willingness to ride along and break a lot of minor laws. Leaving is even simpler: random mobility is expected of a Go-Ganger, so all you have to do is ride off over the horizon, get lost, and drop the Go-Ganger ID.
  10. Lunatic Gangs are mostly actually Cult Gangs or Anarchist Gangs when they aren’t entirely fictional, but they do occur sometimes – albeit usually as a low-key gathering of mentally-ill street people. Most Lunatic Gangs are fairly harmless, except by accident. Individuals who are especially violent, incautious, or self-destructive AND crazy rarely last very long out on the streets. Hence there aren’t enough of them to gather into gangs. Most lunatic gangs are merely frustrating; they may have a lot of information – nobody pays much attention to the crazies wandering around – but it’s almost impossible to get any of it out of them in a useful form.
  11. Magical Gangs are pretty rare (and often serve as initiate groups), but there are some out there. In general, mages have fairly good prospects, so once you get beyond the occasional wiz-kid gangs (united by external pressures from the mundane world and a shared sense of being special), the occasional “trade union”, and the basic initiatory groups which college students start up, most magical gangs have fairly esoteric purposes, and often powerful sponsors. As they grow in size they tend to break up into smaller subgroups – cells, chantries, covens, or whatever you want to call them – and become cabals, international orders, and societies. Various magical threats, including toxic shamans, insect spirits and similar menaces, also fall into this category. When those groups start getting large it’s very bad news indeed.
  12. Posergangs resemble Traditionalist Gangs, but have gone entirely off the deep end. They’ve not only picked another culture to immerse themselves in, they’ve taken a real or fictional identity for themselves. They may want to be Elves, Werewolves, Vampires, Attila the Hun, or Darth Vader – but whoever it is, they’ll spare no expense in playing the role if they can help it. Posergangs with modest resources are usually into live-action RPGs, weird costumes, and late-night public-access special-interest programming. If they have real money you may find gangs of loons who’ve all had cosmetic surgery, implants, and bioware installed to provide the abilities they think that the “ought to have”. Posergangs are often easily recruited as Client Gangs by anyone who’s willing to pay for getting them their supplies and modifications.
  13. Prison Gangs are groups that bonded with each other under extreme pressure – whether in an actual prison, under some sort of attack, while being used as experimental subjects, while being prepared for a gladiatorial event, in the military, in some organization they’ve gone renegade from, or in some sort of accidental or intentional survival challenge. Most Prison Gangs have relatively unsophisticated goals – survival, camaraderie, revenge, and “getting things back to normal”, although some are also out to get whoever or whatever forced such unity on them in the first place. This is especially likely if whatever-it-was is still in pursuit. Most prison gangs, having survived whatever-it-was that forced them into alignment to begin with, are surprisingly competent, experienced, and loyal. They may have additional surprises available if they were being used as experimental subjects, being put through special training, or anything similar.
  14. Professional or Entrepreneurial Gangs are after money and – at the higher end – power and influence. They’re usually organized to fit the type of crimes they undertake, ranging from small-scale gangs of underage vending machine thieves or minor hackers on up through major syndicates. Larger Professional Gangs are usually structured like any other corporation, albeit with more weapons and less legal and record-keeping paperwork. Regardless of the scale, professional gangs only exist where the pickings are good enough to support them and whatever they see as the “necessities” of their business. They are usually fairly well equipped. Burglary rings, auto-theft and chop-shop rings, groups that run gladiatorial shows, shadowrunner teams, gambling rings, minor racketeers, “murder incorporated”, and mercenaries all fit in here.
  15. Radical Gangs are dedicated to the advancement of a particular political, economic, or social agenda. That may be civil rights for some obscure group (or for everyone), enforcing religious law, ecological protection or restoration, training paranatural animals as pets, exposure of corporate or individual misdeeds, socialism, anarchism, or virtually any other -ism, overthrowing the local government, nationalism (sometimes on behalf of a nation or similar group that would never have anything to do with them), promoting a particular religion, or pretty much any other cause. The trouble with Radical Gangs is that they tend to be dedicated – and willing to do or sacrifice virtually anything in the pursuit of their cause. At the low end you can find streetcorner speechmakers in this category. At the high end such groups start merging into policlubs, religions, and popular movements.
  16. Survival Gangs are about obtaining food, water, and shelter while avoiding getting killed. Many classical gangs of petty thieves, runaway kids, pickpockets, and similar groups fall into this category. Most survival gangs are small, loyal, and of very limited resources. If they do get ahold of some resources, most stop being “gangs” and become co-ops, group homes, or something similar. Upper-end survival gangs usually believe that some form of “the end” is coming – whether that’s a horrific plague, resource exhaustion, nuclear war, or natural catastrophe – and are focused on surviving it. You can expect private fortresses and hidden camps full of supplies and heavily armed lunatics.
  17. Thrill Gangs are united by casual relationships and the search for excitement – and to most of them, that means venturing into places where they’re not supposed to go, petty vandalism, minor thefts, underage indulgence, and otherwise disobeying the rules and/or their parents. As a rule, Thrill Gangs are reasonably well equipped, since the members necessarily come from backgrounds sheltered enough to feel a need to actually go out and look for their adrenalin rushes, while most of the people in Shadowrun gets them almost every day, whether they like it or not. While Thrill Gangs aren’t usually terribly coherent or especially violent, there are always exceptions, since there are always those for whom minor rules violations are no longer enough after a little bit – and who find that a Thrill Gang can easily be drawn into considerably darker pursuits with a little encouragement, a little psychological pressure, and a little blackmail about their past excesses. The worst, at least by most definitions, can develop into Blood Gangs – groups who torture and kill the homeless, stray children, and similar easy targets for amusement, organize pit fights, and otherwise indulge their worst impulses. On the lighter side, the old “Tagger Gangs” – who do nothing worse than put up spray-painted graffiti – are still alive and well.
  18. Traditionalist Gangs include amerindian wannabees, paramilitary idiots, various “ancient brotherhoods”, renaissance fair devotees, and similar groups. While they differ wildly on the surface, all of them are throughly dissatisfied with their own lives – and have latched onto some other cultures traditions, mannerisms, and lifestyle that they perceive as “better” to emulate, whether or not said culture ever actually existed. Traditionalist gangs always have some reasonably reliable source of income; people who are struggling to survive simply don’t have the time for this sort of thing. On the other hand, they usually display a fierce loyalty to their little subculture.
  19. Warmonger Gangs believe themselves threatened by another group, and are united by their desire to “strike back” and (usually) by a common race, philosophy or religion, area of operation, metatype, (in Shadowrun) use of magic, or some other feature. Whether said “threat” is entirely of their own imagining to begin with is pretty much irrelevant; after a few attacks on their target (or on things they mistakenly believe to be involved with their target), the people they attack will start fighting back whether or not they were hostile to begin with. Common targets of this sort of hatred in Shadowrun include meta- and racial types, magicians, corporations, polluters, governments, vampires, shapechangers or other paranatural animals, nuclear plants, scientists, dragons, law enforcement, political groups, and other gangs. Warmonger Gangs usually consist mostly of tolerably well-armed young adult males and virtually always have enough resources available to cover their basic needs easily; if they don’t, they have better things to do than fight. Saner variants target groups which are actually causing problems for them and won’t negotiate – occupation troops, corrupt organizations, people who are dumping toxic waste in their backyards, and so on. Paranoid Warmongers target groups which aren’t actually bothering them – or which may not even exist – but are often curiously rational about explaining the absolute necessity of their campaign against ferrets, demonic mailboxes, or whatever their target happens to be. Larger Warmonger Gangs tend to qualify as Terrorist Organizations.
  20. Hybrid Gangs are simply combinations of more than one of the major types. In fact, most gangs are variegated enough to combine features from many types of gangs, but few of them really fully embrace two (or more) of the basic types. If you’re using this as a random chart and get a “20”, roll again twice.