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.