Shadowrun: Astral Experiments

   The characters in the Shadowrun Campaign have been doing a lot of experimentation recently: here are some of their experiments and current results:

   Mr Moore has been trying a number of experiments with cyberware, many of them probing into just what “Essence” is, and why it’s so hard to get back.

Experiment #1: Cybernetics Self Transplant

  • Setup: Cybernetics are bonded to the user through their essence. Essentially, the lost essence flows into the machine, and makes it a part of the user’s (un)natural astral existence. This is shown by the fact that people can regenerate Essence very slowly, but only after cyberware is removed, and that it leaves an Essence hole which can be filled with other cyberware.
  • Hypothesis: If you remove cyberware from someone, and then replace it with at least some components of the same cyberware, you can reduce the Essence impact, because you are transplanting your own Essence.
  • Expected Results: None. Detailed astral analysis could give very interesting insights.

   The results here are pretty simple: “Essence” is primarily a spiritual thing: essentially, it’s a measure of how much “alien” material and physiological disturbance the spirit can tolerate having integrated with the body and – most importantly – the central nervous system before spirit-body disassociation (“death”) sets in. Spirits can occupy bodies with unnatural components, they just don’t find it easy or comfortable. Higher-quality systems can reduce the overall impact by reducing the extent of the modifications, by being lighter and leaving more tissue intact, and by better mimicking the structure of the material they’re replacing. Better surgery can reduce the impact by reducing the physiological disturbance. Nothing can entirely negate it.

   Of course, as long as the spirit can continue to occupy the altered body, for magical purposes it’s just a body; the cyberware really doesn’t matter much there.

   Unfortunately, the spirit-body link is semi-permanently stressed by such modifications, and the situation – the “loss of essence” or “fraying of the silver cord” – is almost permanent (in the original rules, it’s permanent. Under the Penumbra rules it’s possible to remove the disrupting elements and allow natural spiritual “healing” to very very slowly repair the link). It also gets worse each time the level of disturbance reaches a new peak. That’s why you can uninstall cyberware and get new stuff without further impact – until you exceed the previous level of disruption.

   On the astral level, the disruption of an individuals essence is perceptible as a weakening of their astral pattern, spiritual body, aura, or whatever you want to call it. New cyberware will initially turn show up as black wounds, but will come to resemble dark “astral scars” as the user’s spirit permeates the modified areas over the next few hours. When you remove cyberware, the user’s spirit remains intact; no part of it’s energies “goes with” the old systems; the “scarring”, however, will disappear – or at least wind up being distributed evenly throughout the astral form, since it’s impact remains.

   “Essence-Draining” creatures are, in fact, usually technically dead. What they actually do is disrupt the astral body and absorb the resulting surge of released energies – using them to substitute for the natural body-spirit bond they no longer possess. Similarly, a deceased spirit can be bound into a body with magic, but it’s not really being “alive”.

   There are also techniques for “burning essence” to fuel bursts of magical power; these cause “essence damage” by burning out the spirit-body link by channeling excessive levels of energy through it – essentially a higher-order form of “drain”, although the direct channel bypasses the symptoms of normal physical drain.

Experiment # 2: Cybernetics Transplants

  • Setup: As Experiment #1.
  • Hypothesis: Transplanting cyberware from one person to another, before the accumulated Essence dissipates, could reduce the Essence cost.
  • Expected Results: None. Detailed astral analysis could give very interesting insights.

   This can actually work, although the mechanism seems to have nothing to do with “essence dissipation”, since essence isn’t really something that can be moved around. In general, the essence cost of a piece of cyberware can be reduced if it’s transplanted from a donor who has been hosting it for a few weeks PROVIDED that the “donor” remains in the immediate vicinity of the recipient for some hours after the surgery, that the donor genuinely wants to help the recipient, and that some form of astral link – a close friendship (acceptable), blood relationship (better), or astral contact link (best) exists between them. The effect is rather small in any case.

Experiment #3: Radical Cybernetics

  • Setup: Cybernetics are normally very mundane. However, innately magical materials (radicals et all) could modify this.
  • Hypothesis: Cybernetics made partially of radicals would interesting properties for self-enchantment. Depending on the exact cyber-part, they also could provide protection against Astral attacks.
  • Expected Results: High. Radicals are in such short supply that they have not been used for much to date, and experimentation in this area should continue to yield results. This may or may not accomplish anything useful.

   Astrally, magically-active cyberware – whether because it’s enchanted as a focus, imbued with a spirit, or any similar effect – never bonds with the user’s spirit to become “truly a part of” him or her. Interestingly, this greatly reduces the essence impact of items which do not interact with the central nervous system, such as skeletal reinforcement. Items which interact with the nervous system in non-critical fashions, such as cyberlimbs, have their impacts reduced. Items which have major interactions with the central nervous system, such as datajacks, have their impact increased. Items which replace chunks of the central nervous system, such as spinal interfaces, wired reflexes, and similar items, result in death – an effect apparently related to the inability of Shapechangers and other creatures with regenerative powers to recover from spinal damage.

   Magically-active cyberware can provide limited protection against astral attack, if only because it’s a separate item to put in the way – but it does not seem to be a very effective way to go about it.

   Cyberware incorporating alchemical radicals in its construction does make self-enchantment easier, but the ability to enchant living beings is still required, since such items are incorporated into the user’s astral body. Such items also have a reduced impact on the magic rating of magically-active users, either reducing the initial impact or counting as an “ordeal” for attempts to regain magic rating through initiation later on.

Experiment #4: Magical Pattern Implantation

  • Setup: Magical patterns and symbols are used by both Mages and Shamans (though with different styles, levels of complexity, and nature) to create or enchant spell effects. It may be possible to “build-in” enchantments for less Karma through designing tattoo-like magical patterns made out of magical materials, implanted into subjects’ dermal tissue.
  • Hypothesis: Magical patterns will create a specific effect the user can learn to control, as if it were a cybernetic implant, except magical.
  • Expected Results: Low. If it has any effect, it probably won’t be nearly as much as we want. If it works at all, it will probably be a good method for enhancing the power of lesser talents by giving pre-set patterns to channel their magic through.

   It is possible to enchant living creatures, with or without tattoos, given the right techniques. Unfortunately, the only thing that anyone knows how to make symbols do is resonate with magic and (if driven by a relatively steady source) set up a standing wave, rather like putting rocks into a current. No one knows how to use symbols to channel or guide magic in other way. Even more importantly, tattoos become a part of the tattooed creatures astral body, and no longer resonate as individual symbols.

Experiment #5: Essence Regeneration

  • Setup: Essence can regenerate at a very slow rate. However, the existence of Essence-draining creatures supports the idea that quicker Essence regeneration is possibly, likely though taking it from lesser living creatures. Prepare for the mass cow-massacre.
  • Hypothesis: Vampires seem to get this ability in order to survive their unstable spiritual state, which rapidly drains. It may not be possible to duplicate without similarly destabilizing the subject, but is probably possible with initiate abilities. It will probably be safer and easier to slowly absorb energy from all around to regenerate it at a faster rate.
  • Expected results: High. The principles seem practical and achievable, although it does require a couple valid assumptions.

   There are a couple of essence-regeneration effects – one quick variant, which essentially transforms the spirit and results in a more-or-less “new” person with renewed “essence”, and slow spiritual regeneration-enhancement spells. The vampires and such are, as noted earlier, mostly technically dead, and are renewing their own magical spirit-binding, not really their “essence”. In effect, to become a vampire, it’s necessary to use the power-boost the virus is giving you in the process of burning out your spirit-body link to improvise a binding spell to hold your own spirit. Hence most “attempts” to create vampires and such simply result in death: people just don’t do it unless they’re desperate to live at all costs, at least slightly talented, determined, and very lucky. There is a hybrid form, where people manage to stop the process without burning out their natural “essence”, and can then use “essence drain” to build up a secondary pool of magical power, but this usually requires bonding with a predatory spirit that maintains the secondary pool and helps maintain your body. It’s generally not pretty.

Experiment #6: Essence Burn

  • Setup: Essence is very similar to Force for spirits, except that Essence is perhaps even more powerful and more flexible. it doesn’t give a bunch of freebies, but it much harder to affect. Nonetheless, spirits can burn Force (or usually, have it burned off by others). It has minor magical effects on others. Therefore, people can probably burn Essence for some useful effect. The existence of Vampires and so forth confirms that it should be possible.
  • Hypothesis: Burning Essence can be done and will bring potent but short-lived power boosts, which can be channeled into pre-set effects, such as spells.
  • Expected results: High. The theory may not be practical, but it seems possible and is simply the extension and combination of known existing phenomenon.

   This is possible. It is known to be at least partially responsible for some instances of phenomena such as “hysterical strength” and is speculated to be responsible for the occasional pre-awakening reports of magical activities. There is no known method of training people to do this, but you’re quite correct about the (closely related, if not identical) methods used by Vampires – although a Vampires “essence” is a measure of the strength of its spirit-binding spell, not of it’s natural “silver cord”.

Experiment #7: Mundane Spell Sustaining

  • Setup: Spells usually have to be sustained by the individual creating, but it is possible to hand-off spells with the right techniques. What’s not clear is if you could train a mundane to do the same. This could greatly expand potential human achievement, as well as create a lot more Shadowrunners on the cheap. Though they probably wouldn’t be as good as usual player-characters, they’d be pretty useful and flexible.
  • Hypothesis: Although mundane individuals can’t easily sense magical activity, excellent training can sometimes improve on nature. They may not be able to create active magical effects, but they could potentially sustain them, acting as a focus. This will require intense mental training and close work with a magically active spellcaster.
  • Expected Results: Low. Although theoretically possibly, it’s not at all clear that mundane individuals will ever be able to control magical phenomenon.

   It is possible – given the appropriate methods of transferring a spell – to hand off sustaining a spell to a latent or mundane. Latents can sustain low-power spells for some time. Mundanes can sustain spells briefly, but will either be boosted to Latent status by doing so (presuming strong wills, willingness to endure lots of pain, some potential, and 60 points of Karma available to spend) or will have to choose between dropping the spell and burning out, since – for them – this is equivalent to the Essence Burn effect noted above.

Experiment #8: Powered Battle Armor

  • Setup: Although it’s never really been done, the basic components of powered armor are available. Artificial cybernetic muscles, strong armor technologies, and the electronic capacilities to link numerous systems together.
  • Hypothesis: Powered armor can be built, although even light suits will run into the half-million range. It won’t be as efficient as cybernetics, but will give solid security-grade armor, much built-in functionality, and Strength and Quickness bonuses.
  • Proposed Powered Armor Design
    • Light Experimental Suit Prototype
    • Base Components: Light Security Armor, Muscle Replacement 4, Battery Pack.
    • Effect: Combined, these should give an effective bonus, although less efficient than implanted muscles.
  • Expected Results: High. The largest issue is that the armor will eat up battery life very quickly, and integrating all the systems could be quite difficult. It may be necessary for users to have datajacks to integrate suit controls and muscles.
  • It will probably be useful for site defense or well-supplied military operations, not running around. The cost is unlikely to go down much beyond the base components. Shadowrun manufacturing is almost as cheap and quick as manufacturing can get; some components simply require a very tight tolerances and very intricate work.

   Basically, this involves adding a powered exoskeleton to combat armor. It’s possible, although it’s bulky and rather clumsy unless it’s run by a spinal interface, since even the best amplification-response programs have a hard time providing appropriate levels of amplification based on external cues and nerve-activity sensors. A datajack really doesn’t help much: the muscle-control and conscious-thought sections of the brain are less tightly linked than researchers in the field hoped. Power isn’t that big a problem: the same power sources that run cyberlimbs can be used. It will indeed be very expensive though.

Experiment #9: Quick-Break Capsules

  • Setup: Auto-injectors are handy, but they usually only hold one drug at a time, and require some Essence. However, DMSO offers a quite handy delivery alternative mechanism. The development of quick-break capsules another way of delivering drugs swiftly.
  • Hypothesis: A DMSO/drug mixture, placed within small capsule and strapped near an artery offer a useful alternative, and makes it easier to reload or alter the contents, or get multiple ones. A capsule holder could even link to internal computer or medical systems.
  • Expected Results: High. The technology is easily available and should integrate nicely

   Unfortunately, this won’t work very well. DMSO allows larger-than-usual molecules to move through the skin into the body. Unfortunately, this is an osmotic process: it’s slow, it’s greatly dependent on skin thickness, chemistry, sweatiness, and other factors, as well as on how quickly the material is taken up by capillaries; a lot of it is likely to remain in local tissues for some time. That means that the dosage is difficult to control (the squirtgun/drug combinations only work through massive overdosage) and it takes effect relatively slowly. Worse, it’s competing with a well-established technology that doesn’t suffer from such problems: external strap-on automatic medical injectors, drug pumps, and sensor-triggered pressure injectors have been around for decades and are even easier to link to computer and medical systems.

Next we have a selection of the Ninja’s experiments:

The Flying Saucer Design:

  • Hypothesis: using the toroidal magic circle design, it should be possible to use magic to safely launch delicate items into space or to set up a mobile flying platform that is tougher than a tank and could even contain one in addition to its standard components. The components of such a construct include:
    • A toroidal circle.
    • A magic user to power it. Ideally the magic user can also sustain the next two components.
    • A reverse light spell or a reverse lightning spell if there is room for a generator. Several might be required for the design to function properly.
    • A spell that converts incoming energy into kinetic energy OR a set of levitation spells with a barrier spell.
    • A platform to connect everything to as well as carry passengers and payload.

   With this combination a magic user should be able to lift a small craft into orbit while maintaining a stable magic field inside, free from the damaging astral environment of space. It could also be armored by the barrier spell, which would protect it from most space hazards. A simple dome could hold the air in and allow tourists to see space in safety. It could be powered by lasers from the ground or orbit. If the kinetic-conversion spell is designed properly, it would exert no g-forces on the payload, and thus could be used to transport extremely fragile machinery to orbit. Finally, it could lift materials more cheaply than other current methods, since the costs would be relatively flat for whatever the size of the payload as long as it fit inside in the conversion spell.

   Alternately, it could be used to make a spirit and magic proof tank that has armor of the best designed spell Mitsuhama can find without the cost of actually casting the spell at full force. It would have a astral barrier of force similar to the one around Renraku’s arcology and could ram astral threats with it. No spell or spirit in existence matches that power, yet. Unfortunately this requires a more or less portable power generation system capable of reaching multiple gigavolts.

   The “light to electricity” and “light to kinetic energy” spells should be relatively simple to create. A laser or set of lasers to power it might be a little hard to maintain, obtain, or use, but it is possible. It could also be run on a massive lens or mirror focusing light from the sun.

   The ideal spell for operation powering the thing would transform all energy meeting its surface into kinetic energy in a direction determined by the caster distributed evenly to each object inside the spell in proportion to its mass. This would result in no g-forces from acceleration, the ability to accelerate at speeds proportional to the total amount of energy that is thrown at it, and protection from high energy particles, radiation, and impacts. If such a spell is not feasible, the levitation-barrier version offers some protection and movement, but is not as versatile or as fast as the first version.

  Now, this one gets complicated, and there are a lot of elements here. Quite a lot of this will work, albeit with some provisions. Space operations are the biggest problem, so we’ll start assuming that you’re working in space. Here the problems include:

   The toroidal magic circle design necessarily leaks magic to the outside – it has to go somewhere after all – and the enhanced mana level environment only applies inside the physical ring itself. Worse, the symbols can only resonate and create the barrier when there’s a reasonable magic level on the outside of the physical ring to support them. Magical effects cannot be projected from inside the barrier.

   Ergo, you also need to use some form of the “Astral Bubble” spell inside the barrier, but outside the physical component of the circle (quite possible, but it requires careful tuning of the circle). Just as importantly, the circle’s barrier will bleed magical energy into space at a horrific rate – it is basically a standing wave effect after all – meaning that it must be pumped frantically to maintain itself, although more research on the design will help a bit. At least that will help maintain a decent magic level inside the physical toroid.

   No conversion spell can be 100% efficient; this will require more spells to reflect or dump excess physical energies.

   Now, approaching the energies of the Renraku Barrier is simply not going to work: they’re pumping that thing with the output of a major fusion plant and an accelerator ring more than a mile across. Fortunately, you can pump energy into the barrier and other spells at far lower energies – even lower than the 53 megavolts required to show positive results on earth in the low-mana environment of space.

   Since a Physical Barrier spell will not interfere with the Astral Bubble spell, it can simply be set up inside it. There shouldn’t be any problem there.

   One major problem with laser-powering via light-absorption is that the thing will be somewhat difficult to track – although a radio beacon and automatic-targeting function will be reasonably effective as long as you make sure that the absorption and shielding-spells only operate one way. Similarly, it will be difficult to see out of: attempting to leave a hole in the absorption spell is asking to be blasted with a high-powered laser and most instruments will rely on incoming photons. An onboard power supply to pump the system directly is far more desirable. What you really need is a small, light, and near-limitless power supply. It might be a good idea to talk to Renraku about antimatter there.

   Next we have some additional Ninja experiments with permutations on magical circles:

Experiment (1) Twisted Circle:

   This involves making a circle out of a rigid strip of twisted plastic and inscribing it with a series of symbols following the rules for a toroidal barrier of multiplier one – a barrier the same size as the toroid. It will be necessary to make sure that the twists do not make the line of symbols longer than the radius of the circle. Hopefully this will result in a barrier that resembles the three- layer structure of the toroidal barriers, but has a radius no larger than the physical representation.

   Unfortunately, the orientation of the symbols has no effect; this is effectively equivalent to a flat circle layout. Apparently the three-dimensional helix is required for the multi-level meta-plane blocking structure. Setting it up as a mobius strip has no effect if the symbols go around once only – it seems that drawing half of them on the outside of a thin barrier and half on the inside has no real effect either – but allowing them to overlap, separated only by a thin sheet of physical material, causes them to interfere destructively with themselves.

Experiment (2) Leveled Toroid Experiment:

   This involves making a toroidal circle with little outcroppings that keep the plane of the symbols constant as they are followed around the toroid. Each symbol will be parallel with the ground if the toroid is resting on a level surface.

   As long as the symbols are arranged in a full helix, following the rules for generating a toroidal barrier, the orientation of the symbols has no effect. The interaction with astral space seems to be based on their meaning – and is possibly related to the mind of the operator – not on their physical construction or orientation.

Experiment (3): Disk Barrier:

   This involves constructing a series of toroids with the same barrier radius and length, but of different physical toroid sizes. These will be mounted in a structure that holds them in place so that they have the same center and are aligned on the same plane without touching or interfering with the layout of the symbols. Hypothetically, this might result in a larger, stronger, faster activating, or completely disrupted circle. Speed is the desired effect, but the others are also attractive.

   This is fairly straightforward: the circles operate by reflecting the magical waste energy from an operation attuned to the circle that reaches them to create a standing wave, and a consequent astral barrier. In this experiment, only the innermost ring works; those further out are not receiving their excitation energy.

   Tuning each successive ring going out to operate on the waste energy from the next ring inward does have some effect, later rings will make a modest contribution to the overall strength of the final barrier, however the effect is relatively small; the boost seems to be in the form of a rapidly-convergent power series.

   Attuning the circles to different operations may also have some effect, but this variation was not tried.

Experiment (4) Nested Toroids:

   I’m not quite sure how this arrangement differs from Experiment (3) actually, unless it’s simply by having some toroids with a greater internal radius than others.

   The original description indicated that this experiment involved creating a toroid with a relatively large vertical radius when it was resting flat on the ground and making the symbols on it appropriate for a barrier with a multiplier of 2. A smaller toroid with a multiplier of 3 but the same total symbol length (and thus barrier radius) would be anchored inside the first one, anchored to that the theoretical barriers would be in the same place. This was to be repeated as many times as was practical.

   In this case, the size of the symbols and the internal radius of the toroid – at least as long as it’s a lot smaller than the radius from its center – also seems to be irrelevant. The effects are identical to the previous experiment.

Experiment (5) Living Barrier:

   This experiment involved making a cylindrical printer that printed using a strain of dual-natured bacteria in a nutrient solution that would last for at least an hour after printing a dual circle and then trying them out. If that works, the next step is to try and create circles which resonate with wards, astral projection, and other powers that send all their waste energy out of reach of normal circles.

   This actually works quite well from some viewpoints: such circles are easier to excite and lose less energy. The dual-natured symbols seem to be far more effective at resonating with the magical energy involved. Unfortunately, they are also more fragile: attempting to obtain high levels of energy using this technique seems to destroy the bacteria fairly quickly. It is easy enough to make circles powered by astral projection this way – although the astral projector is trapped within the circle, and if he breaks out he both destroys the dual-natured bacteria and stops powering the circle anyway. It will not work with Wards; those are static formations, and do not emit any worthwhile waste energy to resonate with. It might be possible to do something with the waste energy from astrally-active animals or vegetation though.

Experiment (6) Sharper Symbols:

   This sequence of experiments were all basically similar: our Ninja experimented with a variety of symbol mediums – printed on paper, engraved on various materials, chalked on concrete, inlaid on various foundations, in wax on wood, molded in clay and plastic and other materials, using alchemical radicals, and – especially – fine wires of oricalcum inlaid in engravings and uranium mediums, and reshaped plants. All samples were of the same size and shape, but varied in line thickness, depth, and vertical shape. He then set them resonating, and inspected them astrally to see what differences occurred in sharpness and other effects.

   In general, the substrate did not matter (radioactive substrates are an exception). The best – sharpest and most efficient – symbols were made with inlaid materials with circular cross sections. Oricalcum was especially useful; such symbols were by far the sharpest and most efficient – closely matching those observed in the Renraku Arcology. Oddly, the thickness of the inlaid wire has little or no effect.

   Radioactive materials were a bit strange: lighter radioactive nuclei tended to become somewhat more unstable in a high-magical field. Heavier nuclei were more stable. Very light and superheavy nuclei were apparently unaffected. The results plotted as another sine-like curve, switching to an exponential approach to no effect towards the ends – stable nuclei remained stable and the high transuranics presumably vanished in their usual microsecond times (not that the Ninja had any to test with).

   In any case, high levels of radioactivity tended to disrupt magic: apparently the particles somehow interact with astral fields, losing energy to them – possibly a natural version of the energy-to-magic effect – but it reappears as random disruption. Overall, not too useful unless you were interested in the explanation for nuclear-weapon difficulties and unexplained meltdowns.

Experiment (7) Algae Power:

   This experiment is another simple one: the dense life-concentrations of laser-driven algae-farm operations seem to somewhat enhance magic levels locally. Ergo, this experiment simply involves setting up a toroidal barrier designed to enclose as much of the facility as possible in the middle of an algae growth center of the largest size possible and watch to see if it draws power from the algae or has any other effects.

   This one hasn’t been practical to try yet: exciting a circle that big will require several mages, and there aren’t that many algae farms handy that want to cooperate.

Experiment (8) Algae Impressions:

   This simply involves moving algae around, and seeing how quickly the mana levels change with various amounts of algae to see if the effect is exponential or linear.

   This one also hasn’t been practical to try yet.

5 Responses

  1. differences between experiments 3 and 4: 3 resembles several toroid and connecting rigging forming a oddly shaped disk. 4 resembles a single toroid to the outside observer. It is actually a multi-walled toroid similar to a multi-walled tube that has been bent around on itself.

  2. Ah. I thought you meant smaller in overall radius. That will – unfortunately – result in destructive interference. The various layers of symbols will partially screen each other from the excitation energy, resulting in effectively-incomplete circles. Net result: a nasty headache for the operator.

    Although, come to think of it, that might makea useful mask for what’s inside, since it’s essentially a way to generate low-level astral static.

  3. Fasincating. I may mention a few refinements soon.

  4. […] Shadowrun: Astral Experiments […]

  5. […] Most of these notions were covered under the Flying Saucer research, so I’ll just refer you there (about halfway down the […]

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