Universities are not what they used to be.
That’s always been true.
They’ve been places where philosophers thought deep thoughts, and poured them into the ears of student and passerby alike, unconcerned with little things like observations.
They’ve been places where men argued mathematical concepts and confused outsiders.
They’ve been places where young men learned practical arts, such as how to construct buildings and siege engines.
They’ve been musty warehouses of thought, enshrining ancient stupidities and judging everything done since inferior.
They have been centers for indoctrination, engines of political and social change, and bastions of conformity.
They’ve been exclusive social clubs, hotbeds of technical research, and recruiting grounds.
They’ve been gilded safehouses, dating services, and the gateways to careers.
In Shadowrun, they’ve changed again.
For the most part, they aren’t really THERE. For a lot of jobs, it’s cheaper to get a basic set of Skillwires, a skillsoft, and possibly some expert drivers, than it is to train someone. For those who really want to give their kids an edge up, there are assorted rapid-teaching systems, there are private tutors – both real and (rather cheaply) virtual. There are any number of virtual learning environments on the Matrix, including the public education systems. There are plenty of private corporate schools for those who show real talent.
Still, there’s something to be said for hands-on experience and for actual physical socializing outside the corporate environment – and virtual lessons in magic don’t work very well at all. Those old campuses don’t just disappear either; a lot of them are legally bound up in grants and moldering-old bequests.
In 2060 many universities support modest numbers of upper-end corporate youngsters who are there to make connections and to have sex, an equally modest – if much more focused – selection of magical students (whom many of the others seem to look right past without seeing them), a scattering of extreme specialists, and a gaggle of hopeful offspring of mid-level types who are there to try to make connections with future employers and patrons. On the staff side, they have the stolid teachers, a few clever mavericks, and some people who are teaching as a sideline while they work on other things. Half the “research projects” are purely personal.
Almost as importantly, there aren’t nearly as many bodies on campus as there used to be. Sizable chunks of many campuses have returned to the wilderness – or at least to shamanic lodges, open-air alchemy labs, and patches of managed woods. Today, most major campuses are half school and half wildlife preserve.
That’s where Alex came in.
Like his siblings, Alex was whelped under the floor of one of the oldest lecture halls on campus. Unlike them, or his parents, he was a shapeshifter. Sapient. Inherently magical. Supremely adaptive. A creature of the astral plane as much as of the physical world – and the astral structure of his environs had been permeated with knowledge being passed on to the younger generation for more than a hundred and fifty years. Alex absorbed erudition, and socialization, with his mother’s milk. The constant mutter of the lectures and presentations above – both past and present – filled his nascent mind.
By four months, Alex was practicing hunting on his own – but continued to sleep beneath the old lecture hall. Like most young shapeshifters, his regeneration and astral senses served him well even before his other magical talents expressed themselves. By the time he learned to shapeshift at about eighteen months his aging had begun to slow, but he still took the form of a late adolescent – a bit young to hang around campus, but not remarkably so. He might not have been an official student, but he was charming enough that no one objected too much to him quietly auditing courses.
At two years Alex was equivalent to a human of seventeen or eighteen, was the dominant fox on the campus, and had outlived his parents and most of his siblings. He’d also hooked up with Hitoshi, and come to share his view that the world just wasn’t being run very well.
There was an interruption when he was snatched as a pet, and hauled into a corporate compound – but his experiences before Hitoshi rescued him simply confirmed (at least in his mind) that the world REALLY needed someone more competent to run it. Most humans had no sense at all!
Egypt didn’t pan out, despite the rumors – but it did give them something to bet in a high-stakes poker game. Alex won a lot, and kept everyone’s focus on him, while Hitoshi set up to rake in a big pot – including ownership of one of the smallest, most isolated, countries in the world. That gave them a modest corner of the world to start with – or, if it came to that, a place to stay a very long ways away from all the stupidity.
“Alex Merriweather”, Fox Shapeshifter
Basic Expenditures: Race: Fox Shapeshifter (active target, 20), Magic: Grandmaster (Enhancement and Conjuration, 24, +6 from race. 35 Karma, Karma Pool 2), Resources: -6 (0, -6 from race), Skills: 25 (-2), Att: 27 (18).
To represent experience in the campaign, I’m providing +4 skill points which may be spent to raise initial skills (to a maximum of eight) and +2 Karma Pool. These bonuses have been included below.
Shapeshifter Abilities: Regeneration (damage from drain recovers at one box per minute, normal physical damage recovers at 1d6 boxes per turn, double overflow boxes), +2 Essence, may communicate with animals, shapechange as a complex action, +2 Charisma, +1 Intelligence, +1 Will. As a Fox gain +1 Quickness, +1 Reaction, +1d6 Initiative, x5 Running Multiplier.
Shapeshifter Flaws: Legal Problems (no legal rights), Dual Natured, Bestial Nature (must roll Will to avoid instinctive behaviors if a strong stimulus comes up), Hung out to Dry (does not get the usual two free contacts), No Identity (has no legal paper trail, SIN, or other records – except, possibly, as a pet), Reduced Resources (-6, included above), Vulnerability (wounds inflicted by silver and magical weapons will not regenerate, silver is toxic to them), Uneducated (-2) and Illiterate (-3).
Edges: Buying off Illiterate (3), Increase Initiation to L3 (6), Longevity (+1), Floating L1 Contact (2), Day Job (0): Helps run the Pitcairn Islands. This has Minor Responsibilities (keeping an eye out and helping in emergencies, -2) and moderately useful perks (an identity of sorts, rights while on the islands, and lets him live on the island for free, +2), but no salary (Pitcairn Island has no money, 0), Photographic Memory (1), Good Looking (-2 to social target numbers versus females, -1 versus males, 2), and +1 to his Magic Rating (3).
Flaws: Detailed Background (-4)*, Distinctive (albino, -1), Psychological Quirks (honorable, wants “sparkly things”, rushes to aid damsels in distress, all common/mild, for a net total of -6 and a [-2] on social target numbers)*, Uneducated (additional minus three, but see powers, -3), and Low Pain Tolerance (-4). Grand Total: -18.
*Exempt to over-limit halving due to being useful to the GM.
- Combat Pool: 9d
- Karma Pool: 4
Karma Expenditures (35 Initial): Initiation II (25), Str from 1 to 3 (10).
Basic Attributes (Human Form): Body 4, Quickness 4, Strength 1 (3 Karma), Intelligence 6 (7 Race, 8 Ace), Willpower 6 (7 Race), Charisma 6 (8 Race, 16 Ace), Essence 8, Magic 9 (12 after initiation), Reaction 6, Initiative 6+1d6
- Active Skills (25 + 4 bonus): Agility 6, Conjuration 8, Stealth 8, Slight of Hand 4, Unarmed Combat 3.
- Knowledge Skills: Judo 3, Spirit Lore 5, Breaking and Entering 5, Stage Magic 1. Alex normally simply defaults to Intelligence (without penalty) for these thanks to his Ace powers.
- Languages: English 3, Japanese 3, Cityspeak 3, Tahitian 3.
- Irrelevant Skills: Math Puzzles 2, Word Puzzles 4, Card Games 6
- Level One: Attunement (+1 Magic Rating), Supporting Cast (acquires [Charisma] new common contacts and random dependents), and Mindlink (communications and sense sharing with Hitoshi).
- Level Two: Attunement (+1 Magic Rating), Unbreakable (may define some things that he cannot be made to do; in his case he’s chosen “will not harm innocents”, “will not harm Hitoshi”, and another minor item of choice), Supporting Cast II (add [Charisma] more important contacts at the cost of acquiring an obsessive opponent).
- Level Three: Attunement (+1 Magic Rating), Empathic Healing (may take on other people’s wounds), and Magic Protection I (reduce effective magic rating by two when rolling to avoid magic loss).
Enhancement powers (24 Points):
- Everyone Loves Me: +8 Charisma (4) which allows incredible feats (3) – defaulting directly to the skill success table or relevant skill target numbers as appropriate. Sadly, this is subject to a Class-I limitation: it makes people want to snatch him and keep him for a pet (saving 1.75 points).
- The Quick White Fox: Celerity, +3 to Movement Multipliers (1.5)
- Quite an Education: +1 Intelligence (1) which allows incredible feats (3) – defaulting directly to the skill success table or relevant skill target numbers as appropriate.
- Fast As Quicksilver: May shapeshift as a free action (1.5).
- Always Looking Sharp: May create any normal outfit desired when he needs to (.5).
- It’s No Trouble To Call: Has an additional stun damage monitor only to absorb stun from Conjuration (1).
- I’m Not Really This Clinging: Wall-Crawling, as a personal, physical, permanent, innate ability (1.5).
- I’m So Cute: Opponents suffer a +1 target number modifier, but only when launching direct attacks against him (Class-II limitation, does not affect investigation, mind probes, negotiations, etc, 2).
- Four Flying Paws: +2 Autosuccesses (1d+12) with Agility (quickness-based Athletics rolls, 1).
- Stronger Than I Look: +1 Autosuccess with Strength (strength-based Athletics rolls, .5).
- Rubbing My Fur Is Good Luck: Major Lucky Break Once/Session (Class-I limitation, only works for an ally, not for himself, 2.25).
- They’re Really Quite Obliging: two Autosuccesses when Summoning Spirits (2).
- It’s A Good Nose: Hyper-scent: (-4 to relevant target numbers, .25).
- Sharp Foxy Eyes: Hyper-Sight: (-4 to relevant target numbers, .25) and Low-Light Vision (.25).
- Alert Foxy Ears: Hyper-Hearing: (-4 to relevant target numbers, .25).
Equipment (500 NY, no starting cash): Squatter Lifestyle (Free), 2x Smoke Grenades (60 NY), Earplug Cell Phone / Low-End Music Player (150 NY), 30 Days Ration Bars (90 NY, in various stashes. Note that this will last a fox for more like 30 weeks), Survival Kit (100 NY, makes life in the woods and down holes and such far more comfortable), Assorted cheap music downloads and some chips (50 NY), Animal License (50 NY).
In his own way, Alex is pretty absurd. His only tactic in combat is to send in a spirit and/or run, but he’s a powerful spirit master, a social monster – although not as bad as some – and is a natural expert at all intelligence-based skills to boot. A one-fox backup and technical team all by himself. As he gathers more Karma he’ll be buying the ability to share some of his powers with Hitoshi, more magic protection, and more supporting cast.