Conditioning Methods

Conditioning Methods for Shadowrun:

   This was a research project of Ixian’s, a cyber-augmented Neo-Jaguar. Oddly enough, his own original genetic programming – “be a big, friendly intelligent-kitty house pet/bodyguard” – usually tended to overwhelm the “death commando” routine he’d been implanted with during his time as an experimental animal. As a side-venture, partially due to his investigation into what had been used on him – and why various approaches did and didn’t work – he eventually started a business using what he’d learned.


   Neural Programming is, of course, the simplest way to induce compulsions. The problem here is that the brain is the most efficient and adaptable learning mechanism in the known universe. It’s quite plastic, and unless a pattern is regularly reinforced, it soon degrades. Informational patterns are reinforced by use and further study.

   Inducing a reasonable level of a compulsion, such as loyalty, is easy, and has relatively few side effects. Sadly, a reasonable level of compulsion will not stand up to reality-based challenges. It can vanish in an instant. The only way to make it strong and permanent is to present regular, rational, reasons and/or rewards for it.

   Of course, if you’re willing to do that, you don’t need conditioning except – possibly – to speed things up. Provide regular, rational, reasons for a belief, attitude, or emotion, and people will tend to develop it.

   Unreasonable levels of compulsions are equally unstable, if slower to fade. They can be maintained by regular reprogramming. Sadly, this is extremely expensive, slowly degrading to the subject”s essence, and – like any other irrational compulsion or addiction – acts as a source of interference with rational thought, drastically reducing the subject’s performance and ability to learn. They tend to lead to insanity or to the brain rerouting around the imposed pattern or both.

   If you don’t care about their ability to learn and create, skillwires are cheaper and don’t lead to insanity. If you just want a compulsion, drugs and addictions are both cheaper and more reliable. If you don’t want creativity, expert systems are more reliable and cheaper.

   If you want them to be able to think, learn, and create, installed compulsions are counterproductive.


   Programmable-ASSIST Biofeedback systems or spells use notably different procedures to modify the brain, but the results are pretty much identical. Biofeedback just takes considerably longer – especially if you drop down to sleep-learning rates to avoid excessive essence costs.

   Persona- and Restraint- chip systems simply use a very low-level or “subliminal” signal to reinforce a specific behavior pattern. Thanks to this low intensity level such a feed can safely be sustained indefinitely – but the effect does not suffice to make major changes in neural functioning and fades rapidly when the source is removed. Implanted chips are an easy way to induce psychological changes and compulsions. They’re also easy to remove.

   While magical training techniques may be considerably cheaper in concept, in practice the mage must actually have the skills that he or she wishes to imbue in the subject of the spell – and must have them at a considerably higher level. The upper limits remain the same as well.

   Skill reinforcement is required as well. This can be accomplished by use of the skills in question, by further study, by repeat treatments, or by implanting a chip which regularly trickle-stimulates the neural patterns in question – thus promoting thinking about problems involving the skill and using it to solve problems. As a side benefit this fosters creativity – but is not compatible with compulsions, which rely on not being thought about.



   Pleasure Conditioning is one of the most powerful methods of controlling behavior. It’s also one of the easiest: any datajack or simsense system can stimulate the pleasure centers. Pleasure conditioning can quickly and easily render your subjects calm, docile, devoted, and happy. Unfortunately it also usurps the basic reward system of the brain – rendering other rewards, or any attempt to earn them, quite irrelevant and overwhelming other mental processes. Pleasure conditioning works well if you don’t want your subjects thinking or working very hard. House servants, pets, casual workers, pleasure-slaves, and minor minions (if you don’t mind a near-complete lack of initiative) are all good candidates.

   Low-level pleasure conditioning applied over a period of time is much less troublesome, and can even pass almost unnoticed. If you simply make being at work feel good, you’ll have few problems with absenteeism – although you’ll have problems with people stalling to make sure they spend lots of time there. Unfortunately, this places your program in direct competition with all the entertainment programs that do the same thing. It’s also easily subverted by anyone who simply uses a stronger dose unless your employees are trained to recognize the technique – which keeps you from using it. More importantly, pleasure-memories make a much stronger impression, and so have more impact on future behavior, if they’re sensibly linked with actual experiences. In most cases it’s easier and cheaper to simply provide the occasional enjoyable event – which is why employee cookouts, company resorts, incentive programs, salaries, and vacations are still in use.

   Simsense programs showing, and reinforcing, the benign consequences of desirable behavior are already in widespread use in the form of simsense “employee orientation” tapes, advertisements for home-exercise gear and similar products, and religious indoctrination systems. Since all you need to produce such things is a simsense recorder and a freeware editing program there’s very little profit in selling them.


   BTL chips employ – albeit less than intentionally – a combination of ASSIST biofeedback and simple pleasure-conditioning. Unfortunately, since their output isn’t properly controlled or particularly informative, their use tends to lead to brain damage rather than to useful learning.



   Pain or Aversion Conditioning is useful if you want to prohibit or discourage specific activities. It operates, simply enough, by presenting a series of high-speed simsense scenarios and linking them with powerful negative sensations and/or emotions, usually supplied via datajack. Overdoing aversion conditioning tends to produce serious psychological problems and an unwillingness to do anything without explicit orders or permission. While this has no practical uses, it’s occasionally used by psychopathic individuals to either “make a point” to others or simply as a demonstration of power. If you don’t take it to the point of psychological breakdown, aversion conditioning is fairly easy to overcome: the trick lies in making sure that the subject does not want to do so. This is best done by using it to reinforce more-or-less rational decisions, such as a desire to give up the use of some harmful drug or to avoid the consequences of some action.


Common aversion conditioning packages in Ixian’s lineup included:

  • Child Safety: Designed for very young children, this program simply includes a selection of common dangers – crossing the street without checking for cars, ingesting substances labeled as poisons, playing with matches, pulling on pots on the stove, accepting candy or rides from strangers, and so on – and links them strongly with serious negative outcomes. His test results showed a notable reduction in both child mortality and child medical expenses.

  • Teen Safety: Designed for somewhat older children, and so with a stronger appeal to rational decision-making, this package is designed to discourage the use of BTL’s and dangerous drugs, drag racing and similar dangerous driving behavior, participation in street gangs, unprotected sexual behaviors, and other common self-inflicted dangers. Test results are similar to those for the Child Safety package.

  • Criminal Behavior: Designed for teens and adults, this package simply stresses the consequences of criminal behavior and the fact that – barring extremely specialized talents or limiting yourself to small-scale operations in a lawless area – you are unlikely to get away with anything serious. In keeping with his policy of honesty – and in aligning his packages with rational decision-making for maximum effectiveness – it also presents the fact that, while you’re unlikely to have problems with the law when operating in many areas, such areas and operations are extremely dangerous in themselves. While this doesn’t do much about the employees stealing small amounts of office supplies. It has a fair impact on active sabotage, embezzlement, and similar problems.

  • Workplace Safety: This series is designed to reduce accidents for those working in dangerous jobs and areas. There are quite a few offerings in this series, since there are a variety of dangerous work situations out there. Fortunately, most of the hazards fall into a few relatively standard categories, making it easy to simply select the relevant scenarios for your individual overall program. The results show a substantial reduction in workplace injuries, medical expenses, and lost work time.

   Despite tales of chips and implants which activate to prohibit particular behavior patterns or restrain paranormal creatures, no such system has ever been designed. After all; it would have to constantly monitor, and understand, the behavior of the host subject to administer such feedback appropriately. To do this properly you need an AI with its own senses – and no one would waste such a system on conditioning an individual.



   Neurosurgery is partially covered under Neural Programming, which is essentially a very precise method of making changes in the brains neural network. Classical neurosurgery covers much cruder methods – physically breaking up, removing, or damaging portions of the brain. This is usually benign, such as when removing areas of diseased or malfunctioning tissue in the treatment of epileptic disorders or cancers. Malignant neurosurgery simply targets various functions of the brain for damage or destruction. While a classical lobotomy can be performed with a steel rod through the eye cavity as an outpatient procedure, most require more complex surgery or the use of an intersecting-beam radiation treatment system. Results are never guaranteed: the brain is very good at adapting and compensating for damage, especially since magic and karma have become a factor. Victims may spontaneously recover at any time. They may also be treated chemically to induce neural regeneration. While this does not restore the lost neural patterns, the subject will be able to relearn the lost abilities in short order. Magically-induced regeneration can restore lost neural patterns, but does not have to.

   In general, this is simply crippling. If you want to mute someone by destroying their speech centers, render them deaf, impair them, desex them, or paralyze them, there are cheaper and easier bits of cyberware to use – with the advantage that you can turn those functions on and off at whim. The cheapest method for most functions is a spinal override chip: they’re relatively low-impact and are quite easy to install. We recommend locking out the circuits controlling things like breathing and the heart, otherwise a mistaken button-press or minor glitch can easily kill your subject. If you want selective deafness or blindness, cybereyes and cyberears are also cheap and efficient compared to neurosurgery.


   As a practical matter, non-therapeutic neurosurgery is obsolete save for those occasions when someone simply wants to induce brain damage for its own sake – a practice most commonly seen in the lobotomization and sterilization of “undesirables” practiced in some countries.



   Endocrine Modifications fall into four major groups: the chemical or surgical castration of males, the chemical or surgical spaying of females, induced pairbonding, and phermonal attunement.

   Male Castration is both quick and easy. As is known to every farmer, it tends to make animals more docile, calmer, and less interested in sex. In sentient species it also rather unequivocally expresses dominance and tends to lead to the retention of childlike behavior and increased protectiveness of other children, relatives, and associates, probably in an instinctual attempt to protect presumably-related genetic patterns. It does tend to cause resentment in adults and late adolescents however – and very few people want it done to their children. It’s very common in young slaves however and is frequently used on captured enemies and criminals. Both chemical (easily reversible) and surgical (reversible via cloning surgery or regeneration treatments) variants are widely available.

   Spaying is more complex than castration, but is still relatively quick and easy. Outside of sterility, it’s effects are somewhat less notable than those of castration in males. There are reports of a slight increase in aggressive behavior and a slight decrease in instinctual, as opposed to learned, sexual behaviors, but such effects are relatively minor in animals and fairly trivial in more intelligent species, where much behavior is learned as opposed to instinctive. In general, this is an effective method of sterilization, but is fairly useless as far as behavior modification goes.

   Induced Pairbonding produces a fixation on a single individual – usually, although not always, of the opposite sex – heightened sexual responses to that individual, and submissive behavior. It’s most often used on concubines (often in conjunction with either enhanced or suppressed fertility). Since it’s simply an exaggeration of a normal behavioral mechanism, induced pairbonding has few side effects outside of an annoying tendency towards clinging. It does tend to fade slowly unless the treatment is repeated occasionally or an artificial gland is implanted to secrete the appropriate hormones.

   Phermonal Attunement involves modifying the sensory nerve endings in the nasal cavities to respond to specific chemical cues. Since these nerves feed into some of the deepest and most primitive centers of the brain – governing fundamental instinctive drives to breed, eat, drink, and submit (to live and breed later), as well as attraction to, or repulsion from, anything emitting the proper chemical cue – this provides a powerful technique for control. Since they are so basic, however, it’s best to keep your artificial cues very specific. Otherwise environmental disturbances can easily trigger behaviors when you don’t want them.

   While this can be used to keep employees out of areas where you don’t want them without being obvious about it, to control prisoners, or to allow various behaviors to be triggered on cue, this is generally expensive and pointless. There are cheap drugs and simsense-feed methods for all of that. It is occasionally used to install automatic urges to submit to and/or breed with particular individuals or with members of particular groups.

   Unfortunately, modified sensory tissues are just as fragile as normal ones: this modification tends to lose its effectiveness as the subject is exposed to pollution and airborne chemicals. Normal healing will maintain ordinary sensory receptors, but generally not modified ones. If you want it to remain effective, install an air-filtration system. Overall this is very expensive for what you get, but does have the advantage of being a continuous-conditioning process.



   Memory Implants are essentially an enhancement to other forms of conditioning, reducing resistance by making the recipient believe that they’ve developed the implanted skills, aversions, tropisms, or compulsions via experience. Sadly, memory implants must be carefully interwoven with other memories and neural patterns or they won’t be accessed via association often enough to keep them active and will clash with other memories – inducing schizophrenia or rejection. Memory implants must thus be individually tailored to the subject and require an intensive study of the fine neural structure of his or her brain. This makes them extremely expensive – especially when compared to simply giving someone a few artificial experiences while they’re unconscious. Memory Implants are only useful when you want to modify the memories or attitudes of someone important or influential and can manage to make them disappear for days or weeks without arousing suspicion or if you want to induce false memories in someone who’s under your control anyway – say as a “witness” to some event that never happened.

   That is to say, virtually never.

   There are a few exceptions: people who want their kid to believe that he or she left a cult, broke up with someone, or quit some unwanted behavior on their own, covering up the knockout prequel to a falsified simsense “tour” of some secret or high-security area, and so on – but this is still fairly rare.

   Its also not something you usually want to entrust to an outside company and is much easier to do with magic.



   Substructural Revision involves making fundamental, modifications in the structure of the brain – altering basic instincts, adding additional sensory lobes, and other major revisions of how the mind functions. While there have been occasional attempts at this, all of them to date have shared a common drawback: the subject suffers massive essence losses and winds up either dead or grossly damaged. Even cybermancy doesn’t help: apparently the body-spirit bond cannot handle modifications at this level. Overall, this is merely a grossly expensive way to kill people.


   Spells which grant “new senses” actually simply feed data into the mind: they don’t try to restructure the mind to handle new types of input. Similarly, enhanced cybernetic senses simply pass on information through normal neural channels.



   Jamming simply constantly repeats an overwhelming mental command, producing an artificial variation on the classical obsessive-compulsive syndrome. While this is easily done with a chip and a knowsoft link system, many of the simpler magical control spells operate this way as well. Sadly, this tends to lead to various forms of mental breakdown if its maintained for more than a few days. The relevant neurons simply exhaust themselves and shut down. Fortunately most of the effects will gradually reverse themselves if the stimulus is removed.



   Magical Conditioning comes in two basic varieties. If its simply used as a substitute for the usual technological systems the prior discussions cover its effects. Active control spells are quite another matter.

   Unfortunately, while active spells are offer an immense variety of control options and can be extremely effective, they require either tying up a mage or investing substantial amounts of karma to maintain them, they’re easily detected, and are relatively easy to break. In general, they aren’t a good long-term investment and aren’t usable on a large scale.

   Spells are quite useful in installing compulsions, but – unless the effects are reinforced* every so often – people tend to grow out of the effects of even the best spells. Still, a powerful mage can easily maintain a substantial cadre’ of conditioned servants. Unfortunately, such servants can be drafted into another mage’s service with relative ease; all of the basic groundwork has already been done and the usurper will only need to tweak the focus a bit.


   * “Reinforcement” includes being treated in accordance with the subject’s cultural expectations for the whatever role’ has been imposed on them, using additional spells to reinforce the compulsions, being rewarded for acting in accordance with compulsions, being dosed with will-weakening substances, and being punished for opposing the imposed patterns. Naturally enough, this isn’t limited to magical compulsions, but those subjected to magical compulsions tend to get more individual attention than those subjected to technological methods do.




   Slave-Conditioning is simply a combination of several techniques, including neural programming (or some related method) to install low-level compulsions for obedience, escape-prohibition, loyalty, and acceptance of their status as property, a bit of pleasure conditioning to reinforce the benefits of loyalty and obedience, and some aversion conditioning to impress them with the consequences of disobedience, disloyalty, or escape attempts.

   Additional options include neurosurgery (to reduce the will, quite uncommon due to the negative side effects), endocrine modification (male castration and induced pairbonding are quite common), and simple remote-control simsense induction.

   Regardless, the constant reinforcement of being treated as property, being given orders, and being completely controlled by their owners, usually suffices to maintain the effect even without reconditioning. Unfortunately slaves rarely show too much initiative – although decent treatment and care may eventually result in their accepting their status more fully.

   Of course, low-level employees are far cheaper to get and – while they cost a bit more each to maintain – are invariably more efficient, since they function on their own better. In the long run employees are actually quite a bit cheaper: that’s why slavery faded away to begin with. Modern control methods just don’t make up enough of the difference to make them profitable again. Still, slaves are popular among those on a power trip, those with odd sexual habits, those who want to make sure that their servants are discrete, and those with an irrational need for dominance. That’s why most slaves are in penal, household, or personal service these days rather than in industrial or agricultural production jobs.



   Ixian released his report publicly – and in considerably more detail than this quick write-up, with additional technical information on most of the techniques available on the matrix. He also made a selection of free countermeasure downloads available, including:

  • Instructions on the production and administration of a neural relaxant – an agent which temporarily inhibits and makes it easy to unlearn old neural patterns (this will also make it easy to kick addictions and break free from BTL chips and similar troubles).

  • A guide to the symptoms and practical removal of Persona, Restraint, Jamming, and Neural Override chips.

  • A simtraining course in recognizing, and in dealing with, pleasure-conditioning techniques and effects.

  • Instructions on synthesizing and administering regeneration medicines.

  • Instructions on the synthesis and use of hormone antigens to counteract unwanted pairbonds.

  • A “shrink-in-a-box” expert program to help deal with psychological techniques.

  • An expert deprogramming program to help return slaves to normal functioning if their masters release them.

  • A guide to recognizing memory implants and another expert system to test for them and help in dismantling them.

  • A selection of spell formulas for neural reconstruction, induced regeneration, deconditioning, and so on.

  • A guide to using common chemicals to eliminate phermonal attunement by inducing some slight damage to the sense of smell.


   Ixian didn’t offer destructive neurosurgery (nasty and useless), memory implants (too complicated and specialized), substructural revision (too damaging), jamming (also too damaging), or magical conditioning (he wasn’t a mage), but neural programming (eg; loyalty), pleasure and pain conditioning, endocrine modifications, and basic slave-conditioning were all available for consenting adults, for people who were going to be killed by their current custodians otherwise, and for children at the request of their parent or legal guardian (on the theory that, if their guardian wanted a kid treated as property, they were better off as expensive property than as cheap property). Thanks to his own special talents, he made sure to keep his prices under the normal basic costs – so that no one else could effectively compete with him within the limits of what he considered it ethical to do.

   Ixian also offered a neural-programming educational system; it will be posted with the rules for Accelerated Learning.

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