Pen and Paper RPG House Rules

Making our favorite games even better

Ephemeral Background Count

[The Game Mechanics have changed since I have posted this. ]

The copycat killer grinned at the litter of ork babies screaming as the new Mayan Cutter went to work on their mother and father with the many surgical blades and lasers that were part of his trade as a professional interrogator.

“Tell me where and when Project Freedom is having an inner circle meeting.” He spoke slowly and carefully as he had during the entire process with never an hint of hurry or worry.

“Frag you!” Whimpered the once strong frame of the ex linebacker and minor hero of the ork rights movement and prop 23 known as Ryan Two-Tusks.

“Tsk-tsk now I suppose removing your eyes by laser after the dental surgery Mr No-Tusks means you won’t be able to see what will happen to this creature you call a baby.” The copycat killer reached down and grabbed the ankle of a few week old baby girl dressed in a purple onesie emblazoned with UW representing the University of Washington one of the first universities to allow in goblinized people to the school and where Ryan had been a star.

“Nooorrrarrw!” Came a roar from Ursa Two-Tusks as all the rage she had felt at watching a former government torturer mutilate her husband merged with the fear for her children and she awakened for the first time to her long latent magical gift and a shamanic bear mask covered her face.

“There is nothing you can do little cub. The background count I have made here interrogating and cleansing the world of your filth over the past year will block any attempt to save you and renders you helpless…”

Reaching deep down Ursa remembered the training the tribe shaman had given to her before she had goblinized into an ork and cast from her traditional tribe. Calling out to the spirit world and Mother Bear with all her heart and all of the sudden the swirling chaos of fear, terror and pain stopped and a dozen children and a great Bear appeared in her mind’s eye.

“Mother Bear is here daughter to quiet the maelstrom and these cubs who have suffered so much are here to help.”

The dozen children rushed her and entered her spirit and from her gift were transformed with her gift into a spell that charged like an enraged bear from her soul into the copycat killer’s semblance of a soul.

“Geeeeeaaaooogghhhhcht.” The torturer fell to his knees his mind teetering over the abyss as the suffering experiences of a dozen children flooded his mind.

Little Tara chose this moment to free herself and place her newly erupted tusks into his wrist.

Ryan saw everything that had happened in the astral with his Adept powers but instead of Mother Bear he saw the wise warrior form of his old coach telling him his ordeal had initiated him to the inner mysteries granting him increased physical strength and that the chains holding him suspended were no barrier to the prepared and thoughtful player who remembered his lessons.

Ryan used his great ork strength bolstered with his newly improved Adept strength and rocked back and forth with tremendous force causing the bolt in the ceiling to give way dropping him ingloriously onto the concrete of the basement floor.

Using his astral sight he saw his wife exhausted from her first spell and the copycat killer’s aura starting to become ordered again.

Dragging his body up Ryan wrapped the chains that had once imprisoned him around the shaking form of the copycat killer’s neck and began to squeeze.

Game Mechanics

Mana can be distorted in the astral realm by powerful emotions or experiences in the astral plane and in the physical realm by environmental damage or loss of life. When this happens the mana becomes harder to work with with the degree of difficulty rated by the area’s Background Count which uses Schwartzkopf’s Scale of Ambient Mana  by comparing the mana pollution to a lack of mana. A lightly polluted locale rated 1 is roughly equivalent to a locale with under the normal ambient mana for 2075 at -1 or the worldwide average ambient mana in 2050.

If the pollution is just in one realm than the BC for the other realm’s BC is usually half rounding down given the imperfect flow between Realms as described in Street Magic.

Astral pollution or BC interferes with ‘mana’ based spells like stun bolt or influence while Physical BC interferes with physical spells like a lightning ball or physical mask. It does so by removing X dice from all magic active skill tasks with X equaling the BC of the locale. This increase in difficulty represents how mana pollution disrupts the mage’s fine control and equations from an hermetic perspective or by disrupting the intuitions of a shaman by unpredictable flow of mana.

Ephemeral Background Count can be dealt with by removing the cause of the mana pollution which could be as easy as cleaning up the toxins in the soil and planting a garden or by finding an abusive parent and freeing the children from their terror. Sometimes in a matter of hours the BC can start to disperse.

However if there is mana pollution in both realms of an area for a long enough time a feedback loop can begin making the area have long term BC with the game term “Persistant Background Count” which usually requires the Cleansing Metamagical Ritual to remove or it can be tapped by the Create Domain Metamagical Ritual and the history of causes of the Background Count and the Ritual participants would shape the Nature of the Domain. For example a Background Count provided by centuries of humble prayer and the occasional powerful experience of Nirvana by Buddhist monks could fairly easily create a Domain of Tranquility should a Geomancer or Geomason connect a ley line to the location and a Ritual Initiate Sorcerer with Create Domain succeed in the Ritual.

There is a chance that a magical action could gain a bonus instead of a penalty should the action align with the cause of the BC and the PC expend an Edge point on a task but it should only happen if it makes for great story.


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