Making our favorite games even better
Magicians can perform magic because of the nature of mana. Mana is fueled by life and rises and falls in different locations and times. We are in the Sixth World and mana is rising overall each year except for the Year of the Comet when it spiked and later dropped. From a game mechanic point of view the increase of mana allows for today’s magicians to be just as effective as magicians in 2050 using a fetish. Mana is very sensitive to metahumanity and psychoactively charged by emotions, violence, and events charged with meaning and psychological significance. Repeated use of magic performed by a Tradition or through the use of geomancy can aspect mana towards supporting that Tradition. Widespread worship, prayer, and meditation can create a spiritual oasis as well. An area can also become a domain and aspected towards a specific magical skill like a master enchanter’s forge who loves what he does used over decades could develop additional layers of aspect for joy, creation, artificing, the enchanter, and the enchanter’s tradition.
Mana is also sensitive to the environment of the mundane world getting warped by pollution or radiation or naturally aligned to certain types of magic by powerful physical variables like the area around volcanoes being aspected towards fire magic and friendly to fire spirits. Feng shui, geomancy, and geomasonry are able to manipulate how the mana flows and what aspect it might have.
From page 30 Street Grimoire:
“A background count is a measurement of a variance from normal of mana levels in the area. Arcane scholars have developed a scale to measure the strength of these areas, ranging from –24 to 24, with 0 considered normal mana levels. A negative value relates to lower-than-normal mana available to be used for magic (meaning mana ebbs and voids). A positive value relates to mana that has been aspected in some fashion, making it harder to control unless your aspect overlaps with it (domains and warps). Regardless if it’s a positive or negative number, we use the absolute value in determining how it affects the Awakened’s use of magic.”
So what this means is that any BC that isn’t 0 that hasn’t been acclimated will impact either in a positive or negative fashion an awakened entity or astral denizens magical abilities. A place with less mana than normal will have a negative rating which means that ALL MAGIC will be penalized. A place with more mana than normal will have a positive rating and could help or hurt an awakened entity or astral denizen depending on many different factors. It is very possible for a positive BC to provide aid for one magical test and harm the next.
“Acclimated individuals are able to ignore background counts, but aligned people take it one step further. They are able to completely mesh with the aspect of a domain, getting a boost from the mana in that area.”
Acclimation is something that an awakened being or astral denizen can develop while spending time in that type of mana environment. Since most Universities in most areas focus on the Hermetic Tradition one could assume that any magician who achieved an undergraduate degree at such an institution would have achieved a certain degree of acclimation to a knowledge and hermetic environment. In the NAN the dominant BC at an University would be knowledge and shamanistic and in China knowledge and Wuxing for other examples. The awakened with a rarer tradition would still not gain the benefits of alignment to the dominant tradition and so would have to work harder than their compatriots privileged with alignment to the background count.
From page 31 Street Grimoire:
“The most powerful mana lines or events that have emotional or magical significance to most of humanity. Examples include the five sacred mountains in Chinese lore including T’ai Shan, where the great dragon Lung lives (Rating 15), The Great Cairn line in Tír na nÓg (Rating 14), The blast sites of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Nazi death camps, or the Native American Re-Education Center at Abilene (Rating 13).”
The problem with this comes in with a later bit in which a greater than -12 or +12 BC causes Stun damage every combat turn. How does the Dragon Lung survive his home? Obviously he has an insane Willpower as a Great Dragon but with this rule he would be pummeled into unconsciousness in a day as the rule specifically says even if it is a domain. No matter how high his rating eventually the dice will fail. So, there must be some technique that Lung is able to do to survive this and that he is able to provide to his spirits, awakened servitors, and others unless he exists utterly alone in his home except for mundanes!
“It can take weeks or months of exposure to become acclimated to the background count before his skills aren’t affected by it. Generally speaking, you should plan on one week of exposure per rating point of the background count.”
I have an house rule I am still polishing up that will help quantify what BC a starting character would be acclimated to prior to play.
From page 32 Street Grimoire:
“A background count impose a negative dice pool penalty equal to its rating for all tests linked in any way to magic (such as spellcasting, summoning, and skill tests that use active adept powers such as Killing Hands or Improved Sense). The exception to this rule are background counts from domains, where a tradition, person, skill group, or skill may be exempt from the penalty as they are used to or aligned with the domain. Dual-natured creatures or purely astral creatures take a negative dice pool penalty to all actions equal to the background count. Again the exception of a domain can apply to specific types of creatures or spirit types. Pre-existing active foci, sustained spells, quickened/anchored spells and rituals are reduced by the background count. If they are reduced to 0 or less, spells fizzle, wards and rituals collapse, foci deactivate. A foci cannot activate while under the influence of the background count. Anchored rituals and quickened spells if they have not expired revive themselves at 1 point of Force per hour, up to their preexisting Force. Preparations triggered while within a background count have their potency immediately reduced by the background count. Adepts may use a Simple Action to turn on or off a passive power in cases where penalties from background counts might exceed bonuses from their powers. Background count makes Assensing, Astral Perception, and Astral Combat more difficult to do. Impose a negative dice pool penalty for tests associated with these skills. When attempting to track an astral entity through an area where the background count is higher than the target’s Force or Magic Rating, the tracker loses the astral link at the point of the background count.”
Many questions should immediately pop out at you upon reading this. Does a spirit summoned by a magician share his alignment or acclimations? Does a preparation or focus gain the benefit of alignment or acclimation from its creator or owner? Does it acclimate on its own or is there something the magician can do or must do? What if the quickened spell was made before the magician was acclimated? Wouldn’t an astral tracker benefit from tracking a target if it enters her domain which lets say she created?
This is a benefit of the Home Ground quality (p. 74, SR5). The quality allows characters to ignore the customary background count of an area, and only count half of the background count tied to temporary events.”
Well, earlier the book says that acclimation can be gained by any magician just by spending some time there. This kind of makes that option of the Home Ground Quality pretty weak if two weeks hanging out in a neighborhood acclimates you. It would make much more sense if Home Ground provided alignment for the magician. After all if you’re taking this quality you have a very strong tie to the area to the point where it is a key part of who the character is and what better way to show that than that over the years or decades you’ve been living in a neighborhood you’ve become so in tune with the astral realm and its mana that you and it naturally align together. Your home is a part of your magic now.
The background count is applied as a positive modifier to the limit tied to the skill or skills for an Awakened character aligned to a domain. For example, a Wiccan shaman trying to conjure a Force 4 spirit within a Hag Bolette ring (Rating 3 aligned to the Wiccan tradition) will have a Conjuring limit of 7 (4 + 3). A background count with an absolute Rating value of 12 or greater is dangerously powerful, regardless if it’s from a domain or void. Anyone magically or astrally active in any way (dual natured, astrally perceiving, casting a spell, active adept power, etc.) takes background count – 12 Stun Damage each combat turn they are exposed to it. They can resist this damage with a Willpower Test.”
Alignment can be an on/off thing like a domain of fire may align with a hermetic casting a flamethrower spell and the catholic priest throwing a censor with incense imbued with a preparation to unleash a fireball but penalize a shaman performing a Rain making ritual.
There are domains so great that an unprepared mage could be knocked unconscious by their sheer power, and there are great flaring bursts of mana called mana warps, which are more powerful than even the most powerful of domains.
This implies that a prepared mage could handle a powerful domain!
So, that covers the rules from Street Grimoire. A little known and lightly covered bit with a BC forming temporary spikes in potency is important as is the rule for alleviating half of the temporary BC because of acclimation.
Any area of magic lower than normal is termed as having a negative background count. Places that have higher-than-normal positive background count do not affect a magician’s ability to cast magic unless it’s been psychoactively fixed, which brings me to my second point. The second thing you should understand is mana is very sensitive to man. His emotions and his exploits can disrupt the accessibility of magic. From a rock concert to a violent robbery, from toxic waste to smog, mana becomes psychoactively charged, making it difficult to use if your magic is not aligned. A positive background count that is affected by this charge is called aspected. If it’s based on a physical place with some emotional or psychological significance, the aspected mana is tied to a domain.
This brings up something that is a bit of a contradiction to previous rules in Street Grimoire which state that positive BC must be aspected. With this added bit it makes sense that most any place with higher mana is more sensitive to life, man, and the environment making it very likely to aspect. Also later on it contradicts the information in Street Grimoire about mana warps which in Street Grimoire on page 33 it states are areas with -16 to -20 BC while in Aetherology and in other parts of the Street Grimoire it states that higher levels of mana are called mana warps. Later on in Aetherology it mentions that certain high BC areas are very attractive to awakened animals. One would think that the animals if attracted would not be penalized or harmed by the higher mana and must gain some benefit otherwise why would they be attracted to those areas?
A bit of fluff in previous editions is about how shamans don’t like to spend time in polluted or irradiated areas as spending too much time might be dangerous to them and push or tempt them into toxic shamanism. This could be a danger of acclimation and alignment with a BC is that the psychoactivity of mana is a two way street which is described in the Street Grimoire as various things like dragon lines purifying the environment or domains controlling denizens to pick up litter for examples. The mana can influence your emotions and viewpoints over time. This should be roleplayed and could be a good explanation for a quality gained in character generation or in play.
For example a neighborhood focused on learning, academia, and knowledge that a character has the home ground quality may have become more studious and respectful of knowledge in general because of her home. A Desert Wars magician might have spent years in mana soaked in the Battle aspect and as a consequence become more martial in outlook and more likely to use violence as a tool. Where does the experience and where does the mana aspect start and stop?
I also like the idea of aspected mana having multiple aspects or layers. A Spiritual place may provide the prime aspect for a hidden church in Aztlan and a secondary aspect might be Fear caused by the emotions of the worshipers about getting caught by the Nahuatl and sacrificed. A tertiary and temporary aspect might pop up from a lover’s spat taking place in the church a few hours earlier leaving traces of Anger. In this case the priest would be aligned to the Spiritual aspect and acclimated to the Fear aspect but vulnerable to the Anger until it faded away. Since the priest is aligned to the prime aspect he would gain the increased limit for his magic, acclimated to the secondary aspect so it would have no effect on his magic, and the tertiary aspect since it was temporary and he was acclimated or aligned to the more dominant aspects he would only face half the BC from it rounded down as a penalty.
I am working on a system to allow for a magician to gain at character generation various acclimations to different types of mana that they would have developed based on their character background. It utilizes a variation of the Contact system to work and just like contacts the magician will need to occasionally spend some time and effort in order to get exposure to that aspected mana and maintain their acclimation.
It is also important to realize that 0 is normal. If BC is a bell curve it should be -1 to +1 at least two thirds of the time.
Here are some previous rules and viewpoints I had developed prior to the release of the Street Grimoire with various alternatives and house rules.
I really dislike the way that the Spirit Index is setup in Street Grimoire. My main problem is that it doesn’t allow for a positive reputation among spirits. There should be a difference between a mage who has just atoned for bad behavior and a mage who is new to the spirit game. It basically just seems to be a mechanic introduced to punish player characters.
Anyway, it seems weird to make up a brand new system of reputation when there is a perfectly good system sitting there for the GM to use towards runners. So, Astral Rep will replace Spirit Index and represents how spirits, awakened critters, faeries, and even magicians might know and respect about each other. Remember what an astral denizen might consider noteworthy is going to be different from how a runner or the public might see things.
Astral Reputation Game Mechanics:
Spirit Cred is equal to the magician’s Grade. It provides a positive or null Social Limit Modifier and Astral Limit Modifier with the awakened, astral denizens, and spirits for social interactions and conjurations. The greater the cred the more the spirit world responds. Man-Of-Many-Names can achieve more from a whisper in the ear of the right spirit than some conjurers can with a half dozen great form spirits.
Astral Notoriety is influenced by some Qualities at character generation such as Spirit Bane, Mentor Spirit, or Spirit Champion by raising or lowering your Astral Notoriety by one. For most characters it starts off at 0. It represents various non-private actions that could be conceivably spread around about the PC that are primarily focused on the negative though it can be positive. It provides a dice pool modifier for social and conjury tests with spirits or astral denizens and especially those who respect or worship spirits. It is compatible with Spirit Cred in that an Initiate may have their Social Limit increased and have a negative dice pool penalty at the same time.
A Positive Notoriety could be earned by always banishing opposing spirits rather than disrupting them or by a habit of providing extra reagents when binding or a reputation for mentoring lost cubs and getting them on their feet. This should be used sparingly.
Notoriety can be bought off via the “Setting things right” methods in Street Grimoire or by burning off a point of Spirit Cred.
How much is bought off by an act of contrition is up to the GM but a point of Street Cred should buy off at least 5 points worth. Be generous but consistent. It might help to categorize spirit apologies by minor, major, and grand and provide a framework like 1 to 3, 3 to 5, and 6+ depending on the type of act.
The listing for Spirit Index on page 206 of the Street Grimoire would all be things that could increase Notoriety. Astral Notoriety can quickly grow and impact a conjurer’s effectiveness.
Categorize each transgression as a minor, major, and grand.
Minor transgressions like disrupting spirits would slowly build up steam and eventually increase Notoriety by 1 with a maximum of 3 for that type of transgression. Basically after disrupting a hundred spirits your reputation isn’t going to be hit any worse by 101 and 110.
Major transgressions usually impact your Notoriety after only one to three actions of that type. They start at 1 and go to 3.
Grand transgressions impact your Notoriety immediately and repeated transgressions keep adding up with no limit.
Decide with your players what constitutes a transgression and apology and what type it might be so they aren’t too surprised by it happening. Maybe make a news sheet about a recent treatise on spirits and how reputation in the spirit world is starting to impact conjury. Maybe a mentor mentions that spirits are starting to organize and punish those who abuse them. In other words introduce it gradually and don’t be a jerk about it.
Spirit Awareness represents how likely a spirit or another mage may have heard of you without having time to research about you. It starts off equal to your Spirit Cred plus your Astral Notoriety and doesn’t go down. In game it goes up whenever your Spirit Cred or Astral Notoriety goes up and whenever there might be an event that astral denizens might care about that you participated in. The key about Spirit Awareness vs Public Awareness is that the Astral Realm cares about far different things than the mundane world. Things that increase Spirit Awareness may be the same things that increase Notoriety or could be influenced because you invented a neat new spell or told a funny joke to a domovoi during downtime hiding in a safehouse in Russia. It is built by actions that impact spirits. Participating in killing an insect spirit hive or successfully sending a Master Shedim back where they came from or creating an ally spirit are all things that increase your Spirit Awareness. Maybe you’re a magical musical composer and spirits really dig your concerts or you made a pact with a free spirit. The main thing to remember with Spirit Awareness is that it is neither positive or negative as it is simply the likelihood of an astral denizen or magician knowing information about you on the spot.
Spirit Awareness table
0 to 6: Who?
6 to 10: Spirits from the metaplane you visited on your initiation ordeal or magicians in your Tradition in your neighborhood may have vaguely heard of you. Shamans with their ears to the spirit world in your area may know a little more.
11 to 20: Most Spirits and most magicians in your Tradition in your neighborhood/suburb/county know something about you without having to do research.
21 to 50: Most astral denizens or magicians living in your city knows your name/pseudonym and rep. They may even know more about you especially if you have the Distinctive Style Quality or less for Blandness. Most outside of your niche have heard your name and maybe something you did.
51 to 100: Almost every astral denizen or trained magician in your circles knows of you and is likely to recognize you or your name or style if given a moment. You are likely to be influential in your area for better or worse. A spirit summoned by an Initiate of St. Sylvester could nod and intone a respectful greeting upon meeting the magician while a Wiccan with a talent for making trouble might get an “Oh, no. Not you!” from the poor spirit.
101+ : You are a legend wherever you go in the astral and among the awakened.