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Player's Guide

1. Introduction

1.1 Background

In the future, mankind has learnt many things. One of the most influential discoveries is that our universe is one of many millions of alternate universes. To the horror of intelligent philosophers everywhere, possible worlds are shown to both exist and to be reachable.

Developing psionic powers allows people to `Shift' between different timelines (known as variants). At first, shifting is just used to explore, but eventually the nature of variant physics is uncovered: variants are in competition with each other, and only high entropy timelines - universes which waste energy, have large populations and do not recycle kitchen products - survive.

The people of Earth begin to compete actively with the other variants. Unable to travel forward in time, but able to shift sideways and backwards through the set of variants (known collectively as the Matrix), Shifters destabilise other timelines by reducing the rate at which they increase in entropy, and steal technology from them to improve the technology in their own timeline. Since technological devices increase entropy levels, as much technology as possible is stolen. And since different timelines develop differently, all kinds of advanced tech can be plundered from the Matrix.

By the 32nd century, our timeline has become so improbable that most of mankind's effort is focused on shifting through the Matrix to ensure its continued existence. Our Shifters call this base of operations the Nexus. The Variant Corp., in charge of all authorised shifting, sends teams of Shifters out into the Matrix to strengthen the variants leading to Nexus, steal technology and to undo the work of rogue Shifters and Shifters from other variants.

Shifters have a dangerous profession. Their unique shifting talent tends to destabilise people, making them less probable to exist. if their stability falls too low, they cease to exist. Also, they can get destabilised if their own, personal variant of origin is destabilised or destroyed.

Since the Shifters of Nexus come from the same timeline, when Nexus becomes destabilised, the Shifters become destabilised. Because of this, and because of the high `mortality' rate among Shifters, candidates for the job are constantly recruited from other variants. The population of Nexus is a strange blend of lifeforms from throughout the Matrix - from evolved sharks to psychotic vacuum cleaners.

1.2 The Game

In the Shifter Role Playing Game, players take the role of Shifters, working from Nexus to improve their chances of continued existence and that of Nexus. Going on missions into the Matrix, they demolish variants to strengthen the timelines leading to Nexus.

Shifter uses a deck of cards for resolving random events. It is not truly diceless, in the sense that no random resolution is used, but it doesn't use dice at all. This allows the game to be played easily, without a table, allowing drunken players to collapse onto a sofa and struggle through the game. Also, if you have braille cards, you can play with blind people. Gee, we think of everything.

Discordia Incorporated - we're not tools of the dice makers, we're servants of the liquor and tobacco industries. To this end, we strongly recommend playing Shifter whilst you are wasted and don't have a copy of It came from the Late, Late, Late Show on hand.

2. Shifters

2.1 Creating Shifters

The Variant Corp. recruit candidates from timelines and planets throughout the Matrix, and characters can be anything a player can think up - an anthropomorphic cat, an evolved dinosaur or even a sentient coffee table. Because Shifters don't physically move through the Matrix, they just move their consciousness into host bodies, a character's species has no effect on their capabilities.

Our sample character, Barry Oink III, is a hyper-intelligent pig with a taste for bacon sandwiches.

2.2 Speciality

Shifters are trained at the Academy at Nexus, a six year course designed to prepare the trainee (called a Neo) for the confusing and demanding life of a professional Shifter.

By the end of a Shifter's second year, they have chosen their Shifter Speciality. Most Shifters take one of four Specialities (although other Specialisations are possible - see Section 2.8):

Psyker (PSI):
experts in psi skills, psykers are present in almost all Shifter teams.
Teknic (TECH):
entities with strong technical aptitude usually choose to become Teknics.
Gaunt (COMBAT):
combat specialists, Gaunts usually don't much care for the more subtle Shifter skills.
Seer (KNOW):
the choice of the intellectual, seers specialise in the pursuit of knowledge.
A Shifter's Speciality covers a certain family of skills plus all of the Shifting skills. Normally when resolving a Task you draw one card (see Section 3.6). When you resolve a Task covered by your Speciality you can draw two cards and select the best one.

The word in brackets after each of the Specialities above is the name of the skill family that the Speciality covers (in addition to the Shifting family, which is in all Specialities).

Barry is a Psyker. This will allow Barry's player to draw two cards whenever he uses Psi abilities or Shifting abilities.

2.3 Rank

There are four Shifter Ranks:
a trainee Shifter
a Shifter who has graduated from the Academy, but who has little field experience.
an experienced Shifter.
a highly experienced Shifter, usually instructing at the Academy, but sometimes found out in the field.
All Shifters start as Neo.

2.4 Privileges

Shifter pay consists of Privileges, which can be spent on time off, material possessions or temporal real estate. Shifters start with no Privileges, but gain them for successful missions. For more on spending Privileges, see
Section 6.6. Gamesmasters can find out more on awarding Privileges in Section 8.9.

2.5 Stability

Anyone who travels in the Matrix runs the risk of destabilising their own existence by interfering with the natural evolution of time. This is represented by a character's Stability. Stability is (abstractly) the probability that the character will continue to exist. If it ever falls to zero, the character ceases to exist. Shifters call this event deletion.

Use of Shifting abilities, destabilising natural timelines and destabilising personal timelines all cost characters Stability. Stability can be regained by eliminating threats to natural timelines or strengthening them in some other way. For more on changes to Stability, see Chapter 4.

2.6 Skills

Shifter skills are arranged into families. There are five families, one for each of the basic Specialisations plus Shifting. These families are divided into a number of skills or subfamilies, the latter of which may also be divided into a number of subfamilies or skills.

For example, the PSI family consists of two subfamilies - Creativity and Psionics. The Creativity subfamily consists of three skills - Writer, Artist and Musician. The Psionics subfamily is divided into two further subfamilies - Empathic and Kinetic - plus the Psychometry skill. The Empathic and Kinetic subfamilies consists of two skills each. The character sheet (inside back cover) demonstrates this relationship.

The structure of each family is shown graphically on the Shifter character sheet. Each family, subfamily and skill has a cost by it. Paying this cost raises the value in the box by that family, subfamily or skill by 1. Values are inherited by everything further down the skill tree.

For example, Barry Oink III is a Psyker and hence wants a reasonable value for all his Psionic skills. He could put 210 points into the Psionics subfamily to raise all five Psionic skills to 3. However, for an extra 30 points, he could raise PSI to 3, thus gaining all the creativity skills at level 3 as well. He chooses to put 240 points into PSI, giving him 3 in all skills in the PSI family.

Above level 3, additional levels cost double. This is called capping. Whenever a skill is raised above three - whether directly or by inheriting a level from a family or subfamily directly above it - you must pay the appropriate cap.

Barry wants a particularly good Telepathy skill, and pays 40 to raise it from 3 to 4 (20, which is the cost of one level, plus a 20 point cap).

Characters have a total of 600 points to divide between their skills. It is recommended that players work from the top of each tree downwards, to avoid paying more for skills than necessary (since families and subfamilies always cost less than the total cost of the included skills). Any left over skill points are not recorded.

Barry has already spent 280 points. He puts 120 into the Shifting tree, leaving 200 points and raising all his Shifting skills to 3. He then puts 2 into the Organics subfamily of KNOW, costing 60 points, and 2 levels in the COMBAT family, costing 100 points. With his remaining 40 points, he buys 1 level in the Drive subfamily for 25, and raises his Unarmed combat skill by 1 to level 3, costing 15.

Players are advised to take at least 1 level in the Shifting tree, or at least to put a liberal sprinkling of points into the skills of the Shifting tree. These skills are vital to the game and should not be overlooked.

2.7 Preparing for the First Field Trip

Usually the first journey a Shifter takes into the Matrix is their fourth year field trip. For most characters, this is their first scenario. However, occasionally the demand for field operatives means Neo's often get drafted into a field mission with more experienced Shifters.

Gamesmasters wanting to know more about planning field trips and field missions should refer to Chapter 8.

2.8 Custom Specialities

Players wishing to play Shifters with different Specialities must first come up with a concept (and a name) for the Speciality. Before playing a custom Speciality, you must check that the Gamesmaster approves it. Custom Specialities are made by either combining two subfamilies that branch directly from a family, or three subfamilies that branch from subfamilies. The total point `value' of these subfamilies must be 100 or less.

For example, the Control and Personal Combat subfamilies could be combined into a Speciality, or the Pilot, Drive and Kinetic subfamilies.

These Specialities work in the same way as the regular Specialities - when a skill covered by the Speciality is used, two cards can be drawn and one chosen as the modifier.

Like the basic Specialities, Custom Specialities always include the Shifting family of skills. Gamesmasters may allow players to choose Specialities without this, at their own risk. In which case, the `value' of the combined subfamilies must be 150 or less.

3. Skills & Tasks

3.1 Shifting Skills

The Shifting skills are the basic Matrix manipulation skills every Shifter needs. They are described in detail in
Chapter 4.

3.2 Combat Skills

Combat skills are the Gaunt's area of expertise. Whenever a Gaunt draws a card for a COMBAT Task, they may draw an additional card and choose to use that card's value instead of the original draw.
Artillery (Combat, Ordnance):
knowledge of the operation of the larger weapons of war - siege engines, gun batteries, ICBM and anything similar. As with all Shifter skills, it spans all eras and hence covers everything from firing a trebuchet to operating a Jericho device (see Section 5.4 for some descriptions of weapons covered by Artillery).
Armed (Combat, Personal, Melee):
skill with hand to hand weapons of all kinds - from flint spears to vibro blades. Includes skill with bow, crossbow and thrown weapons.
Heavy Weapons (Combat, Ordnance):
proficiency with vehicular weapons, usually not applicable before Green or Blue Epoch. Heavy Weapons also cover the use of the smaller missiles, grenades and the use of explosives in general (including demolition skills).
Snapshot (Combat, Personal, Firearms):
the ability to fire quickly and accurately with personal firearms. Sniper (Combat, Personal, Firearms): proficiency at precision sharp shooting, usually over a long range.
Unarmed Combat (Combat, Personal, Melee):
a variety of brawling and martial art skills. Unarmed Combat specialists in the Variant Corp. learn techniques from a wide range of martial arts and are expected to create their own technique from all the moves and methods learned.
Wildfire (Combat, Personal, Firearms):
proficiency with automatic weapons when they are used to spray ammunition over a large area.

3.3 Knowledge Skills

Knowledge is the Seer's Speciality. Whenever a Seer draws a card for a KNOW Task, an additional card may be drawn, and the better result chosen.
Ancient History (Know, History, Old):
knowledge of common historical events and the usual progression of history at the beginning of civilisation. Covers the period of history usually containing the Black, Red and Orange Epochs (see Section 5.2).
Biotech (Know, Human Sciences, Organics):
covers genetic engineering, medical technology and other biological sciences.
Chemtech (Know, Science):
chemistry skills, including synthesising chemicals and making explosives from household commodities.
Classic History (Know, History, New):
knowledge of periods in history similar to our 19th and 20th centuries. Can be used to predict likely outcomes of historical events, and to estimate the probable impact of specific events. Covers the period of history usually containing the Blue and Indigo Epochs (see Section 5.2).
Early History (Know, History, Old):
knowledge of the usual events and the implications of events throughout the rise of civilisation. Covers the period of history usually containing the Yellow and Green Epochs (see Section 5.2)
First Aid (Know, Human Sciences, Organics):
emergency medical techniques, useful for saving a person's life but not for long term or complex treatments.
Late History (Know, History, New):
knowledge of some common events, and probably outcomes of events, in late history (what we might consider the future). Covers periods in history usually containing the Violet and White Epochs (see Section 5.2).
Logistics (Know, Science):
mathematical and statistical skills. Logistics experts can solve complex equations in their head. Hyped logistics experts can calculate the flight vectors for an interstellar voyage faster than you can add 2+2.
Medical (Know, Human Sciences, Organics):
knowledge of medical diagnostics, surgical techniques and other groovy healing arts. Hyped medical seers cure cancer with grilled cheese sandwiches.
Perception (Know, Human Sciences, Psychology):
how to tell if someone's mad, what their insanity is, and how they will react in a given situation. Also works with sane people, if you can find one.
Physics (Know, Science):
lots of boring physics, dynamics and other stuff you didn't learn in school. Still, it comes in handy when you need to design a nuclear power plant from washing machine parts.
Sociology (Know, Human Sciences, Psychology):
like perception, but used on whole societies to determine social and moral values and how to make a crowd do what you ask.

3.4 Psionic Skills

Psionics are the province of the Psyker. Any time that a Psyker draws a card for a PSI Task, they may draw an additional card and choose which result to take.
Artist (Psi, Creativity):
sculpting, painting and photography. Lots of pretty pictures. Artists can also create convincing forgeries of almost all kinds.
Musician (Psi, Creativity):
playing music, singing and composing. All you need to be a CMT superstar and attract people with large, swinging appendages.
Psychometry (Psi, Psionics):
also known as Extra Temporal Perception. Psychometry allows a psyker to touch an object or a person and sense its past, and the essence of its future. Psychometry can be used fairly reliably to see into the past, and can be used to perceive the most likely future events surrounding a person or thing.
Pyrokinetics (Psi, Psionics, Kinetic):
fire and explosions, all from the mind. Pyrokinetics can be used to kill non-shifters easily but cannot be directly used against Shifters or their hosts. It can be used to blow things up around them, though.
Telekinetics (Psi, Psionics, Kinetic):
moving objects mentally. Moving heavy objects, or moving objects fast is harder to do, as is fine control. Expert telekineticists can fly themselves.
Telempathy (Psi, Psionics, Empathic):
reading - and manipulating - people's emotions. Telempathy can be used to resist telempathic control.
Telepathy (Psi, Psionics, Empathic):
mind reading, sending mental images, and other telepathic skills. Can be used to set up telepathic links - channels that several people can use to communicate by thought.
Writer (Psi, Creativity):
skill with words; the ability to write books and plays well, and generally express thoughts in words.

3.5 Technical Skills

The Teknic specialises in technical skills. When a Teknic draws a card for a TECH Task, they are able to draw an extra card and choose the result they wish.
Aircraft Pilot (Tech, Control, Pilot):
skill with any technology that flies - balloons, gliders, planes, helicopters etc.
Aquatic Drive (Tech, Control, Drive):
ability to control sailing ships, boats and submarines - as well as anything else that moves on or underwater.
Engineering - Electronic or Mechanical (Tech, Technical):
how to design and build electronic or mechanical systems.
GEV Drive (Tech, Control, Drive):
control of Ground Effect Vehicles, that is, hovercraft. Includes surface-level anti-grav vehicles.
Ground Drive (Tech, Control, Drive):
from motorbikes to monster trucks, if it moves across the ground, this skill controls it.
Infosystems (Tech, Computers):
database skills, including how to make them and especially using them to answer questions, or finding information in libraries or library data.
Intrusion (Tech, Computers):
hacking. How to take control of other people's computers and make them do what you want.
RENO Programming (Tech, Computers, Programming):
all the skills needed to program a RENO (see sidebar). A RENO can do almost everything a regular computer can do.
Repair - Electronic or Mechanical (Tech, Technical):
repairing and maintaining electronic or mechanical systems.
Ride (Tech, Control):
skill with riding horses, giant eagles, sand worms and anything else large enough to be ridden.
Standard Programming (Tech, Computers, Programming):
how to make a computer do what you want. Cannot be used with RENOs, which are sufficiently different to need a separate skill. Does not cover data systems or hacking skills which are dealt with by the Infosystems and Intrusions skills.
Starcraft Pilot (Tech, Control, Pilot):
proficiency with spaceships of all kinds.

3.6 Task Resolution

Whenever a character does something with one of their skills, they make a Task resolution. They do this by drawing a card (or more, in some cases) and modifying their skill up or down by a certain number of levels. Most of the time, characters will perform at the level of their skill. The card drawn, if a Royalty or an Ace, will modify the result, as shown in the table, below.

When reporting to the Gamesmaster the result, players should state the level and colour of their result.

Barry is level 3 with Unarmed combat. He draws a Black Queen. His result is 5 Black.

Task Modifiers
Card Modification
Black A + 4 levels
Black K + 3 levels
Black Q + 2 levels
Black J + 1 level
Black 2-10 No change
Red 2-10 No change
Red J - 1 level
Red Q - 2 levels
Red K - 3 levels
Red A - 4 levels

Level Performance Task Difficulty
< 1 Unskilled NA1
1 Novice Trivial
2 Competent Average
3 Professional Challenging
4 Expert Difficult
5 Master Very Difficult
6 Grand Master Extremely Difficult
7 Hyped Near Impossible
8+ NA2 Impossible
1 No Task resolution is needed for this.
2 Natural skills cannot go this high.

As a general guide to performance at a particular level, see the Performance Table above.

3.6.1 Example Task Resolutions

A team has discovered that the original Mona Lisa has been stolen, and decide to replace it with a forgery. Barry uses Psychometry on Da Vinci's paintbrush and gets a Black 5. The Gamesmaster reports that Barry can sense the strokes used to paint the image, and notes that the model was naked when the painting was made. The Gamesmaster decides that it will only be a Challenging (3 or better) Task to forge the painting with this knowledge (but doesn't tell the players). Barry gets Red 2. The Gamesmaster says it looks just right. Barry fails to notice that the woman didn't have a tail in the original.

Legionnaire is trying to bring down a helicopter that is just taking off. First he tries spraying SIN gun shells at it, getting Red 2 on Wildfire. The aircraft is scratched but continues climbing. Next, he tries to shoot a hole in the fuel tank. The Gamesmaster rates this as Extremely Difficult, requiring a 6 or better, and chooses to tell Legionnaire's player this. He draws a Black 7 on Sniper. The player decides he strikes the fuel tank, rupturing it and causing it to lose all its fuel, but leaving the copter intact for further target practice, and the Gamesmaster okays it. Although Legionnaire could use the nearby mortar (and his Artillery Skill), he chooses to throw a jelly baby at it, first focusing for maximum stochastic potential. The draw is Black 9 on Armed Combat: the jelly baby strikes the helicopter just below the rotors and it explodes, showering debris everywhere.

3.7 Telepathic Abilities

When a Shifter team appears in a variant, it is standard procedure for the Psyker, or someone with Telepathy, to set up a telepathic link for the team. This is an Average (Difficulty 2) Task. With the link in place, all members of the team can talk to each other mentally.

If the variant has passed the Grey Epoch, and hence people there have psionic abilities, a link is not usually set up, in case any of the local authorities notice it.

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