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4. Shifting

A variety of different abilities are available to Shifters. Some are natural talents that the appropriate skill makes possible. Others require certain technological devices (known as shiftboxes) to create the effect, although the Shifter must still be skilled in using these devices if they expect to do them well.

Whenever a shifting ability is used, a Task resolution is carried out. In general, this resolution always succeeds and the final level of the Shifting skill in question determines how much Stability the Shifter loses. If they manage level 3 or higher, they lose no Stability. The Shifting Stability Loss Table shows the Stability loss for different skill levels.

Shifting Stability Loss
Skill Level Stability Loss
-5 35
-4 30
-3 25
-2 20
-1 15
0 10
1 5
2 5
3+ 0

The Difficulty of a Shifting Task is a negative modifier on the result.

Barry Oink has Splicing at level 3. When performing a Splicing Task with a Difficulty of -6, he draws a Red 6. Because it is a Shifting skill, he can draw another card and does so, drawing a Black J. The resulting level is -2. He loses 20 percentiles of Stability.

The Shifting Stability Loss Table can be extended indefinitely. For all results less than zero, the loss in stability is 10 plus 5 for each level below zero.

Since failures of less than -17 result in a loss of Stability of more than 100 (18x5+10 = 100), such a result would mean immediate deletion.

If the resulting loss of Stability means the Shifter is deleted, the Shifting Task fails. In all other cases, the Task succeeds, with appropriate results.

All Shifters have the Shifting family of skills included into their Speciality, and hence when making a Shifting Task resolution, the player in question can draw two cards and apply the best one.

4.1 Shifting Skills

There are eight basic Shifter skills. Each is one of the following: In addition, there is a Power called Scrolling (see Section 4.2) which has no corresponding skill, because it is by nature a trivial ability. The skills are grouped into sub-families as follows:
Talents and Powers that affect the flow of local time or relative time between variants.
Powers that affect individual people or minds.
Talents that allow objects to be moved or information to be transferred between variants.
Talents that affect allow a certain degree of control over the quantum flow of a variant.
The following sections describe the eight Shifting skills, giving a description of each one, the range of Task difficulties associated with each and identifying each as either a Talent or a Power.

4.1.1 Focusing

Purpose: Increasing chance of success for a particular Task.
Difficulty: +0
Type: Talent

When a Shifter focuses, stochastic potential is drawn in and they can greater control the result of a Task (by controlling the direction of quantum flow around them). In game terms, focusing allows the player to draw an additional card for the next Task, like a Speciality. If the Shifter carries out a Task which uses a skill under a Speciality as well as focusing beforehand, the player can draw two additional cards. As usual, the player can choose which of the cards drawn is the actual modifier.

For example, Barry is trying to save the life of someone who has been shot, but is not confident of his First Aid skills. He decides to Focus before doing anything. The Difficulty of the Task is +0, and Barry's Focusing skill is 3. Barry's player draws two cards and gets a modifier of +1, resulting in a total of 4 (no Stability loss). Next, Barry attempts First Aid. Even though First Aid is not part of Barry's specialisation, Barry's player still gets to draw two cards and take the best one, because Barry has successfully focused.

It only takes a few seconds to attempt to focus, and most Shifters focus before any important Task.

4.1.2 Synching

Purpose: Aligning the time flow of two variants to allow entry.
Difficulty: +0
Type: Talent

Synching is the first step in moving into a timeline. When a Shifter synchs two variants they are brought into the same subjective time frame.

For example, Barry Oink III synchs Nexus and another timeline, choosing a point in the other timeline ten minutes before it collapses. This point is known as a synch hole. Ten minutes later in Nexus, the two variants are no longer synched because the other timeline has collapsed.

Once two variants are synched, Shifters may tack, host or splice between the two variants (see Sections 4.1.3 to 4.1.5). One of the timelines being synched must be the Shifter's current variant or a variant connected to the Shifter's current variant by synching. This is like joining the dots between variants.

The two points in time in two synched variants are collectively known as a synch hole (because it is a point where you can `fall through' into the other variant). Effectively, the synch hole moves through time as time passes - ten minutes after the synch hole is made it is ten minutes further along the two timelines.

A timeline can be synched to any number of other timelines - but there can only be one synch hole between any two variants (see the Sidebar on Synching for more information).

Time is not entirely resistant to the interference of Shifters. If Shifters do too much in the same part of the Matrix, it begins to get harder. There is a cumulative -2 penalty - known as Wear out (see Section 4.3) - for each time the team synchs to the same approximate coordinates in the Matrix (the Gamesmaster determines how close is too close).

4.1.3 Tacking

Purpose: Psychic or RENO communication between synched variants.
Difficulty: -1
Type: Talent

Shifters can communicate between synched variants by tacking a line between them. Once a line has been tacked, telepathic or RENO communications are possible across it.

For example, Lynch and Barry are both out in the Matrix, but in different variants. The variants have been synched, and Lynch decides to tack a line to Barry's variant and have a chat with him. The Difficulty is -1 and Lynch's Tacking skill is 1. Lynchs player gets a modifier of +0 for a final level of 0 (1-1+0). Lynch loses 10 Stability and the tackline is established.

With access to a RENO and a tack line to Nexus, Shifters can get access to the resources of the Nexus Central Computer. After about five minutes connection to the computer, a Shifter can get a bonus on skills in the KNOW family, the Technical subfamily or the Computers sub family. Like focusing, using the NCC in this way allows the player to draw an additional card for the appropriate Task. In addition, the result of the Task cannot be less than 2, provided the modifying card is black.

4.1.4 Splicing

Purpose: Moving objects from one variant to another (synched) variant.
Difficulty: -1 to -8 (or more) depending on the object.
Type: Talent

With the VACS of an object in one variant, and target VACS in another variant, objects can be spliced from one to another, provided the variants are synched (directly or indirectly). The Difficulty of Splicing an object depends on the size of the object in question and the degree of anachronism caused by splicing the object in (that is, it's easier to splice a sword onto a starship than an aircraft into the Stone Age, because aircraft weren't invented at the time). The Gamesmaster can find the rules for determining Splicing Difficulties in Section 9.4.

For example, Lynch has the VACS coordinates of a Blue Epoch overhead projector and wishes to splice it into her current variant, which is Orange Epoch. Lynch's Splicing skill is 2 and the GM informs Lynch's player that the Difficulty is -1 for the size of the object and -4 for the difference in Epochs (for a total Difficulty of -5). Lynch's player draws two cards and gets a modifier of +2 resulting in a final level of -1 (2-5+2) which costs Lynch 15 Stability. Unfortunately, Lynch has forgotten to bring a power supply with her, and the overhead projector isn't going to be much use...

Because RENOs are biological in nature, they decompose and do not cause a great anachronism. For this reason, splicing in a RENO has a low Difficulty (-1 unless the Gamesmaster rules otherwise).

Before Shifters leave Nexus they should specify what items they think they'll need for the assignment. This list of items is known as the Stack. Usually, a Shifter team is allotted 5 spaces in the Stack per team member. They can supplement this set of ready-to-splice equipment by taking the VACS of anything useful they find in the Matrix. Once these VACS have been passed on to Nexus, the item can be considered to be in the Stack. Even if the variant is destroyed, the item can still be retrieved.

Because of Nexus' defences, the easiest and most common way for Rogue Shifters to operate is to splice themselves around the Matrix. This is the most dangerous way to travel, as you run the risk of being killed as well as being deleted. Those that get access to shiftboxes will splice themselves and their shiftboxes to a secret location in the Matrix and operate from there as if it was Nexus.

4.1.5 Hosting

Purpose: To take control of a host body in a synched variant.
Difficulty: -1
Type: Power (requires a Marauder or Tempest Shiftbox)

Operatives from Nexus usually traverse the Matrix by hosting into bodies in their target variant, which they must be synched to. Telempathy or Telepathy can bee used to `search' the variant for suitable hosts (no tack line is needed), after which the body can be hosted into. The Difficulty is usually -1, but can be higher if the host mind is particularly alien, or different for some reason. Human minds, because they are fairly pathetic, are always easy to host into, even for non-humans. The Gamesmaster will determine if a particular hosting is difficult.

Barry Oink III is moving into a variant where all the sentient life forms are animate fungal lifeforms. The Gamesmaster decides the Difficulty is -2. Barry uses Telempathy to search for a fungus which has a general air of leadership, and hosts in. Barry's Hosting skill is 3, and Barry's player gets a modifier of +0. The final level is 1 (3-2+0) for a Stability loss of 5.

Once hosted in, the Shifter has complete control of the host's mind. Some Shifters ride their host for a while before taking control; others just wipe their host's personality (leaving their skills and memories intact) and stay in complete control. Riders can choose to bury their host's personality - putting them in the background. They still know what's going on, but are completely disconnected from their body and can only observe.

Riders often talk to their hosts - a voice in the back of their minds. Some riders try not to upset or mess around their hosts. Many enjoy sending their hosts insane. Working with hosts can be a good way of being convincing in a tricky situation.

One host cannot support more than one Shifter - and people with psionic abilities are practically invulnerable to being hosted. Sometimes a variant can be difficult to host into because all of the good host candidates are psionic. In this kind of situation, the Shifters will have to host into animals. Some Shifters prefer to host into animals anyway.

If a Shifter's host is killed, they can host into another body in the same variant or punch out. If for some reason the synching between where the Shifter and their shiftbox is and where the Shifter is hosted to is disrupted, the Shifter is automatically punched out.

After punching out, Shifters `hang' in the Matrix; able to sense the variants, but not able to sense anything in conventional terms. They can continue moving through the Matrix by hosting, or can return to where their own body is. Shifters operating from Nexus can be punched out from Nexus - sometimes the Adepts do this if they have some reason to suspect the team is making the situation worse.

4.1.6 Lockout

Purpose: To prevent a Shifter from leaving a variant they are hosted into.
Difficulty: +0
Type: Power (requires a Stonewall or Tempest shiftbox)

When two Shifters are in the same variant at the same time, a lockout can be laid down against one by the other. Lockouts are always laid down against one Shifter in a particular variant. To do so, a Shifter sets their shiftbox to prevent any future use of Shifter abilities that influence other variants. They can still use their abilities to influence that variant. This effectively traps them there.

If the locked out Shifter has hosted into the variant, they will be unable to punch out, but can take new host bodies. Whilst they are selecting a new host, the person who laid down the lockout can get the VACS of the location of the Shifter's body and shiftbox.

For example, Legionnaire has run amok (again) and Lynch decides it would be a good idea to contain him to this variant. The Difficulty is +0, and Lynch's Lockout skill is 2. Her player draws a Black Ace as one of his two cards for a final level of 6 (2+0+4) - Lynch loses no Stability and the lockout is established. Legionnaire cannot punch out.

A lockout is broken if the host body of the Shifter who laid it down is killed, if they change host, if they punch out, or if the variant collapses.

Seconds after Lynch lays down the lockout against Legionnaire, he riddles her current host body with high explosive bullets, reducing it to tattered rags. The lockout is broken, and Legionnaire punches out.

4.1.7 Lashing

Purpose: To go back a short distance in time and try something again.
Difficulty: -2 to -4 (or more)
Type: Power (requires Destiny or Tempest shiftbox)

Time is slightly elastic. Shifters with the right equipment can lash back time a short way, undoing everything that took place. Shifters know when they have been lashed back - non-shifters have no idea unless they are the host for a Shifter.

Lashing back a few seconds has a difficulty of -2; a few minutes has a Difficulty of -3, and a few tens of minutes has a Difficulty of -4. Lashing back an hour or more is extremely difficult (Gamesmasters will find details in Section 9.4).

For example, Legionnaire has just shot the person he was supposed to be interrogating so Lynch decides to lash back time a few minutes and try again. The Difficulty is -3 and Lynch's Lashing skill is 4. Lynch's player gets a modifier of -1 (drawing a Red Jack and a Red King and choosing to take the Jack) for a final level of 0 (4-3-1). Lynch loses 10 Stability and time is `wound back' a few minutes.

Like most things with elastic properties: do it too often and it snaps. There is a cumulative -2 penalty (Wear out - just like with synching) for each lash after the first (if the same period of time is lashed back, or some fragment of a lashed period overlaps). If the shiftbox used to do the lashing is in the variant, this penalty can be overcome.

Unfortunately for Lynch, she has been unable to convince Legionnaire to not kill their captive a second time, and she decides to lash back time again. This time the Difficulty is -5 (-3 for the distance in time being lashed back and -2 for Wear out).

She could opt to splice in a Destiny shiftbox, to avoid the Wear out penalty, but since she is in an Orange Epoch variant and a Destiny Shiftbox is White Epoch, the Difficulty would be -7. She'd be better off just taking the Wear out penalty for now.

Nexus has an incalculably large population, and to make the most of the space, they use shiftboxes to lock real estate in a loop. This lashed real estate can be bought using privileges and is structured so that people can own the same piece of land, but in different timeframes.

4.1.8 Sliding

Purpose: To physically travel between close variants without splicing.
Difficulty: +0 (or more)
Type: Talent

Shifters who have spliced themselves into a variant can move between variants by Sliding through quantum flows. Effectively, they create short-lived variants (known as bridge variants) to cross between timelines. The `shorter' the distance (in terms of quantum variation), the easier the slide. Shifters who have been locked out are unable to slide.

Usually bridge variants collapse into their parent timelines after the Shifter moves on, but occasionally sliding disrupts the natural order and creates deviant timelines. For this reason, the Variant Corp. frown upon Shifters who slide.

4.2 Scrolling

Purpose: Drifting forward in time at a faster rate than normal.
Difficulty: Trivial - no Task resolution needed
Type: Power (requires Marauder, Destiny or Tempest shiftbox)

To save punching out, re-synching and hosting back in, hosted Shifters can scroll time forward. This allows Shifters to slip forward days, years or centuries to get to a point further in the future of a variant. If the Shifter's host dies whilst the Shifter is scrolling, the scrolling ceases and the Shifter will need to re-host before starting again. Because Scrolling is trivial, there is no corresponding skill to go with it.

4.3 Wear Out

Too much synching and lashing can take its toll on a variant. Both are subject to an effect called Wear out, which is similar in some ways to what happens if you walk over the same stretch of carpet often enough.

The Wear out penalty (which was mentioned in the appropriate sections earlier) is a cumulative -2 penalty every time Shifters have to `revisit' the same part of the Matrix, whether that revisiting is achieved by synching and hosting, synching and splicing or lashing back over the same piece of time.

What this means in practice is that a Mission should be planned in such a way as to avoid the necessity of going to the same time or place more than once.

4.4 Other Shifting abilities

The list of shifting abilities may not be complete - different shiftboxes could provide other powers. Gamesmasters should feel free to invent new forms of shifting if they wish. More on the shifting abilities can be found in the Gamesmaster's Book, in Chapter 9.

4.5 Stability Losses

As well as changes in Stability caused by Shifter abilities, a character's stability can be affected by events in the Matrix. Abstractly, a Shifter's Stability is a guide to how likely they are to continue to exist. At 100, they are in no danger. At 5, they are on the boundary of deletion.

When a Shifter loses all their Stability, they cease to exist. This should not be confused with being killed: a person dies when their (real) physical body dies; a person is deleted when the chance of them ever having existed has become so improbable that they simply cease to exist.

The following is a list of common events which can alter a Shifter's Stability:

Shifter destabilises Nexus:
10-50 penalty
The penalty is small if the Shifter has only be associated with Nexus for a short while, and large if they have been associated with Nexus for a long time.
Shifter destabilises own variant:
10-50 penalty
Shifters who have been involved with Nexus for a long time experience less of a penalty than those who have only recently got involved with the affairs of the Variant Corp.
Eliminating Rogue Shifter:
5-20 bonus
The bonus is small if the Rogue Shifter has only interfered a little, and large if they have caused a lot of trouble in the Matrix.
Collapsing deviant variant:
10-30 bonus
Collapsing a deviant variant is equivalent to strengthening Nexus' timeline. The bonus is large if the deviant variant was a big threat to Nexus.
Stabilising desired variant:
5-10 bonus
This is also equivalent to strengthening Nexus' timeline, and is large if the desired variant is particularly important to Nexus.
Stabilising own variant:
5-10 bonus
This is the reverse of 'destabilises own variant' above.

4.6 Deletion

It is important to note that once a person (or object) has become a Shifter, they are no longer affected by the usual laws of causality. For example, the inexperienced Shifter might expect that the destruction of the variant that they were born into would mean their deletion.

However, in practice, they will never lose more than 50 Stability from their natural variant collapsing. The reason for this is that the Matrix isn't actually intelligent, in a traditional sense, and doesn't check whether or not the Shifter's origin event still exists somewhere. However, that event is part of the Shifter's existence, and if it is removed from the Matrix by any means, it has become less probable that they could have existed.

An upshot of this is that a Shifter who has been associated with Nexus for a long time is more affected by changes to the Stability of Nexus than of their own natural variant. In fact, it is possible for a Shifter to go and kill their parents without suddenly ceasing to exist. All they will suffer is a change in Stability (which would be large if they had recently left their own natural variant and small if they'd been with Nexus for a long time).

If a Shifter does become deleted, this does not mean that everything they have ever done is undone (even an omnipotent deity would get tired of all the paperwork this would cause). It just means that, for the time being, they cease to exist. They literally wink out of existence, often never to return.

4.7 Ghosts

Occasionally, the actions of other Shifters can bring back a colleague after their deletion. For example, if shortly after a Shifter became deleted for some reason her team stabilised a desired variant, the deleted Shifter could gain Stability and instantaneously start to exist again.

This strange phenomena is treated with an eerie respect by members of the Variant Corps, who call anyone who has come back from deletion a Ghost. This term is also applied to a Shifter on 5 (or less) Stability, as when Stability is this low, random fluctuations in the Matrix can cause them to disappear and reappear periodically (usually just for a minute or two at a time).

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Last Updated: April 16th, 1999