Home / Games / Shifter Contents Previous | Next Section/Chapter

5. Charting History

5.1 Variant History

The history of each variant is obviously different. Variant historians don't learn the events of history, but the common events and themes of history, and the nature of historical cause and effect. They learn how to predict the likely outcome of a situation by studying the history of a variety of timelines.

5.2 The Williams Classification of Historical Development

Nexus historians have developed a series of classifications that chart the development of a variant's history. Each of the Epochs in the Williams series has a particular quantum signature, and Nexus can detect where each Epoch occurs in a timeline. Maps of sections of the Matrix can be labelled to show where the Epochs occur. This, along with the path through the Matrix a variant takes, is all the information Nexus can get on a variant without sending Shifters in to investigate.

New types of technology sometimes cause unusual patterns in the quantum signature of a variant. Often, Nexus sends a Shifter team in to investigate this signature, and to steal any interesting technology.

There are ten Epochs in the standard Williams Classification, nine in sequence and one that can occur at any point.

Black Epoch - Dawn of man
The first sentient life in a variant (human or otherwise) signals the Black Epoch. Hosting prior to this is difficult at best, and all shifting abilities are much more difficult before the Black Epoch. To host before this it is necessary to splice in a suitable host body (less evolved lifeforms are easier to splice in).
Red Epoch - Fire
When the indigenous life forms discover fire, they have their first way of generating entropy quickly.
Orange Epoch - Metal
Metal working is usually the first major technological step forward.
Yellow Epoch - Gunpowder & Explosives
Explosives represent an even more entropic form of technology, and the discovery of gunpowder marks the fourth Epoch.
Green Epoch - Mechanical systems
Early mechanical systems - usually steam power, but sometimes combustion systems (like current car engines) mark the Green Epoch.
Blue Epoch - Electricity
Electrical technology and electronics usually follow early mechanical systems within a few centuries.
Indigo Epoch - Atomics
Atomic power and special relativity are the hallmarks of most Indigo Epochs. Our twentieth century is at the Indigo Epoch by the 1940's.
Violet Epoch - Gravity drives
Advanced general relativity leads to the invention of gravity drives and widespread interstellar travel. The Violet Epoch usually marks the beginning of galactic societies.
White Epoch - Variant physics
The discovery of variant physics is what Nexus hopes to suppress throughout the Matrix - except in the natural Nexus timelines.
The Williams system does not always apply linearly - but it is by far the most common order of development throughout the Matrix.

5.3 The Grey Epoch

Psionic powers can occur at any point in a variant's history. Their widespread use marks the Grey Epoch. Shifting abilities - which require knowledge of variant physics - do not usually take place at the Grey Epoch. Nexus tries to recruit Shifters with natural psionic abilities (as shifting is in essence psionic in nature), but can use advanced biochemistry to give shifting abilities to Shifters without natural psionics.

5.4 Tech through Time

Each of the Epochs in the Williams classification has different technology associated with it. The following sections describe typical items relevant to particular skills in each of the nine key Epochs. Where a skill is not given, no technology applicable to that skill is usually invented at that Epoch.

It is important to note that these are broad generalisations of what is likely to be possible at a particular Epoch. The GM is, as ever, the final arbiter as to what can and can't be done at a certain Epoch.

5.4.1 Black Epoch Technology

Aircraft:
usually nothing. Extremely rarely, crude gliders, using bones or wood (for the frame) and skins.
Aquatic:
possibly coracles and wooden canoes.
Artist:
early paints, and possibly some mosaics.
First aid:
herbal medicine.
Melee subfamily:
simple wooden clubs, flint axes, slings, and crude bows and arrows.
Musician:
early percussion. Possibly crude wind instruments or simple string instruments.
Technical subfamily:
crude wooden or flint tools, mostly for working wood or sharpening flint.
Writing:
possibly papyrus, clay tablets or animal skins. Written languages unlikely to be more advanced that pictograms.

5.4.2 Red Epoch Technology

Aircraft:
as Black Epoch. Extremely rarely, crude hot air balloons.
Aquatic:
as Black Epoch. Possibly simple rowing boats and/or early single-sailed vessels.
Artillery:
possibly crude siege engines, such as stone or pitch throwing catapults and trebuchet.
Artist:
paints and mosaics.
First aid:
as Black Epoch with the additional possibility of knowing about cauterising wounds.
Ground vehicles:
possible early animal-drawn carts.
Medical:
extremely basic knowledge of anatomy.
Physics:
crude understanding of astronomy and possibly basic forces.
Technical subfamily:
as Black Epoch.
Writing:
almost certainly papyrus, clay tablets or animal skins. Written languages may have been developed, or advanced pictographic systems.

5.4.3 Orange Epoch Technology

Aircraft:
Rarely, crude hot air balloons and rarely some kind of crude glider.
Aquatic:
early sailing ships, rowing boats and galleys (biremes and triremes).
Artillery:
siege engines such as catapults and trebuchet may have been invented.
Artist:
as Red Epoch plus stained glass and early inks.
Chemtech:
early alchemy, likely to be based on mystical believes rather than science.
First aid:
as Red Epoch plus some early systematic approaches that are likely to be more psychosomatic than practical (e.g. blood letting and leeches).
Ground vehicles:
animal-drawn carts.
Medical:
crude surgical techniques such as amputation. Knowledge of internal anatomy, if religious dogma doesn't prevent research.
Melee subfamily:
swords and other metal weapons; possibly early crossbows.
Musician:
well crafted wind and string instruments. Carefully constructed percussion instruments.
Physics:
basic metallurgy and alchemy.
Technical subfamily:
metal tools, very simple mechanical systems (e.g. pulley systems).
Writing:
early paper.

5.4.4 Yellow Epoch Technology

Aircraft:
as Orange Epoch.
Aquatic:
as Orange Epoch plus more advanced sea vessels (schooners).
Artillery:
cannons and very crude rockets.
Artist:
as Orange Epoch, plus quality inks.
Chemtech:
early chemistry, especially knowledge of gases and explosives. Scientific approaches likely to have superseded mystical research techniques.
Firearms subfamily:
early muskets.
First aid:
as Orange Epoch, but slightly more advanced and likely to be more scientifically founded.
Ground vehicles:
wagons and horse drawn carriages likely to be commonplace.
Heavy weapons:
early hand cannons possible, but unlikely.
Medical:
basic surgical techniques; amputation and knowledge of the need for sanitation.
Melee subfamily:
foils and other well made blades.
Musician:
as Orange Epoch, but slightly more advanced.
Physics:
early physics (Newton's Laws, knowledge of gravity etc.) may have been developed, if religious dogma doesn't prevent research. Starcraft: extremely unlikely, but a slim chance of very crude rockets.
Technical subfamily:
as Orange Epoch, but slightly more advanced.
Writing:
as early Orange Epoch; possibly early printing equipment.

5.4.5 Green Epoch Technology

Aircraft:
possibly crude flying machines. Hot air balloons reasonably likely and parachutes possibly invented.
Aquatic:
steam powered vessels, or motor boats if internal combustion engines have been devised.
Artillery:
field guns and mortars.
Artist:
as Orange Epoch.
Biotech:
early mechanical limbs; knowledge of vaccinations and sterilisation.
Chemtech:
basic chemistry and metallurgy.
Computers subfamily:
slim chance of steam powered computational devices.
Firearms subfamily:
early handguns and rifles.
First aid:
as Yellow Epoch, but slightly more advanced.
GEV:
extremely rarely, very crude hovercraft, especially if internal combustion has been devised.
Ground vehicles:
trains, possibly steam powered cars or possibly internal combustion engine vehicles.
Heavy weapons:
gattling guns.
Medical:
knowledge of sterilisation, vaccination and other medical techniques.
Melee subfamily:
high quality knives and swords available, but may be being phased out in favour of firearms.
Musician:
steam organs and pianos, typically.
Physics:
rapidly developing knowledge of physics.
Starcraft:
as Yellow Epoch.
Technical subfamily:
Dpossibly early power tools. Certainly, precision hand tools will be available.
Writing:
wide spread printing.

5.4.6 Blue Epoch Technology

Aircraft:
biplanes and hydrogen balloons likely, propeller driven planes and helium balloons possible in the late Blue Epoch.
Aquatic:
power boats, ocean liners and freighters, possibly early submersibles.
Artillery:
as Green Epoch plus field artillery.
Artist:
as Green Epoch.
Biotech:
early knowledge of genetics (and possibly of DNA itself) and simple germ/bacterial weapons; blood transfusions and organ transplants likely.
Chemtech:
fair understanding of chemistry.
Computers subfamily:
early mainframe computers may have been developed and possibly seeing widespread use by the end of the Epoch.
Firearms subfamily:
automatic weapons likely to have been developed.
First aid:
widespread knowledge of first aid techniques and CPR.
GEV:
hovercraft likely to be in use.
Ground vehicles:
internal combustion engines likely to be fairly widespread and electric powered vehicles possible.
Heavy weapons:
machine guns and bazookas probably in use.
Medical:
as Biotech. above. Medicine probably being researched as a science.
Melee subfamily:
as Green Epoch.
Musician:
electric instruments and recording techniques possible.
Physics:
reasonably advanced knowledge of physics, but likely to still be based on Newtonian-style physics.
Starcraft:
probably early rockets, although unlikely to be manned.
Technical subfamily:
power tools likely.
Writing:
as Green Epoch.

5.4.7 Indigo Epoch Technology

Aircraft:
jet planes and helicopters; possibly early vectored thrust vehicles.
Aquatic:
as Blue Epoch, but more advanced. Probably submersibles.
Artillery:
as Blue Epoch, but more advanced.
Artist:
impressive computer generated art probably possible.
Biotech:
early genetic engineering may be possible.
Chemtech:
advanced chemistry and chemical synthesis likely.
Computers subfamily:
personal computers likely to be widespread although comparatively error-prone.
Firearms subfamily:
widespread automatic and semi-automatic weapons likely.
First aid:
as Blue Epoch.
GEV:
as Blue Epoch.
Ground vehicles:
Electric vehicles widespread, unless internal combustion is still being used as the primary power system. Possibly atomic powered vehicles.
Heavy weapons:
heavy machine guns and guided missiles probably available.
Medical:
advanced transplanting techniques likely to be being developed.
Melee subfamily:
possibly early monoblades (blades which are only one molecule thick at the edge, hence extremely sharp).
Musician:
as Blue Epoch.
Physics:
special relativity likely and quantum theory probably developed, although a unifying theory is unlikely to have been developed.
Starcraft:
reasonable starships likely to be in use (e.g. the space shuttle). Possibly interplanetary craft, but probably not interstellar craft.
Technical subfamily:
high quality toolkits available.
Writing:
desk top publishing.

5.4.8 Violet Epoch Technology

Aircraft:
anti-gravity aircraft (see the sidebar on Technology ).
Aquatic:
high speed watercraft, using anti-grav generators to repel water.
Artillery:
plasma artillery; Jericho devices (starship weapons capable of destroying suns - see the sidebar on Technology).
Artist:
holographic art probably possible.
Biotech:
genetic engineering and cloning known about or widespread.
Chemtech:
advanced chemical engineering.
Computers subfamily:
usually widespread RENO use.
Firearms subfamily:
SIN guns (see the sidebar on Technology) may be available, if culture is not peaceful.
First aid:
knowledge of controlling blood loss and re-setting bones using pressure points.
GEV:
anti-grav vehicles or advanced GEVs probably in widespread use.
Ground vehicles:
some may still be in use, but most are likely to be low altitude anti-grav vehicles.
Heavy weapons:
plasma cannons and particle cannons probably developed, if culture is not peaceful.
Medical:
extremely advanced surgical techniques including cloning methods.
Melee subfamily:
monoblades likely to have been developed (if culture is peaceful, these will be used as tools and not weapons).
Musician:
advanced musical instruments.
Physics:
advanced general relativity and knowledge of complex physics - up to and excluding variant physics.
Starcraft:
starships with gravity drives, capable of crossing between the stars (see the sidebar on Technology).
Technical subfamily:
sonic screwdrivers and other advanced tools likely to be available
Writing:
as Indigo Epoch.

5.4.9 White Epoch Technology

Mostly as Violet Epoch, plus the invention of shiftboxes. The four most common shiftboxes are listed in the sidebar on
Technology. The appearances of shiftboxes vary, as they can come in steam-powered, high tech or even clockwork varieties. The terms used to describe a shiftbox are based on its capabilities rather than its construction.

Shiftboxes are (usually) operated psionically, hence all a Shifter has to do to use one is have it with them in Nexus, if hosting from there, or have one with them, if spliced into a variant.

When Shifters go on a mission, they go down to the Shift Bays in Nexus, which consists of a huge number of separate chambers containing several Tempest Shiftboxes. Most of the time, Shifters won't even have to think about Shiftboxes, because the Tempest will do everything for them.

However, not all the Field Stations (see Section 6.5) are fully equipped with cutting edge Tempest Shiftboxes, and Shifters who find themselves operating from a Field Station may find that they cannot use all the Powers that they are used to being able to use.

6. The Variant Corp.

6.1 Joining the Corp.

Nexus recruits Shifters from throughout the Matrix, preferring to choose candidates with natural psionic abilities, or with other gifts that make them suitable for the career. Being spliced into Nexus for the first time is often an extremely disorienting experience. Nexus is a hive of activity, populated by diverse lifeforms from the furthest corners of the Matrix.

Potential Shifters are usually given a couple of weeks to get used to the opulence and luxury of Nexus before they are asked if they want to enlist in the Corp. Because shifting is by far the most interesting and well paid profession in Nexus, most join the Variant Corp.

6.2 The Academy

As soon as a Shifter enlists, they gain the rank of Neo. A Neo's progress through the Academy proceeds as follows:
Enlistment
First year:
Introductory course and basic training.
Second year:
Cross training. By the end of the second year, a Neo is expected to have chosen their Speciality.
Third year:
Specialist training. Matrix simulator experience.
Fourth year:
Preparation for the first field trip. At the end of their fourth year, Shifters are taken out on their first field trip.
Fifth year:
Refresher courses in shifting skills, variant physics and associated skills, followed by the second field trip.
Final year:
Preparation for the final exams. Extensive use of sims to hone skills. The final exams span the entire year, consisting of both theoretical and practical examinations.
Shifters who fail their final year can retake indefinitely. Usually failure is caused by psychological instability and psychometric reprogramming is often employed to help Shifters adjust. Those that pass their final exams achieve the rank of Grad. The need for competent field operatives is so great that occasionally Neos are promoted to the rank of Grad on the basis of exceptional performance on their first or second field trip.

6.3 Field Missions

Grads are usually expected to complete three to five field missions well before being promoted to the rank of Journeyman. After that, some twenty or so field missions are usually undertaken before being promoted to the rank of Adept. Since field missions are hazardous to a Shifter's stability, they are usually given a month or so free time between field missions.

6.4 Adepts

Once a Shifter has reached the rank of Adept, they are automatically entitled to join the Adept's Council (known as the Axe to most Shifters). Some Adepts continue taking field missions. Most take a post in the Academy, training Neos or supervising field missions. Adepts have become so involved in the Nexus timeline that their continued existence depends on the continued existence of Nexus, and part of an Adept's job is to keep other Shifters in line.

A Shifter's career ends when they are deleted, or choose to accept voluntary retirement, usually settling down on a little lashed real estate of their own for the rest of their existence. Some come back into service after a while, and some choose voluntary deletion. Most Shifters don't survive long enough to enjoy retirement.

6.5 Field Stations

Although most of the Variant Corps equipment is at Nexus, it has also set up a number of Field Stations throughout the Matrix. A Field Station is equipped with a variety of shiftboxes (although not always top of the range) and allows Shifters to synch with timelines that couldn't be reached from Nexus - principally, those that make up the Nexus natural timeline. Security on these stations is very high, although perhaps not as tight as at Nexus.

One of the jobs that Shifters posted at a Field Station are trained to do is recover the Nexus timeline if something happens to cause it to collapse. This has already happened twice in known history, and is euphemistically referred to as a Crash. Because of the importance of recovering Nexus from a Crash, Shifters who are permanently posted at a Field Station are always rank Journeyman or above.

The main reason a Shifter would have to use a Field Station would be if they needed to Shift into the past of Nexus itself. Needless to say, such activities are carefully monitored as the potential for abuse is extremely high.

6.6 Spending Privileges

Typical mission pay is 5-10 Privileges, with awards of 30-50 Privileges not being uncommon for exceptional performance. The most common things Privileges are 'spent' on include:
1 Privilege:
one weeks leave in Nexus
2 Privileges:
one day of leave elsewhere in the Matrix.
3-5 Privileges:
a piece of quality personal equipment.
10 Privileges:
one acre hour of lashed real estate.
20-50 Privileges:
an artifact from the Matrix, cost depending on the size of the item and its importance in the variant it comes from (as well as the importance of the variant).
100-200 Privileges:
a large, technical item, such as a starship, or a piece of cutting edge technology that Nexus does not have in plentiful supply.
Most Shifters try to accumulate a nice holding of lashed real estate. Often they choose a time of year and a time of day, and go for a large plot of land. Some like to have a small plot of land lashed over a long time.

Unlike regular lashing, lashed real estate only affects a small area, and most of Nexus consists of lashed real estate. One acre of land can be owned by a large number of people, by owning different parts of time. No-one really understands how lashed real estate works, but no-one really cares either.

6.7 Mission Structure

A typical mission structure is as follows:
(i) Mission Briefing:
The supervising Adept outlines the mission profile and gives the team a map of the appropriate part of the Matrix. The Adept, or the team, appoint a mission leader.
(ii) Loading the Stack:
The supervisor informs the team how many slots in the Stack they're allowed, and each team member chooses what items they think they'll want in the Stack, ready to splice in. For each item, the Epoch it belongs to must also be specified.

Barry Oink and three other Shifters are loading the Stack for a mission. Their supervisor has allotted them 5 slots each. They choose the following 20 items: a cigarette lighter (indigo), binoculars (indigo), a toothbrush (green), Revolver, the album (indigo), some gold coins (orange), crossbows and bolts (orange), a tin can (green), a large slab of stone, 100 metres cubed (red), a smoke grenade (blue), a ladder (yellow), some rope (red), some SIN guns (violet), togas (red), a horse (red), an anti-grav wagon (violet), a med kit (violet), a 20th century battle tank (blue), a 20th century fish tank (blue), bacon sandwiches (orange) and a pocket calculator that is actually a bomb (blue).
(iii) First Shift:
The team selects where, when and which they are going to first, and synch the variants. They then select hosts and do what they can in the variant.
(iv) First Punch Out:
After leaving the variant, the team examine the effect they have had on the variant and decide what to do next.
(v) Repeat steps (iii) and (iv) for each subsequent shift.
(vi) Mission Interviews:
The supervisor interviews each Shifter on their performance and the performance of the other team members.
(vii) Mission Debriefing:
The supervisor discusses the team's overall performance with them.
(viii) Privileges and Promotion:
Privileges are awarded on the basis of performance and, if applicable, promotions are awarded.
Gamesmasters can find more on the Mission Structure in
Section 8.9.

7. Variant Physics

7.1 Entropy

Entropy is a measure of how chaotic the state of a system is. When a kettle boils, the entropy of the water increases. When water freezes, the entropy of the air around the water increases. Whatever happens, the overall entropy of the universe increases. This physical law is the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

7.2 Wait A Minute. Is This A Role Playing Game or a Physics Lesson?

You don't need to know what entropy is - most Shifters haven't a clue. The way the Academy teaches Gaunts the Second Law of Thermodynamics is as follows: `Everything gets more fucked up.' Anything that happens causes an increase in entropy. Every living thing causes a significant increase in entropy, and anything that uses energy in large quantities causes a large increase in entropy.

7.3 Variant Evolution & the Big Bang

We generally think of time as a line, starting at the Big Bang and proceeding outwards.

Straight Line

But in Variant Physics, the beginning of time started an enormous number of universes, and variant physicists talk about the Bloody Big Bang, starting a globe of timelines snaking out.

Eight lines all spreading out from a central node

However, the Matrix (the collection of all universes) is limited by how much variant-space-time can exist within it. As the sphere expands (as time progresses), the number of variants allowed gets less and less. The more time that has passed in a universe, the more variant-space-time that universe is `using'. As a result, the Matrix must periodically stop the progression of certain variants to allow others to continue.

The natural objective of a variant is to reach the highest possible level of entropy. The Matrix always collapses the weakest variants, those with the lowest entropy. This is what causes the Mayron Condition: when a variant's entropy is low compared to other variants at the same point in time, it collapses.

7.4 Demolition made easy

The laws of variant physics allow Shifters a way to ensure the continued existence of Nexus. By collapsing high entropy variants that do not lead to Nexus, and increasing the entropy of variants that do lead to Nexus, the existence of Nexus is maintained.

When one variant collapses, it `donates' its variant-space-time to a variant nearby. This is why a variety of timelines effectively `lead' to Nexus.

7.5 The End of Time

Ultimately, one variant will have reached the state of highest possible entropy and the Matrix will not have enough variant-space-time to have any variants. This is known generally as the Absolute End of Everything. Nexus is nowhere near this point, so it's not really relevant to the game. We just thought you might like to know about it.

7.6 Causality

Those readers educated in physics may be worried about causality - that is, cause and effect. However, because of the fact that a variant can not be synched to itself (directly or indirectly) this is not a big problem.

If you go back to the same point in a variant's history you are effectively overwriting your previous visit. This is because every time you synch with a variant, you are creating a slightly different version of that variant from that point onwards.

Things can get confusing if you encounter people who were in one variant and at a later point in time splice themselves elsewhere. After splicing you are not directly affected by changes to your past (although your Stability could be). If you killed them before they spliced out, the `version' of them that spliced out would continue to exist independently, although their Stability would fall a little.


Previous | Top of this page | Next Section/Chapter

Last Updated: April 17th, 1999