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The Gamesmaster's Book

8. Guidelines

8.1 How to run Shifter

Make it up as you go along.

8.2 Preparing for a Mission

The more skilled you are at ad libbing, the less work you will have to do in a game session. You should always plan to fit a mission into a single session (if you start to run out of time, you can always have the mission supervisor pull everyone out of the Matrix and go straight to the Debriefing).

The only thing you will usually need to prepare in advance is a map of the local variants in the part of the Matrix the mission will be set in. You should start by drawing a dotted line at the top of the page (representing the rim of the Matrix) and a thick line down the centre of the page representing the natural timelines leading to Nexus.

Horizontal dotted line with solid line coming down from a node on the first line

Next, you should choose a handful of natural and deviant timelines. The easiest method is to decide first on the natural structure of the region. In this configuration, no variants should reach the dotted line.

As previous, but with smaller, solid lines coming up from the bottom and angling toward the thick line down the centre

The arrows in the above diagram indicate where the variants collapse into the natural timelines leading to Nexus.

For each variant decide what makes them different from the natural timeline leading to Nexus. Once this initial stage has been determined, you can then decide on events that have caused deviation. These are usually one of the following:

  1. A rogue Shifter who has visited the variant for some reason. This could be something for personal enjoyment or as part of some grand plan to create a particular variant.
  2. A raider who has altered the history of a timeline by stealing something important or who has altered local history in the cause of doing so.
  3. A mistake caused by another Shifter team (you should include details of this failed mission in the briefing, unless you are feeling evil - and let's face it, when aren't you. You're the Gamesmaster).
  4. Some spontaneous re-organisation that has carried over from events elsewhere in the Matrix. This option allows you to do what you wish without explanation.
Once the causes have been chosen, you're ready to prepare the final local map by deciding what effect this has according to the laws of variant physics.

8.3 The Laws of Variant Physics

Make it up as you go along.

8.4 Some Guidelines for Variant Physics

No-one understands the laws of variant physics fully (although Seer adepts are the second best bluffers on the subject, outdone only by the Gamesmasters). However, since the players will probably be trying to understand what's going on in terms of what they know about variant physics, you should attempt to keep them impressed with your superior knowledge of such matters.

The expected behaviour of a set of variants should adhere to the following guidelines, at least most of the time:

  1. Premature Collapse: This can happen when the entropy of a timeline drops below what it was in the previous configuration. The variant-space-time used in that variant will `move' to one of the others in the area. Select another variant (usually, but not always the one with the highest entropy at that point in time). Then, at some point forward in time, have that variant either proceed beyond its previous point of collapse or cascade into two or more variants.
  2. Extended Life: This occurs when a timeline goes beyond the point in time it previously reached. If no nearby variants have undergone premature collapse, have one of them collapse prematurely to allow this timeline to continue. Alternatively, have the extended timeline collapse, giving extended life to another variant.
  3. Cascade: If an event pushes a variant over the Draper Limit, have it split into new timelines. You should then collapse some nearby variant. An illustration of a timeline cascading is given below.
Example of a cascading timeline

8.5 Labelling

Label your copy of the local map with historical events, put dates at significant points in the timelines and label the left axis with centuries. Mark any Epochs in the scope of the map.

To add to the `feel' of the maps, we suggest that sector names and variant codes are used (see the example maps). Sector names are generated randomly by the Nexus Central Computer, and are hence fairly incomprehensible. The Variant Code is a three to five digit number. For natural timelines the number will be an integer, and for deviants, the same number with a suffix (i.e. 398 could be the natural timeline code, and 398.24 could be the code for a deviant from that timeline).

The player's map should consist of the configuration of the variants, the time axis and if you are feeling generous, the Epochs. You can also label any previously known Shifter activity, if you wish.

8.6 Twisted Cheese of Obsidian Sector

This Sector has been hit by a Shifter going `joy riding' and a Raider. The resulting damage is quite extensive, and requires skilful, intelligent action by a competent Shifter team. Since none are available, your players will have to do. For the full size map of this part of the Matrix, click here.

8.6.1 Variant 1,021

Local Map of Variant 1,021
  1. Cornelius J Moose is a Neo Shifter, working out of Nexus, generally doing what he's told. However, he is a big baseball fan, his team being the New York Yankees. He has illegally used Nexus apparatus to host into the body of baseball player Duke Clemens and help the Yankees win the 1961 World Series, defeating the Red Sox.
  2. This is the natural timeline, where the Red Sox won the World Series. Because a black Red Sox player won the game for them, it was the start of a widespread acceptance of black culture. In the early 22nd century, a cancer cure was discovered, using high melanin skin cells as its base (darker skins have a higher melanin content). Curing cancer lead to overcrowding on Earth which in turn led to a need for star travel. In 2753, there was a massacre on Akeli II which triggered what was known as the Sun wars, which were responsible for destroying almost all intelligent life. This consequently caused the timeline to collapse.
  3. Due to the Yankees win, Manhattan pride grows, and racism grows. In the 1980s and 90s, `sanitisation' occurs (ethnic cleansing) resulting in the near-complete extinction of black Americans. Cancer wasn't cured, because there were no high melanin skin cells and so there was no rush for star travel to ease overcrowding. This causes the timeline to collapse far earlier than Nexus desires.

8.6.2 Variant 940

This is a pretty boring variant, with no real impact on anything else. It features a peaceful middle ages, where everyone got on with each other, instead of the usual human carnage. By 964, due to the fact that the timeline has such a low entropy increase, combined with the fact that there were no `Dark Ages', it collapsed.

However, because variant 975 has such a high entropic rate coupled with the events that transpire there, 940 collapses earlier than it should as the Matrix tries to balance the variant-space-time in the area.

8.6.3 Variant 975

  1. The Raider, Quentin Marrowbone, has gone back to 8th century China to collect original poetry of the T'ang dynasty. The poet, Tu Fu ("Blue is the smoke of war, White the bones of men") is shot in the process, which in turn inspires him to use gunpowder as a weapon. This causes Variant 975 to be set on a different course (975.4). The fact that gunpowder is used helps increase the entropy levels, as well as the fact that the T'ang dynasty (founded by Li Yuan) sets itself on a path that will lead to world and then galactic domination.
    Local Map of Variant 975

  2. Variant 975.2 is where the whole timeline should be headed. In 1802, due to the fact that the steam engine had not been invented, the timeline has less entropy increase than others in the area, and so the Matrix collapses it. Due to the new variant 975.4, which has a high increase in entropy due to wars and technology advances, 975.2 collapses into 975.4 earlier than it should have collapsed into the natural Nexus timeline.
  3. If you look at the full map of this timeline, you will notice that the Epochs are marked quite close together. This is due to the T'ang dynasty's war efforts, which require constant new technology to overcome enemies. The other important notes for this part of the timeline are the advances that the T'ang dynasty makes in its war. They take Japan in the 10th century, the Middle East in the 12th century, Turkey in the 13th century, the Byzantine Empire in the 14th century and they have control of all of Europe by the 17th century. By this stage, they have what we might refer to as `steampunk' technology (modern type technology run on steam power and the like), and have made settlements in the USA. By the 18th century they control Africa, and by the 19th century they control the USA and have modern technology. It only takes them one more century to develop star travel.
  4. Variant 975.4 splits here as two different choices are made about the type of exploration that should be carried out. One timeline (975.41) explores predominantly in a rimward fashion around the galaxy, and the other (975.42) explores mainly in a coreward fashion. Both timelines reach White Epoch just as they go through the 30th century mark.

8.7 Anthology of Beef Vol. 794

This sector has a few items that The Axe want investigating. There is some advanced genetech being used somewhere here that Nexus could make use of, and there has also been some strange disturbances that need investigating. Are the Shifters up to the task? We doubt it, but let them try anyway. (See Sector Map for
Anthology of Beef)

8.7.1 Variant 215 & 225

Local Map of Variants 215 & 225

These are both non-descript, convergent variants that collapse through low entropy gain. This is mainly due to their peaceful nature and the fact that the other variant (221) has doin's a transpirin' that cause the Matrix to reassign the variant-space-time.

8.7.2 Variant 221

At point A a huge amusement park opens in the USA, called Happy Land. Soon it takes over most of America. At point B, EuroHappy Land opens. Again, it takes over most of Europe.
Local Map of Variant 221

Society starts to change, and quite quickly almost everybody is employed in amusement park jobs. Production industries are fully automated, and all that there is to occupy peoples lives are either working at an amusement park, or enjoying the park's `pleasures'. Even completely unrelated industries are affected by the amusement park theme; transport is brightly coloured and invariably an exotic, amusement park derivative, food is almost always fast, and people are paid in ride tokens.

Needless to say the general populace is what we might consider `verging on insanity'. For those that cross the verge is the latest in competitive sport: serial killing. Across the internet (or ElvisNet as it's known in this fun variant) aliases claim mass killings and destruction in an attempt to gain the coveted Number 1 Serial Killer slot.

Into this picture comes a strange fellow indeed. We will know him as Gerard Steed from Variant 198 in this sector (see Sub-section 8.7.4). The ElvisNet serial killers know of him as Mr. X, and he's this weeks highest new entry.

Just prior to point C is where Gerard comes into this sickenely Elvis-orientated variant. He finds the whole serial killer mentality interesting and wants in on the action, getting various jobs around the parks. He tends to work in areas where there is access to the general public in some way, but not necessarily in an obvious way, i.e. food, transport, beauty products, flower arranging etc. He uses this to cause death in as aesthetically pleasing a way as possible, whilst being extremely careful to leave no clues as to the culprit.

He also has another secret, his steamtech shiftbox. This will be extremely difficult to find, and players should only get to it through intelligence and cunning (ahh well).

Point C itself is where the various Happy Lands around the world get annoyed enough with each other to start the Happy War. This meant that they all had to redevelop weapons and battle tactics. These all come from Happy Land type items, like deadly candy floss and cuddly toys that explode. The various cascaded timelines are where different types of the war were fought.

Another important aspect to this variant are the police. The Elvis Cops patrol Happy Land (where Gerard is based), and if their intelligence doesn't get to the players, make sure their annoying dress code (yes, like Elvis), and their constant Elvis-like drawl (Uh-huh-huh, thang you very much) does.

If the players do anything to prolong the timeline's existence, including:

  1. collapsing variant 176.869 prematurely
  2. preventing the war but leaving the steamtech
  3. giving one side an advantage over the other in the Happy War
then the variant may reach the White Epoch (using Gerard's tech) and the Elvis Cops will become Shifters and the players will suffer interference from shifter Elvis Cops.

8.7.3 Variant 176.869

Local Map of Variant 176.869

This a strange timeline that will be familiar to fans of Antarctic Press. The world is inhabited by anthropomorphic animals of all descriptions. Anthropomorphs are creatures that have been developed into `human' form i.e. they have hands fashioned from their claws and stand upright (generally) on two of their feet. An example of anthropomorphic animals could be almost any famous cartoon character.

These animals are grouped vaguely by their type, into factions which are generally at war with other factions. Many alliances exist, as do many intense feuds. The animals are intelligent, and can communicate.

They are only limited by their knowledge and their physiology. Whilst they are anthropomorphic, they do still have characterisations of their `original' forms i.e. moles will have bad eye sight, most will find it hard to manipulate items if they did not have opposable thumbs in original form etc. They live in feudal systems with basic technology like bows and swords. Occasionally there are pieces of ancient human technology that special Keepers of Knowledge devote their lives to maintaining. They will know how to use the technology, but not how to create it. It will become apparent very quickly to players that there is no sign of important genetech to be found here.

The story behind this is that humans managed to wipe themselves out (surprise, surprise) with various chemtech and biological warfare. Before they were wiped out they built a huge organic computer in a huge underground silo. The computer, who's called Genesis, has a prime directive that is to create a lifeform capable of withstanding all the toxins now present on the world. The anthropomorphs are it's only success to date. It is important to note that Genesis, because he is biological, is also affected by the toxins and radiation. Therefore, he has to constantly fight against the various strains of disease by recreating versions of himself that are more resistant. Genesis is the genetech that Nexus wants, but there are difficulties.

Due to the nature of the computer, it is surrounded by what the natives call the `forbidden zone'. The players will be hard pushed to find any animals willing to go there, and will be fought all the way there. Once they arrive, they will discover the area to be huge and desolate. The area is patrolled by sentinel tanks that fire upon anything that moves.

If the players make it to the silo (and it won't be easy - make it real hard), they will need to somehow get Genesis to Nexus. Genesis is psionic, and so cannot be affected by shifting abilities unless he gives permission. Genesis can be reasoned with, even though he is slightly cranky, but on no account will he leave his post on this world.

8.7.4 Variant 198

This is the variant that Gerard Steed comes from. The blob on the point that the variant collapses is to mark where a Shifter team has been in and demolished the timeline. This was because it reached White Epoch, and Nexus always keeps potential competition in the Matrix to a minimum.

Local Map of Variant 198

What the first team failed to find was one of the men working on the White Epoch breakthrough, Gerard Steed. As the variant is being demolished, he managed to send a message back to himself to get out whilst he can. Using this knowledge (and no, please don't argue temporal mechanics here, this is Shifter, we can do what we want), he uses the prototype shiftbox and manages to escape.

8.8 Alterations to the Map

After the Shifter team punches out, you should give them an updated version of the map, taking into account how their activities have affected the variant they have just punched out of. Since it's impossible to plot these effects until all Shifters in a team have punched out, you only need to do this between shifts.

The traditional method is to call a beer/pizza/fag break and decide what's happened. To make keeping track of changes easy, it is suggested that you either:

  1. Write the player's map in pencil, and adjust it with pencil and eraser.
  2. Use a whiteboard for the player's map and adjust it with a drymarker and wipe.
  3. Have a separate sheet of paper and draw small versions of the configuration (without labels) after each punch out.
If the players are solving matters too easily, throw in something to make things harder for them (if a rogue shifter is somehow involved, have them make another alteration whilst the players were busy).

Usually, it will take several shifts before the players achieve their objectives. Inexperienced players often make matters worse for themselves, either by messing around with the variants inadvertently, or turning rogue for the fun of it.

8.9 Typical Mission Structure

The following shows the usual progression of a Shifter session.
  1. Arm yourself with alcohol, snacks and anything else you think you'll need.
  2. Have the players generate Shifters, or select an existing Shifter to play.
  3. Mission Briefing. Have the characters meet the Adept who is supervising their mission. Give them their copy of the map and a description of the mission. Choose, or have the players nominate the mission leader.
  4. Loading the Stack. Decide how many slots in the stack the players are allowed (usually 5 per character). Have the players choose what objects they want in the stack, and the Epoch level of each object.
  5. First Shift. Have the players decide where, when and which point they are shifting to, select hosts and shift in. Describe the setting, and the details of their hosts and resolve the events in that variant according to the player's actions.
  6. First Punch Out. When everyone has punched out, draw a new local map.
  7. Repeat steps (v) and (vi) for each subsequent shift.
  8. Either wait till the mission is completed, or have the supervising Adept punch them out from Nexus.
  9. Mission Interviews. Talk to each character separately as the supervisor, getting them to describe the events of the mission and the performance of the characters.
  10. Mission Debriefing. Have the supervisor call everyone together and discuss the team's overall performance, compliment the characters who appeared to perform well (on the basis of the interviews) and chew out the characters who appear to have done badly. Of course, the actual performance of the team isn't important, just how the interviews went.
  11. Award Privileges on the basis of the Mission Debriefing. Typical mission pay is 5 - 10 Privileges, but Gamesmasters should make larger awards for exceptional performance of difficult missions. No more than 50 privileges per mission per Shifter should be awarded.
  12. Vote for the MVP. Each of the players gets one vote (the GM breaks ties) to determine which player should be awarded the Most Valued Player award.
  13. Give two power ups to the MVP, and one power up to each player who hasn't been a pain in the neck to you.

8.10 Field Trips

For field trips, you should make the players take the
Preliminary Exam before the mission briefing. The point is to see who has picked up the most knowledge of the Background. You should reward or punish cheating on the exam as you see fit.

If there are no more experienced Shifters to act as Guide, the player with the highest score on the Preliminary Exam should be mission leader. If there are higher rank Shifters taking part, either nominate one as the mission leader, or have them act as Guide. As Guides, they should act as advisors, but let the Neos run the mission. If things get out of hand, or if they get bored, they can take charge of the mission.

8.11 Power Ups

Power ups allow characters to advance in skill levels. Power ups can only be used to increase skills - not families or sub-families. Power ups work as follows: Gamesmasters should be impressed if a character's skills ever reach level 7, but should not allow players to try for level 8.

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Last Updated: 8 The Emperor 10 AA