The Act of Hubris
Abyss - Disbelief and Paradox
ABYSS – DISBELIEF AND PARADOX
It’s in the nature of the fallen world to reject the supernal. The souls of the unenlightened are harshly antithetical to magic, quashing it on contact and causing spells to fail. So corrosive is Sleeper apprehension to Supernal magic that Sleepers themselves don’t even remember the magic they destroy. Successful spells have their own price, however; they distort the world around them with increasing violence, ultimately leaving the fabric of reality so thin and frayed that awful things begin to seep in through the cracks.
Whenever the wondrous nature of a mage’s spells becomes apparent to Sleepers, that mage’s spells are subject to Disbelief. A dicepool equal to the number of Sleepers is rolled. Any success on this Disbelief roll causes all of a mage’s witnessed spells to fail, unless the mage pays enough mana to stave off Disbelief’s effects for that turn. Either way, Disbelief aggravates local paradox.
Sleepers: Humans without major supernatural templates or the Sleepwalker merit count as Sleepers. This includes vampiric ghouls, the wolf-blooded, the spirit-urged, and members of major monster hunting conspiracies. Vampires, werewolves, changelings, the spirit-claimed, prometheans, and other pre- or post-human monsters aren’t Sleepers and don’t cause Disbelief.
The curse of Quiescence which causes Disbelief doesn’t seem to be contingent on any metaphysical circumstance that Awakened magic can tamper with. Brainwashing, fate tampering, and soul extraction all fail to prevent Sleepers from Disbelieving spells, although a Sleeper that has been rendered insensate or braindead ceases to be a threat to magic.
Adjudicating Disbelief: Disbelief is triggered whenever supernal magic causes Sleepers to witness something happen that cannot or should not happen. It’s most commonly caused when a mage casts or sustains a vulgar spell in the presence of one or more Sleepers. Disbelief is applied whenever and wherever a spell’s effects are or would be seen, so it’s as difficult to teleport out of a crowd as into a crowd.
Vulgar spell effects are indelibly marked by the nimbuses of their casters, and always trigger Disbelief when perceived directly. Even ostensibly mundane phenomena take on an otherworldly cast when created or infused with vulgar magic – weather patterns might roar with human voices or unfold with perfect geometry, and otherwise natural animals might thrum with primordial vitality or seethe with demonic menace. Vulgar spell effects perceived indirectly – for instance, strange sounds heard through a wall or bizarre shadows and light patterns seen around a corner – usually don’t provoke Disbelief, but might at the Storyteller’s discretion. As well, vulgar spells meant to conceal or misdirect aren’t self-defeating. Turning invisible before a Sleeper’s eyes risks Disbelief, but walking past a Sleeper while invisible doesn’t.
Disbelief is also triggered when the repeated coincidences caused by covert magic become too incredible to take in stride. The Storyteller usually decides when this becomes the case, but it happens most frequently when supposedly random phenomena act with obvious and increasingly-predictable intentionality. If a die keeps coming up six, or a gun jams each time it’s pointed at a certain target, or a violent mood swing consistently accompanies a seemingly unrelated circumstance, Disbelief will take hold. Covert spells might also trigger Disbelief if sensitive scanning equipment or supernatural power somehow allows a Sleeper to observe a phenomenon so closely that they can plainly see the minute changes covert magic makes. It’s a bad idea, for instance, to cause harmless bacteria to transform into flesh-eating killers while they’re being watched through a microscope.
Some spells make impossible changes of the world to produce ongoing effects that aren’t in particular contravention of natural law. For instance, transforming into a natural animal or instantly conjuring violent weather out of a clear sky are impossible in the fallen world, but the resulting bear or thunderstorm are not. Vulgar Improvised spells or rotes can be designed such that their sustained effects are considered covert rather than vulgar. Such ongoing covert effects can still be Disbelieved if they draw too much Sleeper suspicion, however – a bear that writes in the dirt with its claws or a thunderstorm that strikes the same spot with lightning repeatedly won’t last long under Sleeper scrutiny.
Sleepers somehow granted the Mage Sight are particularly dangerous, as they Disbelieve not only whatever magic has enlightened them but also every spell the Mage Sight lets them see, including covert workings that would normally be totally invisible.
Unless a mage doesn’t know they’re being watched, they can usually intuit whether a given spell threatens to suffer Disbelief. Storytellers should be forthright with players as to whether a given spell will be subject to Disbelief, or at least allow for some roll to be made as a minor action to gauge local Sleepers’ level of awareness or mental state.
Despite its name, Disbelief isn’t a function of a given Sleeper’s convictions, and isn’t optional on any Sleeper’s part. A mortal fully indoctrinated into an Atlantean mystery cult’s mythology and possessed of utmost faith in the reality of magic will nevertheless destroy spells on contact, never actually remembering the look and feel of the miraculous power they supposedly serve. Disbelief is totally involuntary, and is as likely to dissolve a blessing as it is to dissolve a curse. The surest way to avoid being a vector for Disbelief is to shut one’s eyes and clasp one’s ears and blank one’s thoughts, or better yet to leave the area entirely.
Avoiding Disbelief: Mages can avoid Disbelief by being circumspect. The collapsing floors, exploding gas mains, and sudden heart attacks that covert magic can produce almost always get by the first time they occur, and can be made to seem ordinary and even expected with the right kind of setup and showmanship. Even vulgar spells can avoid Disbelief when their effects go completely unseen. For instance, a mage on a busy street can freely use a Spirit spell to cause fantastic changes on the other side of the Gauntlet (unless, for some reason, there is a Sleeper in the spirit world right then and there), and a mage who wants to summon a cell phone into their hand in the middle of a crowded party could perform the spell without any chance of failure by reaching into a pocket or bag and performing the teleportation out of sight.
Storytellers should be amenable to creative attempts to hide the operation of magic, whether through disguise, misdirection, or dissembling on the player characters’ parts. It should be noted, though, that some of the phenomena produced by vulgar magic are so bizarre or otherworldly that no amount of bullshit can protect them from the effects of Sleeper attention. As well, heavy magic use can cause paradoxes to bloom whether or not that magic goes unnoticed by Sleepers.
Sleeper Perception of Magic: Sleepers aren’t blind to magic that Disbelief hasn’t yet quashed. They’re aware of the locations and effects of spells in operation and can react to them in logical and tactically sound ways. However, a Sleeping observer is largely unable to grasp the underlying truth of a spell. It’s not quite that a Sleeper’s mind neatly wallpapers over everything that Sleeper sees, such that guns replace wands and stunt wires sprout from levitating objects; rather, spells are perceived in a hypnagogic haze, blurring the line between dream and reality and informing a Sleeper’s experience on a mostly-subconscious level. A Sleeper might deftly dodge gouts of flame, boldly gun down monsters, and doggedly forge through mazes of twisted space-time without any conscious awareness of what’s actually going on; dream-logic simply dictates that they must take whatever action they take next, until the whole bizarre episode is over and they wake back into normal life. It’s a process not unlike the mystery play which precedes Awakening itself, except there is no final moment of clarity, no climactic revelation bringing closure and empowerment.
The High Speech, either spoken aloud or written down, also evades Sleeper understanding. Sleepers hear words of power as nonsense babble, random static, or total silence, and see runic inscriptions as patternless scribbles or vague blurs.
Sleeper Recollection of Magic: Sleepers with low Willpower scores often forget supernal magic entirely, while those with higher Willpower scores remember it in nonspecific, outcome-based terms. For instance, a particularly acute Sleeper struck with a Forces spell might recall that someone attacked them with an incendiary weapon that had somehow been smuggled past security. That Sleeper might act intelligently on the information that their adversary somehow always has a flamethrower handy, but won’t understand or accept that fire was produced from nothing with the wave of a hand. The more important a magically-charged incident was to a Sleeper or the more that Sleeper is pressed, the more specific details that Sleeper can usually dredge up, but the fact of magic will always elude the unAwakened. Covert magic that somehow triggered disbelief is similarly forgotten, glossed over, or rationalized.
The inability to grasp Supernal magic isn’t the result of retrograde memory loss. It’s a flaw immanent in the human mind, and even magical investigation into a Sleeper’s deepest memories won’t be able to unearth a clear picture of a spell in action. Most mages with the ability to scan memories can tell the significance of confused or hazy patches in the middle of otherwise waking moments, though, and with time and luck can often reconstruct the broad strokes of whatever spell their subject saw.
DISBELIEF ROLLS: A Disbelief roll uses a number of dice equal to the number of Sleeper witnesses of a mage’s spells. Distinct groups of witnesses of distinct spells total, so if three sleepers are watching a mage cast a spell in one room while four sleepers are watching a monster that mage conjured in a separate room, the Disbelief pool contains seven dice.
The Disbelief pool isn’t necessarily constant; if Sleepers leave or enter a scene, or if different numbers of Sleepers can witness the works of different mages, then differently-sized Disbelief pools might be rolled throughout a combat round. Of course, it’s okay to average out a single Disbelief total for a scene if keeping multiple separate running tallies proves too annoying.
Roll Timing: The Disbelief roll is made at the beginning of the turn of any mage whose spells are already being witnessed by Sleepers. A mage who begins their turn safe from Disbelief triggers an immediate Disbelief roll if, on the course of their turn, they somehow subject their spells to Sleeper attention. If a mage isn’t currently subject to Disbelief, but casts a spell that would trigger Disbelief, the Disbelief dicepool is rolled immediately after the spell (and any shaping roll made on its behalf) is declared and paid for but before the spell actually takes effect.
Disbelief is rolled once per mage per round, at maximum. The Disbelief dicepool doesn’t need to be subdivided among multiple mages in any way; it’s maximally effective regardless of how many mages are present, how many of those mages are using magic, and how powerful that magic is.
Each mage who provokes a Disbelief roll, no matter that roll’s results, adds one die to the Paradox roll at the end of the round.
Roll Results: If any successes are generated by a Disbelief roll, the spells of the subject mage begin to unravel. The mage can attempt to resist Disbelief by reflexively spending Mana as though paying the cost of a spell, potentially drawing on mana sources such as pattern scouring, places of power, and words of power. If the mage pays points of Mana equal to the successes on the Disbelief roll, the mage’s spells continue to function as normal through the turn.
If a Disbelief roll’s successes are not paid off in full, all of a mage’s spells currently provoking Disbelief are instantly dispelled, and, until the start of the mage’s next turn, any spell that mage tries to cast that would trigger Disbelief automatically fails. Resources spent to cast failed spells remain spent, but actions don’t, so a mage whose thunderbolt failed to materialize can then opt to resort to a gun or flee the scene entirely. Spells that Disbelief snuffs out don’t contribute to paradox.
Imbued Spells and Artifacts: Disbelief affects spells produced by imbued items and artifacts in the same way as it affects spells directly cast and sustained by mages. An imbued item’s magic is snuffed out , while an artifact goes dormant for the rest of the scene. In both cases, the item can’t be reactivated until no Sleepers are in place to observe that item’s effects.
Disbelief is rolled during the turn of whoever is activating and using the enchanted object, or simply as soon as the enchantment spell is witnessed if it’s not under the control of some important character. The wielder of an imbued item or artifact can pay Mana to resist Disbelief, as above. UnAwakened characters can use pattern scouring and places of power for this purpose, but pattern scouring isn’t any more efficient than normal when used to fight through Disbelief.
SUMMARY: Places can have a Paradox Intensity trait that measures how badly disrupted the laws of local reality are. The higher a place’s Paradox Intensity, the more that place is plagued with bizarre phenomena and the worse side effects that place adds to spells cast within it. When mages cast vulgar spells or spend Mana to Shape their spells, they contribute to a dicepool that begins with dice equal to the local Paradox rating and is rolled at the end of the round; successes on this Paradox roll can add features to a local paradox, increase that paradox’s duration, or increase that paradox’s Intensity. Paradoxes themselves act at the end of each round, rolling a Shaping dicepool to apply their effects; a paradox’s Shaping dicepool grows in proportion to its Intensity and the number of mages using covert or vulgar magic in the area.
PARADOXES DESCRIBED: Paradox is a phenomenon that magic leaves in its wake. As a portion of the fallen world is subject to increasing amounts of magic, the laws of prosaic reality begin to bend and warp, resulting in a place that isn’t quite normal. Further spells only serve to aggravate a paradox, and the more violently a place is riven by magic, the more bizarre the paradox becomes. When magic pushes a paradox to the peak of instability, the fabric of reality breaks completely, allowing portions of the abyss entry into the mortal world. Paradoxes tend to lessen in severity when left alone, and mages hope fervently that normal reality reasserts itself fully when a paradox is allowed enough time to settle.
Intense paradoxes rarely act for long, but low-level paradoxes – especially those left behind after powerful paradoxes have spent themselves – can be quite tenacious, lasting for months or years or decades. Some seem to be indefinite, having existed in an area for all of recorded history without ever showing signs of abating. It’s common for mages to stumble onto paradoxes that other mages have left behind, and in the heat of the moment mages sometimes germinate paradoxes whose aftereffects then plague the area for days or weeks hence.
Many supernaturally unusual places or phenomena are paradoxes or the results of paradoxes. Paradox effects are not themselves supernal, but rather bubbles and ripples through the surface of the world that supernal magic causes, so there’s not a hard division between paradoxes brought on by the spells of the Awakened and other instances of supernatural weirdness; an area might be plagued by strange occurrences and assigned a Paradox Intensity by the Storyteller even if supernal magic doesn’t figure in its history.
COLLECTIVE PARADOX ROLL: A single paradox roll is made at the end of any round in which any mage present in a scene cast a vulgar spell, Shaped a vulgar spell, or provoked Disbelief. If all of a turn’s contributions to collective paradox are cancelled out (such as by dedicated magical tools, or certain Merits) no collective paradox roll is made that turn. The paradox roll’s dicepool is constructed as follows:
- Local paradox (0 to 4 dice): The Paradox pool starts with dice equal to the local Paradox Intensity.
- Disbelief (1 die per mage): Each mage who provoked a Disbelief roll in the round adds a die, whether that roll succeeded or failed.
- Vulgar spells (1 die per spell): Each vulgar spell successfully cast, refreshed, or activated in the round adds a die. Shaping an existing vulgar spell counts as casting that spell.
- Shaping vulgar spells (mage’s Gnosis): Each mage that uses Mana to Shape a vulgar spells adds dice equal to their Gnosis to the pool.
Note: A consecrated implement and workspace each cancel a die a mage would’ve added to the pool by Shaping a vulgar spell. They don’t stop that vulgar spell from adding a die to the pool for having been cast or refreshed in the first place.
INSCRIPTION PARADOX ROLL: If an unstable Atlantean inscription goes unrepaired, it causes a separate paradox pool to be rolled at the end of the round. This roll is made after any collective paradox roll is resolved. If multiple inscriptions detonate simultaneously, they’re rolled for and resolved one after the other in order of increasing dicepool. The full effects of each roll is applied before the next is made, so a paradox created by one inscription can increase the dicepool of the next.
- Local Paradox (0 to 4 dice): The Paradox pool starts with dice equal to the local Paradox Intensity.
- Inscription Tenacity (1 die per Tenacity): Each point of bonus Tenacity the inscription used to provide adds one die.
- Inscription Vulgar Spells (1 die per spell): Each vulgar spell fortified by the inscription adds one die.
DEMESNE PARADOX ROLL: When Disbelief causes a Demesne to collapse, each severed soul stone causes a separate paradox pool to be rolled. This roll is made after any collective or inscription paradox rolls are made and resolved. If multiple soul stones are severed at once, they’re rolled for and resolved one after the other in order of increasing dicepool. The full effects of each roll is applied before the next is made, so a paradox created by one stone can increase the dicepool of the next.
- Local Paradox (0 to 4 dice): The Paradox pool starts with dice equal to the local Paradox Intensity. Lingering paradoxes pushed to the Demesne’s borders do increase the local Intensity as they immediately sweep back in to their old positions.
- Severed Soul Stone (Gnosis of soul stone’s creator): When Disbelief causes a Demesne’s soul stone to stop powering the Demesne, one paradox die is rolled per Gnosis dot of the soul stone’s creator.
The total number of successes on a paradox roll indicates if and how local paradox has been aggravated. Any mages present can feel, through their Mage Sight, how severe the roll’s result was.
Failure: If no successes are rolled, use of vulgar magic has failed to worsen local paradox at this particular moment, though it’s impossible to guarantee that this luck will hold into future turns.
Success: A paradox with an Intensity equal to the rolled successes blooms in the area. If it’s lesser or equal in Intensity to a paradox already present, the new paradox is subsumed into the old one, adding new strange properties to the area and increasing the local paradox’s size and duration. If the new paradox has a higher Intensity than one already present, the old paradox is subsumed into the new one; the Paradox Intensity of the entire scene increases to that of the new paradox, and local reality becomes increasingly bizarre and disjointed.
Exceptional Success: The Paradox Intensity of the local area doesn’t change, but an abyssal Manifestation occurs. Paradox rolls generating more than five successes still result in a Manifestation, just one that is exceptionally horrible. Storytellers are encouraged to increase the multitude, breadth, or perniciousness of a Manifestation paradox in proportion to the number of successes above five that a Paradox roll produces.
The effects of any standing paradox are applied immediately following a paradox roll, so a newborn paradox acts as soon as its appears.
PARADOX ACTIONS: Paradoxes with Intensities of 2, 3, or 4 impose their effects at the end of each turn, at which point the Storyteller makes a Shaping roll on the paradox’s behalf.
- When To Roll: Paradoxes aren’t mandatorily baleful in effect. The success total a paradox produces on its turn might be totally irrelevant if whatever bizarre thing the paradox is doing doesn’t happen to directly impact or interfere with any of the characters present. Storytellers shouldn’t bother making a Shaping roll on a paradox’s behalf unless the result of that Shaping roll is going to meaningfully affect the scene.
- Paradox Shaping Dicepools: A paradox starts each round with no Shaping dice, and gains dice from local mages. The most blatant aspect of spell that a mage has cast or sustained since the paradox’s last action contributes a number of dice to the paradox’s next shaping dicepool based on the paradox’s rating. Each mage is only counted once for the purpose of assembling a paradox’s Shaping dicepool, adding either no dice, the covert total, or the vulgar total. Once rolled at the end of the round, a paradox’s Shaping dice are spent, but can be accumulated anew on the following round so long as magic of more than sensory aspect remains in use. Paradoxes can inflict aftereffects just as spells can.
- Applying Successes: Successes rolled on a paradox’s Shaping roll add to that paradox’s base Shaping successes to determine how forcefully it can act on a given round, exactly as mage’s Shaping roll increases a spell’s base Potency to impose consequences on that spell’s targets. A paradox’s total successes can apply anywhere or everyone in that paradox’s area to impose any effect appropriate to the paradox’s nature, though the mainstay of the paradox’s action is usually localized to wherever in a paradox zone mages or mage spells are. Paradoxes don’t need spell factors to affect multiple targets, inflict aggravated or Resistant damage, or act at sympathetic distance.
It’s a zone’s overall Paradox Intensity and recent history that determine what its Shaping actually causes. Usually, a paradox does the same thing with its shaping roll round after round, and the total success count simply indicates how hazardous or obstructive the zone is at any given moment.
- Boosts and Hindrances: A paradox might boost the action of a character who finds some way to take advantage of it, guaranteeing minimum successes on and upgrading the dice of whatever action it happens to benefit. More commonly, a paradox interferes with actions characters take within its confines. Paradoxes of rating 2, 3, and 4 correspond respectively to sensory, covert, and vulgar spells for the purpose of empowering or obstructing actions.
Each numerical Paradox Intensity corresponds to a specific threshold in the breakdown of local reality and a certain broad class of increasingly dire symptoms of flagrant magic use. An area’s Paradox Intensity doesn’t measure which specific thing is happening so much as just how bad things have gotten overall, and greater paradoxes don’t replace the symptoms of lesser paradoxes so much as eclipse them temporarily.
Paradoxes inherit their properties from the spells and mages that spawned them. A longstanding paradox usually has a distinct and well-established character that a single paradox roll is unlikely to change; local mages might even have nicknamed its location. A newborn paradox, on the other hand, is wildly dynamic, shifting wildly from moment to moment as each spell cast further defines and expands it. A paradox can theoretically end up with dizzying arrays of disparate features in the wake of an action scene involving a large group of mages. Often, it’s neither practical nor particularly important to tabulate each and every one of a paradox’s distinguishing traits. It’s more important to communicate the general feel and nature of an area’s paradox, and how those qualities have been embellished, magnified, or mutated by the most recent round of spells.
Paradox effects are usually the fault of supernal magic, but aren’t themselves supernal. For better or worse, paradox effects are part of the natural world; they aren’t susceptible to dispellation or Disbelief, and Sleepers can observe and recall them without special difficulty. Some paradox effects are wholly immune to magic, but it’s more common that spells work just fine in paradox zones, manipulating whatever phenomena the paradox produces as easily as any other part of the fallen world. Unfortunately, banishing a symptom of a paradox isn’t the same as banishing a paradox itself, and using magic on a paradox is rarely a wise move in the long run.
The Mage Sight usually alerts a character of the proximity of a paradox zone and of what Intensity that paradox zone has. Even a paradox zone that somehow evades this awareness is generally identifiable by a mage who knows what signs to look for.
Deciding Paradox Effects: When a new paradox emerges, the Storyteller decides what its effects are. Paradoxes usually resemble the spells that spawned them, and produce effects theoretically achievable by whatever Arcana were in use; mages exerting adept or master-level Arcana will leave much more extravagant paradoxes in their wake than initiates or apprentices can. Paradoxes that grow in severity can rapidly outstrip their creators in power, however, and even a low-level Arcanum effect might snowball into a disaster it’d take a master to replicate.
Paradoxes aren’t meant to be punitive; they’re disruptions in the wider world, not karmic backlashes or slaps on the wrist by an angry God. Storytellers deciding what kind of paradox a round of spells produces shouldn’t feel obligated to make that paradox antagonistic in nature. Some paradoxes are just plain weird, becoming increasingly disruptive as they climb in severity but not posing any specific, constant threat to the mages within them. Storytellers should concern themselves with making sure that paradox effects reflect characters’ magic use, make the scene more interesting, and serve the themes of the game more so than with making sure that paradox effects are maximally dangerous or inconvenient. That said, menace and horror usually do serve the themes of the game, and it’s often entirely appropriate to declare that a given paradox is horribly inimical to everything around it – especially when the spells that gave rise to it were, themselves, destructive in nature.
- INTENSITY 1 – CORONA: Magic cast in the area has perceptible side effects.
A Corona paradox represents the onset of a place’s allergy to magic. A Corona has no effect in and of itself, but causes a sort of inflammation of reality whenever spells are used in the area. A Corona paradox democratizes the Mage Sight: strange occurrences give away the presence of magic and implicate its users. Coronas very rarely have distinctive characters of their own; instead, a Corona effect tends to reflect the whichever spell triggered it and the nimbus of that spell’s caster.
Under the aegis of a Corona, covert spells come with unsettling side effects such as eerie noises, swings in temperature, or strange feelings that draw attention both to a spell and its caster. Mages sustaining covert spells on their person (an almost universal practice) are themselves afflicted; one of the Awakened might have an abnormal shadow or reflection, attract or repel animals, or cause food and drink to spoil in their passing. The side effects of vulgar spells are particularly flagrant; A mage’s fingertips might smoke continuously in the wake of a fireball, and a chorus of whispering voices might follow a spirit binder. The more magic a mage calls upon within the boundaries of a Corona, the more that magic marks them as something unnatural.
Mechanics: Coronas add Edges to rolls made to notice magic’s operation and pinpoint its sources, as well as to realize that spell effects and mages themselves are suspicious or unnatural. Coronas grant a +2 Edge against covert spells and their users, and a +4 Edge where vulgar magic is concerned. Coronas might instead inflict Difficulties on attempts by mages to blend in or avoid suspicion. A Corona’s effects last only as long as the spells that spawn them, and fade on mages who leave the area.
Corona paradoxes don’t make Disbelief more likely. A corona’s effects accompany and highlight the operation of magic but don’t cause the effects of that magic to be any more or less impossible. Rather, it becomes easier for Sleepers to attribute those effects to foul play or trace those effects to their sources.
- INTENSITY 2 – AURORA: Weird phenomena alter the appearance of the area.
Paradoxes that reach Aurora strength begin to take on lives of their own. Aurora zones act on the world regardless of the presence or absence of supernal magic; the local laws of nature have been pushed so out of kilter that the area is marked with some kind of constant, detectable distortion. Aurora paradoxes correspond vaguely to magic of sensory aspect, affecting a place’s look and feel rather than its nature.
The specifics of an Aurora paradox largely depend on what brought that paradox into being. Strange voices, will-o-wisps, clouds of fog, creeping bloodstains, or patterns of bizarre insect behavior might ripple through the area, often giving rise to urban legends about ghostly hauntings or alien visitations. The symptoms of an Aurora paradox tend to be intermittent and unpredictable, but respond to the presence of magic in the same way those of Coronas do; mages who cast or wear spells in an Aurora zone will find the effects of the paradox clinging with frustrating tenacity and warping to reflect the nature of whatever spells and nimbuses are present. Aurora effects can become quite bothersome when in force, playing hell with sensitive equipment, ruining visibility, and generally causing distraction and disorientation.
Shaping Roll: 1 base Shaping success; 1 die from covert magic or 2 dice from vulgar magic
Shaping Results: The Shaping successes of an Aurora usually contest rolls involving concentration, perception, or stealth. It’s common for an Aurora to frustrate sensory magic, opposing the shaping successes of Knowing spells or rolls to unveil resonance with mage sight. False readings or generalized static turn simple scans into tedious searches, or render detailed analysis impossible until covert magic is used to clear away the chaff.
- INTENSITY 3 – ANOMALY: The physical or supernatural laws of the area change tangibly.
Anomaly paradoxes are felt as well as seen. They’re roughly analogous to covert spells in their power to bend and twist the facts of the world, but unlike covert spells are starkly obvious aberrations of the natural order.
Like Auroras, Anomalies reflect the spells and mages that generated them, and intensify in the presence of supernal magic. Unlike Auroras, Anomalies are more than scene dressing; an Anomaly paradox might enrage choirs of local spirits, cloud the minds of bystanders, or disturb the flow of time. Anomalies have the potential to impede or even injure characters within their boundaries, especially when a lot of magic is in use. The mere presence of spells can turn light showers of hail into lashing storms or loosening earth into sucking quicksand.
Shaping Roll: 2 base Shaping successes; 2 dice (9-again) from covert magic or 3 dice (9-again) from vulgar magic
Shaping Results: An Anomaly’s Shaping successes are usually used to interfere with or inhibit some class of action, but they might inflict damage, create obstacles, impose Difficulties, or serve some other function.
- INTENSITY 4 – MAELSTROM: Local reality warps drastically.
Worse still than Anomalies, Maelstrom paradoxes involve the violent breakdown of natural law. The fallen world’s answer to vulgar magic, Maelstroms are nightmarish vortices of fractured causality.
Maelstroms parody the spells that spawn them, extending their consequences to grotesque extremes or counteracting them in a lunatic bid for cosmic balance. Particularly straightforward Maelstrom paradoxes might produce storms of ice and fire or plagues of feral zombies, but things can get far, far worse. Maelstrom paradoxes have twisted space and time into inescapable labyrinths, fused flora and fauna into ravenous masses of flesh and fiber, or shuffled around at random the minds and bodies of local bystanders. Maelstroms snowball in strangeness and power as more spells are cast within their boundaries, and are particularly prone to hybridize their native effects with those of recently cast spells. Even when Maelstroms aren’t directly and straightforwardly dangerous, the sheer magnitude of their weirdness is usually such that they’re impossible to ignore or work around; when a Maelstrom paradox blooms, the immediate response of most mages is to flee.
Shaping Roll: 3 base Shaping successes; 3 dice (8-again) from covert magic or 4 dice (8-again) from vulgar magic
Shaping Results: A Maelstrom’s successes might be used for any conceivable purpose, even to drastically transform or control any characters present. The spell-like effects of a Maelstrom fade when the Maelstrom does, but usually leave dire consequences in their wake.
A Manifestation isn’t an ongoing phenomenon, but an atomic event. When a Manifestation is rolled, whatever paradox exists in the area continues to operate as it normally would; it’s just that, at that moment, the fragile boundary separating being from nonbeing ruptures entirely, and something comes through.
Abyssal manifestations are wholly unpredictable, and sometimes wholly inconceivable. Manifestations can be rampaging monsters, silver-tongued fiends, or half-formed larvae that flee immediately in search of places to nest and grow, but they can also be diseases, or languages, or weather patterns, or places, or timelines. Sometimes, Manifestations resemble the paradoxes that preceded them; sometimes they’re formless and inchoate until they gather up the Maelstrom raging around them to wear it like a cloak, incidentally freeing the location of any sign of paradox in the process; sometimes they’re wholly unrelated to the disasters that brought them forth into the world; sometimes they don’t enter the world at all, and instead pull the entire paradox zone out of the world and into themselves. Perhaps the most chilling kind of Manifestation is the kind that, as far as anyone present can tell, totally fails to appear.
A Manifestation’s raw power usually grows in proportion to the number and Gnosis ratings of the mages that contributed to it. Paradox successes in excess of five increase a Manifestation’s scope; a Manifestation with six or more successes might feature more than one intruder, an intruder whose nature is particularly abstract or infectious, or an intruder which abducts rather than invades. The specific mechanics by which the result of a Manifestation functions are the storyteller’s call.
WHO CONTRIBUTES TO A PARADOX
A mage is considered to have contributed to a paradox if they added any dice any Paradox roll in the scene, whether the roll or rolls they added to produced any successes. Mages who don’t add dice to a Paradox roll but whose active spells passively increase a paradox’s shaping dicepool don’t make a paradox any lengthier or more elaborate.
PARADOX AREA AND DEVELOPMENT
Paradoxes usually erupt vaguely centered on the spell or spells that spawned them, affecting an area corresponding to that of a spell with one or two area factors – that of a small room or hallway. A spell that uses notable area or size factors usually spawns a paradox zone at least as wide or large as the spell’s effects are. Each time a paradox roll produces successes equal to the rating of a paradox already present, that paradox might expand in size, gain additional or more extravagant properties, or both, as decided by the Storyteller. Paradox rolls producing fewer successes than the local Paradox Intensity usually don’t change the current paradox’s size, but might increase the size of a weaker Paradox that girds the stronger; for instance, an Aurora might stretch farther out without changing the Anomaly in its center. Usually, though, it’s not important to track the size of multiple concentric paradox zones, and the effects of paradox rolls that don’t match or exceed the current Paradox Intensity are largely cosmetic.
The actual physical dimensions of a paradox can vary widely, and are usually determined by the Storyteller. Paradoxes often end up coterminous with some feature of the environment, entirely filling a field, parking garage, or other defined place, although some really are perfect spheres of arbitrary radius that totally disregard intervening matter. Nearby paradoxes often flow together, and it’s entirely possible for wider geographical areas to hold elaborate patchwork mazes of contiguous disruptions in reality.
Paradoxes triggered by long-range magic can spread wherever that magic goes. Depending on the Arcana in use, a single paradox might wind up spilling across the Gauntlet, oozing out both sides of a long-range portal, or reaching into the near or distant future. The safest way to flee a paradox is usually on foot, because magical transport often draws paradox into its wake.
A paradox only lasts for so long. Once a paradox’s duration runs out, though, it doesn’t simply disappear; rather, it calms and weakens, reducing its Intensity by one. However, the duration of a lesser paradox is always higher than that of the greater paradox that preceded it, moving one step down this scale:
- One scene, or roughly one hour
- Two hours
- Twelve hours
- One day
- Two days
- One week
- Two weeks
- One month
- Two months
- Six months
- One year
So, by default, a Maelstrom only lasts one scene, but the Anomaly that follows it operates for two hours, the Aurora that follows that clings for half a day, and the Corona left over lingers for a day. The times listed here are rough approximations; a daylong paradox doesn’t necessarily vanish the instant that 86,400 seconds have passed.
This timetable represents the best case scenario. When particularly reckless mages contribute to a paradox, they can make that paradox or its aftershocks last much longer than normal. The lower a mage’s Wisdom score, the more severe a paradox that mage can inadvertently extend:
- Wisdom 5: None
- Wisdom 4: Corona
- Wisdom 3: Aurora
- Wisdom 2: Anomaly
- Wisdom 1: Maelstrom
- Wisdom 0: All
Each mage who contributed to at least one of a scene’s paradox rolls involuntarily increases the duration of the most severe paradox that their Wisdom allows, whether that paradox is currently active or will eventually appear once the current paradox or any of its descendants dies down. The duration of the extended paradox stretches down the duration scale, occupying multiple rows and pushing any later paradoxes even further down. Each mage is counted only once, but the effects of multiple low-Wisdom mages are cumulative, and can end up stretching the duration of one Paradox rating several times or multiple Paradox ratings in sequence. Extant paradoxes are lengthened in the same way newly formed paradoxes are; any current or future stage of the paradox is spread however many steps down the chart. If paradox of any severity is “pushed off” the bottom of the list, that paradox’s duration becomes indefinite; it might fade in years or decades, or it might become effectively permanent, at the storyteller’s prerogative.
Four mages whose Wisdom scores are 5, 3, 3, and 1 cause an Anomaly. By default, the timetable of the resulting Paradox zone would look like this:
One hour: Anomaly
Two hours: Aurora
Twelve hours: Corona
The Wisdom 5 mage doesn’t cause the paradox to last any longer than it should. Both Wisdom 3 mages cause the Aurora’s duration to increase, so the Aurora stretches downward to swallow two more rows of the duration scale. The Wisdom 1 mage would cause a Maelstrom to last longer, but no Maelstrom occurred, so the next most severe paradox – the Anomaly – is extended in length instead. The final timetable looks like this:
One hour: Anomaly
Two hours: Anomaly
Twelve hours: Aurora
One day: Aurora
Two days: Aurora
One week: Corona
Each time increment passes in full before the next begins, so the Anomaly lasts three hours in total and is followed by an Aurora that persists for three and a half days. If a fifth mage with Wisdom 0 had been present and added any dice to a paradox roll, each individual category of Paradox would have gained an additional increment, pushing down all the rest:
One hour: Anomaly
Two hours: Anomaly
Twelve ours: Anomaly
One day: Aurora
Two days: Aurora
One week: Aurora
Two weeks: Aurora
One month: Corona
Two months: Corona
The Mage Sight does not give mages an instinctive sense of how long a paradox is likely to last. Time spells can sometimes pinpoint or at least estimate a paradox’s duration, but it’s usually the case that curious mages have little option except to wait and see.
These rules give Storytellers a broad-strokes means to decide how long a given paradox lasts. Storytellers can always decide a given paradox lasts longer or shorter than normal, and should feel free to assign a paradox’s duration off the cuff if it isn’t practical or important to tabulate the duration progression exactly. The important thing is that short-lived, powerful paradoxes are followed by long-lived, weaker paradoxes, and that a paradox’s lifespan grows in proportion to both the number of mages that created that paradox and the deficiency in those mages’ Wisdom scores.
It’s important to remember that even severe paradoxes tend to be fairly muted and subtle in effect when covert and vulgar spells aren’t operating in the area. That said, Anomalies and especially Maelstroms can be quite dramatic in effect even without any mages present, and such severe paradox zones often end up spawning rumors and investigations that mages would prefer to avoid. Local mages usually take pains to prevent Sleepers from wandering into severe paradox zones until those paradoxes die down. Failing that, other supernatural creatures and even clandestine Sleeper conspiracies often work to keep such blatant evidence of the supernatural secret.
Paradoxes can in principle be solved. Each one is the result of tangible damage wrought by magic to the substratum of fallen reality; if that damage can somehow be undone or repaired, the paradox it gives rise to should weaken or dissipate entirely.
In practice, this is extremely difficult. Magic’s usually useless (though not always; rarely, mages get lucky and find themselves faced with a paradox a simple spell can heal), both because normal Arcanum use involves subjects less esoteric and fine-grained than the underlying integrity of reality itself, and because it’s powerful magic use that causes paradox in the first place; a spell so complex, powerful and wide-reaching that it could erase a paradox zone entirely is likely to leave a new paradox behind. Rumor has it that imperial magic can dispel paradoxes, but then rumor has it that imperial magic can do all sorts of things – and, surely, the paradoxes that imperial magic itself produces are things of nightmare.
It’s sometimes possible to fix or at least mitigate a standing paradox through research and diligent effort. The efforts involved tend to be extremely abstract; conscientious mages might end up using geomancy to alter an area’s local resonance, performing repeated (non-supernal) ceremonies at supernaturally significant times, or assembling collections of strange objects and substances retrieved from around the world. The vast majority of the time, though, the specific mechanics and causes of a standing paradox are simply too incomprehensible or ingrained in the world to be repaired by any means. Faced with paradox, the Wise have no recourse but to grit their teeth and wait.