How is 1879 like Shadowrun?

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How is 1879 like Shadowrun?

Post by Andrew1879 » Thu Apr 23, 2020 3:33 pm

Here's some food for thought, for developing the darker aspects of the 1879 gameworld, for thinking about where the magic comes from and who's doing what with it. This was written for Shadowrun, but there's so much in it that applies to 1879.

Original work by velexiraptor, whose blog, A Blasted Cratered Land, contains much more worth reading.

Over the course of the 2020s, magic returned to the world. It trickled in from the edges of reality, the most liminal of spaces, everywhere you'd just looked and written off; filling a bleak and dystopian world with new wonder. At first, few believed in it - cryptid sightings had always been easy to fake, and cult rituals were always more correlation than causation, but those who lived in the spaces between learned better. In deserts, in alleyways, on oil rigs, in the hearts of old-growth forests, powers spoke and welled up and those who listened came back changed. Wielding magic.

The first undeniable proof came when the riots did. General strikes turned bloody when the cops and the guard showed up - but when the tear gas flew, fire flew back. The image of the decade: a person in a mask and a longcoat, spewing smog and locusts and acid from their mouth and eyes onto riot police, calling on something no one could define.


From there, the race was on. To control it. To harness it. To ban it.

Mages kept coming out of the woodwork, with real and verifiable tricks. They got monetized, like showbiz; when you can't replicate them on industrial scales, but they're absolutely 100% bona fide, what else do you do? It forced governments' and skeptics' hands, to acknowledge that there was something else. Something impossible.

And then the research institutes spun up, courtesy of billions of dollars of lockheed martin fuck you money. While magic emerged into the hidden places and the marginal/liminal world, so many living in the precarious brutality of the fringes look for any way out. They saw the ads and the job postings, took the leap, studied their own abilities and were studied in turn.

Pretty soon, magic could be taught.

Pretty soon after that, magic was well-understood enough to legislate around. And mechanize.

And since it was hit upon under the auspices of corporate roofs, it became corporate property. Want mage training that's above board and safe? Want to be licensed? Want a cushy job with benefits? Show up to alphabet's new thaumaturgy division. Get a badge and implanted subdermal RFID chip. Get a company apartment. Join the family.

This didn't, on its own, cause extraterritoriality. It was in many ways inevitable since the seeds sown in the 1970s. The state withering away, combined with the hype generated by new research campuses into supernatural phenomena, let corporations push to truly supplant state functions. They bought up districts, rammed permits through magic-hungry, wide-eyed city councils. They threw up vast towers and facilities and labs (all honeycombed with surveillance) in scant 18 month timelines.

And all the while, magic trickled into the world. first a stream. then a flood. soon an ocean.

Magic's done some weird fuckin shit. It's the next giant leap - forget it being the next computers, it's the next electricity. Merging it with R&D and manufacturing lines has turned science fiction into magic reality. Hovercars. Arcologies. Cybernetic augmentations. All available to those who can pay, or mandated for those who can work.

It gets into the air, the water, the land, too. That's not always a bad thing - you should see how fast (and strange) the Amazon's bounced back - but it changes those saturated in it. Not into elves/dwarves/orcs/trolls, that's a Tolkienism and the dude had (at best) some seriously racist unquestioned assumptions. But you do get people who're different. Not quite mutants, not quite cryptids. The strange. The changed. The term that caught on first was the Exposed; there's a lot more terms that aren't so nice. Metahuman is the current going descriptor, pushed by rights nonprofits worldwide.

That's an entirely separate question from where the goddamn dragons came from, and they certainly aren't telling. Aliens? Precursors? Agents of magic? Heavily Exposed humans who're running the world's greatest con job? Who knows. but they showed up with a lot of stock and even more panache and a talent for staying in the media rivalled only by fascist leaders (and the dragons at least make some concessions to social equity, if not economically). Some undisclosed double-digit percentage of the world's wealth might not even belong to (meta)humans anymore.

How'd people react to all this? Well, they're people. We live in a society.

You get hate groups who've added magic and metahumans to their list of targets. You get gov't and police and corpsec spinning up magic task forces to enforce state power against the only people who can't resist them anymore, who could never resist them. You get mage support groups and sorcerous studies degrees - and all today's bigotries and structural oppressions don't go away when you add literal fucking magic in, they just change, and you fight new battles.

While all this is going on, while magic is surging into the world, you also get the growing interconnection of everything. The first true VR and AR rigs. One day it seems impossible, the next day everything's got an AR overlay attached and you can't function outside without a pair of goggles. Then glasses. Then lenses. Then you can get a microchip in your brain that displays the matrix of floaty geo-linked AR elements all over everywhere. Ads flicker into your vision as you walk down the street; you buy a trendy boutique sandwich and see every component tagged with the logo of the farm it came from, you order a coffee on your lenses five minutes before you get to the shop and it's there when you arrive, steaming hot. And if you choose to opt-out, you can't even open a door anymore. All the keypads are AR too.

You jack into VR and the world opens up around you. It's like navigating the ARspace but you can be anywhere, and everything opens up into fractally complex dataspaces. If you have the right expert systems, hardware setup, and friends in low places... you can get into anywhere.

Magic and tech go hand in hand. Sure, diving really deep into either precludes a massive investment into the other just because of the opportunity cost, but they don't clash and tear each other apart. Fifty years on, in the year 2070, you can barely tell where one ends and the other begins. Runes litter circuit boards, mages wield staves made of precision-machined sections for amplifying particular spells. Cars run on fucking magic and so do the space launch systems. The band-aid fixes for the environment are half magic half science life support reprocessors that are fucking the planet in new ways we can't even conceive of (but at least keep the temperature down). The same kind of machines keep the Mars domes and the L1 habitats breathable. All at the behest of our corporate overlords, merging state power and corporate interest as fluidly as arcane power and technological prowess.

Which is to say, it's kind of a mess and it's all being used for evil.

The thing about magic is that no matter what they do to control it, it's not a power they can monopolize. It's not even fundamentally democratic. It's one that people at the fringes of consensus reality - the downtrodden, the marginalized, those with nothing left - have more access to. That's where it comes from, the splits and rifts in the social noosphere, the places where what is known falls away and the incomprehensible is all that's left.

The corps have always created the conditions in which their greatest enemies emerge, it's just never been this literal. The more of the world they centralize into their walled gardens, the tighter they grip, the more they strip away from the world and codify, the more magic flows to the people they're taking everything else from.

They're not oblivious. Here's what they did to try and corner that market too.

Executives are all up in their ivory towers looking for an edge. Stealing data. Offing rivals. Taking out competitors' projects so they can make it to market first. They've got the resources of a state and the oversight of precisely no one.

And it's harder to train up corpsec to do the dirty expendable work than it is to find "contractors" with particular sets of skills, who can then be discarded like last season's pantsuit or leftover catering. And you know who's got the magic? Ne'er-do-wells who've got nothing to lose. So they hire you, point you at their enemies, then (if you live) pay you enough to make rent until they need you again.

The world's been carved up, privatized, national governments brought to you by your least favorites of the fortune 50. The revolution isn't here yet, but unfortunately you're here anyway, so you have to make rent and pay down debt and even breathing corporate air costs money (of course, you basically can't find a public sidewalk east of the Mississippi). The world's superpowers balkanized under the demands of extraterritoriality a long time ago, and the corps need folks like you to do their dirty work. No one else is hiring. The cracks in society have been evident for a century; by now they're more like yawning chasms, machines for turning trauma and neglect into disposable hitfolks.

And there's that constant pressure in the back of your brain, from the thing that spoke to you in a fever-dream, that nexus and well of sorcerous potential that itches for release, needs to be entertained. Needs to be released. Magic is many things, none of them nice.

Step out of the shadows. Run for your life.

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