The Black Art in the Sixth World
> Chummers, check out this latest on some of the deepest and darkest magics on the streets and in the shadows of the Sixth World. This is necromancy, the magic of the dead: of spirits, souls and undead. Take a look, because it explodes some of the popular notions of "the blackest art" and introduces some valuable information you might need the next time a Johnson wants you to collect a handful of graveyard dirt by the dark of the moon. You have been warned.
Questions of life and death have long been a focus of metahumanity’s quest for enlightenment. All human cultures have wondered what lies beyond the veil of death, what awaits us on our final journey? Those questions have led to the development of numerous arts that attempt to learn more about the mysteries of death and the dead, to honor the spirits of those who have gone before us and, perhaps, to secure the afterlife or even immortality for those who follow the advice of the people in the know.
The Awakening has done nothing to end the debate on the nature of death and the existence of some kind of life-after-death existence. If anything, it’s only intensified it, creating new ways for metahumanity to explore the questions of life and death and adding fuel to the fire in the form of ghosts, zombies, vampires and the magical arts of necromancy.
Literally, necromancy is the “magic of the dead.” For most modern magical theorists (those who do no scoff at the mere mention of necromancy) the term has been extended to cover a wide and disparate range of magic, from the souls/spirits of living beings to the summoning of the dead to animating corpses and even the investigation of the so-called “undead” and “demons.”
In truth, necromancy is not a “school” of magic or even a branch of magical organization as many think. It is a loosely organized collection of spells, rituals, enchantments and theories having to do with spirits and the dead. The only “necromantic spells” are those that users and armchair magical experts choose to define as such. A manipulation spell is a manipulation, whether it manipulates dead flesh or unliving matter. One is not more “necromantic” than another. Likewise a mana spell that pours damaging energy into a target’s aura is no more “necromantic” than a spell that explodes a ferrocrete wall. The characterization of some spells as “necromantic” is largely a subjective one.
> True, but a subjective judgment has some actual weight in matters of magic. A magician who considers his manabolt to be a means of "shattering a target's soul" can produce some nasty signature effects and lingering traces. Style can be substance sometimes.
> Miss Tick
> This guy dances around the question: are they necromancers or not?
> Depends, Raker old son, on what you mean by "necromancer." Are there magicians who are investigating the frontiers of life and death using magic? Yes. Are there magicians who animate corpses? Yes. Are there magicians who seem to be able to summon ghosts? Yes. But if you mean, are there magicians who are skeletal-thin, dress in black robes and live in haunted towers where they perform terrible experiments and have legions of skeletons and zombies as servants, I'm afraid you've been slotting too much kid-trid.
> Silicon Mage
Spirits and Survivals
The primary issues that the necromantic arts concern themselves with is the question of survivals; of life-after-death and the continued existence of the living spirit/soul following the death of the body.
Certainly many have pointed to astral projection as proof of the existence of a “spirit” that can exist apart from the body and some believe that astral forms are the souls of the living beings they represent.
> What jetwash. Astral projection proves absolutely nothing about the existence of the soul. It could just as easily be a mental projection created by the magician's mind and the whole astral plane a kind of veridical hallucination. Once the body dies, the astral body doesn't last long.
> Yes, but the fact that the astral form can outlive the body at all is an interesting factoid about the nature of the spirit and astral space, no?
> Druid Lass
The most common manifestation of potential survival-phenomena is that of ghosts (larva valida), a class of spirits that are believed to be the remnants of a dead person. Whether or not the ghost is actually the spirit of the deceased bound to the material plane or an “astral echo” created by an especially traumatic death is still hotly debated by magical theoreticians and parazoologists.
It’s a well-established magical theory that strong emotions can leave a lasting “impression” on the local fabric of astral space. The strength, intensity and duration of the emotions relate directly to how long the emotional “imprint” is retained by a particular place or object. This background count can take the form of a lingering emotional presence, like a sound echoing through a canyon or a scent lingering in a room.
It is speculated that certain extraordinary cases of death-trauma can create a powerful astral impression, an “echo” that mimics many of the characteristics of the deceased at the moment of death, and that it is these lingering astral impressions that form the basis of many types of ghost phenomena.
> This theory denies the existence of the (meta)human soul and diminishes us in ways I can't even begin to describe. Magic should be a humanizing force in the world, not another tool of those soulless corporate bastards!
> Mr. X
> Whoa! Damp down, X. The "astral echo" theory doesn't say one way or another if people have souls. It just assumes that, if they do, they don't hang around on the astral plane after death. It's quite possible that we all do have souls (well, most of us <grin>) but that the soul goes on to its Final Reward (or whatever) while an "astral echo" lingers behind as a ghost. The two are not mutually incompatible.
The majority of ghostly phenomena seem to take the form of lingering impressions, sometimes accompanied by strong emotional presences and even visual or other sensory impressions. Witnesses may see a ghostly image of the deceased, hear whispering voices or feel sensations of cold or even a phantom touch. All of these can be interpreted as sensory experiences of the unusual astral impressions.
Most ghosts seem to be “automatic” in a fashion, the manifestation always produces the same impressions or the same images over and over again. Many famous ghosts appear and act out the same events like clockwork and have become attractions for the curious and those interested in learning more about ghostly phenomena. It appears that these images are nothing more than mindless automatons, acting out the same events over and over.
> Or tormented souls doomed to re-enact events from their lives over and over for eternity.
> Mr. X
Some ghosts, on the other hand, exhibit qualities more like other spirits and astral entities. These ghosts are able to manipulate mana to produce magical effects and they appear to have intelligence and wills of their own. Some of these “specters” (as they have been dubbed) have considerable powers equal to those of an elemental, nature spirit or other independent astral entity. Some are even speculated to be as powerful as free-willed spirits.
There have been many cases of astral entities appearing in different metahuman forms. Common nature spirits (particularly Spirits of Man) can assume humanoid forms, as can elementals, although these forms are typically imperfect and not likely to be confused with a real person.
Other spirits, like the Brocken Bow, Man-of-the-Woods, Wraith or loa travail of Voudoun appear in very human-like forms and, in some cases, act like classical ghosts would be expected to, but whether or not these spirits are actually metahuman spirits that return to the etheric plane or spirits that look (meta)human remains a mystery.
Most ghosts, specters and similar spirits can be banished with the appropriate rites and rituals, just as other spirits can be. Some of these spirits exhibit unusually strong ties to the material plane and are difficult to exorcise.
> That's for sure. Many ghosts and specters are tied to some particular place or object that seems to serve as an "anchor" for them on this plane. As long as their anchor remains intact, they're damned near impossible to banish. The anchor first has to be destroyed or, in some cases, cleansed of the psychic impressions of the ghost, for the spirit to be sent away. I know some magical consultants who specialize in this kind of "ghost busting" for ornery spirits.
> Ghosts are often an occupational hazard of shadowrunning. In addition to the possibility of having a mage whose body you've geeked come at you an hour or two later in astral form looking for revenge, there are some long-term ghost problems, too. I know of some runners who ended up going against this Yakuza kobun who was out the avenge his brother's death on a rival oyabun. They greased the kobun but it seems that his desire for revenge wasn't going to be kept down by death. When the oyabun turned up dead, the runners were the first suspects and the gumi had them killed in retaliation, but there are some people who think that the kobun's ghost came to finish the job he started.
> What a load of drek. I know the dust-up you're talking about and it wasn't no fraggin spook who did the oyabun. Those runners got greedy and stupid and they paid for it. Evolution in action, plain and simple.
> Don't think the Yakuza clan agrees with you, D-Con. Buzz out on the streets is that they're looking to hire some more runners with a little more than average magical muscle for a very hush-hush job. Naturally their rep for working with runners is in the drekker right now, but it sounds to me like there's some ghost-hunting work out there.
In addition to ghosts and specters as examples of survivals are often lumped the various “undead” such as zombies, vampires and ghouls.
Unfortunately, zombies are generally little more than corpses animated through the power of magic, no more alive than a table made to walk through the power of a spell or a statue inhabited and animated by a familiar spirit. Such “undead” are little more than fleshy puppets of the magician that created them.
> Not entirely accurate. Some zombies are just puppets animated through manipulation spells and drek like that, but there are others the come out of the Voudoun of the islands and New Orleans area that are different. Some of them are animated by spirits summoned by the houngan, and who's to say that those spirits are the original ones who inhabited those bodies before they died? Not a pleasant thought.
> Decker del Sur
As for vampires and other so-called “undead” they are merely the victims of old world mythology applied to the Sixth World. Vampires, ghouls and others are metahumans infected with strains of the Human-Metahuman Vampiric Virus (HMHVV) a retrovirus that alters the genetics of its host, providing them with various magical abilities and the need to feed on the energy of other living beings to survive. These altered metahumans feed directly on life-energy through some medium such as flesh or blood to sustain them.
Vampires and their related kin are no more dead than anyone else. They are victims of a disease whose cause and cure have yet to be unraveled.
> That depends on your definition of "dead." Yeah, vampires and banshees can walk around, think, talk and do most of the other things that you or I can, but they can't reproduce and they can only survive by draining living essence from other beings. Without it, they slowly waste away. Sounds mighty undead to me.
> Maybe so, but we have to feed on other life to survive too, chummer. We eat living things as food and we starve to dead if we don't eat just the same. Sounds to me like we're more alike than not.
> Where do ghouls fit into the equation? I thought they were a metahuman race?
> That's a good question that's looking for an answer. Originally, it was believed that ghouls were a meta-human race like orks or trolls, who goblinized around the same time. More recently, it looks like ghouls are able to make otherwise normal humans become ghouls by infecting them with a strain of HMHVV. Some scientists are guessing that the original ghouls might have simply been humans with a dormant HMHVV retrovirus in their DNA. When the magic came back, the virus re-activated and people with a strong enough concentration of it became ghouls with the ability to infect other people. Because the transformation looked a lot like Goblinization, people figured that ghouls were metas like orks and trolls.
> Right idea, Doc. Now take it to its logical conclusion. If ghouls are actually the result of a virus, couldn't it be that orks and trolls are, too? In fact, isn't it possible that all metahumans are the result of some kind of genetic virus and that our governments have know that fact all along and kept the information from us? What do you say to that?
> I'm not sure I should dignify such Humanis trash with an answer, Buzz, but to stay rational about it, metahumans have displayed no retroviral characteristics and clearly do not have the ability to infect humans like vampires and ghouls do. Medical science has long-since established that metahumanity is not a "disease" nor is it transmittable.
Returning to Life
One thing that we cannot currently know for certain is what lies on the other side of the gulf that separates life and death. Although our abilities, both magical and technological, to stave off death have increased dramatically, we are still mortal and there is nothing that will keep death at bay forever.
> Speak for yourself, old man.
One means we do have of gaining some information about the hereafter is through near-death experiences (NDEs) that have been reported. Thousands of NDE cases have been documented over the years and modern magical theory is expanding the frontiers of investigations in near-death experience.
Interestingly enough, reports of NDE strongly resemble metaplanar and astral projection experiences reported by magicians, leading to the possibility of a connection between the astral and the experience of those undergoing a NDE.
> Duh. That's because the astral is the realm of Spirit. In the distant depths of the spirit world are the Summerlands where our spirits go after death to await reincarnation to begin the wheel of life anew.
> Not that Elven drek again.
> Not elven, chummer, neo-pagan. Sorry to say that there's no definitive proof that the Summerlands, Heaven, Hell, Tartarus or the Happy Hunting Grounds are out there among the metaplanes. There are certainly magicians who have visited places like these and more on astral quests, but who can say for sure what they really are? Are they the realms of the afterlife or simply projections of our beliefs on the astral? Both? Neither?
> Miss Tick
Despite its considerable power to restore health and vigor to the injured and ill, magic is still not able to break the barrier of death and cannot be used to restore life to those who have died.
> At least, not yet. And of course the definition of "dead" can be a bit flexible. No life signs doesn't necessarily mean that you're done these days and a good combo of magic and tech can still bring you back more often than not.
Goetia and Demons
Calling demons from ancient texts has been a work of many magicians since long before the Awakening. Since magic has come more into the public eye certain aspects of the Art, like the summoning of demons, has fallen by the wayside or been pushed into a dark closet where it is never talked about. Magical theoreticians talk long and loud about how there are no such things as demons to be summoned, as if their voices could drown out their own fears and concerns about the truth.
The truth is that some spirits like those found in different goetic texts have been summoned by magicians, and these spirits often have many of the abilities they are fabled to have, but they are also of keen intelligence and cunning. Calling upon the spirit of a “demon” is riding a magical tiger that can well devour the magician who summons it. Little wonder that the magical community wants to keep such things under wraps.
> Such so-called "demons" are nothing more than free spirits with a sense of humor and some knowledge of goetia. They appear in forms like the Dukes of Hell and their courts because it amuses them and strikes fear into superstitious mortals.
> I'm not so sure. Such demons may indeed be free spirits-they are bound by their True Names in the same manner- but who is to say that they aren't really creatures of Hell or some similar astral realm? After all, plenty of magical lore proved true after the Awakening. Why not demons?
> That's just the kind of talk that the academics and the spin-doctors are afraid of. Start telling the mundos you're summoning "demons" and they'll be burning crosses on your lawn as a warm-up to burning you. Frag, it took years to convince most people that fraggin fire elementals and drek weren't creatures from Hell.
> Putting aside whether or not they are the genuine article, there are definitely freebies out there that play the demon's part. They appear in forms from the harmless to the hideous, and offer magicians deals involving the spirit's service in exchange for something. Usually it's rituals and rites that the magician has to invest in to increase the spirit's power. Then the spirit increases his, etc. This cycle can be mutually beneficial, so long as neither side tries to renege on the deal. Some mages also try to simply bind these freebies to their will as slaves. They get a powerful spirit-servant, but bound freebies are treacherous critters, always looking for a way out. Preferably one that involves a slow, painful death for their former master.
> Dabbling in the summoning of demons is not recommended for living a long and sane life. Magicians who go this route sooner or later end up dead themselves or totally of their rocker, little more than creatures to be hunted down and destroyed by other practitioners of the Art.
Gamemasters who want to introduce some different, darker spins on magic in their Shadowrun campaigns can try some of the ideas mentioned in this article to put necromancers and necromantic magic on the streets of the Sixth World.
An anchor is a physical object that holds a ghost or specter in the etheric plane near the physical world. Often it is some item that had strong emotional significance to the ghost in life. A magician who holds a ghost’s anchor can attempt to banish it. Ghost’s with anchors cannot be banished otherwise: their anchor holds them too firmly to this plane. The concept of Fetters from White Wolf’s Wraith: the Oblivion, is similar and can provide additional inspiration.
Specters are ghosts that have paranormal powers that can affect the physical world. They can be treated in much the same way as other spirits; they have a Force, which is used to determine their abilities, and they have various critter powers at their disposal. Powerful ghosts can be considered free spirits, with some of those powers, especially the Hidden Life power connected to a particular anchor of the ghost’s. They can also be summoned and bound, like free spirits, by someone who knows their True Name and/or possesses their anchor.
It remains unknown whether or not specters are actually the spirits of the dead or simply astral shadows molded in their image by powerful emotional impressions. In truth, it may be impossible to know for sure either way.
Like toxic shamans twist and pervert the way of their totem, necromancers are mages who have gone the route of corruption and power for its own sake. Not all who study the Black Art become evil and corrupt, but those who practice it for too long are subject to falling into a darkness of the spirit that never lifts.
Like other Magical Threats, necromancers can be given a Potency Rating that measures the additional power their twisted magical perceptions grant them. The Potency Rating is added directly to the necromancer’s Magical Threat Rating for determining their power level. Certain obscure rites and rituals can increase Potency, and necromancers will pursue those goals. Thwarting a necromancer can reduce Potency.
A metamagical technique similar to the vampiric power. It allows a magician to tap into and drain a living being of its Essence to increase the magician’s own life-force.
The potential victim must be in an excited emotional state (terror, lust, anger, etc.) and in physical contact with the magician for the ability to work. Initiating an Essence drain requires at least 30 seconds (10 Combat Turns). The magician uses the Sorcery skill and makes a test against the victim’s Willpower. A single success is enough to begin the process of draining Essence.
The magician can drain as many Essence points as the victim has at a rate of 1 point per minute of contact. The Essence loss is permanent for the victim. The magician then adds the stolen essence to his own, up to a maximum of 12 points of Essence.
The side-effect of this Essence drain destabilizes the user’s own Essence. It begins to “bleed” away, causing the user to suffer from Essence Loss immediately after using the technique for the first time. This causes a permanent alteration in the user’s aura. They must now steal Essence in order to survive, like a vampire. On the up side, the Essence-drainer gains the critter powers of Immunity to Age, Immunity to Pathogens and Immunity to Toxins. So long as he continues to drain Essence, the magician is effectively immortal. Essence-drainers do not gain any of the other abilities of vampires, although they are similar. But they do not have any of a vampire’s traditional weaknesses to wood or sunlight, either.
Any magician can potentially learn how to Essence drain, but the technique is extremely rare and most magical paths consider it forbidden knowledge that is best left alone. Once an initiate steps onto the path of draining the life-force from others, there is no turning back.
Whether or not “real” demons exist in the Sixth World is up to individual gamemasters, but there can still be spirits in Shadowrun that are the functional equivalent of the demons of magical lore.
Demons are basically Shadow free spirits that are reflections of the dark side of humanity and human nature. These spirits take forms out of myth and legend much like demons and they are demons in nearly all practical ways.
These spirits can be summoned like other free spirit, using their true names to bind them to service. Some magicians use ancient texts and names of demons written down by occultists centuries ago to try and call something to their wills. Some of them even succeed, although they often find that the Names they have used do not bind the spirit like they thought they did. Some shadow-spirits even allow foolish magicians or mundanes to think that they are bound to them when in fact the spirits choose to serve their “masters” for reasons of their own.
Other magicians will try and bargain with a shadow-spirit in exchange for its service. The coin of the realm with shadows is generally Karma that the spirit can use to increase its power, but sometimes shadows will desire other things from supplicants. Some can even teach initiates the secrets of Essence Draining (above) and will take a “cut” of the Essence stolen from the magician, converting it into an equal amount of Karma for themselves. Other shadows have goals and desires that can only be barely comprehended by sane (meta)humans and demand payments that seem to have no logical purpose.
In addition to free spirits, there seem to be other things in the depths of the metaplanes. Spirits like Tutor from the Threats sourcebook, are prime examples of “demonic” spirits.
There are also deadly spirits that feed on living Essence and other things of the material world: the mysterious Enemy. These dark spirits are powerful beyond that of nearly any Shadowrun free spirit and they are best used as puppet-masters or background elements if they are used at all. Gamemasters familiar with the Earthdawn setting can adapt some of the Horrors from that game for Shadowrun, but even the least of the Horrors would likely annihilate a group of shadowrunners, so they are best used only in high-powered games or campaigns that are looking to create a feeling of hopeless terror, a la Call of Cthulhu.
Given here are a couple of sample “demon” free spirits for gamemaster to use in their campaigns:
The King of Pain
The King of Pain is a strange spirit that manifests as a tall figure covered in a dark, tattered and shapeless hooded robe. From beneath the robe protrude many different metallic probes and blades, all wickedly sharp and barbed, many attached to pulsating flesh or dripping blood or ichor. It speaks in a terrible whisper and carries and odor like a charnel house with it. In short, it’s just as many imagine a demon might be.
The spirit seems to have its own agenda and dislikes being summoned. It always appears to the call of it’s True Name, but it is difficult to bind (having a very high Force). It often bargains with summoners and offers them magical knowledge or power in exchange for service (and Karma). The spirit’s followers may have infiltrated many existing magical groups and orders, giving the King of Pain extensive influence in the magical world.
Mordel appears to be a fairly harmless creature, which is an often fatal misconception by those who see him. The spirit appears as a small, demonic imp: childlike body and features with reddish skin, small horns and a barbed tail. His voice and laugh are high-pitched and malevolent, but almost too comical to be threatening.
Mordel prefers to play the part of the “demonic servant” and appears at the summons of a magician to obey his “master’s” wishes. Usually Mordel does his best to draw out the most depraved and hidden desires of his masters and then fulfills them, usually in exchange for Karma that he himself can use. Those who believe they are in control of Mordel quickly become totally dependent on the little demon for advice and assistance. Eventually Mordel tires of the game and abandons his former master and leaves them to the mercy of the authorities or their angry victims and goes off seeking another “master” to serve.