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  • appearance of people in the Penumbra

    How do you depict the "presence" of people in the Realm while characters are in the Penumbra? I am not talking about people Peeking from the Penumbra to the Realm. It's the reflections they see in the Penumbra itself. It's something I believe is often overlooked by STs (including myself). But it has some important impacts on the setting based on what you choose to do.

    Since second edition, we're told that the Penumbra is mostly empty. However, "spiritually advanced" people do appear. That includes, but does not seem to be limited to, those humans who are in the Periphery. The penumbral reflections can't be harmed although anyone so "attacked" might become uncomfortable.

    First edition was slightly different. The first edition corebook says people do appear in the umbra, but their appearance reflects their inner being. That's clearly been superseded, but I do find it interesting that at the time they wrote that the unliving (ghosts and vampires) appear as vague blurs. Ghosts are hazy shadows that can only be seen with a Gnosis roll. Vampires are clouds of black swirling orbs often surrounded by malevolent spirits. While this should likewise be similarly obsolete, I mention it for inspiration later.

    In Rage Across New York, a first edition sourcebook, it mentions the umbral appearance of the leaders of the Seventh Generation - these characters easily qualify as being "spiritually advanced". The Rite of the Pentarch grants them Rage, Gnosis, Gifts, and Rites.

    If anyone can think of other mentions of non-Changing Breeds appearing in the Umbra, please share them in the thread.

    So if this is case, what should be seen in the Penumbra? And how might that change the game once we think about it seriously?

  • #2
    In terms of ordinary people, this probably isn't too important. Though I've certainly had players become inordinately interested at times when I mention seeing a random person's reflection simply as flavor text. Who was this person, why were they so spiritually strong, etc. I had to invent an NPC on the spot, making things up as they go along. So having some random tables to quickly generate an NPC, or some pre-generated ideas jotted down might make an ST's job easier.

    I rule that people who can reach the Periphery aren't in the Periphery all the time. A minister giving a sermon in his church would be visible, but not while he's focused on mundane matters while picking up his groceries. Likewise for artists and other creative types, other religious or spiritual seekers meditating, occultists working a ritual, etc. If they are in some kind of state of ectasy, they appear, but when not they don't. So you can probably ignore that except when you mean to address a particular scene with such people.

    But it's the non-ordinary people I wonder about the most.

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    • #3
      First, do Garou in the Realm have a reflection in the Umbra? This never gets addressed at all. And I've never seen that done. But it actually makes sense that they should - Garou are the very definition of "spiritually advanced" creatures. They are partly made of spirit and they have Gnosis. Simply using that in the game will have a big impact. If you feel they shouldn't reflect, what's the reason?

      What about people who have supernatural Merits that make them Mediums, give them Second Sight, Numina, True Faith, etc.? It seems like they should appear as well - probably all the time if the Merit is always active. Maybe only part of the time if it is something that requires activation.

      Similarly there are ordinary humans who have the Awareness ability or high level of Occult (likely at least 3) who can detect the presence of the supernatural. Seems to me when they do that, they should become visible in the Penumbra. And perhaps be vaguely reflected even when not actively using it.

      Then we have people who know Sorcery. It seems to me that someone who is able to command occult knowledge to produce supernatural effects should be considered to be spiritually advanced regardless of the exact Backgrounds, Paths, Merits/Flaws, Abilities, etc. they have.

      Mages should certainly be seen. They have awakened Avatars.

      What about Infernalists (of any origin) who have made pacts with demons and the like? Does it matter if they have Investments versus other powers?

      What about the other gamelines? Should Changelings, Mummies, Vampires, Wraiths, be able to be detected? What about Fomori or Kami and the like? Here I think I am more likely to say that simply because they have supernatural power, it does not mean they are spiritually advanced. There needs to be something else about the character before they necessarily appear. But such things might be innocuous. Does a Vampire simply having or using Auspex (even of a certain level like Aura Reading) cause them to appear? What if they know Thaumaturgy or Necromancy? Does a very high Humanity/Path Rating count? What if they've achieved Golconda? Do Changelings appear once they have enough Glamour or use their Arts or by some other metric?

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      • #4
        The big problem here is that a journey in the Penumbra could become a cheap way to identify other supernaturals or potential threats. A Garou could eliminate a lot of people as potential threats by simply seeing if they produce a Penumbral Reflection or not. You first identify who produces a reflection, and then you zero in on them with your Sense Wyrm, Scent of True Form, etc.

        It's not necessarily a bad idea. Exploring more of the game world could be fun, and this is another tool to do so. I think a lot of interesting NPCs could first be introduced this way. But if the ST isn't prepared for it, it can ruin a lot of plots easily. It's better that there be enough clutter that supernaturals (some of them at least) can still hide and not have their cover blown by such a simple means. Even being able to simply detect someone is a Garou might be huge if you are trying to introduce a Black Spiral Dancer into the setting and want to slowly reveal it. There should be enough obstacles that it isn't a cheap way to do. Try to keep it just a possible clue, not most of the answer.

        I think this is something that can add a lot to the game even if it means an ST needs to do slightly more prep work beforehand. But the consequences of everything need to be thought through so the ST doesn't implement something that blows up his setting once the implications are understood. I'm thinking through of the best way to handle this in my own chronicles.

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        • #5
          That's really interesting, and even something Mage already does in its own way (people appear in the Penumbra, always, and Awakened can be clearly distinguished in this manner). I'm totally on board for this.

          Since the book says that "spiritually advanced" people appear, I wouldn't make this appearance reliant on any particular action to begin with. If someone has the potential to appear, then they always appear in some way. Actions could then make this appearance "stronger", "clearer", or something to this effect. I wouldn't color too much this appearance, also to not give away too much information.

          But if actions/powers do give a clearer depiction and more information on those "shadows of people", then the inverse should be also true: those people should have a better notion of what's going on in the Penumbra. Not a perfect sense, but an increasing awareness of "the other side" and the nature of anything happening there, specially of anything paying attention to them.

          With this, using the Penumbra to acquire intelligence on the Realm would be possible, but risky, as the channel is two-sided. And it would give more means for interaction between the two sides, which I think is overall better for most stories.


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          • #6
            Originally posted by monteparnas View Post
            That's really interesting, and even something Mage already does in its own way (people appear in the Penumbra, always, and Awakened can be clearly distinguished in this manner). I'm totally on board for this.
            I didn't know in Mage that people always appeared in the Penumbra. I assume this would be the High Umbra (Astral)? Since I don't think most Mages have connections to the Middle Umbra of the Garou except Dreamspeakers and Verbena.

            Originally posted by monteparnas View Post
            Since the book says that "spiritually advanced" people appear, I wouldn't make this appearance reliant on any particular action to begin with. If someone has the potential to appear, then they always appear in some way.
            I supposed not all "spiritually advanced people" equals people who happen to be in the Periphery. But we probably need its own definition so we can know what the difference is and when they intersect.

            Originally posted by monteparnas View Post
            But if actions/powers do give a clearer depiction and more information on those "shadows of people", then the inverse should be also true: those people should have a better notion of what's going on in the Penumbra. Not a perfect sense, but an increasing awareness of "the other side" and the nature of anything happening there, specially of anything paying attention to them.

            With this, using the Penumbra to acquire intelligence on the Realm would be possible, but risky, as the channel is two-sided. And it would give more means for interaction between the two sides, which I think is overall better for most stories.
            I would be fine with this provided the other people could gain some equivalent advantage on a Garou in the Penumbra. But I'm having trouble figuring that out. Details matter so a lot of specifics will need to be brainstormed through.

            One thing I didn't mention is that in many old Werewolf sourcebooks, they mentioned Banes hanging around anyone they considered to be bad. So Zachary Ellison at the Central Park sept was supposed to have banes around him tempting him to do bad things because he was the leader of a coup against Mother Larissa. Vampires were mentioned to usually have Banes attracted to them (if so, this puts to rest a lot of player's beliefs that it should be easy for a Garou to pop into the Umbra find the vampire and pop out again - most vampires will have secret Bane defenders that effectively prevent that). A lot of other "spiritually advanced" reflections probably have something similar - even if nice spirits temporarily flee when the person enters a "hostile" area where Banes and such could harm them.

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            • #7
              In my games places that are crowded place would in the umbra reflect the "crowded" attribute through noises and smells associated with crowds. Also, I think that for example, in a penumbral reflection of a hospital, the players might see glimpses of hospital staff running through the corridors on the far end from their own position. That's just to illustrate, the hectic workplace, not that this are actual spirits or entities, but I regard this as part of the ubrascape.

              I would not allow for a person to have a real-time umbral representation, even with a strong soul or something like that. That is, unless there is a specific power active that makes a person basically present on both sides of the Gauntlet. That said, the house of a person who is really enlightened would possibly show signs of this....

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              • #8
                Originally posted by Black Fox View Post
                I didn't know in Mage that people always appeared in the Penumbra. I assume this would be the High Umbra (Astral)? Since I don't think most Mages have connections to the Middle Umbra of the Garou except Dreamspeakers and Verbena.
                Nope, its any Penumbra, and Mages access the Middle Umbra with some frequency (they coined the term). Not that they travel to Near Realms frequently, but they access the same Penumbra as the Garou more frequently than the Astral.

                Originally posted by Black Fox View Post
                I supposed not all "spiritually advanced people" equals people who happen to be in the Periphery. But we probably need its own definition so we can know what the difference is and when they intersect.
                Agreed.

                Originally posted by Black Fox View Post
                I would be fine with this provided the other people could gain some equivalent advantage on a Garou in the Penumbra. But I'm having trouble figuring that out. Details matter so a lot of specifics will need to be brainstormed through.
                The simplest idea that came to me now would be a matter of equivalence: gathering any info through the umbral image gives away the same amount of info to the person observed. If you observe a sensitive, they notice they're being observed, if you can learn their nature, they sense yours. It is just an unnamed sensation, and if you need to interpret what you see, then the opposite is also true, and anything that makes it harder or easier also works two ways.

                Not sure about it, just the first idea that occurred to me.

                Originally posted by Black Fox View Post
                One thing I didn't mention is that in many old Werewolf sourcebooks, they mentioned Banes hanging around anyone they considered to be bad. So Zachary Ellison at the Central Park sept was supposed to have banes around him tempting him to do bad things because he was the leader of a coup against Mother Larissa.
                That's interesting, but at the same time it may be too much, I have to think about it. On their residence, certainly, following the person everywhere? That makes for a lot of differences in the umbrascape.


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                • #9
                  Originally posted by monteparnas View Post
                  Nope, its any Penumbra, and Mages access the Middle Umbra with some frequency (they coined the term). Not that they travel to Near Realms frequently, but they access the same Penumbra as the Garou more frequently than the Astral.
                  I wonder if that is a function of the Mage developers simply wanting it to be different in their game line, or if it is a clue that somehow a Mage can see "more clearly" or "deeper" than the Garou, at least when it comes to the spiritual reflections of people.

                  My personal taste right now leans towards the latter. That way I don't have to reconcile two different interpretations/versions.

                  Originally posted by monteparnas View Post
                  The simplest idea that came to me now would be a matter of equivalence: gathering any info through the umbral image gives away the same amount of info to the person observed. If you observe a sensitive, they notice they're being observed, if you can learn their nature, they sense yours. It is just an unnamed sensation, and if you need to interpret what you see, then the opposite is also true, and anything that makes it harder or easier also works two ways.

                  Not sure about it, just the first idea that occurred to me.
                  I'll need to chew on that. If I go down that route, I'll need to determine how someone "senses" non-Garou who are observing them. Is this something that only applies to the Changing Breeds, or do people also sense a Kalus or Psychomachiae or any other spirit that is pursuing them? But there's certainly elements that I like. Many people at different points in their life have the feeling they are being watched, and this is one potential (and partial) explanation that makes sense in the WoD.

                  Originally posted by monteparnas View Post
                  That's interesting, but at the same time it may be too much, I have to think about it. On their residence, certainly, following the person everywhere? That makes for a lot of differences in the umbrascape.
                  You're right. But I do think it's something to remember. Every ST will probably find their own sweet spot. And Banes and other spirits are supposed to be active at varying times, so it's not like they'll be around all the time. But as I work my through things like determining how beneficial Moon Glow talens are, how Moon Paths work, locating Domains, and other esoterica of the Umbra that are often overlooked by STs, I'm populating the Penumbra more than I previously did. And so far I like the results. Instead of being simply a place of convenience that is usually ignored, it's becoming more of a new place to explore with its own secrets.

                  = = = =
                  Something else I just gleaned is that in Umbra Revised it mentions that when dreaming people form Chimares, mists surround the shadowy outline of the person. Not everyone forms Chimares with their dreams or do it every time, but it's another time when a person can appear in the Umbra.

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Black Fox View Post
                    I wonder if that is a function of the Mage developers simply wanting it to be different in their game line, or if it is a clue that somehow a Mage can see "more clearly" or "deeper" than the Garou, at least when it comes to the spiritual reflections of people.
                    Isn't a Mages ability only limited by the paradigm they work with?
                    For a game of mage it might very well make perfect sense that the mage moves into the penumbra, or a penumbra version, and still see or "sense" people in the physical world.
                    The question would be, is the Mage as deep in the respective Penumbra as a garou sidestepping would be. Is the mage for example subject to accidentally wander into the Near Umbra, like a garou is, or not. If they enter the Shadowlands, the penumbra of the Dark Umbra, are they subjects to Nihils or not?
                    Is is part of the drama of their existence that wraith can see the living from the shadowlands, but is the same true for Silent Striders and Mages in the Shadowlands?

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                    • #11
                      In terms of being mechanically minded as possible, who should appear as an penumbral reflection for being "spiritually advanced." I don't think game mechanics should be the sole guide, but it makes sense certain game mechanics should (almost) always show up.

                      This is my current list of things I think what show up. Interested in hearing whether people agree or disagree.
                      • Someone with the Awareness ability
                      • Having True Faith
                      • Possessing one or more Psychic Phenomenon
                      • Knowing one or more Sorcerer Paths (Hedge Magic)
                      • Certain supernatural merits like Medium, Precognition, Prophetic Ability, Burning Aura
                      • A person with the Spirit Guide merit would not show up, but the Spirit Guide itself would have some kind of reflection
                      • Benandanti
                      • Awakened Mages
                      • Garou and Changing Breeds
                      • Other people who have Gnosis (like some kinfolk and fomori)
                      In general, while I don't think possessing supernatural powers necessarily means the person is "spiritually advanced", I am inclined to believe that an "ordinary" mortal who has acquired them through merit do count because traditionally magic is seen as a form of spiritual discipline. That is what separates them from vampires, fomori, and changelings and the like who have some other supernatural battery source (vitae, glamour, rage, etc.). Creatures with Gnosis do count because of the nature of Gnosis is directly relevant to the umbra.

                      I would also rule that someone with the Arcane background does not appear as it hides the person just as well in the Penumbra as in the Realm.


                      Then there are things that I struggle whether or not should be reflected in the Penumbra. I don't necessarily think such things is proof of being "spiritually advanced", but I do think an argument can be made for them.
                      • Mummies
                      • People who are "Neutral" (naturally immune to Dominate)
                      • The Iron Will merit
                      • The Natural Leader merit
                      • People with Infernal Pacts/Investments
                      • People who qualify as "Innocent" (to the point it means they are able to detect certain supernatural creatures and have protections)
                      • People with the Lucid Dreaming ability
                      ‚ÄčAlso, if there is something you think I missed that should cause someone to have a penumbral reflection, please mention it!

                      Of course, there are also people who possess no such powers or abilities, but still register. But they are mainly flavor text or plot devices.

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                      • #12
                        Mostly agree.

                        I'd say that most supernatural perception powers should count. At least Auspex should. Under Demon rules, someone with Faith 4 or more, under Vampire rules someone with Humanity or Path 8 or more. I'd add spirit beings, like Changelings and Fallen, even if they're not necessarily Umbra spirits.

                        From the second list I think Mummies, Demon Thralls, Innocents and Lucid Dreamers qualify. And instead of people with the "Iron Will" merit, I would make a case for people with a Willpower Dice Pool of 9 or higher (through Iron Will or sheer Perm Willpower).

                        Those people aren't necessarily "spiritually advanced" on a particular interpretation, but have too much "metaphysical weight" or "awareness" to not count. And the demonic thralls would make it due to their borrowed power/spiritually touched.


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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by monteparnas View Post
                          I'd say that most supernatural perception powers should count. At least Auspex should.
                          That was something I struggled with. On the one hand, I think as unliving corpses vampires are essentially "spiritually dead." But Auspex covers a lot of the same ground as other beings who I do think should appear as a reflection. And once you get to Psychic Projection, it's hard to argue a vampire isn't spiritually aware of things. While Auspex 1 might be insufficient, Auspex 2 or 3 is certainly expanding the vampire's mind into the same territory. I might just say that as a vampire develops Auspex, they begin to show an increasingly strong reflection, but might use the original flavor text of 1e (black swirling orbs) to keep things more mysterious.

                          Originally posted by monteparnas View Post
                          Under Demon rules, someone with Faith 4 or more, under Vampire rules someone with Humanity or Path 8 or more. I'd add spirit beings, like Changelings and Fallen, even if they're not necessarily Umbra spirits.
                          I do think Humanity 8+ is a good indication of being spiritually advanced, although I may go with just 9-10. I would include Vampires with that (and those who have achieved Golconda) and not just mortals. I'm not sure about Path ratings. I don't think simply because a vampire has a Path rating, it means they are spiritually advanced. Paths are designed to control the Beast. Not philosophical basis for understanding the universe. And while it takes severe self-discipline to get to a high Path rating, I think the nature of the Path would be important. Certain Paths are much stronger candidates to be actual spiritual exercises than others in my opinion. But this is an area where I am willing to be convinced. Maybe here, or maybe with my own game group.

                          Not counting Changelings and the like in this is driven more by a desire by me to not let penumbral reflections be an easy way for a Garou character to identify all supernatural creatures simply by starting from the basis of checking out whatever they first say in the Penumbra. I want there to be enough false positives and false negatives to keep a mystery. Though I do understand the logic and wouldn't argue with a ST who decided that was the case in their own games. I don't think being supernatural is the same as being spiritually advanced. This may just be an area where it is less about logic by an ST than personal taste deciding where things go.

                          I have never played the Demon game so I can't comment on the merits of including them. But my gut instinct tells me that Demons should probably be so "advanced" that they can control whether or not they show a reflection in the penumbra.

                          Originally posted by monteparnas View Post
                          From the second list I think Mummies, Demon Thralls, Innocents and Lucid Dreamers qualify. And instead of people with the "Iron Will" merit, I would make a case for people with a Willpower Dice Pool of 9 or higher (through Iron Will or sheer Perm Willpower).
                          I like your idea of including Willpower 9-10 people. That mirrors the Humanity dicussion nicely. I think newer versions of Iron Will give you more dice to roll, but older versions don't - they either make you immune or allow you to spend a WP to ignore the effects of Dominate. So depending on what edition you run, simply having the merit should be enough.

                          I might treat infernalists similarly to vampires with auspex. Show something in the penumbra, but not have it be too apparent. Nephandi, being Mages with avatars, would appear as normal though.

                          Originally posted by monteparnas View Post
                          Those people aren't necessarily "spiritually advanced" on a particular interpretation, but have too much "metaphysical weight" or "awareness" to not count. And the demonic thralls would make it due to their borrowed power/spiritually touched.
                          I like your term "metaphysical weight". It fits nicely with what I was thinking.

                          At this point, I don't expect consistency in my judgments on this thread. I see myself going back and forth on some things depending if others also post. But so far, this has been very helpful to me.

                          ‚Äč
                          I'm also thinking that besides penumbral reflections from the Realm, another thing is to include the occasional reflection from one of the other umbras. So they'd see something, but not have anything corresponding to it in the Realm. That adds more uncertainty. Perhaps that's how I can include the 1e rule about making a Gnosis roll to see the hazy shadow of a ghost. Or see "banes" attempting to tempt people because those kind of spirits are probably more appropriate to the High Umbra/Astral than to Middle Umbra of Werewolf.

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by heinrich View Post
                            Isn't a Mages ability only limited by the paradigm they work with?
                            For a game of mage it might very well make perfect sense that the mage moves into the penumbra, or a penumbra version, and still see or "sense" people in the physical world.
                            The question would be, is the Mage as deep in the respective Penumbra as a garou sidestepping would be. Is the mage for example subject to accidentally wander into the Near Umbra, like a garou is, or not. If they enter the Shadowlands, the penumbra of the Dark Umbra, are they subjects to Nihils or not?
                            Is is part of the drama of their existence that wraith can see the living from the shadowlands, but is the same true for Silent Striders and Mages in the Shadowlands?
                            According to M20, while in the Penumbra, beyond the gauntlet, normal humans can't be seen except maybe as faint smears, and even then only if they have a fantastically strong or corrupted soul.

                            I am not sure how wandering into the Near Umbra works for werewolves, even getting to the different umbrae requires different spheres (Mind for High, Spirit for Middle, and a combination of Entropy, Life and Spirit for Low) So a mage wandering the Middle Umbra is unlikely to suddenly find himself in the Shadowlands, unless there be shenanigans. But yes, if a mage goes to the Shadowlands he has to create a sort of wraithlike body to travel in and that body can get sucked into nihils, get lost in the tempest, all that good stuff.

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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Froggy711 View Post
                              I am not sure how wandering into the Near Umbra works for werewolves
                              By walking.

                              Werewolves naturally moves through the Umbra. The paths from the Penumbra to the Near Umbra are simply physically there for them. Indeed, paths to the other Umbrae may also exist for them in the same way.

                              Most werewolves don't go to other Umbrae ever, though. In theory the only thing they need is to know such an Umbra exists and mentalize it while Stepping Sideways. The Silent Striders naturally flick between Middle and Low due to their curse.


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