Magical Tracing

Hot on the heels of the 'Plot Spells' article, comes tracing people with magic. If you need to find someone in a hurry (friend or foe), what are your options in the sixth world?

Of course, you can shake down some contacts, or try to physically trace one of their devices in the matrix. But what if they've gone to ground in a safehouse? And what if they're smart enough to get rid of any wireless devices that might lead you to them? What can you do with magic?

This article is intended to be useful to players trying to locate someone, possibly as part of a scenario, or to a GM who wants to know how tracing people fits into the rules and setting for a scenario they're writing. Eg. What if the runners are on the run from the Yakuza?

The options are listed below


Active Magic

If the person being traced is the source of any active magic, or an active magical signature, this is the simplest way to trace them. It is more likely that a signature has been left. If a magician has cast some magic, it takes one hour per level of Force of the magic, for the signature to fade.

Of course, a smart magician will scrub their signature from anywhere they've cast magic (taking mere seconds). However, if they had to leave in a hurry, they may have left a signature behind.

It still takes an Assensing roll (p. 312, SR5), but it is quick.

Taking longer, is the actual astral tracing. From the signature, or from some active magic, an extended Assensing roll (p. 315, SR5), taking several hours, will give the current location of the magician in question.

Of course, this isn't always reliable, and even with a preserved signature, if enough time has passed, it isn't possible to make the trace.


Spirit Search

The next best magical tracing method is to get a spirit to do it for you (p. 400, SR5). It is much quicker, typically taking less than an hour.

The catch with this method is that the spirit requires a 'mental image' of the target, from the summoner.

Now what exactly constitutes a 'mental image' is a GM's call. If I've seen them on the trid, is that sufficient? Do I need to have met them? Could I cull a mental image from a captive, using Mind Probe? It's all up in the air. As a GM, I tend towards the most open interpretation, meaning that pretty much anything uniquely identifying the target would be sufficient (ie. All of the above)

Once they have the mental image, however, it's a pretty straightforward task. It will likely be the last they make however, as it takes the spirit away from the summoner, so counts as a Remote Service.

Another catch with this method is that spirits can't move through the earth. Which means that in the sixth world, 'going underground' means literally going underground. Although the spirit could potentially use air ducts and access tunnels, this might make it harder to find the target (add to the threshold perhaps?)


Detect Individual

This spell (p. 286, SR5) can be quite useful, but is quite short range, and requires that the caster has met the target, which could limit this avenue somewhat. However, if they have met the target, and have a reasonable idea where the target is currently lurking, it might be possible to make use of this spell by scanning large areas quickly, before recasting the spell.

Driving around several blocks, or flying over in a helicopter, would allow the caster to cover large areas in a short time. Rinse and repeat until you've located the target.


Remote Sensing

This is the ritual version of this spell (p. 297, SR5), and hence it has a much larger range, potentially the whole of Seattle! However, it does require someone who knows this ritual, and is willing to cast it for you. It requires a number of willing accomplices, which may take a while to gather.

So, although this is a fairly potent alternative, if the magicians in question all required payment for their services, this could turn out to be quite expensive.

It really depends on how badly you want to find that person...


Final Word

Given all the options for tracing the location of people, it seems that the setting books are once more at odds with the rules. The texts seem to have a number of examples of people who've "disappeared", yet a spirit search could have located them within the hour!

In most cases, this is going to be your best bet, as summoning spirits is a pretty common ability. Even if it isn't a capability of the group, hiring a third party should be a simple affair.



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