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A piece of background from my alt-History Technothriller Shadowrun campaign, Altered States.

* * *


“Regional Overview”
Task Group Central Africa
The Office for Strategic Analysis
02 December, 2031

File - Central Africa Overview (Annotated)

--begin part01--

Central Africa is an oddity. Variously described as post-national or denationalized, it is largely unorganized territory under the dominion of no extant country. There are no bureaucracies, no governments, no embassies, no states, nations, or countries. Central Africa is tribal land.

This doesn’t mean primitive. African tribes today have the latest in satphones, pocket reactors, and electrical vehicles. African tribals are among the most prosperous people on Earth.

Africa is a land of magic. Not the tempestuous wilderness magic of Europe, but societies based around a deep integration of shamanic traditions. The everyday life of African tribes are based around small rituals that shape tiny amounts of mana, making it available to their mages. Individually miniscule, the cumulative amount of mana available to their shamans is staggering.

No only do their mages have access to power unavailable anywhere else, they excel in using it. Sorcery, conjuring, enchanting: Africans are without peer as mages.

Africa’s wealth derives from this magical expertise. They produce the best thaumaturgical materials (including orichalcum and tempered gold) and enchanted items available anywhere, and sell them worldwide. If you’ve ever bought a gilded blade or high quality thaumaturgical materials for a ritual circle or fetish, they probably came from Africa.

> From what I understand, the production of magical materials is one of the rare human endeavors immune to mass-production techniques, and thus largely immune to economies of scale and the benefits of the State. They can only be produced by individual craftsmen, not factories. More, craftsmen who are embedded in a society where magical observances are an integral part of everyday life have an edge over mages from nearly any other society.
-Polisci Perpetrator

> More or less accurate. Cheap foci and materials can be cranked out quickly by nearly any enchanter, but are usually worthless (or nearly so). Quality goods require real skill and a stable mana-rich environment. Europe is very Awakened, but its manasphere is anything but stable. Africa’s is overall less tempestuous, and even in unstable areas (where spirits do or have warred, or where spells are cast), high levels of observance and dedication can calm the storms.
- Atlantean in Exile

Africa is not a peaceful place. Inter-tribe conflicts are common and deadly. Tribals armed with AK’s (shooting uncannily accurate golden bullets) and backed up with tribal spirits often savage each other over disputed lands, access to water, or ancient grudges. Territorial lines shift constantly, as do tribal allegiances and feuds.

On several occasions coastal nations have attempted to seize control of tribal lands, and thus control a part of the lucrative magic trade. In every instance, these have ended in disaster. African mages typically form strong alliances with their tribal spirits, and invaders face the unbound power of tribal wrath.

--end part01--
File - Central Africa Overview (Annotated)

--begin part02--


Africa’s magic trade is carried out by a couple of large companies, several smuggling outfits, countless fly-by-night hustlers, and TAC, the Thaumaturgical Acquisitions Consortium. Born from the remnants of a pre-Collapse diamond cartel, TAC dominates Africa’s magic trade.

Pre-Collapse, the DeBeers Group was a cartel of diamond producers and exporters, headquartered in Luxembourg. They controlled the vast majority of legitimate diamond trade on the planet, and were instrumental in creating demand for diamond engagement rings (“A Diamond Is Forever”). As a result, the prices for diamonds were greatly inflated.

After the Collapse demand for diamonds plummeted, and the DeBeers cartel lost control of the industry. Diamonds flooded the market, forcing their price down. DeBeers went bankrupt.

In the aftermath of the Awakening, remnants of the DeBeers Group (based in former Botswana) began small-scale exporting of thaumaturgical supplies and items. The endeavor quickly grew in profitability and scope, and TAC expanded rapidly. Despite the efforts of competitors, it remains the largest and most profitable thaumaturgical exporter in Africa. (Roughly 60% of African thaumaturgical goods are exported by TAC or its agents.)

Company Outposts: Thaumaturgical Acquisitions maintains a series of company towns, in which they trade cutting-edge technology for magical goods. Each outpost maintains a private airfield from which they ship magical goods to Israel, Madagascar, and Morocco, goods bound for markets on every continent, and fly in goods meant for trade. The towns are powered by pocket reactors (the same models sold to tribes), which supply power to modern sewage treatment plants, water purification or production installations, and Internet satnodes.

Such towns are open markets, and buyers and sellers from anywhere are welcome. All trades conducted in the town pay a 10% fee to TAC, one of the chief sources of their corporate profits. (TAC even allows their competitors to operate at the markets. Either way, they profit.)

Just about anything sold anywhere on the planet is available at a TAC town. Newly minted AK-47’s, manufactured in Persia or Aztlan, sit next to cutting edge VR rigs, which sit alongside boxes of enchanted golden bullets. The prices may be expensive, but TAC requires no licenses or registrations fees. So long as their transaction fee is met, they don’t care what goods are bought or sold, with few exceptions.

Slavery is one. Per TAC charter, traffic in humans is forbidden by TAC employees or on company property. Whether importing or exporting, it invites the wrath of local tribes, which TAC is very careful not to do.

One of the reasons for their success in navigating the hazardous waters of Central Africa is their absolute adherence to a strict code of conduct. They hire the best guides and negotiators and keep abreast of the changing politics of the continent. They treat tribes with respect and assiduously follow through on all contracts and promises. To do any less is to invite disaster (as many of their competitors have learned).

--end part02--
File - Central Africa Overview (Annotated)

--begin part03--


In addition to the commonly available thaumaturgical supplies, African tribals produce several unique enchanted items. The following are two of the rarest, depending for their efficacy on “tempered” or hardened gold. Produced using unknown techniques, these two weapons are commonly seen in tribal conflicts in Africa, but rarely seen elsewhere.

Golden Bullets: The term “Golden Bullet” refers to a freak shot that ricochets in an improbable way, so as to penetrate otherwise impervious armor. African golden bullets duplicate this effect with magic. Through unknown means, each golden bullet traces a unique trajectory towards its target, often defying physics along the way. Such bullets also have the uncanny ability of avoiding those the shooter deems “friendlies.”

Golden bullets, contrary to urban legends, are not solid gold. Instead, they are standard rounds jacketed with a thin layer of tempered gold.

Golden bullets are generally only available in 7.62mm and .50 sizes (the calibers most favored by tribals). Limited amounts of 10mm ammo, crafted to TAC specifications, are available, but are prohibitively expensive. Custom calibers can be ordered, and are priced at whatever level the tribe demands.

> Each golden bullet is handcrafted by enchanters. A conventional manufacturing solution would be to produce the core rounds, then use a die to stamp blanks out of sheets of tempered gold and layer them over the lead. In the beginning this was tried, but proved to be a failure — the resulting rounds were no different than any other bullet. Like all other thaumaturgical production, golden bullets can only be made by hand.

This makes them very expensive, so if you see someone using them, you know it’s a dire situation.

- El Tee Charlie Six

Gilded Blade: Gilded blades are edged weapons with a fine layer of tempered gold laid along the edge. Such weapons never dull or nick, have no need to be sharpened, and are supernaturally sharp.

In addition, they have the same physics defying properties of golden bullets. Those using gilded blades are able to fight with uncanny accuracy, their weapon tracing paths it shouldn’t be able to. This enables the user to strike in unexpected places, weave his way around defenses, and otherwise confound his opponent.

Gilded blades are extremely rare. In most tribes, bearing a gilded blade is a sign of prominence or prowess.

> It is awe-inspiring to see someone fighting with a gilded blade. The weapon’s edge flashes in the light, and their hands and arms move independently, guided by the weapon. They parry blows they couldn’t have seen, slip past defenses that should have stopped them cold, strike faster and harder than humanly possible.

Strange. Intimidating. Unnatural.

- El Tee Charlie Six

Other Weapons: Tempered gold can be layered onto arrow-heads, weapon edges, even inlaid into clubs or staves. Each of these weapons benefits from the same “target-seeking” enchantment. More, they don’t require magical bonding to operate; even mundanes can utilize them. This makes them exceedingly valuable.

Tempered Gold: Golden bullets and gilded blades are made from hardened or “tempered” gold. A peculiar and difficult-to-create reagent, tempered gold is harder than titanium, supernaturally hard, but not brittle. It weighs approximately the same as regular gold, but is lighter in color.

Tempered gold is one of the rarest magical materials, not just because it is difficult to create, but because its base material is gold, an extremely rare and valuable metal in and of itself. Central Africa is the only known source for tempered gold, artificers elsewhere have yet to duplicate the material.

--end part03--
File - Central Africa Overview (Annotated)

--begin part04--

Strategic Analysis


Despite their lack of a domestic industrial base, the tribes of Central Africa are technologically advanced. Technology permeates their societies to an extent unmatched by most others. Even the current global leaders have significant segments of their populations that are impoverished, and thus without access to advanced technologies. Such is not the case in Central Africa.

This is due to the tribes’ economic power (see next section), but also due to technologies developed and manufactured elsewhere. These technologies “leapfrog” the need to build and maintain widespread infrastructure, while providing the benefits of such infrastructure.

Pocket reactors are relatively small (18×10×5 m) power generation units that can provide significant power to a village (100 MW, enough energy for about 5000 pre-Collapse US homes) for 50 years, without needing to be refueled, so there is no need for wide-scale power lines, transformers, or massive power plants. Pocket reactors power water purification or production facilities, making clean water for drinking. They can power food processing facilities, drones of various models, and anything else dependent on electricity. On a personal level, it can be used for air conditioning, refrigeration, various forms of entertainment, household drones, and just about any other modern amenity one desires.

Satnodes communicate with the Internet via satellite, and broadcast locally with high-speed, wide-area wireless. Within range, anyone with wireless can access the Internet. Wireless devices are common and use VoIP to make calls via the satnode. Many of these devices contain multiband chips, which include satcom capabilities. AR units are available to nearly everyone, and entertainment from around the globe can be accessed through the satnode.

Vehicles, powered by electrical motors or advanced hydrogen fuel cells, are very common. They recharge using the village grid, or at a hydrogen synthesizer and storage facility.

With sufficient monetary resources, a tribal village can install its own infrastructure, independent of a wider grid, and become a technologically sophisticated society. The tribes of Central Africa have such resources.

Assessment: Despite their sophistication, Central Africa lacks the manufacturing and research base to produce technological innovations independently. They are dependent on research and manufacturing conducted elsewhere. They are heavily specialized in artificing which, while it brings in significant amounts of wealth, produces a negative incentive to develop a native technological base.

Projection: Barring a Black Swan, it is likely the tribes will continue to be prime consumers of cutting edge technology, without becoming producers of same. The emergence of a true State could change this, but is extremely unlikely (<.001% chance, to a horizon of 80 years).

--end part04--
File - Central Africa Overview (Annotated)

--begin part05--

Strategic Analysis


The economy of the region is based on the production of magical reagents, goods, and foci. Since the emergence of the global thaumaturgical market, Central African goods have dominated the marketplace. They are exported to every continent, and are highly valued for their purity and innate power.

> Central Africa, like many other tribal societies, possesses a strong cultural advantage regarding magic. Belief in magic never waned there, and the small ceremonies of magical peoples were traditions dating back millennia.

Each time a person put on a black bracelet, to ward off spirits, it was a ceremony. Each time they referred to others by their nicknames at night, it was a ceremony. Making a statue to ward away ghosts, a ceremony.

These ceremonies, while not being part of a spell or ritual, nevertheless affect mana in the area. They calm mana-storms and call forth tiny amounts of mana, which becomes available to tribal spellcasters, conjurors, or enchanters. Done by every person in a tribe, multiple times in a day, the cumulative mana liberated is staggering. This power underlies much of the magical prowess of the region’s mages.

Cultures without such traditions, or where traditions are limited to practicing magicians, simply have less mana available for working magic. (As do foreign mages entering tribal lands.) It’s a strong advantage, and goes far in explaining the military failures of Coastal African invasions.

- Atlantean in Exile

--end part05--
File - Central Africa Overview (Annotated)

--begin part06--

Strategic Analysis

Economic, cntd.

> Why is Central Africa so dominant? They had the advantage of being the “First Mover” in the marketplace.

Central Africa was the first region to export magical goods in large amounts, and so became synonymous with the talismonger trade. They established a “brand name” in magical goods, to the extent that most mundanes are unaware that “magic swords” (or other magical goods) are made anywhere else, and most magicians know to “buy African” to ensure quality. This is so much the case that goods produced in other regions are often passed off as African. This is a difficult advantage for competitors to overcome.

- PoliSci Perpetrator

> These cultural advantages are not unique to Central Africa. Other regions have a similar depth of magical tradition and could compete for this niche, perhaps even displacing the Central African tribes. Such regions include (but are not limited to) the Amazon Basin, Aboriginal Australia, the Native American Nations, Lappland, the Yucatan Peninsula, and (it seems likely) Tibet. In each case, there are reasons they did not rise to dominance.

The Amazon Basin is extremely hostile to outsiders, and all effort to establish diplomatic relations or even trade with Amazon tribes have failed, usually with lethal results. Australia’s Aborigines do produce and sell magical goods, but not in the quantities Central Africa can (Central Africa being far more populous). The NAN regarded their magical goods as religious relics, and refused to sell any to outsiders (though small smuggling operations did edge around this restriction), but in the aftermath of the dissolution of the NAN this may change.

Lappland (or Sápmi) only emerged as a nation after the Awakening of the Feral Wilderness, and has yet to establish regular relations with anyone other than the Scandinavian Union and the city-state of Murmansk. In time they may become an exporter of magical goods, but given the difficulties of plumbing the Feral Wilds and the need to protect cities against the Wilderness, much of their domestic production may be consumed in the struggle to survive.

The Yucatan Peninsula wasn’t as hostile to outsiders as the Amazon, but it is apparent now that all their magical artificing was stockpiled in anticipation of the coup in Mexico. Since seizing control, they have maintained a high level of output, which was put to use in the invasion of the NAN and the conquest of the Pueblo-Navajo Coalition. After the cease-fire, their magical abilities were used in the conquest of the rest of Central America. Now, it seems likely their preparations for war against the United States and the post-NAN states involve significant amounts of artificing, in addition to a buildup of more conventional forces.There is nothing left to export.

Tibet is a special case. The majority of Tibet is a modern nation-state, allied with India, intent on industrializing and militarizing in order to prevent further dominance by China. Yet, since just after the Awakening, there are seven regions of the country that are completely cut off from the outside world. (Referred to by Tibetans as the Hidden Kingdoms.) Not coincidentally, these are the seven regions most permeated with mana. These regions could produce magical goods, but no one is known to have entered or left them since December of 2011. What happened to the Hidden Kingdoms is a mystery, and has been for 20 years.

- Scion of Hermes

--end part06--
File - Central Africa Overview (Annotated)

--begin part07--

Strategic Analysis

Economic, cntd.

At the moment, Central Africa occupies a role analogous to that of the petro-states of the latter half of the 20th Century. They are specialized in one specific economic activity, and are dependent on outsiders for most other goods and services. Construction, transport, installation, and maintenance of the primary infrastructure is handled by whichever company the tribe contracts with (often, but not always, the Thaumaturgical Acquisitions Consortium).

The economics of the region are experiencing several problems endemic to a rapid increase of wealth, without a commensurate increase in domestic production. (A process akin to the “Dutch Disease” that afflicted Norway after 1959.) Inflationary pressures are building, unemployment rates are high (as there are few who can serve as artificers, and other jobs are hard to find), and foreign goods are becoming cheaper and cheaper relative to domestic goods.

Increased wealth has enabled many tribes to begin importing cheap food, clothing, and other staples from bordering nations. (A mainstay of the otherwise lagging economies of Coastal Africa.) While this makes for a pleasant lifestyle, it also causes domestic food (or other staple) production capacity to shrink.

Magical goods are the property of the tribe as a whole, and while artificers themselves see direct benefits, the remaining profit from the goods is shared among all in a tribe. Coupled with high rates of unemployment, this has created a large class of prosperous youths and young adults, who lack jobs but still have significant disposable income. The combination of copious spare time, ready access to vehicles and weapons, and dim employment prospects produce a large group of volatile and jaded youth, eager for entertainment or diversions.

> This class of aggressive, affluent juveniles forms the core of tribal warriors, gangs, and criminals (including “footsoldiers” for organized crime). Clashes between tribes often originate in personal conflicts between bands of such youths from different tribes. Confrontations involving boasts or non-violent aggression easily devolve into fist-fights and shootouts. Long running feuds or outright warfare can often result.
- El-Tee Charlie Six

> As such warfare invariably involves spirits and spellcasting, which disturbs the manasphere near the battlefields, it can threaten a tribe’s livelihood. Even if they win the battle, the loss in productivity due to manastorms can significantly impact the tribe as a whole.
- Scion of Hermes

--end part07--
File - Central Africa Overview (Annotated)

--begin part08--

Strategic Analysis

Economic, cntd.

Assessment: Central Africa has benefitted from a near-monopoly on an expensive and high-demand product. Their prosperity rests on continued income from the trade in magical goods, but this is not a given. Were competitors in other regions to emerge, or were the conditions that make Central Africa conducive to artificing to change, the region would find itself bereft of income and bereft of the basic requirements of a modern economy.

Projections: Central Africa has unique strengths which give it a comparative advantage in the area of magical artificing. No other region can match those strengths, and strategic projections from the appropriate Task Groups indicate a low probability they will in the near future. For the foreseeable future, Central Africa will remain the world’s artificing heartland. (96% probability, to a horizon of 30 years.)

> Does anyone else find these projections curiously specific? How can such a probability even be calculated?
- Paranoid w/ Enemies

> They don’t call ‘em “The Oracles” for nothing.
- Lost Cause

Black Swans: When it comes to magic, Black Swans are endemic. Emergence, the Awakening, the Feral Eruption, all were unpredictable, with a significant and long-lasting impact. It is entirely possible that Africa (or the world) could suddenly find itself utterly bereft of magical power, causing the immediate collapse of Central Africa’s economy. It is just as likely that another spike or plateau in mana could occur, with unknown results. Central Africa could become a Hidden Kingdom, a Feral Wilderness, or the domain of a hitherto undiscovered paraspecies. Such events are wholly unpredictable.

--end part08--
File - Central Africa Overview (Annotated)

--begin part09--

Strategic Analysis


The typical Central African tribe, via tribal alliances with powerful spirits, is well defended against outside aggressors. Incursions by Coastal African states have uniformly ended in decisive defeats, similar to those seen during the NAN War or the Siege of Israel.

Though defensively strong, the tribes of Central Africa lack the ability to project force beyond their borders. They are not now, and will not soon become, regional powers.

To date, inter-tribal conflicts have ended in stalemates, as the forces involved are more evenly matched. In the long run, that situation is temporary. Historical analysis indicates a near certainty that one tribe will gain some advantage over the others, either in magical strength, sheer numbers, or technological weaponry, and will successfully conquer, displace, absorb, or eradicate neighboring tribes.

This will most likely result in the emergence of a (non-State) monarchy or an empire (such as existed in Mali, circa 1300’s). Such a polity will, of necessity, possess the means to make war and could become a regional power.

Projections: Projections estimate the emergence of a strong monarchy or empire in Central Africa occurring no sooner than 25 years (<10% probability), but a 95% confidence level at 60+ years. Within three generations, we will see the rise of an Awakened Central African regional power, on par with pre-Collapse Israel or Turkey.

Projections beyond that point become too context dependent to make reliable predictions. Such an empire could come to dominate Africa, could emerge as a global power (such as modern Indian or China), could devolve back into warring tribes, or could fall into ineffectiveness and become vulnerable to another polity. The cycle of rise and collapse is a familiar one, and has dominated most of human history.

Threat Assessment: None, to a horizon of 25 years. Low to Moderate between 25−60 years.

--end part09--
File - Central Africa Overview (Annotated)

--begin part10--

Strategic Analysis

Military-Political, cntd.

Black Swans: The development of the hypothetical “arcane nuke”, a magical weapon of mass destruction, would alter force calculations drastically. If such a device were to emerge, Central Africa is the most likely place. The development of a global delivery system (a “magical ICBM”) would bootstrap the region to global power status immediately, with unpredictable effects on international relations. At that point, the Threat Level of a Central African kingdom or empire would be High.

> Since the Awakening, there have been several destructive magical events, on a scale large enough to qualify as a Weapon of Mass Destruction. The Night of Ghosts and Terror, the Aztlan Coup, Europe’s Feral Eruption.

Yet none of these are the equivalent of a magical nuclear bomb. The first two depended on Death Magic, which is powerful, but the human sacrifices required to empower the ritual cause lasting damage to the local manasphere. Death Magic rituals cannot be manufactured or stockpiled and have strong limits on their range (there is a logarithmic relationship between range and the number of human sacrifices required). The third is still an enigma a decade later, but it is doubtful it was a result of metahuman activity at all.

The emergence of an “arcane nuke” would herald not just a seismic shift in geopolitics, but in our understanding of the workings and limits of magic.

- Atlantean in Exile


Central Africa is not a significant short or long-term strategic threat. Indeed, by providing a ready source for thaumaturgical materials, it serves to bolster fairly weak US domestic artificing capability. Especially when facing magically-adept enemies, Central Africa’s magical goods are a critical military element.

We should continue to cultivate relationships with the Thaumaturgical Acquisitions Corporation and other Central African traders. In addition, we should send envoys to individual tribes, to build stronger relations. With strong alliances in place, enemy action or Black Swans that interrupted usual trade with the continent would be less likely to block access to tribal enchantments. (More, it increases the chances that a rising Central African kingdom will be favorably disposed towards the US.)

Long term, we should make a concerted effort to develop domestic talismongering capacity. A continued dependence on foreign sources is a grave strategic weakness, one we cannot count on our enemies overlooking.

--end file--

Life in a Consortium Town
Global Anarchist

It’s hot in Africa, the kind of heat that weeps down your face and drenches your clothes. And the TAC market towns stink. The musk of thousands of sweating people, the stink of chickens and chicken-shit, the ozone of passing cars, urine and vomit in the alleys.

Throngs of people crowd the streets. White people, black people, Asians, whatever. Everybody comes to TAC towns.

Traders from other continents, pale and sweating, tribal villagers with cases of fetishes and foci, beggars, drunks, hard-eyed smugglers, whores. Tribal Traditionals in their loose, colorful clothing. Three-man TAC security teams in their khakis and berets, carrying tasers and billy clubs.

Then there’s the wandering gangs of youths, strutting like bantam roosters, jeans and t-shirts in tribal colors, with AK’s on their backs. Sometimes they run across gangs from other tribes, and they yell at each other in broken English, Swahili, isZulu, Afrikaans (corporate lingo of the Thaumaturgical Acquisitions Consortium, don’tcha know?). They yell, sometimes they push or punch. Rarely they shoot. TAC teams watch the confrontations and sometimes intervene. High-threat responders are on call if anything really bad starts happening. In TAC towns, TAC is the law.

Cars fill the streets, the sedans of traders, tiny eco-boxes of middle-class tribals, vans filled with cases of trade goods, escorted by pickup trucks with .50 cals mounted in the back. “Technicals.” There’s traffic lights and everything.

Dust hangs over everything, but the roads are paved. They even have concrete sidewalks. TAC towns were built smart. The streets are laid out on a grid, so it's easy to find your way around. Infrastructure is buried, so no powerlines.

The buildings were recently new, prefab units assembled on-site, with hookups for town power, water, and sewage. They’re painted white, with Qaballist symbols in black. Dirt stains smudge the white. They all hum; air conditioning units. The towns stink, but the water’s pure and the sewage is disposed of properly.

Life in a Consortium Town, cntd.
Global Anarchist

In TAC towns, traders set up shop everywhere. Buildings, stalls, street-corners. Long-term outfits rent their own buildings by the year, tribal traders stalls by the day, Coastals and the desperate squat on the sidewalk, by crosswalks.

People sell everything you could want. Common foods, exotic foods, rare paraspecies (animal, insect, and plant), weapons, ammunition, clothes, trinkets, baubles, and crap.

There’s restaurants, stores, bars, dance clubs, fast-food eateries, a single clinic, houses, apartment buildings, chargeports. Usually a bloedbank. That's Afrikaans, means what you’d think it does. They specialize in vaults, deposit boxes, and currency storage, not moneylending. There’s no credit in Africa, they charge you a fee. Each town has a hotel or two, with different floors for different clienteles.

High-class floors, for the rich (tribals, usually). Room service, fresh, hot water, iced drinks, imported sodas (Brazilian colas are a recent fad), exotic foods like American cheeseburgers, Tex-Mex, Chinese chicken-and-rice. Turn-down service, in-room netcast or pay-per-view, in-room shower and toilet, free wifi, and space. High class hotel rooms are roomy. And you get to use the elevator, high class floors are always at the top of the hotel. It’s the view.

Low-class floors for the moderately poor. Cramped rooms, barely bigger than the bed. No room service, you eat in the marketplace. Air conditioning, if desired, with the electrical charge added to your bill. Per megabyte wifi, billed to your room. No turn-down service, you haul your own sheets down to the laundry and get new ones. No pillows. Male and female toilets and showers each floor. You get in by climbing the stairs. Middle floors are low-class rooms.

Coffin floors for the very poor. Called such because of the tiny boxes you’re renting, barely bigger than a coffin, and because they’re underground. (You enter round back, in the alley. Hotel staff doesn’t want to see you, if you’re renting a coffin.) Hotel basements are coffin floors. Coffins are empty spaces, just big enough to crawl into, stacked on top of each other. (Africans call them “beehives.”) A mat on the floor, no in-room anything except pre-paid vented air and prepaid wifi. One toilet and shower per floor, paid access. They’re for desperate foreigners; even the poorest tribal can afford a real room. (Not really, but that’s what tribals think. It’s a mark of desperation to be black and living in a beehive, unless you’re a Coastal. Coastals are expected to be poor, or frugal.)

Life in a Consortium Town, cntd.
Global Anarchist

TAC towns are walled, concrete blocks over rebar, painted white with black Qaballist symbols. It looks like graffiti, it’s not. Hermetics are a northern thing, in Africa non-natives contract Israelis for magical security. (Natives take care of themselves.) The symbols ward off native spirits.

The center of town is the marketplace. It’s just like the rest of the city, but more crowded. Smart people watch their wallets, here.

Next to it is the TAC compound. A cluster of buildings, walled off from the rest of the city, white with more Qaballist wards. (And concertina wire, cameras, and lights. The compound is lit all night.) Inside, the company offices, Air Traffic Control, Facilities Management, Internet satnode, company dorms, company clinic, company schools for dependents.

On the outskirts of the city, a TAC motorpool, fuel depot (stinking of oil and jet fuel), airstrip, helipad, a few hangars. Not walled, but military link, concertina wire, thick posts, and small disks inscribed with Israeli wards. The strip is large enough to land C-130’s, just barely, but not anything larger.

The roads into town are blocked with Jersey barricades. Just in case. The territory around is mined, the minefields clearly marked. Africa is not a peaceful place.

Diamonds used to be king in Africa, mined from deep in the burning earth. Now they’re semi-precious stones, and Africa’s wealth is in magic. You don’t grub for magic in cramped dirty mines, you buy it in TAC towns.

TAC towns. The beating heart of tribal Africa, the main (almost sole) source of enchanted goods for the rest of the planet. If you sit by the street in a TAC town, sooner or later all of Africa will pass you by.
Design Notes

Now we come to the really optional section: the why’s and wherefore’s. (Mind you, those words are synonymous, so that phrase, despite being traditional, is redundant. Funny old language, English.)

The core idea behind this version of Shadowrun’s Africa came to me in a flash, but actually developing it and writing it up took a couple of weeks of thought and writing. As an addition to Altered States, I think it works quite well.


First, it’s human. Too often people engage in demonizing other cultures, or whitewashing other cultures and demonizing their own. This setting does neither. It’s human people doing human things for human reasons. Some of these people are noble, some brutal, most regular folks who just want to get along. That’s humanity in a nutshell.

Second, it’s plausible. It matches the societies that exist in real-world Africa, and describes what could happen to them in the aftermath of the alt-VITAS. Africa has long been tribal societies, overlaid with the apparatus of the modern State. Since VITAS erased national governments across the globe, what emerged from that in Central Africa are tribal lands. (And not only in Africa. In Brazil, Pakistan, and several other places.)

Thirdly, it’s internally consistent. From the standpoint of Shadowrun “fluff”, enchanting is a small-scale economic endeavor, one that can’t be automated or mass-produced. In other words, one that tribes can engage in and remain competitive with nation-states or corporations.

More, the magic background for Altered States (which is similar to, but divergent from Shadowrun’s) gives a benefit to societies where magical observance and ceremonies are integrated into daily life. (See “Small Magics of the Awakening”.) Tribal societies have a competitive edge, as regards artificing, and that translates into wealth.

The tribes have a new opportunity, thanks to the Awakening. They use their abilities to make their lives better. Traders have an opportunity, due to the new materials the tribes can supply, and try to make their lives better. That’s economics in a nutshell.

Fourth, it’s well-suited for a technothriller campaign. Weapons smugglers, strange new magics being sold by TAC, information brokers, enemies fleeing into trackless Africa, spies, saboteurs, and more. Africa is a hotbed of intrigue, where nearly anything can be bought or sold. It’s a perfect venue for espionage or special forces ops.

Fifth, it’s technologically feasible. One of the difficulties in Africa has been the slow rate of technological adoption. Poor countries cannot afford to build the infrastructure that wealthier nations can.

One of the oddities is that, as technology develops, it leapfrogs old infrastructure requirements. As an example, with cellphones, you don’t need telephone poles and wires, just cell towers. You get the benefits of being able to call anyone in the world, without the need to invest in older infrastructure. This writeup of Africa represents just that dynamic, taken to an extreme.

So, this is Africa: a technologically sophisticated society, permeated with magical ceremonies. A state-less traditional society, suffering frequent border wars and clashes, yet with stable trading relationships and wealth that rivals anyone else’s on the planet. A tribal society with supra-modern infrastructure, which uses century old assault rifles, that shoot magic bullets.

A culture shot through with contradictions. Just like real cultures.
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