Voormas won, back at the crisis point. Nobody opposed him, and he destroyed Death, though in turn the Questing avatar-shards he used to do so were also destroyed. Now, a world without death is ruled over by the Pandeia, the world's remaining Mages. Science and mysticism work side by side, bureaucracies designed to alchemical schematics and reality engines enforcing numerological law on the fabric of reality. The Pandeia itself operates under a form of government best labelled Zen Facism ("Our way works. Don't think about it.")
The world has changed in the last 300 years. The lack of death lead to overcrowding and wars in which infinite pain was created with no death. The Pandeia was formed in opposition to that. Noosphere generators have turned Mercutry and Venus into ideospace thought-clouds of nanocomputers, and are working on the asteroid belt as more people upload every day. Jupiter is being used as an He3 mine, producing superfuels for an increasingly energy-dependant civilisation. Tesseract technology has transformed Earth and Mars, giving both planets limitless space extending into the fourth dimension. Most transit uses Boomsuits, wearable nth-dimensional wormhole generators named for the loud noise they make
The Pandeia are in trouble. They themselves are the biggest Rote, pushing back the moment of entelechy when the prehistoric first mages source their avatars and humanity as it is proceeds to the next step of its existance. The moment can't be allowed to arrive as the timeline is broken -- the Questing shards destroyed, never to re-enter the causal loop. The Pandeia thus have one big law applying to FTL travel and all other means of temporal alteration: Do Not Fuck With Our Light Cone. The period of history between the Rennaisance and their present is entirely off-limits for causality violation, and the belief of several trillion human-equivalent or greter intelligences enforces that the best way it knows how: Paradox.
A small group realises that the only way to complete the entelechy is to violate causality and stop Voormas. To this end, they send one man -- Dr. John Fox -- back into the past to the biggest plot locus they can find. He can't alter the causality himself as the paradox would make things worse. but if the enlightened of the time could be made to violate causality, he would sacrifice his life to the Story to save reality.
What's the Story? The Pandeia believe that they are fictional characters in some kind of story-based setup, like a game or a series of novels. There's a Plot that chronicles the events and the crisis points, but those events can change... they are characters in a situation. If they act out of character or make an odd choice of no consequence it is up to them, but if it impacts the running of the Grand Rote then it is equally likely to be the Plot. A neat even point between free will and predestination.
This is drilled into the minds of the Pandeia and the world as they have it. The immense weight of belief causes plot violations to be punished with all the paradox that three trillion sleeping Avatars can provide. This can happen in an acausal manner because of the general belief in time travel and causality violation in the time of the Pandeia. Paradox effects are the big reminder that people are fictional (for a major example, check the death of Dr. John Fox).
The characters are coming off some downtime in their local town or city. It's night, they are likely on the way home from the local boozer or curry house or whatever. The world is monochrome orange from the glow of the streetlights bouncing back off low cloud. They have to step over the vomit of drunk people long gone. Typical Wednesday night in the World of Darkness.
The characters hear a loud BOOM, and see a circular tear in three-dimensional space (yup, Correspondance. Like you needed Awareness to tell you that, genius...). A figure in a red and white jumpsuit, with holographic triangles hovering an inch off his major joints, steps down, at which point the hole re-forms. From this point you have five minutes and twenty three seconds to complete all dialogue and questions.
: Random reference, 5 and 23 are the sacred numbers of Eris, Goddess of Chaos.
Dr. Fox can't stop talking to himself. It's a derangement caused by the extreme causality violation of jumping around his history. He'll answer questions once he's finished the first bit, but try not to interrupt the flow of words even when the PCs are speaking.
"Atmospheric toxins dangerously high, psychic pressureometer is reading very high social temeprature, close to and over collapse levels... when does tesseract technology get here? Local information flow is too deprecated for the boomsuit to interface, just like all the other places- Oh, it's you. Shouldn't be surprised, really."
Questions and answers. John is here because this is the biggest causal locus he could find (the rest of the time-travelling has been in their future, where he has met them twice already). He doesn't know much of what is going on, save that they talk incessantly about "finding the rest of the tree", and something about a bird. He impresses on them that they must stop the Harvester (the only name the Pandeia have for Voormas) and that the tree might be something to do with it. The rest of the time he'll mostly answer time-traveller-ish questions, make them up on the fly. After precisely 5:23, there's a rush of flame and a flash of light. Dr. Fox is dead, and only scraps of paper covered in strange designs are left. For the full effect, write out his full four-page character sheet, tear it up and burn the edges, then scatter the remains on the table. That is all that is left of Dr. John Fox.
The bird in question is the creation of Professor Jackob Celine, a Son of Ether from when they were sill Electrodyne Engineers. Built in the mid-19th century, Celine's Bird was the first man-made creation to reach orbit, a clockwork powered metal avian that was supposed to keep some powerful artefacts out of the hands of mystics. Of course, these days nobody knows about the bird (the Virtual Adepts destroyed evidence in Technocratic systems whent hey left, and what little they thought to salvage mens nothing without context. This is all academia and the ravings of a man who claims to be a time-traveller, up until two days after the encounter.
Celine's Bird is winding down after more than one hundred and fifty years in Earth orbit. It's thus coming back to earth to be re-wound. It's landing point is near to the PC's home town.
Jackob Celine's notes are in the possession of one Dick Granger, a Void Engineer who has too much on his hands to deal with this. Somehow, he and a team of Extraordinary Citizens have to stop the Bird showing up on radar or otherwise being detected, and make of with anything it's carrying. Sounds easy, right? A pity, then, that a mix-up in the mail (and a note from the Sphinx) carries photocopies of the original papers along with projected trajectories and landing points -- the same papers that Granger has -- to the PCs. They have to a) stop people finding out about the Bird and blowing it up as an Evil Terrorist Missile b) stop the Technocrats getting the bird c) get the contents of the Bird and get the fuck out of there, optionally d) put something back in the bird and send it back for a lark.
Inside the Bird is a disc marked on one side with two crescent moons making the shape of a 9 and a nonagram (9-pointed star) on the other. Characters with any level of Spirit will feel an attraction to this disc. One actually holding the disc will find themselves with an instant extra dot in Spirit, for as long as the disc is in their possession. The disc also has arcane connections to three others of it's kind.
The discs each represent a sephiroth -- one of the stops on the kabbalistic Tree of Life. Each also has an arcane connection to the other Sephira that it connects to traditionally, the paths being flavoured by strong resonance -- check a good map of the Sephiroth to gague what based on tarot major arcana. Symbolism and correspondences are here <http://hem.bredband.net/arenamontanus/mage/correspondences> for ideas for disc decorations and things.
Sephira Sphere Number Effect
Malkuth Sleepers 10 +6 Backgrounds (Allies/Contacts/Resources)
Yesod Spirit 9 +1 Spirit
Hod Time 8 +1 Time
Netzach Correspondance 7 +1 Corr.
Tifareth Life 6 +1 Life
Geburah Forces 5 +1 Forces
Chesed Matter 4 +1 Matter
Daath Telos 0* As Storm-Born in Ascension
Binah Entropy 3 +1 Entropy
Chokmah Mind 2 +1 Mind
Kether Prime 1 +1 Prime
Note: Daath is the "missing" Sephira that corresponds to Telos. It resides in the Abyss that seperates the top three from the rest. Crossing the Abyss is dangerous to do (and should represent a really fucking massive challenge to the PCs -- consider starting Judgment here), stopping off along the way moreso.
The PCs now hopefully go chasing after the other Sephira, making their way up the Tree of Life. They don't have to do it by the numbers (but a Hermetic or someone good with occult knowledge will probably suggest that they do, grabbing Malkuth before bopping off to Hod). They should encounter high weirdness on the way as their search takes them all over the world and beyond. Random weirdness to throw at the players:
One of the discs is part of the collection of a powerful ex-Nazi of the Thule society, who is working a drug-smuggling ring from South America, while co-ordinating neo-nazi groups around the world. The Nazi has no idea what he has, but has captured a Dreaspeaker who came for the disc and intends to use her in a sacrifice to his alien angels.
Recurring faces -- always in some minor, background position -- will not go away. These are the Pandeia's causal engineers, tinkering with the delicate mecahnic of cause and effect to minimise the disruptions of Dr. Fox's timejump. The PCs may themselves be the subejct of weird causal changes (one goes to put a ppen in a drawer to find an exact duplicate in the drawer already). The engineers are creating small paradoxes to fragment Dr. Fox, hoping to deal with him before he can give his message to the characters -- which will in turn gragment them unless they can disrupt the causal engineers earlier on. As neither group has easy access to time travel, this becomes a very planned, very slow time combat (see Continuum).
At some point, an NPC ally of the players is struck down by a nasty effect that leaves him hospitalised and fighting for her life. The only way to make the curative magic permenant is Life 5 (pull this one relatively early), but the only ones they know with Life 5 are indesposed. Of course, it transpires that the local Technocrats, who the characters clashed with over Celine's Bird, would be able to help -- for the right price, and if they had a vial of medical nanotech stolen from a warehouse in Hamburg by Traditionalists. Cuw webs of intrigue as the vial turns up close to the PCs in the hands of a ghouled Tytalean. If the characters buy him off or otherwise deal fairly with him, they then have to deal with his tail -- a pissed off Quesitor. It's Hermetic politics and strained Trad-Tech relations and in the night the vampire who ghouled the Tytalean in the first place is using the magi's disorganisation to it's own advantage.
The PCs are assaulted by the onrushing forces of apathy and banality, which get worse as their quest goes on. Eventually the Ecstatic psychonaut Harlan Davis mentions he may be able to help. He shows them the psychic representation of the Consensus -- the Overmind -- and relates how it affects more than local reality, using expectations and archetypes to influence people's mental states. When Harlan falls prey to a semi-sentient part of the Overmind that causes him to hallucinate random images (because That's What People On Drugs Do(tm)) it's up to them to take a stand.
The characters, waging war against normal consensus and backed heavily by the Sphinx, are kidnapped and wake up in a mental asylum. And one of the other inmates is a Marauder. The Overmind has left that one clean alone, and from her insanity spring impossible things that warp the asylum and inmates to express her inner reality.
Dr. John Fox appears again. The second time they meet he's sure that they shouldn't know him, and yet they do (he doesn't realise his last visit will be some time before that one), and the more they act otherwise the more paradox both parties get. This manifests as flashes of unreality rather than normal damage -- skin peels away to reveal nothing but D20s and player-drawn art underneath. The final time they meet is the first time he has met them, and he will act accordingly.
The events of Alien Avatar are a good clue as to an early disc, when the story will still be a challenge.
Later on, the Mages hsould get a chance to get involved with politics at a national level. What even they don't realise is that they will be visiting the Pandeia to do so. They are flung there by the time-disc, a locus that the Ultimate Rote cannot ignore. Paradox is by this point hammering the world of +310 years (they arrive ten years after Dr. Fox left), collapsing whole genres of to find something that will destroy the rote and complete the entelechy. Aliens, fantasy wizards capable of tearing moonds from their orbit strike, fictional animen who can do anything that is in the script -- but that can be re-scripted on the fly, Astro-gods of the First Firmament summoned from beyond the walls of Order and given form through sacrificed stories, all assault the Pandeia. Of course, if the PCs do nothing they are on a tighter crunch and can expect Magic to get really fucking screwy until they get back. If the PCs help the Pandeia, they fnd themselves wracked by plot-hole paradox when they get back to their source time.
The characters meet an embodied coyote-spirit. The odd thing is that it is anthropomorphic, scrawny, and will not die. They see it get run over by a Mack truck, fall off a cliff, get caught in dynamite blasts, but still it lives. Until someone shoots it with a silver bullet. No, it's not a Nuwisha. It does hand the players a page of seeminly indecipherable scrawl, which contains the gospel (Animal Man 5).
The PCs are forced to go aboard the world's largest ship, effectively a floating country. Adding so manypeople causes the society aboard the ship to break down into utter barbarism. By the time enouh people are dead for a social order to reassert itself, the survivors display all the signs of having regressed to the point of re-developing a bicameral mind.
Some of the other disc encounters shoud be encounters with the secret history of the 20th century. Weaponised ebola cannisters smuggled into peaceful protests. Internet death cults holding clues to a disc even though they don't know it. CIA cyborgs. KGB psychics. All the good shit. This should be a tour-de-force through every weird urban legend you can think of and then some.
One of the discs is given pride of place in the head offices of a sentient corporation that aims to have every person on the planet as an employee. The PCshave to work out how to destroy something that doesn't physically exist yet that has all the status and brand recognition it could ever need, thanks to the networking of the Overmind.
Information hunts running through the Diital Web and the High Umbra are always fun and give you a few good places to come back to while running Judgment. Speaking of which, do it. Daath gives the players a running starrt (two weeks in game until the Tenth Seat shows up and panopticon goes apeshit). If worst comes to the worst, then Chokmah can be given when the PCs talk with the Computer in the Spy's Demise or with Tychodies before he vanishes along with the rest of the Kop. Kether should be found somewhere so symbolic it hurts.
Why complete the Tree? Because it creates the Knife of Ixon, the other half of the First Focus and one of the few things that can disrupt Voormas. Combining all of the discs requires a Conjunctional working using all Spheres at rank 3. Everyone involved in the Rote must have bonded with a Psychopomp - their Avatars must be a reflection of the whole of reality, not just the lower Spehira. If this condition is not met, things go rather tits up. Without the meaning provided by the Psychopomp frgments, the Magi succede only in empowering the meaningless shells of the Spheres -- the Qlippoth. The Qlippothic Spheres are the Nephandic take on magic, and the name is not a coincidence. If the PCs are dumb enough not to check what they need to do (there is a written copy of the combination Rote somewhere in the High Umbral Library) then they deserve all they get, which is likely to be something akin to Hell on Earth.