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In a Shadowrun 4e game I play in, an adept with the Astral Perception power wanted to sit in a bar and astrally spy on something behind the window. SR4A p.191 states :

Non-magical and non-living objects have only gray, lackluster shadows rather than auras, but pick up impressions from being in contact with living auras.

It is unclear about transparent materials such as glass, or reflective surfaces, how does this work ?

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2 Answers 2

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As explained in Street Magic,

An astral shadow is a "drab reflections of lifeless objects present in the physical world." (p. 112 - Shadows)

p. 114 - Astral Visibility :

Shadows of physical objects in the astral plane may be drab and insubstantial, but they are still opaque and can prevent targeting. Items that are transparent or mirrored in the real world (like a car window) simply impair visibility as astral shadows.

So in this scenario, the adept could not see through the window since glass, as any other astral shadow, is opaque to Astral Perception.

The only exception to shadows impairing astral visibility is clothing (Street Magic p.112 - Auras) :

clothes and other non-living objects are often outshone by the brightness of the wearer’s aura

Contrary to cyberware which, by its intrusive nature, leaves shadowy gaps in auras, which are easily perceived by an Assenssing check with 2+ successes, while bioware, being living tissue, needs at least 4 successes (SR4A p.191 - Assensing Table)

EDIT : the sentence "simply impair visibility" being vague at best, let me extrapolate from other sources :

SR4A p.191 - Astral Perception :

Astral perception is a psychic sense that is not linked to the character’s physical sight.

While there may be some material "simply impairing" (that is : a material which you can astrally "see" through, but with some malus) a psychic sense, I can think of no reason why simple glass would be such a material. Glass' ability to let light go through itself doesn't justify an ability to let emotions do the same.

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The vagueness of this wording makes me question if that is true. "Impair" doesn't mean that they necessarily can't see through it at all, and could simply mean it is more difficult to see through, but not impossible. –  Zibbobz Sep 25 '13 at 13:58
    
You're right, let me edit to to clarify. –  Trajan Sep 25 '13 at 14:13

As quoted in Trajan's answer, p.114 of Street Magic states "Shadows of physical objects in the astral plane may be drab and insubstantial, but they are still opaque and can prevent targeting. Items that are transparent or mirrored in the real world (like a car window) simply impair visibility as astral shadows."

If transparent items "simply impair visibility" instead of being opaque, then they are not opaque. They are difficult, but not impossible, to see through and would impose the normal penalties for poor visibility.

(This would be more explicitly clear if the first sentence read "opaque objects" rather than "physical objects", since a car window is still a "physical object", but it is still structurally clear that the second sentence is drawing a contrast between transparent or mirrored items and the objects described in the first sentence.)

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the exact quote is "simply impair visibility as astral shadows." Astral shadows being opaque. –  Trajan Sep 26 '13 at 12:10
    
If that is the case, then there is no purpose for the second sentence. You wouldn't say "Most physical objects are opaque. Walls are opaque." because walls fall under the first sentence's statement. You would say "Most physical objects are opaque. Windows are transparent." because the second sentence establishes an exception to the first. –  Dave Sherohman Sep 27 '13 at 8:41
    
Since this a misunderstood subject by many GM, I think it's worth hammering it in. I would have said "Most physical objects are opaque. Even windows are opaque." but heh, things happen. Don't you agree with my edit, though ? Windows being transparent to a psychic sense feels right for you ? –  Trajan Sep 27 '13 at 8:53
    
Actually, yes, windows being transparent to assensing does feel right to me in the context of Shadowrun. Windows don't block targeting for spells and (as I understand it) magic and that-which-is-assensed are the same kind of "stuff", so if one passes through windows, I would expect the other to do the same. (Disclaimer: I've never read SR4, so it may have been retconned, but earlier editions made a point of clarifying that magic can trace line of sight through windows, off mirrors, etc., but not via video cameras.) –  Dave Sherohman Sep 27 '13 at 9:42
    
That's still true in SR4, but I don't feel magic-through-sight is connected to assensing-through-glass. A magician can cast spell through an fiberoptic system (as attested multiple times, but in the Mage Sight Google in SR4A p.332). I can see your point, though, it feels unnatural that one can cast a spell on a non-assensable target. But it seems even more unnatural to me that a psychic sense follows the same rules that real-world optics. –  Trajan Sep 27 '13 at 12:14

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