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I noticed that in Shadowrun there are a lot of security meassures against spells but only very few if any against spirits. For example there are mirrored windows or the condition that if you are astrally perceiving that you can only target dual natured targets with spells. While that does seem to provide some security against spells it seems to be useless against spirits. Assuming the mage knows the location of the target which he probably can easily find via astral projection he can just send a spirit to take a target out. A nonawakened person is pretty much helpless against a spirit and you can send them pretty much anywhere as a remote service. If you would not want it to do as a remote service, then you could just remain in the astral a few hundred meters from the crime scene. Furthermore it seems to me that the astral signature vanishes with the spirit. There might be one at the place of summoning but that could be pretty much anywhere and can be easily pushed into the background even before the attempt is started.

A magician using astral perception can “wipe clean” a temporary astral signature (such as from sorcery) or hasten its normal fading. A magician can spend a Com- plex Action to reduce the amount of time it takes for the signature to fade by 1 hour (mentally pushing the signature into the background energy, if you will). No test is required. This action can be done multiple times until the astral signature is gone. If the signature is not completely erased, it will be obvious to others assensing it that someone tampered with it. (p.312)

Is there anyway to find the summoner if there isn't an awakened witness that assensed the spirit to get the astral signature of the summoner?

EDIT: This question is aimed at two things primarily:

  1. Precautions that you can do that would make this approach harder, similair to one way windows against spells.
  2. Ways to find the summoner after the target has been killed since it shouldn't take longer then 6 seconds after which the spirit is gone.

I hope this makes it clearer.

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Basically: Not really, unless they're pretty sloppy and don't counter your Astral Tracking. Although spirits might not be as unstoppably dangerous as you think.

Any spirit influencing material matters will leave a material trace, just like any physical being - because they must materialize to affect the material world.

If a spirit wants to affect anything on the physical plane, it has to materialize first (p. 314). It gets physical attributes based on its type (Spirits, p. 303) and appears as a solid, physical version of its astral form—it’s relatively solid even if it doesn’t look solid, like a spirit whirlwind or a water elemental.

The spirit is going to leave some kind of physical trace at the scene, and an astral impression wherever it travels. That will fade relatively quickly though, and the mage can wipe it clean - so you're right, it is quite a challenge to track a summoner who wants to stay hidden when you arrive on the scene way too late. Just as it would be hard to track down a Rigger who used a sniper drone, or to find a decker who stole your files, or to find a sneaky assassin, 8 hours after the event when they've covered their tracks.

You do, however have Astral Tracking to fall back on if the mage hasn't erased their tracks everywhere the spirit has been.

Furthermore it seems to me that the astral signature vanishes with the spirit.

I'm not seeing where that's the case in the rules. You've even got a "+1 for every hour since the link was active" mod in the tracking threshold table (p315), which indicates you can track stuff that happened in the past after the link is gone as well as things that are happening now. If a spirit was there 4 hours ago, for example, this would suggest you can trace its origin at a +4 threshold (and tracking master by spirit is a +0 modifier for bound spirits, or +2 if it wasn't bound).

On the theme of danger...

A nonawakened person is pretty much helpless against a spirit

This isn't necessarily the case.

The materialization thing means that even unawakened victims can defend themselves quite effectively. Once the spirit materializes to make its assault they can physically attack it just like any metahuman opponent. Spirits do have all manner of freaky powers, and can more easily sneak up on the unawakened, but they still go down if you pump them full of bullets. Even before they materialize you've got a chance of spotting them:

Physical beings may sense when an astral form passes through their aura. Make a Perception + Intuition (4) [Mental] Test—you receive a +2 dice pool bonus if you’re Awakened. If the test is successful, the character feels slightly breathless, and they experience a chill or tingling sensation from the passing of the astral form. Security personnel are trained to recognize this feeling as a sign of an astral intruder.

Dangerous, yes, but not really any more so than other sneaky backstabbers who might try to kill you.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I get the vanishing of the signature from p.312 which says: "Semi-permanent objects such as alchemical preparations and watchers contain an astral signature while they last." I could not find anything about Spirits directly but I would consider them semi-permanent. You can attack a Spirit but since they get the immunity to normal weapons you need heavy weapons. If you use regular ammo and have 1 Nethit you need an assault rifle or warhawk to even have a chance of hurting a force 6 spirit and they are very good at dodging. Spotting spirits in astral requires touch and thus is easily avoided. \$\endgroup\$ – Antrix Oct 6 '15 at 17:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ While it is true that unawakened characters can defend themselves from spirits, materialized spirits have Immunity to Normal Weapons, which mechanically translates into Hardened Armor. \$\endgroup\$ – Dyndrilliac Jan 9 '16 at 9:17
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p315, Core Book

Active spells are linked to their casters, spirits are linked to their summoners, astrally projecting magicians are linked to their physical bodies, and foci and magical lodges are linked to the magicians who activated them. Awakened entities who assense the astral signature of these astral forms can track their links through the astral plane back to their sources. Following an astral link requires an Assensing + Intuition (5,1 hour) [Astral] Extended Test modified as noted on the Astral Tracking Modifiers table.

Emphasis mine.

So sure. Your spirit gets observed, or held down and observed, and they now know what your astral signature is and where you are.

Hope you have Masking and a LOT of dice at it (and some way to hide your signature when you're asleep). Because if you tried to off someone important, spirits are going to be scouring the area for you, and the HTR team will be jetcoptering to that location also.

Overall, using a spirit anywhere it might be observed by an enemy mage is intensely dangerous, and balances spirit use considerably. With a link to you, they can straight up just kill you with a Ritual. From any range.

Watcher spirits come with assensing. Mana barriers can hold enemy spirits to use as links, as can (with some degree of fiat) stronger spirits (in the brute-force, held-down sense). 1% of the population is awakened, if low-magic or adepts or unaware of their magic, so even if only 0.1% are employable as wage-mages, that means you can still hire astral security to liaise with your week-per-force force 8 watcher spirits that get refreshed every 2 months or whatever.

Astrally Projecting mages can respond from across the world to an alarm in seconds. And bring bound spirits with them, or banish/attack/trap dual-natured spirits using mana spells, banishing, or mana barriers from the astral plane using their astral form. Astral travel is extremely fast, and high-initiative.

So all you need is an alarm pressed when the spirit first manifests, and soon, astrally projecting mages could be studying it, and 1 hour later your 'summoner assassin' has enemy spirits appearing in his bedroom, or just HTR knocking on his door.

The actual scary potato is the Ritual assassin, and it's why anyone who is rich or magical makes sure anything linked to them is burned instead of thrown out.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Ok they can track but only as long as the link exists. As soon as the Spirit is gone the link is gone. Which leaves you with the astral signature. But in the end it always requires an awakend person to observe or protect. When that is given sure you have a problem. And to repeat my question: "Is there anyway to find the summoner if there isn't an awakened witness that assensed the spirit to get the astral signature of the summoner?" \$\endgroup\$ – Antrix Oct 8 '15 at 14:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ This is a reason that any secure site has Watchers, @Antrix. They last for weeks, and 1% of all people are awakened - it's not expensive to employ a Magic-1 Mage for watcher spirits to liaise with. Wage-Mages make part of your actual (physical, matrix, astral) security breakfast. \$\endgroup\$ – user2754 Oct 8 '15 at 14:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ Ok this is the kind of answers I was looking for. That would cover at least sites that have a basic level of security. I admit I did not think about watchers. But they don't seem to hold weeks. p.298 says "A watcher lasts for a number of hours equal to its Force times the net hits on the sealing test." With 4 nethits and a Force of 6 that is 24 hours. but it is reasonable to assume that you could have one permanent on overwatch. Thank you. \$\endgroup\$ – Antrix Oct 8 '15 at 15:00
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The problem with Spirit-Sniping is that spirits aren't mindless and if you're spirit-sniping, you probably aren't around to make sure your Spirits follow their orders exactly the way you want them to. There are a host of reasons your Spirits might not be on board with murdering random people, e.g. Spirit Affinity. Even if your spirits are on board with eliminating the target, that doesn't mean they won't divulge your personal information if threatened with stuff they are scared of, bribed, or otherwise convinced to do so, or even seek out ways to get you killed while completing their mission, depending on how they feel about the summoning.

People don't need to find the spirit after the murder or even be awakened for this to be a problem; They can talk to the spirit before it kills the target, when it manifests (to fight the target or for any other reason), or it may comes and talks to them, ostensibly on its way to kill the target, because the Spirit feels bad about what it's doing or for any other reason. Non-awakened characters still have Charisma scores and social skills, and if they are given the opportunity to use them on your spirit, you may rapidly find yourself arrested and your target still alive.

That isn't to say it's particularly difficult to trace the spirit to you after the fact, though; just like the technologically unsavvy often retain someone with Matrix skills to handle their Matrix problems, the non-Awakened often retain Mages to handle their Magic problems. You aren't a technomancer; people know how mages work and have had plenty of time to study them and make defenses against you. The aptitude for magic is rare, sure, but it's not that rare. High security facilities generally employ several on-site mages and even a luxury apartment complex usually has a security mage on call (check the Advanced Lifestyle Rules in SR4's Runner's Companion; the Advanced Lifestyle rules is SR5's Run Faster are severely lacking and read like they're mostly edits to that book anyways). Not only does this mean your Spirits will have trouble getting to the target, what with wards, mana barriers, enemy Spirits guarding the target, and etc magical obstacles, it means that even if you do kill the target and dismiss your spirit, the security forces can attempt to astrally track the spirit back to you or, if it's really important, embark on a Metaplanar Quest after assensing the spirit's Astral Signature to find and question it. Note that the astral signatures of spirits DO NOT disappear when the spirit does; they remain for the amount of time specified in the Core Rules.

If you treat your spirits well, and/or are working on their behalf, this strategy can go well, but there's lots of room for mistakes, competent opponents, bad luck, and/or betrayal to shut this down hard.

Pretty much the only people who always benefit from this are non-mantis insect shamans, since they are definitively serving their Spirits and the Spirits are above all dedicated to their organization and reading their mind is a recipe for disaster and keeping them prisoner isn't really an option and the Spirits need the shaman alive until the Queen is summoned and the Shaman has to avoid being found while letting spirits out in public anyways.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I think getting information from the spirit is a very cool idea. The problem is to find the spirit after the deed has been done since it would return to its plane and you would have basically no way to trace it unless you know its signature. But even if you would have that then you would either need to summon this spirit specifically, if that is possible, or make a metaplanar quest to find it. The morality is of course a possible issue and a huge topic. But unless the spirit has an allergy I don't see how you could scare or bribe it assuming your unawakened. Could you elaborate that further? \$\endgroup\$ – Antrix Oct 7 '15 at 11:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ I really don't see why being Awakened would have anything to do with Bribing a spirit; spirits want various things, and are always interested in Karma. c.f. the relevant sections in Street Grimoire. \$\endgroup\$ – Please stop being evil Oct 7 '15 at 18:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ Ok but that requires quite a bit of knowledge about spirits. Knowledge that most people probably don't have and I doubt the spirit shows up and says: "Give me your karma or I will kill you!". I would assume the spirit would act as ordered and I doubt many people woud try to negotiate with a Firespirit that clearly is trying to kill them. Furthermore I think it is questionable if you could even do such a transfer without beeing awakened or beeing able to conjure or the spirit having a specific power for that similar like a vampire. \$\endgroup\$ – Antrix Oct 8 '15 at 14:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Antrix Making Spirit pacts (e.g. giving Karma) explicitly does not require that one be awakened. The rest of your comment is setting-specific details contrary to the default setting information and a straw-manning of my explanation. Please remember that this site is a Q&A; if you want to discuss a subject matter, try asking on a forum. \$\endgroup\$ – Please stop being evil Oct 8 '15 at 15:49

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