PCs are assumed to be Lords of Order or Chaos, or their close associates.
The Court of Order was created near the beginning of time and before the physical universe, which it (normally) helps to sustain. It consists of Queen Themis and five orders of Lords. The highest order is the Eight High Lords. The second order contains hundreds of members, the third order has billions, and the fourth and fifth orders have memberships in the quintillions and googols.
PC courtiers are members of the fifth order and, in their natural manifestation, look like four tightly-packed glassy spheres, enclosed in a larger sphere about half a meter wide, clear with rainbow-tinted highlights. (The higher orders contain six, eight, twelve, or twenty spheres.) There's a chakra (or sephira), a power center, wherever two spheres touch, for a total of ten.
PCs may have been created at the beginning of time or they may have been created later, by a lord of the upper orders (from third up to Themis herself). Given their loose connection to physical time, they may be of any age, regardless of their date of creation.
The Court of Chaos was created near the beginning of time and before the physical universe, which it (normally) helps to sustain. It consists of Queen Tyche and the assorted Lords. It has no formal ranks as in Order, but there is the Inner Gang, which has from six to eleven members; the number is uncertain; status changes over time, and not all of these beings are entirely distinct individuals. Lords of Chaos vary greatly in power, with the less powerful being more numerous, as in Order.
PC courtiers are low-ranking and, in their natural manifestation, look like irridescent blobs containing two to six smaller blobs. Think of large, irregular soap bubbles. There is a fluctuating number of chakras (or sephiroth), power centers, wherever two bubbles touch, varying from seven to thirteen.
PCs may have been created at the beginning of time or they may have been created later, by a more powerful lord or by Tyche herself. Given their loose connection to physical time, they may be of any age, regardless of their date of creation.
The PCs, having been assigned to duties in the physical universe, are given physical manifestations. These, as the "Breakdown" section makes clear, can look like anything, but the assumption is that PCs will look human.
Manifest courtiers do not need to eat, drink, sleep, rest, or breathe, though they enjoy doing all of those. They are not subject to disease and are unaging. They do not breed. Theoretically, they are immortal; if too much damage is inflicted, they may appear to die, but they resurrect eventually. PCs may meet courtiers who have returned after long absences. But "eventually" is too long to wait for a slain PC to return, so the effect on play is the same as dying.
Courtiers can switch between their manifest forms and the native forms, but the effort is considerable. The native forms are not usually visible or palpable, but can be made so.
Courtiers can "regenerate" — transform their manifestation — but this is even more exhausting.
Courtiers can perceive any physical or psychic phenomena if they think to look for them. They can see radio masts glowing with radio waves, neutrinos from the Sun shining up through the Earth at night, electromagnetic fields around appliances, warps in spacetime, psychic signatures, disembodied spirits, you name it. They can certainly see in the dark by infrared. They can see through walls if there's an X-ray source handy (though there seldom is). But they can't necessarily make sense of what they see unless they have had practice interpreting it — say, hearing radio or seeing TV shows without a set. And they won't notice stimuli foreign to their manifestations unless they think to look for them. These have only a human range of resolution — no telescopic or microscopic vision without a radical change of size.
There is no particular difference between Orderly and Chaotic manifestations, except that the Orderly ones are usually lefthanded and, of course, neat, while the Chaotic ones usually have mis-matched eyes and are just as naturally casual in style.
The courtiers on Earth form a far-flung community of only twenty-seven members, who keep in touch by a variety of means, both mundane and arcane. On the whole, they get along amicably and exhibit little partisan feeling. They also sometimes have visitors from other worlds, mostly other bodies in the Solar System, where life is very dull in comparison to Earth.
Back during the times of the Hanseatic League, the Earth courtiers pooled resources and began investing. This was the beginning of the Exchequer, as the courtiers call it. By combining the gambler's savvy of the Chaos Lords with the Order Lords' attention to detail, it provides each courtier with about $50,000 a year — even ones like Ethelraed and Essais, who seldom use it. There is also an emergency fund of unknown depth. Ever since some unfortunate incidents involving the South Seas Bubble and the Great Depression, the purse strings of the Exchequer are held by two tight-lipped, tight-fisted courtiers, one of each Court. All this frees the courtiers to pursue their mundane (if eccentric) identities and their duties.
So what are these duties? The Courts "broadcast" morphic fields (from Order) and raw energy (from Chaos). You are here to make sure these get "received" in the vicinity of Earth. You must make sure the "Lefthand Path" (from Order) and the "Righthand Path" (from Chaos) stay clear. Irregularly, but averaging three or four times a month, your trained perceptions will notice a muting in the normal transmission. (No mundane agency could notice anything at all. Very few arcane ones could, either.) You then have about an hour before it chokes off entirely.
Any one courtier, anywhere on the planet, of either court, can handle the situation for either Path. Traditionally, everyone pitches in to help if they can. Of course, over the five billion years of the Earth's history, there have been a few times when no one got there in time. In those cases, the situation was retrieved by some higher Lord back in one of the Courts, followed by a sharply worded note about attention to duty and the threat of reassignment or recall.
Since the Breakdown, with the Powers trying to substitute for the Courts, it is anyone's guess how often the Paths will need clearing, or what will happen if they are not cleared.
Another duty, imposed by the Powers, not the Courts, is to keep a reasonably low profile on Earth. Founding empires and religions would interfere with Their plans for the place.
It costs a Lord of Order 3 psi points to clear the Lefthand Path. It costs them 1d6+1 psi points to clear the Righthand Path.
It costs a Lord of Chaos 4 psi points to clear the Lefthand Path. It costs them 1d6 psi points to clear the Righthand Path.
A courtier can switch from its manifest form (usually humanoid) to its native form, or back, at a cost of 5 psi points and 1 focus point. No dice roll is needed.
Normally, the native form is invisible and impalpable to all mundane senses. It can be made visible and palpable at a cost of 3 psi points. Switching off again costs another 3 points. There is no fine-tuning — no partial or selective visibility or palpability. The native form is voiceless and can be "heard" only by telepaths or fellow metaphysicals. The native form is weightless and can fly indefinitely at automobile speeds. It can manipulate (with kinetic aura or pseudopods) as well as a human form, provided it is visible and palpable.
A courtier can change the shape of its manifest form at a cost of 2d6 focus points and a number of psi points depending on how radical the change of shape is:
1 point — different age, sex, or race but the same species (e.g. man to woman, black to white)
10 points — different species but the same class (e.g. human to wolf)
20 points — different class but the same phylum (e.g. human to frog)
30 points — different phylum but the same kingdom (e.g. human to insect)
40 points — different kingdom but the same biosphere (e.g. human to tree)
50 points — out of the biosphere (e.g. human to rock or machine or alien)
Adjust your listed strength to reflect the new shape. Changing shape takes a number of minutes equal to the number of psi points spent. You cannot regenerate again for at least a month.
You can shift to any race or species the Earth has ever produced, but making up something novel counts as shifting out of the biosphere and costs 50 points. Go to a different planet, and a different assortment of shapes becomes available. Go to a planet colonized by Earthlings, and you get access to all the native forms plus whatever Earthly ones have been introduced.
You cannot fine-tune regeneration. Whenever you are a nine-banded armadillo, you look like the same nine-banded armadillo. Whatever race or sex of human you become, you have the same build and face under the variations. For that matter, close acquaintances, especially if they are shapeshifters or fellow courtiers, will tend to recognize your "style" in any shape.
A courtier must make a focus roll, usually x3 or x5, to notice stimuli foreign to its current form. Interpreting the stimuli may require specific skills or experience.
Unlike most characters, who restore their full psi-point quota in a night's sleep, courtiers only get one psi point back every night. On the other hand, they have no quota, no upper limit. If they go for a hundred days without using psi points, they have a hundred psi points in their heads. Their heads is the only place they can keep them. Courtiers cannot use psi batteries or psi-chargers, or give or receive psi points from other characters. Courtiers start the game with 2d6 psi points. (If your character would normally have more, consider that they had to be spent getting yourself and everyone else home from near-orbit after the Breakdown.)
Various people in various realms regard the Breakdown in different ways.
These are courtiers who want things back the way they were. They willingly obey Unturvo's directions. They will keep the Paths clear, keep a lookout for new problems, and, if the opportunity presents itself, work to end the diplomatic crisis. Since most of the Earth crew get along pretty well, regardless of Court, this is probably the default position of courtiers on Earth.
These are courtiers who side with their Court against the other Court, the Elders, and the Powers. They always disliked the other side. So what if Archangels and Powers want them to patch things up? They are not members of the Court. They have no right to command. Earth? Earth is a fun place, but one's first loyalty is to the Court. The queen? She was against the severance at that moment, but she may have changed her mind since. Anyway, she's a queen, not a tyrant. She shouldn't go against the will of her own Court.
Rogue courtiers don't feel any great loyalty to their Court or to the old order of things. A rogue will decide that now is a great time to strike out on their own. But where? Well, there are many possibilities, but Earth is one. Now's the time to kick back or cut loose with whatever private plans they may have had but never dared put in motion.
The people and other souls of Earth do not appear to remember that the Breakdown ever happened, under normal conditions. Things might be different if you encountered them during out-of-body experiences, or while dead or dreaming. Things might be different for psychics or occultists, or for those few humans who know about the Courts. If they do remember the Breakdown, they will almost certainly be puzzled and upset. If they find out what's going on, you'd expect almost any of them to side with the Collaborators and want things (notably Earth) to continue. But there are six billion of them, and some are very odd, especially the ones who are likeliest to learn about the Breakdown.
Broadly speaking, other planets are in the same situation as Earth. If your travels somehow take you to another inhabited planet, the details of the situation depend on how aware the inhabitants are of the Breakdown and the Courts. The courtiers from the other bodies of the Solar System may well drop by to trade gossip, rumors, and speculation, but they can't change the broad outlines of the situation.
The Breakdown did not happen in any physical frame of reference, so it is possible it has had effects in the past, which have not yet been recognized. Fringey people tend to move in the same circles, so it is possible that some courtiers have met time travelers from the future. Since the future is there, clearly the world is not going to end because of the Breakdown. However, this is no guarantee that the world will be a place the courtiers will like much. For all they can tell, in the future, the Courts have been abolished, the Powers have come up with some other means of getting energy and morphic fields, and who knows what has happened to the courtiers? The dynamics of time make it unlikely that the courtiers can find out more except by the traditional process of waiting.
Earth on parallel timelines is in exactly the same situation as this Earth. As the courtiers understand it, all the Earths are even maintained by the same set of Powers, though the populations of humans and courtiers are different.
Unlike the mundane inhabitants of Earth, the fays and other folk of the nearby arcane realms are vividly aware of the Breakdown. Most are upset and bewildered. The great sages and mages know exactly what is happening, and the vast majority want things back the way they were as soon as possible.
There are, however, some folk who see opportunities in the Breakdown. If the Courts are abolished, perhaps ex-courtiers will be available as partners, servants, or slaves. Or perhaps one could take their place and, with no supervising Court, run the distribution of Order and Chaos in a way closer to the heart's desire. Or perhaps the current situation will just become permanent, presenting occasional and useful loopholes in the normal strictures of reality.
The Seven Elders want normality restored, urgently. They may have sharp remarks for any courtiers they encounter, but they will certainly help any collaborators if they can. They will be unremittingly hostile to anything that stands in the way of the restoration. However, they were always hard to contact and are now even harder.
Many of the dead are still actively interested in Earth and much more aware of the Breakdown than the living are. They are, however, people whose original brains have rotted away, and not all of them are thinking clearly. This could get messy.
The celestials are not pleased with the Courts as a whole. If a courtier is not a collaborator, it is in trouble with any angel it meets. Even if it is a collaborator, it may be in trouble if the particular angel gives more weight to the courtier's membership in a rebellious Court than to its individual efforts to keep things going.
The Powers, Virtues, and Dominations ("the Powers" for short, a.k.a. the Eretsarin, a.k.a. "the gods") are the particular angels trying to keep the world going during the Breakdown and are thus very busy. Besides the above attitudes, the Powers do not want any unnecessary interuptions.
There is no unity in Hell, so it is not surprising that devils disagree about the Breakdown. If they weren't concerned with Earth, they are generally indifferent, but demons who are mainly angry at the angels see this as a good time to attack them, or at least the Powers. Rogue and loyalist courtiers may be tempted to make common cause with them.
Destructive and nihilistic demons see this as a great way to end the world early, but corruptive demons need something to corrupt. Collaborating courtiers may be tempted to make common cause with these.