Paradigm Basics: The most basic explanation of the Virtual Adepts' paradigm is that reality is made of information which can be adjusted as if it were a computer program. Extrapolating from this, it seems that the Adepts view all of reality as one virtual reality simulation that they can alter with their computers. However, what people do not understand is that "reality is information" is simply a metaphor, and that the Adepts do more to work their Science than simply punch commands into a computer.
In actuality, the true origin of the Virtual Adepts does not begin with the difference engine, but with the theories of Pythagoras. Known best for his theorem that determines the length of the sides of a right triangle, Pythagoras' developments were far more extensive. He pioneered entirely new uses for mathematics and geometry, and began to apply these maths to the world around him, discovering that many things that seemed unrelated were linked by mathematical relationships. In particular, he discovered that tonal qualities and musical notes were inherently mathematical. While later days would see a rising of a near-religious cult devoted to his work, and his discoveries becoming part of mystical geometries, his beginnings were highly scientific. Reality could be understood and, potentially, manipulated by understanding of mathematical formulae.
Further developments in these sciences proceeded after the death of Pythagoras. It was discovered that a subtle taper of a column made a ceiling look higher to the human eye. Ratios were found between the proportions of the human body and between the perspectives of art. At the same time, new tricks were being discovered and applied to the manipulations of mathematics. A sufficiently advanced algebraic statement could relate any two statements with only a variable's difference, and the development of the calculus made even more such things possible. Reality was based on math, and math could be manipulated.
Proto-Adepts in the pre-Victorian eras had learned the secrets of kabbalists and numerologers and distilled them for their pure mathematical understandings. They had begun to create formulae that could alter the entire world, by discovering the relationship between something that could not be affected and something that could be altered. Patterns of sound and light could be adjusted to follow precise logarithms and geometrical progressions that fundamentally altered the world. There were loopholes in reality that could be exploited by finding them and manipulating them. Yet the process was slow and involved, and often the number of changing variables meant that a formula was outdated long before it was done.
Babbage's amazing engine began to change all of this. Through the use of computers, calculations that once took days could be produced in hours. As the technology improved, this speed became even better, until the growing Difference Engineers could enact startling changes to reality within a few minutes, provided they had a comprehensive program.
Modern Adepts have broken from the Technocracy, but still do not accept the definition of most Traditions that what they do is "magick" or "willworking." Instead, they use their enlightened intuition to discover the loopholes in reality, using computers and math theory, and exploit them mercilessly.
Adepts do not simply press a button on their computer and somehow think this controls reality. Computers, with sufficient data, can observe reality and produce the strings of mathematical figures that influence reality, but reality itself must be influenced by more effective patterns. Quite often this involves incredibly high or low pitched tonal ranges or quick flashes of light patterns, and these can be produced by devices interfacing with a computer. When an Adept punches a button, it is finishing a formula and activating a device, and this is how reality is altered.
The tradition is accused of being immature and overly concerned with being "Elite," but this is for a good reason. An unenlightened scientist, though capable of reproducing a formula, cannot make the intuitive breakthroughs needed to quickly and completely affect reality. A user without access to the latest in equipment and theories is going to perform effects much slower and with less finesse than a better-outfitted user. With a paradigm that works better and better as the technology improves, being behind the cutting edge makes one very definitely weaker than those who are 1337.
Paradigm Casting: As the effects of the VAs are based on running complicated formulae, and writing programs to produce these results, Adepts have a really hard time with fast casting. Any spontaneous effect requires, at the very least, several minutes working out a program that can run the relevant data. This time is reduced if the caster has recently done something similar, such that existing code can be modified to produce a new result. Eventually, after seeing repeated need for an effect in a variety of situations, an Adept will invent a streamlined and easily-used program that can accept relevant data and immediately output a result, such that an effect can be gotten off in a much shorter period. These "rote" programs can be bound to hotkeys, but most require at least a few guesses from the Adept to be input into the formula fields. "Ritualized" effects typically take several hours, as the Adept must write new programs that are capable of producing a very powerful line of code and be careful to debug in case of paradoxical errors.
Paradigm Benefits: The primary benefit of the Adepts' paradigm is that it is remarkably subtle; it is not especially common for people to associate bizarre happenings with someone quietly typing on a laptop. However, given the detailed requirements of quickly creating accurate programs and formula, Adepts gain +2 dice to any rolls involving using a computer or mathematics to create a program or formula, and can easily custom-create programs that can help with almost any difficult computer use.
Paradigm Limits: The major limit of the Virtual Adept paradigm is dependence on cutting edge tools. Computers are easily stolen or broken, and an Adept is crippled without one. Even with a computer, a caster with outdated technology or who is missing essential components (GPS uplinks, integrated tone generators, etc.) will take much longer to do an effect than if properly outfitted.
An Adept that is completely without a computer can do calculations with pen and paper, or even in her head, but this will take hours or days longer and be subject to an extreme difficulty penalty due to the lack of proper tools.