Introduction: Magic in the Shadows
by Michael Mulvihill
Magic in the Shadows is the advanced magic sourcebook for the Shadowrun game system. The material in this book expands the magic rules in the Shadowrun, Third Edition and introduces additional systems that add to the game's depth. This book introduces new concepts and adds elements to Shadowrun that greatly expand what magic can do and the variety of magical traditions, plus offers new spells, adept powers, totems and even magical security and threats.
Magic in the Shadows contains material originally published in various Shadowrun books that are long since out of print or that was based on out-of-date rules. Information contained in The Grimoire, Awakenings, Germany Sourcebook, TÍr Na nÓg, and Bug City has been revised and updated for use with SR3. Any references in this book to the basic Shadowrun rules refer to the third edition of the rules.
Magic In The Shadows begins with The Awakened World, a chapter on how magic and the Awakening have affected the Sixth World, from the law to religion to business. Even popular culture has grasped the potential for exploiting magic. The chapter gives the gamemaster ideas on how to present magic in her campaign and allows for a more cohesive blend between the fantasy and futuristic elements.
The Paths of Magic delves into the single most important element in magic—the magical tradition used by the character. This section presents more diverse magical choices to complement the shamanistic, hermetic and adept paths. For example, players may create an Oriental mage/priest that follows the path of wuxing, a hougan that follows the path of voodoo, or an elven warrior that follows the Path of the Wheel. The Paths of Magic also offers suggestions for playing magically active characters from other cultures, from aboriginal magic to witchcraft. Information on druids, elemental mages, new adept options and awakened oddities such as those who perform miracles, psionics and those whose magic has made them mad makes the choices for magical characters nearly limitless.
The Awakened Character gives both players and gamemasters options of creating magical characters by the numbers, including a section discussing cyberware and its magical impact. This section also introduces the concept of geasa, tools characters can use to offset magical loss.
The Magical Skills covers ritual sorcery, a way to perform high-level magic or make magical attacks from a distance; introduces the skill of Enchanting, which allows characters to create magical foci and fetishes; and spell design, a system for creating new spells. This section includes new foci, as well as rules on alchemy and such exotic magical creations as orichalcum.
Initiation, the way a magician gains more magical powers and abilities, and metamagic, ten advanced powers available to initiated magicians, are linked together. You can't have one without the other. Initiation and Metamagic describes the process and results of initiation. The information on magical groups, some beneficial, others demonic, explains why such organizations represent the fastest way to initiate and to gain insight into magical libraries and new spells.
With greater power comes the ability to call forth even more powerful sprits. Spirits describes the various denizens of the astral plane and the metaplanes, from watcher spirits with the intelligence of a loyal dog to free spirits—the most powerful and dangerous of the spirits, who answer to no one and wield their power at their own whim. This chapter discusses loa spirits and zombies from voodoo and two new spirits types: spirits of the elements and ancestor spirits. Finally, this section includes rules for conjuring ally spirits—familiar spirits that are personalized to a character's specific needs.
The Planes provides more depth to the basic astral plane rules described in SR3. This section gives gamemasters guidelines on movement, new wards, and astral security measures, background counts, mana warps, mana surges and other magical phenomena. The mysterious metaplanes are also revealed, including rules for astral quests.
Not everyone uses magic for good; there are those who wish to use it in ways that endanger everyone. Magical Threats describes magical opponents such as insect shamans, toxic shamans and corrupted mages, and the mysterious blood mages.
The final four chapters present new adept powers, new spells, new totems and a complete list of magical gear. Spell design templates and a character reference sheet for the magically active appear at the end of the book.
For all its fantasy trappings, the Shadowrun game is grounded in reality. The setting is Earth in the not-too-distant future. The elements of megacorporations and personalized IDs linking an individual to a global computer network ring true. Weapons and technology in Shadowrun are feasible, if not current. Ordinary people today can accept the possibility of this less hopeful and much darker future.
What makes Shadowrun unique is the inclusion of the fantastic; of magic.
In a purely fantastic setting, magic can exist with nary a second thought. Mages can conjure spirits, cast all kinds of spells, create all kinds of allies and homunculi and even turn people into newts. No one blinks, no one asks how does that affect the laws of physics, no one is concerned with the reality of the physical/astral interface or the effects of magic on the greater gaia-sphere. A fantasy world is a fantastic place and magic fits right in.
In the "real" world that is Shadowrun, however, the first thing players want to know is the answers to those very questions. People seem unwilling to accept the fantastic until in can be proven to work in a "real" setting. With that in mind, we tackled the revision of the Shadowrun magic system.
Magic in Shadowrun has always been the number one problem area, mainly because you are taking fantastic elements and, to be honest, a power scale beyond a realm we can understand and adding them to a realistic setting that can be touched, felt, and seen. The jarring impact when those two meet is where the cracks begin to show.
Magic In The Shadows is the first expansion to the magic system given its foundation in Shadowrun, Third Edition. I'm glad to say, so far so good. The entire structure not only stands well, but so far we've had no cracks.
We had to make sure the we continued the painstaking process of "reality checking" with all of the advanced magical rules. As we reviewed existing rules and compared them to decisions we'd made in SR3, it quickly became obvious that some things were really out of whack, while other things needed only minor rules revisions. Some elements, such as initiation, metamagic and spell design, have changed so much that you might not recognize them. On the other hand, ritual sorcery, geasa and magical threats received no more than a logical clean-up by adding clarification to rules that worked.
So how do we go about radically altering a set of rules? Well, we began by comparing the existing rules with the magic rules in SR3 and matching the rules to the mechanics presented in that book. But we also had to check those mechanics to make sure they corresponded to the realistic nature of the world of Shadowrun.
Initiation is a great example of how we accomplished this process. At first look, initiation appeared to be a game-breaker, offering too much power too quickly with no real disadvantages. Using our yardstick of how the mechanic works in the realism of SR3, we acknowledged that it was unrealistic to the real-world setting and therefore seriously upsetting the balance of the realistic world.
Let's look at how initiation had been presented. First, upon achieving Grade 0, you received six metamagical abilities, access to the metaplanes, plus an automatic increase to your Magic Rating and the chance to rid yourself of those annoying geasa. A mage goes from 0 to Mach 1 in a blink of an eye. Just a bit unrealistic for a realistically based game world. No wonder everyone wanted to geek the mage first!
While we feel that we leveled the playing field in SR3 for all players, from the focus-hungry mage to the hyper- cybered street warrior, the initiation system of Shadowrun led to the same abuse of power we countered in SR3.
In order to take the fantastic element of advanced initiated metamagic and level the playing field, we made some very simple, yet profound changes in what initiation means. The problem wasn't in the idea of initiation, but rather in the all-or-nothing approach to gaining metamagical abilities. With that understanding, we looked at what initiation gains the character. First, you gain a point to your Magic Attribute. You also gain metamagic abilities, access to the metaplanes and the chance to remove geasa. There were no problems in that list. What you gained seemed logical. Therefore, we determined that it was not what you gained, but how you gained it that impacted game play.
Gaining all that at Grade 0 meant that you received all the powers but no corresponding Magic Increase; with each subsequent initiation, you gained Magic but no new powers. This resulted in all magicians being the same once they initiated. A Grade 4 bear shaman had the same magical powers and strength as a Grade 4 hermetic or a Grade 4 voodoo hougan. So it seemed logical to somehow slow down the initiation process, at the same time maintaining the players' control over their characters' direction.
The answer was something we call graduated initiation. Upon initiation (you begin at Grade 1; there is no more Grade Zero) you receive two "free benefits," access to the metaplanes and increased astral abilities (an increase in astral reaction and access to Astral Pool modifications). You also have an additional choice. You can choose to raise your Magical Attribute by 1 and gain a single metamagical ability, or you could shed a geasa (a virtual magical increase). Your third option is to increase your Magic Attribute by 1 and alter your astral signature. (We added this option because magic in SR3 offers many ways to crack the astral signature left behind by a mage. It makes sense that one of the things taught to magicians would be how to protect themselves from being tracked by their astral signature. While it wasn't a big enough change to warrant becoming a metamagical ability, we also figured this was a slightly more advanced magical technique, not something that everyone who slings spells knows how to do.
To increase the choices for initiating, we doubled the number of metamagical abilities and increased the penalty for geasa. As a result, that Grade 4 bear shaman (with 4 points of Magic increase and anchoring, centering, reflecting and shielding) would most likely be totally different than a Grade 4 mage (3 points of Magic increase, lost one geasa, changed his astral signature once, and has masking and cleansing), who would of course be different than the Grade 4 hougan (2 points of Magic increase, one astral signature change, two geasa lost and has possession).
Not only does this system allow mages to be unique, it gives them continuing incentive to initiate. If a mage never took a geasa, it would still take ten initiations to gain all the metamagical abilities! It also satisfies our most crucial test—does it make sense in the "realistic" world of Shadowrun. The answer is yes, it does, because a magician should have to "learn" one thing before automatically getting the next, and the player can choose a course for the mage, personalizing his or her magic.
That was the standard we applied to the entire advanced magic system. Line by line, rule by rule we used the criteria established for the revision of initiation and metamagic for every aspect of the magic system. And in the end we threw some bones, created some enchantments and cast some spells to get it all to work.