Magical Variations for Shadowrun
Is Shadowrun magic too powerful? Many players and gamemasters have suggested that it is. I don’t think it’s quite so much a matter of power as it is of feel when it comes to dealing with magic in a role-playing game. Shadowrun magic is designed to be fairly “swords and sorcery” fantasy magic, with magicians throwing fireballs and deflecting bullets. If the gamemaster wants another feel for magic in their Shadowrun campaign, some considerations need to be made about how the magic system can be changed to accomodate them.
Down the Drain
One simple way to limit the power of the Shadowrun magic system is the increase the amount of Drain that magicians need to deal with. Increasing the base Drain code to (Force) rather than (Force/2) means that magicians will be far more likely to suffer drain from casting their more powerful spells. Wise magicians will tend to limit the Force of their spells to avoid drain, making those spells easier for target’s to resist. The Centering skill and the availability of foci will become important factors in the campaign.
Many literary wizards are forced to cart with them all manner of eye of newt and wing of bat. Shadowrun magic makes this use of fetishes optional, but under this system they are required in order to make use of Sorcery. Magicians must have expendible or reusable fetishes for all of their spells and without them cannot make use of Sorcery. This makes spell use more reliant upon materials that can be easily taken away or disabled.
In this scenario, the spellcasting ability of Sorcery is eliminated. Spells can only be cast through ritual sorcery, taking time and effort to build up the proper energies. This limits a magician’s immediate options considerably, and magic becomes more a matter of careful planning and deliberation than spur-of-the-moment use.
Depending on how stringent a restriction is desired, the gamemaster can use the ritual magic rules from the rulebook as is or make ritual magic somewhat more flexible but reducing the base time for each stage (from anywhere to ten minutes to one minute) and by easing the need for a medicine lodge or hermetic circle to do magic (either eliminating it altogether or imposing a penalty for not using one like a broken geas).
Magicians in this scenario will still be able to conjure spirits normally and most magicians will begin to rely on spirit servants for more spur of the moment abilities and combat effects. This will increase the importance of spirits and Conjuring in the campaign. A combat mage will tend to be the person commanding one or two elementals in a fight rather than flinging spells around.
Ritual magic forces magicians to be more subtle with their uses of Sorcery if they want them to be effective. It also eliminates the use of Combat spells altogether unless the gamemaster allows them to be cast through ritual magic.
This option takes ritual magic one step further and eliminates Sorcery altogether. All magic becomes the province of summoning and binding spirits to perform magical feats. The gamemaster can either limit players to the spirits in the Shadowrun rulebooks or create additional ones that provide other abilities and benefits. Magicians will carefully cultivate “stables” of capable spirits and allies to serve them and familiars and ally spirits will be common, with many magicians having more than one. Conjuring will be the premier magical skill and the gamemaster might even wish to break it down into seperate skills for Summoning, Binding and Banishing to avoid magicians putting all of their skill points into a massive Conjuring skill.
Another good limit for magic is to say that there is some material (or materials) that magic does not affect. In Shadowrun it is already established that magic works less well on highly processed or technological materials. It might also be possible to say that magic doesn’t work properly on some common substance, such as the classic “cold iron” effect. This would allow a common defense to exist against direct magical attack, forcing magicians to use indirect methods to affect such materials. (For example, magic might not be able to directly destroy and iron grille, but magic could be used to generate intense heat which then melted the iron.)
In TSR’s Magitech game, magic is ineffective against certain forms of metal such as iron, steel, lead and aluminium. This means that these metals cannot be enchanted and serve as an effective barrier against magical energies. It also means that magical barriers are not proof against steel blades or lead bullets and that steel armor can block magical attacks.
The Power of the Mind
Under this option, magical abilities are purely the province of a living mind and cannot be enhanced by items such as foci. The Enchanting skill effectively doesn’t exist, and there are no foci for enhancing or improving a magician’s abilities. The Focus Addiction rules from Awakenings also provide a means of limiting the excessive use of foci in a campaign.