RAW Sprawlrunners offers three types of Arcane Background - hermetic mage, shaman, and qi adept (same as physical adepts in Shadowrun). This reflects an approach similar to Shadowrun 1e/2e, where hermetic mages and shamans had very different rule mechanics, but other magical traditions were rather less fleshed out.
I wish to adopt an approach closer to Shadowrun from 4e onwards; what is often called “unified magic theory.” Bring the rules for different magical traditions into closer alignment, then use that as a springboard to make it easier to add new magic traditions. My ultimate goal is to allow players the freedom to define their own traditions, and how their characters interpret them.
For my game, I am using two Arcane Backgrounds for PCs:
- AB(physad) - the classic Shadowrun physical adept. Doesn’t have an arcane power skill. Rules are the same as Sprawlrunners RAW.
- AB(mage) - shamans, hermetic mages, chaos mages, etc etc. All types of “normal” mages. The arcane power skill is Magic, which comes in two variants; one linked to Smarts, one linked to Spirit. More on that below.
Mages start play with three free Powers, and get more via the New Powers Edge, as usual.
The Magic skill
There are two variants of this skill, linked to different attributes, reflecting that different magic users have different ways to interact with mana:
- magic users like shamans, houngans, or chaos mages – whose approach to magic works on an artistic, instinctive, or naturalistic level – use Magic (Spirit).
- magic users like hermetic mages or Catholic thaumaturgists – whose approach to magic is more scientific, rigorous, or based on theoretical study – use Magic (Smarts).
For avoidance of doubt: the only difference between Magic (Spirit) and (Smarts) is the role-playing aspect and the choice of linked attribute for the skill. Everything else is the same – available power list, drain rules, etc.
On skill namingThe only reason I’m calling this “Magic” when it’s called “Spellcasting” in core SWADE is that it bothers me that a skill called “Spellcasting” is used to summon spirits. Coming from Shadowrun, that feels really jarring. It’s the same skill, though, just renamed.
Any character with AB(mage) gets a free Astral Projection power. Adept characters can purchase Astral Perception for 1 Chi Point. Activities on the Astral plane, including assensing and astral combat while projecting, are governed by the new Astral (Smarts) skill.
See Astral Space for more details.
I have not yet fleshed out rules for mystic adepts - characters who combine physad abilities with limited magic abilities. I think this is best modelled by giving physads some ability to learn Powers, similar to the Power racial trait (see SWADE pg 19.) Let me know if you want to play such a character in my campaign and we’ll figure it out.
NPC-only arcane backgrounds
I have some ideas for how to handle magical traditions that are used for various types of NPCs, although these are not yet fully fleshed out:
- AB(critter) - used for any paracritters that have Powers. Comes with a Magic skill that is rolled as normal to determine power effect. Critters do not take drain, as their magical abilities are inherent to them.
- AB(toxic) and AB(blood) - toxic mages and blood mages are able to draw on reserves of power outside their own body. In addition to the normal NoPP spellcasting rules, they also have a pool of Power Points, and can use those to cast spells in accordance with normal SWADE rules. These spells do not have the usual negative roll modifier for the No Power Points rule. However, these dark magics come with a price; they still take Drain on a natural 1, and Drain causes Wounds rather than Fatigue.