Magic

Magic measures how well you use your magical gifts.

Magic occurs in about 1% of the population. Its distribution is mysterious; it can run in families, but it is not guaranteed that one person is Awakened even if their identical twin is. Out of every 10,000 people, statistically:

Magical ability is deeply connected to a character’s inner being, and always has a character aspect associated with it; if the character isn’t a Spark, it must be in their High Concept. Magician concepts include Combat Mage, Street Shaman, Healer-Wizard, Occult Investigator, and Radical Eco-Shaman. Adept concepts include Mystic Kung Fu Sifu, Magic Brawler, Eldritch Sneak Thief, Gunslinger Adept, and Arcane Quarterback.

These gifts generally fall into two paths: magicians, who manipulate external mana and do things like casting spells and conjuring spirits; and adepts, who manipulate it internally and perform feats of athletics, martial arts, and artistic performance. The rare mystic adepts partake of both natures, though are hard pressed to keep up with the specialists. Adepts with combat abilities can add their Magic to appropriate combat rolls. Anyone with a Magic Edge is capable of some amount of ritual magic.

There are many traditions who have an understanding of magic, and they fall into two categories: those whose outlook is based in rules and patterns,, and those whose outlook is based on intuition. The most common of the rational magicians are called Hermetic mages; the most common of the intuitive are called shamans. Either way, magic is an activity that requires both sides of the brain; even the most rational Hermetic mage still needs their intuition to work with magic, and even the wildest shaman needs a framework on which to think about how to use magic well. There is a similar dichotomy among adepts, though it is not as pronounced. (The popular trideo show The Odd Coven has a finicky Hermetic mage and a slob of a Coyote shaman as roommates.)

Magical folk often have an eerie quality to them; the magic running through their bodies creates a subliminal impression on even unAwakened people they meet. From a game mechanics perspective this means that your Magic – Heart score, if better than Mediocre (+0), can unconsciously act as a social attack to people around you. This can be mitigated somewhat by meditating until you are Going With the Flow, Omnibenevolent, or in some other appropriate state. People who routinely encounter such folk do build up a tolerance.

Magic and Essence

Standard Shadowrun uses Essence as a hard limit on the amount of chrome you can put in your body. In Fate, we’re using stunts as the limiting factor, so Essence is a matter of relative position: when two Awakened characters are in conflict, the one with lower Chrome adds the difference in Chrome to their rolls. The difference is not perceptible when one Awakened character faces off against an unAwakened one.

Sparks

If you have no stunts spent on magic, you are a spark, with one magical talent and the option of being able to astrally perceive. Decide at character generation if you are fully trained or not:

Spark talents tend to boil down to intuitively cast one spell or use one adept feat. Sample spark talents:

Any spark with astral perception can learn the Warding ritual, and many sparks have day jobs setting wards and calling in whenever they notice one being triggered. Astral perception is also a fast ticket to a job as a security guard, and trained medical assensors get paid almost as much as doctors.

Beast Mode (1): +2 Bod when shapeshifted. This does not stack with stunts like Ork, though an ork or troll who shifts into something at least as big and strong keeps their stunt when shifted.

Turbo Paws (1): +2 Move when shapeshifted.

Sorcerers

Sorcery is the technique of shaping mana into astral constructs called spells. Regular spells last as long as they are sustained by being fed mana, whether from the caster, a focus, a spirit, or a metamagical quickening. Spells affect things that the caster can directly sense through sight or touch; ranges are either self only, touch, or line of sight. Line of sight works through windows, binoculars, and even fiber optics, but not through any form of image processing.

Sorcerer (1): you are a sorcerer, able to perceive the astral plane and cast spells.

Shaping mana into a spell at combat speeds requires an entire round, even if you have superhuman reflexes. Magicians with the extra action stunt can spend them on the actions of their conjured spirits.

Sustaining a spell is a supplemental action. Every time you exceed your Magic in sustained spells, everything else you’re doing gains +1 difficulty (so with Magic +2, you can sustain two spells and only have to worry about what the opposition will do with that boost). If you devote an action to a sustained spell that creates an advantage, its aspect gains a free invoke.

The study of magic has revealed that even mundane objects have an aura. Things that grew naturally have the strongest ones; things worked intentionally by conscious artificers have less; those assembled by a machine even less; and highly complex substances assembled through complicated mechanical processes have almost no aura for a spell to latch onto. This means that modern objects are extremely difficult to understand and manipulate through their aura. (This does not apply to simple workings like levitation.) This is termed object resistance:

DifficultyCategoryExamples
1 + Chrome Living being If the subject has an aspect reflecting an extreme consequence from Essence drain, it will usually get compelled as well.
Average (+1) Natural objects Trees, rocks, soil, hand-carved wood, metal cold-worked by hand, unprocessed water
Fair (+2) Hand-created materials made of natural substances Cloth hand-woven, -sewn, and/or -knitted from natural fibers; steam-bent wood
Good (+3) Manufactured low-tech objects and materials Brick, glass, leather, paper, simple plastics, oil- and shellac-varnished wood, hand-forged steel sword
Great (+4) Refined natural substances, hand-made machines Rayon, asphalt, mineral spirit-varnished wood, Vintage Colt Peacemaker (or modern replica created with vintage techniques)
Superb (+5) Manufactured high-tech objects and materials Advanced plastics, polyester, fiberglass, safety glass, stainless steel, concrete, alkyd-varnished wood, vintage Glock-17
Fantastic (+6) Complex high-tech objects and materials Vacuum tube electronics, drywall
Epic (+7) Advanced high-tech objects and materials Transistor electronics, alnico magnets, plascrete, ferrocrete
Legendary (+8) Highly processed objects Microcircuitry, carbon fiber materials, spime tags, complex toxic waste, Cheez-Bitz, Ares Predator II with integrated smartlink

e.g.: It is much easier to use the Fashion spell to tailor garments if they’re hand-woven natural cotton with drawstrings than it is if they’re factory-made garments with elastic. It’s even harder if the garments have spime tags that tell a modern washing machine what settings to use.

Spellcasting can be compared to music: each art is like an instrument, and each spell is like a song. Learning arts takes a while, but you can improvise with them once you’ve learned them well. Being able to throw a spell in a matter of seconds requires regular rehearsal. Depending on your tradition, if you already know the relevant art, you can roll to see if your character has been practicing a particular spell lately; this will usually be Brains+Magic for logical traditions and Schmooze+Magic for intuitive ones.

Sorcerers usually have at least one fidget that exerts tiny amounts of mana and gives them feedback on their current level of control, which can vary with both inner turmoil and astral conditions. Pick a fidget for your character, such as precipitating a drop of water from the air, flicking a thumb to produce a flame like a cigarette lighter, popping a single kernel of popcorn, forming a fragile bubble of pure mana that reacts to astral influences, turning your beer bottle into glass marbles.

Spells are either mana (in which case they affect astral beings and living auras) or physical (they create or alter something tangible). Mana spells cast by astrally projecting sorcerers can only affect astrally active targets, such as spirits, dual-natured beings, and active foci. Physically embodied sorcerers can cast mana spells on living beings as well as manifest and materialized astral entities.

Arts

Sorcerers know a number of arts equal to twice their Brains+Magic in logical traditions and twice their Schmooze+Magic in intuitive traditions.

Scholar of Magicks (1): you know four extra arts.

Observed limits on magic: Magic cannot return the dead to life. Magic cannot teleport matter, or energy, from one location to another instantaneously. Magic cannot break time. Magic cannot restore mental exhaustion, or heal damage caused by Drain, or cure psychological conditions.

Casting Spells

Casting spells is a matter of rolling the appropriate skill for the spell, plus your Magic Edge. Does the spell harm the target? Hit. Bamboozle them? Con. Heal them? Heart. Hide you from them? Sneak. Mess with their brain? Prod. Give you information? Recon. The Force of your spell is the skill (plus Edge) with which you cast it.

The difficulty of casting depends on the spell. If it’s a living target, it’s usually their Focus+Magic, +Chrome if the spell is attempting to heal or transform them. If it’s attempting to alter a nonliving object, it’s the object resistance. If it’s attempting to move something, it’s based on the size.

Casting spells costs mental stress, called Drain; the Drain is based on the Force. You can lower the Force, making the spell less powerful, and add the shifts either to the outcome (if successful), representing finesse, or the difficulty of noticing the spell (which is normally a Spot+Magic against Mediocre (0)).

–1Direct touch-range combat spells. Health spells that create an advantage, but must be sustained for (Force) actions to take permanent effect.
+0Direct ranged combat spells like Mana Bolt, Power Bolt, Stun Bolt. Mana spells that create an advantage on a single target, but must be sustained to maintain it. Mana spells that allow exerting a skill, such as Entertainment.
+1Indirect ranged combat spells with elemental effects. Physical spells that create an advantage on a single target, but must be sustained to maintain it. Physical spells that allow exerting a skill, such as Magic Fingers or Trid Entertainment.
+2Direct ranged area-effect combat spells like Mana Ball, Power Ball, Stun Ball. Area effect mana spells that create an advantage, but must be sustained to maintain it. Single target physical spells that create a lasting advantage.
+3Indirect ranged area-effect combat spells like Fireball. Area effect physical spells that create an advantage, but must be sustained to maintain it.
+4Area effect physical spells that create a lasting advantage.

Drain is somewhat variable: the first two dice from your spellcasting roll are applied to your Focus+Magic, and any Force in excess of that is applied to your mental stress track, and then your physical stress track when your mental stress track is full. (If you can use Prod to inflict mental stress on a mage before combat, that will leave them with fewer mental reserves to focus on spellcasting.) So if you roll ++--, while your outcome on the spell is 0, you take two less Drain than if you rolled 0000.

Improvising simple spells is possible outside of combat, at a cost of +2 stress. (Use Shaping magic to fix a seam is feasible; recreating the Fashion spell requires significant research.) Improvising in the middle of a firefight is possible with a Focus+Magic check equal to the best skill on the opposing side, but your chummers need to hold off the opposition for several actions so you can concentrate (roll your Brains+Magic or Schmooze+Magic to make inroads on a stress track).

Particulars on certain spells:

Spell Defense

There are two kinds of defensive sorcery: spell defense, where a sorcerer extends their magical defenses over their allies, and counterspelling, which stops a spell before it lands.

To apply spell defense, a sorcerer must be conscious enough to pay attention to their allies. They can provide such defense for up to Spot+Magic people with whom they’ve had some time to become magically familiar. Those allies can use the sorcerer’s Magic to defend against an attack in place of any of their own Edges.

Counterspelling requires line of sight to the opposing spellcaster, or astral perception, and it requires an action to unmake the spell in flight. It’s a Spot+Magic roll against the opposing spellcaster’s roll.

Learning Spells

Under most circumstances, you don’t need to worry about the mechanics of learning spells if you already have them in your grimoire and plausibly had time to learn them. Just roll Brains+Magic or Schmooze+Magic to retroactively indicate what your character has been studying! The difficulty of the roll is usually half the number of spells you’ve already demonstrated you know since the last down time, rounded down, and you don’t need to roll at all if you cast the spell in the previous adventure. These rules are here for the rare occasions that you need to learn something on camera, and to make clear the relative value of spell formulas as loot.

Spells can be taught directly, or encoded into a formula, or an artistic performance. It is possible to make something that serves as formula and artistic performance if you’re really good, even one that makes sense to multiple traditions. An artistic performance of a spell can be a painting, a statue, a poem, a dance, a song, an entire album for a complex spell, a story ranging from microfiction to a novel. It’s common for music to be performed acoustically, to facilitate learning it from a live performance, but if it's just going to be recorded anyway, a synthwave album is just as good as an acoustic one. Some albums and stories that start out as spell formulae become quite popular. If the formula has to do something else (e.g. a cooking recipe that also has to result in a tasty dish), that makes it more difficult to produce the formula and to learn it, but that doesn't stop people from having competitions that result in cookbooks.

Original manuscripts and hand copies (performed by a sorcerer) are obviously of magical significance to astral perception, and face import and export restrictions in many jurisdictions.

There are many glosses written on classic works of art, music, and literature that claim to point out spell formulae encoded in them. In some cases, most magicians agree that the classic did contain the spell formula (such as the Battle of the Trees), while in others, they agree that the spell formula is really in the gloss and not the original (such as The Teachings of Don Juan).

Learning a spell is a full-time job that usually takes about twelve days for a spell that stretches the limits of your understanding. You need a magical lodge in your tradition in which to rehearse it. If time matters, roll Brains+Magic if you’re from a logical tradition or Face+Magic if you’re from an intuitive tradition against the quality of your source:

1Full-time tutoring from an in-person instructor.
2Original or hand-copied manuscript of an eloquently expressed formula, which you can assense.
3Half an hour of attention per day from an in-person instructor; they need only be astrally present. Printout of a mechanicaly copy of a formula with handwritten marginalia you can assense.
4Mechanical copy of the formula.
–2Have learned the spell before.
+1Instructor or formula is from a related tradition (e.g. Gardnerian Wicca and Hermetic magic).
+1Adequately expressed formula
+2Instructor or formula has a matching logical/intuitive approach.
+2Sloppily expressed formula.
+3Reconstructing from memory without a formula.
+4Instructor or formula is from a different approach.
+4Formula author has lost touch with ordinary reality.

Sorcerers need some way to record their spells for study if they don’t practice them in a lodge on a regular basis. Mechanical copies of spell formulas can be backed up easily, but they’re the least effective form to study.

Conjurers

Conjuring is the art of dealing with spirits.

Conjurer (1): you are a conjurer, able to perceive the astral plane and summon, bind, and banish spirits.

Summoning a spirit is a Prod + Magic roll as a conflict with the spirit (which rolls its Force). This can represent invitation or compulsion.

You can summon any spirit of your tradition in your own lodge, with appropriate preparation (such as a hermetic mage lighting a brazier for a fire elemental, or a shaman bringing in street food to summon a city spirit); this takes at least a minute.

Outside your lodge, you have to have access to the spirit’s domain, but you can do a fast summoning that only takes a single action. A hermetic mage can’t summon an earth elemental on board an airplane in flight, but if they get thrown out the cargo hatch, they can summon an air elemental on the way down. A hermetic mage can summon an air elemental in an alley, but a shaman has to go to the roof or the middle of the street to get a spirit of the sky.

On a tie, the spirit shows up and will perform one service; every shift after that grants two more services. Whether or not the services are used, they expire the next time the sun crosses the horizon.

When a spirit first shows up, it is purely astral, and appears to mundane senses as a shimmer in the air, much like a mirage; the difficulty of noticing an astral spirit making no effort to hide is Good (+3) – Force. Manifesting to transparent visibility and audibility only takes mild effort on the spirit’s part and can be part of any task where it’s asked to report in. Materializing to opaque solidity requires serious effort.

For each point of Force in excess of 1, the spirit may have one power from its Optional Powers list. Getting particular optional powers is a bit hit-and-miss at first, but a conjurer can get to know particular spirits, and might even get on good terms with them.

Whether or not the summoning was successful, the conjurer takes mental stress equal to double the spirit’s Force, modified by the spirit’s roll in the summoning conflict, less the conjurer’s Focus + Magic.

Taking a few minutes of preparation, such as a hermetic mage drawing a diagram in chalk on the sidewalk, can create advantages that can be tagged in a summoning. Burning high-quality tobacco and liquor can also help attract a spirit’s attention, so if your buddy takes the spirit’s Force as an attack against their Scrounge, they can create an advantage for you.

Example: Ricky the Rat Shaman (Focus 3, Prod 3, Magic 2) is backed into a corner and summons a Great (+4) City Spirit to defend him. He rolls a +1 (getting a 6) and the spirit rolls a +2 (also getting a 6), so the spirit shows up for a single service. Ricky marks off 5 mental stress (2×4 + 2 – (3+2)) as the spirit wades into the fight on his behalf.

Summoning creates a metaphysical connection that allows the conjurer to communicate telepathically with the spirit. The loss of the link is noticeable if the spirit is banished or disrupted; whether a spirit tells you when someone starts banishing it is up to the spirit.

If a spirit is summoned in a lodge, it can be forcibly bound using Focus + Magic in a ritual that takes 2 hours per point of Force of the spirit. In this case, the spirit’s roll goes against your mental and wealth stress tracks, representing both the effort and the cost of reagents consumed in the ritual. A service from the summoning is used up getting it to stick around for the binding, but leftover services from the summoning are added to those obtained by the binding. A bound spirit must come when called, and can be forced to do things that it would find harmful.

A spirit can also be bargained with to enter into a voluntary contract. It can take hours of careful negotiation with an unfamiliar spirit, or mere minutes with a friendly one. This uses Face + Magic and only affects your wealth stress track; you might be paying them with reagents, or by some other means such as taking them to a concert or ballet.

Whether they are created through bargaining or binding, a conjurer can only maintain as many spirit contracts as they have Schmooze + Magic.

An artistic magician can substitute Rock + Magic for both summoning and bargaining. (This means acoustic instruments if it’s musical.) You can get cooperation bonuses from mundane musicians in this. This only costs you time (minutes, at a minimum), not stress, though you can certainly take wealth stress hiring Backup Musicians to tag when you roll.

Banishing attempts to force a spirit to go home. It is unpleasant for a spirit, though not as painful as being disrupted in astral combat, and they tend to be pretty cranky if you try to summon them immediately after banishing them out from under another conjurer’s control. This is a conflict of Focus + Magic with the spirit’s Force (plus its conjurer’s Magic, if bound or contracted). Every shift of success removes two services from the spirit, and if that goes to zero, the spirit departs on its next action. Stress cost is the same as for conjuring.

Unbinding a spirit is much more risky. It only works against bound spirits, and operates much like banishing, but uses Crime + Magic to dismantle the magical underpinnings of the spirit contract; the intricacy of lockpicking and sleight of hand is good mental preparation for learning the technique. While unbinding, you have a telepathic connection to the spirit and can attempt to persuade it as a supplemental action. When the spirit’s services drop to zero, it could go home, attack its original conjurer, attack its liberator, go berserk and attack everyone, or stay in this world and depart on an unknown agenda at astral-fast speeds. While a conjurer will immediately notice if one of their spirits is banished or disrupted, unbinding is subtle. Usually, an unbound spirit remains in the world until the next time the sun crosses the horizon (clever ones can flee to the Arctic or Antarctic circles to evade this requirement), though in rare cases they become Free Spirits. Use of this technique (termed unleashing in the official literature) can be charged as felonious reckless endangerment in most jurisdictions. Unbinding only costs stress when the roll fails, in which case the unbinder takes as many shifts of mental stress as they missed the roll by. Summoning a spirit after unbinding it is not seen as rude by the spirits.

Fettering is a minor form of binding; it’s a resisted Focus+Magic roll. The difficulty is the spirit’s Force plus half the number of remaining services. On a tie, the spirit is stuck within its Force in meters of a particular object for one action. Extra shifts can increase duration (rest of the scene, an hour, rest of the day on success with style) or decrease the radius the spirit can roam (–2m per shift). Spirits find this much more friendly than being banished or disrupted (as long as you didn’t use it to drown a fire elemental or somesuch). (Street Wyrd p63)

Spirit Services

Things you can ask a summoned spirit to do:

You can ask a contracted spirit to do any of the above, plus:

You can tell a bound spirit to do any of the above, plus:

While you have your metaphysical connection to a summoned spirit, you can spend Fate on its behalf.

Enchanters

Mana collects in physical objects, most easily from natural processes, and those that have enough mana that they can be turned into something of practical utility are termed reagents (SR5 p316, Street Grimoire p209, Street Magic p79, Parabotany p46). They can be gathered in the wild by anyone with astral perception, which almost always results in reagents of raw quality. Raw reagents can be turned into refined ones with a sunrise-to-sunset (or vice versa) circulation by an enchanter. Refined reagents can be turned into radical ones with a lunar-cycle circulation that needs tending every 8 hours by an enchanter.

Reagents can be used to fuel magical operations of all sorts, and well-chosen ones can be bribes for spirits. Some operations, such as artificing, require radical reagents.

Enchanter (1): you are a enchanter, able to perceive the astral plane and create potions, enchanted art, and foci.

A talismonger sells magical goods, and enchanters are often talismongers.

Alchemy

Alchemy operates much like spellcasting, but the spell (formulated for alchemical use, and learned separately from the sorcerous version) goes into a preparation. Creating the preparation costs the same mental stress as casting the spell; in addition, it costs wealth stress (against your Scrounge+Magic). If there’s no story need to create the preparation on camera, simply roll for retroactive creation and take the wealth stress, though the GM may call for a roll to explain how you would have anticipated the current circumstance. Preparations can take the form of liquids, poultices, unguents, incense sticks, pastilles, candles, even candies. (The processes of dissolving sugar into cream, butter, or distilled water; concentrating it; and crystallizing the sugar are very amenable to enchanting processes.)

Preparations can be triggered in three ways:

Creating the preparation is a roll of your Make+Magic against the relevant Skill+Magic for the spell. For each shift, the preparation will last your Magic in hours outside of a Vault of Ages. An enchanter is presumed to have a small Vault in their field kit, though attempting to take one through a ward may dispel the effect.

To astral perception, preparations are obviously magical, much like an inactive focus.

Medicine

Ayurveda, Chinese herbology, homeopathy, and the like are effective treatments when administered by a trained enchanter. (Mechanically, they need a character aspect reflecting their training as a healer.) They can roll Brains + Magic to devise treatments (creating advantages for themselves) and Heart + Magic to administer them, either Overcoming a consequence to start the recovery process, or Creating Advantages for their subject. (Augmentation p123)

Biodynamic agriculture is effective in restoring the health of the land.

Enchanted Art

The principles of enchantment can be applied to many varieties of art. For instance, alchemical mixology (Street Grimoire p212) combines artisanal liquors and herbal extracts to produce drinks that induce a temporary magical effect. This uses Make + Magic to create an advantage; magical cocktails lose their potency in about half an hour. Employing enchanters to handle the fermentation and distillation of liquors leads to more potent beverages that can last for days, at considerably greater expense. But if that alchemical hot toddy can give you the push that knocks out that miserable cold, isn’t it worth 800¥? Similarly, alchemical brewing of tea and coffee results in a magically potent beverage.

Alchemical fireworks can put on a spectacular display and are prized by spirits, particularly those hailing from the Metaplane of Fire.

Alchemical tattooing is the precursor to actual enchanted tattoos. It requires magically prepared inks and an enchanter-tattooist to wield the needle. Mechanically, take a fractal aspect like Spectacular Body Art and have each tattoo as a sub-aspect. Getting a tattoo of a particular spirit can help you summon them.

Foci

Foci are enchanted items, created through artificing that are bound to a single user; astral tracking can track a focus to its wielder, and the wielder can track the focus. Using a focus requires spending a supplemental action activating it, which gives it an astral presence. This is very noticeable to astrally perceiving beings; they only need a roll to notice an active focus if there are significant distractions.

Even if its wielder is not astrally perceiving, an activated focus can be attacked in astral combat; a simple Overcome action (against 3× the number of stunts for that one focus) will deactivate the focus until the wielder takes an action reactivating it. Success with Style delays that by one more round, and every two additional shifts delays it one round beyond that. The wielder of the focus feels it immediately when the focus is deactivated.

If the wielder is astrally active, the focus can still be attacked as a called shot, but its wielder defends with Move+Magic or Hit+Magic.

If you activate foci before you astrally project, their astral forms come with you. If they are deactivated while you’re out of your body, you must go back to your body to reactivate it.

Magical foci are restricted equipment, requiring permits, though the paperwork for a healing focus is a lot easier (you just have to agree to report serious injuries to the authorities) than one for a weapon focus. Licensed bodyguards in good standing find the paperwork for weapon foci straightforward.

Foci are bought as stunts; one stunt can represent multiple foci, or a single item enchanted as a combined focus (in which case it only takes one action to activate all of its abilities). You can safely activate as many refresh worth of foci as you have Magic, and your Magic is the limit on each of the benefits you can get on any one roll from foci (shifts of effect, red or blue dice, mitigation of penalties, shifts of reduced Drain).

Example foci

Magicians

Magician (2): you are a full magician, capable of sorcery, conjuring, enchanting, and astral projection.

Adepts

Adepts channel their magic into their bodies to become extraordinary.

Mystic Adepts

Mystic adepts are magicians who have channeled a portion of their magic into their bodies. This bars them from astral projection, and as initiates they cannot enter the metaplanes without assistance (such as a Free Spirit exercising the Astral Gateway power). They can only perceive the astral plane if they have the appropriate Adept feat.

Mystic Adept (2): you are capable of sorcery, conjuring, enchanting, and utilizing adept powers. Your Magic Edge is split into Mystic and Adept Edges; at character creation time, your +2 Edge is split into Adept +1 and Mystic +1.

The Astral Plane

They call it the astral plane because you can see the stars even during the day. If you look at the sky just right, you can even see the constellations... but if you’re in China, you might see the Twenty-Eight Mansions instead of the Twelve Houses. The physical world is a shadowy, vague place, save for living and enchanted things, which appear vivid and bright, as if well-lit. The Sun and Moon are just discs in the sky, but the living Earth radiates light to see by. Emotional residue from living auras can cling to objects, and it’s easy to tell an original wedding ring from a perfect forgery. The written word is just a blur on the page; an impassioned handwritten note might carry an emotional residue, but printed books only have them if well-read. The only sound there is produced by living intention; the spoken word and live acoustic music are audible and infused with emotion, while anything from wind chimes to a public address system to a 19th century player piano are silent.

Assensing through a periscope or binoculars is slower and trickier than doing it with the naked eye; it requires focusing with mundane sight, establishing the fact of perception, then switching to astral sight. It works best with stationary or slow-moving targets.

Astral forms can pass through living things, though it may cause a shudder. The unAwakened can roll Spot to notice if an astral form has passed through their own; the Awakened roll Spot+Magic.

Astral Perception

When someone opens up their perceptions to the astral plane, they are said to be astrally perceiving, and when they use those senses to investigate auras, they are assensing. To sighted people, the astral plane usually manifests visually, but it enters your awareness in the way that your brain maps the world.

A person’s aura matches their self-image, not their body. If a person is in disguise, their aura will usually show their true self, and they may be hard to recognize with mundane sight. On the other hand, a really good method actor (who Succeeds with Style on their Con) can convince themselves of their role so thoroughly that their aura matches their disguise.

Spells, potions, wards, and the powers of critters, spirits, and adepts all have distinctive astral signatures, and these can linger for hours after they have ceased. Anyone using astral perception can clean up signatures; it takes one action to hasten the fading by one hour. Matching of astral signatures is considered expert witness testimony in most courts. Astral signatures can be tracked with Spot+Magic, though every three hours elapsed since the signature was energized adds +1 to the difficulty of tracking, as does the Force of any ward or mana barrier in the way. Conjurers leave their signatures on spirits.

The astral plane is very distracting, and all mundane tasks are at +1 difficulty while astrally perceiving. (Hand-to-hand combat with a living being does not qualify for this penalty; hand-to-hand combat with a robot does.) The eyes of an assensor are usually unfocused, and even making an effort to look someone in the eye while carrying on a conversation gives them the impression you’re looking deep into them.

Spells, wards, and astrally active beings and objects appear more than well-lit; they seem to glow from within.

Astral perception is a risk, as it renders you dual-natured, present on both planes: ephemeral spirits suddenly become tangible to the person, and vice versa. Wards you could walk through while purely physical will push back, and shoving your way through them will alert their creator.

Astral Projection

A small number of Awakened are able to move their consciousness out of their bodies onto the astral plane; this is called astral projection and it defies neurological understanding, as the brainwaves of the body match the slowest of slow-wave sleep. They can spend hours, even (with training) days out of their body, but must eventually return to restore their energies or disintegrate. Astral projection uses up one mental stress box for two full hours; once you return to your body, that stress clears as fast as you acquired it.

Astral travel can be as fast as thought. 100 meters per action is like walking; 5km per action is like running. You can get to the antipodes in a little over an hour. Gravity is not a constraint. The hard borders are the living earth (which is largely solid, though it is possible to move through it very slowly) and the stratopause, the boundary beyond which even bacteria do not live, 50–55km up. Going into the mana void above the stratopause invites madness and death, as the astral form is like a balloon in a vacuum.

Astral projectors can manifest to make themselves hazily visible and audible to living beings, but machines sense nothing. People with cybereyes can see manifest people and spirits; people watching the same place through a camera feeding data to their cyberLink see nothing. Manifesting costs one point of mental stress per five minutes; that stress does not refresh until you return to your body.

Astral projection is an even bigger risk than astral perception, as an untenanted body can be easily possessed by wandering spirits. Some only take the body for a joyride and bail out when the body becomes boring due to fatigue, but others will fight to keep possession of a corporeal form, or ransom them back in exchange for karma or other considerations. Sensible folk project from within a lodge, or have an astrally-perceiving ally guarding their physical form. If a projector’s body is killed, they will know immediately, and may be able to spend a few hours setting their affairs in order before their astral form falls apart.

Astral projectors can track their own body, if it’s moved, using Spot+Magic.

Noncorporeal snoops can be kept out of places by growing Awakened ivy, which is astrally active, on walls, or by using ritual magic to create wards. Nightclubs and concert arenas that host popular acts usually have some form of astral security to keep freeloaders out.

Astral Topography

The magical world can impinge on the physical one. The most common way is the magical background count (Street Grimoire p30), which is the result of intense emotional, spiritual, or magical activity. These can manifest as mana ebbs (the overall absence of mana that affects everyone) and mana flows (where there is more mana, but it is aspected and interferes with your magic unless you are aligned with that aspect). Mana can take on aspects such as emotions, magical traditions, violence, pollution, and the qualities of nature— it’s easier to summon fire spirits in a volcano. Background counts can be manipulated through geomancy.

Background counts complicate any use of the Magic Edge. It is possible to become acclimated to a background count, learning to work around it, which usually takes about three weeks per level of background count. It takes longer if you’re a commuter and only spend part of your day in a particular domain. Most shadowrunners have already learned to deal with the astral funk of human misery in places like the Redmond Barrens. (Street Grimoire p31) Learning to deal with a mana ebb takes much longer (and access to a reliable mana ebb).

If you are aligned with a background count, a number of 0 dice equal to the background count’s level read as +, much like red and blue dice. The more + you get from the background count, the more the magic is apt to be different from what you were expecting.

If you are not acclimated to an unaligned background count, a number of 0 dice equal to the background count’s level read as -.

In any round in which a character uses their Magic Edge— even if they are simply astrally perceiving— in a Superb (5) and higher background count, they suffer an attack of (background count – 4) against their Focus, creating stun consequences.

Average (1) Strong and brief magical, spiritual, or emotional impact; long-duration mild impact. e.g.: A small-town church, a bar frequented by the Awakened, the favorite trysting spot of a love affair, the site of an isolated violent crime, a week of high pollution. Just below the tropopause.
Fair (2) Strong, brief impact felt by at least 50 people, such as a rock concert, or steady impact over years. e.g.: the magic department at a university, sold-out rock concerts, high security prisons, a garbage dump, a dense population living in misery. Just above the tropopause.
Good (3) Any major battlefield less than a century old. Slashed-and-burned forest areas. Factory farms. Great mana lines and power sites. e.g.: the Nazca Geoglyphs, the Pyramids of Egypt.
Great (4) Any place that a major battle is currently occurring. A heavily polluted area such as a strip mine or manure lagoon. Locations of mass death like the Chicago Shattergraves. Powerful mana lines and places with centuries of still-ongoing emotional significance. e.g.: Stonehenge, Sydney song line, Arlington Cemetary, Sistine Chapel, Notre Dame cathedral. Just below the stratopause.
Superb (5) Toxic waste dumps and radioactive waste storage sites. The most powerful mana lines and events. e.g.: the Five Great Mountains of China; the Great Cairn line in Tír na nÓg, the blast sites of Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and Alamogordo (out to about 5km); the Native American Re-Education Center at Abilene. Take a blanket +1 to Edge or difficulties and modify the roll as Fair (i.e. 0 on the first two dice matter).
Fantastic (6) e.g.: the Auschwitz concentration camp, the mysterious mana warp atop which Blackstone Prison was constructed (Shadows in Focus: Sioux Nation p9), the Aurora Borealis. Take a blanket +1 to Edge or difficulties and modify the roll as Great.
Epic (7) This is mana warp territory, where magic is chaotic and unpredictable and cannot be acclimated or aligned to. e.g.: A 6km diameter region around the nuclear facility in the Saar-Lorraine-Luxemborg Special Administrative Zone (SOX), irradiated by the catastrophic Cattenom meltdown in 2009. Toxic mages tapping into this usually destroy themselves. Such phenomena can spin of foveae, invisible tornadoes of Good to Great background count. Take a blanket +2 to all Magic difficulties, and every 0 causes chaotic effects.
Legendary (8) Ebbs of this scale are known as mana voids; magic simply doesn’t work here, and trying to use it is a fast route to madness and death. Outer space is a gigantic mana void, beginning at the mesopause.

Example: Archie the Academic is chased into the Redmond Barrens, with a Fair (2) misery background count, by a swarm of devil rats; his ivory-tower education did not include acclimation to such places. He jumps up on a dumpster and attempts to cast Disregard on himself to make himself functionally invisible. He rolls 0000, but due to the background count it is effectively --00.

An astral shallow is a place where the veil between the physical and astral worlds is so thin that even mundanes perceive astral forms. These are usually temporary, lasting a few hours or days. (Street Grimoire p28–9)

An astral rift is a place where any living person can experience astral perception and projection, and some allow direct projection to a specific metaplane without having to encounter the Dweller on the Threshold. An astral gateway is a controlled rift created by a spirit with the Astral Gateway power or magicians casting the Astral Gateway ritual.

A metaplanar rift (when controlled, a metaplanar gateway) allows physical transference to a metaplane. (Slip Streams p4) The process can include bizarre physical transformations that usually reverse themselves on return to Earth.

Geomancers distinguish between three kinds of mana lines (Parageology p3, 30):

When congestion occurs on a mana line, the resulting mana ebb is called a sha event, and it can cause plants to grow poorly, bad luck, and toxic critters. A mana surge channeled through a mana line is a shen event and can cause spike baby critters to be born that would normally only be found in higher mana levels.

Initiation

Initiatory rites deepen one’s connection to the magical world. It is possible to self-initiate without help, but it is easier in a group. (SR5 p325, Street Grimoire p138, Street Wyrd p127) Ordeals (Street Grimoire p140) do not map well to Fate milestone mechanics, but players are encouraged to roleplay them.

Initiatory groups (Street Grimoire p55, Street Magic p64, Magical Societies, Digital Grimoire) are, by the Bronze Rule, characters. They have the following aspects:

And the following skills:

Initiatory groups are not constrained by skill columns like regular characters, and in particular the Fame and Secrecy skills can be raised or lowered through investigative journalism.

Metamagic

Mechanically, initiation is the use of an upgrade milestone for a character’s Magic Edge. For magicians, this always means learning advanced metamagical arts. For adepts, this can either be metamagic or progress toward more feats. Some metamagics are commonplace, and some are much more rare; an initiatory group can improve your chances of getting access to them.

Some of the Magic Qualities from Forbidden Arcana are getting folded in here as metamagics instead, in the name of decomplication.

The Metaplanes

Outside the world measured by science are other worlds accessible by magic. They each operate according to their own rules. These are called the metaplanes, and beings summoned from them appear here as spirits; even the nature spirits who make their homes on this world have clear affinity for a particular metaplane. Defeating a spirit in astral combat merely disrupts it, and it can return in three to four weeks (resuming any contract or binding it had with a conjurer, though the conjurer may have ended that early to free up their limited number of such connections); destroying it requires killing it on its own metaplane.

A Free Spirit is one that has sunk deep roots into its metaplane, making it able to come and go from there as it pleases, and it must be defeated it its place of power on the metaplane, or by obtaining (perhaps reverse engineering) a copy of its spirit formula, sometimes referred to as a True Name.

One way to access the metaplanes is ritual magic performed by an initiated astral projector. This contacts a powerful spirit known as the Dweller on the Threshold, who sends everyone in the ritual circle into the metaplane they request... at the price of answering some questions that challenge the self-knowledge of each participant. The difficulty of the ritual is increased by the highest Chrome of the participants.

Another is to have a Free Spirit with the Astral Gateway power offer access to their home metaplane.

Rare explorers report that there is a way to travel the Astral Sea under your own power, but finding someone who will pass on the techniques is very difficult.

Time passes in unusual ways on the metaplanes; it is possible to experience great amounts of subjective time there while mere hours pass in the physical world.

Known nearby metaplanes include the planes of Earth, Air, Fire, Water, Beasts, Plants, and Man. Practitioners of voudoun can reach Guinee, Asatruar can summon from and travel to the other eight of the Nine Worlds, and Qabalists call on angels from the ten Sephirot. Travelers report that their are overlaps, such as Múspellsheimr with the Metaplane of Fire.

Many people are unsure whether the spirits of the dead found in various seeming afterlives are genuine formerly-living humans or manifestations of the subconscious expectations of astral travelers; it does not help that there are three distinct mentor spirits each claiming to be the genuine Elvis, King of Rock’n’Roll. The metaplanar journeys involved are far too hazardous for academic expeditions. Traditions that call on ancestor spirits, however, have no such doubts.

There are more distant metaplanes, but the known magical traditions do not have rituals to summon spirits from such places.

Magical Lodges

Anyone performing magical workings needs a lodge that provides them with a space that is metaphysically aligned with them. Lodges take different forms in each tradition; a druid grove, medicine lodge, and wizard’s sanctum are all lodges. They take days to set up, and form a ward (which the lodge’s owner can control, making it a relatively safe place to leave their body during astral travel) once complete. Packing one up takes a whole day. The ritual implements, grimoires, art, etc. are valuable; the quality of your lodge is Scrounge + Magic. (SR5 p280)

You can create a temporary lodge by using up reagents. Spend take one box of wealth stress for each point of quality of the temporary lodge, and spend an hour setting it up; it will last until the sun next crosses the horizon. (SR5 p317)

A ritual team with Good (+3) Focus can create a temporary lodge through meditation, prayer, or other means of hallowing. For every magician-hour of meditation, the lodge gains one point of Force, up to twice the highest magician’s Focus+Magic. Once the hallowing is complete, the astral barrier appears, and persists until the next sunrise or sunset. (Forbidden Arcana p41)

Traditions

All sentient beings (with the possible exception of dragons, who are rather cagy about talking magic theory) have a paradigm through which they interpret their perspective on the magical world. All approaches fall broadly into either left-brained approaches that emphasize logic and formulae or right-brained ones that emphasize intuition and art. In the West, these are broadly referred to as hermetic and shamanic approaches, but there are a vast number of them. The greater the difference between traditions, the harder it is to share knowledge: a Jewish qabalist and a Christian theurgist will easily be able to find common symbols, but that qabalist and a Taoist wuxing will have a lot more work coming up with a common frame of reference or collaborating in ritual magic.

Mentor Spirits

Many Awakened people form a connection to a powerful spirit that acts as teacher and taskmaster. Most shamans have a mentor spirit— often called a totem— but some take a more neutral stance. Most hermetic mages are leery of forming a personal connection with a spirit and prefer the formality of having them as patrons to a magical guild or society. (SR5 p320) Some practitioners are open about their mentor spirit and make the connection obvious through their garb, while others are close-mouthed about it; in the Native American Nations, it’s polite to wait for a shaman to volunteer information about their totem.

Mentor spirits tend to communicate through dreams, visions, hunches, inspiration, and real-world coincidences. The more logic-oriented magicians tend to seek them out in meditation or a dark mirror, while the intuitive ones are more likely to simply form an intention before taking a nap.

It is possible for an Awakened character to gain a mentor spirit if they lack one, through significant roleplaying. Changing mentor spirits is rare, and tends to occur through trauma or character growth that significantly changes a character’s self-understanding.

Mechanically, a connection to a mentor spirit is a character aspect. This can be part of the High Concept, like Hard-Partying Coyote Shaman, or a separate one, such as Challenges of the Djinn King of Mercury. Adepts with a mentor get one extra feat related to their mentor; magicians get an extra art. Physical mages get one or the other.

This is a sampling of mentor spirits known to the Sixth World:

Spirits

Spirits are sapient beings that lack physical form, though those with the Materialize power can fake it very convincingly.

Watcher Spirits

(SR5 p298) A projection of the summoner’s consciousness, formed into a short-lived spirit through a brief ritual. A watcher can assense, engage in astral combat, manifest to visibility, and use the critter Search power. Its problem-solving ability is sapient, but it lacks ego and is not worried about its upcoming dissolution. Its combat skills are equal to its Force and noncombat skills to half its Force, rounded up. It can speak any language that the ritual participants can speak, and thus can translate with skill equal to half its Force.

Ally Spirits

(Street Grimoire p200, 195, 197) Initiates can create a long-term bond to a spirit as servant, partner, teacher, or conscience. Sometimes this is a familiar spirit found on a metaplanar quest or introduced by a mentor spirit, sometimes a created tulpa or servitor.

Ally Spirit (1): this is a variant of the Extra Action stunt that gives you a new Edge named Ally. Ally acts like Magic, but for the spirit. When you buy the stunt, the Edge is at +0 and effectively one upgrade; spend two upgrades and it’s +1, three more and it’s +2, etc. Each upgrade can buy another power for your ally. Your ally has a High Concept like Fun-Loving Feline Familiar, Raven-Sent Spirit Guide, or Precision-Engineered Homunculus, and a Complication like Neverending Curiosity, Inveterate Prankster, or Trophy Collector.

Ally powers start with:

With each upgrade, they can learn any power appropriate to their spirit type (e.g. an elemental spirit can learn Engulf), and one spell or alchemical recipe. Upgrades represent ritual magic, and during upgrades, or when their partner is rendered unconscious in combat, a mistreated ally can attempt to go free at such a time, rolling your Focus+Ally against your Prod+Magic; if they can beat your roll, they go free, and may become a free spirit. You lose the stunt (gaining a point of refresh), and lose all upgrades spent on your ally.

An ally with Inhabitation can move into any prepared vessel. Sometimes this is a living animal, sometimes a construct. Making a feral creature into an ally is challenging, as it is not going to cooperate with the ritual preparations. Making a pet into an ally by crafting an ally formula to match its personality, or conjuring an existing spirit into an unborn or unhatched creature, avoids resistance. The ally is now Dual-Natured and cannot astrally project, but they have Immunity to Normal Weapons and can learn Aura Masking if their partner has the Masking metamagic. The vessel will age normally until the body’s age matches their partner’s (or will not age until the partner catches up to the vessel); once they are synced up, they will age together proportionally; if the magician expires of old age, their ally’s mortal form expires and the spirit returns to astral form and either departs to its metaplane or becomes a free spirit. If the ally’s vessel is killed or destroyed, they return to their metaplane can be conjured into a new one with ritual magic as long as their formula has not been lost. An inhabiting ally can move to a new vessel during an upgrade; if the vessel is living, they resume aging normally.

An ally with Materialization has at least one form, defined by a piece of original artwork (such as a painting or sculpture) or a model. (Many magicians have the ally as a double, which can be handy when creating alibis.) They can learn a new form, or wardrobe for an existing form (new outfits equal to Scrounge+Ally), at each upgrade milestone. (An ally with panhuman form usually starts with a number of outfits equal to Scrounge+Ally; they can materialize without it and then put on other clothing, but they can’t take that clothing with them when they dematerialize.) Even if Movement is not available to their spirit type, they can learn a version that empowers them appropriate to their form (so an ally with a horse form can run as fast as a horse, and one with a motorcycle form can ride as fast as one).

An ally with Possession can inhabit a being or object by rolling Focus+Ally against the Focus+Magic of the being or the object resistance of the object. On success, the ally is in charge of meat and mechanism but not mind or infotech. An enchanter can roll Make+Magic against object resistance to prepare an object for inhabitation, creating an advantage for the spirit to tag. Possession of an object only allows the object to perform actions that it could normally (clay changing shape counts), though spending an upgrade on the Animation power will allow an ally to make that sword fight on its own. If an ally has inhabited a vessel previously and nothing has been done to change that vessel’s metaphysical state, it does not need to roll again to return to the vessel (so it can jump out of your runesword into your rune-marked Harley-Davidson without a hassle). Consequences incurred while in a vessel persist with the spirit when it exits the vessel. A possessed melee weapon bypasses Immunity to Normal Weapons just like a weapon focus, and a street samurai wielding a possessed katana can be big trouble for a spirit.

Free Spirits

(Street Grimoire p202) When spirits go uncontrolled, they are usually on the same time limit from when they were summoned, and must depart at dawn or dusk. Most will depart immediately, either merging with their domain or returning to their home metaplane. Some will use the remainder of their time pursuing their own agenda, which might be revenge on their summoner. A few form a metaphysical connection to the world and can come and go from the metaplanes as they please; they are called free spirits. Generally this happens with spirits of at least Good (3) Force.

Every free spirit’s unique, fundamental nature can be described by a spirit formula. Such a formula must be assensed to be fully understood; spamming a copy out over the Matrix might make it a little easier for people to obtain the true formula. Such a formula is metaphysical in nature, and the spirit is aware of the location of all copies, unless they are behind a ward more powerful than their Force. At least one formula must exist in the world for the spirit to come and go freely (Street Wyrd p57–8); spirits can show up when a magical area is strongly congruent to a metaplane, such as a forest fire or volcano caldera allowing salamanders through, but such spirits usually need to stay in a friendly environment. Possession of a formula allows a spirit to be summoned, controlled, or banished; even a mundane can control a free spirit through their formula. Destroying a copy of a spirit’s formula and then beating their Force with your Focus+Magic prevents it from ever returning to this world, even if other copies exist; it is not clear to the banisher if this test was successful. For spirits that suffer from Evanescence, permanent banishing sends them so far, so fast that they are shredded and the spirit is destroyed. Destroying spirits from nearer metaplanes requires entering their metaplane and slaying them in their place of power.

A spirit’s formula can be obtained through:

Free spirits can learn new powers over time; they can learn both Materialization and Possession. Unlike mortals, spirits cannot gain karma directly; some can steal it directly if they have the rare Energy Drain (Karma) power, but most need to have it donated through a ritual in which a copy of their formula is present, or through a pact.

Pacts

Some free spirits can enter into pacts with mortals, establishing a metaphysical connection with them. They are usually only able to enter into one or two types of pact; it is possible to negotiate terms of behavior within the pact, but not terms of the metaphysical effect. Pacts are always aspects; long-term pacts are character aspects. Some sample pacts: (Street Grimoire p137)

A spirit and mortal with a pact can be used as sympathetic links to each other for purposes of ritual magic. Ending a pact without killing at least one participant is extremely difficult.

Companion Pact (1): you have entered into a renewable year-long pact with a free spirit where it aids you in your ventures and you share the karmic rewards. You and the spirit share a telepathic connection much like a conjurer does with summoned spirits. Mechanically, this is very similar to the Ally Spirit stunt, but upgrades can buy the spirit free spirit powers; the spirit has strong incentive to stick with you if you share every other upgrade with it, or you further its agenda. (Some spirits offer a variant of this that is also a dream pact.) You do not need to be magical to take this stunt.

Vulnerabilities of the Awakened

The process of learning to use one’s Awakened abilities involves getting in tune with one’s own aural template. This means that you take stress from extreme strains on the body, such as highly invasive surgery and extended intense drug use. Consequences for this stress can include geasa that limit your usage of your abilities, or even loss of an ability entirely.

Magical folk tend to be, well, superstitious about risking magic loss. Here are things that have never been observed under controlled circumstances to cause it, even though some will eschew any or all of these because they’ve heard of it happening to someone in proximity to magic loss:

Things that have been reliably observed to do it, though not always:

Things that are not conclusive, but may push a stressed system over the edge:

From a game mechanics perspective, taking a geas or losing a point of magic is an Extreme physical consequence.