When Shadowrun, Sixth World first came out, one of the comments I really enjoyed hearing from one of the early players was that it felt like the new edition was trying to “open up the toy box”—that is, giving players more options and removing the barriers that might keep players from building the character they want. That’s going to be a theme as more core books come out for the game, as many aspects of the game were designed with the idea of giving players more tools for adaptation and customization.
This is especially true for the core Magic rulebook, Street Wyrd. Spells in the core Shadowrun, Sixth World rulebook were designed using a construction system that combines some basic ingredients to cook up a single spell. For example, the classic Fireball spell has the following ingredients: affect living things, area effect, fire, and ranged. Combining these ingredients not only shows what the spell will do but provides a base drain value to show how wearying the spell is to cast.
The main reason this was done was that so when the core magic rulebook came along, that way of building a spell could be written out and shared, giving players and gamemasters the chance to design their own spells and cause their own mischief. The different elemental effects of SR6 play an important role in this system—the ability of one effect to sometimes cancel out another effect allows players to customize their attacks and defenses with their possible opposition in mind, anticipating what is going to be thrown at them and preparing spells to counter that or exploit a weakness in the opposition. Street Wyrd adds some effects to the mix beyond what was in the core book, such as water and corrosion, and increases the substances that can be manipulated, with fabric and rubber being added. With these tools, runners can make magic that does what they want it to.
But spell creation is far from the only option in the book. As we did with the core combat book, Firing Squad, we wanted to add some new elements that act like new gear for the character, but others that expand the ways to develop and play a character in a Shadowrun game. And as is often the case, the inspiration for these elements came from different directions.
Some things the book was going to include were clear from the get-go—a Shadowrun magic book must include spells, adept powers, new spirits, and other extensions of core magic tools (quick aside: the new spells I’m most looking forward to using are Dreams and Foreboding, to wreak some serious psychological warfare on a hapless target while playing out a long con). Other things are new twists. One of the most unusual comes in the chapter on alchemy, which induces magical preparations that can be used by anyone, not just those with magical power. I’ll admit, this gave me pause. Shadowrun has long maintained a division between magic and mundane, partly so that characters cannot stack up on technological and magical advantages, which could make them unstoppable.
However, there are perils to this path, but there is also the potential for interesting plot developments and surprising storylines. A mundane shadowrunner sneaking a preparation past scanning spirits who are satisfied the individual doesn’t have magic power, only for the run to toss a rock that explodes into a fireball. And the same could happen in reverse—a team of shadowrunners sees a beggar they dismiss as powerless and non-magical, only to have that beggar unleash a flurry of lightning bolts that they never saw coming.
So, there were possibilities, but they depended in part on surprise, and that surprise would go away if these items became common and a part of every runner team’s standard repertoire. The mechanics had to allow these preparations to be useful but also have ways to keep them rare.
We came at that requirement from a few directions. The first was simple: Player characters cannot make or purchase these preparations. We’ve seen that once we make something part of the Shadowrun marketplace, player characters usually have much less difficulty than we expected getting their hands in it. We thought that putting a blanket restriction on them would limit their accessibility.
The second control is duration. These things simply don’t last forever. It may take a lot of effort to get one, and if you somehow manage to do that, you still don’t know when the item might dribble out its last bit of potency and lose all of its magic power. That means that in any attempt to get one of these preparations, player characters need to ask themselves if the effort they’re putting out is worth it, since the item they retrieve may never be useful to them.
But still—the items are out there. The possibility that they could be used against you, or for you if you can get your hands on one, leads to exciting storytelling possibilities. So we opened that Pandora’s box, and we’ll see what happens.
Other additions to the game world are less about game mechanics. Shadowrun has a long tradition of magical societies doing all sorts of work, and they can appear as allies or enemies to player characters. From the Bear Doctor Society, who might be great healers to meet in a time of need, to the Glitter Party People, who might interrupt shadowy activities with a burst of bright illusions, there are lots of storytelling possibilities in this book. And that’s what I really want to add to a game, because even the mechanics are about ways to expand storytelling possibilities and help players make their own legends.
Jason M. Hardy is the Shadowrun line developer for Catalyst Game Labs. He is currently making a custom spell for Shadowrun that keeps your feet warm, conjures a mug of hot chocolate, and then places it gently on your desk.