Shadowrun Penumbra: Witchcraft

   Since it’s been requested, here’s a quick summary of the basic Witchcraft rules, as adjusted for Shadowrun III.

   Witchcraft is closely related to Enhancement – the ability used by Physical Adepts and Aces – in that it involves the manipulation of a continuous, if low-level, flow of magical energy through the user. Unlike a Physical Adept or Ace, however, a witch directs that flow externally, instead of channeling it into focused – and mostly internal – abilities.

   That’s why asking “What can you do with Witchcraft?” is a bit like asking “What can you do with your hands?”. The answer is going to either be so vague as to be useless – “manipulate, impact, or apply forces to objects” – or leave an enormous number of things out.

   Witches do not learn or use formal spells, do not normally channel enormous surges of energy (or injure themselves / suffer “drain” thereby), and the use of their abilities is no more magically conspicuous than the use of a physical adept’s abilities – although they can be equally obvious physically if they’re doing something blatant. A skilled Witch can do a multitude of things with Witchcraft. Unfortunately, none of those things will have much power behind them; Witchcraft is relatively easy to resist.

   Fortunately, unlike many sorceries, Witchcraft is rarely all-or-nothing. A Sorcerer who tries to seize control of a victim’s mind will pretty much either succeed or fail. A Witch who tries to make that same victim feel thirsty can induce mild thirst with a single success. Additional successes will increase the urgency until, at (Willpower) successes, it will become an overwhelming drive. Witches are far better off working with nature than against it. If the victim is already thirsty, you won’t need as many successes as you would if he’d just finished a glass of water. You want to create a lightning bolt? That’s pretty hard. You want to try to pull one out of a natural thunderstorm, steering where it lands? Also fairly hard, due to both distance and to the amount of energy involved – but likely to be extremely powerful if you pull it off. You want to set up a conductive link between a guard and the ceiling light next to him or her? Now THAT’S relatively easy.

   By default, Witchcraft affects a single target within (Magic Rating) meters or can be used to sense things or probe particular targets at ranges of up to (10 x Magic Rating) meters.

   At it’s base, Witchcraft is pretty easy to use:

  • Your basic dice pool is equal to your Witchcraft Skill. You can get a bonus by specializing – which usually means requiring gestures or incantations, or limiting yourself to a particular group of effects – but few Witches bother. Witchcraft dice can be used to create magical effects, to defend people against magical effects, and for dispelling other magics.
  • To create an effect you inform the game master of what you’re trying to do, and how you’re splitting your dice pool up if you’re trying to do more than one thing at a time. Then you roll the dice.
  • The target numbers for any particular trick are assigned by the GM, although there are some charts below to help out with it. Unfortunately, a Witch cannot generate more successes – including any devoted to sustaining other effects – than their Magic Rating. They also cannot attempt any trick with a target number higher than their Magic Rating.
  • In general, the target number to resist Witchcraft is (The Witch’s Magic Rating + 6)/3, rounded down. Note that some spells, such as Illusions, are detected, not resisted. In most such cases the target number for detection is equal to the (number of successes +2).
  • If you want to sustain an effect, simply leave some or all of the dice on which you rolled successes devoted to the effect. You hypnotized someone with Willpower 3, rolling 1, 2, 2, 4, 4, 6, 11? Keeping the 11, 6, and one of the 4’s will keep them firmly under control – and free up four of your seven Witchcraft dice for other purposes. Now, if you can get along with mere pressure – say that what you have him doing looks fairly sensible – you can probably get along with two successes. If you simply need to keep him suspicious of a complex business offer, one success is probably all you need. Unfortunately, sustaining an effect is mildly distracting; each effect you sustain increases all your other target numbers by +1.
  • Attacks made using Witchcraft have a base damage of L (Lethal) or M (Stun), regardless of the form employed.

Common Target Numbers:

  • Affect Magic: (Force+2) of target effect.
  • Affect Target’s Body: (Body). Trivial or simple effect (grow hair, induce itching, -2), Complex or Deep Effect (alter metabolism, relieve pain. +2), Extremely Complex Effect (alter form, manipulate biochemistry. +4).
  • Affect or Probe Target’s Mind: (Willpower). Trivial or simple effect (-2), Complex or Deep Effect (+2), Extremely Complex Effect (+4).
  • Augment Attribute (+1 per success): (Natural Attribute Value). +2 if attribute is enhanced by Bioware, +4 if attribute is enhanced by Cyberware.
  • Detection: Life, Magical Energies, Broadcast Thoughts (2), Residual Magic, Basic Inanimate Materials, Deceased Living Things (4), Complex Systems, Electronic Functions (6), Active Mental Probe (Target Will), +2 if a basic analysis is desired, +4 for a detailed analysis, +6 for intensive analysis, +2 for extended range or radius, +4 for an extended radius, +2 if target is out of line-of-sight, +4 if target is on another plane, +(Force) if target warded or behind an astral barrier. Note that, in some cases, these modifiers can be replaced with dice pool adjustments, see “Complications”.
  • Elemental Manipulation: Create Light, Breeze, Special Effects (2), Elemental Attack (4), Magical Transmutation (6), Fine Elemental Control (8), Precision (e.g. – generating power precisely enough to operate electronic devices, cooling something to far below zero, 10), and Microscale (e.g. – imprinting information on a DVD or chip, 12). Lingering Effect (for example, icing up the floor and having it last for several minutes before melting, +2).
  • Enhanced Sense: Enhanced Sensitivity or Precision (2), Extended spectrum (4), Mildly Revised Function (6), Radically Revised Function or New Sense (8), Targeting Sense (+2), Analytic Sense (+4).
  • Healing (two successes per point healed or point of power reduction, once only): Basic healing, remove poison damage, detoxification, reduce power of diseases and poisons, etc (8-Essence), Reduce Pain, minor biophysical manipulations (2), improve digestion, reduce blood pressure, induce gas, etc (4), induce epileptic fit, cause paralysis (6), relieve paralysis, disrupt autonomic systems (8), manipulate biochemistry, disrupt memory, relieve paralysis, provide partial life support (10), full life support (12).
  • Illusion: Simple Mental (2), Simple Physical or Complex Mental (4), Complex Physical or Grandiose Mental (6), Grandiose Physical (8).
  • Mental Communication: Empathy (2), “Basic Speech” (4), Information Burst (6), Targeting Coordination (8).
  • Telekinetic Manipulation: Unfocused (2), Basic Manipulation (4), Detailed Manipulation or Basic Shield/Barrier (6), Microscopic, Basic Restructuring, Catalysis (8), Molecular/Atomic, Advanced Restructuring of Matter (10), Subatomic, Genetic Restructuring (12).
  • General Target Number Modifiers: Voluntary Target (-2), Non-telekinetic effect becomes permanent after a brief interval (+2), Having several minutes to work in (-2).
  • Characters who rely too much on Witchcraft tend to become hypersensitive to astral disturbances. While this can be useful, since it can provide advance warning of the presence of spirits, wards, background counts, surges, and similar effects, the distraction also tends to increase all Witchcraft target numbers, usually by +2, but occasionally – in severe cases – by +4. (Witchcraft is meant to be used casually, but if a character is trying to use it to enhance everything he or she does, or it’s becoming an unacceptable pain for the GM and the player is not responding to reason, this modifier is likely to come into play anyway. Ergo, here’s a rationale for it).
  • The GM may opt to modify the target numbers to encourage or discourage particular effects, just as he may opt to modify the drain target numbers, availability, and karma costs for conventional sorcery.


  • Attempts to dispel other Witchcraft effects do not cause drain but – since they are actively resisted – may result in a magical conflict with the opponent. Attempts to dispel Sorcery and Thaumaturgy cause drain normally, one of the few times when a Witch risks Drain.
  • Witches and groups of Witches can use Ritual Magic just as Sorcerers can, with essentially identical benefits. This is one of the few ways to set up a Witchcraft effect that is self-sustaining for more than a few moments – or to work effectively at extreme ranges.
  • Pushing (optional) is simply the magical equivalent of grinding your teeth and straining every muscle: you get extra dice at the cost of possibly injuring yourself. A Witch who wants to push their powers may make a Willpower check with a TN of 4. Each success boosts the limit on a Witches total successes by one and can be used as an extra die on a particular Witchcraft check – but each extra die, or success over the limit, which the Witch actually uses causes one box of stun damage to him or her.
  • Augmenting covers using Witchcraft to enhance other skills. In general, basic Witchcraft can only augment physical skills or fine manipulations, such as picking a lock. The user may either add one-half the number of dice assigned to augmenting a particular skill to his or her skill tests or reduce the target number by one by assigning three Witchcraft dice to that task. For example, a character with Witchcraft-7 and Acrobatics-3 is trying to walk a tightrope. Deciding to use a bit of telekinesis to help themselves balance, the character could assign four Witchcraft dice to gain two extra dice on the roll and the other three to reduce the target number from six to five – changing the check from 3T6 to 5T5; a vast improvement – and much faster than simply levitating.
  • Dice Modifiers are optional modifiers that increase or (usually) decrease the number of dice rolled for particular spells. In general, this is simply because affecting large areas, or distant targets, simply demands more power – although some spirits can provide bonus dice to witches just as they might supply them to Sorcerers. Modifiers in this category include: Touching the Target (+1), Target between [Magic Rating] and [Magic Rating x10 meters away (-1), Target between [Magic Rating x 10] and [Magic Rating x 100] meters away (-2) (and so on), Additional Target (-1 per extra target), Small effect (fits within a radius of MR/3 meters or less, -1), Modest effect (MR/2 meters radius or less, -2), Large area effect (MR meters radius or less, -3), Grandiose area effect (MR x 10 meter radius or less, -6), Aid from appropriate spirit (+Force), effect lingers briefly even if unattended (-1 per turn it will remain).

   Witchcraft simply isn’t all that useful for healing massive injuries, blasting people with spells, or transforming things. On the other hand, it’s quite good at illusions, sensory enhancements, or subtle manipulations – and is a good backup for a wide variety of other effects when your Sorcerer simply doesn’t have the appropriate spell handy.

   This is a quick update, and a severe compression: if there are any questions, or I’ve accidentally left out something major, drop a comment and let me know.

3 Responses

  1. Interesting Read! Very detailed blog.
    Thanks for sharing

  2. would like to talk to you about the spells that could cause paralysis and then relieve the paralysis.
    someone in my family had a spell cast on them at one time. she could walk (about 3 yrs old), then all of a sudden she couldn’t walk anymore. her mother had to carry her around. there wasn’t any other symptoms. then after 6 mos to a yr she could walk again. the mother thought that someone had put a spell on the little girl because they were mad at her (the mother).
    could this be caused by a witch’s spell??

    • To deal with the lesser issue first, the effects of classical “witchcraft” or other forms of primitive magic, usually fit into one of three categories – the psychological effects of suggestion and belief, the pharmacological properties of various herbs and preparations, and ritualistic magic. Suggestion and belief certainly do have readily-demonstrated effects, as can be seen in the case of placebos, “lucky charms” such as rabbits feet, hysterical paralysis, and numerous other well-recorded instances. Of course, to make a “spell” that involves phenomena in this category effective, the target must be both aware of it and believe in it’s potency. Nevertheless, a “spell” designed to make someone a better and more confident public speaker is quite likely to work under those circumstances; the belief that one will give a good performance goes a long way towards making itself true.

      Primitive pharmacological effects are, in general, unreliable; this is not to say that herbs and natural products are necessarily ineffective – both cobra venom and arsenic are all-natural and quite effective – but that the potency of herbs and other materials can vary wildly depending on the particular source, when it was collected, how it’s been preserved, how long it’s been stored, and how it’s been prepared, among many other factors.

      As for ritualistic magic… Well, for example one weight-loss spell involves tracing your shadow by moonlight, then drawing the skinnier shadow you wish to cast inside the tracing, the erasing the larger shadow bit by bit over the course of the next month while eating a “magical diet” consisting mostly of greens and going for hour-long evening walks starting at twilight. The instructions note that if, after the month, you have not yet achieved your desired weight, you should simply repeat the spell.

      I can easily credit the workings of that particular spell, but – like all magical claims – all of it’s observable effects can be readily traced to simple physical and psychological causes. There is no evidence of any supernatural force being involved at all. No one has EVER been able to produce any actual measurable evidence that a spell, psychic power, or other supernatural claim has any basis in reality. If you can do so, there are millions of dollars in prize money waiting.

      In the case of a child who “all of a sudden she couldn’t walk anymore. her mother had to carry her around. there wasn’t any other symptoms. then after 6 mos to a yr she could walk again” that line already suggests a natural cause; if the best you can do to pin down the recovery is to state that “after 6 mos to a yr she could walk again” then it was almost certainly a gradual process. This could easily indicate causes such as a bone bruise or similar problem (which can render it quite painful to walk for some time and be very slow to heal), a pinched nerve, a minor stroke affecting the relevant muscle-control sections of the brain, or something similar – perhaps supplemented with psychological causes, such as going through a “clinging” phase, wanting more attention, or simply getting used to being carried again. All of those causes, and many more, can lead to a short-term inability to walk followed by a slow recovery.

      On the greater issue, posting this sort of question here – on a page dealing with rules for role-playing games – shows about the same comprehension of reality as asking a chess player for instructions on launching a surprise attack on an enemy country or asking a Monopoly player to run your business. Given that demonstrated inability to tell reality from fantasy, it would probably be best if you were to take your worries about Witchcraft to a qualified mental health specialist.

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