It’s always interesting to see where different assumptions go. One of the players has put up an article on Magic in Shadowrun over HERE, proposing several new magical skills and quite a lot of interesting ideas. Under the way I’m currently running the deeper mysteries of magic, some of it will work, some won’t, and some will need some tweaking.
Here’s some basics on how things are currently working:
In Shadowrun, the presence of living things links the physical and astral planes, while certain physical conditions can distort or taint the normally-unaspected structure of astral space. The effect of living things, however, is quite diffuse: magic works as well in the frozen depths of the antarctic or in the center of barren deserts as it does in the depths of an unspoiled rainforest or rich oceanic ecosystem. Magic works quite well until you reach the edges of space, where it gradually becomes more and more difficult and dangerous to tap.
The existence of a physical link is easy to evaluate: the earth moves through both space and astral space – yet features such as astral background counts, psychic impressions, and areas of unstable magic, remain centered on physical objects and locations. Enchanted objects exist, and an astral mage can’t simply swipe their astral structure. Magical energies can be anchored in matter, although only living things can manipulate them actively – at least as far as is known.
In Shadowrun, the astral plane is the sole source of magic – and is an apparently limitless reservoir of power. However, for no known reason, the intensity (like voltage) varies both locally and on a grand scale over time. Is the variation universal? Does it emanate from the center of the galaxy? Is it influenced by some celestial cycle? If there are other dimensions, does the same cycle apply to them?
No one really knows.
They do know that channeling magical power stresses the user’s physical body. Relatively small amounts – like those used on a continuing basis by Psychics, Witches, Physical Adepts, Aces, and similar magic-wielders – can be handled safely, just as a baggage-handler can get used to hauling luggage around all day.
Trying to handle high-end bursts of power, like physical power-lifting, is dangerous. A Sorcerer can easily knock himself out or, if working beyond his or her capacity, suffer serious injuries. We call that “drain”, but “stress” would be just as accurate.
In either case, practice, training, and skill can increase your magical capacity, just as those same elements can increase how much you can safely lift – although both cases seem to be subject to some upper limits.
Spirits – lucky spirits! – do not suffer from the limitations of a physical body. However much power they can handle, they can usually handle all the time. Sorcerer-spirits do not suffer from Drain (although, without a physical body to anchor themselves with, they cannot conjure other spirits either). Depressingly, thanks to the continuing link between an astrally-projecting mage and his or her body, Drain is even worse in astral space, since magical energy circulates through that link during spellcasting. Thus even those normally immune – such as Witches and Physical Adepts – become subject to Drain if they attempt to use their powers while astrally projecting.
Magic can be manipulated instinctively. Witches do it all the time. Untrained sorcerers can produce a wide variety of effects, even without actually knowing any spells. Unfortunately, this is extremely unreliable, produces low-powered effects and – for a Sorcerer – are even more draining than normal spellcasting. There are advanced initiate techniques which can reduce these drawbacks, but they’re rare.
Skilled sorcerers channel bursts of power through quasi-living mental constructs – complex mental structures built up over days of study and invested with their life energy or “karma”. However, drawing on that power, holding it as you build up the burst, and focusing it through the structure of the spell, all add to the strain of casting the spell.
Wouldn’t it be nice if someone else would take care of all that for you? Then you’d merely have to provide a few directions as the spell passed through you.
That’s Thaumaturgy. You find a powerful (Force 12+) spirit with Sorcery, establish a link to it, and pay it Karma for the right to occasionally ask it to cast a spell for you. All you’ve got to do is redirect the power as it pours into you. You don’t have to gather it, hold and focus it, or force structure upon it. All you have to do is point and blast – or heal, or whatever.
Only trouble is, Spirits tend to charge a LOT of karma for that kind of privilege, and they usually have other clients. They’re busy entities, think that humans are idiots (and compared to them, they’re generally right, since their intelligence is usually equal to their force), and don’t want to waste time negotiating. If spirit “A” charges 30 karma for granting you three fireballs each week, you take it or leave it.
Thaumaturgists take it. After all, those fireballs will be cast with the power of a truly major spirit behind them. Force 18? Force 24? More? Possibly with some bonus dice on the casting check? Without any drain, and without most penalties on the casting check since – after all – they aren’t actually doing most of the work.
You really need to turn that main battle tank into a puddle of molten metal?
Then you want a Thaumaturgist.
On a smaller scale, Thaumaturgists can also channel the powers of lesser spirits (including any they summon themselves), redirect incoming magic back into astral space, and are pretty much immune to local magical problems, such as surges and background count. After all, their spells are actually being cast someplace else – often someplace in the deep astral.
Spirits come in two major types: most basic conjured spirits are simply creations – reflections of the summoners mind imprinted on a mass of astral energy. The types vary a lot, but that’s mostly because of what people believe about the various types of spirits and what the energy they’re imprinted on is most oriented to.
“Free” spirits have acquired “souls” – at least, some permanent core of independent life of their own. They’re free individuals, and may grow greatly in power.