There’s two new factors in SR5 to Initiation (one of which also applies to Submersion). The first is that since you start with karma, if allowed you could actually initiate in chargen. Now the book suggests this isn’t allowed, which has been confirmed by several designers from the very first day SR5 launched.
A second thing is that initiation is now an extended Arcana+Intuition test. This means that Adepts (and any magical character without Arcana really) will have a hard time getting a high initiation grade, plus it will take them many months.
Rule: Initiation/Submersion is possible at chargen, but Special Attribute Points cannot be used into the raised Maximum
The writers that confirmed you cannot initiate in chargen, also noted they don’t see a problem with houseruling it. However, one such problem does exist:
While chargen may seem like a strict progression, it’s more of a big ball of wibbly wobbly stuff. In later steps of chargen you can do something that lets you then do something in a previous step, so things get rather wonky. The general consensus is karma after points, so for example no taking a skill at 1 and then raising it to 6 with skill points.
Special Attribute Points are a special beast since the rules actively note they are conserved until the end of chargen. This opens up a small Essence-loss loophole, but more importantly it leads to 1 big problem with allowing Initiation (and Submersion but let’s just state 1 for now) during chargen. Theoretically a character could take for example Metatype D = Human(3), Magic A = Magician 6 Magic, Initiate 3x and use the 3 SAPs to raise their Magic to 9.
Is this a problem? Well in-game it would cost 120 karma. Raising Edge from 2 to 5 would cost 60 karma. So this is a massive karma gain and results in magic-levels that would normally take a LOT of effort to reach. It’s a point-grab abusing a loophole, and a bit unbelievable, so for some it’d be a problem.
Since Initiation isn’t supposed to be possible at chargen, this loophole normally doesn’t exist. Instead, taking Exceptional Magic would deliberately allow you to put in 1 SAP into the raised Maximum. Only when houseruling Initiation as allowed would this loophole come into existence. So the easiest solution is to change the houserule. Since the loophole depends on the houserule, just close it with an adjusted houserule.
So if a GM wants to allow Initiation at chargen, they should also state no Special Attribute Points can be used into the raised Maximum. So a Mage with Exceptional Magic and 1 Initiation would have a maximum Magic of 8, but would only be allowed to use SAPs up to the Exceptional maximum of 7. Any higher would require karma expenditure.
Rule: Ordeals with a lengthy time-period replace the normal Arcana test
Technically this one sort of isn’t even a houserule, because one of the Freelancers confirmed that this is what they intended. Of course this hasn’t been officially confirmed as Catalyst intent through a FAQ, so it still falls under houserules.
Anyway. The Arcana+Intuition(Grade, 1 month) extended test can take quite a while. Ordeals, which are a way of scoring a karma discount, also can take quite a while. They take a month and have a failing chance, so you can be stuck initiating for multiple months and then ALSO be stuck ordealing for multiple months. And with an Ordeal there’s no take-backs: You pay the karma cost in advance and are stuck with doing that. A Nine Path Ordeal where the GM uses the highest dicepool (they ARE allowed to be nice and take the lowest, but that is ill-advised unless it’s a low grade) can easily average 3~4 attempts needed.
Under this rule, this risky lengthy retrying replaces the Initiation test. So you’re not stuck spending months on each, instead the Ordeal would be the only thing costing you months to perform. This means Initiation to say grade 3 is not something that requires half a year or worse to complete just because you’re doing a tough Ordeal. (Don’t forget Ordeals are finite, you can’t just go and repeat the same one time after time.)
An added bonus to this houserule is that it gives Adepts a nice benefit. Even if an Adept picks up 1 point of Arcana, they’ll soon end up in a situation where their third or fourth initiation will take many months and might still fail. If instead they can try an Ordeal, they are not forced to spend a lot of karma on a skill that makes no sense for Adepts to have.