Houserules: Movement 2

Last week I went into the Movement power, offering a possible way of nerfing the ability if granted to players through Channeling & Possession. It’s complicated, especially since people aren’t equivalent to vehicles so ‘sidestreets’ would become ‘sidealley’ or something like that.

Below are a variant and some possible combination-rules, coming from debates with my players about in what way I’ll nerf them.


Rule: Movement penalties are -25% per complicating factor

Complicating factors here are: Bad terrain, narrow area, stuff gets in the way. So if you’re running over rooftops, you’ll suffer a bad terrain penalty and a stuff-gets-in-the-way penalty. A forest has all 3, alleys can easily have all 3, sidestreets got 1~2, etc. In combat you’ll likely suffer -50%. No figuring out the terrain penalty or doing division, so more finesse (-25% instead of an immediate -50%) is possible this way. It’s the variant I’m currently leaning towards.


Rule: Only the increase from Movement is nerfed

If you get divided by 4, or -75%, a Force 6 only means +50% while Force 4 would give no bonus. Under this change, however, you’d still get a bonus of +75%/+125% for Force 4 and 6 respectively. This keeps Movement nice and nerfs the bonus without fully crippling the power.

Granted, under those circumstances you might want to add 1 to the divisor for the /difficulty rule, and consider taking a 20%~40% terrain-quality + 2x -20% penalties for the complicating factor rule. That way the bonus doesn’t go too crazy.


Rule: In combat you can try to go faster, using Gymnastic tests akin to vehicle stunts

The idea of the nerf is that some things are simply not built for you going that fast. If you keep pushing yourself you’d have an accident, so instead it’s nerfed period. In combat, however, one could try to push themselves to go that extra quarter mile. However, you’d have to roll well on a Gymnastic test, with a threshold directly related to the Vehicle Stunt table. This combines nicely with the idea beyind the division-rule, and rewards Gymnastics users which is a skill few people take.

The question is what do you do if they fail. Do they crash, bump into stuff or just not get up to speed? Maybe move but not do special stuff if they hit the terrain threshold but not the additional stunt threshold, or do a crash test to see if they manage to stay upright? GM call, discuss it with your players.


Rule: Spirits suffer a reduction only if they fly within 2 meters from varying obstacles or 1 meter from default obstacles

In other words, if a spirit is buzzing about but far away enough from obstacles to not have to worry about them, they don’t take a movement penalty from it. Here a straight wall / rooftop is far different from an alley with obstacles in the way or rooftops with AC Units and wires and more in the way. This keeps spirits from easily outdoing players without risks while also still letting them outshine players when it comes to what spirits do well: fly.

As for the reduction: Take a look at how you’d treat players, but keep in mind that they don’t have to touch the ground.


Rule: In combat Spirits need to roll Fly tests to buzz around properly

Akin to the Gymnastics rule above, a Spirit would need to roll Fly (normally used to cover extra distance, remember that any Running skill on a spirit should in fact be Flying) to pull crazy movement maneuvers in combat.


And remember: No only deciding on your actions after you moved, you declare intended actions together with your movement before going at it. Anything more complicated than ‘I fire at the first plausible threat I see unless I change my mind and lose my attack action’ wouldn’t fit in the 1~2 seconds going into your Action Phase.

Houserules: Movement Power

The Movement power is what allows some spirits to move at incredible speed, as well as either buff or restrain others by either multiplying or dividing it with the Spirit’s Magic (which equals Force).

In SR4 this power had only two restrictions listed: Inside terrain it controlled, and based on Body (B>M = halved effect, B>2*M = no effect). SR5 has more detail to it, going back to SR3’s description and talking more explicitly about terrain/domain the Spirit controls, as well as containing a separate rule for vehicles.

This unfortunately runs into two complications. First of all, what IS terrain a spirit controls? Clearly it’s not just ‘their natural habitat’, since otherwise an Air Spirit could easily target any plane they see, while a Plant spirit would rule surpreme in the jungle. Don’t even get me started on what kind of terrain would be a Guardian spirit’s natural habitat…

The second is that the power’s description went back to its SR3 version. Unfortunately, some mechanics have changed since SR3… Some even midway SR5’s development, such as Vehicles… Rather than having a significant Acceleration and Speed directly translating to m/CT, Acceleration is now a tricky number solely for Vehicle Chases (which a previous houserule already covered) and Speed simply is a limit as well as translating to how fast you can go.

I mean nobody woudl believe it’s intended that a good test on a good car could easily make it go 2^18 as fast. That’s 50 million km/hour… If we look at SR3’s Speed system the original intent seems more clear: Say you got a vehicle with an Acceleration of 10, and Speed actually is your actual speed rather than a single-digit number, then those 6 hits would translate to making the vehicle go 100 m/CT faster/slower instead, which likely (especially with deceleration rules) could actually cause it to crash due to the sudden changes.

I’ll be discussing three core Movement houserules here, two of which I have already applied in my own campaign. An important note: This has actually impacted my campaign’s balance and I’ve been thinking of ways to nerf it down for a while, which will be included as corollaries. It wasn’t that bad (sorta) with one Speedster, but with four magicians all outshining the Rigger’s speed… Not to mention it kinda ruins ambushes and all that.


Ahem. Before we go into the houserules, there’s something VERY important you should know first, a small detail of the rules that many probably missed.

Your actions and movement are declared at the START of your Action Phase. That is, you FIRST declare what all you’ll do, THEN you start executing it. (Page 158, 159, 163.) You can stop or change direction, but you cannot increase your movement after finding out some of the results of your actions. Logically the same would apply to your offensive actions, even if not explicitly stated.

So say you decide to run around a corner. If there’s an enemy waiting around it, you can’t go ‘oh then I’ll just run past him’. You can break or dive back, but not go further than originally declared. You also cannot attack him if you didn’t keep the option in mind. That’s why I make my fast players declare what their intent will be in somewhat-vague terms, for example ‘cut the first enemy that dares to get in my way in two’. That way the runner still can go around a corner and attack, assuming there is in fact an enemy within reach.

This might seem like nitpicking but when it comes to combatants easily moving 100 meters in a single Combat Turn, it becomes VERY important. You can’t walk 20m, see what enemies are where and THEN make a detailed plan for the rest of your Action Phase: Decide at the start and run into danger! You can run up a staircase but only if you knew it was there and declared the intent.

A sidenote: This also means that you got to keep a few possible outcomes in mind as player. As GM I wouldn’t give you a lot of hassle if you used an If-statement in your Action Declarations, but you got to keep in mind the highest declared movement will count for your movement allotment of the Combat Turn. Just make sure you make clear to your players what the limitations will be before they run into nasty complications, as part of the social contract.


Rule: Spirits can only use Movement on others inside Aspected Areas

There are basically three ways for an area to get Aspected in the advantage of a Tradition: The Personal Domains of some Free Spirits, frequent use by that tradition and magical lodges, in order from large to small (multiple acres, ?, very-small-region). Which means that for nearly every situation the Spirit will not be able to use Movement on others, only on themselves, fitting with the ‘only in terrain they control’ restriction being an actual restriction.

If they have the home advantage though, from defending their magician’s turf or their own… Ohboy… And that’s exactly what this houserule is about: Making it about the home-advantage. You get the enemy to fight in an area aspected in your favor, they’ll be in massive trouble against your Spirits unless they cleanse the area… Only being able to run 6 meters per Combat Turn as a 9-Agility character can REALLY hurt in combat, especially once AoE effects are put into play!


Rule: Movement against vebicles uses (M+W)d6*Accel*10/Body

Leaving aside the whole ‘Speed-changes’, which obviously no longer is intended like that with the new Speed mechanic, there’s another problem I personally have with Movement against Vehicles. Right now they have to hit a threshold, which can be MASSIVE for high-Body vehicles (9 for a Roadmaster!), but the threshold itself is merely to decide if it works! You hit a threshold 6, you suddenly count as 6 hits instead of 0. That’s plain weird. It’d make more sense if your effect was divided by Body.

Now keeping the Acceleration is an easy call since it seems logical that the better a vehicle accelerates/decelerates, the more easily a Spirit can manage to change its speed. The biggest problem is what multiplier to use. SR5 mostly uses Acceleration 1~3, where 3 is the max that matters for a Vehicle Chase, only the occasional vehicle goes above it. So a significant multiplier seems required.

A Force 6 Spirit would average 4 hits, so on a 2-Accel Body-8 Jackrabbit we’d be at 4*2/8 = 1 as base modifier. To compare, in SR3 Accel-rates were roughly from 3 to 12 and the SR5 rule employs a Body/2 for the threshold. So let’s roughly quadruple to convert back to SR3’s concepts, double to fit with B/2 and round up to x10. Now 4 hits would translate to 40 m/CT. With the modified Speed system from my previous houserules, this could actually lead to a lot of discomfort for your enemies or even a crash test.


Rule: Channeled/Possession Spirits can use Movement

A Spirit can only use Movement on itself outside terrain/domains it controls. When a Spirit possesses someone or is channeled by a magician, they form a special kind of combination which impacts Physical attributes and their resistance to mental spells. So it makes sense to also let them use their powers (such as Elemental Aura and Movement) inside these bodies, with all the downsides in the case of Elemental Aura. (Congratulations, you’re on fire, how well-protected is your gear? You’re electrifying? Enjoy the fried commlink.)

There is a big balance risk with Movement though. Even a 3-Agility character Channeling a Force 6 Spirit will suddenly have 6 Agility and 72/144 as their Movement rates… A 5-Agility with a Force 8 would hit 9*8*4 = 288 m/CT running rate, that’s ~345 km/h. Compare that to a Rigger whose 4-Speed Drones, even under my Speed table if you don’t make them lose Speed categories (which I should consider only doing for walkers, and for any drone moving indoors), can only move 150 km/h, and you realize that indeed this houserule risks favoring Movement players too much. Of course there’s downsides (spooking cars, Metamagic or Tradition sacrifice, drawing unwanted attention, cannot mask this only Manascape it, etc.) but there’s still space for a few fixes to this.

(Incidentally, I already employ slight Accel/Decel-rules and ‘Gridguide hates you and demands you wear a tracker on the highway so you don’t spook their cars’, but there’s still space for more because it’s fun but not enough.)


Rule: Movement’s buff is divided by TerrainDifficulty

Note that this does not just matter for Channeling and Possession. Great Form Spirits with 6+ net hits on the ritual can Endow a power, meaning you can now let your Spirit pass Movement on to multiple teammembers… Anyway:

On page 201 you’ll find terrain modifiers for vehicle stunts. Now we could demand Gymnastic tests for magical-boosted movement speeds, but that’s a bit tricky for long movement and rather detracts from the game. So instead we’d nerf it differently: You want to channel a spirit and run through side-streets? The buff you get is divided by 2 for the Vehicle Terrain Modifier, so a Force 6 only triples your speed instead. Want to hit the back-alleys with a Force 8? You only double instead of eightfold due to/ 4. Rounding is of course on the final movement speed, not the multiplier.

(No, these are not insane examples. Now it might be because I employ a karma<->nuyen rule but I actually do have people working towards being able to Channel Force 10 Spirits and already using Force-9 ones…)

An important note here is that the same Vehicle table includes terrain modifiers for flying. Irrelevant for metahumans themselves, but Spirits CAN fly, even if they normally don’t. Still facing some restrictions even if they take into the air is quite nice and means drones are still quite useful: A Roto-Drone managing 200 km/h (+1 Speed Category with risks, no Speed Category reduction for being a drone) would still be able to outfly a Spirit using Movement, IF directly controlled by its Rigger or solely doing normal low-altitude flying (threshold-2 is doable for 9 dice, 15% failing odds and that simply means failing and a second attempt normally).

An alternative houserule would use percentages rather than division, and of course the vehicle table is for vehicles so the descriptions would need to be altered. What is the pedestrian equivalent of sidestreets?


Two sidenotes to make. First, Harlequinn channeling would easily go faster than the speed of sound but others would have a hard time coming close. Even if you go with ‘Increase Agility stacks with Possession’ like I do, you essentially need a Force 16 Spirit in a 5[9]->17 Agility character or a Force 14 in an 8[12]->19 to barely reach 1 mach.

Sidenote two: You need ~30 m/second, so ~90 m/CT, to be able to run on water. If we count running on water with Magic as /2 for difficulty, you’d need 180 meters/CT before division. Divide by 4 for running, and 6 for a normal Force 6 Spirit and you’d need 8 Agility which is doable.

Want to walk on water without running penalties or eventual running-exhaustion? You’d need 360, say Force 9 Spirit for 10 Agility, 4 of which from the Spirit so quite doable with a bit of magic. A Force 8 would require 11~12 Agility.

Houserules & Rule Clarifications: Background Count

Background Count is a GM-tool that can be used to nerf down players and enemies. It also can be used to buff magical characters by using Aspected Background Counts. Before we cover the houserules, let’s quickly cover some details here.

For those who don’t know how it works: A Background Count of Rating +/-X normally gives a -X Dice on all tests (buffed by) Magic, and sustained effects (spells, Foci) get hit by -X on their Force. Magical-buffed Initiative also likely takes a hit though that’s not entirely official yet (Missions came with it but will it apply elsewhere?). If the Force-drop makes the Force drop to 0, effects go poof: Foci deactivate and spells are all gone. (Including Quickened Spells, ouch for karma! What were you doing quickening at that low a Force though?)

If the Force of a Focus goes down, it also means the Focus gives less bonus. A Force 3 Power Focus in Background Count -2 will be stuck at only a +1 from Force 2 (and you ALSO take a -2 on the magical tests). A Force 4 Qi Focus giving you 2 ranks of 0.5 PP each will drop down to Force 2 so only giving 1 rank of whatever Adept Power it gave. And if you got a Force 4 Qi Focus giving you, say, Astral Perception? POOF! Force 2 means you no longer have the Force 4 required, so the power is unaccessable.

Sustained Spells also get hit by the Force Penalty, which may or may not matter. An Increase Attribute Spell must be high enough Force-wise to impact the target. If the Force is lowered to below the previous attribute value, well it would probably mean (GM-decision in the end) the spell is still active but no longer is giving a boost. Detection spells decrease in range, but most Illusion spells wouldn’t care. Combat Spells are Instant so don’t care anyway (even if cast from outside to inside a background count). And if you cast a low-Force Sustained spell using Reagents to keep the drain low, a background count can easily pop the spell.

(Summoners get hit badly by this as well: Spirits ARE magical. So ALL their actions take the penalty. Evasion? Yeah that seems like an action (GM-calls may vary). The sole exception would be Resistance tests.)

The flipside is Aspected Background Counts: If a Background Count is Positive AND Aspected in YOUR favour, ignore everything before this! Instead it gives you a limit-bonus on magic! Dangerous for Spellcasting (hits after limit decide whether drain is physical or stun), but real useful for things where the Force decides Physical vs Stun Drain and where the limit awfully gets in the way. Alchemy, Summoning and Binding come to mind. ESPECIALLY Binding, where without Limit-increase you’re stuck with >1/6 chance that a Force 6 Spirit’s hits will equal or exceed your limit and you’ll autofail. Also nice for Rituals which also suffer from an opposed dicepool depending on the Force.

Speaking of Aspected Background Counts, according to page 31 and page 32 from Street Grimoire these are aspected towards their traditions and their Rating counts as their Background Count. On the other hand Missions rules player-owned Lodges don’t get this bonus. Which brings us to houserule number 1. Houserule 2 might not even be a houserule but simply a bad phrasing in Core, 3 takes that up a noth, while houserule 4 goes into a silly side-effect of the Force-loss of spells we mentioned earlier.

Before we get into the houserules, first though one tip for GMs: Background Counts are a weapon against magical players. Use them sparingly. Yes, it can be nice to make a Force-1-Sustainer suffer penalties, or to give the magicians a penalty once in a while (plus letting Adepts show off their Adept Centering), but when you start throwing around background counts as if they’re candy on halloween you should take a long, hard look at what you’re doing and why. Hint: If it starts with ‘Player X needs to be put in their place’, you need to smack yourself upside the head. Seriously though, don’t overdo it with this unless your campaign has a plausible reason for it AND you made sure your players knew in advance. Nobody faces Auslander every month and even that ass only manages an Aspected Count 4. That’s a horrible Force 8 Master Shedim that oughta die in a frickin’ fire and then be torn apart by demons, and even he only has a Rating 4. So ease up on the massive counts would ya?


Rule: Magical Lodges/Circles take time to aspect their count

As noted above, SG says these have an aspected count, while the Missions FAQ doesn’t allow it. Now we could decide one of them is wrong and the other should be followed, but where’s the fun in that? How about instead we reward permanency? See, you can take a lodge down in a day and rebuild it elsewhere in <Force> days. So if a runner really needs to, they can tear it down or just forfeit it and get another one. Which, if you end up burned by a Johnson, might be a good idea. You won’t always have a good base available.

So to not let background counts go crazy (‘hey, I spent a week of downtime setting this up, hello Force-4-limit-11 spells, let me just roll these 24 dice and BAM 8 hits!’), but also reward people who manage to keep their Lodge around, we let Lodges slowly build up their Background Count. Each step up costs <NewRating> months, so from BC0 to BC4 you’d need 1+2+3+4=10 months. And no, a lodge bought in chargen would start the game at rating 1 at most, no ‘but I’ve had it for yeaaaaaars!’.


Rule: Cleansing impacts an Area around the magician for all

Cleansing lets a Magician temporarily reduce a positive background count, with the fluff talking about neutralizing the background count and it being useful for a few hours, or temporarily cleaning up a mess. Now the ritual lets you cleanse a small sphere for a few hours, while the metamagic itself only lets the magician make a very-shortlasting effect.

One problem with that though: It’s noted to only affect the cleansing magician (for (Magic) CTs). This could be poor phrasing, or it could mean that Cleansing has no impact on other people. However the technique says you temporarily reduce the background count, NOT that it lets the magician ignore part of the count, so the magician-only thing seems rather weird.

So this rule lets the metamagic create a cleaned area the same size as the ritual, aka a (Magic) meters radius sphere around the Cleanser. This lets them support other magical beings such as their Spirits or Adepts, while also damaging any nearby enemies enjoying the count. It makes Cleansing not just an expensive thing for the Mage but also something with significant rewards for not just the mage but also their allies.


Rule: The Cleansing area is larger, jammer-wise

Normally Cleansing, both the metamagic and the Ritual, only work inside a rather small sphere around the caster. Which sounds a bit like bollocks. Seriously, you got a metamagic that lets you fight a background count and the best you can do is only reduce it in a tiny sphere?

Instead, we make it work like a jammer. Each increment equals (Magic) meters and each increment away from the origin you lose 1 impact. So you roll 4 net hits on your Cleansing test and got Magic 8? At 17 meters distance the Aspected Background Count will have been reduced by 2 for a short while.

This mechanic can be adjusted to even downgrade in increments rather than fully fizzle out in a single second. So when the effect starts wearing off, it will take a while beforeĀ  it’s completely gone and until then the effect simply reduces by 1 each interval. (Magic – Original Background Count?)


Rule: Sustained Spells don’t keep hits from Background Counts

Say you cast a spell at Force 6 outside a background count of Rating 2. You step in, spell is now at Force 4. You step out, step in, Force 2. Third time kills the spell. If you end up going through a patchy area, or temporarily enter a fully-cleansed area, that will suck balls.

Instead we simply make the highest count experienced count, almost as if it’s Essence Loss. You lost 2 Force? Well you’re at Force 4(6) then. Exit, still 4(6). Enter a Rating 1 Count then? Still 4(6). But a Rating 3 drops you to 3(6).

Houserules: Attribute Boost

There are quite a few ways to raise your attributes in Shadowrun. For Adepts there are two magical means: Permanent through Improved [Attribute] and temporarily (with Drain risks and a randomness factor) through Attribute Boost (Attribute). With inherent values being a thing now, its description was changed leading to conflict and the following two possible houserules:


Rule: Strength Boost impacts melee damage

The Attribute Boost (Attribute) Adept Power has a bit of a problematic description. It has an inclusive effect (affects dicepool) and an exclusive effect (does not affect Physical Limit and Initiative). There’s a few things that are neither. For Agility this would be your movement rate, and for Strength your base melee damage. It seems likely that these are not meant to be impacted, but with Strength this runs into a small problem.

Now for Agility, you get bonus offense dice so hit far better. For Body you can resist more damage. Reaction lets you evade more attacks. But Strength’s dicepools are near-always useless. Being able to lift more for a short while isn’t that useful a power, and running has quite little actual use.

Furthermore, it heavily limits melee Adepts. They already need a second attribute compared to the ranged Adepts, and need more Powers to make that better, but now they also MUST get either ware or a very expensive Improved Strength Power instead. So to give Physical Adepts the opportunity to punch harder, we would make Strength Boost also boost the damage of melee weapons.

The downside is that this means Physical Adepts can far more easily punch things, making Improved Strength not as interesting. But the same goes for the other 3 Physical Attributes already. And Attribute Boost costs a Simple Action to activate, while melee attacks are Complex Actions. So activating Strength Boost means the Adept cannot attack in melee in their first Initiative Pass.


Rule: Agility Boost impacts movement rate

Similarily, one could allow for Agility Boost to influence an Adept’s movement rates, letting them cover more ground when under the effect of Agility Boost. With 2~3 hits this means 4~6 walking and 8~12 running distance extra.

However, movement rate is more of a passive value than melee damage, and Agility is not in the Physical Limit. So it’s far more likely that Agility Boost was never intended to boost movement rate. Since Agility is already the main attack stat, it can be said it does not need this extra boost. Especially since one can already use Sprinting Tests to cover more ground, at a price.

Houserules: Initiation (and Submersion)

Initiation/Submersion

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.

Houserules: Conjuring

Conjuring

When it comes to summoning, there’s a lot of things that are risky for the game balance. For most of those there’s already balancing mechanisms in place, such as with the Astral Spirit Index, but there’s a few cases that are a bit problematic.

The two cases treated here are the duration of Bound Spirit Services, and dealing with Oversummoners. The first doesn’t often come up but the second I have frequently seen debates about. Debates I participated in to get the math right. The math is skippable though.

A third houserule I designed is dealing with Free Spirits, but that’s not really a rule I suspect people have a need for. Anyway, if someone has any other problems with conjuring and want some houserule input, just contact me over at Shadowrun Universe by private message. =)


Rule: Bound Spirit Services last until dusk/dawn

Since a Bound Spirit does not expire at Sunset/Sunrise, it’s possible to make them sustain specific powers/spells indefinitely. Now this comes with consequences. However since Sustaining does not require LOS and Critter Powers normally (unless GM-called otherwise) are immune to Barriers, these consequences can be easily avoided. So it’s far too easy for a mage to have a single Spirit permanently sustain Movement and Concealment on them, and possibly even Endowment.

Another problem is that buff-spells from a Spirit of Man can also become rather permanent this way, with having to blow up or slip past Mana Barriers as only concern. While having a Spirit sustain your own spell is only its Force in Combat Turns, Innate Spell would avoid that and be indefinite.

The easiest solution to this is limiting how long services last. When a service does not explicitly state a deadline, it will now not last past dusk/dawn, preventing someone from walking around with permanent buffs for 1 service per buff. You still get all the other benefits from Bound Spirits, but cannot use them as cheap buffslaves. This way the GM won’t have to dig into the other consequences, which take time, and can simply block the sneaky trick from the get-go.


Rule: Oversummoned Spirits resist with Edge

Let’s start with an important disclaimer: Some may say this is not allowed by the rules, so the GM cheats. They are wrong. p304 says that summoned and bound Spirits cannot use their own Edge pool. However, a Spirit you are Summoning is not yet summoned until you succeed, so is allowed to use Edge against the Summoning attempt itself.

There will be a time where a player decides to go down the line and use all they got to summon a Force 12 Spirit. They may score only 1 or 2 services, but the Spirit will be completely invincible. At Hardened Armor 24 they are practically immune to every kind of non-magical attack, against Indirect Spells they have a massive defense pool, against Area effects they got plenty of Initiative to burn, and they laugh in the face of any spell they resist with their Attributes. Even Direct spells are harmless, especially if it’s a Spirit with Magical Guard.

In other words, such Spirits are a game-changer. Just like how gangers stand no chance against a Force 6, even a huge PR6 enemy team will be butchered by a Force 12. If used for the climactic boss-fight where everything is on the line, such a high-risk move makes sense. The problem arises when it is NOT a high-risk move and used as a frequent weapon instead.

Just like how wards are limited in how much they balance out Quickening, so is drain in itself limited in how they balance out Summoning. Now a anti-Summoning dice pool of 12, with hits doubled in drain, may seem like it is a decent risk. But at the same time it’s the same dicepool that is used against Binding, and people still have Force 6 Spirits. Sure, they got a safer environment but it still boils down to the same success chances and drain risks.

WARNING: The next section contains a lot of math. Skip to “Math Done” to get to the abbreviated version.

Let’s take a look at a slightly-buffed Shaman. At 5 Willpower, 8 Charisma and +4 drain dice from whatever origin, they’ll be at 17 drain dice. Let’s assume they’re also at 17 Summoning dice, which once again is quite doable.

First, the Summoning itself: There’s 2/3 chance to succeed, and half the successful summons will be at 3+ services. Plenty to butcher your way through whatever your GM throws at you.

Second, the Drain: 2/3 chance to take Drain, 1/3 chance to score 4+ drain, and assuming 10 Physical Monitor 1/31 odds at going unconscious (which means disaster). Those are rather excellent odds, since with combined numbers you have roughly 1/3 odds to fail generally. (More exact numbers would require a handwritten program to analyze the odds, but that 1/31 and a bit less than 1/3 odds mostly overlap so it still is ~1/3 overall.)

Without Edge.

If we bring Second Chance into the Summoning, failure is at ~1/32 and average services are past 5. And drainwise we’re suddenly at only 30% chance to get hit by ANY drain. 10+ odds are at ~1/3.000, 6+ at ~1/25 and 3+ at ~1/6. Let me repeat that: At the expense of 2 Edge, a player can score 5 services and take only 1P in drain from an unbeatable Force 12 Spirit. So all they have to do is make sure they have 3+ Edge, summon this at the start of a run and make it tear down the enemies without having to sweat at all.

It gets worse. Let’s assume the Shaman has +4 Charisma, +4 Willpower, 2 Initiations and a Force 3 Centering Focus. That’s 26 drain dice, which means that unedged their odds are worse but they still are at ~1/5 for 3+ drain, ~1/30 for 6+ and only ~1/150 to get hit with 10+. And even IF this worst scenario hits, they can still Second Chance it.

So unfortunately, Drain is not enough of a deterrent by itself against Oversummoning. Which means that Oversummoning is a high threat to the game balance and any player who so desires can greatly upset the game and ruin the fun for all. Now normally the social contract applies, but what if you cannot depend on that?

That’s where we grab back to SR4 Street Magic. In there was a rule, not an optional rule but a simple core rule, where Oversummoned Spirits always resisted with Edge. Back then their Edge equaled their Force so they resisted with Forcex2 exploding dice. Needless to say a Force 12 Spirit would utterly butcher you in drain.

In SR5 the Edge has become less, it is now half their Force. Which means an Oversummoned Force 8 Spirit could either have 8 rerolled dice (averaging 4.44 hit) or 12 exploding dice (averaging 4.8 hits). In other words, a Force 8 Spirit using Edge would be better off than that Force 12 Spirit we used in the previous scenarios.

Let’s take a look at 12 exploding dice. Against a Force 12 spirit our 17 second-chanced dice meant massive drain reduction, with only 1/6 chance to get hit with 3+ drain and zero odds at actually dying. With Edge-use the Force 8 Spirit is already at 30% and 1/140 death chances for an unwounded Body 3 Mage. So the Force 8 Spirit is significantly tougher than the Force 12 was.

Meanwhile, 26 rerolled drain dice versus the Force 12 Spirit would become ~1/3 at 3+, ~1/6 at 6+, ~1/16 at unconscious for Body 3~4, and ~1/80 death chances for a Body 4 mage. Definitely odds you do NOT want to frequently take, no matter how good you are.

Disclaimer: Said math was done with an emulation of an exploding die which cannot explode more than 4x, so only 5 hits per die are possible. However, this manages to emulate an exploding dice to near-reality at the point where the full numbers would differ only past the decimal cut-off.

MATH DONE

In short, Drain is unfortunately far from enough of a balance factor against an eager Oversummoner, and even maximum-Force Spirits are perfectly doable for someone who tries, which greatly upsets the game balance.

By making Spirits employ Edge against the Oversummoning, this is balanced out better and said mechanism will not harm normal Conjurers in any way. And when a player can make a good argument that in a specific situation the Spirits may be willing to help, the GM can always waive the Edge use for that one situation where it comes down to the line.

Houserules: Mystic Adepts

Mystic Adepts (MA) and Power Points (PP)

Shadowrun 5 significantly changed the rules for Mystic Adepts. They do not split their Magic rating over Mage versus Adept anymore, instead they lose a few magical abilities and are limited in how they can get Power Points. This allows for some very strong builds and makes them quite balanced generally.

However, there is a rub.

Mystic Adepts pay a significant, mostly considered balanced, price for Power Points at chargen. But they cannot get Power Points through this method after chargen, they can only get them as Metamagic. This means that a Mystic Adept who does not buy all the PP they can get in chargen, is crippled forever. And if they buy all the PP they can get in chargen, they are the only archetype that cannot buy 25 karma in Positive Qualities in chargen. It gets worse for Street Level, where they cannot even get the full 6 PP.

In other words, the rules currently force Mystic Adept players to get 6 Magic and buy 6 PP, which means they are more limited in their PQ ability in chargen. Where a Mage or Adept can recover from not starting at 6 Magic, a Mystic Adept forever has a hole that karma alone cannot properly fix. And even for people who consider 5 karma per Power Point balanced, this is considered a problem by some.

There’s several houserules that make it quite easy for a Mystic Adept to get their PP in other ways, but often these are at basic costs, such as “just buy them whenever you want”. Those rules will not be included here because of a simple reason: “Everything has a price.” Being able to postpone the karma expense without extra cost, will simply force Mystic Adepts to use that option fully instead. So rather than giving them a free benefit without consequence, the following rules are alternative options with a price.

As noted before, one of the primary concerns with the current MA PP system is their lack of ability to get 25 karma in Positive Qualities in chargen. These Qualities can be bought later for double the cost, but the GM may decide to make it more complicated at that point, or disallow a PQ after chargen. There’s also things that cannot be bought after chargen, namely contact points. In short, since the karma could be spent on things that cost double after, can’t be bought after, or are the same price after, a price is hard to pinpoint.


Rule: Power Points can be bought up to a specific maximum, 10 karma each

Under this rule, PP still cost 5 karma in chargen, but Mystic Adepts can afterwards buy extra Power Points if their Magic is high enough. So their bought PP may not exceed their Magic. Their Initiation PP do not count for this limit. This means they are not forced to maximize their Magic in chargen, nor do they need to buy all the PP they can get in chargen.

There are 3 options for the maximum. The first is 6, just like in normal chargen. The second is exactly like in chargen, so a MA with Exceptional Magic and 7+ Magic will be able to have up to 7 bought PP. The third option is unlimited, so if a MA raises their Initiation Grade and Magic, that means they can get more PP as well.

This rule treats PP as Positive Qualities that aren’t. So they do not count for your PQ limit of 25 karma in chargen, but they cost double after chargen. This forces a player to make the choice between more options in chargen versus not paying the extra cost.


Rule: Power Points can be bought up to a specific maximum, at a rising cost

During chargen PP cost <Rating+1> in karma, after they cost <Rating+3> in karma. A character cannot have more bought PP (again does not include Metamagic PP) than their current Magic Rating.

Rather than going the simple 5 karma in chargen and 10 karma after route, this rule makes Power Points rise in cost. Since Power Points obtained as Metamagics become prohibitively more expensive, it makes sense to make bought PP also cost a variable amount.

6 PP in chargen cost 27 karma under this rule, which is 3 less than currently. 7 (for Exceptional Magic) are 35, which is the same. PP before the 7th are cheaper after chargen than under the 10 karma rule, and starting with the eight they are more expensive.

An upside to this rule is that a single PP less gives a lot more karmic breathing space. For example, 5 PP cost 20 instead of 25 karma, which means a Street Level character can actually afford a few small karma expenses while getting 5 PP, and can still get up to 6 later.


Rule: Spell Slots can be traded in for Power Points at a 2:1 ratio

Each Mystic Adept Priority gets several free spells, namely 5/7/10. These Spell Slots can be used for Spells, Alchemical Formulae (basically Alchemy Spells) and Rituals. Under this rule they can also be used for PP, but at double the cost.

Spells, Rituals and Alchemical Formulae all cost 5 karma, the same as a PP in chargen. There’s also small monetary costs and training time involved after chargen, but those aren’t much of a problem. So the PP bought like this are the equivalent of 10 karma (and a bit of inconvenience) each, in other words basically doubled.

There’s several upsides to this rule. First of all, a build that doesn’t need that many spells is now not forced to take Spells they don’t care for. Where the previous rules still make you pay extra karma in the end, this rule gives an option between extra costs or having less spells instead. This is a nice boost to more-Adept MA builds. Second, it makes nice sense fluff-wise: The inherent magical ability of a character manifests as PP instead of free spells.

There’s also downsides. Builds that need the spells are essentially discriminated against with this option, since for them the price is more significant. Characters with a lower Magic Priority will also be more limited in how many spells they can sacrifice. This rule also still discriminates against players who do not maximize their Magic in chargen, permanently locking them out of some of their PP ability.


Rule: Mystic Adepts get 1 Spell Slot less and 1 free Power Point

One downside of the unlimited 2:1 Spell Slots is that it discriminates against Priorities with less free Spell Slots. It also can lead to builds that have nearly-no Spells, at which point it seems strange to still call them Mystic Adepts. A GM who dislikes those problems can instead reduce the free Spell Slots of all MA Priorities with 1 and give them 1 free PP. This still forces them to maximize their Magic and spend 25 karma on PP, but they can now actually buy 25 karma in Positive Qualities, and in Street Level they can actually get all their PP.

It’s a small boost to Mystic Adepts without an extra price, but not an unlimited one. While many of the problems still remain with this houserule, it’s of a rather elegant nature without extreme consequences.


Rule: Mystic Adepts only lose Power Points if their Magic drops below their bought amount

Under the normal rules, essence loss means both Physical Adepts and Mystic Adepts lose 1 Magic + 1 PP every time they drop below an entire Essence point. This makes sense for PA, who get 1 free PP per Magic point they have. But MA may not actually have a full allotment of PP so it seems strange for them to lose PP when their PP do not equal their Magic. Especially since during chargen they would not face this complication, since they’d simply buy the PP after the essence loss.

As a simple fix to this strange situation, under this rule if a MA’s bought PP do not exceed their Magic rating after essence loss, they will not lose any PP. Upside is that it makes more sense, downside is that it discriminates against other builds. Players would be rewarded for not getting their full allotment in PP since they can use the karma for other means.

Houserules: Quickening

With Shadowrun, a debate I’ve seen come up repeatedly is about Quickening. Quickening is a metamagic that helps you permanize sustained spells without penalties. It costs 1 karma per spell (more if you really want to), so it’s rather cheap once you have the metamagic.

Now when not overused, it’s not a big problem. However, Quickening mechanics encourage player abuse as counter against the balancing measures. This can lead to insane situations. So after the first few debates I designed some houserules, which I gave a significant write-up last year. Below is the exact text I wrote back then. The only changes since then is that I now have a second mage, who has 3 spells quickened and follows the houserules.

By the way, since we’re getting into GM territory here, don’t forget the following: An armsrace between players and GM is, like I note below, a race without winners. Try to balance out your game to avoid that, and don’t be afraid to set your foot down and outlaw something if it means you avoid an armsrace. Do communicate that that is why you do it, though. Nobody likes an ‘Idunwanna’ argument.


Quickening

As every Mage knows, Sustained spells come with multiple downsides. If you sustain it yourself, your offense and defense suffers from the Sustaining Penalty. Psyche reduces it but you may risk addiction and there’s still a penalty. If you let a Spirit sustain the spell, it uses their dicepool to cast and requires services, plus now the Spirit is penalized in combat. Focused Concentration is limited to only 1 spell.

If you use Sustaining Foci, it costs a significant amount of karma to bind them, plus you risk Focus Addiction if you overuse. And if you use Force 1 Foci and Reagents, each cast costs money, you cannot boost Attributes and Background Count becomes your worst nightmare.

Meanwhile, there is Quickening. It has a few downsides. It requires a metamagic, and then 1+ karma per Quickened Spell. Still far cheaper than decent-Force Sustaining Foci though, and it avoids Focus Addiction. You also are walking around with multiple spells on you all the time, which unless masked will quickly get you legal attention. And Wards are now a big problem because you cannot simply recast on the other side, requiring you to either Slip through, break down the Barrier or hope your spells survive the Astral Intersection. And dispelling is really harmful.

But even then, this metamagic is hard to balance out. Especially since said countermeasures will also make life harder for your non-Quickening players, and unfortunately also because it encourages abuse. The more pressure you put on a Quickening character, the more tempted they are to abuse things to ‘win’ an armsrace that will not have any real winners. So the following houserules are designed to solve some forms of abuse, making Quickening more balanced and preventing said abusive armsrace.


Rule: Quickened Spells cannot be overcast

Dispelling and Astral Intersection have something really important in common: The higher the Force of your spell, the tougher they are to do. Not only does the spell have a higher defensive dicepool, in the case of Dispelling it also raises the drain the dispeller has to resist.

In other words, if you often throw Wards and Dispellers at your player, you’re encouraging them to overcast. While during a run this is dangerous, in downtime there’s no real problem with casting a Buff spell at Force 12 (or even 14), since it won’t kill you. Do so in a Valkyrie Module with a friendly player on standby and you’ll be fine even if you screw up so badly (that’s what, ~1% chance?) that you go unconscious.

Wards are a popular defense mechanism against Quickened Spells, not only because it means the player has to pay attention and will either have to slip through or set off alarms, but also because if they do not pay attention they may lose the spell and thus the karma they put into it. A Force 4 Ward has roughly 1/3 odds to take down a Force 6 spell, while a Force 6 ward is at ~60%. Note that this kinda is per spell: Each side rolls at the same time, so a single ward can cost you multiple spells even if the first spell disrupts it.

However, a Force 6 Ward versus a Force 12 spell has only 10% odds. Which means that even if a player with 5 Quickened Spells runs into one, without noticing it(!), twice per run, it costs them only 1 karma. And given how players will soon figure out how not to get completely ambushed by high-quality wards, such astral intersections will be extremely rare.

Meanwhile, the dispeller would probably have 12~15 dice versus 19 for the Quickened Spell, which gives them bad odds and the drain soak would then cripple them for the coming fight.

Short version: While Wards + Dispelling may seem like decent balance methods against Quickeners, they risk pushing the Quickener into Overcasting his Quickened Spells, setting off a hostile arms race.

So to prevent that arms race, one can simply disallow Quickening Overcast spells. Leaving potential fluff explanations aside (every GM should be able to come up with some rubbish about astral balance), this means that the GM weapons are still viable tactics. And if your weapons are viable threats, it means you don’t have to constantly throw them at the player but can just use them occasionally instead.


Rule: Quickened Spells must buy hits

Aside from overcasting, one other thing unbalances Quickening, namely the amount of hits. We all know that an average roll cannot be counted on to happen all the time. Bad spellcasting rolls happen and usually players will risk the drain to try again. But they also get good rolls, and sometimes even miraculous rolls. For example, 12 hits on Increase Reflexes for +12+4d6 Initiative. This is how a player of mine managed to break 40 on his Initiative. That’s 4 IPs even if he Full Defenses, so a guaranteed slaughter of the enemy team.

Since that’s only around for a short time, it doesn’t matter that much in the long-term, and during a run you won’t be able to hunt for high rolls because the drain risks crippling you during the fights. However, a Quickener can easily make that miraculous roll permanent, and they can even afford to hunt for it during their downtime. It doesn’t matter much for Increase Attribute spells, but spells such as Combat Sense, Deflection and Increase Reflexes quickly change the balance permanently if the player hunts for the perfect roll.

Let’s assume the player has 18 dice due to specializations and what-not. We’re not even taking Aid Sorcery in mind here. Their odds at 10+ hits are 1/23. Their odds at 9+ hits are 1/10. So all a player has to do is keep casting his Force 6 spell until he hits 9+ hits, then he Pushes The Limit and rolls a few more exploding dice, and bam. Quite doable in downtime, where a bad Drain roll simply means a 1h break without consequences.

So for a 5-Reaction, 5-Intuition player it’s quite doable to quickly hit 20+5d6 Initiative and 30 defensive dice. Even if you limit their Edge use in downtime to 1 point, as some people do, it would still only take them 3 downtimes to get that far.

There’s multiple ways of dealing with this, but the best probably is going the Missions way: Buying Hits. The same kind of fluff-explanations would apply here, so let’s ignore that and get to the consequences:

Under this rule, Quickened Spells are weaker than normally-cast Sustained Spells. 12 dice would only get you +3+1d6 Initiative, whereas during a run you’d have 60% odds to score at the least +4+2d6. But those Sustained Spells have downsides over Quickened Spells, so that helps balance it out. You get a smaller bonus in return for

It also highly benefits Conjurers and specializers. Using various boosts, including Aid Sorcery, 20 dice is easy and 24 dice is possible but expensive, so 6 hits bought is doable at a price. Hunting a miracle would be easier for such specialized players but the outcome would be the same, a massive bonus. In this case, however, they will always have a significantly better Quickened result than an unbuffed 12-dicer.

So players who try their best expenditure-wise get rewarded for their effort without the reward completely unbalancing the game, plus even their best results are no different from what they can normally hit with recasting during a run. It will also cost them dearly every time they lose a Quickened Spell, rather than it being easy to replace with yet another miraculous result in downtime.

This houserule prevents the search for a massive success that the normal Quickening rules encourage, which once more means the GM has less need to throw their GM-weapons at Quickened Spells to help balance out the game. It grants players permanency and a lack of Addiction and Sustaining penalties, but for a price, making it something other than the only way to go without forcing the GM to get characters arrested and thrown in jail.


Rule: A character may only have their Initiation Grade in spells Quickened

To compensate for the massive boost Quickened Spells can give a player, one way to balance it out is to limit the amount of Quickened Spells a character can have. While their Initiation Grade already is a limitation as far as Extended Masking the spells is concerned, unmasked spells are unlimited and will only increase the average karma-loss and chances the cops arrest you for walking around Downtown with enough quickened spells on you to start a war.

For a GM who is uncomfortable with bringing in law enforcement like that, they may instead explicitly limit the amount of spells a character has Quickened. This makes Quickening less of an instant-massive-boost, making it less likely and less powerful as the first Metamagic a player picks. By the time they can have several active, they already have enough notches in their belt to deserve it.




Let me note my own personal opinion and experiences here.

Disclaimer: My current only Mage player has decided to avoid Quickening for now, because I frequently (0~2 per run) use Wards, so I have not yet implemented any of these rules. I also suspect he’d avoid the cheesy tricks these houserules prevent, as to not set off an arms race. However, all NPCs I design that employ Quickening, are already using the first two rules. I also apply the third rule to them, though more as a rule of thumb for a reasonable maximum. Corpsec with a single Initiation may still have 2~3 Quickened Spells for me, since I will not explicitly limit them like that.

While I heavily encourage using the first two rules, I suspect the third may not be necessary. If a player goes for multiple Quickened Spells from the get-go, they’ll still face the astral consequences and have a bigger average karma-loss if they run into a ward by accident. The Extended Masking limitation already serves as a limit regarding astral consequences, and by the time they have both they’re already at Initiation Grade 3 so it’s not that important anymore.

However, as noted if the GM is uncomfortable with having to frequently assense the player as a consequence, limiting the amount of Quickened spells may be a good call. So I would advise to always use the first two rules, and put some thought into whether the third is needed. And keep in mind that you should apply the same rules to your NPCs.