I want to clarify something. Shadowrun is a complex game. Personally, I think that a certain level of complexity is vital to the experience, considering that you have a game that wants to encompass near-future mercenaries and criminals with advanced technology while also maintaining the trappings of a full-fledged fantasy game. It’s a balancing act that different editions have handled with different levels of success. I bring this up because one of the stated goals for the new edition was to make it simpler, more streamlined, easier to pick up and play. It is my contention that simply shifting the cognitive load (and in some cases, dumping it squarely all on the GM) is not the best way to do this. I also don’t think the new edition succeeded. The new magic rules really drive this home.
Obviously, the skill tree is a lot smaller. Magicians have Astral, Conjuring, Enchanting, and Sorcery now. Traditions are still a thing and still determine your Drain attribute. Recognizing magic is weird and very, very hard for mundanes now. Much harder than in previous editions. Object Resistance is still a thing. Magic Lodges are still a thing. At this point, you are basically looking at the exact same stuff from Ae and 5e.
Spells and Spellcasting
Then it changes. Spells no longer have Force. They just are. You roll your spellcasting pool and either hit a threshold or beat opposition to succeed. Spells are definitely weaker than in the past. Spells gained a new Duration type but Permanent spells are a little better than in the past because you no longer have to sustain them for a time to make them permanent – they just are.
For the sake of word count, let’s just touch on Combat spells. Combat spells are still Direct and Indirect. Much like in 5e, Direct spells only do damage equal to net hits. but in this edition, resistance is rolled with Willpower and Intuition; effectively doubling the resistance pool for the target. Without a fairly significant mismatch in dice pools, this is going to be either very close or very swingy. And Drain is high.
Drain tends to start at 4-6, and combat spells can be “amped up” adding 1 damage value for the cost of 2 additional drain. Spellcasters have a much higher chance to burn out quickly in this edition, it seems to me.
Strangely, Indirect combat spells do damage equal to half the caster’s Magic plus hits and amping up. I suppose this is largely due to the fact that these spells have a defense and resistance test.
Attack and Defense Ratings are still compared for Edge – though it is interesting that it appears from my reading that Armor adds to Defense Rating even against Direct Combat spells. It’s an odd duck.
One more little note about Healing Spells. There are now multiple versions of Heal – each one allowing the caster to remove a Status like Cooling Heal or Cleansing Heal. These are each individual spells that have to be learned separately. There is also the basic Heal. Stabilize is now largely useless as it only removes Overflow damage and Heal can already do that with the same drain value. It seems that in a system that doesn’t have Force and uses Drain Value as a way to scale spells up… you’d get a lot of mileage out of allowing the basic Heal to “amp up” by dealing with conditions. Another area where it seems play testing should have suggested something.
I’ll be brief. It’s fairly useless now. I mean, it was too good in 5e, but the pendulum has swung all the way back in 6W. Now, counterspelling is a Major Action that affects a two meter radius area and adds dice to anyone in the area to defend against spells. Even your own. And it has a countdown duration that has to be tracked separately from everything else you are doing.
Conjuring & Spirits
One of the most disheartening parts of 5e was how ridiculously overpowering spirits could be in any encounter. And the caster in those cases only had (usually) one spirit that they could summon on the fly and maybe some bound spirits that were valuable resources not to be squandered.
Well, even though the act of Summoning is a bit harder in this edition – spirits get force x 2 dice to resist instead of just Force – it is possible for a magician to have active spirits equal to their Magic x 3. That’s ridiculous. Your standard Magic 6 hermetic can now roll with three force 6 spirits all the time. Because the summoned window is also now a day and a night, not just the next dusk or dawn.
Do you run at night? Cool, wake up, summon a Force 6. Take a nap, have a snack. Do it again. Then repeat. Or maybe a Force 6 and three Force 4s? The mage is going to be able to bring so much more firepower to encounters now than they ever could before and with the ability to spend edge and other oddities of the Qualities system, you can build quite a little army.
Two more quick things on this topic. There are no binding rules. Which is good. But services are very nebulous now. Basically, there is a single paragraph that says, GM judgement rules. Also, services are directly action-oriented now. “Do a thing” vs. the options of other editions.
Finally, about spirits. So, the problem with spirits is how difficult they are to deal with and how OP some of their powers (like Fear) are. In the course of changing just about everything about the system; they somehow missed fixing the actual problem with spirits… the spirits themselves. The powers are still OP. Spirits are still immune to normal weapons – and – they had to give spirits a “hardened armor” power for this edition to explain why spirits get to add their armor to their resistance rolls even though nothing else does that. In other words. Spirits are still painfully broken and now the mage has more of them at their beck and call, and commanding them is only a minor action so the mage is more useful.
I only hit the high points here. There is so much more to talk about. But again, my impression of the magic chapter is that there is a lot of stuff that got dumped or changed without any regard to how it interacts with the rest of the system. Stuff that a play tester should have caught immediately. And the problem of “don’t cast spells, just summon” is even worse now because spirits are omnipresent and even more terrifying than ever before.