Shadowrunning 101 – Reagents

Reagents, or. .   How can I survive casting this spell?

One thing that I think is not utilized enough are reagents.  Reagents let you force your drain to conform to your wishes, while letting you get a little creative with your spells.

We should all know the steps you need to take when casting spells.  Start by choosing the spell, then choose the target, then choose the force (which determines the drain), then you cast the spell etc.  A Common tactic is simply to choose a Force that is equal to your Magic rating.  Why?  Stun Drain.  Your Force determines your limit, and if you cannot count more hits than your Magic Rating, you take Stun Drain.   You only risk Physical Drain when you have more hits than your Magic Rating.  So easy, if you always want to take Stun, you set your Force equal to your Magic Rating.

Of course, sometimes the amount of Hits you get on a spell decide other factors as well.  Sometimes the Force of the spell decide other factors.  Sometimes, you might want to risk Physical Drain in order to accomplish something spectacular.  So, this tutorial will go over the various categories of spells, list a few spells, how they are commonly used, and how you might use some reagents to make sure you get your way.

Combat Spells.  
Direct Spells have their damage determined by the number of Net Hits you score when you cast the spell.  So if you cast at a low Force, you keep your Drain manageable, but you also risk doing very little damage.  Every Mage should know that if your target is likely to have a high Body, then you try not to use Physical spells on him.  And if your target is likely to have a high Willpower, you try to avoid using Mana spells on him.  But, even if your target has a lower resisting attribute for the type of spell you are casting, you still might do very little damage.  So, lets say you have a really wicked dice pool, think you are likely to score a lot of hits, and want to risk doing a lot of damage.. but don’t want to risk killing yourself outright.  What do you do?

Reagents.  Powerbolt, being a single target spell, has a fairly low Drain Value.  So you can cast it at Force 5, to make sure you are resisting the minimum drain you can get away with.  But you want to try to do more damage.  Use as many reagents as you think you might likely roll on your dice.  Are you rolling 20 dice after you add in bonuses from mentor spirits, foci, specialization, and the like?  Then you might get lucky and roll 10 Hits or more.. so go ahead and use 12 reagents, or 15.  They’re cheap enough that using half a dozen extra on a spell won’t set you back too much.

So, whats the point of this?  Well, if you roll more Hits than your Magic Rating, you are going to be resisting Physical Drain.  Lets say you rolled 14 Hits, that’s 14P damage going to your target.  However, because you rolled so many Hits, you are resisting Physical Drain.  Ouch.  Not so fast.  You are resisting 2P drain, because you set the Force at 5, and relied on reagents to help boost your damage output.  Every Mage should be able to drop that 2P down to 0.

With Indirect spells, Force directly factors into the damage, along with Net Hits, so you might want to cast at a higher Force, but to keep from risking phsyical injury to yourself, now you use a lower amount of reagents.  Say, an amount equal to your Magic Rating.  With Indirect spells, the target gets a chance to dodge (unless they are Area Effect spells), so you have to balance this choice with their ability to dodge, but even 1 Net Hit can do significant damage if the Force was high enough.  However, now you are resisting more Drain.  You just made sure it was Stun.  6 Stun in a fight can be rather debilitating for a Mage to suffer, but it’s nothing a good Stim Patch can’t help with.

Detection Spells
There’s not a whole lot to consider with these.  Force determines the Area in which the spell is effective, so you might want higher Force spells in those instances.  And several of them have lower Drain values, so even higher Force spells aren’t too taxing on the Mage.  But then there’s spells like Combat Sense.  Casting this at a Force 1 means you can stick it into a very low force Sustaining Foci, but 1 Hit of effect is meaningless, so cast this with many reagents to maximize the benefit on you.

Health Spells
Many Health Spells have a duration that’s Permanent.  In order for a Permanent Spell to go into effect, you have to sustain it for a number of Combat Turns equal to the Force.  Force Determines Limit, and Limit determines maximum effect.  You see where I’m going here?  If your Street Sam buddy just got shot for 6P damage, then you need to be able to general 6 Hits (after penalties for his low essence and the like) to heal his sorry hoop.  So you might think that you need to cast this at Force 6, for the maximum healing effect.  Well, that’s one way, but then you have to sustain it for 6 Combat Turns.  or maybe Force 8, hoping that you can use those 2 extra Hits (if you roll them) to shave off 2 Combat Turns worth of sustaining this spell.

Or, you do it the easy way.  Force 1, 6 Reagents.  Now, you can still generate the 6 hits you need to heal his hoop, but you only have to sustain it for 1 Combat Turn before you can turn your attention elsewhere.

This doesn’t work with any of the Increase [Attribute] Spells, since the Force has to equal or exceed the value of the attribute being increased, but it does work on the Decrease line of spells.

Illusion Spells
Illusion Spells typically only rely on Net Hits for resisting their effects, so Low Force, High Reagents if you want to keep your Drain manageable, and even moreso if you want a low Force foci to sustain it for you.

Manipulation Spells
Now here’s where it gets tricky.  Often, you need to make sure that you have a decent Force, and amount of Net Hits.  Force often provides a penalty to their resistance roll, so here is why a Higher Force is important, but as they resist, they essentially “reduce” the number of Net Hits, and when that reaches 0, the spell no longer affects them.

Now, here’s a special case that was encountered in one of my games.  It involves Mana Barriers, Astral Intersections, and Reagents, and it’s why you should think about all the angles sometimes.  When you cast a Barrier Spell, it typically gets an Armor and Structure Rating (if applicable) equal to the Force.  So you often want a high Force for these.  If someone attempts to Dispell, they are rolling against Force + Magic, but each of their Net Hits reduces the original number of hits, and again, when that reaches 0, the spell fails.  So if you want to make your stuff harder to dispell, you also need Net Hits.

What happened in my game however was this.  The group had just stolen an item, and they were on the freeway, travelling at high speed.  They were being magically tracked by a Mage, that was Astrally Perceiving.  He was a good enough driver, that the -2 didn’t bother him.  The group realized that there wasn’t much they could do.  They didn’t want to cast any area spells, because that might hurt some of the “civilians” around their target, but they couldn’t leave him to pursue them.  So they decided on a Mana Barrier.  At the rate they were travelling, they figured that the Mage wouldn’t have time to dispell the barrier, so they were trying to force an Astral Intersection.  Well, Astral Intersections are against Magic + Charisma of the target, and Force x2 of the Barrier.  They had assensed the Mage, so they knew he had a fairly high Magic, and estimated he had a decent Charisma, so they needed to make the Force as high as possible to stack the deck in their favor.

Their Shaman had a Magic of 5, so he could up to Force 10, but the Spells Drain if F-2.  If they went with 10, he could be risking up to 8 Physical or Stun damage.  8P would have killed him, 8S would have knocked him out, thus preventing him from sustaining the spell.  He had 4 boxes of Physical remaining, and 8 Stun remaining, so he had to make sure that whatever happened, he took no more than either of those.  He decided on a Force 9 Barrier.  That would Pit the Mage’s assumed 12 dice vs 18 of the Barrier, which they felt was safe, and it would also ensure that the damage was only 7.  But again, 7P could kill him.  So, they used Reagents, 4 of them.  4 Hits were enough to make sure the spell worked, it kept him from rolling more Hits than his Magic, thus ensuring the Drain was Stun, and the Force made sure that regardless of his Drain roll, he’d not pass out.

The Mage sees the Barrier, fails his composure test (to.. you know, just stop astrally perceiving), and passes out as he is forced through the barrier.  A Fiery crash later, and the group is safely leaving the area with their stolen item, heading for their payday.

Converting Old Material

When I started running my game, many of players had little to no experience with Shadowrun. My first choice might have been deciding which version of the game to run, but 5th edition had just come out and I really liked the system, so that decision was pretty much made for me. My Next choice then was when to set the game. Since my group was mostly inexperienced with Shadowrun, I decided to start near the beginning. This way, my group could experience a lot of the world shaking events that most long-time players take for granted. Luckily, there are several modules and materials out there that deal with these early years. The problem? They are for earlier editions of the game. Time to convert.

How to convert?  Thankfully there are some Conversion Guides out there.  In the back of the Second and Third Edition books, there are guides for bringing the previous edition “up to date,” and there is a PDF out there with details for bringing Third Edition up to Fourth Edition.  Some of the changes are listed below.

  1. From First Edition to Second Edition, very little changed except some gear and weapon stats.   Attributes and Skills, and most of the actual rules mechanics remained mostly the same.
  2. From Second Edition to Third Edition, certain skills changed names, and certain Concentrations were split off their base skill and became separate skills.  Also, knowledge skills were introduced, so points were given to add some of these to existing characters.  Again, most actual mechanics remained the same though, but since we’re not interested in mehanics, we can ignore any of these for now anyway.
  3. From Third to Fourth.  This time, more that just some gear and equipment changed.  The entire game changed.  We lost two Attributes..  well, Each one was Split into two attributes.  Intelligence was Split into Intuition and Logic, and Quickness was split into Agility and Reaction, taking Reaction from a derived stat into its own Attribute.  Rules were given to modify attributes and skills, lowering them slightly.
  4. From Fourth to Fifth, there were some minor changes.  Again, certain skills were renamed, or regrouped.  This time, skills were increased, and the net result brings them a little higher than they might have been before the reduction from 3 > 4.  And limits were added

So, adding all of that in together, I tend to just leave most of everything as is.  If anything, I increase some skills by a point or two, to bring things in line with expected challenge ratings.  When it comes to skills that were groups in previous editions, I just consider that he has the appropriate individual skills.. Firearms would be considered Automatics, Pistols, Longarms, etc..  that way, any weapon I might give the NPC, I’d just roll the dice listed in Firearms.  The same with other skills that used to be in a group.

So, here is an example NPC from a First Edition module

Body: 5
Quickness: 5
Strength: 5
Charisma: 2
Intelligence: 4
Willpower: 4
Essence: 4
Reaction: 4(6)

Armed Combat: 4
Car: 4
Etiquette (Corporate): 3
Firearms: 5
Stealth: 5
Unarmed Combat: 6

Wired Reflexes: 1

Armor Clothing and certain weapons

So, the first thing, I split Quickness into Agility and Reaction.  5 in each.. though since this is meant to be a hired gun, I might go with a +1 to Agility, making it a 6.  And Since it is a hired gun, when I split Intelligence into Intuition and Logic, I leave them both at 4.  Since he had Wired Reflexes 1, I adjust Reaction accordingly..  5(6)

For skills, I leave them pretty much as is.  Considering that the weapons he has are pistols, I just assume he has the Pistols skill at the same level as he has Firearms, so 5.

Cyberware and Gear, I use the equivalent from the SR5 material.  If they had a Predator II for instance, I still call it that, but stat it as if it were a Predator V.

So when it comes to combat, his Initiative is now 9+1d6 if his wired reflexes are off, and 10+2d6 if they are on.  For his pistols, he rolls 11 dice, + any appropriate modifiers for gear/cyber


The Matrix now, is the area that is the most different.  Original Matrix nodes were like flowcharts, or a dungeon crawl with pathways to different areas.  Since the new Matrix is a little more free form, I play this by ear.  I consider it a Host, trying to find an appropriate rating for what the target happens to be.  Areas in the Node that would Files or Devices, I treat appropriately.

There are sometimes some elements of the fluff that need to be considered as well.  In early editions, the Matrix was Wired, and sometimes that is referenced in the module.  Either by an NPC mentioning the lack of access, or the module assuming that access needs to be attained in a certain area, or by a certain method.  Most of these you just ignore, or alter accordingly.


If you have any questions about aspects I may have missed, or just about converting in general, please feel free to leave a comment below.

Episode 007, Harlequin Past, continued

In this episode, we find out if the group survives their encounter on the train and makes it to their destination.
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AP Episode 006 Harlequin Past, continued.

First, I am starting with a new way to name the episodes to better handle other types of episodes I might do at a later time. I apologize for any inconveniences.

In this episode, we continue our slow train ride through Germany and the group hopes to make it to their destination.

Doctor Jones – Orc Archaeologist who moonlights as a Combat Mage.
Lightning – Elf Sniper that finds life easier to view through the sights of a good gun, than through a magnifying glass.
Teddy – Loyal Dwarf Bear Shaman who pretends to have fun while taking things way too seriously.
Zero – Human Physical Adept who thinks life is just a VR Matrix game

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Episode 004 – Session 2, Part 1

Episode 4, Harlequin, Past.

We begin the job that is Harlequin, Past. They have been hired to travel to Germany in order to steal a book, and make a little delivery. This episode deals with the hassle that is air travel. Hope you enjoy!

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Episode 003 – Session 1, Part 3

This episode concludes our first recorded Session. These are characters that have been playing for several months up to this point. I really wish I had started recording right from the beginning. As of this recording, we had finished Silver Angel, Mercurial, Bottled Demon, Dragon Hunt, and some of Harlequin.

There is more Harlequin to come, as well as Missing Blood, and Dreamchipper among others.

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Thank you

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Episode 002 – Session 1, Part 2

In this episode, we see if Teddy’s spell works, an old face makes a cameo appearance, and we get word of a new job?

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Episode 001 – Session 1, Part 1

Hello Chummers.  This is the first episode following our crew.  They have some experience under their belt from before the recording started, so we join the game in progress.  In this episode, the group has Christmas dinner, and then receives a little bad news from a contact.

Our cast of characters include
Doctor Jones – Orc Archaeologist who moonlights as a Combat Mage.
Lightning – Elf Sniper that finds life easier to view through the sights of a good gun, than through a magnifying glass.
Teddy – Loyal Dwarf Bear Shaman who pretends to have fun while taking things way too seriously.
Zero – Human Physical Adept who thinks life is just a VR Matrix game

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