Leverage in the Shadows

Wrangling Leverage hack ideas has put me smack up against my old nemesis – magic. Magic systems hold endless fascination for me because they are so easy to come up with, but so easy to do poorly. It’s not a problem with an easy solution – it’s not even a problem with a single solution. There’s a reason that Fate core had something like 8 different magic systems, each to capture some specific idea, yet SOTC and the Dresden Files use entirely different systems.

So, let me take, for example, Shadowrun. It’s a well known game that makes for a good conceptual match with Leverage. It is mostly a one for one port. Even cyberware is fairly easily wrapped up into the asset rules[1], perhaps requiring a few more signature assets. But magic, well, magic is an oddball. Unlike other settings where we might swap magic into the mix by removing something else (probably hacker), magic layers itself on top of the rest of the game as something else that needs to be added on. Shadowrun magic also has some fairly well-established and concrete rules. Broadly speaking, mages come in two stripes – full mages and adepts, with adepts having some specific subset of magical ability. Within that, there are also other distinctions hermetic vs shamanic traditions, and the oddball case of physical adepts. T here are a lot of rules for how the physics of magic work, though a lot of them are weird fiddly bits that exist to prevent player abuses. The key ones are that magic tires you out (measured as ‘drain’), and that summoning stuff is part of what magic can do, but everything else is just fairly vanilla spell lists.

In pulling this over to Leverage, I am willingly shedding a lot of detail. In Shadowrun, there are very important differences between a fire blast and a mana blast, much as there are very important differences between a revolver and an automatic pistol. It’s pretty clear to me that the transition will make for a fuzzier system, but the question is always what gets lost and what gets kept. For starters, I’ll keep the idea of drain, the basic split (between mages and adepts) and the system idea that you pay for magic by being less good in other key areas.

A lot of this is mechanically easy. Being a mage is this easy: Add a 6th role – Mage (or Shaman). For most people, it’s zero. To make your character a mage, distribute your role dice as normal, then reduce them to buy up your mage die. A one step reduction (dropping a die size) in a role increases the mage die by one step (Increasing a size, with the first step being from 0 to d4). Right off the bat, i dig this, because a d4 mage is a magnet for trouble, and does a wonderful job of modeling one of my favorite Shadowrun concepts that never worked mechanically – the burnt out mage.

Adepts work on a similar principle – reduce one of your role dice by a step and add a specialization to the role of your choice, based on the role. They’re structured a little different than classic adepts, but the underlying principal is the same.

Hitter: Combat Magic or Physical Adept or Bear
Hacker: Technomage or Metamage or Raccoon
Grifter: Enchanter or Coyote
Thief: Illusionist or Physical Adept or Raven
Mastermind: Mind Magic or Summoner or Spider

Mechanically, it’s a piece of cake. But now comes the tough part – what are those dice going to do? I can see some rough shapes: Summoning creates assets of the appropriate die size. Complications on magic dice tie to drain or other interesting problems. But that’s all fuzzy. I could easily come up with some rule of thumb stuff, especially for adepts, enough to fake it at the table, but that’s not a solution. I’ll be chewing on this for a bit, and write up what I figure out.

1 – A fiddlier system could be arranged, but tabling that for the moment.

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