Review – Shadowrun: Forbidden Arcana

25 June, 2017

SR - FAShadowrun: Forbidden Arcana will be on the list to acquire for anyone GMing a magic heavy Shadowrun campaign, both for useful background information on what is happening with magic and new things to play with. For players, sightly less useful but there is still a lot of good information and interesting options for characters here. Overall, one of the more solid works to come out of for Shadowrun lately.

Shadowrun: Forbidden Arcana are the Advanced Magic Rules for the 5th edition of Shadowrun, expanding on the earlier rules presented in the Street Grimoire (which is required to use several sections of this work).

The book begins with one of the ubiquitous fiction sections, then it begins with a section called Seeing the Invisible World which talks about how non-magical people perceive magic with a variety of (in game) first hand accounts of encounters with magic. This is useful for both for players and GMs when describing magical effects to characters who cannot directly see magic.

The Magic Mastery section is the character option section starting with new Mastery Qualities representing the ability to manipulate magic in refined ways all of which have requirements, usually skill based, and which can be acquired after character creation (which is good as many of them have steep requirements) at no increase in cost. Some of these provide interesting options, from improved alchemy to allowing mundanes to assist with rituals and new options for peace makers, which are rare in most game systems. New focused spellcasters: elementalist, hedge witch/wizard, null mage and seer provide more ways to have character to use a narrow section of magic. There is new metamagic, including way for characters to flip to insect or toxic shamanism, most of which builds on that presented in the Street Grimoire but tarot magic and necro magic is new to this book. Aspected magicians are expanded with new options for “apprentices,” enchanters, explorers and the barely magical Aware. Of course, there are new spells, including one that manipulates gravity(!) and a few new rituals, including the necro-magic one that creates animated dead things, always good for a scare.

Traditions talks about, well, traditions and how there are changing under the effects of Unified Magical Theory (UMT) and its effects on existing traditions, updating seven existing traditions which include some radical changes to how some of them work which may cause problems in an ongoing campaign with practitioners of these traditions. Some advice for GMs on how to incorporate (or not) the way these traditions change for existing characters would have been helpful. The eleven new traditions cover a lot of ground and variety, from cosmic to green (plant) magic, Olympian gods to Tarot, red (animal) and necro magic, good tools for players and GMs alike. Fourteen new mentor spirits are presented, including one for religions Holy Text, and alternate versions of three existing totems (rat, spider and wolf) are included again, providing some strong new options for those using mentor spirits. Magic oddities introduces the possibility of hybrid traditions and rules for an awakened martial art (Way of Unified Mana Hapsum-do). A section on magical demographics, i.e. how many magically active people are out there?, rounds out this section and is an interesting read.

No prize for guessing what is in the Blood Magic section, this builds on the rule presented in the Street Grimoire and tries to restrict the use of blood magic as well as presenting a noble path (self-sacrifice) that uses blood magic. There is a lot of information on how blood magic works, what sorts of people are drawn to using it and the dangers of doing so. Additionally, there are new blood magic spells and rituals, blood crystals (functionally magical cyberware) and new spirits (bone spirits and blood shades). Lastly, there is the addiction danger of blood magic which will turn the user of blood magic into a remorseless and casual killer if they succumb. Placing limits on blood magic, social and cultural as well as mechanical, is a good call as maybe that will keep players from messing with it.

Where the Wild Things are drops back into UMT and how that has affected the application of magic and spirits in the Sixth World and what (may have) been behind the explosion in the number of wild spirits in the world and the new sorts of spirts than have been appearing including the spirits of beast, radio waves and vehicles! So much fun to have with spirit here. Then, then, a huge amount of metaplot partly revealed through in-game world discussion. This section concludes with statistics for the new spirit types and new rules for summoning and negotiating with wild spirits.

Advanced Alchemy is just that, with a discussion of corporate alchemy, new reagents, new tools, compounds (which are new ways to use alchemy) and preparations (which are common ways spells are bound into alchemical items). All of which give the alchemist considerably greater flexibility and utility which they sorely needed. A short discussion on how the “dark traditions” (blood, insects and toxic) use alchemy to leverage their forms of magic in ugly but effective ways. Research, Rumors and Legends are five bits of knowledge which, unusually but usefully, each come with a set of adventures seeds both for groups with or without an alchemist in them. This section ends with some brief advice for the shadowrunning alchemist, basic but solid.

The entire book ends with an index of all of the new things included inside.

Forbidden Arcana is a useful resource for any Shadowrun campaign in which magic plays a major role and even in those where it is just a background element, it is a useful book for the GMs shelf. It does provide considerable support for alchemist characters and anyone playing such will want at least access to this book (a gift for your GM maybe?) but that is probably is not worth the purchase price alone.

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