Re-introducing the concept of “Everything has a Price” back into Shadowrun: Anarchy and House Rule options for Drain/Fading mechanics.
Shadowrun has long had a compelling magic system that is both mechanically balancing and fits nicely into the metaphysics of the unique setting. They say that “Everything has a Price” and with magic, you are paying with your mind. Bending the metaphysics of magic to your will is mentally and physically taxing. That tax is called Drain – Stun damage taken after casting a spell or summoning a spirit.
In Shadowrun: Anarchy, the concept of Drain (and Fading for technomancers) has gone the way of ammunition and nuyen: it is something left to abstraction and storytelling and is not tracked during game play. Removing Drain keeps the pace brisk and the archetypes fairly balanced. Some players and GMs regret its absence, however, and feel that the flavor it adds should be reintroduced.
I have compiled a selection of house rules that I have used or seen posted on various Shadowrun forums. I do not take credit for any of these (even methods that I have posted previously or used extensively) because this is the internet and who knows who had what idea when. Below is just a summary of house rules that I have seen (and possibly tweaked for balance). They are ranked by what I see as their ease in implementation, not in their merits.
Note: Assume that each of these house rules is also compatible with technomancer Fading; simply substitute “Sorcery/Conjuring” with “Tasking” and “spirits” with “sprites” where appropriate.
LIVE DANGEROUSLY DRAIN
When you make a Magic-related Test, you (or the GM) may spend a Plot Point to Live Dangerously. If the Glitch Die results in a Glitch, the action causes 1 Stun damage. If the Glitch Die results in an Exploit, some other narrative benefit occurs.
Option (Variable Drain): The Glitch instead causes Stun damage equal to the Amp Level of the spell or equal to the Edge of the summoned spirit.
<<I like this one because it is simple, easy to implement, and is disruptive only as much as any other use of a Plot Point. I prefer the Variable Drain option. I use this one.>>
PUSH DICE DRAIN
When you make a Sorcery Test, you may also roll up to 3 Glitch Dice. Each Glitch rolled causes 1 Stun, each Exploit rolled counts as a hit. You must decide how many Push Dice will be used before casting.
<<I dislike this one because it is a touch unbalancing. No other archetype gets access to these special dice that can turn a failed casting into a success (which is what Edge is for). Push Dice are not easily compatible with Conjuring Tests and they lack distinction between powerful spells and weak spells.>>
GLITCH DICE DRAIN
When you make a Sorcery Test, roll a number of Glitch dice equal to the Amp Level of the spell. When you make a Conjuring Test, roll a number of Glitch dice equal to the summoned spirit’s Willpower. Take Stun damage equal to the number of dice that result in a Glitch. There are no advantages to rolling Exploits.
Option (Glitch Swapping): Instead of making a separate roll, reduce your Sorcery Test dice pool by the Amp Level of the spell or reduce your Conjuring Test dice pool by the Willpower of the summoned spirit. Replace the missing dice with Glitch dice. Each Glitch rolled causes 1 Stun, each Exploit rolled counts as a hit.
<<I like this one because Drain is based on the power of the spell/spirit. I dislike the extra time it would take to make a second roll because it can break the flow of Narration. Glitch Swapping is an interesting mechanic to avoid rolling twice but adjusting your dice pool may take just as much time as a second roll.>>
When you make a Magic-related Test, you compare the number of hits to your Willpower. If the number of hits is greater than your Willpower, you take Stun damage equal to the difference.
Option (Alternate Threshold): You instead compare your hits to your Sorcery or Conjuring Skill.
<<I dislike this one because it is logically counterintuitive: the larger your dice pool (i.e. the better you are at Magic), the more dice you roll, and the more likely you are to surpass your threshold. There is also no distinction between powerful spells/spirits and weak spells/spirits. Additionally, most awakened characters will have a Willpower of 5-6, and you would need a dice pool of 15-18 for this to come into play with any meaningful frequency.>>
When you make a Magic-related Test, you take Stun damage based on pre-set factors of the spell or the spirit summoned.
Option (Spellcasting): Spells that affect Multiple Targets (e.g. Fireball) cause 1 Stun damage; spells that affect multiple types of Tests (e.g. Confusion/Chaotic World) cause 1 Stun damage; spells that have an Amp Level greater than 3 cause 1 Stun. Drain factors are cumulative.
Option (Summoning): Summoning a spirit causes Stun damage equal to the summoned spirit’s Edge.
<<I like this one because there are no extra dice to roll and no calculations to make. Drain is based on the power and utility of the spell or spirit. The main disadvantage is that the Drain is static, predictable, and avoidable. I use this one too.>>
Each spell has a Cooldown (pg. 57) assigned to it. When you make a Sorcery Test to cast a spell during its Cooldown, you take Stun damage equal to its Amp Level. Conjuring Tests have a Cooldown of 1 Scene. When you make a Conjuring Test to summon a spirit during its Cooldown, you take Stun damage equal to the spirit’s Edge.
Option (Spellcasting): Spell have a Narration Cooldown equal to half Amp Level (rounded up).
Option (Summoning): You begin each Scene with Conjuring Tests already on Cooldown.
<<This one is interesting. I like it because Drain is based on the power and utility of the spell or spirit. There are also no extra dice to roll and no calculations to make. Cooldowns can help keep Narrations fresh and imaginative. The main (and potentially sizable) drawback is the extra bookkeeping to track Cooldowns. That could get cumbersome quickly. There would also be some effort involved in assigning Cooldowns to spells.>>