Project Aphelion Solo Play #002: Career Magician

By Anna Urbanek

Welcome back to my self-indulging project of changing Shadowrun into a strategy RPG, using the engine of our upcoming RPG, Project Aphelion. If you’ve missed it, in the previous post I went through some conversion notes and re-created my character, Tomorrow, according to PA’s chargen rules. What I’ve ended up with is:

Tomorrow
22-year-old elf, a magician
Attributes: Toughness 3, Fitness 2, Awareness 4, Resolve 3, Logic 5, Wit 4
Skills: Sorcery 3, Conjuring 2, Sciences 1, Investigation 2, Con 2, Stealth 2
Rep: +5 Outcasts, -5 Law Enforcement
Contacts: Citizen R1 (Mommy), Citizen R1 (Daddy), Citizen R1 (Friendly hacker), Outcast R1 (best friend, gang magician), Outcast R1 (boyfriend, gang lieutenant), Spirit R1 (Raven, mentor spirit). Note that ratings of contacts are neither loyalty nor connection – they’re both; they’re an approximation of how mechanically useful the contact can be, not whether they like the PC or are a big fish.

Traits: First Impression, Low-Light Adaptation, Fragile, Exceptional Talent (Logic), Lucky (1), Income (3), Low Expectations, Driven.

Gear: a basic jumpsuit, a commlink, a magical-research toolkit, a mini 3D printer, a lockpick set, survival gear, a stealth suit, a non-lethal gun, and a bound air elemental called Steven.

As far as other game stats go, this gives me:

  • Stamina Pool (Toughness + Fitness): 5. Or, in my case, (Toughness + Logic): 8, because Tomorrow’s a cheeky bastard with Mind over Matter adept power. Shadowrun is unbalanced. Still, this is a pool I’ll be using for physical actions
  • Morale Pool (Resolve + Logic): 8. This is a pool I’ll be using for mental actions.

Pools are points I spend to perform actions – eg. shooting a gun is a physical action that costs 1 point from Stamina Pool, while casting a spell is a mental action, using up Morale Pool. If any of the pools gets to 0, the character cannot take any actions. Pools are also your hit points, so one needs to manage their resources and take breaks, even in the middle of combat! Ever seen a person in a firefight catching their breath behind the cover? That’s exactly this mechanic. You won’t die if your Stamina Pool gets to zero – but you’ll be in a sticky situation if you cannot regain your balance quickly.

  • I also get Physical Initiative equal to Awareness (4) and Physical Actions per interval equal to half that (rounded up, as always) = 2.
  • I get Mental Initiative equal to Wit (4) and half that in Mental Actions (2 as well).

As I’ve mentioned, there are no dump stats.

Career Path

There’s one more thing left in chargen, and that’s the matter of the career. Normally in Project Aphelion, you just choose one of the 18 premade career paths, but the game gives you all you need to make custom ones, so that’s what I’m running with.

Careers are not “character classes.” While they do offer bonuses and special traits, they are not required for a character to be complete, and do not elevate the character above those who do not follow a Career.

That being said, they give you the fun of another direction of character advancement, and they’re plainly cool.

A magician, then. As decided previously, I’m making this a career in the scientific focus, based mostly on Logic, and with four primary skills: Sorcery, Conjuring, Sciences, and Investigation. Per rules, to start the game with a particular career, I need all my primary skills at least at rank 1 (and I do) and I need to achieve at least one other career Deed. Let’s see what that’s about. 

The closest PA has to a magician is the xenologist – the scientist on the cutting edge of science, investigating all things alien and transhumanist. Here’s the xenologist’s career advancement table:

Xenologist 

DeedRank 1Rank 2Rank 3Rank 4Rank 5
Primary skills
Biotech
Remote Control
Robotics
Sciences

/1
/1
/1
/1

/2
/2
/2
/2

/3
/3
/3
/3

/4
/4
/4
/4

/5
/5
/5
/5
Know Advanced Action Cards/1/2/3/4/5
Create biodrones/5/10/15/20/25
Control biodrones/5/10/15/20/25
Modify biodrones /5/10/15/20/25
Complete research projects/5/10/15/20/25
Solve mysteries /5/10/15/20/25
Complete Scenarios entirely by running a biodrone through FSI /5/10/15/20/25
Complete Scenarios entirely through Remote Control/5/10/15/20/25
Total ranks of Contacts related to your Career/5/10/15/20/25
Earn Rep/50/100/150/200/250

The career advancement goes across 5 Ranks – to progress, one must have all primary skills at an appropriate level (skill level 3 to get to rank 3 of the career) AND do at least one other Deed, which are just achievements specific to the career. As a pilot, you can progress your career by visiting sectors of the Solar System or winning races, as a musician you play gigs, as a xenologist you build and control biodrones, solve mysteries, and complete Scenarios using your little helpers, without putting yourself at risk.

The deeds of knowing advanced action cards, being well-connected, or building reputation are universal for all careers. The important thing, each Deed can be completed only once – so, as we’re now cashing in the Deed of “Know Advanced Action Cards” (we got one in Trial 5 in chargen, remember?), to progress further, I’ll need to do something more exciting.

Anyway, time to design the Deeds! As I’ve mentioned, biodrones and spirits are basically the same thing, and it definitely sounds like fun to run a whole Scenario through the use of spirits, without putting yourself at risk (if you do that in Shadowrun, the rest of the party is allowed to boo you out of the game, but it makes sense in the world – even if it makes the game session boring for other players). I want to add some deeds connected to magical research (spell research, maybe?). Let’s see…

Magician

DeedRank 1Rank 2Rank 3Rank 4Rank 5
Primary skills
Sorcery
Conjuring
Sciences
Investigation

/1
/1
/1
/1

/2
/2
/2
/2

/3
/3
/3
/3

/4
/4
/4
/4

/5
/5
/5
/5
Know Advanced Action Cards/1/2/3/4/5
Control spirits/5/10/15/20/25
Create new spells/5/10/15/20/25
Create magic items/5/10/15/20/25
Investigate magical phenomena/5/10/15/20/25
Solve mysteries /5/10/15/20/25
Complete Scenarios entirely through spirits/5/10/15/20/25
Complete Scenarios using nothing but magic/5/10/15/20/25
Total ranks of Contacts related to your Career/5/10/15/20/25
Earn Rep/50/100/150/200/250

Career Advancement

Sounds doable. Now, let’s fill the table with Tomorrow’s current status. She has the primary skills at levels 3, 2, 1, and 2, so while she’s passing the Rank 1 requirements, she doesn’t know enough yet to get to Rank 2 – will need to learn some more science for that! (Should have not drop out of high school, right?) She also has one Advanced Action Card from Trial 5. This counts as a Deed – with that, she has enough to call herself officially a magician

She also has 1 Rank of contact related to the career (her best friend is a gang magician and they often study together and talk shop), and a total of 10 Rep: 5 positive with the criminal world and 5 negative with the law enforcement – yes, bad rep is also useful. These two are not enough for even rank 1 – but they’re a start for future Deeds!

As Tomorrow hits Rank 1 in the career, she gets two rewards: a Career (1) trait (each rank of this Trait provides 1 Clout against all characters who know of their Rep and would be impressed by it) and a new Advanced Action Card that she can henceforth use without paying the pool cost. This is a big thing, because Stamina and Morale pool resource management is a core mechanic of the game, and having an option to just use a cool shiny new thing for free is awesome. 

Magician

DeedRank 1Rank 2Rank 3Rank 4Rank 5
Primary skills
Sorcery
Conjuring
Sciences
Investigation

1 /1
1 /1
1 /1
1 /1

2 /2
2 /2

/2
2 /2

3 /3
/3
/3
/3

/4
/4
/4
/4

/5
/5
/5
/5
Know Advanced Action Cards1 /1/2/3/4/5
Control spirits/5/10/15/20/25
Create new spells/5/10/15/20/25
Create magic items/5/10/15/20/25
Investigate magical phenomena/5/10/15/20/25
Solve mysteries /5/10/15/20/25
Complete Scenarios entirely through spirits/5/10/15/20/25
Complete Scenarios using nothing but magic/5/10/15/20/25
Total ranks of Contacts related to your Career1 /5/10/15/20/25
Earn Rep10 /50/100/150/200/250

If you followed along, you know we now have 2 Advanced Action Cards. However, as we’ve already once used the number of cards known to advance in our career, this option is no longer available. You can’t progress much by doing the same thing over and over again.

Advanced Action Cards

Normally, each career gets pre-loaded with 10 Advanced Action Cards that are tricks and abilities unique to the career. For example, Infiltrator gets to quickly short-circuit electronics to mess up with cameras and drones, Sharpshooter has the option of all kinds of fancy tricks with the guns, and Agent can throw the opponents into a mess of circular reasoning until they start a bidding war against themselves. 

While the cards are unique to the careers, there are ways of learning them if you really want to – just find somebody who can and will teach you or research them yourself through hard work and practice. They will never be free for you, though.

As I’m making a custom career, I need to come up with the cards myself. I’ve already decided that the magican’s cards will be spells – but I also need a card for summoning spirits.

Action Cards have a simple and versatile structure: they have a name, a pool cost (Stamina or Morale), a type of action (instant or sustained), an associated attribute and skill, a description and possibly, a requirement (you can’t use Fire! Action Card if you don’t have a ranged weapon on you.)

Firstly, I need a card for summoning spirits. Tomorrow is a hermetic magician, so she deals with elementals, not ancestors, spirit animals, or generalized ideas of humanity. I want my skills to matter when it comes to the power of elementals summoned – in Shadowrun, this is regulated by Magic attribute which we scrapped, so we need a different limitation. This way, I’m treating spirits as drones and equipping Tomorrow with Rating 2 spirits, as she has Conjuration on level 2 – not very powerful, but she’s literally at the start of the game, so needs room to grow.

Name: Summon Elemental
Pool: Morale
Action: Instant
Attribute: Logic
Skill: Conjuring
Description: Summons an elemental (Air, Earth, Fire, or Water) at rating equal to Conjuring skill. Marks = the number of services the elemental can perform before dematerializing. Only one can be summoned at any given time.
Requirement: Magician

That was easy! Of course, I still need to come up with stats for the 4 types of elementals – but for that, I’ll just repurpose the rules for building and modding drones. Easy-peasy.

Now, the hard part: I need a spell. One spell. Just one. Out of 13 that Tomorrow knows in Shadowrun and another 10 that she had managed to research in downtime. What to do? What do I choose? So many great options…

I’m joking, it’s going to be Shapechange and there’s literally zero doubt about it. The amount of shenanigans one can pull off by changing herself into a bird can never be overestimated.

(By the way, you can find the custom spells I came up with in this post.)

Now, here’s the SR wording of the spell (I’m going with 20th Anniversary edition (4A), as that’s what we’ve played in the campaign):

Type: P • Range: LOS • Duration: S • DV: (F ÷ 2) + 2

Shapechange transforms a voluntary subject into a normal (non-paranormal) critter, though the subject retains human consciousness. The subject can only assume the form of a critter whose base Body rating is 2 points greater or less than her own. Consult the Critters section, p. 292, for the subject’s Physical attributes while in critter form. Add 1 to the critter’s Base attribute Ratings for every hit the caster generates. Her Mental attributes remain unchanged.

This spell does not transform clothing and equipment. Magicians in critter form can still cast spells, but cannot perform other tasks requiring speech.

It’s a Physical spell (irrelevant outside of narrative), requiring a line of sight, sustaining, and a voluntary subject. Drain Value is going to be skipped, as I’ve consulted with Jakub the Author and was informed there’s no need to add extra cost for spellcasting on top of pool cost and actions. Fair enough: while casting the spell will only cost me 1 Morale Point out of 8, sustaining it will eat one of my two available mental actions, already keeping the spell in check and preventing abuse.

(Seriously, the level of system abuse I got from this spell in SR is immoral.)

Now, as the attributes are close enough in SR and PA, and I already have a comprehensive table of non-paranormal critters from SR (as I said, I was using and abusing this spell, so I made myself a giant cheat sheet. Seriously, check it out, it’s my opus magnum). I will be converting the sheet as I go and need it, but the general approach of changing into animals with base Toughness 2 points greater or less is a good rule of thumb. In Shadowrun, it got me anything from a crow to a cheetah, and there’s no point in changing that. Adding points to Base attribute ratings works as well. 

Now, before somebody cries foul: we’ve always played ignoring the rule about transforming clothing and equipment. For many reasons:

  1. that’s not how shapechange works for shapeshifters,
  2. I don’t want my female character running naked when I play on the internet,
  3. it would just create weird scenes of one of the guys in the party having to carry spare clothes for her and forcing stupid cuts to getting dressed behind the dumpster.

Yes, it makes the spell more powerful and useful. Deal with it. So:

Name: Shapechange
Pool: Morale
Action: Sustained
Attribute: Logic
Skill: Sorcery
Description: Transforms a voluntary (non-resisting) living target into a non-paranormal animal. The target retains human consciousness and can only assume the form of a critter with Toughness +/-2 target’s Toughness. Add 1 to physical attributes of the animal per each mark scored. Affects clothing and carried light equipment. Magician in critter form can still cast spells, but cannot speak.
Requirement: Magician

Now, according to the backstory, Shapechange is the first spell Tomorrow has ever learnt. She was taught it by the Raven, her mentor spirit. Then she was taught how to summon elementals. I’ll keep it that way. This means that the Summon Elemental Advanced Action Card is going to be free – ie. I won’t have to pay the Morale Pool cost to summon it but it will still cost Tomorrow an action. Yes, I know in SR spirits are immensely powerful and a magician is always risking at least a headache when summoning one – but I’ve got an equivalent of Magic 6 conjurer with stacked bonuses from specialization and mentor spirit preferences summoning measly F2 air elementals. I think she can handle that without sweating.

And that’s it! From a magical perspective, a rather limited number of options – but we’re only just starting! Unlike in Shadowrun, learning new spells will be more about research, learning, finding teachers, and investing the time than spending the one metacurrency you need for all kinds of character advancement, so I expect it to grow quickly!

What’s next?

With the character more or less done (I expect there to be bits and pieces that will require rules made on the fly – but then, that’s what I’ve been doing so far), it’s high time to build the campaign, the main objectives, and the factions! Should take about an hour + about three of writing it all down.

Read on the Part 3!


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3 Comments on “Project Aphelion Solo Play #002: Career Magician

  1. Pingback: Project Aphelion Solo Play: Campaign Generation (Part 3) | Double Proficiency

  2. Pingback: Project Aphelion Solo Play: Scenario Generation (Part 4) | Double Proficiency

  3. Pingback: Project Aphelion Solo Play: Hacking the Cyberpunk (part 1) | Double Proficiency

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