SR5 development: Pathways to Power for Adepts

Shadowrun 5 Logo with Text

Okay, fun fact: One of our best-selling PDF-only products in recent years is The Way of the Adept. It was written by a dedicated freelancer who wanted to give adepts a boost because he felt they were underpowered. It was edited by a member of of the Shadowrun development team who believes adepts were, if anything, overpowered.

That’s the joy of adepts, and it’s one of the reasons they’re so difficult to get right. There are a lot of different opinions about how well they work compared to other archetypes and the best ways to balance them, or even if they are worth the effort to have in the game. When we were planning Shadowrun, Fifth Edition, there was no question about keeping them. We’re awfully fond of them and we want them in the game, if only so we can punch spirits in the face with our bare hands. So getting rid of them was never a matter of discussion.

But if adepts were staying, what do we do with them? What needs to change to help them compete and be useful throughout their lifespan? As we talked it over, our focus settled on the idea that adepts needed some way to advance besides dumping loads of Karma into skills and attributes. If run rewards are going to take two forms, nuyen and Karma–and they are–then adepts need to have a wealth of options for their nuyen as well as their Karma. They have some, of course, from new guns to weapon modifications to armor and what not, but these options don’t pack the same punch as, say, a street samurai boosting up from wired reflexes 2 to wired reflexes 3 and getting that burst of blinding speed. So we tossed ideas back and forth, had a few arguments (as you might expect with the range of opinions in the house), and what we eventually came up with was: qi foci, a kind of focus just for adepts.

Now, this isn’t that revolutionary of an idea. Foci exist already, and are already there to boost the abilities of the Awakened. It was not, to be honest, the most difficult task in the world to design a focus that provided a boost in adept powers, similar to the way other foci lift up spellcasting abilities.

But that’s why we liked it. Simple solutions that fit with existing game mechanics keep complications down. Plus, we decided that qi foci could take the form of traditional objects (rings, necklaces, and so forth), but they could also be tattoos. Getting a tattoo that boosted your adept powers made us smile, which made it something that had to happen.

At this point I need to say that I will be severely disappointed if many Shadowrun fans are not reading this and thinking “But you said you wanted adepts to have an option for their nuyen! Foci cost Karma to bond!” Good call! There is a balance to work on here, as there is with everything in Shadowrun. While we want adepts to be able to use their nuyen to advance, using only their nuyen to get qi foci seemed to give them too rapid of a path to power. Shifting the balance–where they have some Karma-light options to go along with the Karma-heavy options–seemed like a good idea. We hope players have fun with it!

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