If you read my previous post on spellcasting you'll know I'm not a fan of the magic rules in Shadowrun, and unfortunately 5th Edition hasn't done much to make me a fan. However, of all the magical abilities, I like spirits the most. I find the concept of spirits, and especially the various types of spirits to add a lot of flavor to a game, and to the universe as a whole. I've always enjoyed finding new ways to describe the various spirits when they use their powers, or manifest.
Conjuring is broken into three sections, summoning, binding, and banishing. I'll handle them separately beginning with summoning. Summoning is the act of compelling a spirit to serve you. One of the new features that I like, but haven't gotten to play with much is specifying optional powers. If you summon a spirit of Force 3 or above, you can specify an optional power for every three points of force. Force 3, one power, 6, two powers, etc. My only complaint is that it's harder to summon a low level spirit, then it is to summon a higher level one. The test for summoning is an opposed test: Summoning + Magic [Force] v. Force
This means that to summon a force one spirit, you only succeed if you roll a success and the spirit does not, as ties go to the defender. With a higher force spirit, there's a lower chance of all their dice (the limit) coming up as hits, so it gets easier the higher the spirit's force, as it raises the limit. Granted, the rules do let you raise the limit through use of magical reagents, but for such a low-level spirit it hardly seems worthwhile. Once the test has passed, or failed, you must resist drain, the same as with spellcasting. In this case the drain is twice the total hits the spirit rolled on the summoning test.
I really like conjuring for two reasons. First, it's flavorful. Spirits can have a personality, they are all different. A spirit of man (my favorite) can manifest as a stop sign, a pile of garbage, a dust devil, reminiscent of a subway train coming into the station, or a sentient tire. A spirit of water can be a puddle, or a quick micro-burst shower. Second, I love the fact that spirits are sentient in and of themselves, I like that they can break free, or on a glitch show up for a "chat" with the summoner. I like that mages can develop a relationship with spirits. Conjuring, as a discipline, is less flexible then spellcasting but in my mind, from a game play experience I'd much rather conjure, then spell cast.
Let's move on to binding. When you summon a spirit through conjuring the spirit/mage relationship is short-term. There's nothing holding the spirit to the mage past the next sunrise/sunset and there's nothing I like more as a GM then having a spirit dissipate, mid-service. Ah, the joys of being a GM. A bound spirit however, is around until their services are used up. This generally is reserved for a higher level spirit. I wouldn't recommend binding any spirit below force 6/your magic rating. Though your mileage may vary.
Once a spirit is summoned, and has enough services to be worth keeping around, or maybe you're lonely and simply want a friend, you need to bind them. In 5th Edition, the binding rules haven't really changed, and unlike spellcasting they are fairly straightforward. The only hitch is that you need a significant amount of reagants. Once you have them the test is fairly straightforward, if taking a fair amount of time.
Note: This is one of the reasons I give my players downtime between runs. I'll often let my players dictate how they spend their time between runs, this gives players the ability to fence stolen gear, find new gear, to summon, and bind spirits, to train, find an instructor, heal, or whatever they need to do. It also provides a great mechanism for me if every now and again the downtime gets broken up. A contact calls in a favor while you're busy binding a spirit, or before you've found that nice gun you're looking for. Do you say no, and risk alienating a potentially useful contact? Or, do you say yes and run somewhat under-prepared. It's a good way to, occasionally, up the dramatic tension in a group.
I'm going to skip over Banishing, and move on to why I really, really, like Spirits in Shadowrun 5th edition. In 3rd Edition which was the system I've played the most to date any spirit could do any task. There was no real limit on what a spirit could do. In 5th Edition however, spirits are limited in what they can do, and how useful they are, by their force. This gets around one of the most frustrating "tricks" in 3rd and 4th Editions, namely mages spawning force 1 spirits, having them do one task, and letting them go.
In games, from a GM perspective, I like that spirits are still useful, and can be a very flavorful part of the world, and I like even more that a mage has to risk drain when summoning. While the fact that a force 1 spirit is very hard to summon doesn't seem to mesh with my view on the game, I can respect the designers not wanting to break the system of Skill + Attribute [Limit] just for Conjuring. From a role play perspective, I like to make my spirits helpful, but a little surly. A spirit, in my mind, has a pilot rating equal to their force. Send a force 1, or 2, spirit to do a complex task and you may not like the results. This forces my players to think about their commands a bit more, and makes them leery to send spirits to do important things unsupervised. Let me give an example:
A low force spirit, single service, gets sent across a factory to "push the red button on that panel" the mage has line of sight to the panel, so can convey to the spirit the panel in question. If I'm feeling generous I have the spirit go, and push the button, and then consider it's service completed and leave. However, let's say the mage has a reputation, they have abused a spirit or two before, and word has gotten around. The spirit goes over and pushes the button, a lot. Not once, not twice, but a few dozen times. It's still within the scope of the request, and who knows what that button does. Or, if the mage uses a spirit of the earth, maybe he pushes the button really hard. There's so many things you can do as a GM to curtail a mages reliance of spirits. It's entirely up to you.
In a later post I'll talk a bit about magical security, and physical security, and using mages in security teams.