There are a lot of reasons for the non-awakened to be leery of magic. Perhaps the biggest one is that spells like stunbolt and manabolt are not obvious. A perceptive runner will notice when a potential adversary aims a firearm or baton at you, but your first indication of offensive magic may be when you start bleeding out of your ears.
Flipping the roles around, what this means for the spellcasting runner is that in cases where adversaries are not aware that they are in fact adversaries, casting a stunbolt or manabolt at deadly means they may not realize they're under attack until after you've knocked one of them out.
NOTE: Spellcasting alone does not initiate combat, meaning it does not put you in initiative rounds. Outside of initiative, you have a half second delay (IRL time) between spells.
NOTE: Successfully dealing damage with a spell does initiate combat.
NOTE: Mobs can become alarmed if they notice your spellcasting. A higher magic rating and a lower spell force makes the spellcasting harder to notice, but a lower spell force is also easier to resist.
NOTE: In combat, spell casting is queued. Each time you send a CAST command, your spell is added to the queue. On your action in the combat loop, if there's at least one spell in your queue, you pop the next spell off the queue. If your spell queue is empty, you auto-attack with whatever weapon you have in hand (or otherwise with your fists) instead of casting.
While manabolt and powerbolt deal physical damage, stunbolt deals mental. This means that using stunbolts, a spellcaster needs to deal twice as many boxes to mortally wound a target, first filling their mental track before overflowing into their physical track. However, stunbolt has the advantage of lower drain. Spell drain codes are calculated as (F/2 + modifier)(drain level), i.e., casting a stunbolt 6 at deadly has a drain of (6/2 - 1)(deadly) = 2D. Let's take a look at the odds to completely resist the drain for stunbolt, manabolt, and powerbolt, all cast at force 6 and deadly, compared to drain resist dice (willpower + spell pool). A trauma damper does make this significantly easier.
|9 dice w/ damper
|12 dice w/ damper
Another attack spell that is often recommended is waterbolt. While stunbolt/manabolt/powerbolt are direct combat spells, waterbolt acts more like a firearm - it can be dodged and armor applies (though at half impact instead of full ballistic). But unlike stunbolt, it can be used against non-living opponents like turrets and you only roll against TN 4 (plus vision, wound, and sustain modifiers) regardless of how high your target's attributes may be.
|9 dice w/ damper
|12 dice w/ damper
Improved invisibility is probably the most desired (or hated, depending on who has it) spell in the game. But for runners, there is a bit of nuance to using it. If the invisibility is seen through by any means, guards will respond aggressively. While a force 1 stealth spell can be used to prevent auto-detection via ultrasound, astral perception or the rare lucky spell resistance roll will still be able to spot you. In addition, if you initiate combat in a way that does not immediately knock your target unconscious, they will fight back even if they can't see you. Once somebody is fighting you, they can also alert others who cannot see you and so you can end up fighting everybody in the room (and possibly also adjacent rooms). There are a number of autoruns that will go smoother if the subtle runner does not use invisibility.
For the not-so-subtle runner, improved invisibility is a very potent buff, as adversaries who are fighting you but can't see you suffer a +8 TN blind fire penalty. If they have ultrasound, they suffer a penalty of (8 + the force of your stealth spell)/2 (round up), max +8. That said, it's not a stand-alone solution; if you don't have the dodge or melee dice, then they can still luck into landing the occassional hit, and without soak and armor, a hit with just a single net success can still do a lot of damage.
The heal and treat spells can recover one box of physical health per success, to a maximum equal to the force of the spell. But the number of successes we can expect is highly dependent on the TN, which is set by 10 - (target's essence, rounded down) + TN penalties (e.g., sustaining, wounds, vision). Rolling 12 dice (e.g., 6 sorcery + 6 spell pool) against TN 4 (i.e., zero cyberware and no other penalties) averages 6 successes (thus 6 boxes healed assuming force 6+), whereas against TN 12 (say, 2 essence with uncompensated light mental and serious physical wounds) averages 0.3 successes. This is the primary tradeoff when considering whether to install cyberware in mages and shamans.
NOTE: The treat spell can only be used in the same mud-hour as when damage was taken, in exchange for lower drain.
NOTE: Heal/treat spells, as well as biotech treat, will work on physical drain damage.
Ritualcast now enables buffing with automatically maximized successes. The following dice optimization considerations are only applicable if you're buffing up by casting normally.
A mage's greatest strength is their ability to sustain more and higher force buff-type spells on themselves through the use of elementals.
NOTE: Elementals cannot sustain health category spells.
The effectiveness of most sustained spells is from the number of successes you achieve, where the force only serves to cap the number of successes you may use (notable exception: armor). So, it's common for spellcasters to recast such spells until they reach that maximum number of usable successes. This leads to the question: how should you split your spell pool between casting and drain resistance so as to both maximize your chance of reaching maximum effective successes while also minimizing your time spent recovering from drain?
NOTE: Drain power is calculated from half of force (round down), plus a modifier and damage level depending on the spell.
This depends on too many details to explore here. That said, when outside of combat, you can cast a spell every half second, so let's take a look at how many drain resistance dice (willpower + spell pool) it takes to have around a 90% chance to not take any drain, i.e., around 10 attempts per rest. Let's also aim for enough spellcasting dice (sorcery + spell pool + foci) for around a 10% chance of hitting the effective successes cap. These numbers assume the caster doesn't have a trauma damper. A key result is that you need much less dice if you're willing to aim for a result that is slightly less than the absolute maximum.
|90% chance of 0 drain
|10% chance of max successes
|Increase Will (5 base willpower)
|6 drain resist dice
|11 spellcasting dice
|Increase Will (6 base willpower)
|6 drain resist dice
|20 spellcasting dice
|11 drain resist dice
|21 spellcasting dice
|16 drain resist dice
|25 spellcasting dice
In Awakened Worlds CE, effective magic rating is capped at 20. But for mages, what you get for raising your real magic rating higher than 10-15 (depending on build) is relatively minor. You get an extra spell pool die for every 3 points of int+magic (where your total magic is capped at 20) and an extra rating point of foci that you can have active at the same time per 0.5 points of real magic before risking foci addiction. Note: banishing has never been worth using (except for some very niche scenarios) in any edition of Shadowrun, and is no different in the mud.
The assumption here is that you won't use a focus to sustain any spell that can instead be sustained by an elemental.
Important for Spellcasting and Combat:
These foci could be worth having active, depending on your build:
Being able to have these foci active, on top of everything above, is generally unneeded except for bragging rights, niche cases, or maybe pruns:
Being able to have these foci active, on top of everything above, is only really relevant for convenience or maybe pruns:
These are not worth the space they take up, except maybe in pruns:
Unlike a shaman, a hermetic mage's spells are limited by the quality of their library. There are no sorcery libraries with a rating greater than 8 available in Awakened Worlds CE. That restriction causes hermetic attack spells to be very unreliable when facing off against certain top tier opponents. Example: a force 8 stunbolt with 24 dice vs 16 willpower gives less than 4% chance of success, whereas a force 12 stunbolt in the same situation gives a 20% chance of success.
Where the hermetic has the advantage is their elementals, which have the ability to sustain spells associated with their element. A shaman is not able to sustain the various beneficial spells (beyond what can be handled by the available force 3 or 4 sustaining foci) without having to deal with sustaining penalties in subsequent actions. Thus, a hermetic is better at using their magic in a self-supporting role. Along with the weakness in offensive spells, it makes sense for high-tier mages to approach situations they find dangerous in the same way as a street samurai (i.e., shooting large firearms loaded with APDS from outside the room).
NOTE: A mundane street samurai can reach rating 12 with firearms and melee skills and so is generally better at killing (except when opponents are spirits/elementals). A hermetic with a full suite of buffs plus spell defense / reflecting is generally better at surviving (even more so if willing to pick up some cyber/bioware).
NOTE: In a team situation, a shaman is better at support magic, as they can sustain force 12 spells on teammates while the hermetic is limited to force 8. While the shaman would take sustaining penalties, that doesn't matter when teammates can be relied on to handle the action.
|stacks with normal armor; not counted for quickness armor limit
|no cap to number of combat pool dice that can be allocated to dodge or soak
|can be defeated by successful spell resistance, ultrasound, or astral perception
|negates ultrasound; if the target is sneaking, adds to the TN to spot
|ignore terrain (e.g., climbing, swimming, icesheet); force 1 is enough
|a better flashlight (force = number of artificial light sources)
|low drain; if it fails to do damage, it does not initiate combat
|for targets that are immune to stunbolt (i.e., non-living opponents)
|makes negotiation easier, thus helps you make more nuyen
|as with all other spells, wound penalties apply
|contributes to spell pool, drain resistance, and stunbolt/manabolt resistance
|Increase Reflexes +3
|once in combat, spellcasting follows initiative rules; force 1 is enough