Magic in the Sixth World is a diverse and fascinating topic. Practitioners range from the studious academic magician who'd as soon write a paper about a spell as cast it to the street mage who doesn't care about theory as long as it works. This book is designed to open the lid on the practise of magic with everything from underpinning theory and beliefs to organisations mages can join and (of course) plenty of new spells. Then there's material about spirits, alchemy and the role of the talismonger as well.
Of course, after the introduction explains what's in the book, the first thing we get is some fiction. It's intriguing, a story about a girl returning home to see her sick mother, with the magic she wields being almost incidental: a nice touch, it is about a person not her magic!
Story told, along comes Surviving Magic, a discussion about what it means to be a full-blown magic capable part of the Awakened world. For some it is a joy, for some something fearful - and for most, a mixture of the two. Much of this is conversational in style, with contributions from others chipping in. It's a wide-ranging discussion beginning with finding out that you are magically-endowed - and how that makes you a target for everyone who wants to use or abuse you - and looking at popular conceptions about mages and so much more. This is useful reading even for those who are not playing mages, because it helps set the scene in which both mage and mundane operate. Many people are scared of magic, whether they can wield it or not. Others seek to exploit it... and in some parts of the world it's illegal. Most schools test for magical aptitude like they test for other potentials and capabilities, and track those who show signs of it, whilst most universities run courses in magic - which interestingly are not just for those who can cast spells, there are programmes for those interested in the underlying theory, the social ramifications - well, you know academics, they'll study a topic from every possible angle! Of course, shamans stand somewhat outside of this, as they rely on a spirit guide rather than book-learning. Corporations and even religions also take an interest, recruiting magic-users and making use of their skills. And then there's the shadow world...
Next, Magic in the World gets down to the nuts and bolts of how magic actually works. Or at least, as much as is popularly understood. It's not just the laws of magic that are talked about here, it's also the law as it relates to magic: licences to practice or even to purchase magic items can trip up the unwary. You can also find out all about mana and background counts and rifts and other strange manifestations of natural magical power.
Then comes Magical Traditions with a round-up of the myriad beliefs and theories underpinning magic. There are a lot of them, and it depends on your background and upbringing which you'll decide to apply. Most faiths have quite strong ideas on the matter, but if you are not religious there are plenty other paths to follow. Each tradition has its own core style and preferred spells.
This is followed by a section called Magical Societies. People like to band together and it's as true of mages and shamans as it is of anybody else. Some operate openly, others are hidden - and probably find you rather than the other way around. There's everything from religious orders and learned societies to street gangs here. They could provide allies or opponents for the characters, even if they choose not to join up.
The next section is rather ominously titled Dark Magic. Now, those not magically-endowed may see all magic-wielders as being involved in the dark arts but the more enlightened know that magic isn't anything like that, it's a tool like any other and can be used for good or ill... but... well, there really is some nasty stuff out there in the magical world. You may not want to dabble yourself, you may never even encounter it, but it is best to be prepared! Some comes from within, drawing on the worst ideas and emotions that people can have, and some comes from without, from alien entities. Whatever the source, those who choose to make use of it risk their very metahumanity - and quite possibly, yours. The reasons why someone might want to go there are explored, as well as the different paths into darkness that might be followed. All manners of nastiness, most suited more to be used against your party of shadowrunners than used by them (indeed some of the anecdotes and comments suggest scenario ideas as you read them!), and there's plenty of detail such as spirit statistics to enable their use.
Then on to the Expanded Grimoire, which provides a wealth of new spells with which to experiment. They are grouped by nature, so you have combat spells, detection spells and so on. Each comes with a detailed description of its effects and uses as well as the necessary detail to cast it during a game. There's a lot here... but if that is not sufficient, the next section is Shadow Rituals. This is a more detailed look at formal ritual magic than you find in the core rulebook, with plenty of ideas and examples for those who have the patience, discipline and desire to perform castings of this type.
Next comes Secrets of the Initiates. Here, those who wish to expand their powers can find out about different routes they can follow to gain even more arcane knowledge through enlightenment. Not for the faint-hearted, but for those willing to make the attempt the rewards can be potent indeed. Various ordeals may be required, but whole areas of knowledge may be opened up: geomancy, necromancy, psychometry and more. There's even a note about a fascinating career path, that of the forensic thaumaturgist. This role revolves around the use of magic to solve crimes rather than the solving of crimes in which magic was employed (although a good one can probably do that as well). The concept suggests a whole campaign based around a fusion of police procedural, magic and general CSI/forensics... but before I get sidetracked, there's loads more in here, which will be of interest to the more thoughtful mages, those interested in the theory and philosophy of their art as well as the practical applications thereof.
There's another fiction segment, Butcher's Bill, then on to a section called Physical Magic. More goodies for the physical adepts amongst us. Like each section, this begins with a short (page or so) fictional excerpt to set the scene, before launching into detailed material which starts off by explaining what physical adepts are and how they fit into Sixth World society. To give more scope to adepts, several paths or ways for them to follow are presented, each allowing the adept to specialise and focus on a specific area based on their underlying philosophy. There are some juicy new adept powers as well.
The final two sections, The Immaterial Touch and Turning Lead Into Nuyen, deal with spirits and alchemy. The section on spirits delves deep, looking at where they come from, the whys and hows behind the stat blocks we are used to, and should help you make them more of an integral part of your world. Different types of spirit and a collection of new spirit powers round off this section, along with things as diverse as how to create an ally spirit, avatars and more. Finally, the section on alchemy looks at the practice of that ancient craft, providing scope for those who'd like to try it out or for making more rounded NPCs whom the characters might consult. There's a lot about magic items and their manufacture too; and then the discussion moves on to talismongers - what they do and how, and the things they have to offer.
This book reaches down into the core essence of Shadowrun, showing how magic is integral - this is not just a cyberpunk world where magic works, but a true natural revolution, a world changed by the resurgence of magic. Most of us have got that idea already, but the depth and breadth presented here really brings it home and makes it all come to life. If you want the full picture, add this and Run and Gun to your library along with the core rulebook.
[5 of 5 Stars!]