In Shadowrun characters earn and spend both karma and cash (nuyen, alt+0165 = ¥ for those that want to type the yen symbol). In previous editions the karmic rewards could differ per player, but in Fifth the rewards are normally the same for everyone. However, different types of characters have different needs. A Street Samurai can always get more or better ware, a Rigger can get more drones or upgrade them, a Decker can save up for a new one, but magical characters tend to not need money. Often not at all. Instead they need more karma, because they need to work on their Magic and Initiation Grade on top of all the other karma expenses. So you end up with characters who desperately need karma and have way too much money at hand. On the other hand a Street Sam might be all ‘who cares about karma, right now I need a ware upgrade!’ and the Decker will moan and drool about better decks.
To accomodate for different people needing different amounts of Karma and Nuyen, a table can houserule that you can trade one in for the other. This already happens in chargen, where 1 karma becomes ¥2,000, so there’s something to base things on. The question is, how exactly will you do it. What is the price, what is the limit? Because if you allow for too much to be traded, it can seriously impact the balance between characters.
The following three rules are simple: The first is how Missions does it, the second has a different at-a-price and is similar to how some (including me) did it in SR4, the third is the way I currently do it in my own campaign. My own way combines it with another houserule, but that part can easily be ignored.
Rule: ¥2k <–> 1 karma (takes time, 5 max per downtime)
Missions works with Working for the Man/People. You spend a week of your time doing either good work or soul-draining one, letting you freely convert up to 5 karma per downtime period. The only price paid here is time, which with Missions matters since you fully control your free time. Outside Missions it hardly ever matters though, unless you’re working on something that takes a lot of time. Which means Mages suffer under this, because Initiation tends to take a lot of time. Others not so much. So a Street Sam can easily grab a quick buck now, then later on convert the money back to karma. In fact I did this on my Missions character. And it’s just weird flipflopping all you want on this.
Another downside of this rule is the quantity. If you earn 12 grand on a job, which a lot of Missions get you, then with this rule you can pay your Lifestyle and buy 5 karma, no cash left. Vice versa of the 6 karma you’d usually get, you can convert nearly all of it into cash. So you can end up with characters that basically end up with twice the cash or twice the karma. Giving them extra karma/nuyen, sure, but when they can double and nothing it has a significant impact on the game balance.
Rule: ¥4k –> 1 karma –> ¥2k (2 max per month)
Under this rule, people can easily trade Karma for Nuyen, or Nuyen for Karma. However, something is lost in the exchange. If you trade one way then the other, you’ll have less than you started with. This is to make the trade come at a price, so people won’t as easily do it because it’s not easily undone. The maximum is what I used in SR4 (though the quantities were 5k and 2.5k then), because I wanted it to be more limited.
An upside of this rule is that the time required is handwaved, so there’s no additional restraints for people who spend a lot of time training.
The biggest problem here is determining what actually is the decent trade-in value. Is 1 karma worth 4 grand? Would you rather make it 3? Or 5?
Personal Rule: ¥2k <–> 1 karma (3 max per month, sidejob)
My current rule is a variant on Working for the Man/People. Basically I let my players do the same thing, however with a lower limit (see above for reasons why). The big difference is that here it doesn’t cut into training time, at the price of having to tie into a sidejob.
This is due to something else people note: Your runner obviously doesn’t sit around doing nothing but training inbetween runs. Even if you do train a lot, you won’t be training 12h/day. So you have spare time, and you can try to use that. Some people try to steal cars* or run a business, which can lead to balance complications (one runner earning far more than another, or people earning way too much compared to runs), playing complications, etc. Instead, I decided to handwave the executional details. Instead, characters without a Day Job simply spend part of their downtime doing some form of sidejob, which they earn compensation for in the form of ¥2k and 1 karma.
This sidejob doubles as their method of karma<->nuyen transfer, letting you trade 3 steps up or down. Say you trade 2 grand for 1 karma, then your sidejob gets you 2 karma and no cash. If you trade in six grand, you’ll be losing 4 grand but getting 4 karma. The other way around you can be a coldhearted bastard that loses 2 karma and earns 8 grand.
One restriction: The player has to tell what their runner does, and the sidejob has to be related to their skills. For example I got a player baking cupcakes or selling commlink apps, one working for the Mob with cleanup jobs to earn money at the expense of karma, while a third one does charity work in pro-bono street clinics that costs him cash in return for extra karma. They can do something similar each time, or change it up every now and then if they so desire. Through these jobs they also hear things (hello Metaplot!**) and get to know people, or improve their relations with them. It helps me give a bit of extra flavour to the campaign, while it lets the players give more flavour to their characters.
((When it comes to people with Day Job or Made Man, there’s some restrictions that apply at my campaign. It boils down to how I don’t want to let people get way more money than others, and actually pay the price for the time they have to spend on their Qualities. So Day Jobbers end up not getting the default 2k+1karma for the sidejob, while the Made Man will have to do sidejobs related to the Quality and cannot easily turn cash into karma.))
* Do not get into the whole car-theft-as-a-job debate, I’ve seen the debates and they’re not pretty. If your players try this, you COULD retaliate with natural consequences but you really should just go ‘come on guys, let’s not do that okay, you’re runners not carthieves’ and go with the Social Contract.
** An example would be overhearing some intel about group X moving around. If group X then features in a run, the player will be able to go ‘wait, I heard about this, weren’t they getting ready to hit Y?’ or something like that. Foreshadowing is awesome.