Choice Paralysis

This post goes into Choice Paralysis and notes a few ways to help reduce the chargen stress of it in Priority, and why I consider it such a big problem of other SR5 chargen methods. It also gives a bit of info on flat tax problems.

In my previous post about Black Hearts I briefly mentioned Choice Paralysis. This is something pretty much all chargen methods of all RPGs suffer from, but some versions and parts in Shadowrun do far more. It’s something I have brought up myself a few times as reason why I prefer Priority over SR4’s Build Points and karmagen methods. (Karmagen was renamed to Build Points in SR5, while SR4’s Build Points no longer exists.)

So what is Choice Paralysis? Well it’s the name I use for what apparently is more commonly referred to as Analysis Paralysis. Basically by having too many options you get bogged down and fail at making a choice. For example, having 450k nuyen and not a clue what you’re going to spend it on.

Let’s use SR4’s Build Points as example. Back then you received 400 BP in chargen. You could spend at most 200 of them on raising Attributes, and at most 50 on Nuyen for gear. You could buy Positive and ‘sell’ Negative Qualities within a limit of 35 each, buy a metatype if you weren’t going for Human, contacts, skills and knowledge skills. All of these came from the same 400 BP. So then the question was… What were you going to do with them?

To illustrate how detailed this could get: ‘Okay, if I reduce the loyalty of this contact by 1, replace my commlink with a cheaper one and drop this skill from 4 to 3, that gives me 10 BP I can buy an extra Attribute Point with…’ While not the exact situation, I have in fact made that kind of chargen decisions several hours into building a single character. There were far too many things you could do with BP and getting one meant forgoing the other…

Karmagen still has this same problem, while with Life Modules it’s a bit less due to two reasons. Freebie points meaning you don’t need karma for contacts and knowledge skills, and Life Modules being a big point-drainer. Spending 100 karma in 1 go is far easier than having to spend each point separately. However, it still can be rather restrictive and the only reason I could still make my Sample Characters properly is that I had decided on their scope in advance. ‘This character will focus on skills X and needs the following Attributes to be high, let’s invest in that.’

Priority does have some flaws that Build Points had as well, namely flat taxes. I have no idea what the correct term for this is, but what I mean is that things cost a fixed amount of points here, versus a variable amount later. For example, you pay 1 Attribute Point to raise an Attribute, no matter what the value. Agility from 5 to 6 is 1 AP, while Logic from 1 to 2 is as well. But after chargen 5->6 Agility costs 30 karma, and Logic 1->2 costs 10 karma. The same applied in SR4 for Build Points, except there it was 10 BP instead of 1 AP.

This means it’s very tempting to munchkin things: Go high-low rather than more average. Why would you spend a skillpoint on a skill at rating 1, if you can use it for a skill from 5 to 6 and spend 2 (instead of 12) karma for the same result? With BP it was worse because some things had a different karma:BP ratio. Entire topics exist calculating how you can best invest your BP to get the most karma out of your buck.

Priority has this less, fortunately, though it’s still extremely encouraging min-maxing. This is why people have skills either real low or at 6, and not at say 4: It’s a waste of your flat-tax points if you look at the karma-expenses afterwards. Life Modules helped solve that problem, but unfortunately choice paralysis and its far-more-complex nature get in the way.

So. Choice Paralysis. With Priority it still happens in a few ways. On the plus side it now happens in smaller loads (Priorities, skills, qualities, nuyen), rather than in 1 big picture like with BP. Still, it gets in the way. So how do you manage it? Well the answer is: Step by step and with the big choices made first, so you have less options to ponder after.

First of all, you need to pick a concept. Are you going to be a decker with some extra skills on the side, a sneaky bastard, a combat monster, a mage laughing at the fools opposing him or a mage covertly supporting his allies from safety? This can greatly help you steer the Priorities you need to consider. And considering your strongest (A) and weakest point (E) is often also a really nice way of eliminating options for the other Priorities.

For example, a Decker needs to spend a lot of money on their Deck, and >90% of them are mundane. This means your Resources will likely be A or B, and your Magic/Resonance will be E. You need a LOT of skills for all the hacking stuff, plus likely want something on the side for in the meatworld. This means your other A/B will probably go into Skills. Since you need Attributes, both mentally and some physically, you likely will go Attributes C and Metatype D.

(Note that this is an example. I’m not saying all Deckers should do this. However, if I were to build a Decker or advise someone with building theirs, it’s extremely-likely the line of thought I’d follow.)

With a Combat Mage you would want a good amount of Attribute Points, because you need at least 2 good and 1 decent mental stat, plus decent Reaction. For a Support Mage you could afford to go a bit lower. Either way Mages will go either D or E for Resources normally. If you’re going to be spellcasting-only you can afford to skimp on Skills, but if you want to be a Conjurer as well you will probably need C or B for Skills (Spellcasting, Counterspelling, Summoning, Binding, Assensing, Perception, maybe some stealth). Metatype depends on your Magic Priority so you can now weigh perhaps half a dozen options rather than all 5!

Skillwise you want to identify your primary target and potential secondary options. Check your Skills Priority, aim for as many 6s as you can and fill the gap with the rest. If you’re Skills B or A you want to figure out what skill-group you most like having all 3 skills in. For example if you’re a Mage and think Banishing is nice to have but Ritual Spellcasting sucks, you’ll likely take Conjuring as your group. If you’re a Street Sam and don’t care about all three ranged weapon types, but you do care about Disguise and Palming then Stealth is a nice group to take. If you don’t care about Disguise and want some weapon flexibility, then Firearms (or Close Combat depending on the character) is a good group to go for.

This matters even for Deckers with Skills Priority A. Why? Because you cannot specialize a group in chargen with skillpoints, but you can specialize individual skills. So if you grab all 6 decking skills, you want to check out which of the two you’re willing to not specialize (hint: make it Electronics, and put two of your skill points in Cybercombat and Hacking specializations).

And one important detail: Remember the flat-tax thing mentioned before. Take as many 6s as you can, don’t bother with three 4s if you can get two 6s instead.


I in fact did this when constructing my Street Sam for Missions. Now this guy was a social character so needed a LOT of Attribute Points as well as a lot of skills. So that’s Attributes A, Skills B (I heavily considered otherwise but decided to munchkin a bit here). Magic E, Human D, so Resources were C, making me a poor Street Sam. I could have flipped Skills and Resources, but I felt that restricted the social side too much.

I took Skills B so I had 36/5. That meant 6 skills at 6, and a group at 5. I wrote down all skills I’d like to have, grabbed the important ones and started identifying the best group to take. After that I knew how many skills I had left and prioritized them. Any skill I didn’t mind at a low value I could buy at rank 1 with karma later. This resulted in 1 Ranged + 1 Melee Skill, Perception, Negotiation, Etiquette, Con, Sneaking and Palming. With 2 skills each of Influence and Stealth, I had to pick one of them as my group and decided Leadership be damned, Disguise it was.

Qualities are a big problem. For those I recommend doing it the same way I did Skills, which is in fact the way I did Qualities as well: Write down all you’d like (for both Positive AND Negative), identify the most important ones, then start scratching off others until you’re down to 25- for PQ and 25+ for NQ (remember, you are allowed to take >25 karma in NQ, but you only get 25 karma from it). Make sure to pick ones that fit with your character concept, and be willing to give yourself a significant downside. I took Simsense Vertigo, which means my character does NOT get along with Smartlinks, aka gun-accessory #1.

Nuyen… Ouch! I always have a hard time with this and I really messed it up with some of my Wild Things Sample Characters. I would realize I missed an important detail and then desperately trade toys in to afford the things I accidentally left out.

The best way to handle your nuyen expenses is to start with the essentials. Now unless you got Resources E, or you’re a Mage with Resources D going for a Rating 3 Power Focus in chargen, you will have enough money available for something that really matters: A Rating 4 Fake SIN. As for such a Mage: The fake SIN oughta be the first thing they buy once they got some cash at hand after a run or two.

Next, get a commlink. Assume you’re getting a Rating 6 at 5k nuyen, because everyone likes having their communication channel properly protected. And while you’re at it, buy a Low Lifestyle (2k for most, 2.4k for dwarves, 4k for Trolls). And put 5 grand aside for a Growler so you can move around.

With a fake ID, a commlink, a lifestyle and a vehicle you got your essentials for normal living all done. The next step is your class essentials. If you’re a Decker, this means a Deck. For a Rigger it means an RCC and a Control Rig. With a Mage it’s Foci (if they can afford it). And for augmented characters it’s ware.

Let’s note something very important: You can already own a simple piece of armor for 1 grand. And unless you’re going for the nastiest Sniper Rifles, your gun will be 2.5k at the most. So if you got a lot of cash to spend, don’t worry about the toys yet. Focus on the ware.

Start by identifying how important your initiative will be, and your defenses. Reaction Enhancers and/or Wired Reflexes/Synaptic Boosters/Boosted Reflexes are pretty much essentials for anyone who wants to be in a position where they can be fired upon. The same goes for Bone Lacing/Density Augmentation and Dermal Plating or Orthoskin, if you intend to be able to soak damage. These help consume a good bit of your money from the get-go. After that take a look, if you want good offense, to Agility: Either ware to increase it, or a cyberlimb to replace it.

Now of course this is rather detailed and not the way to go for many characters. But the gist is simple here and rather much alike how I recommended skills and qualities to go: Identify the main things you want based on your archetype, the other stuff, do the math and start scrapping things. You can always downgrade a piece of ware 1 Rating for extra cash, or get something Used if you can spare the Essence. After you got perhaps 5 grand left, you can start getting the extra toys such as armor, guns and spy stuff. And if you end up a tiny bit short in the end, consider downgrading your commlink to make room.

(As for my poor street sam, I went for Used Muscle Toner 3, Used BDA 4, Used Orthoskin 4, and ran out of money soon after. Bought my Used Reaction Enhancers 3 as soon as I could after chargen, until then I had to depend on Blitzing Initiative and Full Defensing. Or I would have had I not been GMing Missions and getting my rewards that way, but whelp. ^_^)

Now there’s 1 important role for the GM here: Advisor. First note what will be important for your campaign, second list options. Highlight some of their choices to consider, with arguments as to why you would think it’s a good idea. But don’t force the choice. For example, I have recommended switching Resources to B and Skills to A to a Decker for more freedom skillwise, since downgrading to 1 deck lower is something that wouldn’t restrict her too much. I didn’t force it, but I did heavily recommend it.

Remember that a new player might not realize all the stuff they need for their role. What Priorities are good, what skills do they need, what gear, etcetera. Do you think they need Perception? Are there good reasons they want to consider being able to dodge attacks in your game, or will the Face be fine if they don’t get any decent Reaction? What skills would you recommend they at least pick up at Rating 1? And so on and so forth.

And of course your planned campaign also matters. Just a few examples: Do you think you’ll ever make driving skill an issue? If so, is their Reaction high enough to just grab the skill at rank 1 or so, or would you recommend they spend 3k on a program to boost the autopilot? Is Locksmith something that can be useful to pick up for someone with good Agility, or can they freely ignore the skill because it will never matter ingame? Does the Rigger want a Mechanic skill, or can they depend on a contact for that stuff?

If your player gets bogged down by choices, ask them what they want and help steer them in a direction where they have less things left to choose from. Make sure to remind them of the essentials they need, so they won’t run out of things before they got all that. And give them enough info to help make an informed choice, but without bogging them down in choice paralysis yourself.


Houserules: Quickening

With Shadowrun, a debate I’ve seen come up repeatedly is about Quickening. Quickening is a metamagic that helps you permanize sustained spells without penalties. It costs 1 karma per spell (more if you really want to), so it’s rather cheap once you have the metamagic.

Now when not overused, it’s not a big problem. However, Quickening mechanics encourage player abuse as counter against the balancing measures. This can lead to insane situations. So after the first few debates I designed some houserules, which I gave a significant write-up last year. Below is the exact text I wrote back then. The only changes since then is that I now have a second mage, who has 3 spells quickened and follows the houserules.

By the way, since we’re getting into GM territory here, don’t forget the following: An armsrace between players and GM is, like I note below, a race without winners. Try to balance out your game to avoid that, and don’t be afraid to set your foot down and outlaw something if it means you avoid an armsrace. Do communicate that that is why you do it, though. Nobody likes an ‘Idunwanna’ argument.


As every Mage knows, Sustained spells come with multiple downsides. If you sustain it yourself, your offense and defense suffers from the Sustaining Penalty. Psyche reduces it but you may risk addiction and there’s still a penalty. If you let a Spirit sustain the spell, it uses their dicepool to cast and requires services, plus now the Spirit is penalized in combat. Focused Concentration is limited to only 1 spell.

If you use Sustaining Foci, it costs a significant amount of karma to bind them, plus you risk Focus Addiction if you overuse. And if you use Force 1 Foci and Reagents, each cast costs money, you cannot boost Attributes and Background Count becomes your worst nightmare.

Meanwhile, there is Quickening. It has a few downsides. It requires a metamagic, and then 1+ karma per Quickened Spell. Still far cheaper than decent-Force Sustaining Foci though, and it avoids Focus Addiction. You also are walking around with multiple spells on you all the time, which unless masked will quickly get you legal attention. And Wards are now a big problem because you cannot simply recast on the other side, requiring you to either Slip through, break down the Barrier or hope your spells survive the Astral Intersection. And dispelling is really harmful.

But even then, this metamagic is hard to balance out. Especially since said countermeasures will also make life harder for your non-Quickening players, and unfortunately also because it encourages abuse. The more pressure you put on a Quickening character, the more tempted they are to abuse things to ‘win’ an armsrace that will not have any real winners. So the following houserules are designed to solve some forms of abuse, making Quickening more balanced and preventing said abusive armsrace.

Rule: Quickened Spells cannot be overcast

Dispelling and Astral Intersection have something really important in common: The higher the Force of your spell, the tougher they are to do. Not only does the spell have a higher defensive dicepool, in the case of Dispelling it also raises the drain the dispeller has to resist.

In other words, if you often throw Wards and Dispellers at your player, you’re encouraging them to overcast. While during a run this is dangerous, in downtime there’s no real problem with casting a Buff spell at Force 12 (or even 14), since it won’t kill you. Do so in a Valkyrie Module with a friendly player on standby and you’ll be fine even if you screw up so badly (that’s what, ~1% chance?) that you go unconscious.

Wards are a popular defense mechanism against Quickened Spells, not only because it means the player has to pay attention and will either have to slip through or set off alarms, but also because if they do not pay attention they may lose the spell and thus the karma they put into it. A Force 4 Ward has roughly 1/3 odds to take down a Force 6 spell, while a Force 6 ward is at ~60%. Note that this kinda is per spell: Each side rolls at the same time, so a single ward can cost you multiple spells even if the first spell disrupts it.

However, a Force 6 Ward versus a Force 12 spell has only 10% odds. Which means that even if a player with 5 Quickened Spells runs into one, without noticing it(!), twice per run, it costs them only 1 karma. And given how players will soon figure out how not to get completely ambushed by high-quality wards, such astral intersections will be extremely rare.

Meanwhile, the dispeller would probably have 12~15 dice versus 19 for the Quickened Spell, which gives them bad odds and the drain soak would then cripple them for the coming fight.

Short version: While Wards + Dispelling may seem like decent balance methods against Quickeners, they risk pushing the Quickener into Overcasting his Quickened Spells, setting off a hostile arms race.

So to prevent that arms race, one can simply disallow Quickening Overcast spells. Leaving potential fluff explanations aside (every GM should be able to come up with some rubbish about astral balance), this means that the GM weapons are still viable tactics. And if your weapons are viable threats, it means you don’t have to constantly throw them at the player but can just use them occasionally instead.

Rule: Quickened Spells must buy hits

Aside from overcasting, one other thing unbalances Quickening, namely the amount of hits. We all know that an average roll cannot be counted on to happen all the time. Bad spellcasting rolls happen and usually players will risk the drain to try again. But they also get good rolls, and sometimes even miraculous rolls. For example, 12 hits on Increase Reflexes for +12+4d6 Initiative. This is how a player of mine managed to break 40 on his Initiative. That’s 4 IPs even if he Full Defenses, so a guaranteed slaughter of the enemy team.

Since that’s only around for a short time, it doesn’t matter that much in the long-term, and during a run you won’t be able to hunt for high rolls because the drain risks crippling you during the fights. However, a Quickener can easily make that miraculous roll permanent, and they can even afford to hunt for it during their downtime. It doesn’t matter much for Increase Attribute spells, but spells such as Combat Sense, Deflection and Increase Reflexes quickly change the balance permanently if the player hunts for the perfect roll.

Let’s assume the player has 18 dice due to specializations and what-not. We’re not even taking Aid Sorcery in mind here. Their odds at 10+ hits are 1/23. Their odds at 9+ hits are 1/10. So all a player has to do is keep casting his Force 6 spell until he hits 9+ hits, then he Pushes The Limit and rolls a few more exploding dice, and bam. Quite doable in downtime, where a bad Drain roll simply means a 1h break without consequences.

So for a 5-Reaction, 5-Intuition player it’s quite doable to quickly hit 20+5d6 Initiative and 30 defensive dice. Even if you limit their Edge use in downtime to 1 point, as some people do, it would still only take them 3 downtimes to get that far.

There’s multiple ways of dealing with this, but the best probably is going the Missions way: Buying Hits. The same kind of fluff-explanations would apply here, so let’s ignore that and get to the consequences:

Under this rule, Quickened Spells are weaker than normally-cast Sustained Spells. 12 dice would only get you +3+1d6 Initiative, whereas during a run you’d have 60% odds to score at the least +4+2d6. But those Sustained Spells have downsides over Quickened Spells, so that helps balance it out. You get a smaller bonus in return for

It also highly benefits Conjurers and specializers. Using various boosts, including Aid Sorcery, 20 dice is easy and 24 dice is possible but expensive, so 6 hits bought is doable at a price. Hunting a miracle would be easier for such specialized players but the outcome would be the same, a massive bonus. In this case, however, they will always have a significantly better Quickened result than an unbuffed 12-dicer.

So players who try their best expenditure-wise get rewarded for their effort without the reward completely unbalancing the game, plus even their best results are no different from what they can normally hit with recasting during a run. It will also cost them dearly every time they lose a Quickened Spell, rather than it being easy to replace with yet another miraculous result in downtime.

This houserule prevents the search for a massive success that the normal Quickening rules encourage, which once more means the GM has less need to throw their GM-weapons at Quickened Spells to help balance out the game. It grants players permanency and a lack of Addiction and Sustaining penalties, but for a price, making it something other than the only way to go without forcing the GM to get characters arrested and thrown in jail.

Rule: A character may only have their Initiation Grade in spells Quickened

To compensate for the massive boost Quickened Spells can give a player, one way to balance it out is to limit the amount of Quickened Spells a character can have. While their Initiation Grade already is a limitation as far as Extended Masking the spells is concerned, unmasked spells are unlimited and will only increase the average karma-loss and chances the cops arrest you for walking around Downtown with enough quickened spells on you to start a war.

For a GM who is uncomfortable with bringing in law enforcement like that, they may instead explicitly limit the amount of spells a character has Quickened. This makes Quickening less of an instant-massive-boost, making it less likely and less powerful as the first Metamagic a player picks. By the time they can have several active, they already have enough notches in their belt to deserve it.

Let me note my own personal opinion and experiences here.

Disclaimer: My current only Mage player has decided to avoid Quickening for now, because I frequently (0~2 per run) use Wards, so I have not yet implemented any of these rules. I also suspect he’d avoid the cheesy tricks these houserules prevent, as to not set off an arms race. However, all NPCs I design that employ Quickening, are already using the first two rules. I also apply the third rule to them, though more as a rule of thumb for a reasonable maximum. Corpsec with a single Initiation may still have 2~3 Quickened Spells for me, since I will not explicitly limit them like that.

While I heavily encourage using the first two rules, I suspect the third may not be necessary. If a player goes for multiple Quickened Spells from the get-go, they’ll still face the astral consequences and have a bigger average karma-loss if they run into a ward by accident. The Extended Masking limitation already serves as a limit regarding astral consequences, and by the time they have both they’re already at Initiation Grade 3 so it’s not that important anymore.

However, as noted if the GM is uncomfortable with having to frequently assense the player as a consequence, limiting the amount of Quickened spells may be a good call. So I would advise to always use the first two rules, and put some thought into whether the third is needed. And keep in mind that you should apply the same rules to your NPCs.

Characters are Professionals

So this one comes up every now and then in forum debates. A player decides to do something that they don’t realize is a bad idea, while their character likely would have known. The GM lets it happen, the character ends up in a lot of trouble and maybe even dies, player is pissed and GM is confident they’re right.

I’m siding with the player here. But not just because I disagree with letting a single dumb decision ruin the fun of the game. More importantly, it’s because I don’t consider it fair to penalize a player for not knowing as much as their character.

Yesterday I had a new player trying out the game at an Open Event. I explained the setting to him, a bit of mechanics, and active skills. Then it came to knowledge skills, he asked “I see the skill Johannesburg here, how does that work?” He didn’t know a thing about the city, so he was worried that would get in the way. I assured him it wasn’t a problem: Whenever it’d come up, he’d just roll the skill and I’d tell him what he realized, for example ‘well part X and Y of the city are better-off, so we should avoid those when doing shady business’.

After all, the player doesn’t need to know about the city. Or about how to use a firearm for that matter. The character has the skill, and we let the roll decide how much the character realizes at that point. There’s no need for the player to describe everything in detail. You follow a default modus operandi, the same way a normal person ties their shoelaces, puts their shirt on the right way ’round, and shuts the door behind them.

Later on, that player rolled real well on two tests, Perception + Paracritters, and identified some natives in the jungle as being possessed by Termites. I took him a bit away from the rest (because his character couldn’t easily communicate with the others at that point) and explained to him what his character realized about the situation. So he shouted “Danger!” and fired at the guy in front of him. Now mind you, this was a Surprise Round. He was well-hidden and until he raised his voice, his enemy didn’t know he was there. However, his default ammo was regular ammo and he wanted APDS. So I told him his character had taken out his gun, switched ammo, aimed, and THEN he had shouted and opened fire. Thanks to the APDS he dropped the guy in 1 shot, making sure to doubletap him after the other enemies were down.

I could have penalized him for not coming up with that plan himself, rather than telling him what his character would have done. This would have meant time wasted or less armor-piercing, so would have meant less damage on his enemy, keeping the guy standing. But here’s the thing: His character is a professional. The guy has 7 ranks in Paracritters, 5 Intuition, knows his way around a gun and is built as a Survival Expert all the way skill-wise AND gear-wise. Why on earth would a guy like that forget to switch to heavy ammunition before taking on a real nasty enemy? Sounds like a default modus operandi to me.

In forum discussions I often name reloading as an example. If you have a firefight, then two hours later you have another firefight, and you didn’t say you reloaded inbetween, have you reloaded? I’d say ‘yes, your character knows how to handle a gun, it’s near-automatic that when you’re in a cooldown period between fights you’d reload’. If they rush along the corridor to yet another fight, however, THEN they might not have reloaded. But two hours later? No way they didn’t reload, even if the player forgets to mention it.

Our characters know a lot we don’t. And vice versa, we know a lot they don’t. So we separate that. If the character reasonably could have come up with something smart, or not have made the dumb decision an uninformed player is making, then there should be a roll to see if they realize. Or even an automatic correction, like how I handled the ammo-case. The characters are professionals after all.

And if the player decides to go ‘nah, I’ll still do X’, then yes, they get to get into trouble. Because even professionals can decide to take a risk or do something for shizzles. But that would be their decision, rather than mine.