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.


Interlude!

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.