Houserules: Movement Power

The Movement power is what allows some spirits to move at incredible speed, as well as either buff or restrain others by either multiplying or dividing it with the Spirit’s Magic (which equals Force).

In SR4 this power had only two restrictions listed: Inside terrain it controlled, and based on Body (B>M = halved effect, B>2*M = no effect). SR5 has more detail to it, going back to SR3’s description and talking more explicitly about terrain/domain the Spirit controls, as well as containing a separate rule for vehicles.

This unfortunately runs into two complications. First of all, what IS terrain a spirit controls? Clearly it’s not just ‘their natural habitat’, since otherwise an Air Spirit could easily target any plane they see, while a Plant spirit would rule surpreme in the jungle. Don’t even get me started on what kind of terrain would be a Guardian spirit’s natural habitat…

The second is that the power’s description went back to its SR3 version. Unfortunately, some mechanics have changed since SR3… Some even midway SR5’s development, such as Vehicles… Rather than having a significant Acceleration and Speed directly translating to m/CT, Acceleration is now a tricky number solely for Vehicle Chases (which a previous houserule already covered) and Speed simply is a limit as well as translating to how fast you can go.

I mean nobody woudl believe it’s intended that a good test on a good car could easily make it go 2^18 as fast. That’s 50 million km/hour… If we look at SR3’s Speed system the original intent seems more clear: Say you got a vehicle with an Acceleration of 10, and Speed actually is your actual speed rather than a single-digit number, then those 6 hits would translate to making the vehicle go 100 m/CT faster/slower instead, which likely (especially with deceleration rules) could actually cause it to crash due to the sudden changes.

I’ll be discussing three core Movement houserules here, two of which I have already applied in my own campaign. An important note: This has actually impacted my campaign’s balance and I’ve been thinking of ways to nerf it down for a while, which will be included as corollaries. It wasn’t that bad (sorta) with one Speedster, but with four magicians all outshining the Rigger’s speed… Not to mention it kinda ruins ambushes and all that.

Ahem. Before we go into the houserules, there’s something VERY important you should know first, a small detail of the rules that many probably missed.

Your actions and movement are declared at the START of your Action Phase. That is, you FIRST declare what all you’ll do, THEN you start executing it. (Page 158, 159, 163.) You can stop or change direction, but you cannot increase your movement after finding out some of the results of your actions. Logically the same would apply to your offensive actions, even if not explicitly stated.

So say you decide to run around a corner. If there’s an enemy waiting around it, you can’t go ‘oh then I’ll just run past him’. You can break or dive back, but not go further than originally declared. You also cannot attack him if you didn’t keep the option in mind. That’s why I make my fast players declare what their intent will be in somewhat-vague terms, for example ‘cut the first enemy that dares to get in my way in two’. That way the runner still can go around a corner and attack, assuming there is in fact an enemy within reach.

This might seem like nitpicking but when it comes to combatants easily moving 100 meters in a single Combat Turn, it becomes VERY important. You can’t walk 20m, see what enemies are where and THEN make a detailed plan for the rest of your Action Phase: Decide at the start and run into danger! You can run up a staircase but only if you knew it was there and declared the intent.

A sidenote: This also means that you got to keep a few possible outcomes in mind as player. As GM I wouldn’t give you a lot of hassle if you used an If-statement in your Action Declarations, but you got to keep in mind the highest declared movement will count for your movement allotment of the Combat Turn. Just make sure you make clear to your players what the limitations will be before they run into nasty complications, as part of the social contract.

Rule: Spirits can only use Movement on others inside Aspected Areas

There are basically three ways for an area to get Aspected in the advantage of a Tradition: The Personal Domains of some Free Spirits, frequent use by that tradition and magical lodges, in order from large to small (multiple acres, ?, very-small-region). Which means that for nearly every situation the Spirit will not be able to use Movement on others, only on themselves, fitting with the ‘only in terrain they control’ restriction being an actual restriction.

If they have the home advantage though, from defending their magician’s turf or their own… Ohboy… And that’s exactly what this houserule is about: Making it about the home-advantage. You get the enemy to fight in an area aspected in your favor, they’ll be in massive trouble against your Spirits unless they cleanse the area… Only being able to run 6 meters per Combat Turn as a 9-Agility character can REALLY hurt in combat, especially once AoE effects are put into play!

Rule: Movement against vebicles uses (M+W)d6*Accel*10/Body

Leaving aside the whole ‘Speed-changes’, which obviously no longer is intended like that with the new Speed mechanic, there’s another problem I personally have with Movement against Vehicles. Right now they have to hit a threshold, which can be MASSIVE for high-Body vehicles (9 for a Roadmaster!), but the threshold itself is merely to decide if it works! You hit a threshold 6, you suddenly count as 6 hits instead of 0. That’s plain weird. It’d make more sense if your effect was divided by Body.

Now keeping the Acceleration is an easy call since it seems logical that the better a vehicle accelerates/decelerates, the more easily a Spirit can manage to change its speed. The biggest problem is what multiplier to use. SR5 mostly uses Acceleration 1~3, where 3 is the max that matters for a Vehicle Chase, only the occasional vehicle goes above it. So a significant multiplier seems required.

A Force 6 Spirit would average 4 hits, so on a 2-Accel Body-8 Jackrabbit we’d be at 4*2/8 = 1 as base modifier. To compare, in SR3 Accel-rates were roughly from 3 to 12 and the SR5 rule employs a Body/2 for the threshold. So let’s roughly quadruple to convert back to SR3’s concepts, double to fit with B/2 and round up to x10. Now 4 hits would translate to 40 m/CT. With the modified Speed system from my previous houserules, this could actually lead to a lot of discomfort for your enemies or even a crash test.

Rule: Channeled/Possession Spirits can use Movement

A Spirit can only use Movement on itself outside terrain/domains it controls. When a Spirit possesses someone or is channeled by a magician, they form a special kind of combination which impacts Physical attributes and their resistance to mental spells. So it makes sense to also let them use their powers (such as Elemental Aura and Movement) inside these bodies, with all the downsides in the case of Elemental Aura. (Congratulations, you’re on fire, how well-protected is your gear? You’re electrifying? Enjoy the fried commlink.)

There is a big balance risk with Movement though. Even a 3-Agility character Channeling a Force 6 Spirit will suddenly have 6 Agility and 72/144 as their Movement rates… A 5-Agility with a Force 8 would hit 9*8*4 = 288 m/CT running rate, that’s ~345 km/h. Compare that to a Rigger whose 4-Speed Drones, even under my Speed table if you don’t make them lose Speed categories (which I should consider only doing for walkers, and for any drone moving indoors), can only move 150 km/h, and you realize that indeed this houserule risks favoring Movement players too much. Of course there’s downsides (spooking cars, Metamagic or Tradition sacrifice, drawing unwanted attention, cannot mask this only Manascape it, etc.) but there’s still space for a few fixes to this.

(Incidentally, I already employ slight Accel/Decel-rules and ‘Gridguide hates you and demands you wear a tracker on the highway so you don’t spook their cars’, but there’s still space for more because it’s fun but not enough.)

Rule: Movement’s buff is divided by TerrainDifficulty

Note that this does not just matter for Channeling and Possession. Great Form Spirits with 6+ net hits on the ritual can Endow a power, meaning you can now let your Spirit pass Movement on to multiple teammembers… Anyway:

On page 201 you’ll find terrain modifiers for vehicle stunts. Now we could demand Gymnastic tests for magical-boosted movement speeds, but that’s a bit tricky for long movement and rather detracts from the game. So instead we’d nerf it differently: You want to channel a spirit and run through side-streets? The buff you get is divided by 2 for the Vehicle Terrain Modifier, so a Force 6 only triples your speed instead. Want to hit the back-alleys with a Force 8? You only double instead of eightfold due to/ 4. Rounding is of course on the final movement speed, not the multiplier.

(No, these are not insane examples. Now it might be because I employ a karma<->nuyen rule but I actually do have people working towards being able to Channel Force 10 Spirits and already using Force-9 ones…)

An important note here is that the same Vehicle table includes terrain modifiers for flying. Irrelevant for metahumans themselves, but Spirits CAN fly, even if they normally don’t. Still facing some restrictions even if they take into the air is quite nice and means drones are still quite useful: A Roto-Drone managing 200 km/h (+1 Speed Category with risks, no Speed Category reduction for being a drone) would still be able to outfly a Spirit using Movement, IF directly controlled by its Rigger or solely doing normal low-altitude flying (threshold-2 is doable for 9 dice, 15% failing odds and that simply means failing and a second attempt normally).

An alternative houserule would use percentages rather than division, and of course the vehicle table is for vehicles so the descriptions would need to be altered. What is the pedestrian equivalent of sidestreets?

Two sidenotes to make. First, Harlequinn channeling would easily go faster than the speed of sound but others would have a hard time coming close. Even if you go with ‘Increase Agility stacks with Possession’ like I do, you essentially need a Force 16 Spirit in a 5[9]->17 Agility character or a Force 14 in an 8[12]->19 to barely reach 1 mach.

Sidenote two: You need ~30 m/second, so ~90 m/CT, to be able to run on water. If we count running on water with Magic as /2 for difficulty, you’d need 180 meters/CT before division. Divide by 4 for running, and 6 for a normal Force 6 Spirit and you’d need 8 Agility which is doable.

Want to walk on water without running penalties or eventual running-exhaustion? You’d need 360, say Force 9 Spirit for 10 Agility, 4 of which from the Spirit so quite doable with a bit of magic. A Force 8 would require 11~12 Agility.

Houserules & Rule Clarifications: Background Count

Background Count is a GM-tool that can be used to nerf down players and enemies. It also can be used to buff magical characters by using Aspected Background Counts. Before we cover the houserules, let’s quickly cover some details here.

For those who don’t know how it works: A Background Count of Rating +/-X normally gives a -X Dice on all tests (buffed by) Magic, and sustained effects (spells, Foci) get hit by -X on their Force. Magical-buffed Initiative also likely takes a hit though that’s not entirely official yet (Missions came with it but will it apply elsewhere?). If the Force-drop makes the Force drop to 0, effects go poof: Foci deactivate and spells are all gone. (Including Quickened Spells, ouch for karma! What were you doing quickening at that low a Force though?)

If the Force of a Focus goes down, it also means the Focus gives less bonus. A Force 3 Power Focus in Background Count -2 will be stuck at only a +1 from Force 2 (and you ALSO take a -2 on the magical tests). A Force 4 Qi Focus giving you 2 ranks of 0.5 PP each will drop down to Force 2 so only giving 1 rank of whatever Adept Power it gave. And if you got a Force 4 Qi Focus giving you, say, Astral Perception? POOF! Force 2 means you no longer have the Force 4 required, so the power is unaccessable.

Sustained Spells also get hit by the Force Penalty, which may or may not matter. An Increase Attribute Spell must be high enough Force-wise to impact the target. If the Force is lowered to below the previous attribute value, well it would probably mean (GM-decision in the end) the spell is still active but no longer is giving a boost. Detection spells decrease in range, but most Illusion spells wouldn’t care. Combat Spells are Instant so don’t care anyway (even if cast from outside to inside a background count). And if you cast a low-Force Sustained spell using Reagents to keep the drain low, a background count can easily pop the spell.

(Summoners get hit badly by this as well: Spirits ARE magical. So ALL their actions take the penalty. Evasion? Yeah that seems like an action (GM-calls may vary). The sole exception would be Resistance tests.)

The flipside is Aspected Background Counts: If a Background Count is Positive AND Aspected in YOUR favour, ignore everything before this! Instead it gives you a limit-bonus on magic! Dangerous for Spellcasting (hits after limit decide whether drain is physical or stun), but real useful for things where the Force decides Physical vs Stun Drain and where the limit awfully gets in the way. Alchemy, Summoning and Binding come to mind. ESPECIALLY Binding, where without Limit-increase you’re stuck with >1/6 chance that a Force 6 Spirit’s hits will equal or exceed your limit and you’ll autofail. Also nice for Rituals which also suffer from an opposed dicepool depending on the Force.

Speaking of Aspected Background Counts, according to page 31 and page 32 from Street Grimoire these are aspected towards their traditions and their Rating counts as their Background Count. On the other hand Missions rules player-owned Lodges don’t get this bonus. Which brings us to houserule number 1. Houserule 2 might not even be a houserule but simply a bad phrasing in Core, 3 takes that up a noth, while houserule 4 goes into a silly side-effect of the Force-loss of spells we mentioned earlier.

Before we get into the houserules, first though one tip for GMs: Background Counts are a weapon against magical players. Use them sparingly. Yes, it can be nice to make a Force-1-Sustainer suffer penalties, or to give the magicians a penalty once in a while (plus letting Adepts show off their Adept Centering), but when you start throwing around background counts as if they’re candy on halloween you should take a long, hard look at what you’re doing and why. Hint: If it starts with ‘Player X needs to be put in their place’, you need to smack yourself upside the head. Seriously though, don’t overdo it with this unless your campaign has a plausible reason for it AND you made sure your players knew in advance. Nobody faces Auslander every month and even that ass only manages an Aspected Count 4. That’s a horrible Force 8 Master Shedim that oughta die in a frickin’ fire and then be torn apart by demons, and even he only has a Rating 4. So ease up on the massive counts would ya?

Rule: Magical Lodges/Circles take time to aspect their count

As noted above, SG says these have an aspected count, while the Missions FAQ doesn’t allow it. Now we could decide one of them is wrong and the other should be followed, but where’s the fun in that? How about instead we reward permanency? See, you can take a lodge down in a day and rebuild it elsewhere in <Force> days. So if a runner really needs to, they can tear it down or just forfeit it and get another one. Which, if you end up burned by a Johnson, might be a good idea. You won’t always have a good base available.

So to not let background counts go crazy (‘hey, I spent a week of downtime setting this up, hello Force-4-limit-11 spells, let me just roll these 24 dice and BAM 8 hits!’), but also reward people who manage to keep their Lodge around, we let Lodges slowly build up their Background Count. Each step up costs <NewRating> months, so from BC0 to BC4 you’d need 1+2+3+4=10 months. And no, a lodge bought in chargen would start the game at rating 1 at most, no ‘but I’ve had it for yeaaaaaars!’.

Rule: Cleansing impacts an Area around the magician for all

Cleansing lets a Magician temporarily reduce a positive background count, with the fluff talking about neutralizing the background count and it being useful for a few hours, or temporarily cleaning up a mess. Now the ritual lets you cleanse a small sphere for a few hours, while the metamagic itself only lets the magician make a very-shortlasting effect.

One problem with that though: It’s noted to only affect the cleansing magician (for (Magic) CTs). This could be poor phrasing, or it could mean that Cleansing has no impact on other people. However the technique says you temporarily reduce the background count, NOT that it lets the magician ignore part of the count, so the magician-only thing seems rather weird.

So this rule lets the metamagic create a cleaned area the same size as the ritual, aka a (Magic) meters radius sphere around the Cleanser. This lets them support other magical beings such as their Spirits or Adepts, while also damaging any nearby enemies enjoying the count. It makes Cleansing not just an expensive thing for the Mage but also something with significant rewards for not just the mage but also their allies.

Rule: The Cleansing area is larger, jammer-wise

Normally Cleansing, both the metamagic and the Ritual, only work inside a rather small sphere around the caster. Which sounds a bit like bollocks. Seriously, you got a metamagic that lets you fight a background count and the best you can do is only reduce it in a tiny sphere?

Instead, we make it work like a jammer. Each increment equals (Magic) meters and each increment away from the origin you lose 1 impact. So you roll 4 net hits on your Cleansing test and got Magic 8? At 17 meters distance the Aspected Background Count will have been reduced by 2 for a short while.

This mechanic can be adjusted to even downgrade in increments rather than fully fizzle out in a single second. So when the effect starts wearing off, it will take a while beforeĀ  it’s completely gone and until then the effect simply reduces by 1 each interval. (Magic – Original Background Count?)

Rule: Sustained Spells don’t keep hits from Background Counts

Say you cast a spell at Force 6 outside a background count of Rating 2. You step in, spell is now at Force 4. You step out, step in, Force 2. Third time kills the spell. If you end up going through a patchy area, or temporarily enter a fully-cleansed area, that will suck balls.

Instead we simply make the highest count experienced count, almost as if it’s Essence Loss. You lost 2 Force? Well you’re at Force 4(6) then. Exit, still 4(6). Enter a Rating 1 Count then? Still 4(6). But a Rating 3 drops you to 3(6).

Houserules: Cover&Running Autohits + Skill Synergy

Just two (technically three) small tidbit rules this week. The first two has been in the planning for a while, while the synergy rule was born out of inspiration from tuesday’s first Black Hearts session and is unrelated to the other ones.

Rule: Cover translates to auto-hits after limits

Rather than gaining 2 or 4 dice, Cover would instead result in gaining autohits on your defense test, on top of your normal roll. So if you’re in Superior Cover, you’d gain 2 hits on top of your defense test, while in Good Cover you’d gain 1 hit. You’d still keep the “tie means through the barrier” rule though.

If you’re in Good Cover, you gain 2 extra dice right now. However, you actually get hit more easily because suddenly a tie is ALSO a hit. Granted it’s a hit that goes through the barrier, but that only means 1 damage less. So while yes, the hits all do a bit less average (due to 2/3 damage average less on a hit), you also get hit more often (1 dice difference in the advantage of the attacker), so is it really worth it? Superior Cover DOES grant an advantage of 1 die in the defender’s benefit, + at least 1 damage less on a hit average, however it’s rather expensive at a Simple Action.

Furthermore, there’s Limits. If the defender uses a Skill in their Defense, they suddenly face a Limit on their defense test. This means those 2 (or 4) extra dice might actually be wasted due to going beyond your limit.

By making Cover become autohits, Good Cover no longer ends up occasionally penalizing the person in Cover, and Superior Cover becomes much more powerful. This has as extra bonus that you can end up in far longer gunfights, which can greatly matter in games where a gunfight ends in mere seconds in-game.

Downside is you lose the flexibility that +2/+4 gives you, namely not working in multiples of 3.

Rule: Running translates to auto-hits after limits

This one is comparable to the previous rule. If you are Running, rather than losing 2 dice from your action-rolls you lose 1 hit (after the limit already has been applied) from your result instead. And if you’re targeting a Running character you also lose 1 hit.

The motivation here is significantly different though. With Cover the justifications are ‘Cover shouldn’t screw you over’ and ‘Defender’s Limit’, here it simply is the Attacker’s Limit. See, with Limits a character can end up in a scenario where they don’t mind dice penalties. Losing 3 dice might not actually result in an average of 1 hit lost, because of less odds that you lose hits to your limit.

A quick example: A character with a limit of 6 and 15 dice. With 15 dice he averages 4.67 hits (due to results above 6 hits being cut down to 6), with 12 dice he averages 3.91 instead. So the 3 dice less only cost 0.76 hit instead of 1.

Basically, the more restraining your limit becomes, the better off you are with penalties. This changes if you ALWAYS lose hits though. And by reducing the hits after the limit is applied, rather than beforehand, that is exactly what we get.

For example, let’s say someone fires a shotgun with 4 Accuracy at a running enemy. Normally he’d take a -2 for that, but if he hits 4+ hits he still is capped. If the defender rolls 3 hits the shot is a hit. If instead the attacker loses 1 hit AFTER the limit of 4 is applied, they’re left with 3 hits and suddenly they miss the defender. And if you’re running yourself while also attacking a running target…

The risk here is that low-Accuracy weapons end up less valuable against Running targets. On the other hand, by Running your enemies also take a penalty themselves. And your table might decide they indeed prefer low-Accuracy weapons to indeed have a hard time at running-like-hell targets.

Rule: Two skills can teamwork with each other

A teamwork test is normally when person A helps person B with the same skill. Person A rolls, and any hits are added to B’s roll. There is a limit, no matter how many helpers you have you can’t get more bonus dice than your skill rating. Each assistant does raise your limit unless they screw up.

Under this rule, a player can teamwork with themself, without the limit-bonus. Not on the same skill, of course, but on two related skills. For example, say your player has Parazoology but also Redmond Barrens as knowledge skills. Now they’re trying to identify the critter they’re tracking down based on these skills. Normally you’d just roll the best one, but both can contribute here. So instead the player would get to teamwork them, roll 1 and boost the other with the hits.

This isn’t totally new, there already are skills that work together in Core. There’s Impersonation that can boost Disguise, though that raises the threshold of the Disguise instead. You can also build a Disguise with a Disguise kit and gain a bonus on your Disguise Test from that. In SR4 there were programmable masks instead, where the programming test would give you bonus-dice on the disguise test.

SR5 already has the rule where a GM can go ‘okay, this skill is sorta related to the skill you’re missing and should roll, so you take a Default penalty of… let’s say 3 here… and can roll the skill you do have with that.’ This rule is simply an extra tool where they can go ‘y’know what, I’m not punishing you but rewarding you for having two skills that synergize here, so teamwork yourself with them’. And rather than having the GM ballpark a modifier, they can instead ballpark when this rule applies but with an actual mechanic to it.


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.