Houserules: Karma to/from Nuyen

In Shadowrun characters earn and spend both karma and cash (nuyen, alt+0165 = ¥ for those that want to type the yen symbol). In previous editions the karmic rewards could differ per player, but in Fifth the rewards are normally the same for everyone.  However, different types of characters have different needs. A Street Samurai can always get more or better ware, a Rigger can get more drones or upgrade them, a Decker can save up for a new one, but magical characters tend to not need money. Often not at all. Instead they need more karma, because they need to work on their Magic and Initiation Grade on top of all the other karma expenses. So you end up with characters who desperately need karma and have way too much money at hand. On the other hand a Street Sam might be all ‘who cares about karma, right now I need a ware upgrade!’ and the Decker will moan and drool about better decks.

To accomodate for different people needing different amounts of Karma and Nuyen, a table can houserule that you can trade one in for the other. This already happens in chargen, where 1 karma becomes ¥2,000, so there’s something to base things on. The question is, how exactly will you do it. What is the price, what is the limit? Because if you allow for too much to be traded, it can seriously impact the balance between characters.

The following three rules are simple: The first is how Missions does it, the second has a different at-a-price and is similar to how some (including me) did it in SR4, the third is the way I currently do it in my own campaign. My own way combines it with another houserule, but that part can easily be ignored.


Rule: ¥2k <–> 1 karma (takes time, 5 max per downtime)

Missions works with Working for the Man/People. You spend a week of your time doing either good work or soul-draining one, letting you freely convert up to 5 karma per downtime period. The only price paid here is time, which with Missions matters since you fully control your free time. Outside Missions it hardly ever matters though, unless you’re working on something that takes a lot of time. Which means Mages suffer under this, because Initiation tends to take a lot of time. Others not so much. So a Street Sam can easily grab a quick buck now, then later on convert the money back to karma. In fact I did this on my Missions character. And it’s just weird flipflopping all you want on this.

Another downside of this rule is the quantity. If you earn 12 grand on a job, which a lot of Missions get you, then with this rule you can pay your Lifestyle and buy 5 karma, no cash left. Vice versa of the 6 karma you’d usually get, you can convert nearly all of it into cash. So you can end up with characters that basically end up with twice the cash or twice the karma. Giving them extra karma/nuyen, sure, but when they can double and nothing it has a significant impact on the game balance.


Rule: ¥4k –> 1 karma –> ¥2k (2 max per month)

Under this rule, people can easily trade Karma for Nuyen, or Nuyen for Karma. However, something is lost in the exchange.  If you trade one way then the other, you’ll have less than you started with. This is to make the trade come at a price, so people won’t as easily do it because it’s not easily undone. The maximum is what I used in SR4 (though the quantities were 5k and 2.5k then), because I wanted it to be more limited.

An upside of this rule is that the time required is handwaved, so there’s no additional restraints for people who spend a lot of time training.

The biggest problem here is determining what actually is the decent trade-in value. Is 1 karma worth 4 grand? Would you rather make it 3? Or 5?


Personal Rule: ¥2k <–> 1 karma (3 max per month, sidejob)

My current rule is a variant on Working for the Man/People. Basically I let my players do the same thing, however with a lower limit (see above for reasons why). The big difference is that here it doesn’t cut into training time, at the price of having to tie into a sidejob.

This is due to something else people note: Your runner obviously doesn’t sit around doing nothing but training inbetween runs. Even if you do train a lot, you won’t be training 12h/day. So you have spare time, and you can try to use that. Some people try to steal cars* or run a business, which can lead to balance complications (one runner earning far more than another, or people earning way too much compared to runs), playing complications, etc. Instead, I decided to handwave the executional details. Instead, characters without a Day Job simply spend part of their downtime doing some form of sidejob, which they earn compensation for in the form of ¥2k and 1 karma.

This sidejob doubles as their method of karma<->nuyen transfer, letting you trade 3 steps up or down. Say you trade 2 grand for 1 karma, then your sidejob gets you 2 karma and no cash. If you trade in six grand, you’ll be losing 4 grand but getting 4 karma. The other way around you can be a coldhearted bastard that loses 2 karma and earns 8 grand.

One restriction: The player has to tell what their runner does, and the sidejob has to be related to their skills. For example I got a player baking cupcakes or selling commlink apps, one working for the Mob with cleanup jobs to earn money at the expense of karma, while a third one does charity work in pro-bono street clinics that costs him cash in return for extra karma. They can do something similar each time, or change it up every now and then if they so desire. Through these jobs they also hear things (hello Metaplot!**) and get to know people, or improve their relations with them. It helps me give a bit of extra flavour to the campaign, while it lets the players give more flavour to their characters.

((When it comes to people with Day Job or Made Man, there’s some restrictions that apply at my campaign. It boils down to how I don’t want to let people get way more money than others, and actually pay the price for the time they have to spend on their Qualities. So Day Jobbers end up not getting the default 2k+1karma for the sidejob, while the Made Man will have to do sidejobs related to the Quality and cannot easily turn cash into karma.))


* Do not get into the whole car-theft-as-a-job debate, I’ve seen the debates and they’re not pretty. If your players try this, you COULD retaliate with natural consequences but you really should just go ‘come on guys, let’s not do that okay, you’re runners not carthieves’ and go with the Social Contract.

** An example would be overhearing some intel about group X moving around. If group X then features in a run, the player will be able to go ‘wait, I heard about this, weren’t they getting ready to hit Y?’ or something like that. Foreshadowing is awesome.

Houserules: Attribute Boost

There are quite a few ways to raise your attributes in Shadowrun. For Adepts there are two magical means: Permanent through Improved [Attribute] and temporarily (with Drain risks and a randomness factor) through Attribute Boost (Attribute). With inherent values being a thing now, its description was changed leading to conflict and the following two possible houserules:


Rule: Strength Boost impacts melee damage

The Attribute Boost (Attribute) Adept Power has a bit of a problematic description. It has an inclusive effect (affects dicepool) and an exclusive effect (does not affect Physical Limit and Initiative). There’s a few things that are neither. For Agility this would be your movement rate, and for Strength your base melee damage. It seems likely that these are not meant to be impacted, but with Strength this runs into a small problem.

Now for Agility, you get bonus offense dice so hit far better. For Body you can resist more damage. Reaction lets you evade more attacks. But Strength’s dicepools are near-always useless. Being able to lift more for a short while isn’t that useful a power, and running has quite little actual use.

Furthermore, it heavily limits melee Adepts. They already need a second attribute compared to the ranged Adepts, and need more Powers to make that better, but now they also MUST get either ware or a very expensive Improved Strength Power instead. So to give Physical Adepts the opportunity to punch harder, we would make Strength Boost also boost the damage of melee weapons.

The downside is that this means Physical Adepts can far more easily punch things, making Improved Strength not as interesting. But the same goes for the other 3 Physical Attributes already. And Attribute Boost costs a Simple Action to activate, while melee attacks are Complex Actions. So activating Strength Boost means the Adept cannot attack in melee in their first Initiative Pass.


Rule: Agility Boost impacts movement rate

Similarily, one could allow for Agility Boost to influence an Adept’s movement rates, letting them cover more ground when under the effect of Agility Boost. With 2~3 hits this means 4~6 walking and 8~12 running distance extra.

However, movement rate is more of a passive value than melee damage, and Agility is not in the Physical Limit. So it’s far more likely that Agility Boost was never intended to boost movement rate. Since Agility is already the main attack stat, it can be said it does not need this extra boost. Especially since one can already use Sprinting Tests to cover more ground, at a price.

Houserules: Recoil

SR4 allowed you to fire once or twice per action phase, and recoil resetted each phase. In SR5 recoil got changed to accumulate. The way it was originally phrased, many assumed you would have to not fire for an entire Action Phase to reset your recoil. The errata changed all that, and in my opinion this was a bad change. So that’s where these come from, a strict rule to bash it down, plus one corollary and one alternative that others came with in debates about the recoil rules.


Rule: Recoil requires an entire Action Phase without firing to reset

Under the errata, recoil resets when a Simple Action is spent on something other than pulling the trigger. Since you can only fire once per IP, however, that quickly translates to Simple Action fire, Simple action something-else, repeat ad infinitum (7 IPs without wireless smartgun). Recoil isn’t a problem this way unless you use Complex Actions, at which point it quickly starts stacking up.

Is this a bad thing? It might be. Before the errata, one reason to take up Longarms was that you’d be able to keep up firing longer than the Automatics user. You may hit less often but you’d be able to fire off more shots in a longer battle. After the errata it’s a different tale altogether because the Automatics user can simply keep firing Simple FA Bursts. While Longarms do more damage, they also hit less. Comparing the Ranger Arms to the Ares Alpha with competent enemies is tough due to existing tools having a hard time with multiple layers, especially when only >0 results need to be continued. However, it suggests that the average damage after soak seems to still be in the advantage of the Alpha, because the decrease in defense dice translate to both a damage bonus and hitting more often.

The pre-errata situation also encouraged players to think tactically. If you had, say, 9 RC then you could fire a Long Burst (either as a Complex Burst-Fire or a Simple Full-Auto Action), switch to BF if necessary with a Free Action, and fire a Short Burst before your recoil was out. This would be a good choice for a battle where you really want to hit on the first attack and don’t expect many enemies to be left standing after the second. If you wanted to get three shots off before your dice started to suffer, however, you’d have to use 3 Short Bursts instead. You could switch to SA-mode, throw a grenade or dive for cover in turns where you decide recoil is getting too much. This made it so that FA bwasn’t always the mode to take.

Under the Simple-Action system, it basically doesn’t matter. Sure you could do BF and then use Complex to get recoil issues, but then you could have simply fired in FA mode to begin with.

SR4 comparisons are made in this debate but run afoul on something important: In SR4 you needed more recoil compensation for continued fire, while you didn’t get (Str/2) free points there. For a LB+SB combo you needed 8 RC, whereas for LB-forever in SR5 you only need 4 on top of 1~3 Strength. But if you enter Progressive Recoil, you’ll suddenly need more than in SR4. So the difference between when it adds up (Complex Actions or subsequent Simple Actions) and when it doesn’t is far more extreme.

There are of course bonuses to Longarms still. Their range is greater. However, only past 350m does it really start to matter, which is a range that hardly ever will be relevant in a run. A clean shot past 2 city blocks requires a rather rare situation to be possible. And cost-wise Longarms lose out, it’d take >500 IPs of APDS Long Bursts before the price difference is made up between an Alpha and the heaviest Sniper Rifles, which still lose out in DPS.

So the rule would be to require an entire Action Phase without firing to reset recoil. Negative consequences are that it penalizes Automatics users and also SA users who want to fire SA Bursts and easily reset it with a simple SA shot. Positive consequences are that it makes Longarms more viable and encourages tactical thinking over spray-and-pray.


Rule: Metahumans (not Drones) may use Take Aim solely to recover their natural recoil compensation

While it’s an interesting change to only let Recoil reset after an entire Initiative Pass of no firing, it makes sense that steadying your aim may help you at least partially recover from it. However, the gun itself would still be stressed. So as a partial solution, Take Aim would have a third possible benefit added, as alternative to the bonus and range-reduction effects one can choose between now.

Take Aim: Alternatively can be used to reset Natural Recoil Compensation.

This natural recoil compensation is the (Str/3)+1 part, and would not work on the recoil compensation provided by accessories, harnasses, etc. This means that a weak human can only recover a bit, whereas a huge high-Strength Troll can keep up the FA spam, rewarding their high Strength with something other than Melee ability.

This means high-Strength characters become far more dangerous than others in combat because they can afford to keep up the Simple-FA spam for quite a while. As long as they sacrifice their other Simple Action for solely recovering their Aim, that is, and Simple Actions have plenty of other tactical benefits. So it makes for more interesting tactical choices and rewards high-Strength characters, letting them suffer less under the consequences of overriding the Recoil Errata.

If functioning under the rule interpretation where Drones can fire as a Simple Action, this would make it far too easy for them to keep unloading bullets. And Vehicles would be able to keep firing all their guns without worry. As such, this rule should not apply to Drones (including Vehicles).


Rule: FA-mode cannot fire as a Simple Action

Rather than making recoil harder to recover from, a more elegant solution is eliminating the most problematic case from the scenario. Since the only real concern is the Simple FA burst of 6 bullets, removing that would work as well. So while BF and SA mode both know Simple and Complex Bursts, FA would only be possible as either 10-round Complex Burst or 20-round recoilless Suppressive Fire.

This means it’d be far harder to use the FA mode as instakiller. One would need a solid amount of RC and go |cFA|sTA-sBF|sBF-sTA| in repeat to be able to regularly throw 10-round bursts out with a decent recoil. It also increases the pressure on getting a decent amount of Recoil Compensation, otherwise it’d make more sense to just use the 6-round Complex BF Burst and not have to constantly switch weapon mode with Free Actions. So this mostly eliminates the sFA-spam that make the recoil errata so problematic.




Note that additional houserules could be made, such as varying recoil for different weapons. However, there is no general consensus on what could be nice houserules, nevermind on how solid they would be. So such houserules would first have to be actively debated before I could add them as possible suggestions.

Houserules: Initiation (and Submersion)

Initiation/Submersion

There’s two new factors in SR5 to Initiation (one of which also applies to Submersion). The first is that since you start with karma, if allowed you could actually initiate in chargen. Now the book suggests this isn’t allowed, which has been confirmed by several designers from the very first day SR5 launched.

A second thing is that initiation is now an extended Arcana+Intuition test. This means that Adepts (and any magical character without Arcana really) will have a hard time getting a high initiation grade, plus it will take them many months.


Rule: Initiation/Submersion is possible at chargen, but Special Attribute Points cannot be used into the raised Maximum

The writers that confirmed you cannot initiate in chargen, also noted they don’t see a problem with houseruling it. However, one such problem does exist:

While chargen may seem like a strict progression, it’s more of a big ball of wibbly wobbly stuff. In later steps of chargen you can do something that lets you then do something in a previous step, so things get rather wonky. The general consensus is karma after points, so for example no taking a skill at 1 and then raising it to 6 with skill points.

Special Attribute Points are a special beast since the rules actively note they are conserved until the end of chargen. This opens up a small Essence-loss loophole, but more importantly it leads to 1 big problem with allowing Initiation (and Submersion but let’s just state 1 for now) during chargen. Theoretically a character could take for example Metatype D = Human(3), Magic A = Magician 6 Magic, Initiate 3x and use the 3 SAPs to raise their Magic to 9.

Is this a problem? Well in-game it would cost 120 karma. Raising Edge from 2 to 5 would cost 60 karma. So this is a massive karma gain and results in magic-levels that would normally take a LOT of effort to reach. It’s a point-grab abusing a loophole, and a bit unbelievable, so for some it’d be a problem.

Since Initiation isn’t supposed to be possible at chargen, this loophole normally doesn’t exist. Instead, taking Exceptional Magic would deliberately allow you to put in 1 SAP into the raised Maximum. Only when houseruling Initiation as allowed would this loophole come into existence. So the easiest solution is to change the houserule. Since the loophole depends on the houserule, just close it with an adjusted houserule.

So if a GM wants to allow Initiation at chargen, they should also state no Special Attribute Points can be used into the raised Maximum. So a Mage with Exceptional Magic and 1 Initiation would have a maximum Magic of 8, but would only be allowed to use SAPs up to the Exceptional maximum of 7. Any higher would require karma expenditure.


Rule: Ordeals with a lengthy time-period replace the normal Arcana test

Technically this one sort of isn’t even a houserule, because one of the Freelancers confirmed that this is what they intended. Of course this hasn’t been officially confirmed as Catalyst intent through a FAQ, so it still falls under houserules.

Anyway. The Arcana+Intuition(Grade, 1 month) extended test can take quite a while. Ordeals, which are a way of scoring a karma discount, also can take quite a while. They take a month and have a failing chance, so you can be stuck initiating for multiple months and then ALSO be stuck ordealing for multiple months. And with an Ordeal there’s no take-backs: You pay the karma cost in advance and are stuck with doing that. A Nine Path Ordeal where the GM uses the highest dicepool (they ARE allowed to be nice and take the lowest, but that is ill-advised unless it’s a low grade) can easily average 3~4 attempts needed.

Under this rule, this risky lengthy retrying replaces the Initiation test. So you’re not stuck spending months on each, instead the Ordeal would be the only thing costing you months to perform. This means Initiation to say grade 3 is not something that requires half a year or worse to complete just because you’re doing a tough Ordeal. (Don’t forget Ordeals are finite, you can’t just go and repeat the same one time after time.)

An added bonus to this houserule is that it gives Adepts a nice benefit. Even if an Adept picks up 1 point of Arcana, they’ll soon end up in a situation where their third or fourth initiation will take many months and might still fail. If instead they can try an Ordeal, they are not forced to spend a lot of karma on a skill that makes no sense for Adepts to have.

Houserules: Conjuring

Conjuring

When it comes to summoning, there’s a lot of things that are risky for the game balance. For most of those there’s already balancing mechanisms in place, such as with the Astral Spirit Index, but there’s a few cases that are a bit problematic.

The two cases treated here are the duration of Bound Spirit Services, and dealing with Oversummoners. The first doesn’t often come up but the second I have frequently seen debates about. Debates I participated in to get the math right. The math is skippable though.

A third houserule I designed is dealing with Free Spirits, but that’s not really a rule I suspect people have a need for. Anyway, if someone has any other problems with conjuring and want some houserule input, just contact me over at Shadowrun Universe by private message. =)


Rule: Bound Spirit Services last until dusk/dawn

Since a Bound Spirit does not expire at Sunset/Sunrise, it’s possible to make them sustain specific powers/spells indefinitely. Now this comes with consequences. However since Sustaining does not require LOS and Critter Powers normally (unless GM-called otherwise) are immune to Barriers, these consequences can be easily avoided. So it’s far too easy for a mage to have a single Spirit permanently sustain Movement and Concealment on them, and possibly even Endowment.

Another problem is that buff-spells from a Spirit of Man can also become rather permanent this way, with having to blow up or slip past Mana Barriers as only concern. While having a Spirit sustain your own spell is only its Force in Combat Turns, Innate Spell would avoid that and be indefinite.

The easiest solution to this is limiting how long services last. When a service does not explicitly state a deadline, it will now not last past dusk/dawn, preventing someone from walking around with permanent buffs for 1 service per buff. You still get all the other benefits from Bound Spirits, but cannot use them as cheap buffslaves. This way the GM won’t have to dig into the other consequences, which take time, and can simply block the sneaky trick from the get-go.


Rule: Oversummoned Spirits resist with Edge

Let’s start with an important disclaimer: Some may say this is not allowed by the rules, so the GM cheats. They are wrong. p304 says that summoned and bound Spirits cannot use their own Edge pool. However, a Spirit you are Summoning is not yet summoned until you succeed, so is allowed to use Edge against the Summoning attempt itself.

There will be a time where a player decides to go down the line and use all they got to summon a Force 12 Spirit. They may score only 1 or 2 services, but the Spirit will be completely invincible. At Hardened Armor 24 they are practically immune to every kind of non-magical attack, against Indirect Spells they have a massive defense pool, against Area effects they got plenty of Initiative to burn, and they laugh in the face of any spell they resist with their Attributes. Even Direct spells are harmless, especially if it’s a Spirit with Magical Guard.

In other words, such Spirits are a game-changer. Just like how gangers stand no chance against a Force 6, even a huge PR6 enemy team will be butchered by a Force 12. If used for the climactic boss-fight where everything is on the line, such a high-risk move makes sense. The problem arises when it is NOT a high-risk move and used as a frequent weapon instead.

Just like how wards are limited in how much they balance out Quickening, so is drain in itself limited in how they balance out Summoning. Now a anti-Summoning dice pool of 12, with hits doubled in drain, may seem like it is a decent risk. But at the same time it’s the same dicepool that is used against Binding, and people still have Force 6 Spirits. Sure, they got a safer environment but it still boils down to the same success chances and drain risks.

WARNING: The next section contains a lot of math. Skip to “Math Done” to get to the abbreviated version.

Let’s take a look at a slightly-buffed Shaman. At 5 Willpower, 8 Charisma and +4 drain dice from whatever origin, they’ll be at 17 drain dice. Let’s assume they’re also at 17 Summoning dice, which once again is quite doable.

First, the Summoning itself: There’s 2/3 chance to succeed, and half the successful summons will be at 3+ services. Plenty to butcher your way through whatever your GM throws at you.

Second, the Drain: 2/3 chance to take Drain, 1/3 chance to score 4+ drain, and assuming 10 Physical Monitor 1/31 odds at going unconscious (which means disaster). Those are rather excellent odds, since with combined numbers you have roughly 1/3 odds to fail generally. (More exact numbers would require a handwritten program to analyze the odds, but that 1/31 and a bit less than 1/3 odds mostly overlap so it still is ~1/3 overall.)

Without Edge.

If we bring Second Chance into the Summoning, failure is at ~1/32 and average services are past 5. And drainwise we’re suddenly at only 30% chance to get hit by ANY drain. 10+ odds are at ~1/3.000, 6+ at ~1/25 and 3+ at ~1/6. Let me repeat that: At the expense of 2 Edge, a player can score 5 services and take only 1P in drain from an unbeatable Force 12 Spirit. So all they have to do is make sure they have 3+ Edge, summon this at the start of a run and make it tear down the enemies without having to sweat at all.

It gets worse. Let’s assume the Shaman has +4 Charisma, +4 Willpower, 2 Initiations and a Force 3 Centering Focus. That’s 26 drain dice, which means that unedged their odds are worse but they still are at ~1/5 for 3+ drain, ~1/30 for 6+ and only ~1/150 to get hit with 10+. And even IF this worst scenario hits, they can still Second Chance it.

So unfortunately, Drain is not enough of a deterrent by itself against Oversummoning. Which means that Oversummoning is a high threat to the game balance and any player who so desires can greatly upset the game and ruin the fun for all. Now normally the social contract applies, but what if you cannot depend on that?

That’s where we grab back to SR4 Street Magic. In there was a rule, not an optional rule but a simple core rule, where Oversummoned Spirits always resisted with Edge. Back then their Edge equaled their Force so they resisted with Forcex2 exploding dice. Needless to say a Force 12 Spirit would utterly butcher you in drain.

In SR5 the Edge has become less, it is now half their Force. Which means an Oversummoned Force 8 Spirit could either have 8 rerolled dice (averaging 4.44 hit) or 12 exploding dice (averaging 4.8 hits). In other words, a Force 8 Spirit using Edge would be better off than that Force 12 Spirit we used in the previous scenarios.

Let’s take a look at 12 exploding dice. Against a Force 12 spirit our 17 second-chanced dice meant massive drain reduction, with only 1/6 chance to get hit with 3+ drain and zero odds at actually dying. With Edge-use the Force 8 Spirit is already at 30% and 1/140 death chances for an unwounded Body 3 Mage. So the Force 8 Spirit is significantly tougher than the Force 12 was.

Meanwhile, 26 rerolled drain dice versus the Force 12 Spirit would become ~1/3 at 3+, ~1/6 at 6+, ~1/16 at unconscious for Body 3~4, and ~1/80 death chances for a Body 4 mage. Definitely odds you do NOT want to frequently take, no matter how good you are.

Disclaimer: Said math was done with an emulation of an exploding die which cannot explode more than 4x, so only 5 hits per die are possible. However, this manages to emulate an exploding dice to near-reality at the point where the full numbers would differ only past the decimal cut-off.

MATH DONE

In short, Drain is unfortunately far from enough of a balance factor against an eager Oversummoner, and even maximum-Force Spirits are perfectly doable for someone who tries, which greatly upsets the game balance.

By making Spirits employ Edge against the Oversummoning, this is balanced out better and said mechanism will not harm normal Conjurers in any way. And when a player can make a good argument that in a specific situation the Spirits may be willing to help, the GM can always waive the Edge use for that one situation where it comes down to the line.

Houserules: Mystic Adepts

Mystic Adepts (MA) and Power Points (PP)

Shadowrun 5 significantly changed the rules for Mystic Adepts. They do not split their Magic rating over Mage versus Adept anymore, instead they lose a few magical abilities and are limited in how they can get Power Points. This allows for some very strong builds and makes them quite balanced generally.

However, there is a rub.

Mystic Adepts pay a significant, mostly considered balanced, price for Power Points at chargen. But they cannot get Power Points through this method after chargen, they can only get them as Metamagic. This means that a Mystic Adept who does not buy all the PP they can get in chargen, is crippled forever. And if they buy all the PP they can get in chargen, they are the only archetype that cannot buy 25 karma in Positive Qualities in chargen. It gets worse for Street Level, where they cannot even get the full 6 PP.

In other words, the rules currently force Mystic Adept players to get 6 Magic and buy 6 PP, which means they are more limited in their PQ ability in chargen. Where a Mage or Adept can recover from not starting at 6 Magic, a Mystic Adept forever has a hole that karma alone cannot properly fix. And even for people who consider 5 karma per Power Point balanced, this is considered a problem by some.

There’s several houserules that make it quite easy for a Mystic Adept to get their PP in other ways, but often these are at basic costs, such as “just buy them whenever you want”. Those rules will not be included here because of a simple reason: “Everything has a price.” Being able to postpone the karma expense without extra cost, will simply force Mystic Adepts to use that option fully instead. So rather than giving them a free benefit without consequence, the following rules are alternative options with a price.

As noted before, one of the primary concerns with the current MA PP system is their lack of ability to get 25 karma in Positive Qualities in chargen. These Qualities can be bought later for double the cost, but the GM may decide to make it more complicated at that point, or disallow a PQ after chargen. There’s also things that cannot be bought after chargen, namely contact points. In short, since the karma could be spent on things that cost double after, can’t be bought after, or are the same price after, a price is hard to pinpoint.


Rule: Power Points can be bought up to a specific maximum, 10 karma each

Under this rule, PP still cost 5 karma in chargen, but Mystic Adepts can afterwards buy extra Power Points if their Magic is high enough. So their bought PP may not exceed their Magic. Their Initiation PP do not count for this limit. This means they are not forced to maximize their Magic in chargen, nor do they need to buy all the PP they can get in chargen.

There are 3 options for the maximum. The first is 6, just like in normal chargen. The second is exactly like in chargen, so a MA with Exceptional Magic and 7+ Magic will be able to have up to 7 bought PP. The third option is unlimited, so if a MA raises their Initiation Grade and Magic, that means they can get more PP as well.

This rule treats PP as Positive Qualities that aren’t. So they do not count for your PQ limit of 25 karma in chargen, but they cost double after chargen. This forces a player to make the choice between more options in chargen versus not paying the extra cost.


Rule: Power Points can be bought up to a specific maximum, at a rising cost

During chargen PP cost <Rating+1> in karma, after they cost <Rating+3> in karma. A character cannot have more bought PP (again does not include Metamagic PP) than their current Magic Rating.

Rather than going the simple 5 karma in chargen and 10 karma after route, this rule makes Power Points rise in cost. Since Power Points obtained as Metamagics become prohibitively more expensive, it makes sense to make bought PP also cost a variable amount.

6 PP in chargen cost 27 karma under this rule, which is 3 less than currently. 7 (for Exceptional Magic) are 35, which is the same. PP before the 7th are cheaper after chargen than under the 10 karma rule, and starting with the eight they are more expensive.

An upside to this rule is that a single PP less gives a lot more karmic breathing space. For example, 5 PP cost 20 instead of 25 karma, which means a Street Level character can actually afford a few small karma expenses while getting 5 PP, and can still get up to 6 later.


Rule: Spell Slots can be traded in for Power Points at a 2:1 ratio

Each Mystic Adept Priority gets several free spells, namely 5/7/10. These Spell Slots can be used for Spells, Alchemical Formulae (basically Alchemy Spells) and Rituals. Under this rule they can also be used for PP, but at double the cost.

Spells, Rituals and Alchemical Formulae all cost 5 karma, the same as a PP in chargen. There’s also small monetary costs and training time involved after chargen, but those aren’t much of a problem. So the PP bought like this are the equivalent of 10 karma (and a bit of inconvenience) each, in other words basically doubled.

There’s several upsides to this rule. First of all, a build that doesn’t need that many spells is now not forced to take Spells they don’t care for. Where the previous rules still make you pay extra karma in the end, this rule gives an option between extra costs or having less spells instead. This is a nice boost to more-Adept MA builds. Second, it makes nice sense fluff-wise: The inherent magical ability of a character manifests as PP instead of free spells.

There’s also downsides. Builds that need the spells are essentially discriminated against with this option, since for them the price is more significant. Characters with a lower Magic Priority will also be more limited in how many spells they can sacrifice. This rule also still discriminates against players who do not maximize their Magic in chargen, permanently locking them out of some of their PP ability.


Rule: Mystic Adepts get 1 Spell Slot less and 1 free Power Point

One downside of the unlimited 2:1 Spell Slots is that it discriminates against Priorities with less free Spell Slots. It also can lead to builds that have nearly-no Spells, at which point it seems strange to still call them Mystic Adepts. A GM who dislikes those problems can instead reduce the free Spell Slots of all MA Priorities with 1 and give them 1 free PP. This still forces them to maximize their Magic and spend 25 karma on PP, but they can now actually buy 25 karma in Positive Qualities, and in Street Level they can actually get all their PP.

It’s a small boost to Mystic Adepts without an extra price, but not an unlimited one. While many of the problems still remain with this houserule, it’s of a rather elegant nature without extreme consequences.


Rule: Mystic Adepts only lose Power Points if their Magic drops below their bought amount

Under the normal rules, essence loss means both Physical Adepts and Mystic Adepts lose 1 Magic + 1 PP every time they drop below an entire Essence point. This makes sense for PA, who get 1 free PP per Magic point they have. But MA may not actually have a full allotment of PP so it seems strange for them to lose PP when their PP do not equal their Magic. Especially since during chargen they would not face this complication, since they’d simply buy the PP after the essence loss.

As a simple fix to this strange situation, under this rule if a MA’s bought PP do not exceed their Magic rating after essence loss, they will not lose any PP. Upside is that it makes more sense, downside is that it discriminates against other builds. Players would be rewarded for not getting their full allotment in PP since they can use the karma for other means.

Houserules Index

A small newspost: I have added the Houserules Index to the sidebar. This one is built for the future, listing several houserules I already designed and also houserules I still want to work on. I have already scheduled a few posts for the future, posting some houserules every friday for a while.

If someone can’t wait because they feel they really want/need details on one in advance, just contact me for it alright? =)

Of course I wouldn’t be surprised if I change a few rules here and there, compared to the ones I posted on the forums in the past. As an example the Noise rules predate Data Trails so I imagine I’ll rewrite those a bit.

Cyberlimbs (2/2): Houserules

This is the second out of two blogposts covering Cyberlimbs.

Where the first post about Cyberlimbs explained the situation and some problems, this one lists a whole bunch of possible houserules for them. Unlike most of my houserules these will not have a detailed explanation after them, just some short feedback of mine. That does mean losing out on subtleness unfortunately, but the alternative is a massive debate with far too much math.


The Nerfbat


Rule: Cyberlimbs cannot be customized past the natural attribute

Some GMs think Cyberlimbs are overpowered. As a solution to this, they want to nerf them down. That a character can get past Augmented Maximum with them, and thus for example go for a 1/9 Agi character (or a 3/9 for that matter), is not something they approve of. Under this rule cyberlimbs can only be customized to the player’s racial attribute, and then enhanced 3 more.

I personally find this rule extremely problematic. There are two reasons for this. First of all is that a cyberlimb cannot grow. So even if you have 4 Agility and 7 with your Cyberlimb, if you raise Agility to 5 you’d be stuck at 7 still with the limb. Meanwhile, someone with Used Muscle Toner 3 (available at chargen for 0.75 essence and 72k nuyen) would go from 4[7] to 5[8] then. So in the long term this restricts characters that want to increase their natural attributes.

The second is that it heavily nerfs cyberlimbs to the point where I consider them near-worthless. If you have any form of decent Agility and get 2 cyberarms, which you need for the big guns, then you’ll be spending more nuyen AND far more essence than if you simply get Used Muscle Toner. For an Agility+Strength character the nuyen cost would be higher only at high natural values, but it would still cost far more Essence, leave you with a lower Movement Rate, less Strength against spells, a lower Physical Limit, less sneaking dice and more. Compared to the benefits of Cyberlimb Enhancements, I do not consider the trade-off anywhere near fair myself.


Rule: Cyberlimbs do not give you a bonus past augmented maximum

A less hostile rule, this one will still let you grab your max-rating Cyberlimb but only give you the Augmented Maximum if you’re past it. This means that if your natural attribute improves, so does your actual dicepool.

While this lets you have 1 die more than with the previous case, and let your limb grow with you, it still heavily nerfs cyberlimbs so my second reason still stands. Under this rule cyberlimbs are still nerfed very heavily, to the point where I believe you’d be better off telling your players ‘I just don’t want you to use cyberlimbs’. To be blunt, at least have the guts to tell them that.


Rule: Your maximum Cyberlimb attribute depends on your natural attribute (details)

To be precise in formula form: Your maximum Cyberlimb attribute is Racial Minimum + 2 + (Natural Value – Racial Minimum)*2. In other words, if you’re at Racial Minimum it can be 2 higher. If you’re at RMin+1, it can be at RMin+5. Any higher is RMin+8 (normal maximum) max.

To put it in numbers: A Human with 1 Agility can only have 3 Cyberlimb Agility. With 3+ Agility they can have 9 Agility. A Troll with 5 Strength can only get 7, 6 means 10 max, 7+ means 13 Strength as maximum Cyberlimb Strength.

Now normally GM and players depend on the unspoken social contract. This rule makes the social contract explicit. Almost all agree that the 1/1 9/9 character is a horrible munchkin. But what about the 2/2 9/9? Or just the 2-Agility 9-Agility Decker? Rather than leave things unclear, this rule makes things explicit: For the maximum bonus, you should be at 3 (or the racial equivalent).

I like this rule very much, not because my brother was one of its creators but because it targets solely the abusive cases. Rather than nerf all cyberlimbs and discourage them for players, it solely prevents the most problematic characters without restricting the rest.


Rule: Exceptional Attribute only applies to cyberlimbs if you softcap or hardcap the Attribute

You can customize a Cyberlimb to your natural maximum, and Exceptional Attribute lets you increase that. So with that your Cyberlimb could have 1 more Agility or Strength. However, this makes little sense if your attribute isn’t anywhere near that natural maximum. How is your Strength exceptional if you only have 3 Strength? Unless it’s at least 6, you don’t get to take a 10-Strength Cyberlimb (example, higher for some metatypes).

This rule makes sense, but it also leads to a situation where the cyberlimb isn’t any better than just taking other ware as far as your Attributes are concerned. One could always just disallow Exceptional Attribute instead, since it requires explicit GM permission.


Rule: Partial limbs can take 2 Armor, hands/feet only 1

A character has to invest quite a bit of essence into getting multiple full cyberlimbs. Partial limbs are cheaper but have less Capacity, Hands/Feet are even cheaper and have very little Capacity. Now when it comes to their Attributes costs are identical no matter how big the limb, but the Essence is very important here. Four limbs is 4 Essence, 2 hands and 2 feet is 1 Essence.

This doesn’t matter that much, except for when a player uses a partial arm for really high Agility (their call as far as I’m concerned) and when they decide to heavily grab Armor… Cyberlimb Armor, like all ‘Ware Armor, is a universal Armor bonus without Encumbrance problems. So if you grab 4 Cyberlimbs and put +3 Armor on each, you’ll have 12 extra Armor without it weighing you down.

Now if someone wants to spend 4 Essence and then enhance those limbs, if the GM approves then who cares really. But spending 1.25 essence and slightly over 58 grand? Now that smells of abuse… So this houserule puts down the law by letting you grab less Armor bonus with non-full cyberlimbs.


The Boosters


Rule: Tests with a Cyberlimb use its Strength for all relevant values

This rule lets you use your Cyberlimb’s Strength for the Physical Limit of Unarmed Attack, and buffs your general Physical Limit a bit as well. Your PL usually involves Strx2, so with 3 Strength this gives you 6 = 2 entire PL points. With a 9-Strength arm you’d get (3×4+9)/5 = 4.2 = 5 as Strength, so you’d gain 1 PL and 1 point that may or may not become even 1 more PL. And for a single-arm attack you’d gain 4 Physical Limit.

I really disagree with this rule. The reason is quite simple: Limits exist to fight munchkins. They encourage people with high dicepools to put proper effort into buffing their Limits as well. This also follows SR5’s theme: Everything At A Price. My Missions Street Sam has 2 Strength and had to take Indomitable 2 to get his Physical Limit up to 7. That’s 14 karma I’d have LOVED to spend on other qualities, but I munchkined my Strength and paid the price for it. I got a really good Charisma for it in return (which, if we want to be a proper munchkin, I could have replaced with Skills Priority A instead of B).

In other words, I paid a price. And it’s a price I believe you should pay. You want all the benefits Cyberlimbs give? Sure, but at a price. And its current price is one I consider fairly balanced, except for a few fringe cases. A 1-arm Unarmed Attack? Not a fringe case.


Rule: Cyberlimb stats start at Racial Minimum + 2.

A cyberlimb has 3 Agility and 3 Strength. Every point you customize after that will raise its Availability, that excludes the Enhancements. So a capped 6/6 Arm would be at Availability 10, Alphaware at 12. A Torso with any upgrade past 12, which only matters for partial cyborgs. More importantly a capped 7/6 Alphaware Elven Arm would be at 13, while a capped 6/10 (Standard) Troll Arm would be at Availability 14…

So an Elf cannot take a maxed Alphaware arm in chargen, while a Troll would need to grab a Used Arm if they wanted one fully customized in chargen and can just forget about Alphaware. If they don’t, well congratulations you spent all that money on an arm that is forever restrained until you bleed a lot of cash to replace it…

So this rule compensates, making the cyberlimb start at Racial Minimum +2. This way all metatypes can grab Alphaware capped Cyberlimbs in chargen.

The only problem here is that a player might cheat and try to take a Troll arm on their Human due to its lower Availability. Just shake your head sadly and say no to that please. Tell them limbs are heavily tweaked to metatype differences as well, so it wouldn’t work as well and make it function as if they bought an arm for their own metatype at that availability.


Rule: Cyberlegs their Agility applies for Movement Rate

Cyberlegs have more Capacity but less use than Cyberarms. For implanted weapons it doesn’t matter, and you could get some cute special cyberfeet for attacks, but you cannot use them for a lot of things. You want to crush someone’s hand to intimidate them? Pick a lock? Throw a grenade? Yeah sorry. And on top of that, while your cyberfeet CAN impact your Movement Rate, their Agility doesn’t? That’s just plain weird.

So instead this rule does let you use their Agility for moving. If you have 3 Agility but are willing to invest in 2 Cyberlegs with 9 Agility, why shouldn’t you have the right to get a decent movement rate? And yes, as you can tell I really like this houserule.


The uncovered


These houserules do not cover all issues people have with Cyberlimbs. For example, the almost-cyborg isn’t covered. The reason for is that quite simply I wouldn’t know where to start in many of these cases. So all I can say is ‘think it over carefully, avoid abuse but also avoid being unfair’.

With the cyborg, IF a player does this for whatever reason, while neither player nor GM want to simply make them a full cyborg instead, I cannot really help you. The only thing I could point you at is that in SR4, you needed a Cybertorso for really good Cyberlimbs. So if you want to let someone with four Cyberlimbs use their Cyberlimb stats for their inherent values, maybe consider requiring a Cybertorso for this. Or making it a Careful Coordination of all five limbs, which means you need all five limbs. (Yes, Cyberskulls don’t matter. They never should. Grrrrrrrrrr…)

 

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.


Quickening

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.