Thursday, October 17, 2013

Let's Build: A Decker

The "Let's Build" segment will be a semi-regular part of this blog. In it I'll go through building a character from the ground up including my thoughts behind the choices I've made, and the role I see the character playing in-game. I plan to loosely divide these characters into "competitive" builds, and "flavor" builds. Competitive Runners are exactly what they say on the tin, these guys hold to an archetype, and are good at what they do. They are built to be, if not the best, then close to the best they can be. Flavor builds aren't bad, per say, but I'll have made choices to enhance the flavor, or in-game experience of the player, over simply building the best statline I can.

For this episode, I give you a Street Level Decker. One of the new-ish Mechanics in 5th Edition is the ability to tailor game play out of the box for Street, Standard, or Prime levels of experience. While rules for street level, and higher power runners have existed in 3rd, and 4th, this is the first time that I know of where the rules have been presented as part of the core book, and as part of core character generation.

Onto the build!

One of the first things to note are the changes that a Street Level character comes with, first, is a lower nuyen value, an A, for example nets you a measly ¥75,000, as opposed to the normal ¥450,000, starting karma drops to 13, with a max of 26, gear ratings max out at 4, and availability is limited to 10 or less. Also, painfully in this case, I can convert no more than 5 karma into extra nuyen. Ouch.

Here's where I put my build choices.

A - Resources (¥75,000): This was a no-brainer for me, Cyberdecks are incredibly expensive, and even with a resource rating of A, I'm going to be hard pressed to buy a deck, and the gear and programs I need to run it, without skirting dangerously close to running in my skivvies, and living behind the local Stuffer Shack. With that in mind, for a Decker, especially at Street Level, A is the only choice here.

B - Attributes (20): This, again, is a fairly easy choice. A reader commented on my last post and pointed out the skill/attribute disparity, that a high skill cannot overcome a poor attribute. With that in mind, I generally prioritize attributes over skills. While I don't necessarily agree with the mechanic, it's the game we play in, and that drives Attributes into the B slot for me.

One of the sad things that I encounter when building a gear focused character is that it's very hard to build the character as anything other then a Human, or Elf. I have fold memories of a Troll Decker in 3rd Edition, and I hope with a Standard or Prime build, that I'd be able to push Resources down a peg, and still come out ok. But, that's for another day, and another post.

C - Skills (28/2): This is lower then I would like it, and means we're going to have to make some hard decisions when it comes to skills. However, with A, and B, solidly spoken for there's not much else to do. You could take Metatype as your C here, and go with a Human, Elf, Dwarf, or Ork, but I don't see much value, especially in the Ork, as you receive 0 extra attribute points. This means raising Edge with karma, an expensive prospect indeed, given how much you already need to do with karma at a Street level build.

D - Metatype (Human (3)): You could go with Elf here, but I love a high Edge attribute, so I went with the Human. Especially as the Elf's natural bump to Agility, and Charisma doesn't help a Decker much, at least in my opinion.

E - Magic/Resonance: That's a big fat 0 there boys and girls.

Attributes: In Shadowrun, you have 11 attributes. I've filled in my Decker's attributes below, and will go over some of them below.

Body: 3 (+2)
Agility: 3 (+2)
Reaction: 4 (+2)
Strength: 2 (+1)
Willpower: 6 (+5)
Logic: 5 (+4)
Intuition: 3 (+2)
Charisma: 2 (+2)
Edge: 5 (+3, special)
Essence: 6
Initiative: 7 + 1D6

Just for the sake of completeness, here's my Limits, at this point.

Mental: 7
Physical: 4
Social: 6

I tried to go for a balance across the board, taking a hit on Strength, and Charisma, both of which tugged at my limits a little. However, my Mental limit, which is the key one for a lot of tests a Decker makes, is 7, which is rock-solid in my mind. One advantage of playing a Human, aside from being able to take a D or E in Metatype is that your Edge starts at 2. Anyone who doesn't value a high Edge attribute hasn't played enough Shadowrun. Also, I chose to drop Strength, in favor of Reaction. This was deliberate for several reasons. First, my Physical limit is still high enough that I can do most physical tasks, and as long as I have a decent skill I should be ok. Reaction, given that it is used for Initiative, and ranged combat, is more important to me then Strength, which would be used for more up close and personal combat.

Before we talk Skills, I want to touch on another Shadowrun mechanic that I absolutely love, Qualities. Qualities work to customize a character so that each Runner can be different, even if they perform the same job in a team. For my Decker, I like to look at a few positive, and negative, qualities.

Codeslinger (10 Karma) is a must-have for any serious Decker. This positive quality gives you +2 dice to any one Matrix action. For me, that's either Brute Force, or Hack on the Fly. For this Decker, I went with Hack on the Fly. (Karma remaining, 3)

Quick Healer (3 Karma) is another great positive quality. While I'm going to pass on it for today, I find that it can really help when your character's Body attribute isn't quite what you'd like it to be, and for 3 Karma, it's a steal.

Negative qualities can get out of hand, and I appreciate that there's a built in maximum in 5th Edition, it keeps players from loading on odd allergies, and strange addictions, for a few more Karma. In our case, as a Street Level character, we're limited to a max of 26 Karma. I took this to mean base + 13. As always, feel free to correct me in the comments if you feel otherwise. Citing page numbers is appreciated.

The only Negative Quality I regularly take is SINner, I like existing. I know it has drawbacks, but I find that the knowledge that I'm a citizen makes a lot of decisions easier. I usually carry a backup SIN, for illegal things, but my lifestyle, permits, gun, commlink, etc. are all registered to the legit SIN. As a GM, nothing makes me happier then a player with no legitimate SIN, and a low-rating fake. The police like it too.

National SIN (+5 Karma) This is the lowest grade SIN, and I generally make my characters a UCAS citizen, keeps things nice and tidy. (Karma remaining, 8)

Remember, I'm going to use the Karma I have for more nuyen later, so I want to have some leftover.

Skills! If you remember from up above I took skills at C, this gives me 28 skill points, and 2 points for skill groups. This is a good point to touch on another of my favorite additions to 5th Edition, the separation of skill points, and skill groups, at character creation. Also, the fact that you can break apart, and re-assemble skill groups over the course of game play adds a layer of extra customization that really works for me.

Let's start by assigning my two Skill Group points. Skill groups are a great way to get a lot of bang for your buck, though with only two points my bang is going to come out as more of a whimper. Oh well. First, I'm going to a take a point in the Athletics group. This is something I always suggest players do, unless they plan to build a physically minded character. The one point in Gymnastics, Running, and Swimming save you from defaulting on a lot of tests. Given my low Strength attribute, defaulting could be catastrophic and leave me hanging, possible literally, at the end of my rope at the worst possible moment. For the other point, I have a number of options. Stealth could be helpful, as could Acting, or Influence. Given that I'm looking to build a competitive Runner, I'm going to take Influence, also at 1. This helps offset the low Charisma, and will give me the ability to work a bit in social situations, without defaulting.

Influence Group: Etiquette, Leadership, Negotiation (1)
Athletics Group: Gymnastics, Running, Swimming (1)

For my 28 skill points, I'm taking the following:

Hacking: 6 - As a Decker, this is my bread and butter.
Cybercombat: 4
Electronic Warfare: 4
Pistols: 4 - This gives me some offensive firepower, alternatively you can take Longarms, and carry a sawed-off shotgun, which is always a nice touch if I do say so myself.
Computer: 3
Software: 3
Hardware: 1
Perception: 3

My biggest piece of advice, when it comes to skills, is don't be afraid to take a skill at a rating of 1, or 2. It won't get you far, but it's head and shoulders better than defaulting. One skill I would have liked to have higher is Hardware, given that I'll be repairing a fair amount of my own gear, and my team's gear, I'd like to have a few more dice here. This is a good place to spend some in-game Karma.

Knowledge, and Language skills I leave to your imagination, for competitive characters I tend to take business related skills, clubs, bars, gang identification, police/corporate policy and the like. For flavorful characters, it's a wide open world, and you take whatever it is that makes you smile.

Money! It's time to spend that big pile of green we burned an A on up above, a big, fat, stack of ¥75,000! I'm not going to go into exact detail, instead I'm going to hit the highlights that I go over when buying gear for a competitive Street Level character. To begin, the Cyberdeck. My view here, as with any character is, if it's your main piece of gear, get the best you can. In this case, that's the Microdeck Summit, at ¥58,000. Our big pile of money just got a lot smaller. Next, programs. Common programs will set you back ¥80/per, and there's 7 of them, get them all, that's another ¥560. Now, the fun stuff, the illegal hacking programs. These bad boys will set you back ¥250/per, and with money already looking tight we can't buy everything we may want, or need. Here's the selection I recommend.

Armor: +2 Firewall, a lifesaver.
Biofeedback Filter: +2 dice to resist Biofeedback damage, another lifesaver.
Exploit: +2 to Sleaze when Hacking on the Fly, worth every penny.
Sneak: +1 to Sleaze. Alternately, to run a heavy-handed Decker swap Brute Force in with Codeslinger above, and take Decryption here.
Shell: Additional +1 dice for damage resistance, and Biofeedback. Works great with Armor or Biofeedback Filter above, and the Virtual Machine common program.

Five programs, ¥250/per, that's another ¥1,250 spent. A quick tally tells us we've used ¥59,810 of our starting funds. We still need a lot of gear to survive even a basic run, and funds are going to get tight.

Next, I worry about a gun, clothes, and a place to sleep.

The Gun, for this character I'm grabbing two pistols, with ammunition. First, is a Streetline Special (¥120) with 20 rounds of regular ammunition (¥10 for the clips, ¥40 for the rounds) this is my daily carry piece, I'll pick up a concealed holster (¥150) to go with it making sure anyone trying to spot my piece will have to roll really well. As a working gun, I'd usually go for the Ares Predator V (¥725), and as I'm going to have a datajack (¥1,000), and SIM module (in my cyberdeck), there's no need to deviate here. I'll pick up 20 rounds of ammunition to go with it as a starting point as well.

For armor, I usually start, and stop, with a Lined Coat. I simply love it, and even though it's a bit steep at ¥900, I think it's worth the money.

Lifestyle, as much as I'd love to start with Middle, a few months of Low is the best I can afford right now, that'll set me back another ¥4,000. With that, we've now spent ¥66,805! At this point we have the bare minimum covered, and it's as far as I'll take this build. Good things to pick up at this point include a vehicle, B&E gear, a Hardware Kit, and a second SIN. Given that you have a SIN might as well grab permits for your guns, as well as a second lined coat, or armored jacket. A backup,backup, gun isn't a bad idea either. Don't forget that once you reach the bottom of the barrel you can keep ¥5,000 nuyen back, for the start of the game. While most characters won't have that extra, it's certainly not a bad idea to line your pocket, even a little. I've also had players pick up a random assortment of higher availability gear, that they don't want to bother finding in game, explosive rounds are always popular, though how you fit them in a hold-out I'll never know.

I hope this has been informative, and I'd appreciate feedback in the comments. I'm going to be away from the net for a week, but when I return look for a post on Riggers, and a Let's Build post, most likely for a colorful Face character.


  1. I know that it has been nearly a year and a half since you posted this... any chance you might be available for a back and forth dialog regarding the matrix, and running a decker in Shadowrun?

    1. I'd be game. Honestly, I was thinking of resurrecting this blog in the coming weeks. If you have any specific questions feel free to comment here.

  2. Hi, great guide ! Helped me figuring out how to build a proper decker, I've got a question though: Why do you max Willpower over Logic ? Is that just for the Biofeedback damage reduction?

    1. Honestly, it's largely my preference, and my style as a GM. I make my characters work to raise skills, and attributes in proportion to the amount of karma required.

      Given that it's a much larger outlay of karma, and therefore work, to raise an attribute I tend to spend more points into attributes.

      This also benefits a wider swath of skills, where simply upping a skill, only helps that skill.

  3. Just wanted to drop a note to say 'thanks'. This post helped me get my head wrapped around character creation for a Decker. This was perfect for me, and lined up real well with how I envisioned my Decker.