Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Tactics: Riggers, Deckers, and Party Design

I'm a car guy. I love vehicles in Shadowrun. It always pained me in 3rd, and 4th Edition that most of my teams had an NPC rigger. Strictly from a mechanics, and flow perspective it wasn't feasible to have a PC rigger. Once the player had spent most of his money, and/or build points into a vehicle they had little incentive to get out of the vehicle. This meant that one player would usually sit out the run, until the group needed a quick getaway. This, to say the least, was no fun. Drone riggers fixed this to a point, but then the drones took over the scouting and combat roles, and other players who would usually be performing those roles ended up sitting twiddling their thumbs. In the end, most GMs, and most groups, abandoned the Rigger.

Even in 4th Edition, where the vehicle rules were better, few groups ran a PC rigger. When I picked up Shadowrun 5th Edition, I had low hopes for a lot of the mechanics. After reading through the Matrix rules, and wanting to build a Decker for the first time in a long while, I moved on to the vehicle rules. I fell in love with the amount of synergy between Riggers and Deckers. That was a master-stroke and one that has fundamentally altered the way I run, and plan, my games. You can no longer have a Rigger without a Decker. Opposing Deckers are now a massive threat to a NPC, or PC, Rigger.

This has prompted a shift in the metagame, the dynamic of the "Default" party. When I say default party I want you to think back to D&D, specifically early D&D. When you sat down to play D&D with your friends, as I often did, there was a default set of characters that had to be played, or the party never quite worked. You had the Fighter, the Mage, the Rogue, and the Cleric. Granted, some of these roles could be filled by other classes but the optimum build was always those four. Shadowrun, despite not having classes has an optimum build. In 3rd Edition you could do without a Decker, provided you had someone with good hardware skills. You needed a Face, but often times you could get away with another player taking some social skills, and a decent charisma. Usually, in my groups, that was your mage. There was no real call for a Rigger, in fact most of the time you only needed a car, and didn't even need the driving skill, 4th Edition was more or less the same. However, 5th Edition changed all that.

Let's look at the default build-point based 3rd Edition party.

- Street Samurai (Usually metahuman, Ork, Troll, etc.)
- Socialite (Elf, usually)
- Magician (Elf, or Human)
- Wildcard (Medic, Hardware guy, gun nut, decker, adept etc.)

The point being, with a Street Samurai, Social Character, and Magician, you had the game on lock. There was little you couldn't do with those three builds. The forth character was syntactic sugar, a nice to have, but not needed for the group to accomplish their objectives. The issue here is simple, you've reduced the game to a formula and whomever got stuck playing the forth man was in for a less than stellar experience.

With 5th Edition, things shifted. Sure, you can turn your network connectivity off, but the bonuses for wireless connectivity are huge. So, you leave your gear connected. Most characters won't even think about being hacked. As a GM, you let the following story play out. Runners get a job, they get hacked, badly, things go south, their gear goes haywire, guns won't fire, cyberware bricks, commlinks smoke and fail. Everything goes south. It's not hard to orchestrate, and it proves a point. So now you have to run a PC Decker, it's flat-out required. Now let's look at the default party again.

- Street Samurai
- Socialite
- Magician
- Decker

Still looks awfully formulaic. But, let's take it one step further. Why take a dedicated Socialiate? Your Magician, if they are a conjurer they will have a solid Charisma. So, your Magician becomes your Face. If not your magician, pick a character with a decent Charisma and tack on a Negotiation skill.  It's not hard to imagine. So now we have an empty spot. What do we do? We take a Rigger. Why? Because noise forces them to be johnny on the spot, and drones are incredible. Plus, it's nice to not have to walk to the meet.

So now your baseline party looks like this:

- Street Samurai
- Magician (with Negotation)
- Decker (possible with Negotiation, if the Magician isn't a conjurer)
- Rigger

Everyone has a job to do, there's enough overlap to handle injuries, and nobody is left sitting out because they've done their part. 5th Edition solves the wildcard character problem, while promoting synergy within the team, and making your Rigger, and your Decker into best friends.

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