ShadowHaven:So You Want To Make A Shadowrunner
|This character guide is not an official ShadowHaven character guide. Please consider it advice from your fellow players and not from the ShadowHaven Living Community.|
This guide is a transcription of Delnar_Ersike's SR5e CharGen Guide adapted for ShadowHaven.
There are lots of character generation guides out there for Shadowrun 5th Edition, almost all of them focused on the more mechanical aspects of character creation: what priorities to pick, what gear to buy, what stats to have for your character, etc. In all of this though, it's very easy to lose sight of the big picture and the big question: how do you actually make a Shadowrunner character? What is the mental process you should go through when trying to make a Shadowrunner, and what thinking goes into making a good character? This guide is meant to answer that question and guide you through the tried-and-true process that I use when making my characters not just for Shadowrun 5th edition, but for a lot of other tabletop roleplaying games as well.
- 1 Step 0: Read the Rules, Use a Character Creation Tool
- 2 Step 1: The Sketch
- 3 Step 2: The Outline
- 4 Step 3: The Coloring
- 5 An Example
Step 0: Read the Rules, Use a Character Creation Tool
Seriously, read the rules to know what rules you need to follow and use a character creation tool to help keep track of said rules and numbers. If you have not already, make sure you read ShadowHaven's Character Generation Guide and follow its advice. It may seem like an obvious step, but it is always worth keeping in mind that at the end of the day, you are playing a game with rules, and if you don't know the rules, you cannot make informed decisions about them at character generation. So, read the flipping manual first, and then we'll talk business.
Step 1: The Sketch
Now it’s time to get down to the meat and potatoes... it’s time to start making your character! However, while you might have some idea of the character you’re trying to make, you most likely don’t know all the details… heck, you may even have multiple ideas of what characters you want to make, but don’t necessarily know which one to pick for the arduous process of creating your character. This is why this guide splits up the character creation into three steps: the sketch, the outline, and the coloring. The sketch is all about drafting up the character concept and making sure you know how to carry it through the stages where it gets fleshed out. It is about setting up expectations, limitations, and parameters within which you will be working during the later stages of character creation.
Coming up with a Concept
If you have not already come up with a concept for a new character, you should start there. Shadowrun allows for diverse enough characters that pretty much any concept can be made into a proficient shadowrunner. If you are having trouble coming up with a character idea though, or wish to expand your existing concept by combining it with another one, here are some tried-and-true methods to help.
Write What You Know
Oftentimes it’s best to write what you know. Take the most recent piece of media you consumed, choose a character from it, and assuming that the character goes through an arc over the course of the story, take a snapshot of said character somewhere at the beginning of their arc and use that as your concept. If you use this method to come up with a concept, it’s important that you choose a snapshot towards the beginning of the character’s arc. As you’ll find out when you’re fleshing out your concept in the later stages of character creation, wrinkles add a lot of flavor to your character, and characters are more likely to have flaws at the beginning of their character arcs than at the end of them.
A Picture Says a Thousand Words
One of the best ways to come up with character concepts can be to start with a picture. The character creation tool of your choice will likely have a part where you can add a portrait and/or mugshot to your character, so why not start with that as your concept? There is an assortment of good fantasy and/or cyberpunk art on the internet, so you should be in no shortage of finding a portrait or character piece that inspires a shadowrunner. In case you are short on ideas though, the Shadowrun Returns game series has plenty of good portraits, as do the games Android Netrunner, Shadowrun Online Boston Lockdown, Legend of the Five Rings, Necromunda, and Cyberpunk 2077. You can even use art from other cyberpunk, tabletop RPG’s, such as past editions of Shadowrun, Cyberpunk 2020, Cyberpunk Red, Interface Zero 2.0, and The Sprawl.
Pick an Item, Any item
Shadowrun 5th edition is full of odd items that you wouldn’t necessarily expect people to have by default: certain qualities (e.g. Unsteady Hands), skills (e.g. Diving), pieces of gear (e.g. Ballistic Shield), vehicles (e.g. Northup Wasp), cyberware (e.g. Balance Augmentor), bioware (e.g. Sleep Regulator), adept powers (e.g. Missile Parry), and/or spells (e.g. Analyze Truth) are niche and/or “weird” stuff around which you could easily create a character concept. It should be noted that “weird” stuff that gives odd bonuses is definitely more useful as an origin for a character concept than the stuff that is useful in a more straightforward way. Remember, the more straightforward and/or commonly used the item, the less your character sheet will communicate about the fact that said item is the core part of your character.
Copy from Examples
Between the Shadowrun 5th Edition core rulebook (pp. 112-127) and Run Faster (pp. 160-167), there are about 24 example characters, complete with names and fluff text and stat blocks. While you may not want to use pre-made characters, nor would you want to necessarily come up with the same character, each of those example characters have elements to them that you can extract and use as a concept for your own characters. Once you add in example characters from past Shadowrun editions’ sourcebooks, as well as publicly available ShadowHaven characters listed on this very wiki, you really have plenty of examples to choose from.
Making Your Sketch
Once you have your core concepts, it’s time to start growing it into a sketch so that you have a better idea of what is and is not important to it. While this growth can have many forms, this guide will categorize growth based on two areas: mechanics-side growth and thematic-side growth.
Mechanics-side growth is about the fleshing out the initial character concept with clear-cut, mechanical limitations and requirements. These include, but are not limited to, specific qualities, specific weapons, specific attributes, specific spells, specific adept powers, and specific gear. Depending on your concept, certain dicepools will have to be met, certain mechanical items will have to be gotten, and certain stats will have to be at certain minima. After all, you cannot have a Spiderman-inspired character have a poor Gymnastics dicepool, you cannot have a drone swarm-inspired character without drones, and you cannot have a dual-wielding cowboy have terrible shooting dice after they split them in accordance to the rules for attacking multiple characters. You should also make sure not to overdo your requirements at this step, for reasons that will be made clearer in the next step of character creation. Really make sure you only focus on the most important mechanical aspects of your character concept. For example, if your character concept is a dual-wielding cowboy, you probably shouldn’t set requirements for their Gymnastics or Sneaking skills (yet), as those aren’t core to being a dual-wielding cowboy. Mechanics-side growth is also not the time to actually develop your character. Don’t get ahead of yourself. Right now, the only thing you should focus on is setting expectations and limitations that you will follow in later stages of character creation… after all, you are only making a sketch right now, there will be plenty of time to actually fill in the details.
Thematics-side growth is about fleshing out the initial character concept with thematic expectations. Shadowrun has an intricate world history, Seattle and the other regions in which you will be playing also have some pre-existing history, and shadowrunning itself has its own place in Shadowrun’s world, so you should set up your thematic expectations to accommodate all of these things. For example, while Spiderman can serve as a great initial character concept, Shadowrun does not really have a place for altruistic superheroes, so you should adjust your Spiderman-inspired concept’s thematics to fit into the world you’re playing.
What Should My Dicepools Be?
This question is bound to come up again and again in your mind, so let's get it out of the way. Well, this guide isn’t really meant to focus on questions like these (there are hundreds of other guides online that do), but the answer is almost always, “It depends.” It depends on whether you’ll be making extended tests, threshold tests, or opposed tests, it depends on whether you are talking about a skill for Attack and/or Sleaze actions in the Matrix or not, it depends on whether you expect to split your dicepool(s), it depends on whether you are talking about a test that involves Magic or Resonance, it depends on if you win or lose ties on the particular test, it depends on whether your raw chances of success are more important than the average length of a success streak, it depends on the opposition your GM sends against you, it depends on how much competition there is in ShadowHaven for the type of character who you are, etc. There are some numbers you can use as reference though. For one, the threshold tables on core rulebook p. 45, the buying hits rule, and the average of 3 dice = 1 hit means you should have 4 or more dice in anything in which you aren’t terrible, which can be important for social skills and skills that are commonly used like Perception or Sneaking. The example opposition on core rulebook pp. 381-384 indicates that you should probably have a dicepool of around 12±3 in most skill actions at which you’re decent and a dicepool of around 15±3 or more in skill actions at which you are great, though again, your target depends heavily on factors mentioned in the "it depends" list; for example, a pool of 9 in Automotive Mechanic is fairly decent, while a pool of 14 in Hacking tends to be just barely at the threshold for "decent". If you’re a combat character, you can look at those same sample goons’ initiative, defense test (REA + INT), and soak (BOD + Armor) stats as expectations.
Step 2: The Outline
All right, you have fleshed out your character concept into a sketch and have a clear idea of what you want to build your character around. It’s time to move onto the next stage: creating your character’s outline. Where the character sketch is about setting up expectations and limitations that are key to a character concept, the character outline is about executing on those expectations and limitations, and only those. The character outline should contain the bare minimum details as required by the sketch, nothing more, as everything else will be left for the final stage of character creation.
Roles and Archetypes
While outlines cover different details for different people, one of the key parts of any character’s outline is their role and their archetype. In short, your role is what you’re good at, your archetype is how you get good at it. As you’ll soon find out, it is absolutely vital that you know how to distinguish one from the other, and being able to properly separate roles from archetypes is vital to taking full advantage of Shadowrun’s free-form character generation. It’s also important that you pick both a role and an archetype that is compatible with your character sketch, otherwise you will likely become frustrated trying to marry them. The reason you should only choose your role and archetype now instead of at the character sketch stage though is to make sure your sketch is as “pure” as possible. Roles and archetypes tend to come with their own sets of expectations, so choosing at the sketch stage instead of the outline stage will usually dilute your character concept’s expectations with the expectations of your role and archetype. It’s much better to force your role and archetype to conform to your character concept than the other way around.
An Introduction for Players New to Shadowrun
Thinking in Roles
If you’re familiar with other roleplaying systems, you will know that a lot of them have different mechanical roles that players can choose, e.g. healer and tank and DPS. These are usually allocated and/or subdivided into “classes”, but let’s call them roles for simplicity. Each role plays a part in being successful at one main “problem” or puzzle that the system revolves around. For example, in a system revolving around combat, there will be a DPS who is needed to deal damage to the opposition, a tank who is needed to absorb hits from the opposition and tie them down, and a healer who keeps the other two alive long enough for them to be able to do their jobs. In these systems, because you all play a crucial part in succeeding at the system’s main puzzle, you are heavily encouraged to assemble a team composition that features most, if not all, roles in some way. Shadowrun is different from those systems, very different. Shadowrun has roles, but it has no main, central puzzle that requires the team to cover all bases. Instead, Shadowrun has lots of different, distinct puzzles, and each role is an expert at their particular type of puzzle. This means that Shadowrun is extremely modular and accommodating of any type of team composition: a good GM will always only set up puzzles that they know the players can solve. If there’s a particular role missing from the team composition, the GM will just simply not put that role’s puzzle into a run, so don’t feel the need to play any role just because nobody else is playing it. If there is more than one character representing a particular role, the GM will just simply add more of that role’s puzzles into their run, so don’t feel the need to not play a role just because someone else already is.
Classes and the Lack Thereof
Many roleplaying games have classes as little boxes that characters can fall into: there’s a box for intelligent wizards, a box for wise priests, a box for hardy barbarians, a box for cunning rogues, a box for dextrous archers… there are boxes, boxes galore. The main purpose of classes is to help focus, help guide players to know how they should build, play, and progress their character: a wizard will need to be smart and know a lot of spells, a barbarian will need powerful weapons and large muscles, a rogue will need various gadgets for thievery and the nimbleness to use them unnoticed, etc. The downside of classes is that people can feel “locked in” to these boxes and aren’t really allowed to forge their own path, but this both is usually remedied by some sort of multi-classing system and is seen as a small price to pay for making the game approachable. Shadowrun has no classes. Yes, there are roles that describe what types of problems your character is good at solving, but there are no real restrictions as to how you can make a character who ends up fulfilling a particular role (besides what rulebooks and content your group is using). This is both a blessing and a curse. The upside is that players who have become familiar with the system can end up crafting up myriads of mechanically unique characters that still function for their intended role(s). The downside is that players who aren’t familiar with the system end up drowning in options, getting lost, and feeling it necessary to pore over guides like this one just to make heads or tails of how they should make a character. What Shadowrun does have though are archetypes. Archetypes are similar to classes in that generally, characters of the same archetype will end up building their characters in similar ways, but they’re more guidelines than rules. Most of the sample, pre-generated runners you’ll find in the core rulebook and Run Faster will follow specific archetypes. If you’re new to Shadowrun, it’s usually not a bad idea to try to build your first character towards one of these archetypes, though you shouldn’t copy any of the sample characters outright. If you’ve had a peek at some example characters you can make in Shadowrun, you’re probably aware of character concepts like the street samurai, the combat mage, the face, the decker, the technomancer, and the rigger. These are all archetypes. They are ways of performing well at a particular role, rather than outright roles themselves. For example, the decker and the technomancer might be different archetypes, but they’re still good at the same thing, taking care of Matrix opposition, even if they use different paths to get there. The street samurai and the gunslinger adept are both good at physical combat, even if one is loaded up on cyberware while the other relies on magical adept powers. In order to not artificially limit the types of characters you can create, it’s better to think in terms of roles first, and worry about your archetype later.
Roles have two main types, “major” and “minor”. Major roles are roles that require a lot more investment in order to get good at, but their skills can be applied in some way pretty much in every run. Minor roles are roles that do not require that much investment to get good at, but their skills are only going to come handy maybe once or twice every three runs at best. Note that major vs. minor doesn’t mean important vs. unimportant, it just means that one needs more investment but has wider use, while the other doesn’t require that much investment but has a more narrow, specialized use.
At Standard-level character generation, you will usually have enough resources to get good at one major role (your main role). For your outline, you really should pick one major role to be great at and stick with it, maybe also a minor role to be great at or a second major role to be only decent at (called the “off-” role). One of the most common issues new players run into when making their characters is trying to be good at everything, but if you do not really focus on one role that you want to be good at, you’ll often end up spreading yourself too thin and feeling useless in-game. Once you get to the final stage of character creation, after the outline, that’s when you can go wild with other roles, but you should restrain yourself when you’re still just drawing your character outline. Shadowrun is a system based around rolling pools of dice, i.e. dicepools, and so a lot of the core competencies expected from roles are expressed by having dicepools of certain sizes in certain actions and/or skills. Certain roles are therefore tied to certain dicepools, as the caliber to which you can perform in a specific role will be tied to the number of dice you have against problems that said role is meant to tackle.
In general, there are 5-8 major roles in Shadowrun 5th Edition. They are:
- Physical Combat
- Astral Overwatch
- Matrix Overwatch
- Physical Infiltration (often abbreviated as “B&E” for “Breaking & Entering”)
- Social Infiltration
Depending on who you ask, Face and Social Infiltration can be treated as the same thing, and Wheelman and Investigator can be treated as minor roles instead of major ones, which is how the list can get narrowed down to 5 items instead of 8.
Each of these roles will generally have 4-6 dicepools and/or seriously expensive equipment to worry about, which is what makes them major roles:
- Physical Combat is about dealing damage and staying alive in combat. They will need good dicepools in combat skills, as well as some way of staying alive in combat for extended periods of time and some way of making sure they have plenty of initiative.
- Astral Overwatch is about taking care of magical security like wards and spirits and spells. They will need good dicepools in skills for handling magical security, as well as good dicepools for staying alive against magical security.
- Matrix Overwatch is about taking care of digital security. They will need good dicepools in all skills that are important for handling Matrix entities (usually Hacking, Electronic Warfare, and Computer, at a minimum), as well as some way of making sure they have the Matrix attributes to use those dicepools (usually means either being a technomancer or having a good cyberdeck).
- Physical Infiltration is about breaking into places and not getting caught. Depending on the approach taken, Physical Infiltration will usually require good dicepools in not being physically seen (Sneaking, Gymnastics, Escape Artist, et al.), as well as good dicepools in general for getting into (and out of) places in which they are not supposed to be.
- Face and Social Infiltration are about having lots of connections and using social engineering. They will need good dicepools in the most common social skills (Etiquette, Negotiation, and Con, usually), but because socializing is such an open-ended system with so many potential situational modifiers, they will also need to played with an open mindset that leans towards lateral thinking. Face tends to be more about being able to be anyone, while Social Infiltration tends to be more about being able to be someone specific (and therefore tends to make more use of skills like Disguise and Impersonation and 'ware and adept powers that can replicate biometric passkeys like retinas or fingerprints).
- Wheelman is about having a set of good vehicles and being able to operate them properly. They will need both the money to spend on fast and/or useful vehicles and plenty of dice in the dicepools needed to operate them: REA/INT + Pilot Groundcraft for cars, vans, and trucks, REA/INT + Pilot Watercraft for boats and submarines, REA/INT + Pilot Aircraft for gliders, planes, and helicopters. It is especially crucial to split roles from archetypes when it comes to the Wheelman role though, as they need not have an RCC or a control rig, even if they are mundane, though a control rig is certainly one way to get the dicepools needed to be a good wheelman.
- Investigator is about sleuthing, interrogating/interviewing, and tracking people and things. They will generally need high dicepools in noticing things that are out-of-place, and depending on their archetype, they should also have high dicepools when interrogating/interviewing subjects and/or when scouring spaces (physical, astral, and/or Matrix) for clues. Like the Face role, the Investigator role also requires a lateral thinking mindset, though unlike the Face, the Investigator role barely has any official system in which to play, so the GM will often have to work overtime to craft environments where the Investigator can shine.
In contrast to the 5-8 major roles, there are countless numbers of minor roles in Shadowrun 5th Edition. If you are good at one particular skill that isn’t covered by one of the major roles, that’s a minor role. If you have some weird or odd sets of gear, ‘ware, powers, spells, or vehicles/drones, that’s probably a minor role. Here are some example minor roles, but don’t feel beholden to this list:
- Medic (First Aid + Medicine + maybe the auto-injection/auto-infuser guns found in Bullets & Bandages)
- Survivalist (Survival + maybe Navigation)
- Pet Pal (Animal Handling)
- Utility Mage (utility spells like Levitate and Heal, especially ones that don't require high MAG to be useful)
- Anti-Mage (Counterspelling, Astral Combat, and/or Banishing when they are divorced from other Magic skills; note that these don't necessarily require high MAG to be useful)
- Artist/Cook (Artisan)
- Musician (Performance)
- Leader (Leadership)
- Squid (Diving + Swimming)
- Knowledge Monkey (lots of knowledge skills and/or knowsofts)
- Repairperson (all Engineering skills + Hardware + Armorer to varying degrees)
- Info Hound (Computer when it is divorced from other Matrix stats)
- Sniper/Marksman (Longarms when it is divorced from other Combat stats)
- Phalanx (person with a Ballistic Shield and the know-how and attributes to use it, including using it for things other than a mundane +Armor for the owner)
- Base Jumper (Free-Fall)
- Acquisitions Expert (Black Market Pipeline + Negotiation when it is divorced from other Social stats)
In short, if you can buy some niche piece of gear and/or get a decent-sized dicepool in something that isn’t strictly covered by a major role, you can treat it as a minor role. This really is where the more free-form nature of Shadowrun’s character generation really shines.
Once you’ve got an idea of what roles you’ll want to go for, it’s time to think about your archetype. In general, each role has key objectives that they need to be able to accomplish, and will have several ways of doing so. This includes both what exact dicepools you’ll want to focus on (e.g. a Physical Combat could make sure they stay alive by focusing on fully absorbing blows from attacks or on dodging attacks outright) in addition to what tools you use to get those dicepools high (e.g. a Matrix who is not a technomancer could get high hacking dicepools by getting LOG- and INT-boosting ‘ware, having a high natural LOG and/or INT to begin with, using LOG- and INT-boosting drugs, using Adept Powers to directly boost their dice, and/or using the Analyze Device spell to boost their dice with a cyberdeck). While roles are pretty clear-cut and straightforward, it’s with the archetypes that you use to get good at a particular role where you can really get creative, both in regards to how you approach the problem that a specific role is meant to solve and how you get appropriately sized dicepools for your approach.
Drawing Your Outline
Once you have a suitable role picked and possibly an archetype in mind as well (though because archetypes are fairly free-form, outright choosing an archetype is not strictly necessary), it’s time to actually start making your character by drawing their outline. This means it’s time to start fulfilling the expectations set by both your character sketch and your chosen role.
First Steps, Staying Flexible
The first steps are always the hardest, and depending on your chosen character creation method, it can be all too easy to get locked into a mindset that’s not conducive towards drawing up your character’s outline. In case you have trouble with taking your first steps and/or get lost in character creation, here are some tips to keep yourself on the right track within the Sum-to-Ten character generation method used on ShadowHaven.
While Sum-to-Ten generation tends to be very approachable, one of its big downsides is that unless you’re experienced with it, it’s often hard to tell at a glance which priorities you’d want to pick. You should generally stay away from Attributes D or E because they simply don’t give you enough attribute points to work with (though Attributes D can work on some Dwarf, Ork, and Troll characters), but otherwise all choices can be valid.
One thing you can do is put all of your priority categories to E, start drawing your outline, and slowly bump up your priorities as you do to meet your needs: increasing Magic/Resonance priority for special characters, increasing Metatype priority for non-Humans characters, increasing Resources priority for characters that need 'ware of some kind, etc. While you should worry if your outline’s sum is over 10, you should not worry if your sum is under 10 during your outline stage: after all, there is still one more step to go, during which you will be freely able to bump up your priorities to meet your final requirement of 10.
While mechanical expectations and limitations can be met by your outline in a fairly straightforward manner, thematic expectations and limitations can be trickier to integrate. After all, large biography sections don’t alter dicepools. Instead, while drawing your outline, you should find ways to represent the thematic- and/or personality-based portions of your character’s sketch through their mechanics.
Shadowrun is a very rules-heavy system, and one of the benefits of that is that there is pretty much always a way to show the effect and/or the presence of any thematic element through mechanics. This is what I like to call "mechanical storytelling". In particular, qualities (especially negative ones), skills (especially knowledge skills), lifestyles, and contacts are all great places to do this. Does your character sketch call for an ex-cop backstory? Add in some knowledge skills about topics that a cop would learn, plus maybe a contact who could have been acquired while the character was still a cop. Does your character sketch call for a fidgety character who cannot stand still? Add in negative qualities like Unsteady Hands or Lack of Focus to represent this. Does your character concept call for them to have grown up in a different country? Have their native language not be English (though make sure they still have very good English, i.e. somewhere around Rating 5 or 6, if you still want them to be able to communicate with the locals without issue), and maybe even add some knowledge skills about the area where the character was actually born. The more you are able to represent your character's backstory and personality through their stat block alone, the easier it will be to treat your character's thematic and mechanical aspects as one and the same.
Step 3: The Coloring
So, you’ve finished your character outline, but you still have resources like karma, skill points, contact points, and the like to spend. It’s now time for the final stage of character creation: the coloring. Coloring is all about filling in the details, all the stuff that is not crucial to your character concept, but without which your character feels unfinished. This is usually where you would allocate your leftover karma, skill points, knowledge skill points, contact points, attribute points, spell and complex form points, and power points, as well as spend leftover nuyen and/or possibly change to a non-human metatype as allowed by your character generation method.
Locking in the Outline
The very first thing you’ll want to do when you start coloring your character outline is to lock in the character outline. You should never, ever take resources out of your outline in order to spend it on stuff during the coloring stage. This is the whole reason why character creation is split into the sketch, outline, and coloring stages: expectations are set during the sketch stage, expectations are met during the outline stage, and extra stuff is spent during the coloring stage. If you start taking resources out of items established during the outline stage, then you risk undermining the expectations you set during the sketch phase, which will probably end up with you being disappointed that your character did not properly deliver on the concept you established from the beginning.
At the same time, locking in the outline means you should feel free to spend your remaining resources however you like. After all, no matter how “badly” you mess up in the coloring stage, your outline will still be there to provide a solid foundation.
If you are using a character creation tool, one good way to "lock in" your outline can be to create a save file for your character at this point in time. If you accidentally mess with your outline to the point where you cannot undo your changes, you could then just discard your current draft and load that separate save to not lose any work.
Adding Character Flavor
It bears repeating that Shadowrun is a very rules-heavy system, and one of the benefits of that is that there is pretty much always a way to show the effect and/or the presence of any thematic element through mechanics. In particular, qualities (especially negative ones), skills (especially knowledge skills), lifestyle, and contacts are all great places to do this. This also, of course, works the other way around, so the presence of certain qualities, contacts, and skills (knowledge or otherwise) will also reflect on what the character has been through… as would the absence of certain qualities, contacts, lifestyles, and skills. For example, the absence of an area knowledge skill for Seattle can indicate that the character is a newcomer and/or that the character doesn’t really go out much. Another example would be that the absence of the Made Man positive quality tells everyone that the character is not a member of an organized crime syndicate, or the lack of a fixer contact tells everyone that the character does their own networking and gear acquisition. If you are a
Special Note on Negative Qualities
While this guide isn’t supposed to be built around getting into specifics of what a character should and should not have, negative qualities deserve special mention because of how rarely their potential is utilized to the fullest.
Most new players will view negative qualities as things that saddle characters with mechanical downsides that are to be minimized as much as possible, and that the main value of a negative quality is that it gives karma to be spent on things that give the character advantages. Under this viewpoint, the best negative qualities are the ones that give the most karma for the least serious downside. Qualities like Allergy or Simsense Vertigo are highly valued by this viewpoint, while qualities like Loss of Confidence or Uneducated are to be avoided for saddling the character with downsides too difficult to ignore compared to their bonus karma.
In my humble opinion, this is flatout the wrong way of viewing things: negative qualities are about giving characters wrinkles, flaws that you want them to have because that’s what makes your character(s) interesting. The karma that a negative quality is just a nice extra, not the main reason why a quality should or should not be chosen. Under this viewpoint, the best negative qualities are actually the ones that give a character the most flavor. Qualities like Loss of Confidence and Uneducated should actually be very good ones to take because they serve as mechanical representations for things that occured in the character’s backstory. By contrast, qualities like Allergy and Simsense Vertigo should be considered bad because they have no “fluff” value: you’re either born with an Allergy or you aren’t, there’s no story behind it.
To help process the massive block of text that has been this guide so far, I thought it would be good to work through the process to create an example character. I will start at the very beginning and go step-by-step through all the stages I described in this guide.
To make things easier to understand and more clear-cut, I will only be using stuff from the Core Rulebook and/or Run Faster, and the character that I make will end up adhering to a priority selection that would also be possible under Priority, i.e. one A priority, one B priority, one C priority, one D priority, and one E priority will be chosen.
Step 1: The Sketch
I was recently re-reading the rulebook for Shadowrun 3e and came across this lovely image that I am going to be using as my initial character concept around which to build a sketch.
It’s a fantastic image of an ork in a bowler hat and a stereotypical detective getup smoking a pipe while leaning against what I assume is a lamppost on a street corner. The entire getup is very iconic, so I’m definitely including that as part of my character sketch. He also looks like a detective from a noir film, so he’s definitely going to have to be good at detective stuff: reading people, interrogating witnesses, trailing crooks, figuring out puzzles, that sort of thing. He also doesn’t look very magical or technomancer-y, so they either have to be a Physical Adept or a mundane.
So, here’s what my expectations and limitations are from my sketch:
- Metatype has to be Ork, has to be male phenotype
- Has to be either a Physical Adept or mundane
- Has to be good at reading people
- Has to be good at solving puzzles
- Has to be good at interrogating witnesses
- Has to be good at trailing crooks
- Has to have his iconic noir detective getup with a long coat and a pipe
Step 2: The Outline
Alright, time to start actually creating the character!
Right now, I’m pretty sure that the major role I’d like for this character is Investigator because it meshes well with my other requirements. Together with my expectations, this means the dicepools I definitely want to have at a high amount are Judge Intentions, Perception, Tracking, Intimidation, and Etiquette, as well as a decent amount of dice for the Matrix Search action (Computer + Intuition). I have also decided that the iconic noir detective getup also includes a fake identity that would pass most police scanners, so a Rating 4 fake SIN with appropriate licenses is also a part of my expectations. A noir detective shouldn’t be homeless, so I also add a Low lifestyle to my expectations.
I start out with the following priorities because they seem like a good initial choice: Metatype B Ork, Attributes A, Magic D Adept, Skills C, Resources E. However, after trying to get my Perception, Tracking, Intimidation, and Etiquette pools all to a high enough level that I would like, I realize that I simply won’t have the skill points necessary with Skills C to comfortably achieve my expectations. I also know that Attributes C wouldn’t give me enough attribute points to work with should I decide to switch my Attributes and Skills priority selections, so I switch over to the following priorities: Metatype C Ork, Attributes A, Magic E Mundane, Skills B, Resources D. With this priority selection, I am able to allocate enough points and money to places to achieve with the expectations from my sketch and from my role selection in my outline. Thanks to Sum-to-Ten, I could have also switched to Metatype B Ork, Attributes B, Magic D Adept, Skills B, and Resources E instead, but this character does not need to be Awakened, and sticking to a configuration that can still work under Priority is helpful for demonstration purposes. Here is a link to the character sheet at this moment in time. As you can see, the character is very bare-bones and really is only at the outline stage. He has 13 dice + specialization bonus in Tracking (effectively 15 in most parts of Seattle), and in the case of Perception, he has 15 dice for Hearing and 16 dice for Visual (thanks to his contacts), so both of those dicepools are definitely at the “very good” level. He has 11 dice in Judge Intentions, which is OK, but there isn’t anything I can use from the Core Rulebook or Run Faster to get it any higher without significant sacrifices (I am already using Exceptional Attribute on Intuition, and Judge Intentions is Charisma + Intuition); if I was using Chrome Flesh, something like Genetic Optimization INT and/or Cerebellum Boosters could have been used, as could the Thermal Mood Reading and Vocal Tension Lie Detector subscription services from Cutting Aces. Both Intimidation and Etiquette are 12 for where I expect them to be used. I considered using Tailored Pheromones with the character, but then I remembered that because Intimidation is in neither the Acting nor Influence group, it would only boost Etiquette, which would not have been enough when purely considering the outline’s expectations; plus, they would really hurt my wallet with my Resources D pick. Maybe I'll pick them up in the Coloring step. Analytical Mind combined with a decent LOG and a high INT should help the character be able to solve puzzles well, and Computer 1 + a specialization in Matrix Search means that Matrix Search will be performed with a dicepool of 10, which is perfectly fine considering the way Matrix Search works (it only has threshold 1, threshold 3, and threshold 6 tests); if I were using Data Trails, this is also probably when I would have thrown in a Nixdorf Secretär so that its Agent could help me out for the few threshold 6 Matrix Searches that I may want the character to be able to do in a long-shot (though a low-rating RCC loaded with an R3 Agent could also do the trick), as well using Electronic Modifications to hardwire a Program Carrier for Browse into his commlink (or if I went with the RCC, a Datajack Plus would also work). The Low lifestyle, R4 Fake SIN, and Lined Coat are all present and accounted for. Time to move onto the final stage, the coloring!
Step 3: The Coloring
I first lock in the outline I made from step 3, to the point of even saving a separate character file just to make sure I don’t take away anything from the outline. I then distribute my remaining resources how I see fit, particularly taking into consideration my choices for knowledge skills, contacts, and qualities so that they lined up with the themes and story I wanted to create for the character. Here is a link to the character after completing the coloring stage. Of particular importance are the negative qualities; between Big Regret, Loss of Confidence, and Vendetta (and potentially even Prejudiced), I hope you can piece together a significant part of this character’s backstory despite me deliberately keeping the Background section empty. The choice of Perception for Loss of Confidence should not actually cause any problems with the character’s outline, as the character’s Perception dice in both Hearing and Visual should be high enough regardless. Plus, the character’s newly added earbuds gear should definitely let them have enough dice to perform very well.