Plenty of outstanding players will tell you that it’s the story of a character, not their stats, that matters most. And while that may be true, Shadowrun - for better or worse - rewards mathematically strong character builds and punishes poor ones. Consider that an efficiently-built 0-karma character can sit at a table (say at a Missions event) with a sub-optimally built prime runner (with 150 karma under his/her belt) with the same archetype and have a higher roll for every test by virtue of their build. That’s seasons worth of hard work negated by lack of karma efficiency.
Thus the purpose of this thread is not to debate the merits of building your characters stats first and then developing a story to fit as opposed to vice versa - but instead to expose the math behind an efficiently-built character, and identify the patterns and processes that lead to such.
1. General Principles:Karma Efficiency
- We evaluate the relative strengths of competing builds by breaking down the karma value of benefits a character has, and then find the minimum karma cost necessary to achieve those benefits. For example, a post-gen skill specialization in First Aid costs 7 karma and adds 2 dice to the relevant tests, but a rating 6 MedKit costs 1500 NuYen (where 2000 is equivalent to 1 karma), making the MedKit a more karma efficient way to boost your First Aid pool (and perhaps the most karma efficient purchase in SR5!)
That said, Karma Efficiency isn't always optimal - any time a higher dice pool would gain/save you additional karma or nuyen, notably combat for instance. Ultimately, dying in combat costs ALL of the karma you've gained, and spending an Edge to be Not Dead Yet is less efficient than whatever karma + nuyen you could have spent on Attributes/Skills/Gear to not die in the first place.Buy pools, not skills
- Regardless of how you build your character, when you roll for a test all that matters is the (dice pool) & [Limit], and if we didn't find more efficient paths than Attribute:6 + Skill:12 we'd almost never get a pool of 18+.Tall-stacks
- Because character advancement in Shadowrun costs karma based on the "Desired Rating", the same stats can be more efficiently achieved by starting with a few high values (tall stacks) rather than many moderate ones (wide stacks).
Ie, to reach Reaction 5 Intuition 5, it's more karma efficient to Buy Reaction 5 (0 karma to raise to 5) Intuition 1 (10+15+20+25 = 70 karma to raise to 5) at character creation than it is to buy Reaction 3 (20+25 = 45 karma to raise to 5) Intuition 3 (45 more) with the same 4 Attribute points.Attribute Synergy
- One way to diversify your character's talents is to take an Attribute you already have a tall-stack in and put a point or two into a non-primary skill that uses that same attribute. Have a ton of Logic for hacking? Put a point in First Aid, and take advantage of that existing tall-stack by utilizing it in a new dice pool.
In theory Priority speeds up creation by restricting decisions to apples to apples choices. That is to say, once I know my ABCDE, I am only comparing STR with CHA, Armor with Ammo, Persuasion with Perception. That said, there's a weird cognitive gap where moving each Priority category up or down changes the relative cost/value of other categories. So, where with BP I might ask, “Would I benefit more from another specialization or a better CommLink?”
, with Priority I might ask myself, "Okay, but if I'm a mystic adept, can I still be an elf?"
. Also, by contrast to BP it’s more difficult to spread yourself evenly between areas, tending instead to result in specialists due to the fact that if your Magic and Attributes are great you're going to have to suck at Skills and Resources, etc.How do I get by with only Rating: E?
- Magic: E - Best option for non-magic users
- Resources: E - Bare min gear: Good for karma-starved runners. Can supplement with starting karma
- Skills: E - Mediocre for NuYen-starved characters; a few 6's, likely no specializations, need 1-shots with karma.
- Metatype: E - Low-Edge Human
- Attributes: E - Sad times.
As a consequence, unlike SR4A where you'd often want to hone in on your character from the top-down, in SR5 there's an argument for figuring out which E Priority you can best live with and going from there.Post-creation karma efficiency by category:
For each category the first number is the post-creation karma points that Priority rating can be worth, if allocated for optimal karma. The number in parenthesis is the karma points lost by dropping to the next highest Priority (which is to say that after character creation it would cost 60 to increase to the same Attributes and Skills of Magic:A from Magic: B). That matters because you can, for each Priority level, choose the category with the highest karma lost to find a more karma efficient build.
So, why not always just go Skills:A > Magic:B > Metatype: C > Attributes: D > Resources: E?
Well, Trolls can’t go Meta (C), not all concepts need any Magic, and some archetypes need a ton of Resources. ‘Wared adepts DO want Magic, but know they’re not getting the value of a max Magic rating after Essence loss. Not to mention the fact that some large karma equivalences (particularly Skill Groups
) aren't dice-efficient, and some small karma investments result in significant dice pool increases (1-2 karma of NuYen to purchase Vision / Audio enhancements, for instance).
But while there may not be 1 Golden Priority order, you can use the relative karma value for each rating to help optimize your builds. Example: Morningstar the Street Sam is an Ork (C) who is not magically active (E), and needs Resources: A for ‘wares. Using the table, he can still determine that going Skills: B (vs 116+62 less for D), and Attributes: D (vs 70+35 more for B) will gain him ~73 karma over doing it the other way around.
Magic should generally be the first Priority you determine.
- If you aren’t planning on playing a magic user, go ahead and set this to E, effectively bumping every subsequent category up one, and move on to Metatype. You'll likely want NuYen to augment your dice pools with ware instead.
- If you ARE planning on playing a magic user, but you’re NOT going to take any bio/cyber-ware on the runner, than you probably want Magic to be relatively high (Trolls might have to settle for C). Mystic Adepts tend to prefer this path. Remember that you can use points from your Metatype Priority to get to Magic 6, albeit potentially at the expense of Edge.
- If you ARE planning on taking ‘ware at some point (particularly for Physical Adepts), there may be an argument to be made for taking Magic as a lower Priority, due to the way Magic Loss from Essence Loss works.
- Because purchasing magic is based on the desired rating, and essence loss due to cyber/bioware actually reduces your current magic rating, dual-natured characters who desire ‘ware can benefit from lower than normal magic Priority, then purchasing the ware and suffering essence loss, so that they may spend their karma on the (now) lowered desired attribute rating for magic. Just don’t let your Maximum Magic (base 6) be lowered to 0 or you can no longer purchase the Magic attribute or use magical active skills!Technomancers
While not technically magic users, Resonance users are handled the same way for the purposes of character creation. Complex Forms are no longer particularly expensive to purchase after creation, so you’ll just want to ensure you get Resonance of 6 and compiling + registering to 6 as well, whether it be through the Magic category or Metatype and Skills.Magic Users:Adepts
are a solid choice, because (unlike Mystic Adepts) when they increase their Magic, they gain power points, facilitating the learning of Metamagic Feats at Initiation. Their strengths vs ‘Ware generally lie in skill-boosting and affecting the astral plane, but for some combat applications there are several Cyber and especially Bio -ware options are more efficient per point of Essence, and there’s nothing that says you can’t do both.Mystic Adepts
combine adept powers with the Magician’s ability to cast spells and summon spirits. In exchange, they are unable to astrally project (leaving the immediate area of their body). At character creation they can (and should) purchase power points up to their Magic rating for 5 karma each, but are unable to purchase more after creation except in lieu of a Metamagic Feat upon Initiation. This is why they prefer to take Magic at max and must weigh Essence loss more carefully than Physical Adepts.Magicians
are on the other end of the spectrum from Adepts, and focus on Spell-casting and Spirit Summoning, and their increase reflexes spell is probably the most efficient initiative tool in the game. While not as resilient as Mystic Adept based casters, they have the ability to project astrally and leave their bodies to Spy/Investigate/Fight.Aspected Magicians
at Priority (C) actually lose out on karma from spells vs full Magicians, and at Priority (B) the 25 bonus karma worth of Skill Groups (effectively only 10 if you dismiss Banishing / Ritual Spellcasting) isn’t worth sacrificing the versatility of full Magicians over. Even at Priority (D) you’d generally do better to adjust priorities, go full Magician, and maybe take one less Edge to boost your Magic instead.Traditions:
Spell casters must choose a magical tradition. Traditions primarily dictate which secondary Attribute (in addition to Willpower) they use to soak drain. Possession traditions, while sporting two of the best sets of spirits in Vodou / Psionic, are not permitted in Missions, so you can omit those from your search. You'll also want to look at which 5 spirits you can summon, or more specifically, which spirit powers you desire access to. Considering that Spirit of Man
's (Innate Spell) power can either act as a 0-karma Sustaining Focus or double your combat spells per turn, I'd suggest making that your top priority, followed by looking at the expanded spirits in Street Grimoire for access to Magic Guard and other new powers.
- Logic traditions can benefit from a Cerebral Booster or drugs to increase their Drain Attribute, and lends itself well to a variety of technical skills. Of the Logic Traditions, Zoroastrian (SGp52) offers Spirits of Man and Plant Spirits.
- Charisma traditions take advantage of the increased Charisma of Elves and allow casters to double as Negotiators. For Charisma Traditions, Obeah (HTp129) offers Man/Task/Guidance Spirits, and Shinto (SGp48) offers Plant/Man/Air
- Intuition suits combat-focused magicians / mystic with its high Initiative. You may boost your drain attribute by 2 with a Cerebellum Booster. Chaos Magic (SGp44) offers access to Spirits of Man, but sadly no expanded spirits.
For less karma at char-gen than a Specialization, Mentor Spirits are a pretty good value to most magic users - each gives a 2 dice bonus as well as either a second bonus to a magic skill roll (Magicians) or free adept power (Physical Adept). Mystic Adepts choose between the two. Each comes with a disadvantage to be played around, but many roll Composure to resist, which isn't so bad for Charisma Traditions (although even they still need 15d6 to get 3 consistently).Spellcasters:
Depending on your choice of spells, it's not unlikely that you'll use Manipulation spells more often than any other school. That said, Combat and Health spells tend to benefit most from high force / high pool casting, so they'd benefit most from a +2, if perhaps not as often. Here are my top recommendations:
- (Combat Spells) Dragonslayer > Wise Warrior > Wolf/Shark (Shark ranks higher for Unarmed Mystic Adepts)
- (Health Spells) Bear has the better bonus, but Dolphin (HSp43) has an easier-to-play Disadvantage.
- (Manipulation) Raven > Raccoon (HSp46) > Fire-bringer > Monkey (HTp137)
- (Summon: Spirits of Man) Alligator (HTp137)
Choose based on the adept powers you'll be using. The spirits below are worth the most power points.
- Oracle (SGp200) - 1 PP of Astral Perception, bonus to Arcana (for Initiation) is solid for Intuition tradition Mystic Adepts.
- Peacemaker (SGp200) - 1PP of Enhanced Perception, bonus to Negotiation.
- Raven - 1.5 PP between Traceless Walk and Voice Control 1 and +2 bonus to Con is solid for infiltration specialists..
Alternately, you could choose for the cheap +2 skill bonus. Some of the best for skills would be:
- Cat - +2 Gymnastics (for dodging) or Infiltration are both good
- Dragonslayer/Raven - Raven grants +2 con and Dragonslayer offers +2 to any social skill.
- Eagle - +2 Perception is pretty good, if you also use Astral / Matrix.
- Mountain- +2 Counter-spelling is pretty good.
- Rat - +2 to Sneaking is pretty good as well
- Shark - Killing Hands + Unarmed Combat is pretty good for Unarmed Adepts.
Since spells all cost the same Karma, karma efficiency doesn't directly apply here. Instead we want to look for spells that come up often, open up approaches not available to non-casters, and (when in combat) hit multiple targets in a single turn. And be careful of augmenting spells that must be sustained while taking other actions, as their bonus is often mitigated by the -2 sustaining penalty.
- Trid Phantasm -This is perhaps the best example of a spell that can turn a "no way out" into a "no problem", and no-one but the magic-users can access this approach. Physical Mask can be substituted for lower drain and simpler rules.
- Levitate - Same as above. The difference between being able to fly or not is dramatic
- Heal - The only way to heal wounds after First Aid but before Medicine
- Influence - in 5E, most of the subtle Mental Manipulation spells are gone, but this survives
- Combat Spell - One of the following:
- Blast (AOE) / Clout (Single) - Probably the best general combat spell. Indirect, so it adds Force to damage, and while it allows them a roll to resist, it's at -Force AP. It's worth considering that while you can't revive a dead foe, killing a sleeping one is trivial
- Chill (Single; SSPp16) - for individual targets whose armor is too high for blast, this improved Stun Bolt also reduces their initiative score
- Ball Lightning (AOE) - Does Physical Damage, but also reduces initiative score for targets hit.
- Foreboding (AOE. SGp112) - Add a -1 / net hit penalty to all targets in area (friendly and enemy).
- Mana Net (AOE. SGp114) - Reduce all targets' Agilities by 1 per net hit, binding them if it's reduced to 0.
- Petrify (Single, SSPp21) - Temporarily turn a subject to stone.
Keep in mind that for spells you want to cast at high force with high drain, like combat spells, you'd do well to buy a Fetish
(SGp212) to reduce the drain.Close Runners Up:
- Increase Reflexes - The most Essence-friendly initiative booster; you'll probably want this for combat
- Improved Invisibility - The poor-mages stealth. While really useful, you can get by with the Concealment Spirit Power
- Magic Fingers - That's telekinesis, Chummer
- Clairvoyance - Knowing which corner they're waiting behind can be VERY helpful.
- Shapechange (SGp118) - Transform into any critter, increasing Physical Attributes in the bargain, & can still cast spells