Shadowrun Play > Character creation and critique

[SR4a] BP Character Generation: the Math You Really Should Know

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So, here in the Character Critique forum, if you hang out or browse around for any amount of time, you will see some of the same advice over and over and over again - at least from the set of people who find the mathematics of BP-Chargen (Build Point-based Character Generation) important or interesting or just a down-right unfortunate annoyance. Some people say this (the math) shouldn't be important, I agree, it shouldn't be but - once you start looking at what can be lost/gained – well, if you're interested in getting the most efficient ability (i.e. dice-pools, i.e. NUMBARZZ!!), and yes therefore diversity down the road, out of your time playing a character, it simply is important. To do so you don’t have to compromise your story or your RP, you just have to be aware of and willing to play the game the devs created with this process.

Of course, the GM should scale the campaign to the players, of course you need to have a coherent if not meaningful story for your PC, but let’s face it, having a Chargen process that is disconnected from the advancement process is just silly, either that or it is purposefully geared towards players having certain types of builds (i.e. optimal builds, “all-in” specialists, min-maxing, whatever you want to call it), and begs for this sort of expose’. This thread is meant to inform, not debate (unless it's math that is being debated) accordingly...

A few notes:

1.) This thread is NOT to be used to debate opinions on how a character should be created (story first, then build; build first, then story; etc. etc.) or the merits of either methodology.
2.) This thread is NOT to be used to debate definitions or merits of terms such as power-gaming, optimizing, min-maxing, etc. etc.
3.) This thread is NOT to be used to debate the importance of the size of dice-pools, in relation to matching a concept, or any other subjective subject.
4.) This thread is NOT to be used for ANYTHING OTHER THAN exploring how the mathematics of Build Point Chargen relates to Post-Chargen progression.
5.) This guide assumes (as is widely accepted) that 1 BP = 2 Karma in the Character Generation process as well as post-Chargen, it also assumes that the most important reckoning is post-Chargen Karma efficiency; in other words the goal of this guide is to show you how to spend the least BP now to get the most post-Chargen Karma value.

Thank you.

P.S. I will not be touching Meta-Variants (nor their Qualities, sorry), HMHVV, Drakes, A.I.s or any of the other wacky options here.

Part 1: Attributes
So, no matter the step, increasing an attribute costs 10 BP. According to the standard conversion that's 20 Karma.

Attribute Rating:
2 = 20 Karma = -10 Post-Chargen Karma, as that could have been bought, Post-Chargen for 10 Karma.
3 = 20 Karma = -5 Karma
4 = 20 Karma = 0 Karma
5 = 20 Karma = +5 Karma
6 = 20 Karma = +10 Karma
7 = 20 Karma = +15 Karma
and so on...

Erego, you buy a rank of 2 in an attribute, you're spending 20 Karma for 10 Karma "worth of attribute" post-Chargen. Buy a rank 3, 20 : 15 Karma. Only at 4 are you actually breaking even, 20 : 20, but really you're still 15 Karma "in the hole" from the first two steps, so if you buy a 4 in a stat, if it can be managed you really should buy a 5 to at least gain ground on that Karma debt. And if you're a non-human metatype (or possess the Exceptional Attribute Quality), you should do whatever you can to buy up those higher steps of your naturally high attributes so you can fully break-even or even be gaining “free” post-Chargen Karma on that Attribute.

Let's break it down, Metatype by Metatype.

Human, costs no Karma, but you get 1 free EDG. It's essentially a natural +10 Karma Metatype as that’s all rank 2 EDG is worth post-Chargen Karma, but it can potentially be a +20 Karma Metatype, because spending that BP/Karma wisely during Chargen (on an elevated stat or Skill Group or Y) you can take advantage of that additional +10 Karma the BP is worth.

Dwarf, costs 50 Karma, you get Thermo vision, +1 BOD / WIL, and +2 STR, but -1 REA,  so it is a natural +10 Karma Metatype ( -50 +20 +20 +40 -20 = +10) as Thermo vision can cost as little as a small fraction of a Karma/BP in Gear (visual enhancements), I do not consider it a significant Karma boon. You can increase the benefit of the Dwarf Metatype by building a character that focuses on those three naturally high stats. For instance, a 5 BOD, 5 WIL and 5 STR dwarf is actually netting +5 "free" Karma on top of the base balance, even higher levels of one or all all of those stats net more free Karma, for instance a 5 BOD, 5 WIL, 7 STR dwarf is totaling +40 Post-Chargen Karma.

Elf, costs 60 Karma, you get Low-Light, +1 AGI, +2 CHA, again as Low-Light is also attainable for a fraction of a Karma/BP, I consider this a Net Zero Metatype (-60 +20 +40=0). But if you are building a character that is going to soft-max (or nearly so) AGI and CHA both at Chargen, you can net as much as +45 Karma.

Ork, costs 40 Karma, you get Thermo (null), +3 BOD(!), +2STR, -1 CHA, -1 LOG, for a natural +20 Karma Metatype (=-40 +60 +40 -20 -20). A 5 BOD, 5 STR Ork is already netting an additional 10 Karma, push that to a 7 BOD 7 STR and you're at +80(!) total.

Troll, costs 80(!) Karma, you get +4 BOD / STR, -1 to AGI / INT / LOG, -2 CHA, for an effective natural -10 Karma (by virtue of their BOD/STR min being both +5 Karma) Metatype. "Well, that's not fair, none of the others are negative!" you say. But once you realize that with a simple bump of 2 to BOD and STR, to put them both at 7, and you're at +60 Karma, then soft-maxing those two stats both a 9 put's you at +150(!!!) – that initial Negative Karma worth may not be such a big deal.

First so that we’re all on the same page, hard-capping means raising an Attribute to it’s unaugmented natural maximum via BP. To hard-cap an Attribute, you pay the normal 10BP/20 Karma, plus an additional 15 BP/30 Karma.

Second, let me say this is a very subjective element to Karma efficiency (and really this goes for the Karma Efficiency strategy in general). If you are playing in a campaign that you have reason to believe is going to be short-lived, then Hard-capping (and building around Karma efficiency) is completely different because you may want to achieve some character goals quicker than may be practical when following Karma efficient rules.

That said, right off the bat, we see the Karma efficiency isn’t there until you’re hitting a 10 with an Attribute, which isn’t ‘normally’ possible for any Metatype but Troll. And only an Orc could hit it with his BOD and the Exceptional Attribute Quality (of course then there’s the Karma spent on the Quality, but we’ll get into that - Qualities - a little later).

Hard-cap at 6 = 50 Karma, for 30 Karma worth of Attribute, -20 Karma balance.
Hard-cap at 7 = 50 Karma, 35 Karma worth of Attribute, -15 Karma balance.
Hard-cap at 8 = 50 Karma, 40 Karma worth, -10 balance.
And so on, as you can see, hard-capping is usually the worst deal in Attributes.

Sometimes it is okay to hard-cap though, for instance a Troll isn’t going to lose (or, please note, gain – he’s just breaking even) anything from hard-capping his STR or BOD. Your occasional, bizzarro SURGE/Metagentic Improvement and/or Exceptional Attribute and/or Genetic Optimization characters may be able to “benefit” (which I put in quotes due to the Karma investment for those separate elements) from hard-capping their bizzarro Attribute. But in general, Technomancers are just about the only ‘legitimate’ build that needs a hard-cap, and it's for their RES, and thereby their Complex Forms. The reasons for which are as Umaro has kindly laid out as follows:

Complex Forms cost 1 Karma per point of new rating Post-Chargen, or 1 BP per rating (2 karma) at Chargen.

This is (a) why you always take CFs at max and (b) why you should hard-cap Resonance as a Technomancer and weigh carefully taking 'ware as a Technomancer.

1 = 2 karma = -1 post-chargen karma
2 = 2 karma = 0 post-chargen karma
3 = 2 karma = 1 post-chargen karma
4 = 2 karma = 2 post-chargen karma
5 = 2 karma = 3 post-chargen karma
6 = 2 karma = 4 post-chargen karma

Cumulatively, a Rating 6 CF is worth 9 post-chargen karma saved.

As you can see, the Karma savings scale very fast and you therefore really want all your CFs at 6.

It's also worth noting how this interacts with hard-capping Resonance.

Going from 5 to 6 resonance is 25 bp or 30 karma, so -20 post-chargen karma. However, each CF going from 5 to 6 is 4 post-chargen karma saved, so at 5 you break even and at 6 you come out ahead. Very few technomancers will want less than 5 CFs.

The main exception is technomancers who plan to exclusively focus on sprites, and Logic-stream technomancers for whom the 'ware investment is worth the cost.

The biggie (people seem to hard-cap it reflexively) is MAG. Why not hard-cap MAG? Karma loss is not just a loss, it’s a failure to do something else with it (and I'll tell you what to do with it a little later, hint: Foci). Since MAG is always hard-capped at 6, we’re always looking at a -20 balance. Post-gen that’s 4 spells, 10 specializations (i.e. 20 dice!), the raising of a rank 1 Skill straight to a 4 plus a specialization, or raising a 3 Attribute to 4, and so on. IMO, it’s never worth it to hard-cap MAG – not even for a Mystic Adept as you’ve already made the choice to lag in one aspect of your MAG or another, losing 20 Karma and what you could have bought with it doesn’t really gain any ground in that 1 extra die/PP.

Again, ultimately the choice to invest in hard-capping MAG is a choice that should be made on the level of RP choices, if it’s part of your story to be ready to Initiate right out of the gate, or if you know it’s only going to be an abbreviated campaign and you just want to get to Metamagic, then sure, hard-cap MAG – but it is not, by a Karma-based definition, ever “worth” it.

So, all that being said, you can see there is some Karma to be lost/gained in how you pick your stats. Think about how long it takes you to earn 150 Karma, or even 40, once you start Running? Personally, I think I've only had 1 or 2 characters that have lasted beyond 150 Karma. Unfortunately the math can be quite the matter.

When stats become "worth" the low level (2, 3, 4) investment is when you have ranks in many Skills (more than 2, ideally more than 3) linked to them, because at that point, you're buying multiple dice-pools with less Karma than investing in the Skills individually (for the record, skills are a horrible BP investment, in general - but we'll get to that - right now!).

Part 2: Skills
Oh, the ugly world of skills and BP Chargen. Steps of 4 BP, 8 Karma, across the board. Without the minutia, of Metatypes, skills are a lot more cut and dried as far as mathematical choices. Why do we often tell you to split your skills between rank 1s and rank 4s, in addition to the 1 rank 6?Let me tell you:

Buying rank 1 in a skill costs 8 Karma under BP-gen, it costs 4 Karma post chargen. Either way you're essentially adding 2 to your dice-pool - as you're no longer defaulting (ignoring un-defaultable skills). So really, buying 1 rank in a Skill is a great deal post-Chargen, but still a bad deal during Chargen. Why bad? Beacause it's still a higher Karma:Dice ratio than buying your 3rd rank post-chargen. This is why we may tell you to only take a 1 in a Skill if you really want/need to be able to do it right out of the gate. Let's look at the math:

The important thing to note here is comparing the BP-Chargen/Karma-to-dice Ratio to Post-Chargen/Karma-to-dice Ratio. The closer together the two ratios are, the better the deal for you.

At 1 ranks, you've spent 8 BP Karma, for 4 Post-Chargen Karma in 2 dice (-4 Karma). 4:1 vs 2:1
At 2 ranks, you've spent 16 BP Karma, for 8 Post-Chargen Karma in 3 dice (-8 Karma). 5.333:1 vs. 2.666:1
At 3 ranks, you've spent 24 BP Karma, for 14 Post-Chargen Karma in 4 dice (-10 Karma!). 6: 1 vs. 3.5:1
At 4 ranks, you've spent 32 BP Karma, for 24 Post-Chargen Karma in 5 dice (-8 Karma). 6.4:1 vs. 4.8:1
At 5 ranks, you've spent 40 BP Karma, for 34 Post-Chargen Karma in 6 dice (-6 Karma). 6.666:1 vs. 5.666:1
At 6 ranks, you've spent 48 BP Karma, for 46 Post-Chargen Karma in 7 dice (still -2 Karma!). 6.9:1 vs. 6.6:1

So, buying a skill up to 6, you are 38 Karma in the hole coming up that ladder, compared to if you had just bought the skill up to 6 after Chargen. The long and short of it is that skills are a bad deal at chargen, 2 and 3 ranks, especially so, but the trick is finding the best, bad deal (which is 6, but you can only have 1 of those, so it's 4) – and that’s what the difference between the two Karma-to-Dice ratios tell us. ;P

Why do we always tell you to max 1 skill at 6, and not 2 at 5?
Raising 2 rank 5 skills to 6 costs 24 Karma.
Raising 1 rank 4 skill to 6 costs 22 Karma - you net 2 Karma.

Why do we always tell you to not take Specializations at Chargen?
Specializations cost 4 Karma at Chargen, post Chargen a specialization costs 2 Karma. Simple as that, you "lose" 2 Karma every specialization you take at Chargen.

What about Skill Groups?!
We love those! However, not all Skill Groups are created equal – some have 3 constituents, some have 4 – some offer a lot of functional diversity within them, most don’t. Skill Groups are just about as nasty as single Skills in that you're never in the black with them, however if you will use each of the consituents in a Group, they are a (way) better deal than buying the Skills singularly.

Depending on the Group, if you’re taking a sum of 8 ranks or more in two or three of the constituents of a Group, you really should start looking at whether taking the Group is a good mechanics choice.

Let’s look at the Skill Groups. We’ll judge them on the basis on whether they have 3 or 4 constituent Skills.

3 Constituent Skill Groups:
1 ranks = 20 Karma, = 24 Chargen Karma if the Skills were taken individually, but only = 12 Karma worth of post-chargen Skills Individually.
2 ranks = 40 Karma, = 48 Chargen Karma, but = 24 Karma worth of post-chargen Skills.
3 ranks = 60 Karma, = 72 Chargen Karma, but = 42 Karma worth of post-chargen Skills.
4 ranks = 80 Karma, = 96 Chargen Karma, but = 66 Karma worth of post-chargen Skills.

What do we glean from this? The 3 Constituent Skill Groups are worth it within the scope of Chargen, but not (by a long shot) when compared to buying that same Group post-chargen. The lesson being don’t ever take more than 1 rank in a 3 Constituent Skill Group at Chargen, OR if you have to, take it at rank 4 to minimize your Karma-to-dice losses...

4 Constituent Skill Groups:
1 ranks = 20 Karma, = 32 Chargen Karma, but = 16 Karma worth of individual post-chargen Skills.
2 ranks = 40 Karma, = 64 Chargen Karma, but = 32 Karma post-chargen.
3 ranks = 60 Karma, = 96 Chargen Karma, but = 56 Karma post-chargen.
4 ranks = 80 Karma, = 128 Chargen Karma, but = 88 Karma post-chargen.

You can see here, that within Chargen, any 4 Constituent Skill Group is a steal, but post-chargen, you still don’t actually gain Karma from it until you take 4 ranks, at which point you’re still actually negative on the whole Skill Group progression, but still bar-none, this is the best deal in BP-Chargen Skill purchases.

What is the overall lesson with Skills? You should take as few Skill points at Chargen as is possible, because with the BP-Chargen system, they are always going to cost you more than they would down the road. i.e. always maximize your stats around minimal skills (skills are cheap post-chargen, stats can be expensive), also always get the maximum amount of Y that you can use to build on stats with, because buying Skills with BP-Chargen is a bad, no, horrible deal.

Parts 3, 4 and 5 Continued Below - starting at Reply #11

I'm too short on time to follow up that magnum opus, but let me add a few points briefly:

1. Be careful about that point 5; you do not always want to focus on maximizing your post-chargen karma efficiency per se, because some things can only be bought with post-chargen karma: namely Magic/Resonance over 6 and Initiation/Submersion. Some characters may want to focus on having all their "must-haves" in place, karma efficient or not, so they can cut straight to the metamagic.

2. When to hardcap stats.

3. Complex Forms  and why you always get them at 6 at chargen.

4. Spells are pretty karma efficient at chargen.

5. Bonding foci at chargen.

Thanks, I actually could have used this on my first chars.

Would love to see this stickied

Haven't found that one optional rule for Karma to Nuyen. Would be worth considering that as a base for post-gen advancement in terms of gear - when to go for broke and buy that damn Foci, when to mod out your Drone, and just how BP-effective is it to grab that quality so you can use higher availability gear.

Great stuff. Definitely bookmarking this, it'll come in handy. Thank you, sir.

This is an awesome thread, thank you Emsquared! Definitely a bookmark worthy post (and I don't bookmark often), but would love to see it stickied for even easier access!


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