Shadowrun Play > Character creation and critique

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

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I think an interesting extension of this concept would be to evaluate chargen choices in terms of desired game capabilities and minimizing the number of runs required to achieve them.

To achieve some consistency, I'd recommend looking at capabilities within the context of missions. Some example 'capabilities' could be:

* 'achieve 4 net hits with Johnson 90% of the time' - negotiation dice pools can be compared to the various Johnsons' pools: MacAllister (10), Moreau (16), typical Johnson seems to be 11.
* 'deal 10 boxes ranged damage in a single initiative pass to a rank-and-file opponent': evaluate the interplay of weapon damage, AP, and attacker's dice pool against an opponent with 5-6 ranged dodge and 8-12 soak dice
Missions typical payout seems to be around 6 karma and 11000 ny (with extremely high variation in fenced loot).  Players in a long term game might want to prioritize differently (much higher goals in a longer timeline) than players who only expect to play 10 or so missions with a character.

Well, I'm going to start going over missions and looking at the different mechanical goals that are set and how easy or hard it is for characters to stomp all over them. If anything else this may be useful for GMs wanting to adjust difficulty.

Hit the character limit with Edits to the First Post, had to continue it here:

Part 3: Nuyen and You, OR; Cash as Karma
So, you’re potentially making Karma with your Attribute selection, losing it with your skill selection, what else is a Runner to do?

Answer: Buy fun things! How do we get our Karma-best out of our Y?

Gear: At least initially, I will be focusing on common gear that largely augments or replaces certain Skills as these can (and should) directly affect your use of Karma.

Knowsofts/Linguasofts require, at a minimum, a Sim Module which is 100Y. The Knowsoftware itself is 2 – 10K. This means, for a cheap addition to your Commlink (negligible Karma cost), you can add a Rank 5 Knowledge to your repertoire for 4 Karma. Linguasoftware is even cheaper. Given that Knowledge or Language skills at rank 5 have cost you 16 Karma (you save 12 Karma by rank 5), there’s very little reason to ever invest Karma in Knowledge/Language Skills ever again after Chargen and it’s free Knowledge Skill purchases. During Chargen, if you can’t fit all of your Languages/Knowledges within your free points, it is an even better deal to just go with the Datasofts, saving you 16 Karma.

Visual Enhancers (Contacts, Goggles, Glasses, etc.) are the reason the various Metatype Visions aren’t considered significant Karma boons, above. For a few hundred Y and no ESS, a PC can have both of those vision-types in addition to a +3 to their Visual Perception pool (in addition to other utilities). Perhaps the most common Perception check (which is a very common check in itself), +3 visual perception dice-pools can easily be attained for as little as 325Y.

Audio Enhancers are the exact same. You can get a +3 to Audible Perception checks for as little as 310Y. Combine these with Visual Enhancers and you have a very very good argument, from a Karma perspective, for the "average PC" (one who doesn't particularly need an astronomical Perception Skill) to never take more than 1 rank in Perception at Chargen. Skills are simply too expensive under BP. An average INT PC, with 1 Perception rank could start with a 7 Perception pool for literally just a little more than 1/4th of a Karma point, whereas getting that same pool, without visual/audio enhancers would be a -26 Karma loss at Chargen.

The Autopicker is a handy little device that, for 1,200Y (i.e. half a Karma), can make you as good as the best unassisted locksmith in the world. Never ever ever take the Locksmith Skill at Chargen, just don’t do it, it would cost you a -36 Karma balance to be as good as this simple machine. I’d also say, you probably shouldn’t ever take it after Chargen, but this isn’t mandatory as it will stack with your Skill.

Maglock Passkeys can be attained at Chargen at a maximum of rating 4, for 8,000Y, roughly 3.3 Karma. This is equivalent to an average LOG PC with 1 rank in Hardware (a combined loss of 19 Karma, from Attribute and Skill…). Is it, then, a worthy replacement of the Skill at Chargen? No, it is not. I dare say it’s barely a worthy Chargen purchase at all - consider waiting until after, so you can get a Rating 6. You only get 1 shot with it (so you cannot depend on it for your success), best case scenario it simply doesn’t open the lock, worst case scenario it sets off some kind of notice or alarm – which facing even an average Maglock, a Rating 4 only has a 33% chance of besting.

Medkits are kind of like Autopickers. For 600Y (1/4 Karma) you can be as skilled as the most seasoned Emergency Responder, where normally it would cost you dozens in negative Karma at Chargen. From a Karma efficiency standpoint, I’d recommend the "average PC" never take First Aid out of the gate, or if it's "your thing", take 4 ranks - never just 1, 2 or 3.

Foci: the Magician's Magical… thing. Foci are huge for Magicians. Think of them as ‘ware for your Magical Abilities. At Chargen, you should only really be looking at Power Foci and Sustaining Foci. In fact, when building a Magician PC, you should start first-thing with a Power Focus Rating 4. Whaaaat!? But why? You cry. It’s so expensive! Oh really? For 10 Karma in Restricted Gear and 8 Karma in Binding and 40 Y worth of Karma, you get essentially 80 BP-Karma in your MAG Attribute, much more by post-Chargen reckoning if you’re already soft-capping your MAG. This is a boost (applies to all MAG linked skill checks) that you simply can’t get any other way. Why not wait until after Chargen, avoid Restricted Gear, you ask? Because it has a 20R Availability, sure, but more importantly it costs 24 MORE KARMA TO BIND it after Chargen(!!), so make sure you buy it AND bind it.

Sustaining Foci cost 6 Karma in Binding and 12 Y worth of Karma. What you’re getting is essentially 2 dice back to your pool for not having to sustain whatever it is you’re sustaining. Sustaining Foci cost the same to bind, before or after Chargen, so this isn’t a necessary purchase although you may not have the money for it after-Chargen for awhile.

Cyberware: you know the deal; cheap on Y, expensive on ESS. This is important because for Mundanes, the Y is often the primary concern – and although ESS cannot be bought with Karma, and despite ESS not necessarily being a limiting factor, for comparisons sake (with Bioware and to lay the groundwork for Awakened) we will count the ESS cost of ‘ware at 2 Karma per 0.1 ESS cost (1 ESS/MAG = 10 BP = 20 Karma). Accordingly, a PC has a 120 ESS-Karma budget for all time. Again, I will be focusing on ‘ware that either augments or replaces full Attributes or Skills. Awakened and their interactions with ‘ware will be addressed specifically in another section.

Cyber-eyes and ears: cost minimally 8 Karma in ESS for both. Vision and Audio Enhancements cost minimally 10K - 4 Karma, for up to +3 to both Visual and Audio Perception. Whereas the wearable vision and audio enhancers (contacts, glasses, goggles, earbuds, etc.) were a good deal, the cyberears and eye enhancements are only slightly cheaper than the Chargen skill purchase (more so if you’re not as concerned about ESS), so it is not that great of a deal for the Perception alone. If it’s something you’re gonna do for the other Vision types and other audio/visual Augs, then sure, absolutely slap on the Enhancements too, but don’t bother with these as dedicated Chargen Perception substitutes.
Activesofts/Skillwires: Skillwires cost up to 20 Karma in ESS, plus up to 4 karma in Y. Each Activesoft costs up to 40K – 16 Karma. We can see that, at Chargen, Skillwires are an expensive prospect, costing minimally 36 Karma (Rating 4 wires, 1 x Rating 4 Activesoft) for 32 BP-Karma worth of Skill. You have to have at least 1 more Activesoft for the package to be worth it, within Chargen – and 3 Activesofts for it to be worth it in Post-chargen Karma, reckoning – at which point you’ve spent over 33% of your Chargen Cash on gaining minimal (only 4 Karma!) ground Post-Chargen. The lesson here is that you really shouldn’t bother with Skillwires/Activesofts until Post-Chargen – at which point, you can cram 240 Karma worth of (about 50) Skill die into 410,000Y (and 1 ESS) worth of gear. Kind of a rich-man’s luxury. But, if you’ve got the Y and not the Karma, could be a very good deal, when used to supplement your PCs primary skill-set with things they won’t ever have to be experts at.

Muscle Replacement:  For 20 – 80 Karma in ESS (out of your 120 total), and 2 to 8 Karma in Y, you can get 40 – 160 BP-Karma worth of AGI and STR Attribute (more in Post-Chargen Karma depending on your starting Attributes). Sounds like a good deal right – just about 2 for 1? Well, when you consider that it’s 66% of your all-time ESS budget and that, unlike some other ESS-heavy ‘ware (MBW, Cyber-limbs), it doesn’t incorporate other Cyberware pathways/functions into it’s structure, this is really a pretty poor deal. If you’re considering getting Muscle Replacement, look into Cyberlimbs instead – they are far more diverse in functionality and upgradable.

Reaction Enhancers: 6 – 18 Karma in ESS, 4 – 12 Karma in Y. So, maximally 30 Karma for a max of 60 BP-Karma worth of Attribute, which is worth more in Post-Chargen Karma depending on your starting REA. For instance, with a base 5 REA, Rating 3 Reaction Enhancers are worth +105 post-Chargen Karma. This is the kind of ratio we like to see in Cyberware. Reaction Enhancers are a good deal at Chargen or after.

Wired Reflexes: the Street-Sams bread and butter. Cost 40 – 100 ESS-Karma out of your 120 budget, and 4.5 to 40 Karma worth of Y for up to 60 BP-Karma worth of REA and up to +3 Initiative Passes. How do we assign a Karma value to IPs? We really don’t, not in a number sense anyway. Initiative is very important in combat, going first and going often is an extreme advantage given the nature of combat modifiers. The more combat your table sees, the more valuable IPs are as well. Knowing that, an IP’s value is based on the consideration of next step lower in IPs. So, 2 IPs is worth twice as much as 1 IP, 3 IPs is only worth 50% more than 2 IPs, 4 IPs are only worth 33% more than 3 IPs. As you can see, the “value” of more IPs decreases as you go. Considering that the value drops but the cost increases, it is never really worth it to get WR3 at Chargen. Accordingly, WR2 is only really worth it if your main skill-set is combat and the group will be depending on you to stay alive in such a situation. However, just about anyone can benefit significantly from WR1.

Attention Coprocessor: up to 6 ESS-Karma, and a little less than 4 Karma in Y, for up to 20 Post-Chargen Karma in Perception Skill. While it does stack with Vision/Audio Enhancements, unless you're a sniper or otherwise need to have a really good Perception, you probably don't need this 'ware. So is this a legitimate replacement for the skill, and/or vision/audio enhancements? Not over the contacts, glasses and earbuds, no. But with relation to cyberears/eyes, yeah, it really is – if you aren’t inclined to get those cyberears/eyes for the other augs that is.  It’s cheaper Karma and Y-wise, but since you’re probably going to have contacts/glasses/earbuds if you don’t have cyberears/eyes, you’re probably not gonna need this bit of ‘ware either.

Encephalon (R1 and R2): there are only so many ways to Augment your LOG skills and – even if you’re a Hacker, and you’re going to take the Encephalon at R2 – this one is the worst. At 15 ESS-Karma and 12 Karma in Y, for +1 to all LOG, Encephalon is far more expensive than PuSHeD. And at 30 ESS-Karma and 30 Karma in Y, R2 for a +3 in all of your Hacking skills is more expensive than a Rating 1 Nano-hive and the more-diverse +3 Neocorts, once play starts the upkeep cost of the Nanites should be negligible. The drawback being Neocorts and their "focus" stipulation - could be prohibitive for action/AR Hackers.

Orientation System: 4 ESS-Karma, 0.5 Karma in Y, the Orientation System gives you 16(+) BP-Karma in Nav Skill or 8(+) Post-Chargen Karma. This is one of the better deals in Cyberware if it’s something you’ll be inclined to need/use. The + in parenthesis is meant to reflect that the ‘ware description indicates the minimum bonus from this ‘ware is +2. Again, be mindful of modified skill maximums. Don’t purchase more than 1 rank in Navigation at Chargen to maximize the benefit from this.

Move-by-Wire: costs 40 – 100 ESS-Karma, 20 – 70 Karma in Y. Just like WR with the additional IPs, but you also get up to 120 BP-Karma worth of REA and up to 16 BP-Karma in Dodge Skill, as well as Skillwires at level 2, 4 or 5. So basically you’re getting WR, Reaction Enhancers and Skillwires, plus a Dodge bonus. The ESS is certainly a savings over the taking those three pieces of ‘ware separately, but it’s actually more expensive Y-wise, by 16 Karma. What kind of choice does that leave for us? We don’t like Skillwires until Post-chargen because of the expense of Activesofts necessary to recoup the cost, we love REA Enhancers, and WR is good at varying levels for varying character types. Because of the Y and Karma investment, unless you already have plans to incorporate those three bits of ‘ware into your character at Chargen – at least at Rating 2, it’s probably best to save MBW purchases until post-chargen (due to the expense of the Activesofts), as the Y inefficiency means you’re losing out on other opportunities.

Bioware: will cost you an arm and a leg for your arms and your legs, but it’s oh-so-easy on the ESS. The question is, is it easy on the Karma?

Enhanced Articulation: costs 6 ESS-Karma and 12 Karma in Y, for a +1 to 9 skills. Synthcardium is cheaper for the Athletics skills by a long shot, but Enhanced Articulation is one of only 2 ways to Augment your dice pool for Infiltration, Palming and Escape-Artist (the other being Reflex Recorders) – so if you are a specialist Infiltrator, this ‘ware is something you may want to look into.

Muscle Augmentation: each rating  costs 4 ESS-Karma, and roughly 3 Karma in Y, for a minimum of 20 BP-Karma in Attribute (and even 10 post-chargen). We can therefore see immediately that Muscle Augmentation is a good deal at any level (even if your starting STR is low), but it’s a freaking steal when used at higher levels of STR. Even if you’re buying Restricted Gear for 10 Karma (so, add 28 Karma for the total +4 STR), the minimum Karma savings (if your base STR is 1, reckoned post-chargen) is 32(!) Karma and the savings just go up if your STR is higher. So, what we learn from this is that if you have the need for a high STR, the cash and the ESS, you should always incorporate Muscle Augmentation into your build – before even hitting your Natural Max if the ‘ware will get you there alone (i.e. buy Rating 4 when you have 5 STR if 9 is your Aug Max so Human or Elf), Dwarves, Orks and Trolls are another story (see Suprathyroid Gland below)...

Muscle Toner: very similar to Muscle Augmentation, 4 ESS-Karma, and we’ll call it 3 Karma in Y too although it’s a little over that, per level. We come to the same conclusions as Muscle Augmentation. Even if you have to buy Restricted Gear, if you’re trying to hit your Aug Max, buy the Rating 4 Toner to get you there prior to your Natural Max if it works out that way. So, to put it bluntly, if you’re a Human, Dwarf or Ork don’t raise your AGI beyond 5 with Karma, if you’re an Elf don’t raise it beyond 6, then get the Rating 4 Toner to hit your Aug Max at Chargen or after. Any build that needs at least some competency with any method of combat can benefit from Muscle Toner, and any build that is a primary combatant should have Toner, either at Chargen or after.

Suprathyroid Gland: must be purchased with Restricted Gear so we have 10 Karma for the Quality, plus 14 ESS-Karma, plus the 18 Y Karma. You get +1 to the four Physical Attributes, BOD, AGI, REA, STR, which is a minimum of 80 BP-Karma, or 40 Karma post-chargen in the unlikely event that all of you Physical Attributes are at 1. The big deal here is that the ST-Gland is the only way to augment your full BOD attribute. So if you have a character that is going to push their BOD to the max, this is a necessary component of that. Furthermore, if you have a character that needs all of their Phys Attributes to be exceptional, this bit of ‘ware is probably for you. It’s a necessary component for a Troll to Aug Max their STR and can even save Dwarves and Orks some Karma in that department too. However if you have a PC that doesn’t really need that extra STR or BOD boost, there’s more efficient ways to boost AGI and REA alone.

Synthcardium: 2 ESS-Karma, 4 Y Karma per rating level for +1 to the 4 (or 5) Athletics Group Skills. That’s a minimum of 20 BP-Karma, you’re buying. As you can see it’s a good deal any way you cut it.

Tailored Pheromones: 4 ESS-Karma, 6 Y Karma for each step of +1 to your CHA and the 6 Social Skills (!). Tailored Pheromones is up there for the best deal in all of ‘ware. 10 Karma “spent” for a minimum of 68 BP-Karma. Que ridiculo. Even if you don’t have a Face character, it’s hard to argue with this deal. They have no effect on Awakened abilities though, so Shamans ignore them. But any PC who will make good use of the Social Skills, why not?

Cerebral Boosters: cost 4 ESS-Karma and 4 Y Karma per rating for a +1 to LOG Attribute. This is a minimum gain of 12 BP-Karma at Chargen. As the only way to boost the LOG Attribute directly, this is a popular piece of ‘ware. Ideal for everyone from B&E Experts to Hackers to Medics to Hermetic Mages. If you’re not investing in a wide array of LOG linked Skills but need to be good in the ones you do take, Cerebral Boosters are a good investment over, say, raising the Attribute naturally at Chargen.

Reflex Recorders: 2 ESS-Karma plus 4 Y Karma for a +1 to 1 Combat or Physical Skill. As these are the only way to augment a number of skills that have otherwise very few ways to augment, Reflex Recorders should probably be on any character you build. The Karma savings aren’t that great at low levels (even negative post-chargen), but how else are you going to come anywhere near your Augmented Max with your Combat  Skills if you’re Mundane? You’re not, so you’re gonna buy this ‘ware, probably multiple times before it’s all said and done.

Synaptic Booster: the Rich Man’s Wired Reflexes. Identical in function, SBs cost 10 ESS-Karma plus 32 Y Karma per level. SBs are cheaper than WR on a Karma basis at Level 1 and 3, but not, interestingly, at SB/WR2. They are of course considerably more expensive on a Y basis at every level. If you’re taking Boosters for your Initiative improvement method, you should probably take it at level 1 and then increase it’s rating later in play (remember the diminishing returns explored in Wired Reflexes?). Otherwise you’re not gonna have any cash left to take advantage of the other great Chargen Karma deals to be found in ‘ware.

Reception Enhancers: I’m not even going to go into these, just forget about them. They’re expensive in every regard, there’s too many other, better ways to augment your Perception Skill. Just forget that Reception Enhancers even exist.

Genetic Optimization: there are exactly 3 ways to boost any given stats maximum rating. Two are Positive Qualities (Exceptional Attribute and Metagenetic Improvement), the other is Genetic Optimization. GO costs 4 ESS-Karma and 18 Y Karma. The 2 Qualities both cost 40 BP-Karma. Metagentic Improvement also boosts that Attributes Minimum – so you “gain” 20 BP-Karma back. Therefore, Genetic Optimization is a better option than Exceptional Attribute but a worse option than Metagenetic Improvement. Metatypes may take GO in Attributes to bridge their gap with other Metatypes, or anyone might take it to push a certain skill-set just that much further. A SURGE II or III Character is capable of utilizing all 3 of these Attribute-Max boosting methods.

Bioware Cont'd

Adapsin: 4 ESS-Karma and 12 Karma in Y for a -10% to Cyberware ESS cost. Not available at Chargen, Adapsin, on it's face, should be a reasonable choice for anyone planning on taking more than 2.0 ESS in cyberware in the future, but where Adapsin really shines is for someone who wants to become a cyberlimb monster, the guys that want to go whole-hog and are getting all 4 limbs, torso and skull - normally these cost 6.25 ESS (so, not possible without Alphaware or a Quality), with Adapsin it's 5.625 ESS. Throw in Biocompatability (Cyberware) with this and you've got a full 1 ESS to work around - alpha, beta and deltawares would only make it even better. Isn't cyber-life grand?

Daredrenaline: 2 ESS-Karma and 10 Karma in Y for to +1 WIL tests. This includes Stun Damage and Spell Resistance - as well as all WIL-linked Skill tests. So although you don't get the Stun Box, this is nearly as good as a full point to your WIL attribute. Accordingly, it really doesn't make sense unless you already have a 3 or higher WIL attribute. Then when you take into consideration you essentially acquire a (slightly worse version - threshold 3 - of a) 10 Karma (5 BP) Negative Quality (Poor Self Control - Thrill Seeker) with this genetech, it's benefits become more dubious. If you're an already Augmented Magician, you can get +1 Drain Resistance dice here, and that may be worth it, PCs who already have the Thrill Seeker Neg Quality also have less to lose from this.

Dynomitan: 4 ESS-Karma and 12 Karma in Y for +1 to all INT skill tests. Skills highlighted here would mainly be Perception, Shadowing, Disguise, and Assensing for Awakened PCs (yeah, there are 5 others, but they're pretty niche). Considering that you also pick up what could be a 10 (if not 20) Karma Neg Quality with this Genetech, AND all the other ways to Augment Perception and even all INT Skills, this really isn't a very good piece of 'ware. In fact, you should probably never buy it for any build.

Neo-EPO: 4 ESS-Karma and 12 Karma in Y for +1 to all Athletics and Fatigue tests. It's not much cheaper than Enhanced Articulation (and does less) and is considerably more expensive than Synthcardium (and does less), but it is a dice pool modifier so it will stack - so if Athletics are a big part of your thing, go ahead and pick up Neo-EPO too, just make sure it's the very last Athletics-augmentation you buy.

PuSHeD: 2 ESS-Karma and 6 Karma in Y for +1 to all LOG skill tests(!). Considering LOG has the largest skill-pool beneath it, PuSHeD is a great deal for any LOG-skill-oriented PC, Hacker, Rigger, Medic, etc., preferable to Encephalon by a long shot. There really is nothing bad to say about this bit of Genetech.

Qualia: 8 ESS-Karma and 10 Karma in Y for a +1 to all INT Skill tests. I don't know what they think is so great about INT Skills, not like this helps your intiative, but at least you don't acquire a Negative Quality for it. It is one of two ways to Augment INT skills, and it's the worse of the two. It is a dice-pool modifier though, so if you're trying to squeeze the most out of those INT skills, it's here.

Reakt: 8 ESS-Karma and 12 Karma in Y for a +2 to REA based Defense Tests. So maybe it could be reckoned as like buying 1/3 of 2 points in REA (no skill or initiative benefits)? So, it's worth 8 Karma and up? That's not really accurate though. Passive Dodge is (IMHO) extremely important for Primary Combatants, avoiding damage completely is more efficient than soaking it, in any circumstance - the problem being you're putting an Attribute-Only Pool up against an Attribute+Skill Pool. Still, any Primary Combatant can benefit from this 'ware - though it's especially worth it as a cap-stone for those with an already elevated REA (say, through WR and REA Enhancers).

Synch: 6 ESS-Karma and 12 Karma in Y for +1 to Perception and a very rare +1 to all Combat Skill Tests (including Defense). It's got this quirk where it doesn't kick in until the enemies first attack, so I think this is why it isn't more popular (I know our group went through our first two sessions without our enemies ever firing a shot), but otherwise this is a really good bit of 'ware, recommended for any Primary Combatant.

Limbic Nanoware: Including Nanohive, the Limbic Nans cost a minimum of 15 ESS-Karma and 6 Karma in Y, up to 10 Karma in Y, for +1 - 3 to all INT Skill Tests. If you're augmenting your INT Skills go with this route, and you should go all in with the Rating 3 Limbic Nans - it doesn't cost you anymore ESS than Rating 1, just a few more Y. Really, though, if you're getting Limbics, you're getting a Nanohive so you should at least get a Rating 2 Hive so you can cram some more cheap augs into the ESS-expensive Hive. Like....

Neocortical Nanoware: same deal as the Limbics, costs a minimum of 15 ESS-Karma and 6 Karma in Y, up to 10 Karma in Y, for +1 - 3 to all LOG Skill Tests. If you're a Hacker or otherwise LOG-Skill oriented character, you should seriously consider Neocorts. Better than Encephalon, better than PuSHeD (because you can get up to +3), this is just the way to go to boost your LOG skills you can't do without.

Cyberlimbs: Such a classic trope of cyberpunk, but such oh-so-complex rules! Why!?! What skills can I apply X limb to? What is my situational BOD vs. my overall BOD? Or STR? Or Armor?! Ohhh, the trans-humanity! ... ...

Cyberlimbs are fun, you can do some unique things with them, for that reason (among others...) they're hard to judge the Karma efficiency of. So what we're gonna do instead is look at some comparative purchases. Let's say the scenario is a 5 AGI Human, and compare an Obvious, Custom Full Arm (3 BOD, 3 STR, 9 AGI) to the purchase of Rating 4 Muscle Toner, looking to improve his primary pools (combat and stealth).

The cyberlimb costs 20 ESS-Karma and just short of 9 Karma in Y, the Toner costs 16 ESS-Karma and 22 Karma in Y and Restricted Gear. The 'limb is more expensive in ESS, but considerably less expensive in chargen resources in general. Of course, the limb's AGI only applies to actions taken with that limb only - which pretty much equals single arm attacks (but could also conceivably include Forgery, Locksmith and Palming), and assuming the BOD and STR are equal to the PCs naturals, the rest is a wash (though you do gain +1 Phys Soak Box). So, what we end up with is 1/2 of the functionality (you lose Gymnastics, Infiltration and any two-handed weapon or full-body attack, so Archery, the big Automatics, Longarms, and Unarmed Combat, as well as other Skills) for about 3/4 of the total cost in resources. This would lead us to the reasonable conclusion that such Cyberlimbs are probably not a good deal for Stealthy Primary Combatants - who are generally ESS-intensive, but possibly not a bad option for characters who aren't concerned with stealth and their combat role is only supportive - and plan on using one-handed weapons (Blades, Clubs, Pistols, Sub-MGs, Throwing Weapons), who aren't necessarily otherwise ESS intensive (so maybe a Hacker or Face could have reasonable cause).

A STR cyberlimb would compare similarly, because although the main function of STR for a combatant is increasing melee damage, you would gain almost no benefit to the STR-linked Skills without all 4 limbs - which is very ESS intensive, quite like Muscle Replacement, which is why I recommended that if you are considering Muscle Replacement, just get cyberlimbs instead. You can ultimately get the same benefit for the same massive ESS-cost (albeit more Y) but there's so many additional fun things you can put into cyberlimbs - like Gyromounts, Hidden Slides and Holsters, and Cyberweapons, etc. so how do we weigh those in? Really what the ultimate conclusion is, is that taking a Cyberlimb should largely be made on the level of flavor and RP choices - if it's a cyberpunk trope that you love and wish to honor, you can absolutely make effective use of it, it may not be optimal in all regards or circumstances - but the Rule of Cool ... well, it rules.

Part 4: the Others – Qualities, Spells, Contacts, Martial Arts, etc.

Qualities: First off, you should always take your full -35 BP (70 Karma) in Negative Qualities, not only are these great for crafting your PCs story and flavor, but you can also usually end up with a fairly mechanically innocuous set of Qualities, for a significant gain. With Posi-Qualities you can grab some Skill, Attribute and ability bonuses that are not available anywhere/way else. Where are the good deals and where are the lemons?

+1 or 2 to X-Skill or Test(s): there are lot's of Qualities (Animal Empathy, Codeslinger, Double Jointed, First Impression, Guts, Home Ground, Quick Healer, Analytical Mind, Catlike, Inspired, Linguist, Natural Athlete, Outdoorsman, Perceptive, School of Hard Knocks, Tech School Education, Trustworthy, Water Sprite, and maybe others) that give a bonus of +1 or 2 dice pool or skill modifier to one or more Skills or specific Tests. In general, these are not good investments unless you are trying to be a best of the best specialist in regards to the Skill(s) or Test to which the Quality pertains.

Some stand out (Codeslinger, First Impression, possibly Quick Healer - if you take some 'ware for synergy, and Home Ground for NPCs) as being better deals than the others. Some stand out (Home Ground for PCs, Perceptive and Trustworthy) as options that you should never take. All the rest again should probably only be taken if you're trying to be the best around at that particular thing.

Ambidextrous: don't dual-wield firearms unless you take this, and don't take this unless you're going to dual-wield (i.e. it's a specialist thing).

Aptitude: Spending 20 Karma for the ability to spend 14 Karma to get 1 more dice in any skill is a dubious option, at best. Aptitude is something that should only be taken by a PC who is trying to be the best of the best in X Skill, and even then only if the Skill is not easily Augmented (so Combat Skills are good options - LOG, INT, and Physical/Athletic Skills are bad options). If you're thinking about taking Aptitude, look through the above mentioned "+1 or 2 to X-Skill" Qualities first, as you may be able to get that die, or more die, cheaper.

Exceptional Attribute: 40 Karma to up a Natural Attribute Maximum by 1. There are two other ways to do this, one is a Metagenetic Quality and therefore will not be covered explicitly here and the other is Bioware/Genetech, covered above. Exceptional Attribute is the worst of these options. Exceptional Attribute is only appealing in 2 cases: the first is for a PC who is going "all in" on boosting a single Attribute. So, if you're taking Metagenetic Improvement AND Genetic Optimization both in a single Attribute, it's not a horrible idea to top it off with Exceptional Attribute - especially if it gets you that extra Augmented Maximum die. Also, it's more appealing if you're choosing an Attribute that isn't easily Augmented with 'ware (so AGI, STR, REA and LOG are bad options - that extra 1 die likely just isn't worth the investment). So, All-In Specialists or maybe an already Augmented Magician might benefit from boosting a Drain Attribute would reasonably choose this.

Focused Concentration: it's a tempting Quality, because dealing with Drain is perhaps a Magicians biggest concern so there could always be a compelling argument for this Quality - espcially if you're an Over-caster type. You're probably either dealing with Drain by choosing spells and force carefully or you're just doing everything you can to pump up those Drain Attributes - this Quality is the next best thing.

High Pain Tolerance: Strictly worse than Damage Compensators, each level of HPT costs 10 Karma, where each level of DCs costs 8 Karma (2 of that in ESS-Karma). Though it's not by much, so if you're tight on Y and/or ESS, you could consider this Quality. Note though that you'll never be able to pick up any other forms of damage compensation with the Quality...

Lucky: oh, Lucky Quality - how unlucky is he who chooses you? 40 Karma for the potential of 1 more point in EDG. Even if your GM refreshes EDG every second, this Quality is not worth it. Seriously though, even if you're building a Mr. Lucky Character with an EDG-friendly refresh policy, this Quality (much like Exceptional Attribute) is usually a bum deal. Perhaps this advice is tinted by my own lack-luster experience with EDG, but I generally find it's better to invest your resources in just being consistently good at what you do.

Magic Resistance: I get healed by my own Magician a lot more than I am targeted by the Spell of another Magician. This is not a good Quality.

Murky Link: No. Just no.

Natural Hardening: You can buy a Rating 7(!) Biofeedback Filter for as much as this Quality costs... don't take this Quality.

Natural Immunity: extremely narrow applicability makes this a bad choice for any PC (or NPC) who is not using it to make himself immune to a buffing drug.

Photographic Memory: a fairly intangible yet decidedly niche mechanical benefit... probably not worth the cost, but could be quite useful for the right character and is good flavor. Decision should be made on the level of an RP choice.

Resistance to Pathogens/Toxins: If you're going to take this Quality, take it at the 10 BP level... Neither Pathogens nor Toxins have never been that commonly used against me at the tables I've played at, and Pathogens least, so if you have reason to believe you might use it more than once or twice in your campaign, you could consider taking this.

Toughness: 20 Karma for 1 physical soak box or 20 Karma for 1 physical box, damage resistance, more armor, and resistance to poisons and such, etc.? Don't take Toughness.

Will to Live: you know, I actually kind of like this Quality if you're a primary combatant and you pair it with Vasocon (Bioware/Genetech). More importantly though, I like this for a Missions-specific Primary Combatant - or for anyone who wants to hang onto their PC for as long as possible. I tend not to get too attached to my SR characters, but maybe that's because I've never taken this Quality?

Martial Arts: on their face, Martial Arts are essentially 10 Karma Posi Qualities that give you a +1 to a situational dice pool (Advantages). Whether it's to DV or various types of attacks or actions. Which at face value is actually kind of expensive, similar to the "+1 or 2 to X-Skill or Test(s)" Qualities that I generally recommend against. However, when you consider that these bonuses almost always stack and are often unattainable through any other method, Martial Arts clearly become a worthwhile expenditure of resources for a character who has melee fighting as primary aspect of their role. That said, melee combat is usually very situational and unless that's your PCs "thing" (like an Unarmed Adept), I would advise against investing too heavily in Martial Arts at Chargen - because you can pick them up during play, for no loss or gain in Karma over doing it at Chargen.

Furthermore, when we look at Maneuvers, we can compare them to Specializations, at Chargen (4 Karma). Maneuvers are best when used in synergistic organizations (i.e. combined with other Maneuvers, Advantages or Qualities), but can also be good RP elements. Some Maneuvers are better than others. In general, Maneuvers where you have to give up a successful attack  (Clinch, Disorient, Herding, or Set-up) for a later bonus or other effect should be avoided (like the plague). Because of how combat works in Shadowrun, you want to apply that damage as soon as possible, whenever you have the chance - not more later, or for some effect on the following IP. Yes, even combining Set-up with Finishing Move isn't all it's cracked up to be, because if you choose to deal damage from the first attack, instead of Set-up, not only will the defender potentially have the damage modifiers from that, but they'll have -1 dice for already having defended against an attack. The exception being if your opponent is heavily armored and you'd need the extra successes to do anything to them at all, or if it's an RP-choices.

Many more Maneuvers border on RP-choices (Blind Fighting, Break Weapon, Ground Fighting, Sweep), because while their applications can be used effectively, they are such niche situations that the cost may not really make sense, even when considering the "Rule of Cool" that comes with them. And some are just poor choices (Evasion, Focus Will, and Vicious Blow), which no one should probably ever take.

That leaves us the alright ones (Full Offense, Multi-Strike, Off-hand Training) and the good ones (Disarm, Finishing Move, Iajutsu, Riposte, Throw, Two Weapon Style, and Watchful Guard). Many (if not all) of these recommendable Maneuvers are only recommendable when combined with other Maneuvers (or Advantages or Qualities). I'm not going to go into all of the combinations, you should either study them until they are apparent to you, or there are other threads which go into this at length.

Spells: these are, of course, the reason most players decide to make a Magician. Spirits are great (fantastic even), but who doesn't love a good face-melting?  The one Karma-efficiency thing to note for Spells is that they are slightly cheaper after Chargen, than during  (6 Karma vs. 5 Karma) - not really a big deal, but Magicians are always gonna be tight on BP, so you should try to take the minimal number of Spells that will give you the capabilities you want. For instance, taking your full 15 Spells at Chargen when you could do fine with just 10 is a whole post-Chargen Spell-worth of Karma, and that saved 15 BP saved is a good portion of that Force 4 Power Foci which if you buy now, will save you Karma down the road...

As with everything you do in your build, you should look for Synergy too, and Spells are a huge part of that for Magicians. If you are a Shaman, you should be able to easily dabble in Facing, if you're Hermetic you should be able to easily dabble in any of the multitude of LOG skills, especially First Aid and Medicine, but also B&E (Hardware) and sabotage skillsets (Demolitions, Mechanics, etc.). This Synergy should not only come from your Attributes, but also your Spells to buff those Attributes and augment those roles and skillsets.

Contacts: are probably the most under-valued and over-looked portion of Chargen. When BP runs tight, it's Contacts that get the axe. This is a shame, because Contacts should be more than just someone who hooks you up with Johnson, or whom you buy and sell things from and to, or whom you ask about X topic for their expertise. Especially if you're allowed to use Advanced Contact rules, Contacts should be integral parts to your PC who either cover your weaknesses or augment your strengths even further (ideally, both). With Group Contacts for just a few more Karma on top of what you might normally invest in a good Contact, you can have Magical and Matrix knowledge and capabilities just a 'link away.

Taking a Group Contact is a good way to avoid redundant Contacts too, like taking a Fixer and a Johnson, or a Bar Tender and a Blogger, or when you could have just replaced all of them with a well-Connected Hacker Group Contact. Bottom line get the most out of your Contact purchases; avoid Contacts with redundant functions.

Part 5: Adepts, OR; Why Does Everybody Hate Me?!

So why do Adepts get an entire Part on their own? What makes them such a special snowflake? Well, not only are Powers a unique method of augmenting your dice-pools, but also nowhere else is the efficiency comparison of certain choices able to be made so directly, due to the literally binary choice of losing ESS (adding 'ware) equals lost MAG (lost Powers).

This Part will address comparisons under core rules mainly, but will contain asides regarding the optional rules of Adept Ways and Adept Geasa.

Attribute Boost: I think sometimes gets a bad rep, and only somewhat deservedly so. Here's the deal; say you have a 5 MAG and level 1 Attribute Boost Power (Cost = 5 ESS-karma), on average that will yield a bonus of 2 to your Physical Attribute of choice (AGI?) for 4 Combat Turns (which adds up to a lot of IPs if you have 2 or 3 per CT), which (if you have a 3 BOD and 3 WIL) yields a very small risk (~6%), on average, of taking Drain. At low ranks, that makes this Power out to be pretty much free Attribute points - at the cost of a Simple Action. The sticking point is, 1.) it takes a simple action - and for it to be any good, it must be your first action - which is a crucial point in combat  (remember you want to do damage as early as possible) and 2.) don't take it a higher than level 1. Why? Because you only generate a 33% greater chance of getting a bonus to your Attribute for a nearly 100% increase in your chances of suffering from Drain (from ~6% to ~%50).

What's our take away lesson(s)? An Un-augmented Firearms Adept should probably consider taking this Power, it's a cheap boost and they'll still have a Simple Action to take a SA shot in the first round. An Augmented Firearms Adept could also consider taking this Power, but may often be "wasting" net hits of this Power, it may not be a bad choice though because it would allow you to limit your augmentations in the stat you choose to use this Power for, thereby freeing up more ESS/MAG for other Augs. A Melee Adept (Augmented or not) probably should not take this Power, because they essentially lose their first IP (no Complex Action), for a +2 to dice pool on the following IP - this is not a good trade (see Martial Arts and general Combat Theory).

Blind Fighting: we'll be comparing the Power to the Martial Arts Maneuver of the same name. This is an interesting comparison, both cost 10 Karma. The Maneuver reduces the penalty to -3, the Power to -4. For the Maneuver the attacker must be within range of your other senses (Hearing being the limiting one), the Power has no such hindrance (you'd get this bonus to someone who is silenced as well as invisible, for example). Combine the better reduction in penalty, and that Power Points are quite precious, and we come to the determination that you should probably not take this Power.

Combat Sense: costs 10 Karma per level, the closest comparable 'ware is Reakt and loosely Reaction Enhancers. Oddly enough, they all come out to 10 Karma per rank, though both sets of 'ware are in fact easier on the ESS/MAG. Is the Chargen choice purely one of flavor then? No. First off, Reaction Enhancers add directly to the REA stat (so Initiative and Skills too), not just Passive Dodge, but Reaction Enhancers and Reakt can also be taken at higher grades of 'ware down the road, meaning even less ESS/MAG cost (i.e. more ESS-room for other 'ware). If you're allowed Ways and/or Geasa, the Chargen choice becomes a wash, if not favoring the Power in the case of being able to use both optional rules. But still, down the road advancement is going to favor the 'ware due to higher-grade 'ware.

Enhanced Perception: 5 ESS-karma for +1 to Perception Tests. Ehh, I could get into the math, but there's no point; just don't take this Power ever. It boosts the most easily boosted Skill in the game, for a higher cost than the easiest way of doing it. Visual and Audio Enhancers will cover 99% of your Perception Tests and cost 10% of the Chargen Karma resources, with none of it coming from your precious Power Point pool. If you simply must have the ultimate Perception Pool as an Un-augmented Adept, use the Improved Ability (Non-combat) Power to do it, because it costs the same and it's limit is 1.5xSkill vs. just INT. If you're an Augmented Adept, I wouldn't recommend using 'ware or this Power to boost your Perception, especially at Chargen, the other options are more valuable, though a high-grade Attention Coprocessor would be the way to do it if you do.

Improved Ability (Combat): is simply the Holy Grail of Adepts. Mechanically/mathematically, it's really what makes an Adept ever worth being an Adept. Without this Power, as far as I know, it is impossible for any PC to reach the 1.5 x Skill Augmented Maximum rating for any Firearm or Melee Combat Skill. If you can use a Way and/or Geasa, doing it here is just icing on the cake. Combine this Power with Weapon Foci and Adepts become truly ultimately terrifying combatants. The short of the long is that it's this Power that makes Adepts (Augmented or not) potentially the best possible at what anybody does in combat.

Improved Ability (Non-combat): is no less great than it's Combat counter-part. Many non-combat Skills can be augmented to their maximum by other means, and many have lots of augmentations that aren't subject to the Skill max, but many cannot (notably most of the Stealth Skills). So if you are an augmented Adept, and will take advantage of both methods of Skill boosting, this Power can propel you to otherwise unattainable levels. Even as an un-augmented Adept, this Power compares favorably to basic Reflex Recorders, it lags behind things like visual/audio enhanced contacts/earbuds, Synthcardium, PuSHeD, and other pool augmenters in raw dice vs. investment, but again this Power is a Skill augmentation, so it stacks with many of those.

Improved Physical Attribute: is where un-augmented Adepts fall apart. 15 Karma for +1 to a Physical Attribute compares poorly even to the basic 'ware Physical Attribute enhancements (Reaction Enhancers, Muscle Augmentation/Toner). The one thing this Power "excels" at (and I use the term very loosely) is BOD, which can only otherwise be augmented by a Suprathyroid Gland, which it still falls short of in it's "per Attribute boost vs investment", but since there is no other way to augment your BOD Attribute, you have to give this Power some respect in that regard. Otherwise, even with the optional rules of Adept Ways and Adept Geasa, this Power only comes on-par with the 'ware. And then when you consider 'ware can be upgraded to consume less ESS, again the 'ware stands head and shoulders above the Power.

Oh wait, I forgot to mention, here's the real kicker; with this Power, to raise an Attribute above it's natural maximum the Power Point cost doubles. So you're looking at 30 Karma for a 7 AGI. All discussion can really end right there - forget about deltaware forget about Ways and Geasa, there's no comparison. We don't even need to mention how even if you buy this Power to augment your 5 natural AGI to 6, you can no longer naturally raise that Attribute (this Power is the only augmentation that takes a "hard" spot in your Attribute. If you buy a 6 you bought 6, it will not stack to a 7 if you wanted to raise your Attribute naturally (how crappy is that?). Do not take this Power unless you're trying to be some ultimate tank, and even then you may just be better off taking Mystic Armor. This Power is why you "should" always be an augmented Adept. You simply can't compete with the Attribute boosting ability of 'ware otherwise. Everything else can be considered roughly a wash with Adepts potential to Initiate, and the optional rules, but not this. Improved Physical Attribute can't get the job done.

Improved Reflexes: costs 30 50 and 80 Karma at it's 3 levels, this compares quite favorably to Wired Reflexes even on just an ESS/MAG basis. And while it compares similarly well to Synaptic Boosters on a total resource investment basis, it cannot match this bit of 'ware on it's pure, low-ESS/MAG investment. If you've already chosen to be an Augmented Adept, especially a heavily augmented one (which I would consider 2 ESS put into 'ware as heavy), you could consider using Synaptic Boosters for your Initiative enhancement, but even then you're looking at a long expensive wait, for the higher-grades so it's probably not advisable. Best case scenario as an Adept, you take this Power and your GM let's you use Ways and Geasa - speaking of which, this Power (along with Improved Ability (Combat), is why you should always follow the Warrior's Way, if you're doing the primary combatant thing as an Adept.

Kinesics: compares exactly to Tailored Pheromones, 10 Karma, for +1 to all Social Tests. Just as Tailored Pheromones is one of the best bits of 'ware in the game, Kinesics is one of the best Powers. On the augmented vs. un-augmented side, you can of course get higher grades of the 'ware, allowing you to cram more 'ware into however much ESS you've chosen to give up, and it's not even all that expensive. Which to me, means you should probably get the 'ware instead, because even if you can use a Way, you don't want to use the Speakers Way due to a dearth of high-cost Powers - you'll have troubles recouping the Karma you spent on the Way in the first place. But also, they stack with each other too, so you can also go that Adept-Pornomancer route and get Pheromones and Kinesics if you want to throw 20+ dice on your Social checks.

Quick Draw: is up for comparison against the Martial Art Maneuver Iaijutsu. The Power costs 10 Karma, the Maneuver costs 14 (though you also get an Advantage with this investment...). The Power has a test threshold of 2, the Maneuver is 3. As you can see, the Power compares well to the Martial Art, you get more from the Martial Art but the threshold is lower for the Power. Long story short, if you're a primary combatant Adept, this Power is a worthy choice - unless you're short on Power Points, in which case, the Martial Arts route isn't that much more costly and you'll also get a +1 DV or something out of it too.

So, what is the moral of the story in all this? Augmented Adept or Un-augmented Adept? The choice really is easy, if you haven't chosen to be an un-augmented Adept for RP reasons, you should always take at least 1 point in ESS worth of 'ware (for Muscle Toner, plus extra). You can cram a lot into that, and you can keep cramming as you upgrade the 'ware. Especially if your GM allows the optional rules of Ways and Geasa, 1 point is probably all you really NEED to take, though 2 ESS is reasonable for a melee-focused Adept, as you're probably augmenting more Attributes. Or, talk to your GM about house-ruling Improved Ability to not be a complete waste of PP.  Point him/her to this thread ;)

Regarding Mystic Adepts, you should just take advantage of the best parts of each aspect. For the caster part of you, that means getting a Rating 4 Power Foci and a Sustaining Foci, for the Adept part of you, that means Improved Ability (Combat) and Weapon Foci. Use the Spell and Sustaining Foci for your Initiative enhancement. It's a super-duper-resource-intensive build, and you're going to lack in some regard or another at the start, but you can reasonably have 10-12 Spellcasting dice, while still having 15+ dice in your primary combat pool, or Face pools, or whatever you want to do with your Adept-hood.

That's about all I got.

If there are things you think I've missed that could reasonably be addressed, in this section or others, let me know and I'll see what I can do. Otherwise, take the information in this thread and use it to make yourself a character that is crunchy and interesting. Enjoy!

Character Study:

HERE is a link to a "before and after" study of the Weapon Specialist Archetype that tries to bring all of these principles together. It is a post from page 5 of this thread.

I extended your analysis of attributes purchased with BP vs. karma and considered total costs when including a range of racial modifiers (From a pixie's -3 to a troll's +4)

The table below compares the total karma cost vs. the BP (x2) cost of purchasing 1-6 attribute points given various racial modifiers. A positive value indicates it is more efficient to purchase that attribute level with BP versus post-generation karma points.

This table supports the common wisdom not to hard-cap an attribute (with an optional exception for troll body/strength) and to increase important attributes by 4, unimportant attributes by 0.  The BP value of racial modifiers can be evaluated considering the importance of a particular attribute and the total karma savings the modifier 'unlocks':
Unimportant: 0 pts
Important - 2 : -5*
Important -1 : -5
Important: +1 : 20 karma pts (difference of cumulative savings between 5 (+0) and 5 (+1)
Important: +2 : 40
Important +3 : 60
Important +4 : 80

* This only indicates that soft-capping at -2 is only slightly less efficient than soft-capping at +0, not that -2 dice in an important attribute won't hurt

My interpretation:
Human : +20 karma for edge max characters, otherwise 0
Elf : -10 karma if only 'CHA' is important stat, +10 karma if 'CHA' and 'AGI' are important
Ork : +20 karma min (assuming everyone loves 'BOD'), +60 if 'STR' is valued too
Dwarf : -10 karma if only 'WIL' and 'BOD' important, +30 if 'STR' valued too; possible additional -10 due to reaction
Troll : 0 if 'BOD' important, +80 if 'BOD' and 'STR' important, possible additional -10 due to reaction

*Edit to note that this is essentially the same breakdown as your metatype analysis.

When I get the chance I will look at the values of Metagenetic Improvement, Genetic Optimization, and Exceptional Attribute.

Incremental point savings

--- Code: ---   Racial Modifier
Att -3 -2 -1 0 1 2 3 4
1 0 0 0 0
2 -10 -10 -10 -10 0
3 -35 -5 -5 -5 -5 0
4 -30 0 0 0 0 0
5 -25 5 5 5 5 0
6 -20 10 10 10 10
7 -15 15 15 15
8 -10 20 20
9 -5 25
10 0

--- End code ---

Cumulative point savings

--- Code: ---      Racial Modifier
Att -3 -2 -1 0 1 2 3 4
1 0 0 0 0
2 -10 -10 -10 -10 0
3 -45 -15 -15 -15 -5 0
4 -45 -15 -15 -5 0 0
5 -40 -10 0 5 5 0
6 -30 10 15 15 10
7 -5 30 30 25
8 20 50 45
9 45 70
10 70

--- End code ---


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