So you want to be a shadowrunner? More specifically, you want to be a Shadowrunner using the character creation rules from the early 90’s? Awesome. Let me help. Second edition Shadowrun uses a priority system to create runners. No rolling going on here. Players assign a ranking to each of the five categories; Magic, Race, Resources, Skills and Attributes. The priorities are A,B,C,D and E; A gets the most out of that category, while E provides the least. It can be tricky to figure out what is going to work. For starters, Shadowrun is definitely a game that rewards smart play. So you don’t need a great character to succeed. But it helps.
We will start with Magic, because it’s the easiest priority to assign. If you want to be a mage or a shaman it gets priority A. If you don’t want to be one of them, you can dump it to E. The only exception to this is a metahuman wielder of magic, in which case you can put priority B here, as long as you use A for your race. Magic is actually really powerful in Shadowrun. It has it’s limits, but the power that it makes available is a fair trade for your highest priority.
Race is the other easy priority to figure out. Metahumans require an A, if not you can dump it. It’s cool to be an orc, troll, elf or dwarf but is it a good move in a character building sense? If that’s who you want to be, then absolutely. Metahumans are very interesting in the world of 2050 (or wherever you choose to set this) and a party of all humans is sort of dull. There are humanist poli-clubs, metahuman terrorists and all sorts of great character hooks that come from being a nonhuman. That being said, it’s usually not a great deal to spend your highest priority to enter the metahuman club. The thing is they are each sort of railroaded into a particular type of character. I love the idea of a troll shaman, but the truth is that they are absolutely wretched in that role. The problem is that after spending A and B to be the troll shaman, they are going to wind up very deficient in one area. Yeah, it can work but they are probably going to start weaker than the rest of the party. A troll bruiser with a big mono-axe? Yes, that’s a serious character. Most of the races wind up with a net bonus in attributes, so it’s not a killer to have to move your Attributes priority down a little. The other bonus features can usually be recreated by cyberware. All this being said, I think that metahumans are way awesome and everyone should try playing one at some point.
For most characters the real decision comes down to Skills, Attributes and Resources for their A, B and C priorities. If you are a non-magical human this is the choice you have to make. So what will it be?
Skills are pretty much the lifeblood of a character and really define what they are more than anything. It’s shooting guns, driving cars, using computers, tricking people, just about anything that your character wants to do there is a skill connected to it. An E priority in Skills gets you a paltry 17 points, there is not much that you can do with that. On the other end of the spectrum, A gets you 40 skill points. That’s a whole bunch, but easily spent nonetheless. The other thing to keep in mind is that once the game starts skills are more expensive to raise then attributes, so the more you can get at character creation the better. A mage or shaman could get by with one of the lower priorities, but any other character is really going to struggle with only having 17 or 20 skill points. They are just going to be very limited in what they can do.
Unlike in some other games, Attributes do not dominate in 2nd edition Shadowrun. Usually a skill is more relevant when attempting to do something. Attributes are not really about what you can do, but rather about what other people can do to you. Resisting bullets, defending against a manaball, or taming a spirit are all related to attributes. Body is important for everybody, Willpower is really important for everybody since it is the chief way that you will defend against magic and magical defense is much harder to come by than body armor. Strength? Charisma? Very easy to get by with low scores in those. Priority E garners a measly 15 points for attributes. With six attributes (a minimum of one in each), you are looking at twos and threes for most of them. That’s tough to pull off. Cyberware can help with the physical weakness, but the mental ones will catch up to you at some point. Attributes also form the basis of reaction and combat pool, which is good for anyone who ever plans to get shot at or shoot at someone. Who should focus on attributes? Well, the one trick pony certainly should. A character that generally knows what their role is and what sort of situation they will find themselves. For example, the heavy gun specialist. He doesn’t need to know a lot of stuff. How to shoot some guns. Hmm…that might be it. They can benefit from the defense and combat pool that goes along with all the attributes. And should they need to do something on the fly they can default to an attribute and have a reasonable chance of getting lucky on a roll.
Resources are sort of the wild card of the priority process. Since money can pretty much fix any problem with a character it’s tempting to go all out with it. It’s like starting with all the magic items that you want. Priority A nets the character a whopping one million nuyen to squander on equipment and cyberware. Right off the bat you can create a very formidable character with that kind of bankroll, but it might be a little bit of overkill. First off, you should check with your GM about what they are going to allow you to purchase. A lot of the real high end stuff is military grade and may not be available at the onset. And unless you are buying a big vehicle, what are you going to spend all that money on? I could see why a rigger would go this route. A level three Vehicle Control Rig and a helicopter will cost you close to a million. But what would a street samurai do with it? Level three Wired Reflexes costs half a million, but it eats up pretty much all your essence, so you won’t be able to buy much else with your remaining loot. I suppose the right type of character could spend it on skillwires. With all this money you may find yourself in a Brewster’s Millions type of scenario, forced to spend money on all sorts of things. Priority B puts 400,000 nuyen in your pocket, which is more than enough to equip most characters if you want to have a ton of cyberware. Otherwise, priority C should be sufficient for most runners. Plus, if you have all this money up front what are you going to buy after you get paid from all those successful runs?
The other aspect of Resources is that it is also force points for the magically active, which allows them to purchase spells. Certainly you don’t want to go cheap on this, but going too high will create a mage that has no powers outside of magic. Is that a problem? Not really. Plus all the money allows for some starting spell locks or foci. And mages don’t really need a lot of skills. Sorcery and Magical Theory are a must, but other than that nothing is all the necessary. Magic can fill in all the gaps. Going lower than C creates a very narrow user of magic.
Since Shadowrun does not have character classes, character generation is a wide open process. More important that any priority assignment is having a picture in your head of what you want your character to be. The numbers will all fall into place afterwards.