The wireless world and the ‘runners who manipulate it are often some of the most complex characters in any Shadowrun game. I know that one of the goals of the new edition was to try and improve the play-ability of the Matrix and hackers. To a certain extent, they did achieve this goal. Many tests and the way you interact with things are simpler. But as I’ve pointed out with other things, they also did a little bit of load-shifting such that even though some rolls are simpler, the relative amount of information and choices that your hacker character is juggling remains just about as high.
Matrix Attributes and Devices
Devices/Personas keep the same set of Matrix attributes from 5e, though Attack and Sleaze are now reduced to being virtually useless as their primary function is to be added together to make your Matrix Attack Rating for Edge comparisons.
Devices can still be bricked, though it is clarified now that bricking has almost no real effect beyond the moment because the device’s condition monitor can just be “healed” with a simple Engineering + Logic test and a toolkit. There isn’t even a cost in nuyen. I mention this because the writers make such a big deal about bricking and how it’s so dramatic with sparks and crackles of electricity like some bad sci-fi show and yet… repairing it is just as easy as in some bad sci-fi show.
Using the Matrix
There are some unique Edge Actions for the Matrix but unlike the combat-related Edge actions (which are all over the place broken) these are fairly tame.
Overwatch Score and Convergence are still around, and you accumulate OS really fast in this version. Any sort of illegal Matrix intrusion whatsoever has about a five to six round maximum cap before you will hit convergence. That sounds fine if all you are concerned about is combat – which this version seems to be – but is not really useful if you are attempting an actual hack for information.
Convergence is also much harsher. Convergence instantly bricks the device you are using to the access the Matrix. This raises a weird question for me that is never addressed – even in the already extant 10 pages of errata – that I’ll come to in a moment.
Cyberjacks and Cyberdecks
So – cyberdecks, as presented in 5e, didn’t make any sense. They were an item clearly designed to be super-illegal to own, and their only real value to anyone outside a corp or government security role is to be a hacker. But because PCs were supposed to be able to have one and not be constantly harassed for it, they were only restricted. But it’s kinda like wearing leather armor in old school D&D… clearly you’re the thief.
So in 6W they up the ante, making Cyberjacks a new thing that is required gear for hackers. They are cyberware meant to make users more like technomancers. They are essence-hogs (and expensive) and they are also the source of the Data Processing and Firewall attributes. Your cyberdeck controls your Attack and Sleaze but has no processing power of its own. It’s just a big flash drive that you plug into your cyberjack. Strangely though – Commlinks have both Data Processing and Firewall attributes.
Which brings me back to my previous question. When you hit convergence when you are hacking – what gets bricked – your cyberjack, your cyberdeck, both? Not explained. The convergence example box really lets us down here by having the hacker not actually get converged on…
To be generous, between the two necessary pieces of gear to hack, a new hacker who wants to be any good at their job is looking at roughly a little over 200K nuyen and most players would probably consider that level to be the bare minimum they’d be willing to risk with their most important contribution to the team. Likely you’re looking closer to 312K nuyen and nearly half your Essence.
The number of programs a hacker has to juggle has also gone up as most will likely be juggling 8-10 at a time, which is way more than necessary and once again shows how the cognitive load of the system is shifted from rolls to other things without really making it any simpler.
Matrix Perception is better. It was okay in Ae, awful in 5e, and it just works as intended it seems in 6W.
So this works more like Ae than 5e. Marks are gone and access levels are back. Though now there are only three instead of four. Every Matrix Action tells what level of access you need to implement it – though often it’s difficult to actually tell how that matters because most have multiple levels but don’t explain why or how access at different levels affects the ability to do things or the outcomes.
I’m just going to hit up two specific Matrix actions as examples of how screwed up this version is in its quest for simplicity.
Change Icon is a legal, Minor Action with no test. It lets you change a target icon. Not just your own icon, but any icon. There are no restrictions listed. Want to embarrass a fellow hacker and turn their carefully crafted avatar into an eggplant emoji? One Minor Action. (To be fair, you do need User access to their device but that’s not really much of an obstacle is it?) So, that’s annoying. Anyone who is not a hacker… just give up, you look how I want you to look now.
Spoof Command is a thorn in my side in every edition but at least Ae made it tough to do. Spoof Command in 6W gets a tiny paragraph of explanation that basically just says, you can send a command to another device. It will follow it, if it can. It thinks the command came from its owner. You can do this with Outsider, User, or Admin access. So, I can just tell every drone I meet to eject their ammo? Every smartgun? I can just tell traffic lights to change? No hacking needed (because it can be done as an Outsider), just one single role.
It’s… honestly mind-boggling how stuff like this gets through play testing or basic proofreading. If access levels are going to mean something, then they have to mean something. And if the intent is to have the GM have to make constant judgement calls about access levels then you have badly failed your GMs because this is going to be a constant headache at the table. You’ll certainly need to do a better job defining this for your organized play games.
Before I move on from Matrix Actions… it’s worth noting that – again – there is a huge list of Major Actions and a tiny list of Minor Actions so hackers with extra initiative dice are going to be out of luck with those dice.
These are still around but not in the all-pervasive way they were in 5e. They honestly work more like nodes again from Ae. All mention of the mysteries of the Matrix and the impossible foundation brought up in 5e is gone – and hosts seem to be connected to devices again. Which is just whiplash lore-bending but it really doesn’t seem that keeping the story consistent is terribly important to the current designers.
Honestly, I didn’t even read this section. I hate them. No one ever wants to play one. I can’t be bothered.
Rigging, Drones, and Vehicles
I will say, I do like the new vehicle rules. They are cleaner and using handling as a threshold for tests is a good idea. Same with drones.
That said. Autonomous acting drones have 4d6 Initiative dice. So they are going to get two Major Actions in any round they want them. This is going to be brutal for the team that doesn’t have a hacker whose only job is to spoof drones. Which is extremely effective except that with Action Economy the way it is, they won’t be able to do it fast enough and then the drones can just pile on the poor hacker and turn them into pink mist with all of their mounted weapons.
At this point, I feel like a broken record but… here we go: This edition really messes up the continuity of the lore of the Matrix. Many of the rules are not simpler so much as they are ambiguous and shift the cognitive load to other parts of play, and most of it seems like it should have been caught by even halfway competent play testing and editing. It was not.
As always, thanks for reading.