I'm going to host a Shadowrun game soon (have played a bit before, ages ago). It is going to be a second RPG alongside our regular group so we want to keep the time to get into the matter very low. Because of that I tend to not allow decker.

In a world so dependent on computer technology and the matrix I have some doubts if it is realistic to not bring any to the "average" shadowrun (entry game runs) though. I thought about a decker NPC but I'm not really satisfied - the group shouldn't rely on a single character whose actions and successes are determined by the GM. I also want to avoid including them on the opposition side too much.

How to solve this? More classic defense lines such as wired fences that can set off an alarm but do not require hacking? Cameras that simply record and are not observed live (sounds a bit ancient)?

For context: We play the third edition.


8 Answers 8


I think deckers are like rogues in D&D. You can live without them, but your life is much easier with one. In my group right now I have 2 Street Sams and a Healing Mage. They use contacts and pay people to erase footage and digital evidence but eventually they could need a hacker. In that situation you do what most shadowrunners do: you hire.

You can make an NPC available for a cut and have the decking moments be short but dramatic and useful to the story. You don't have to actually roll anything. Just streamline the hacking parts and have the decker say: "F*ck, I made a mistake. It will take time and guards are coming." Use the NPC decker to create rhythm and tension. Make him useful but in a realistic way. You can roll the dice if you want but you don't have to — you're the GM.

That's what I plan to do if my players try to find a decker.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I love this answer. Adding a supporting NPC to be "a voice in your ear" is great for pacing, varying up the environment (since the decker can enable/disable stuff with their hacks), and providing useful exposition during the adventure. It's actually smoother than a decker PC since you don't have to "cut away" to resolve anything. \$\endgroup\$
    – Alex P
    Commented Sep 10, 2013 at 17:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ This is a near perfect answer. I love the suggestion of how to use the decker as a pace-setter. I would likely roll dice, myself, but ignore the results, as I'm just rolling them to create the illusion to the players that he follows the same rules they do. \$\endgroup\$
    – Aviose
    Commented Feb 5, 2015 at 19:25

In my experience, the solution to "the decker problem" is simple: Strong firewalls, both at the perimeter of the corp network and at organizational/divisional boundaries. And that's "strong" as in "unless you're a legendary decker with a top-shelf deck and military-grade icebreakers, you're wasting your time and may get your brain fried just for trying".

Strong perimeter firewalls mean that the decker can't access anything at the target site unless he's onsite with the team. Strong internal firewalls mean that, once they reach the site, he's got access to one cluster of maybe a half-dozen nodes to go through before it's time to move on to a new access point. Either way, there aren't any three-hour hacking runs because he can only reach a few nodes on any given run. This also keeps him with the rest of the team instead of doing the whole job himself from the comfort of home and, if he trips some alarms while hacking the systems, that even gives everyone else something to do when security responds...

It also has the nice side benefit of giving an obvious reason why corp nets aren't being constantly overrun by every script kiddie with a couple dice of Decking and some second-hand hardware.

Conversely, if the decker is visiting public sites or sites where he has legit access in search of background information, resolve that with one or two simple rolls, just like you would for a face hitting the streets to see what his contacts know. There's no need to turn it into a full-blown matrix run.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This has another side benefit, it's a bit more realistic (from an actual sysops perspective). A corp would want as much separation between the outside world and their corporate servers as is possible. In my games Arcologies & Corporate Compounds are completely disconnected from the Matrix and have comparable internal networks for their employees to use. The higher-ups have some Matrix-connected communication devices, but not much more than that. It makes messaging/propaganda easier to distribute internally as well (I run my games a little extra dark). \$\endgroup\$
    – Gavin42
    Commented Jun 10, 2015 at 13:01

In fluff it is horrible to not have a decker.

In practice it is horrible to have a decker.

There is no winning.

With that out of the way, the real difficulty with the Decker and such is that they will become an interruption to the rest of play. Instead of actually participating in the group they tend to contribute very little to meatspace, and do a lot more in the matrix. Bonus points for the fact that they suffer penalties for being a mage, which is the other role you could ostensibly push to them because of their decent mental attributes.

With decking as it is, it's one of the major issues with 3rd Edition. I've seen enough rants and bile spewed on this topic that I was going to make each of those words a link, but unfortunately between age and Shadowrun Returns, some of those things are pretty hard to find now. In short, it requires a GM to run two sessions, or otherwise obfuscate the system down to a couple of rolls, which is not how it was originally designed to be played. As mentioned above, SR4 and 5 try to integrate hacking more closely into the group, but in 3rd none of that's there, and I do actually enjoy 3rd's hacking more, just on an intellectual level.

So, in short, you could try to simplify any decking down to matter of a couple skill rolls, but doing so will radically change its feel. Naturally, this may cause some people to worry about balance, but you can explain to the players that it's fair so long as NPC's follow it too; it won't cause too many issues. However, by doing so you run into issues, especially since SR3 doesn't have the same dice mechanics as, say, SR5, which can do this much more easily. Personally, I'd run these as a success test for the player to determine speed, an open test to determine their subtlety, and a success test for the system to respond with an alert or ICE, but that's getting outside the scope of this question.

Often what I do when I need to have tech in a game and can't have deckers is that I simply turn it into a modern espionage styled game with the idea being either A) plug in a thumb-drive with a virus or B) rip out the hard drive of a computer. As far as meatspace security measures, have you looked at the 3rd Edition quickstart guide? It contains an adventure which actually includes those unmonitored cameras (based on an outcome of a roll the camera may be observed). This goes for a lot of other things, though it's important to note that many of the solutions that are used to solve them (an Electronics roll against a security panel) could theoretically be applied to physical-presence datasteals and the like, just be sure to give players an apparent non-decker solution to the problem.


Many years ago, I read something that the designers of SR1 thought Decking and Rigging would not be "core" classes, that they just included them for the sake of completeness.

Let's also take a second and look at your average Matrix-run: the decker takes a mental ride through the neuron highway and spends about 10 minutes of game time digging through files and "pounding the electronic pavement". Meanwhile, the rest of the group is bored out of their skull, especially since my group sequesters players and the DM while in "private time"... so we end up talking about Monty Python and what happened the week before in our personal lives. Fast forward about an hour or two, and MAYBE the Decker is finally wrapping up his matrix run.

I played in a group that had no decker. Granted, we were doing a para-critter hunt so it made almost no sense to have a decker. How we handled it was that a PC had a contact who was a decker and we farmed all of the work out to that contact. The GM got to just hand us hand-outs based on what he knew we would ask about and it really made running it quicker/more streamlined and boatloads more fun. Typical groups have hours of downtime where the GM and decker are doing data runs in my experience. If I had a choice, I would play sans-decker PC in the future, not only for the time-savings but also for the immersion level that is maintained by the rest of the group.

  • \$\begingroup\$ And before someone asks for a link, my google-fu is failing me horribly. I'm currently looking for said link. \$\endgroup\$
    – Pulsehead
    Commented Sep 10, 2013 at 13:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ In SR3, I tend to agree. When I GMed, I encouraged the group to NOT have a PC decker. I think SR4 and 5 make this better, but I don't have as much experience. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 10, 2013 at 20:47

It's absolutely possible to run without a full-spectrum of Shadowrunners, particularly if the GM chooses to pitch them adventures that are not designed to punish them for the missing classes. A team of cyborg commandos who stealth their way into an enemy compound (and, inevitably, shoot their way back out) is a perfectly fun way to spend an evening. If the GM declares that they are under assault by Fire Elementals who are immune to their guns, it's less fun.

My big rule: Everyone at the table needs to be having fun, or something has to change.

Include as many or as few layers of defense as is appropriate for the table. Don't look at the sourcebooks and feel like you're not running the game right if there's not X, Y, and Z in play. Why would Johnson hire a bunch of mundanes to fight spirits? Someone decided you were the right bunch of people for this job; Hypothetically, what if they were right?


First I wanted to answer your question: I think a modern setting requires some computer dude in a group of players but as always if you play with a small group some important roles might be missing. But I think it should be a player/group decision where those missing competences are, and not forced by the GM alone.

Using Deckers with mundane characters

I was the first player in our SR3 group to demand playing a decker. I invested many time in studing the Core Book and the Matrix sourcebook and getting a good understanding for the rules of SR3 Matrix. The SR3 Matrix sourcebook contains a very good and fast way of making decking runs in the session. This use of matrix actions was as fast as roleplaying out the face with some of his contacts or doing other legwork.

I often tried to hack me an legal account - after that I could use the matrix host without further disturbance, so no need to check for everything. I usually created accounts with low profile - so shutdown of the whole matrix node was out of reach and needed further tests.

But looking through cameras and looping their feeds or opening doors/calling elevators on run made me a useful character for the group. Especially the information I could give real time was great for the other members. So my Computer(Decking) Test to look through a camera was not that much longer then a shooting samurai that needed to check modifiers for firing running, through smoke to a half-covered guardsmen.

Modern techniques for more complex matrix runs

If I would GM a SR3 group again with decker I would make use of Videochat like Skype/Hangout to make special runs for the decker outside the session. I would just assume what information he might need - like hacking into a special corporate database - and just play that run before and during the session incorporate the results of the solo decking run into the group session. This way I could incorporate some of the more complex matrix architectures from Matrix sourcebook to give the decker demanding runs. You might be forced to make his character the matrix run blind as he might not know what his character will be searching for during the session. If you allow him to try to make user accounts for host that he will certainly visit later on in the gaming session you can let him try this before the session starts too.

That is my way of playing with magic characters as they want to play astral quest too.


  • If you have a player that really wants to play a decker and is willing to learn the rules it is not that difficult to GM for him and the rest of the group. If you have no time to learn the rules yourself and you trust your player he can be your advisor (I had this role for my GM too).
  • If both you and the player feel comfortable on using modern communication technology and have time between sessions to make some special decking runs you give his character some spotlight out of session by giving him some special matrix runs. The player will be proud if the group asks him to get information on XYZ Crop and your character after a short time presents the information he gathered already before the session started to his fellow runners.

It certainly isn't WRONG by any means, but it DOES go counter to some of the fluff to not have a decker handy.

In most of my games, I've hand-waved much of decking side of it to speed things up. (I.e. just make one big roll vs. the computer-system, you roll good you get the stuff, roll bad and you set off an alarm).

I'd say have one character be the 'tech' - someone with an electronics skill to crack maglocks and perhaps have a cheap deck and a few points in computer. That keeps things moving along at a good pace, with someone to do matrix work when needed.

Lastly, the best piece of GM advice I can give you would be: Don't Worry About Realism. Worry about making an interesting plot.

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    \$\begingroup\$ An NPC decker can get the result "OK, I've bought you fifteen minutes but then the guards will start noticing" rather than "Nope, too tough, try next week" or "Good rolls; the security system is out of action till Tuesday". \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 12, 2013 at 11:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ Plus you can add in extra paranoia with NPC deckers - are they going to rat you out to the target corp? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 12, 2013 at 15:22

We played deckers too, in the beginning, but it did split those sessions to decker plays / other plays and did not worked good. So we left the concept and no active player is "main decker" any longer. Some groups just hire decker, when needed, others have it as NPC contact, some of them have it as "member, who work from home" (but is not player), some have it even as main Johnson - scanning Matrix for potential customers and runs.

Anyway no player is decker and Matrix is in out of our way, as we just ask "Can you open those doors" and get "yes/no/it is risky" answer immediately and then we do, what we can. We can SMS/email such decker, but he maybe just busy (both for helping us, or doing other job) and not answer. Sometimes we may even call him by voice, if it looks apropriate, but he do not like "waste time by talking".

There is aslo a lot we can do for him - he may need to put repeater to closed company network to be able hack it, he may need switch some computers on, or even to steal whole RAID rack and bring it physically to his lair. He can redirect us some strange "lores" from obscure forums, he just found and need to prove to be false/true.

Some players sometimes have deck and skill 2-3, but they do not play with mainframes, but only with "stupid inteligent" cameras (or similar devices), hacks Facebook forums of normal peoples, or their home computers, when we break in their home (usually finding ton of porn and sometimes some interesting emails/other evidence)

But it is fully possible play SR for years straight, play it with different settings, with different kinds of players and DO NOT HAVE real decker character :)


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