I don't remember reading official rules on the subject but I think it's fairly logical to have the ability, as a GM, to give characters new negative qualities if the situation is appropriate. The most obvious example would be to get a criminal sin after being caught by Knight Errant (and possibly released after calling the right contact asking for a big favor).

But I'm looking at some other negative qualities that could be acquired due to hard circumstances. Loss of confidence and Scorched are good examples. If the character gets many tattoo and decides to get really distinctive piercings the GM could give him the Distinctive style negative quality.

I had a couple of opportunity to give qualities during play so far in my game but I'm really prudent because I'm not sure how doing so changes the game.

So my question come in two parts:

  1. Are there any official rules in 5th edition (4E, 20th anniversary is "good enough") on how to handle adding new negative qualities (do I have to give their value in karma to the player kind of rules) outside of addiction
  2. Does adding negative qualities lead inevitably to a grimmer, grittier campaign (to the point where characters are just stuck with a bunch of them they can't get rid of?). Back your answer with actual experience please.
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    \$\begingroup\$ Since I lack the experience and cannot provide quotes of the rules, I will just give you my two cents here. On part 2: I think if one of your players is getting really close to earning themselves a negative quality, you could hints (both in- and out-of-character) that there will be consequences to continued behavior. To take your example of tattoos, the tattooist could ask if the character is part of a bad-reputation gang (which he isn't) and explain that these tattoos will definitely associate it with them. Perhaps asks if he still wants that tattoo, and if so, apply the negative quality. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 7, 2014 at 18:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ I also don't know the rules so I won't give it as an answer, but you could always use it as the basis for other story arcs/complications. One of the better ones I've seen on television in recent years was Joss Whedon's handling of the character Willow on Buffy:TVS. She slowly descended into the lure of magic, doing more and more morally questionable things, until a redemption arc in season 6 where she played "the big bad" of the season. There's nothing wrong with a little descent into grit, as long as you eventually give them an out. \$\endgroup\$
    – JohnP
    Apr 9, 2014 at 21:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ If you haven't seen BTVS, another good treatment is the detective Robert Goren on Law&Order: Criminal Intent, played by Vincent D'Onofrio. The gradual eroding of a borderline personality is done masterfully by D'Onofrio. Each season he gets just a little more edgier until all of a sudden you realize "Wow, what a messed up whackjob!" \$\endgroup\$
    – JohnP
    Apr 9, 2014 at 22:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ Since SR4 is good enough for you, you might want to check this question, it has some insight. \$\endgroup\$
    – Trajan
    Apr 10, 2014 at 7:26

3 Answers 3


First, no. There is no good, hard rules on adding negative qualities during game. There have been suggestions and precedence that have been set by Addiction rules. But, for the most part, it's up to the ST. Because of this, I can't really give you a RAW explanation of what to do.

However, I CAN give you better on your second question.

I've had a number of games in my campaigns where I've added negative qualities for things that players have done during the game. A few times, it was addictions. But one of them was an Enemy. During the game, the runners had been sent against a corp executive that had some information for their actual run. While doing the run, one of the players thought it would be a good idea to blackmail him. I had let the player know that this guy was a pretty high-up executive and blackmail wouldn't go over well. However, they continued on with their plan. It had succeeded, since he had a good idea about it. However, the blackmail data had been caught by a rival group that wanted to deface the exec. In short, there was a fire fight and some fun with jumping over moving cars. In the end, one of the group had gotten away with the blackmail data before the runners could give it back to the exec and the exec escaped.

Now, the one that had been doing most of the blackmailing and talking has a corp executive with a lot of resources wanting him dead. What does this mean? No more taking runs from this corp...and sometimes, they would have to deal with a group of runners or corp security as a distraction during other runs.

The player liked the idea and took the negative quality. And, after a while of having runs sometimes go pear-shaped because of a group of newbies wanting to cash in on the bounty on the one runner, he finally paid up on the negative quality and I gave him the chance to eliminate the exec.

In short, negative qualities are something that you can add to players that will give them different hurdles for doing things half-assed or screwing up. And you still give them the ability to use Karma to buy the negative quality away. But I wouldn't constantly do it. Once ever three games, and only when they really deserve it, seems fine. It's not so much that it would make the game more gritty. It just makes it kind of unrealistic to carry around that much negative baggage. If they earn it, they earn it. But I wouldn't slam with it too much. And you shouldn't reward them with Karma or give them more for giving them the negative quality. They earned it from doing whatever got them the quality.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This. Also, the only appropriate quote I've been able to find is "..while Negative Qualities may be awarded to the character by the gamemaster based on events that take place in game." (Shadowrun 5E Core Rulebook, page 71). Just like most things, they're leaving it up to the GM. \$\endgroup\$
    – Codeacula
    Apr 9, 2014 at 20:35

The GM's job is to do more than to follow the rules.

That is why we play tabletop, as opposed to CRPGs.

It is appropriate, hell, even called-for, for the GM in shadowrun to add negative qualities when things happen in-game to justify it. Not only does this mechanically tie the character's sheet to things happening in the game, add a burden for them to struggle out from under, and show that their actions in the game do affect their characters and the game world, it adds an extra edge beyond just 'dying', 'staying the same', or 'getting stuff' to the outcomes of their actions.

These are, for me, the reasons to include this in your games. Not only are Shadowrun negative qualities tilted to be more than just a random negative number or a huge 'YOU'RE SCREWED LOL' like in some systems, but rather to be interesting and create interest, by forcing the player to bypass or deal with more problems, problems that tie directly into their character's past. But what you're really here for is the boost to verisimilitude, which is huge, and in my mind, verisimilitude is what gets people involved in and interested in the game. There's nothing you want more.

Does adding negative qualities lead inevitably to a grimmer, grittier campaign (to the point where characters are just stuck with a bunch of them they can't get rid of?). Back your answer with actual experience please.

I've played three decent-length Shadowrun games. In all of them, qualities were awarded, both positive and negative, on an ad-hoc (non-karma-based) basis. All of them were improved for it. When one character got paralyzed from the waist down, it added to the game. The key was that the GM wasn't handing out negative qualities as punishments or to push some agenda - they came up organically during the course of play.

I was a player in all of those games. In two of them, I played characters with more negative qualities, right out of the gate, than were allowed by the creation rules. In one case, significantly more, something like 4x. I'm a pretty experienced roleplayer, I guess, but the GM did not stint in his job to use them to screw me as much as he possibly could, and honestly, I loved it. My character was cacked on, built relationships with the rest of the team through them helping her out of fixes, was useful despite her flaws in a way that if i'd just been useful would not have been anywhere near as good as the story, and in the end went out in a blaze of glory to save the rest of the party and a good portion of the western coast of the united states; and when she did, it meant a lot more given how hard she'd had to work to get out from under the crap.

But the main thing is just don't take lots of stacking global negatives to dice pools. Other than that, it just... adds to the style. Shadowrun is dystopian cyberpunk. If you're not messed up and being shat on, it's not.. appropriate for theme. Negative Traits just give the GM guidance on how to crap on you, and when to fill the crap full of razor blades.

And hell, it worked out for me. I have honestly played very few characters that felt as real as that one.


As Shadowrun 5th is pretty new there is no official rule for this other than you DM common sense, I think that you shouldn't give plain karma for a negative quality, because players can exploit tatooing something to get karma quickier and easier than just playing, but maybe some positive quality or bonus related (maybe discussed with the player), so if you get that tatoo you get Distinctive, but also you get your Reputation up, or maybe your Street Cred, or get the positive quality "Home Ground" because you are better related to that gang on puyallup barrens.

So you should balance the negative and positive aspects, if you go blind you can get better sense, but these don't come up instantly, maybe you should give the player the promise that if he gets along with his/her negative quality for sometime (maybe 3 sessions, maybe 3 months in-game time) he would get that other positive quality.

Thinking of the possibility of giving karma to conpensate the negative quality, to prevent exploiting you can give it along several sessions, so you get 1 extra karma each session until the cost of the negative quality.


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