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From playing Shadowrun for a bit, I get the impression in a typical shadowrun group, you just need a decker or technomancer. Sure, the characters probably have contacts that can get them all the information that is needed, but most actual runs require someone to tamper with security, data and devices. At least, that is how I as a GM saw it.

What I am looking for are tips on what to do as a GM for a group without a hacker, regarding the possible runs; and tips in handling NPC helpers for the group, without needing an actual GMPC to accompany the players on a run.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Related (possible dupe:) Is it unrealistic not to bring a decker to shadow runs?. \$\endgroup\$ – Tim Lymington supports Monica Jun 9 '15 at 10:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ Hm, is it really a dupe or have rules changed enough with respect to deckers/technomancers? I’ve only read the SR5 rulebook. \$\endgroup\$ – Jonas Schäfer Jun 9 '15 at 14:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ I have not read anything < sr5 too, except for some novels (which don't really qualify) and seeing RollPlay: Mirrorshades which is sr1. But from what I read and saw it seems pretty different... Also, I wanted to focus more on the second question, I will edit my question a bit. \$\endgroup\$ – Patta Jun 9 '15 at 14:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think it's better now, and different from the other. \$\endgroup\$ – Patta Jun 9 '15 at 15:01
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No. A Decker/Technomancer PC or NPC is not required to play SR5. I definitely recommend one though, and if you want to play a Black Trenchcoat game, you have to have a hacker for some runs. No way around it.

I have personally dealt with this issue in my own SR5 campaigns. You have three realistic options that won't inconvenience PCs by forcing them to put Karma into unwanted computer skills.

  • Make a Decker/Technomancer GMPC that the players can hire to take along with them on runs. While you make clear in your question that you have considered and rejected this approach, I mention it because ultimately this is the solution I decided to use. Your mileage may vary. I chose to build a cybered-up Technomancer who could fight well in meat-space and used his sprites to hack in the background so he wouldn't slow down or hamper the group with unnecessary Matrix actions. He's expensive to hire, but when the team needs a hacker, he's reliable and he gets the job done.
  • Make a Decker/Technomancer GMPC that the players can hire. At first, this may seem identical to the first option. The crucial difference is that if you don't plan on the PCs actually bringing the hacker on the run in question, he doesn't need fully fleshed out stats and personality. Simply decide how big his average dice pool is going to be for the major computer skills and you're done. The important thing for the PCs to keep in mind is that they need to have the hacker do the legwork before they actually start the run. Since the hacker isn't going on the run, he faces far less danger and so you can also charge your PCs less to hire a hacker in this manner than you might have otherwise if you choose. I like to call this the "lazy GMPC" method and when I use it I generally assign the GMPC three values: a small dice pool for actions he is terrible at, a medium dice pool for actions he is passable at, and a large dice pool for actions he specializes in. Computer/Hacking skills will have the large pool, utility skills like Locksmith and Perception will use the medium pool, and then everything else will use the small pool. Small pool might be 3-5 dice, medium pool might be 6-8 dice, and the large pool is usually like 10-12 dice.
  • Design your runs so that the PCs don't need a hacker to succeed. You can do this one of two ways: either run a Pink Mohawk style game where the PCs are free to act like action movie stars and simply punch/shoot/blast their way through any obstacles, or have the PCs use social skills such as Intimidate or Con to get people to help them who live or work where the run is to take place. This is similar to hiring a hacker, only more risky since the PCs can never be sure whether they are more intimidating or convincing than the relevant employers or authorities. Philip's answers expand more on this particular solution. In one answer he provides some examples of solid Pink Mohawk play, and in his other answer he gives some examples of run ideas that are light on hacking so your PCs can focus on the action.
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Just deal with the consequences. Sure, go assault that corporate office and steal their IP. You don't really need a hacker. Did you know there was (in real life) a string of robberies where these guys would back up a pickup truck to a convenience store, break some windows, pry up the ATM from the floor and literally take the whole thing? They could grind open the locks at their convenience. Equivalent thing with corporate servers.

So what if the cameras see you? It just means another van of corporate goons to shoot at.

So what if there's a computer controlled bank vault door? That's why god invented explosives.

The server is bolted to the floor? I don't think you've properly internalized how much blast cord we brought. We have literally SO MUCH blast cord. So much! The troll looks like the Michelin man.

Need a password out of a corporate wage-slave’s computer? Forget hacking it, take a $5 wrench and ask the wage-slave nicely.

It makes for a much less stealthy game. Less finesse. Definitely a different sort of tone than of a Mission: Impossible–esque professional hacker being suspended from wires.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This generally falls under the Pink Mohawk style of play, just FYI. \$\endgroup\$ – Dyndrilliac Jun 10 '15 at 1:06
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You can run games that don't particularly need a hacker: Getting jumped by ghouls, Muscle for gang warfare, smuggling, bounty hunting, organlegging, bust bob out of jail, Investigate creepy mage in woods, smash'n'grab, Go here and kill everyone, Send a corporation to make a hit on them in their home, a famFatal drugs one of them and they're naked in a mexican hotel missing a kidney.

Premise: Pick-pocket snatches mcguffin and hides in ganger-land. They don't like you. Go fetch.

Pitch: Triads need some muscle. Sounds like protectioneering. Money upfront, go thrash a store and tell the owners "this was preventable." They handed me the money, all 500Y, woo. No meet.

Premise: "reality" TV show stages a robbery that goes down while the players are in it.

Pitch/Premise: This other team is going to be running hot from lonestar, and you're paid to pull off some heat.

It's a different sort of power level than the stereotypical assault for IP on a corporate facility. Lower, grittier, more street-level activity where the digital world isn't all that important.

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The Decker is a GMPC but doesn't go on runs

When I ran a Shadowrun game, the group didn't have a decker so they had to dig in to contacts. Contact deckers fell in to 2 categories, script kiddie deckers, and uber deckers (theory being if you survived the megacorps as you learned skills, there was no room for middle ground). The group took their chances as to who they wanted to farm a part out to. Deckers provided a great way to gather intel before a run (and prop up the story). Script Kiddies cold go on runs but the group realized in short order they would run out of contacts if they kept fryimng deckers. Uber deckers demanded outrageopus fees, but delivered the goods. The never went on runs but might send along an apprentice if the group made it clear that it was in the interest of the decker collecting to help them make it back alive.

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Running Shadowrun without a PC Decker

The Voice of God: A very skilled, very annoying decker does decking for the party. He opens doors, hacks turrets, but it takes him a while and the PCs have to find codes for him, access terminals, defend themselves while he opens doors. Basically means if they want to use hacking approaches to situations, they can, but it's annoying, and takes a while, and isn't as good as their in-party skills.

Design encounters without the easy-out of hacking and turrets: Making everything mechanized makes it easy on both players and GM, as defense measures are limited to the humans holding the guns. Having information obscured or hidden in org flowcharts, having security be alarm and response based (like in real life), requiring social engineering to unravel non-simple mission objectives etc, requires more GM work, but results in generally better runs.

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