Having a lot of money can help you. Getting the right equipment can help you. Owning the best cyberware and the finest deck can help you. But no single factor will influence your performance in ALL areas as much as Skills and Attributes. Unlike most RPGs where you gain levels by collecting experience points from slain enemies, in Shadowrun you accumulate Karma points based on accomplishing Shadowruns. Killing enemies (and hacking the Matrix) will also earn your character Karma, but to a far lesser extent.
When you've accumulated some Karma, the next step is to use it to upgrade your Skills and Attributes. When you check into any hotel, you'll be given the option to go to the Karma Screen to spend your Karma on boosting the Skills and Attributes of your choice. Each stat must be boosted one point at a time (with the exception of the weapons Skills -- see Part 3) and each successive upgrade to a stat will cost more and more Karma.
There are a total of eight Attributes and twelve Skills, although they don't all operate in the same manner. The quirks of each category will be explained in Parts 2 and 3 below. Note that you can check your stats, as well as your current Karma, at any time by pausing and choosing "Attributes/Skills" from the main pause screen.
So, those are the basics. Part 1 of this section will talk about Karma and how to go about getting it. Part 2 is a list of each Attribute, including what parts of the game it affects and my personal rating of how useful it is and therefore how much priority you should give to upgrading it.
Karma is probably the toughest resource to come by in the game. Although you can hire a decker and make thousands of nuyen in a few minutes, Karma can only trickle in at a couple points a minute, if you're good. Therefore, don't waste it on upgrades that you don't need. Read the following sections and determine which stats are most important to your character, then spend time working on those areas.
As is mentioned in numerous places in this FAQ, Karma primarily comes from completing shadowruns. Read Section IV if you want to see a list of the amount of Karma you'll get for each type of run. When you finish the job and get your money, each character in the party will also gain the amount of Karma specified for each run type.
There are three other ways of getting Karma, but they are so minor that you shouldn't see them as methods to pursue. Instead, just keep in mind that they exist, and they are why you may have a point or two more than you thought when you check your Karma totals.
The first way is by killing things. It's kind of odd to think that killing things would ever really have a positive effect on your 'real' karma, but in the world of Shadowrun, you gain one Karma point for every few things you kill. The type of thing you kill matters, too -- innocent citizens are 'worth less' than more threatening thugs and demons, so if you're into killing innocents, it will take longer to gain Karma. In real terms, you'll probably end up with a healthy mix of victims, so all that's important is I guess a rough estimate: on average, you'll get a Karma point every 15 or 20 kills. I've done some testing with different types of enemies, and the fewest amount I've seen is 12, with the greatest amount being 23. Like I mentioned, it's such a minor detail that I really don't think it's worth doing extensive research on -- just know and accept that you'll get an extra Karma point every now and then by killing enemies.
The second way to gain Karma besides shadowrunning is by defeating Ice inside the Matrix. This is similar to the previous method -- every 15 or 20 times you defeat an ice, you'll gain a Karma point.
The third way is by advancing the plot. Many times when you make a significant discovery or pass a major point in the story, you'll be given a Karma point. For the specific points where you'll be given Karma, check Section V.
Finally, some may be wondering if there's any way to lose Karma. Nope. I know, those random encounters when you kill a wounded civilian or let the thugs beat up an old man seem like they were made for the specific purpose of costing you a Karma point or two if you chose to do them, but they don't seem to have any effect. So, die as many times as you want, fail or cancel as many runs as you want, heck, even kill all the innocent people you want. You may even be rewarded if you kill enough, as explained above. Boy, now that I think of it, this Karma thing works completely backwards. They should have called it something else.
Anyway, once you have your Karma, what should you spend it on? Refer to the next two parts to see what the different Attributes and Skills can do for you.
Attributes are the stats that pertain to inherent character abilities -- general things like strength, speed, and intelligence. By and large, Attributes are more important than Skills, because they affect nearly everything that the character does while Skills are more specialized and may only influence one or two things.
Each race has different maximum values for each Attribute. For example, humans are well-rounded and have a maximum of 6 for everything. Trolls, on the other hand, have great size and strength (high Body and Strength maxes) but are ugly and dumb (low Charisma and Intelligence maxes). Below is a table laying out the Attribute maxes of each race. It's kind of interesting to note that if you total all the max stats for humans you get 36, while every other race has a total of 39. Doesn't seem very fair...
- Essence starts at 6.0 for every character and cannot be raised. It can be lowered through the installation of cyberware, however.
- For non-magic-users, Magic is always 0. For Magic users, Magic is equal to the character's Essence rating, rounded down to the nearest whole number.
Note that installing cyberware BEFORE your character reaches the maximum in a certain statistic will effectively stretch the upper limit of the stat. For instance, if a human character gets one set of Dermal Plating while his or her Body statistic is 5 or below, that stat will be artificially boosted by one point. Meanwhile, the character will still be able to upgrade their Body stat and when they reach the 'maximum' of 6, the cyberware boost will render their Body rating as a 7. For a listing of cyberware and its effects, see Part 5 of Section VII.
The final thing to address before the list of Attributes is their cost. That's simple: the cost in Karma points to upgrade an Attribute is equal to the rating you're trying to upgrade to. In other words, it costs 3 Karma to go from 2 to 3, 4 Karma to go from 3 to 4, etc.
That should be all the background info you need on Attributes. Now, here's a list of each one that includes notes and descriptions that can help you understand which ratings do what.
"Body resists damage from weapons, firearms, physical spells, and Black Ice."
Body is one of the most important ratings. Defense is probably the most important aspect of your character, and your Body rating is essentially the same as your defense rating. I suggest spending a lot of your Karma at the beginning of the game making sure that this Attribute is as high as possible.
"Quickness determines movement and attack speed, and increases combat and cybercombat success."
Quickness is probably the most significant Attribute as far as offense goes. While it doesn't have much of an effect on damage or success, it has a great influence on the character's attack speed. Being able to attack quickly will put you at an advantage over enemies, regardless of how much damage you're doing with each attack.
"Strength increases melee damage and grenade accuracy."
That's true, although most people use guns to fight and you should already know how I feel about grenades. I haven't been able to find any other aspects of the game that are related to Strength, so it looks like this one isn't as important as other Attributes.
"Charisma reduces the hiring price of Shadowrunners and increases fast-talk success."
This one is pretty useful. High Charisma will enable you to hire runners for less money (see Part 3 of Section IX for details) and, perhaps more importantly, will give you a greater chance of getting out of sticky random encounters. The most prominent example is during corp Shadowruns when you're stopped by security without a badge, or when you meet an employee and have the chance to ask for information. Generally speaking, the higher your Charisma score, the better the encounter will most likely turn out.
One caveat for this Attribute is that it really only comes into play with the character you're actually controlling. So, unless you have a habit of leading the party with one of your hired runners, you should probably only worry about upgrading Joshua's Charisma score.
"Intelligence determines attack speed, plus increases combat and cybercombat success."
Intelligence is one of the most useful Attributes, particularly for offense. Note that it influences both success and attack speed, which are the two main parts of offense (damage is influenced by the weapon being used). It is certainly important that you upgrade this stat as often as you can.
"Willpower resists damage from mana spells and magical drain. It also increases combat success."
As you can see, Willpower does a few things. Resisting mana damage is nice, but most enemy magic is physical. Resisting drain is VERY good for magic users, but of course worthless for non-magic users. Willpower's effect on combat success is small, but significant enough to warrant upgrading the statistic whenever you get the chance.
"Essence allows fast magical healing. It decreases when cyberware is installed."
Essence is an oddball Attribute. Everyone starts with 6.0, and it can't be raised. Getting cyberware installed permanently lowers Essence. To keep it simple, here's the strategy: For magic users, don't ever get cyberware. For non-magic users, get all the cyberware you want. If you need a more detailed explanation of this reasoning, read the intro to Part 5 of Section VII.
"Magic determines the maximum Force of spells cast. It decreases when cyberware is installed."
As I've mentioned elsewhere in this FAQ, Magic is the same thing as Essence, only expressed in whole numbers, rather than tenths. The only difference is that Magic is automatically 0 for all non-magic users. Read the Essence entry above if you simply must have more info on this Attribute.
While Attributes are kind of the natural abilities of each character, Skills are the character's area of specialization; things that they have trained for and learned. Skills apply to specific talents and affect a limited number of specific tasks that you may need to perform at one time or another. Attributes as a whole are probably more important than Skills, but certain Skills are extremely useful and perhaps even necessary for survival.
Another difference between Skills and Attributes is that while the maximum values for each Attribute is usually around 6 or 7 and is different for each race, the maximum values for Skills is 12 (with a couple exceptions) and that's the same for every character.
Skills don't have anything like cyberware, which boosts the base values of different Attributes. You can buy gun accessories to improve your success with firearms, and you can buy the Electronic Kit to supposedly give your Electronics skill a little boost when trying to open a Maglock, but neither of these actually add to your character's rating in the specific Skill.
The final difference between Skills and Attributes is the Karma cost. While the Karma cost to upgrade Attributes is equal to the rating that you are upgrading to, the Karma cost for Skills is DOUBLE the rating. That means that to upgrade to level 3 will cost 6 Karma, 4 will cost 8, and so on. All Skills follow this pattern except for the three weapon categories -- see their entries for details.
Well, that's it for the explanation. Skills are pretty straightforward. Make sure to read each individual entry so you can decide how to specialize each of your runners.
"Sorcery determines success with spell casting."
This one is simple: For magic users, upgrade this Skill as often as possible since it influences how effective your spells will be. Non-magic users don't even have a choice -- their Sorcery rating will always be 0.
"Firearms determines success with ALL types of guns."
Firearms is a complex and interesting statistic. It shares a special relationship with the three subcategories under it: Pistols, SMGs, and Shotguns. For one thing, your Firearms rating replaces any lower ratings that you have in the subcategories. For example, if your Firearms score is 6 and your Pistols score is 2, your character will be able to handle a pistol as though he or she had a 6 in that category.
Another good thing about Firearms is that it can be used to jump ahead in your ratings for the three subcategories -- but only if the rating you're jumping from is zero. For instance, if Joshua's Firearms rating is 8 and his SMGs score is 0, you can upgrade his SMGs score directly to 9 instead of going through all the upgrades starting from zero.
You can't 'jump' from a nonzero score, though. If the SMGs score in the previous example was, say, 2, then you would have to work your way up, one point at a time, as usual. During that time, though, your effective SMGs score would still be 8.
So, Firearms replaces all lower scores for its subordinate categories. What, then, is the point of those categories? Why would you want to spend Karma on three separate stats when you can work on one catch-all? The answer is that each individual weapon category costs slightly less to upgrade than the Firearms stat. This results in a choice: To be a Jack-of-all-trades or to specialize in one type of firearm. Of course, you don't really have to choose one or the other. If you can decide on upgrading only one of the three, though, you'll save yourself some Karma.
"Pistols determines success with both light and heavy pistols."
Pistols is the first of the three weapon skills. Obviously, it is a factor in determining hit rate, damage and pretty much anything else when you're firing a pistol. Take into consideration the Firearms skill and how it works when deciding whether to upgrade this skill. Of course, if you don't use pistols, then don't worry about it.
"SMGs determines success with sub-machine guns."
The second of the three weapon skills. This is naturally very important if you use SMGs, since each level will improve all areas of SMG use, but if you don't use SMGs, well, then forget about it. If you do decide to work on this skill, however, remember the Firearms skill before you spend any Karma.
"Shotgun determines success with various forms of shotguns."
The last weapon skill. As with the other two, this specialized skill is very important if you use the weapon in question, and pretty worthless if you don't. As always, remember the value of the Firearms skill before you dump any Karma into this one.
"Melee Combat determines success while fighting hand-to-hand."
This skill's priority depends on the amount of hand-to-hand fighting you do, of course. In my opinion, upgrading this skill without getting Spurs is a waste. Keep in mind that, as I've stated in several other parts of this FAQ, Spurs and a good Melee Combat rating (as well as Strength) can be the most effective weapon in the game.
"Throwing increases accuracy and damage when tossing a grenade."
Do I really have to tell you how I feel about grenades? If you're a sucker for 'em, then go ahead and upgrade this skill. If you understand the concept of splash damage, then don't. Seriously, though, even with a 12 in this skill, things won't get much easier as far as timing, accuracy, and avoiding damage to your own party.
"Computer increases success in cybercombat and the operation of Nodes."
Another simple decision: If the character in question is the one (and hopefully you only have ONE) designated Matrix runner, this skill is one of the most important ones and should be upgraded whenever possible, assuming you'll do a typical amount of decking in your game. As is mentioned in the sections dealing with the Matrix, Computer affects many different Matrix- related functions, and directly affects your chances of success once you're jacked in. On the other hand, if your character won't be doing any decking, don't waste your Karma.
"Biotech determines success while using a Medkit."
Yep. Pretty simple. In the long run, using Medkits is more effective than slap patches, assuming your levels in this skill are decent. If your levels are high enough, you can heal someone to 100% with only one or two uses. So, unless you do the vast majority of your healing through magic (and that isn't necessarily a bad idea if you can do it without drain), the higher your Biotech level is, the better.
"Electronics determines success when attempting to force open a Maglock."
What the description says is true, but it leaves out a much more important detail: A high Electronics score will help you hack terminals inside corp buildings. The ability to hack terminals is probably the most important factor in your success when running a corp, and that ability is influenced solely by the Electronics skill.
That said, for the purpose of hacking terminals, you don't really need a super-high score in Electronics. You can get by with a 6 or so, especially when you consider that if you mess up when at a terminal, you can just try again until you get it right. Then again, there's the convenience of being able to get it right the first try or so, and there's the random encounters with terminals that you *can't* go back and try again, and also the Maglock thing previously mentioned. Yeah, those are all minor points, but some may consider them important enough to get a few extra levels of this skill. No matter what, though, you really need to have at least a 6 in this before you think about anything other than the smallest, simplest corp runs.
"Reputation determines overall notoriety of the character."
Having a high Reputation rating won't cause drastic changes in the game (unless you're trying to get into Club Penumbra or meet a mob boss), but it will give you a little help in a number of areas. As mentioned below, it affects hiring prices of Shadowrunners, and it also gives a few other perks when trying to get into certain clubs, meeting with gang leaders, and dealing with potentially hostile random encounters. Even then, all it really boils down to is saving you maybe a few thousand nuyen over the course of the game. My recommendation is to get up to level 5 (at that point you can get into Club Penumbra without an elf in your party, as well as meet the mob boss of your choice) and leave the Skill alone until you've built up the more important Skills and Attributes.
"Negotiation increases Shadowrun payments and influences buying and selling."
This Skill is straightforward enough. Almost any buying, selling, or Shadowrunning you do will take Negotiation into consideration when determining the amount of cash involved. The effects aren't overwhelming, but certainly significant enough to warrant you spending some time on this Skill.
There are a lot of RPG players out there, myself included, who have a habit of spending a lot of time leveling up (or in this case, gaining Karma). Because of that habit, when it does come time to buy new equipment, the money's usually there. The end result is that saving money here and there isn't very important to a lot of people, and those people may not care too much about what the Negotiation stat has to offer. However, there are two things that make Negotiation important despite all this.
First, when you consider the aggregate effect of a good Negotiation rating over the course of the whole game, it really does make a noticeable difference. Simply put, there are a lot of things to buy in Shadowrun, and even if you're one of the aforementioned over-levelers, there will still probably come a time when you're a little short on cash. In this respect, Negotiation helps.
Second, and apart from the long-range thing, you'll notice an immediate effect when you start to get serious about Matrix running. As soon as you set out to build up your ace decker, you'll realize that decking is just about the most expensive hobby this side of racing thoroughbreds. When you consider the cost of your deck, your upgrades, and your programs, you might do well to pump up the Negotiation a little bit before you start buying. Consider the Fairlight Excalibur deck, which is nearly 100,000¥ cheaper with a 12 in Negotiation. It's ultimately up to you to decide how important this Skill is, but there's no denying that it will help anyone in any game.