Build a Shadowrun Adept

How to build an adept in Shadowrun 5e

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Shadowrun's character build process is explained in the 5th Edition Core Rulebook, but there's a lot to filter out because there are so many possibilities. This post describes a linear build process for a Shadowrun adept, and is designed to help new players.

Note that this post is for Shadowrun 5th Edition, even though at the time of this writing 6th Edition has been out for a few years. I haven't switched to 6th Edition, and I'm writing for what I play (and more importantly, what people I invite to my games can use.)

The build process I describe in this post is intentionally restrictive. This post is not meant to explain every detail about Shadowrun character creation, and it's not meant to open every possibility. It's meant to get you through character creation and ready for your first game.


Shadowrun is a skill-based system. Your character's attributes determine whether you use magic and how you use it, which in turn influences what skills you take during the character build process. Magic can be used in many different ways in the Shadowrun setting. A magician uses magic to cast spells and summon spirits. An adept uses magic to boost their abilities. A mystic adept is an adept who also has the ability to cast spells.

This post demonstrates how to build an adept, not a mystic adept. Once you understand how to build an adept and a magician, you can build a mystic adept yourself.

1. Pick a metatype (species)

Your "metatype" in Shadowrun is your species. Pick a metatype from the Metatype attribute table on page 66. On your character sheet, add the low number (before the slash) to its corresponding attribute. There are 8 attributes:

  • Body
  • Agility
  • Reaction
  • Strength
  • Willpower
  • Logic
  • Intuition
  • Charisma

There are also two special attributes listed in the table:

  • Edge
  • Essence

Ignore the INI column. For now, leave the Initiative box on your character sheet blank.

2. Boost your special attributes

Turn to the Priority table on page 65. This table is tricky at first, but it makes sense after you've used it a few times. The Priority table is a sliding scale for your character traits. For each column, you choose one and only one cell from rows A to E.

If you wanted to be wealthy, then you'd choose row A for the column labelled Resources. But that means you can't use row A for any other column.

A different example: Maybe you don't care about material wealth, but you want to have lots of skills. In that case, you'd choose row A for column Skills and row B (or C or D or E) for Resources.

By the end of the process, you'll have chosen exactly one cell from each row for each column, but never the same row twice.

To keep things simple for your first build, I recommend choosing cells that give you the least choice. This means you have less to choose from, but when you're just starting out that can be a good thing. It's hard to choose stuff when you don't yet have any context for what a good or a bad choice is.

2a. Boost your special attributes

For the Metatype column of the Priorities table on page 65, choose row A.

This column grants your metatype a number of special attribute points (it's the number in parentheses after the metatype, for example Human (9).)

On your character sheet, use these points to boost these values in the Attributes section:

  • Edge: Think of it as luck, maximum of 6 (unless you're human, which has a maximum of 7.) Use most of your special attribute budget here.
  • Magic/Resonance: How magical you are, maximum of 6. You're going to get a boost to its maximum later in this build, so don't spend anything on this.

3. Boost your physical and mental attributes

For the Attributes column on page 65, choose row D.

This grants you 14 points to spend of your physical (Body, Agility, Reaction, Strength) and mental (Willpower, Logic, Intuition, Charisma) attributes found in the Attributes section of your character sheet. No attribute score may exceed its maximum (the number after the slash in the Metatype attribute table on page 66) and only one may meet its maximum.

4. Choose your Magic/Resonance rating

For the Magic or resonance column, choose B.

Your magic user type grants you a Magic Rating of 6. Write that in your Magic/Resonance score on your character sheet (the maximum is 6.)

This also grants you an Active skill of rating 4, which you'll choose next.

5. Skills

For the Skills column, choose E. This gives you 18 points to spend on skills, but you also get a "free" Active skill of rating 4 from your choice of magic priority.

Each skill, at rating 1, costs 1 point. After you have a skill, each point spent on that skill raises its rating by 1. If you spend 3 points on Unarmed combat, then you have Unarmed combat (3).

If a skill has a Specialization listing, then you can spend another point to gain +2 dice for skill tests that involve your area of specialization. For example, the Free-fall skill costs 1 point to add to your character sheet's Skills section. Were you to take that skill, you'd write Free-fall 1 on your character sheet to indicate that you have the Free-fall skill at rating 1.

You might append another point, though, to specialize in BASE Jumping. In that case, you write Free-fall (BASE Jumping) 1 (+2) on your character sheet. This means that when you use your Free-fall skill, you add 1 die beacuse it's a rating 1 skill, and 2 more die when you're specifically BASE jumping.

  • Pages 130-147 contain Active skills.
  • Pages 147-151 contain Knowledge skills.
  • The only magical skill you can take as an adept is Assensing (Intuition) (page 142), which allows you to see the Astral plane. This is useful for detecting magic, or the traces of magic.
  • Do not take Resonance skills. Those are just for Technomancers.

Write your skills and their ratings you choose in the Skills section of your character sheet.

6. Adept powers

As an adept, you get adept power points to spend on special magical abilities that enable you to do things that are otherwise physically impossible (like running on walls, rapidly healing, catching bullets, and more.) You get a number of power points equal to your Magic attribute. In this build, you chose B for the Magic/Resonance column, so your magic attribute is 6.

Turn to page 308 and spend 6 power points (PP) on adept powers. Many adept powers cost a fraction of a point (0.25, 0.5, and so on), so you can get more than 6 powers, or you can really maximise a few specific powers.

7. Resources

For the Resources column, choose C. This gives you 140,000 nuyen (that's money). It sounds like a lot, but it goes fast.

The Gear checklist side bar on page 94 can help you focus on what's essential, but if you happen to have the Run Faster source book shopping is even easier. Run Faster has pre-made packs of gear on page 228, lifestyle kits, magic packos, and much more.

Assuming you're just using the Core Rulebook, though, here's a basic Shadowrunner pack costing 20,000 nuyen:

  • Fake SIN (rating 1) [page 443]
  • Meta Link commlink [page 439]
  • Colt America L36 light pistol with 2 spare clips [page 426]
  • 100 rounds ammo [page 433]
  • Knife [page 423]
  • Armor clothing or vest [page 436]
  • Glasses with image link [page 444]
  • Mapsoft of campaign city [page 442]
  • Standard credstick [page 443]
  • Flashlight [page 449]
  • Respirator (rating 1) [page 449]
  • Backpack

That leaves 120,000 nuyen to spend on these important additions:

  • DocWagon contract [page 450]
  • Lifestyle [page 95]

Spend every last nuyen you have, because you can't take any into the game. The nuyen you start with in the game is derived from your lifestyle. Spend money on a lifestyle, and then roll the die listed by that lifestyle to find out how much nuyen you get for in-game pocket money.

8. Spend karma and get contacts

In Shadowrun, you don't earn experience points, you earn karma. At character creation, you start with 25 karma to spend. Turn to page 73 and look at the Positive qualities and Negative qualities tables. Positive qualities cost karma points and grant you some game benefit. Negative qualities give you karma points, but they impose some game penalty.

This is my favourite part of the Shadowrun build. Read over the qualities and choose some positive and negative qualities for your character. You can only have 25 points worth of positive qualities, and 25 points worth of negative, so don't feel like you have to hit 0 karma

After you've recorded your qualities, turn to page 98 to learn what you can do with any leftover karma points you might have. A shadowrunner thrives on contacts. It's a little bit of a unique system, although you can equate it to henchmen in 2nd Edition AD&D, or even to some NPCs in D&D 5e. Shadowrun contacts drive the story, fill in the gaps your party doesn't have, and sometimes they even provide or serve as nonplayer party members. If you have any leftover karma, absolutely get at least one contact. In case you need help coming up with a contact, there are sample ones on page 390.

The Additional purchases & Restrictions table on page 98 provides six different ways you can spend excess karma, along with associated restrictions.

In the game, karma points are what allow you to improve skill ratings, and you can keep up to 7 points to carry into the game.

9. Initiative and limits

Time for some final calculations. Turn to page 101 and use the Final calculations table to determine the value for the empty fields remaining on your character sheet.

If you purchased a commlink, then your Dataprocessing score is the rating of your commlink. If you didn't get a commlink, you can ignore Matrix values altogether.

Ignore the Living Persona section. It's just for Technomancers.

You have a character now

Shadowrun 5th Edition is a complex system, so this character build is intentionally limiting. You might not understand everything on your character sheet at first, but playing the game is the best way to learn how to play.

Photo by Adi Goldstein on Unsplash

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