Build a Shadowrun technomancer

How to build a technomancer in Shadowrun 5e

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Shadowrun's character build process is explained in the 5th Edition Core Rulebook, but there are a lot of possibilities. This post describes a linear build process for a Shadowrun technomancer, 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 just 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 or its magic or hacking systems, and it's not meant to open every possibility. It's meant to get you through character creation and ready for your first game.


In Shadowrun, a technomancer uses magic to interact with computers. Nobody in the Shadowrun game world really understands how or why it works. In fact, in Shadowrun technology and magic are so incompatible that you lose "essence," and your ability to interact with the forces of magic, when you upgrade your body with cyberware. But technomancers somehow bridge the gap and inexplicably use the Matrix without a computer.

Technomancers call their connection with technology Resonance.

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. The Priority table is a sliding scale for your character traits.

It's tricky at first, but it makes sense with a little practise. For each column, you choose one and only one cell from rows A to E.

For example, if you want to be as wealthy as possible, then you'd choose row A for the column labelled Resources to acquire 450,000 nuyen (that's money.) But that means you can't use row A for any other column.

If you don't care about wealth, then you might choose row E instead, acquiring 6,000 nuyen.

The point is (as the table's name suggests), you must prioritize each aspect of your character build, with row A containing the best options and row E containing the worst options, and you can only choose one intersection for each column.

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 B.

This column grants your metatype a number of special attribute points (it's the number in parentheses after the metatype, for example Human (7).)

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 resonant you are, maximum of 6. You're going to boost this to its maximum later in this build, so don't spend anything on this stat now.

If you chose the Human or Elf metatype, you may have a point left over at the end. That's just because this build is flexible (anything lower that row B excludes Trolls, and I wanted all metatypes to be available to you.) Next time you build a character, you can choose different rows so that you're not wasting any points. This is the way of Shadowrun, though. There's always a choice to be made, and everything has a cost!

3. Boost your physical and mental attributes

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

This grants you 16 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. There are several attributes to focus on as a technomancer:

  • Willpower: This is your Firewall rating on the Matrix, and it helps you resist Fading (damage from using Resonance.) Make this your highest stat (maximum is 7 for dwarves, 6 for everyone else) so you can safely (more or less) use all the Resonance you need to use.
  • Charisma: On the Matrix, this attribute is the basis for Attack actions.
  • Intuition: On the Matrix, this attribute is the basis for Sleaze (stealth) actions.
  • Logic: On the Matrix, this attribute is the basis for Data processing actions.

4. Choose your Magic/Resonance rating

For the Magic or resonance column, choose A.

As the table's top priority, row A grants you a Resonance Rating of 6. Write that in your Magic/Resonance score on your character sheet (the maximum is 6.)

5. Choose complex forms

According to row A, Technomancers get:

  • 5 Complex forms from the Resonance Library list starting on page 252

As a Technomancer, you have a living persona on the Matrix that represents you. You use your Charisma, Intuition, Logic, and Willpower scores to perform Attack, Sleaze, Data processing, and Firewall actions on the Matrix. Everyday hackers use programs loaded onto their cyberdecks to make the most of these Matrix actions, but as a Technomancer you can't buy and use software because you don't use a cyberdeck.

Instead, you "thread" Resonance into a complex form. A complex form is the equivalent to programming code into software, except you just somehow make stuff happen. That's the magic of Technomancy.

When you thread a complex form, you choose how powerful you want it to be. This is the complex form's Level. It can be as low as 1, or as high as your Resonance Rating (which is 6 in this case) times 3. In other words, you can use a complex form at a Level anywhere from 1 to 18.

When you roll to use a complex form, you can only count a number of hits up to the complex form's Level.

After you've used a complex form, you take stun damage, which Technomancers call Fading. How much a Fading damage you take depends on the complex form and its Level. The good news is that you get to roll Willpower + Resonance dice to resist Fading. Every successful hit prevents 1 point of Fading damage. If you thread a complex form too well by getting more hits than your Resonance rating, Fading damage is Physical.

Look through the library on page 252 and choose some complex forms that seem useful to you. Write your complex forms in the Spells/Preparations/Rituals/Complex Forms section of your character sheet.

6. Choose Resonance skills

According to row A, Technomancers also get:

  • 2 Rating 5 Resonance skills from the list starting on page 143

There are only three to choose from, and you'll use skill points later in this build process to take the one you don't choose now.

Write Compiling and Registering in the Skills section of your character sheet, each with the rating of 5.

In addition to writing complex forms (magical "programs") with Resonance, you can now also compile a sprite. When you compile a sprite on the Matrix, you have a virtual assistant to go perform Matrix tasks for you. More information about sprites is available on page 254, but you don't really need that until you start playing.

7. Skills

Back at the Priority table on page 65, choose E for the Skills column. Turn to page 130 to read through the skills available.

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 Negotiation, then you have Negotiation (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 Navigation skill costs 1 point to add to your character sheet's Skills section. Were you to take that skill, you'd write Navigation 1 on your character sheet to indicate that you have the Navigation skill at rating 1.

You might append another point, though, to specialize in Celestial. In that case, you write Navigation (Celestial) 1 (+2) on your character sheet.

You're a technomancer, so you ought to have all three Resonance skills. You got two "for free" when you chose Row A for Magic/Resonance but that means there's one left. Take the Decompiling Resonance skill (at Rating 1, at least), from page 143.

The Software skill on page 145 is particularly important to a technomancer, too. The Software skill is used in most complex form skill tests, so get a high rating for Software now. (You can also buy specializations for specific complex forms later on as you play the game.)

8. Resources

For the Resources column, choose D. This gives you 50,000 nuyen (that's money). Don't get too excited. 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

As a technomancer, you don't actually need a commlink, but it's common in the Shadowrun world for technomancers to keep their Resonance a secret. In the game, you're going to pretend that you use your commlink, mostly so a corporation doesn't kidnap you and turn you into a living bot farm.

That leaves 30,000 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.

9. 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. For instance, as a technomancer, you can register sprites to make them appear official to the Matrix. You can also buy an additional complex form (but you can only own a number of complex forms up to your Logic attribute score.)

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. For information on advancing your character during the game, see the karma expense charts on page 107.

10. 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.

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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