Thursday, December 9, 2010


Technomancers are a relatively new phenomenon in the Shadowrun universe. The idea of people so gifted they could interact with the electronic world of the Matrix without a cyberdeck first appeared in the Sixth World over a decade ago in the form of pre-teen super-deckers called otaku. Technomancers are what happens when both the kids and the technology grow up.

Technomancers are the grown up version of otaku. They can interface with the Matrix without electronic assistance interface devices, and they're old enough to drive and buy beer. Also, since the world's gone wireless, so have the Technomancers, who all have the biological equivalent of a wireless ethernet card buried in their gray matter somewhere.

Mechanically they're extremely similar to mages. Where mages cast spells, technomancers manipulate code. Where mages can perceive and project into astral space, technomancers can interact with the Matrix in augmented reality or full immersion virtual reality. Mages summon spirits; technomancers summon sprites.

Truth be told, it helps a lot to flatten out the learning curve. After all, didn't I just spend last post lamenting about the nightmare that was trying to learn a series of unrelated game systems all to run a single session with a diverse group? Yeah, I still don't miss that.

However, I'll also admit I'm torn on this one. From a straight game rule perspective it makes whole tons of sense. But from a setting perspective, there's a cognitive disconnect. Shadowrun has, from the very start, drawn a stark line between magic and technology. You can't establish line of sight on a target for purposes of spellcasting using electronic surveillance. Cybernetic implants detract from your ability to perform magic. Etc. Technology and magic have been at odds and utterly incompatible from day one. You could dip into both worlds; I've known many a character who did. But there was always a fine art to pulling that balancing act off. The system didn't support the idea that such a decision was easy.

Making the newest, super high end hackers feel almost exactly the same as mages flies in the face of that. It just doesn't feel right. You want to begin moving them closer together as the 6th world grinds on? I'm okay with that. Really, I find mixed genre worlds fascinating more often than not. So sure, let's do it. But maybe we can start the integration with something a little more granular.

My idea for a technomancer rewrite is pretty simple: pattern the new hacker after an adept, not a mage. In essence, a technomancer under this system is a near supernaturally gifted hacker. He still needs a commlink to get online, and he still uses programs (though he can opt not to, like anyone). However, he's so talented that he can make Matrix constructs roll over and beg. He's the wunderkind who's going to debug his utilities and tweak his firewall all while disarming the databomb on your target paydata and crashing the black IC protecting the node. And yeah, he might have a kick ass agent program loaded up with custom software, but it's still a modified agent program, not a sprite summoned from the depths of the Deep Resonance like an elemental spirit.

Again, let me state that I'm not opposed to technomancers who are so attuned to the wireless world that they work it like magic. However, it feels like an awfully big step to take given the decades of stark divide set up in the cannon literature.

So, mechanically, how does this technomancer work? He gets access to special skill booster powers, all of which key off Matrix skills, or have to do with Matrix only actions. I've got nothing more than sketchy notes on this, but I can provide some examples:

  • Hardware - this category encompasses all the custom Matrix surfing 'ware that the technomancer made or modified himself. A few of the powers I began to write for this category included things like Overclocking, which gave a boost to Matrix initiative at the cost of program load capacity, and Networking, which let him link multiple links together in order to get a performance boost.
  • Software - the programmatic version of hardware. Rather than just provide bonuses to existing programs (because while the whole +1, +2 thing is useful, it's also kind of boring), I tried to introduce new options here. File Compression added to a link's program capacity, but increased the load time to bring something online, for example.
  • eSocial - this category didn't have anything to do with using computerized tools. Instead, technomancers who dipped into this power pool were masters of interpersonal relations, as long as they occurred online. They could utterly burn someone in a Flame War (allowing them to accomplish the nearly impossible: win an argument on the Internet), charm someone via chat window, etc. None of this worked face to face though. It needed to be the kind of anonymous interaction you can only find online. 
  • Hacking - like software, I tried hard to stay away from simple bonuses to mundane actions, and instead tried to make this category one that emphasized how amazing the character was at infiltrating secure systems in other ways. Mostly I did this by finding more ways the character could use Hacking. For example, once per session per level of the power, the character could roll his Hacking knack instead of Resources when buying something, representing the spare cash he managed to pick up on an incidental, on-the-fly hack.
Under this system of rules, technomancers would still lose resonance, or whatever else you want to call it, for cybernetic implants with one important exception: any cyberware that is primarily used to perform or augment Matrix tasks does not cause this loss. Cranial commlinks are kosher, as would be the math CPU and encephalon implants. You want a datajack? Perfectly cool. You want a cyberarm with internal shotgun and integrated smartlink? Go right ahead, but it's going to knock points off your resonance and cost you some natural edge you've got when running in the wireless world.

Yes, this begins to blur the line between magic and technology. I'm fully aware of that. Truth be told, I think that's an interesting way to go, and I applaud Catalyst for taking that step. It's been more than 60 years since the first UGE births, and the Great Ghost Dance didn't follow all that much later. Moving these two setting elements into closer alignment is a good thing. I'd just prefer it took a few baby steps in between first.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like Shadowrun has changed quite a bit since I last left it. Looking forward to getting my hands on these new rules.