Hackers: How do they actually work in Living Community and Actual Play

In Guides, Resources by Nash

If you are reading this guide you already decided to play as a decker or technomancer. So in this guide we are not going to discuss what archetypal role is but what to expect as a player playing the hacker role in Shadowrun 5th Edition. This guide is written for new players but there is some general advice for veteran console cowboys and novahot techno can take from it.

Being a hacker archetype means that you are playing a legwork class. Your job in the team is to provide necessary information for your team so that they do not get caught off guard while in the run. Information gathering or legwork is basically what makes a run successful or fail and your job as a hacker is to find the right information and opportunity hit angle for your team.

You are also responsible for your team electronics and ware, by being there you provide matrix overwatch we will explain more during the cybercombat section in this guide.

Why Play A Hacker Archetype?

  • By being a hacker you are basically a free in field infobroker, your service is free for your team as they do not have to spend nuyen to gain the same information from their contact. The more you dive in legwork the less for them to spend nuyen as mission expanse. 
  • Always have time to shine on the table as you are needed most of the time to dive into the host and be useful to the team. In every run, a competent hacker will always know what host and devices to hit, what information is vital or unimportant and what angle is the least risk for the team.
  • You like playing Yahztee with your GM. “Do I see any device that is running silent” is part of hacker experience in Shadowrun 5th Edition.
  • If you like Case in Neuromancer, this is the archetype that you want to play.

What To Expect As A Player In A Regular Run?

  • You are expected to gather information through Matrix Search and not to waste time. Depends on run whether it is time sensitive or not. It is essential for you to put priority on your T6 search as wasting in-game time can cause hardship for your team
  • You are expected to host dive and gather information that you cannot gain from Matrix Search.
  • You are expected not to get converged by the Grid Overwatch Division, deck bricked or brain damage. In regular house games it is fun and dandy to get converged or deck bricked but in a living community such as Neon Anarchy you have like 3-6 hours to finish the run, and not being effective to your team by being useless for the rest of the run is not something you or people on the table would consider as fun.

How Do I Know Which Information Is Important For The Run?

As a hacker it is your job to know what information is vital or red herring from the GM. Even legwork is your archetype shtick, do remember that you can ask your team for advice and console. If you are not sure what T6 search to take, ask your team what is really important for the job. For example, you have four things to do a T6 search and you have a limited time to finish the job, so ask your team which one they value first and put a priority for every T6 search that you would do.

How To Mitigate Long Search Time?

There are 3 ways to mitigate that long 12 hours matrix search.

  • Browse cyberprogram. It is a common program and legal, basically reducing your search time by half.
  • Search cyberprogram. You are going to need that +2 to your already huge dicepool
  • Brilliant Heuristic. It is a positive quality in Kill Code, before the house rule only technomancer can take this but in Neon Arcana a decker can also take this to reduce search time.
  • Analytical Mind. Another positive quality in Core. Before Kill Code it was quite bad, but now it can be synergized with Brilliant Heuristic to reduce search time even more. You do not need to spend karma for Analytical Mind, instead take the mind drug Cereprax. Cereprax basically gives you temporary access to that quality hence the cheaper way and depends on your dice roll and drug duration, you have enough time to do all the searching.

I Do Not Have All Of Those, What Else Can I Do?

Even without the positive quality that we have mentioned, you can still use your contact or ask your team whether they have the right contact for the information that you are looking for. Your GM might ask for the team to pay for the information but that is the downside for letting third parties do your job for you. Remember you have a reputation as a hacker and your job is to show that you are competent in your legwork.

My GM Said That Information Is Not Obtainable By Matrix Search, What Else Can I Do?

If your GM said that the information that you are looking for is not available in the grid, that means that information is locked away in some employee commlink or inside a secure data host. It is time to dig deeper and go into a host dive.

What Is Host and What Do I Expect From Host Diving?

Host is basically a server in Shadowrun 5th Edition, but the difference is that they aren’t actual physical location for host and it was made out of technomancer brain (Yeah CGL writing what do you expect). Host provides a service for its user along with security to any device that is underneath it’s Wireless Area Network (WAN). 

Ever since Kill Code released, there are a couple of host types that come along with that splatbook but in this guide, we will only focus on Data Host which you will face in a run 90% of the time. The reason why you want to be inside the host is because most confidential data is inside a host and every device that is part of the host WAN is basically directly connected to the host. Therefore being inside the host means that you have an easier time to hack devices rather than hacking from outside the host.

What Do I Need To Get Better In Host Diving?

There are a couple things that you have to consider before host diving.

  • How many edge points I have left for this host dive? Edge is an important commodity for deckers without it you have the risk to get detected by IC or fail to disarm a databomb. There are 2 things that kill a decker or a technomancer, it is most of the time databomb or get link locked in a host. Without edge you are basically toast.
  • How many dicepool that I have for my Cracking and Electronic skill group? This point has been explained a lot in other guides. If you don’t have decent Cracking and Electronic at chargen then you have a bad time in a host.
  • Did I take my drugs before I went into a host? Psyche, Cereprax, Lighbulb, Big Brain… You need all the edge and dice bonus before crashing in people’s hosts.
  • Did I prepare a bucket list of information that the team needs? Building schematics, employee profile, work schedule. List all of it before going into the host because you do not want to wander inside the host of too long. Get in and get out fast.
  • Have I been inside this host before? Entering a host twice is ill advice but sometimes you have to enter the host yet again if necessary.

If everything is in order, you are ready to place your mark on the target host and enter the host.

Okay I’m In What Is Next?

When you enter a host, there are few things that you need to pay attention to.

  • Pay attention to the detail that the GM told you about the host. Each host has a different flavour and paying attention to detail could help you in the host.
  • Start matrix perceive inside the host, you need to know how many security spiders online in that host, what kind of IC that is online right now. Every security detail will tell you will increase your survivability inside the host.
  • Start matrix search for the files that you are looking for.
  • Matrix perceives each file that your GM provided to you. It is important to know whether the file has databomb or encryption on it.
  • If the file is databomb it is best to disarm it first and then crack the file. However if you have more than 1 file to retrieve it is better to disarm all databomb first and then start to crack the file. This is because cracking the file will kick the hornet nest and make the host alerted to their presence, however you don’t have to panic since you are running silent inside the host and takes time for the IC and the security spider to detect you inside that host.
  • Grab the files with edit file action, you can place a mark on that file and risk the host to detect you or you can reckless hacking and take the -5 to your dicepool. Reckless hacking edit files is considered abusive for some GM so best to ask them whether they are cool with it.
  • If you grab the file you needed and still they haven’t detected you that means time to bail out from the host with your datasteal.

Drek, They Found Me.

Do not panic if they detect you inside the host, it is not game over yet. It will if they managed to link locked you. So pay attention to what we’re saying.

  • On the first combat turn just focus on your job, try to disarm any databomb that has not been disarmed, crack every file that you haven’t cracked and copy every file that you haven’t copied.
  • If they try to do hostile action towards you like Data Spike or Hack on the Fly or Brute Force, you can always Full Matrix Defense and take that -10 to your initiative. It is better to be defensive inside a corporate host, focus with the job rather than engaging cybercombat with an IC and security spider.
  • Remember it takes a combat turn for another IC to pop out from the host, you don’t have to panic until you are outnumbered 5 to 1.
  • If they place a mark on you it is better to remove the mark so that you don’t get link locked by the spiders.
  • If you have more than 3 marks on you, it’s better to reboot, take the dumpshock, lick your wound and try your luck with other legwork intel gathering. Being alive is more important than just getting link locked and the cops are heading to your way.

How To Provide Matrix Overwatch And Being Good At Matrix Combat?

Providing matrix overwatch is basically securing your team equipment from being hacked by opfor hackers. Basically you are providing protection for your team and maintaining the edge that they need. Without your overwatch they only protection that they can have against opfor hackers is to have a good commlink or switch off any wireless capability and swallow the fact that they don’t have advantage from their smartlink or only to rely on micro-transreceiver for team communication.

Who Can I Geek With My Biofeedback?

Melting people’s brains is fun but there are a couple of things that you have to consider before geeking someone on the matrix.

  • Never kill a security spider or corporate rigger with biofeedback. It is much easier for you and your team to get charge for data theft rather than with murder or attempted murder. Biofeedback is a serious business and would be considered as threat escalation. Know the risk before you spike someone’s brains. 

I Found A Deck or RCC Running Silent, What Should I Do Now?

If you found a deck or RCC that is running silent that means you have an advantage and jump against the opfor. Therefore you should be prepared with your hacks and to geek those unfortunate souls.

  • Place a mark on the target device, if you found out that the target device is a master in PAN make sure you fork mark the slave device to ensure you have maximum 3 marks on the master device.
  • Have Biofeedback, Fork, Mugger and Hammer cyberprogram install in your deck.
  • Have a maximum attack array for maximum damage and limit.
  • Wait for your team signal.
  • Fork dataspike and watch the opfor brain melt.

Drek I Was Caught Off Guard, What know?

  • If the opfor have not found you from your matrix perception that means that you still have a chance. However should the the opfor being lucky, the best you can do is to spend a complex action or to reboot your deck and run silent again. This reset the perception and they have to find you again.
  • Try to find the opfor deck with matrix perception. They can’t always be lucky.
  • If you find the deck best to just dataspike rather than placing marks on it. Since they can just reboot and you have to start matrix perception yahtzee mini game yet again with the opfor.

How To Be Better At Cybercombat?

There are a couple of positive qualities that might help you get good at cybercombat here are a couple that we could think of.

  • Perfect Time: Extra free action could synergize with Hi-Rez positive quality.
  • Hi-Rez: This quality allows you to matrix perceive with free action. With Perfect Time that means you can perceive twice as free action. Thus increasing your chance to detect the opfor hacker.
  • Instinctive Hack: You can do one Complex Matrix Action before the initiative starts, that means you can perceive again as complex action hence third time that the opfor have to avoid you or fork dataspike if you managed to find the opfor cyberdeck or RCC.


As a conclusion, playing a hacker archetype can be rewarding if you can handle the bad mechanics and ruling. The possibility of being in a spotlight in every run can be rewarding for some and keep in mind that most of the information for a run to be a success depends on you. Keep calm while in the host and focus on retrieving the file that your team requires. If you get engaged in cybercombat make sure you have preparation and if you can’t just try to find and spike the opfor hacker first before they find and spike you. 

That is all for this guide, the next guide we will explain cyberprogram optimization for deckers.