The houserules

How to use (most of) the 6e Matrix rules in 5e

These rules are canon for my current campaign. However, I am working on superseding them with a set of rules that is further streamlined.

Marks: change to access levels

Remove the concept of marks entirely. Replace with three levels of access:

  • Outsider access is what you have when you first log into a system, and it doesn’t grant you anything other than the ability to look around and interact with others in the location. Equivalent to 0 marks. A host might or might not allow Outsiders to enter it, depending on its purpose and configuration.
  • User access allows you to scan information — read files, perform basic functions, that sort of thing. Equivalent to 1 mark.
  • Admin access allows you to change configuration, turn devices on or off, etc. Equivalent to 3 marks.

(Note there is no equivalent to 2 marks, a small efficiency gain. GMs don’t need to track it and deckers don’t need to pass through it on the way to Admin access.)

All iconography around marks is also removed. No more visible marks or designing a mark that matches your persona.

In addition, most of the time, a character’s hack targets will be an entire PAN or WAN, not not an individual device (see below). Accordingly, access levels are tracked against the entire PAN or WAN. This also reduces book-keeping.

Programs and effects that depend on marks

There are a variety of things in 5e’s version of the Matrix rules that derive an effect from the number of marks you possess, eg. the Brute Force action does extra Matrix damage, so does the Mugger program, and so on. I am preserving these by ruling that User access is equivalent to 1 mark, and Admin access is equivalent to 3 marks.

PANs & WANs

For the purposes of this doc, a WAN is a PAN that is run off a host rather than a commlink/cyberdeck/RCC. Same game mechanics, though, just with more dice.

  • The concept of “master” and “slave” devices doesn’t really exist any more as an explicit thing. Devices can be naked on the Matrix or merged into a PAN/WAN. A PAN/WAN is always centered around a commlink, cyberdeck, RCC, or host.
  • If a device is in a PAN/WAN, you cannot hack into it directly via the Matrix. You have to hack the PAN instead. (But see below about direct connections.)
  • Access levels gained against a PAN - User or Admin - apply to every device on the PAN.
  • PAN sizes are essentially unlimited1. I’m just not interested in tracking them, honestly. I will revisit this if it turns out to break anything important.
  • If you can get a direct cable connection to the device, you can hack just the device. It no longer benefits from the stat boosts from being in the PAN/WAN, so now rolls (likely) a pitiful dice pool2. But access levels gained against it still count for the entire PAN/WAN and everything in it.
    • Yes, physically compromising devices is very powerful.

Matrix skills; Matrix attributes (ASDF); deck stats & configuration

No changes to make here.

Matrix damage & repair; dumpshock

Any device that uses the Matrix to function - including any gear like guns and cyberware that have wireless bonuses - incurs dice pool penalties when they take Matrix damage: -1 per three full boxes. This makes Data Spike wielding deckers more dangerous.

No changes to dumpshock or link-locking.

Your failed Attack actions no longer give you Matrix damage, and your failed Sleaze actions no longer give the target marks against you.

Matrix modes (AR/VR); initiative

No changes.

Connections; Noise

No changes.

Overwatch, GOD, convergence

As in 5e, all hits rolled against the decker in opposed tests on illegal actions add to the Overwatch Score. These are any actions that use the [Attack] or [Sleaze] stats of your deck to determine their limit.

However, remove the secret +2d6 that is added to OS every 15 minutes. Instead, deckers accumulate OS in three new ways:

  • +1 to OS every time they do an action that is affected by any Hacking program (see the list on SR5e CRB page 245)
  • +1 to OS every combat turn that the decker maintains User access to a host or device that was gained via Brute Force
  • +3 to OS every combat turn that the decker maintains Admin access to a host or device that was gained via Brute Force

As before, Overwatch Score is reset when the decker logs out or reboots their deck. And Convergence happens when the Overwatch Score reaches 40, and has the same effects.

Grids

Grids add little to the rules beyond book-keeping, and make some stuff confusing. Keep them for fluff and flavour (the Ares grid has Ares propaganda, the Seattle grid has Emerald City spam) but remove all mechanical effects. All hosts and devices are accessible from all grids without penalties.3

Keep only the -2 dice pool penalty to all actions while using the public grid - it still hurts to be poor, and the free public access grid still sucks.

Matrix perception & running silent

Three important changes:

  • Drop the -2 dice pool penalty for running silent.
  • Running silent is done at the entire PAN level; it is no longer a per-device setting. This also applies to an entire Shadowrunner team with all their devices being covered by the team decker; either all their stuff is running silent, or none of it. This is a lot easier to track.
  • When attempting to spot icons that are running silent, you no longer need to randomly pick which ones you investigate with Matrix Perception. Instead, you make a single Matrix Perception test (Computer+Intuition [Data Processing]), and each icon running silent makes the opposing dice roll (Logic + Sleaze.) Every icon that fails this test is immediately revealed to you, all in one go.4

Stealth tags are always running silent and resist Matrix perception actions with 10 dice.

Matrix actions

Sleaze attacks: Probe / Backdoor Entry

Remove the Hack on the Fly action. Replace it with two new linked actions:

It isn’t completely clear if a decker’s Probe results persist if they log out of the Matrix then log in again later. For these houserules, I am ruling that they do.

Once a decker has successfully run Probe against a target, they can move onto the second new action:

Brute Force

By default, a successful Brute Force check grants User access. If the decker wants to go from Outsider to Admin access in one go, they may attempt to do so, at a -6 dice pool penalty (reduced to -4 with the Go Big Or Go Home quality).5

Note that access gained via Brute Force will accrue Overwatch Score as long as the decker maintains the forced access; at a rate of +1 per Combat Turn for User access, or +3 per Combat Turn if the decker has Admin access. So once you use this, the clock is ticking!

Also: Brute Force no longer does optional Matrix damage, in the name of up speeding play and simplifying things. One action = one result.

Spoof Command

In these houserules, as in SR6e, Spoof Command no longer needs any marks on anything to work. (In SR5e, it requires a mark on an icon that can legitimately command the target device.)

New action: Tarpit

A sort of stun-damage analog to the physical-damage attack of Data Spike:

New action: Encrypt File

A very minor detail, but this is the counterpart to Crack File. This functionality is in 5e but buried in a weird little alternate mode in a footnote to the Edit File action.

Smaller action changes

There are a large number of small changes to various dice rolls and mechanics for actions throughout 6e. In the main, I am choosing not to include these in my houserules. I don’t think any of them have a drastic effect on gameplay, and they will invalidate the 5e quick reference material I use, which is painful. All these changes are documented in the Matrix Actions Comparison section, if you want to see them.

Here are some smaller changes I do think it’s worth making:

  • Format device: treat the repair test for restoring a device as the same as repairing a device bricked through accumulated matrix damage.
  • …maybe more to come here after playtesting…

Removed actions

  • Invite Mark - Hosts can now allow access to people with Outsider access level instead, so they no longer need to invite would-be visitors to get one mark first.
  • Erase Mark - the only way to erase marks now is to reboot the device. It is unclear how this works in the context of hosts, though.
  • Hop Grid - grids are gone, so this is gone.

Programs

Almost all programs can be left as-is. 6e removes a number of programs that are in 5e (see the comparison for details), but they are harmless to leave in place, I think. 6e also changes how a few programs work in order to use the new Edge mechanic; again, this can be ignored.

The only exception is the Guard program, which should be removed, as it only works in the context of marks gained against the decker.

Hosts & IC

Keep host and IC initiative, stats, and attack rolls the same. See below for a detailed comparison, but in general, make the following changes to IC effects:

  • Hosts no longer get marks on deckers: this is one less thing to keep track of. IC actions no longer grant marks or require marks. Remove the damage boost related to marks from Black IC, Blaster, etc.
  • Scramble forces a reboot at the end of the next Combat Turn6. Otherwise it becomes a bit of a powerful one-blow-knockout against the decker, as it no longer requires any marks against them as a prerequisite.
  • Acid / Binder / Jammer / Marker: these are the IC that attack your deck’s Firewall / Data Processing / Attack / Sleaze stats. Change them so that:
    • They degrade your deck stats by the net hits on their attack roll, not just 1 point.
    • They do not do Matrix damage.
    • Stat degradation recovers at the rate of 1 point per minute once the decker has left the host that did the damage.

Other removed rules

No -2 dice pool penalty to Matrix actions for running silent - this is another fiddly detail to remember and easy to forget about. Furthermore, with the move to make running silent a setting that applies to an entire PAN rather than an individual device, it becomes quite painful for players to make decisions about. So it is removed in these houserules, in line with SR6e.

Rules non-changes

To make it explicit, I don’t suggest changing anything on this list. They should still work fine with the former changes in this section.

  • Cyberdecks: Leaving aside the splitting of 5e’s cyberdecks into 6e’s cyberdecks and cyberjacks, the stats are broadly equivalent in both editions. No particular adjustments are needed to 5e’s deck’s stats to fit into the backported rules.

    However, I’d recommend GMs consider reducing the cost of cyberdecks significantly, at least by 50%, perhaps even more… or be prepared to make upgraded cyberdecks an occasional run reward from Mr Johnson, and give all PC’s decks plot armour, as losing one will be financially ruinous.

  • Use of ASDF stats to determine test limits; also how cyberdeck stats are assigned and moved around between the ASDF slots.

  • All mechanics for what happens when Convergence occurs.

  • Noise is unchanged in this ruleset, both in terms of how it is calculated and its mechanical effects.

  • Matrix Search in 6e appears to have been the victim of mangled editing resulting in dubious maths7. A strict reading of RAW suggests a decker can make an extended test, so rolling 50-100 dice in aggregate, against a results table where 10 hits reveals “deep secrets others are trying to actively hide” - a trivial accomplishment on so many dice. It is best left as-is in 5e, I think.


  1. “PAN’s were not originally meant to be as restrictive on number of devices as they ended up (if errata does not get approved to change it a good house rule would be to make it Device Rating x3 for max number of devices)” source [return]
  2. This is a houserule; in 6e RAW, direct connection doesn’t grant the firewall bypass. [return]
  3. I have little love for the extended test mechanic in general. It’s good in theory, but it simply takes too long to roll 50-100 dice and count the hits. [return]
  4. This is the rule in 5e, also, as of Kill Code (see page 32.) [return]
  5. Confirmed by Banshee (Matrix rules author) as his intention here. [return]
  6. RAW is one minute; Banshee originally intended it to be an hour. I prefer his version. [return]
  7. Note I have removed the word “extended” here – see the note below. [return]
Last modified July 26, 2020