Why I wrote this & what I hoped to achieve

The Shadowrun Matrix rules have undergone years of patching and re-patching, more so than any other aspect of the system. There are many decisions that are made for good game mechanic reasons but have inadequate explanations within the in-game universe. This makes them confusing and counter-intuitive, as the mechanics and the narrative sometimes don’t quite align.

While the rulebooks do a decent job of defining the pieces of the Matrix they don’t go into enough detail about how the pieces fit together inside the game universe. Instead, the books mostly go from piecemeal definitions directly into the rules. Players and GMs are left to infer the workings of the game universe from how the rules function, but this isn’t always clear or consistent.

I wanted to have a go at cleaning this up for my own game. This document is the result. It attempts to describe the in-universe view of the Matrix and how it works.

Goals of doc:

  • To support the classic cyberpunk tropes, such as criminals slicing through seemingly-overwhelming security by finding and exploiting weak points, and of seemingly-impenetrable megacorps undone by their arrogance and laziness.
  • To keep as close as reasonably possible to Shadowrun 5/6e rules-as-written. I do have my own Matrix houserules, but they mostly streamline existing mechanics without changing how things function.


  • To consider rule changes as a consequence of this doc (that is a separate project.)
  • To obey established canon (I will deviate or expand wherever I feel absolutely necessary, although I will try to minimise this.)
  • To use real life terminology with complete accuracy (I will use computing terms in order to evoke a high-tech future, but not necessarily in perfect accordance with their real definitions.)
  • To adhere to a strictly retro-futurism interpretation of cyberpunk; this document will not be designed to support wired networks and neon wireframes virtual realities.

NB: Although the below is written predominantly for my own Shadowrun campaign, and mostly uses Shadowrun jargon, I hope it might also be of use for other Cyberpunk RPGs that eschew cassette futurism and instead have wireless networks and augmented reality interfaces.

Major topics discussed so far

  • Why deckers have to be within hacking range of targets
  • What personas are, and why you can only have one at once
  • Why you can’t steal (most people’s) personas to get all their stuff
  • How shadowrunners and other organised criminals can get by in modern society
  • Why you can’t trivially destroy people’s houses by hacking all their stuff when they’re at work
  • Why cyberware and weapons have wireless connections and hence are hackable
Last modified August 1, 2020: lots of matrix changes (8fa68ca)