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Action economy

Initiative, combat turns, and actions

These rules are mostly canon for my campaign (see sub-pages.)

1 - Introduction

Design goals, summary of changes from RAW

Design goals

First and foremost, to reduce book-keeping and confusion:

  1. Remove the need to track anything between phases:
    1. Whether a character has used their Free action
    2. Progressive recoil
    3. How much of a character’s per-turn movement allowance has been used
    4. How many actions a character has used outside their phase1
  2. Remove all changes to the initiative value during the turn:
    1. No more multiple passes
    2. No more interrupt actions

Second, to make some mechanical/balance changes:

  • Make streetsams/physads more distinctive by giving them combat powers other archetypes cannot access.
    • Also return to them the ability to frontload a number of their attacks, so they get a natural spotlight moment as they mow down mooks before anyone else can blink.
  • Give AR deckers and riggers an easier time of it – so they can get out the car/van and come along on the run without worrying that their floppy meatbods will get hurt while they are in VR because that’s the only way to get a good action economy.

Third, to explore an idea. With the exception of 4e, Shadowrun has always tightly coupled together two concepts: how soon in a turn a character acts (their initiative roll) and how much they can get done in a turn (how many passes they get.) These houserules decouples these and allows them to vary independently under some combinations of character abilities.

Reddit threads about these rules

  1. Unlike 6e-style “anytime” actions, which mean a character can use Major or Minor actions outside their normal phase, which means you need to keep track of how many they saved from their last phase. ↩︎

2 - The combat turn, initiative, and bonus actions

How to figure out who goes when and what they can get done

These rules are currently canon for my campaign. Although they are a bit experimental.

The combat turn

Initiative time is split into a series of turns, with each turn representing a few seconds of in-game time. During a turn, each character gets a phase in which to do their actions. The order in which characters get phases is determined by the initiative roll.

Each combat turn runs like this:

  • Everyone rolls initiative.
  • Count down from highest to lowest; when a character’s number comes up, they get their phase.
    • (Break ties with “ERIC” as per 5e RAW - compare the two characters Edge, Reaction, Intuition stats. If it’s still a draw, flip a coin.)
  • During their phase, each character takes their action(s).
  • During any phase that is not theirs to act on, any character can take one Free action.
  • When you get to 0, the turn is over1. Re-roll initiative and start over at the top again2.

On their phase, everyone gets one normal Complex or two Simple actions as usual, and they might also get bonus Simple actions3 (see below).

Complex and Simple actions can be freely interchanged as usual (one Complex = two Simple and vice versa.)

A character’s normal Complex action can be used for any type of action, but their bonus Simple actions can only be used to perform specific types of action (physical / Matrix / magical), depending on where the character got the bonus actions from.

Free actions

Each character can take a Free action on any phase, including their own. They can do this as many times during the turn as there are phases.4

Rolling for initiative

What you roll is determined by “where” your character is:

Where Roll
In the physical world (including AR) Rea + Int + 1d6
In VR, cold sim DataProc + Int + 3d6
In VR, hot sim DataProc + Int + 4d6
Astrally projecting (Int × 2) + 2d6
  • Physical initiative can be boosted by various sources: augmentations, spells, adept powers, combat drugs, etc.
  • For avoidance of doubt: mages who aren’t astrally projecting and deckers/riggers who are using AR roll physical initiative.

Getting bonus actions

Summary table; discussion follows below:

Bonus actions
Wired Reflexes / Improved Reactions (etc) Rating 1 +1 Simple (physical)
Rating 2 +2 Simple (physical)
Rating 3 +3 Simple (physical)
Drugs None
AR with DNI or cold-sim VR +2 Simple (Matrix)
Hot-sim VR +3 Simple (Matrix)
Initiated magician Grade 1 +1 Simple (magic)
Grade 2 +2 Simple (magic)
Grade 3 +3 Simple (magic)

Note that no metahuman brain can cope with the multiplicity of inputs of being active in more than one “world” at once. Hence, characters can receive bonus meatspace actions, bonus matrix actions, or bonus magic actions; but only one. If they are eligible for more than one at once, through whatever combination of gear/augments/spells/etc, they can choose freely when rolling for initiative which “world” is getting their attention and hence which bonus minor actions they will receive.

Physical actions

Characters can receive bonus physical actions via any sort of normal initiative augmentation: this includes wired reflexes, Improved Reflexes adept powers, and other cyberware, bioware, or magical initiative augments (including spells like Increase Reflexes). But not drugs; see below.

  • They generally run from Rating 1-3.
  • Each rating makes the usual changes, eg +1d6 to initiative.
  • For each d6 added to initiative, the user also adds 1 Simple action to the amount they can do in their phase but this action can only be used on physical (meatspace) actions, not on Matrix or magic.
    • So someone with rating 2 wired reflexes can do 4x Simple actions; or 2x Complex actions; or some other combination.

Magic actions

For every initiate grade from 1-3, mages get an extra Simple action that can only be used for magical actions (incl spellcasting, summoning, banishing, etc). This bonus applies equally in the physical world and while astrally projecting.

(Note that this means after their first initiation, a mage can summon a spirit (Complex action) and order it (Simple action) in a single phase.)

Matrix actions

Bonus Matrix actions depend on the decker’s or rigger’s interface mode.

  • In AR without DNI: no extra actions
  • In AR with DNI or cold-sim VR: +2 Simple actions
  • In hot-sim VR: +3 Simple actions

As usual, the bonus actions received can only be used for Matrix actions. These include driving tests if the character is piloting a vehicle via AR.


Drugs that increase your initiative roll do not grant extra actions. However, their effect does stack with extra actions gained from other sources. So an initiated mage using Kamikaze can go earlier in the turn and still use their normal Complex action and any bonus magical actions from initiating.

Obviously, combat drugs come with other downsides.

  1. These rules eliminate multiple passes. ↩︎

  2. Or keep the values same and start over without re-rolling as SR 6e does, if you prefer. I like the dynamic feel of re-rolling each turn though. ↩︎

  3. These bonus actions replace the multiple passes mechanic of normal Shadowrun 5e. ↩︎

  4. This restores how Free actions worked in older editions of Shadowrun. It faciliates team communications via the “speak/text/transmit phrase” option. I don’t think there are any game balance consequences to speak of, but we’ll revisit this rule if I’m wrong. ↩︎

3 - Physical actions

Actions done in meatspace


  • Speak/text/transmit phrase (Free)
  • Observe in detail (Simple)
  • Use skill (Complex)


Characters move at different rates, measured in the number of metres they travel during their phase.

  • Crawling (no action used) - prone characters can crawl up to 2 metres.
  • Walking (no action used) - all characters can walk up to 5 metres1 in their phase without using any actions or taking any penalties.
  • Running (Free) - characters can quicken their pace to a run by spending a Free action. This lets them move 10+(Agi×2) metres. They will take a -2 penalty to almost all actions they do during the phase, though. (However, note it becomes a +2 bonus to melee combat; this is the ‘charging in’ modifier.)
  • Sprinting (Complex) - characters may travel even faster by spending a Complex action to make a sprinting test (Running + Strength [Physical]). For every hit on this test, most metatypes can travel a further 2 metres than their running distance. Dwarves can only travel 1 metre further per hit, however. They will continue to take a -2 penalty, as for running.

Take cover (Simple)

Assuming there is some nearby suitable object, this grants the in cover bonus (+2 or +4 to defence rolls) until the character moves again. Note they might get flanked, though.

Drop prone (Free) / Stand up (Simple)

Drop to the ground or get back up again2.


  • Drop object (Free)
  • Pick up / put down object (Simple)
  • Use simple device - includes pressing buttons, turning something on or off, ejecting a weapon clip, changing a weapon’s fire mode, etc.
    • with DNI (Free)
    • without DNI (Simple)


  • Ready weapon 3
    • Pistol w/ slide or quick draw holster (Free)
    • Handgun (up to SMG) or short melee/thrown weapon (Simple)
    • Long gun, sword, bow, etc (Complex)
  • Insert clip (Simple)
  • Reload non-clip weapon (special)
  • Call a shot (Free)
  • Take Aim (special) (TODO)
  • Attack (Complex) (see below)
  • Declare split multiple attack (Free)
  • Carnival of Carnage (special) (see below)


You can do as many attacks, during your turn, as you have actions to spend; the only exception is for single-shot (SS) weapons, which can only be used to attack once per turn4.

  • Complex action:
    • Fire Weapon (SS) (only once per turn)
    • Fire Bow
    • Fire Weapon (SA, BF, FA)
    • Throw Weapon
    • Melee Attack
  • Complex + Free action:
    • Multi-attack (split dice pool - as per 5e CRB)
  • Complex + variable number of Simple actions:
    • Carnival of Carnage multi-attack (full dice pool; see below)5

Recoil is no longer tracked across turns, but it does apply (in total) across all the attacks done within a single phase.

Carnival of Carnage

If the attacker has either:

  1. a ranged weapon and
  2. extra physical/meatspace actions and
  3. a smartlink with a DNI connection to a smartgun


  1. a melee weapon and
  2. multiple targets within movement range

…then they can use a new type of multiple attack, Carnival of Carnage.

To use CoC:

  • It requires one Complex action, plus one Simple action for each additional target in addition to the first.
  • Calculate recoil according to the total number of bullets fired and apply it to each roll.
    • Eg. if using one Complex and two Simple actions to shoot three people with a burst-fire gun, it’s 9 bullets.
  • Roll your full dice pool (plus modifiers) against each target.
    • (For simplicity’s sake, unless the modifiers are different, just roll once and use the same number of hits against each target.)
  • Resolve damage against each target as usual.

Note that you cannot use Carnival of Carnage to attack one target multiple times.

  1. This is deliberately a fair bit less than RAW for many characters. My table plays theatre-of-the-mind and we hardly ever have accurate grids during combat. So I wanted there to be a clearer difference between ‘walking’ and ‘running’ rates. ↩︎

  2. I have removed the requirement to pass a test to stand up if the character is wounded. ↩︎

  3. This is changed from RAW; I have removed the Quick Draw action and instead made quick draw holsters a Free action. Larger weapons become a Complex action rather than a Simple to ready up. ↩︎

  4. Although you can dual-wield them and attack once per turn per weapon, if you wish. ↩︎

  5. Shoutout to the rad action movie RPG Feng Shui, from whence I stole this name. ↩︎

4 - Matrix actions

Actions done in the matrix (for riggers & deckers)

All the vehicle actions listed below count as Matrix actions for any character using AR or VR, and thus can be done with a character’s bonus Matrix actions.

TODO(check CRB pg 202-203)

Matrix actions

The SR5 core rulebook has 37 normal actions plus 9 magic actions. It also has 42 Matrix actions. Kill Code adds another 11. This is too many. See my matrix houserules for a streamlined set.


  • Fire Mounted Weapon (when it’s an electronically controlled turret) (Complex)
  • Rigger Jump In (Complex)
  • Make Vehicle Test (for vehicle piloting actions eg. stunts, pursuits) (Complex)
  • Send Message (to command drones) (Simple)
    • By default, can command one drone; if the drones are connected to a PAN centered on an RCC the user can send the same command to multiple drones for a single Simple action.

When a rigger is jumped in, Control Vehicle becomes a Free Action ie. a rigger no longer needs to spend one Complex action per turn to stop the vehicle going uncontrolled. This is only true when jumped in, and jumped in continues to require VR.

5 - Magical actions

All magic-related actions (in meatspace or the astral)


  • Activate focus (Simple)

  • Shift perception (Simple)

  • Astral projection (Complex)

  • Summon spirit (Complex)

  • Call bound spirit (Simple)

  • Command spirit (Simple)

  • Banish spirit (Complex)

  • Dismiss spirit (Simple)

  • Reckless spellcasting (Simple)

  • Cast spell (Complex)


Remove Reckless Spellcasting (the ability to cast a spell for a Simple action at +3 drain.)

Spell defence now requires a Simple action to declare, which must be a deferred action from the mage’s last phase. However, it protects up to (Magic Rating) targets, all of whom get the mage’s full Counterspelling skill to add to their spell defence dice. This can be done as many times as the mage has actions.

6 - Interrupt actions

Acting defensively out of turn

There are two different systems for interrupt actions here; one is the ones we are currently using. The other is a more radical system that uses Edge instead of changing initiative score. These are not currently in use.

Interrupt actions

These rules are currently canon for my campaign. Although they are a bit experimental…

Interrupt actions no longer change your initiative score by -5 or -10 when taken. Instead:

  • A character may save any number of actions unused from their phase
  • These may be used at any point before or during their next phase
  • They can save them to use defensively (eg Parry) or take an action later for tactical reasons
  • The deferred action cannot be held any longer than whenever their next phase is
  • If they are still holding a deferred action when their next phase arrives, they can use it as part of that phase
  • No character can take any defensive actions on the first combat turn before their first phase

Edge interrupt actions

These rules are not currently canon for my campaign. Although I plan for them to replace the rules above in time.


7 - Appendices

Footnotes, miscellaneous stuff

Possible future changes / other ideas

  • Physads: need consideration re: the new multi attack.
  • Deckers: some bit of gear (deck add-on? A program?) that can grant an extra +1 Simple
  • Mages: vary the number of actions necessary to cast a spell or summon a spirit:


  • Force < (Magic rating /2): 1 Complex
  • Force between above and below: 1 Complex + 1 Simple
  • Force > (Magic rating): 2 Complex


Spellcasting Summoning
1 Simple action Force <= Magic/2
1 Complex action (in between above and below) Force <= Magic/2
1 Complex + 1 Simple Force > Magic (in between above and below)
2 Complex Force > Magic

Worked example with my current PCs

Old rules (RAW) Proposed new rules
Initiative roll 12+3d6 12+3d6
Phases per turn 74% chance of 3x

26% chance of 2x

Always 1x
Actions per phase 1 Complex 1 Complex (anything)

+1 Complex (physical)

Max attacks per turn 2x or 3x 3x
Old rules (RAW) Proposed new rules
Initiative roll 9+1d6 9+1d6
Phases per turn 83% chance of 2x

17% chance of 1x

Always 1x
Actions per phase 1 Complex 1 Complex (anything)

+1 Simple (magical)

Mr Atom
Old rules (RAW) Proposed new rules
Initiative roll 10+1d6 10+1d6
Phases per turn 2x 1x
Actions per phase 1 Complex 1 Complex (anything)
Max attacks per turn 2x 1x
Project: Heartbreak
Old rules (RAW) Proposed new rules
Initiative roll 9+1d6 9+1d6
Phases per turn 83% chance of 2x

17% chance of 1x

Always 1x
Actions per phase 1 Complex 1 Complex (anything)
Max attacks per turn 2x 1x
Twitch (physical)
Old rules (RAW) Proposed new rules
Initiative roll 14+3d6 14+3d6
Phases per turn 0.5% chance of 4x

83.3% chance of 3x

16.2% chance of 1x

Always 1x
Actions per phase 1 Complex 1 Complex (anything)

1 Complex (physical)

Max attacks per turn 2x - 4x 4x
Twitch (matrix AR DNI / VR cold sim)
Old rules (RAW) Proposed new rules
Initiative roll 14+3d6 DataProc+6+1d6
Phases per turn 0.5% chance of 4x

83.3% chance of 3x

16.2% chance of 2x

Always 1x
Actions per phase 1 Complex 1 Complex (anything)

1 Complex (Matrix)

Max attacks per turn 2x - 4x