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Ever since I've learned about Shadowrun, I've been interested in the Matrix. However, every time I've played Shadowrun, the Matrix is glossed over due to confusion and misunderstanding. In looking at character creation, I feel that one possible culprit is the way the Matrix/hacking is viewed. First off, Matrix use is often viewed as the sole realm of hackers/deckers, and no one else is allowed to use it. Second, it seems (at least to me) that the view of a hacker/decker is to be the master of the Matrix, "skilled" in every use and nuance. This is like saying a street sam needs to encompass all of combat (ranged, melee, explosives, medicine, etc) or a mage needs to be a master of the physical and astral world and slinger of both spells and spirits. It's not to say that there aren't runners who try to do these things, but I think most are likely to be more specialized. I'm trying to look at the Matrix the same way.

Note that I'll be talking about the SR4 Matrix here. However, I'm hoping that the concept can be translated to older/newer versions. For simplicity, I've left out the Technomancer actions, though it should be pretty straight forward where those actions sit.

Anyways, in an attempt to make the Matrix more manageable, I'm trying to find those specializations. If players have a better understanding of different Matrix specialties, perhaps they can make more interesting characters that can work as a group on and offline, rather than pushing the Matrix onto one character who just takes every program at the highest rating possible. The specialties shown here are meant as a conversation starter. It should also be noted that there is overlap among specialties, and that most hackers will likely have use other kinds of Matrix actions than those listed in their specialty. I'm trying to boil this down into their purest form, rather than portraying all the skills and programs employed by any given hacker.

The first "specialty" is not a specialty at all. Rather, this is the idea of a general (albeit skilled) Matrix user. These actions encompass the use of the Matrix for it's indented purpose: the movement and consumption of data. Those who simply use the Matrix may take some of these actions, but it is the skilled users that put them to work. This "specialty" is also the foundation for every other specialist, who all employ these actions for different reasons. In addition to a number of basic actions, such as logging out and changing an icon, skilled Matrix users are likely to use the following actions, and possess the related programs:
  • Analyze Icon/Node
  • Data Search
  • Edit

The second (in no order) specialty is the Data Thief. They are concerned with the acquisition and manipulation of data, notable from sources that aren't likely to be broadcasting publicly. This is essentially hacking by it's purest definition. The actions associated with this specialty are:
  • Capture Wireless Signal
  • Hack on the Fly
  • Initiate Cryptanalysis
  • Intercept Traffic
  • Spoof Command

The third specialty is the Cyber-vandal. Cyber-vandals corrupt, break, and otherwise cause problems for nodes and programs. The idea here is to destroy and alter data from the shadows of the Matrix, rather than using outright force (although such measures are not unheard of). Their actions tend to be:
  • Crash Node
  • Corrupt Data
  • Set Data Bomb

The fourth specialty is the Matrix Warrior. These specialists are the soldiers and cyber-combatants of the Matrix. They use the Matrix as their battleground, striking at other hackers and their programs. While the Cyber-vandal may be the monkey wrench thrown into the machine, Matrix Warriors are the sword used in war. Their common actions are:
  • Crash Program
  • Disarm Program
  • Matrix Attacks
  • Repair Icon

The fifth specialty is that of Matrix Security. Security specialists serve many roles, including the Matrix Warrior. However, in this sense, their primary task is in securing and controlling data, and well as rebelling other hackers. Their role is the most diverse, as the data they are protecting may be of the utmost importance. They are the shield to the Matrix Warrior's sword, and the protective casing against the Cyber-vandal's monkey wrench. The collection of actions taken by Matrix Security specialists include:
  • Capture Wireless Signal
  • Detect Hidden Node
  • Disarm Data Bomb
  • Disinfect
  • Encrypt
  • Jam Signals
  • Matrix Attacks
  • Redirect Trace
  • Trace User

The final specialty is possibly the most specialized. Rather than working in bits and bytes, Riggers work with the devices that are connected to the Matrix. Whether it is manning the gun on a drone or controlling a security camera, Riggers are the puppet masters of the Matrix. While their work requires other skills, their main actions are:
  • Control Device
  • Disarm Program
  • Hack on the Fly
  • Spoof Command

What do you think? Is there anything I'm missing? Can any specialty be broken up further, or combined into a less pigeon-holed role? Are there any actions you think should be moved around? Are there any variations on these specialties? Keep in mind that Matrix users may be take on multiple specialties (like a Security specialist also working in cybercombat, or a Rigger who is also a Data Thief), but feel free to bring some more perspective to this idea.
I would add "Probing the target", "Find hidden Node", "Initiate Cryptoanalysis" and "Disarm Data Bomb" to the Data thief, and "Set Data Bomb" to the Matrix Security.
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