This is not an in-depth guide to decking, programming, and deckbuilding. Rather, these are thoughts intended to help mechanically optimize the creation of a decker (whether as a primary or secondary role). For more detail, take a look at the other guides and the in-game help files.
IMPORTANT: If you read nothing else, understand that matrix hosts resist your actions by rolling against your detection factor (see: HELP DETECTION FACTOR), so it is highly recommended that you get this to 6. Also, most utility programs reduce the TNs (see: HELP TN) you roll against, so as a generalization, it is recommended that you obtain them at the highest rating you can, even though you might not be able to fit them all into your active memory at the same time (instead, unload and load programs as needed).
There are four ways that programs are used: (1) to assist in programming (that is, the programming suite), (2) as a passive utility that affects our matrix test TNs (see: HELP TN), (3) as an active utility that we execute directly (see: HELP RUN), and (4) as a component for building parts.
The programming suite, when installed on our computer (not in the cyberdeck!), adds dice to the programming step of program creation. Whether we start with a store-bought cyberdeck or aim to make our own custom deck, this is the first program we should create; it will help us in all our future programing, including making higher rating programming suites.
In general, we want to create programs in category (2) at the highest rating our deck can handle, as reducing TNs can often have a greater impact on our success in the Matrix than adding more dice. An exception is the sleaze program, which is averaged with our masking persona (round up) to form our “detection factor” (see: HELP DETECTION FACTOR). Because of SR3 dice probability distributions, a detection factor of 6 (e.g., sleaze 5 + masking 6) is just as effective as a detection factor of 7.
There are really only two relevant programs that fall in category (3): attack and medic. For the attack program, rating 6 is generally sufficient because IC don't appear to have armor. The rating of medic determines how many times we can run medic before needing to reload it.
Programs that belong to category (4), including personas (see: HELP PERSONAS), are only used when we're building our own custom deck. Store-bought decks are not compatible with custom built parts. To clarify a specific point of confusion: only store-bought persona programs work with store-bought decks, though they do have the minor benefit of not needing to be cooked.
A completed program has size equal to rating2 x multiplier, where the multiplier depends on what program. An incomplete program requires 10% more space.
When making programs, their maximum rating is equal to our Computer skill (exception: the Evaluate program is capped by our Data Brokerage skill). All the various Program Design skills are used in the design step, but for rating 6-8 programs, we can reasonably default to Intelligence without having much impact on our success rate. In order, the steps to produce a program are: create, design, program, cook (see: HELP CREATE, HELP DESIGN, HELP PROGRAM, HELP COOK).
In order to produce programs, we need a computer. Computers have some amount of active and storage memory (PROBE the computer to see these values). If our active memory is at least twice the size of a program, then we get a TN bonus on our programming test, which helps us get more successes, which in turn means we complete it faster (mechanically, programming time is divided by number of successes).
Example: a chargen Z4 has 500 Mp of active memory. So long as each of our programs require 250 Mp or less memory, the Z4 will give us the bonus to programming tests. The largest size multiplier is x3 for programs that belong to category (2) and x5 for programs that belong to category (3). A programming suite has multiplier x15. Thus, we can use a rating 4 programming suite and program anything in category (2) at rating 7 and anything in category (3) at rating 6. Conveniently, this is a good fit for maxing out a CMT Avatar. However, the Z4 also only has 500 Mp storage memory, so we'll only be able to keep a few programs installed on it at a time (see: HELP INSTALL, HELP UNINSTALL).
We also need a cooker to encode our programs onto chips. The rating of a cooker adds dice to our cook test, but note that the TN for cooking is only 4. If we have 6 dice (e.g., Computer Build and Repair 6 with a Sony Encoder I), we have a less than 2% chance to fail. With bonuses from cyberware/bioware and/or a cooker with rating higher than 0, our chance of failure is so much lower that it isn't really necessary to put effort into obtaining a rating 6 Hitachi RM-AX. As with programming, cooking time is divided by number of successes, though we only need to be present to start the cooking (we can go do other stuff while the cooker does its work).
Persona ratings are typically what hosts and IC will roll against. Because of the SR3 dice ruleset, personas at rating 6 are ideal for the newbie decker (and because of opportunity costs, 6 can be better than 7). However, the total of our four persona programs can't exceed our MPCP rating x3. Because Evasion is only useful for initiating maneuvers (useful for hard targets) and defending against trace IC (NERP), we can do without it when we're just looking to harvest easier hosts for paydata.
The masking persona is averaged with our sleaze program (round up) to form our “detection factor” (see: HELP DETECTION FACTOR), and because of SR3 dice probability distributions, a detection factor of 6 (e.g., sleaze 5 + masking 6) is just as effective as a detection factor of 7.
Probably the most important decision when creating a decker is whether you intend to initially rely on a store-bought cyberdeck or if you intend to build your own custom deck as soon as possible. A store-bought cyberdeck (including the CMT Avatar that the pre-built decker archetype starts with) has a cold ASIST, which does not allow us to use your hacking pool.
However, access to the hacking pool means that a custom MPCP 6 deck can often perform better than a CMT Avatar, depending on host ratings, even though the Avatar has a higher MPCP rating. The plot below shows a comparison between a CMT Avatar and a custom MPCP 6. Both deckers are assumed to have started with Computer 6 and have picked up all relevant cyberware and bioware. Because the decker with the custom MPCP 6 has spent significant time/effort in building their deck as well as programming rating 6 utilities, it is reasonable to assume that the decker with the CMT Avatar has also taken some effort to increase their computer skill to 7 and to upgrade their utility programs to rating 7 so as to maximize the benefit they get from their CMT Avatar's MPCP 7. The plot also assumes that both decks have detection factor = 6 and that the opposing Matrix Host has a security rating value equal to 2/3 (round down) of the targeted subsystem rating. The alert state is not taken into account, though an alerted host can be approximated by taking its subsystem rating as 2 points higher on the plot.
The default hacking pool allocation is 1/3 of the pool (see: HELP MAX), so the decker with the custom MPCP 6 will typically roll 6 skill +3 task pool +3 hacking pool = 12 dice. Alternatively, if the decker is willing to wait for their pool to refresh for each action, then they can allocate more hacking pool dice. SR3 pg 44 says the max number of hacking pool dice that can be allocated to any test is capped by skill rating, so this brings them up to 15 dice. The CMT Avatar decker, not being able to use their hacking pool, rolls 7 skill +3 task pool = 10 dice.
Intelligence contributes to our hacking pool, and if we didn't pick up the design skills, our design tests default to this attribute.
Computers is what we use for matrix actions, programming tests, and caps the ratings of the programs we make (except Evaluate). Computer Build and Repair is what we use to build deck parts, and caps what MPCP rating we can build. Data Brokerage is used when fencing paydata, and caps what Evaluate program rating we can make.
Cyberterminal Design and the five Program Design skills are optional for early deck-building and programming. Without these skills, we default to Intelligence for design tests, but if we picked up everything on the the highly recommended 'ware list, our likelihood of failure without these skills for rating 6-8 parts/programs is very small. These skills do make a significant difference for higher rating decks/programs, but we can pick them up later when we're actually thinking of upgrading.
Because cyberterminal design tests have TN = MPCP/2 whereas programming design tests have TN = 4, and because programming tests also get bonuses from a sufficiently large computer and from a programming suite, the cyberterminal design skill is much more valuable than the five program design skills when considering MPCP and program ratings of 8 or higher.
A Datajack, because we can't jack-in without one.
Enhanced Articulation provides +1 to a variety of non-Matrix tests, including technical and build/repair skill checks. Cerebral Booster II provides +2 int and +1 task pool. Encephalon II provides +2 task pool and +2 hacking pool. The hacking pool does not matter if starting with a store-bought deck, but if aiming to immediately build a custom deck, also consider the Math SPU III for its +3 hacking pool.
As optional items for consideration, a Chipjack (any rating) is all that's needed to use the skillsoft versions of the design skills. A Chipjack Expert Driver III gives us +3 dice when using chipped skills (though note that no other dice pools apply). We can combine the chipjack and expert driver with Skillwires to use the skillsoft versions of any active skills that we might want to have on a temporary basis, and that we might not intend to max out, e.g., athletics, electronics, vehicle and vehicle b/r skills, maybe also etiquettes to make the initial purchases easier (though there's also an argument for maxing out etiquettes as real skills eventually). Rating III or V matches the skillsofts available in chargen (all the rating V softs are also available in-game).
All the highly recommended 'ware can be picked up with resources at priority B, and the mandatory skills at priority E, so we have quite a bit of room for the rest of the character. NOTE: because melee is only defended against by melee, it is a very good idea for all characters to pick up a melee skill. If we're using a firearm, we use clubs for melee defense. If we put a bayonet on the firearm, then we use polearms for melee defense.
WRT magical characters: picking up everthing on the highly recommended 'ware list means starting with magic 3. For mages, this means we'll want to grind paydata for at least a rating 3 power focus before we start spamming stunbolt 6. For adepts, it may be worth using those 3 power points for kinesics; we'll be lacking combat abilities until we get in a few addpoints and initiations, but we'll also be able to buy truck-loads of APDS ammo much earlier than any other character concept.
WRT riggers, each rating of a vehicle control rig reduces hacking pool. Having a rig also increases matrix TN by 1. Because program ratings directly reduce matrix TNs, this is really only a problem while our ratings are still low. One idea might be to start without a rig and pick one up in-game after we can upgrade to higher rating decks and programs.
We can't immediately begin building a custom deck on leaving chargen because we need to obtain a few things that are only available in-game:
Between these, we'll need around 36k nuyen to build a deck that can hunt for paydata. This can be covered by doing all the newbie Neophyte Guild autoruns, plus “idle nuyen” while programming and deck building, making it perfectly reasonable for a decker to start the game without having spent chargen resources on a store-bought cyberdeck. This assumes we picked up a Mitsuhama Z4 computer and a cooker in chargen. We should probably buy the optical chips first so we can get the cooking started as we complete each program. NOTE: Making the cyberdeck components will require the workshop and cyberdeck parts, as well as cooked programs for those parts that require them.
For the purpose of harvesting paydata, we want at least the following:
The Recommended Minimum Deck
|Name of Part||Why|
|MPCP 6||the deck's cpu|
|Hot ASIST||so we can use our hacking pool|
|I/O 600||so we can download paydata|
|RAS||without one, we take a big penalty to target numbers|
|Matrix Interface||so we can connect to the matrix|
|Active Memory 687||so we can run the entire minimum program set|
|Storage Memory 3600||so we can store programs and paydata|
|Bod 6||so we can exist in the matrix|
|Sensor 6||so we can see in the matrix|
|Masking 6||so the host is less able to resist us|
With a bit more nuyen, from paydata or otherwise, we can then add:
|Name of Part||Why|
|Active Memory 1500||(upgrade) so we have room to load every other program|
|Hardening 6||to protect our MPCP from getting fried|
These parts can be useful, but are lower priority:
|Name of Part||Why|
|Response Increase 1||so we can act more often (see: help initiative)|
|Reality Filter||so we can act more often (see: help initiative)|
|ICCM||in case we run into sparky or black IC|
The Recommended Minimum Program Set
|Name of Program||Why|
|Armor 6||so we can survive longer|
|Sleaze 6||so the host is less able to resist us|
|Deception 6||to logon to hosts|
|Decrypt 6||to decrypt paydata|
|Defuse 6||to disarm paydata|
|Read/Write 6||to download paydata|
|Browse 6||to find hosts|
|Evaluate 6||to find paydata|
|Attack 6 (D)||so we can clear out IC|
NOTE: The lack of an analyze program is acceptable because newbie hosts are common knowledge, there's no real penalty for attempting to decrypt or disarm paydata that turns out to not be encrypted or trapped, and because we don't have to dig around for “tricks” just yet. The analyze program is used with the “locate IC” action, but aggressive IC will reveal themselves when they attack and passive IC can be ignored at this level (admittedly, we won't be able to harvest the few pieces of paydata that end up bound to hidden passive IC). NOTE: The lack of medic and lock-on will reduce the amount of time we can survive fighting IC, but that just means we need to log back in more often.
After the active memory upgrade so we can keep everything loaded, we add:
|Name of Program||Why|
|Lock-On 6||so IC are less able to maneuver|
|Medic 6||so we can repair our icon without having to log out|
|Analyze 6||so we can reveal hidden passive IC and get more details on things|