Man, Magic, Machine - evolved ...
The links below offer an expanded look into the sociology of Shadowrun. These resources are designed to allow gamemasters to enrich their game worlds and to offer players a better toolkit to bring their characters to life.
The ideal Shadowrun team consists of the following members: a longrifle, a brick (or two), a thief, a hacker/technomancer, and a mage/shaman. Notice I said ideal. Very rarely will you find an even mix of characters like that. Even more rare are the players who understand the function of their characters. This section is designed to illustrate the tactical considerations concerning each member of the team. At least in my estimation. Feel free to disagree.
For those of you unfamiliar with the term, a more conventional name would be sniper. Longrifle's primary mission is to provide supporting fire for the insertion team. To do that well, she requires a good rifle and a good position. The ideal rifle will depend on the mission requirements. Portability, concealability, penetration, ammunition payload, all must be taken into consideration when selecting the longrifle's primary weapon. A few rifles in particular stand out. The first is the Barret Model 121. Excellent damage and penetration as well as good ammunition payload, however, the Barret is anything but concealable. If a little more subtlety is required, a weapon like the Ranger Arms SM-4, which disassembles into a smaller, less obvious package, might be just the ticket.
The second mission for longrifles is surveillance. A good sniping position means having a view over most of the battlefield. This means that a sniper usually has a good idea of the big picture, which she should communicate to the insertion team at regular intervals. If the insertion team loses comms or becomes disoriented, the longrifle can coordinate a rescue by remaining team elements or direct a tactical withdrawal. Other than a weapon, the sniper's equipment should include high-powered binoculars or scope, comm gear, water, food, blanket or tarp, and rappelling gear. Character-wise, a sniper will only need a few cybermods. A smartlink is a must, and eyes with image enhancements. A good commlink is a necessity, with a solid signal that can reach out to distant team members, as well as skinlink or trode interface in order to provide silent tactical updates. Reflex wise, I recommend at a minimum wired one or synaptic booster one. If the longrifle is any good, she should get the first shot off and it should be a kill, so she doesn't need the massive reflexes that a brick requires. One of the advantages to getting a synaptic booster is that it's organic, it won't show up on a metal-detector. Which means, barring any other massive cybermodification, a longrifle can get access to more sensitive areas. Since her mission doesn't require her to be on the insertion team, her disguise doesn't have to be that elaborate either. Arsenal has detailed rules for indirect fire, making it an extraordinarily effective tool for even the most basic of runner teams.
The brick, for those of you unfamiliar with the term, is just that. He's your five million nuyen street samurai: lean, mean, chromed, and decked out with every fancy weapon Ares has produced in the last three years. He sleeps with his armor on, carries enough ammunition to build a small house, and even has minigrenades for earrings. Ah yes, the Brick. Bricks are those antisocial boys who think and talk with their guns. The bigger the gun, the better. Concealment? Subtlety? Overkill? Meaningless terms in the Brick's dictionary. The first, last, and only mission of a Brick is very simple: kill everything unfriendly. Wind 'em up and let 'em go. In any other situation than combat, Bricks should be left in the car. Or better yet, at the hideout. They're more dangerous to the team than anyone else. Orks and trolls make excellent Bricks; humans, elves, and dwarves to a lesser degree. A brick should be chromed. Period. Barring lack of funds, there is no excuse that a brick shouldn't be at 0.1 essence. With the wide selection of cyber-, bio-, nanoware as well as genetech, you have to walk a finer line than before, choosing carefully from the myriad of combinations. Choose well. Your life depends on it.
As for weapons, bricks should carry what they need to get the job done. A pistol, an SMG, an assault rifle, a shotgun, an LMG, an assault cannon, a missile launcher, and anything else he needs to feel comfortable. And all the ammunition he can pay for. Grenades and other explosives, specifically shaped and linear charges for opening or creating doors, are useful as well since the brick is going to be on the sharp end when things (inevitably) go wrong. Gear wise, a brick can't go wrong with slap patches, or doses of binder for the popular chemicals, as well as a high rating medkit, grapple gun and line, respirator, and a survival knife. Never discount the usefulness of a good knife.
Armor wise, avoid the chameleon suits as they rarely last long enough to give you the benefit. Look instead to a camouflage suit layered with form-fitting body armor or the personal protection piecemeal units. Don't forget about armor modifications, as well. The non-conductive mod is particularly useful against those pesky stick-n-shock rounds.
Pretty self-explanatory, the thief is the character who specializes in acquiring goods. Usually illegally. The thief is the only character that must be on the insertion team. How do you expect to steal anything without a thief? Wetwork, kidnapping, industrial espionage/sabotage; those things might require a brick as well. But everything needs a thief. Thieves need to be skilled electricians and mechanics, up to date on the latest maglocks, voice recognition, and print scanners. Thieves need to be stealthy, low-profile, quick on their feet and quick thinking. Thieves should also be relatively proficient in the use of a firearm or something equally lethal. Hopefully something ranged, as well. You can't always count on having the drop on a security guard. Generally things like silenced heavy pistols, crossbows or regular bows, narcojet pistols, or Ares Squirts.
Tools of the trade include a respirator/gas-mask/tracheal filter, mini-tool kit, grapple gun and line, ascent/descent kit, flashpak or two, medkit, magnifying goggles, and whatever other miscellany a thief has found useful in the past. Good cybermods include eyes with low-light, thermographic, flare compensation, image enhancement, headware memory, gas spectrometer, commlink with encryption, datajack, smartlink, fingertip expertpicks, voice modulator with all the neat gadgets, and maybe something like skillwires or dermal sheathing. Reflex wise I would suggest nothing less than wired two or synaptic booster two. As for bioware, I'd say enhanced articulation, cerebral booster, extended volume, maybe a mnemonic enhancer or some muscle augmentation. Gear wise, thieves need to keep their kits light, but packed with essentials. Medkit, miniwelder, electronics toolkit, maglock passkey, sequencer, all have a place inside. Another thing thieves might want to look into are binders. Reintroduced in Augmentation, binders are toxin specific compounds that confer either limited immunity or reduce the power of toxin. A case with a dozen injectors covering all the major toxin compounds used by corporate security should never be far from the thief's hand.
Ah, hackers. Such a painful lot. Luckily, though, a hacker doesn't have to be exclusively a hacker. One of the campaigns I was in featured a hacker/squatter. If he couldn't find it in the matrix, he knew someone on the street that could. Further, with the advent of the wireless matrix and augmented reality, it has become much easier for the hacker to participate in the intrusion portion of the shadowrun. Although doing so means that they can't skimp on their physical attributes during character creation. Despite the changes, though, the primary mission of a hacker remains unchanged: intelligence. If you're lucky, you'll have a hacker skilled in both elint and humint (electronic and human intelligence), but primarily hackers do elint. Secondary missions might include mop-up (what do you mean the file on the robbery is gone?) or a simple paydata run (this fine feast here represents the last of the petty cash). A hacker doesn't need much more than a commlink and a wireless signal to do his dirty work. And time. Lots of it. Which can be killer to an adventure, if you have to suffer through the hacker tying up the GM with endless matrix meanderings. Which is why I have only one real suggestion for all the hackers and technomancers out there: know the rules. Know them well. It keeps the game moving and takes a load off the GMs mind. Let the other players take care of their business first, then do your work when everyone else is engaged in planning. This not only keeps your teammates happy, it prevents the GM from listening in on the plans and constructing ways to foil them. Invariably hackers will build up a fair amount of money. It can't be helped, after a while the only thing you can improve on is your skills and the quality of your programs. Which should be all handwritten anyway. Don't be stingy, support some of your more financially impoverished friends. The rigger is a good choice. She could always use another drone. Remember, what's good for the team is good for you.
Sadly, with the advent of SR4A, the rigger archetype is no longer applicable. Now that anyone can wirelessly command a drone via a commlink equipped with the appropriate programs, there's no point in dedicating the entirety of a character to drones. It would be just as effective to have a sniper/drone-commander or a hacker/drone-commander as it would be to have a stand-alone rigger. The only thing that carries over as true from SR3 is that the rigger will be a nuyen sink. Even more so than the brick. Vehicles require constant upgrades and refurbishment, not to mention repair after being caught in the thick of things during a run.
In SR3 there were stark differences between mages and shamans, and lumping the two together often got me a lot of cranky players. However, in SR4A, with the unified mechanics, for all intents and purposes mages and shamans are identical. The only thing differentiating the two are the traditions each follows. Your mage can be one of your most powerful assets. He can also be the greatest liability. Apart from the Brick, that is. Mages can see and do things mundanes can't. But that also means they show up like other mundanes don't. So unless you've got a nice initiate on your hands who can make himself look as mundane as bellybutton lint, you'd better keep a close eye on the mage. The primary mission of a mage is magical security. Both the team's and the opposition's. Good guy wise, the mage needs to recognize magical threats to other team members. Obviously not too much can be done when all that's needed for a material link is a single strand of hair, but common sense still applies. Don't leave used bandages behind, clothing items, or other gear. If at all possible, burn trash and used gear. The mage should be able to recognize incoming ritual sending as well as watchers and spirits keeping tabs on fellow runners. Mages should also be up on their paranormal knowledge, so they can warn other team members on just what exactly came stomping around the corner. Surveillance wise, mages need to be able to recognize astral barriers and wards, anchored and quickened spells, as well as other mages, shamans, and adepts in combat. Similarly, mages should understand what fiber-optic networks and FAB/FAB-UV zones look like, so when your hacker prints out a hardcopy of the blueprints for the site you're about to hit you know what to look for. Mages should have a full stable of spirits at all times. Preferably a mix of high and low power ones, with a majority high. The one thing all mages need to strive for, though is initiation. Whether you do it on your own or with a group is up to you, but to compete successfully you need to be an initiate. I won't go into the whole foci/fetish or quickened/anchored argument but I will say this: if you're playing a mage know the rules. Know what happens when you anchor versus quicken, why each is different, and which is better in a given situation. Understand your vulnerabilities and how to minimize them. Let the brick hog the spotlight and the bullets, just hang back in the shadows and go do that voodoo that you do.
Inevitably there are going to be those out there who's characters don't fit into a single category nicely, kind of like mine. In general, though, I've found that a player who chooses to create or modify an archetype with a broad range of talents either knows what she's doing or learns quickly that she doesn't and shifts back to a more traditional archetype. Do I think that all players should be limited to the roles I've describe above? Hell no. Variety is, after all, the spice of life. The reason I outlined the general responsibilities above is this: while not every character needs to fall into one of those archetypes, a successful Shadowrun team needs to have someone who can at least cover the job.