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Jakodrako's Primer on Netrunner Abilities

Useful info, thought it should be readily available outside the main question thread, so I copied it over.

EDIT: This has been posted on ANCUR. Recommend checking it there where it’s more likely to be updated.


The correct taxonomy of ability types is as follows.

All abilities are either:

  • Constant
  • OR Triggered. All triggered abilities are either:
    • Conditional
    • OR Paid
      • Some paid abilities are click abilities and thus actions.

Any ability can be a prevent/avoid ability.

Constant Abilities

Constant abilities just are. They don’t adhere to a condition>trigger>resolve structure, they simply occur if and when they apply. Constant abilities generally describe states of being, but they can also stipulate specific “conditions” (not to be confused with trigger conditions) under which they apply, such as “while the Runner is tagged.” Assume any ability that is not in the form “cost: effect” is a constant ability unless it falls under a specific timing structure of some kind (more on that below). Constant abilities include ones that use if, while, and until.

Triggered Abilities

In contrast to constant abilities, triggered abilities are ones that can only apply when a specific trigger condition of some kind is met. This includes all paid abilities and any non-paid ability with a specific timing condition that triggers it.

Paid Abilities

Paid abilities are the easy ones - they are always written as “cost: effect”, meaning you must pay the cost in order to trigger the effect. Paid abilities can only be triggered during the specified paid ability windows in the timing structures.

If a paid ability costs 1 or more click, then it is a click ability, and as such it can only be used as an action during the action phase.

Conditional Abilities

Conditional abilities are the weird ones. They have all the extra rules that we know and “love”, especially when it comes to simultaneous effects. All conditional abilities define their trigger condition in their text. Usually, this takes the form of when or whenever, but it also includes such structures as before, after, unless, and “the first time’” (note that this is not the same thing as the first ice, or the first program, etc.). You can usually tell an ability is conditional if it has a comma in it separating two clauses, one being the trigger condition and the other being the effect.

Conditional abilities have three steps to their resolution:

  1. Trigger condition met - A trigger is what separates a conditional ability from a constant one. While a constant ability would just happen immediately once it becomes relevant, a conditional ability essentially waits and listens for its trigger condition. When that trigger condition occurs, the ability then prepares to resolve.

  2. Trigger - A triggered conditional ability is one that will resolve. Once triggered, an ability exists independently of its source. This is the “point of no return” for the resolution of an ability.

  3. Resolve - The actual resolution of a conditional ability is when its effects take place. The exact timing of the resolution of a conditional ability can vary from its trigger condition, especially in situations involving simultaneous effects.

Now, normally steps 1 and 2 are concurrent. HOWEVER! this is not always the case. If there are ever simultaneous effects, then steps 1 and 2 can have a pretty wide segment of time between them. This is where the weirdness occurs. When there are more than one active ability that care about any specific moment in the game, then you must follow all the steps individually instead of immediately triggering and resolving an ability. Why does this matter? Namely it’s because the order of operations can sometimes matter - whether it’s because both players control some of the simultaneous effects or because the order of operations can affect whether or not parts some of the abilities can even resolve. The other important reason it matters is because during step 1 a trigger condition can become invalid before step 2 occurs - this causes the ability to fizzle and never move to step 3.

EXAMPLE TIME! Consider two classic scenarios.

  1. The Runner has Wyldside and Aesop’s Pawnshop installed. Both have abilities with trigger conditions “when your turn begins”. Because they share a trigger condition, both will meet their trigger conditions at the same time (step 1). Both Wyldside and Aesop’s are Runner abilities, so the Runner chooses the order they will trigger in. The Runner chooses Aesop’s first, so Aesop’s triggers first (step 2). Aesop’s then resolves, and the Runner chooses to trash Wyldside (step 3). There are still simultaneous effects to worry about, so next up is Wyldside, which is still stuck back at step 1! So Wyldside goes next, but lo and behold, it is no longer active, so its ability fizzles. It never reached the all important step 2, so it can’t continue onto step 3 either.
  2. The Runner has a Femme Fatale installed, targeting a Tollbooth. Both have abilities with trigger condition “when the Runner encounters Tollbooth”. Because they share a trigger condition, both will meet their trigger conditions at the same time (step 1). It’s the Runner’s turn, so the Runner goes first with Femme (step 2). Its ability resolves, and the Runner pays 1Cr to bypass the Tollbooth (step 3). There are still simultaneous effects to worry about, so next up is the Corp’s ability on Tollbooth, which is still at step 1. Tollbooth is still active, so that’s good, BUT! the trigger condition is no longer valid. The Runner is no longer encountering Tollbooth, so its ability fizzles. It never reached step 2, so it can’t continue onto step 3 either.

The most important feature of this to remember is that only an ability that has triggered (reached step 2) is one that must resolve. If an ability never gets to step 2 for any reason - because its trigger condition is no longer valid, because the card its on is no longer active, or whatever - then it will never resolve because it will never reach step 3. This forms the basis of a great number of rules answers in Netrunner.

##Key Points

  • Constant abilities are faster than conditional abilities
  • Conditional abilities do not always necessarily trigger at the precise moment that their trigger condition is met
  • Once triggered, an ability exists independently from its source
  • In order for an ability to trigger, the card the ability is on must be active (and not blank, thanks FFG) AND the trigger condition must remain relevant all the way up until the card begins resolving

Bonus Weirdness

But Jake! Some abilities use both constant ability words and conditional ability words in them. How do I figure out how an ability works if it says both “if” and “when” somewhere in it?

Abilities that both say “if” and “when” in them are still conditional abilities, not constant ones. The “if” in this case modifies how the ability works in some way. There are two ways that these types of abilities can work, and it all depends on where in the ability the “if” is.

  1. If the “if” part of an ability is in the trigger clause (e.g. “When X if Y, do Z” or “If Y when X, do Z”), then it is a conditional ability in which Y must be true at time X in order for the ability to trigger. For example, Quantum Predictive Model says “If the Runner is tagged when Quantum Predictive Model is accessed, add it to your score area.” The Runner must be tagged at the time the access occurs in order for this ability to trigger. If the Runner isn’t tagged at that time, then QPM never triggers in the first place, and if the Runner becomes tagged at any point after the access occurs then the ability can’t go back and trigger retroactively.
  2. If the “if” part of an ability is in the effect clause (e.g. “When X, do Z if Y”), then it is a conditional ability that will always meet its trigger condition X, but Z will only occur if Y is true when the ability resolves. For example, Underworld Contact says “When your turn begins, gain 1Cr if you have at least 2L.” Underworld always meets its trigger condition at the start of the Runner’s turn, but when it resolves the Runner only gains 1Cr if they have the 2L at that time. If the Runner doesn’t have 2L when Underworld meets its trigger condition, but by the time it triggers the Runner does have 2L, then the 1Cr is gained.

I’ve also posted it on ANCUR


Great review!

Love that stuff! Thanks!

Reading through the Conditional Abilities section and the examples of when a trigger condition is met but the ability doesn’t trigger yet, I expected to next see examples of when an ability triggers but doesn’t resolve right away. I remember not realizing the difference between triggering and resolving. Could you give examples for that?

BTW is there a difference between “trigger an ability” on Bifrost Array and “resolve an ability” on 24/7 News Cycle?

@jakodrako While I understand the need and the usefullness of this to explain simultaneous effects in a clearer environnement, does CoreRules are wrong in this exerpt:

“In order to use a triggered ability a prerequisite must be met. This prerequisite is either a trigger cost that must be paid (paid ability) or a trigger condition that must be met (conditional ability). Once an ability is triggered, its effect is resolved immediately and can only be stopped by prevent or avoid effects.”

To me, 2 & 3 merges (that’s if the corerules are right).

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Also would be interested to read a primer on the order of resolution of abilities.

I’m playing AGOT currently, as I guess many Netrunners do now. There, all the effects of a single ability resolve simultaneously (except for odd cases that use the words “Then”, “instead”, “at the end”, and “if you win”).

I remember that in Netrunner there is some card that says “after you search R&D, put a card from HQ on the top of R&D”, and this effect can interject between “Search R&D” and “Shuffle R&D” effects of a single ability. That stuff is weird.

EDIT: Mumbad City Hall + Heritage Committee, I am being told that this interaction no longer works this way.

Comet triggers and starts resolving at different times (as explained by jako). I cannot think of any other example though.

BTW Comet says “after it resolves” while Tallie Perrault says “when it is trashed after resolving”. Can I play an event (say, Hedge Fund), trigger Comet, gain creds, resolve Comet to play Deja Vu, and get that same Hedge Fund back to hand? Or is it still hanging in the air and didn’t get trashed yet?

Hmm, to me, Comet’s trigger only set a second conditional.

So it would do (Phase 1) runner pays event cost) -> (1’) Comet meet trigger prereq -> (2’+3’) - solve comet, setting a conditional named ‘’ in the future -> (2+3) solve the event -> (1’’) “after the first one resolves” prereq is true -> (2’’+3’’) can play a second event -> (1’’’) runner pays card + event cost -> (2’’’+3’’’) event #2 effets.

I don’t understand the trouble here ?

You’re saying Comet resolves immediately after triggering and sets a delayed effect that will give the Runner an opportunity to play an event without spending a click sometime in the future. This explanation seems reasonable, I like it. Now, to convince jako…

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You don’t need this 2 then 3 dichotomy. I never used it and it worked fine with all ANR weirds effects so far.

Including Allele coming back stuff, syphon with dopplegangers, Street peddler stuff, this exemple of uninstall -> comet -> apocalypse, etc.

Effects exist once (1) prereq is met ok, regardless of activity of cards. That cover pretty much all ours needs, if you add simultaneous + nested + cascading rulings.

Unless I forgot things.

I dislikes that new “sometimes yes sometimes no” 2+3 dissections because the frontier is perfectly blurred there.

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Btw, when+if can also work in (1)->(2+3).

(1) when prereq is ok -> (2+3) set a conditional “if” in the future -> (1’) if prereq is ok -> (2’+3’) if effect resolve.

If the problem is ‘,’ position, then since there had allready problems with a missplaced ‘;’ in the weyland current door to door that is coming out soon, I don’t think ‘,’ position really are that would block this.

Like Joshua B.? Triggers at the start of turn, but the ability doesn’t fully resolve until the end of the turn.

Joshua B is more or less working the same as Comet ?
Aka a conditional that gives (Joshua B : effect, Comet : no effect) + set another conditional in the future ?

Joshua’s ability starts resolving right away, by giving you a click. It doesn’t finish resolving for some time though.

The problem with the word “resolve” is that sometimes it means “start resolving” (e.g. 24/4 News Cycle) and sometimes it means “finish resolving” (e.g. Comet).

The first time you play an event each turn, you may play another event (without spending a click) after the first one resolves.

Resolve the “when scored” ability on an agenda in your score area.

What exactly is the problem with this? Comet specifically tells you to wait until resolving is done. You shouldn’t point towards a word and not take the rest of the sentence into consideration.

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How many players do you think realize that you can Uninstall Comet or play Apocalypse and still get to play another event without spending a click?

Anyway, me and Syntax were just suggesting that jaco should merge #2 trigger and #3 resolve, recause separating them needlessly complicated the sequence.

Just as many that know that once you start a run with Sneakdoor Beta, you will get to access HQ instead of Archives regardless of whether or not Sneakdoor is trashed mid run. I’m failing to see how this is relevant to the definition of the word resolve, or why separating trigger and resolve would simply things. If anything, it removes the step that makes Comet and Sneakdoor work the way we’re describing: once the ability triggers, it exists independent of its source. It can resolve after the card (Comet, Sneakdoor) is inactive.

What does the word “Resolve” in the original post mean? Start resolving, or finish resolving? This ambiguity should at least be addressed in the article. Also it would be nice to mention that the resolution of an event is immediately followed by trashing that event, before reactions to the resolution can be triggered.


It means"resolve" as a whole so start and solve and finish ?

The rules says there is no step 2 then step 3, those are the same to me. Nothing can make (2+3) triggered effect fizzle at this point (quoting core rules), but prevent or avoid abilities.

To me, not if you consider cards could have a prerequisite part, then an effect part which can be a list of many effect, and/or new conditional effects which can have again a second list of effects + new conditionals which can… Endlessly.

You pay sneakdoor, the effect is making you run on archives, and additionally set a conditional “if run is success then treat it like an hq run” (prehistoric wording but anyway this works as a replacement when the success run prereq #2 is true).

All is still working as normal ruling to this day, this was my mental schematics and never was contradicted.