Monday, June 21, 2010

Hacking, part 2: Commlinks

I've decided to start with commlinks in figuring out the role of gear in hacking because a link should probably only do a few things, whereas a program list might wind up being rather extensive. The question is, what does a link do?

In this case, I don't know that Shadowrun is going to be much inspiration, since all the elements involved in hacking all do the same thng: they add dice to your pool. Certainly that makes things easy, but given my drive to keep the die pool low that's not an option for me. So a commlink needs to be something more than a collection of dice.

I took a little time and scanned what cyberdecks did in earlier editions of the game, as well as how they worked in some others, but for the most part they seemed to be pretty consistent in offered abilities. Beyond the obvious, I don't feel like I took away a lot I can use.

One thing I do like from SR4 is the divide between link and operating system. I'm not sure why I like it so much, maybe it feels more like actual computer technology than an interface that's 100% hardware. With that in mind, I sat down to sketch out some abilities a link might offer. Here's what I'm working with at the moment:
  • Active Memory - This is the number of programs you can have running at once. Nothing groundbreaking here.A common theme among nearly all games with deckers is that the quality of your deck determines how many programs you can load, and oftentimes what the max rating is. Rating I'm shifting elsewhere, but quantity I'll stick here. This is a hardware aspect.
  • Firewall - Shadowrun 4 started calling a link's armor rating "firewall" instead of "hardening," which is what is used to be called when it was all hardware. Firewall sounds better to me, more like the way it's likely to work. Given that I want to have some sort of armor utility when I get to programs though, I'm thinking this will be the link's damage capacity. Obviously it's a software aspect.
  • System - Here's where we stick the cap for program rating. Since I want this to reflect overall performance in a big way, I'm also considering giving the System rating in bonus dice when you go VR. Because of that, the rating needs to be kept somewhat low, probably a max of 5. Thus max program rating is twice the system, since programs will likely run to 10. This is a software aspect.
And that's all I've got for the link stats. Seems a little paltry. Maybe it's me and my compulsion for symmetry, but it feels like there should be an even number of factors for hardware and software, which I'm lacking at the moment. Well, that's for later.

Onto damaging this piece of gear. Links get beat up when hackers take them out for a spin, assuming it's not the meat brain getting burned. Now, I've seen two different ways of dealing with non-meat damage in cybercombat. One does damage to the deck's hardware, and one attacks either its programs or the icon that represents the hacker. Given that SR uses the latter, I'm leaning toward making some sort of system like that. I want running the Matrix to feel like running the Shadowrun Matrix as much as possible, and a big part of that is taking hits to your online persona.

If I want a consistent game design, I'd slap a condition monitor on a link that behaves exactly the way it does for characters in the real world. That would make sense and provide less to learn. However, I keep getting hung up on if and how meat damage and Matrix damage interact. Do they? Are they cumulative? They shouldn't be, given that no other damage in the system is. Yet if they're separate it makes for a very tough hacker, since he can take hits across three different damage tracks (stun, physical, and Matrix).

Instead, I'm going to try something different. Commlinks have a different kind of condition monitor than the hacker himself, and they track damage differently. First off, I'm making the decision that 99% of the IC out there that attacks a link does so to crash it, not slag it. Thus it's all data damage, not hardware. This means damage to the link is in the form of lag, buggy applications, and crashes. In short, system performance.

The resulting damage track works like this: for each point of System you have, you have one level of health. Each health level can take a number of points of damage equal to your Firewall. This works similarly to hit points, in that damage is cumulative. When you clear out a level, you lower your System temporarily. This reduces the max rating of your programs and subtracts from your die pool if you're in VR. When your last level zeroes out, your system crashes and needs to be reformatted.

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