Friday, June 18, 2010


Ah, hacking. Back when it was called decking, it was the bane of Shadowrun, and indeed any cyberpunk game. In fact, the guy who was the long running Shadowrun GM before I began running the game had a house rule that said all deckers had to be NPCs. He refused to allow PC deckers and didn't want to know anything about Matrix rules.

Then SR4 came and introduced Augmented Reality as a viable interface in addition to the traditional Virtual Reality where you leave your body limp and project your mind into a computer generated world. In AR, you see everything as an overlay of the physical world, and can interact with the virtual world via a popup window, controlling your Matrix persona as if you're playing The Sims. It's slower than VR, but it's faster than tortoise terminals (which are ancient history), and allows you to interact with the Matrix while physically present and capable on a run.

My hacker loves AR so much that he has an aspect called "VR is for losers." Back when we played SR4 by the book he never, ever went into VR. Not once. And he was so good at what he did that dropping into full simsense mode never seemed necessary.

I give you this preamble because hacking is an aspect of my game that's used by one character and one character only. While AR and the proliferation of commlinks means anyone can get onto the Matrix and perform some basic functions, my group is decidedly old school. The Matrix is for deckers, or hackers to use the new common parlance (really, decking is so 2050s). Not only did no one else have any rating at all in computer skills, but one character took the trait inept and applied it to computers, one character didn't buy a commlink, and one character had the gremlins flaw.

So hacking is all about one particular character in this game, and because this rules set is designed for my group in particular, and because this player has some strong biases about what he does and how he thinks things should work, these rules are more heavily influenced by a single point of view than others to date.

With that out of the way, let's move into the nuts and bolts of hacking. My design goals for hacking are:
  • Model task resolution and combat on the existing system as much as possible
  • Balance the role played by equipment and character ability
  • Make a significant performance difference between AR and VR while keeping both attractive
  • Make Matrix opposition easy to stat and run
I'll get to hardware and software later, but something that is absolutely vital to me in this hacking system is that the character's knacks be at the core of all rolls. Something that we noticed in SR4 was that there were some situations in the Matrix where your pool consisted of a hardware and a software rating. Maybe this was to encourage greater use of the Matrix, since you didn't have to spend precious karma to be good, and every runner winds up with extra nuyen eventually, but it didn't register with my group. No one spent their cash to get online except for the hacker, who was going to do it anyway. Given that, all rolls in the Matrix, every single one of them, needs to key off a Matrix knack. A better commlink and good program load should help you, but at the core you need to know what you're doing.

Since I don't use attributes, I don't have to figure out how they too become a part of these die pools (and thank the spirits for that). Methods do raise a question though. Say you've got a nova hot hacker who's a wiz at cracking IC and nabbing paydata without anyone noticing until days later. You'd represent that with a high Sleaze rating in Shadowitz. So far, so good.

Except that said hacker would also be a ninja in the real world because of that same rating, and all because he knows how to slip past scan programs in the Matrix. You run into something similar for all the methods. An expert in slinging attack programs and corrupting source code is also an expert in physical combat. Someone good at spoofing false credentials is a master of the con game.

That doesn't feel right at all.

So I'm proposing the concept of "worlds." There are three worlds in Shadowrun: the physical, the Matrix, and the Astral. You use different aspects for each, and you assign them at character generation. One of these worlds is your primary. You get 35 points to buy your methods for your primary world. For the others, assuming you have access to them, you have 25 points to buy your methods, and they can be as different from your primary set as you like. So you can be well connected in the real world, but deadly and sneaky in the Matrix, for example.

25 points is a little skimpy, but it's still enough to give you a good method or two, and since it is for your secondary world, it should be the set you use less.

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