Monday, August 1, 2011

Shadowrun Project: Decking/Hacking

I'm going to wager I'm not the only one who doesn't like the way decking was done in pre-4E Shadowrun. My beef isn't with the complexity, but rather the division of game time: for the most part, the non-deckers sit around doing nothing while the decker runs through a little mini-dungeon as his Matrix avatar. Shadowrun 4e does away with this via Augmented Reality, where the decker (hacker in 4e, much to my chagrin) is manipulating what are essentially 3D popups, usually via a wireless network, in real time. Deckers (er...hackers) with extra time to burn can go into Virtual Reality, which is similar to the old school Matrix rules.

I like the idea of keeping the decker operating in real time with the rest of the group. Yes, someone plugged into a computer with their consciousness manipulating the internet at the speed of thought would be able to do things much faster than their meat body counterparts, but I'm looking for gameability here.

In our recent Shadowrun campaign, it struck me that the decker is, in many ways, analogous to the thief of the classic D&D party; Count Hackula often opened doors, disabled/hijacked security cameras and other devices, and tried to gather information on what was ahead of the party. One could argue that these abilities were quite similar to Open Locks, Find/Remove Traps, and Detect Noise in D&D.

So... a thought I've had this afternoon: why not just simplify the decker in terms of Thief-type skills? What if I cooked up a list of Decker Skills akin to Gather Information, Download Data, Disable/Hijack Security Device, Hack Door, Decipher Code, etc.?

I was thinking I could stat these along the lines of my recent Thief Rework, where the skills are all rated at X in 6 chance. The decker would receive a certain amount of points to allocate at 1st level, receiving additional points at every level thereafter.

On second though, I might want to do this as an open ended system, rather than X-in-6. Perhaps the decker has a total bonus to a given skill, say +3 to Download Data. We could do a Target 20 system a la Stars Without Number, where different nodes of data, doors, etc. have a Security Class, similar to the armor class of a character. The decker rolls a d20, adds his skill bonus for that particular skill, adds the Security Class of the object/program in question, and if he nails a 20, he succeeds. I think I like this a lot better. You could use Security Class 9 descending, with 9 representing your neighbor's wireless internet with the password 12345 and Security Class 0 representing a high security Corporate database. (Perhaps you could even go into negative Security Class, a la negative Armor Class from AD&D.) Perhaps the decker will have a base Hacking bonus which increases with level, a la the Attack Bonus used by characters in combat, with points allocated for specific hacking tasks, like finding data or hijacking security. Perhaps different decks add different bonuses to the various hacking tasks, as well.

Matrix Combat will have to be another post. I imagine it will run in real time for simplicity's sake. (But only deckers may participate in Matrix combat, meanwhile the decker is too preoccupied to take part in any real combat that might be happening with is team) Armor Class and Hit Points of the decker's avatar will be largely dependent on what deck he's running, perhaps with some bonuses by experience level. this rate, I will just end up converting every single game I own to a freakish hybrid of B/X and SWN. Holler.


  1. You could make the Hacker into a real time Super-Thief also! Go with security, perception, and stealth for skills. Quiet pistol and sniper rifle (ala James Bond) for weapons. It's too bad there is no 'Hobbit' race to complete the thief archtype...

  2. I was actually going to use a skill system akin to Stars Without Number; that would let the decker have the option of taking stealth and similar skills to create the character you've described above. (Or the player could eschew those in favor of repair/tech skills to create the braniac, etc.)

    As for halflings and hobbits... who says I can't add anything? One of the comments on a previous post has already said that I've crossed the line of what is/isn't Shadowrun, after all. ;)

  3. Speaking of freakish hybrids, I've thought a bit more about B/X spellcasting and SWN. There are some details up at the Sine Nomine website now:

  4. I checked it out. Very cool.
    One question, the character a bonus equal to experience level all but negates the penalty, doesn't it? The character is going to break even on the roll at worst case, right? Then again, perhaps that was your intention.

  5. Yep- because once a mage hits Fatigued, he's essentially out of the fight in terms of magic. He can't cast another spell without risking 1d4 rounds of unconsciousness, which is usually a death sentence in any seriously dangerous situation. Still, it's probably better to just apply half his level, rounded up. That way it counterbalances the level penalty rather than more-than-obviating it.

    If that route's taken, however, it's worth noting that a high-level mage still won't be able to cast 1st level spells with impunity. A 9th level mage will still get Strain and Fatigue from a Magic Missile about 25% of the time. For a conventional game, that might be best for balance reasons, but it's going to significantly clip into a mage's power compared to that of a vanilla Magic-User. The latter can at least be sure that he's got a certain number of spells in him for any given fight, while a Mage can only be sure of his next spell.

  6. That's true. I guess years of Vancian conditioning have me reflexively wary of "unlimited spells." I do think that a 9th level mage should be able to chuck magic missiles without having to sweat it, so there you go.