Tag Archives: Cyberpunk

Holiday season random thoughts

It is the last day of my vacation, it is also the last of my vacation days for the year, there is really just a couple of short weeks between now and my vacation day reset, so life is good. I have not been posting much lately and that will likely not change anytime soon. So here are some things that have been on my mind.

Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition: We played 4 games of this culminating into my year Christmas game. My original review of it can be found here, and not much has really changed in my opinion. I think it is a respectable game and a decent D&D edition. In actual play, there were some rough spots, but again, I suspect that had more to do with Roll20.net than it did with the actual rules. Overall, I like the game, but the real problem is, I don’t love it.

Star Wars – The Force Awakens: Once again, the movie was not bad, it was a bit of a remake of Star Wars – The New Hope, on the other hand it did not damage the franchise in terms of anything being truly bad. The real problem of course is, it also did not bring anything new to the table. My hope is, this movie is simply laying the ground work for the next movie, which I hope is not just good, but GREAT! What I hope is that people don’t look for reasons to hate the movie and just take it for what it is.

Companions of Xarth Wiki: The CoX wiki is a bit of a mess, it has grown very organically from a few simple webpages. The problem with any knowledge base grown in this manner, is it tends to be an exercise in chaos. There is not much organization, some of the material is outdated, incorrect or flat out useless. One of the things I want to do this next year is scrap the wiki as it exists today and build it back up into a more useful tool. I have transferred about 80% of the information on the wiki to my desktop wiki program, Zim. My plan is to weed out all the useless stuff, update the things that need updating and organize it better.

GURPS Cyberpunk: While I was planning this campaign, I came across an old article I had read many years ago in the Roleplayer, a now defunct newsletter published by Steve Jackson Games. The article entitled Prime Time Roleplaying laid out a format for producing game sessions to mimic TV series. This seemed like a really good way to run the game I am planning to run. I said from the beginning, this would mimic Burn Notice in many ways. My idea is, each episode will be roughly 3 games, each game being a single act within the episode. From the article;

Act I introduces the villain’s crime fully, and gets the PCs involved. It climaxes in a minor confrontation with the villain or his henchmen when one of the PCs gets too close. This confrontation, which will often take an impersonal form – a bomb in an apartment, a car chase, a sniper – should put the PCs on the right trail.

Act II centers on the PCs’ investigations, as they put together the pieces of the puzzle that lead to the villain. By the climax of the second act, the investigators should be fairly confident of whodunnit; the tension in this act comes from the need to catch the villain before he gets away or strikes again.

Act III brings the PCs into direct confrontation with the villain, climaxing in – we hope – the miscreant’s downfall. Following Act III is the epilogue, which wraps up loose subplots and clears the stage for next week’s episode.

This was a good article, when it was published in 1988, it has withstood the test of time, and yes, I still have my original copy.

Computer Hacking in RPGs Part II

In the last installment of this series I discussed the possibility of working up an easy to use system for determining if the PC Hacker has successfully hacked any given system. I identified 5 things that could potentially affect the hack. The draft of my idea is simple, the hacker has to roll a 7 or less to determine if he has some level of access to the system in question. The the target roll can be modified by the following factors:

-3 to roll Wealth – Dead broke
-2 to roll Wealth – Poor
-1 to roll Wealth – Struggling
No modifier Wealth – Average
+1 to roll Wealth – Comfortable
+2 to roll Wealth – Wealthy
+3 to roll Wealth – Very wealthy and above
+1 to roll for each 6 levels of Research skill
+1 to roll for each 6 levels of Fast Talk
+1 to roll for each 6 levels of Computer Programming
+1 to roll if the characters has Hacker Allies and makes the frequency of appearance roll
-1 to roll if the characters has Hacker Enemies and makes the frequency of appearance roll
+1/-1 to roll for each level of good or bad reputation and makes the frequency of appearance roll

Example: The team Hacker “Tappen” has been working on penetrating Evil Corps mainframes for the last 3 months. Tappen makes a pretty good living at hacking and gets a +1 for his comfortable wealth, he has no Reasearch skill, but he does have Fast Talk at 12 and Computer Programming as 14, this gives him another +4. Tappen belongs to the RedMoon hacking group and he makes his frequency of appearance roll for them and gets another +1. Unfortunately Tappen has a bad reputation among hackers as being an asshole, he has recently pissed off some other RedMoon members, because he fails his bad reputation frequency of appearance roll and gets a -1 to his roll. His total modifiers to his target roll are +5, so he must roll a 12 or less on 3d6 to determine if he has access to the system. A critical success roll of 3 or 4 would give Tappen root access to the system, a critical failure of 17 or 18 would mean the target has discovered his hacking and reported him to the authorities.

Next, is this too boring?

Computer Hacking in RPGs Part I

Something that has been bothering me lately is how computer hacking is represented in role playing games such as ShadowRun and GURPS Cyberpunk. Most RPGs handle this in the same way they handle combat, which means the mainframe has a defense rating, the hacker has an attack rating and you roll a few dice to see who wins. The reality of hacking is it takes days, weeks or months to compromise a system. It also requires more than just a “Hacking Skill” to do, often there is a people component required as well as investigative skills like dumpster diving and research on hardware, software, organizations and the people who make up that organization.

Of course from the meta game stand point this is pretty boring stuff. So there needs to be some sort of off screen activity that can be expressed as an in game resource. So when the team leader says “I need access to Evil Corps mainframes, can you do it?”, instead of the Hacker guy saying, “They have the most sophisticated security in the world, impossible to hack……give me 20 minutes!”, he will say “Yeah, I have been working on penetrating their ICE for the last three months, while I don’t have root access, I do have a regular user account I might be able leverage”.

Things needed to do a hacking job:

  • Money: Hackers need hardware, in theory you can hack with a $400 laptop sitting in a coffee shop, but the reality is, more is better. A professional hacker is going to have multiple machines working  on several projects and may even have a multi node cluster for cracking passwords or other encrypted data. Pro hackers will also need a lot of expensive software and is going to be familiar with all the major operating systems and is going to have systems running those OSs for testing and development purposes. They will also have copies of most major software packages used for providing services on the internet. Most pro hackers will also have multiple internet feeds both wireless broadband and more traditional cable based access.
  • Investigative skills: Hacker live and die by information, and every good hack starts with collecting information on your target. Before the hacker ever makes his first attempts as penetration, he is going to collect IP addresses, names of employee and their email addresses, what types of hardware and software they are using and generally looking for the weak link.
  • Social Engineering skills: The best source of insider information is the employees of the hackers target. Once you have a few names, it takes actual social skills to insert yourself into their lives. It is generally much easier to compromise a personal system at home than it is to compromise a corporate asset. Once he has good information on several employees, the hacker than uses that information to talk his way deeper into the target.
  • Allies: Hacker trade information, you need an account on a particular server, you may not need to spend 3 months getting in, someone you know may have already done the hard work for you and better yet, they may already owe you a favor.
  • Reputation: If the hacker has already made a name for himself, he can trade on that name to get lower level hackers to do what they want. N00bs are always looking for a score, pro hackers will use them to test new exploits or go to a place where the pro hacker is already known. Favors to n00bs can be paid off with access to servers the pro no longer needs.

Now how to convert this to an easy to use game mechanic?

Emergent Playing (whatever the hell that is)

Over on RPG.net I read probably the most interesting thread on RPG’s that I have seen in awhile.

Cyberpunk Gaming, Bleeding Edge, Emergent Gameplay and Eric Brennan

The discussion seemed to be around the difficulty of playing this genre that is more or less faithful to the literature that spawned the role playing games. The complaints seemed to center around the fact that most games tend to devolve into firefights and gear upgrades and miss the central themes of the genre. Some very good points and counter points were made and over all, I think it was or is an excellent discussion of the topic. As usual, I am going to give my opinion on the topic, good or bad.

First, I agree, most cyberpunk games are shadows of their literary roots. However, i think this true of all RPG’s, very few games being played are epic adventures on the level of Lord of the Rings. Most all RPG’s tend to center around “Kill the monsters and steal their stuff!” or Murder Hobos if you will. Even games that claim to transcend this, really don’t. Vampire: The Masquerade for instance, is suppose to be an about lost humanity and addiction, but most of the games I have played, observed or heard about, have been little more than “Plot against the city prince, to kill him, drink his blood and become more powerful!”, that is still pretty much “Kill the monsters and steal their stuff!”. The same thing can be said for Nobilis and Blue Rose.

Second, I am not sure this is a bad thing. Honestly I see nothing wrong with this style of play. Playing D&D or whatever is not really about creating stories about epic heroes. What this is really about is friends getting together and blowing off steam. It is not terribly different from watching football on Sunday afternoon and nobody attributes a higher purpose to that. In the real world I have to mow the lawn, pay the rent and be civilized, even when I don’t feel like it. In these fantasy worlds, I don’t have to do any of that and why would I want too? This is why court intrigue games like those mentioned earlier, tend to fail, they are boring.

I think a successful cyberpunk game really needs to focus on a couple of tropes. The Cyber part of cyberpunk, refers to the relationship between man and technology. This can be done in several ways; At what point does a cyborg become a machine? or Will Artificial Intelligence be our greatest friend or our greatest enemy? are examples of this. The Punk part refers to the fight humanity has waged for 10,000 years, the fight to drags ourselves out of the mud and be something better or greater. It is about the fight against those who are more powerful than us, those who use us and then cast us aside after we have served our purpose whether it be Big Business, Big Government or Big Crime. In this genre, those three entities are heavily entwined, are hard to tell apart and are often the same thing. I think as long as the game focus around these aspects of the genre, does it really matter what the body count is?