|Netrunning is the ultimate symbiosis of human and machine. In the Net the human mind becomes the guiding force in the world of the machine. The cyberdeck is the technology that makes this symbiosis possible.
Netrunners are futuristic computer hackers. Some are corporate drones, some are brilliant independent software engineers, and some are just high tech sneak thieves.
Countless numbers of people access the Net every minute of every day. They move easily (at least on a planetary level) from node to node, interacting with the most obvious programs on a superficial level, then they return to the easy reality of the "real" world.
However, casual access to the Net does not make you a netrunner. A netrunner knows how to manipulate the programs, views, and data that make up the net. A netrunner is as comfortable cruising in the depths of the net as he is walking through the halls of the mega-mall, maybe even more comfortable.
The life of a netrunner is based on his ability to write programs and manipulate data. The characteristics of the Player Character that "carry over" into the Net Personas are: INT, EGO, and Skills. A high INT and EGO can be valuable to all netrunners.
The two primary skills for a netrunner are Systems Operation: Cyberdeck (or Decking) and Computer Programming. Secondary skills can include an Area Knowledge of a part of the Net. A Knowledge Skill of the latest cyberdecks or famous netrunners, and Secruity Systems. Because of the variety of environments within the Net, many other skills, like Electronics or Cryptography, can also be valuable.
This INT-based skill enables a character to operate his cyberdeck and to control programs in the Net under difficult situations. A Decking Roll is used for controlling a Persona on the Net in combat. The character does not need to make a Decking Roll to move about in the net, unless something unusual happens, like the Persona is being attacked.
In combat on the Net, this Skill allows the character's Persona to have its full DCV, making it much harder to hit (See Combat in the Net).
A character need not have Decking to move a Persona around on the Net, just as a character does not need to have Combat Driving to operate a car. But, like a character without Combat Driving in a car chase, a character without Decking is at a serious disadvantage in Net combat.
This INT-based skill enables the character to program and operate computers. It is the skill that allows a character to write his own programs (see Writing Programs). Computer Programming can also be used to attempt to identify the capabilities of programs the netrunner finds on the Net and to modify programs written by others. Computer Programming is also often used as a complimentary skill when dealing with computer equipment outside the Net.
Area Knowledge of a part of the Net can be useful when navigating through a Node or through the Comgrid. A Knowledge Skill of famous programmers could allow the player to trace a program back to its author by the style of its source code. Security Systems is valuable in the Net when a netrunner wants to get past prorammed security. Most other skills operate in the Net in similar ways to how they operate in the real world.
A cyberdeck has two main parts: a computer and a Direct Neural Interface (DNI). The characteristics of the computer and DNI affect the capabilities of the Persona, and limit how many programs a character can run and how powerful they can be. The DNI allows the character to project his consciousness into the Net and control the Persona program.
The computer in a deck is built with the rules from the Hero System Rulebook and the additional modifications listed here. The DNI is built with Powers that represent the character's interaction in the net.
The computer in cyberdecks have the same basic characteristics as Normal Computers: INT, DEX, SPD and, in the case of an AI, EGO. They also have the secondary characteristics of Memory, Storage and Ports. The cost of these characteristics is summarized in the Cyberdeck Computer Characteristics Table.
CYBER COMPUTER CHARACTERISTICS
+1 = 1 Pt
+1 = 3 Pts
1 + (DEX / 10)
+1 = 10 Pts
INT x 20
+40 = 1 Pt
INT x 50
+100 = 1 Pt
INT / 2
+1 = 1 Pt
INT: The cyberdeck's intelligence is a general measure of its processing and storage capability. The INT of a Persona is equal to the Player Character's INT.
DEX: The cyberdeck's Dexterity is a measure of its ability to execute complex reactions quickly. The DEX of a persona is determined by the Persona program and limited by the DNI. Those interfacing with the VR Net via goggles are much more limited than someone with a Type IV datajack (q.v.).
SPD: The cyberdeck's Speed is a measure of the number of actions it can execute in a given period of time. The SPD of a Persona is determined by the Persona program and limited by the DNI
Memory: The cyberdeck's memory capacity (also known as "processing capacity") indicates how many programs can be active at any one time. This capacity is rated in Character Points. Each program available to the Persona occupies Memory equal to its cost in Real Points. A cyberdeck's base Memory is equal to its INT x 20. This memory can be increased by +40 points for each +1 Character Point.
The programs a Persona has available may be changed by deleting those in Memory and loading new programs from Storage. It is important to remember that the deck's memory must have enough capacity to hold the Persona program and all other loaded programs simultaneously. (Note that the character does NOT have to pay actual character points for the cyberdeck or programs: see Programming).
Storage: Like Memory, Storage is a measure of how many programs and how much data the cyberdeck can hold. Storage is separate from, and in addition to, Memory, and reflects the deck's ability to hold more programs than it can run at any one time. This capacity is rated in Character Points. Each program available to the Persona occupies Storage equal to its cost in Real Points. A cyberdeck's base Storage is eaul to its INT x 50. This Storage can be increased by +100 points for each +1 Character Point.
Programs are loaded into Memory from Storage. Loading a program from storage takes one phase. At the GM's option, very large programs or data blocks may take longer to load or save.
Programs and data can also be saved from Memory into Storage. For example, if the netrunner modifies a program while in the Net, that version of the program can be saved back into Storage for future use (see Writing Software section). If programs written during a netrun are not saved to Storage, they disappear when the deck is turned offf. Saving a program takes one phase (if there's room in storage).
Ports: These are also known as Comlinks, Input/Output (I/O) Ports, or Slots. They represent the number of external devices the cyberdeck can be connected to. A cyberdeck has a base number of Ports equal to its INT/2. The number of Ports can be increased by +1 Port for each +1 Character Point.
The link between the cyberdeck and the Comgrid occupies a Port. This link connects the cyberdeck to the Comgrid.
The link between the cyberdeck and the Player Character also occupies a Port (whether linking to VR goggles or to a datajack). This link, known as the DNI, allows the Player Character to control the cyberdeck by mind alone.
I/O Ports are used as links to devices such as printers, monitors, keyboards, holoprojectors, external sound systems, microphones, data card readers, mice, laser pens, backup storage devices, scanners, etc. A holoprojector or monitor may be used so others may observe activities on the Net.
A Port may be linked to fast external storage devices, such as storage cards. Storage cards that you cannot save data or programs to are called ROM cards.
Programs may be loaded into memory from storage cards. Loading a program from a card is a zero phase action. Programs may also be saved into storage cards from Memory. Saving a program to a card takes at least a minute or more. Storage cards are optimized for loading programs and data into Memory quickly at the expense of saving programs and data slowly. At the GM's option, very large programs or data blocks may take longer to load or save.
Many programs are distributed commercially on special ROM cards. The programs on these cards my be loaded into Memory and run only while the special ROM card is installed in the cyberdeck. If the special ROM card is removed the program terminates.
Additional Computer Functions: The computer in a cyberdeck can have capabilities in addition to its characteristics. A cyberdeck may have an END Reserve and REC to power programs. It may also have built in programs, or firmware, that run independently.
Programs have an END Cost, though the END cost for small programs or programs bought with special advantages may be 0. Programs are usually powered either from the Persona programs END or from an END Reserve in the cyberdeck. As explained in the Hero System Rulebook, programs which can draw END from either the Persona's END or the Reserve have a +1/4 Power Advantage.
Standard cyberdecks often do not have an END Reserve, though really hot decks can come with large END Reserves and a high REC. Cyberdecks without an END Reserve cannot run programs that cost END independently. These programs must be powered by the END of a Persona.
A cyberdeck may have built in programs (also called firmware). These programs run independently and do not require either Memory or Storage to run.
Programs can be defined as 1 pt. simple programs, or as Skills, Talents, or Powers (see Writing Programs). If any of these programs have an END cost of greater than 0, then the programs will only run when powered by a Persona or when powered by the cyberdecks's END Reserve. The Real Cost of the firmware is added to the Real Cost of the other components of the cyberdeck.
Some examples of firmware include a simple program to diagnose malfunctionos in the cyberdeck, or a "works" program that includes word processing, communications, and simple entertainment modules. More complex firmware could include a language skill so the computer could speak and understand speech, or even built in IC so the cyberdeck can identify and attempt to repel intruders.
The Direct Neural Interface (DNI) is the equipment in the cyberdeck that allows the Player Character to project his consciouness into the Net and control the Persona and programs. The DNI is built with Powers that represent how the Player Character interacts with the Net.
The DNI defined in Cyber Hero assumes that the netrunner projects his consciousness into the net, that there is a trace running through the Net connecting the netrunner to the Persona, and that the netrunner's body is insensate and physically vulnerable while netrunning. See Living Without The Trace section for more details.
The Cyber Hero DNI is built with the Powers Desolidification, FTL Travel and Mind Link, all bought to 0 END Cost. These powers are similar to a cyberdeck's firmware. They do not occupy any Memory or Storage. The DNI occupies a Port on the cyberdeck.
The ability to travel in the Net is built with the power Desolidification, the limitation Leaves Physical Body Behind (-1 limitation), and the advantage Imperial Net Access (+1/2). This allows the disembodied Netrunner to explore the Net. Since the netrunner's body (the meat) is left behind, the netrunner is unaware of anything that happens to it. The body is at 0 DCV. The netrunner's body takes damage as normal and all perception rolls for the body are made at -10.
To simulate the speed of the Comgrid system, FTL Travel is purchased. Within a solar system network, this power actually grants Fast-As-Light movement between nodes which could still take seconds or minutes if transiting from a node on one planet, to a node on another planet or moon in the same system. Interstellar Comgrid travel is at the speed of the Comgrid FTL communicators which is currently about 1 parsec per hour. As a general rule, netrunning is seldom done over interstellar distances because of this lag. If you Persona is 5 parsecs away, and you want it to download a file, it will take 5 hours for the command to get there. When interstellar netrunning is necessary, a golem is generally constructed (programmed) and sent off to perform the necessary actions. A second possibility exists for the netrunner to run "Without The Trace". This is extremely dangerous and only possible for those with datajacks or mutant abilities. See Living Without The Trace section for more details.
Because information on the Comgrid moves so quickly, the netrunner is generally unaware of the great physical distance involved when they are running soley within a planetary network. The netrunner is aware of the time it takes to traverse the logical connections between points in the Comgrid.
The power Mind Link simulates the connection between the netrunner and the cyberdeck and the netrunner and the Persona. It also allows the netrunner to access and control the deck by thought alone. Within a planetary network this is instantaneous. In an interplanetary network, it could take seconds or even minutes for a mental command to reach the Persona. At interstellar distances, it could take hours for a mental command to reach the Persona which is why netrunning is usually not done at interstellar distances.
The special effect of the cyberdeck is that the deck can attach the netrunner's consciousness to any program the cyberdeck is running no matter where that program is. Thus, a netrunner can only use Desolidification, Mind Link, and FTL in the Net and while using a deck and in no other way unless the powers are purchased as mutations.
A netrunner can run several programs at once in the deck, in the Net, or even in different nodes, and transfer (or flip) between them. The netrunner can leave a program running, flip to another program (or jack out), engage in other activities, and then flip back to the original program (if the trace is still in place) and resume monitoring it.
When a character links to the deck, there is some basic software and hardware required to communicate with the DNI Module. For a single user, this software is built into the deck, and need not be purchased, and does not use memory and processing capacity as the memory and processing capacity is figured after the deck's operating systems have been installed.
Decks capable of communicating with multiple characters need a copy of this software and additional hardware, i.e., a jack or virtual interface, for each user. It is usually included in the multi-tasking executive (see the Program Catalog, Utilities section).
There are several important points to make about this link. The basic DNI is equipped with an induction headset commonly called a "Virtual Reality Interface" (VRI). Any character can use a VRI. A character with an installed datajack can connect directly to the DNI and is generally better equipped for netrunning (see Datajacks in the equipment list). It is not possible to Dispel this link. It is not a program, per se, but rather a physical connection between the Netrunner and his deck.
Cyberdecks are built with the rules from the Hero System Rulebook, and the Powers Desolidification, FTL Travel and Mind Link. Cyberdecks use skills and programs as normal; however, decks also use programs built with powers.
See the equipment list for some standard, off-the-shelf cyberdecks. Of course a true netrunner wouldn't be caught dead with an off-the-shelf cyberdeck so here are the rules for designing cyberdecks. The GM has a program built into his Champions of the Empire database to automatically do all of the calculations for a cyberdeck, so you just have to let him know what you want and he will plug the numbers in and give you the cost.
Hardware can be acquired from many sources. Some commercial hardware can be purchased on the open market. Custom configurations of available hardware can be bought at computer shops which put together modules from many manufacturers. Black market military hardware, one-off systems, and truly custom hardware can be purchased, or bartered for, if you know where to look.
Some excellent hardware can be bought from commercial sources. However, some of it comes with unspecified Deck Disadvantages, while others may not perform as advertised. Still others might have hidden "back doors" that could let some corporate techie into your deck without you knowing it. Skills in Electronics, Decking, Computer Programming, and PS Deck Tech could all be useful in making sure that you get what you pay for.
Monetary Cost of Hardware
The monetary cost of the hardware and standard programs is equal to point cost x 50 credits.
Here is an example of a low end commercial cyberdeck. Like most commercial decks, it is unimpressive. However, this should motivate characters to search out nifty upgrades. This cyberdeck has no END Reserve or REC. All programs must either have an END cost of 0 or be controlled by the Persona.
|4||Language: Imperial (native, literate)|
|1||Diagnose Deck Malfunction|
|1||Works Package (word processor, spreadsheet)|
|Real Cost: 46; Monetary Cost: Cr2450|
The above example is actually a typical, low end "computer". What makes a computer into a cyberdeck is the DNI Module. A standard DNI module costs Cr2000 making the total cost of the above deck Cr4450. More than one DNI Module can be connected to a single cyberdeck, allowing multiple characters to use the deck to run their own Persona. The limit is the number of Ports (each DNI Module occupies one Port) and the Memory of the cyberdeck (each Persona and its associated programs occupy Memory). Each DNI Module includes a standard VRI headset or "mindwire" cable to connect a cyberdeck to an installed datajack. The DNI Module is the computer hardware that grants the powers of Desolidification, FTL Travel and Mind Link to the netrunner.
The Persona is described just like a Hero System character, with Characteristics, Talents, Skills, and Powers. However, the source of these elements varies as follows (see the Program Catalog section for sample Persona programs). For all intents and purposes, in the Net, the Persona is the Player Character.
In most cases, each Netrunner's appearance is controlled by his Persona software. Personas may appear as normal civilians, samurai, cowboys, giant pink rabbits, or floating eyes. Some Netrunners can change their Persona image (see the Shapeshift Power) but most have a single "trademark" image.
Persona images may not be consistent with the node's current view. If, for example, a node were broadcasting a medieval view, a wild west cowboy might clash with the surroundings. However, this kind of clash is common on the Net, as each user and node controls its own view. There are some exceptions where nodes will enforce their view and thus the images that are allowed. In such cases, the netrunner has the option of accepting the node's overlay image (cosmetic Transform), attempting to override the node and keep their own image, or getting booted from the node.
It is not normally possible to "not broadcast" and thereby become invisible, but this can be changed with an Invisibility program. To put it another way, a Persona cannot become invisible unless they have an Invisibility Program. A Persona that does not broadcast some kind of appearance will be set into the view as an unknown quantity, at least until there has been time to determine what it is.
The Persona is loaded into Memory just like any other program. One of the things that makes the Persona unique is that it draws its processing power (END and REC) from the DNI module.
A netrunner may only control one Persona at a time. A netrunner may "flip" between multiple Personas running in Memory at once as a 0 phase action. These Personas act independently and may be in widely separated Nodes.
Multiple netrunners, with multiple DNIs, may all run Personas on a single cyberdeck. Each DNI occupies a Port and each Persona must be loaded into Memory.
Most characteristics are determined by the Persona program. This program runs on the deck any time the Player Character is netrunning. The Persona program has "human normal" base characteristics (except that is has no INT or EGO - see below) for a base 90 points of memory. Each additional character point of Persona characteristic consumes 1 point of memory.
Thus, a Persona program which gave you a STR of 15 would occupy 95 points of memory; 90 points for the base Persona, plus 5 character points for the extra 5 STR. A Persona's figured characteristics (except SPD) are computed in the usual fashion and may be bought up separately.
A Persona's characteristics can be lowered from their normal base characteristics with a corresponding decrease in the memory required, but a Persona program's total memory cost cannot be reduced below 5 points. Characteristics of 0 indicate that the Persona program is unable to perform in the specified area. Thus, for example, a COM of 0 indicates that the Persona program does not broadcast any image, and will have to be "filled in" and identified by the view being run.
Note that the limitations for Persona characterisitics are determined by the interface as indicated in the following table:
Maximum for Datajack
|Powers (points) *|
|Max Single Power *|
The characteristics of a Persona are analogous to those of a "real world" character but sometimes operate slightly differently, as described below.
Strength (STR) represents the Persona's ability to overpower other Personas. Since everything on the Net is a software construct, a Persona's ability to transport objects is limited by the Memory and Storage of his deck. Base: 10.
Dexterity (DEX) allows the Persona to control equipment attached to the computer he currently occupies. Thus, a Persona with a high DEX would be more able to use grippers or to control complex machinery. Base: 10.
Constitution (CON) represents how well-constructed your Persona program is. This is subtly different from BODY; a higher CON indicates a program that is more tightly constructed, but a higher BODY is one which has a more extensive structure. Base: 10.
Body (BODY) represents how structurally strong your Persona is. The Persona is the framework to which other programs may be attached. If it is disrupted the netrunner is hurled from the Net and must reload the Persona to Memory at the cyberdeck, starting the run from scratch. Base: 10.
Intelligence (INT) represents the netrunner's ability to take in and process data quickly. Value: Netrunner's INT.
Ego (EGO) represents the netrunner's force of will. A high EGO is important to successfully attack and defend with certain programs on the Net. Base: Netrunner's EGO.
Presence (PRE) represents the "level of privilege" which the Persona broadcasts. When another program has to make a decision, a Persona may attempt to "pull rank" and make a Presence Attack to influence the outcome.
A successful Presence Attack can allow a Persona first access to unclassified data, access to additional unused computing resources, explain away unusual access, or many other decisions made by pre-programmed Golems.
A Presence attack will not affect the binary lock on a Node, unscramble secured data, or any other direct decision requiring a specific password, key or piece of data. Security Systems, Cryptography, and other skills or programs may be useful in these circumstances.
Presence attacks are described in the Hero System Rulebook. Check the following chart to see if the Presence Attack succeeds:
|Presence Attack||Effect of Attack|
|Less than Target's PRE/EGO||Target will not honor the attacker's privlege in making the decision. The target may assume that the attacker is intentionally misrepresenting it's level of priviledge and take appropriate action.|
|Target's PRE/EGO||Target will consider the attacker to be a normal (low-privileged) user when making the decision. No special privileges will be accorded the attacker, but no unusual action will be taken.|
|Target's PRE/EGO +10||Target will consider the attacker to be a medium privileged user when making the decision. The attacker may get some small favorable consideration in this decision based on this artificial privilege level.|
|Target's PRE/EGO +20||Target will consider the attacker to be a privileged user when making the decision. The attacker will get favorable consideration in this decision based on this artificial privilege level.|
|Target's PRE/EGO +30||Target will consider the attacker to be a highly privileged user when making the decision. The attacker will get all special considerations in this decision based on this artificial privlege level.|
The effect of blowing the Presence attack can range from receiving a negative response to the decision, to logging a priority error (thus creating records of the encounter), to activating security systems (up to and including Black IC depending on the node and circumstances; Black IC normally takes a lot to unleash). As with regular Presence attacks, multiple attacks against the same target may receive negative modifiers. Base: 10.
Comeliness (COM): governs how complex a Persona appears. The higher the Person's COM, the more detailed the appearance. Personas can look like anything they wish: cowboys, ninjas, cyborgs, computer terminals, a gravestone, etc. A Persona's appearance is fixed when created (but see the Shapeshift Power). A Persona with COM of 0 is "faceless" and broadcasts no specific appearance. The view running in a node will supply a "generic" Persona appearance with no specific features. Regardless of COM, Personas are always recognized as such.
|Simple Image, No Animation (a floating eye)|
|Simple Animated Image (a ball rolling)|
|Complex Animation (a man walking)|
|Interacting Animation (a juggler)|
The senses of other Personas allow them to perceive your Persona's base appearance in addition to any programs your Persona has active. Only programs you are actually running (i.e., active Powers) can be detected. Inactive programs in Memory are not normally visible unless you make them obvious (a -1/4 Limitation). Programs in Storage are not detectable without entering the netrunner's cyberdeck node. Base: 0.
Physical and Energy Defense (PD/ED) are the Persona attributes that represent the innate resistance of the Persona to disruptive attacks. As in real-world characters, PD and ED reduce the STUN and BODY damage taken as a result of attacks. Base: PD: STR/5, ED: CON/5.
Speed (SPD) determines how frequently the Persona may act. Segments, phases and turns in the Net take up exactly as much time as they do in the real world; this is both a gaming convenience and indicates the volume of processing required to execute even the simplest Persona program
The SPD of the Persona is generally determined by the interface. A direct neural interface (DNI), or datajack, is going to be faster than a pair of VR goggles. Value: DEX/10 but interface determines maximum.
Recovery (REC) represents amount of processing resources available to the Persona. Base: (STR/5)+(CON/5)
Endurance (END) represents the amount of processing resources immediately available to executing programs. Base: CON x2.
Stun (STUN) represents the minor disruption that the Persona can absorb before it is "stunned" (damaged enough to be uncontrollable). Stunned Personas remain in the Net, but they can't act and only programs with the Persistent Advantage continue to run. Base: BODY+(STR/2)+(CON/2).
Running represents the movement rate available to the Persona within a node. Inside notes, Personas move much as characters move about the real world. Such movement is regulated by the Running characteristic. Personas start with a base of 6" Running, just like a normal character; this may be increased as explained in the Hero system rules. Base: 6".
Not all programs are controlled by a Persona. Programs can also be controlled by pre-programmed Golems. Golems have all the same characteristics as a Persona, in addition to a defined INT, DEX and SPD. Golems have no EGO and are not self aware. They are ECV 0 if attacked in Net Combat. The Golem's characteristics are limited by the node hardware in the same way a Persona's characteristics are limited by a cyberdeck and the DNI.
A Golem's base Primary characteristics are all 0. Figured characteristics are calculated normally. Each additional character point of Golem characteristic consumes 1 point of memory. The minimum cost for a Golem is 5 points of memory.
Golems do not have Normal Characteristic Maxima, but generally do not require high characteistics. Also note that Golem characterisitics may have Limitations placed on them (see the Powers section). Some Golems may have one or more of the Automaton Powers (see the Hero system rules).
Golems are programmed for relatively simple tasks. These tasks are represented as simple 1 pt programs. These 1 pt programs are defined by simple declarative statements. For example, a Security Golem may have the following programs:
- Identify Personas
- Restrict access to unauthorized Personas
- Defend location if attacked
Other Golems might inform casual users of new features at this node, offer demonstrations, provide specific services, or patrol the node for lost Personas.
The Golem's INT represents the relative sophistication of the program: Whenever a Golem is faced with a decision or a problem in achieving its goal, it must make an INT roll, with modifiers as determined by the GM. If the INT roll succeeds, the Golem responds in a clever fashion. If the INT roll fails the Golem hesitates or reacts in a very simple way.
Some types of golems include:
Helpers: These golems help users access databases or resolve specific classes of problems. They often have sophisticated interfaces, but they generally only react to requests.
Laborers: These golems calculate and manipulate data in preset ways. They are typically very difficult to interact with, as they are single-mindedly (zero-mindedly?) devoted to their tasks.
Messengers: These golems carry data from one point to another. They rarely "understand" the data they carry; their job is simply to get it from place to place. In many cases, the data they carry is encrypted.
Security: These golems examine users to keep unauthorized ones from accessing the node. There are many different types of security golems, from guard golems that check identification and report violators, to IC that repels unauthorized users.
Golems are known by many different slang terms. Roving sensor Golems may be called pixies or gremlins. Worker Golems may be called zombies or cogs. Golems in different node views may have different slang names; for example, in the hive view, they might be called ants, bees, or drones.
Golem defensive and offensive capabilities vary wildly. Worker programs can be crashed with sometimes minimal effort, while security programs are among the toughest opponents in the Net. See the Program Catalog for game statistics on programs.
Some programs are controlled by self aware Persona's or Artificial Intelligences (AIs). AIs can react like any other NPC controlled Persona, there just isn't "meat" at the other end of the Trace.
Of course, what we are discussing here are the super-AIs. Lesser AIs are used on a daily basis by Netrunners to perform routine tasks ("software agents" - see the Duplication Power) or to probe enemy systems (see the Clairsentience Power). Super-AIs have true free will, and often think in ways and have goals not easily understood by humans.
Depending upon the AI, it could look like a Netrunner, a program, or just a bodiless force. AIs are the rule-breakers; forget everything you know - or thought you knew.
AIs have all the same characteristics as a Persona, in addition to a defined INT, DEX, EGO, and SPD. The Ego represents the AI's self awareness. The AI's characteristics are limited by the node hardware in the same way a Persona's characteristics are limited by a cyberdeck.
An AI's base Primary characteristics are all 0. Figured characterstics are calculated normally. Because of their immense complexity, each additional character point of AI characteristic consumes 5 points of memory. The minimum cost for an AI is 25 points of memory.
AIs do not have Normal Characteristic Maxima, and often have high characteristics. This means that the average AI is too big to fit into the Memory of most cyberdecks. Also note that AI characteristics may have Limitations placed on them (see the Powers section).
The AI's EGO represents the flexibility of the program. AI's have goals, just like characters. Whenever an AI must reprioritize or modify its goals, it must make an EGO roll, with modifiers as determined by the GM. If the EGO roll succeeds, the AI alters its goals to fit its new situation, just as a good Netrunner would. These modifications can take into account the past history and future possibilities of a situation, the AI's personal interactions, and the changing Net environment. If the EGO roll fails, the AI uses unusual criteria in altering its goals. The AI's new goals may seem bizarre, contradictory, or even detrimental to the AI. But this is why AIs are feared in the net; they think, but they don't always think like people do. Most Netrunners count themselves lucky if they never meet an AI.
Many of the programs encountered in a Node may be independent of a controlling Persona or Golem. These programs function in response to a set of events or stimuli. For example, access to a location in a node may be controlled by a simple wall (see the Force Wall Power). The wall program is loaded into memory by a Persona and is left running. The wall program uses the Trigger Advantage to allow access to Personas with proper identification. The Trigger may not depend on any senses that the Persona who sets the trigger does not possess.
This program may be bought as Force Wall with the Trigger Advantage defined such that the Wall is Triggered when unauthorized Personas attempt to pass. A more aggressive example would be a program bought as Energy Blast with the Advantages: Area of Effect (radius), Invisible, Triggered: when unauthorized Personas attempt to pass.
Trap programs may be dispelled with the proper program or bypassed by circumventing the definition of their Trigger. For example, say that there is a security wall that normally blocks a passage, but opens when Personas or Golems with proper identification approach. The players could redirect an authorized Golem toward the wall and then jump through when the wall opens for the Golem.
Any Skills known by the netrunner (including those in the skillsoft chips in his own data jacks) are known by the Persona. In addition, the deck can load skillsoft programs (similar to skillsoft chips - see the Equipment section) to give the Persona addiitonal Skills.
Not all Skills are useful in Cyberspace. Computer Programming and Decking are essential. Cryptography, Deduction, Security systems, and Systems Operation all have obvious applications. Bureaucratics, Knowledge Skills, Languages and Professional Skills are sometimes useful, but physical skills (such as Contortionist and Paramedic) are rarely useful during a Netrun.
Some Talents which are meaningful to netrunners are Absolute Time Sense, Bump of Direction, Danger Sense, Find Weakness, Lightning Calculator, Luck and Speed Reading. If a netrunner has any of these talents, the Netrunning Persona has them, too. For netrunners who do not have these Talents, cyberdecks and programs can provide some of them either as firmware or as programs. Luck and Danger Sense are notable exceptions that can't be provided.
Persona Powers are purchased as programs. The Building Programs section shows how HERO system Powers can be used to make programs. Powers can be part of a Persona or may be independent. Some Powers (such as Shapeshift) are generally only applicable to a Persona program, and are not found as independent programs.
Personas gain Character Disadvantages from the deck and the Persona program. Character Disadvantages (particularly Psychological Limitation and Unluck) transfer directly from the netrunner to the Persona, but are not used as Persona Disadvantages and do not reduce the cost of the Persona program. If a netrunner had psychological problems, going into the net does not change this.
Deck Disadvantages represent the limits of, or problems with, the hardware or underlying software of the deck. These can include Normal Characteristic Maxima (for a deck without the power to project a superhuman Persona), Distinctive Features (for a deck with a visible animation "tic" or other defect in its Persona projection software), Physical Limitation (for decks with defects which prevent some "normal" Netrunning activities - for example, a deck that couldn't be used to write software - or Susceptibility or Vulnerability (representing a deck which has defective "protective" circuits for its DNI interface. Some netrunners maintain that certain decks (or certain types of decks) are Unlucky, but this may only be a superstitution.
Deck Disadvantages do not affect Player Characters' Disadvantages or points costs. They do affect the Persona's point cost. Deck Disadvantages reflect a problem with the deck. After all, a netrunner could always get another deck. If the Disadvantage is obvious (or the seller is unusually honest) a netrunner may get a price break from buying a defective deck. Otherwise, it's just a problem.
Persona Disadvantages reduce the point cost of the Persona program. Common Persona Disadvantages include Distinctive Features (it broadcasts a memorable image), Accidental Change (for Personas with Multiform), Physical Limitation (much as for decks), or Normal Characteristic Maxima (representing a Persona with less-than-super-heroic characteristics when they could otherwise have them). It is not possible to reduce the cost of the Persona program below a minimum of 5 points of Memory by using Persona disadvantages.
Data is the treasure of the Net. Data can be as simple as a laundry list or as complex as a new cyberdeck design. The purpose of data in a computer is to be manipulated. Users (including Netrunners) can move, copy, change or destroy data easily - if they can get to it.
Data has a size, just like Programs do. Most common data packets take up 1 point of Memory or Storage. At GM's option, data packets with a lot of information may be much larger. Large libraries may have 10s, 100s, 1000s or even more points in data.
A Persona may carry data packets, but data cannot move through the Comgrid on its own. One of the most common types of worker Golems does nothing but carry data packets from Node to Node.
To move a data packet, the Netrunner copies the data from the Node to his Persona. The Persona carries the data until it returns to the Cyberdeck. The Persona can then copy the data into the cyberdeck's Memory or Storage.
While the Persona is carrying the data packet, the pointers that track the data in the Net take up Cyberdeck Memory equal to the size of the data packet. Thus a deck with 100 points of Memory that is running a 60 point Persona, could track a 40 point data packet or 40 one point data packets.
Normally copying a data packet from a Node to a Persona or from a Persona into Memory or Storage takes 1 phase. At GM's option, very large data packets may take longer to copy. Some data is encrypted to prevent unauthorized access. Handling encryped data is discussed in the Program section.
A Netrunner may free up cyberdeck Memory by dropping a data packet in a node. The data will sit in the Node until it is moved, modified, or destroyed by another Persona. Of course, many Personas, like cleaning Golems, are designed to do just that with unknown data packets. Dropping a data packet is a zero phase action.
Programs can be acquired from several sources. Some programs (particularly those with legitimate purposes, like Net views) can be purchased on the open market. Others can be bought at "data havens", pirate nodes which trade in illegal software (and are usually among the best-defended nodes on the Net). Specialized programs can be written, either by a human netrunner or by an AI.
Some excellent Netware can be bought from the data havens and corporate spies of the Net. However, some of it comes with unspecified side effects, while others may not do the job you want done. Worse, sometimes you're caught in the Net really needing a program and either didn't load it or didn't have one. To fix this, you can write your own program. The same techniques (and game rules) are used whether the program is being written on the spur of the moment, or if the character is spending months developing the software.
Figuring the Monetary Cost of Programs
Programs have a base cost of Cr100 per 1 point of Real Cost. This base cost is multiplied by a modifer based on the total Real Cost of the piece of hardware or software. Other multipliers should be affixed to hardware or software for such variables as complexity, rarity or legality.
|Program is Real Cost 5 or less||Cost x 1|
|Program is Real Cost 6 to 10||Cost x 2|
|Program is Real Cost 11 to 15||Cost x 3|
|Program is Real Cost 16 to 20||Cost x 4|
|Program is Real Cost 21 or more||Cost x 5|
|Program is Military Issue||Adj Cost x 10|
|Program is Custom Designed||Adj Cost x 100|
To write a program, first specify the Powers wanted, including Advantages and Limitations, and compute the Power's Real Cost and Active Points. The computer the character is writing the program on must have enough free Memory to hold the final program. As usual, any Power specified must be approved by the GM.
After the character outlines the program's specifications, the GM determines the normal minimum time to write the program and any modifiers to the character's Computer Programming Roll. f the character makes the roll, the program works as specified. If the character blows the roll, the program may either not work, or it may work but have bugs in it as specified by the GM.
The GM should specify the normal minimum time the program should take a competent programmer to write and debug. Extremely simple programs can be built with the proper tools in Turns or minutes. Most complex programs take hours or days (or longer).
If the character takes additional time, he should recieve a +1 for each level down the Time Chart. The GM may allow a character to attempt to write a program in less than the normal minimum time, but should apply significant negative modifiers for doing so (such as -5 per level down the time chart).
The complexity of a program is a negative modifier on the Computer Programming roll. For every 10 Active Points in the program, the roll required is modified by -1. Other Skill Modifiers may apply, from minuses for attempting to program under combat conditions, to bonuses for having good equipment (such as programming libraries of similar programs as a reference, or a good IDE and compiler).
If the modified roll is successful, the character has written the program as specified. The program resides in Memory and is ready to use. The program must be saved to Storage or it will be lost when the computer is shut down.
If the modified roll is unsuccessful, the program may simply not work or may have unknown bugs, at the option of the GM. A GM can handle bugs by giving the program additional Limitations such as Activiation Rolls, Ablative, Charges, Extra Time, Increased Endurance Cost, Limited, or Side Effects.
As the bugs show up during use of the program, a GM can allow further Computer Programming rolls to "debug" the program.
Sample Program Library
As an example, consider the typical program library of The Electric Samurai (as explained in his hyperbook Zen and the Art of Netrunning). The Electric Samurai has a headjack, DEX 15, EGO 18, INT 15, and SPD 3. He uses a modified basic deck, with 200 points of Memory, 500 points of Storage, 5 Ports, and a SPD of 4. He carries the following programs:
|Icebreaker Persona (Experienced)||110 points|
|Password Generator||2 points|
|Delve Data||18 points|
This leaves him 241 points of Storage left for saving data or writing new programs.Persona programs (and attached Power programs) are only partially independent of the decks. The Persona maintains a communications link back through the data paths of the Comgrid to the deck and to the Netrunner's body. This link is called the "trace". While the trace is active, the Persona can control the cyberdeck (accessing its storage and using its END Reserve.)
The trace exists only in the data paths that connect the Persona to the deck. When a Persona moves from Node to Node along a path, an active trace extends and connects the Nodes. One important point: the trace is a Comgrid artifact. There is no trace within a node.
The trace is a pathway, not a data object. It may not be picked up, examined, or modified. It may only be followed. The trace may only be cut by disconnecting a data path along the path. Disconnecting a data path is often a drastic security measure, as important communications may be lost when the path goes down.
The shortest route that the Persona has traveled is defined as the active portion of the trace. If a Persona circles back over the trace, the circular 'loop' becomes inactive and will fade over time. The Persona's new active trace leads from the current node back to the deck.
If a Persona 'retraces' the path of the active trace, the active trace becomes shorter. The portion of the trace the Persona doubled back on becomes inactive and will also fade over time.
If a Persona is destroyed in Net combat, the Netrunner's point of view returns to the cyberdeck. The trace becomes inactive and will fade over time.
Inactive traces fade at a random rate. Roll 1d6 for every data path in the inactive trace and read the dice for BODY (1=0, 2-5=1, 6=2). The total BODY of the dice is the number of the Persona's phases before the inactive trace fades and is gone.
Personas that lose their trace become inoperative. The trace may be broken by disconnecting the data paths along the trace or by the Netrunner 'jacking out' and abandoning the Persona. The inactive trace between the abandoned Persona and the cyberdeck will remain, but it will fade over time like any other inactive trace. The Netrunner is stunned and disoriented if the Persona is destroyed, the trace is broken, or the Netrunner jacks out without bringing the Persona back to the deck.
The trace can be used to locate a Netrunner's cyberdeck. If this happens, IC may run along the trace, locate the Netrunner's cyberdeck, and infect the deck or crash the Persona program. To follow a trace, the tracker must make a Tracking Skill Roll or a PER roll, -2 at each node of the trace. A failed roll can be retried (at one roll per phase.) A successful roll allows the tracker to follow the trace to the next node. Thus, an intelligent and lucky tracker can even follow an inactive trace before it fades away.
RUNNING WITHOUT THE TRACE
Some data havens whisper about Netrunners who become 'one' with their personas and run as a ghost without a trace. They theorize that such a Persona would be constructed in the Memory of a cyberdeck, along with all of its programs. The Netrunner would somehow merge with the Persona and launch it into the Net. In the net, the ghost Persona would not be connected to the cyberdeck and would be run off of the local computing resources of the various nodes in the Comgrid.
The advantanges of a ghost Pesona include an INT, DEX, and SPD limited only by the capacity of the computer in the local Node. The ghost Persona would not leave a vulnerable trace and would not jeopardize the location of the Netrunner.
The disadvantage of a ghost Persona include a lack of access to additional programs in Storage or on ROM cards. The Persona would be limited to the Programs in Memory at the time of launch.
The main disadvantage of ghosting is that some essential portion of the Netrunner is projected into the Net with the ghost Persone program. If the Persona program is destroyed, that part of the Netrunner is destroyed. The Netrunner's 'meat' may live on for a time, but in the long run, it too will die.
Even if the ghost Persona is only damaged in Net combat, the 'meat' is not safe. When the ghost returns to the cyberdeck and the Netrunner jacks out, any damage taken by the Persona is transferred to the Netrunner's STUN and BODY. This is not physical damage to the Netrunner, but is an advanced case of 'brain fry!'
Ghosts Personas cannot leave the Net until they find their way back to their decks. Horror stories have been told of ghosts "possessing" the bodies of other Netrunners, but there have been no proven cases of this.
Worse, the Net itself is a hostile place to a ghost. Personas out of contact with their decks take 1d6 STUN per turn (like a Dependence); this can be avoided by taking a 10 point Life Support: Doesn't Need A Trace as part of the Persona program. However, even with Life Support, a ghost Persona is an unstable programming construct, and will deteriorate over time at the GM's discretion.
HIDING THE TRACE
A trace can never by totally obscured, it can only be disguised or hidden. Most Netrunners have several methods of disguising their point of origin, making it hard to follow their trace.
The first method is to run the trace from node to node via the data paths of the Comgrid. Since a trace is not a node artifact, the tracker must either spot the trace on the data path connected to the node, use a sophisticated program to find the trace, or be very lucky to determine where the trace enters or leaves the node. There is the possibility that the more hops the Netrunner makes the more likely he will lose whoever is following him.
A Netrunner may physically hide his point of origin by rigging the local junction box: using a neighbor's line for the run, and then switching it back when the run is over. Radio telecommunications, such as using a dish to send a signal to a distant location that is connected to the Comgrid line, could throw off the authorities as the Comgrid carrier signal originates at a location far from the Netrunner.
A more devious method would be to use someone else's cyberdeck or to hook into the Comgrid through someone else's node. Anyone following the trace, would blame any problems on the owner of the hardware, not on the Netrunner borrowing the equipment. For example, a Netrunner makes a run on Humanadyne from inside the IG building and using their data net to connect to the Comgrid. IG might get blamed for the run if the trace was found to terminate inside the IG data net.
The methods of hiding the trace are endless. Netrunners often attempt to hide their trace. Any method the character can come up with can be used with GM's discretion.