Hardware

Datapads are the device of choice for the masses. Wafer thin and about the size of a smartphone, datapads are as powerful as a 21st century computer - which means that they’re more than enough for the casual user. Some can be rolled up, some are tiny projectors that open up into holographic displays, and some are comepletely “headless” chips that can only be used with smart peripherals. However, they aren’t suitable for heavy-duty work like hacking.

Terminals are basically desktop computers, and are miniature supercomputers by 21st century standards. They’re not a common fixture in most family homes - a datapad is enough for most people - but you might find them in the house of a hardcore gamer, scientist or hacker. They’re also an integral part of any starship.

Decks are portable terminals, a hacker’s best friend and rarely used by anyone else. They don’t have a screen or keyboard though - they look like featureless plastic bricks about the size of a hardback book, with some retractable ports and lenses on the side. They’re almost always used with smart peripherals, but if necessary can be used in “projector mode” by setting them down on a flat surface and interacting with a 3-dimensional hologram.

Mainframes are big servers with vast amounts of processing power and storage space - the kind of thing that can calculate a navkey for interstellar travel. It’s not uncommon for a big corporate office to have a single mainframe and no terminals at all - individual employees just connect with a pair of smart goggles or a holoprojector station.

Some people still tap away at their screens, especially on the Rim, but the majority now use a pair of smart glasses or lenses - or even a cybereye - to interact with their devices. When using these peripherals, the user’s vision is overlayed with a virtual reality interface, and sophisticated recognition protocols allow them to interact with their device using gestures and eye movements.

Full Immersion

The next step up from your smart glasses is a SenseNet interface: a web of electrodes that is usually contained neatly in a cloth headband. Put it on your head, and it lets you experience what is known as “full sensory immersion”. Ordinary folks use a SenseNet to experience VR on the next level - in fact, SenseNet is the most common reason for consumers to purchase their own terminal. But the instant reaction times afforded by a SenseNet are useful to hackers, too.

Hacking while fully immersed in cyberspace is a rush, and gives you the edge that every netrunner seems to need. The interface is the same, but you’re not limited by the latency between your brain and your hands. As soon as you can think a command, it’s happening. There are dangers, though - when you put on a SenseNet, the grid is no longer an abstract thing. It’s real and dangerous - suddenly terms like “biofeedback” and “neural static” become scary. Being immersed in a SenseNet has the following effects:

Dumpshock: If a SenseNet user is pulled out of cyberspace without disconnecting properly, the resulting biofeedback inflicts a level of Fatigue on them. A good night’s sleep is required to get rid of it.

Connectivity

Most planets and other installations rely on computers to some extent, even if they don’t have an internet-like global network (known as a “grid” on most worlds). Individual buildings, data warehouses or other facilities will generally have their own networks and security protocols. Exactly which hoops you need to jump through to hack something depends entirely on your target.

The things you can hack are organised into systems and devices. A system could be a corporate building’s network, a data warehouse, or an online game. The devices are the actual machines and peripherals that make up a system - things like a terminal, a database, a security camera, or an automated turret. When you perform a netrun, you are usually trying to take over a system rather than an individual device - taking over a system gives you access to every device on it.

When the GM creates a system, they should decide two things:

Most of the time you’re just dealing with one system, but more security-conscious environments might have a handful of segregated systems. For example, surveillance and security systems may be separate from the general employee network, and require a separate netrun. In general, though, the GM should avoid designing overly-complex labyrinths composed of multiple systems in the interest of keeping things Fast, Furious and Fun.

Hacking Devices: Most of the time, a netrunner hacks systems and not individual devices. But sometimes you might need to hack something that’s not part of any specific system, like an individual’s datapad or a standalone security turret. In this case, just treat the device (and any connected peripherals) like a system in their own right. Hacking it might require physically plugging in, or it might just require an Electronics roll to pick the device out from the surrounding noise.

Deadzones: Even planets with a grid can rarely guarantee 100% coverage. If you’re in a deadzone, you can’t connect to the grid unless you have a satellite uplink (starships have this equipment by default).

Netrunning

Each system has a Difficulty, which determines how hard it is to hack and applies to all rolls made against it. The exact difficulty modifier depends on the quality of the system’s security, as well as mitigating factors. If you get your hands on a cutting-edge ICEbreaker or the cooperation of an insider, you may be able to downgrade the difficulty by one step. Disadvantages - like hacking without a terminal or deck - will increase the difficulty by one step.

     
Difficulty Modifier Example
Easy +2 Systems and protocols which are outdated, obsolete or poorly maintained.
Standard +0 Off-the-shelf streetware maintained by entry-level security personnel.
Hard -2 Standard corporate environment with skilled personnel and robust security protocols.
Very Hard -4 Hardened network with expert personnel and strict security protocols.
Almost Impossible -6 Secure facilities and military installations with cutting-edge security.

Systems also have a Reaction to you, just like an NPC. The system’s Reaction represents your access levels and how the network feels about you:

The system’s Reaction affects everything you do on it. It determines where you’re allowed to go, what you’re allowed to access, and what you have control over. When you connect to a system, it will usually be Neutral - but not always. If you already have access codes or a backdoor, it might start out Friendly; if there’s an ongoing security incident, it might be Hostile.

Ghost Tokens: When a netrun begins, you get 3 Ghost Tokens. Every time you fail a skill roll, you lose one of these tokens; a Critical Failure means you lose 2. If you run out of tokens, the game is up and you get caught. You’ll immediately get booted out, and the system’s human overseers are informed of your location. If you were connected via SenseNet, you also suffer a level of Fatigue from dumpshock.

Device Difficulty: Usually, all of the devices in a system share the same Difficulty as the system itself. Sometimes, however, this may not be the case - for example, a cutting-edge military drone might be more secure than the network it is connected to. When this happens, use the Difficulty of the device only when attempting to perform actions against that device specifically.

Actions

Trivial actions like opening a door, viewing a camera, or logging into a terminal don’t require any skill roll and only take moments to perform - if the system is willing to let you do those things, you can just do them. More complex and specialised actions, however, will require a roll.

Quick Hack [10 minutes]. This action is only available if the target is very simple - like an electronic door that isn’t part of a larger system, or a terminal without anything particularly juicy on it. Make a simple Hacking roll at the appropriate Difficulty; if you succeed, you make the system do or say something it’s not supposed to. On a raise, it takes half the time. A failure just means you have to keep trying, but a Critical Failure means you are locked out. You don’t have to worry about any of the other rules, like Reaction or Ghost Tokens, when hacking such basic systems.

Manipulate [10 minutes]. Use the access you have already obtained to perform a complex task - the system’s current Reaction determines what you’re allowed to do. If you fail, you still accomplish what you were trying to do - but you lose 1 Ghost Token as you break something, lose focus, or set off an alarm. Possible manipulations might include:

Search [10 minutes]. Make a Research roll to download large quantities to data, get the answer to a specific question, or get general information about a topic. The system’s current Reaction determines what information it’s willing to let you access. If you fail, you find the data but lose 1 Ghost Token thanks to your noisy blundering.

Spoof [10 minutes]. Make a Hacking roll to try tricking the system into doing something specific for you or confuse it into letting you pass, regardless of its current Reaction. Failing means that you lose 1 Ghost Token and the system immediately becomes Hostile.

Escalate [1 hour]. Make a Hacking roll to convince the system it should be more helpful and improve its Reaction by 1 step, or 2 on a raise. If you fail, the system’s Reaction stays the same but you lose 1 Ghost Token. It’s not possible to Escalate if the system is currently Hostile towards you, though there may be other ways to improve its Reaction (such as knocking out a sysadmin and stealing their access codes).

Cover Tracks [1 hour]. Make a Hacking roll to regain 1 lost Ghost Token, or 2 on a raise. If you fail, lose 1 Ghost Token.

Social Engineering: If the opportunity is available, you can replace any of the above actions with social skills by convincing a human to do them for you. For example, you could Escalate by requesting a password reset (Persuade) or Cover Tracks by threatening to get someone fired if those security restrictions aren’t lifted right away (Intimidate). Someone else can do this step on your behalf, but you still lose a Ghost Token if they fail.

Counterhacking

The rules above assume that you are hacking into a system which is, in effect, only passively monitored - like rolling Stealth against a guard who isn’t paying close attention. However, this is not always the case. Some organisations hire round-the-clock netrunners to guard their systems; some megacorporations will guard their most high-value assets with autonomous systems that never sleep and are always on overwatch.

Counterhacking requires that the system is being actively monitored by someone with at least a d4 in the Hacking skill. A corporate netrunner or AI will be monitoring their system at all times, but a hacker going about their daily business might not become vigilant until the system goes Hostile. If the monitoring is being done by an individual, they are Distracted for as long as they’re concentrating on their work.

Every time you perform a netrunning action against a system that is being actively monitored, its protector gets to make their own Hacking roll against you (modified by the security of your deck). If they succeed, you lose 1 Ghost Token; on a raise, you lose 2. This means that the defender usually has a significant advantage, so actively monitored systems should be rare and important! It is often safer to distract or incapacitate a network’s defenders than it is to out-hack them on their own turf.

Black ICE

Most of the time, a system’s ICE (intrusion countermeasures & electronics) is just focused on getting rid of an attacker. It consumes resources, causes system instability, and locks down access to prevent an intrusion and kick the hacker out. However, some systems and devices employ “Black ICE”, which takes it a step further. Black ICE is designed to overload circuits and bypass safety mechanisms, causing permanent damage to a device. It’s expensive, and is often illegal without special clearance.

If you get booted out of a system with Black ICE, key components of your device are permanently damaged. It can’t be used for hacking until the device is repaired, either by paying 10% of its value or by making a Repair roll with appropriate tools. If you’re connected by SenseNet, the consequences of dumpshock are elevated to lethal levels. The resulting biofeedback damages the nervous system and overwhelms your brain, immediately inflicting 1d4 Wounds. The Wounds inflicted by Black ICE don’t have a Golden Hour, and must heal naturally. They can, however, be Soaked.

If you’re Incapacitated by Black ICE, you need to make the usual Vigor roll to see if you’re dead, bleeding out, et cetera. Serious injuries from dumpshock usually come from some form of brain or nervous system damage, rather than physical injury to the body itself. A result of “Hideous Scar” is some kind of facial palsy; a “Busted” result is paresis that causes muscle weakness; and so on.