Decking, or.. How do I hack The Matrix?
Before everything, this is not going to touch on Technomancers. They are their own beast, and I will try to get a basic write-up for them in the near future.
To begin, this informational is going to use just the Core Book. It will not take into account anything in Data Trails, or any other books that may have any Matrix sections. Another disclosure is that this is my own best interpretation. You, or your GM, may have other ideas, which I’d love to see in the comments below. Even though SR5 has the best rendition of the Matrix so far, it still has some issues, and after my most recent game (as of writing this), my group and I discussed a few options to help speed up the Matrix even more, and I will follow up with a new post with what we discussed. I am going to start with a quick data dump of Matrix terms other things you need to know. If you already know about Icons, Grids, etc, you might want to skip down a little. Still here? Then let us begin.
Okay, so what is the Matrix? It’s the question that drives us. It’s the question that. . . Okay, enough of that. The Matrix is pretty much the Internet equivalent of the 6th world, and yet it is more. The Matrix is practically everywhere, displaying advertisements for the latest NERPS product that you should be stuffing in your face, or using to clean the rims of your sweet Eurocar. The Matrix is how you communicate with your team, with the rest of the world.
So, the basics. Everyone uses the Matrix on a day to day basis for the most mundane of tasks, but it takes Deckers and Technomancers to really abuse the Matrix. And that’s what this is about, abusing the Matrix. So, one of the first things you should know about the Matrix, is how to access it. You can start with Augmented Reality (AR) in which you view a Matrix overlay over your normal vision. When you look towards a restaurant building, you might see an AR menu advertising their food. When you look at a Stuffershack, you might see an AR ad for their 3 Taquitos for 3¥ sale! The benefit of AR access is that you remain mobile. You can still see and interact with your environment, though it can get a little distracting. It is in this way that a Decker can follow their team into a building, hack the doors or security system, and still be “awake” enough to lend some fire support when the drek hits the fan.
The other method of accessing the Matrix is Virtual Reality (VR). In order to access via VR you must have a Sim module that can feed the data directly to your brain. You then go pretty much comatose, while your brain is fed all of the data you would otherwise “see” if you were in AR. Even though it may seem like you are travelling the city, state, country or the like, you aren’t actually going anywhere. You are just being fed data from the place you are “going,” This is why there’s noise that slows you down when you “go” too far, the data has a lot more distance in which to travel, and in which it can be corrupted. Depending on whether you are in Cold or Hot SIM determines your speed and effectiveness. Cold SIM is legal, and safe. There are buffers and protections build into the relay so that you cannot absorb too much at a time. Hot SIM is illegal, but it’s the only way to travel. Those safety buffers aren’t there. You can go faster, stronger, but you can also end up brain dead if you aren’t careful.
Now that we’ve gone over AR and VR, the next thing you need to know about are Icons. When you look around in AR or VR, you are going to see Icons everywhere, and they fall into 6 categories; Persona, Device, PAN, File, Host, and Mark. You can read more about these in your book, but for now the very basic explanations are that Personas are pretty much the people and programs of the Matrix. They can be using their Commlink or a Rigged vehicle to enter the Matrix, or they be one of those Technomancer terrorists. Watch out for them. Devices are the things in the matrix. Coffee makers, security cameras, environmental control units, vending machines, etc. PANs are personal networks. People slave multiple thing to whichever device has the best firewall for protection. Files are the meat and potatoes of the Matrix. If you are hacking the Matrix, chances are you are looking for a file to steal, copy, alter, sell, etc. Hosts are the strongholds of the Matrix. If what you’re looking for is valuable, it’s probably in a Host. They offer more protection than simple Devices. And lastly, Marks are how people exert their control over things they don’t own. A little bit of Code hacked onto a host, device, persona or the like, so that you can then perform some of the more devious Matrix Actions, like formatting or rebooting devices, shutting things down, copying their files, or just flat out attacking them.
The next thing to understand are Grids. Think of them like your mobile carrier. Every major Corp has their own Grid, major cities have their own Grid, and then there’s the Public Grid. The Public Grid is so choked up, that just using it has penalties. So one of the first thing a good Decker will do it purchase a Lifestyle that comes with a better Grid. Or, they simply hack their way onto a better Grid. For everything to work as smoothly as possible, you want to be on the same Grid as whatever it is you are hacking.
Now, lets talk about GOD. Grid Overwatch Division is watching you. The new Matrix is built to hinder your illegal activity. To stop you. If you spend too much time on the Matrix, you will fail, and they will find you. So you need to make sure you keep ahead of GOD, Every illegal activity you perform leaves a little trail. Illegal Activities are anything with [Attack] and [Sleaze] as a Limit. As long as you stick to strictly legal activities, GOD will never bother you. But as long as you stick to legal activities, you might as well stay home and let the big boys and girls go out Shadowrunning.
In order to successfully hack the Matrix, you are going to need two things. Skills and a Cyberdeck. In the past, a wiz deck might have been enough to fool people into thinking that some noob was an ace Decker. It’s not the case anymore. Your Cyberdeck pretty much sets your limits, but its your skills that determine what you can do. So don’t think you suck because all you could afford was the Erika MCD-1. A skilled Decker with one of these can run rings around an unskilled poser with a Fairlight Excalibur.
Now on to Hacking
So You have your Deck, you have your skills, and your team is constantly telling you to check the Matrix. First, tell your team that they can check the Matrix too. Anyone can perform Matrix Perception checks and see all visible icons within 100m. It doesn’t take a Cyberdeck, it doesn’t even take a DNI. Someone with a Commlink can hold up device, point it around, and check the screen in order to see all visible icons in range. So make sure your team is doing their part. But there’s a part they cannot help with, and that’s where you either shine, or sizzle and burn.
You have your book, you can read all about the Matrix Actions, but what do they mean? Which ones do you use? That’s what I’m here to tell you.
First, lets start with a big target, a Host. You and your team are going into a certain place, to access some files, and make off with the paydata. Your first choice is to decide if you want to try to stay safe back at home and join them entirely in VR, or if you are going to join them in person, and access the Matrix in AR. I can’t really help you here. I can say that if the drek hits the fan, and the host traces you, you’ll be all by your lonesome when they come to . . ahem, perform a courtesy call to check on your well-being. As a GM, I recommend the AR aspect. It keeps the group together, lets you all share in the fun, etc. It also helps a lot when you make your way into the heart of the target, only to find out that the paydata is on a secure device not connected to the Matrix. Also, there’s a slight trick that makes getting into a host a little easier when you are there, and that’s a Direct Connection.
So you have your target. Let’s assume for this that is a Local Corporate Host, Rating 8. Ouch. That means it can have a Firewall ranging from 8-11. Assuming they want their stuff protected, it’ll be 11. That means in order to get a Mark onto their host so that you can enter it, you are looking at an opposed dice pool of 19. So if you are trying to stay safe at home, and tagging along via VR, you might have a few bonus dice, but still, that 19 dice may prove to be a tough nut to crack. So, that little trick? You perform your Matrix Perception, and you get a few questions. What rating is the host? What rating is the firewall? Is that maglock panel slaved to the host? What is the rating of that maglock Panel? Bingo. Most door locks (According to the Device Ratings chart in the GM section) are Rating 2. So, if you walk up to the building, and plug your deck into the maglock, you are rolling your Hack of the Fly or Brute Force vs 4 dice. Isn’t that much better than 19? You bet it is. Once you have a Mark on a slaved Device, you also have a Mark on it’s owner, the Host. So now, you can enter the Host.
Once you have a Mark on the Host, you do not automatically get a Mark on everything slaved to it. At least, I cannot find any example of this in the book. It works one way, not the other (If you have a page number that corrects me, please leave it in the comments below). However, once you have a Mark on the Host, you are considered to be Directly Connected to everything slaved to the Host. this means that you are bypassing the defenses of the Host, and rolling directly against the device you are trying to interact with. This means that if you want to Snoop on a camera, you roll vs the cameras 2 dice (Typical DR of 1). If you want to format a Server and erase all it’s data, you roll vs 8 dice (Corporate Server typical DR of 4). If you want to Data Spike maglocks to brick them so they cannot lock behind you, then you are rolling vs 4 dice (Typical door lock DR 2). The exception is IC. IC shares the attributes of its Host, so has a DR of the Host Rating. When it attacks, it rolls Host Rating x 2 dice, and resists with the appropriate number of dice. When IC starts to come after you, it’s probably time to get out.
So what’s the next step? Here, I can only say that the most important thing is to know what you want to do. And GMs, try to make sure that you and your players all understand what the desired end result is. I say this, because I’ve seen many times that players want to spend time going for 2 or even 3 Marks, when they just end up performing actions that only require 1 Mark. The time spend acquiring those other Marks just ends up being wasted time and effort. Also, Players may think that Matrix Action X is what they want to do, but when you finally find out their desired end result, it turns out they really need Matrix Action Y. So the next step is definitely skip past the dice you need to roll, or the Action you want to perform, and find out what the player is trying to accomplish. So here’s some example desires, and the Action I think best suits that desire
- Peek in on a facility’s security cameras – Snoop
- Open a door so you can proceed – Control Device
- Open a door and make it look “legit” – Spoof Command, as long as you have a Mark on the Host or PAN the door is slaved to.
- Loop security footage – Edit File
- Erase your presence from a few seconds of security footage – Edit File
- Erase yourself from the cameras in real time – Edit File once per Combat Turn
- Overhear your opponent’s commlink – Snoop
- Turn off your opponent’s Cybereyes, if wireless – Reboot Device if you have enough marks, and want to make it last a little bit. Control Device if you have enough Marks. Or, if those eyes are slaved to that guy’s PAN, and you have a Mark on his Slave Controller, just Spoof Command. Note, Rebooting them guarantees they are down for at least 1 full Combat Turn, otherwise, they can just turn them back on next Action.
- Fake a Work Order or Purchase Order to give a reason to be there – Edit File.
- Swap recorded video for what an opponent is seeing in his cybereyes – This is a multistep. First, you need to hack into something with a video feed, like municipal traffic cameras, and Snoop them. Then You discretely Mark the eyes, and Spoof that Snoop directly into the eyes. Now, the enemy street samurai is seeing live traffic outside of the Renraku Arcology.
To end this, I am going to walk you through the example of BK, on page 224 (depending on which book you have, the pages might be off by 6 or so). So, BK is waiting around for the Bank to open in AR mode. He’s able to browse the waitress’ music files because files are always visible, and unless you’ve set protection (Edit File) then anyone can browse your stuff. However, to copy them, he Sleazes a Mark (Hack on the fly vs her firewall + Intuition. Then he Copies the music with Edit File. Since he performed an action with [Sleaze] as the limit (Hack on the Fly), he now has an Overwatch Score (however many hits the waitress got on her roll) and the timer is running before GOD Converges on him.
So the bank opens, and he figures than an employee got the files out of Archives, so he starts his run. He crosses the street and enters an ally, looking for a maglock slaved with the Bank’s WAN. Why? Because of the Host rating. The example never states it, but it’s probably better than the 3-4 of Low-end commercial, but maybe not as tough as the 7-8 of a local corporate host. So I’ll guess it’s a 6. That still means that it’s Firewall can be up to 9, for a total of 15 defense dice. The maglock however, typically has a Device Rating of 2, for a total of 4 Defense Dice if you Directly Connect to it, which he does, and then slumps down so he can enter VR. Not wanting to draw attention, he probably does another Hack on the Fly for the Mark. Having a Mark on the door gives him a mark on the WANs master, so he can enter the Host.
He changes his icon, and starts looking for the file he wants. He knows what the data is that he wants, but not the filename. So while he can see the files, he needs to find the right one, so this is a Matrix Search. Within a Host, all Matrix Searches take 1 minute, minus any time shaved off with extra Net Hits. Searching is not illegal, so the Patrol IC doesn’t notice him as he is finding his file. He starts to copy the files (Edit File) but can’t because it is encrypted. So he needs to remove the protection (Crack File).
This next step is vague. He gets ready to crack the file, and the host has Marked him. It is possible that he failed a Hack on the Fly, resulting in the Host getting a Mark on him, at which point the IC can see someone with a Mark on them. Or maybe the Patrol IC noticed him attempting an illegal action, and alerted the Host. By the context, I am going with the first interpretation. So now that the Host has a Mark on BK, it launches a Killer IC at the start of the Combat Turn.
Initiative. It looks like BK goes first, so he swipes the mark off (Erase Mark), then the Killer IC attacks, and deals some damage. BK then disappears in a cloud of smoke (Hide). It looks like this is the end of that Combat Turn. At the beginning of the next, the Host launches a Tracker IC, and Initiative is rolled again. It looks like this time, the Killer IC goes first, but since BK hid, it has no target, so it delays, or skips, or something. The Patrol IC is waiting to spot something illegal again. BK then goes, and attacks the Patrol IC, probably with (Data Spike). It looks like he does enough damage to crash the Patrol. Since there are no Marks on BK now, and only the Patrol IC can otherwise alert the other IC to a target. It looks as if BK has another action this Turn, even though the example talks about another Patrol IC coalescing. I think this is thematic, so with his last action this Turn, BK again tries to break the encryption (Crack File), and again fails. Since Crack File is an [Attack] action, failing means that BK takes some damage.
Beginning of the next Combat Turn, the Host finally launches the new Patrol IC, and it looks as if BK goes first. So he tries to Crack File again, and this time he succeeds. The Patrol IC then goes, and performs a Matrix Perception “on all targets in the host,” presumably asking any questions it might have as to which was the last action performed by any given target. BK goes next, and copies the file (Edit File), It is unclear as to whether the Patrol IC notices this, or the Security Spider logging in does, but BK has enough time to Jack Out, suffering some Dump Shock, but probably figuring it was better than risking his OS climbing too high, or the IC inflicting upon him a fate worse than death.
Hopefully this helped. Like I said, this version of the Matrix far better than any previous version, but it still has some issues. There are still times when the group is sitting around doing nothing for too long, while the Decker is making roll after roll after roll trying to accomplish something. So my group and I had a discussion, and came up with some options that I think might help negate that. I will try to get another article out on that as soon as I can.