Revising Hacking in Street Rats

Street Rats has actually been seeing updates the past couple weeks, despite me not posting about them here. Part of the reason for this is because there haven’t been a whole ton of progress on bits that I consider particularly interesting, more just on things that have to get done to get a finished  game out. There have been some adjustments in plans. First, most of the setting is getting cut from the main book; some brief blurbs will be available, but Phoenix in the UAS will be the only setting place to get wide coverage. I want to keep Street Rats’ total running length below 300 pages, and something had to be cut.

One of the other things getting “cut” is the hacking rules as they stand. Right now they are not only bulky, but they’re too similar to other games on the market that have widespread problems on account of… their hacking systems. Hacking should be both a robust experience and a quick one, so it is getting new and exceptional mechanics; this puts it a little outside the rest of Street Rats, but when dealing with cyberspace such things are necessary.

The new system does away with discrete software, though it will keep most of the rules the same. Malware still makes it into the game, and can be used to a hacker’s advantage, but it will be the only software to be mentioned by name. Part of the reason for this is because most software was just going to be a trade-off between spending GAU for Programming and making your own or AAU/money for purchasing software. Now characters will use Programming in real time to make customized malware when intruding on a system. Is it realistic? No, not really, but it’s sleek and cool, and makes the skill useful.

The new hacking system operates on the premise of Exploit Points; as a character hacks into a system they accrue Exploit Points and Alarm (the latter functions much as it does right now). When a hacker has enough Exploit Points, they may take special actions on a system. What does this mean? It means that GM’s can create systems with special functions, each with their own Exploit Point trigger value, so you can have a more customized feel than the current system with largely abstracted systems.

User permissions will remain, in more or less their current state, although user permissions will be somewhat less important. They are one element of many on the broad digital battlefield, with some actions requiring high user permissions (reboot, etc.), and others requiring low ones (access security cameras). There will still be guest/standard/admin accounts, and going for that higher level means accessing more systems, but it also means more risk of Alarm and shutdowns.

First, Signal will still play a large role on hacking into a system. Giving straight penalties to both defenders and attackers on systems, it also determines the Exploit Point cost of increasing user permissions, which means that a local user will gain permissions more quickly than a remote one. Remote users will likely need to take multiple actions to get all the way to the admin level, and this means that they are better off learning to work quick rather than trying to lock everyone else out of the system. Local users can enjoy domination of the machine.

Second, Exploit Points provide a pool for attackers and more motivation to install malware. A quick, unnoticed attack ahead of time to put a backdoor in the system from afar can neatly complement the hacker’s mid-mission efforts, by granting them Exploit Points right off the bat, or by reducing the EP or difficulty thresholds of certain actions. Malware is also going to be revised with defenders in mind; some malware is able to flag users, either making legitimate users look dangerous or making life difficult for hackers.

Third, the Alarm system provides a limited time on actions. It trickles up more reliably when certain “unexpected” events happen, representing monitor AI. Overwatch now has less of a focus on the Alarm resource, which does still increase the difficulty of certain things like gaining access to user accounts.

Hacking will remain a series of resolution actions, but there will be the emergence of new gear and augmentations, including mental augmentations that allow users to take an additional resolution action per turn when controlling a drone, hacking a system, or doing other “mental” tasks. The idea is that hackers shouldn’t have to become defenseless puppets when hacking.

Finally, the Dive will be revamped to match the new hacking rules instead of following entirely separate rules, though the specifics of this are still in flux.

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