Monday, 14 July 2014

Hacker Concepts

A few years ago VFTE forumite, graphic and martial artist Interrupt wrote a set of workable, modern netrunning rules called Run.Net which allowed me to actually contemplate running a netrunning game in Cyberpunk 2020.

Run.Net's skill system allowed characters to optimise in different areas of hacking. In doing so, it allowed a character with a low Interface skill to become very effective in her chosen role if she distributed her points properly. The Revolt City game I discussed a couple of months ago was one of the first playtests; in that game the average character had an Interface skill of 2 or 3 (in Cyberpunk 2020 skills are rated between 1 and 10, with 4 being "experienced" and 10 being "inhuman genius")

That experience opened my eyes to the full potential variety of the hacker archetype. It also inspired me to write a list of Netrunner character archetypes across the entire spectrum of the Interface skill, which I've reposted here (after a minor typo clean-up). It feels almost offensive that the Netrunner role has never been afforded the variety that the Solo/Street Samurai concept gets, in a genre that defined and was defined by hackers. While this list has a dozen criminal types ready to fill out the dingy bars and dank darknet forums scattered throughout your campaign world, it also focuses on the opposition - particularly the low level mooks and spooks that PC hackers test themselves against on the way up.

You can tell these were written a few years ago. A modern list would have included more ideas about underground banking and would perhaps have been less disparaging about the capabilities of government hackers. In addition, this list could stand to have a few more law enforcement concepts in general (just to cover Ghost in the Shell...). I'll save that for another another list!

Hopefully, the archetypes below will provide some neat character concepts for PCs and NPCs, whether describing their current profession or former gigs. Without further ado:

Interface 1

1. Pixel Stained Technopeasant

Just occasionally, the wage slaves pick up some technical skills along the way. This guy might be an IT consultant or he might be proficient in installing the latest version of Norton or he might know just enough to get himself into serious trouble (like the writer of this blog, really). 

2. Locust

A few pirated skill chips, some basic l33t "skills" and a lot of teenage attitude (easy to find) is all Anonymous or the street gangs need to create a swarm of angry locusts, tearing their way through the net for the Lulz...

3. AR Janitor

...and when those pricks mess with the Augmented Reality adverts, they never think about the guy who has to go clean it up...

4. Morality Rep

"Now. Downloading pornography is immoral. Downloading music is a crime. We don't allow either in school, and if we look on your computer and find any evidence of indecent behaviour, you are going to be expelled. Do you understand, sonny?"

Interface 2 

5. Teenage Pirate

There's music to be had, skill chips to be tried, radical agitprop to be discovered, a whole world out there for someone willing to take a few risks! All the security systems the schools can throw up to keep the beaver kids in their cages can't stop this new rising generation!

6. Professional Teleoperator

"So when the company sent in violent thugs to break the picket line, they reckoned without Jim. A decade on the job and he knew how to use every single piece of robotics in the place to maximum effect. No booster ganger, no matter how cybered, is a match for a fuck-off huge 20 ton mining rig! Those bastards out front ran like sheep when they saw that thing coming, and the screams of their comrades who got caught trying to get in through the automated drydock... well, we try not to think about that."


7. Police Recon Officer

Normal beat cops can't always tell if they're going to run into electronic trouble. So the force has specialist officers trained to recognise and diagnose electronic crime, trace hackers and pirates, and search out criminal drones. They also set up the automated systems and the AR systems used during protests and security theatre. 

8. Highway Jacker

"Another automated truck, stolen on the M4! Forty tonnes of solid metal vehicle just disappeared for over an hour and when we found the thing torched in a layby the whole shipment was gone..."

9. Gang Runner

So the street gangs are more advanced than they used to be. There's a lot you can do with commercially available toys and a little malice, and someone needs to crack the security on stolen spime goods...

Interface 3

10. Viral Ecologist

There's a whole new ecosystem out there, emergent intelligences and subsentient viruses. It takes a brave and skilled researcher to find them, catalogue them, and avoid the attacks from predators...

11. Prison Spider

The State Prison doesn't have much funding, but their security guys are vicious. Expect automated gas sprayers, lots of surveillance, lots of security doors, even coordinated biodrones out on the perimeter. Don't think its going to be easy to open the doors or even get internal information about the cell layout without being noticed...

12. Company Tracer

When the music file DRM picks up on some piracy, somebody has to track them down and call in the security goons. That somebody might be you.

13. Tabloid Journalist

So people forgot about the phone hacking scandals a few years back, and it's time to get back to finding dirt on celebrities. You can do a lot with a cyberdeck, a surveillance drone, and no human decency...

14. Military Drone Operator

You don't need to be a hacker to fly an attack drone. But along the way the best operators pick up the skill to know when they've been hacked or targeted by electronic attacks, and respond instantly and effectively with a battery of defensive programs. No doubt the drone forces acquired these skills through bitter experience.




15. Adbuster

The whole city is a blaze of corporate illusions, Augmented Reality advertising, AR overlays, AR censorship. Some brave kids set out to subvert the system, armed with guts, vision and some tricked out software. Some say the Cowboy clans watch this stuff like a rite of passage and are waiting to recruit the best graffiti artists into their hidden ranks.

16. Deniable Infantry

The city is burning, racked with insurgency and warfare. Neighbourhood militias fight block by block for control, and military patrols can't move without major support. The government needs troops who can fight in that environment, who can fit into that environment, who can carry out actions without being identified by the press, who can recon the area, who can place the laser designators to guide in the smart-bombs when the surge finally comes...
(see DMZ issue 55...)

17. Social Network Paycop

Identity theft, bullying, fraud, unlicensed gold farming... social networks and MMORPGs are nests of potential criminal activity and it damages the company to let it go unhindered. Whole new security companies operate across the AR systems, social networks and MMORPGS, operating undercover in game in a constant, losing war for control.

18. Triad Cowboy

A wild mixture of numerology, feng shui, guerrilla intelligence and sheer bloody minded greed gives the Triad's cyber soldiers an edge over their criminal and police rivals. When the Dragon Head needs something enforced, someone found, something done, they can call upon their elite and feared cadre. If you distribute goods electronically or run an AR network, ferchrissake don't miss a protection racket payment...

19. Criminal Spider

In these days when the gangs use flashmob organisation, the prostitutes wear IFF and the police angels track stolen goods across the city, criminal operations need organisation. Smuggling needs to be co-ordinated. Goods need to be tagged and traced. Police patterns and gang territories need to be tracked on a daily basis. Really, if you didn't have a criminal record you could have done all the same things for a corporation and lived in a nice place for more money and without fear of the police...

20. AI Wrangler

The AI Wrangler is in charge of monitoring, studying and teaching the new generation of AIs. This role requires constant adaptation to changing circumstances, a wildly varying skill set, and is often conducted under self-defeating layers of secrecy that can make the job very difficult.

Interface 4


21. Activist

Under the eyes and electronic ears of the inhuman corporate juntas, simply organising dissent requires the kind of planning you'd expect to see in a bank robbery. Secret networks have to be set up and defended. Information has to be disseminated and located. Secrets have to be exposed for the whole world to see. Double agents and spies have to be found and... neutralised.

22. Skip Tracer

So in the Spime age everything from the toaster to the car to the aforementioned sex workers are IFF and RFID tagged. Someone who knows how to negotiate their way through the illusions and dissimulation put in place by would-be thieves and fugitives can find just about anything or anyone. Finding something and reclaiming it are different things, though.

23. Rescue Worker

Getting into the corporate facility after the earthquake would have been difficult in the best of circumstances. Electronic security gone haywire just makes things worse. There are sub-sentient viruses all over the place. The rescue drones have to be coordinated. The computer systems controlling the lifts and doors have to be reactivated, to save a dozen trapped civilians. And like a fighter jet, this modern building relies on complex computer systems just to keep its ultralight construction standing. If that isn't put back online in a few hours, all 200 floors of this thing are going to come down on the city below...

24. Extortionist 

"Yeah? You think you can fuck with me? I can wipe out your life. I can wipe out your identity. I can give you a criminal record. I can do things out of your fucking nightmares, bruv..."

25. Urban Reconnaissance Trooper

The modern insurgency battlefield is a lethal labyrinth of electronic systems. Automortars can be set up days in advance. Automated trucks can be turned into weapons. ECM can be deployed from anywhere. IEDs are detonated remotely. Snipers hold up entire platoons. Insurgents use hidden networks to communicate and fuel their 3D printers. Carbomb factories and minifac supply factories have to be located and shut down. Hackers have to rooted out. Drone controllers have to taken out fast before remote Anti-Material Rifles and AA launchers and UAVs do their worst. Derived from the old scout sniper units, URTs descend into the slums and warzones to locate and destroy all the myriad disruptive insurgent weapons that the grunts wouldn't know how to find, or else call in airstrikes right down on top of them. 


Forget Delta Force: armed with precision smart-rifles and mini-missile launchers, RPGs and AMRs, thermoptics and cyberdecks, these soldiers drawn from the line infantry are the most feared fighters in the armed forces.

26. Netwatch

Someone has to hunt down the criminals, the rogue spiders and the political fanatics. Netwatch is equipped specifically for locating Cowboys and dealing with them, one way or another. Optimised and trained for direct hacker-on-hacker violence and equipped with very new equipment from the military and dozens of security companies, Netwatch operatives are far more dangerous than their reputation might suggest. The munchkins of the net, no doubt.

27. Corporate Spider

When the 'runners begin their extraction, they know who they're going to face. Somewhere - in or out of the complex - a "spider" is monitoring the web of drones, security systems and doors, and is prepared to respond in force to hostile intrusion... or call in reinforcements. 'Runners preparing to assault a corporate installation need to be ready to meet corporate cyber-goons swarming like they were re-enacting my mate's LSD trip during a rave in 2006. That's a whole lot of spiders.

28. Neurozoku 

Weird cults and subcultures proliferate out in the clublands, garment districts and weird interstices of the urban world. Fashion obsessed 'runner cults exist in a world increasingly divorced from any their parents would recognise. A whole other inner space exists for them to explore, and they know it intimately. Social clubs, arcade gangs and otaku cults alike, the Neurozoku were the starting point for many of the best - and strangest - hackers and 'runners operating today. 

29. Cowboy

A hacker in the Neuromancer mode. An apprentice 'runner, ready to take on the world.

30. Identity Thief

He knows the SINs of the whole wide world, but he wouldn't know how to absolve them. You don't need to know much more about hacking than the average activist or neurozoku to wreak havoc on the vulnerable...


The second half of this list goes up tomorrow, covering Interface 5 to 10. Including: Cypherpunks! Krishna Cops! Serial Killers!