WHAT IS THE MATRIX
We use it every day to read our email, pay our bills, talk to our friends and loved ones. It monitors our money, handles our utilities, and manages the traffic on our streets. Billions of people use it constantly, from the hungry family to the corporate CEO and everyone in between. It is the Matrix, the digital world within a world made of fiber-optic cables, networks, and more data and computing power than has ever existed in the history of the universe. A record that exists today so it can be broken tomorrow. Everybody uses the Matrix. Most Crossers have multiple pieces of gear that use it, often interacting with the Matrix without them knowing it. Smartlinks use it to look up local conditions and calculate firing solutions, medkits access medical databases to analyze and diagnose injuries and then recommend treatment, and your clothes and armor use it to detect wear and tear. And tell you when it’s time to do the laundry. Some Crossers do more than just soak in information the gear gathers for them. They use the Matrix as a tool and a weapon. They glide through it, bending it to their will, making it dance and spin to the tune they call. Such a Crosser is called a hacker. There are two kinds of hackers, classified based on how they interact with the Matrix: Deckers, who use cyberdecks to access the bones and muscle of the Matrix and twist that structure to their will; and Technomancers, who have a downright weird ability to interface and control the digital world without the aid of technology. Hackers play critical roles on Crosser teams. They open locked doors, muffle alarms, cancel security calls, unearth buried facts, monitor things other team members can’t see, and keep the heat off long enough for the rest of the team to finish the run. In a scrap, they can take control of or destroy opponents’ weapons and gear. They also play an important role in defense. Every other skilled team in the world has a hacker running interference for them; if your team doesn’t, you’re vulnerable to whatever electronic havoc they decide to bring down on your head. Quick tip: leaving yourself vulnerable is a bad idea.
The paradox of the Matrix is this: to be an ace hacker, you need to understand it—but no one really understands it. Like so many things, though, the real key is to know more and be better than the next guy. So let’s get you started with a quick overview of the Matrix experience.
We won’t start with hacking, because you need to walk before you can run. We’ll start with the ways users—you and everyone else—experience the Matrix. When you jack in and flip over to the electronic world, you plunge into a virtual environment of a consensual hallucination. Everything is rendered in incredible detail powered by a century of digital graphics innovation. Sometimes it seems almost real, but either through conscious artificiality or the difficulty of duplicating the complexities of the physical world, the computer-generated seams usually show.
Physical laws don’t apply in the Matrix (unless some jackwad admin programmed them into a host, but those strictures can always be overwritten if you know what you’re doing). You want to fly? Go ahead and fly, as long as you have the necessary grid authorizations to do so. And watch the vast expanse of exquisite artificiality spread out around you. Below you, stretching off in every direction, three-dimensional icons of real-world devices light up the landscape like a galaxy of stars in a perfect night sky. The devices that appear to be closest to you are the ones nearest your meat body. Your own icon—your virtual self— is usually the brightest and clearest of the icons. The points of light on the distant horizon, the devices that are the farthest from your presence in the real world, flicker and sputter with the lag of data traveling from the other side of the globe.
Hovering above you, massive hosts—tremendous data collections guarded by spiders and IC—float like corporate gods, attempting to see everything and be surprised by nothing. Their custom geometries form a virtual geography that is unconnected to the meatbound map below. The larger ones, the size of cities, belong to the Big megacorporations and are dangerous to enter if you’re not invited. Other, smaller hosts cluster in the neural sky, offering social connections, presenting consumer products, or promising darker pleasures.
Between it all are the representations of people, processes, programs, and data that zip from icon to icon and host to host, leaving datatrails of light that fade back into the dim hum of information. The Matrix moves at the speed of light and thought. That’s the view from virtual reality. There are other ways to view the Matrix, but VR is the only way to see it firsthand. And it’s the only way that lets you fly.
Everything in the Matrix is an icon, a virtual representation that allows you to interact with something in the Matrix. Every object’s owner can choose what the icon looks like, within certain limits. An icon doesn’t just represent a Matrix object in an abstract way; it shows you what it is and how to access it. The Matrix is programmed to give users a context to make it easier to work and play; if a tool is hard to use, it’s not much of a tool. There are designers and programmers who deliberately obfuscate an icon’s purpose with confusing design, but for the most part people like to know how they can use whatever they encounter. Most Matrix locations require icons to match certain visual protocols. For example, let’s say you’re in the host for Dante’s Inferno. The Inferno is a popular and swanky nightclub with a presence in the real world (it’s on Fifth and Madison in Prometheon’s Downtown), but it’s also got a host that looks the same as the physical club so that patrons from around the world can check in for a visit at a moment’s notice. So you get to the club’s host, pay your cover charge with a quick transfer of NuCred from your account to the Inferno, and in a blink you’re whisked to your favorite spot in the club. In this case, let’s say you go to the fifth level to enjoy the iconography of angry, dead souls writhing to the beat in and under swampy water. You’re in the mood for virtual food, so you call up a menu. That’s a file, and Dante’s menu appears as a flaming scroll with a fancy script. The programmers and the Inferno know it’s something you’d want to read— and they want you to read it—so they make sure the icon looks like something you’d read, in this case a scroll. The flames feel hot and look bright, but they’re just virtual. If you were somewhere else, like say the Club Penumbra host, a nightclub with an outer space theme, it wouldn’t look like a flaming scroll, but it would still look like something you’d read (in this case, an astronaut’s log book). The whole Matrix is like that. Everything is custom crafted by its owners and is generally designed for intuitive usefulness. The other side of the experience is your software. Some hackers don’t want other programmers telling them how their icons look. So they run software to impose their own visuals on their icons. The struggle to show what you want to show is only one of the battles you’ll fight in the Matrix. Most people, though, don’t bother to fight over iconography, and just let the designers of the Matrix win out. Matrix protocols limit the relative sizes of everything to give users a standard experience they can share. If your icon was a robot version of the Wuxing Skytower, that might seem cool, but if you’re talking to someone with an icon of a dung beetle or something, then communication’s not going to run smooth. To overcome this, personas (people in the Matrix) are kept between Grond and Korrug sizes, so what you actually would end up with in the described conversation is a comically small skyscraper talking to a frightfully large bug, so you’re both approximately the same size. Files and devices are smaller than personas (so you’ll never see someone reading a book the size of a great lizard for example), and hosts are larger (much larger in the case of big sites, like the megas’ corporate hosts).
That sets up the size of things, but what do they look like? The answer is a bit more complicated than you’d think. The look of the Matrix depends on what grid you’re on, the programs you’re running, and a bunch of other factors. Luckily, there is a sort of “base version” that forms the foundation of everyone’s Matrix experience. In this base version, the Matrix is a black flatland under a black sky. This virtual plain is lit with the glow of the icon of your commlink (or deck) and other icons around you, one for each device and persona connected to the Matrix. The plain is a projection of the whole world made flat, so the icons get more and more sparse the farther out you look. There are uncounted billions of icons in the Matrix. This could get overwhelming, but some background tech keeps things from getting out of control. The first piece of assistance comes from your commlink, which automatically filters out the least interesting icons. Do you want to know the virtual location of every music player in the world? Right, neither do I. So the Matrix will usually show you an icon for an individual’s personal area network (PAN), not every device in that network (although it makes exceptions for interesting or dangerous devices in that network, such as a gun). Additionally, the farther away devices are from you in the real world, the dimmer their icons are in the Matrix; this is partly because your commlink figures the farther ones aren’t as interesting to you, but mostly because the connection is a bit slower due to the distance. Matrix gear renders the far-off devices and personas as dim, muted, or flickering icons. Also cutting down on the visual noise is the fact that some icons are deliberately hidden from view, such as locks and other security devices, baby monitors, maintenance monitors, and of course people who prefer not to be seen. To understand the uses of virtual reality and how people balance the meat world with the virtual one, let’s look at some typical Matrix uses. Let’s say that you’re in your car, driving home from work, school, or wherever you usually drive home from. You let the car’s autopilot handle the driving and drop into VR to start dinner. Once you check into VR, your car, the road, and everything nearby drop from view, and instead you see the Matrix’s plane of stars. You think about going to your home node, and boom, you go, streaking forward like a comet. As you get close, you see all of the devices that make up your home network, and you head for the one that represents your fridge. The icon for the fridge looks like a small fridge, with a list of the food (which the fridge’s electronics automatically update with what’s actually inside it). You see frozen pizza on the list and decide to go with a frozen pizza. You then reach out to your stove’s controls (appearing as some dials over a warm, homey glow) and fire up the oven to pre-heat to 230°. It’s a bit nippy outside, so you set your drink dispenser (which you’ve made look like a beer tap in VR) to start warming the soy base, and since you’re feeling luxurious you hit the controls for chocolate flavoring. Sill in VR, you zip back to your car, which cheerfully tells you that you’ve got another ten minutes, enough time to visit your favorite social networking host. Speaking of hosts, the big hosts are the most interesting spots in the Matrix landscape, and they’re the things hovering above you when you log on. No matter where you go in the Matrix, they’re always up there. One of the critical things to understand about hosts is that, unlike the devices in your house, they are not necessarily the representations of a specific device or location in the meat world. Hosts are part of the Matrix, rather than being a single device, so you can access them from anywhere without worrying about the distance involved. The next important thing to know is that the inside of a host is a lot different from the outside. For one thing, it’s often bigger on the inside than the outside. It’s also a virtual environment of its own, with clear boundaries indicating where it starts and the rest of the Matrix, for most intents and purposes, ends. But let’s get back to the social networking host you decide to check into on your way home. The one you’re going to does not have any particular entry requirements, so you don’t have to endure the virtual equivalent of an entry line. You just zoom to the host, fly over the border, and you’re almost ready to go in. On the inside, this particular host looks like a classy perpetual cocktail party, with a sculpted look that swanky lounges in the physical world would kill to have. Before you go into the actual party, you enter a private changing room, where you can make your icon look more appropriate for the party. Maybe pick out a stylish black suit or a little black dress, then add a tie or neckerchief for a splash of color. Get the outfit and your virtual hair set, and you’re ready to mingle. Or maybe a come-as-you-are sports bar is more your style. That host has booths for visitors that change size depending on the number of people in it, so they’re always full but not too cozy. Or possibly games are more your style, joining your friends for board games, or puzzles, or grand adventures. Or you could go to a cat fanciers’ clubhouse. Or a movie theater. Or a zero-G simulated spacecraft. The inside of a host is limited only by its owner’s preferences and imagination. Those are the general outlines of the Matrix; now let’s dive into what and who you’ll encounter.
THE POPULATION OF THE MATRIX
Every icon in the Matrix is one of six things: a persona, a device, a PAN, a file, a host, or a mark. Occasionally, you might also see a datastream, a transfer of data that looks like a thin beam of flickering, multi-colored light. Datastreams are normally filtered out of your Matrix view because if they weren’t, they’d be the only thing you would see. If you want, you can dial back on the filtering, but the streams pass by so quickly that you can’t tell where they’re coming from or going to without snooping on whatever is sending or receiving them, and that would be illegal (and we’d never do anything illegal in the Matrix, right?).
A persona is more or less what it sounds like: a person in the Matrix. A persona is the combination of a user and a device that gets the user onto the Matrix. The fact that the device has a user overrides the device’s normal icon status, turning it into a persona. A persona is usually based on a commlink, cyberdeck, or rigged vehicle or drone, although Technomancers are a sort of device-less persona. Persona icons usually look like the people they represent (although who can resist making a nip here, a tuck there, a facelift, and maybe some nicer hair?), sometimes with a splash of style like flashing eyes, hair coloring, or a tastefully understated aura. There are wilder looks out there, but Crossers often shy away from them, as they draw too much attention and can be considered unprofessional. On the other hand, sometimes drawing attention is exactly the point, so base your look on however professional (or distracting) you want for the situation you’re in. When it comes to the look of your persona, almost anything is possible, but some things are harder to do than others. You can easily change hair, your clothes, your skin or eye color, and all that would need is a bit of time and dedication, similar to creating an avatar in a computer game. Some things are harder to achieve, like sporting protected symbols and looks. There's an entire industry out there, that creates beautiful, sexy, cute, fearsome or Species appropriate Personas and sells the licences to use them. While this is mostly catering to those users that can't be bothered to create their own persona but still want to look different, it is also a way to access certain looks that can't be worn otherwise. When it comes to Corporation logos for example, the Matrix has protocols that detect your authorization to use these logos on your persona and stuff like that. There’s a lot of variety to be had in persona icons. Just about any creature or animate object is fair game: animals, moving statues, griffins (popular among teens these days for some reason), steam-powered robots, zombies, aliens, magical girls, furries, just about anything that can walk and talk. The Matrix protocols will stop you from designing an icon for your persona if it isn’t intuitively a persona, so you couldn’t have an icon that is a dust speck, a Greek column, or a cube, for example. They’ll also stop you from making something smaller than adult-Grond-sized or bigger than adult-Korrug-sized.
Device icons in the Matrix represent electronic devices in the real world, from your music player to your commlink to your car and beyond. By default, a device’s icon looks like the object it represents, in miniature if the real thing is larger than a person. It has controls of some kind, often the same controls it has in meat space, but not necessarily. The Ares Mobmaster riot control vehicle, for example, is famous for its unorthodox Roman chariot icon complete with reins to drive the vehicle. Basic Matrix protocols require device icons to provide some hint of their real-life function. A firearm’s icon looks like a weapon (even if that weapon is a tomahawk, like the icon of the Super Warhawk pistol), a vehicle’s icon looks like a vehicle, a lock’s icon looks like a lock, a refrigerator looks like a cold box for food, etc. The restrictions on devices aren’t as stringent as on personas, as long as form suggests function at a glance.
Most individuals have multiple electronic devices on them at once, and having icons for each one show up would provide too much visual clutter in the Matrix. Often, what shows up instead is an icon representing an individual’s personal area network. This icon often looks similar to the physical device that serves as master for the network, such as a commlink, but individuals will sometimes choose a design or logo that means something to them (such as sports team logos, Concrete Dreams album covers, or corporate designs). Some devices are not merged into the single PAN icon; if an individual is carrying a wireless-enabled gun—or any other wireless device that might kill you—it will show up separately so that it can be identified rapidly. Unless, of course, the user has gone to the trouble to hide that icon, but that’ll be covered later.
A file is a collection of data. It can be a film, a song, a book, financial records, an image, a news article, and so on. It can even be a collection of other files (a “folder”). Files have icons that are smaller than persona icons, typically small enough to fit in the palm of the virtual hand. All file icons have a default appearance in the Matrix—a glowing cube or other polyhedron that can be opened to reveal its contents—but few Matrix users are so lazy and uninspired as to leave their files’ icons with such a boring look. A text file might have an icon that is a book, a scroll, a data pad, or even stone tablets. Sound files look like speakers, musical notes or instruments, and so forth, while video might look like a film projector, a trid set, or an old-fashioned movie screen. Again, form suggests function is the rule in the Matrix.
Hosts are virtual places you can go in the Matrix. They have no physical location, being made up of the stuff of the Matrix itself. From the outside, hosts are as big as buildings in the electronic landscape, some of the largest being about the size of Manhattan (a limit imposed by the Corporate Court’s Grid Overwatch Division to prevent the virtual sky from being completely dominated by the mega-hosts). The size of a host and its virtual altitude are related to its importance and influence in the modern world. Your local Stuffer Store has a host icon that’s roughly the size of the building it’s in, and it sits low to the “ground,” about on the same level as most of the devices in the Matrix. The Atlantean Foundation’s host, on the other hand, floats about a virtual kilometer above the twinkling datascape and is about the size of the biggest skyraker building in the physical world. Bigger still is the ShinWare Mainframe, which is a slowly rotating sphere about a hundred kilometers up and almost twenty kilometers in diameter. The host icons themselves look like just about anything the owners want. If you look up into the Matrix night you’ll see corporate logos, lavish building façades, and constellations of hosts. Some hosts can be accessed from any Grid, and from all over the universe, as they have connections to almost anywhere. Other hosts are connected to only the big Grids, or even require you to first connect to a particular Grid to access it. Some hosts are even so secure, that they can only be accessed on their local Grid and only from people that are directly connected to that Grid. Inside a host is a completely different story. A host can be (and usually is) bigger on the inside than on the outside. A host’s internal sculpting is internally regulated, so while outsiders’ icons conform to standard Matrix requirements, the host itself doesn’t have to. The host can be a maze, an open space, have strange gravity or none at all, be hot, cold, loud, quiet, and everything in between. Most hosts stick close to reality to make it easier and more comfortable for its patrons, but some offer stranger or even downright bizarre sculpting.
MATRIX AUTHENTICATION RECOGNITION KEYS
A Matrix authentication recognition key, or mark if you’re not a fan of rattling off fancy technological nomenclature, is how the Matrix keeps track of which personas have access to which devices, files, hosts, and other personas. Marks look like, well, marks—small personalized labels or tattoos on whichever icons you place them. Your marks can look like anything you like, as long as they’re small, fit onto other icons, and have some thematic link to you or your icon. For example, let’s say you’re using the icon of a neon green octopus. Your marks might look like neon green sucker marks. If you had a cowboy icon, your marks might look like cattle brands. If your icon were a vintage movie star, your marks might look like lipstick kisses. Normally, marks are invisible to anyone except the person who placed them. To see other marks on an icon (or your own icon), you have to analyze it. Seeing a mark does not automatically tell you who put it there, though. Usually, you can only recognize a mark if you have already seen the persona responsible for the mark, or if you’re familiar with his or her marking style. Marks are routinely invited and given for normal, everyday, legal use of various services. They act as keys, permission slips, invitations, and account privileges on every icon in the virtual world. For example, the Public Library invites over 50,000 marks per day for its VR books, films, videos, and other items in its collection. While the great percentage of mark traffic is legitimate, hackers try to get marks illegally to facilitate their own plans.
FOR YOU AND AGAINST YOU
It’s important to remember that the Matrix exists to be used. That means that for the most part, the look and feel of various hosts is geared toward being approachable, not putting up obstacles that might prevent people from doing their work or conducting their business. It is a safe environment, with security built into its operating systems and protocols. Ever since the recent change in Matrix protocols, the structure is monitored by the Grid Overwatch Division of the Corporate Court, who act as a sort of Matrix police force devoted to protecting users (including innocent children, natch) from online predators, piracy, and fraud. That’s the corp brochure version of the Matrix, anyway. The real motives behind the Matrix, particularly its current structure, are profit and control. The megacorporations and the Grid Overwatch Division have been working on “The Matrix Problem” for decades, searching for a holy grail of Matrix design that will let them maximize their profits while minimizing their risks, and they may have finally found something close. The system is set up so that the corps always have the advantage, hackers always are at a disadvantage, and everybody else is stuck somewhere between. One of the keys to the new system is the network of overlapping grids, which need to be understood if you plan on doing any serious Matrix work.
If you want to get on the Matrix, you need a grid. A grid is what a Matrix service provider uses to connect you to the digital world. When you connect to the Matrix, you are on the grid of your provider, much the same way an early 21st century cell phone user would be on their phone company’s network. Different grids cover customers in different areas; there are global grids provided by each of the Big Megacorporations and local grids sponsored in part by local governments. Accessing these grids costs money, and each of them presents a slightly different view of the Matrix (although the inside of hosts look the same no matter what grid you’re on, as that’s controlled by the hosts). It’s all still the “real” Matrix, of course, but the icons that belong to your grid’s owner look a bit bigger and more shiny, and the advertising is slanted in ways that benefit the grid’s owners. Some Grids are crowded and might look like a metropolis, while other are more barren or suburban in nature. Some feel like real world chinatown or a red light district, while others have a very high class feel to them. For example, when you’re connected to the Matrix through Prometheon’s local grid, Emerald City, the normally black Matrix sky is tinged a gemstone green, and the hosts that are closely related to Prometheon are a bit brighter. NeoNET icons are also a bit larger when you’re using Emerald City, because the main sponsor/owner of the local grid is NeoNET. If you were on NeoNET’s global grid, you’d see much the same thing, without the emphasis on Prometheon or the green sky. If you can’t pay for access to a grid, well, you’re not completely out of luck. The corps would never have been able to get away with completely throttling access to the Matrix, so there’s a public grid provided by underfunded non-profits, outdated satellites, and the occasional good Samaritan who’s willing to share a wireless access point or two. The public grid is slow, low-resolution, and unreliable, but at least it’s globally accessible. It’s the Barrens of the Matrix. As you’d expect, the grid you’re on says something about your social standing. You might find notes like “Posted from the Renkaru Grid” tacked onto the end of status updates. Corps market their own grids heavily, offering perks and free commlink upgrades every year or two. People on the public grid are viewed as second-class citizens. High-class hosts advertise “No public-grid connections allowed” to show how their clientele are elite. You can “hop” between grids, but which grids you can access depend on where you are in the world. You can get on the public or any global grid from anywhere on the planet. Local grids can only be accessed if you’re physically in the grid’s service area. Depending on the interconnection of Grids, it might also be necessary to hop over several Grids until you reach the one you want to connect to.
GRID OVERWATCH DIVISION
The Grid Overwatch Division, or GOD for short, is responsible for securing the Matrix from hackers and other unwanted intruders, especially the parts connecting the various hosts and users (security with hosts falls more on the heads of the host owners). Each grid has its own sub-division (even the public grid), with its own financing and operatives. A sub-division (referred to as a demiGOD) watches its entire grid, keeping an eye out for misbehaving users and illegal activity. The grids have a warning system built-in, a subtle but telltale ripple that occurs when the automated software detects illegal or unauthorized use of the gird. It’s not much, but GOD is watching, and if they see enough ripples to find and identify a hacker, they can trace his physical location and boot him off the Matrix using the mechanisms built into each grid. This is not to say the megacorps have made nice and are now holding hands singing Kumbayah. Far from it; the Matrix is an even hotter intercorporate battleground than ever, it’s just that the AAAs want to keep their battleground to themselves. While the demiGODs are separate and even competitive, they are still part of GOD and highly cooperative against hackers. They share their information in real-time, often faster than hackers can hop to another grid. Their operatives, called G-men (complete with 1930s-era FBI persona icons), technically only have jurisdiction over their assigned grid, but they can request and receive clearance, authority, and cooperation from the demiGOD of another grid in seconds during an investigation. The G-men investigate cases that aren’t lengthy enough or blatant enough to leave sufficient ripples for the demiGODs to track through standard overwatch alone. They also handle cases where a hacker has been kicked off the grid, supporting any security or law enforcement forces that the grid’s owner wants to send against the hacker in the physical world.
The artificial intelligence known as the Swan Song Protocol is the virtual entity maintaining and controlling the entirety of the Matrix. It is in control of GOD and can alter, reshape and even reprogram parts of the Matrix in a matter of seconds. It is constantly evolving and not even its own creators fully understand it anymore. It has since developed something akin to a personality - similar to the S0UL of a Synth. Swan Song has created its own persona, known as "The Queen", which it uses to interact with other personas if the need arises, but most people using the Matrix have never even heard of Swan Song, let alone seen The Queen. This leads to even high ranking corporate personnel not even knowing of the existence of Swan Song or disregarding it as an urban legend. Only the highest ranking members of the top Megacorporations and the creators of Swan Song, really know the truth about its existence. Swan Song operates from a highly secured data center, which physical location is unknown and it's host in the Matrix is hidden so well, no hacker has been able to locate it yet.
So far much of the discussion of the Matrix and its collected icons has focused on how things look in virtual reality, but that’s not how most people interact with the Matrix on a daily or hourly basis. Most people who use VR use it to visit hosts, view entertainment, or play games, but a lot of people find the disembodied sensation of virtual reality to be uncomfortable, or even disturbing. The majority of people interact with the Matrix in augmented reality, using their commlink. A commlink is combination computer, smartphone, media player, passport, wallet, credit card, Matrix browser, chip reader, GPS navigator, digital camera, and portable gaming device. And possibly a few other things, if you’ve got a really nice one. It’s got all of the necessary software already loaded, but unlike a cyberdeck it has no space for cyberprograms or other hacking tools. The closest relation to our current day real world would be Smartphone that let's you basically do anything from communication, over web search, to playing games or NFC payments and online banking. Most models are small enough to fit in your pocket, on a belt clip, or on your wrist. If a pocket version isn’t your style, commlinks are available in a number of other forms, including headwear, glasses, jewelry, cranial implant, belt buckles, and other accessories.
LIFE WITH A COMMLINK
Your commlink does more than just sit in your pocket (or on your head). It interprets the Matrix around you to give you extra information and capability that can be useful in civilian life and vital in the shadows. This is done with augmented reality, or AR. AR overlays information on things in real-life in a way only you can perceive. Let’s say you’re walking down the street in a downtown shopping district. Your commlink may seem like it’s sitting quietly, but in fact it’s quite busy. It’s regularly communicating with other devices and hosts around you, sharing information about your location and your movement. The other devices and hosts are sending information right back, telling you who else is out there, what stores are having sales, what movies are playing at which theaters, and so on. If you look at your commlink screen, you’d have all that information overlaid on an image of where you are, providing a mini heads-up display. But let’s say you live in the current decade, and you don’t interact with the world around you with just a screen. You may have glasses, or sunglasses, or contacts, or goggles, or cybereyes, or something that puts this information right in your field of vision. Overlaid on the world are icons telling you that shoes like the ones you bought last year are now half off, and there’s a dotted line leading you to the theater showing the sequel to the show you thought was wiz, and the people walking down the street are occasionally highlighted by glowing auras—nice blue ones representing your friends, glaring red ones telling you that someone you know and should be avoiding is coming close. You have more than just your natural vision—you’ve got everything in the database you’re carrying with you. The civilized world adapted quickly to augmented reality, mostly because it’s easier than printing things on paper or making signs. Augmented reality objects, or AROs (pronounced “arrows”), are used to show information and decorate spaces on the cheap. Stores have their logos blazoned in 3D above their door, restaurants offer animated menus complete with tantalizing images of their food, street names hover over every intersection, decorators use AR objects to spruce up interiors, all viewable in AR for anyone who has the capability, which is pretty much everybody. The unintended side effect is that things can look a bit dingy when you turn off your AR display, but that’s the price of progress. You don’t have to be a Matrix expert to make an ARO. If you want to send directions to your place from the party, you can draw a line on an AR map and share it with your friends. If you want to point out a person in a crowd for a buddy, you can make an ARO highlighting that person and send it. You can choose which of your AROs are seen by which people, so you can keep it private or, if you’re feeling impish, put vulgar AROs on RFID tags and scatter them around town for all to see. Of course, other people can filter out the AROs they don’t want to see, and so can you. Augmented reality isn’t just visual information, either. You can hear audio AROs if you have earbuds or a cyberear. AROs can be tactile if you have a haptic device like AR gloves. Engineers are still working on putting physical scent into AR displays, and we’d rather not talk about AR flavors. On the other hand, if you use AR with a direct neural interface like trodes or an implant, you can use all of your senses to view AR without any extra devices. Most of what you keep on your commlink are files, this includes music, your SIN (fake or otherwise), licenses (also fake or otherwise), maps, email messages, your contact book, AROs, and so on. These files are visible to people who can see your commlink in the Matrix, so most people keep all of their files in a protected folder. So where do you store all of the things you want to keep? Pictures from your Aunt Edna’s wedding, credit information, your SIN, every book and movie you’ve bought, all the programs you might want to run—all of it fits on your commlink (or cyberdeck if you prefer). In fact, every device on the Matrix has a massive amount of storage space, unthinkable amounts by early 21st century standards. Your gamemaster might decide that a device is too small or low-grade or a file so massively large that a problem comes up, but such problems are extremely rare. Even if it does, the entire world is wireless, so you shouldn’t have trouble finding an alternate storage location.
CROSSRUNNING WITH A COMMLINK
(MIS)USING THE MATRIX
The first step in hacking the Matrix is conceiving and understanding what you might be able to accomplish. There’s a lot that goes on in the Matrix. It’s a big place, bigger than the real world if you include all of the hosts. It’s also a very versatile place. Everybody in the civilized world (aside from a few barely worth mentioning since, you know, they don’t show up on the Matrix) has some basic computer skills. They can surf the Matrix, search for information, send messages to one another, and use basic AR interfaces. That doesn’t make them Matrix experts, and it definitely doesn’t make them hackers. To really walk the virtual walk, you need a lot more.
THE DIGITAL UNDERGROUND
Not everyone is content to surf the Matrix in peace. Some users are protestors, flying in the face of the megacorps’ power over the grids. Some are curious, poking at secure hosts and pushing boundaries that GOD and its demiGODs would prefer remain untouched. Some are angel-headed hipsters trying to find some connection to the starry dynamo of the virtual night. Some want to free the flow of information from its corporate shackles. Some just have a habit of ignoring the rules. All these digital delinquents are known as hackers. In the heavily computerized universe, a crossrunning team can go a long way with a hacker on their side. Hackers can pry at secrets, control devices, and even destroy electronics from a distance, not to mention defend against opposing hackers and spiders. Hackers come in two main flavors: Deckers and Technomancers.
A decker is someone who uses a cyberdeck (hence the name) to break the rules of the Matrix. A cyberdeck— usually just called a deck—is like a commlink with some extra features. It is a bit bigger than a commlink, about the size of a small tablet or a spiral-bound notebook, or a pair of playing card decks. Its specialized functions and questionable legality make it far more expensive than ordinary commlinks. The cyberdeck has advanced electronics and firmware based on reverse-engineered protocols used in Matrix security. In short, a cyberdeck is the tool you need to be a hacker. A deck can perform all of the functions of a commlink, but its primary purpose is hacking in the Matrix. Cyberdecks have a built-in sim module because they are so often used in VR, so a decker only needs a datajack or other DNI device to make that connection, instead of needing the full sim implant. Deckers are far and away the most common type of hacker. They come to the profession out of necessity, a desire for profit, or a sense of mischief. Or all three. They are heavily dependent on their skills, and they need good gear to make sure their skills shine. They can usually maintain and even build their own electronic devices.
Technomancers are able to interface both in AR and VR without the aid of a sim module, image link, or any other electronic devices, just using the powers of their mind. Strictly speaking, technomancers aren’t biotics, but they’re just as mysterious as biotics are. The origins of a technomancer’s power and how she makes things happen are still unknown to science. Like biotics, technomancers make up a tiny fraction of the population in the universe. Also like biotics, they are generally distrusted and misunderstood, sometimes to the point of paranoia. Not all technomancers are hackers, but to the general public they might as well be. In the media, the word technomancer almost always means hacker, and the word “hacker” means cyber-terrorist. Many planetary and local governments require technomancers to register with the authorities, even if they have little talent or power. The perception of technomancers is that they are able to control a person’s electronics, reading files at will, breaching every moment of privacy. They say that technomancers can see you through the devices in your home, trace your children, ruin your reputation and credit rating, launch nuclear missiles, drain your bank accounts, and steal your identity. As a result of the paranoia, most technomancers keep their identity under wraps, sometimes hiding their abilities behind dummy commlinks. Technomancers are rare, but they have amazing abilities in the Matrix, doing things that by most reports should be impossible. They use their powers and abilities to bend the Matrix to their will and summon digital servants. They are generally not the figures public paranoia makes them out to be—but they have enough power to make it seem that the paranoia has at least one foot in reality.
Table of Contents
- What is the Matrix
- Population of the Matrix
- For you and against you
- Augmented World
- (Mis)using the Matrix
The Matrix is basically the equivalent of our real world wide web, or internet. Just that it's not global as in planetary but spans the entirety of the known universe, connecting even the most remote planets and its settlements to the big core world metropolises.
A semi-autonomous program that is capable of taking independent action in the Matrix.
An area of a host that stores files securely away from all users, legitimate or otherwise.
artificial intelligence (AI)
Self–aware and self–sustaining intelligent programs that evolved within the Matrix.
augmented reality (AR)
Information added to or overlaid upon a user’s normal sensory perceptions in the form of visual data, graphics, sounds, haptics, smell, and/or limited simsense.
augmented reality object (ARO) [pronounced “arrow.”]
Virtual representations that are connected to a physical object or location in the physical world and viewable through augmented reality.
The icon of a persona.
better–than–life (BTL, beetle)
Hyper–real levels of simsense that are addictive and potentially dangerous.
To destroy a device by Matrix damage; also, a device destroyed in that fashion.
Standard simsense that operates at legal, safe levels. Used by most people to access virtual reality.
Combination email address, phone number, and IM name that identifies an individual for communications; if people want to get a hold of you, this is what they need.
The handheld or worn personal computer used by nearly everyone to access wireless services.
Mental algorithms that technomancers use to manipulate the Matrix—their equivalent of programs.
An implanted augmentation that allows a rigger to “jump” into a vehicle, drone, or other device.
A tablet-sized computer used to hack the Matrix; it is restricted or illegal in most of the civilized world.
A subsection of the Grid Overwatch Division that oversees a single grid, run by the grid’s owner.
A piece of gear that performs functions integral to a network.
direct neural interface (DNI)
A connection between the brain’s neural impulses and a computer system that allows a user to mentally interact with that system.
An unmanned vehicle that can be controlled via direct wireless link or through the Matrix.
Mental drain technomancers sometimes experience when using their abilities.
A program or set of data that is collected as a single package
A program that guards a node from intrusion. This is the first line of defense of a device or host to fend off unwanted Matrix interference.
Assigning AROs to a specific physical location, often using RFID tags.
ghost in the machine
Mysterious phenomena and perceived entities that exist entirely within the Matrix. Some believe these are AIs. Others believe they are the disembodied personalities of people trapped within the Matrix.
Grid Overwatch Division, an entity run by the Corporate Court to oversee security in the Matrix.
The resources offered by a Matrix provider; typically, you can access information on that provider’s grid easily, while accessing info on other grids is more difficult. The term is also used to refer to the Matrix as a whole outside any host.
Someone who explores and exploits the Matrix.
Computer interactions based on the sense of touch.
A self-contained place in the Matrix. Hosts have no physical location, as they exist purely in the Matrix cloud.
Simsense without the safeguards that prevent potentially damaging biofeedback. Hot-sim is illegal in the civilized world.
The virtual representation of a device, persona, file, or host in the Matrix.
intrusion countermeasures (IC) [pronounced “ice”]
Software that runs in a host and protects that host from unauthorized users.
Any physical location that provides access to the Matrix through plugging in with a wired connection.
The mental “organic software” that allows technomancers to access the Matrix with only their minds.
A device, usually a commlink, cyberdeck, or host, that is linked to other devices in order to protect them against Matrix attacks.
Matrix authentication recognition key (mark)
A token that measures a user’s access to a device, host, or persona.
A persona, file, device, mark, or host in the Matrix.
The worldwide telecommunications network and everyone and everything connected to and by that network.
(slang) An unwired individual, or the physical part of a Matrix user in VR.
the real world, the world outside the Matrix
(slang) Online, connected to the Matrix.
a) Unwanted data or wireless signals that make using the Matrix slower or more difficult.
b) (slang) Unwelcome information.
A user, agent, or other autonomous or semi-autonomous icon in the Matrix.
personal area network (PAN)
The set of devices slaved to a single commlink or cyberdeck.
A sophisticated program with semi-autonomous decisionmaking abilities.
radio frequency identification tag (RFID, pronounced “arfid”)
A device no bigger than a matchbox that holds data and other miniaturized electronics.
real life (RL)
(slang) Anything not having to do with the Matrix.
The measure of a technomancer’s ability to access and manipulate the Matrix.
Someone who uses a control rig to “jump” into a properly adapted device (usually a drone, vehicle, or security system) in order to directly control it as if the device were an extension of his or her own body.
The look and feel of a host’s internal virtual space.
A device for making simsense recordings.
simsense (sim, simstim)
Hardware and software that enable a person to experience what has happened to someone else as if they had sensed and experienced the events themselves. Requires a direct neural interface.
A device connected to a master device, usually a commlink, cyberdeck, or host, on which the slave depends for defense against Matrix attacks.
An area flooded with invasive and/or viral AR advertising, causing noise.
A security hacker/rigger employed by a corporation or law-enforcement agency to protect a physical space or a host from hackers.
An area where the physical environment creates noise.
A state in which a technomancer strengthens his or her connection to the Resonance.
An RFID tag.
A person who is able to use and manipulate the Matrix without hardware. The term often carries connotations of hacking and cyber-terrorism.
A headband or net worn on the head that creates a direct neural interface. Popular models include an attached hat, wig, or other headware. Short for “dry active electrode array.”
virtual reality (VR)
A state where outside stimuli are ignored and the user only receives impressions from the Matrix. Requires a direct neural interface.
wide area network
A set of devices slaved to a host.
Matrix JargonIf you’re going to spend any serious time in the Matrix, you have to be able to sling around the lingo. Hackers move fast and talk faster— this is the stuff you need to know so they don’t leave you behind.
b) (slang) Unwelcome information.
JackPoint is a Matrix host for Crossers, designed and administered by Crossers. While it isn’t the only one of its kind, it is the best known and most widely trusted of all shadow sites. The host itself appears as a set of independent rooms floating in a vast grid that is an homage to the oldschool style of decking. The rules are pretty loose in the host, as befits its “be yourself” attitude toward visitors. Most of the decor is abstract, and a lot of the icons are simple geometric solids with easy-to-read labels floating nearby. Some areas, like the cybercafe and the Museum of Crossrunning, have a more styled sculpting, with visitors asked to obey some semblance of the laws of physics to maintain a slightly more normal atmosphere. The most restrictions are in place on the Memorial, where strict silence, gravity, and limits on outlandish iconography are enforced among the monuments and epitaphs to the greatest fallen Crossers.
- Matrix Mechanics
- Swan Song
- Grid Overwatch Division