CRACKING THE MATRIX SPINE
The Matrix is a controlled environment, with corporate owners wanting to keep things moving at their pace, according to their specifications. If something suits their goals, it moves through the Matrix just fine, encountering few problems or hang-ups. If it doesn’t meet their goals, they shut it down as fast as they can before it causes too much trouble. Hackers don’t meet their goals, and they are paid to create trouble. They’re the fly in the ointment, the fart in the cathedral, the droog in the milk bar. They’re chaos amidst carefully cultivated order, and they’re fast and nimble if they want to stay free and keep their synapses at their normal temperature. Hackers can get an important advantage with their gear and equipment, but that’s something anyone with a decent pile of NuCred can buy. For the true hacker, it’s not the gear that sets them apart—it’s how they use it. Their quick thinking, their imagination, and their relentless coding skills put them above the competition, letting them dance their way through a Matrix that’s constantly trying to force them to color inside the lines. Good hackers start with good skills. Without those, they’re just another idiot who spent too much money on electronic gear they don’t know how to use. Once they have the skills that set them apart, they need the right gear or their skills are going to come up short. Knowing the Matrix attributes and how they can help or limit them will make sure they get the most out of their skills. Armed with this knowledge, they can choose the cyberdeck that’s right for them. The good stuff isn’t cheap. Hell, even the not-so-good stuff will set you back a pile of NuCred, so hackers need to learn how their deck might get damaged and how they can avoid having it turn into a useless brick of plastic and rare minerals. Once they have their skills and gear ready to rock, hackers need to decide how they’re going to access the Matrix and how to use the structure of the Matrix to make the right connections. If they don’t understand the different grids involved and how to get on them, they’ll be behind the competition. They also have to understand what they’re seeing—which icons are devices, which are personae, and why it matters. They also need to be able to see the things they are not supposed to see, while also keeping themselves out of sight when necessary. When it’s time to get down to business, hackers show they’re the alpha dog in the traditional way—by marking their territory. Placing marks on the devices they want to control gets them the access they are not supposed to have. Once your marks are in place, it’s the hacker’s time to shine and take the actions to make the Matrix do the weird and unexpected things their team needs. They’re not alone in there, though, so there’s always the chance they’ll have to go to battle against IC or a security spider. Hackers aren’t limited to the lives of digital ninja anymore. Hackers can pull out the big guns and blast through the Matrix, slamming marks on targets and taking what they want. They can also fry gear in the real world, killing drones, destroying weapons, and otherwise fighting side-by-side with their teammates. The final pieces of knowledge they need are the other elements they might encounter online—the hosts, IC, and programs that make life interesting. Armed with that knowledge, hackers will be ready to help the Matrix shake off its shackles and become the raw, free flow of data it was always meant to be. Then there’s one more piece of the puzzle. Once we’ve covered how deckers make their way through the Matrix, we need to look at the technomancer side of things to see how they operate and swim in the Matrix that they see as an ocean of data all around them.
MATRIX SKILLSTo do anything more involved than sending email in the Matrix, you’ll need some skills. Specifically, you’ll need the skills. Here’s a quick rundown of those skills and what they do:
The Computer skill represents your ability to use computers. Common functions for this skill include editing files, erasing marks, and searching the Matrix. It’s also used in your Matrix Perception Tests, which can be vital in finding that Black IC before it stomps your neural pathways.
Compiling involves the ability to translate the complex 0s and 1s of machine source language and the rhythms of the Resonance into sprites. Decompiling is a character’s ability to effectively delete previously compiled sprites. This skill also allows a technomancer to register sprites on the Matrix, thereby convincing the grids that they are legitimate.
Cybercombat is the skill to use when you’re trying to wreck something or hurt someone in the Matrix. You can use it to damage electronics, break through defensive algorithms, and crash programs.
This skill is about controlling the airwaves, an important ability in a wireless world. It’s good for jamming other people’s signals with a jammer (or even your deck), hiding your own signature, and snooping on other people’s datastreams.
Hacking is about cleverly convincing the Matrix to do things it’s not designed to do. It lets you find and exploit weaknesses in digital defenses, and otherwise use finesse in your Matrix mayhem.
Hardware describes your ability to build, repair and manipulate electronic hardware. This skill is rarely used in the Matrix, but it encompasses everything that runs on the Matrix—and everything the Matrix runs on. It’s very useful for fixing electronics that have been damaged by Matrix combat, not to mention upgrading your deck or building your own devices.
This skill is about creating programs and other code that runs in the Matrix. It’s good for writing your own programs and analyzing strange code. If you’ve got the guts to try to handle a data bomb, you’ll need some solid Software skills to keep it from going off in your face.
Electronic devices run a lot of different applications, utilities, and code libraries to keep things working smoothly. Rather than list every single program running on a computer individually, the total effectiveness of these programs are described as Matrix attributes. These attributes are used as limits when performing Matrix actions and as part of your dice pool when defending against Matrix actions. There are four Matrix attributes: Attack, Sleaze, Data Processing, and Firewall (abbreviated ASDF). Most devices (including commlinks) have only two Matrix attributes: Data Processing and Firewall. Decks and hosts have all four, including Attack and Sleaze. Every Matrix action is categorized according to the Matrix attribute they fall under. For example, the Brute Force action is an Attack action, and the Hack on the Fly action is a Sleaze action. The Matrix attribute for an action serves as the limit for tests tied to that action.
Your Attack rating reflects the programs and utilities you have running on your deck that inject harmful code into other operating systems, or use brute-force algorithms to break encryptions and protections to lay the virtual smackdown. Attack software is high-risk, high-reward, because firewall protocols tend to treat it harshly, doing damage that could hurt your persona if you blow it. Attack actions are good for making quick break-ins, damaging devices, and dealing with Matrix threats in a very fast but loud way.
The applications making up your Sleaze attribute mask your Matrix presence, probe the defenses of targets, and subtly alter a target system’s code. Sleaze software is delicate, and one mistake will spill the soybeans on you to your target. Sleaze actions are good for intrusions in which you have plenty of time and in dealing with Matrix problems in a slow but quiet way.
Your Data Processing attribute measures your device’s ability to handle information, datastreams, and files. It is used for Matrix actions that aren’t, as a general rule, illegal.
Your Firewall attribute is your protection against outside attacks. It contains code filters, file checkers, virus detection and eradication software, and other defensive programming. Firewall actions are defensive in nature. The most important role of the Firewall is as virtual armor against Matrix damage.
FILES & MATRIX ATTRIBUTES
Files do not have ratings (although protection on files does, The Edit File action). Instead, they use the ratings of their owners when defending against Matrix actions.
If you’re a decker, your cyberdeck is your life’s blood, your all-in-one ticket to controlling the Matrix. It provides you with your Matrix attributes, especially the Attack and Sleaze that are vital to hacking. It also has a built-in sim module, so all you need is a DNI to use it for VR right out of the box. Other important features include a universal data connector and about a meter of retractable data cable, so you can connect to other devices directly. A cyberdeck usually has a small screen for displaying status messages. It is most often a flat rectangle, but it can be just about any shape that has the same volume as a small book; the “hackpack” model, a cyberdeck in a belt pack, is popular for deckers on the go. Each deck has a Device Rating, which determines its Matrix Condition Monitor and is used in a few other rules. It also has a listing for four attributes (called the Attribute Array), but it does not specifically list which numbers go with which attributes. This is because decks are more versatile than your average device or host. You can configure your deck for different uses at different times. There’s also a listing for the number of programs you can run at a time on a deck, although you can have any number of them in storage.
When you first boot your deck, assign each of its four attribute values to one of the Matrix attributes. This covers the various software that you’re running in your deck’s memory. This lets you describe with ratings how much software your deck is currently running for offense, stealth, computing, and defense. For Example: Your Attribute Array is [5, 4, 3, 2]. Your plan for the evening is to surf the Matrix legally, maybe play some games, find a movie, or just hang out in JackPoint. You assign your Matrix attributes Attack 2, Sleaze 3, Data Processing 5, and Firewall 4.
RECONFIGURING YOUR DECK
You can reconfigure your deck whenever you like, rebalancing your software loadout, changing the allocation of Matrix attributes or re-arranging the programs currently available to you. Doing this is a Simple Action that you may only perform on your own Action Phase. This is not a Matrix action. When you reconfigure your deck, you can either switch two of your deck’s Matrix attributes, or swap a running program with a program you have stored on your deck that is not running. Additionally, you can load a program you own into a currently unused slot, or unload a program and leave an open slot. For Example: Let’s say you’re hanging out in Jack-Point and some asshat insults your avatar. You’re feeling surly, so you take a swing at him. You weren’t planning on mixing things up tonight, so at the moment your Attack is 2 and your Data Processing is 5. You’d prefer them to be the other way around, so you take a Simple Action to swap the two attributes before you make your attack. With your Attack rating at 5, you’ll be able to land the full force of whatever blow you’ve aimed at the mouthy jerk.
Each device in the Matrix has a Matrix Condition Monitor. This represents the device’s ability to handle damaging code designed to make the device do things it’s not supposed to do. As a device gets damaged, it overheats, suffers power spikes and dips, shorts out as components start failing, and eventually becomes damaged beyond functionality. The Matrix Condition Monitor is similar to your Health Tracker. Each device’s Matrix Condition Monitor has 8 + (Device Rating / 2) boxes. Matrix damage is always resisted with Device Rating + Firewall. When a persona is hit for damage, the device it is running on takes that damage (except technomancers, who take it as Strain damage). Unlike other forms of damage, there is no penalty for having Matrix damage until your Matrix Condition Monitor is completely filled. Matrix damage that becomes Strain damage for technomancers still does carry a penalty, though, as does Strain or Health damage caused by biofeedback.
If the Matrix Condition Monitor of a device is completely filled, the device ceases functioning. This is called bricking a device. Devices that are bricked never fail non-spectacularly. Smoke, sparks, pops, bangs, sizzles, nasty smells, and occasionally even small fires are common features of a device in the process of becoming a brick. If you’re using your deck in VR when it gets bricked, you are dumped from the Matrix and suffer dumpshock (see below). A bricked device is damaged and useless until it is repaired (described in the next bit, Repairing Matrix Damage). If a device is bricked, it stops working: batteries are drained, mechanical parts are fused or gummed up with melted internals, and so on. That said, not all devices are completely useless when bricked. A vibrosword is still sharp, a roto-drone glides to the ground on auto-gyro, a lock stays locked. The firing pin on an assault rifle might not work, but its bayonet works just fine for stabbing smug hackers. And you can’t exactly brick a katana, ne? And don’t panic when your trickedout combat bike gets bricked; itwill ride again … if you know a competent technician.
REPAIRING MATRIX DAMAGE
If you have a device with Matrix damage, you can repair it with a toolkit, one hour of work, and a Hardware + Logic [Mental] test. Every hit you get can be used to either remove one box of Matrix damage or cut the time required in half; the first die spent toward time reduces the time to half an hour, the second to 15 minutes, and so on, to a minimum of one Combat Round (3 seconds). Bricked or not, the device is off-line and unusable during the repair process. If you critically glitch on the roll to repair your device, that’s it. The device is permanently bricked. You can use it as a paperweight, an object lesson, or (if you need one) a brick. If you glitch, the device can be restored to functionality, but it becomes a bit glitchy (the gamemaster will tell you how at an appropriate moment).
NON-DEVICES AND MATRIX DAMAGE
IC programs and sprites have Matrix Condition Monitors. Like devices, they are unaffected by Matrix damage until they have a full Matrix Condition Monitor. IC and sprites cannot be repaired, but they lose all damage when they stop running or return to the Resonance. Hosts and files can’t be attacked with Matrix damage, so they don’t have Matrix Condition Monitors. Technomancers don’t have Matrix Condition Monitors, either. Instead all Matrix damage they take is converted to Strain damage to their person, but it is still resisted with their living persona’s Device Rating + Firewall.
Biofeedback damage is Matrix code that forces your sim module to misbehave badly. It makes your body go haywire the same way that Matrix damage screws up devices. This can cause temporary or even permanent damage to a deckers’ body and brain. It’s used by Black IC, Grid Overwatch Division G-men, and unscrupulous hackers and spiders, although it can also come from other sources inadvertently, like dumpshock or the damage riggers take when their vehicles and drones are damaged. Biofeedback damage is only dangerous when you’re in VR mode. Unless the attack says otherwise, biofeedback is Strain damage if you are using cold-sim VR and Health damage in hot-sim VR. You resist biofeedback damage with Willpower + Firewall.
DUMPSHOCK & LINK-LOCKING
When you’re disconnected from the Matrix while in VR without gracefully switching to AR first, you suffer a nasty shock as your sim module kicks out. This happens to hackers so often it has its own name: dumpshock. The Damage Value for dumpshock is 6 Energy (Strain) if you’re in cold-sim and 6 Energy (Health) if you’re in hot-sim. Dumpshock is biofeedback damage, so you resist it with Willpower + Firewall. As if that weren’t enough, you’re also disoriented and take a –2 dice pool modifier on all of your actions for (10 – Willpower) minutes. Remember that if you’re being dumped because your deck just got bricked, you don’t have a functional Firewall attribute any more, so only use your Willpower.
Another danger in the Matrix is having your connection link-locked. This is when another persona or device sends keep-alive signals to your deck (or other device) that force it to cancel any attempt to leave the Matrix. If you’re link-locked, you can’t use the Switch Interface Mode, the Enter/Exit Host, or the Reboot actions on the device your persona is using (probably your deck). You can escape with a successful Jack Out action. Successfully jacking out usually means suffering dumpshock, but at least you’re free. Any persona, be they agent, technomancer, or sprite, can be link-locked. Usually, if you fall unconscious in VR, your commlink or deck automatically switches you to AR. If you’re linklocked, you remain online and in VR. IC typically doesn’t care whether its target is conscious, so it will probably keep attacking you. Spiders are a bit smarter about it but no less ruthless, and they have a lot of options when you’re helpless and stuck in the Matrix. Either way, it’s nasty, since you can’t defend against actions when you’re unconscious.
When you interact with the Matrix, you can do it in one of three modes.
- In augmented reality, or AR mode, you deal with reality directly, and you use your meat body to interact with the Matrix through AR overlays.
- In virtual reality, or VR mode, your body goes limp and your only sensory input comes from the Matrix. Basic VR mode is cold-sim, meaning you interact with the Matrix primarily through sight and sound.
- In hot-sim VR mode, your have the full Matrix experience, involving all of your senses as well as your emotions.
You can perform Matrix actions in any of the three modes.
As we’ve described, AR is normal living in physical space with an AR heads-up display. You can see the Matrix if you like, either by creating a virtual window or display screen and viewing it like a camera, or by overlaying device and host information on your normal vision. Your persona can go anywhere in the Matrix using this view. You can even enter hosts, although your icon will appear jerky and slow compared to a VR user in the same node. When in AR, you use your normal Initiative and Initiative Dice. You do not take biofeedback damage, like from the attack of Black IC. If your attention is really focused on your AR display and not your surroundings, your gamemaster may impose a –2 dice pool penalty on any Perception tests you make to notice things going on around you in physical space.
COLD-SIM VIRTUAL REALITY
In cold-sim VR, you’re meshed with the Matrix through simsense filters. This means your brain is protected from dangerous signals, but it makes things a bit slower for you because all data is analyzed by your sim module before it reaches you. Your body relaxes and your meat senses are blocked, as though your body were asleep. You see the Matrix as though you were really there, soaring among the icons. In cold-sim VR, you use your Data Processing + Intuition as your Initiative, and you get 3D6 Initiative Dice (remember that any enhancements or bonuses cannot take you past the maximum of 5D6 Initiative Dice). Whenever you take biofeedback damage, it is Strain damage.
HOT-SIM VIRTUAL REALITY
Hot-sim VR is like cold-sim VR, only the filters are off. You are flooded with simsense signals that can even affect your limbic system, so you can not only see, hear, and touch the Matrix, but you can feel it. Hot-sim uses the same simsense signals as better-than-life chips, which makes it dangerous and even addictive, but you can’t get a closer, more intuitive connection with the Matrix. When you are in hot-sim VR mode, you use your Data Processing + Intuition as your Initiative and you get 4D6 Initiative Dice (remember that any enhancements or bonuses cannot take you past the maximum of 5D6 Initiative Dice). You receive a +2 dice pool bonus to all Matrix actions, and you take biofeedback damage as Health damage.
|User Mode||Initiative||Initiative Dice||Notes|
|Augmented Reality||Physical Initative||Physicial Initiative Dice||can be distracting|
|Cold-Sim||Data Processing + Intuition||3D6|
|Hot-Sim||Data-Processing + Intuition||4D6||+2 dice pool bonus to Matrix actions|
The Matrix is a different environment, one that runs parallel with the real world while being deeply connected to it. When you’re flying through the virtual night, there are some things that work a bit differently than they would if you were flying through the physical night. Aside from gravity, that is.
Noise is the static on the wireless Matrix. There are a lot of things that can mess with your signal, like nearby electronics, natural and artificial dampening, and even cosmic background radiation. It may seem as if traffic in the Matrix is instantaneous, but ask anyone who has played an online game with someone a few continents away—there is a noticeable delay compared to playing someone next door. When decisions are being made in the blink of an eye, every speed difference matters. The farther you are away from an icon in real life, the harder it is to communicate with it, whether your intentions are harmful or benign. Noise can be reduced with noise reduction, which can be provided by a few different pieces of hardware and software (see General Gear). The most common source of noise is distance from your target, but there are other causes, as listed on the table. There are also spam zones and static zones to deal with. A spam zone has so much traffic (often commercial in nature) that everything gets processed slower. Static zones are areas with either a lot of electromagnetic blockage (like an underground tunnel, labyrinth of sewers, or ruins of a steel office building) or far away from civilization (the middle of a desert, the north pole, adrift in the Pacific, etc.). To figure out how noise is affecting you, start with the noise level from real-world distance to your target and add the noise level from any other applicable situations, then subtract any noise reduction you are using. Any positive noise level you have left over is a negative dice pool modifier to your actions. Noise never applies to defense or resistance tests.
|Physical Distance to Target||Noise Level|
|Directly connected (any distance)||0|
|Up to 100 meters||0|
|101-1,000 meters (1 km)||1|
|1,001-10,000 meters (10 km)||3|
|10,001-100,000 meters (100 km)||5|
|Greater than 100 km||8|
|Dense foliage||1 per 5 meters|
|Faraday cage||no signal, action blocked|
|Fresh water||1 per 10 cm|
|Jamming||1 per hit on Jam Signals actions|
|Metal-laced earth or wall||1 per 5 meters|
|Salt water||1 per centimeter|
|Spam zone or static zone||Rating|
|Wireless negation (e.g., wallpaper or paint)||Rating|
|Spam Zone||Static Zone||Noise Level|
|City downtown||Abandoned building||1|
|Sprawl downtown||Abandoned neighborhood, barrens||2|
|Major event or advertising blitz||Rural area, abandoned underground area, heavy rain or snow||3|
|Commercial area in a city||Wilderness, severe storm||4|
|Commercial area in a sprawl||Remote place with satellite access only||5|
|Massive gathering or during widespread emergency||Remote, enclosed place (cave, desert ruin)||6|
Some Matrix actions are illegal, making them more risky than legal actions. The Matrix was built with security in mind, but of course they couldn’t make it hackerproof. The list of illegal actions is pretty simple: all Attack and Sleaze actions are illegal. The risks that go with them depend on just what you’re trying to do. If you fail an Attack action, your target’s security software rejects your code, corrupting it and sending it back where it came from. If it was normal data, then your system could check it for errors, but in this case it’s some pretty vicious stuff designed to avoid Firewalls. For every net hit the target got on its defense test, you take 1 box of Matrix damage, which you can’t resist. If you fail a Sleaze action, the target’s Firewall software detects the intrusion and places a mark on you. A device immediately informs its owner, a host launches IC. If the target already has three marks on you, it doesn’t get another, but it still does the informing and launching.
OVERWATCH SCORE AND CONVERGENCE
The greatest ninjas in the world can’t walk through the desert without moving some sand, and the best hackers in the world can’t hack the Matrix without leaving tiny clues to their passing. GOD and the demiGODs are on the lookout for these kinds of clues, but luckily the Matrix is a really big place, with plenty of places to hide. They’re good, though, and they’ll get you eventually. The more hacking you do, the easier you are to find. When you start using the Matrix after a fresh boot, you’re as pure and innocent as the driven snow (at least as far as the demiGODs are concerned). The moment you perform an illegal action (Attack or Sleaze), you get an Overwatch Score, or OS, that your gamemaster uses to track how much evidence you’ve been leaving in your wake. When you perform an Attack or Sleaze action, your OS increases by the number of hits the target gets on its defense test. The Overwatch Score also increases as time goes by. If the demiGODs have time to analyze your activities, they’ll notice traces of your passing and will start to get closer and closer. Every fifteen minutes after you first start tallying an OS, it increases by another 2D6 (rolled by the gamemaster in secret). When your Overwatch Score hits 40, the jig is up. The nastiness that follows is called convergence. The grid’s demiGOD converges on your trail, and then the fun begins. First, they hit you for 12 DV Matrix damage, which you resist normally. Then they force your persona to reboot, erasing all of your marks and dumping you from the Matrix (causing dumpshock if you were in VR at the time). As if that wasn’t enough, they also report your physical location to the owner of the grid you were just using and the host you were in (if you were in a host), so you might have to deal with some real-life security forces coming to track your ass down. Your gamemaster keeps your Overwatch Score a secret from you. You can use the Check Overwatch Score action or the Baby Monitor program to keep tabs on your OS. You could just wing it, too, if you’ve got a good memory (and the gamemaster is nice enough to tell you how many hits your targets get. Which, honestly, she shouldn’t be, but we don’t control everything). Of course, G-men, security spiders, IC, and other users who are officially sanctioned by GOD never rack up an Overwatch Score, even if they’re really misbehaving. Such is life on the Matrix. And in the meat world, too, come to think about it. Convergence does something slightly different in hosts (Host Convergence), but once you poke your head out the demiGOD hammer will fall.
Devices have a universal data connector, which is the global standard for connecting devices together for power and data exchange. If you have a cable, you can connect to the device directly. Cyberdecks and datajacks come with a meter of built-in retractable microfilament data cable, or you can always buy a cable for about five NuCred per meter (some devices, especially those installed in buildings, are connected by cables to mitigate noise). When you use a direct connection, you ignore all noise modifiers and modifiers due to being on different grids or the public grid. It’s just you and the device. Some devices don’t have wireless capability. Usually this is because the person who bought the device couldn’t afford one that was less than ten years old, or because they thought they’d be more secure without wireless. These devices are called throwbacks. Throwbacks can’t be accessed by wireless connection, so they can’t be controlled remotely or get a wireless bonus for being connected to the Matrix. They still have universal data connectors, so you can connect to them (and hack them) by jacking in directly.
PANS AND WANS
If you want extra protection for some of your devices, you can slave them to your commlink or deck. Your commlink (or deck) can handle up to (Device Rating x 3) slaved devices, becoming the master device in that particular relationship. The group consisting of your slaved devices plus your master commlink or deck is called a personal area network, or PAN. Slaving gives a weaker device some added protection. Whenever a slaved device is called on to make a defense test, it uses either its own or its master’s rating for each rating in the test. For example, if your slaved smartgun is the target of a hacker’s Brute Force action, it would use your Willpower or its Device Rating, and its Firewall or your commlink’s, whichever is higher in each instance. If a slaved device is under attack via a direct connection (as through a universal data connector), however, it cannot use its master’s ratings to defend itself. There are risks to slaving devices. Because of the tight connections between the devices, if you get a mark on a slave you also get a mark on the master. This happens even if the slave was marked through a direct connection, so be careful about who you give your slaved devices to. This doesn’t work both ways; if you fail a Sleaze action against a slaved device, only the device’s owner gets the mark on you, not the master too. There are also wide area networks, or WANs, with multiple devices slaved to a host. A host can have a practically unlimited number of devices slaved to it, but because of the direct connection hack you rarely see more devices than can be protected physically. If you are in a host that has a WAN, you are considered directly connected to all devices in the WAN. Only devices can be slaves, masters, or part of a PAN. In a WAN, the slaves must be devices, and the master must be a host.
You need a grid to access the Matrix. The grid you’re on changes the look of the Matrix slightly, and it also can affect your interactions with other icons. There are three kinds of grids in the Matrix: the public grid, local grids, and global grids.
GRIDS ON A RUN
On a typical Crossrun, you’ll only be dealing with one or two grids, aside from the public one. Most likely, there will be the one you’re typically on (probably your local or public grid) and the one that your targets are on. It’s usually fairly obvious which grid your objectives are using. All the devices and people in a ShinWare facility will be using the Shiawase global grid, for example, while a thrill gang is probably on the public grid, and local law enforcement on the local grid. Different grids have different demiGODs that monitor traffic and keep an eye out for security, which occasionally causes a bit of lag across grids. When you’re attempting a Matrix action against a target on another grid, you take a –2 dice pool penalty. If you want to avoid this penalty, you’ll have to hop to the target’s grid. If you have access to the grid you want, you can just use a Grid-Hop; otherwise you’ll have to get your access by the Brute Force or Hack on the Fly Matrix actions. Note that this penalty doesn’t apply when you’re inside a host; it’s only imposed when you’re out on a grid.
THE PUBLIC GRID
The public grid is the Matrix’s Barrens. It provides the world with just enough access to let the corporations claim that the Matrix is still free. Data traffic from paid global and local grids is given priority over information flowing to and from the public grid, so connection times are slow and unreliable. As a result, all Matrix actions are performed at a –2 dice pool penalty when you’re using the public grid, even in a host.
Local grids are available within a specifically defined physical area, such as a sprawl or county. You can only access a local grid if you’re accessing it from the service area, usually the geographic area with which it is associated. You can still access things on a local grid from the outside but you’re now working across grids. Each local grid is usually provided by a AAA or AA megacorp, though the advertising is a bit more muted than you’d find on the more commercial global grids.
There are several publicly known global grids. The twelve most well known ones belong to each of the Big Twelve megacorporations. As you’d guess by the name, global grids are accessible all over the world, even in orbit out to as far as two thousand kilometers from the surface of the Earth. These grids are full of advertising and marketing. Each has its own demiGOD, and those groups share security information and Overwatch Score data freely. The megas don’t agree on much, but they all hate hackers.
DEVICES AND PERSONAS
Devices and personas are the movers and shakers in the Matrix. They’re the only icons that actually do things (except hosts, which do things internally, but let’s stay focused). The difference between the two is that devices usually do things in the real world, while personas do their thing in the Matrix.
A device in the Matrix is any wireless device in the real world. Toasters, power tools, vehicles, firearms, fire hydrants, street lights, ear phones, sales and inventory tags, doors and locks, commlinks, pet collars, office equipment, snow blowers, thermostats, drones ... if it’s big enough for a microchip, it’s big enough to house enough computing power to be a device. And if it’s a device, it’s in the Matrix. Devices have a smaller-than-person-sized icon in the Matrix. They also have three ratings: a Device Rating and two of the Matrix attributes, Data Processing and Firewall. For most devices, the Matrix attributes are the same as the Device Rating. When is a device not a device? When it’s a persona!
Personas are the “people” of the Matrix. Some personas are actually people, users and hackers who are connected to and using the Matrix. When a person uses a device to connect to the Matrix, the device’s icon is subsumed by the persona’s icon, so it’s basically gone from the Matrix until the persona jacks out. You can only run one persona at a time; switching requires you to reboot both the device you’re currently on and the device to which you want to shift your persona. Some personas are agents, performing tasks on behalf of their owners. Agents running alone on a device replace the device icon the same way a living user does. If you’re running an agent along with your persona, it appears with its own separate persona, even though you’re using the same device. Each IC program has its own persona. IC programs are not connected to devices because they’re only found in hosts (thankfully). Technomancers have a living persona not attached to any device. A technomancer’s persona exists in the Matrix as long as they’re awake, unless they deliberately jack out. When a technomancer compiles a sprite, the sprite has its own persona, too.
The Matrix has a lot of stuff in it. Cars, blenders, light switches, advertising RFIDs, hosts, and everything wireless and/or electronic. You need to be able to find your target in the galaxy of icons before you can start affecting it; finding an icon this way is called spotting it. Lucky for you, the Matrix is very helpful in finding things for you. You can automatically spot the icons of devices that are not running silent within 100 meters of your physical location. No matter where you are in the Matrix, your commlink or deck (or your living persona) only has its own antenna for wireless signals, so this distance is measured from your physical location no matter where you are in the Matrix. Beyond this distance, you need to make a Matrix Perception Test to find a specific icon. For all intents and purposes, there is no “physical” distance to any host in the Matrix. You can always spot a host from anywhere on the planet without a test, assuming the host isn’t running silent. You can always keep track of your marks, so you can spot an icon you have a mark on without a test, no matter the distance.
Once you’ve spotted an icon in the Matrix, you continue to spot it even if it initiates silent running. There are two ways you can lose an icon. If the icon successfully uses a Hide action against you, you lose it and need to try to spot it again. If the target reboots or jacks out, you also lose the icon.
When you take a Matrix Perception action, each hit can reveal one piece of information you ask of your gamemaster. Here’s a list of some of the things Matrix Perception can tell you. It’s not an exhaustive list, but it should give you a pretty good idea about how to use Matrix Perception:
- Spot a target icon you’re looking for.
- The most recent edit date of a file.
- The number of boxes of Matrix damage on the target’s Condition Monitor.
- The presence of a data bomb on a file.
- The programs being run by a persona.
- The target’s device rating.
- The target’s commode.
- The rating of one of the target’s Matrix attributes.
- The type of icon (host, persona, device, file), if it is using a non-standard (or even illegal) look.
- Whether a file is protected, and at what rating.
- The grid a persona, device, or host is using.
- If you’re out on the grid, whether there is an icon running silent within 100 meters.
- If you’re in a host, whether there is an icon running silent in the host.
- If you know at least one feature of an icon running silent, you can spot the icon (Running Silent, below).
- The last Matrix action an icon performed, and when.
- The marks on an icon, but not their owners.
You can switch your commlink, deck, other device, or persona (including your living persona, technomancers) to silent running. This reduces your traffic to and from the Matrix, but it doesn’t stop it entirely. Running silent makes it easier to avoid detection, but harder to use the Matrix as a whole. Switching to silent running is a Simple Action. Running silent imposes a –2 dice pool modifier to all of your Matrix actions due to the processing power needed to cover your tracks. If you’re trying to find an icon that’s running silent (or if you’re running silent and someone’s looking for you), the first thing you need to do is have some idea that a hidden icon is out there. You can do this with a hit from a Matrix Perception Test; asking if there are icons running silent in the vicinity (either in the same host or within 100 meters) can be a piece of information you learn with a hit. Once you know a silent running icon is in the vicinity, the next step is to actually find it. This is done through an Opposed Computer + Intuition [Data Processing] v. Logic + Sleaze Test. If you get more hits, you perceive the icon as normal; on a tie or more hits by the defender, it stays hidden and out of reach. Note that if there are multiple silent running icons in the vicinity, you have to pick randomly which one you’re going to look at through the Opposed Test. Marks can’t run silent because they’re already pretty hidden, but all other Matrix objects can be switched to silent running by their owners.
An icon or host might detect you if you perform an Attack or Sleaze action on it. The exact way they can detect you depends on what you’re doing to it. If you succeed with an Attack action, your target becomes aware that it is under attack by another icon, but it doesn’t automatically spot you. It will most likely actively search for you on its next action, although it will almost always alert its owner to the attack and (if it’s a host) launch IC, depending on the owner’s preferences and the gamemaster’s judgment. If you fail with an Attack action, you are not noticed, because you failed to affect your opponent (though note the damage effects of rejected code coming back to you, Illegal Actions). On the other hand, if you succeed in a Sleaze action, you do not increase your visibility. If you fail a Sleaze action, however, your target immediately gets one free mark on you (or its owner does if your target is a device). This means it spots you right away, along with the whole owner-alerting and IC-launching thing.
Want to get into a club where you’ve already paid the cover charge? Show the guy at the door the stamp on the back of your hand. Want to get into a foreign country? Show the border guards the visa stamp on your virtual passport. The Matrix works the same way. If you can show a device or host or whatever that you have the right mark, you can go where you want to go. In Matrix lingo, “mark” is an acronym for Matrix authentication recognition key, which is part of the protocol that devices, personas, files, grids, hosts, and so on uses to identify legitimate users. Only personas may mark icons. When you’re hacking things, putting your mark on it encourages that thing to recognize you as legit. It’s no guarantee—just as a sharp-eyed border guard can nail your visa for being fake, and hosts are sometimes not fooled by your hacked mark—but the more marks you get on something in the Matrix, the more likely it is that you’ll be accepted as a viable user, or even an administrator. Still, security-minded Matrix operators will often have agents or even spiders constantly using Matrix Perception to look for unauthorized marks on sensitive icons (and like security guards in the meat world, these are the people who tend to get taken out first when Crossers come calling). There are three ways to get a mark on an icon. The first is the legitimate way: the icon invites you to add a mark. For example, when you pay the cover to get into the host of Dante’s Inferno, the host sends you an invite to mark it so you can enter and join the party. The other two ways are by hacking, both Matrix actions: Brute Force (the loud way) or Hack on the Fly (the sneaky way). In the Matrix, whether in AR or VR, putting a mark on something is usually a very literal action. You approach the icon of your target and slap your personalized mark on the thing. Most passers-by won’t see your mark; it takes a Matrix Perception Test to see that kind of detail. When you put a mark on something, your mark appears on the target icon. Your mark is only visible to you (without the aforementioned Matrix Perception Test). You can choose its look, as long as it meshes with your own persona icon (per Matrix protocols). For example, if your icon is a house cat, your mark might look like a small paw print. If you appear as a ninja in the Matrix, your mark might look like a shuriken buried into your target. You can put multiple marks on a single icon, up to a maximum of three (unless you’re an owner; see below). Different Matrix actions require different numbers of marks on your target. Marks only last a single Matrix session and are deleted when you reboot. This is rarely an issue for most devices because they almost never need to reboot, and when they do the hosts and other services usually have a standing offer, so re-marking them takes seconds. Hackers, by contrast, reboot regularly to avoid detection by GOD and the demiGODs, and they don’t exactly get permission to place most of their marks. If the demi- GODs converge on a hacker (perish the thought), they erase all of the hacker’s marks in the process. Your marks are specific and connected to your persona and whatever you’ve marked, so you can’t just give them out for others to place or transfer them to other people. You can give other personas permission to mark devices you own with the Invite Mark action.
Every device, persona, host, and file has an owner. This is a special relationship that offers special privileges. Each Matrix object can only have one owner, but you can own as many Matrix objects as you like. The owner of a device, host, persona, or file can always spot it in the Matrix. For all intents and purposes, owning an icon is the same as having four marks on it. Owning a device and being its owner aren’t necessarily the same thing, although they usually go together. Ownership, at least in the Matrix, is something that is registered with both the device (or other icons) and the grids, so it’s a bit more involved than just putting a “Property of [blank]” sticker on it. When a commlink is at the store or in a warehouse, the commlink’s owner is its manufacturer (although sometimes stores get ownership of their goods before the buyer does). When you buy that commlink, the store or manufacturer transfers ownership to you. Corporations and governments use this registration system to keep track of their equipment. A security guard’s weapon might be in her holster, but its owner is the corp that employs her. This makes it relatively simple to track down thieves, deserters, and looters—at least, the ones who can’t hack what they steal. The owner of an icon can intentionally transfer ownership to another persona in a process that takes about a minute. If you steal a smartgun without transferring the ownership, the gun will still behave as though its owner is the guy you stole it from (which can lead to complications if the owner comes looking for it). That means changing ownership is a high-priority action any time you steal a wireless-enabled item. You can illegally change a device’s owner with a Hardware toolkit and an Extended Hardware + Logic [Mental] (24, 1 hour) test. A glitch on that test results in the item sending a report to the authorities. Changing ownership of a file is somewhat easier. Your best bet is to use Edit File to copy it (the copy’s owner is you) and then delete the original, again with the Edit File action. Note that you can’t change the owner of a persona or a host. So sorry, chummer—you can’t steal an entire Stuffer Store with a quick hack.
Hosts in the Matrix are like a mini-Matrix on the grid. From the outside, it is a large icon, often sculpted to look like a building or some other place you can actually visit. Most are floating above the Matrix’s virtual airspace, but some are tethered to physical locations, mostly stores, clubs, local venues, and other places that are heavily associated with a particular site in meat space. The virtual space inside a host is separate from the outside grid. When you’re outside of a host, you can’t interact directly with icons inside it, although you can still send messages, make commcalls, and that sort of thing. Once you’re inside, you can see and interact with icons inside the host, but not outside (with the same caveat for messages, calls, etc.). When you enter a host, your persona actually enters the host icon. This can be through a door or other portal, but some hosts let you just pass through its outer skin. The inside of a host isn’t limited by its external size, and it usually ranges between the size of a large house and that of a large metroplex. The higher the host’s rating, the bigger it tends to be, but that’s not a hard-and-fast rule. Each host is on a specific grid. Like the rest of the Matrix, a host can usually be accessed from any grid. Hosts are part of the Matrix, so once you’re inside a host, the grid you’re on doesn’t really matter. The Grid Overwatch Division tracks traffic to and from a host, which means it’s still watching you when you’ve entered a host, though it does not closely monitor what you do there. Hosts don’t have to depend on GOD for protection. A host can run intrusion countermeasures, or IC, to defend itself. These programs are personas that seek out and repel or punish hackers. IC is ruthless and efficient, with the personality of a heart attack and the mercy of an empty clip in a firefight. You can fight off IC, but the host can always spawn more, so you can’t really win against IC. You can just hold it off long enough to get things done.
Hosts have areas called archives that hold files that aren’t in use. File archives are deep in the host’s code, inaccessible to the average hacker. If you want an archived file, you’ll have to convince someone who already has a mark on the file to bring it out of the archive first.
Hosts have a Host rating. Unlike the ratings of devices, the Host rating ranges from 1 to 12. Hosts also have all four Matrix attributes: Attack, Sleaze, Data Processing, and Firewall. The ratings of these attributes are usually (Host Rating), (Host Rating + 1), (Host Rating + 2), and (Host Rating + 3), in any order. For example, a Rating 4 host might have Attack 5, Sleaze 4, Data Processing 7, Firewall 6. A host’s attributes are shared by itself and its IC programs.
GOD doesn’t track personas inside a host, but it still keeps tabs on the traffic to and from the host. This means your Overwatch Score doesn’t change when you enter a host, and it continues to accumulate while you’re in the host. If you’re in a host when you reach convergence, you’re not burned and dumped like you are out on the grid (Overwatch Score and Convergence). Instead, the host gets three marks on you and starts deploying IC. If you leave a host after convergence, the grid’s demiGOD converges on you immediately. You’re better off just jacking out from the host.
Intrusion countermeasures, or IC (pronounced “ice”), is a type of program that runs in hosts. The purpose of an IC program is to defend its host from attack, and it tends to be cold-heartedly ruthless about it. Each IC program has a persona with its own Condition Monitor and Initiative Score. It should be treated as if it is in hot-sim, so it gets a total of 4D6 Initiative Dice in Matrix combat. IC uses the Matrix attributes of its host. The IC in a host and the host itself share marks, so if one IC program marks, they all do, and so does the host itself. Similarly, the IC and host instantly share spotting information, so if the host spots you, so does all its IC. Which usually turns out not well for you. Individual IC programs alone can be a threat, but multiple IC programs working together can be deadly. Once the host starts to launch IC, it’s time to finish up and buzz out of there.
When a host spots you doing something unauthorized, illegal, or just something it doesn’t like, it informs its owner (or its owner’s designee, like an employed security spider) and launches whatever IC programs it has to fight off the intruder. A host can launch one IC program per Combat Round, at the beginning of each Combat Round. The host can have up to its rating in IC programs running at once, and it can’t launch more than one of each type of IC program at once. When an IC program takes enough damage to brick it, it crashes and vanishes from the host. The host can then run another copy of the IC at the start of the next Combat Round if it wants to. Most hosts don’t have intrusion countermeasures running all the time. While IC is mercilessly efficient, it’s not very bright. The added safety of omnipresent IC is outweighed by the cost of paying (or covering up) wrongful injury and death lawsuits, especially since IC can be deployed in seconds at the first sign of trouble. Typically, the only IC that remains active 24/7 is Patrol IC, which is mostly harmless to the innocent.
TYPES OF IC
IC exists to find, disable, destroy, and/or repel intruders. IC rolls the Host rating x 2 for any attacks, limited by the Host’s Attack rating. The attack is a Complex Action (2 AP), and the Dice Pool to resist the attack is listed with each type of IC. As with all Attack actions, a failed attack causes damage to the IC. IC is always considered to be legal, so its attacks never give it an Overwatch Score.Show IC Types
ACIDAttack: Host Rating x 2 [Attack] v. Willpower + Firewall
Acid IC targets and overwrites your protective software. When it gets 1 or more net hits on its attack, it reduces your Firewall by 1. If your Firewall has been reduced to 0 already, it causes 1 DV Matrix damage per net hit on the attack. The reduction is cumulative and lasts until you reboot the targeted device.
BINDERAttack: Host Rating x 2 [Attack] v. Willpower + Data Processing
Binder IC corrupts your base operating system. When it gets 1 or more net hits on its attack, it reduces your Data Processing by 1. If your Data Processing has been reduced to 0 already, it causes 1 DV Matrix damage per net hit on the attack. The reduction is cumulative and lasts until you reboot the targeted device.
BLACK ICAttack: Host Rating x 2 [Attack] v. Intuition + Firewall
Black IC is the most feared intrusion countermeasures program on the market. The hosts that run it don’t want you repelled—they want you dead. When it hits, Black IC link-locks you. It also causes (Attack) DV Matrix damage (+1 DV per net hit and +2 DV per mark on the target) along with an equal amount of biofeedback damage.
BLASTERAttack: Host Rating x 2 [Attack] v. Logic + Firewall
Also known as Grey IC, a Blaster IC program’s attack causes (Attack) DV Matrix damage, +1 DV per net hit and +2 DV per mark on the target, with biofeedback damage. The biofeedback from a Blaster program can only cause Strain damage. A single successful attack also link-locks the target.
BLOODHOUNDAttack: Host Rating x 2 [Attack] v. Willpower + Sleaze
This is a hybrid of Patrol and Track IC. It travels a host, looking for illegal activity; when it finds it, it immediately attempts to track the target by getting two or more marks on it to learn its physical location. This has the advantage of having no lag between discovery of a problem and addressing it, but it means the patrolling action stops once the Bloodhound attempts to Track, leaving possible holes in a patrol design.
CATAPULTAttack: Host Rating x 2 [Attack] v. Intuition + Firewall or Logic + Firewall (defender’s choice)
This IC combines some of the effects of Acid and Blaster IC, doing damage to the target’s Firewall while also sending some damage through to the user. If the attack generates any net hits, it temporarily reduces the target’s Firewall rating by 1, while also dealing (net hits) Strain damage to the target. The damage is increased by 1 for each mark on the target. The Firewall damage is repaired when the target reboots. Unlike Blaster, successful attacks from Catapult do not link-lock the target.
CRASHAttack: Host Rating x 2 [Attack] v. Intuition + Firewall
If Crash IC has a mark on you (through its host) and hits, one of your programs crashes, selected at random. Programs crashed this way can’t be run again until after a reboot.
JAMMERAttack: Host Rating x 2 [Attack] v. Willpower + Attack
Jammer IC turns your firewall against your own attacks. When it gets 1 or more net hits on its attack, it reduces your Attack by 1. If your Attack has been reduced to 0 already, it causes 1 DV Matrix damage per net hit on the attack. The reduction is cumulative and lasts until you reboot the targeted device.
KILLERAttack: Host Rating x 2 [Attack] v. Intuition + Firewall
This IC is a simple but effective cybercombat program that causes (Attack) DV Matrix damage (+1 DV per net hit and +2 DV per mark) on the target with each successful attack.
MARKERAttack: Host Rating x 2 [Attack] v. Willpower + Sleaze
Marker IC installs tiny worm programs that mess with your datastreams. When it gets 1 or more net hits on its attack, it reduces your Sleaze by 1. If your Sleaze has been reduced to 0 already, it causes 1 DV Matrix damage per net hit on the attack. The reduction is cumulative and lasts until you reboot the targeted device.
Patrol IC acts more like an agent than other intrusion countermeasures. Its job is to patrol a host, scanning people’s marks and looking for illegal activity using the Matrix Perception action on all targets in the host. While the act of placing a mark is an illegal activity, the act of simply having a mark is not. Once you have the mark, you are considered a legitimate user. Patrol IC has no attack, but it shares its information with its parent host. Since the Patrol IC doesn’t use Attack actions, it doesn’t take Matrix damage when it fails. Most hosts have Patrol IC and keep it running all the time.
PROBEAttack: Host Rating x 2 [Attack] v. Intuition + Firewall
The task of Probe IC is to mark intruders for other IC. Every successful “attack” means another mark for the host and its IC on the target, up to the maximum of three marks.
SCRAMBLEAttack: Host Rating x 2 [Attack] v. Willpower + Firewall
Scramble IC nukes your connection to the Matrix and forces you to reboot. If the host has three marks on you when this IC hits you, you reboot immediately, taking dumpshock if you were in VR. If the hast doesn't have three marks on you, it puts a mark on you instead.
SHOCKERAttack: Host Rating x 2 [Attack] v. Intuition + Firewall
Generally used in tandem with other forms of IC, the goal of Shocker is to slow down the opposition. If its attack hits, instead of doing Matrix damage, it reduces the target’s Initiative Score by 5.
SPARKYAttack: Host Rating x 2 [Attack] v. Intuition + Firewall
Sparky IC is also known as “Psycho Killer,” an upgraded version of the popular Killer IC. It causes (Attack) DV Matrix damage (+1 DV per net hit and +2 DV per mark on the target) with biofeedback damage.
TAR BABYAttack: Host Rating x 2 [Attack] v. Logic + Firewall
The Tar Baby IC link-locks you when it hits. If you’re already link-locked, it puts a mark on you, up to a maximum of three marks.
TRACKAttack: Host Rating x 2 [Attack] v. Willpower + Sleaze
Track IC follows the datastreams between your icon and your deck. If this IC hits and the host has two marks or more on you, the host (and its owners) discover your physical location, which is usually reported to real-world authorities immediately.
Table of Contents
- Cracking the Matrix Spine
- Matrix Statistics
- Matrix Damage
- User Modes
- Making Connections
- Devices & Personas
- Matrix Perception
- Recognition Keys (MARK)
Fighting in the Matrix isn’t as straightforward as it is in meatspace. It’s not just a back-and-forth slugfest of harmful code, crackling encryption, and smoking electronics. Sure, a couple personas can just lay into each other with Data Spikes, but the most successful cybercombatants are more subtle, some would say treacherous. We recommend you read the entire Matrix article as well as this one before you fire your Hammer program in anger, but if you want to hit the highlights, here’s a quick list for you.
- Initiative: User Modes
- Basic Attack: Data Spike
- Full Defense: Full Matrix Defense
- Matrix Damage: Damage in the Matrix
- Damaging Hardware: Bricking
- What you can do: Matrix Actions
MAX OVERWATCH SCORE
When your Overwatch Score reaches 40, demiGOD will converge on you. You take 12 boxes of unresisted Matrix Damage, get dumped off the Matrix and take dumpshock. They will also report your physical location.
Marks let you gain access to things in the Matrix, either legitimately, through invites, or illegaly, by hacking Marks onto the device.
Your mode is determined by your way to interact with the Matrix AR, VR (cold or hot) and provide various bonuses or penalties to your Matrix Actions and Initiative.
To see things in the Matrix, that are running silent or are farther away from you, you need to perform a Matrix Perception test.