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My Shadowrun group has a reasonably typical composition: "face", technomancer, rigger, mage, adept, and street samurai. The problem I have is making sure that the technomancer can use her skills without spending a long time on matrix-only stuff and potentially putting a roadblock in front of important parts of the adventure.

For example, perhaps the party have to infiltrate an office building. It would obviously be very useful to have the technomancer hack into it and take control of some or all of the systems. However, what our technomancer ends up doing is putting the adventure on hold while she hacks into the building's systems, usually involving an extended test over several hours. I don't blame her for this -- this is how the rules work, as I understand them, and it's a totally sensible thing to do. But it's still problematic.

How do I make such an endeavor interesting? I don't want to spend 30 minutes playing out an encounter between the technomancer and the security systems, but neither do I want to give the technomancer access to everything without a challenge.

Basically, I want a middle ground between "just fake a couple of rolls and give the technomancer security access" and "spend 30 minutes on technomancer stuff that nobody else is interested in". How can I run this so everyone feels included and challenged?

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9 Answers 9

N.B. I'm not particularly familiar with the hacking rules of Shadowrun. However, this is a general response on how you might structure your game for a more cinematic experience.

Try designing your missions so that the hacking and the rest of the job run in parallel. For example, the ultimate goal is to steal a piece of prototype hardware from deep inside a heavily secured compound. As the runners are breaking in, have the hacker attempt to disable certain security systems, open doors, misdirect guards, etc. The runners can get pinned down at a troublesome door, and while they're in a caught in a firefight the hacker can attempt to open the door, providing an escape route; the success or failure of the hacker's rolls should determine how long it takes for the door to be opened.

Make sure that as you're letting the active team progress through the mission, you're also cutting back to the hacker to give him something to do. While the runners are dealing with problems in realspace, the hacker should be dealing with problems in cyberspace, and the two spaces should be able to affect each other. Just as the hacker can open the security door, the runners can set-up physical patch lines allowing the hacker to move from system to system. This is the sort of thing you see in movies and television all the time.

Of course, all this might require lightening up on the hacking rules. Make the assumption that the hacker is able to gain initial access to the compound's systems, and any checks he makes are to actually make things happen. Forgo the tedious setup bits, and just focus on the in-the-moment actions that can keep the story flowing.

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+1 In my opinion this is the only way to do it. The players all need to feel as a part of the story. Splitting up might be fun in some occasions, but in general, everyone should be contributing towards the same goal. If you go solo on one or the other, eventually someone is going to feel that they are left out. –  daramarak Nov 29 '10 at 20:48
    
Did you see Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol? The prison scene is my source of inspiration for hacking in Shadowrun. –  MrJinPengyou May 23 '13 at 20:33
    
They have used this tactic in 5th edition and the computer game, and its a good recommendation for the game overall. Just understand that the rules basically state that you get max actions per round if you are completely jacked in (less the less concrete your connection to the net is). With this, you can calculate how often your hacker is acting compared to your other characters. –  Robert Jul 17 at 20:44
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There are a couple of approaches that you can take to solve this problem. I'd suggest combining a little of each.

You can try to speed up hacking. A couple of ways to do this:

  • Expect the player to know their abilities. If you're running a one-shot game with unfamiliar characters, do the math for them in advance, and write or print it on the sheet. You can give out a copy of pavao's cheat sheet for hacking, too. (http://pavao.org/shadowrun/cheatsheets/)
  • Not every node requires multiple hacking tests, and cybercombat. If the player wants to break into a trash can's RFID, and track its coordinates, just let them roll Hacking+Exploit, and tell them if they've succeeded. Save the full-blown intrusion rules for checks that are difficult and important to the adventure.
  • Warn them about going off on data-stealing tangents. The longer they're in a system, and the more snooping around they do, the more likely they are to get tracked, crashed, or fried by security. Encourage them to limit time spent in the system, to minimize risk.
  • Simplify the math for matrix mooks. As a rule of thumb, I pick a rating for the opponent, and double the rating to determine the IC or spider's dice pool. (Ex: rating 5 > 10 dice on tests)

You can try to run hacking and other activities in parallel:

  • Use a co-GM (as Y0mbo mentioned) to run hacking events separately
  • Impose a time limit. "Probe" type hacking takes hours. Put them in situations where they only have minutes.
  • Prevent them from doing too much work in advance. Use a Faraday cage, or ECM, to block the signal. Run external connections through a 'gateway' node which audits connections every 5 minutes (forcing a reroll against Stealth). Put them in a place with no network, and let them hack only nodes that their commlink can actually reach. Limit the Signal rating of devices of interest, so the hacker has to be in close proximity (recall that hacking is two-way. When communicating between two devices, the lower of the two Signal ratings is used).
  • Run hacking in sync with other combat. When the party gets into a firefight with the guards, and the PCs are distracted, that's the most opportune moment for a security hacker to strike in cybercombat. Reveal the presence of new nodes on the network, when the drek hits the fan.

The most important thing overall is to make sure all of the players get GM attention. (It's hard to do!) Put the hacker on hold at a dramatically appropriate moment, and switch to something else. Let the other players scope out the site, do legwork, or fight bad guys, while the hacker is at work. It's OK to leave the hacking player in suspense!

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You are not alone with that problem. Perhaps these links can help you:

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This is a similar problem to that of having the party split up, especially on a larger scale (think Lord of The Rings, when the Fellowship starts going separate their ways). There are basically two ways to solve this:

  1. Have your technomancer show up early and pre-play that part of the session with you. Then when the rest arrive, the building's security has already been hacked into.
  2. Use a co-GM. This might be one of the players who has GM'ing experience and can run the technomancer's adventure thread while you run the rest of the party (or vise versa).

As a GM, I've used both of these approaches. The latter worked well, but I felt like I missed out on what happened to the characters while run by my co-GM.

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Hacking is useful on it's own. In a world with omnipresence of the Matrix and technology, a technomancer or a decker in a party is a real God for many situations. Other answers cover how to multitask it, but I'd like to suggest another approach.

Hacking is a really big part of the rules and are often misunderstood by players and GMs. In my first games hacking took us almost 2 hours to figure out because the technomancer wanted to mess with the club's system and turn the group's tab to a "more reasonable price" (his words).

After this game session I had a discussion with the group and here's what we concluded. Note we're all programmers and such so we skipped the step 0 but if you and your group aren't familiar with the vocabulary of the Wireless world, start at step 0.

0. Learn what every words mean

Being familiar with what a node is and what's the use of a backdoor and macros is essential. It will not only improve your confidence at playing a hacker but also help you create interesting challenges for the group. I'm not suggesting completing a Computer science class but simply by familiarizing yourself with the meaning and the implication of those words will make things faster. It's like having a D&D Wizard who wouldn't know what the schools of magic do.

1. Know the mechanics...no seriously

This sounds like an obvious one, but wait a second. You have to learn them to a point where the GM can ask you what skills and softs are involved in creating a hidden backdoor, or a to overload a sentient personas. This is achievable by reading a lot and also practicing. Practicing, practicing. This sounds crazy because it's just a game but seriously, knowing this intimately will actually save you a lot of time. Between game sessions, create hacking challenges for your player and send them by email.

"You're in a cafe, trying to access the mall's network and mess with the security system. You're objective is to get in, retrieve all admin accounts, add one as a backdoor and put all surveillance systems in loop. How do you proceed"

Just assume every skill check succeed..but ask the player to formulate the chain of skills he would use. Practice.

2. Use the quick method

By knowing the size of your pool for every basic actions will let you tell when to skip some rolls. By using the 4 dice => 1 auto success rule (it's all or nothing, no buying half and roll the rest), and knowing when to skip over simple actions like node access or cover your tracks will save you so much time. Some actions have fixed difficulty so why roll when you have a dice pool of 12 and you only need 2 success. Of course you might want to ask them to roll anyway for story purposes but for really routine actions (node access, gather intel, transfer file) you should skip them as long as their dice pool is big enough.

3. Read these

This forum post contains a PDF link to a step by step guide for hacking. Familiarizing yourself with it should be essential. http://forums.shadowrun4.com/index.php?topic=8388.msg149283#msg149283

The above has a step by step approach, this one is a complete list of actions a hacker can do with prerequisites and following steps. http://forums.shadowrun4.com/index.php?topic=5938.0

That's about it

The other answers cover the "make the hacking happen while something else happen for the group" but I think it's only half of the solution. The other half is to either house rule it (like you turn the whole process into a extended test with a frequency of 1 round for every core process) or to bite the bullet and play by the rules.

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Caveat: I bever played Shadowrun - I have passing knowledge of the world etc. but I have no specific experience with the mechanics (or the different editions).

Therefore what I will suggest may very well be impractical (or maybe someone has already provided household rules and then you are lucky ;) ).

If you want to make hacking a meaningful part of the gaming experience, you have to involve the other players. This means (assuming that this makes sense in terms of how cyberspace is depicted) that you must make hacking a mini-game in itself, and provide something to do for each player.

My suggestion: model various "programs" (defensive, offensive, utilities) as seperate entities, and give one to each player - the tactical decisions must be done by the hacker, but each player will have a sort of mini-character sheet and some meaningful mechanic to apply.

Also, have them roll at least part of the skill contests (ex.: attacking program vs. defense sentry) using the program "version" or "quality" as base, and the Hacker's skill as a modifier.

If Shadowrun has already something similar in place, just convert it so that the other players have "something to do", otherwise invent or adapt an unrelated game, maybe even a boardgame - just convert the relevat programs stats and hacker's skill level to the new framework.

I suggest not to make the players part of the defenses, though. This could be fun, but I am not sure that their desire to have the hacker succeed would make this work.

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Leverage deals with this rather well, as it's something of a low tech Shadowrun type setting it's a good example. Each of the 5 character types gets a spotlight scene, of which the Hacker is one. So rather than having the party always work together, with the Hacker being separate, you have various scenarios where only one or two characters gets to do anything, and everyone else has some down time. Since everyone has spotlight time and downtime, it ends up being fair, and ends up mitigating the Hacker alone getting spotlight time issue.

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I was just scrolling down to add "check out how Leverage does it!" But what I was thinking about was how Leverage manages beats - e.g.: the thief is going to run out of time to open the CEO's safe, but the hacker delays the guards by having the elevator display show the wrong floor, so the thief gets another beat. Integrating the action rather than separating it out. Individual spotlights are what the poster I think is trying to avoid. –  gomad Apr 16 '12 at 14:59
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I play a Hacker in a campaign my friends and I came up with one day and one thing that I noticed our group has a lot of issues with is the extra initiative passes me and our adept have. The solution our GM used was to let us use one or two initiative passes when the turn cycle came around to us then let everyone else go and let us take our remaining initiative passes at the end of the initiative order. I feel this works very well since it allows everyone to feel like they are a part of the group and no one person is taking a lot of time on their turn. Also, if they are taking a lot of time trying to think of what to do (believe me I know what it's like as a hacker :~ ) just ask them to delay their action until they can think of what to do, that way they can simply come back at anytime in the initiative order and be ready to go.

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Welcome to RPG.SE, have a look at our FAQ when you get a chance. –  wax eagle Apr 17 '12 at 2:38
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You can have your Technomancer roll a couple of Hacking rolls at the start of the game, then describe what happens to them using those results during the game. This will speed up the resolution of the endeavour, and make it fun for the players to listen to as well.

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Listening to someone spin a story out of your dice rolls may (or may not) be fun, but it's not really an RPG. –  TimLymington Jul 17 at 21:18
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