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I'm GMing Eclipse Phase. I can describe most scenes and put my player in the mood, but when it come to hacking I'm at a loss for words.

I try to concentrate on the impact of the outcome, but my players tell me it feels like they're not doing anything exciting, even if in the end they're the one saving everybody by preventing a bomb from going off.

I don't know how to describe what happens when a player is hacking something — it ends up being just a list of what it accomplished:

  • After a few minutes of searching the mesh you successfully find an entry point.

  • You manage to break the firewall.

  • You open the door blocking the others sentinels just a few second before they suffocate.

What can I do to make hacking more engaging for my players? Is there anything I'm missing I should be doing? Please explain how your solution has worked out in practice per Good Subjective, Bad Subjective.

Note I'm specifically looking for help with narrating hacking in Eclipse Phase, a transhumanist high-sci-fi game. This isn't Shadowrun or another cyberpunk game, so answering as if this is a cyberpunk hacking question, or without accounting for what EC hacking involves, will probably result in an unhelpful answer.

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    \$\begingroup\$ ♦ Answers on RPG Stack Exchange are expected to be grounded in demonstrated expertise in the system. Answers should speak to what Eclipse Phase's rules or philosophies enable or suggest in this situation, or what may be missing if anything, and should reference the rules and/or speak to direct experience in how methods have worked in an Eclipse Phase game per Good Subjective, Bad Subjective. Answers that do not meet these quality bars will be removed. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Feb 9 '18 at 12:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ FWIW, this question and the policy mentioned above by @doppelgreener are being discussed on meta. Personally, I'd be glad to see BinaryOverride join the meta discussion and contribute their viewpoint on the matter (and in particular, on whether or not they agree with the note that has been edited onto the end of their question). \$\endgroup\$ – Ilmari Karonen Feb 23 '18 at 20:42
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So hacking in Eclipse Phase is somewhere between the lightspeed combat-decking of Shadowrun and the real-world tedium of cybersecurity and intrusion. Where the rules provide timeframes for infosec tests, they're given in multiple minutes -- 10 min to probe/defeat the firewall, for example. That can give you a sense of what a dramatic analogue the designers might have been going for: the heist.

From the character's POV, they're using tools and techniques they've picked up to intrude into a secure "facility" and alter or steal something from within. You can make up descriptions with varying degrees of technobabble, if it seems to suit the situation (low-babble example: "You realize that the idiot hasn't updated his protocols in eight months"), but the idea is to convey that the player is stealthily bypassing the oversight of an AI or other monitor, and/or passive counter-measures (read: locks and traps) that would impede progress. When I want (or have) to make an important system the focus of a narrative scene, I like to have notes about what would distinguish it to a security-savvy user (authorized or otherwise). Is it well-maintained or disorganized and obsolete? Are there lots of users, only a few (or one), or is it automated? What kinds of marks does that leave on the system? Was it created for this use, or is it repurposed? What does your Muse think of it?

However, there are some other important considerations. There's a reason why many other cyberpunk and transhumanist fictions go with a "combat" metaphor for hacking -- the tension of disabling a lock comes from the surrounding circumstances, not from the presence of a lock. If the character is hacking a passive system, especially something mundane like a device, it might be for the best to keep your descriptions brief and prosaic. In that line, I find Ghost in the Shell greatly informs my descriptions of action in Eclipse (heck, the Augmented Reality Illusion of EP is exactly a major plot point for GitS) -- it's better to keep the hacking off-camera as much as possible, and focus on describing the environmental changes that result from it, or, failing that, talking about how the goal is being advanced by the actions taken. Without the TRON-like narrative props of other systems and without taking time to generate notes about the specific peculiarities of the system being hacked, hacking really is about as interesting as making soup.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I like your answer, especially the part about making commentary on the sysadmin abilities. I think it will help making the hacking more personnel and engaging for my player. \$\endgroup\$ – BinaryOverride Feb 13 '18 at 7:47

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