I have a science fiction campaign where one of the characters is a "netrunning" hacker who's skills are based in a virtual world. The rest of the characters are in the real world. I want them to feel part of the same team but the hacking always seem to split up the player group. When the hacker is doing their character's speciality, the rest of the team get a little bored and vice versa. I don't want the whole team to be hackers.

The best I've found so far is to have the hacker attack things that have real world consequences - such as unlocking doors or switching of security. It is a little limited, though. Is there more I can do?

Is there a parallel in another setting where there is a parallel world that a character disappears into? Perhaps I can borrow from that.

How do I keep the team together when one is netrunning?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Will be interested in answers; in my CP2020 games I resorted to making all the hackers NPCs \$\endgroup\$
    – Rob
    Commented Jun 4, 2014 at 15:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ This is what killed ShadowRun for me, and with Astral Mages and Riggers too, I could not find a way. So I'd really like to know how it is done, too. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 4, 2014 at 15:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ Related, (possible dup?): rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/4809/… \$\endgroup\$
    – Wibbs
    Commented Jun 4, 2014 at 15:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ Obviously not the answer you want, but in earlier editions of Shadowrun I tended to provide NPC hackers that would handle that sort of thing off-screen while the characters worried about the physical world specifically to avoid this issue. Later editions of Shadowrun focus more on augmented reality than pure cyberspace. That may work depending on setting and desires of the hacker player. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 4, 2014 at 15:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ I came to post the same link that @phil did. My answer there applies directly to this question. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 4, 2014 at 16:41

4 Answers 4


Let me start off by saying that netrunning, while definitely a cool concept in SciFi games, makes for some really bad game design, exactly because of the reasons you state. It takes the majority of the party out of the game.

A key question here is

At what speed does hacking work?

Speed of thought

There's not much you can do. The other players' characters are frozen in time, and might as well go get Pizza, since they're not playing anyway. The only remedy here is to minimize the time spent netrunning by removing longer runs completely from the game, and reduce them to 5-10 minute runs. That might leave the player of the runner unsatisfied, as he is largely denied his spotlight.

Another option would be to incorporate the other PCs into the hack-world as well, at which point it becomes a fully-fledged parallel universe to play in, where the squishy hacker that can't hit a barn door with a laser rifle if the stands 2 feet in front of it turns into the most potent of characters, while Hulk Hogan can't open a door.

Be aware that if Hacks take a considerable amount of game time (i.e. several hours of play), this is an extremely long amount of spotlight time for the hacker, which might annoy the other players (even if the average spotlight time for each player is equal). This is the same reason you mix monsters, traps and riddles in a game with a warrior, a scout and a scholar, where the players of the latter two might get bored if you fought hordes of monsters for 3 hours straight, even if the fighter-player enjoys it. It's potentially drastically worse, depending on the amount of uselessness of "non-native" characters. So if you go this route, be extremely careful not to annoy the other players.

Regular game speed

If netrunning takes real-life time, your options are much better, because you can incorporate the hack-job into time-critical/parallel scenarios, the simplest of which being a real-life fight. Some options for your hacker include (but are not limited to)

  • Disable (or take over) that Auto-Turret/Deathbot before it tears the party to shreds
  • Override a locked door to allow the party to escape after a successful (but for reasons of suspense not alarm-free) heist
  • Get that data out of the mainframe as long as your colleague flirts up the guard
  • Reroute the security camera footage just long enough for your infiltrator buddy to sneak past the guard patrols

With such parallel encounters, everyone can play at the same time, with multiple spotlights, so everyone is happy (ideally).


Balance The Screen Time

A key point to this is to bounce back and forth between the hacker and everyone else in meat-space. Think about how movies handle two separate, but related events in an action sequence. It's a great way to ramp up the tension, pressure, and suspense.

Make actions in both scenes affect each other

You've already got this going one way, with the hacker opening doors for the other party members, but events proceeding in the real world should also affect the net run. While the hacker may need to let the players into areas via his infiltration into systems, the players may also need to get the hacker into systems he can't reach (not networked to the systems he is in) via data spikes. In this way the hacker and the party are both working together to an end.

  • \$\begingroup\$ My only objection to this is that I believe the net running essentially get more passes per round due to digital going so fast. Thus it can still get very spotlighted. \$\endgroup\$
    – CatLord
    Commented Jun 4, 2014 at 17:51

It is one of the most difficult things to do in campaigns with Netrunning. There are a few options:

Having the other players do other things while you run the Netrunning thing, like an encounter with a not-so-simple solution. Maybe they're planning on a heist, but the hallway is filled with gun turrets, lasers, pressure plates etc. As the players discuss and try to get through you can handle the Netrunner, but it requires you to be able to rapidly switch in between them and the single one.

Have the others "join in" in some way that does not require them to be hackers as well: fiddle with the hardware, rerout programs and try to give the Netrunner some bonuses. Use all kinds of skillchecks in order to work this out.

Find a way for the players to fight in a virtual encounter of some kind, logging in with "weaker" versions of a Netrunner's avatar (think how combat in a video game works compared to how it works in real life): if the players manage to beat it, the Netrunner gains bonuses. Again, be wary of playing with two parties at the same time. Or have them join in with "basic" characters and fight along your Netrunner, who is far more useful on the Net.


The Long Way

It all depends on how many programs and pets your hacker has. I've seen scenarios where the players played the pets and drones of a hacker while they did their thing to cut down on GM overhead as well as include people who aren't otherwise there. This is the long way because when doing this you don't even touch the players in the "real" world until it's accomplished or at a greatly reduced rate. So off to the other end of the spectrum with...

Streamlining the Process

All in all, the hacking will come down to a series of rolls that don't need a lot of elaboration but can take away from the thrill of finally getting to do what you do. It's often the crux of the social character in most games because even though whatever they want to accomplish will take time and multiple exchanges, it is often done solo so the meat of it gets cut out for a few mechanical rolls to include other players in a useful way. The other potential solution then becomes...

Proxies and Alts

When you don't have a method that actually includes the other players to an end that they enjoy (who knows? They might actually have fun watching the hacks when they don't have to crunch numbers), then have a proxy for the character ready to play, even if it's just an alternate character for the player to use while they hack in the background. The rolls can be made however the GM wishes (behind the screen or from the owning player as needed - see my first section) but to avoid the classic issues of time dilation, you keep everything where the majority of the actual party is but give the hacker something to do. That way it's only a one part fix instead of an N-1 part fix.


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