Prep Cards & Hacking

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4 years 5 months
Submitted by SuperSayu on Sun, 02/21/2016 - 10:05

This is a topic I thought of listening to the NPC Cast discuss Hacking in RPGs. It occurs to me that hacking in reality is very much a preparation problem and if you were to use it cinematically, you would need to have a system that lets you do the preparation beforehand and just drop successful (or semi-successful) actions on the party triumphantly. Out of that, I came up with the idea of Prep Cards.

Imagine for a minute that you are a hacker preparing for a traditional heist on a large high-security building. You get into the network and are awash with possibilities--doors that need opening, equipment that can be disabled, distractions to be set off. However, this is the preparation stage; the party is not actually there yet, and as everyone knows, plans fall apart at the drop of a hat. So instead of actually disabling equipment, you roll skill checks to "get control" of equipment. But again, instead of being specific, the GM hands you a card for your successful result that looks like this:

"OPEN/CLOSE HIGH SECURITY DOOR - SUCCESS CHANCE 8/10 - ALARM CHANCE 1/10 - HACK TIME 1D6 ROUNDS - EXPENDED UPON SUCCESS OR ALARM" or
"DISABLE ENEMY EQUIPMENT - SUCCESS CHANCE 100% - HACK TIME 1D4 ROUNDS - 3 USES" or
"REDIRECT ALARM - SUCCESS CHANCE 9/10 - HACK TIME 1D6 ROUNDS - 1 USE" or
"FAKE ID - GREEN SECURITY DOORS - ALARM CHANCE 1/10" or
"KNOW PASSWORD / PASSCODE - MEDIUM SECURITY - 1 USE" or
"SET OFF FIRE SPRINKLERS - DEXTERITY CHECK DC 5 TO KEEP STANDING - CAUSES ALARM - 1 USE"

As you continue your hacking exploits, you get a small stack of these cards, until you get too many failures in a row, run out of time, or otherwise have to stop your hack. Now, with the preparation underway, the hacker and his team of infiltrators do their normal heist thing. When the team comes upon a high security doors, the hacker says, "I got this," drops a card, and three rounds later, they charge through. When a group of three security guards with guns shows up, they dive for cover, and the hacker says, "When I say so, charge them!" and drops a card; two rounds later, the guards' guns stop firing, and the group overwhelms them in the confusion.

A similar system of prep cards could be used in a variety of circumstances that require prep work before the game begins; for example, scouting, schmoozing guards, getting the right equipment, building things, and setting traps. While you could force the properties of these things to be decided in advance, turning skill rolls beforehand into constrained successes later is an interesting mechanic. It allows the hacker to look prescient, as he always has an answer to the immediate problem, but not invulnerable, as there are chances it will fail or sound alarms. The limited number of cards should encourage him to not overspend (although you may need to hint at how many encounters they might see versus how many cards he has so that he can subtract the two numbers), while the freedom to choose one of several answers to a given problem (locked door: hack, know passcode, or fake ID?) gives him the ability to choose when the risky abilities are used and when the quick and easy answers are used.

It's also possible to have the same mechanics used against the party by enemy hackers, or against both sides by unseen NPCs with mysterious goals, although you should be careful not to be too heavy handed giving free passes to NPCs.