So far, we’ve had a couple articles explaining the thought chain we’re pursing when it comes to digital systems and computers for 2050. In this article, I’m going to outline some actual game rules and associated numbers for these. I’ll also try to explain any pertinent lines of thinking regarding the rules. Here we go!
Computers = Tools
There is a temptation to make “Computers” another skill that can be learned by the characters. Indeed, in earlier editions of the game (especially 3.5/Pathfinder), that’s exactly what I would have done. However, in 5e, the skill list is intentionally small, and I hesitate to add anything to it. Further, 5e does have a modular “skill” system: tools.
Tools function identically to skills in terms of mechanics except that they aren’t tied to a specific ability score. One could conceivably make a Wisdom(Herbalism Kit) or an Intelligence(Herbalism Kit) check with no problem. Really, in its essence, what the tool is allowing a character to do is potentially add a proficiency bonus to an appropriate ability check. IE the character’s skill with such-and-such tool allows her an edge when performing some specific activities.
Computers: This item encompasses the vast array of digital devices in the wired world. From smart thermostats to supercomputers, skill with these tools can help in all aspects of digital life. Proficiency with this kit lets you add your proficiency bonus to any Ability Checks you make to break digital security, code and run scripts, alter the functions of devices and scour electronic systems for information.
Gaining proficiency in this tool set will be the same as any other: you likely got it from your background or class. In 2050, the Rogue will be allowed to gain proficiency as if it were a skill, and there will be several backgrounds that grant proficiency.
Computers have language.
When we first talked about this, dad and I both immediately thought of a problem: knowing how to use a home computer doesn’t really give you an edge at navigating, say, a Linux webserver. This is true, and it is somewhat problematic. However, I came up with an idea to help: languages.
When you hear the term “computer languages,” you probably think of things like C++, Java, COBOL, etc. However, that’s not what I mean when I’m using “language” as a 5e term. In this case, what I’m describing is an overall familiarity with the interfaces and architectures of different types of computers. Really, this is what people mean when they say things like “computer literacy.” It’s knowing that on Windows computers, double-clicking icons opens them, going down to the taskbar is how you get to places, and ctrl-alt-del will save your ass. Yeah, it’s not a true “language,” but that’s the best way 5e can simulate this without creating a whole new tool for each separate type of computer.
- Parfait The basic consumer software suite present on every smart device and personal computer. Every character in 2050 starts with this language proficiency.
- BizOS The software suite used by businesses and corporations for running their networks and computers.
- Skippy The software used by automated systems such as drones, self-driving cars, and consumer robotics.
- SAGaN The software used by the educational, scientific, and medical communities. This is also the software used by most cybernetic implants.
- COMBAT-OS The software used by the military and government entities.
The rule is simple: if you’re using a computer which is in a language you don’t know, you have disadvantage on all related checks. Thus, you can still leverage a proficiency in computers (there are translatable skills), but you’ll be at disadvantage working with computers you’ve never used before. And while you career coders out there may know that skill with one interface or programming language absolutely does not translate into using others, just keep in mind that we’re talking about people of heroic abilities.
Getting the Hacker out of the Basement
One of the troubles of the idea of the “adventuring hacker” is that there is rarely a need to get into physical dangers while hacking. Why risk your meat when you can sit comfortably tapping away with a big-ass bag of Cheetos and six-pack of Jolt cola within easy reach?
Well, we can solve that, with RULES! Yes, rules. Rules about every gamer’s favorite thing: Latency!
Latency Will Kill Ya!
- Disadvantage when accessing networks remotely through the Net or over a long series of hops (DMs judgment on the latter, but if you bounce through fifteen offshore data centers or a satellite, it’s probably too far).
- Normal when accessing a device or network directly through WiFi or accessing another device networked to your own (IE accessing a NAS through a connected terminal)
- Advatange when accessing a device via a hard-wired port (directly plugging your rig into a server, for example)
Another tricky thing is: How long does all this take? Realistically, sophisticated hacks can take days, weeks, even years to set up all of the software and scripts and bots and whatnot. That, of course, will never do for heroic roleplay. However, if we call hacking an action, it’ll take roughly six seconds. Well shit, that’s too quick.
We’re still trying to figure out what (if anything) needs to be codified for duration, or if we can rely on DMs to figure that stuff out. We will likely write some specific rules on hacking in combat (which will become important when we deal with drones and cybernetics), but those are still being forged.
We’ve also go the question of obscuration and security to consider. We already know that if you bounce through a bunch of servers it will lessen your chances to do what you need to do. But how do those bounces affect your odds of being discovered through some sort of trace?
Computers = Constructs
Ok, the final thing I want to talk about here is the idea that computers can be affected by magic. When we conceived of 2050, we had two mutually exclusive options with regards to technology and magic. The first is to say that tech and magic are antithesis to one another, and therefore they don’t mix. The second was to say that computers interact with magic just like anything else…magically!
So, here’s what we’ve decided to do: computers are constructs. Yes, constructs, like a golem or a Modron. They will have ability scores, HP, skills, etc. Yeah, it’s a little weird, but let’s talk through this for a sec.
A clay golem is little more than a magical chunk of rock. A Modron is literally a robot from the lawful neutral clockwork plane (hmmm, a digital plane, anyone?). Neither of these things have brains or souls in the traditional sense, but they’re still “creatures” in a D&D sense. Most importantly, they can still be affected by magic, assuming they are valid targets for the spell.
For example: Illusion spells. Constructs can generally be affected by Illusion spells (as they target “creatures”), but they can’t be affected by a type of sensory input they don’t have. For example, a blind person is immune to Minor Illusion. Similarly, you can’t inflict an illusory image to a computer without a camera. A desktop PC generally doesn’t care if there’s an illusory Beholder in front of it, but a security camera might. Especially if there’s a security guard watching the feed from it.
As for abilities, we haven’t quite nailed down what they’ll be, but we do have a general idea. Processor ability will be Intelligence, any security software will be Wisdom, and Charisma will be… the color of the case? Alright, we’ll figure it out. However, these are the stats the computer will use when saving against magic. In our little example play in the last article, the hacker cast Suggestion on the computer, and the computer failed to save against it. So, to the best of its ability, it complied with the suggestion (give me access). Here, language played an important role: if you don’t speak the “language,” the computer can’t understand your suggestion. Just like any creature.
So, that’s what we’ve got so far. We’re going to start playtesting this stuff soon with a semi-occasional family game, which means things will likely change as we go. Stay tuned and, as always, let us know what you think and any suggestions you may have!