Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Hacking Computers - Cracking and Psi-jacking

Last week we discussed how to hack people, but now people want to know how they can hack computers.

Unlike many other cyberpunk RPGs, hacking in Psi-punk is simple and fast. I wanted to avoid the issue of having most of the players at the table grow bored while the hacker and the GM have their own little hacking mini-game together, and I mentioned that in this Designer's Diary on

There are three different approaches characters can take when hacking computers: cracking, psi-jacking, and ghosting. Cracking is the most basic form of hacking and can be done by anyone with some technical training, while psi-jacking and ghosting both require access to the electrokinesis psionic or magic ability.


Cracking is the ability to gain illicit access to a computer system using just one's skill. No special equipment or psionics are required -- everybody carries with them some form of computer and it's enough to attempt to crack into a system.

To crack a system, characters must make a Technical skill check and the GM compares the result to the difficulty of the system they are trying to crack. Following is a table that gives some general guidelines on computer difficulties:

Personal computer
Corporate computer (average employee)
Corporate computer (management)
Corporate computer (upper-management)
Superb – Wonderful
Publicly accessible device (ATM, billboard)
Superb – Phenomenal
Personal vehicle (car, motorcycle, etc.)
Corporate or government vehicle
Electronic lock
Corporate or government electronic lock
Superb - Wonderful
Corporate or government flight vehicle (helicopter, private jet)
Megacorp or government mainframe

If the crack is successful, the hacker gains access to the system. Another check is then made with a +1 bonus to attempt to execute commands or download data. For every degree of success above the difficulty level of the system, the hacker can issue one command or download one piece of data.

For example, Kathy Ohms is attempting to hack the computer of a corporate bigwig (difficulty: Wonderful) to steal some of his private data. She rolls a total check result of Wonderful (+4) and successfully cracks into his system.

Because she's now inside the system, she gets a +1 bonus to her follow-up skill check to download data. This time her end result is Extraordinary (+2) and the GM compares that result to the system's security level, which is Wonderful. Her degree of success is Great (+2), so she can download 2 pieces of information from the system.

All of this happens with just two quick dice rolls and the GM adjudicates what information she is able to collect. Meanwhile, the rest of the game can continue without any interruptions; it's not much different than any character asking to do any other type of action.

If a hacker fails their cracking check, a variety of bad things can happen. SInce the hacker isn't personally plugged into the system, they don't get mind-fried or flat-lined, but the system can lock them out or send alerts to the rest of the network. Depending on the security level, the system may lock all the doors, alert the guards, and leave the character stuck inside a building while they wait for armed forces to show up. If attempting to hack a vehicle, the system may lock the controls and leave the character unable to access the system or navigate, which can have terrible consequences if the vehicle happens to already be in motion!
The difficulty is the same and the rewards are similar, but a character who is psionically linked to a system potentially has greater control of its functions and doesn't necessarily need to be skilled at computer use to snoop around.


Psi-jacking is similar to cracking in its form and function, but instead of using the Technical skill it depends upon an electrokinesis check using either the psionic power or a magic device capable of mimicking it. 

Unfortunately, since the character is psionically linked to the system they may be mind-fried or flat-lined when their check fails, so the consequences for failure are potentially more grave.


Ghosting is a little different and requires both the electrokinesis power and some amount of Technical skill. When ghosting, the character projects his/her consciousness directly into the computer system and may travel virtually anywhere in the world via wireless network (of course, only her consciousness travels; her physical presence remains where it started).

The ghost can take control of computer systems and use cameras to view the outside world, or they can snoop around for data and issue commands to the system.

This method of hacking is perhaps most similar to those found in other games in which a hacker directly connects to the Matrix. However, there's one major exception: a skilled ghost can take others into the 'Net with them, enabling all characters the freedom to join in the fun.

The ghost can create additional avatars to take with her, and the GM can take the story in any direction he pleases without leaving people behind.

GMs are also given the power to opt not to use this hacking method at all if they feel it would derail the game. Because ghosting isn't the sole hacking method presented in the rules, it doesn't have to be used. Similar results can be achieved by cracking or psi-jacking; ghosting simply adds another layer to the hacking system that offers players and GMs the freedom to "enter" the 'Net, in case that style of hacking is something they envision adding fun to their game session.


Hopefully you enjoyed this brief look into how hacking works in Psi-punk. As you can see, it takes a simple and fast approach to hacking that will either allow the game to get back on track quickly or allow all of the players to get in on the action, depending on the experience that the players and GM choose to have.

There are far more details in the core rulebook. I chose not to re-print them here because of the sheer volume of detail presented, but rest assured there's a bit more to it than just the outlines listed above. 

If you're interested in what you've read so far, please check out the Psi-punk Kickstarter and consider pledging. As of the date of this post, there are only 4 days left, so don't miss out!