Saturday, November 17, 2012

Hacking Mini-Game

Sometimes you just want to add a sense of urgency to hacking that can't be captured by a single dice roll.  You want to have a sense that there's a time limit that they have to adhere to and if they don't make it there'll be trouble.  You want to show off the pressure.  There they are.  Sitting at the computer terminal and trying to hack open the blast doors as enemies fire at them from the balconies and their friends try to provide covering fire by shooting back.  But what do you do?  How do you represent that?  Sure you could have them make a hacking round every turn and hope they slowly accumulate twenty successes in time.  That's one option.  But that method won't also cut it when the character is slowly hacking a terminal while their friends scout for clues.  How long should it take?  And how long can you reasonably expect the hacking player to simply watch the others?

You could introduce a mini-game.

I've started using Connect the Dots.

Okay, so not everyone would be keen on it but with some players it does work.  It gives them something tangible to do and with a bit of effort and cunning they can hack terminals faster than you might otherwise allow simply by joining the dots faster.  Just be sure to not impose it as a punishment.  Ask your players if they might be interested and if they are, give it go.  It won't be fitting in every situation but it is good on occasion.


  1. I'm really torn on minigames.

    On the one hand, I like systems which make other parts of the game as interactive as - for example - combat usually is. On the other hand I often find something weirdly jarring about these kinds of systems.

    I think a big part of the problem is the age-old player-skill/character-skill dichotomy. I can see a lot of people getting annoyed if their character's ability to hack computers depended on their own ability to join dots.

    1. Hacking in games, especially cyberpunk games, has always been notoriously difficult because you always end up either splitting the action in some way or you end up in a situation where you drag someone along to do hacking in person, which gets particularly ridiculous in settings with any sort of functional networking because, uh, why not just do it all remotely? (Sure, in some situations physical access to systems may be required, but if you're requiring that every single time you're either going to have to hurt suspension of disbelief bad style or moving to a setting where networking just doesn't function in the same way it does in our world - say, a steampunk world where if you want to hack a system you have to physically intercept the message tubes as they go down the pipes, pull out the slip of paper with the instructions written on it, and forge new instructions by mimicing an authorised user's handwriting and signature.)

      I like the join-the-dots idea, but I think I'd only use it provided that a) I told my players in advance that hacking would involve a certain amount of player skill at join-the-dots and they shouldn't play a hacker if they weren't down with that or willing to propose some sort of comparable player-skill test to use instead, and b) I was willing to accept the possibility that the party will have no PC hacker as a result of the use of minigames.

      If I were running a cyberpunk game or one with a heavy hacking component I'd be sorely tempted to give the party an NPC hacker who can stay at home and do all the hacking stuff remotely whilst the PCs do all the actiony stuff. (And then brutally murder the NPC hacker whenever I need to generate some cheap pathos.)

    2. I love the cheap pathos idea.

      Personally I wouldn't bother with the mini-game if the players weren't down with it. While I'm using it currently, I will scrap it if it gets in the way and I won't use it every time.

      Their ability to hack still relies on rolls. The Connect-the-Dots just gives us an idea of how long it takes. This way, even if they don't come out with a recognisable picture because they didn't curve the lines just so, it doesn't matter. It just keeps the hacker player busy while the others snoop about and the extra bit of effort removes the temptation from me to make it take longer than it should.

      The player I've given it to is easily bored (as am I) so it fulfills its function there.

      I really wouldn't suggest using it instead of the appropriate skill roll or where the player isn't interested. It's an optional extra. Not something to force them to do.

      Also, sorry about the Connect-the-dots picture. For some reason it doesn't have a white picture. If you scroll it up and down you can glimpse it over the television set in the background.

  2. I am slightly confused by the point of this.

    If it is important that a hacking job is completed in a certain timeframe, then arguably that's a function of the dice roll. Some systems state this loud and clear (for instance, REIGN runs on a dice pool system where one aspect of your roll determines how well you do and another aspect determines how quickly you do it), a bunch more state it in a more roundabout fashion (for example, D20 states that you can just take 10 if there's no time constraints on your actions, which implicitly suggests in situations where you can't take 10 the dice roll partly determines whether you are able to complete the action in question in time), and absolutely tons kind of implicitly assume that this is the case.

    In a system where the system already gives you an explicit means of judging how long it takes to accomplish something, then you don't need the connect-the-dots thingummy because the system already told you how long things are taking. In a system which doesn't do that, then the connect-the-dots thing would seem to give results that feel off to me. As a player, it'd kind of bug me if I made a roll which "succeeds" but my success came far too late to be of any practical use (or never happens because my character was interrupted in their task whilst I was connecting-the-dots). So if there were a real possibility you might fail because you took too long at the connect-the-dots then you're kind of throwing an extra stumbling block in the way of a character being effective which the other characters in the scenario don't have to negotiate, which doesn't feel even-handed, whilst if there were no real possibility of failure-through-delay then you're basically just giving a player at your table a puzzle to tinker with to stop them being bored (and if that's the case that's absolutely fine, but it seems a bit more honest to just call that what it is rather than pretend there's a link to the IC action which you don't actually intend to follow through on).

    Proposal for a homebrewed hacking system optimised to make sure hackers feel like they're doing something exciting whilst everyone else is in combat: make it work exactly like the combat system, only you're "fighting" the computer system - to use D&D terms, you're trying to get past its Firewall (Armour Class) to sap its Encryption (hit points), the countermeasures are trying to see through your False Credentials (Armour Class) and shut down your User Privileges (hit points). Presto, the action of hacking a system feels exactly as tense and frenetic as the surrounding combat is.

    1. Interesting points. It is mostly to keep her from getting bored which is why I called it a mini-game rather than a custom mechanic. The player is a big fan of knitting at the game table so thus far she's also fine with doing Connect-the-Dots.

      In truth, World of Darkness doesn't bother with time with hacking but the suggested time frames are generally a bit longer. In truth, Connect-the-Dots would probably speed her up since real time is vastly expanded over game time in a round-by-round situation.

      I do like your metaphor of creating a combat out of hacking. I can now imagine using Durability and Structure for the hacked computer rather than just 'target successes'.

      I certainly wouldn't do it with all (or even most) players. Some would be offended. Others disinterested. Others perplexed. But thus far she's enjoying it, so why not? I might as well post it if it's worked, even if it won't work with even the majority of players or the majority of game tables.