Hacking Runs for Fun and Profit

A key element of modern games is often the heist, caper, or in the case of cyberpunk-esque games, the „run“. The common part here is that the target is usually a complicated and large system, full of people, computers, security systems and other components.

In movies and books, we follow the crew through their preparations and then see them pull off the perfect caper, where each element more or less seamlessly enables the next part, until it all comes together in a showdown and ends with the heroes walking (or running?) off with their ill-gotten gains.

There are quite a lot of attempts to map this into game mechanics, and here is my own one:

It introduces two concepts:

  • the network map of the entity that is to be robbed
  • failure cascades

Lets start with the network map. It could look something like this:

The goal is to escape with the loot from the vault. Except that as long as there is someone or something to call reinforcements, things will go bad. And if the vault door isn’t opened, they can’t get to their loot in the first place.

Researching this network is the usual preparation phase for the players, where they can dig for information, ask around, bribe people, steal floorplans, and so on. It might even be that you, as the DM, don’t even have the network map prepared but you create it with your players as you play along.

In the end, the map shows the possible choke points that need to be taken out, as well as the objectives that need to be met. Either directly, or indirectly. 

And that is where the second core idea comes into play: Cascades. I’m stealing those from the boardgame hit Pandemic. Disease occurrences are marked by adding little cubes to a city. Whenever there are three or more cubes of the same type in one city, there is a virulent outbreak. That means that every neighbouring city also receives a cube. If that tips them over the 2‑cube-is-safe limit, there is an outbreak too.

Let’s apply the same idea here, but with a lower limit: If there are two incidents at one place, it triggers the cascade. So if Joe the Guard does not get his coffee from the Cantina AND the toilet is clogged, he’ll fail at his job (calling the reinforcments in case he sees anything). And that means that the „Reinforcements“ node gets its first little cube. 

A similar effect could be achieved by simply taking Joe out (kidnapping, poisoning or bribery for example), but that might not always be possible — and it won’t create a cube at Reinforcements.

So, the planning and execution phase means that the crew selects points in the network, take them out and hopefully create cascades that take out adjacent points for them.

This isn’t playtested, but I think it should be fun to run things this way!

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