Inside Pulse 12

Tabletop Review: Autorun: Generic Cyber-hacking for D20 Modern

Autorun: Generic Cyber-hacking for D20 Modern
Publisher: Skortched Urf’ Studios
Cost: $2.99 (PDF)
Page Count: 19
Release Date: 01/08/2013
Get it Here: DriveThruRPG.com

I have a confession to make: I don’t play enough cyberpunk games. Still, I am familiar with the whole issue of one player (the “decker” generally) entering the realm of cyberspace while the rest of the party does something else. Split the party, split the game master’s attention, make it easier to lose track of stuff. Got it, I see the problem. What Autorun is trying to do is to help solve or minimize the issues that this causes at the table, by essentially introducing a mini-game that the decker(s) can play while everyone else is doing their stuff they need to do.

Plug In

The introductory material for this sourcebook indicates that it can be used with systems like D20 Modern or Pathfinder (Pathfinder…?), but of course, it can be hacked to work with anything. The only real stats have to do with the various anti-hacker programs and decker equipment that use Difficulty Class (“DC”), the rest is just conceptual. The book also makes some presumptions, like that I would be playing a game where players wait for turns, that I would be using tactical maps or battle mats, and it generally assumes a sort of typical Pathfinder play experience.

Setting up a hacking event with Autorun is pretty easy, there’s a one-page 8.5×11 hex map to print out that represents the virtual space. After that gets put out, some sort of marker is physically thrown onto the map to represent “code walls”, spaces the hacker can’t pass through. Then, depending on how strong the computer security is, a number of programs are placed on the Goal space of the mat, and the hacker is placed on the Home space on the other end. Basically, the hacker has to get through the code walls and malicious programs to reach the Goal space.

Ride the Wave of Computer Use Checks

When a hacker is trying to gain entry to the virtual space, and when the hacker wants to do various things inside the space like kill, evade, or subvert programs, he or she is going to need to make lots of checks against Computer Use, or whatever skill is analogous to that in the game that is being played. Programs move automatically toward the hacker in the most direct possible way, so he or she will likely end up having to tangle with them. The book provides lots of possible programs to run against the hacker, from the lowly and weak Basic Gremlin to the Dracula program; each one takes up a certain amount of slots, which are the available space of the computer system to host programs. When the player has programs in a hex next to them, they are going to suffer damage. This sounds a bit arbitrary to me, but whatever. As mentioned, players can try to either kill, subvert (so that the program attacks other programs), or evade the programs around them. Each time, they will need to roll Computer Use.

Once a hacker reaches the Goal space, that’s it! Balloons fall from the ceiling, prizes are won and the hacker achieves whatever they were trying to do inside the system.

Autorun seems geared toward a certain play style, but I think it’s definitely a neat idea. It’s certainly a quick, tactical game within a game. It has shortcomings, like the fact that it’s very two-dimensional when a lot of the cyberpunk fiction we read talks about flying in virtual space or doing other crazy stunts (like things we see in The Matrix). The hacker is more like a running-back trying to score a touchdown than a traveler of the virtual world or a distinct presence and personality in the realm of cyberspace. Speaking of distinct presence, one of the cool aspects about it is that you can (and are encouraged to) use figurines to represent your avatar, so your virtual representation can be any awesome figure you have lying around. I like that.

My nigglings are a bit beside the point, since the book is meant to simulate a specific function: the decker hacking a computer system for a specific goal. It might also be fun to use the cyber-map when playing out encounters in virtual space, like the Black Sun club in Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash. The author offers several twists and optional rules for the mini-game as well, such as additional obstacles, bigger maps, or Sys-Admins who take you on personally. There are also lists of gear, hacker abilities, and decks. All in all, a good supplement with lots of neat ideas and a nice full-color board you can print out for play.