The Matrix and Me.

Shadowrun is one of those games which I love to GM and, if I ever had the opportunity, to play. But it is also the game which causes me the most headaches. I’ll probably write more about that last statement in another waffle, but one of the reasons I fine this is because of some the concepts which exist in the game and, in particular, the matrix. Blogging always helps me to clarify my thoughts and so this waffle is going to be about me and my constant struggle and adaptation of the matrix. So engage that hack on the fly program, change your persona to a suitable icon and prepare to enter the host…

The concept of the matrix

The matrix (not sure if it needs a capital letter or not!) is everywhere! It plays such an important part of the Shadowrun game and that it is definitely something which cannot be ignored. Not only does it provide a wealth of information for the runners, it also is the place where cameras and doors can be interacted with and where the bullet spluttering sub machine gun can be data spiked and the magazine ejected. It is such an integral part of the game that I am sure that a whole campaign could be based around the players spending the majority of their time as deckers within the matrix. Although I have read the whole matrix section of the Core Rule Book (CRB) several times and much of the Data Trail supplement, I am still confused as to what things look like and how players, while in character form, can interact with contents of the matrix. The descriptive stories do help with this but I’m still very much in the dark about how to GM the matrix and hosts to my players.

Let’s get into hosts

Rather than trying to diagnose the whole of the matrix in this waffle I wanted to focus on hosts. When I don’t understand something I often embark on a quest to read everything about it in a vain attempt to increase my own understanding. However, I have come to the conclusion that sometimes you just have to take onboard as much as you can and then just create something which you, as a GM, are happy with and the players can develop their characters within. This is the point I am at with hosts. Yes, there is lost written about them out there, but in order to convert this to the campaign/game I am going to make some decisions which make things clearer in my own mind and will therefore support me in communicating this effectively to the players within the game.

What is in the host?

One thing I have always thought about a lot is what is actually in a host and what the hacker can actually see. I have spent many hours thinking about this but eventually started to think about current hosts/network which I engage with everyday during work and/or pleasure. One thing which soon came to the my mind was the different levels of access people have. When I log on at work, I can access various resources but others are restricted to the admin team from the computer department. I saw this article linked in the Shadowrun Reddit and, even though it was for Shadowrun Anarchy, it suddenly made a lot of sense to me and my hosts. Within hosts there are different levels of access – taking from the article – user, security and admin. I really like this idea and increasing the host ratings by each level will definitely make the higher access nodes more difficult to access. Also, the access to these levels can be hidden (running silently) within the host making the actual transition to these areas reserved for only the experienced hacker!

Not just a series of rolls

In the last session of Shadowrun, I’m afraid I probably did the worse thing a GM could ever do. I relayed the whole of the expedition into the host to the group as a series of rolls. This soon got very monotonous and, in the end, it became a series of buying successes in order to get the section of the game over and done with. What I was missing was the role playing aspect of the matrix. Rethinking and revisiting entering a host to get the information, I realise now that the focus should not be on the rolls but on the roles. Rather than stating, I perform a hack on the fly test to enter the host, the whole experience becomes…

You can see the host up ahead. Personas are approaching it and, as they do, the appear to altering their look to mirror that of corporate wage slaves. Casual personas become more formal as they approach the clocking in terminal on the side of the wall and pull out the easily recognisable ‘clocking in’ card. Once this is ‘punched’ the sliding doors shimmer and become intangible for a moment, allowing the persona to enter the host. What would you like to do?

User Access

As you can see from the previous paragraph and example, people are using the host as well as the security spiders and hidden IC. This is something which I had completely forgotten about. The host is not just full of valuable data and IC, it is a living and breathing environment where people interact and, in some instances, work. Even within the popular nightclubs, the host is a place where patrons can hang out and enjoy the virtual counterpart of the club. In the world of Shadowrun, being away on business or holiday, doesn’t mean you cannot frequent your favourite club. Essentially it is always but a datajack click away. So there are definitely going to be personas in my future hosts – even if this is either the security spider or the late night wageslave completing their work for that early morning meeting.

More time and energy

When creating a Shadowrun adventure there is always a host of some description. I usually create these at the last moment, adding the host rating and then the individual scores for firewall etc. Now I am spending a lot longer ‘designing’ the host. This includes thinking not only about the structure of the host – i.e. what is available on the different levels, the construct and the iconography, but also the feel and atmosphere of the host. This I feel will allow the hosts to be more part of the game and move away from a series of rolls. Rather than finding the cameras and declaring a hack on the fly test and then a control action roll and everyone slowly drifting off to sleep as the rolls are made, the action becomes more descriptive –

GM – So you appear to be looking through some transparent glass into a regular cuboid room. The walls of the room, including the one you are looking through, are covered with huge screens although the actual content of these screens are blurred and not recognisable from outside the cube. There are also what appears to be flying eyeballs moving around the room.
Player – ok, I quickly create some code which allows me to manifest a small glass cutter and, placing the sucker on the glass, I trace around it forming a hole in the glass.
GM – Cool – roll your hack on the fly….

In conclusion

I’m actually feeling now that the matrix and in particular hosts, are going to play a more important feature of my game. I’m going to try and really engage with the hosts and use them as another setting for the hackers to engage with rather than just being a series of numbers and dice rolls which people use to gain information or to turn the cameras off. I’ve also started to engage more with the technical side of the hosts, the actually content, so that I make them more believable. Yes it is going to take more time on my behalf until I get more used to them, but in the long run I think the returns will be well worth it, since they are going to be more part of the role-playing within the session.

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