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SF Roll "Computers" to Access Plot

Fauchard1520

Explorer
I've been having a bit of trouble with the Computers skill lately. I just can't figure out how to make the damn things fun! I'm in Book 4 of Dead Suns right now, and every Computers check seems to be "make roll to access plot." Even worse, it's only one character that gets to interact. Everyone else stands around waiting for the guy with the right skill ranks to do their thing. Add to that the perennial problem of, "Can't I just make a check with my Computer Skill: ∞ modifier to search the internet infosphere for the info we need?" and I find myself struggling.

How do the rest of you guys do it? Is it just a matter of techno-savvy narration? What are some methods to make the Computers skill more engaging, both for my technomancer and the rest of the group?

Comic for illustrative purposes.
 

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ninjayeti

Adventurer
If information is necessary to advance the plot use a "fail forward" mechanic - they automatically get the information the need but if they fail the check there are still consequences: they have alerted the target who beefs up their security, tries to determine the identity of the hacker, etc. Or they were only able to download an encrypted version of the file the needed and now need additional work to get it decrypted. Or the PCs cant get the info through a computers check but have a different means of acquiring it (contacts, legwork, etc.). Failing the roll should have consequences but not ones that derail the plot.

Sure, hackers get to shine making computers rolls, just like the face gets to shine during social encounters, pilots roll to fly through dangerous asteroid fields, scientists get to analyze the mysterious xenomorph, etc. The goal should be for every character to have a chance to be the star during an adventure, not for every character to be involved in every significant roll.

Just like IRL you can't believe everything they read online. If dragons were real they would edit the "How to kill Dragons" wikipedia page to fill it with nonsense. Google "Evilcorp" and the first 50 results that come up are PR pieces about what nice people they are.
 

FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
I've been having a bit of trouble with the Computers skill lately. I just can't figure out how to make the damn things fun! I'm in Book 4 of Dead Suns right now, and every Computers check seems to be "make roll to access plot." Even worse, it's only one character that gets to interact. Everyone else stands around waiting for the guy with the right skill ranks to do their thing. Add to that the perennial problem of, "Can't I just make a check with my Computer Skill: ∞ modifier to search the internet infosphere for the info we need?" and I find myself struggling.

How do the rest of you guys do it? Is it just a matter of techno-savvy narration? What are some methods to make the Computers skill more engaging, both for my technomancer and the rest of the group?

Comic for illustrative purposes.

Have other stuff happen while he’s hacking the computer system. guard approaches that the face must deal with etc.

Have limited info available on the infosphere unless you are accessing via specific terminals which are heavily defended.
 

A lot depends on what purpose you want a scene to serve in the context of the game session, the overall story, and your player's participation.

The game is only interesting when there are decisions to make.

If it literally is just "the plot is this way, but realistically you'd need to do some tech stuff first," then maybe it doesn't need a skill check. I mean, to reach the dungeon you might need to navigate a jungle, but half the time you'll just narrate how the PCs get there, and then hand back over control to the players once there are actually decisions to make.

However, if the PCs are in a situation where there's some risk, and you want that risk to be apparent, but you want both A) the PCs to pretty much be guaranteed to succeed and B) not to take away the player's agency by just narrating them succeeding, you can use a 'mission montage.'

I like to use this structure, inspired by heist tropes from movies like Ocean's 11:

Come up with 2 or 3 known obstacles the PCs need to bypass, and maybe 1 or 2 hidden obstacles. (If you have more than 4 PCs, you might add more obstacles.)

There are two phases to the mission montage: the planning, and the mission.

In the planning phase, everyone gets to do one thing to help on the mission. This phase might take minutes or weeks. It's very free-form. Each player narrates what obstacle they're working on, say they want to do, and you set a DC for whatever skill they're using. If they succeed, then during the mission phase, whoever's trying to overcome that obstacle gets a +2 bonus. If they get a critical success, they figure out a way to solve the problem ahead of time.

(You might also use your planning time to scout, in which case the GM reveals any secret obstacles. And the GM might say some obstacles have to be dealt with in advance, like getting forged documents. There's a lot of ways to fiddle with the basics.)

In the mission phase, for each obstacle, one person gets to try to deal with it. (Sometimes the obstacles will be dealt with sequentially, so a single person can tackle multiples. Sometimes the obstacles are in different places, so the party has to split up.)

Here's the trick that makes it all work. The person confronting the obstacle says what they're doing, you assign a DC (usually pretty easy), and they make a check, but if they fail the check, that's just a setback, not a failure to the whole mission. The person confronting that obstacle now has to solve a different problem. A guard might get alerted as you sneak past, and they have to take him out. Or a cover identity seems suspicious and the PC has to make a sudden skill check with a higher DC to overcome the obstacle. But the PC should usually have the choice to pull out and give up. If they do that, the mission fails, but the PCs can avoid the worst consequences.

Remember, random chance adds up. If you need the PCs to succeed 5 skill checks to win, even if they've got a 90% success rate on each of those checks, if you let a single failure derail the whole mission, the party has a 40% chance of failure. The "fail once, but can try again against higher stakes" gimmick maintains the sense of drama and peril, but with less chance of derailing the plot.

Sometimes you'll even go for 'fail once, you can try again, fail a second time and a new obstacle occurs.'

---

As an example, the Millennium Falcon just got dragged onto the Death Star, and to get away, they need to overcome two obstacles:

1. Avoid storm trooper sweeps.
2. Turn off the tractor beam.

However, there are two secret obstacles:

3. Rescue the princess.
4. Disable the homing device placed on their ship.

In the planning phase, Han's player suggests they hide from in his smuggler compartments. Chewie's player uses his planning option to aid. Han gets a critical success, so the GM rules they actually are able to ambush the storm troopers and take them out. Han and Luke take their armor.

C3P0's player suggests they use the armor to check out a control room and find a map, which will help them locate the tractor beam control. He succeeds, so there'll be a bonus on that task. Obi-Wan's player decides to rush ahead to the tractor beam control, wanting to observe and wait for the ideal time to move in. He makes a Stealth check and succeeds.

R2D2's player scouts using Computers, and discovers that the princess is here! Luke suggests they put Chewie in binder cuffs, to help them pose as a prisoner transfer. He makes a Bluff check to help coach Chewie on how to act like a prisoner, but he fails.

Then in the mission phase, Obi-Wan makes an Engineering check to disable the tractor beam. Han, Luke, and Chewie know that Leia's guards won't let her go, so they have a quick fight.

Then Han makes a Bluff check to keep the guards from coming to check about the blaster fire. He fails. Now to escape with the princess, the party has to come up with something else. They decide to go through the waste system, and the GM narrates them trading a few blaster shots as cover before they dive into the waste system. Deciding to shake things up a bit, the GM has the system start to crush the PCs, and requires a Computers check to turn it off in time.

Along the way, the GM throws in a few other challenges - storm troopers, a dianoga, Darth Vader - so the whole scenario is a mix of coming up with ideas to overcome obstacles, and combats that use the main component of the rule system.

However, the PCs never learned about the homing beacon, so when they escape, the bad guys get to follow them.
 

Fauchard1520

Explorer
I'm coming at this straight out of the Dead Suns AP, and I'm trying to do minimal rewriting. Is the consensus that you have to apply a bit of DIY design to make computers more interesting?

I'm thinking in particular of the Securitech mini-dungeon and its server room.
 

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