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> What Do You Think of the Matrix Rules?, And remember, this is for posterity, so be honest. How do you feel?
Aaron
post May 10 2009, 08:38 PM
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I'm looking for a giant list of Good Things and Bad Things about the Matrix in SR4 and SR4A. Specific items only, please; neither propaganda or whining will be useful to me (make your own topic if you feel so inclined). Also, please just talk about the rules as written; house rules are also unhelpful. All I'm looking for is a specific rule or set of rules along with what it is about that rule or set of rules that you like or dislike (e.g. it's elegant, you like rolling that many dice, it's too complex, you don't understand it, etc.).

This is me doing research for my own project. It's not affiliated in any way with CGL or any of the devs.

Thanks.
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kzt
post May 10 2009, 09:06 PM
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For SR4 rules, that it's script kiddies and agents all the way. (Don't have 4A)

In terms of overall feel, I hate that the more you understand about how computers, cryptography and network security work the harder it is to comprehend what they are trying to do with the rules and the more the rules seem stupid and counterproductive when you do understand them.

The way encryption is used in SR is totally backwards. File encryption seems to be the only thing that the designers ever thought about when they considered encryption. And then they do it in a silly way. Nobody carries around a 300 page book of passwords, it's all done by the OS. Once you own the box you own the files whether they are encrypted or not.
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Draco18s
post May 10 2009, 09:14 PM
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QUOTE (kzt @ May 10 2009, 05:06 PM) *
In terms of overall feel, I hate that the more you understand about how computers, cryptography and network security work the harder it is to comprehend what they are trying to do with the rules and the more the rules seem stupid and counterproductive when you do understand them.


QFT.

Like, who owns their own Browse program? It's either part of the OS (file searching) or on the internet (Google).
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Lindt
post May 10 2009, 09:27 PM
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Im pretty much with kzt here. The more you know about computers, system architecture, and programming in general, the LESS sense the Sr decking/hacking rules make.
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Matsci
post May 10 2009, 09:32 PM
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QUOTE (Lindt @ May 10 2009, 02:27 PM) *
Im pretty much with kzt here. The more you know about computers, system architecture, and programming in general, the LESS sense the Sr decking/hacking rules make.


That's true of every sub-system in Shadowrun.
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TeOdio
post May 10 2009, 10:10 PM
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I have always encouraged having a Decker/Hacker in my game, and have had the most success in having players fill that role in 4th ed. Here is a couple of observations I have:
1. I don't really care about the realism, and neither do my players. One of my players is a professional hacker in real life (Sorry Security Analyst) and two of the others are fairly immersed in aspects of system architecture and security as they work for a large payroll company, and they never gripe to me about the "silliness" of it all. (I mean come on, we are talking about a game here, one with elves and dragons, right?)
2. The rules (especially after Unwired came out) are comprehensive enough to allow a wide array of scenerios for me as a GM that each and every hack is somewhat unique for my hackers, so I really like that.
3. I feel that for new GM's (especially ones that don't have a background in other editions) the lack of "clear" explanations and good sample hacking scripts can make for very frustrating gaming as they fumble through rule books when the hacker is let loose. I would say that even for a vet like myself I find myself reading something and re thinking how I should set things up in a node or run things during a hack.
4. I will say that integrating the Matrix action with the rest of the players has worked really well, but a challenging hack can still be time consuming, but not nearly as much as before.
5. Overall I have not ran across a rule that I hated, except for the "Hard Encryption" rules and it's merely a game thing for me. For hackers to be challenged in an exciting way, on the fly is where it's at, and if they have to spend hours decrypting the node it sort of defeats the purpose of that, especially as the (optional) rule as written does not really give any limitation on what sort of minimum hardware requirements would be required.
In Short
Good: Overall rules, explanation of wireless world and its prevalence.
Bad: Implementation left up to too much interpretation, resulting in confusion for some, and the lack of shared challenge and experience.
(IMG:style_emoticons/default/nuyen.gif) (IMG:style_emoticons/default/nuyen.gif) (IMG:style_emoticons/default/nuyen.gif)
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Aaron
post May 10 2009, 10:29 PM
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Once again, I'm asking for specifics, please. Kindly save the generalities and the me-toos for a thread with a poll. I'd like to avoid topic drift. Thanks. =i)
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Larme
post May 10 2009, 10:46 PM
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Specifically, I like how the rules are simple. Hackers can be incredibly useful to a team without sucking up all the game time. I also like how the costs of computers and programs make more sense -- in SR3, a cyberdeck and a full suite of progs could eat up a million yen, and a powerful server? 30 million. Not even a supercomputer, just a regular host. In SR4, you can afford to be a hacker and also have other gear, i.e. be useful outside the matrix and play with everyone else.

What I don't like is how the rules are vague. For instance, when you do a Trace, do you leave your access ID fingerprint all over everything as you follow the other user's datatrail? It never says. You have to infer it from the fact that it never says you do leave that fingerprint. Now, that's pretty much a drawback of streamlined rules -- in order for them to be short and sweet, the rules avoid trying to specify what doesn't happen, it's the epitome of a permissive ruleset, which can make it confusing when your minds strays out of the permissive ruleset box.

As far as the realism goes, I couldn't care less. The purpose of the rules is to be fast and useful. The rules allow a hacker to penetrate almost anything, given enough time, but still give the GM plenty of tricks to make it difficult if they choose to.
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Draco18s
post May 10 2009, 10:49 PM
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I think one of the things that really bugged me was that you could read all the text you wanted to on the Matrix, but if you wanted to save it you had to spend time downloading it.
Or even weirder: that the simsense data is trivially small compared to the amount of data in an eBook.
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Odsh
post May 11 2009, 12:05 AM
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The subscription limit seems like a clumsy and artificial attempt to limit the amount of drones and agents. Or maybe it's a leftover from the previous editions. I don't really see the purpose of this rule, it just makes everything more complicated than it should. If a rigger has enough nuyen for 1000 drones, then let him connect to all those drones with his one commlink.

The fact that agents that are on their own cannot connect to a node like a hacker does, i.e. without "moving" to that node and consume its resources and be limited by its matrix ratings. Again, it seems like the wrong way to limit agents and leads to weird attempts to circumvent this limitation.
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The Jake
post May 11 2009, 01:03 AM
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I'm in IT Security. Yep the rules are silly but so are Van Damme films. I don't decry those as being unrealistic either. I just laugh and go along with it.

- J.
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Wasabi
post May 11 2009, 01:53 AM
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My main character is a Technomancer good ONLY for hacking so I study the matrix rules a good bit. I'm also in IT Security IRL.
Overall I think the rules are solid and have some counterintuitive points (listed below) as well as a sad use of presentation (and not instruction!) on how it works. The latter is what a radically unique system needs in order to be comprehended by a player with average enthusiasm. Since most GM's in my experience DON'T love the hacking rules this need to instruct those with little-to-moderate motivation majorly impacts matrix comprehension and thus matrix-viability. These points are expanded on below:

=====
GOOD THINGS
Subscriptions are an effective limiter and simple to verify

Hackers and Technomancers complement each better than doubling up on one or the other

The common use and hacking programs make sense. With the SR4A changes even moreso.

Exploiting into a node is straightforward


=====
BAD THINGS [or "How to make it more intuitive"]
Common use programs should be listed as they are now, and considered to be on ALL commlinks as part of the commlink cost. This is a slightly "Apple" way of looking at things but in my mind more intuitive than "You cant Google without buying a program."

Learning curve! Walkthrough needed! The matrix should be approached like chargen. In chargen you build up your character in delineated stages. The matrix would use much more page-space with lengthy walkthroughs but folks need it! GM's need it so they can understand a part of the game they potentially aren't interested in and players need it so they can evaluate if they wish to play a hacker.

The choice of what to do when hacking doesn't strike me as getting equal coverage. Exploit is well defined, cybercombat is well defined, but uh... sniffing a transmission, spoofing an access id, disarming a firewall, nuking a node [as in the program] these are all equally potent tactics that few consider when they ask themselves "Do I think a hacker would be fun to play"
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Larme
post May 11 2009, 02:58 AM
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I think that programs don't come included because you don't actually need them. Simple tasks do not require a roll -- surfing the net to find a trid starlet's home page, for instance, is something that everyone can do, whether they have 1 Computer/data search or none. It's just like driving, people who lack the Pilot Ground Craft skill can still drive, they just get into big trouble when they have to avoid crashing. Same with computers -- your commlink has a browser and a word processor and everything right out of the box, and you can do easy things even if you have no actual skills. The programs you buy aren't just everyday consumer things, they're powerful commercial level applications. Browse isn't just google, Browse is a semantic data crawler that's sensitive to context, and can connect the dots between related information in ways that google can't. And Edit isn't just video editing software, you can use it to literally add or delete people from a high res video sim. We're not talking Apple iLife, we're talking about the professional grade stuff (at least at higher ratings, anyway).

But I definitely agree that a walkthrough would help a ton. The matrix section is short and sweet, but it takes a lot of effort to figure out how to be a hacker. Unwired provides some good general overview, but a lengthy example where the mechanics are actually used to explain the system would be very useful.
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Draco18s
post May 11 2009, 03:44 AM
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QUOTE (Larme @ May 10 2009, 10:58 PM) *
I think that programs don't come included because you don't actually need them. Simple tasks do not require a roll -- surfing the net to find a trid starlet's home page, for instance, is something that everyone can do, whether they have 1 Computer/data search or none. It's just like driving, people who lack the Pilot Ground Craft skill can still drive, they just get into big trouble when they have to avoid crashing.


Actually, it's written down somewhere, or possibly from a dev's mouth, that you can't do anything on the matrix without the program/Complex Form. NOTHING.
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kigmatzomat
post May 11 2009, 03:55 AM
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I'm willing to ignore the unrealistic aspect of hacking for a better gaming experience. What drives me nuts are the internal inconsistencies and logical weaknesses in the system. I really think the designers need to acquire two or three powergamers to use their twinking powers for good by highlighting systemic issues long before the play test phase.


GOOD:
doesn't have the old CPU/SPU/SAN schema

Doesn't require a ton of skills to set up decently secured PAN

The wireless network is very useful and the imagery is something most players can understand

Hacking cyberware (like in Ghost in the Shell) is both cool and useful




BAD:
doesn't follow the normal stat+skill+gear or stat+skill capped by rating mechanisms.

Many devices/programs don't get any advantage from skills (e.g. ECM/jammers, ECCM)

Signal ranges are incredibly short and not internally consistent (cheap comms have signal 2 but a cell tower has signal 5)

Too many devices have pathetic defenses while being always online, mainly cyberware

Standard vehicle AIs are nearly incompetent with most vehicles rolling 1 or 2 dice, which are likely to have accidents.

The "Sensor" stat of drones reflects both the quality of the sensing devices as well as the AI's perceptive abilities but the only way to upgrade the system is to replace the sensing devices. Plus the Sensor stat is used by drones for Gunnery, which is otherwise an Agility-based skill.

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Cain
post May 11 2009, 04:59 AM
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I'm surprised no one's gotten into Otaku yet.

The very best starting ones are roughly equal to a middling decker. In fact, there's almost nothing they can do that a decker can't do better. The exception here are sprites, who are effectively cooler than their summoners.

Generally, otaku make for inferior deckers, until they sink enough karma into Submersions and learn the Echoes they need to become overpowering.
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GreyBrother
post May 11 2009, 05:31 AM
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I second Cain here as a bad point.

But the good points are, in 4A at least, that the Matrix chapter is understandable and easy to read. You get a idea of how a hacker should work and can work out the specific points yourselves (Spoofing a device is an alternate way to start hacking a node and there are more to gain access)

I like the feel of the technomancers

Like the setup of the wireless matrix, i can understand it and use it and think of similar setups in real life.

----

Now some bad Points

Technomancers feel, streamlining aside, a bit too magey for me.

Sensor rules are a too unintuitive to calculate

Software Treshholds are a joke. They should be lower so no hacker is forced to be a Script Kiddie because he spends months to program his own software.
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hobgoblin
post May 11 2009, 06:13 AM
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QUOTE (Wasabi @ May 11 2009, 03:53 AM) *
Common use programs should be listed as they are now, and considered to be on ALL commlinks as part of the commlink cost. This is a slightly "Apple" way of looking at things but in my mind more intuitive than "You cant Google without buying a program."


Thing is that with the ability to use programs and agents stored on a different node, it could very well be that google of SR4 runs a big nexi where people can log in with their response 1 comlink and have the resident search agent, or just the browse program and their own finely honed skill, pull up likely things to look at.

That in combo with the data request connection introduced in unwired allows for a very every day type usage scenario for rating 1 comlinks.

Or maybe the MSP provides access to search agents of their own?

My take on the matrix rules is that there are not enough hard examples. And i fear that even a book the thickness of the SR4 BBB, housing only examples of every day and hacker level matrix use, would be enough. Basically, its the third rewrite of the rules in as many editions...

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MKX
post May 11 2009, 06:17 AM
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The newer rules are ten times better than the versions before it now that you don't need a separate session for matrix activities.

As for how it runs, I guess we're new to 4th ed and still trying to find our feet in a lot of ways, I like my hacker and I think I threw it together very well for that purpose of being the primary info finder, matrix security and busting into all things with a network connection. But its kind of frustrating at the same time to have to keep track of how much is running out of the comlink, everything needs to have something running before you can begin an action and its a little complicated.

I'm sort of getting to the point where I think life would be much easier just being the grunt or magical unit in the group, they see something, they blow it up and life's fairly easy for them and much less dice hurling and note keeping involved. They seem to throw out 8-9 dice and get some kind of acceptable result with 3-4 hits, any time I go to hack something it always seems to have firewall out the arse on even the most mediocre targets and an extended action that needs 27 hits to achieve some kind of control... (maybe that's us though) and I've all but given up hacking on the fly for that reason.

Kind of glad we're not doing software degradation at the moment, to keep my two dozen current programs to-spec it would take years and by the time you started re-writing, they'd literally be years out of date, most app devs I'm used to working with tend to come back to me in a matter of hours with a bug fix or upgrade and maybe a week or so for a new program that's been completely overhauled... and thats just tapping away on a keyboard.

Think if the hacker gets ganked, which is eminently possible as it cant fight worth a damn I'll punish them with a banshee phys-ad that can punch holes in tanks... (IMG:style_emoticons/default/biggrin.gif)
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BlueMax
post May 11 2009, 06:49 AM
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QUOTE (Cain @ May 10 2009, 09:59 PM) *
I'm surprised no one's gotten into Otaku yet.

The very best starting ones are roughly equal to a middling decker. In fact, there's almost nothing they can do that a decker can't do better. The exception here are sprites, who are effectively cooler than their summoners.

Generally, otaku make for inferior deckers, until they sink enough karma into Submersions and learn the Echoes they need to become overpowering.


No reason to make them any more powerful. As you stated, the sprites are already bad azz.
From my experience of having three TMs in a group, sprites need to be toned down long before TMs are beefed up. On their own, they each are meh. Compile a few sprites and they can do anything.

BlueMax
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Dhaise
post May 11 2009, 07:56 AM
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I like the current rules just fine for "solo runs" involving hacking. In group play, I usually just condense them down to a few single rolls to just speed things up.
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Ryu
post May 11 2009, 10:12 AM
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I don´t have SR4A so far. I´m also a bit unsure about the detail level you want.

Good
  • Everything is accessible via the matrix and can be hacked, individual hacking attempts can be resolved fast if you know a few rules.
  • The device rating. One single node stat can do everything, while optional detail is available.
  • True matrix security is active -> There is action in dangerous systems, instead of unreachable target numbers.
  • Spoof is great. Everyone can help with the required legwork, and it is fast enough to be used in combat. (Yes, I noticed that hacking is faster now, too.)
  • Technomancers. The GF plays one, the fantasy-approach to the matrix works tons better for her than the "technical" hacker approach.

Bad
  • The exploit mechanic has too many contributing factors for what it does with them. It can also be pretty arbitrarily influenced by the owner of the target node - account types setup and analyse are important decisions.
  • I´m a bit undecided if I like the complexity offered by individual programs. It is a fun part of the game for any hacker characters, yet any completed setup tends to be reducible to a single program rating used for almost all tests. The results of my groups matrix introduction project suggest that simple is better, as everyone being able to follow grants more room for matrix action.
  • Technomancer balance
    • Resonance does too much for tasking to be used as a limit for both living node stats and complex forms. A carrot/stick combo like this leads to minmaxing.
    • Support Operation services. Given how important program ratings are, these make CFs too good compared to programs (Stealth/Attack come to mind). The aid spell mechanic could have been used instead. Apart from the beauty of streamlined mechanics, it would be easier to keep TMs and hackers on the same level of effectiveness.
  • Command device/jumping in and Command/Pilot. Pilot should, as device-specific OS, come with all required control modules, and jumping in is IMO not sufficiently distinct from VR command device to justify two sets of rules.
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crizh
post May 11 2009, 12:22 PM
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Lots of stuff I'm sure, I'll post back later....

The first thing that springs to mind that I don't like is dynamic encryption. The caveat that you have to be aware of the decryption attempt seems crazed.

It's only realistic use is encrypting signals traffic, anything else would use strong encryption, and I can't think of any way you would ever be 'aware' of someone attempting to decrypt your signal.

Which gets me to another thing, Intercept Wireless Traffic, you can't perform this action until you have decrypted the signal which is completely topsy turvy. There shouldn't be any reason you can't intercept encrypted signals. You can't make any sense of them until they are decrypted but you should always be able to record them and decrypt them at your leisure.
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Blade
post May 11 2009, 12:26 PM
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In SR4 (I don't know about SR4A but it seems like it was rewritten a lot better) the hacking rules are, at first glance, simple and efficient with the only problem being that they don't use the same mechanics (skill+program instead of attribute+skill which means that the attributes are nearly useless and the defaulting mechanics a little difficult to deal with).

But once you start playing, it's a lot more difficult and you realize that there's a lot the rules don't explain. There are also a few important things that aren't in the SR4 BBB (for example you don't know if agents need to be loaded on a node to act on it on or if they can be loaded in one node and act in another). It's still possible to play the Matrix but you either don't go very far or develop your own rules and/or fluff.

Unwired clears things up and also adds a lot of details that are important if you want to go deeper. It has the side-effect of making the complete Matrix a bit complex but no more than the whole Magic rules and fluff are.

I'm currently playing with the SR4 rules+Unwired+a few houserules and it runs well with a player who knows the rules, what he's doing and what he can do. Both he and me have a heavy computer background (he's a sys-admin, I'm a mobile software engineer) but we don't have so many troubles with the rules or fluff. Sure there are a few odd things, but nothing that really bothers us and generally speaking there are a lot of concepts that are actually quite close to real world hacking.

The biggest issues I have with the Matrix rules is that they don't have a system to handle quick and dirty hacks. For example, if the hacker wants to quickly hack a camera he'll have to look for the node, hack an account inside it, which means at least 3 dice roll and probably a lot more and several IPs or even combat turns.
I'd also have liked it if they stressed a bit more the fact that the Matrix is not the Internet, that people born in a world with the Matrix aren't as clueless with computers as people born in a world without computers and so on.
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crizh
post May 11 2009, 12:54 PM
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Which reminds me.

More emphasis needs to be placed on the differences between SR canon and RL.

Having extensively perused all the Denver Nexus stuff recently it is apparent to me what a stark contrast there exists between what we are used to and the SR Matrix.

This needs to be more strongly emphasized in the main rulebook.

What your looking at right now never existed in SR canon. The internet and world wide web were still-born, murdered in the womb by the Corp's that saw it as a threat. No Google, no Yahoo, no Facebook or Twitter. No Freedom.

Net Neutrality? Never existed.

Wikipedia, Youtube? Dream on chummer.

So, yes Browse does make sense as a standalone program because there is no central repository like Google or Wikipedia to go to when you want information. Information is worth money, you can't just set a spider lose on the Matrix and cross-reference everything. Instead you pay software companies for access to their propriety 'Browse' database and for the software tools to search it effectively.

Trouble is that the history of the Matrix is spread around too many sourcebooks, most of which are out of print.
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