“Hacking” is a term most commonly applied to computers and refers to illicit access of a system. Computer hackers have been around for well over a century, but only within the last thirty or forty years have we begun to see a rise in mind hackers, or “soul jackers” as they have come to be known.
Soul jackers are psionicists who specialize in a new breed of mind control that not only allows domination over another person’s will, but complete access to all of their memories, their body movements, and their free thoughts. Not only is soul jacking a frightful concept, it is highly illegal and treated as a felony worth a minimum of 25 years in a maximum security psi-prison if you get caught. Soul jackers are hard to catch because the very nature of their crime is based on them having the ability to completely manipulate the minds of others and many soul jackers are also precogniscient and therefore hard to catch in the act.
Hacking computers, on the other hand, has become far more commonplace despite its likewise illegal nature. Psi-jackers have an easy time breaching computer security when they can literally talk to a system and command it to do what they want. In many ways, they would be like soul jackers for machines, if machines had a free will of their own to begin with.
Naturally, Magicorp has developed cutting- edge technology to try to prevent hackers and soul jackers alike from entering the minds and programs of people and gadgets.
Through the use of antipsi-based products, they have developed computer security and personal mental defense systems that can keep hackers and soul jackers out, but the cost of such equipment is high and available to only the wealthy elite and prosperous corporations. See Antipsi Tech in Chapter 3: Equipment for more information.
How Hacking Works
There are essentially four different types of hacking in Psi-punk. While each one represents a different target, the overall method remains the same: breach the target’s defenses, find the information you want, and (if desired) assume control of the target.
Nearly anything these days can be hacked, from computers to ATMs to cats and people. Each target requires a different skill, or set of skills, but the check always remains the same. Compare your check result, or your degree of success, to the target difficulty. If you meet or succeed at the target difficulty, your attempt is successful.
The higher your degree of success, the better your outcome.
Hacking Computers the Old-fashioned Way – Cracking Computers have changed drastically over the last several decades, but one thing remains constant: they use electronic signals and circuits to store and deliver data. The methods by which people access computer systems are very similar; there were several trials throughout the years to change computer interface devices and output technologies, but many of the “Virtual Reality” prototypes failed in the 2040s due to widespread concerns about their safety.
The traditional “mouse and keyboard” that had been around for nearly 60 years finally went the way of the dinosaur, but we still interact with computers using input devices.
The general public hopped off of the VR train when they realized that the best way to interface with Virtual Reality was to plug a wire directly into their skulls. However, most of the common public decided this was not the route they wanted to go with their computing devices, so a different interface method was devised around the 2040s, one which had actually been developed in the first decade of the 21st century but was temporarily abandoned when newer and shinier VR tech came along.
The most common method of human-computer interaction nowadays is through motion-censored gestures. When viewing a computer’s output device – such as a 2D organic screen or a 3D holographic image – the user can manipulate objects they see just by making the appropriate gestures with their hands, eyes, feet, and facial expressions.
This (some say primitive) method of interacting with technology gives people the impression of Virtual Reality without requiring any special hardware be installed in their bodies. It’s ancient tech by today’s standards, but it is not without its improvements.
Modern improvements to this design have ensured more accurate, real-time responses, but that is only a natural evolution of the old technology. The biggest improvement comes from the way in which these interactions are prevalent in our everyday lives. We now interact with everything from personal computers to personal communication devices in much the same way and everything from cash machines to billboards can be controlled by anybody on the street (wait your turn though, please).
The term “PC” has evolved since the early decades of the 21st century. A PC used to be a standalone machine that sat beside one’s desk, which was interfaced with by using a mouse and a keyboard. Nowadays, nearly everyone in the world – including those in third-world territories – owns a PC that they carry with them daily. These selfcharging, light-weight computers contain a video screen capable of producing 2D images or projecting 3D holograms and in most cases a user will simply hold it in front of him and gesture appropriately to access the requested data.
When a user wishes to fully immerse himself in the 3D experience, he can set down the PC and project holograms that he interacts with almost as normally as he interacts with another human being, though taste, scent, and touch are still sadly lacking (rumors have it that Macroware, Inc. is working on a solution to this issue, though).
This allows users to run communication and entertainment applications and experience them in the best way possible “next to stuffing a plug in your head”.
But what does all of this mean for you, the prospective computer hacker? It means that while you don’t get to take control over someone else’s body without some kind of mental powers, you can take control of their information – a veritable life’s history of any given individual – just by grabbing their PC and cracking their security. Pay close attention, since these same methods are used to hack ATMs, billboards, electronic locks, vehicles, and anything else you might find with a chip.
Cracking The term “cracking’ refers to illicit access of any electronic device, not necessarily just personal computers. In order to crack in to a system to gain access to its information and control of its contents, one must first possess the skill required to do so.
If you are specialized in either the Computer Security or Electronics skills, you may attempt to crack a computer system (though you may not have any idea what to do with it once you’re in). Having a higher level in the Technical skill gives you a better chance of breaking in and a better idea of how to access information. With this skill you can even alter the functionality of a system so that it does exactly what you want it to do.
To crack a system, you must have access to interact with it. Access is obtained most easily by having physical access to the system you wish to infiltrate, though if you have access to the device’s Unique System Identifier (USI) you may be able to infiltrate it remotely. A device’s USI is a 32-digit alphanumeric identification number, similar to an old-fashioned bar code or IP address, with the exception that all devices are assigned one so they can access The Network.
In most cases these identifiers are not made readily available for the public to see and the majority of the population has no idea what their own USI is.
Once you have access to the system, make a Technical skill check to enter it. You don’t need to make a check if you are legally accessing a computer system of some kind, only if you are trying to do something outside of the ordinary scope of daily computer usage (such as stealing bank records, downloading cash in to your personal bank account, or assuming control of a vehicle).
The difficulty for this check is based on the security level of the system you are trying to access. Each device may be different, and unique devices will have their own anticracking software built in that may change their security values from the norm. Use the chart below to find a general idea of the difficulty of common systems, but note that a GM may increase or decrease this value depending on his needs.
Failing the check will alert the system’s defense software to your presence, which may or may not have additional consequences (see Consequences of Failure below).
Once you have succeeded at your computer use check to crack the system’s basic security, you still need to access the information you are looking for. Since you’ve already bypassed security, this check is easier than the last, but systems with high levels of security also have high levels of defense that may alert the system administrator to your presence or even attempt to kick you out of the system entirely.
Luckily for you, there’s no immediate physical danger to you just because you’re cracking in to a high level government system.
Since you’re not plugged directly in to anything, the computer’s defense software can’t reach out and fry your brain. Unluckily for you, it can detect your presence, lock all of the building’s doors and windows, alert corporate security, and send men with guns after you. Better be careful after all.
To gather information about a system, make another Technical skill check with a +1 bonus. Once more, failure means bad things for you (see below) but success means you’ve found what you’re looking for. You may freely download one file (a collection of bank records, a dossier of contacts, a calendar of events, etc.) for each degree of success on this check.
You may take control of a system, rather than just glean information from it, by making a separate Technical check with the same +1 bonus as outlined above. Succeeding at the check means you can tell the system to do something specific, within the bounds of its normal capabilities. For instance, you can reprogram the images a billboard is showing, open an electronic lock, start a vehicle’s engine, or shut down all of the security cameras on one floor of a building – all depending on which type of device you are accessing. You may issue a single command for each degree of success by which you surpass the difficulty check; make another check to attempt to issue additional commands.
Table 6.1: Computer Security Levels
Personal computer Fair Corporate computer (average employee) Good
Corporate computer (management) Great
Corporate computer (upper-management) Superb – Wonderful
Publicly accessible device (ATM, billboard) Superb – Phenomenal
Personal vehicle (car, motorcycle, etc.) Great
Corporate or government vehicle Superb
Electronic lock Great
Corporate or government electronic lock Superb – Wonderful
Corporate or government flight vehicle (helicopter, private jet) Wonderful
Megacorp or government mainframe Phenomenal
Note that gaining access to certain systems may not give you total control over them. If you crack a vehicle’s security and manage to start it, for instance, this skill conveys no special ability to actually drive (or pilot) that vehicle. You may still need a separate skill to do anything with the system, unless you have an appropriately skilled colleague waiting to take over once you’re finished doing your own dirty work.
Consequences of Failure Cracking a system comes with its risks.
If you fail your check, you alert the system that there is illicit activity. Depending on the device, the computer may react in a variety of ways, some more dangerous to you than others. Also note that the worse your degree of failure, the more dramatic the result. In systems whose security rating is Great or less, you may be able to attempt your check again to shut down any security the system is leveraging against you, but a system with a security level of Superb or better will completely lock you out of the system with no chance for further access.
Personal computers and other systems with security levels of Great or worse are the most lenient to intruders, since they lack the more complicated security features of higher-end systems and are usually not connected to a larger intranet. Failing a check against one of these systems simply blocks that attempt and logs you out of your computer session (if applicable). You may attempt another Computer Use check to enter the system again, but you must start over from scratch. An Abysmal (-3) failure may lock you out of the system permanently, though the system simply uses facial recognition software to remember who has been banned.
Systems with Superb and better security levels get a little trickier. Most of them are connected to a larger intranet – a network of computer systems linked together by a central server. Any time you have a Poor (-2) or worse failure when accessing one of these systems, the computer sends a signal to the intranet’s mainframe, which then executes security protocols depending on its programming.
With a Poor result, these systems will not only lock you out, but send a signal to the mainframe about your exact location.
Depending on where you are and what the facility’s security is like, you may find yourself surrounded by armed guards in a matter of minutes (or less). Systems with Wonderful or higher security levels often lock all of the doors in the room you are in so that you have no chance for escape.
For vehicles with these levels of security, you may find yourself locked inside the cab until security shows. If you happen to be in flight when the system cuts all power to its engine and refuses to give you control, you may find yourself at the epicenter of a self-destruct protocol (that spells bad news for you).
Larger failure rates mean faster response times or more harsh security measures, in general. A Poor or Abysmal failure may result in more drastic measures being taken against you. Inside the cab of a government helicopter, for example, a Poor failure may only lock you in and alert security, while an Abysmal failure will cause the vehicle to effectively self-destruct underneath you; the cost to replace the vehicle is usually less than the cost to recover it, plus any damages or sensitive information that may have been compromised by letting you escape with it.
Hacking Computers the Psionic Way – Psijacking “Psi-jacking” is the act of using electrokinesis to override a computer’s security systems and gain access or control over them. Psi-jacking works almost identically to cracking; you make separate checks for each of the same things, and failure results are almost identical. There are, however, a few key exceptions.
To psi-jack, you must possess the electrokinesis psionic ability (see Psionics and Magic for more information) or a magic device which produces the same effect. Instead of making Technical skill checks, you would make a Focus check to activate the psionic power, both to access and to reprogram the system.
Failure results, however, are a little different.
In most cases a system will try to react identically, but failing an attempt with the electrokinesis power can also cause damage to the system. See the description for electrokinesis to determine how much damage is dealt to a system for different degrees of failure. Note that devices, like people, have their own wound tracks and malfunction when they become Very Hurt or Incapacitated. Incapacitated devices may not be able to send signals back to their respective mainframes, but it also means they cease functioning entirely (which may, as per usual, have catastrophic consequences to the user).
Finally, psi-jacking attempts are susceptible to additional security measures developed by Magicorp with the single purpose of thwarting psionic intruders. These measures, collectively known as Antipsi Tech, are considered equipment and are discussed in Chapter 3: Equipment.
Hacking People the Old fashioned Way – Social Engineering Social engineering is one of the oldest forms of manipulation, dating back to the first time a cave man conned his fellow out of his dinner. The most common terms used to describe someone who consistently uses social engineering tactics to his advantage are “swindler” and “politician”, though most people can think of numerous others.
In a broad sense, social engineering is more than just lying to people – it’s a collection of bent-truths, half-truths, and nontruths brought together with the intent of deceiving others. Social engineering can be done on a small scale (one-on-one) or a large scale (one-on-many or even many-on-many, in group situations). Sometimes, the easiest way to get what you want is to convince someone else that it’s in their best interest to give it to you.
Any Manipulation skill is suited to social engineering, depending on the specific situation.
Since the skill choices and circumstances are both equally broad, you should work with your GM to decide which skill works best for what you are trying to accomplish.
Social engineering is treated in many ways like “hacking” a person. Your goal is to manipulate them in to doing something you want. If the target is willing and able to assist you without being manipulated, it isn’t social engineering – it’s just a helpful person.
In these circumstances, no check is required to get the assistance you desire; the person simply does as you ask (perhaps at the cost of a favor to be paid later).
When trying to manipulate an unwilling target, social engineering comes in to play.
Such an encounter begins with the engineer (the character attempting to manipulate) interacting with the target (the person being coerced). Generally, it is best to find a good role-playing reason for your character to need the target’s help. In most cases, it doesn’t make a lot of sense for an engineer to try to get his neighbor to come over and make him a sandwich when he could just as easily go to the kitchen and make it himself.
Once a motive has been established, the engineer needs to make an appropriate Manipulation check. If he is trying to convince someone to hand over their wallet, he would roll an Intimidate check, while a character attempting to lie his way out of a bar fight might use Bluff, Fast-talk or Lying.
Choose the appropriate specialization as applicable, or simply roll Manipulation if no specialization is available.
Next, the GM determines the difficulty of the check. The base starting value for the check should be the target’s Persona attribute level (if known). Characters who are hostile toward the player are less likely to do what he wants, so the difficulty would be higher than someone who is friendly; add or subtract from the difficulty as appropriate (you can use Table 4.5: Repute Modifiers for help determining modifiers). Any time the difficulty would be Mediocre or worse (Poor through Abysmal) there is no check required; the character is simply helpful.
Difficulty levels of Fair and better require some additional interaction and perhaps a number of checks.
Once the difficulty has been determined, the dice are rolled. Add your modifiers and compare it to the difficulty. Success doesn’t necessarily mean that the target will instantly switch sides; higher difficulty levels often require more persuasion, and occasionally different types of persuasion (such as bribery). For each degree of success by which you surpass the target difficulty, reduce the difficulty of the next check by that amount. If the difficulty becomes Mediocre or worse, you have successfully manipulated your target. If there is still a difficulty of Fair or better remaining, you may need to roll again (and possibly switch tactics – GMs feel free to require additional skill checks and manipulation methods depending on the circumstances).
For example, Matt is attempting to get some information out of a rather surly barkeep.
The barkeep doesn’t make a habit of giving up information about his patrons and he has a bad attitude. The GM sets the difficulty for this check at Superb. Matt doesn’t think this will be a problem since he has a Great Persuade skill, so he chats up the barkeep for a bit and casts the dice.
Matt gets a total die result of +1 which he adds to his Great (+2) skill, giving him a Superb result. Success! Matt managed to pique the barkeep’s attention, but just enough to avoid a complete shut-out. He’ll need to keep schmoozing to get the barkeep to open up a bit more. So Matt continues to chat up the proprietor and rolls the dice once more.
This time the difficulty is only Great, since he managed to get the barkeep’s attention last time and reduce the difficulty by 1.
After the dice are rolled, Matt totals them up and finds that he gets a Superb result again. Since he beat the difficulty by 1 point, he knocks an additional point off of the total difficulty. Since he started at Great and is subtracting 2 points, the difficulty for the next check is Fair, and Matt can tell that the target is really starting to warm up.
Finally, Matt decides to make things a little bit more worth the barkeep’s while and offers him a little cash for his trouble.
This time, Matt attempts a Bribery check, and gets a Good result. He has managed to win over the barkeep by decreasing the difficulty to Poor: Fair (0) – 2 (since he defeated the check by +1) = Poor (-2). The difficulty is now Mediocre or worse, so Matt has been successful at his test.
Note that there is a price for failure.
If you fail the check by 1 or more, there’s a chance the target will react harshly and even choose to ignore you. If you fail the check, increase the difficulty of the following check for each level by which you fail.
If the difficulty would be greater than Phenomenal, the target is either completely unwilling to talk to you or, depending on their nature, likely to try to split you a new one.
Hacking People the Psionic Way – Soul Jacking Soul jacking is the harsh new term for what was once simply known as mind control.
Though highly illegal, soul jacking is a lucrative endeavor that can yield a lot of juicy details about someone or, in some cases, give you complete control over them.
This is the sort of thing that gave rise to tinfoil hats, but as we’ve seen over the last 30 years or so, those don’t work. To truly shield yourself from being soul jacked, you need either a strong Mind or an expensive piece of antipsi tech.
Mind control is a sub-school of the telepathy psionic power. In most circles it is viewed as a dangerous ability and those who possess it are often stigmatized. On the other hand, those very folks who have the gift argue (rightly so) that it isn’t their fault they have it, so why should they be blamed?
It’s a tricky situation to be sure, but the fact remains that probing someone’s mind without their permission is definitely not socially acceptable.
The mind control rules outlined in the Psionics and Magic chapter discuss the basic functions and capabilities of the power.
For those interested in a more cinematic experience though, consider the rules for soul jacking, outlined below.
In order to attempt to steal someone’s thoughts or actions, you first need to have the appropriate power to do so. This means you need to either possess the mind control power or a magic device capable of emulating it. Because this is such an illegal action, magic devices are hard to find; Magicorp makes them, but is only allowed to sell them to military and police personnel. You will need a Rank score with a level equal to the power rating of the device in order to find and use one legally. Naturally though, you may be able to find one on the black market.
If you do possess the ability, you need to pick your target. This can be literally any living creature that possesses a brain, but works best on members of your own species.
Attempting to soul jack a creature of a different species imposes a -1 penalty – other creatures’ brains process data differently and it is harder to make sense of the information you acquire.
Making the check is as simple as using the psionic power; roll against the appropriate key attribute and compare your result to the target’s opposed Mind check. Instead of mind control being an all-or-nothing success (or failure) though, soul jacking may require some additional effort. Succeeding at your first check simply gets you in the door, so to speak.
After making a successful check, you gain access to the target’s “surface thoughts”.
Surface thoughts represent what the target is thinking right now. For animals, surface thoughts are just simple, instinctual concepts, such as “food”, “potty”, “play”, and so forth. More complex creatures, especially humans, may have an infinite range of possible thoughts.
Once you’re in someone’s head, you can choose to try to probe their memories or try to take control of them. Decide what you’re trying to do, then make the appropriate check using your power’s key attribute.
Probe Memories When trying to probe someone’s deeper memories, make a mental communication or mind control check after you’ve succeeded at getting into their head. The higher your degree of success, the further you can probe the target’s memories. The chart below illustrates the results.
Table 6.2: Probing Memories Degree of Success
You can read
Fair one week of memories.
Good one month of memories.
Great one year of memories.
Superb one decade of memories.
Wonderful one lifetime of memories.
Phenomenal multiple lifetimes of memories.*
* Assumes creature has had multiple lives through reincarnation, a concept popular among psychics. Including multiple lives in your campaign may lead to some interesting stories.
Most animals have life spans too short to be represented by higher ladder results, but that makes it all the easier to get a life’s worth of memories from an animal. Most animal memories remain instinctual, and depending on the creature they may have little useful information. Some animals, like dogs, remember a scent better than a face, for example, while others have memories approaching those of humans. Use your best judgment (and some creativity) to determine just how much information you can gather from an animal’s mind.
When reading the mind of a human (or other similarly-intelligent being) you can gather nearly any piece of information you want. Even the deeper, subconscious memories might be accessible if you can probe far enough back in the character’s lifetime.
You can even get the earliest memories of a person’s childhood dating back to before anything that person might actually be able to remember on their own.
Probing a target’s thoughts can be jarring for the target. They remember everything that you are detecting as you read it, which can have unforeseen consequences. For this reason, attempting to read the thoughts of an unaware person can cause them serious confusion and, depending on the memories you are looking for, quite a bit of discomfort.
If the memories you are seeking would cause the target pain, discomfort, or trigger a traumatic episode (GM’s discretion), they may receive a second Mind roll to attempt to force you out of their head.
If you have the alter memory Gift, in addition to the mind control power, you may alter or erase the target’s memory. See the mind control entry in the Psionics and Magic chapter for an idea of what sorts of changes you can make based on your degree of success. To alter a target’s memory, you need to make a separate check.
Finally, if you possess the mind reading Gift from the mental communication power, you may use it to read a character’s thoughts just as if you had the mind control Gift, though it is limited to reading minds only; you must possess the mind control power to use alter memory or to take control of a character’s actions.
Once you’ve defeated a target’s mental resistance and gained access to their surface thoughts, you can use mind control to gain total dominance over them. Make an opposed mind control check versus the target’s Mind check. If successful, you can influence the target’s thoughts and actions as follows.
Table 6.3: Mind Control Options Degree of Success You can
Fair implant a minor suggestion in the target’s mind.
Good charm the target.
Great charm the target and maintain control.
Superb dominate the target.
Wonderful dominate the target and maintain control.
Phenomenal dominate the target and maintain control with less effort.
Suggestion: You implant a thought in the target’s mind that causes them to react in some minor way. For example, you can tell the target to “come here” or convince them that “these are not what you’re looking for.” The target will interpret this suggestion in the best possible light, though he will not do anything that is completely against his nature. “Jump off of that bridge” and “shoot your commanding officer” are examples of suggestions that a character will not carry out.
Charm: The target perceives you as a friend. He considers your words and interprets them in the most favorable manner, but he is still unwilling to do anything that goes against his nature. You must maintain control of a target’s mind and cannot activate any other psionic powers or become distracted to a point that you would not be able to focus on maintaining control (such as in combat or other stressful situations).
With a Great result you may continue to activate psionic powers while maintaining control. During stressful situations you must make a Great Focus roll to avoid losing control of the target’s mind.
Dominate: You exhibit complete mental dominance over another character. They obey your orders to the best of their ability despite their own nature and perceive you in the best possible light. You must maintain control of a target’s mind and cannot activate any other psionic powers or become distracted to a point that you would not be able to focus on maintaining dominance (such as in combat or other stressful situations).
With a Wonderful result you may continue to activate psionic powers while dominating a target’s mind. During stressful situations you must make a Great Focus roll to avoid losing control of the target’s mind.
With a Phenomenal result, maintaining control requires a Focus roll of only Mediocre or better.
Note that when controlling the minds of animals and other beings of lesser intelligence, they may be limited by their intelligence when attempting to follow your orders.
Choose appropriate commands and suggestions based on the capabilities of your target or your attempt may be in vain.
Psi-punk Copyright 2012, Accessible Games; Author Jacob Wood