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Old 09-21-2021, 10:05 AM   #1
Join Date: Aug 2004
Location: Buffalo, New York
Default Discussing both methods of netrunning in GURPS

Hello Folks,
As the title suggests, the idea of this thread is to discuss both methodologies involved in net running using either of the GURPS CLASSIC CYBERPUNK or the Pyramid 3/21 set of Console Cowboy rules. To difference them, we'll use the shorthand for GURPS CYBERPUNK rules as GCP vs the Pyramid version as PCC rules.

First - some ground work...

GURPS uses largely the same "conventions" in 4e as it did in 3e and earlier versions of GURPS where computers are rated by their "complexity rating. In GURPS 3e, the near future that hadn't arrived as yet, was deemed to be TL 8 in the old scheme, and is now TL 9 in the 4e scheme of things. Not a real issue as the basic premise is that you're going to use a computer to engage in net running (a cinematic endeavor to be sure!). So, whether you use a mid range personal computer in 3e version of things or a mid range personal computer in the 4e version - your character is using a personal computer.

But here is the issue. GURPS evolved over time and things short of shifted a little from when GURPS CYBERPUNK first came out, subsequent GURPS publications such as GURPS VEHICLES 2nd edition, as well as the GURPS ULTRA-TECH, GURPS ULTRA-TECH 2, and GURPS ROBOTS (now all with the name Classic added to difference them as 3e material over that of 4e material). Bear in mind that although GURPS CLASSIC CYBERPUNK was copyright in 1990, it was written in the late 1980's - which like anything written 20 years ago - has changed in ways the original author could not anticipate. Likewise, GURPS CLASSIC ULTRA-TECH 2, etc - were written in successively later years, but are still dated when looked at in modern terms. That being said, let's dive into this "system comparison" and see where we end up shall we?

So, what changed over time? In GCP - we had the complexity of software being defined such that it required a given computer capable of running it - for the software to work. Each "type" of software was given a specific complexity rating, and using the rules as written, required a computer with at least that complexity rating in order to be run. THIS aspect has not changed in all of the years GURPS has had anything involving computers.

So, what didn't GCP do that subsequent versions of GURPS did? For one, Skill values for the software were not complexity linked. In other words, if a given program was complexity 2 for example, running a comlexity 3 version of that program had a relative improvement in its "skill" value that was better than the complexity 2 version. You could for instance, have a copy of Password-12 running on your computer (Password being a complexity 1 program) or you could have a password-17 program running, and it would still be a complexity 1 program. However, even in GCP - we see that a program could grant a +2 bonus to a skill, or grant a skill level of 12 if the person didn't have said skill. For each +1 bonus, it doubled the cost of the software. Later editions of GURPS would stipulate that each +1 bonus raised the complexity of the software by +1 as well. So, right off the bat, there will be differences in "approach" used by the original GURPS CYBERPUNK largely because GURPS was in its Infancy.

Overall - GCP, being the first, introduced the concepts of Complexity of software, costs of software, and the increasing in costs of the software itself, the higher its inherent skill was relative to those skills that the software was in opposition of (for example, PASSWORD was opposed by Webster or Skeleton Key).

So, by definition, all software in netrunning starts with a base skill of 12 at their complexity as defined in GCP. If you wanted to have a program with a skill of 14, you had to pay a doubling effect such that if the program costs $100 for skill 12, its skill 13 version was $200, and its skill 14 version cost $400 and so on. The mathematical progression could be written as:

2^(Software Skill Level-12) x Base software cost. Thus, Skill 12 software would be 2^0 x base cost. Skill 13 would be 2^1 x base cost, etc.

Next post explores the evolution of Complexity in computers in GURPS from the early days of GURPS to its current form in 4e.
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Old 09-21-2021, 11:11 AM   #2
Join Date: Aug 2004
Location: Buffalo, New York
Default Re: Discussing both methods of netrunning in GURPS

So, let's look at the copyright dates of the books listed:

GURPS Classic Cyberpunk: 1990
GURPS Classic Cyberworld: 1993
GURPS Classic Robots: 1995
GURPS Classic ULTRA-TECH: 1996
GURPS Vehicles 2nd edition: 1996 (1st edition was 1993)
GURPS Classic ULTRA-TECH 2: 1997

So, how did the rules evolve over time?

In Classical Robots, we have software complexities assigned to various things such as "advantages" and to Personality simulation software, as well as skill based software. For actual "Skills" given to robots - their actual skill value had a number of "character points needed" that determined skill software's complexity value. For purposes of netrunning, it is not necessarily relevant - but does exist as far as what GURPS as a rule system permitted.

But then we look into GURPS Classic ULTRA-TECH. Here we see the progression of cost for software reinforced (see pg 32) where it states:

"If a program has a skill level, or gives bonuses to skill, more complex versions of a program give increased bonuses. For each +1 to program skill, double the cost and add +1 to the programís Complexity."

It then gives an example of a base program at a given TL will cost the base cost, but each +1 bonus to the base skill of 12, increases the complexity of the software by +1, and also doubles the cost of the software. Thus, a program at complexity 4 could cost 45,000 for a straight base skill of 12, but would be complexity 5 and cost 90,000 for a base skill of 12+1 (or skill 13). It would cost 180,000 if it granted a base skill of 12+2 (or skill 14) and would be complexity 6.

Note the same progression of cost as given in GURPS Classical Cyberpunk. Price is 2^(bonus to base skill of 12) * base cost or as originally phrased up thread - 2^(base skill-12) * base cost.

So, we see an evolution of the rules for complexity of software based on the original GURPS Classic Cyberpunk and its next published book (aside from GURPS Classic Robots - which does not discuss these programs) in GURPS Classic Ultra-Tech. This "evolution" then remains largely the same throughout subsequent books published about computers, complexity, and software of a given type.

GURPS Classic Vehicles 2nd edition goes on to say this on page 62:

"More expensive and sophisticated versions of these programs may be purchased: for every +1 skill over and above this, double the cost and increase the programís Complexity by one. (This is a expansion of the Expert System rules in Ultra-Tech and Space, replacing the previous rules for automatic skill bonuses at increasing TLs.) This does not apply to skill programs for robot brains, which provide character points toward a skill rather than a level or bonus."

So, in a nutshell - it is highly probable that a "Password 12" program from GURPS Classic Cyberpunk written in say, 1989 and published in 1990 - likely would have been modified to be witten as "Complexity 1 skill 12 password" and become complexity 2 skill 13 password" - but that's just speculation, as no further revisions of GURPS Classic Cyberpunk were ever written.

So why am I taking the time to lay the basic foundation (as I see it) in this manner?

Software for net running was generally limited to the computer complexity that it was being run upon. A complexity 5 mainframe computer system could run better ICE and Attack software than could a complexity 2 "Desk top" computer. GURPS Classic Cyberpunk did not have the +1 complexity for each +1 skill rule in place, but the cost of the software was prohibitively high if you wanted to increase a program's effective skill level from base skill 12 to a Base skill 18 (a +6 skill increase meant a x64 cost increase.

The underlying rule from start to finish with respect to computer rules was this:

A computer can only run two programs of equal complexity value to its own complexity. You can substitute 1 complexity processing level of your computer to run 10 complexity-1 software applications. Thus - a complexity 4 computer could be used to run:

  • 2 complexity 4 software apps
  • 1 complexity 4 software app, 10 complexity 3 software apps
  • 1 complexity 4 software app, 9 complexity 3 software apps, 10 complexity 2 software apps

Now for a final fundamental difference between GURPS 3e and 4e with respect to programs...

GURPS 4e does not utilize the concept that programs can have a skill level. In other words, and I may be wrong...

There are not programs rules where software can have a given skill level. In short, you can't have a program that grants either a +2 bonus to skill if you have the skill already, or a base skill of 12 if you don't have the skill itself. You can't have an App Skill vs App Skill contest in 4e rules as you could in 3e rules.

So - the question that is being open for discussion after all this leg work is this:

How do you compare the two systems against each other when there is no direct tie in to "complexity" of computer systems running software against software?

A complexity 6 program requires at least a complexity 6 computer to be run on. But if there is no direct link between a hacking app versus Intrusion Counter Measures (aka ICE) app - is it thus possible to use a micro-computer to hack a Super computer?

This is why the concept of using Complexity from the earlier GURPS 3e rules vs those of the newer 4e rules often runs full speed into a brick wall.

Some things changed in such a manner that they aren't the same "system" despite having the same basic names and even same basic approach.
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Old 09-23-2021, 07:44 AM   #3
Join Date: Aug 2004
Location: Buffalo, New York
Default Re: Discussing both methods of netrunning in GURPS

OK (sorry for the hiatus)...

The original Cyberpunk hacking environment was dependent upon how good the cyberdeck was, how much software you could run, and their skill levels. Toss in the Phase length rules, and higher complexity computers could run more "actions" in a given time than lower complexity computers. The odd thing is - those phase lengths were not "ten times faster" as later editions of GURPS would define complexity values.

Taken from pg 74 of GURPS Classic Cyberpunk, we find that a single phase length for a complexity 2 computer is 8,000 milliseconds, or 8 seconds. The next complexity of 3, has a phase length of only 4,000 milliseconds or 4 seconds.

This clearly is not what GURPS would define later as the x10 faster concept.

Net result as it were, is that GURPS netrunning the old classic way, was out of synch with subsequent publications of GURPS 3e - an issue that was not fixed or largely ignored.

So - if one were to try to use the system as written - it worked after a fashion. High complexity target systems with very expensive defenses were almost imposible to hack if all you had was a low grade cyberdeck. Where GURPS Classic Cyberpunk gave the hackers an edge, was what is/was called a "Speed index". This was applied strictly only to cyberdecks. In effect, you would divide the actual phase length of your cyberdeck by the speed index to determine your cyberdeck's actual overall phase length speed.

For example, if you had a complexity 3 cyberdeck, its original phase length speed with a speed index of 1, meant that its actual phase length was 4,000 Milliseconds. If you had a phase length of 10, your actual phase length speed was 4,000/10 milliseconds, or .4 seconds per phase length. This was about equal to (actually slightly faster than) a compexity 6 computer (phase length of 500 milliseconds).

So, how well did it play in game play? As a GM, I think GURPS had the same issue with its net running rules that CP 2020 did with its rules. Simply put, unless everyone was a net runner - any time you as a GM had to game master a net run, it would take up considerable time to run properly. The activity of the net runner would take center stage for the net running, and leave the other non-net runners bored with inactivity for their characters and simply an audience for the spotlight being on the net runner.

But in general, it followed the same protocols that GURPS enshrined from the start - attacker and defender are rolling a contest of skills, with ties going to the defender. If the attacker won, the story progressed favorably for the attacker, if the defender won, the story arc went that way instead.

The point is - Higher complexity computers generally held an edge against lower end cyberdecks that made hacking them VERY difficult.

Skill levels of "programs" were largely a function of how much money did the hacker have to spend on his software, and how quickly his speed index combined with his computer's native speed - that permitted him to fight at the same speed level advantage enoyed by faster more complex computers.

Let's look now, at the implications of the CONSOLE COWBOYS AND CYBERSPACE KUNG FU from Pyramid 3/21...

First, everything in the way of software is predicated on the skill of the Hacker. If for instance, you wish to know what the skill level of the ALTER program is, it defaults to the Hacker's skill Computer Hacking-3 or Computer programming-3 and is a complexity 4 piece of software. Were that program upgraded to a complexity 5 piece of software, its skill would instead be Computer Hacking-2 or Computer Programming-2 as a consequence of the +1 complexity.

In the end, what matters most in terms of game play isn't the computer the hacker is using per se, but more what his skills are when utilizing programs, and if he wants the best of the best in software, he would want a computer with as high a complexity as is possible. This way, he can gain a bonus of +1 to his relative "capabilities" in excess of the minimum complexity required to run his specific software. If the program has a base complexity of 3, and the computer it is running on is a complexity 6, the player will likely want to pay for a complexity 5 version of the software, possibly a 6. Why? Deduct the minimum complexity value from the actual complexity of the software, and that is the bonus to the hacker's skills.

So, how does an actual conflict occur in the 4e version of hacking? First, the GM decides upon a BAD (Basic Abstract Difficulty). Such a number can range betwen 0 to what ever the GM desires. BAD starts out such that what ever BAD value the GM assesses, it acts as a skill penalty against the PC's and adds a bonus equal to BAD to a base 10 skill. Thus, in ACTION 2, a BAD of 4 subtracts 4 from the PC's activities and adds +4 to the Defending NPC's base of 10 - becoming a base 14.

This is not true where it comes to computer netrunning. BAD merely adds its value to 10 for the NPC's skill value.

So, let's take a player character whose skills with Hacking is 16, Computer Security 14, Computer Programming 16. He's using a deck that is complexity complexity 5, and is attempting to infiltrate an enemy system. For purposes of this example, it does't matter what the defending system is complexity wise - as that is immaterial in the rules. What matters is the Opposing side computer's BAD value.

So, let's say we want to Breach (gain unauthorized entry into the computer system). Breach is Hacking-2, complexity 3 program. The hacker purchased a Breach complexity 5 program. Our hacker's breaching attack is rated as:

16-2 (Hacking -2). But since his complexity of software is actually a 5, it gains a further (5-3) or +2 to the skill, which means it is now straight hacking or 16.

GM decided early on, that the BAD value is 5. So, the Player character hacker is rolling vs his adjusted skill of 16 vs the defending computer's 15. His roll of 11 vs the defender's roll of 10 results in a base success by 5 vs a success by 5. Ties going to the defender, means he fails to breach.

So - success in the 4e version of netrunning is largely Pass/Fail in contests (much as GURPS Classic Cyberpunk is). No super complex rules for calculating "Phase lengths" etc.

It is all pretty straight forward and there being less "software" categories involved, the hacking in Pyramid 3/21 is seemingly simpler.
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Old 09-23-2021, 08:19 AM   #4
Join Date: Aug 2004
Location: Buffalo, New York
Default Re: Discussing both methods of netrunning in GURPS

So, why my ending thought of "Seemingly simpler"?

If you have a Tiny Computer with a Fast Chip in it. Base cost is $50 x 20 for the chip and you have a computer that cost $1,000. Complexity is now 4.

Our hacker, with the exception of one program (Damage), can run all of the other software available for his deck. If such a player character has say, an IQ of 14 and a Talent for Computers at +4 - said individual starts with what amounts to an IQ of 18 for his derived mental skills involving hacking. That +4 bonus usually only costs 20 character points for the talent.

Now, with but 1 character point in Hacking, Computer security, Computer programming etc. our hero has the following:

Hacking 15
Programming 16
Computer Operations 18
Expert Skill(Computer Security) 16
Research 17

Skill with the following software will be, assuming that they are at base complexity value:

Breach (13) Base Complexity: 3.
Control (15) Base Complexity: 4.
ICE (16) Base Complexity: 3.
Jam (13) Base Complexity: 2.
Listen (16) Base Complexity: 2.
Search (16) Base Complexity: 3.
Spoof (12) Base Complexity: 4.
Stealth (13) Base Complexity: 4.
Trigger (18) Base Complexity: 3.

Now, against a BAD 5 computer system, our hacker will have some problems. Considering that skill 14 is well trained and 16 is deemed to be expert, this isn't really all that bad. The Hacker will be fighting against a blanket 15 skill in all aspects of the computer's defenses.

But the question remains - what is a reasonable "BAD" for a complexity 4 target computer vs that of a complexity 9 computer? If ICE is a base complexity 3 software package, why can't the computer be treated as if it had a skill of 15 base + Program complexity-base complexity 9-3) or 21?

The rules do not take into account the actual complexity value of the target system.

In the end, the GM has to struggle with some questions as to what is reasonable, why can't a given "Banking computer" with a complexity 9 have far superior skills that make it very tough for even an Expert to crack?

I get it - Net running is cinematic, and the rules are weighted heavily in a cinematic fashion for the player characters. None the less - there are no real guidelines on how to handle higher complexity target computer systems in the 4e method, that the 3e method does in its own fashion, address.
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Old 09-23-2021, 08:34 AM   #5
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Location: Buffalo, New York
Default Re: Discussing both methods of netrunning in GURPS

The example player character (up thread) hacker with expert level skills or near expert level skills - is only going to improve with game time.

As someone who is not afraid to tinker with stuff, I'd go with simply using the base skill of the Administrator who set up the entire system, or was the team lead for the computer's defense. No need to use BAD per se - just use the same rules for the gander as was used for the goose (so to speak). Now all of the sudden, the complexity of the computers WILL make a difference.

Where it came to the original GURPS Classic Cyberpunk, one can easily rationalize that a skill 12 program is to the point, does the job, and everyone is happy. A skill 16 program on the other hand, is more tightly coded, more efficient, but is largely the same as the skill 12 program. GURPS Classic Cyberpunk did not invoke a +1 complexity value for each increase in relative program skill. I see no reason not to experiment with that rule if you want to for your own campaigns - where a complexity 2 program costs $1,000 would result in a complexity 3 program granting a skill 13, an costing $2,000 instead.

Each level of complexity halves (essentially) the processing time required to process a "phase" in the Classic version. This does not match the later progression of capabilities per GURPS 3e in subsequent editions.

The 4e version doesn't really give you a second by second blow/account of actions.

There may well be things I've missed or glossed over, and if anyone has comments they want to add, please feel free.
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