Hard Wired Island is a cyberpunk game published by Weird Age Games in 2020. It’s a beefy 400 page tome comparable in size to the Shadowrun or CP RED cores, but only about 25% of that is rules.
Hard Wired Island takes place in Grand Cross, an O’Neil Cylinder habitat orbiting Earth’s Lagrange 5 point, in the “distant future” of 2020. It was built according to an idealistic plan in the wake of terrible environmental and economic disasters on Earth, but is currently in the process of being co-opted and corrupted by the interests of ultra-rich corporations and elites. The way in which this is happening is described in very realistic detail throughout the book, which also talks a bit about what people do to fight back. PCs are usually expected to help in that fight, if not for moral reasons then because those billionaires cause constant economic shocks that threaten their survival. This is the main conflict in the setting.
Grand Cross has cybernetic implants, gene editing, fully sapient AI and androids. However its “global net” is still pretty much the internet of 2020. It’s even named “the internet”.
Every building in the station is wired for high-speed internet. The airwaves are serviced by cell carriers like the ones you know from the real world, and some of its wards even have free public wi-fi, though that tends to be poor quality because capitalism is the worst virus. The station is linked to Earth’s internet by satellites, with a 1.2-second lag there due to the physical distances involved. Most big services have station-local data centers to try and get around this, and there are some GC-native ones as well like HeoCities (website hosting) and Pulser (a Crosser social network).
Hackers are simply called hackers. Their equipment is collectively known as a Hacking Suite, and it can be anything from computers that wouldn’t look out of place here in the real world to some fancy cybernetic implant. Target systems tend to be private corporate intranets or other networks located on the station, and whether hacking is done remotely or on-site depends on the specific mission.
Most tests in Hard Wired Island use 2d6, with bonuses coming from one of the PC’s main stats/approaches (Cool, Clever, Tough, and Quick), from a skill specialty, from Augments (implants), and from Assets, which are special equipment. There are rules for rolling with advantage/disadvantage (add a d6 and drop the lowest/highest) or for Boosting rolls (add a d6, don’t drop anything). Criticals happen when two or more dice roll the same value.
The system for hacking is a mixture of the systems for stealth and social interaction. It has a set of specific actions associated with it, but also uses some actions from those other systems.
Hackers begin each hacking attempt in a state called “Ghost”, meaning they haven’t been detected by the target system’s security. They also begin with three chances to avoid getting caught. Every time a hacker needs to do something that requires a die roll, they might get caught if that test fails, and must spend a chance in order to avoid that. If they fail a roll after running out of chances, they’re discovered and their physical location is traced. Security is on its way, but the hacker can still disconnect and try to run. A hacker can try a Cover Your Tracks action to restore lost chances, but that’s also a roll so it might backfire.
Target networks have two stats: a Network Level that determines the basic difficulty of all tests made against it, and a Mood that describes the strictness of its security procedures and how willing it is to let you do things. Hacking is mostly about improving the network’s Mood towards you. Friendly networks are helpful, giving Advantage for data searches within then. Indifferent networks neither help nor hinder. Hostile networks assume everyone is an intruder until they can prove otherwise.
Most networks start out Indifferent, and their mood can be improved to Friendly through hacking actions, or degrade to Hostile by failures. Hostile networks can’t have their mood improved except by gaining admin access. This can be done by succeeding at a number of rolls equal to its Network Level, but it’s not strictly necessary to accomplish your goals. Admin access on a network makes it Friendly, and prevents its mood from lowering. Doing anything in there becomes almost trivial and you only need to maintain Ghost if someone intelligent is monitoring the network (like another admin or an AI).
There’s no deadly ice here, and no cybercombat at all. Getting discovered and traced is usually enough of a threat here, since those armed goons will kill you just as dead, and the heightened state of alertness from the target will also complicate your teammates’ lives.
Hard Wired Island tries to abstract the extensive planning sessions players of other games engage in with a resource named “Prep”. Before the mission itself you use actions to gather both Individual and Group Prep, and you spend those points during missions to use your Assets or acquire new ones on the spot.
We do have a sample hacker here, the ever adorable Maru. Her Hacking Suite is built into her cybereyes but she still operates it with a keyboard. She will be going with the team on this one, which might mean leaving that keyboard behind but won’t affect her effectiveness.
We will once again go with three separate target networks here. The office network is level 5 and Friendly to access from the inside; the security network used by the guards is Indifferent and level 6; and the isolated server is Hostile and level 7.
If the first two detect intrusion they grow Hostile, trace Maru’s location, and notify both the guards and the police. If the secret server detects intrusion it will destroy itself in a very messy and noisy fashion, drawing guard attention. This counts as a mission failure for our purposes, since the team will spend the rest of the run trying to leave the office without the evidence they came here to collect. As these are separate networks they have separate Ghost counters.
For the first time in our series we’ll have to concern ourselves with stuff that happens before the mission itself. Let’s make an Individual Prep roll for Maru. She’s getting her software in order before the run, at her hacker den. We roll 2d6 + Clever + Hacking + Hacker’s Den against a difficulty of 7, and get a 11. Since this is the first Prep roll we’re making, Maru gains 1 automatic Prep, and an extra 1 Prep for beating the difficulty by 4. She takes part in Group Prep later, and let’s say they agree to leave 1 of those points for her use.
Now for the actual run. As always, the rest of the team manages to bullshit the receptionist and make into the office posing as a repair crew. Maru locks herself into a stall in the ladies’ room and begins.
The security network isn’t advertising itself, so I rule Maru needs a Search roll to find it. Her bonus here is +3 from Clever and +2 from Hacking; the difficulty is 11 (the network’s level + 5). She succeeds with 13.
Since there’s a lot she must do in this net, we spend 1 of her 3 Prep to activate the Data Bomb program Asset, which gives her Advantage on her next three rolls here.
I rule that opening the door and turning off the camera each require an Operate roll. From what I see in the rules this seems to use the Drone specialty instead of Hacking. Maru doesn’t have that, so she’s rolling only 2d6+3 from her Clever. Thankfully, the Data Bomb still gives her Advantage on these rolls. She succeeds at both rolls with a 12 and a 11, precisely because of that Advantage.
Maru and her team move to the records room, and find the secret server. She jacks into it and begins searching for the data. The difficulties here are all 12 from the Network Level. Maru spends another Prep to activate the Ghost Protocol program, giving her Advantage on her next Hacking roll and an extra Ghost chance. These rolls do use her Hacking specialty.
Advantage once again lets her succeed with a 14. I think succeeding at this lets her take the data? Let’s be cruel instead and ask for a Spoof roll to download the data without authorization. This is a Hostile server after all. No more advantage here, but she still gets a 13.
The team leaves the records room and Maru connects to the security wifi to open the exit door. She still has one roll with Advantage remaining from her use of Data Bomb, and succeeds on the Spoof roll with a 13.
With the way out secured, she searches the office network for the money. No roll needed to locate it, it’s Friendly and advertising itself to people inside the office premises. A Search with Advantage lets her find the money with a roll of 11 versus the network’s lower difficulty of 10.
She has no advantage for the Spoof roll to transfer the money elsewhere, but she still succeeds with a 11.
Mission accomplished! Time elapsed: around 15 minutes.
Hard Wired Island feels more complex than Neon City Overdrive in its presentation, but the hacking sequence here was about as fast. This was in part due to good rolls all through the run, but a failure here would have had less impact than in my Neon City run. There, a failed roll would have meant cybercombat, a system I didn’t get to try at all. Here it would have meant an extra roll or two as I lost one of my Ghost points and retried the test. Perhaps I’d have spent another action or two recovering those points as well.
Keeping it to about one roll per Thing You Do seems to be key to keeping hacking brief.