The Mesh, as any good setting element should, drives adventures. Its flaws and its strengths create new adventure opportunities, but also drive players towards more interesting adventures.
Cracking, not hacking. Hacking, realistic hacking (which this is), is freaking boring. It’s months or years of sitting at a computer, researching the target, or trashing (going through their trash, looking for info), spear phishing (sending them emails with links to bad things), or social engineering (pretending to be people you’re not, to dupe others into giving you info). It requires technical knowledge of the network in question (which varies from enclave to enclave) and personal knowledge of the people and organizations involved. It takes a long time, and isn’t terribly interesting.
Cracking, on the other hand, is very interesting. Each computer creates a convergence in the shadow world. Inside each convergence is a small world, with its own physics, architecture, and geography (a construct). Deciphering the construct allows you to control the computer. This is a mini-adventure, and the whole party can (and should) play.
More, each construct is different. One might be a ghost-haunted cruise ship lost in Arctic waters, another might be a section of WW I trenches under attack by German werewolves, another a trackless desert beset by mirages that can suddenly, unexpectedly become real. Anything goes. (Half of you are thinking The Matrix, the other half Inception. That’s fine. Either works.)
I’m of the opinion that cracking is more interesting, in terms of gaming, and the Mesh drives people towards cracking. Especially because hacking, in this world, is more difficult than ever.
See, radios broadcast in the clear: anyone can intercept them. So the Mesh encrypts all traffic, client to client. This means normal hacking is very difficult.
Both hacking and cracking can be done, but cracking is much quicker and more effective. Therefore, most computer intrusion attempts revolve around the shadow world and computer constructs. Which is something you’d want to encourage in any case, as that’s a cool mini-adventure the entire party can participate in.
Moving data about. Given the flaky and slow nature of the Mesh, messages take a long time to travel. The chief solution? High tech sneakernet. Sometimes it’s just faster to physically carry data from place to place.
In 2039, data is cargo and is moved like any other cargo. And that movement invariably involves Guns somewhere along the line.
- Cargo ships, in addition to spare parts and consumer goods, carry computers with requested data. Xiyatu is the crossroads of data cargo coming from Eurasia, especially the Chinas and Siberia.
- Convoys, in addition to carrying bullets and corn, also carry data. (They usually have their own mobile wireless network, as well.) Who guards convoys? Guns.
- The vast majority of settlements can’t afford a node, but many still have computers. How do they get their data in to and out of town? Couriers. And courier contracts can be lucrative. (And if a courier disappears? Guns get hired to retrieve him.)
- One postal company, Taylor Couriers, pioneered a “Pony Express” style messaging service for data deliveries that have to be somewhere damn fast. They use dirt bikes, ATV’s, and ultralights instead of ponies most of the time, but the same theory applies. Other courier companies have sprung up, but Taylor couriers is the first and most trusted.
- Many enclaves have need of internal couriers. Chartered Companies in Manhattan hire specialized data carriers all the time, to communicate with their outposts in the Black Zone.
This is an era of computers and high tech, but the telecom shroud means that, outside the enclaves, email has to be carried just like letters used to be. (Fortunately, you can fit a lot of letters on a thumb drive. Plus, you can back them up, meaning losing one courier doesn’t mean losing the message.) This allows for PC adventure opportunities, but also highlights the strange technological contrasts of the setting: the past and the present, mixed in baroque and unexpected ways.
Isolated places. As I said yesterday, to find out what’s going on somewhere, you have to go there, or someone else does. Sometimes, people hire Guns to do that, to find out what’s going in in Georgia, to find out why a settlement dropped off the radar, and so forth.
The Mesh is odd, flaky, and barely usable. Yet by existing, it makes the setting better. It encourages adventure opportunities, makes the setting more colorful, and helps players get into the mindset of post-Emergence America.
Not bad for a barely workable, highly unreliable, dirty little kludge of a technology.