BW in Modern or Futuristic Settings: Computers

I’ve been working on adapting BW to a sci-fi setting (I don’t own BE, but I’d really rather my work be divorced from any specific setting anyways). As the topic suggests, the question here is how to deal with computers.

When I began writing LPs for the setting, I initially just had one “Computers” skill. It was supposed to cover all aspects of using a computer – programming, networking, hacking, and general use. Now, I realized something was amiss when almost every LP got this skill (or required an LP with this skill). I eventually decided it was too general, and it needed to be broken up into different skills.

Now, the choice of skills to use in place of “Computers” depends on your setting. In general, I recommend that the more important computers are to your setting, the more computer skills you include. Just like BWG includes separate weapon skills for all medieval weapons but only one “Firearms” skill, a game set in the 1960s might only include the “Computers” skill for all computer use. A modern day game might instead have “Programmer,” “Computer Science,” “Hacking,” “Networking,” and “Encryption”. The full list of computer skills is:
[li]Computers: Computers covers general use of computers. It is the Read/Write of computer skills. In general, other computer skills don’t FoRK into Computers, but Computers does FoRK into other computer skills. (In fact, it would FoRK into most tests in a computer-centric game)
[/li][li]Computer Science: Computer Science is knowledge of the mathematical skills behind computers. Depending on how you want to treat academic/scientific knowledge in your game, this could be a Wise (CS-wise), a training skill, or a regular skill (if you plan on making the players prove that their sorting algorithm is the most efficient or something).
[/li][li]Encryption: Encryption covers encrypting and decrypting files with computer encryption software. If the file was encrypted for you, there’s no test, because that’s how computer encryption works. Player would test this when trying to decrypt someone else’s files, or decrypt a website’s username-password database. It’s also what you would use for writing a custom encryption algorithm (with a FoRK from programming). The skill is distinct from Cryptography, which covers codes and ciphers (i.e., non-digital encryption of text). Of course, there are overlaps, which are perfect for FoRKs.
[/li][li]Hacking: Hacking is used for gaining otherwise forbidden access to a computer. I don’t want to include Hacking in my game, but I’m putting it here for completeness. If you want hacking to be like in the movies (Can I hack into the Pentagon’s nuclear missile control system undetected? Sure, its Ob7, and if you fail, they trace your IP and two spooks knock on your door tomorrow morning), then include Hacking as a skill. If you want hacking to be more realistic, make players do a series of linked tests to gain access to the computer (Alright, so we wrote a program to give us an undetected backdoor into the NSA computers (Networking; Failure), and then put it on a flash drive and bribed someone to plug it into the NSA mainframe (Resources?; Success). Now we can copy over their secret files and read them (Decryption), but our program wasn’t written right, so the NSA knows where we are). I think the second option is more fun.
[/li][li]Networking: Networking is used for setting up a network of computers, working with computers over a network, using proxies or other methods to obscure your computer’s location.
[/li][li]Programming: Programming is used for writing short scripts and larger pieces of software what allow computers to perform tasks. Programming also covers debugging. In practice, a lot of tests will involve writing a program to accomplish something covered by another skill (especially Encryption, Hacking, and Networking). I think that in these cases, programming should be used as a FoRK.

In my campaign, I think I’m going to just use Computers and Encryption. Computers will cover both general use and programming. In my campaign, everyone is assumed to be able to use computers at a basic level (computer literacy is much higher than in the real world), so having the Computers skill implies greater competency at computers. Encryption is a separate skill to indicate that its a very distinct field of knowledge than standard computer use. Additionally, I’ve now restricted Computers as a LP skill to academics and “tech-savvy” LPs (everyone else can use a computer perfectly fine, but has never had a reason (in general) to learn the more advanced aspects of computer use). Encryption is mostly only available to people who would specifically need this skill for their career (non-political LPs in my “Government” sub-setting)

've often wondered about modern-day Burning Wheel. Would be fun to play, but a hassle to write up allllll those lifepaths…

For modern-day computers, I think you’re on the money. For futuristic settings though, you might consider paring it down again; in futuristic societies, computers would be so common that everyone would know how to use them. For all basic operations of a computer, just Say Yes.

For the advanced computer skills in a sci-fi setting: I’d ditch the general computer skill, or ditch Hacking and have Computers be for advanced operations. I’d also combine Computer Science and Programming into a single skill, and ditch Encryption (use Hacking/Computers for that).

My opinion, anyway. YMMV. For comparision, Classic Traveller has the following computer skills: Computers and Comms. (Although, CT’s computer mechanics were laughably archaic. ^^)

Might want to include rules for Tool Use (or at least note which skills require tools to be performed without penalty). Not talking just a ‘deck’ or laptop–the actual programming tools, tracert, etc that it takes to do something even if you are sitting at a terminal or PC.

Also… while I see where you’re heading, I think you might want to look into the Magic Burner and consider how it could be analogous to technological innovations in general, not just cybernetics. You could handle a wide range of “modern” periods, up to and including space opera, by mapping various magic systems to technological ones.

(Far-future sci fi or hard sci fi would have to be handled rather differently, I imagine–‘programming’ an AI is more like persuasion than coding; and anything approaching “hacking” in the future would be closer to a ‘dungeon crawl’ than a few linked skill tests.)

It all depends on your degree of focus, I suppose. Seems like you want it more like Bloody Versus than Fight. :wink: