Roleplayer #19, April 1990

Realms of the Mind

New GURPS Cyberpunk Net Environments

by Loyd Blankenship and Steve Jackson

The "environment interface modules" in GURPS Cyberpunk are the programs that regulate what the netrunner "sees" in the net, fitting it into a coherent fantasy that a skilled runner can manipulate. As it turned out, the book was full and crammed to bursting . . . and we didn't have room for nearly all the environments that we thought of. So, for netrunners who want a change of mental scene. . .

The Mob

This EM casts the netrunner in the role of a crime kingpin in the early 20th century, controlling a motley crew of criminals and thugs. Each node is a different storefront in a vast city, and the decker's "gang" (representing his attack programs) tries to break into them. Defense programs range from the mild (a fat grocery store owner) to the deadly (a squad of G-men armed with tommy guns). Data is shown as standard paper files kept in filing cabinets, and commodities are represented as cash. Links between nodes are seen as standard streets – camouflaged paths are hidden as secret tunnels from building to building or through the sewer system. The EM is a gangster's moll – a good-looking bimbo with an occasional insight into what makes other people (or programs!) tick.


Don tights and a cape and set out to loot the world as a metavillain! This EM interprets the various nodes as their real-world equivalents – banks, utilities, corporations, etc. The netrunner can zoom around the cyberspace sky and look for likely targets – but camouflaged nodes won't be visible without using N-Vision. Attack programs are translated into powers of various sorts – enhanced strength for tearing through bars and pulling down walls, fireballs for destroying police pursuit, etc. Defense programs are represented as standard defensive equipment, from simple burglar bars to police squads in powered armor. Data and commodities are represented as their real-world counterparts. The EM may be represented as a side-kick or as the voice of Mission Control.


This interface is based on Picassotron (p. CY88). But all the backgrounds have a distinctly cartoon appearance, and the various entities – netrunners, nodes, and programs – are all toons. The runner has a great deal of leeway in how he represents himself and his attack programs. A destroyed program or conquered node does a "take," with eyes and tongue bugging out, before rolling over and submitting or vanishing in purple smoke. Commodities may be represented as bags of cartoon gold; data is shown as thick briefcases stamped TOP SECRET. The EM is a tiny cartoon character who hovers over the netrunner's shoulder, making helpful suggestions.


In this distinctly Lovecraftian module, the Net is represented as an endless labyrinth of glowing green tunnels, along which the netrunner drifts. Nodes are represented as crumbling buildings, ancient temples, or open sewer-mouths. Deckers are shown as alien entities, no two alike, and AIs are huge, flickering monsters. The decker may see himself as a glowing face, a distorted human shape, or a wholly alien creature. Data appears in the form of feeble, hissing creatures which the decker must catch and eat.

Time differences are exaggerated; systems and deckers with a Phase slower than the netrunner's seem to crawl, while faster ones move with an inhuman, threatening jerkiness. The EM is represented as a book or talisman which makes dry, somewhat obscure comments.

This EM is well-known, but has not found much favor. Netrunners dare each other to try it; many use it once and refuse to touch it again. A few say they would never use anything else, and claim that this module shows the truth about the Net . . .

Custom Interfaces

Players may want to design a custom interface for their character to use. There are several commercial packages designed to automate the construction of interfaces. These programs typically cost $5,000 +, but designing an EM without one takes 2d months. With the program, it only requires one month of programming, with a roll versus Computer Programming at the end of each week. At the end of the process, the GM rolls in secret versus the designer's Computer Programming skill (the PC's, or the programmer's if someone else is designing the interface).

If the roll is a natural 3, he has designed an EM that fits his own needs especially well – it will offer helpful advice (to the original programmer only) on a roll of 8 or less instead of 6, and will only offer bad suggestions on a natural 18. On a critical failure, any roll of 15 or higher results in bad advice (to any user), and the program will never offer any genuinely helpful hints. Any roll other than critical success or failure is ignored.

After each piece of bad advice, the GM should roll versus the character's IQ. A successful roll indicates that he notices his EM's erratic behavior, and can try to patch the program. The GM should make the secret roll versus Computer Programming again, but only critical failures affect program performance.

Oscillating Environments

Some GMs may wish to allow netrunners to define and alter their environment in real-time supplementing or overriding an Environment Module. This presents interesting possibilities when deckers meet in the net.

When there are two or more conflicting environments, all participants engage in a Contest of Skills with Cyberdeck Operation. Skill is modified upward by the Complexity of the user's cyberdeck, and is also affected by Strong or Weak Will. The most successful roll imposes his version of the surroundings on anyone in the node. The winner is also at +2 on all rolls in any net combat situation because of his familiarity with the setting.

If Oscillating Environments are common in a particular world, there will probably be places in the net where it is a de facto rule that a visitor must agree to a certain environment or face the wrath of a large group of deckers.

Fixed Environments

There may be places in the net where a pre-set environment overrides the EM of any particular netrunner. For instance, a bank node may be designed so that anyone entering it will see himself as a corporate type, walking across a marble floor to talk with a teller. Such environments may be installed for promotional reasons, or just at the whim of the person who controls that system. They are also a help to security – see below. A fixed environment module costs $50,000 to install.

A netrunner in a fixed environment is at +2 in a combat situation against anyone who is not familiar with the setting. Should an intruder want to see his surroundings via his own EM, and not the fixed one, he must roll at Will-(Complexity of the host system). Repeated rolls are allowed, taking one Phase each, but each repeated attempt is at a further -1. There is no way that an intruder can prevent other inhabitants of the area from perceiving the fixed environment.

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