Hacking in Spaaaaace! (The Expanse)

So I’ve run a few one-off games of The Expanse, and one thing has become clear… hackers want to hack, even when they are in deep space. Given that The Expanse is supposed to be hard SF with time-lagged communications etc, I’m not sure that’s an allowable thing.

The game works like this: when the PCs are on a week long journey travelling thru space from A to B, this counts as an Interlude scene. The GM is supposed to ask the players what long term tasks they get up to during this time. For instance they might heal injuries, or do maintenance on the ship, or learn to speak French.

The hacker (surprise, surprise) wants to hack into corporate/government computer systems to find out plot stuff. The published scenarios assumes that hacking is Not A Thing until you arrive at your destination, but don’t ever say why. So I’m guessing it might be because:

  1. Time Lag. If you are travelling from Earth to Jupiter, when you set out it will take approx 35 mins for your transmission to reach Jupiter, and another 35 mins for a response. Obviously the time lag will drop as the journey proceeds. This is canon because people send each other recorded video messages, instead of having real-time chats.
  2. Transmitters and Receivers. You are not transmitting your code direct from your laptop to the Ceres government computer. It is going from your laptop to the comms suite of the ship you are on. The ship then presumably sends periodic data packets to the external receiver dish on Ceres, which forwards it to various destinations within the asteroid. This is canon, because Alex only receives his personal mail when he switches the Rocinante’s comms on.
  3. Virus Checkers and Spam Filters. I’d kind of hope that the above systems are built to stop dickheads and/or OPA terrorists transmitting viruses from deep space to governments they don’t like.

Any thoughts? Is hacking across time and space feasible? To be honest I’m kind of hoping it is not, as it seems a bit plot breaking for The Expanse setting.

I think you can approach this in two ways: realistic physics and engineering, or consistency with what has been shown on screen.

I don’t think there’s any plausible way to do hacking with a lightspeed lag of multiple seconds, let alone minutes or hours. It would be like a grapevine trying to wrestle with a hummingbird.

But I also don’t think we’ve been shown hacking at astronomical distances. I recall one episode where the Roci’s crew were trying to get into something locked—I think by entering code—but it was right there with them, and they were very hands on. And I don’t think the drama of netrunners breaking into secured systems really fits the style of the show.

I would not have allowed a player to create a hacker character, for precisely those reasons. Oh, that might be one of their skill sets, but it oughtn’t to be their core role.

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Yeah, I think I’d say you can do public queries - or send instructions to a human or semi-AI agent that you’ve left somewhere closer to the middle of things - but nothing that would require fast response.

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I can’t recall any long distance hacking either. Naomi gets into various systems to look at super-secret stuff or access security cameras, etc, but she’s always inside the facility she’s hacking, using one of the facility’s own terminals.

As to creating a hacker… Hacker isn’t a character ‘class’ or job. But one of the Talents which any Technician profession PC can choose during character gen is called Hacker. After character gen anyone can buy Hacker with xp so long as they meet the pre-requisites.

One of the pre-gens provided for The Ganymede Insurance Job adventure (an official scenario), has the Hacker Talent. So the game authors are expecting people to do hacking… but the adventure as written assumes you wait until you’ve arrived at your destination before attempting it.

Well, there you are, then. They can’t do it remotely. They should use one of their other Talents.

Given the plot holes in the official scenarios (e.g. a husband has been missing for 3 weeks, but no info on why his wife and teenaged kids haven’t though to mention it to anyone), I wouldn’t count on the ommission being deliberate! :slight_smile:

“If he’s not found before 8 weeks we get his death in service benefit.”