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Creating an effective Firewall sentinel—or any transhuman, for that matter—isn’t merely a matter of focusing on the right skills. Each skill is boosted by implants and gear that increase performance, but the combined benefits can still mean nothing if the right tactics aren’t used. Regardless of concept, all players want their characters to be useful and fulfill a role in the plot.

The best tools players have for making unique and effective characters are each other. Whenever possible, perform character generation as a group. This is absolutely vital for campaign play. If everyone shows up to the game with gun-totting mercenaries, the group has made an erasure squad too dumb to figure out what to shoot next, rather than a sentinel team capable of discovering the hidden truth. Conversely, if your squad of xenolinguistics professors armed with nothing save critical thinking skills and tenure finds itself confronted with a horde of exsurgent zombies, it could be a very short campaign indeed. Party balance in Eclipse Phase isn’t nearly as important as it is in many other RPGs, but it isn’t something that can be ignored either. If your team is full of gun bunnies, be the sneaky infiltrator that can get the job done quietly. If everyone is maxing out investigative skills, make a pilot that can actually get them to the mysterious space habitats they discover.

Furthermore, don’t limit the idea of party balance to skill sets and equipment. Look at the motivations of your fellow players as well. Is a Jovian sleeper agent really going to get along well enough with a mercurial terrorist to get the job done? Maybe your group likes that kind of odd-couple dynamic and wants to maximize internal conflict. Regardless of what kind of game you prefer, building characters together with the knowledge they are going to be interacting soon will enable everyone to contribute more to the narrative. Players should ask as many questions of the gamemaster as possible. Nobody likes spoilers, but any good gamemaster can provide some information about the game’s setting and themes without giving things away. If the campaign takes place entirely on Mars, you can save CP on Free Fall skill and put it all into Freerunning instead. If a straight-up survival horror scenario is in store, put more aptitude points in WIL than SAV. Communicating with the gamemaster about expectations isn’t cheating; it’s vital to telling a coherent and engaging story. Why would Firewall send an uplift orca to infiltrate the Jovian Security Council? Even if you want to play a total fish out of water, communication with the gamemaster will refine the character’s concept and contribute more to the story.

Beyond working with fellow players and the gamemaster, optimizing your character depends on the strategy for dealing with threats.

Surviving Combat

No matter how cunning or evasive you are as a Firewall agent, combat is inevitable. The key to getting through a battle with an intact morph is the choices made before and during the fight. Picking the right skills and gear is the first step to making an effective character in battle.

Combat Skills

The single most important skill for combat is Fray. It can be used to defend against any type of attack and is used automatically. While dodging ranged weapons is extremely difficult because Fray is halved against those attacks, a slight chance is better than none. Remember that Opposed Tests are judging by the highest successful roll, so even a high skill attacker can miss if they roll low and the defender rolls higher.

After Fray, consider putting some CP into at least one ranged weapon skill, even if your character concept is not combat heavy. Even a peaceful character can justify investing in a weapon skill so they can use non-lethal weapons like a stunner or agonizer. Melee weapons skills are best saved for combat-focused characters, as they require more specialization to really have an impact. High skill is not required to be useful in combat, though it’s necessary to maximize effectiveness. For the layman, having some points in Fray and one or two weapon skills will be enough, but a combat-focused character should invest in multiple weapon skills, Perception, and some relevant Knowledge skills like Profession: Squad Tactics.

Weapons

Each weapon type plays a different role in combat. Kinetic weapons and beam weapons are the most common and versatile ranged weapons in Eclipse Phase, and characters only able to afford one weapon skill should get one of these types. Kinetic firearms have the most options, allowing users to adapt to new situations in battle easily. With semiautomatic, burst fire, and full auto, in addition to many different ammunition types and mods available, a firearm works equally well in nearly any situation. An agent who needs both lethal and non-lethal firepower in a single fight can load an extended smart magazine with zap and biter rounds. The trade-off is that kinetic firearms are not quite as powerful as more specialized weapons. Railguns are the next step up in firepower, but they are not quite as versatile: they can’t use as many ammo types as normal firearms and are more expensive.

The diversity of beam weapons gives a character a wide set of choices for any mission, but each weapon is suited for one role. Plasma weapons provide significant anti-armor capabilities, but this is overkill in many missions. Light and concealable beam weapons like the microwave agonizer or the laser pulser are better suited for covert missions, but they lack stopping power against armored targets like synthmorphs.

The other weapon types are suitable only for specific roles in combat. Spray weapons are close quarters weapons with a maximum range shorter than most pistols. Shredders and shard pistols are akin to fully automatic shotguns. With large magazine sizes, high armor penetration, and full auto, they are devastating at short range (+1d10 damage for cone weapons at this range), but much weaker at long range (–1d10 damage at long and extreme range). Buzzers and sprayers can be very useful to creative players who choose their nanoswarm or chemical payload carefully. Torches are best used against exsurgents and similarly infectious opponents. Freezers can be incredibly useful in dangerous missions. The ability to paralyze dangerous opponents with a single attack is unique, and being able to create a barricade or cover for allies can drastically change an encounter.

Seeker weapons are support weapons, used to bring down firepower on heavy targets or deal with specific problems. A character with a seeker weapon and a tacnet can rely on their allies and use indirect fire to rain down minimissiles on targets without being exposed to significant risk. A disposable launcher with a HEAP standard missile (6d10 + 24 DV) is a cheap weapon that can one shot nearly any opponent. Concussion, overload, and gas seekers soften targets up for a frontal assault. These are military weapons, however, and will be hard to use in covert missions without extensive preparations beforehand. Thus, they should not be the primary weapons for a Firewall agent.

All agents should consider carrying EMP grenades, even if they lack the Throwing Weapons skill. Nanoswarms can be extraordinarily lethal to unprepared agents. Each swarm has 50 Durability and is only harmed by a few specific attacks. EMP weapons are devastating to such swarms, inflicting 2d10 + 5 DV. Three to four EMP grenades can destroy a swarm, and any agent can simply activate the grenade at point blank range. The penalties for suffering an EMP blast are far better than being devoured by a disassembler swarm.

Melee weapons are useful because they are easily concealed or acquired in any environment, even high security ones, and any weapon is usually better than no weapon. Any habitat will have diamond axes on hand for emergencies. Knives and clubs and the like are ubiquitous and quickly manufactured. The best melee weapons against biomorphs and pods are shock batons, eelware, and shock gloves, because shock guarantees at least a –30 modifier on all actions until the end of the target’s next Action Turn. Wasp knives loaded with an appropriate chemical, drug, or nanoswarm can be even more lethal, but only in the right circumstances. Subdual attacks, which will immobilize a target if successful, are a high-risk proposition. It requires a successful attack roll with an MoS equal or greater than the target’s Durability, a higher threshold than a basic attack. Such attacks should only be used when the target’s capture is mission critical, not as a substitute for a regular attack.

Picking Armor

Even the toughest morphs benefit from wearing armor. Armor maxes out at 32 for both Energy and Kinetic damage, so your goal should be to get as close to that value as possible, given the environment. Wearing military-grade body armor draws attention to the character and may be illegal in some habitats, but even extremely light armor can be enhanced through armor mods and accessories. Smart skin can be worn with other armor and can be activated in one Action Turn, so agents can appear normal until combat breaks out. Second skin can also be worn with other armor (starting with smart skin) and, while noticeable, has many civilian functions that can be explained away. Armor mods provide cheap protection against a variety of attacks and can be stacked together. Helmets also increase armor and can be donned quickly. An agent in a covert mission can take light armor like smart vac clothing and, with a few modifications, gain protection equal to heavy body armor; a character that starts with heavy body armor can almost max out their Armor Value.

Other Gear Considerations

Key personal augmentations can drastically improve a character’s effectiveness in a fight. Augmentations that boost Speed are the most important. If you can afford reflex boosters and neurachem, it would be wise to take them. Characters that can’t afford such expensive augmentations could at least take mental speed or multitasking, which allows additional mental Complex Actions. Considering that hacking is a mental action, they are a useful substitute for a higher Speed. Also, look for augmentations that allow you to ignore wounds. Once a character starts to suffer wound penalties, they enter into a downward spiral where their reduced effectiveness in a fight makes them more likely to receive damage. All Firewall agents should at least take medichines, as the benefits they provide are worth the cost. Augmentations that increase Durability or other attributes may be worth getting but are hardly necessary except for characters focused on heavy combat.

If augmentations aren’t available due to cost or time, characters that still need an edge in combat should carry a few doses of combat drugs like MRDR. Addiction is bad in the long term, but combat drugs are merely physically addictive, so switching morphs will remove the addiction. A dose of MRDR alone is enough to turn an average transhuman with a few combat skills into a capable fighter. Firewall agents who are expecting to fight exsurgents should also take some comfurt or orbital hash, as they are the only means of mitigating Trauma without the need for psychotherapy.

Combat Tactics

The key to winning fights is making the right choices and stacking as many modifiers in your favor as possible. Intelligent decisions rely on situational awareness and working around mission parameters. In general, neutralize opponents as quickly as possible, while minimizing risks to yourself and allies. Certain missions may require additional parameters, such as taking a particular opponent alive or at least making sure their cortical stack remains intact, but this guide will only touch on general principles.

Optimizing damage output relies on weighing your weapon skill and rate of fire versus the opponent’s armor. Try to bloody enemies as soon as possible in a fight. Opponents will usually suffer wound penalties, so even getting one or two good hits in early on can throw the fight in your favor. Characters with a high weapon skill and no significant aim penalties should use full auto when possible to gain additional damage dice and make called shots to ignore armor. It’s only a –10 penalty and an MoS of 30 or more for the ability to bypass armor entirely, which is an incredible benefit. Don’t forget that you have a Quick Action each Action Turn that can be used to aim for a +10 bonus, which will negate the called shot penalty. Characters with only a moderate weapon skill should use burst fire and full auto to improve aim, as any damage is better than no damage. Semi-auto fire is good for characters when they have Moxie to spend; two attack rolls means two chances to use Moxie to score a hit. When rolling for damage, don’t forget to add the +5 damage bonus for Excellent Successes, something many players fail to remember. Ambidextrous characters should wield two one-handed weapons instead of one two-handed weapon; more attack rolls are better than a single roll.

Aside from maximizing raw damage, you can neutralize enemies with the appropriate weapons. Freezers can paralyze a foe entirely if they fail a REF x 3 Test (with a –30 modifier if you score an Excellent Success on the attack roll). Shock weapons, non-lethal seeker missiles, and grenades can impose temporary penalties on foes, neutralizing their ability to effectively attack. A well-placed overload grenade can end a fight before it starts. Similarly, a called shot to disarm an opponent can also end a fight; a hardened ultimate mercenary is much less dangerous without their plasma rifle in hand.

Even if you can’t do much damage, you can assist your allies in a fight. Suppressive fire can pin down and distract enemies. Your team should establish a tacnet whenever possible, so spending a Quick Action to engage in detailed Perception and look for hidden threats may be more valuable to your allies than a lone attack. Spot for allies with indirect fire weapons like seeker rifles when possible. Brave characters can try to draw enemy fire and use full defense to stay alive. Modifiers can be stacked until they all but guarantee success or failure, but even a few modifiers will make a huge difference in a fight. Aside from taking a Quick Action to aim, look to gain a superior position on a foe (+20 to attack), which usually means a flanking shot or being on higher ground. Many players forget that most ranged weapons will have a smartlink or laser sight (+10 bonus to ranged attacks) or that sweeping fire with beam weapons provides a +10 bonus on the second shot. Keep in mind that attacking multiple targets at once imposes penalties, so try to focus on one target at a time unless absolutely necessary.

Aside from increasing your attack modifiers, try to impose negative modifiers on opponents. Cover imposes a –10 to –30 penalty on attack rolls, but characters in cover suffer a –10 modifier to their own attack rolls, regardless of the type of cover. Minor cover is just a trade-off of equal penalties, but you come out ahead with moderate or major cover. Impairing visibility also forces penalties on attackers, so smoke grenades can be used to provide temporary cover. With these modifiers in mind, use teamwork to maximize them in your favor. Allies with low weapon skills distract enemies with suppressing fire and overload grenades while the agent with the plasma rifle sneaks around the enemies and gets a flanking shot on them. Spend a Quick Action aiming to mitigate the penalty of a called shot to bypass armor or disarm an opponent while hidden with a chameleon cloak. If you can get the agents with the best weapons superior position bonuses while keeping the supporting teammates under cover, you should be able to tackle most threats.

Final Notes

Basic infantry tactics will not always work because of the complexity of technology and unpredictability of enemies. A smart enemy with a fabricator and some technical skills can make literally any object a trap, such as concealing AGI-controlled explosives or disassembler nanoswarms. Exsurgents can seemingly break the laws of physics with psi-epsilon powers or advanced TITAN weapons. T-ray emitters and other sensors can see through common ruses. Robot drones can be deployed en masse as cannon fodder. Firewall agents must be innovative in their approach and develop unorthodox tactics for unorthodox foes. Never be complacent in a firefight or assume you know all the capabilities of the enemy. Eternal vigilance is a small price to pay to avoid frequent resleeving.

Transhuman Tradecraft

In the 6th century, Sun Tzu famously wrote, “It is best to win without fighting.” What was true in a world of spears and leather armor is especially true with HEAP micromissiles and reapers on the battlefield. Unless directly eliminating an exsurgent, combat means that sentinels have already partly failed in their duties. Gunfire and broken morphs do nothing but attract attention, burn rep, and waste resources. As an illegal conspiracy, Firewall recruits from the brightest, most adaptable members of transhumanity because operational security is as important as eliminating the target. While death may be temporary, reputation and ego bounties are forever.

Save the run-and-gun for erasure squads; Sentinels that want to last in this solar system should remember something else that old Chinese general said: “All warfare is based on deception.”

Sentinel Skills and Implants

Outside the TITANs, transhumanity has yet to develop any weapons system as potentially devastating as an effective lie. Deception is a vital skill for infiltrating a theater of operation, gathering intelligence, and recruiting allies. The best lies are only slightly altered truths, so Research is an important skill to prioritize. Smart sentinels will focus more on Impersonation than Disguise: stealing a target’s identity and using the details to scope social networks is far more effective than putting on a silly wig. If you really need to look like someone, there are any number of moderately priced implants such as emotional dampeners, skinflex, and gait-masking that can stack +30 modifiers on a test. Or, just clone the target’s morph and resleeve.

Remember that if Firewall knew for certain exactly what and where the x-threat was, they wouldn’t have called you. Each sentinel needs skills to assess the situation. Perception is a must and should be boosted with enhanced senses whenever possible. Kinesics can fill in the gaps and reveal any espionage competition in the area. Investigation is also extremely useful, especially in situations where the threat has already become “active,” and can be further assisted with oracles nanoware.

Protocol can get agents into the right social circles and make the factional politics of a habitat apparent, whereas Persuasion can be used to manipulate the scene in Firewall’s favor. The First Impression trait can provide a further +10 bonus to initial social tests. An agent jacked up with alpha, hither, and enhanced pheromones at a Planetary Consortium dinner party can wreak more havoc on the enemy than an entire squad of ultimate mercenaries. For instance, Representative Whomever likely will be very eager to call for a mass driver assault at the next assembly if it keeps those pictures of them with the neotenic off the feeds. For a really hard target that requires physical contact, occasionally a black-bag job might be necessary. Infiltration, Infosec, Palming, and a Hardware skill like Industrial or Electronics can come in handy in such instances, and all those skills have combat potential if things suddenly go pear-shaped (see Combat Hacking, below)

Lastly, don’t neglect Networking or reputation, and consider boosting those skills with the Social Butterfly trait. It takes a village to find and destroy an x-threat, and it’s sometime preferable to send those villagers to do it while the sentinel watches from far away. The ultimate goal is to keep the operation deniable, and nothing accomplishes that quite like convincing somebody else to do the dirty work.

Sentinel Playbook

Players seeking to build professional spies might consider asking their gamemaster about taking Profession: Social Engineering or Profession: Tradecraft. A successful test on either could function like an INT x 3 or COG x 3 roll for coming up with an espionage tactic. For those not interested in abstracting the conspiratorial side of the game, consider this list of basic espionage tactics. Many of these maneuvers could make up entire scenarios by themselves, and each will provide campaigns with a healthy dose of player-driven intrigue to counterbalance the gamemaster’s horrors.

Running Assets

Assets are the transhuman currency of the espionage game. Handling them requires a secondary identity with a good Networking skill and a rep high enough in the appropriate faction. Assets are non-renewable resources. Sentinels cultivate assets for the sole purpose of sacrificing them at the altar of operational security, and an agent’s skill is determined by exactly how much work can be milked from a source before they are rendered useless, or “tapped.” For example, if a sentinel needs a firearm to perform some wetwork on a habitat with restrictive weapons laws, they could ask a favor from a contact in their networks. Once the job is done and the sentinel is off-site, however, the danger hasn’t ended. The gun could be traced to a hacked fabber run by the contact, for instance. In that situation, the best-case scenario leaves the sentinel with a burned rep score and one less friend, while the worst-case sees them in a Planetary Consortium torture simulspace with an Ozma agent. Burning an asset, on the other hand, means the gun only leads authorities back to some poor sap claiming to have helped a friend that never really existed. To this end, Patron is a great trait for those wanting to play a Machiavellian asset manipulator; the once per game favor can be used for introductions to useful fools.

There are two major types of assets: coerced and cut-out. Coerced assets are the most dangerous to use but the least costly. A coerced asset is only helping because the sentinel has the drop on them with some piece of damning intelligence: they know what happened that weekend on Parvarti; they can tell cops where to find the snuff XP; they can get an indentured relative out of a contract for a price. Coerced assets might even know about Firewall (not recommended) but still remain powerless to resist demands. Coerced assets are great because their favors don’t cost rep, but they are constantly looking for a way to betray the organization in such a way that doesn’t destroy their lives. Furthermore, coerced assets can’t be tapped to do anything with consequences worse than what the blackmail can inflict. Ultimately, the best use of a coerced asset is boosting a sentinel’s rep for the acquisition of other assets. Artificially inflating a secondary identity’s rep score on social networks will seem a small price to pay to avoid having one’s life ruined, and that rep can be burned on more useful favors.

Cut-out assets are gained by using a secondary identity to gain the trust of the asset, so the asset never knows the sentinel’s true identity. The buddy they perform favors for is really the mesh ID of some long-dead flat bought off the ID Crew at a discount, or their blood brothers in the terrorist organization are really just one agent copy-and-pasting revolutionary rhetoric from wiki articles. Cut-out assets are the most useful from an espionage standpoint because cut-out favors, whether the asset knows they are dangerous or not, can’t be traced back to the conspiracy. They don’t know anyone in the organization, and they never did. Obviously, never deal with a cut-out using a primary cover identity, and always be prepared to have the rep of a secondary identity burned if a cut-out gets tapped. Otherwise, the only rule is don’t get attached. Cut-outs are like cigarettes; they’re only useful if traded or burned.

Dead Drops and Brush Passes

If the opposition is aware of the Firewall agents’ presence, coordinating even the most basic espionage becomes very hard. Hackers have to dedicate all their time and resources to running counter-intrusion on mesh communications, and even then a skilled electronic warfare expert can get the drop on a team. VPNs are essential, but they can be subverted if one of the participants is compromised.

The best method in these instances is the use of dead drops and brush passes. A dead drop is a physical or electronic location where information can be safely stored until another agent retrieves it. In the universe of Eclipse Phase, physical dead drops are problematic; surveillance on most habitats is too ubiquitous to make the drop undetected, and physical storage media or (gasp!) paper is rare enough that it may attract extra attention. The far better option is to bury information in popular simulspaces with too many users to sift through. Hide instructions in a digital sword and sell it to a contact through some MMORPG’s auction house. Reprogram the dedication plaque on a simulspace park bench to contain the kill order whenever another agent sits on it.

Better yet, use an electronic dead drop only for coded information and deliver the cipher through a brush pass. Skinlink augmentation is all but undetectable. Kissing couples, dance floors, collisions in freefall tunnels —transhuman life is filled with opportunities for the untraceable passage of information across a casual touch. Just make sure the contact hasn’t been turned; nobody wants to shake hands with an exsurgent and download a basilisk hack directly into their brain.

Pinging A System

Sending out a signal to see what wireless nodes are active in the area is a great idea, but in a universe where hacking is literally child’s play, the most paranoid groups aren’t going to keep their sensitive intel on the mesh. Whether trying to infiltrate one of the Jovian hardwired computer facilities or a criminal organization, sometimes it pays to ping the group and see how they operate in meatspace.

Spoofing software works great for this, though it is just as easy to call in a favor from a contact or use Impersonation to directly imitate someone in power. Feed the group a bit of junk intel, then find a safe spot to sit back and make Perception Tests. Who does the triad try to evacuate when they think security forces are closing in? What employees get let go when rumors of budget cuts arise, and how can they be exploited? Where did the autonomist militia take that criminal revealed in the anonymous tip and is that where they are detaining the target? Pinging a group lets a team know what response patterns to expect and how to prepare for them.

Dangles and False Flags

If a sentinel knows there is going to be a fight, picking the setting is key. Ideally, the encounter should take place in a blind spot, away from sensors that are going to see the survivors placed in cold storage. Isolation is also key, especially if the targets are infectious or dealing with WMDs. Finding such locations isn’t typically the hard part; sentinels can invest a little credit in a lens spotter or a lot in a professional criminal’s blind spot map. The hard part is getting the opposition to show up.

That’s where dangles can help. Figure out something the target wants and advertise its location in the blind spot. “Need that ecto with all the passwords? Why, there it is! Right in the middle of the kill zone … ” Dangles are where social skills like Deception, Impersonation, and Persuasion become deadly. Even certain exsurgents can fall for a dangle. Spoof enough intel promising a high infection/casualty rate and a sentinel can trick some monsters into walking right out a rigged airlock.

Even better than luring an enemy into a trap is convincing everyone else it was someone else’s trap. False flags place the blame on some other faction, thereby protecting Firewall. They can be hard to pull off, usually requiring the theft of passwords or other identifying information, but they can save a massive amount of trouble in the long run. For example, if a Nine Lives outfit is in possession of valuable intel, ambush a Pax Familae gang instead and write a big “9” on the bulkhead in their blood. That secure server full of indentured egos will be much easier to hack when the whole crew is out making war. Better yet, convince Nine Lives that they can ambush the competition at a suspected exsurgent nest. Even if they all die, valuable intel about the enemy’s capabilities has been learned, and the universe has been temporarily relieved of a few ego-trafficking assholes.

Finally, don’t forget that sometimes the authorities can be a friend. When Firewall’s interests align with those of a habitat government, discreetly passing on what the conspiracy has learned can secure well-equipped allies. The LLA’s security forces are as likely to destroy TITAN-tech on sight as any Firewall agent, and they have access to resources agents do not. If things take a turn for the worse, the security forces may end up fractal fodder, but remember that stopping an x-threat may require sacrifice … and nobody said it had to be yours.

Combat Hacking

Hacking is of supreme importance for Firewall. Nearly all intelligence about various x-threats comes to the organization through some form of electronic surveillance. Conversely, every polity in the universe is equally well-versed in mesh warfare, and all it takes is one successful attack on the Eye to prove the conspiracy’s existence and make operations impossible. Unless the Jovians and Planetary Consortium are to be expected to save transhumanity from extinction, Firewall doesn’t need good hackers; they need the best. The problem occurs in balancing the superior technical skills required of a transhuman hacker with the survival skills necessary of a field agent. Due to mesh delays across systems, Firewall’s computing experts can often find themselves on the ground when the nanoswarms and plasma grenades start flying. Outfitted with nothing save mesh inserts, it might seem like the only thing to do is hope the backup insurance pays out. A prepared hacker with a little imagination, however, can wreck havoc on the battlefield.

Hacker Skills and Implants

Hackers need to do everything in their power to equip their morphs with either multitasking or mental speed augmentations. Remember that hacking is usually a Task Action, and performing the skill in a combat situation requires accelerating that timetable. A high WIL score is also essential and should be boosted with doses of drugs like grin, juice, or comfurt; it can be hard to write code while gut shot and getting attacked by a psi-epsilon sleight, but the ability to do so can mean the difference between life and resleeving. Speaking of exsurgents, hackers should avoid sleeving in morphs with cyberbrains whenever possible. The ability to fork quickly is nice, but the risk of exposure to digitized exsurgent strains is simply too great. Infosec, Interfacing, and Programming are essential to the everyday intelligence gathering of a computer specialist and equally important in a combat situation. Infosec is the most important of these to invest in, as MoS is everything in an Opposed Test. Those wanting to play a hacker might consider taking the Expert trait and boosting the skill up to 80 or 90 at the start. A high COG aptitude will cheapen the cost of Infosec skill set in the long run, and a drug gland of drive providing +5 to all COG-related tests couldn’t hurt either. Regardless of their other social abilities, effective hackers should at least have Deception or Impersonation at a decent level for the purposes of spoofing and social engineering.

In addition to mesh skills, hackers should invest in a number of Hardware skills. The ability to break the DRM on fabbers and program blueprints usually means that hackers end up equipping the team, and Hardware skills allow for the modification of all that tech. If the Hardware skills prove too expensive, consider at least outfitting a hacker’s muse with some relevant Knowledge skills. Finally, a Piloting: Aircraft skill will make the hacker indispensable to a team of agents, allowing for the operation of bots and escape craft.

Hacking is one of the few occupations in Eclipse Phase where credits really matter. Players would do well to convert some of their CP to credits during character creation. Though this is almost always a bad idea (skill points don’t go away with death; equipment does), the hacker is the exception. Programs like exploit, AR illusions, spoof, sniffer, tactical networks, and tracking can all transfer across morphs, as can fabber blueprints for various weaponry and bots. All are Moderate to High in cost, though, so extra starting credits at character creation are useful.

Lastly, hackers need to consider investing in Moxie. Spending a Moxie in the early rounds of an Infosec Test to upgrade a success to a critical success provides Hidden status, providing a +30 to all subsequent tests within that system. Hackers with a lot of Moxie and an Infosec skill of 70 can spend a point and make themselves practically immune to failure for the remainder of the hacking sequence, even if the defender succeeds.

Shell Jamming and Combat Drones

Harassment is the name of the game for a hacker smart enough to bring along some robotic backup. A number of highly effective bot types, such as the saucer, gnat, and guardian angel, can be found in most habitats or purchased cheaply. Better yet, sentinels with blueprints can begin building their army as soon as they arrive at a fabber. With enough fabber time or credits, anything is possible; the dwarf bot has a 16/12 armor rating, Durability of 150, and Wound Threshold of 30. Strap a gun to one and you’ve got a make-shift tank.

Hackers with multi-tasking can remote control or jam three shells at once, two if they want to take physical actions on the same turn. Load up the muse into another bot, and that makes four additional combatants fighting for Firewall, all operating simultaneously off a single Initiative. If the hacker has neurachem or some other speed boosting enhancement, that means a Speed 2 character can take 6 Complex Actions in a single Action Turn, or 12 Quick Actions if just giving orders via radio, plus a muse piloting another bot with a skill of 60 (30 for Perception, +30 for the enhanced vision equipped on many bots). This can provide a hacker and his allies total awareness of the combat space. With tacnet, the entire team can use indirect fire on painted targets while keeping egos out of the enemy’s crosshairs.

Some hackers, however, may want to contribute more directly to the victory. The key is modifying the bots to be combat effective. Guardian angels have eelware, and while shock attacks can be very effective against biomorphs, sometimes more is needed. Use Hardware: Robotics or Hardware: Industrial to equip bots with seeker micromissile launchers or other lightweight weapons, such as nanotoxin-coated wasp knives. If the gamemaster rules that weapons add too much weight for the bot to operate, strap on a single grenade and create a suicide bomber. Suicide rigging a saucer bot can be done for a minimum amount of credits or an hour at a desktop cornucopia; that’s a small price to pay for impaling an exsurgent with a spinning metal disc at 200 kph, then setting off a HEAP grenade inside its body cavity.

If you think the bot’s AI isn’t quite as skilled as you would like for a strafing run or suicide mission, you can remote control or jam the shell using multi-tasking and roll the hacker’s appropriate skill. Remember that “dying” while jamming a shell inflicts 1d10 SV on the user, but a shell striking a biomass only takes half-damage. You can also jam the seeker missiles of any member in your party. Load up a missile with a cheap taggant swarm and go searching the battlefield for a target. A hit will paint the target with a million spimes capable of enabling indirect fire to anyone on the tacnet. For that matter, any swarm could be loaded and virtually assured a first-round hit this way: an injector swarm could debilitate an enemy sniper in the first round, or a disassembler swarm could so horrify an enemy’s allies that they flee. The stress taken from launching a kamikaze attack might be a small price to pay for ending a fight quickly.

Tacnet, Counter-Intelligence, and Psyops

Tactical network is the single most powerful software in transhuman military tactics. Its ability to boost the situational awareness and cooperation of a squad has unparalleled benefits. Fighting without tacnet is fighting blind. This means the primary goal of a hacker in combat should be to protect the sentinels’ network and destroy the opposition’s. Tacnet’s primary drawback is that it livestreams an enormous amount of information across a VPN to users. Time-delay defeats the purpose of the exercise, so there are any number of signals to piggy-back on directly into an enemy’s mesh inserts. It is assumed there isn’t much danger of this happening on account of the bullets flying all over the place, but a skilled hacker can overcome such obstacles.

Mental speed is the superior implant for attacking enemies with malware in combat. The time-dilation reduces the Task Action of brute-force hacking down to a matter of turns rather than minutes. Essential software includes exploit, of course, but sniffer is equally important. It is unlikely the enemy will be sending out friend requests in the middle of combat, but all sorts of equipment is wirelessly active and feeding info into a enemy mesh inserts: smartlinks, medichines, locater spimes, armor diagnostic programs, etc. Use sniffer to find a signal, hack it, then subvert the tacnet.

Even if an intrusion on a tacnet is detected, a major tactical advantage is scored when the enemy has to shut down. If a hacker can maintain Hidden or Covert status, the fight is all but over. Attempts to hack cyberbrains can be made, leaving a hacker to download a debilitating scorcher or assume control via a puppet sock. AR illusions can make targeting next to impossible for the opposition, whereas spoof can be used to lead enemies into ambushes or friendly fire incidents. Muses can be attacked and deleted, inflicting heavy stress penalties. By the time opponents realize what has gone wrong, their ability to fight will be all but destroyed.

That said, sophisticated enemies might attempt the same tactics against Firewall agents. Hackers should make sure that they monitor their own team’s tacnet carefully and resist any intrusion attempts, spending Moxie on rolls if necessary. Purchasing redundant firewall software for such a sensitive system is also a good idea. If intrusion seems inevitable, radio jammers are cheap to buy and can level the playing field by rendering all tacnets useless.

Habitat Exploitation

The single most devastating tactic employed by hackers on the battlefield is controlling the battlefield itself. While mesh subsystems are typically too sophisticated to hack in the midst of combat, some foresight can allow a hacker to set up traps of varying deadliness. Speed is still the preferred mental augmentation for hacking into habitat systems and exploit is still required. Tracking or sniffer can be used to map the various access points to different habitat VPNs, and spoofing is useful for luring targets to specific points in the habitat via a dangle maneuver (above). Probability mapping software, though expensive, is excellent for this type of work because it not only helps predict enemy movements but the locations of bystanders as well, allowing the hacker to minimize civilian casualties. Finally, gray boxes allow remote access to systems that are otherwise hardwired for safety reasons. If the plan is to suck all the oxygen out of a room with an emergency fire protocol, it is best not to be trapped in the room with the enemy when it happens.

Once the targets have been lured into place by the agents or allies, it’s just a matter of choosing which trap to spring. Hacking the defense and security subsystems seems the obvious choice, providing access to electronic surveillance, weapons batteries, smart animals, armed personnel, and satellites. If the security on those VPNs proves too challenging, consider going into the resources subsystem and reprogramming the station’s bots into a private army. Infrastructure subsystems typically don’t have control of external airlocks anywhere but the bulkhead door, but most interior bulkheads can be sealed remotely and with explosive force, trapping enemies inside or crushing them underneath. With a little bit of ductwork, fabbers can be reprogrammed to pump almost any substance through the vents at a command, including everything from nerve gas to aerosol explosives. Really, there are endless options for turning a habitat into an offensive weapon. Reprogram the egocasting services to farcast the target’s backup to a Firewall interrogation simulspace. Turn the nanobots in the healing vat into a disassembler swarm. When a skilled hacker knows where the enemy will be and has access, there are few threats that stand a chance.

Travel Agents

Firewall needs to stay mobile. The most dangerous x-threats grow in isolated areas that discourage farcasting and stay off the mesh. If there isn’t already a sentinel with a good cover in the area, the continued existence of transhumanity can depend on successfully delivering assets to these isolated targets. Pilot AIs can’t be trusted to navigate an asteroid field mined with killsats when the fate of all transhumanity hangs in the balance. Policed borders such as the TITAN Quarantine Zone on Mars and the New Mumbai Containment Zone on Luna often require a sentinel’s attention, and a well-piloted buggy can mean the difference between successful infiltration and eating an orbital strike.

Complicating matters are the limited resources of the organization. Firewall can’t afford to waste personnel waiting in the car when an operation goes live. Furthermore, the most sensitive intel is often airgapped from the mesh and requires physical access; a freerunner capable of ditching the meatspace security can be just as useful to the cause as a skilled hacker in such situations. As such, some sentinels are recruited based on their addiction to speed in all its forms rather than any combat or investigative abilities. Sometimes just getting away alive is the most damaging blow Firewall can inflict on its enemies.

Transporter Skills and Implants

The transporter has two goals: get fellow sentinels into the theater of operations undetected, and extract them (or their stacks) with the intelligence. Thus, movement in all its forms is the priority for this sentinel. REF, SOM, and INT are the most important aptitudes for such a character. Placing some extra CP in these areas can save a lot on skill points in the long run. The type of movement skills that receive the most CP depends on how much the gamemaster is willing to say about the game’s setting, but players would be smart to focus their 400 Active skill points around Fray, Freerunning, Free Fall, Flight, and two Piloting skills. Without a lot of knowledge about where the game will take place, these skills should all be at about the same level. Freerunning is certainly fun to use, but it means nothing in a microgravity space habitat and can’t keep someone from shooting into deep space. Similarly, unless there is a fusion jet parked in the middle of the street, it is easy to regret not taking points in Pilot: Groundcraft as the security forces close in. If the game’s setting is known beforehand, it will be easier to specialize, but a player dedicated to being the group’s travel agent can easily get the whole cadre of movement skills into the 50–60 range at character creation.

Biomorphs are the most desirable for transporters, especially those that provide bonuses to REF or SOM. Bouncers are especially desirable because they have a bonus to Free Fall checks but suffer no serious penalty in gravity. Neo-avians might be great for certain jobs, but their small size is limiting. If you have to lug a bloody bag full of cortical stacks and scavenged weapons out of a killzone, running will be preferable to flying. A neo-avian doesn’t have this option, but a biomorph can be modified with wings that work in low gravity, or a backwing can be purchased at Moderate cost to allow for flight in upwards of 1 g. Even in zero g, a humanoid biomorph armed with a cheap spindle climber is the equal of most avians.

If it’s affordable, consider placing a cyberbrain in a biomorph for a transporter, or at the very least prepare a beta fork and have it ready in a ghost rider module. Sleeving into vehicles can be stressful and dangerous if engaged in a combat situation, but using a trained fork to pilot spares up another set of hands on deck that could mean life or death for the sentinels in transit. Cyberbrains can also be equipped with the Math Wiz trait, which can be really handy for mapping telemetries in the middle of combat.

For physical movement, Infiltration skill is not a bad idea for those situations where stealth is preferred to confrontation. Traits like Direction Sense and Home Turf can also help when getting around on foot, but both of these can easily be duplicated with low cost gear like the breadcrumb positioning system.

For Piloting skills, the Spacecraft and Groundcraft fields are highly recommended. A good case can be made for using Pilot: Spacecraft to default on many Pilot: Aircraft checks, and Groundcraft covers a wide array of vehicles. Hardware: Aerospace or Hardware: Electronics make these abilities more versatile, allowing for hotwiring and on-the-fly repairs. Alternately, a technician AI is only moderately expensive and can be sleeved in almost any cheap bot. Profession and Interest skills are another great way to boost piloting abilities. If it fits with the character’s backstory, consider purchasing skills like Profession: Racing or Interest: GoCycle Engines to help out in a pinch.

Finally, no sentinel should go without weapons skills or Moxie. Moxie can be extremely important for the opposed rolls of a high-stakes chase and transporters should buy as much as they can. As far as combat goes, consider specializing in shredders. They provide bonuses to hit at close range that can negate movement penalties (more so with a smartlink), and they discourage pursuers from getting too close. Freezers fall into this category as well; in addition to stopping enemies in their tracks, they can be used to create obstacles at chokepoints to slow pursuers.

Getting There in Space

There is no such thing as space combat: there is dying in space or not dying in space. Pilots approaching a hardened target in vacuum need to be solely concerned with avoiding detection. Hopefully, other sentinels are helping out by blinding or hacking sensors, but surviving orbital defenses is ultimately the responsibility of the transport specialist. In this instance, forks come in handy when sleeved into a spaceship’s sensor arrays; a transhuman is far better at spotting defenses and obstacles than any AI, and early detection is the key to survival. Metamaterial hulls are great if you can afford them, but ultimately the best way to avoid detection in space is to minimize heat. Mapping telemetry from a few thousand kilometers out and sticking to the flight plan without making a burn requires nerves of steel and superb piloting skills, but luckily that is just the kind of risk a transporter lives for. If the sensors are too sophisticated for a cold entry, remember that even the best systems have to sort out junk data. Hiding in a debris field of some sort makes it very hard for sensors to distinguish between ship and chaff. Granted, flying through a debris field large enough to cover an approach is almost as dangerous as being shot at, but at least it’s stealthy when you die. If the ship gets close enough, docking might not be an option until an airlock is manually bypassed. Martian mercenaries are great to have along when the bullets start flying, but if those zero-g noobs fly off into space trying to enter a habitat, the mission ends before it starts. Again, this is where forking comes in handy for a transporter. If another you can pilot the ship while your morph uses superior Free Fall skills to make the kilometers-long leap to the target, the rest of the team can follow along safely using the spindle line trailed behind you.

Getting There on Foot

Infiltrating solo is usually the best choice if the target area is in an inhabited area. If social engineering and networks can’t arrange entrance into a secure facility, a single morph runs a better chance of infiltrating than a whole group and can disarm security once inside. A transporter with a chameleon or invisibility cloak will be successful against most visual sensors, though lidar, sonar, and chem sniffers will still present a problem. Remember that security costs credits; they’ll only install sensors where they think extremely talented thieves might attempt entry to fulfill their rational self-interest. Insane approaches that require stunning expertise and a death wish to attempt will likely not be covered, and that’s where the transporter’s movement becomes a weapon. Even if there aren’t any industrial fans to make a daring dive through, perhaps all the team needs is a distraction. Cause a commotion and tie up security forces chasing you around the habitat; meanwhile, the rest of the team can sneak in and steal the intel.

Getting Everywhere Else

When planet-side and trying to infiltrate entire cities or forbidden zones, running a border requires a vehicle of some sort. The bad news is that in almost every instance avoiding detection is impossible. Even shielded ground vehicles are going to leave a dust trail, and air defenses around such facilities are very sophisticated indeed. The best answer is to use a vehicle already approved to cross the border, either by hijacking or hotwiring it using Hardware skills. If this isn’t possible, speed is the key. Pursuit usually has a finite Range: Martian rangers will only go so far into the White Zone; Jovians pursuing someone into Europan space might be considered an act of war; etc. If you can outpace or outmaneuver security, border runs can end in success even after detection … unless they have orbital defenses. In that case, your only option is to go. Fast.

Getting Away

Exfiltration usually proves to be the major challenge of an operation. Everything that can go wrong already has, and now it is a matter of getting vital intel back to Firewall. Even if the x-threat is eliminated, the conspiracy might still launch a kinetic kill strike at a habitat if no one can get within mesh range to report. In a worst-case scenario, the last sentinel left standing could find themselves the only hope of getting the crew’s stacks resleeved. Situations like these are where agents specialized in movement are pivotal.

The key to escaping in a chase is flexibility. An agent being chased by security forces on cycles should go freerunning across the roofs. If enemies continue on foot, hijack a civilian cycle and make them run all the way back to theirs. If being pursued by buggies, drive off a cliff, trigger a flying vest, and ditch mid-air. End an air pursuit by parachuting over the city and blending into a crowded souk. Mixing modes will require pursuers to be as versatile as the sentinel, and this is unlikely if the agent is specialized for mobility. If the pursuer has to suddenly be in possession of and know how to fly a microlight, it is a far better deterrent than making them jump over a stack of crates you knocked over.

If mixing modes isn’t possible, remember that chases are Opposed Tests. Nowhere is a point of Moxie more powerful. Find the most insane stunt you can and upgrade a success into a critical. The insanity of weaving through traffic on a Martian highway at rush hour will stop most pursuers dead, and those crazy enough to continue the chase better hope they’re as lucky as their quarry was.

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