Override All Security! Computers and Hacking
So, here are there basics. There is a Computers skill, which at its most basic is defined as the ability to operate, manipulate, and hack into computer systems. It’s Intelligence based, cannot be used untrained (though there is an exception), and is a class skill for envoys, mechanics, operatives and technomancers. If you have access to a computer system’s physical interface, you don’t need any other tools, but if not you need a hacking kit to attempt to interact with a system.
If a computer is unsecured, a DC 10 Computers check allows you to use its most basic functions, and unlike other Computers skill tasks this can be done untrained if you take 20, so normally it isn’t an issue unless you’re in a hurry. If a computer is secured, there are tasks you can perform with the skill, all of which are built around defining computers with tiers, modules, and systems.
Computers themselves are defined in their own section in the equipment chapter. In general, a computer has an item level equal to double its tier. A tier 1 computer might be something as simple as a common datapad, while a tier 10 computer may be running an entire space station or handling major systems for a large company. Beyond its tier, a computer is defined by its size, user interface, access and authorization, basic function, modules (which define what the computer can do or control beyond its basic functions, and may include controlling other devices or computers), and countermeasures.
Computers skill checks have DCs based on the tier and countermeasures of the computer they are applied to, and generally take one round per tier of the computer. If you hack a computer and beat the DC to do so by 20, you gain root access, and can use the computer with no further checks. (And if you buy or build a computer, it comes with root access for you.) Otherwise, each module or system you attempt to manipulate requires its own check. As might be expected, there are various modifiers, special abilities, and tool kits that can affect this base system, but at its core the Computers skill allows a character to at least attempt anything software- or hardware-related that an adventuring character is likely to need to deal with.
The rules for computers also allow players to design and buy or build their own. Most starships are also assumed to have a computer with a tier equal to half the starship’s tier, which can also be upgraded to help operate various ship systems. A computer can have upgrades or countermeasures installed to grant it new capabilities, make it more resistant to hacking, increase its battery life, and so on. Below is a preview of part of one common upgrade, the artificial personality.
An artificial personality is a program designed to allow a computer to hold conversations in plain language with both users and creatures that lack access. Such computers are often given a name and are capable of parsing expressions, slang, social cues, tone of voice, and similar elements beyond a literal understanding of spoken or written words. They can respond appropriately through algorithms and lists of billions of known phrases and expressions, developed by programmers over centuries to allow for extremely natural-sounding conversations. Such computers can even display what appear to be emotions and insights. However, unlike androids, computers with artificial personalities have not attained true consciousness. The ability of an artificial personality to hold a conversation, learn names and habits, and even give advice is based purely on its complex code and extensive lexicons.