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Computer Use (Skill)



The Computer Use skill, as one might imagine, governs the use of all computers. The Computer Use skill comes in handy in an extraordinarily wide range of situations and activities. A Computer Use check is not necessary for the most routine uses of computers, and can be made untrained in others. Use this skill to access computer systems (including those which run a starship), write or modify computer programs, and override or bypass computer-controlled devices. This skill is centrally important to many actions in the Grid, as well.

Check: Most normal computer operations, such as using a typical consumer application or doing research on the Grid, don’t require a Computer Use check, though doing research may require a Research check. Additionally, many public access computers run Assist programs that allow the user to act as if trained with a small number of ranks in the Computer Use skill.

More complex tasks, however, including hacking of any sort, programming Shadows, and so on, require trained Computer Use checks. Gridrunning and hacking are covered under Computers, but less complicated uses of the skill and uses that don’t involve the Grid are covered here.

Untrained Uses

The following applications of the Computer Use skill can be used untrained.

Conduct Active Sensor Scan

Using a starship’s sensors to analyze another ship or object in sensor range requires a Computer Use check (DC 15). An active sensor scan conducted over a vast distance (for example, across a star system) or subject to some form of disturbance or interference (such as solar flares) may apply a –5 or worse penalty, at the GM’s discretion. Conducting an active sensor scan is a move action.

Find File

Finding a specific file on a system with which you are unfamiliar requires a Computer Use check. The DC for the check and the time required depend upon the size and complexity of the system you’re searching. If your target is beyond your access, you learn the next portal to defeat.

You can take 10 or 20 only in systems in which you are an authorized user. Failing Find File checks when hacking bears the same risk of detection as failed checks to overcome Portals and Permissions.

Size of Area AccessedDCTime
Personal computer or site101 action
Small network/menu15 1 round
Large network/directory25 1 minute
Massive network/root directory35 10 minutes

Searching the Grid

Untrained characters can attempt to search for a specific site on the Grid. This involves finding an address or a gate to the site. The difficulty of finding a link or portal to a Grid site is dependent on the kind of content the site contains, and whether it is intended to be easily found or not, as shown below:

Advertised sites take pains to be found. Finding them requires no check, and is usually instantaneous.

Public sites are open to any Grid user, though not necessarily easy to find. Finding such a site requires 1 round and a DC 10 Computer Use check. The user can take 10 on this check. The GM may grant a circumstance bonus/penalty on the roll of –3 to +3 depending how popular the site is.

Private sites are generally not open to the casual Grid user and/or are not advertised or listed. Finding a private site requires 1 round and a DC 20 Computer Use check. The GM may grant a circumstance penalty/bonus on the roll of –4 to +4 based on the popularity of the site.

Protected sites are those that are both closed to non-members and actively hidden. Finding such sites requires 1 minute and a DC 30 Computer Check use. The GM may grant a circumstance penalty/bonus on the roll of –6 to +6 based on the security and legality of the site. Only characters trained in Computer Use can search for protected sites.

Restricted sites are actively closed and hidden, and which carry negative consequences for unauthorized access. Secure governmental and criminal sites and networks, AIs, and so on are examples of restricted sites. Finding a restricted site requires 10 minutes and a base DC 30 Computer Use check. The GM may grant a circumstance penalty/bonus on the roll of –1 to –10 based on the level of site security. At the GM’s discretion, any attempt to find a restricted site may be detected by the site’s owners.

Inaccessible sites are those sites that are not connected to the Grid or not connected to the user’s Grid. Gates and portals to such sites do not exist.

Send Transmission

Routine communications like hailing a nearby ship or operating a mass– or laser-transceiver, are accomplished with a Computer Use check (DC 10). Operating a drivesat relay and other, more complicated transmissions require checks at DC’s of 20 and above. Sending a transmission is a move action; operating a drivesat and other complex function require full round actions or longer.

Trained Only Uses

The following applications of the Computer Use skill cannot be used untrained.

Access a Node Via the Grid

Reaching a target via the Grid requires two Computer Use checks. The first check (DC 10 or higher) is needed to find the site on the Grid, as described in Searching the Grid. The second check is to defeat the node’s Portal DC. Once you’ve succeeded at both checks, you’ve accessed the site.

However you get access to your target site/system, you usually start your session in a default node within the domain, a kind of entrance-way.

Cover Tracks

By making a Computer Use check (DC 20) before beginning a session, you can alter your identifying information. The check requires 1 minute and cannot be made untrained; you can take 10 but not 20. This triples the amount of time a trace takes to track , giving you much more time to find and negate the trace or end the session before the track is complete. The alterations last until you end your session.

Defeat Computer Security

All computers and networks have security systems of one sort or another. Unless you are an authorized user of a system, you will need to defeat the security software to access the system. There are generally at least two steps to hacking into any computerized system: bypassing portals and gaining permissions. Portals are just what they sound like: doors, usually locked doors, which have to be unlocked for you to get at the stuff you want. Permissions allow you to do whatever it is you want to do.

In addition to Portals and Permissions to overcome, each security system has an ability to detect failed hacking attempt against it. The better the security system, the smaller the margin for error, called the Detection Range. If you fail any hacking Computer Use check by a node’s Detection Range or more, the system immediately alerts an administrator of your attempt. An alerted administrator can cut off your access to a system, trace your signal, or otherwise ruin your day. At the GM’s discretion, if you beat a Portal DC by 10 or more, you may have found a back door and automatically succeed at any further Portal checks until the end of your session.

Security LevelPortal DCPermissions DCDetection Range

Defend Security

If you are the system administrator, you can defend a site against intruders. If your site alerts you to an intruder, you can attempt to cut off the intruders access (end her session), or even to identify the intruder.

To cut off access, make an opposed Computer Use check against the intruder. If you succeed, the intruder’s session is ended. She might be able to defeat your security and access the site again, but at least she’ll have to start all over. Attempting to cut off access takes a full round.

To trace an intruder, make an opposed Computer Use check against the him. If you succeed, you learn the location from which the intruder is operating (grid address/home node, access point, etc.) Identifying an intruder requires one minute and can only be made while the intruder is accessing your site—if she disconnects before you finish the check, you automatically fail. There are programs—called traces or spikes—that perform this function more quickly.

Degrade Programming

You can destroy or alter applications on a computer or network to make use of that computer harder or impossible. You must defeat any Portals between you and the target before you can degrade a program.

Degrading programming in this manner requires two Computer Use checks. The first check is against the Permissions DC of the node or file (as appropriate), to gain access to the program or system you’re targeting. The second check is made to alter the program or application. The DC for the attempt depends on what you try to do.

Crashing a program or system simply shuts it down, forcing its user to reboot it (which requires 1d10 rounds). There is no subtlety in this action, and it immediately alerts admins and trips alarms.

Crippling programming or files makes targets unusable until replaced or repaired (if possible). There is no subtlety in this action, and it immediately alerts admins and trip alarms.

Damaging programming imposes a -4 penalty on all Computer Use checks or other rolls made using the system until the programming is repaired. At the attacking character’s option, she can attempt to alter the target in specific ways (changing the text of a document or the faces in a video, for instance).

Fixing degraded programs and systems requires that the damage by detected and “diagnosed” (which may take some time and skills checks in the case of damaged programs, as the GM decides). Once the damage is known, 1 hour and a Computer Use check against a DC equal to the DC for degrading the target +5.

False Sensor Readings

This use of the Computer Use skill allows a character to modify ship, vehicle, mecha, or personal sensor systems to generate false sensor readings. This can be done in two ways: by reprogramming the sensors that the character wants to give the false readings, or by using another sensor system to broadcast a false sensor profile to confuse other sensors. Either method is a fill-round action. In order to alter a sensor system to produce false readings whenever it is used, the character need only make a normal Computer Use check (using any normal modifiers that would factor into the check for the system) to alter the system’s programming. Once the check is made, the character may decide whether the sensors provide exaggerated results (detecting small starfighters as huge capital ships, sensing high levels of radiation where the levels are low, etc.), understated results (detecting clean air where there are toxic gases, detecting a small scout fighter where there is a heavy cruiser, etc.), or no results at all.

Suspicious characters may recalibrate the sensors by making a computer Use check of their own, with a DC equal to the check of the character who originally altered the sensors. The second method of creating a false sensor profile uses an existing sensor array to broadcast false readings so that any attempts to scan the ship, character, mecha, etc. made by other sensors produce inaccurate results. The character may then make a Computer Use check to alter the sensor profile; the base DC for this check is 15, modified by the fol-lowing factors:

Intercept Communications

Any form of electronic communication may be intercepted. To intercept messages, you simply set a target and make a Computer Use check (DC 35) to receive “copies” of any messages sent to or by that target. If you are only after mes-sages between your target and another individual whose address you know, the DC drops to 25.

By networking an electricomp with a communication device, you can attempt to intercept communications made by similar devices within the device’s range. Intercepting communications takes one minute to set up and a Computer Use check (DC 35). If you know the number or frequency of the comm device initiating the call, the DC drops to 25.

In an area with dense comm traffic, the GM may require you to make a Search check to find a specific transmission. If a transmission is encoded, addition skills and/or gear may be required to decrypt it.

Interface with Alien Computer

In the decades or centuries that humanity has interacted with the familiar, advanced, alien species (fraal, t’sa, and mechalus), the technology of these species has become quite compatible. Computers and other technology of these species interface and communicate easily and routinely. In cases of new and unfamiliar species, however, it requires time and Computer Use checks to get the systems to interface. If the character has some passing familiarity with the race, and some knowledge of its language (or a program that does), it takes a full-round action and a Computer Use check (DC 20) to interface with the system. If the species and its technology are completely unfamiliar, it takes 30 hours minus the character’s ranks in Computer Use and a Computer Use check (DC 30) to complete the interface. The gamemaster may adjust this time and the DC based on how unfamiliar the species is and how incompatible the computer systems are.

Jam Transmission

Computer Use skill can be used to prevent a ship, facility, or other transmitter/receiver from sending and receiving transmissions. An opposed check must be must made between the two systems operators (DC 15 for an unmanned computer) for each transmission, and only frequencies and transmission types that the character has access to may be jammed. Jamming a transmission is a full-round action.

Lock System

This application of the Computer Use skill allows a character to lock a particular target into performing the same task without interruption.

The targeted system continues to function, but it concentrates all of its resources on performing the single operation that the attacking character has chosen, and may not be accessed by other operators.

This use of the skill this requires that you defeat any portals between you and the target program or system, and then defeat the Permissions DC (if any) of that program or node. Locking a system is a full-round action and takes a Computer Use check (DC 25) to initiate. The character declares the action she wishes the system to continually perform (sound an alarm, transmit vulgar text, calculate pi to the last digit, etc.) and the computer performs the task until deactivated or until the character that locked the system commands it to cease. Note that the function must be one the system could normally perform or the attempt automatically fails. Another character may attempt to break the lock by making a Computer Use check with a DC equal to the check result of the character who locked the system, and that all appropriate security measures must be overcome before an attempt can be made to lock a system.

Operate a Remote Device

Many devices are computer-operated via remote links. If the character has access to the computer that controls such systems, the character can either shut them off or change their operating parameters. The DC depends on the nature of the operation. If the character fails the check by 5 or more, the system immediately alerts its administrator that there has been an unauthorized use of the equipment. An alerted administrator may attempt to identify the character or cut off his or her access to the system.

Type of OperationDCTime
Shut down passive remote (including cameras and door locks)201 round per remote
Shut down active remote (including motion detectors and alarms)251 round per remote
Reset parameters301 minute per remote
Change passcodes25 1 minute
Hide evidence of alteration+101 minute
Minimum security–5
Exceptional security+10
Maximum security+15

Power Up/Power Down System

A character in control of a computer system can use the Computer Use skill to siphon power away from or to any system connected to that computer. With a simple Computer Use check (DC 20), a character may activate or deactivate any such system as a move action.


Robots are computerized systems and can be programmed, reprogrammed, or hacked like any other computer. This usually requires physical access to the robot and some sort of interface device. If the robot has a robolink, however, you can at-tempt to intercept the signal and access its systems that way, if you have the gear.

Finding the frequency of a robolink with an electricomp requires a Search check (with the +4 equipment bonus provided by the sensor) with a DC of 40. You can then program your own RemCon implant (or similar device) to broadcast on that frequency and attempt to access the robot’s programming.

Whether accessing a robot’s systems directly or through a robolink and RemCon implant, its security must be defeated like any other computer system. Once you have access, you can attempt the following:

Reprogram Robot Friend-or-Foe Subroutine: Altering a robot’s attitude toward a certain individual or group is similar in many respects to altering an NPC’s attitude using the Diplomacy skill. Rather than using interaction to reason with the robot, however, a character simply uses Computer Use to change the robot’s base programming. The DC for changing a robot’s attitude is based on the difference between the robot’s initial attitude and the new attitude.

The advantage of using this method over simply using Diplomacy on the NPC robot is that henceforth, regardless of circumstances, the robot will always have the new attitude toward the character or group. The time to perform this use of the skill is equal to the check’s DC X 1 round.

Initial AttitudeNew Attitude
Hostile - 30 35 45 55
Unfriendly - 15 25 35 45
Indifferent - - 11 25 35
Friendly - - - 11 25

Reprogram Robot Task Routines: Reprogramming a robot to perform a very specific task involves restructuring the robot’s logic protocols. You can program a robot with a single command at a time, combining commands to program the robot for more complex tasks. The base DC for the check is equal to 10 + the robot’s Intelligence modifier, and it requires 1 round to perform per command. Consult the following table to determine any modifiers to the DC.

Condition DC Mod.
Robot is Helpful toward you -5
Robot is Unfriendly toward you +5
Robot is Hostile toward you +10
Command endangers robot +10
Command endangers friends, allies or owners of robot +5
Command violates other programming directives +15
Robot has Command Codes feat +10

Scramble/Unscramble Transmission

Computer Use can be used to scramble a transmission. This requires a full-round action and a Computer Use check. The result of the check determines the DC for any unauthorized attempt to unscramble the transmission. The intended recipients usually have a software key that allows them to unscramble the transmission without a check. Unscrambling the transmission, with or without a key, is also a full-round action.

Shipboard Security

A ship’s internal security systems are capable of opening or shutting doors, activating or deactivating alarms, and so on. On most smaller ships, these functions are handled from the bridge or cockpit, although larger ships have dedicated security stations. Operating security systems from a designated post is easy (Computer Use, DC 10). Accessing them from other terminals on the ship may be possible, but it’s also more difficult (Computer Use DC 20). If two different characters are attempting to control security systems, they must make opposed Computer Use checks; anyone using a security station gains a +5 bonus.

Ship Systems

On ships that require more than one operator, a character’s Computer Use skill is employed to determine the success of using sensors, weapons, shields, and other functions.

Upgrade Programming

It’s generally easier to alter an existing program than to create a new one from scratch. The DC depends on what the alteration sets out to accomplish and whether or not the user wants his “tampering” to readily obvious.

Type of AlterationDCTime
Upgrade program (apply a +2 circumstance bonus to skill checks for using the system; costs 200 dollars)151 hour

Use Alien Computers

Using the computer systems of an unfamiliar alien species can be quite problematic. Any Computer Use checks made on the unfamiliar system incur a –10 penalty, unless the character has the Read & Write Language skill (or software) for that species, in which case the penalty is reduced to –5.

Write Computer Program

Writing a computer program requires the Craft (software) skill instead of Computer Use.

Try Again

You can usually try as many times as necessary to accomplish a given application of the Computer Use skill. Changing circumstances may, however, may make it harder, impossible, or pointless to try again.


You can take 10 when making a Computer Use check, but you can only take 20 when your action doesn’t involve any penalty for failure (not when hacking, for example).

A character with the Gearhead feat gets a +2 bonus to all Computer Use checks, all Mechalus receive a +2 bonus to all Computer use checks and residents from Insight receive a +2 bonus to all Computer Use checks.

Whenever you are remotely accessing a computer, network, or device (as through the Grid), the quality of your connection can limit your maximum total modifier (including all bonuses) to your Computer Use check. This is never the case when you are accessing a computer directly.

computer_use_skill.txt · Last modified: 2013/11/11 23:01 by storyteller