Combat in a Netrunner RPG

Is there any? I think perhaps there is not very much. Which has come to me as a bit of a ‘huh’ moment when trying to pull together a set of RPG rules for playing in the Netrunner world. Some of this thinking crystallised with this conversation with my good mate Gaz over on the What Would the Smart Party Do? podcast.Combat is a mainstay of the vast majority of RPGs right? It tends to get it’s own chapter, and that means sub-systems for equipment (ie. weapons) and healing etc etc. Even in games that treat combat like any other regular task or conflict, it’s still assumed that at some point in the scenario, it will come to blows. So, without even noticing, I assumed that a Netrunner game would need a combat system.

The evidence suggests otherwise. Out of my collection of thousands of Netrunner cards, I can think of only one that really represents an actual weapon; the Unregistered S&W.


Don’t get me wrong, there’s a fair amount of violence in the Android Netrunner world, both in the Net and out of it, but it’s rarely mano-a-mano melee stuff, or gunfights in dirty alleys. Meat Damage is a thing in Netrunner, and there’s a preventative measure in the form of cards like Plascrete Carapace. Even so I don’t really get the impression that these are round by round, roll initiative type tasks.


Rather, I think there are quick, dirty, extreme instances of violence, as epitomised by Weyland Corps classic Scorched Earth or Traffic Accident plays. These wouldn’t get played out as round by round actions, if anything they might resolve in the background.

All this came to me while trying to figure out how i would swet up a Netrunmner campaign using Fate Acclereated as a system. It’s a fave of mine, and does well with dramatic characters who do dramatic things. It’s also incredibly versatile, in that you can apply the FAE rules to everything, not just the PCs.

The first step is to come up with Approaches (attributes, kinda, sorta). These are the ‘skills’ that will be rolled against in the game whenever there’s doubt about outcomes. The original FAE approaches would do as they are, but why not put some Android flavour on them?

My first pass came up with:

  • Killer
  • Decoder
  • Fracter
  • Events
  • Resources
  • Hardware

And as soon as I’d written them down I realised they werre very much Runner approaches, and I really want to have Corps available to play in my hack. Well, no-one says they have to be identical (remember; one of my goals is to maintain the asymmetry from the card game) so for Corps I came up with:

  • ICE
  • Assets
  • Upgrades
  • Operations
  • Clicks
  • Credit

All the words are Netrunner jargon, and the top three in each list are specific to events within the Net where the Runner attempts to break into the Corps servers. I’d use them outside of the Net too, simply by extrapolating the scope of the word. For instance, see Killer as Dexterity, Decoder as Intelligence, and Fracter as Strength and you’re half way there. For a Corp exec, he rolls ICE whenever he’s trying to attack or defend an agenda against a  runners schemes, literally. Or she rolls Assets when she calls in favours, or Upgrades when she needs the right kit in the right place.

At one point I had Violence as an Approach, for both Corp and Runner, but as explained at the top of the post, I’ve moved away from that now.

Stress boxes can be ported directly in from FAE, all I need is to use Net, Meat and Brain damage as consequences.

I’ve got some great ideas for stunts, each tied to the faction of the PC. For starters:

  • Anarch: Attack (virus)
  • Shaper: Overcome (Shaper bullshit)
  • Criminal: Create Advantage (sneakdoor)
  • Jinteki: Overcome (1000 cuts)
  • Weyland: Attack (tag n bag)
  • Haas Bioroid: Defend (glacier)
  • NBN: Create Advantage (fast advance)

The last thing to explore is Aspects, and they are usually straightforward, but I have Trouble with a capital T. In Fate games, the trouble aspect is vital, it’s the one that keeps the game moving forward both narratively, and as a driver of the Fate point economy with it’s compels. However, in Netrunner, the characters don’t have much if any disadvantages present on their cards. There’s more info in the fiction, and in the big box Android board game that predates the cards, but… I want to be true to the cards where I can.

So a possibility is to give out a standardised Trouble aspect to everyone, which is “never enough time or money”. In other words, have the GM throw various spanners in the works by using clicks and credits to pressure the PCS. That’s very true to the card game, and the PCs can respond with their own schemes to mitigate that trouble.

Which means altering the Corp approaches. Bugger. Unless I use Bad Publicity as a generic trouble just for the Corp? Interesting!



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