I'm in the process of putting together a new story arc, and I decided I wanted to challenge myself and build a Matrix-centric story line. Now, in most of my games the Matrix is seen as a tool, something my players interact with to accomplish the mission, and not as a crucial part of the gaming session. A lot of this is a hold over from Shadowrun 3rd Edition when running the Matrix was a very painful experience.
However, in Shadowrun 5th Edition the Matrix blends with the real-world action a bit better. While it's still not perfect, it's close. So, with that I mind I sat down to think about what I wanted the Matrix interactions to look like. In previous games I always tried to make Matrix hosts ritzy, and glamorous, wild colors, and crazy layouts. However, as I started planning the run I realized that from the perspective of a system administrator, that's the last thing I would want.
A Matrix host is tied to a physical location, so, why would you design your Matrix host to be wildly different from your physical location? Especially in the case of an office building, bank, factory, or other production facility.
I started with the first major location, a boat yard in Everett.I modeled the location on Vigor Industries, a real-world shipbuilder in Seattle. I had a good idea of the yard layout that I wanted, several large dry docs, fabrication sheds, storage sheds, liquid tanks, parking, etc. all enclosed by a high fence, and a legacy drone on rail system, that's a hold-over from Shadowrun 4th Edition.
With the physical layout roughed out I turned over to the Matrix. At first, I envisioned this nautical themed host, with boats, and pirates, and parrot IC. This seemed like an amazing idea at first, but as I played with it more, and the physical location came together, the analogy fell apart. It simply was a pain to remember the pirate-centric theme as I developed the run. I realized, that if I couldn't remember the theme in planning, I wasn't going to remember it at the table.
With that in mind I sat back with a coffee and thought about the problem from a real world view. I've worked in web design, both front end, and back end development, and I wondered if I was handed the challenge of designing a Matrix host for a shipyard, what would it look like? How would I design it if I had to sit and maintain it day after day.
I started with the drones. I wanted legacy drones on a rail, with a smaller number of tracked drones inside, and a large group of worker drones in cradles and on charging pads around the 12 acre facility. All of these were represented in the Matrix by an icon that roughly mirrored their function. Welder drones looked like a MIG set, trundle drones looked like a hand cart, etc. Security drones used their default icon, and so would be immediately recognizable to my team, with a spot check, and possibly a knowledge check.
With the drones sorted, I moved on to the buildings. I theorized that with RFID tags, and smart inventory systems, there's no reason that the security rigger shouldn't be able to see the buildings contents, once he had a mark on the building's icon. With this in mind, I developed a layer-cake model for the buildings. Each building was an icon itself. Once a building was marked, the contents icons would become visible, and the building itself would become translucent. Each of these icons would display their contents, unless the container was secured, then it would have to be hacked, and marked, like any other icon. This lets me handle the large amount of material in a fairly natural way, without a cumbersome analogy.
Cranes, dry-dock controls, tenders, and other large machinery would be represented by their own icons. As if they were large drones themselves. As I thought about the cranes, and other large machines I couldn't think of a reason they wouldn't be rigger adapted. With rigger adaption you run the risk of your players deciding to drive a crane into the sound, which I guess I'll deal with if/when it happens.
As I looked over the notes I'd made I realized I still didn't have the objective mapped out, or the IC that would respond if the team botched something. I wanted to use the shipyard offices as the objective. I played with the idea of making the office building it's own host, or going even further and making the office a cable only, no wireless, location. However, making the office offline didn't seem to fit with the idea of this being a working shipyard.
So, I went with the building being a sub-host, with dedicated IC. When the team's rigger jumps into the building he's going to see a relatively standard office space. Devices, files, feeds, will all be represented as small icons similar to their physical self, and roughly co-located with their real world counterparts. I wanted to keep the feel of the real space as much as possible.
At that point, securing the objective data became trivial, the iconography worked for me, a safe, a digital representation of the data store, and the files within represented by manila folders.
I did take a minute to play with the icons of the IC. I wanted the offensive IC to be sculpted as welders, with the torches being their damage output. Marker IC would be represented by a worker, with a spray can, Patrol, would take the shape of a large junkyard dog, and the analogy continues. However, this is still a relatively natural jump. The IC's icons map to their real-world abilities, while providing some dramatic flair for the game, and the story.
Overall, I'm really happy with the session, and I'm curious if my players with actually play in the Matrix, as I've planned for them to do, or if they will try to scale the fence and simply wander around getting into trouble in meat-space without ever bothering to do more than check AR for drones. Only time will tell.