Research and Development

The most valuable commodity I know of is information.
Gordon Gekko
The agents were returning data while Akiko waited, perched on the roof behind a snowdrift. The people she had seen had sensibly retreated indoors, but her headcam still held their pictures. She forgot the cold when Aries displayed their results - this was heavy. Her search had quickly found Osamu Ryuichi and Kazuhiko Yasusada, two fairly high-ranking local politicians from Kobe. The westeners were harder to find, but the tall one had tentatively appeared in the background on a photo in Washington Post October 6 2014 depicting the Green Nation convention. She had almost timed out when an agent returned with priority flags all set: it was Eugene Adami, one of the people tagged by Citizens' Intelligence Agency as likely to be part of the Knights. A very disturbing meeting.

But what could the dark greens and the conservatives offer each other? She sent a request to her newsclipping server to find any news about the politicians that involved environmental questions. Very little. What about Green Nation, did they have any other political programs in common with the pair of conservatives? She tried to find overlapping terms. Bingo! Her display filled with hits. She browsed them, and began to feel much colder than the settling snow. This was bad. Real bad.

Handling research (ranging from online searches to scientific exploration) can be done in many ways. The simplest is just to roll a Information Gathering skill roll, but this misses out the excitement and fascination of real research. Ideally research should be roleplayed, but this is a somewhat formalized system to handle research.

A research effort seeks to uncover a piece of information, be it the email address of a friend or the location of a secret government project. Its difficulty depends both on the difficulty of finding or identifying the relevant information, and how much information that has to be searched; today information overload is a major hindrance to research - there is simply too much to deal with.

System-wise, the research task consists of a series of steps towards finding the sought information. The number of steps depends on the amount of information that has to be explored and how deeply hidden the goal is. Simply looking up a basic fact requires just one step (you just need to know where to look and look there). Finding a obscure text might require first finding a reference work on the net, then using the information to search library catalogues and finally search the libraries which may have copies, three or more steps. Scientific research, unless very well specified, has no finishing line at all. You can continue exploring indefinitely finding more and more.

In order to move forward one step, researchers have to succeed with Information Gathering or some other suitable skill (such as Chemistry when searching through chemical data). Each step has a difficulty depending on how hard the information is to find, the available tools and other circumstances. If the researchers succeed, they move forward in their investigations. If they fail, they remain in the same place, exploring blind alleys or sifting through piles of data. A critical failure makes them move backwards one or more steps; they run into a serious blind alley and temporarily abandons the right approach.

Example: My Fair Lady wants to find out about a new cognitive enhancement drug she has heard of and who is developing it. The first step is an online search (Mediocre Information Gathering), which gives her a reference to its real medical name. Using this information she can look in a medical abstract database like MedLine (Fair Information Gathering) to find a number of articles in the medical press dealing with the drug. She needs to figure out what research groups are active in the field, which requires some further comparison of the article authors and the websites of their institutions (Good Information Gathering). Using this she needs to find out where they get the drug, which requires some asking around, calling the labs (perhaps posing as another researcher) and checking directories of chemical suppliers (Great Information Gathering). If she succeeds, she will have a number of articles about the properties of the drug (which might require Medicine to understand), who is researching it, and who produces the drug and sells it to the research groups.

The first steps are done on the net, using search engines, databases and the web; they will take between a few minutes to a few hours. The last step might take longer, perhaps an afternoon of work. Totally (if she succeeds) it will take maybe a day or two.


Research takes time. How much depends on the task and media. Simple online searches take on the order of seconds to minutes, while using agents to sift information or exploring the web for clues can take hours. Library or archive research can take hours or days. And if the researchers get stuck in bureaucracy or red tape even a single step may take an indefinite amount of time (unless the researcher figures out a way to circumvent the blockage).

Not all information is accessible. While the Net contains a lot of information, it is still just part of the whole of human knowledge. A lot of texts haven't been uploaded or don't exist in accessible systems. Much of the best online information is commercial and requires payment for access. The same goes for the physical world, where many documents are secret, lost or plain hard to get access to ("I'm sorry, but the archives are closed during the summer"). It might also be written in foreign languages or jargon. Finally, many of the most important pieces of information remain inside human minds, and their owners have to be asked.

Teamwork is useful. If several people work together to find information, they all each roll their Information Gathering skill and the best result is used. Since they can divide the work between them and explore more avenues of research the time taken decreases.

Sometimes the search branches out; it turns out that the answer requires two pieces of information rather than one. In this case the two sub-tasks have to be explored. If several people work on the research they can divide between the tasks, otherwise the researcher has to work on both of them.

Technological Development

Technological development works like research, although various scientific and technical skills are used instead of Information Gathering.

A simple project consists of planning, implementation and testing. The planning phase includes organizing the project, designing and modeling the device and getting the necessary equipment for the following steps. The implementation phase involves the actual construction work and debugging; this can often become quite long and complex, and sometimes even requires re-design if the original design was not good enough. Eventually, if there is time enough, the device can be tested and presented for the user (not testing something before using it is an invitation of disaster). These steps can be handled as steps in a research effort, each corresponding to a relevant skill.

Example: NanoNemo is developing a nanodevice that will recognize the surface of other nanodevices and attack them. The coordinator decides this is a fairly straightforward (if tricky) project.

There is no real need to organize it (just one participant). NanoNemo first needs to design the device, and for this he will need some supercomputer access for simulations. The design task is fairly tricky, so he has to succeed with a Great Nanotechnology roll to come up with a working design. He has no real need to get more physical equipment other than his trusty pocket nanolab, so after the design he can start implementing the device. The design work will likely take a few days of thinking, simulating and experimenting with alternatives.

First NanoNemo needs to create the nanodevice's hull, propulsion and sensors. This uses off-the-shelf parts and just requires a Fair Nanotechnology roll. It is just an hours work or so. After that comes the more tricky part, making it recognize other nanodevices and destroy them. These are two Great Nanotechnology problems, which have to be solved (in any order). Each will likely take a few days. Finally, the device has to be tested and improved (Fair Nanotechnology, takes several days to be sure that it works and is reasonably safe).

Note that if NanoNemo suffers a critical failure when developing the attack capability he might move back to basic design (he introduced a subtle design flaw that made the device unable to properly attack and needs to redo most of the work) or the finished design might have a flaw that is detected first at testing (unless the testing suffers a critical failure too; in that case he might unleash a flawed nanite on the world). A critical success might solve the other problem (detection) at the same time: the capabilities can be combined in an elegant way.

In reality most projects are much more complex, usually done by teams that work in parallel with component parts. This usually requires administration, and can become arbitrarily more complex. Developing a new aircraft or an AI controlled nanoassembler requires a huge number of steps and expertise in a variety of areas, it cannot be done by just a handful of people over a weekend, how dedicated and skilled they may be.


Cracking can be handled similarly to research and development; it is a kind of research task where the cracker tries to find the weaknesses in the computer system and then develop tools to get in. The added complication is that the Sysop is guarding; each step has the risk to alert him to the intrusion attempt.

A "standard" cracking venture would consist of investigation, gaining a toe-hold and becoming Root, each phase requiring a number of rolls (mainly Information Gathering and Computer Programming, perhaps Cryptography, Psychology or Management depending on methods).

At each step, the Coordinator rolls the Sysop's Computer Programming (difficulty depending on how subtle the cracker is, modified depending on circumstances and software aid on both sides) as an opposed action. If the Sysop succeeds, he will discover the cracking attempt and can take action against the intruder, otherwise he will remain in the dark. Obviously, the cracker benefits if he can increase the difficulties for the Sysop or "blind" him.

The same system can be used for other forms of "cracking", such as infiltrating a security system, espionage or corporate intrigue.

For the technology and techniques of cracking, see the Infotech section