How Running Works

One of the most crucial parts of any cyberpunk universe is the concept of hacking, and Android is no exception! Hackers in the Android universe are known as Netrunners (or ‘runners for short) and they’re an integral part of any Android system gaming.

Of course, there’s an entire game based on the concept of a ‘runner going up against a series of servers to defeat the big bad megacorps. We’re talking, of course, about Android Netrunner !

For our game, we have decided to use the sample INTERFACE extra from Evil Hat as our baseline skill for all things related to cyberspace. It functions as a skill that needs ranks and specialized equipment in order to use—you can’t just try Interfacing if you’ve got no skill and no equipment.

To really bring out the Android flavor, we are using the Netrunner cards as a major source of inspiration for how Netrunning works in our FATE game. The major pieces are:

  • Runner Programs (Icebreakers)
  • Runner Hardware
  • Runner Health
  • ICE (comes in three flavors: sentries, barriers, and code gates)
  • ICE Subroutines
  • Servers with data on them. Sometimes good, sometimes a trap for the runner!

In Netrunner, the ‘runner uses Icebreaker programs to get through the guardian software on the corporation servers, known as ICE. The ICE’s base strength has to be overcome, but ICE also comes with subroutines that need to be broken by a particular program type. These subroutines can do anything from simply tracing the ’runner’s location, to destroying their programs or hardware, to even doing direct physical damage to the ’runner.

One of the major mechanics in Netrunner is finding your Icebreaker programs and hardware in your deck. We’ve decided to dispense with that part, and assume that any ’runner worth her salt already has basic equipment, and an Icebreaker of each type ready to go. However, interesting or rare equipment or Icebreaker programs may be added later on as Gadgets, per the FATE core rules.

We’ll be focusing primarily on ICE, subroutines, and data, at least to start.

ICE Basics

In Netrunner, ICE comes with a strength rating. This rating will determine the strength of the opposition. Translated into FATE, this becomes:

  • Rating 0-3 = Fair (+2)
  • Rating 4-6 = Good (+3)
  • Rating 7-9 = Great (+4)
  • Rating 10-12 = Outstanding (+5)

The three types of ICE take different actions based on these difficulty ratings. Much like in Netrunner, ICE will be encountered one piece at a time. Each one has to be overcome individually before moving onto the next.

For any known servers in a scenario, the GM will design the ICE layout according to what best suits the story. For a random server, we may use Netrunner cards for a random draw/layout, or just pick something from the selection that seems thematically appropriate.

Where necessary, ICE subroutines will be assigned as Stunts to the program in question.


Time is also a critical component in the Netrunner game. To simulate this, the GM should plan a certain amount of time available for each Run before the server under attack shuts down its wireless connections and has to be physically accessed (the runner can assault it as many times as she wishes with physical access, but she must still defeat the ICE without being killed by it).

By default, each action in a Run takes 15 seconds (1/4 of one minute). Thus, a 2-minute run would allow for 8 actions by the runner. Harder runs will be shorter or have more ICE.

Actions taken by ICE do not count against this limit.

Advanced hardware and Icebreaker program stunts might allow the runner to take 2 actions in place of one under specific circumstances.


A Trace is by default an Overcome action, made by the ICE against the ’runner’s Interface skill. If successful, the ICE ‘tags’ the runner, making other actions available. Any ICE with a trace action can make this attempt, regardless of its type.

A stunt can allow the ’runner to make active opposition against this roll, rather than relying on their passive Interface skill.


Sentry ICE is designed to spot an intruder and hassle them. Dealing with Sentry ICE will be very similar to resolving a physical-world fight, except that everything will be done using the Interface skill.

First will be a contested Interface roll to determine initiative. The Sentry program will attack and defend at its strength. A Fair or Good Sentry program has a single 1-hit stress box, and a Great or Outstanding Sentry has a 1-hit and a 2-hit stress box by default. Unique or high-level Sentries may be designed as full characters with aspects and stunts.

Damage done by the Sentry to the ’runner may damage or destroy hardware, and may also deal physical stress or consequences to the ’runner if they have an internal modem implant.


Barriers are passive. They just sit, waiting, an impenetrable wall of code, stopping the runner from getting closer to her goal.

To defeat a Barrier ICE, the runner must Attack it with the Interface skill. The Barrier actively Defends at its strength as given in the table above. It has one 1-hit stress box for each ‘End the Run’ subroutine on the card, and all stress boxes must be filled before the Barrier is defeated.

Code Gates

Code Gates are logic puzzles and mazes of shifting algorithms, designed to waste the ’runner’s time. A Code Gate must be Overcome using the Interface skill. The Code Gate offers passive resistance at its strength level, and requires one action per strength level to break. (Thus, a Great-level Code Gate requires 45 seconds, or three actions, for each attempt to break it.) The outcome depends on the success level.

FAIL (-1 or -2 shifts): Gate not broken. Suffer effects of 1 subroutine. Lose 1 additional run action.
TIE (0 shifts): Code gate is broken. Suffer effects of 1 subroutine.
SUCCEED (1-2 shifts): Code gate is broken.
SUCCEED WITH STYLE (3+ shifts): Code gate is broken. Gain 1 additional run action.


Once all the ICE is broken, the ’runner can access the data in the server core! Will it be the package they were looking for? Sensitive corporate information? Or a trap, placed there, waiting to snap its jaws closed on the sucker it lured in?

How Running Works

FATE of New Angeles (GetcherGeekOn) Kyellan Kyellan