Running on Italics: The Underway [Runner]

Running on Italics Ess: Hello and welcome to the very seventh Running on Italics, your Netrunner flavo—

Cee: Why do you do that?

Ess: ?

Cee: “Very seventh”. You’ve done that every issue.

Ess: Oh, heh. It’s actually a small homage to Shut Up and Sit Down; they begin all their podcasts that way. If you’re reading this article, you’re probably incredibly well aware of them, but just in case you’re joining us from an alternate hell dimension—SUSD have done approximately sixty gazillions for Netrunner as a community and as a culture. Start at this beautiful piece and work your way out.

Cee: Oh, right! No, I’m totally on board with that homage; I first really got interested in Netrunner through Quinns’ incredibly heartfelt segment at the end of this video. Skip to about 10:30.

Ess: Quinns organises and TO’s a bunch of tournaments around the UK, too, so I got to meet him last weekend. He’s super sweet in person.

Cee: Speaking of, how did that go?

Ess: Or we could not speak of my disgraceful performance. Please?

Cee: Aw. You’re lucky I’m in a good mood.





Cee: Because we get to talk about Faust! This card is actually really really good.

Ess: Is it? I mean, it’s neat, sure—the runner’s making a deal with a digital devil, some digital entity with a saccharine voice who promises them power. This Faustian bargain is pretty well defined, I guess, in trading the cards in your hand for being able to break into the server…

Cee: Yes yes yes, that’s all true. But it’s in the specifics of the analogy. Hm, how do I explain this…

Ess: I suggest starting at the beginning. Then, continue onwards until you get to the end.

Ess: Then stop.

Cee: Okay, so I’m going to be drawing from Goethe’s Faust, here. His Faust is this disaffected scholar who—the reason Mephistopheles appears to Faust in the first place is that he mistranslates a word, while translating the New Testament. The exact word is “Logos”, which is a complex word that carries connotations of knowledge (and reasoning, and premises), discourse (and speech, and argument), understanding (and meaning), aaand ontological divinity.

Ess: …we’re going to have to talk about that more if and when we ever do a classic review of Honor and Profit, but sure, okay, go on.

Cee: Yeah, it’s the “Word” in the Gospel of John’s opening line, “In the Beginning was the Word”. It says a lot that Iain would name his console after that.

Cee: So, anyway, Faust represents this dichotomy between the spiritual and the earthly in the form of thought vs deed; his entire bet with Mephistopheles is that the devil will never be able to satisfy him with Deeds. At the start of the story, he’s purely a motive force, a man of action and impulse, and so he feels he can’t ascribe to the Word that much power. He goes through “Mind” and “Power”, but ends up deciding to translate it as the stunningly incorrect “In the Beginning was the Deed”, instead.

Ess: Huh. I think I see where you’re going with this…

Cee: Yep! So this underlying dichotomy of Goethe’s Faust is fairly cleanly represented by the card. Our Logos isn’t really associated with divinity, anymore—as a culture we’ve moved away from that kind of pervasive spirituality; it’s probably fair to say that there’s very little mind/body dualism left, especially in the twenty minutes into the future that Netrunner is set. For us, Thought maps to “just” ideas… the thoughts we have and the possible worlds we imagine and everything that says about the people we are.

Ess: The Runner’s cards in hand.

Cee: Yep! And the Deed, then, maps to the fire, to the Runner burning up literally themselves to optimise for breaking into servers, to singleminded action. Faust is such a perfect Anarch card, because the Faustian Bargain is so perfectly Anarch.

Ess: Wait, but you said Faust represents the dichotomy, not just the Deed here.

Cee: Right! By the end of the story, it’s become clear that Goethe doesn’t actually buy into the dichotomy as such. Faust is saved, not because he ends up buying into spirituality, but because he never stopped throwing himself into his deeds! He never stopped reaching for what he thought was missing, and it’s that purpose and striving that the story champions, in the end!

Ess: Taking this back to Netrunner, that’s, what… a message that this singleminded focus is glorious in and of itself? Yeah—every Runner has a reason they would focus themselves on breaking into that server, but it’s our beautiful Anarchs, the ones who care so much about their reason that they’re willing to jack themselves up with drugs and literally burn away themselves to bash against the corporate server until it falls apart…

Ess: You’re right, that is amazing. Gosh. That’s such a ridiculously great design for the card and the mechanic and the flavour and and and the everything. That’s an entire ethos and a defence of Anarchy and a beautiful bit of characterisation all rolled into one.

Cee: Yeah. It’s a beautiful card.

Ess: FFG? I’ma be serious for a sec, so I’d appreciate an ear or two. Give whoever designed Faust a raise. We want to see more of this, please please please!

Cee: Seconded. The card just seems to be executed to perfection. Even the art; Pactum written on a symbolic skull? in blood?

Ess: Well, what other symbol of who a person is would you have, in our modern age? Yeah, it’s utterly glorious.

Cee: I don’t you know about you, but it would be criminal to give Faust anything other than an A+.

Ess: A++, even. Can we do that? Are we allowed to do that?

Cee: Well, maybe my good buddy Meffi here could help us out—


Street Peddler


Street Peddler

Ess: I for one am disappointed that the flavour text isn’t “Whaddya buyin’, guvnor?”

Cee: I for one would absolutely buy something from a peddler that adorable.

Ess: Would you? Would you really? Look at that cold, evil face. You’re just contributing to the rise of the next Bagbiter.

Cee: …so the idea is that you found a dodgy Street Peddler with a box of stuff that fell off the back of a truck, grabbed something off ‘em on the cheap, and couldn’t find them the next day for the other couple’of things, I guess?

Ess: I guess? It’s weird to me how it plays with the stack. These are cards you would have drawn, if you hadn’t installed the Peddler…

Cee: Yeah, actually, that is interesting. So the stack is a representation of who the Runner is, right? You build a Kit deck, you’re building a Kit, one possible Kit, one who’s inclined to use Parasites and Hyperdrivers and has some friends down at London Library.

Ess: Which mucks a bit with my oh so precious player/runner identification—the decisions the player makes while deckbuilding are only loosely similar to the decisions a Runner makes about who they are—but it’s sorta necessary, sure. And it works a bit better on the Corp side, at least in the CSO requesting the resources they’d like to have available.

Cee: So it’s not that you literally saw those three items at the peddler, it’s that those are the three that caught your eye. And they’re trashed, representing you as the runner going eh, I saw that at the peddler, probably wouldn’t have worked anyway.

Ess: The stack interaction aside, the card still mostly makes sense. The corp never knows what is in your rig until you install it, so we can treat the Peddler as a functional extension of your grip.

Cee: How do you explain the paid ability speed?

Ess: …how do you explain the paid ability speed?

Cee: So Self-modifying Code makes sense, Clone Chip sorta makes sense in the rewriting the past way, and Savoir-faire… is apparently using predictive algorithms or something.

Ess: You forgot one, though. Personal Workshop. The granddaddy of all paid ability installers.

Cee: Somehow you manage to hack on something at your Workshop while in the middle of a run… yeah, no, I have no idea how Personal Workshop works.

Ess: Well. Whatever way Personal Workshop works, that’s the way in which Street Peddler works.

Cee: You do realise that that is deeply unsatisfying and also probably incorrect?

Ess: Yep!

Cee: So… B?

Ess: B-, verging on C, really.  I don’t like the paid ability speed here at all.


Armand “Geist” Walker: Tech Lord


Ess: God, what a douche.

Cee: He looks like he wants to sell you a car. A used car.

Ess: Nah, it’s not quite that. He wishes he could sell cars as well as used car salesmen.

Ess: I mean, what kind of person gives themselves the nickname of “Ghost”? And styles themselves a “Tech Lord”?

Cee: Oh, I think he’s more competent than you’re giving him credit for. He’s clearly made a name and a fiefdom for himself, down in the gritty and dirty of The Underway.

Ess: I suppose. And his ability represents, what, him making extra use of things that are trashed?

Cee: The Muertos can sell off a used clone chip with very little spit and polish, probably. He tosses it at them, gets something out of the conversation.

Ess: I guess we’re not talking about Same Old Thing?

Cee: You could argue that he’s great at not getting stuck in Same Old Ruts?

Ess: I continue to Same Old Bleh at how that card’s meant to work.

Cee: Anyway, yeah, he’s just a solid ID. His link, art, stylings, quote, ability… all fit together into a cohesive package.

Ess: A cohesive, douchey, package.

Cee: You really don’t like Geist, do you?

Ess: Look at his hair. A.

Cee: Heh. Agreed.


Drive By


Drive By

Cee: The cutest part of this card is how the card frame is the window the Muertos are shooting in.

Ess: The cutest part of this card is that it’s a flying car. You thought your sixtieth floor office was safe? Think again!

Ess: But we haven’t really talked about the card frames before, have we? This is one of those things that’s so easy to miss but so hard to forget once it’s been pointed out to you. It’s a bit out of scope for us, but in short—have a look at the card frames, some day. How a shaper event differs from a criminal, how they all differ from programs and hardware and upgrades. It’s neat.

Cee: Okay, so how does this card work?

Ess: ? What do you mean? You’re sending in your hombres to shoot up some sexbots. Or, well, to shoot up the folk marketing the sexbots, anyway…

Cee: It’s not quite that clear-cut, though. So why does it need to be unrezzed? How do you shoot up the SanSan City Grid? Why can’t you hit the folk working on Vitruvius? Why can’t you hit both Ash and Caprice working on the same server?

Cee: And most importantly: how does the runner know the precise physical location of the server in question?

Ess: That last one isn’t without precedent, at least. There’ve been cards that presume knowledge of the physical location—and they tend to be criminal cards, too. Inside Job, is the most salient one. Legwork, too, though I suppose that’s HQ only. Infiltration.

Cee: I suppose it’s possible that if you did some legwork you could find the physical location of the server, sure.

Ess: As for why it needs to be unrezzed, I… hm. What’s the real world distinction between installing a card and rezzing it?

Cee: Well, it’s probably relevant to note that you can install unique cards in multiple servers, but only rez one at a time.

Ess: Ah! So installing is letting Caprice know, hey, be ready, we’re gonna want you on the case here and here, but rezzing is actually buzzing her pager and wiring her the overtime money?

Cee: …pager?

Cee: …You know, Caprice might actually use a pager. She seems that type of oldschool.

Cee: So are we assuming that once they’re rezzed, they have some security? Bodyguards?

Ess: At least enough to make the Muertos not want to draw their attention, yeah. And they’ll drive out to agendas, but they can’t do anything about them, because agenda servers are relocated to, like, nuclear bunkers.

Cee: You are assuming servers can be digitally relocated basically at will, then. That’s not implausible, I guess…

Ess: We kinda have to, because of regions, right? I’ve been assuming a server virtualisation framework that lets corps shift where they’re “doing business” for legal and tax and machine architecture purposes. Trashing a region, I think, has always been meant to be read as disrupting the corp’s relationship with the region more than anything else, and thus forcing them to pull this server out.

Cee: So you’re shooting up the Director of Haas-Sansan Content Negotiation Policy? Yeah, okay, I can buy that.

Ess: And as for why you can hit only one of Ash and Caprice… I feel like we have to assume that the different cards in a server don’t at all have to be in the same physical location. So it’s not that the server has an IP that you can trace back, it’s that each datafile represents an open link to some physical location. Ash and Caprice don’t work in the same room; hell, one might be on the moon for all we know. They’ve just both been tasked to protect the same digital space.

Cee: …do you realise how many additional difficulties this presents for my Ash/Caprice fanfic?

Ess: Oh, I’m sure love will conquer all. Okay, have we solved the problems with Drive By? I hope so, because I want to give it an B+.

Cee: The Muertos are certainly terrifying enough that I wouldn’t feel safe giving them anything less.





Cee: This thing is so cute.

Ess: Look, there’s even five of them in the art! Cuuuute.

Cee: A cheap, disposable console. Literally!

Ess: Gives you link, lets you avoid tags. Yerp.

Cee: Disposable identities for a Runner who wants to stay anonymous.

Ess: And have you noticed it’s not unique? It doesn’t matter mechanically, “Limit 1 console per player” still applies, but it’s so cute for flavour!

Cee: It’s clean and elegant and does what it says on the tin. A+?

Ess: Yep. A+.





Cee: looks at Crowbar and Spike

Cee: D?

Ess: D.


Gang Sign


Gang Sign

Ess: Man. A digital beacon. A digital calling card. Imagine being a low-level secretary opening up your computer in the morning, and seeing MUERTOS.TXT on your desktop.

Cee: It’s not a threat, at least not explicitly. It’s just… we were here. We’re watching.

Ess: Now give us some stuff?

Cee: I mean, I guess? Agenda scoring time has got to be fairly hectic for the corp, so it makes some sense that that’s the time those you’ve threatened feel safe paying you your protection money.

Ess: I do love how this is a virtual resource. Just that simple type tells us tomes about how gangs have merged with what we know today as warez scene kids. It gives us such a picture of a world where this sort of break-in is common enough that people immediately recognise what it means to find the Muertos on your digital doorstep.

Cee: No, hang on, I’m not liking this. I mean, it works, but for some reason the card doesn’t feel like that’s what it’s meant to be to me.

Ess: Oh?

Cee: Okay, so we know the key thing about the Muertos is that they can turn off their gang tattoos, right? They’re digital and powered and with them off they can pose as normal members of society.

Ess: Or, at least, that’s what NBN found it useful to say about them on the news. But go on.

Cee: What if the idea here is that there are Muertos undercover in the corp, posing as employees? And the gang sign is like a … bat-signal to them, “this is where the dead drop is” sort of thing?

Ess: Holy skull signals, skullman. I suppose that works out, too, though it seems to require a lot more extensive reach than I would’ve thought the Muertos had. I think I prefer the digital protection racket interpretation better.

Cee: Either way, the art is impressive; that skull is not leaving my nightmares any time soon. And I do like how this is more influence than the similar Muertos Gang Member; you need more pull with the Muertos to use their gang sign than to simply hire them out.

Ess: And, I’m not sure if it’s deliberate? But I do like how Gang Sign is pretty much a strictly better Raymond Flint. You can get a detective on your side, or an entire gang. Which one do you think’s gonna be more effective?

Cee: Muertos is the law, indeed. So I’m feeling a B? B+, maybe, mostly being hit for not being as clear as we would have hoped.

Ess: I’m not going to dock it points for that, so I’m going straight to A.


Muertos Gang Member


Muertos Gang Member

Cee: aaaaaaa glowy skull tattoos aaaaaaaaaa

Ess: You know what the worst part is? If you see them glowing, they’re on a job. They’re coming your direction with the express intent of hurting somebody.

Cee: guh.

Ess: So how does this card work? Are the gang members threatening the corp, forcing them to take personnel off work and give them bodyguards?

Cee: Do ice even need employees to maintain them?

Ess: …That is a very good question. Probably not, right?

Cee: And, you get a Muertos gang member. Not a cell of them, though that’s what the art shows. A member.

Ess: Hm.

Cee: I think you need to go to the idea of undercover Muertos to explain this one. You hire one out, and tell’em to cause havoc on the inside. The corp chooses what to derez as the game’s way of saying which card has the least internal security.

Ess: That popup window looks like a tempting target from the inside, and completely unprotected too…

Cee: Then, they’re trashed by the corp or told to bug out by the runner, and… um.

Ess: And the CSO gets to spin that as Doing His Job and gets a raise? Or gets to force some employees into overtime?

Cee: Sure. And if they had time to leave on their own terms, they can grab some data on the way out, and the Muertos give you a quid pro quo?

Ess: The mechanic is exactly Geist’s, so sure, I guess all of that makes sense.

Ess: I kinda wish the card explained what’s going on a bit better, though. And the flavour text doesn’t make too much sense with that read, either…

Cee: It just seems like one of those things the Muertos would say to keep their image, right? The runner knows hiring this lot is a risk, and that’s how the risk was explained to her.

Ess: I guess? Are you feeling the stretch as much as I am, though?

Cee: …yeah, I suppose I am. B-?

Ess: A solid B seems fair.





Ess: I suppose you’re recompiling it every time you install it?

Cee: Or you can borrow precompiled versions of it from the library?

Ess: So hang on, this is weird. What is it coming back to your grip meant to represent?

Cee: The, uh, “thematic” answer is that you’re losing track of the Chameleon; it’s blending itself into the background of your computer. But you remember where to go get the program again, so you do…

Ess: Wait wait wait, though. Programs have always been a bit weird in ANR, because they’re individual entities. In the real world, programs are copiable; I can make a billion copies of Corroder if I want. “Trashing” a Corroder should mean exactly nothing; I still have the source or can get the source wherever I got it from before, recompile, and done.

Cee: The way we’ve handled that issue in the past is with a combination of “cards are ideas” and “trashing a program is revealing a vulnerability in the code that makes it worthless against the Corp’s defensive programming”. So until you work out a way to fix that vulnerability—draw your second copy of Corroder—you don’t bother recompiling it.

Ess: That plays a bit weirdly with Clone Chip, but the alternative world where you try to justify why programs aren’t copiable is much worse.

Cee: And it’s always been confusing to me that you’d need a whole card and a dedicated chip to just take backups of your stuff. I’m willing to say Clone Chip does something weirder that we haven’t figured out yet.

Ess: Right. So how does this track with Chameleon? It’s incredibly easy to both find vulnerabilities in it as well as patch them?

Cee: !

Ess: !!

Cee, Ess: It’s polymorphic software!

Cee: That makes perfect sense!

Ess: Polymorphic software, dear readers, is a technique real world software often uses to disguise its identity. Generally the reason you want to do this is to hide yourself from antivirus engines; they try to identify certain key segments of the code, and the polymorphic malware rewrites itself to avoid detection.

Cee: But polymorphic code is generally identifiable as polymorphic code, even if you’re not sure what it does. So Chameleon is fairly easy to detect—the Corp’s passive antirunner software can do it without breaking a sweat—but then it just rewrites its source code and waits for you to compile it again.

Ess: I really like that. Logically what’s happening is that the Corp’s managing to detect and possibly even delete it—it’s just that that’s not equivalent to the game action of trashing.

Cee: Yeah, that actually ends up working really neatly. I also feel like I have to mention the art, because it’s about as perfect a render of a digital chameleon as you could ask for.

Ess: Those horns. Don’t get me started on those horns.

Cee: ?

Ess: Weeee’re giving this an A?

Cee: Yeah, seems about right.





Cee: Is there some relativistic nonsense going on here?

Ess: I think that’s just Hayley being Hayley, adding little science references to her software.

Cee: So I haven’t had to use this equation in years, but back-of-envelope calculations say you’d need to be going around 80% the speed of light to get this 7-in-4 sort of time dilation. With our physics, at least.

Ess: Aw, but see, 3MU for a program makes it quite massive and relativistic effects are greater near objects of higher mass…!

Cee: …

Ess: Yea, that’s clearly not what’s going on here, I agree.

Cee: So, other cards that have this effect… Amped Up? All-nighter? All-nighter is literally that, so you have more time with which to mess with the corp.

Ess: Amped Up is pretty clearly performance boosting drugs, right, like, amphetamines or a new caffeine substitute or something… wait, why isn’t Diesel a click gaining card then?

Cee: Oh! Nevermind about Diesel, just put that down to it making you think better. This card, though… this card!

Ess: …wha?

Cee: tDCS! It’s inducing a flow state! Hahaha, wow, that’s cool.

Ess: Oh wow, the art’s even zapping the Runner’s brain. That works.


Ess: So you leave it on hooked to your brain overnight; that’s what it’s taking the 3MU for, it’s analysing your brain and working out where it needs to zap you. Then it … hyperdrives you, and you wake up running at two hundred percent.

Cee: 175%. Just to be clear.

Ess: Is this how Hayley does her thing? Is she an electricity addict?

Cee: …huh. I mean, probably not; she’s meant to be doing data science something something, but it’s certainly an intriguing possibility. Electrotherapy is sometimes used to treat addiction, after all…

Cee: I want to give it an A, I really do, but I can’t assume this read is exactly what was intended. The art fits surprisingly well, but nothing on the card leads us to an understanding. I have to give it a B.

Ess: I’m going B-, but yeah, sure.


Cee: So. The Underway, huh.

Ess: This is cyberpunk by way of shanty towns, by criminals and gangs and dense, dense, urban slums. By way of people living in fear, and people living to create fear.

Cee: I’ve heard The Underway as homage to William Gibson’s Bridge trilogy, and the inspiration certainly seems clear.

Ess: Yeah. Faust kinda overshadowed this in the pack itself, but the Underway is for Criminals. It belongs to those who use every scrap, know how to make use of every resource, and are always, always, hungry.

Cee: Even then, Faust is about that side of Anarchy that’s closest to Criminal sensibilities, I think. Results at any cost…

Ess: Fair, yeah. I just wish they’d ended up having a better face in the SanSan cycle than Geist.

Cee: You’re going to have to learn to channel that hate, you know. What’re you going to do when you’re sitting opposite him?

Ess: …i got a rock—

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