Tricks of the Trade : Espionage in Skraypers(TM)

Table of Contents

Personal Identification

Surveillance Devices

The field of espionage has developed a wide range of surveillance devices and an equally diverse range of counter-surveillance devices.


There are a number of basic types of devices used to spy on others. All bugs are illegal under the Tarlok, for security reasons, so they are only available on the black market.

Most bugs will have a small sensor attached via fiber optic cable to a main unit which functions as a recorder/tranmitter. The sensor is placed as needed and the cable is run behind furniture or through holes or cracks in the wall to wherever the recorder can be safely planted. The sensor head will vary with the type of bug, but is generally quite small. The main unit is usually a cube between 1/2 and 1 inch per side and generally includes a basic computer core with built-in storage and a radio transmitter.

It can be set to record continually or only when there are appropriate signals. The main unit can store the data indefinitely until it is physically retrieved, broadcast it via radio live as it is recording, or store it until a pre-designated time and then tranfer the entire recording in a short burst transmission. If the bug is broadcasting live while a bug sweep is being done, the device will definitely be found, so live broadcasts are not recommended.

The main unit requires a power supply. The easiest is a built-in class one battery, but that is also the easiest to be detected by a bug sweep. An integral bug is designed to be attached to an external power cable at the site (on a lamp, wall outlet, etc) and draw its power supply via it. This makes it more difficult to detect, but requires an external power supply and a roll against either Surveillance Systems or Basic Electronics to correctly set it. The best bugs are electrical chameleons which use their own battery but are set on an external building or appliance power cable for extra camouflage. They are very difficult to set, however, because their power signature must be manually modified to exactly blend in with each specific setting, and that requires a Surveillance System roll.

Bug Detectors

There are two primary means of detecting bugs. First, detecting any radio transmissions from the surveillance device. This only works if the bug is transmitting at the time the detector is making its sweep. Second, by sensing any unusual electrical sources and thereby locating the recorder unit of the bug. Bug detectors are not illegal, but their sales are monitored. They are available from many manufacturers, but they can also be found on the black market for people who don't wish their purchase to be known.

Bug Jammers

Another defense against audio surveillance are the various styles of portable jammers. While not actually illegal, the authorities frown on civilians owning or using personal jammers.


A miniature transmitter, a tracer is designed to be attached to a person or vehicle. They will emit a special signal that will allow them to be tracked by a properly configured radio receiver. By default, the signal that is transmitted will include the tracer's exact coordinates according to the global positioning system, so the receiver can tell the exact position of the tracer. However, in case something disrupts the tracer's ability to determine its position using the GPS, it will still send out a basic signal that would allow the receiver to tell what direction the tracer is at, although it wouldn't tell how far away the tracer is.

The tracer can be detected by a sniffer as per an A/V recorder bug with a battery power source. If the tracer is constantly broadcasting its position, it is almost certain to be detected. If it is set to burst transmit periodically, it may still be detected - see the section on bug detectors above.

A typical tracer with a battery power source will have a 5 mile range and will cost 500 credits, although for 1,000 credits the range can be increased to 25 miles. A tracer designed with either integral or chameleon power systems (see the section on bugs above) will cost two to three times as much, and are hard to come by. Tracers are generally intended for quick placement, which means they aren't usually designed as integral or chameleon systems.

A proper receiver with directional capabilities will cost 2,000 credits but can be configured for use with any number of tracers. However, any portable datacomp with a radio can be set up to receive the signal from the tracer, but it cannot tell what direction the signal is coming from, so it can only track the tracer if the signal includes the tracer's GPS position.


There are many varieties of locks, all of which share the general characteristics described here. First, they have some method of validating whether a key is legitimate. Some locks may use electronic codes while others use DNA finger prints, but it will have some mechanism to tell if the key is valid. If so, it sends an electronic trigger to the mechanism that actually opens or closes the lock. In a "dumb" lock, that is all that happens. Intelligent locks cost more, but add a third feature. They are self-monitoring and can trigger an alarm if they are tampered with.

There are just two ways to get around a lock. First, you can use a valid key, whether it is forged or stolen. Depending on the type of lock, this may mean randomly generating pass codes, playing a voice recording taken from someone authorized to open the door, etc. A very useful but difficult way to gain access is to first hack into the security system and add your voice/palm/DNA print to the list of acceptable people, allowing you to "legitimately" use the lock without having to forge someone else's id.

The alternative is to break into the locking mechanism and "hot wire" it, which basically means bypassing the computer which processes and validates the key, and directly manipulating the actual locking mechanism. This requires proper tools. A standard miniature electronics tool kit will have most of them, but not all, so impose a 10% skill penalty. A high-tech thieves kit naturally would have all of the commonly needed items.

As a general rule, it will take 4d4 actions to open the casing around a standard door lock, but it doesn't require a skill roll (unless it is an intelligent lock with alarms - see below). Some more expensive locks will require much more time and uncommon tools to expose. For example, the major difference between a bank vault lock and the lock on an apartment door is that the vault locking mechanisms are protected by an almost-impregnable casing and cannot be exposed without great effort. Basically, if the door and wall are armored, assume the casing is similarly armored too.

Once the internal mechanisms are exposed, roll against your Pick Locks skill (or you can use Basic Electronics but add a penalty of 20% to your roll). Each attempt takes 1 action times your skill roll divided by 10, rounded up. If the roll is successful, you can either lock or unlock it. If your roll is unsuccessful, you still use up the time and then must start over with a new roll.

If the lock is intelligent and self-monitoring, then the alarm will be triggered as soon as you try to use an invalid key. It also monitors the integrity of its housing, so it will go off as soon as you try to open the lock case unless you make a successful roll against Pick Locks to disarm it first. Even if you successfully get inside the lock, you must then roll to open or close the lock as described above, and the alarm will be triggered if you fail that roll.

Finally, even if the lock is self-monitoring, there may be ways to stop the alarm from being sent. If the lock is on a briefcase or some such, it may just generate an audible warning, which cannot easily be stopped since the speaker is inside the lock case. However, if the lock is designed to send the alarm to a remote computer which runs the security system, there are ways to intercept the signal. For example, a jammer (see below) could block a radio transmission, while exposing and cutting the fiber optic cable would block laser transmissions. However, good security systems will include a pulse or "heartbeat", where the lock is supposed to send an all-clear message periodically, usually once per round. The security computer will activate the alarm if it misses two or three of the all-clear messages in a row. The skill and equipment required to forge a heartbeat and fool the system into believing there has been no tampering is what separates a pro from an amateur. In general, it would require a roll against the Locksmith skill to correctly forge the heartbeat, and it obviously requires appropriate tools to generate the signal.


With the prevalence of computers, most private residences and all businesses will employ at least basic sensors in their security plans. The primary purpose of sensors is to alert the security system's master computer to the presence of intruders. What actions it can take after discovering an intruder will be discussed in the next section.

Advanced security systems may include automated weapons to attack intruders, and if that is the case the system will also need to rely on its sensors to locate the targets.

Because sensors are designed to detect the presence of someone at a distance, they are very difficult to defeat, although many super powers will help against at least one type of sensor. And the power of Cloaking is protection against all sensor systems.

The skill Surveillance Systems can be of assistance in dealing with sensors. First and foremost it provides a good understanding of what sensor systems are available and what their strengths and weaknesses are. A roll against Surveillance Systems will let a character determine whether there are sensors present in an area, and if so, what type they are. There may be penalties to the roll if the sensors are deliberately being hidden and the character is relying on just visual evidence. A good spy will always have various devices for detecting sensors available to help detect hidden sensors.

Security Systems

Once a sensor detects an intruder, or an intelligent lock is tampered with, what happens? The answer to that question depends on the master security program in the computer core. At the very least, one or more types of alarm will go off. In all likelihood, the sensors will begin recording everything that happens, if they weren't already. Other security measures may be taken, such as closing and locking all doors in the area, temporarily disabling computer terminals in the area, and restricting computer access from outside sites. Expensive security systems may have defensive traps or limited non-lethal weaponry to attempt to neutralize the intruders. And in some cases, the security system may, legally or illegally, be set up with offensive weapons that provide a more permanent solution to the problem.

The skill Surveillance Systems includes a good understanding of what various security systems are available and what their strengths and weaknesses are. While it is impossible to know what type of alarms may be present (they are just computer software), a roll against Surveillance Systems will let a character determine whether there are any offensive or defensive systems present in an area, and if so, what type they are and what their area of affect might be.


There are three basic types of alarms, each with a different purpose or audience.

Defensive Systems

Defensive anti-intruder systems can range from the very low-tech to ultra-modern. The primary purpose of these devices is to detain, or at least delay, the intruder. Some of the most common are described below.

Offensive Systems

Traps and weapons which are fundamentally designed to injure or kill an intruder come under the heading of offensive security systems. These types of security systems are strictly regulated and in most cases can only be legally used by military or defense related organizations. That does not prevent them from being used illegally by all manner of criminals and paranoid individuals and organizations, however.

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This page is copyright © 1998 by Jim Stoner
Last Modified March 13, 1999