Houserules: Noise

We’re getting close to the end of my houserules-list, all I got left after this is some rigger-stuff.

These noise-rules are copy-pasted from when I first made them so they might be outdated since Data Trails. Feel free to make your own stuff of course, here’s the things I think a Noise houserule should address:

  • Too much Noise should cut off wireless functionality in some circumstances
  • Spamzones shouldn’t cut off wireless, because then what’s the point, but simply supply a penalty
  • Devices close to each other should be able to communicate even in static, assuming nothing gets in the way inbetween

And don’t forget: Line-of-sight is always an option for commlinks.


Rule: Noise shuts down all wireless communication

Under Aaron’s clarification, Noise only shuts down Wireless Bonuses, not Functionality. In other words, any functionality using the Matrix that isn’t actively described as a Wireless bonus, still works. Smartguns still transmit, commlinks can still make phone calls, and so on. To describe an over-the-top scenario, someone with a DR1 commlink, a rating 6 jammer next to them, buried in a container on the bottom of the ocean, would still have a signal. More realistically, Headjammers would not be able to do exactly what they are meant to do: “neutralize implanted commlinks.”

This houserule basically follows the RAW of p421, rather than the RAI that Aaron told us about: “If there is a Noise Rating from a situation that is greater than the item’s Device Rating, not including distance, the item temporarily loses its wireless functionality (see Noise, p. 230).”

As a consequence wireless bonuses are easily lost since standard personal electronics would likely have a device rating of 2 (page 234, table partially contradicted by page 356 and the Rigger chapter). So if you walk into the Barrens or CCZ you’d normally be fine, but every increase would shut you down, and so would walking within 10m of a rating 4 (and 20m for rating 6) Area Jammer. An enemy could shut down a lot of your stuff with a directional jammer at up to 80m distance. This tactic goes both ways, of course.

Jammers will become a viable strategy this way, shutting down communication of any sucker with a bad commlink. They can now be used to prevent security from calling backup, or to block the wireless signal meant to blow up that grenade in front of someone’s feet. A Street Samurai taking trips into bad areas of town will have to live with the consequences of not always having his wireless boni at hand, or invest into datajacks.

Of course this rule comes with its own consequences, so next we have these three:


Rule: Noise is split between Spam and Static effects

There are two kinds of Noise Zones. Static Zones are places where signals are either blocked or far away, whereas Spam Zones are so filled with signals that processing info becomes hard since signals are drowned out.

The downside of communication shutting down at Noise >= Device Rating, is the Spam Zones. An Advertising Blitz comes with a Rating 3 Spamzone. While some RFID tags (used for AROs) are Device Rating 3, simple glasses with an image link aren’t. This means that people would not be able to see the same AROs that the blitz is trying to show them. And even though a GM could say “commercial area noise only applies during peek hours and the Noise is less inside shops”, this still means that nobody would ever be able to see the AROs from outside or likely even make a phone call while visiting a mall.

As a solution for that, Noise can be separated into two factors. There’s the actual blocks that damage the signal, such as distance, all kinds of situational modifiers and the general environment (Static zones). Then there’s the Spam zones, where the only real problem is the massive amount of data flying around.

Noise has 2 effects. A penalty on Matrix actions, and disabling your wireless. It makes sense for Spam zones to do the first, but it doesn’t make sense for them to do the second. So Noise is split into two factors, Spam and Other. Spam+Other decides the dice penalty, whereas Other decides whether or not the wireless signal is powerful enough to get through whatever circumstances are in your way. This means all the offensive functionality of Noise remains, and trying to hack while you’re in the frickin’ Mall will be tough due to the signals around you

The question would be which kind of Noise is first reduced by Noise Reduction. It makes sense that the software would prioritize the signal loss, so the Other Noise, but a GM could easily decide differently, such as splitting it in two or making it reduce the Spam first.


Rule: Noise blocks communication but not one-way signals.

A different solution to the Advertising blitz is ruling that one-way signals still work. Think of it like streamed real-time video, even if you lose some data you probably can still make something out of it. Those RFID tags are simply broadcasting intel, and while your AR Goggles may not be capable of communicating with their environment, they may still be able to make sense out of the signals they receive. Since talking kinda requires a two-way street, while file transfers involve double-checking to compensate for packet loss, the Noise would still make this impossible. Meaning you wouldn’t be able to get a call out, but you’d be capable to receive a text message.

So basically the total Noise would have to exceed the sender’s Device Rating in order to block it from sending a message. If one side is fine and the other isn’t, only one-way messages are possible. If the Noise exceeds both, they cannot communicate at all. In that advertising blitz RFID tags of DR3 would be able to send out AROs and the DR2 Goggles would be able to read them. In the Mall the local Hosts would send out the AROs and your commlink would be able to receive texts, but you’d need a good one to be able to send texts. And when faced with a Jammer, you’d still be in trouble.


Rule: Datajacks can only provide Noise Reduction for a single plugged-in device, and don’t stack

Datajacks provide 1 point of Noise Reduction as wireless bonus. Leaving aside RCCs, this is the ONLY non-magical form of Noise Reduction that can boost any piece of equipment. So if you are in a really bad part of the Barrens and stuck without a wireless Smartgun due to Noise 3 instead of 2, plugging your gun into the datajack can save your ass. It likely has DR2 as well, so past Noise 3 it’s out of luck itself (unless your GM decides better-grades have a better device rating), but it basically lets you run a piece of electronics at 1 Noise higher.

Now Noise is a GM tool, so while running into Noise 3 rather than 2 may happen, it’s quite unlike you suddenly run into Noise 4 unless you are getting hit by a perfect storm. This means that very likely this one point of Noise Reduction can be the difference between life and death! Nah, just kidding chummer, it’s a difference of a dice or two. Or 6 in case of a First Aid kit… And that’s a rather decent case where it IS a matter of life and death, so I’ll grant you that.

Which brings us to Aaron’s official clarification: He stated that a wireless datajack boosts all of a runner’s equipment. In other words, that wireless datajack would cover your commlink, smartgun, vision enhancement, chemical seal, medkit and more at the same time. Heck it’d cover your grenades. Furthermore they stack, so a decker could spend 0.4 essence and 6 grand for 5 Alphaware Datajacks in chargen, and bam, any plausible Noise their GM throws at them will be easily nullified. This takes a GM weapon that should be used sparingly, and makes it completely irrelevant unless used in ridiculous excess.

The problem here is that Noise Reduction is really hard to get. Yet in the form of a Datajack it suddenly would become harmless at a cheap price, where only awakened characters and some street sams would have a hard time with the essence loss. To solve that problem the datajacks would be tuned back: They only provide Noise Reduction for themselves and whatever single item is plugged into them, and cannot stack with each other.

Consequences are that Noise can still be real dangerous this way. If a Street Sam wants their smartgun to still run in rating 3 Noise, they’d need a datajack. If they also want their Thermal Dampening to work, that requires a second datajack. It makes datajacks an important strategic decision, and in Noise 3 environments a tactical decision is required on which wireless bonuses you want to keep and which you drop.


These Noise rules all have 1 thing in common: They keep Noise a dangerous thing. This means that excessive use by a GM can spell trouble for players, so the GM should keep in mind that Noise is a GM tool that should be used sparingly, just like Background Count, and not as a weapon of choice for every run. The official rulings ripped out the sting, while these houserules keep it sharp and dangerous.

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