Interactions of magic and data

This post is a creative piece offering some ideas for the Starfinder roleplaying game. Any resemblance to real life entities are purely coincidental. Please feel free to use this content in your own campaign or discuss or expand on these ideas in the comments.

The Starfinder system is a science fantasy roleplaying game, heroes adventuring in this futuristic setting are just as likely to solve their problems with magic as they are with computer hacking skills. Indeed, a party of heroes is likely to want at least one character covering each angle, whether through class choices (i.e. Mystic or Technomancer) or skill selection (i.e. Mysticism or Computing). To what extent do the two interact, and what sorts of interactions might be possible?

Magic and technology

Unlike early editions of Dungeons & Dragons for instance, where magic and psionics had no official interactions at all, magic and technology in Starfinder most certainly do mix. Certain breeds of technology even require magic to operate, Eoxian ships and inventions come to mind as they usually integrate a heavy dose of necromancy into their design.

Although the setting has explored some specific broad technologies that combine magic and science, I’ve not yet come across much exploration of how magic and data might mix.  This post provides some specific situations and new spells to illustrate how the two could overlap.

Protecting sensitive data

I feel it is likely that magic would be brought to bear to protect sensitive data in Starfinder. There are strict limitations on real-time communications especially if you’re talking between star systems. So data couriers are a viable line of business and being able to protect data from pirates, hackers and corporate rivals is going to be important. Yes, having the better computer experts than your rivals or the local criminal elements is one approach; but I suspect that having a good Technomancer available would be equally effective.

Encrypt data, Technomancer 2
School Abjuration
Casting Time 1 standard action
Range Touch
Targets one technological memory device (e.g. data chip or removable drive)
Duration 24 hours
Saving Throw none; Spell Resistance no
The encrypt data spell magically encrypts the entire contents of one technological data storage device for its duration. The caster can end this effect prematurely or access the data stored on the device without disturbing the encryption in place. For others, accessing the data requires a successful Computing check, with a DC of 20 or if other non-magical protections are also used a DC raised +10 by this effect. Tiny intricate spell glyphs are visible on the surface of the device for the duration of the effect making the presence of the spell obvious to anyone who succeeds a Mysticism DC 15 skill check.

If the caster chooses at time of casting to spend 1 Resolve Point they may add an optional trigger effect to the encryption. Should someone attempt to access the data and fail the skill check outlined above, then the optional effect is triggered immediately afterwards. Possible trigger effects include one of the following:

  1. The spell ends immediately as a magical micro-electromagnetic pulse is triggered inside the device to destroy all data stored on it.
  2. A loud alarm is triggered for 1 minute, a siren that is clearly audible within a 60 foot sphere centered on the device. The sound can be a standard alarm sound or a short phrase (max 20 words) that is repeated over and over for this duration (see the audible alarm effect of the Pathfinder alarm spell for more details).
  3.  A silent alarm is triggered that warns the caster of the hack attempt if they are within one mile of the device (see the silent alarm effect of the Pathfinder alarm spell for more details).

Finding that data treasure-trove

Computer systems in any far future setting are likely to hold unimaginably large sets of data files. Presumably file search and organisation methods would keep pace with this to ensure that an authorised user can find files quickly and easily (maybe that still depends on how disorganised they are as a user!). But what about unauthorised users of a system? It’s very likely adventurers will come across computer systems they aren’t supposed to be accessing: in such cases time can be of the essence, and hacking into every system or drive you find to locate the specific data you need or want to appropriate may not be the most sensible approach. The following spell offers Technomancers a less invasive means to locate a data treasure-trove.

Fast Index, Technomancer 1
School Divination
Casting Time 1 standard action
Range 5 feet
Targets one source of data (e.g. an active computer or data storage device)
Duration instantaneous
Saving Throw none or Will negates; Spell Resistance no

The Fast Index spell gives the caster an almost instantaneous mental overview of a set of data files within a nearby computer or data storage device. The spell allows them to visualise the file storage hierarchy and hone in, at the speed of thought, on one particular folder per casting. That folders files are listed within the casters thoughts, providing basic properties for each. The spell gives the file name, file size and file type for each. The encryption status of any protected files is also given as a simple yes or no. It is possible to use this spell to index files stored on the memory modules of a drone or other more complex technological form, however if the target is sentient (e.g. an Android or SRO) then a Will save against the Technomancer’s spell DC would prevent the spell from providing any information.

As an alternative to this standard casting the Technomancer may interrogate the devices file structure for a single specific file that he or she believes to be stored on there. If it exists the exact location within the file structure and other details as listed above are magically provided.

Note that this spell requires no technological connection to the computer or device. Nor will it automatically trigger any alarms or safeguards since the Technomancer is not actually attempting to login or otherwise gain direct access to the file structure. The spell will bypass standard password and firewall securities within the limitations of the spell’s effects. It does not allow the caster to access the contents of a file or to alter files in any manner – it is a strictly read-only indexing of files only.

Backup, backup, backup!

Given the many and varied threats in the Starfinder universe it seems sensible that data backups would be just as important as they are in the real world. The majority of data backups are likely to be made with technology, there are only so many Technomancers to go around after all. However, for those with the resources or finances to hire a caster with technological skills, having a means through magic to copy data would offer a means for complementary or emergency data security.

Clone Data, Technomancer 3
School Illusion
Casting Time 1 minute
Range 5 feet
Targets one source of data (e.g. an active computer or data storage device)
Duration instantaneous
Saving Throw none or Will negates; Spell Resistance no

This spell creates a magical copy of data from one nearby source to a destination data storage device equally close to, or held, by the caster. The source can be an active computer, a passive data storage device (data chip or portable drive) or even the memory store of a drone or other artificial form. If the target is sentient (e.g. an Android or SRO) then a Will save against the Technomancer’s spell DC would prevent the spell from accessing any data.

The spell is indescriminate but quick working, it will copy the entire contents of a smaller device or single specific drive – if a computer has multiple data storage drives then the caster has to choose one. The spell provides no details or the files cloned: i.e. their names, type or content. If the files are encrypted then the resulting copies are also encrypted in the same manner. Magical protection prevents this spell from copying data, the encrypt data spell above would totally negate any casting of clone data and the optional effect, if any, would be triggered.

The caster does not need direct access to the device such as a login or Computing hack skill check, however, the magic is not foolproof in the face of more serious technological safeguards. Limitations of the maximum volume of data obtainable are at the GM’s discretion. Also the spells interactions with computer security is also up to the GM, for example if the data is protected by firewall then the caster might need a successful Mysticism or Computing check with the standard DC 13 + (4x computer or device’s tier) in order to magically circumvent the firewall for that particular casting.

This post is based on entries in the Starfinder Core rulebook, please see this source for more details on computers, the Computing skill and other Technomancer spells and abilities.

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