ofWar never changes, even if the tools and the battlefields don't. The Cosmic Era ushered in a new age of virtual warfare, a codified and sanctioned form of military prowess, confined to the digital domains of the Cognet. The defender has the advantage in determining the nature of the battlefield, while the attacker has the advantage of choosing what weapons and tools to bring. Ultimately it is a contest of who has both the more creative application of force and the better programming and coding.
At it's heart, cyberwar is a game. It is largely governed by the same rules and concepts that are contained in gaming systems, and lacking actual casualties and collateral damage, it is largely handled the same way.
Zone 1: MOBA
The outer zone of any digital defense system is a MOBA, or Massive Online Battle Arena. MOBAs are digital domains, and often merge seamlessly with Massive Multi-user Domains (MMDs, the replacement for MMOs). Entering a MOBA disengages the safety protocols for users, allowing them full access to their programs and 'goodie bags', on both sides. Inside the MOBA zone, units can engage in virtual warfare, through the milieu of the arena.
Milieu: the miliue, or the setting of any digital domain, has a major influence over what happens inside of it. All domains have a milieu, with the default CogNet milieu, mixing the ambiance of the Apple Store, a Progressive Insurance ad, and the functionality of Amazon being the most familiar. This is the 'Browser' milieu. Everything attached to the CogNet has it's own milieu, and part is generated by the coding and programs running the server, and the other part is a reflection generated by the elsewhere that is the host of the CogNet, (aka the mythos Dreamlands).
Arthurian: The Arthurian Milieu is reflexive fantasy, vast forests, craggy mountains, dragons, dwarves, elves, magic, and the whole bag. The Arthurian milieu is very popular, and is featured through hundreds of domains worth of fantasy fiction, media franchises, and pro-magic, pro-dragon, and so forth fantasies. The power of the miliue is the use of magic and supernatural monsters like dragons and giants. The drawback is that coding favors magic and hand to hand combat. Cybersoldiers who are versed in long range tech fighting are going to be at a severe disadvantage.
Space: The Space Milieu is reflexive science fiction, with hundreds of worlds, spaceships, exotic technologies, aliens, and anomalies. Space has two massive advantages, it requires large amounts of computational power, meaning that a strong space based MOBA can keep many low level hackers and cyber soldiers out due to the simple size of it. The second is that this sheer amount of computational power means that when forces clash, they aren't swinging swords and shooting guns, they are lobbing black holes at each other, and using planets as ammunition.
Zone 2: Base Defense
Inside of the battle arena, there is the base. To reach the Base, the raiding party has to overcome defenders and obstacles in the MOBA, and then they have to actually locate where the base is inside of the arena. It is easy to overlook bases, slip past them, and rocket past them. This can be a function of being cloaked, blending into the environs, being so fantastical that they are so obviously not the base, and other tricks. Unlike the arena, the base is not home to random encounters, but it is patrolled, and has active defenses. This includes walls, defensive weaponry, garrisoned soldiers, and defenders. Once the Base is reached, the defenders are active. Probes and intrustions into the Battle Arena happen regularly, and only those that reach the base walls are credible threats.
Walls - Bases have walls that partition them off from the MOBA. The first challenge is to overcome the walls, either through brute force, cleverness, or the use of passwords and codes. Attacking the walls typically activates automated defenses and alerts defenders. The purpose of the wall is to slow intruders down.
Turrets - Fixed defenses, turrets take a variety of appearances, but all harass intruders, slowing them down, forcing them to defend themselves, and fight back.
Defenders - Bases have garrisoned 'troops' in the form of defensive code and programs. Defenders will be controlled by either a central command, a cadre of counter-hackers, or a sentient computer, depending on the wealth and power of the domain. Megacorps have MASSIVE bases, impregnable fortresses, guarded by huge amounts of resources.
Traps - Bases can very easily be as much trap as base. These can be decoys, concealed cyber weaponry, teleportation ports, and a vast arsenal of tricks. Attackers can be frozen, polymorphed, traced back to their operator, implanted with viruses, or even hit with intrusion countermeasures that can harm physical users.
Tower Defense - A very common form of base is the Tower Defense Base. This base has a single I/O and it is lined with turrets, defenders, and is a veritable gauntlet of pain. Reaching the finish zone of a tower defense can lead a group of hackers into the next layer of a domain, or another layer of tower defense, or through legerdemain, looped back to the beginning of the base or even out of it entirely. Tower defenses are very upfront about what they offer in defense, but secretive about what comes next.
Sandbox Defense - sandbox bases resemble the fortifications of Real Time Strategy games, and fighting through one to the central point requires the same skill and resources. Sandbox defenders have much more flexibility in their actions, but so do attackers.
Zone 3: Duelists
Should a group of cybersoldiers overcome the MOBA, fight their way through the base, they have to assail the central keep and inside, it's keeper. The Keeper represents a secure I/O and a bottleneck (deliberate) in a system. To advance deeper into a domain, the keep must be defeated in a battle on their own terms. This form of combat has become stylized, following a series of codes that are a mixture of the samurai/warrior ideal, kanly (declared conflict), special ops, and the Collectible Card Battle genre of games.
Cyber duelists face each other, armed with a bevy or tools and weapons available to them. While the appearance of the conflict might appear as a clash of swords, monsters fighting, ships shooting at each other, or whatever is suitable to the milieu, the actual mechanics are the sequential activation of protocols, programs, and avatars. These duels are all fought using the same basic code. While it would be possible to have constantly changing codes and a constantly evolving field of battle, the guidelines have been laid out by both the M12 and by the nature of the CogNet. Things that violate the physics of the milieu and servers do not function, misfire, or catastrophically fail, often kicking the user out of the system.
Zone 4: The Heart
The center of every digital dungeon is the heart. This is the central node, the command center, the MCU, of that system. Overcoming the other layers of the defense allows the hacker to enter the heart, where they face the final line of defense. The core is going to be protected by encryption, puzzle locks, firewalls, and other such passive defenses. This takes time and concentration to penetrate, lacking access codes. During this time, new defenders can be summoned, new traps can be activated.
The secret of the first three zones of a digital dungeon is that they are not intended to stop every hacker or cyber ops that comes along attempting to break in. The weak hackers, those lacking experience, hardware and software, and appropriate backing, are going to be turned away fairly early on, assuming they even find the access points to begin with. The higher level hackers are going to draw attention simply by penetrating the defenses. By the time a cyper-ops team breaks through the base defense, internal security is already active, and preparing to meet the hackers as they engage the Duelist defender. Some will wait to see how much it takes for the team to overcome the duelist, and gauge their skill from that fight. Others will initiate counter-ops as soon as intrusions are detected. The best hacker and cyber-ops teams work to enter a system without being noticed, ninjas where other operations go in like gamemasters.
Appearances: One thing to keep in mind when generating digital dungeons is that everything manifested in the CogNet is half programming and half dream stuff, thus the laws governing the operations within are internally consistent, and self enforced. The best hackers and cyber-ops are the ones who are the most flexible, capable of programming code on the fly as well as lucid dreaming.
Traps: traps can be found anywhere in a digital dungeon. The purpose of traps are threefold, to alert, to delay, and to injure. The most common traps are nothing more than basic alarms, notifying defenders that someone has penetrated into their zone, allowing them to arm more serious countermeasures. Delaying traps slow intruders or otherwise harry them. This can cause them to waste ammunition and supplies, as well as forcing them to show their hands, and revealing what they are capable of. The last set of traps are intended to actually harm the intruder, either the avatar or actual person driving it. Once injured, a user is much more likely to back out of a dungeon, allowing them to be traced back to their point of entry.
Active Defenses: unlike a trap, an active defense is a visible weapon or patrol system. These slow and harry intruders much like traps, but are activated defenses. Active defenses are divided into zone and individual coverage. Towers and turrets are zone, attacking anything that enters their zone or influence. A 'turret' that has minions attached to it (ala a 'barracks' or 'goblin hole') will spawn attack or defense programs to face the intruders.
Defender: defenders are AI controlled 'NPC squads' who are not attached to a location, but rather move where directed. These are the most active system based defenders, and are typically on par with the average hacker or cyber-ops. The Agents from the Matrix would be considered elite Defenders.
Game Role and Purpose
Real life hacking is very boring, It is more phishing and making business calls pretended to be someone else, and quite a long way from the Hollywood tattoo and pierced hacker kids going assault mode on a keyboard with weird greeblie bits attached to their computers. Real life hacking is boring. In the Cosmic Era, hacking is it's own field, and to be a hacker is to functionally be an elite level mobile gamer. There are certainly those hardline systems that can only be hacked through remote terminals, or are isolated, but then half of the adventure is physically getting the hackers to the system so that they can enter into it and do their thing.
The main purpose of the digital dungeon is to make hacking and other cyber ops interesting to play, and also moves it into the venue of Lovecraft's dreamlands warriors. The dreamer walking down the 777 steps of the grand staircase to enter the dreamlands is not much different than a CogNet hacker logging into the net through an encrypted link and following the recursive path is generates to get from their I/O port to the server that they want. Inside the net, inside the deep net, it is another world, with it's own laws and physics.