Shards and Shardnets

Shard use illustration

Shards are magical gems that allow mortals to interact with the Shardscape. Think of them as mobile endpoints, like smart phones. Small shards that are split from a single, larger shard form a shardnet: a private network where each mortal holding one of these shards can communicate with each other silently and instantly, regardless of the distance between them. However, each shardnet operates as if each of the endpoints were connected by a hub. That means that everyone using the shardnet can see everyone else’s communications. Achieving privacy and security over a shardnet requires cryptomancy.

Clear-Text Messages

Alice Alice holds a shard and thinks the message: “Hello, Bob.”
Bob Bob, holding a shard, sees the message: “Hello, Bob.”
Chuck Chuck, an eavesdropper, holds a shard and sees the message: “Hello, Bob.”

Alice, Bob, and Chuck are part of the same shardnet. If Alice holds her shard, closes her eyes, and thinks “Hello Bob,” that message will echo throughout the shardnet in clear-text (that is, language that is perfectly legible to anyone and everyone). This means that anyone with one of the shards will be able to intercept the message. Though Alice intended her message to be received by Bob, Chuck was also able to receive the message. That might be OK if the message is “Hello Bob.” However, if the message is “Watch out, Chuck is working for the enemy,” this might be problematic.

Encrypted Messages

Alice injecting key Alice holds a shard, raises her other hand, and injects the key phrase: “Gallows Goblets Gold.”
Alice She then lowers her hand, and thinks her message: “Hello Bob.”
Chuck Bob, who knows the keyphrase “Gallows Goblets Gold” sees the message: “Hello, Bob.”
Bob Chuck, who does not know the keyphrase, sees only jumbled cypher-text

Luckily, Alice and Bob previously agreed on a shared keyphrase… a string of words that encrypt the clear-text into cipher-text (that is, unintelligible nonsense). The cipher-text can only be decrypted (transformed back into clear-text) by someone who knows this keyphrase. Alice raises her hand to her shard and thinks the keyphrase. She then lowers her hand, and thinks the message “Watch out, Chuck is working for the enemy.” Bob, who knows the keyphrase, receives the message loud and clear. Chuck, however, only receives confusing cipher-text. He now knows that Alice and Bob are keeping a secret from him, but does not know what that secret is.

Network Warfare

This very simple example is just the beginning.

Cryptomancer’s fantasy infrastructure is easily taught to players with no IT background, but complex enough to provide even seasoned security-heads a playground to test their offensive and defensive chops. The game’s infrastructure sections cover the following: