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Bits and Pieces from the NR Trivia Collection
#17: Raffles

by Jens Kreutzer

A staple icebreaker from the earliest days of Netrunner, stately Raffles is still the "biggest" code-gate breaker in the game. Though players usually shun the installation cost of seven bits and go for favorites like Skeleton Passkeys, Raffles still sees enough play in Sealed games and in stacks where installation costs don't matter that much (using Zetatech Software Installers or Mystery Box, for example). Apart from that, the card is more bread-and-butter Netrunner, not fancy stuff.

It is, however, a program that was directly adopted from the Cyberpunk roleplaying game, which lent its background to the Netrunner universe. In the second-edition basic rulebook on page 137, we can find the following description: "Raffles is designed specifically to deal with complex code gates and file locks which have a specific word as the key. It asks the code gate a series of innocuous and leading questions ('Is is bigger than a breadbox?' 'Is it hot or cold?'), designed to tell Raffles the nature of the code gate and its key."

Raffles and Tinweasel share similar card artworks by Mark Collen, showing a question mark-shaped creature holding up a flat image of a person in front of the same stylised padlock. Obviously, the padlock represents the code gate to be broken, but the question mark might either be the icon of a Runner using the icebreaker, or it might be some sort of guardian icon posing the question that must be answered with the correct answer (password) in order to enter the code gate. Instead of an image of the password, the guardian icon gets handed an image of Tinweasel or Raffles, respectively. On Raffles, the icon description from Cyberpunk (page 138) is represented faithfully: "A dapper young man wearing evening clothes of the early 1900's. It speaks briefly to the door, then vanishes as soon as it opens."

But what does the name Raffles mean? As always, the Oxford English Dictionary is the authority to turn to. If written with a small r, raffles means "lottery", hence the French translation of the card, "Loterie". But here, I think, the French translator got it wrong, since Raffles (with a capital R) also means "a man of good birth who engages in crime, especially burglary". This goes back to A. J. Raffles, the protagonist of Raffles, The Amateur Cracksman (1899) and other books by E. W. Hornung (1866-1921). Raffles was a gentleman thief in Victorian England, which explains the artwork on the card.

The following is a quote from the 1994 Wordsworth Classics edition of Raffles, The Amateur Cracksman (p. 15-18) to give you an impression of his modus operandi. This book is an enjoyable read, by the way, which I'd like to recommend. The story is told from the perspective of Bunny Manders, Raffles' partner in crime. We join them as they are burgling a jeweller's.

"Next moment I saw the door wide open, and Raffles standing within and beckoning me with a jemmy.
'Door number one,' he whispered. 'Deuce knows how many more there'll be, but I know of two at least. We won't have to make much noise over them, either; down here there's less risk.'
We were now at the bottom of the exact fellow to the narrow stone stair which we had just descended; the yard, or well, being the one part common to both the private and the business premises. But this flight led to no open passage; instead, a singularly solid mahogany door confronted us at the top. 'I thought so,' muttered Raffles, handing me the lantern, and pocketing a bunch of skeleton keys, after tampering for a few times with the lock. 'It'll be an hour's work to get through that!'
'Can't you pick it?'
'No. I know these locks. It's no use trying. We must cut it out, and it'll take us an hour.' It took us forty-seven minutes by my watch; or rather it took Raffles, and never in my life have I seen anything more deliberately done. My part was simply to stand by with the dark lantern in one hand and a small bottle of rock-oil in the other. Raffles had produced a pretty, embroidered case, intended obviously for his razors, but filled instead with the tools of his secret trade, including the rock-oil. From this case he selected a 'bit,' capable of drilling a hole an inch in diameter, and fitted it to a small but very strong steel 'brace.' Then he took off his covert-coat and his blazer, spread them neatly on the top step - knelt on them - turned up his shirt-cuffs - and went to work with brace-and-bit near the keyhole. But first he oiled the bit to minimise the noise, and this he did invariably before beginning a fresh hole, and often in the middle of one. It took thirty-two separate borings to cut round that lock. I noticed that through the first circular orifice Raffles thrust a forefinger; then, as the circle became an even lengthening oval, he got his hand through up to the thumb, and I heard him swear softly to himself. 'I was afraid so!'
'What is it?'
'An iron gate on the other side!'
'How on earth are we to get through that?' I asked in dismay. 'Pick the lock. But there may be two. In that case they'll be top and bottom, and we shall have two fresh holes to make, as the door opens inwards. It won't open two inches as it is.' I confess I did not feel sanguine about the lock-picking, seeing that one lock had baffled us already; and my disappointment and impatience must have been a revelation to me had I stopped to think. The truth is that I was entering into our nefarious undertaking with an involuntary zeal of which I was myself quite unconscious at the time. The romance and the peril of the whole proceeding held me spellbound and entranced. My moral sense and my sense of fear were stricken by a common paralysis. And there I stood, shining my light and holding my phial with a keener interest than I ever brought to any honest avocation. And there knelt A. J. Raffles, with his black hair tumbled, and the same watchful, quiet, determined half-smile with which I have seen him send down over after over in a country match [...]. At last the chain of holes was complete, the lock wrenched out bodily, and a splendid bare arm plunged up to the shoulder through the aperture, and through the bars of the iron gate beyond.
'Now,' whispered Raffles, 'if therefs only one lock it'll be in the middle. Joy! Here it is! Only let me pick it, and we're through at last.'
He withdrew his arm, a skeleton key was selected from the bunch, and then back went his arm to the shoulder. It was a breathless moment. I heard the heart throbbing in my body, the very watch ticking in my pocket, and ever and anon the tinkle-tinkle of the skeleton key. Then - at last - there came a single unmistakable click. In another minute the mahogany door and the iron gate yawned behind us, and Raffles was sitting on an office table, wiping his face, with the lantern throwing a steady beam by his side.

We were now in a bare and roomy lobby behind the shop, but separated therefrom by an iron curtain, the very sight of which filled me with despair. Raffles, however, did not appear in the least depressed, but hung up his coat and hat on some pegs in the lobby before examining this curtain with his lantern. 'That's nothing,' said [h]e, after a minute's inspection; 'we'll be through that in no time, but there's a door on the other side which may give us trouble.'
'Another door!' I groaned. 'And how do you mean to tackle this thing?'
'Prise it up with the jointed jemmy. The weak point of these iron curtains is the leverage you can get from below. But it makes a noise, and this is where you're coming in, Bunny; this is where I couldn't do without you. I must have you overhead to knock through when the street's clear. I'll come with you and show a light.' Well, you may imagine how little I liked the prospect of this lonely vigil; and yet there was something very stimulating in the vital responsibility which it involved. Hitherto I had been a mere spectator. Now I was to take part in the game. And the fresh excitement made me more than ever insensible to those considerations of conscience and of safety which were already as dead nerves in my breast. So I took my post without a murmur in the front room above the shop. The fixtures had been left for the refusal of the incoming tenant, and fortunately for us they included Venetian blinds which were already down. It was the simplest matter in the world to stand peeping through the laths into the street, to beat twice with my foot when anybody was approaching, and once when all was clear again. The noises that even I could hear below, with the exception of one metallic crash at the beginning, were indeed incredibly slight; but they ceased altogether at each double rap from my toe, and a policeman passed quite half a dozen times beneath my eyes, and the man whom I took to be the jeweller's watchman oftener still, during the better part of an hour that I spent at the window. Once, indeed, my heart was in my mouth, but only once. It was when the watchman stopped and peered through the peep-hole into the lighted shop. I waited for his whistle - I waited for the gallows or the gaol! But my signals had been studiously obeyed, and the man passed on in undisturbed serenity. In the end I had a signal in my turn, and retraced my steps with lighted matches down the broad stairs, down the narrow ones, across the area, and up into the lobby where Raffles awaited me with an outstretched hand.

'Well done, my boy!' said he. 'You're the same good man in a pinch, and you shall have your reward. I've got a thousand pounds' worth if I've got a penn'oth. It's all in my pockets. And here's something else I found in this locker; very decent port and some cigars, meant for poor dear Danby's business friends. Take a pull, and you shall light up presently. I've found a lavatory, too, and we must have a wash-and-brush-up before we go, for I'm as black as your boot.'"

It doesn't take much imagination to envision a Netrun before one's inner eye when reading these lines. Doors and iron gates are dealt with one after the other, just like pieces of ice are rezzed and encountered. The stealth connection is also there. If you'll forgive the pun, I found it hilarious that Raffles "selected a bit" in order to crack the lock.

A film starring David Niven was made about the life of the gentleman-crook Raffles in 1939. It was re-published on VHS video in 1996, so you have a chance of getting hold of it if you prefer films over books.

By the way: The famous Raffles Hotel in Singapore is named after another Raffles, namely Sir T. Stamford Raffles (1781-1826), the founder of Singapore. Also named after him is the Rafflesia plant, or stinking-corpse lily, a south-east Asian rainforest parasite which produces the largest flower in the world. Anyway, now you know the background of the largest codegate breaker in the world of Netrunner.

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