Transmissions From The End #15: The Sounds That Remain In Question

Enjoy this blast from the futurepast…

The Sounds That Remain In Question

January 4th, 501 R.T. 0700 Hours {Local Time}
Deck 12 Situation Room of the Vitrix Carrier RAS Lancelot
0.01 Parsecs Spinward of PH-087 “Hong Kong Station”

>>>>ONI Net Log Active
>>>>Ordo Seclorum Est 8.0 Encryption Active
>>>>Remote Satellite Comms Vetted. Vocap active.
>>>>Voice Prints Verified: President Dave Carter (DC), Commander Jesse Kilgannon (JK), Major Gloria Kilgannon (GK), Captain Michael Kilgannon (MK), Governor Akira Yuzaki [Hong Kong Station] (AY), General Andrew Kirin (AK), Rear Admiral Jane Deftinwolf {by remote} (JD), Director Connor Fagan (CF).
>>>>Level 9 Firewall Engaged; Suborbital Uplink Secured

//BEGIN MEETING TRANSCRIPT

DC: Thank you all for coming so early in the morning and on such short notice.

CF: Mr. President, before you say anything else, are you sure that this meeting site is secure. I understand that these “Redeemers” are quite advanced.

DC: Jane?

JD: All possible precautions have been taken. However if I.W.D. (R.I.A. Information Warfare Division) would like to sweep the room for bugs or triple-check my encryption, I won’t be insulted. I can’t make any guarantees, Director. But I don’t think you can ever.

CF: Perhaps this meeting should be delayed until such a time as we can have guarantees of operational security?

AK: All due respect, but this has been delayed too long as it is. We need to come up with a gameplan here.

DC: I agree, General. Ace, tell us the story so far.

JK: October 4th, 499 R.T. Avalon Standard time. Communications Tower Delta-462 on Hong Kong Station goes dark.

JD: Most locals notice only a small period of downtime on their Commlinks before another relay carrier picks up their signals.

JK: Remote access to comms systems on D-462 is locked out. Manual access is cut off. Infiltration teams who enter through the ventilation system do not leave alive. Drone reconnaissance gets jammed or otherwise taken offline.

JD: Simultaneously, an entity calling itself MONAD—and occasionally referring to itself as The Demiurge or The Demogorgon—makes contact with numerous gray databases throughout the Galaxy, including Cydonia, which is—

CF: Obviously, we’re familiar with it.

JD: The messages that it transmits are badly fragmented and barely coherent.

AK: Wait a second. Stupid question. Is this thing a hoax or not? Because according to the memos that I’ve gotten—

MK: It ain’t no hoax, General. You pulled our asses out of the fire on Salem. The hostiles there were these Redeemers. Working for the MONAD intelligence.

GK: You’re jumping ahead a little, don’t you think?

AK: I see.

JD: Welcome to the circle of trust, General. As I was saying, the MONAD entity claimed omnipotence and omniscience, but did not seem capable of coherent communication. Or perhaps, it simply enjoyed being cryptic. In any case, a link between it and the GAIA was established almost immediately.

DC: A link we can’t confirm or deny.

CF: And to prevent a panic, we issued a press blackout.

JD: At the very least, we can confirm that by all indications MONAD is a self-aware neural network, the most advanced AI since the GAIA, even if it has no link to that entity.

AK: If it’s not the GAIA, who made it? Why?

JK: We don’t know. Either.

AY: Excuse me, at this point could I ask the purpose of this meeting?

DC: The purpose of this meeting is to create a plan of action for dealing with the MONAD entity and the potential threat that it poses to Hong Kong Station and the Galaxy.

AY: Inasmuch as the threat is contained within Hong Kong Station, this is an internal matter for House Yamamoto to decide. Yet, I am the only House Yamamoto representative here. This is an obvious violation of my interests and our economic security. I must ask for a private—

DC: This is bigger than House Yamamoto. Bigger than any of the Great Houses. This has the potential of impacting the lives of every Republic Citizen. We have done you the courtesy of not inviting House Dallas or House Dresden to the discussion table—yet. In turn, we ask that you participate in this discussion. Deru kui wa utareru.

AY: I see.

JD: Ace, continue.

JK: On October 16th 499 R.T. the MONAD entity goes silent. It stops communicating with the galaxy. Attempts to physically access Delta-462 remain unsuccessful.

AY: We do not have access to remote climate control for that tower or to the explosive bolts that would be used to safely jettison it.

AK: Well, that answers my next question.

JK: No further developments until May of 500 R.T..

CF: Actually, that’s not entirely true.

JD: Go ahead, director.

CF: We continued to monitor transmissions to and from Delta-462 during this time. MONAD made a handful of “outgoing calls” to various places around the Galaxy Net. Communicated with some of its Redeemers. It invited several other individuals to make a “pilgrimage” to Hong Kong station to commune with it. We have no way of knowing if any of them made it. We intercepted and decrypted all of them. Mostly philosophical discussions. And some logistics. The organization of M0TES—social mixers of random individuals for experimental purposes. A lot of that chatter was disinformation but…

JD: Did you detect any hint of what it was planning for May?

CF:

JD: Then clearly, we do not have access to its high security communications.

CF: Nonetheless, we are certain that MONAD had no ties to the Christmas 499 massacre. That was a Collective Automata action. Verifiably.

JK: May 1st, 500 R.T.. Dallas and Yamamoto are engaged in open warfare on Salem. They and Republic observers are engaged and destroyed by unknown forces. These “Redeemers” are augmented Celestials, robots, and drones answering to MONAD. They force fighting to a standstill on the planet. Republic reinforcements arrive to assess the situation. Including me and my team.

GK: The Collective Automata were also on-hand to secure a neural network—crucial to their operations—that had been captured by House Yamamoto. We’re not sure if that was a Redeemer objective or not.

MK: Our target was this truly gassed up Kapsilus Arms Troll Drone that was apparently acting as some kind of a remote signal hub for the Demiurge. It was being run directly by the Demiurge, and was acting as a signal bridge to other Redeemer units in the area. Code name: Wrath of God.

JK: Not an exaggeration. The three of us working together with close air support were barely able to take it down.

JD: It was at this point that it became clear to us that one Steven Wherner, C.E.O. of Tiberius Arms, a House Dallas subsidiary, had been a sleeper agent of the Demiurge for some time. He was killed in action on Salem, of course, and later on Arcadia—after defecting to House Yamamoto.

CF: Is it your policy to harbor terrorists, Ms. Yuzaki?

AY: I am sure I cannot say.

JD: Are you aware of any additional clones that Dr. Wherner may have made?

AY: Again, I am sure I cannot say. I will make inquiries.

DC: Thank you.

CF: After the Redeemer force on Salem was beaten, we used the presence of the Collective Automata to mask the fact they were ever there. We maintained press containment as best we could.

AK: Is it me, or have the Redeemers done basically nothing since then?

JD: It is true they have been primarily on the defensive—

JK: Or biding their time.

AY: Until the September riots.

JK: This is where my firsthand narrative is limited. Jane, you’ll take it from here.

JD: Of course. I was just getting to that. On September 26th, 500 R.T. shortly after Nippon Sector quarantined itself from the riots, Hong Kong station entire went dark. Perhaps, Governor you could shed some light on the events there.

AY: I am afraid I cannot. I was trapped at my home in Osaka for the duration of the riots.

JD: Well, here is what we do know. Someone—and we have no suspects except MONAD—released some kind of weaponized nanites on Hong Kong station at the height of the House Wars fighting. Possibly multiple strains of weaponized nanites. A large subset of the population was killed outright. Still others retained their mobility and functionality but experienced severe hallucinations. Chemical and biological weapons—unlike anything we’ve seen before—were used also. Others were merely “switched off” but unharmed.

AK: Alright, now I’m getting ahead of myself, but doesn’t it occur to you that that was the ideal time to nuke the station from orbit? We’d have had plausible deniability, and no more MONAD to worry about.

AY: How can you even suggest that! You are talking about killing over a million of my citizens! Of your citizens!

DC: The Governor is right, General. Taking the shot on Hong Kong station is an absolute last resort.

JD: Things on the station seem to be “back to normal” now, so to speak. The survivors are moving on with their lives. But we don’t know what the Demiurge did during the comms blackout. And besides the hundred thousand or so casualties, there are hundreds of people who simply cannot be accounted for. And I think that about brings us up to speed.

AY: Well what are you proposing.

AK: Admiral Deftinwolf, do you speak for the regular Armada here as well as ONI?

JD: I do.

AK: Well, excuse me if my first question is overly obvious, but why not just hit Delta-462 with a mass driver or something. No more Delta-462, no more Demiurge, correct?

Hell, we could nuke it from here.

AY: Are you serious!?

JK: Good question, General. Two reasons.

AY: Is one of them that there is no way to destroy Delta-462 without depressurizing the entirety of Hong Kong Station? Even if the Republic citizens there could be evacuated, you would be looking at a monetary loss to House Yamamamto in the vicinity of 2.1 Trillion credits. Would the Republic be willing to foot the bill for that?

AK: Listen here, little lady—

JD: That is in fact one of the reasons. Here is another. Any preliminary action we take runs the risk of preempting the Demiurge.

AK: You’re going to have to break that one down for me.

GK: In your “Shoot Delta-462 with a mass driver” scenario, you’d want to evacuate the civilians first, correct General?

AK: Of course. I’m not a butcher.

JK: Well if you do that, you risk tipping our hat to the Demiurge. Which could then kill those civilians or trap them there as hostages—human shields. …It’s what I’d do.

CF: He’s right. We have to assume that the Redeemers have operational control of Hong Kong station security now.

AY: What? You’re saying that thing controls my station security?

JD: It’s true. The Redeemers had weeks “alone” with Hong Kong station during the riots. There’s no way to tell what countermeasures they’ve set up.

AK: So it’s a Mexican standoff, then.

JD: It gets worse. Director, please tell them about Operation Armistice.

CF: The greatest danger, as far as our involvement is concerned, is the idea of the Demiurge making one or more copies of itself and storing them as off-site backups or worse, running them concurrently on other servers.

JD: Although psychological profiles—inasmuch as the term applies—indicates the Demiurge won’t do the latter.

AK: Why not?

JD: In layman’s terms?

DC: It likes being special. … Seriously. God-Complex and all.

CF: As I was saying. The Demiurge being able to back itself up would take the nuclear option right off of the table.

AK: What is being done to stop this?

CF: Well, if the Demiurge could be called a mere program, it is an enormously large and complex one. Even by modern standards of data storage and bandwidth. Also, one that could only be run on a very limited subset of hardware.

JD: As a matter of fact our understanding is that it has had to upgrade the hardware on Delta-462 as it has continued to evolve.

AY: Really?

CF: We are constantly—as in as we speak—monitoring all outgoing communications from Hong Kong station via a direct ansible tap.

AY: Isn’t that illegal?

CF: Under normal circumstances? Sure. Anyway, if we detect any file transfer that seems even remotely long enough or large enough to be Demiurge uploading its source code elsewhere, we will jam or intercept it. Same thing for multiple short burst transmissions to the same source.

JD: What about a Torrent style transfer protocol? Breaking the file into millions of pieces and compiling it later.

CF: Something like that would require, approximately, the processing power of every Commlink in the Galaxy as a subscribed node, to transmit and compile the pieces. It’s not viable. We hope.

DC: What about couriers?

CF: Well, anyone wanting to transfer the entire—hypothetical–backup would need a data storage unit the size of a starship to move it. That we’re scanning for, at customs and more importantly at the warpgate.

DC: What about multiple couriers with pieces of the source code.

CF: They’d need hundreds to transfer the file with standard storage devices. That is the biggest threat right now. We’re checking every outgoing individual. And we’ve made sure that Gatrlore adepts can’t access the station. But short of a full Quarantine—

AK: If it’s not too late, I’m sure that Admiral Deftinwolf and I can have one up within 72 hours.

AY: A quarantine? That’s preposterous. Do you have any idea how much material and trade goes in and out of Hong Kong Station every day? You’d be killing us as sure as—

AK: Listen lady.

JD: Enough. Please. Anyway, Operation Armistice is a contingency. If Director Fagan detects the Demiurge transferring a backup—and we cannot stop it—I have a Vitrix carrier in place ready to nuke Delta-462.

AY: And kill a million Republic citizens?

DC: If it is our only shot at the Demiurge, we are going to take it.

CF: This seems like a good time to remind you, Governor, that this meeting is Classified. Code Black.

JK: That means…

AY: Yes, I’m familiar with it. Don’t try to intimidate me.

AK: So it sounds to me like Operation Armistice isn’t really a battle plan at all. It’s a last resort.

JD: Correct.

AK: What about sending a commando team to manually blow the explosive bolts and jettison Delta-462?

JK: We’ve run simulations on that. They haven’t come out favorably. Oh, my team can get inside and blow the bolts…but the Demiurge will have at least a seven minute window to react.

JD: That’s enough time for the Demiurge to sterilize everyone on the station, to mass-transmit its source code, to order suicide bombers to—

AK: Alright, I get it. What about using a nanoforge to create a new airlock? So that we can shoot Delta-462 off the station without killing everyone on board.

AY: That actually sounds like a good idea, General.

JD: The trick is doing it in a minute or less, so that the Demiurge has no time to react, and having the shot lined up. I have my technicians working on a nano-forge that could create a reliable seal fast enough.

AY: And?

JD: And they’re working on it.

DC: Alright people. I’m not hearing any perfect options. What else do we have?

CF: We’re working on engineering a virus, naturally, but as Jane has probably told you their Net security is…well, it puts ours to shame. Delivering is a problem. If we hand deliver it, we run into the same problems as with sending a team in to blow the bolts.

JD: Right now, the Demiurge seems dormant. It seems extremely wise NOT to poke it with a sharp stick until we’re absolutely sure we’re going to kill it with the first poke. We need a very, very sharp stick.

JK: Hopefully, that is where Operation Schoolhouse comes in.

JD: Hang on a second. I just detected a tap. Impossible—

AY: My God.

CF: Purge this channel. Now. We’ll go to analogue comms. Never should have been online in the first place.

END OF LOG//

Dexterity Convention…

Is not what DexCon stands for. But we WILL be there at Booth #((XYZ)) so come holler at us and buy some games and stuff!

Including our brand new product, the first full length Adventure module for #SPLINTER, Return To The Dread Abyss Of The Digitarchs! Adventure by Richard Kelly, cover by the amazing @Strutzart.

Happy Independence Day! Protip: Try to ignore the President and focus on the GOOD things about America!

Transmissions From The End #14: Reviews & More

Greetings from the End of Everything!

So, thanks in part to the work of our marketing director, a few of our games that have been out for years actually have reviews! How about that! It’s almost like we don’t actually exist in an interstitial dimensional bubble that separates us from true reality and prevents us from interacting with it or being noticed by it in any meaningful way!

The GMShoe’s (Dan Davenport’s) Long-Awaited Review of The Singularity System: https://gmshoe.wordpress.com/2017/03/04/review-the-singularity-system/
Throat Punch Games’ Review of Psionics (This One’s Even On The Big Nurple):  https://www.rpg.net/reviews/archive/17/17166.phtml
The Wandering Alchemist’s Review Of SPLINTER: http://thewanderingalchemist.com/2017/05/19/review-splinter/

A soothing balm on the burns inflicted by our tremendous losses at Origins, the reviews range from mostly positive to glowing. Rock on.

If you want to buy any of those games (or the supplements and adventures supporting them), we’ll be selling them at DexCon,  July 5th-9th at the Hyatt Regency & Convention Center in Morristown, New Jersey and of course at GenCon50, August 17-20 in Indianapolis. We love meeting our fans in person, but if you can’t wait till then, our entire product lines can be found on One Bookshelf and at select Friendly Local Game Stores through our distributor, Studio2. Further convention appearances will be announced as the year develops.

Upcoming cons mean revised street-date announcements, so we’ve got those!

We should finally be able to debut the introductory SPLINTER adventure “Return To The Dread Abyss Of The Digitarchs” at DexCon, hot from the presses, by the exceptionally talented Richard Kelly.

At GenCon, for our major new title launch, we’ll have the Systems Malfunction standalone RPG. I just got done editing the introductory fiction for this one, by the aforementioned absurdly skilled Richard Kelly, and it’s a truly phenomenal read both for people brand new to Systems and to the oldest of oldbies. The playtest period on this one is ending in the next week or so, then it’s a race through art, layout, and printing in the month of July to have it ready to go for GenCon 50.

I’m excited! Are you excited?

<end transmission>

Transmissions From The End #13: Westward Ho! And Sneak Peak: Cooking With Nanites

Greetings real followers and unpersons alike! Just tomorrow, I embark on the “Columbus Trail” with Mikaela, where we’ll set out with our oxen and our wagons to bring a shit-ton of role-playing game greatness to Origins Game Fair, June 14th-18th at the Greater Columbus Convention Center in Columbus, Ohio. I hope to see many of you there where I’ll be hawking my wares! Just now I’m obsessive-compulsively organizing the miniatures I’m bringing for the games I’ll be running–a demo of Psionics, the Glory & Gore living campaign which will hopefully gain some traction this year, and two never before scene playtest scenarios for the all new Systems Malfunction standalone RPG–of the to be as close to WYSIWYG as possible.

In the meantime, as I fervently hope to see you there, please enjoy the final sneak preview from the Systems Malfunction manuscript draft. This one is about nanofacturing which has been DRASTICALLY re-worked from the cludgy mess of the old sourcebook. Enjoy!

Cooking with Nanites

Nanotechnology is really complicated, in theory and in practice, in the Systems Malfunction universe and in real life. It is a technology with the possibility to change anything and everything about our lives, and about which we can for now only speculate, and people have been speculating about nanotechnology for decades now across many media. In the minimum number of words and pages, we’ll sketch out the massive role that nanotechnology plays in the Republic while keeping the rules for crafting with nanotechnology as simple and straightforward as possible.

  • By design, nanites cannot self-replicate. This is an inherent design feature hard-coded into the nanites to prevent a “grey goo” apocalypse scenario. It is effectively impossible to hack or bypass.
  • Nanites that are in organic bodies are sometimes called Medichines, and greatly increase the body’s natural healing rate and battlefield survivability while enhancing the immune system and battling diseases. All Organics have these from birth, while certain individual might have specialized nanite hives installed in their bodies that allow them to do more with their nanites.
  • Nanites can be created at planetary facilities and space stations, and can be destroyed by a high-energy electromagnetic pulse, as long as they have not completed been configured into an object.
  • Nanites can be used to build anything and everything, from guns, to medpatches, to buildings. Any handheld object that is “nanofactured” can also be disassembled into its component nanites.
  • Nanites are used as a form of currency, particularly on frontier worlds where there is less of an established economy. 1 Credit buys 1k Nanites. Because they are individually microscopic and invisible to the naked eye, nanites are collected onto “chips” or “casettes” not unlike credit chips. Common denominations are 50k Chips (50 Credits), 100k Chips (100 Credits), 250k chips (250 Credits), 500k chips (500 Credits), 1000k chips (1,000 Credits), 2500k (2500 Credits), 5000k Chips (5,000 Credits) and 1 Million Chips (10,000 Credits). These nanite containers are color coded (green for low denominations, blue for medium denominations, and purple for high denominations) and vary in size from the size of a bingo chip at the very smallest denominations to the size of a small thermos at the very largest.
  • Players should keep track of both the Credits their characters have in their bank accounts and the nanites they have on them.
  • Replicants, who can’t be healed by normal means and who don’t heal naturally, can ingest or topically apply nanites to repair damaged systems almost instantaneously (see p. XX).

  Nanofacturing

While buildings and structures can be nanofactured, and even demolished with disintegrator nanites, that is beyond the scope of gameplay in Systems Malfunction.

The following rules explain how nanites can be used to craft objects in the Systems Malfunction universe.

  1. Access crafting hardware. For most people, this requires gaining access to a Nanoforge, (a million credit piece of technology generally held by major corporations at most large facilities and capital ships). For PCs serious about cooking with nanites, this is probably the nanotech assembler you have already built into your hand.
  2. Download a schematic for what you intend to build. This requires a commlink, a GalaxyNet connection, and a successful Computer Test. The Difficulty Stage is determined by the GM based on the legal restriction level and rarity of the item. The time interval is one minute and the number of successes needed is equal to the cost of the item on the market divided by one thousand. The GM can decide that certain items just do not have their schematics available on the GalaxyNet, like HEAP grenades, BOROS H-TLAW, Hardsuits and other highly restricted military hardware. Note: PCs should be assumed to automatically access schematics of all items which are legally available to the public and/or cost 1,000 Credits or less. Once you have an item’s nano-schematics, you don’t have to re-download them for future builds of that item, unless you lose your commlink.
  3. Deposit a sufficient quantity of nanites in your work space. The nanite cost of an item is equal to 10% of its purchase cost. To wit: a medpatch or commlink requires 25k Nanites (25 Credits worth). A Laser Rapier or Capsilus Arms Hawkeye rifle each cost 400k Nanites (400 Credits worth). A basic Hardsuit requires 1000k Nanites (1,000 Credits worth), and so on.
  4. Start cooking. The skill used depends on what you are building. Electronics for a commlink or Vauggles, Demolitions for a grenade, a Medic test for medical equipment, Armorer for weapons and armor, and so on. If working from an external Nanoforge, each roll requires one hour. If working with an implanted nanotech assembler, each roll takes one minute, and the crafter receives +1 Die. The total number of successes that must be achieved to create a complete item is equal to the item’s Credit price divided by 500 and rounded up (minimum 1).
  5. When you reach the total successes needed, you now have a complete nanofactured item. Rinse and repeat as desired and as time allows.

Deconstruction

  • If you want to scrap an item that you know or have ascertained to be nanofactured (determining if an item is nanofactured requires a nanotech assembler and a Comms/Sensors (2) Test: the GM should make the test in secret, because if you use a nanotech assemble to deconstruct a traditionally manufactured item, all you’ve done is destroy that item).
  • Only a nanotech assembler can be used to deconstruct nanofactured items. Nanoforges are not designed to disassemble things made from nanotech.
  • Unless the GM decides otherwise (like if the piece of tech you’re trying to disassemble is very advanced, exotic or unfamiliar), no schematics are needed to disassemble something with a nanotech assembler.
  • Start deconstructing. Only handheld items and personal equipment can be deconstructed with a nanotech assembler. The skill used depends on what you are disassembling. Electronics for a commlink or Vauggles, Demolitions for a grenade, a Medic test for medical equipment, Armorer for weapons and armor, and so on. Each roll takes one minute, and the crafter receives +1 Die. The total number of successes that must be achieved to deconstruct a complete item is equal to the item’s Credit price divided by 500 and rounded up (minimum 1).
  • When you reach the total successes needed, you now have a tidy pile of nanites equal to the amount needed to craft the item. If you disassembled a commlink, you have 25k nanites (25 Credits worth), if you disassembled a katana, you have 100k nanites (100 Credits worth), if you disassembled a Shangdi Type 51 assault rifle, you have 200k Nanites (200 Credits worth), and if you disassembled a perfectly good basic Hardsuit (you monster, how could you!) you have 1000k nanites (1,000 Credits worth).

Limitations on Nanofacturing

  1. Clearly, nanofacturing is tremendously powerful. It lets characters with nanotech assemblers get most equipment at 10% of its normal cost in a matter of mere minutes (admittedly, there are times when you don’t have minutes). It does have some limitations, however.
  2. Vehicles, robots, and vehicle weapons/systems can’t be nanofactured, but nanites can be assumed to repair vehicle Hull during downtime. Assume that the vehicle regains Hull equal to the Engineering skill of a character with nanotech assembler (or a Vehicle Tool Kit) for each hour the character works (+1 Hull for each character helping).
  3. Replicants are much too sophisticated to create through nanofacturing.
  4. Nanofacturing cannot be used to create starships, but again nanites can be assumed to repair starship Hull during downtime. Assume that the ship regains Hull equal to the Engineering skill of a character with nanotech assembler (or an Engineering Tool Kit) for each day the character works on the docked ship (+1 Hull for each character helping), or the ship’s Repairs subsystem if it is performing self repairs.
  5. Nanofacturing cannot be used to create drugs or toxins (see p. XX), except for Replicant “drugs”.
  6. Nanofacturing cannot be used to create support machines (see following chapter).
  7. No technology exists that can safely purge the nanites from an organic’s body. An EMP grenade or two can kill all of a Celestial’s nanites, but doing so also murders the Celestial.

Replicants and Nanites

  1. Replicants can be healed by the direct application of nanites, a Major Action done by the Replicant or an adjacent character.
  2. No test is necessary. Every 1000k nanites restores 1 Health. Up to 10,000k nanites can be applied or ingested at one time (restoring 10 Health), but no more.
  3. A Replicant reduced to 0 Health is beyond the help of Nanites. A Hard (3) Engineering Test taking ten minutes can be attempted—once—to reboot a downed Replicant at 1 Health if its body is mostly intact (this requires an Engineering or Electronics tool kit). If that test fails or the Replicant goes down again, the Replicant is scrap metal until its next backup.

 

Transmissions From The End #12: Sneak Preview – Just Say Yes To Space Drugs

This is the third sneak peak from the Systems Malfunction manuscript, and it would probably be the last, except I inherited my father’s irrational hatred of the number three, so instead this is most likely the penultimate preview, with one more to come. The topic this time around is the section from the end of the Personal Equipment chapter called “Something No Pill Could Ever Kill” which includes revised and expanded rules and roleplaying cues for drugs, plus new and improved answers to questions about how drugs effect Xel, how Replicants can do drugs, and how characters can become addicted, and then (theoretically at least) get clean.

Shout out to Rachid Yahya, wherever he is, for originating one or two of these drugs and doing the original writeup on them for the now out-of-print Systems Malfunction sourcebook.

As usual, sorry for the janky formatting of the tables.

Something No Pill Could Ever Kill

Drugs

Most of these drugs are of the “performance enhancing”, not “recreational” bent and are often “prescribed” to appropriate troops by Great Houses or the Republic Military (a dose of Zip2 is standard issue for Colonial Marines going into battle: Red Mist is technically prohibited by the Red Army, but its prohibition is commonly violated). Most of these drugs are illegal for most civilian citizens of most systems most of the time. Of them, Prophecy and Skye are the most likely to be legal or unregulated in more liberal systems. Red Mist, Stardust, and Zip2 are all criminalized on the federal level.

Drug Duration Effects Per Dose Crash* Addictive? Street Cost

(One Dose)

Synthetica 1d6 + 1 Hours per dose Special: see text. 4 Fatigue plus 1 Fatigue per extra dose, and -1 to all tests for 2d6 hours. Yes. 1000 Credits
Prophecy 3d6 Hours Special: see text. 3 Fatigue, -2 Perception and Intelligence for 2d6 hours. No. 1000 Credits
Red Mist 5d6 Minutes +1 Strength, +1 Fortitude, and +1 Damage with all attacks. 5 Lethal Damage plus loss of all temporary Health: note that temporary extra Health gained from taking Red Mist is not lost ‘first’. Very 500 Credits
Skye 2d6 Hours Cost of sustaining Psi Talents is reduced by 1, to a minimum of 1. -1 Perception and Intelligence per dose, lasting 2d6 hours. No. 1500 Credits
Stardust 5d6x10 Minutes Special: see text. 6 Fatigue plus 1 Lethal damage per extra dose. Very. 750 Credits
Zip2 1d6x10 Minutes +1 Quickness; +1 Dice Pool Bonus To Hit With All Weapons. 6 Lethal Damage Yes. 750 Credits

* The minimum that a drug’s Crash effects can reduce any attribute to is 1.

Mechanical Effects of Synthetica: Whenever you take a dose of Synthetica, roll a die. If the result is even, you receive +2 Perception and -1 Cyber (Minimum 1). If the result is odd, you receive +2 Cyber and -1 Perception (Minimum 1). As you take additional doses, keep track of the size of the bonus and the size of the penalty, but keep in mind that each additional dose makes the trip “switch”: the bonuses and penalties do not “level out”. For example: if you take two doses of Synthetica, rolling an odd number for each dose, you are at +4 Cyber and -2 Perception. If you later take a third dose and roll an even number, you are now at +6 Perception, -3 Cyber, not +3 Cyber and +/- 0 Perception as you would be if you were simply summing the bonuses and penalties. Each dose adds 1d6 + 1 hours to the drug’s effect duration.

Finally, for every two points of Cyber bonus you have from Synthetica, you receive +1 die to all skill tests with skills that have Cyber as a governing attribute. For every two points of Perception bonus you have from Synthetica, you receive +1 die to all skill tests with skills that have Perception as a governing attribute.

Roleplaying Notes on Synthetica: Synthetica (other street names include Cynerium and Answer7) is usually ingested in the form of a silver and/or gold capsule that is swallowed. As indicated by its mechanics, the effects of Synthetica are more than a little unpredictable. We’ve waxed poetic about what it’s like to be on Synthetica more than a little, in the braided Systems Malfunction fiction anthology Angels In Jersey City. The shorter version is that when it’s enhancing Perception, Synthetica blurs the barriers between yourself and other people, creating a kind of euphoric, genuine empathy. It blurs the walls between dreams and reality and turns personal boundaries porous. When it’s enhancing Cyber, Synthetica causes a less euphoric, more dissociative, and more contemplative high. The user feels like they have drifted outside of their own body, and they view it from a detached and clinical perspective that allows for a more complete understanding of systems of all kinds and how they intersect and interact.

Mechanical Effects of Prophecy: One hour after using Prophecy, you are tripping balls. All Tests become Hard for the duration of the effect. At some point during the trip, the GM should call for a Hard Perception Test. If you get two successes, you receive a (highly surreal) vision of your future: if you receive the vision, your Advent pool, if any Advent was spent this session, is refreshed. Additionally, you temporarily receive +2 bonus Advent that can only be spent this session. Unlike all other drugs, there are no bonuses or penalties to taking additional doses of Prophecy beyond the first.

Roleplaying Notes on Prophecy: Prophecy is made from naturally occurring, Aetherially active space flora. Sometimes it is consumed by swallowing translucent capsules full of seeds, sometimes by brewing tea, sometimes by inhaling smoke. Because prophecy is a strong hallucinogen, users experience vivid and strange visual and auditory hallucinations, as well as hallucinations that can’t be ascribed to any one sense or combination of senses. Stationary objects may seem to move, static patterns may seem to writhe, mundane objects may suddenly appear scintillatingly beautiful or indescribably sinister, and so on. Characters on Prophecy should not handle or have access to weapons, let alone go into combat.

Mechanical Effects of Red Mist: See table.

Roleplaying Notes on Red Mist: Red Mist comes in a hypo-sprayer and is applied (sprayed) directly into the eyes: the pupils dilate sharply and the whites of the eyes go almost completely blood red. You are an unstoppable killing machine, a humanoid thresher, your enemies but rows of grain before you. Manic rage fills you and it is difficult to stop yourself from giggling and/or screaming in sheer, violent joy. You have the killing fever. Characters on Red Mist suffer from delusions of indestructibility, but are of course unaware that these are delusions.

Mechanical Effects of Skye: See table.

Roleplaying Notes on Skye: Skye is ingested as brightly colored, triangle shaped tablets which are swallowed or crushed and insufflated.  Of all the drugs described here, Skye is the most subtle and perhaps the only one that a character might use unnoticed even by those who know the signs. Characters on Skye feel more alert and intelligent, are better at abstract thinking, act somewhat detached, and feel philosophical and calm about even imminently dangerous situations. It is difficult for them to comprehend the urgency of any given scenario unless they specifically focus on it.

Mechanical Effects of Stardust: Stardust has no mechanical effects except when you are in combat. While you are in combat, you receive +1 Die to all Macrokinetics tests, and you lose 1 Health but regain 4d6 Psi Points at the end of every combat turn.

Roleplaying Notes on Stardust: Stardust is a silvery golden powder which is snorted like cocaine. Its effects are not unlike Red Mist, but for Xel. The first few minutes yield a euphoric rush, after which feelings of manic rage and a sense of invincibility are often reported. Xel on Stardust often testify that they can see and/or feel the psionic energy of the universe coalescing and collecting and flooding into their bodies and minds, causing them to feel sensations of godlike and/or limitless power.

Mechanical Effects of Zip2: See table.

Roleplaying Notes On Zip2: Zip2 is distributed in spring loaded epi-pen style syringes, and injected subcutaneously. The fluid inside is a rather caustic looking shade of green. Like Red Mist, Zip2 creates a state of manic fury in the user. Uncontrollable twitching and tics are a common side effect, as is a total lack of patience and the need for ACTION RIGHT NOW. Zip2 is issued to Armada Colonial Marines for use in combat. While on Zip2, users experience a sensation of time dilation, as though everyone else is moving in slow motion while they are moving and fighting at normal speed, or faster. While Zip2 does in fact make you faster on your feet and faster on the trigger, the adrenaline rush it releases can lead to (sometimes fatal) overconfidence.   Rumor has it that Zip2 is made from processed, fermented Xel organs, but this is widely disregarded as an urban legend.

>>>BEGIN SIDEBAR

Just Say No To (Human) Drugs

Most of the drugs listed here are specifically designed for (meta)humans. Accordingly, some of them have different effects on the alien physiology of Xel.

  • Zip2 provides no benefits to Xel, and causes them to feel extremely sick. While on Zip2, Xel receive a -2 dice penalty to all actions. They suffer the Crash effects of the drug as normal. On the bright side, Xel cannot get addicted to Zip2.
  • Crimson Fever is horribly poisonous for Xel. Any Xel who takes Crimson Fever must make a Hard Fortitude roll. If they fail, they automatically fall to 0 Health and begin bleeding out. While on Crimson Fever, Xel lose 1 Health per minute from poison. They suffer the Crash effects of the drug as normal. On the bright side, Xel cannot get addicted to Crimson Fever.
  • Conversely, Stardust has the same effect on humans that Crimson Fever has on Xel.
  • Synthetica largely has no effect on Xel. They must take four doses to receive the effects of one dose.
  • Prophecy affects Xel normally.

>>>END SIDEBAR

>>>BEGIN SIDEBAR

Do Androids Dream Of Electronic Smack? (Hooked On A Feeling)

 Obviously, none of the biological drugs described above have any effect on Replicants, since Replicants do not have the same internal anatomy as organics. However, there are digital equivalents for some of the drugs above that do effect Replicants, as well as some drugs that are for Replicants only. Replicant drugs—called chips—come in single use chips programmed to burn themselves out after running one.

  • Synth2 or Synthetica Squared (i.e. Synthetica for Synthetics) has the same cost and effects for Replicants as Synthetica does for organics.
  • Scramble (aka Radio Bye Bye) has the same cost as Prophecy for the most part the same effects for Replicants as Prophecy does for organics, except it doesn’t refresh the Advent pool or provide an Advent bonus.
  • Touchy-Feelies (a variety of street names exist for different “flavors”) cost anywhere between 200 and 1,000 Credits depending on the flavor and the fluctuations of the gray market. Their only effect is allowing a Replicant to feel, for 2d6 hours, an emotion the Replicant is normally incapable of feeling (see p. XX). Actually, ‘forcing’ would be a better word than ‘allowing’. A Replicant normally incapable of experiencing Joy that jacked in a “happy chip” will be happy for 2-12 hours, regardless of how wildly inappropriate that might be. Touchy-Feelies are in the mentally addictive (“habit forming”) category (see below). Their addictiveness varies based on “flavor”, common sense, and GM ruling. For instance the aforementioned Joy chip would be Very Addictive, while a Sorrow chip would likely not be addictive at all.

>>>END SIDEBAR

Addiction and Getting Clean

“I can think for myself, I’ve got something no pill could ever kill
Hey, I’m not Synthetica, oh
I’ll keep the life that I’ve got, oh
So hard, hard to resist Synthetica, oh
No drug is stronger than me, Synthetica”

– Metric, “Synthetica”

If you use drugs, the potential exists to become addicted during gameplay. PCs with the Addiction problem (p. XX) start the game addicted.

Red Mist and Zip2 are physically addictive. Stardust is mentally addictive (“habit-forming”). Synthetica is both physically and mentally addictive. Physical addiction is resisted with Fortitude. Mental addiction is resisted with Intelligence. Synthetica addiction is resisted with whichever attribute is worse.

Each time an addictive drug wears off, the user must make a test to resist addiction using the attribute indicated above: the number of successes needed is the number of times the user has taken the drug in the past. The test is Easy for drugs that are addictive, and Normal for drugs that are Very addictive. Advent can be spent as normal on rolls to avoid addiction.

If the user fails, he becomes addicted to the drug.

Penalties of Addiction: These penalties set in the “morning after” the character became addicted, or at the GM’s discretion. An addict must take the drug they are addicted to every day. If they are unable to do so, all tests are Hard until the character takes the drug (in which case the character is able to function normally for 24 hours before they must take the drug again) or beats the addiction (see below). A character who is addicted can still spend Advent to make a particular test Easy (see p. XX), but all characters addicted to drugs receive -1 Advent for each drug they are addicted to.

Getting Clean: To shake an addiction, first the character must go a full week without using the drug they are addicted to. That means a full week with all tests set to Hard and -1 Advent: withdrawal is no fun for the character going through it, who is virtually crippled by those penalties.

The character then can make a Fortitude or Intelligence test as appropriate (see above). The test’s difficulty is Normal and the character can spend Advent to add dice to the test before rolling it, or to reroll failures, but not to make the test Easy before rolling. Three successes gets the character clean of an addictive drug, while a very addictive drug needs five successes. If the character fails the roll to get clean, they can try again in one week (assuming that they don’t relapse by using the drug again). The character receives +1 die to the roll to get clean for every previous week in which they’ve gone without the drug but failed to get clean.

Note that if a character successfully gets clean of an Addiction that was one of their starting Problems (see p. XX), they must either choose another Problem that the GM agrees can logically replace the addiction, or lose the corresponding Edge and its benefits (see p. XX).

Thus endeth the excerpt…

Check back in a week or so for one last sneak preview, and don’t forget that Origins Game Fair is right around the corner!

 

Transmissions From The End #011: Sneak Peak – Putting It All Together

Here’s another excerpt from the Systems Malfunction manuscript, as progress continues slowly and steadily. We really ought to get art briefs written up and out before the end of the month, which means we should be able to preview some art after Origins (which is suddenly very soon!).

As any of you following the Kickstarter closely probably noted, we didn’t make one of the Stretch Goals I was most excited about, which would have allowed us to include capital-scale starship combat rules and actual deck-plans for common capital ships in the Systems Malfunction universe. This is a major bummer, but one bright side is that with how far behind we are on a couple of projects, it would have been a nightmare trying to get those deck plans done in time. I still look forward to publishing a book of SysMal vessels, complete with deck plans, in the future.

In the meantime, here’s the chapter on scaling personal and vehicle combat from the Systems Malfunction manuscript. For those backers/fans/players who don’t have the Singularity Core Rules (and the extensive Strategic Starship Combat rules therein), I tried to provide some guidance on how to incorporate big honking starships into your campaign without having their full stats. The formatting of the table is incredibly janky, but obviously, won’t be in the final product, because it’s not being published through WordPress 😛

Astute readers will note that some of the suggestions for running combats involving both infantry and vehicles have changed from those provided in Singularity Core, in attitude as much as in content.

Bringing It All Together

If personal combatants and vehicles are involved in one fight, the shit has hit the fan and (meta)human beings are going to die historic—and become red mist. Some of those metahumans might be PCs.

If you have a battle mat and miniatures, bust ‘em out. Crude sketches are fine, but if you like some production values on your table, that’s cool too. It is very hard to do a vehicles-on-drones-on-infantry-on-Jackhammers fracas using only “theater of the mind” because vehicles can move much faster than infantry and in more directions. You use a vehicle’s Tactical Speed as its move speed in meters per turn. You ignore the ‘change range maneuver’, and resolving other Tactical Maneuvers (see p. XX) as Minor Actions (see p. XX), with Tactical Actions as Major Actions (see p. XX). This enables vehicles to use a Minor Action to take evasive maneuvers.

Instead of 10 seconds like turns with only personal combat, a turn of “mixed” combat is assumed to last the same duration as a turn of Tactical Vehicular Combat: a number of seconds equal to the highest initiative rolled (again: do not think about this too much!). ReAct (see p. XX) applies the same to metahuman and vehicular combatants, allowing extra partial actions after the “all-skate” phase.

Personal weapon damage and personal armor rating are designed to scale directly into those of tactical combat. If a personal weapon looks like it would not even scratch most vehicles, that’s cause it wouldn’t. If on the other hand, a vehicular weapon looks like it would unfailingly vaporize even the toughest, most heavily armored Replicant (and everyone standing next to him) it totally fucking would.

People trying to fight Jackhammers and drone-tanks and attack helicopters isn’t fair. The only chance of it being a fight at all lies with the odd chance that the people involved remembered to bring heavy anti-vehicular weapons.

There is a silver lining to having brought your frail metahuman body to a Jackhammer fight. Humans are very small targets; sensor assisted targeting can’t be used against them and they get to roll Evasion against all vehicular attacks: although ‘blast’ weapons will probably kill them even if they miss. Missiles cannot attack individual humans at all, nor can other weapons you can’t picture being fired at a man with a gun. For a human attacking a vehicle, the base difficulty stage is Easy. That is the last and only advantage humans get, however.

Capital Ships

Unfortunately, due to budgetary and page count constraints, the full rules for capital-ship combat (“Strategic Starship Combat”) can’t be reprinted in this book, which is a real shame. The rules appear in full on pp. 75-115 of the first (2013) printing of the Singularity System Core Rulebook, if you have access to that text. The silver lining to not being able to reprint those rules here is that they were as discovered in play less than perfect, and are definitely less than perfect for Systems Malfunction.

Generally speaking, it is probably best to treat capital ships as “set pieces” in any given Systems Malfunction campaign. Describe a larger space battle if one is happening, but keep the focus on the PCs and their actions (resolved through the rules for vehicular and personal combat). In other words, a Ferrata-Class Heavy Destroyer or a Narcissus-Class Planet Cracker is a location that exciting things are happening on, such as boarding action and defense, or a tense game of cat and mouse with an unknown alien lifeform. When in the course of space combat, a Destroyer that the PCs are assault boarding (or fighting off boarders from) becomes treated by the game more as something that things are happening to, rather than someplace that things are happening on, the likely “realistic” outcome is that a lot of PCs are going to die, very abruptly and without any chance (any roll to make) to survive.

In other words, if the Ferrata destroyer the PCs are waging an epic sword/gunfight on has its hull ruptured by ASGMs and railguns and explodes, the PCs and their enemies are all, most likely, immediately and anticlimactically dead.

On the other hand, it’s likely that at some point in a good, action-packed science fiction campaign-scape like Systems Malfunction, one or more PCs are going to be in powered armor, Jackhammers, or Starfighters, attempting an assault/boarding on a much larger ship. It’s the kind of iconic scene that good military sci-fi is chock full of. When someone’s closing in for boarding action, characters will unfailingly come under fire from (or be firing themselves) point-defense weapon systems. The least I can do is offer the stats for some common point-defense weapons, and the damage they do to vehicles and unlucky individuals alike (all have Piercing 10).

Starship Turret Weapon Accuracy Damage Starship Turret

Point Defense Weapon

Accuracy Damage
37mm Gatling Autocannon 0 24 Flak Gun -1 10×4
Quad Pulse Laser +1 4×10 20mm CIWS 0 15
Grenade Machinegun -1 32 Point Defense Pulse Laser +1 4×4
Gauss Cannon +1 28 Point Defense Beam +4 10

Note that each turret a capital ship mounts can have up to two turret weapons, up to four point defense weapons, or up to one turret weapon and two point defense weapons (when firing a twinned weapon system, i.e. two or more weapons of the same kind on the same turret, the point defense operator receives +1 to his Gunnery roll). While a small torpedo or missile boat or a Prospector-Class scout or Traveler-Class Light Transport mount only one turret each, a mid-sized capital ship like a Ferrata mounts three turrets (each with two 20mm CIWS), a Great Dragon-class Red Army flagship mounts 12 turrets, and a Vitrix-Class Supercarrier boasts 18 turrets. Only attempt a boarding or bombing run on a serious capital ship if you’re part of a massive wave of smaller craft, or if you’re feeling particularly suicidal.

Note that ground and naval bases often have mounted turrets with similar weaponry, although in that context it’s properly referred to as “anti-air” rather than “point defense”.

Closing & Boarding

It takes at least a full combat turn to close to boarding or vehicle weapons range with a capital ship: how long it takes is ultimately up to the GM, based on how far your point of launch is from the target ship, but one turn is the minimum. A Hard Helmsman, Jackhammer Rig, or Pilot (2) Test is required to bring the vehicle within boarding distance of the target starship. During this time, point defense fire must be weathered.

Jackhammers and characters in Powered Armor get to make Evasion rolls against each instance of incoming point defense fire as normal (and at a cumulative penalty of -1 for every Evasion roll made that turn, as normal). Other vehicles such as fighters and drones, however, do not make Evasion rolls. If the Gunnery roll produces a number of hits equal to the vehicle’s Handling (minimum 1), the point defense attack hits.

Jackhammers and dropships (including the Fulminata) can breach and board enemy ships after closing. Breaching and boarding is a dangerous, time-consuming process, because of the risk of fatally depressurizing both vessels. The process of penetrating a hostile hull to deploy a boarding party takes one full turn. It requires a successful opposed test versus the target ship’s Repairs subsystem rating (range of 2 to 6 depending on the size and sophistication of the enemy vessel). The boarding party either rolls Demolitions (for a combat hardbreach), an Electronics test (to rewire an airlock), or a Computers test (in the case of a software override). If the test fails, the boarding party can try again, but not by the same means, and again combat boarding takes one full turn to attempt.