Transmissions From The End #010: Sneak Peak – Extra Lives

An excerpt from the Systems Malfunction roleplaying game manuscript:

Extra Lives

Human cloning is an established technology in the Systems Malfunction universe. However, as cloning works a little differently in every sci-fi setting, we need to be a lot more specific about how clones work here. An amusing anecdote illustrates why. During a playtest/promo game, a group of actual play podcasters were faced with a scenario where they had to evacuate as the colonists from a planet under invasion by aggressive, biomechanical aliens (if you’re your group’s GM, see In Keeping Secrets, p. XX, and Robots, Monsters, and Worse, p. XX). There were too many colonists to fit in the dropship along with the Colonial Marine PCs, so the players assumed they could avoid leaving anyone behind by decapitating all of the colonists—after all, their heads would weigh less than their bodies and take up less space!—and then have them cloned later.

That is most emphatically not how cloning in Systems Malfunction works, and acting on those assumptions would have been a disastrous mission failure. They would have brutally murdered all of the people they were there to rescue. I found this misunderstanding hilarious, but also enlightening. It was an eye opening reminder that just because I’ve been immersed in the Systems universe for over a decade, newcomers to the setting don’t automatically know its nuances and details.

Here is an overview of how cloning in Systems Malfunction does work:

  • Clones are essentially “extra lives”. All Player Characters start with three clones (see p. XX) but may “sell back” any number of them during character creation, receive +1 Edge per clone sold back (see Building Your (Tragic) (Anti)Hero).
    1. After a character dies, there is a 24 hour waiting period before their clone becomes available as the clone is thawed and awakened. It may take substantially longer than that for the character to rejoin the action, depending on where they have decided to store their clones and what arrangements they’ve made beforehand. If a PC dies, this should be worked out between the PC and the GM. If the character was an NPC, it is at the GM’s discretion how long it takes for the NPC to reappear, but the minimum time is still 24 hours. Only important NPCs have clones, and the average Joe Galaxy doesn’t have any clones.
  • With currently existing technology, a clone can only be “copied” from a living being. Preserved genetic material (or a bunch of heads in a garbage bag) is not sufficient to create a new clone from.
    1. Clones are very expensive. Creating a clone of your character costs 100,000 Credits multiplied by the number of times you have had your character cloned. In other words, creating a third clone of a given character costs 300,000 Credits. Any clones you started with don’t count towards this cost multiplier.
    2. Every clone has 10 less Purity than the “generation” which proceeded it. See Purity & Consequences on p. XX and “Spiritual Machines” on p. XX for the consequences of Purity loss. (An average, heavily augmented human can die and transfer into a clone about nine times before their 10th clone has a Maximum Health of 0 and is effectively stillborn.)
    3. Most capital ships, space stations, and cities have facilities where clones can be created and stored. Backwater colonies may not, and uninhabited/uncharted planetary bodies certainly don’t.
    4. The scanning process to create a clone takes only 10 Minutes. The creation of the clone body takes between one day and one week, at the GM’s discretion.
    5. A Player Character can attempt the cloning process himself, but doing so is incredibly challenging. The PC must have access to an advanced scientific facility (and obviously the person being cloned), must spend 50,000 Credits (multiplied by the number of times the subject has been cloned, as described above), and must succeed a Hard Science (5) Test. Attempting to clone someone in this way takes one hour for the scanning process, and the usual time for the creation of the clone body. Failure on the Science Test means that you have created an invalid abomination it would be merciful to terminate: the credits are still spent. No character can manually create a clone of herself.
  • In addition to the scientific and technical limitations on how clones can be created, there are also numerous scientific, technical, and legal limitations in place on why clones can be created.
    1. Carter’s Laws of Biogenics prohibit duplicative cloning, i.e. it is entirely illegal for two instances of the same person to be active at one time. The entire government-military-medical-intelligence-communications infrastructure of the Republic is engineered to make duplicative cloning impossible. The primary limitation is in the InfoLink Implant which allows for recording of memories and continuity of consciousness (see p. XX). The implant’s hardware has been designed in such a way that none of the galaxy’s major known powers—the Republic, House Yamamoto, House Dresden, or House Dallas—can produce duplicative clones. Attempting duplicative cloning is the single most serious crime in the Republic’s legal clone, and carries more substantially more serious legal consequences than 1st degree murder.
    2. Carter’s Laws of Biogenics also prohibit reproductive cloning, i.e. it is illegal to use cloning technology to produce an offspring that is genetically identical to yourself. The legal consequences for attempting reproductive cloning are less serious than those associated with duplicative cloning, as long as the clone created is a fetus or an infant. Otherwise, this crime is treated the same as duplicative cloning.
    3. Finally, Carter’s Laws of Biogenics prohibit “longevity” cloning. For a human example, it is illegal to create a clone of yourself at the age of 30, with the intent of transferring your consciousness into that clone when you die of natural causes at the age of 76. Other treatments exist to extend the human life-span, but they cost even more than cloning, making them prohibitively expensive for all but the extremely wealthy.
      1. While modern nanomedicine can easily cure most cancers known to man, it is still worth noting that a clone made of a body with a systemic disease will still have that disease upon becoming active. In other words, a woman with Crohn’s Disease who purchases a clone now has a clone in storage that also has Crohn’s Disease.
    4. The only cloning actually permitted by Carter’s laws of biogenics is cloning as “life insurance”. In other words, it is only legal to create and store a clone as a form of insurance against death by violence or accident.
  • Cloning works exactly the same for Replicants as for characters of biological Origin with two minor exceptions.
    1. Replicant “Clones” are instead called “Backups”.
    2. Replicants needn’t worry about Purity loss from iterative cloning, as Replicants begin with 0 Purity and can never lose Purity.
  • To review, Carter’s Laws of Biogenics limit the function of clones in Systems Malfunction to that of “Extra Lives” for people who die by violence, accident, or suicide. (If a nasty fall breaks both of your legs or leaves you paralyzed from the waist down and you aren’t near an Autodoc or anyone who can help you to one, if you have a clone, it is legal to blow your brains out and wake up in your clone body 24 hours later.)


For a mixture of reasons that are around 70% in-universe and 30% game-balance. The early Presidents in the Carter “dynasty” had specific ideological reasons for creating the Laws of Biogenics and making their enforcement so air-tight and the penalties for violating them so severe. The rationale behind the policy making was as follows.

Duplicative cloning was criminalized to prevent anyone—including future Republic administrations—from creating clone armies. To do so, it was reasoned, would create an underclass of people so replaceable they would have effectively no rights, and to protect the stability of the Republic from an “attack of the clones” type scenario. (From a game balance perspective, a character with multiple duplicates of themselves would be both overpowered and slow down gameplay.)

Reproductive cloning was criminalized under the rationale that the human race had benefitted from the genetic diversity granted by “traditional” reproduction for its entire history. A non-stagnant gene pool was desired to populate the galaxy. Also, natural biological reproduction was simply cheaper and therefore more effective than reproductive cloning.

Finally, “longevity” cloning was criminalized to prevent the further growth of the gulf between the Galaxy’s haves and the have-nots by adding a major line item like immortality to the gifts the wealthy enjoy that the poor do not.

In general, Armand Carter’s children and their children and grand-children were very reticent to allow human scientists to “play God”. After all, it was their famous ancestor that had saved the human race from enslavement to the will of a machine god during the War Against the Gaia (see A Brief History Of The Future, p. XX).


“Coming” “Soooooooooooon”

The development of the first official game setting for the Singularity System, Setting Module 00: Systems Malfunction (based on my long-running LARP of the same name) has been pretty much a goddamn nightmare. A nightmare of the endlessly recurring kind. The reason for this is no mystery: this is the first time that End Transmission has sought to publish a work of which I was not the sole primary author, and I am far better at producing my own content than I am at managing the content ouput of others. The fact of the delays was no surprise either, but the scale of them is staggering.

Some history: in January of last year, I began developing the Sol Invictus setting for the Singularity System. I realized that I could not possibly develop BOTH the Sol Invictus setting and the Systems Malfunction setting for tabletop and meet a reasonable production schedule (i.e. a GenCon ’13 release), so I decided that I would outsource the development of the Systems Malfunction setting book to an independent contractor familiar with the universe and subject matter. It soon became clear that no matter what, the Sol Invictus setting would take years for me to bring to fruition (which should have clued me in to something), but the choice to put the Systems setting book in someone else’s hands had been made, and there was nothing to be done about it. (As of now, only 110 .doc pages and 36,000 words of Sol Invictus exist, meaning that the first draft is nowhere near complete.)

The project was assigned by February of 2013, but we did not issue a contract until May of that year due to general inexperience at business, and more importantly, we were working our butts off making games.

Our plan was for a GenCon 2013 release of the Systems setting book, following hot on the heels of the Singularity System which we managed to release at Origins 2013 to modest sales (we’d initially been planning on releasing THAT at Lunacon to substantially modester sales, but that’s another story and a far less outrageous one). Contracted deadlines were missed again and again throughout July, and things became increasingly quite tense. By the time we got anything resembling a completed manuscript, it was mid-September, two months behind schedule, and GenCon had come and gone. At that point we were dealing with the stress of moving, and neither of us was looking forward to rush-processing the draft for a Con on the Cob October release. We wound up calling in sick from Con on the Cob entirely last year.

It’s a good thing we didn’t try to go to print with that manuscript, because it wasn’t actually complete at all. It took me entirely too long to realize this, as I spent three months going and carefully editing (for content and format) the rules section, before I could take a month to carefully review the setting chapter (editing again for content and format) and realize that some of it in fact was missing. At this point, it was January of this year. I had gotten over the extreme rage at all the missed deadlines between July and September, and was feeling a bit live-and-let-live. So never one to realize that a fire tends to burn rather consistently so you shouldn’t thrust your hand in it twice, I reached out to the original author. Could he deliver all of the missing and incomplete content by February 8th, so that we could get the book to print for a March Lunacon release? Of course he could, he assured me, no problem.

As of this writing it is February 25th and I still do not have a complete manuscript for layout: it is completely impractical, if not impossible, to publish this book for a Lunacon release, since Lunacon is in less than three weeks and the layout-to-publishing-to-shipping process involves several proofing stages and is rather time consuming. The complete draft is, as of this writing, 225 days late, also equivalent to seven months and 10 days, also equivalent to 32 weeks and one day. Oh well, there is always Origins. Maybe we will have a book by then. Anything is possible. This cannot all be blamed on the contractor. The truth is that the sheer scale and enormity of the project, the book, and the content it contains has expanded and expanded with seemingly every other revision and addition that we’ve done recently. Even culling everything not absolutely necessary, which I have been doing for months now, this project has lost weeks and weeks to the phenomenon software developers identify as scope creep.

In all seriousness, I can’t say that I have only myself to blame for this. But I also can’t say I don’t blame myself.

And all of this is…OK. I’ll repeat that, all of this is OK, just growing pains (even if some are more painful than others), mistakes we can afford to make, and learn from, and not make again, like the shipping thing last year. The truth is, we are (fortunately) on steady enough financial footing that this doesn’t knock us out of business as a company, and (fortunately or unfortunately) at this point we’re still very much under the radar. This is a book almost no one has heard of being talked about in a blog post that almost no one is reading. There are no legions of fans crashing our gates with rage that this book is seven months late (something that, I understand, happens even to the biggest in the business) and I am, perversely enough, almost grateful for that at this stage. It is bad enough dealing with my own frustrated expectations.

One lives, and one learns, and one continues to make games.