Science Fiction

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//

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!

 

“Unpersons” (Raw Cut)

I am able to give you this standing on the shoulders of giants: a tower of them, first Matthew Woodring Stover, next Ray Bradbury (link NSFW unless you work in an English department or library), who in turn is standing on the shoulders of George Orwell, and so on. I’m pretty sure it’s turtles, er, I mean…authors…all the way down.

Still, here, is a pretty cool little story by Devon Oratz. Take it. It’s free.

(more…)

UPDATE (Crosspost from ETG Tumblr)

Why did we pick Tumblr? I literally can’t remember.

Systems Malfunction: The LARP: The Resurrection: If we get six more preregistrations today, and have an attendance of 20+ on July 8th, there will be a game. If not, this dream goes back in its coffin indefinitely, but maybe not forever. Here’s hoping.

SPLINTER: Surprising Things: ATTN Backers, assuming our printer doesn’t poo the bed, we should be mailing out books starting next week.

Also, Glory and Gore, the SPLINTER Living Campaign, got off to a rocky start because of a SNAFU in Origins’ preregistration system. I’m hoping for a more robust launch at GenCon.

DicePunk: The Pleasantville Project by Richard Kelly, the first Psionics adventure, is out! First of how many? Depends entirely on how it sells. So, you know. Buy it! (Apparently, as I type this it’s on sale? Kick ass, who knew!) It’s awesome. It’s the first thing we’ve published that I didn’t write even close to a majority of, and so I feel less iffy about saying that it’s awesome.

Singularity: MOD04 – Infowar, the book of the hackings for The Singularity System, is tentatively slated for a GenCon Release.

GenCon: We’ll FINALLY be at GENEVA CONVENTION (that’s what GenCon actually stands for, if ya didn’t know) in a booth of our very own: #2853 (mother of God that dealer’s hall is BIG)! Stop by and say hi. Get some books! Get your books signed! Etcetera. I should repeat this announcement several times before the show is upon us.

Leet Haxorz

This is an early draft of the Words (introduction) chapter  from the upcoming Singularity System sourcebook “Infowar”:

Hacking is cool! It’s one of the cornerstones of science fiction, especially cyberpunk. Console cowboys jacking their brains into the matrix to ride the electron high, otaku in basements lit only by the green glow of screens, fingers flying over the keys as they crack through encryption, cyber-commandoes spoofing the camera sensors of enemy robots and the cyber-eyes of enemy soldiers to become invisible, and so on, and so on.

Why is hacking in roleplaying games so rarely cool? Why are hacking rules in games so often, in fact, a complete nightmare to interact with?

Let’s look at one case study that I’m intimately familiar with: Shadowrun. The game has a setting that is universally beloved, yet through three decades and five editions, its hacking rules have been almost universally described as impenetrable, incomprehensible, over-complicated, nonsensical, and just not very fun. For the first three editions of the game, hacking was a very complicated minigame that dedicated hacker-archetype characters (“Deckers”) could play for hours with the GM while the rest of the gaming group went out for pizza or played Super Smash Brothers or something. Or sat around the table bored and increasingly disengaged.

For these reasons—the unapproachable complexity of the rules and the “let’s all go get pizza while the Decker does whatever it is he does factor—most players at most tables simply did not play Deckers. The hacking rules were hand-waved entirely, or Decking was something that the PCs hired NPCs to do, and could therefore be handled smoothly off-camera without engaging with the rules. Decker became synonymous with NPC at most tables. And this attitude—people don’t actually play Deckers—would later become an insurmountable handicap to actually making hacking in the game fun.

The fourth edition of the game took a few steps in the right direction by making everything wireless, meaning that hackers could roll with the team and hack everything within line of sight. This encouraged Deckers to be with the team rather than waiting in a van somewhere. There were a few basic problems with this.

Let’s say that you had a Decker who wanted to hack an enemy’s gun or an enemy’s cyberware to deactivate them, in the middle of a firefight.

This was possible, but it took at least four times as long and was at least four times as complicated as a street samurai shooting someone in the face or a mage blasting someone with a manabolt. The net result of this was that the enemy whose gun you were thirty percent of the way done hacking usually had already had his head blown off by the street samurai or was incinerated by the mage’s fireball.

To make matters worse, it was always possible to set “wireless” on your gear to “off”, making you immune to hackers. Early supplements introduced the “skinlink”, which let you do the above, but explicitly without any of the drawbacks of not having an active wireless connection. In other words, every character had the cheap option to just “set hacking to no” and be immune to hacking. So of course every player character took that option.

The fifth edition of this game tried to address these issues in a way that more or less universally failed to fix anything, and in some cases actively made things worse. One interesting thing was, at the time, I was lobbying for hackers to be able to hack enemies’ guns or cyberware as quickly and as simply as the street samurai could shoot someone or the shaman sling a spell. In other words, I wanted to make hacking simpler and more streamlined, and I wanted to remove the concept of “set hackable to off”. The fan base did not want any of this, because they all seemed to view hacking as something that would happen to their character, not something their character could do to others. The idea of deckers being able to hack someone’s cyberware or weapons in a single combat turn was offensive to them, because, subconsciously, PCs weren’t Deckers—no one actually plays deckers. This, of course, went back to the fundamental problem of the first three editions of the game: that hacking was so painfully complicated that no one wanted to engage with it. Therefore, it became an NPC activity.

That’s more than enough about Shadowrun. I don’t have nearly as much experience with other games where hacking is possible, but I’ve never heard of an RPG in which the hacking rules are especially fun and approachable.

Right now, my favorite hacking rules are the ones which amount to “make one (contested) roll, and if you succeed, you get the target system to do what you want it to”.

This is how I handle hacking in HERO System: if you want to hack a system, you make a Computer Programming roll. If the system’s security countermeasures were set up beforehand, then a retroactive Computer Programming roll is made for the character that set them up. If the system has some kind of active security monitoring—a dedicated wage slave white hat hacker or even an AI—then it makes a Computer Programming roll right now instead. If the hacker’s Computer Programming roll beats the system’s, they have access and get to do whatever they want. Dirt simple, right?

The other hacking “system” I liked was the way that I had a GM run Eclipse Phase for me once. Basically, if you wanted to hack something, you rolled Infosec and if you succeeded, you had hacked the target system and gotten it to do what you want. Pretty simple, right? Those Eclipse Phase guys must be some smart game designers. Except, actually cracking open the Eclipse Phase rulebook, and found an entire chapter full of hacking rules, The Mesh, which was no less than a whopping, very dense 35 pages long. It included literally over a hundred multi-level headings and sub-headings. Now I’ve never actually played with the Eclipse Phase hacking rules: for all I know they might be very good. But what I do know is that the way that the Eclipse Phase GM chose to handle hacking was not representative of them, and that this doesn’t necessarily speak to their accessibility and ease of use.

So again, we come to our question. Why is hacking in roleplaying games so rarely cool? Why are hacking rules in games so often, in fact, a complete nightmare to interact with? Why are hacking systems in most games so complicated than a hand-wavy stopgap of “to hack a thing, roll hacking, and if you succeed, you hacked the thing” can actually be more fun to play with than the rules that were written?

I think that the problems with hacking in games can be traced back to the problems with hacking in movies. Think back to any movie you have ever seen with “Hollywood Hacking” in it. Real hacking is cool, but it is boring to watch. Boring is anathema to Hollywood, so instead we get “Hollywood Hacking”, scenes and portrayals of hacking created by people that obviously know fuck-all about computers. And this can quickly become very, very silly:

 

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Hacking in real life mostly involves hours and hours of cautious, exacting, and tedious “sitting at a computer, entering commands into a text prompt”. At a minimum, Hollywood hacking requires a hacker who is typing as fast as humanly possible, as though the speed at which he types is directly related to his chance to penetrate computer security. But Hollywood also likes really excessively flashy graphical interfaces—the exact thing that real hackers don’t use because they are an unnecessary distraction and a waste of bandwidth. But usually a flashy GUI isn’t enough and the hacker is manipulating three dimensional holographic polygons or navigating through a three dimensional digital maze or some shit. It has fuck-all to do with real hacking, but it looks cool.

Anyone who knows anything about how computers and hacking in real life, tends to have a negative reaction to this portrayal. Uproarious laughter at the dumbness on display is probably the most common reaction, but actual annoyance is a close second.

brain's like 'peace'

“Oh My God. This is…this is brain poison.”
– Penny Arcade, “Brains With Urgent Appointments”

Sometimes the stupidity of Hollywood Hacking with its “rule of cool” departures from reality is even played up to the point of parity. Meet Kung Fury’s Hackerman:

hackerman

“It means that with the right computer algorithms, I can hack you back in time.”

On average, people who make (roleplaying) games know and care a lot more about how computers work in real life than people who make movies. When I look at the hacking rules designed for the roleplaying games I talk about, what I see is a desire to make the rules for penetrating computer security realistic, and not silly, stupid, and dumb like the Hollywood Hacking described above. In and of itself, this is a noble goal, but realism (as opposed to genre­-realism, which is essential), except when used in very carefully restricted doses, is poison to game design. Because reality is not inherently fun, and games must be. Realism is like any spice used in cooking—use too much and you ruin the dish.

Compared to the smart people that made the Matrix rules for Shadowrun and the Mesh rules for Eclipse Phase, I know very little about computer science. In fact, almost nothing. Oh, I know enough to give a flavor of verisimilitude, and I know enough to ask someone smarter if I think knowing a bit about “how things really work” would help inform fun gameplay. But I have no investment in real computer science, and no loyalty to portraying it overly accurately when it comes to creating fun and playable rules for information warfare.

Hacking is cool, and for hacking to be cool in games, it cannot be strictly speaking “realistic”. Because games must be fun, and real life hacking is not fun to do—at least not in a way that is compatible with playing a game. Hacking also must be streamlined enough that the dedicated hacker character can resolve their hacking quickly in real time, without everyone else getting bored and going out for pizza.

It is with these design goals in mind that I set out to design hacking and information warfare rules for the Singularity System—compatible with any science fiction setting—that are both easy to use and fun.

SPLINTER Core Reprint plus Journey To The Forbidden City nears its conclusion…

The much improved second printing of the SPLINTER Core Rulebook is now available! It’s free (in PDF) to anyone who already owns the original printing, just re-download it from DriveThru. Thanks to hard work from Mikaela Barree, it sports a massively improved layout and a sexier cover. But there are substantive changes as well. Along with some tweaks to the Realm rules, the game has been overhauled to use the DicePunk System rules for Earthside, as discussed here previously, which is very exciting to me because it makes our pantheon of games that much more coherent and organized.

Check it out here!

In other SPLINTER news, Journey To The Forbidden Jungle (MA15+, V/S/L) approaches its conclusion…

Below the Brigand’s Lair, the party found themselves on Level 1,011,999,603 – the shores of the River of Nothingness. Attempting to cross the gray river left Hegik and Viperis floundering amnesiacs (Yntrew and Philarion flew over, while Caduceus walked along the river floor in powered armor), after a Hoary Trenchmaw reared out of the river and was dispatched by the party. Hegik and Viperis fished themselves out of the drink as Caduceus, Yntrew, and Philarion were engaged by a trio of Harvester Assassins. The party was victorious, but Yntrew lost his head to an assassin’s monofilament garrote: before Analina could resurrect Yntrew, Caduceus took his badge and later crushed it before his eyes. After a battle with Demon Voormis leading their more mundane kin, the party rested, the tensions between them mounting. Philarion used an auto-mapper drone to map the rest of the level.

After resting, the party entered a large triangular structure in the center of the cavern level.  In the Hall of Traps, they sprung just about every trap, with predictably harmful results. Beyond the hall of traps, Herk Vadis rejoined the party: a Headless Hydra and a Painwracked Juggernaut fell before the party in quick succession. Entering the central chamber of the structure, the party initiated a battle with a series of Salamandrean Survivors emerging from a painted mosaic. As pitched battle was waged, they soon discovered that five Salamandreans emerged from the mosaic every turn, from a seemingly infinite supply!

The party was routed as Salima and then Philarion fell before the glaives of the endless lizard men. During the rout, while trying to rescue Salima, Viperis used Salima’s body as a human-shield to absorb the glaives of eight mosaic-born Salamandreans. This cowardly act allowed her to survive, as the party fell back from the rout to rest and regroup.

After a lengthy consideration of their options for proceeding, the party finally returned to confront the lizard men, finding them receptive to diplomacy. In fact, when the party acted in a friendly manner, the Salamandreans served them a large feast and even helped them discover the trap door leading down to the next level: Level 1,011,999,604: the Tomb of the Lizard King.

Moving down to the next level, the group was attacked by Bullet Men and managed to defeat them (a Scorpion_Tail symbiote detached itself from one of the felled Bullet Men and attached itself to Viperis). Next the party confronted Mordrin, the Asilos Punisher who had tried to assassinate the Duke of Reo on the Lizard King’s orders. A Hold cast by Yntrew paralyzed the Asilos, and the party destroyed the two Dark Walkers guarding him.

The Held Punisher was interrogated by the party, revealing that he’d acted as the agent of the Haon-Dor Fallen in awakening and guiding the Lizard King. When finally released from the hold, Mordrin narrowly avoided execution and fled using Smog Soul. The party followed him south through a secret door, and after trampling an Origin Wick and its family of Tallowkin, found themselves face to face at last with the Lizard King in his throne room.

The Lizard King–who was not alone, but rather attended by a Hypnogorgon, a Haon-Dor Fallen, and a powered armored figure with a rather large enchanted greatsword, as well as four GIU-44 Assault Droids–acted quickly, creating a Forcewall between himself and the party. The Lizard King spoke with the party for a short time: in the end, he offered Caduceus a bounty of 1,000 Eagles per head for his comrades, and Caduceus accepted. One of the droids brought an Entoptic Generator and activated it, initiating the ensuing battle.

In the ensuing battle, Caduceus and the droids now on his side killed Analina, felled Philarion repeatedly, and nearly felled Viperis. Yntrew, meanwhile, was held and then spared by the Lizard King and his entourage on their way off the level via a high-tech elevator. Caduceus too fell in the battle against his former friends, destroyed by Philarion with a dramatic use of a Rust Grenade. The GIU-44 Assault Droids marched past Caduceu’s corpse, trying to finish Viperis and Philarion, but were ultimately destroyed. Maurice Beauxxhome escaped from a coffin-like closet in the Lizard King’s throne room. At first, he attempted to resuscitate Caduceus, only learning that Caduceus was a traitor upon seeing Viperis personally perform Caduceus’ coup de grace.

The party–now reduced to Viperis, Philarion, Yntrew, and the not-currently present Hegik, Varatha, and Herk, with the deaths of Analina, Salima, and the betrayal and then death of Caduceus–now tries to decide their next move, alongside Maurice Beauxxhome in the Lizard King’s abandoned throne room.

Renzozuke, a Mnemonic adventurer sent by the Marquess Rella Biron to determine the fate of Maurice’s expedition, joined the party.

Searching first for Maurice’s equipment the group encountered a pair of Halflifes, destroying the radioactive undead. The team then defeated a Dire Dragoon and rescued three dozen captives that the Lizard King had used as human cattle and feeding stock. Here, the group split in two, with Maurice, Philarion, Herk, and Renzozuke leading the mistreated and malnourished captives upstairs to safety, while Yntrew, Hegik, and Viperis went downstairs to pursue the Lizard King.

Taking a high tech elevator 340 floors down to Level 1,011,999,945 — in the vicinity of the ancient but high-tech city of Archaeobatrachian — Yntrew’s group was set upon by a pack of Rust Cotillion Raches. The appearance of a mysterious sniper–the Vryx known as Ziq–was instrumental in the group’s triumph over the Cotillion forces. Meanwhile, Maurice’s group encountered the duke of Reo outside of the lizard king’s Fortress, turning over the Lizard King’s prisoners to their care.

The two teams reunited and regrouped down the elevator shaft, at a Penitent colony situated on the upper levels of the Temple of the Frog – Level 1,011,999,946. From there, the group pursued the Lizard King downwards. They found no sign of the Lizard King’s forces, but did confront an Automated Sentry Platform, a deadly pair of Raving Reprobates, and a series of devious traps. Ziq and Renzozuke were transported to the top of the elevator shaft by a Teleport Trap, but managed to rejoin the party eventually, in the Penitent colony.

After refreshing themselves in a nicely appointed bathroom, the group triggered another trap, teleporting Renzozuke temporarily into the vacuum of space. A battle with a Viscerid Hysteric followed. With the Hysteric vanquished the party slaughtered a Voormis Broodmother and brood, and then were attacked with swarm gas pods by a Rookery Paymaster. After slaying the Paymaster, the group entered the compute room he’d hold up in, and Hegik and Philarion gained access to one of the computer terminals. The group systematically searched the camera feeds of each functioning camera to reconnoiter their surroundings. The most interest seemed to be in the room across the hall, which contained a leaking Nuclear Reactor and a brown Ugly Thing guarding a large horde of treasure, most saliently, custom Powered Armor.  After much planning and preparation, the group finally lured the Ugly Thing out onto a series of mines buried by Hegik–destroying it–and seized the treasure.

The party next moved down into an incomplete utility space below (Level 1,011,999,948). There they destroyed a Softshell Moltless before being ambushed by a pair of Viscerid Liberators.

Everyone Loves Free Spaceships, Right?

I made some new spaceships for the Singularity System. Specifically, the Systems Malfunction campaign setting of the Singularity System, which some of you may know from the about-to-turn-ten-years-old LARP of the same name. I figured I’d share them here for free. I’ve written up stats for two small craft,  three capital ships, and a space station (!!) plus a new Starship Bay Weapon that starships can’t actually mount, only space stations can. These should make for a neat add-on for any Systems Malfunction game, and nearly any ongoing Singularity System game you guys might be running.

Singularity System stats are provided but you could also adapt any of these ships for Traveller, Eclipse Phase, Star Wars, or whatever really, if you were so inclined.

The Singularity System didn’t really have rules for space stations, and I’m not formally writing them here. But they are basically what you would think. Immobile objects in space can’t use the Change Range and Facing action, can’t do Evasive Maneuvers, and they can’t Disengage from star combat. They effectively don’t have a Helmsman role or an Auto-Pilot subsystem or a Bridge to shoot at. They’re also sitting ducks to long-range weapons platforms unless they mount Extreme range weapons, so they almost always do.

The formatting is going to be really wonky for this stuff because WordPress doesn’t allow tables and tables would be a pain to set up so these will just be big sloppy lists. Sorry about that, maybe Mik can clean it up into a PDF later on.

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