Thursday, 12 September 2013

Monitors: I, robot

I've had a quick think about the general place of technology in Monitors, and now it's time for some specifics. So, cyborgs! How does one go about modelling cyborghood in an RPG?

Probably inspired by Deathwatch, and partly because I already mentioned an vocaliser implant for languages, I'm vaguely thinking of having a sort of standard payload for Monitors; a set of minor but useful implants and enhancements that all recruits receive. They would have a few set upgrades, and then select a small number of personalised ones to suit their character. The default kit will hopefully add a bit of flavour, while also offering plausible in-game reasons for things that are useful from a metagame perspective.

Standard Cybernetics

As default, Monitors receive:

  • Vocaliser: allows articulation of all major lects, regardless of physiology. Narratively, this is a vital tool for a special response force, allowing them to communicate with the broadest possible range of people during the course of their missions, and providing assistance with covert operations where disguise or deception are called for. Metawise, it gives a plausible reason for Monitors to be able to talk to most NPCs without demanding an implausible "universal language" or hyper-accurate interpreter technology. It also allows that capability to be selectively disabled, and leaves open the possibility of species or individuals who can't be so readily understood - their language is simply too obscure.
  • Auditor: tracks and records anatomical data, and provides feedback as appropriate. Narratively, this is as useful to monitors as similar tools are in real life to athletes, astronauts, soldiers, firefighters, medics and other people in dangerous situations. It keeps them aware of their state of health and energy levels. Metawise, this allows PCs to evaluate their condition in roughly the same way as players do.
  • Mnemoniser: a supplementary memory chip that allows them to store and recall clues, contacts and notes. Narratively, this is just a more efficient version of a notepad or dictaphone, which can't be lost, stolen or copied, and can be used without noise or motion in covert situations. Metawise, it just makes it that bit more logical that PCs remember the clues they encountered during an adventure, and should encourage GMs to give prompts without hesitating over whether the PCs ever said they were making a note of the address. I'm picturing the mnemoniser as a sort of mental dictaphone, so it doesn't connect to the Monitor's senses - if they want to take pictures or record conversations, they need external tech. Certain electromagnetic effects can scramble or corrupt the chip, so amnesia plotlines are not completely out of the question.

Common Enhancements

  • Neural jack: a nervous-system interface that can connect directly with technology, making many jobs easier and permitting bonding with mechas, command helms of large vessels, and similar devices.
  • Nanofilters: minute medical devices that monitor and filter the bloodstream, breaking down toxins rapidly and boosting the immune system.
  • Cybernetic eye: possible features include infra-red setting for night vision, photography (spliced to mnemoniser), rangefinger, motion tracker and optical filter to avoid glare.
  • Cybernetic arm: possible features include increased strength, surgical implants, tool implants, built-in weaponry, thermal shielding, grappling line and collapsible shield.

I'm considering a distinction in the level of cybernetics, possibly creating some kind of augmetics/bionics distinction. Basically, low-powered cybernetics offer limited benefits but are hard to distinguish from the real thing. High-powered ones offer more and better benefits, but are increasingly obvious, which has disadvantages for concealment, disguise, and identification: it's hard to argue that your massive steel arm and glowing red eye are entirely normal, difficult to persuade the guards that you're just a passing beggar who happens to have expensive cybernetics, and almost impossible to convince them that you're not the same steel-armed red-eyed intruder they were told to arrest. Obviously, things like really obvious distinguishing features do tend to be handwaved in RPGs, but I think it's worth giving a bit of attention to nonetheless.

There will be other enhancements, of course, but these are the ones that came easily to mind.

Basically, I'm thinking that chargen will include characters making a series of selections. Skillswise, they'll get default skills plus a number of points to allocate. They'll select (I think) a couple of major spells, plus a couple of minor ones that might have niche utility, just to add interest. They'll get their basic cybernetics, and choose a number of extra enhancements. Finally, they'll pick equipment, which will probably include at least one artifact as well as weapons, armour and devices. There's just a bit of a question as to whether I have one set of options and that's basically it (minimal changes to character after creation) or whether they start off with slightly less stuff and get more assigned through successful completion of missions. This will alter the tone of the game somewhat. Either way, though, I plan to try and avoid the looting model, because it just doesn't fit with what I'm trying to do.

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