Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Kitting Monitors, part 5 (stuff people have, part 3)

This is obviously a sequel to this post, this other post about how non-weapon equipment and its mechanics can influence a game, and more immediately, this third and this fourth post about distribution of tech amongst the general population.

As a reminder, we're looking more or less at this list:

  • Does game-mechanical equipment exist at all?
  • What equipment exists?
  • What is treated as Equipment rather than just stuff you have?
  • How do you get Equipment in the first place? How easy is it to get more, both in the long term and the short term?
  • Maintenance? Breakages? Upkeep costs? Do these things exist, and if so, how do they work?
  • How reliable is equipment?
  • Is equipment assumed and subtractive from, or optional and additive to die rolls?
  • How crucial is the possession or otherwise of specific equipment to success? Are activities, or even missions, allowed to fail because PCs don't have particular items?
  • What technology is assumed to exist, to be available to PCs, and to be available to common NPCs?
  • What is assumed normal equipment for a PC? How useful is it compared to what NPCs have? How much and how often does it affect the basic resolution mechanics? (are you adding bonuses to every roll? etc.)
  • What non-mechanical capabilities can equipment provide?
  • How vulnerable is a PC without their equipment?
  • How, if at all, is equipment limited?

We're still looking at types of technology that the population and the PCs have available. This should be the penultimate installment, thank goodness.

Making stuff

A fairly common sci-fi trope, which is just starting to creep into real life, is manufacturing on demand. It's very common for settings to feature food, clothes, furniture or other basics being assembled from raw matter or nutrient sludge, produced on demand by some machine in the corner. This rarely creeps into more complex items like machinery, although I'm sure I've seen at least one instance where blasters could be synthesised. The real-world 3D printers aren't yet up to this kind of thing, but we can slowly make replacement bones, artificial limbs, and crude foodstuffs.

Makers are essentially just another way to Get Stuff, not that different from shopping. However, they do allow a couple of get-arounds. They can be used to obtain stuff you wouldn't be able to buy, even if makers record all transactions, require security clearance for dangerous items, or have only a limited set of templates. PCs can hack into makers, steal or spoof the ID of someone with the right clearance, upload their own templates, and so on. Another point is that a maker allows you access to far more than you can reasonably carry, picking it up on the spot rather than toting it around. You're not limited to times when shops are open, and rare items can be obtained without waiting days for delivery.

I think the main impact gameplay widespread making technology will just be reducing the importance of The Right Gear. You could view this as blurring the Detailed/Abstract distinction by making it easier to change gear to have whatever specific item you need. It also seems likely that getting hold of stuff will be less important to the game in general, but those cases where it does crop up will be relatively difficult, since legal or technical restrictions are likely to come into play.

As usual, access to this sort of tech may be what distinguishes PCs from NPCs. If NPCs can't afford, obtain or maintain stuff like this, then the PCs are obviously in a better position to help (or to lord it over them, whatever). Or, PCs may have the access codes and technical knowledge to get all kinds of cool gear out of them, while NPCs can only get amusingly-shaped nutrient sludge and off-the-peg jumpsuits.

On the flipside, PCs might be plebs stuck with the sludge, while high-ranking NPCs revel in their groovy tech. Both have a 10' cube cell in the habplex, but the toffs can simply make and unmake furniture, decor and possessions as they need them, allowing considerable comfort. This allows makers to be a feature of the game, while not making them constantly available to PCs.

Off-the-wall stuff

Finally, there's a whole set of weird and wonderful spec-tech that crops up regularly in sci-fi and doesn't fall into any of those categories. Things like invisibility, mind-probes or uploading memories into robots all substantially change the sorts of things PCs can reasonably attempt, as well as the types of mysteries and opposition they'll face.

Invisibility gets around a lot of the physical issues with stealth missions, allowing characters to compensate, just as combat gear can compensate for physical shortcomings, or libraries for lack of knowledge. This will make the problem one of infiltration rather than just stealth - getting in the right place and doing the right things, in particular getting around security tech. Both PCs and their enemies can lurk unseen, so widespread invisibility tech may lead to a paranoid atmosphere. The applications for military and criminals are also significant. Regardless whether invisibility is rare or common, it can be a source of anomalies for PCs to investigate.

Mind-reading abilities of any kind will tend to change the way investigations work. Authorities or powerful characters can subject people to mind-probes to learn the truth; a useful way to avoid this becoming overpowered is to have the mind-probe be dangerous or inhumane, so it can only be used in very urgent cases. If the tech is common and safe, then straightforward deception will be a lesser feature of the game as it's not effective; individuals may be conned, but organisations will use it routinely and spot scams or fraud. If PCs have ready access to it, they can quickly unravel many investigative plots that depend on getting information from NPCs. Also, this may lead to a more confrontational game: if it's safe and reliable to mind-probe everyone, then it's mechanically better to mind-probe rather than cajole, barter or befriend. It isn't that far from simply holding everyone at gunpoint and demanding answers. Anyone not willing to submit to a mind-probe may instantly be a suspect.

Phew. Okay, I think there's oooone more of these to come. This is looking increasingly like procrastination, though.

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