Monday, June 22, 2020

The D&D Genre, Racism, and Westerns

(This is from a message board post, in response to Wizards of the Coast announcing that they were going to be taking a look at diversity and how some of the negative stereotypes applied to fictional races could be harmful to real people in the real world; that explains a bit why I am talking to someone who is not there. I have edited it slightly to provide some more context, and may edit it more in the future to more clearly express the ideas).

Orcs were not created in a game. They were created by an author who described them as "...squat, broad, flat-nosed, sallow-skinned, with wide mouths and slant eyes; in fact degraded and repulsive versions of the (to Europeans) least lovely Mongol-types."

He literally described them as the worst stereotypes available of Asian people. It is, in fact, a stereotype that tends to change slightly in the details to describe everyone not of the dominant culture and ethnicity. So, descriptions of those fictional races which match up to real-life prejudices pose a problem of representation... who are these people, and are we perpetuating stereotypes by saying that they are, uniformly, rape-happy barbarians who couldn't pour water out of a boot with instructions printed on the heel?

Secondly, in the game, they exist. I realize that the game is not real, but the game has a fictional reality in which the characters exist, and in which creatures like half-orcs, half-hobgoblins, and half-elves are also real. And, if you go with "Orcs are not people [in the fictional world]", you then have to ask "At what point are those who are of orcish descent" (q.v. half-orcs) "people?"

While people like to point to the swords and armor and knights and call D&D and its descendants "medieval", I see them as having a lot more in common with Westerns.* The class of free wanderers, righting wrongs and wronging rights, be they adventurers or cowboys. The social mobility, where a simple warrior could become king (or a poor cowpoke could become a rich landowner). And the broad assertion that race (or nationality) is personality. The only ones with significant variation are "regular Americans" (humans, in D&D-likes), while everyone else broadly adheres to their stereotypes... the Englishman, the Swede, the Indian. "You're not playing an elf; you're just playing a human with pointy ears" is a common charge leveled against people who go against type, because only humans are supposed to be varied in personality.

This gets more severe when you look at "Indians", which D&D-likes tend to cast as humanoids. Tonto, in the Lone Ranger, was cast as the "one good Indian"... every other Indian in contemporary Westerns (the Classical Western) was a ravening savage, there to kill the Good White Folks out to Tame the West. But, as the genre continued, you saw more nuanced portrayals of Indians... Charles Bronson as the noble savage half-breed of the revisionist Western, Indian-friendly protagonists (q.v. Dances with Wolves), and even crept into more classical comedy westerns (q.v. McClintock, where the Indians are honored enemies of the title character).

In a lot of ways, these "revisionist Westerns" are what you are seeing now, and a lot of other people started seeing in 1983... drow, orcs, minotaurs, and the like as people within the fictional world, with their own reasons for doing things; reasons that make sense to them, within their culture. In short, they're being viewed as people, not just creatures up from the deep to destroy good and beauty, without reason. If they're evil, it's not solely because they "deriv[e] joy from violent acts", but because that's who their culture turns them in to. The gods they worship push them in that direction... and those gods are individuals, who might be good or evil (which somewhat differentiates them from modern religions which are more social phenomenon).

Of course, there's still room for the truly alien. Hackmaster's Morlocks, for example, infect everyone with a fungus that makes them want to infect MORE people with the fungus. You can have the supernatural creature that's more or less made of evil. But if you're taking a humanoid creature and applying to it the stereotypes that are used to demonize real people? You're treading on very thin ice, and folks are going to call you on it... and the fact that YOU don't see a problem with it does not mean that no one else does.

*Fantasy, as a genre, tends to have a lot in common with Westerns; both tend to focus on the setting as a place and character of the story, as opposed to mysteries or science fiction, which tend to focus on ideas that are being explored.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

The Savage Shadows: A Savage Worlds/Shadowrun Hack

The Savage Shadows: A Savage Worlds Adventure Edition Savage Worlds Hack


Dwarf: Infravision (1), Hearty Constitution (Strength considered one die higher for Encumbrance and Minimum Strength; free reroll of Vigor rolls to resist hazards; stacks with Soldier); Pace -1, d4 running die (1)

Elf: Low Light Vision (1), Persuasion begins at d6 (1; Shadowrun represents this as a +2 to Charisma, but the same idea applies)

Human: Free Novice Edge (2)

Ork: Low light vision (1), Size +1 (1)

Troll: Size +2 (2), Armor +2 (1), Infravision (1), Big (-2)

(Design note: Why stats like these? Partially, the size modifications for Trolls and Orks do a lot of what attribute modifiers do in Shadowrun; trolls get the equivalent of having a d12 Vigor for toughness calculations, without significantly affecting other parts… they get tired like other people, and can be relatively weak, though. Additionally, however, it’s a balance question; none of the metatypes have a lot of inherent disadvantages, with most of them being social and circumstantial; Orks are not everywhere Outsiders, so there’s little point to making it a racial characteristic that adheres to all orks).

Magic in the Savage Shadows:

Types, Traditions, and Trappings
There are four types of magic-users, but only three of them use traditional powers; Magicians (sometimes called “full Magicians”), Sorcerers, and Conjurer. Magicians can use both Conjuring and Sorcery, while Conjurers and Sorcerer are limited to their arts, respectively; all three are collectively referred to as “Magicians”. Physical Adepts are governed by other rules, entirely.

Each magic-user, no matter their type, adheres to a Tradition, which affects how they perceive and interact with magic. A Hermetic Magician no doubt studies the arcane names of spirits, and develops their spells in Latin, Sumerian, and in accordance with arcane numerology. A Kabbalist studies the names of G-d and the angels, and their rituals involve phylacteries and purification. A Native American Shaman, a Haitian Voudoun Houngan, a Norse Priest, a Chaos Magician; all will have their own traditions of magic.

These types and traditions affect the Trappings that will appear when magic is used. A Native American Physical Adept may magically adopt the seeming of their totem animal when using their powers, gaining the legs of a coyote when they use their Speed power, for example, while a Chaos Magician might find Havoc easier to enact if they’re disrupting a well-ordered space. Players and Game Masters should work together to explain how tradition affects the powers as they manifest.

Magicians and Powers

The powers of magicians in the Savage Shadows do not function on Power Points; rather, using it is a slowly increasing exhaustion, until the magician collapses or, at the very least, takes a break.

When a power is used, the Arcane Skill is rolled to determine success, as normal. Additionally, however, Spirit must be rolled at the same time, and using the same Wild Die; the Wild Die may replace either die in the test, but not both. If the Arcane Skill and the Spirit die are the same size, they must be designated beforehand. The Arcane Skill test is unmodified, but the Spirit test is penalized by one-half the power point cost of power (q.v. “No Power Points”, SWADE, p. 140). Raises on the Arcane Skill may apply to the spell effects, or provide a +1 modifier to the Spirit die, at the caster’s preference; likewise, spells may be Shorted to reduce their Drain, taking a -1 to the Arcane skill to reduce the effective cost, and thus reducing the penalty to Drain.

Regardless of the success of the Arcane skill, fatigue (“Drain”) is still inflicted. Each success and raise on the Spirit die reduces the Drain of the power by one level. Novice powers inflict a single level of Drain; Seasoned powers two, Veteran powers inflict three, and Heroic powers inflict one level of drain per power point. Each 1 on any of the dice (Arcane skill, Spirit, or Wild) results in an additional level of Drain, which may be overcome normally, but a truly catastrophic failure (a 1 on all three dice) can instantly knock the caster unconscious. Drain of less than four levels recovers at the rate of one level per hour. Drain above three levels requires 1d6 hours per level above three. Every level of magical Drain after the third not only knocks the character unconscious, but also inflicts 2d6 damage that ignores armor; someone whose bad luck and over-reach has them reaching 5 levels of Drain will not only be unconscious for 2d6+1 hours (including the one to overcome Incapacitated), but will also suffer 4d6 damage, which may kill them.

Drain can be mitigated by fetishes, which will vary by tradition; a hermetic wizard might use scrolls with arcane writings, while a shaman might use incense or sacred waters. Only one fetish may be used per casting, and a given fetish only functions for a specific power; if a magician knows a Fire Bolt power and a Lightning Bolt power, they must purchase their fetish for one of those. The fetish will remove the penalty to the Spirit check caused by the base cost of the power (so, a fetish for Slumber would remove 1 point of penalty to the spirit check, but if the magician chose to modify the spell to be a Large Blast Template, bringing the total cost to 5, it would not reduce the penalty due to the modification, and the spirit test would be at -2, not -1), but thereafter be useless. Fetishes usually cost the power point cost of the unmodified power times ten.

Powers may be maintained beyond their duration, but each power so maintained inflicts a -1 to all Arcane Skill checks and Drain tests.

Mana v. Physical Magic

Physical spells are the default spells; they are magical manifestations in the physical world, and can be detected by drones, sensors, and recorded on cameras. A Fire Bolt spell can set things on fire; a physical Shapechange spell can change a person’s equipment, not just their bodies.

“Mana Spells”, however, only manipulate living things. A mana Illusion spell will not appear on monitors, but will fool the guard; a mana Bolt spell will not damage items, a mana barrier will not stop a tossed rock, but will stop a person (notably, however, a mana barrier will knock someone off a motorcycle, but not squish someone against the back of a closed vehicle; enclosed in the car’s aura, the passengers are safe). Mana spells, however, also cannot bear physical-type trappings; a mana Bolt spell cannot be a Fire Bolt or a Lightning Bolt, because it does not exist in real space in a way that will cause fire or lightning to manifest; Mana spells interact with living matter in Astral Space, not unliving matter in real space. This makes mana spells somewhat less draining; they don’t need the extra magical oomph that lets them manifest in mundane reality.

Optional Trapping: Mana Spell
Mana spells affect only living matter; they attack the creature’s astral self, not the flesh itself. As such, they ignore all non-living armor, and Toughness of targets is calculated, not by their Vigor, but as (Spirit/2) + 2, with other modifiers to toughness (size, edges, etc.) applying as normal. However, mana spells are not physical; they cannot affect things that are not alive, and cannot benefit from Trappings that rely on the physical world; your Mana Blast spell will not knock down a door, and a Mana Havoc spell will send people flying, but not the objects around them. Mana spells are also less effective on heavily Cybered individuals, with a -1 penalty to Sorcery for the second and fourth Cybernetic Implant Edge the target possesses, and a -1 per Cybernetic Replacement edge (with a maximum of -4). This penalty is inherent, and cannot be suppressed by the target, and functions even against helpful spells. Mana spells are considered to cost 1 less power point for the purposes of drain, even to the point of having an effectively 0 power point cost.

Ritual Magic

Magic can be a group experience, which can increase chances of success. In Ritual Magic, all Magicians participating, save one, roll the relevant Arcane Skill to Support the lead magician; the lead magician must roll their Arcane Skill to actually enact the magic. The supporting magicians do not need to know the power in question, but they do need to have the correct skill (so sorcerers cannot participate in a Conjuring ritual, and Conjurers cannot participate in a Sorcery ritual, but a Magician may participate in either. Rituals require a number of hours equal to the power point cost of the power, but may be targeted at any range, provided the ritual team has a material link (a piece of their body or a part of a structure), or via a spotter in astral space (q.v. Astral Space). Once the ritual is complete, or if it is interrupted, all members of the ritual team must roll Spirit to resist Drain. Individuals may conduct Ritual spells, if they wish, but the team can be no larger than 1, plus 1 per the Arcane skill of the least skilled individual (so 2 if the least skilled is d4, 3 if d6, 4 if d8, usw).

Ritual Conjurings can also be done to provide longer-lasting servants. In a ritual conjuring, each success or raise by the lead magician provides a single service from the spirit, but the service is not limited in time or space; it may persist for days, weeks, or even years, and leave the location from which it was summoned. However, if the magician is rendered unconscious by drain, the ally is unbound, and will act as its nature directs; they are often unhappy at having been summoned.

Ritual magic requires material components; these cost 1000 nuyen per power point cost of the power.

Astral Space

Magicians, including Conjurers and Sorcerers, may all look into Astral Space, which functions as the Detect Arcana power (not Conceal Arcana). This requires no drain, and requires only a successful, unmodified, Arcane skill roll (full magicians may choose Sorcery or Conjuring, as they wish). The ability may be maintained indefinitely, but provides a -1 penalty to all physical actions, and a -1 to resist powers used against them. Maintaining Astral Perception inflicts no penalty on magical actions. Some magical creatures are Dual-Natured; they always perceive Astral Space, and take no penalty to physical actions while doing so; they remain more easily affected by spells, however.

Magicians, Conjurers, and Sorcerers may also choose to separate their spirit from their body in Astral Projection. While Astrally Projecting, they may take no physical actions, and have a -2 to resist powers. While Astrally Projecting, their spirits are Ethereal and invisible, but cannot interact with the physical world, or clearly see things that are neither living nor magical. An Astrally Projecting Magician has a pace equal to their Smarts times their Spirit, but are vulnerable to the Banish power, as well as other magics. They cannot pass through magical Barriers, and if Banished or prevented from returning to their bodies within Spirit hours, they will immediately become Incapacitated and Bleeding Out (SWADE p. 95). If Banished, they may recover normally; if prevented from returning to their body, they will continue to Bleed Out until they are returned.


Arcane Skill: Conjuring
Beginning Powers: Summon Ally, Banish, one novice power, plus Detect Arcana
Conjurers begin knowing only Detect Arcana, Summon Ally, and Banish. Basic allies may take advantage of power modifiers, and will follow the directions of the conjurer. While conjurers may learn additional powers, they do not use them; rather, they are capable of summoning spirits which make use of those powers for them. Imbuing a power in a summoned ally grants them the skill to use the power at d6, and inflicts a 1 point penalty on Conjuring per rank of the power, and one point per rank of skill above d6 granted. The summoned ally must be of a rank equal to or greater than the power.
For example, if a Conjurer wishes a summoned ally to possess the Zombie power, for example, they must know the Zombie power, summon a Veteran Ally, and imbue the ally with the Zombie power. Without modification, this will result in their Conjuring roll being made at -3 (to imbue a Veteran Power), and their spirit roll being made at -3 (due to the cost of Summoning a Veteran Ally). However, the spirit will shoulder the Drain and maintenance of the Zombie power, not the Conjurer.
Summoned allies provide one service per success or raise, and last until the next sunrise or sunset. Services may include somewhat complex tasks (“Clean my house”, “Defend me!”), or requests to use powers. Summoned allies are not Constructs, but are Ethereal (SWADE p 176), but also may not leave the vicinity of the environment which created them; a forest spirit must stay within a forest, a building’s spirit may not leave the building, and a fire spirit must remain near fire.. Conjurers may have only one summoned ally at a time per rank in Conjuring (1 at d4, 2 at d6, 3 at d8, usw.); this includes those bound by Ritual Conjurings.

Arcane Skill: Sorcery and Conjuring
Beginning Powers: 3 novice powers plus Detect Arcana
Magicians begin knowing three powers, as well as Detect Arcana (q.v. Astral Space). Additionally, as Novices, they may learn Summon Ally or Banish, but only linked to the Conjuring skill; learning to Banish as a Sorcery is still a Veteran power, and Summon Ally may not be used as a Sorcery power. Otherwise, they may learn any sorcery power they wish, and are under no obligation to learn either Summon Ally or Banish; they simply have the ability to do so. With those exceptions, any power a magician learns may be used via Sorcery, or imbued to a summoned spirit.

Arcane Skill: Sorcery
Beginning Powers: 3 novice powers plus Detect Arcana
Sorcerers are relatively straightforward; unable to learn Summon Ally, they cast spells as above, and any powers they learn, they may use as Sorcery powers.

Physical Adepts
Physical adepts use their magic, not as spells, but as permanent improvements to themselves. Each power acquired has no activation roll, and so cannot benefit from raises, but may be switched on or off if the adept desires (activating or deactivating any number of powers is a single action). Adepts can become quite powerful, but their abilities are limited to themselves; an adept cannot protect others with their Protection power, save by placing themselves in harm’s way. Adepts must still meet the Rank requirements for powers, though the ability to learn combat edges via repeated selections of Warrior’s Gift makes them potent combatants.

Physical Adept
Arcane Skill: None!
Beginning Powers: 2

Powers Available to Physical Adepts:
*Arcane Protection: Powers are -2 to affect the adept, and 2 points of resistance to magic. May be selected twice.
*Beast Friend: With this power, the Adept may use Persuasion on any non-sentient beasts as if they were people.
*Blind: This power requires a successful Fighting roll. Blinding strikes inflict no damage, but up to two may be applied to a single target at once.
*Boost Trait: When selected, choose a single trait; this trait is magically increased by one die size. If the trait is a skill, it may still be improved normally at the base rate (so, if the Adept has an agility of d10 and Fighting of d6, and has chosen to Boost it twice, their fighting would function at d10, but they would be able to use normal Advances as if it were a d6, learning more and layering magical ability on top of this). No more than three boosts may be applied to a single trait.
*Darksight: A single selection negates 4 points of darkness penalties; a second selection negates up to 6.
*Deflection: May only be selected once, imposing a 2 point penalty on Fighting and Shooting attacks on the adept.
*Detect Arcana: Adepts with this power may enter or leave Astral Perception as an action. They may not Astrally Project.
*Environmental Protection: The adept must choose a specific malady to be protected from for each selection of this power. They may be protected from fire, able to breath underwater, or some related feat allowed by the power.
*Farsight: The adept can see at tremendous distances; a second selection halves range penalties for Shooting or Athletics.
*Protection: Each time this power is learned, it grants 2 points of Armor. A second selection will either improve 2 of those points to Toughness, or adds 2 points of armor. This power may be improved no higher than 4 points of Toughness, requiring a total of 4 power selections.
*Speed: The first selection of this power doubles the adept’s movement. A subsequent selection will allow them to remove the -2 penalty due to running, while a third selection allows instead to remove 2 points of multi-action penalties.
*Smite: The first selection improves an adept’s melee damage by 2 points. A second selection improves their melee damage by 4 points.
*Speak Language: With this power, the adept may make a Smarts roll to speak and understand any language not purposefully obfuscated (i.e. they cannot flawless crack codes and encryption). A new Smarts roll must be made every 10 minutes.
*Stun: Similar to Blind, this power requires a successful Fighting roll, and inflicts no damage when attempted.
*Wall Walker: With a single selection, the character may move at half speed on vertical or inverted surfaces. A second selection allows movement at full speed, even running.
*Warrior’s Gift: Each selection of this power allows the permanent acquisition of a Combat Edge, regardless of the requirements, though Improved versions require the non-improved version to be acquired, first.

Blood and Chrome: Cybernetics and Body Modification in the Savage Shadows

“Cybernetics”, or cyberware, and “bionetics”, or “bioware” are artificial enhancements to the metahuman body. Four edges cover these enhancements; Cybernetic Implant, Cybernetic Replacement, Bioware Implant, and Enhancement Adjustments. Each edge may be taken multiple times, but a character can have no more than five, total, of Cybernetic Implant, Cybernetic Replacement, and Bioware Implant. Most often, powers so acquired do not have a required activation roll, unless required by the power itself (Bolt, for example, will require a Shooting roll).

Cybernetics are acquired via the Cybernetic Implant and Cybernetic Replacement Edges. Cybernetic Implants are implanted equipment, or the acquisition of powers. A single Edge allows up to 5 Power Points worth of Powers to be acquired, or up to 5 pounds of equipment to be added to the body, or any combination thereof. All decisions about Powers must be made at installation, and some powers may increase their effective cost for greater permanent effects; for example, an unaltered Speed power will only double someone’s movement; with additional power points allocated during the acquisition, however, the power can be improved to reduce the penalties caused by running, or remove some multi-action penalties altogether.

Cybernetic Replacement is the wholesale replacement of a limb with a mechanical part. Relatively minor replacements (most common being eyes) are covered under implants, but if the body needs more than an up to the elbow or knee replaced, it is a Cybernetic Replacement, not an Implant. Cybernetic Replacements are more robust; they automatically increase the Strength, Agility, and Vigor for the affected limb by 1 die size, and they can have up to 7 pounds of equipment, or 7 points of powers built in. Two Cybernetic Replacements improve Toughness by 1 point. Three Cybernetic Replacements will effectively increase the die size of the affected attributes. Cybernetic Replacement edges may likewise remove certain Hindrances, at the Game-master’s discretion (you cannot have the One Arm hindrance if you have replaced it with a cybernetic arm… unless, of course, you decided to replace your meat arm, for some reason).

More friendly to the metahuman system is Bioware. Whereas cybernetics are mechanical and electronic devices, bioware is genetically engineered tissue, grown in host bodies, then harvested for implantation in living customers. They are designed to have minimal rejection, and integrate smoothly into most metahumans. However, because they more finely-tuned, they have much less capacity than cyberware; no more than 2 points of powers, or 2 pounds of equipment, can be added be Bioware Implant Edge.

Cybernetics have some drawbacks, most of which bioware avoids. As mentioned, a character may have no more than five cybernetics or bioware edges, total. It can be four implants and a single replacement, two bioware Implants, one Cybernetic Replacement, and two Cybernetics Implants, or even five replacements (both arms, both legs, and the torso). Bioware partakes of the same edge limits as cyberware; no more than five, total (after all, if you replace a good chunk of your meat with chrome, your special, enhanced meat parts will stop working so well). Making changes to their implants after that requires the Enhancement Adjustment edge, which simply allows them to adjust what is already there; they may remove equipment or powers and replace them with others, but not acquire any more.

Secondly, excessive cybernetics can make it difficult to be healed; your body is significantly metal, plastic, and carbon fiber, with many additional systems that affect healing. For every Cybernetic Replacement edge, add 1 to the difficulty of all Healing skill and power checks for the character; Cybernetic Implants add 1 to the difficulty for every edge after the first. The lower of the physician’s Electronics and Repair skills may be used to make a complementary test for the Healing Skill, with each raise reducing the penalty by 1, but the Healing power cannot benefit from this; cybernetics are simply too complex for the magic to repair. Bioware does not suffer from this; it is part of the body.

Enhancements also make the practice of magic more difficult; those with magic powers must avoid excessive artificial enhancement. Magicians, Sorcerers, and Conjurers must subtract 1 from their Arcane Skill rolls to use powers for every 5 points of powers or pounds of equipment implanted via cybernetics or bioware (round down); -1 for a single cybernetic implant or 3 bioware implants, up to -7 for five cybernetic replacements. Adepts see their powers disappear with each 5 points of powers or pounds of equipment; beginning with their most practiced powers (those they have selected the most often), then their most advanced (those with the highest rank), then their other powers, for each 5 points of powers gained from enhancements (again; rounded down). As Adepts gain 2 powers for each time they choose the New Power edge, it is possible to remain ahead of Burnout, but something is always lost.

Lastly, many artificial enhancements have limited power. Each Enhancement edge provides its value in points to power various enhancements (2, 5, or 7). These power points return at a rate of 5 points per hour of relative rest, as per standard with Power Points. Other powers provide permanent enhancements; this is noted below.

Cybernetics and Bioware do not include a lot of what may be considered “cosmetic” surgery; simple things like changing eye color, ear shape, or gender-affirming surgery are no more a cybernetic implant than getting a tattoo. Likewise, many significant Hindrances can be overcome with modern technology; replacement eyes to cure blindness, vat-grown limbs to replace those lost to injury, and so on. These likewise do not count as cybernetics edges; they simply allow hindrances to be bought off with minimal explanation.

Common Implanted Equipment:
Digital Camera
Handheld computer (commonly called a Commlink)
Laptop computer (more robust than a commlink, often a hacking aid)
Laser/Red Dot sight

Powers Available through Cybernetics and Bioware
* Blind: Suggested trappings: Laser beam (cyberware), blinding spittle (Bioware). Most often uses the Shooting skill. Limited by Power Points.
* Bolt: Suggested trappings: Combat laser (cyberware). Uses the Shooting skill. Limited by Power Points.
* Boost Trait: Suggested trappings: Electro-chemical muscle enhancement, supplemental processors, lubricated joints, augmented reality targeting reticle. Each boost is 2 points worth of powers, but not limited by power points. No more than three boosts applied to a single trait. Skills boosted by Boost Trait are counted as their base for the purposes of advancement, but Attribute boosts improve the attribute for the purpose of skill growth through advancement; if Jolly Joyboy has a base Agility and Shooting of d4, and has 2 boost to Agility and 2 to Shooting, he rolls a d8 for Shooting, but considers his skill to be d4, and his attribute d8, when improving the skill through hard work.
* Darksight: Suggested trappings: thermographic vision, light-amplification, infrared scanning. Not limited by power points.
* Environmental Protection: Suggested Trappings: Implanted Air Tank, Nephretic Screen, Improved Liver. Limited by power points. Only a single enhancement may be applied against any single effect.
* Farsight: Suggested Trappings: Smartlink (cyberware), corneal and pupil improvements (bioware). Not Limited by Power Points. Takes two forms; one allows clear vision at up to one mile, the other allows reduction in ranged penalties within range. Either system may be taken for a 2 point investment.
* Mindlink: Commonly known as a “Datajack”, this power allows direct interfacing with computers and equipment. Not limited by power points; effectively free as a cybernetic device if limited to Touch Range (-1 power point, instead of the standard Smarts range).
* Protection: Suggested Trappings: dermal armor, synthweave orthoskin, skeleton reinforcing. Every point invested in Protection provides a +2 to Armor, which stacks with worn armor. This is limited to 6 points of armor. This power cannot provide an increase in toughness.
* Speed: Also known as Wired Reflexes, the basic version, 2 point, increases one’s Pace. For 3 points, pace is doubled and the -2 penalty for running is removed. For 4 points, Pace is doubled and 2 points of multi-action penalties are ignored each round. Any can have Hurry applied, for an additional point, adding 2 to Pace before it is doubled; someone with fully tweaked Wired Reflexes can MOVE.
* Slumber: Suggested Trappings: Sleep darts, poison spittle. Most often uses the Shooting skill. Limited by Power Points.
* Smite: Suggested Trappings: Implanted shock gloves, reinforced skeleton, implanted cnidocytes. Many samurai and punks prefer the “cheaper” option of an implanted cyberspur (a 1 pound knife, which inflicts Str+d4 damage), or even the larger cyberblades (a short sword which does Str+d6 damage), but an implanted shock glove can add +2 electrical damage to each punch. Bioware users will sometimes implant modified jellyfish cnidocytes. All are limited by Power Points.
* Speak Language: Cybernetic only, these are simply implanted translation units, with the necessary modifications to allow the voicebox to make the indicated sounds, and to translate the received sound for the user. Not limited by Power Points.
* Stun: Suggested trappings: Stun Gun, Pepper spray. Limited by power points. Often uses Shooting skill.
* Summon Ally: Cybernetic Only. Most often called a Vehicle Control Rig, the Summon Ally power allows the rigger to control increasingly complex drones. However, the VCR can only control drones up to its Rank; a Novice VCR doesn’t have the software to manage a Seasoned or Veteran drone. Drones are extras, and begin at 2000 nuyen for Novice, 4000 for Seasoned, 10,000 for Veteran, and 20,000 for Sentinels, with additional features from the power requiring an additional 1000 per point. The VCR is upgradable gear, however; someone with Novice equipment can later add more hardware (from subsequent Cybernetic Implant or Replacement edges) improving their basic devices.

Some Sample Drones:

Novice Drone:
Attributes: Agility d4, Smarts d4, Spirit d4, Strength d4, Vigor d4
Skills: Athletics d4, Shooting d4, Notice d4
Pace: 4, Parry 2, Toughness: 6 (2)
Gear: None
Special Abilities:
*Armored Construct (+2 Armor)
*Construct: +2 to recover from being Shaken; no additional damage from called shots; constructs do not suffer from poison or disease.
*Fearless: drones are immune to Fear and Intimidation.
*Blaster: Equivalent to the Stun Power. Uses Shooting Skill, fires 1 bolt per round. Requires no power points.

Seasoned Drone:
Attributes: Agility d6, Smarts d4, Spirit d6, Strength d6, Vigor d6
Skills: Shooting d6, Notice d4
Pace: 6 Parry: 2, Toughness: 7 (2)
Gear: None
Special Abilities:
*Armored Construct (+2 Armor)
*Construct: +2 to recover from being Shaken; no additional damage from called shots; constructs do not suffer from poison or disease.
*Fearless: Drones are immune to Fear and Intimidation.
*Blaster: Equivalent to the Novice Bolt Power. Uses Shooting Skill, fires up to 2 bolts per round. Requires no power points.

Veteran Drone:
Attributes: Agility d8, Smarts d4, Spirit d8, Strength d8, Vigor d8
Skills: Shooting d8, Notice d4
Pace: 6 Parry: 2, Toughness: 10 (4)
Gear: None
Special Abilities:
*Armored Construct (+4 Armor)
*Construct: +2 to recover from being Shaken; no additional damage from called shots; constructs do not suffer from poison or disease.
*Fearless: Drones are immune to Fear and Intimidation.
*Blaster: Equivalent to the Novice Bolt Power. Uses Shooting Skill, fires up to 2 bolts per round. Requires no power points.
*Burst: Instead of using its Blaster, a veteran drone may use its Shooting skill to use the equivalent of the Burst power. Requires no power points.

Heroic Drone:
Attributes: Agility d12+2, Smarts d6, Spirit d8, Strength d6, Vigor d10
Skills: Shooting d10, Notice d8, Tech d6
Pace: 6 Parry: 2, Toughness: 11 (4)
Gear: None
Special Abilities:
*Armored Construct (+4 Armor)
*Construct: +2 to recover from being Shaken; no additional damage from called shots; constructs do not suffer from poison or disease.
*Fearless: Drones are immune to Fear and Intimidation.
*Blaster: Equivalent to the Novice Bolt Power. Uses Shooting Skill, fires up to 3 bolts per round. Requires no power points.
*Burst: Instead of using its Blaster, a heroic drone may use its Shooting skill to use the equivalent of the Burst power. Requires no power points.

(Design Note: Why 'ware as Edges, not equipment? A) I am not big on money management for character upgrades; I break that immediately after this for the Matrix, but since they're more limited in scope, I'm more comfortable with them. B) Because it is essentially granting a power to a person, and that is usually best handled through Edges and Hindrances, rather than cash... even though I will freely admit I did it differently in Mass Effect. It worked there; I don't think it does as well here, where powers are far less common.)

Slipping Through Cyberspace: The Matrix

The Matrix is the backbone of the Sixth World; commerce, communications, everything runs through the matrix. While a lot of people go online with an old-style consoles, projecting the environment in 3D, many more use electrode rigs or datajacks to directly connect to the virtual reality space that is the Matrix.

Basic operations within the Matrix are Common Knowledge or Research checks; these are things that anyone can do, whether they’re on a SOTA cyberdeck or the browser interface of their game console; this is the information that they want you to find.

More advanced operations, and most elicit uses, are Hacking. Hacking checks are made against a system or program’s Firewall rating; standard computer security puts the Firewall of individual systems at a 4, but some poorly defended systems, or cheap programs, will be lower, while more advanced systems will be higher. Many systems are able to be accessed wirelessly, but doing so adds additional layers of security, so many deckers (the common name for hackers, for the cyberdecks they use to access the Matrix) prefer a direct connection.

Tools of the Trade:

Most deckers will possess at least a Datajack; the electrode rigs are unsightly, slightly slower, and can come loose in a turbulent environment. Connecting with a datajack reduces multi-action penalties by 1 point, compared to using a ‘trode rig. A Datajack comes as part of the Decker Professional Edge, but other deckers are more heavily cybered; cyber-eyes, encephalons (Boost Smarts or Hacking traits), and built-in cyberdecks are all common. Either the datajack or the electrode rig are necessary to really hack; while you can surf the ‘Net through your commlink’s tiny screen, the finesse work necessary for true hacking can only be done with cybernetic control.

You can hack with a commlink, and lots of beginning deckers do, but they have limits on processing capacity; even with modern technology, you can only fit some much processing power in something designed to be put in the pocket of skinny jeans. More professional deckers use cyberdecks, which are somewhat akin to a modern, high-end, laptop. Portable and powerful, they resemble a modern wireless keyboard. Most will have several ports and retractable cables, but wireless connections are also common. Lots of deckers prefer a wired connection, when they can get it; wireless connections reduce speed slightly, removing one point of multi-action penalty reduction (if you have no penalty reduction, there’s no penalty, but penalty reduction from datajacks or Processing enhancements degrades over a wireless connection).

Commlinks, cyberdecks, and other computers work on Capacity, which is roughly equivalent of real-world RAM; Capacity represents how many, and how complex, of programs can be loaded into memory at one time. A low-end machine (like most commlinks) will have 3-5 points of Capacity; higher-end machines will have higher Capacity, enabling them to run more programs at once time. Don’t need a lot of Capacity? You can strip it down to 2 or 3 points for just the bare necessities… but the more you strip, the more vulnerable you will be, and the less you will be able to do.

High-end hacking machines may have two other built-in traits; Processor and Hardening. The average machine has enough processing to run its programs without noticeable delay; hackers can take hacking actions normally. High-end machines will have one to three levels of excess Processor, each of which eliminates one point of multi-action penalty; it won’t make you a better hacker, but it will make it easier to handle multiple programs at the same time. Processor ratings stack with the bonus from using a datajack, and from the Decker Professional Edge. Hardening is, as may be expected, additional Toughness for your computer’s system; while software can provide the equivalent of Armor, deflecting and mitigating software attacks, Hardening provides hardware blocks and redundancies that make your machine that much more resilient.

IC, IC, Baby

Of course, if deckers want to get in a place, someone wants to keep them out. While it’s possible to pay deckers to stay on defense 24/7, and larger corporations certainly do have someone on-line at all times, far more common guards are Intrusions Countermeasures, usually referred to as IC, or “ice”

IC are semi-autonomous programs designed to respond to attempts to interfere with the systems they guard. Present a valid User ID and passcode, and the IC is your doorman, welcoming you to the system. Fail to do so, and the IC is the bouncer whose job it is to kick you out.

At the most basic is White IC. White IC is a locked door; it will stop you from getting in without the key (or an axe), but, by itself, it cannot hurt you or your equipment. Passcodes (which might include the common password, gestures that must be made in the virtuality, or digital keys and checksums that are compared to a separate system) are the most common kind of White IC, and can be found on most every system. At the very worst, White IC will disable programs, scramble data, or dump you out of the Matrix.

Grey IC is a bit more nasty; it doesn’t just keep you out of a system, but it will attempt to affect your machine in return. Grey IC might slag your programs, cook your motherboard, or send your location to corporate security… all of which can be expensive, but none of which are immediately fatal.

Black IC is the hard stuff. Connect your brain to a computer, you see, and you’ve also connected a computer to your body. Now, normally, there are systems in place to prevent the computer from doing too much damage to your body, but Black IC hijacks those systems to specifically cause damage to the decker themselves. Fail against Grey IC, and you wake up with a headache, a broken deck, and a corp goon squad in your lap. Fail against Black IC, and you don’t wake up, having suffered a stroke, cardiac arrest, or massive cerebral hemorrhaging.


When a decker enters the Matrix, their location is indicated by a Persona. The Persona is a virtual representation of the decker’s consciousness, which is somewhat separated from the deck or commlink that holds their data. Wherever the persona goes, it borrows system resources to run its programs and pull its tricks, but it is still limited, in some ways, by the computer from which it comes.

Programs are like gear for personas, and may be represented as such. A not uncommon persona might look like an adventurer in the famous trideo program “Blood Throne of the Dragon Queen”; a fantasy warrior or wizard who produces tools, wands, or weapons from a bag, as needed. Or they may have “magical” tattoos which they touch to produce their programs… tattoos that shift and change as programs are loaded into active memory. The persona can be anything the user desires.

Programs function similarly to powers, working only in the electronic world. Unlike powers of magic or cybernetics, programs are either made or purchased; lots of deckers prefer to make their own programs, but that takes time, as well as numerous Hacking and Research rolls, and a few different computers to test them on. While any hacker can use any program, actually creating a program requires a rank equal to the program; you don’t write an effective Disguise program as a newbie. Others purchase their programs, either with cash or favors, and hope that whoever wrote the program knew what they were doing and didn’t work in a line or two of code that ensured the programs would not function against, say, Renraku systems.

Each program is rated in Load; how much active memory of the machine is required to run the program. The device’s total Capacity is a hard limit on how many programs a hacker can have active at once; with a Capacity 5 machine, you can run one 5 Load program, five 1 Load programs, or any other total that is no more than five. Note that storage memory is pretty close to free; you can have thirty programs in your deck, even if you can only load three of them at a time. Unloading a program is an action; loading a new one is a separate action.

There is an additional type of program, the Agent. Agents are semi-autonomous programs that can carry out many of the functions of a decker. Basic Agents can simply provide support for an active decker; running programs within their own frame to save the decker from needing to. More advanced agents can handle complex instructions, running multiple programs. These are sometimes known as a “Decker in a Box”, as they can replace a neophyte decker, provided there is someone with enough basic skill to enter the Matrix and load the Agent.

Programs function similarly to powers, though with some modifications. Their rank is only applicable for programming; anyone can purchase and use any program. Range within the Matrix is somewhat nebulous; you are near enough to affect each other, or not, Combat ranges are still listed in inches, and standard templates apply, though they do not represent any physical distance, merely perceptual distance. Programs also have standard durations, but can be renewed as a non-roll action at the end of every duration. Unlike powers, programs cannot have modifiers applied on the fly, though they can be purchased with modifiers included; the applicable modifiers will be noted with the program descriptions.

The default program is, effectively, White IC; it does not affect the underlying hardware, only active programs. More aggressive Deckers may load Grey or Black versions of these programs. Grey and Black versions of the programs are more complex, and carry 1 point of additional Load. Black versions only affect other deckers; the biofeedback they induce means nothing to a program.

Programs can be created with other standard power modifiers. Attack powers can be made armor piercing or have lingering damage effects; Black attack programs can have Fatigue modifiers. Programs can have Hinder but not Hurry effects. Range-enhanced and Selective programs can also be created, at the standard increase in Load.

Dismiss IC
Load: 3
Duration: Instant
Dismiss IC can starve IC, or someone else’s agent, of resources, and remove them from the system. Make a Hacking skill check against the target’s Spirit. Success means the target is Shaken, and each Raise causes a wound. If this Incapacitates the target, it is deactivated; it can be reloaded by an active decker, but will not return on its own. Dismiss IC only works on the local computer; it has no effect on programs loaded by deckers on their own devices.

Load: 2
Duration: 5
Barrier creates an impediment to movement within a system. Some versions of this program serve as a last-ditch defense for a decker’s machine, throwing up a Barrier when their own system is attacked. Others are more tactical, providing cover and battlefield control.


Load: 3

Duration: Instant

Blast is an attack program designed to deal with multiple IC programs at once. It defaults to a Medium Blast Template, and every target within suffers 2d6 damage, or 3d6 with a raise. The program might be designed with a Small Blast Template at the base load, a Large Blast Template at +1 Load, and base damage can be increase to 3d6 (4d6 with a raise) for +2 Load. This program can be programmed as Grey or Black, as well.

Bolt Load: 1
Duration: Instant
Bolt is the basic attack program, designed to disable programs, IC, and opposing deckers. The bolt inflicts 2d6 damage, or 3d6 with a raise; it is available in Grey and Black variations, and can be created to do more damage (3d6/4d6 on a raise) at +2 to load.

Load: 2
Duration: Instant
Burst is a damaging program, similar to Bolt and Blast, but making use of a Cone template. As with those spells, the base damage is 2d6, 3d6 with a raise, but more potent programs, with 3d6/4d6 damage carry +2 Load.

Load: 1
Duration: Until the end of the victim’s next turn
Confusion introduces anomalous commands and random lines of code that muddle responses and perceptions of the virtual world, resulting in the victim being both Distracted and Vulnerable if they fail a Smarts roll (at -2 with a raise on the Hacking roll). Both states are removed at the end of the victim’s next turn. For +2 Load, the program affects a Medium Blast Template; for +3, a Large Blast Template can be used.

Load: 3
Duration: 5
Deflection redirects attacks away from the decker. Some versions create illusionary doubles of the decker to distract offensive programs, or simply insert hostile code into the targeting routines. The end result is that it is more difficult to target the decker; 2 from Hacking rolls to do so, or 4 with a raise.

Load: 2
Duration: 5
Disguise is a terribly useful program that allows the decker to pretend to belong to a system. IC not directly interacted with will not notice the character; those interacted with must pass Notice checks (at -2, or -4 with a raise) to see through disguise. This does not allow access to secure locations and node without the proper passcodes; one must interact with IC to present those codes, or hack new ones; but it does allow a hacker to move through a system with less chance of random detection.

Load: 1
Duration: Instant
Dispel is a corrective program, affecting only the decker and his own machine, removing the effects of unwanted programs (such as Sloth or Confusion). It does not heal damage inflicted to the persona (from programs such as Bolt or Burst), but can be used to counter deleterious effects.

Load: 3
Duration: Instant
Healing only functions on damage to the persona; the digital avatar of the decker within the matrix. It will not heal damage caused by Grey IC (which is done to the device) or Black IC (which is done to the decker); it is solely to repair damage to the persona without requiring a log-out and reset. A success heals a Wound; a raise heals two.

Load: 5
Duration: 5
Disguise will make you hard to notice; Deflection will make you hard to hit. Invisibility does both, blending the persona into unremarkable local system traffic. This makes the persona extremely difficult to detect, unless they begin modifying things, and extremely difficult to target; rolls to target the decker are -4, or -6 with a raise.

Mind Wipe
Load: 3
Duration: Instant
Mind Wipe removes data and inactive programs from the system. Some deckers will use this to cause damage in systems they have penetrated, but it can also be used to suppress IC; IC and agents erased by Mind Wipe cannot be quickly reinitialized; they must be reloaded from off-site backups. It cannot be used against active IC programs, only to remove programs that are suppressed.

Load: 1
Duration: 5
Protection interferes with offensive programs, reducing the damage from cybercombat. A basic Protection program provides 2 points of Armor, or 4 points on a raise. More robust programs (+1 Load) provide 4 points of armor, or 6 points with a raise.

Load: 3
Duration: 5
Puppet is used to take control of physical devices attached to computer networks; doors, cameras, or robotic construction arms. Roll Hacking against the target’s firewall. With success, the machine obeys commands. Like Mind Wipe, it cannot be used against actively defended systems; one must suppress or circumvent the IC before devices attached can be puppeted.


Load: 2
Duration: 5
Sloth and Speed are two separate programs; Sloth floods the system with traffic, slowing legitimate traffic to a crawl. The targeted program slows to half speed; with a raise, movement becomes an action. Speed, on the other hand, doubles movement for the persona, while a raise will remove an additional 2 points of multi-action penalty.

Summon Agent
Load: Varies
Duration: Indefinite

Agents are semi-autonomous programs capable of acting on their own, within their parameters. They are seldom a match for a good decker, but can provide valuable support, or simple runs on their own. Agents have no set duration, but a decker can almost always dismiss their own agent if they are close enough to communicate.

Agents have Smarts and Spirit attributes beginning at d4, and skills of Hacking, Notice, and Stealth d4. Their Pace is equal to their Smarts die, and their Firewall is Hacking die, divided by 2, plus 2. It will do damage in cybercombat equal to its Smarts die. This basic agent can do very little, but has a Load of only 1.

More powerful agents carry comparatively more load. For 1 point of load, improve 1 attribute or 2 skills by 1 die code. They may be provided with armor at 1 point of load per 2 points of armor; agents do not have Hardening, which would add directly to Firewall for damage resistance calculations. Additionally, the agent can be created with programs at an increase of load equal to the program; a simple combat Agent might have a load of 2, being provided with basic attributes and a Bolt program. A more robust agent might be left to Puppet a node according to directions, beginning at 4 load (1 for a basic agent, 3 to incorporate Puppet). The default agent is the equivalent of White IC; they do damage to programs and personas only. More robust, Grey or Black-equivalent agents require an additional 1 load. Black-equivalent agents are only effective against deckers, not against programs.

There is no theoretical limit to how powerful an agent can be, but they are somewhat subject to Load. Once summoned and direction, an agent no longer contributes to a decker’s load; they are able to make use of system resources, like any other program does. This allows deckers to load some fairly powerful agents. However, until they are summoned, they do contribute to Load, so a decker may be forced to unload several other programs, summon an agent, then reload and re-initialize other programs, taking several actions… hard to do in a virtual firefight.

Cybercombat relies on the hacker’s Hacking skill, rolled against the program or system’s Firewall rating. When damage is inflicted, it is rolled against the system or program’s Firewall, modified by armor (provided by software) and Hardening (provided by hardware). In cybercombat, only AIs and other Hackers may be Wild Cards; IC and other programs never are.

Damage inflicted upon a hacker proceeds much as normal, but Wounds taken from White IC are removed as soon as the hacker logs off; wiping the damage that White IC inflicted is largely a matter of rebooting your deck, loading fresh copies of the program from storage, and shaking yourself off. A hacker Incapacitated by White IC suffers Dumpshock; they exit the Matrix Shaken, and with a level of fatigue. This is the default level of cybercombat programs.

Wounds taken from Grey IC do not disappear with a log off; they are inflicted to the hardware and software of the machine. Each wound must be repaired, using Repair and Electronics. Wounds left untreated will continue to affect the hacker so long as they use that machine, but there is no Golden Hour, at least. Each attempt requires one hour per wound level of the device. Devices Incapacitated by Grey IC are broken; with successful Repair and Electronics rolls, you may be able to recover data from the machine, but 2d6 points of programs will be unrecoverable. Dumpshock from Grey IC is even less gentle; hackers leave Shaken and Stunned, and with a level of fatigue.

Wounds taken from Black IC are inflicted to the meat body of the decker; hemorrhages, nosebleeds, even strokes or full-on cardiac arrest. Hackers Incapacitated by Black IC must make a vigor roll, as normal, but use the Injury Table below. Note that, unlike White and Grey IC, incapacitation by Black IC does not eject the character (and their deck) from the Matrix; the device is still sitting open, unless it is disconnected.

Roll (2d6) Wound
2 Brain Damage. Roll 1d6
1-3 Emotional imbalance. Acquire (or Increase) one of the following Hindrances: Jealous, Mean, Ruthless, Suspicious, Thin-Skinned
4-5 Blurred vision: Gain (or increase) the Bad Eyes (minor) hindrance
6 Spirit is reduced by 1 die type (min d4)

3-4 Coordination is shot; Agility is reduced by 1 die type (min d4)

5-9 Motor functions. Roll 1d6
1-2 Minor Stroke; Left or right leg becomes non-responsive, gaining the Slow (minor) hindrance, or increasing it to major if a leg is already injured.
3-4 Coordination is shot; Acquire Clumsy hindrance
5-6 Minor Stroke; Left or Right arm is unusable.

10-11 Stress and neurochemical shock results in chronic fatigue; gain the Anemic hindrance.

12 Brain damage. Roll 1d6
1-3 Cognitive change. Acquire (or increase) one of the following hindrances: Big Mouth, Cautious, Hesistant, Impulsive, Stubborn, Tongue-Tied
4-5 Hearing difficulty. Acquire (or increase) the Hard of Hearing Hindrance
6 Smarts is reduced by 1 die type (min d4)

New Professional Edge: Decker
Prerequisites: Smarts d6, Hacking d8
The fabled console cowboys of the Matrix, Deckers possess the tools and the talent to cut through systems and security. Deckers have +2 to Research rolls to find information in the Matrix. They also reduce multi-action penalties on Matrix actions by 2, which stacks with processing and the bonus from using a datajack. All deckers possess a datajack, with a range of Touch; this minor alteration does not count against their cybernetics limit.

Sunday, June 7, 2020

Han Solo, Jedi Knight

So, a year ago, I bought Amazing Tales to play with my kids, but never quite got around to it until today. My wife and daughter were taking naps, and the Boy wanted someone to play with, I broke out the book and set up a couple short games with him.

Now, bear in mind, he's 5. So, he doesn't read much, yet, though he's good with letters that aren't written in Daddy's horrible handwriting, and he's good with numbers, so Amazing Tales works great. Your character is defined by 4 skills, that you make up on the spot, to determine what you can do well. Roll a 3 or above and you succeed. I added the rule that you couldn't use the same skill twice in a row.

For example, in the first game, we played a bit of Beowulf (I have an adaptation I've been reading him since he was 2). His skills were "Great at fighting!" with a d12, "Lots of loyal knights!" with a d10, "A Big shield to protect everyone!" with a d8, and "Healing powers!" with a d6. The second, we played Peter Rabbit and the quest to get some rabbit tobacco without getting caught by Mr. McGregor or the cat. His skills were Running (d12), Hiding (d10), Digging (d8), and Climbing (d6) (I defined the skills, he did the numbers, this time).

After that, though, he wanted to tell the story. And he decided it would be about Jedi Knight Han Solo. My skills settled on "Lightsaber", "Blaster", "Awesome Ship", and "Force Powers", at d8, d10, d12, and d6, respectively. When it started, JKHS was fighting a bunch of stormtroopers and "Dark Vader". He was bit unimpressed by my favoring the blaster and the ship over cutting Darth Vader's head off with a lightsaber (he saw the Dark Side Cave scene in ESB and was obsessed with rewinding it and watching it again), and eventually wound up telling me what I was doing (which involved jumping down off the ship and cutting Darth Vader's Head off with a lightsaber) and letting me roll dice.

But my boy's first GMing experience happened on his 3rd game, when he was 5 years old, and it was a Star Wars game.