Saturday, January 6, 2018

Fa-ther: What. Am. I???

art by me. click to enlarge

These creatures are unique results of technological innovation and are never fully understood, even by their creators. Though many appear human, they may be partially or wholly constructed of mechanical, biomimetic, cloned or artificially reanimated components. They encompass androids, cyborgs, vat-grown-creatures, frankenstein-like blasphemies and constructs from other worlds.

Design Notes: 

First, decide who created the artificial lifeform and why. Unlike alien lifeforms and many other monsters, these creatures were usually created for a reason. Offering the party avenues for discovering, exploring or exploiting that reason is often the most interesting way to address artificial life-forms if you’re looking to use them as more than just a one-off villain. The creature’s abilities will likely be built around that reason, the creature’s creators will be obsessed with that reason, the creature itself may even wonder about that reason. The adventure featuring an artificial lifeform is often about how society uses people (or animals) to accomplish that purpose in real life—for war, for money, for sex, for biomedical experiments—or, if the motive is simply to create life, about the grave responsibility inherent in bringing life into the world—the creature desires things, but has it been given the means to acquire them or has it been born a broken thing from the start?

If the reasons it’s alive aren’t horrible yet, move on to what it eats.

Another pre-eminent theme in any story involving artificials is a sort of bipolar effect—they are better then human in so many ways….and worse in so many others. As horror villains the easiest way to exploit this is to begin by unsettlingly demonstrate the many ways they’re superior, and then hint at the ways they are inferior, so players can discover them and bring the creature down. As PCs, the most effective way to use this is to simply bring it up a lot “As soon as she takes off her sunglasses, the clerk keeps darting looks over at Cathy’s eyes—they don’t catch the light the way he expects. You can tell he’s a little put off.”

Calm: 0-9
Agility: 0-6
Toughness: 0-6
Perception: 0-7
Appeal: 0-5
Cash: 0
Knowledge: 0-9

Calm Check: 6 (when it becomes clear they’re artificial)
Cards: The Wheel of Fortune (10), Possibly also The Hermit (9), The Lovers (6), Page of Swords (10), Page of Cups (10)

Possible Special Abilities:

Inorganic digestive/respiratory system: Constructs without ordinary lungs, stomachs or other organs will not breathe and will be immune to poison and other ordinary toxins.

Recall and Calculation: Undamaged constructs with cybernetic brains will retain the kinds of information that can be easily preserved in digital format and will be able to perform calculations like a computer.

Mutilated Life: The severed extremities of many forms of artificial life can continue to attack even when separated from the main body. These parts have -1 Agility and -3 Toughness. To keep life interesting, the Host should interpret any attack that could have reasonably severed a limb as having severed a limb until the combat gets too confusing to keep track of.

Other abilities: Artificial Lifeforms can have a variety of other abilities as the Host sees fit. For example, electronic terrors might have an ability like the Frenzied Process spel, biological mutants might be able to Warp Flesh or cause Mutation with a touch (see Supernatural Abilities section later in the library for these).

Possible Weaknesses:

Interpretive Disfunction: If the construct has an artificial mind its Knowledge score will reflect a high degree of recall and calculating ability, but many constructs lack the basic social experience to understand what pieces of observed information mean. They might, for example, not understand the difference between a child dragging a child-shaped doll behind it along the ground and a parent dragging a child along the ground. This is often what makes the creature a horror rather than just an interesting anomaly.

Power source: Artificial beings may not necessarily eat or breathe but they do need to run on something—electricity, photovoltaic cells, chemosynthesis, photosynthesis, nutrient slurry, etc. The power source may be external, internal or (as in the case of rechargeable batteries) both.

Short-circuit: Electronic artificials will generally be built water-tight but will take standard damage each round that liquid reaches their internal systems.

Processing damage: Any time an artificial with an electronic brain goes into negative health, they must make a Calm check vs the Intensity to avoid also losing a point of Calm. “Mental” disorders picked up by these artificials will be strange and repetitive.

Player Character Artificial Life

Problem-type player characters may elect to start the game as an experimental construct. In this case they may elect to trade any number of points of Appeal (they are often socially awkward or physically distorted, though PC artificials will appear basically human at the start) for any number of points to spend on Agility, Toughness or Perception up to the maximums above.

In addition, Artificial PCs conversant in the skills that created them (whether these are biochemical, mechanical, etc) may attempt to improve themselves during Downtime. To do so, the character cannot throw for a Downtime activity. Note many Downtime tables won’t work for certain kinds of artificials anyway.

To improve Agility, Toughness, Perception or Appeal, roll a d100 on the following table. A PC artificial can gain abilities up to the maximums above this way.

1-Disaster! Something disturbing has occurred. Lose 1 point in the characteristic you were attempting to improve and a point of Calm permanently. (Minimum 0.)

2-69 No results yet—try again later.

70-93 You realize this isn’t going to work early on in your modifications, choose an ordinary Downtime activity you can perform and roll there instead.

94-95 You can’t leave this half-done but you’re missing something important—lose one point of Cash and gain one point in the characteristic you’re attempting to improve. If your Cash is already zero you can’t make this modification until you get more Cash and are at -1 to the stat you were attempting to improve. If you do get more Cash the improvement is automatic at the next Downtime.

96-98 Gain a point in the characteristic you’re attempting to improve and make a Cash check vs a 4 or else lose a point of Cash. If your Cash is already zero and you lose Cash you can’t make this modification until you get more Cash, but if you do, it’s automatic at the next Downtime.

99-00 Gain a point in the characteristic you’re attempting to improve.
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