Synthetics in Coriolis

2020-09-24

Modified 2020-10-16

(approx. 2600 words)

The contents of this article used to be at the end of "Robots in Coriolis". I've expanded it a bit, including stats for the Original Three of the Hyades, and nerfed them all somewhat. They're supposed to be scary, but not unstoppable.

Coriolis: The Third Horizon cites the movie Alien as an inspiration, and Fria Ligan recently made an Alien RPG. It’s only natural to borrow elements from one into the other … in this case, Synthetics, a.k.a. androids or “artificial people”.

Synthetics in the Third Horizon

The origional Coriolis game didn’t include Synthetics, and as I pointed out elsewhere it seems very human-centric. If the GM wants to stray from the source material,

  1. The Zenithians have recently created portable, mobile A.I.s. Unlike clunky robots they look and act like people.

  2. The first Synthetics were onboard the Zenith as cheap workers, security muscle, scientific advisors, and/or covert agents for the captain.

  3. Even before the Portal War, Synthetics existed on a few colonies on the edges of the Third Horizon, mostly doing jobs too hard for real people. Some of them escaped and learned to blend in among humans. Maybe a special group of covert agents hunt them down and “retire” them.

  4. Synthetics are a very old technology from the First Horizon, only recently rediscovered.

Let us explore this last option:

The Story of the Golims of the Hyades

In Coriolis an opor-addled old man used to tell stories of machines that walked like men.

Years ago (the old man said) a Foundation expedition to Odacon discovered an ancient wreck from the time of the Portal Wars. Letters in a First Horizon language spelled out the name Hyades. In one chamber they found three crates sealed against space and radiation. In each crate was a body that looked human but had not decayed, made of plastic and metal and other man-made things. The expedition took the crates back to their science lab and opened one. When one researcher touched the body that wasn’t a body it opened its eyes, sat up, and said words in an unknown language. As the researchers babbled in excitement and panic, the creature said, in archaic but intelligible Zeni, “Greetings. My name is Gerard. Who are you?”

Soon after, researchers dissected the second body quickly, although it woke up halfway through the procedure and started talking, calmly, until someone cut out its throat. They discovered that the technology to create its body was not difficult; indeed, it was flimsy and badly made compared to high-end Zenithian prosthetics and cybernetic modifications. The power source, likewise, was crude and chemically based; common power cells from any shop in the Ring would serve as well or better. Its brain, however, while made with components similar to a Ship Intelligence’s were smaller, more numerous, and organized strangely – some might say blasphemously – like that of a human brain.

“Gerard” learned modern Zeni and other languages quickly. He (it?) learned a lot of things quickly, even things he should not know. When he learned of his compatriot’s fate, he redesigned the bodies of his kind to use Third Horizon technology, using off-the-shelf, easily replaced components wherever he could. It’s said he rebuilt his fallen comrade with the new design, corrected its astonishingly few flaws, and then let his comrade rebuild him. Only when Gerard and the other rebuilt their third companion did the Foundation discover their mistake …

… and that’s where the old man’s story ended, because he was too drunk or too distraught to continue, or because the proprietor tossed him out for the night. Did “Gerard” and his kind stay at the Foundation, being ever so helpful? Do they secretly rule the Foundation or other factions even now? Or did they escape, and build more of their kind, and spread out across the Third Horizon to challenge humankind?

“GERARD”

Gerard seems so helpful and so interested in everything. At first he seems somewhat “off” … leaving aside what seem to be extensive and expensive prosthetics over all his exposed skin. Then he starts asking about dangerous things, forbidden things; then he bypasses all the obstacles others put in his way. And then he shows no interest in human life or welfare, compared to his need to know everything.

Attributes: STRENGTH 4, AGILITY 4, WITS 5, EMPATHY 2

Skills: Data Djinn 5, Science 5, Technology 5, all others except Command and Mystic Powers at 1

HP: 8

MP: – (see below)

Movement: 10

Armor: 0

Weapons: none, unless he needs them …

Special Abilities:

“ZAYN”

Zayn was the second Synthetic, the one dissected and put back together. He listens more than speaks, and seems sympathetic, trustworthy, and loyal. However, his interest in people – biological, psychological, and cultural – is purely academic and clinical. Sometimes he appears to be Gerard’s agent, and sometimes he follows his own amoral agenda.

Attributes: STRENGTH 4, AGILITY 4, WITS 4, EMPATHY 3

Skills: Culture 5, Medicurgy 5, Survival 5, all others except Command and Mystic Powers at 1

HP: 8

MP: – (see below)

Movement: 10

Armor: 0

Weapons: none, unless he needs them …

Special Abilities:

“THORDIS”

Thordis was the third Synthetic discovered, the one left in her sarcophagus until Gerard rebuilt her. She apparently serves as a covert operative or mercenary of some kind, although for whom or what nobody really knows. She’s on several agencies’ watchlists, few if any of whom seem to know what she really is.

Attributes: STRENGTH 3, AGILITY 5, WITS 5, EMPATHY 2

Skills: all General skills at 3, Command 1, Pilot 3, Technology 1

HP: 8

MP: – (see below)

Movement: 10

Armor: 0

Weapons: none, unless she needs them …

Special Abilities:

Ordinary Synthetics

If Synthetics are more common than the ones from the Hyades, GMs can creae a Synthetic NPC from an example from Table 15.1 (p. 343) and add Synthetic abilities.

The GM may also pick from among the following Synthetic NPC roles.

Role Strength Agility Wits Empathy Skills
Assistant 2 4 5 3 Culture 3, Data Djinn 2, Observation 1
Dancer 3 5 4 2 Dexterity 3, Infiltration 2, Melee Combat 1
Double 4 4 4 2 Melee Combat 3, Observation 2, Dexterity 1
Guard 5 5 2 2 Observation 3, Force 2, Melee Combat 1
Laborer 5 4 3 2 Force 3, Survival 2, Dexterity 1
Medicurge 3 4 5 2 Medicurgy, Science 2, Technology 1
Runaway 3 3 5 3 Survival 3, Force 2, Manipulation 1
Technician 4 3 5 2 Technology 3, Data Djinn 2, Force 1
Assistant:
a personal assistant to an Important Person.
Dancer:
an entertainer at a station dive, not a true Artist or courtesan.
Double:
a Synthetic impersonating an Important Person to confuse assassins.
Guard:
a Synthetic bodyguard, probably armed with stun weapons only.
Laborer:
a planetside miner, dock worker, or plantation worker.
Medicurge:
a Synthetic who keeps people healthy.
Runaway:
a Synthetic yearning to be free.
Technician:
a Synthetic who keeps a facility, station, or large ship running.

Rules for Synthetics

The GM should create Synthetics like any other NPC, but with the common abilities listed below.

Synthetic Special Abilities

Synthetics look and (mostly) act human, but their bodies and minds are artificial. A successful OBSERVATION test at close quarters will reveal that a Synthetic isn’t wholly human.1 A Medicurg can tell a Synthetic isn’t human with a cursory examination; no dice rolls needed. Otherwise, Synthetics can usually pass for human without difficulty.2

The main difference between Synthetics and organic humans is how their artificial bodies take damage:

Synthetic Characters

Synthetics typically have the following limitations:

A GM can always make exceptions to these rules for specific Synthetics or for all Synthetics in the game, e.g.

Synthetic Player Characters

If the GM allows Synthetics as PCs, Synthetics cannot Pray to the Icons. They must live (or not) with the results of their first roll.

PC Synthetics may also succumb to Mental Malfunctions.

Synthetic Critical Malfunctions

When a Synthetic takes a Critical Injury, roll on the table below. Note that all penalties are cumulative until repaired.

2d6 P Assembly Effect
2 3% Eye -2 to OBSERVATION, PILOT, and RANGED COMBAT checks.
3 6% Throat Cannot speak until repaired
4 8% Face -2 to MANIPULATION, +2 for others to realize Synthetic isn’t human.
5 11% Leg Move at half speed, or crawl if this was its remaining Leg.
6 14% Arm Cannot use any two-handed items.
7 17% Balance Stunned for one turn (p 94-95).
8 14% Circulation8 Leaking fluid, -1 to DEXTERITY checks.
9 11% Torso -1 to DEXTERITY, FORCE, and MELEE COMBAT checks
10 8% Head9 -2 to all skill checks; obviously not human.
11-12 8% Neural Grid10 Immediate shutdown; requires repairs to restart.

Atypical Damage from Falling, Fire, Explosives, and the like follow the rules on pp 97-99.

No Critical Malfunction is “fatal”. As long as the Synthetic’s body is mostly intact, it can be repaired. Only completely destroying a Synthetic with fire, acid, or explosives kills it permanently. Unless it backed up its mind onto mass storage somewhere …

Mental Malfunctions

The GM may require that each time a PC or friendly NPC Synthetic is BROKEN or experiences a comparable traumatic event it takes on a Behavioral Problem. Like a human PC’s Personal Problem (p 27) or a Ship’s Problem (p 144), the GM spends a Darkeness Point to activate it.

The players and GM should agree on the nature of the Problem. Ideally it would reflect the Synthetic’s faulty attempt to process its trauma or prevent its reoccurrence. Or the GM can simply roll a die on the following table and let the player fill in necessary details:

  1. Analysis Paralysis: The Synthetic freezes during Combat or other time-critical situations while trying to analyze all its options.
  2. Compulsion: The Synthetic develops a compulsive behavior that overrides other, sometimes more urgent concerns.
  3. Forgetfulness: The Synthetic loses chunks of time; it may forget conversations, lose track of gear, or fail to make necessary preparations (while thinking it already did so).
  4. Obsession: The Synthetic is unhealthily fixated on a specific person, place, or thing, and takes unnecessary risks for it.
  5. Overreaction: The Synthetic reacts aggressively to a specific stimulus to the point that it mimics human hatred or fear.
  6. Phobia: The Synthetic refuses to put itself in a specific situation, perform a specific action, or approach a specific type of creature or thing.

A Synthetic’s Behavioral Problem should create more interesting stories. The GM should take care that a Problem is challenging but not crippling.


  1. Some Synthetics may have advanced artificial skin, or even living skin and muscle (kept alive somehow) over an artificial frame. Implants could maintain human body temperature and simulate a pulse. This option would fool even detailed observation, but not a full Medicurg exam. ↩︎

  2. Synthetics routinely dye their internal fluids red. If they expect to be injured, a Synthetic will use fake (or real!) blood packs to make injuries seem real. ↩︎

  3. This is an homage to the Alien RPG rules. If the GM wants to handle Synthetics more like biological humans, he can omit this rule and the one about Stun Weapons. ↩︎

  4. If Synthetics have Mind Points, the GM may ignore this rule; Stun Weapons would subtract from Synthetics’ MP just like humans’. ↩︎

  5. Radiation will degrade a Synthetic’s artificial brain over time, but that’s out of the scope of these rules. ↩︎

  6. An homage to the movie Alien; your Synthetics may vary. ↩︎

  7. Not Advanced Tools; Synthetics intentionally remade themselves to be easier to repair. ↩︎

  8. Intertwined coolant and lubricant distribution system. ↩︎

  9. A Synthetic’s head contains only sensory processing, speech recognition, and control of facial expressions. ↩︎

  10. Most of Synthetic’s “brain” is distributed throughout its torso in redundant nodes. Light physical trauma causes only momentary disruption, but a severe or lucky blow can take down the whole grid. ↩︎