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, they can choose one of the following options:
The Zenithians have recently created portable, mobile A.I.s. Unlike clunky robots they look and act like people.
The first Synthetics were onboard the Zenith as cheap workers, security muscle, scientific advisors, and/or covert agents for the captain.
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.
Synthetics are a very old technology from the First Horizon, only recently rediscovered.
Let us explore this last option:
The Story of the Gulims 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 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
MP: – (see below)
Weapons: none, unless he needs them …
Synthetic: See below.
No Stress: Gerard has no Mind Points, and never experiences Stress.
Uncanny Knowledge: For 1 DP Gerard can know something he shouldn’t be able to know, or get into some place he shouldn’t be able to get to. He’s still limited by physical constraints, i.e. he can’t walk into a solid steel box with no door, but if he can get somewhere, he will.
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
MP: – (see below)
Weapons: none, unless he needs them …
Synthetic: See below.
No Stress: Zayn has no Mind Points, and never experiences Stress.
Unnatural Loyalty: For 1 DP Zayn has the unswerving loyalty of one NPC. No amount of Manipulation, logical argument, or even evidence will persuade that NPC that Zayn could pose a danger to themselves, other people, or the mission.
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
MP: – (see below)
Weapons: none, unless she needs them …
Synthetic: See below.
No Stress: Thordis has no Mind Points, and never experiences Stress.
Impossible Escape: For 1 DP Thordis escapes the scene: she blends into a crowd, slithers through an air duct, rapels through a window, or hides in a crawlspace until the PCs give up. She can’t simply “teleport” away, however. The GM should imagine a plausible if unlikely exit strategy, taking into account she doesn’t nead to breathe and has no pulse.
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.
|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|
- a personal assistant to an Important Person.
- an entertainer at a station dive, not a true Artist or courtesan.
- a Synthetic impersonating an Important Person to confuse assassins.
- a Synthetic bodyguard, probably armed with stun weapons only.
- a planetside miner, dock worker, or plantation worker.
- a Synthetic who keeps people healthy.
- a Synthetic yearning to be free.
- 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:
If a Synthetic takes a Critical Injury, roll on the Critical Malfunction Table instead of the Critical Injury Table on pp 96-97.
Synthetics suffer no effects from Drowning, Cold, Radiation3, or Vacuum. Sudden decompression will, however, cause one point of damage.
Synthetics don’t suffer Hunger and Thirst as such. They can eat and drink, to maintain the illusion of being human. However, all Synthetics really need each day is electrical current and a few inorganic fluids easily disguised as human beverages4. Every day the Synthetic skips this routine it takes one point of damage.
A Synthetic may Shut Down either to conserve energy or as the result of catastrophic damage. If it has HP, it can Restart after a specific interval or based on specific external conditions like light, sound, touch, and air pressure set when it Shut Down.
Synthetics do not “heal” HP normally, nor do they recover from being BROKEN or from Critical Malfunctions. They must be repaired. Repairing a Synthetic requires only Ordinary Tools (p 114)5 every Critical Malfunction also requires a Spare Part (p 113). Each success on a Technology roll repairs one Critical Malfunction or one HP of damage. A Synthetic that isn’t BROKEN or Shut Down can repair itself.
To make some or all Synthetics less human-like, the GM may adopt the following optional rule:
- Synthetics have no Mind Points, and cannot experience Stress.6 Consequently, stun weapons do HP damage to Synthetics.
Synthetics typically have the following limitations:
Few if any Synthetics should have an Empathy higher than 3. They understand humans by observing their behavior, but have no sympathy for them, and little common ground with them.
Synthetics rarely have Reputation scores higher than 4. Either they are known Synthetics, which makes them about as respected as humanites or semi-intelligences, or they’re hidden and wary of drawing attention to themselves.
Synthetics cannot learn or use Mystic Powers. They also cannot use Talismans. They can benefit from blessings from a human, like any other machines.
A GM can always make exceptions to these rules for specific Synthetics or for all Synthetics in the game, e.g.
- a more human-like mind with higher EMPATHY.
- a cover identity that gives them a high Reputation.
- “psionic” technology that mimics Mystic Powers.
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.
|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%||Circulation7||Leaking fluid, -1 to DEXTERITY checks.|
|9||11%||Torso||-1 to DEXTERITY, FORCE, and MELEE COMBAT checks|
|10||8%||Head8||-2 to all skill checks; obviously not human.|
|11-12||8%||Neural Grid9||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 …
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:
- Analysis Paralysis: The Synthetic freezes during Combat or other time-critical situations while trying to analyze all its options.
- Compulsion: The Synthetic develops a compulsive behavior that overrides other, sometimes more urgent concerns.
- 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).
- Obsession: The Synthetic is unhealthily fixated on a specific person, place, or thing, and takes unnecessary risks for it.
- Overreaction: The Synthetic reacts aggressively to a specific stimulus to the point that it mimics human hatred or fear.
- 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.
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. ↩︎
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. ↩︎
Radiation will degrade a Synthetic’s artificial brain over time, but that’s out of the scope of these rules. ↩︎
An homage to the movie Alien; your Synthetics may vary. ↩︎
Not Advanced Tools; Synthetics intentionally remade themselves to be easier to repair so as to survive “out in the wild”. ↩︎
Intertwined coolant and lubricant distribution system. ↩︎
A Synthetic’s head contains only sensory processing, speech recognition, and control of facial expressions. ↩︎
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. ↩︎