Designer's Notes: Transhuman Space Personnel Files

Presenting Options

by Phil Masters

The idea with Personnel Files is to help display choices. As it says in the book's introduction, Transhuman Space is a big, complicated setting, and creating PCs for it may seem a little bit like work to the newcomer. Hence, this is a book full of pregenerated PCs; they should, I hope, not only help those complete newbies, but also spark ideas for variant characters among slightly more experienced players, and give GMs not only instant NPCs, but also concepts for campaigns and scenarios. It's also got a bunch of standard AIs for use as "Programmed Allies," which should simplify the creation of well-rounded, properly equipped characters in another way. Transhuman Space is, after all, a setting in which such a PC can have an NPC implanted in his skull, and wear another as part of his costume.

Of course, one thing about PCs and a lot of NPCs is that they hunt in packs. Hence, I organized these ready-made characters into teams of three or four, of equal point values, with, I hope, interestingly complementary skills and personalities. Indeed, much of the initial planning stage of the process consisted of coming up with such teams -- which are, by the nature of things, themselves ideas for campaigns. Some were easy, and indeed fell out of earlier projects and books; as I created and detailed the "Vacuum Cleaners" for High Frontier, it was only natural for me to include a freelance Cleaner crew here. Others were essentially standard RPG campaign ideas; some people want to play tactical games with "combat specialist" characters, which in this setting translated to a mercenary squad working for Executive Decisions Incorporated. Still, I wanted and found room to be a little offbeat, too, from the business consultancy in Cape Town which is run by a 105-year-old woman and which doubles as a detective agency, to the trio of highly transhumanist 500 point infomorph/cybershell characters with their peculiar secrets and concerns.

But this book had a fixed length, and although that went from 32 to 48 pages in the course of early discussions, I could only include a fixed number of characters. This meant that there were a couple of ideas which I toyed with at one stage or another, but then rejected. As these are, I hope, nonetheless moderately interesting PC, NPC, or campaign concepts, I'll mention them here, for readers to adopt and adapt as they choose.

A Man. And His Dog. And Their Friends.

I came up with this idea as an answer to two questions. First, is it possible to have interesting, playable, adventurous 50 point PCs in the world of Transhuman Space? And second, given the peculiarities of the setting -- how many playable PCs can you fit into what looks like a single character picture?

Here's the back story. Joe M'Duro was born and brought up in a remote rural village in Africa. (Exactly where is left open -- Tanganyika or Uganda would be plausible.) His life changed when a South African named Steve Hollick, a very wealthy man by Joe's standards, bought land locally and built a house. It turned out that Hollick wanted someone to act as a security guard, and Joe -- bright, quite tough, and recommended as honest by his schoolteachers -- got the job. He was very pleased, even when it turned out that his duty was mainly to act as a partner to "Rolphie," an uplifted dog which Steve brought with him. Joe got on well with Rolphie, Hollick, and the AIs he also had to work with, although he never did really learn what Hollick was doing in the house. It was clear that the South African was a computer expert, but he didn't talk about his work.

But it did turn out that he was right to recruit security; his mistake was failing to recruit enough. Someone attacked the place out of the blue, in the middle of the night, and their first missile destroyed the guardhouse where Joe and Rolphie were on duty. Only sheer luck let the pair survive. When they recovered enough to crawl out from under the rubble a few minutes later, they found the main house obliterated and Steve Hollick dead.

However, Joe had a second stroke of luck, recovering a working (and powerful) DVI rig from the ruins, and locating one house system which could be briefly rebooted on battery power. "Gellert," the AI in Rolphie's implant, was able to talk Joe through the task of downloading APHRA-3, one of Hollick's personal AIs, into the wearable system. Now, he and his new friends are out for justice. Where this will take them, and how much trouble they're getting into, is up to the GM.

So there are, in fact, four characters here:

Joe M'Duro has a ST 11, DX 12, IQ 11, and HT 12. He has Struggling Wealth level (-10 points), a Sense of Duty to family and close friends (-5 points), an Obsession with identifying the people who killed Hollick and bringing them to some kind of justice (-10 points), and a couple of Quirks. This leaves him with around 17 points to buy skills such as Stealth, Beam Weapons (Electrolaser), Agronomy, Survival, Naturalist, and perhaps a very little Electronics Operation, and maybe one or two very minor Contacts or a Claim to Hospitality. He also has the electrolaser rifle and light armor which came with his old job.

Rolphie is an exceptionally large (and smart) K-10A Postcanine (p.TS118), with ST 12, DX 14, IQ 8, and HT 13. He's functionally Dead Broke, and with his racial package and a couple of quirks, he can afford 28 points in skills, including Brawling (i.e. close combat), Tracking, and Stealth, and a bit of Acting which lets him pass as a normal dog. His "racial" Sense of Duty is now focused on Joe as his "master."

Gellert is a full SAI-7; Rolphie is a big dog, and Hollick evidently found someone who managed to fit a Distributed VII with a sufficiently powerful computer in his body. (This may be a clue as to the sort of research which Hollick was pursuing.) However, it doesn't have known backup anywhere, so it lacks the standard Extra Life; on the other hand, its Reprogrammable Duty takes the "No Master" limitation, because its control codes are lost (so far as anyone knows -- of course, for this to be a valid disadvantage, the GM must be entitled to assume that they're on file somewhere). With a -5 point Sense of Duty to its close associates, a -10 point Secret (SAIs don't have citizenship in this part of the world, and it really shouldn't running around loose), and a couple of Quirks, it can afford 11 points in skills. Its original function was to help train Rolphie and then to provide him with a communications link to human beings and security systems, so appropriate options would include Teaching, Electronics Operation (Communications), and Diplomacy.

APHRA-3 (Automated Personal Heuristic Robotic Aide) is another SAI-7, running on a distributed virtual interface which Joe now wears. Like Gellert, it has "No Master" for its Reprogrammable Duty, and no Extra Life. As one of Hollick's personal research assistants, it actually has some idea what he was doing -- but for some reason, it isn't talking. On the other hand, it seems just as dedicated as Joe to tracking down the cause of its creator's death. Unfortunately, it seems totally unaccustomed to life outside the laboratory, and handles some social interactions rather ineptly, while failing to recognize its own limitations. It has Overconfidence (-10 points), Mild Shyness (-5 points), an Obsession worth -10 points, a Secret (actually a whole bundle of interrelated secrets) worth -20 points, and a couple of Quirks. This leaves it with 31 points to spend on skills such as Research, Artificial Intelligence, Electronics Operation (Computers), and Computer Programming.

Barrier Reef Recalled

This second unrealized idea partly developed from a mental flashback to a fairly obscure Australian children's TV series which showed up on British television many years ago. Funnily enough, I wasn't even that big a fan, but something evidently stuck. Unfortunately, space concerns with this book aside, the whole thing is something which probably ought to wait for the upcoming Blue Shadow, which is still being written (by somebody else) as I'm writing this. It also really needs a complete vehicle design, and possibly a new or modified cybershell, which would have complicated things further, and the general character background might have come a little too close to the team of U.S. Marshals on Mars which I did use. Still, it ought to be viable.

The idea was to explore the possibilities for sea-going adventures in the setting by coming up with a complete (nautical) ship's crew. As these people needed to have an excuse to be wandering round a lot, the logical plan seemed to be to make them oceanographers or similar scientists; to get them into adventures, I was thinking of giving them some kind of quasi-official status or government backing. With Elandra as a possible recurring location, the recollection of that TV series swirling round my mind, and me being a sucker for the picturesque glamour of a part of the world where I've never even been, the obvious location for their operations was the east coast of Australia, and especially the Great Barrier Reef. It's a sunny sort of area, I'm told, but those who want something dark in their scenarios could incorporate ecological threats to the Reef itself (I'm assuming that it survives to 2100, albeit probably with much human help and in a damaged and depleted state), or shady corporate dealings with GenTech Pacifica (p.TS94-5), who do look to have an almost cyberpunk manipulativeness.

So what about the ship itself, and its crew? Well, a combination of energy efficiency and sheer darn cool demands that the vessel be fitted with a full set of sails, although there's no need to make it low-tech; it can also have a state of the art hull, auxiliary engines, and enough scientific equipment to keep any techie happy. In fact, it can be run by an onboard computer, with an AI which then might as well be one of the PCs. A sailing ship which can be run by an AI is either going to need a lot of automated systems and some robot arms, or a lot of small free-roaming teleoperated cybershells, probably on the ever-popular "spider" pattern, and quite likely both, but there's plenty of ways of doing that in game terms.

As for the (more or less) human crew, which could reasonably number three -- well, we need an experienced marine scientist and competent sailor as the skipper, an Aquamorph parahuman for underwater operations and general variety, and, say, someone young and dynamic to play the "action hero" role, with practical maritime skills to assist in sailing the vessel, enough scientific knowledge not to look like an idiot when the technical stuff proves important, and probably the best physical stats and some combat skills.

I didn't take this one much beyond that, but looking at it, it could set a pattern for "specialist" teams in any environment in Transhuman Space, and in fact it may be close in pattern to the Vacuum Cleaner crew I did put in the book -- an AI running the vessel, a commander figure, someone genetically adapted to the specific environment, and a "competent everyman" crew member to round off the group. But then, the objective of the book was as much to spark ideas as to provide specific details -- and I hope it can do both.

Article publication date: November 29, 2002

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