The Universal Breakdown Manual for GURPS
or, "What's in a Machine?"
by Eric Funk
"The universe is made of stories, not atoms."
-- Muriel Rukeyser
GM: "Ok, your tank is hit; 700 points of damage get through armor, and you must make a Hazard Control Roll at -6."
GM: "After the hit rocks the ship, your distraught chief engineer calls the bridge, 'Captain, that last hit damaged the engines; we lost our main plasma regulator pump. Until we can replace it, I can only promise you 50% power.' "
* * *
Do either of these situations sound familiar? The first example is concise, and perhaps a little too informative. Unless it directly affects the PC via a neural link, that character will probably not be in a position to know all the details about damage to the vehicle. "Minor damage" to a vehicle may mean that only the cooling system is damaged, so there's no immediate threat (from inside). An attack that barely penetrates armor might only knock out some backup systems, not impairing any functions -- for the time being.
Every component of a vehicle ceases to function at some point or another. Weapons fire can hit sensitive equipment. Bugs and inconsistencies in maintenance, scheduling, and operation software can run a part out of factory specs. Good old carelessness and neglect can just as easily push parts to a premature old age. Radiation and bombardment by solar and atmospheric winds and waves will eat through anything, given time. Reckless piloting and battle damage can overload even the best self-regenerating components.
Now that the heroes broke something, the real adventure begins: finding a replacement (which is easier than repairing it . . . usually).
A Place for Everything
"We adore chaos because we love to produce order."
-- M.C. Escher
From Steampunk submarines and modern automobiles to starships, engineers, mechanics, and scroungers will encounter a myriad of components with brand names, popular names, and slang attached to them. Every vehicle moves different substances around within itself to function and/or provide environmental control for its occupants. One will find examples of all combinations of tables "B," "C," and "D" within a modern automobile (with the noted exception of table item B6!). The point of all this is to be able to provide the GM with ideas of components so they can better be described to players, and to get them more involved in the game.
When a part is damaged, roll on Table A to determine what grade of component it was. Roll once each on tables B, C, And D to determine the exact nature of the part that must be replaced or repaired. Each result carries a modifier to the Scrounging skill, except Table A. Its modifier is handled by the Size of the component (see below for details).
Table A: Importance (roll 1d)
Backup/Reserve: Tiny units that you hope you never need. Perhaps 10-25% of full capacity.
Secondary/Auxiliary: Small units that may have 33-50% of normal capacity.
Primary/Main: Your front line units, what you depend on.
Table B: Scrounging Modifier from Component Examples (roll 1d)
Harmless Gas Low pressure air, perhaps with harmless particles suspended (dust)
Harmless Liquid Low-pressure water, waste or midly toxic coolant like windshield wiper fluid
Moderately Dangerous Liquid High-pressure Water, Toxic Coolant
Moderately Dangrous Gas Hard Vacuum, or high-pressure (invisible) CO, CO2
Flammable Liquid Hydrogen Gas/Liquid, Gasoline, Liquid Propellant
Burning Corrosive Plasma, High-pressure Steam, radiation/Iodine Gas
Table C: Scrounging Modifier from Purpose (roll 2d)
Table D: Scrounging Modifier from Component
For those who claim to have a vehicle with no moving parts, this alternate "Table B" for particle-based components may better suit the situation:
Alternate Table B: Scrounging Modifier from (Sub-)Atomic Particulate Component Examples
Antiparticle (or other exotic)
These tables are arranged in order of complexity/size so that one could more easily estimate a price and rarity for a replacement. A suitable/compatible replacement "small air drain pipe" is logically simpler to find than a "large plasma processing pump."
"To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk."
-- Thomas Edison
The Scrounging skill (p. B67) will still be invaluable in finding these components. Subtract the part's Size Modifier from the total Scrounging Modifier, and modify this by the City Job Modifier (p. B195) to represent the chance of the part being available, or easily manufactured. If you really want to find it (and you don't mind the publicity), the advertising rules could also apply. Finally, apply cross-TL Penalties (p. B185) to find parts relative to the dominant TL in your area; finding a TL8 watch battery in a TL5 African village is near impossible, while finding a Model T (TL6) engine is just hard in a TL10 world. After all the knowns are tallied, the GM may add additional penalties or bonuses if the part itself is rare in this area (such as trying to find British auto parts in Japan).
Example 1: The Waddling Duck, a large 18-wheeler, has lost its Primary Vacuum Retarder Sensor (Emissions sensor) near a small city of 50,000 people. The GM rules that the part is between 0.3 and 1 cf (Size Mod -2). On his own, the driver would have a -2 (main) -2 (vacuum) +0 (Retarder) +1 (Sensor) +2 (small city) -(-2) (part size) for a total of +1 bonus to the Scrounging Roll.
Example 2: The One-Winged Angel, a delta-wing rocket glider built in someone's backyard was being tested. During the test, a secondary Proton (-7) Expansion (-2) Regulator (-2) was irrevocably damaged. Fortunately, this is a small part (Size Mod -2, which becomes a +2 bonus), and the yard is next to a major city (+3), for a net -6 to Scrounging rolls.
This is all scaled for a private civilian trying to access possibly dangerous technology. For individuals who are part of corporations or military units using official channels, the hunter must roll against his Administration skill, with a bonus equal to his Administration (or Military) Rank. A "professional" scrounger will then use his own Scrounging roll, modified by the Administration success and the perceived need of the part. Signatures from higher-ups can act as increased "Money Offered" (p. B195) (with a bonus equal to the difference in Rank over the supplicant's); this increases the amount of money actually paid for the item accordingly. Other methods for requisitioning goods in military are described in sidebars of p. SO 94-97, such as obtaining cash vouchers and using Patrons. These rules could just as easily apply to large organizations, which may (or may not!) have their own private security force(s).
Scrounging is the skill of locating items, and it is then up to one's Merchant, Thief, or Administration (in the case of a hierarchial organization) skills to acquire it. Once a component is located, a successful Engineer or Mechanic Skill Roll (of the appropriate Speciality) is required to assess the current quality of the item (assuming this is not a mail-order outlet). The local value of a component increases with the size and complexity (e.g. higher table numbers) but decreases the more common an item is, and also decreases with a higher bulk demand (because of greater mass production). To perform the actual maintenance or repairs, see p. VE146-147.
"I have this terrible pain in all the diodes down my left side."
--Marvin the paranoid android
Ruggedized components (p. VE12 and p. VE27) enjoy a 100% increase in hit points (p. VE 183) at the cost of a 50% increase in volume, mass, and cost (see the Links at the end of this article for a good metric to account for Starship Redundancy). They also can resist shutting down when the section of the vehicle they are in takes damage. Instead of a raw 50% price, volume, and mass increase with no performance change but durability, an alternate viewpoint (that expands on the text on p. VE12) suggests that the "ruggedized unit" now consists of
- The original main unit (100% original size)
- A ~50% full capacity secondary unit
- A ~20% full capacity backup unit
All three of these items fit within the new "ruggedized" volume (which is 150% of the original component's volume). The 20% overlap consists of mutual access space, and control, bypass, and I/O lines that cannot be used simultaneously.
The end result is that you have two fallback measures with enough power to keep going in different levels of emergency. If the damage was inflicted by a precision shot (kinetic, impaling beam), a generous GM could roll d6 and refer to the table.
Hitting Subcomponents (roll 1d)
Fraction of normal HP
Avg Relative Size Mod
How Not To Put Out A Fire
"The difference between a violin and a viola is that a viola burns longer."
-- Victor Borge
Once a component is damaged, it may catch on fire (p. VE184-185). It may spread the damage over to nearby parts if the fire is not contained properly. Electrical fires (from overloads) should only be extinguished with inert gas or dry chemicals. Ordinary fires (wood, paper, cloth) should be stopped with only foam, water, and dry chemicals. Flammable liquids can be extinguished by any of the above except water, which helps spread the fire. As described on p. VE185, the fire extinguishers all seem to use inert gas except for the TL6 "Fire Extinguisher System."
There are a couple of concerns that must be addressed with respect to the different fire suppression systems. The first is that if a system uses anything other than inert gas (CO2, halon) there is a mess to clean up that may interfere with equipment and create navigation/work hazards. The second is that if an inert gas system is used sufficiently to quench a fire, then it has replaced all the oxygen in that area. This means that any air-burning device (or life form) in the immediate area will choke. Both will Suffocate (p. B122) until the air can be replaced (from seconds to minutes). A major part will have the same HT the vehicle/structure it is in; the GM may simply set its HT equal to the element's TL or the vehicle's HT. (For more details, see Breath Control on p. B49 and p. B91. For specific effects of a CO2 overdose, see p.CII 136.) Air-breathing components will keep running until they "choke," and then just stop working instead of taking damage. Safety provisions could be put in place to prevent the suffocation of crew members in the area. On the other hand, if there is a crew member in the area, and that prevents an extinguisher from activating, the fire will continue to burn unhindered. This is yet another reason why many starship crews don space suits and depressurize the ship at the first sign of combat.
"It's time to start living the life you've imagined."
-- Henry James
- Parts as MacGuffins:
- They walk into the office of a business associate as per their appointment and find them dead, holding a _______.
- The party is hired to haul/protect a cargo consisting of a box/single huge/small ______. They may have unusual storage requirements, such as in a sealed vacuum, flooded with Xenon gas, or the like. Naturally the container will be damaged somehow. A flaw in the metal will run because of the vehicle's vibrations.
- The heroes have a shipping contract, as above, but the components are hollow and contain minimal life support for the expected duration of the voyage, plus 10%. The stowaways could be spies, illegal immigrants, or eco-lovers, or some combination thereof. Unusual delays at departure will force the time to run out, and they will be forced to emerge. All will probably offer a handsome sum (or whatever they have on hand) to keep quiet if discovered. What happens next is up to the crew's reactions.
- As above, but the constituent contains mold, fungus, harmful bacteria, viruses that eat only copper or silicon. Perhaps a treasure map or critters are found within, or perhaps worst of all, a court summons for the crew.
- The PCs order a component as part of their routine, but instead, they get an _______. They must put off replacing an aging/damaged part until a new one can be returned. Depending on the company, they may not accept a return if someone signed for the delivery!
- A "compatible" third-party component isn't quite as compatible as the manual would suggest. Of course this is not apparent until the part is under stress . . .
- After a minor emergency ends, an old fire extinguisher was used, and it discharged some chemical agent that is reacting with old chemical residue from a cleaner, creating an acid, perhaps unnoticed until something fails.
- New "global" emissions standards were released quietly some time ago, and the deadline is only making news because at the last moment because the ruling authority increased fines for non-compliance to exorbitant heights (rumors may fly as to why, where the money is going, and the interrelations). Most the large corporations have upgraded already, but others are lagging. The adventurers are either hired to refit a corporate "fleet"/building or must themselves upgrade. The focus can be on acquisition of the "environmentally friendly" part that now is in extreme demand, the act of replacing the device itself (perhaps the location is in the middle of an industrial park or city and the owners aren't well liked), or even the disposal of the old parts (perhaps they have noxious, toxic, or even radioactive residue).
- As above, but it's a factory recall instead. Customs agents will enjoy people trying to ship large and/or radioactive parts back to the manufacturer to refund.
Other Suggestions for Integration
Old and unusual auto parts can make good props. The Internet is an excellent resource to find auto enthusiasts who enjoy documenting each "superior" part of their vehicles. See the Links section below for one.
"Everything you can imagine is real."
-- Pablo Picasso
Useful Pyramid Articles
- "Appendix Z: Starship Troubles" by David Morgan-Mar -- For starship quirks
- "Appendix Z: What's Wrong With It?" by Matt Riggsby -- For component quirks
- "Care and Feeding of Big Rubber Monsters" by John Karakash -- How to control critters
- "Appendix Z: Red Tape Triumphant" by Michele Armellini -- How to wrap the party in red tape
- "GURPS Magic Tech" and "More Tech Magic" by John Ross
Useful Journal of the Traveller's Aid Society Articles
- "Three Well-Described Infestations" by Amanda Dickerson
- How to design ships with different levels of Redundancy" by John Grigni
- The Advantages And Disadvantages Of A Ship: Ship Patron" by Tom Bont
A good article describing contemporary spacecraft systems and subsystems can be found at the University of Texas Space Grant website -- http://www.tsgc.utexas.edu/archive/subsystems/. Here one can peruse the dozen or so main systems and their subsystems and requirements. Of particular relevance to this article are those of the thermal and life support systems.
Fire Safety is important. -- http://nh.essortment.com/firesafety_pyh.htm
There are many chemicals used to fight modern fires. Here are just a few examples -- http://www.tagalder.com/tagi-fireequip.htm
Images of automotive parts -- http://www.carcentral.net/
Article publication date: January 16, 2004
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