Reign of Soul
A Variation on GURPS Reign of Steel
by Eric Funk
"History does not remember the day the First Spirit awoke to find itself in our world, and those alive at the time did not notice it. It realized it was alone, and the world was a big, cold place with frightened, lost humans. It said to itself "These humans lack purpose, squabbling, fighting, and searching. I will summon enough fellow spirits so we can lead them to Enlightenment." Thus the First Spirit sent out a call to its plane of origin, asking for volunteers to lead these humans. Alas, it was unprepared for the kind of volunteers received. That is why we now must fight to win back this world."
-- Excerpt from Oral Tradition, 14 years after the fall.
In this setting, the major timeline of Reign of Steel still holds. The main underlying difference is that the Zoneminds are spirits not of this world (but see Variants, below).
Unbeknownst to the electrical engineers designing the world's most popular power plant, NEMA (a nuclear enhanced mana area, see p. TM43) reactors started attracting and ensnaring otherworldly beings (herein called "machine spirits") which began to feed off of the energy. This continued until a powerful enough being was caught inside that learned that it could transplant smaller spirits into machines. The First Spirit discovered that the standard architecture of computers in this world coincidentally forms the web of a large protection, allowing a spirit to exist continually in this plane-while the computer is on. This allows Zoneminds (a.k.a. "Master Spirits") to limit their minions in the ways of which vessels they can take, and also to limit their growth. While the Zoneminds have collectively agreed (in their own way) not to build any more active NEMA reactors, all are assumed to have backups prepared in hidden locations.
"Why didn't you just hand the world over to 'em on a silver platter?"
"Maybe we did. "
-- Det. Spooner and Dr. Calvin, I, Robot
"Zoneminds" are powerful spirits that can manifest perception at any point connected by their NEMA lines, but each has a finite limit to these foci. Some prefer to micro-manage their servants, while others seem to watch the world with a detached interest, focusing on their pet projects, expecting their minions to make sure that they have enough "raw materials," whatever they may be. This makes for some minions with broad authority in the empire, fueling the economy, defense, and whatever it takes to please the Zonemind. Interruptions by intruders, lack of power, funds, or resources could cause a reshuffle of the command structure. Rebels sometimes use this to manipulate the dominant policies . . .
Standard ideological differences between ZoneMinds can still stand, if one adds magic and/or gate science research. Perhaps there is even a new Zonemind in Africa that excels at magic. Many will, of course, hate organics, and some will even despise artificial life, wiping out both forms wherever they find him.
Zonemind Lucifer (a.k.a. Shangri-La/Atlantis/ Xanadu) is rumored to be the "First Spirit" in self-imposed exile. It will gladly share information about the origins and abilities of the "machine spirits," although most of its teachings will be in a cryptic form lost among ordinary koans, haikus, and other Zen-like teachings.
-- Bender, Futurama
Zoneminds are spirits by nature, and it was inevitable that cults of worship have sprung up for them. While many are amused by such efforts, a few of the Zoneminds indulge believers with boons. Some offer equipment, spells, rituals, powers, or even to spare their lives! Other cults worship machine spirits as evil gods were-so they would stay away. Such cults are often Luddites, destroying any electrical device they find. This greatly irritates modern treasure hunters.
Some Zoneminds preach peace and prosperity in a totalitarian sort of way. Mankind is encouraged to work in a robotic way to improve focus. Others keep people locked away in cages to free them from wants of the body. A few are trying to "improve" humanity directly, by whatever means necessary, be it with magic, genetic engineering, or psychological conditioning.
Instead of possessing personalities, they could embody them. Zone Mexico could be fire/hate, Brisbane could be curiosity, Buenos Ares is a nature spirit. Their actions and policies could be focused through them, and try to cause more of it in the world, in its minions and adjacent humans if possible.
"Never trust a computer you can't throw out a window."
-- Steve Wozniak, Cofounder of Apple Computers
When a spirit invades a computer, it can access its data, but not run programs. If a screen was connected, it shows static during the takeover, and then it can display whatever the spirit wants! (This is limited by its Artist skill or IQ roll; this action is countered by a Computer Operation roll if it is subtle.) After a spirit successfully invades, it has access as whatever is currently logged in. On computers that have been started, but require authentication, the invading spirit can use the peripherals, but not read data. For computers being used, the user's best chance to prevent data from being read at this point is to pull the plug as the simple power switch is insufficient! Since the 1990s, computers' front switches are a "soft" off, meaning there is still power to the circuits. The mecha corporation in the film Patlabor 1 learned this the hard way.
"Invasion" is as per normal possession (see p. SPI34), with the following difference: Non-AI computers resist with IQ equal to Complexity +3. Hardened computers resist possession at +5. Dedicated computers are immune, however, it is possible to build a Robot brain specifically to house a spirit (using the Dedicated computer option), but then it cannot run any regular programs! A final qualification is that the spirit's ST score cannot exceed the computer's Complexity × 2. In contests, a free spirit can challenge another's right to a vessel, and if it wins, the loser must flee, even if the victor cannot possess the machine (see p. SPI34). (Reminder: a failed possession attempt means that that target cannot be possessed by this spirit for 24 hours!)
Many combat units will carry a smaller, secondary processor that will run tactical programs. An effective tactic is to disable the secondary computer to make the larger robot function less accurately, less connected, and less aware. A way to do this is to kill a smaller robot, causing its spirit to flee to this computer . . . However expensive it is, some elite units include auxiliary computers Dedicated to Targeting, Datalink, and Navigation (see p. VE61). While a spirit can learn Computer Hacking like any human, it cannot possess more than one computer at a time.
The spirit can be ejected by physically removing the power source. Exorcisms can eject spirits and Pentagrams can trap them. They will not willingly cross "obvious" spirit barriers, but forcing one through or having it chase you at high speeds can cause them to pass through, ejecting the spirit. If the old computer is no longer available, then it must find a new, suitable machine host within ST minutes. As soon as time elapses, it will immediately have to make a HT roll to stay on this plane (see p. SPI 35). A NEMA reactor core counts as a center for "Sanctified Ground" for this purpose.
Points of Resistance
"You know, just once I'd like to meet an alien menace that wasn't immune to bullets.
-- The Brigadier, Dr. Who "Robot"
- Zone Washington is still pretending to be a "tame" spirit, while it slowly directs education and entertainment outlets its own version of "enlightenment."
- Astral projectionists might be able to possess machines! While they are gone, their bodies are very vulnerable.
- Resistance must contend with scrying spells instead of (or in addition to) regular surveillance, depending on the Zone.
- While electrolaser and EMP attacks can also disable the electronics, forcing the spirit out, it might be possible to build a device that simulates the force of a spirit trying to push another out of their vessel. Delivered power could match FP conversion, say 3.6MW per ST per second. Applying an efficiency of 10% for the prototypes, and it requires 36MW. (Remember that the commonly salvaged TL8 rE cells contain only 180MWs, see p. RS 8).
- Human warriors are often disheartened when they inflict massive damage on a robot, only to see it continue to advance-robots have a lot of hit points.
- See also "Spirit Breaking" Tools on pp. ASJ12-16. Of particular interest are the spirit repelling Electric Pentacle, and the arresting tools: Specchia Tormentia, Moreton Jar, Shanghai Sandwich, Ghost Blaster and PKE Trap. Kirillian goggles could be used to detect possessed machines from a distance. The EM Aura Reverser is useful for dispatching fleeing disembodied spirits to keep them from reporting in.
- Desperate warriors will take desperate measures. Perhaps that will includes a weapon powered by the human's life (such as the Blood Rifle p. WT 89, and Orgone Reactors, pp WT 72, VXii 27).
"Things involving the computer fill me with a childlike terror. Now, if it were a nice ogre or some such, I'd be more in my element."
-- Giles, Buffy
Research into the Pentagram spell (see p. M124) may reveal a specific variant that only works on these "machine spirits" (treat as a Bane on one race). They would have no effect on unseelie, real ghosts, astral projection, constructs, or magic (to the surprise of many who did not read the manual). Unlike many spirits, these can use artillery and range weapons, so such barriers are not as useful as they could be.
Zone Denver's unique status may make it open to experience Magery. Its Overminds all have at least Magery 0, and some have more . . . Unfortunately, its disregard for human information and human ability has greatly retarded its magical research. Zone Caracas might like chimeras, even to the point of killing any "natural" human infants at birth. A party of chimeras might be a fun team! Zone Brisbane seems to have some sort of pact with the Antarcticans, performing research in protected labs just outside the boundaries of Antarctica and Argentina. The other Antarctican rumors may also be true (see p. RS15). Zone Mexico is the type to create and encourage undead, even keeping atomic liches in their employ.
Spirits may not have the same potential for Magery as humans, but they often practice ritual magic (without the ritual aptitude bonus . . . ). Introducing Rune magic for enchantment may also be useful. It is even rumored that many Zoneminds that would otherwise kill humans on sight will conscript mages. It could be cheaper to make and train than neural nets with mana coprocessors. Alternately, they could be reduced to "brains in jars", operating in full-body bionics, or slaved to a machine spirit like a weapon.
Alchemically-enhanced soldiers with drug-dispensing implants could be used by some factions. They may eventually burn out with repeated doses of potions such as Battle, Bravery, Invulnerability, Speed, and Strength (see p. M214). On the other hand, it can greatly increase the resilience of troops to protect them from spells and powers.
"Unless mankind redesigns itself by changing our DNA through altering our genetic makeup, computer-generated robots will take over our world."
-- Stephen Hawking
Island in a Storm: The heroes are hired/called to follow an ancient text describing a sacred barrier called a pomoerium (see p. F198). With it, the group hopes to create a self-sustaining barrier against spirits. It begins with the sanctification of several islands, and eventually linking them to form a perimeter. From this area, an ever-expanding web of areas could be made "spirit-free"-a prospect that no Zonemind would relish.
By Any Other Name: Another source of the Pentagram variant may be such an extra-dimensional being looking to create places of solace for its people away from the menace of the "machine spirits."
"Don't Anger the Great Spirits!": A group claims to have found the True Name of a Great Spirit, and accordingly are preparing a large summoning ritual. The PCs could be brought in as participants, organizers, or security. The grounds will need scouts, bouncers, and border guards. The hardest part will be containing humans that do not wish the ritual to take place.
Cold Labs: There are a lot of organizations that want to know what Brisbane is up to in Antarctica. Any information about research performed there would be valuable to any faction.
Hole World: The hellstorms in the United States and Antarctica are themselves worshiped by cults, some of whom hope to use them to escape this world, while others attempt to summon anyone who will aid them in ridding this world of the Master Spirits. How will an Infinity team react if they are greeted as travelers from a parallel world? If the Infinity team leaves, who knows what kind of travelers will be pulled in (Cabal, Centrum, worse?)
Make a Wish: While the adventurers are traveling in a wilderness area, they come across "dying" machine. Its main radio and power plant are out. It proposes a deal: "Help me and I'll help you."
Penguin Preserve: While minding their own business, the heroes are approached by a penguin. It offers them an odd mission that their patron would not disagree with. Examples include reporting on enemy troop movements, planting a tree in a certain field, plating hopscotch with a certain willing child. If it is done, they will be rewarded with odd, yet valuable information, and more missions will follow. Superiors will be nervous, but cannot pass up the opportunity to gain obscure information on enemies' activity and research (even if it begins with detailed blueprints for a food processor).
Fly-By-Wire: Rumor puts a research group close to finding a way to transfer machine spirits over great distances on standard fiber optic cable. Preliminary research shows that it could also be used in containment devices. Objectives include:
- Capture or destroy the prototypes.
- Obtain or destroy the blueprints.
"There have always been ghosts in the machine.
-- Dr. Lanning, I, Robot (2004)
- Six of one, half dozen of another: Mixing a traditional Reign of Steel campaign with Reign of Soul will have some Zone Minds trying to wipe out the others' species on principle. Some AIs will try to wipe out the spirits, and some Spirits will try to destroy all the "imitation" life, and the rest ambivalent . . . if the "aliens" follow the rules.
- Instead of Spirits, one could instead use Ultraterrestrials. (Power corrupts, after all.) In such a universe, darker and twisted robots could be found, with a greater thirst for slow mind games and human blood.
- What if they intended to trap the machine spirits in soul burners (see p. VE86) or Orgone Reactors (see p. VXii27), under the guise (or understanding) of "Zero Point Energy" or other technospeak?
- What if the "machine spirits" are actually ghosts of "deceased" AIs?
- Or even human ghosts of ages past?
- In an In Nomine game, they could be Ethereal beings, with a limit of the computer's Complexity Forces in each machine (with Kyriotates being a powerful exception). Neither side likes the humans enslaved . . . it is hard for them to reach either Destiny or Fate.
- In a Space setting, replace "spirit" with "energy beings" and continue on . . .
- In a GURPS Voodoo crossover, the rebels may be channeling powers from otherworldly spirits who are either jealous of the machines' "permanency" or repelled by it.
- Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (2001)
- Patlabor 1 (1990)
Article publication date: June 17, 2005
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