Supporting Cast

The Clanking Horror

by William H. Stoddard

Art by Dan Smith

Supporting Cast: The Clanking Horror

Edison the Mechanical Man

Appearance: Classic "mechanical man", 7'3", 651.55 lb, one camera eye, obviously artificial voice, hands with only two grippers.

ST: 14/16 (0 points) IQ: 9 (30 points) Speed: 4
DX: 10 (10 points) HT: 12/29 (0 points) Move: 4
Damage: 1d+1 thrust, 2d+2 swing
Armor: whole body DR 5, computer brain DR 5 additional, PD 3

Total cost: 75 points

Advantages: Robot model cost (20 points), Spontaneous sentience (19 points), Unusual Background: Artificial Being (10 points), Unusual Background: High Technology, TL7 (20 points)

Disadvantages: Low Empathy (-15), Sense of Duty: Dr. Tesla (-5 points), Social Stigma: nonhuman (-20 points)

Quirks: Curious about the world outside the laboratory (-1 point), Smells of internal combustion and machine oil (-1 point), Thinks his name is a compliment (-1 point)

Skills: Mechanic-6* (1 point), Electronics Operation-6* (1 point), Mathematics-13** (2 points), Research-10 (1 point), Administration-10 (1 point), Scrounging-11 (1 point), Stealth-9 (1 point), Masonry-6* (1 point)
(*Reduced by Bad Grip; **increased by Mathematical Ability.)

Character History

Edison was built in 1917 by Nikola Tesla. He was designed to do heavy lifting and general labor as one of Tesla's assistants, and he still fills that role in Tesla's laboratory. Tesla also hoped to market mechanical men as a source of cheap physical labor, combining nearly human versatility and self-direction with great strength and durability. However, the storm of public protest from labor leaders and many religions made the idea look like a poor risk to industrialists already unhappy over the high model cost. In fact, Congress considered outlawing the production of mechanical men entirely and was dissuaded mainly by the fear of foreign countries constructing armies of mechanical soldiers, carefully nursed by the Morgan Trust. A limited production run was tested in various specialized jobs, from rescue work in mines to military applications, but none of these applications brought Tesla the market he hoped for.

The name "Edison" was intended sarcastically; it amused Tesla to use his greatest rival's name for a huge ugly mechanical slave with poor coordination and not much more intelligence than a chimpanzee. It got him a lawsuit, but a narrow majority of the jury thought that the human Edison had grounds neither for an injunction requiring a new name nor for payment of damages.

Recently, however, Edison has undergone a startling change: whether because of Tesla's constant tinkering with his circuits or by some highly unlikely internal accident, he has gained sentience! Where his programming gave him a vocabulary of a few hundred words and phrases used in stereotyped combinations, he has begun to learn standard English, though still with a robotic accent. So far no one has noticed -- but all that's needed is obviously unpredictable behavior or a careful observer putting the clues together. Such behavior as looking at books or rearranging the parts bins can make it obvious if the players need the help.

Note that Edison is not called a "robot," as Karel Capek has not yet coined the word.

Campaign Role

Edison can appear as a character in a variety of TL6 campaigns: an Alternate Earths campaign set in Gernsback, any other retrotech campaign, a pulp or superheroic campaign, or even a Mage: The Ascension campaign with an emphasis on the Sons of Ether and other technomages. He could also play a role in a campaign set at TL7 or even later, carefully maintained by a foundation or university or living in society and working to upgrade his systems. Or perhaps he can find work -- his Eidetic Memory II and Lightning Calculation would make him a competent accountant.

In appearance Edison is frightening: over 7 feet tall, weighing over 600 pounds, and constantly emitting engine noise. His single camera eye and clumsy hands add to the image of the mechanical monster. The referee can play off this in a variety of ways, from having the player characters rescue him from a mob to having him really be a threat -- possibly the last thing most players will expect!

Less dramatically, Edison can simply be Dr. Tesla's assistant, a source of added atmosphere for the great man's workshop. Perhaps the characters can even be the first to realize that Edison is now conscious. Players who enjoy cerebral campaigns might be entertained by the legal proceedings to determine whether Edison has human rights -- or the religious debate over whether he has a soul. Or the characters may already know about Edison, having seen him in newsreels, either during his earlier period as an automaton or after his sentience has become public knowledge.

With a number of upgrades, Edison could be an interesting superhero, especially after Dr. Tesla's death leaves him unemployed. He fits the classic Brick profile fairly well, with high ST, hit points, and DR -- plus an intimidating outward appearance. If he isn't able to engage in actual combat, he could play a valuable role in rescue missions.

Finally, Edison can be used as a prototype for a "mechanical man" player character from his time period, either another of the same model or a new design approved by the referee.

Appendix: Design Specifications

To design a computer brain for Edison, we use the expanded range of TLs provided in GURPS Vehicles (2nd ed.). We decide that Edison's brain is a microframe with the Compact and Dedicated options, being dedicated specifically to running Edison's body and acting as a robot shop assistant. In addition, we invoke the unique genius of Dr. Tesla to say that he has two options that would not normally be available until TL 7: Genius and Robot Brain. With these features we have a basic model specification as follows:

Brain: Microframe brain with genius, compact, dedicated, and robot brain options. 100 lb, 2 cf, $168,000, 1 KW. Complexity 3. (-5 points)

This specification gives Edison DX 9, IQ 6. However, at some point in Edison's career, he spontaneously became sentient -- an incredibly improbable event for such a mechanism. At his awakening, he spontaneously restructured his programming to make more efficient use of his circuitry, making him Complexity 4, and giving him DX 10 and IQ 9. In the transition, he lost the disadvantages Cannot Learn, Reprogrammable Duty, and Slave Mentality, though he still has No Sense of Humor; thus the awakening costs 95 character points divided by 5, or 19 points.

Edison's sensory apparatus is relatively crude: television cameras are experimental and he only has one, and chemical sensors are unavailable. He communicates by voice only and has a distinctly artificial sound. This gives us the specifications

Sensors: Basic sensors with Low-Res Vision, One Eye, and No Sense of Smell/Taste. 2 lb, 0.04 cf, $16,000. (-45 points)

Communicators: Basic communicator, Disturbing Voice, No Jack, No Radio. 1.6 lb, 0.032 cf, $300. (-10 points)

Since Edison's primary function is heavy lifting and handling, he needs to be strong but not fast. We give him two arms and two legs. The specifications are:

Arm Motors: One arm motor ST 16: 4.8 lb, 0.096 cf, $4800, 0.08 KW. Second arm motor ST 16: 4.8 lb, 0.096 cf, $4800, 0.08 KW. Bad Grip. (-10 points)

Propulsion: Leg drivetrain 0.34 KW motive power: two motors each 13.6 lb, 0.272 cf, $2720, 0.17 KW.

Turning again to GURPS Vehicles for an expanded range of power plants, we decide that Edison's main power source is a TL6 standard gasoline engine, backed up by a small bank of lead-acid batteries. He has an internal fuel tank good for just over 59 hours of operation. The specifications are:

Power System: Standard gasoline engine with output 1.5 KW: 18 lb, 0.36 cf, $36, uses 0.0675 gallons/hour gasoline. Lead-acid batteries storing 1200 KWS: 30 lb, 0.15 cf, $15. Self-sealing fuel tank with capacity 4 gallons gasoline, fire on 10 or less: 12 lb, 0.60 cf, $16 (filled tank 24 lb, $6). Endurance 59.3 hours on power plant + 0.2 hours on energy bank. (20 points)

Now we need to design Edison's structure. This includes two arms, one head, two legs, and a main body.

Body Design: Houses the computer brain and power system, totaling 3.11 cf, plus partial rotation space of 0.02 cf for the head. Surface area 13 sf.

Head Design: Houses the sensors and communicators, totaling 0.072 cf, plus .128 cf empty space for a total of 0.2 cf. Surface area 2.5 sf.

Arm Design: Each arm houses an arm motor (0.96 cf). Surface area 6 sf. From GURPS Vehicles, reach 1 yd.

Leg Design: Each leg houses a leg motor (0.272 cf) plus 0.661 cf empty space for a total of 0.933 cf (30% of body volume). Surface area 6 cf.

Structure: Total surface area 39.5 sf. Heavy frame: 355.5 lb, $7900.

Hit Points: Body 29, head 8, each arm 36, each leg 18.

Armor: TL6 standard metal armor (weight estimated at 120% of TL7 armor from relative costs in GURPS Vehicles): DR 5, PD 3, LR 5, 59.25 lb, $1190. Computer brain has component armor: DR 5, 10 sf, 12.5 lb, $250. (25 points)

Surface Features: Sealed: $1580. (20 points)

Appearance: Unattractive. (-5 points)

Statistics: 627.55 lb (0.313775 tons) unfueled, 651.55 lb (0.325775 tons) fueled, 7.096 cf, 7 ft 3 in tall (inconvenient size, -10 points), $210,327. Body ST 14, arm ST 16 (60 points), DX 9 (-10 points), IQ 6 (-30 points), HT 12/29 (105 points). Ground speed 4 yd/sec (0 points). Cannot float (-5 points). LR 5. Point cost: 20, after division by 5 for nonhumanoid appearance.

Article publication date: April 16, 1999

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