GURPS Technomancer Designer's Notes

Designer's Notes: GURPS Technomancer

by David L. Pulver

Cover art by Alan Rabinowitz

If the radiance of a thousand suns would burst at once into the sky, that would be the splendor of the mighty one. I am become death, the shatterer of worlds.
-- Bhagavad-Gita, as quoted by Dr. Robert Oppenheimer upon witnessing Gadget, the first atom bomb, in 1945

The genesis of Technomancer was "Soulburner," a scenario that appeared in GURPS Time Travel Adventures (1992). "Soulburner" was set in an alternative Earth in which the first test detonation of the first atomic bomb in New Mexico caused a fundamental change in basic reality: magic worked. "Soulburner" sketched the outlines of the technomagical civilization that evolved from the 1950s to the present.

"Soulburner's" vision of fox girls with walkmages, magical defense contractors, Dupont Kevlar flying carpets, necronium bombs and undead snuff films seemed to hit a nerve, and over the years it remained one of the adventures that people meeting me at conventions liked to mention favorably. So, naturally, I thought of doing a sequel . . . an entire worldbook in that setting.

Do not meddle in the affairs of wizards for they are soggy and hard to light.
-- P.E.I. Bonewits, Real Magic

GURPS Technomancer Designer's Notes Technomancer is the old sf writer's game of alternate history. Change one thing, then follow the rules and see what happens. In this setting, the "rules" were GURPS Magic. Unlike many other roleplaying settings that mix magic and technology, I postulated magic would not remain an arcane force outside of the mainstream, but would rather be embraced by it. By treating magic as a new branch of physics, I may have lost some of the mystery, but I have always felt that this is an element that some game designers place too much attention on. In many real-world occult systems, magic follows well defined (if fictional) laws -- so why not make it that way in a game? In this particular respect, the mechanistic systems in GURPS Magic worked better than something like GURPS Voodoo would have, much as I admire that system.

Another issue I spent a lot of time on was the chronology. When I'm doing historicals, I tend to over-research, and get obsessive about details and interconnections. This is especially true with alternative history; many of the incidents in the timeline actually happened, but just in a different way. I can't really help it -- I went to graduate school to study military and medieval history before deciding to become a game designer. I tried to match technomagical progress with actual scientific discoveries (especially in particle physics and nuclear energy). Many of the unusual events are also parallels of real life occurrences, such as the fate of John Wayne . . . in both realities, he may have died fighting nuclear-spawned demons. Its just that in Technomancer, things are a lot more literal.

Technomancer Out-Takes

For once, I didn't end up chopping large chunks out of the finished draft at the last minute -- the manuscript that saw press is the book I wanted to write. I did come up with a few ideas that never made it into the first draft, though. Most of these were frenzied gun-bunny stuff that I decided was way too self-indulgent, such as extensive GURPS Vehicles statistics for the U.S. Army, Argentina and Russia's combat vehicles. (For example, I originally intended to drop a note that the USAF in this reality would use the B-70 Valkyrie.) There was also a lengthy write-up of the Seelie, until Sean Punch convinced me that it would be better to leave them a mystery. A few bits that I did regret dropping are described below, though.

Pet Warehouses

Many humane societies now place unwanted pets in suspended animation, stacking them in rented warehouses. This provides a low maintenance, low cost solution to the problem; if anyone wants them, they can be awakened. These are very creepy places to visit. In 1994, a New Jersey "pet freezer" was the scene of a tragedy when an unknown vandal cast an area-effect Drain Mana, awakening the animals within. Stacked six deep inside the warehouse, the seething mass of 2,000 cats and dogs died in agony. Due to the no mana area, the tragedy was not sensed by local diviners. Emergency teams were late in responding, and only two animals survived. In New Jersey, pet warehouses are now required to install sensors that alert the maintainers if the animals inadvertently awaken.

Necrotech Spirit Evacuator

This "spirit vacuum" is a powerful industrial-strength vacuum cleaner whose hose and bag are lined with ectoweave. The device is intended for use against skull-spirits and similar vaporous undead. The device is used as a ranged weapon. It has SS 4, Acc 1, 1/2D --, Max 2, RoF 1. If a skull-spirit is hit and fails to Dodge, it will be sucked into the device's bag and trapped.

Elemental Propellant Slugthrowers

These weapons resemble conventional pistols, rifles and machine guns. However, they use a binary elemental fusion action. Developed by Guy Gavriel Fawkes for Colt Firearms and later copied worldwide, these weapons imprison doped fire and water elementals within an ectite combustion chamber similar to that used in elemental engine power plants. Pulling the trigger allows the elementals to partially combine, resulting in a brief but powerful steam explosion that smoothly propels the bullet.

The primary advantage of elemental propulsion slugthrower (EPS) is reduced ammunition weight and volume as bullets do not require cartridges, allowing many more rounds to be packed into a magazine. Eventually the elementals will tire out and be unable to fire other bullets, but if the weapon is unused they will recover at a rate of one shot every 10 minutes.

Elemental slugthrowers have a few minor disadvantages. First, they are somewhat expensive. Second, they do not function in no-mana areas. Third, on any "firearm breaks" or "explodes" result on the Firearm Critical Miss table (3-4 and 16-18) the containment chamber fails, releasing a pair of angry elementals with ST = dice of damage weapon inflicts, HT 12 and DX and IQ 1.

Manufacture of elemental slugthrowers requires a wizard using Create Elemental to build the elementals within the ectite chamber, which is immediately sealed, imprisoning them. Two wizards will work on a production line, one creating fire and one water elementals; the chambers are joined together when the rest of the weapon is assembled.

Colt M-66, 5.56 X 25mm

The M66 was the first production EPS to be developed. It was designed in the early 1960s as a replacement for the M-14 rifle, after the DoD rejected the earlier AR-15. A revolutionary design using spell-age light alloys and manaplastics, the M-66's 125-round magazine and full automatic fire capability gave each soldier the firepower of a squad machine gun. The weapon can fire two magazines before the elementals are exhausted, but regains the ability to fire 25 shots for every 10 minutes that the weapon is unused. The EC chamber can be recharged more rapidly by using a Lend ST spell: each point of ST transferred to the weapon counts as ten minutes of recharging. Early M-66s gained a bad reputation due to problems with barrel overheating and cracks in the ectite chamber leading to hostile elemental escape but this was fixed in the A1 version. In 1970 the design had matured into a weapon that was very popular with the troops. (Some original M-66s can still be found, especially in markets in S.E. Asia. These have Malf 16.)

S&W M-7 9X9mm

The United States Army stuck with the venerable and reliable Colt M1911 through the Vietnam war, but in the 1980s embarked on a leisurely search for a replacement. Eventually they accepted the Smith & Wesson M-7, an elemental-powered version of an Austrian handgun, with a high-capacity 30-shot magazine. The M-7 has since been adopted by many North American police departments. The weapon can fire 420 rounds (14 magazines) before the elementals are exhausted, but regains the ability to fire 42 shots for every 10 minutes that the weapon is unused. The EC chamber can be recharged more rapidly by using a Lend ST spell: each point of ST transferred to the weapon counts as ten minutes of recharging.

Weapon      Malf Type   Damage   SS   Acc   1/2D   Max   Wt   RoF   Shots   ST   Rcl   Cost   Hld   TL  
Colt M-66 crit 5d 12 11 500 3,800 9 12* 125 9 -1 1,500 -6 7
S&W M-7 9X9mm    crit 2d+2 10 3 150 1,900 2.5 3~ 30 9 -1 1,000 0 7

M2-A3 Westmoreland

Entering U.S. service in 1982, the M2A3 was the first Magical Infantry Fighting Vehicle (MIFV) to be adopted by the U.S. Army replacing the earlier M-113 APC. It is designed to carry a squad of infantry into combat on the magical battlefield and support them with cannon and missile fire.

The Westy has an armored tracked body and a small weapons turret. Access is provided by two top hatches and a large rear ramp. The MIFV has a crew of three (commander/gunner, driver and wizzo) and carries a squad of eight infantry soldiers.

An M2A3 is armed with two turret-mounted weapons: a Manadynamics M456 "Godsfire" shaped-charge homing fireball wand and a more mundane Hughes 25mm "Bushmaster" automatic cannon (as 25mm chaingun, 400 rounds) with a mix of H.E. and spell-piercing depleted necronium warheads.

Electronics include a radio (30 mile range, scrambled) and GPS receiver. No night vision systems are provided, as it is assumed to be incorporated into crew helmets and goggles.

The most revolutionary aspect of the M2 is its 300-kW harmonic convertor mana-engine, which frees the vehicle from dependence on fuel. This vastly simplifies the logistics of supporting a mechanized infantry advance, as proven in the Desert Saber campaign where M2 battalions were able to advance nearly non-stop to Baghdad. An advanced battery stores 7,200 kWS (2 kWH) for use by mages.

The M2 has spawned a number of variants including ambulance, anti-aircraft, electronic warfare and command vehicles. Two of the most important of the many M2 variants are described below.

Cost: $460,000. Loaded Weight: 22 tons. Size Modifier: +4. Health: 12. PD/DR: 5/75 on front, 4/20 elsewhere. HP: Body 2,400, turret 150, tracks 750 each. Performance: Top Speed 45 mph. Acc: 3 mph/s. Dec: 20 mph/s. MR 0.25. SR: 6. End: unlimited.

M13 Gandalf

The M13 Gandalf is a Wizardly Combat Vehicle designed to provide mobility, protection and for five U.S. Army wizards in battlefield conditions. WCVs are designed to enable a circle of mages to coordinate their efforts. In the U.S. Army combat battalions one WCV is usually assigned to each tank or mechanized infantry company, with specialized all-WCV companies serving as brigade assets. WCVs are also used by wizards in Combat Engineering, Infowar and Meterological Warfare units.

An M13 uses the M2 chassis with these modifications:

1. The 12 cramped passenger seats are replaced by five standard crew stations arranged in a rough circle around 80 cf (about 1 hex) empty space.
2. A pentagram (1 hex, power 15) is inscribed there.
3. Infantry weapons lockers are replaced with cabinets for holding elixirs, spell components and personal magic items.
4. An A/SZ-84 Crystal Ball Display is installed so as to be accessible to the wizard crew stations.
5. An IBM-Manastar mini-computer (complexity 2, high- capacity, hardened, awakened).
6. Six computer terminals and five Virtual Reality helmets.

Statistics are broadly similar to the M2A3, but it costs about $720,000.

M777 Zeus OTAS

The M777 Zeus OTAS (Ordinance Teleportation Artillery System) is the US Army's primary magical bombardment system. It was adopted by the U.S. army in 1984 and is also used by several allied nations. The Zeus uses the M2 chassis with these modifications:

1. 11 of the 12 passenger seats are removed, replaced by a 220 cf cubic feet ammunition magazine.
2. The M456 Godsfire is removed, replaced with a Sephiroth M-101 EATR (Energy-Augmented Teleportation Rod). This consists of a wand connected by a heavy cable to the vehicle's auxiliary battery pack and turbine engine. The wand is enchanted with Teleport Other-18 and Draw Power-15 spells. Army doctrine treats the system as reliable out to about 99.99 miles, but it can reach more distant places at increased energy cost. This has led the Russians to try and categorize the OTAS as both a "strategic bombardment" and "ASAT" system and demand it be counted as such in SALT negotiations.
3. The commander's crystal ball also enchanted with Seek Machine, Seek Power, Seek Fuel and Seek Metal spells.
4. The vehicle is issued an M497 camouflage net (a camouflage net enchanted with Teleport Shield).

The Zeus is crewed by four people: a commander (who also operates the sensors), a driver, a 'porter and a loader. The gunner must be a mage, but no particular spells are needed. The loader's job is to locate the correct ordnance for the gunner and ensure it is properly fused prior to its teleportation.

The 'porter will usually teleport ordnance carried within the vehicle, locating a destination point with the aid of a forward observer or space platform transmitting a real-time TV or telepathic image to the gunner (for a -2 skill penalty). Of course, it can teleport munitions to points actually in line of sight with much greater accuracy, even teleporting ordnance inside an enemy vehicle or structure, but due to the expense of the system, doctrine is to fire from miles away if possible.

A very wide variety of ordnance can be delivered by the M101 since basically anything the gunner can point the wand at can be teleported, including objects outside the vehicle. (This can include hostiles if necessary). However, Zeus units normally rely on a mix of artillery bombs carried within the vehicle, including high explosive, cluster bombs, mines and skull-spirit warheads. Unlike a conventional artillery vehicle various bomb sizes are carried to trade power for range allowing servicing of a target with anything from a 10-pound explosive charge to a 500-lb. bomb.

Statistics of the Zeus are similar to the M2A3, but usual loaded weight is closer to 24 tons, and cost about $890,000.

Article publication date: June 4, 1999

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