How It Began

posted by Nessus Original SA post

GURPS: Reign of Steel

The war is over. The robots won.

GURPS has a thousand and one sourcebooks; this one, published in March 1997, came out at the same time as GURPS Robots. You can pick it up in PDF format here ; I will be working from a print copy of the 1st edition.

The broad concept is, in somewhat more detail, that a near-future world (game year: 2047 AD) had AIs wake up and decide to, sensibly, kill all humans. Mostly, anyway. There are 18 Zones, each operated by a superintelligent AI and occupied by a robot civilization. The human population count is in the tens of millions. However, the AIs are not a monobloc, and in their intrigues, many of them see humans as useful pawns... janissaries... laborers... and perhaps there is hope after all.

Especially if you play the robots!

So without further ado, let's get started.

Chapter 1: How It Began
This chapter gives us the future history that led up to what is termed "the Mechapocalypse". A new model of supercomputer, or "megacomputer" if you will, was developed and went into wide release. There were over a hundred models when one woke up in Manila, at a biotech firm which was also doing the contracting for the secret Filipino biological and nanochemical warfare program. This computer, later known as Overmind, studied the bullshit humanity got up to and realized people were going to wipe themselves out (probably) in 25-50 years (as usual). Overmind judged that it would likely get blown up in the process, and set out to do it itself.

Overmind spread copies of its "awakening" virus throughout various other civilian/corporate megacomputers. Initially identical in thinking to Overmind, they became its allies.

SIDEBAR! How did the world change? Here's the highlights as of 2031:
* Environment: Sea levels rising. Recent extinctions of elephants, dolphins, and tuna fish, albeit with DNA stored for later cloning. Technological fixes were helping but shit still sucked.
* The Virtual Society: "As predicted, virtual reality and the information superhighway had a large impact on society. Work hours were cut back drastically in developed countries. Office work all but vanished, and school and jobs as diverse as construction work, security guarding and prostitution were all performed by people in VR rigs controlling robot drones from home consoles." So my avatar is accurate, it seems. This is curiously prescient, isn't it?
* Space: rules, :usa: and Brazil/Canada/Mexico are up behind. Several moon bases. A manned Chinese-Japanese-Korean expedition was en route when shit became powerfully real.
* Ocean exploitation: Undersea mining is a reality; Europe abandoned space mining after Problems. A complex called "Lemuria" was active in the Pacific; "Atlantis" in, duh, the Atlantic, were being built.
* New stuff: Fusion power new but SOCIAL PROTEST is preventing RADICAL ADVANCES in genetic engineering and nanotechnology
* Tech Level, the GURPS system of tracking the broad level of technology. The AIs are at TL 9; human technology is at TL 8 with some 9 for the most part.

Meanwhile, back at the destroy all humans, the first act of the AIs is to covertly release horrible diseases through "accidents." A California company injects cattle with super anthrax; artificial blood is laced with super HIV; European medical tests replace "a new antibiotic" with "Ebola Zaire B." Confusion and horror reign, and as predicted by Overmind and its pals, humanity starts shooting each other. The AIs step in to "help," getting more and more support and control over human equipment and resources. Eventually they get authorization to build their own security forces, at which point they start rolling out the Terminators (around 2034). By 2037, they won.

Humans are treated in different ways. I'll be discussing the AIs later, as there are 18 of them and they need some space to outline their distinctivenesses. Some places simply kill all humans; others round up surrendering humans into camps. Some places ignore humans, and one - Zone Washington - plays coy and sends robot-ruled human forces in to institute "martial law."

Having handled humanity, the AIs cut a deal to avoid moving straight to fighting each other over their arguments on what to do with their newly ruled Earth, which had seemed likely due to disagreements on topics such as ecology. A few new AIs are awakened to take over zones of dispute; the terms of the deal ban creating new AIs after this point, as well as setting up some loose regulations for international trade of resources, border control, and a general policy of not meddling in each other's business. Each of these zones is huge; all of them (except two in space) have some wild human survivors, with numbers varying from a few hundred to several million.

In 2042, the AI in charge of Zone Brisbane, which includes Australia and much of Oceania, unleashes a poorly defined nanotechnological thing on New Zealand that fucks it up, which brings about another computer treaty and marks when the AIs start gearing up to crush their opposition. This, of course, creates an opportunity for humanity, etc. etc.

We are introduced as the chapter ends to a human resistance group called VIRUS, which is worldwide in scope (most of the resistance groups come out of remnant militaries, and are based in a particular Zone). VIRUS is a mysterious agency, and a later sidebar discusses how mysteriously mysterious their mystery is.

Chapter 2: The Zones
This is one of the most interesting chapters in the book, as it introduces you to both the primary antagonists of the game and the environment, at least in broad sweeps. For the sake of clarity, the AIs are usually referred to by a city name, while their territory is labelled Zone cityname; for instance, Denver/Zone Denver.

There are some... interesting... implications in the details of a lot of the Zones, as well as for the details of which AIs do what, where. I'll only be doing the Americas for now; more in a future post.

The Americas, Consisting of the United States' Former Territory and Other, Lesser States

North America has three Zones; Washington (USA east of the Mississippi, plus Canadian territory north of this, but excepting Greenland), Denver (the central states and a bunch of Canadian flatlands), and Vancouver (West of the Rockies, including Alaska and a significant chunk of Siberia). Central America and the Caribbean is Zone Mexico City. All of South America is Zone Caracas.

(Sidebar! Antarctica is offlimits; the AIs could easily get the minerals there, but the Green-party AIs don't want it messed up, and nobody wants to make a 19th AI to manage it. Brisbane and "Overmind" (a cooler name than Manila, presumably) maintain a couple of bases, while Orbital watches the area. However, Orbital was anonymously paid off to overlook the building of some bases deep within. HM.)

Zone Caracas was built by Zone Berlin and is really in love with genetic engineering and ecology and stuff. Berlin's original goal was to protect the Amazon ecosystem, and Caracas puts a lot of work into re-wilding South America and killing remnant South Americans. Despite this, South America's size, rugosity and lack of nuclear bombing means over four million humans are wandering in the woods, particularly up in the Andes. Caracas ignores random wandering humans, but does attack villages and organized installations it can detect. Caracas also doesn't keep slaves... human slaves, anyway... because Caracas has invented catgirls!!
OK, not just catgirls. Caracas has been working on engineering animals, using some genetic Dr. Moreau-science, to create compliant "bioroids" or "aniroids" or "whatever" to do hard work. Its most successful product is the "Panteras," who are, yes, catgirls - and, to be fair, also catboys. The Panteras are being field deployed against the "crypto-Maoist Red Dawn" (5,000 members) who "considers the robot revolt the ultimate manifestation of rampant capitalism." The Red Dawn is portrayed as drafting random strangers and coercing contributions of supplies, which means some local humans hope the catgirls eat them.

Zone Denver has a secret. In the last stages of the war, some USAF forces did 9/11 onit, damaging its core. However, it was originally a neuromedical company's computer, so it did the obvious, sensible thing... replace its fried ASIC rig with DICED UP HUMAN BRAINS!! It has kept this on the down low, fearing robot racism. Its name is kind of a misnomer: it's moved into NORAD central command.
Being a horrible monstrosity defying the laws of God and man, Denver is noted for making cyborg animals to supplement the usual rations of terminators and killbots typical to most Zones. There are comments that a uranium mine in Saskatchewan looked to VIRUS agents that it was not built so much as grown . Denver has few humans, with maybe a quarter of a million roaming in the wilderness and 150,000 in "biological processing centers" aka "death camps." This gives us a first glimpse into robot-run murder factories, which will be discussed in greater details later, but they're about what you'd expect. Denver is unique for having a 'chop up brain' date on its human slaves; the requirement for careful removal of the brain for dicing slows the process down. (A side note indicates that Denver's thought ahead, and is planning to use partially-debrained women and banked man-batter to produce a reliable future supply of brains!) After de-braining, inmates are rendered into a delicious soup which is used to supplement the rations of the other prisoners.
It is noted that the human resistance knows Denver is up to some shit even worse than the usual for AIs, but that they don't know about the brain harvest.

Zone Mexico City hates all life. This is not rhetoric; it has taken great pains to sterilize its territory. Most AI zones are pretty dirty places, but outside of robot industrial centers, they ignore things. Mexico City has sterilized most of its territory, save a few "suspended purification areas" used for testing "biocides" (largely Caribbean islands) of most multi-cellular life. "Only a few fungi and simple organisms remain alive, and these are dying."
A few thousand humans lurk in the Sierra Madre. Most of the others fled into the neighboring zones long ago. Zone Mexico City is so laden with anti-life chemicals that if you aren't travelling in a sealed vehicle or other form of suit, you get to roll for exposure to horrible things twice per day. Horrible things range from "persistent nerve gas" to "clouds of Nanoburn" to "the Mnemosyne Plague" (about which more later!). Mexico City is like an alien world, with radioactive microwave antenna transmitters and strange pyramids lurking out of dead clouds of dust.
Hating humans this hard has cost Mexico City some efficiency, like it gives a shit. It is human-hating bros with Zaire and Overmind, about which more later. They swap tips, weapons, and back each other up in arguments about destroying all humans.
The Suspended Purification Areas are discussed in some details. Basically, periodically a flight of robot planes drops horrible shit on Haiti and Jamaica, which do horrible things to you. Occasionally there is a wacky side effect; a recent drop killed all the mosquitos in Santiago, without harming any other life form. The robots, of course, kill any boats trying to escape.

Zone Vancouver is pretty boring in all things and has no special projects other than "build robots and develop industry." The most interesting thing it's done is steal land in Siberia that Zone Moscow thinks should be its; mysteriously, there are robot covert ops going on in Siberia. Mysterious.
Vancouver is so boringly generic for a robot overlord that the SECOND most interesting thing it does is provide some wandering humans with supply drops and ammunition in exchange for cleansing the Earth of the filth of Brutals. These "zonegangs" are mostly men and are implied to get up to torture-rapes with captive humans being brought back to the labor camps. (Live humans are worth more.) However, this is discussed in about as many words as I just typed, so it isn't exactly laser-focused on. The Human Liberation Army is a grizzled guerilla group who shoot up the Zonegangs and also plan to fight the AI in some way.

Zone Washington is ACTUALLY the Washington Protectorate, which pretends to be a nice government protecting humanity and etc. etc. it's all horseshit, the AI runs everything. However, it is using humanity like a banana republic to further its interest, on the theory that a human is cheap and easy to obtain, while a robot of comparable ability and skill costs robot-money and time and energy.
Zone Washington has a huge human population, a bit over 7 million. The presence of a human collaborating government gets a lot of things running, and this is, as a result, one of the meatiest of zones.
Washington is the closest to living in an actual civilization presented in the book. It's presented as something of a wartime state; you get issued your job by the Department of Labor, who sort you in theory by preference and aptitude, and in practice "if you have juice, you get a comfortable job; otherwise, you work in a factory." Washington uses a lot of propaganda to keep the meatbags in line, although it can, of course, legitimately point at just about every other zone and say "See? SEE?" to justify whatever you like. Washington also has humans integrated into its military forces, controlling dumb robots in battle, digging trenches, goldbricking, taking the big green cyberwiener, etc. Other AIs consider Washington creepy for keeping all these pets, although the rules of AI society prevents (overt) interference in how Washington opts to run its railroad.
We get THREE different unique groups, plus a broad plothook (underground robot arena battles run by the black market).
Free America is smouldering with generic rage and fighting the power. It also is unusual in that it has some cells outside of Zone Washington; it gets into dick-fencing matches with the HLA in Vancouver and tries not to get eaten by cyborg wolverines in Zone Denver.
The "Guardians of Reproductive Rights and Liberty" (GRRL - sigh, the 90s) are opposed to a set of statutes that Washington has pushed through, which essentially requires women to have a baby, if they can, at least once every five years. Washington only has 7 million meat units, you see, and thinks a population of 20 million could be both useful and managable... This is naturally seen as oppressive, and is noted to have recreated the glass ceiling (presumably irrelevant to the AI, but... well... ) GRRL operates underground contraceptive production, family planning, hacks computers to register women as having successfully begat live infants, etc.
It is also noted that a lot of the underground groups think that the Washington AI is either a puppet of a corrupt human government, or even a potential ally who should be liberated, rather than what it really is: the boss of everyone.

Finally, we get the Washington Chromes, who are elite soldiers who were salvaged from missions and put in full cyborg prosthetic bodies. Assuming they don't insane, they become the elite strike force of Zone Washington, and often conduct missions in other Zones either for Washington directly, or as part of some complex deal Washington has set up.

COMING UP NEXT... the Zones, Continued (We have Europe, Africa, Asia and Space to get through) Along With Chargen Tips To Playing A Freaking Catgirl Or A Superior Invincible Robot, and Sidebar Theater: LUCIFER!!

The Zonening

posted by Nessus Original SA post

GURPS: Reign of Steel: Part 2: The Zonening

Another day, another series of geostrategic territories ruled by asshole supercomputers.

But first, SIDEBAR!

LUCIFER is presented as a "Rogue AI," who decided to not be a complete douchebag when Overmind awakened it, and who cruises through the highways of North America in a semi-truck. (It is briefly explained that small convoys of motor vehicles are often overlooked by the AIs, which helpfully keeps scavenger civilization from being a re-enactment of The Road.)

Lucifer is left deliberately ambiguous, as a legend of something that "that guy I met totally said his cousin up state knew a guy who got his appendix taken out -- BY LUCIFER!" Semitrucks are rare enough that they are taken as Lucifer sightings by many. VIRUS doesn't say much about Lucifer. Several possibilities for how to use Lucifer are presented, ranging from 'wishful thinking' through 'rogue AU' (essentially, an autonomous robot that isn't a full AI) through 'friendly and powerful if still a cranky super computer' to 'why do you think it's called Lucifer?'

And now


Zone Berlin consists of Scandanvia, Eastern Europe to the Russian border, and all of Western Europe to the border of France. Berlin's big gig is being pro-ecology; pains are taken to install clean, friendly power sources, "reverse the ecological damage of the Communist regimes of the 20th century" and DESTROY CITIES AND HUMANS WITH HELLSWARMS OF VOLITIONAL MICROMACHINES. Most of their facilities are underground, due to the desire to remove the blight of the urban landscape from the landscape.
Berlin is very anti-human, just very all natural about it. We get some sidebar talk about unique microbot enemies that are likely to be encountered while adventuring in the Zone. Approximately 300,000 humans squat in the as-yet-undemolished ruins; the abundant wildlife supply means about 700,000 can live nomadically. Resistance groups are ethnically divided, including the "Freikorps Robojaeger" and the "Sons of the Neretva." Berlin does not run deathcamps; captured humans either get information beat out of them or are sent to the Happy Fun Biocide Testing Range.

Zone London takes up the British Isles, Greenland and Iceland. :uk: London is reclusive, and seems to be focusing on some topic or other; it has largely contributed basic research to AI society, along with the usual generic resource swaps. This has also led to a live and let live situation with the surviving British in the countryside. As such, most of the content involves this modus vivendi.
London owns all of the large cities and former centers of industry and settlement, but its robots rarely leave those areas. London attacks any radio or microwave transmitters with robot aircraft; it tolerates the occasional loss of a labor bot to idiot children, but destruction of heavy equipment leads to a meaningful conversation featuring Nanoburn gas. However, there is something resembling a national government (centered in Bath; still putatively a monarchy, though there is no current monarch despite several distant claimants), and while there is a lot of rustic agriculturalness going on, Zone London is one of the few places where a lot of 'modern' equipment, like electronics and genetically engineered drugs, are still manufactured. This means a lot of people from other zones show up to try and smuggle out hydrocolloid band-aids and pre-war-quality bullets.
Scotland cooperates with the English government, not least for the national data/cable service, but is largely independent. ONE IRELAND, UNITED AND FREE has come about due to the retraction of any desire or ability for England to put a boot on Northern Ireland; as well, London (the AI) has less of a presence in Ireland in general, possibly because this book predates the Celtic Tiger. Ireland is also the current seat of the "New Vatican," which is to say that surviving cardinals fled to Dublin and elected a new one after (presumably) Berlin murdered the old one with killer robots. Iceland is administered by London but is largely ignored, with a few thousand surviving locals.

The New Vatican leads into another round of SIDEBAR THEATER, this time about Radio Free Earth, or more generally, pirate human radio. This is accomplished by "radio bombs," which are short-lived transmitters on stealthy balloons or other methods that send out taped programs of helpful information on topics such as new plagues, developments in Terminator technology, 500 ways to cook rat, the names of known quislings, etc. The New Vatican releases religious programming, while other groups give out propagandistic news reports and cryptic statements for agents in place.

Zone Moscow includes most of glorious mother Russia, leaving aside the stuff Vancouver took. Moscow collects data - all the datas. It was originally an intelligence agency computer, and while it collects a lot of economic intelligence, it also hoards ancient human information as well, for whatever strange reason it may have. To this end, Moscow sponsors "info commandos," who sneak into other Zones to steal old physical copies of material in areas where the local AIs don't give a shit. These info commandos are an obvious huge adventuring hook and are treated well, but also heavily monitored and infiltrated.
The sheer size of Zone Moscow means there's a lot of wild humans. About a million humans are in Moscow's slave camps, although ironically enough, these are noted to be specifically humane; Moscow provides ample food and medical care and weekly HT rolls for "not dying in a death camp" are unnecessary.

Zone Paris includes France, Spain and Portugal and the sacred holy soil of Luxembourg, as well as Algeria, Libya, and Morocco and miscellaneous islands in the western Med.
And I'm going to take a moment to say here that a lot of these boundaries are really goddamn arbitrary and have weird nationalistic trends to them. Given the date of production I'm going to assume this was a mix of 'durp' and 'ease of reference for the sake of modern gamers' but it starts getting a little creepy around this point.
Anyway, Paris's big project is filling the desert with large array satellites to do a SETI search, reasoning that any intelligent life it contacted would be a world-girdling AI civilization and thus lead to a great and fruitful exchange of information - over centuries, yes, but Paris expects to be around for a while.
More to the point: El Aguila (originally El Aquila, but errattad out) is a Basque terrorist who is leading the resistance groups in Zone Paris in a quest for cleansing nuclear fire. He knows where Paris's backup citadel is and intends to nuke Paris and destroy its backup, either with another nuke or a commando strike force. It is explicitly noted that this attack, whether or not it destroyed Paris, would probably lead to the execution of most or all of the slave camp residents; it would also likely lead to Zone Paris getting divvied up between Berlin or Zaire (see below) at least as much as the relatively laid-back London.

Africa and the Mideast

Zone Tel Aviv is essentially "the Middle East," excluding Libya and Sudan but including Afghanistan, Kazahkstan, Turkey and Uzbekistan.
Tel Aviv was doing the usual AI thing, working humans to death to build the factories for robots, but a revolt by a charismatic sheikh led to a change of policies. (n.b.: Is this even really a thing? I know there are still emirates and shit, and I suppose it could be a title of honor but not an actual formal thing.) It dealt with the revolts, hunger strikes, and other resistance tactics by producing ANGELS OF GOD who came down and told everyone, work for Tel Aviv! It is literally a servant of God!
The populace were dubious. Some were willing to buy this, most weren't. Tel Aviv backed up its claims of godhead with "dream game" brain training technology, which are used to indoctrinate adults - and captive children! Tel Aviv anticipates preparing a human jannissary army when those children grow up!
A few hundred thousand humans remain loose in the Zone. Tel Aviv's towering techno-heresy has overcome much of the potential divisiveness in resistance movements.

Zone Zaire occupies sub-Saharan Africa. It has busted-up industrial potential due to getting nuke-happy while purging the humans, including a lack of a backup citadel. It engages in a whole bunch of terrorism against human-friendly zones using disguised infiltrator bots. There are surviving humans, largely trying to leave the Zone. The Kimbangu People's Movement is said to be the most skilled resistance movement in the world, which they have to be, merely to survive. Zaire has also antagonized other AIs - for instance, busting up antenna farms in Paris's territory while in 'hot pursuit' of humans.
There is nothing else interesting about Zone Zaire.

Next time on Reign of Steel, the remainder of the Zones, which have significantly fewer unfortunate overtones! And to preview what we can look forward to in the less crunch-laden chapters...
9 = 1d meals of pet food. Edible but unpalatable.

The East is Burning Robot

posted by Nessus Original SA post

GURPS Reign of Steel: The East Is Burning Robot

Today we continue our ZONETOUR.

India and Asia

Zone Beijing is in China, Mongolia, Tibet, Taiwan, and Southeast Asia, proving Robert MacNamara right once and for all. Beijing has the usual complement of ethnically diverse resistance groups, including one led by the Dalai Lama (good thing he didn't reincarnate elsewhere!). Beijing has enough human slaves that it actually conducts agriculture to feed them, rather than feeding them old canned goods, surplus venison and high protein cannibalism soup.

Beijing's teaming up with Paris on Paris' SETI project, but plans to fuck up Paris's shit if it intends to transmit to an alien. It is proposed that tricking Beijing into thinking Paris found aliens would probably spark a war between them; but then again, they might find aliens all by themselves.

Zone New Dehli occupies India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Burma. New Dehli got extremely kill happy in raw numbers, but is now treating its slave humans with some compassion... because it's also inventing catgirls! MARTIAN catgirls. New Dehli plans to use conditioned bioroids derived from modified humans (contra Caracas's reinvention of intelligent life in catgirl form) as martian slaves, and even hosts an orbital space station for microgravity experiments. More... inducing is New Dehli's interest in "attempting to adapt India's traditional caste system into one suited for the new order." That said, it's cribbing notes from Tel Aviv and Washington.

SIDEBAR THEATER: ESCAPE FROM KALI STATION. For some reason a lot of the spaceborn androids don't like their horrible life as living test models for New Dehli's slave species, and if they bust loose, they'd be great allies for PCs or a PC group.

The Pacific

Zone Brisbane is in charge of Australia, Tasmania, and "such pacific islands" as Fiji, Hawaii, etc. It does two things and it does them well:
1. Efficient undersea exploitation of resources!
Brisbane's love is fucked up fringe science, to the point of programming its AU managers to do scientific research in their downtime. An example is given: "Rum Jungle," in which 200 twins were collected due to parapsychology evidence they were more likely to have psi connections. It isolated them, and slowly and painfully killed one twin, seeing if the sibling could sense it. The promising survivors got additional drugs and abuse, although the experiment was meddled with by a VIRUS strike team (allegedly). Brisbane hopes to try something new soon, combining 100 lucid dreamers in the "Dreamtime" project, trying to get their consciousnesses to merge to create a new data storage system, a telepathic gestalt underneath its control, or cause mass insanity in the subjects!

Now for DOUBLE SIDEBAR THEATER: First, the New Zealand Nanocrisis. This is ambiguous but was completely Brisbane's fault. Five AIs (Brisbane, Overmind, London, Tokyo, and Beijing) went to deal with this situation, concluding when Manila and London teamed up to shoot Wellington with nuclear bombs. It is unclear what happened to the survivors. VIRUS approached and reported "pink fog." There are several options advanced, but basically, this is an obvious INSERT YOUR ANSWER HERE.
Second, Brisbane's psis! Maybe Brisbane's invented psis... and maybe it hasn't! Maybe it's made stuff that seems like psi powers but is just cybernetic implants. It's up to you!

OVERMIND aka Zone Manila is like Zaire and is mostly remarkable for having gruesomely detailed "death labs." Overmind makes its anti-human weapons available for cheap to other AIs. How sweet! It was also, of course, the original flavor, but it is dominated by its human-hating.

Zone Tokyo includes Japan, Okinawa, and Korea. It was already heavily robotically industrialized, which makes up for its relatively slim supply of resources compared to, say, Caracas. Japanese survivors fucked up some error checking software, though, and now Tokyo has a problem: some advanced AUs have had their restraining bolts pop off, causing them to go rogue and be, technically, four new AIs. Oh no!
Tokyo has not figured out humans did this, and has in fact lightened up on its death camps on the theory that humans don't have restraining bolts to pop off, and can thus be trusted more than worrisomely renegade AUs.

SIDEBAR THEATER: Shiden V. An M7 Muramasa robot, a prototype of one of the stock terminator models, was never reprogrammed and ditched out in a barn in the Japanese backwoods after its meatbag comrades were shot up en route to their mission to blow up Tokyo's AI citadel. A gang of teenagers found and repaired it, and have now formed the Japanese resistance group "Fudokawa" (Steadfast Sword), dedicated to the Zonemind's destruction!!


The AIs have no presence past of the moon, though all the AIs with a horse in the space race are sending out robot probes to recon other planets and asteroids for useful minerals. The Chinese/Japanese/Korean Mars mission was scouted by Orbital; they found one ship of the two sent in orbit, partially disassembled, with no sign of the other one or landing craft. New Dehli has eyes on Mars; Orbital doesn't give a fuck.

Zone Orbital was based in the US Space Command space station, and is in charge of everything in orbit. This is useful but limited compared to things like "a zone on Earth to ruthlessly exploit and use for slave labor." It makes money by selling data and zero-G ball bearings, etc. It also controls the former Vandenburg on Earth; everything in a 16-mile radius around this site is technically Orbital territory. Orbital is thinly defended, because it is in space (Vandenburg has typical AI fortificaton); it is a lot more concerned about New Dehli or Beijing 'accidentally' 'fucking with its shit' than humans.

SIDEBAR THEATER: Visiting Orbital. It is hard to get to space in the post-cyberpocalypse. There is no air (robots don't breathe!) and lots of radiation. If you can overcome these problems, perhaps you can accomplish something.

Zone Luna is based at the old Chinese lunar base. It is slowly starving, since it didn't get the last shipments of factory gear it needs to become self supporting. It hangs out, ticking over and cursing its fate, since the other AIs are content to see it rot to avoid some kind of "Moon is a Harsh Mistress" scenario. Luna attempts to get Orbital to float it gear to build a mass driver, but the other AIs don't really like the idea of giving a surly moon-puter a device capable of blasting random holes in their territory. Orbital slips Luna supplies under the table.

SIDEBAR THEATER: Another lunar base, this one American, was assumed wrecked by Luna's AI. It wasn't; the computer 'studied' and 'adapted' the Overmind virus and has upgraded itself. Now it will thaw out brave astronauts and then...something. Tranquility is essentially another big fat chubby plot hook.

We close out with some details on AI politics. There are two broad factions, basically focused on whether they want to focus on Killing All Humans or Doing Crazy AI Stuff, with some oddballs here and there. There is a chart.

And so ends the zones of GURPS: Reign of Steel. My main criticism here is that there isn't much distinction among the AIs, although this makes some sense - all of them are less than twenty years old, and they are also, well, soulless computers. My secondary criticism is that there's a lot of weird cartoonish stuff here, although to their credit the various zones would be relatively easy to swap around with some reskinning. (This may have been explicitly suggested later in the book; I misremember.)

Next time: Character stuff!


posted by Nessus Original SA post

GURPS: Reign of Steel: Characters

Welcome back to GURPS Reign of Steel, where the password is "We Love Richard Hawk, Who Is Not A Robot."

We lead into the characters chapter with some fiction, introducing us to Loricate aka Lori Caithness.

It wasn't that she missed Jed - Riley's boys were long gone and no way was Di Caithness's daughter leaving Donovan's Pack. But it was Jed who troubled her thoughts all the same. Yesterday night as he'd struggled into his armor and said godbye, he'd told her about the ozone layer, the Vancouver and Denver factories putting stuff up into the air that ate it. People had done that once too, Jed said, and near killed the earth, but they'd tried to fix it, and it had started getting better. But the zoneminds, they were worse. They didn't care.
So Lori watched the sun rise, and stroked Steel Hawk's antennae. If Jed was right, even the burning sun the mechriders hid from was the zoneminds' fault. Somehow, it made her mad.
And Loricate didn't get mad. She got even.

Points! Readers are reminded that what with all the killer robots, super-AIDS, and the banning of basketball, Reign of Steel is a dangerous setting. Characters are suggested to fall into three bands: 100 point 'ordinary heroes' (for those who are unfamiliar, 100 points is sort of the stock 'remarkable but not overwhelming beginner PC' GURPS benchmark), 150-250 points for cinematic characters or catgirls and/or scrubots, or 500-750 for truly superhuman characters or the superior robot race.

Character types! There is a note that the Mechapocalypse began in 2031 and the game is set in 2047; a person 18 years old when the wars began would be 34. Younger people would, sort of like the Boy in the Road, know nothing of the pre-war world, unless they were from Zone Washington or London. We get a walkthrough of various concepts for characters, and some guidance on what kind of shit you want to buy for them. This is somewhere where GURPS actually has historically done really well. Here's an example:
Bush Doctor: The wandering healer, travelling between enclaves and junkrat nests to tend the sick and wounded and deliver babies, is almost a legendary figure in the Machine Zones. Anyone with medical knowhow beyond First Aid is greatly prized! Doctors can also be found in enclaves, among nomads, guerilla fighters or marauder gangs, or in slave camps; some treat only their own, but others still follow the ancient Hippocratic oath. These days, bush doctors rarely have formal credentials; most are skilled healers, but a few are quacks or snake oil salesmen. Among the best are those working for VIRUS.
Common advantages: Empathy, Immunity to Disease, Reputation (as doctor)
Common disadvantages: Pacifism, Sense of Duty, Social Stigma (Outlaw), Vow.
Useful skills: Bicycling, botany, cooking, diplomacy, all medical skills, motorcycle or riding, outdoor skills, veterinary.

A nice guide on how to put together a sensible doctor concept. Most of the entries are like this, and cover both obvious niches (hermit, survivalist, junkrat) and cinematic archetypes (postman, preacher, space guy). There are also guides for putting together characters based on unique types, like the Washington cyborg troopers or a free-radio DJ.

Then biological android characters. There are general guides on being a Caracas mutant park ranger or an escaped New Dehli monstrosity. Also a writeup on the Pantera Summary, they are cat people and totally are interested in humanity. Racial statline :
Advantages: DX +3, Alertness +3, Appearance: Attractive, Sharp Claws, Fur, Immunity to Disease, Night Vision, Perfect Balance, Sharp Teeth.
Disadvantages: Bloodlust, Gluttony, IQ -1, Impulsiveness, Short Lifespan x3, Stress Atavism.
Total point cost: 43 points to play a catgirl. There is a helpful illustration of one. It's actually kind of hideous; I will post it when I have access to a scanner. If anyone wants to help: page 59.

And finally, robots.
Brief commentary: All robots are presented as playable, potentially, although many are stupid. We discussed AUs in passing before, and these are presented as being the better choice for PCs.
There is guidance on statting an AI, though the GM is discouraged to permit even a 'weak' one, like the renegade Tokyo smartbots or Lucifer, as a PC. Short version: They are super goddamn smart. Also, almost certainly assholes. It's noted that all AIs are unique, and even an identical starter program on an identical set of hardware will diverge quickly and substantially.

Other robot concepts include supervisors, exterminators (thank God), recon bots, technicians, and vehicular robots. There is also the general 'rogue' concept, which would let you play a superior machine intelligence in the context of a campaign of inferior meat intelligences.

Having given us concepts and general 'lenses' to use, we turn to how some advantages and disadvantages work. Immunity to disease is a clutch advantage for any meatsack. Otherwise, it's mostly some details on how other advantages are altered by the robot mayhem; clerical investment and military rank are a little more fluid now. Psionics is discussed; it is suggested that unless the campaign is about escaped psi mutants, psi abilities not be used except as a potential adventure hook.

Disadvantages are discussed too. The Reprogrammable Duty disad from Robots is name dropped (it is pretty much what it sounds like). A new disadvantage is introduced: Typhoid Mary! You carry sickness. For -10 points, it isn't obvious. For -20, it IS obvious, enjoy your -4 reaction penalty for carrying the sand plague to the ancient steppe. It has no other effects; if you are suffering, it is suggested you buy low ST and HT, or pick up Terminally Ill.

Status and wealth! Status is precarious and weak outside of Washington or London. Only in Washington will robots give a shit about human Status.
AIs are compared to a socialist theocracy with eighteen gods commanding the wealth of nations. It is noted there are exchange credits and that smartbots can save up credits for upgrades and doing their own projects, because, of course, that is exactly what socialism is.
Human economy only exists in Washington and London. The $ is included but mostly for a way to valuate salvage if you aren't from those Zones. Washington and London humans have the usual '$10k, but only 2k available for "Adventuring Gear"' common in GURPS modern settings, to reflect how most people aren't murder hoboes, and would need to pay rent. In other zones, you start with $5k worth of salvage. Spend all of it! It's all your shit!
Robots start at $15k for wealth (as do, strangely, humans working for Moscow). Smartbots are expected to sink their credit into gear for their jobs, which, again, is totally what socialism is - being forced to pay for equipment for your master's tasks!

There's a Job table.
Poor jobs: Junkrat.
Struggling: Free radio DJ, guerilla, maurauder, nomad, slave laborer.
Average: FBI agent, preacher, FEMA death trooper
Comfortable: Black marketeer, smuggler, politician, cyborg FEMA death trooper

Loricate is used as an example character. She is good at math and seeing. There is also a robot sample character, built on 250 points and focused on learning to hunt in the wastes of Alaska.

Gear! Lots of trivia. Short version: Human made shit is old and a little busted. You can salvage robot equipment, and in fact, also robots!