Shadowrun Penumbra: Reflex Enhancement

   Now it’s time to take a look the existing Reflex and Initiative-enhancement systems available in Shadowrun – and the two most basic are Reflex Enhancement and Boosted Reflexes. The original descriptions are inconsistent – and in some cases, such as Move-By-Wire – downright nonsensical (constant seizure will burn massive amounts of energy – and stopping a steady nerve signal has exactly the same transmission delay as sending one), although most seem to involve modifications to the spinal cord and/or (presumably) the motor-control centers of the hindbrain.

   Regardless of how they work, in the basic game there are two underlying systems to consider:

  • Reflex Enhancement provides a direct bonus to the Reflex score, at a cost of .3 Essence per point up to a maximum of +6 in the basic system or +8 in Penumbra.
  • Boosted Reflexes provide bonus initiative dice, at a cost of .5 Ess for +1d6, 1.25 Ess for +2d6, 2.8 Ess for +3d6 (the maximum in the basic system), and 5.0 Ess for +4d6 (available in Penumbra).
  • Unfortunately, Boosted Reflexes are not normally compatible with Reflex Enhancement – at least until the point in Penumbra that the systems can be coupled together directly, at the +4d6 level. Before that, if you want the systems to be compatible, you have to throw in a Reflex-Initiative Coupling system, at an additional 1.1 Ess at the +1d6 level, +.55 Ess at the +2d6 level, and +.4 Ess at the +3d6 level.

To make that a chart:

Bonus Vrs Ess:

+1

+2

+3

+4

+5

+6

+7

+8

Reflex

.30

.60

.90

1.2

1.5

1.8

2.1

2.4

Initiative Dice

.50

1.25

2.8

5.0

8.0

12

—-

—-

R-I Coupling

1.1

.55

.40

0.0

0.0

0.0

—-

—-

   So now lets build some standard systems:

   Reflex Enhancement: Straight off the chart: .3 per level.

   Boosted Reflexes. Also straight off the chart: .5, 1.25, and 2.8 for levels one, two, and three.

   Wired Reflexes:

  • Level One: +2 Reflex (.6) + 1d6 Initiative (.5) + R-I Coupling (1.1) = 2.0
  • Level Two: +4 Reflex (1.2) + 2d6 Initiative (1.25) + R-I Coupling (.55) = 3.0
  • Level Three; +6 Reflex (1.8) + 3d6 Initiative (2.8) + R-I Coupling (.4) = 5.0

   Synaptic Accelerator:

  • Level One; +1d6 Initiative (.5) x (.8 Bioware Modifier) = .4 BI
  • Level Two: +2d6 Initiative (1.25) x (.8 Bioware Modifier) = 1.0 BI

   Move-By-Wire gets a little more complicated, since it includes some stuff that isn’t in the rest of the systems – direct attribute enhancement, enhanced skills, and the fact that it slowly destroys the user’s central nervous system.

   Well lets see:

  • Enhanced Attributes have a base cost of +5 per level, up to a maximum of level 4 for physical attributes and 2 for mental ones (thereafter the cost doubles, up to a limit of +6 and +3 respectively). The Quickness bonus provided by Move-By-Wire, however, does not add to Reaction – a restriction worth a x.8 modifier, reducing the cost to .4 per level.
  • Move-By-Wire also provides a skill bonus to Athletics and Stealth. Skill bonuses get expensive fast: +1/+2/+3/+4 (the maximum) dice have a base cost of .25, .75, 1.5, and 2.5 essence. That’s going to be a big chunk of the cost right there.
  • The “slowly destroys your central nervous system” effect is a limitation with a value depending on just how fast it does it – very slowly, slowly, quickly, or very quickly, for limitation values of .8 (it’s rare for this to have an direct game impact), .75 (something that’s slightly more likely to come up), .6 (something that will come up in most games), and .5 (a really big problem that comes up fairly often) respectively.

Building Move-By-Wire:

Level

Reflex

Initiative

Qui

Skill

RI-C

Base

Limit

Final

One

0.60

0.50

0.40

0.50

1.10

3.10

0.80

2.48

Two

1.20

1.25

0.80

1.50

0.55

5.30

0.75

3.98

Three

1.80

2.80

1.20

3.00

0.40

9.15

0.60

5.52

Four

2.40

5.00

1.60

5.00

0.00

14.00

0.50

7.00

   Move-By-Wire doesn’t come out quite perfectly – but it does come out within the limits of the usual round-off, which is acceptable.

   The Vehicle Control Rig is also a bit complicated. It also doesn’t work quite properly, since the system provides a variety of fixed bonuses (a rigger jack and a bonus when defaulting) that don’t scale with the level. To fix this, the following modified rule applies in Penumbra games: a rigger using a Vehicle Control Rig may default to Reaction for any Vehicle Skill at a penalty of (4 minus the level of the Vehicle Control Rig being used), rather than at a flat -2 regardless of the level of the system. In addition, the Initiative, and Reaction-Increase Coupling systems are eligible for a x.75 limitation; only when operating a rigger-controlled vehicle.

Building the Vehicle Control Rig:

Level

Reflex

Initiative*

Jack

Skill

RI-C*

Final

One

0.60

0.40

0.10

0.10

0.80

2.00

Two

1.20

0.95

0.10

0.35

0.40

3.00

Three

1.80

2.10

0.10

0.70

0.30

5.00

   Several other systems can improve reaction time as well, but they usually do so indirectly. Intelligence-boosting effects (the Cerebral Booster) improve intelligence, and provide a reaction boost as a side effect. Similarly, various forms of muscle enhancement (Muscle Replacement or Muscle Toning) can provide a boost. Temporary boosts are available from various chemical agents (Adrenal Pumps plus a wide variety of stimulants and “combat drugs”), which stimulate the nervous system and allow it to process information faster – albeit usually at the price of rapid neural exhaustion.

   That pretty well covers the basic game effects of speed-enhancement systems. On the other hand, it has absolutely no connection with the setting “reality” – as in, what are those systems and how do they work?

   Well, from general theory, the systems that offer a variable bonus should probably show up where the big variable delays are – in the brain, where the decision-making process, motor cortex, and cerebellum are located. The most likely candidate here is the Cerebellum – where the motions ordered by the Motor Cortex are translated into muscle-commands. Ergo, systems that offer initiative-die bonuses are primarily headware, involving the augmentation or replacement of the Cerebellum. Systems that offer fixed reaction bonuses should probably involve the next biggest area of delay – the transmission of signals up and down the spinal column.

   Those two systems interface through the upper end of the Spinal Cord – which is where a the Reaction-Initiative Coupling or Spinal Interface system comes in.

   The basic reflex-enhancement systems are thus Spinal Wiring, Cerebrum Augmentation, and the Spinal Interface.

   Spinal Wiring or “Reflex Enhancement” upgrades the information-transmission characteristics of the spinal cord. Each level increases the user’s Reaction attribute by +1. The best systems are cybernetic; it’s hard (ok, generally impossible) to improve on optical chips and speed-of-light signal transmission, and the more of the spinal systems and major nerve trunks you replace, the faster you can react – at least up to the point (at +8 Reaction) where you’ve pretty much replaced as much as you can.

   Bioware variants exist – augmenting the nerve-transmission speed by tinkering with the myelin sheathes, augmenting neurochemical production, or even providing synapse-to-synapse electrical pathways – but are fundamentally less effective in the end, even if they are less intrusive. Such systems are limited to half the values which Cyberware can achieve. There simply is no method of retaining conventional biochemical operations AND matching the she speed of light-based systems.

   Cerebellum Augmentations or “Boosted Reflexes” modify the structure of the hindbrain – more specifically, the segments that convert the commands of the motor cortex into muscle-command sequences. Unfortunately, as greater and greater chunks of hindbrain tissue are replaced, more and more of the other body processes that are regulated here must be placed under computer control – promoting a fundamental alienation between the user’s body and spirit. Once you get beyond simple implanted microprocessors designed to enhance functions and get into major tissue replacement, this process becomes extremely essence-intensive.

   Once again, Bioware variants exist – but are limited in another way: many of the basic timing-components and feedback systems that keep people alive are located in the Cerebellum, and meddling with the efficiency of the system – whether through myelin augmentation, neurochemical supply, or any other means – throws off all of those feedback loops. That must be corrected if the user is to survive for long – requiring more and more meddling. Once again, the practical limits of this process are about half those of the equivalent cyberware.

   A Spinal Interface simply couples the modified Cerebellum required for Boosted Reflexes to the modified Spinal Cord of Spinal Wiring. Naturally enough, this gets less and less complicated as more and more of the systems of the Cerebellum are replaced: there comes a point when the Spinal Wiring can simply be coupled directly to the Cerebellum Augmentation system, and the Spinal Interface is no longer required.

   Next up will be the final segment in this series – exotic (and usually less efficient) ways to get bonuses to your reaction time and a set of alternative rules from Editorial 0, one of the players in the current Shadowrun campaign.

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One Response

  1. […] enhancement has been covered pretty extensively this week ( Biological Basics: Reaction Time, Shadowrun Penumbra: Reflex Enhancement, Shadowrun Penumbra: Enhanced Reflexes III), I now have a set of guidelines for writing spells that […]

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