d20 Terminators II – The Questioning

And today, it’s a bit of followup on the first Terminator article – in this case, addressing some things brought up by Alzrius.

Thanks for taking on this particular series!

I have to admit, it didn’t initially feel intuitive for the Terminator to be, in d20 terms, a relatively low-level creature. And yet, the points you raise are salient ones; since the series takes place in a (relatively) realistic universe, where the major enemies are ordinary humans (albeit action-movie “ordinary” humans) who tend to defeat them in the end (Skynet did lose the war, after all), it makes sense that most Terminators are going to be relatively minor monsters in terms of the d20 power scale…which I suppose is why so many fan-crossovers have the T-800 losing to Robocop.

That said, I do have some minor quibbles with a few of the entries you’ve listed:

The T-850, for instance, has two fuel cells that, when ruptured, create large explosions. While it can apparently function just fine with one (and apparently operate for at least a short time without any, presumably due to auxiliary power), it does use this as an offensive tactic at one point.

Likewise, if I recall correctly, it’s stated that the T-X cannot be melted down the way the T-1000 was, which would suggest that there’s some greater degree of hardness (or perhaps energy resistance) in play there.

(Oh, and don’t forget to give these builds Immunity to antimagic, dispelling, and magic detection – and Immunity to the XP cost of Innate Enchantments – too!)


Ah, Terminator versus Robocop! Always fun! (Although I’d have to say that the transmitted impacts would have turned Murphy’s brain into goo fairly early on in this, but movie physics).

More seriously… this does bring up a major note. And it’s about what the Terminators use for a power supply.

Terminators have been described as drawing on a variety of power sources. Most notably, the T-800 is usually supposed to be powered by a nuclear or “Iridium” power cell. The T-900 uses a “Plasma Reactor” – and the T-850 is supposed to have two Hydrogen Fuel Cells which will keep it running for 120 years (each) – much longer than the T-800’s nuclear power source.

Wait, what? Fuel Cells burn fuel using atmospheric oxygen. This means that a Terminator must be lugging around a tank of hydrogen big enough to keep it running for more than a hundred years. Yet I didn’t see them dragging around any tanker trucks, much less the ten to a hundred or so a quick order-of-magnitude calculation suggests would be necessary.

OK, presumably the writers meant that it was using some sort of miniature fusion process (how this differs from a “Plasma Reactor” is hard to say at this point). The trouble is, damaging such a power source cannot result in a fuel explosion. it’s quite difficult to make hydrogen fuse, the amount undergoing fusion at any moment is incredibly small, and damaging the system will make it stop fusing.

So where can we put a lot of stored energy in a form that (1) can come out to create an explosion shortly after the system is damaged, and (2) makes some tiny bit of sense?

Well… many fusion power systems call for massive magnetic fields to keep the hydrogen plasma compressed enough to fuse at a useful rate. The easiest way to get fields that strong is to use massive electrical currents circulating in a superconductive coil. But if the coil is damaged, all that energy will emerge as heat, light, electrical arcs, and an electromagnetic pulse – a lot like a small-scale nuke. This doesn’t explain why such power cells never go off except when it’s convenient for the plot (one for exposition and one to destroy a target) since a bullet in the wrong place should do it, or why Skynet would fit it’s troops with internal bombs that could easily destroy masses of it’s own troops rather than settling for a few years worth of power and having them resupplied during normal maintenance – but it’s close enough for action movie logic.

Hm… this also tells us what a “Plasma Reactor” is; it uses even more advanced handwavium to sustain a fusion reaction without having to use superconducting coils and massive magnetic fields – and so isn’t explosive.

In any case, T-850’s thus have two primary power sources; if they lose both they’re down to backup power, which always lasts for long enough. There’s some talk of them being slower and less powerful when working on only one (or presumably no) fuel cells – but no such limitation is ever actually shown and we’re never shown them actually shutting down for lack of power. Perhaps their backup power supply is a T-800 power cell? That would say that the fusion cells are a quick upgrade to the old design – which makes a lot of military sense. That’s just adding an extra item, rather than redesigning and retooling your factories for a completely new model – explaining why this is a T-850, rather than being a completely new series.

So in actual game terms… T-850’s are basically carrying two very powerful hand grenades or bombs that are hard to replace and so are used only as a very last resort. That’s Equipment, even if it is in a hidden pocket.

So how can we build a couple of lightweight but powerful bombs?

Consulting the d20 Modern SRD… take 8 Lbs of C4 ($400), plus a Detonator and minor components (about $200), to wind up with a base Purchase DC 16. Since this weighs ten pounds, it counts as being Small. Throw in Minaturized (+5 DC, to reduce it to Diminutive – a few ounces and easily palmed) for a net Purchase DC of 21 – $2750 or 137.5 GP. That’s 18d6 in a 24-foot radius, for an everage of 63 points of damage – quite enough to make a small mushroom cloud and to easily take out most Terminators. It’s also enough to do serious damage to a Skynet facility – providing an excellent reason to go on to the T-900 series, even if they were a bit less effective.

This being d20 of course, Terminators – even using the Pathfinder Robot Soldier base – don’t necessarily need a particular power source, or have to be technological. If you want them to be constructs of flashing crystal and psionic energy, or monstrosities of hellish black negative energy flames coursing through the bones of the dead, or suits of armor covered with magical runes to animate them… You’re simply changing the special effects.

In Eclipse you do that by applying a relevant variant of the “Eldritch” modifier at no cost. The Practical Enchanter (under Cybernetics) simply says “no cost”.

Whether or not it makes any difference at all is up to the game master; by default Pathfinder generally assumes that psionics, magic, and “weird science” are more or less interchangeable – taking the old magic/psionics transparency rule to it’s logical extreme. Personally, given my interest in just how things work… I tend to treat them as very different power sources. At least in my games…

  • A technological “robot” is subject to high-voltage shocks and to electromagnetic pulses instead of Dispel Magic, can be picked up by radi0-frequency sensors, metal detectors, and similar effects instead of Detect Magic, and is subject to anti-technology effects instead of Anti-Magic. It’s subject to overheating, rust, and similar mundane hazards.
  • A psionic construct is can be disrupted by psonic effects and Dispel Psionics instead of Dispel Magic, is detectable by various psychic senses, and is subject to Anti-Psionic effects. It’s subject to Shatter and Sonic effects due to it’s crystaline construction and it’s programming may be altered if it’s exposed to weird psychic environments or sits around long enough to develop consciousness.
  • A construct powered by negative energy is essentially undead – and so is subject to positive energy effects, to being cut off from the realms that power it, and can be detected by effects that detect the undead. They have a nasty tendency towards program corruption and towards being malign for no good reason.
  • If they’re purely magical constructs… well, all the usual magical means of detecting and manipulating them will work just fine.

Now, the basic formulas for creating constructs – (CR x CR x 500 GP) x 1.5 (Robot) suggests that a basic CR 5 Terminator would cost 18,750 GP, which I’d round up to 20,000. Of course, that’s only a base. Ergo…

  • T-600: 15,000 GP.
  • T-700: 16,000 GP
  • T-720: 17,500 GP
  • T-800: 20,000 GP
  • T-850: 25,000 GP (throwing in it’s two bombs).
  • T-888: 22,000 GP
  • T-X: 35,000 GP (Probably CR 6 thanks to all those weapons. If you’re throwing in the 20 HP/Round buffer… probably 60,000 GP and CR 8).
  • T-1000: 50,000 GP (Probably CR 7 thanks to that 20 HP/Round buffer).

So if you want a T-850 robot buddy / bodyguard it’s a suitable “magic item” at about level fifteen – where it will still have it’s uses, but will (appropriately enough) be heavily overshadowed by the actual player characters. If you went with Leadership… it’s probably about +2 to +3 ECL (an item to be worked out in detail for the next Terminator article I think) and so makes a suitable companion at about level ten.

For a minor note… according to the Sarah Connor Chronicles the T-X is built with Coltan to improve it’s resistance to high temperatures. Sadly, using a high-temperature alloy in it’s frame won’t do a thing for hydraulic fluid, insulation, computer chips, and all it’s other components – which makes this a factor only in short-term, limited-area, exposures. Given that a Terminator’s base hardness (12) already means that a ten-die Fireball can only be expected to do (35/2 – 12 =) 5 1/2 points of damage to a unit, that’s already fairly well covered. Immersion in molten metal will still cook all the other components in short order though.

Finally, since we’re using a Pathfinder monster as a base… nothing has an XP cost, so there’s no need to worry about that. I will probably include the immunity in the templates for 3.5 though.

And I hope that makes sense!

Next time around on Terminators.. Actually building them as (semi-) playable characters.


One Response

  1. […] Kristin Stanwell. A cyborg firearms expert, the various How to build Terminators (Basic Builds, Power Sources, Explosions, and Robot Buddies), Garm, and Adam, Praetorian Nightmare: a melee death-machine nightmare for entire high-level […]

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