The Advancing Warrior Part VI – Cyborg, Power Armor, Mutant, Tinker, and MechWarriors.

Technology is not the same as magic – and the difference is fairly simple. Technology has tradeoffs. Take… a Hammer.

Technological hammers are straightforward: you can tie a rock to a stick to make a free one, get a cheap one at a dollar store or the local equivalent, get a good one at a hardware store, or buy a really good one from a catalog or an upper-end hardware store. The free one is not going to be very effective, and will tend to fall apart or break. The cheap one will break if you use it too much. A good one will function well and will probably hold up for years. The one from the catalog… well, if you chose well, it will be fine steel, rust-resistant, be forged in one piece with it’s handle, have a very comfortable grip, and come with a lifetime guarantee – but it really won’t do anything much “better” than the “good” one.

Sure, some hammers are better for some purposes than others – but it’s always a tradeoff. A heavier head and a longer handle makes for more impact, but slows your tempo and makes it harder to control where you hit. A rubber hammer is no good for driving nails, but can drive home wooden joints with little risk of damage. Doubling what you spend will not result in a hammer that works twice as well. There very quickly comes a point at which increasing the amount you spend has no measurable effect on the function at all. Realistic technology is relatively cheap, has functional limits and tradeoffs, and isn’t likely to change much through a campaign.

Similarly, you can make almost-free free “Zip Guns”, buy cheap “Saturday night specials”, buy a basic handgun, or buy a fabulously expensive handgun – but a shot from the fabulously expensive handgun isn’t going to all that much more effective than a shot from the basic one even if the custom grip slightly improves your aim.

On the other hand, if we’re talking magic hammers… the upper limit is purely arbitrary if there is any at all – and, at least in d20… throwing more money at it does make it better in predictable ways. There is nothing stopping you from making a +5 Sapient Hammer of Instant Construction with a wide variety of powers that will build you a castle overnight. The only functional trade-off is purely monetary.

Magic can be unique though. After all, the first atomic bomb was detonated in 1945. The first hydrogen bomb was set off in 1952. The Tsar Bomba was set off in 1961. Advances since then have focused on making the things smaller, lighter, and cheaper to build. The global nuclear stockpile hit an estimated peak of more than 70,000 weapons in 1986, some forty years after they were invented. Yet in (for example) Harry Potters world of magic few question the notion that a husband and wife team created a Philosophers Stone in a home laboratory six hundred years ago and yet no one else has ever managed it. Why not? Knowing that it’s possible to get endless life, health, and wealth with sufficient effort… why haven’t wealthy people thrown centuries worth of research teams at the project? Even in the Marvel Universe, where the upper end “technologies” ignore a lot of natural laws… there are tradeoffs and there are plenty of much cheaper Iron Man knockoffs running around.

Power Armor, Cyborg, and Power Armor Warriors, plus MechWarriors.

So if someone wants to play a Cyborg, or Power Armor user, or some such the game master has a basic decision to make: is their “technology” going to be basically magical – the way Pathfinder and Starfinder do it – or is it going to be realistic?

  • If it’s magical – or “alien technology” or any other form of narrative magic dressed up as technology – then you can simply use “Grafts”, Implanted Ioun Stones, Magical Tattoos, Talents (from The Practical Enchanter) and – in Eclipse – Innate Enchantment and Siddhisyoga. All you’re really changing is the special effects. You don’t really need any special rules for this, although you may want to apply the equivalent of the “Psionics Are Different” optional rule (In Eclipse the free “Eldritch” modifier). Your ultra-“technology” is indistinguishable from magic because it basically IS magic. For an example of this sort of effect, look at Vow Of Poverty.

If it’s genuinely technological – physical devices based on natural laws that anyone can use – it will change the game power curves quite a lot. Technology may be somewhat expensive in reality, but it’s fairly readily duplicated, can be mass-produced, and is cheap compared to even mid-level magical items. If you let realistic technology into your game low-level characters can become a lot more powerful. While upper-end magic can still surpass technology fairly readily, it will be fairly easy for a technologist to compete with the low- and mid-level stuff.

Presuming that the game master agrees that the settings natural laws allow more-or-less realistic technology to work and nothing stops it (such as chemical explosives not working in the forgotten realms because the God of Fire views chemical explosions as offerings of delicious candy and eats them) there are several ways to get it.

It is not wise to try and pay close attention to baseline d20’s “laws of nature”. After all, baseline d20 is a setting where humans can have fairly normal children with spirits and masses of fire. Where poisons take effect instantly. Where creatures can dig tunnels as fast as a man can walk even when they have nowhere to put the material they dig out. Where conversation can take place in the time it takes to press a button. Where a readied action will let you close a door before a laser beam can get through it after you see it being fired. Where “chemistry” has fire, earth, law, evil, negative energy, air, and good as manipulable elements while still apparently offering us Iron, Copper, and other conventional elements to work with. Where aerodynamics has no relevance to flight. Where wounds do not hinder creatures. It goes on and on. Baseline D20’s “laws of nature” are founded in Rule Of Cool, the random whims of dozens of different writers (who mostly don’t really understand real world physics very well themselves), ease of explanation and play, vast amounts of “that seems reasonable”, and even vaster amounts of “that’s too complicated to get into so we’re going to ignore it”. You think not? Some d20 Wizards have been shown wearing glasses. So what do the rules tell us about what you make corrective lenses for Darkvision out of? Why? How do they work?

  • The best option – at least in terms of ease of use – is probably to allow the Equipment Skills from the Shadowed Galaxy setting as Occult Skills. In effect that allows each of those skills – Armory, Biotech, Gadgetry, Logistics, Vehicles, and Weaponry – to be purchased for 6 CP (3 CP to gain access, 3 SP to cover the double cost for the first 3 CP). If the Game Master doesn’t require it as a World Law, you can either make your technology cheaper or get a lot more of it through applying limitations. Perhaps the stuff blocks the use of high-end magical and psionic abilities, or drives you progressively more insane as you get more, or supporting it against the local laws of nature drains your personal energies, or the gods dislike the stuff and penalize your saving throws, or some such. That sort of thing will tend to restrict the use of high technology to adventurers.
    • Do you want to be a Cyborg and have all your gadgets built-in? Then either select your equipment carefully (and probably mostly from the Biotech list) or buy an Immunity to having your technological gear taken away (Uncommon (since taking away a character’s gear is out of style), Major, Major, 6 CP).
    • Do you want Power Armor? You’ll probably want to invest heavily in Armory and Weaponry.
    • Do you want a Mech? Buy some extra size on your “power armor” and there you are. Alternatively, invest in a Vehicle. Either way, you’ll probably want a Martial Art Specialized for Double Effect / only while piloting a Mech.
    • Do you want to be a Mutant? Make a Cyborg and change your special effects.

This option provides a reasonable simulation of “realistic” (in the sense of limits and function, rather than in the sense of “existing items”) high technology for gaming purposes. As such… someone using Power Armor or a Mech will be very powerful in combat at low levels, but will find that – while they may pick up more technological options at higher levels – their individual items of equipment will remain relatively static. That particle blaster will be very effective against Orcs, fairly effective against Hill Giants, and of little use against an Adult Dragon.

It may take two or three levels worth of purchases to pick up a full-blown technologist package – Adept (6 CP) and three or four of the Occult Skills (at 6 CP each)- but if this option is available it can provide some very effective boosts and makes it possible to build space marines, cyborg street samurai, “matrix” hackers, logistical geniuses, gunfighters, and various other science-fiction or technological concepts. It can also really mess up a game that wasn’t designed to handle that sort of thing, so it’s wise to talk to the prospective game master in advance.

If you desperately want to do this, and the natural laws of the setting do not support it… it may be possible to pick up an Immunity to the Local Natural Laws. I can’t tell you how much that will cost since the requirements will depend on just how odd the settings rules are, and I can’t tell you whether or not your game master will allow it – natural law immunities are always game-master permission only – but it is likely to be very expensive. The cost can be reduced by picking up some of the limitations imposed by being subject to more realistic natural laws. For example, you may find that you cannot turn this power off, that wounds actually hinder you, that you must obey aerodynamic principles when flying, and so on.

Tinker Warriors:

If the setting is basically magical, and realistic technology isn’t generally usable in it, you can take Occult Skill / Gadgetry and whip up quasi-magical items. While less powerful than the Equipment Skills, this is cheap and versatile. Since this is going to be the “tinkerer” version (rather than the Reality-Warping version common in the Federation-Apocalypse setting) it can be based on Dexterity (if you lean towards clockwork and mechanisms), Intelligence (if you lean towards runes and minor magical items) or Wisdom (if you lean towards alchemy and natural magic). You can also gain a +2 Synergy bonus from up to two relevant skills – but what skills are relevant are up to your style of Gadgetry and the game master. Things like Craft (Alchemy, Clockwork, Metals, etc), Profession (Engineer, Mechanic, Runesmith), and Knowledge (Arcana and Nature) are all likely candidates.

In any case, your total in the Gadgets skill also represents your daily pool of “gadget points”, which you may invest each morning in your creations. As a rule, “gadgets” are comparatively minor things. They’re flexible and won’t necessarily work the same way twice. You’re carrying a vial of Liquid Sunlight? You might want to use it to create a flare or blinding flash, to damage some undead, to paint luminescent lines on a wall, to toss it in a creatures eyes to blind it for a time, to negate a darkness spell, or to use it as makeup when you impersonate a ghost – or perhaps a creature of the higher planes. But rather than looking up rules… the user describes what he or she is trying to accomplish with the gadget, and the game master can just describe the effect on the fly. Was your Liquid Sunlight more effective last time? Maybe this time it was bottled on a cloudy day. Or it was the wrong time of year. Or there was a celestial conjunction. Or it was a lunar festival day. If you don’t trust the game master, why are you playing with him or her?

To create a gadget, you name or describe it. Most gadgets will “cost” 1-3 “points”.

  • Reasonable, straightforward, or extremely situational items, will generally cost one point: A flask full of really strong coffee or “energy drink”? A flaregun with six flares? Really tough waterproof canvas you could use for a canoe hull? A tiny heater that keep your tent warm in arctic conditions? A fire-resistant blanket? A rewinding wrist grapple? A pocket full of Smoke Pellets? An Ice Axe and Pitons? Realistic medications? All are suitable one-point items. Many alchemical items fall into this category.
  • More unlikely or powerful items will usually cost two points. “Charms” from The Practical Enchanter tend to fit here, as do things like Wily E. Coyote Rocket Boots (good for making mighty leaps, pushing people away, and avoiding or breaking a fall, probably burning out on a 1-2 on a d6 after each use), minor potion-equivalents, Dart Fingers (each acts as a light crossbow bolt, you can fire a whole hands worth as a single attack, but once spent, they’re used up for the day), or a rubber coating on your armor (5 points of Electrical Resistance for the day), a big can of Spinach (+2 to Str and Con for a minute or two after you eat it).
  • The most powerful gadgets will usually cost three points. “Talismans” from The Practical Enchanter show up here, as do things like that Liquid Sunlight, Popcorn Grenades, most Feather Tokens, 2’nd level potion equivalents, and so on.

Inspiration for other gadgets can be found on the Core Psitech and Glowstone Items lists – but I wouldn’t count on them being usable directly; most campaigns will not include the relevant natural laws.

  • Generous game masters may let you get away with creating gadgets on the fly – probably at an increased cost – or you can just take Immunity / the time normally required to assemble gadgets (Uncommon, Minor, Major, 3 CP). That’s another natural-law immunity, so it may not be allowed – but you could accomplish the same thing with a minor spell or a bit of reality editing or in several other ways, so most game masters will probably allow it.

The Witchcraft-Based Mad Scientist also belongs here, given that you can pick up “SCIENCE!” for a mere 12 CP. The list of options for that is pretty lengthy, so I’m just going to link to the build containing them.

While neither Gadgetry nor Mad Science is really all that powerful, they’re both very versatile, providing a nice selection of tricks and exotic options – and they’re both cheap. A single level worth of purchases will suffice for either, and two levels for both – and either way it’s a possible lead-in to a ninja-style Warrior.

The Technology Exploit:

If the game master is running baseline d20… pretty much anything works. That’s why you could pick up ray guns and such from crashed alien ships in some adventures despite the setting not advancing in thousands of years. It couldn’t be a natural law of course – otherwise the stuff wouldn’t work and why were all those alien civilizations immune to it?

In any case, while technology seems to have gotten stuck in most such settings, there isn’t anything that actually keeps it from working – so all your character needs is to get a hold of it.

  • If you just want access to a particular item or material, baseline d20 includes all kinds of ways to travel the multiverse. Ergo, all you need is a Privilege (3, 6, or 9 CP, depending on just how hard it is to find whatever-it-is). If you want to start off with an Artifact of some sort this will probably do it. While most of those things have their uses, they tend to have their own purposes, hordes of pursuers, and various curses as well.

If you want access to a higher technology level in general… then you need an immunity to whatever undefined handwave it is that is keeping the stuff from being imported, duplicated, and sold in every town. As usual in Eclipse, you can buy that if the game master is willing to put up with it. Even better, since d20 Past, Modern, and Future helpfully defined some technology (“Progress”) levels for us (whether or not that makes sense) we can just use those. To do so buy…

  • Immunity / the normal limits on equipment availability (Very Common, Major. Trivial (+1 Tech Level) costs 5 CP, Notable (+2 Tech Levels, costs 10 Points), Major (+3 Tech Levels, costs 15 points), Great (+4 Tech Levels, costs 30 points), Epic (+5 Tech Levels, costs 45 points), and Legendary (+6 Tech Levels, costs 60 points). Most baseline d20 settings start at Tech Level 2 (or maybe 3). You could limit that in various ways, but it’s kind of tricky; it’s hard to think of a source for – say – Starships that won’t have good technology available in other fields.
  • If the game master allows this stunt in the first place, he may also allow the Innate Enchantment exploit – which is simple enough; according to the official rules one Gold Piece equates to 20 d20 future “Credits”. According to the (again official) Purchase DC to Credits chart quite a lot of personal equipment is surprisingly cheap. And since it’s mundane, there are no other costs associated. That way 6 CP worth of Innate Enchantment gets you 100,000 Credits worth of “built-in” gear. That… can get pretty absurd. I’ve used that exploit to build a couple of superheroes, and a couple of iconic Star Trek gadgets – but if the game master allows it at all, expect him to keep a very careful eye on it.

This isn’t a very good way to get Mechs and Starships though. Those things simply cost way too much if you buy them normally. You can, however, become a Pulp Hero Starship Captain relatively cheaply…

I can’t really tell you how much this build will “cost” since it’s full of campaign-specific variables – but if all you want is a gun and a kevlar vest instead of a bow and chainmail, it shouldn’t cost very much.

There are other ways to do this of course. For example, we have the Gadgeteer template in the Mutants Of The Eclipse series (in +1, +2, and +3 ECL flavors) as well as Pulp Heroes (and their advanced powers, drugs and archetypes, and vehicles), and the various entries in Mayhem and Mad Science – but most of those are for dedicated inventors and mad scientists, not for Fighters who dabble.

On the other hand, just for amusement… here’s the +1 ECL Pirate Template.

And for the last article in this series, it will be a selection of lesser archetypes built around throwing in a few special tricks.

6 Responses

  1. Yeah, the only limits on fields that tend to have good starships are things that amount to ‘no transhumanism’, and limits that are only limits because you are in a d20 verse (e.g. no psionic tech from a tech base from a world without psionics).

    • Well, even first edition and D&D was prone to importing stuff from Gamma World, crashlanded alien spaceships (one a major magical power source for Glantri), and random crossovers (I always did like Sturmgeshutz and Sorcery or How effective is a panzerfaust against a Troll, Heinz? (Strategic Review, Dec 1975). (Worth a read, it’s on the internet of course…)

  2. “Most baseline d20 settings start at Tech Level 4.”

    Presuming you meant your standard quasi-medieval d20 setting, they strike me as being closer to Progress Level 2. It’s not usually consistent, of course, but that seems more in line with how those worlds are usually depicted than if they had radios and machine guns. Also, having PL 2 be the baseline makes more sense for the Immunities you listed, since the most expensive (+6 PL) grants you access to PL 8 technology, which essentially as high as it goes since PL 9+ is described as being beyond imagination.

    • Ah typos! They sneak in everywhere… As usual, thank you for proofreading for me!

      Magic does make it hard to compare magical and science-fictional d20 worlds though, even if you ignore places like Eberron.

  3. […] Part VI: Cyborgs, Power Armor, Mutants, Tinkers, and Mechwarriors. […]

  4. […] Part VI: Cyborgs, Power Armor, Mutants, Tinkers, and Mechwarriors. […]

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