I’ve been toying with the idea of a Ghost in the Shell-style campaign using Cortex.  Scattered throughout the core book and the Serenity material is much of what you might need to develop a setting similar to Shirow’s world.

First thing that is necessary is to have some kind of idea regarding cybernetics.  For systems like Cyberpunk and others in the cyberpunk genre, there is a tendency to get very detailed with the type of equipment that you’ve bolted onto yourself.  This isn’t really necessary:  most of the cybernetic enhancement can be covered by a few Traits, well described.  In essence, you have two things cybernetics would do, systems mechanics-wise:  increase your attributes, provide an existing trait, or provide skill emulation.

CYBERNETIC ENHANCEMENT (d2-d4):  You’ve have work done to improve your body’s natural characteristics — maybe it’s a kinesthetic monitoring system that enhances your inner ear, or sensory buffer that pushes data to the brain at a faster rate giving you a better Agility or Alertness; maybe it’s artificial eyes or ears that give better vision and hearing, adding to your Alertness; maybe its an adrenal boost that aids in your natural Strength; maybe it’s a drug shunt that adds to your Vitality or Willpower tests.  Whatever the system, it hacks the meat to push it to its limit.  You can take this multiple times, to give the boost across abilities.  Gives another die for tests involving that particular attribute.

METACORTEX (d2-d6):  This is a cybernetic uplink that conencts the user’s mind to the internet, or whatever you’re calling it in the campaign.  It doesn’t boost the intelligence of the user, per se, but instead gives a die bonus when doing an Intelligence based skill like Knowledge, Scientific Expertise, etc.  It allows you to find the data on the wb/net/cyberspace, and use it.  It doesn’t make you a surgeon, or an astronomer, or make you an expert in the paintings of Matisse, but you might be able to fake it.  It could also give the Enhanced Communications Trait at d6 (Because of the nature of the cyberpunk genre, I’d say just have this cost the equivalent of a d4 trait as an add-on.

Another Cybernetic Enhancement might give a Trait, instead — bionic legs might give a Fast on your Feet, but don’t offer much else in the way of enhancement; a Vehicle Interface would give you the Born Behind the Wheel Trait that is good for any vehicle; Eyes and Ears might provide Enhanced Senses; nanobots designed to strip toxins and disease from the body might provide a combination of Hearty Constitution and Fast Healing — or possibly Immune, depending on the nature of the cybernetics.

Cut down to the most basic levels, these are really the only Traits you need for the basic cybernetics.  To tailor them, you can take Complications specific to the technology.

Maybe your iBrain only works on the AT&T network, and as a result, you can’t always get a signal or fast throughput, you could take OUT OF NETWORK (d2-d6):  Depending on where you are, the GM might have you incur a die penalty, added to the difficulty of whatever Metacortex-based test you are rolling.  (“Dammit!  I’m only getting one bar — I’ll never get the recipe I need for this casserole in time!)

Maybe your strength benefit from cybernetics is specific to a single limb (“My right arm is the best prosthetics money can buy!”), and can only really be used for crushing or punching, but you can’t benchpress a ton if only your right arm from shoulder to hand is artificial.  Take the cost of the enhancement dow a die step, but note that it’s only go for such-and-such.

The real issue would be full body prosthesis — essentially, you would have to build the character as usual, but with the CONSTRUCTED Trait and NONHEALING Flaw — you require repairs after damage.  You might go so far as to have something like ROUTINE MAINTENANCE (d2-6):  If the character doesn’t receive routine service, their body is prone to breakdown or malfunction.  At d2, thy require service every six months, d4 monthly, d6weekly.  If they aren’t maintained, they must roll an EASY RESISTANCE for the first time period (for a d4, the first month), then +4/per period (AVERAGE for two months on a d4, HARD at three, etc…)  If the roll have failed, they have their die rating added to tasks as their system break down.  On a botch, they completely fail and cannot operate until repaired.

I think the tricker elements are the full body prostheses of GITS, where there’s enough of their biological bits and bobs left that they have to eat, but have to have mainenance, where they are resistance to disease, but the meat bits can still get sick.

Still ruminating on this…

For Battlestar Galactica and Serenity (and the other Cortex campaigns I might run), I’ve been using a stripped down “defense” system to speed play.  For players defending against multiple attacks, I have them roll once — either their Agility+Athletic (Dodge) [in hand-to-hand or melee they can use Agility+combat skill to block, parry, etc.] or the Agility straight if they don’t have the skill.  This test, if higher than the base difficulty to hit (say, Average for a bunch of mooks in a karate fight scene) — it’s the skill or attribute check they have to beat; if lower, it’s the 7 for an Average.  To emulate multiple attackers, I giver them a die step on their skill for each mook.

Example:  Martin “th Black Monk” Zhuong is fighting three guys from the Brotherhood of the White Chrysanthemum.  He has a Agility of d10 and a Unarmed combat (Karate) of d10.  The mooks are Agility d6+UC/Karate d6.  The three of them are wailing away at him in a circle and he has to do the Jet Li mutli-block schtick against them  it’s d6+d10 (+2 steps for the extra two guys) vs. Zhuong’s 2d10.  The GM rolls a 6 (they would have missed him even if he didn’t actively defend — most likely, their punches and kicks are getting in each other’s way — and Zhuong rolls a 19.  He easily beats them out, well enough that were this an actual test in a game I would let him have one attack roll at his normal stats, even if he had done multiple rolls.

It works for viper combat in BSG — Skidmark is being harried by three raiders that have her bracketed and locked up.  She is trying to fly them into her wingman’s line of fire, but has to dodge their shots.  Skidmakr is a solid pilot at d8 Agility and d10 Pilot/Viper.  The raiders are combat experienced Cylons with an Agility of d12, and due to experience, a Pilot of d4.  They roll a d12+d8 (for the extra two) vs. Skidmark’s d8+d10…Cylons roll 8, Skidmark 7: one of the raiders tags her viper for 1S+d8 for the cannon damage — a 6 — 1S, 6W.  Skidmark’s Mk VII takes 2W, after the armor.  they’ve stitched her ship, but “it’s nothing she can’t handle…”

MANPADS are man-portable, surface-to-air anti-aircraft weapons.  In theBattlestar Galactica RPG, they give stats for the SMI92 “Flying Needle” — essentially the Stinger missile.  The weapon has a maximum range of roughly 15,000′  (about 3.5 miles), and damage of d8W, vehicle-scale.

Similar weapons like the Milan and the Starstrike use laser guidance, instead of optical sighting, and their rockets fly at about Mach 3.  The Starstrike uses a trio of “needles”, each made of tungsten and carrying roughly a 3 lb. warhead.  The Starstrike would have a vehicle-scale damage of d10W (and for Serenity a spacecraft scale of d0W.)

Basically, from a mechanics point of view, shields in Star Trek work like armor — it soaks some of the incoming damage.  The shields degrade as more damage comes in, eventually failing.

Shields in Cortex Trek have two ratings:  wound and stun.  The Constitution-class starship for my retcon game (much closer to the original show ship) has a rating of 3W, 3S.  An attack from a Klingon D-7 might take a shot at Enterprise. The Klingons are firing at medium range, needing an average (7) to hit.  The gunner is an NPC so the GM rolls the ship’s ALE of d8 and a Heavy Weapons of d4: they get a 9.  Big E is hit with 2 basic damage, which is split into 1W, 1S.  Both are soaked by the shields.  They roll the damage on their disruptors: and roll a 2.  Another 2W hit the shields, but do not get through.  However, the shields lose a point of effectiveness.  This starts with Stun, then moves to Wound.

Here’s where the operations players can be of assistance.  While the tactical officer is shooting, the operations (navigator usually in TOS) tests to try and keep the shields fro losing effectiveness.  They roll their Tech/Shields as if doing a wound recovery test, in this case against a 5 (and average test.)  Say the character has an INT d8 and a Tech of d6.  [S]he rolls a 10.  The shield strength fluctuates, but remains 100%.   Had he rolled under a 7, the shield rating would be reduced to 3W, 2S.

If a shot breaches the shields, the ship tests for the reliability of the shields (VIT+WIL).  Say the next shot, the Klingons get really lucky:  they roll a 12.  That’s 12-7: 5 points of basic damage (2W, 3S), and roll a 6 on the damage.  8W, 3S total.  5W gets through and Enterprise takes a hell of a shot.  The shields are checked for their reliability by the engineering officer, command officer, or if neither of these positions is a player character, they GM.  (Engineering and command officers, however, can blow plot points on the test.)  The total hit of 11 requires a 19 to succeed.  They roll the VIT+WIL of the ship — a 5 in this case.  The shields are now at 3W, 2S.

Big E can take 18 points of damage.  She has 5 hit the hull.  That damage can effect the ship’s systems.  Do a series of reliability tests for the following attributes:  Agility+Willpower for the ships’s maneuvering thrusters vs. Average (for the 5W), Alertness+Willpower for the sensors, Intelligence+Willpower for the computers, VIT+WIL for systems like transporters, warp drive, weapons.  A failure lowers the die rating a step (a botch drops it to d0.)

Example:  Enterprise takes 5W.  AGL+WIL is a 7 — no damage to maneuverability,  VIT+WIL is a 4 — there’s a problem with life support and the Vitality is reduced to d8 until it can be repaired, and so on…  For systems, a VIT+WIL for engines that fails might mean the warp drive is offline, the same for transporters.  For weapons, it might mean a die step penalty for damage as a result of power loss, damaged emitters, etc.

This is where the engineers come in.  Mr. Scott, super-engineer, has an INT of d10, Mechanics/Repair of d10, and a Talented Engineer of d6.  He has a few things to attend to — he could try to repair the shields, the life support, or another system (one per combat turn.)  This is a bypass or jury rig, since a real repair takes time.  He rolls against the damage as a wound recovery (if the damage is STUN, it’s a straight test at Average.  This assumes it’s blown breakers, and the like.)  The system gains back a die step until the action sequence is over, or the system suffers another failure — in which case the jury rig fails and the original die step penalty is restored, along with the new damage.

An engineer can stage a second wind at anytime, recovering any stun damage and restoring a system of his choice.

Alternately, the GM might want to randomly damage systems when the ship is hit. For that, here’s a quick random systems damage “chart”:

I’ve been running a Star Trek game for my Saturday group for a few weeks, and finally we had a combat sequence.  I’ve been using Decipher Trek, which has got solid mechanics (particularly like the starship combat rules), but which is a bit dodgy in character combat.  Use of phasers is fairly good:  stun requires a test to see if you’re stunned, set it to “obliterate” and you make the guy disappear…but most PCs can walk away from a phaser shot that is described as burning a foot wide hole in a metal door with an “Ow!  That sucked…”

Hand to hand is equally bad.  It’s very obvious that the Decipher character designed were a bit kludged to try and fuse the d20ish aspects that came into the design with the elements of Last Unicorn Trek that worked well…unfortunately, your character winds up with ridiculous amounts of damage they can soak up.  this can be fix with a few simple adjustments, like knocking out one of the health levels, but I decided to do a port over to Cortex.  (Whether or not I use it is another matter!)

First I took a pass at doing up some species templates of Old Show/Movie period aliens.  (We’re running in a combo of the retcon universe of Abrams and the original universe…)  The templates are meant more as a guide for what traits the aliens often have and aren’t necessary to build a reasonable facsimile.

ANDORIAN:  Antennae: [d2] add to Perception tests; Redundant Circulation: Immunity to Cold [d4]

AXANARI:  Enhanced Senses [d4]; Radiation Resistance [d4]

BETELGEUSANS:  Tough [d8]

BOLIANS:  Good Natured [d6]

CARDASSIAN:  Vesala [d4]: Works as contacts

DELTANS:  Allure [d4]: Pheromones; Credo, Oath of Celibacy [-d6]; Enhanced Communications, Empathy [d8]; Enhanced Senses, Empathy [d4]

GORN:  Inherent Armor [d4]: Impact & Cutting Damage; Inherent Weapons [d4]: Claws and Teeth, d4B; Dull Sense, Smell [-d4]

KLINGON:  Honor [-d4]; Tough [d8]

NAUSICAANS:  

Brawler [d4]; 

Formidable Presence [d4]; 

High Pain Threshold [d4]; 

Out for Blood [-d8]

ORIONS [Female]:  

Allure [d4]; 

Immunity [d4]: Ultraviolet; 

Lustful [-d4]; 

Owned [-d8] if slave

ORIONS [Male]:  

Immunity [d4]: Ultraviolet; 

Tough [d4]

ROMULANS:  

Enhanced Sense, Hearing [d2]; 

Discipline of D’Era [d4]: Add to willpower tests

TELLARITES:  

Hearty Constitution [d4]; 

Poison Tolerance [d4]; 

Stubborn [-d4]

VULCANS:  

Enhanced Sense, Hearing [d2]; 

Enhanced Sense, Mind Meld [d6]: Must be able to touch target; 

Fast Healing [d6]: Must be able to trace meditate; 

Unemotional [-d4]: Against social tests

XELATIANS:  

Enhanced movement, swimming [d6]; 

Enhanced sense, vision [d4]; 

Enhanced communication, luminal [d4]; 

Impaired communication [d8]: mute; 

Invertebrate [d6]: Adds to AGL tests, save on land, when it is a negative to movement tests

XYRILLIANS:  

Curious [-d4]; 

Good Natured [d4]; 

Pacifist [-d4]; 

Parasitic Reproduction [-d4]

ZARANITES:  

Complex Needs, Atmospheric [d8]; 

Enhanced Sense, Sight [d4]: Night Vision; 

Impaired Sense, Vision [-d4]: Light sensitive; 

Mathematician [d6]

Sometimes, we overlook the small things…  Recently, I came into possession of a Surefire E2D Defender Executive flashlight.  It’s a tactical flashlight with a 60+ lumen light (more if I put an LED lamp in it) and a combat bezel around the light and the activation button on the butt.  Adapters can let you hang it under your handgun (if you have a rail system like most polymer and Kimber combat handguns have, or on your rifle (same.)

The flashlight can be used as a self-defense weapon, striking with the striking bezel.  This adds a +1DC in the James Bond: 007 game (or gives a d2B in Cortex.)

Additionally, the intense light of the E2D can be used to momentarily stun an attack by flashing it in their eyes.  This requires the target to be at ranges of less than 10 feet, and a Fire Combat test with a base EF5.  A quality result of 4 (average), means the target is semi-blinded for the combat round, with a -1EF to his/her actions; a QR3 gives a -2EF to actions, a QR2 means they are -2EF this round and -1EF next round, and a QR 1 that they are incapable of action in the current round and at a -2EF for the next combat round.  (Yes, it really is that bloody bright when shone in your eyes in darkness or low-light conditions.)

Cortex rules for using the light as a blinding weapon:  The character makes an AGL+ Athletics or Guns test.  Success adds the number of points the roll was made by to the target’s actions for the combat round.  Extraordinary success means the target has half that modifier against them the following round.

I got one of the early Eclipse Phase RPG books from Catalyst when a friend of mine snagged one at last year’s GenCon.  I like much of the setting, although I think they throw a little too much at the wall with the aliens and Pandora Gates (think Stargates and your mostly there.)  The one thing that I didn’t like:  the system, especially the hugely clumsy character generation system.

Also, I found EP mechanics didn’t mesh well with the “you are your mind” theme of transhumanism.  You build a character in toto, and while you have the opportunity to reskin with another physical body, it never seemed to capture the idea of the physical body as a tool.  So I thought about porting it over into Cortex.

Some initial thoughts:  when building a character, the starting level of novice, veteran, or elite gives you points to build the “original” you, the one starting the game.  Once built, you can assume that the skills and the psychological traits and complications will stay the same unless the GM has some reason to tweak them, but the attributes might be something that can be toyed with as the character changes skins.

One way to handle changes in the characters “morph”, or physical body might be to allow them to rearrange their attributes when they change bodies.  Maybe the character needs a combat shell, but the only thing available is an older mining mecha turned combat walker.  It’s got the physical stats you need, but the processor is sub-par, lowering (for the time you’re in it) your alertness and intelligence.

If the character needs to buy/rent something upscale, they can either use whatever monetary /trade system your setting has, or they can throw plot points into it “buying” the higher traits for the length of their time in the body.  (Say, they are normally a d6s across the board physically, but they need a high end acrobatic humanoid body for some mission — they want an AGL d10, and VIT of d8…they throw 6 plot points to get the body rented for the time being.)

One idea for the mental attributes might be that while an new skin might have higher attributes, the character is unused to having the processing power or sensor acuity and they need time to ramp up to use it (if they don’t feel like throwing plot points at it.)  Allow them to test their attribute over time to see if they can learn to use the excess brainpower.

The toughest part of the EP and other transhuman settings is the disembodied — the sentient program, “ghost”, or whatever you call it.  Building a super-intellect AI at character creation is a bit harder.  You could 1) For balance the 48 points you have for a veteran character, for instance, could be cut in half to 24 (averaging a d8 for those mental attributes.)  The other 24 points could go into traits — maybe buying backups  or other benefits you would expect an AI to have.  2) You could allow them to buy their mental attributes a level lower (novice at 42 points) and allow the excess 6 pts to go to traits or skills (I like this, personally.)  The get a super intellect that can be stepped down when put into a body, as above.

Another option I’ve toyed with:  temporarily trading skills and (mental) traits for new ones.  You are a high-end cybershell with a top notch brain, but you need to copy yourself for an operation to a radiation-hardened vacuum-environment mecha on Europa.  To save bandwidth and memory costs on the transfer (or to the point, get the boffo physical stats you need), you trade a few of your skills and traits for the physical attributes and traits you need.  Essentially, you sent a stripped down version of your persona to the new body, since it’s to be temporary.

This is, admittedly, just a quick bit of spitballin’ to work out how you could work with the ideas from EP for changing character forms and mind-states, but it might be enough for some clever person out there to create rules for a transhuman setting.

BASIC INVENTION RULES, Part 2 (Creating New Stuff):

Sometimes, your character just wants to build new stuff.  Maybe their battlestar needs new fighters you have to build from scratch.  Maybe you have to build a giant robot for nefarious purposes.  Maybe your character wants to invent the aether flyer…

Here’s some ideas on how to do that.

1) There are two stages to invention: design and construction.  Design is a simple test – a one-off roll against Mechanical Engineering/Create New Device, with the difficulty giving the base time.  An Easy test (building a a spring-loaded arm holster) would be a matter of minutes.  An Average (redesigning a motor or an existing piece of technology) might take a few hours.  A Hard task (redesigning an existing piece of tech to be better [50% more range, accuracy, a +1 step to a single attribute] ) would take a day or more.  Formidable tests (designing a new device with similarities to existing ones – like a simple wind-up mechanical man based on clockwork) would take days to a week.  Heroic tests (like designing a new vehicle type) would take a month.  Incredible tests (designing a new piece of technology requiring a new understanding of chemistry, physics, etc.) would take a base time of 6 months or more…

In the case of building something requiring a new kind of understanding of science itself – say the creation of an aether flyer in Victorian times or warp drive in a near future game, I would suggest a Complex test for the design phase – requiring a Science Expertise (Specialty) of Formidable or more, followed by the Create New Device test.

2) Construction: with the design phase is done and now it’s time to build your machine.  An extraordinary success in the design phase will give you a +2 die step to your skill tests at this stage of the game.  A failure of design does not mean a failure of the machine, but rather gives a -2 die step to the skill when building the device.  A botch in design means the thing won’t work; you have to go back to the drawing board…

First you need to know, is it a simple device or a complex one with multiple systems/elements?  The spring-loaded holster requires a leather greave with a sliding metal arm(s) and a spring assembly with some trigger mechanism – a trigger around the thumb or a catch sensitive to the movement of the arm.  Each piece, however, is relatively simple…a single Mechanical Engineering/Create Device test should be sufficient.

For more complex gadgets like weapons, an extended test might be required.  The difficulty should be based on whether the device is a knock-off of something already around (say a new revolver in the Victorian era), a new design (a semi-automatic in the Victorian era or a gauss weapon in modern times), something truly radical (a ray gun in the 1930s.)

A knock-off should be an Easy extended task, a new design that is not terribly radical an Average, a innovative design Hard, a completely new gadget Formidable with similar time schemes to the design phase, but with each test taking that amount of time.

Sample tests:

Fabricating a new firearm: Craft (Metalworking) Average x2, Mechanical Engineering/Create New Device x2, possibly Guns/Gunsmithing.

Creating a new weapons (ray gun): Craft (Metalworking), Technical Engineering (Electronics), Mechanical Engineering/Create New Device.

Creating a smoke bomb marble: Science Expert/Chemistry, Craft/Glass Blowing, Mechanical Engineering/Create New Device

Creating a starlight vision system: Craft/Optics x2, Mechanical Engineering/Create New Device, possibly Technical Engineering/Electronics.

Building a pre-fab house: Craft/Carpentry x2, Mechanical Engineering/Construction x1, Mechanical Engineering/Plumbing x1.

For vehicles, there are some rules in Serenity that can be modified for use.  Figure out what the Attributes of the vehicle are (you can look at examples of vehicles in the core Cortex book), their skills, traits and flaws, etc.  Add the dice for the attributes, skills, speed (where applicable) and traits together to get the basic complexity of the device.  Failures in the design phase here get added (add the number of points the target for design was missed by.  I like the idea of turning this into flaws.)

2-12: Very Low Complexity.  Costs are x0.4 a similar device/vehicle.  Test difficulty – Easy.
13-20: Low Complexity.  Cost is x0.6 a similar device/vehicle.  Test Difficulty – Average
21-26: Average Complexity.  Test Difficulty – Hard
27-42: High Complexity.  Cost: 1.6 a similar device/vehicle.  Test Difficult – Formidable
43-48: Very High Complexity.  Cost: x2.4 a similar device/vehicle.  Test Difficulty – Heroic.
49+: Extreme Complexity.  Cost: x4 a similar device/vehicle.  Test Difficulty – Incredible or more.

Example: Dex – a mechanic in 1936 –  wants to build a jet pack for his Jackie, an axiatrix he works for.  The design phase sees him learning rocketry (a new science) – Hard Science/Physical.  He rolls his d12 Intellect and d6 Science and gets a 12 (success!) He designs the pack’s attributes: AGL d2 STR d4   VIT d2   ALE d0   INT d0 WIL d4.  Speed 3.  There are no skills, but he has given it a Flaw of Complex Needs d2 for the special fuel it uses.  Total: 17 – low complexity.  Normally, this would be a Hard d12 INT and d10 Mechanical Engineering/Create New Devices test, but it’s a brand new technology, so the GM raises the design difficulty to Formidable.  Dex rolls and scores a 22!  Extraordinary success!

Now he has to get to the construction phase.  This is an extended test.  With the extra success, he gets a +2 skill step to the tests.  The design phase is past and the complexity gives a difficulty of HARD.  Dex needs to get a total of 55 in his tests.  Each test takes a day.  He rolls his Craft of d10 (that’s with the +2 skill step) and Agility of d6 and fails with a 4, but the next test is a success of 11.  The formation of the metal casings took two days and he has a total of 11 (the failure didn’t count toward the total points.)  Mechanical Engineering/Plumbing to run the pipes for fuel, the storage tanks, etc. and Dex rolls his INT d12 and Mech Engineering d6 (now a d10 with the success step) and gets a 13.  Success and the total is now 24.  Mechanical Engineering/Create New Devices (he has a temporary d12+d2 from his design success) tests sees an 11, 7, and 18.  It’s been 7 days since he laid pencil to paper and he’s at 52 points.  The GM decirdes to have him test an INT+Craft/ Leatherworking (d12+d10) to create special trousers to ablate heat and flame from the pack.  Dex rolls an 22.  He’s done at 8 days and the GM decides the work on the flight outfit is flame proof, and that a quickly cobbled together helmet and jacket gives Jackie a 2W armor for combat or in the event of a crash.

A conversation on the Cortex boards got me thinking about a rules set missing from the Cortex books: Invention.  This can be especially handy in a Pulp or Victorian sci-fi setting where superscience is the norm, but also can be reflected in settings like Battlestar Galactica – where the crew built a new fighter from scratch.

So here’s my first pass at a set of Invention rules.  They are necessarily fast and loose, but should work to provide some kind of framework for the Cortex GM…

BASIC INVENTION RULES, Part 1 (Modifying Stuff):

First, figure out what the character is trying to do.  Is it a simple modification?  One that would be a simple test, like adding night sights to a firearm that allows for it (like Glock and most other new firearms) – that should be a straightforward Mechanical Engineer (Customize) test as Easy with a base time of 30 minutes.  Or does it require real work?  If the gunsmith had to work with an old Colt 1911 with fixed sights, they have to shave the old sights, drill and tap the slide for the new sights…that’s work.  And an extended test of Average and 6 hours base time per test.

Second, what skill(s) are needed?  Mechanical Engineering (Customize) works well for most gear situations, but for complex tests, there might be others needed.  The example above with the 1911 would require a Craft (Metalworking) test to modify the slide, followed by a final Mechanical Engineering (Customize) to set the sights properly.

Here are some examples of modifications and the skills that might be needed:

Increase Speed of a Vehicle: Mechanical Engineering (Customize) to change exhaust on a motorcycle or drop in a supercharger or turbocharger on a car, another test or maybe a Tech Engineering (Programming) to remap the fuel injection and other sensors issues.

Increase the accuracy or range of a gun: 50% increase in range or a +1 die step to skill check requires a Mechanical Engineering (Customize) or Guns (Gunsmithing) EASY to add a scope or lasersight.  To swap out a barrel or do action modifications for reliability or accuracy would be a AVERAGE test.

Alter rifle from semi to full-auto: Average Mechanical Engineering (Customize) or an Average Craft (Metalworking) to modify the sear, and an Easy Mech. Engineering (Customize to install.)

Increase magazine capacity on a gun: Craft (Metalworking) Average to build a new magazine design.

Increase range of vehicle: 50% increase is an Average Mechanical Engineering (Customize) that might involve a Tech Engineering (Programming) for the fuel map.

Adding weaponry to a vehicle: Just bolting a mount for a gun to the roof of your Toyota truck (a la the Somali “technicals”) is an Easy Mechanical Engineering (Customize).  Hiding 1.5″ free flight missiles in under the fog lamps of your 1986 Aston Martin V8 is another matter – there’s the mount for the missiles, the aiming systems (if any), and the electrics for the launchers, as well as blast protection for the motor.  That’s an extended test with a Hard Mech. Eng./Customize to design it, another to make the mechanical modifications, a third or Tech Engineering/Customize to set up the computer for target control and the windscreen HUD and radio knobs for aiming…

Third, how difficult is the modification?  If it’s something that just swaps out, bolts on, or otherwise is plug and play – EASY.  If minimal modifications need to be made, AVERAGE.  If it requires a redesign or fashioning of parts, HARD+.  If it requires design and manufacture of parts, as well as modifications to the original parts, FORMIDABLE+

Fourth, how long will it take?  Base times for simple tasks should never be more than 6 hours.  For extended tasks, the base time for an Easy task should be minutes; Average an hour to 4 hours; Hard 6 hours to a day; Formidable should be a day to a week; Heroic should be a week; Impossible and higher a month base time.  (For example: Designing and building the 1969 Ferrari Daytona – from paper to release was a matter of less than three months…)

It the inventor has a staff – the stereotypical single strange assistant (Igor), for instance –  they should receive a +1 die step to their skill.  For multiple assistants, add +2 skill step to the skill.

Ever since I started running the Serenity RPG, I’ve been using the following rule for actions in action turn/combat round/whatever you want to call it.

Each extra action above the first comes with a -1 die step to the attribute. Say you have a d8 Agility. If you changed a magazine on a gun, then want pop off a shot in that turn, you can.  But the shot is a d6+skill.  Say you double tapped, the second shot?  d4+skill.  While doing that you were snagging your rucksack and wanted to get up.  Roll either an Agility or Strength and Athletics (if you had a Strength of d8, you would roll a d4+Athletics, as opposed to a d2+Athletics for an Agility.)

The limitation:  once one of your attributes is at d0 — you can do nothing, including take any kind of passive defense or passive perception tests (you tunnel vision on your tasks.)  We find it works out to roughly 3-5 actions a person could take in 6 seconds, each increasingly harder.  I’ve found that most players will leave themselves a d2 or d4 for wiggle room, should they need to defend against attack or notice something important.