Wednesday, November 7, 2018

GFA18 - Alternative Technology Check for MCC

I wrote some alternate rules for making technology checks in Mutant Crawl Classics for the 2018 Gongfarmer's Almanac. My goal was to make a mini-game out of learning to use technology. As I state below, this is too complex to use for every piece of technology the characters find. My purpose for creating a mini-game is so that, in a sandbox game, the process of mastering an important, campaign-changing piece of technology becomes both a reason to "quest for it" and a spur to new adventures. Players have an incentive to go looking for instructions, tools, and parts to help boost their technology rolls, and the ability to master (or even mass-produce) the tech creates new opportunities that wouldn't be available otherwise. The fact that progressing up the table typically involves the device breaking or becoming temporarily unusable a few times means that judges can give their players fairly powerful objects without fear of them immediately breaking the game. Players can use the power a few times without much trouble, but if they want to use the power of the artifact to remake the campaign world, they're going to have to work to make that happen.
   
Keith Garrett edited all my MCC-related writing in the GFA18, but he had a lot more to do for this piece than any of the others. His advice and help resulted in something better and more clear than what I initially wrote. Karim did the art for this and all my MCC pieces. 
 
   
Art by Karim
   
 
DCC uses d10 skill checks for untrained characters and d20 skill checks for skilled characters. Thieves begin the game casting spells from scrolls using a d10 (as untrained with magic) but as they gain levels, their dice-type improves, one step at a time, modeling the learning process. This alternative to the MCC technology check uses thieves' spellcasting improvement as a model and applies it to denizens of Terra A.D. learning to use Ancient technology.
 
When characters first encounter a new piece of ancient technology, they roll d10 + Artifact check bonus + Intelligence modifier. As they learn to understand the artifact, their dice-type can improve. Characters need to be very smart or very lucky to operate a new artifact successfully, or do anything at all other than break it. But each success has the chance to lead to new insights, allowing characters to eventually gain mastery over each new piece of technology.
 
Technology level and complexity: The tech level sets a limit on the who may attempt to use an artifact. A character cannot make a technology roll for an artifact whose tech level is higher than the limit set by their Intelligence--unless their character level is equal or higher to the tech level (for example, any 7th-level character can attempt to use alien technology, even if their Intelligence is lower than 24. Most 6th-level characters can't attempt to use such a device, however; they can't even fumble and break it). Characters don't need to make technology rolls for objects from their home culture's tech level or lower.
 
(Stone-age technology is TL 1, mechanical devices are TL 2, electronic and modern computing devices are TL 3, near-future tech is TL 4, far-future tech is TL 5, technology indistinguishable from magic is TL 6, and advanced alien technology is TL 7).
 
The complexity of an artifact is subtracted as a penalty from the technology roll.
 
Progressing and re-rolling: As characters roll on the table below, the technology die they roll (starting with d10) can only increase, never decrease. If a result indicates that further rolls should be made using a technology die that's lower than the character's current ability, ignore that portion of the result.
 
Characters can also continue to study and master ancient technology that is currently non-functional or broken. If a result indicates that the artifact activates, but the tech can’t activate because it needs repairs, or it has run out of ammunition or power, then it doesn’t activate, ignore that portion of the result.
 
Each successful result on the table below is intended to eventually force a re-roll. Each entry describes how long a character can use the artifact before they must make another technology roll. For example, on a result of 17-19, the artifact functions for 1d3 game sessions before it breaks and needs minor repairs. Once that happens, the character must make a new technology roll, even if they can make minor repairs without needing a new tech roll to learn how--they still need a new technology roll because the result demanded it.
 
Classes bonuses: As noted in their character descriptions, some characters have an affinity for certain forms of ancient technology. Sentinels also add their artifact bonus die to technology rolls for weapons and armor. Healers roll +1d on rolls related to medical artifacts and devices. Rovers receive an additional bonus to understand ancient doors, locks, traps, and other security systems. These bonuses still apply to the technology roll as well as to Intelligence checks related to learning or using the technology.
 
Assisting and teaching: One character must volunteer to be the primary technology user; that character makes the technology roll using their current technology die for that object. Up to three characters may assist, if they have sufficient intelligence. Both the technology user and all assistants may expend Luck to improve the technology roll, and all assistants suffer the consequences of a poor roll. To serve as an assistant, a character must have a minimum Intelligence of 13 (or Int modifier +1). A technology user can have two assistants as long as one assistant has a minimum Intelligence of 16 (or Int modifier +2), and three assistants as long as one has a minimum Intelligence of 18 (or Int modifier +3). Add the Intelligence modifier AND the Luck modifier of each assistant to the technology roll, along with any expended Luck.
 
When a technology user teaches another character to use a piece of technology, the student must roll a d20 to make a DC 10 Intelligence check, modified by their Artifact check bonus, to learn what the teacher knows. On a natural 1, the artifact is permanently broken and inflicts maximum damage on the student and the learner. On a successful Intelligence check, the student may now roll the same technology die as the teacher.
 
Describing technology: Until characters have attempted to use an artifact and begun to unravel its secrets, they should receive only an "abstract description" as explained in the MCC rules. Once they have a d12 or higher technology die, they have earned the right to a "literal description."
 
Judging advice: This alternate rule is intended to create a mini-game out of learning to use ancient artifacts. As such, it is probably too cumbersome to use with every artifact the characters find. Instead, I recommend using different approaches depending on the nature of the artifact. Trinkets and other extremely simple artifacts might work automatically. Single-use artifacts might still allow a d20 technology die from the very beginning. Learning to use one artifact might grant a bonus - or even allow the characters to use the same technology die - for any similar objects.
 
 
Table: Artifact Check Results
 
1     The artifact breaks irreparably and inflicts maximum damage (or 1d6, for artifacts with no damage listed) to all characters within a range of 10' (or further, if applicable based on the artifact).
 
2-3   The artifact breaks and needs major repairs. It inflicts 1d3 damage on the user and all assistants.
 
4-6   The artifact breaks and needs minor repairs.
 
7-11   The artifact doesn't function, but isn't broken. However, a piece is missing, a part is knocked out of position, a control is on the wrong setting. The device won't activate until a DC 12 Intelligence check makes it functional again.
 
12-13   The artifact activates for one use, but its operation is still not understood. Another technology roll must be made before it can be used again. Further technology rolls use a d12 technology die.
 
14-16   The artifact activates and is minimally understood. It can be used for 1d3 uses, then another technology roll must be made before it can be used again. Further technology rolls use a d14 technology die.
 
17-19   The artifact activates and its operation is basically understood. Additional ammunition or power sources can be used to reload the artifact if they're available. The artifact can be used for 1d3 game sessions, then it needs minor repairs and another technology roll must be made before it can be used again. Further technology rolls use a d16 technology die.
 
20-26   The artifact activates and its operation is well understood. Minor repairs may be attempted with a DC 12 Intelligence check and the correct tools and materials. The artifact can be used for 1d4 game sessions, then it needs major repairs and another technology roll must be made before it can be used again. Further technology rolls use a d20 technology die.
 
27-33   The artifact activates and its operation is precisely understood. Minor repairs may be attempted without rolling a check. Major repairs may be attempted with the correct tools and materials and a DC 12 Intelligence check. The artifact can be used for 1d6 game sessions, then it breaks irreparably and needs to be replaced. Further technology rolls use a d24 technology die.
 
34-35   The artifact activates and its operation is precisely understood. Major and minor repairs may be attempted without rolling a check. A duplicate artifact can be constructed with the proper materials, parts, and tools and DC 12 Intelligence check. The artifact can be used for 1d8 game sessions, then it breaks irreparably and needs to be replaced. Further technology rolls use a d30 technology die.
 
36+     The artifact activates and its operation is precisely understood. Major and minor repairs, and even the construction of a duplicate artifact can be attempted without rolling a check. No further technology rolls are needed for this object. It can be operated at-will, and no greater understanding can be achieved by examining it. The technological principles underlying the artifact can be understood by making a DC 24 Intelligence check. Once these principles are understood, new artifacts can be designed by following those principles, using correct materials, parts, and tools, and a DC 12 Intelligence check.
 
 
Example: Lily is a post-apocalyptic scavenger, familiar with TL 3 automatic firearms. When Lily meets Jean, a time-traveler from the far future, she steals Jean's fazer-pistol and threatens to shoot Jean with it unless someone explains why cyborgs are attacking. Jean promises to protect Lily, and manages to persuade her to return the pistol unfired. Curious to know what would have happened, Lily's player rolls d10 and adds Lily's Intelligence modifier (+0 for Int 12) plus her artifact check bonus (+2 for a 1st level Rover), subtracts the fazer-pistol's Complexity (-6), and gets a total of 0. Jean says "It was set to overload. If you had shot me, it would have exploded and killed us both." Feeling embarrassed, Lily says "It was my first raygun." Later, they find a hard-light hologram of a 1920s machine gun, and Lily is able to use it without making a technology roll at all. Together, Jean and Lily repel the cyborg invasion!

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