Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Archetypal Adventures: the Medtech

The Medtech is a classic cyberpunk role which presents a number of difficulties for the players and GMs who deal with them. I didn't want to talkabout those problems in this post, but five abortive attempts at writing this introduction have proved I can't do that.

If you want to skip the stuff about theory and go straight to the adventure hooks and the "10 Medical Emergencies" table, scroll down below the jump!

There are a few common archetypes in science fiction gaming. The brutal soldier type brings a full range of combat and weapon skills to the table. The sneaky git uses stealth or disguises or electronic security to break into secure places. The face has a dozen different social skills to find street contacts or talk his way into to the those same secure places. The hacker has an entire interactive world to fuck with. All of these roles have different "build options" they can use to achieve their goals. The medic has "roll First Aid."

In the past I've tried to make the medic more interesting by expanding their "build options." In Cyberpunk 2020 a solo can kill people with Archery, Fencing, Brawling, Melee, Pistol, Sub-machine Gun, Rifle, Heavy Weapons plus whatever I've forgotten and a seemingly infinite number of different Martial Arts. It seems almost obscene that the medtech only gets First Aid and (maybe) Surgery. The ideal would be to give the medtech as many options when confronted with a medical situation as a solo would when preparing for a fight. My understanding from the reviews is that the new Shadowrun: Bullets and Bandages supplement takes a similar tack (I haven't read it to find out).

The problem is, all that line of thinking seems to produce is more dice rolls for the medic, while the other characters watch. It turns out that the basic problem with the medtech isn't a lack of options; it's a lack of complimentary options.

Take the "face." His role is primarily social. Each of the other roles can help him:

  • The soldier can aid in intimidating people.
  • The sneaky git can break into the target's apartment to discover things which will help the face later.
  • When he decides to use that information to ruin the target's reputation, he'll hand a plan to the netrunner.
  • The netrunner or the sneaky git can acquire the passes and invitations necessary to get the face into places.
  • The soldier can protect the face when the deal goes bad.
  • etc

There are dozen things the medic can do to compliment the other roles, but it isn't reciprocal. The rest of the team can't really help her in her primary role. The sneaky git can't reconnoitre a burst appendix and the face can't talk his way up someone's bloody urethra. The netrunner might imagine she's a master at cyberware surgery...

Most of the other suggestions for making the medtech work run into this problem. Yeah, you can give her a massive Biotech skill and let her rebuild the human genome from the ground up. She can create dozens of new drugs. Both of those options involve the medtech making a dozen rolls while the rest of the players don't do anything and the referee develops a headache trying to balance lots of new tech additions to the game.

Add to that the fact that "realistic" medical rules prevent the cyberpunk healer doing even as much as a traditional "boring" D&D cleric...


Understanding a problem isn't the same as knowing how to fix it. Also, the things I know about medicine could be written in a very, very short post about medicine, so I'm not the person to do it. For now I have two solutions.

One: simply "keep the medtech in mind" when expanding the rest of the game. I want to get into personality and brain hacking, drugs, memes and more Alienation stuff in the future, and all of those things have implications for medic characters. 

Expanding the drug rules in particular seems like it could help a lot. It would allow the medic to "buff" the party using bespoke gear. 

In fact, "keeping the medtech in mind" is a good idea in general. All of the traditional random encounters tables seem to be about fixers and solos. So I've put 10 Medical Emergencies for your medic to encounter in a list at the end of this post, to inspire and delight...

Two: expand the "investigative" options around the medic. The traditional cyberpunk setting is a polluted hell-hole full of carcinogens, toxins and escaped genemod animals. The medtech is the character who knows how to negotiate this important aspect of the setting.

Three: right now, in this post, I'm going to talk about one area in which the medtech can be complimented by other members of the party: the "stronghold."

The battered free clinic is such a common archetype in science fiction games and films that it might be a cliché. It's a great way to quickly communicate a lot of setting detail very fast - both the low poverty and the high tech. Narrative convention demands (DEMANDS) that a grizzled veteran doctor stand at the heart of the clinic, questing for redemption by healing the slums, one bullet wound at a time. 

One of my favourite things about Baldur's Gate II was how it gave each class a "stronghold" - a castle for the fighter, a playhouse for the bard, a temple for the cleric, and so on - and then built a series of quest around it.

I'd like to steal this model for the medtech. The character would take on a "Stronghold" role that the other characters could compliment. These strongholds needn't be located in a physical location: we'll get back to that in a second.

Possible strongholds include:

A clinic: to be more than a 9/5 job, there needs to be something special about it. It has to be in the middle of the Combat Zone or working to stop a plague or opposed by a giant medical corporation or a Malthusian fundamentalist group or or or...

A "black medical" that carries out illegal medical treatments (especially illicit cyberware installation). Can be deeply, deeply amoral, like the Bandura in the previous post.

A rebel lab battling some iniquity in the city - working to find a solution to illnesses caused by corporate dumping or military "war-plagues", restoring the ecology of a polluted region, breaking the Fabrication Rights Management on vital medicine... alternatively, working to attack the corporate junta with apocalyptic bio-weapon attacks...

Hell, it could simply be designing new drugs. What a fancy name for a meth lab...

A Search And Rescue (SAR) team: SAR teams are often associated with static locations or cities, but it needn't be that way in a cyberpunk era city. In the event of a major emergency, the city might deploy an "metropolitan support" network, requesting help from any professionals in the area. A SAR operator might simply log onto the MS network upon arriving in a city, to be called up if an emergency happens close by. The Warren Ellis comic "Global Frequency" provides great inspiration!

None of these strongholds requires a static location - the clinic could be run out of the back of an ambulance or on the street, and a black medical could be nothing more than a nomadic consultant moving from place to place. Advances like the chemputer allow the team to move around with some fairly lightweight kit. 

(A quick aside about chemputers - any 3d printer capable of printing medical drugs can also print illegal drugs and probably explosives and bio-weapons too. Yes, someone with a chemistry set could arguably do that now, but combined with online databases, chemputers lower the barriers to entry dramatically.

So chemputers are going to be incredibly restricted, which will become a major political and practical issue. Just having one and keeping it might be the driving force behind a medtech adventure in some settings. Most chemputers will have powerful software locks against creating certain drugs, reinforced by Big Pharma copyright-enforcing "Fabrication Rights Management" systems. In fact, many chemputers may be set to block or report any drug chemprint that doesn't come with FRM - so while computers and chemputers make it significantly easier to design and produce many different kinds of medicine, production in most "legitimate" clinics will be limited to artificially priced Big Pharma designs. 

That's a major political issue to motivate 'runner medtechs and their net-pirate friends alike!)

Having a stronghold changes the medic's "role" to something the other roles can compliment. In a SAR team (for instance):

  • the sneaky git has the skills to locate the injured people or enter the flimsy ruin without triggering a collapse.
  • the soldier can deal with looters and lend her strength to getting people out (ACPA piloting skills come in very handy after earthquakes!).
  • the netrunner can disable the crazed security system that is actively attacking rescue personnel, wrangle drones and acquire protected building plans from organisations who value secrecy over the lives of their trapped employees
  • the face can talk his way into the emergency area, deal with paranoid security guards, dissuade looters, help calm people down...

While it sounds like the stronghold will determine the course of the campaign, it doesn't have to. Each player could have their own "stronghold" with their own mission goals, with the entire group held together like a Kromosome microcorporation (if you haven't heard of the Kromosome RPG, check it out now...). 

Below is a sample campaign plan with 10 adventure hooks, many of which will stand alone. The goal of the plot hooks is to bring the entire team in. 

While the campaign as a whole has a clear plot direction, I imagine these hooks would be interspersed between other stronghold missions and character plots. For instance, the soldier might be fighting as a local mercenary in a global corporate war, while the netrunner might have made it her mission to expose corruption in the military. Maybe the face puts together information the netrunner and sneaky git gathered to discover that the soldier's employer brought the plague from the military, which is why the pharmaceutical companies have a suppressant already prepared...


For the purposes of this post, the area of slums surrounding the clinic will be referred to as the "western district" as opposed to the "corpzone" or the "eastern district."

Adventure One: while a doctor can make do with some basic diagnostic software and clean tools, ultimately they need drugs, antibiotics and vaccines to be truly effective. A chemical fabricator would solve many of those problems. Unfortunately they are expensive and heavily regulated.

There are two places one might be quickly acquired. A mob of heavily armed juicers down in the floodzone have one, which they will use to turn out party drugs and combat stims once they can get it to work. Or a devious, dangerous fixer called Ellis could bring you in on an easy truck heist, stealing one on its way to a corpzone plastic surgery... but do you really want to be in hock to his kind from the start?

Adventure Two: bad news! The printer's Fabrication Rights Management system is still active! Removing the FRM systems without alerting the police is a delicate operation that will require a netrunner's full skills and some black market software, which will come at a price.

Adventure Three: the medtech can identify the source of much of the illness in the zone; bad water coming from a number of pumps down in the floodzone. Once located, a techie could get into the sewers and fix them, but that means dealing with the crazies and the rogue Type-24 genemod attack crocodile. Yes, I said "genemod attack crocodile."

Adventure Four: a 'runner called Kivan Danko lies unconscious in the clinic, prepped for emergency surgery. Outside the bounty hunters are circling. If Danko isn't brought out to them by midnight, they say they'll come in firing.

EVENT: between adventure four and five, the team begins hearing news reports about major ebola outbreaks in Nigerian urban areas. 

Adventure Five: once again, it comes down to the chemical fabricator. Rumours on the street have attracted the attentions of a meth-lab toting biker gang, who want to seize it for themselves. This is just a distraction from a far greater threat: a police informant has passed on the rumours to the counter-terror cops, who can think of a dozen nefarious uses for the printer (and then add some the team haven't thought up themselves!). 

EVENT: the news is now referring to the specific strand of ebola spreading through Nigeria as "weaponised" and speculating that it might have been intentionally deployed by a faction in the civil war spreading throughout that country. Meanwhile, cases of the slow-incubating virus have been reported in several major airport cities across the world.

Adventure Six: Auckland flu is a nasty strain of influenza sweeping the city. Unfortunately, it comes just as the news is beginning to scream about a major African ebola outbreak, and the government are dropping travel restrictions all over the place. 

It's natural that the free clinic should be full of Auckland flu sufferers. It's also natural that some ill-informed people should mistake those people for ebola sufferers (coughing, right?). Reacting in irrational, violent ways (like forming angry mobs and attacking clinics) would be the most natural thing of all.

EVENT: the plague is in the city. Civil disturbances, looting and panic buying are sweeping the slums. The police are locking down the corpzone and wealthy suburbs. HAZMAT suited soldiers are appearing across the city.

Adventure Seven: there is weaponised ebola in the eastern district, and the police have closed the roads out in an attempt to contain the virus. The western district is so far untouched, except for people trying to flee into it, and smugglers slipping through the CDC cordons. 

The medtech - along with a few other similar people in the western - know that the smugglers risk spreading the plague into the district. Meanwhile, other members of the team are being offered obscene sums to run the cordon. Ethical questions abound...

Adventure Eight: the plague has spread into the western district, claiming the life of Brother Yohn, a powerful mafioso. His family are planning to have a large funeral - any pandemic expert can tell you why this is bad idea during an ebola outbreak. The mobsters have to be convinced to put aside their traditions, but how?

Adventure Nine: a suspiciously effective suppressant for the plague has appeared and is being distributed in several Corpzone hospitals. However, no printer specifications have been issued and the drug is hugely expensive. With conspiracy theories proliferating, someone comes up with the idea of stealing some from a corpzone hospital. You've all seen Firefly, right?

Adventure Ten: there is an replicable suppressant that you believe could be inexpensively replicated by any chemical fabricator if it wasn't for the FRM. The plans need to be liberated. A team needs to storm the offices of the corporation manufacturing the suppressant, find the correct plans and as much data as possible, and get out. Once the plans are online infosocialist/ anarchist/ autonomist hacker cells can distribute them across the world.

Naturally, the facility guards are preparing for just this sort of assault. Expect everything.

This might also be an opportunity to find out once and for all if any of the conspiracy theories are true, and if so, which one


Roll D10

1. The patient's kidney has been stolen by bespoke organ-leggers.

2. A underground ripperdoc has defrauded the patient of her eyes.

3. Mysterious stomach complaints caused by a criminal nano-laboratory dumping waste products in the water supply afflict multiple patients.

4. Enhanced genitals infected with a malicious computer virus.

5. Tailored non-lethal "war-plague" aimed at reducing the city's economic output gives everyone a nasty cough.

6. Victim of random attack by cyberblade toting street crazies.

7. "Future Shock."

8. Injured by malfunctioning robot car.

9. Patient attacked by subliminal message over iShades while walking down the street, distracted, walked hard into lamppost and broke nose.

10. Patient believes himself to have been "infected with malicious political meme," wants trained medical professionals to "fix" him.

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