Sunday, 17 January 2016

Electronic Environmental Hazards

It's been a long time!

( further comment...)

In the time I was away, my hobby time (such as it was) was mainly taken up with D&D of various sorts. In particular, my friend's Beyond the Grid campaign really opened my eyes to the uses and abuses of random encounter tables in ways I hadn't ever considered before. 

I've been experimenting.

I've wanted to do a table full of electronic hazards for a while now, covering everything from contactless pickpockets to AR vandalism to suburban geo-fencing.

This table was originally a D30 table covering all of the above. By the time I finished the process, I'd realised that the environmental hazard and the human hazard tables really had different potential uses. So I've split them up into two different D20 tables. You get an extra ten entries for your nu-buck! Well, you would if you were paying a nu-buck. 

This post contains the Electronic Environmental Hazards table, covering all sorts of spam zones, wireless outages, electronic fortresses and scary advertising systems. It could be so much longer! The Electronic Criminal Hazards table is finished but will be posted in a day or two because I'm a tease like that. 

One of the reasons I separated the two tables is because I realised how much potential the environmental hazards had for really, really interfering in surveillance, chases and casing targets. I think that would be the best time to roll on this table!

Quite a lot of this post was inspired by this BLDGBLOG blog post and several books about "fortress urbanism." I really do recommend reading Mike Davis' City of Quartz for anyone developing a cyberpunk setting, and not just because it was credited in the back of William Gibson's Virtual Light.

Two final notes - my view of a city is clearly inspired by London, where you can turn a corner and be in a completely different environment. The increasing privatisation of streets and gated communities reinforces this even further, when you can enter a shopping street with different effective laws to the rest of the city.

The other thing: sometimes these events might seem inappropriate to certain parts of the city. Just remember that surveillance gear is cheap (cheap enough that I know a low income single mum who uses a camera to check on her kids when she's at work...). Acoustic gun-fire sensors might surround any church or cinema. A syndicate might have installed hidden geo-fences to confuse the police. A poor neighbourhood dominated by a pious minority is just as likely to have a morality enforcement system as a preppy gated community (and so on).


1. Wireless Outage: weather/sabotage/incompetence has disabled the wireless signal in this region, dropping the characters back into medieval times. 

Roll a d6: 
1-4: this black spot will last for 1d20 minutes. 
5-6: the black spot will last for 1d12 hours.

2. Location Scrambling Geofence: the home defences of a paranoid local householder or government installation disrupts GPS and similar systems, or feeds false/misleading navigation data to incoming drones. Drones and signal guided weapons may operate incorrectly or in unexpected ways without counter-measures. Cellphones and other tracking devices will likely not work at all.

3. Ersatz Drone-Counter Measures: local residents have strung a variety of anti-drone systems across the street, including brightly coloured festival balloons trailing rotor tangling wire, camera dazzlers, anti-surveillance lasers and geo-locationing systems. Drones and surveillance systems entering the area must test to avoid being horribly inconvenienced. 

4. Smartgun-Free Zone: a signal broadcast by a local school or mall prevents commercially available "home defence" smart-guns from functioning in this area without hacked firmware. 

5. Loiter Drone System: police or private security forces have deployed a swarm of light-weight drones armed with non-lethal weapons to loiter in this street, idling on power "nests" on local rooftops or buzzing the street. These will investigate or even attack individuals or drones violating whatever local laws they are there to enforce.

6. Biometric Fence: this street or district can only been entered by passing through a set of train station-like stalls requiring a biometric signature. 

7. Personalised Billboard Advertising: a smartboard focuses on a random character with a SIN (fake or otherwise) and blurts out "[name]! Here's how you would look wearing the new summer line from Ishida!" while displaying an (idealised) picture of her to everyone in view. 

The system will also alert local paycops to the presence of a SINless individual in their midst.

8. Personalised Sonic Advertising: a directional sound system beams personalised advertisements like a laser directly at one PC without the others being able to hear it, impeding their ability to focus on other stimuli. 

There is a small chance that the DSA has driven a local (armed) paranoid to a random act of senseless violence against local passers-by.

9. Personalised Sonic Trolling: as above, but the directional sound system calls out the character for her sexual orientation/body shape/religion/existence, on behalf of a local crew of trolls or fanatics. This same crew are in the local area, harassing other targets or waiting to do something more horrible.

10. Advertising Virus: characters must test against being infected with an advertising virus being transmitted by a skeevy viral marketing campaign. If they fail, their augmented reality systems and commlinks will be full of advertisements for penis enlargers and free-to-play games aimed at five-year olds.

11. Illegal Advertising Gas: a crew of 'runners working for a skeevy marketing company spray an odourless, near invisible gas across the street, making those affected tired and susceptible to suggestion. Characters must test to avoid being more vulnerable to lies, deceptions and sales pitches for the next D3 hours.

It is very likely (80%) that political agitators, religious preachers or corporate marketers are waiting to swoop within a minute of the gas being deployed. 

12. Malfunctioning/Overzealous Crowd Control Gas System: a security system is pumping concentrated mod-tetrahydrocannabinol throughout the district, hoping to calm the "riot" in progress. Characters who fail a test will become woozy and stoned for the next d3 hours.

There is a 40% chance a local gang of hoodlums/ruffians/hooligans/goons are hanging around under a transmitter, getting high and harassing passing player characters.

There is a 20% chance pickpockets with nasal filters are taking advantage of the mess to steal from passing player characters.

13. Neighbourhood Surveillance Grid: the local neighbourhood watch has set up a well monitored surveillance system to target "undesirables" from the wrong race/economic demographic/edition warrior faction etc. Characters entering this region will be glared at by hostile bourgeois people with expensive guns, aggressively monitored by very visible drones (beaming searchlights!) or reported to the local cops or protection racket. 

14. Malfunctioning City Grid: the local traffic control is malfunctioning or has been sabotaged. Drone vehicles and robot cabs will take odd, random directions or pull to automatic stop. Other remote controlled vehicles (including many paycop surveillance drones!) will take random paths. Traffic jams will impede movement.

15. Subliminal Attack Ads: a corporation is broadcasting extremely virulent memetic attack ads through a variety of sources throughout this area. Characters must test to avoid wanting to buy something expensive and useless.

16. Subliminal Emotional Mods: a local bar, church or even paycop outfit is broadcasting subliminal messages through a variety of media, designed to change the emotional state of anybody walking down the street. The simplest version of this is the classical music played in train stations to drive teenagers off the concourse. 

Characters must test to avoid being inflicted with this new emotion.

Roll a d6.
1-3: the broadcast is intended to make everyone calm and content, hurting the character's hardcase self-image.
4: the broadcast is intended to make people feel edgy and uncomfortable, encouraging them to move on. This may well inspire paranoia in the aforementioned hardcases. 
5: the broadcast is intended to make everybody feel sexy, bouncy and free (disadvantaging the ability of a hardcase to focus on grimly pursuing an enemy, peering through a newspaper at a surveillance target without giggling, or devoting her life to a violent vendetta against an impersonal business entity). 
6: the broadcast was deployed by a hacker team to start a riot. It will inspire the majority of people in the room to violent rage and reduced impulse control.

17. Acoustic Firearm Locators: this region has been laced with acoustic sensors designed to detect and alert security forces to the location and direction of weapons fire. 

If this is rolled in a particularly paranoid public location containing a wide-open space (particularly train station concourses) the acoustic system might be linked to electrolaser turrets authorised to engage any shooter not broadcasting correct IFF.

18. Idealised Augmented Reality Overlay: physical and electronic barriers attempt to prevent the character entering an area without turning on a specific shared AR system. This AR might hide geographical features, dress everybody up as the cast of Labyrinth (RIP) or disguise unwanted homeless people.

During major tourist events, this requirement might cover the whole city.

19: Fabrication Rights Management Verification: a local scanner queries items within the "internet of things" to ensure they have been legally printed. This device will often be able to detect a product by shape through light fabric (especially if it's something large and specific, like a laptop or firearm). 

20. Directed Morality System: a manned sousveillance system in a region dominated by a particular religion, ideology or demographic is designed to detect very specific actions and call them out, either publicly or through SMS messages and directed sonic systems. 

Examples of what this system include any or all of the following: 

  • openly carrying firearms and body armour
  • eating meat 
  • eating unhealthily 
  • playing ball games in the street
  • running fast
  • wearing immodest clothing
  • doing just about anything on the [insert religion's] sabbath
  • swearing
  • littering
  • smoking
  • smoking crack
  • being a teenager, a "slut," black, etc. 
  • being homeless or lacking a SIN
  • wearing gang colours
  • dressing like a cyberpunk
  • having a beard
  • not having a beard
  • manually driving a car
  • taking photos
  • skateboarding
  • hoverboarding
  • speaking loudly after 10pm
  • speaking anything other than the native language when carrying a national SIN
  • shooting 11mm depleted uranium rounds at ED-209 in a crowded public playground
  • anything else
These systems are notorious for generating false positives. If the character continues their lewd behaviour, the paycops will likely be called to move the "undesirable" out of the nice neighbour. In some jurisdictions, religious police will arrive and promptly attack the characters with sticks.

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