Saturday, May 4, 2013

The SUE System: Orientation

Sorry about the lag in posting; exams have been brutal. When last we left off, various agents of the MIC had heaved the PCs through a portal to their Headquarters for processing.
We begin in exactly the sort of giant, sweeping, ludicrously oversized room designed almost exclusively by morons determined to waste as much space as possible; it was not dissimilar to a cathedral, really. The portal-generating machinery dominated one side; the other, about half a kilometer of bizarre art deco architecture away, had a desk and a series of doors and little else. There might have been a potted fern. It was unclear.
At the desk was Sara the (sigh) Receptionist. The GM describes Sara and every other woman in the SUE system as a “strong female character” —by which the GM means she’s a barely-contained ball of random rage and unjustified hatred. It’s like talking to a Speak n’ Spell programmed exclusively with obscenities, and then being beaten to death with said Speak n’ Spell for your trouble. Our conversation went like this:
Me: “Hi. Sorry to be a clueless rookie, but I think we’re supposed to report somewhere for processing. Do you know where that might be?”
Sara: [snapping her pen in half in anger at my approach] ”Go f*** yourselves.“  [turns away] “F***ing pigs…”
Me:”I…I’m sorry?”
Sara: “Left door, s***heads.” [she makes several rude gestures at us as we leave]
I seriously thought the GM was going to pop a vein acting her, she was so angry. Maybe she had read the Rise of Marty. At any rate, we were sent through to Medical, where an Argonian in scrubs checked us for psychic powers and latent sorcerous potential. That’s the point of Medical. Hundreds of agents pulled from thousands of realities don’t pose any epidemiological risk whatsoever, clearly. They just use Cure Disease spells (in the absence of any semblance of ‘inferior’ medical science), because what do you mean one guy’s benign gut flora is another guy’s deadly pathogen?
Anyway, we also get our implants. They work off of ‘flatspace’, which “takes the third dimension out of a volume of space”. Ow. We get just one: a universal translator linked to a multiverse-range commlink  in a flat square millimeters on a side. It has infinite battery life, too, and is utterly unjammable, undetectable, and uninteresting; just subvocalize and get a response through your auditory nerves. It will parse speech out of anything you hear, translate it perfectly even with the proper connotation, and play the result for you all in real time. I leave estimations of its processing power to you.
So ten minutes of brain surgery sans sterilization go by (again, ow) and we can finally understand everyone ever unless we have to read something. It’s time for weapons testing; we go into the next room, get handed a blaster pistol, and told to take out a bunch of training robots. I miss a lot, Igor claws through them, and Rick effortlessly aces the weapon portion. Yes, folks, live-fire exercises within half an hour of recruitment, and against real targets, too.
Eventually the GM gets tired of making us shoot things and we meet our boss the Imperator and sign our contracts. The sequence of events here is just wonderful: first give the recruits invasive brain surgery, then give them weaponry, then ask if they want to join up by wordlessly handing them a contract -- which the GM actually printed out and expected us to read. If you’ve ever read the pseudo-legalese in those “Facebook Privacy Notice” things that sometimes circulate, you’ll have some idea of what it was like to read this thing. It was around ten pages in small print, all told; I wish I’d kept it.
Then we got a tour of the facilities. First up is the cafeteria, which does away with dishes by just replicating food at will in the style of Star Trek and disintegrating the remnants. You can have anything you want, as much of it as you want, and not so much as a warning popup exists to tell you if what you’ve ordered is incompatible with your biology. It’s all voice-controlled, too. Just in case the risk of inadvertently poisoning yourself wasn’t clear enough. We get it demonstrated for us with ice cream, which I thought was a genuinely nice gesture but perhaps a bit out of place. Just imagine Igor, Rick, and my guy going through the rest of the tour of Genocidal Canon Cop Headquarters while licking at waffle cones of vanilla soft serve.
The gym was right next to the cafeteria, albeit a good deal smaller, and equipped with “basically the exercise machines you guys are used to”. Well, great; I suppose non-anthroform agents just make do. The GM didn’t bother with much exposition here.
Instead, we got shown the vehicle bay, which was just a big set of racks of vehicles of “X-wing size and smaller”. They have their own portal and their own engineering bay, and apparently they’re just sort of used as needed and left on the shelf at all other times, which bodes ill for some of the more conventional military craft. More militarily informed readers  might be able to confirm how accurate this is, but I was always under the impression that you couldn’t just leave, say, a current generation fighter jet totally untouched for months and have it run perfectly in a few minutes of refueling. Incidentally, the vehicle bay also contains all the flight simulators for some reason.
Beyond that, we see the first door of the Maximum Security Storage Facility, entry to which is totally forbidden to us. We’re told it’s used exclusively by Black-level agents, “just Blackhawk really”, to house horrible things capable of unmaking entire realities, things too bad even to destroy for fear of whatever remains of them ruining the universe.
GM: “It basically contains things more terrifyingly horrible than you could ever imagine.”
Me: “We get it, we get it, it’s Blackhawk’s porn stash. Not going to mess with it.”
I think this was when he stopped liking me.
Once the laughter died down, we got to see the dorms. They are all studio apartments with genetically coded locks, because what do you mean not all sophonts use DNA? They’re tiny and boring and nothing ever happens in them, but it is confirmed that we can have guests. In case we meet an attractive someone and want to bring said someone back through a portal between worlds in blatant violation of the MIC’s most basic rules, apparently.
Now we get to see the holographic danger rooms. They get used for “training and recreation”, and we can reserve time on them whenever there’s a free block. Inside we see that they’re incredibly realistic and capable of simulating anything, which raises the question of why we shot actual guns at actual robots in training. That question, like so many about these rooms, is never answered. Instead we beat up holographic grizzly bears for a while and get crazy amounts of XP from it. Why we can’t just level to 20 via training and thus minimize the risk of dying on an actual mission is also unknown—in fact, we’ve already had all the formal training we ever get.
At this point, we got a vague reference to a block of around twelve offices that formed the engineering corps, and that was it. Apparently we are provided with energy and our environment maintained by incredibly efficient arcane means, in sharp contrast to the high technology we’ve been shown. I’d long ago stopped trying to ask inconvenient questions, so we all went to the cafeteria and spent quite a while getting the replicators to understand that we did not in fact want Klingon food. I also spent a good deal of time attempting to make friends with Rick, because I’ve known his player to occasionally say “I have no reason to go on this adventure”, usually when being asked to risk life and limb for strangers. He’ll find a reason if the GM asks him to please go along with the campaign for a while, but this GM won’t ever do that. He will also uncritically accept “your friends need your help” as a reason, and as I’m usually the most danger-prone member of the group, I try to get him to consider me a friend in-character to avoid it becoming a problem in the first place. It doesn’t take much, and it will propel him through the plot for the rest of the campaign. He’s just a Big Damn Hero.
Dinner concluded, we retire to our various rooms. I read fiction as rapidly as possible, Igor sleeps, and Rick slowly pulls off an environment suit he’s worn for his entire adult life, much to my guy’s schadenfreude.
At this point, we get asked if there’s any equipment we’d like to requisition. Igor doesn’t really want anything, so her player goes to get food. Rick and the GM go back and forth about weapons for a while; I’d go into more detail, but the guns will show up later. Then he asks me what I want for Omnicidally Rabid Fan Christmas.
First thing I want is an implant; this makes him sputter something about how flatspace is very tricky and they don’t like implanting normal things because they’re too noticeable, so all they really have on hand are the radio translator things. Apparently half-centimeter metal plates are invisible, though…who knows. Slightly nonplussed, I go on to clarify that I don’t want anything physically different than what they already have. What I wanted was another of those implanted computers, just linked to my optic nerves and loaded with a bunch of technical diagrams and optical recognition software. Ideally, I could look at, e.g., a tank, and my internal HUD would project over it a 3-D schematic of where all the parts are supposed to be in that kind of tank, maybe with a basic description of how each works. At least I could then make an intelligent guess as to where to shoot or how to try to hotwire it, I said, without having all the other capabilities implied by high Knowledge skills, and I wouldn’t have to bother Ops every time I wanted to pick a lock.
I’ve seen him go paler since, but at the time he was as scared as I’d ever seen him. He sputtered for a full minute before explaining that the universal translators were all “hardwired” and “mostly ROM”, the program couldn’t be changed and anyway they’d never tried uploading knowledge directly before, even though agents are usually put into all sorts of weird realities without necessarily knowing all that much about their destination.
GM: “And why would they do that when you can just call someone and they can read you the relevant part of that reality’s source fiction?”
Yes, folks, welcome to the most advanced tech support hotline in the multiverse: if you have a question, just dial the only number in your indestructible, tiny ansible, and one of our friendly operators will be on hand to guess what you mean from your description, open up the relevant book, and speed-read to the right part and try to guess what’s important about it, presumably by synthetic whale oil lamp.
So that’s a thing.
The other thing I want is slightly more outrĂ©. I point out that, as a telekinetic, my capacity for moving things is in the range of a few newtons, but I’m evidently very precise, so an extremely sharp edge would be nice.
GM: “Oh, like a knife? Because they have combat knives. They’re too heavy for you though.”
Me: “Fundamentally, yes. I’d like a much-reduced replicator that just synthesizes graphene sheets all day so I can telekinetically break off little shuriken and Ginsu things with them; the low TK force isn’t so crippling if the surface area is that small, and we don’t need to worry about rigidity or anything if I can TK it around all stretched out.”
It takes me about ten minutes to convince him that, yes, graphene can do that (not that it can, in retrospect. I was awful at materials science back then), and if there’s any reason they can’t make it, the problem is an inadequacy with their manufacturing capacity. That was what clinched it, I think: the implication that his awesome agency couldn’t make something. I was told the best I could get, instead of the Pez dispenser type thing I wanted, would be a bracelet that extruded about a centimeter an hour up perpendicular from its surface, and it would have to be permanently adhered to my skin, because he researched it and “graphene is almost absolutely unbreakable, and only graphene can stop graphene”. The GM is even worse at materials science than I am. Still, it’s better than flinging pebbles around for 1d2 damage five times a day, so I get told it will take “some time” to engineer from scratch.
All right, then. That’s day one. The first part of day 2 sees us show up to the holographic danger room, where we have twenty difficulty levels to play with. Rick rolls a d20, gets an 18, chooses that, and we pseudo-die repeatedly to hordes of Dark Troopers until we get a mission…which I will go into next time, together with how the MIC actually operates on a strategic level.
So that’s home for the time being: a massive conglomeration of ridiculous architecture and nebulously explained technology designed to be as “cool” as possible without actually doing anything, much like Marty. I wish it were more interesting, but it’s all just kind of there. The rest of the organization is like a slow, inept Weeping Angel. It only does anything when we aren’t looking at it, and the rest of the time they just engage in incredibly childish wish fulfillment. All the candy you can eat and a holodeck, and all you give up is ever being around people other than your coworkers. It says something about the GM that this is considered such a win-win that MIC agents aren’t paid.


  1. Wow. This stuff is nothing short of amazing, and I take my hat off to you for having the patience and will to pen down your experiences.

    One nitpick - could something be done about the paragraphing? Having everything run together as one chunk of text makes it hard to read.

    1. Cripes, you're right. I never noticed how width-dependent the paragraphing is. I'll go fix it.

  2. Hm, so far most of this is forgivable. Some things (like the exercise machines and vehicle maintenance) could be explained by assuming unmentioned details. Others are just lack of knowledge or forethought, which in principle are understandable since he can't know or think of everything. However, the sheer volume of both is... Somewhat disturbing.

    The one thing which I think is the worst, though, is his reaction to player creativity. If a player thinks of something clever that works within the setting, the GM can't just dismiss it. To do so is to remove a very important part of the game (unless he explicitly agreed with his players that the game was to be entirely RAW and combat-oriented).

    If it's something completely fair, like gaining more direct access to information that should be available regardless, then the GM should accommodate. If it's a bit OP but not overwhelming, he should try to figure out a logical downside and present the modified package to the player (who can accept or refuse at his option). Only if its totally and utterly game-breaking or well outside the intended scope of the rules is flat-out refusal remotely justifiable, and even then the GM should congratulate the player OOC for being clever but explain why he can't allow that.

    Of all ZeRoller's suggestions, only the TK graphine shuriken falls into the last category. I'd imagine that the intent behind his character's TK power was fine manipulation to aid in technical stuff. That it can be used as a weapon merely demonstrates that the TK power description needs to be rewritten. (In this case it could be easily 'fixed' by adding a maximum Power in the milliwatt range, and/or a maximum acceleration of a few cm/s^2.)

    The implant suggestion was entirely reasonable though, since it wasn't much power-wise while making logical sense within canon. If general usage of implants wasn't on CC's list of things he wanted in the setting, that's understandable; but pulling reasons why it wouldn't work out of his ass isn't a good way to react.

    Instead, he should have said "maybe" in-setting then after the game talked to ZeRoller OOC about his idea. Then they could work together to reach an agreement on an acceptable resolution to this, possibly even developing a new subsystem for how implants work in general.

    I guess it all really comes down to the GM being willing to cooperate with the players. That's an essential element of most games, but it's something Chief Circle is incapable of. It's possible to run a game where the GM is uncompromising, but that requires him to follow Rules As Written which are well-established and available to the players. In this case, the Rules weren't even Written! (Or at least weren't known to the players.)

  3. The TK thing was only 'fine manipulation' because I paid two feats and an asset to make it so. On its own, it's a bolt. A one-newton bolt, targetable within a 10-degree cone or so. Building around getting microscale control was the only build that let it actually do anything; otherwise you could do 5 damage a day before falling unconscious.

  4. GM: “It basically contains things more terrifyingly horrible than you could ever imagine.” So..basically it contains the plot script then?

  5. "In 2014, researchers from Rice University and the Georgia Institute of Technology have indicated that despite its strength, graphene is also relatively brittle, with a fracture toughness of ~4 MPa√m."

    Taken right from Wikipedia-it's certainly not the most reliable, but if you're using real things in an RPG, you should at least be able to look up relevant details on Wikipedia. Now, I don't understand the math/science behind it, but I can read "relatively brittle", meaning no. Graphene is not the only thing that can break graphene.

    Looking it up took me less than two minutes. Effort was put into this game, people. It must be hard to fail that badly.

    1. Either here or on GiantITP, ZeRoller mentioned that the GM doesn't trust Wikipedia. Not for the reasons that professors don't allow you to cite it, but because the article on katanas says that they can't cut through tanks.

    2. As the OP... What? Freaking what? He doesn't even cite the ACTUAL REASONS Wikipedia isn't reliable?

      I... Modern tanks can take rockets in the dozen before crumpling. No shit a sword won't cut through it!

      I need to go to bed. This much idiocy is too much.

  6. Your own quote mentions a dateline of 2014, the game predates that by a year or two. Graphene is actually pretty new as an isolated material rather than a theoretical concept, it resulted in an award for the researched in 2010, so only about 5 years of actual research with the isolated material, at this point. For once, he can easily be forgiven and even the player was hopelessly off but probably because there was a lot of uninformed chatter way back then about it being a miracle material (it is, but it is not unbreakable).

  7. What you described is literally an Eldar shuriken pistol. You'd just need one of their ammo slugs.