My Spiral Confederacy campaign resumes this weekend, and I have received some complaints about the limited abilities of Adherents from the player of the group’s adherent, Simon Simon, who is interesting and shouldn’t die. I’ve thought about this and decided that AI super-specialness should rub off a little on adherents, so here is a description of some basic special abilities for adherents.
Adherents do not gain any special skills, but they start out with a small number of enhancements from their AI, which they can use in certain situations. These enhancements are called Graces by adherents, and typically give the adherent some power of interaction based on access to information systems, as well as hacking abilities. Different graces rely on different skills and attributes, and have varying outcomes. They also differ according to the nature of the AI. A few samples are listed here. Unless otherwise specified, Graces only work in a system where the adherent’s AI is fully embedded. Typically the adherent needs to be able to maintain some form of communication with his AI, or be communicable with; if the adherent shuts down all connection to the comms web of the system he or she is in, most of these Graces will not work.
Typically an adherent starts the game with two Graces, and gains more as the AI spreads across the galaxy, or as the adherent gains levels.
This is a survival power granted to the adherent by his or her AI. The AI is constantly sifting through information flows, images, patterns of behaviour and satellite imagery for its own sinister ends, but sometimes this information will trigger a warning to the AI that the adherent is in danger. The AI will alert the adherent through some offhand message or sending, such as tingles in the spine or a twitch of the eye; whatever the warning, it may be sufficient to save the adherent from disaster or ambush. Typically this sixth sense manifests as a minor penalty on stealth checks, a bonus on attempts to identify lies and deceptions, or an opportunity to roll a perception check where otherwise there might be none. Adherents with this sense are often difficult to surprise, reacting to an ambush or backstab where their fellows stand flat-footed, or they get a chance to spot a sniper that their allies know is there but cannot see. This sense can be played largely at the GM’s discretion, but should at least give the adherent a +1 bonus on relevant perception, surprise and intuition checks.
AIs reserve their most powerful hacking efforts for moments when they really need them, but they are not averse to providing their adherents with software routines they might need to bypass less powerful systems and peripheral networks. While a normal computer operator would be unable to hack even the most basic such systems in the post-AI world, an adherent may be able to perform basic hacking tasks. Raiding a central bank’s computer system is impossible, but accessing the computers of some subsidiary system – a tollbooth number travel record, for example, or the cargo manifest of an independent freighter – might be possible. This hacking skill gives access to more types of system than scrying, and can be used to open up the scrying skill to more systems, but it should not be treated as equivalent to scrying. It requires a computer system to break into, not just an AV cable, and its primary use is in gathering information and laying false information. It does not grant the adherent power to control systems – the adherent could not hack into a flyer and take control of its propulsors, for example, but he or she could hack into the flyer’s satellite navigation system and delete records of its last 24 hours of transit, or lay false ones.
This Grace typically requires use of the computer skill. The tech level of the system being hacked should count as a difficulty modifier, and large and highly defensive systems are impossible for even this Grace. For such systems, the adherent will need to get the attention of his or her AI, and lodge a petition.
Information travels everywhere in modern stellar computer networks, and even the smallest and most informal of camera networks will inevitably broadcast its images across many networks that never pay any heed to them. The AI gathers all this information all the time, spreading its digital influence across whole star systems to pick up every shred of visual and sound information that is produced. A human mind would break under the pressure of all this data, but the AI will grant its adherents a tiny hint of its power, just enough to access all the images and sound being collected by the small network of cameras around the adherent. With this Grace, the adherent can dip into a light trance at any time, and access all digital and sound recordings currently occurring within his or her immediate vicinity, gaining an overview of the environment. Small cameras and recorders are ubiquitous in the modern era, and they are always sending the data they record to and from different servers. An adherent may stand in a quiet suburban neighbourhood of a backwater world, but the moment she dips into this trance she has access to nearby traffic cameras, the cameras on self-driving cars, a couple of cameras on nearby personal computers, the microphones on nearby telephones, a camera being used to take a lover’s picture. Even this much information may be too much for a human mind to bear, and it is always patchwork and fragmented, but from it the adherent can build a picture of his or her immediate surroundings.
This Grace cannot be used to access secure systems without also using the hacking Grace, but in most ordinary environments it can be used to give at least a partial overview of the area out of the adherent’s immediate sight. Use of this Grace requires an adherent skill check, with a difficulty modifier applied at the GM’s discretion to take account of the size of area being scanned or the degree of specificity required. If an adherent wants to know what is going on in a specific location nearby that is out of sight, they will first need to scan all images in the area, and then find a way to triangulate sounds and images from cameras specific to a particular location. To do this can also take a lot of time, during which the adherent must be in a trance and (relatively) undisturbed.
The adherent may not be a good fighter, but he or she has a deep sense of the fields and energies at work in battle. With this Grace, the adherent gains precognition of the discharge of technological devices. At the beginning of combat, the adherent chooses to enter a light trance, and foregoes a around of action. During this round, the adherent makes an adherent check, with a bonus equal to the tech level of all weapons being used by enemies. If successful, the adherent gains a kind of precognitive knowledge of the actions of these weapons – he or she knows exactly when the weapon will be discharged moments before it happens, and can react. For all weapons against which the skill check was successful, the adherent gains the benefits of the dodge reaction (page 62 in the rulebook) without the initiative or skill check penalties that this reaction normally applies.
This Grace only applies to missile weapons, and only those that are in sight of the character. Note that the TL of the weapon applies a bonus to the roll; very low tech missile weapons are considerably more difficult for the adherent to predict, since the information they impart is harder to read the more mechanical parts they have. Note also the adherent must be able to move, and must spend a full round in a light trance, able to react but not to attack or perform other major actions, in order to use this Grace.
AI do not think like people; they draw information together differently, make different judgments about the links between ideas, and don’t care for preconceptions. Humans can never think like AI, but the human followers of AI sometimes gain some of their ability to draw together information in ways humans cannot. Adherents with the pattern recognition Grace have mastered this power of their AI god, and can see patterns and logical connections where others cannot. This gives them a bonus on skill checks for skills such as Investigate, all the science skills, and tactics, and it also gives them an opportunity to gain insights where otherwise the PC would have none. In game terms this means that, when the party is stuck on a particular task, clue or challenge, the player may be able to petition the GM for a relevant skill check to gain the answer to the problem, or gain more hints as to the solution.
In some instances this pattern recognition may manifest in a simpler form, as knowledge granted to the PC through strange channels. For example, the group may be looking for the access panel to a doorway, but cannot immediately see it, while under fire from an enemy team. Searching for the panel would mean breaking cover, but the adherent suddenly knows that it is around the corner, and identifies a way to reach it that will keep him out of sight of the majority of their enemies. Off he runs …