The Technobabble Monster

I’m going to do what I can to build a template for a technobabble monster. Remember that the babble can be medical, technical or science based so ideally this would model most Sci-Fi show tech problems. The purpose of this tool is not to make the story process a mechanical one but to give a GM a structure to add an element to the story and keep it interesting.

Story Points

The first thing a Technobabble monster needs is a number of hit points. It would also be good to have some skills that take it down faster. To do this some successful skill tests might take down one point, others will take down two points and the right skill will take down three points. To match a TV show structure, you want three main attempts to take it down before it goes down so start with at least nine. There will also be a few random attempts during the game so add three extra for a total of twelve. Your monster can have more or less but it’s good to have a base number to work with. This number may have to be multiplied by the number of PCs that can help with the problem because if you have six sciencey PCs the problem will go down too fast. We’ll call these points, Story Points (because I’m starting to become fond of that term).

Take Down Skills

Next decide what skill should be the most effective skill to tackle this technical problem. If this is a medical problem so you’re going to pick a medical skill. If it’s a science task, pick an appropriate science skill. A successful roll of this main skill will take off three points. Related skills take off two points. So if the required skill is Surgery, then General Medicine could be a related skill. A GM could also rule that someone with a biology skill would also be a related skill. Basic intelligence (I.Q.) successes take off one point.

Second choose skills that the monster is resistant to or may actually help it. For example, if a PC walks up to the problem and decides to blast it, maybe it does nothing, maybe it makes the problem worse. These skills add three SP to the problem.

A PC can use skills as a probe, testing if it will be effective. Doing this takes time but if the roll is failed, it will not trigger a story transform.

Progression

Most technobabble monsters don’t just sit still. They grow more powerful as time goes on. At first they only have weak effects that seem to come out of nowhere. Slowly, they progress to ever more obvious and dangerous. At their earliest stages the players should notice something but probably not know what to do with the information or even if they should do anything. The GM should keep this in mind as they apply the story transforms.

Transforms

Next we get to the monster’s ability to fight back. In some cases the monster may be an actual creature that is growing in strength. In others it may just be an effect of the environment. In any case, an interesting monster will change up it’s tactics and defenses. For every 3 points of SP that are reduced the GM may choose or roll for a story transform.

Roll 1d6

1- Problem fades for a time but comes back growing stronger.
2- Solution does nothing but gives a clue to the PC as to real cause.
3- Problem is partly fixed but the skill required to fix the problem is now different.
4- The problem appears to be fixed but has only moved.
5- The symptoms become less pronounced but the danger continues to mount.
6- The last fix attempted takes off double SP but an exotic ingredient is now needed to continue attacking the problem.

If a player tries to fix the problem but fails their rolls, they trigger a different set of transforms.

Roll 1d10

1- Problem rapidly gets worse.
2-3- A second problem is created, something important is damaged or fails.
4- The character failing the roll gets severely injured. There is no saving roll for this.
5- Someone else gets severely injured. They may get a chance to dodge or save vs the damage if the GM thinks it necessary.
6- Any further rolls require putting crew in danger because of a hazard like fire, falling equipment, explosions, infection etc.
7- An NPC involved dies.
8- The problem spreads in a way not normally thought possible. ex. Computer virus to human or vice versa, problems with the warp drive spreads to life support.
9- The problem is now immune to the skill used.
10- The problem gains 3 SP.

Time

There should be a time limit to the problem. If it isn’t solved in a certain number of hours, the ship explodes or the infection spreads to two more people or a PC dies. Something dire, something that will motivate the PCs. If you have a particularly unmotivated bunch make the technical characters reliant on some more combat oriented characters but the combat characters need the techs to keep them alive.

Each attempt to fix the problem takes a block of time if the characters dilly dally they’ll run out and the hammer drops. Skill probe attempts may not take as long as the attempt to fix the problem but still take up a significant amount of time (say a half to a quarter of an actual attempt).

Conclusion

Again, the idea here is to give some structure to the challenge of handling a task that the players can’t be expected to solve with their own knowledge. While a fighting character has something to do in most games, a technical or brainy character can be left twiddling their thumbs or relegated to strategy. If you need something story based to keep a technical character busy this could be a fun way to do it quickly. Ideally you’d want to come up with some kind of a technobabble explanation that they need to solve. I don’t think you need to hide the SP structure from the players. Knowing that there is a limit to the problem and a way to reach that limit will make the challenge more reasonable for the players. Some of the transforms would keep me on my toes if I were GM. Trying to figure out how to apply them may take some creative thinking. Any obvious transforms that I missed? Let me know in the comments and I’ll add them.

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