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Full Version: Girl Genius - the SR4 Campaign Expansion - v1
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The following is my personal fan addition to the SR4 campaign setting. It’s definitely a non-traditional expansion, so conservative GM’s and players should probably stop reading now. If, on the other hand, you’re open to the possibility of potentially reshaping the Sixth World (or at least the shadows), read on. It’s not intended as a crossover per se, but to introduce the type of central characters from Girl Genius, the mad scientists, to the Shadowrun world.

These rules are currently unplaytested, but I’m soliciting comments and ideas from the Dumpshock community. For my part, a chance to playtest them under a sympathetic GM will probably happen soon and I’ll have the opportunity to make a few choice revisions to these rules after having actually tested them out at the gaming table.

Reviewers whose contributions are used will be listed in future editions published online. And remember, it’s a good day…FOR SCIENCE!

Girl Genius – The Webcomic
For those of you who are unfamiliar with Girl Genius, it’s a Hugo Award winning webcomic series located at It describes a world setting where “the Industrial Revolution has escalated into an all-out war” and mad scientists, more politely called “Sparks,” have warred against each other for decades (if not over a century), turning much of Europe into a collection of city states separated by dangerous wastelands.

Those with this special spark of inspiration are endowed with supernormal scientific and technical abilities, able to construct fantastic devices beyond the ability of lesser mortals to understand or duplicate. They’re also frequently possessed of a near-supernatural charisma, which they frequently use to establish power centers for themselves. Those that survive the inevitably dangerous life that is being a Spark have occasionally founded dynasties that are nothing less than royalty in this alternate history Europa.

Highly recommended, whether you intend to use this expansion or not.

The Spark
The Spark is what makes these mad scientists what they are. They’re people who apparently have the ability to tamper with the laws of physics as they are currently understood, but they’re not mages and their invention processes don’t incorporate mana. It’s said that someone is a Spark if he or she has the Spark. Much like the ability to use magic, it’s strongly theorized that this is a hereditary trait, but hard proof at the genetic level has yet to be found.

Much like mages and technomancers, Sparks start their lives as normal people. At some time, typically in their teens or later, a Spark will “breakthrough” and begin expressing their abilities by entering Spark Hyperfocus, otherwise known as “The Madness Place,” for the first time. Beyond this point, there is no turning back. Almost without exception, this is a traumatic experience for the new Spark and is also frequently very dangerous for bystanders as any Devices created during this experience are notoriously destructive. If this Device doesn’t kill its creator (and everyone else in the general vicinity), and the new Spark comes through it with their sanity nominally intact, then their career as a Spark begins in earnest.

Just as being a mage or being a technomancer are mutually exclusive states of being, so too is being a Spark. Sparks cannot awaken as a mage nor emerge as a technomancer. Likewise, no mage or technomancer can breakthrough and become a Spark. Unlike mages or technomancers, there is no analog of either mentor spirits or paragons available for Sparks. To be a Spark is to be very much alone, in one sense, save for the company of other Sparks; this can be a special kind of madness all its own.

The primary benefit of being a Spark is the ability to employ Inspired Science, a term that encompasses a Spark’s ability to build fantastic creations known as Devices (if mechanical) or Constructs (if biological). The fruits of Inspired Science cannot be fully analyzed or duplicated by non-Sparks. No matter their skill levels or what equipment they utilize, no mundane scientist or engineer can ever fully divine their workings, although particularly skilled individuals may sometimes feel that they come maddeningly close to understanding bits of them. Much like magic, when examined at its most fundamental level, the Spark defies current analysis.

Many Sparks develop distinctive styles, showing tendencies to prefer working with certain types of Devices or Constructs, but this varies considerably by individual. Some Sparks have also shown the ability to incorporate music into their abilities, seemingly gaining some superior intuition while working with it; the mathematical construction of music may “click” with a Spark’s ability to employ Inspired Science.

Lastly, breaking through as a Spark grants several other benefits in short order. Sparks tend to be physically hardier than the average person, typically in excellent shape, rarely sick, and able to recover from injuries more quickly than normal. The mad inspiration that is the source of a Spark’s abilities is also considerable proof against mental intrusion or manipulation. Any attempts to control the mind of a Spark, whether by magic or other means, are almost certain to fail.

Hyperfocus, aka “The Madness Place”
Even if they survive their breakthrough, Sparks typically lose rationality while they’re working. To actually employ their talents of Inspired Science, they must – consciously or unconsciously – enter a heightened mental state known as Hyperfocus. In this state, their mental processes, intuition, comprehension, charisma and the speed at which they can work are all greatly increased. Unfortunately, this state also tends to be marked by megalomania, increased aggression (especially if interrupted), and serious loss of perspective, rationality and common sense. Awareness of practical and ethical concerns is lost in their pursuit of technical apotheosis; in fact, down-to-earth solutions mostly strike them as extremely boring in this state. In short, they can become fanatically obsessive savants at the drop of a hat. It’s not uncommon for stimulants to induce this state, but the most extreme Sparks can act this way near constantly.

It’s also in this state that a Spark’s enhanced charisma tends to inspire loyalty (or at least obedient fear) in lesser mortals and thus enables them to acquire a coterie of minions. Those who pursue goals of political or career advancement can eventually gather tremendous support from their more mundane peers. Fellow Sparks subjected to another Spark in Hyperfocus tend to quickly ramp up to Stage 2 (below) themselves.

Even when not in Hyperfocus, Sparks are brilliant, focused individuals, and often impatient with those whose thoughts don’t run in the direction of their own. Because of this, some of those thoughts have veered off in truly alarming directions, making them dangerous and shortsighted. Though the average Spark is talented enough to make the impossible possible, their tunnel vision rarely permits understanding of the consequences of their actions. It’s been said that they’re “smart enough to build death rays and dumb enough to turn them on armies all by themselves” – an apt description of a Spark in Hyperfocus if there ever was one.

A Spark in Hyperfocus may be experiencing it shallowly or deeply, as follows:

Stage 1 – Clarity of Thought
Sparks in Stage 1 are capable of conducting research and engaging in deep concentration, but are not yet manic. That said, Sparks rarely spend much time in Stage 1 – it’s frequently a transitory stage as they ramp to more extreme states.

Stage 2 – Mad Science Unleashed
Stage 2 is the most common, recognizable state, involving obviously enhanced creativity and cackling madness. The majority of Sparks in Stage 2 demonstrate extremely poor emotional control and are generally manic, either enthusiastically happy or ballistically angry. This state is the most common one for sparks to work in, but it can still be a very frightening thing to witness. Sparks in Stage 2 tend to view everything and everyone around them as tools. They also tend to forget any danger they may be in and show no concern for their physical wellbeing or that of their surroundings.

Stage 3 – Brilliant Rage
This stage is rarely seen in Sparks, and tends to occur only when the Spark is extremely angry. Sparks who make it this far have left whatever shreds of their temper they possessed far behind. Rage and passion guide their actions, and they will not listen to reason. Their inventive abilities suffer not a whit because of this, but if the opportunity presents itself they are far more interested in doing battle (likely with a specific target in mind) that slaving over a workbench putting together some new Device. Sparks who reach this stage tend to exit it violently. This is the rarest stage for a Spark to reach; many Sparks can go many years and never reach it – which is good for them and better for everyone else.

Stage 2, which usually equates to the stereotypical cackling mad scientist, appears to be the standard mode of operation for Sparks when they’re working. By concentrating on their work, or by experiencing an emotional upset, most Sparks enter Stage 2 after a brief ramp-up in Stage 1. Most Sparks tend to drop out of Stage 2 back to (relative) sanity once the stimulus is removed or if they’re sufficiently distracted, but if they’ve gone all the way to Stage 3 they usually need to be knocked out of it. Experienced or especially talented Sparks have demonstrated finer control over entering these states, and can move into or out of the deeper Stages as they wish.
Game Mechanics
The following are the specific gaming mechanics corresponding to the above sections.

General Rules
  • Sparks that don’t survive their breakthroughs with their sanity intact aren’t suitable for PC use, but may become NPC antagonists at the whim of the GM. PC Sparks are assumed to have weathered the process and come through reasonably sane (or as sane as Sparks ever get, at any rate).
  • Any Spark infected with HMHVV who fully succumbs to it and transforms into one of the Infected templates loses all Spark qualities; Sparks who know of this tend to regard it as a fate far, far worse than death.
  • The Limits of Sorcery (Street Magic, pp. 159-160) explicitly do not apply to Inspired Science. Teleportation and Gate creation are well within the abilities of a dedicated Spark. Even successfully raising the dead and time travel are not out of reach. No Spark can whip up fire and lightning with nothing but their bare hands on an instant’s notice or command the matrix with nothing but their mind, but given time and equipment, their limits are far beyond that of any mage or technomancer.
  • If subjected to illusion or mind control spells, or some other form of mind control, a Spark receives a dice pool bonus equal to double their Inspiration score on the Resistance Test.

Taboo Qualities: No Spark can possess the qualities of Adept, AIPS, Albinism, Asthma, Astral Sight, Gremlins, Infirm, Latent Awakening, Latent Technomancer, Magician, Mystic Adept, Night Blindness, Paraplegic, Quadriplegic, Reduced Sense, Sensory Overload Syndrome, Simsense Vertigo, Spell/Spirit Knack, Technomancer, or Weak Immune System. Likewise, no characters with the Magician, Technomancer, Adept, or Mystic Adept qualities can possess Spark qualities. AIs, Centaurs, Changelings beyond Stage 1, Drakes, Nagas, Pixies, Sasquatches, Shapeshifters, and Spirits also cannot be Sparks.

Mandatory Qualities: Upon breaking through, all Sparks must purchase the highest possible Body rating for their Metatype if they don’t already have it. They must also purchase Resistance to Pathogens & Toxins at Level 2, as well as Quick Healer. If not purchased at character creation, these attributes and qualities must be paid for from earned Karma as soon as possible. Lastly, all Sparks must purchase the Spark quality (below), or least the Latent Spark quality, if they plan on breaking through as Sparks at some later date.

New Qualities:
  • Spark (+30 BP / +60 KP): A “sister quality” to the Magician and Technomancer qualities, a character must purchase this quality in order to be a Spark and starts with an Inspiration attribute of 1. Sparks are “mad scientists,” able to build fantastic creations beyond the limits of mundane technology or even magic. A character with this quality cannot possess the Magician, Technomancer, Adept or Mystic Adept qualities.
  • Musical Inspiration (+30 BP / +60 KP): When incorporating music into your work, whether by humming a tune, or perhaps just by listening to your favorite music, you gain a +2 dice pool bonus to any efforts at building or modifying Devices, Constructs, or mundane technology. You can also use this bonus to help resist any attempts to control your mind. This quality is only available to characters who possess the Spark quality.
  • Experienced Spark (+5 BP / +10 KP per level, max level 3): For each level of this quality, you gain a +1 dice pool bonus to any Willpower Tests for controlling yourself while in Hyperfocus. This bonus also applies to attempts to enter or exit Hyperfocus.
  • Latent Spark (+5 BP / +10 KP): A character with this quality starts the game as a mundane but may breakthrough as a Spark later. At the start of the game, the character does not possess an Inspiration attribute and may not possess any other Spark qualities. At some point during gameplay, the GM may decide that the character breaks through and comes into their own as a full Spark; this decision is entirely in the GM’s hands and should be based entirely on creating a good story – and if the player is surprised, so much the better.

New Attribute:
  • Inspiration: A “sister attribute” to the Magic and Resonance attributes, Inspiration is a measure of a Spark’s inherent mad genius. Those with strong Inspiration ratings are able to build powerful and fantastic Devices and Constructs; those with lower ratings are limited to less fantastic creations. This may be increased like any other attribute, without an explicit limit. Unlike mages or technomancers, Sparks neither initiate nor submerse, instead growing steadily in their abilities over time. However, much like mages and technomancers, cyberware and bioware that costs Essence will decrease it; if reduced to Inspiration 0, a Spark loses all Spark qualities.

Hyperfocus Stages, Benefits, and Drawbacks
Stage 1 – Clarity of Thought:
  • Benefits: In this Stage, a Spark receives a +2 dice pool bonus to any scientific/technical rolls, but otherwise can’t use their Inspiration attribute. As a plus, however, they’re still clear-headed.
  • Drawbacks: For every 15 minutes in this state (or hour, if they are quietly researching), a Spark must make a Willpower Test with a Threshold of 2; if they fail they slip into Stage 2. They’re also somewhat oblivious to their surroundings and suffer a -1 dice pool penalty to Perception Tests in this state.
  • Triggers: Encountering something of a scientific/technical nature that appeals to a Spark will trigger this state unless they succeed on a Willpower Test with a Threshold of 2. If a Spark wants to enter this stage, they will succeed on a Willpower Test with a Threshold of 1.
  • Exiting: Being the shallowest Stage of Hyperfocus, it’s also the easiest to exit. A Spark who recognizes that they’ve entered Stage 1 and wants to drop out down to normal succeeds on a Willpower Test with a Threshold of 1; a critical failure ramps them up to Stage 2. Being drawn into an interesting but otherwise mundane conversation is also fairly effective (GM’s/Player’s call).
Stage 2 – Mad Science Unleashed:
  • Benefits: In this Stage, a Spark can freely use their Inspiration attribute, enabling them to build Devices and Constructs. A Spark also acquires something akin to a Glamour in this state, as their Charisma score is doubled; this applies to all Social Skill Tests, including Intimidation.
  • Drawbacks: If presented with any “fun” opportunities to indulge pet theories, start work on a “wonderful” new invention, or test newly created Devices or Constructs, a Spark must make a Willpower Test with a Threshold of 4 to resist doing just that as soon as possible. (If you have the Common Sense quality, you lose in this Stage or above.) If interrupted while working, a Spark must make the same Willpower Test to avoid biting the head off of the unlucky offender (hopefully figuratively). Even more oblivious to their surroundings, Sparks suffer a -3 dice pool penalty to Perception Tests in this state.
  • Triggers: As stated above, a Spark in Stage 1 can easily slip into this state; a Spark who has been in Stage 1 for at least 15 minutes who wants to slip into Stage 2 automatically succeeds. A Spark can jump straight into this state (bypassing Stage 1 entirely) by encountering something of a scientific/technical nature that appeals greatly to them unless they succeed on a Willpower Test with a Threshold of 3; emotional upsets have also been known to trigger this state.
  • Exiting: This stage is harder to exit – and the Spark is generally having too much fun to want to try. Finishing what they’re working on or otherwise having their stimulus removed will typically return them to normal. Being presented with either immediate physical danger of a nature that requires they address it instead of continuing to invent more fantastic creations or being notified of a matter of critical importance that requires their immediate attention also stand good chances of snapping them back to normal if they succeed at a Willpower Test with a Threshold of 2. A good shaking or being slapped across the face can also sometimes be effective.
Stage 3 – Brilliant Rage:
  • Benefits: While in this Stage, a Spark temporarily gains the High Pain Tolerance (3), Toughness, and Will to Live (3) qualities (SR4 Core Rules, pp. 78, 80). Also, for purposes of Intimidation Tests, a Spark’s Charisma score is tripled while in this state.
  • Drawbacks: Sparks are out to kill in this state. Any work on inventions at this point will be done for the sole purpose of acquiring heavier firepower to attack the target of their wrath; if such is already on hand they’ll grab it and start shooting without hesitation. A Spark who wants to try to control their temper in this state must succeed on a Willpower Test with a Threshold of 6.
  • Triggers: Merely getting very angry will not trigger this stage. A Spark must encounter (or be the victim of) something that arouses homicidal fury (GM’s/Player’s call). A Spark subject to such an occurrence must make a Willpower Test with a Threshold of 6 to avoid jumping straight into this state, bypassing the first two Stages entirely. If already in Stage 1, the Test has a -1 dice pool penalty. If already in Stage 2, a -3 dice pool penalty.
  • Exiting: No Spark will listen to reason at this point. It typically takes being rendered unconscious to snap them out of this state, or waiting for them to drop from exhaustion after spending much more time than is healthy in this state. Only mundane matters of supreme importance will snap them back to normal if they’ve gone this far, and those only if the Spark succeeds on a Willpower Test with a Threshold of 4.

Basic Building Rules
These are most basic rules for Sparks working with any technology, both mundane and Inspired.
  • The primary Shadowrun building/repair rules are in the SR4 Core Rules, p. 125, and in Augmentation, pp. 128 – 130; they’ve been modified a bit on the Building Table (below). In general, Sparks require access to tools and facilities for any serious technological endeavors, just like anyone else.
  • To build, repair, or modify mundane technology while not giving in to the temptation to turn it into a Device requires a Logic + Willpower Test. The Threshold is 1 per complexity level of the technology in question as per the table on SR4 Core Rules, p. 125 (1 for Simple machines, all the way up to 5+ for Exotic ones). Failure means that the Spark slips into at least Stage 1 Hyperfocus and attempts to turn an otherwise mundane machine into a full-fledged Device.
  • For every 2 levels of Inspiration, a Spark can ignore -1 of dice pool penalties from each of the Situation categories as per the table on SR4 Core Rules, p. 125. If given access to Superior (or above) facilities, the Spark gains double the normal dice pool bonuses.
  • Inspiration also speeds up a Spark’s construction speed. For every 2 levels, a Spark can work with mundane technology 1 category of time faster (weeks become days, days become hours, hours become minutes) as per the Building Table (below). For every 3 levels, a Spark can work with items of Inspired Science 1 category of time faster.
  • To find the cost for building a new item of mundane technology, reference the cost for the best equivalent item in SR4 Core Rules, Arsenal, Augmentation, Unwired, or War! and use that. For Devices or Constructs, double the cost. For items of Inspired Science that have no equivalent in any existing SR4 book, the GM determines the price. Note, however, that Sparks can save money by breaking down existing items for parts. “Recycling” existing items (that are similar to what the spark is working on) yields half of their equivalent value in parts.
  • A Spark will always recognize an item of Inspired Science if they get a chance to examine it even briefly, unless it’s creator has taken steps to disguise its nature. In that case, it’s an opposed roll between their Logic + Inspiration versus that of the item’s creator. This same roll will enable a Spark to analyze an item of Inspired Science, rolling against a Threshold determined by the complexity level of the item in question (see above); the net hits determine how well the Spark understands the item in question (the Detection Spell Results table on SR4 Core Rules, p. 198, is a good example of this).
  • A Spark’s Inspiration score determines the complexity of Inspired Science they can comprehend and design, as noted in the “Minimum Inspiration” column in the Building Table (below). Items of Inspired Science in a category above their current score are beyond their ability to work with until they raise their Inspiration score to a higher level.

Building Rules for Devices and Constructs
Mundane technology is one thing, machines and creatures that actually break the laws of physics are another entirely. A Spark’s preeminent feature is their ability to use their Inspiration attribute in conjunction with other scientific/technical skill rolls. Not only does this extra dice pool help ensure success when working with technology, but using it allows a Spark to endow otherwise mundane machines and creatures with that Sparky edge, propelling them past their normal limits into the realm of the fantastic. To use their Inspiration attribute, a Spark first starts with the dice pool that would normally apply if the item in question was mundane, then adds their Inspiration attribute into the mix. A Spark must have a skill rating of at least 1 relating to the item in question in order to employ their Inspiration attribute when working with it.

EXAMPLE: Ada the Spark wants to build herself a blaster pistol. Normally, this dice pool would be Logic + Armorer. Assuming she has scores of Logic 5, Armorer 5, and Inspiration 5, her dice pool will be 15 (5 + 5 + 5). If she succeeds, she’ll have created something no mundane weaponsmith could ever make, an energy weapon capable of punching holes in tanks that can fit in her hand.

One talent of Sparks that deserves special mention is their ability to create intelligent machines or even sentient creatures. Intelligent Devices are created with the Software skill, Constructs are created with the Biotechnology skill. Software is treated a special sort of “Device” for Sparks. Not being Technomancers, they do not have access to the Resonance. However, they can create intelligent programs, essentially analogous to AI’s. Treat any such AI’s as Constructs (below), save that they exist as digital creations only.

Constructs should be created as NPC’s, nominally under their creator’s control; their treatment can ultimately determine their loyalty (GM’s call). They have maximum attributes equivalent to their creator’s Inspiration score. Any extra-normal abilities (e.g., shapeshifting or breathing fire), may be added to a Construct by averaging a Spark’s skills in Biotechnology and the most relevant skill to create a technological item of the same ability. If no such item can be readily determined, it’s the GM’s call as to what’s the most relevant skill to use. Every extra-normal ability added increases the amount of time required to build a Construct by 25% over its base time.

EXAMPLE: Nikola the Spark is trying to create a bodyguard Construct that’s not only big and strong, but can breathe fire as well. His dice pool to create the Construct is Logic 5 + Biotechnology 5 + Inspiration 5 (5 + 5 + 5 = 15). Assuming he succeeds in his base roll to create the Construct, he can then add in the ability to breathe fire. The closest equivalent item for projecting fire is a flamethrower, so the relevant skill is Armorer. Being a better biotechnologist than mechanical engineer, he only has a rating of 1 in his Armorer skill. His roll to add in fire-breathing ability is Logic 5 + 3 (the average of Biotechnology 5 + Armorer 1) + Inspiration 5 (5 + 3 + 5 = 13). If he succeeds in both of his rolls, he’ll have a hulking, fire-breathing bodyguard to protect him in dangerous situations. Goodness knows what the neighbors will think…
Building Table

Building Table Picture Link
Campaign Use
This expansion represents a chance to see what Sparks are truly capable of. In this setting, they’re removed from a world of 19th century clockwork mechanics, steam power, and simple electrical devices and instead transplanted to a world of the late 21st century complete with precision robotics, cybernetics, neural interfaces, a vast high-speed global communications network and the beginnings of a nano-manufacturing base. Revolutionary achievements in a globally connected high-tech world will be felt immediately and have great impact (if they ever become public). For all of you TVTropes readers out there, such a scenario represents a chance to answer the question “What would happen if Reed Richards weren’t useless?”

Accordingly, as should be blatantly apparent from even a casual reading, this campaign expansion has the potential to radically re-shape the Sixth World, given enough time to do so. The fruits of Inspired Science open many compartments in Pandora’s Box, even beyond what magic is capable of. That said, any Sparks whose existence is revealed to the world are unlikely to profit by them.

The Girl Genius tagline is that “Mad scientists rule the world. Badly.” Unfortunately for any aspiring mad scientist overlords, the Sixth World of 2070 CE already has rulers – the AAA megacorps. By default, the corps are unaware of the existence of Sparks and their capabilities, and would likely dismiss them as rambling urban legends even if they did hear of them. If they were ever to become truly convinced, the situation would change immediately. No place on earth (or even in orbit) would be safe for Sparks. It would make the “press gang” recruitment of technomancers when they were first revealed look like a tea party by comparison. Every shadowrunning team on the planet would be competing for extraction runs of any known or even suspected Sparks, and no corp would be willing to take “no” for an answer. Every corp would be also be competing to establish testing procedures for suspected Sparks, much as was done with technomancers when they first emerged into the public consciousness (probably with mixed results). Any Sparks not already living underground would probably be forced into the shadows to survive at that point (unless they were caught or chose to sell out), and the shadows are far from safe themselves…

Spark Strategy Guide
  • Rule #1:Keep your head down.” This can’t be overstated. If anyone discovers what you’re truly capable of, you’ll end up corporate property and possibly dissected before you can blink. That said, urban legends and the matrix are your friends here. With the staggering amount of utterly ridiculous BS posted online, even if someone were to catch a Spark in action, it would likely be posted on the same websites that post “true stories” of magician technomancers conspiring with aliens from Mars to control your mind through your trid set. Don’t rely on this too much, however, as having a cover identity of your typical gifted-but-eccentric techie is far better for camouflage and lets you essentially hide in plain sight as long as you can keep yourself from going over the top with your public work.
  • Rule #2:You live and die by your gear.” You can’t smite your foes by throwing lightning bolts from your hands, nor hack their wireless gear with just your mind, but if you’re a strong Spark, then the best rated equipment in the Sixth World is nothing compared to what you can produce. But even that does you no good if you’re caught flat-footed without it. You should never leave the house without several well concealed Devices on your person (or without mundane-looking Construct bodyguards, if you lean in that direction). Your role on a runner team is likely to be support, so aim for diversity in what you build. You’re probably not a front-line fighter, so remember that your safety is paramount and craft or buy the best armor and camouflage you can. Lastly, never leave anything behind on a run. Good advice for any runner, it goes double for you. The last thing you want someone getting a hold of is some Device or Construct, and then determining that it does something completely fantastical, but isn’t magical in nature. Rigging any tools you carry with small explosive charges guaranteed to fry them beyond any forensic analysis is a very good idea.
  • Rule #3:Keep your Spark under control.” The madness that is your muse grants great benefits, but great drawbacks as well. If you “Spark Out” and enter Hyperfocus during a run, then you put your entire team and your objectives at risk. A high Willpower score is critical here and you should purchase the Experienced Spark quality as soon as you can. Things are possibly a little easier if your team is aware of your “condition.” A story about how you unfortunately suffer from some obscure “savant syndrome” that tends to manifest when you’re working on complex and/or technical things can be very useful. If you ensure that you’re sufficiently valuable to your team, they shouldn’t have any big problems assigning you a “babysitter” of sorts – perhaps the team mage can have a minor spirit watch over you and give you a good shaking if you succumb to Hyperfocus during a run.
  • Rule #4:Have a contingency plan for the future.” There were probably plenty of technomancers that thought they could stay hidden forever. Well, we all know how well that worked out. At some point, Sparks will almost certainly be outed to the world, and you need to be prepared for that day. If you seriously suspect that this is happening, get out. Do not stay, do not pass Go, do not collect $200, just grab your stuff and get out of town. Like any prudent runner, you should have a bolt hole hidden somewhere, but yours needs special preparations. It not only can’t be traced back to you, but even your most trusted fixer can’t know about it unless you not only trust them with your life but also trust them not to sell you out for a multi-million nuyen “finder’s fee.” As a shadowrunner, ask yourself – do you have any friends like that? Even if you successfully pull this off, it’s probably nothing more than temporary safety, and you need a longer-term solution for the future. Your options are, in general:
    A) Sell Out: Starting picking out a AAA or AA megacorp now and be ready to contact them as soon as the world goes crazy over discovering the existence of Sparks. Have your employment contract terms listed and ready to negotiate and then get yourself under their umbrella of protection as soon as you can. It goes without saying that you’re unlikely to be able to back out of this agreement, so choose wisely…
    B) Establish Your Own Power Base: Don’t want to sell out to the megacorps out there? No problem – start your own! If you think you’ve got the money, ability, and connections to pull it off, found your own company and become a global player yourself (free tip – start saving your nuyen now). The biggest problem here (aside from the startup capital, of course) is that you’re essentially announcing your presence to the world at a time when you and your kind are the new global boogeymen. You’ll need top-notch security around you 24/7, at least for the first few years until you get established and the “Sparks are here and living among us!” hysteria dies down, but if you can pull it off, you’ll end up being able to do business as a Spark right out in the open instead of living in the shadows. A solution halfway between this and selling out is to found your company and then maneuver it into the position of being the partially-owned subsidiary of a AAA or AA megacorp. This grants you some degree of autonomy in addition to the umbrella of protection from a larger entity.
    C) Go Underground Permanently: This solution is possibly the most high-risk and requires the most established Sparky technology base on your part, but is also the one that guarantees you the most personal freedom. To pull this off, you all but require teleportation capability, in order to be able to quickly and invisibly move around the world between safehouses; if these are literally underground (and EM-shielded), so much the better. To minimize your contact with the outside world, the ability to make these safehouses self-contained is invaluable. Whether you would consider this viable for a long-term life in the shadows is another matter, but it’s the one most able to keep you off the corps’ radar and beyond the reach of extraction teams.

Design Notes
  • Parts of the Wikipedia and Girl Genius Wiki entries were so well worded (my complements to their authors!), that it seemed a shame not to simply lift them in near-verbatim and shape them to fit.
  • Despite a relatively recent plotline involving Agatha managing to engineer the Spark itself into her little dingbots, I deemed that self-replicating Sparky robots would be a nightmare on top of an already major shake-up to some core rules of the Shadowrun setting, so those were excluded. Instead, I went with the same rules as for technomancers – otherwise mundane biological beings only, not Awakened (and in this case, not a technomancer either).
  • Essence is likewise a major core mechanic to the Shadowrun setting, primarily used to stop munchkins from constructing twinked-out full cyborg spellcasters. Seeing as the other two main groups of “specials” (mages and technomancers) are bound by those rules, I felt it was only just for Sparks to be subject to them as well. This isn’t the case in the webcomic, what with Lucrezia / The Other jumping bodies willy-nilly (into a fully artificial body in one case!) and still retaining her Spark, but that doesn’t work as well in a gaming setting.
  • Special inventions costing a Karma for a Spark, much as how mages must spend Karma to make enchanted items, does not seem appropriate for Sparks, as it would sharply curtail their output below anything productive. These are characters that live and die by their special equipment, as a core feature of their template/class. If restricted too much, they might as well not be in the game.
  • Subjecting Sparks to Drain, like mages or technomancers, didn’t seem appropriate, either. Sparks might (eventually) get tired from working in the lab too long, but that can be covered by existing physical exhaustion rules.
  • To see possibly the best yet example of a Spark in action, start here and continue forward through several strips:

  • Girl Genius webcomic
  • Girl Genius Wiki (parts of the Spark and Hyperfocus description sections were lifted almost verbatim)
  • Girl Genius Wikipedia article (parts the Spark description section were lifted almost verbatim)
  • Girl Genius Novel – Agatha H. and the Airship City
  • Mage: The Ascension (the Technocracy and the Sons of Ether were major sources of inspiration, as was the fan-produced work Genius: The Transgression)
  • GURPS IOU (WUSE college, gadgeteering rules)
  • GURPS Wild Cards (Maxim Travnicek – mad scientist inventor, and the associated gadgeteering rules)
  • SR4 Core Rules, Arsenal, Augmentation, Runner’s Companion, Street Magic, and Unwired.

  • Patrick A. – Fellow Girl Genius fan and occasional Shadowrun gamer. Contributed a few general thoughts and some ideas about software development by Sparks. Also suggested example Spark names.
As a fan of Girl Genius, I applaud your spirit. That said, you need to be a lot more specific about the kinds of effects Devices can and cannot have. Your example of "an energy weapon capable of punching holes in tanks that can fit in [the] hand" sounds brokenly overpowered. You've got the beginnings of a system, but it needs a huge amount of fleshing-out before it becomes playable.
QUOTE (Tanegar @ Mar 4 2011, 11:39 PM) *
As a fan of Girl Genius, I applaud your spirit. That said, you need to be a lot more specific about the kinds of effects Devices can and cannot have. Your example of "an energy weapon capable of punching holes in tanks that can fit in [the] hand" sounds brokenly overpowered. You've got the beginnings of a system, but it needs a huge amount of fleshing-out before it becomes playable.

Well, that's something of a problem, as I don't see any real guidelines in SR4 about the limits of mundane technology. Weapons-wise, everything from razor blades to nuclear weapons is officially available as equipment. Accordingly, one thing I explicitly decided *not* to do was to take the cheap and easy way out and just end up cloning the magic system, with everything neatly rated in terms of Force (I'm still irked that they were lazy enough to design technomancers that way). As long as technology has no explicit limits in the rules, how could I apply any to what Sparks can produce?

I could, instead, propose a truly radical solution - talking to your GM and behaving as a responsible player. But, of course, no one will listen to crazy talk like that...
Sounds very exciting. I would love to play in that world. If the game is mainly about sparks then the game balance issues are a lot less important. I would hesitate to bring them into an ordinary game without talking to the other players.

My oldest son likes to play gadgetteers, so we have developed a gadget making set of rules. Basically you get a number of points bases on your special gadget attribute and skill. To make a new gadget you cannibalise old ones. Points can be traded for armour or damage etc using hero games as a guide. If you had 12 points you could make 1 12pt, or 2 11pt etc. My son is an extreme mini maxer (5I am very proud of him) so we needed a fairly robust system.
QUOTE (JanessaVR @ Mar 5 2011, 03:00 AM) *
I could, instead, propose a truly radical solution - talking to your GM and behaving as a responsible player. But, of course, no one will listen to crazy talk like that...

Two things. One: smarminess undermines your argument. Ditch it. Two: Any game that relies on common sense for its basic functionality is doomed from the word go. Not all GMs are alike. Some will set unreasonably high limits. Some will set unreasonably low limits. Some will be cajoled or fast-talked into letting the player get away with too much, and Cthulhu help you if the player is the GM's significant other. You really do need to set parameters for what Sparks can and cannot build. Seth's idea sounds like a good one. Assign point values to Device attributes: damage, clip size, rate of fire, and concealability for weapons, Matrix attributes for programs, regular attributes for Constructs, etc. The Spark has a budget of points to work with for each Device; say, Inspiration x 2. You'll need to play with these values quite a bit, but that's what playtesting is for.
QUOTE (Tanegar @ Mar 5 2011, 01:13 AM) *
Two things. One: smarminess undermines your argument. Ditch it. Two: Any game that relies on common sense for its basic functionality is doomed from the word go. Not all GMs are alike. Some will set unreasonably high limits. Some will set unreasonably low limits. Some will be cajoled or fast-talked into letting the player get away with too much, and Cthulhu help you if the player is the GM's significant other. You really do need to set parameters for what Sparks can and cannot build. Seth's idea sounds like a good one. Assign point values to Device attributes: damage, clip size, rate of fire, and concealability for weapons, Matrix attributes for programs, regular attributes for Constructs, etc. The Spark has a budget of points to work with for each Device; say, Inspiration x 2. You'll need to play with these values quite a bit, but that's what playtesting is for.

My primary point stands - much of the technology in Shadowrun *isn't* rated. And if you can't have reasonable discussions with your GM and fellow players, what you should be ditching is that gaming group. Assigning a points pool like you've outlined above would be the kiss of death for this entire concept - no other technologist in the game operates on that kind of pool (I exclude technomancers, who are just mages ripped off), which would cripple Sparks by comparison. Instead, there's an existing "points pool" of sorts already in place - it's called money. No money, no techie. You want it, pony up the cash. And under my rules, Sparks are paying double.

Thank you for your comments, but ultimately it sounds this just really isn't your cup of tea. What you're proposing wouldn't capture a tenth of the essence of Girl Genius.
I haven't read the girl genius (yet) but I am going to.

The point idea I used was to support a gadgeteer character: constantly changing which is the current gadget set that they used, and they were fun. It was also because the player was a minimaxer, so he enjoyed minimaxing the points system.

You have a clear vision for your girl genius: so go with it. Game balance isn't that important if the campaign is about the sparks. If you are designing a game for your immediate player pool you know how much care you have to put into your rules, and whether or not you can just ask the players "please don't break it". If you are publishing a game for lots of people: the bar to entry isn't very high
I would say that the best way to test your rules is to try them out. If you can get a couple of people to play test them that would be good.

My player group are constantly coming up with new game systems (probably 1 or 2 a year), and we find the best thing to do is to run a "pub fight" 2 or 3 times, and have a long discussion about how the rules felt having played with them. I am not sure what the equivalent of a pub fight is for the girl genius: probably a making fest.

A suggestion for you: create a couple of girl genius's with different focus's and publish them in this thread, with a couple of examples of how they would play. One that makes constructs, and one that makes armour / weapons would be interesting.

Thank you, Seth. I think that's bascially what will happen with our gaming group. The first session, at least, will be a "stress test" to see how well my test Spark character can get along with the other character types of the Sixth World. If I end up trashing the session (which I typically try *not* to do, but in the interests of stress testing perhaps I should try a bit), then I suppose it's back to the drawing board. I just *really* want to avoid having gone the "magic with the serial numbers filed off" approach, as comparing technological gear to magic spells and spirits is really comparing apples to oranges, and I think that would destroy the feel I'm trying to pull of with my current approach.

One thing that drove me mad (perhaps appropriate?) while I was constructing this was the general lack of a means to rate technology. Commlinks and computer equipment have handy Device ratings, as do a few other categories such as sensors, security devices, B&E gear, survival gear, medical gear, cyberware, and bioware, but not even everything in those categories is rated, nor is everything rated on a common scale. The best that I could *find* was the Building Table on SR4 Core Rules, p. 125, which rated technology by it's complexity, from Simple to Exotic, so that's what I ended up going with. If Shadowrun *had* a more standardized means to rate technology, my job would have been half as long, the rules above simpler, and play-balance numerically addressed. Perhaps something for the designers to think about for version 5, though somehow I doubt it.

I suppose we'll see what turns up in playtesting. Again, thanks for your comments.
Squiddy Attack
I'm curious to see how Othar Tryggvassen (Gentleman Adventurer) should be statted.
QUOTE (JanessaVR @ Mar 5 2011, 04:31 AM) *
My primary point stands - much of the technology in Shadowrun *isn't* rated.

Everything that PCs can do is rated. I think Seth is right: in a Spark-centric campaign, balance becomes much less of an issue. If you expect Sparks to not overshadow all other archetypes, however, balance needs to be addressed in the crunch. Money is, for all practical purposes, not a limiting factor unless you want to go into the millions of nuyen for physics-breaking doohickeys. I strongly recommend you reconsider allowing Sparks to break the limits of sorcery; those limits exist for a very good reason, to wit, allowing a character to break those rules effectively makes them a god in-game.

You know your group better than I do, but I'm fairly confident that at least a few of them will try to build something that you deem inappropriate (since that's kind of what Sparks do in Girl Genius), and be irritated or at least disappointed when you have to slap them down. Establishing concrete parameters from the outset will go a long way toward averting this kind of thing.
Horribly broken and unuseable as a cyberzombie/cyborg with the psychic drawbacks i am afraid. But a fun idea nonetheless. And yes, i encurage EVERYBODY to read the complete girl genius archives.
Also, in the world of shadowrun, why would a spark EVER leave spark state?
You look behind you . . there's a nifty holographic projection of a world wide computer system that controls several dozends of highly advanced machines to work together for one common goal . . like making coffee from the coffee plant straight to the cup!
QUOTE (Tanegar @ Mar 5 2011, 02:50 PM) *
I strongly recommend you reconsider allowing Sparks to break the limits of sorcery; those limits exist for a very good reason, to wit, allowing a character to break those rules effectively makes them a god in-game.

I second this. The Limits of Sorcery are not just limits on the magic system--many of them reflect particular aspects of the setting. For example, raising the dead changes the flavor of dystopia in the world. Any sort of teleportation, time travel, or divination presents so many potential problems/paradoxes that you'll wish you'd kept the cat in the bag. These technologies are potential world-changers. If you want to change the SR world in your game, that's one thing, but it's something you really should playtest.

Don't just playtest in the "friendly" manner--do the most broken things you can think of so you know the limits of the resulting system and where it breaks. Playtest the system where half the sparks have built or are building teleportation and/or time travel portals. Playtest the system where you have "resurrection men" or spark-zombies. Playtest the system where a spark builds a technomagic channeling device to cast magic spells by having a device (or portal) reaching into astral space.
As a suggestion, all those willpower tests should be composure tests. For the purpose of the test, the bonus charisma *does not* apply.

Otherwise a threshold 6 on a willpower test is nigh impossible to achieve.
Well, this is sounding like a definite vote of no confidence from the Dumpshock community. I'll take it down tomorrow, I'm too tired tonight.
Damn, now we're going to have to vote for a new Chancellor.
Well, this is sounding like a definite vote of no confidence from the Dumpshock community. I'll take it down tomorrow, I'm too tired tonight.

Don't do it! Go with the idea! I for one am very interested in how it goes.

As far as the limits to sorcery are concerned, I share their views: in shadowrun. If you make "breaks to the limits of sorcery" the point of the game, its ok. Mostly the limits of sorcery are there because:
  • We cannot predict the effect they have on society.
  • They shape the dystopian nature of the game.
  • They change the nature of the defences the bad guys have to have

Aside; If I had been designing shadowrun I would have added mind reading to the list...but there you go.

As the genius girl, as long as the game is spark focused, I would revel in breaking the limits. (I'd still draw the line at time travel unless your GM has had experience GMing it. Time travel gets very hairy very quick). Of course in the nature of "balancing" the game, the fact that you can break these limits means that you have to have some downside. Every corporate out there would want you in their research labs. Or dead of they cannot have you. So you would have to be very careful using these powers.
QUOTE (JanessaVR @ Mar 6 2011, 08:14 AM) *
Well, this is sounding like a definite vote of no confidence from the Dumpshock community. I'll take it down tomorrow, I'm too tired tonight.

The idea os good, but in the context of the rules and the setting the execution was not so good.
Right now, this is more akin to WH40K Ork Mek-Boys.
At its core, Girl Genius is beyond the scope and limitations of the Shadowrun universe. That said, bringing in mechanics inspired by girl genius is not a bad thing. How many times have we seen other ideas brought into shadowrun. They may not be able to bring in the full scope of the idea they love, but that doesn't stop people from importing ideas into the SR universe anyway.

So take what you can, and be as faithful as you can, without potentially wrecking the game you are trying to add to.

Take the suggestions here, and use them. Placing *some* limitations on sparks is not a bad idea. Game balance must be preserved, after all. Time travel and teleporation *need* to stay out of Shadowrun. Once you include those, things become stupidly more complicated to balance. For lack of a better term, what Sparks do is technomagic. Beyond what Technomancers do. The Spark's forte lies in bending the laws of physics way beyond what common knowledge says is possible.
I was looking forward to reading this...and now it's gone....
QUOTE (Laodicea @ Mar 6 2011, 12:53 PM) *
I was looking forward to reading this...and now it's gone....

Came back looking to do some HMHVV research and discover this thread isn't dead yet. Tell you what, if at least 3 people want to see this, I'll put it back up and leave it up. Is this vote 1?
vote 2
Look, nobody (not even me) is saying the idea is a bad one. It just needs (a lot) more refinement to work with Shadowrun. I'd quite like to see it turned into something playable. I guess I'm vote 3.
Ok, because you asked for it, it's back and I'll leave it up. At this point I'm not sure *why* people want it back, seeing as it appears to be an early nominee for the 2011 Dumpshock's Suckiest Home-Brewed Expansion Awards, but here it is.

Considering that it took me over an hour and half to prep and format my MS Word version for online posting, and the reception this one received, I'm unlikely to bother posting the revised version (after playtest next weekend) online, but this one can hang around in the morgue of old DS postings for what it's worth.

Ah, well, the Cult of the Holy Rulebook strikes again, proving once more that sometimes it's best to just keep your brilliant ideas to yourself...
Okay, Janessa. First, take a chill pill. What the hell.

You joined in 07. You should know how Dumpshock works.

That said, you're asking a hardcore group of people what they think about an idea that is beyond the scope of Shadowrun's universe and inner workings. You should have known there would have been resistance.

We've seen people do SR in space. Take SR rules into the wild west. Etc etc etc. You can change it however you like, and there will be people who will enjoy your rules.

You just want to make sure that when you put together a set of rules to add in to SR, that it doesn't completely destroy the system. If you introduce characters that can literally play with the space-time continuum, then you introduce an "I Win" class of characters. If sparks can go through time or teleport, then you need sparks to develop countermeasures. It's the same one-upmanship that you see complained about here with regards to mages. You need to stop a mage. Sparks would be just another iteration of that, only moreso. Nuclear blasters, mass-teleportation gateways to the spirit realms, proton-packs, etc etc etc. I'm hoping you see the extreme impact it could have.

Don't get us wrong. Sparks are cool. Girl Genius is cool. If you can make the idea work, run with it. If you flesh it out in full, people here will like it, even if they don't use it (or only choose to use part of it).

Above all, go nuts with your creative juices. Just don't get offended when you ask for opinions and we try to reign in anything that seems way too broken.
I like it. Shadowrun(and real life today in 2011) is largely a world in which science is done by a large staff of people, with a large budget. I've always loved the idea of 1 brilliant person breaking down what we previously believed to be the laws of physics. It's a romantic idea, and it's probably never been reality, but its cool.

That said, the idea does need some polish. I'd love to see a further polished version.

I had an idea regarding it. Perhaps causing some kind of Drain on the Spark for being in their hyperfocused state? Just throwing that out there.

I'm also wondering if a Spark has to start and finish a Device in 1 session of their hyper focused state. If they cannot stop working until its done, or the device just wont work?

If these two limiting factors are involved, I think that the Spark could make a pretty great shadowrunner, but not advance the game to being Eclipse Phase after just a year or two of being a Spark.

In any case, a very very cool idea that would make for a really fun shadowrun campaign, whether running with the Spark or against the SPark.
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