This originally appeared in the Books of Odd, but it has since been updated.Mainframe, the ‘computer’ (read:city) that the show is set in, looks quite a bit like an island city in a vast ocean, shaped roughly circular with some stacked levels (like a hard drive). There are a few places of major interest: The Central Office, which is essentially City Hall, containing the headquarters for the police (CPUs), and the software archives, full of programs the viruses would love to get a hold of (and have more than once).
The GM should give the impression that it is a war out there for survival, against the User, the Web, Viruses, and other baddies (for instance, when the Software Pirates came). On the other hand, he should never resist the temptation to spoof sci-fi, especially Star Trek, bad anime, and anything else computer-related, including jargon. (If you see the right episode, you might get to see the a spoof of Dire Straits’ Money For Nothing video). There is definite continuity, especially in the second season episodes, even if it’s little things. Most of all, give the player characters a feeling of progress, that there is hope that all of the scars of Mainframe’s, or any other system’s past can be healed. A campaign set in a system taken over by the Web might be interesting, as the players, cut off from the Net, struggle to repel the alien invaders. (Even viruses will help repel the Web.)
The GM should use computer terminology as much as possible for uses other than it was intended. Some examples:
exclamation approximating 'cool'
A logo that every sprite has that allows them to join a game once inside. It contains their PID, and can be dangerous if lost by them -- though it was used by Bob to copy the Guardian format to Enzo.
article posted for public perusal
An almost mystical force outside the system. The User appears to be hostile, playing games with the sprites for their lives, but it also occasionally will send an upgrade in.
At least once an episode (game session?), a purple cube crackling with electric power descends from the sky. This is a Game Cube, and in order to get into one, you must be underneath it. There is not much time to do so – thirty seconds at best. Then the sprites may ‘reboot’ by tapping their icon twice. This usually gives them knowledge and abilities to help them win the game, but not always. Many special abilities some sprites, such as Codemasters, have outside a game no longer function inside one. The objective of the Game is to defeat the User, though there may be different ways to do this, from winning the Game themselves to destroying the User. The User always appears to be animated using less-than smooth graphics, and almost always looks evil. Games range in difficulty from simplistic (Basic Combat) to near-impossible (the Fun House). If a Game Cube lands at a bad time or location, such as over the energy reservoir when Megabyte has just managed to crack it open, or is reloaded over itself, interesting and unpredictable results can occur, such as a combination of a tank game with a Jurassic Park style game to create giant mecha dinosaurs.
If the GM wishes to do games quickly, the GM should make a Gaming skill roll for the character with highest skill present, at +1 for every character present with a skill not more than 3 points lower, at -1 for every skill more than eight points lower present, a -2 for each character with Incompetence (Games) present, and modifiers as per the difficulty of the game. Otherwise, when the PCs reboot, each one gets appropriate skills and abilities at their Gaming skill level, and a roll as above to modify all their actions.
If the PC has a higher skill in something else, such as Piloting, let them use that skill, but that doesn’t mean they will use it intelligently.
Gaming, M/H, Defaults to IQ-6
This is the skill of surviving a Game, interpreting what one sees in the Game to figure out the objective and how to go about doing it. It includes a knowledge of basic Game theory, basic Games such as Pong, and strategies and tactics for winning a Game.
Guardians are a paramilitary force, concerned with winning games and dealing with viruses, web creatures, and other problems that may manifest. They all have a uniform of body armor, with individual variations, and they have one major advantage over a simple skilled sprite: The Guardian Key-Tool. The Key- Tool is a mutable item that will take on any desired form via spoken command, as well as allowing access to the operating system’s innards. It is usually worn where people would wear a watch, and looks a lot like a matchbox with a gear on top of it. To use it, the Guardian simply says the tool’s name and then the desired function. Examples: “Glitch! CutandPaste!”, “Glitch! Energy Blaster!”, “Glitch! Car!”. Of course, since the Key-Tool is energy based, it can be useful to make it less desirable to energy-absorbing viruses and nulls via “Solid-State Mode”, and to send it away with “Away”. Even “Anything” will work (and occasionally is just what is needed).
The Key-Tool’s unusual background is 20 points (it is instantaneous). They also have a universal +1 Reputation (5 points), and the Extremely Hazardous Duty (To Mend and Defend, even to save viruses) -20 Points. These all apply to Guardians, no matter if they have gone to the Guardian Academy in the SuperComputer or not. The academy teaches many skills; Guardians will usually have Beam Weapons: Key-Tool at DX (2 points), Gaming at IQ+1 (6 points), Area Knowledge (The Net) at IQ (1 point), and Area Knowledge (Campaign Computer) at IQ (1 point). They will probably also have many other skills, particularly combat ones, though which ones are present may vary depending on the curriculum (and campaign style). It costs 5 points to be an untrained Guardian, that is, a cadet, and 15 points to be a full-fledged Guardian. Guardian characters should be built on a minimum of 100 points.
People to Meet
The city's resident Guardian, who came from the SuperComputer via the Net. Bob is one of the few citizens of Mainframe who will willingly enter games -- because it is his job and duty! Has a Gaming skill of 16 at the very least, as well as the full-fledged Guardian package. Spends his spare time working on his classic 'car'. Blue skinned humanoid with silver-grey hair. Quote: "This is bad, very bad."
A social activist and crusader against the viruses, she runs the eponymous Dot's Diner. She is probably the most mature 'good guy' (gal in this case). Green-skinned humanoid with black hair. Probably has the highest gaming skill next to Bob. Quote: "Enzo! This is serious!"
Dot's younger brother, and the only sprite his age, ever since his father accidentally destroyed the Twin City in an experiment. Green- skinned humanoid with black hair. Just before Bob was sent into the Web by Megabyte and Hexadecimal, he became a Cadet Guardian, which changed his baseball cap to something military-looking. Quote: "Alphanumeric!"
A feral dog and Enzo's friend. Doesn't get along very well with Bob, but is definitely an asset in any fight outside a game. Quote: "Woof! Woof! Grrrrrr."
One part venerable Shaolin monk, one part nutty professor. Oversees the day-to-day running of the city from the Central Office. Looks reminiscent of ET. Quotes: Bob: "How do you prepare for that?" Phong: "Lucky Guess?" and Phong: "Now you must join them together into a giant robot to battle Nullzilla." Bob: "You're kidding, right?"
An artificially intelligent game sprite who escaped from a game after befriending Enzo by putting her icon on top of his. Ignorant of most of the goings-on in Mainframe, and probably unable to enter other games. Quote: "So, Guardian, tell me about your friends."
She is perhaps the most powerful and the least-understood of any character. Think Malkavian Virus. She has immense power reserves (Extra Fatigue +30 at least), and doesn't want to take over the city or corrupt the citizens, at least directly. She lives on an island connected to the main city by a suspension bridge, Lost Angles, with her cat, SCSI. Has a white mask with lips that do not move but an expression that changes constantly. Quote: "A mask? For me? But I already have one!"
Hexadecimal's brother and major rival, Megabyte wishes to take over the city. He has a military force far superior to the CPUs (gravtanks instead of flying police cars), and no end of plans. Unfortunately, he is plagued by incompetence in his henchmen, especially his top two, Hack and Slash. He dreams of opening a portal to a SuperComputer and taking over there. He lives in the Silicon Tor, a building that resembles a pitcher-plant. Quote: "Hack! Slash! Destroy these fools!"
She's a mercenary with a sword skill to rival Hiro Protagonist, and a ship that doesn't require beamed power. Decidedly has Lecherousness, and fangs to complement her glowing orange hair and purple skin. Is often able to slip away without being noticed, leaving a trademark of a stylized mouse (as in the animal). Quote: "Hello, sugar."
Mike the TV
Imagine every annoying infomercial star and sports announcer you ever heard. Now give them the body of a TV with arms and legs, and the ability to replace the 'face' on their screen with video clips, and you have Mike. Mike is usually irritating, but occasionally useful, since he is the local media. Quote: "Buy now! Only 9999.99!"
They all look literally like a 3D number, which no end of humor abounds about (namely number 1, and 7 - because 7 8 9, yuk yuk yuk). Most of the "ones" look a lot like two or three square boxes stacked one atop the other, the top one with a single eye, the middle one with a 'mouth' that looks a lot like a speaker with lips that open and close. Most of the zeros look like a globe with eyes, a mouth, and arms and legs attached to the side. Most citizens are low point characters, often with Incompetence (Gaming).
Small slug-like creatures that are the result of a sprite being in a game when it is lost. They tend to 'bite' when provoked, draining 1d-4 Fatigue (minimum 1 point) and one hit point on a failed HT roll. It is thought that if a saved game could be loaded from before the sprites became Nulls, and won this time, that the Nulls could be cured of their state.
The overall TL is 8ish, with the addendum that contragravity, beamed power, and energy weapons are the norm. Most vehicles will not operate if systemwide power is shut down in preparation for an upgrade or to deal with an energy- absorbing virus. The most common ‘vehicle’ is the flipboard, a pair of small disks joined by a bar that will hold one of the major characters (one foot on each disk), or two binomes (one on each disk). Other vehicles also exist – the CPUs drive something that looks a lot like a flying police car, and Bob is constantly working on his classic car.
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