Creating and Implementing Technology.

RF image courtesy of Klaus Tiedge and Corbis Images.

Do you have a piece of equipment you’ve been wanting to add to your game? Well, grab your corebook of choice and we’ll cover four basic considerations for implementing new tech into your game. I’ll be using the Savage Worlds system for this particular exercise, but the methods we’re going to go over can be applied to pretty much any RPG. I’ll go through the process of creation with you by statting out the XM25, a brand new grenade launcher well suited to a near-future game or a modern campaign based around special forces operatives . This is a pretty long article, so if you just want the stats for the XM25 for your game, scroll on down to the bottom of the piece and I’ve got it typed out there for your Control+C convenience. There’s a quick summary of the two custom tags I’ve made for the weapon just above the statistics.

Alright, so let’s say that we’re running a game about a group of government operatives rooting out a vampire cult somewhere in Eastern Europe. They belong to a branch of the military that deals with the supernatural, so they’ve probably got access to all the funding and all the tech they want. We know that the mission is going to be fairly intense, they’ll likely be fighting their way through a series of dug-in cultists and then facing off against an ancient vampire with a swarm of newly-minted neck-biters at his disposal. We want the party to have a little extra firepower at their disposal, as well as a method to quickly mow through the entrenched cultists without taking too many wounds in the process. Having spent the last half hour watching clips of Future Weapons on youtube, we decide that the XM25 is going to be the proper solution to this dilemma, and the process begins in earnest with our first question;
What do I need to know about the item to bring it into the game?
When it comes to gathering information about a weapon, especially in regards to firearms, Wikipedia is surprisingly useful. While the accuracy of any given article is up for debate, the presented information will more than suffice for our purposes. Generally speaking, you want enough information to create an entry for every category of data in the statblock of the item, such as range, damage, rate of fire, and so fourth.  Combing the page for a few minutes, we come up with a whole mess of details, such as;
  • The weapon can use a sophisticated targeting system with an integral range finder. The user can scan a point in space and cause the grenade to explode at that point, or up to ten feet before or after it. This ability is the primary reason we are choosing this particular weapon, but more on that later.
  • It fires a 25×40 millimeter grenade, which are also available in a variety of flavors.
  • It’s the first infantry weapon to employ Smart Ammo.
  • It’s a semi-automatic weapon.
  • It uses a detachable box magazine, just like a semi-automatic pistol or rifle, that can hold up to four rounds.
  • It weighs 16.54 pounds when combined with the targeting apparatus.
  • Utilizes an optical sight with Nightvision capabilities.
  • The weapon also includes a digital compass.
  • The effective range is 550 yards for hitting individual targets, and it can get within the ballpark up to 765 yards. (Which boils down to a much more symmetrical 500-700 meters for those of us who use the metric system.)

That’s quite a bit of data, but we’re going to be boiling it down a bit when we get to giving this sucker some stats. With all of our relevant data gathered, that brings us to question number two.

What separates this item from technology that’s already in the game?

This is important for two reasons. The first one is purely mechanical; we use similar items that already exist in the book as a comparative baseline for implementing new technology. This is the most relevant for damage, but knowing how your system handles things like range increments across different weapons is also important. Secondly, we want to avoid going to the work of making stats for something that’s only slightly different from the stock items in the book. Generally speaking,  it’s a good rule of thumb to avoid making  a huge slew of minor variants and slapping them down in front of your players. We may all be nerds, but that doesn’t mean we all share the same fandoms. Just because you happen to have a passion for guns, Scottish polearms, cybernetic implants, 18th century clothing or cars doesn’t mean everyone else at the table will. If a player doesn’t know or care much about guns, picking one for their character would have been a pain in the ass before they had to sift through twelve different iterations of a 9mm pistol.

In regards to our example, the grenade launcher, this is an easy question. A quick consultation of my Savage Worlds corebook reveals that we don’t have the stats for any handheld grenade launchers at all, let alone anything as shiny as the XM25. Confident that this will not be a superfluous addition to the game, we can proceed on to the third question;
How will implementing this effect gameplay?  
The potential consequences of adding new technology are something that should always be considered, and helping to mitigate those consequences is an important step in the overall design process. As far as the XM25 is concerned, this is the weightiest question of them all. As most seasoned GM’s will tell you, giving player characters anything that explodes will usually end in tears, and giving them a semi-automatic grenade launcher that can nail a target out to 500 meters is just asking for a massive swath of dead NPCs.  That said, this particular campaign has a strong emphasis on the “breaching-charge-in-the-door” style of gameplay, and will be less prone to abuse if given to a more responsible player. Therefore, with only a moderate sense of foreboding, we move on to our final question!
How does this item fit in to the tone of the game and the granularity of the system?
Each RPG handles game mechanics differently, and most systems come prepackaged with their own of tone and atmosphere. Shadowrun? You give your weapon a (wo)man’s name and tack its technical specs to the wall like a pinup. World of Darkness? Technological minutiae are relevant only when they can fail at the worst possible time. How a system measures the differences between existing weapons is also an important thing to consider, especially when you are deciding how much detail to add to your latest creation. Systems that are based on target numbers, where you roll one or more dice with the goal of meeting or beating a specific number in order to succeed, tend to have much finer levels of detail and variance between different kinds of gear. This allows you to work in all sorts slight differences and fiddly little rules. Success-based systems, where you fling a handful of dice and each one that comes up over a certain value counts as one “success,” usually paint in much broader strokes. In NWoD, for example, the difference in damage between a .22 round and a .357 magnum is a mere two dice. This is just fine and it works well enough within the system, but it doesn’t leave a lot of room to adjust damage based on barrel length. When designing a piece of a equipment for a system, you should never fight against the mechanics. A custom assault rifle wont fix a broken combat engine, and giving yourself (to say nothing of your players) a new set of situational rules to remember is only going make things worse.
With that in mind, let’s have a look at the Savage Worlds setting and see how it relates to our project. The system itself is comfortably granular, you’ve got the standard polyhedral set of dice to play with, plenty of special tags to attach and +1 to +2 bonuses are a fairly common occurence. While it’s a generic system, the rule mechanics were designed for Adventure! at a frenetic pace, so we want to avoid bogging combat down with too many minor technical details.
So, with all of those questions answered, let’s bring this weapon to life! I like to address each value in the stat block in order, so let’s begin with…
Range: This part is pretty easy. It can, according to Wikipedia, reliably catch something in an explosion out to 765 yards. Since Savage Worlds uses a divisive range system, we’ll round that down to 760 for simplicity. That gives us a medium range of 380, and a close range of 190. So, if you aren’t using a battlemat, your range entry will then read as 190/380/760. If you’re playing by tabletop rules, the range increments are given in inches, with each inch representing two yards. So, by canon SW rules, that gives us a range increment of 95/190/380. If you like things simpler, you can just round it up to 100/200/400 without too much worry.
Damage: Traditionally, most systems don’t differentiate between the damage of a hand grenade and the standard 40mm grenades that are launched out of an infantry weapon, so we’ll keep to that standard. Earlier, we noted that the size of the rounds was recorded as 25x40mm.  The standard grenade for this sort of thing measures in at 40x46mm, so the projectile from our XM25 is a little more than half the size of a standard 40mm. If a normal hand grenade does 3d6 points of damage, then I’m pretty comfortable giving it’s smaller cousin a value of 2d6. You could raise our lower that value depending on how lethal you wish the weapon to be. It does bear nothing that when it comes to grenade launchers, the damage code (and a few of the tags) should be dependent upon the type of ammunition fired from it. While the 25mm grenade does come in a variety of flavors other than the standard airburst, for the sake of this article we’re going to rule that our intrepid operative only gets the standard airburst rounds.
RoF: Well, it’s semi-automatic. That makes it a 1. Pretty simple.
AP: Technically, there are grenades available for this weapon designed for penetrating armor. Maybe the player can put in a requisition order for some once this mission is done. Apropos, AP is 0.
Cost: Military. These weapons are fresh off the assembly lines and represent a major advancement in small-arms technology. Somebody outside the US or German Armed Forces would be very hard pressed to come by one.
Minimum Strength: After watching a few videos of it in action, the XM-25 looks like it has a pretty solid kick when fired. Combined with it’s weight of 16 .lbs, I feel pretty comfortable calling this one a d8.
Burst: A little less bang probably means a little less burst. We’ll give the standard rounds the Small Burst Template.
Weight: Fractions are the enemy of fast, furious gamplay. We’ll round this down to 16 .lbs… or you could also round it up to 17 if you happen to be feeling malicious today.
Shots: Each magazine contains four grenades.
Notes: This is where things start to get complicated, so let’s get the simple things out of the way first. Because of how the double-tap rules work in the system, and the amount of fiddling that goes into preparing each shot, we’ll say that making double-taps with this weapon is right out. The character doesn’t automatically need to spend an aim action before firing a round, but the target still needs a quick range scan in order to properly employ the standard airburst rounds.
 Given the necessity of the targeting system to the weapon’s functionality, instituting a snapfire penalty seems to be a logical conclusion as well. The scope of the weapon also can provide Nightvision, as per the goggles, when looked through. Technically it also has a digital compass, but that’s not nearly as cool.
Now we delve into creating some custom Tags for the weapon, since it has a few-cutting edge features that aren’t necessarily covered in the basic rules. The first one is Smart Ammo. The grenades have built-in microchips that count the rotations made by the projectile in flight and prevent them from arming until the user is safely out of the blast radius. To determine the minimum range of the weapon, you can use the burst template or an arbitrary distance, such as 20 yards, depending on your preferences.
The technology used to prevent the user from killing himself by firing at point-blank range into a wall is also what allows the weapon to gain its second tag: Counter Defilade. Defilade is the Military’s fancy way of describing a group of combatants who are arranged in such a way to defend from oncoming fire, usually by hiding behind something reasonably bulletproof. The XM25 was custom-built to counteract this defensive maneuver, with the standard airburst round designed to zip through the air and explode directly over people crouched behind cover, or punch through a window and detonate in the center of a room. From a mechanical perspective, if the character takes the time to make an aim action (gaining the usual bonuses for doing so in the process) and properly prime the grenade, it will ignore the soak values provided by cover. Now, there are hypothetically situations where a target could be behind enough cover that he does gain some measure of protection, but that is up for the GM to arbitrate. This level of precision also comes in handy when measuring deviation on a missed shot. While the deviation multipliers based on range remain the same, the deviation die is reduced from a d10 to a d8 for the purposes of determining how far a projectile deviates from the original target.
So, in review, our tags for the weapon are:
  • No Double-Taps
  • Snapfire Penalty
  • Nightvision, Digital Compass
  • Smart Ammo: Grenades aren’t armed until the user is out of the blast radius.
  • Counter-Defilade: If the character takes an aim action, the next shot ignores the soak value of cover and the deviation die on a missed shot is reduced to a d8.

Now we have a completed weapon, ready to be committed to a stat block and handed out to our player character. As promised earlier, I’ve typed the completed statbrick for your use here. This weapon, and far too many others, will be appearing in my Savage Arsenal fan supplement, which will be out at… some point.

Weapon: XM25 CDTE (25mm Grenades) Range: 95/190/380 Damage: 2d6  RoF: 1 AP: 0 Cost: Military Min Str: d8 Burst: Small Weight: 16 Shots: 4  Notes: No Double-tap, Snapfire, Nightvision, Digital Compass,  Smart Ammo, Counter-Defilade.

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