I Want You To Build A Space Suit That Doesn’t Like Me… Into My Skin (Module For Character Bionics)

A player came to me with the idea of a bionic spacesuit that was built into her skin. I love to accommodate almost anything the players are excited about, BUT in the GURPS system at TL 11 it is far, far, far, far more expensive to build something like a spacesuit into your body than it is to just buy a spacesuit at the store.

Luckily for me the player was not really interested in the utility of spending the character points to get specific in-game benefits. This player is a storyteller or a method actor kind of player. When I pointed out that it wasn’t cost-effective, the player explained that cost wasn’t the point: She wanted her character to have expensive unique or experimental bionics paid for by her family. Then she wanted to specify that her character ran away from the family, the bionics “noticed” somehow, and started to resist her. Kind of like a car programmed to repossess itself. Or a device with Lo Jack and a remote ignition disabler that only works sometimes. She wanted to role play a conflict with her own body.

Well, this seems like a thing few players would want… But let’s do it. With 150 point characters in the Deeps of Lyrae campaign, there is really no way to have room for all the advantages needed to turn your character’s body into a “regular” spacesuit. But if she wanted something much worse than a regular spacesuit built into her character’s body for role-playing reasons, I say: sure. Let’s make up set of bionics and pile on the limitations until we make this character sheet squeak (as in: it is packed so tight the points are rubbing together).

How to Make Your Body Work Like a Space Suit

…using the GURPS character design rules. You’ll need all or most of these advantages:

  • Accessory (tiny bionic computer implant)
    This seems complicated. I figure we’ll build in an AI. This could also ensure the player has someone to argue with. Technically, it’s optional though.
  • Clinging
    To simulate magnetic space boots with your own feet/hands.
  • Damage Resistance 5
    Optional, but I feel that space suits should be tougher than skin. At TL11^ adding DR 5 should be no sweat and can still be thin and flexible.
  • Doesn’t Breathe
  • Flight (Newtonian space flight; space flight only)
    You could skip this and have the person hold a thruster (or only walk along the hull) but I feel if you are going to do this with your body then you should do it all the way and get a Space Move stat out of it.
  • Nictating Membrane 1
    Technically not necessary — we could space-proof the eyeballs directly — but it’s cool, and it’s just 1 point.
  • Payload 2 (hidden compartment)
    Optional, but for the situations that the player wants to use the space suit I think they’ll need a place to put things. If they’re rearranging all the guts in their torso and getting a whole-skin transplant why not throw in a few pounds of hidden compartment?
  • Radiation Tolerance 3 (PF 10)
  • Sealed
  • Telecommunication (Radio)
    In a vacuum you would not be able to talk.
  • Temperature Tolerance 9
    There are several discussions on the GURPS Forum about how angry people are about how temperature tolerance works in GURPS, and there is a bunch of hoo-haw about whether vacuum can be properly said to have temperature. And then there’s a bunch of stuff about how the problem in space is actually getting *rid* of heat if you are in direct sunlight… But I’m going to punt on all of that. Instead, I worked out the points I’d need to make a character survivable to absolute zero (0 degrees Kelvin) and put that into the “range bands” method for this advantage. Looks like 9 levels will do it, which seems fine to me as a cost for this. If you wanted to rule this more conservatively, double this cost and you’d get extreme heat AND extreme cold.
  • Vacuum Support

OK, now that we have the advantages we need, they add up to approximately a billion points. (Or it feels like they do if you have a 150 point limit character.) I did the math, the above would cost you 142 points. Now let’s design a package of disadvantages and limitations that go with this bionic setup to bring the points down.

I think there is a good argument to be made for including these disadvantages as part of the bionic mods if your body is a space suit:

  • Cannot Float
    Seems like the junk in your body might mess up your buoyancy?
  • Incompetence (Swimming)
    As above.
  • Cannot Speak
    (Or maybe you use a speaker or something — anyway you shouldn’t speak normally?)

Note that if you fall into the water you could still activate your space suit abilities and Sealed makes you waterproof while Doesn’t Breathe gives you the ability to survive. With the above disadvantages you could still walk across the sea floor without trouble as your water move is not affected, just your swimming skill.

A big way to save points and make this manageable as a power is to get everything possible up to the maximum limitation of -80%. But first we need to add some enhancements. I know it sounds weird, but you’ll see. The enhancements are:

  • Linked +10% (must use together)
    We need to combine these traits are combined into a single ability and we’re adding things that we do not want to have to account for separately with each trait. e.g., we’re adding a success roll and a transformation and we don’t want 12 success rolls required every time you start up the suit advantages.
  • Switchable +10%
    This is essential to convert advantages that are “always-on” (as the above are) to instead make the character operate more like a Transformer from the old cartoon series.

That means I now have to find -100% of limitations, but it is doable.

  • Requires Will Roll -5%
    Rather than turning the ability on and off automatically, you use your willpower to do so. This will simulate the player’s idea of “struggling” or “arguing” with the bionics. It may be role-played or not, maybe it is just some mental effort. I could use IQ for even more points but this seems like a Will kind of thing.
  • Uncontrollable -10%
    I knew I found what the player wanted when I saw the text: “The ability originates from an implanted AI that the user can’t fully control, it has its own scores and agenda.” from GURPS Powers describing this limitation. If you fail your will roll, the AI takes control of the ability and does one thing you don’t want. It can also potentially turn itself on during times of stress if the GM requires a will roll and you fail it. You could argue that the player gets more points for this if the bionic suit actively tries to kill them, but I’m not going to have it do that. This -10% level is for “non-destructive.”
  • Breakable -10%
    As implanted bionics, if you take damage this system can take damage, and can be broken and stop working. (But it can be repaired.) I’m not sure I’m supposed to use this for advantages, as it’s listed under “Gadgets” but I think it will simulate the idea that if your body takes damage, you are so full of a bunch of expensive bionics that one or more of your abilities might actually stop working.
  • Temporary Disadvantage (Electrical) -20%
    GURPS Ultra-Tech suggests that all bionics use this limitation. As implanted bionics, if you take damage that disrupts electrical systems (struck by lightning, taser, etc.) while this ability is operating, you will behave like an electrical system and shut down.
  • Costs Fatigue 2 -10%
    To turn on and off the system requires a great mental effort and this tires you out (-2 FP). Maybe this is the effort of negotiating with the thing?
  • Maximum Duration -25%
    The ability can be used in bursts that are no more than 30 minutes, then everything turns off. To save points, we’re going to make this like old school NASA EVAs with a strict time limit. Of course this can be bought off later if it proves to constraining (as can all of these).
  • Takes Recharge (2.5 hours) -20%
    After using the ability (for any duration), you need to let the system rest for 2.5 hours. I’m thinking this lets you get our of an airlock and over to your target ship, but not back. I’d say during the recharge time the ability is nano-chemically packing away new oxygen and reaction mass from the environment or something.

You could easily tinker with these and come up with a different -100% that would work better for you. I decided not to use the “Unique” limitation but I considered it. If you allow the Gadget limitation “Breakable” that is also a way to get a bunch of points (-25%) for having an experimental, one-of-a-kind system. However, the idea that you could lose all these points and never get them back seemed too harsh to me!

There are also limitations specific to some of the advantages that will need to apply for all this to make sense. I won’t get any points from these (maybe with one exception) because I’m already hitting the -80% limitation maximum, so additional limitations don’t return points.

  • Clinging (Magnetic Surfaces Only -50%): While I could give the player sticky hands and feet, this seems more like how a space suit would operate.
  • Doesn’t Breathe (Stored Oxygen x50): That gives us the 30 minute limit to match the other time limitation, above.
  • Flight (Reduced Space Move -6): I don’t want this player to be fast in space! “Flight” seems to assume you lift off and zoom around at double move, but that is not how I imagine careful, methodical Newtonian EVA.
  • Damage Resistance (Tough Skin -40%): It’s definitely skin in this scenario.

Wrapping it all up, I’m going to make a “package” giving me a single transforming bionic thing with one success roll. The limitations should grant me -100%, I’ll pair them with the two enhancements for +20%, then group the advantages together in a logical way leaving out abilities that should not transform and should not depend on a success roll or be activated by a negotiation with a malevolent AI. Specifically, I’m going to LEAVE OUT Accessory, Payload, Nictating Membrane, and Telecommunication from the package, because either (1) it is not logical for them — e.g., a hidden compartment (Payload) can’t appear and disappear when a transforming bionic player transforms. If you have a hidden compartment, you probably have it all the time — or, (2) the point value is so low (e.g., 1 point) it makes more sense to just leave off all the limitations — e.g., Accessory.

Transforming Recalcitrant Bionic Vacc Suit Built Into The Skin

41 points

Transforming package includes: (Gadget: Breakable 25 HP; Costs Fatigue (+2); Link — always activated together; Maximum Duration 30m; Requires Will Roll; Switchable; Takes Recharge: 2.5 hours; Temporary Disadvantage (Electrical); Uncontrollable (not lethal — AI controller wants to repossess/return bionics to owner)); Package Includes: Clinging (As above, and: Magnetic Surfaces Only) [4]; Damage Resistance 5 (As above, and: Tough Skin); [5]; Doesn’t Breathe (As above, and: Stored Oxygen
(30m) (x50)) [4]; Flight (As above, and: Newtonian Space Flight, Space Flight
Only) [8], Radiation Tolerance (PF 10) (As above) [3]; Sealed (As above) [3]; Temperature Tolerance 9 (As above) [2]; Vacuum Support (As above) [1].
Additional Related Advantages/Perks: Accessory (Tiny Implanted Computer) (Uncontrollable — not lethal) [1]; Nictating Membrane 1 [1]; Payload 2 (Hidden Compartment) [2]; Telecommunication (Radio) (Gadget: Breakable 25 HP, Reduced Range x1/10) [7]. Additional Related Disadvantages/Quirks: Cannot Float [-1]; Cannot Speak (While suit is active) [-1]; Incompetence (Swimming) [-1]; Reduced Space Move (x1/2) (While suit is active) [-2].

Here’s the “vanilla” non-transforming version of this in case you are in a Powers campaign and you have points to burn:

Skin IS a Bionic Vacc Suit

142 points

Clinging [20]; Damage Resistance 5 [25]; Doesn’t Breathe [20]; Flight (Newtonian Space Flight; Space Flight Only) [20]; Payload 2 [2]; Radiation Tolerance (PF 10) [15]; Sealed [15]; Telecommunication (Radio) [10]; Temperature Tolerance 9 [9]; Vacuum Support [5]l Accessory (computer) [1].

Modeling Notes

  • To activate the “transforming” package the player would make a Will roll. How does the “transforming” part work physically? Maybe you got some kind of whole-body skin transplant and your skin is now a living nano-plastic that looks normal but changes composition electro-chemically. Or alternately, perhaps you have big metal implants tucked away in your body and when activated a flexible metallic sheathe covers your skin like a flexible garage door?
  • At first I thought — even at ~40 points this is still pretty darn expensive when you could achieve the same thing just buy buying a Vacc Suit. You could use the Signature Gear rule, or perhaps even a super lenient GM would allow this entire thing as an Accessory (although I don’t think that’s the way to go). The player wants to be a starship repo man (see GURPS Space for template). When I thought about this occupation more I think actually it might provide some very weird but fun gameplay bonuses to do this bionically. No one is going to stop you at a security checkpoint because this stuff is built into your body and you can perhaps fast-talk what it does. And you might not even need to break into the ship you are trying to steal. All you would have to do is get near a window and act like you were choking and I bet a totally freaked out crew member would immediately open the airlock door to let you in? And you could depressurize areas of the ship as a combat tactic. Well OK it still doesn’t make sense to me economically but I can think of things to do with it.
  • Looking around at other character designs I feel like a reduced move should NOT be part of the Flight advantage. But at the same time I don’t want to give very many points for the reduced move since it is only temporary (while the suit is active — when the suit is inactive there is zero space move). I realize that you can’t straightforwardly add limitations to a disadvantage to reduce the points, so I tried this in a variety of ways as recommended by GURPS Power-Ups: Limitations and I think they all come up to about the same number [-2].
  • There are some alternative approaches to spec-ing out the point cost for a bionic vacc suit. It might actually be possible take something like Immune to Metabolic Hazards (60 points) and modify it to order instead of using Sealed, Temperature Tolerance, and Vacuum Support.
    • This produces some grey areas in the rules. For instance the text on the machine template p. B263 expressly says that Sealed and Vacuum Support is “not included” in Immunity to Metabolic Hazards. Yet if you look at the in-game description of “Metabolic Hazards” on p. B81 it uses pressure sickness as one of the examples defining what it DOES include. And Vacuum Support is supposed to protect against pressure sickness. Huh. Indeed, the stuff listed under “The Bends” (p. B437) sure sounds like a metabolic hazard. I guess the initial 1d6 damage under explosive decompression could be “physical” damage that would affect anything but I don’t honestly think a robot or block of wood takes 1d6 damage during explosive decompression. Okay, I’m getting too into-the-weeds here. Never mind this rabbit hole.

(Image coda: This image is a NASA Z-2 Spacesuit Prototype from Wikimedia Commons, it is in the public domain.)

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