Signal Nine is designed to focus in on a particular rather small scale: you! Or rather, your character. In these dev diaries, you won’t see us bragging about the huge ships you can own, the light-years your adventure might span, or the infinity of procedural worlds we can generate — we have done all that before, and while it has its place, it isn’t in this game. Instead, we are focused sharply on individuals, on your own unique character, in as much detail as we can reasonably muster.
We’ll go through a few of the things that, in addition to your own roleplaying, will help to define your character and set them apart. For the most part, we’re just about to give you a broad overview of things you can decide at character generation. Other ways of setting yourself apart will probably deserve their own dev diary sooner or later.
Are you a wage slave, a middle manager, or someone close to the top who gets to call the shots? On the criminal side, there are also tiers: you might be street dreg cannon fodder, a talented runner or heavy, or someone who knows everyone and finds jobs for the gangs who gather at the local hangout. Also known as a character archetype, this forms the basis of both playable characters and non-player characters.
What tends to set people of different social classes apart is, of course, wealth. In something of an experiment, our fervor for numbers-less character advancement applies even here. This may be difficult to wrap your head around at first, but our reasoning is that wealth tends to be exponential. In many games, an item that seems impossibly expensive on day one of your character’s run is an item that, a year later, you can buy a million times over without noticing the difference. Or, as our help file on wealth puts it: “When you’re a millionaire, do you really know or care how many bowls of ramen you could buy? Neither do we.”
Instead of letting wealth creep infinitely upwards, forcing everyone to count zeroes, we’ve distilled the concept into a series of tiers. A big heist or your job’s wage will push you up a wealth level, and a purchase at that same tier will expend it again, dropping you back down. Buying things well below your wealth tier, however, will not impact you at all, because that is conceptually what would happen even if we were tracking exact values.
Your wealth will have downward pressures, like rent and maintenance for vehicles, and it will have upward pressures, namely the wages or type of criminal enterprises that tend to come with your social class. This tends to keep your character’s wealth at a baseline appropriate to their archetype. This also makes a big score and the subsequent boost in wealth really feel like something special, a ticket to finally get your hands on that weapon or cyberware you’ve been eyeing, while purchases that should be inconsequential for your character are always completely frictionless.
This is the next major aspect defining a Signal Nine character, and this one isn’t too difficult to conceptualize. What does your character do for a living, or at least immediately aspire to? Each social class has a number of possible options for profession. Professions give your character a baseline level of stats and skills, while their social class defines their overall place in the world and their level of power or influence.
Your profession is just a starting point, though, and doesn’t lock you into that role forever. If your character wants to develop new skills and try different things, then they are free to do so. Generally, we expect players to have a goal in mind when they make a new character, a certain character build that they want to try, and your profession choice gives you your first steps in that direction. Plans can change, though, or go awry, and we want to allow for that as well.
Stats and Skills
Most game systems ultimately interact with your character through statchecks and skillchecks. Stats are the basic physical and mental characteristics of your character, while skills are their ability to perform specific tasks.
Signal Nine has six stats for your character:
- Strength: Sheer brute force, such as in your ability to lift heavy things.
- Endurance: Your stamina and overall hardiness, checked for things like resistance to injury and the maximum weight you can carry indefinitely.
- Finesse: Fine motor control, for everything from surgery to acrobatic feats.
- Mental Acuity: The nimbleness of your brain, especially important in decking.
- Willpower: Your mental fortitude, also often important in hacking.
- Charisma: Your ability to persuade and lead.
Skills are a much longer and wider-ranging list, used in everything from combat to driving to food preparation. Whatever you can expect to do in this setting, there’s probably a skill for it.
Stats are determined semi-randomly at character generation and will mostly not change over time, though certain things (like cyberware) can modify them. Character stats will be distributed in a bell curve around a normal human baseline. Skills, on the other hand, will change frequently, and will go up as you attempt tasks that use them. Skills also have a web of relationships to each other, where raising one skill also raises related skills to some smaller degree. For instance, if you become extremely skilled at firing a handgun, that will also give you quite a head start if you go on to learn to use an assault rifle.
Traits are unique characteristics you can choose during character generation. There are a wide variety of these, and they can help set you on the path toward the character build you want or just help to make your character unique. You can spend trait points to gain advantages, or select disadvantages to get trait points back. Some even pair together; for example, you can take the “amputee” disadvantage and start without an arm, but this also unlocks the ability to have a cyberlimb at the very start. It still adds up to a high cost in trait points, but it’s a fun way to start!
At their most mundane, traits are a way to affect your stats (your character can be abnormally strong or weak) or your skills, which can be modified by things like a natural inclination towards firearms. Or you can volunteer for the joys of heart disease for a boost in trait points, and spend them on something exotic like a mind backup which, while likely to be imperfect, will make your inevitable heart attack slightly less of a bummer.
If you’re familiar with MUDs, then you know that when players look at your character, they get a description of them. Of course, you can customize this description in Signal Nine. Currently, we have a description template with lists of descriptors that you can choose from, with the option of writing custom descriptors. As we develop this system, we plan to allow players to write custom templates as well.
Other aspects of your character will also dynamically modify your description. For example, if you have a cyberlimb or have subdermal armor implanted, the difference in your skin will be visible to others unless covered by clothing.
Other characters will know you, at first, only by your voice and physical appearance. In place of your name, a short descriptor of you will appear. If they learn your name (or whatever alias you tell them) then they can choose to remember you by it. In terms of game mechanics, this means your character will appear to them instead as this alias. In a roleplay-intensive game, having magical knowledge of everyone else’s name tends to be awkward, and this system will avoid that issue, while also allowing characters to obscure their real identities.
Equipment profiles related to your character archetype will give you your first outfit and other necessities, and equipping yourself properly with whatever else you consider to be vital will certainly be one of the first things any character will want to do. A variety of basics for different wealth levels will be available in shops, while higher-quality items will need to be acquired by other means, such as through fixers, fencers, or just stealing them yourself. You’re probably thinking of weapons and armor, but depending on your character’s role, vehicles, cyberdecks, software, and even medical equipment and drugs will be equally crucial.
Inventory is managed with the hands-and-bags system that people familiar with our other games will be used to. For each functioning hand that you have, you can hold one item that is immediately accessible, while everything else is stored on a bag on your person, or somewhere else entirely, like another room. Signal Nine adds an intermediate layer to this: pockets! Certain clothing, wearable containers, and even some cyberware adds pocket space, and you can use this to store additional items that you want immediate access to, like crafting tools, spare magazines, rations, and the like.
No inventory space is infinite, and will fill up with the volume of things that you place inside it. In addition, your character can have a maximum amount of weight in their inventory, though they can deadlift and carry heavier things in their hands. We do this to encourage players to have a home where they can keep the bulk of their stuff, and make decisions about what they want to take on a big heist. You can’t take everything, so outfit yourself for your unique role on the team!
This dev diary has been almost entirely about the very first decisions you’ll make about your character, but there is a lot to come after that. We don’t have character levels or experience, and while you can get an idea of how good your skills are, you can’t see the specific numbers there either. Instead, you will advance by building out your character in more qualitative ways.
What we want is for players to look at the week ahead for their character and rather than thinking, “My goal is to hit level 20,” to instead think, “My goal is to break into that warehouse by the docks and get my hands on a stash of medical equipment so I can implant our decker with that Encephalon we found.” Your long-term goal is to build your character out in a way that seems interesting to you, whether you’re focused on being a firearm specialist, a cybernetic heavy, a renowned street doc, the best-connected local fixer, or whatever else.
This all brings us to systems like cyberware, medicine and surgery, weapons and combat, decking, and other things that deserve their own dev diary entry. Development of Signal Nine marches on, and in the meantime, please look for a dev diary about one of these topics soon!