Swarmanoids are “morphs” that are composed of thousands of robotic microdrones. This section expands on their capabilities and weaknesses.
The standard makeup of a swarmanoid morph is roughly 5,000 microbots. The microbots within the swarm are in constant communication via encrypted radio transmissions, though bots may also be equipped to use ultrasound, microwave, laser links, or other technologies. The swarm itself can take on any number of shapes, from condensing itself down to ﬁt inside a medium-sized box to dispersing out to a 10 x 10 x 10 meter cloud. Dispersing or attenuating the swarm’s form any further threatens to impede microbot communication and slow down the neural net. A swarm that is overly condensed or dispersed may suffer −1 to Initiative and −10 to all actions at a minimum, and at maximum may not be capable of running its ego.
Swarmanoid Neural Net
Swarm consciousness is a constant stream of competing sensory information that tests the limits of ego cohesion. Mental processing is distributed across a neural net split among thousands of microbots. Built-in redundancy permits error-checking and increased speed. The morph’s software, in cooperation with the user’s muse, collates this data and the ego’s conscious thoughts into a single cohesive experience. A user who can’t manage their software will be distracted and confused, sometimes making strange mental leaps. The neural net of a standard-size swarmanoid has the capability to actively run three egos. In effect, treat this neural net as a decentralized cyberbrain, mesh inserts, and ghostrider module. The primary ego controls the morph, whereas additional egos after the ﬁrst are limited to mental actions only. Swarmanoids are wireless-enabled and can be hacked as cyberbrains with the standard −30 penalty.
Swarm Cortical Stacks
Due to security concerns, the cortical stack is distributed among multiple master microbots and encrypted. The key may also be distributed among those microbots or may be shared with a trusted authority who is responsible for ego reassembly. For most users, the stack is broken into three components, with each piece stored redundantly among twelve microbots. Master microbots supporting pieces of the cortical stack are distinctive and normally marked via color-coded LED displays, morphological markers, or radio transponders for quick recovery. Master microbots supporting the stack are kept towards the center of the swarm to protect against loss or damage. If ego theft is a concern, master microbots can mask their markings and mute their transponders with a simple command from the operator; some swarms are programmed to do this automatically if the loss of a master microbot is detected. Operators can also reduce the number of master microbots used in their swarms if they choose, though there is a ﬁne balance between the risks of ego theft and ego death. With minor modiﬁcations, a single microbot is sufﬁcient to support the entire cortical stack, however it will be larger compared with other microbots in the swarm. Multiple single or distributed cortical stacks may be purchased at the normal cost of Moderate.
Splitting a Swarm
A standard swarm can split into several smaller swarms, each operated by a single ego. To split swarms, subtract 15 DUR from the mother swarm. This creates a single new child swarm with a DUR of 15. Additional points of DUR may be traded from one swarm to another without penalty, as long as they are in proximity. The child inherits any wounds or other conditions affecting the mother swarm at the time of the split (in other words, both swarms are affected). Any implants normally limited to one or a few microbots (such as cortical stacks) must be purchased multiple times for them to be available to both swarms. Control of microswarms may be transferred to other egos sleeved in the morph or may be handed over for other operators to control via the mesh.
Adding to the number of microbots in a swarm permits additional system redundancy, increasing the swarm’s Durability. While more microbots increases the overall cognitive abilities of the swarm, more processing power is lost to coordinating the swarm’s movements and lag in communications across the swarm. Every additional 2,500 microbots, or half of a standard swarmanoid, increases the swarmanoid’s Durability by 15, and permits one additional ego. Every time the number of microbots doubles the standard size, there is an additional +10 bonus to all tests to hit the swarm due to its size (so at 10,000 microbots, attacks get a +10 bonus, at 15,000 microbots attacks get a +20, etc.).
The veteran swarmanoid has a full network of sensory data at their manipulators that can be experienced as tactical maps, 360-degree vision, distributed camera systems, or any number of applications. A discreetly pocketed microbot can provide a spying sensory suite, and a spread swarm can be used to establish an impromptu mesh network. A swarmanoid can provide sensory data, or even control over a microbot, to another ego, allowing it to work as a remote camera or forward spotter.
Like nanoswarms, swarmanoids suffer only minute damage (1 DV) from most attacks, though they remain vulnerable to area-effect attacks, plasma weapons, and ﬁre. Swarmanoids do not suffer wounds, except from EMP attacks (see Threats to Swarms, below); they are, however, immune to knockdown, unconsciousness, and crash wound effects. Swarmanoids can be “healed” by adding new microbots to the swarm. Wound penalties may be repaired normally or by replacing the microbots in the swarm. As microbots are damaged, the swarm’s neural net capabilities decrease, and it can’t maintain as many egos. A standard swarm that has received over 10 points of damage (20 points from reaching its Durability) can only run 2 egos. At 20 points of damage, only 1 ego can be run (usually this means the muse goes ofﬂine). When damage reaches Durability, the neural net fails, the primary ego is reduced to gamma-fork functionality, and the swarm is reduced to fewer than 100 microbots (use the microbot rules, below). These microbots may be jammed, but cannot support an ego. They may also be pre-programmed for evasive actions when swarm population drops below certain thresholds. Wound and other combat penalties will continue to apply, even to individual microbots removed from the swarm.
The default, unaugmented microbot is approximately 1 to 4 centimeters long and weighs 1 gram. A single microbot has the functional intelligence of a mouse. However, this functionality is normally rolled into the distributed computing network. While operating individually, a microbot can detect and react to obvious threats, negotiate obstacles, and navigate over long distances. Its behavior may be pre-programmed, and it can send and receive updates or be remotely operated via the mesh (if enabled). Using this, a swarm may program its microbots and split up across multiple paths to reach a destination discreetly. Microbots within a swarm’s core cloud (10 x 10 x 10 meters) are controlled as an extension of the morph’s “body.” Outside this area, they must be either jammed or operated by an AI. An ego sleeved in a swarmanoid can directly control a single microbot out to the communications range for that microbot; normally 50 meters using radio in an urban setting, or longer through mesh connections. Individual microbots are very small or micro-sized, conferring a −30 penalty to attempts to attack or detect them. Control of individual microbots (or even microswarms) may be transferred to others. A single microbot can take physical actions, albeit, only on a very small scale. A microbot can carry up to 5 grams while ﬂying in a 1-g environment or slowly drag up to 100 grams while crawling or ﬂying in microgravity. Several microbots can work together to carry larger weights, but rarely above 1 kilogram. Stock microbots cannot ﬂy in a vacuum, but they may be modiﬁed with either a gas-jet or internal rocket system (below). Because of the limited fuel capacity of microbots, swarmanoids using these systems must be supported by a refueling pack. Microbots dock and refuel at the pack before resuming operations. Fueling packs are also available to recharge or power microbots in circumstances where they are not capable of generating their own electricity. Microbot batteries last up to a few hours, and they can recharge their batteries wirelessly.
Enhancements: Access Jacks, Basic Mesh Inserts Mobility System: Walker (2/8), Hopper (4/20), Rotor (4/32) Durability: 5 Wound Threshold: 1 Notes: Microbots are considered a very small target (–30 modifier to attacks made against them)
Microbots may be manufactured with certain robotic enhancements to support swarm functionality. Because of their size, microbots cannot carry some enhancements. Tools, weapons, and implants must be sized appropriately and must be sufficiently energy-efficient for microbots to use them effectively. Many enhancements, however, can be broken into smaller components and divided up among multiple microbots. The following robotic enhancements are allowed for swarmanoid morphs: bioware and cyberware enhanced senses, bioware mental augmentations, dead switch, emergency farcaster, fractal digits, grip pads, magnetic system, mental speed, nanophages, neural enhancers, oracles, skillware, skinlink, and the various sensor options. The following modiﬁcations are only available to swarm-based synthmorphs.
Gas Jet System
The microbots are modified to support a high-pressure gas-jet propulsion system, intended for use in microgravity or with another propulsion system such as rotors. It provides a Movement Rate of 4/32 and a continuous ﬂight time of ten minutes before refueling. [Moderate]
These microbots carry tiny needles and a small chemical or toxin payload. The swarmanoid can attack targets, cumulatively causing only 1 DV but injecting the target with a single dose (see Swarmanoid Attacks, next column). A standard-size swarm can carry 5 doses at a time. [One Cost Category Higher Than Drug/Toxin Cost]
The microbots are modiﬁed with a high-pressure combustible fuel system, permitting short, high-intensity bursts of acceleration. It is intended for use in microgravity or with another propulsion system. It provides a Movement Rate of 4/40 and continuous ﬂight time of 20 minutes before refueling. [Expensive]
Microbots can be outﬁtted with diamond “snippers” or jaws. While ideal for cutting wires, they may also be used to attack. A swarmanoid equipped with jaws can swarm a target, causing 1d10 + 1 DV with each successful attack (see Swarmanoid Attacks, below). A single microbot is ineffective against small or larger targets, unless it has lots of time. [Moderate]
The microbots in this swarm communicate by laser pulses. Their effective communication range remains 50 meters within standard atmospheres, 200 meters in vacuum. This makes the swarm immune to radio-frequency jamming, but they suffer the same effects from a dazzler. Swarms using laser links are highly visible (+30 to spot) with enhanced vision. [Moderate]
Microbots can be outﬁtted with specialized tools supporting a particular skill. These give a +20 bonus to skills involving modifying devices with mechanical parts, opening locks, disarming alarm systems, or performing ﬁrst aid. However, they do not permit microbots or swarmanoids to perform any actions or carry objects they could not previously. In some cases, a character may have the tools to ﬁnish the job, but lack the physical strength to see it through.
The microbots in this swarm communicate by microwave signals. Their effective communication range remains 50 meters within standard atmospheres, 200 meters in vacuum. This makes the swarm immune to radio-frequency jamming, but they can be jammed in a similar manner with a microwave link or radar device. Swarms using microwave links are more detectable (+30 to spot) to anything equipped with radar. [Moderate]
This is a backpack-sized refueling station for swarmanoids, swarms, and microbots. A recharge pack is stocked with a nuclear battery, wireless transmission unit, and either fuel for internal rocket systems or compressed gas. It includes docking girders for microbots to latch on to while refueling. [Low]
The microbots in this swarm communicate on ultrasound wavelengths. Their effective communication range remains 50 meters, but does not function in vacuum. This makes the swarm immune to radio-frequency jamming, but they can be jammed in a similar manner with any device capable of emitting ultrasonic frequencies. The noise from ultrasound-linked swarms is audible (+30 to hear) to anything equipped with enhanced hearing. [Moderate]
Swarmanoids equipped with jaws, injectors, or similar enhancements may attack targets. Attacks are made using the Exotic Melee Weapon: Swarmanoid skill. Because dodging and blocking swarms is so difficult, reduce the defender’s skill used in the melee Opposed Test by half. Swarmanoids can employ a special maneuver to get inside a target’s armor. This requires a successful Opposed Test between the character’s Exotic Melee Weapon: Swarmanoid skill and the target’s Frayskill (at half value), If successful, any further melee attacks by the swarmanoid automatically ignore the target’s armor. This maneuver is ineffective against envirosealed body armor, smart skin, spray armor, vacsuits, and built-in synthmorph armor or enhancements. Swarmanoids may also choose to harry a target by clustering over eyes and sensors, invading clothing and oriﬁces with microbots, and buzzing around them like a hostile tornado. Treat this as a melee attack using Exotic Melee Weapon: Swarmanoid skill, resisted with half the defender’s skill. If successful, the target suffers a −10 modifier to all actions; increase this to −30 if the attack scores an Excellent Success (MoS 30+). Engaging a target in melee almost always means a number of microbots are sacriﬁced to the target’s defensive movements. Swarmanoids suffer 1 DV per Action Turn they engage a target in melee. Some armor mods are effective against swarmanoid attacks. Immunogenic system and reactive coating mods both inﬂict 1d10 ÷ 2 DV per Action Turn to swarmanoids that contact them.
Threats to Swarms
Swarms face a number of unique threats. While they can be circumvented with some preventative measures, smart characters plan ahead to avoid them. Nothing is worse than a swarm blown away because their escape plan included a high-speed drive in an open buggy.
Swarmanoids are extremely sensitive to adhesives. Adhesives such as freezers and glue strips will physically disable affected microbots. Treat a successful freezer attack as if 2d10 points of damage were done to the swarm; this is not actual damage, but if the total points equal the swarmanoid’s DUR, it is effectively disabled. Disabled microbots still count towards the threshold for supporting egos, as long as they are within communications range of the rest of the swarm. A microbot or swarmanoid that is stuck will suffer a −30 modiﬁer to all attempts to free itself in addition to any other penalties, due to its inability to effectively use leverage. If the majority of the swarm is still free and able to assist in the extraction, or if using other tools, this penalty is negated. Once freed, affected microbot movement rate is halved, and they suffer a −20 to all actions until cleaned or replaced.
Chemicals, Corrosives, and Nanoswarms
Swarmanoids have a very high surface area, making them vulnerable to contact- or aerosol-based threats. Damage to a microbot or swarm from corrosives, toxins, or nanoswarms delivered by contact or by aerosol is 50% more effective.
EMP grenades are especially effective against swarmanoids, inﬂicting 2d10 + 5 DV. This damage inﬂicts wounds and appropriate wound modiﬁers. EMP also reduces the maximum range of a microbot’s radio communications by 10 meters per wound (which may affect a swarm’s core cloud size). These range modiﬁers do not affect swarms using laser, microwave, or ultrasound communications protocols.
Intra-swarmanoid communications are encrypted using a polymorphic algorithm, making decryption difﬁcult. The secret-key algorithm is unique to the morph/ego pairing and stored in the protected memory of each microbot. Unless the morph has been custom-built to reveal the key or the resleeving is conducted improperly (normally due to time limitations) and the clinic monitors the key algorithm creation, the key cannot be deciphered without a quantum computer and days of trafﬁc monitoring. Once the key is known, however, an attacker could attempt cyberbrain hacking, either wirelessly or by directly capturing and accessing a single microbot within communications range of the swarm. Wireless hackers or their mesh node must be within the operational range of the swarm (normally 10 meters). The swarm may intentionally reduce its maximum operating range, which forces hackers to be closer to the swarm while attacking.
A swarmanoid’s cognitive functions rely on wireless inter-microbot communications. These may be jammed, either intentionally or due to radiation or interference. Microbots will automatically change over to a new communications protocol if available or ﬂee the affected area if not. Successfully jamming a swarmanoid shuts down the ego, effectively putting it into a coma. If both the swarmanoid and the jammer are successful, the ego continues operating, but in a greatly reduced capacity. Reduce the character’s Speed and Initiative by 2 (minimum of 1) and all actions suffer a −20 penalty. The character’s mind is hazy and sluggish, making concentration difﬁcult.
Because of their small size and high surface area, microbots are extremely susceptible to temperature. Suspended in an environment above 80 C or below −100 C, microbots quickly expire. Microbots can manage their own heat radiation in a vacuum, but are still vulnerable to outside sources of heat.
Wind speed is subtracted directly from the movement rate of a ﬂying swarmanoid. If this brings the swarmanoid’s speed below zero, microbots are sucked along with the wind, causing damage to the swarm until they can return. Every 20 meters the wind moves above the maximum speed of the morph causes 1d10 DV per Action Turn. Microbots physically attached to a surface may ignore the ﬁrst 100 meters per action turn above the maximum speed of the morph. Damage caused by wind speed may be reduced or eliminated by regrouping the lost microbots, when possible. Swarmanoids may avoid damage by traveling with the wind when it is moving in only one direction. Swarmanoids do not deal well with hull breaches. Even prolonged movement of the morph at its maximum speed is sufﬁcient to begin losing microbots, albeit at a much slower rate.