Drones in 2090

Random Ideas for a Handful of New Drones in the Fictional World of Gun Metal Games’ Interface Zero Roleplaying Game

WARNING: Reality? Bah. This is all sci-fi inspired by what’s around us today. I’ve never been one to allow reality or science to stand in the way of my imagination.

Gun Metal Games’ Interface Zero roleplaying game offers fewer than a dozen drone designs in the core rules, leaving the creation of new drones open for gamemasters to tackle as they see fit. This brief article offers gamemasters and players of the game a handful of new drone ideas that can be used as presented or as sparks for completely new designs.

Cover to Gun Metal Games’ Interface Zero roleplaying game.

Before diving into the drone concepts, it’s important to keep in mind that drones in the Interface Zero roleplaying game are specifically presented not as robots but, rather, human-operated vehicles. The rulebook states:

“Earlier versions of drones had more advanced AIs, similar to that of a robot’s, which would allow them to operate when not controlled. It was quickly realized that the AI’s heuristic programming often interfered with the neural commands being sent by the drone jockey. These days drones are only installed with a very rudimentary AI to handle the most basic tasks.”

Now that description of drones may appear to make their use unnecessarily limited, but as I read through the drone rules and descriptions in Interface Zero again I realized that there was no limit on robots acting as a “drone jockey” in the game’s world. A robot controlling a swarm of limited-AI drones? Yeah, I can work with that.

NOTE: None of this information is official or approved by Gun Metal Games. Everything in this article is of my own design, and everything here is presented as a source of inspiration and not as final and ready-to-run designs. There aren’t even any game stats!

Adam S-1943 “Bat” Drone

“Instead of carrying a missile, the drone is the missile.”
—Spencer Ackerman, wired.com, “U.S. Troops Will Soon Get Tiny Kamikaze Drone”

Inspired by the Lytle S. Adams “bat bomb” concept of the twentieth century, the Adam S-1943 drone is a saboteur, a single-use drone designed to work alongside dozens of similar drones and deployed from a rocket or aircraft flying at high altitudes. The Adam S-1943, shaped like a robotic bat with a wingspan of approximately two-feet, has no locomotive capabilities of its own and must glide to its target. Tiny and simple robotic arms on the drone allow the machine to grab onto anything as it nears a building or the ground; the swarm of drones scatters as they glide to earth and soon “nest” across the targeted area.

The Adam S-1943 drones exist only to explode. These small machines are each outfitted with a bomb. Timers detonate these bombs at completely random times once the drones “nest.” The robotic limbs grasping and pulling the drone close to a building triggers the timer, and once the countdown reaches zero the drone explodes.

Adam S-1943 drones aren’t powerful enough bombs to knock down any but the smallest of buildings, but a swarm of these scattered across a few city blocks — or specifically targeting a single skyscraper — can cause fear and chaos.

Nikola-9 “Hummingbird” Drone

Artwork by Oliver Wetter. Visit his Patreon page today.

It was a glance at the back cover of the Altered States collection of cyberpunk stories and Oliver Wetter’s cybernetic hummingbird design (shown at left) that inspired the Nikola-9, a drone designed to steal power from others. A mechanical bird, the “Hummingbird” never acts alone, instead flocking with four to seven others of its kind and seeking out unguarded power outlets.

Once the “Hummingbird” flock locates an outlet — preferably several outlets on the same grid — the machines use their bill-shaped probes to tap into the grid, draining power which is then wirelessly transmitted back to a nearby generator. The stolen power can only be sent a hundred or so meters before the transmission distance is so great that the power collected drops to near-zero, so it is not uncommon for flocks of “Hummingbirds” to be mated to a specially-crafted robot that carries the drones and the receiver gear.

“Hummingbird” drones are most often used by scavengers and criminals though it’s not uncommon to see some military troops equipped with the machines when setting out into hostile territory. A squad of soldiers, each carrying a single drone and micro-generator, can live off of enemy power for a few days . . . as long as they can avoid being caught siphoning electricity from the grid.

Snowden Mk. VI “Wasp” Drone

“Its [U.S. military] Army Research Laboratory, known as ARL, in Adelphi, Maryland, are currently working on a project to develop robotic surveillance insects with wings just 3–5 centimeters in length.”
— Peter Shadbolt, cnn.com, “Robo-wings: Military drones that mimic hawks and insects”

Straight out of the best science-fiction minds of the last century, the Mk. VI “Wasp” appears to be, at first glance, a small insect flying about randomly in the shadows. Just outside of the flickering neon of the city lights, the Snowden is a surveillance drone equipped with miniaturized cameras and piloted by a human or robotic drone jockey. The Snowden is defenseless, and if identified the drone can be smashed into metallic dust with a swift application of very little force.

These tiny drones have a limited battery life and range, capable of operating no more than a few dozen meters from the command console, which can be either a dedicated platform or a smartphone or tablet running a simple app. Cyberware implants capable of neural transmissions can also control a “Wasp” drone.

A “Wasp” cannot function for more than twenty minutes before the battery gives out and the drone crashes, so those using these tiny spy machines have to get in and out quickly or risk being caught.

Anti-Surveillance Drone

“The Cyborg Unplug connects to your wireless network and plugs into an outlet in your home or business. It scans wireless signals coming from different devices, and if it detects a signal from a device you haven’t authorized on your network, it shuts down the video, audio, or other information the device is capturing.”
— Selena Larson, www.dailydot.com, “This device is like an anti-drone forcefield for your home”
Drone concept artwork by Vadim Sverdlov, just one possibility for the design of an ASD. That gripper no doubt would allow this machine to grab an intruder drone and possibly force it to crash as the extra weight strains the unwanted machine’s engines.

As the twenty-first century comes to a close, the threat of drones has gone from a minor nuisance during the early years of the century to a constant danger that must be stopped at all costs. The Anti-Surveillance Drone — often referred to simply as the ASD — is a simple machine programmed to fly a set pattern around a specific, and small, location.

The ASD patrols its home base, constantly scanning for unauthorized energy signatures and wireless transmissions. If the machine detects a signal not on the approved list then it races to the source, bombarding the target with rapid bursts of electronic static and disrupting the target’s transmission.

An ASD is never 100% effective — too many new devices are manufactured each year for the ASD to be constantly up to date — but the disruptive abilities of the machine are strengthened when multiple ASDs target a single intruder. It is not uncommon for someone paranoid enough to own an ASD to actually have three or four in operation to protect the same area.

What are your drone ideas?

The four drone ideas presented above are only a handful of possible drones that could exist in the world of Interface Zero. Each is fantastic and unreal, and every design was inspired by today’s world and those things that are coming closer to our local news. When I set out to craft these sorts of ideas I care less about reality and more about what reality sparks in my imagination, so if you’re intent on realistic cyberpunk you have been screaming at your monitor for a few moments now. I am sorry for that.

Now it’s time to devise drones of your own, either drawing inspiration from these few designs are reaching out to today’s headlines for ideas.

What are your drone ideas?

NOTE: For more on Interface Zero and Gun Metal Games please visit the company’s official website.