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Drones refer to autonomous vehicles used by riggers. They come in all shapes and sizes. They are usually described by yet another set of stats and rules. As for hacking and cyberware, let's see how we can streamline those!

Drones are less integral to the cyberpunk fantasy, but they are still useful. They are similar to pets in D&D: they are controlled by one player and provide some help with some degree of autonomy.

Like most high-tech equipment they are likely to have been stolen and reprogrammed from some megacorporation. Fighting drones will probably come from military or police stocks. Realistic robots will most probably come from the porn industry. The car/motorbike industry will have probably succeeded in making autonomous vehicles.

The simplest way to manage drones would be to treat them as NPCs/retainers. Be careful to balance their usefulness with their cost. A flying drone would be weaker than a tank, but still get some survivability from its mobility. In most cases it might make sense to have both autonomous and manual control modes. The manual mode requires the PCs focus but gives a bonus to the actions performed by the drone (most probably you will replace the drone's dexterity by the player's own stat).

In order to fix a price you should consider:

  • the drone frame
  • the armor
  • the equipment

You should reuse normal equipment cost tables as much as possible. Only generate new cost tables for things that are specific to drones like the frame.

I feel that creating a new drone will still be time consuming. A solution would be to have a set of pre-generated options that you show to the players. After a few sessions allow the player to customize their drones further.

Here are some possible concepts:

  • A gunning robot on threads. Armored & 1 meter high.
  • A flying quadricopter. Lightly armored. Thermal & magnetic vision.
  • An autonomous motorbike with a turret.
  • A repurposed escort cyborg. No manual mode.
  • A spying bug-sized crawler with a camera & mic.
  • A repurposed police cyborg. No manual mode.

Let's dig into some of those

Combat drones are not that exciting to me but they remain an interesting options. Having a player care for his destroyed tank after a hard battle might lead to a fun emotional bond.

Thinking about autonomous vehicles immediately brings me back to Knight rider. In 2020 autonomous vehicles drive in a very careful way. They will always respect speed limitations and slow down whenever they are not sure of what is happening. Of course player's models won't be as shy. Should their car be reckless? cruel? vengeful? overprotective? Ask the player to pick a few traits and to interpret them at the table.

Police cyborgs are a cool concept explored in movies like robocop and chappie. They make economic sense because they are programmed to perform violence in a lawful way. Countries have forbidden technics like one-armed chokeholds. Those robots are able to incapacitate their victim, and no court will be able to find any issue about their methods. For pure combat they might be less cost-effective than a mini tank but come with more versatility (like being able to silently open a door).

I love the repurposed escort cyborg concept. They should be the most incredible piece of tech available on the market. An entire region should be dedicated to producing realistic hair legs for them. They should be useful in many social situations. Their personality should be also more developed than their legal version. To the point of refusing to comply to some orders for ethical reasons. In some movies robots become the perfect version of humans and act as a way to show how flawed we are. I would like to use this trope at some point.

There is one last concept that I would like to explore: the meat drone. This is a normal citizen that has been condemned for a crime. His consciousness has been replaced by an IA. They are repaying society with their body for a few months or years. Rebels are sometimes using "meat drones" to also refer to "free" essential workers, implying that there is not really any differences between those two groups. I wouldn't allow a player to own a meat drone. I have said that PCs are probably crazy, but I don't think they should be psychopaths. Meat drones are here to show that highly organized justice system can be more cruel than the individuals that are part of it.