Powered Exoskeletons , revised building and use rules in Equipment, Cybertech and Weapons
cobalt_phoenix Sep 4 2018, 16:43 Group: Heroes, Beyond Level 20 Quote Post
Thanks to Derek mentioning recently what powered armor can and cannot do, I decided to work up a supplement that expands on powered exoskeletons and related equipment. I know there are already supplements in resources around here (Kwyndig's is a good one, as is Liberiton's), but it seems like we have a lot more fictional and real-world resources to tap than what I see.

It seems like too often these systems get built up to be Iron Man's armor, when there are a huge variety of options.

Okay, so a quick breakdown of how I'm imagining this. All exoskeletons consist of the following components: an exoskeletal frame, a power source, actuators, armor plating, weapons, electronics, and accessories.

An exoskeletal frame, as the name implies, is the actual skeleton of the machine. It determines general shape for the suit, carrying capacity (which determines how much stuff can be mounted on it, as well as how much it can actually carry), how hard it is to climb into, the rough size of the suit, and what kind of armor can be mounted on it (more on that later).

Available frames come in a range of varieties, including robotic frames like those seen in the films Aliens (the power loader) and Edge of Tomorrow (combat jackets). This is not the only type, just the most basic, and others will be included. I already have plans for a cyberframe (literally Iron Man armor) and nanoframe (the Mjolnir armor of Halo, especially GEN 2).

To put it simply, every frame will have some benefits and some problems. For example, the robotic frame is the easiest to climb into and has the highest carrying capacity (the suit's frame takes the full brunt of the work, and the user is just directing it). However, it is bulky (not slow, but you can't get through doors and hallways easily) and, because the frame is not wrapped around the user, it makes it much harder to add armor plating (which means it can't be used to protect against an environment). By contrast, the nanoframe (derived from Halo's Mjolnir series) is slim and tight fitting, and very comfortable to wear (no problems getting through doors or hallways), and can be fully sealed against environments. However, because the frame fully wraps around the wearer, it takes a considerable amount of time and equipment to get it on, and the wearer bares more of the effort in work. Every frame will have a benefit that keeps it viable regardless of new frame types, but every frame will also have drawbacks that keep it from being the "best".

The power sources used by exoskeletons are also going to be expanded. Rather than "batteries at PL6, mass reactors at PL8", how about something like an internal combustion engine? I'm thinking of the BerTek Portable Generator from page 25 of the S*D AEG. It has a mass of 25 kg (of which 20 kg is the 10 liter fuel tank), lasts 20 hours when full, and can power a building/outpost of about 10 people (it also says one average-sized piece of equipment, but that isn't explained). Yes, it requires fuel, which can be dangerous, but I don't see why it wouldn't work for cargo loaders and other non-combat roles, and it would last longer than the power cells on the General Industries Walker (8 hours of heavy work, 16 hours of light work, page 28 of the AEG).

Let me say as well that mass reactors will be viable for powered exoskeletons at PL7. The reason why is because of Dataware. On page 69, it says that "at PL7 and higher, robots over 50 cm tall depend on internal mass reactors..." So if a robot half a meter tall can have a mass reactor installed, I'm going to say that a 2 meter tall powered exoskeleton can have one. Now, that isn't to say that it is perfect. It will be big, it will be heavy, and it will be expensive. I'm thinking it would only provide power for a week or so (great for front-line combat suits). Again, it isn't the best option, but it should be good for specific applications. At PL8, mass reactors are going to be better, making them the most likely, but I also want to see other power systems, such as fusion, quantum cells, maybe even antimatter (scary as that is).

Actuators will also be updated, but based on Dataware. In the real world, they have come up with a lot of interesting new materials and artificial muscle concepts, such as polymer-based muscles that are dramatically stronger and lighter than human muscles, making them perfect for powered exoskeletons.

Armor plating is pretty straight forward, but there are going to be some new additions. Not only will polymeric, cerametal, and alloy plating be added, there will also be some with additional thicknesses, such as sheet metal and heavy cerametal.

There are also three coverage levels: trauma plating (roughly 25% protection), half plating (roughly 50% protection), and full plating (90% and above). In effect, trauma plating protects the wearer's head and parts of the torso, and is good for rear-echelon and normal working environments. Half plating is light, flexible, and protects the head, torso, and parts of the arms and legs; however, there are gaps, such as at the joints, and this armor can't be sealed against environments, limiting it to habitable environments, scouting, and similar limited roles. Full plating is for front-line suits, the literal body tanks and armored e-suits, and fully protects the head, torso, limbs, and joints. Obviously, as the armor plating gets more extensive, it is costlier, heavier, and harder to move around in.

Exoskeletal weapons will consist of not only mounted suit weapons (using hardpoints and armatures), but also a new type of heavy weapon I'm terming "assault guns". These aren't battle rifles or sniper rifles, these are modified heavy weapons that are designed for use with the larger types of suits. These are quantum miniguns that look like over-sized quantum rifles, laser cannons dressed as the big brothers of laser rifles, and machine guns that look like assault rifles. They can be used by non-boosted personnel with the heavy weapons skill, but a user in an over-sized exoskeleton can use them with a normal Modern Ranged Weapons skill check.

Exoskeletal electronics consists of the suits sensors, computers, and control systems. This includes cybernetic links, radar units, thermal imagers, AI copilots, etc.

Finally, the accessories area is going to include anything that doesn't fit above. This includes medical systems, life support, and additional propulsion units.

However, here is a fun one: how about modifying the boots into jumping stilts? I've never been a fan of armor that increases the speed without a reason (the ABM-5 Paladin from the S*D AEG, page 73, is an example). However, using heavier-duty materials and gyro-based stabalizers, you can have a suit of armor that can run incredibly fast and jump far higher than a normal human, while also having an interesting appearance (almost dog-like or cat-like legs).

So is there any interest or comments? I'm going to post more when I have some details worked out.
derek_holland Sep 4 2018, 18:13 Group: Heroes, Master of Mutant Creation Quote Post
I am interested but only with industrial, science, exploration and alien exoskeletons. Things that really expand upon the advantages of using such technology far beyond its military applications.
cobalt_phoenix Sep 4 2018, 19:56 Group: Heroes, Beyond Level 20 Quote Post
Hopefully you''ll like this, Derek. I am trying to make sure this system provides the ability to create custom e-suits for exploration, medical walking aids, cargo loaders, construction suits, etc, as well as actual battlefield machines.

For example, one item I'm including is polyceramic armor. This is relatively light, being similar to cerametal, but not as effective at stopping attacks. However, it is more common and quite effective at shrugging off hostile environments. It is perfect for e-suits, both in space and on hostile worlds.

Oh, and I'm revising the way that powered exoskeletons function in Alternity. Originally, they gave the wearer an effective strength that was normally above average at least and took the place of the wearer's normal Strength score for the purposes of lifting or breaking objects. Personally, I don't like this set up, since most modern exoskeletons really don't function this way, and even fictional ones don't behave like this.

So, instead, effective Strength isn't a prefixed number, it is an addition to the wearer's own Strength (so a +4 to their score of 12 rather than a straight effective 16), which means that stronger characters can get a better bonus out of their suits. Additionally, effective Strength only applies to breaking objects (unarmed attack damage). For lifting and carrying, there are two new groups, dictated by the armor. First, the frame (which supports all the weight) has a limit, which is not a hard limit (it uses the same rules as encumbrance). Second, the actuators reduce the mass of objects lifted by a set percent (based on the type).

So as an example, a character is wearing a suit that has a frame with a capacity of 150 kg, actuators that are rated at 25%, and a total mass of 150 kg (the suit's capacity always includes its own mass, so it is possible to build a suit with so much crap that it is always encumbered). The character grabs a container with a mass of 100 kg and hoists it up. The character feels like they are hoisting 25 kg, not the actual 100 kg, and the suit is now at 250 kg (the rules for encumbrance say that you can carry up to 2 times your Strength in kilograms without any ill effect, which is replaced by the frame capacity for this), so the suit is not encumbered until it hits 300 kg. In other words, the character feels like it is a heavy load, but it isn't back breaking, and the suit can still move without issue.

Now, those are not real numbers in the system right now (that would probably be a pretty hefty robotic frame), I just created them as an example. Hopefully, you see some potential in that.
cobalt_phoenix Sep 25 2018, 07:07 Group: Heroes, Beyond Level 20 Quote Post
Okay, so I have been working on this, and I wanted to pass along some of the ideas.

First, a brief piece on power systems. Obviously, batteries and power packs are going to be available to run powered exoskeletons. Some of these are going to be small, others are going to be pretty large. I'm thinking that something similar to the ship building systems (either GMG/Starships or Warships) will work. Basically, a power system generates a set amount of power (based on its size) per unit time which can then be used to run the various pieces of equipment mounted onto an exoskeleton. Each power system of course also has time limits, dictated by charge capacity, fuel, etc. I actually do want to include what amounts to an internal combustion engine into this, since that could be popular in PL6 civilizations.

I will also be including both mini fusion reactors and mass reactors, and not just at PL8. I'll explain what I'm thinking, though.

At PL6, the first microfusion reactors are going to be available. However, these are not the same as larger ship-board fusion reactors. Instead, they use aneutronic fusion. Unlike normal fusion reactions involving Hydrogen isotopes, aneutronic fusion doesn't rely on neutrons to carry energy from the reaction (specifically, it must be less than 1% of the energy released). This actually has a couple of benefits: first, it reduces or eliminates the requirement for neutron shielding; second, it can be used to directly create electricity (neutron reliant fusion usually uses something like steam generators to convert the neutron's energy into heat and then into electricity).

What this means is that aneutronic fusion generators can be smaller (requiring less shielding and direct energy conversion systems). Unfortunately, it also has some problems. Most aneutronic reactions require higher temperatures than normal fusion, and the fuel is not as common or as easy to prep.

In the case of microfusion generators in this system, it uses gravity induction technology to fuse two Helium-3 ions into Helium-4 and a proton, making it a smaller, cleaner version of the Grav-Fusion cell.

For the mass reactor, I'm turning to Dataware for inspiration. In the chapter on robot construction, it says that PL7 robots of 51 cm or taller rely on a mass reactor for power. It's not any lighter than batteries, but it does last a hell of a lot longer. I figure that if you can cram a mass reactor into a robot half a meter tall (about one third average human height), you should be able to mount one on a powered exoskeleton.

I personally believe for this project that there shouldn't be a perfect system, and everything has benefits and drawbacks. For microfusion and mass reactors, these are similar. For benefits, you can start with these: long endurance (weeks worth of power, if not potentially months); reliability (they don't need oxygen and won't short out if exposed to water); and high power output (these things are likely going to produce more energy than is actually needed to operate the exoskeleton under normal conditions). For flaws, you can start with these: heavy equipment (these are portable, not handheld, so you are still talking tens of kilograms); high cost (these are not going to be cheap); and expensive fuel costs (helium-3 and dark matter may be common enough, but they aren't easy to collect and transport).

Moving on, I want to give my current ideas for one of the major components of a powered exoskeleton: the frame.

As I said before, the frame puts the "skeleton" in "exoskeleton". Like the skeletons of animals, the frame provides support for the exoskeleton's mass and functions as a means for leverage for the actuators. The frame also provides the general physical shape of the exoskeleton and keeps the various components together.

The various frame types have a number of characteristics for game use. First, they type determines the carrying capacity (rated in kilograms); this determines how much equipment they can carry (usually not including the operator), including carried gear and mounted items. Another is complexity; this measures how easy it is to don the exoskeleton as well as how hard it is to use. Funny enough, the simpler it is, the easier it is to don, but the harder it is to use. The reason I'm using the term "complexity" is actually directed at the joints and their operation (a simple joint doesn't necessarily follow the operator's joint perfectly, while more complex joints maintain varying degrees of alignment with the user's body).

There are a few different types of frames, which are divided by they rough characteristics. The types are robotic frames, exosuits, medibotic frames, mechsuits, cybernetic frames, nanosuits, and biobotic frames.

Robotic frames are the largest and least complex in terms of joints. These are basically robots that an operator straps themselves into and then manipulates. They are one of the strongest frames in terms of carrying capacity, but aren't necessarily easy to operate (they shift the user's center of gravity, usually to a point behind them). These are the least complex frames, and first appear at the end of PL5 and become common in PL6. Examples include almost all real exoskeletons in development, as well as the fictional Power Loader from the movie Aliens and the combat jackets from Edge of Tomorrow. Robotic frames can't be fully sealed or armored, as the frame doesn't maintain enough alignment with the human body. As a result, they are usually used in industrial applications.

Exosuits become available at PL6. These are the first suit-like exoskeletons, completely surrounding the operator's body. If fact, many of them are actually built around the operator. An exosuit can maintain alignment with the large major joints of the human body, specifically at the shoulder, hip, elbow, and knee. However, it is too bulky to maintain alignment fully with the spine, hands, wrists, ankles, and feet. As a result, they usually increase the wearer's height by a couple of centimeters, and usually restrict torso movements. The hands and feet are also usually extensions rather than gauntlets or boots (resulting in a slightly different proportion for the wearer's arms and legs). A good example for an exosuit is the Terran Marine armor from StarCraft. Exosuits are popular as early forms of powered armor, and are the first to be able to completely seal the operator away from hostile environments (making them popular as hard e-suits).

Medibotic frames are basically slimmed down, light-weight frames developed in PL6/7 for use in medical applications. They can be concealed under bulky clothing, and come in lower-body and full-body options. While they are intended to allow paralyzed individuals or stroke victims to walk and move again, these can also be used as a concealed strength boosting system, and are popular with explorers and hikers to increase their carrying capacity for little weight. Medibotic frames are more complex than exosuits, and can even include boosted gloves and boots. Unfortunately, they aren't overly strong, so they suffer they have the lowest carrying capacity.

Mechsuits are the middle ground between powered exoskeletons and full-sized mecha (piloted robots). The rough difference is that a mecha is usually quite large (several meters in height) and features a cockpit where the operator's entire body resides while operating the unit. A mechsuit, however, is only about 2.5 to 3 meters in height, and while the majority of the operator's body is in the unit's torso, at least the lower legs and usually the forearms are in their respective areas of the unit. An example of a mechsuit in fiction would be Iron Monger's armor from the first Iron Man movie, as well as the later Hulkbuster armor. Another way to think of this category is as an over-sized version of the smaller exosuit, where the user's head is now located in the torso.

Cybernetic frames are developed in PL7, and have complex joints that match the vast majority of the joints in the human body. This is literally Iron Man's armor. It isn't perfect, and is still somewhat bulky, but it is far easier to move and perform actions in this type of frame. It also requires either a dedicated assembly system or a small team of people to put it on. However, assuming it has enough power, cybernetic frames are comfortable enough to wear for long periods (I would still recommend installing various life support systems to make it viable to live in for days).

Nanosuits are even more advanced PL7/8 exoskeletons. Note, these are not made of nanites, but instead use a multilayered construction relying on early nanotechnology. For example, a number of layers are dedicated to a distributed computing and built-in power system, relying on nano-thread batteries and superfine superconductive wiring. Other layers include an adjusting gel/foam layer near the skin, an outer armored sheath, and a set of electromorphic structural rods serving as an adaptive exoskeleton linked to micro-actuators. The result is a strong, comfortable, and intuitive exoskeleton. For an example, think the armor of the Halo franchise, especially the most recent generations. The result is that it is slim but shockingly heavy, and it always requires a dedicated assembly system to put on or take off. However, if you want comfort and effectiveness that you can wear for days (assuming the power holds up), this is the suit you want to use.

Finally, biobotic frames are the most advanced exoskeletons you can find. These are developed at PL8/9, and are composed not of biological components but of nanites (special note, this is NOT the Mk L Iron Man armor from Infinity War). Biobotic frames are always assembled and disassembled in a special vat of nanite-saturated fluid. The nanites are programmed to assemble themselves around the user, forming even more complex layers than the nanosuit. While mechanical in nature (this is not biotechnological), the completed suit feels and acts like a second, toughened skin around the user, boosting strength and durability. The nanites can be minimally powered from the wearer's own body heat and bioelectric field, making this exoskeleton comfortable to wear for potentially months or even years. I also want to note that the nanites are somewhat self-repairing, though not really self-replicating, and cannot move from one area of the body to the other (they are locked into a very small area on the suit during assembly).

A quick note: both the nanosuit and biobotic frame include their own integrated power supply. However, this is a minimal power system, intended to allow the user to move normally with no strength or ground-speed boost (effectively, they only provide enough power for the wearer to move the suit's weight). The reason is that the frames are normally donned first, and then subsequent external plating and equipment is mounted onto specialized locking points. These plates can usually include more energy-dense power supplies (such as a mass reactor or quantum generator) which provides the power needed to boost the wearer's strength, speed, and run additional mounted equipment. In the case of the nanosuit, the distributed nanothread batteries allows the wearer to move for about an hour or two (it can provide a strength boost, but that cuts the usable time down to about 5 minutes), while the biobotic frame lasts pretty much indefinitely.

Finally, I want to discuss assembly systems.

As mentioned above, some exoskeletons are easy to get into, requiring only moments to don and activate. Others, on the other hand, require complex assembly technologies. The most extreme of these is the biobotic frame, which requires a specialized nanite tank to put the suit on or to take it off.

However, prior to that is the Vitruvian Assembler. Named for da Vinci's Vitruvian Man, this assembly system can be mounted into spacecraft or ground bases. The system consists of a platform where the user stands as well as hand grips on either side. When in the assembler, the user's legs are spread about shoulder-width apart and the arms are extended out to the sides. From there, robotic arms mounted into the floor around the base and attached to the ceiling assemble the exoskeleton around the user. It usually takes a few minutes to fully assemble the exoskeleton, though the specifics are based on the frame type and total mounted equipment.

Some really good examples of a Vitruvian Assembler would be seen in StarCraft 2, the movie Iron Man (where it shows the Mk 3 armor being assembled), the movie Marvel's The Avengers (the walkway at Stark Tower that disassembles the armor while Stark walks), and Halo Spartan Ops. I'm sure there are more, but those three give a good range of just how such a system would work.

Okay, I'll call it quits for now. Any suggestions, questions, or comments are always welcome.

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