A Virtual Life in HARP SF

Copyright Nicholas HM Caldwell © 2006

Edited by Nicholas HM Caldwell for The Guild Companion

"It is the price they pay for effective immortality."

Personality uploading, where a person's memories and personality is recorded and uploaded into a software construct, is an idea that's been kicking around in science-fiction for years. Notable recent examples are the Night's Dawn trilogy (The Reality Dysfunction, The Neutronium Alchemist, and The Naked God) by Peter F Hamilton where "Edenist" humans upload their memories at death into the biotech space habitats where they live on as part of the multiplicity of consciousnesses in the habitat, and the Takeshi Kovacs series (Altered Carbon, Broken Angels, and Woken Furies), where all humans have "cortical stacks" fitted into their spines, which record their memories as they happen. Individuals with money, insurance, connections, etc., can have their digitised life experiences transferred to a new body (or "sleeve") when their old sleeve wears out, sustains untreatable injury, dies or whatever. Death of the body is not necessarily death of the person if the cortical stack can be recovered. Humans lack faster-than-light travel but their digitised data can be hypercast across interstellar distances and decanted into a new sleeve, which may have genetic or nanotech adaptations. Criminals are put in virtual "storage" and their sleeves given to others. Some prefer to live their lives in virtual realities rather than the physical world.

Personality uploading is supported in the HARP SF rules as characters can be "Electronic" as well as biological. An Electronic character is either a Virtual person or an Artificial Intelligence. Virtual persons are individuals who have been digitised and uploaded into a software construct. In HARP SF, personality recording takes place over a number of days, requires that the patient be fitted with suitable cyberware to interface to the machine, costs a significant amount of cash and the uploads have to be updated on a yearly basis (or at each new level for PCs) if the patient wants to keep their electronic persona up to date in terms of experience. (SysOps are welcome to alter the process to suit other settings.) In addition, Virtual characters must purchase a Virtuality Talent to represent the shift of mental perspective between the physical world and cyberspace.

Virtual characters keep their mental stats and associated bonuses; their physical stats are reset to a notional 50 with no bonuses. All existing skills are retained but bonuses will need to be recalculated and certain skills will not be usable while in virtual format. (In the Tintamar universe, psionic skills cannot be used by virtual characters - they are not preserved in the recording processes of any known civilisation.) Likewise characters retain all their existing Talents, but only some of them can be used in cyberspace. One crucial difference between biological characters and virtual characters is that the latter only gain Development Points from their mental stats during levels spent in cyberspace. Thus virtual persons usually have about half the Development Points of their biological counterparts at any given level. It's the price they pay for effective immortality.

Some virtual characters are content to live in "dream worlds" of like-minded (literally) people. Others roam the datanet using a visualisation model (such as the medieval or surreality model) to map the network into a meaningful perceptual framework where they can interact with other electronic entities and the physical universe. Life in cyberspace is not always sweetness and light as virtual persons who attempt to hack into secured regions of the network will quickly discover. The Computer Operation skill simply does not cut the mustard when it comes to penetrating a private data cache - Computer Hacking is the essential expertise needed here when a netrunner wants to probe the identity or entry route of another entity and it is also the best defense against similar probes. If you don't want hostiles rummaging through your memory, you need lots of this skill or top-notch countermeasure software. Preferably both.

Succumbing to a probe might compromise a netrunning mission. Suffering an ejection attack will kick a biological netrunner back into the real world and send a virtual netrunner running home to its data cache. A successful corruption attack will inject a computer virus into the target's digital persona. Such software corruption may be a punitive deletion; alternatively it may enslave the target. Hope your virtual hero has plenty of backups stashed on and off the datanet.

What goes up, goes down. Uploaded virtual persons can be downloaded back into reality. A virtual person (or an AI for that matter) can be downloaded into the central processor of a building, an orbital habitat, or a starship. Don't fly a starship, be a starship.

There's a price, of course. Running a building or a starship from the inside requires a different set of intellectual muscles and in game terms, that means the character must take the Download Form Talent. Virtual characters who opt for a more conventional robotic body have to pay Robotic Talents to master the capabilities in their new form - the advantage of a robotic body is that characters do have genuine (albeit static) physical stats and gain Development Points from all eight stats.

The HARP SF rules do allow characters to be downloaded into a new organic body (requiring the Download Form Talent again to acclimatize to the new body), receiving all the benefits and drawbacks of biological existence again. However, while this is physically possible in the Tintamar universe, most governments have outlawed research on the subject as unethical. Megacorporations, organizations or private individuals caught researching this can expect serious punishment.