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Modelling Modern Smart Phones


comradeDa
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Has anyone put any thought to this? In previous investigations, finding out the capital of Angoa (say) would require a trip to the local library, but now it's just a few screen swipes away. Or one can look up how to take apart a particular brand of lock etc.

 

Obviously, a lot of information would be either secret or nonexistent (MILINT, or dark web stuff), but that could be reflected with a roll.

 

A lot of basic Area Knowledge stuff just becomes a basic googling, as well as cursory knowledge of most topics. This all only applies if you have data service and battery life, of course.

 

Anyway, would like to not have to write that from scratch (though if you had a Watchdogs style character, they'd presumably be able to use their smartphone for a lot more).

 

For one of my first Champions campaigns I put a great deal of thought into the idea of smart phones. They have so many capabilities which change or render impossible the common tropes of mysteries (and by extension, superhero comics).

 

I wrote the following power construct to represent smart phones:

I made these smart phones an everyman Game Element in my campaign. However, I allowed characters who would be unable to have or use them to sell the Game Element back for its full value (20 CP)
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I think people really overestimate the value of smartphones.  There's a bunch of random crap out there on the internet,  Unless your adventure relies on people having KS: 80s pop culture, or some other fairly useless piece of information, it isn't endangered by the smartphone.  Google Translate is cool and all, but it's just accurate enough to get you into trouble.  They've had English to Other Language dictionaries for a long time, an electronic version isn't that much better.  Being able to Google "my car won't start" doesn't make you a mechanic.  You'd normally be better off reading the owner's manual.

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Note that my Smart Phone build doesn't let you have Universal Translator, or Cramming, or give you any practical skills (such as Mechanics).

Smart-phones are principally still just a very sophisticated communication device that can relay messages by via audio, video, or text in real time or in a staggered format. This feature alone make writing mysteries which allow their existence a real challenge. Control of the flow of information between characters is often how such stories create dramatic tension, and the writers have to jump through some serious hoops to keep that in a world where you can speak to a person almost anywhere on the planet in real time, leave them a text message to be read or referenced at their convenience, or send them a video/picture of [fill-in-the-blank important visual clue].

 

Most of the other features I wrote in are fairly unimportant in a superheroic world, or to most such stories... but I think you are underestimating (or taking for granted) the impact information technology has on our daily lives Massey. Having a flashlights allows us to perceive and maneuver in environments where we would normally injure ourselves if we tried. Clocks, and alarms allow humans to tightly and reliably schedule their interactions on a global scale. Access to global databases of information renders ignorance of choice rather than a circumstance for those with access to such technology.

 

This last point affects our lives in ways which game system often choose to ignore for the sake of balance. For example, I was able to quickly learn to tie a neck-tie because of the existence of a graphic diagram on the internet, I have learned more about chemistry, engineering, physics, and history through perusing wikipedia than I ever learned in an American Public School.

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Sometimes.  Not always.  The internet can have tons of information available on a subject, and other times there's no info on it at all.  Try to find a downloadable copy of Horror Hero or the Big Blue Book.

 

Or the stats for a 1st Edition Elf Street Samurai from the Shadowrun Street Samurai Catalog. 

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For campaigns where it is something that is only available to certain people, I would buy it as a perk. Probably 2 points, mostly for the camera, flashlight, time, GPS and a few other useful apps. For those where it is a normal everyday item I would ignore the price. 

 

- E

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For those where it is a normal everyday item I would ignore the price. 

Agreed. Even in a superhero setting, I've never made players pay points for mundane items that everyone has access to, like flashlights & wristwatches. (We used to call it the Radio Shack Exception, but I may need a new name for it now that the Shack has gone the way of the dodo...) Same applies here as far as I'm concerned. Most smartphone apps/capabilities don't need to be built out: they're noncombat features that are low-level enough to ignore mechanically, and they just work the way they work in real life.

 

As for Internet access: if there's a piece of information that would be helpful to the character, and the player could look it up, then the character can get it in game. If that information would normally give the Character a bonus on a Skill Roll, then it does that. Or if it's just narrative information, it does that. No points needed.

 

That said, realistically there's also a significant downside to having characters with Secret Identities carrying their personal cellphones around with them while in costume. Even assuming you keep Location turned off, someone's eventually going to think to search and cross-reference cell records near Hero X sightings to identify that one phone that frequently makes calls from wherever Hero X is active. So while I might not make the PCs pay for a smartphone, if they wanted something anonymous & untraceable, that might be worth a Small Perk. Just like I wouldn't charge the PCs for a regular phone line in their base, but I would charge them for a scrambled/encrypted/untraceable line.

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That said, realistically there's also a significant downside to having characters with Secret Identities carrying their personal cellphones around with them while in costume. Even assuming you keep Location turned off, someone's eventually going to think to search and cross-reference cell records near Hero X sightings to identify that one phone that frequently makes calls from wherever Hero X is active. So while I might not make the PCs pay for a smartphone, if they wanted something anonymous & untraceable, that might be worth a Small Perk. Just like I wouldn't charge the PCs for a regular phone line in their base, but I would charge them for a scrambled/encrypted/untraceable line.

 

For this, you might need a burner phone bought with cash.

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For this, you might need a burner phone bought with cash.

If by this you mean a burner in the true sense (used for a single purpose, say a short story arc) and then disposed of, they will provide an additional layer of privacy. But they are not encrypted or untraceable, just not tied to a specific name via contract or credit card. They can still be used to trace someone if they use it for too long, get careless or otherwise compromise the phone in some way. There are certainly apps that can be loaded and/or purchased for additional security of the text or phone contents, but I would say that's probably in the purview of a security systems or programming roll for the user in game terms.

 

- E

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Yeah, "I pick up a burner phone" isn't quite the magic get out of plot free card some people want it to be. And while not every character has the requisite tech skills to get past it, as long as you have a techie on the team you're probably okay, at least in a superhero game that isn't worried about realism.

True, depends on genre, GM and campaign. Even in high realism games you could stop anything besides a dedicated hack with a Familiarity and lots of extra time, generally.

 

- E

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I'd give you a smart phone for free.  Reason:

 

Player(Spiderdude):  Ok, I have my smart phone and get the gps coordinates of where Jane Mary is a hostage.  I call for the police.

GM(me): Rolls a check (sorry you are out of coverage).  

Player: I swing over a couple of blocks to get into coverage.

GM: You find one bar of coverage.  You dial into 911.  You are placed on hold for a couple of minutes.

Player:  Arghhh!!!  911 shouldn't put me on hold.

GM: Have you ever tried calling 911 on a cellphone?

Player: No but ...

GM: I have and when there is an accident or some such, 911 gets bogged down.

Player:  OK, I wait a minute or two.

GM:  "911 What is the nature of your emergency?"

Player: "I saw some superpowered villains take a woman into the ware house."

GM: "Uh Huh,"  As you are talking to the 911 operator who may or may not believe you, you get hit with an Blast of Electricty by Volto.  Take 10 body and 34 stun.

Player: "Ok, I take a few stun but I can still fight."

GM: "Oh yeah, your phone is fried but don't worry the screen is also shattered."

Player: "Huh?  So I'll just buy a new one."  

GM: "Yeah, so you didn't buy wealthy right?"

Player: No but I'm not poor.

GM: "This is your 4th smart phone this month, I doubt you can afford it..."

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I am not building those...

 

This. Not everything needs a build. To me a smart phone would be, at most, an environmental factor allowing for a bonus to a skill roll or a minor change environment (using it as a flashlight really isn't that good due to the rather limited range, but might be useful to see the wires you're working when trying to defuse a bomb in the dark, so +1). In the end, that means it's kind of like the rain, fog, snow, etc. It provides a modifier as appropriate and decided by the GM at the time and for the circumstance.

 

Seriously, you just don't have to build everything, unless it's as a mental exercise, which is cool and all, but sometimes futile. I could see a smart phone adding up to quite a chunk of CP if you seriously entered -everything- they can do: eidetic memory (camera and audio recorder), +1 to pretty much every skill out there (it's amazing what you can find on the internet), flashlight (1 hex change environment), radio communication (okay, so technically microwave, but how nitpicky do you really want to get). In short, the bloody things can be as good, or as limited, as the skill and knowledge of the user allows for. When you consider how fragile the things actually are, and therefore easily removed from the equation anyway, and to me it's just not worth it except as that mental exercise. 

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you just don't have to build everything, unless it's as a mental exercise, which is cool and all...

Curse you, Kesedrith! Those words kept playing in my head and whispering "Well y'know, maybe it would be kindof a fun mental exercise! :think:  :D

 

So while I'm on the record as agreeing this isn't really necessary, here's a quick survey of what's on my phone and how you might build it if you really felt like doing so:

  • Make phone calls: Radio Perception w. Transmit, voice-only
  • Emails: Radio Perception w. Transmit, text only
  • Text messages/Messenger/etc: Radio Perception w. Transmit, text only (the differences between text & email probably trivial from a game perspective?)
  • Skype/Facetime/Video calls: Radio Perception w. Transmit, Sight & Hearing
  • Internet Browser: As discussed, probably a Computer Link Perk or maybe a variation of Cramming?
  • Camera/Video: Eidetic Memory
  • Voice Memos: Eidetic Memory, Hearing only
  • Clock/Timer: Absolute Time Sense
  • Calculator: Lightning Calculator
  • Flashlight: Images, Light Only
  • GPS/Maps/Compass: Bump of Direction plus some kind of Area Knowledge?
  • Waze app: Analyze traffic congestion
  • Various Weather Apps: Detect Weather?
  • Soundhound: Analyze Song?
  • Pandora/various music apps/podcasts: Images, sound only? Or else treat like some sort of library Computer Link?
  • Yelp: Detect Good Restaurants?
  • Facebook/Twitter/LinkedIn/etc: probably another Computer Link
  • Kindle/comics/various library apps: Access probably
  • Wallet/various banking apps: again, probably some sort of Computer Link
  • Calendar: maybe +X to INT, only to remember where I'm supposed to be?
  • Contacts: KS: contact info for people I know
  • Various games: EDM, only to move forward in time (ie: time-wasting!). Or possibly -X to PER Rolls? ;)

A lot of duplication & overlap, obviously. Feel free to add your own. Y'know, just as a fun mental exercise...

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The thing is that most uses that Smartphones have, are not integral part of Smartphones. Smartphones mereely allow access to the phone and internet networks, wich provides the actuall data/services.

Waze/Weather/Soudnhound/Yelp Apps do not actually have the data to answer anything. There is nowhere near enough storage or processing power on those little Computers to actually run those Application.

The real application runs on some Sever in the Internet. That server most likely has a Webserice (Rest, XML, there are a few kinds). The app requests the data from the Webservice. And recieves it.

 

The only comparisions I could think of would be of using a gun without bullets. Or a car without fuel. Or trying to use a analog telephone without a landline connected to it.

Disconnect your internet access right now - and you could not even see or answer on this Thread. That is how little the end device maters.

 

Unlike simple Radio, internet and phone networks are not something natural or easy to access.

Mobile phone and thus by extension mobile internet networks are way beyond simple Radio. You can not just send out some waves on the right frequency and get back the contents of the Wikipage on Mobile Phones.

First you need to understand the protocolls being used (and yes, there are a few. that is what the number behind the G stands for).

Then you have to provide login information that the other end accepts (one of the few jobs simcards still have is providing those login informations)

And that is after you consider that without a receiver in a few Kilometers, that is useless.

 

All the real work is part of the Networks. The remote servers. And the internet connecting both.

 

All a mobile phone really has is:

A Display & tactile input
A camera.

Microphone/Loudspeaker combo

the operating system and just enough Hardware to run it

maybe a light

the reciever/transmitter hardware (that is again useless without the network)

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The thing is that most uses that Smartphones have, are not integral part of Smartphones. Smartphones mereely allow access to the phone and internet networks, wich provides the actuall data/services.

Sure. So throw on a Conditional Limitation "requires a cell signal." Other than that, the fact that the data isn't actually on the phone itself seems largely irrelevant for game purposes?

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Sure. So throw on a Conditional Limitation "requires a cell signal." Other than that, the fact that the data isn't actually on the phone itself seems largely irrelevant for game purposes?

 

Depends on how you set up the world.  I can tell time exactly, as long as I have a clock nearby that is set to the right time.  Do I need to buy absolute time sense, only if accurate clock is within sight?  Or do we presume that that ability is just a part of the world that doesn't require any point cost?  Should I buy a huge number of Knowledge Skills with the limitation that I have to go to a library to access them?

 

A smartphone is basically accessing information that is available because of the way the world is set up.  Unless you have access to special things that other people don't, I don't think it should be something you pay for.

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Smartphone is a VPP, only one power at a time (apps are full screen), only for information/communication powers, takes 1 full phase to switch powers (wait for app to start) and an activation roll (do you know what app to use and have it installed?)

 

All powers bought with: OAF fragile expensive, requires concentration 0 DCV (you are glued to your phone when using it), extra time: full phase to do anything useful, 32 charges (decent battery life but eventually it runs out), (recoverable charges if you have a replaceable battery), activation roll (do you have coverage), Side Effect: Mind Control (distracted by social media and/or games whenever you look at the darned thing)

 

All that as a piece of equipment that everyone gets for free. If you lose it, you have to wait till next session to get another one. But I never meet anyone without one, no matter how often they seem to destroy theirs or how poor they are. People find a way.

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