Machine Minds of Mars!

by Karl Brown

A new PC species for Mars in Savage Worlds

Additional material for Mars, A Savage Setting of Planetary Romance from Adamant Entertainment by Lizard, Gareth-Michael Skarka, Walt Ciechanowski, Aaron Rosenberg, and Jess Nevins. A setting for the Savage Worlds system by Shane Lacy Hensley from Pinnacle Entertainment group.

Page numbers for Mars, A Savage Setting of Planetary Romance are given as (M#), and for Savage Worlds Deluxe as (SWD#).

For centuries the canals of Mars have brought life to the city-states of this dying world. Countless Red princesses and daring sky corsairs have lived and died, empires rose and fell, and still the canals are sacrosanct. To ensure the neutrality of the canals long ago the designer’s created Synthetic Men to maintain and defend the pumps and channels; men with no nation, no family, no king. Over the Synthe Men the builders placed the massive Machine Minds of Mars, calculating intellects with only one incorruptible purpose, the water must flow.

Some players or referees might enjoy the challenge of portraying the calculating machine minds that oversee the canal network; now you can. These have not been play tested but are based on the rules for designing new PC species provided in Savage World Deluxe Edition and Mars, A Savage Setting of Planetary Romance. You will need both of these books to use this article. Not recommended for inexperienced roleplayers.

The Machine Minds of the pumping stations are immobile entities of sparks and gears built into the foundations of the titanic polar pumping stations (M31). They act on the world by remotely controlled Mechanical Men and by issuing orders to Synthe Men. Machine Minds analyze the world though sensors monitoring the water levels and machine functions over each hemisphere of the world, the great sensor tower that caps each pumping station, and remote sensors within Mechanical Men and mole drills. The Machine Minds are deaf, Synthe Men querying a great Machine Mind give it questions in the form of complex patterns of wire and receiving answers in a terse, artificial voice which is obeyed unquestioningly. Here we assume the minds can see from their senor tower and via Mechanical Men through a variant of the imager technology (M12).

As well as employing Synthe Men servants the Machine Minds can remotely control Mechanical Men that work in the heat of their radium pile power plants and great mole drills. It is assumed most of these servants and remote devices are required for maintenance of the canals leaving only a few for scouting out new sources of water or radium, and potential threats to the canals, i.e. adventures. A Machine Mind can control these remote drones anywhere within one polar hemisphere of Mars provided it has the cooperation of the other Machine Minds. This cooperation is usually taken for granted unless the referee wishes to run an adventure where a ‘malfunctioning’ mind is isolated by its peers.

Without cooperation the machine can only control remotes within about 200 kilometers. To adventure in the opposite hemisphere or without the cooperation of its peers the machine mind must set up a relay of drone vehicles, one for each 200 kilometers beyond the equator. It is unlikely that many drone vehicles will be surplus to allow this.

Like Synthe Men, Machine Minds have designations such as Overmind TX63SF5 rather than names. In terms of role most Machine Minds will be Defenders (M37) of the canals but other roles could be envisaged, especially for PCs. How about an Outcast (M37) shunned by other Machine Minds for a glitch in its programming that makes it value the lives of the builders (Red Martians) more than maintaining the flow of water? Or a Mind whose pumping station has long since become run-down beyond repair and now seeks to explore the Mars to root out potential threats to the canals. A Machine Mind cares only for the canals, this makes it difficult to justify their presence in an adventuring group unless the campaign revolves around a growing threat to the canal network. One way to handle this is for the player to have two characters, the Machine Mind and a Red Martian, but only play one or the other during any single adventure. Alternatively, a Mind Overseeing an exceptionally well maintained pumping station may be able to spare a Mechanical Man to pro-actively go out into the world and look for threats to the water-flow, travelling with an adventuring party provides extra protection without expending further limited resources.

Machine minds never develop psi powers.

Machine Mind Traits

The Mechanical mind is a huge stationary machine that acts on the world through loyal Synthe Men and remote controlled machines. Details of the machine minds and their polar stations are discussed in the core book (M31).
The character consists of the Machine Mind and the Mechanical Man that serves as its ‘Body’

The Mind

Thinking Machine (0): the machine mind has only smarts and spirit attributes. They receive the usual 5pt to spend on attributes.
It has the usual allotment of skills. Pace is zero. The Mind has a Toughness of 12 but this is rarely needed during play because the Mind is ensconced within a pump station fortress. Machine Minds cannot take physical Edges themselves. What’s a ‘physical edge’? The categories ‘mental’ and ‘physical’ are not part of the classification of Edges in Savage Worlds. Referee’s will need to make a call on each Edge or Hindrance on a case by case basis. Physical Edges are those that are an inherent part of the structure. Mental Edges are far more numerous they include those related to training, social status, reflexes, education etc.

Construct (2): (M54, SWD152)

Detached (-2): since its mind is safe far away within a fortress the Machine Mind does not fear death, it will risk the Mechanical Man under its control more readily than men of flesh would place their bodies in danger. This results in the same sorts of behavior seen from the Over Confident major hindrance.

The water must flow: (-2): the mind is totally dedicated to maintaining the canals. All potential missions are viewed with this motivation in mind. While the machine will investigate potential threats, it will ignore suffering, warfare, art, etc as long these do not impact on the canals. This programming equates to a major vow.

Mind of Gears (-1): Because the machine lacks empathy and creativity, speaks in a cold monotone, and has no interest in any subject not impacting on the canals it suffers -4 Charisma. Its mechanical brain grants +2 to Spirit rolls to resist mind-affecting powers.

Maintain the pumps (1): the mind begins with 1d6 in the repair skill.

Deaf with many ears: (0) The machine is deaf but it can hear through its Mechanical men. The Mind can speak High Martian like a native, though some continue to use archaic words from the time of the canal builders.

Mechanical Man (5): Each mind begins with a single surplus remote controlled Mechanical Man that can be used for exploration. Mechanical Men should have their own character sheets. The Mechanical Man is effectively the character’s body. It is possible that a Machine Mind could be unable to free up a Mechanical Man for adventuring should the free starting one be destroyed. If this occurs the player may choose to remove the character from play and create a new PC, just as if a more ordinary PC had been killed. Having additional surplus Mechanical Men available for adventuring costs Edges (see below).
The combination of the Mechanical Man and Machine Mind effectively produce a PC with 10pt to spend on Attributes hence the high cost.

Remote Controller: (3) the mind itself is almost impossible to destroy protected as it is within the fortress of the pumping station. Immobile the Mind acts through remotely controlled machines and can control multiple Mechanical Men and vehicles at once. ‘Killing’ a Machine Mind would be a deadly adventure in its own right. However, a Machine Mind PC that runs out of spare Mechanical Men is cannot go on adventures and is effectively dead.

The ‘Body’

Mechanical Man
Lumbering robots of gears and wires they are about the same height as a human of similar strength but weigh twice as much. Create these as Novice Rank characters, without the +10xp awarded to PCs. Mechanical Men are assigned equipment like any other starting character taking into consideration the Machine Mind’s skills.
Like Synthe Men and Machine Minds, Mechanical Men have designations not names.

Salvage (0): The artificial society of canal maintenance could not have survived all these centuries if they were not masters of salvage and repair. The player should record the number of advances invested in her first Mechanical Man. Whenever this body is ‘killed’ reduce this number by one. If the new tally is zero or more that Mechanical Man can be repaired at a Synthe Man facility or polar pumping station then returned to play with one less advance. If the tally is -1 the Mechanical Man is damaged beyond repair. This is equivalent to the Replacement Characters rule used by men of flesh (SWD47).

Remote controlled (0): machine men have only agility, strength, and vigor attributes. They use the Machine Minds charisma and parry. They still begin with 5pt to spend on attributes. They possess no minds, mental edges, or skills of their own. They may have physical edges and hindrances added to their design. Note that unlike primitive Earthling communications technology the control beams are truly instantaneous, there is no signal lag. (0).

Made for the radium pile (2): +4 resistance to Heat. (2)
Construct (0 as is ‘shared’ with the mind).
Lumbering (-4): Pace 3 with 1d4 running dice, -1 to parry. Mechanical men have a lumbering stilted stride unlike that of true men of flesh.

Limited range (-2): Though the mechanical men contain more advanced versions of the technology of the viewers even this is limited. A Mechanical Man must stay within 1 kilometer of a pumping station or large Machine Mind installation or vehicle (such as a mole drill) or freeze and shut down. All cities built at the time of the canal builders contain a relay tower for machine mind control beams. The communication beams are invisible and able to harmlessly penetrate most walls, buildings, water, and vegetation. However, if line of sight between the Mechanical Man and transmitter is blocked by more than 10m of continuous solid material, such as a hill, the connection will be severed.

The character will often be able to move a drone vehicle to re-establish the connection reactivate the Mechanical Man. Failing that other characters might drag the ‘unconscious’ Mechanical Man back within the reach of the control beams.

The Mechanical Men are capable of acting as control relays themselves but with a range of only 10 meters and the beam is blocked by only 1m of continuous solid material.
TOTAL: +6-4=+2, equivalent to a humans free edge.

Edge: Extra Mechanical Man
Requirements: Legendary, Wild card.
Additional Mechanical Men can be obtained at a cost of an advance (they are each an Edge). Generally additional or replacement Mechanical Men are only available at the character’s own pumping station and may take some time to travel to where they are needed. The ‘Salvage’ trait above does not apply to these additional Mechanical Men; like Sidekicks (SWD42), Extra Mechanical Men that are destroyed are not automatically replaced and any advances invested in the lost men are also lost.


Machine minds are allocated equipment just like any other character. Their equipment should be on par with the rest of the group. Their vehicles, if any, are remote drones operated through the control beam network, the vehicles have no controls for people of flesh to drive them.

Mole drills
Mechanical minds also control huge mole drills. These 200ton machines are considered ‘equipment’ in game terms. Mole drills are not typically armed but can inflict terrible damage by ramming opponents.
Acc/TS: 2/8 above ground, 1/3 burrowing. The mole drill can operate at great pressures and underwater.
Toughness: 20 (5)
Crew: 0+3

Notes: tracked, night vision, heavy armour. Limited range as per Mechanical Men except the more sophisticated mole drill will blindly continue to follow a pre-determined route if the connection is severed. Vital underground missions are performed by multiple drills each acting as a relay for the next. The controlling mind can see both within and without the machine but the mole drill is deaf. The drill has no controls and cannot be driven by men of flesh. Sythne Men fashion precise patterns of wire to communicate with the machinery; Mechanical Men use their own control beams.

Sky Cranes and Repair Barges
Some Machine Minds have control of drone airships and watercraft. Usually these lift equipment and Synthe Men to repair sites along the canal network but a PC might have one surplus it can use for ‘adventuring’. Like mole drills, these vehicles provide vision for the mechanical mind but are ‘deaf’. The vehicles have no controls and cannot be driven by men of flesh. Sythne Men fashion precise patterns of wire to communicate with the machinery; Mechanical Men use their own control beams.

Knowledge: Wire Pattern

A new skill. The ‘language’ used to interface with the machine minds when Mechanical Men are not available. Machine minds and Synthe Men automatically have flawless knowledge of this language. This ‘language’ is not included with the languages skill.