Dealing With Resource Scarcity
R&D must constantly deliver new products. What they deliver and whether they work are secondary concerns. Failure to deliver anything because there aren’t enough materials to make stuff is not an acceptable excuse. When it comes to scrounging for unconventional sources of raw material, however, R&D are the best in Alpha Complex. They have whole divisions devoted to improving and iterating on recycling and scavenging materials. These projects lack the flash, glamour, and most of the explosive potential of the service group’s more prestigious assignments and perhaps for that reason, attract quiet, unambitious engineers and have one of the highest rates of producing stuff that actually works.So what does group of resource-starved scientists actually do?
We Don’t Just Repurpose Overstocked Goods
Supply and demand are fickle things in Alpha Complex. In theory, the Computer can analyse demand and decree exactly the right amount of goods to supply. In practice, its information gathering routines are full of legacy bugs and the inputs are further garbled by the machinations of bureaucracy, assorted traitors and other influencers. So somewhere in the Complex, there is a PLC warehouse containing nothing but pallets of Spiff-Y’s Laser Facial Hair Trimmers. Elsewhere, a hanger full of Speedy Hallway-Insertion Turbo Tanks that Armed Services bulk-ordered then realized that, due to a typo, were too big to fit down any actual hallways. There is a large R&D working group devoted solely to finding new uses for the chemicals that can be gotten out of Bouncy Bubble Beverage, ensuring that the adage of there being ‘no such thing as too much Bouncy Bubble Beverage’ remains true.
You Weren’t Using That, Were You?
One engineer’s failed project is another engineer’s parts list. In fact, if one project team is coveting another team’s materials badly enough, they may ‘help’ the other project team along so they can get at the remains of the failed project faster.The bureaucrats of R&D are well aware this hinders productivity more than it helps. While they can’t completely stop it, they do try to channel it outward at other service groups. Some service groups are more prone to be targeted for this than others. Antagonizing IntSec (whose good graces R&D depends on for survival) and Armed Forces (easily their biggest contractor) is a bad idea for obvious reasons. CPU have little to offer them; there’s a limit to how much you can do with recycled forms. That leaves Tech Services (raiding their parts supply or bribing overworked techs to decommission things like precious bot brains), Power Services (for whom R&D is both their largest customer and largest source of emergency calls), HPD&MC (’Who wrote a medication order for one-thousand tablets of dragoloxamine?’) and PLC (who may be willing to pawn off undersold stock to avoid penalties for having undersold stock).
Too Greedily and Too Deep
While The Computer will not acknowledge the existence of or allow passage to deleted sectors or the Underplex, treasonous knowledge of such places is reasonably common among clones above Infrared clearance. These places are teeming with dangerous traitors and occasional Horrors of the Deep but they are also rich resource mines for those who can get at them. For R&D, the safest option in terms of avoiding bodily harm and maintaining plausible deniability is to send bots, reprogrammed to operate autonomously in dead zones and conceal these excursions from The Computer. Automated demolition bots styled on tankbot chassis will chew indiscriminately through abandoned hallways for raw materials (any clones encountered by these bots are classified as ‘biomass’) while modified jackobots can be sent in to do survey and more delicate retrieval. Of course, the bots sometimes fail en route to bringing back a vital item, at which point it’s time to concoct a suitable cover story and requisition a Troubleshooter team (read: the players).
Bodge the Heck Out of It
When suitable materials are unavailable, there is always the option of taking unsuitable materials and forcing them to work, for negotiable values of ‘work’. Engineers who specialize in this style of creative engineering would be right at home alongside pre-Alpha ‘gaffer tape and bailing wire’ specialists except that knowledge of making gaffer tape has been lost and knowledge of what bailing wire was for is above most clones security clearances. Sometimes the creative fix only has to last long enough to clear the prototype stage, with improved materials promised to the engineering team upon successful testing of the item. This can put extra pressure on the testers (read: the players) to conduct a successful test.
The Emperor’s New Prototype
When all of these creative strategies fail to procure enough materials to construct anything of substance there is always one other tried and true option: Call it a new prototype. Perhaps it is a shell missing functional parts. Perhaps the item the players have been given to test has a ‘stealth mode’ that renders the object not only invisible but soundless and weightless. Perhaps the engineers have simply stolen another teams project and are presenting it as their own. Perhaps they manage to invent an altogether new form of deception. As long as they can pass the blame onto someone else (read: the players), all will be well.
Ways You Can Use All of This In A Game
- Expeditions to gather materials for R&D can be missions all by themselves. Forays into abandoned sectors and the Underplex (or the Outdoors, if you like) suggest their own complications. More mundane sources, like surplus warehouse stock, have the potential to become entertaining if you decide they are wanted by multiple competing factions and consider what they might be willing to do to get it. (Perhaps both factions have even contracted the same Troubleshooter team.)
- Competing engineering teams want to ensure their project is the one best positioned to get resources. They might go so far as to attempt sabotage of the competing project the Troubleshooters have been assigned to test, just in case the Troubleshooters alone aren’t enough to destroy it.
- Troubleshooters can be entrusted to test or guard a R&D project that is faulty or does not actually exist. (Records of this having once been done with an entire train have been expunged.) Failure of the non-existent project can therefore be blamed on the Troubleshooters.