compiled by Amy Luther
WIREHEADING - The application of carefully calculated amounts of electrical current to specific areas of the brain.
THIS IS YOUR BRAIN ON WIRE - Technical Specifications
Wireheading originally required a special variety of interface plugs linked directly to various areas of the brain. With improvements in technology, the effects can now be produced with a simple trode set, dramatically increasing the addiction's popularity.
A typical headset consists of a trode set and a breadbox, a small gadget about the size of a flattened egg, containing a battery-pack and the neuralware which provides brain stimulation.
Trode sets are the standard ones found in CP2020, p. 68, and cost 20eb. Wireheading boxes can also be connected through standard interface jacks with a special adaptor which costs 50eb and attaches between the plug and the interface cable. Both forms can be built into collars or headsets which lock down and cannot be removed, like those used in the IPC.
Battery-packs come in two varieties: a rechargable one, which costs 50eb and can sustain up to 72 hours of continual use before it needs to be plugged into a 110v socket for a 12 hour recharge, or a disposable one, which costs 20eb and burns out after 72 hours of continuous use.
Direct-connect versions of the battery-pack, called walljacks, are available for 100eb; they plug straight into a wall socket and run off house current with about the same drain as a small CD player. They can run indefinitely and are sold with a timer which is supposed to turn them off after 12 hours of use. Most addicts have removed or disabled this timer; tampering with a timer (Very Difficult Electronics roll) is a Priority Five offense (Protect and Serve, p. 64). In some jurisdictions, walljacks are illegal.
Breadbox neuralware costs anywhere from 100 to 500eb, depending on the sophistication and size of the package. Note that this doesn't include the power source or trode set.
Doubling the cost of the neuralware changes its reliability rating, which determines how likely it is to cause side effects. A base cost breadbox has an UR rating; double that raises the reliability to ST, and doubling it again makes it VR quality. The effects of the reliability rating are given below.
The physical size of a breadbox is assumed to remain approximately the same regardless of the number of effects. However, the size can be REDUCED by 50% for every 1000eb above the final cost. I prefer to limit reduction down to a theoretical minimum of a 1 cm cube (about a 1/2 inch cube), but this depends on the technology level of your campaign.
Sample breakdown of wireheading rigs:
A cheap, UR headset starts at 140eb and covers trodes (20eb), the crudest single-effect neuralware (100eb, see below for more about effects), and an inexpensive disposeable battery (20eb). A cheap, clunky headset of this type would have a fist-size breadbox and is fairly dangerous to its user.
A sophisticated, tiny rig, costing about 3600eb, breaks down into 20eb trodes, 500eb neuralware (five effects, see below), 1000eb to give it ST reliability, and 2000eb to halve its size.
WHAT THE WIRE CAN DO FOR YOU - Breadboxes and their Effects
Most 100eb breadboxes can provide one, specific effect. For each 100eb above the original cost, a breadbox can provide one more separate effect or an extra +1 to a single stat or skill given within the effect. A list of sample effects is provided below.
Biofeedback Effects -
Many of the BioTec biofeedback chips in Chromebook 1, p. 75, can be duplicated, as well as certain other effects which fall into the same type of "biofeedback" category. For the purposes of this article, "biofeedback" is considered to be any effect which influences the physical state of the body -- stun reduction, appetite suppression, sleep functions, etc -- or affects BOD, REF, and certain skills based off of them (Endurance).
Endorphin Box : This box allows the user to ignore pain, somewhat like a Pain Editor does. Skill penalties due to wounds can be ignored, except for head wounds. Adrenaline Box : The user's BOD stat is increased by 1 for purposes of BTM, Stun/Shock saves, and BOD-based skill rolls. Diet Box : The user can set the level at which he will feel full, thus keeping his weight down. Those suffering from eating disorders have been known to acquire models which suppress appetite entirely, causing starvation. ZZZ Box : The user goes to sleep. This is not an accelerated NREM sleep, as the Sleep Inducer in Chromebook 1 provides; this is simply normal, natural sleep, which will end normally once the user has had enough. Alarm Box : A timing function wakes the user up when a preset condition or amount of time has been met. This is often combined with a sleep inducer, above, but is also frequently used as a silent replacement for an alarm clock. Wakeup Box : Different from an alarm box in that it keeps the user awake for an inordinate amount of time. The Wakeup Box allows the user to ignore the need for sleep and the effects of exhaustion. Once the box is taken off, the user must sleep 2 hrs for every 1 hr over normal rest times he has gone, and during this period his stats are halved. Hotbox : The user becomes physically aroused. See the Prong, below. The wearer gains +1 to Endurance for the purposes of sexual function. Note that the emotional effects of arousal are not provided. Overuse of these devices may cause genital injury. The Hotbox is popular among male prostitutes, certain low-budget porn actors, and anyone suffering from impotence.
Neural Effects -
A neural effect is any one which changes the user's emotional state, influences his senses, or affects INT, COOL, TECH, and EMP. Neural effects are NOT braindance and can only manipulate sensory information in a crude fashion, generally working on one sense at a time, either causing it to relay information that doesn't exist (stimulating pain centers of the brain for simulated torture) or altering the effects of an existing sensation (the gunshot wound becomes a gentle tickle in your ribs). They can also influence your emotions to an extreme degree. Want to be happy? No problem. Homicidally angry? Easy as pie. Calm and collected? Just put this on. Sample effects are given below. Many must be roleplayed, as no game stats can really apply.
Stress Box : Creates calmness and serenity, removing tension stress. Provides relief from migraines and hyper-tension and adds +1 to COOL or EMP for as long as the box is worn. Hallucinatory Box : The user hallucinates for as long as the box is worn. Be creative, but it should have some measurable effect on his stats : halved skill checks, increased or decreased COOL, etc. At each level, the hallucinations can be tailored to have a specific effect with 20% reliability. For example, a 100eb hallucinatory box would provide visions of an idyllic scene from the user's childhood 20% of the time, while the same 500eb box would give those images with 100% reliability. Angry Box : The user becomes homicidally angry. COOL saves can be made at -1 to keep the user from behaving aggressively and attacking without provocation. Happy Box : This is what is traditionally thought of when the word "wirehead" is used. A happy box stimulates the pleasure centers of the brain. It puts the user in an extreme state of euphoria and is usually combined with another box for best results: an endorphin box adds stun resistance, a wakeup box removes the need for sleep, and a diet box allows the user to ignore hunger pains, all enhancing the euphoric effects. +1 to COOL. Additional levels of COOL increase the stimulation; anything above +3 is assumed to effectively incapacitate the user. Pain Box : Frequently used in the IPC, the pain box stimulates pain centers of the brain, causing the user to experience agony without actual tissue damage. Each level of stimulation reduces the user's stats by half (i.e., at level one the user is operating at 1/2 actual stats, at level two 1/4, at level three he is effectively incapacitated). Particularly intense settings (above level three) can cause death due to overstimulation; each level forces a Stun/Shock save at - the level of the pain box. Users who fail this save on a 1 or less must make a Death Save.
These effects are by no means definitive. Feel free to make up your own, keeping in mind that there are some specific technical limitations to wireheading which have not yet been overcome (see below).
WHAT THE WIRE WON'T DO FOR YOU - Breadbox Limitations
Wire cannot provide complex reflex stimulation (like APTR chips) or artificial knowledge (like MRAM chips), nor can it cause sophisticated sensory stimulation (like braindance). As noted above, it can crudely affect the senses but it cannot provide senses with a range beyond their natural organic capability. You can't use it to get IR vision or ultrasonic hearing or anything else your body isn't normally capable of. You could hypothetically alter your hearing so that you're supremely sensitive (or insensitive) to sound, but you're not actually changing the range of your ears; you're just making your brain interpret existing sound as being much louder or softer than it actually is, opening yourself up to deafness or hearing damage.
ELECTRIC MONKEYS - Addiction and Drain Bramage
The nature of wireheading -- cheap, quick fixes with a minimum of side effects -- ensures that it is a dangerous fix, and though addiction is purely psychological, it is a very real risk. Each time the user hooks up to a box with beneficial effects, have him make an Average COOL roll at the end of the trip, adding +1 to the difficulty for each hour he used the wire. Failure indicates addiction. Multiple uses within a short span of time are just as dangerous -- when calling for the roll, add one to the difficulty for each time the wire is used within (user's COOL x 4) number of hours, regardless of how long it was used.
For example : Buzzboy, with an average COOL of 6, puts on the Blue Max for three hours. When he takes it off, he has to make a COOL roll against a difficulty of 18. Later in the same day, he succumbs to temptation and puts it on for a ten-minute period. His new save is 20, since he used it twice within a 24-hour period (his COOL times 4 is 24 hours, and 2 uses plus 3 hour total time adds 5 to a 15 difficulty).
If addicted, the wirehead must get a fix every 1D10 + COOL hours. If he does not get his fix, drop COOL by one point per hour the fix is delayed. If COOL is reduced to 0, the addict is reduced to a quivering mess. COOL is restored with a fix.
Since the addiction to wirehead stimulation is so high, addicts may suffer from dehydration and/or starvation before the battery runs down. Walljackers, or wireheads who run their wire from a wall current or walljack, may literally die from thirst before jacking out. Game Effects: If any box is worn over 48 hrs, the user takes 1 point of damage from thirst per additional hour until dead. If water is provided, but no food, the user takes 1 point per day from starvation, and also loses 1 point each from either BOD or REF each day (roll to see which). If either stat drops to zero, the user dies.
Inactivity through extreme overuse can drop the user's BOD or REF. This is done at the GM's discretion. For an example of how this might take place, see the Blue Max, below.
Wirehead side effects depend entirely on the reliability of the device used. Passing electrical current directly into the brain is a chancy business, and miscalculation can cause brain damage. Effects are up to the GM, but some suggestions are reduced INT, COOL, EMP, or REF; tremors (-2 to REF); hallucinations, delusions, or fits of psychotic rage; headaches; permanent sense loss or reduction; lack of concentration; reduced Awareness, etc.
Reliability ratings determine how likely the wirehead rig is to injure the user:
UR rigs have a high chance of causing irreversable brain injury. Roll 1d10 each time they are used, with a 1 indicating some part of the brain has been fried.
ST rigs are fairly safe; each use, roll 1d10. On a roll of 1, roll 1d10 again. If the second roll comes up a 1-5, permanent damage has been caused.
VR rigs follow the same progression, but the second 1d10 roll must be a 1 for brain damage to occur.
GMs can also reduce breadbox costs by a set amount if a side effect is temporary; for instance, a device which temporarily reduces INT by -2 might be 200eb cheaper than one that doesn't. Costs should never drop below the 100eb base price of a breadbox. See the Blue Max below for an example of how this could work.
SAMPLE WIRES -
Examples of wirehead rigs noted in Norman Spinrad's Little Heroes include the Blue Max, which drowned the user in alpha-wave euphoria, and the Prong, which stimulated physical (not mental) sexual arousal and endurance in its male wearers.
Suggested game effects for the Blue Max: +2 COOL and EMP, -2 INT and REF for duration. The user is in a blissed out state of euphoria for as long as the flash lasts--happy, calm, and serene. Nothing can hurt him, and he loves everybody. However, he's also a bit slow on the uptake, both mentally and physically. Prolonged use of the Max can make the negative effects permanent; every failed reliability check means the user loses a permanent point of either INT, REF, or BOD (the BOD loss is due to muscle atrophy . . . Maxers don't want to do much more than sit around). Should BOD drop to zero, the user dies.
The Blue Max is essentially a happy/stress box, with four effects : +2 COOL (happy) and +2 EMP (stress). However, it decreases INT and REF by -2 each, so the net cost of the box is an extremely cheap 100eb. Double that to 200eb for ST reliability, add in 20eb for trodes and 50eb for a rechargeable battery, and total cost would be about 300eb, comparable to the cost of a street drug with the same effects.
Suggested game effects for the Prong: +3 to Endurance for purposes of sexual function. The wearer's physically aroused for as long as the Prong is worn; this persists despite wounds, exhaustion, orgasm and/or ejaculation. The psychological effects of arousal are not produced (ever heard of priapism?), and overuse of this device can cause genital injury.
The Prong is a Hotbox. 300eb for 3 levels of Endurance. It is UR, so 300eb remains the base cost. Standard size, 20eb for trodes and 20eb for a disposeable battery keep it around the same price range as the Max, about 350eb.
WHY A WIRE?
Wireheading costs about the same as a low-level street drug. However, it has one key advantage over drugs -- wirehead rigs can be used for hours longer than the average high, and one purchase ensures re-useable fixes for as long as the rig stays intact. Biofeedback chips provide the same effects for about the same cost, but wireheading has no HC and requires no pre-existing cyberware, and therefore no surgery.
This may appear to leave vendors at a loss -- after all, if you sell one wire, it's not like the user's going to be coming back for more. However, wires are frequently tampered with (Average Electronics Roll) so that they'll burn out after a single or set number of uses, forcing the user to come back to the vendor for another unit.