Upgrades make up a large chunk of the rulebook, but I don't want to spend too long dwelling on them in the design blog. So this will be the last blog talking about them and I'll cover off the remaining categories:
Armour is a simple numerical value from 0 to 8 and it has three effects: first, it makes you harder to hit. This is borrowed directly from Horizon Wars and, although it sounds counter-intuitive, I'm sticking with it and I'll explain why in a moment. Second, it makes you harder to injure. This is more logical, I'm sure you'll agree.
To expand on these two points: basic armour - let's say AV3 - has the equal effect in both directions: it adds +3 to the effective range to the target and you roll 3 dice in the counter-test against the shooting attack. The core rules don't include anything but basic armour, but the door is open for advance armour types which may add or subtract from these. So you could have, for example, AV3 chameleon armour that adds +1 to the effective range but subtracts -1 from the counter-test. Or AV3 bulky armour that subtracts -1 from the effective range, but adds +1 to the counter-test.
Just to emphasize: this is something that will follow the basic rules in the supplements and expansions to the game, but it serves to explain why these two complementary aspects of armour sit alongside each other.
The third effect of armour is that it makes climbing and jumping harder. This is the reason why all heroes start with AV1, but you can either drop that to AV0 or raise it to AV2 without it counting as an upgrade or otherwise. If you want an agile ninja of a hero, you might want them to be AV0 despite the risks.
Weapons in Zero Dark are abstract in a similar way to Horizon Wars. I don't care whether your hero has an M919x gauss rifle or a Beltway-7 laser pistol. All I care about it what it does to a target. So weapon upgrades might be better described as "weapon effects". Weapons might be lethal, or explosive for example. This leaves players maximum freedom to use miniatures equipped really however they please as long as they can justify the weapons based upon their effects.
An exception to this is grenades, which I thought were essential to a game like Zero Dark and which come in a broad array of types from simply fragmentation grenades to ones which simply put everyone in its area of effect into the "targeted" state.
It's worth noting, though, that Zero Dark doesn't use templates. I've always found the binary predictability of weapon templates to be... unsatisfying. Explosive weapons in Zero Dark are unpredictable and dangerous. With the right (wrong?) dice roll you can potentially blow yourself up with your own weapon, so keep that in mind before you pull the trigger.
Gadgets are other bits of kit that aren't weapons: we've got your nanoweave invisibility cloaks and your see-in-the-dark visors; we've got jump packs and exoskeletons. If there's an advantage to be pressed, we'll try to help you press it.
One of the cool things I've tried to build in to gadgets in particular is synergy. That is, there are gadgets that you'll look at and think "why would I spend an upgrade slot on that?" - and you'd be right. There is at least one gadget - the relay visor - that, on its own, is entirely useless. But in synergy with another character with a relay upgrade, such as a zipper drone, suddenly your EWOp can stay out of trouble's way whilst lighting up enemy targets like no one's business!
That's just one example. There are a few deliberate synergies built into the gadgets and, I hope, even more accidental ones waiting for players to unlock.
Last of all, Traits are those subtle qualities that turn someone from merely being a character to being a hero: little tweaks that let them break some rule or do something better than other characters. Most of the traits are self-explanatory - things like courageous and athlete - but there is at least one that will require a design blog all of its own: synthetic.
So I'll leave off there and next time we'll look at synthetic characters, why you would want to take them and what they can do.