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Mad Science! (Or: My Other Pistol is a RAY GUN)

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Here's something I was looking for and couldn't find a thread on; PC-created super science devices. Specifically, things that would be beyond the base tech level of the setting.


How would/have you handled it?


Do you think this is best resolved in a single skill test, or with a few (say one to design, and one to construct)?


How should difficulty be determined? I'm thinking either a simple guideline system (items a, b, and c would be difficulty x; while items d, e, and f would be difficulty y) using the GMs judgement, or a more complex system to try and maintain a higher level of balance (such as with the spell design system from OD6).

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The game "Space: 1889" had something along the lines of what you mention. If a person played an inventor, they could conceivably invent an item that was significantly advanced. They had an entire chapter devoted to how to create those things. Multiple skill checks were needed depending on the complexity and advancement of the item.


So if you're going to focus on something like this, you need to make it so that the character doesn't become so "godlike" that they become the uber-character. They'll need multiple task checks over a period of time, and suitably decent sums of money to create something. Lacking the funds, it would lengthen the time. The progress chart could have completion or failure, or even completion but with some sort of unexpected quirk. Perhaps the ray gun works, but if used more than twice in an hour, there's a 1 in 6 chance per shot that is overheats to the point that it causes a feedback loop in the power supply and will critically explode in D6 rounds. So something quirky, but still functional for a limited use.

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I hadn't really thought of cost and reliability yet.


The materials should definitely have a price tag to them (or a long time investment if scrounging for parts), and I think that anything of a higher complexity (difficulty) to put together should need a rare component. This would make for a good quest hook (the rare ore is only deep in an untamed wilderness) and prevent the designer PC from accumulating too many deck devices (but we just went to the arctic with you yesterday!). It'd probably be a good idea to put a high price on recharging an item as well (say, 10-15% of the total cost) to prevent its abuse and reflect any special fuel (or lots of conventional power) it requires to function.


Regarding reliability, I'd start with regular maintenance checks being required, frequency depending on complexity (yearly for simple devices, daily for extremely complex ones). A tinkerer character will likely do this anyway, but making it a rule reinforces that portrayal. Since these are experimental devices, I'd say that any roll of 1 on the wild did in tests where they are being put to use should result in a roll to check for malfunctions. My initial thought is to use a 2D or 3D test against a chart, with outcomes ranging from fully functional (high), to in need of repairs, to malfunctioning, to non-functional, to explosively non-functional (low). Probably put -1 modifier on this check for each prior roll since the last maintenance, with additional modifiers possible from the degree of success on the rolls to design and build the item. Significantly damaged items would need to be rebuilt from the plans with new materials (back to the jungle again?!).


Does this feel like it would be enough to keep the character in balance with any others in he party? Does anyone have any other ideas or suggestions here?

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Interesting discussion. Anyway my couple of cents, since I tangentially have something similar in a project I am working on. The setting book I am working on is distinctly a fantasy setting, however the "magic" of the setting is science based. Some of the "spells" involve making an Archetypal Companion. What is this? Think of an Artifical Intelligence in a piece of jewelry. How does it work? Very much like a modern computer, except it thinks for itself. How is it constructed? Well usually it involves rare elements, or in the most recnt case a sheet of glass with weird runes on it, so maybe it is a computer based on trapped light...you know it is "magic".


What I am saying is looking at the magic and miracles section of the books, or any similar subsystem might give you ideas for how to handle supertech which might as well be magic to the casual observer, but to the practitioner it is both art and science. In some cases you have an idea of how to make something work, but you don't really understand every last bit of it. It's a fine line, but I think it is a unique way to get extra mileage out of the system without having to design a whole new subset of rules to handle it.

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My initial thought was to just employ the spell creation rules, but I find that some players aren't interested in that much work during a game. I'm probably going to use them to come up with a few examples and get and idea of what the relevant difficulty should be, and leave it as and advanced option, but keep to simpler rolls in general. Once I've had a chance to sit down and write something up, I'll have to post it here.

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  • 1 year later...

one of the Ray guns I was thinking about was the Tesla from Warehouse 13 that was steampunkish.


I did want a set up for char making new and unique items.


create a chart that gives a list of statistics. have each statistic be assigned a value total then up an you could have a base for cost and difficulty.

reliability of device what maintainace required/how easy to break

game effect damage/skill/bonus

size handheld/miniature

use frequency, ammo /number uses

how close to existing tech is it.

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If you want to get detailed, I thought of using the magic design system as inspiration for the weird science bits in my game.


It would work well enough, but I ultimately went with general guidelines for common types of devices, allowing the GM to arbitrate what was fair for the Difficulty to create a devise. I felt that playing looser with creation led to more of a pulpy feel, which is what I was going for.


The player specifies their intent and the GM sets Difficulty and what the "expected" abilities of the device are. Then the player must roll on three separate, set skills to construct the device in stages, all against the same general difficulty - one skill adds a bonus to effect on a high result, another to ammo/uses, and the last to reliability. To prevent abuse of the system, I also required paying for components (if using Funds, this is another test against the standardized Difficulty) and potentially finding rare components (quest excuses).


Reliability comes up on any Complication on the Wild Die when using the device (you'd have to roll just a Wild Die if there wasn't a test built-in to using a device). You roll 2D on a chart, modified by the device's reliability, and the device loses a reliability afterwards (if it doesn't just explode in a huge fireball - looking at you, result of 2).

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