Step 7. Modify the character to accommodate special items and abilities (as required)
The following rules really only apply if your character has the capacity to invent special items; scientific effects, enchanted items, or spells and potions etc. If this does not apply to your character then skip to Step 8.
If you are a mystic, weird scientist, or gadgeteer you have invention points equal to your willpower that can be applied to the creation of unique effects. In the case of mystics the effects are created by magic. In the case of weird scientists and gadgeteers the effects are created by mechanical or scientific inventions.
Whether inventing gadgets, weird science effects, or magical spells, your character is generally trying to attempt a limited number of things. It’s really only the methodology (or flavour) that is different. A sorcerer might wish to blast someone with a bolt of electricity via a spell. The gadgeteer may use a gizmo or ray gun to do it, while a weird scientist might use a serum, glove or some other thing to achieve the same effect. The interesting thing to note is that while the means are different the effect accomplished is in each case the same.
Note: It is extremely important that you balance the positive effects you can achieve with limitations. It is too easy to create super-powers that destroy the balance of the game. In order to maintain the enjoyment of the game for all participants you must be willing to submit to the GM’s veto and potential in-game changes to your abilities if the GM feels the ability as initially developed is too powerful.
These are all simply suggestions to help you define the effects you want to create. The basic suggested effect types are as follows…
Create is the most outright magical of effects. It implies making something from nothing. As such it should always be very difficult to accomplish.
Create [object, element, or individual] from nothing at [location] and [time] with [attribute(s)] for [duration]
A mystic might invent a spell that creates water from nothing. This spell might affect a particular location and time (instantly in a glass jar for example), have particular attributes (such as being pure, holy, or poisonous), and may include a duration (such as lasting for an hour before vanishing, or being permanent).
A weird scientist might invent a machine, worn like a hat, that creates whatever the user is thinking about. This machine might be solar powered and only work at noon on cloudless days, it might only create things that are smaller than a bread-box, and the objects might dissolve into nothing 45 minutes after creation.
An Alter effect is significantly easier to accomplish than a create effect. It takes something and modifies it in some significant way (by adding to it, subtracting from it, or transforming it completely).
Alter the shape of [object, element, or individual] at [location] and [time] for [duration]
Alter [object, element, or individual] adding [attribute] at [location] and [time] for [duration]
Alter [object, element, or individual] subtracting [attribute] at [location] and [time] for [duration]
Transform [object, element, or individual] into [object, element, or individual] at [location] and [time] for [duration]
A mystic might invent a spell to turn a person into a toad for a 24 hour period.
A weird scientist might invent a mutation ray that mutates someone so that they grow permanent extra arms (but the victim will only survive for six months).
A gadgeteer might invent a laser scalpal that can cut through any known element (but it requires a stable electricity supply and can only be used in large cities).
A reveal effect is concerned with learning things which are currently unknown.
Reveal [information] about [object, element, or individual, or event] at [location] and [time]
Query [object, element, or individual] about [object, element, or individual, or event] at [location] and [time]
A mystic might have a silver bowl of scrying that lets them look into distant locations once a week or the ability to summon spirits to reveal hidden information (but only in exchange for some kind of payment).
A gadgeteer might invent a wrist watch that uses radar to detect flying aircraft and missiles or an undead detector that picks up the absence of body heat – but the gizmos may only work for half an hour of continuous use before requiring replacement batteries.
A weird scientist might invent a camera that can see into the past at a particular location (but only half an hour into the past).
A control/influence effect is concerned with trying to bend objects and entities to your will.
Cause [object, element, or individual] to [action] a(n) [object, element, or individual] at [location] and [time] for [duration] using [object, element, or individual]
A mystic might invent a possession spell that allows them to take over another person’s body (long enough to complete a single simple action).
A weird scientist might invent a mind controlling device to force others to do their bidding (but it might burn out the victim’s mind if used more than once.
A gadgeteer might invent a remote control robot to follow simple instructions and act as his/her valet that requires the regular replacement of very expensive components (say bi-monthly).
Anything intended to hurt, harm, or destroy another person or thing is an attack effect.
Harm [object, element, individual, or attribute] with [object, or element] at [location] and [time] for [duration]
A firebolt spell employed by a mystic would be a good example of this. As a side effect the character may be exhausted and forced to rest after any combat situation in which it is used.
A gadgeteer might invent a flame thrower that is good for five bursts before it runs out of juice.
A weird scientist might invent an invisible combustion ray that causes anything it sweeps over to burst into flames. Each use makes the item increasingly unstable (2 in 6 chance it will explode in each use past the first).
Anything you invent that is intended to protect, heal, or repair someone or something is a defend effect.
Protect [object, element, individual, or attribute] with [object, or element] at [location] and [time] for [duration]
Heal/Repair [object, element, individual, or attribute] with [object, or element] at [location] and [time] for [duration]
A mystic might invent a shielding spell (perhaps a mystical circle) that prevents solid objects from penetrating to anything held within. This may be possible once per day.
A gadgeteer might invent powered armor to move around in (that may require two weeks to charge up after a day’s use).
A weird scientist might invent a force-field that repels all living things (but emits a radiation that causes one to two wounds of damage whenever it is used).
Anything you invent that allows you to move from place to place is a transport effect.
Move [object, element, or individual] from [location] to [location] at [time] for [duration]
A weird scientist might invent a teleportation cabinet (that can only teleport small non-organic objects).
A gadgeteer might invent a jet pack (with a maximum ceiling height of a mere 50 feet).
A mystic might create a spell that opens a mystical portal between locations (but it can only be used one way).
As far as your character sheet is concerned you list your invented spells, gadgets, and gizmos as skills and apply dots to them as per any other skills you are required to use. It is important to note their drawbacks clearly however, as (without balancing hindrances) these effects can quickly upset the balance of the game. You will need to negotiate them carefully with your GM and be aware that they may need to be given substantial limitations and drawbacks to enable them to fit in the game world. You also need to be aware that a number of “special” drawbacks apply to the mystic, gadgeteer, and weird scientist (to balance the advantages provided by access to these effects.
Limitations placed on effects
If you are having trouble thinking about the limitations to place on your effects, you might consider using the following tables.
For each effect in use roll 1d10 to determine the limits placed on its use.
|1||Single use only|
|2||Needs constant refuelling/recharging|
|3||Very rare/expensive components|
|4||Illegal components/Unethical research required|
|5||Prone to frequent breakdowns|
|6||Difficult to control/focus|
|7||Environmental health hazard/pollution|
|8||Needs enormous amounts of power|
|9||Very difficult/complicated to use|
|10||Very time consuming to use|
For each effect/gadget created, roll 1d10 to determine what side effect occurs when it fails. A significant failure (rolling 6 on a consequence check) results in a side effect).
|1||Key component breaks down requiring 1d6 weeks to repair before resuming|
|2||Key component breaks down requiring 1d10 days to repair before resuming|
|3||Power failure – must refuel or recharge|
|4||Overload – produces double normal effect + Roll again|
|5||Weakened – produces 1/2 normal effect + Roll again|
|6||Toxic Spill/Exhaust – 100′ radius causing illness for 1d6 days|
|7||Explosion (10′ radius 1d10hp damage) As 2 above.|
|8||Explosion (10′ radius) causing instant death to operator as 1 above.|
|9||Explosion (50′ radius) causing instant death to operator. Catalyst destroyed.|
|10||Weird Accident (GMs discretion)|
These effects are also limited by the number of dots allocated to them.
Line of sight rule
|1 dot||Requires the target to be visible and within reach.|
|2 dots||Requires clear line of sight|
|3 dots||Requires partial line of sight|
|4 dots||Requires an accurate guess when no more than 50 meters away|
|5 dots||Requires a fair guess when no more than 100 meters away|
|6 dots||Line of sight not required within 200 meters|
|8 dots||Line of sight not required within 5 kilometers|
Range rule (if a ranged effect)
|1 dot||Requires the target to be touched or no more than an arm’s length away.|
|2 dots||The length of a table top|
|3 dots||The length of a room|
|4 dots||50 meters|
|5 dots||100 meters|
|6 dots||200 meters|
|8 dots||5 kilometers|
Area effect rule (if an area effect)
|1 dot||5 square inches|
|2 dots||2 square meters|
|3 dots||4 square meters|
|4 dots||8 square meters|
|5 dots||16 square meters|
|6 dots||32 square meters|
|8 dots||5 square kilometers|
An unmodified roll of 2 on 2d10 when trying to apply an effect results in a critical failure in the application of the effect (not to be confused with a critical failure in the consequence roll above). This results in the destruction and loss of the effect or the gadget which creates it (except in the case of the gadgeteer who can rebuild the gadget).
A gadgeteer is an inventor of machines and effects based on existing technology. The gadgeteer can’t do the impossible but can design and enhance existing things. A gadgeteer could design and build a personal airship for one passenger, or build a two way radio into a wristwatch. Both of these ideas involve the modification of existing technology. A gadgeteer could not, however, invent a means to look into the aether to communicate with ghosts of the long departed, or invent a time machine – these are the province of weird science (see weird science below). And while they can create effects based on existing technology they cannot base their effects on weird science technology.
For non-trivial gadgeteering tasks the character must first identify the underlying technology to be modified (eg. gas baloon, watch etc) and then add features to it.
Gadgeteers have a couple of special skills besides the gadgets themselves. They have a “Gadgeteering on-the-fly skill” that they can spend points on. This allows them to throw together something at short notice from bits and pieces that are lying around. They also have a repair skill which they can use to attempt to repair anything (even weird science items) so long as they worked at some point in time and their activity is merely maintenance.
Gadgeteering is not weird science. A gadgeteer cannot invent the impossible in the way a weird scientist can. Gadgeteers invent things that exist and function in the real world, just early (historically speaking) and with a twist. “But how is that fun or special”, you ask? The answer is simple. Gadgeteers build these things and tweak them in unique ways. A gadgeteer may not be able to construct a matter transporter but, it is quite possible to design and build a radar (not invented until the second world war) that fits in a wristwatch in the early 1930s (real world device + twist). Likewise nuclear fusion, television, lasers, jetpacks etc.
Because gadgets have far less potential to unbalance the game you might not even need to apply drawbacks to them (negotiate this with your GM).
When you design a gadget it must be
- familiar yet different.
- something that exists today (with non-real world improvements) eg. radar (that fits in a wristwatch).
- something that exists today (with 1930s style limitations) eg. a computer (using valve technology and extremely limited memory).
Gadgets can have up to three abilities. You can produce up to 5 copies (six items in total) of any gadget depending on the abilities it has.
1 ability – 5 copies.
2 abilities – 3 copies
3 abilities – 1 copy.
The abilities of gadgets are open ended (like skills) and have their own skill points (see subskills and manoeuvres, above) attached to their use.
The failure of a gadget during play requires a consequence roll. A roll of 6 on 1d6 results in the permanent destruction of the gadget, otherwise the gadget can no longer be used until repaired (an investment of d6 hours of uninterrupted work).
A character can create as many gadget effects as they have points in willpower. These inventions can be designed before play begins, or the player may create the effects during play as need arises, or a combination of pre-designed and on-the-fly inventions can be brought into play.
At character creation, Marcus’ character, Professor Watchspring, has 4 willpower points giving him 4 invention points to put into inventions. He decides to create two general and one specialised gadget.
He decides he wants a combination watch, compass, and sextent (a sort of 1930s GPS) to enable him to always know where he is (cost 1 point). He also wants a clockwork, mechanical lockpick (cost one point), and (after talking it over with his GM) a point to point televisual communicator (1930s Skype) to stay in touch with team members (cost 2 points).
Weird science achieves the impossible. While it is possible to MacGuyver a hot air balloon from scraps found in the rubble of an earthquake using standard science or gadgeteering skills (see gadgeteering above), a machine that can look into the aether and allow communication with ghosts requires weird science.
The genius involved in weird science is different to real-world scientific genius in the following ways…
Weird science genius is more than brilliance/cleverness. It is the capacity to do that which cannot be replicated by ordinary scientific means. It is the capacity to create a miracle and capture it in a test-tube, to teach a machine to think and create great art, or to fire a pebble at a speed far in excess of the speed of light. Science might not sensibly be able to create these effects – in fact any attempts to study a weird science effect by scientific means causes it to degrade and cease to operate – but a “scientist” with the “spark” of genius can accomplish the impossible.
The underlying mechanisms by which weird science effects are achieved may not be fully understood even by those who create them.
The only thing necessary to create such an effect is the self-belief of the genius and the “spark” or inspiration necessary to realise the impossible. The weird scientist must also have a weird explanation for why the effect is obtained.
For example the genius might develop an antigravity device on the basis of some kind of hyper-geometrical mathematics. He or she may theorise that the mathematical equations temporarily enslave inter-dimensional creatures and extend their existence into our space to carry the objects from one point to another in defiance of gravity. Whether this is true or not in terms of plain physics, it takes on reality when applied by the genius. Having formed the hypothesis and created the effect, the genius must thereafter ensure that sufficient energy is in play to keep the dimensional intruders bound during the process and banish them back to where they came from once the effect has been achieved.
Alternatively the genius might settle on a different hypothesis for why the device works. He or she may theorise that the effect of gravity is in fact due to the thinness of the air when cool and that heating the air makes it solid enough to be manipulated into carrying objects around. Having created a working antigravity device on this basis the genius must thereafter believe to his or her dying day in the essential solidity of heated air and that this is what allows things to fly.
The theory by virtue of its proximity to the spark of genius brings the effect into being regardless of its plausibility so long as there is a catalyst available to activate it (a catalyst being a machine, serum, potion, gizmo etc.).
Needless to say, the laws of real-world physics have a tendency to break down in the presence of Weird Science. The inventor of the anti-gravity device discussed above may create anomalous effects whenever he comes in contact with machines that bring his theory into conflict with real world physics. For example, real-world aircraft may simply not work in his presence (requiring large amounts of heat to be present before they will fly). And, as already noted, the application of “real-world” scientific study to a “weird science” effect causes the effect to degrade and collapse.
By its nature Weird Science is prone to this sort of conflict. It is important that “weird scientists” keep a clear record of their hypotheses. Should they develop a hypothesis, while creating an effect, that contradicts or conflicts with a prior hypothesis the results can be dire indeed (to the point where the very fabric of reality is threatened).
There is also a risk involved in opening oneself up to the “spark of genius” in the first place. The flash of insight that leads to the creation of a weird science effect may expose the “scientist” to “things which man was never meant to know”. Exposure to such knowledge results in an immediate and permanent loss of essence. When inventing a new effect the hero must make a successful resistance roll to avoid such exposure. Hero points cannot be used to modify this roll.
Every time a weird science effect is used such exposure is risked. A 1 on a consequence roll (1d6) will result in a permanent essence loss.
A character can create as many weird science effects as they have points in willpower. These inventions can be designed before play begins, or the player may create the effects during play as need arises, or a combination of pre-designed and on-the-fly inventions can be brought into play.
A role of 2 on 2d10 when operating the catalyst will result in its destruction. All weird science effects are unique and cannot be replicated once destroyed.
Example Weird Science Components
Below you will find a bunch of example machines and weird science components to use in the development of your effects;
Cold Fusion Reaction
Free Diving Suit
Mind Transfer Device
Perpetual Energy Machine
Soil Reclamation Device
Somnetic Wave Inducer
Sonic Stun Bomb
Thermal Masking Device
X-Ray Pulse Laser
Creating a Weird Science Effect (Example)
As an example let’s say that Dr Moreau has decided to raise the intelligence of a group of wild-animals to function as servants in his mansion. He combines effects in the Independence category and Transformation category to create the effect of enhanced intelligence and basically bipedal motor functions. Being a convinced Phrenologist, he theorises that the intelligence and physical superiority of human beings is largely due to the arrangement of bumps upon the human skull. He engages in surgery in which he reshapes the bumps and crevices of his animal subjects’ heads in order to reconfigure them for optimal physical and mental development. He must be careful neither to overdevelop nor underdevelop the shaping of their skulls in order to get the effects he is seeking. 3 months after the surgery is complete the previously “dumb” creature is capable of learning language, walking on its hind legs, performing unusual fine motor skills, and fulfilling the duties of a household servant.
Because of the nature of his theory regarding the link between intelligence and skull shape he will be able to create a number of other effects through the catalyst of his skull surgery – personality alterations, the realignment of criminal tendencies etc.
Rather than an invention, Dr Moreau creates the “phrenological surgery” skill.
Having invented the skill, it costs nothing beyond a successful skill roll for Dr Moreau to employ it to create the weird science effect he has been seeking (or apply it creatively to new circumstances). He will, however, require suitable medical equipment and facilities to accomplish the effect.
The drawback he selects is that the subjects of his surgery now age unnaturally quickly and will die within 1 to 3 years.
All magical effects require a title. This title should be made up of the originator’s name (usually the individual from whom it was learned) plus an adjective plus a description of the effect (Eg. “Sumak Singh’s astounding flame-burst” or “Madam Z’amora’s incredible hidden knowledge revealer”). If you already have 5 or more learned effects you can name any new effects after yourself (on the understanding that your mastery is such as to allow you to invent rather than learn your own effects).
You may only master magical effects if you have a Mystic specialty and may only master as many effects as you have points of essence. When you invent a new effect for your character it is assumed you have known how to perform it since before you began adventuring but have not activated it until the present. Each time you create a new effect (NB. Initial creation is not the same as in-game use of a created effect) you need to roll your willpower to avoid being exposed to malevolent cosmic forces. Such exposure permanently reduces your essence by one point. Failed attempts at effect creation also result in exposure to malevolent cosmic forces (with the same accompanying cost in essence).
You will need (in consultation with your GM) to invent the process by which the effect is accomplished (reading the spell from a book, performing a ritual, drinking a potion, using up the charge in a wand etc.).
Let us suppose that Marcus the Magnificent is a psychic. He has an essence of 4 and so can create four effects.
The first effect he wishes to create is mind reading. He decides that the technique was learned from the oriental master of mystery, Hwang Lee and is called “Hwang Lee’s confounding thief of thoughts”
It is a reveal effect. It is accomplished through mental effort and requires an arcane symbol to be inscribed upon the floor or wall (in this case a Chinese pictogram). The ability is very time consuming to use (requiring one hour per dot of ability applied). This effect cannot be applied during combat (unless the space has been prepared earlier) and initially requires physical contact to be effective. The revelation will answer once (and only one) specific question held in the caster’s mind.
The next effect he wishes to create is mind control. He decided that the technique was learned from an insane stage magician he once defeated named Mephisto the Great and is called “Mephisto’s terrifying enslavement”.
It is a control/influence effect.
It is accomplished by reading an incantation from Mephisto’s journal (taken from the magician when he was defeated). The effect is powered by life energy trapped in Mephisto’s journal (which is written on human skin cut from his victims). It allows the caster to command a single action. The victim may not do anything else until the action is accomplished.
The next effect he wishes to create is a mental barrier against harm. He decides that the technique was learned from his old master Hwang Lee and is called “Hwang Lee’s astounding invisible wall”.
It is a defend effect.
The protection is provided by a potion that is very complicated to prepare and mix up (requiring 1d10 days of prep). It also requires a crystal bottle that cracks if the attempted use fails and takes (1d10 days to replace).
Lastly he wishes to be able to engage in telekenesis . He decides that the technique was learned from a powerful western psychic of his acquaintance and is called “Emily Binford’s extraordinary immaterial transportation”.
It is a transport effect.
It requires a wand and is activated by a drop of blood. A failure causes the wand to break requiring 1d10 days to repair. It can only effect objects that can be carried comfortably in a normal person’s arms.
Some of the ideas used in this section of the chapter originate in the following works
- Genius the Transgression, a story telling game by Kyle Marquis that explores Mad Science (far deeper than my approach and an excellent resource in its own right)
- Kellri’s weird science and random gadgets (a great little pdf containing random tables for creating weird science gadgets and effects – sadly this is now a dead link but I still want to give it credit for being such a useful tool).
- David Chart’s Ars Magica is one of the most interesting magic systems I’ve ever seen and was very inspirational with regard to the rules designed for play here.
NEXT TIME: Part 6 – The final step in Character Creation – Modify your character for any exceptional effects they may have undergone or encountered.
This chapter of the Host Your Own Old Time Radio Drama RPG and all associated content (except where acknowledged) is © copyright weirdworldstudios.com and Philip Craig Robotham 1997 and may not be reproduced or distributed without the written permission of the author.
HYOOTRD Roleplaying Game – Players’ Guide
- Chapter 1 – What is Roleplaying?
- Chapter 2 – Preparation for Play (What you’ll need and an introduction to the World of Radio Adventure)
- Chapter 3 – Creating a Character – Part 1 – Introduction and Character sheet
- Chapter 3 – Creating a Character – Part 2 – Specialities, Archetypes, Base Attributes and Derived Attributes
- Chapter 3 – Creating a Character – Part 3 – Character background and history
- Chapter 3 – Creating a Character – Part 4 – Character skills and equipment (including weapons, vehicles, and specialist gear)
- Chapter 3 – Creating a Character – Part 5 – Special items and abilities (including gadgeteering, weird science, and magic)
- Chapter 3 – Creating a Character – Part 6 – Special conditions effecting characters (including illness and injury, insanity, mutation, mechanization, undeath, disembodiment, reanimation, , vampirism, lycanthropy, and necrophagy)
- Chapter 4 – Getting Things Done – Part 1 – Skill types and skill ranks
- Chapter 4 – Getting Things Done – Part 2 – Consequence tests, perception, contests, special skills and abilities, hero points and skill advancement
- Chapter 5 – Combat – Part 1 – Melee and ranged combat, combat actions, the combat board, and a combat cheat sheet
- Chapter 5 – Combat – Part 2 – Print and play components
- Chapter 5 – Combat – Part 3 – Physical combat (melee and ranged combat) example
- Chapter 5 – Combat – Part 4 – Magical combat example
- Chapter 5 – Combat – Part 5 – Vehicular combat example, injury, and recovery
- Chapter 6 – Chases – Part 1 – Chases and chase actions
- Chapter 6 – Chases – Part 2 – Chase example
- Chapter 7 – Death-traps, hazards, and puzzles
- Chapter 8 – Victory and death – Heroic deaths, cheating the odds, plot devices, experience and advancement