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  • Mad Science

    Inspired by Arcane's review of Genius, here's how I'd handle the concept of Mad Science in the Chronicles of Darkness:
    There are more things in Heaven and on Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy
    — Hamlet
    As far as I can tell, science truly is mad. Oh sure, it looks sane at first; providing a consistent framework for how the world works. As long as you don't look too closely, that is. If you start probing the real world deeply enough, though, you'll gradually start to find that for every supposedly hard and fast law, there's an exception. The initial reaction upon learning this is to assume that it's still an ordered, rational cosmos, just with a more elaborate, detailed structure than you originally assumed. But it never stops; you can never reach a point where you've uncovered the fundamental Truth of reality, and there's always that exception that implies that everything you've learned so far is at best an approximation of a deeper truth. After a while, it's hard not to start suspecting that there is no deeper truth: the orderliness of the universe is merely an illusion; the world isn't just stranger than we know, it's stranger than we can know. And once you start thinking that way, it's hard to stay sane.
    — Fukusaku Emiko, formerly of the Science Council of Japan.
    This is the horror of the mad scientist. Very Call of Cthulu-esque, except that the mind-warping weirdness tends to manifest as bizarre science and engineering rather than alien gods and supernatural rituals.

    This take on the concept of mad science draws its mechanical inspiration from Hunter: the Vigil. Like Hunter, the protagonists of a Mad Science story aren't defined by a template: there is no power stat, no fuel stat, no Integrity substitute, no x-splats. Like a hunter, what sets a mad scientist apart from a regular mortal is how he responds to encountering the inexplicable: where a mortal shies away from it and a hunter confronts it, a mad scientist seeks to understand it.

    At the heart of the mad science ruleset are the Forteana: bizarre phenomena that don't conform to known science. The scientist investigates these Forteana using the Investigation rules, and in so doing Uncovers Mind-Blowing Clues that challenge his or her Integrity but ultimately lead to a Breakthrough, the Uncovering of the Truth about the Forteanum that reveals to the scientist a new Mad Science.

    A Mad Science is a skill that works just like the Science Skill, except that it deals with a type of Forteana rather than traditional scientific matters. Investigating the new field no longer Uncovers Mind-Blowing Clues; the researcher's perspective has been sufficiently altered by the Breakthrough that new discoveries in that field no longer seem all that strange. But there's still reason to further Investigate the field, as the resulting Clues can unlock Mad Specialties for other skills such as Crafts or Medicine. A Mad Specialty doesn't affect your dice pool; instead, it lets you do something with the skill that you otherwise wouldn't be able to do: e.g., Mad Specialties for Crafts let you craft Devices that have capabilities based on the Mad Science that enabled the Specialty; and Mad Specialties for Medicine lets you imbue living things with similar properties, known as Mods. As a general term, the ways that Mad Specialties let you put your Mad Science into practice are known as Innovations.

    There are two problems with Innovations: in order to make or remake something, you must first acquire a supply of Unobtainium, a rare resource defined by the Mad Science that's consumed in the manufacturing process. Unobtainium is intended to be hard to come by, the equivalent of spending dots of Willpower or Arcane Experience; it exists to prevent mass production of an Innovation, as each unit produced costs precious resources.

    As well, every Innovation has a Downside. The fundamental question that the Downside serves to answer is “what could possibly go wrong?” There's always some sort of unintended consequences stemming from the Innovation; and the Downside encapsulates it.

    (Spoiler tags contain defunct material that I'm keeping around solely for archival purposes.)
    At the heart of the mad science ruleset is Insight, a kind of “alternate experience” that's earned from Integrity Breaking Points that challenge the character's understanding of the universe and is spent on Breakthroughs — exceptions to the known laws of reality that the genius has come to understand and thus can exploit to seemingly break said laws. (There's probably some sort of Science-based roll to convert the Beat normally earned by the aforementioned Breaking Point into a Beat of Insight.) UPDATE: Insight is gone. Instead, the Investigation rules are used to achieve Breakthroughs, with the caveat that the Clues must be Mind-Blowing; that is, they count as Breaking Points of the “evidence that challenges your view of how the world works” variety.

    Invariably, Breakthroughs require some sort of Unobtanium to manifest: some kind of material or energy that operates outside of the understood framework of science, and which needs to be expended on any working of Breakthrough-enhanced science or engineering. Without suitable Unobtanium, the scientists Skills are limited to what Known Science says they're limited to; with Unobtanium and an appropriate Breakthrough, the Skill can be used to accomplish feats outside Known Science but within the domain of the Breakthrough, known as Innovations. How you acquire Unobtanium needs to be defined, and potentially involves exposure to more Integrity Breaking Points — though I figure that a given Breakthrough immunizes you to Breaking Points that it covers.UPDATE: this notion of Unobtainium has been replaced by a dual-tier arrangement: Unobtainium now refers to some sort of material that's difficult to acquire and generally in limited supply, and is used in the creation of Innovations; it's akin to Arcane Experience or dots of Blood Potency, and serves as a control on mass production of Innovations. Source is more akin to a fuel stat like Essence or Pyros; and while it's esoteric, it can be generated with comparative ease. It is used to fuel appropriate Innovations, letting them function.

    The easiest Innovations involve using Craft to make devices that do the seemingly impossible, largely because it's easy to picture expending Unobtanium on the Innovation: you incorporate it into the Crafting in some way. But practically any Skill can conceivably be the subject of Innovation. UPDATE: Innovations come in three types: Devices, Mods, and Techniques. Devices are items with Mad Science properties; Mods are treatments that can be used to imbue people or animals with Mad Science properties; and Techniques are specialties that exploit Mad Science to achieve seemingly impossible goals. Technically, the ability to create a Device or apply a Mod is a Technique, typically using Crafts or Medicine respectively.

    Innovations always have some sort of downside; see my post later in this thread for more details.


    (To Do: develop a list of sample Breakthroughs and some of their Innovations. Keep both mechanically light, so as to facilitate players coming up with their own. The Breakthroughs might form a “tech tree”, with an assortment of “Shallow Breaktroughs” that are potentially available to any Mad Scientist, and another set of “Deep Breakthroughs” that require the development of other Breakthroughs first.)

    A truly ambitious scientist can seek to expand the bounds of Known Science so that it now encompasses his Breakthrough, making its Innovations available to all. Doing so is a monumental task, the stuff around which whole chronicles are built. I would look to Imperial Mysteries' Imperium rules for inspiration on what it takes to expand Known Science.

    Thoughts?
    Last edited by Dataweaver; 09-23-2019, 12:26 AM.



  • #2
    This is a great take on mad science. I can't help but wonder if the focus on a drive to understand the apparently impossible is going to cause too much conceptual overlap with Mage, but I think keeping it to mortal characters with abilities limited to Known Science + Innovations under the purview of their Breakthroughs should keep them distinct enough. Looking forward to seeing how this develops.


    Going by Willow now, or Wil for short. She/Her/Hers.

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    • #3
      Conceptually, this hews closely to Mage: the Ascension's Ether Science, from the Sons of Ether Tradition Book, Revised: the main thing I changed was to ditch “reality is subjective” as a fundamental assumption. What you're left with is a philosophy of science that ultimately lacks any firm foundation. The other difference is that this is inherent in the world these scientists explore, and is not a case of the scientist using a special power to impose his views on reality. So conceptually, it's somewhere between Ascension and Awakening.

      Mechanically, I was thinking in terms of how scientific progress works, and then applying that to a setting where literally everything and its opposite is possible if you push hard enough. Change Known Science, and you can use this to model someone in a Dark Era inventing things from the future; and as long as you limit your expansions of Known Science to Breakthroughs that are consistent with the historical progress of science, you can write it off as peoples' understanding of reality broadening. OTOH, Breakthroughs that represent fringe science are just as possible, this being the Chronicles of Darkness.


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      • #4
        It looks pretty similar to the 1E promethian minor template we worked on, which means it looks good to me. And I definately think there's room for something like this in the WoD even if you already have Geniuses.

        Just like I want minor templates to allow magic users who're similar to real world magical traditions rather than Willworking an minor mad science template that's laser focused on the gothic elements has it's place.

        Originally posted by Charlaquin View Post
        This is a great take on mad science. I can't help but wonder if the focus on a drive to understand the apparently impossible is going to cause too much conceptual overlap with Mage, but I think keeping it to mortal characters with abilities limited to Known Science + Innovations under the purview of their Breakthroughs should keep them distinct enough. Looking forward to seeing how this develops.
        You mean like how Beast's Hunger is too similar to Vampire's Thirst

        Mage is at heart a game about people who have (too much) power. Mad science, wheather Genius or gothic horror, is at heart a game about people who have too little control. They can't control their minds, their inventions turn against them.

        There's stuff they'll have in common - hubris, a flexible power system, seeking to understand the WoD, but in other ways they're opposites.
        Save
        Last edited by The Kings Raven; 08-17-2016, 02:00 AM.


        “There are no rules. Only Principles and natural laws.” - Promethius
        My Homebrew no longer fits in a signature, you can find an index of it here.
        Full length fan-books I contributed too: Princess: the Hopeful, Leviathan: the Tempest, Dream Catchers

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        • #5
          A sample Breakthrough, in very “alpha” terms:

          Rubber Science: perhaps the most modest of the Breakthroughs, Rubber Science lets you produce impossibly lightweight materials, incredibly fuel-efficient engines and/or unbelievably powerful fuels, inconceivably potent chemicals, etc. — in short, it lets you do anything that Known Science can do, but better. This allows for such pulp staples as the Rocketeer's jet pack, which by all rights would run out of fuel long before completing any of the feats that have been attributed to it.

          And a sample Onubtanium:

          Pyros: the genius has discovered the existence of the Divine Fire, and has some ideas as to how it might be harvested and exploited. Pyros is one example of Unobtanium, and readers familiar with Promethean should be well aware of the troubles of mortals using it.
          Last edited by Dataweaver; 08-17-2016, 02:17 AM.


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          • #6
            “Borrowing” liberally from GURPS Powers: the Weird, some more potential Breakthroughs:

            Automata: machines that move and act on their own.
            GOFAI: Good Old-Fashioned Artificial Intelligence is predicated on the notion that you can simulate intelligence by a sufficiently complex logic engine.
            Nanotechnology: nanotools and nano-materials, among other applications.
            Controlled Evolution
            Mind Modification
            Ontogenetics: the shaping of biological tissue. Shelley's Dr. Frankenstein, Wells' [i]Island of Dr. Moreau[/b], Burroughs' Synthetic Men of Mars, Čapek's R.U.R.
            Para-Energetics: energy fields unknown to modern science. Secret sensors and communications, force fields and blasters, space opera propulsion systems, etc.
            Psychical Research
            Tesseraxis: four-dimensionality
            Transcendental Philosophy: a.k.a., “a Sleeper's Guide to the Supernal”. Taking the Plato's Cave analogy seriously and seeing what you can do with it. (I say “Supernal”; but it's more likely that this Breakthrough would allow for access to and exploration of Astral Space.)
            Xenonucleonics: forms of matter that don't conform to the “nucleus of protons and neutrons surrounded by electron shells” model. Hyperdense matter, metallic hydrogen, strangelets, supercritical fluids, superfluids, etc.

            Obviously, we need our own list; the above is strictly for inspiration. It's also not intended to be comprehensive; just illustrative of how diverse Breakthroughs ought to be.
            Last edited by Dataweaver; 08-17-2016, 02:54 AM.


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            • #7
              It's not really in the vein of mad science, but I kinda like the idea of a system where you actually are building up a foundation of fictional science.

              Or, more to the point, "Yes, I understand why your mad scientist's philosophy of science has no firm foundation, but I kinda wonder how we could make one anyways."

              ...

              Actually, a Demon Cipher-style combination of Breakthroughs might work for that... I kinda want it to be more complex, though.


              I call the Integrity-analogue the "subjective stat".
              An explanation how to use Social Manuevering.
              Guanxi Explanations: 1, 2, 3.

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              • #8
                Originally posted by Dataweaver View Post
                Pyros: the genius has discovered the existence of the Divine Fire, and has some ideas as to how it might be harvested and exploited. Pyros is one example of Unobtanium, and readers familiar with Promethean should be well aware of the troubles of mortals using it.
                Of the other supernatural energies, Aether, Essence, and Sekhem seem like they could also be unobtania - the rest seem a bit too supernatural heavy.

                I like this as a framework, though. Ironically, it's also not far off of how I would have liked to see mages.

                Originally posted by Errol216 View Post
                It's not really in the vein of mad science, but I kinda like the idea of a system where you actually are building up a foundation of fictional science.
                ...
                Actually, a Demon Cipher-style combination of Breakthroughs might work for that... I kinda want it to be more complex, though.
                And once you have made it through the cypher-alike, you've amassed enough understanding of the principles that others can replicate and build on your work? That sounds like it could be an endgame thing.


                Last edited by SunlessNick; 08-17-2016, 09:45 AM.

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                • #9
                  Originally posted by Errol216 View Post
                  It's not really in the vein of mad science, but I kinda like the idea of a system where you actually are building up a foundation of fictional science.

                  Or, more to the point, “Yes, I understand why your mad scientist's philosophy of science has no firm foundation, but I kinda wonder how we could make one anyways.”
                  It's doomed to failure; because as soon as you establish a firm foundation of what is and isn't possible, you've established that some Breakthroughs aren't possible. And that runs directly counter to the spirit of this approach to mad science.

                  EDIT: In particular, while this may have been inspired by a Mage: the Ascension supplement, it differs from Ascension's philosophy in a fundamental way: it's not about belief shaping reality. It's about revealing hidden truths, with the ultimate truth being that everything (including contradictory things) is ultimately possible.

                  In this regard, it's conceptually a lot like Mage: the Awakening — except that its equivalent to the Lie isn't “you are powerless”; it's that “the world makes sense”.

                  But by all means, have your mad scientists pursue such a goal. As I stated up front, that's a common reaction to the first few Breakthroughs: if you just look hard enough, you're bound to find the solid grounding that you seek.
                  Last edited by Dataweaver; 08-17-2016, 11:42 AM.


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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Dataweaver View Post
                    It's doomed to failure; because as soon as you establish a firm foundation of what is and isn't possible, you've established that some Breakthroughs aren't possible. And that runs directly counter to the spirit of this approach to mad science.

                    But by all means, have your mad scientists pursue such a goal. As I stated up front, that's a common reaction to the first few Breakthroughs: if you just look hard enough, you're bound to find the solid grounding that you seek.
                    Just over the next hill. Or the one after that. Or...


                    So, are Breakthroughs handled like exotic Specialties, then?


                    Malkydel: "And the Machine dictated; let there be adequate illumination."
                    Yossarian: "And lo, it was optimal."

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                    • #11
                      Kind of, yes. They don't give you dice bonuses, and they're not necessarily limited to a single skill each. But they do expand what skills can do; so in that sense, they could be thought of as exotic Specialties.

                      And just like Promethean 2e's Distillations aren't discrete, independent powers, but are instead ways that an Alembic can manifest, so too with Innovations: you obtain a Breakthrough, and you gain access to all of its Innovations (which I envision as being like the Sample Actions in Chronicles of Darkness' Skill write-ups, pp.31–43, or the Common Actions write-ups on pp.70–72, with the main difference being that each Innovation includes an Unobtainium Cost). Actually, the Innovations are a lot more like Specialties than the Breakthroughs are.
                      Last edited by Dataweaver; 08-17-2016, 12:02 PM.


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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Dataweaver View Post
                        It's doomed to failure; because as soon as you establish a firm foundation of what is and isn't possible, you've established that some Breakthroughs aren't possible. And that runs directly counter to the spirit of this approach to mad science.

                        EDIT: In particular, while this may have been inspired by a Mage: the Ascension supplement, it differs from Ascension's philosophy in a fundamental way: it's not about belief shaping reality. It's about revealing hidden truths, with the ultimate truth being that everything (including contradictory things) is ultimately possible.

                        In this regard, it's conceptually a lot like Mage: the Awakening — except that its equivalent to the Lie isn't “you are powerless”; it's that “the world makes sense”.

                        But by all means, have your mad scientists pursue such a goal. As I stated up front, that's a common reaction to the first few Breakthroughs: if you just look hard enough, you're bound to find tmi he solid grounding that you seek.
                        Sounds like the symbolic tension of an adept school in UA.

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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by SunlessNick View Post
                          Of the other supernatural energies, Aether, Essence, and Sekhem seem like they could also be unobtania - the rest seem a bit too supernatural heavy.
                          Tass comes to mind. Sleepers messing with the stuff is already part of the setting.


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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Michael View Post

                            Tass comes to mind. Sleepers messing with the stuff is already part of the setting.
                            Plasm. Because how else are you going to have Ghostbusters?


                            Malkydel: "And the Machine dictated; let there be adequate illumination."
                            Yossarian: "And lo, it was optimal."

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                            • #15
                              Note that while various supernatural fuel stats are viable candidates for Unobtainium, they're hardly the only, or even the most prominent, possibilities. But yeah; ghost busters would definitely be a thing.


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