These are some rules I’ve been using in my home-brew pulp game. They certainly don’t originate with me. They are a combination of ideas lifted from http://kellri.truculent.org/WEIRD%20SCIENCE.pdf and https://sites.google.com/site/moochava/genius, mashed together and adapted to fit pulp play.
Weird Science Rules
The theory of Weird Science
Weird science achieves the impossible. While it is possible to MacGuyver a hot air balloon from scraps found in the rubble of an earthquake devastated city using standard science skills, a machine that can look into the aether and allow communication with ghosts requires something more – 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 the attempt 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, the “spark” (a skill that can be exercised in the effect’s creation – such as gadgeteering), a catalyst (some kind of machine, chemical compound, pill etc that the genius invents to activate the effect) and a functional hypothesis to explain the effect.
For example the genius might use his/her gadgeteering skill (spark) to develop an antigravity device (catalyst) 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 (hypothesis). 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 (catalyst) works. He or she may theorise that the effect of gravity is in fact due to laziness and that efforts to resist gravity are due to bloody-mindedness (hypothesis). Having created a working antigravity device (catalyst) on this basis the genius must thereafter believe to his or her dying day in the essential sentience of all things and must engage in a form of mechanically augmented persuasion of objects to engage in a bloody-minded defiance of their own inherent laziness in order 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.
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 persuasion 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 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.
The following is a (non-comprehensive) list of general categories of potential catalysts (that can be combined in a variety of ways to achieve most potential desired effects);
Information discovery and communication (scrying devices, detectors, communication devices and effects etc).
- Information discovery and communication (scrying devices, detectors, communication devices and effects etc).
- Independence (artificial intelligence, self-motivation, enhanced intelligence, life to non-living matter, etc).
- Control (mind-control, remote control machinery, automation, drones, remote-piloting vehicles etc).
- Restoration (corrective surgery, medicines, regrowing limbs, etc).
- Destruction (weapons, explosives, nano-termites, acids, etc).
- Transformation (transgenics, hybridization, cybernetics, matter transmutation, etc).
- Protection (energy shields, armors, protective alloys or synthetics, etc).
- Transportation (spacecraft, teleportation devices, jet-packs, etc).
Note : This list is just a guide and does not prevent you from adding your own categories.
Every catalyst has five attributes; It must have a power source, a unique component, a size, at least one (or more) limitations, and a dangerous side effect that occurs if the attempt at the skill use fails.
These are randomly generated. They are the requirements made plain to the “scientist” at the moment of inspiration and revelation that lead to the discovery of the effect.
To determine the power source required roll 2d10
To determine the essential component roll 2d10
To determine the size of the catalyst roll 1d10
To determine the catalyst’s limitations roll 1d10
|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|
To determine the side effects of failure while using the catalyst roll 1d10
|1||Catalyst breaks down requiring 1d6 weeks to repair before resuming|
|2||catalyst 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 ½ 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)|
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.
Now having decided on his hypothesis (“phrenologically directed skull surgery can produce mental and anatomical alterations in subjects”) there are still a number of details to be sorted out. A catalyst is required – in this case let us suppose that Dr Moreau decides he needs a specific kind of mechanical scalpel to employ during the surgery. These delicate and dangerous operations cannot be completed with it. In order to construct the catalyst he requires inspiration. This inspiration is a mental blueprint for the catalyst’s construction that is mapped by rolling against the catalyst attribute tables above.
For example, Dr Moreau, in a flash of inspiration, realises that he must create a Cryonic Energy driven Scalpel (he rolled 10 on the power source table). The scalpel will require a custom built microprocessor that, if damaged, would render the surgery ineffective (he rolled 4 on the essential component table). The generator that feeds the cryonic energy to the scalpel will need to be gigantic – big enough to fill a small room (he rolled a 9 for size and, deciding a gigantic scalpel would not have made much sense, required that the scalpel should be hooked up to a gigantic Cryonic Energy generator). The catalyst will, unfortunately, be extremely difficult and complicated to use, requiring the setting of many gauges and the adjustment of a vast bank of switches (he rolled a 9 on the limitations table). Should he fail in the application of his surgery skill, Dr Moreau’s scalpel will break down, requiring 6 weeks to repair (he rolled a 1 on the side-effects table).
Having built the catalyst, 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).
The following is a list of Weird Science gizmos that may provide inspiration to Weird Science characters;
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