Recently, my players assaulted the stronghold of some high level dudes. These dudes were traitors to The Internet, which is a secret society of technowizards, who keep their knowledge of science and technology hidden from the masses. When these traitorous dudes left, they absconded with some technology, and so I figured it would make sense for them to also have absconded with some low level science guys.
As the players were hacking and slashing their way through this stronghold, they came across a number of these scientists, and decided to tie them up and leave them in the relative safety of an empty meeting room. Their intent was to drag these scientists back to their own stronghold, which has left me to wonder: what can players do with a cadre of scientists?
I imagine ORWA as the adult version of a saturday morning science fiction cartoon. So, what are scientists for in a saturday-morning context?
They exist to solve problems, usually by making cool stuff. Ergo, that’s what scientists in ORWA will do.
In order for scientists to function properly, they must have a fully outfitted lab to work in. A lab costs 2,000cc for each scientist it supports. So, if you have a 10,000cc lab, and you have 6 scientists, you can only gain the benefits of 5 of them. You’ll need to add on to the lab before that 6th scientist can contribute.
Once they’ve got a lab to work in, players may assign their scientists a project. They can work on any idea that seems to make sense, but the most attractive projects will probably involve inventing a new device, or improving upon an old device. In either case, the project should feel like a single step forward, and the referee is entitled to reject anything too ambitious. If the game is set in a world where the most advanced form of transport is the horse and buggy, scientists won’t be able to make an intergalactic space ship. But they may be able to develop a Model T.
After the players have decided what they want their scientists to work on, the referee must decide on a cost, and a difficulty.
Costs will vary, but should be pretty high. In fiction terms, science is expensive, with lots of custom, high-precision tools and materials involved. In game terms, the ability to advance the technology of the game world should be a strain on player resources. It’s something for high level players to pool their effort on.
Difficulty is based on how complex the referee thinks the problem will be to solve, and determines how long it will be before the project is completed. A good baseline for most projects would be a difficulty of 100. Particularly simple or complex projects may modify this up or down.
When the project is begun, the scientists will begin chipping away at the problem. Each haven turn, the difficulty number will be reduced by the number of scientists working on the project. So, if your difficulty is 100, and you’ve got 9 scientists, then after 1 haven turn the difficulty will be reduced to 91. After two haven turns, it’s down to 82, and so on, and so forth. Once the difficulty reaches 0, the project is done, and the results will be made available to the players.
The referee should assign it a price to any new technologies. The players get a free prototype for funding the project, but any extras they want will need to be purchased. As the game goes on, new technologies will probably begin to spread through the game world, unless the players make a specific effort to keep their inventions secret.
During the long game-months that the project is being worked on, the referee can figure out how the new technology will work. Basically, we’re talking about a Wish here. The players have free reign to ask for whatever they want, and it’s up for to the referee to interpret that in an interesting way.
However, contrary to my views on how a wish should be handled, I think referees should flex their “omnipotent dickhole” muscles here. Fuck with the players a bit by making their new technology work differently than they intended. That may sound hypocritical of me, but there are two major difference between scientists and wishes which make all the difference.
First, wishes are limited. Players are usually lucky to get just a few in their adventuring careers. It’s something special, and the referee shouldn’t take it away from them. Scientists, on the other hand, are an inexhaustible resource. As soon as they’re done with one technology, you can have them moving on to the next one.
Second, when players make a wish, it’s often about altering themselves in some way. If they wish for cool claw hands, and you give them crab claws that make them incapable of holding anything, then their character is basically ruined. With technology, if they ask for a death ray and you give them a weapon that kills whoever uses it, then they can just choose not use it. Or, they can try to find some way to make it useful. Or, if they really don’t like it, they can just set their scientists to the problem of fixing it, and eventually get what they want.
So every new technology will have some significant drawbacks to it. Limitations that make it less useful than the players were maybe hoping for, but still a good tool if they’re willing to get creative, or take some risks. If they try to make a teleporter, for example, don’t give them something that always teleports people into deep space. But maybe the teleporter is bad at reassembling faces, so every time you use it, you lose 1 charisma.
Then, if the players don’t like it, they can immediately hand the device right back to the scientists, and insist that whatever flaw upsets them be corrected. This, of course, will require a new cost, a new difficulty number, and a new countdown of haven turns before the device is ready.
In the end, my players decided to make an alliance with the big bad guys whose citadel they were invading. Part of the negotiations involved returning all the scientists they’d captured. Which is kind of a bummer, because I’d already come up with this whole subsystem that I was getting really excited about.
So now I’ve gotta stuff some scientists into the treasure chests of my next dungeon, or something.