Monday, April 12, 2010

On Science

My last post mentioned a scientist. This is a class I came up with as an alternative to the magic-user. Essentially, I got on a "turn-literary-archetypes-into-classes" kick, and this was one of the results. It was never play-tested, so maybe we'll technically call this one an NPC class.

The scientist is an NPC dedicated to understanding the World of Nod and its bizarre, supernatural physics and applying this knowledge to the discovery and creation of new inventions. In laymen’s terms, what the magic-user does with spells, the scientist does with gadgets, gizmos and chemical formulas.

Scientists have been a staple of pulp fiction for a century, though they are most often encountered in “Sword & Planet” and “Scientifiction”, as it was once called. The archetypal scientist is an older man with a brilliant mind and a collection of fantastic inventions that help the hero of the story (which is sometimes him, but more often not) overcome obstacles. Just as wizards often play the role of villain in “Sword & Sorcery” stories, the mad or evil scientist is often the antagonist to the heroic swordsman’s protagonist.

Although one could draw inspiration from any number of the “natural philosophers” of the Middle Ages and Renaissance, no person better exemplifies the scientist we are seeking to create than Leonardo Da Vinci. Had he only lived in a fictional, fantastic world such as Nod, Da Vinci might have invented any number of mechanical contrivances.

Benjamin Franklin is the next major inspiration for our scientific adventurers, not the least of which because he “discovered” electricity (or “electrical fluid” as it was called in the 18th century) and invented and named the battery which serves as the foundation for our scientist’s make-believe inventions.

The original mad scientist in literature was Victor Frankenstein from Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus. Victor Frankenstein discovers the ability to return life to dead tissue and in the process creates the first flesh golem, though rather than being a mindless automaton, Frankenstein’s creature is quite intelligent.

As a counterpoint to the mad scientist, one need only look to Dr. Hans Zarkov, comrade of “Flash” Gordon. Over the course of the Flash Gordon comic strips, movies and books, Zarkov invents flying machines and invisibility rays, all while assisting his erstwhile ally in defending the Earth from the depredations of Emperor Ming.

The following is open game content.

Prime Attributes: Intelligence, 13+ (5% experience)
Hit Dice: 1d4/level (Gains 1 hp/level after 10th.)
Armor/Shield Permitted: None.
Weapon Permitted: Dagger, club, staff, dart, light crossbow.

Scientists begin play with one small invention or three formulas (see below) and only 1d6 x 10 gp to spend on equipment. They must own a journal, their equivalent to the magic-user's spell book.

Scientists spend most of their lives reading books and absorbing all sorts of knowledge and wisdom. At the Referee’s discretion, the scientist can recall old legends and/or lore on the roll of 1-2 on 1d6. In addition, they can make a saving throw in order to recall, understand or learn a new language (regardless of their intelligence score or the number of languages they already know).

A scientist’s powers of observation give them an improved chance of noticing secret or concealed doors and detecting the presence of noxious gases (i.e. detect on a roll of 1-2 on 1d6). Unfortunately, a scientist’s fascination with minutia makes them more likely to be surprised than others.

A scientist is capable of brewing formulas (i.e. potions) and discovering and creating new inventions (see below).

When a scientist reaches 9th level (genius) he will attract a level 1 scientist as his lab assistant if he builds a laboratory overlooking a major metropolitan area.

Inventions & Formulas
Scientists are capable of building machines and brewing chemical formulas that duplicate the effect of magic-user spells. Formulas are single-use items that work exactly like potions. Inventions are multiple use items that must be powered by “batteries” of the sort Ben Franklin invented (or miniature versions of the same). An invention can be used 1 time plus 1 time per scientist level minus the level of the duplicated spell before it must be recharged over night.

Before a scientist can brew a formula or build an invention, he must discover how to do so. This process of discovery cost 1,000 gp per spell level to be duplicated for standard spells, and 2,000 gp per spell level for entirely new creations. One week is required per spell level, with a chance of success equal to 25% plus 5% per level of the scientist minus 10% per level of the spell. The maximum chance of success is 95%.

Inventions and formulas must be discovered separately, even if they have the same effect.

Inventions come in three sizes: Small, Medium and Large. Small inventions can be held in one hand and rarely weigh more than 10 pounds. Medium sized inventions can be moved about clumsily by man-sized creatures using both their hands. A medium-sized invention uses 10 times the materials of a small invention, and costs 10 times as much to build. A large invention will fit (or nearly fit) inside a 10’ x 10’ room. Large inventions use 100 times the materials of small inventions, and cost 100 times as much to build. Formulas are treated as small inventions and weigh as much a standard coin or gem.

The level of spell a scientist can "fit" into an invention of a given size is as follows:

  • Scientists of level one to three can fit level one spells into small inventions, level two spells into medium inventions and level three spells into large inventions.
  • Scientists of level four to six can fit level one and two spells into small inventions, level three spells into medium inventions and level four spells into large inventions.
  • Scientists of level seven to nine can fit level one to three spells into small inventions, level four spells into medium inventions and level five spells into large inventions.
  • Scientist of level ten to twelve can fit level one to four spells into small inventions, level five spells into medium inventions and level six spells into large inventions.

Brewing a formula costs 25 gp times the spell level times the level of the scientist. A level one formula brewed by a level three scientist, for example, costs 25 x 1 x 3 gp, or 75 gp, to concoct. A level four formula brewed by a level nine scientist costs 25 x 4 x 9 gp, or 900 gp, to concoct. The Referee may want to create a list of rare ingredients for each formula the scientist discovers in lieu of the scientist just making a check.

Inventions cost 500 gp per spell level to create, and their manufacture requires five days plus two days per spell level. Thus, an invention that duplicates the level two spell acid arrow would cost 1,000 gp and require nine days of work to realize.

Players and Referees should come up with fantastic, quasi-scientific names for a scientist’s inventions, whether they are inspired by the natural philosophers of the Renaissance or the mad scientists from pulp fiction.

LevelExperienceHit DiceAttackSaveTitle
11750,000+1 hp
121,000,000+2 hp

S&W Format
Hit Dice: 1d6-1 per level, +1 hit point per level after level 9

LevelExperienceHit DiceAttackSaveTitle
10430,000+1 hp
11580,000+2 hp
12730,000+3 hp


  1. I very much like the sizes of inventions and interactions with spell / scientist level.

  2. I figured that if you're trying to make an alternate magic-user, you need to figure out an alternate way to limit spell use. So, in place of Vancian slots, I thought size and expense might work. Glad you liked it.


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