This next series of posts are coming as a direct request from our Discord server. There are some specific questions to address that we’ll get to as we go through, but the overall theme here is: how do Weird Scientists work?
There are quite a few things we can cover on the subject, or any Profession really, and I’m figuring I’ll stretch it out into a few posts. Not so much because it requires that much information to play one (I’ll probably cover the majority of the game play mechanics in a single post), but more because there are a lot of options and fluff you can use for role playing and world building. This first post is going to be more of a general overview of the concept behind the Profession and how they fit into the lore of the world and into a game.
In general terms, Weird Scientists are enchanters. They craft devices that have some sort of supernatural effect, be it a one-time use, ongoing, or anywhere in between. The devices they make can realistically be anything, though the main ones are gizmos and gadgets for the Herons, potions for the Newtonians, and creatures for the Prometheans (we’ll get further into the Schools in later posts).
Mechanically, Weird Scientists use magic for their creations, but from their own perspective, they aren’t magical practitioners at all. Their practice is based on an established scientific field of study, and rooted in the scientific method. What separates them from the traditional members of their field is that they are not opposed to delving into methods that have previously been deemed as unreliable, unorthodox, or in some cases, morally reprehensible. Newtonians, for example, use alchemy, which historically preceded modern day chemistry. Chemistry cast aside those older methods and ideas that could not be completed, or which could not be done with predictable repetition. The Newtonians still follow those discarded methods, believing there is still potential in them, and many believing that they might be able to get their results to become predictable and reliable as defined in the guidelines of mainstream chemistry if they could just get it right.
The principles that guide the Weird Scientist Profession, and indeed, the Weird Scientists themselves, tie directly into one of the primary guiding thematic principles of our magic system: belief creates reality. The stronger a person believes in something, and the more people they can get to also believe in it, magic will step in and make that belief real. It’s important to note that not only does this principle apply to the results of magic, but also to the method by which one gets to that result. A shaman might call upon ancestral spirits to strike at one of their enemies. A priest will pray to their respective deity to smite them. A mage might gather and channel elemental power to direct at them. All have different methods, but the end result is the same, and the beliefs those practitioners have drive not only the end effect, but how the effect happens (this, by the way, is why we have base spells and KAVs in game).
With Weird Scientists, because their belief structure is based in their scientific roots, which are in turn tied to understanding the physical world, do not cast spells the same way any other magician would. Since their beliefs are tied to physical reality, they need a physical medium to channel that power through. It’s similar to a magician needing components or a ritual to perform their spells, just taken to a further level. The additional elements help the practitioner to focus their mind and to believe that the magic they’re calling on will work. When early practitioners have greater success with certain elements to their spells, news spreads and others try it, and because they believe those elements will give them greater success, they do, until eventually no one can repeat the spell at all without them. For the Weird Scientist, what a magician would call spell components or rituals, they call experimental materials and methods.
In terms of how Weird Scientists fit into a game and into a party, they’re preppers and planners. If you’re going into dodge job where you have to break into a vault that gets electrified when the alarm is tripped, or exploring an area with an extremely cold climate and need a way to keep warm, or are mounting an expedition into territory with dangerous beasts and need a way to mask your scent, a Weird Scientist can whip something up that will fill that need and make your job a whole lot easier. Some of their devices may need special material components to function properly or be made more quickly or easily, which is a huge boon for Game Masters looking for a side quest (particularly if you need something simple to keep your players busy for a little bit while you finish up the main plot). They do need some down time in order to perform their crafting, and they’re not as capable if they’re caught without time to prepare, but they can get you out of some really niche situations. You know all those theoretical arguments about who would win in a fight, and the question always comes up regarding how much time do the opponents have to prepare? That question is essential for the Weird Scientist.
Thematically it’s also worth noting that since the Weird Scientists are operating at the extreme fringes of their fields, socially they’re not always looked upon favorably. They are often seen as crackpots and lunatics by their scientific peers. Older Weird Scientists are frequently seen as having gone senile with age, and younger Weird Scientists are depicted as undisciplined and foolish dreamers chasing fanciful ideas with no basis in reality (and for some, these descriptions may hold true to varying degrees). The fact that, with the return of magic, Weird Scientists actually do get some results with their experiments, matters little to many. Even when they are successful, the results are unpredictable at best, and frequently dangerous. Proper science requires rigid discipline and repetition, so that results can be obtained predictably and consistently, and that is simply not the case with magic (even if the Weird Scientists don’t think they’re using magic at all). For the time period, many principles of even traditional science are still new discoveries and not fully tested or established in the culture yet, so for the average person, they may not be able to tell the difference between a Weird Scientist and a traditional scientist at all. This of course drives the traditional scientists even further against the Weird Scientists, particularly when one of their experiments goes awry and the press fails to make the distinction.
Stories are driven by conflict, and these potential conflicts make Weird Scientists fantastic story drivers. A player with a Weird Scientist character could be out to make a name for themselves and prove their methodologies are valid even against the tides of their community and peers, taking up adventuring to do so. Or they may have originally been a traditionalist but stumbled across something supernatural and simply can’t bring themselves to argue with the results, and are journeying out to learn more about it. Or they may even be hiding their true nature due to the social pressures they face and take up with an adventuring party to pay the bills and provide them with some cover if they’re ever discovered. As NPCs, they make fantastic quest givers, sending adventuring parties out to bring back exotic components or esoteric knowledge, or as contacts to craft obscure devices the group needs to get around a particular obstacle. Given that the things they make may only work for a short duration, they’re also great for testing out new ideas. If you want to test out a new mechanic in play without having to completely derail your game, have a Weird Scientist create a limited use item for it and hire the party to test it out as a one-off. If it works, the party can obtain more, or find another way to simulate the same effect. If it doesn’t, have the Weird Scientist take it back to the drawing board.
Alright, I think that should give us a good grounding to start off with. Next week I’m going to plan to start getting into more of the game mechanics and how Weird Scientist crafting actually works in game, though I’ll probably also save portions of that for how it relates to specific Schools when we get to those.
Has any of this given you any inspiration for your game, or have you already used Weird Scientists in one? Do you have any other questions you’d like me to address in these blog posts? Let us know on Discord, and we’ll see you next week!