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Old 03-07-2019, 09:54 AM   #1
Michael Thayne
 
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Default Skills to build the Nautilus (and similar revolutionary vehicles)

The release of the latest book in the Steampunk series got me thinking about how you'd stat up a Captain Nemo expy. Presumably the Nautilus is an Amazing invention, so by the inventing rules it seems like Nemo needs skill 21+ to invent it. Accordingly, GURPS Adaptations gives Nemo Engineer (Electrical)-21. But shouldn't he also have Engineer (Submarine)-21? It seems like he needs both. On the one hand, the Nautilus' batteries seem like they qualify as an Amazing invention in their own right. On the other hand, it's not like Nemo just took an existing sub design and added special batteries, so the Nautilus itself is a second Amazing invention.

This seems like a common problem for a certain type of fictional character. For example, Star Trek's Zefram Cochrane might need both Engineer (Spacecraft)-21 and Engineer (Warp Drive)-21. Builders of backyard moon rockets might need one skill to design the powerful engine that enables SSTO craft, and another skill for the rest of the design. Something similar might apply to builders of giant mecha (though I'm not well-enough versed in that genre to be sure what the relevant skills are).

Is this analysis correct? Or is there some way you could justify giving such characters just one Engineer specialty at level 21, and let them rely on defaults for the rest of it?
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Old 03-07-2019, 10:23 AM   #2
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Default Re: Skills to build the Nautilus (and similar revolutionary vehicles)

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Originally Posted by Michael Thayne View Post
This seems like a common problem for a certain type of fictional character. For example, Star Trek's Zefram Cochrane might need both Engineer (Spacecraft)-21 and Engineer (Warp Drive)-21.
Cochrane strapped his warp engines (and a crew capsule) to an ICBM, the modifications would not be quite as involved as a completely new design. Incidentally, all the early manned missions were also a crew capsule stuck on a ballistic missile (or a close derivative thereof).
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Old 03-07-2019, 10:58 AM   #3
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Default Re: Skills to build the Nautilus (and similar revolutionary vehicles)

I think the answer to questions like this will depend heavily on how important the GM wants to make an invention in the campaign. If it's just supposed to be a background thing, something the character has but doesn't worry too much about, one roll is fine, against whatever skill would be used for the most complex part of the device. In the Nautilus' case, I suppose that probably would be a tie between the batteries and the submarine as a whole, so I'd let the player choose either Engineer (Submarine) or Engineer (Electrical).

However, in cases where the process of invention is going to be more important, the GM can break things down a bit further, to ensure that there's plenty of opportunities to test prototypes, work out bugs, etc. In that case, it's better to treat a big, complex device as several smaller, less-complex inventions. For the Nautilus, I'd probably still rate the batteries as an Amazing invention, but the rest of the sub would probably rate as a few Complex or Average inventions - probably Complex for the basic "submerge and resurface at will" ability, and Average for things like storing air and the motive systems.

Of course, if you're trying to emulate Verne's works specifically, I'd lean more towards the first approach than the second - Verne tends to treat the big vehicle as an established fact in his stories, something to justify the plot, and rarely has the person who designed/built it display other feats of amazing invention. It's been a long, long time since I read 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, but I don't remember Nemo ever inventing new submarine or battery technology during the actual story.
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Old 03-07-2019, 10:58 AM   #4
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Default Re: Skills to build the Nautilus (and similar revolutionary vehicles)

I'd suggest you look more at the application and less than the components. If Nemo developed a power system that can only run his sub, he might have groundwork for other battery systems hasn't made them functional without the conditions of the Nautilus yet. Inventing a high tech battery implies you can use in multiple inventions, not only to run one sub under specific conditions.

One an entirely separate note, the Nautilus was more of a fiat to be able to explore areas. As I recall Nemo didn't do a lot of other inventing or technical wizardry during his time as a character onscreen. I'd consider him highly specialized with indepth knowledge on how to build/repair a Nautilus. He doesn't necessarily need the skills to develop different inventions or even different kinds of subs.
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Old 03-07-2019, 11:10 AM   #5
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Default Re: Skills to build the Nautilus (and similar revolutionary vehicles)

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Originally Posted by Michael Thayne View Post
The release of the latest book in the Steampunk series got me thinking about how you'd stat up a Captain Nemo expy. Presumably the Nautilus is an Amazing invention, so by the inventing rules it seems like Nemo needs skill 21+ to invent it. Accordingly, GURPS Adaptations gives Nemo Engineer (Electrical)-21. But shouldn't he also have Engineer (Submarine)-21? It seems like he needs both. On the one hand, the Nautilus' batteries seem like they qualify as an Amazing invention in their own right. On the other hand, it's not like Nemo just took an existing sub design and added special batteries, so the Nautilus itself is a second Amazing invention.

This seems like a common problem for a certain type of fictional character. For example, Star Trek's Zefram Cochrane might need both Engineer (Spacecraft)-21 and Engineer (Warp Drive)-21.
No, because he's establishing the skill of Engineer (Warp Drive). Before him, it doesn't exist. The first guy to do something can't be said to have a skill, he's creating that skill, at whatever level he has it.
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Old 03-07-2019, 11:27 AM   #6
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Default Re: Skills to build the Nautilus (and similar revolutionary vehicles)

I wasn't actually writing up Nemo in full, but offering him as an example of the kind of character who would have really incredible skills.

The Nautilus itself doesn't seem to involve radical physical principles. It has an outer hull, an inner hull, a space between that can be flooded to control buoyancy, and steel structural elements; all of that is comparable to actual new inventions of the later 19th century. There were even experimental steam powered warships equipped with rams! So I would call the Nautilus a Complex invention, but not an Amazing one. And that would require Nemo to be really good at Engineer (Submarines), but not a transcendental genius. Though he might have been!
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Old 03-07-2019, 11:49 AM   #7
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Default Re: Skills to build the Nautilus (and similar revolutionary vehicles)

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Originally Posted by RyanW View Post
Cochrane strapped his warp engines (and a crew capsule) to an ICBM, the modifications would not be quite as involved as a completely new design. Incidentally, all the early manned missions were also a crew capsule stuck on a ballistic missile (or a close derivative thereof).
Not quite "strapped", I just re-watched the relevant clip from First Contact and the engines actually start inside the second stage of the missile, and are later extended on moveable arms after reaching space. Cochrane did start with an ICBM but the missile's second stage appears to have been extensively re-engineered.

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Originally Posted by naloth View Post
I'd suggest you look more at the application and less than the components. If Nemo developed a power system that can only run his sub, he might have groundwork for other battery systems hasn't made them functional without the conditions of the Nautilus yet. Inventing a high tech battery implies you can use in multiple inventions, not only to run one sub under specific conditions.
Hmmm, maybe. The description for the Mechanic skill is explicit that it covers the vehicle's "motive system" and "power plant". The description for the Engineer skill is less explicit. Nemo does have other electronic gadgetry but those might not qualify as Amazing inventions, so maybe he has something like Engineer (Submarine)-21, with 4 points spent on Engineer (Electrical)-18, bought up from default.

Quote:
One an entirely separate note, the Nautilus was more of a fiat to be able to explore areas. As I recall Nemo didn't do a lot of other inventing or technical wizardry during his time as a character onscreen. I'd consider him highly specialized with indepth knowledge on how to build/repair a Nautilus. He doesn't necessarily need the skills to develop different inventions or even different kinds of subs.
It's certainly true that the Nautilus is a plot device, but it would be weird to assume Nemo can only create the specific inventions described in the novel. I think you've hit on a real problem with handling fictional super-inventors in GURPS. A lot of what they do is a matter of authorial fiat. Those fiats raise a whole lot of questions, but novels and screenwriters can get away with ignoring them. But if you're playing a character in an RPG, it's natural to want answers to those questions.

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Originally Posted by Johnny1A.2 View Post
No, because he's establishing the skill of Engineer (Warp Drive). Before him, it doesn't exist. The first guy to do something can't be said to have a skill, he's creating that skill, at whatever level he has it.
Eh, it's weird. The development process shown for the Phoenix is wildly unrealistic. Really Cochrane should have started with a simple laboratory model of his warp drive, followed by unmanned probes, and culminating in manned warp flight. Even with Gadgeteer, I feel like a character who can skip that whole process probably needs the skill, even if it's totally inexplicable how he got the skill.

(Incidentally, does GURPS have rules for inventing new skills? I thought it might, but I can't find them.)
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Old 03-07-2019, 11:53 AM   #8
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Default Re: Skills to build the Nautilus (and similar revolutionary vehicles)

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Originally Posted by whswhs View Post
I wasn't actually writing up Nemo in full, but offering him as an example of the kind of character who would have really incredible skills.

The Nautilus itself doesn't seem to involve radical physical principles. It has an outer hull, an inner hull, a space between that can be flooded to control buoyancy, and steel structural elements; all of that is comparable to actual new inventions of the later 19th century. There were even experimental steam powered warships equipped with rams! So I would call the Nautilus a Complex invention, but not an Amazing one. And that would require Nemo to be really good at Engineer (Submarines), but not a transcendental genius. Though he might have been!
This runs into an issue with the gadgeteering rules—it suggests setting complexity based on price, but that means large vehicles will almost always be Amazing. Re-reading the rules, though, this is technically phrased as just a suggestion: "This is entirely up to the GM, who can assign complexity arbitrarily, base it on the minimum skill level required to come up with the invention, or relate it to the retail price of the item (especially for gadgets listed in worldbooks or real-world catalogs)." Oddly, this suggests you're supposed to derive complexity from minimum skill level, not the other way around, whereas until now I had been reading this as price -> complexity -> minimum skill level.
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Old 03-07-2019, 12:02 PM   #9
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Default Re: Skills to build the Nautilus (and similar revolutionary vehicles)

From the way the Nautilus could operate at any depth and for incredible lengths of time, it seems to outperform vehicles two or even three TLs above it. I have no problems declaring that it is positively filled to the brim with Amazing inventions. Nor do I have any problems giving a character like Captain Nemo multiple Engineering specialities at skill 21+ in a setting which is otherwise realistic or something like Science!, Inventor! or Submariner! at skill 21+ in a setting using Bang! skills.
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Old 03-07-2019, 12:50 PM   #10
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Default Re: Skills to build the Nautilus (and similar revolutionary vehicles)

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Originally Posted by Icelander View Post
From the way the Nautilus could operate at any depth and for incredible lengths of time, it seems to outperform vehicles two or even three TLs above it. I have no problems declaring that it is positively filled to the brim with Amazing inventions.
You can look at it that way. But you can also look at it as "Verne didn't realize the physical limitations of real structures," just as he didn't realize the limited energy content of primary batteries or the lethal effects of high accelerations. "Advanced technology" and "author ignorance" aren't equivalent.
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