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Old 11-08-2014, 06:37 AM   #1
johndallman
 
Join Date: Oct 2010
Location: Cambridge, UK
Default [Basic] Skill of the week: Chemistry

Chemistry is an IQ/Hard scientific skill, defaulting to IQ-6 or Alchemy-3. A chemist can identify elements and compounds, but not necessarily drugs (Pharmacy), magical substances (Alchemy or Thaumatology), metal alloys (Metalurgy), and so on. With equipment, he can analyse and prepare lots of substances. Chemistry has lots of potential for optional specialisations and is used as an example for this in Basic and PU6. Discriminatory Taste is more useful with Chemistry skill and Colour Blindness gives -1 to Chemistry.

GURPS seems to lack Engineer (Chemical), which would be the skill for designing equipment for large-scale chemical processing (it tends to be quite specialised) or making a really good mess blowing up a chemical factory or an oil refinery. Engineer (Materials) can have Chemistry as a perquisite, and can default to Chemistry, but doesn't seem to be quite the same thing. Explosives (Fireworks), Metallurgy, Pharmacy (Synthetic) and Poisons also have defaults to Chemistry.

Chemistry is quite dependent on equipment: suitcase labs are in Basic, with more detail in High-Tech. and some forensic chemistry in Mysteries. Ultra-Tech has sensor equipment that allows you to use Chemistry remotely and Powers provides the same via abilities. Spaceships has labs and Spaceships 5 has sensors. Space has alternate chemistries for life, and Bio-Tech has more detail.

Chinese Elemental Powers allows use of Chemistry in place of IQ or Alchemy for some abilities. Powers does the same for the Create and Detect powers. Zombies has lots of ingenious uses for Chemistry, and High-Tech has some very practical ones in distilling and explosives. Low-Tech, LTC1 and LTC3 have a surprising amount that was possible before Chemistry became a science as such. PU7 has several wildcard skills that include Chemistry, and so has PU6 for Talents.

Chemistry appears on templates in Action, Banestorm, Bio-Tech, Fantasy, Horror, Lands Out of Time, Monster Hunters, Psis, Reign of Steel: Will to Live, SEALs in Vietnam, Tales of the Solar Patrol, Space, Supers, Thaumatology: Urban Magics, Underground Adventures, and Zombies.

What have you done with Chemistry in a campaign? Was it the kind of thing that created this Phil Masters quote from The Skool Roolz?
Quote:
"GMs should beware of allowing players with extensive real-world knowledge of chemistry to make use of this in the game. The playtester who inspired this comment knows who he is."
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Old 11-08-2014, 07:42 AM   #2
Not
 
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Default Re: [Basic] Skill of the week: Chemistry

Chemical engineer would be an optional specialization of the Plumber professional skill.
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Old 11-08-2014, 08:08 AM   #3
johndallman
 
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Default Re: [Basic] Skill of the week: Chemistry

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Originally Posted by Not View Post
Chemical engineer would be an optional specialization of the Plumber professional skill.
It's a real Engineering skill, with plenty of mathematics.
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Old 11-08-2014, 09:46 AM   #4
Xplo
 
Join Date: Apr 2006
Default Re: [Basic] Skill of the week: Chemistry

Plumbers no more design industrial chemistry processes than welders design aircraft carriers.

. . .

Chemistry is a difficult skill to adjudicate. People who aren't familiar with it IRL won't necessarily know what to do with it, other than "I want to improvise a powerful explosive using the contents of this lab/household kitchen/ janitor's closet." (I don't have my book with me, but as I recall, you actually want Explosives skill for this - and then I think it's some variant of Engineer to actually make a working bomb from the substance! Ridiculous...)

People who are familiar with it IRL are going to want to use it for making bombs, fuels, fire accelerants, acids, and poisons (oh, SO many poisons), performing diagnostic laboratory medicine, analyzing strange materials and forensic evidence, possibly even creating weird weapons or other devices that utilize exotic states of matter (though this borders Physics), and pretty much any other thing you can imagine having to do with studying or building materials or substances. And they probably should be able to do all of these things, but without appropriate equipment or skills specializing in those tasks they ought to be at huge penalties at least some of the time. A cinematic chemistry whiz (skill 25+) might be able to do almost anything with chemistry that the script can handwave an explanation for, but your typical Master or PhD chemist (skill 15-18-ish) probably won't...

The worst problem is when the player knows (small-c) chemistry and the GM doesn't, and then they argue over what the skill should be able to do, and either the player feels cheated by an ignoramus or the GM ends up getting steamrolled. In this case, the player can buy all the various engineering, medical, and forensic skills that make specific practical uses of chemistry, and justify his PC's broad competence that way, but at that point it starts to feel like redundancy and skill bloat, and the player might well wonder why he's paying points for Chemistry at all, or what it's going to do for him that one of the other skills doesn't, especially if his GM doesn't understand what Chemistry itself is actually good for...

The second worst problem is when neither the GM or the player knows chemistry, and the game is not a highly cinematic one, and Chemistry ends up being a useless skill because no one really understands what it's good for, and the best the player can hope for is that once in a while the game uses a chemical substance or formula as some kind of puzzle or clue so that the player will have a contrived excuse to roll against their PC's Chemistry skill that they paid points for.

Of course, it could be used for job rolls, if the PC is employed as a chemist, and being able to make money at a somewhat lucrative profession is probably worth investing a few CP, but that's also boring...

Last edited by Xplo; 11-08-2014 at 10:44 AM.
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Old 11-08-2014, 09:55 AM   #5
whswhs
 
Join Date: Jun 2005
Default Re: [Basic] Skill of the week: Chemistry

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Originally Posted by Xplo View Post
People who are familiar with it IRL are going to want to use it for making bombs, fire accelerants, acids, and poisons (oh, SO many poisons), performing diagnostic laboratory medicine, analyzing strange materials and forensic evidence, possibly even creating weird weapons or other devices that utilize exotic states of matter (though this borders Physics), and pretty much any other thing you can imagine having to do with studying or building materials or substances. And they probably should be able to do all of these things, but without appropriate equipment or skills specializing in those tasks they ought to be at huge penalties. A cinematic chemistry whiz (skill 25+) might be able to do almost anything with chemistry that the script can handwave an explanation for, but your typical Master or PhD chemist (skill 15-18-ish) probably won't...
I don't believe that a typical PhD is anywhere near skill 18. In general, skill 12 is enough to get a job, and skill 16 makes you highly respected in your profession; for example, the editor of a frequently cited journal might well have Chemistry-16. A PhD is probably around Chemistry-13. For skill 18 you want someone like Lavoisier or Gibbs or Curie.

Bill Stoddard
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Old 11-08-2014, 10:11 AM   #6
Hrothgar
 
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Default Re: [Basic] Skill of the week: Chemistry

In a cinematic campaign, a villain with chemistry and Gadgeteer could be fun. You could get around actual chemical knowledge my labeling concoctions as "Compound X" or "Homebrew Acid".

A character that realistic campaign, with detailed knowledge of chemistry IRL, and a character with a high chemistry skill... Probably doesn't need to roleplay this in a game and should be a real chemist, lol.

In all seriousness though, most complicated skills that the average joe doesn't know the detailed workings of can cause problems if someone wants to pick at the way it works in game.
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Old 11-08-2014, 10:17 AM   #7
Anders
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Default Re: [Basic] Skill of the week: Chemistry

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Originally Posted by whswhs View Post
I don't believe that a typical PhD is anywhere near skill 18. In general, skill 12 is enough to get a job, and skill 16 makes you highly respected in your profession; for example, the editor of a frequently cited journal might well have Chemistry-16. A PhD is probably around Chemistry-13. For skill 18 you want someone like Lavoisier or Gibbs or Curie.

Bill Stoddard
I agree. And even then, it's more likely that these people have a boatload of secondary skills to complement their Chemistry - Engineer & Mechanic (lab equipment), Research, Mathematics, etc.
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Old 11-08-2014, 10:25 AM   #8
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Join Date: Oct 2010
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Default Re: [Basic] Skill of the week: Chemistry

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A PhD is probably around Chemistry-13.
But may well have a Hyperspecialisation perk in their thesis topic.
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Old 11-08-2014, 10:27 AM   #9
Flyndaran
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Default Re: [Basic] Skill of the week: Chemistry

Even if one allows significant home made chemicals, most require unusual and/or volatile precursors. That would result in quite a long time period working up to the stuff needed.
Though I love the idea of a super genius chemist's home having jars of strange materials just the other side of realism akin to the clichéd wizard's pantry.
And this many posts without once mentioning MacGyver? Much of what I remember involved realistic gadgeteering or serendipity coupled with mostly realistic chemistry.
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Old 11-08-2014, 10:36 AM   #10
johndallman
 
Join Date: Oct 2010
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Default Re: [Basic] Skill of the week: Chemistry

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Even if one allows significant home made chemicals, most require unusual and/or volatile precursors. That would result in quite a long time period working up to the stuff needed.
It's surprising how much stuff you can just buy from chemical supply businesses. There are various categories of controls, but there's only so much that can be done without crippling education. In the UK, pharmacists get some of their stock from chemical supply houses and will order stuff if you seem to know what you're doing. I bought strong acetic acid that way for a limescale problem that commercial descalers weren't working on.
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And this many posts without once mentioning MacGyver? Much of what I remember involved realistic gadgeteering or serendipity coupled with mostly realistic chemistry.
Only 8 posts before yours, two from non-Americans, one of whom doesn't watch TV at all.
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