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Old 03-21-2015, 09:30 AM   #1
johndallman
 
Join Date: Oct 2010
Location: Cambridge, UK
Default [Basic] Skill of the week: Engineer

Engineer/TL is the IQ/H skill of designing and building technology, on all scales. For GURPS, with its underlying bias towards a rational-scientific worldview, this is a big deal: this is how people turn the laws of the universe into the things they want to make and do. Having a single skill for this for all physical, non-living things (Bioengineering and Computer Programming do the same for biotechnology and software respectively) makes a statement about the presumed ability of rational creatures to deal with the universe. Engineer requires specialisation, but most of the specialisations default to each other at -4: characters can be an Edison or a Brunel, working across several fields and changing the world through construction or inventions. Versatile and Hidebound respectively help and hinder inventing. Engineer takes equipment modifiers, and at high TLs, often requires software tools to work at full effect.

Engineer always has a prerequisite of Mathematics (Applied) at TL5+, and specialisations may have prerequisites of their own, usually Physics, but sometimes Chemistry or Metallurgy. Specialisations have individual defaults to Repair or Use skills, some of which are a little strange for historical reasons. Architecture, Armoury, Electrician, Electronics Operation, Electronics Repair, Explosives (Demolition), Mechanic, and Mathematics (Applied) have defaults to appropriate Engineer specialisations.

Unlike Electronics Operation or Repair, the list of specialisations is not prescriptive, and you're expected to extend it for campaigns with odd technologies. One unlisted specialisation that has existed for several TLs and is still going strong is (Chemical), which would have a prerequisite of Chemistry and a default to Professional Skill (Chemical Plant Operator).

The commonest specialisation, by far, on GURPS templates is Engineer (Combat), with (Small Arms) and (Mining) following; LTC3 describes the work of mining and Underground Adventures has more for higher TLs. DF has Engineer (Gadgets), which seems to cover a rather wide range of technology. High-Tech and Ultra-Tech have things characters can do with several Engineer specialisations, and Low-Tech touches on the rise of engineering. Horror has Engineer (Spirit), and Monster Hunters illuminates the importance of Engineering skill if you want to be a true expert in a technology. As usual for skills, PU3 and PU7 have examples of applicable Talents and Wildcard skills. Powers and Enhanced Senses cover the uses of Engineer to interpret information from unusual senses, or use powers well. Thaumatology, Chinese Elemental Powers and Urban Magics consider Engineering applied to magic.

One of the major uses of Engineering is the invention rules. These work pretty well for present-day technology, provided you remember something important. Most machines consist of lots of parts that were invented separately. Nobody in a realistic setting invents a completely new car, or gun. They invent a new part, improve a few parts at a time, or combine existing parts to a new purpose. As long as you remember that fiction never portrays realistic invention, the rules seem pretty solid.

What have you done with Engineer in a game that was awesome? Am I the only GM who's run an edisonade in GURPS?

Last edited by johndallman; 03-21-2015 at 11:11 AM. Reason: Forgot peroration
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Old 03-21-2015, 04:27 PM   #2
Overheat
 
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Default Re: [Basic] Skill of the week: Engineer

Glad to see we have made it to Engineer. I love this skill just because it is so GURPS-y. The specializations fall very closely with how we divide the engineering degrees in real life. It very much helps a character concept, and can be the core of that character.


That said, being part of a character concept is the extent of its usefulness unless the GM and player are willing to put in some work. Someone else will probably say much more and wiser things than I could about inventions, but the other benefits can be used to give the PC the spotlight. Being able to diagnose problems and build things is useful, even if you are not the originator of the idea. What if the Death Ray of Doom came in a mail order box with some poorly translated instructions?


I do have a question for the OP. Are you saying that GURPS invention rules are way too fantastical, and people who play realistic games should remember that? Or are you saying that using GURPS rules to model The Professor is just a disaster waiting to happen? I think it is the second, but sorry if I am just terrible at understanding the obvious.
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Old 03-21-2015, 05:22 PM   #3
johndallman
 
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Default Re: [Basic] Skill of the week: Engineer

Quote:
Originally Posted by Overheat View Post
Glad to see we have made it to Engineer.
I intend to make it all the way to Zen Archery.
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Originally Posted by Overheat View Post
What if the Death Ray of Doom came in a mail order box with some poorly translated instructions?
In a Transhuman Space game, we found a nuclear bomb that had failed to go off. It was a commercial mining charge, and the instructions were on the web, but not easy to understand.
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Originally Posted by Overheat View Post
I do have a question for the OP. Are you saying that GURPS invention rules are way too fantastical, and people who play realistic games should remember that? Or are you saying that using GURPS rules to model The Professor is just a disaster waiting to happen? I think it is the second, but sorry if I am just terrible at understanding the obvious.
Clearly I didn't express myself well, because I didn't mean either of those things. Let's try again.

The skill requirements and penalties for Complex and Amazing inventions are so stiff that they're pretty well impossible for realistic characters. That's the thing about them that has always impressed itself on me. However, machines that sell for prices over G$10,000 are almost never actually invented as a single idea. They are built up from parts and subsystems that were invented in simple forms, and gradually improved. A large part of the skill of engineering is about finding the easy ways to do things, and re-using parts and ideas that are already available.

To pick an invention, take the electron microscope, which was invented during late TL6 and became a standard instrument during TL7. If you invent this Hollywood-style, as a single miraculous invention that magnifies a million-fold, using previously unknown ideas, it's at least Complex, and probably Amazing.

The actual creation of the device was based on the electron physics that had been developing since the discovery of "cathode rays" in 1869. Vacuum pumps, and phosphor screens were old hat. An electromagnetic lens for focusing an electron beam was invented in 1926, and the first patent on the idea of an electron microscope was filed two years later. Nobody actually built an instrument until 1931, the first practical one was built in 1937, and the first commercial one in 1939.

It's rather hard to write rules for this kind of thing; it tends to rely on the players and the GM having some shared interest in a field of technology. So it's easier to do for historical TLs, but you can do it with fictional technologies, if you can envisage them in some detail.
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Old 03-21-2015, 05:30 PM   #4
vicky_molokh
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Default Re: [Basic] Skill of the week: Engineer

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Originally Posted by johndallman View Post
In a Transhuman Space game, we found a nuclear bomb that had failed to go off. It was a commercial mining charge, and the instructions were on the web, but not easy to understand.
Speaking of which, was there an instruction set in the original Mandarin or whatever? If yes, why didn't you just get an AI to load a Mandarin skill/advantage pack to understand it without the funny sub-NAI translation?
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Old 03-21-2015, 05:35 PM   #5
dcarson
 
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Default Re: [Basic] Skill of the week: Engineer

In a GURPS Space 1889 campaign I ran the 2 engineers in the party invented a improved solar boiler and ether flyer that let the party be the first expedition to the asteroids.

This was the climax of the campaign resulting in them finding out what happened to a Royal navy ship that had been ripped open and the crew missing (giant space squid basically). Discovered an intelligent race that lived in the asteroids. Everyone got famous, the engineers got rich and made members of the Academy, the navy officer was appointed to be in charge of negotiating with the asteroidians.
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Old 03-21-2015, 05:39 PM   #6
johndallman
 
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Default Re: [Basic] Skill of the week: Engineer

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Originally Posted by vicky_molokh View Post
Speaking of which, was there an instruction set in the original Mandarin or whatever?
Not that we could find, no.
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Old 03-21-2015, 06:24 PM   #7
cosmicfish
 
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Default Re: [Basic] Skill of the week: Engineer

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Originally Posted by johndallman View Post
The skill requirements and penalties for Complex and Amazing inventions are so stiff that they're pretty well impossible for realistic characters. That's the thing about them that has always impressed itself on me. However, machines that sell for prices over G$10,000 are almost never actually invented as a single idea. They are built up from parts and subsystems that were invented in simple forms, and gradually improved. A large part of the skill of engineering is about finding the easy ways to do things, and re-using parts and ideas that are already available.
This is a reasonable explanation - technological progress in any given field goes ever slower for any one individual, as all the "easy" and simple ideas get discovered, leading to more and more work required to make a single, narrow, incremental improvement. Realistically, the skill requirements and penalties would be offset by taking many, many attempts. Besides Edison's famous example, I spent six months full-time professionally trying to increase the functional bandwidth of a single, solitary component, generating hundreds of mathematical and computer models and a dozen actual prototypes (so few only because of computers!). Inventing at TL8 is hard, and slow, and it is only going to get more so.
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Old 03-21-2015, 08:06 PM   #8
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Default Re: [Basic] Skill of the week: Engineer

Another aspect of invention often overlooked is applying one technique or device that's old hat in one field to another. Multi-skill synergy is a thing.
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Old 03-22-2015, 12:07 PM   #9
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Default Re: [Basic] Skill of the week: Engineer

Quote:
Originally Posted by vicky_molokh View Post
Speaking of which, was there an instruction set in the original Mandarin or whatever?
That would not have been as funny. (The players didn't have to describe exactly what they were doing, switch by switch; they were scraping around for bonuses to their default Explosives (NOD) roll.)

Inventing stuff has very rarely come up in games I've run; most PCs seem to prefer to improve themselves rather than to build devices. (The Daughter of Necessity was an attempt to provide a bit of structure to gadgeteering.) Engineer (Combat) seems to get used quite a lot, and it's a rare party which doesn't have someone able to do that. Civil seems to show up quite often too, often for things like knowing the weak spots of buildings.
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Old 03-22-2015, 12:07 PM   #10
johndallman
 
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Default Re: [Basic] Skill of the week: Engineer

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Originally Posted by Flyndaran View Post
Another aspect of invention often overlooked is applying one technique or device that's old hat in one field to another. Multi-skill synergy is a thing.
Certainly is. The ideal inventor has enough experience that they can apply ideas from other fields, but not so much they're ossified.

It's also notable that knowing more kinds of mathematics than the "right" one pays off fairly regularly.
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