The process of inventing involves one or more PCs figuring out what needs to be built, what that thing will actually do in game terms, and what complications will arise as a result. All of this only takes one skill roll—the rest is making choices and playing out their ramifications.
Note that these rules aren’t limited to actually “inventing” things—they apply equally well to recreating existing technology, whether strange or familiar.
We’ll refer to the thing you’re making as your invention, but don’t take that too literally. It could just as easily be a never-before-seen technological wonder as it could a recreation of an existing piece of tech. Whatever it is, broadly speaking, your invention is an item that makes you better at doing something or gives you a new capability. It consists of three basic parts:
- A function aspect
- A flaw aspect
- One or more stunts or extras
Creating an invention happens in five steps:
- Determine the invention’s function—its role in the story
- Define its capabilities—how it fulfills that role
- Put it together—make a skill roll
- Pay for it—what you’ll have to do to create the invention
- Determine its flaw—nobody’s perfect
Step One: Determine Its Function
This may seem like a given, but before anything else you need to ask yourself what the invention is meant to do. Think about what it’s going to make possible (or impossible) in the story, and how it’ll accomplish that. Based on your answer, come up with a short statement that addresses it, such as its intended purpose, a straightforward description, or even the invention’s expected role in the story. Whatever it is, keep it brief and focused—Retractable Hypo-Syringe is good. Secret Hidden Needle that has the Power to Poison or Heal is maybe not so good.
Your answer to this question forms the basis of your invention’s function aspect.
Step Two: Define Its Capabilities
Now that you know the invention’s purpose, it’s time to decide how it actually works in game terms, anyway.
Defining an invention’s capabilities is as simple as giving it stunt benefits, just like mega-stunts. Pack on as many benefits as the invention needs to function the way you want it to, but be aware that the more benefits it has, the more complications it will throw into the story, as seen in Step Three: Make It and Step Four: Costs.
Step Three: Put It Together
Next, pick the skill that seems most relevant to the invention’s construction. If more than one skill can reasonably apply, go with the one with the highest rating.
The difficulty for this roll starts at Mediocre (+0). Every stunt benefit the invention has increases the difficulty by +2. The more benefits it has, the more complex it is, and the more complications its creation throws into the story.
Make a note of the roll’s outcome, whether it’s failure, a tie, a success, or a success with style. You’ll need it for the next step.
Failing this roll does not mean you’ll fail to make the thing. You cannot fail to make it. The skill roll determines not whether you can make it, but what hoops you’ll have to jump through to do so.
Multiple PCs can work together to create the invention, using the usual teamwork rules (page
Step Four: Pay For It
To paraphrase a marketing genius with a questionable sense of ethics, every invention is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. We call the perspiration part a catch.
When we say you have to pay for your invention, it’s not necessarily in terms of cash money. Depending on the nature of your setting or campaign, the PCs may be part of an organization that will pick up the tab, or they may already have the raw materials available and it’s just a matter of putting it all together.
Typically, a catch is some complication or condition that’ll have to be resolved before the invention can be realized—a series of narrative hurdles that stand between the inventor and the invention.
Players render payment in two ways. One is increasing the GM’s fate point reserve. The other is accepting one or more catches. We’ll get to the former in a minute, but for now let’s concentrate on the latter. A catch can include:
- Attention: The process of creating the invention will attract unwanted notice from someone or something whose notice you’d rather not attract. This unwelcome party will involve themselves in the events of the volume or otherwise complicate matters or hamper the PCs’ efforts in some way.
- Bug: The invention has a glitch—either a weakness or a cost. (See Mega-Stunts for more on weaknesses and costs.)
- Costly: Access to the hardware comes at a steep price, whether in cash, information, or an equitable trade, to be paid to a gatekeeper of some kind. While money will usually be no object for well-funded PCs, large, clandestine transactions rarely go smoothly.
- Facilities: Producing the invention requires a specialized facility, one to which you don’t normally have access. You may have to negotiate for that access, or you may gain it through more “creative” means.
- Help: You can’t do it alone—you need assistance from an outside party, such as a notable expert in the field or another faction. They may require convincing, demand something in exchange for their involvement, or drag their own baggage into the project. Note: Another PC isn’t “help.” That’s just another PC. (Although it’s a good way to bring in a new PC, if a player’s looking for a character to play.) This catch means going outside your usual circle of reliable associates.
- Materials: One of the invention’s components is something rare, under lock and key, or otherwise hard to acquire. Getting your hands on it may be an adventure in and of itself.
- Red Tape: This generally involves paperwork—lots of paperwork—as well as follow-up calls, emails, office visits, or the like. This catch isn’t suited to all settings, but if it’s suited to yours, expect it to be a pain.
- Strings: The promise “I owe you one” is ripe with the potential for further trouble. Unlike Costly, which involves immediate payment, or Help, which involves convincing someone to assist you, the Strings catch means ceding power to someone else for short-term gain. You may not know when or where or what they’ll want in return, but rest assured, they won’t forget. Or maybe they want concrete assurances right now—maybe even a contract.
- Time: Producing the invention will take long enough that the situation will worsen and/or someone will gain an advantage against you. Whatever the case, you’ll still finish it in time for it to be useful.
For every stunt benefit an invention has, there’s a catch. For example, an invention with four stunt benefits will have four catches, selected from the list above.
Who chooses these catches? That depends on the outcome of the skill roll from Step Three.
The GM chooses them all.
The GM and player take turns choosing, starting with the GM.
The GM chooses one and the player chooses the rest.
Success with Style
The player chooses them all.
Examples of Catches
The infection spreads rapidly while you’re working, necessitating a quarantine.
The robots dig in at several key locations before you can complete the device.
The only expert who can help is a former enemy.
The only place with the right equipment to build the hardware is a rival in the tech industry.
You know exactly what you need--and it’s currently in the hands of a foreign power.
A government agency “takes an interest” in your work.
Nearby electronics sometimes shut down briefly when the invention’s powered up and running.
Option: Fewer Catches
The standard invention rules assume that the PCs will only occasionally invent something, and that it’ll be a collaborative process. However, in games where this isn’t the case—for example, if every session includes a montage of the PCs cobbling together (or stealing) a bunch of mission-specific equipment—all those catches can be too numerous to be useful.
If you’d rather just have one catch per invention, use these rules instead.
- When a player’s roll succeeds with style, the players mark two victories.
- When a player’s roll succeeds, the players mark one victory.
- When a player’s roll ties, the players mark one victory and the GM marks one victory.
- When a player’s roll fails, the GM marks two victories.
If the players accumulate three victories before the GM does, the players decide what the catch is. Otherwise, the GM decides.
If one of the invention’s extras bundles two or more identical stunt benefits for a larger bonus, such as bundling two Add A Bonus benefits to grant +4 to an action instead of the usual +2, that bundle automatically comes with a serious catch—a more onerous version of the default.
Examples of Serious Catches
- The infection spreads rapidly while you’re working, claiming some important would-be allies.
- The robots destroy half of the city before you can complete the device.
- You need a sizable team of experts beyond what you have available.
- The only expert who can help is a high-profile rival.
- The only place with the right equipment to build it is the Cern labs in Geneva.
- You know exactly what you need—and it’s in Area 51.
- You don’t just attract attention; a main NPC takes a special interest in your work.
- The device sporadically emits an unstable and potentially dangerous energy field within a radius of a few dozen feet. (It’s not supposed to do that.)
Catches as Aspects
If it makes sense and everyone’s agreeable, a catch can manifest as an aspect. This aspect sticks around for as long as it makes sense in the story. It comes with one free invocation (the GM has dibs), or two free invocations if it’s the product of a serious catch.
Examples might include:
- Down to the Wire (Time)
- Robot Army Has the Tactical Advantage (Time)
- Uneasy Working Relationship with Dr. Priddy (Help)
- On the FBI’s Watch List (Attention)
- Fluctuating Energy Fields (Bug)
This may seem self-evident, but it’s crucial that the GM write these catches down. In the short term, feel free to use them to complicate the PCs’ lives when it seems appropriate. Catches like Attention and Strings are especially likely to rear their heads right in the PCs’ faces. You could even include an epilogue in which the authorities demand explanations for the PCs “indiscretions” and “lapses in judgment,” or a cutscene to give the players (but not the PCs) a glimpse of some future trouble brewing for them.
In the long term, at the end of the session, go over the catches that haven’t made an appearance in the story yet. Pick any that strike your fancy and hang onto them. At the end of the volume, take a look at all the catches you salvaged. Consider them individually and in combination. Then use them to inspire the pressures for future sessions. The players created these problems for themselves—it’s only right that they should have to deal with the fallout.
Adding to the GM’s Reserve
The other payment for the invention is an increase in the GM’s fate point reserve. Add fate points to the GM’s reserve equal to invention’s quality. This is equal to the number of the invention’s stunt benefits minus the number of Bugs. These fate points come from the fate point slush fund, not from the players. See The GM’s Reserve (page
Step Five: Determine Its Flaw
Nothing is perfect. Every invention will have some sort of drawback or problem associated with it. That’s what your invention’s flaw aspect represents.
While the player determines the invention’s function aspect, the flaw is up to the GM. The GM can either do this immediately, as soon as Step Four is complete, or pay a fate point to the player to do it at a later point in the story.
Note that flaws aren’t the same as Bugs as described in Step Four, above. Bugs are weird, unpredictable anomalies that plague the invention’s function—more nuisances than anything else—whereas a good flaw is fundamental to the invention’s construction or operation, or a necessary limitation of available technology. GMs, think of how you might compel the flaw aspect to put the players in an undesirable position or complicate that climactic scene when the invention takes center stage.
- Weighs a Ton
- Massive Power Requirements
- Distinctive Energy Signature
- Uses Broadband Radio Signals
- Strong Electromagnetic Field