The Fantastic Science: A Technologist Handbook
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  1. #1
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    The Fantastic Science: A Technologist Handbook

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    Technologic Crunch

    First let me say, I did not purchase this book, on the boards Ranger Wickett asked if people would review the book, and I received a complimentary copy to do so. I am not related to the product in any other way however, so I still should be impartial.

    A little about me: I’ve been interested in RPGs for 10+ years, and I’ve played a couple of times, but found myself GM far more often. And like many GMs, I’m dedicated to building the perfect homebrew. Setting wise, I like anything that sets itself apart from traditional fantasy, Dark Sun, Planescape, Spelljammer…and I particularly like to think about what society would be like with a mix of advanced magic and technology.

    When I read the description of Fantastic Science: A Technologist Sourcebook, I was intrigued. It sounded like the fantasy I like, and a lot like pulp science, in other words, right up my alley. I’d like to thank Ranger Wickett for giving me the opportunity to read the book.

    I digress, the book is a pdf product put out by EN Publishing, and the last time I checked, it was at a special price of $10.95. It comes with three versions, the full bells and whistles pdf with all the graphics, a graphics light pdf (without the header and footer graphics), and a document version. The pdfs are 165 pages, while the doc is 294, and all are packed full of pulp science and gadgetry.

    The book has four chapters and two appendices. Chapter One: Coming Online, outlines the purpose of the book, what is technology, how it functions in a magical fantasy world, and the people responsible for it. Chapter Two: The Fantastic Scientist describes the technologist, those who devise and wield the devices of fantastic science. Next, Chapter Three: Activation Mechanics describes the game mechanics of the devices in general terms. The meat of the book is Chapter Four: Products of the Laboratory which details all of the technologist’s wonderful toys. Appendix A: Odds and Ends is a mix as the name suggests, it describes how to create new devices, provides a non spell point technologist, variations on devices, and describes fantastic science for D20 Modern. Finally, Appendix B: Tullius Carens provides an NPC technologist at various experience levels fit for introducing technology into a GMs campaign.

    Phew…now to delve a little deeper.

    Chapter One
    I enjoyed chapter one, Matthew Kelsey, the author, goes through how and why he designed fantastic science and the technologist. My favorite part was when he posed the question: “Why hasn’t technology progressed?” and detailed three in game options that are plausible and would provide a lot of hooks for a technologist player in a campaign. Then they go on to “Introducing the Technologist” and the various roles it can fill in the campaign, providing seven options, and also the ubiquitous “make it up as you go,” section.

    Chapter one sets the stage, and the rest of the book works on the assumption that the GM wants to play in a magical fantasy world, where technology is possible but not prevalent. In this world of magic, sages have discovered many of technology’s possible uses, but technology and magic don’t inherently get along. Whether they’re antagonistic about their interaction is a option discussed in the chapter, but at the most basic, something about magic that permeates the world makes the “laws of science and nature” too mutable for technology to function perfectly all the time.

    Thus, it takes a talented individual that can use their innate gift to disperse the magical “static” and get technology to function perfectly, every time, at least for them. Enter the technologist (or tech for short.)

    Chapter Two
    On to chapter two and the technologist (tech) class itself. If I had to pin the technologist down, I’d say its most like a wizard philosophically, but mechanically they select devices (spells/powers) like a sorcerer, and activate their devices (spells/powers) with power points like a psion, and they need gadgetry to perform their “magic. Confusing enough? More simply, the tech is a variant spell casting class that relies on innate power and the devices they build to perform spell-like effects.

    Techs get 1d6 hp, the BAB of a rogue, a good Will save, and 6 skill points per level, but their true power lies in their ability to wield technologic devices. There are three ranks of devices by order of power: gadgets, technologies, and artifacts, and as the tech progresses they learn new devices until 20th level where they’d need a warehouse to store all their gadgetry and a pack mule to carry what they need into battle.

    The tech’s devices are like the spells a sorcerer learns, except they can never change the devices they know. And in order to use the devices they need to power them with their activation points; to cleanse them of magical interference, so they can work properly. So, like a psion, a mid-to-high level tech could use his lowest level gadget almost all day without a problem, or alternatively expend all of his energy into a few uses of his most powerful artifact.

    Besides their wonderful toys, a technologist can be an expert in the skills of other classes, and they gain craft points to craft items. Craft points are “virtual gold pieces” that they can use in place of gp when they craft items.

    Expanded Masterwork rules finish the Tech’s chapter. These rules add new and kewl masterwork modifications to weapons and armor like Wicked Edge, Concealable, Venomous, Element Resistant, Impressive, Sacred/Profane, etc… Also tucked away in the section are descriptions of special component types that could add certain bonuses to craft skill rolls.

    Chapter Three
    Chapter three is like the magic overview section in the PHB. It describes activation level, activation time, range, duration, etc… The important parts of the chapter are the differences between magic and technology, which are pointed out with an “*.” I admit, I skimmed over the section, but keyed in on the * sections. The biggies: don’t forget devices weigh something, still have to be prepared every morning, and cost energy to use.

    Chapter three also details the device ranks: the weaker gadgets, the mid-powered technologies, and the reality shaping artifacts. My one quip is I wish they would have picked a different name from artifact for the most powerful devices. The game already has artifacts, and it probably won’t cause confusion, but it might. I’m sure they thought long about it though, because for the life of me I can’t really come up with anything better now, so I can’t really fault them.

    Chapter Four
    Either “Gadgets, Technologies, and Artifacts Galore,” or “How to Make Friends and Turn People to Dust with the Flip of a Switch.” Like the spell section of the PHB, this chapter contains descriptions all of the devices a tech can learn to build and wield against their enemies. The author further separates the three device ranks into lesser, standard, and greater effects, but it seems to be for information only, or GM bookkeeping because it doesn’t change when a tech can learn to build the devices.

    Because this is a book about fantastic science, none of the devices has any bearing on real world technology, and they all have titles similar to those you might find in a pulp novel. Take the Steamplunker that hurls items, Aviatronic Wing that allows the tech to fly, Atomic Discombobulator that disintegrates things, or the Imperial Null-Space Cannon that can destroy vast swaths of the countryside if given enough time to manifest itself.

    Don’t expect the names to be serious, but they aren’t so outlandish like the Star Trek gizmos that you can’t figure out what they are. I’m fine with the atmosphere created by most of the names, but there’s a few I could have done without; namely the Discombobulator and any of the Orgonic devices. I was wary when I bean to read about the Orgavulsion Crystal, but I found out it’s an artifact that deals negative levels to a creature.

    Names aside, the majority of the devices are well written and seem solid. From the devices provided, technologists will be quite adept at causing damage, enhancing stats and skills, providing defense, and they could be particularly adept in antimagic effects and causing damage to magical beings.

    Appendix A

    The odds and ends; the rules for creating new devices cover four pages and are fairly extensive with a number of tables. Still it seems to come down to comparing them to benchmark devices, and play testing, still the tried and true method.

    The savant follows, and it is designed to be an alternative, “non-spell point” technologist. They get a much smaller collection of devices to use, but they can use them as much as they want. Beware the savant armed with an Atomic Discombobulator…

    The last part of the chapter describes the shadow technologist, what a technologist might be like in D20 urban arcane or shadow game. It’s a 10-level advanced class very similar to the “core” technologist.

    Appendix B
    Rounding up the book we have Tullius Carens, we have a sample technologist NPC built for a GM who wants to help integrate fantasy technology into their campaign. Tullius comes with a background and three iterations of the character at levels 4, 8, and 12.

    Parting Thoughts
    All and all I enjoyed reading through most of the book. As I pushed into the devices section it became a little more laborious, simply because of the shear number of devices. I won’t claim to have read all of them, but I did read most, and there are helpful tables and a good index and appendix for a GM to peruse and find what they’re looking for.

    I would say the book’s artwork is average to good; nothing really jumped out at me as either bad or great. I did like the inclusion of a handful of Leonardo da Vinci’s illustrations. The white space is minimal, the margins are basic, and the two columns seem to fill the page. There are sidebars and tables throughout the book that are easy enough to read.

    As I’ve said previously, I think I enjoyed the first chapter the most. It contains all the fluffy pieces of campaign potential I enjoy, as well as providing the author’s view of why he did what he did. Throughout the book the author also sprinkled in examples from his own campaign; placed in the sidebars, I think those added to the quality and personality of the product.

    The book is well written, and it is done in general game book fashion (they always seem to be on the edge of text books in my opinion), but Matthew’s style keeps it interesting, plus the subject is more exciting than any text book I’ve read. I didn’t note many editorial gaffs. I should say nothing stood out because I wasn’t specifically looking.

    The Pitch
    If you want to introduce a fantastic style of technology into your campaign, I recommend the book. Or, if you need a new spell casting class that doesn’t really cast spells, but uses devices they design to bend reality to their will to create fantastic spell-like effects, I’d recommend picking up the book. Finally, if you want to play a campaign that pits technology against magic in a fantasy world, Fantastic Science is the book for you.

    The Grade

    The product is good, but not fantabular. I prefer more fluff, and there was a lot of crunch with all the devices. I know they’re necessary to present a class like this, but I think they could have shortened the device listing and included more campaign ideas instead. Or, keep all the devices and just add more to chapter one, or, even better, just add a new chapter full of juicy ideas that scream “put me in your current game, or create a new game for me!”

    I'd really give it a 4.5, but I'm not allowed.

    Congrats on creating a new and inventive spell casting class.

  3. #3
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    Hello, this is the author speaking. I just wanted to thank you for the review and make some comments that might help explain why I handled some things in the way that I did.

    Quote Originally Posted by Cabe Zeree
    ...the last time I checked, it was at a special price of $10.95...
    Actually, that's the standard price, as far as I know. The red-slash-through-the-price bit was some kind of database error.

    Quote Originally Posted by Cabe Zeree
    There are three ranks of devices by order of power: gadgets, technologies, and artifacts, and as the tech progresses they learn new devices until 20th level where they’d need a warehouse to store all their gadgetry and a pack mule to carry what they need into battle.


    Ah yes, the weight thing. Of course devices have to weigh something, and I wanted the class to get plenty of them (it comes out to 36, plus whatever mundane mechanical and alchemical "devices" the character has), so you end up with potentially a lot of weight. In the end, though, I felt that it wasn't too horrible a weakness, especially since picking up a handy haversack at some point before the mid- to upper-level range isn't too hard and solves most of the carrying capacity problems.

    Also, I'd like to take this opportunity to go on record saying that ignoring device weights will not unbalance the class in the least, if you're in a group that doesn't like to track encumbrance in detail.

    Quote Originally Posted by Cabe Zeree
    So, like a psion, a mid-to-high level tech could use his lowest level gadget almost all day without a problem, or alternatively expend all of his energy into a few uses of his most powerful artifact.
    Another brief comment here - the technologist is actually more like the psion than the psion in this respect. Due to the way activation point costs for devices increase, a tiny handful of powerful device activations is the equivalent of quite a lot of low-level device uses. This is partly to balance the class vis-à-vis spellcasters who don't get excellent skills and skills points, and partly to encourage technologists to make frequent use of their weaker devices and sparing use of the very powerful ones.

    Quote Originally Posted by Cabe Zeree
    Chapter three is like the magic overview section in the PHB. It describes activation level, activation time, range, duration, etc… The important parts of the chapter are the differences between magic and technology, which are pointed out with an “*.” I admit, I skimmed over the section, but keyed in on the * sections. The biggies: don’t forget devices weigh something, still have to be prepared every morning, and cost energy to use.
    Ah yes, Chapter Three. I hated to repeat so much of the basic spellcasting rules, but there was just no clean way to organize the material while just describing the differences. The asterisk markers are something of a compromise.

    Those reprinted-and-modified rules are also there so you can reference them without flipping to another book, something else I felt was important. And not to worry, anyone reading these comments, Chapter Three doesn't take up very much of the book - you're still getting tons of brand-new material for the price.

    Quote Originally Posted by Cabe Zeree
    My one quip is I wish they would have picked a different name from artifact for the most powerful devices. The game already has artifacts, and it probably won’t cause confusion, but it might. I’m sure they thought long about it though, because for the life of me I can’t really come up with anything better now, so I can’t really fault them.
    These were my exact thoughts on the matter. For what it's worth, if anyone can think of a better name for the highest-class devices, send me an e-mail at jaberwocky(underscore)slayer(at)hotmail(dot)com or just post here and I'll add the correction to my files, hopefully to be included in an updated edition.

    Quote Originally Posted by Cabe Zeree
    The author further separates the three device ranks into lesser, standard, and greater effects, but it seems to be for information only, or GM bookkeeping because it doesn’t change when a tech can learn to build the devices.
    The three sub-rankings determine the point cost to activate the device in question and govern the levels at which the Savant gains access to a given rank and order of device (after the sorcerer does, naturally). There's a table showing the relationship between rank + order and activation costs in Chapter Three and the first Appendix, albeit in different contexts.

    Quote Originally Posted by Cabe Zeree
    I was wary when I bean to read about the Orgavulsion Crystal, but I found out it’s an artifact that deals negative levels to a creature.
    Dirty mind!

    Quote Originally Posted by Cabe Zeree
    From the devices provided, technologists will be quite adept at causing damage, enhancing stats and skills, providing defense, and they could be particularly adept in antimagic effects and causing damage to magical beings.
    And, for what it's worth, not much good at healing and downright terrible at mind control, instant death, and teleportation.

    Quote Originally Posted by Cabe Zeree
    The odds and ends; the rules for creating new devices cover four pages and are fairly extensive with a number of tables. Still it seems to come down to comparing them to benchmark devices, and play testing, still the tried and true method.
    Yep. I understand that Heroes of High Favor: Elves has a point-based system for making spells, but I never got a look at it and so cannot comment. The materials in Appendix A are simply everything that I used to create the existing devices, plus some additional guidelines to explain my reasoning.

    Quote Originally Posted by Cabe Zeree
    All and all I enjoyed reading through most of the book. As I pushed into the devices section it became a little more laborious, simply because of the shear number of devices.
    For comparison, there are slightly more devices than clerical spells in the PHB, not counting domain spells, and quite a bit fewer devices than there core wizard spells (about 15-20 more than the cleric and about 60-70 less than the wizard, if I'm remembering correctly). Oh, and slightly more devices than psion powers in the XPH - that was my benchmark.

    Quote Originally Posted by Cabe Zeree
    As I’ve said previously, I think I enjoyed the first chapter the most. It contains all the fluffy pieces of campaign potential I enjoy, as well as providing the author’s view of why he did what he did. Throughout the book the author also sprinkled in examples from his own campaign; placed in the sidebars, I think those added to the quality and personality of the product.
    Ironically, Ryan ("RangerWickett") thought that first chapter was a little too long. (And Errol Lobo, the other editor, is such a crunchaholic I didn't get anything but grammatical corrections from him in that section.) It's interesting to see someone coming at it from the opposite perspective.

    I'm glad you liked the example sidebars, by the way - I was afraid they'd come off as a little pretentious.

    Quote Originally Posted by Cabe Zeree
    If you want to introduce a fantastic style of technology into your campaign, I recommend the book. Or, if you need a new spell casting class that doesn’t really cast spells, but uses devices they design to bend reality to their will to create fantastic spell-like effects, I’d recommend picking up the book. Finally, if you want to play a campaign that pits technology against magic in a fantasy world, Fantastic Science is the book for you.
    A side note - this is an interesting section of the review. I wish more people would include such comments. And I hope people take your recommendations, of course - those were the very needs I was attempting to satisfy, after all.

    Quote Originally Posted by Cabe Zeree
    I prefer more fluff, and there was a lot of crunch with all the devices. I know they’re necessary to present a class like this, but I think they could have shortened the device listing and included more campaign ideas instead. Or, keep all the devices and just add more to chapter one, or, even better, just add a new chapter full of juicy ideas that scream “put me in your current game, or create a new game for me!”
    Ah, the eternal struggle of crunch versus fluff... Well, at least the fluff that was there was good fluff, right? And believe me, I would have written more, but, well, the book is already pretty long.

    A question, though - what particular things would you like to see in "a new chapter full of juicy ideas that scream 'put me in your current game, or create a new game for me!'"? I don't know if Fantastic Science will sell well enough to warrant a sequel, but I'm always looking for ways to improve matters. There was some material cut from Chapter One as well, pretty early on, and there might be something there worth posting if I had a better idea of what you felt was missing.

    Quote Originally Posted by Cabe Zeree
    Congrats on creating a new and inventive spell casting class.
    Thanks!

    Whew, looking back - that was a lot of comments. It might look like I'm trying to argue with the reviewer (that never ends well), but I actually agree with just about everything you said. I also want to emphasize that I really appreciate this review, particularly because you approached the material in a different way than I had in mind when writing the book. Very interesting.

    Anyway, I'm happy with how the book turned out, especially as it was my first-time effort. If I get the chance to do something like this again, I'll try to address some of the concerns raised in this review. Many thanks, Cabe Zeree!

  4. #4

    Orgone

    Hey, that's cool that you included Orgone items. It's an area of "mad science" that doesn't get nearly as much coverage as less subtle things like death rays or mechanoids. I'm getting this thing as soon as I can start a campaign!

  5. #5
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    From a different school...

    I joined the Wanderer's Guild early on for a reason. We're just a bunch of people who like the story and art of the game a whole lot more than the mechanics. So, I usually end up looking at any gaiming material differently.

    I agree that chapter three is necissary, like with "artifact" there just isn't a more elegant solution. And I should have mentioned it wasn't lengthly.

    I might have a dirty mind, but I polled five of my friends who also had first impressions, that if not in the gutter with me, were just a smidge above. But I bring it up now just to tease. I don't think you should change it.

    Re Appendix A, I like that you included the tables. I might love the story, but if I can't understand the mechanics, and they don't look reasonable, I'm never going to use the item/play the game.

    Re Fluff vs Crunch
    You already provide a few campaign seed possibilities in chapter 1; I would mind seeing a few honest campaign and adventure seeds using those possibilities, just a few paragraphs each. They'd have to spand the gamut of fantastic science involvment depending on how much the campagin features, i.e. unknown, barely known about, as common as magic, heavily prevalent.

    You could also detail government, organization, and group ideas that include fantasy science themes. What would a government, society, or school built around fantasy science be like? Technologist guilds or houses?

    I hope all this helps. Thanks for the discussion and the chance to flex my creative muscle!

  6. #6
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    Yes, after reading some of the Wanderer's Guild website I think I have a much better idea of where you're coming from.

    And for what it's worth, Errol (one of the editors) gave me a "well, yeah, I thought you knew" look when I told him I was surprised you had found the orgavulsion crystal a little disturbing. So I think that one's pretty clearly my fault.

    I'm glad you found the tables in Appendix A helpful as well; those and the materials in Chapter 1 were intended to make my thought process in writing the class and the devices as transparent as possible, since I predict much tweaking and kitbashing of the central ideas in the book to take place.

    You make some good suggestions regarding additional flavor material, especially since I have a guild (the Craftsman's Guild, a mercantile group taken over by a mage-like cabal of technologists) and a country (the Imperium Mechanus, which gets some mention in the book as is) to crib from. And of course Tullius's Clanking Emporium and proposed technological university could prove worthy of further exploration as well. I suppose I thought that sort of thing would come across a little too strongly, or obscure the crunchy mechanical things that (I think) I'm best at.

    Quote Originally Posted by Cabe Zeree
    I hope all this helps. Thanks for the discussion and the chance to flex my creative muscle!
    It does help, and I'm glad you enjoyed the book despite the emphasis being somewhat different that you had hoped. Let me know what Fantastic Science turns into if you get a chance to use it in your games!

    I'm probably coming off as kinda finicky in this thread, with all the comments, but I really am interested in improving on any future efforts, and that means prodding reviewers and customers into telling you as much as possible.

    And finally,

    Quote Originally Posted by zalgar07
    Hey, that's cool that you included Orgone items. It's an area of "mad science" that doesn't get nearly as much coverage as less subtle things like death rays or mechanoids. I'm getting this thing as soon as I can start a campaign!
    Heck yeah! There's some caloric and phlogiston in there too, or versions thereof, and a lot of weird biology and physics as well. There's all kinds of crazy sciences and pseudosciences, old and new, that make for great inspiration for fantasy-science devices. That's another reason for not cleaving too closely to real-life science I should have mentioned in the book, along with the practical considerations.

    Of course, I'm not about to turn down a good mechanoid or death ray either!
    Last edited by Kelleris; Saturday, 17th December, 2005 at 08:37 AM.

  7. #7
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    Sorry for the decade-spanning thread-necromancy, but... ...this book was my favorite supplement from back in ye auld 3rd edition days of yore, and now that D&D is all "back" and stuff... any chance we'll see an update (or at least a conversion document) for using TFS with 5th edition?

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