Technobabble: A Valid Resolution Mechanic?

edited June 2008 in Story Games
A lot of gamers are tech geeks, even more gamers I've met like to pretend they are and, heck, I think it's fun to make up weird science explanations on the fly.

But is it possible to use technobabble as a resolution mechanic?
Can you actually write into a rules system: "you can solve technical problems by giving a convincing explanation - the more convincing, the better it works," or is that too subjective?

Is there, perhaps some middle ground? I'd very much like to find ways to encourage players to spout off lame (and excellent) technological ideas in a story game of some kind.

Comments

  • "But if we invert the polarity of the flux capacitor, we can escape before the proton storm reaches this point!"

    "Make it so!"

    Perhaps you could have a list of technobabble terms, which you must string together into a novel sentence (that is, you can't use the same solution that's already worked in the past, even though in real life people do this all the time).

    If your game has a GM, perhaps the GM determines the difficulty of the problem by the number of items of technobabble used to define it (through an NPC).

    Each technobabble term used to attempt a solution costs one token and gives you one die.

    You roll, and must get a number of successes exceeding the difficulty of the problem. Successes might be defined by your character's rating in Engineering or whatever - if you're really good your chances of success increase.

    It would be good to encourage trying to solve the problem and failing once or twice before the final solution - maybe you get extra tokens for the problem being more urgent. Or several characters might have to work together (first, perhaps, resolving their differences) in order to get enough technobabble resources applied at once.
  • Posted By: MikeRM

    Perhaps you could have a list of technobabble terms, which you must string together into a novel sentence (that is, you can't use the same solution that's already worked in the past, even though in real life people do this all the time).


    This kind of reminds me of the "Words of Science" mechanic from Zak Arnston's free rpg, "Adventures in Space"
    http://www.harlekin-maus.com/games.html

    It's a nice mechanic.
    There's also a table like that in a few rpgs that I could crib from, certainly (among those being R. Talsorian's "Teenagers from Outer Space" and TIMELORD, if memory serves.)

    Posted By: MikeRM

    It would be good to encourage trying to solve the problem and failing once or twice before the final solution - maybe you get extra tokens for the problem being more urgent. Or several characters might have to work together (first, perhaps, resolving their differences) in order to get enough technobabble resources applied at once.

    This is a very, very good point.

    I was reading recently about the "Rule of Three" in fairy tales and combining that with technobabble is a very elegant solution to an ongoing problem.

    I'm still looking for ways to generate more free-wheeling technobabble or to encourage players to pipe in with their own Real World experiences or opinions
    "Well, the muzzle velocity of the enormous breech-loader to re-orient the "natural philosophy" space-cutter toward the rupres nigra," for instance.

    It's okay if you miss a few huge points or ignore a physical law or two, but better if you do.
  • You could give extra dice for: using genuine laws of Physics (or lesser sciences); having tried to solve the same problem before; using technobabble terms that haven't been used before; and particularly convincing technobabble (as judges by the other players).

    What a lovely idea.

    Graham
  • Well, if you get bonuses for technobabble that hasn't been used before, or particularly convincing technobabble, it gives the players of your Engineer types and Science officer types something to do either between games or while other players are off shooting Klingons and bedding interstellar princesses.

    Is that a simmy-gamey crossover?
  • You could also just use Wushu's mechanic (one die for each fact narrated)--though that would twist it a little. But I like the idea of throwing together random terms.

    Any of you read "Dilbert"? There was a good one where Dogbert explains how to create good names for new products. "Simply combine a term from astronomy with a term from electrical science to come up with a cool-sounding name for your brand, like this: 'Uranus-Hertz' "...
  • These are some nifty ideas.

    Aside from the Adventures in Space game I mentioned above, I haven't been able to find any others that give bonuses for using technobabble or other encouragement. Very few games seem to actively discourage it, however, which I'm happy about.
  • I use a variant in my Transhuman Space-campaign. Though it is intended for (or "powered by") GURPS, we play it with The Shadow of Yesterday-rules, and we have adapted The Gift of Dice to fit the setting: A Gift from the Future.
    Any time a player narrates a new piece of technology that fits the setting, that player receives or can grant fellowplayers bonus dice.

    Alternately one might do The TechnoBabble Battle (TTBB):

    In TTBB the PC enters a conflict with the Machine or Phenomenon (an abstract NPC of sorts), much like the conflcit in TSoY or Conspiracy of Shadows and the like, but instead of doing either a physical or social conflict, you play out a technical conflict, so instead of swinging swords or using withering insults, you apply Tachyon Particles to inverse the Flux, but this might be opposed by Radical Temperature Rise, that threatens Molecular Stability and so and so on. In this sense using technobabble becomes a proces in which the player attempts to defeat the NPC-machine/phenomenon. One might even do a TTBB with Polaris: “But only if the Flux Radiator overheats” “And futhermore the Radiator is bombarded with Tachyon particles causing it to stop the timetravelling aliens” etc.

    Just a chaos of thoughts from here.
  • edited July 2008
    Hey, that's the best idea so far, Morten.

    I particularly like the other side of the argument, the idea of the conundrum or machine "fighting back" with phrases like "critical transfer conduit failure" or "unable to shut down, shifting to explosive overclocking mode."

    That, combined with the rule of three idea from above gives me a lot of food for thought.

    EDIT: And I forgot to recap Robert and Graham's ideas for bonuses to original technobabble, repeat use and sundry other elements you'd like to encourage.
    Thanks. Awarding extra points, cards or dice for players making an effort always has a good outcome, even when it gets a little twisted.

    Transhuman Space Meets The Shadow of Yesterday, you say? I guess I'll have to buy me a copy of TSOY.
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