Gadgeteering. Basil’s bread and butter. Obviously, there should be some definition of it. How does it work? How far can it go? Why isn’t everyone using Gadgets? Or at least all the superheroes?
We won’t be going into Basil’s Gadgeteering in particular, because that’d be spoileriffic. Instead, I will explain the basics of Gadgeteering by using one of my favourite characters as an example. Be very afraid.
I call him Smileyboy.
First, becoming a Gadgeteer has nothing to do with being technically inclined, or being a smart person or interested in science. Nor does it come with an enhanced understanding of science or technology. A Gadgeteer may have secondary abilities that cover that, but being a Gadgeteer does not require understanding.
Smileyboy’s real name is Jory. Jory was never a very smart boy. Most of the time, he was (and still is) quite dense. He sometimes has trouble tying his shoelaces. TV remotes just confused him, especially if they had blinking lights. Jory doesn’t know how to get bored. He could just sit around, staring into space and doing nothing for hours on end.
Then Jory had a very bad day, and Jory manifested some heavy duty Gadgeteering. This did not make him any smarter. TV remotes are still a mystery to him.
All Gadgeteers have a theme, a field in which they work best. This can be something as specific as Covert Communication Systems, or something as wide open as sonics, man-machine integration, multi-purpose vehicles or, at the high end of the scale, High-Energy Systems, autonomous Systems and Communication. No, Basil’s speciality is not among these.
Jory’s power falls into a middle point of Gadgeteering – it’s both very advanced and very versatile, but not excessively so. Specifically, he specialises in High-Mobility Power Armor. His power is unusually versatile, and can also provide him with weapon systems that fit this theme, though they are never as advanced as the core systems he specialises in.
Next, Gadgeteers don’t actually invent their work themselves – their power does. No understanding required (or even possible, in some cases). Many a Gadgeteer spends their life building Gadgets they do not actually understand at all – they just get a basic idea of how they work and can describe that (sometimes), but it doesn’t (usually) give them a deep understanding. They are more channels through which their power works (think of Gadgeteering as something akin to the classic concept of Divine Inspiration). Usually, the power works off of random impressions and impulses, using them as seeds from which it grows a new invention.
Jory is stuck in a scrapyard. His legs are broken and his throat has been damaged. Not so much that he’ll be crippled for life, but he can neither leave on his own, nor call for help. As he lies there, in the burning sun, he notices a discarded toy – an old robot, cheaply made but still mostly intact save for its missing legs. Jory reaches out and starts to play with the robot. His power takes in the impression of the armored fighter, the movement of the joints, the tools he can reach, improvise or fabricate, the heat of the sun, and gets to work.
Despite what many may think, the average Gadgeteer has surprisingly little control over what they actually end up creating. They can guide their power, focus on specific ideas and needs, but ultimately, they have to work with what they get (to varying degrees). Some, like Melody, have a very high control over what they work on, and can focus their power on specific projects without much trouble. Others, though…
Jory has little to no control over his power. In fact, his power would become less reliable the more he’d try to control it – it works at its best when he simply lets it run its course, working with whatever he gets. Fortunately for him, Jory’s lack of scientific knowledge and rather airheaded attitude mean that he’d be barely capable of guiding it anyway, so he achieves a very high level of synchronisation with his power without even trying.
Once the power gets going, it draws on various (unknown) sources of information, recombining elements from those sources, ideas from the Gadgeteer’s mind and observations of their surroundings, creating a design. Then, the design is passed onto the Gadgeteer. Even if the Gadgeteer has no technical skill of their own, their power can compensate for that, but only for the sake of constructing, maintaining and operating their gadgets.
Jory used to have trouble operating a television via remote. In fact, he still has. But as soon as he gets into his suit, he just knows how to do it. He knows every inch of it, every button and every control stick. He might lack actual practice, but he knows the theory on an instinctual level that allows him to operate his power armor on an acceptable level right off the bat. Better later on, once he gets some practice in. Just don’t ask him to actually teach someone else to do it right.
This lack of innate understanding, coupled with their mostly instinctive approach to construction and operation, makes it more than a little difficult to replicate a gadgeteer’s work. Furthermore, the ‘blueprints’ they write down (if they write them down at all – some record sounds, or fashion three-dimensional models, or just plain don’t make blueprints at all) are rarely actually usable as blueprints for anyone but them – they are meant more to remind their power of the gadget in question (essentially, they record a coded version of the impulses that led to the invention of said gadget, which then replicates the same process in their power), so that it can be reconstructed.
Jory’s first invention can barely be called power armor. It has two rusty-looking legs (built out of all kinds of scrap found, mostly car parts) that end in wheels (scavenged from a dirt bike) instead of feet. Its chest is actually a cockpit with an armored front (controls cobbled together from car electronics that weren’t scavenged yet, a few radios and an old television; the armor is made of two thick black car doors, reinforced by a few sheets of steel that he found lying around). Since his legs are broken, Jory couldn’t properly operate a normal power armor, anyway. This one allows him to strap himself in the back (seatbelts from cars and the saddle of the dirtbike), while providing some additional armor to protect his legs from frontal attacks (white, made out of a fridge, actually). His back is exposed, but he has neither the time, nor the material to really fix that right now. He does have a camera built into the ‘head’ of the armor (which is actually a decoy made out of a microwave – his head is hidden behind the chest area, where the armor is at its thickest), feeding into a screen in front of his eyes. He can slide the screen down and open a simple slit to look through, in case the cranial camera is disabled.
Furthermore his armor is already armed for combat. It has a crude shield (reinforced fridge door) on its left arm (built out of the same scrap he used for the legs, which can rotate to protect about fifty percent of his back at a time, when necessary, and provide additional protection from the front. The right arm extends into a lance (axis of a car, reinforced with welded sheets of metal scavenged from a few pick up trucks) with a built-in concussive missile (car pistons and a few other parts, mainly from said cars), which would fire off the outer layer of the lance with enough force to penetrate a concrete wall.
The whole product is powered with solar energy, to which Jory’s power was inspired by the blistering heat of the sun that was tormenting him. The panels and batteries are handcrafted, and took about as much time to get right as the rest of the armor put together. They fold out of the shoulders, usually hidden behind them, and it takes a while for the armor to charge to full capacity – afterwards, they can be opened to recharge even while operating it, but that is too risky to do in combat, as he can’t armor the panels themselves.
Some gadgeteers have an amazing construction speed, often to the point where they are given a secondary perception or manipulation rating. This often comes with trade-offs, though.
The entire project took Jory about eleven hours to complete – it’s night by the time he finishes, and he’ll have to wait until morning to charge his batteries. Unfortunately, the whole thing really is just a jury-rig, and probably won’t last for long.
As a final touch before he goes to sleep, Jory paints a smiley face on the front of the armor, out of a childish desire not to leave it blank. He then goes to sleep in a car whose heating he fixed haphazardly for the night. Next morning, he’ll take his armor for a ride, and go after the jerks who hurt him and dumped him in a scrapyard.
They’re going to regret it. A lot.
Now, this is all well and good, but why can’t Jory just let someone else operate his armor, instead of risking life and limb on the frontlines? Sure, in the beginning, he wants revenge and he doesn’t have anyone to entrust it to, anyway. But later on he’ll have a support structure, access to professional pilots and other heroes who might benefit more from having power armor to complement their powers than from having one more teammate on the frontlines.
The answer is manifold:
- Jory really can’t explain how to properly maintain or operate his inventions. Anyone who took possession of it would have to at least figure the latter out on their own, and they’d always be lacking compared to him, as his power only provides custom-made controls. Furthermore, many aspects of the operation are, simply put, up to the power. Only because someone can physically operate the controls, doesn’t mean that they are mentally equipped to. Jory’s armors may require a peculiar sense of balance to properly operate, or an instinctive grasp of gravity interaction, none of which he can pass onto other pilots. Even if they figure the controls out, they’d never be able to be as good at it as he is. The same goes for maintenance.
- He is, partly due to his power and partly due to his personality, rather possessive about his creations, and doesn’t like handing them off in the first place.
- In order to actually improve on his work, Jory needs as much input on it as possible. Watching it on video is a poor substitute for actually being in the field with it, seeing, hearing, feeling and even smelling it in action. Even where he to do that, his power wouldn’t work as well as if he was piloting it himself, feeling the pressure it puts on his body, the delay from giving a command and it being carried out, the issues with balancing on rough ground or navigating tight corners. All that is additional information his power can use to make improvements, information he’d plainly lack if he stayed in the lab. Even if someone could achieve the same level of detail in their reports as he can get firsthand, it still wouldn’t feed his power half as well as the real thing. His progress would be greatly stifled in any case.
Gadgeteers deal heavily in information, even if they may not do so consciously. Getting input on their work helps them immensely in improving and expanding it, which is why they are so prone to delve into long-winded explanations or detailed discussions of their work, especially with other gadgeteers – the short time Basil spent talking shop with Melody, when they were preparing for the fight against Hastur, was more fruitful for him/his power than the last two months of lab work put together – and that’s before they heterodyned their powers and created a weapon that can level a building in one shot, from scratch.
The same issues hold true for almost all gadgeteers there are. Some can circumvent parts of it – there are gadgeteers who are more suited to lab work, rather than active duty, and then there are all the non-combat gadgeteers, whose gadgeteering has no combat application in the first place. But, as a rule of thumb, if a gadgeteer mainly works with combat technology, then they’re best off actually using it themselves, in order for their power to work properly.
Some gadgeteers might be better off in their labs, but those like Basil, Melody, Tin Can, Hotrod or Warren are better off in the field, using their inventions themselves.
Now, lastly, a few samples of various Gadgeteers to put all this information into perspective:
- Smileyboy (Jory)
- Specialises in high-mobility power armor. Mentally handicapped, which his power compensates for where his gadgets are concerned. He can work incredibly fast, but shortens the lifespan of his work to do so – for every percentage he shaves off his ‘standard’ construction speed, the lifespan of his gadget is reduced by half as much. His standard construction speed depends on his current mood, available material, equipment, workspace and motivation.
- Pollepel (Hannah Wenderman)
- Dutch cooking gadgeteer, currently employed at the New Lennston UH HQ. She specialises in creating meals of all kinds, and the equipment needed to make those meals. The need for input causes her to moonlight as a participant or technician for cooking shows, so as to further improve both her recipies and her equipment.
- Armitage (Jean Fries)
- Counter-Cyber-warfare specialist. Writes sophisticated protective programs, with a secondary specialisation in computer equipment. He works for the American government, specifically to defend the stock exchange from cyber attacks, spending most of his waking time holding the fort, while a small army of beleaguered assistants support him (mostly by providing a steady supply of coffee and snacks).
- I<3U (real name unknown)
- Mysterious cyber-warfare specialist. Used to hack various companies and offices to steal funds or just prove her mettle, but lately she’s been focused on a private war against Armitage, whom she considers her archenemy. The two of them are nearly constantly at odds, not-so-incidentily supporting each other in continuously refining their programming.
- Dory (Nikos Pavlopulous)
- Greek gadgeteer. He only has a single creation – a high-tech spear that he is constantly working on, making incredible improvements and pushing the boundaries of technology, as well as the boundaries of space in how he manages to cram an insane amount of equipment into his spear. His power cannot work on anything but the spear, and so he has to make do with mundane body armor to provide protection.
- Armory III (Molly Hastings)
- Canadian gadgeteer and member of the Drakainas. Non-combatant. Her power focuses on futuristic military equipment (laser guns, reactive body armor, jetpacks…), but she has a mental block that prevents her from using any of her creations herself – she only ever makes equipment for other people. This does not mean that her work is easily reproduced, at all – she still has to make everything by hand, she just can’t use it herself.
- Sovereign (real name unknown)
- Possibly the most powerful living gadgeteer – or at least in the top three – and ruler of Central Africa. When he first appeared, it was believed that he specialised in creating combat drones, but he soon turned out to have the incredibly broad specialisation of autonomous systems. He seems to mostly work with military equipment – combat drones, artillery and the factories to produce said gadgets en masse – but has at least some ability in almost any field he has, so far, tried his hand in – he has created automated mining assemblies, autonomous farms, airports, public transport… there is a good reason why GAIN is considered the most advanced nation on Earth, and that reason is its ruler Sovereign. Despite his speciality lying in autonomy, actual AI seems to elude him. Furthermore, his most advanced work still requires his personal attention – such as his dreaded Subjugators, each of which is considered a challenge for the average combat team of metahumans.
- Su Lin
- The highest-rated Gadgeteer of all time, Su Lin’s speciality was never determined conclusively, as she died before thorough testing could be performed, but she was tentatively classified as a High Energy specialist, as all her gadgets were of rather… impressive scope and energy consumption. She’d developed a force field generator that was supposed to protect an entire city, an energy-canon that burned a visible furrow into the moon and was supposed to be working on a teleporter before her death. Unfortunately, both Su Lin and all her work were lost during the Viridescent Dawn incident.