Brennus Files 12: Contriving

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Ah, the Contriver. No class of metahuman has caused the people on Earth as much of a headache as this one.

That’s a good way to sum Contrivers up: Headaches for others. No kind of metahuman is as unpredictable, or as annoying, as a Contriver to deal with, whether you’re their ally, their enemy, or just a bystander trying to avoid becoming collateral damage.

It doesn’t help that it’s easily the most nebulous class of powers that we’re talking about. Where do item-based powers end, and where does Contriving start? Are some Contrivers perhaps just extremely advanced Gadgeteers which contemporary science just plain can’t comprehend?

Many a Contriver of the early years has, in retrospect, been revealed to have been a Gadgeteer, and many a past Gadgeteer has since been re-classified as a Contriver, further muddling the classification.

Then there are “artifact-based Contrivers”, a classification which many abhor and which has been retired since the reform of the Classification system – people who express their power through a single, unchanging item, but can not create anything beyond it, nor modify it, really – merely requiring some manner of outside focus to express their power.

As if all that wasn’t enough, their specific condition – being tied to a particular, usually very elaborate fantasy – makes it nearly impossible to actually work with a Contriver directly for the sake of exploring the true nature of their power.

Currently, Contrivers are classified thusly:

A Contriver is a metahuman with a fluid, changable power or set of powers which they can not express independently, but require external tools to do so, whose nature is determined by their individual ‘theme’.

While succinct, this definition is not very useful, as Contrivers are perhaps the most diverse kind of metahumans, falling into several different classes:

  • Artificers: what most people think of when they speak of Contrivers, and by far the most common kind, Artificers create fixed items which are empowered by them, often but not always following a theme of ‘mad science’ of some sort, though there are also many ‘magic’ Artificers, who create ‘enchanted’ items.
    • Canon Examples: Doctor Despair, Spellgun
  • Casters: Far more rare, Casters express their powers through temporary constructs, be they vocal or otherwise – such as chanting spells, drawing runes, or other such temporary means. Almost always ‘magic’ based, there have only been two confirmed ‘science’-based Casters in history.
    • Canon Examples: none yet
  • Weirds: Not a formal classification so much as a catch-all term for Contrivers who fit into neither of the above categories, using more abstract or unusual means to express their powers through, such as a Contriver relying on specific constellations of people or circumstances for various effects.
    • Canon Examples: none yet
  • Hybrids: Combine two or more of the above in various ways.
    • Canon Examples: Hecate (Artificer & Caster), Heretic (Artificer, Caster & Weird)

Beyond these classes, Contrivers are usually differentiated by which one of two main themes they follow:

  • Mad Scientists: Following a pseudo-scientific mindset, Mad Scientists are almost always Artificers, creating items themed after their particular brand of science. They tend to be more rigid in the application of their powers, rarely able to improvise much on the go, but in return also (usually) create more stable, reliable Contrivances.
    • Canon Examples: Spellgun, Doctor Despair
  • Mages: The other big theme of Contrivers is, unsurprisingly, magic. Most, though not all, Mages are Casters. In general, Mages tend to be more adaptable than Mad Scientists, their powers less strictly defined, but they’re also more likely to suffer backlash of some kind or simply fail.
    • Canon Examples: Hecate, Heretic

Regardless of which class the fall into, Contrivers can not simply do anything they like that fits into their particular theme. There are several factors to consider:

  • Resources: Usually, Contrivers require specific materials to craft their Contrivances, be it raw materials to make ray guns, or chalk to draw magic circles, or any of a number of things. Depending on their theme and the particular Contrivance they wish to produce, these can get pretty exotic and, often enough, expensive. Some Casters can eschew these.
  • Time: It takes time to craft Contrivances, usually proportional to their power. Again, some Casters can eschew this, being capable of ‘creating’ their Contrivances (usually ‘spells’) on the fly.
  • Research: A Contriver doesn’t simply know everything they can do all at once. They usually start out with only a few ‘patterns’ with which to work, using them as blueprints for Contrivances (usually, a single pattern can be used for multiple different Contrivances), and have to perform research, each their own particular kind (a Mad Scientists might have to crunch mathematical formulas which’d give a normal person brain cancer, a Mage may have to do ‘spell research’ or negotiate with imaginary demons, deities or other sources) in order to obtain a new pattern.

While Casters may seem to have quite the advantage here, being often able to eschew materials and time spent crafting fixed items, instead casting spells on the fly, they are usually saddled with other restrictions and flaws beyond what a Mad Scientists often has to suffer, such as being dependant on the whims of some kind of ‘patron’ who might revoke their powers at will, or having to risk backlash if they mess up their ‘spell casting’, which isn’t unlikely to happen in the heat of combat.

Beyond all this, there are some common attributes all Contrivers share, both in terms of naming and process:

  • A Contriver’s creation is called a ‘Contrivance’, regardless of whether it’s a spell, a machine or something else.
  • Assuming unlimited time to research and build, as well as unlimited resources, a Contriver can do anything which fits their theme.
  • Power nullifiers can prevent a Contriver from both creating and using their Contrivances. This is usually the easiest way to determine whether a particular metahuman is a Contriver or a Gadgeteer, assuming a power nullifier is available.
  • All Contrivers are at least slightly mad, as they each truly, fully believe in their particular fantasy, even if it may not be immediately obvious.
  • Bad things happen when someone tries to actually convince a Contriver that what they’re doing is ‘not real’.
  • Contrivances usually lose all power if their creator dies, reverting to being nothing but curious decor, at best.
  • Even beyond their particular delusion, Contrivers are the metahumans most likely to suffer from Derangements, ranging from the extreme (Doctor Despair’s megalomaniacal compulsion to conquer the world) to the merely quirky (Hecate’s obsession with proper Grammar and Neatness).
  • Contrivers and real technology don’t mix well. While this is not a hard rule, the weird nature of Contrivances tends to play hob with any mundane technology they interact with, especially more complex ones (such as computers).
  • Contrivers and Gadgeteers really don’t mix well. While Contrivances and Gadgets usually interact with each other no different from the way mundane technology interacts with Contrivances, it is universally considered a horrible idea to have Contrivers and Gadgeteers try to create something in close proximity of each other or, worse, together. The results can be as harmless as both of them simply being unable to make anything that works, up to creating the Ultimate Lifeform To Replace All (ULTRA).

The Magnum Opus

While not exclusive to Contrivers (Gadgeteers are also capable of this), magnum opi are more often associated with Contrivers than Gadgeteers, if only because Contrivers are so much more common than Gadgeteers, and thus more of them have created these.

A Magnum Opus is a Contrivance (or Gadget, though we’ll focus on Contrivances here) on a different scale from what the metahuman usually creates. It is not a once-in-a-lifetime creation, but simply something grander, often but not always an expansion of their usual work into the megascale, though it may also be simply an extremely powerful, smaller item (Infinity+1 Sword).

Magnum Opi differ from normal Contrivances both in the time it takes to make them, the value of the resources required, and the potence of the result, all three far exceeding the normal results of the Contriver’s efforts.

Seeing the Truth

Many people have tried to show a Contriver that what they do is not what they think it is, and observe the results. Their efforts have been met with various, often detrimental results:

  • The most common reaction by Contriver is to simply ignore these attempts, rationalising any proof they might be shown.
  • Also quite common, and not at all desirable, is them going into a rage, lashing out at whoever or whatever challenges their delusion.
  • Rare but not unheard of is the case of a Contriver suffering a ‘crisis of faith’, losing their powers until they return to their fantasy.
  • One of the most rare results is the Contriver losing their power entirely, essentially ceasing to be metahumans. This may in some cases actually kill the Contriver.
  • Rarest of all observed reactions is the Contriver losing their power and, essentially, manifesting again on the spot, gaining some other power instead, which is usually related to their Contriving’s theme.
  • There are rumors of one more possible reaction, though no confirmed cases exist – that is, that a Contriver might realise that their delusion is not reality, yet retain their Contriving and unlock untold potential. This may or may not simply be wishful thinking.

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44 thoughts on “Brennus Files 12: Contriving

  1. It occurs to me that writing a contriver main character would be a massive headache. You’d have to understand their delusion enough to explain to the readers why they can’t Mary Sue through the story… Which might be problematic.

    Nonetheless, I’ll bet they make for very useful ‘NPC’ characters. They can pop in with a needed power… and then proceed to help or hinder even in ways that don’t have to make sense to normal people.

    I’m still liking the idea I had a while ago for a contriver. He thinks he’s some badass martial artist, with his energy attacks (and flight?) being powered by the secret techniques he’s rediscovered.

    • Actually, I find Contrivers rather relaxing to write. After all, I wouldn’t write one whose delusion I don’t understand, and whatever their particular madness is provides a good guideline, or core, to their character.

      Anyway, you need to know your characters, in any case, in order to write them. Whether their power allows them to make anything they can dream of, or just shoot holes in people, or anything else, understanding them comes first, and without that, they’re always a headache to write, regardless of the nature of their power.

      Now, what IS a headache to write, to me, are precogs. I love the concept, I love the power, I WISH I could have a precognitive main character, but oh god is it a pain to write.

      Believe me, I’ve tried.

      • personally i would find super intelligence the most difficult to write for. cause your only gmaging really your own max capabilities. then u constantly run into the probbken of why they didnt notice this or fhgure out that. though your limited super intelligence solves a lot of the sobblems LoN and Descendants i feel fell into.

      • Actually, super-intelligence is another power that I find rather easy to write, surprisingly so. Didn’t know it until I tried, but… I AM the author. I KNOW everything that’s happening. If I want a character to notice everything, I just SAY they do.
        Also, since I’m not telling the story in real-time, I have plenty of time to work out elaborate plans and designs and make a character seem far more intelligent than I am myself.

      • Heh. I’m playing with a story idea. The main character is reasonably intelligent, but has a paranoia about about precogs. This is made worse when he destroys a hero team (villain protagonist), and kills their precog by exploiting a blind spot.

        The reason this makes his paranoia worse? The precog’s power manipulated him into doing it.

      • The only way I can think to write precogs is to limit them. This precog, Deathwatch, could see how his actions would change the probabilities of when someone would die. Including himself. He’s also a coward, so he kept choosing things that would delay his death, no matter the cost.

        Eventually, he found a path that would cause him to die some thirty THOUSAND years in the future. So he jumped on that with both feet. With his power’s guidance, he manipulated his team into conflict with a semi-reformed villain, knowing that it would get them killed.

        The main character has a personality flaw of preferring to kill his enemies if he can get away with it, when most of the cape world holds to a no-kill policy. So, this hero team publicly challenges him in a way that would give him an excuse. Naturally, the first thing he has to do is dispose of their precog.

        Deathwatch thought he was working for the protagonist by providing an excuse for him to kill a few heroes. He thought that he’d be rewarded with nearly eternal life. Instead, he was put into stasis, with a timer that would kill him long in the future.

        Once the main character learned all this, he started wondering just how much free will he has in a world with precognitive manipulators.

      • Well, of course you’ve got to limit them, just like any power. I’ve found it that the easiest limit to slap onto one, though, is “not being the main character”.

        Otherwise, what I like to do is to slap on either time limits, or else a limited perspective.

        For example, one character of Brennus (who has already shown up ‘on screen’ but whose power has yet to be stated, is capable of seeing every which way the next 256 minutes could go, and choose which future they wish to come true; their limitations being those 256 minutes that they can’t see past, and that they can only see variant futures based on their own actions – for example, if a brick is going to fall off a wall and kill a pedestrian down the street, and there is no possible way whatsoever for them to influence that event (even though other factors beyond their control could), they will not see any future in which this event changes.

      • Hmm, 256 minutes of that single -perspective precognition could serve as a really great gadgeteer simulation power. As long as it is possible to build within that time limit, and the materials are available, they could build whatever they want.

      • can’t create gadgets with it, though it can be used to maintain them. Can’t predict what a gadgeteer will invent, though they can predict anything that is already built

  2. Are there any contrivers whose power requires them to break the law? Such as using Aztec sacrifice or “I utilize the power of stealing to fight crime”?

    • Just imagine a kleptomaniac contriver who steals his teammates gear to become more powerful. (Ideally during fights😁)

      Another question, Could it be possible for a gadgeteer to exist who’s focus is working with contrivances? So that he could combine them with other contrivances or gadgets? Or maybe even recreate them as working gadgets?

      • No to the first.

        KIND OF yes on the second, BUT: they would still have all the limits of gadgeteers, and it’d not be them copying contrivances into gadgets but rather, taking inspiration from seeing them at work (let’s say, Basil watches Hecate’s sleeping dust at work and gets an idea for a chemical compound that can put people to sleep), rather than outright copying what they do.

    • I would like to see Hecate dive even deeper into her beliefs about magic and become an archmage/wizard type character instead of just being an enchanter/alchemist like she seems to be now. She could maybe make an elixir that significantly boosts her own magical abilities (and makes her even more deluded).

      • the biggest limitations on Hecate’s power are her sense of morals and her lack of experience (and time to develop more spells/artifacts).

        One, she’ll overcome in time. The other, she doesn’t want to overcome, ever.

      • I see so there will be even more naked dancing in a circle. When is she going to request that the rest of the team help her with the ritual?

      • There’s no way she’ll ask Basil or any other boy to help (it’s embarrassing enough to her that he knows she has to do it naked), and she’d rather eat her pet turtle than ask Dalia for help with that.

        She might do some stuff with Stephie, though, if she can convince her that it’s not too stupid to contemplate.

  3. lol this is how i know im an awful person, ever sense reading this file ive been thnking of subtle ways to get Hecate to realize her delusion is fake, you know just to see what would happen. Im curious has a contriver ever remanifested as a gadgeteer? also how sure are they that people like Hecate arent actually comuning wiuh beings of power, maybe directly to their tenants in a way the host could better understand?

    • very, very, very few people actually know about the tenants as discrete entities.

      Yes, a contriver has once re-manifested as a gadgeteer. He might show up sometime.

      Of course there are a LOT of people who think powers in general are just magic, or divine gifts or such, and that Contrivers are the only ones who really know what’s going on (or at least those Contrivers whose particular fantasy fits their worldview), but the majority prefers to believe that they’re just kooky people with power

  4. Okay wait, woah woah woah. Are we really just skipping over “Ultimate Lifeform To Replace All (ULTRA)” and pretending like that doesn’t need more explanation? Don’t do this to me Tieshaunn!

    Question: what happens if a gadgeteer and a contriver heterodyne? Or is that even possible?

    • I think I remember something about the “ultimate lifeform” being the result when Brennus and Hecate decided to try to work together on a project, even though they knew it was a baaaaaad idea.

      Fortunately it seems they managed to kill or contain it.

    • No, that’s the only case where heterodyning is categorically impossible, even with the support of a catalyst (such as Madeleine or Canary).

      Just won’t work. Unless you WANT to unleash ULTRA.

  5. A little off topic, but i believe this is the first time you have memtioned nullifiers? i was wondering how their power worked? also is DIL(sorry gloomy, dont know her real name yet.) imune to them or does her power sense them some how and is like “fuck this, im outs yo” and teleports her away?

    • different nullifiers work in different ways, and not all work on all kinds of powers.

      DiL is immune to all that have encountered her yet, as are Pristine and Tartsche (when his defense is up), as was Ember.

      • i have to say it truely amazes and impresses me how well thought out your story is, i have neuer koown u to half ass or stumbke no matter how rediculously obscure or plot irrelevant our questions get. lol im imagining ynu as God Morgan Freemon with a magic fileing cabnet with all the detail of the world within.

      • I could really use Freeman’s filing cabinet. As it is, I literally am running out of space to store my notes in, and that’s just the handwritten/hand-drawn ones.

        Let’s not even get started on the stuff saved on various hard drives, usb sticks and so on…

      • How do you plan? I’m in the process of pre-writing my own work, and I’m struggling with the organization of plot details, setting, and characters. Creating a fantasy setting that seems vivid to me and the audience and is believable and logical is difficult enough, but I’m having a horrid time with notation.

      • That’s a loaded question and not one that I can necessarily give a satisfying/useful answer to, but I’ll try.

        First of all, I should mention that I’ve been telling stories since I was 4, writing them down since I was 11 (after reading Mort and the Hobbit, actually). 99% of my writing never went past some bullet points, a snippet here or there or a mind map, but I still have a good decade and a half’s worth of material that I can tap, a decade and a half spent thinking about and refining concepts for everything from hyper-realistic spy or crime fiction all the way to high fantasy or psychedelic fiction (with Brennus and the Dreaming being somewhere inbetween of those extremes), so whenever I’m stumped or I just want to introduce something new, if I don’t just come up with something on the fly (I’m pretty good at that, after so much practice), I can tap all that stuff I have stored.

        However, I have spent quite a lot of time thinking about writing on the meta-level, and these are some general tips and ideas I’ve come up with:

        1) Don’t plan too much. You don’t want to work blindly, but you don’t want to restrict yourself too much. You don’t know how your story is going to develop, what kind of ideas you’ll come up with as you write it, or which ideas you’ll lose interest in, as it goes on. You need ot remain flexible above all else, or else it’ll become a chore trying to make it all fit together.

        2) In contrast to that, do NOT make the mistake of just diving into it. There are some things you NEED to work out ahead of time, or else they WILL bite you in the ass later down the line.

        Some things to keep in mind before you start actually writing the story:

        – Power Levels: what is possible, what isn’t? How high does the ladder go, what is absolutely NOT possible?

        – The Endgame: you need to know what you’re working towards, so you’ll know the scale you have to work with. Is it a personal story, or are you going full-on apocalypse to be averted?

        – Focus: are you just going to focus on the central plot, and nothing but the central plot, or is the story more open? Are there going to be arcs that have nothing or little to do with the main plot? Are you going to focus on just the MC’s perspective, or use other characters, as well?

        Before you get to actually writing the big stuff, try writing some snippets from different viewpoints, to try out your setting and your characters. Just short stuff, really. Little episodes that focus on anything OTHER than the main character, preferably.

        This is really not even the bare bones, but I’d have to write a whole essay to really answer your question. If you want more help, we ought to chat more directly – I’ll be glad to provide it, but the comments here are not the place for it.

      • I’d love to talk about writing, if and when it is convenient for you.

      • message me on skype sometime (I use my pen name as a skype name). I can’t promise that I’ll be available soon, but I’ll try to.

  6. 1) Contrivers are such curious creatures, don’t you think? Could you elaborate on the workings of Weird and Caster Contrivers? If I understand Artificers correctly, they fashion items and tools that are fueled by their powers. Their powers determine the nature of the *objects* or of the *enchantments*. They look like Gadgeteers, except what they do is bullshit, and they’re nuttier than a table of fruit cakes at a bake sale. Casters “use temporary constructs” by casting spells, drawing runes, or using some kind of magic technique and weirds do anything that doesn’t qualify as temporary or fixed, but how is their diversity, or differences in mechanics with different casters? Are there a bunch of chanters, or something? With Artificers, the differences are pretty clear. Spellgun “enchants” magic bullets, Dr. Quantum manufactures inventions that cause “time-space anomalies”, and Silverbullet makes weapons to “kill the undead.” The distinction is clear, but less so when Casters are identifiable by whether they can be seen “chanting spells, drawing runes, or other such temporary means.” I’d imagine it’d be a problem with the UH. If you hear “she teleports”, the follow-up question would be “how far?”, but Contrivers are pretty vague.
    2) Do tenants manufacture Contriving fantasies or simply accentuate them. I don’t imagine a lot of people look to witchcraft after facing trauma. Maybe religion, but not magic in the 21st century.
    3) Is there a non-Gadgeteer/Contriver equivalent of magna opera/magnum opuses? Like surpassing prior limitations for a single act?
    4) Does the God-King of Mars qualify as a Contriver? It wouldn’t be outlandish to say that he has a science fiction fantasy.
    5) Thanks for the Brennus File! Finally had a chance to catch up on Brennus and this seems to clear some of the questions I had on Contrivers, who scare me to no end. You’re a pretty despicable human being to make mental illness a superpower. 💕 💕 💕

    • 1) For Casters, look at “The Epic Tier”. Heretic’s process there, using an elaborate spell circle and other “classic” spellcraft is quite indicative of how they work. Another is when a Contriver’s creations are, well, spells. Strings of words, often in made-up language, the recital of which allows the Contriver to generate the effect associated with them. In that case, the contrivance is the “spell” itself, the gestures, words, and so on, which result in a particular effect. One caster may use martial arts (ki techniques) to do it, another might have to sing, or speak in limeric-style chants, and so on, the point being that each individual spell is researched and “fixed” beforehand, to be used later as necessary. No two are the same, same as with Artificers. Basically, anything goes, no matter how crazy or out there.

      Which about sums up “Weirds”. They’re… all the stuff that’s too out there for the other categories. Again, they research specific… let’s call them “patterns” which generate “effects”. For Artificers’, a pattern is, say, a laser gun. For a Caster, it’s a limerick which causes one to shoot a laser from their navel. For a Weird, it could be, let’s say, a specific constellation of circumstances, people manipulated and set up to perform a series of actions which end up calling down a laser beam from the statue of liberty’s eyes to burn through an enemy’s safe-house, or a combination of strategically placed marbles, the right time of day and a prism shattered while touched by sunlight to have a pillar of fire/light come down from above and shoot through the roof.

      It’s hard to give a “typical” approach, since weirds are, by definition… weird. Like all Contrivers, they create pre-defined “patterns” which generate “effects”, which is about all they have in common with each other, or with other types of contrivers.

      Also, yes, Contrivers are a huge headache for the UH… and everyone else. In many ways, they’re the most feared kind of metahumans, simply due to the fact that they’re nearly impossible to quantify or predict reliably.

      2) You’d be surprised how many people turn to witchcraft and the like, even in real life. It’s more common than most people know, or suspect.
      As for Tenants’ influence… it’s complicated. They don’t “manufacture” anything, as such. A Contriver’s delusion is based on the individual, reaching for thoughts, ideas, beliefs already present, both within the person and their context. In Hecate’s case, she comes from a VERY Greek family, big, traditional, old-school. With lots of national pride and pride in their myths, which translated into all the kids growing up learning the classics. Vasiliki is, by any measure, a Greek myth buff, and when she got her power, it picked up on that and worked with what was there.

      3) In general, yes.

      4) No.

      5) Thank you kindly.

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