Brennus File 15: Spawners

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Spawners, Mook-Makers, Birthers, Queens: the names are many, but they all refer to the same class of abilities – those which generate ‘agents’ which are separate from the metahuman himself…

Which is actually not a very good way to classify powers with, because there is a vast difference between the various different ways in which this power may manifest and what may be a well-advised strategy in dealing with one type may lead to catastrophy when applied to another – for example, if a metahuman’s agent is independently intelligent, knocking them out may not cause it to disappear; instead, you’re now stuck with an inhuman monster that’s off its leash (and likely pissed at you for hurting its master).

But first, let’s focus on where Spawners come from.

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Common Origins

Spawner origins tend to share one common theme – a lack or loss of people. They are also overwhelmingly negative, with only a very few confirmed cases of positive-origin spawners known even within the metahuman community.

The kind of lack often informs the power – is it focused on a single person or on a multitude of people? The former might generate a single agent, while the latter the ability to spawn a great many of them.

Often, spawners and controllers come from very similar, sometimes near-identical origins, but it’s the focus which determines the result. For example, a bullied teenager might manifest either spawning or control abilities, depending on whether their origin focuses on the people who are there (and who could be controlled) or the people who aren’t there (and so need to be generated/replaced).

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SAVRIC

In general, Spawners can be classified by way of several categories relating to their agents’ abilities, its source and their control over it. This scale is mostly academic, as it’s too cumbersome to use in the heat of things, but it’s quite popular in online debates, among others. It is known as the SAVRIC scale:

Source (S): Where does the agent come from? Does it appear out of nowhere (0), is it constructed out of surrounding material, such as a golem made from rocks (1), does it have to be made in advance, such as in a lab or through a ritual (2) or is it permanent and does not need to be summoned at all, but has to be moved about (3)?

Amount (A): Does the spawner generate a single agent (3), a limited amount (2), a whole swarm (1) or an unlimited/unknown number (0)?

Variation (V): Is the agent always the same (3), does it vary along a limited template (2), can it take any form, but depending on extraneous factors (1) or can it be (nearly) anything (0)?

Range (R): How far from the spawner can the agent(s) move and still be of use? Are they limited to within their immediate presence (3), can they act within a short range (2), long range (1) or is it unlimited (0)?

Intelligence (I): The most worrisome aspect that one uses to categorise spawners is how intelligent their agents are – debates whether its actual intelligence, sub-conscious control via the spawner or something else notwithstanding – and thus, how independent they are. Do they lack any intelligence at all, being merely remote-controlled puppets (3) or are they without intelligence, but possessed of simple robot-like principles and commands they stick to, or which can be programmed into them (2)? Do they have an intellect comparable to some kind of animal (1)? Are they perhaps even as intelligent as humans or even more so (0)?

Control (C): How much control does a spawner have over their agents? Is the agent absolutely controlled (0), does it have leeway in interpreting commands (1), can it outright resist commands (2) or does the spawner have no control whatsoever (3)?

A spawner is thus rated from 0-3 in each of these categories, with their average being known as their SAVRIC score. While it’s not usually equivalent to how dangerous one is, a low score is generally considered to be bad news, especially due to spawner’s prospensity to negative origins and the accompanying derangements and other issues. Fortunately, low scores, especially in regards to Variation and Intelligence, are extraordinarily rare.

The only known spawners with a SAVRIC score of 0 are Weisswald and the Dark.

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ImPermanency

One of the most important distinctions between Spawners is whether their agents are lasting, permanent beings, or are merely projections that only exists for as long as they are maintained. Does knocking a spawner out cancel out their agent? Does killing them do it? In the case of Weisswald, for example, the answer to both of those is a resounding no. His Spiteborn, once created, are independent, living beings, if utterly twisted.

Also important is that power nullification can cancel out impermanent agents, but can, at best, knock permanent ones out (until they leave the area of effect), if it affects them at all (Spiteborn can be prevented from using their more exotic abilities, such as their black blasts or, for the more powerful ones, their telepathic abilities, but can otherwise operate as usual).

Fortunately, there appears to be some form of trade-off involved – barring extreme cases like Weisswald, the Nightmare Sun or the Dark, Spawners seem to trade off one ability for another – those who produce many agents usually have weaker, dumber ones, while singular agents tend to be more versatile and powerful. More intelligent agents also tend to be harder to control, providing another trade-off.

True permanence in particular is extremely rare. Most agents, at the very least, die or disappear upon the death of their master.

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The Question of Intelligence

One of the most hotly debated subjects in regards to Spawners relates to those who produce agents with near-human or human-level intelligence (rumors of beyond-human intelligence are usually roundly dismissed as hoaxes or delusions).

The first and most common question is this – are they truly intelligent, independently from their creator? Or are they merely being controlled by way of the spawner’s subconscious, acting as he would expect them to act? The most common evidence brought up towards the veracity of this theory is that agents tend to act in a way that seems to fit their Spawner’s personality, or else their suppressed desires. A common counter-argument is that the same can be said about most powers, that they usually tend to fit the personality of their bearer to some degree, and that the minds of these creatures may just be formed to fit their master.

The second and, perhaps, more problematic question is this – at which point is an agent intelligent (and permanent) enough to count as alive? As sentient? At which point would human rights need to be applied to them, or should they not be granted to non-humans – even if they are of human origin – at all?

Perhaps fortunately, there has never been a case where an intelligent agent came forward to claim equal rights under the law (as far as anyone knows, at least), nor has anyone ever accused another human of murder for killing a permanent, intelligent agent. However, as the number of metahumans grows, so does the number of Spawners, making permanent, intelligent agents more and more common (though they are still a vanishingly low percentage of their kind – if one made a separate category for Spawners who generate intelligent, permanent agents, they’d likely be the second- or third-smallest group of metahumans, exceeded only by high-powered Gadgeteers and, at the very top, the highest end of meta-powers, such as DiL’s, Gloom Glimmers and Baba Yaga’s).

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Duplication

One of the most common forms of Spawning (though it is still quite rare) is the ability to duplicate oneself or, in very rare cases, others. This can range from being able to split oneself into two, to being able to create a slavishly loyal copy of another person, or an unlimited number of such.

Generally speaking, Duplication, like most Spawning, tends towards being a solo-power, though Self-Duplication in particular appears to be the one most likely to have other, usually ancillary powers.

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Sub-Spawners

A surprisingly common sub-set of Spawners are those who get Spawning as a sub-rating – usually Gadgeteers and, most commonly, Contrivers, who can create some manner of agents to act in their place. They may range from summoned demons/fairies/elementals/etc to clones, to robots, to weirder things.

Like other sub-ratings, Sub-Spawners are usually described by appending the Spawner rating after the main rating, usually via a backslash, for example:

Legend: Contriver 9/Perception 8, Spawning 11

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Exemplary Spawners

  • The Eighth: One of the most feared Spawners in recent history, the Eighth was a metahuman (presumably) who appeared in Egypt during the mid-2000s. Appearing as a slightly above-human sized locust-like monstrosity with vastly enhanced strength, toughness, speed and senses, as well as winged flight, the Eighth would create permanent, apparently perfect copies of itself each time it killed another human (animals didn’t count, though it killed any it came across), eight at a time. Furthermore, it would poison humans with its scorpion-like stinger, sending them into a murderous rage – any kill these victims would rack up would cause the Eighth which poisoned them to generate four copies of itself. While the individual Eighth did not appear to be too intelligent, and nor did they seem to have a true hive mind, they did cooperate on instinct, raging across Egypt like a biblical plague. Fortunately for the world, they were discovered early and could be eliminated before they managed to multiply beyond any hope to contain them. As no core Spawner was ever found, it is assumed that the first Eighth was the source, but became just one of many once it multiplied the first time, with no one member of the swarm being the ‘original’ any longer.
  • Hydra: An old-school villain from the late 20s. Any time he took a hit, he’d split into two, with each duplicate being able to further split upon taking damage. No real limit on how many duplicates he coul dmake, but they got progressively dumber the more were made, until they couldn’t even stand up straight anymore. He usually couldn’t go beyond about a hundred selves before they became too stupid to be of use. He was killed in battle against a rival crimelord in 1929.
  • Zomboy: Creates duplicates of himself that begin to rot pretty quickly, dying off within about an hour of their creation, but has no upper limit as to how many he could do, except that he can only make one at a time (they take about 3 seconds each). While he lacks an ongoing connection to his copies, they are all of like mind and predisposed towards cooperating with each other and the original. When a Zomboy dies, be it due to outside influence, its time running out or deliberate suicide, all remaining Zomboys gain his last sensory input and thoughts.
    The original Zomboy does not decay rapidly, nor does he have their immunity to pain and slightly enhanced strength and toughness (neither of which reaches supernatural levels, though).
  • Necromonger: A major villain of the early seventies. He could create permanent duplicates of himself by touching human corpses, shaping them into his own duplicates. If he used it on metahuman corpses, they’d have the original’s powers. He was killed by Lady Light and the Dark after he crossed the line, killing over twenty teenagers with powers who’d been gathered for an attempt to make a super-school, creating duplicates out of their corpses. Even with their combined might, putting all Necromongers including the original down proved to be one of the original duo’s most challenging tasks.
  • Argus: A Greek superhero and anxillary member of the Olympians. He can create stationary duplicates of himself that share senses with him and can fire laser beams from their eyes. While he can only have up to twelve of them up at a time, they last until he creates new ones or are destroyed (though they are partially insubstantial, and so very resistant to most damage), and operate even when he’s knocked out or asleep, though with only very basic intelligence (usually following pre-programmed commands). He usually has at least two of them watch over him while he sleeps, and several more stationed all around his area, the city of Drama.
  • Matryoshka: A Russian metahuman, and a member of the Frozen family. She’s just a living skin, no internal organs or bones. By wrapping herself around a victim, she takes control of their body and drains nutrients from them. She can spawn duplicates of whomever she’s currently got inside her, who are under her complete (verbal) control. The more duplicates she makes, the faster her victim wastes away, and once they die, the duplicates made off of them die, as well. She has trouble letting someone go once she’s wrapped herself around them, making a non-lethal application of her power very difficult.
    For someone with such a ghoulish power, she’s a surprisingly pleasant young woman (though her actual age is likely impossible to determine, seeing how she woke up one day with no memories of her past and her power already active).

  • Crawler: A preteen boy from the Midwestern USA, he has command over a permanent agent the size of a small bus, a monstrosity of many limbs, huge muscles and armour plates capable of shrugging off anti-armour fire. While the agent doesn’t appear to be any more intelligent than a very smart dog, he is very independent of Crawler, and has been seen taking actions which directly contradict given orders, usually for the sake of keeping his master safe. They live a nomadic life, moving from town to town with no clear goal known; they are both rather peaceful, unless provoked (which, unfortunately, happens rather often). The agent, commonly known as Crawler (while his master is addressed by his true name), appears to become vastly more powerful (or perhaps he simply stops holding back) when his master is in danger of immediate harm and is very prone to highly destructive rampages while so empowered.
  • The Dark: The King of Supervillains can create apparently-permanent, human-level intelligent Darkwraiths, each with a custom powerset and absolute loyalty to him, going so far as to wear (at least) one of them in lieu of a costume. His Darkwraiths are at least as intelligent as normal humans, if not more so, can be created out of thin air, in any number he so wishes, have custom powersets and skills and are both able to operate at any distance from him, as well as absolutely loyal to their master, giving him a perfect SAVRIC score of 0.
  • Merkabah: Usually considered one of the most powerful Gadgeteers alive, the terrorist known as Merkabah seems to specialise in creating mechanical monstrosities she unleashes (apparently) at random to cause massive havoc. She has also demonstrated the ability to create organic monsters, so her exact capabilities are unknown; the fact that almost no one has ever seen her makes her all the more mysterious.
  • Anna Fastings: Unofficially known as “The Smiling Horde” within the United Heroes organisation, Anna Fastings may well be one of the most important members of the organisation, and one of the most influental, even though she only ever works in supporting positions, such as a secretary, a receptionist, an assistant and so on. Unfailingly polite, cheery and intelligent, Anna is a member of the group known informally as ‘her students’ – metahumans and norms chosen and mentored by Lady Light. Her power is a peculiar one, born out of loneliness and abandonment – she lost her family at an early age, bouncing from foster family to foster family, having trouble fitting in until she manifested powers and was picked up by Lady Light and brought to the UH, back in 1973.
    Anna’s power allows her to periodically spawn a duplicate of herself (the exact time it takes between duplications fluctuates, but usually averages out to four or five a year). While she has no other powers – and the duplicates are independent of each other – her new duplicate is always physically a teenager, a perfect copy of her body at the time of her manifestation, giving her an effective immortality so long as no one kills every one of her selves. Only her youngest living self can spawn a new one, but if that one is killed, the next one up the chain spawns a new self instead. Every new self has the combined memories (including skills) of all currently live duplicates. As such, she also has several selves of hers inserted as spies in various locations across the world, spies which never break cover and never send any information to anyone, yet give her a complete update several times a year when she spawns a new self.

***

Rarities amongst Rarities

There are some rare, confirmed cases of Spawners coming from positive origins – and all of them were or are notable in some way:

  • Michele/Michael: Generally considered Italy’s pre-eminent superhero, Michele was once a priest who achieved his manifestation after what gaining what he claims to have been an Epiphany following an intense meditation on the bible, the world and his place in relation to both. He considers superpowers to be Gifts from God, and using them for selfish and destructive deeds a blasphemy worthy of Sodom and Gomorra.
    His power allows him to generate a multitude of semi-corporeal, angelic duplicates of himself, with several secondary abilities which he himself shares – flaming weapons, the ability to use lethal strikes without harm (he slashes someone with a sword but instead of cutting them, they merely feel pain as if they were and are drained of strength, for example), flight, healing hands and a very annoying (for villains) subconscious precognitive ability that guides him towards ‘Sinners’ (i.e. metahumans who abuse their powers).
  • Rounds: The leader of the New Lennston UH division, Rounds is generally considered to be a prime candidate for succeeding the Feral Family as a Shining Guardian, should the current Doc Feral not find a worthy successor from within her family. He manifested after defeating a notorious supervillain with his bare hands, while defending several innocents, his younger sister amongst them, from said villain, and shortly thereafter joined first the Junior Heroes and then the United Heroes proper.
    His power allows Rounds to create duplicates of up to twelve individuals by touch, one each. Each of these duplicates has any powers the original may have at half-strength, while Rounds himself gains half-strength versions of their powers as well (essentially splitting the target’s powers between himself and their duplicate). The duplicates are loyal to him, even if made out of supervillains, though they retain their original personality and can be quite hard to deal with even while being loyal. Destroying a duplicate also deprives Rounds of their associate powers. The exact time limit for how long each duplicate can last is unknown, though a time limit definitely does exist.
  • Drakaina: The original Drakaina was a gadgeteer who specialised in creating crude (by today’s standards) robots with limited ability to act independently. While not much is known about her, it is known that she gained her power after managing to build her very first robot, after many years of failures and disappointments. Her original, pre-manifestation creation is enshrined in the headquarters of the Drakainas and taking a trip to Toronto in order to visit said shrine and see the (officially) original gadget is considered something of a pilgrimage amongst Gadgeteers.

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Brennus File 14: Espers

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ESP, short for Extra-Sensory Perception, is easily the most common “power” in myth, folklore and popular culture – countless people are supposed or have claimed to be able to be able to see the future, see  things that weren’t there, talk to people who’re not present and receive messages from gods, spirits or the dead, among many other.

Perhaps it’s thus not surprising that the Perception classification – whose holders are usually referred to as ‘Espers’ – is one of the, if not the broadest one there is, covering a staggering multitude abilities, from the obvious to the strange. While classifications like Gadgeteer and Contriver cover a very specific powerset which stands apart from most, Perception is more of a catch-all classification for all powers that share a general theme.

To be precise, Esper powers cover all abilities that deal primarily with information in some manner.

Unsurprisingly, such powers are extremely wide-spread, though primarily as secondary or tertiary abilities, either in addition to or as support/enablers of other, greater powers.

Note: “Perception X” refers to the end result of the power, while “Esper”, usually, describes the source – for example, an Esper power might also warrant further ratings beyond mere Perception. However, they are just as often used interchangably in colloquial speech. Only scientists and cape geeks tend to insist on proper usage.

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Sensory Enhancement

Hands down one of the two most common kinds of Perception powers are those which directly enhance or alter the Esper’s senses. Sharper, even telescopic eye-sight, enhanced hearing that goes to the point of echolocation, a nose that can make dogs turn green of envy, a touch so fine it can locate people through the tremors they cause by walking, all those and more make up a large part of Esper powers; they are also the ones most commonly to appear as tertiary abilities, without a direct connection to the main power, but supporting it in some fashion – such as Polymnia’s extremely enhanced, fine hearing, which aids her in her work with sonic technology.

Sensory Expansion

The other most common class of Esper powers has a great deal of overlap with Sensory Enhancement, often going hand-in-hand with it – powers which expand senses, allowing one to perceive things they normally could not. X-Ray vision, Ultrasound-Hearing, thermal vision, remote vision and many more make up this class of powers. Again, Polymnia’s hearing would fall under this classification, as she is capable of hearing the full range of sound, not just the frequencies which normal humans are limited to. Mindstar’s ability to have a second “viewpoint” which moves independently from her body also technically falls under this header.

Sensory Alteration

A rarer, weirder form of Esper powers are those which alter senses entirely. This can be such things as permanent Synesthesia (such as perceiving sound visually, or hearing smells) or any other sensory power which completely alters/replaces one’s sense.

Enhanced Communication

Often considered to have one of the most desirable powers for teamplayers, these Espers are capable of sharing information in exceptional ways, allowing them to enhance or outright replace traditional means of coordinating groups of people. Their power may allow them to transmit their voice across an entire area, create a network of telepathically connected minds or otherwise allow for information to be shared across distance or through obstacles which would normally prevent it.

Expanded Communication

Perhaps one of the weirdest of Esper powers is the ability to communicate with beings or objects one would normally not be able to, or in ways that are normally not possible. This can mean “talking” to animals, or being able to interface with computers with just your mind (this would usually be rated as a Control/Perception hybrid), speak to inanimate objects (such as paintings, statues, trees) or even the dead (whether or not one actually talks to the dead is another matter entirely). Chayot’s ability to read and project emotions are a form of expanded communication, though in her  case it comes at the cost of the usual means of communicating with other people.

These sub-types are the most simple, straightforward ones and require little explanation beyond simply being defined. What follow are more abstract abilities which make up the most interesting kinds of Espers.

***

Pretercognition

The three forms of Pretercognition are considered to be related due to sharing several attributes; in fact, as they stand apart from the ‘lesser’ Esper abilities, there have been repeat proposals to split them off into their own, separate power category.

All forms of Pretercognition collect, process and/or apply information, either from the past, present or future; how they do that is a question which has yet to be answered. Even pericognitive powers (those dealing with the present) seem to have leaps in the information they process which cannot be explained by sensory information available to the metahuman. If the vectors by which information is gathered are obvious, then the power in question is probably not any form of Pretercognition.

Furthermore, all forms of Pretercognition interfere with one another, especially with those of the same type; even when working together, unless Heterodyning is achieved, Pretercognitives are going to give each other a headache as their powers attempt to account for one another. This is most prominent with precognitive powers (the first predicts the second, the second predicts the first predicting the second, the the first predicts the second predicting the first predicting the second, etc) and least prominent with postcognitive ones. Pericognivite powers sit in-between, appropriately enough.

To be clear, one most not necessarily be precognitive to mess with another precognitive – peri- and postcognitive ones can do it, too, and vice versa.

Only very, very few pretercognitive abilities are resistant or outright immune to such interference, either because they deal with such specialised knowledge as to not butt heads with others, or because they are just so powerful they can out-perform all other pretercognitive powers; this last type is the rarest one, obviously.

Regardless of interference and barring a few lucky exceptions, overuse of any form of Pretercognition carries a great deal of risk with it:

  • Overusing Pretercognition tends to lead to powerful migraines – from mere headaches to crippling, day-long pain; in some extreme cases, it might cause the brain to hemorrhage or worse.
  • Pretercognitives who rely too much on their powers instead of using their own smarts may find that they go down strange, even non-sensical paths, as their powers run unchecked, building upon spotty foundations of mental leaps, lacking or plainly wrong information and a complete lack of (human) common sense.
  • All forms of Pretercognition – especially Precognition – carry the risk of making a mistake along the way, not noticing it, and going down a completely wrong path, as they draw conclusions based on faulty facts; this can and does often prove fatal, if not for the Pretercognitive themselves then at least for those who rely on the information they can provide the most.
  • There are certain powers/individuals who appear to be blind spots to Pretercognitives, and whose interference can thus seriously screw them up.
    • DiL, unfortunately, is the most well-known example, but there are others, as well.
    • Gloom Glimmer appears to turn into a blind spot intermittently.
    • Tartsche is a blind spot whenever he activates his power.
    • Pristine, much like DiL, is one all the time. However, some particularly powerful ones can work around her as she is a rather predictable person, even by mundane means.
    • Ember appears capable of becoming a blind spot at will, or even selectively, blinding some to himself and not others.
    • Emyr Blackhill appeared to have no protection from Pretercognitives whatsoever, yet he consistently defeated such powers – they would appear to work just fine on him, until they’d suddenly turn out to have been partially or completely wrong, for no apparent reason whatsoever.
    • Lady Light and the Dark have both shown themselves able to outwit Pretercognitives of all kinds; whether this is due to innate powers or due to a deeper understanding of powers is a secret they have so far kept.

Pericognition

The ability to intuit or just plain know facts in the present, as opposed to past or future information.

Pericognition refers to a great variety of powers, dealing with acquiring and processing information in the present, and so may often appear to be some form of sensory or communicative ability; while there indeed is a lot of overlap, the classification of Pericognition refers specifically to powers which gather and process information through unknown vectors, often seeming to work solely within the metahuman’s mind.

Such abilities can express themselves in a variety of ways, such as supernatural skill at planning, super-intuition, an extreme skill at reading people, combat intuition, the ability to use math or some other construct to analyse your surroundings, etc.

Of the three forms of Pretercognition, Pericognition is the one that’s most often overlooked, even though it is, in many ways, the most useful one – as it relies on facts in the present, it is not as easily fooled or led astray as Post- and Precognition.

Postcognition

Gathering information from/on the past, Postcognition manifests in powers such as being able to feel emotions an item’s owner has felt in the past, or see what has happened a few hours ago in some location, or otherwise access that which has already happened.

In many ways, this may well be the most ‘normal’ form of Pretercognition, as it’s not inherently too different from watching or reading a recording, even if it may go beyond just that.

Different kinds of Postcognition are reliable to different degrees – some seem to be all but absolute, always giving out correct facts unless interferred with by other powers, some appear to be able to go wrong somewhere along the way; however, the precise mechanisms by which Postcognitives work are as unknown as those of any power, ultimately.

Precognition

The master discipline of Pretercognition, this is the legendary power to perceive the future in some manner. It is, quite possibly, the most desirable power out there, provided it can be given proper support (which is why almost all Precognitives – even more so than other Espers – are part of some team); cape and cowl organisations worldwide recruit Precognitives as aggressively if not more so than even Gadgeteers.

Of all forms of Pretercognition, and ESP in general, Precognition is by far the rarest one – and even then, it rarely manifests in anything as straight as being able to outright see the future. Examples would include the ability to look someone in the eyes, mentally think of a course of action and see a colour which indicates how likely that person is to follow said course; or a danger sense that goes off like an alarm whenever one (subconsciously) perceives a threat coming, perhaps with the added advantage of intuiting an optimal response.

More powerful ones may be able to view a single possible future, and be unable to see ahead again until they have caught up to it; or they can only see their own future, from their viewpoint, or only the future of other people, from their viewpoint – never their own. Or any of countless other possibilities.

Straight-up seers who can look ahead at will or with only minor limitations, perceiving the whole of the future they focus on, are one of the, if not the rarest power there is, and the few known to exist are all top tier capes and cowls.

Precognition is the most fragile form of Pretercognition, likely because the future is ever-shifting, affected by countless constantly changing factors; as such, Precognitives are the ones most likely to go down completely wrong paths due to a single piece of misplaced or misinterpreted information; and they are the ones who are most strongly affected by other pretercognitive powers, as well as by blind spots interfering with their visions.

On the upside, even though other pretercognitive powers can seriously derail a precognitive’s predictions, they are also the ones who’re the most difficult to account for, and the ones most likely to be able to trump “lesser” forms of Pretercognition – though it may cause them one hell of a migraine to do so.

Precognition and Free Will

The age-old question – if someone can predict the future, is there even such a thing as free will? Can the future be changed, even if one knows what’s coming?

Barring a few specific exceptions of Precognitives whose powers forbid them from changing the future, the answer is “Yes, free will exists and the future can be changed.”

If there is a Precognitive out there whose visions are absolute, never wrong and impossible to change even by the metahuman himself, then they have yet to become known. As far as anyone knows, Precognition only gives one information of possible futures, not the one, inviolable future.

***

Common Origins

Usually, Espers come from Origins that are defined by a lack of information. The particular circumstances and nature of said lack are what then informs the individual Espers’ power.

Some example Origins:

  • Being lost in a dark cave, but not trapped; there is only one way to go, really – what is problematic are all the hazards along the way that one is incapable of perceiving and accounting for.
  • Struggling to make friends in a new town, but unable to penetrate the pre-existing social circles due to lacking knowledge of local customs and history, leading to a painful, perhaps humiliating rejection.
  • Having just stolen a huge package of drugs, the thief is struck by fear and indecision – they have the drugs hidden at home, but what to do now? Can they keep them hidden? Did someone notice they took them? Should they try to sell them as quickly as possible, or wait until the heat dies down? What’s the safe course of action?

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Gadgeteers – Just another form of Espers?

In recent years, there has been an increasing number of proponents of the theory that Gadgeteers are actually a specific form of pretercognitive Espers. While such claims have yet to be proven, they are not without merit. The two most common theories are:

  1. Gadgeteers are subconsciously precognitive, reaching into the future to find technology which will or may exist in the future, and reconstruct it in the present.
  2. Gadgeteers are subconsciously post-/pericognitive, absorbing, analysing and correlating information through unknown means to develop their advanced technology.

Opponents of this theory often bring up the fact that Gadgeteers neither cause, nor suffer from pretercognitive Interference; however, proponents argue back that Gadgeteers may well just be such extremely powerful Pretercognitives, or so over-specialised, that they do not clash with other Pretercognitives or simply steamroll them with their own power.

Either way, the debate as to the true nature of Gadgeteering, ESP – and all other powers – goes on, still unresolved.

***

Espers and Intelligence

As one may have noticed, none of what has been said so far touches, in any way, on Intelligence.

Superhuman Intellects are a staple of fiction, and yet the closest thing to super-intelligent people, Espers, don’t tend to be more intelligent than normal people – in fact, since most Espers originate from situations in which they lacked or were unable to obtain information in some way, many of them tend to be less intelligent than average.

Espers have more information available than normal. Some have something in their heads – or maybe attached to their heads – which processes information better than any human could, before passing it onto them. However, they still must make decisions with their own intellect, based on the information which their power gives them – ultimately, they are no smarter than anyone else.

True Super-Intelligence was long thought to be a myth (with two exceptions), and to this day, there is no publically confirmed case of true Super-Intelligence.

Hemming may actually have such an ability, at least according to Macian – however, it has not yet been proven, nor is the specific mechanism by which it works known; does he simply think faster than normal? Does he have multiple brains to mull a problem over with? Does he just have really powerful pericognition that makes him act as if he was super-intelligent?

No one knows yet.

Lady Light, the Dark and Super-Intelligence

There is no question that Gwen Whitaker and Peter Goldschmidt are scientific geniuses. After all, their research somehow led to the advent of apparently supernatural, reality-warping superpowers. And even before that, they were far ahead of their time, making numerous scientific inventions over a wide variety of scientific fields, while also being very accomplished fighters, detectives, tactitians and writers.

After gaining powers, they each created huge, international organisations which essentially equal, if not outstrip, most nations in terms of political and economic power. Even though they are not invincible (in spite of Lady Light’s reputation of such), nor have the strongest powers there are, they have consistently remained at the top of the world of metahumans, over almost a hundred years of activity. They have even shown, consistently, that they can outwit, if not outright defeat, most pretercognition they have found themselves at odds with (when they can’t just plain overpower them on account of being physical powerhouses).

To which extent that is caused by them being just naturally that smart, and how much their powers play into it is unknown – some argue that they have to be just naturally super-geniuses, as they already performed so extremely well before Point Zero. Others argue that they were smart before, and only became smarter, not just more experienced, after, by gaining powers that enhanced their already considerable intellect.

Even more extreme is the theory that they were the first metahumans to begin with – long before Point Zero. Whatever they did on that day then allowed for others to become metahumans, or perhaps it would have happened anyway, and Point Zero merely hastened the process. Perhaps the two – the Advent of Metahumans and Point Zero – are not related at all, their connection a false correlation!
Much like with anything else about Point Zero, Lady Light and the Dark refuse to speak on the subject, if they even know the answer.

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Brennus Files 13: Origin Stories

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Everything comes from somewhere, and so do metahumans, and the powers that come with them. While few, if any, really know where the powers as such come from, there has been an enormous amount of research put into the process of Manifestation and the so-called Origins which precede it.

Origins

An Origin (always capitalised when used to refer to this concept) is the event, or series of events, which precedes a person becoming a metahuman.

What exactly qualifies as an Origin varies from person to person, with the minutiae of each having a significant impact on the attributes of the resulting metahuman, beyond just the nature of their power.

While it is pretty much impossible to predict what exactly might lead to a person manifesting powers, there definitely appears to be a common theme of extreme emotions which can be seen in every Manifestation to date; they’re usually events which push the person to physical and/or mental extremes, or come about due to those extremes.

In general, they can be divided up into two categories: negative and positive Origins.

A negative Origin is what most people think of when they speak of an Origin.

A man trapped underneath tons of concrete, trying desperately to get out before he is crushed by shifting rubble or suffocates due to the lack of air; a girl trapped in a burning building, breaking down in screams as the flames begin to lick her body; a young man finding himself on the cusp of achieving his life’s dream, only to hesitate at the last moment and lose it all; a heavily bullied boy, barely holding on at school, finally snaps when his tormentors drive away his last friend; another boy, running from a blazing monstrosity, desperately trying to carry his baby sister to safety even as he tears his own, bare feet apart.

That’s just a small sample of possible negative Origins, events which push people to the extreme in ways that threaten to, and often do, break them. Unfortunately, they happen to be the most common type of Origin by far, making up at least eighty percent of all recorded Origins – and likely far more, considering that not only is it considered a taboo to openly ask a metahuman about their Origin, but that many, especially heroes, often lie about or else obfuscate their Origin, for various reasons (not the least of which being an attempt to dissuade people from chasing harmful experiences in the hopes of gaining powers).

As they almost always result from people coming to harm, negative Origins generally lead to Manifestations providing violent, combative powers, which further skews the perception of the public, as the most visible metahumans – capes and cowls – are fighters, and so “favour” people who experienced a negative Origin.

Such power comes at a price, however, a price beyond simply having to undergo and then live with an experience harmful enough to cause a Manifestation. It colours the Manifestation, those unforgettable visions which all metahumans experience and which perhaps only a handful, if that many, people in the world actually comprehend. From that point forward, that person’s power is forever linked to these experiences, and every use of it will remind them of what they went through to gain it.

Furthermore, negative Origins are extraordinarily more likely to cause serious derangements, which can range from the annoying, but harmless (Hecate’s super-OCD) to the monstrously demented (Mindfuck’s obsession with making others suffer as he suffered), as well as serious physical mutations.

A positive Origin, in contrast, is an event diametrically opposed to its counterpart, yet also quite similar – an event which pushes a person to their physical, mental and/or emotional limits, and perhaps even beyond those, resulting in a manifestation. The difference being that they, as the term implies, are positive experiences – good things happening to you can also give you powers.

It could be the athlete who, after sacrificing most of his childhood to prepare, finally wins Olympic gold, in that moment when he stands upon the podium with his medal, bathing in the adulations of the crowd and his own euphoria; the social worker who, after years of failure, finally manages to save one of her charges and see them off to a better life, at last finding affirmation that it wasn’t for nothing; the boy who lifted a car off of his mother with nothing but his own muscles and will; the girl who, after years of toil, ostracism and sleepless nights, finally sees her dreams come true, side-by-side with her love, stepping forth into a new tomorrow; the last of a long line of treasure hunters, thought to have been nothing but madmen, finally finding the treasure his ancestors sacrificed everything to find, vindicated at last.

Such Origins are extraordinarily more rare than negative ones, as the threshold to manifest out of a positive experience seems to be much higher than vice versa; however, the rewards are more than worth it.

Positive Origins usually result in less focused, more versatile abilities (often lacking a clear, distinct issue to focus on, such as a collapsing building, fire, or bullying and abandonment); sometimes more abstract ones than usual, as well. Some of the strongest metahumans known claim decidedly positive Origins (Elysium’s/Diantha Whitaker’s great dance with the love of her life being one of the most well-known examples for having resulted in a decidedly overpowered ability), as do most metahumans with non-combat powers, such as Second Season, the man who travels the world making crops grow and trees bear fruit to combat world hunger.

The greatest advantage of such Origins, though, is the fact that they are the ones most likely to leave a metahuman stable, without any, or merely minor, derangements. As well, their powers are forever tied to a memory of jubilation and success, rather than being a reminder of the lowest moment of their life.

If only more people underwent positive Origins, perhaps cowls wouldn’t outnumber capes four to one even in more civilised places such as the USA.

***

While it may seem, so far, that Origins are usually singular events directly preceding the Manifestation, them is actually not always so. While that is most often the case, an Origin can actually cover a lot of time, a series of experiences which are topped off by one final crescendo pushing the nascent metahuman over the edge.

The build-up and the finale can contrast, too. An Origin may be many, many good, happy things happening to someone, only for one final, big catastrophy to hit, undoing or tainting all those happy memories in one fell swoop; or a long, long series of disappointments and despair, only to finally find success and vindication at the end of it.

Generally speaking, Origins taking place over longer periods of time tend to result in more complex abilities, as well as a disproportionate amount of Contrivers and Gadgeteers, rather than the simpler, more straightforward powers that a singular Origin may cause.

***

Armourface: A derogatory term referring to the idea that powers come about as a direct response to a single event (get stabbed in the face, face gains armour). This is almost never the case, and even when it is, there are usually aspects and deviations which put lie to the idea that things work in so straightforward a manner.

***

Second-Generation Metahumans

In some rare – though increasingly more common cases – metahumans appear with powers that appear derived from those of other metahumans whom they are close to – often family members or close friends.

These so-called second generation metahumans seem to require far less stressful Origins in order to manifest and are less likely to be deranged or to have some manner of inherent issue with their powers.

While their powers tend to be related to those of their ‘parents’, they are not necessarily directly derived; it is far more likely that a 2nd Gen will show aspects and elements in their power related to that of those metahumans they are related to, while their actual powers are, at their core, fundamentally different.

As metahumans become more and more common, the number of Second Generation Metahumans has also been rising, slowly countering the trend towards a disproportionate amount of cowls compared to capes, as these people do not require nearly so traumatic experiences to obtain powers.

There does not appear to be any meaningful difference between second- and third-generation metahumans.

***

Usually, there are common themes, connections and relations between an Origin and the resulting powers, such as:

  • An obvious, physical threat -> offensive power.
  • Bodily harm to the nascent metahuman -> protective power
  • Threat of harm (real or imagined) -> change self to escape or evade
  • Lack of information at the core of the issue -> Esper power
  • Recurring issue over a long time period -> Contriver or Gadgeteer

The reversals of these can lead to the same kind of powers, through a positive Origin:

  • Resisting bodily harm -> protective power
  • Resolving an issue by uncovering information -> Esper power
  • Overcoming a recurring issue -> Contriver or Gadgeteer

And so on.

However, these are just simplified examples, and it would take far too long to go in-depth as to which particular Origins may lead to what kinds of powers, nevermind that that’s always just guidelines anyway – in the end, one may still end up completely surprised by the result of a Manifestation.

***

Deviants

There are always those that buck the trends, cases where the apparently established powers simply don’t seem to apply at all. Some known cases of such would be:

  • Type/Level Zero: Persons who show signs of minor Physique powers (healthier, more fit and more beautiful than normal), without any other symptoms of being a metahuman, nor having ever experienced an Origin or a Manifestation.
  • Born Metahumans: Both DiL and Irene Whitaker/Gloom Glimmer manifested at birth, with no apparent Origin whatsoever. Irene does not remember experiencing any kind of Manifestation, either.
  • Queen Madeleine: Eye witnesses report definitely that Madeleine died to wounds inflicted on her after days of torture, as well as extreme exhaustion. Her status was confirmed and she was officially declared dead, before she appeared to spontaneously reincarnate into her monstrously powered form.

***

Final Words

This is but a small primer into the issue of Origins, Manifestations and power mechanics. Expanding upon the subject would not only take a long time, but would also risk an enormous amount of spoilers I am unwilling to divulge at this point in time.

As such, I’m afraid this will have to do for now…

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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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Brennus Files 11: Gadgeteering 2.0

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Like any kind of power, gadgeteers can be hard to classify, since each one is different in their own way, but there are certain patterns that can be observed. They’re not hard categories that every power has to fit into, but they can be useful as a guideline to understanding a gadgeteer’s process.

Gadgeteers usually manifest at the end of a string of challenges, often failed or barely passed, then confronted with one final, greater challenge or success; at this point, whether they accept reality and press on or reject it and flee inwards may decide whether they go down the path of the contriver or the gadgeteer.

Case Study ‘Peregrine’: Layla manifested after the plane she was on crashed on a remote island in the Atlantic, leaving the teenage girl as the sole survivor of her flight, and bereft of her glasses on top of that. Half-blind, she established a camp, then went to work using technical knowledge gained from several special courses at school to scavenge parts from the plane and the cargo, trying to build a long-range communication device. After two weeks of work, numerous set backs and her rations running out, she had one finished and tried turning it on… but her limited eye sight had caused her to overlook several important details in the wiring, which caused the machine to burn out uselessly, damaging several vital, irreplacable components.

First of all, every gadgeteer has a focus. Actually, every power has it, but it’s most obvious with gadgeteers and contrivers (next Brennus File will be on contrivers). This focus is the axis of their power, and what most people think of when they try to classify a gadgeteer, but it’s not the only thing.

Foci can run the gamut from simple, clear ones (heat-based melee equipment) to the strange and abstract (man-machine integration, countdown, automation). Usually, more abstract ones are more ‘powerful’, meaning if someone with the ability to perceive powers looks at you, they’d see a bigger power there, but it’s not universal.

Usually, they can be broken down along the lines of:

  • Field gadgeteers: those who have a certain field which they focus on and are mostly limited to working within said field, only branching out with a lot of effort, but can do amazing things within. The most common type of gadgeteer.
    • Polymnia: works with sonics, and only with sonics. Every other field she touches on is adapted to her focus.
    • Hotrod: multi-purpose vehicles and vehicular weaponry
    • Cartastrophy: originally Four-Wheeled Vehicles, has branched out into vehicular power armour.
  • Approach gadgeteers do not have one specific field, and are able to work within several of them, branching out relatively easily; their gadgeteering is instead governed by the approach they take, a certain theme or recurring element.
    • Tick-Tock: everything she makes has a timer as part of its function.
    • Boom-Boom: it all blows up. Often repeatedly.
  • Hybrid gadgeteers are where the lines get blurry, as they seem mix the strengths and weaknesses of both, in various ways, with no clear distinction between their field and their approach.
    • Sovereign: Automation.
  • Free gadgeteers, who can invent anything, in any field, given sufficient time and materials, though usually with some manner of large drawback, often tied into the vastness of their power.
    • Su Ling: could make anything, but everything she made escalated into the megascale. She sat down to fix her village’s sole microwave and ended up constructing a factory which turns raw matter into food. She wanted to build a telescope for her younger siblings to stargaze, yet ended up with a laser cannon which burned a canyon into the moon that is visible from Earth. Had a secondary power which allowed her body to produce rare and valuable materials required for her construction process (very painfully and beyond her control).

Case Study ‘Peregrine’: Layla’s power gave her two inter-connected foci, and she works best while working in the intersection of the two. Her foci are ‘Flight’ and ‘Sensory’.

Beyond this, gadgeteers are often split into combat/non-combat ones, though this distinction is mostly just used for teams in the field to set their priorities.

While there are some gadgeteers who are strictly locked into only creating combat equipment, and some who can’t make anything for combat at all, in most cases, it is more fluid than that.

So why don’t gadgeteers just stay in their lab and make equipment for normal people or for other metahumans to take into battle? Why not keep these valuable force multipliers safe in your base and have them crank out force-fields, laser guns and power armour?

Simply put, a gadgeteer needs to test. They need to see their creations in use, live, in whatever environment they were made for, in order for their power to properly improve on them. If a gadgeteer makes something for combat, then, unless he does not wish to improve on it any more, he has to be there and see it used in combat. While another person could use their equipment with them standing by and observing (they do need to be present, in most cases, as their power is watching with more than just their senses), that would leave the gadgeteer rather defenseless. Furthermore, not everyone can use a gadget to its fullest capability and only seeing half of your variable plasma gun’s potential come into play defeats the point of putting it to the test in the first place.

Case study ‘Peregrine’: Having escaped the island using a hand-made, solar-powered glider and flight goggles with navigation equipment built in, Layla returned to her home country of Scotland, where she chose to take on the name Peregrine and become a superhero. To do so, she developed combat-worthy equipment, specifically a rifle meant to drop stunning payloads from above on opponents, specced to be most accurate during fly-by attacks, as well as a winged jetpack to enable the full use of her weapon, and provide the much-needed mobility. In order to further improve on these first, rather crude creations, she’s going to go out and test them in combat against a local clan of criminals, among them one metahuman. No one but her has the necessary sense of balance and eye for air currents needed to fly her jetpack without crashing, and aim her gun properly during the high-speed strafing runs which it works best in, even where they to wear her high-spec visor.

And as for those gadgeteers who’re fine with not improving their technology, always just replicating the same old piece of equipment, never innovating…

Well, that’s a fast track towards dropping your Synchronization with your Tenant way, way down.

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Brennus Files 10: The Untold Ones

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Before I settled on Basil as the main character, I went through a lot of early drafts with various main characters, some of them radically different.

Here are some of them – they may or may not show up in some form in the future, but these incarnations, at least, are not going to be told:

Hemagoria

One day, Amanda Blake woke up in a back alley of New Lennston’s Shades – naked, alone and with no memory other than a mission – Find Basil. Her only companion a weird, lizard-like cat which she knew she made herself – though she could not, for the life of her, remember when or where.

Amanda was a gadgeteer of a very rare type – instead of having a specific field that she works in, she could create an extreme variety of equipment – but it all needed her blood to run. Her power mostly settled in three distinct fields, all connected to blood:

  • Living beings, such as her lizard-cat, of animal-like or lesser intelligence and with various abilities, grown out of her own genetic material to be obedient, but requiring a regular dose of Amanda’s blood so as not to break down.
  • Small-scale Equipment – power armor which requires a small infusion of blood to boot up, energy guns which regularly take some of her blood through spikes in the grip in order to continue functioning, grenades which took a one-time infusion of blood to be primed, a teleportation device that uses her blood as a marker to determine destination, etc.
  • Medicine of various kinds, though the base of everything she concocted used her own blood as its base.

Amanda’s team consisted of:

  • teenage delinquent Godou Takahama, also known as Osore, a Japanese immigrant capable of projecting fear as well as great feats of strength and toughness.
  • Jack O’Connors, also knowns as the Snow King, a young man capable of creating localised flurries of snow, as well as manipulating said snow for offence and defence.
  • Timothy Louis, aka the Ogre, a rather easygoing boy who could turn into a brutish rage monster at will – but at the cost of having to spend a proportionate amount of time in the form of a preteen girl.

Medes

Jake Blake, a young psychic capable of using both telekinesis and telepathy, has been looking forward to being a hero ever since he gained his powers upon a mysterious incident during which he and four other people gained powers, each going their own way.

Medes was capable of both gross and fine telekinesis, was a general telepath (though he usually could only affect one person with any amount of precision, as it required great concentration) and had a knack for picking up skills from other people through telepathy and training.

The other four people who gained powers with him were:

  • Hecate, an insane witch obsessed with the “mission” given to her by her namesake goddess upon her manifestation – a sinister mission requiring, among other things, the deaths of the other four people who gained powers at the same time as she did.
  • Tyche, a morose, dedicated young man blessed with unnatural luck and a gift for martial arts who joined the Stormwatch (later renamed the United Heroes, upon me finding out about Vertigo’s Stormwatch books)
  • Polymnia, a gadgeteer focusing on all things musical and auditory in general, though having paid for it by losing her voice and any sense for keeping a rhythm or hitting a note, unable to produce music of her own anymore. Joined the Stormwatch.
  • Eudocia, a preteen girl with an extremely powerful voice and more than a few screws loose. A wild card.

Animus

Casimir Blake woke up in the medical ward of the Stormwatch, with no memory whatsoever, having been found by the heroes of New Lennston alone, in torn clothes and with heavy, nearly lethal wounds. Nursed back to health, they gave him the only name they could think of – the one sewn into the cat plushy he’d been clenching in his hand when they found him.

Motivated to repay their kindness by supporting them with the strange power he wielded – and eager to find out where he came from, and what had happened to him – he took up the mantle of Animus and joined the fight.

Animus power allowed him to animate any sufficiently life-like object – be it a plushie, an action figure, a statue or – if desperate – even a corpse. Anything that represented a living being without being one was fair game for his power.

He joined a team of junior Watchmen consisting of himself and:

  • Dike & Tyche, twin sisters with strangely interconnected powers – one could “pay back what is owed”, healing allies proportional to the support they gave her and harm opponents proportional to the harm they caused her; the other had the ability to “break proportion” (a simple tap would shatter bones, a crushing blow would only tickle, a light misstep caused one to lose balance entirely, etc). When they combined their powers, they could strike enemies with blows of disproportionate power.
  • Polymnia, pretty much the same as the canon version.
  • Noctis Lumen, the son of Lady Light and The Dark, a power mimic who could copy the power of any metahuman he had previously touched, provided that metahuman was not currently within a certain range of him.
  • Timothy Louis, the Ogre. Same as Hemagoria’s version.

Wanderer

Amanda Blake was a young woman fresh out of high school. With the whole world in front of her, she decided to make a journey and see the world. Unfortunately, her plane crashed during a flight over the pacific, trapping her as the only survivor on the shattered hulk of a vehicle, with little hope of being found before it broke apart and sank. She manifested gadgeteering abilities, creating a device that allowed her to flee the plane and return home.

Amanda was a gadgeteer specialising in cross-dimensional technology, creating various devices that could move energy and/or matter across parallel dimensions.

She became a vigilante and gathered a small group of other young gadgeteers around her:

  • Hecate (Vasiliki); a gadgeteer specialising in creating illusions of various kinds, though mostly audio-visual ones.
  • The Ogre (Timothy Louis); a gadgeteer who created a single, rather brutish android he was constantly working on.
  • Tyche (Dalia Fitzhampton); a gadgeteer, capable of building basic combat equipment (power armor, some weaponry, etc) and technology which calculated, predicted and exploited probabilities (e.g. a targeting system that calculated the bost moment to pull a trigger in order to bounce a bullet around two corners and into the target).

There were many more, but these were among the most fleshed-out ones.

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Brennus Files 09: Gadgeteering

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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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

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