Two of the most important skills that I added to the Hero System when I was writing my House Rules for my Champions campaign were Paranormal Physics and Paranormal Biology.
The first explains how powers work using game physics – and therefore can also be used to determine potentials that the character had not thought of, and training methods to bring them out. It can also be used to determine how powers will interact, and what unexpected weaknesses and vulnerabilities the character might have. It explains everything about the character that is not personality-related.
It can be used to make assumptions about how a villain’s displayed powers might work, and hence assess what else they might be capable of. Villains can use it to devise deathtraps that will be effective against the PCs.
The second examines the biological adaptions that are necessary or consequential to the operation of super powers.
For example, consider super-strength. It might result from the transmutation of the muscles into something else, or the ability to generate kinetic energy in the target, or the bending of space-time around the target, or the partial neutralization of inertia, or any of a dozen other explanations.
It is entirely possible for a GM to implement these skills without being able to utilize them himself, even in a game context; he simply has to decide that the use of the skill will reveal a vulnerability to hard radiation, or magnetic fields, or carrots, as desired. But verisimilitude is vastly enhanced when the GM understands the physics of his world and can actually provide plausible-sounding explanations instead of blanket pronouncements.
What’s more, the process of determining these outcomes can be just as interesting as any other roleplay, provided the GM has more than jargon to offer in reply to players’ questions.
Which leads me to the true substance of this blog post: to illustrate these points by quoting the research results from actual play in my superhero campaign. I have three of these to offer, but they won’t all fit in a single post; so this will be the first of three, with the others to follow at indeterminate intervals – basically, whenever I run short of time to prepare a full blog post, I’ll sneak in another one.
To start with, it should be stated that the foundations of these descriptions was not my creation. The player decided what he wanted the character’s core powers to be, and what the visual effects of using them were. He decided that for some reason they wouldn’t work as well underwater (adding a limitation to make them affordable within the game system). He left it to me to explain Why all of these things should be so, and was astonished to find that there was a single theoretical “super-power” that could manifest in all these different ways – and more. The character is still exploring the limits of what she can do.
Nor did I decide how the investigation, which was carried out by another PC in-game, would proceed. That was left to the player of the investigating PC to decide, and the research was carried out in play over the course of a couple of game sessions as a subplot. Part of the results was conveyed to the player doing the investigation and fresh decisions on how to proceed were then made by that player. When all was complete, I compiled the notes and partial information that had accumulated and compiled them into a single report.
All this took place some time ago, in terms of real time – in 2001, actually. It’s now almost a decade old, and the secrets have long since been revealed to the player and discovered by the character. From time to time, I’ll interrupt with updates and side comments.
In part, the choice to use this material, which was prepared as a game prop for “internal” use within the Zenith-3 campaign, has been prompted by an article by Fitz at Game Knight Reviews entitled “The Gassy Gnoll: Should flatulence be a rules-based disadvantage or an acting challenge?”, which referenced an article of mine from about a month ago here at Campaign Mastery, On The Nature Of Flaws.
The central question of both posts is “how much should be game mechanics and how much should be roleplay?”. I believe that the two are not mutually exclusive, that game mechanics can inform and direct the roleplay, and vice-versa. And that’s what this article – and its sequels – hopes to illustrate.
And so, without further ado:
Power Investigations Journal Of Results
Subjects: The members of Team Zenith-3
Investigating Researcher: Warcry
Theoretical Consultant: Behemoth
Psychological Consultant: Ichigo
Warcry is the name of the PC doing the investigating. Behemoth and Ichigo are former PCs from the previous campaign, existing as NPCs in the Zenith-3 campaign.
Subject 1: St Barbara
Phenomena to be explained:
- Force Fields;
- Energy Projection;
- Electromagnetic Displays of some complexity are an observed and consistent side-effect, resembling “sparks”;
- Increase in power levels in Dimension-Halo relative to Dimension Prime.
Assumption: St Barbara has one ability which she has learned to manifest in various ways.
“St Barbara” is named for the now-defrocked patron saint of explosives and pyrotechnics. Her powers were all bought with “extra visible” and “extra loud” modifiers which have always been explained as being similar to the discharge of sparklers or fireworks.
When she fires her energy blast, the discharge starts at her hands and flies rapidly toward the target, where it explodes; when she flies, there are sparks all along the energy trail that she leaves behind, fading out with distance; when she erects her force-field, it’s invisible until struck, when it gives off a shower of sparks; and so on.
Known Paranormal Physics
“Force Fields” come in two categories, Magneto-Gravitic Radiation effects and Physical phenomena created through Psionics, esp. Telekinetics. A Third theoretical category involves altering the perceptions of the attacker through mental or optical illusions, but these can be discounted in this instance, and is not properly speaking a true force field, anyway. Energy Projections can be Electro-Magnetic, Electro-Gravitic, or Magneto-Gravitic in nature.
A fundamental part of the game physics derives from “The Day After Tomorrow” by Robert Heinlein. This novel postulates that there are “additional spectra” whose effects are as different as red and green are different from each other – conveniently ignoring the fact that these are just two colors, and the only reason they are treated differently is because of meanings and value associations that we humans have placed apon them. This part of the physics is unrealistic but entrenched within the campaign, and a good-enough science-fantasy vehicle for the in-game physics.
None of these account for the observed phenomena. Therefore, St Barbara’s abilities are something new to the study of Paranormal Physics. The increase in power levels in Dimension-Halo clearly implies that the phenomenon is physics-based, and is linked in some respect to the variations in universal constants, especially the speed of light, which are somewhat different in Dimension Halo in comparison to the accustomed values in Dimension Prime.
Q1: was there any increase or decrease in the levels of electromagnetic side-effects proportionate to the increase in power levels – i.e., are the visual effects brighter or dimmer in dimension-Halo?
- “No Change” would indicate that the side effects are an outcome independent of the changes in Natural Law in Dimension-Halo, and are merely TRIGGERED by St Barbara’s use of powers, not CAUSED by them.
- “Increased Intensity” would indicate that the same changes in Natural Law that have increased St Barbara’s power levels in Dimension-Halo also impact the side effect, and therefore that St Barbara’s powers have two different consequences – the action performed and the electromagnetic discharge.
- “Reduced Intensity” could indicate that some form of energy conversion is taking place and that energies unused in generating the primary action are discharged as electromagnetic effects. The differences in Natural Law thus produce an increased efficiency of conversion in Dimension-Halo.
Q2: Is there any change in intensity in the electromagnetic side-effects proportionate with increases in Dynamic Intensity of Power Usage – i.e. do the visual effects get brighter if St Barbara generates a stronger energy blast?
- “No Change” would imply a causal, not mechanical, relationship, i.e. would have the same meaning as an answer of “No Change” to Q1.
- “Increased Intensity” would indicate that St Barbara is manipulation an external energy supply rather than generating the power internally. In theory, this would give her access to far greater power levels than she has thus manifested, but the existence of a psychological “defense” mechanism preventing individuals manifesting uncontrollable power levels is well documented in Paranormal Psychology, as is the impact on power levels of other psychological factors such as self-confidence, etc. Either of these mechanisms are adequate to explain why St Barbara is not more powerful.
- “Reduced Intensity” would indicate that there is some internal process supplying the energy involved. The mechanisms of such a power would be far more problematic than either of the alternative solutions; at peak intensity, St Barbara’s energy blast releases the equivalent of the detonation of 30kg of TNT in approximately 6 milliseconds. Allowing for typical energy-conversion losses, this means that her biology must absorb the equivalent of 37kg of explosives detonating internally without measurable internal consequences, and must then dispose of at least 7 of those, again without measurable physical distress. While not unheard of in the annals of Paranormal Physics, this usually requires substantial alterations in biological construction with extremely visual differences relative to normal anatomy. As St Barbara does not exhibit any of these physical adaptions, it must be assumed that this is an unlikely result, and if found, would indicate the risk of severe consequences to her long-term health, e.g. Radiation Poisoning, Cancer, Infertility, etc.
Results Of Preliminary Investigation:
Q1: St Barbara reports no change of visible intensity of visual display in Dimension Halo.
Q2: Increased Intensity Of Discharge measured with rising power releases. Also noted was an increased complexity of visual byproducts, suggesting that a more substantial investigation of the by-products might be useful. A significant percentage of the discharge (aprox 85%) lies outside the visible spectrum, however, which negates the answer-through-experience provided in response to Q1; an approximately 20% increase, 85% of which is invisible, is a VISIBLE increase of only 3% – easily unnoticed.
Theorizing: The results of the testing of Q2 imply that St Barbara can be far more powerful than she currently is. Her powers are either inhibited by a defense mechanism or through psychology.
If the need arises, it should be possible to artificially and temporarily boost her powers, either by overriding the defense mechanism (risk of both physical and mental damage) or by constructing an impressive-looking doodad that actually DOES nothing beyond convincing her that her powers have been boosted. To be effective in this respect, the device should be bulky, visually dramatic, and should provide some sort of feedback.
This does pose some risks however; in addition to possible psychological damage, there is the risk that the feedback will cause physical injuries because of a power-boost beyond anticipated levels.
To minimize the latter risk, careful indoctrination in the anticipated levels of power increase should be carried out before “activating” the device; and to buffer somewhat against psychological damage, indoctrination should imply some loss of control at the higher power levels, and the potential for side-effects. The latter suggests a “safe” mechanism for such psychological changes to take, and offers the potential of classifying the results as psychological Development, not Damage.
There are two further psychological risks: a psychological dependency on the device, and an inhibition against further increases in power level without outside “interference”. To help protect against the first, emphasis must be placed on the potential for injury, and the device should have a limited life-span. To prevent the second, it should also be emphasized that the “device” will only increase power levels to a point that they will eventually achieve independently. However, the risks, combined with the potential for no useful increase in power levels if the theory is incorrect, does mean that this action should only be carried out at a juncture of extreme need.
Physical Analysis Of Electromagnetic Discharge:
Analysis of the side effects of St Barbara’s powers indicated a changed atmospheric composition following the discharge of St Barbara’s Energy Blast. Elevated levels of Nitrous Oxide (NO2), Ozone (O3), Carbon Monoxide (CO), Carbon Dioxide (CO2), Free Radicals (O-, H+), Diminished levels of Oxygen (O2), Nitrogen (N2) were the primary results. While these are all byproducts of petrochemical combustion, relative proportions of the constituents are inconsistent with such an energy supply. Therefore, some other mechanism is required to explain these effects.
Initial spectrographic analysis of the discharge produced results consistent with superheating of the atmosphere, but no measurable temperature increase was detected in testing, and there were none of the audible phenomena (thunderclaps) associated with such an action. Nor does St Barbara’s energy blast resemble a lightning bolt – it is a defined beam of some sort which detonates in an explosive action at the point of impact.
There is also a measurable increase in Pion Reactions during such a discharge, in proportions and of a nature which are not consistent with any phenomena other than a gas-based laser beam, and then only within the path of the laser beam through the ionized gas chamber. While a laser effect would be consistent with the beam-like nature of the energy blast, it is incompatible with the observed results.
Investigation of St Barbara’s energy blasts would appear to have led to a dead-end; hence I will now proceed to investigate one of the other manifestations of her powers in the hopes that the change of direction can shed further light on the overall mechanism. There are two primary abilities to investigate, both with visual side effects – Flight and a Personal Force Field.
As flight is, by definition, a mobile activity, it can only be investigated under laboratory conditions by restraining St Barbara’s freedom of movement. As this is likely to cause injury except at low levels, the results are likely to be less susceptible of analysis.
Therefore, an investigation of St Barbara’s personal force field is going to be my next step. However, this must be set aside for a more urgent inquiry into the physical transformation of Knight and into the Relationship between Knight’s Armor, DC’s Sword, and Mist’s Magic.
These questions will be explained, and answered in the last of these articles. For now, suffice it that Warcry is trying to explain and analyze “Magic” with science…
Analysis of data automatically collected by my battlesuit during a series of encounters has shed further light on the operation of St Barbara’s powers, warranting an update of this research project.
A number of significant phenomena were detected:
- St Barbara’s power level increases with emotional state, i.e. she is stronger when agitated or angry than she is when calm and controlled. This represented further evidence that the limits on St Barbara’s powers are currently psychological, not physical.
- The character of the electromagnetic discharge varies according to the levels of atmospheric constituents. This suggests a new direction for testing of the energy blast, to wit, immersion in various “pure” atmospheres. For obvious reasons, Hydrogen is not suitable; but Helium, Nitrogen, Oxygen, Carbon Dioxide, etc, should all be tested, as should more exotic atmospheres such as Neon, Methane, etc.
- In flight, St Barbara’s immediate environment exhibits a notable temperature drop of aprox 0.5 degrees centigrade, rising over time.
Before analysis of the above was possible, it became necessary to implement the “Power Boosting” mechanism discussed above.
The device functioned as theory suggested, confirming the suspected psychological nature of the limits on St Barbara’s powers. Unexpectedly, there were a number of byproducts in the shape of new powers emerging subsequent to use of the psychological reinforcement. Principally, these include:
- the ability to shape force fields into simple constructs (no moving parts); and,
- a hypnotic ability.
Increases in other power levels have also manifested, and there appears to be no permanent psychological damage resulting. Interestingly, these powers are keyed to different colors of discharge, raising the question of combining them.
There came an occasion when I wanted several of the characters to experience “Radiation Accidents” that temporarily increased and/or altered their powers – without doing anything to their control over their abilities – as part of a number of plotlines that were operating at the time. These upgrades were all based on these power investigations, even though the players had not yet received the final results; in each case, the players decided they liked the package and paid character points to retain the new powers.
Analysis Of Electromagnetic Discharge in relation to newly-manifested abilities
Found time to test the “colour theory” of St Barbara’s powers. Results: they don’t mix to produce new effects. Within a given band of the optic spectrum, there is just one power; and when the threshold into the new “range” takes place, there is an abrupt shift into the appropriate colour.
In conjunction with Field observation 1, it has been pointed out that colors influence mood and personality, and has a number of personal associations e.g. “red” = “fiery, angry”, etc, in addition to the spectral consequences associated with physical phenomena. This explains the clear demarcation of powers – like the other limits of St Barbara’s powers, this is primarily a psychological effect.
With several promising new lines of enquiry, I hope to resume testing and analysis of St Barbara’s powers in the near future, and will further extend this report with the results.
Analysis of St Barbara’s Personal Force Field
Although the electromagnetic discharges for all St Barbara’s powers are visually similar, simply shifted spectrally one way or another, analysis shows that there are significant differences in terms of the byproducts.
The personal force field, while in operation, produces a marked decrease in carbon-dioxide levels and an equally prominent elevation in ozone and oxygen levels, on both sides of the field.
What’s more, the force-field exhibits several of the more peculiar aspects of superfluid behavior, in effect behaving as a room-temperature superconductor made of energy (this phenomena promises to lead to a whole new field of technological development!).
It’s easy to see what gets Warcry excited!
There are clearly two distinct aspects to the force-field, the physical and the energetic.
A limited superconductivity effect explains the latter; energy discharged into the field at any given point is immediately distributed throughout the field, conferring limited immunity to thermal and electrical energies.
The behavior of magnetic fields on the force field is also consistent with a superconductive “shell”, in that magnetism simply does not exist in a superfluid environment. However, the magnetic effects generated in adjacent atomic structures by electrical energy circulating throughout the field persist; so while St Barbara would not be susceptible to the more exotic aspects of Magneto’s powers, for example, she would take damage from such powers as though it were an electrical attack.
The force field is transparent to gravitic effects, and confers no protection against them. Similarly, the field provides no protection to electromagnetic radiation, which is consistent with it’s transparent nature. Analysis shows that the “colour” of the force-field is actually attributable entirely to the electromagnetic discharge side effect, and that the field itself is colorless.
The physical protections conferred by the force field remain uncertain. The field appears to be approximately 1 micron thick at most, and has no detectable internal bracing. However, the level of protection from physical harm conferred is far greater than can be explained by any material known or theorized at such thickness levels. Even collapsed matter would be insufficiently strong. In any case, there is no measurable increase in mass resulting from the erection of the force field.
Therefore there is some other mechanism at work in providing physical protection.
Consequences of the personal force field
It is fortunate that Gravitic effects are not blocked by the force field or St Barbara would find herself in free fall every time she erected it. She would also lose all communications with the team through the Champions Communicator, due to the electro-magneto-gravitic nature of the device; instead of merely having the systems locator systems unable to find her.
It should be noted that the Champions Transporter cannot lock on to St Barbara while her force-field is raised, however, and any attempt to transport her under those circumstances would entail complete molecular dispersion within the force-field – in effect, a disintegration effect.
Fortunately, there are other teleportation paradigms, and that used by Mist is one such; greater flexibility at the expense of reliability and precision. The tactical implications should be a subject of serious consideration. Also fortuitously, Ullar has not had the opportunity for extensive study of St Barbara’s powers, and is unaware of the effect of an attempt to teleport her while her force-field is in operation.
Ullar was the chief Villain (and, on occasion, a semi-trusted ally, but that was much later in the campaign). He was an obsessive, paranoid, brilliant, former hero (by his own standards) refugee from a distant world – from long, long ago and far, far, away; with centuries of scientific know-how at his disposal, but only the resources of the 1950s.
Analysis of similarities between Shaped Force Fields and Personal Force Field
Testing of the discharge and atmospheric patterns shows quite clearly that the two force field powers are identical in nature, and that the obvious differences between them are psychological in nature, i.e. that St Barbara thinks of her personal force field as a “second skin”, and that this is why it behaves in that fashion.
The primary differences are that the personal force-field is dynamic in form, moving with St Barbara’s movements, following her form (consequently, any protrusions from the most form-fitting of costuming will lie outside the force-field and will be vulnerable; costume accessories such as capes etc should be avoided).
Because she is thinking of it in a discrete fashion rather than trying to consciously shape it, she is able to generate a field of considerably more complex shape than is otherwise possible.
This phenomenon suggests that finding similarly simplistic patterns of perception should enable St Barbara to greatly extend what she can do with her force-fields. For example, a simple airfoil shape would be difficult to learn but would greatly enhance both speed and control of flight; throwing her personal force field around someone else is similarly merely a matter of training and practice.
The stumbling block in this respect appears to be St Barbara’s perception that she would have to consciously shape the field simultaneously to an individual performing actions of presumably some complexity; overcoming this limitation is purely a matter of adjusting the St Barbara thinks about the task.
Clearly, two educational directives would enable St Barbara to greatly enhance the usage she can make with these powers: (1) a clay-modeling course, to enable her to grasp 3-dimensional forms more readily and more flexibly; and (2) some sort of creative-arts course which would give her more experience in using her imagination in a conceptual format. For personality reasons, however, it seems unlikely that either would appeal to her.
Analysis Of St Barbara’s Flight Powers
Despite the difficulties spelled out previously, some simple testing has been conducted under field conditions, enabling some additional clues to be derived in terms of St Barbara’s overall powers.
Firstly, her flight clearly indicates that her powers are in some fashion kinetic in nature, involving movement of SOMETHING. Furthermore, field observations indicate that her flight acts uniformly on her body and anything else she is carrying, and that there is therefore no sensation of acceleration or of the overcoming of inertia.
This implies that she has somehow manifested some form of that old bugbear of science fiction, the inertialess drive. However, gravitic effects and existing motions remain in full operation, explaining why she does not immediately fly off the surface of the world uncontrollably, thrown off by the rotation of the planet about it’s axis, and about it’s star, and of the star around the galaxy, etc.
Over time, there would nevertheless be increasing errors in vector if flight were to persist for extended periods of time. Estimates currently set this error as approximately 100 km/hr/hr. That is to say, if St Barbara were to fly in a “straight line” for an hour, she would have an error of velocity in both velocity and location – up, down, and sideways – of approximately 100km/hr, and 100km. After 2 hours, it would be 100+200=300 km/hr, and 100+300=400km; after 3 hours, 100+200+300=600km/hr, and 100+300+600=1000km; after 4 hours 100+200+300+400=1000km/hr and 100+300+600+1000=2000km; and so on.
That this phenomenon has not been observed to date is irrelevant, because no such experiment has ever taken place. All her flight has been of a point-to-point nature with respect to one or more locations on the surface of the globe, has been relatively short in duration, and the experiment further assumes that no course-corrections take place; the lack of such behavior clearly indicating that such course correction IS taking place, possibly subconsciously.
The error factor introduced therefore only assumes significance under one of two conditions: extremely protracted flight (such that the accumulated error velocity exceeds her maximum speed and hence her ability to correct it); and/or flight at altitudes or under conditions that prevent course corrections through lack of visual referents.
In practice, St Barbara should seek to land after every 3 hours of flight, even if she immediately takes off again.
The “hyperflight” mode of her abilities permits a substantial safety margin, however; even for some hours after she begins to notice an uncontrollable drift upwards, downwards, or sideways, she can still force her velocity and error-correction to conform by engaging this flight mode.
This extends her flight-time limits to approximately 5 hours by calculation (assuming that uncontrollable downward drift does not result in a surface impact long before this limit is reached).
However, this limitation contains one additional false assumption – that St Barbara can fly no faster than her current top speed.
Furthermore, as has been the case in earlier discussions of St Barbara’s powers, the psychological factor is paramount. In theory, she should be capable of velocities of hundreds of thousands of miles per second (assuming that no injuries are sustained through friction, and that such friction does not inhibit her progress). As usual, the limitations on her powers are primarily psychological in nature, and if she is convinced that she is able to fly level relative to the planetary surface, her powers are quite sufficient to enable her to do so for close to 9 years continuous flight-time, without incident.
Instead of the uncontrollable drift conventional theory would demand, what would actually be observed is that the side effects – the visual display, the atmospheric transformations, etc – would grow more intense over time, exhibiting a geometric increase in intensity. This behavior is supported by field observations.
Working Theory Of Paranormal Physics, as applied to St Barbara – General
Compiling the results of the testing carried out has enabled a preliminary theory to be developed. That theory: St Barbara’s powers are, after all, electrical in nature, but are a new applications of this broad area of Paranormal Physics, specifically that electron shell structures are susceptible to some form of control, possibly of a Psionic nature. She is able to force electron “shells” lower or higher than they normally exist; when this influence is released, the shells revert to their natural configurations, but the electrons themselves must either rise or fall with respect to the nucleus of the atom, and this motion causes the behavior of the observed powers.
Impacts on St Barbara’s Powers of the working theory
This theory fully accounts for the exhibited powers, their characteristics, and their side effects:
- Energy Blast: St Barbara raises the electron shells (and accompanying electrons) within atoms in a linear path to the target, then permits the electrons to fall back to their natural positions, starting with those closest to her, in effect behaving in exactly the same way as an electron pump is used in generating a laser beam. The electrons closest to her then fall back to their original configurations, releasing photonic energy. While much of this radiates away as optical byproduct, part of it is absorbed by the next atom in line, further raising its energy levels, and it therefore discharges more energy when it is released, part of which cascades to the next atom in line, and so on. When the beam is sufficiently broad to entirely encompass one or more atoms, of course, the likelyhood of another excited atom in the chain acquiring the additional energy grows toward the 100% mark. Eventually, a huge cascade of energy reaches the unexcited atoms at the target. Normally, these would simply become excited as the energy is absorbed and then released by them, but by inhibiting the usual mechanism for doing so (excitation of electrons), St Barbara forces the atoms in question to act as a unit – and there is therefore an explosion in the fashion of a container whose contents are heated until they exert more pressure than the container can withstand. During this process, affected molecular bonds are stressed, and some break, giving rise to the chemical byproducts.
- Flash: This is a similar effect, without that final “containment”, so that instead of an explosion, there is a burst of light. For psychological reasons, in generating a “flash”, St Barbara “curves” the path of cascade into a self-linked loop, similar to a particle accelerator, and ends the cascade sequence at her hands, so that the burst of light is seemingly produced at her physical location. With effort and practice, in theory, she should be able to manifest this effect at a distance, just as she can her energy blasts.
- Force Fields (2 subtypes): Compressing the radius of the atomic shells inwards breaks the molecular bonds of the atmospheric components, producing Ions. Suddenly expanding the shells of the electrons thus freed from their molecular bonds results in a free-floating electron “pool” distributed over the surface of the force field. Once removed from the surface of this phenomenon, the atoms tend to recombine randomly, but many are at a heightened energy state at the same time. Thus atmospheric components recombine to form the variety of substances detected as byproducts. Normal molecular agitation is perpetually releasing disrupted atoms from the “force field” and replacing them with new ones, one both sides of the field. The electron “pool” that results cannot be absorbed into existing atomic structures because the empty electron shells are forced by part one of the effect below what is normally an inner, filled shell. Hence, the surfaces of the phenomenon are superconductive by definition, and hence the superfluidic behavior and the protections against energy discharges.
- Force Field effectiveness: The physical protection provided by the force-fields can also be explained by the working theory, as follows: Carbon Atoms have a known form that is extremely strong due to it’s molecular construction: Diamond. While St Barbara’s force field is much stronger than a layer of diamond as thin as the one postulated, the normal strength of the molecular bonds fails to take into account St Barbara “reinforcing” these bonds by inhibiting alternative atomic arrangements. That the molecular arrangement is forced and unnatural is shown by the residue of the effects, an equal mixture of graphite and diamond in molecular clumps of only a few molecules at a time.
- Flight (2 subtypes): St Barbara’s Flight is electrostatic in nature, simultaneously repelling the ground and attracting her in the specific direction she wishes to travel. Seemingly the most prosaic of her abilities, this is actually the most awesome, once the underlying mechanism is appreciated; as it requires St Barbara to (effectively) ionize her entire molecular structure, seemingly without ill-effect, as well as manipulating in a sophisticated and cyclic fashion the arrangements of the electrons in the path she wishes to follow, while inhibiting the atmospheric atoms ability to physically move. (Since they are inherently more kinetically active than a solid object, such as St Barbara herself, and weigh far less, if this were not the case, her “flight” would only raise the atmospheric pressure around her without moving her anywhere). St Barbara therefore flies by means of an electrostatic “capillary” motion, continually dragged in the direction she wishes to travel. Of course, once she has passed a particular point, the electrostatic charge must be reversed to thrust her forward, and when the resulting electron shell disturbances collapse, they produce a photoelectric discharge – so she always leaves a trail of light to mark her path across the sky.
- Hypnotic Ray:This is a variation on flash, which is itself a variation on St Barbara’s energy projection. Physiological testing of the effect has been minimal to date, but that testing appears to indicate a successive string of low-intensity light bursts synchronized with dilation responses in the pupils of the target. The result is a state of heightened suggestibility in the target, at the risk of epileptic fits and psychological damage.
Testing the theory – Implications for St Barbara’s powers
While this theory has the virtue of answering all the unresolved questions over St Barbara’s Powers, it remains unproven. It is fortunate that it was developed before the planned atmospheric testing could be carried out, as there are clear implications for St Barbara’s powers.
1. Predicted Effects: Pure Carbon Dioxide atmospheres:
- Force Field: While initially there would be toxic levels of CO2, erection of the personal force field would rapidly reduce these levels and release carbon monoxide and pure oxygen, in proportions of 1:3. Within only a few minutes, the atmosphere would become breathable, if unpleasant. Equilibrium of atmospheric should be achieved at proportions of 12% CO2, 18% CO, and 70% pure oxygen. The force field will be unchanged in resilience.
- Flight: Efficiency reduced aprox 95%. as the atomic structures are particularly weak in electrostatic attraction. Slight contamination of CO2 atmosphere with Carbon Monoxide and Oxygen, totaling aprox 4% of the atmosphere.
- Energy Blast: Will produce pure oxygen in a similar fashion to the force field but at under 1/2 the conversion rate, leaving an atmosphere that is still toxic.
2. Predicted Effects: Pure NO2 atmospheres:
- Force Field: Aprox 70% effectiveness loss. Pure Oxygen produced in ratio of 3:2. Atmosphere produced will be contaminated by “laughing gas”, which is toxic at sufficient concentrations.
- Flight: Normal efficiency levels. Atmospheric byproducts as per force field.
- Energy Blast: Aprox 15% stronger. Byproducts produced in ratio 3:2 as per Force field.
3. Predicted Effects: Pure Methane and Methane-dominated atmospheres:
- Force Field: This would generate dangerous concentrations of Hydrogen Gas on both sides of the force field.
- Flight: Aprox 7% stronger. However, the power would both generate and ignite a trail of Hydrogen gas. As Methane atmospheres normally contain substantial quantities of free Hydrogen, potentially the entire atmosphere would ignite/explode.
- Energy Blast: As per flight.
4. Predicted Effects: Pure Oxygen atmospheres:
- Force Field: Aprox 70% efficiency loss. Carbon Dioxide exhalations recycled into oxygen atmosphere.
- Flight: +7% efficiency, some minimal carbon dioxide contamination.
- Energy Blast: +15% efficiency, otherwise as per flight.
5. Predicted Effects: Underwater
- Force Field: Aprox 15% direct efficiency loss. A further 60% efficiency loss would occur through electrification of the surrounding area. This will hazard both St Barbara and those around her. Liquid water will be separated into bubbles of Hydrogen and Water in proportions 2:1, a known explosive ratio; furthermore, these gasses will immediately react in this fashion due to the electrification of the water.
- Flight: Aprox 60% efficiency gain, plus a further 60% efficiency gain expressed as electrification of the wake. Note that resistance will be much higher, and that at top speed injury is possible. This should not affect St Barbara, but may harm others in the vicinity. Note that currents and eddies will cause the wake to drift, possibly rapidly. There will be Hydrogen explosions as per Force fields.
- Energy Blast: Aprox 250% efficiency gain. Note that effects will be observable throughout the path of the blast. There will be Hydrogen explosions throughout the effect path as per Force fields. Unlike the primary effects, these explosions will drift with the currents and eddies.
6. Predicted Effects: Space
- Force Field: In space, the large quantities of charged particles (the ‘solar wind’) will compress the force field slightly on the sunward side and expand it greatly on the shadow side. The field itself will be considerably weaker but it will be substantially more difficult to target St Barbara. Shaped force fields will undergo considerable distortion; St Barbara should be able to overcome this problem with additional time and concentration.
- Flight: The same phenomena that affect St Barbara’s Force Fields will make it far harder to accelerate, by a factor of approximately 10, however St Barbara’s top speed will be raised by a similar proportion.
- Energy Blast: Essentially unchanged in intensity, but with range multiplied 100-fold (with attendant targeting difficulties).
To date, none of these effects has come into play. So far as I am concerned, when the player bought the powers, she was buying the ability to cause certain effects under normal conditions; under unusual conditions, all bets are off. Some conditions will enhance powers, others diminish them. This means that all abilities must be considered within the context of the environment, just as though they were a real physical effect in the real world. The difference between employing a game physics to decide these context-based variations is that the players know the decisions are neither arbitrary nor capricious; if they are clever enough, they can anticipate problems and take advantage of opportunities.
St Barbara’s powers are both simpler and more complex than they appear on the surface. Simpler in fundamental principle, more complex in that there are a multitude of potential manifestations, which St Barbara has only begun to explore. Amongst the many possible powers she could learn to manifest are:
- Energy Drains and Blocks of electrical currents and circuits, and short-circuiting of the same;
- Direct attacks on mental and autonomic functions;
- Energy blasts which twist around obstacles;
- Molecular Disruption attacks;
- The ability to disrupt atmospheric pollution, oil slicks, etc.
Her potential power levels are easily 20-50 times those currently achieved. The most serious obstacles to realizing these potentials are psychological in nature, and are largely related to self-image and self-confidence issues.
For the record, the player really liked the idea that the only real limits to the characters’ power was what was going on in the character’s head, and more, that because of who the character was as a personality, that this was unlikely to ever change. He has since bought some of the additional abilities specified above.
There are a number of probable side effects to St Barbara’s powers of which she should maintain awareness. Under normal circumstances, the most significant of these is the hazard posed by the Champions Transporter System, who’s molecular scanning, encoding, and reconstruction data are corrupted by locking on to materials contained within one of her unique force-fields.
No experimentation has been carried out to confirm this effect; in theory, enough energy is released by a 50kg weight exposed to this combination of effects to replicate the explosion at Hiroshima. Even testing with a pin would be sufficient, if the theory is in any way correct, to completely destroy the transporter chamber and mechanism and to significantly damage the rest of the Base.
Certain tests can and should be undertaken to verify the theory postulated. Those atmospheric tests considered safe to conduct should be undertaken. Under careful supervision, cautious underwater and space experience should be sought. Training and Education designed to enhance self-confidence, assertiveness, creativity, and 3-dimensional visualization should be investigated.
That said, the team has far more pressing investigations which need to be conducted. St Barbara’s abilities are sufficient to contribute to the team, and this research can be conducted at a future point in time when she recognizes on her own behalf that she is not achieving her potentials.
Having a detailed and operational game physics is by no means necessary, but as this article, and the series on Time Travel that I posted last year clearly show, it can be very useful. Whether the ‘report’ is pitched too pseudo-scientifically “high” for you to understand, or not, it certainly sounds more “plausible” than a total absence of explanation. It enhances the understanding of the game world for both GM and any players willing to take the time to learn the lessons it offers. It enables the GM to shortcut the adjudication process by permitting the application of his knowledge of the underlying physics; and it can provide an additional source of important plots and subplots, stories that are based on the characters being who they are. That’s a lot of reward for not a lot of effort, given that you can crib most of the answers from existing science and science-fiction reference!