What would a game be without some crazy scientists? Bereft of the contraptions going catastrophically wrong, that's what! This is a list of 30 ways to make an innovative thinker wish he'd stayed a bit more inside the box. (Most of these could also work with magical research).
1. We can't let it fall into the wrong hands!
Perry Smith never had any lofty ambitions or high scientific ideals. He just wanted to tweak his Sherman until it could break the sound barrier. Certainly, there's no way that he could've known that a major German offensive was being massed to overrun his position in just a few minutes....
A bit of a classic, in this case, the device itself works pretty much flawlessly. The problem, then, is that somehow it gets captured or stolen by less trustworthy hands. At this point, sabotage and counter-theft may be the only viable options for stopping a disaster.
2. It was never intended to be used like that!
Dr. George Hamilton was quite the aficionado of dog-fighting, and made it his life's work to develop a serum capable of improving the stamina, aggression, and strength of these dogs. After many years of hard research, he was prepared to unleash his concoction upon the dog-fighting world. If only he'd told his servants that he was keeping the serum in a wine bottle....
Scientists are often not the most worldly of individuals, and can be trusted to make some pretty severe mistakes. Those scientists who develop what we might call Mad Science are especially prone to such failures. In this case, the scientist's device is used in a fashion totally contrary to what the scientist had planned, often with tragic results. After all, surely Dr. Hamilton never expected his serum to be given to humans.
3. There's a 99% chance that this will work.
Professor Calvin van Hobb was determined to be regarded as the greatest mind in history, and he quickly hit upon a way to achieve his goal. If he could travel to the future, then he could, err, borrow inventions from them, recreate them in the past, and become famous! After nearly perfecting the principles of time travel, he set off on his maiden (and only) voyage. Alas, if he had actually perfected the principles, he might have realized that the facing of the machine was absolutely critical to its proper function....
Even geniuses can be impatient. Sometimes, one does not want to wait for the research to be finished, or for one last test to be run. Frequently, this works out alright. But sometimes, that last test run would have revealed something very important. In this scenario, some minor miscalculation causes the device to backfire - traveling back in time instead of forwards, creating steel too hard to work, or inventing an engine which can only be run during a solar eclipse.
"Now don't let the pressure build up too high, whatever you do!" - last words of Captain Heinz Lutzig
Even when mad scientists remember not to install self-destruct buttons on their inventions, these devices have a distressing tendency to fail catastrophically for everyone nearby. Emergency pressure valves aren't really the first thing that comes to your average crazed inventor.
5. Grease those wheels with blood
When the scientific community finally decided that faster-than-light travel was impossible at the end of the 23rd century, Sarah Davis was not going to be discouraged. Ten years later, she produced the first Sub-Aetheric Warp Cone and opened the stars to humanity. If the primary side effect of the device was that it spread deadly radiation across the globe when launched, well, a bit of cancer in those too poor to afford space flight wasn't really so bad as to stagnate progress... right?
In this situation, some spectacular invention works stupendously... with just one drawback. But it's a doozy. Somehow, the machine requires human sacrifice to function properly. Maybe not directly, but perhaps by sucking up a bit of the user's soul, or by spreading disease, or maybe just being so dangerous that people occasionally get ground up in the gears.
6. Escher, eat your heart out!
Mathilda Swift wasn't really the scientific type. She preferred to tinker, bolting a few new parts onto the machine into her basement every time she came home from work. So it looked a bit... funny when it was done. It still worked - that's what counts, right. Flush with success, Swift moved on to architecture. Her designs are interesting, really, what with those oddly placed pillars, and doors in the ceiling, and stairs going up to... the basement?!
The device does not work quite according to the conventional laws of physics, but who's going to let that stop him? Somehow, however, in making the contraption, the inventor has been transported to sort of a side dimension, where physics works ever so slightly differently from how it does here. Insanity in the face of impossible geometry is optional. A way back? That's optional, too.
7. Give it a good kick for me
Ernest Strom's family laughed at his nervousness over skydiving. "Parachutes always work," they said, "Designing a jetpack is silly." Of course, when his parachute failed to open halfway to the ground, Ernest was quite certain precisely what was silly, and it wasn't his jetpack! Now, if he could just get the damn thing to start!
In a world where toasters can't reliably make toast without screwing it up somehow, is it any surprise that those scientists with less consideration for the end user make some fantastically inconvenient devices? So it takes a little while to warm-up, what's the problem? It's not like it was designed for emergency use. It was? Oops.
8. It's Alive!
Robert Smith designed his new-and-improved steam locomotive out of a desire to quiet his home town. More powerful locomotives would mean less traffic, he presumed. Nobody could have predicted that he would become one of the railroads' biggest supporters, giving up his own profession to become a professional railroad engineer, driving his new trains all over the country.
They say that when you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail. In the case of this invention, that saying is a bit more true than intended. When used, the contraption insinuates its way into the mind of the operator, slowly causing him to rely on the device more and more, until eventually it consumes his very being.
9. He didn't invent an instruction manual, you know!
Jebediah Horst had an idea that could him fame and wealth. A machine that would facilitate the extremely rapid growth of plants, ending food shortages, atmospheric problems, and erosion difficulties all in one fell swoop. Too bad he didn't think to wear thick gloves when operating the dangerous electrical equipment. Even worse that he neglected to tell anybody else how to turn the machine off when it was done.
Mad scientists generally don't put safety first. In this case, something happens to the inventor while the device is operating, and nobody else knows how to shut it off. Horst's machine may cause enormous, civilization-destroying growth. A rogue train could put countless lives at risk. A robot that can't be shut down could be even worse.
10. This is worse than newsprint!
"Dirty" James Stoller could never figure out why nobody was willing to employ his machines. They worked flawlessly. His new-fangled sewing machines could sew three times faster than any existing model. Surely they weren't concerned about the amount of soot that the machines put up, were they?
Not all malfunctions need to be deadly. In this case, the invention has the unfortunate effect of being utterly filthy. Anyone in the same room as it for more than a few seconds is unlikely to look as clean as they did before for months. This may not be a huge problem for bounty hunters pursuing aliens on a distant planet, but it might be more troublesome for guests who've just been invited to the queen's gala.
11. Engine of Faith
When renowned physicist Allen Shore announced that he was in the process of developing a perpetual motion machine, the world stood still. For three months, every report from his team was positive, and the world seemed on the verge of change the likes of which had never been seen. When one newspaper broke the story of how Shore had once been accused of making up lab data in a published journal, however, there was a moment of doubt that spread across the world. And suddenly, the Shore Machine stopped working.
They say that faith can move mountains. In this case, that may be literal. This device functions more effectively the more strongly it is believed in. If people honestly believe that the gun will instantly kill anything it hits, it might do so. Show it functioning non-lethally on a few cop shows, though, and you might as well throw it away.
12. We may never know
When Icarus Sinclair proclaimed his invention of a real working teleporter, the scientific world was astounded. Such a thing had been considered impossible. How did it work? Alternate dimensions? Reassembly at the destination point? Some other method? When Sinclair prepared to unveil his machine at a press conference, however, it was gone. What happened to it? Would it have worked? The world may never know.
The machine simply mysteriously vanishes before it is first used. Did some divine entity get rid of it? Was it stolen by extradimensional beings or time travelers? Who can be certain?
13. Animal Magnetism
Professor Dennis Kucin simply stopped showing up for his classes one day. At first, the university simply called it the eccentricities of genius and threatened to cut his research funding. When that threat elicited no response, however, they called the police to investigate. Kucin's house proved nearly impossible to search. The entire property was covered with millions upon millions of ants. After nearly two months of extermination, a strange machine was found in his basement. There was nothing left of the professor.
The device emits some sort of noise or other signal that is irresistible to some type of animal. Dogs, bears, rats, ants, or anything else. The creatures swarm around the machine with horrifying numbers and intensity.
Giulio Borgia's was a name that would go down in history next to that of da Vinci. For every great idea da Vinci may have had, Borgia had a great invention. At least for a while. When he activated his Pneumatic Drill in the square before the Vatican, it tore a hole in the very fabric of the dimensions, releasing the horrifying monsters of Dante's Inferno upon the city of Rome. Italy would never be the same....
Somehow, the device tears open a hole in the dimensional fabric, releasing horrible, otherworldly monsters upon our reality. Can the hole be closed, the monsters contained? Surely that's the great question.
15. That's Awkward
Victorian modesty may have cost humanity dearly when the first test of Ernest Spence's rocket engine had the bizarre side effect of vaporizing all clothing within a roughly one mile radius. Probably an invention for another age.
The device works, but with some exceedingly awkward side effect or requirement. Guns that sound like bodily functions when fired, personal shields that render the wearer's clothing invisible, or FTL drives which run on sexual energies. The use of such equipment is something which must be strongly thought over beforehand.
When Alexander King invented the regenerative light bulb, a lamp capable of giving off light theoretically forever, it seemed that he had solved a great crisis. The bulbs, however, seemed to have minds of their own, turning on and off seemingly at the whims of some strange, vaguely hostile entity. Want to dim the lights for some romance? Can't do that. Turn the light on to get ready for work? Nope. Turn it off so that it cools down and you can replace it? You can't do that, either.
This contraption is capable of working itself. Guns fire whenever they want, televisions pick what channel they want to watch, and cars drive themselves wherever they want to go. This may be dangerous or not, but it is most definitely inconvenient.
17. It's not magic!
Janice Stone was hired by Losibelka to make the best suit of power armor ever built. She spent years developing the scientific principles necessary to effectively protect the user, increase his attributes, and be as modular as possible. Thus, she was as puzzled as everybody else when the finished design was incapable of anything except making toast. Stone was fired for her failure, but in fairness, the Mark XII was a damn good toaster.
Somehow, completely inexplicably, the device not only doesn't do what it's supposed to do, it does something completely different. No amount of reverse engineering will figure out why it works this way, or how to fix it.
18. It Moves
Kayla Jones was the first person to invent an Sub-atomic Inducer. It should have revolutionized the manufacturing industry, but for some reason, Kayla just couldn't sell it. Every time she did, some operator would turn away for an instant and it would be gone, returned home to its place in Jones's basement, where she had first flipped it on.
This device develops a sort of attachment to where it was first activated or built. Anytime it escapes notice for a few moments, it will mysteriously return there. Merely inconvenient for Ms. Jones, this could be catastrophic for an astronaut who briefly loses sight of his ride home.
19. Psychic Beacon
When Herman Williams invented his Automatic Toilet Cleaner, he had no intention of initiating first contact. He just wanted clean toilets. Nonetheless, the strange mechanisms of the universe are not to be questioned, and it was undeniably Williams's ATC that attracted the Vendosians to Earth.
In addition to its normal function, the device acts as a strange beacon to otherworldly creatures. Perhaps it attracts aliens, or perhaps werewolves or vampires or ghosts. Either way, it can have very undesirable consequences.
20. Incessant Racket
"Shut that damn thing off! I can't hear myself think!"
For whatever reason, this machine is loud. Really, really loud. Hear it twenty miles away loud. Loud enough to question ever turning it back on. Maybe even loud enough to literally wake the dead.
21. Let's do the Timewarp again!
January 23rd #453
If I could only turn off that blasted machine, I'm sure that the time stream could be returned to normal. But I just can't seem to get to it fast enough! It's 10 hours away by train, and then I have to sneak through the museum and.... There just isn't enough time!
When the device is turned on, it initiates one of those really awkward time loops where the day repeats over and over again. Turning the machine may be enough to kill the time loop, or perhaps you need to actually destroy it. On the other hand, either of those actions could just make the time loop worse....
22. Time Agents
Jack Dunnigan's invention of the solar powered laser gun changed the world, and not in a good way. Less than 100 years after his design was completed, life on Earth was nearly extinguished in the Solar Wars. As a result, an elite team of agents from the future were sent back in time to ensure that the gun never saw the light of day.
The device looks great. But to the people of the future, it will look considerably less great. As a result, they come back in time to try to stop the device now, when it is still small enough to be contained.
23. There can only be one
Kevin Andross's ansible proved to be the most revolutionary communications device ever created. With it, instant communication with any other ansible was possible. There was only one problem: somehow, it just wasn't possible to build a second ansible.
Due to some universal law or limited resource, only one of the device can ever exist at a time. All attempts to recreate it fail if the original still exists. Some people may take a dim view of an "inventor" who can't even recreate his greatest triumph.
24. The Missing Function
Anselt Motors long spiral into bankruptcy finally concluded when they designed the Albatross, a car which was so poorly designed that they had forgotten to include the capability to make right turns. One would think that somebody would have caught such an error.
While the design works, it lacks some extremely desirable capability, with serious impact on its functionality. The gun can't be reloaded, the spaceship only works inside of an atmosphere, or the armor can't be fastened on.
25. Ha ha. Very funny.
Sam Jameson's revolutionary waffle iron may have made some mighty fine waffles, but was it really necessary for it to burn knock-knock jokes onto the side of every waffle? Not everybody has an appetite for bad jokes.
The device has a sense of humor, and not a particularly good one. It tells socially inappropriate jokes, ties shoelaces together, or is otherwise obnoxious in the name of being funny.
26. Whew, boy. That sucker's hot.
Michelle Bangor's invention of the world's fastest computer was widely considered to be a masterpiece. It enabled scientists to solve problems that had been thought impossible, and even proved capable of calculating pi to the last decimal place, where it had been thought that there was none. Common folk thought she was a genius; scientists agreed, but it sure would have been nice if they could have worn a little bit more clothing in the presence of the computer.
This machine either generates or absorbs enormous amounts of heat. In either case, special dress is required for working with the device, as it dangerous to do so in normal garb. The machine may even need to be kept in its own storage facility, being too hot to be used safely in a building.
27. Drunk with Power
Elijah Wolf was probably the first man to ever write warning label that read "Do not operate heavy machinery while operating this machine." He wasn't quite certain why the Hammerinator caused intoxication in the user, but the effect was undeniable.
Using this device causes the operator to become drunk. Precisely how drunk depends on the individual machine, but given the general lack of safety features on such equipment, it's probably not a good idea to operate it for very long at all. You wouldn't want to hurt yourself.
28. Infernal Contraption
Jonah Fark's heavy artillery cannon was something of great interest to the military, capable of shooting farther than any such gun ever developed. The first time they fired it, they overshot their target by almost 10 miles and wiped out a small church in a nearby town. They called it a mistake, but when the next three practice shots proved similarly devastating to small places of worship, even the military began to wonder of something was afoot.
This machine hates holiness. Churches, priests, synagogues, mosques, anything. It always functions so as to cause such things the most damage possible. It may actually be possessed, or it might just be one of those strange 'nature of the universe' sorts of things.
29. Bad Press
The Nobel Prizes were inspired when Alfred Nobel read an obituary of himself, accidentally published over the death of his brother, which lambasted him for his invention of dynamite, making the world far more dangerous. Such may not have been his intention, but how the world sees someone is not always that man's choice. (True Story)
In this scenario, the inventor's best intentions are not appreciated by the world. Does humanity deserve to reach the stars? Was that death ray, strictly speaking, necessary? Public ostracism can be one of the cruelest payments of all.
30. Remote Control
The Blevers twins pulse laser proved to have a rather strange flaw. The controls they had built into it not only failed to turn it on, they actually started up their blender instead! Despite significant adjustment, they could find no way to fix this strange effect. Of course, you should have seen what happened when they they tried to start their blender!
For whatever reason, the controls of the device do not work as intended. They may start a different machine, they may have mixed up effects, or they may not work at all. Alternatively (or in addition), some other set of controls may hold sway over the device!