Okay. Cael time.
First on the chopping block was Cael's intelligence. Before Marty's "adjustments" it was 17, which meant that Cael couldn't possibly know anything. See, Marty calibrated the SUE System Int by assigning himself (meaning GM!Marty, not vampire Marty) a score of 18, the highest possible, and scaling everything else relative to himself -- but keeping the average at 10, because "10 is always the average". By Marty's logic, because HE didn't know -- off the top of his head, no less-- how to do what Cael wanted to do, neither could Cael with a lower Int score. Because of course Intelligence is a number line of known facts, not any kind of abstraction of processing capacity. It's more of that "mental hardware" that's totally inexplicable, but because Marty "[considers] [himself] something of a Renaissance man," Cael can't do squat. Admittedly, it's internally consistent; if everyone in the setting is at Marty's level or dumber, I can see how things might have slipped a bit.
Naturally, I bring up nootropics. I'm neither advocating for nor warning against their use in real life, but in the abstraction of a game, I couldn't see any reason that a racetam compound or two couldn't just temporarily boost Int. It's how I'd implement them, anyway, if they were allowed mechanically. Then, too, they've had sixty years on us to make better ones, so I thought it reasonable that if side-effect-free psychoactive drugs existed, so might more potent nootropics. You could watch his face go from bewilderment to terror between "temporarily" and "Int" before he could start sputtering reasons why it's impossible. Nootropics are apparently totally forgotten by the populace, and "I bet they're basically poisonous and fake anyway. They probably cause some kind of horrible brain failure. I mean, why aren't we using them if they're so great? Do they even really work? Sounds like a scam to me." I assure him that they do, in fact, work. "I'm going to need to see some studies on that." I have several saved and ready to hand to him; nootropics interest me.
He doesn't actually read them, mind you. From his complaints about science classes, I'm under the impression he's not capable of reading a journal article. What he does do is think for a bit, and then come up with this: "Obviously they exist. However, they're for the exclusive use of the Ashcroft Foundation; no one else knows about them, and they've invested a great deal of effort in keeping it that way. They're absolutely top secret." Well, they can tell as few people as they like, but surely someone remembers that these things exist in the underground? If they don't, why, see here in these documents you let me have: there you have it, plain as day, evidence of the existence and efficacy of nootropics. Apparently this was starting to piss him off: "you don't get how secret these are, dude. They are absolutely top secret. You can't get the chemicals you need to make them and you'll be killed if you try by any means necessary from covert to nuclear. The records on them have been destroyed, replaced with dummy files that kill you if you try to access them. Ashcroft is serious about keeping these under wraps; only a select few of their top men get them. They're more highly classified than D-engine technology, and have even more psychics working to perform random spot-check assassinations for people who know too much. They destroyed the books, EMPed the website servers, nuked the companies, shot the chemists. No, you are not getting nootropics." Ladies and gentlemen, the DEA of the future: going nuclear at your local library, because those junkies with their improved short-term memories are by far the worst problem facing society today and the best use of our strategic weaponry.
This was part of a larger feature of the SUE System. INT could never go up. No magic, regardless of how it worked, could ever boost INT; no artifact could ever increase it. He would get livid if you pressed him for an explanation, too. Magic (of varieties we couldn't use) could destroy the planet, but it couldn't change something as "fundamental" as intelligence. Marty does not like the idea of PCs becoming smarter, especially when they already have 'his' Intelligence. Of course racial modifiers can increase INT -- and, of course, the only race that has a positive INT modifier is Marty's adopted cheating vampire race. He does not like the idea of anyone being numerically smarter than he thinks he is.
Those D-engines also figured heavily into Marty's strategy. I liked them; they're completely ridiculous, of course, and only in the setting to make enormous mecha plausible. I still wanted them, because they "make infinite energy from nothing" and that's kind of useful. Naturally I can't have them. Not only is the technology classified, but it uses - gasp! - "higher-dimensional mathematics so your mind can't deal with it and you go insane." Jin and I did a synchronized flat 'what' at that. Jin responded more coherently than I: "Uh, [Marty]? Math doesn't care how many dimensions you use, especially if they're all orthagonal. You can have a zillion dimensions and it just adds terms to vector math, mostly." As we know, Marty does not respond well to logic; he was adamant that polychorons, hypercubes, etc, inevitably cause insanity, largely because he didn't understand them. Therefore, I was not allowed to know how D-engines, A-pods, D-cells, et cetera actually worked. That said, he liked them too, and when I asked if I could track them by whatever they're sucking in to produce energy, I was flatly denied. Apparently they're totally untrackable, because they suck energy from "the space between spaces" and their very design precludes any kind of detection, as with A-pods. Ashcroft makes them, the military can repair them, and everyone else can just be grateful they have them. I can't even explode them; apparently mere citizens are not allowed to have dangerous technology, so QED D-engines are not dangerous and I cannot make them so.
Well, crap. The Scions are deeply unhelpful (they apparently just gave up on me entirely), parapsychic powers are useless...I'm not kidding when I say that Marty removed all my options but science. I didn't initially want to have to deal with specific science, but that's how he kept defeating my more general plans, so how else was I supposed to argue? If you tell me my science is wrong, I'm going to resort to more specific science to prove my point; if you want me to stop, tell me to stop. He did not tell me to stop. What he told me was a mess. Consider capturing a live Dhohanoid. Marty loved to go on and on about everything they were immune to. We couldn't poison or sedate them. They didn't need to breathe, let alone eat or sleep; their senses could not be destructively overloaded. They could theoretically be physically restrained, but nothing we had was strong enough to hold them and anyway they could just shape-change. At one point, Jin interrupted to ask, clearly rhetorically, what would happen if we just pressed them face-first into a belt sander; apparently they'd regenerate too fast for it to matter. Then it was my turn for a hypothetical, rhetorical suggestion: once we break their skeletons into toothpicks, start tandem intraosseous bolus injections of hydrogen fluoride and antimony pentafluoride, in the hopes that perhaps constant exposure to fluoroantimonic acid might erode whatever their bones were made of faster than they could regenerate them. Cue Marty completely misunderstanding that saying they're "immune to chemicals" and banning antimony anyway. As in, the element itself no longer exists. You'd think, if you were going to employ a cudgel where a scalpel was needed, you'd at least ban fluorine, but no. Antimony, we hardly knew ye, and damn the consequences.
This happened over and over. If I needed salicylic acid, suddenly there are no willow trees. If I joke about an AA system based around paintball guns filled with bee alarm pheromones, suddenly there are no honeybees. Where this was impossible, "additives" prevented "whatever reaction you're thinking of." Said additives "don't actually have a chemical structure," so I can't mess with them, either. Petrochemistry was shredded, most of orgo "just [didn't] work like that," et cetera. He never just told me to stop; he had to insist it was impossible in-universe. Now, this was unfortunate, because I was feeling inventive, and when he ran out of compounds to ban he had to ban crucial parts of my workaround apparatus. To this end, he had to ban optically active metamaterials, BSCCO, NMR, gene guns, CO2 lasers, nickel column chromatography, horseradish peroxidase, nitinol, etorphine, 3-methylfentanyl, miniprep kits, dolphins, artificial neural networks, flux compression generators, PEM fuel cells, atomic clocks, yellowcake uranium, Farnsworth-Hirsch fusors, deuterium gas, single-walled carbon nanotubes, basic oxygen steelmaking, graphene, pulse jet motors, diamond anvil cells, and pentazenium itself. The dolphins were only indirectly involved, and for the record they wouldn't have been hurt. By the way, I really wish I could explain why I wanted each of these, but America says no.
Now, I had started with fairly mundane plans, and every time he shut them down I had to default to ever more extreme solutions. I had started with "break into a minor Dhohanoid-run front company and see if we can figure out how they get around the scans" and had ended, jokingly, with "boost several tons of nanofabricator-laden blockade runner into trans-lunar insertion via one-pulse subterranean nuclear space cannon (hey, the NEG has spare nukes), evade the Migou blockade through sheer speed and shrapnel, have the nanofabs construct a subsurface quench gun on the dark side of the Moon, and kinetic-harpoon a minor Dhohanoid facility from orbit in order to break in" because anything else involving flight was impossible given the Dhohanoid surveillance networks. I had hoped that suggesting that might illustrate that perhaps our foes were too powerful, since we need to break out strategic weaponry in order to get through their front door, but instead he banned "anything even remotely like that; Cael has no idea how to do rocket science." Marty's dodge skill is so high it works whenever someone's making a point, you see.
One thing he did allow, apparently because "Cael can, as we agreed, make some explosives": a very unusual Haber-Bosch reactor vessel coupled to some interesting post-processors to make what is, in real science, a white crystalline solid about twice as effective as TNT by mass. See, he'd banned so many compounds I had to literally spin (with cyclonic separators) explosives out of electrical power and damp air alone. Marty had already banned "all science machines," so I had to build the thing mostly out of welded wire-wound beer kegs, but neither the temperature nor the pressure exceeded tolerances. On air alone, it spat out several kilos per day, but when supplied with reasonably pure ethanol an auxiliary process increased production by an order of magnitude. He wouldn't let me use proper electrodes, so I had to use katanas, at which point he finally shut up about ablation; katanas are of course immune to it. And that's how I invented a disconcertingly unstable way to turn booze into entropy and fear over the course of an afternoon with a chem textbook. I'm inclined to think it wouldn't work that well, but my chemically inclined friends disagree: with as much power as we could pump into it, it'd apparently work at least for a while. Of course, Marty had to be Marty all over it: the result was neither white nor chrystalline."If it's that energetic it has to be unstable as all get out, so it probably decays in air", and of course "you won't be able to get the physical characteristics right or pure enough, given your equipment" so it's this coarse brownish chunky stuff. "I imagine it also probably smells, given how volatile it is"; the fact that it doesn't didn't stop me adding caffeol and vacuum-sealing it in foil bags. Of course I had to call it Henderson blend coffee. Now, in actual fact you'd never mistake this for coffee, but in actual fact it'd never look like coffee grounds in the first place, so I figure we're even. One pack did 5d6 damage, which wasn't too bad, all things considered; we ran the synthesizer constantly in the warehouse we'd rented, and actually started reselling legitimate coffee alongside it. But that was it; I couldn't make anything else. Just that. Truly, Marty is generous in his compromising.
Just because I had it didn't mean I could use it. Unlike the others, I wasn't formally a member of Blackspire, and they were apparently disinclined to recruit me. This meant, among other things, that I couldn't access our mission briefing -- and apparently by associating with me, the rest of the party lost their clearance to do so as well. It also meant I was permanently on thin ice, and I was warned they would have no compunction about framing me for something convenient if I was not useful. He liked reiterating that.
Really, not using it was fine by me. Synthetic chemistry was only half of my character; I also wanted to do analytical chemistry, working under the assumption that our role in the Tager-Blackspire meetup was to determine some way in which the two could coexist harmoniously. Marty had DMed himself into a very deep corner here, because he'd spent loads of time describing all the sensors which existed to foil our plans -- and he'd kept making dhohanoids more alien every time we'd tried to hurt them, so they were very detectable. You can't make something out of "basically not matter as we know it" and then expect it to pass a DNA test. What made this really bad was that I'm a computational/molecular biologist in real life, thus the slant of the above tools list towards biological lab apparatus. I know it sounds like metagaming, but Cael had the skills for it; like I said, I designed him to be hard to shut down. DNA sequencing was out. He didn't understand why Sanger sequencing "didn't just stop at the first base for everything," so that didn't work. SMRT or pyrosequencing "look like they require big, expensive machines." What nanotech? Eventually he just outlawed any nucleic-acid based forensics: "You can figure out what species something is from skin cells that have passed through an air system. riiiiiight. and why don't we do this in real life?" Besides, Chrysalis has the resources to completely "replace their agents' DNA" to foil tracking. The process apparently takes minutes.
Truth be told, I don't think he understands what DNA is. See, he's previously tried to explain away Lamarckian inheritance, and I apologize for having saved this quote for so long, but I needed to actually figure out what he was talking about: "Genes are like muscles; the more you use them, the more you end up with, and the more are passed on to your offspring, like with giraffe necks."
"He's not just a regular moron. He's the product of the greatest minds of a generation working together with the express purpose of building the dumbest moron who ever lived" - GLaDOS, Portal 2
And really, that was the biggest problem of all, at least where I was concerned -- Marty thought science worked the way Hollywood portrays it. Stepwise science is apparently for fools; real scientists just have "breakthroughs" one after the other, ex nihilo, while pipetting around brightly colored fluids and looking intensely at computer screens. Forget collaboration, too, or specialization. Everyone's just an omnidisciplinary scientist working on their own. This is a man who, while at college, doubts grad students are all that important; research is "basically the domain of professors." My 80-hour work week is mostly wasting time, I suppose. Other positions, like postdocs, were "more academic detritus than anything; I've certainly never heard of them." Oh, and grants were "ridiculous. Who would just give you money?" Apparently, Marty's scientists and engineers are magical hobo oracles, roaming the land dispensing completed nanofabricator blueprints at random. In addition, he refused to believe, as ever, that the PCs could think of anything his NPCs could not. Everything we thought of to detect D-Engines, they were retroactively immune to; Dhohanoids likewise changed whenever we pinned down how to pick them out of a crowd, because obviously if something that simple worked someone else would have thought of it. Never mind that no one else supposedly knew they existed, of course.
It only got worse as he got more paranoid. At some point he started trying to preempt me using what other people were thinking of, for a sufficiently vague definition of "thinking of." Someone would mention some idea in passing, and the first thing out of Marty's mouth would be "Well, he's NOT getting his hands on it. I can tell you that RIGHT now." This extended even to things we were laughing at as obviously nonfunctional, like neurolinguistic programming or homeopathy. At one point he banned timecube, although exactly how he saw me using it I don't know. I never got a coherent answer for the reasoning behind any of it. I didn't even bother him about stuff much out of game, unless asked; he took it upon himself to inform me that I couldn't use crystal healing, but why on Earth would I want to?
That's Cael, then; the only way to stop him was to make the world legendarily stupid, so at least Marty didn't have to work too hard. Ultimately, I ended up just going along with Jin's idea, in the short term, of capturing a live Dhohanoid for desperate, aimless interrogation...and that ended up being the climax of the campaign.