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Phlebotinum thought by its creators to work on scientific principles, at least according to their Techno Babble. Actually, it's powered by some supernatural or magical ability of the creator and cannot be duplicated. Also, if the creator dies, it stops working or malfunctions. Often, these gizmos can only be created by someone who possess The Spark of Genius.
Becoming an increasingly popular way to explain science-fiction style super-gizmos in Speculative Fiction settings. It's a good way to justify why Reed Richards Is Useless and there's No Plans, No Prototype, No Backup. These wondrous inventions cannot be mass-produced to improve mankind or make their creator a profit because they're not actual inventions so much as temporary manifestations of their subconscious superhuman abilities. Thus, application of them will usually boil down to either fighting crime or committing it. The setting maintains the status quo of the real-world's level of technology and the Gadgeteer Genius gets to keep all of their Phlebotinum to themselves and not risk becoming less unique because the Jones family can purchase his powers from Wal*Mart.
A subtrope of Doing in the Scientist.
Anime and Manga
- In Ah! My Goddess, most, if not all, of Skuld's inventions work because she subconsciously infused her goddess magic into them while building them.
- The Silver Samurai of Marvel Comics was introduced with a sword that can cut anything. Turns out he's a Mutant and that's his power; even a toy sword would work just as well for him.
- In Steelgrip Starkey And The All-Purpose Power Tool, it is eventually suggested that the "technalchemy" that the tool runs on is actually a form of magic.
- In Wild Cards, Jetman and several other Aces can invent wondrous machines that only work for them, because they're just an expression of their superhuman abilities. It's mentioned in one book that when researchers cracked open the choice device of a "tech Ace," they found only schematics and apple cores.
- Aaron Allston's Galatea in 2-D has artists that are able to magically pull items out of their paintings into the real world, but they find that they're no more able to reverse-engineer a science fictional raygun than they are a fantastical magic wand. One artist mentions that trying to go a step removed doesn't work either - painting a super-genius to invent a real-world cure for cancer would result in him producing magical elixiers that were merely dressed up in the trappings of science.
- CS Lewis warned against this kind of thing in some of his writings.
- Cranston in the Temps shared universe. Responsible for cloning the Marcias; an experiment that was later found to be completely impossible from the word go:
That was the trouble with Cranston, you see. He could get anything to work, but only from the pseudo-science end of things, his grasp of scientific reality was shaky to say the least. But what he did worked.
- Dune : The Appendix comments that the Bene Gesserit had evolved into this a long time ago.
- In Lisanne Norman's Sholan Alliance, it turns out that Vartra was using his own telepathic abilities (unwittingly) to mutate DNA, which was why only his experiments resulted in more powerful telepaths.
Live Action Television
- There was one episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation where a scientist came on the Enterprise to test an upgrade on its engines- it looked like the upgrades worked but actually they were (almost) useless. It turned out the scientist's assistant was actually a super-powerful being who was making the engines work better with his mind.
- Johnathen Gilbert was a crazy inventor trying to build devices to let the town destroy the vampires in their midst. None of them worked, until the vampires' pet witch enchanted them to work as intended, assuming they were put together properly.
- In Buffy the Vampire Slayer Warren's inventions (androids, mind control devices, etc.) only work because of the Hellmouth's power.
- Dungeons and Dragons settings that bothers to include any Magitek tend to play with this, one way or another.
- In the Hollow World, the Blacklore elves believe their technology is for real, but it's actually magic and will stop working if removed from their native valley. The Immortals, who preserved the Blacklore culture from extinction, set it up this way so the elves couldn't export their technology to any other preserved culture.
- In Ravenloft, mad scientists believe the golems that they craft are a product of science, but it's actually the Dark Powers that grant animation to these obsessives' creations.
- Likewise, while Victor Mordenheim is convinced he single-handedly created Adam, it's alleged that the gods of his native world are the ones who'd imbued the creature with true animation to spank Mordenheim for his hubris.
- Gnomish helms in Spelljammer.
Like most products from gnome ideas, they include a large number of bells and whistles and very little substance. Those that do work usually have a minor helm contained within, always hidden away so as to appear innocuous and unessential.
- The Orks in Warhammer 40000, though this may be an example of Clap Your Hands If You Believe.
- Rather disturbingly any long range communication is this.
- Mostly they downplay the pseudoscience in that area, and make it perfectly plain that any technology involved in interstellar communications is at most an Amplifier Artifact for the Astropath working it.
- Rather disturbingly any long range communication is this.
- The Wonders in Genius: The Transgression.
- All hypertechnological devices in traditional roleplaying game Godlike are really focuses for the Talent powers and are useless without those.
- John M. Ford's Paranoia adventure "Yellow Clearance Black Box Blues". R&D scientist Willis-G-EEP-4's inventions work well on the test bench, but fail when used in the field when he isn't around. That's because their success depends on his mutant powers of Minor Telekinesis and Luck.
- Of course, the fact that they work at all makes them significantly more reliable than most of the equipment Troubleshooters end up with.
- The Buffy the Vampire Slayer RPG rules that the 'superscience' found in the show (such as the Buffybot, the Trio's invisibility ray, Adam, Ted and so on) works like this and that people like Warren are essentially unwitting magical savants.
- Dr. Stratos' Weather Control Machine in Mutants and Masterminds. When he finds this out, he jumps from Magic Feather to A God Am I.
- Many of the devices built by the Mega-Intelligent Novas of Aberrant operate at least partly on the inventor's subconscious manipulation of Quantum. Many can be reproduced and continue to operate without attention from their creators, but they all eventually fail spectacularly.
- In the Whateley Universe, mutants with this as their power are known as devisors. Depending on the skill of the devisor, their creations (called 'devises') tend to be rather unreliable when used by people other than the creator.
- The clockwork creations of archvillain "The Clockwork King" from City Of Heroes / City Of Villains are actually powered and controlled by the King's unconscious psychic abilities.
- Also, the "electric power plant" providing cheap and plentiful energy to one of the villainous cities is actually getting all its power from a bound demon.
- Mecha-Hisui in Melty Blood is a Heavily-Armed Robot Maid in Melty Blood. She was created by Kohaku, under the influence of the Tatari. Regardless, it is extremely unlikely this is the traditional robotics. Should one play as Mecha-Hisui against a certain mage end-boss, she refers to her as a "Magic Doll."
- This is the most likely explanation for the Collapse in Dreamfall, the sequel to The Longest Journey. After the end of the first game, most advanced technology, such as anti-gravity and FTL travel, failed in Stark, forcing people to go back to older, more reliable, technology. Since this is when the new Guardian took control of the Balance that directs the flows of magic and science, it can be assumed that this advanced technology was, in fact, unknowingly powered by magic. The unusually high number of crashes involving anti-gravity in The Longest Journey also seems to confirm this possibility, as magic is inherently chaotic. When the magic disappeared from Stark, technology now had to deal with pure science.
- This is basically how "magic" works in the Ultima games. The methods of casting spells may differ from game to game, partly because some were set hundreds of years apart or in entirely different worlds (and sometimes multiple worlds in one game), but it's all about the pseudoscience and the Big Bad's plot and how to defeat them is almost always based on figuring out which Magic A to use. In addition to your typical "Magic Scientist" wizard, most of the settings also had "Healer" characters who didn't study magic full-time but specialized in the spells that fixed what ailed others.
- Depending on the needs of the plot, in Ultima continuity "Ether" is either general Applied Phlebotinum or The Force. Spellcasters don't have an "Ether" rating but casting spells drains their personal store of mana, which comes from the ether. Usually there's spells you can get just from playing through the game, which rely on the game rules, as well as rituals specifically created for the plot of each game for both the good guys and the bad guys to use, which rely on more plot-driven rules than game mechanics.
- Possibly Bill O'Neil with the SPIRICOM as it only seemed to work for him, unless the whole thing was faked.
- The field of parapsychology known as Psychotronics is based around developing electronic devices that help psychics and espers use their powers more effectively. Early on, it was discovered that if you left out the electronics and just included a picture of the circuit board, the devices worked just as well! (In retrospect, that should have been a tip-off.)