Essential Builds – Inspector Gadget

Doo do do do doo
Essential Builds
Doo do do do doo do doo
Hoo hoooo

Doo do do do doo
Pop Culture Characters
Doo do do do doooooo
For you!

Welcome to Essential Builds. I’m Ryan Costello, one of the designers of the Essence20 system and an author on the G.I. JOE, Transformers, and My Little Pony Roleplaying Game core rulebooks. As of this article, I’ve written over 300 000 words for Essence20, contributing to over a dozen products and counting. 

In the last installment of Essential Builds, I mentioned that “I’ve had Inspector Gadget as a potential subject since before I wrote my first Essential Build, but … I already built Batman with the Role I’d most likely give to Gadget”. I gave my Batman build the Analyst Role from the Transformers Roleplaying Game core rulebook. It’s the most detective Role in the game. But as Renegade Game Studios Discord user maplesamurai pointed out, “I always figured he’d be the first choice for a modemaster build. If anything, I’d argue Penny would be the analyst of that party.” 

So true! Every Inspector Gadget episode reinforces that Gadget couldn’t inspector his way out of a paper bag. If it wasn’t for his niece Penny solving the cases and her dog Brain keeping Gadget out of trouble, Inspector Gadget would probably have a body count and Mad would get away with every scheme. 

Speaking of body counts…

Building Essence20 Inspector Gadget

Inspektor Gadget by *ninjaink

Even though Inspector Gadget slipped to the edge of popular culture relevance in the last twenty years or so, I thought of him around the same time as I was planning an Essence20 blog. However, it wasn’t as a subject for Essential Builds at first. It was actually for a much stranger reason.

“Inspector Gadget should be a DLC fighter in a Mortal Kombat game,” I don’t know why I thought. I do think it’s a funny visual. Imagine Inspector Gadget facing off against Scorpion, who tells him “I am the elder gods’ champion,” and Gadget replies “Wowsers!” 

The more I thought about it, the more I realized Inspector Gadget could hold his own in a tournament of death. His Gadget Springs make him Mortal Kombat’s answer to Dhalsim. He could grab an opponent and slap them around with his Gadget Hands, or clobber them with his Gadget Mallet. Naturally his Fatality would involve dicing his opponent up with the blades of his Gadget Copter. 

But I digress. 

Who Is Inspector Gadget?

If you are unfamiliar with Inspector Gadget, I would love to know what reading up to now felt like.

Inspector Gadget is the titular star of a syndicated animated series that ran for two seasons in the 1980s but stayed on TV well into the 90s. He wears a grey trenchcoat and fedora, and, as his name suggests, he’s loaded to the gills with gadgets. For clarity, I’ll refer to Gadget’s gadgets as cybernetic powers. 

Enhanced in every part of his body, Inspector Gadget deploys cybernetic powers from the tip of his finger (doubling as a flashlight, phone, screwdriver, and laser) to the top of his head (which houses a propeller, pneumatic arms, and an umbrella as long as his torso). Don’t think too much about the physics of Inspector Gadget’s powers. Actually, you probably shouldn’t question much about Inspector Gadget. The show didn’t. 

Although a live action movie adaptation gives him a G-Rated version of Robocop’s backstory, the cartoon never attempts to explain how Inspector Gadget came to be. He was just a cyborg detective who went by Gadget. Likewise, it never explained any of his relationships. He takes care of his niece, Penny, whose parents are never mentioned, their living arrangement never explained, and who calls him Uncle Gadget, suggesting that is his actual name. Penny and her super intelligent dog Brain are the only other characters on the show who use technology on par with Inspector Gadget’s powers. Again, never explained or even pointed out as an oddity. Penny has a tablet 30 years before they were a thing. Did Penny build it? Did she build Inspector Gadget? Anything is possible!

I’m not suggesting the cartoon should have explored every or any aspect of Inspector Gadget’s backstories. It’s just that I ask a lot of questions about the characters I build to best represent them, and it’s kind of hilarious how little the show justifies this weird premise or its formulaic stories. 


Modemaster (Transformers Roleplaying Game core rulebook)

I’m so glad maplesamurai suggested Modemaster in their comment, because it’s not a Role I ever saw myself using for this blog. Whereas most Transformers Roles line up with the G.I. JOE’s Roles, themed around how the character contributes to missions and in combat, Modemaster is the Role for Transformers who are really into being Transformers. And since I’m not building Transformers characters, when would this niche ever come up?

Right now!

At 1st level, modemasters gain Mass Shift, which gives temporary Health, Defense bonuses, extended reach, or ↑1 to a Skill, on command. This one Perk covers the majority of Gadget’s simpler powers. The same goes for Hybridization at 2nd level, which lets us customize the Role with a suite of options to pick from every few levels. This includes Helping Hands, which lets us ignore the Limited Articulation hang-up in Alt Mode, and Steady Hand, which lets us roll untrained Skill Tests without a Snag. Quite appropriate for a character literally helped by the cybernetic hands that pop out of his head. 

Honestly, we get so many Inspector Gadget appropriate Perks from the Modemaster Role, we could get away with an Origin without an Alt Mode. I’ll get into the non-Transformers Alt Modes I considered in a minute. First, to round out Inspector Gadget’s Role, we need a Focus. 

Variant Infantry Focus (G.I. JOE Roleplaying Game Cobra Codex)

Using the advanced crossover character creation rules from The Field Guide to Action & Adventure, we can swap out the Modemaster’s setting, giving us additional Focus options. This is a G.I. JOE modemaster! The G.I. Joe Faction is a lot closer to the Metro City Police Department than the Autobots Faction, which is good, because my ideal Inspector Gadget Focus is from a G.I. JOE sourcebook. 

The Variant Focus from Cobra Codex for the Infantry Role grants Alterations as Focus Perks. Alternations are either cybernetic or genetic enhancements introduced in the same book. We’re choosing cybernetic Alternations, obviously, including Utility Adjustment, for his Gadget Magnifying Glass, and Skin Tempering, to gain Battledress Upgrades. It also gives him regular Health increases. Considering he handcuffs himself to a bomb and survives the explosion relatively unscathed, you know Inspector Gadget can take a hit. 

I was going to say that the G.I. JOE Faction’s Land, Sea, and Air vehicle qualification help drive the Gadgetmobile, but I double checked and the Gadgetmobile only has two modes, both land vehicles. I guess when you can fly, you don’t need a jet, but that still feels like fewer modes than it could have.


Lookout (Transformers Roleplaying Game core rulebook)

I considered a lot of options for Inspector Gadget’s Origin. First, I looked at Android from the Field Guide to Action & Adventure. Despite the name, Android PCs gain either the Robot or Cyborg Trait. But other than getting the Cyborg Trait at 1st level instead of slowly working toward it via Alterations and General Perks, its Perks and benefits don’t do much to capture Inspector Gadget. 

Next I considered the Test Subject Origin from Cobra Codex. It’s the only way to gain a Limited Augmentation at 1st level. Sadly, the Augmentation I most wanted, Flight Grafts to represent his Gadget Copter, is Restricted. I was starting to worry that we’d have to wait until 12th level to get Inspector Gadget airborne. 

Then I remembered Transformers’ Lookout Origin. Although this is intended to represent smaller or leaner infiltration robots like Bumblebee and Mirage, and robots that turn into spycraft equipment, like Laserbeak, Perceptor, and Reflector, it fits Inspector Gadget perfectly. It’s a rare Common-sized Transformers Origin. The Common size class ranges from 4’ to 8’. Even though Inspector Gadget stands taller than most humans on the show, he’s still in the big human range, not small Cybertronian.

Lookout grants an Aerial Movement option in Alt Mode at 1st level. Flying in Alt Mode but not Bot Mode works, because Inspector Gadget needs to deploy his Gadget Copter to take to the sky. Even though Gadget Copter is more of an add-on than a full transformation, it still works as an Alt Mode. After all, Inspector Gadget usually passes for human, even when employing a lot of his other powers, but there’s no denying that he’s cybernetic when his head turns into a helicopter. Also, Inspector Gadget uses both hands to operate Gadget Copter, making it mechanically consistent with the Limited Articulation Hang-Up (until we get Helping Hands). 

But even better, the Look Out! Perk gives +2 Evasion and allows for the use of Evasion even when unaware. Inspector Gadget bumbles through most episodes unknowingly avoiding Mad’s many attempts on his life. I did not expect to find any way to represent that mechanically, so that Perk sold me on Lookout over any non-Transformers alternative. 

Giving him a Transformers Origin also means he gets Hardpoints Weapons. Go go Gadget Laser! Actually, Modemaster’s only Trained in Standard weapons, and the Directed Element Rifle is a Limited weapon. We’ll solve that when we get to General Perks.


1st: Spring Into Action (My Little Pony Roleplaying Game core rulebook)

2nd Caretaker (Power Rangers Roleplaying Game core rulebook)

3rd Community Helper (Power Rangers Roleplaying Game core rulebook)

Did I take Spring Into Action because Inspector Gadget has springs for legs? Yes I did. I also really wanted Gearhead for this build, because of the gears in Inspector Gadget’s head. Unlike Gearhead, however, Spring Into Action extends beyond wordplay about his Gadget Legs. It lets him roll Initiative as if Specialized. As Inspector Gadget likes to tell Chief Quimby when an assignment interrupts his family time, he’s always on duty. 

Speaking of family, I picked Caretaker because Inspector Gadget really is a fine uncle. He includes Penny, treats her as an equal, looks out for her social, emotional, and physical well being, and provides for her. Unfortunately, this Influence is a stretch because it grants an Edge on Science (Medicine) Skill Tests, which Inspector Gadget is not known for. However, the Hang-Up, which forces him to take responsibility for those in his charge before any other consideration, is spot on. 

Finally, the return of Community Helper, last seen in my Mega Man build. Inspector Gadget gains an Edge on Skill Tests related to law enforcement. Furthermore, the Hang-Up means he must heal innocents and may not, through inaction, allow an innocent to come to harm. Yes, it’s an Asimov way of describing that Hang-Up. I’m still not convinced Inspector Gadget isn’t fully robotic. 

Honourable mention goes to Experiment from the Transformers Roleplaying Game core rulebook: Before I settled on Lookout as Inspector Gadget’s Origin, I thought about taking Experiment and using the non-weapon Hardpoint for the Rotor Blades Support Equipment. Not only does it grant an Aerial Movement, it doubles as a Close Combat Blade. That fulfills the Mortal Kombat fighter idea that led to this build, but to my knowledge Inspector Gadget never used his Gadget Copter offensively. That said, the Experiment Influence fits thematically and is another build option to get Inspector Gadget an Aerial Movement at 1st level if you don’t like the Lookout Origin. 

Essence Scores and Skills

This part of the build is tricky. Despite appearances, Inspector Gadget isn’t actually good at much. Episodes start with him getting a top secret mission (which Penny always overhears, possibly intentionally on Chief Quimby’s part). He sets about solving it, almost immediately going off in the wrong direction. While off track, he constantly falsely accuses Brain in disguise, and spends the episode chasing his own dog. And he never catches Brain, so can we even say he’s good at chasing? 

That said, here are a few Skills we see him succeed at: 

Driving: Between the Gadgetmobile and his Gadget Copter, Inspector Gadget tends to operate vehicles without issue. We’ll go with +d6.

Might and Targeting: This one comes with an asterisk. Inspector Gadget is good at taking out goons with his cybernetic powers… by accident. I don’t think any RPG has rules for accidentally attacking Threats you aren’t aware of, so we’ll just give him Might and Targeting to represent his ability to hit targets, and it’s up to the player to describe how he’s looking left but striking right. He uses his mallet more than his laser, and he won’t get his laser for a few levels, so we’ll start with +d6 Might, +d2 Targeting. 

Persuasion: Inspector Gadget gets along well with most characters he interacts with. +d4

Animal Handling: As the world’s smartest dog, Brain may not need much from his owners, but Inspector Gadget still has a good relationship with him. +d4.

Athletics: When he’s running after Brain, he may not catch up with him, but he never gets tired. +d2. 

Infiltration: Even if he’s not sneaking into the right buildings, he does get into them. +d2.

Technology: By the rules, Inspector Gadget can’t have 0 in an Essence Score, not even Smarts. So we’ll give him +d2 Technology. Yes, his cybernetic powers often malfunction, but not always, and often in his favour. This also means he qualifies for a Directed Energy Rifle, the closest thing he has to a ranged weapon in the show. 

We’ll round out the built with +d4 Initiative, the minimum we need to take advantage of the Spring Into Action Influence. 

General Perks and Other Options

Getting that Gadget Laser has to be a priority of the build, even though it’s for less than ideal reasons. Inspector Gadget doesn’t use his Gadget Laser that often. He’s more likely to trim his hedges with it than use it against a villain. But Modemaster broadly covers the majority of his other cybernetic powers, not having a ranged weapon hampers this build, and giving Inspector Gadget a pistol or shotgun feels real weird. So, at 4th level, we take Weapon Training from the G.I. JOE Roleplaying Game core rulebook. Sadly, this isn’t a Hardpoint Weapon, meaning it’s a two-handed weapon Inspector Gadget has to draw instead of just popping off his fingertip. Still, it mostly gets us where we want to be. 

Weapon Training actually unlocks Training with three Limited Weapons, not one. This opens up some useful options, though off-theme. We can probably flavour an Element Grenade to fit Inspector Gadget’s tone, maybe even the Artillery Lobber. We can also choose to run a more serious interpretation of Inspector Gadget, but I recommend treading that line carefully. Tone is basically what separates Penny’s cyborg uncle from Robocop. 

Speaking of Penny, she can be a Perk! We can represent her with Human Companion from the Transformers Roleplaying Game core rulebook. I confess, I don’t like the design of this General Perk. Instead of being based on the Pet or Contact rules (in the defense of the Perk’s designer, Contact rules didn’t exist yet), it gives Skills your character has access to without feeling like a character in the scene.  But it does give a companion who is human, and that describes Penny. As far as we know…

Completing the trio, we can take Animal Pet from the G.I. JOE Roleplaying Game to represent Brain. He’ll be a Utility Pet with Alertness as his favourite command. Not only is looking after Inspector Gadget Brain’s main function in the show (although I’m tempted to go with Deception instead because of his many disguises), it makes up for the build’s lack of Alertness. 


The biggest challenge with this build was figuring out what bumbling detective Inspector Gadget is actually good at. The most fun part of this build was expressing Inspector Gadget’s cybernetic powers. I’m impressed by just how many of them we unlock at level 1. Even if we didn’t pick any Transformers options, G.I. JOE and the Field Guide to Action & Adventure both offer plenty of ways to create a cyborg PC. 

Although my main goal with Essential Builds is to capture the character with Essence20 options, I’ve once again created a build I would happily play in an Essence20 game. 


Field Guide to Action & Adventure

G.I. JOE Roleplaying Game Core Rulebook

My Little Pony Roleplaying Game Core Rulebook

Power Rangers Roleplaying Game Core Rulebook

Transformers Roleplaying Game Core Rulebook

Ryan Costello

What started as one gamer wanting to talk about his love of a game grew into a podcast network. Ryan founded what would become the Know Direction Podcast network with Jason "Jay" Dubsky, his friend and fellow 3.5 enthusiast. They and their game group moved on to Pathfinder, and the Know Direction podcast network was born. Now married and a father, Ryan continues to serve the network as the director of logistics and co-host of Upshift podcast, dedicated to the Essence20 RPG system he writes for and helped design. You can find out more about Ryan and the history of the network in this episode of Presenting: