Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Is Melee Viable in Psi-Wars (or any Ultra-Tech setting)?

As I continue my work on the Umbral Rim and the Heist, I find myself coming to an inevitable intersection where the Assassin is one of next templates I should do, and also, many of the aliens I'm working on, such as the dreaded Gerluthim, would probably focus a great deal on melee combat.  I expect to see spears, polearms and knives, but would any player actually choose them for any reason other than aesthetic.

Ultra-Tech settings pose a unique problem to melee weapons.  Even if we set aside the supremacy of ranged weapons in a UT setting, the ubiquity of sealed DR presents a real problem. In a fantasy setting, or a low tech setting, characters can and do completely cover up their bodies in armor, but they rarely have more than 4 to 6 DR, and most attacks will deal between 1d and 2 damage, which means there's always a chance you'll blast through the DR and, wizards aside, most ranged attacks don't do much more than 1d damage, which makes melee very important for cracking well armored targets.  Furthermore, realistic armor has gaps that a clever knife fighter can exploit to take down well-armored foes.  In a High Tech Setting, characters tend to wear armor heavy enough to defeat the best melee weapons, but it tends to be isolated to just their torso: this goes well beyond gaps as you can generally freely attack the neck or the arms or the legs, and you can still target gaps to hit the vitals.  Once we get to an Ultra-Tech setting, though, people will wear sealed armor to protect from space, and this automatically gives them defense against most gas attacks, acid splashes, and attacks against armor gaps that most other settings can use to exploit well armored targets.  A knife, even a vibro knife, is never going to get through a combat hardsuit.

The most realistic approach to take here is to accept that and to not bring a knife to a gun fight.  You don't see many characters in the Expanse attacking someone in a battlesuit with a knife for good reason!  But Psi-Wars isn't hard sci-fi, it's space opera.  We expect to see duels with foils, and alien natives with long spears and palace guards with imposing halberds. But why would they wield them if they do no good? It's fine for an NPC to stand around looking like a set-piece, but players will just reach for a blaster if this is the case.  So how do we fix it?

But Force Swords are Fine!

If you've followed Psi-Wars, you might be scratching your head a little.  After all, we've had space knights since Iteration 1, and they kick butt. The force sword is to the blaster rifle what the bastard sword is to the bow: a way of bringing about +50% damage and penetration to a target up close.  A blaster rifle will struggle to get through 100 DR, while a fore sword has no problem.  Moreover, the ability to parry blaster fire with a force sword, and the close quarters created by the tight confines of spaceships and planetary habitats tends to favor the skilled melee combatant.  So... we already have working melee in Psi-Wars.  What's the problem?

Well, the Force Sword papers over a lot of issues.  Yes, it's effective, but it's the only melee weapon that has this sort of damage output.  Furthermore, it destroys melee weapons, which means if you go into a melee fight with anything other than a force sword, you're a chump.  Your weapon won't penetrate your opponent's armor, and if they have a force sword, they'll parry once and it's game over.  There is only one effective melee option, and that's the force sword.  Anything we do to diminish that risks reducing the importance and power of the force sword, but if we leave it as the undisputed king, nobody will ever bother with any other weapon.  Axes, spears, vibro-blades, knives, staves and weaponized wrenches are a waste of time; just spring for a force sword.

This might just be what we have to accept, but I want to explore some options, so the game has room for more variety than blasters vs lightsabers.  

This post is mostly me going through my process of thinking aloud to my blog as I try to solve a problem, which is how I got my start on this blog, and people seem to appreciate this approach, so I'm going to go ahead and post it.  Feel free to read though it to see how I come to the conclusions I do, and why.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

The Strength of Weak Magic

Slightly off-topic from things I normally discuss, but I had a lively debate, triggered by the Pyramid Kickstarter, on the problems with GURPS Magic.  Now, while I don't hate GURPS Magic (it offers some very interesting ideas, and I love RPGs that offer that wealth of non-combat-oriented, problem-solving spells), I think Sorcery is an objectively better system.  I think Magic is a symptom of one of the problems that plagues GURPS 4e (and 3e, really) which is point crock, this insistence on having secondary systems that can do what advantages do, but are, for whatever reason, cheaper.  So, instead of buying an innate fire attack, mages learn fireball, and instead of purchasing DR, mages learn shield spell. The result of this is to "hide the true costs" of the mage, and to let him sneak into higher power levels, especially when point totals start to get particularly high.

The discussion turned to why this is. Why unbalance the mage? The argument made by others is that the fiction fantasy emulates often pairs a powerful wizard with a grim and gritty mercenary; a Gandalf with a Boromir.  Players had an expectation that the wizard could perform some very powerful magic, but accepted that they might have a limitation on it, such as being able to only cast once or twice before being depleted. This emulates the fiction, where a wizard is a larger-than-life character, certainly more interesting and powerful than those without magic, but often doesn't use their godlike power (muttering about the position of the stars and the temptation of power) and allows the mere mortals to sort out their problem, until dramatically solving the crisis with a wave of their hand if they're strictly necessary.  GURPS Magic does this, and it works very well at the 100 to 150 point level common to older GURPS editions.

The fear, then, is that if we required people to use Sorcery, the magic user ceases to be "interesting" at the point totals where we tend to see grim-and-gritty mercenaries.  Now, there are some arguable assumptions leading to this conclusion, but I think while it's true that a genuinely priced wizard, as most people conceive of a wizard, is closer to a 500-point street super than he is to a 150-point gritty mercenary, but the assertion that the 150-point sorcerer would be boring rub me the wrong way. Some of my favorite stories are about "weak" sorcerers (such as "With a Single Spell"), and I think they have a lot to offer a group.

The point of this post is not to argue that GURPS Magic is a problem, or that Wizards, as written, are a problem, or even that Sorcery is superior, though I think all these things are, to some extent, true. Rather, it's to try to alleviate any fears someone might have about "weak sorcerers being boring," to show what they can do, and why low-powered magic-users can often be more interesting than high-powered magic-users!

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Pyramid Kickstarter!


In case you're unaware, the next GURPS kickstarter is up, this time for three new issues of Pyramid. Yes, I've backed it, and you should too.

I'll be honest, this kickstarter makes more sense to me than the last one.  Pyramid was always the ideal place for little "mini-supplements" like we got in the last Kickstarter.  A grab-bag of wild and woolly ideas that wouldn't quite fit into a full book is exactly what I look for in Pyramid, and it's what we'll be getting.  Given the material I cover on this blog, I'm naturally looking forward to the Sci-Fi pyramid (though I'm a little surprised nobody took the time to write up yet more ultra-tech!), but there's a lot of stuff in all of the pyramid issues.  There are several of the already-unlocked articles that I'm looking forward to.

Toxic Grimoire: I have some issues with GURPS Magic, but it's a good old standby, and it's often filled with neat ideas.  An expansion of it with additional spells is always fun.

The Secret Masters: Psi-Wars tends to focus on conspiratorial play even at the more modest Action levels, so having more support for that will be nice.

Reign of Action: Reign of Steel is one of those GURPS settings that I desperately want to love, but feels unplayable.  Combining it with Action already looks like a no brainer: rather than playing desperate survivors slowly and horrifically dying to genocidal robots, why not play cigar-chomping badasses that are slowly reclaiming earth? Sure, less realistic, but much more satisfying!  Roger Burton West already proved his skill with the excellent Read the Sky supplement, so this looks like a marriage made in heaven.  It will also likely prove a valuable resource for when I start to explore the Cybernetic Union.

Three Steampunk Monsters: Phil has been on a steampunk kick lately, and while I panned his Broken Clockwork World, there's a part of me hoping that at least some of these monsters are from his BCW, because the problem with that work was that it lacked crucial details necessary to make it playable.  A few monsters would fix that.  Of course, even if they're not, steampunk is definitely the sort of setting that could do with a few horrific creations.

Play Stupid Games, Win Stupid Prizes: It's always nice to see a Sean Punch article, but I salivate at the thought of this one.  I'm literally working on cultural elements for Psi-Wars right now, so the thing I want more than anything is stupid sports and games for space opera. Don't disappoint me!

The Demonic Temple of Felltower: Peter Dell'Orto writing for Pyramid instead of his blog? I'm game.

Into the Forbidden Zone: Shades of Places of Mystery, one of my favorite 3e supplements, as my well-worn copy can attest.

More Options for Metatronic Generators: Unsurprisingly, I'm happiest with Christopher Rice's work when he's writing stuff I'll use in Psi-Wars, as a lot of Psi-Wars comes from him.  I suspect I'm one of the few people to make regular use of psychotronics, which are one example of metatronic generators, so I have no doubt this will expand the technological repertoire of ancient Ranathim technology and frightening Eldothic toys.

While I backed the GURPS Challenge to the hilt, I think it's format hurt several of it's works, and there's only been a couple of those PDFs that I've actually, practically used.  This feels like a better format, if this is the direction they want to go, so I hope this is a success (and it looks like it will be), and that they do more like this, but I really miss Pyramid.  It released some of the best GURPS material to dat and the GURPS lost some of its luster when Pyramid closed its doors for the third time. So it's nice to see it come back for at least one more hurrah!

Monday, January 18, 2021

Psi-Wars Development Journal: it's just a Cultural Thing


I have a bad habit lately of not talking about what I'm doing with Psi-Wars.  This is partially because I'm busy with several different side-projects and I often get interrupted by kids and life in general, so I pick up a thing, make some progress on it, park it, and then come back to it later.  I also find that where Psi-Wars is right now, I benefit a lot from picking at small things, like little edits to a race (the Keleni, most recently) or adding some gear here and there. This doesn't make for the exciting, focused sort of discussion like I had back back in the more "iterative" phase of Psi-Wars, and maybe I should find the discipline to return back to that, but in the meantime, this is working, so I stick with it.

But I wanted to at least add something to this blog, so people don't get the sense that Psi-Wars is dead, so perhaps I should just do a journal whenever I run across something interesting, or I want to talk about what I'm working on.  For today, I wanted to bring up culture, especially day-to-day life.

Friday, January 15, 2021

Gaming Ballistics has a Patreon

If you read this blog, chances are you already read Gaming Ballistic, but if you don't, and you want to support some of the top-of-the-line GURPS content being produced on the web, you should check out the new Gaming Ballistic Patreon (no word on other backer options); if you like what you see, perhaps give him some support.

Are Battlesuits Fair? Part 3 -- Harsh Realism for Battlesuits

 So, I've been diving into how "fair" battlesuits are.  A problem I always run into when running sci-fi games in Ultra-Tech is that characters in battlesuits are always cooler than people not in battlesuits, and people who pay through the nose for additional ST and DR (for example, cyborgs) get left in the dust of a single character who just bought some power armor as, maybe, signature gear.  Can we fix that?

But you might not agree with that premise.  You might be running it differently.  After all, battlesuits come with a host of problems.  For example, your heavier suits can't easily take cover or sneak around (though cybersuits and such certainly can). You can't wear battlesuit to a party, while a cyborg with the right sort of biomorphics certainly can.  But there's other things that we might reasonably contemplate applying to the mechanical presentation of battlesuits that strike me as quite realistic and, with enough of them, we should "compensate" for the difference between a character with and without a battlesuit, to the point where we can bring such characters more-or-less in line with one another.  As we look at these and work out the "effective point cost penalty" we'll see how we can use it to "balance" my rough estimate of ~50 points.

This still won't fix robots, who struggle to keep up with just normal humans who invest in skills, but that'll be out-of-scope for this generic series, as fixing that involves a lot of fundamental changes to how GURPS prices things, and perhaps some unpleasant kludge.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Are Battle Suits Fair: Part 2 -- The Playtest

 Last time I asked: Are Battlesuits Fair?  Mostly, I approached this question from a theoretical standpoint, you know, how most of us gamers complain that something is unbalanced without actually experiencing it in the game.  Without running the numbers, it's hard to know what will pop out.  Of course, I've played games with battlesuits, and they feel overpowered, but I never really put them in circumstances that really highlighted the imbalance.  What happens if one player wants to play a combat robot and the other a guy in a battlesuit? How bad is the disparity really?

So let's run those numbers and actually break down how well a battlesuit fairs against a combat robot and a generic commando.

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