Thursday, June 4, 2020

Thoughts on Occulted Systems

So, based on a positive review, I buckled down and picked up a game I had been eying for awhile: Cultist Simulator. I am completely obsessed with it now, as it's absolutely the sort of game I've desperately wanted for a very long time, and it's devouring more of my free time than I should really allow.

But it did get me thinking about a perennial bugbear of mine, namely magic systems and a lot of my gripes of them.  Cultist Simulator helped me clarify what it is I actually want to see in such a game, or what I'd like to try to explore.

See, in Cultist Simulator, they explain nothing to you.  You have to experiment on your own and figure it all out, and it's pretty complicated stuff.  It's just random enough be uncertain if a failing result is a matter of a bad choice or if you've just gotten unlucky, though not so random that you feel like you couldn't guess.  There are systems that underly things that tend to have a surprising number of moving parts, and while the game (seems to) give you enough information to figure it out, though it's not obvious, and even if you think you know, there may still be some deeper thing to learn.  The fact that these various, abstract concepts have pretty obscure and symbolic names only makes it more fun (My character solved the riddle of the Stag's Door, which was about a queen who never was, and passed through it to become one of the Know.  Now he hungers for the minds of others. Until the Worms came for him).

In short, Cultist Simulator treats the Occult as a mystery to be investigated, which is something I feel a lot of magic systems lack.  Given that I'm thinking about this all the time right now, I thought I might as well right about it, to get it off my chest and maybe give you some ideas as well, dear reader.

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Into the Labyrinth: the Nerlochs and the God Below



Not every creature of the Labyrinth is Skairosian in origin. Other things have invaded the winding tunnels beneath the surfaces of Labyrinthine Worlds.  They might be elder things from beyond space and time, or they might be the corruptions twisted by the influence of Broken Communion.

The Nerlochs are one such race that lurks in the Labyrinth, coming out of the tunnels for furtive raids to steal sustenance (and recruits) for their God Below.  They'r eoriginally found in GURPS Creatures of the Night 1. I think they're one of the better entries in the Creatures of the Night Series and thematically very appropriate to Psi-Wars.

I would have just pointed you to them and been done with it, but they have some problems fitting into Psi-Wars as written. By default, Nerlochs are clearly designed to be a modern horror that takes on opponents of about 100 points, not sci-fi space knights of 300+ points. Thus, these have been heavily adapted and cleaned up for Psi-Wars.  What's below is a highly specific and highly adapted version of the Nerlochs more suitable for Psi-Wars.  I'd say they were just "inspired" by the original entry, but I wanted to highlight their origins and point you to where they came from, rather than completely erasing the serial number, because I think CotN is a good series worth supporting. Thus, I've completely left off any discussion of Anagon himself, except for hints in the form of the new Children of Anagon.  An appropriate new version of the God Below would probably be much bigger and much more terrifying than what Creatures of the Night lists. So, if you want to know more, check out the book!

Even in this current iteration, Nerlochs aren't that much of a threat. A well-entrenched commando will mow through them; space knights might have more trouble, as they're in range of those dangerous eldritch talons.  Gunslingers might also suffer, as they tend not to wear a lot of sealed armor.  Ultimately, Nerloch hunting comes down to be able to outsmart them, and standing up to a mob of paralytic talons lead by a hungry, hulking thing-beast. It might be fun to hit a party with a small Nerloch raid of 3-5 nerlochs, and then have the gibbering ghouls following them at a distance, visible only as the glow of their gems, as anticipation mounts for a sudden, major assault of hordes of Nerlochs over some treacherous precipice.

Monday, June 1, 2020

Ultra-Tech Guns: Gun Weight

Alright, so I've looked pretty closely at damage.  Today, I wanted to look at weights, as I'm pretty sure those are pretty easily determined also with Vehicles.  Let's see, shall we?  Once again, we'll take a look at several Ultra-Tech guns and see if the Vehicles gun design system gets them close to correct.  Once again, I'll note the formula, which is
B^2 * L * P * S * T * R
Where B is boresize, L is a value based on the length of the barrel, P is power (1, in our case), S has to do with bore size as well, T has to do with technology (we'll use 0.6 for this value) and R has to do with  reload time (1 for us).

If we use these values for pistols we get:

  • The Heavy Pistol: We expect a weight of 1.8, and if we assume an "extremely short" barrel, which is what we got for damage, we get 1.5. Not too far off.
  • The Holdout Pistol: we expect a weight of 0.8, and we get... almost exactly 0.8 (assuming an extremely short barrel)
  • The Magnum Pistol: we expect a weight of 2 lbs, and we get ~3.4
  • The Medium Pistol: we expect a weight of 1.5 and we get 1.7
These aren't too bad if we do some rounding off with ammunition, except for the Magnum pistol, which is much heavier than it should be.  Worse, there's no real indication as to what's wrong.  The Heavy Pistol is "too light," and the Medium Pistol is "too heavy," so there's no obvious trend, such as all the pistols being too light or too heavy.

If we jump straight to rifles, we get:
  • The Anti-Materiel Rifle: We expect about 28 lbs.  With a Very Long rifle, we get the right damage, but it's too heavy at ~34 lbs.  If we assume Long, then the weight is correct, but the damage is low.
  • The Assault Carbine: We expect 5.5 lbs, and we get 5.5 if we assume a Long barrel (odd for a Carbine); damage lines up too (it's a bit high, though).  If we assume the Assault Carbine is a "heavy automatic" then the barrel should be medium (that also gives us 5.5) and the damage drops to 5d+1, which is too low.
  • The Gatling Carbine: We expect it to be 8 lbs, and if we assume a medium barrel and a triple barreled gatling motor (what it's described as having), we get a weight of 5.8 (too light) and a damage of 4d+1, which is close.  If we go for Long barrels, we get a weight of 8.8 and a damage of 5d.
  • The Hunting Rifle has effectively the same stats as a Long Barrel 7mm, both for damage and weight.
  • The Payload Rifle: this has ~28 lbs, and if we assume low-powered ammo and a medium barrel, we get ~23 and ~9 damage.  It feels like it's been fudged/iterpolated up.
  • Storm Carbine: we expect this to be 6 lbs.  If we assume a medium barrel and "light" automatic, we get 7.5 lbs (too heavy) and 7d+1 damage or so, which is close.
  • Storm Rifle: We expect this to be 8.8 lbs and if we assume a long barrel, we get 11 lbs, but exactly correct damage.
So, I see a consistent pattern here: the damage and weight values seem pretty closely correlated: if a particular configuration is off, it's generally off for both. If the weight is high, the damage is high, and if the weight is low, the damage is low.  So this is another value that more or less looks right, as though it was developed using the same system with, perhaps, some fudge values.

So weight looks about right, and damage looks about right, if you assume designs were fudged.


Sunday, May 31, 2020

The Skairosian Bestiary Revisited: Shadow Serpents

Along with the Glance Hound, this one didn't get many comments and I suppose that's fair.  What I wanted here was a third critter and I found the phase serpent in DF and it seemed like a nice bit of inspiration that I borrowed.  Originally, the Skairosian hound had a hallucinatory venom, but I just moved it over to the Shadow Serpent and gave it phasing powers and called it a day.  This helps explain alternatives to the source of Akashic deep time, as it might have stemmed from the venom of the Shadow Serpent, which might be showing them visions of possible, alternate futures in a great cacophany of imagery.  I also like the imagery of Labyrinthine Cults engaging in "miraculous" snake handling.

As a threat, this wasn't much of one, because it's pretty hard to justify the fangs of a snake, even one the size of a python, punching through armor.  But based on a suggestion, I went with the idea of ignoring DR entirely, with the excuse that they can "phase" through the armor.  This allows them to have remarkably low damage, which mostly acts as a vehicle for their venom, which is what they're really about.  I also added a constriction attack, but in practice this won't really make them more lethal. They're defensiveness is fine: they're tough enough to hit and touch enough to hurt, but in practice, any well-armed opponent will make short work of a single shadow serpent.  I see their purpose as more of an irritation, a problem to be stacked atop other issues, rather than a singularly terrifying boss-monster.

Given their ability to vanish for 10 seconds at a time, they should have no problem ambushing a commando and punching through their armor with their fangs to give the commando a tough time.  Commandos will fare better against swarms, though. Gunslingers might fair a little better with superior active defenses, and they don't rely on armor anyway, and they might be able to fast draw quickly enough to shoot the serpent before it phases away again.  The space knight may also be able to respond in time to the shadow serpent, and may be able to react to its presence if he's able to detect it psychically, attacking it swiftly once it comes out of the "shadows." A single sweep of a force sword is enough to defeat most shadow serpents, and space knights often have the will to work through a hallucination spell.



Saturday, May 30, 2020

The Skairosian Bestiary Revisited: the Glance Hound

To me, the Glance Hound is the Skairosian Monster.  It's inspired by the original "Devil of Perspehone," and is probably closest to my first idea of what was in the labyrinth. Thus, it had to stay.

I've not really buffed the lethality much.  All I've really done is play-up their multi-dimensional nature as justification for increasing their armor divisor to 10.  This means that they still deal an average of 10 damage, but they can punch through up to ~100 DR, making them a potential threat (en masse) against a space knight, and I've kept the "bite-and-twist" concept to allow them to inflict an even more terrifying 17 cutting damage on limbs they've bitten, but I've expanded the idea of Extra Attacks more broadly, so they can also make several attacks with their claws.

I've pulled back from the idea of the Glance Hounds-as-dogs.  My original conception had them vanishing into shadows and clinging to walls, but this made them too much like Aliens and thus too much like the Insectoid, which I also wanted to include.  Well, on reflection, as nice as the Insectoid is, I think the engineers of Jotan would have created something more lethal to the Scourge than to humans, and thus needs a complete rethink.  In a lot of ways, this has allowed the Glance Hound to return to form, making it a stealthy, agile hunter par-excellence

The original reason I didn't give them the ITDR of the Faceless Kine or the Shadow Serpent was that if they ground things around them, they shouldn't be partially unreal themselves.  Well, why not make it switchable? They can "ground" shades, but this "grounds" themselves.  This creates an interesting tactical choice: they will always ground themselves around a shade, thus if you can bring them into a fight with shades, they can deal with the shade (and help you deal with it) and also make them easier to deal with.  I'm not sure how interesting it makes them, but it at least justifies both their use as an "anti-shade gargoyle/guard dog" and their ability to cut through armor like butter.

The net result is a creature that doesn't deal much more damage than before, but gets through armor a lot better, is much faster, much harder to spot and more aggressive.  Between its superior active defense and improved accuracy plus some tips on getting around defenses, they'll land more hits than, say, the Faceless Kine.

I think Commandos will find this critter a nightmare to deal with.  Between their stealth and speed, they'll often manage to sneak up on unprepared commandos and thus bypass a lot of their fortifications and defensive positions.  While a single shot from a heavier rifle will be enough to take out a glance-hound-as-henchmen (you need to do ~30 damage), you won't notice them until they're on top of you, and even if you do, they move so fast they'll cover all the ground necessary to get to you in a couple of seconds, and they hunt in packs. So you'll need to take out 4-7 in the time it takes for them to cover ground, and if you don't, your DR 80 or 100 is not enough to keep your limbs from being crippled (they'll deal an average of 17 damage, 7 to 9 of which will go through your DR, and will increase due to cutting to 10-13, which is enough to cripple, or even sever a limb through armor), at which point you're in a heap of trouble.

Gunslingers will fare better.  They can rapidly respond to the sudden appearance of a Glance Hound threat with a quick draw, and their weaponry and their skill with it is good enough to bypass their defenses and they can deal enough damage to hurt a glance hound (a 4d pistol will deal an average of 14 damage, 10 of which will get through their armor, which gets reduced to 5 by their IT:DR; 3 shots is enough to take down a glance hound henchmen, which is pretty easy for a gunslinger to do, provided the Glance Hound doesn't dodge).  The Glance Hound is pretty lethal to the gunslinger, but not much more so than a Commando, and the superior active defense of the Gunslinger might make a big difference unless the Glance Hound can get the drop on them, and "spotting ambushes" is what gunslingers do. If the Glance Hound gets a hit, they only average 10 damage, which is bad, but no worse than being hit by a pistol, unless the Glance Hound bites a limb.

Space Knights will tend to do well against them as well. Their psychic senses will surely warn them of the impending attack, giving them time to prepare, and their force sword is within spitting distance of defeating a Glance Hound in a single stroke.  Most Space Knights are totally capable of handling with the deceptive attacks of the Glance Hounds, and finding a way past the Glance Hounds great defense.  The melee-focus of the Space Knight means that the Glance Hound's speed or tendency to ambush is less of a problem.  In practice, I expect space knights to mow through a pack of Glance Hounds, but they'll be more careful of this version than they were of the last one.

Friday, May 29, 2020

Patreon Update

So Patreon is raising fees again conforming to new tax laws. They've given me a fancy spiel I can tell you, which looks something like this:

I wanted to give you an update on some changes that we’ll be seeing which may affect some of your pledges. Due to new laws passing in several countries and US states, Patreon will be required to start charging sales tax on some pledges starting July 1st. 

Less than half of all patrons will be charged sales tax, and for most, the amount will be very small. For example, sales tax rates in the US range from 4% to 11%, so on a $5 pledge, that would be between 20 cents and 55 cents. 

Whether or not you will be charged sales tax depends on your location, and what is considered taxable there. Not every pledge is taxable, not all benefits are taxable in every location, and sometimes only a fraction of a pledge will be taxable. The money that Patreon collects as a result of these laws are paid directly to local governments.

So, expect your pledge prices to rise.  They also have this bit to add:

 I’m working closely with Patreon to ensure I’m able to save you as much money as possible when it comes to sales tax - which is not something that’s possible with other platforms.

Which feels like an odd detail to add.  Like, what "other platform?" Oh right.  SubscribeStar.  Well, I'm on SubscribeStar, and at the risk of costing Jack Conte his second yacht, I don't really care which one you use.  In fact, I don't think I can pull funds from SubscribeStar until I hit five subscribers. And their fees haven't changed.  I don't know why.  But if you're bothered by the price hike tax hike and you want to continue backing me, I suggest you do the following:
That way you can avoid being "double booked."  If you make a mistake, I'll see if I can get your money back to you, somehow. You can also do this before July 1st, evidently.

If you're happy with Patreon and don't mind the possibility of an extra couple of cents coming off every month (I don't think it's universal, so many of you probably won't get an additional fee), then by all means stick with it.  And I appreciate every one of you and the patience you have in putting up with all the surprising amount of hassle in what is, by all rights, a convenient way to set-up a monthly donation.

The Skairosian Bestiary Revisted: the Faceless Kine

"I think most powerful foes should be at the very minimum right frightening to even the very tough end of starting scrubs" -Kalzazz

So, my previous version of the Skairosian Bestiary elicited some criticism as being too tame.  This bruised my ego a bit, but I think a lot of good came out of it, including yesterday's post which gave me some much needed perspective.  I also really appreciated getting a sense of what people expected out of monsters of the labyrinth, which is that they are scary.  This makes sense, though: if House Kain uses the Labyrinth as a rite of passage, then we would expect this to be challenging to a starting heroic member of House Kain.  With that in mind, let's revise each of the 4, one at a time, starting with the Faceless Kine.

This one was more popular than I expected, I suppose because it has some good imagery associated with it.  As I was looking for inspiration for additional critters, I decided I needed "the Cattle of Hades," as cows tended to be sacred to ancient peoples (and the Skairos are meant to evoke ancient myth) and we have a long association of cattle and labyrinths.  I struggled with what they would be and how they would function, until I saw a wonderful picture of this eyeless demon-ape thing with great horns.  Ah, there were my cattle.

The real point of the "Cattle of Hades" was that you would want to steal them for some particular reason.  Thus, I settled on their flesh (and especially their hearts) empowering those that ate them.  Naturally, the Skairos would defend them, but they would defend themselves too.

They're primarily tough.  I borrowed the justification for IT:DR from the Madness Dossier (so, hat time Kenneth Hite) as the idea of "partially real" creatures fit the Skairos well.  Between that and their tendency to go Berserk, they're actually really hard to kill, the definition of the "pile of hitpoints" opponent.  This version requires ~600 damage (300 after accounting for ITDR) to kill, but this is slightly toned down from my second try, which was close to 1000 ("Did you bring a isomeric torpedo?" felt excessive for this sort of encounter).  I beefed up the skull armor and the armor in general, as they give off a rhino vibe, and thus particularly heavy skin (roughly on par with someone in heavy battleweave) felt right, and this enormous, impressive crest deserved more impressive DR.  The net effect is that someone with a force sword will deal an average of 23 damage to the body or 14 damage to the face (or 56 damage to the brain), all halved for IT DR (to 12, 7 and 23 respectively; which means you'd need about 13 hits to the brain with a force sword to take down a raging Bull Kine). Of course, this is all the defense they have, as if they berserk, they're not going to actively defend.

They're substantially less impressive on offense.  Their best goring attack will deal ~40 damage (I'm using the new, DF rules for slams here) with an armor divisor of 3.  Against DR 100, that will deal an average of 7 damage (or 14 injury), which is nasty, but that's the best they can do.  However, Psi-Wars is very generous with crushing damage, inflicting 1 point of injury for every 5 absorbed by DR, so I've emphasized this with some additional comments on the attack.  To make it more visceral and impressive, I've added additional notes about its size, including its ability to trample, grapple, throw targets around, and smash them into walls.  These are less lethal (though they average 4 damage per hit to anyone with 20 DR or more), but spectacular and will make it feel more impressive.  At skill 13 (plus a penalty for hitting smaller targets), it won't make deceptive attacks, which makes it fairly trivial to avoid if you have solid defense.

Thus, if Axton Kain faced off against a Faceless Bull Kine, it would mostly involve him carefully defending, with the primary concern being to avoid a grapple.  If it's a one-on-one fight, this should be relatively doable while whittling his target down.  However, if the Bull Kine gets a lucky hit, or other Kine join in the fight, it could go very badly.

Commandos might find this a more pleasing challenge.  They can put a lot of firepower "down range," and thus reasonably pepper a target this big with 3 or so hits per turn that deal between 15 and 25 damage, dealing 50-80 damage per turn (25 to 40 after ITDR), which means the Commando would kill it in 9 to 12 seconds of concentrated fire from a squad-support weapon.  Given the tight confines of the Labyrinth, the Bull Kine would probably be on him in less than that time, and the Commando would lack the additional defenses of the Space Knight, and so would start to take some real damage, but depending on how long he held it off, might be able to finish killing it in the last, hectic moments of combat.

Gunslingers should probably avoid it. None of their specialties will help them here, and their armor tends to protect less well against crushing damage.

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