Monday, September 10, 2018

A GURPS Spaceships Retrospective (and a GURPS Vehicles Conversion Patreon Post)

Psi-Wars makes intense use of GURPS Spaceships, and it has left me unsatisfied with the results, especially when it comes to ground vehicles.  As a result, I have turned to GURPS Vehicles from 3e as a guide to creating my own vehicles for Psi-Wars.  While this is more effort than Psi-Wars strictly needs, I did it because I happen to be a fan of GURPS Vehicles and a mourner of its absence in the 4e line-up, and I know that I am not alone in that.

So, for my Fellow-Travellers ($3+ Patrons), I have the first draft of that conversion document.  It was written with an eye towards Psi-Wars specifically; while useful as an example, I'm sure that many people will want to see Vehicles converted to their own specific campaign needs, and with an eye towards that, I have written the Vehicle Commentaries for all Dreamers ($1+ patrons), which discusses my observations on how to update Vehicles from 3e to 4e, and how you can use the same resources I did to do the same.  Some of the answers may not satisfy you, as 4e is less consistent than you might think about vehicles, but it does at least offer you a map that might help.

But I didn't want this to just be about GURPS Vehicles, nor did I want to write something exclusively for Psi-Wars Patrons, so I wanted to stop and discuss GURPS Spaceships, its shortcomings, and its brilliance.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Cross-Post: The Foalkan Clans

So, one of the players of the currently defunct "Tinker Titan Rebel Spy" has been tinkering with some Psi-Wars material, and I wanted to address it, because whenever someone posts Psi-Wars material, I want to give at least a shout-out.  I find a little commentary helps as well.

Here is the post: The Foalkan Clans

Before I dive into any further commentary, I want to address the concept of "adding Psi-Wars material."  I wrote Psi-Wars to be used, and to be useful.  I'm not really a fan of people who thump RPG setting books and say "This is canon!" except in the cases of discussion ("Well, as written, the Akashic Order is a thing and it works like this...") where you want to establish the baseline "as written."  In your own campaigns, you should be able to do as you wish.  But more than that, I wrote it to be explicitly "large."  I see it as a framework in which you should be able to put your own material.  I did this because of my initial frustrations with gaming in the Star Wars universe, in that I found it difficult to see where I could put my own material or have my own adventures (this seems to be a somewhat common complaint, if the new trilogy is any guide).  Thus, if I see people trying to add their own material, then I know my design is succeeding.

When I "finish," I'd like to break out the setting into "degrees of canon," with the "white canon" representing the core truths on which the setting hinges (things like "There is an Empire" and "There is Communion"), "grey canon" which are things that are fairly central but can be customized to serve the campaign pretty easily, things like the state of the Cult of the Mystical Tyrant, the moral nature of the Empire, or the exact nature of the Skairos.  Finally, I'd like to have a "black canon," which is entirely optional elements that may or may not be included without issue.  Certain alien races, like the Traders or the cat-people (the "Asrathi") or the Shepherdist faith, are all examples. If you dumped them from your game, nobody would notice. Also, if you added them to the game, they wouldn't interfere.  I'd very much want to throw open Black Canon to whomever wanted to add to it, and hinge open grey canon a crack so people could offer their own interpretations and spins on particular setting elements.

So, this is a very long way of saying: If you write it, I will come.  Not only that, I'll probably try to find some way to enshrine it.

Onto the commentary.

Friday, August 31, 2018

Dogfighting 3 - A multi-party dogfight

So far, I’ve handled dogfights “as the rules are” between two fighters, go get a feel for the rules; between a fighter and a tank; to see how the rules handle a fighter vs a relatively static target; finally, I want to tackle how the Chase rules handle multi-party chases. This is where I crashed and burned before. This time around, I chose to approach it more slowly and methodically, to understand everything else around the system before I approach this. It’s critical that this works, because Psi-Wars is never going to be static one-on-one fights; instead, it’s going to be swooping, gnarled, fiery furballs of fighters with fellow pilots crying out “I can’t shake him!” and heroic fighter aces tackling whole squadrons of enemy fighters. If the Chase rules can’t handle that, then we have no business using them.

We’re also going to do something else a little different: We’re going to use biplanes this time around. Some people have suggested that biplanes are a better model for Psi-Wars than modern fighters. Maybe that’s true. What’s certainly true is that the Chase rules should be able to handle biplanes, and that biplanes are different from what we’ve messed with before. By trying them out, we can check their suitability, and learn some things about how the chase rules are constructed and how they work.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Meditations on Biplanes Part II - The Actual Biplanes

Based on the feedback discussed in the previous post, I thought it might be fun to turn the third dogfighting post, the one where I tackle complex scenarios that aren't one-on-one, into a biplane dogfight.  In principle, I think it should work, as I believe the Action chase system is robust enough to handle biplanes, and I think it'll give us an idea of some of the inner logic of that system.

To do that, I need biplanes, and we actually have four in GURPS.  GURPS Campaigns offers us a "barnstormer," but its stats are a bit dubious, and its unarmed in any case.  The next option are the biplane fighter-bombers from GURPS High-Tech, and I thought I would use those, until a little investigation showed me that they were really bombers, not the sort of fighters that an "ace" pilot would fly.  So, I did a little hunting, and uncovered two iconic fighters from the era: the Sopwith Camel (duh), and the Albatross D.II.

Naturally, one can simply convert real-world stats to GURPS stats with relative ease, but I also wanted to dive into GURPS Vehicles a little, to see how well everything holds up.  These definitely weren't built with GURPS Vehicles, but I'll include some commentary and how I might port some concepts into Psi-Wars.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Meditations on the Biplane Part I -- Feedback

My discussion of dogfights have stirred up quite some commentary, not all of which I've had a chance to really address, and some I cannot (yet) address.  I take that sort of enthusiasm as a good sign, and I wanted to tackle a specific post here, by the esteemed Salsathegeek.  His commentary is especially important to me, as he's played a fighter ace, and his experience is one I seek to improve by updating these rules.  If he likes them, then it's a sign of a job well done, and if he doesn't, it hints that there are further problems, so I take his feedback seriously.

I should point out that he's not exactly criticizing me so much as expounding on what I'm talking about.  I don't really feel I need to "defend" myself (I think creators should avoid defending their work anyway; it should stand on its own two feet), so much as expand on some concepts and address why I'm doing certain things, and what it might look like if I didn't.  That is, I want to explore, rather than refute, his feedback.  I want to see what I can take from it and what you could for your own settings.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Book Review: We Are Legion (We are Bob) and the Bobiverse Trilogy

When I finally caved and joined Audible, it was to support Isaac Arthur's SFIA youtube channel, as he covers topics I dearly love, and he highly recommended the Bobiverse Trilogy, so I thought I would check it out.

I must say, I quite enjoyed it.  It is not a series without flaws, by any means, and I understand this was the author ("From annoyed fan to professional writer" went one of his tag-lines, if I remember correctly) is a fairly new one.  All in all, I would say it's quite a romp, a sort of popcorn sci-fi, each book fairly small and digestible (the entire trilogy clocks in just a little longer than the single Empire of Silence), and has a nice, hard edge for those who take their laws of physics very seriously.

I definitely recommend this series.

A Summary

We Are Legion follows Robert Johanssen, the eponymous "Bob," who uses the money from the buyout of his successful tech-startup to sign a contract to be cryogenically frozen after his death. Then, while attending a sci-fi convention, is hit by a car and dies.

He then wakes up in the laboratory of a theocratic United States some two hundred years in the future, not as a human, but as an  uploaded copy of the original.  He has been selected as a candidate for the "Heaven" project, which will involve sending a probe out to another star system, where he is expected to build more copies of himself and rinse and repeat, while seeking good colony targets and returning to help bring humanity to the stars (the copying process gives the book its name).  Unfortunately, there is no small amount of competition, and Bob finds himself under attack from international espionage and then outright declarations of war which has apocalyptic results for the Earth.

Once in space, Bob needs to tackle the lingering reach of enemy human empires, help rehabilitate the Earth, seek out new worlds and new civilizations, help humanity reach the stars, uplift newly discovered sapient species, squabble with his clones, do his best to keep from going insane, and then uncover and wage war upon a horrifying race, the "Others" who see all other races as sources of food.

The Bad

The author is clearly a nerd, or at least knows the nerd target audience very well, and I find the work falls into some geek fallacies pretty quickly.  Bob often finds himself dealing with bullies or bully-like people, and we're expected to root for him when he outwits of defeats them, but I find this very dissonant when the person being "bullied" is an interstellar battleship capable of orbital strikes.  We can chalk this up to the personality of Bob lingering within the digital copies, but what I find mind-blowing is that people would even try it.  We regularly see villainous personalities making threats or posturing against Bob, or making unreasonable or realistic threats against him, and at one point, he is the subject of bigotry and discrimination, and we are meant to sympathize, and given the response the book receives, quite a few people do.  I just found it absurd. Oh, sure, there's always some punk who's going to talk up to a Terminator and pick a fight with it, but I think most people would give it wide berth or, maybe, even worship it.

In general, I find the way a lot of characters behave in We are Legion and its sequels to be a tad unrealistic, namely in the author doesn't, to me, feel like he has a good grasp of motivations.  People take over governments, or hate the Bobs, or cast him into exile, or demand his time and attention, and while these follow naturally from situations and previous actions, I think they fail to take into account, first, that Bob is often dealing with literally millions of people, and I would expect some diversity of opinion.

Two stark examples stand out to me.  First, Bob eventually offers the uploading technology to humanity, but they, with one sole exception, reject the technology.  Nobody wants to be uploaded, and they point out that all Bob seems to do is chores for humanity and wage wars.  Who would want that?  Folks, that's what the military looks like, and we get people willing to join that all the time.  If, right now, you went out into the world and offered a million people the chance to become an interstellar battleship, I guarantee you that you're going to get more than one person reluctantly agreeing.  You might not have a stampede, but there will be people who sign up.  And given the heroism and glamour of what Bob is doing, from exploring the stars to waging war on an alien menace to saving the lives of humanity, I would expect to have seen some hero-worship; people would want to be a part of all of that, but instead, we see Bob treated as an exile, selflessly and thanklessly working for humanity.

The second involves a military leader who becomes the main contact person between Bob and humanity, who regularly makes demands and argues with Bob, and rejects certain proposals that Bob makes, about how Bob wants to use his own resources.  The general's angry reactions to Bob's proposals becomes something of a running joke of the series, but I found it perplexing.  It would be like a US Aircraft carrier parked off of an island devastated by a natural disaster with only a small fragment of the original populace clinging to life and offering assistance, and then the captain of said aircraft carrier complaining that the representative of the survivors is mean.  Why does the captain care what the representative has to say?  He's an adviser at best; every once in a while, Bob will threaten to pull stakes and walk if people don't cooperate, but that sort of thing would have to seem pretty obvious to most people involved.  I would have expected a lot more toadying from the ambitious, rather than grandstanding: You would rather be seen as the captain's best friend, rather than his task master.

The other irritation I had was how he tackled the concept of religion.  His theocratic masters were, of course, mustache-twirling villains, while Bob is a perfectly rational atheist.  I find this sort of attitude common among the futurist crowd, and I find it uncharitable.  The rise of the theocracy read like left-wing conspiracy theory, and no effort is made by the author to understand how such a thing could actually happen, and what sort of nuance we might have.

I rush to note that most of these can be explained away as expedients to getting to the better part of the plot, and that there are a few moments when the author seems to be highlighting that a lot of what he is showing has more to do with Bob's attitudes than what is actually going on (For example, one of the Bobs questions another Bob's handling of humanity, pointing out that they're reacting out of fear).  The book, after all, is not about the rise and fall of the United States, or the nature of humanity.  It stood out to me more because I was going through the Dune series around the same time, which tackles these concepts in a far more nuanced way.  But still, they stood out to me, so I thought I would point them out.

My only remaining complaint is that it sort of... just ends.  The author seems to have decided to wrap it up, he tied off all the main plot points, has a final good-bye and he's just done and moved on to the next trilogy.  It's a touch perfunctory, and I found it a bit unsatisfying, but I didn't especially mind it.

The Good

Right out of the gate, the book has an easy and jovial tone that makes it a delight to read.  Normally I just listen to my audiobooks when I have nothing better to do, such as walking between home and work, but with this trilogy, I found myself flipping it on just to see how it finished.

The Bobiverse trilogy absolutely brims with a love of science, technology, futurism and sci-fi.  It's loaded with references, and a sense of wonder, as Bob's clones discover new species, new worlds, new life, and discusses them in detail. The first book also includes quotes from sci-fi conventions discussing futurism, which expand a bit on some of the ideas that his series explores, though the latter do don't do this, which is a bit of a shame.

I would can't the series "Hard," as it includes reactionless drives and FTL communication, but beyond those few conceits, it remains rigorously focused on science and explores their implications as well as it can.  It is absolutely a must read if you want to understand how GURPS Space Combat is intended to run, and it had the most fascinating space battle I've ever read in the first book, which involved long, slow trajectories, intense calculations and recalculations up until the instant of contact which led to a millisecond-scale exchange of ordinance.  The final battle of the series also touches on the sheer scale of power that a true interstellar war might have.

This may seem terse, compared to my complaints, but this is the bulk of what makes up the books, and its excellent.  It's why you read them.  They definitely outway the bad, above.

But is it Psi-Wars?

Ha ha, no.  It's got sapient,  uploaded brains running STL dreadnoughts to fight wars mostly decided by missiles and point defense when it isn't discovering new life and new civilizations.  If you're looking for books that I'll borrow for Psi-Wars, this definitely isn't one.  It is fantastic inspiration for Heroes of the Galactic Frontier, a Star-Trek-like that I would like very much to get to.  In fact, it very much reads like someone wanted to write Star Trek, but was irritated  by all of the unrealistic elements of Star Trek and so ditched all of them, and wove in a few interesting new concepts, like uploading consciousnesses and a little existential introspection on what cloning your consciousness means.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Dogfighting 2: Jet vs Tank

One thing I’ll need to handle if I get into fighters vs cap-ships, I need to see how high-speed craft work against slower, sea-bound craft, but I don’t have sea-bound craft that I can compare the standard TL 8 fighter to. However, I do have tanks. High-Tech has a TL 8 main battle tank, but I’m pretty sure I know how that fight will end, which is with a dead tank on turn one, because the fighter will get a missile lock, fire, and kill. The only real disadvantage is that the fighter isn’t carrying any missile that easily punches through armor, but the top of a tank is only DR 100, and the missile deals 200 damage; it wouldn’t necessarily be a one shot kill, but the tank sure wouldn’t be happy. Thus, I’d like to propose using the TL 9 “Light Battle Tank” from GURPS Ultra-Tech. It’s more advanced than the fighter, but at least it can fight back and make things interesting.

Surely,” I hear you say, “GURPS Action doesn’t handle things like a fighter jet ‘chasing’ a tank.” Oh, but it does! It calls this mobility pursuit. The fighter is able to operate on three dimensions and can treat the tank as static. Of course, it must pursue in ways that the tank cannot compensate for. Just chasing the tank over flat ground is not mobility pursuit, but if the tank must go over rough, rocky ground that the fighter can just soar over, then it becomes a mobility pursuit. Similarly, if things go bad for our fighter, it can use a mobility escape, simply climbing beyond the range of the tank.
It should be noted that the tank and a Psi-Wars capital ship aren’t precisely the same, because a fighter can’t use superior mobility against a capital ship, as both operate in three spatial dimensions, but we have some additional ways we can simulate it in Psi-Wars, if it comes to that.

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