Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Psi-Wars Wiki Update: Welcome to the Wild Side Edition

When I last asked the community for what Template they wanted wikified, they chose the Frontier Marshal. I found that an interesting choice, given its intersection between law enforcement, gunslinging and wilderness adventure.  I spend most of last month (and the first half of this month) working on the gunslinging part.  The last half of this month has been on the wilderness part.

See, the Frontier Marshal is the ranger of Psi-Wars.  He's a skilled ranged combatant, but he applies that skill while out in the wilderness.  He rides his steed over the plains and the desert, but a grim man on a boat in a swamp with a rifle resting on his shoulder is as much a Frontier Marshal.  They represent the sort of character that understands the wilderness, and the people that live in it.  They share this a bit with the Bounty Hunter: they're a liminal class that walks the boundary of rim and core, but in their case, it is civilization and wilderness

This naturally meant I had to explore the wilderness rules.  I've actually had them sitting around, updated somewhat, since Iteration 5, and I had most of them written out already.  Thus, this turned into a review, especially as I referenced them for my updates to the Frontier Marshal.  Satisfied with them, the Planetary Peril rules now on the wiki.

Once I had those in hand, the next question I needed resolved is what sort of traits I wanted for survivors to have.  This turned into a natural review of the Survivor background.  In previous iterations, I included a few additional traits associated with a particular form of survival, and I intended to expand that further this time, but I found that overwrought and instead I turned into creating a set of advice for players.  I also experimented with a new concept: "Where am I from?" Before, the backgrounds could afford to be vague: you were an aristocrat from some lineage, or a survivor from some world. Now we have setting specifics, so you can be an aristocrat from this lineage, and now you can be a survivor from this world.  Let me know if you like the idea.  You can find the Survivor (and the Primitive, the more important aspect of the backround IMO) here.

At last, the Frontier Marshal.  I integrated a cut down set of survivor traits here, bundled in the "power-ups" from the previous iteration and integrated the gunslinger styles and offered some advice.  The biggest change, of course, is integration into the setting.  What is a frontier marshal and how do they differ from group to group?  I've included 4. The generic Frontier Marshal remains what he was: a generic lawman on a generic world answering to some higher authority (the Alliance or the Empire) to enforce the law on less sophisticated locals.  But for more specific marshals, we now have the Maradonian Reeve, the Shinjurai conservationist and the Westerly Rim-Walker.  The Reeve and the Conservationist focus more on preserving nature, and more closely resemble the modern, real-world ranger.  The Reeve protects the lands of his lord, while the conservationist protects regions set aside by interstellar law as nature preserves.  The Rim-Walker is shifts back to the more cowboy nature of the role, and changes the template into semi-legendary figure of Westerly lore: wandering gunslingers who make use of their powerful blaster fu to set the law right.  They're technically not Law Enforcement, but so many people treat them as law enforcement that they often get a pass from the governing powers.

There were three lenses I considered and discarded.  The Frontiersman would be a a generic "gunslinger from the wilderness," someone without any law enforcement or rank.  I still like the idea, but it starts to feel like excessive detail to discuss it (basically, just spend your 30 points for your lens on your advantages; done). I considered a Guide, or a Tribal Guide: someone who knows the wilderness and will agree to guide people on a safari, or join up with someone else. I still like this idea, but a generic guide doesn't have that much setting them apart, and a Tribal guide would be very different skill-wise, so perhaps best left until I'm farther along with such cultural groups.  Finally, I considered a Ranathim "Beast master" who would go into the nature preserves of world like Hekatomb or Sarai and find the great beasts there and capture them for use in the gladiatorial arenas.  An interesting concept, but a very different one when it came to combat and very focused on the Ranathim, so I parked it for now.  The four I've had feel like they cover enough ground to make the concept work without watering it down too much.

And with those three, we have a glimpse into the more wild parts of Psi-Wars.  I still have a lot of unfinished material (such as some rough drafts on some space monsters), but it's time to move onto the next expansion of Psi-Wars, particularly the criminal world.

Monday, October 12, 2020

Musings on the Psi-Wars Gun-Fu

 There's a rule I've noticed about the Psi-Wars Community: if you mess with martial arts, you will get feedback.  The community seems to love the martial arts, and investigates the details of the styles with a fine tooth comb, more than anything else except, possibly, Communion.

So I wasn't that surprised to see my inbox pop up with some thoughts and suggestions for more gun-fu and also more force sword forms.  So I thought I'd cobble together the feedback into a single place and discuss it.

Existing Gun Fu

Generally, the Gun Fu I've released has been well-received.
  • Coda Resolute is surprisingly popular. I suspect it's the flavor and the low buy-in cost to be "cool."
  • Undercity Noir is also quite popular. I think it, as well as the Graceful Form, need a bit more work, though.  Acrobatics is always a rather complex topic.
  • Imperial Markmanship hit with a dud as "Fine." This is understandable.  It's meant to be an unglamorous workhorse style.  I originally intended for it to be like Coda Resolute, with only two "levels," but the price proved an insurmountable obstacle.  I think the fact that it raises both rifle and pistol at the same time also really slows progress, which is unfortunate.  I would like to give it a "Mozambique Drill" style trademark move, however, so this style will see a slight retouch.
  • The Way of the Rim was accepted with less fanfare than I expected.  It fits, and it's suitable, and people like it, but I don't think it really surprised people much.  The schtick of aim-then-draw rather than the other way around was uncontroversial.  I think it'll see a lot of use, but not as much buzz as some of the others.
  • Shineido was the big star, which didn't surprise me (that's why I released it last), but the level of feedback and love it got actually managed to exceed my expectations. In fact, a lot of the request from other styles came from Shineido.

I think it's worth unpacking why Shineido generated the excitement that it did.  Of course, everyone loves Gun Kata, and everyone loves the idea of inserting it into a setting with Jedi.  It's the sort of kitchen-sink crazy that every RPGer seems to yearn for.  But I think there's more going on here than that.

The Martial-Arts-As-Power-Ups, in my experience, tends to highlight what a martial art can do.  It's one thing to see a list of appropriate traits, and it's another to see a martial artist in action, especially when there are certain combinations that work especially well together. These Power-Up systems generate way more feedback than the previous martial arts I've done, even though they're based on the same martial arts I already did, precisely because they make what those styles can do more visible.

 Shineido highlighted two things.  First: the power of math!  Thus far, the setting has focused almost exclusively on psychic abilities (and, by extension, Communion).  We have cybernetics and, eventually, bio-mods, but by-and-large, if you wanted to be "cool" you had psychic powers. Neo-Rationalism, instead, focuses on the power of pure genius and cinematic logic to create nigh-supernatural effects, which is an exciting idea, especially as a foil for the "superstitious" psychic powers.  It creates a nice tension. It's always been there, but Shineido makes it more obvious.

Shineido is also an explicity anti-space-knight style.  You use it not just to cool cool in combat, but to duel with a space knight.  The imagery of that is nice, but the idea of creating someone who can defeat a space knight, (The "Psi-Hunters" concept are we referred to them in Iteration 3) is an interesting one people seem interested in exploring further.

New Gun Fu

Are there are any plans for a gun fu style that utilizes psionics similar to psionic force swordsmanship? -KZRK

I haven't seen as many calls for new Gun Fu as I have for force sword forms, but there are definitely some calls. In particular, there's a request for a Psionic Gun-Fu style.

Now, I'm not shy about my love of the film Push, which is definitely a huge inspiration on Psi-Wars, and the moment he suggested it, I immediately thought of the TK Gun Fight from Push.  I think it would do a lot to cement how different Psi-Wars can be from Star-Wars. There are, however, a couple of problems that need to be overcome.

The first problem is that Psionic styles are a nightmare.  Psionic Force Swordsmanship needs another pass, and it was already one of the most difficult ones to design. You have to make a lot of assumptions about what characters are capable of.  For example, if you take EK then while Psionic Force Swordsmanship still has some value for you, but a lot of its moves are locked away.  What psychic power would Psionic Gun Fu use? TK? That's cool for the guns and moving them around, but it won't help you deflect blaster shots.  EK? That'll let you deflect blaster shots and maybe super-power your gun, but it won't let you wave your blaster around in the air in a cool way.  What about something else entirely, like an ESP or Telepathic Gun Fu style?  See, it opens up a can of works, and whatever choice we pick, the psychic power creates a hurdle to overcome: if you don't have one of the powers associated with Psionic Force Swordmanship, the style is blocked off to you; but anyone can learn one of the other styles.  Thus, this is inherently a niche style that most people won't care about and it takes more than the usual amount of work.

The second problem is where do you put it? We haven't hard "Free floating" styles since Iteration 4.  Our styles have been grounded in the cultures that created them: Shineido is associated with Denjuku and the Shinjurai Royal Family.  The Furious Form is associated with the Satemo of the Umbral Rim.  Who would use this psionic gun-fu? It probably wouldn't be the maradonians, as they see the force sword as a badge of honor.  You might see some psychic additions to the Coda Resolute, but aristocrats generally didn't settle their differences with that style.  What about aliens?  Well, we don't really associate the Ranathim or the Keleni with blasters. We might see a "temple maiden" concept for the Keleni, but they'll be closer to commandos than to gunslingers (though it must be said that telepathically linked commandos might be scarier than Combat Geometrics). The Asrathi are associated with Probability Manipulation, and that's worth touching on a bit more in Undercity Noir, but I don't think that's what KZRK had in mind. We have no PK- or EK-using aliens.  So who gets this?

One concept I do want to touch on at some point are non-space-knight, non-sage psychics.  I see Psi-Wars as a bit like Rifts in how it handles psychic powers: sure, there are mystics and knights out there, but there are also "mind melters," rare and unexpected talent erupting somewhere like an X-men, with the Empire trying to register and/or imprison them, and space knights trying to recruit, but powerful "rogue" psychics who lack force sword training or who don't live in temples or don't pretend to be witches should definitely be a part of the setting, and this style might suit them well.  But other than these vague ideas, I'm not sure how to solidify it yet.

New Force Sword Forms

(H)ow about a force swordsmanship style that takes a more scientific approach similar to Shineido or Combat Geometrics? -KZRK

I think it speaks volumes for the popularity of force sword forms that when I introduce gun-fu, people use it as a platform to ask for more force sword forms. But there's more meat here than just "I want more force sword forms."  As we noted above, Shineido highlights that you can gain "cool powers" from math, science and logic in Psi-Wars, and given that people use "cool powers" to upgrade their force sword fighting.

Using math to be a better fencer is definitely not the craziest idea. In fact, we already have a style that does it: La Verdadera Destreza on GURPS Martial Arts page 158.  Of course, the math does nothing, but we could try to introduce some elements.  We could borrow some of the elements from La Verdadera Destreza and mix them with the essential kendo that underlies all force sword forms and toss on some of the Math tricks of Shineido.

But where would we put it in the setting?  The Shinjurai wouldn't use a force sword, and a Maradonian wouldn't use Neo-Rationalism? Where would we find such a character?

Maybe a branch of the imperial knights would work for the scientific force swordsmanship, since the empire is governed by the same philosophies that gave rise to combat geometrics -KZRK
There are actually several factions that would meld force swordsmanship and Neo-Rationalism.  KZRK is correct in pointing out that Imperial Knights might do it.  Another faction that might use it would be House Tan-Shai.  After all, they are neo-rationalist to their core, and lack psychic powers (being anti-psi themselves), but need to be able to win force sword duels, as they've been tangled up in Maradonian culture.

This brings up another concept such a style would likely seek to explore: the Stance Breaker Form. A core element of Shineido is defeating space knights.  This style might do the same, and wuxia is full of stories of a style that's built around defeating the elements of a particular style (or "all styles,"), a "Stance Breaker Form." Those who created this style would have wanted to beat space knights on their own ground, and would have had the data to do it. They would have analyzed all their styles incessantly and sought the weaknesses of each.  This would make the style a bit like the Simple Form in that it seeks to understand all forms, though it would likely focus on Maradonian styles.  I had a similar concept with the Skairosian styles, and I could borrow some of those ideas and use them here, but with more of a mathematical twist.

This puts the style into an interesting niche as a "Dark Mirror" style, which I always like: it's the style you would give to characters who are designed to defeat or mirror the PCs. If you are a Maradonian Space Knight (one of the most popular concepts), then a Tan-Shai space knight is your "Dark mirror" able to exploit the weaknesses of your style and shut down your psychic powers. Imperial Knights would also represent a good "Dark mirror" to the style.

And we even had a good idea what it would look like: the aggressive flexibility of the Simple Form, the anti-Maradonian techniques of the Skairosian forms, the mathematic schtick of Shineido, and echoes of La Verdada Destreza.  I think it could work.

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Psi-Wars Gun Fu: the Ten-Thousand Battle Kata: Combat Geometrics and Shineido

Back when I started working on the Frontier Marshal's update, I realized I needed to work on the Way of the Rim, and if I was going to work on the Way of the Rim, I needed to work on the other Blaster styles in conjunction, so I could define some niches.  And no blaster style attracts more interest from the community than Gun Kata Shineido, the blaster art of the royal guard of the Shinjurai Royal family.  Thus, I had to take my time with it and get it right.  And so, it will complete our exploration of Gun Fu in Psi-Wars, at least for now.

You can find them here

Monday, October 5, 2020

Why your RPG Campaign is a Joke


I tend to follow GURPS blogs, which means I mostly read my own stuff and Toadkiller Dog's blog, because we seem to be the most active ones in my reading list (we've diminished a lot from the heady days of the surge of GURPS blogs back when this blog started).  And, of course, reading up on Dungeon Fantasy, especially the "Rogue-like" approach he seems to favor, got me to thinking about randomness.  We tend to associate that sort of gameplay with very grimdark games, but my experience is that they often lead to hilarity and a lot of jokes.  Of course, most campaigns do, and I think I've made the connection between why, and why so many RPG campaigns "devolve" into comedy, and it is this:

Anytime you introduce randomness into a story, you create the opportunity for the unexpected subversion of expectations, typically in a hilarious way. Also, players need a release valve for tension.

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Psi-Wars Mounts

We had a recent discussion on the Discord about cuisine and culture, even getting down into how different circumstances result in different butchery methods (ie, why I can't get the same cuts of beef in the Netherlands that I can in the US).  Someone joked that an "article on Ranathim butchery incoming" which is almost certainly a reference to the fact that I sometimes post very interesting, but perhaps not entirely useful, things to Psi-Wars.

Well, here's another thing nobody asked for: Mounts for Psi-Wars!

As I work on the Frontier Marshal, people are obviously going to want details on what their space cowboys ride. The clear answer is "Repulsor-cycles, or a freaking repulsor-truck.  C'mon." We still have cowboys in the real world and most don't ride horses anymore.  They ride in SUVs.  I suspect Psi-Wars "cowboys" would, realistically, be much the same.

That said, we can't escape the mystique horses still hold for us, and we expect space cowboys to ride horses. After all, we see some sort of space horse in space opera all the time, even in Star Wars. And it makes sense, after a fashion. The creation of trucks and SUVs requires considerable industrial infrastructure that might not yet be in place on a world, but a horse can "live off the land," provided the land has the right climate and resources available.  Frontier Marshals regularly deal with the uncivilized wilds of the far rim, so might have to make do without any vehicles, and thus might have to endure with a mount of some kind.

Alright, well, that seems like sufficient justification. How to handle them?  Well, in practice, I see them working like robots: simple characters that have perhaps 1 minor disadvantage (Easily abstracted away into a -1 HAM clause once per session, if the mount is being difficult), and a quirk (to distinguish your mount from others).  Simple enough.  What sort of mounts should we have? Well!


Friday, September 25, 2020

Psi-Wars Space Battles Lite

 I've had a lot of complaints recently that my Action Vehicular Combat is "too complicated."  It "involves unfamiliar maneuvers" (that are right there, in GURPS Action) and "really big numbers."  I don't know what to say.  If you can handle applying a -10 Deceptive Attack Penalty to the Vitals (-3) in the dim torchlight (-2) while making an All-Out Attack (+4) and then apply 1.5x damage on a hit, I'm pretty sure you can handle rolling against  Piloting with a +20 bonus and determining the margin of victory.  This is GURPS, we deal with big numbers all of the time.  This isn't White Wolf, where you can count on your fingers.

"I can do the math; I'm an engineer. I just don't want to.  I'm here to play, not to work." 
--Nele van den Ende, PHD

Alright! Alright. I get it.  I see these complaints a lot, and they mean something.  The criticism of my action vehicular system is not that it's wrong, or that it's inaccurate, or that it doesn't scale.  It hits all of those notes just fine.  The complaint is that it's too much work to implement.  Yes, it's simpler than standard GURPS combat.  Yes, it's simpler and more cinematic than GURPS Spaceships combat, itself a simplification of standard GURPS combat. But it still involves quite some work and some experience to learn. Can it get any simpler than that? Sure! Of course. I mean, we're a long way off from GURPS Ultra-Lite, so I'm pretty sure there's plenty room in which we can put something that's simpler, but still tactically interesting.

But what do we mean by "simpler."  We probably don't want "whooshing sounds with crayons." I mean, if you want really simple, just have people roll Pilot and then make up what happens.  What's wrong with that idea? Well, it makes the Fighter Ace effectively pointless ("Did we defeat the Empire and save the carrier?" "Well, I rolled well, so yes.").  So we still want some complexity here, but then, how much complexity is too complex? Well, we have some fairly specific criticisms we can parse through, and my own gut feelings.

I think what people who are complaining about this want are:

  • Familiar maneuvers: GURPS Action's Chase rules are fine, but you have to, you know, learn them.
  • Finger-Counting: It sounds condescending, but it's true: humans are very intuitive with values ~5, which is why we often see modifiers that tend to be in the plus or minus 1 to 5 range.  Even if we have to do a lot of adding, it's easier to add 5 + 5 + 5 than it is to workout the margin of success from a roll of 13 vs a total of skill 17 with +19 in modifiers.
  • Roll and Shout: While "Just roll Piloting and narrate the results" is probably too simple for what we're looking for, most people do just want to roll their skill with some "finger-counting" modifiers and then get a result out of it.  As much as possible, we should be rolling against familiar skills and familiar values. That is, we shouldn't be rolling against a -1 or a 50, if possible, but somewhere between 3 and 18.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Psi-Wars Gun Fu: the Way of the Rim and Westerly Marksmanship

I do not aim with my hand; he who aims with his hand has forgotten the face of his father. I aim with my eye. I do not shoot with my hand; he who shoots with his hand has forgotten the face of his father. I shoot with my mind. I do not kill with my gun; he who kills with his gun has forgotten the face of his father. I kill with my heart. --the Gunslinger, Stephen King

Here it is.  The whole reason I started this deep dive into Gun-Fu for Psi-Wars was for the coming update to the Frontier Marshal, and if a Frontier Marshal can't sling his blaster, then what are we even doing here?  Thus, the previous three styles were "practice" for this one.  In principle, I should do Shineido first, but I expect that one will be the most popular of the Psi-Wars Gun Fu styles, but I could be wrong. This one is certainly likely to see more use.

This post isn't about one style, but two closely related styles:

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