Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Wiki Showcase: the Serene Form as Martial Arts Power Up.

When I made my Snap Poll for my Patron's preferences for styles, the Serene Form came in third for non-Maradonian forms, though it did well in the Poll overall. I suspect the poll's results might have been misleading, because I know for a fact that several talkative patrons are very fond of the style (and at least one PC has used it), and perhaps if I held the poll today, it might do better.

I believe the Serene Form predates its inclusion as a Templar Form, and that I created it back in Iteration 4.  It has seen quite some updates since, turning it into a beautiful, ceremonial style that focuses on meditation, introspection and connection with communion.  This is because the style was inspired by Iajutsu and Iado, which are deeply tied to meditation in the cinematic tradition, for good reason, as it has a lot less sturm und drang than most fights, and thus artists who wish to depict it often front-load it with a great deal of introspection and anticipation.

Naturally, in Iteration 6, I saw it as a style associated with the Templars, because Iado's introspection and its willingness to draw it only at the last moment lend itself well to pacifism, especially Pacifism (Self-Defense Only), because you can avoid any violence until the last possible moment.  So, naturally, with Tinker Titan Rebel Spy, the Dark Communion-associated Imperial Knight took it.  His reasoning makes sense: Tyrants seek to intimidate, and this is a very intimidating style, one that exerts itself only when it intends to, like passing a sentence.  This actually fits nicely with Iajutsu's bad reputation for "Cross-roads cutting," and so I created the Way of the Void in this incarnation.  The inner peace of the True Communion form could be replaced with an inner emptiness of the Path of Death or the Void and turn it into a style that creates a bond between the user and murderousness itself. I was tempted to make it a three-fold path, but Dark Communion doesn't cultivate the selflessness necessary to really make this style work, so I shifted that idea to the Fell Form, which is known for its reckless rage.  The Imperial Knight's player, however, counters that while it's true that the Paths of the Rebellious Beast, the Beautiful Fool and the Hungry Beast don't cultivate that sort of self-control, the path of the Mystical Tyrant does, especially in its Cult of the Mystical Tyrant form.  It makes sense that Tyrants might use it, and use it form a deeper bond with their Path.  That does make sense; so far, I've justified the connection with Broken Communion using the fascination that the Mystical Tyrant has with Broken Communion, but I'd like to revisit it soon for a "third way."

The style focuses on defensiveness, in defeating your opponent with his own attacks.  This means we need to talk about Reflection, a concept I've been struggling with since I first began Psi-Wars, all the way in Iteration 1, thanks to the Force Buckler.  See, the Force Buckler lets you reflect attacks back to the Attacker with a DX roll.  My initial impulse was that this was "unfair," so I reduced it to an attack that you could make on your turn after being attacked.  Since then, I realized that this ability was basically just the Reflection enhancement to DR on a piece of equipment, which means GURPS totally allows "free attacks" with Reflection.  My my my!  My current thinking is to allow it with both Force Swords and Force Buckler; you can use Precognitive Defense as your roll (making levels higher than 16 useful and interesting), the Force Sword has a penalty to reflect this way, and I've added some new options, first an optional roll for those who dislike the idea of someone reflecting all attacks this way, and a new All-Out Defense option that lets you focus on Reflection for the whole turn, a trick we often see Jedi do.

In general, the style has been a study in Precognitive Defense.  I have a love-hate affair with precognitive parry and block.  First, they're one of those "extra" rolls that happen before all defenses.  For example, if you attack a Chambara Jedi, he might roll Acrobatics to see if he gets a +2, and then Precognitive Defense to see if he gets a +1, and then his actual parry value.  That's THREE ROLLS per attack.  Worse, there's no point in taking it above 16, as it never sees any penalties or bonuses; it works or it doesn't, and that's it.  So I've gone in and tried to simplify some things: we get a no-nuisance rolls option, so once you hit Master you can just assume you succeed at precognitive defense unless you're doing something crazy, and that thing might be precognitive reflection (by handing the DX roll off to Precognitive Defense, we get a reason for crazy high values), precognitive fast-draw (because some people hate waiting a turn before getting stuck in) or for better bonuses to your precognitive defense rolls.  I've also suggested folded Precognitive Defense rolls into Parry Missile rolls for certain situations. All in all, I hope it helps Precognitive Defense a bit.

Also, for those who get confused (the question comes up), Precognitive Defense replaces Precognitive Parry from GURPS Martial Arts, and Precognitive Block from Pyramid #3/9.

I built this style around how Obi-Wan fought in the original trilogy era.  We see it showcased in the Cantina scene, but there's also a pretty good moment with it in Star Wars: Rebels were Obi-Wan faces off against a returned Darth Maul.  Obviously, it primarily draws its inspiration from Iado, just as Obi-Wan himself does.  In principle, though, this style should be similar to Soresu, or Form III, if you just want to toss all of this into a GURPS Star Wars conversion, though Soresu seems more interested in Precognitive Reflection than in fast draws.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Wiki Showcase: Sefelka Sonostra, the Fell Form as Martial Arts Power-Up

When it came to the Non-Maradonian Forms, the Furious Form or the Fell Form came in dead last with zero points, matching the Swift Form in the Snap Poll for martial arts they personally would use as PCs.  Like the Swift Form, I suspect this is because most players see it as a background form: something an NPC would take, rather than themselves.  Where the Swift Form is iconic for the Maradonian Duelist, the Fell Form is iconic of the Ranathim Satemo of the Umbral Rim.

The Fell Form has been with us since Iteration 4 when I first put together martial arts.  Originally, I called it "Rim Force Swordsmanship," as I saw it as the way "Rim Knights" might fight.  Since then, I've given them "the Bastard Form," and when I wrote Domen Sonostrum, the Cult of the Lord of Rage.  Since then, I've increasingly pictured this as a "Ranathim" style, this very distinct form unique to the Umbral Rim.

My original inspiration for the form was, of course, the way Ahsoka Tano fights.  Her reverse grip lightsabers and her acrobatics and her kicks created a very distinct and visually pleasing style.  Like Count Dooku or Yoda, it represented a form you could point to and say "That's a specific way of fighting." Of course, in Star Wars, it actually isn't (she evidently mingles some elements of Shien, or Form V, with Ataru, or Form IV), but I can make it so.

While building the style, though, I found it really profited from certain elements.  I originally considered giving it Brawl (it was, after all, originally a street style) and giving the Destructive Form Karate, but the Destructive Form turned into the "form of being really strong," while the various elements of the Fell Form, from its acrobatics to its stealth, really made it something more DX-based.  Furthermore, a lot of its elements really profited from Karate: reverse grip let the practitioner use force swords in Close Combat at no attack penalty, and less of a defense penalty if they used karate, and if we're going to emphasize close combat strikes to stun and disorient our opponents, then kicks and sweeps make sense.  The net result is a style that turns every aspect of the fighter into a weapon: his feet, his fists, his blades, even his head!  I liked that niche, and an interesting variation on the Fell Form would be to replace the +2 Force Sword in the Master level with +2 Karate.  I'm not sure how many players would go for it, but with the Reverse Grip, it could be lethal!

As it became less of a street style and more "Taijutsu with Force Swords," I began to think of it as an assassin's style, and to more strongly associate it with the Ranathim.  So, naturally, I drew a connection between the association of the style with a "rage cult," and Form VII's (Juyo's) association with anger.  Why not give them a bonus when angry? I patterned it on Passionate Psi which is, itself, patterned on Drunken Fighting (though Drunken Fighting really requires you to accept penalties to everything else; it's not a free +2 to fighting; I've added something similar to Raging Warrior and I will add something similar to Passionate Psi). The result is a very "Sith Assassin" style, which fits the Ranathim nicely.

Finally, I shifted the original "Fell Frenzy" into a secret.  It may or may not be "secret," but All-Out Attacks are usually a bad idea in a force sword duel, so I've couched it in a lot of cautionary notes and given it some special powers that make it a "berserker's art."

If you're cribbing notes for a Star Wars conversion, note that this form might provide ideas for Form V, the Shien variant, Form III (Ataru) and Form VII (Juyo; you're on your own figuring out how to get Raging Warrior to work with the light side and make Vapaad); it doesn't really fit any single, specific Star Wars form.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Martial Arts Power-Ups Retrospective

If you enjoyed my Martial Arts as power-ups series, and you're just now joining us, you can see four more worked examples for Psi-Wars, my Space Opera setting:

Please note that Psi-Wars uses a "Technique Proliferation" optional rule: the costs of techniques are halved.

I wanted to take a moment and address some feedback and thoughts.  This turned into quite a retrospective, so I hope you don't mind long posts.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Wiki Showcase: Knightly Force Swordsmanship

Today is the last of "set 1" of my Psi-Wars Martial Arts As Power-Ups series.  Rounding off the Maradonian, we have the "ancient" style of the "Guardian Form," or "Knightly Force Swordsmanship", which was, in fact, one of the first styles I ever created or, better said, borrowed, as this is ultimately a worked example of Force Sword-and-Buckler from Pyramid #3/9 "Fighting the Future" by Kelly Pedersen.

The "Guardian Form" tied for "First place" among the Maradonian styles, and it didn't surprise me that it did so well. Where the other styles can point for lightsaber forms as as at least passing inspiration, Knightly Force Swordsmanship is a form far more grounded in GURPS.  In GURPS, you need armor to really survive UT combat, so it emphasizes armor.  In GURPS, we have force bucklers, so it has a force buckler.  In GURPS, you can't assume people are going to stand around waiting for you to get into range, so it uses the force buckler and all that armor to protect the character as he moves into place.  Dun Beltaine "used" this style before it even was a style, back in Iteration 1 before we introduced psionics or cool powers, because it let him "be a knight" without the "crutch" of the Force or Chi or something similar.

Thus, Knightly Force Swordsmanship is one of those styles that makes Psi-Wars feel like Psi-Wars.  Sure, we've got high-flying space samurai with psychic powers, but we also have juggernauts with sword and board slamming into soldiers and then cutting them down.  The well-armored space knight is perhaps one of the most important signature images of the setting, as it reminds the reader that, yes, Psi-Wars draws inspiration from Star Wars, but isn't Star Wars.  It also feeds into the mythos and lore of the "Alexian Crusades."

Not everyone likes it, though.  I haven't had the time or focus, and it was someone else's idea, but one of my readers proposed a variation that used force sword and force buckler, but dropped the armor (keeping, perhaps, a battleweave body sleeve).  The idea is that by reducing armor, you reduce costs and encumbrance.  This is especially pertinent if you're not using psychic powers and precognitive defenses, because a force buckler can, in principle, protect you from blaster fire, but only with a Dodge that benefits from the defense bonus of the shield.  A typical character with Medium (-2) encumbrance and a Base Speed of 6 has 7 to 8 Dodge; with the shield, that improves to 10 or 11, which isn't great.  With no encumbrance at all, that jumps to 12 or 13, which is pretty reliable.  If you get hit, you're dead, but you shouldn't get hit.  You could probably get a lot of mileage out of combining the high-flying acrobatics of the Graceful Form with the shield-focus of Knightly Force Swordsmanship.  The Force Saber from the Swift Form also suffers with Encumbrance, so you can toss that on the pile of this "alternative hypothetical style."

If you're looking over my shoulder to steal these for your GURPS Star Wars game, note that despite being named "the Guardian Form," Knightly Force Swordsmanship really has nothing in common with Form III or Soresu.  You'll have to wait for the Serene Form for something similar to that.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Wiki Showcase: The Graceful Form of Force Swordsmanship

Today, I have the third force sword form in my series in Psi-Wars Force Swordsmanship style as Martial Arts Power-Ups.  Of the "Maradonian styles," when I polled my Patrons about which style they'd personally choose, the Graceful Form tied for first. And I can see why: it's probably the most beautiful and romantic of styles.  If you're going to be a Maradonian noble who duels, you'll probably want this one, just for the sheer beauty of the style.  You can check it out here.

I created the Graceful Form to answer several problems.  First, it seems like a logical conclusion for a Force Sword form to go after centuries of peace.  The Swift Form represents the end-point of "Force Sword as dueling weapon," similar to modern fencing compared to real-world swordfighting, while the Graceful Form represents the other endpoint, where it becomes a beautiful "dance," similar to the sort of Wushu you see in films a lot. I also needed a place to put a focus on high mobility. After all, if you're playing a force swordsman, you need to close the distance between yourself and your opponent, and he's armed with the equivalent of an assault carbine.  The Guardian Form represents one answer to that problem; the Graceful Form represents the other: cross ground swiftly!  Star Wars assumes every Jedi will have Flying Leap, but Psi-Wars draws more inspiration from Wuxia and, like GURPS, assumes that you have to learn Flying Leap, and not everyone will as a matter of course.

Naturally, the final product errs on the side of cinematic effectiveness than pure performance (though I've included some rules for that, if you want). The result is a style that tends to outmaneuver its opponents: by getting behind your target, you spoil forward-facing defenses (like Deny Right for the Swift Form, the Defensive Grip of the Destructive Form, and the shield of Knightly Force Swordsmanship).  If you're cribbing my material for a GURPS Star Wars conversion despite my repeated pleadings not to, note that the Graceful Form most resembles Ataru, or Form IV.

I've given it two secrets; one used to be a Patreon special, but the second is entirely new.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Wiki Showcase: the Destructive Form of Force Swordsmanship

Continuing my series on the Psi-Wars force swordmanship styles as Power-Ups, when I put up the snap poll for "What force sword style would you pick for your character," of the classic "Maradonian" styles, the Destructive Form came in third.  As before, this style is written with a house rule that halves the cost of techniques, to encourage technique proliferation.

Personally, the Destructive Form is my favorite style, and if I had to pick one style, that would be it. I designed it based heavily on how Darth Vader fought in the Empire Strikes Back, and in a large way, it's a style heavily informed by the qualities of the force sword itself.  If one has the ability to casually lop off limbs, that may well turn into a major focus for how one fights.  It's also a major aspect of the original Force Swordsmanship of GURPS Martial Arts, and the style that probably looks the most like actual Kenjutsu, with a focus on lines of attack.

If you're a Star Wars fan looking to crib my material, the Destructive Form is probably closest to Form V, or Djem So.

The Destructive Form also features a greater focus on strength than most styles, which is rare for a force sword style, as the force sword doesn't require strength to impact its opponent. To make this work, I've had to monkey around with how Beats work, but it's changes that I made all the way back in Cherry Blossom Rain.  If you use default Beats from GURPS Martial Arts, all they really do is let someone who is extremely strong get a bit of a benefit when feinting, which is nice, but rare in a martial arts game as most people will focus pretty heavily on DX.  Additionally, beats have some interesting side-requirements, like the fact that you need to parry or have been parried, which means that if your opponent can avoid contact with your weapon (feinting and evaluating, for example), he can prevent you from beating his weapon.  Finally, realistically, one expects a beat to work exclusively against a weapon rather than a person (though I violate this concept with a Force Sword Shove, which is meant to simulate something we see often in Star Wars fights where someone unbalances an opponent through contact between force swords), so it's something you can also avoid by having multiple weapons.  Taken together, I felt it fine to let Beat be a contest of ST vs ST, so that Beat-focused characters had a real edge over non-Beat-focused characters similar to the edge that Feint-focused characters have over high ST, low DX characters.  I should state that it's ultimately an idea inspired by Icelander, from the SJGames forums (though I don't think he posts there anymore).

The original Force Swordsmanship from GURPS Martial Arts contains a targeted attack for the neck.  I always liked this idea, but burning weapons don't get a benefit from attacking the neck, while cutting weapons do.  This may well be a 3e holdover, because Force Swords used to inflict cutting damage.  I think there's an argument for letting them do that again, especially as a force sword is a weaponized force screen, but I leave that up to you, dear reader, to decide for yourself.  What I did do is give the players access to a perk that turns that option back on as an optional rule. If you think force swords should always just do that, reduce the cost of that move by 1.

Someone asked me if targeted attacks gain the benefit of a +1 defense if your opponent keeps attacking the same hit location over and over again.  To that I say: "Sure, why not?"  I would go further and say it probably applies to over-use of Trademark Moves too, but in both cases, you should probably be careful.  Players pay points (often a lot of points) to gain access to targeted attacks and trademark moves, and the latter, especially, reward players for thinking ahead and speeding up gameplay by simply rattling off a pre-worked-out move rather than paging through books every time they attack an opponent.  If you start giving your opponents a +1 to their defense because your players have Trademark Moves and Targeted Attacks, then you disincentive your players from buying them.  I think the real intention of that rule is to keep fights from becoming stale and boring.  If your players use the Reaping Stroke over and over again hoping for that one lucky hit, sure, give their opponents a +1 to defense, and start stacking it until the player gets the picture and stops doing the same thing over and over again. But don't do it if a player happens to use it twice in a long fight, IMO.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Wiki Showcase: the Swift Form of Force Swordsmanship

Maradonian Duelist
Art by Kriz Villacis
Owned by Daniel Dover
If you've been following my blog for awhile, you might remember my discussion of Martial Arts as power-ups. That was, in fact, born out of my desire to better explore the force swordsmanship styles of Psi-Wars, which I've been building since Iteration 4.  So, you're likely familiar with the styles I'll lay out over the next few days, but I wanted to explore them as power-up structures. I wanted a player to be able to say "I'm an Adept at the Swift Form" and have it mean something.  These power-ups have also been built into the structure of the Space Knight, but as you upgrade your character, it's nice to have an upgrade path, and I've provided that, for the Swift Form, here.

(One thing to understand before exploring it too much is that I've instituted a house rule in Psi-Wars where all Technique prices are halved. One point buys you +1 to the first level of a Hard technique, and +2 to all subsequent levels of a Hard technique, or all levels of an Average technique, to the listed maximum.  This is to allow for characters to have a greater variety of techniques).

I ran a snap poll months and months ago where I asked my Patrons what Force Sword style they would choose as players.  Of the Maradonian styles, the Swift Form came dead last with zero votes.  I don't believe this is a condemnation of the Swift Form, so much as a preference for players to explroe something else.  The Swift Form is, in many ways, symptomatic of the malaise afflicting Maradonian Space Knights, who have come to focus on courtly dueling over more practical battlefield applications.  Thus, I imagine players might expect to face a duelist using the Swift Form, and expect to dismantle him with their other, more unique styles.

That said, the Swift Form is probably the "best" force sword style, if your focus is actually on fighting with a force sword against a single opponent.  It's ruthlessly focused, great at hitting first (though the Serene style is competitive for the "first hit") and stacks up multiple advantages against a single opponent.  It tends to do well against any style where it can dictate terms.  It struggles a bit to get around the force buckler of Knightly Force Swordsmanship, and can be outmaneuvered by the Graceful form.  The Destructive Form usually just lops the Swift Swordsman's arm off or punches him in the face, but modern Duelists wear an extra heavy gauntlet and a face-mask to prevent these tactics.

If you're a Star Wars fan looking to crib my stuff for your game, the Swift Form is closest to Makashi, or Form II.
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