Friday, January 20, 2017

Plan for the Patrons

Are you one of my patrons?  If you are, there's a new post for you: the Plan for the Patrons.  In it, I discuss the plans for my Patron-only content in the coming month, as well as the direction that my blog is going.

If you're not, you can always join.  I'd be happy to have you.  Just $1 is enough to unlock all Patron-only posts I'll be putting up.

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Thursday, January 19, 2017

Building the Diplomat and a Matter of Law

Everything I've done over the past few weeks has been building up to the diplomat.  Cultural distancing mechanisms provide more than just interesting flavor for new cultures, they also represent obstacles that the diplomat excels at overcoming.  She masters languages and traditions so as to present herself and her position in the best possible light when negotiating with a strange culture. She also understands organizations, in part because she belongs to one (a diplomatic corp), she represents another (typically her government) to another, more hostile organization.  She is a creature of law, negotiation and cultural niceties, the picture of elegance itself (er, after a manner of speaking).
Anakin Skywalker: So this is what you call a diplomatic mission?
Padmé Amidala: No, these are "Aggressive Negotiations"
Except we don't want to play that character, do we?  This is Star Wars, not Star Trek!  I'll take a look at the more honest assessment of a diplomat later when I do Heroes of the Galactic Frontier, but the point here is to have an awesome action character who happens to be a diplomat.  Leia blasted storm troopers and killed a mob boss while in her unmentionables, and Amidala took on monsters in a gladiatorial arena and retook her homeworld with an army of frog-people and a kid.  The "diplomats" of Star Wars aren't really diplomats in the classic sense.

Thus, we must pull the same trick that we did with the Officer: We must understand the rules for negotiation, to know what the Diplomat should be good at, and then find ways to make those same skills equally useful to an action scenario, thus building a diplomat who is actually realistically decent at negotiation, if a GM ever wanted to use it in his game, but then ensure that she's equally useful in a typical action scenario.  The Officer turns his strategic excellence into making master plans, foreseeing unexpected twists, and foiling distractions and ambushes.  We need to understand how being a good negotiator can be turned to your advantage in an action scenario.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Status as Pulling Rank

Social Engineering brought up some interesting points regarding Status that might be pertinent to Psi-Wars.  Action doesn't deal with status, but Action operates in a meritocratic world with a flat society, where major political figures might make a point of getting a photoshoot at McDonalds to show that they are "one of the people," while Star Wars features princesses, counts and knights.  We can make the case that Star Wars, itself, is largely meritocratic, but given the presence, already, of princesses and aristocracy in Psi-Wars, why not play out what it would look like?

My primary problem with Status in Psi-Wars is that I don't know what it would do.  Status, by itself, just sits there like a reaction modifier lump that often doesn't even act as a reaction modifier: a street punk might not care that you're a princess.  My solution thus far was to grant people a "Title" perk, which allowed them to gain a +1 from people who care about such things.

But if we want to embrace the full scope of status and what it offers, it might be worth thinking about what it offers and how we can represent that in Psi-Wars.  What I'd like to do is make it as "concrete" as Pulling Rank, making it a sort of a specific "Social Rank."  Let's see if that works!

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Designing Organizations

Building Organizations

The two books together give us plenty of ideas as to how we might build an organization.  We need to simplify, though.  In a Psi-Wars scenario, PCs are largely concerned about the following:
  • How much rank is there (How large is the organization?)
  • How much does it cost as a Patron or an Enemy?
  • How much BAD does it typically apply
  • What sort of minions will I face/can it supply me?
  • How much wealth does it have?
  • What is required to join?
  • What cool tricks will it teach me?
  • What sorts of benefits can it offer should I pull rank?
The first five all essentially boil down to the same thing: How big is the organization?  I'd like to combine BAD, contact skills, difficulty of getting in, difficulty of persuading people away, the cost of the Patron/Enemy and how many ranks you have all into one single thing.  If you know one, you know the rest.

Patron cost and rank already have an obvious relation.  If I leave the cost of rank at 5/level, then Rank 4 means something else in a 10 point organization than in a 30 point organization.  That means if the highest rank for one organization is rank 6, and for another is rank 10, we might expect both to command equal levels of power in their organizations.  That is, maximum rank is maximum rank and offers the same chance of success.  Page 6 of Social Engineering: Pulling Rank has a handy table for us.  A 10-point patron's rank 6 is roughly on par with a 20-point patron's rank 8, and a 30-point patron's rank 10. Action has the 15-point patron as its standard, judging from Pulling Rank difficulties.  This suggests that the Psi-Wars standard is a little larger than the Pulling Rank standard, but it will do.

What does size get you here?  Well, if we use "Complements of the Boss" then a "small" organization is worth +1 on complementary rolls, a standard organization is worth +2, and a large organization is worth +3.  Furthermore, when it comes to Muscle or Cavalry (page 19 of Pulling Rank), small organizations send 5 guys, medium 10, and large 15.  Maximum funding is also determined by organization size. Beyond that and it becomes mostly a matter of GM discretion.

How do be fold BAD into organization size?  Well, it becomes immediately obvious that this might not be the best idea.  The Nahudi warriors are likely a small organization full of skill-18 warriors, while the Empire is a vast organization full of skill-12 soldiers.  It does seem to make sense that different groups have different BAD levels, and things like loyalty, difficulties breaking in and minion strength might be tied together for ease of play, but that just means that organizations should simply have a "BAD" rating.

Pulling Rank ties maximum available wealth to Patron cost, as does Boardroom and Curia, and Boardroom and Curia ties BAD (at least for infiltration) to wealth level.  This might be a good indication of BAD.  We might expect Struggling Organizations to be BAD 0, Average to be BAD 2, Comfortable to be BAD 5 and Wealthy to be BAD 8, but obviously these can be shifted around (the Nehudi are probably not very wealthy, but have some fairly BAD warriors).

The rest of the elements that players care about from an organization largely come from what type of organization it is.  Boardroom and Curia has plenty, but we need to pare them down to size.  For that, I'd like to turn to GURPS Space.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Pulling Rank in Psi-Wars

The next step in looking at our Social Engineering rules is to take a deeper look at Organizations.  This would be the bit where I would first try to argue against Organizations, but I cannot. First, Pulling Rank is right there in GURPS Action.  It's a fundamental element of how Action plays (and, in fact, largely spawned later works on the topic).  I'd need a really good, Star Wars-backed reason to remove it, only Star Wars itself is largely about organizations.  One might describe Star Wars as a battle between the heroic Rebellion (an organization) and the sinister Empire (an organization) while plucky heroes seek the last remnants of the Jedi Order (an organization) for help.  Unlike your typical murder-hobo game, and rather like most modern action thrillers, the characters' actions largely take place in a larger context of a conflict between organizations, and often involves interacting with organizations (like the Hutt Cartel, or the Galactic Senate).

Thus, Psi-Wars is necessarily a game that features organizations as one of its foundations.  This is convenient for us, though, because you may have noticed that organizations serve as natural containers for things like martial arts, cultural distancing mechanisms. military doctrines, and opposing minions.  We might say things like "The empire fights differently than the rebel alliance,"  or "The Order of True Communion offers a different understanding of Communion than the Oracular Monks".  In all these cases, we were already talking about organizations.  Now, we can talk about them in more detail.

As I look into this in more detail, I'll be primarily using three books: GURPS Action 1, and its section on Pulling Rank, then GURPS Social Engineering: Pulling Rank, for an even deeper look at that, and then Boardroom and Curia, for a look at building organizations from the ground up.  Finally, I'll be using GURPS Space for some thoughts on what sorts of organizations to populate my setting with.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Building the Con Artist and the fine art of Forgery

I trust he needs no introduction
Lando Calrissian remains one of my favorite characters from Star Wars, not just because he was so stylish, but because of what he represented.  For the most part, the core invaded the rim, with great imperial vessels descending on backwater worlds, or the rebels bringing the politics of the core with them out to the desolate worlds of the rim.  But with Lando, the criminal sensibilities of the rim dived into the elegance of a core world.  He danced a delicate line between honest governance, real politick and rapscallionry and he made it look good.

The con-artist definitely fits Psi-Wars even better than Star Wars, though, because Psi-Wars is about Action, and Action needs a faceman.  Who better to be that than someone like Lando Calrissian?  But more than Lando, I want someone who not just defines elegance, but undermines it.  He's a confidence man, sure, but he's also a card-sharp, a gambler, and a forger.  He knows how to rub shoulders with the elegant, how to pretend to be like them, how to pawn off his forgeries as the real thing.  I want le Comte de St. Germain, or for those a little more up-to-date in their references, I want Neal Caffery. In spaaaaace.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

A Psi-Wars Cultural Checklist

The point of all of the previous posts in this mini-series is to give you ideas on what do for a new and unusual culture in your setting.  The point of an unusual culture in psi-wars is to remind the players that they're in an alien setting.  It should be filled with aliens clicking their prayer beads while chanting mantras in foreign languages, or a tattooed savage looking to trade exotic fire weasels for much needed survival supplies.  Star Wars is a very cosmopolitan setting, where aliens can be regularly found off-world, rubbing shoulders and mingling with one another, rather than the more segregated sci-fi settings, like Star Trek. Thus,we should be ready to conjure up a new alien culture at the drop of a hat.

But those cultures don't have the be terribly unusual.  In such a cosmopolitan setting, many cultures will have already rubbed their traditions off on each other.  In the real world, everyone from the US to Europe to Japan and China know who "Iron Man" is, and most of them at least know what Christmas is, even if they don't all celebrate it.  Girls wear skirts and high heels, men wear suits and ties, and everyone can wear a t-shirt and jeans.  We might expect something similar of our Psi-Wars cultures. Some cultures might remain distinct and unusual, but only so far as to give local flavor (the British have different accents and food than Americans, but they're not so alien that they inflict a cultural familiarity penalty).  For most "local color" like this, I recommend no more than about three distancing mechanisms.

However, some cultures remain extremely distinct.  Sometimes, these cultures represent entire cultural spheres.  The "Sinosphere," or the area around China, all use Chinese characters to some extent, and know works like the Romance of the Three Kingdoms or the works of Confucious.  They're well-versed in the ideas of Buddhism, at least, and often Confucianism or Daoism.  They tend to favor cuisine featuring rice and noodles and using chopsticks to eat.  They tend to share values too, to some extent.  Someone from Vietnam travelling to Korea will definitely have to deal with some local differences (the language, at least, will be different), but he'll still find things far more understandable than if he flies to Boston or Paris.  There might be a Cultural Familiarity penalty between the West and the Sinosphere, but not between two places within the Sinosphere or the West.  Likewise, Psi-Wars might have something similar, where you have a "galactic core" culture that's different from the culture of a particular galactic arm, like the difference in Star Wars between Imperial space and Hutt space.

Some cultures remain distinct and unusual within a given cultural sphere.  This might be the result of strength, or of colonization, but it could just be a distinct minority that clings carefully to its traditions.  Jews, throughout history, have often been this sort of culture, interfacing well with outside cultures, while remaining inscrutable to those outside cultures.  Such a culture might have a cultural familiarity penalty while its adherents have purchased Cultural Familiarity with the local dominant culture.

In the case of a genuinely distinct culture, one that inflicts a cultural familiarity penalty, I recommend at least 3 cultural differences, and at least one value that contrasts with the "Galactic Standard society" that explains the fundamental distinctness of the culture.  You can certainly do more than this, but be careful with going crazy, unless you and your players particularly enjoy deep cultural exploration or really exotic cultures. Whatever you design, you have to remember, maintain and run.

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