Thursday, December 29, 2016

Leisure in Psi Wars Part 2: Fun and Games

In designing our distancing mechanisms, we need to be careful not to clutter up our setting.  The point of Psi-Wars isn't to explore exotic cultures, but to have exotic cultures as a backdrop for a vast galactic war.  For the most part, the exact nature of these don't matter.  The weird, bug-eyed guy speaks weird gibberish and drinks a weird drink and listens to weird music and, for the most part, that's enough.

Sometimes, however, players will want or need to participate in the weird activity.  This is true of dancing, where knowing the right moves can impress a space princess, and it's definitely true of sports and games, where the plot might turn on the outcome of a game.

Like all other distancing mechanisms, we expect our sports and games to be something exotic and unusual, even if we draw our initial inspiration from a real world sport of game.  But we need to know how our hero might participate in a particular event, and how he might win, especially if the plot turns on that.  At the same time, it's Psi-Wars, not Space Poker, so we need to keep our detail to a minimum.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

So what is there to do around here? Leisure and Art in Psi-Wars

For a lot of people "Culture" means the fine arts: ballet, museums full of beautiful paintings, exquisite sculptures and the height of fashion.  Thus, if we speak of a "cultural familiarity," some might expect that this would include at least some discussion of these elements.  In a sense, that's true.  These represent how a culture decorates their environment and themselves, and what they do when they've got time on their hands.  It's also profoundly associated with what they value.  A highly religious culture might exclusively paint iconography or forbid any painting whatsoever!  Another heroic culture might love to retell the stories of their great heroes and features them, performing great deeds, in their art.  Another culture, favoring freedom and self-expression, might routinely challenge all assumptions about what art even is.

For this post, I'm going to skip the discussion of values, but it's something I'll come back to, as it's very fundamental.  What's important to understand here is that art expresses values.

Like food and language and virtually everything else cultural, art and leisure also expresses status.  More expensive art and leisure activities tend to be the exclusive domain of the wealthy, who may well flaunt their collections or knowledge just to display their status for others.  The poor might not be able to do this, or might make of  point of conspicuously avoiding excessive consumption by sticking to cheaper or more practical tasks.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Fine Dining in Psi-Wars: Cuisine and Intoxicants

"So, what are we eating?"

Ever played in an RPG where someone's in a tavern and he goes to order food, then stops and asks what he's ordering?  What indeed!  In a fantasy game, we can just hand-wave away something like turkey legs and beer, but if we're in an exotic location, especially a sci-fi one, players expect that their character's aren't ordering a burger and fries.  What does one eat in Psi-Wars?

The answer should change from region to region.  Rafari's people live off the bounty of his planet and understand what it brings.  Dun's homeworld, Grist, likely offers food as appetizing as its name ("You haven't lived until you've tried fried Chort on a stick from a street vendor." "Chort... isn't that a kind of sewer crab?" "Well, we have to do something with them!").  Like all the rest of our distancing mechanisms, we can use food to push the characters farther from their comfort zone.  In the core, we might have familiar foods, like space burgers with space fries, but on the rim, nothing is recognizable.

Mostly, this just matters for flavor. It's nice to know what people can order, to be able to offer a few quick names and descriptions, but cuisine serves many roles in a setting.  It can act as social lubricant.  What is Carousing or Connoissuer without the right beer or wine?  It can also act as a unique sort of goal ("Where's the cocaine shipment?"), and it can present danger (being drunk during a raid, or working out where to get food while starving on a world).  While we need names and descriptions, sometimes, we need mechanics too!

Monday, December 26, 2016

Psi-Wars Economics: Trade, Exotic Resources and Money

First Ship of the Year by Dress-7
We've already touched on Psi-Wars economics when we looked at Psi-Wars infrastructure.  This time, I'm going to get into a little more specifics, but not too much, for two reasons.  First of all, nobody cares.  That is, Psi-Wars is not a game about counting coins and worrying about trade runs (though you're free to hack such a game out of the Psi-Wars framework).  Rather, we need to know the economics of Psi-Wars so we know what to say we're smuggling, or so we can give bits of flavor and color.  What do we call hyperdrive fuel?  Why would pirates hit that shipment and not some other one?  What do we call money?  And what's for dinner?

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Psi-Wars Linguistics

Whoa, lady, I only speak two languages, English and bad English.-Korben Dallas, the Fifth Element
In a campaign, language diversity has two main functions. It provides an obstacle; when explorers encounter a new race, they may not be able to communicate. It also is a source of color; a nonhuman, or a human from a different culture, may have an accent, or a strange way of phrasing things.
-Bill Stoddard, GURPS Fantasy, page 66 
Nobody gives a damn that the alien is speaking twi'lek, except for description. The times where language mattered in Star Wars can be limited to one time in the entire series. C3PO wasted his points on buying 6 million forms of communication.
-Raoul Roulaux, Gentleman Gamer

Raoul is largely right about Star Wars and language.  Where Star Trek or Game of Thrones have internally consistent and largely speakable languages, Star Wars has a series of funny sounds that only sounds like an alien language.  The point of language in Star Wars is like all the other distancing mechanisms in Star Wars: to provide the window dressing of space opera. We expect aliens to speak alien (it would be "unrealistic" for them to speak English), so they jabber on in alien-sounding gibberish.

That doesn't mean we have to do the same in Psi-Wars, of course.  Language serves a purpose, as Bill Stoddard points out.  Moreover, Psi-Wars is based on Action, and Action definitely features language (though often in largely the same way that Star Wars does: It's important that the Middle Eastern terrorist shout things that sound Arabic, to be "realistic" but it's not that important that he's speaking comprehensible Arabic).  Finally, the reasons Star Wars has funny languages remain important.  We still need aliens to sound alien, we still need exotic things to sound exotic, and we still need to give the impression of a sweeping galaxy.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Socially Engineering Psi-Wars: Distancing Mechanisms

The GM’s most important trick in this kind of campaign
is distancing mechanisms: situations, customs, or objects that
are alien and perplexing, both to the PCs and to the players.
It’s best if they aren’t just random weirdness. Not only is it
“playing fair” to come up with logical reasons, working out
the implications of a premise can suggest additional weird
elements, deepening the effect. A campaign of this sort is a
riddle for the players; when they start anticipating the consequences of their characters’ actions, they’ve answered the riddle. At that point – and not before – it’s appropriate for them to buy Cultural Familiarity, freeing their characters of skill
penalties for not knowing how things work.
-Bill Stoddard, GURPS Social Engineering
 This singular paragraph will be the core of most of what I'm doing during this iteration, so let me parse what Mr. Stoddard is talking about.

An alien race, or a strange setting, should feel alien or strange, and that means not everything should work the way it does in our ordinary world.  The whole point of science fiction and fantasy is to visit and explore new and unusual worlds.  They might have a sense of familiarity, but to have a sense of authenticity, something should be alien about them. There should be some element (a mechanism) that helps separate (distance) this "exotic world" from the "ordinary world" that players are more familiar with.

Ideally, these mechanics should logically flow from the nature of the world the players find themselves in. In Dune for example, the natives, the Fremen, have completely blue eyes, obsess over water and worship the sand worms.  This makes sense, though, because the planet is a desert and spice, which causes blue eyes, is one of the few sources of nutrients on the planet.  Once someone understands the logic that underlies the culture of the Fremen makes perfect, internally consistent sense.

These distancing mechanisms represent the hurdle to socializing with another culture.  That is, they are the crux of why you have a -3 for socializing with someone with whom you do not share Cultural Familiarity.  Once you understand the logic of the culture, you have bridged the "distance" and you may purchase Cultural Familiarity.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Psi-Wars and Social Engineering 2: Social Engineering Analyzed

Just as I did with GURPS Action 2, it's worth going over each page of Social Engineering to see if there's anything that leaps out at me as useful, and taking some notes as I go.  I've summarized my notes below, for the tl;dr crowd.


Understanding our alien worlds require us to create distancing mechanics, unique things that define aliens as other.

We need a reference society, the human-focused “Galactic Core” culture.

We need to better define Rank, including how many levels of it we have, what it grants us, and how it interacts with organizations

We should consider revisiting Status, perhaps even returning it to Psi-Wars.

If we wish to include Social Regard or Social Stigma, it might be worth defining what they are and how one gets them.

Social Engineering contains some rules on how aliens might work differently, though most “Communion-compatible” aliens are essentially human in their psychology, with only cultural differences separating them from humans.

The rules for diplomacy and perhaps some elements of administrative or legislative politics are fairly central to a hypothetical Diplomat template, though they need to be matched with working Action traits (in the same way that the Officer takes Mass Combat traits and makes them useful in a generic
Action game)

Check out the distraction mechanics.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Psi-Wars and GURPS Social Engineering

For my next trick, I'd like to look at GURPS Social Engineering and its associated products, like Pulling Rank.

Normally, this would be the part where I argue against its inclusion, because each new element we add has a cost.  We need to write it all out, work out the details, fold it into our game design, and then our players need to learn it. And, in fact, GURPS Action already has a lot of social rules, so why bother with Social Engineering?

Because Social Engineering is a very different book than books like Mass Combat.  It more closely resembles GURPS Martial Arts or Thaumatology in that it's a list of ideas that we can take or leave as we wish.  In fact, GURPS Action already uses some material from Social Engineering (Pulling Rank is derived and simplified from it, for sure).

Moreover, GURPS Action's social rules don't cover enough.  It assumes Earth at TL 8, while we're tackling a galaxy far far away at TL 11^.  We need to think about aliens and strange customs and the impact of galaxy-spanning organizations on the interactions between individuals.  We don't necessarily need to incorporate ever element from GURPS Social Engineer, but we should, at least, consider them, and get an idea of what might need to change, and what is fine as it is.

Friday, December 16, 2016

A Spoilerless Review of Rogue One

I've been excited for the release of Rogue One, because I am (as I'm sure you've noticed by now) a Star Wars fan, but also because the new turn of the films promises to reinvigorate a beloved, childhood franchise and return the energy and goodwill that the prequels lost.

The Force Awakens managed to do that by carefully hewing to the beats of the original trilogy, and thus while you can overstate its lack of originality, it doesn't feel like something new.  Rogue One, however, promised to be something new, or at least it seemed to be. To me, that suggested that this was the real test of the new franchise: Can Disney stand on its own two feet when making a Star Wars film?

In a word, yes.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

The Officer 1.0

Officer 250 points

The Officer excels at command and control. He’s mastered the art of planning, and can plan so well that he features the use of Foresight, allowing the player to retroactively declare that his character had prepared for some presently occurring eventuality. Furthermore, his high rank and administration skill makes him top-notch at Pulling Rank, ensuring that he and his group gain required resources when they need it most. Finally, Psi-Wars doesn’t support Mass Combat out of the box, but should your game include Mass Combat, the officer’s high levels of Strategy, Administration and Intelligence Analysis make him particularly well suited to it.

The Officer is at his strongest when he’s analyzing existing data, engaging politicians and bureaucrats, and when he’s planning. Outside of situations, he has decent knowledge-gathering skills and social skills (and the option of gaining access to considerably influential contacts), and reliable, if not great, combat skills. He’s no front-line soldier.

Most officers are either naval (taking Shiphandling) or army (taking Soldier), but both are strictly optional. Technically, an Officer can belong to any group, any branch of the military. However, he must belong to some group. His signature is his high rank, thus he necessarily serves a duty.

Attributes: ST 10 [0], DX 12 [40]; IQ 14 [80]; HT 11 [10]

Secondary Characteristics: Damage 1d-2/1d; BL 20 lbs; HP 10 [0]; Will 14 [0]; Per 14 [0]; FP 11 [0]; Basic Speed 6.00 [5]; Basic Move 6 [0] 5

Advantages: Born Warleader 4 [20]. Foresight 1 [10], Luck [15], Rank (Any) 4 [20]; Choose a total of 30 points from the following: improves IQ [20/level] or HT [10/level], Ally (Robot, 50%, almost all the time) [9], Charisma +1 to +4 [5/level], Cheaper Gear (Any) [1], Contacts (Aristocrat, Corporate Supplier, Lobbyist, Mercenary, Spy, Skill 12, 15 or 18, 9 or less) [1, 2 or 3], Contact Group (Corporation, Military Branch, Intelligence Agency, Mercenaries, skill 12, 15 or 18, 9 or less) [5, 10, 15], Eidetic Memory or Photographic Memory [5 or 10], Favor (Any) [varies], Hard to Kill [2/level], Higher Purpose (Against Impossible Odds) [5], Looks Good in Uniform [1], Penetrating Voice [1], Rapier Wit [5], Reputation (Conqueror, War Hero, almost everyone) +1 to +2 [5 or 10], Reputation (Good Officer, military men only,) +1 to +2 [3 or 5]; Serendipity [15/level], Signature Gear (Any) [varies], Voice [10], Wealth (Comfortable or Wealthy) [10 or 20], Improve Luck to Extreme Luck [30] for 15 points, Rank to 5 [25] for 5 points

Disadvantages: Duty (Almost Always, Extremely Hazardous) [-20]; ● Choose -30 points of ST -1 [-10], Basic Move -1 or -2 [-5 or -10], Bloodlust [-10], Callous [-5], Chummy or Gregarious [-5 or -10], Code of Honor [Varies], Bully [-10*], Fanaticism [-15], one of Overweight, Fate or Very Fat  [-1, -3 or -5], Greed [-15*], Honesty [-10*], Intolerance (Rival Faction or Aliens) [-5 or -10], Jealousy [-10], Laziness [-10], Lecherousness [-15*], No Sense of Humor [-10], Obsession (defeating a specific foe) [-5], Overconfident [-5*], Secret (Unsanctioned missions or war crimes) [-10 or -20], Selfish [-5*], Sense of Duty (Team or Faction) [-5 or -10], Skinny [-5], Trademark (Characteristic tactics) [-5 or -10], Trickster [-15*], Workaholic [-5], Unfit or Very Unfit [-5 or -15],

Primary Skills: Administration (A) IQ [2]-14; Intelligence Analysis (H) IQ+41 [4]-18; Savoir-Faire (Military) (E) IQ+41 [1]-18; Strategy (H) IQ+41 [4]-18; Tactics (H) IQ+41 [4]-18; Choose one of Public Speaking, Propaganda, Teaching all (A) IQ+1 [4]-15, Expert Skill (Military), Psychology or Shiphandling all both (H) IQ [4]-14.

Secondary Skills: Beam Weapons (Pistol) (E) DX [1]-12; Stealth (A) DX+1 [4]-14; Either Brawling (E) DX+2 [4]-14 or Karate (H) DX [4]-12; Either Judo (H) DX [4]-12 or Wrestling (A) DX+1 [4]-13; ●Choose one of Savoir-Faire (Any) IQ+2 [4]-16, Politics (A) IQ+1 [4]-15, Diplomacy (H) IQ [4]-14 or Intimidation (A) Will+1 [4]-15; ● Choose five of Beam Weapons (Rifle or Projector), both (E) DX+1 [2]-13; Area Knowledge (Any), Current Affairs (Headline News, Politics, Regional) both (E) IQ+1 [2]-15, Architecture, Cartography, Public Speaking, Propaganda, Research, Soldier, Teaching, Writing all (A) IQ [2]-14, Engineering (Civil or Starship), Expert Skill (Military Science), Law (Galactic), Psychology or Shiphandling all (H) IQ-1 [2]-13 or Hiking (A) HT [2]-11.

Background Skills: Computer Operation (E) IQ [1]-14; Navigate (Hyperspace) (A) IQ-1 [1]-13; Pilot (Starship) (A) DX-1 [1]-11; Vacc Suit (A) DX-1 [1]-11; and 20 points chosen from a background lens.

1: +4 from Born Warleader

*Modified by Self-Control Rating

Officer Power-Ups

Personal Army 25 points
Advantages: Spend 25 points on Ally (75 points, 150 points, 300 points, almost all the time (15 or less)) [3, 6 or 15], Ally Group (BAD 2, BAD 5 or BAD 8, x5 members, almost all the time (15 or less) [5, 12 or 24] or Ally Group (BAD 0, BAD 2 or BAD 5, x10 members, almost all the time (15 or less) [4, 8 or 18] or choose one of the following packages:
  • Hero and minions: Ally (300 points, almost all the time) [15], and Ally Group (BAD 2, x10 members, almost all the time) [8] and two points from Officer advantages.
  • Lieutenant and Elite Squad: Ally (150 points, almost all the time) [6] and Ally Group (BAD 5, x10 members, almost all the time) [18] and one point from Officer advantages
  • Heroic Guard: Ally Group (BAD 8, x5, almost all the time) [24] and one point from Officer Advantages.
Career Officer 25 points
Career Officer shifts the focus of the officer from war to politics. He sacrifices exceptional ability with strategy, tactics, intelligence gathering and leadership for superior administration, politics and current affairs, as well as improved ability to Pull Rank.

Advantages: Charisma +1 [5] and replace Born Warleader 4 [20] with Intuitive Statesmen [40] for 20 points;

Building the Officer: Strategy, Foresight and shades of Mass Combat

Director Krennic Arrives -- by Ashley Clapperton

So, I've established that Mass Combat is a terrible idea, and then tempted you with the possibilities of some rather cool scenarios (a single dreadnought or fleet on the run from the Empire trying to maintain its resource while pondering when and where to strike next).  How could we design a character (say, the Officer) that can fulfill both design goals?  Most campaigns will never feature Mass Combat, so such a template would be useless in those, and even in campaigns that do feature it, Mass Combat is unlikely to be constant, so what does the character do in the meantime?

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Psi Wars and the Engines of War

So previously, I established that Mass Combat was a big no go, but then I looked at it anyway.  What popped out was that it offered some interesting, if narrow, gameplay, but it mostly opened up some insights into how empires fight wars in Psi-Wars.  And that doctrine suggests more military hardware than I've shown thus far.

Does that matter?  Do we need more specific tanks and more starships etc?  Well, let's ask our target audience:
  • Brent wants to know if he needs to care.  If not, then no.  Thus, if we can bury the complexity, it's not a problem.  Since this material is mostly for GMs, and entirely optional, that's fine. (Mind you, some GMs are, themselves, Brent.  That is, the GM wants to focus on as little work for himself as possible.  In that case, providing these stats might actually be beneficial to him if we think they're going to come up)
  • Willow would love to see a cohesive military doctrine for the factions of Psi-Wars
  • Desiree finds the whole discussion tedious, as it does nothing for her personal drama.
  • Bjorn thinks its great, provided he can operate and/or battle some of these monstrosities.
So our design goal should be to bury some of this complexity, and use it mostly to offer insights into military doctrines and to give our players something to fight.

Alright, so more hardware it is. But how do we create it?  Well that's easy, you just get out your handy copy of GURPS vehicle...

Er... right.  So what are we going to do? Well, the internet has a few resources (I'd like, at this moment, to direct your attention to GURB, who doesn't have much vehicular content yet, but surely will in time).  But for the most part, we're left to our own devices.  Still, we have a few tactics that can help us.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Putting the War back into Psi-Wars: Saying Yes to Mass Combat

So last time I argued that Mass Combat was a terrible idea for Psi-Wars.  I haven't changed my mind and I still think it's a terrible idea.  Ergo, it's a waste of time to even look at Mass Combat, right?  I would argue that it isn't.  We need to challenge our assumptions, push our boundaries, and look more deeply at things. While I know many people are "loathe to do work they do not need to do," the difference between quality work and shoddy work is a willingness, first, to go the extra mile and, second, to make good use of "wasted" work.

Hemingway called this his Iceberg theory, that the surface of a story, what you read, is only part of it.  The rest of the story should be buried beneath.  By removing things the author understands well, he can make his story stronger.  A role-playing setting can work the same way: very rarely have I seen economics discussions erupt in earnest among my players, such as wondering what happens to the loot they sell to the local merchant, but if you understand the economics of your world and your setting is carefully built around it, or at least inspired by it, it can hang together in a pleasing way, and when players ask "Hey, why is X?" then you have a ready answer.

This, by the way, is how you solve the Willow/Brent dichotomy when building  your setting.  Brent doesn't care about anything that's not directly pertinent to him, but Willow wants to know more and more and more and to see that it all works.  If a setting element isn't directly pertinent, then it should be optional, buried beneath layers of gameplay as a foundation element, but if Willow wants to know about it, she should have the opportunity to dive deeper, to get more out of your material when she wants to.

How does this apply to Mass Combat?  Even if we don't want to use Mass Combat in Psi-Wars, understanding what it looks like could tell us a great deal about Psi-Wars as a setting.  Mass Combat discusses not just strategy, but logistics, administration and supply lines.  Understanding how and why factions in a setting goes to war tells you a lot about the underpinnings of the setting.  Furthermore, Psi-Wars is derived from the Action genre, and in Action, even if Mass Combat doesn't directly show up, the state of militaries in the world and global conflict definitely provides context to the action that takes place.  Finally, just because I think Mass Combat is a terrible idea doesn't mean you, dear reader, agree.  Perhaps you have a crazy good idea.  If I explore Mass Combat, even for one post, I can serve all of these needs.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Taking the War out of Psi-Wars: Saying No to Mass Combat

Psi-Wars is about war and definitely features huge fleets, heroic starfighter pilots, daring commando raids and maniacal commanders plotting the destruction of entire worlds.  "War" is one of our core gameplay activities!  Given that, shouldn't Mass Combat be front and center in our game?

No. Jason "P.K." Levine says it better than I could in Just Say No to Mass Combat, but let me try to break it down for you in the specific context of Psi-Wars.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

"Who Gives a S**t?" A Meditation on Setting Design

Tons of people are doing settings, but that is kinda hard for me to wrap my head around. I love GURPS content, I love spells, powers, advantages, builds, encounters, adventures, but for me, a setting is kind of a deeply personal thing.
-Benjamin Gauronskas, Let's GURPS
Yes, that is the second time I've used that quote, but I think it's an important one.  It highlights a truth: Settings often aren't useful to people precisely because they are so personal.  A GM discussing his favorite, homebrew setting is often about as engrossing for the audience as a player discussing his favorite character.  In part, this is because settings need to be experienced.  What makes Star Wars fun is that you're there, watching the ships explode and the lightsabers clash.  What doesn't work is watching a couple of nerds sit around discussing the importance of the Bendu Priests in the founding of the Jedi Order.

The problem here is that we need to be able to connect with a setting, and we'll only do that if it's useful to us.  I've avoided going deeply into setting with Psi Wars because, for the most part, it won't be useful to you.  I get it: Most of you who are reading this are doing so to see how I build a campaign, or to rip off some rule idea I have, or because you're bored and want to read GURPS stuff. The majority of my audience will never run a Psi-Wars game.  That doesn't mean nobody will, but if I want to my blog posts to be as universally useful as possible, I need to make my posts useful to a broad audience: the casual reader, the inspiration-seeker, the crunch-head, and the psi-wars fan, and thus my posts have so far been generic and very meta.

The same principle must apply, itself, to setting design.  To make our setting interesting, we have to connect with our audience, and to connect with our audience, we must understand their needs, why they might be interested in a setting.  We also need to understand what a setting is. So, before I get into building any setting material, let's stop to consider the point of a setting, and who our audience is.

Iteration 5: Psi-Wars as a Generic Setting

Ahhh, that wonderful, new Iteration smell.  I think I'm always so eager to start a new iteration because few things are as tedious as playtesting and editing together notes.  I am happy to say, though that, we're largely done with mass playtests, as I think the mechanics of Psi-Wars are largely in place.

So, where are we, and what do we have left to do?  Normally when I start an iteration, I explain why it's not strictly necessary, and that's definitely true of this Iteration.  At the end of Iteration 4, we have a complete gameplay framework. We could spend sessions and sessions exploring our martial arts, psionic powers, technology, starship combat, and we have quite a collection of templates to play with.  In fact, I just gave you about 200 pages of Psi-Wars.  It's so complete, in fact, that I imagine some of you are asking "What is there left to add?"

Lots of little things.  Originally, I had intended this as a sort of miscellaneous, "clean up" iteration, where I tackled minor issues that I've missed thus far, and that's still there.  Do we need Mass Combat?  Should we look at Social Engineering?  How do we want to handle Organizations?  But as I pondered Iteration 5 and 6, I found it increasingly obvious that what I was talking about was setting.  More and more, it looked like little mechanical bits that began to flush out not gameplay, but the context of that gameplay.

Star Wars as a Generic Setting

Star Wars, our inspiration for Psi Wars, has a rather weird relationship with setting.  It is both generic and specific.  On the one hand, it's a story about generic farmboy on a generic planet rescuing the generic princess from the generic bad guy's generic fortress, and then siding with generic good to overthrow generic evil in a vast, generic galaxy.  This is actually intentional.  George Lucas designed Star Wars around the metamyth of the heroic journey.  Star Wars is meant to be archtypal rather than a deep exploration of a specific context.

On the other hand, the moment you pull Jedi out of the setting, it stops being Star Wars.  I invite you to ponder all sci-fi that you can think of that reminds you of Star Trek but is not Star Trek: Farscape, Andromeda, Mass Effect, Babylon 5, Masters of Orion, FTL.  Now, I invite you to think of all the sci-fi that reminds you of Star Wars, but isn't Star Wars.  Personally, I come away with a much smaller list, and they tend to look at one or two specific aspects of the setting.  Firefly, for example, is arguably Star Wars without Jedi, with the Rebels being defeated, and a deeper focus on gunslinging smugglers, but I've never heard anyone describe Firefly as "like Star Wars."

Even so, I think one can make a great case for treating Psi-Wars first as a generic setting.  For one thing, many of you who are reading this now haven't the slightest interest in any setting I'd create.  They have their own ideas for aliens, their own vision for an evil empire, their own Space Knight philosophies they'd want to include, and so on.  What they need isn't a setting, but tools for building their own setting.

And once I have those tools for building a generic setting, I can use them to build a specific setting for myself.  But that's for a later iteration.

The Iteration 5 Todo List

The best way to envision the coming iteration is lots of little iterations.  We've done that before, but I'm going to try to keep it to a week or two per topic, if possible.  Nothing we're touching on really substantially changes the mechanics we designed before, but will draw upon and add to them, usually in little, nuanced ways.

The point of the iteration are to answer lingering questions that I have.  They are:
  • Mass Combat: If Psi-Wars is about war, shouldn't we have mass combat?  If yes, how do we handle it?  If no, why not?  This should culminate in the Officer template.
  • Social Engineering: If we feature a diplomat and a con-artist, what do they actually do?  Does Action already cover their gameplay well enough, or should we dive into Social Engineering and create some more?  This should culminate in the Diplomat and Con-Artist template.
  • Organizations: The "Empire" and the "Alliance" are more than just moral statements; they are factions with unique resources, infrastructure, tactics, etc.  Given the importance of organizations in GURPS Action, I think it's worth taking a look at them.
  • Space Monsters: We've talked before about fighting space monsters, but what do space monsters look like?  What resources should we use or avoid, and how do we make them a good challenge?
  • Aliens: On a similar note, we have our felinoids, and whatever race Rafari and M'elena were.  Star Wars brims with Twi'leks and Wookies and Jawas and Tusken Raiders.  How do we want to handle aliens in Psi-Wars?
  • Culture: The real world is rife with intriguing background elements that get ported over into sci-fi with enough modification to make them feel space-ish.  Examples include:
    • Cuisine and alcoholic drinks
    • Drugs
    • Sports and games
    • Languages
    • Religion and philosophy
  • Planets: Psi-Wars takes place on strange, alien worlds.  What rules should govern those?  Do we just want to use the rules from Space, or replace them with something simpler and more space-operatic?
I won't necessarily handle this in that order, but I think each point is worth touching on at least once over the next couple of months.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Ending Iteration 4

Well, that was quite an iteration, wasn't it?  While it was entirely focused on one thing, ("Powers", and giving characters access to upgrades), it covered an enormous amount of ground.  I think you could make the case that it was 2-3 smaller iterations.  Psionic powers and Communion certainly took up a considerable amount of time, as did martial arts, and I've spent more time playtesting this iteration than nearly any other iteration.  In total, this full iteration has taken up nearly as much time as all of the rest of Psi-Wars put together.

Why is that?  Well, I suspect it comes from the fact that building powers is ultimately about building gameplay.  What I did this iteration is the equivalent to putting together all of those powers for D&D 4e, or the Charms of Exalted: They're the meat of what players will fuss over when discussing the choices they make during their game, and what they'll focus on with their experience.  After all, the Jedi is the soul of Star Wars, so the Space Knight will naturally be enormously important to many people who choose to play Psi-Wars, so they need to work very well, and the game needs to fit together.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Bonus Post: There's a Sale!

Hello, dear Psi-Wars reader!  I sometimes hear my readers comment on how they like and/or use my material "but don't have as many books as" I do. And I do use a lot of books, and part of the reason I do that is because those books are simply great, of course, and to show how you can use existing resources to create your game.  Thus, it's my intent to sell you the books you don't have, because ultimately this blog seeks to support GURPS. The problem is, of course, that books cost money.

Well, today, they're a bit cheaper!  As extra incentive, I've compiled a list below of particularly useful books that come up often in Psi-Wars, all of which are on sale!

  • GURPS Basic: Obviously, if you don't already have this, this is where to start
  • GURPS Ultra-Tech: This book is your golden standard for any sci-fi game, and Psi-Wars definitely makes extensive use of it.
  • GURPS Space: This book doesn't see that much use in Psi-Wars, and you can live without it, but if you want to build your own campaign material, it's a great place to start!
  • GURPS Spaceships: This is your system for space combat and for designing new ships
  • GURPS Psionic Powers: If you want to use psionics in psi-wars, you'll need this book!
    • GURPS Psi-Tech: Not strictly necessary, but some of the psionic technology I refer to can be found here
    • GURPS Psis: Also not strictly necessary, but interesting for grab-and-play psionic packages.
    • Psionic Powers is a subset of Powers, but Powers is still useful if you want to understand some of the optional rules I've implemented.
  • Need more communion?  Check out Divine Favor
  • GURPS Action 2: Exploits Psi-Wars is built atop the Action Framework, thus you'll need this book to make sense of a lot of my rules
    • GURPS Action 4: Specialists Not strictly necessary, but I use this to build my Psi-Wars templates.
    • GURPS Dungeon Fantasy 16: Wilderness Adventures Not an Action book, but I'll use this later to work out some rules for handling adventures on worlds.  An excellent book.
  • GURPS Bio-Tech: Strictly optional, but some of my medical rules derive from this, and its chock full of alien ideas.
  • GURPS Aliens A 3e book, but if you're hunting for Alien ideas, this is a good place to start
    • GURPS Aliens: Sparriels Looking for excellent 4e translations of the above?  Look no further than this series (only one book thus far)
  • GURPS Martial Arts You want Forceswordsmanship?  You'll need this book.  Chock full of the details on all my optional rules and a variety of my perks
  • The Power Ups series is full of good books, but two I often use for Psi-Wars are:
GURPS isn't the only thing on sale.  While Pyramid subscriptions aren't on sale, issues are!  I use lots of Pyramid articles, but here's some highlights
This is by no means exhaustive, but if you need a Psi-Wars shopping list, this is a good place to start.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

EM Guns Feedback Part 2: G-Verse Variants

So, last post, I offered the context of G-Verse, for those who need to know how the setting works and how games played out.  I've also tagged my Andromeda Incident After Action Reports from ye olden days if you want to go back and look at them.

Now, for the actual feedback.  How did G-Verse actually play and how would it play out with Pulver's suggestions?

EM Guns Feedback Part 1: The G-Verse Context

Steve Jackons Games recently put out a call for feedback regarding EM guns and their damage and performance, specifically in comparison to ETK guns (Edit: There was a miscommunication, it was in comparison to ETC, because ETK guns are ridiculous and nobody should use them).  Now, lots of people have already busted out some math and done some comparisons, but that's not really what they're asking for, and that makes sense.  I'll believe that Pulver is totally great at math and has already worked out the models necessary for his design.  What he needs is actual play, seeing how it works in a game.

Alas, I am not running anything with gauss weaponry at the moment, nor do I think I could spin one up in the near future.  I can do the next best thing, though, and see what the changes would do in a game that I already had that used gauss weaponry.

Psi-Wars is not my first foray into GURPS sci-fi.  Really, it's probably my fourth or fifth exploration of what makes sci-fi works in GURPS, and one of the reasons I've been posting about sci-fi in GURPS is precisely because it can be so tricky if you don't handle Ultra-Tech right.  Psi-Wars keeps technology at a minimum to keep innate character abilities front and center, but half the fun of sci-fi is playing with cool toys.  My last sci-fi campaign, G-Verse, really focused on detailed use of technology. I tried to blur the lines between action thriller, military sci-fi and cyberpunk in that players could and should geek out over their equipment.  In that campaign, I solved my abilities/tech dichotomy by minimizing crazy abilities and maximizing how cool your tech was.

One thing that became clear to me in that game was that technology exists within an ecosystem.  Sometimes, someone will ask why NATO uses the round it does, given its terrible stats in GURPS, and GURPS players will respond that NATO doesn't use GURPS as its guide for appropriations.  But more to the point, the round was chosen based on assumptions about what other people would be wearing and the role it would play on the battlefield and how the logistics of the round would work.  It's not a round all by itself, it's a round interacting with armor, competing rounds, and living in a context of politics, economics and infrastructure.

I think one of the reasons Pulver is asking for "actual play" is that he needs to see this larger interaction.  Given that G-verse used gauss weapons in a world full of competing weapons and armor, that makes it a good choice for examining what those changes would make to my ecosystem and how it would play out in my campaign.

In part 1, I introduce the basics of how G-verse works, including a look at the weapons, soldiers, tactics and context of the setting, so you can find your footing.  In part 2, I'll look at how my current model already worked, and then see Pulver's proposed changes would have interacted with the setting and see what ETK weapons would do to the setting.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

GURPS-Day Cross Post: So you wanna play in a game, huh?

Hey, it's November, and this month, the GURPS blog selected "Community" as its theme.  Being a good member of the blogging community, I'd like to join in.  Originally, I wanted to talk about one of my favorite topics: legacy, and contrast it with the murder-hobo straw man.  But, after some discussions on GURPS Discord (You guys hang out there, right?) that inspired me, I remembered an old topic I wanted to talk about, especially since I've taken up playing in a GURPS game.

The world of RPGs brims with advice to GMs about GMing, and that's hardly surprising.  For one thing, GMing takes a lot of work, and thus there's a lot to discuss, and a lot of people want to learn to GM better.  For another thing, us GMs tend to get really good at planning, thinking and writing, and thus we're more likely than, say, a more casual player, to write about what we know.  But being a good player is just as important as being a good GM, and it's a topic that doesn't get much attention.

So that's what I want to address.  How can you be a better player?

Iteration 4 - The Final Playtest

Starlight sprang back into view with a strange, eye-watering blur as Jenna Skyrunner slowly pulled down the throttle on the hyperdrive of the Grey Morning and revealed a planet, brown and desolate. She smiled.

“I told you I could get you there.”

Dun leaned over the console of the spy vessel and marveled at it. “Old Maradon. I didn’t believe it could be found anymore.”

“Not if you follow those old star charts. Hyperspace has changed a lot since then. You have to know its ebbs and flows, like I do.” The blond flashed Dun a fetching smile. Alas, the other two people who had just stepped onto the small, compact bridge of the corvette held his attention..

Novina wore a modest, priestly gown crafted of violet silk that flowed around her body, bunching enough at the waist and hips to remind those who looked upon her that she was, in fact, a woman, with long sleeves that hid her hands. A ribbon the same color as her robe bound up her platinum-colored hair. Her gaze met Dun’s, and she smiled warmly before she remembered her position and averted her gaze back to the planet. She folded her hands into sleeves and stepped beside Dun.

The other woman owned the ship. Leylana finished gathering her hair into a smart pony bun and bound it up with band. To Dun’s surprise, she wore not haute couture, but a form-fitting battle-weave jump-suit, with a jaunty utility belt and some sturdy boots. She answered his raised eyebrow with a scoffing smile “I can be practical, Mr. Beltain.” Her eyes flitted from Novina to Dun, noting their closeness and Novina’s covert smile.

Novina’s raised her soft voice, her introspective tone suggesting she murmured more to herself than to her compatriots. “Alexian Command once controlled a million warships from their headquarters on Maradon. I’ve read texts that spoke of grand spires and breathtaking gardens. It seems all that is left now are bones of a dead world and endless deserts.”

“Not completely.” Leylana cooed smugly. She produced the small fragment of technology she stole from the dying Willow Star. “This is an old Alexian security key, and it’s keyed to the Maradon Headquarters. If that still exists, then we should be able to access its old databases and find...”

“A throneship.” Novina whispered, awed. She tilted her head, making swift mental calculations, connecting her knowledge of history and future history with this singular point. “You mean to use me to destroy the Empire.”

“Don’t sound so accusing. When I’m done, you’ll be a queen.”

Vesper Tane 3.0, the Ultimate Dark Space Knight

Vesper Tane serves two purposes.  First, of course, he's going to be our big bad for our final playtest.  We don't need to stat out a big bad, of course.  We can just declare what they have, and to an extend I'll do just that: He's gathered a band of Empire-hating, revolutionary pirates to his cause and, of course, he has both M'elena's loyalty and her heart.

But I also want to get a feel for whether or not 300 points is enough.  One way to do that is to look at a more expensive space knight.  At 350 points, Vesper was already a fairly convincing space knight, but what might a space knight look like at 400 points?  If I continued, I'd probably go into what a 500 point space knight looked like, but if I'm honest, it would likely be more of the same: more Communion, more Psionic powers, more Martial Arts.  There's plenty to explore in those, of course, but I don't see what 500 points would show us that 400 points doesn't already.

So, what does 400 points of space knight look like?  Well, in addition to the Communion powers he gained last time, we've added Psionic Force Swordmanship, which is what I wanted him to start with.  He's not actually any better with the Force Sword, as most of his skill has focused entirely on mastering his now considerable TK of 12, giving him a TK-Control of 18, with Beat at 20 and Jam at 15, giving him a rather nuanced power.  I've removed TK-Tether (his force sword now does that automatically) and replaced it with Grip Mastery.  I've also given him Contact-TK, to explore the idea of that as a perk.  This means when he's not using his TK, he can have +3 to his ST "for free."

Dun Beltain 4.0, Space Knight of Humble Origins

At last, Dun benefits from the new Space Knight template.  In some ways, he looks more like his first iteratation template than the other two iterations.  He's dropped all of his security elements, regained his psychic danger sense (and added Visions (Dreams)).  I've given him his Lost Alexian Force Sword, meaning he currently wields the coolest force sword in the game thus far.  We also know the name of his Space Princess: Novina.  And for his power-package, I've given him martial arts, and chosen to expand more fully into the Defensive Form, making him a master of the buckler.

I've immediately noticed a problem: To precognitively parry and block, you need two separate skills.  That's unfortunate.  So, I've replaced it with a Precognitive Defense, which seems plenty to me.  He can now precognitively block, parry, and bounce shots back at his opponents.

The net result is a definite boost in the already highly competent Dun.  He enjoys defenses in the range of 16, 100 points of DR and Danger Sense, as well as a really awesome sword.  He's definitely a space knight.  Compared to Vesper or Rafari, he lacks a real understanding of what he's doing.  He has only minimal meditation and philosophy skills and largely untapped Psionic potential, and no training in Communion.  This is likely going to be true of most starting space knights, as a space knight has enormous possibilities for growth (which is why their templates don't get Experienced power-ups), so a "master" space knight is probably closer to 500 points in value.

Lady Leylana Grey 4.0, Aristocratic Spy

The trick with Leylanda was that she was already pretty good.  The only things I really wanted from her were, perhaps, a greater connection into the Imperial Elite and DD-6 as a full-on ally.  Before, the latter was highly impractical, but now with robot costs down to a reasonable level, DD-6 should clock in at about 300 points.  I haven't checked precisely, but my back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests she's close enough.

But that's only about 25 points.  We have a full power-up we can purchase, so what do we get?  Psionic Powers and Martial Arts are right out: the point of Leylana is that she's not a combat character, and we're exploring psionic powers.  Thus, she's a great opportunity to see if Experienced characters or Heroic characters are good enough.  In this case, I've chosen to go with Ghost from the Spy Power-Ups, because I enjoyed her being super-stealthy in Iteration 2, and also becuase the Heroic Power-Up is a full 50 points, which means she can't buy DD-6 as an ally, and I like the idea of that.  So, this is Leylana, as a super-competent stealthy spy.

Kendra Corleoni, Escaped Slave, Felinoid Bounty Hunter

Now that we have a more finished version of the Bounty Hunter, we can expand Kendra to a full 300 points.  Felinoid is already 35, so I chose to simply expand her existing Bounty Hunter/Slave/Felinoid advantages for another 15 points to round out the character.  Thus, we can finally see Kendra without her race really slowing her down.  With those extra points, I've been able to expand on her slave background (evidently she was held by some snake-like civilization called the Slithians) and note her own race as a cultural familiarity/language, meaning she's the most diverse of our characters when it comes to interacting with aliens.  I also have the points to really give her the pistol-slinging badassness that we've wanted for her since iteration 1, giving her an astonishing Beam Weapons (Pistol) of 19, including full-rate Dual Weapon combat and Fast Firing, meaning she can really lay down some firepower if she's so inclined.

This is probably the close to the very final version of her.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Playtest 3: Rafari and the Nahudi Warriors vs the Empire!

The previous playtest was to make sure that our space knights have a certain sort of minimum competence. Now I want to see how far I can push them. If a space knight has little trouble taking on 7 criminals by himself, how about a single space knight vs ~30 imperial troopers?

To balance the scales a little, I'd like to see how our Alien Warriors do as well, as Rafari offers a great opportunity to look at Alien Warriors. The story practically writes itself. Rafari, having completed his training and parting ways from his dear friend, Vesper Tane, returns to his homeworld, only to find it invaded by the Empire! He finds his tribe readying for war, and his welcome is a bit rough. “Rafari has gone soft,” they say, but Rafari proves them wrong and convinces them to let him assist them in protecting their homeworld.

The Nahudi people are heavily outnumbered, so we'll give Rafari 5 warriors and 5 scouts. His opponents will be 6 heavy imperials (thus three guns) supported by 5 imperial carbine troopers, with an advancing force of 15 imperial carbine troopers and 5 elite troopers in a kill squad leading the assault.

The Nehudi warriors arrived at their chosen battleground early. Two rough patches of rocky ground, rich with cover, face off over a relative no-man's land of loose sand. The ground is such that characters must either stand on Uneven ground (in the stony area) or on sandy ground (in between), for a -2 to attack and -1 to defense. Two large cliff faces line either side of the battleground, and the scouts have prepped deadfalls in these. The best way to get from one side to the other is in the cover of the cliff-face, which offers plenty of outcroppings to take cover behind. Going over the open field will force you into a field of fire without cover. The total distance between both rocky areas is submachine gun range, about -5. It'll take 3 rounds of movement to get from one to the other.

That night, Rafari medidates and uses Wisdom of Communion. He is given a vision of the battle the following day “Only with great sacrifice can a world be saved.” It's a grim destiny, and the GM decides that both sides can access one point of destiny. Rafari opens his eyes, ready to do what must be done.

The battle will take place in a sort of canyon.  The battleground is flanked on either side by canyon walls full of fissures that allow one to hide.  The mouth of the canyon is rocky and uneven, followed by a broad, sandy depression, and then lifts into another uneven rocky area.

The Imperial troops march by daylight. The scouts hide in the rocky ground that overlooks the sand, and the warriors hide in the rocky outrcroppings at the entrance to the canyon, ready to ambush the imperials. To properly ambush, both the Scouts and the Warriors must succeed at their Stealth rolls, but because they need to be well-hidden enough to attack from behind, the Warriors need to vanish, so they'll apply a -5. The Warriors have Stealth 15 and succeed with exactly 10. The Scouts have a 18 and succeed with a 12. The Kill Squad has the best Perception at 11, and have visors worth +2 to perception checks if heat signatures matter. The roll a 13, which means an exact success, the same as the Warriors. The GM rules that the kill squad is in the warriors when they notice the Warriors and begin to shout out a warning. The empire is not suprised but neither do they see the deadfalls.

As the troops made their way to them, Rafari meditated. He had been meditating all morning, so the GM grants him a +2 to his Communion roll, in addition to his +1 for meditation. He gets a miracle on a 10 or less. He gets a 14. He argues that he seeks a miracle to save his world and is willing to make whatever sacrifice is necessary, and suggests the Immunity to Pain miracle. The GM agrees to let him spend his point of Destiny. Clearly, without some miracle, his whole tribe could easily die, so he gains a +4 to his reaction. He has also stuck to his beliefs, recently forsaking Vesper Tane for his heresy, so the GM grans an additional +2. He rolls an 18 (!), +6 is 24. Well! We could go for a Primordial Avatar, but Rafari follows no path. Of course, that doesn't have to matter for Communion, so let's imbue him with the Primordial Avatar of the Righteous Crusader.

I had actually hoped to have a more modest battle, but I suppose being imbued with godlike power shortly before going to war with the enemy has a certain sort of meaning to it. It certainly utterly changes the dynamics of this fight.

Rafari is immune to pain, has effectively HT 16 to resist subdual and death, has a will of 19, is Transcendantly impressive, recovers 1 fatigue per second, gets a free Concentrate action per turn, and is fixated with destroying the Imperial Troopers before him. He loses 2 HP and loses an additional HP per minute.

This is perhaps inappropriate. He's not really prepared to channel the powers of this particular avatar, but I hadn't expected to roll that well, and I'm curious to see how this will play out.  It's an opportunity to see an avatar in action!

Other pertinent modifiers: the Nehudi are defending their homeland, so have +1. All terrain is either sandy or uneven, providing a -2 to attack and a -1 to defense. It's brightly lit, so nobody benefits from dark combat.

Rafari 2.1

So, I made a few minor errors with Rafari last time.  He needed Esoteric Medicine, representing his understanding of psionic powers and how they interact with the body, to complete his prana-bindu training.  I've fixed that and, as with Vesper Tane, granted him Communion, representing the fact that he's completed his training in understanding Communion.

Unlike Vesper Tane, Rafari is focused entirely on Learned Prayers and Communion itself.  A few things jump out at me as I look at that list: the best Communion powers are in the first tier, meaning that going up to Communion 7 from 6 just isn't that interesting.  It might be worth looking at that more carefully.  Still, Flesh Wounds and the Wisdom of Communion are nice abilities.  I'm curious how well he'll do without the benefits of a Path or Legendary Reputation or Destiny.

Given that Rafari has chosen to take Gift of the Life Force, I have removed his Regeneration and dumped it into his Metabolism control, which takes him to his maximum of +10. With the spare point from Communion traits, I've given him a Stabilizing Skill.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Playtest 2: Vesper Tane vs Criminals (and M'Elena)

If we have all of these wonderful mooks at our disposal, we should use some!  How well can Vesper Tane (and most Space Knights) stand up against a set of mooks?  I'd expect him to be pretty handy against them, especially low level ones like criminals.  But how many is a good number?  Let's go for 7: 5 criminal goons, an Enforcer and a Bruiser.  I expect that he should be able to defeat them fairly handily, but I'm curious how well.

Furthermore, I'd like to introduce M'Elena to Vesper Tane, get her finally working for him, but I'm also curious how well an assassin will function against a space knight.  Granted, M'Elena is 300 points and Vesper is 350, but I wouldn't expect that to be an absolutely dominating difference.  Given that she doesn't have psionic powers, will he be stronger or weaker?  Are his points "wasted points"  and he'd be better off focusing entirely on martial arts over psionic powers and communion, or will they serve him well?

Vesper Tane, Dark Space Knight 2.0

The point of exploring Vesper Tane in such detail is multi-fold. First, by expanding him to 350 points and then 400, I get an idea of how well the power-up system works as a basis for experience. Of course, ideally heroes will purchase bits and pieces piecemeal rather than at 50 point chunks, but this should give us an idea of what building up a character. It will also give me an idea of 300 points is enough. Is 400 points closer to what players expect a real space knight to be like?

So, this is Vesper Tane after he has completed his training. He has gained a connection with Communion, though he has turned to the dark side of the Id. His drive to destroy the Empire has made the Path of the Rebellious Beast profoundly tempting. He embraces the Id because he believes that the destruction of the Empire is necessary and worth the sacrifice to the ravening, bestial greed of the id. His study has given him Dark Communion 6, unlocked his Destiny to bring down the (an?) Empire, and his Legendary Reputation for the Rebellious Beast, as well has helped him learn about the very nature of Communion itself, which explains the conscious choice to walk the Path of the Rebellious Beast. To do so, he must rearrange his disadvantages. He no longer directly serves his Space Knight order: For walking the path of the Rebellious Beast, Master Kimon threw him out, and Rafari has turned his back on him, even if Vesper Tane refuses to turn his back on them. His nightmares have cleared up now that that his connection with Dark Communion has solidified into something he can control, and that he understands his true purpose in the Galaxy. To funnel his power, he has built his hatred of the Empire into full-blown Intolerance, and the Rebellious Beast begins to seep into his mind, manifesting as an easy-to-control Bad Temper.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Playtest 1: Rafari vs Vesper Tane

Remnants I - Savage Marauder by Squiddy Treat
The first playtest I want to do is two space knights duking it out.  A force sword battle in Psi-Wars should feel like a lightsaber duel in star wars.  Does it?  For this reason, I created two new space knights, Vesper Tane and Rafari, each with their own unique style and their own unique psionic focus.  I envision the scene as a friendly practice duel under the tutelage of a master, but the intent is clear; Can two space knights duke it out in an appropriately cinematic fashion?

Friday, November 18, 2016

Cameron Delacroix, Excrucian Deciever

Cameron Delacroix is the oncoming storm, the great terror that reveals your sins, the death of angels, and the heart of the Excrucian War on Earth, and the great boogieman invoked by the Imperators to frighten their powers.  He is these things because he chooses to be these things, because he has defined himself thus.  Those who speak his name in frightened whispers, who speculate of his coming and what that will do, unknowingly invoke, and participate in, the Dark Tidings of Cameron Delacroix, and thus summon him.  So terrifying has this possibility become that many no longer refer to him directly.  He is only "him," or "the trouble."  Even this has become a euphemism for Cameron Delacroix, and so now some people just discuss the Excrucian War rather than discussing him, ie "I worry that the Excrucian War is going badly.  I worry that IT might come for us soon."

His flowers are Vervain, the Key of the Dragon, and the Star of Bethlehem, the Key of Burdens. He bears his abhorrent weapon, One Truth, also known as the Windflower Blade, which carries within it the heart of Sebastian Saint-Smythe, whom the blade is destined to destroy.  He rides on his terrifying skyship, the Dreadship, and is served by his prophet, Thomas the Mouse.  No Imperator hates him more then Meon and Joktun, for he regularly undermines the power of Scorn and Desecration in the world, by making the mocked beloved, and by making the ruined sacred once more.  According to whispered rumor, Cameron has wounded Azrael, but none have yet noticed where.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Assassin 2.0

So far, M'elena has proved that the Assassin template works well enough.  The assassin has Stealth 18, and sufficient DX and skill to hit an 18 in any combat skill she chooses to focus on.  The only remaining concerns are power-ups, and three immediately spring to mind.  First, just like the Bounty Hunter, there's certainly a "stealth component" to appearing helplessly beautiful, so she also has access to the Femme Fatale power-up, exactly as the Bounty Hunter.  Second, some players might prefer to see the assassin as a sniper.  While I want to keep the assassin focused on melee, the base template has a minimum of 20 points in melee skills which means someone who takes the Sniper power-up will still be competent at hand-to-hand combat.  Finally, some assassins might want to focus on the most traditional of assassin techniques: Poison.

M'elena Blackheart, Alien Slave-Assassin 1.1

I wanted to give Vesper Tane an assassin as a dragon, and I wanted her to be an alien. A space elf would be ideal, but existing elf templates are a little too attached to the fantasy milieu to work out of the box, so I chose an Avatar (Female) template from Bio-Tech (though I’m obviously ignoring the “Taboo Trait (Aggression)”, for the purposes of Bloodlust; her master has clearly broken her of any reluctance to kill). That makes her a race highly sought after for slavery, an obvious parallel to the twi’lek race. Thus, she has a slave background at this point, one more submissive than Kendra’s, representing her shortly before Vesper Tane cut her chains.

This gives us a chance to see both a high-cost alien racial template (66 points!) paired with the assassin template to see how things work out at 300 points. The net effect is a highly competent assassin. Her extraordinary DX means she can get by with very few points on her skills. Because of her improved DX, I did shift some points around, so she could score some Combat Reflexes, but everything else has remained the same. The result is a combatant who can go toe-to-toe with nearly anyone, and is swift and flexible enough to get there in short order.  She does the job, though I'll be curious to see how well she does against someone like Kendra.

Unlike the previous characters, I went ahead and worked out the gear on M'elena.  Her greatest constraint isn't money (I spent less than $15,000 on her gear) but weight.  Presumably, she enjoys a closet full of alluring slave-garments and probably has a few robots at her disposal, but I didn't cover them.  I picture her in a full, skin-tight battleweave suit, with a mask and helmet covering her face and hair and making her look inhuman and she stalks her prey in almost complete silence except for the hum of her blades.

This is the second version of this incarnation, focusing more completely on Brawl and improving her focus on Signature Moves.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

New Background Lens: Sequestered

Sequestered 20 points

You have lived a life of isolation, one in which you were prepared to be something. You might have spent years as a monk, or been the chosen messiah of a cult, or you might have been ruthlessly trained to be the galaxy’s greatest assassin. You’ve learned an enormous amount of highly focused knowledge, but your social skills have suffered. You don’t really understand how the world outside of your temple or dojo really works.

Skills: Savoir-Faire (Dojo or Temple) (E) IQ+1 [2].

Additional Skills: Another 18 points chosen from among Hidden Lore (Any appropriate) (A) IQ [2], History (H) IQ-1 [2], Judo (H) DX-1 [2], Karate (H) DX-1 [2], Literature (H) IQ-1 [2], Meditation (H) Will-1 [2], Mind Block (A) Will [2], Philosophy (H) IQ-1 [2], Religious Ritual (H) IQ-1 [2], Teaching (A) IQ [2], Theology (H) IQ-1 [2], or increase any lens skill by one level for 2 points, or two levels for 6 points.

Additional Traits: You may also spend your remaining lens points, or some of your template advantage points on improved Claim to Hospitality (Cult, Temple, Dojo) [varies], Clerical Investment [5], Contact (Fellow cultist, monk or martial artist, skill 15, 18 or 21, 9 or less somewhat reliable) [2, 3 or 4], Contact Group (Cult, Temple or Dojo, Skill 15, 18 or 21, 6 or less, somewhat reliable) [5, 8, 10], Higher Purpose (Varies) [5], Religious Rank [5/level], Patron (Cult, temple or order) [varies], Title [1], or any remaining points on an appropriate martial arts or psionic style of your choice.

Optional Disadvantages: Add the following disadvantage options to your template: Clueless [-10], Code of Honor (Varies), Delusions (False beliefs about the world) [varies], Disciplines of Faith (Ritualism or Mysticism) [-5 or -10], Duty (To Order or Cult, 9 or less, 12 or less, 15 or less) [-5 to -15], Easy to Read [-10], Enemies (Former Order/Cult, Watcher or Hunter, 6 or less) [Varies], Fanaticism [-15], Gullible [-10*], Honesty [-10*], Oblivious [-5], Pacifism (Any!) [Varies], Truthfulness [-5*], Vow (Any; Poverty, Chastity or Silence are common) [Varies], 

Novina d'Alexia, the Last Alexian Princess

I wanted to finally give Dun Beltain his princess, but I wanted her to be very important, without being fundamentally very physical. Let Kendra be our empowered warrior-woman. Novina is our priestess. She’s also a great chance to explore how powerful a starting Mystic can be. The results are surprisingly pleasing. She’s extraordinarily powerful with Communion, able to call up miracles with astonishing regularity, especially with her Destiny. I was also able to give her a fairly deep mastery of ESP, including the flavorful Oracle style. She’s no psi-knight of course, and is deeply lacking when it comes to combat skills, but if I had wanted her to be a primary combatant, I would have built her as a Space Knight. This creates an interesting contrast: She is more bene-gesserit than jedi. To compensate for this, our all-important princess, of course, is protected by a cadre of elite guardians, which sounds like a great time to pull out ceremonial guards.

Novina also features an entirely new background lens, originally suggested by Kalzazz: Sequestered, representing someone who spent a lifetime training in some isolated dojo or temple, stripped of human contact. Novina was raised from birth to be the final hope of the Alexian dynasty, the last heir of that sacred bloodline. Thus, she was never allowed to meet anyone and her deep connection with Dun Beltain, the outsider who rescued her, is cause for alarm within the cult of guardians.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Vesper Tane, Dark Space Knight 1.1

Vesper Tane, eventually, is going to be the Big Bad of the coming ultimate Iteration 4 playtest, but he also gives us a chance to see if we can make a decent "dark" psi-knight on 300 points. He’s an outcast, a criminal and a pirate, who has seen the dark side of the Empire, and his growing (but not yet controlled) connection with Communion manifests in nightmares that spur him forward to rid the galaxy of the Empire forever.

With a Psi-Knight, you really need to pick what direction you’re going to go in, and I chose psionic power over Martial Arts for Vesper. TK-Control at level 8 might not seem like much (a basic lift of 7), but he can effortlessly move a rifle and Push a person over, and with his phenomenal Will of 16, he can afford, to boost his TK-Control to 11 (on a 12 or less), and with serious effort (say, 6 fatigue), he can afford to boost it to 17, which means he can be much stronger than the average person for about a minute, should he need to be.

I had originally chosen Psionic Forceswordmanship, but that style needs even greater focus on TK-Grab or TK-Control than I am able to give with the template. So I’ve shifted to the Destructive form, which suits a more brutal concept. He seems competent enough: His will and Psychokinesis give him skill 17 in Power-Blow, which is terrifying, and he has (like most psi-knights) a Parry of 13, which is on par with his Precognitive Parry. Between the two, he has a fairly reasonable chance of parrying with a 14 or less against other melee opponents, and 13 or less against blasters. A few points in Beat has given him skill enough to batter down most of his opponent’s, and it would be nice to give him Dirty Fighting, but I lack the necessary points. Later, perhaps.

Is Vesper Tane good enough as a starting character to impress a player?  Yes.  He still has plenty of room to grow, but I think he manages to fit enough power into a template to be a believable space knight.  He also shows enough contrast with Rafari that I think the template is sufficiently flexible.

This actually the second edit of Vesper Tane, to better include Signature Moves (as they're fundamental to this iteration).

Monday, November 14, 2016

Rafari, Heroic Alien Space Knight 1.1

Rafari is my first attempt at a true Psi-Knight, the final successor to Dun's template.  I also wanted to tinker with humanoid aliens, and for Rafari, I used the "Drylander" template from Biotech.  I presume his planet, Nehuda, is a desolate desert, and his people, the Nehudi, are some of those crazy-awesome Alien Warriors I've written up.  Rafari is a heroic space knight, a close parallel to what we might see a Jedi look like, though I've given him some rather unique abilities including the Prana-Bindu esoteric style, a Primitive/Survivor lens.

The question is: Is he good enough? Well, with a Force Sword of 18, Flying Leap 13, Acrobatics 13, Precognitive Parry 13, Sure-Footed (Uneven), Flourish and the Graceful Form under his belt, he's not bad.  His Psychic Healing power grants him the ability to regenerate slowly and to gain complete control of his metabolism, allowing him to either boost his HT to 19 or to boost his Basic Speed to 8.  This means he has a parry of 13 with his force sword and a dodge of 12, and an acrobatic defense will add +2 to either.

He's not great, and he doesn't have access to Communion yet, but he's pretty good.  I don't think most players would turn their nose up at him.

This is actually the second version of this character, which I adjusted after a discussion regarding my signature moves, and I realized I hadn't included any.  This version explicitly includes four signature moves from Graceful Form (though none purchased with Trademark Move)

Friday, November 11, 2016

Meon, Desecration's Regal

Today I cleaned the shield of Nuri, a brash and noble Power, who found his own answer to the Windflower Law. Cutting forth his atman, he bound it into a shield, decorated with his love’s Design, as a gift for her. His body would forget her; his Estate would forget her; but he would be with her always. It hangs in Meon’s halls in Locus Entropy. I do not believe his Ramona ever learned of its existence. Such are the ways of life and love.
—from the Thought-Record of Martin Cravitt 

“My lord,” the Dominus said, “I have done no wrong. Driven no one mad. I was not present at the scene. I used no power.” 
Lord Entropy’s eyes narrowed. Two fngers moved slightly, against the stone. Meon lifted his eyes from Lord Entropy’s hand. “The Locust Court grants,” he said, “that it was not you but the portrait that broke the crowd; and in some sense the artist, who captured too truthfully your inner self.” He glanced back at Lord Entropy, but the fngers were silent. After a moment, Meon continued, 
“The Court recognizes the salience of your point. It should comfort you to know that the portrait and artist shall both share your fate.”
—from the Thought-Record of Hugh Rosewood

“Do you love me?” I asked, when our time was done.
Diamanta leaned her head back to look at me. “Is that why you think I come to you?” 
“Why do you, then?”  
She looked down. “I committed a sin I cannot bear,” she said. “Tis is my expia tion.”
—from the Tought-Record of Desecration’s-Regal Meon

Lord Entropy has many servants. He has three extremely competent Powers — Meon, who is the Power of Desecration; Baalhermon, Power of Destruction; and Joktan, Power of Scorn

Meon cannot possibly be as bad as people say, because if he was, then there would be nothing left for virtue in this world. There wouldn’t be any point in anything, in even trying, if Meon were as bad as people say. 
And I’ve never noted him explicitly as doing harm. I’ve never seen it, never heard of it, never obtained an authoritative documentary reference to any cruel and monstrous thing that he has done. He doesn’t even have his own wing of the palace; he isn’t part of the government of the evil world. He’s just there. 
But I’ve seen him. I’ve seen a photograph of him. I’ve seen his smile. So I know why people say what they say. I’ve seen his smile. He keeps all the worst things in the world in that smile, behind that smile, like he’s holding them all back. Like he’s holding back all the worst things that could ever happen, all the time.
Sometimes it seems that the thing Meon holds back behind his smile —the thing he is struggling so desperately to keep inside him, to keep from leaking out into the world — is the realization of Lord Entropy’s dreams and desires. Sometimes it seems he is not so much Lord Entropy’s Power as his jailor. When it most seems like that is so, Meon has unpleasant days in turn.

He could be that thing which makes things discordant with themselves and the entire world, the thing that rips and ruins, the thing that is the worst face of every monster in the world. He could be that. He maybe even might be that. But for right now, he holds it back. He holds it back, so maybe he’s fghting it. Maybe on some level he’s trying to do good. But I don’t think that’s why. 
Meon is the god of defilement; he is the Power of Desecration. 
And it seems to me that he is leashing himself because it is more pleasant to him that people desecrate themselves, and one another, and their own holy things. It seems to me that he is choosing not to be so very great an evil as he ought to be, as he could be, as people say he is, because he loves how very wicked people are, even without Meon. 

--Jenna Katerina Moran, "Nobilis -- A Field Guide to Powers"

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Camorra of Vancouver

Negotiate a Deal

0 or less: Walk away with something you didn’t want and a huge debt to the Camorra. Good job!
2: You negotiate a deal and you get something useful, but you’re not sure if it’s precisely what you wanted.
3: Maybe you didn’t get what you wanted, but the Camorra always like a sucker. You’ve made friends with them! Good job?
4: You negotiate a deal and get what you wanted, but it comes at a cost.
6: Your streetwise impresses the Camorra. They look forward to working with you again.
7: You negotiate a deal and get what you wanted, and you manage to outwit the Camorra enough that your payment seems minimal.

Troubles, Tools and Bonds

  • The House Always Wins (Trouble -3): You must face this trouble if you attempt to out-negotiate the Camorra and gain some kind of benefit without any real payment. The Camorraalways wins in the end. This has the backing of Lord Entropy’s power, so the -3 also acts as an Auctoritas against miracles to get something form the Camorra for free.
  • Anything for a Price (Tool +2): If you are willing to pay the Camorra’s price, they can definitely improve your chances of finding anything illegal or illicit to help any mundane effort you might have. They have girls, they have boys, they have blue-skinned space-princesses; they have guns, they have explosives, they have ritual blades; they have booze, they have drugs, they have doorways to lost dimensions. If you want it, if its forbidden, someone can work it out for you. The bonus doesn’t apply to negotiation, but to any other mundane effort
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