Thursday, January 28, 2016

Psi Wars: The Second Iteration -- Adjusting the Rules

GURPS Action!

Previously, we grabbed a few core elements from Space and Ultra-Tech and used them to rapidly prototype our campaign, and according to our playtest, it worked!  We have a pretty functional game. You can sit down and run Psi-Wars as written.

But I prefer something with a little more detail. Many aspects of the characters feel off. The space knight isn't very Jedi-like, and our heroes aren't as heroic as I would like.  Morever, I find that the ideal design for a campaign is a campaign framework.  Works like Dungeon Fantasy, Action and Monster Hunters really drill down on the rules that matter to them, build their templates and their rule-sets around that.

For the next phase, I'd like to do the same for Psi-Wars.  I want to focus on our core activity, pull out the various niches appropriate for that core activity, and then figure out how best to express that in both rules and character.  I'd want templates, focused mechanics, and unique rules.

Now, the proper way to do this would be to dig through piles of books that use the rules that we want: Martial Arts, Gun Fu and Technical Shooting for the combat rules, Mass Combat for the mass combat rules, Spaceships for the space fighter rules, Campaigns for things like dangerous planetary environments or picking locks or detecting danger.  But that would take far too long for the purposes of Psi-Wars, which is supposed to be a study in quick campaign building.  So we need something we could steal from.

What other GURPS work focuses on cinematic action involving combat, infiltration and exfiltration, espionage, military-scale combat and commando missions?  Oh, I know: GURPS Action.  There are two books GM veterans always end up recommending to people: the first is GURPS Powers, and the second is GURPS Action 2: Exploits.  In my experience, a significant portion of the gaming populace just wants to run games that resemble the action movies that they enjoy in the theater, and Star Wars is no exception.  While I don't believe that Action is ideal for running every type of game (Dungeon Fantasy and Monster Hunters are distinctly different, and a hypothetical, Star Trek-inspired Captain-and-Crew game would also feel different), but it'll certainly work for our Psi-Wars.

So, all we need to do is comb through GURP Action 2: Exploits and see where our campaign needs to differ.  I've done so below (It's after the jump.  There's a "Read more!" in case you miss it, as this is a long intro post), but I've also included a "tl;dr" for those of you who just want the results and want to get on with the game.  I would recommend reading my notes, however, if you like this approach and want to apply it to other genres. "Like Action, but with X" describes many RPG genres, including cyberpunk, post-apocalyptic works in the milieu of Mad Max, the Assassin Creed series, and hypothetical fantasy works that focus more on cinematic action than on dungeon crawling.  The differences I highlight below tend to be those based on setting assumptions and technologies, which are the same things that will differ in your version too.

The core results are this: Almost everything works exactly as described in Action.  The main technological differences are noted below:
  • Infrared Cameras (UT 60-61) replace normal cameras.
  • Ultrascanners (UT 66), usually set to automatically search for either life signs or power signatures. It may have a profile system and sound an alarm when it detects someone not on that “white list.”  These replace most of your security systems.
  • Ultrascan Portals (UT 104) replace most search procedures.
  • RF Bug Detector (UT 106) are used for bug-hunting.
  • Cuff Tape (UT 107) replaces zip-ties.
  • Electronic Cuffs (UT 107) replace cuffs.
  • Neuronic Restraints (Agony option) (UT 108) also replace cuffs and augment torture.
  • Power Dampers (UT 108) also replace cuffs for our psionic characters.
  • Verifier Software (UT 106) replace polygraphs.
  • Privacy Field (UT 106) defeat eavesdropping attempts.
  • Add Neural Disruption Field (Agony option) (UT 103), Rainbow Laser Fences (UT 101) in the “Open” configuration, and Nerve Poison and Sleep Poison (both UT 161) to the trap options.
  • Plasma charges (UT 88) replace most explosives, and are improvised using power cells and the Electrician skill
  • Mechanical locks do not exist.
  • Crediline(UT 205) replaces truth serum.
  • A generic "Tracer" device replaces all of the various bug and tracker options.
  • A EM grapnel with a balloon piton replaces most climbing technology ("Look, ma, a tow cable!")
  • Insertion happens on foot, by ship, by shuttle, by vehicle, by scuba/submarine, or by orbital insertion with drop capsule or stealth capsule (UT 232)
  • Beam Weapons replace Guns
  • Hacking rules replace most intercepts (and are mostly done by robots, so we don't have to fuss with it)
A few skills gain greater importance:
  • Ignore Forensics references. Psi-Wars isn't that subtle.
  • Favor Intelligence Analysis over Criminology
  • Favor Research over Computer Operations (which has its own role)
  • Technological challenges are more often the domain of robots than humans.
  • Engineering (Starships) is to starships what Architecture is to buildings.
  • The primary “Getting around” skills are Piloting (Contragravity or Starship), Hiking, Running, Swimming, Scuba, Parachuting and Navigation (Hyperspace)
Beyond this, almost all rules remain the same.

Note: If you want to follow this iteration, it might be useful to invest in the GURPS Action series.  I'll come back to it quite often throughout Psi-Wars.  It's also one of the best campaign frameworks out there.

The Notes:

Action 2 Conversion Notes

Chapter 1: Challenges Not Headaches

Leave this alone. It's the life-blood of your Action game.

Chapter 2: The Basics

Almost no changes here, just some clarifications.

Getting the Ball Rolling

This stays the same, except it should be noted that psychic characters often have precognition. A vision might also motivate them to act (as Luke's vision of Han's pain motivated him to go to Cloud City, while Anakin's vision of his wife's death motivated him to turn to the dark side).

The Job

Remains the same. While it may seem odd to have the players putting up “Adventurers seeking work” posters, this is the sort of thing that landed Han the cushy transport job from Mos Eisely to Alderaan with Luke and Obi-Wan.
It also won't come up all that often (Adventure usually finds the heroes in Psi-Wars).

Assembling Kit

Remains the same, though most often the requisite gear will be handed to the players (“Quick! We need to escort these medical supplies through an imperial blockade! Here's your Starhawk-class deep-space fighter!”)

Targets and Locations

Works the same, except we should de-emphasize the use of Computer Operations here. In Psi-Wars, computers just do what they do, and often you won't “do an internet search,” you'll just ask a droid if he knows something. Searching a database is Research. Computer Operation is trying to deal with odd computer situations (such as salvaging corrupted data).

Travel

Works the same. Note that Pilot (Starship) and Pilot (Contragravity) will come up the most, and Navigation (Hyperspace) will be your primary form of Navigation.

Bullets, Beans and Batteries

Go ahead and use this as written for bullets. Super-science power cells last substantially longer, and your players wouldn't be surprised to come across an ancient device layered with dust and cobwebs that still had power! Assume that power cells last for a week, if it's worth tracking at all.

Squad SOP

Mostly unchanged, except for a few technological notes.

Communications

“Like attracts like” isn't relevant: Everyone uses TL 11 radio, and it does what you'd expect it to do. A wrist-comm can talk to a starship, to a droid, or to the central mainframe. “Drop a dime” is also not relevant. Most urban areas will have public consoles you can access. You might need to make a Computer Operation roll here to gain access to the right person and get in touch with them. Everything else, especially “the Cell Phone Problem” remain relevant.

Formations

Unchanged.

Light

It should be noted that Ultra-Tech has its own values for these, found on UT 74. TL 11 lights are vastly more powerful than TL 8 lights. Alternatively, if you used the standard TL 8 rules, nobody would think twice about it. The movies all use standard, off-the-shelf TL 8 technology, after all.

Subtlety

Unchanged

Staying Alert

Unchanged

Go-To Skills

These remain valid, though Criminology is unlikely to come up that often. Use Intelligence Analysis as the standard “Get a clue” skill instead. Furthermore, note that Computer Operations is the standard skill for knowing/understanding computers, Engineer (Starship) is the standard skill for understanding and messing with Starships, and Engineer (Robotics) is the same for understanding Droids.

Chapter 3: Tricks of the Trade

Here, we note Kromm's four As. These remain valid: The typical Star Wars adventures begins with assessing strange cirumstances (“What is this strange droid and where did it come from?”), analyzing the resulting data (“I need to get it back to the rebellion/resistance/republic!”), acting (“I'll pay you to take me to the rebellion/resistance/republic!”) and avoiding (“These are not the droids you are looking for.”)

Gathering Intelligence

Action does not deal with ESP powers, but we do. Note that it's possible to gather intelligence psychically: Visions, hunches and “bad feelings” can guide the players to the facts that they need, though they won't usually solve the mystery themselves (that would be taking the fun out of it)

Physical Searches

Use Intelligence Analysis more often than you use Criminology (the latter is mostly about crimes, though it can give you a clue about what happened at a particular scene). Ignore all references to forensics. If you must have forensics, have a forensics droid do it, or something. Psi-wars characters don't have time to wait around to find out that a perp's blood-type doesn't match that found on the scene.

Audio Surveillance

Most Psi-Wars characters just listen. One can also listen with ESP. Audio surveillance devices don't seem to come up often in Star Wars, so we might not expect them to come up often in psi-wars either. That said, audio surveillance devices do exist in Ultra-Tech. You can use a version of the laser mike and the surveillance worm, both on UT 105, if you wish. They all use Electronics Operations (Surveillance). Opponents who wish to defeat audio surveillance might use a Privacy Field (UT 106). In a building or a starship, this will probably be wired into the main power grid, allowing a cunning engineer to find a way to shut it down without the occupants of a room knowing, but privacy fields can be portable as well (though they're heavy enough and bulky enough to be somewhat obvious when they are in use).

Visual Surveillance

Most Psi-Wars characters just watch. One can also watch with ESP. Binoculars often have IR or Hyperspectral capability.  I'd go with IR for simplicity (most UT helmets have IR by default). Photography is noted on UT 51, and all Psi-Wars photography will be 3D (which costs the same as a normal camera), and TL 11 cameras have doubled magnification (ie a 3D flatcam costs $50 and has 8x magnification), and their results can be shown in holographic displays. Feel free to ignore them, though. I've never seen a Star Wars moment with someone taking a photo of someone else.

Bugs, Beacons and Wires

The problem with this section is that it has too much detail for Psi-Wars. Psi-Wars characters are rarely wire-rats, nerding out about the difference between a comm-tap and a homing beacon. Instead, Psi-Wars characters have tiny little gadgets that they attach to people, and those gadgets just do it. Whatever they need to know, the gadget figures it out. It's about the size of a cinematic “bug.” Treat it as a combined nanobug, emissions bug and homing beacon (All UT 105). It can read the data entries of whatever device its plugged into, it can send you audio/visual data, and it can transmit its location.
Psi-Wars Tracer: This device combines the functions of the homing beacon, nanobug and emissions bug. It is SM -11. It can transmit its data (by radio) up to a mile away, and it can transmit its code signal (not data, just a basic transmission for determining where it is) up to 200 miles away.
Of course, we also expect to track ships. That requires FTL communication!
Hyperspace Tracer: This device acts as a homing beacon, but sends its signal out over hyperspace. The device is 5 lbs, costs $50,000, and requires external power. Generally, these devices are fixed to the ship secretly using Electronic Operations (Surveillance) or Electronic Repair (Surveillance). Engineer (Starship) or Electrician might notice the drain on the power, and Electronics Operation (Comms) might pick up the disguised signal.

Intercepts

Ignore this section. This is covered by hacking, below.

Dumpster Diving

“Is there a garbage chute? A trash compactor?” “Yes there is.”

Files and Records

Once again, favor Research over Computer Operations unless the character is delving into corrupted data or doing something else fancy. Also, Psi-Wars characters rarely engage in “forensic accounting.” If the Emperor claims that the Death Star cost a trillion credits, we believe him.

High-Tech Challenges

Use these rules as written, with a few considerations. First, Psi-Wars is too distributed for an “internet.” There may well be planetary networks, but despite FTL communications, someone on Jakku cannot hack someone on Coruscant. Instead, you need to jack into (“slice”) a computer terminal more local to what you want to hack. Such ports are littered throughout a ship, and droids almost always have such a line. In fact, let droids do your hacking for you.
Intercepts, that is monitoring communications, security feeds or data entry, is done by hacking into the computer system, and seeing what transpires on it. Everything is wired through the computer network, thus a droid with access to a computer terminal can give you access to all of that information, provided it is a sufficiently good hacker.

Social Engineering

Once again, we should note that the presence of psionics, especially Telepathy, will certainly impact this aspect of the game.

Manipulation

Unchanged.

Interviews

Unchanged.

Making Them Talk

Psi-Wars doesn't use polygraphs, they use Verifier Software (UT 106), usually supplied to interrogation droids. Instead of truth-serums, use Crediline and Memory-Beta (UT 205) to persuade the interrogated person to trust his interrogator, and to improve his memory of events.
Torture is greatly assisted by the agony version of neural disruption technology, such as neural restraints. Assume that they automatically give a +6 to interrogation rolls, and also allows the cap of +6 to be raised to +8, leaving up to an additional +2 to be gained from cruel character action.
Brainwashing is far easier in the Psi-Wars universe, but is almost entirely the domain of psionics. Certain hypothetical drugs might supply +1 or +2 to Brainwashing rolls, but that's all the benefit technology can provide.

Fitting In

High and Tight, Scumbags and the Big Desk are the only elements from this section that really matter in Psi-Wars.

Planning

Unchanged, except to note that Engineering (Starships) is to starships what Architecture is to buildings.

Getting In

This section is the most substantially changed of all sections on Action 2: Exploits, thanks to the vastly different technology available to the Psi-Wars universe.

Surveillance and Patrols

I originally thought I would go with Hyperspectral cameras, and this technically applies a +3 to their roll to detect a stealthy character, but since we're using BAD anyway, penalties/bonuses are already covered by that, so an IR camera is simpler for us to work with.

Insertion

Most of the time, Psi-Wars characters will travel by foot or by vehicle. They'll rarely use the other options, and but they might make an orbital insertion using Drop or Stealth capsules (UT 232), after which use the Parachuting rules as normal.

Climbing

The biggest change here is the “tow cable” from Star Wars. Treat it as a combination of an EM Piton Launcher (Pyramid 3-12 p7) and a Balloon Piton (Pyramid 3-12 p6) and a rope-traverser (Pyramid 3-12 p7). This allows launching of lines up to 400 yards away, and supporting 5000 lbs, and allows one to ascend 2 yards per second.
Other rules are unchanged.

Parkour

Unchanged.

Fences

Fences are less likely to show up in Psi-Wars, but it's not inconceivable. The types remain the same, except improve razor wire to cutting wire (UT 102), dealing 1d-1 cutting damage. Fences might also be built with a Neural Disruption field (Agony option) built into them, for a non-lethal method of dissuading intruders.
Laser fences are also a possibility. Use Rainbow Laser Fences (UT 101) in the “Open” configuration. This will often be a security feature even within buildings. Why would people use this instead of force screens or wards? Drama. Or perhaps a need to let air pass or to clearly, visibly see what lies on the other side without the distortion caused by a ward, or they know that the thing they want to keep out is capable of plenty of damage, but is not particularly well armored (like dangerous animals).
Force screens (191) and force wards (193) are more common, especially on starships, to prevent entrance into a particular area. The primary way of bypassing these is either sheer damage or sabotage.

Locks

Mechanical locks do not exist in Psi-Wars. The varying quality of Electronic Locks and Biometric Locks are covered by BAD modifiers.

Doors

The rules remain the same. Multiply the DR for grills, bars, attachments, etc, by 5. Leave doors the same, but allow for armored doors (UT 101).

Security Systems

The rules remain the same, but the systems differ. Lasers as a detection method almost never exists. Surveillance scanners with IRcameras or ultrascanners are the most common. Ultrascanners are usually either set to detect radiation (thus, droids or people carrying active technology) or bio-signs (thus, humans with active metabolisms).

Traps

Add the Neural Disruption Field (Agony option) (UT 103). For contact poisons, use their listed rules, or use the Nerve Poison or Sleep Poison from Ultra-Tech (both UT 161). Explosives are typically EMP (UT 157), Plasma (UT 158) or Biochemical Aerosol (UT 153) with Sleep Gas or Nerve Gas, all in the 64 mm range.

Grabbing the Goods

Unchanged. Note that characters will often use electronic cuffs (UT 107), Neuronic Restraints (Agony option) (UT 108) and Power Dampers (UT 108) to bind their prisoners.

Destruction

Arson

Almost never used. Ships don't burn that well, it seems.

Blowing Stuff Up

Psi-Wars uses plasma charges as explosives (UT 88). A small, half-pound charge deals 6dx4 cr ex sur damage, while a large, 5-pound “satchel” charge deals 8dx10 cr ex sur. It can be triggered with a timer or a specific coded comm signal. The detonator is built in.
Plasma charges can be improvised from power cells. Use an Electrician roll to sabotage the cells enough to turn them into plasma charges. A c-cell can be turned into a small charge, while a d-cell can be turned into a satchel charge.
The rest of the rules are unchanged.

Sabotage

Unchanged.

Setting Traps

Unchanged

Deception

Cleaning

Rarely called for.

Cover-Up

Rarely called for.

Fake ID

Most citizens of the Psi-Wars universe have biometric data listed in the database and can be identified biometrically. Still, the rim or new citizens might have “ident chips.” Both of these use the listed rules here.

Falsifying Records

Ignore the section on paper. There is no paper in Psi-Wars, because it's the future! Note that creating the faked media is only one step in the process. The next step requires presenting it, or replacing existing media with it. The latter might require a hacking roll.

Fooling a Polygraph

There are no polygraphs in Psi-Wars. Fooling Verifier Software is a matter of excellent Acting.

Impersonation.

Unchanged.

Psy-Ops

Unchanged... though this is more typically the domain of the psychic.

Getting Away

Unchanged.

Providing Security

Like “Getting In,” most of the changes here represent technological shifts.

Watches

Unchanged

Bodyguard Duty

Unchanged

Bomb Disposal

Unchanged

Checkpoint Security

Ultrascan Portals (UT 104) grant a +5 to Search rolls.

Electronic Security

Finding a bug uses the listed rules if using a RF Bug Detector (UT 106). A multispectral bug sweeper automatically detects all the bugs in a ten-yard radius with a skill of 16 (UT 106).

Security Tools

Psi-Wars uses different security tools, as noted above (listed below for your reference)
  • IR Cameras (UT 60-61)
  • Ultrascanners (UT 66), usually set to automatically search for either life signs or power signatures. It may have a profile system and sound an alarm when it detects someone not on that “white list.”
  • Ultrascan Portals (UT 104)
  • RF Bug Detector (UT 106)
  • Multispectral Bug Sweeper (UT 106)
  • Electronic Cuffs (UT 107)
  • Neuronic Restraints (Agony option) (UT 108)
  • Power Dampers (UT 108)
  • Verifier Software (UT 106)
  • Privacy Field (UT 106)

Chapter 4: Ultra-Violence

This chapter is almost entirely unchanged. Everything works very, very well for our Psi-Wars campaign. That said, a few comments:

Chases

This works fine as written. It's worth noting that grav vehicles tend to move very quickly:
  • The Grav Bike has speed bonus +9 and handling +4
  • The Grav Jeep has speed bonus +10 and handling +3
  • The Grav Tank has speed bonus +8 and handling +1
One of my favorite scenes in Return of the Jedi was the forest-based grav bike chase. In the Chases system, racing at top speed through dangerous terrain like a forest (which is something only really possible with hover vehicles like these) counts as Stunt Escapes and Stunts, both using the Pilot skill. Note that while the grav jeep is faster than the grav bike, their total chase rolls come to the same value, and the grav bike has superior mobility. In a stunt situation, it'll have an advantage over the grav jeep, as it's less likely to fail its roll. For their part, grav tanks really scream along and will absolutely run down a human on foot, but most vehicles will handily out run them.
We don't yet have space fighter rules, but there's a pyramid article (Dogfight Action!) that uses these as the basis for dogfights. We can look at it again when we start stapling the spaceships rules onto all of this.

Combat

This works exactly as described, except (obviously) we use Beam Weapons instead of Guns, including all Extra Effort options (Heroic Charge will really help our Space Knights), and all Cinematic Combat options.
Unarmed Etiquette might seem like a strange one, given the presence of Force Swords in combat. After all, shouldn't a guy who takes on a space knight with his bare firsts be doomed? But Star Wars regularly features characters who are willing to throw a punch or a kick at a Jedi, including Darth Maul, who you would think would know better. Why? Because such an attack obviously isn't being parried by the light saber. You need to either keep a hand free to parry it, or you need to dodge. The real reason it's foolish to attack a Jedi (or a space knight) with your bare hands is that you have nothing to parry them with, except your bare hands. Good luck!

Chapter 5: When Things Go Wrong

Medic!

Use this exactly as written, except to note that you're using TL 11 first aid (which heals more than TL 8 first aid does). While Star Wars (and thus Psi-Wars) certainly has more advanced medical technology, from an Action perspective, this is mostly window dressing. Badly wounded characters still end up spending days (of downtime) in the hospital.

Repairs

Use this exactly as written.

It's Better To Be Lucky

The Action rules regularly use Impulse Buys as an option, which certainly fits the tone of Star Wars and thus Psi-Wars. This sort of thing should be something psychics excel at, and that's something we'll need to look at later on, when we get to stapling more detailed psionic rules onto our psi-wars.

Captured!

Can't wait for a short stormtrooper to rescue you? Rescue yourself!

Escaping Restraints

Use these rules as written. Psi-Wars can replace flex-ties with cuff-tape (UT 107) and cuffs with electronic restraints (UT 107), neuronic restraints (UT 108) and power dampers (UT 108). But as far as these specific rules are concerned, this is a special effect. Use the special effects each technology has (the cuff tapes apply damage on a failed escape attempt, and the cuffs can be unlocked with a comm signal, etc) but ignore the listed ST values, etc. The fact that electronic cuffs might be hard to escape is a factor of your BAD modifiers more than anything else.

Escaping Prison

Use the rules as listed, except to note that the sort of security systems mentioned in chapter 3 will be present here (Force Wards, Laser Fences, etc).

Chapter 6: Directing the Action

This is mostly just GM advice, which will work fine (though we need to blend this advice with that of GURPS Space), but there's a few points worth commenting on.

Campaign Types

The campaigns you want are:
  • Caper can work, provided you focus on it as a spy mission
  • Commandos works as written
  • Spy vs Spy tends to lack the James Bond glamour, but it can certainly work.
  • Task Force is probably the classic psi-wars scenario.
  • Vigilante Justice is often where Psi-Wars heroes get their start
  • War against Terror works, but your foe is often much more capable than “mere” terrorists.

Ten Rules To Use Sparingly

Given that many Psi-Wars fights are martial-arts duels between heroes and henchmen, consider allowing tactical combat more often.
Fright checks are generally the domain of psions, who can inflict them with telepathy.
Tech level is TL 11, but Star Wars certainly has no trouble mixing older technology with newer, and sometimes cutting edge technology. Familiarity is a sufficient penalty for heroes, so ignore the Tech Level rules except, perhaps, for deliberately primitive aliens, but even then, they can use blasters after a single training montage.
I have noted Control Ratings for the Empire and the Federation. Treat this as a guideline for those cultures, not as a hard-and-fast rule for what characters have access to (they're all a bunch of rebel scum and smugglers anyway).
Go ahead and use the Crippling Injury rules: force swords are meant to lop off limbs, and losing a limb is just an excuse for getting a cool bionic replacement.
Psionic powers, obviously, exist in Psi-Wars. It's right in the name!

Assistance Rolls In Action

Works as written. It should be noted that if we're going to go in-depth on Pulling Rank and organizations, there are some GURPS books for that!

Duty in Action

Works as written,.

Enemies

This work as written, though I would like to define them more carefully. The Dog should obviously be replaced with a Space Dog! And we have our own, considerably more expanded Robots.

After Action

Works as written, though we'll use Law (Galactic) instead of Law (Police).

Making Everybody Useful

If you want to use the standard Action templates, go ahead and use these.  I'll be making new ones, so our guidelines must differ. Still, it's worth having one of these sections when we're finished.
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