Friday, February 19, 2016

Psi Wars: Background Lenses

I really enjoy any system that has two axes of character creation: Dungeon Fantasy with its class and race, Monster Hunters with its class and motivation, and Action with its class and background.  While the templates in each campaign framework provide more than enough flexibility, I find that the second axis casts the first in an entirely new light: An elven knight will simply evoke a different feeling and encourage different choices compared to an orcish knight.

Action's second axis, that of background, particularly interests me because we're borrowing from Action.  However, Action has very generic templates ("Investigator" and "Shooter") while we have much more specific templates ("Bounty Hunter" and "Space Knight"). Backgrounds in action provide a context for these generic templates: A Police Investigator is an detective, while an Intelligence Investigator is a spy. We don't need that sort of clarification.

However, Star Wars likes to focus its attention on a character's origin: Tattooine's desolation marks both Anakin and Luke.  One's position in life seems to matter too: Han and Lando, despite both being smugglers, seem different thanks to one's desperate, outcast edge, and the other's aristocratic air.  Likewise, a gulf of status separates Anakin and Padme.   Thus, I would like to create something similar to the background lenses of Action, but one that highlights a character's homeworld, place in society, or both.

Status merits some special attention. Action doesn't support Status out of the box, though it allows for people adding it to their game. The premise seems to be that whether you're a knightly British Investigator or a red-necked Appalachian Shooter doesn't matter beyond cosmetic concerns or what sort of contacts you have.  Star Wars seems to share this opinion: Nobody blinks at a princess shacking up with a heavily-indebted smuggler, and the primary problem with a former slave like Anakin marrying a princess and a senator is that he's a Jedi.  Status definitely matters in a cosmetic sense: Star Wars is full of titled characters like Count Dooku, or Princess Amidala, or Darth Vader, the Lord of the Sith, and I presume that aristocratic types might be impressed by titles, but Star Wars definitely lacks careful gradations of status (Is it better to be a count or a princess in Star Wars?), and instead measures power by one's rank (that is, the Emperor is the Emperor not because he has Status 8, but because he has Military and Administrative Rank of 8).

I can easily represent "negative" status with a Social Stigma: A character defines his problems explicitly.  The reason your social life sucks is because you're a criminal, a slave, or a member of an oppressed people.  Positive status is more difficult, so I choose to represent it with a perk:

Title: You have a title or epithet you may add to your name. If people are impressed by titles, they'll react at +1, while people who are hostile to those in positions of power will react at -1. All things being equal, people tend to defer to you, and as a result, you may choose to purchase Rank one level higher than Action allows (to 5, rather than 4).
As for our Background Lenses, we need to represent the typical "dramatic!" origins of most of our heroes.  We need aristocrats, outcasts, and those in between.  After some brainstorming, I have selected the following:

  • Aristocrat: We'll use this lens to represent those characters who come from society's upper crust.
  • Humble Origins: We'll use this lens to represent those characters who count themselves among "the common folk." These are characters who started off as farmers, starport workers, laborers, etc.
  • Outcast: We'll use this lens to represent the bottom rung of society, those who are despised, distrusted, or trod upon by their betters.
  • Primitive: Someone who was never part of society to begin with!  Naturally, we have to deal with the fact that not everyone in the galaxy has "modern" technology, but we don't want to really deal with TL penalties, so we'll have some unique traits to help reflect things like Ewoks who treat droids as gods, but learn to fire a blaster pretty quickly.
  • Slave: For those who have fallen below the bottom rung.  Slavery is a touchy subject, of course, but a cinematic version of it features strongly in Star Wars and in many of the pulpy sci-fi and fantasy works that inspired it.
  • Survivor: Someone lost to society, at least for a time.  Ever since Dune, sci-fi has loved the idea of "Death Worlds" that harden characters into lethal weapons.
  • Wanderer: Those who don't want to belong to society, or those who travel between the various worlds.  If "Humble Origins" is someone bound to the land, "Wanderer" is someone bound to the stars.
Of course, like usual, I'm going to touch on some of the ones I particularly like, rather than outlining all of them.  So, I've included a sampling of background lenses below.

Aristocrat 20 points

You have a title. You either descend from noble blood, or you have been lifted up to the position of noble as a reward for your heroic deeds.
Advantages: Title [1], Wealth (Comfortable) [10]
Skills: Savoir-Faire (E) IQ [1]
Additional Skills: Choose another 8 points from Carousing (E) HT [2], Connoisseur (Any), Leadership, Politics or Public Speaking all (A) IQ [2], Current Affairs (High Culture, Politics) (E) IQ+1 [2] Law (Galactic) (H) IQ-1 [2], or Dancing (A) DX [2], or improve Savoir-Faire to IQ+1 [2] for +1 point, or improve any lens skill by one level for 2 points; or improve any lens skill by two levels for 6 points.
Social Traits: You may also spend any left over points, or your template advantage points on Contact (Wealthy friend, fellow noble, politican, skill 12, 15 or 8, 9 or less, somewhat reliable) [1, 2 or 3], Contact Group (Politicians or Nobles) (Skill 12, 15 or 18, 9 or less) [5, 10, 15), Fashion Sense [5], Favor [varies], Haughty Sneer [1], High Heeled Heroine [1], Honest Face [1], Sartorial Integrity [1] or Additional Wealth [varies].
Optional Disadvantages: Add the following disadvantage options to your template: Bully [-10*], Callous [-5], Jealousy [-10], Overconfidence [-5*], Selfish [-5*], Unfit or Very Unfit [-5 or -10].

Humble Origins 20 points

You are neither wealthy nor despised. You come from a simple world and a simple people, and managed to make it to the stars!
Skills: Area Knowledge (Homeworld) (E) IQ+1 [2].
Additional Skills: Another 18 points chosen from Pilot (Contragravity) (A) DX [2], Computer Operation, Current Affairs (Homeworld) or Housekeeping, all (E) IQ+1 [2], Administration, Animal Handling, Electrician, Freight Handling, Mechanic, Merchant or Professional Skill (Any) all (A) IQ [2], Carousing (HT/E), or Scrounging (Per/E); or you may increase any lens skill by one level for 2 points, or two levels for 6 points.
Social Traits: You may spend your template points, or any leftover lens points on on Charisma +1 [5], Contact (Friend, family, neighbors, skill 12, 15 or 18, 9 or less, somewhat reliable) [1, 2 or 3], Contact (Neighborhood, local organization, Skill 12, 15 or 18, Somewhat Reliable, 9 or less) [5, 10 or 15], Favor [varies], Honest Face [1], Pitiable [5], Reputation (Homeworld Only (Small group), Always) [2/level].

Disadvantages: You may add the following disadvantages to your disadvantage template: Gullibility [-10*], Honesty [-10*], Pacifism (Reluctant Killer) [-5], Selfless [-5*], Sense of Duty (Homeworld) [-10].

Outcast 20 points

Whether because of your race, your poverty, or bad life choices, you struggle to survive on the edges of galactic society.
Skills: Streetwise (A) IQ [2].
Additional Skills: Another 18 points chosen from Beam Weapons (Pistol), Brawling or Knife all (E) DX+1 [2], Filch (A) DX [2], Pickpocket (H) DX-1 [2], Area Knowledge (Planet or important starport) or Savoir-Faire (Mafia) both (E) IQ+1 [2], Gambling, Holdout or Smuggling all (A) IQ [2], Carousing (E) HT+1 [2], Running (A) HT [2], Scrounging (E) Per+1 [2], Observation or Urban Survival both (A) Per [2], or Intimidation (A) Will [2]; 2 more points in any lens skill to raise it by one level; or 6 more points to raise it by two.
Social Traits: You may spend any leftover points, or template advantage points on Contact (Fence, Fixer, Smuggler, trusted friend etc; Appropriate skill at 12, 15 or 18, 9 or less, somewhat reliable) [1, 2 or 3], or Contact Group (Gang, pirates, minority clan, skill-12, 15 or 18, 9 or less, somewhat reliable) [5, 10 or 15], Cultural Familiarity (Native to Homeworld or minority), Language (Native to homeworld or minority) [2-6], or Street Smart [5/level]

Disadvantages: You must take one of the following as one of your template disadvantages: Social Stigma (Criminal, Second-Class Citizen or Minority) [-5 to -10]. You may add the following disadvantages to your template disadvantages: Greed [-15*], Obsession (Regain former standing) [-5], Sense of Duty (Your minority) [-10],

Slave or Escaped Slave 20 points

Your life is not, or was not, your own. Your slavery is a more romantic or cinematic one. You are a slave assassin or a slave spy, rather than some wretched laborer slowly dying in a spice mine. Alternately, you're a former slave, and this experience deeply marked you.

The weapon skills noted represent experience gained in gladiatorial combat, and are focused on skills explicitly useful in Psi-Wars, but any weapon skill might fit.

Skills: Savoir-Faire (Servant) (E) IQ+1 [2] or Escape (H) DX-1 [2].
Additional Skills: Another 16 points chosen from among Knife (E) DX+1 [2], Dancing, Shortsword, Spear, Whip all (A) DX [2], Holdout (A) IQ [2], Observation (A) Per [2], Carousing (E) HT+1 [2], Sex-Appeal (A) HT [2], or any Art/Sport version of the combat skills; or you may increase any lens skill by one level for 2 points, or two levels for 6 points.
Social Traits: You may also spend your remaining lens points, or some of your tempalte advantage points on Allure [5/level], Appearance (Attractive, Beautiful, Very Beautiful) [4, 12, 16], Contact (Fellow slave or rescuer, skill 12, 15 or 18, 9 or less somewhat reliable) [1, 2 or 3], Cultural Familiarity (Master) [1], Higher Purpose (Serve Master or Escape!), High Pain Threshold [10], Language [2-6], Patron (Master) [varies], Pitiable [5], Sexy Pose [1], Voice [10].
Disadvantages: Current slaves must take the following disadvantages as part of your -50 disadvantage points: Duty (to Master, 9 or less, Extremely Hazardous, Involuntary) [-15] and Social Stigma (Valuable Property) [-10], while Escaped Slaved may take Enemy ( Former Master, individual greater in power or entire group, 6 or less, hunter) [-5 or -10]. You may take the following disadvantages as part of your template's optional disadvantages: Intolerance (Slavers, Slave Owners or Escaped Slaves) [-5], Low Self-Image (Only when defying Master -50%) [-5], On the Edge [-15*], Obsession (Escape!) [-5], Selfless [-5*], Sense of Duty (Master) [-2] or Stubborness [-5*]. Distinctive Feature (Scar or Tattoo) [-1] are common quirks.

Survivor 20 points

Not every world in Psi-Wars is idyllic. Your character has either grown up on, or endured a lengthy exile to, a brutal death world full of monstrous horrors, but lived to tell the tale. His experience has made him hardy and strong indeed. Survivors experiences tend to be specific to their world.

Skills: Area Knowledge (Death World) (E) IQ+1 [2], one of Survival (Arctic, Desert, Jungle or Mountain) all (A) Per [2].
Additional Traits: choose one of the following lenses and divide 16 points among the following lens skills or the options that follow:
  • Desert World: Damage Resistance 1 (Tough Skin -40%) [3], Robust Vision [1], Sure-Footed (Sand) [1], Temperature Tolerance (Hot) [1/level].
  • Ice World: Climbing (A) DX [2], Sure-Footed (Ice/Snow) [1], Temperature Tolerance (Cold) [1],
  • Jungle World: Poisons (H) IQ-1 [2], Swimming (E) HT+1 [2], Resistant to Disease +3 or +8 [3 or 5], Resistant to Poison +3 [5]
  • Volcanic World: Climbing (A) DX [2], Damage Resistance 1 (Tough Skin -40%) [3], Temperature Tolerance (Hot) [1/level].
Characters from any world may take Knife (E) DX+1 [2], Riding (Any) or Spear both (A) DX [2], Camouflage or First Aid both (E) IQ+1 [2], Navigation (Land) (A) IQ [2], Naturalist (H) IQ-1 [2], Hikting (A) HT [2] or Tracking (A) Per [2], or increase any lens skill by one level for 2 points, or two levels for 6 points.

Social Traits: Survivors don't get social traits. Instead, you may spend any remaining lens points or template advantage points on Danger Sense [15], Fit [5 ], Hard to Kill +1 to +3 [2/level], Night Vision 1-3 [l/level], Rapid Healing [5] or Survivor [5/level]. A Survivor may spend any of his template Advantage points on the above traits.

Disadvantages: You may add the following disadvantages to your template disadvantages: Bloodlust [-10*], Callous [-5], Clueless [-10], Loner [-5*], No Sense of Humor [-10], Oblivious [-5], Shyness [-5 to -10], Stuttering [-10]. 
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