Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Kung Fu Space Knight

A Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defense, NEVER for attack. 
-Yoda, the Empire Strikes Back 

In our Huashan Sword School style Kung Fu, the key lies in the words ‘Inner Energy.’ Once your inner energy is developed with Qi-Gong practices, then regardless of what you use as your weapon, let be your fists and legs, or knives and swords, you will succeed whenever you go. That is the righteous way for training in our school. But among the senior grandmasters of our school, there were a group of people who believed that the key of our school’s Kung Fu lied in the word ‘Sword,’ and that once someone developed his sword skills, even with ordinary level of inner energy, he could still defeat the enemy. The main divergence between the righteous branch and the evil branch lies right here. 
-Yue Buqun, Smiling Proud Wanderer, the Lanny Lang Translation

Martial Arts mostly treats passive chi abilities as advantages (e.g., Resistant to Chi Abilities) while modeling active ones as cinematic skills – Lizard Climb, Power Blow, etc. – in order to make them easier to tie into the styles in Chapter 5. Comic books and video games, however, often depict all such capabilities as something akin to psi powers or super-powers. 
-Chi Powers for Martial Artists, Martial Arts, page 46

Cinematic Skills

For today's post, I'm going to limit myself to a discussion of Cinematic Skills as the basis for Chi Powers, not because there are no suggestions or thoughts on how I might handle Advantage-based Chi Powers, but because no existing framework of Chi Powers exists in Martial Arts. We'd have to build one, using the suggestions in the book, and if we were to build an advantage-based system from scratch, then that would defeat the point of trying to use as much generic GURPS resources as possible, and also, such a system would probably look rather similar to Psionic Powers, which we already have. I do actually have a Chi Powers system derived from the suggestions in GURPS Martial Arts, which I devised for Cherry Blossom Rain, but I don't think now is the time to introduce that.

Martial Arts breaks the cinematic skills into two categories, each associated with one talent (Both found on MA47): Forceful Chi (for the “External” powers), and Inner Balance (for the “Internal” powers). Now, we don't have an explicit “Light/Dark” split in these, but in keeping with the themes of Chi, this does have a “Yin/Yang” split, with Forceful Chi as Yang and Inner Balance as Yin. As Jedi tend to be more balanced and Sith tend to be more Forceful, I suggest we make our split thus: The “Light Side” is associated with Inner Balance and the “Dark Side” with Forceful Chi. Of course, I'm sure you already see a problem with assigning morality thus. There's nothing inherently evil about Forceful Chi, or righteous about Inner Balance, but that's also in keeping with the themes of Chi: Evil is found in disbalance and corruption, while righteousness is found in balance.

Monday, May 30, 2016

The Force as Chi

Galactic Yin Yang
The force is an energy field created by all living things, it surrounds us, it penetrates us, it binds the galaxy together 
-Obi-Wan, A New Hope
A more immaterial understanding of chi might treat it as a web linking together all planets with life, somewhat like the Force in Star Wars. 
-Bill Stoddard, GURPS Thaumatology: Chinese Elemental Powers 

The Force is best represented with Chi powers.  This is because the Force is chi.  The quote above ties in nicely with the Odic Force or other vital forces I mentioned in the Force as Psi, but those concepts themselves derive from the ideas of chi or prana: an all-pervasive life-force.  Like the force, chi comes from the living (it is literally the breath of life).  It binds people together, and it connects us to each thing in the world.  More importantly, chi is dynamic, and it has two sides: a light side and a dark side.

In this iteration, I have discussed the Force at length, but I haven't discussed the Jedi themselves.  In each model, we might connect nicely to the way the force seems to work, but we don't connect well with what the Jedi are: They are not psychic sideshows or magicians, but samurai.  George Lucas was deeply inspired by the works of Akira Kurosawa, especially the Hidden Fortress and other jidai-geki, or "period pieces."  In fact, the name "Jedi" derives from "jidai."  It makes sense, then, to use the very powers we associate with cinematic martial artists to model how the force works, because then our space knights will feel like jedi. And that means chi powers.

You refer to the prophecy of The One who will bring balance to the Force. 
-Mace Windu, The Phantom Menace

Moreover, the Force is deeply daoist.  Yoda speaks in the sorts of riddles that would make any  daoist master happy, and the philosophy of the jedi, one that demands trust in the Force and expecting the universe to provide, fits perfectly with the daoist way.  I enjoy wuxia fiction and my time running Weapons of the Gods/Legends of the Wulin has surely biased my view, but I cannot help seeing daoism all over the place in Star Wars.  The Force has a "light side" and a "dark side," but despite how the movie treats the dark side as inherently evil, the movie also suggests that both sides need to be in balance.  In the original trilogy, it might be that "bringing balance to the force" is about removing the cancer of the dark side, but in the prequel trilogy, the Light side already dominates, and Anakin's contribution to the "balance" of the Force is to reduce both the Light and the Dark side to two practitioners each: Balance. This suggests that the "Dark Side" isn't inherently evil, but as necessary to the universe as yin and yang.

In daoist thought, "yang" is heat, light, joy, anger, passion, life, the masculine principle, substance, and "yin" is cold, darkness, sadness, peace, death, the feminine principle, void.  A teacup needs its porcelain substance to work: without it, you could not hold the cup, and the cup could not hold the tea: Yang. But a solid block of porcelain isn't useful either.  You need an emptiness in the bowl and in the handle to allow you tea a place to reside and a place for your finger to rest: Yin.  Neither principle is evil, neither principle is good, and both must exist in harmony with one another: balance.  Too much of one or the other leads to sickness and trouble... hence the need, in Star Wars, for a chosen one who would bring "balance."

This view of the Dark Side must necessarily color our approach for this model, and it means we'll need to define it up front.  Here, the Dark Side isn't a corrupting force, a cancer that needs to be removed.  Instead, it's the other side of a coin, another way of approaching the Force, one that's equally valid to the "light" side, and unnecessarily vilified.  In this version, the "Sith" aren't necessarily evil, just perhaps heterodox (and that they are seen as heterodox is a sign that the universe has become unbalanced).

The principles of Chi can also be found in how the Jedi practice their arts.  The Jedi learn to use their lightsabers, certainly: they learn how to attack and how to defend and they harden and hone their bodies.  They practice the arts of war.  This is the external expression of their martial art, the Yang of the Way of the Jedi.  But they also cultivate a deeper relationship with the Force.  They learn to listen to it, to let it guide them, to trust it.  A Jedi master needn't move swiftly, for by listening to the Force, he is already where he needs to be.  A Jedi master need not be strong, for the Force will guide his hand and allow him to strike where what strength he has is sufficient.  This is the internal expression of their martial art, the Yin of the Way of the Jedi.

The result is a rather complex take on the art of the Jedi: An internal and external expression of both the Light and the Dark side, but this isn't far from how (for example) the Old Republic portrays the Jedi and the Sith, the Jedi Knight (External) and the Jedi Consular (Internal), and the Sith Warrior (External) and the Sith Inquisitor (Internal).

But Daoist thought goes even further.  It breaks the world down into 5 elements, with varying degrees of yin and yang association: Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water.  These five elements have their own Internal and External expressions, and their relationships with the other five elements.  Think of this as different expressions of the Light and the Dark, similar to how the cold ruthlessness of Darth Vader is as much the Dark Side of the Force as the berserk brutality of Savage Opress.

This rich complexity gives us the amazing dynamics of wuxia martial arts and their cousin, the chambara samurai films that inspired Star Wars, and gives us a great deal of material to work with.  It also possibly causes a problem with this model.  First, the classic chi powers include things like accupressure techniques that don't fit perfectly with our model, and the five elements don't really work out-of-the-box with Star Wars.  Finally, Star Wars is pretty simple: Light side good, Dark side bad, m'kay?  Suddenly if we have masters of the Internal Techniques of the Void Expression of the Dark Side fighting the masters of the external techniques of the Technological Expression of the Dark Side, things might get a little crazy-cool, but I'm not convinced they're precisely Star Wars.

GURPS Chi Powers and the Force

GURPS primarily expresses Chi Powers as Cinematic Martial Arts skills, which can be found in the core book.  We'll use this as the base for our Chi Powers as well, but we'll expand out. For our core Chi Powers, in addition to GURPS Powers, we'll use GURPS Martial Arts as our primary source.  If we expand into additional options and general Chi theory, we'll use GURPS Thaumatology: Chinese.Elemental Powers.

The Cinematic Martial Arts skills work well enough as a base. The ability to sense your opponent's intent becomes Sensitive.  The ability to parry a blaster bolt becomes Precognitive Parry.  The ability to leap becomes Flying Leap, the ability to knock your opponents over becomes Push, the ability to influence your opponent's mind becomes Hypnotism and the ability to resist influence becomes Mental Strength.  The internal cultivation of the Force becomes the Inner Balance talent of GURPS Martial Arts, and the external expression of the Force becomes the Forceful Chi talent.  This ties in nicely with part 2 of this Iteration, where we explore Martial Arts.

But these aren't really powers.  They tend to be subtle and specific, rather than broad and reaching like some Force Powers can be.  For that, we could turn to Chinese Elemental Powers.  The anger, electricity and rage of Yang becomes the "Dark" side (Wood and Fire), and the peace, calm and poise of Yin becomes the "Light" side (Metal and Water), or we can create an entirely new model of powers that both fits the concepts of a five elemental theory while using science fiction themes.

The result will surely be martial arts mayhem.  Our Jedi will need to train extensively, which is appropriate; they'll become excellent warriors, which is appropriate; and they'll need to balance their training between the arts of war and the power of the Force, which is appropriate, but, as noted above, we may find the resulting theory too complex, something more appropriate to a Space Wuxia full of a million martial arts rather than Psi Wars. We'll see.

 Going Forward

This week will have a slightly different structure.  Tomorrow, we'll explore Cinematic Martial Arts skills and expand them so they better fit Star Wars, and then look at what 50 points of these skills might look like.

Wednesday, we'll dig out Chinese Elemental Powers, explore some possible new themes and create the skeleton of a new power set based on those themes and then look at what 50-points of Chi Powers might look like.

Finally, we'll look at what's working, what isn't, and what a wuxia universe inspired by this particular power set might look like.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Nobilis: Dealing with the Yips.

Often, in the course of giving another advice, I realize I should follow my own advice. I tried to talk +Raoul Roulaux, into posting to his blog, and I almost succeeded, but the discussion quickly turned into what was wrong with his GURPS campaign.  As we talked about it, as I offered him advice on how writing in his blog could help him formulate his thoughts, I realized that all of that same advice could apply to me.

See, I haven't run a campaign in over a year.  Part of it is surely the stress of changing career and relationships, but given the amount of time, energy and enthusiasm I can shower Psi-Wars, why can't I afford even the slightest smidge of attention for some previous campaigns that have laid fallow for a time?

My campaigns, even the short ones, tend to be very successful and get a great deal of love, but just as often, I'll abruptly stop running the game for reasons that are hard for me to quantify or explain, like an artist who suddenly flings his brush at a perfectly good painting, throws his arms up and storms out, and given that my players tend to invest heavily, I imagine this can be rather upsetting, so it's a trend I'd like to stop... but knowing that it's a flaw is one reason I am likely reluctant to invest in a campaign at all.  What happens if I conjure up something that delights my players, only to get frustrated and quit?  Easier to not start than to frustrate people.  Which is, at its heart, a good sentiment, but we can have a better solution: Even better to start and not frustrate people by seeing it through to the end, even if it's not the perfect ending.

The last campaign I ran was Nobilis.  If Raoul can blog about why his campaign fell apart and didn't work for him, I can do the same and, perhaps, find a solution that will both allow me to rekindle it (as I've had three players either strongly hint, or outright say, they'd very much like to start again) and ensure that I can see it through to its end.

What follows is the beginning of a journal of my attempt to get the campaign back off the ground, and to understand why my campaigns fail, and how I can prevent that in the future.


Thursday, May 26, 2016

The Secret Magic of Psi Wars

So, we've looked at how we can use the Magic system to imitate the Force of Star Wars, created a few characters and explored the edges of that magic system.  How did we do?

While Psionics obviously captures the intention of the Force better, I'm rather pleased with this implementation.  The powers are exceptionally affordable, appropriately-skill based, the Dark Side feels Dark, the Light Side feels just as powerful (only in a different way) and suitable for what the Light Side should be.  The magic items seem a touch wonky, but Destiny might work exceptionally well for them. But it does have a few problems.

The Magic system relies on active casting: A wizard would intentionally cast Sense Danger or Mage Sense rather than simply knowing, the way a Jedi would.  Jedi typically receive visions or "a bad feeling," or even sufficient warning that they can use a precognitive parry to defend against an attack.  For that matter, precognition in magic is very specific and doesn't match what we see in Star Wars.  The typical scene in Star Wars has a Jedi meditating on the future and receiving visions, and there's no explicit spell to do that in Magic.

Magic is generally wonky and specific, likely stemming from its Fantasy origins.  In addition to active casting, you have arbitrary prerequisites (why is Glitch so much harder than Steal Energy?), and the fact that spells were meant to be cast on others, while a typical Jedi only augments himself.  Finally, many of the spells (especially the enchantments) have a distinctly fantasy feel to them, even if we strictly limit ourselves to just a few spells, such as lightning's ability to cut through metal armor (what armor in Psi-Wars counts as "metal?")

Finally, the typical Jedi can attempt things at "default," such as Rey's struggle to use a Jedi Mind Trick, while the default spell system allows nothing like that.
  • The Magic System relies on active casting, while many of a Jedi's gifts "just happen," such as his awareness of danger, or visions granted to him by the force
  • Precognition, in general, seems lacking in the standard Magic system.
  • Many magic spells can be cast on others as well as on oneself (Jump, for example)
  • Magic generally has some inherent wonkiness that gets inherited by this new system, such as the extreme difficulty of some of the ergokinesis spells.
  • Jedi can generally try stuff "at default" while Magic doesn't allow that.
As usual, we'll look into how best to solve those problems if we want Space Magic to feel more like the Force... or what happens if we discard the need to adhere strictly to the Force and go in our own direction.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The Other Side of Space Magic

Now that we have a basis for our Space Magic, let's consider some of the details and flexibility the magic system offers us.  Specifically:
  • I take a look at how to implement the Dark Side, and the Light Side, in the Magic system.
  • I take a look at using Enchantment in an appropriate fashion for a setting inspired by Star Wars
  • I examine Destiny, how best to treat it, and how it fits into the larger picture

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The Magical Space Knight

lifeweb by tanathiel
If we're going to use Magic-As-Psi (from Pyramid #3-29), we should get an idea of how that will look.  What can such a character do?  Is it sufficient to emulate a decent Jedi?  Can we afford such powers with 50 points?  And how well does this system work?

Before we begin, some notes.  The Magic-as-Psi system removes the standard prerequisite system.  Instead, it counts prereqs and requires a Will + Talent equal to 10 + prerequisites, so a spell with 2 prerequisites requires a Will + Talent of 12 before you can learn it.  Furthermore, for our purposes, I'm going to disregard individual talents in favor of more generic Magery.  This tests the "pure" magic system better, and better emulates the generalist nature of the Jedi.  Finally, the article offers "recommended spells", but we won't use all of them (for example, we won't have pyrokinetic space knights), and we'll add a few more to emulate specific elements (for example, their list seems to neglect Choke).

I have collected a list of recommended powers per talent below, including the Will + Magery prerequisite, the spell, a page reference (always to GURPS Magic) and a cost, the last for my own reference to get an idea of how much energy reserves a typical Space Knight might need to accomplish much.

Monday, May 23, 2016

The Force as Space Magic

Space Wizard by 3nrique

That wizard is just a crazy old man 
-Owen Lars, A New Hope

Thought it was a bunch of mumbo-jumbo. A magical power holding together good and evil... the dark side and the light. Crazy thing is... it's true. The Force. The Jedi. All of it. It's all true. 
-Han Solo, The Force Awakens

Now since “paranormal” is a long word, and I am basically lazy,we can now introduce the word “psi.” . . . I’m sorry to have to keep doing this, but as we said before, in magic things often become what we call them. 
– Isaac Bonewits, Real Magic
The Force is best depicted as Magic.  The Force itself is described as an energy field that pervades the universe, an energy field that certain individuals are sensitive to and can manipulate through concentration, training and expenditure of energy.  Sometimes, this energy field becomes twisted and aspected in a particular direction, such as Dagobah, which is "Strong in the dark side of the Force."  You know what that sounds like?  Mana.  What do we call the manipulation of mana through concentration, training and expenditure of energy? Magic. While it's true that the effects seen in Star Wars more closely resemble psionics, the entire point of psionics is to replace mystical claptrap with scientific-sounding claptrap when discussing paranormal phenomenon.  But Star Wars returns that mystical claptrap to its paranormal phenomenon.  What do we call mystical paranormal phenomenon? Magic.

Magic can absolutely perform the sorts of tricks we see the Jedi perform.  Oracles and diviners can see the future.  Magicians regularly seem to hover or levitate objects, just as Jedi do, and magicians regularly read and/or influence minds: from stage magicians hypnotizing an audience or reading which card they're holding to witches who "fascinate" or "enchant" their subjects.  In fact, "magic" and "psychic" are largely synonymous terms, especially when it comes to sideshow fortune tellers or stage magicians.

Furthermore, Star Wars is full of magical elements.  It has places of power, such as the dangerous cave Luke stepped into on Dagobah, or the Jedi Temple of Yavin 4 from the Extended Universe, or the tombs of Corriban.  Star Wars also seems to place significant emphasis on artifacts and relics: Kylo Ren's obsession with Anakin Skywalker's lightsaber makes little sense in a scientific context (that makes about as much sense as a modern soldier desperately hunting after Hitler's favorite pistol), but it makes an enormous amount of sense in a mystical context (such as an obsessive hunt after Excalibur or the Spear of Destiny). Star Wars also emphasizes destiny, not just in the sense of "I have foreseen a future and in it, you did this," but in the sense of a metaphysical weight behind someone, a purpose determined by a higher power.  Star Wars generally places a great deal of emphasis on the old and ancient: The Jedi are an ancient religion, and ancient order, unchanged by time.  Why?  Because the Jedi operate in a fundamentally mythic way.  The Force is not a science to be developed over time, but an ancient wisdom to be understood.  The tombs of the Sith contain more wisdom than the laboratories of the Empire.  The result is a setting that trades more strongly in the tropes of fantasy fiction than it does in the tropes of science fiction, thus some people even refer to Star Wars as Science Fantasy.

About ten years ago I set out to write a children's film, and I had an idea of doing a modern fairy tale... I wrote many drafts of this work and then I stumbled across The Hero With a Thousand Faces. It was the first time that I really began to focus. Once I read that book I said to myself, This is what I've been doing. This is it... It was The Hero With a Thousand Faces that just took what was about 500 pages and said, here is the story. Here's the end; here's the focus; here's the way it's all laid out. It was all there and had been there for thousands and thousands of years, as Mr. Campbell pointed out. And I said, "This is it." 
-George Lucas, National Arts Club, 1985, in regards to the inspiration for Star Wars
George Lucas deliberately set this mythical element in Star Wars.  Where most Space Opera makes an effort to hide its origins in some other genre, George Lucas brought it to the forefront.  If we dismiss the idea of the Force as Magic out of hand, we dismiss a major element of Star War's inspiration.

GURPS Magic as the Force

Using GURPS Magic opens up all kinds of great options for us, as it's the most well-supported "powers" system in all of GURPS.  It's supported right out of the core book (like Psi is), and it has an entire hard-back volume expanding it (GURPS Magic) and then another (Thaumatology).

For this exploration we will, of course, be using GURPS Magic.  GURPS absolutely brims with support for Magic (another point in its favor), so we'll use some of those resources, including GURPS Thaumatology, which we'll use to refine any magical concepts that don't entirely fit.

I will not be using the more recent, and increasingly popular, Ritual Path Magic.  I leave designing Space Ritual Path Magic to whatever reader that wishes to explore that concept.

Of course, we don't expect space knights to intone space-latin while making arcane gestures and then shooting a fireball at their opponents.  We expect something that at least looks somewhat psionic.  But fortunately, David Pulver is already a step ahead of us.  He wrote an article entitled "Magic as Psi" in Pyramid #3/29 Psionics. where he tackled this very problem.  He noted that many spells in GURPS Magic already readily imitate Psionic abilities: the Mind college and the Communication college allow the reading and influence of minds, the Movement college allows for telekinetic effects, and the Knowledge college allows for extra-sensory perception.

Magic also has relatively low point-costs associated with them.  Where a psion easily spends 50 points on a single power, a magician with 50 points of spells and Magery is already well on his way to magical mastery.

GURPS Magic does come with quite a few baked-in assumptions, but those aren't necessarily so bad.  The expenditure of fatigue applies to Psionics as well, and tracks nicely with the idea of "Force Points" as seen in other systems.  Spells require concentration to cast, but the Jedi certainly concentrate when casting their spells.  Incantations, wands, staves and magic books are inappropriate, but also removed by Pulver's article, so no longer a concern.  We have more spells than we need, but we can always pare the list down, or even add a few new spells as we need.  And if we find that an element is especially inappropriate, we can always adjust the rules with the help of GURPS Thaumatology.

The only real problem I see with using GURPS Magic is that many Jedi powers seem fairly innate.  They work whether or not the Jedi actively activates them: He dreams what the Force wants him to dream, and the Force warns him of danger moments before it happens.  A Jedi doesn't need to "cast" each ability to activate it.

Getting Started

Like last week, I'll explore what 50 points of magic spells will get you, though unlike Psi, I'll show you what a more integrated Jedi might look like, as Magic allows for much broader characters.  Then we'll dig into the Light Side and the Dark Side of magic, and we'll use Thaumatology to look at how we might handle the different metaphysics, and we'll look at things like enchantment, places of power and destiny.  Finally, we'll look back, see how it all went, what we can do to make it even more Force-like, and what Psi-Wars might look like if we went crazy with a Magical universe.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

The Mysterious Power of Psi Wars

We've just spent a week looking at Psionic Powers and trying to find a way to make a power framework that looks something like the Force.  How did we do?

Personally, I find that the effects of the powers definitely feel close to how we see the Force operate in the films.  Psions can jump great distances, grab their fallen force swords, yank blasters out of their enemy's hands, blast back a wave of battle-bots, read their opponent's next move or his darkest secrets, know when danger is coming, have prophetic dreams and sense a disturbance in the psi.  It looks great.

It has a few problems, though.  First, the price.  For 50 points, you can effectively do one of the above, while most Jedi seem capable of doing everything.  You could have a psychokinetic space knight or you could have a ESPer Knight, but you couldn't have both.  Even if we squeezed in another 50 points, the typical space knight isn't doing nearly as much as a typical Jedi.

Moreover, Psionic Powers tends to emphasize this with its talents.  To be good at ESP and Telepathy and Psychokinetics, you must drop a minimum of 15 points in talents just to get started.  Then you need to buy all of those various powers and you need to invest in skills in them!  Easier, instead, to pick a single power and a single ability within that power, and then master all of its intricacies.  A Jedi-style Space Knight isn't practical.  An ESPer knight makes more sense in a variety of ways.  You'll have specific characters with specific, unique powers.  No two Space Knights would look remotely the same, while two Jedi often exhibit very similar powers.

Then, of course, we have Antipsi and Psychotronics, both of which must exist if we use Psionics-as-written.  Who has Antipsi?  You could make the case for Jedi being able to stop other Jedi.  Does that mean all space knights should have Antipsi, giving them yet another place they need to spend their points?  Or are there specific characters with Antipsi who walk around, "soulless" characters?  You also have to have some kind of technology to stop Psions, and what's to stop every non-psionic organization from equipping all of their minions with null-field generators other than price?  Setting aside the fairness of doing that, it's something you never see in Star Wars, even in the prequels when the stormtroopers turned on the Jedi.  The Force is practically unstoppable, and you defeat a Jedi by overwhelming him or forcing him to choose between his loved ones and his desire to win, etc.  You don't defeat him by shooting him with a dart full of Muffler.

Finally, that all important element, the Dark Side of the Force, feels underdeveloped.  Sure, the temptation to use it is there, and the rationale behind why psis must behave a particular way, but it's far more theoretical. The Dark Side, in this model, is not a palpable force, just a metaphor for a choice psions must make.  Nowhere here is there the faith of the Jedi, with the Dark Side as the devil, offering power at a price.  Worse, certain characters would be naturally stigmatized or canonized as saints.  For example, if your character happens to have the Psychic Vampirism talent as their only psionic talent, that makes them a Psychic Vampire, and therefore evil.  Why?  There's no morality inherent in any of these powers, no reason why a Psychic Vampire can't be a saint, and a Psychic Healer a genocidal jerk-face.

The net effect is a setting that feels less like Star Wars, to me, and more like the X-men in space.  You have individual, unique psions with their own talents and powers who must live by a code to keep people from fearing them, while fighting those who violate that code.  They study and train their unique powers, and those with scary powers tend to be more socially reviled (but are not necessarily immoral themselves), and those without powers can fall back on scary, technological means to put the psion population down, if they wish.

Putting the Force back into Psionic Powers

How can we make Psionic Powers feel more like the Force?  We have several problems:
  • The high cost of Psionic Powers
  • The way talents encourage specialization rather than generalization
  • The presence of Psionic countermeasures
  • The abstract nature of the Dark Side of Psi.

The High Cost of Psionic Powers

While the Psionic Powers I've noted feel right, we don't quite have to use them in a full-developed way.  The Extra Effort rules, which I discussed yesterday, allow for characters to take cheap powers and expand them when they need them.  For example, consider Telerecieve.  Level 1 requires skin-to-skin contact, which is frankly strange for Star Wars, but costs a relatively modest 21 points.  And yet, in the Empire Strikes Back, Luke seems able to connect with the thoughts of others over great distances, closer to Telerecieve 6 (75 points).  However, if we make Godlike Extra-Effort standard and grant most characters Energy Reserves and substantial Will (both of which are entirely justifiable), then we can increase our Telerecieve, or Psychokinesis, or Precognition, or Combat Sense, or whatever else we need, to high levels for a modest character point cost.

This has the added bonus of making characters more generic (as Energy Reserves and Will apply across the board) and emphasizes training over power, which fits the martial arts vibe Star Wars has.

Talents Encourage Specialization

The solution here is simple: Remove the specialized talents.  Instead of having specific talents, have a single pan-psionic talent that costs 10-15 points per level, called "Psi Sensitivity."  If you're Psi Sensitive at all, then the whole Psionic smorgasbord is open to you: You can as easily be psychokinetic as telepathic.   The only difference, then, becomes choice and direction of training.  Paired with the Extra-Effort solution above, we encourage generalists over specialists.

Psionic Countermeasures

The solution to psionic countermeasures is to remove them.  Psi Campaigns has a model for "Old Time Psionics" which lowers the modifier to -5%, assuming antipsi still exists.  If we also remove antipsi, then we're left with a -0% modifier, which is fine.  Powers don't have to have modifiers.  It does raise the cost of those powers, though, or we need to apply some kind of new modifier.  

In the Other Side of Psi, we discussed the possibility that all Psi-Powers are uncontrollable without the mitigating factor of mental discipline.  We could say that Meditation can replace Will for Uncontrollable Rolls and have that replace the -10% (and assume that destructive powers never actually harm people or say that those powers have a worse cost to them).

The Dark Side

So, philosophical arguments as to why Psi must be controlled isn't enough.  If we use all the solutions above, then characters can have access to all aspects of Psionics.  What if they couldn't?  What if there were set-side powers, such as Psychic Vampirism and Ergokinesis for the Dark Side, and Psychic Healing for the Light Side.  "Dark Side" and "Light Side" could be talents, and all powers associated with them have a moral limitation, such as Pacifism (Cannot Harm Innocents) for the Light Side powers, and Uncontrollable for the Dark Side powers.  If you ever choose to gain a Dark Side power, you have a dangerous edge to you, but if you ever gain a Light Side power, you cannot use your them if you ever act in a particular way, forcing you to remain on the straight and narrow.

We could even make the Light/Dark side talents stack with Psi Sensitive, gives us specialization in the right direction.  Characters can choose which path to follow, and we can even make the Talents moral in nature: You'll lose the Light Side talent if you violate the Code of Honor (Psychic's), while you'll lose the Dark Side talent if you violate some hypothetical "Evil Psychic's" Code of Honor (say, inspired by the Way of the Sith).  Thus, a character who has invested in one path or another is more powerful than a character who hasn't, but can only use his powers in a particular way.  The Philosophy skill would even be appropriate: You could roll it to check with the GM to see if a particular use of a power or an action would violate your code ("Is it okay to TK-Crush a slaver to rescue a slave?")

Going Crazy with Psi in Psi Wars

Psi Wars isn't Star Wars... so why should Psi necessarily feel like the Force?  It doesn't have to.  We could go in any direction we want with it, and we could embrace Psi for what it is, rather than trying to hammer it into the mold of Star Wars.  I have two suggestions for possible directions Psi Wars could go in while embracing Psi in all of its glory.

Super-Powered Psi Wars

I mentioned that Psionics felt more like the "X-men in Space" than Star Wars.  Why not embrace that comic-book vibe and go a step close to lensmen, and into the wild and wooly world of the sort of anime inspired by Star Wars?

First of all, the specialized nature of psionics doesn't have to eliminate the martial arts component of Psi Wars.  ESPer characters could learn to master their Third Eye in the art of war, while Telepaths could learn to read their opponents.  Christopher Rice has an excellent article in Pyramid #3-69 "Psionics II" called Mind and Body that addresses exactly that. We create a baroque universe full of unique and specific psi/martial traditions arising from specific powersets.

Those powersets are, of course, genetic, and thus inherited, father to son, mother to daughter.  Thus, you could certainly pass on your martial wisdom, or your pyschotronic technology to your children, and it becomes natural that certain worlds, certain civilizations specialize in particular psionics, as both a genetic and martial legacy.

Psychotronic greatly empowers warriors.  Imagine how dangerous an Telepathic starfighter pilot with Telepathic Switches is!  He can simply sit in his (psychically locked ship) with his eyes closed, read your moves and then adjust the ship to compensate.  If you get close enough, or your connection with him is strong enough, he might even blank your mind so that your ship just drifts, pilotless, while he comes in for the kill.  Or imagine an ESPer general.  She can see how the way the battle will play out.  She knows who she needs to kill days or even weeks to make sure he victory is assured.  She spends her time fighting the future, and has you beaten before you even step onto the battlefield.  The setting is called Psi Wars because it's fought with Psi.

We make them full Supers too: 500 points.  Space Knights are the natural rulers of worlds, wielding the powerful psychotronic technology and martial arts of their ancestors, fighting a war with powers mere mortals can barely conceive of, let alone effectively combat.  Some are heroic, psionic paladins who fight for the little man, while others are dreaded villains, inflicting fear on their foes or devouring the life essence of entire towns to power their enormous Godlike Extra-Effort powers.  It's Super Space Knights.

Conspiratorial Psi-Wars

On the other hand, Psionic Powers promotes themes of paranoia.  You never know who could be reading your mind, or what the government is doing.  Psionic Powers can also have transhuman themes, with characters transcending both physical and mental limits thanks to sinister sciences.

Our characters remain specialized, but they can be engineered or cloned for those powers.  A few characters (the PCs, most likely) manage to expand out of those designed conditions, which makes them dangerous loose cannons in a carefully controlled universe.  Psionic booster drugs fuel armies of psionically-empowered clones, with trauma maintenance systems in the hardshell armor keeping them pumped up, and psychotronic mind-control technology keeping them loyal.  Truly powerful psions find themselves under the government's lock and key, and those who escape quickly become enemy number one (hunted by the Empire's "sniffers" and soulless, creepy "antipsi"), only to be picked up by one of a variety of psionic conspiracies, some of which want to overthrow the shackles humanity has put on them, some of which want to expose the secret psionic masters that control humanity, and some of which want to live in coexistence with humanity, once this dark empire is overthrown.

This is a setting of secret powers and conspiracy that suits the Action framework of Psi-Wars well.  It doesn't support martial arts or space knights very well, though.  This is Psi Wars as the Mind-Gate Conspiracy, or as Push.  The characters remain low-key, perhaps the standard 250 with psionic powers chosen out of your unspent Advantage points, or from unique new "Psion" templates, perhaps based on the Soldier or Secret Agent templates from Psis.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The Other Side of Psi

The Force and Psionic Powers represent things too complex to easily fit into each other.  Here, we'll look at edge cases for both. First, we'll take a look at how to represent "the Dark Side of the Force" with Psionic Powers, then we'll look at some Psionic Powers that aren't a perfect fit in the Force, and we'll end with a discussion of Psi-Tech.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The Psionic Space Knight

If we're going to use Psionic Powers to represent the Force, let's break down what the Force actually does. The Force tends to do one of three things, broadly speaking: Provide information to the Jedi (ESP), allow him to interact with other minds (Telepathy) and allow him to manipulate the physical world (Psychokinesis). There are many edge cases: “Force Lightning” seems to be Electrokinesis; some fiction discusses “force healing” which seems to be psychic healing, and some fiction seems to imply low-level force wielders might have “probability manipulation.” Not all of this works, of course: Force Wielders tend to lack cryokinesis or pyrokinesis, for example, and if they have electrokinesis, it seems limited to lightning blasts (there are jedi mind tricks, but no jedi droid tricks), and so on. Still, we can use this as a basis for where we start with our power choices.

The following attempts to distill the power choices down to a few options, so we can get an idea of what psi in the Psi Wars setting might look like, without trying to digest the entire book at once. I'm choosing the most obvious and iconic powers, just to start with, rather than exhaustively cataloging every power that ever showed up, or could theoretically show up, in Star Wars.

All page references are for GURPS Psionic Powers unless otherwise stated.  For other Psi packages, look at GURPS Psis.

Monday, May 16, 2016

The Force as Psionic Powers

Telekinesis by Remplica

Without the midi-chlorians, life could not exist, and we would have no knowledge of the Force. They continually speak to you, telling you the will of the Force. When you learn to quiet your mind, you will hear them speaking to you. 
-Quigon Jin, the Phantom Menace

Star Wars (George Lucas, 1977) and sequels. Heavy use of psi (“the Force”) in a space-opera context, including training sequences and telekinetic swordsmanship.  
-Inspirational Material, GURPS Psionic Campaigns

The Force is best represented by psionic powers.  Star Wars constantly depicts Jedi as moving things with their mind (telekinesis), reading or influencing the minds of others (telepathy) and seeing distant places or receiving glimpses of the future (extra-sensory perception).  Depending on your source material, Jedi also heal themselves or others (psychic healing), shoot people with electricity (electrokinesis), and draining others of their energy (psychic vampirism).  In most computer games and rpgs, Jedi abilities are even described as "Powers."

Psionic powers have a long history with science fiction.  Parapyschology began in the 19th century as an effort to meld the science of the Englightenment with the mysticism of the Spiritualist movement.  Psuedoscientists wanted to apply scientific concepts to mystical ideas: a witch doctor didn't curse you, instead he was a latent psychokinetic unknowingly focusing a constant flow of detrimental micro-pk at you; exorcism didn't really remove demons, it was just a telepathic effort to push an astral parasite out of someone; and so on.  By rephrasing supernatural concepts in scientific-sounding terms, psuedoscientists hoped to lend their profession the air of rationality that would make them more socially acceptable, and to an extent, it worked.  Sci-fi author John W. Campbell fell in love with the concept of psionics and pushed it into the sci-fi mainstream, connecting psychic phenomenon to future sci-fi works, including Star Wars.

Star Wars isn't even the first to describe psionics as a "force."  In the mid-19th century, Carl von Reichenbach postulated the existence of an "Odic Force." Likely working from the "ideas" of Frans Anton Mesmer or Swedenborg, he explored the idea of life affecting life via bio-magnetic fields, and argued that all living things emanated, and were connected by, these bio-magnetic fields, which had both a light and dark "flux." Sound familiar? Of course, Reichenbach wasn't the only person to postulate some sort of "vital life force," a force that would join the forces of gravity and electromagnetism to explain why life was living.  These efforts all proved in vain, of course, but most of those elements continue to thrive in the ideas behind psionics.  Presumably, an advanced society would "finally" uncover the secret to the "life force" and manipulate it as easily as we manipulate electro-magnetism.

The problem with using psionics to represent the force, though, is precisely its attempt to strip paranormal phenomenon of their mystical trappings.  From the Demolished Man to Push to Akira, psionics has been associated with science and scientific trappings.  In these stories, psionics have a genetic basis (and thus psions can be engineered), they are studied with scientific precision (with Kirlian cameras and Zener cards), and they can be augmented or defeated with a physical injection of special drugs.  We tell stories of conspiracies trying to control or weaponize psionics, with secret communist psychic plots, or even the very real Project Stargate.

Mace Windu tests Anakin using principles similar to Zener cards
Star Wars, on the other hand, explicitly retains mystical trappings.  The one time they attempted to step away from philosophical claptrap to explain the Force is the very first quote I note above, audiences universally reviled it.  Yoda's mysterious statements defined the Force for most fans, not the psuedoscience of midi-chlorians.  One cannot genetically engineer Jedi, Jedi do not take Force-boosting drugs, and they certainly do not test their future Jedi using Zener cards.  A Jedi is closer to a cinematic samurai, a warrior who cultivates his qi and learns at the feet of a master, than he is to a genetically-engineered CIA test-subject using his LSD-induced ESP to uncover cold-war secrets.

GURPS and Psionic Powers

GURPS Psionic Powers
Now that I've outlined both the advantages and disadvantages to using Psionic Powers to model the Force, let us quickly look at how GURPS models psionic powers.

I chose psionic powers as our starting point not just because psionics so closely models the effects of the force, but because psionic powers are right there in the core book.  Nonetheless, we won't be using those psionic powers for this iteration, but the ones found in the following books: GURPS Psionic Powers, GURPS Psis, GURPS Psionic Campaigns and GURPS Psi-Tech.  As previously mentioned, it may be useful to have GURPS Powers on hand as well.

Allow me to offer a brief outline of these powers for the uninitiated: GURPS handles Psionics as a set of associated advantages, each of which have a power modifier, a talent and the list of associated advantages. Psionic Powers expands this by defining skills for each power, including techniques, and defining elements like Extra-Effort for Psi and Psionic burnout, etc.

The power modifier means that all Psionic powers can be defeated by "anti-psi" and psionic countermeasures (the aforementioned psi-dampening drugs).  The Force never has to deal with these problems, but if we're going to use psi as written, then we must.  We already have some psionic countermeasures defined in Iteration 3 in the form of power damping collars, but we'll also need to explore anti-psi as a core basis for powers in Psi Wars.

The presence of distinct Psi talents and Psi powers makes each psi unique.  Psionic powers, as written in GURPS, works closer to those depicted in Push or the X-men than in Star Wars.  A Star Wars character is or isn't force sensitive.  He can read minds, see the future and move objects with his mind, or he can't (or he just needs additional training).  In GURPS, by default, a psi can do only what he's talented in.  Some psis might only have a single, highly specific ability ("I'm a firestarter!"), or they might have a suite of powers (Jean Grey can do nearly everything), but most powers tend to be unique to the character, and they tend to fall within the defined categories: the firestarter might eventually expand out into a complete psychokinetic, but she'll never uncover the ability to read minds or see the future.

He is too old. Yes. Too old to begin the training.
-Yoda, the Empire Strikes Back
Skills and extra-effort do certainly match our expectations of the Force.  A Jedi needs years of training to use his powers properly.  Those who switch to the Dark Side also need extensive training, despite the fact that their core powers don't seem to change that much: both sorts of Jedi can move things with their mind, but those on the Dark Side, for example, seem more adept at choking people, or "channeling their anger."  This seems to match the idea of "different psi styles" where characters learn different sorts of skills that revolve around the same basic powers.

Extra-Effort seems to match the occasional burst of extreme power depicted by Jedi, and even the fact that they can sometimes exhaust themselves in so doing.  Video games often depict the Jedi as having "Force Points" that they expend when exercising their powers, and that matches closely with fatigue or special "Psi-only" energy reserves.

Getting Started

Psi certainly seems to have some strengths and weaknesses when it comes to modelling the Force.  Over the next week, I'll explore the specifics of powers, see how well they match up with our expectations and see what roughly 50 points of psionic powers can buy us.  We'll explore how the Dark Side might look with psionic powers, we'll look at how we can adjust psi to make it look more like the Force... and what Psi Wars might look like if we were to discard the concepts of the Force and replace them completely with psi.  Finally, we'll look back and see how we feel about the whole exercise.

Friday, May 13, 2016

The May GURPSDay Challenge

Douglas Cole has issued a challenge so I wanted to leave it here, in plain sight, like a glove tossed at your feet.

Douglas wants you to write about GURPS.  I do too.

Why write about GURPS?

Because to teach is to learn.

Nothing will teach you a system quite as well as working out the details well enough to explain them to someone else.  Nothing will teach you a system quite like diving into it and using it. You have to understand a system to write about it, and thus in writing about it, you'll come to better understand it.

Our habits, our daily routines, can force us to grow in a particular direction.  Having a daily, or weekly, habit of writing about GURPS will definitely teach you GURPS, and likely make you a better GM.  Furthermore, the act of having a daily or weekly writing habit will teach you to study and write.  I took up this task of writing for GURPS not to improve my GURPS, but just to build a habit of writing.  I intend to shift it to something less self-indulgent, from RPGs to programming, at some point.

If you make the commitment to write about GURPS, even if it only results in a single post, you'll have still learned/clarified something about the system.

What do I write about?

GURPS, obviously.  Oh, right, you need more detail than that.

You already know what to write.  You're surrounded with piles of material, filled to the brim with it, I promise, it's just a matter of getting it out.  When you think about GURPS, what's the first thing that comes to mind?  Perhaps you think about the physical books, that you've read. So tell us what you thought of them (the forums regularly asks for more reviews of GURPS material).  Perhaps you think about that great campaign you played, or the character you played in it.  So, give us a campaign report, or tell us about your character.  Perhaps you grit your teeth and you have some mechanic to complain about, or you think about how much you love a particular mechanic.  Discuss the mechanics themselves, then, what works, what doesn't.

You have tons of GURPS experience because you're a GURPS gamer, thus you have plenty to say.  Every time you're posting a rant on the forum, that could be a blog post.  Every time you tell a story to your friends about how great GURPS is, that could be a blog post.  Every time you read a GURPS book, or you find yourself dissecting a movie in GURPS terms, or you have a great campaign idea, that could be a GURPS post.

"But those are lame," I hear you say.  To that, I say: Start simple.  You'd be surprised how productive and interesting you can be.  The things I have pointed to are what most of the big names in blogging discuss.  But if you must have something richer and more complex, then look to the ideas beneath them.  Rather than discuss your character, try to figure out why he worked and discuss that.  Rather than talk about your campaign, ponder what made it work and what didn't work, and discuss that.  What makes a GURPS book bad?  Why is GURPS your personal choice for system?  And so on.

How do you write about GURPS for, like, a year?

So, you're up for it, but you think "There's no way I can keep it up." Well, first of all,  your stuff will be here forever.  One of my inspirations for blogging was the Podcast: Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean.  The guy hasn't posted anything on the topic in literally years, but I still really enjoyed what he had posted.  So if you post six posts, and they're good, people will be using them for years.  This idea that unless someone is constantly feeding a blog it's "dead" and nobody will read your content is nonsense.  Good content gets read.

But, okay, you want to stick with it.  Then do what the big names in blogging do: Pick a repeatable theme.  You like the idea of writing a review?  Then review one book a week.  You want to talk about a campaign?  Talk about the whole campaign once a week.  You like the idea of writing up characters and showing us?  Write up one character for each published GURPS setting, once per week.  You want to complain about GURPS? Pick something to complain about, once per week.

Cole has his Melee Academy and his Ammo Press.  Hans just analyzes movies and discusses guns in fiction in GURPS terms ("One lovecraftian pistol a week").  Peter discusses his campaign... once a week. I've got Psi-Wars, which I can go back to, over and over again (and have).

That's not to say that you can't come up with something clever and innovative.  All the big names do.  But some people seem to try to come up with some clever and innovative all the time and they exhaust themselves.  Don't do that.  If you want a consistent blog, have a consistent topic you can easily fall back on.  That's not to say that you can't have something clever, but you can sprinkle your cleverness whenever inspiration strikes, and write your weekly review or character or whatever when inspiration doesn't.

Now, you want to make that reliability extra reliable?  Do what I do: Write ahead.  Most blogs will let you store drafts, or even schedule them for later.  Say you want to review books once a week: Write 4 reviews right now, while you're all hopped up and excited.  Then schedule them.  BOOM!  One month worth of content.  If you feel like doing that again next week, you're ahead by 2 and then three months and so on, until you've actually got a year's worth of material, and then you can start, I dunno, doubling up, or working on something more dramatic.  The point, here, is that you don't have to try to think of something clever every week.  If you've thought of something clever that's big and repeatable and you're particularly inspired, write ahead, so that when you're not inspired next week, it's okay, you can take a break.

Mailanka's Challenge for those Thinking about Undertaking Gaming Ballistics Challenge but are a Little Nervous

Step 1: Pick a simple, repeatable topic.  Examples include:
  • Formalizing my campaign notes
  • Reviewing each issue of Pyramid
  • Creating a character for each setting in GURPS
  • Actual Play Reports from my Dungeon Fantasy game
  • Reviewing other people's GURPS Blogs
Step 2: Write the simplest, easiest, most personally-amusing version you can think of of your chosen topic.

Step 3. Rinse and repeat step 3 until you have about 4 entries.

Step 4. Schedule them in your blog so they come out once a week.

Congratulations, you now have one month's worth of blog lead, a topic someone is probably willing to read, and you've explored something you wouldn't have before.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Psi Wars - The Fourth Iteration: Cool Powers and Martial Arts

Jedi Master vs Two Sith

Are we here? Are we finally here?  Alright! No more dilly-dallying with boring technology homework and tedious templates!  Now it's all cool powers all the time!

Alright, the usual caveat: We already set up some powers all the way back in Iteration 1: "Just use Psionic powers out of the core book, dude!".  We've gone this far without martial arts or complex psionic powers, we could skip them, or half-ass them, and your campaign would probably be okay.  I want to stop and take a really close look on how powers will affect things and worry about niche-protection and the implications of weirder powers and so on, but you don't necessarily have to put as much work into this as you'll shortly see from me.

I chose to wait until this point because I find powers work best when they're grounded in an established world.  We now know what technology more-or-less looks like, what characters more-or-less look like, and how the world more-or-less works.  Of course, the addition of cool powers definitely impacts that.  Precognitive characters and telepaths will certainly shape how the game is played, rewrite the character point totals, and impact what technology characters choose to carry, but that's the nature of an iteration: It will build on what came before, build atop it, and then rewrite the older material where necessary.

Like with the technological iteration, this one might go on for awhile as we have a lot of ground to cover, especially since the metaphysics behind our cool powers and the culture behind our martial arts begins to shape our setting.  Thus, this iteration will be split into two rough cycles: Powers and Martial Arts.

Part I: Cool Powers

The most defining feature of Star Wars are its Jedi, and the first element of the Jedi is his mastery over the Force.  The series spends considerable word count discussing the philosophy and the metaphysics behind the Force, and Maz Kanata even describes how every conflict in Star Wars turns around a conflict between its Light and Dark side, though for the life of me I cannot find the quote.  Thus, the majority of the first part of the iteration will discuss various ways to implement the Force in Psi Wars.  

I'll discuss it in various ways because there's no right way.  We have several different paths we could choose and by offering several ways to do the Force in your game, I hope to inspire your own vision and your own take, rather than to convince you that my take is the "best" or "most official" take.  When I'm finished, I'll settle down and pick one specific interpretation, but please understand that it's certainly not the only interpretation.

I've learned from previous Iterations that you guys seem to vastly prefer it when I make more posts rather than when I make less, so I'm going to try an experiment where I post shorter posts and more often.  Each post regarding various takes on the Force will be broken down into four parts:
  • An introduction to the chosen model, including a guide on what books to use, the benefits of the model and the problems
  • An examination of the exact powers used and what a character with those powers might look like.
  • Diving deeper into the model, including a look at how to handle the Dark/Light split of the Force, more specific powers and assorted odds and ends
  • An assessment of the model for Psi Wars, including ways of changing the default assumptions to make it more Force-Like, or what Psi Wars might look like if we took the assumptions of the model, stripped of any need to look like the Force, and went crazy with it.
Despite being so central to Star Wars, the Force isn't the only source of power in Star Wars, or the only conceivable method in Space Opera.  I'd previously stated an intention to spend another 50 points on each template to allow for the presence of the Force in the game, but I want additional options for those 50 points, including (possibly)
  • Cybernetics
  • Genetic engineering
  • Superior training, luck or general heroism
  • Alien racial templates
I highly recommend GURPS Powers if you want to follow along, though each model will have its own books associated with it.  Eventually, I will discuss how best to handle the implications of various powers in an Action setting, and I highly recommend GURPS Supers as a reference for that.

Part 2: Martial Arts

As I said before, the Jedi defines Star Wars, but his mastery of the Force is only half of the equation.  The other half is his mastery of his lightsaber.  We'll definitely need to explore Force Swordsmanship in Psi Wars, allowing us to finally implement things like Precognitive Parry.

I've chosen to explore this after exploring Powers because, depending on their implementation, Powers can themselves be martial arts.  In Star Wars, the training between a Jedi and a Sith determines how he uses the Force, and characters trained in the principles of one can be taught the principles of the other.  Why should it be any different in Psi Wars?  But to allow for that, we have to understand how our powers work.

Exploring martial arts necessarily involves delving deep into how combat works, which means we'll need to break open the combat system, try out some playtest fights, and make sure our space knights fight the way we expect them too, especially when it comes to putting a Force Sword up against a Blaster.  Are space knights chumps, or are they effective combat strategies?

But Space Knights aren't necessarily the only martial artists of the setting.  Once you have characters with loads of cool techniques and tricks, other players will notice "Karate" and "Judo" on their character sheets and wait to expand them into full martial arts.  And why should melee characters have all the fun?  I'd like to explore other martial arts, including gun fu and hand-to-hand, especially since the typical Action character has a mess of ranged combat perks and techniques (like Kendra's dual weapon wielding) that need addressing.

Finally, once we've completed both powers and martial arts, we can revisit templates and integrate the ideas we've created to create even more dynamic and interesting Psi Wars characters.  In particular, I'd like to touch on two templates I suggested back in Iteration 2: The Assassin and the Frontier Marshal.  And, of course, we get a proper Space Knight template.

For this section, I'll certainly use GURPS Martial Arts, for its discussion of martial arts in general, Force Swordsmanship specifically, and for its optional rules for combat. I highly recommend a copy of GURPS Power-Ups 2: Perks, which is one of my favorite GURPS books.  For ranged combat, I recommend Gun Fu and Tactical Shooting, and for mystical arts, I recommend GURPS Thaumatology: Magical Styles.  While we (probably?) won't be using GURPS Magic for the Force, the ideas in that book track well with nearly any version of mystical arts.  Finally, the book for integrating kung fu in an action game is certainly GURPS Action 3: Furious Fists.

Psi-Wars Unveiled?

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

The further we get into Psi-Wars' design, the further I must necessarily get from generic assumptions.  Iteration 2 already stripped away the possibility of low-key characters (~100 point) or really high-powered (500+ point) characters. Iteration 3 defined quite a few technological assumptions for us.  Iteration 4 will begin to set metaphysical and cultural elements in stone.  Psi-Wars, as a setting, will begin to take shape, and Benjamin is right: settings are highly personal. Therefore, I expect not everyone will like the direction I take my setting in.

I've tried to keep this focused on generic ideas because the focus of Psi-Wars is not on creating a campaign, but on showing the process of creating a campaign. Any actual setting produced by these posts is just a happy byproduct.  My intent is to convince all of those people who are struggling with half-baked ideas that if they create a working campaign as quickly as possibly by doing as little work as possible (keep things simple; use existing GURPS resources; take inspiration from other sources; make it your own), then test it, then iterate based on those results, they'll turn those half-baked ideas into fully-baked campaigns in less time, and with less effort, than they thought.

But in the process of doing that, I will create a campaign/setting, and I'll create the campaign/setting that I happen to like.  Maybe you'll like it too, but realize that I'm not making the case that my choices are the only, best, or most ideal choices.  If you disagree with the direction I take things, then I absolutely encourage you to use my process, hack my material, and go your own direction.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Iteration 3 Retrospective

As usual, when an Iteration completes, I compile all of my notes onto my website for everyone to see.  So, for those of you who didn't want to wade through piles of meta-discussion and just want the rules, here you go.

Personal Retrospective

I found this Iteration frustratingly long, and I suppose this is the sort of thing that starts to turn gamers off of GURPS.  If you want to sit down and play, Ultra-Tech will have you handled when it comes to gear and weapons (as you can see from that single week's worth of posts).  Robots take more work, but mostly in defining what you explicitly want.  The lack of some pre-designed "skill-sets" for robots is, in my opinion, an oversight.

It was Spaceships where everything really slowed to a crawl.  I don't blame this on Spaceships itself being "crap" or lacking support.  As you can see, I actually drew most of my rules from either the core of Spaceships or from optional rules from Spaceships, and most my Spaceships came from the Spaceships line... but what I did amounted to writing a new sub-game.  That's not something a newb just getting the books can do.

In particular, GURPS has a great focus on precision, and what you have to do is wade through piles of questions, switches and toggles and flip all of them, including a few hard-to-see ones, to "Space Opera!"  I can understand where veterans like me might find that doable, but I can also understand why people with less than a gig worth of GURPS pdfs might find that more than a little intimidating.  So, my solution was to write it for you, dear reader, but it exhausted me, especially the nitty gritty details.

The next part that really slowed me down was working all of these details back into the templates and the characters and especially that playtest.  I feel it provided useful feedback, but it also felt like homework.

That feeling of "work" kills creativity, which kills motivation.  Doing things like compiling all of my notes, doing my homework, making sure everything lines up is very important, as it separates the chaff from the wheat.  But I have to watch my motivations levels.  If they sap too low, I might lose my focus and get lost somewhere else.

Speaking of...

Community Perspective

I'm not nearly as involved with the GURPS Blog community as I would like to be, mostly due to a lack of time, and the fact that my particular working method keeps me very focused on a specific thing, and when a sudden element comes up in the middle of my week ("Hey, people are doing a thing on combat reflexes!") I'm usually in a different headspace and can't come up with something sweet in time to really jump in.

That said, I do try to keep my eye on things.  We had quite an influx of blogs when I started this one.  I was riding a wave of community enthusiasm, it seems... but since then, it has petered out.  If you look at Cole's GURPS Day summaries, then you can check week by week how many posts he's able to collect.  For a time there, it usually hovered around 60.  Lately, it's been hovering in the high 30s.  I know we've lost RPG-Jutsu, for example, which is a shame, as he had some pretty good stuff.

I don't expect this means that GURPS Bloggers are "dying," so much as we're winnowing out the weak.  Maintaining a blog is difficult.  You have to tip your hat to long-runners like Gaming Ballistic, Raven 'n' Pennies, Dungeon Fantastic and Games in the Brain for their sheer long-term doggedness.

Blog Stats

My views are through the roof.  I broke records in March (hitting nearly 4000) and then again in April (breaking 5000!) and it shows no signs of slowing.  I'm not sure how much of it is real though.  Some of it surely is.  You can see where these people are coming from, and I get more hits from Feedly or Reddit, and my SJGames advertisement thread has topped 10k views this month.  So people are definitely looking.  But I also get weird spikes of 100 views all at once with no associated pages or sources, which smells like bot to me.

I also get less comments than I used to.  I get the sense that people read more, say less, which is fine.  I think the people who want to be here, who are excited, are already here, and reading, and don't feel the need to note this fact every week. Every once in a while, a fresh face will say "Wow, this is neat" or "Cool advantage, bro!" and they're, perhaps a new face.  It seems to happen less, though.

Most Viewed Iteration 3 Posts:
  1. Weapons and Armor
  2. FTL Travel
  3. Gear
  4. Spaceships
  5. Robots
Over time, of course, older posts tend to accrue more views than newer posts, so it's not always a fair comparison to cut things off at an arbitrary point and say that's that. These are all basically the same posts as last time, only Spaceships and Robots swapped and Weapons and Armor and FTL travel swapped.

I think the reasons for their high value might not be entirely obvious.  The content of weapons and gear surely appeal, but FTL, Spaceships and Robots are mostly theory, while I have other theory posts that don't do so well.  Why these?  They have art.  I've checked some sources, and they're to google searches for, for example, the light saber you see in Weapons and Armor.  Not saying they're the only reasons they're up, but it contributes and skews the numbers some.

I think that revised spaceship playtest (the second one) did very admirably, and had quite a few comments, for example.  If I could edit out art-views or weigh views for time, then perhaps it might scale higher on the list.

The +1s didn't really change much.  They've largely dropped off on the blog-posts themselves.  I get most of my +1s on my posts that I make advertising them on Google+, which isn't as convenient to track.

Still, those are:
  1. FTL at 8
  2. Gear at 7
  3. Weapons at 6
And then a mess of posts at 4, including Starhawk v Typhoon, Simplified Space Combat 1.2, and Troopers 3.0 (of all things!).

Traffic Sources:
  1. SJGames
  2. Google (Search or Plus)
  3. Facebook (from various sources)
  4. Gaming Ballistic
  5. Dungeon Fantastic
My own blog is turning into quite a source for itself.  That implies people pop in, and then start clicking on links.  As I don't link much within my blog, it's most likely either the featured post, or the "popular" posts of the week.

Moving Forward

I'm rather excited about the next Iteration.  Powers!  The cool stuff, the desert after all of my homework.  I know a lot of people prefer to start with their metaphysics and their cool powers, but in my experience, it's better to lay down the common-man's experience, to understand how normal people tackle issues first, before you lather on powers, as a character with powers should generally feel like a normal person, only with powers, and even the really weird games, like Nobilis, benefit from this sort of layering.

I'm also doing something a little different: More posts with, ostensibly, less content.  In practice, I think it turned into more posts with more content, but you be the judge.

In any case, we'll finally look at the Force, and work on an analog for it in Psi-Wars.  Cautionary note: I have long said that Psi-Wars is not Star Wars, and I see most of you smiling and nodding when I say that, but no, I mean it.  It resembles Star Wars and is inspired by it, but it is inspired by more than Star Wars.  Metaphysics are very setting specific.  What will come out of Iteration 4 will not be the Force.  You'll recognize how the Force inspired it, but you'll also see that it's something different.

Each iteration has it own little departures from Star Wars, but Iteration 4 is one were we really start having to shake it off if we want to do our own thing, as the Force is so iconic for Star Wars.

After that dire omen, though, I hope you will join me.  See you then!

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Iteration 3 Playtest Notes

By and large, I'm quite pleased with the results of that playtest.  Some of the highlights:

Iteration 3: My lord, that took me forever.  I probably had the least fun with this iteration, and I clearly see now, looking back on previous sci-fi games, that this is where I get stuck.  I've also noticed quite a response from my audience, and in retrospect that's not a big surprise: it's probably where you get stuck too.  Spaceships were probably the hardest bit, but cycling through every little detail, making sure nothing got lost was also very difficult, and the worst part, honestly, was working out that playtest and all the signature characters.  I think this will be the last time I go into that much detail.

I also probably condensed too much.  I'm writing this post in about the middle of March.  Iteration 1 took me about a week.  Iteration 2 took me about 3 weeks.  Iteration 3 took me about 6 weeks.  I could have easily stretched my posts out into 3 months (as you can see from all the data dumps), but instead I chose to condense them down into two months.  I learned a lot about my own motivation and attentiveness during this iteration.

Armor: The trooper armor was more than sufficiently tough to deal with most attacks.  The Heavy stood up to a barrage of Kendra's fire without being virtually invincible, and Kendra's heavy blaster pistols are close in strength to a full carbine.  While nobody actually hit dear Ferdinand in the armor, I suspect the higher DR would have certainly been noticeable.

I lack goggles!  That cannot stand!

Weapons: So, uh, it turns out that there are two sides to attacking a jedi in melee: You need to be able to parry without having your weapon destroyed, but you also need to attack without your weapon being destroyed.  The Neurolash Field Parry is a nice concept (though the Assault Trooper favored dodge over it), but it needs to be expanded and made even more effective:

Neurolash Field Mastery: You have learned to use the magnetic field charge (or whatever technobabble nonsense) of a neurolash weapon that you may both attack and parry a force sword without fearing its destruction.  A force sword wielder can still deliberately attack your weapon as normal.

Shields: Okay, I liked that they could block blasters.  It felt fine, it didn't feel like it needed any special Precognitive Block to make it work, or that it was "unfair."  I'm also not convinced it should apply a -2 to attacks, as you can see through it just fine (one of the perks of the Riot Shield, specifically mentioned in Ultra-Tech).  Still not clear on how "reflecting" the attack should work.  Can a sniper from a mile away hit you and then you hit him back with a basic DX roll?  And if the shield can just block a beam weapon attack and reflect it without precognitive block and doesn't penalize your attack, wouldn't everyone become a sword-and-board wielder?  I'm going to leave this for now: the next iteration will be martial arts and powers, which seems a perfect time to look into it.

Robots: The robots seemed to fit quite nicely.  The battle-bots were somewhat pathetic... but they allowed the troopers to shine a bit more in comparison, and how they fought had sufficient contrast with how the troopers fought (in particular, their lack of surprise or fear: Heartless Machine, a late addition in the iteration, was a good idea).  DD-6 was absolutely destructive and highlighted how powerful a non-mook robot can be.  She actually worked better than I thought she would.  Berserker on a robot, in particular, is terrifying.  I dread what a full-on Combat Android would be like.  It might be worth playtesting, because it might be too powerful for a Psi-Wars game.

Economics: I still feel like the typical character has too much money.  Even Leylana just ditched most of it into a robot.  What will PCs do with all that money?  On the other hand, I find modern games have a similar feeling.  After you've picked up your pistol, your clothes, your cell phone and perhaps a bullet-proof vest, the average city-based investigator or thief is basically done and doesn't know what to do with the rest of their $20,000 starting budget.  Psi-Wars feels the same, so I'll leave it.  The ships feel right too (I had originally given them $20 million, then dropped it to $10 million, then went back to $20 million).  Some of the penalty options don't work (Bad Smell?)  so looking over them often felt a little frustrating, as what you want should give character and offer a potentially interesting element, but some of them feel too steep, or the sort of thing I would disallow as a GM.

Ships: Ships feel fine, of course, as they got a ton of work.  But I'm not sure about Hyperspace yet.  See, you always need to make a Navigation roll or you get lost.  That means the average Joe Spacetrucker with his Navigation of 10 or so is running into Stars half the time, even on the easiest hyperlanes!  The typical GURPS GM is saying "That's nonsense, he gets a +4 for doing something that's particularly easy," and I think we should codify that.  Certain hyperjumps have been so thoroughly charted that even a child could navigate them.  Your ship carries standard charts that grant a +4 to navigate those areas.  I also feel like 30 minutes is too long.  The "Five minutes to escape" rule is pretty nice, but it only applies for charging the hyperdrive.  It should apply to navigation as well: It takes 5 minutes to come up with a navigation course.  You can increase the time: 10 minutes for a +1, 20 minutes for a +2, 40 minutes for a +3 and more than an hour for +4, and you generally cannot do better than that.  We might allow something like Mathematics (Pure) rolls to allow even longer rolls as someone works out the precise math and model of how navigation should work, blah blah, but then this starts to sound like Star Trek rather than Star Wars.  If you're having that much trouble getting somewhere, get an NPC guide, or find a lost starchart.

Mooks: I need pilot mooks, and unique ways for them to fight, but I need to figure out how to differentiate wild and wooly pilots from by-the-book pilots and what have you.

Electronics: I liked how they played out.  The scenario played like a typical Action scenario, in that characters with the right tools/skills for the job made their skillsets work, and those without had to find alternate solutions.  Security and Surveillance seem to be king, but I expected as much.  Electronic Warfare is similarly powerful in a variety of wars, though it didn't come up.  Communications strikes me as less valuable, though Hacking is probably quite useful.  It's probably worth mentioning that Hacking might allow you to hack open doors or gain access to security feeds, etc.

The tracer hasn't worked out as well as I would have expected.  I don't mind tracers as tracers, but tracers doubling as bugs seems a bit odd.  You noticed in the playtest when I pointed out that a tracer could have been attacked to the camera feed to read it, and that seems counter-intuitive, not the sort of tactic a player would use, and that defeat the "simplicity" of the device.  Instead, it may be better to have tracers and sort of "omni-bugs" that act record both IO, video and audio (I think most players will grasp the difference between "bug" and "tracer" without finding it arcane)

Other Stuff: I'm sure there's more that I could look at, or haven't really checked, but I don't have the time to go through each nuance and detail yet.  By and large, though, it feels like I have the basis to a pretty good setting/campaign.  The templates begin to come together, to feel sufficiently broad and also sufficiently competent

Iteration 3 Playtest

At last!  Iteration 3 reaches its culmination in a playtest.  How well will everything fair, and how can we possibly playtest all elements? Well, the answer is "With a really long freaking post."  It took me a few days to write this up, and it surely has some errors in it, and it clocks in at 9,000 words, which technically makes it a novelette, so I'd forgive you for not reading it, but it gave me a few interesting insights, which I will post tomorrow.

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