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.
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