Thursday, June 30, 2016

A Psi-Tech Checklist

The addition of psi to the setting means that Psi-Tech should play some role. While the power damper collars we already have may well be enough, I'd like to take this opportunity to dig through other sources to see what else there might be. The following list is a compilation of ideas that either interest me, or seem particularly suitable to Psi-Wars. I don't know how I'll eventually use them, or even if I will. Given that most of them have no TL, some of them might be ancient or lost technologies, or experimental new technologies, or one-off wonders. But by having this post, once we get to thoroughly defining the setting, I'll have a point of reference complete with notes.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Anti-Psi in Action

Anti-Psi in Action
Characters with Anti-Psi may not have Psi powers without special traits.

Recommended Powers

  • Cancellation: Exceedingly effective, though it needs the Psi present. Crippling is not the sort of thing you should regularly inflict on PCs, though.
  • Interruption: An excellent counter for psis who can affect people at long distances
  • Para-Invisibility: See below.
  • Psionic Overload: Frightening, and has obvious connections with Broken Communion
  • Psionic Shield: A great go-to power for anti-psi characters.
  • Screaming: The sort of thing one thinks of when it comes to Anti-Psi.
  • Psi-Static: Permanent Screaming
  • Resistant to Psionics: A better way of representing things like Psychic Armor.
  • True Sight: With the removal of hologram, this is only really effective against Mind Clouding and Sensory Control, both of which are better protected by Psionic Shield. Not a problematic power, but very situational.

Other Suggested Abilities

  • Gaze into the Abyss
  • Hostile Dampening: Pairs well. thematically with Gaze into the Abyss
  • Non-Threatening: Low-level Para-Invisiblity.
  • Personal Awareness: Should also be available to non-Anti-Psi, as it's a training technique.
  • Simple Defense: The best defense is a good offense; a nice, subtle defense
  • Tolerance: Obviously useful if you seek to defeat a specific kind of psychic trick
Power Packages
  • Basic Anti-Psi: 25 points, Psis 20.
  • Simple Screamer: 25 points, Psis 20
  • Perception Master: 50 points, Psis 20

Discouraged Powers Powers

  • Psychic Armor: Not particularly problematic, but highly situational. It'll protect against TK-Crush, which is very nice, but so will several other powers that have broader utility

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Psychic Vampirism in Action

This power is generally associated with Dark or Broken Communion. Characters with Communion and Psychic Vampirism must have the perk "Sacred Vampire."

Recommended Powers

  • Drain ST, DX or HT: Physically weakening a target is very appropriate to Psychic Vampirism.
  • Drain Energy: The prime point of Psychic Vampirism
  • Drain Life: The other prime point of Psychic Vampirism
  • Steal Power: Terrifying, awesome, and very expensive!
  • Detect Life: See Below
  • Protected Power (Psychic Vampirism): For dealing with Anti-Psi.

Other Suggested Abilities

  • Blood Healing: Spooky and dramatically appropriate.
  • Controllable Lifebane: Spooky and dramatically appropriate
  • Invigoration: A tricky perk to administer, but appropriate to Psi-Wars.
  • Pleasant Theft: Perfect for darkly tempting vampires.
  • Poison Charm: Perfect for darkly tempting vampires.
  • Social Vampire: An interesting trick, as it will encourage the player to interact in large settings, but will potentially create story hooks as guests and friends might start to collapse after extended exposure to the character, which could eventually promote a hunt.
  • Auric Squint: Pyramid #3-69, page 6
  • The Buzz: Pyramid #3-69, page 7
Power Packages
  • Basic Weakening: 25 points, Psis 27.
  • Energy Theft: 50 points, Psis 27-28
  • Life-Force Devourer: 50 points, Psis 28
  • System Shock: 50 points, Psis 28

Discouraged Powers Powers

  • Drain IQ: The ability to reduce Will, which resists further Psychic Vampire rolls, seems cheesy.
  • Drain Emotion: Niche, and not in keeping with the themes of psionic knights struggling to maintain control of their emotions.
  • Drain Dreams: Fascinating... but niche.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Psychic Healing in Action

This power is generally associated with Communion. Characters with Dark or Broken Communion and Psychic Healing powers are required to either have the Perk "Dark Healer."

Recommended Powers

  • Aura Reading: Very slow. Replaces diagnosis for Outbreak (page 40) and Overdose, Poison and Venom (page 41). Otherwise, offers the same benefits as Emotion Sense from Telepathy.
  • Cure, Cure Disease, Cure Injury: All effectively variations of one another. Will only heal injuries (Medic! page 40) and diseases (Outbreak page 40). It is cumulative with First Aid (and automatically stops Bleeding (page 40), if that matters), but will not stabilize a mortal wound. Will also cure Afflictions, like Dazed or Confused (Ergokinesis).
  • Disease Shield: Very situational, but handy during an Outbreak (page 40).
  • Life Extension, level 1 only: Not useful for PCs, but its existence has implications for ancient psionic masters, which is totally in genre.
  • Sleep: See Telepathy
  • Empathy: See Emotion Sense from Telepathy.
  • Metabolism Control: See below.
  • Protected Power (Psychic Healing): To protect against Anti-Psi... though Anti-Psi trying to stop healing is likely rare.
  • Recovery: Handy for dealing with a defeat.
  • Regeneration: See Below
  • Various Flavors of Resistant: Situational, but cheaper than Metabolic Control or Disease Shield, which do much the same thing.

Other Suggested Abilities

  • Healing Bond
  • Life Support: To better deal with mortal wounds
  • Natural Doctor: Cure is better, but this is cheaper.
  • Postmortem: Not as nice as Retrognition, but it'll do the job.
  • Psychic Surgery: For dealing with mortal wounds and other, assorted problems.
  • Soothing Touch: Thematically very appropriate.
  • Auric Squint: Pyramid #3-69, page 6
  • Psychic Medic: Pyramid #3-69, page 7. Allow the Psychic Healing or Psi Sensitivity Talent to apply to this as well.
Power Packages
  • Empathic Bond: 25 points, Psis 26.
  • Regulate Body: 25 points, Psis 26
  • Restore Damage: 25 points, Psis 36
  • Cellular Control: 50 points, Psis 37
  • Lay On Hands: 50 points, Psis 37

Discouraged Powers Powers

  • Life Extension, level 2 +: A character who has the ability to extend the lives of others would be rare... and highly sought after, but a macguffin, rather than a player character.
  • Regrowth: Overpriced for what it does, and cybernetics already exist in the setting, thus a cheaper, and better, alternative.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Nobilis: Session Design Revisited

One of the reasons people worry about blogging is that they're worried about making mistakes, but as Game in the Brain blogger +Justin Aquino  likes to say, "Better to open your mouth and be thought a fool and corrected so that you are no longer a fool, than to keep your mouth shut and remain a fool" (or something to that effect).  I said something a few weeks ago, and I was very illustriously corrected.  Curious about the new data, I did some hunting, learned about even more tools available to me, and then re-evaluated how and why I wanted to do session design the way I did.

Today, we're going to talk about Nights Black Agents, Blowback, Lady Blackbird, and Nobilis itself, and the tools all of them give for session design, and why I want to use the tools that I do, and how, exactly, I'm going to use them.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Ergokinesis in Action

Recommended Powers

  • Data Retrieval: If a character wants access to information buried deep in a system.
  • I/O Tap: An excellent method for psionically tapping systems.
  • Remote Control: See below.
  • Confuse: Excellent for Live Capture, especially with the Daze technique.
  • Dampen: An obvious extension of the ability to manipulate electricity.
  • EK Shield: While not inherently very powerful (4 points for 1 DR!) with the addition of God-Like Extra-Effort and Power-Block, and it might even be useful!
  • Electric Vision: See below.
  • Lightning: Very expensive for what it does, but again, with the addition of God-Like Extra-Effort, it has some potential.
  • Surge: An obvious extension of Lightning. Excellent for sabotage.

Other Suggested Abilities

  • Jam: Two ergokinetics can definitely interfere with one another.
  • Hide Signature: Consider using the "In a crowded mind" rules for two ergokinetics trying to control the same machine.
  • EVP: Nice and spooky... plus a way of contacting others when you're not able to talk.
  • Interface: A neat trick
  • Power Source: An obvious extension of the ability to control electricity.
  • Static Control: An obvious extension of the ability to control electricity.
  • Remote Control: A neat trick.
Power Packages
  • Ampere Regulator: 25 points, Psis 22.
  • System Control: 25 points, Psis 23
  • Spark Slinger: 50 points, Psis 33

Discouraged Powers Powers

  • Netrunning: Projecting one's mind into a computer provides far more detail for computers than is appropriate for Psi-Wars.
  • Radar Sense: While a completely reasonable power, it feels thematically inappropriate for Psi-Wars.
  • Hologram: Most photokinetic effects, while a sensible extension of electrical manipulations, don't feel thematically appropriate to Psi-Wars.
  • Photorefraction: Most photokinetic effects, while a sensible extension of electrical manipulations, don't feel thematically appropriate to Psi-Wars.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

On the Cost of Advantages

Christopher Rice over on Ravens and Pennies is in full rant-mode regarding the cost of advantages, and he's right.  Go over there and read it.  Done? Great!  The only problem I have with his post is that, in my opinion, he doesn't go far enough.  I'll explain in a minute, but let me first shout "Hear hear!" for a bit.

Psychokinesis in Action

Recommended Powers

  • Belaying: Pyramid #3-29, page 4. As appropriate as Super-Jump. Plus looks really cool.
  • PK Shield: An unusual ability, but with God-Like Extra Effort, it might even be worth it. Appropriate for specialists.
  • Protected Power (Psychokinesis): To deal with Anti-Psi
  • Super-Jump: The more genre-appropriate version of Levitate.  Don't allow more than 4 levels.
  • Telekinetic Control: An excellent way for treating a large variety of TK powers. See below.
  • TK-Crush: A classic Star Wars power. Use the Throat Squeeze version.
  • TK-Grab: See below.
  • TK-Push: See below.

Other Suggested Abilities

  • Aerokinesis: For dramatic wind-gusts.
  • Psi Strike (TK): Pyramid #3-69, page 16
  • Psionic Feints (TK-Grab): Pyramid #3-69, page 16.
  • Small-Scale TK: For the gambler.
  • TK Knuckles: Pyramid #3-69, page 17.
  • TK Projection: Pyramid #3-69, page 17.
  • TK Tether: The cheapest way to handle the Jedi light-saber grab.
  • Warrior Psi: Pyramid #3-69, page 17.
Power Packages
  • Basic Telekinesis: 25 points, Psis 29, but improve to 4, and choose a single skill.
  • Utility Lifting: 25 points, Psis 30
  • Advanced Telekinesis: 50 points, Psis 30, but improve to 8 and choose up to two skills.
  • Organ Grindger: 50 points, Psis 30, but switch Brain Squeeze for Throat Squeeze.

Discouraged Powers Powers

  • Cryokinesis: Thematically inappropriate, not very flexible, and easily defeated by climate-controlled armor.
  • Extra-ST: Very cool... but too expensive for what it does. With some God-like Extra Effort, might be appropriate for a specialist, though.
  • Levitation: Flying psis doesn't really fit a setting inspired by Star Wars for the most part.
  • Psi-Sword: Pyramid #3-69, page 18. Occupies the same niche as the Force Sword.
  • Psi-Shield: Pyramid #3-69, page 17. Similar to the “Shields” seen in Push, and generally more useful than the PK-Shield, but occurpies the same niche as the Force Buckler.
  • Pyrokinesis: As with Cryokinesis
  • Sonokinesis: Thematically inappropriate.
  • TK-Bullet: Almost any blaster will be superior to even a extra-effort version of this power.
  • TK-Burst: Thematically inappropriate.
  • Walk on Air: Thematically inappropriate.
  • Walk on Liquid: Thematically inappropriate, and situational.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

ESP in Action

Recommended Powers

  • Awareness: Eliminates darkness penalties and a Deep-Scan provides a +4 to Search rolls for Checkpoint Security (page 29).
  • Clairaudience: Another form of Audio Surveillance (page 12). You may still need to make Hearing rolls or Observation rolls to pick out specific details.
  • Clairvoyance: See below.
  • Combat Sense: In addition to the obvious benefits, the ability to know what will happen in combat moments before it does really helps in a Standoff (page 39). Add Combat Sense level to all Stand-Off rolls (or "Cascading Wait" rolls).
  • Danger Sense: Note that Combat Sense and some forms of Vision replaces Danger Sense.
  • Prognostication: See “Precognition, is there anything it can't do?” below.
  • Protected Power (ESP): To deal with Anti-Psi or Power Dampers.
  • Psi-Sense: To detect any psionic use.
  • Psidar: To detect any psionic characters.
  • Psychic Hunches: See below.
  • Retrocognition or Retrocognitive Flashbacks: See below.
  • Seekersense: Excels at finding “the Macguffin.”
  • True Sight: For defeating Mind Clouding or Sensory Control
  • Visions: See “Precognition, is there anything it can't do?” below.

Other Suggested Abilities

  • Competitive Precognition: A new one! A hard technique which provides a bonus on precognition contests, for dueling precogs, up to a maximum of skill+4.
  • Jam: Competive ESPers who happen to be looking at the same thing at the same time can try to block out the other one.
  • Hide Signature: If an ESPer wants to spy without being detected even by other psis.
  • Exposition Sense: Handy for allowing the GM to signal plot hooks to you.
  • Forecast: Might occasionally be useful, especially for survivor-type characters.
  • Know It All: A clever trick
  • Visions (Aspected Dreams): A nice way of gaining controlled information, and adding some flavor to your character.
  • 20/20 Hindsight: Pyramid #3-69, page 6
  • I Feel Them Watching Me: Pyramid #3-69, page 7
  • Psi-Strike (ESP): Pyramid #3-69, page 16

Discouraged Powers Powers

  • Illuminated: Largely inappropriate
  • Oracle: Better covered by the various forms of Blessed from Communion.
  • Racial Memory: Tapping into the total experience of your ancestors is better covered by Communion.
  • Spirit Communication: Psi-Wars doesn't trade in ghosts, and communing with the astral is more a trick of Communion.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Telepathy in Action

Recommended Powers

Suggested Telepathy Powers

  • Aspect: As noted below.
  • Emotion Control: As noted below.
  • Emotion Sense: As noted below
  • Instill Terror has obvious combat applications. For Intimidation attempts, it grants a +4, but this is not cumulative with a show of force, threats, etc.
  • Mental Blow: I had originally disallowed this, but after studying up on Ishin-Desnshin, I noticed that Mental Blow didn't actually do damage.  It's just the telepathic equivalent of Confuse from the Ergokinesis powers. The ability to stun a target with a mental power isn't particularly overwhelming, nor inappropriate.
  • Mental Surgery replaces Brainwashing on page 17. It is brainwashing. You can use it wherever Action rules reference Brainwashing (including Psy-Ops on page 27) Furthermore, it as potential applications for Fooling Polygraphs (page 27), as you can use it to wipe out or rewrite memories, including your own.
  • Mind Clouding has obvious stealth benefits. Successful use of Mind Clouding should also grant a +2 to Shadowing (It's much easier to shadow someone who has no idea that they're being shadowed)
  • Mind Shield: A prime defense against telepathy powers.
  • Mind-Wipe is primarily useful when engaging in Cover-Ups (page 26), but only if used immediately.
  • Mindlink is more of a story element, a deep connection a character has with another character, but a highly suitable one for the genre
  • Protect Power (Telepathy): As neuronic restraints and Anti-Psi are a thing, this power is highly useful.
  • Sensory Control has numerous possible applications, but most clearly with Impersonation (page 27). Use it to replace Disguise.
  • Sleep has clear applications for subduing targets (Live Capture, subdual, page 24).
  • Suggestion 1-4: As noted below
  • Telepathy Sense: A cheaper way to detect fellow (specific) psis. Also gives you a heads up if someone tries to “listen in” on you or on a psychic “conversation” you're having with someone else.
  • Telerecieve: As noted below.
  • Telesend, especially with the omnicast technique, can replace your communication network.

Suggested Power Packages

  • Empath: Read, and manipulate, emotions. 25 points, Psis page 31
  • Mental Guard: Protect your mind, and detect when people try to get in! 25 points, Psis page 31
  • Shadow: Hide yourself from notice. 25 points, Psis page 31
  • Communications Hub: Replace your communication network with Telesend. 50 points, Psis page 32
  • Thought Thief: Master mind-reading. 50 points, Psis page 32

Other Suggested Abilities

  • Hide Signature: Skilled telepaths can hide what they're doing from view.
  • Independent: Pyramid #3-69, page 14
  • Instant Read: Pyramid #3-69, page 14
  • Jam: Telepaths should be able to stop other telepaths, if they can detect what they're doing.
  • Avatar: Just plain cool!
  • I Know What You Mean: Excellent in a campaign that features gobs of languages
  • Intimidation Factor: Useful defensive mechanism
  • Ping: A cheap substitute for Telesend. Consider combining with Avatar!
  • Tactical Reading: A powerful trick for a telepathic spaceknight
  • Auric Squint: Pyramid #3-69, page 6
  • Hilfe!: DF 14, page 14
  • I Feel Them Watching Me: Pyramid #3-69, page 7
  • Ignorable: Pyramid #3-69, page 7
  • Presence: Pyramid #3-69, page 7
  • Psionic Feints (Telesend): Pyramid #3-69, page 16
  • Simple Defense: Psionic Powers page 24

Discouraged Abilities

  • Borrow Skill: Niche protection is tricky enough without the psychic suddenly learning all the skills everyone else has.  On the other hand, Wild Talent does much the same thing, so if you do want to allow it, it won't be too much of a problem.
  • Mental Stab: makes combat more about what the psychic can do with his mind rather than what he can do with his force sword. Psi-Wars is too physical for mental attacks.
  • Mind Swap: Psi-Wars is the sort of space opera that trades strongly on a character's identity and sense of self. This is better left as a one-off story concept that reverts at “the end of the episode.”
  • Suggestion, Level 5: High levels of suggestion become exceedingly powerful and potentially problematic.
  • Telecontrol is a terrifying ability that has the potential to completely remove characters from play unless they have the right defenses (You can just walk people off rooftops with it). It changes the tone of the game too substantially to allow.
  • Telespeak is only an option to replace Telesend or Telerecieve. In Psi-Wars, we'll use the latter rather than the former.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Nobilis: The Mysterious Death of Abigail Ng

Abigail Ng, Saintess of Tea
While Nobilis started with a desperate battle to save Vancouver from Toyzilla, and Toyland from the machinations of the sinister Damian Bogsworth, this is really just another day in the lives of our enNobled heroes. No, the actual story began with the discovery of the murder of Abigail Ng, the Saintess of Tea, one of the Powers of Kirin, the Koi Goddess, who died in some abandoned warehouse near the ports of Vancouver.

I often find mysteries pose a problem to GMs not used to running them.  The most common failing, especially with a murder mystery, is the one-solution-one-clue problem.  That is, the GM has one solution for the mystery in mind and all of his clues either point to that solution, or they point to red-herrings ("the master of the house is dead, the butler did it, three clues point to him, one clue points to the wife, solve the mystery!") but he runs into a problem in that if he gives you the three real clues, you'll figure it out in 15 minutes, and if he only gives you the wrong clue, you'll go off-track.  So he fights with you and you have to hassle to get the real clues.

My solution is to create a sufficiently interesting plot that I can give clue after clue to the players and they'll find themselves unraveling this vast and complex mystery ("Yes, you discover that the clue towards the wife was a red-herring and that the butler did it, but he breaks down during the interview and says that 'they' will kill his family and then kills himself.  Digging further, you uncover that the mafia had blackmailed him into doing it, and that they still have his daughter.  But why would the mafia do it... wait, they have ties with the master's wife?  Huh, maybe she did do it after all!").

The Estate of Tea
I'm deliberately trying to invoke the themes of the film noir (hence the beautiful dead woman right at the start of my game), and the classic hardboiled story is a ball of yarn mystery: The players find a clue that directs them to the next scene, where they find a clue, which directs them to the next scene, and so on, like winding up a ball of yard.  Gumshoe, Robin Law's mystery RPG, calls this (and I could be wrong, as it's been awhile since I dug around in the terminology) the spine of the mystery: the straight through, minimal line necessary to solve the mystery.  But you can elaborate on the sides, and I intend to.

Which brings us to the next part of my preferred form of mystery design: Have enough interesting stuff going on the sides that while you might have red-herrings, they too point to something interesting.  The classic example in film noir is the revelation of corruption within institutions.  The hardboiled detective realizes some evidence has been suppressed, and then begins to suspect the cops.  After pinning one down, he realizes that they're not trying to cover up a crime, but their own ineptness and corruption (perhaps one of the cops was sleeping with the victim).  This should eventually, somehow, tie into the core story (the cops are in the pocket of the same guy who arranged for the hit, or police corruption is one of the things that contributed to the tragic misunderstanding that lead to her death, etc).  So you can afford to let your players go on crazy goose chases running after red-herrings without making them think they wasted their time.

As a rule, I try to include clues to everything in my first scene.  You have the obvious, first "ball of yarn" clue, or even a few, that can all be followed up, but some of the clues might not make sense in the first moments, but as you travel farther along the ball of yarn, the players will be able to look back and say "Oh, of course, that's why this or that!"  But that means you need to have the whole mystery worked out in advance.  Which I have.  And outlining that once more for myself is the point of this post.

The Mystery

This part is spoiler free.

When the players discovered Abigail Ng, she lay on the floor of the abandoned warehouse.  The pertinent clues to her death and killer were as follows:
Yukimura Yuji
  • Jenny Cho recognizes her.  They went to school together, where they share a journalism class.  She knows Abigail is a British exchange student, voraciously curious, that she had a friend from out of town, and that she had a boyfriend that nobody had ever met.  Abigail had given her something to hold onto, but Jenny can't remember what it was anymore.
  • Abigail has a locket at her throat that contains a picture of Yukimura Yuji, the world's greatest barista.
  • Abigail's wallet contains two dollars, a well-loved photo of herself, Yukimura Yuji and another girl, but the other girl's face has been scratched out, and a pair of Aquapunk tickets.
  • She's wearing a pair of horn-rimmed glasses, which have been broken.
  • Close investigation of Abigail's body fails to yield a cause of death, as there doesn't seem to be one.
  • Abigail's finger seems to be pointing, but the players could not determine what she was pointing at.  She seems to be pointing at nothing.
  • Scattered around her body are:
    • Broken mirror shards
    • A revolver bullet with Abigail's name on it, the sort of bullet fired from a Colt revolver, but it has been set into the casting of a rifle round, that typically used by a sniper.
    • Lots of papers.  Some contain unreadable text, the word "Vermifex," some seem to be files for a government program called "RELICS", a bit of paper with a grain of sand taped to it with the words "They knew," "the Dragon has it in his hoard" and "The Empress still lives" and "She's coming" written on it.

The Battle

Cameron Delacroix
Their investigation is interrupted by a mouse, the prophet Thomas, who bears the Dark Tidings of Cameron Delacroix, which also bring the Excrucian Cameron Delacroix himself.  He declares that such is the fate of all who oppose him in the Excrucian war, and commands all to depart, lest they wish to join her in death, and he draws his Abhorrent weapon, One True Love or the Windflower Blade.

Whereupon he is interrupted by Meon, Desecration's Smile and one of Lord Entropy's three prime Powers, who declares that Cameron has "killed her!"  He will demand to have "the Witness" (meaning Jenny Cho) and demands that everyone attack Cameron, to prove their loyalty to the war.

Meon, Power of Desecration
Meon deploys his Ogres and Nimblejacks, and Cameron calls upon the powers of the Void to summon up his own monstrosities, and everyone fights.

Both Cameron and Meon seem intent on destroying the crime scene.  Under the guise of battling one another and the players, Cameron covertly damages Abigail's corpse and glasses, while Meon "accidentally" ruins the papers that have been scattered around her.

The Truth

Here there be spoilers

Thursday, June 16, 2016

The True Power of Psi-Wars

Center by the Babman


Over the past four weeks, I've looked at four possible models, and each had something to recommend it, and each had some problems. Naturally, I have to pick and choose, but let's take a quick look at what worked for me.

Psionics fits the sci-fi milieu better than the rest, and its powers are spot on for how the Force works. The only problem is that it's so sci-fi that it tends to break down the more mystical elements of the Force.

Magic is nearly perfect, with low-cost powers, magic items, destiny, the meditation rules and black contracts and aspected mana to create a sense of the “Light vs the Dark.”

Chi creates interesting diversity, encourages an external/internal split that explains combative characters like Luke vs meditative characters like Yoda. It also strips the Light and the Dark of their moral connotations.

Divine Favor explains the more mystical elements as the inherent uncertainty of dealing with a God. Divine Favor means that you must necessarily submit yourself to a higher, mercurial power that does not work with the same consistency as a physical law. This also gives us the ability to have serious narrative oomph, if we want it.

As I said when I began this Iteration, the farther we iterate, the farther we must move from the generic and into the specific. At some point, I'm no longer creating framework, but setting. My intent in the previous four weeks was to show you how one might go about building a framework, and hopefully to inspire your own ideas, if you wanted to build your own “It's totally not Star Wars.” But at some point, I have to choose a framework, stick with it, and go. My point in doing so is not to say that “This is the best,” merely that this was the direction I chose.
Without further ado...

The Big Winner is...

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Fixing Scrapperlock

Every once in a while, the GURPS blogger community forms a wave of ideas.  Someone will post something, and then other people, inspired by the idea, will pile on and put in their own two cents.  This time, it was Douglas Cole on running away, which had followups from Peter on Dungeon Fantastic and Michael Eversburg over at Chainlink and Concrete.  The general context of the discussion was the fact that players will take on things too big for them and then fail to run away.  All of them offer insights into how best to run away and speculate a bit on why it's so hard, but I want to talk first about the psychology of why players don't run away.

Friday, June 10, 2016

The May Retrospective

In May, Douglas Cole issued a GURPS Day challenge, which was to get a new blogger on his roles.  I succeeded.  He also asked us to talk about how GURPS Day has influenced us, or if GURPS Day has improved our blog.

When it comes to numbers, the share of traffic directed to my site from Cole's has actually decreased, at least as far as I can tell.  The metrics don't show me everything, and Cole's site has multiple possible urls, and so there might be a mess of them that are sufficiently low that they've fallen off the radar.  I'm not sure why this is so, but I suspect it's a combination of a surge from traffic from other sites, while a general watering down of Cole's site traffic (as the number of blogs increase, the chances of a click on my specific links drops), but it's just a guess.

My traffic is up.  Way up.  When I started this, I had nearly 3000 views.  Last month, I had nearly 7000, and my numbers keep climbing.  It's not clear how many are real views however.  I get huge surges of like 100 views in one minute that don't actually track with any specific page or link, which says "Spiders!" to me.  Those spikes only account for about a quarter of my traffic, though, so I suspect I'm getting real growth.

I wanted to take this moment to pause and give a retrospective because it completes my "the Force As" series, which gives some insights into what people liked and what people didn't.  My top viewed post was... the May GURPS Challenge!  Which logged nearly 250 views, and has +11 on it, making it my most popular and most talked about blog post, but not my most viewed (That's currently my "Don't Convert, Create!" post, which actually has enough views that it's showing up in my top 5 overview.), which just goes to show that my most popular posts are when I don't talk about Psi-Wars.  What lessons one might draw from this, I have chosen to studiously ignore.

The Stats

My top five blog posts, excluding the May GURPS Day Challenge post are:

  1. The Mysterious Power of Psi-Wars
  2. The Psionic Space Knight
  3. The Tao of Psi-Wars
  4. The Other Side of Space Magic
  5. Iteration 4: Cool Powers and Martial Arts
That's a nice and interesting spread, suggesting that all 4 of my approaches drew interest (Divine Favor isn't in the list, but it's also the newest and needs some time for the community to really decide on). Psionic Powers seemed to interest people the most, given that the top two both came from that series.  I'm a little surprised (and pleased) to see that the Chi-version of the Force drew so many eyeballs (It was the most work, and I rather think it had some of the cooler designs), and I'm not surprised to see "the Other Side of Space-Magic" doing well.  It had several reshares and was mentioned in quite a few comments.  That particular version of the Dark Side of the Force seems particularly appealing to quite a few people.

The most +1ed were
  1. The Force as Space Magic
  2. The Other Side of Space Magic
  3. The Force as Chi
  4. The Faith of Psi-Wars
  5. The Mysterious Power of Psi-Wars
The above rankings are somewhat arbitrary: The Force as Space Magic topped out at +6, making it one of the most liked posts I've ever written.  The next three are all +4, and then there's a mess of +3s, and I chose the most commented on.  Interesting, these are almost all theory articles, discussing the idea of these powers, rather than the specifics of their execution, with the exception, again, of the Other Side of Space Magic.  Here too, we see a broad array of interest, which doesn't surprise me.  Everyone had an opinion on how to treat the Force, and I knew that going into it, which is why I didn't sit down and say "This is so!"  but "This could be so."  I hoped that some people would see my ideas, and run with it.

What I'll find interesting is how the community will react once I've made my choice.  On the one hand, I can see a dwindling of interest (The more specific my work becomes, the less people can use it as a generic aid to their own work), or increased interest (the more detailed my work becomes, the more usable it is for people who want to simply run it without doing the work themselves).  Time will tell.

My biggest sources of traffic were:
  1. SJGames
  2. Dungeon Fantastic
  3. Google+
  4. Facebook
  5. Gaming Ballistic
Dungeon Fantastic shot up to the top of the charts.  Whenever that goes nuts, I like to dig around Peter's site, to maybe see if he's mentioned me or linked to me and that's what's driving the traffic, but no.  It seems it's entirely coming from a sidebar he has which lists blogs.  That is, people are reading my stuff from his site because they think it's interesting, and the traffic is coming from that site because a lot of people go to his site.

Google+ beat out Facebook again (there's a huge spike in the android version of Google+, which I suppose means more people are reading me on mobile devices), but I think it also speaks to the strength of the Google+ gaming community.

But the winner is, as always, my thread on the SJGames forum.  I think the vast majority of my readership simply clicks through that when they want to read.  I do get a few direct searches... though one, sadly, was "effect of Gods Divine Favor on my life".  I suspect that poor soul was disappointed by his click.  Or he's not just religious, but also a Star Wars fan!  Who knows.

New Projects

In the course of inspiring the Gentleman Gamer, I was inspired in turn, and started up a new series on my currently defunct Nobilis game.  It seems to have an entirely different sort of readership, which doesn't surprise me.  I'm not sure how my audience takes it, yet, but I will note that Kenneth Hite (yes that Kenneth Hite) left a comment on my blog.  I'd like to think I comported myself well in my return response and kept my fanboyishness to a minimum.

A Total Retrospective

I decided to start this blog 6 months ago.  I intended Psi-Wars to be "quick," and it hasn't been, and for that, I apologize, as it may give the impression that this stuff takes longer than it does.  I do have a love of theory and research, which I'm afraid have spilled out into my blog as I expose more of my process, and that has slowed stuff down.  I have, however, written nearly three months ahead (I have posts scheduled into September as of writing this post), so if you actually look at the time it took, remove the time taken from writing a bunch of unnecessary posts, I think I would be done and ready with my setting by now.  Six months from start to finish for a full "quick bash" campaign, complete with templates, new power frameworks, a new spaceship rule set, etc, isn't so bad, I think.

Has it benefited me?  Yes.  I've enjoyed writing much more than I thought I would and it's generated a lot of useful material, and it's building a following and comments.  But better, it's encouraged at least one other person to take up the torch as well.  I haven't heard if this has helped crystalize any campaigns just yet, but I do see hints of it here and there in some comments.

I think it was a good direction to go.  It's a shame that some of my other ideas have lain fallow, but we'll get to them soon enough.

Nobilis: A Philosophical Action Game featuring Theological Superheroes (in full technicolor!)

More than anything else, Nobilis is driven by the choices the players make: Who they want to be, what they want to represent, and what their own personal worlds and rivalries are like utterly shape the world. I can do a few things on my side to shape it into a particular direction, but in the end, Nobilis must be about surrender to the power of the players.  After all, they're playing Gods.

So, let's take a look at what our PCs, and thus the world, are like.  Note that we're getting new players and some of the previous players want to revisit their characters now that they have a better understanding of Nobilis, so all of this is subject to change, but it's still a good starting point.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

The Faith of Psi Wars

We've taken a thorough look at Divine Favor as the core paradigm for the Force, so now, let's reflect on how well it turned out.

In a way, I find it the best fit.  As stated in the very first post, it allows for very dramatic effects, while still maintaining surprising balance.  In scenes where the GM wants the Space Knight to shine, he just unleashes Divine Favor and lets the player go nuts.  In scenes where he wants to spotlight another character, Divine Favor becomes more muted and subtle.  As alternative powers, the costs for learned powers remain pretty low, putting it somewhere between Psionics and Magic for cost.  It also maintains the concept of consistency among Force users, as most learned prayers are pretty similar.  Finally, it makes a great deal of cosmological sense when discussing the Force and how the typical Jedi treats it, and the Dark Side also works well as a force of moral evil.

But it has a few problems.  First, if a Jedi's power is determined entirely by his faith, then what's the point of all of their training?  Faith powers just work.  A priest needs to worry about living well, but he doesn't need to worry about perfectly controlling his psychokinesis, because it's not his psychokinesis, it's the Force's, and the Force, being divine, will never get it wrong.  This is in contrast with the Jedi, who need to learn to "control" the Force from a young age.

Second, Divine Favor is not innate. A Jedi might have a connection to the Force, but at least some of that power seems to come from himself (hence the training).  In particular, Jedi can innately do things, like sense danger and detect a blaster bolt before it reaches him.  Divine Favor doesn't allow for things like that.  It doesn't power Precognitive Parries, or grant Sense Danger.  This isn't necessarily a failing of the Divine (after all, God can up and warn people of things), so much as an element of how the system seems to work.

Third, this is not an action-packed system, and a Jedi is a warrior, while Divine Favor is meant to emulate priests.  True, Divine Favor has higher reaction bonuses during pulse-pounding moments, it doesn't actually require much action on the part of the petitioner other than faith and time.  I've adjusted some of it to make it a little more dynamic, but it still remains a passive and patient system.  Saints with Divine Favor stand around praying for hours, and God answers their prayers with the destruction of their foes.  Jedi, by contrast, are men of action, and given that Psi Wars is itself an Action game, it follows that they should be able to behave like Action characters.

Finally, Divine Favor assumes that God is a being that does what He wishes.  The Force doesn't act like that.  It doesn't punish you for breaking its strictures, nor does it act in an inconsistent way: A Jedi can know that his powers will work, over and over again without fail.

  • Divine Favor requires no training
  • Divine Favor does not support Danger Sense or Precognitive Parries
  • Divine Favor is too passive.
  • Divine Favor assumes personality that the Force does not have.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

The Other Side of Space Faith

New Powers

While we have plenty of “appropriate” powers, we're missing some key components. We can see the future (Divine Guidance), see into the hearts of men (See Evil, Sense True Evil), but we lack psychokinetic effects, and quite a few of the common tricks Jedi often do, such as sense danger. A few new Learned Prayers might be:

Minor (Neutral Reaction)


Learned Prerequisite: Divine Favor 4
Learned Prayer Cost: 3 points
A minor telekinetic effect occurs, perhaps moving a force-sword hilt to you, or pulling a key to you, or even granting you a +4 to pick a lock.
Statistics: Telekinesis 3 (Divine Favor -10%) [13.5]

Major Blessing (Good Reaction)

Ghost Motion

Learned Prerequisite: Divine Favor 7
Learned Prayer Cost: 7 points
Gain obvious, if not particularly strong psychokinetic effects, including pushing things over, throwing stones at people, etc.
Statistics: Telekinesis 7 (Divine Favor -10%) [32.5]

Miraculous Power (Very Good Reaction)

Invisible Might

Learned Prerequisite: Divine Favor 10
Learned Prayer Cost: 14 points
Gain psychokinetic effects that exceed the power of an individual human, including lifting someone off the ground, or yanking large objects off walls and flinging them at people.
Statistics: Telekinesis 15 (Divine Favor -10%) [67.5]

Divine Message

Learned Prerequisite: Divine Favor 10
Learned Prayer Cost: 12
Send a single message or vision to another character, regardless of distance. This message transcends culture and language to ensure that the target always understands it.
Statistics: Telesend (Divine -10%, Cosmic (No Die Roll) +100%, Universal +50%, Send Only -50%) [57]

World-Shaking Miracles (Excellent Reaction)

Unseen Titan

Learned Prerequisite: Divine Favor 14
Learned Prayer Cost: 27 points
Gain psychokinetic effects that exceed the maximum power of a human, including blowing gaping holes in walls, moving vehicles slowly through the air, or tearing apart a cavern.
Statistics: Telekinesis 30 (Divine Favor -10%) [135]

Alternate Forms

Avatar State
I've noted that Ten Monros has given us some pretty cool tricks without really going all the way into a Full Alternate Form, likely because their interaction with Alternative Ability frameworks are confusing, but I've addressed that very topic on this very blog... precisely because I was working on this power set at the time.

The concept of the Force flowing through someone, guiding their motions, seems to me a good example of a deep connection to the divine, something a character with a great deal of Divine Favor could certainly do. While I cannot, off the top of my head, remember anything like that from either Star Wars or the Expanded Universe, I think the Avatar State from Avater: the Last Airbender is an excellent example of what that might look like (especially given its Chinese-inspired mysticism).
The Righteous Fury powers certainly cover that sort of thing nicely, but I'd rather explore an alternate form, because it allows me to add even more powers and also to balance it with some disadvantages to create a distinctly inhuman character: You can let the Force in, let it strengthen your limbs and burn in your eyes, but then you are guided by Its will, to serve as Its agent of change in the world. When you become a Force Avatar, you serve the Force, it does not Serve You.

The inspiration behind the build comes from GURPS Thaumatology, Spirit Vessels, starting on page 211. The idea is that this “Alternate Form” is more spiritual and mental rather than physical: the character looks the same (mostly), but becomes something else.

It might look something like this: It takes one second of concentration and a cost of 5 HP (the strain of channeling so much Force takes its toll) to enter the Avatar state. Once in it, he is driven by the Force to do a particular thing (chosen by the GM), must do so in a predictable and obvious fashion, without harming others. Furthermore, the strain costs the character 1 HP per second. Fortunately, while in the Avatar State, the character is nigh unstoppable: He feels no pain and is immune to unconsciousness and will not die unless reduced to -5xHP (The Space Knight's flesh is just a shell for the Force, and while the Force animates it, it cannot die, only be destroyed). Heightened awareness gives him perfect knowledge of all danger that faces him, and the Force allows him to reach out and interact constantly with his environment around him (to a maximum range of 10 yards). Finally, the Space Knight is obviously possessed, with glowing eyes and echoing, multi-tone voice and burning strands of power lashing out around him as he floats around. This is marginally attractive, but it's as much terrifying as it is pleasant.

Force Avatar

Learned Prerequisite: Divine Favor 16
Learned Prayer Cost: 200 points

This alternate form does not include Divine Favor. The character loses access to Divine Favor for as long as it lasts. This imitates the nature of other Alternative Abilities, which also preclude the use of Divine Favor. Otherwise, all other character stats remain the same and the rest comes in addition.
Alternate Form (Divine -10%, Reduced time (1 second) +80%, Limited (Once per day) -40%, Costs 5 HP -50%) [12]

Jedi Avatar Form:

Attractive (Impressive +0%) [4]
Danger Sense (Cosmic, No Die Roll +100%) [30]
Immune to Pain [30]
Indomitable [15]
Penetrating Voice [1]
Telekinesis 21 [105]
Unfazeable [15]
Unkillable 1 [50]
Dependency (Return to own form, constant) [-25]
Hidebound [-5]
Obsession: A goal chosen by the Force [-10]
Pacifism (Cannot Harm Innocents) [-5]
Unnatural Features 5 (Brilliant, Glowing Avatar of Power) [-5]

The Dark Side

Of course, if Divine Favor represents a Good God, the Light Side of the Force, we should be able to represent an Evil God, the Dark Side, in a similar fashion. Divine Favors actually discusses this at length on page 12.

The rules for Petitioning are the same, though you're not required to maintain the -10 points worth of religious devotion. We can continue to use the Meditation rule for the Dark Side, but we could also say that if the character is willing to fail a self-control roll for certain appropriate psychological disadvantages (Bad Temper, Berserk, Bloodlust, Lecherosness, Overconfidence, Sadism or Selfish) and/or to act it out in detail, he gains a +1 for the duration of being under that disadvantage. Instead of using the Fatigue rules, though, consider using the Black Magic rules: Each +1 costs 4 points of Corruption, rather than 4 fatigue. The Dark Jedi will pay the price, but only later, and from his form and sanity.

The Reaction Roll works  as the side-bar suggests: How much does the Dark Jedi's proposed action facilitate the Dark Side's objectives? And what are the Dark Side's objectives? Generally death, chaos, ruin and the fulfillment of the Dark Jedi's baser needs: the Dark Side will absolutely help someone fulfill their ambition or kill those who insulted him, but it won't generally help him save the life of those he loves, or sacrifice himself for the greater good.

Finally, when the Light Side faces off against the Dark Side, the Dark Side always loses. For example, Consencrate beats Desecrate.

Minor (Neutral Reaction)


Eyes of Hell (Pyramid #3-36, page 10) the Dark side can see in the dark of course. Explains why they're always lurking in Shadows.

Servant of the God of Lies replaces Sermonize (Pyramid #3-36, page 10)

Divine Guidance


Mantle of the God of Lies (Pyramid #3-36, page 10) is a bit of a stretch, but I could see the Force reshaping someone's face to deceive others. Also, shapeshifters are practically a cliché in space opera.

Major Blessing (Good Reaction)

Ghost Motion

Eyes of Hell (Enhanced) (Pyramid #3-36, page 10) the Dark side can see in the dark of course. Explains why they're always lurking in Shadows.

Power of the Abyss (Pyramid #3-36, page 10) “Good. Good. Let the hate flow through you.” The dark side parallel to Righteous Fury.

Corrupting Touch (Pyramid #3-36, page 10) The ability to destroy life with just a touch seems appropriate to the Dark Side and makes a good parallel for Force Healing.

Sense True Good (Pyramid #3-36, page 11) the reverse of the Light side's ability: the Dark Side can as readily sense the Light Side as the reverse.

Guide My Hand: (Pyramid #3-36, page 11)

Dark Glory (Pyramid #3-36, page 12) The ability to inflict fear on an opponent definitely fits the Dark Side of the Force.

Desecrate Ground (Pyramid #3-36, page 12) one of the things that supposedly tainted Dagobah was the presence of a Dark Lord. This suggests that those who follow the Dark Side of the Force can certainly “taint” the world around them.

See Good (Pyramid #3-36, page 12) This allows a Dark Lord of the Sith to look into the heart of another and see the Hate and the Hope roiling around within them.

Holy Fire (Pyramid #3-36, page 12) A Jedi never uses the Force for attack... but a Sith certainly does. Holy Fire won't work... but we could create a variation for Lightning blasts.

Miraculous Power (Very Good Reaction)

Invisible Might

Corrupting Touch (Enhanced) (Pyramid #3-36, page 12) The same as the above, but better.

Power of the Abyss (Enhanced) (Pyramid #3-36, page 13) As above, but better.

Vampiric Touch (Pyramid #3-36, page 13) The ability to drain energy from others. This expands on that concept to include the draining of life to feed the character. While this is a stretch for classic Star Wars, the Expanded Universe does contain straight up vampires, and it fit the idea of having pyshic vampirism in Psi Wars.

Holy Fire (Enhanced) (Pyramid #3-36, page 14) As above

Desecrate Ground (Enhanced) (Pyramid #3-36, page 14)

Dark Glory (Enhanced) (Pyramid #3-36, page 14)

World-Shaking Miracles (Excellent Reaction)

Unseen Titan

Eclipse pushes the bounds of what might be possible: I can almost see the Force altering the orbits of planets slightly.  And if anyone would bring darkness to the sky, it would be a master of the Dark Side.

Dark Metamorphosis: (Pyramid #3-36, page 14). As Avenging Angel, but Dark!

Drain Soul: (Pyramid #3-36, page 15). The expanded version of Vampiric Touch.

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