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.

Making the Divine more like the Force


The training element is easily solved by altering how Learned Prayers work.  Each learned prayer can have a skill or technique associated with it, just as with Psionic Powers.  Petitioning the Force in general works differently than using a Learned Prayer.

Active Use

Regarding active use, Divine Favor is really just an extensive study of the Patron advantage paired with an Alternative Ability framework.  We can create new advantages by reworking that Advantage.  A Patron with the power of a God is worth 30 points, and he's Highly Accessible +50% and has access to supernatural powers +100%, that provides Minimal Intervention (-50%) but is Divine -10%, has a Pact with you worth 10 points -10%.  Based on those numbers, we could create new advantages based on removing some of those limitations.  For example, my numbers suggest that an Uncontrollably Active Force might be worth 10-15 points.  That means at certain times that the GM decides, he can trigger a Petition and Reaction roll to see if the Force assists you.  That can give you your Danger Sense and sudden visions out of nowhere.

Alternatively, a Patron is an NPC.  It can do what you want.  If you want a patron to up and interact with a PC, it can.  So, the Force warns Jedi for the same reason an Ally warns an ally: because it wants to.

Faith and Action

Believing requires action
-James E. Faust
In regards to making Divine Favor more Action-oriented, we have control over the petition modifiers.  We can adjust them to support more active characters.  This is especially appropriate for the Dark Side, which is "quicker" than the Light Side of the Force.  In a way, the Reaction modifiers already include a bonus for need.  We can include additional modifiers, for either petition or reaction or both, that resemble the Emergency Only limitation, or that grant you a bonus if you're in the midst of doing something about the problem.  That means that you're going to have an easier time calling on the force to defeat the Sith lord that you're dueling than you'll have calling on the force to defeat the Sith lord beating at your door.

Giving God a Little Personality

Finally, the "flaw" of the Force lacking personality might be a misreading of the Force.  When the Force and the Jedi are in synch, it seems that the Force always does what the Jedi wants... but how do we know that it's not the Jedi doing what the Force wants?  Again and again, Yoda and Obi-Wan suggestion the extinction of will when relating to the Force.  Trying to make the Force do what you want is the way of the Dark Side.  Allowing the Force to "flow through you", to act through you, is the way of the Light Side.  When characters violate their vows, the Force does not flee them because they still have access to the Dark Side (which is one of the dangers of acting immorally in Star Wars: You won't lose your powers, but your power will become tainted).  This means that the Dark Side and the Light Side both come from the same Divine Favor advantage, but the nature of your miracles depend on the current state of your soul.

We can use Philosophy (or Theology!) to reflect this deep connection to the Force.  If a character is ever unsure of how he should act, then he can roll to know what the Force would want him to do.  Then, when it comes to Reaction rolls, the GM might even waive them if the Jedi does what the Force wants.  In a sense, if the Player is willing to sacrifice his will to do what the GM says, then the GM can allow the Force to act through him.  If he refuses, if he demands his own way, then he "falls to the dark side." The Dark Side doesn't care about your vows and will give you whatever you want, as long as you exert your will.  If you fail the Dark Side, though, it may well lash out.

Finally, Divine Favor requires a measure of faith.  A Jedi doesn't worry about whether or not the Force will act for the same reason that a true priest doesn't worry about whether God will act. If a faithful Jedi puts his hands out to knock over some robots, he doesn't worry that the Force will act, he has faith that the Force will act, and if the Jedi and the Force are in synch, then the Force rewards his faith.  It just happens.  This requires a bit of GM fiat, and is generally best represented by Learned Prayers, but seeing the Force this way, perhaps, fixes the problem of the uncertain Force.

Converting fully to Divine Favor

Religion in Endless Space
Faith plays a strong role in many space opera stories, from Dune to Endless Space (and the cult of the Endless) to Dark Space, even Prometheus.  Why not have Space Priests in a space opera setting?  

Ten Monros's aims his excellent article primarily at Dungeon Fantasy's clerics. If we were to draw from it, we'd also have Space Priests.  The Space Knight would be something akin to a Space Paladin or a Space Templar.

The other major problem with the Force as Divine Favor is that Divine Favor has a distinctly Christian flavor to it, while the Force is more Daoist.  We can fix that, but why not explore a more Christian-flavored Space Faith?  Warhammer 40k does that too, and it also features energy-edged force swords and space knights. We could have our Space Knights kneeling humbly before Space Priests before they go to fight the demonic hordes of Space Warlocks and Space Dark Priests who draw upon a sinister power that they use to ravage planets in the name of their evil lord.

Or, of course, if we're going to modify Divine Favor to make it look more like the Force, we could modify it in other directions.  Space is vast and strange, and we can explore its strangeness.  For example, Good Gods promote Awe, Evil Gods promote Terror... but what about Confusion?  The works of Lovecraft have a decidedly Sci-fi flavor to them, and his Elder Gods had Cults.  Why not treat that as Divine Favor too?  A mad religion that worships strange things, like the Engineer's weird worship to the divine perfection embodied in the Xenomorph in Prometheus.  We could replace the Judeo-Christian religion of Divine Favor with something bizarre and alien and menacing... or not menacing, but still bizarre and alien, like Zhaan's faith from Farscape.

Faith represents a powerful force in genre because it reflects culture.  We expect sci-fi to show us strange and exotic cultures, and religion is one way to show how different culture can be.  Star Wars spends so much word count and screen time on explaining the Force.  They explain it more than any other setting element, and they do so because it's the most exotic and interesting component of the setting.  By using the tried-and-true, we lose an element of the exotic, and that's a shame.  We should consider using Divine Favor not just because it's a good reflection of the Force, but because it can be a good reflection of so much more!
Space Cathedral
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