Friday, July 29, 2016

Chad Kroeger, the Dark Pawn of Music

Chad Kroeger is one in a long line of Belphegor's ill-fated Powers of Music.  Because the Estate (not originally one of Belphegor's, the result of a contract forged with its original owner) wars with its master, Belphegor selected Chad as his weapon against the estate, to force it into submission.  As Chad had always wanted to be a rockstar, he gladly sold his soul away for a chance to live his dream, including his very own band and a beautiful, rock-and-roll wife.  Belphegor granted him all he wanted, including the beautiful Avril Lavigne as his wife, so long as Chad would wage Belphegor's war on music, which Chad was happy enough to take up.

Chad has Nickleback, the 604 Records label, and Avril Lavigne as his anchors.

His flowers are Chamomile (Something Romantic) and the Star of Bethlehem (the Key of Something Changed)

Estate of Music

-Music is Sound made Art (2)
-Music is seductive and alluring (1)
-Music inspires passions and soothes worries (1)
-Music makes you want to move (1)
-Music is subjective and divisive (1)
-Music sets the mood (1)
  1. Domain Miracles of Music

    1. Summon up whatever song you want on the radio. Summon a boy band out of thin air (they’re ultimately not very impactful), or summon a crowd of fans that will dissipate shortly.
    2. Know what song is coming up next on the radio. Know who wrote a song, what its position on the top ten chart is, etc. Have a conversation with the lyrics of a song to pull out hidden meaning.
    3. Increase a song’s popularity, or the success of a band. Make sure a song gets stuck in someone’s head. Improve a song’s mood-changing quality so that you can control someone’s emotions, lull them to sleep, or force them to dance to the song. Make someone gets a song stuck in their head.
    4. Create a song out of nothing, or summon a meaningful musician, band or fan.
    5. Ruin a song, so that it is quickly forgotten or disgraced. Force a band to break up via scandal or death. Know who is listening to music, or what is occurring in any place where a specific song that you’re currently listening to is playing or has played or will play.
    6. Change the importance of a song, (“Enter the Sandman is the best wedding song!”), or rewrite its history to a limited degree, such as changing which band wrote it, or its country of origin, or how it was or will be received. Change a band’s fate of destiny in some specif or limited way (“After Evanescence breaks up, Amy Lee finally gets together with Seether. Their children are beautiful”). Ensure that a song is never forgotten, becoming embedded into a nation’s very sense of self-identity (“And now playing our National Anthem, American Idiot”). Make a music so compelling that someone dances to death to it, or everyone who hears a song falls madly in love with its musician. Curse someone with an eternal ear-worm.
    7. Create an entire genre of music from nothing. Create musical instruments with magical power (like the pipe of Hamelin, or the Ocarina of Time). Create a new angelic song worthy of Heaven itself. Create a legendary musician, such as Robert Johnson, ex nibilo.
    8. Destroy a song so completely that is it never existed (“One of the Six Forbidden Songs, “Raise your Glass”).
    9. Change a song’s fundamental impact on all of history, so that it is always present at certain events (“All Star, by Smash Mouth, is also know as the Suicide Song for all of the death its haunting strains have inspired”). Change what impact a song has had in the past or will have in the future, allowing a song to inspire revolution or to tear a society apart with controversy.

    Persona Miracles of Music

    1. Make someone a little sexier, a little more controversial, a little more rock-and-roll.
    2. Whenever someone listens to a song, the Power of Music listens right back.
    3. Make yourself seductive and alluring. Set the mood to whatever you wish. Inspire others while also soothing their worries.
    4. Make someone subjective (thus vulnerable to the opinions of others) and divisive, such as a bad boy that’s beloved by young women but despised by their mothers. Make every sound someone utters artistic. Curse someone so people around them wish to move away to the beat of that person’s life. Turn someone into a physical song, capturing their patten onto sheet music, or trapping them in the lyrics of a song on the radio.
    5. Strip someone of their sexiness and appeal. Slow those in the room around you, stilling movement. Remove someone’s ability to move, freezing them like the flash of a strobe light.. Strip someone’s passion and fill them with frantic worry. Remove any artistic quality from a song. A song no longer counts as a song, but as noise.
    6. Ensure that someone becomes a rockstar, or strip them of their rockstar quality. Become seductive enough to seduce an excrucian. Gain the capability to control the movements of those around you. Gain the ability slice through things, or cut apart friendships (“Divisive”)
    7. Trap a city into a song, so that every citizens pattern is displayed in a complex sheet music or a dramatic and long concert piece, or that they only exist when the backside of a particular album is played. Make someone so subjective that other’s opinions literally shape them.
    8. Curse a city so that they may never enjoy any music again. Strip a nation of its ability to move except when a particular song is playing. Reduce an entire genre to noise (Death Metal).
    9. Grant someone magical musical powers (such as the Pied Piper of Hamelin). Bind someone eternally to a song, so that as long as the song exists and is playing someone, that person cannot die.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Walking the Paths of Communion

Designing the Paths for Communion was probably the most time consuming element, and probably the single largest addition to the whole set.  For the most part, I've tried to use existing concepts, but Paths are largely new.  They're borrowed from Unknown Armies' avatars and the ideas behind Thamautology's Spiritual Alternate Forms, but they reflect something that I don't think I've seen in GURPS before, and as a result, I was really carving virgin territory here, which means a lot of things can go wrong.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Meditations on Communion

The Design Goals of Communion

I've already discussed why I chose Divine Favor twice, but allow me to briefly summarize once more: I created Communion to fill the holes left by psionics.  I wanted to return mystical themes to the game, create a sense of universality to the power-framework, and connected the characters to the larger narrative.

Divine Favor must necessarily add a sense of mysticism to a setting because characters cannot control it.  Once something ceases to be repeatable, once something cannot be controlled in a laboratory, once something requires ridiculous mumbo jumbo to explain it, then it necessarily becomes mystical.  I chose the powers I did to express the divine power of Communion.  It can invade you, it can control you, it can empower you, it can darken the skies and rip psionics out of your control.  It's this vast and powerful thing, both terrifying and exhilarating.  It is awesome, in the classic sense of the word, just as Divine Favor should be, and as a result, it becomes something difficult to explain, something that all characters with Communion can understand, but that they must resort to metaphors to explain.

The nature of Communion, what it is described as, deeply favors symbolic associations.  Of course your true name matters, because that's how Communion knows you.  Of course wearing creepy masks and wielding the dread weapons of a horrific fallen empire will give you power, because Communion remembers those associations. Communion creates a God that thinks like us, and loves stories as much as we do, so the best way to manipulate it is by following a sort of narrative logic... just as the Star Wars stories do.

Communion does not allow niches.  To be sure, characters can choose to purchase learned prayers, but this does not guarantee an exclusive niche.  Any character can receive visions.  The character who purchases visions as a learned prayer can use it more readily than characters who have not, but nothing stops other characters from stepping on the first character's toes, because nobody really controls Communion.  Contrast this with Psionics, where a player can't even learn ESP powers if he's a Telepath, and even if he expanded out in that direction, he'll be far behind the ESPer in skill and technique.  This could cause a problem if Communion was the only source of power, but because it interacts with psionics, it creates a sort of level playing field: ESPers can see the future and Psychokinetics can move stuff around, but anyone with Communion can learn important facts or have some kind of combat advantage.

Finally, Communion uses the rules for a Patron, which means the GM can treat it as an NPC.  This is intentional, and it's definitely one of the reasons I chose this route.  The GM is always free to do what he wishes, of course, but I wanted to make his role in the lives of psionic characters very explicit.  B 73 states:

If the GM determines that your Patron appears at the start of an adventure, he may design the adventure to include an assignment or aid from the Patron.
The rules for Minimum Intervention only apply on an Appearance roll.  That is, they only apply if the player is trying to invoke Communion himself. If the GM decides Communion is going to actively participate in the scenario, he is free to do so.  If you want a PC with Communion 4 to manifest a full Avatar, you are free to do so.  If you want to just hand a PC a vision of something important, you are free to do so.  If you want Communion to participate in a negative way, you're free to do that too.  Broken Communion, in particular, is deeply appropriate for "haunted house" stories, with characters or places "cursed" by Broken Communion haunted by strange events or twisted psionic energies.

The opposite is true too.  If you find that a PC is a little too cavalier with Communion, or you don't want a miracle to save the players... then you don't have one.  That's the nature of the Minimum Intervention modifier.  Players cannot complain when they beg Communion to save them while they're in a prison, and all it does is unlock one door, or turn off the power, or give them one guard who might help them.

Star Wars is deeply cinematic, and with the inclusion of Communion, GMs have the excuse to have deeply cinematic games as well, and gives the GM the control to shift the game into a higher or lower gear as needed.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Psionics and the Psi-Wars Framework

I've largely already addressed psionics in an Action framework in each individual post.  We can largely see where they fit into the above.  For example:
  • Violence (Psychokinesis and Ergokinesis)
  • Stealth (Telepathy and Psychokinesis)
  • Superior information and/or planning (ESP)
  • Social manipulation (Telepathy)
  • Mobility (Psychokinesis)
  • Technological Superiority (Ergokinesis)
Mobility suffers a bit, but that's because I want ships front and center to gameplay.

Beyond that, I'm largely not concerned about how well Psionic Powers will work because I believe that PK did his homework. PK is one of the shining examples of an author who understands frameworks, as can be attested by his work on the Monster Hunter and After the End series, thus I fully expect that not only will they work well with the Action framework based on the adjustments I've made, but they'll work well with one another.

That said, if a psionic, rather than classic, approach is going to work, it needs to provide reasonable power for a reasonable cost when compared to the skills and technology available to the average character: it needs to be a viable strategy.  For the most part, the psionics I've chosen offer the ability to do something that technology cannot, with a few exceptions (lightning blasts aren't really any better than blaster bolts).

My largest concern has been the considerable point-cost associated with Psionics.  A character can become pretty good at, say, information gathering with ~20 points worth of the right skills and the right technology.  An ESPer needs to spend considerably more than that to make his gift work, but his gift can offer much more than those 20 points.  To further off-set costs, I have introduced God-Like Extra-Effort.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Evaluating the new Power Framework

Cool ideas bro, but does it work?

Many RPGs that I enjoyed in my youth, I came to notice over time, are plagued by what I liked to call the "Cool Idea! Syndrome."  The writer needed to fill out a book full of cool powers, and they needed to inspire their audience, so they wrote neat ideas into their books.  What they didn't do was write a working system into their game.  It was enough that they had neat ideas, and they seemed to have stopped there.  The result were that some cool powers completely changed the game, or even wrecked it, while others seemed to do nothing at all.  We'd have arguments at the table, and the games would shortly end up shelved while we turned to more robust games (like GURPS!).

A good system is cohesive and builds interesting gameplay.  Players respond to incentives and they'll see that there's an inherent goal in your gameplay (Psi-Wars, imitating GURPS Action, has the goal of "Accomplish the mission"), and a variety of ways to get there (Stealth, direct combat, good social interaction), as well as a variety of possible stumbling blocks/challenges that could stop you from getting there if you can't beat them (while, ideally, keeping even failing gameplay interesting).  It does this by providing a clear ruleset that creates interesting interactions.  Raph Koster argues (if I may attempt to paraphrase an entire book) that "fun" in a game essentially boils down to experiencing unexpected emergence coming out of this clear-and-simple ruleset, and the feedback loop of learning to master that ruleset and its emergent behavior.

A good system should provide you with those things.  I could write an entire series on building gameplay (and someday I will), but you can already get a pretty good idea of what it looks like by reading Dungeon Fantastic or David Sirlin's game design articles or Raph Koster's Theory of Fun, etc.  Dungeon Fantastic touches on what I'm sort of talking about in this post on "plugging holes".

"Plugging Holes" examines some of the underlying implications of the framework created by the DF rules and how to deal with them regarding a particular goal (survival, in this case).  For example, a character needs to survive being attacked by a goblin with a spear, but he also needs to deal with death curses from a lich.  These require substantially different things, so different that players are often better off specializing in their particular niche and protecting one another.

But those niches aren't inherent to GURPS.  Kromm put them there, deliberately, with his design of Dungeon Fantasy, which Peter is exploring in his Dungeon Fantastic articles.  One reason people love "Kewl Powerz" is not just because it lets them be awesome, but because those cool powers create a framework for gameplay (Said differently, cool powers let players be awesome in a specific context.  You need both the cool powers and the cool context for it to work)When we create our own powerset, we're creating a similar framework full of dangers and strategies and interactions that the players can interact with and explore.  Ideally, we create one that promotes gameplay that fits our genre and design goals.

The question I pose to you is this: Does this design succeed at doing that?  Does it promote a world full of mystical claptrap that borders on fantasy, while also allowing high-octane gunfights and spy-vs-spy action?  For added tension, realize that Star Wars itself often fails at this particular dichotomy (gunslingers and spies are practically a joke in the prequels, almost completely overshadowed by mysticism and the fantasy elements).

Do we have a working framework, or do we have a pile of cool ideas?

Friday, July 22, 2016

Magnus Carter, Dark Duke of Corporations

Magnus Carter is the Power of Corporations.  He is Belphegor's Son, and the literal manifestation of the compact between Belphegor and the Bilderberg group, who seeks to bring about Belphegor's New World Order.  Magnus is a Dark Magister, and seeks to undermine and ultimately destroy mankind.  Relatively recently (since the 1950s), Magnus Carter has taken on the name "Magnus Carter" and has taken to clothing his swirling ribbons of agreements and contract-law with a human shell, derived from the soulless husks of those employees trapped in his corporate web.

Magnus Carter is attended by Mina van Tienhoven, the virgin sacrifice made by the Bilderberg group in 1877 to forge their compact with Belphegor, and Magnus Carter's personal secretary.  Because Corporations drain the souls of those who work for him, he's also attended by an army of "Empty Suits," soulless look-alike men dressed in factory-made suits and ties.

His flowers are Gorse (Something held in thrall) and the Wild Rose (Something weird)

Estate of Corporations

  • Corporations seek to increase the profits of their shareholders (3) 
  • Corporations are legally people (1) 
  • Corporations are constructed out of legally-binding contracts (1) 
  • Corporations only understand money (1) 
  • Those under the thrall of Corporations eventually lose their humanity (1)

Domain Miracles of Corporations

  1. Make an event or an institution slightly more corporate. Create corporate trappings out of nothing: Clean lines, ties, suits, nice outfits. Make a venture slightly more profitable (but only cosmetically)
  2. Know all the details of a corporation just by looking at them, including who works for them, what their profit margins are, what they make, how they interact with other corporations. Can talk to other corporate entities (as spirits).
  3. Make a corporation more of an entity in the local environment. Increase its profit, make it more influential or powerful. Make corporate life more soul-sucking than usual.
  4. Construct a corporation out of nothing. Turn an institution into a corporation. Allow a corporate entity to materialize. Create a soulless corporate minion from nothing.
  5. Seriously damage or destroy a corporation. Hollow it out so people no longer invest in it, no longer trust it in, so that its legal protections are removed. Destroy the spirit of a corporation. See the fate of a corporation, and see how the rest of the world is shaped by corporations, or understand things that a corporation governs. Make a company particularly pleasing and fulfilling to work for. Ruin a corporations ability to make money.
  6. Change the policies of a corporation. Change the destiny of a corporation, making it good or making it evil. Transport a corporation (“Toyota's traditional headquarters here in Spokane”)
  7. Create a world-spanning corporation from nothing. Create an army of soulless corporate minions. Allow the true, greater-god forms of Corporations to manifest and stride across the world (“Corporations are, legally, city-crushing titans!”)
  8. Destroy a world-spanning corporation. Make a megacorporation fulfilling for all employees.
  9. Change the destiny of a major megacorporation, or the worldwide opinion of corporations in general. Shift how corporations will impact humanity.

Persona Miracles of Corporations

  1. Make someone (or something) a little more corporate: A little more straight-tie, a little more money-obsessed, a little more soulless.
  2. Become present in any Corporation. Become any soulless corporate minion (empty suit). See through the eyes of any corporate employee.
  3. Make yourself, legally, a person. Make yourself highly profitable. Suck the souls out of those beneath your control
  4. Make something, legally, a person. Make someone a construct of contracts and agreements (that can be negotiated). Make someone only able to understand money. Make someone profitable. Turn someone into a soulless corporate minion.
  5. End someone's curse of soullnessness. Remove someone's ability to make profit or understand money. Remove someone's legal status as a person. Become all corporations. Become the CEO of any corporation.
  6. Make someone a CEO or a champion of corporations. Surround someone with corporate things. Become metaphorically profitable.
  7. Make someone a construct of contracts that can be negotiated to become something inhuman and powerful (like turning someone into a true corporation: Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were people before the Dark Duke found a new use for them. Their deaths caused quite some economic ripples!). Someone becomes metaphorically profitable. Incorporate things like cities, or turn them into contracts that can be negotiated, or legally people. Everyone who serves a nation or lives in a city will become soulless.
  8. An entire city becomes unprofitable or nobody in it is legally a person anymore. Cure an entire nation of soullessness.
  9. Make someone a cosmic-scale CEO. A nation becomes bound up in a corporation or itself corporate.

Empty Suits

Magnus Carter creates Empty Suits wherever he goes. Mortals who spend too long in his Glory can become empty suits as well. People who work too long at corporations, especially at the highest levels, become Empty Suits.

Empty suits have the Gift of Invisibility (they are simply not noticed unless they choose to be) and the following Properties (note that breaking a property and taking a “wound” might not physically kill an Empty Suit. Often, it returns their humanity):
  • Empty suits have no strong opinions (1)
  • Empty Suits serve Corporations (3)
  • Empty suits offend nobody (1)
  • Empty suits know what all other empty suits know (2)

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