Monday, August 22, 2016

Martial Arts Analysis: Understanding GURPS

If we're going to use GURPS Martial Arts, it behooves us to understand GURPS Martial Arts.  I've often made the mistake of simply trusting my source material (or my flawed understanding of it) without examining it in more detail, and it often bites me in the ass.  If I look more deeply at the styles I've chosen and the rules around them, I'll avoid potential pitfalls.  Furthermore, GURPS Martial Arts is a wondrous smorgasbord of optional rules with which we can use to customize our experience, and that's something we'll have to do, as GURPS out-of-the-box will punish melee fighters, and we do not want that.

(Peter Dell'Orto, the author of the book, has a fantastic post outlining this very philosophy here that is well worth your time to read. As he recommends, we're not going to add his rules "just because they're there." I want to think through how I want the fights to play out, and adjust the rules accordingly.)

Over this next week, I'll look at the four martial arts we chose at the outset:

  • Force-Swordsmanship
  • Force Sword-and-Buckler Combat
  • Inshin-Denshin (but not Third Eye, because I have limited time)
  • Way of the Galaxy
But today, I want to take a moment to look at GURPS Martial Arts itself, as it has some advice fairly specific to our chosen genre.

Campaign Advice

The Campaign chapters in a GURPS book probably rate pretty near the top (right beneath "GM advice") for bits of a GURPS book that I am unlikely to read, which is unfortunate, because they often offer some pretty great starting points.  GURPS Martial Arts is no exception.

On page 246 and 247, Martial Arts discusses using martial arts in Space Opera settings, and explicitly tackles "sword and blaster" games, which is explicit shout-out to games like Psi-Wars. It recommends Force-Swordsmanship (which we've already taken) and any martial art featuring a weapon that is "amenable to ultra-tech improvements, or unarmed styles for settings that feature two-fisted justice against bug-eyed aliens.  For settings inspired by Dune, it recommends daggers and some from of Combat Wrestling or renamed Jujutsu.

For campaign types, it recommends the Quest, War is Hell, or Warriors of the Night.  For realism levels, it recommends Mad, Crazy Action.

Campaign Types

The Quest, on page 247, outlines the sort of scenario where characters are in search of some dramatically important macguffin, which is fairly standard fair for RPGs.  Psi-Wars will certainly feature hunts for lost relics, or forbidden locations, so that does fit, though the advice doesn't offer much more than that.  However, it points out that people might search for lost or secret styles.  Secret paths, psionic powers, or styles might all make for interesting quest possibilities.

In discussing the Quest, GURPS Martial Arts specifically references Star Wars as containing a Quest for a Master.  This is a search for a specific NPC that can impart important teachings or wisdom to the would-be student.  Luke did this in his search for Yoda.  This is an ideal way of gaining access to Weapon Master or Trained by a Master, or to the aforementioned secret styles.  For this sort of quest to make sense, such masters should be rare (Yoda was "the last Jedi master"), and such characters can make for fantastically interesting NPCs.

War is Hell, on page 248, suggests following the exploits of martial artists into the theater of war. This will almost certainly suit Psi-Wars, as we definitely feature fully armed and armored soldiers who will deploy against the PCs, and we expect that Force-Swordsmanship and its like will serve the characters well. It suggests Seven Samurai, the Three Musketeers and World War 2 as sources of inspiration, all of which would suit Psi-Wars well, though I note that this section is light on advice as to how to run such a campaign, though the presence of Fairbairn (which is a sentry removal technique) inspires me.  What would sentry removal look like in a world with light hardsuits?

Warriors in the Night focuses on ninjas and guerrilla action, both of which can suit Psi-Wars.  I'd like to add the Assassin template, who will be the ninja to the space knight's samurai.  Characters deeply loyal to a commander might represent the assassins of some secretive clan, or faithful rebels devouted to an important cause.  Alternatively, Martial Arts also suggests mercenary agents, which could represent bounty hunters, assassins for hire, spies and smugglers playing in the murky underworld of Psi-Wars, another theme fittingly drawn from Star Wars.

Rules Options

The campaign advice above points us towards Mad, Crazy Action starting on page 238.  It recommends we ignore gritty, detailed options that move things towards realism, and that strikes me as right.  Star Wars might have a gritty veneer, but that's all it is.  Han Solo struggles with debt, but that's only because it's dramatic, not because George Lucas worked out the details of interstellar trade and finance and realized that smugglers would owe money to Hutts.  Instead, it recommends that we use cinematic rules and especially rules for faster combat (page 126), which we should bookmark for when we look at combat options later.

Then Martial Arts offers three levels of cinematic play: Larger-then-Life, Epic, and Over-the-Top.

Larger than Life suggests the use of some optional rules, but limits gameplay to the more realistic cinematic rules, rules like extra attacks and extra effort, which allows single characters to defeat a significant number of enemies and draw on their internal reserves to push themselves when they really need it.  This is meant to reflect the more low-key cinematic movies, stuff like Die Hard, swashbuckling movies, or the grittier samurai films.  Given that this forbids chambara rules, which allow swordsmen the phenomenal mobility necessary to deal with blasters, I suspect this isn't cinematic enough for Psi-Wars.

Epic allows all cinematic rules except for Bullet Time and "silly" rules like Proxy Fighting.  This gives us access to Chambara rules, which greatly increase the mobility of characters, so this strikes me as the minimum necessary level of play.  This sort of level is meant to emulate wuxia, more high octane samurai films, and legendary or mythical martial artists.  Those tones fit the mythic storytelling of Star Wars, and also the myth-making inherent in Communion.  I'm inclined to lean towards this level of play.

Over-the-Top allows all cinematic rules (including bullet time) and suggests a few additional ones.  Perhaps a psi-attuned character might parry a force sword bare-handed!  Perhaps an adorable little girl can wield a huge gatling blaster (and hide it under her skirt when she's not using it, in blaster-space).  Perhaps it ignores the Rule of 16, making psis ridiculously powerful with sufficient investment.  This is meant to reflect comic books, super-heroes and anime.  Given that later depictions of Star Wars has tended towards depicting the Jedi as full-on super-heroes, and that anime and Star Wars have been riffing off of one another for ages, this might also fit Psi-Wars.
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