Monday, September 12, 2016

Designing New Martial Arts

Now that we know more-or-less how combat will work in the game, and we've collected enough material to know what Star Wars combat (and Psi-Wars combat) looks like, we can re-evaluate existing martial arts and, perhaps, create some new ones.

New Martial Arts

Star Wars has no less than seven lightsaber "forms" (and, alas, over the course of my investigation, I managed to memorize all seven, not that they were terribly helpful to me).  Why so many when GURPS has only one?

One could certainly be sufficient, depending on how much emphasis we wanted to place on martial arts.  In a setting where space knights are a minor part of the setting, then I suspect a single force-swordsmanship style is more than enough, in the same way that you don't need 4 fencing styles for a single swashbuckler class.

Having several martial arts means that characters can and will define themselves more precisely. Someone who has studied the art of of Praying Mantis Kung Fu differentiates himself from someone who has studied Pak Hok or Shaolin Kung Fu.  Some characters might learn several martial arts, such as a character who first learns Shaolin Kung Fu and then finds the hidden temple of the Dragon-Men and adds Dragon-Man Kung Fu to his growing collection of techniques.

To me, Star Wars (and by extension, Psi-Wars) is in the martial arts genre.  That's the reason Star Wars has seven lightsaber forms, so you can have comics where someone says things like "I have studied Makashi, yes, but I have also studied Djem So, and you would be a fool to underestimate me!" or "Shii-Cho may be a beginner's technique, but it has power far greater than you can comprehend!" or they can unveil secret new techniques, or climb mountains to learn secret or lost techniques.

If we're going to rewrite Force-Swordmanship, and we have to given the flaws it has and how substantially we've changed the rules for combat, why not take a moment to look at alternate forms of Force Swordsmanship?  We already have Force Sword-and-Buckler combat.  Why not create something darker and more sith-like?  Or something more fencing-like?  Why not create some secret styles?

Force-Swordsmanship isn't the only martial art in Psi-Wars, either.  When we examined our various tactics, a few assorted categories popped out.  I've created martial arts for:
  • Force-Swordsmanship
  • Military tactics
  • Ranged weapons
  • Unarmed combat
  • Other melee weapons
  • Psionic and other "Secret" styles
The intent here is to show how a variety of characters might fight, both PC and NPC.  Not all of the above will necessarily be full martial arts.  In particular, we expected ranged combatants to know a few techniques or tricks, but it's unlikely that they would call what they do a formal style.  They didn't learn it at a dojo, and someone doesn't look at Solo and think "Oh, a Corellian gunslinger, which is very different from a Rodian-style gunslinger!", but by examining how ranged combatants fight, we might create a collection of perks and techniques appropriate to various templates, ie, we can finally make the Bounty Hunter as cool as she should really be.

Building Martial Arts

Designing a Martial Art requires more than just the selection of skills, techniques and perks appropriate to the style.  You need a goal you're designing towards, a way of differentiating your new martial art from another martial art, a mechanical purpose to the technique, and a way of inspiring the players who take it, a sort of "imaginative signature" for the style.

In principle, you could simply take Force-Swordsmanship and give it a bunch of names ("Sith Force-Swordsmanship", "Jedi Force-Swordsmanship", "Cyborgian Force-Swordsmanship" and so on), all with the same skills and techniques, but with different names and Style Familiarity Perks (meaning that a character familiar with Jedi Force-Swordsmanship would be slightly better at fighting fellow Jedi than he would be at fighting the Sith), and you'd have sufficient differentiation of style.  GURPS Martial Arts actually does this.  There are several styles where there's, meaningfully, no mechanical difference, but the way the fighters might carry themselves or the specifics of how they use their skills and techniques might be sufficient different to warrant a new style familiarity (see Quarterstaff vs Bojutsu).

In practice, however, I find that most players find this a very unsatisfactory solution.  They want to know how Juyo is different from Ataru for them, mechanically.  This means alternate perks, techniques, etc.  It means a different design goal.  For example, Wookiepedia describes Juyo as the "Ferocity form" and says that it's brutal and aggressive, while it describes Ataru as acrobatic and flashy.  What does this mean for the specific characters?  It likely means that one focuses on offensive tricks, and the other definitely has Acrobatics and places an emphasis on it.  We begin to have a design goal, a way of differentiating one from the other, a signature.  We just need to build the techniques, skills and perks around that conceit and concept.

But will it be useful?  If Ataru is "flashy," that likely means it has flourishes and Combat Art.  But if a player puts his points into that while the other character puts his points into Juyo's aggressive techniques, will they be sufficiently equivalent that the Ataru player won't feel like he got screwed on the deal?  To find out, I prefer to use Signature Moves.

Signature Moves

Encourage “trademark moves.” Have each player work out a
few “standard operating procedures” in the form of an entire turn’s
worth of actions calculated in advance; e.g., “Committed Attack
(Strong) and Rapid Strike: thrust to the vitals at skill 13, then a
Deceptive swing to the torso for -2 defenses at skill 12.” These are
good “default” actions for the player who can’t make up his mind!
-GURPS Martial Arts, Faster Combat, page 126
This isn't my first martial art game, and when I ran Cherry Blossom Rain, I soon came to see the wisdom of those words.  A Signature Move is a standard, single-turn set of actions that a character can do (anything appropriate for the Trademark Move perk).  Martial arts tend to feature more than just techniques and skills, but preferred ways of using those techniques and skills.  A particular school might teach its fighters to perform an immediate counter-attack for the face after parrying, or to retreat with a side-step and make a feint in specific circumstances.  These strung together become kata, and by having those moves in your mind, a martial artist doesn't have to think and can simply act.

These signature moves give you a picture of how the style fights, and how the techniques and skills will work together.  As you build signature moves, you might start to see where you have holes in your style.  It encourages you to think about the style's strategy: "This technique uses X to become unstoppable!" It also lets your players see how it fights.  If they see that Ataru has lots of acrobatic dodges and feints and clever flourishes mid-combat, and they see the benefit of those, they'll grasp that Ataru is flashy and acrobatic.  If they see another style featuring Acrobatics, but that it uses that acrobatics for positioning and outmaneuvering an opponent to set up brutal attacks, they'll realize that the signature and approach of the style is substantially different, despite having similar skills.

The point of a kata is so that the martial artist doesn't need to think about his next move ("Wait, he just blocked.  Hmmm, perhaps I can push his hand aside and make a punch for his solar plexus?  Oh too late."), only in larger terms, about his broader strategy.  Signature moves do that for us too.  A player doesn't have to work his way through the details of how a particular move works, he just looks at the signature move on his sheet and uses it as written.

But they help us, as GMs, too.  Say you want to have soldiers who are more complex than "I stand there and shoot", what do you do?  Why, look at some of the signature moves from Infantry Training and give them a couple.  Now they can engage in Suppressive Fire or Concentrated Fire.  Instead of working through complex tactics for all your piles of NPCs and mooks and lieutenants, you have them already, and you can afford to have richer combats with less work, and those richer combats will make more sense.

Using My Styles

The following styles are either fully fleshed out, if they're new or sufficiently different from the original to justify it, or I simply discuss them and make notes on how they work.  In all cases, though, I include a list of 4-7 signature moves.  The point of those signature moves is to give you a starting point, not to be an exclusive list of all possible moves.  Feel free to add more.  Furthermore, each signature move includes a few notes/details on how it works in a generic fashion.  If you wish to note one on your sheet, adjust it to fit the particulars of your character.

Signature Moves don't cost anything, but all of them can be taken as Trademark Moves.  I recommend that you discourage players from taking the signature moves of a style that they do not know as signature moves.  A user of the Graceful Form can certainly chop off hands, but he's less likely to use it all the time then a user of the Destructive Form.

Several styles have access to perks.  This access is not exclusive.  That is, anyone can buy (for example) No Nuisance Roll (Precognitive Parry).  The advantage of having a perk in a style is that it lets you get around normal perk restrictions.  Let's say that a character can have no more than one perk per 50 points (that is, 6 perks for a starting Psi-Wars character) or one perk from a style for which he has Style Familiarity for every 10 points spent on skills, techniques or advantages from that style. Thus, characters have more ready access to their style perks than characters without the appropriate style familiarity.

Finally, the name I have chosen are explicitly generic.  I'm aware that "The Destructive Form" is less evocative than "Shii-Cho" or "Tiger Claw" or what have you, but these sorts of names depend heavily on setting choices.  Thus, I have chosen place-holder names that I feel capture what I'm going for.  I also want to note that these are first-pass designs.  Just like everything else in a game, you should ideally make several passes before they become "publishable."
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...