Saturday, November 26, 2016

EM Guns Feedback Part 1: The G-Verse Context

Steve Jackons Games recently put out a call for feedback regarding EM guns and their damage and performance, specifically in comparison to ETK guns (Edit: There was a miscommunication, it was in comparison to ETC, because ETK guns are ridiculous and nobody should use them).  Now, lots of people have already busted out some math and done some comparisons, but that's not really what they're asking for, and that makes sense.  I'll believe that Pulver is totally great at math and has already worked out the models necessary for his design.  What he needs is actual play, seeing how it works in a game.

Alas, I am not running anything with gauss weaponry at the moment, nor do I think I could spin one up in the near future.  I can do the next best thing, though, and see what the changes would do in a game that I already had that used gauss weaponry.

Psi-Wars is not my first foray into GURPS sci-fi.  Really, it's probably my fourth or fifth exploration of what makes sci-fi works in GURPS, and one of the reasons I've been posting about sci-fi in GURPS is precisely because it can be so tricky if you don't handle Ultra-Tech right.  Psi-Wars keeps technology at a minimum to keep innate character abilities front and center, but half the fun of sci-fi is playing with cool toys.  My last sci-fi campaign, G-Verse, really focused on detailed use of technology. I tried to blur the lines between action thriller, military sci-fi and cyberpunk in that players could and should geek out over their equipment.  In that campaign, I solved my abilities/tech dichotomy by minimizing crazy abilities and maximizing how cool your tech was.

One thing that became clear to me in that game was that technology exists within an ecosystem.  Sometimes, someone will ask why NATO uses the round it does, given its terrible stats in GURPS, and GURPS players will respond that NATO doesn't use GURPS as its guide for appropriations.  But more to the point, the round was chosen based on assumptions about what other people would be wearing and the role it would play on the battlefield and how the logistics of the round would work.  It's not a round all by itself, it's a round interacting with armor, competing rounds, and living in a context of politics, economics and infrastructure.

I think one of the reasons Pulver is asking for "actual play" is that he needs to see this larger interaction.  Given that G-verse used gauss weapons in a world full of competing weapons and armor, that makes it a good choice for examining what those changes would make to my ecosystem and how it would play out in my campaign.

In part 1, I introduce the basics of how G-verse works, including a look at the weapons, soldiers, tactics and context of the setting, so you can find your footing.  In part 2, I'll look at how my current model already worked, and then see Pulver's proposed changes would have interacted with the setting and see what ETK weapons would do to the setting.

G-Verse: the Setting

Fortunately, I don't have to tell you very much about G-verse, because I wrote it all down already.  You can find the pertinent material here:
I have additional notes, but they're scattered across files and aren't particularly well organized, but it should give you an idea of how the game worked.

I ran three campaigns, two military and one a "spy action thriller" campaign (The poster headlining this post was part of an advertisement I used when I was looking for a group for the third campaign).  I designed G-Verse to feel like modern action thrillers (the Bourne Identity, Expendables, anything by Tom Clancy) but set in the future.  Set 200 years in the future, an advanced (TL 10^) Earth has finally developed FTL travel and colonized a few worlds, but tensions exist between the extremely urbanized and sophisticated Earth-born population and the increasingly independent, rural and survivalist colonies, when war breaks out between Earth and a warrior-poet alien empire called the Quetzali Tyranny.

Tactical Context: Humanity

Space travel in G-verse isn't as casual as it is in other settings.  Imagine it as more like Mass Effect crossed with the Expanse than like Star Wars or Star Trek.  Thus, Earth relies on planets providing their own defenses in the form of decently well-equipped militia.  A typical member of a "planetary defense force" would the standard soldier template with a standard soldier loadout.  You might think of these as "the poor, bloody infantry."

For the purposes of gauss weaponry, it's important to note that:
  • They usually had a guns (rifle) skill of about 14
  • The used a 4mm gauss rifle with 4 clips
  • They had an underbarrel EMGL (25 mm) with HEMP rounds
  • They had sufficient electronics for a +2 to +3 to all shots with their rifle
  • They had a radar system that gave them an additional +3 if they locked on, but they also had electronics that gave them a +1 to dodge if someone locked onto them.
  • They work nanoweave tacsuits.
Planetary Forces had their elites, and they tended to specialize.  The most common were heavy support (often with a gauss LSW), veterans, recon specialists, and shocktroopers (usually armed with a gauss CAW, a gauss PDW and a combat hardsuit).  Different planetary defense forces would specialize in different ways.

The general tactical intent of the planetary force was to have recon look ahead and see what the enemy was up to and to radio this back to his forces.  Then, if necessary, to act as a sniper when his troops came into contact with the enemy.  Heavy Support would lay down cover fire or take on heavy vehicles, shocktroopers would rush the enemy (ideally in a built-up environment full of cover they coudl take), trying to outflank them from where they've taken cover (to escape the LSW of the heavy), and then destroy them, usually with the CAW (at least, players always chose a CAW loaded with HEMP).  Standard soldiers would fill in any necessary gaps, either supporting shock-troopers, plinking enemy, or using their EMGLs and rapid fire to join the heavy in taking down vehicles or putting down suppression fire.  The ideal planetary force is self-sufficient and can take care of itself.

Earth generally believed in keeping the enemy on front lines, fighting over colonies rather than over Earth, and so it designed its soldiers as special forces that could integrate with planetary forces, a layer that would be applied over an existing force.  These forces were few in number ,but exceedingly well-trained and well-equipped, so that Earth could get away with one or two shipments worth of troops to support an existing army, rather than shipping around thousands of troops.

The typical marine was always a veteran and they tended to split into one of three specializations, and officer who would act as adviser, a commando armed with a portable railgun and infiltrator armor, who would infiltrate enemy territory and engage in sabotage, technological disruption and sniper fire, and the "Heavy Marine," who was armored in TL 10 Heavy Power Armor, carrying one of three heavy weapons, usually either a gauss HMG or a plasma gun.  Where the commando largely replaced the recon specialist, the heavy marine replaced the shocktrooper and heavy support.  His armor allowed him to disrupt most anti-infantry tactics, like suppression fire, while laying down a withering fire of his own. His role was arguably that of heavy weapon platform, moving quickly into place to lay down an absolutely destructive suppression fire of his own, or even destroying cover with his plasma gun.  Heavy marines were probably the most popular choice for players, and often the most memorably arrogant, but strangely beloved, characters of my games.

The Quetzali Context

All you really need to know about the Quetzali is that they're a feathered-lizard race of pouncer carnivores with a harem reproduction style.   You have large, loud, smelly, and somewhat dumb males with magnificent plumage and slim, focused, smart, numerous and practical females with subdued plumage.  Both were stronger than humans, but the males were much stronger, and both lacked human endurance (in one memorable scene from the second campaign, the Quetzali ambushed the PCs and destroyed all their vehicles, leaving them stranded in the middle of a vast expanse, which is a typical Quetzali tactic, but it failed against humans because they just marched a hundred miles in a night and a day (and on much stims), which was inconceivable for the Quetzali),  The males tend to demand "glorious" and impractical roles, and act as charismatic leadership, while the females take more important and thankless roles, and usually provide the actual plans of attack that the male will propose.

Because they weren't meant as PCs, I have convenient NPC packages for them available here.  The basic summary is this: Because of their superior ST, the "average quetzali" carries either an EMGL or a gauss LSW, meaning they can lay down a withering amount of firepower.  Infiltrators are almost exactly like human commandos, moving to a foreward position and laying down sniper fire with a portable railgun and disrupting communications and technology.  Finally, the more elite males wear "recon" heavy power armor, which offers them superior speed, on top of their already considerable speed, and they're armed with shoulder-mounted PDWs (which lay down more suppression fire), vibro-claws (because they like them: males aren't very practical, remember?) and limpet mine dispensers (the real killers).

The typical tactics of the quetzali is to mount up in vehicles, speed to wherever they need to be, and then attack (While still fresh and rested).  Grunts lay down a spectacular amount of suppression fire and shrapnel, forcing their enemy to take cover.  While that happens, the quetzali heavy assault rushes the enemy.  If you pop up to shoot back, you'll probably miss the assaulters unless you're using a rapid fire weapons, but those have two little caliber to really stop the assaulter.  If you really stand up and aim something like an underbarrel EMGL at them, then the suppression fire or a sniper will take you out.  If you just turtle up, the assault quetzali will get to you, and he will plant a limpet mine on you, and you will die.
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