Monday, November 21, 2016

Playtest 1: Rafari vs Vesper Tane

Remnants I - Savage Marauder by Squiddy Treat
The first playtest I want to do is two space knights duking it out.  A force sword battle in Psi-Wars should feel like a lightsaber duel in star wars.  Does it?  For this reason, I created two new space knights, Vesper Tane and Rafari, each with their own unique style and their own unique psionic focus.  I envision the scene as a friendly practice duel under the tutelage of a master, but the intent is clear; Can two space knights duke it out in an appropriately cinematic fashion?

Rafari vs Vesper Tane

Master Kimon stood at the far end of the temple, two practice blades in hand as his students approached.

“To understand Communion,” Kimon intoned, “You must learn to master body, mind and spirit. The psionic merges all three together, but you must merge without thought. You must move beyond theory. You must learn to act.”

Both of his students take their blades. Rafari doffs his robes, showing his rippling physique covered in tiger-striped tattoos. Vesper turns towards his opponent and gives him a perplexed look.

“What are those markings, Rafari?” He asks.

“My story, written in the language of my people. Why do you cover your face, Tane?”

The darker student falls silent. The two put some distance between them on cathedral like expanse of the temple. Their feet kick up a small cloud of dust that glitters in the faint light of the lamps set deep in the recesses of the walls. Master Kimon watches both patiently until they turn to face one another.

They start at pistol range. The gloom of the temple is worth -1 to attacks (Note that Rafari’s race has night vision 3).

“Begin.” Kimon commands.

Turn 1

Rafari concentrates. Rafari lifts his hands and focuses. He draws on his own psionic power to reach deep within his body and to draw up adrenaline, to sharpen his reflexes and slow the world. He activates his Metabolic Speed. This costs him 2 fatigue and rolls a 12, successfully activating his Metabolic Speed. He’s at +2 basic speed for the next minute.

Vesper watches Rafari through his mask. He holds his hand out and activates TK-Tether and Fast-Draws his practice force sword with a 9. It flies to his hand from his belt and instantly ignites. The dull glow does little to light the room around him (he still suffers a -1). He chooses to begin in Defensive grip (+1 to defense from the front, +1 damage, -1 to defense from the side, -1 to attack). Then he Evaluates Rafari, trying to figure out what the other is doing.

Turn 2

Rafari Fast-Draws his own practice blade with a 12, and it too ignites, a dim candle-yellow that paints the white of his skin a burnished gold. His cat-like eyes open to focus on Tane, and he concentrates again, this time on Flying Leap.

Vesper’s blade finishes materializing. He has Evaluated and has a +3 to attack and +3 to ignore deceptive attacks and defenses. He Waits for Rafari to attack and if he does so, will make a defense followed by a Beat.

Turn 3
Rafari suddenly spurs into action, moving astonishingly fast. He executes his Lesser Flying Step and launches into the air (Flying Leap on a 13 or less) and succeeds with a 12 (this costs 1 fatigue: He’s down to 8). He then makes his force-sword-art flying strike. He’ll hit on a 13 or less and hits with a 9. Rafari cannot parry or retreat and dodges at -2. His swirling, spinning blade would offer him a +1 to reaction modifiers, if he wanted to impress someone.

Vesper’s wait activates! He uses precognitive parry and just gets a success with a 13 (Rafari surprised him and he almost didn’t feel the subtle tugging of his own psionic insticts, but at the last moment, he lets his own TK move his blade in place) for +1 defense. His defense is 15 or less (He’s in defensive grip!). He rolls a 12! Their practice-blades clash, and even as dull as they are, their contact flares to brighten the room. Vesper instantly retaliates by pushing his opponent’s blade out of alignment with both hands: Beat (20, +2 from Defensive Grip, +3 from Evaluate for 25 vs 18). Tane rolls a 7 and Rafari rolls a 15. Rafari’s blade is unready, though he’s not fully disarmed. He cannot parry this turn (but already couldn’t)

Now it’s Vesper’s actual turn! As Rafari's blade spins wide out of alignment, Vesper makes a small step and brings in a two-handed attack with his blade. He’s at skill 18, -1 from darkness, -1 from defensive grip. He hits with an 11. Rafari cannot parry, but doesn’t need to: He’ll dodge. He makes an Acrobatics roll to turn the force of Vesper’s beat into a flip and to land beneath the sweep of his blade (He succeeds with an 8). He’s at a dodge of 12, -2 from committed attack) and +2 from acrobatic defense. Vesper’s blade crackles and whispers near Rafari’s head as he barely dodges with a 9.

Turn 4
Rafari readies his practice blade with a quick, spinning flourish as he rises back to his stance.

Vesper can maintain his advantage if he forces his opponent to parry, thus making another Beat, but other than preventing his opponent from attacking, his beats don’t do much against Rafari’s excellent dodge. A pommel strike might be more effective. He makes a basic pommel strike, but will only hit on an 8 or less, and misses with a 10. He steps forward and shifts to strike Rafari with the pommel of his force sword, but is unable to find a proper opening.

Turn 5
Master Kimon’s voice rumbles from the depth of his robes “Tane! Rafari fights with more than his force sword.”

Rafari holds his ground, his blade buzzing in his hand as he watches Tane carefully, silently. He evaluates for a +3 to hit and ignoring -3 in deceptive attack and feint penalties.

Tane hears and understand’s Kimon’s advice. He cannot defeat Rafari’s speed with brute force or, at least, not this kind of brute force. He digs deep and makes an Extra-Effort TK Grapple. He spends 4 fatigue (he now has 7 remaining) and rolls his Will-4, or 12 or less and succeeds with a 10. This improves his TK by +80%, or increasing it to 14, which is more than enough to grapple Rafari. He concentrates and makes his TK-Control roll with a 15 or less. He rolls a 5, critically succeeding at grappling Rafari. Tane brings his blade between them and his eyes burn dark inner power and suddenly, Rafari must struggle to move. He’s at -2 to parry and -1 to dodge so long as Tane Concentrates.

Turn 6
Rafari makes a desperate swing for Tane. He’s at -4 to DX but has no other penalties. If he can force Tane to parry, then he’ll be required to make a Will roll to maintain his concentration. He hits with a 9, forcing Tane to parry. Tane rolls Precognitive Parry (10) giving him a parry of 14, which succeeds (10), but requires a Will-3 roll, which barely succeeds with a 13. The telekinetic control holding Rafari remains.

Vesper performs a telekenetic beat on Rafari’s torso. He rolls TK-Control-based TK-Control, or 16 or less (his TK is at 14, and his skill is IQ+2, so he has TK “ST” +2, or 16) and rolls a 13 (for a margin of 3). Rafari’s best bet is Acrobatics at 13, and he’ll use ST-based acrobatics, as his DX is heavily penalized, thus he rolls an 11 against a 12, for a margin of 1. He’s at -2 to dodge as Tane lifts his blade to yank Rafari towards him and then steps to make a swinging attack to finish Rafari off.

Turn 7
Rafari feels himself falling forward but still is under the control of Tane’s TK. The beat does not negatively impact his ability to strike with his blade, but he’s at -4 DX from being grappled, but he knows that as soon as Tane attacks, he must sacrifice his Concentrate maneuver. So he waits: When Vesper attacks, he’ll attack for a Stop Hit.

Vesper Tane attacks. He makes a deceptive (-4) attack for Rafari’s torso. Rafari is at -2 to parry and -4 to dodge. The grapple vanishes. But Rafari attacks at the same time (Stop Hit). He also makes a Deceptive Attack (-4 to attack) for Vesper’s torso. Vesper will have -2 to parry and dodge. Both roll: Vesper hits with a 12 and Rafari hits with a 9. Therefore, Rafari hits first and Tane is at -5 to parry (7, or 8 with precognitive parry) and -3 to dodge (7 or less). He tries to make a precognitive parry (8, which is enough to activate precognitive parry) and then rolls a 14 on defense. Bad luck! Rafari is at no penalty to defend… other than the penalty he already faces of -4 to dodge (8) and -2 to parry (11, 12 with a precognitive parry). Rafari rolls a 9 and a 12 and parries pushes aside Tane’s attack while his own lands in place.

The moment ends, with the electric tingle of a strike cascading over Tane’s skin while Rafari stands with his blade pressed against Tane’s torso and Tane’s blade wide of his opponent. They both switch their blades off. Rafari bows to Tane, respectful, and Vesper grudgingly bows his head to the superior duelist. Master Kimon claps his hands.

“Well done, Tane. You have come far. But you need to learn to unify your action with your thought, to make decision into principle instantly. Meditate, Tane, and then we will try again.”


I’m impressed with how thorough a space knight’s defenses are. Getting around a defense of 13-14 is hard, which means you really need to focus on finding some way to defeat your opponent’s defenses. Arguably, Vesper Tane was better at that than Rafari, who lucked on a good gamble (that could have easily gone the other way) Being able to leverage his speed into a superior dodge managed to nullify most of Vesper Tane’s advantages, including superior unarmed skill and his beats.

It also highlights how a few different points in skill and some philosophy behind technique makes two characters fight very differently. Vesper Tane’s destructive form showed itself superior at beating down an opponent’s defense and forcing his opponent to give ground. Rafari’s agility and speed allowed him to come at Vesper Tane from unusual angles.  Both of these fundamental to the strategy of their chosen styles. But this also combined with their choice in Psionic Ability. Of course, I would argue that both characters felt a bit like one trick ponies. They had their own psionic signature trick and little else, but they were able to use them effectively, which against suggests I’ve struck a good compromise between martial arts and psionics, even if they do have a bit of a “beginners” vibe to them.

It strikes me that TK still needs more work. It’s more effective than I thought and rather complex. I had initially dismissed it as inferior to powers like Telepathy and ESP, but now I’m less sure that’s true. The ability to control an opponent in a fight can matter a great deal. I need to consider an independent technique so you can pin someone down and then hit them with your force sword. It also wasn’t clear to me how contact TK should work. I had argued before that you could add ¼ your TK level to your ST using the standard rules from Action, but you need to be concentrating to do that, which defeats the point. Perhaps a good compromise is to require a perk, which doesn’t strike me as unfair. You’re getting alternative ST for free, but every 20 points of TK only gets you +1 lifting and striking ST. It might be a bad rule, so I should pay attention to it, but I suspect it won’t unbalance anything. This also suggests that, with a bit of work, Psycokinetic Force Swordsmanship might be a good strategy.

Does the fight feel right? I think so.  Of course, this isn't my first rodeo. What worked for CBR will work for Psi-Wars, so I'm not surprised to see how it plays out.  I need a more thorough testing "to be sure,"  but it passes a basic smell test.  In essence, any space knight will have a considerable defense, which means you must use tricks like deceptive attacks, set-up attacks, feints, stop hits or beats to get past that defense, especially when you combine it with the considerable agility of chambara characters for slips, side-steps, retreats and acrobatics defenses.  Landing a hit will be hard, which means you need exhausting and dangerous duels to get that hit.  It almost makes me wish I added Last Gasp, but I suspect players will have their hands full handling psionic powers.
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