Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Playtest 3: Rafari and the Nahudi Warriors vs the Empire!

The previous playtest was to make sure that our space knights have a certain sort of minimum competence. Now I want to see how far I can push them. If a space knight has little trouble taking on 7 criminals by himself, how about a single space knight vs ~30 imperial troopers?

To balance the scales a little, I'd like to see how our Alien Warriors do as well, as Rafari offers a great opportunity to look at Alien Warriors. The story practically writes itself. Rafari, having completed his training and parting ways from his dear friend, Vesper Tane, returns to his homeworld, only to find it invaded by the Empire! He finds his tribe readying for war, and his welcome is a bit rough. “Rafari has gone soft,” they say, but Rafari proves them wrong and convinces them to let him assist them in protecting their homeworld.

The Nahudi people are heavily outnumbered, so we'll give Rafari 5 warriors and 5 scouts. His opponents will be 6 heavy imperials (thus three guns) supported by 5 imperial carbine troopers, with an advancing force of 15 imperial carbine troopers and 5 elite troopers in a kill squad leading the assault.

The Nehudi warriors arrived at their chosen battleground early. Two rough patches of rocky ground, rich with cover, face off over a relative no-man's land of loose sand. The ground is such that characters must either stand on Uneven ground (in the stony area) or on sandy ground (in between), for a -2 to attack and -1 to defense. Two large cliff faces line either side of the battleground, and the scouts have prepped deadfalls in these. The best way to get from one side to the other is in the cover of the cliff-face, which offers plenty of outcroppings to take cover behind. Going over the open field will force you into a field of fire without cover. The total distance between both rocky areas is submachine gun range, about -5. It'll take 3 rounds of movement to get from one to the other.

That night, Rafari medidates and uses Wisdom of Communion. He is given a vision of the battle the following day “Only with great sacrifice can a world be saved.” It's a grim destiny, and the GM decides that both sides can access one point of destiny. Rafari opens his eyes, ready to do what must be done.

The battle will take place in a sort of canyon.  The battleground is flanked on either side by canyon walls full of fissures that allow one to hide.  The mouth of the canyon is rocky and uneven, followed by a broad, sandy depression, and then lifts into another uneven rocky area.

The Imperial troops march by daylight. The scouts hide in the rocky ground that overlooks the sand, and the warriors hide in the rocky outrcroppings at the entrance to the canyon, ready to ambush the imperials. To properly ambush, both the Scouts and the Warriors must succeed at their Stealth rolls, but because they need to be well-hidden enough to attack from behind, the Warriors need to vanish, so they'll apply a -5. The Warriors have Stealth 15 and succeed with exactly 10. The Scouts have a 18 and succeed with a 12. The Kill Squad has the best Perception at 11, and have visors worth +2 to perception checks if heat signatures matter. The roll a 13, which means an exact success, the same as the Warriors. The GM rules that the kill squad is in the warriors when they notice the Warriors and begin to shout out a warning. The empire is not suprised but neither do they see the deadfalls.

As the troops made their way to them, Rafari meditated. He had been meditating all morning, so the GM grants him a +2 to his Communion roll, in addition to his +1 for meditation. He gets a miracle on a 10 or less. He gets a 14. He argues that he seeks a miracle to save his world and is willing to make whatever sacrifice is necessary, and suggests the Immunity to Pain miracle. The GM agrees to let him spend his point of Destiny. Clearly, without some miracle, his whole tribe could easily die, so he gains a +4 to his reaction. He has also stuck to his beliefs, recently forsaking Vesper Tane for his heresy, so the GM grans an additional +2. He rolls an 18 (!), +6 is 24. Well! We could go for a Primordial Avatar, but Rafari follows no path. Of course, that doesn't have to matter for Communion, so let's imbue him with the Primordial Avatar of the Righteous Crusader.

I had actually hoped to have a more modest battle, but I suppose being imbued with godlike power shortly before going to war with the enemy has a certain sort of meaning to it. It certainly utterly changes the dynamics of this fight.

Rafari is immune to pain, has effectively HT 16 to resist subdual and death, has a will of 19, is Transcendantly impressive, recovers 1 fatigue per second, gets a free Concentrate action per turn, and is fixated with destroying the Imperial Troopers before him. He loses 2 HP and loses an additional HP per minute.

This is perhaps inappropriate. He's not really prepared to channel the powers of this particular avatar, but I hadn't expected to roll that well, and I'm curious to see how this will play out.  It's an opportunity to see an avatar in action!

Other pertinent modifiers: the Nehudi are defending their homeland, so have +1. All terrain is either sandy or uneven, providing a -2 to attack and a -1 to defense. It's brightly lit, so nobody benefits from dark combat.

Turn 1 (6 heavies, 5 elites and 20 troopers remain; Rafari has 9 HP remaining)
Rafari Waits until after the Scouts have opened fire. Then he’ll fast-draw his force sword and rise to his feet to intimidate the Imperials. With his free action (Compartamentalized Mind), he activates Metabolic Speed (I had originally intended to activate Body Mastery to just ensure whatever would happen during this battle, Rafari would remain conscious and alive, but that's not really relevant anymore). He spends 2 fatigue and succeeds with a 10. He has a move of 8.5 now.

The Scouts can reasonably claim to have been aiming for a turn, so they suddenly open fire. They’ll hit on a 24 or less, so unsurprisingly all 5 hit, one with a critical success. Their rifles deal 5d+2 damage, and they do between 14 and 28 damage, which is enough in all cases to penetrate the hardshell armor of the average imperial trooper. They get no defense, because they were Ambushed. Thus, five shots, five fallen troopers.

Rafari’s wait triggers, he fast-draws his blade (12) to Defensive Grip and he rises to his feet, his green blade burning in his hand as he lowers his glowing eyes at the soldiers. The psychic weight of the archetype made flesh within him, the power of his disapproval, sweeps over those that see him. He forces a fright check in all of those here. All the troopers have a 12 or less, while the kill squad has a 13. None of the kill squad fail, but 6 of the troopers fail, and are stunned.

Rafari choose to All-Out Defend (Parry). He’ll need it parry all that incoming fire!

The Warriors wait until after the Deadfall triggers.

The Imperials cannot act this turn, as they are surprised. They Do Nothing. But they can now defend.

Turn 2 (6 heavies, 5 elites, 15 troopers (6 are stunned); Rafari has 9 HP remaining and 10 FP remaining)
Rafari's blade has fully materialized. He remains in place, and engages in All-Out Defense (Parry).

The scouts aim, remaining partially behind cover in their uneven, rough ground.

The Warriors wait for the deadfall to trigger.

The Imperials spur into motion. While still on uneven ground, the heavies move to set up their heavy machine guns. It’ll take 3 turns to set up the tripod. This is turn 1.

The Kill Squad rallies lead the charge forward, into the sand trap, beyond which they can make their way towards the scouts. 9 troopers move with them. Both make a combat assault, with a -5 to hit due to range, -2 due to bad footing, and -2 for attacking the scouts. The infantry focuses their fire on Rafari instead, but they cannot possibly hit; 3 of the kill squad elite fire at the scouts (4 or less) and 2 fire at rafari (6 or less). None of the infantry hit, their mass of fire sparking and flashing off the rocks and cliff-faces. One of the kill squad hit Rafari with exactly one shot (He rolled precisely an 6) and one of the kill squad hit one of the scouts with a critical success. He dies.

Rafari must roll precognitive parry and succeeds with a 7, and then parries with a 7.  He casually swats aside the one on-target blaster beam.

Moving forward, they trigger the deadfall. This hits an “area” with a 3m radius. The GM rules this hits 3 of the kill squad and 5 of the infantry on an 11 or less: 1 of the kill squad and 3 of the infantry actually get hit. This deals 20d “large scale” injury: the kill squad elite has effectively DR 80, and the standard infantry have effective DR 45. The kill squad elite takes 74 damage and, thus, is fine. The three infantry take about the same amount of damage, which is enough to get through their DR, and they’re removed from combat.

This triggers the Warriors. They erupt with howling cries, which will intimidate the infantry on an 8 or less, though double checking the Action rules, this might be a mistake. The axe should add some kind of bonus: I’ll go for a +3, which means they’ll succeed on an 11 or less, and 3 succeed. The Troopers themselves roll against their Will+Fearlessness and only one outright fails, who goes on defense. The warriors make basic Vibro-Axe attacks (Not Art of the Axe), and none can defend because the warriors surprised them. All 5 hit, but only 3 do enough damage (2d+5(5) cut) to break through the DR 60 and take them down.

The stunned 6 infantry must try to break mental stun, and have an IQ of 10 (no combat reflexes). 3 succeed.

Turn 3 (3 heavies, 5 elites, 12 troopers (3 stunned); 4 scouts and 5 warriors remain, Rafari is at 9 HP)

Having parried a blaster bolt, Rafari swats it back where it came from. He rolls his precognitive parry (13) with a penalty equal to range (-5). He’s aiming for one of the generic troopers, and misses with an 11. The bolt hisses past one of the imperial soldiers.

The scouts, having aimed last turn, fire again. They’ll hit on a 24 or less, and unsurprisingly all 4 hit. They’re aiming for generic infantry, and all do enough damage to punch through their hardsuits. None of the troopers dodge.

The Warriors push on, rushing the remaining three heavies and two of the stunned infantry who hadn’t moved forward. This time, they use the Art of the Axe for committed attacks. 4 hit, none defend, and one critically fails his defense. Two of the attacks do enough damage to down imperial troopers, while two more are protected by their armor. This enough for two more victory ululations. Another trooper is intimidated into all-out defense.

Two of the troopers were intimidated and make an all-out defense. 3 are stunned. 9 rushed forward. That leaves 1 remaining heavy, who drops everything but his carbine, and 1 of the previously stunned infantry behind. They use their rifle butts to strike back against the warriors. One critically succeeds and knocks a warrior’s teeth out and floors him.

The soldiers not hit by the deadfall continue onwards, while the one heavy carefully extracts himself from the mess. The remaining 4 elites and 6 infantry continue their combat assault. This Move puts them in Pistol range (-3) and they’re still on sandy ground, giving them a -2. The carbine troopers will hit on a 5 or less and the kill squad will hit on an 8 or less. All fire is focused on Rafari: only one hits, a kill squad elite for 2 shots (7). Rafari again rolls precognitive parry (success with an 8) and spends a fatigue point for feverish defense, giving him a 15 or less (he succeeds with a 10).

The remaining stunned infantry try to shake their stun, and one does so.

Turn 4 (1 heavy, 5 elites, 8 troopers (1 stunned); 4 scouts and 4 warriors remain, Rafari is at 9 HP and full FP)

Rafari regenerates one FP per turn and his enemy are mounting the incline to meet them. Blaster fire is sparking against the rocks around him as he bats aside both shots. He chooses to wait until they are at melee range and then to make a rapid strike 4 times (spending 1 fatigue each time).

The scouts drop their guns and draw their knives. This will get messy very quickly.

The warriors fight against the increasingly alert infantry. 4 remain and again they use their art of the axe, which will hit on a 13 or less: all 4 hit, no trooper successfully dodges, but only one warrior does enough damage to put a trooper down. His warcry intimidates one trooper.

Of the 1 remaining heavy and 6 troopers, one trooper has been killed and another intimidated and one is still stunned. The remaining 4 characters fight back against the warriors. 3 hit, no warrior defends, and all take enough damage to go down. One lone warrior remains.

The charging infantry (2 troopers and 5 kill squad elite) are close enough that they can enter melee with their blasters, but before they can open fire, Rafari’s blade spins into action. He makes 4 attacks, explicitly using combat art, and spends 1 fatigue on each attack for -3. He’s in defensive grip, which gives him another -2. He’ll hit on a 12 or less. He focuses all of his attacks on the kill squad, and hits all 4 times. They defend at -1 (uneven), and none does so. 4 kill squad members die under the beautiful pattern carved by Rafari's green blade.

The remaining kill squad member focuses his fire on Rafari while the infantry fires on the scouts. The kill squad member hits Rafari five times. Rafari succeeds with his precognitive parry (11) and parries all five shots (8) and cuts through the kill squad’s blaster.

The two infantryman open fire, while being on uneven ground (-2) against targets that are no longer in cover. They’ll hit on an 8 or less. One hits exactly, and the scout fails to dodge, so he’s removed from combat.

The last trooper needs to recover from stunning, and does so.

Turn 5 (1 heavy, 1 elite (without a blaster), 7 troopers; 3 scouts and 1 warriors remain, Rafari is at 9 HP and 8 FP)

Rafari spun and wove between all of his various targets, tearing them apart in a beautiful display and then parried the final kill squad elite’s blaster. He makes a Flourish using his Force Sword Art, finishing off the kata with a sort of perfect serenity, the beauty of his attack paired with the pyshic horror of who and what he is at this moment, his eyes burning the same green as his blade. He makes a Force Sword Art roll at +4 with another +4 from terror and +5 from Trascendent Impressiveness, but with a -5 from being in the midst of combat. That means he has a 26 or less. Unsurprisingly, he succeeds by a lot, and the remaining infantry and the kill squad elite turn and run

The last warrior stands, panting, amidst the last heavy and five remaining troopers (their attention is focused on him, not on Rafari, and thus aren’t intimidated by a display they don’t see). He could surrender, but he’s not sure they’d take prisoners anyway, but seeing the victory on the rise, he instead turns to flee, attempting to put as much distance as he can between himself and the rest of the infantry. This puts him at Pistol range.

They heavy and the 5 infantry open fire on the last warrior. He’s at pistol range (-3) and they’re on uneven ground (-2), so they have a 7 or less to hit him. One hits once and one hits twice and the rest miss, their blaster fire blowing chunks out of the rocks and sand around the fleeing warrior. He fails to dodge and is gunned down, joining his brethren in the sand.

Turn 5 (1 heavy, 5 troopers; 3 scouts remain, Rafari is at 9 HP and 9 FP)

While they have their focus on the dying warrior, Rafari uses his compartmentalized mind to concentrate on his Flying Leap and then makes a Lesser Flying Step with a +5. He needs an 18 or less to make it, and does so with a 12, then needs a a 12 or less to hit, but rolls (alas) a 14. The rest of the troopers turn to see Rafari in their midst.

The scouts ready their rifles and hit their bellies again.

The heavy and the troopers open fire on Rafari. He cannot parry and will have to rely on his excellent Dodge. With his Metabolic Speed, he currently has a dodge of 12, but his committed attack drops it to 10. They have a 10 or less to hit him. Two hit him, one once and one 3 times. He feverishly dodges the first shot (with an 8), and then makes an acrobatic (7) spin around one of the attacks and then feverishly dodges with a 12… enough to dodge two of the three hits. One shot hits! Rafari takes 20 damage! Fortunately, he cannot be stunned, thanks to his immunity to pain. He doesn’t even seem to register the fact that a blaster shot just ripped through him. Nonetheless this is enough damage to force him to take a survival roll. He passes easily with a 14 (he currently has an HT of 16!) One of the scouts gasps dramatically!


Turn 6 (1 heavy, 5 troopers; 3 scouts remain, Rafari is at -11 HP and 8 FP)

To act, Rafari must pass a consciousness check at -1. He does so easily with a 10 (He has an effective HT of 15). Rafari makes another 4 attacks spending 4 fatigue for each attack for a total of -3 (plus -2 for being in defensive grip). He’ll hit on a 13 or less. All 4 attacks hit, one attack is a critical success. Two of the troopers manage to defend, barely stepping out of the way his lethal blade, but the other two die (including one of the heavies).

The scouts aim.

The remaining 4 troopers open fire on Rafari, again needing a 10 or less to hit. Two hit twice, one hits 3 times. Rafari makes his precognitive parry roll (6), and then makes his parry rolls. He has them all in front of him, so has +1 to defend, giving him a 14 or less in his defensive grip. The first he parries completely with a 13. The second (-1, so 13), he parries with a 10, and the third (-2, so 12), he makes an acrobatic parry (with a 7, so +2), and rolls a 9, parrying 3 shots. He defends himself perfectly, and cuts through the blasters of each opponent.

Turn 6 (1 heavy, 1 trooper (4 disarmed troopers); 3 scouts remain, Rafari is at -11 HP and 5 FP)

To act, Rafari must pass a consciousness check at -1. He does so easily with a 14 (He has an effective HT of 15). Rafari, having cut through another 2 troopers and parried all the attacks made on him, makes another Flourish and critically succeeds with a 5. The GM rules that the remaining troops, mostly disarmed and in disarray, flee.

The scouts remember that the troopers offered no quarter to their fleeing man and open fire themselves. They’ll hit on a 24 or less. All 3 hit, none of the troopers defend, and all three shots deal enough damage to punch through the hardshell.

Rafari makes a Body Mastery roll to revert his Metabolism Control back to HT and passes with a 9 (this costs him 2 fatigue, but he can handle that). He uses his Metabolism Skill to enact First Aid on himself, healing 3 damage. Then he lets the avatar state go, and instead uses his learned prayer of Gift of the Life Force to heal himself 10 HP over the next 10 minutes. He ends at 2 HP. The three remaining soldiers gape at Rafari, gushing blood and mortally wounded, who silently prays and closes his own wounds.

“Let us speak to the rest of the Nehudi. The Empire will not take our world this day. And let us bring to them the heavy weapons carried by these soldiers. Perhaps they will serve us well.”

Final Casualty Count:
  • 5 warriors
  • 2 scouts
  • 4 elites
  • 16 troopers
  • 6 heavies


This is actually the second time I’ve run the playtest, and twice I’ve forgotten Higher Purpose. That suggests that perhaps I should discard it as a concept, though this time I remembered things like footing and psychology much better. The first time, the Empire won and lost only half of its troops (that is, it lost 15 troopers/heavies to 10 alien warriors and Rafari).

The first time, I had the Warriors and the Scouts switched, which is arguably a better choice as the scouts are better at stealth than the warriors, though the warriors are more lethal in close-up combat than the scouts, and the scouts are better snipers than the warriors. This time, the deadfall triggered and the ambush worked better, which helped a lot. But the big difference was Rafari. Previously, he simply jumped straight in, which means he bore the brunt of some 12+ shots, which he couldn’t handle. He went down in about two turns. You can see how dangerous this tactic is from when he jumped into the midst of the last remaining soldiers. That seems unfortunate: the point of Graceful Form is to cover that distance and let you deal with military-scale troops. This time, he was much cagier, forcing them to come to him, and I made better use of his regenerating fatigue to make for ridiculously fast rapid strikes, tearing through the enemy like they were tissue paper.

The other problem, perhaps worth revisiting, is that beam weapons have a pretty decent ROF and a low recoil, which makes for a very high number of hits.  That makes parrying against multiple shots very difficult.  It might be worth coming up with a perk that improves the "recoil" of parries.

As before, the Avatar State is surprisingly unimpressive, but I think this comes down to Rafari himself. Rafari uses metabolism control, which has a few impressive tricks, but once they’re on, he doesn’t need to worry about them anymore. The avatar state is designed to give a character the ability to maximize his psionic powers, thanks to regenerating fatigue and compartmentalized mind. For example, Vesper could have made a free TK roll each turn, bodily flinging the soldiers about at the same time he was slashing through them with his force sword. Rafari couldn’t do that. The bigger difference here was his Intimdiation factor. I’ve allowed him to use Flourish + Force Sword Art in place of Intimidation, which I think is fair, and Appearance can add to Intimidation attempts (usually only the negative ones, but I think Impressive certainly applies!), and Terror grants a +4 to intimidation attempts as it’s a “miraculous power,” and arguably a more impressive use of it than just a straight fright check, which isn’t that impressive.

This fight just proves something I’ve known for awhile: GURPS is GURPS. How you approach a fight makes a huge difference. The same characters fought two different battles, and while the fight was heavily leaning towards the empire in both cases, clever tactics and a good ambush and a few lucky rolls really turned it to the Aliens’ favor. A space knight cannot afford to be cavalier, to think of himself as a super-hero. In this case, he’s more of an action hero. A bad plan will get him killed, even with a high power miracle running.  Ultimately, it comes down to good tactical sense: in the first fight, the Empire was able to establish local superiority, to bring their considerable firepower to bear against the warriors (though they couldn't get their machine guns set up) en masse.  This time, the warriors and Rafari were able to keep the Empire divided, unfocused and scattered.  That, ultimately, made the difference, and that means that Psi-Wars is a deeply tactical game that requires careful planning, more akin to Action, again, than perhaps to Star Wars (though one could make an argument that several of the films, especially in the original trilogy and in the Force Awakens, rely on this sort of careful planning, with the understanding that everything can and will go wrong, rather than on super-heroics always winning the day).

I had also worried that the warriors would be “too over the top” or the empire “too weak.” These two fights prove that is not the case. Trooper armor is tough, though the light hardsuit only stopped the vibro-axe (which means the warrior is probably better off with a rifle. Is that a problem?), but the full hardsuit of a kill squad elite is very effective. While I didn’t use them this time, grenades are especially effective against aliens, and the empire has them in spades. With a fully set-up set of heavy gatling blasters, they could have pinned down their enemy while the kill squad and infantry advanced. Alas, they didn’t have that chance.

So, does it work? Well enough. As I expect, Psi-Wars seems better set up for all snipers all the time, but as we’ve seen with Space Knights, their ability to jump around can really mess that up, and in the previous fight, when the kill squad gets into close combat with snipers without a space knight to defend them, they die. The Space Knight is competent enough against military combatants, though he does poorly against a sufficiently high concentration of fire. Even so, a space knight can be suitably impressive, again, on 350 points.

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