Thursday, December 29, 2016

Leisure in Psi Wars Part 2: Fun and Games

In designing our distancing mechanisms, we need to be careful not to clutter up our setting.  The point of Psi-Wars isn't to explore exotic cultures, but to have exotic cultures as a backdrop for a vast galactic war.  For the most part, the exact nature of these don't matter.  The weird, bug-eyed guy speaks weird gibberish and drinks a weird drink and listens to weird music and, for the most part, that's enough.

Sometimes, however, players will want or need to participate in the weird activity.  This is true of dancing, where knowing the right moves can impress a space princess, and it's definitely true of sports and games, where the plot might turn on the outcome of a game.

Like all other distancing mechanisms, we expect our sports and games to be something exotic and unusual, even if we draw our initial inspiration from a real world sport of game.  But we need to know how our hero might participate in a particular event, and how he might win, especially if the plot turns on that.  At the same time, it's Psi-Wars, not Space Poker, so we need to keep our detail to a minimum.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

So what is there to do around here? Leisure and Art in Psi-Wars

For a lot of people "Culture" means the fine arts: ballet, museums full of beautiful paintings, exquisite sculptures and the height of fashion.  Thus, if we speak of a "cultural familiarity," some might expect that this would include at least some discussion of these elements.  In a sense, that's true.  These represent how a culture decorates their environment and themselves, and what they do when they've got time on their hands.  It's also profoundly associated with what they value.  A highly religious culture might exclusively paint iconography or forbid any painting whatsoever!  Another heroic culture might love to retell the stories of their great heroes and features them, performing great deeds, in their art.  Another culture, favoring freedom and self-expression, might routinely challenge all assumptions about what art even is.

For this post, I'm going to skip the discussion of values, but it's something I'll come back to, as it's very fundamental.  What's important to understand here is that art expresses values.

Like food and language and virtually everything else cultural, art and leisure also expresses status.  More expensive art and leisure activities tend to be the exclusive domain of the wealthy, who may well flaunt their collections or knowledge just to display their status for others.  The poor might not be able to do this, or might make of  point of conspicuously avoiding excessive consumption by sticking to cheaper or more practical tasks.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Fine Dining in Psi-Wars: Cuisine and Intoxicants

"So, what are we eating?"

Ever played in an RPG where someone's in a tavern and he goes to order food, then stops and asks what he's ordering?  What indeed!  In a fantasy game, we can just hand-wave away something like turkey legs and beer, but if we're in an exotic location, especially a sci-fi one, players expect that their character's aren't ordering a burger and fries.  What does one eat in Psi-Wars?

The answer should change from region to region.  Rafari's people live off the bounty of his planet and understand what it brings.  Dun's homeworld, Grist, likely offers food as appetizing as its name ("You haven't lived until you've tried fried Chort on a stick from a street vendor." "Chort... isn't that a kind of sewer crab?" "Well, we have to do something with them!").  Like all the rest of our distancing mechanisms, we can use food to push the characters farther from their comfort zone.  In the core, we might have familiar foods, like space burgers with space fries, but on the rim, nothing is recognizable.

Mostly, this just matters for flavor. It's nice to know what people can order, to be able to offer a few quick names and descriptions, but cuisine serves many roles in a setting.  It can act as social lubricant.  What is Carousing or Connoissuer without the right beer or wine?  It can also act as a unique sort of goal ("Where's the cocaine shipment?"), and it can present danger (being drunk during a raid, or working out where to get food while starving on a world).  While we need names and descriptions, sometimes, we need mechanics too!

Monday, December 26, 2016

Psi-Wars Economics: Trade, Exotic Resources and Money

First Ship of the Year by Dress-7
We've already touched on Psi-Wars economics when we looked at Psi-Wars infrastructure.  This time, I'm going to get into a little more specifics, but not too much, for two reasons.  First of all, nobody cares.  That is, Psi-Wars is not a game about counting coins and worrying about trade runs (though you're free to hack such a game out of the Psi-Wars framework).  Rather, we need to know the economics of Psi-Wars so we know what to say we're smuggling, or so we can give bits of flavor and color.  What do we call hyperdrive fuel?  Why would pirates hit that shipment and not some other one?  What do we call money?  And what's for dinner?

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Psi-Wars Linguistics

Whoa, lady, I only speak two languages, English and bad English.-Korben Dallas, the Fifth Element
In a campaign, language diversity has two main functions. It provides an obstacle; when explorers encounter a new race, they may not be able to communicate. It also is a source of color; a nonhuman, or a human from a different culture, may have an accent, or a strange way of phrasing things.
-Bill Stoddard, GURPS Fantasy, page 66 
Nobody gives a damn that the alien is speaking twi'lek, except for description. The times where language mattered in Star Wars can be limited to one time in the entire series. C3PO wasted his points on buying 6 million forms of communication.
-Raoul Roulaux, Gentleman Gamer

Raoul is largely right about Star Wars and language.  Where Star Trek or Game of Thrones have internally consistent and largely speakable languages, Star Wars has a series of funny sounds that only sounds like an alien language.  The point of language in Star Wars is like all the other distancing mechanisms in Star Wars: to provide the window dressing of space opera. We expect aliens to speak alien (it would be "unrealistic" for them to speak English), so they jabber on in alien-sounding gibberish.

That doesn't mean we have to do the same in Psi-Wars, of course.  Language serves a purpose, as Bill Stoddard points out.  Moreover, Psi-Wars is based on Action, and Action definitely features language (though often in largely the same way that Star Wars does: It's important that the Middle Eastern terrorist shout things that sound Arabic, to be "realistic" but it's not that important that he's speaking comprehensible Arabic).  Finally, the reasons Star Wars has funny languages remain important.  We still need aliens to sound alien, we still need exotic things to sound exotic, and we still need to give the impression of a sweeping galaxy.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Socially Engineering Psi-Wars: Distancing Mechanisms

The GM’s most important trick in this kind of campaign
is distancing mechanisms: situations, customs, or objects that
are alien and perplexing, both to the PCs and to the players.
It’s best if they aren’t just random weirdness. Not only is it
“playing fair” to come up with logical reasons, working out
the implications of a premise can suggest additional weird
elements, deepening the effect. A campaign of this sort is a
riddle for the players; when they start anticipating the consequences of their characters’ actions, they’ve answered the riddle. At that point – and not before – it’s appropriate for them to buy Cultural Familiarity, freeing their characters of skill
penalties for not knowing how things work.
-Bill Stoddard, GURPS Social Engineering
 This singular paragraph will be the core of most of what I'm doing during this iteration, so let me parse what Mr. Stoddard is talking about.

An alien race, or a strange setting, should feel alien or strange, and that means not everything should work the way it does in our ordinary world.  The whole point of science fiction and fantasy is to visit and explore new and unusual worlds.  They might have a sense of familiarity, but to have a sense of authenticity, something should be alien about them. There should be some element (a mechanism) that helps separate (distance) this "exotic world" from the "ordinary world" that players are more familiar with.

Ideally, these mechanics should logically flow from the nature of the world the players find themselves in. In Dune for example, the natives, the Fremen, have completely blue eyes, obsess over water and worship the sand worms.  This makes sense, though, because the planet is a desert and spice, which causes blue eyes, is one of the few sources of nutrients on the planet.  Once someone understands the logic that underlies the culture of the Fremen makes perfect, internally consistent sense.

These distancing mechanisms represent the hurdle to socializing with another culture.  That is, they are the crux of why you have a -3 for socializing with someone with whom you do not share Cultural Familiarity.  Once you understand the logic of the culture, you have bridged the "distance" and you may purchase Cultural Familiarity.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Psi-Wars and Social Engineering 2: Social Engineering Analyzed

Just as I did with GURPS Action 2, it's worth going over each page of Social Engineering to see if there's anything that leaps out at me as useful, and taking some notes as I go.  I've summarized my notes below, for the tl;dr crowd.


Understanding our alien worlds require us to create distancing mechanics, unique things that define aliens as other.

We need a reference society, the human-focused “Galactic Core” culture.

We need to better define Rank, including how many levels of it we have, what it grants us, and how it interacts with organizations

We should consider revisiting Status, perhaps even returning it to Psi-Wars.

If we wish to include Social Regard or Social Stigma, it might be worth defining what they are and how one gets them.

Social Engineering contains some rules on how aliens might work differently, though most “Communion-compatible” aliens are essentially human in their psychology, with only cultural differences separating them from humans.

The rules for diplomacy and perhaps some elements of administrative or legislative politics are fairly central to a hypothetical Diplomat template, though they need to be matched with working Action traits (in the same way that the Officer takes Mass Combat traits and makes them useful in a generic
Action game)

Check out the distraction mechanics.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Psi-Wars and GURPS Social Engineering

For my next trick, I'd like to look at GURPS Social Engineering and its associated products, like Pulling Rank.

Normally, this would be the part where I argue against its inclusion, because each new element we add has a cost.  We need to write it all out, work out the details, fold it into our game design, and then our players need to learn it. And, in fact, GURPS Action already has a lot of social rules, so why bother with Social Engineering?

Because Social Engineering is a very different book than books like Mass Combat.  It more closely resembles GURPS Martial Arts or Thaumatology in that it's a list of ideas that we can take or leave as we wish.  In fact, GURPS Action already uses some material from Social Engineering (Pulling Rank is derived and simplified from it, for sure).

Moreover, GURPS Action's social rules don't cover enough.  It assumes Earth at TL 8, while we're tackling a galaxy far far away at TL 11^.  We need to think about aliens and strange customs and the impact of galaxy-spanning organizations on the interactions between individuals.  We don't necessarily need to incorporate ever element from GURPS Social Engineer, but we should, at least, consider them, and get an idea of what might need to change, and what is fine as it is.

Friday, December 16, 2016

A Spoilerless Review of Rogue One

I've been excited for the release of Rogue One, because I am (as I'm sure you've noticed by now) a Star Wars fan, but also because the new turn of the films promises to reinvigorate a beloved, childhood franchise and return the energy and goodwill that the prequels lost.

The Force Awakens managed to do that by carefully hewing to the beats of the original trilogy, and thus while you can overstate its lack of originality, it doesn't feel like something new.  Rogue One, however, promised to be something new, or at least it seemed to be. To me, that suggested that this was the real test of the new franchise: Can Disney stand on its own two feet when making a Star Wars film?

In a word, yes.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

The Officer 1.0

Officer 250 points

The Officer excels at command and control. He’s mastered the art of planning, and can plan so well that he features the use of Foresight, allowing the player to retroactively declare that his character had prepared for some presently occurring eventuality. Furthermore, his high rank and administration skill makes him top-notch at Pulling Rank, ensuring that he and his group gain required resources when they need it most. Finally, Psi-Wars doesn’t support Mass Combat out of the box, but should your game include Mass Combat, the officer’s high levels of Strategy, Administration and Intelligence Analysis make him particularly well suited to it.

The Officer is at his strongest when he’s analyzing existing data, engaging politicians and bureaucrats, and when he’s planning. Outside of situations, he has decent knowledge-gathering skills and social skills (and the option of gaining access to considerably influential contacts), and reliable, if not great, combat skills. He’s no front-line soldier.

Most officers are either naval (taking Shiphandling) or army (taking Soldier), but both are strictly optional. Technically, an Officer can belong to any group, any branch of the military. However, he must belong to some group. His signature is his high rank, thus he necessarily serves a duty.

Attributes: ST 10 [0], DX 12 [40]; IQ 14 [80]; HT 11 [10]

Secondary Characteristics: Damage 1d-2/1d; BL 20 lbs; HP 10 [0]; Will 14 [0]; Per 14 [0]; FP 11 [0]; Basic Speed 6.00 [5]; Basic Move 6 [0] 5

Advantages: Born Warleader 4 [20]. Foresight 1 [10], Luck [15], Rank (Any) 4 [20]; Choose a total of 30 points from the following: improves IQ [20/level] or HT [10/level], Ally (Robot, 50%, almost all the time) [9], Charisma +1 to +4 [5/level], Cheaper Gear (Any) [1], Contacts (Aristocrat, Corporate Supplier, Lobbyist, Mercenary, Spy, Skill 12, 15 or 18, 9 or less) [1, 2 or 3], Contact Group (Corporation, Military Branch, Intelligence Agency, Mercenaries, skill 12, 15 or 18, 9 or less) [5, 10, 15], Eidetic Memory or Photographic Memory [5 or 10], Favor (Any) [varies], Hard to Kill [2/level], Higher Purpose (Against Impossible Odds) [5], Looks Good in Uniform [1], Penetrating Voice [1], Rapier Wit [5], Reputation (Conqueror, War Hero, almost everyone) +1 to +2 [5 or 10], Reputation (Good Officer, military men only,) +1 to +2 [3 or 5]; Serendipity [15/level], Signature Gear (Any) [varies], Voice [10], Wealth (Comfortable or Wealthy) [10 or 20], Improve Luck to Extreme Luck [30] for 15 points, Rank to 5 [25] for 5 points

Disadvantages: Duty (Almost Always, Extremely Hazardous) [-20]; ● Choose -30 points of ST -1 [-10], Basic Move -1 or -2 [-5 or -10], Bloodlust [-10], Callous [-5], Chummy or Gregarious [-5 or -10], Code of Honor [Varies], Bully [-10*], Fanaticism [-15], one of Overweight, Fate or Very Fat  [-1, -3 or -5], Greed [-15*], Honesty [-10*], Intolerance (Rival Faction or Aliens) [-5 or -10], Jealousy [-10], Laziness [-10], Lecherousness [-15*], No Sense of Humor [-10], Obsession (defeating a specific foe) [-5], Overconfident [-5*], Secret (Unsanctioned missions or war crimes) [-10 or -20], Selfish [-5*], Sense of Duty (Team or Faction) [-5 or -10], Skinny [-5], Trademark (Characteristic tactics) [-5 or -10], Trickster [-15*], Workaholic [-5], Unfit or Very Unfit [-5 or -15],

Primary Skills: Administration (A) IQ [2]-14; Intelligence Analysis (H) IQ+41 [4]-18; Savoir-Faire (Military) (E) IQ+41 [1]-18; Strategy (H) IQ+41 [4]-18; Tactics (H) IQ+41 [4]-18; Choose one of Public Speaking, Propaganda, Teaching all (A) IQ+1 [4]-15, Expert Skill (Military), Psychology or Shiphandling all both (H) IQ [4]-14.

Secondary Skills: Beam Weapons (Pistol) (E) DX [1]-12; Stealth (A) DX+1 [4]-14; Either Brawling (E) DX+2 [4]-14 or Karate (H) DX [4]-12; Either Judo (H) DX [4]-12 or Wrestling (A) DX+1 [4]-13; ●Choose one of Savoir-Faire (Any) IQ+2 [4]-16, Politics (A) IQ+1 [4]-15, Diplomacy (H) IQ [4]-14 or Intimidation (A) Will+1 [4]-15; ● Choose five of Beam Weapons (Rifle or Projector), both (E) DX+1 [2]-13; Area Knowledge (Any), Current Affairs (Headline News, Politics, Regional) both (E) IQ+1 [2]-15, Architecture, Cartography, Public Speaking, Propaganda, Research, Soldier, Teaching, Writing all (A) IQ [2]-14, Engineering (Civil or Starship), Expert Skill (Military Science), Law (Galactic), Psychology or Shiphandling all (H) IQ-1 [2]-13 or Hiking (A) HT [2]-11.

Background Skills: Computer Operation (E) IQ [1]-14; Navigate (Hyperspace) (A) IQ-1 [1]-13; Pilot (Starship) (A) DX-1 [1]-11; Vacc Suit (A) DX-1 [1]-11; and 20 points chosen from a background lens.

1: +4 from Born Warleader

*Modified by Self-Control Rating

Officer Power-Ups

Personal Army 25 points
Advantages: Spend 25 points on Ally (75 points, 150 points, 300 points, almost all the time (15 or less)) [3, 6 or 15], Ally Group (BAD 2, BAD 5 or BAD 8, x5 members, almost all the time (15 or less) [5, 12 or 24] or Ally Group (BAD 0, BAD 2 or BAD 5, x10 members, almost all the time (15 or less) [4, 8 or 18] or choose one of the following packages:
  • Hero and minions: Ally (300 points, almost all the time) [15], and Ally Group (BAD 2, x10 members, almost all the time) [8] and two points from Officer advantages.
  • Lieutenant and Elite Squad: Ally (150 points, almost all the time) [6] and Ally Group (BAD 5, x10 members, almost all the time) [18] and one point from Officer advantages
  • Heroic Guard: Ally Group (BAD 8, x5, almost all the time) [24] and one point from Officer Advantages.
Career Officer 25 points
Career Officer shifts the focus of the officer from war to politics. He sacrifices exceptional ability with strategy, tactics, intelligence gathering and leadership for superior administration, politics and current affairs, as well as improved ability to Pull Rank.

Advantages: Charisma +1 [5] and replace Born Warleader 4 [20] with Intuitive Statesmen [40] for 20 points;

Building the Officer: Strategy, Foresight and shades of Mass Combat

Director Krennic Arrives -- by Ashley Clapperton

So, I've established that Mass Combat is a terrible idea, and then tempted you with the possibilities of some rather cool scenarios (a single dreadnought or fleet on the run from the Empire trying to maintain its resource while pondering when and where to strike next).  How could we design a character (say, the Officer) that can fulfill both design goals?  Most campaigns will never feature Mass Combat, so such a template would be useless in those, and even in campaigns that do feature it, Mass Combat is unlikely to be constant, so what does the character do in the meantime?

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Psi Wars and the Engines of War

So previously, I established that Mass Combat was a big no go, but then I looked at it anyway.  What popped out was that it offered some interesting, if narrow, gameplay, but it mostly opened up some insights into how empires fight wars in Psi-Wars.  And that doctrine suggests more military hardware than I've shown thus far.

Does that matter?  Do we need more specific tanks and more starships etc?  Well, let's ask our target audience:
  • Brent wants to know if he needs to care.  If not, then no.  Thus, if we can bury the complexity, it's not a problem.  Since this material is mostly for GMs, and entirely optional, that's fine. (Mind you, some GMs are, themselves, Brent.  That is, the GM wants to focus on as little work for himself as possible.  In that case, providing these stats might actually be beneficial to him if we think they're going to come up)
  • Willow would love to see a cohesive military doctrine for the factions of Psi-Wars
  • Desiree finds the whole discussion tedious, as it does nothing for her personal drama.
  • Bjorn thinks its great, provided he can operate and/or battle some of these monstrosities.
So our design goal should be to bury some of this complexity, and use it mostly to offer insights into military doctrines and to give our players something to fight.

Alright, so more hardware it is. But how do we create it?  Well that's easy, you just get out your handy copy of GURPS vehicle...

Er... right.  So what are we going to do? Well, the internet has a few resources (I'd like, at this moment, to direct your attention to GURB, who doesn't have much vehicular content yet, but surely will in time).  But for the most part, we're left to our own devices.  Still, we have a few tactics that can help us.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Putting the War back into Psi-Wars: Saying Yes to Mass Combat

So last time I argued that Mass Combat was a terrible idea for Psi-Wars.  I haven't changed my mind and I still think it's a terrible idea.  Ergo, it's a waste of time to even look at Mass Combat, right?  I would argue that it isn't.  We need to challenge our assumptions, push our boundaries, and look more deeply at things. While I know many people are "loathe to do work they do not need to do," the difference between quality work and shoddy work is a willingness, first, to go the extra mile and, second, to make good use of "wasted" work.

Hemingway called this his Iceberg theory, that the surface of a story, what you read, is only part of it.  The rest of the story should be buried beneath.  By removing things the author understands well, he can make his story stronger.  A role-playing setting can work the same way: very rarely have I seen economics discussions erupt in earnest among my players, such as wondering what happens to the loot they sell to the local merchant, but if you understand the economics of your world and your setting is carefully built around it, or at least inspired by it, it can hang together in a pleasing way, and when players ask "Hey, why is X?" then you have a ready answer.

This, by the way, is how you solve the Willow/Brent dichotomy when building  your setting.  Brent doesn't care about anything that's not directly pertinent to him, but Willow wants to know more and more and more and to see that it all works.  If a setting element isn't directly pertinent, then it should be optional, buried beneath layers of gameplay as a foundation element, but if Willow wants to know about it, she should have the opportunity to dive deeper, to get more out of your material when she wants to.

How does this apply to Mass Combat?  Even if we don't want to use Mass Combat in Psi-Wars, understanding what it looks like could tell us a great deal about Psi-Wars as a setting.  Mass Combat discusses not just strategy, but logistics, administration and supply lines.  Understanding how and why factions in a setting goes to war tells you a lot about the underpinnings of the setting.  Furthermore, Psi-Wars is derived from the Action genre, and in Action, even if Mass Combat doesn't directly show up, the state of militaries in the world and global conflict definitely provides context to the action that takes place.  Finally, just because I think Mass Combat is a terrible idea doesn't mean you, dear reader, agree.  Perhaps you have a crazy good idea.  If I explore Mass Combat, even for one post, I can serve all of these needs.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Taking the War out of Psi-Wars: Saying No to Mass Combat

Psi-Wars is about war and definitely features huge fleets, heroic starfighter pilots, daring commando raids and maniacal commanders plotting the destruction of entire worlds.  "War" is one of our core gameplay activities!  Given that, shouldn't Mass Combat be front and center in our game?

No. Jason "P.K." Levine says it better than I could in Just Say No to Mass Combat, but let me try to break it down for you in the specific context of Psi-Wars.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

"Who Gives a S**t?" A Meditation on Setting Design

Tons of people are doing settings, but that is kinda hard for me to wrap my head around. I love GURPS content, I love spells, powers, advantages, builds, encounters, adventures, but for me, a setting is kind of a deeply personal thing.
-Benjamin Gauronskas, Let's GURPS
Yes, that is the second time I've used that quote, but I think it's an important one.  It highlights a truth: Settings often aren't useful to people precisely because they are so personal.  A GM discussing his favorite, homebrew setting is often about as engrossing for the audience as a player discussing his favorite character.  In part, this is because settings need to be experienced.  What makes Star Wars fun is that you're there, watching the ships explode and the lightsabers clash.  What doesn't work is watching a couple of nerds sit around discussing the importance of the Bendu Priests in the founding of the Jedi Order.

The problem here is that we need to be able to connect with a setting, and we'll only do that if it's useful to us.  I've avoided going deeply into setting with Psi Wars because, for the most part, it won't be useful to you.  I get it: Most of you who are reading this are doing so to see how I build a campaign, or to rip off some rule idea I have, or because you're bored and want to read GURPS stuff. The majority of my audience will never run a Psi-Wars game.  That doesn't mean nobody will, but if I want to my blog posts to be as universally useful as possible, I need to make my posts useful to a broad audience: the casual reader, the inspiration-seeker, the crunch-head, and the psi-wars fan, and thus my posts have so far been generic and very meta.

The same principle must apply, itself, to setting design.  To make our setting interesting, we have to connect with our audience, and to connect with our audience, we must understand their needs, why they might be interested in a setting.  We also need to understand what a setting is. So, before I get into building any setting material, let's stop to consider the point of a setting, and who our audience is.

Iteration 5: Psi-Wars as a Generic Setting

Ahhh, that wonderful, new Iteration smell.  I think I'm always so eager to start a new iteration because few things are as tedious as playtesting and editing together notes.  I am happy to say, though that, we're largely done with mass playtests, as I think the mechanics of Psi-Wars are largely in place.

So, where are we, and what do we have left to do?  Normally when I start an iteration, I explain why it's not strictly necessary, and that's definitely true of this Iteration.  At the end of Iteration 4, we have a complete gameplay framework. We could spend sessions and sessions exploring our martial arts, psionic powers, technology, starship combat, and we have quite a collection of templates to play with.  In fact, I just gave you about 200 pages of Psi-Wars.  It's so complete, in fact, that I imagine some of you are asking "What is there left to add?"

Lots of little things.  Originally, I had intended this as a sort of miscellaneous, "clean up" iteration, where I tackled minor issues that I've missed thus far, and that's still there.  Do we need Mass Combat?  Should we look at Social Engineering?  How do we want to handle Organizations?  But as I pondered Iteration 5 and 6, I found it increasingly obvious that what I was talking about was setting.  More and more, it looked like little mechanical bits that began to flush out not gameplay, but the context of that gameplay.

Star Wars as a Generic Setting

Star Wars, our inspiration for Psi Wars, has a rather weird relationship with setting.  It is both generic and specific.  On the one hand, it's a story about generic farmboy on a generic planet rescuing the generic princess from the generic bad guy's generic fortress, and then siding with generic good to overthrow generic evil in a vast, generic galaxy.  This is actually intentional.  George Lucas designed Star Wars around the metamyth of the heroic journey.  Star Wars is meant to be archtypal rather than a deep exploration of a specific context.

On the other hand, the moment you pull Jedi out of the setting, it stops being Star Wars.  I invite you to ponder all sci-fi that you can think of that reminds you of Star Trek but is not Star Trek: Farscape, Andromeda, Mass Effect, Babylon 5, Masters of Orion, FTL.  Now, I invite you to think of all the sci-fi that reminds you of Star Wars, but isn't Star Wars.  Personally, I come away with a much smaller list, and they tend to look at one or two specific aspects of the setting.  Firefly, for example, is arguably Star Wars without Jedi, with the Rebels being defeated, and a deeper focus on gunslinging smugglers, but I've never heard anyone describe Firefly as "like Star Wars."

Even so, I think one can make a great case for treating Psi-Wars first as a generic setting.  For one thing, many of you who are reading this now haven't the slightest interest in any setting I'd create.  They have their own ideas for aliens, their own vision for an evil empire, their own Space Knight philosophies they'd want to include, and so on.  What they need isn't a setting, but tools for building their own setting.

And once I have those tools for building a generic setting, I can use them to build a specific setting for myself.  But that's for a later iteration.

The Iteration 5 Todo List

The best way to envision the coming iteration is lots of little iterations.  We've done that before, but I'm going to try to keep it to a week or two per topic, if possible.  Nothing we're touching on really substantially changes the mechanics we designed before, but will draw upon and add to them, usually in little, nuanced ways.

The point of the iteration are to answer lingering questions that I have.  They are:
  • Mass Combat: If Psi-Wars is about war, shouldn't we have mass combat?  If yes, how do we handle it?  If no, why not?  This should culminate in the Officer template.
  • Social Engineering: If we feature a diplomat and a con-artist, what do they actually do?  Does Action already cover their gameplay well enough, or should we dive into Social Engineering and create some more?  This should culminate in the Diplomat and Con-Artist template.
  • Organizations: The "Empire" and the "Alliance" are more than just moral statements; they are factions with unique resources, infrastructure, tactics, etc.  Given the importance of organizations in GURPS Action, I think it's worth taking a look at them.
  • Space Monsters: We've talked before about fighting space monsters, but what do space monsters look like?  What resources should we use or avoid, and how do we make them a good challenge?
  • Aliens: On a similar note, we have our felinoids, and whatever race Rafari and M'elena were.  Star Wars brims with Twi'leks and Wookies and Jawas and Tusken Raiders.  How do we want to handle aliens in Psi-Wars?
  • Culture: The real world is rife with intriguing background elements that get ported over into sci-fi with enough modification to make them feel space-ish.  Examples include:
    • Cuisine and alcoholic drinks
    • Drugs
    • Sports and games
    • Languages
    • Religion and philosophy
  • Planets: Psi-Wars takes place on strange, alien worlds.  What rules should govern those?  Do we just want to use the rules from Space, or replace them with something simpler and more space-operatic?
I won't necessarily handle this in that order, but I think each point is worth touching on at least once over the next couple of months.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Ending Iteration 4

Well, that was quite an iteration, wasn't it?  While it was entirely focused on one thing, ("Powers", and giving characters access to upgrades), it covered an enormous amount of ground.  I think you could make the case that it was 2-3 smaller iterations.  Psionic powers and Communion certainly took up a considerable amount of time, as did martial arts, and I've spent more time playtesting this iteration than nearly any other iteration.  In total, this full iteration has taken up nearly as much time as all of the rest of Psi-Wars put together.

Why is that?  Well, I suspect it comes from the fact that building powers is ultimately about building gameplay.  What I did this iteration is the equivalent to putting together all of those powers for D&D 4e, or the Charms of Exalted: They're the meat of what players will fuss over when discussing the choices they make during their game, and what they'll focus on with their experience.  After all, the Jedi is the soul of Star Wars, so the Space Knight will naturally be enormously important to many people who choose to play Psi-Wars, so they need to work very well, and the game needs to fit together.

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