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.



The State of the Game

At the beginning of every Iteration, I say "And we could stop here," and I always imagine my reader nodding his head with a small smile saying "Uh huh, yeah, sure, now just give me the next bit," but this time, I think you may well actually nod and say "Yeah, actually, you could."  This begins to feel like a sort of Star-Wars knock-off that people might actually play or enjoy.  I've noticed my friends talking about it with more interest, and a general rise in views, discussion, in a more picky way ("You should do this or that!" rather than "Good on ya, Mailanka!").  Specific criticism tends to signal something that someone is actually using, or considering using.

Normally, at this time, I talk about what was a "big hit" over the past iteration, but it's gone on so long that I've lost track of what worked and what didn't, so I'll just offer a few callouts.  The Psi-Wars Primer came out this Iteration, to address the fact that I often saw and I've a cycle of people starting at the beginning and working their way forward.  It's not the highest rated of my post, but by far the most viewed, suggesting that it's highly valuable (I also see a lot of traffic directed from it, meaning people are using it).  Interestingly, some people have even complained about it: I wanted to keep it trimmed and focused, but some people would rather have a single place where they can just find everything.  Thus, I've revised the primer based on their suggestions.

More highlights based on views: Building Minions, Criminal Minions, Robots Revised, Anti-Psi Styles, and Optional Combat rules were all exceedingly popular, judging from views, and usually people are more interested in sample characters than templates, but this time, templates, especially the Spy 4.0, had an overwhelmingly more views than characters or playtests.  While some of this (Building Minions, Optional Combat Rules) are fairly generic indications of how to go about doing something, a lot of the highly viewed material is very specific, which suggests to me that people are either using them as inspiration, borrowing them for their own games, or actually trying to play Psi-Wars.  That is, this iteration, especially towards the end, my audience is increasingly interested in things they can use rather than more theoretical discussions.

When it comes to likes, the most liked of my actual Psi-Wars posts is, by far, the Luke vs Darth Vader duel on Bespin, which (as of this writing) is at a staggering +12. Starfighter Tactics and Military Tactics earned a lot of commentary, much if it critical, namely in that commenters wanted more.  This suggests to me that there exists a great deal of interest in the more military aspects of Psi-Wars. My analysis of Force Swordsmanship earned a lot of attention, which surprised me.  The specifics of Psionic Powers or Communion didn't earn as many views as others, though if someone hunts me down on the internet to tell me that they liked a thing from my blog, it's usually the Paths. The two that stood out to me for views or likes were from my discussion of possible Psi-Wars powers, which suggests it was a well-received series.  The most  intriguing (based on views and likes) seemed to be the Mysterious Power of Psi-Wars and the Force as Space Magic.

My blog hit all time highs, reaching nearly 8000 views in July, over 9000 this month, and consistently hit over 7000 throughout the iteration.

Writing Psi-Wars 1: Heroes

The success of the Psi-Wars Primer tells me that people need documentation.  That makes sense.  For Psi-Wars to be useful, we need to be able to use it.  Psi-Wars should be more than just theory, but also something we can actually run, but in its current state, Psi-Wars seems very hard to run.

I've tried to handle it by releasing it on my website, but I'm dissatisfied with the results.  So, instead, I'd like to write it all out, which is something I've already mentioned.  I've been spending quite a lot of my time at this point doing so, as there's a lot of notes to compile into a single place, and a lot of personal preferences to look at.  It's also a chance to me to revisit some previous topics.

Character Creation

I've already shown the changes I'd like to make to the templates with the exception of the Frontier Marshall, who lacks power-ups beyond a new Detective upgrade.  I have a few additional ideas, but I need to ponder them further.  At first, this unsettled me, but I've accepted that Psi-Wars is an ongoing process.

Character Creation Cheat Sheet

All GURPS Frameworks contain lists of appropriate traits.  I've done the same, collecting the appropriate traits from GURPS Action, Iteration 3, and the most recent updates.  This also includes comments I've made.

Powers

This collates all of my psionic power notes, but also contains a complete rework of Psychokinesis to better adapt to how it has played out during the playtests.  This includes the new Contact TK perk, and an updated version of TK-Grab with additional techniques. I have also updated PK shield and EK shield to accommodate the changed DR rules.

Communion

Ah my, I hadn't realized how much material I had here.  This is a very large section of the final document, I'm afraid.

The most sweeping change I've made is to reverse the order of power.  Before, Communion > Dark Communion > Broken Communion, but I've turned this around.  Dark Communion defeats Communion (selfishness tears apart the thin tissue of social contracts), but Broken Communion defeats Dark Communion (the consequences or selfishness are self-destruction and madness) and Communion defeats Broken Communion (psychosis must be healed with gentleness).  This mostly means the paths have new opposing paths.  I've done this because it felt right, as it seems to fulfill the "price" of Dark Communion better, and the "healing" role of Communion better.

The price of Greater avatars came down as well, because I realized I was pricing alternate forms incorrectly (I forgot to apply the 10% discount of the more expensive form).

For Communion itself, I've added a simplified system for handling Meditative Magic, ensuring that characters with Communion have a few energy points to play around with.

Dark Communion didn't need any serious changes.  I'm already very happy with it.

I've clarified some of Broken Communion's corruption rules and, while doing so, noted that Hite allowed characters to accrue corruption to gain energy points, so I've allowed that too, though at a smaller amount than they can get from Communion or Dark Communion, to keep the emphasis on the "power" of those two.

Martial Arts

So much material!  The big change here is to replace "Signature Move" with "Trademark Move." The distinction served a purpose, but I think if confused people more than it helped them.  I've also re-instated an old house rule where Grip Mastery allows you to switch to either Defensive Grip or Reverse Grip, because many people seem to think that's how it works already and it's fairly intuitive.  Beyond that, I've included most all of them as written (in fact, as I put these words down, my martial arts are dropping).

Gear

Finally, a chance to integrate my Iteration 3 work back into Iteration 4 work. For the most part, basic gear remains the same, though I've separated out the surveillance bug from the homing beacon, rather than leaving them as a combined thing, which felt illogical in the Iteration 3 playtest.  I've also added the heavy fusion torch, as one of the mooks uses it.

Weapons and Armor

This sees some substantial updating, as Iteration 4 dealt heavily in weapons and armor, both in creating new weapons and armor, and in adding new options or alternate rules for said weapons and armor.

For armor, our alliance troopers have tactical vests, so we can easily make that a standard option.  The pirates present an interesting option as we wanted "older" hardsuits.  Of course, what we should really use is space armor, but for simplicity (because vacuum just doesn't play enough of a role in Psi-Wars), we've declared that sealed is "good enough" for vacuum.  Still, we could still make something that's conceptually similar, though, which we'll call "blast armor" and "old hardsuit."  Since the current hardsuits have the advanced option (lower weight for higher cost), we can simply remove that to find what our armor should be.

I conceive of a blast suit as very heavy armor that's forward facing only.  The idea is that if you're working with something dangerous, such as a torch or explosives, you need armor facing the source of danger, not something else.  Low tech says to "halve" the weight of a hit location that protects only half a location.  In practice, we'll just work out the normal DR 60 version and apply half the upgrade to the full DR 100, which means we multiply final values by 1.25 rather than 1.5.  The result is an armor that weighs a full 50 lbs, but provides DR 100 to all attacks from the front, and costs a mere $5500.  If we want to create a "blast helmet," then the front of the helmet (the face) needs extra protection and the skull needs less, which is counter-intuitive for a combatant, but works fine for a non-combatant.  The result are already existing helmets, but with their DR reversed.  I'm just not sure if this feels "too gimmicky," but it should be no different than any other suit.

The old hardsuit is simple enough: the same armor as the standard combat hardsuit, but without the "advanced" option.  The result is a 40 lbs set of armor that costs $5000.  However, there's a rule in the Environmental Suit rules that requires characters to cap their skill at Vacuum Suit skill (typical for real-world space suits) and suggests that particularly cumbersome suits might apply a further -1 to DX regardless of skill.  UT suits are sufficiently well-built that they don't have this problem, but  I'd like something like that for my "older" armor.  I suggest a flat -10% to the cost (thereabouts), with the option of a perk or skill 15+ in vacuum suit automatically removing the penalty.  This makes old hardsuits cost $4500.  If we go ahead and give it a +1 to reaction modifiers, that gives is a total cost of $9500.  If we further add, say, 10% to the cost DR, following the standard trajectory, that adds 10% to the cost and weight.  So, if we wanted, we could make this "even heavier" for +$240 and +5 lbs. Let's split the difference and give it +500 for no weight.  Not entirely fair, but we're fudging  here.  And then, we have shiny, glossy, ornate, old-school armor that's a little cumbersome if you don't know how to use it.

For weapons, I see no need to make substantial changes except, perhaps, to incorporate theRyujin's thoughts here.  In short, I've noticed a trend towards using "beam submachine guns" and a desire for "beam shotguns."  The burst fire technique is probably a bit much, but we could move the "shotguns" to Beam Weapons (Projector), which isn't much of a strength, and gives the lonely flamer some company.  We can also make everything default to each other at -2.  This, surprisingly, didn't require much reworking of the templates (or martial arts)!

For grenades, I've done some shifting around, adding HEMP, an "explosive" that's thermobarics mixed with actual shrapnel to make it competitive with the plasma grenade, and I've added EMP.  I've also expanded out to mines, after looking at commandos (which are basically smart limpet grenades using 100mm warheads).

Melee weapons have been heavily adapted after martial arts, and I've included those changes here too.

Personal Vehicles

Before, I included these as just part of the personal gear section, but I'm patterning this book on Action 1, and that means personal vehicles gets their own section.  Most of the vehicles are just copies of the ones I had noted in Iteration 3.

While it wasn't part of this iteration, I'd like to expand our vehicles out a little bit, especially for personal stuff.  Right now, you just have grav bikes and grav cars, no grav scooter, or grav harley, or grav ferrari.  Why not?  These variations seem rather important to the Action system. Of course, Action can just draw on real world vehicles.  I can't do that, and I don't have a vehicles design system (yet?), so I have to make guesses... but that's all anyone else would do anyway.  We want a grav ferrari to be to a grav car what a ferrari is to a sedan... so why not just adapt the grav car the same way the sedan is adapted?  Thus, I've added a sports grav bike, a sports grav car and a luxury grav car.  They're just eyeballed, but they should provide some variety.

Robots

Cybernetics required no particular changes, though I wouldn't mind expanding them to include the "Exotic" and "Advanced" ideas I had.  Perhaps I'll get to it at a later time.  Robots, on the other hand, required substantial modifications. In addition to the DR issue, already tackled, I realized I had handled their modular abilities wrong.   The result is a massive rebalance of all of the robots to get them as close to 150 point as possible.

That, and Starships (which was a direct copy and paste, with a bit of light editing to obscure some of my more meta commentary), the first document is complete.

Writing Psi-Wars 2: Adventures

The bulk of Adventures is just an updated version of the Iteration 2 notes on using Action with TL 11^, with the Psi-in-Action notes from this Iteration.  I've removed the reference to the Psi-Wars tracer in favor of the surveillance bug and the homing beacon, but other than that, everything remains largely the same.

Combat is vastly more expanded, thanks to all the martial arts options and, I'll be honest, I found all the new optional rules a little dizzying, but I've included the Combat Cheatsheet to make the transition easier for new players.

Then I ported in the Spaceship Combat from Iteration 3, and wrote in the Adversaries, which is probably the second largest element by word-count, plus a little discussion of setting material.  Adversaries remain largely the same as described, except for a reference to Old Armor in the Elite Ceremonial Guard, and Blast Armor on the Pirate Engineer and the Pirate Marauder.

And that's it!

The Documents

Note that these documents are not laid out, that they have no art, and that they are not edited.  I present them "as is."  You're also not the first people to have them: Two persons from the forum asked for advanced copies, and one, William Craft, offered a few editing tips that I've included in my material: Mainly, he pointed out that, where possible, psions should rely on psi (that is, psychic danger sense rather than standard danger sense, specifically).  This makes them cheaper and thus more powerful, but more vulnerable to anti-psi countermeasures (and psi-hunters!), which is a sentiment I definitely agreed with.  There have, in fact, been quite a few little pieces of advice over the course of all this, though I can't remember everyone's name.  I know Kalzazz has had quite some input (though over this iteration more of it has been in pointing out that the things I designed were more rugged than I realized), and Neomoricus designed the improved primer.

If you read these documents and have some feedback, you can drop me a mail (the address is in the document).  I'd love to hear from you.  Also, feel free to share the documents!  I wrote these for people to use.

This completes Iteration 4.  I hope you enjoyed it.  Next week, we kick off Iteration 5: Psi-Wars as Generic Setting
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