Thursday, December 8, 2016

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.
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