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.

Fashion, Art and Sculpture

These represent how the culture chooses to adorn itself and its environment.  What they choose may well depend on what sort of things they value.  The most obvious approach is to dress or decorate as garishly as possible, to wear precious metals and clothing dyed in rare dies and to decorate your environment in expensively painting sculptures crafted of the finest of marble.  Standing in opposition to this is the idea of modesty or humility, that it's wrong to draw undue attention to yourself.  Such a culture might focus on austere displays, wearing simple garments and avoiding any artwork at all.  A survivalist culture might focus on exclusively practical garments and decoration, covering their walls with maps and motivational posters, and wearing jump suits, armor and weapons.  An extremist culture might go in the far opposite direction of the ostentatious display, making a display of their lack of display, or attempting to make their fashion and art deliberally unpleasant: sackcloth and ashes for clothing, grotesques for art, etc.  This might seem an absolutely bonkers way to decorate, but it comes up surprisingly often in history.  Puritanical cultures often made a point of their discomfort and humility, using discomfort to emphasize it.  High status people, on the other hand, would never ever want to be mistaken for a servant, so utterly impractical fashion, like long nails, flowing sleeves, long hair, constraining bodices, all make work nearly impossible, which is the point of such fashion, to cry out "I do not work!"

People often attempt to say something with their fashion, or work an effect on someone else, which might relate to the various Influence skills.  Someone who wishes to attract or seduce might wear garments meant to emphasize their sexual characteristics and their health: a bustier to lift the bust, or a sleeveless shirt and tight jeans the emphasize tones muscle.  Someone who wishes to express their power might seek to wear things that make them look taller than they are, or cover them in spikes or weapons and symbols that intimidate anyone who looks a them.  Other characters might want to wear something practical and inoffensive, meant to speak to interconnection with the rest of the society, or a respect for a particular set of values.  These will often be modest but eye-catching outfits, like a dull-toned suit with an interesting tie.

The specifics of Space Opera fashion I leave to you and the internet.  Numerous ideas abound, though I will note that Star Wars itself embraces a mixture of practical fashion (jump suits for space pilots), and fantasy-esque fashion, often inspired by medieval or roman imagery.

Exotic Mediums

Space Opera fashion and art aren't necessarily going to be so different from ours in principle.  I would expect to see business men looking business-like with portraits of their daughter hanging on the wall while a sculpture of an important founder stands in the reception room to their business.  While fashion trends and artistic concepts might change from era to era, I would not expect (nor do I think my players would expect) something crazy or wild except perhaps for fashion or the names of artist.  Where they might well expect things to be terribly different would be the medium in which these things are expressed.

For sculpture, stone or clay likely remains popular.  They work, and they're plentiful, and they'll survive for quite some time.  Despite thousands of years since Earth first started using these, we still use them.  Even so, in Star Wars, when we see these in use, it generally signifies an ancient culture, though I would like to note that Metabarons features a culture that cuts marble exquisitely and on a grand scale with nothing but laser torches, so it's possible that the means by which something is carved might be sufficiently sci-fi to gain your players' acceptance. For Paintings might continue to be oil on canvas but that seems to lack the feel of a futuristic item.  However, we can meld both quite believably into Holograms.

A hologram is both static portrait and sculpture.  It's probably closer to photography than painting but with the right software and tools, and artist could conjure up his own holographic images and modify existing ones.  This uses the Holotech Editing Program found on page UT52, and the 3D camera, found on UT 51.  According to UT 52, the important skill is Electronics Operation (Media) but UT53 discusses Artist (Holoprojection), which I'm inclined to use for creating (or modifying) original works.

Fashion enjoys a variety of new mediums too, most of which are discussed on UT 39.  I've already included Buzz Fabric and Responsive Memwear in the typical outfit, with the assumption that both are typical to most outfits.  The outfits of the wealthy might incorporate these technologies directly into their costs (That is, a $10,000 dress is already responsive buzzwear), but it's just as likely that they won't be.  Perhaps the elites wish to show that they don't need clothes that can be worn by anyone or that cleans itself automatically, because the item is worn only by them and it never gets dirty.  Varicloth has a similar problem: it's interesting for the common man who wants to wear the same jump suit day in and day out, but not for the duchess who has a wardrobe full of a million outfits.

Flesh itself can be a medium in an ultra-tech setting.  Some cultures might sport cybernetics not just for medical reasons or because cybernetics are superior to flesh, but for aesthetic reasons.  Biomods might work in a similar fashion.  Traditional body modification can certainly remain in vogue, and even upgraded with things like Smart Tattoos (UT211)

Holograms, in the form of the Clothing Belt on UT 40, could be potentially very interesting, as it lets the fashionable wear a painting.  Hunger Games features a scene where the characters seem to be wearing fire.  That might be the sort of thing we see the particularly wealthy doing, going to holoprojection artists and commissioning intriguing holographic accessories for their normal garments.  While the Clothing Belt itself isn't particularly expensive, the holograms you purchase for it might be, or they might not be. depending on where one guys.  Purchasing such a thing might be no more difficult than buying an avatar accessory from a computer shop.

If holograms turn out to be primary forms of fashion, sculpture and art, what about originality?  How do we prove that something is original, and not just a literal copy of an existing work?  For example, consider the difference between the hand-painted Mona Lisa, and the Deviant Art work you just purchased from the artist.  The Deviant Art work, while original to the artist, isn't original for you.  You have an exemplar.  So if someone else turns up with it, well, that's to be expected, because that artist is printing copies to sell.  However, if two people have the same Mona Lisa, then something is up, because we know da Vinci didn't paint a dozen Mona Lisas.

This might not matter except that artwork is often used as a currency in the real world.  Rather than trade currencies from nation to nation, you bring a million-dollar work of art with you and exchange it for whatever service or product you want.  An entire world of collectors and museums are out there, waiting to translate this painting back into money ,at whatever time you wish, and such transactions are completely legitimate and difficult to trace.  If we want a similar sort of feel, an underworld of art and antiquities, we should allow something similar.  The best I can offer is that sometimes the artist might offer exclusive rights to a particular work.  He sells not only the work, but a contract to never copy it combined with a certificate of authenticity.  This documentation is likely buried in the programming of the work itself, to be called up by an expert to check it.  It might also include some copying countermeasures, which could present a challenge for a would be forger.

Music, Dance and Performances

Let's get music and performances out of the way fairly quickly.  The nature of the play or the staged dance or performance hasn't really changed that much over the history of humanity.  What people show goes in and out of vogue, and the themes, and the technology that support them change, but the sort of venue and experience is largely, broadly speaking, similar.  I offer as proof of this that Star Wars features a water-ballet called "Squid Lake."  Music has changed much more, in my opinion, but not in a way you can easily explain to your players.  You couldn't really explain the new scales discovered in the future, or something like Shepard tones fused together into the Celestial Hymonics genre.

Music and performances have strong connotations to the average player, and by trying to create something new,  you sacrifice those associations.  We want to retain them, but perhaps add a bit of sci-fi flavor to remind them that they're in a sci-fi setting.  A dimly lit bar doesn't play moody jazz, but the Lunar Blues.  Strippers at a dive don't dance on poles, but they do perform the Styxian Veil Dance.  A nearby alien minority doesn't listen to hip-hop, but "chunk funk."  The idea here is to cross the familiar genre with the unfamiliar sci-fi element, to give the player something to hang onto and better grasp the race (hick aliens listen to alien country, posh aliens listen to alien classical, and so on).

Dance is much more interesting because it's much more personal and something an individual player is much more likely to do. Dance is also very varied, but I think the average person intuitively understands the different sorts of dances and how they might interrelate.  For example, he gets that certain partnered dances (ballroom) are less romantic than other partner dances (tango) without needing to know the names of the dances involved.  We can look at these themes and mix and match them to get something particular, especially with a new name if we wish.  Some styles of dances are must-haves for particular themes (like romance and seduction).

When it comes to the mechanics of dancing, if any such are strictly necessary, a dance might substitute for a specific influence skill or grant a +1 reaction modifier after a successful dance (+2 on a crit).  The themes below offer suggestions on how they might work, but they're just that, suggestions.

Dance Themes

Physical Prowess: Arguably, the core evolutionary impulse behind dancing is to show the fitness of the participants.  They act as a sort of mating ritual where the dancer reveals how graceful, strong and clever he is, thus revealing that he's a useful mate.  This also doubles as a way of driving off competitors, because someone who can pull off a particularly difficult set of moves is probably more than capable of kicking your butt, and yes, the dance-off is definitely used by animals to determine dominance. Real world examples of this might be the haka, capoiera or break dancing. All four of these involve displays of a highly masculine prowess, that might impress the ladies, but will certainly impress competitors.  These dance skills might substitute for Streetwise or Intimidate under particular circumstances.

Beautiful Dancing: Similar to physical prowess, these dances seek to show evolutionary suitability, but where prowess seeks to convince the viewer of the dancers power, this sort of dancing seeks to convince them of his/her desirability.  Generally "feminine" dances, these involve elegance, precision, sinuous movement and precise steps rather than raw power and wild movements.  Real world equivalents might be ballet or belly dancing.  Such dances might substitute for Sex Appeal, or simply grant a +1 reaction modifier for a particularly nice dance.

Flirtatious Dancing: This dancing is one where you're dancing with someone in a highly improvised way that requires both parties to "listen" to one another, while giving both a bit of a chance to show off their skill and wit.  This often involves very close contact and can be a few steps away from intimacy in a few cases.  In the real world, examples might include Argentinian tango, Zouk and, really, most "latin" dances.  This sort of dance can definitely substitute for Sex Appeal when dancing with your partner, and in some situations, it might be a substitute for Carousing, as their improvisational nature make them good for sweeping beginners up into the dance.

Prestige Dancing: Usually a paired dance, this usually involves complex and intricate patterns that need to be precisely mastered.  It might have some room for interpretation, but typically less than a flirtatious dance.  Rather, people from this culture expect people to simply know how to dance properly.  You may use the dancing skill as a test of whether or not someone is really prestigious.  The more steps someone knows, the more prestigious they must be. This is typical of high-class cultures, as they have the spare time necessary to master the intricacies.  These are typical of ballroom dances, especially dances where one is expected to be precise and perfect, like the Viennese Waltz or the Minuet.  These dances generally behave as a form of Savoir-Faire.

Fun Dancing: Why do we dance?  Because it's fun!  The music speaks to us and we feel we need to move!  This sort of improvised dance might end up looking like any of the above, but it's usually less structured, and if it's structured, it has a silly and simple structure, one that's easy to teach to new dancers.  This makes it an excellent tool for Carousing.

Traditional Dancing: A particular culture might have a very old form that they use either for religious ceremonies or marriage rites, or simply have used for a very long time.  Knowing this form of dance signals to that particular minority that you belong.  These dances might be singular dances, but they're often danced in a large group, such as line dancing.

Ecstatic Dancing: Some dances have been traditionally used to lose oneself in the dance and find themselves in a higher state of mind: a dancing trance.  This requires the right Dancing skill, the Body Discipline (Dancing) perk, which grants +2 to any attempt to go into a trance (with an additional +4 if you've been reduced to 1/3 FP during the duration of the dance).  The final roll is against Meditation at -4, or Autohypnosis, and success is at Hypnosis (For more on these rules, see LTC1 16)

Dances can, and should, mix multiple of the above rules.  Don't feel constrained by these rules, though, like you need to "balance" various dancing skills, because nobody is taking a dance skill because it's particularly overpowered.  The point here is to add flavor.  Here's some examples

Alien War-Mating: A particular alien race (say, Rafari's race) might have a physical prowess dance that doubles as flirtation and beautiful.  Two males will "fight" one another in a highly ritualized battle that contains strong erotic undertones, while at least one female looks on.  The idea is to express both their power and their sexuality.  One or the other will "win" the dance, usually through a Quick Contest of Dance, but any success can also act as a Sex Appeal roll on any of the watchers.  That is, even the loser, if he succeeded at all, might find himself swarming with female attention.

The Sacred Passion-Dance of Styxia: This exhausting and rythmic dance is mastered exclusively by the women of Styxia, and is associated with a particularly sinister old tradition and mystery cults.  The dance is hypnotic and quite appealing to men, similar to belly dancing (a Beautiful Dance), but it costs more fatigue than usual to enact and in the act of exhausting the dancer, can put her into a trance (ecstatic dancing).  The old cults used to train the dancers in a variety of psionic techniques, the most common of which were Aspect and Prognostication.  The former was used to enchant any man who watched the dancer, while the latter was used to turn the dancer into an oracle.

Character Concerns

Connoisseur covers knowing of these things.  The most important will be Fashion and Art.  Fashion Sense also covers making use of fashion well.  Artist has Digital Painting and Digital Illumination default to each other at -2, and both default to Body Painting at -4; Sculpting and Holoprojection default to each at -4. Everything else defaults to each other at -6.  Singing and Musical Instrument might be applicable, but they're mostly for background flavor.  I wouldn't bother including them on any templates: if a player wants to play space saxophone, we can let him, but there's no special rules for it.  Dancing, on the other hand, definitely matters.  It's still a background trait, of course, but you can use it to better socialize, so our dashing spy can dance his target off her feet.  Generally, Dancing covers all the Dances that you're culturally familiar with.  If the GM decides that a dance is particularly cool, then he might make a new skill for it, but I think familiarity penalties cover it well enough.
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