Thursday, May 18, 2017

Insurgency Summary and Retrospective

When I started writing the Insurgency, I really had no idea where to start.  I had to dig around.  How are rebellions fought?  What are some good examples of rebellion?  What popped out, and I hope this doesn't reflect too badly on my material, were terrorists, from the IRA to the Taliban to the Vietcong, which served as the primary resources for my material, plus general discussions on how guerrillas win wars, and a look at the French Resistance.  I didn't use more classic inspirations, such as the American Minute Men or the various rebellions of the Americas, primarily because the technology, and thus the needs of war, differ so much.

One element that I find fascinating about the whole affair is how few changes I had to make to get these elements to fit into Psi-Wars.  Perhaps I'm not thinking about the technological differences enough, but I happen to think that's the strength of Psi-Wars: as it's essentially modern action thrillers with a thin, space opera veneer, our rebels don't use molotov cocktails and clubs, but plasma cells and neurolash batons, but otherwise everything looks very similar.  I think you have to knock the setting for originality, but at least give it marks for ease of entry.

The hardest part of this exercise was the realization that there's no such thing as a "typical" insurgency.  The Vietcong, French Resistance, Taliban and IRA all fight very differently, so your insurgency should fight very differently from my insurgency.  When I hit upon the design of four arbitrary "types" of insurgency, though, that made it work well in my mind, as well as a "grab bag" of various insurgent characters and tactics that you could grab for designing your own.  When I worked on the Empire, I came up with "Tactics" to help me sort out my thoughts on how the Empire fought.  I had initially dismissed doing the same for insurgencies, as they all fight so differently, but then I realized I could show those differences, use them to contrast.  The result is, perhaps, a bit long, but hopefully useful in giving you, my dear reader, how an insurgency might conduct itself and why it might actually be a serious threat.

So, how are we doing? Is the insurgency useful, appropriate and fitting?  Let's take a look, with a bonus "Insurgency Summary" for those who want to jump right in.

A Guerrilla Retro

As I've said before, I have three major target audiences: Star Wars fans who are open to something different, GURPS Sci-Fi fans looking for ideas, and people who just want to game and are willing to borrow whatever they can get.

I think the Star Wars fans might find this either the hardest or the most interesting part, depending on their perspective.  I've tried to take a carefully neutral tone when it comes to morality, not because I am loathe to pass judgement, but because I don't know what sort of game you're going to run.  Traditionally, Star Wars is about heroic rebels fighting off an evil Empire, and some of this has slipped through into my wording of both the rebellion and the empire, but I know many people (myself included) like the Empire, and I would feel it a failure if the Empire wasn't playable.  So, in addition to heroic Freedom Fighters, I've added the wicked Terrorist as an insidious opponent for heroic Security Agents to defeat, and the more morally uncertain anarchists and ideologues, whose nature depend very much on what you choose to do with them.

But this is also a reflection of the fact that the rebellion of Star Wars just doesn't work.  The franchise wants it both ways, with desperate heroes barely surviving imperial onslaught after onslaught, trying to gather supplies and constantly on the run but at the same time having secret bases, numinous figures like Mon Mothma, and huge cruisers and squadrons of fighters.  Mountain insurgents who make deals with arms dealers do not, as a rule, have their own aircraft carriers complete with jet fighters that are a match for the jet fighters of the USAF!  I've only really seen insurgencies handled properly twice: in Rogue One (especially in that the Jeddah insurgents were diplomatically at odds with the "core" of the rebellion) and in the fifth season of Clone Wars, which introduced Saw Gerrera (I've just started Rebels).

So, our insurgencies couldn't look anything like what we see in Star Wars, because Star Wars doesn't really deal much with insurgencies, despite its bold "rebellion" advertising.  The result must necessarily be different.

The sci-fi fans might be disappointed that my material doesn't really include that much sci-fi ideas, though the Anarchist insurgency is riddled through with cyberpunk ideas that you could certainly borrow for your games.  Still, I found it extremely enlightening for any Action game.

It doesn't grab-and-play quite as well as the Empire does, for my "GURPS fans who don't want to do any homework," but it is somewhat grab-and-play.  You'll need to devise your own insurgency, but that shouldn't be too hard.  Hopefully, the material is obviously usable and thought-provoking, and I think it is, but I had some pushback on Imperial Intelligence and Imperial Black Ops for being too sparse on details: what's obvious to me isn't always obvious to my readers, so we'll see.

That lack of hard detail likely hurts all four of our "typical gamers," from Willow ("But what do they fight for?") to Bjorn ("But what cool stuff do they have?") to Desiree ("But why does my character care?"), though Brent probably understands "Insurgents, fighting the Empire, right, got it."  For all of these, you need to bring your own level of simplicity and complexity.  It's up to you to pick a world, design the insurgency and create their context in the world.  I think a few worked examples will help, and I'll work on one with my Patrons, but the rest will have to wait until I have worlds to populate with insurgencies, which will happen later in the iteration.

So, by and large, I'm pleased... but I think I need to see this in the hands of players before I'm convinced its the right approach.

The Rebel Insurgency: Summary

Many who suffer under the oppression of the Empire, or who watch that oppression fall upon the shoulders of the innocent, can no longer stand idly by. They take up arms and fight the Empire from within the Empire. They resist with words, speaking out against the tyranny of the Empire so others know they are not alone. They resist with sabotage, undermining the Empire’s military-industrial complex with sabotage and well-placed bombs. They resist with arms, laying bombs before the convoys of the Empire, or assassinating its officials with sniper rifles or holdout blasters, or mounting full-scale insurrections with guerrilla armies.

Despite their best efforts, insurgencies amount to little more than behind-the-lines commando actions at best, and no single insurgency has managed to collect more power than a few star systems under their belt. Insurgencies need to coordinate with one another to achieve any kind of success or, better, to coordinate with an outside power, such as the old Houses of the Federation or alien powers willing to wage war upon the Empire, like the Cybernetic Union.

Unfortunately, no single, unified insurgency exists. Each group bands together for their own reasons and have their own agenda. True Communion Fundamentalists fight for total dominion of the peace and unity their faith offers; Cybernetic sympathizers fight for the total liberation of robots; veterans of the old wars fight for a return to the honor of the Federation; and some rebel insurgencies either had no honor to begin with, or slowly lose it over time and become little different from criminal organizations and roving bandits. Only hatred for the Empire unifies these disparate groups, but with careful diplomacy, a hero might temporarily forge these fractious factions into a single fighting force capable of paralyzing the Empire for long enough for its enemies to strike and unseat the wicked Emperor.

The insurgencies of Psi-Wars break down into four broad types:
  • Anarchists, who fight against the Empire for the sake of fighting. They love to stir up trouble, to tweak the nose of arrogant officials, and to reveal Imperial hypocrisy to the world. They prefer to rile up populations, to sabotage the Empire, and it steal its secrets.
  • Freedom fighters, who fight against the Empire because they cannot stand its oppression. They tend to be common people or old veterans pushed too far by Imperial injustices. Now, they fight to restore what they see as right and proper. They tend to see themselves in militaristic terms and focus their fights directly on the Imperial military, rather than on its civilians.
  • Ideologues, who fight for a particular ideal with fanatical zeal. They might be religious fundamentalists, or determined patriots fighting for the survival of their species, or they might be philosophical die-hards. They prefer to preach their particular philosophy, to weed out the unworthy through targeted assassination, and then die martyrs to their cause.
  • Terrorists claim to fight for any of the above reasons, but in practice fight only for the sake of power. They seek to replace the Empire’s injustice with their own or, at best, they’re willing to go to any lengths, no matter how extreme, to enact the justice that they see the galaxy needs. For them, no target is forbidden, and none are innocent. Their preferred weapons are terror and crime, and they embody the propaganda the Empire promulgates to tar the whole the rebellion.

Playing an Insurgent

Members of an insurgency must have Criminal Rank [0] and Secret (Rebel, Imprisonment) [-20]. Rank 1+ members must have Duty (12 or less, Extremely Hazardous) [-15] or better.
Insurgents typically have specific disadvantages that emphasize their focus on a particular ideology; that is, why they fight. Members of a specific insurgency may add the following to their template’s disadvantage options.

Anarchists: Bad Temper [-10*], Impulsiveness [-10*], Intolerance (Authority Figures) [-5], Overconfidence [-5*], Pyromania [-5*], Stubbornness [-5], Trickster [-15*].

Freedom Fighters: Charitable [-15*], Code of Honor (Soldier’s or Rebel) [-5 or -10], Gullible [-10*], Pacifism (Cannot Harm Innocents) [-10], Sense of Duty (Comrades or Specific community) [-10]

Ideologues: Disciplines of Faith (Any), Fanaticism (Rebel Cause) [-15], Hidebound [-5], Intolerance (Non-Believers) [-10], Selfless [-5*], Sense of Duty (Nation) [-10],

Terrorists: Bloodlust [-10*], Bully [-10*], Callous [-5], Greed [-15*], Jealousy [-10], Selfishness [-5*]

Preferred Templates

Insurgents tend to be Commandos (Freedom fighters, Terrorists), Spies (any, but especially Anarchists and Ideologues), Assassins (Terrorists and Ideologues), Smugglers (any!) and Scavengers (Anarchists and Freedom Fighters). Mystics work particularly well for Ideologues focused on a specific religion or philosophy.

Insurgents, by their very nature, tend to be Outcasts. They come from the edges of society and experience the full weight of the Empire’s injustice. Escaped Slaves, especially if they came from an Imperial work camp, definitely have a bone to pick with the Empire and happily join insurgencies. Survivors can represent characters who spent a great deal of time in the wilds of some world evading Imperial justice and now take the fight against the Empire. Wanderers tend to have less of a specific problem with the Empire (they can just pick up and move), but their high mobility makes them excellent assets and contacts for insurgencies. Finally, most characters with Humble Origins have no bone to pick with the Empire, but a few might want to stand against the Empire on principle, and often either end up joining Freedom Fighters or naively find themselves in the hands of terrorists.

Insurgent Power-Ups

Most Insurgents take the Heroic power-up, with emphasizes their sheer pluck. Veteran insurgents might have the Experienced power-up. Some Insurgents have Cybernetics or Psionics, depending on their ideology, though neither are explicitly emphasized by insurgency.

Agent Provocateur 25 points
Insurgents aim every attack, protest and riot directly at public opinion. An insurgency cannot possibly hope to win by defeating the much larger, more dangerous Empire. Instead, they hope to turn enough of the public, or enough key personnel, against the Empire that it becomes easier for the Empire to accommodate the rebel wishes, rather than continue to fight.

In pursuit of this, Insurgencies often use Agent Provocateurs, charismatic (or sleazy) preachers who exhort their cause to the public. All exceed at making grand speeches, but some focus on persuading individuals to join their cause, while others focus on broader political opinion.

Traits: Choose one of Charisma 3 [15] or Smooth Operator 1 [15]; Public Speaking (A) IQ+1*† [4]; Choose three of Acting†, Fast-Talk†, Propaganda, or Streetwise† all (A) IQ [2], Diplomacy† (H) IQ-1 [2], Carousing† (E) HT+1 [2], Sex Appeal† (A) HT [2], or Observation (A) Per [2], or improve any of the above by one level for an addition 2 points.

* Add +3 if Charisma is chosen.

† Add +1 if Smooth Operator is chosen.

Clandestine Insurgents 25 points
Insurgents must remain undiscovered to survive. They make use of drops, they vanish into crowds, they know how to secret weapons and messages on their person. In short, they’ve mastered the art of “tradecraft.”

Traits: Choose one of Foresight (Ambush, Getaways, Loyalty, or Swaps) [5]; Choose four of Filch (A) DX+1 [4], Acting, Forgery, Holdout, Shadowing or Smuggling all (A) IQ+1 [4], Observation or Urban Survival both (A) Per+1 [4].

Counter-Interrogation Training 15 points
Insurgents always expect to be captured at some point; the wisest prepare for that inevitability by practicing evasion, escape and counter-interrogation tactics. The best even allow themselves to be captured, just so they can get an idea of what the enemy wants, or to bring themselves into close contact with the enemy so that they can persuade them to switch sides!

Traits: Will +1 [5]; Lockpicking (A) DX [2]; Choose two of, Acting, Fast-Talk, Holdout all (A) IQ+1 [4], Observation (A) Per +1 [4], Mind-Block (A) Will+1 [4], Meditation (H) Will [4].

Munitionist 25 points
The insurgent has trained in building explosives, armor or weapons from nearly anything, often a feature of insurgencies that cannot rely on outside assistance.

Traits: Gizmo 1 [5]; Explosives (Demolition) (A) IQ+2 [8]; Scrounging (E) Per+2 [4]; Choose two of Armoury (Body Armor or Small Arms), Electrician, Machinist, Mechanic (Hovercraft), Streetwise, or Traps all (A) IQ+1 [4] or Chemistry (H) IQ [4]
Elite Munitionist 25 points
Prerequisite: Munitionist

The cinematic insurgent can rain destruction upon his foes if you give him 20 seconds and access to assort office supplies. Elite Munitionists represent these sorts of cinematic heroes, able to construct weapons from nearly anything,

Traits: Quick Gadgeteer (Munitions -50%) [25];

Rogue Agent 25 points
Coordinating an insurgency often proves the most difficult task. Many insurgent leaders deploy elite “rogue agents,” though their names vary from insurgency to insurgency (“Apostles” or “The Black Hand” etc). These answer directly to either a high-level commander, or the leader himself, and go out among the insurgency, offering spot assistance and checking to see if everyone is truly faithful to the cause.

Traits: Criminal Rank 4 [20], Security Clearance (Insurgency) [5]

Insurgency Traits

Quick Gadgeteer (Munitionist -50%): Munitionists may use Quick Gadgeteer to build, invent or improvise any explosives, small arms and body armor. Any attempt to build “Dirty Tech” explosives, small arms or body armor gains a +5, and uses the Quick Gadgeteer invention rules rather than listed rules; all Dirty Tech automatically counts as “simple.”

Code of Honor (Rebel): Only attack military targets or collaborators, never unassociated civilians. Never leave a fellow rebel behind. Die before you betray your cell. If necessary, sacrifice yourself for the rebellion. When the conflict has finished, put aside your weapons and return to civilian life. -10 points.
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