Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Book Review: The Empire of Silence

I'm an avid podcast and audible user, since I commute and it gives me a chance to "read" while on the go.  Lately, I've been trying to follow works that might give me additional Psi-Wars inspiration and I've certainly struck... well, silver with the latest work: Empire of Silence by Christopher Ruocchio

I found the book in a local bookshop, and I'm always on the lookout for an audio book that will tide me over in between works, as I get one "credit" per month, with which I can pick up a free audio book, so I tend to be on the lookout for lengthy works with cheap price tags, and the book interested me.

So what is it?

Hadrian Marlowe, a man revered as a hero and despised as a murderer, chronicles his tale in the galaxy-spanning debut of the Sun Eater series, merging the best of space opera and epic fantasy. 
It was not his war. 
The galaxy remembers him as a hero: the man who burned every last alien Cielcin from the sky. They remember him as a monster: the devil who destroyed a sun, casually annihilating four billion human lives—even the Emperor himself—against Imperial orders. 
But Hadrian was not a hero. He was not a monster. He was not even a soldier.
On the wrong planet, at the right time, for the best reasons, Hadrian Marlowe starts down a path that can only end in fire. He flees his father and a future as a torturer only to be left stranded on a strange, backwater world. 
Forced to fight as a gladiator and navigate the intrigues of a foreign planetary court, Hadrian must fight a war he did not start, for an Empire he does not love, against an enemy he will never understand. --Empire of Silence, Sleeve Summary
 The book, it turns out, is "part 1" of a series, so all that cool stuff about fighting a war and destroying a star, while teased in the opening of the book, don't actually happen in the book.  Instead, it serves as the introduction to the main character, the aristocratic Hadrian Marlowe, and chronicles his noble origins, his fall from grace, his arrival on a new world, and his slow journey from ignominy back into a sort of freedom; that pursuit of freedom from the "gilded cage" of aristocracy is the core narrative thread of the book.

The book is decidedly space opera, and almost an homage to Dune.  It certainly differs from the book, in tone and in setting, as it explicitly includes aliens (including the Cielcin, against which the mentioned war is raged, but also other aliens, at least two others which feature in the book) and nothing like the spice of Dune or the hints of drug culture rife throughout that book.  Instead, it features aristocratic houses, shield belts, blade combat, and a more medieval culture, with an all-powerful religion featuring inquisitions, forbidden technologies replaced with superior mental training and genetic engineering, and sprinkles in gladiatorial combat for good measure.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Patreon Art Preview and Poll: The Eldoth

It took me a bit of time, but the art for the third major race, the Eldoth, is complete.  If you're a Fellow Traveler ($3+) patron, you can check it out.  I want to give you guys a big thank you. You literally make this happen, as I use the proceeds of Patreon to pay for the artwork.

What comes next? Well, that's up to you, dear Patron, to decide. If you're a Companion ($5+) patron, you can vote! This will be a more complicated vote than usual, and I don't want to post every time a poll comes up, so just keep your eye on the Patreon feed.

As always, thank you for your support!

Edit: Part II of the poll is up.
Edit: Part III of the poll is up

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

The Eye of Providence Closes

If you follow my blog more than you follow the GURPS Facebook group or the SJGames forums, you might not have heard by Pyramid is closing down.  It's been, what, nearly 30 years?

My own first pyramid was an actual magazine plucked from a store shelf.  I began following it back in the late 90s, and so I've had at least part of all three iterations of Pyramid, and fond memories of all three.  This is definitely a major blow, and I have quite a mix of emotions and thoughts about the announcement, as I'm sure you do as well, so I thought I would share some of them here.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Patreon Post: Let's Build a Vehicle (Starfighter Edition)

I continue my examination of my vehicles conversion by diving into starfighters.  Previously I looked at mostly civilian ground vehicles, but this time it's exclusively militaristic aerospatial vehicles using plasma thrusters.  As a result, I learned a lot about how Vehicles handles aerodynamics, and I got a thorough working of my engines, power-plants and took a new look at weaponry.  This is an ongoing process, and each step of the way teaches me a little more about vehicles.

In this case, I've converted a 4e fighter craft from a Pyramid Article, and then two classic vehicles from GURPS Starships: the Typhoon and the Starhawk.  I wouldn't take these versions as "gospel," because I think I'd go into more detail and change quite a few things about the Spaceship design, not the least of which because the SS designs are based on SS constraints, which we don't  have, nor need.

Still, I think it's worthwhile to get a sense of where the design process is going, and I hope you enjoy it.  This is a patreon post available to all $1+ patrons.  If you're a patron, check it out!  And thanks very much for your support.  If you're not a patron, don't worry.  Once I have this stuff worked out, I'll be back with more sci-fi goodness.  Thanks for your patience!

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Patreon Post: Let's Build a Vehicle (the Ground Edition)

Those following this new Tech Series of Psi-Wars might have caught a whiff of GURPS Vehicles and, if so, you're exactly right.  I'm too dissatisfied with GURPS Spaceships for all of this, so I thought I would dive in with both feet to see if I could bring Vehicles into 4e.  With the conversion of propulsion, power and materials, that begins to look possible.

This patreon post contains three design diaries:

  • A generic hover-car
  • A generic hover-bike
  • A generic hover-tank
In these design diaries, I check to see if I like the results my numbers give me and look for holes or problems.  This post is available to all $1+ patrons (while it contains some preview information, it's more about a larger project to see what it would take to get Vehicles into 4e, which I think interests more than just the Psi-Wars fans).  If you're a patron, check it out!  And thank you for your support.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Psi-Wars Material Technology

In the far future of the Psi-Wars galaxy, industry makes use of new materials from which to construct their buildings, factories, starships and to armor their soldiers. Most of these materials resemble modern materials, but typically are far stronger and lighter, able to stand up to the firepower of a blaster and to shrug off more primitive attacks with ease. Some are the results of far superior crafting technology, but others are mined from the depths of planetary cores, or taken from exotic asteroids who passed too close to hyperspatial anomalies.

This post has two companion patreon posts:

  • For Fellow Travellers ($3+) I have a more detailed look at these materials, including using them for armor design, vehicle design, building design, and some advanced and primitive materials.
  • For Dreamers ($1+) I have some research notes on real-world sci-fi materials, as well as conversion notes for GURPS Vehicles 3e armor and GURPS Spaceships armor.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Psi-Wars Propulsion Technology

Psi-Wars features vehicles of all sorts, from hover cars for high speed chases to starfighters zipping around great and mighty capital ships in battles that look surprisingly reminiscent of WW2 battles.  This post takes a look at what technologies the Psi-Wars setting uses to traverse its planets and the galaxy, including:

  • Hyperspace drives
  • Hyperdynamic technology and aerospace engines including plasma thrusters, impulse drives and the grav drive
  • Ground-based propulsion technology including repulsorlift technology, legged vehicles and tracks.
  • Aquatic propulsion technology and why it is slowly becoming obsolete.
For those who want additional details about the design process, including the specifications (compatible with the design process of GURPS Vehicles 3e, and with the previous power post!), $3+ patrons can find the design notes here.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

On the Demise of Star Wars

"You were the chosen one"? Or maybe "Strike me down
and I shall only become stronger."
Forgive the provocative title.  My part of the internet bubble churns with much rage at the current incarnation of Star Wars, and especially at Kathleen Kennedy, at whose feet the perceived "Ruined Forever!" has been laid.  There is much angst and schadenfreude over the failure of Solo, but Solo is the crux of what inspired me to write this, as it's the first Star Wars movie in a long time that wasn't an instant "yes," though not the first Star Wars product in a long time that I had looked forward to, and then changed my mind about.

Then I put this post on ice, because I hesitate to post anything that sounds remotely political in this day and age as discourse is getting extremely divisive and it's hard to please both sides (and there are sides here) when you say anything, and because I have better things I should be putting my attention towards (the next post is almost done, I promise!). But as news continues to evolve and the corporate narrative of "a few disgruntled trolls vs the Last Jedi" explodes to reveal that the Star Wars franchise is Not Okay, I wanted to get my two cents in, especially given how my blog seems to eat, drink and breath Star Wars.

I hope you forgive this opinion piece.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Psi-Wars Power Technology

As discussed last month, I wanted to dive into the Psi-Wars technological infrastructure in greater detail, carefully defining how everything works.  Today, I have power technology.  There's a companion post on Patreon for all $3+ patrons, which goes into making this technology compatible with GURPS Vehicles, looks at the values behind the technology and the design process I used to come to those conclusions, and then looks at some additional technology that I don't discuss here (technology unique to artifacts or ancient civilizations).  So if you're a patron, check it out!

Power Technology

Like most advanced societies, most of the Psi-Wars galaxy runs on electrical power (though a few ancient civilizations ran on psionic power!). Power generators create this electricity, which is transported along cables, and then used to power everything from small appliances to towering industrial infrastructure. However, the power technology of Psi-Wars has advanced to include fusion reactors, advanced power cells, and high efficiency energy transportation technology.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Ultra-Tech Framework Post-Script and Comments

I wrote my Ultra-Tech Framework articles with a couple of readers/patrons in mind, who often had questions about how I put together my own technology frameworks in my campaigns, so I thought it might be nice to loosely document how I handled it.  It is, of course, more art than science, and I could do an entire series on game design elements, but I hoped it was useful.

Given that it might be useful to them, it might be useful to you as well, dear reader, so I thought it might be nice to make it generally available, and I was right!  It seems quite well received, and it generated quite some discussion.  I wanted to tackle, broadly, some of the comments and questions I received over the course of the series.  All the questions are paraphrased, because I received many of them on Discord, and I didn't save them at the time, thus they are remembered, rather than directly quoted.  Apologies if this makes some inaccurate.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Ultra-Tech Frameworks: Step 5 - Putting it All Together

Once you’ve created your technological framework, you need to get it into your players’ hands. Players will interact and learn about your framework via a setting description, a gear catalog or alternate rules; optionally, they might use it during character creation (but we can treat this as a gear catalog).

Setting description is typically the most key point, as it will occur for any and all sci-fi settings, whether or not the players even have access to a gear-list. Typically, Familiar-Tech is not worth mentioning at all; it should be implied in the basic premise of “Like X but in the future.” The exception to this is Weird Safe-Tech; you don’t need to be very explicit about it, but painting the technology’s differences helps. Convenience-Tech and Standard Issue Sci-Fi Tech also doesn’t need a great deal of discussion, at least not in the setting description, as they are meant to be familiar or to simply remove problems. These tend to come across nicely in the broader descriptions of the setting itself. In short, unless it drastically changes how the characters interact with the setting beyond default assumptions, it doesn’t need to be stated outright; it can be implied instead.

Miracle-Tech definitely needs a discussion and should be set aside and highlighted. These are the technologies that largely make the setting. You should also discuss whatever limitations are in place, or any variant rules you’re using, or how people see that technology. This can and should be fairly explicit.

When it comes to a gear catalog, preface it with any sweeping mechanical changes, including the base TL, the effectiveness of power cells, special rules for handling computer programs, etc. The gear catalog, after that, should tackle only the things that matter to your game, typically things that the players will want to get for their characters. This can be as detailed as you want, and may be divided up into different markets (“This technology is available only to Alphan players; this technology is available to everyone, but Betans get a 10% discount”) and sections. Use GURPS Dungeon Fantasy or GURPS Action as a guideline.

If your campaign framework revolves around something innovative or requires substantial changes to the rules, make sure those rules are available to the players. For example, if you have detailed hacking rules, players should be able to access those so they know what it is that they need to buy.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Ultra-Tech Frameworks: Step 4 - Customize your Technology

Once we know what our baseline technology is, we can further tailor our gadgets to our setting. GURPS Ultra-Tech offers us only the most generic material. It will offer you a grav car, but not a grav ferrari or grav pinto; it’ll offer a heavy blaster and a light blaster, but not a Deagle Blaster or a 38 Special blaster. If we want more detail than “car” and “gun,” we’ll have to make it ourselves.

This step is not strictly necessary. In some cases, baseline technology is enough. Consider, for example, a high school drama set in the future: generic technology would be sufficient for capturing the futuristic feel of the game, and you could even inject some Miracle-Tech to force your high school students to wrestle with their changing world. They live in a world where “gun” and “car” is good enough.

But we’ll often find ourselves in a situation where we want more nuance to our technology. This may be because the technology in GURPS ultra-tech doesn’t quite offer what we want. A common example of this might be a desire for a specific model of robot that doesn’t exist in the book. More commonly, we’re fine with the technological principles as outlined in GURPS Ultra-Tech but we want to offer more variety, especially when it comes to our core activity. For example if our game is about space soldiers killing aliens, we might want to offer players numerous guns to choose from and we might want to make the various aliens they fight feel distinct and original.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Ultra-Tech Frameworks: Step 3 - Choosing Available Technology (Part 2: Miraculous Technology)

One way to classify SF worlds is to consider what technological miracles are inherent to the setting or story. In this context, we can think of a “miracle” as some area of technology that has a significant effect on the environment in which adventures take place. A technological miracle defines a significant difference between the fictional setting and the real world familiar to the reader or player. – GURPS Space page 29; A Taxonomy of Miracles
The previous sections may make it sound like one should avoid any technology with broader implications at all costs. This is not so! You should, however, only introduce the setting-altering technologies that you wish to introduce, and ensure that all other technologies don’t interfere with them. In fact, “Miracle-Tech” is often the most interesting part of your setting.

Now, to be clear, you don’t need “Miracle-Tech.” Much sci-fi out there uses space tropes as an excuse for exploring exotic things, much as fantasy uses magic for the same purpose. If you want your hero to rescue a blue-skinned space-babe from a tentacled monstrosity, it’s a little more believable if it’s set on the moon of a dying Jovian world than it is if it’s set in the modern world, but that doesn’t mean it must have transformative technologies and tackle deeper philosophical implications unless you want it to. If not, then use the previously mentioned technologies as advised to create a familiar setting without worrying about exotic technologies.

But if you want Miracle-Tech that provokes thought and exploration, the first thing to realize is that nearly any technology can be miracle tech. For example, even if we set aside the qualitative differences TL 12 medicine might have and just look at the quantitative differences of a TL 12 physician’s kit, imagine the sweeping implications if modern doctors could treat five times as many patients five times as effectively? That alone would mean many more lives saved and an absolute improvement on standard of living. Most of the work I’ve done in the past there sections is about downplaying the potentially transformative nature of technology. Here, we do the opposite and play it up. The best candidates, however, tend to be fairly obvious. Anything where I tell you to be careful of the broader implications is a great candidate for transformative technology.

The next question is, of course, how much Miracle-tech, and this is entirely up to you and your setting. You must understand, first and foremost, the mental cost of such a setting, and try to understand your target audience. For some groups, the crazier the better: they want to explore every facet of future technologies and how different and weird the world could be in the future. For others, the weirder the worse, and they’ll react with hostility to things that take them too far from their comfort zone. You’ll have to tailor to what your group can handle. One word of caution on excessive miracle-tech: the weirder your setting, the harder it is for your group to relate or to know what to do. A poster child for this sort of game is Transhuman Space, and the most common criticism made about the setting is “What do I do with it?” You’ll need to double down on your core activity and focus your players attention on it, so they have a starting point from which to jump into the setting. This can require a lot of work on your part as you carefully spoon feed the weird to your players in bite-size pieces until they fully grasp the setting and its implications. If done correctly, though, it can be an exceptionally rewarding experience.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Ultra-Tech Frameworks: Step 3 - Choose Available Technology (Part 1: Familiar, Convenience and Standard Sci-Fi)

Unrestricted tech can be challenging for the GM, especially at TL11 and TL12, due to the enormous range of possibilities and the array of resources it provides to adventurers –GURPS Ultra-Tech, “Unlimited Technology,” page 9
Once you’ve settled on your starting point, your technological “concept stage,” it’s time to move on to choosing what technology is available to us. I highly recommend against using all possible technology, in part because of the above quote, but also because it makes a setting very difficult to differentiate, as most people will naturally gravitate towards “the best” technologies they can find for a specific thing. It’s also difficult because even if you manage to work out all the implications of every technology in the Ultra-Tech book for a given tech-level, your players will have a very difficult time “getting into” your setting.

At its most conservative, science fiction invokes as few miracles as possible. - GURPS Space page 29
While we tend to think of sci-fi as about being “exotic” and chock full of wondrous technologies (“miracles,”) most effective sci-fi limits the number of truly unusual technologies or truly strange societal changes. Altered Carbon mostly focuses on sleeving technology with almost everything else readily recognizable by a modern audience; Asimov’s robot stories are essentially set in the “modern” 1950s but with intelligent robots. Even when we have a host of technological advances, most of them are stand-ins for readily recognizable technologies: Star Wars has blasters and lightsabers and droids and hyperspace travel, but it’s mostly just WW2 in space with mystical space samurai; Star Trek has numerous, highly advanced technologies, but borrows heavily from the naval traditions and American culture of the 1960s, and wields the technology in a familiar fashion.

Every setting element you add to your game has a “mental cost,” an amount of effort necessary for your players to expend to “get” the setting. It also has a “learning curve,” the speed at which they must expend mental effort to learn everything. By reducing complexity to just a few “miracles,” we can reduce mental load and focus audience attention to only those technologies that we care about. Similarly, if we “disguise” technology in a familiar form, then our audience can wait to learn more about them (a phaser is not a gun and can do a lot of things that a gun cannot, but you can think of it as a gun, and that’s helpful for getting up to speed on the setting).

So it behooves us when thinking about our setting to decide on what the general feel of the game will be, and then what technologies we want to highlight and explore. Any technology that is not a highlighted one should be made as simple and intuitive as possible. We have several methods of doing that. We can break these methods into broad categories: Familiar technology, Advanced Technology, Standard Issue Sci-Fi technology, and Miracle-Tech. These methods are not choices of approach to take; think of them rather as layers that build atop one another, like layering paint: first you lay down your foundation, and then you more sparingly apply the more unusual and distinct levels atop it as necessary.

The following section will list appropriate technologies for the approach. This is meant to be a sampling, rather than an exhaustive list. I also don’t touch on weapon or armor technology, not because you can’t treat it this way, but because few campaigns do, and if yours does, you can simply apply the same principles below.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Ultra-Tech Frameworks: Step 2 - Choose a Tech Level

The tech levels of the various items in this book should be treated simply as guidelines – a culture may develop some technologies more rapidly than others. --GURPS Ultra-Tech, page 8
The first step most people take when designing a sci-fi setting is to choose an appropriate tech-level. This is fine, but the first thing you must understand is that tech level is only a starting point, at best a loose guideline. You should not treat tech-level as an absolute. The point of tech level is not to define what is available and what isn't, but to describe what is generally available. This, by the way, is true of all TLs. American TL 8 is not really the same as Nigerian TL 8, and Chinese TL 3 is definitely not the same as British TL 3. Even works like Dungeon Fantasy or Action don't precisely hit a single TL: DF is better understood as TL 4 "but without guns," and Action is often "TL 8 but with a sprinkling of select TL 9 super-gadgets." If I say that a setting belongs to a particular TL, it already tells you a lot, but there's a lot it doesn't tell you.

Furthermore, all tech levels assigned to ultra-tech gadgets is ultimately arbitrary. Just because a setting is pegged at a particular TL doesn’t mean it has access to all technology of that TL, or that it has no access to higher TL technology. GURPS explicitly discusses alternate development paths and advocates breaking down TL into categories. Personally, working with split tech-levels is less important than understanding that tech-level is really just setting a baseline of expectations and pointing you in a particular direction. This is especially true of Super-Science technology, as there is no physical basis for them anyway, so you can declare them to be available when and if you want. This is explicitly true of super-science power cells, cosmic power-cells and most psychotronics, but all the tech levels of super-science gadgets in Ultra-Tech are definitely just suggestions.

So, given that all future tech-levels are ultimately arbitrary, the authors of GURPS Ultra-Tech seem to have chosen particular themes around which to wrap the idea of tech levels, guesses at how advanced and strange a society would have to be to gain access to a tech level. If we’re going to use tech levels, it behooves us, then, to understand what the assumptions behind a given TL is. GURPS Ultra-Tech lays this out for us starting on page 6, but allow me to approach them with more explicit themes in mind.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Ultra-Tech Frameworks: Step 1: Your Technological Concept and Core Activity

A useful concept in designing a campaign is to think of the “default adventure.” This is simply what the characters are expected to do...The GM can use default adventures to play up different aspects of the game and the setting. – GURPS Space page 208, the Default Adventure
What sort of setting are you trying to build? This should be your first question, but it often isn’t. Many people start by saying something like “I’m building a TL 10 setting and...” but this doesn’t tell us anything. TL 10 can be anything from advanced cyberpunk spy-thriller to conspiratorial supers to anti-alien warfare ala X-Com to full-on space opera. You need to know, first, what your game is about.

While there’s no such thing as “generic fantasy,” the fantasy genre does benefit from the dominance of Tolkien-esque D&D-inspired knock-offs so you can say “I’m running a fantasy game and...” and most people have a rough idea of what you’re doing, sci-fi absolutely does not have the benefit of this. Even if you refine it to something like “Cyberpunk” or “space opera,” it can still mean any number of things; after all, both Star Wars and Star Trek are in the “space opera” genre, yet are very dissimilar in just about every aspect. Tech level will vary, available technology will vary, and what the players will do will vary.

So the first thing we need to do is to come up with at least a sentence to describe what the game is like. You can borrow from existing tropes, but keep it short; think of it like an elevator pitch. It should, in the very least, invoke some of the technologies one might expect, not explicitly, but implicitly. Additionally, or supplementing this, you should think about what players do, the “Core activity” of the game.

A “core activity” of a role-playing game is anything that the mechanics and gameplay focuses on most intently. When players are “making choices” in gameplay, these tend to circle around core activities, and when people talk about “game balance,” they mean the balance of strategies around the core activity. You can think of it as “what the players generally do.” The most common example of this is Dungeon Fantasy’s “Killing monsters and taking their stuff.” Players will focus most of their character builds on going into dungeons, killing a wide variety of monsters with varied tactics, and then setting about acquiring their loot (while avoiding traps). They do not spend much time, for example, worrying about if their characters will arrange the right marriage necessary to secure a treaty between two factions, or who murdered Old Man Jenkins. These aren’t the core activities of Dungeon Fantasy; you could make them the focus of your game, but arguably you’d be playing in a different genre. Game of Thrones-inspired fantasy games, for example, care very much about arranging marriages and securing treaties between rival factions, while Monster Hunter games or Mystery-Solving games care very much about murder mysteries. These also tend to have far more mechanics focused on them: a princess with high status, very good looks, Empathy, Psychology and high levels of poise but absolutely no combat skills to speak of makes for an absolutely worthless dungeon fantasy character, but an excellent game-of-thrones character.

This matters because your technology should serve your settings’ goals. A cyberpunk game may need cybernetics (or some form transhuman augmentation), information technology and a bad attitude, but additionally, its core activities will shape it too. If the game is mostly about being part of a resistance cell that fights an oppressive government, then combat may be your core focus, and you’ll need to have plenty of interesting guns to choose from. If your core focus is on running a game where hackers can dig into the dark net to ferret out the insidious plots of the evil megacorp, then computers, security and software need far more focus. What they don’t need, you shouldn’t waste much time or effort on; for example, if your cyberpunk game has robots as background characters, then you shouldn’t spend much time on robots, nor draw undo attention to them.

By creating a concept and a core activity, we focus down on just what we need and, critically, no more. It’s our starting point, our spring-board for building the rest of the technological framework.

Some examples might include:

  • Genetically enhanced super-soldiers on an interstellar crusade to clear out alien races and make way for humanity to colonize the stars. Core activity: fighting aliens.

  • A new model of high-intelligence android has been created to work with law enforcement, always an android with a human officer; however, this same technology may lie behind a series of terrorist crimes as the robot revolution may have already begun, and its up to the player characters to stop it (but which side will the androids choose). Core Activities: solving crimes, unraveling conspiracies, fighting criminals/terrorists

  • The space cruiser’s continuing mission is to seek out new worlds and new alien species and investigate them, then bring home the data, while fending off the encroaching Alien Empire who seeks to seize these worlds before the heroic Space Alliance does. Core Activities: exploring new worlds, solving “science” mysteries, and fighting other spaceships.

  • The heroes awake from cryo-sleep to find that the solar system has gone silent, and their ship has been damaged. They must repair their ship, and then navigate back towards Earth, picking up supplies where they can, to find out what’s happened to humanity and, perhaps, to see if they can find any other survivors. Core Activities: Scavenging, survival, the logistics of space travel.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Designing an Ultra-Tech Framework

Given my blog’s focus on GURPS sci-fi, I often find myself fielding a lot of questions, especially about Ultra-Tech. I often see criticisms leveled against it that it is the most flawed GURPS book, apart from (perhaps) Magic. While I do not wish to argue for or against this point, I do understand where and how people can find it frustrating. So what I want to do with this post is get to the heart of what I think Ultra-Tech is and what it isn’t. I want to discuss how I use it, and how I recommend you use it too, if you want to get the most out of it, and if you want to understand how GURPS really works, especially when it comes to sci-fi.

I think the biggest problem with GURPS Ultra-Tech stems from the fact that people try to treat it as a catalog when it is better understood as a world-building tool. I see many people try to use Ultra-Tech in a similar manner to how they might use GURPS High-Tech; For example, if you can dig through High-Tech to find that one highly specific gun you want, y ou should be able to do the same in Ultra-Tech, right? Only what they find in Ultra-Tech is, at best, very generic ("Blaster Rifle"), and at worst, potentially profoundly unbalanced. However, GURPS Ultra-Tech dedicates a considerable volume of its pages not to gear that characters could carry around, but to concepts and megastructures, like terraforming projects, cryptography and even playable robots. These certainly impact characters, but they can often be better understood as things that exist in the world with them better than things they carry in their pocket (Incidentally, this is true of High Tech and Low-Tech too, especially when you combine the latter with its companions). Ultra-Tech itself takes this stance, as you can see from the introduction where it discusses how to use the book, including different technological frameworks, different development cycles and gadget control.

My approach with Ultra-Tech has always to take it as a guidebook of inspiration and ideas. Consider, for a moment, if you were to throw up your hands over GURPS, and step over to another system of your choice for your sci-fi epic, such as Fate, World of Darkness or D20. In what sort of book would you look for ideas about your sci-fi game? You might dig through Atomic Rockets or a wiki on a setting you wished to convert, but personally, I'd just pick up Ultra-Tech again, not because I intended to directly use its mechanics, but because those mechanics act like benchmarks, and the discussions in the book offer inspiration. The point of Ultra-Tech, then, is to inform your sci-fi game. The rest, alas, must be done by you.

Just how much work this actually requires can vary from "Just create a list of appropriate technologies" to "How good are you with algebra?"

This will be a short-running series over the next couple of weeks.  Patrons ($1+) gain immediate access to, and in two weeks from this posting date, the full document will be publicly available to everyone.  You can find it (patron and patient reader a like) here.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Iteration 7 Part 1 - Technology

GURPS Vehicles is more than about just vehicles; it’s a technological infrastructure book” -David Pulver
Why start with technology? Because technology is the foundation of all sci-fi settings. While Psi-Wars endeavors to maintain a “feel” of familiar technology, both by extrapolating modern technology and by making use of familiar Star Wars technology, as well as the sort of “standard tropes” that we tend to see in space opera, rather than diving into a deep exploration of an alternate technological concepts. But even with all of that, the technological differences between the real world and Psi-Wars really need to be carefully outlined and discussed.

Psi-Wars is not a book or a film or a tightly bound computer- or board-game, it is an RPG, and in an RPG, players can and will try to do anything, which is often the source of many an amusing story. Players need to know what they can do and what they can’t, as does the GM, which means we need a really good idea of how technology works, and we need to explain it well, so that the players can see how everything works.

Furthermore, Psi-Wars deliberately draws on exotic ideas. While it doesn’t have crazy technologies like domination nano or consciousness uploading, I do make an effort to find some unusual and fascinating imagery. While Star Wars does trade in fairly familiar tropes, it goes out of its way to embrace the exotic on occassion (the salt plains of Crait, the court of Jaba, the ocean cities of the Gungans, the entire world of Geonosis), and I draw regularly from sci-fi that embraces weirdness, like Dune, the Metabarons and Barsoom. For me, the point of space opera is to go to weird places and have familiar adventures there. If you wanted to save the princess, you’d be playing D&D; you’re here because you want to save the space princess. What, exactly, is a space princess and how is she different?

One of the ways we can show that the setting is exotic is through unusual technology. We don’t have cars, we have repulsor cars. We don’t have guns, we have blasters. We don’t have fighters, we have starfighters, and so on. But, again, these need to be explained and, indeed, players will likely want to read about them! After all, the X-Wing and the Star Destroyer are nearly as discussed as the Jedi and the Force!

We spent iteration 6 exploring our setting, which means we already know a lot of technological concepts and we have a picture of how the setting works. All we really need to do is sit down and define things carefully and, more importantly, make them our own a little. I don’t think Psi-Wars players will ever get away from GURPS Ultra-Tech and I’m okay with that (though I think if we can get away from GURPS Spaceships, I’ll be happy with that!). All we really need to do now is put pen to paper and clearly define these.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

The Psi-Wars Primer

GURPS is a wonderful system, but cannot provide a game without a context, and typically relies on the GM to create that context, the setting and the rules of the sort of game the GM wishes to run. GURPS itself has numerous pre-published settings, such as Reign of Steel or GURPS Cabal, and campaign frameworks, such as Dungeon Fantasy and Monster Hunters, but lacks a solid Space Opera offering.

Psi-Wars fills that niche with a baroque space opera inspired primarily by Star Wars, but also draws additional inspiration from works such as Dune, Warhammer 40k, typical space opera tropes as seen in video games or TV shows, and a smattering of stranger works. Psi-Wars emuates the sort of space opera were space knights rescue space princesses from the clutches of ancient cults, or where smugglers dodge the oppressive laws of a grasping and evil Galactic Empire, or where scavengers uncover the ancient remains of once lost civilizations, discovering some wondrous psionic relic, but also awakening some ancient evil.

Psi-Wars ultimately attempts to serve two roles. First, it seeks to create a ready-to-play setting with character templates, gear catalogs, simplified rules and setting material so you can simply jump in with both feet. It also seeks to show you how to build such a setting on your own. Psi-Wars contains a design diary in the form of a blog, showing how the author came to the conclusions he did, variations he set aside (that you might take up), and how you can do something similar with other settings.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

State of the Patreon: May, and an Iteration 6 retrospective

I am behind, as usual. You'll find this becomes relatively common in the next year or so, because my day has become traveling on a train for 3 hours a day, working 8 hours a day, and then putting my boy to bed and going to bed myself.  Paradoxically, this means I'm writing more than ever, as I purchased the dinkiest laptop ever (a Lenovo Miix 320) and I've been typing away, but having the time to really sit down, do proper research and editing, never mind posting, requires sitting behind my computer, and that's going to be a rare thing.  So, fair warning!

So, what happened last month?  What are we doing this month?  And where do I see the blog going?

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Patreon Post: How Big is Big? Size Modifier Contexts

I've seen some discussion about whether or not the ships I use in Psi-Wars are "too big" or "too small."  I've just used spaceships out of GURPS Spaceships, but that's slated to change, and it got me thinking: I don't really understand size modifiers.  To me, they're just empty numbers with more empty numbers attached to them ("SM +15 is 700 yards long.  Okay.  That's like 7 football fields, but is that unbelievably enormous or are there like naval ships that big?").  So, I wanted to work out things I could visualize, see and compare them to, as well as collate a collection of values to compare them with. If I start building vehicles, I want to have a sense of how big they should be, and how big that means.

What I have for you, then, are two posts.  The first is a collated list of size modifiers and some example vehicles that fit those size modifiers as well as a discussion of what that scale might mean, and I round it out with a discussion of small-scale megastructures and why sci-fi spaceships often seem to be so gigantic.

Second, because I've found it extremely useful when working on additional vehicles, I've included an excel sheet that I collected for size modifiers, their volumes, surface areas, dimensions and GURPS SS masses.

This post is available to all Dreamers ($1+!).  Enjoy and thank you very much for your support.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Dragon Heresy Kickstarter

I've wanted to do a special series on this, but my job situation suddenly turned (in a good way) and I spent a lot of time these past couple of months handling that, traveling all over the country, diving into a lot of interviews and getting acquainted with my new work.  I offer this as an excuse, because I really want this to work.

Those of you in the know are aware of Douglas Cole and his work with GURPS, including some of my favorite Pyramid Articles: the Last Gasp and the Broken Blade.  Now he's got a kickstarter going for Dragon Heresy, a viking-themed D&D Open License game.  As of this writing, it has about 2 days left to get in on the action, and has already kickstarted, but I would be proud if I could help him jump over the $10k mark.

Alright, you say, why should I back this?  If you're a typical reader of my blog, several things are true about you.  First, you like detail, you like GURPS, you like rich settings and you don't mind fantasy.  You're probably not a D&Der, so why should you back a D&D game?

First, D&D is the lingua-franca of the RPG world.  Everyone speaks it, and so if you're with a group that's not super into GURPS, or you're trying to branch out, having access to some flavor of D&D is highly useful.  I have a copy of 13th Age sitting on my shelf, for example.  So if you're not a D&D fan, it should be noted that it's worth learning and worth getting into.

Second, most GURPS fans I know really appreciate the level of detail that GURPS has and tend to dislike the level of abstraction found in D&D.  Well, Douglas let me take a look at his rules and I did my usual thing of trying to tear it apart and to break it.  And I was surprised how well it worked. 

For me, I want several things out of a game, any game.  First, I want it to be able to handle all levels of play simultaneously.  For example, in Cherry Blossom Rain, I wanted our Big Damn Heroes to face off against hordes of minions (while still being threatened by them) or  facing off against equal foes in interesting fights.  I want to be able to play as a warrior or martial artist and have it be more interesting than "I hit him.  I hit him again."  Dragon heresy managed to do all of this. 

While the site might give you the impression that it's "Just D&D themed with vikings," it has in fact bloomed out of Cole's desire to bring more reasonable, "real-world" tactics to D&D.  I don't mean this in the sense that Cole is an actual martial artist who practices HEMA (though he is) and he wants to bring his superior knowledge of those techniques to D&D but rather in the sense that he wants things like shields to feel more like they really would, to give you a better sense of what's actually going on in a fight.  In so many D&D games I've played in, I've done something and it did damage and that was good enough, I suppose, while in GURPS, I can articulate precisely what I'm doing and see it play out in the game.  Dragon Heresy brings D&D much closer to the latter.  For example, he articulates the difference between vitality and "Hit points," with the latter representing Gygaxian "Luck, effort, focus and ability to effectively parry" and the former representing actual, physical integrity.  Thus, if you attack you succeed and do "some damage" to my hitpoints, what's really going on is that you're forcing me on the defensive.  But if you make an attack I cannot reasonably defend against (ambush me from behind, shoot me with a crossbow bolt), I'm forced to either make an extreme defense (losing more HP), or I suffer real damage, damage that can kill me.  Meanwhile, armor reduces actual damage, which creates interesting tactical trade-offs.  Where in classic D&D a well-armored character and a skilled swashbuckler both effectively have the same AC, here, a swashbuckler is harder to hit and thus harder to damage, while the armored character is easier to hit, but cares about it less because he can afford to ignore your light attacks that will glance off of his armor.  Likewise, different forms of defense bring different advantages with them that feel right, like having a shield to block arrows.

What made Douglas Cole famous, though, is his Technical Grappling, and he brings that with him into Dragon Heresy.  Grappling is famously bad in D&D, as lampooned in Darths and Droids here, but Douglas both manages to simplify it and make it tactically satisfying by using the same control points concept he offered in GURPS: success in a grappling roll results in points that can be spent in an effort to force your opponent into particular positions and situations, which makes it both quick and simple, yet enjoyably complex at the same time (Incidentally, if this alone interests you, check out his other work, Dungeon Grappling)

Finally, Douglas dives into deeper detail in your common races and common character tropes, encouraging you to think about your place in the world, and about the world itself.  While I didn't dive as deeply into this part as I did the rest (I was more concerned with combat mechanics and I've had limited time), what I saw looked impressive.

If the combat mechanics interest you as much as they interested me, it's definitely worth backing him for at least $5.  If you want the whole kit and kaboodle, it's a mere $20, which isn't bad at all.  Consider it, please.  Again, that link is here.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Patreon Poll: the Fourth Chapter

Who is this mysterious Templar?  That's up to you!
Patreon Week continues.  If you've enjoyed the Templar Chapters, now it's your chance to make your own!  My patreon now sports no less than 10 polls that, put together, will introduce the 4th Chapter.  Are they a secret cabal waging a shadow war on the Akashic Order?  Perhaps they are an order of librarian knights preserving long-lost lore of ancient dynasties.  Perhaps they are a militant group of zealots on the edge of the galaxy, safeguarding the Keleni royal line and preparing to restore both the Knights of Communion and a new Communion Golden Age, with the last Grand Master preserved in cryostasis below, ready to be awoken.

The final results are up to you!

If you're a patron (this is for my Companions, thus $5+), check it out!  And thank you so much for your continued support.  If you're not, don't worry, I'll unveil the results when we collate all the documents of the new version of Psi-Wars.  Have fun!

Monday, April 23, 2018

Patreon Post: Keleni Art Preview and the next Art Poll

It's Patreon week!  First up, I have the result of the Keleni art, available to all $3+ patrons (my Fellow Travelers!) who can view it here.  For my Companions ($5+ patrons), the next art poll is up.  Do we want to look at the sinister and ancient Eldoth, the exotic and alluring Traders, or are we done with aliens and want to move on to humanity?  Go and vote, my Patreon faithful!

As always, thank you, Patrons, for making all of this possible.  The art, in particular, comes directly out of the funds you donate to this project.

Friday, April 20, 2018

The Templar Chapters: the Far Striders

Alternate Names: The Templar Vagabonds

The rim of the Galaxy has more than its fair share of beggars and religious pilgrims. One can find them in a cantina drinking quietly, or sitting in the street with a raised bowl, begging for credits or scraps of food. They seldom stay in one place long, often wending their way to some distant temple, or to richer planets. They make easy pickings for thugs or pirates, but most criminal scum native to the rim tend to leave religious itinerants alone, for they know who travels with pilgrims. Those who violate this taboo may find themselves casually disarmed by a staff-wielding pilgrim or wake up in a gutter with no memory of what happened after they first uttered a threat. The religious itinerants of the Rim enjoy the protection of the Templar Vagabonds of the Far Strider Chapter.

The Templar Vagabonds resemble the pilgrims they protect. Many wear simple brown robes, belted with a sash over a tunic and pants and sturdy, serviceable walking shoes. Others might wear an old, well-worn, patchwork vacc-suit. They often wear hats, to keep the sun off their face, or a scarf over their face to keep out dust. They typically wield either a staff, usually just a very long length of pipe or some rough-hewn wooden walking stick, or a cobbled-together force sword at their belt. Many mistake them for scavengers, beggars or wandering trash; the Templar Vagabonds prefer it that way.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

The Templar Chapters: Wardens of the Monolith

Alternate Names: The Templar Pariah, The Templar Wardens

Those who fought against the Great Galactic Menace, when away from prying ears, will sometimes whisper of a rumor of assistance from deep in that arm of the Galaxy. The wildest intelligence reports from the Cybernetic Union which discuss looming threats against the Terminus Council, confirm these rumors. Both discuss mysterious, armored space knights seemingly unstuck from time, caricatures of the Knights of Communion from before the fall of the Alexian Empire with devastating force sword skills, powerful psychic abilities and a message for all who came to the world of Sepulcher “Go. This world is forbidden.”

The Wardens of the Monolith are real. Their massive Temple-Fortress guards Sepulcher, the ancient homeworld of the Eldoth. A fully militant order, they cut an imposing figure in their traditional armor. They often fight in perfect silence, operating in squads of two to five, and they move with psychic synchronicity, intuitively knowing one another’s plans. When roused from their quarantine of Sepulcher, they have a military fleet of carriers and fighters at their disposal; they could be powerful military allies against the Cybernetic Union, or against a returning incursion of the Great Galactic Invaders and, indeed, quietly assisted Leto Daijin’s efforts to defeat the first of such incursions.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

The Templar Chapters: The Dark Vigil

Alternate Names: The Templars Vigilant

In the heart of the Tangled Expanse, on the cusp of the riotous and exotic Dark Arm of the galaxy and the ordered and imperial galactic core, lies the former ocean world of Alhari. Upon a shallow, turquoise blue sea and abutting a the great island mountain of Alhari sprawls the canal city of Maon. Hyperspace travel to and from Alhari is easier than any other world in the Tangled Expanse, and once one reaches Alhari, the restof the Tangled Expanse is easier to reach. As such, Maon is the busiest space port of the Tangled Expanse and serves as its de facto capital. All merchants, treasure hunters and pilgrims who seek to explore and exploit the Temple Worlds of the Tangled Expanse pass through it, and enjoy its rich, colorful and riotous culture. Where money flows, so too does crime, and Maon overflows with vice, with casino barges, floating brothels, and thieves clambering the tall buildings of Maon. Despite all of its crime, however, Maon has a reputation as a safe city, free of slave traders and assassins, because even with the grip the criminal underworld of the Dark Arm has on Maon, they fear one thing in the shadows whose name they mention only in hushed whispers: the Dark Vigil.

The Dark Vigil Chapter, a remnant of the legendary Knights of Communion, are Maon’s guardians. The popular image of them depicts them either in rich, silken black robes, with a force sword belted in their sash, or as extraordinarily fit and athletic men and women bearing tattoos on their backs, shoulders and arms. They perch atop the towering buildings of Maon and watch over their city; they have hidden bases and vaults scattered throughout the city in which they hide untold treasure and the secrets of immortality. They are more than just the boogeymen of the Maon’s criminal underworld, but it secret masters, demanding a cut of all profits and dictating what may and may not happen on Maon: the casinos and brothels get a nod, slavers and assassins disappear into the night. And when those in need, be they escaped slave or orphaned child, call upon the darkness of Maon for help, the Templars Vigilant answer them.

Friday, March 30, 2018

State of the Patreon: April

Happy Easter
Psi-Wars continues to chug along.  I've personally finished Iteration 6 and started on the next iteration, but you guys will have another month before you see that.  Between that and changing jobs, I've been quite busy (as you can see from the lateness of this post), but I'm still here!

This has been a weaker month for viewership, but not an especially bad one.  More people continue to express interest in Psi-Wars, but I think the current structure of it is causing problems, but hopefully the new structure I'm working on in Iteration 7 will fix that.  You won't see that next month, but it is in the works.

What will you see next month?  Three sample Chapters of the Space Templars aka the Knights of Communion, including:

  • The Dark Vigil Chapter: the secret protectors of the Keleni Temple Worlds, the gaurdians of forbidden relics of the Cult of the Mystic Tyrant, and the secret moral enforcers of a thriving criminal empire.  Their chapter master, a mighty Tarvathim master, is slowly dying, and his successor was murdered in the canals of the bustling city of Maaon on the ocean world of Alhari.
  • The Sentries of the Monolith: A lost chapter founded by the Traitor Revalis White, these Templars guard the Eldoth homeworld of Sepulcher, ensuring that dread race never rises again to terrorize the galaxy.  Their young new chapter master seeks to initiate a crusade against the Cybernetic Union to avenge her fallen master, but factions within the chapter fret about her use of forbidden technologies and her openly heretical brother.
  • The Far Striders: These pilgrim-escorts already lurked on the rim of the Galaxy when the death throes of the Alexian Empire consumed that august order.  Now they lurk among the population, disguised as humble beggars, continuing their good work of protecting the religious from the depredations of bandits and villains, while their missing master has left them with a quest to seek the holy relics of Isa the Exile, while his presumptive heir and ally to Nova Sabine seeks to reunite the Templars and throw their strength against the Empire.
These chapters will be as detailed as the Houses of the Alliance, including major personalities, new relics, unique martial arts or styles, and details on what virtues and styles they make use of.

Last month, the most popular posts, setting aside the Primer, were:
  1. The Heterodox Virtues of True Communion: One of my favorite posts as well: the Orthodox virtues ground True Communion, but these virtues make things interesting, and provide pretty neat bonuses as well!
  2. Templar Martial Arts: You guys have been waiting for this, no doubt.  While I see the Templars as regularly using the same martial arts as the Alliance, they have their own, deeper, more powerful techniques too.  The Serene Form will likely change in the future, though.  I discovered the Reflective modifier for DR, which suggests that bolt deflection should be free, rather than requiring an action.  I'll look into that at a later time, though.
  3. The Knights of Communion and their Chapters: This is really meant more as a means of understanding how to build your own chapters, similar to how my discussion of Alliance houses was meant as a way to build your own houses.  If you liked this, you'll love the three chapters.
  4. Keleni Martial Arts: I'm not surprised that the Keleni aren't as popular as the Templars: after all, True Communion's big draw is that it lets you play not-Jedi.  The Keleni just offer a background explaining the origins of Communion and a natural, go-to group for your master atop a mountain.  Still, it's nice to see some of you exploring their kung fu.
  5. Orthodox Virtues of True Communion: Similar to Keleni martial arts, I'm not surprised that these are less popular than the Heterodox Virtues, as they're less "interesting," but nonetheless still important, and thus I'm pleased to see that you guys like them too.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Patreon Preview: the Eldoth

Three major alien races have defined the history of Psi-Wars; thus far, I've referred to them via placeholder names, but slowly, each has received a preview as I've worked out their details and designs: the "Communion Aliens" became the Keleni, and the "Sexy Space Vampires" became the Ranathim.  Now, the last enormously influential race, the "Monolith" get their preview as the Eldoth.

They built the first galactic empire while waging war to some ancient, galactic menace.  They shattered the Keleni temple worlds and scattered the Keleni people in their first diaspora. The terror of their rule helped coalesce the Ranathim Empire, and the Ranathim stole thanatokinesis from the Eldoth to create the Gaunt race.  Though the Ranathim broke their empire and destroyed their race, they live on, slumbering in their regeneration sarcaophogi.  Their interstellar "Deep Engine" continues to hum in strange, monolithic ruins.  The last house of the Alliance, the Tan-Shai, draw their power from ancient Eldothic secrets, and the Templar Chapter, the Sentries of the Monolith, guard the Eldothic homeworld of Sepulcher to ensure the dread race never rises again.

This preview is available to $3+ (Companion) patrons.  If you're a patron, check it out!  If not, as always, we love to have you.  Happy Patron week, and thanks for your support!

Thursday, March 22, 2018

The Knights of Communion and their Chapters

Long ago, the Knights of Communion formed the first Knightly Order of the Galaxy. The Maradonian knights that made up its ranks gave up aristocracy and the Akashic Mysteries to pursue a crusade to liberate the Temple Worlds of the Keleni. For an age, they protected those worlds, unmasked the criminal conspiracies of the Cult of the Mystic Tyrant and then fell in a war against the Alexian Empire in which they slew the last Alexian Emperor.

The Knights of Communion, or the Templars, may have fallen as an order, but they still existed. In truth, the Order had always been comprised of multiple smaller chapters, each of which served a local temple. The defeat of the Templars did not destroy the order, only scattered it and drove it underground. Many Chapters fell in the ensuing chaos, caught up in reprisals by the Cult or by last Emperor’s pogrom, but many slipped away and vanished in the shadows where they carefully watched and cultivated the growing Federation, offered their assistance secretly to the remaining temples of Communion, guarded the Temple Worlds from the shadows, and protected the lost secrets of the Templar Order.

They remain in the Galaxy to this day. Some have strayed far from their original roots and have fallen into heresy or “innovative” True Communion doctrines. Others have had to sacrifice their more knightly ways in the name of secrecy and the material means necessary to keep their orders alive. All are aware that the rise of the Emperor, the dominion of their traditional enemy, the Cult of the Mystic Tyrant, and the threat posed by the Coming Storm. All stand ready to act, stepping forth from the shadows to create a new age of prosperity and harmony, if that is what Communion will.s

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

The Temples of True Communion

Sci-fi Temple Ruins by Robert Brown
True Communion stands in a strange position, at once one of the most popular philosophies of the Galaxy, but at the same time, reviled by the elites of both Empire and Alliance; it is a closeted philosophy, one that many adhere to, but few willingly admit. Even in its heyday, True Communion had little true hierarchy: only when the Keleni Temple-Worlds had total independence and the Keleni were united as one people, one nation, beneath their royal dynasty, did True Communion begin to look like a truly united philosophy. Instead, when one seeks to find adherents of True Communion, one finds scattered communes and communities, usually of lower class individuals, who gain their spiritual guidance from a nearby temple.

A Temple represents the core of the True Communion faith for a local community; its abbot represents the highest spiritual authority that they know. True Communion builds its temples in naturally occurring “holy places,” which tend to be found in remote, uncivilized regions. There, they seek to condense that spirituality into the heart of the temple, where Eloi Fragments can form. They also gather relics and philosophical lore for any who seek them. Ultimately, the purpose of a temple is to provide a safe haven for sacred things, and a place where those who wish to learn the ways of True Communion can go and discover themselves in peace.

Despite this, most temples end up acting as a central hub of religion for the locals. Though they must travel far (or the temple must come to them, often sending priests to look out for the local faithful), people regularly bid the monks of the temple to give them blessings, knowledge, healing, guidance and to officiate their ceremonies. Thus, temples become the secret hearts of the community of the True Communion faithful.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Templar Martial Arts

New Weapons

The Psionic Force Sword (the Resonance Sword)

When the Templars first came to the Temple Worlds of the Keleni, they brought with them the force-screen based technology of the force sword, which have a sleek, glass-like look to their blades, as they are formed from finely sharp and destructive force screens. This technology worked nothing like the Psi-Blades and Psi-Swords native to the Dark Arm of the Galaxy, with their intense light and diffuse blades. Over time, the Templars learned to combine both technologies, creating their signature blades which with a jewel-like appearance burning with an inner energy.

Treat a Resonance Sword as a Force Sword with half their normal damage, plus one die per 10 points of psionics abilities from the best single power the character has. The character may add his Talent for that power to damage, and may apply the special effect appropriate for the power currently energizing the blade from page 39 of Pyramid #3/51. A Resonance Sword has an armor divisor of 5 or the armor divisor listed in his special effect whichever is better.

A Resonance Sword must be constructed with an Eloi Fragment or a Psuedo Fragment. A Resonance Sword is double the cost of a Force Sword (that is, CF +1). Fine or Very Fine Resonance Blades do not improve damage, but instead improve the character’s Talent for the power currently empowering the blade (which also effectively increases the damage of the blade); +1 for Fine Resonance Blades, +2 for Very Fine Resonance Blades.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

The Psionic Arts of Communion

Traditional Keleni Healing Arts (Jalteran) 5 points

King Kashekim Nedakh by DrMistyTang
Jalteran refers to a specific guild of healers within the Keleni culture, thus referring to their preferred style of healing would be like calling Western medicine “Doctoring,” but nonetheless the word has stuck around. Jalteran is the unique practice of “folk healing” that the Keleni have been practicing for centuries and has become virtually synonymous with True Communion, to the point that those who practice the art might even call the location of practice a “temple,” and those who regularly attend for treatments might refer to themselves as “Followers of Communion.” Some healers embrace this, and also hold religious services on the side or act as mentors, while genuine Communion temples will also learn Jalteran to fulfill the dual expectations of those who come to their temple.

The Keleni healing arts derive their premise from the core principle that the physical is just a manifestation of the mental; this means that the health of the body is ultimately a reflection of the health of the mind. To purge someone of an illness requires that person to at least calm their mind and find harmony between their conscious mind and the subconscious id that rules their physical manifestation.

The most common forms of treatment are meditative. The healer first diagnosis the illness and what might be causing it; such diagnoses are often abstract, but some Keleni healers are astute psychologists and can find genuine psychological issues that the patient currently suffers from. Next, the healer guides the patient through meditative exercises, teaching them to turn their eye inward and calm whatever inner turmoil they have to better improve their physical state. To facilitate this, some healers learn the art of massage and interior decoration (creating a calm space will help create a calm mind). What effects this has tends to be questionable and ultimately depend on what the GM will allow Esoteric Medicine to do: it will certainly helps heal psychic issues (such as psychic crippling) and curing diseases that are psychic in origin as well as physician would cure the physical equivalent; for physical ailments, it generally does little more than provide a +1 to HT rolls to naturally recover.

While not required to learn the Keleni healing arts, most Keleni who practice them also study the Psychic Healing power, something Keleni naturally excel at. By putting the patient in a meditative state, they have a far easier time practicing their craft and their study of esoteric, psychic principles prevent them from ruining their target’s psyche or body during delicate procedures. Their near miraculous ability to heal nearly any problem via psychic healing contributes to the belief that anyone who engages in the trappings of the Jalteran will be as effective, which has led to a reputation of quackery. Rumors also persist of Jalteran sages who can cure aging and are thus both immortal and capable of granting that immortality to others. At the GM’s discretion, this can be true! But even if it is not, the perception of its truth drives many a wealthy or powerful man to seek out the finest Jalteran physician.

Keleni practitioners of Jalteran often have the honorific suffix -alta added to their name.

Required Skills: Diagnosis, Esoteric Medicine, Meditation, Philosophy (True Communion).

Additional Psionic Skills: Aura Reading, Cure, Disease Shield

Cinematic Skills: Mental Strength, Pressure Points

Secret Psionic Skills: Life Extension

Techniques: Introspective Ceremony

Perks: Auric Squint, Healing Bond, Healing Massage, Healthy Decoration, Meditative Massage, Secret Power (Life Extension, up to level 2), Sacred Healing, Soothing Touch, Stabilizing Skill (Psychic Healing, Esoteric Medicine), Wishful Medicine,

Optional Advantages: Psychic Healing Talent, Sensitive or Empathy

Optional Disadvantages: Charitable, Disciplines of Faith (Asceticism or Mysticism), Delusion (“Holistic medicine can cure anything”), Reputation (Quack)

Optional Skills: Artist (Interior Decorating), Exorcism, Expert Skill (Psionic), Teaching, Professional Skill (Massage), Psychology

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Traditional Keleni Martial Arts

New Weapons

The Resonance Staff

Jarael by Artpox
Ancient Keleni had long ago mastered many of the arts of psionic resonance, which allowed the wielder of a weapon or item to “attune” his psychic powers to the item. This might allow him to power the item or imbue it with an element of his own power. They called this technology “resonance,” and a resonant item has an aura, invisible to mundane senses, flowing around it.

A resonance staff is the most common application of this technology. It seems a standard staff, though it tends to be made either of a nano-tube cellulose that is “grown” for the purpose of forming a resonance staff, or made of a metallic nanocomposite. All forms have an embedded eloi fragment or a pseudo-fragment that can attune the weapon with the user. Once so attuned, the staff acts as an extension of the wielder: what the staff touches (or strikes) counts as “touched” by the user for the purpose of psionic powers. This has numerous combat applications: see the Resonance Charge ability below. Second, the aura around the weapon can be “hardened” to dissipate destructive forces. This means that energy weapons, such as force swords, can be parried without damaging the weapon, similar to the effect a neurolash-field can have on a force sword. See Resonance-Field Parry below.

Treat a Resonance Staff as a Quarterstaff, with a CF of +9 and an additional flat cost of $500 (thus a resonance quarterstaff costs $600). Add bonus damage to all strikes equal to the wielder’s best psionic talent.

The Psi-Blade

Where Keleni resonant weaponry had originally been for self-defense, with the Eldothic invasion of their homeworld, some Keleni repurposed the technology for greater lethality, so that they could murder their enemies. They created the first “psi-blades,” a technology described on page 39 of Pyramid #3/51 “Tech and Toys,” that allowed them to manifest their psychic energy as a purely destructive force.

Treat a Psi-Sword as described in the article above (with the same weight, cost, reach and other traits as a force sword) except that its damage is equal to +1d for every 10 points of appropriate psionic ability, with bonus damage equal the wielder’s talent, and with an armor divisor of 5 or the armor divisor noted in the appropriate psychic ability whichever is better.

Keleni traditionally created smaller weapons, such as the Psi-Blade, which is more comparable to a long knife than a sword. Treat Psi-Blades as using the same rules as Psi-Swords (but with the same weight, cost, reach and other traits as a force blade, from UT page 166), but its damage is +1d for every 12.5 points of appropriate psionic ability (or +2d for every 25 points) and bonus damage equal to the wielder’s talent.

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