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.

The Technological Roadmap

So, we know what we want to do. Where do we start?

First, we tackle technological concepts. We need to discuss the technologies that serve as the foundation of Psi-Wars: where energy comes from, how factories work, how one builds cities or space stations, etc. We looked at this once, back in iteration 3, and we’ve not looked at it since, but it should be a simple matter of going through Ultra-Tech and answering some essential questions. The point here is to establish the setting in generalities.

Then, we’ll look at more specific, gamer-facing technologies. The first will be spaceships because I am disatisfied with how spaceships work thus far. I don’t like that they function entirely separately from other vehicles, I don’t like that we have no good rules for vehicles or vehicle design, and I don’t like that spaceships reduces the good complexities at the cost of adding bad complexities. It works fine for certain sorts of games, but not for Psi-Wars, where we’re really just trying to imitate WW2 sea battles, but in space. Part of this will be a look at vehicles in general, because despite the fact that physics disagrees, Star Wars doesn’t really treat tanks and speeders differently than it treats dreadnoughts and starfighters.

Then we’ll move on to personal gear: weapons, armor, the shopping catalog in the back of GURPS Action, but for spaaace. Most of this is already worked out, but a lot of it is scattered over some patreon previews that we can consolidate into a single spot, to avoid confusion. Part of this will involve talking about our gameplay framework, which will serve nicely when revising our Action rules.

Finally, we’ll revisit the technological infrastructure of specific factions. While the Empire is largely complete, we can revise it; the Alliance needs it space ships and vehicles, and I’d like to look at the Knights of Communion; while modern templars might not have major military hardware, the original Knights of Communion did and some templars might.

A Technological Context

An important concept to understand when you build a sci-fi setting is that you are building a technolgical gameplay context. Every game you play in has one: what tools are available shape how you play, and the extensive gear catalogs of GURPS make this a vital element of gameplay. For most games, these are assumed. GURPS Dungeon Fantasy assumes a base DR of 4-6 with gear-based armor (but allows enchantment and superior to hit much higher levels; I understand DR 10 isn’t unusual) and your primariy ranged weapons are bows or crossbows, which means most people fire once every few seconds or, if they are very specialized, once a second or perhaps up to 3 times per second, but melee weapons tend to be a preferred choice. In GURPS Action, DR of 12+ is not unusual, but most ranged weapons can fire many times per second (allowing things like suppression fire and sprayed fire) and can easily punch through any but the hardiest of armor, and you have to handle things like tanks.

This context and how it plays shapes how characters will fight. I discussed this pretty extensively in Iteration 4 when I talked about how I expected military hardware to compare to, for example, a force sword, and we’ll talk about it again.

But I want to draw your attention to other contexts. Not everything is about combat! Action, in particular, turns on infiltration tactics and spy-gadgets. How do you bug a phone line, or get past a lock, or find that record you’re looking for? I’ve touched on this a bit, but I want to look at it more extensively and completely. I want to know we have all of ducks in a row, as it were.

Part of this will involve looking at how factions use technology. My Insurgent Tactics article proved very popular, and while I’m not sure such documents need to make it into the final product (though please, if you disagree, leave a comment!), they certainly help give an idea of how this technology might be used. Tactics are to technology what signature moves are to martial arts: a way of highlighting what we need and how we use what we have. In Star Wars, the Empire’s troops look different from the rebel troopers; this is because they fight differently, and we want to define that. We also want a sense of what sort of things players can expect when dealing with a faction.

GURPS Vehicles

I’ve been trying to “fix” these things for awhile, in the midst of Iteration 6 (which is one of the reasons we’re having this iteration: these problems are too big for me to fix on the side). One thing I’ve noticed is how extremely valuable GURPS Vehicles 3e really is. The Companions, which I just picked up for a song on e23, contain almost everything from GURPS Spaceships, plus new content (like the repulsor technology that I tried to create from scratch, not realizing that it already existed).

I remain extremely disappointed that after ten years of development hell, we still don’t have GURPS Vehicles for 4e; this is a topic I could rant about for an entire post, I’ms ure, but the truth is that we don’t have it, and likely never will. But by this point, I’ve become adept enough and understanding the logic behind how the GURPS Ultra-Tech vehicles are build that I feel confident in doing it myself.

(One of the reasons I dove into Psi-Wars as opposed to other sci-fi games is that I expected I could get away without extensive vehicles. Ha!)

So, by the end of this, while I won’t have a complete conversion of GURPS Vehicles 4e, I hope to have a workable vehicular design system that suits Psi-Wars. If so, this will be a Patreon special.

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