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.

Psi-Wars as Design Diary

The core of Psi-Wars began as a design diary showing how to create your own "Totally not Star Wars" setting. It did so in five iterations over the course of a single year. The original cycle of this design diary can be found here, in the Psi-Wars Index. The intent of these "five iterations" was to show how one can go from zero to campaign using minimal effort and focusing one's efforts where they matter most. The result is a playable campaign framework that draws heavily on existing GURPS material, and is meant to assist the GM, but still relies on the GM to create the setting specifics.

After Iteration 6, Psi-Wars turned to serving the role of creating a specific setting, to allow the GM and players to jump into an existing world and to explore it. This means laying down hard facts and one person's vision of the setting. This more complete version can be found below.

Psi-Wars as Setting

The Emperor Ren Valorian rules the Galaxy with an iron fist. He took it from the Federation, a diplomatic body of aristocratic houses when they failed to protect the Galaxy from a great galactic invasion by a monstrous alien race. His rule began with rage and revolution, casting down the aristocracy and promising equality for all true citizens of the Galaxy. Despite those promises, the Valorian Empire has proven a cruel master. It grants sweepings powers to imperial officials, crushes dissent with its mighty, space-faring dreadnoughts and sends aliens and dissidents alike to labor camps. While those who enjoy the Empire's largess call it the beginning of a new and rational era that casts aside the superstitions of the past, the common man, forced to bear the burden of Empire, increasingly turn to rebellion.

Not all the Galaxy has fallen into the Valorian Empire's grasp. The Alliance, the last remnant of the aristocratic federations, has fled to the ancestral region of the galaxy where Humanity was first born. There, they hide behind the protection of the Hammer of Caliban, and ancient and alien battle station, capable of destroying a dreadnought with a single shot, that protects the main route between the galactic core and the ancestral home of humanity. They rush to rebuild their strength, and reach out to the rest of the Galaxy, seeking help in stopping the Valorian military juggernaut.

Elsewhere, the robots that once so faithfully served humanity have risen in revolt! Robotic extremists overthrew their masters on Terminus and founded the Cybernetic Union, ostensibly with the goal of equality and understanding between man and machine, but in reality, creating a totalitarian hellscape where robots force cybernetics onto humans or work them to death in labor camps; they mind-wipe robots who dissent and reprogram them to serve the council of Terminus. The Cybernetic Union wages an existential war with the Valorian Empire, and much of the Galaxy hopes that both will lose.

The Psi-Wars Galaxy has a rich diversity of religious and philosophy. The Valorian Empire follow the psuedo-scientific creed of Neo-Rationalism and works to crush all other philosophies as “superstitions.” The old Alliance embraces the Akashic Mysteries, a body of prophetic lore collected by mysterious, veiled Espers working to prevent the apocalypse of the “Coming Storm.” Aliens have their own religions, including the ecstatic cults of the Ranathim, a race of beautiful psychic vampires; the Ranathim also founded a powerful, transcendental, Imperial cult, the Cult of the Mystical Tyrant, which once held all the Galaxy in its grasp and a philosophy which some claim Ren Valorian secretly subscribes to.

The most famous faith is that of True Communion, which teaches that all beings can connect with a great, unconscious psychic gestalt that binds all living things together. The greatest followers of this faith, the Templars, once cast down the corrupt Alexian dynasty before it too was scattered by its enemies, but remnants of those great warrior-monks still remain, biding their time in remote pockets of the Galaxy. Today, as the Galaxy groans once more under the oppression of an Emperor, the common man turns back to their heroes of legend and hope that the Templars will return to restore order and bring about a new golden age of peace and order.

War tears the galaxy apart. The overt war is between the Valorian Empire and the Alliance and the Cybernetic Union, while other alien powers lurk on the edges, seeking to gain as much for themselves as they can. Great imperial dreadnoughts spill forth swarms of fighters and gunship, while their drop ships unleash silver-clad assault troopers and hover tanks. The Alliance counters with scrappy starfighters and space knights leading contingents of foot-men.

Beneath the surface, in an underworld of cantinas and back alleys, secret agents fight shadow wars. Imperial agents spy on Alliance agents and vice versa, to be sure, but they cannot fathom the depths of the psychic intrigue going on around them. Akashic prophetesses uncover new prophecies and send their agents to prevent assassinations years in advance, while agents of the Cult of the Mystical Tyrant hunt down ancient relics of lost alien empires, only to be thwarted by rag-clad templars wielding resonance blades.

As the Galaxy tears itself apart in war and shadow war, greater threats lurk on the edges. The ancient and dread Eldoth slowly awaken, eager to reclaim the galaxy for themselves and destroy those who imprisoned them. Meanwhile, the threat they once guarded the galaxy against itself remains free to silently act against the denizens of the galaxy, and the great galactic invasion, thwarted at great cost, is but the vanguard to a greater force!

The Galaxy stands on the precipice of history. The psychic visions of the Templars, the Akashic Prophetesses and the Emperor himself peer into the mists of the future to see the fires of destruction and the looming shadow of fate. The Galaxy needs heroes to set it aright again.

For more information, see the Psi-Wars Wiki

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