Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Psi-Wars Weaponry Revisited

Thus far in Psi-Wars, I've used the Ultra-Tech weapons more or less unchanged, though by Iteration 6, it was clear that we needed some changes.  The following details all weapons available in the setting and their general rules, and some additional changes and thoughts on the scale of weaponry that we might employ, especially on large scales.



Melee Weapons

The Vibro Blade

Popular among primitives, and common among assassins who want to keep their attacks unnoticed. They tend to be inferior to other weapons, given that they can be destroyed by force weapons

Neurolash Weapons

A favorite choice for stunning targets, and a poor-man’s defense against a force sword. The rules about Neurolash field push and parry remain in place, but we have additional new rules.

I keep tinkering with Neurolashes because they’re not quite right. In genre, a single hit from a stun baton isn’t enough to take them out, and we see characters like Ahsoka and Anakin enduring a pain lash around their neck for multiple seconds while still fighting, but at the same time, it wears on them. We can simulate this with our side-effect rules, and replace damage with fatigue damage. This also gives us the possibility of killing someone with pain/stun (“Stop it, you’re killing him!”) if you drive them past the point of unconsciousness and continue to afflict them.

So I propose replacing all neurolash affliction rules with a variation of side-effect: a standard neurolash weapon deals 1d6 (5) fatigue damage, and if any damage penetrates DR, the target must make an HT roll at a penalty equal to each point of fatigue lost. The target suffers -5 to their HT roll for attacks to the face or to the vitals (which represent nerve clusters). If the target fails, he suffers a minor condition (based on the type) for seconds equal to the margin of failure, and then may make HT rolls to recover. If they fail by 5 or more, they suffer an incapacitating condition for (20-HT minutes).

Stun: minor condition is stunning; major condition is Unconciousness

Pain: minor condition is Terrible Pain (-6); major condition is Agony.


Force Weapons and Psi-Blades

Force Blades are a weaponized version of a force ward, these are the more powerful of melee weapons. As an optional rule, consider changing their damage from burning to 6d (10) cutting of 4d (10) impaling. Force swords may come in a variety of sizes and quality; fine force swords deal +1 damage per 2 dice, and Very Fine Force Swords deal +1 damage per die. Cheap Force Swords deal -1 damage per die.

Psi-Swords appear in Pyramid #3-51 “Odds and Ends: Psi-Swords,” which is a masterful article. This sort of weapon makes a great deal of sense, especially for ancient civilizations of psionic masters. However, most Space Knights have between 15 and 50 points of psionics, which means they’d deal 1d(2) to 2d+5(2) on average, which is… alright, especially in a modern setting, but psi-wars isn’t modern. Anything less than 2 dice is pathetic. However, if we upgrade a psi-sword with “cool ultra-tech,” we can justify changing damage to 1 die for every 10 points worth of psionic abilities (Any psionic abilities!). Psi-Swords are built with eloi fragments, and these are attuned to a single power-type. The wielder gains a damage bonus equal to his talent with that power and gains the effects noted, except that all armor divisors rise to at least 5. These weapons cost the same as a force sword ($10,000) and draw their power from the psion themselves (assess +1 fatigue after any battle using one). Fine or Very Fine Psi-Swords also add +1 or +2 (respectively) to one specific psionic skill associated with their ability (“Terror” or “Combat Sense”); This skill is chosen when the blade is created, and cannot be changed.

Actual force swords may integrate eloi fragments in their design; such a weapon is called a resonance sword. 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.

Using any psi-sword requires attuning to it. This requires a talent of at least +1 with the psionic power associated with the weapon, an hour and a successful Meditation roll. Only one person can be attuned at a time, and if someone else is currently attuned to the weapon, he may resist this roll with his Will+4. Any attuned character can automatically sense the presence of his weapon, whether someone is touching it or trying to steal it, or where it’s currently located (as with Seekersense) with a basic Perception roll, with a bonus equal to his associated talent.

Beam Weapons

Blasters

Blasters are a mainstay of the psi-wars arsenal, though I think I’m going to move away from the “blaster shotgun” and back towards plasma as “shotgun/grenade launcher.” Blasters do not inflict “surge,” only burn, and have a recoil of 2.

A stunner is related to a blaster, and works as described in GURPS Ultra-Tech. A blaster may be given a stunner setting for +100% cost, or a weapon may be a stunner alone, for the same base cost as a blaster.

EM Disruptors

EM Disrupters send out focused, visible “pulses” of ionizing radiation that acts like a localized EM pulse, temporarily disrupting electronics and thus disabling ships or robots.

We can treat EM Disruptors as identical to blasters except that they inflict their damage normally to force screens for the purposes of eliminating points of DR; for anything electrical, every 2 points of what would be damage is instead converted to a -1 the HT check to resist being stunned; if the target fails by 5 or more, they are incapacitated (unconscious). For targets with lots of HP, use the standard rules for reducing the penalty based on HP (a 20 HP robot is at -1 for every 4 “damage,” while an HP 100 ship is at -1 for ever -18 damage, and so on). They inflict no damage on non-electrical targets.

Plasma Weapons

More destructive but less accurate or controlled than a blaster, Plasma Weapons have slightly lower accuracy (+2/+4/+6) and deal explosive burning damage. They tend to take a similar niche as shotguns and grenade launchers in the setting.

Pulsars

Pulsars tend to be limited to large cannons or to TL 12 gadgets (such as the Eldothic Pulsar Lance). They have the same accuracy as blasters and a recoil of 2.

Missiles, Explosives and Slug-Throwers

Psi-Wars uses more than just beam weapons for ranged attacks. It also makes use of projectiles, including missiles, torpedoes, gauss and chemical slugthrowers

Chemical Slugthrowers and advanced bows and arrows are limited to primitives and aliens. Chemical slugthrowers are limited to the caseless weaponry from GURPS Ultra-Tech; neither ETC nor liquid propellant are available.

Gauss might be used by aliens as a primary slugthrower, but throughout the Psi-Wars setting, these are primarily limited to grenade launchers and artillery shells, both of which generally fire warheads of one fo the types listed below.

Most Psi-Wars warheads are either plasma explosives, plasma lance warheads (see UT Designer Notes) or, more rarely, Super Isomeric nuclear warheads, generally called isomeric warheads or nuclear warheads. More specialized warheads include EMP warheads (for disrupting ships or robots), expendable jammers (to disrupt communication) and decoy warheads (which transmit false distortion jammer signals to fool or distract simple ultrascanner systems, typically those found on missiles).

Grenades tend to be the only unguided explosive, but bomblets from scattershot “flak” cannons, or artillery rounds might also see use. These all use plasma explosives or, more rarely EMP rounds. Grenades are always smart grenades. Isomeric warheads are too unstable and destructive for use with grenades, but might see use in weapons like orbital cannons.

Missiles can accelerate at high speeds using a variation of plasma thrusters, allowing them to exceed the speeds of even starfighters. These tend to be tipped either with plasma warheads (for anti-personnel or anti-starfighter attacks) or plasma-lance (for anti-vehicular or anti-corvette attacks). Isomeric warheads require very careful handling to retain its metastable state: too much disruption will cause it to return to an inert state or, worse, prematurely explode. Thus, they are mounted on torpedoes, which use ion thrusters to move at relatively slow speeds (typically 600 miles per hour), which allows it to bypass force screens and carry the round to the target, but leaves the weapon vulnerable to point defense. The exception to this is a rare material called Metacoltan, found exclusively on Caliban and one of the secret weapons of House Kain; however, the extreme price of metacoltan means they rarely use it on missiles.

The most common missile sizes are 400mm for “cruise missiles” or “torpedos;” these travel at 300 yards per second (or 600 miles per hour). Fighters and corvettes use 160mm missiles for anti-ship combat. Anti-vehicular missiles tend to be 64mm or 100mm.

Exotic missiles include “micro-missiles”, 18.5mm warheads with a base damage of 10d, accuracy 3, speed 1500, max range 3000, weight per shot of 0.5 and cost per shot of $25.

Warhead

Plasma

Plasma Lance

Isomeric

18.5mm

4d burn ex

6dx3(10) burn ex

6dx5 cr ex

25mm

6d burn ex

6x5(10) burn ex +
3d burn ex

6dx8 cr ex

40mm

6dx2 burn ex

6x8(10) burn ex +
6d burn ex

6dx15 cr ex

64mm

6dx4 burn ex

6dx12(10) burn ex+
6dx2 burn ex

6dx30 cr ex

100mm

6dx10 burn ex

6dx20(10) burn ex +
6dx5 burn ex

6dx60 cr ex

160mm

6dx16 burn ex

6dx30(10) burn ex +
6dx8 burn ex

6dx120 cr ex

400mm

6dx80 burn ex

6dx80(10) burn ex +
6dx40 burn ex

6dx500 cr ex





General Comments and Changes on Weapons

Non-Lethal Weapons

Surge, Stunners and Side-Effect

I had originally dismissed the idea of using stunners in Psi-Wars, as they came up only once in all of Star Wars, but if you look at the cartoons and even other series inspired by Star Wars or generic Space Opera, then stunners come up a lot, as they’re deeply useful, so I suppose we’ll need to keep stunners as a concept.

However, while looking at Stunners, I noticed some trends and themes that I thought were interesting, mainly in how to handle things like EM Disruptors and force screens. See, Stunners inflict -1 to HT per die, but if I want a weapon like an EM Disruptor to use a similar mechanic but also to punch through force screens very effectively, then I need to know how much damage they actually do. We can work that out to about -1 for every 3-4 points of damage, or every 1/3rd of the target’s HP, which sounds a lot like Surge.

I’ve had some complaints that Surge just isn’t that good, especially when used as a psychic power: you have a chance of maybe stunning a target if you deal “enough” damage, and your target fails its HT roll. It seems, to said critics, to be overpriced, especially when you compare it to effects like EM Disruptors, so what can we do? Well, it reminded me of Side-Effect, so I double checked those rules, and I was shocked by what I found.

Side-Effect is a +50% enhancement that, if any damage at all penetrates the target’s DR, then they must make an HT roll at -1 for every 2 points of damage inflicted or be stunned. If we limited that enhancement to only affect Electrical targets (say, a 80% limitation), then we’re looking at a +10% enhancement total. Even if we reduced that limitation to -50% and get a +25% enhancement, it’s close to the price of Surge, and surge only applies a single HT roll if the target loses 1/3 of their HP. Surge is definitely over-priced. So I propose we change Surge to behave like Side-Effect, but that it only applies to Electrical beings. Problem solved.

Problem: How much Damage is Enough?

One problem I face, and often hear about, is deciding how much damage “is enough.” How big do spaceships need to be? Is 1000 damage enough for a blaster turret? 10,000? A million? This matters, because it determines how big ships should be, or how big we’ll see planetary defenses. We need to understand our baseline, and it can arbitrarily be anything we want, but we need to decide what we want.

The Personal Scale

On a personal scale, this is simple enough. GURPS uses as standard 3d for pistols and 6d for rifles. This balances against the 10 HP of the human-scale standard: 3d lets you incapacitate a target, and 6d is potentially lethal in a single shot.

The high end of the “personal scale” or what you can expect humans to fight on the ground, are tanks. If we want our tanks to look like real-world tanks, then our job becomes a little easier, because we can use real-world tank numbers. A tank cannon is about 2 tons (see the 125 mm D-81TM, HT page 140). A 2-ton blaster cannon deals about 350 damage with a shot and punches through up to 1750 DR. We expect infantry to carry a “bazooka,” which in our case is probably an IML with a 64mm Plasma Lance missile which deals about 250 damage with an armor divisor of 10. If our tank has laminate and EMA, then such a missile can only punch through about 750 DR, which means our 1750 DR is plenty. In fact, such armor would even stop a 100mm plasma lance warhead, and will seriously slow down a 160mm plasma lance warhead (they deal an average of 600 damage, and such frontal armor would soak up 525 of the 600 damage. That makes it a believable cap for most military ground vehicles outsides of “super-tanks.”

Space-Combat Scale

The most powerful weapons we expect to see will be in space, in the hands of dreadnoughts, but we should get a sense of the scale of weaponry, from fighter up to dreadnought.

A star fighter, if GURPS SS is to be believed, a fighter is between 10 and 30 tons, which actually tracks well with the real-world fighters found in Pyramid #3/53. Such fighters have between 110-160 HP. Assuming no armor, an instantly lethal shot would need to deal between 6dx12 and 6dx16 damage in a single shot, which requires something in the range of a tank cannon. If we look at real-world fighters, they deal about 60 damage per shot, which can be done with a 100 lb blaster, and is about the same mass as a real-world autocannon though, it should be noted, that those weapons have very high rates of fire. A modern fighter has roughly a ton of ordinance and firepower; if we put all of that into two single-shot blasters, we get roughly the stats of the Typhoon’s weapons, which deal 150 damage a shot, which is enough to obliterate a fighter in a single shot (which closely matches what we see on the Star Wars screen). I suspect 50-100 damage is closer to the mark, especially since they will almost certainly have more rapid fire than just 1 shot per second. Our missile of choice would be the plasma explosive, as it can “airburst” and hit the target with greater ease, and we don’t expect our fighter to have much in the way of armor. A 100mm plasma missile will deal ~150 damage, which is already enough to kill most fighters, and the 160mm plasma missile deals about 350, which will certainly destroy the target, and will seriously damage it if it misses by 1. These values seem practical at our scale.

Dreadnoughts are our “high end,” and for them, we need torpedoes. Fighter-carried torpedos would carry 160mm super isomeric warheads, which would deal 2500 damage, while a fighter-carried plasma lance warhead would deal 640 with an armor divisor of 10. Around 2000 laminated EMA DR would defeat both, though the torpedo could afford to “airburst” This means that ~2500 DR is sufficient to defeat most fighter-scale threats, and that means that most “capital-class” weapons would need to deal at least an average of 500 damage (With an armor divisor of 5) if it wanted to compete with that level of armor. Such a weapon is about 50 tons, and is about the right size to fit on an SM +7 or SM +8 ship, meaning that a capital ship at SM +9 could mount several. The main cannons of an Iowa-Class battleship clock in at around 130 tons, which is definitely heavier than our cannons here, but this is roughly our order of magnitude for frigates and smaller capital ships (corvettes might be thought of as “tanks in space.”)

The most damage I would expect would be from a 400mm “cruise missile” with a super isomeric warhead. Such a weapon would deal, roughly, 10,000 damage, and require about 10,000 DR to brush off. I don’t actually expect ships to “brush off” 10,000 damage, so it represents the upper-end we might expect to see ships take or dish out. A blaster that can punch through 10,000 DR needs to deal at least 2,000 damage on average; such a cannon is about 3,500 tons, and would fit on an SM +11 ship. If we wanted to actually deal 10,000 damage with a shot, our best chance is a pulsar, and it would weigh roughly 60,000 tons. Such a weapon would be a spinal mount on an SM +14 ship, and begins to look like a Death-star-like “I erase one ship per turn” sort of weapon.

Some observations:

If you are a fighter then it doesn’t really matter what your DR is. You probably want at least enough force screen to fend off blaster shots, though the exact amount depends on how I handle force screens, but we’re probably looking at 50-100 here.

If you are a corvette then it wouldn’t do for you to be too vulnerable to basic fighter firepower, which means you need a minimum DR of about 300. That will also let you essentially ignore plasma missiles. Anything less than that is vulnerable to being shot to hell by basic fighters. Plasma Lance missiles become the primary danger here, so it might be worth investing in serious force screens (around 700 worth) or some high-scale armor. Obviously, you cannot tank a torpedo. Corvettes will probably look like tanks in space, especially on the heavier end.

If you are a capital ship then you need to be able to brush off all fighter fire and at least survive a 160mm torpedo. An SM +12 ship has about enough HP to endure a hit from such a torpedo, but only one. A DR of 800 is enough to brush off tank-scale pulsar blasts, and a DR of 2000 is enough to brush off tank-scale blasters and reduce a 160mm torpedo to “real harm” but not a lethal hit.

If you are a Dreadnought then you might want to be able to survive a hit from a cap-scale torpedo. An SM +16 ship can take 10,000 damage in a single shot, and can dish them out pretty regularly. A mile-long dreadnought could pack on beam weapons capable of inflicting super-isomeric scale as secondary batteries and brush off pretty much any attack not on its own scale, not to mention the number of fighters such a vessel could carry.

Problem: They’re too Accurate

GURPS Ultra-Tech offers absurd accuracy bonuses for their weapons. This may or may not be realistic, but it does reflect how the future would have distinctly different tactical paradigms thanks to increasingly precise weapons. What’s also definitely true is that Star Wars Stormtroopers aren’t nearly so precise, whatever Obi-Wan might have to say about them. The beam weapons in Star Wars tend to behave more like glowing bullets than like real beam weapons might, and this makes sense: Space opera “reskins” familiar content with space-like tropes. The glowing energy bolt tells you that this is “sci-fi.” Contrast this with works like the Expanse or Altered Carbon (or even Star Trek, to some extent) where they need to explain how the weapons work, in space opera, you know how they work: like real world weapons but better, “because science.”

Given this, we might expect our beam weapons to have more familiar levels of accuracy. Part of what raises this topic is my experience watching gunslingers, in particular that they tend to be fairly static. In a typical TL 8 action scenario, a gunslinger standing still gains maybe a +1 or +2 to hit, while moving, he removes a -3 penalty, which is a better deal. In TL 11^ space opera, your laster pistols are +6 if you stand still, or you remove a -2 if you move, and that really changes the math to create more static fights. On the other hand, as one gunslinger put it “I’ve never felt as epic as I did here,” so we need to make sure that we’re not nerfing gunslingers unduly. It needs to balance well, and needs to not become “worse than TL 8 weapons,” as some people point out sometimes happens (later Star Trek series have this problem, where a phaser is an ROF weapon that often seems to miss at even close ranges, and might barely wound someone).

So, if we reduce our range, what should we reduce it to? Well, it turns out there’s some method to this madness: rifles have twice the range of their pistol counterpart, and most cannons have thrice the range of their counterpart. The High-Tech examples are a little around the map, but you can see a pattern if you squint, and it looks like this:

Tier I

Tier II

Tier III

Tier IV

Tier V

Tier VI

+1/+2/+3

+2/+4/+6

+3/+6/+9

+4/+8/+12

+5/+10/+15

+6/+12/+18

TL 5 Muskets

TL 7-9 Rifles

Gauss

Plasma

Blasters

Lasers




The Gentleman who writes the esteemed GURB recommends treating Blasters as plasma weapons, and if you look at this chart, that makes sense! My initial impulse was to say: treat blasters as like guns, but give them a +2, and give plasma a +1. The result would be that Plasma would be Tier III and Blasters would be Tier IV, which is just what he recommends. But I think I’m going to need to reduce it another step: Tier III for blasters. That makes them more accurate than guns, and it means a gunslinger is as well off standing still as he is running about in most cases.

Problem: They’re too expensive

One of my readers regularly complains that Ultra-Tech overprices its beam weapons and while I initially dismissed the criticism, it turns out, shockingly, to be correct! At least, GURPS Spaceships reduces the prices of beam weapons to 10% of the costs you would get from Ultra-Tech or from the beam-weapon design system. So, why are they so expensive? I don’t know. It’s ultimately arbitrary and blasters, in particular, are very expensive, perhaps to better balance them with slugthrowers (because we wouldn’t want slugthrower to be useless at TL 11, would we?).

The easiest solution is to just slash the prices of beam weapons down to 10% of their current price, but this puts a 3 lb pistol at around $600 rather than $6000, but mind you, a slug thrower pistol of the same mass is around $800. Projectile weapons concern me because they may well come up, and I’d like to use them for more primitive groups (similar to how Tusken Raiders use projectile weapons), and I don’t want blasters to be cheaper than projectile weapons, just better. If we want it to “feel” like TL 8, can we compare TL 8 pistols to TL 11 blasters? Sure! A typical TL 8 pistol runs about $600, and given that you have a $20k budget, we find that a pistol runs about 3% of your budget. 3% of a TL 11 budget of $75,000 (I know the Psi-Wars budget is $50,000; that’s intentionally low to represent inferior economics), we come to 2,250 for a pistol, which is much less than the $6000 (so the commentator above is not wrong about it feeling expensive; it IS!), but 10% of the price is definitely too low.

Let’s make a deeper comparison. If we pull out your most common pistols, rifles and cannons from GURPS Ultra-Tech and do a price-to-mass comparison, we find that they hover between 200 and and 300. If we compare the empty, unloaded mass to the price of the weapon, we find that it’s exactly $300 per lb for many, but not all weapons. Thisi s true of the Heavy Pistol, the Holdout Pistol, the Medium Pistol, the Urban Assault Weapon, the Gatling Carbine, the Storm Carbine, and the Light Support Weapon. Those that deviate a bit high are: the Machine Pistol, and the Storm Rifle. Those that deviate a bit low are the Personal Defense Weapon, the Anti-Materiel Rifle and the Payload Rifle. There are a few so out of whack that they totally break this notion of $300 per lb, and that includes the Hunting Riffle ($120 per lb), the Magnum Pistol ($435 per lb), the Tank Cannon ($40 per lb), and the Storm Chaingun, Assault Cannon, Heavy Chaingun and Minigun (between $500 and $800 per lb). Gauss weapons follow a similar cycle, except they hit $1000 per lb very consistently, with a few odd exceptions like the Gauss Needle Rifle and the inexplicably expensive Gauss Needler. The Gauss Railgun is extremely cheap for its size (~$160 per lb, or ~4x as expensive as a normal gun), and the Gauss Mini-Needler is absurdly expensive, of course.

The prices are so precise that it suggests some sort of system like this under the hood. It seems to sort of follow what we know about beam weapons: $X per lb, $2*X per lb for some sort of quality bonus of some kind, and a discount for heavy cannons! This follows closely enough to beam weapons, which is $X per lb, $2*X per lb for high ROF, and cheaper vehicular beam weapons (or, at least, what should be cheaper vehicular weapons). I checked to see if the “Expensive/Cheap” options were being used on the weapons, and that seems not to be the case: only the Minineedler seems to come “into line” with that option and even then is about 2x as expensive as it “should be” givent he pattern. The Hunting Rifle is also close to being in line if you remove a “cheap” option, so maybe it applies, but evidently only in extreme cases. Barring some revelation behind the scenes (ROF doesn’t seem to make a difference and Acc is the same across the board), I would guess that these variations are largely arbitrary.

So it looks like the prices are more-or-less in line with the rest of the items in Ultra-Tech:

  • TL 9 Slugthrowers = $300 per lb

  • TL 9-10 Lasers = $500 per lb

  • TL 10 Gauss Weapons = $1000 per lb

  • TL 11 X-Ray Laser = $1000 per lb

  • TL 11 Blaster = $2000 per lb

  • TL 11 Plasma = $2000 per lb

  • TL 12 Graser = $1500 per lb

  • TL 12 Pulsar = $3000 per lb

Only blasters and pulsars seem out of whack. I think we can afford to drop Blasters and Plasma to $1000 per lb and Pulsars to $1500 per lb. We definitely need to reduce the cost of larger beam weapons, but we don’t want a huge drop off. I propose at between 150 and 500 lbs, we halve the price ($500 per lb for blasters), and at larger than 300 lbs, we divide the price by 5 ($200 per lb). This means a 70 lb weapon costs $70,000, a 200 lb weapon costs $10,000 and a 1000 lb weapon costs $200,000, which doesn’t feel crazy.

Incidentally, if you look at the values for heavier beam weapon cannons, they have 1/5 the price, suggesting that the beam-weapon design article is just wrong.

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