Monday, July 22, 2019

Notes on Revisiting Templates: the Diplomat

In an effort to revise and distill my rules on the Wiki, I asked my patreons which template they'd like me to revisit and you'll never guess what they chose... or you wouldn't if you hadn't just read the title, but I sure was surprised to see the Diplomat top the chart!

I see the average player of Psi-Wars as seeking an action-oriented character: a space knight, a bounty hunter, a smuggler, a commando.  Yet they chose for the most political, least action-oriented character they could. Why?  A few patrons chimed in on why, and it seems to boil down to:

  • It's the closest we'll get to a "princess" class and some people really like princesses
  • It's the most culturally bound template, which means working on it will necessarily require me digging into the culture of Psi-Wars.
This last is key.  I don't really have a problem with the Templates as they stand, for the most part.  I'm sure I could nitpick at them.  However, the old, Iteration 5 templates were generic. They were "a" space knight and "a" diplomat, and you can still play that way.  But Iteration 6 and 7 seek to build up a detailed, specific setting.  We've gone from the generic templates of GURPS Action and Monster Hunters to the more specific templates of GURPS Cabal, Transhuman Space and Banestorm.  I want to maintain the idea of fairly generic templates (a diplomat is a diplomat), but I'd like to be able to ground them in a specific culture of concept native to Psi-Wars.

To do this, I needed to dive into the cultures of Psi-Wars, at least a bit.  I'd like, at some point, to write down these cultures in more detail, more akin to the level of detail I've posted about Aristocratic Culture and Imperial Culture, as well as the Patreon Special on the Traders.  These are, of course, subject to change, and will likely be revisited once I do settle down and dig into the cultures of these various groups.  Of course, the Diplomat would only tackle a specific subset of those cultures: the things he needs to know to survive those cultures (language, how to avoid dangers) and ways of collecting reaction modifiers with the right sorts of people (the right social skills, connoisseur, current affairs, etc).

I also needed to double check the template itself, to see if any of the various changes I've made impact the Template itself.  Of course, I find I lose track of some of the more specific changes, so this might require another revisit once all the rules get collated, but I doubt it'll be much.

You can find the current state of the Diplomat Template here on the wiki.

Cliffnotes on the Cultures of Psi-Wars

In regards to the Diplomat, I needn't go over every specific Culture possible in the setting. As a "core" template, the Diplomat serves the "powers that be," and so a diplomat's interests focus primarily on powerful cultures with whom one might negotiate a treaty.  We have cultures like the pirates of the Orochi Belt, or the wanderers of Richat or the scattered tribes of the Keleni that, while they might matter to you and I, they matter little to Imperial Politics or Maradonian machinations.  So, for starters, I picked out 6 major groups: the Valorian Empire, the Galactic Alliance, the Shinjurai peoples, the Potentates of the Umbral Rim, the Cybernetic Union and the Traders.  Of these, the Cybernetic Union proved the most difficult, as we know so little about them.

The Valorian Empire

We know a great deal about the Empire already, so this requires little work.  The Empire uses diplomats, but they tend to be a silk glove over the mailed fist of the Imperial Navy. The purpose of the Ministry of Affairs is to keep the population inline, to keep other powers from collecting against the Empire itself, and to rule through puppet leaders.  The main difference from the rest of the diplomats is that if you serve the Empire, you really serve them and you have little personal life.  Your time becomes defined by your profession, so as we revisit templates, expect to see this trend towards intense duties become common.

When serving as a Diplomat of another power to the Empire, we need to be familiar with generic human culture and language, but most fellow humans will already have this.  The main differences would be that we need to concern ourselves with the ever-changing political landscape of the Empire (the ministers we deal with today might not be the ministers we deal with tomorrow if Valorian's favor suddenly shifts).  For high-class skills, we need to concern ourselves with the typical things: art (especially monuments, which the Empire is quite fond of), cuisine and wine.  For games, I see the Empire inheriting a lot of common games from the Maradonian nobility: 
  • Stratagem (a sort of space-war MMO that I mentioned in Aristocratic Culture)
  • Alexian Trumps (a betting game also mentioned in Aristocratic Culture, though I'll likely update it to include more team-forming, a bit less poker and a bit more bridge).
  • Mirava (or "Holo-Chess." I've been toying with this one in my head for awhile since I came across an alternative to Holo-Chess in the Black Ocean book series which combined the strategy of chess with the collectible nature of games like Magic: the Gathering or modern hero-collecting games).
I toyed with Neo-Rationalism as a suggestion, but nixed it: many in the Empire are Neo-Rationalist, but it's not really a defining philosophy for the Empire. Beyond that, the Empire doesn't need much detail: it's pretty generic, which is its intention.  The Empire should feel familiar and obvious and grounded.

I suspect most players don't think about Imperial diplomats much, and I don't blame them.  It's not something we see often from any Sci-Fi Empire.  For an idea as to how they might behave, I highly recommend looking up the behavior of Roman diplomats (My favorite is a story of a Roman diplomat to, I think, Egypt who, when the King could not make up his mind as to whether or not to side with the Romans in a war, the diplomat drew a circle around him in the sand, and said "Have your mind made up before you cross this line" really highlighting who was the more powerful of the two; another place to look might be some of the scandals of the worst-behaved diplomats of military power-house countries who know they can get away with nearly anything that's to their political dominance; American diplomats leap to mind, but surely others exist).  These are more likely to be bad-guys, or play less like peaceniks than high-pressure negotiators who offer a treaty to a planet while dreadnoughts float overhead and an army stands behind him.

Maradonian Aristocracy and the Galactic Alliance

The Alliance consists of more than just the aristocracy, but the aristocracy certainly dominate it enough that it's easy to treat it as synonymous.  The Alliance also really likes diplomacy, as that's its lifeblood (The easiest modern-day comparison would be the EU, which is as defined by treaties as it is by governmental documents).  Thus, we have no less than three different types of Alliance diplomats: the actual diplomats serve the Alliance senate and represent the Alliance en masse; each Maradonian house has one or more "Heralds" that represent them to other houses (and other interested parties), though I currently have the rank of a Herald set to 5 when it should be 4; and the Alliance Senator, who isn't actually a diplomat at all, but their legal immunities and special position within the Alliance grant them diplomat-like benefits, and they have a similar enough skill-set.

Those who represent their organization to the Alliance can and do interact with more than just the aristocracy, but for simplicity, I focused on them.  Aristocratic Culture is a little outdated, but it mostly works and provided the basis for what we need.  We have our games (the three mentioned above, plus "Courtly games"), and in addition to the usual Connoisseur(Art, Cuisine and Wine), we can add Fashion, because you must look fabulous if you walk among the aristocracy.  Dueling matters too, so we add that to the games (to know the rules) and a smart diplomat at least understands something of Force Swords.  

While not strictly necessary, I'd added some Akashic elements: Akashic theology and I toyed with adding Eugenics knowledge, representing the useful skill of recognizing a member of a House just from their phenotype.  I've also added a perk that needs a quick note: "Akashic Stud" reflects someone with a genome of interest to the Akashics, who would, if bred with a noble, strengthen their line. It's sort of like the Bloodline trait (a reaction modifier to those interested in bloodlines), but generic (useful to everyone) and without any benefits of granting you a prerequisite.  It also, to my mind, represents a neat sort of story hook that speaks to the current weaknesses of Maradonian bloodlines and their obsessions with genetics and marriage, and it might be fun to have, say, an Imperial character who the Empire recognized as having useful DNA to the Akashics and sending the unwitting bastard into a courtly, romantic tangle as a Diplomat, knowing that his DNA would send multiple nobles scurrying in interest and leave him free to work out whatever nefarious thing the Empire needs him to do.

The Galactic Alliance is probably what people think of when they think of a "Diplomat," and fair enough.  They produce some great diplomats and have a lot of reason to use them.  They'll feature in pretty much any game with a deep focus on the aristocracy, and likely what those Patrons really mean when they say "they like princesses," because a lot of people like the Maradonian aristocracy for their own sake, and while many will play as Space Knights, a lot will want to explore the politics and romance of the aristocracy directly and there's no better way to do that than with a Diplomat.  That said, I encourage you to think about Alliance Diplomats as more than just aristocrats having tea with other aristocrats.  They attend the courts of Sovereign too, and speak to the dread Council of Terminus in the Cybernetic Union too!

The Shinjurai

This doubtless seems like an odd choice, but I wanted to draw additional attention to the Shinjurai, especially since we basically had a Shinjurai Diplomat (a representative of the royal family who wished to negotiate with the Empire) as an NPC.  I feel like I don't do the Shinjurai justice, as they're a great receptacle for all the sort of techno-weirdness that I feel is one of the elements that sets Psi-Wars apart from Star Wars and begins to make it feel more like sci-fi rather than just "space fantasy."

The Shinjurai have a few powerful states that would actually benefit from a diplomat, such as the Clone World of Xen or the House of Tan-Shai.  Many of the worlds of the Shinjurai are subjugated by others: House Grimshaw controls Denjuku and the Empire controls Stannis and the Kybernian Constellation, while the Cybernetic Union seized the Borean Stars.  Even so, they all have represenatives that one could negotiate with, and they have sufficient power and influence that if they were to switch sides, the Shinjurai could shift the balance of power in the Galaxy.

There's nothing specific that sets a Shinjurai diplomat apart from a "generic" diplomat, but those who would speak to the Shinjurai can benefit from learning about Shinjurai culture.  While their culture doesn't require a new familiarity, they do tend to have a deep focus on Neo-Rationalism and its ways, which means that one would benefit from understanding it.  You also benefit from a deeper understanding of technology, as the Shinjurai tend to be more advanced than the rest of the Galaxy, and make heavier use of robotics and cybernetics than the rest of the Galaxy.

I gave them a language which I've called "Logica" for now, but I may revisit it.  This is not a "native" language, they speak the same language as everyone else; rather, it's a constructed language meant to better and more quickly facilitate technical discussions, having a highly precise grammar and being very quick to speak.  Those who know it would be able to express much more information to one another in combat (a "Battle language") in the time they have, though nothing compared to Klik, but it sucks at expressing anything romantic, poetic or about relationships.

One reason to include the Shinjurai as a target for diplomacy is to highlight their nature in the setting and to encourage players to depart from the familiar "Empire vs Alliance" storylines and explore some of the weirder nooks of the setting, at least once they get bored of Empire vs Alliance.

The Umbral Rim

I had a hard time coming up with how to describe this group.  The Umbral Rim acts as a "catch all" for the weird, alien cultures, and this is by design.  While the Psi-Wars galaxy brims with weird aliens (Sparrials, Asrathi, Nehudi, Sathrans), they have little unity, so I can't create a million little templates for diplomats and, anyway, these minor races tend not to play a very big role on the stage of Galactic Politics (this is the same reason I haven't talked about Westerly culture here: it's not that the Westerly lack a culture, it's that it's not very relevant to the Empire or the Alliance).  The Umbral Rim has a unified alien culture inspired by real-world "melting pot" cultures.  This allows one to learn not the specifics of a race, but the specific culture of an ancient empire that lingers on in this part of the Galaxy.

I probably spent most of my time working on this culture.  Naturally, they do require a language (Lithian), and a Cultural Familiarity.  It might also be useful to learn the basics of the Divine Masks, the religion of the Umbral Rim.  Then one must navigate the complex and dangerous culture of the Umbral Rim.  The aliens there have a laser-like focus on the Id of sapients: they offer dopamine hits with sex, drugs and gambling and seek to undermine honor and virtue in favor of dependence upon the masters of this Dark Arm of the Galaxy.  Thus, Diplomats would be wise to pick up Will, Indomitable, resistance to disease and/or poison, but these are already part of the Diplomat package.  I have added a resistance against drugs (which, in addition to helping one resist the effect of narcotics, should also help resist gaining an addiction).   Additionally, being a connoisseur of drugs is useful in the Dark Arm; connoisseur of cuisine gains an added bonus here in resisting being revolted by Slaver cuisine (you can also take Cast Iron Stomach).

The point of the Umbral Rim is to invoke the "alien weirdness" trope of space opera, so naturally their culture needs to be as wild as possible.  I see their money as backed by specific, local resources, such as Hyperium, Slaves or specific biochemical resources used by the Slavers to create their drugs.  The values of these varied currencies can vary wildly depending on the markets, which adds to the sense of chaos within the Dark Arm; the skills of Accounting and Merchant should help the diplomat make sense of this.

Naturally, the denizens of the Umbral Rim love gambling, so we need to give them some games that allows them to gamble.  Obviously, we need gladiatorial battles, pitfighting, that we can gamble on, but we need some actual games the characters can play. The most obvious and pertinent, given its religious significance, would be "Lots," where the characters would just select stones or runes from a bag, or throw some dice, to "see the will of the Gods."  I see this game being entirely luck based, and the player would just roll against a static value to see if he won or not (obviously, luck would help, which is rather the point of the game, though TK can help, for changing the outcome, or ESP, for knowing the outcome in advance).  I called this one "Delaum," which translates as "Throwing."  I also want "Chess" in the game, and like in the real world where Chess had non-European origins, I wanted to give our holochess non-Human origins, so I created "Vituna Mitavaruna" which means "living game pieces:" obviously the Ranathim and Slavers played their "Chess" with slaves who actually fought.  They still play it this way today.

Finally, I wanted a "ridiculous" game, the sort of whacky "What the hell is going on" game that reminds you that you're in a truly alien world, similar to the scene above from HIMYM (which seems to be based loosely on Mah Jong, with all sorts of crazy tossed in).  For this, I created "Deluna va Sevana" or just "Deluna" which translates to "Crowns and Slaves." The idea here is you have an advanced form of Lots, where the stones or runes are dealt to every player, who then selects which runes he wants, gives them to the dealer, and then everyone bets on the expected outcome, so it becomes something like a lottery draw except everyone is trying to sway the lottery their way.  To add additional wrinkles, we have moments of random chance from external elements, and we add a gambling partner, a "slave," who can assist by with drawing a single rune from the set delivered to the dealer, but the partner can also switch allegiance to other players, usually from extravagant promises from the gamblers as to what their winnings will be, or as part of a strategy to influence other gamblers.  I'll need to detail it more, but the result should be a weird game that leave players a little disoriented as to what's going on, and typically has beautiful hanger-ons floating around the table, adding to the chaos (and giving the casino an excuse to "rent you" the services of one of its servants).  Naturally, this is sort of game rich, Slaver-owned Casinos love to run, especially for Imperials who don't understand a thing about Lithian culture.

I suspect most readers of Psi-Wars don't give much thought to the diplomacy of the Umbral Rim, but in a lot of ways, I see it as a dark twin of the Maradonian Alliance.  The Umbral Rim is balkanized between the Empire (which controls, or "controls" the Hydrus Constellation), the Tyranny of Sarai in the Corvus Constellation (a puppet regime of the Empire... maybe), and the various infighting factions and cartels of the Slavers.  Naturally, they would want to swap diplomats with one another and with the Empire.  So, I pondered the sort of diplomats they would send and, naturally, concluded they would send slaves.  The slavery of the Umbral Rim is worth a post on its own, and more closely resembles that of the ancient world than more modern examples of slavery (which is not to say that it's not got its own sort of horrors).  Thus one can see slave as more of a class of people, a special category that has nothing to do with status, and I though a slave-diplomat would highlight that well: obviously a Slaver wouldn't represent himself to the Empire, as the Empire would kill him on sight, but a beautiful, scantily clad Ranathim or wise and sagacious Keleni would have much better luck, and their slavery would give them a keen interest in the negotiations going well, lest they displease their master and face a fate worse than slavery, and would create an interesting contrast between the obvious low-power of the slavery and the seeming high power he or she seems to wield.

The Diplomacy from and to the Umbral Rim also highlights that the Diplomat character is an excellent way to inject an outsider into a world.  Sure, if you're playing a game set in the Glorian Rim, you can play an aristocratic diplomat attending the court of another house, but you can also play as a Ranathim diplomat representing the Temkorathim Worm-Lord of Gor to the Alliance, to play as something truly unexpected.  Similarly, if your game is set in the Umbral Rim and you want to play as a Sabine princess, she can be a diplomat far from home trying to forge an alliance with the Ranathim of Sarai.

The Cybernetic Union

I have a lot of thoughts about the Cybernetic Union, but I've not really explored them, and so they also took a lot of thought, and I think they'll see a revisit once I dive deeper into them.

The Cybernetic Union is truly alien, though it doesn't have its own unique language (but being filled with robots, Beep Fluency is wise).  It has a cultural familiarity. Like the overwrought, ideological dictatorships that inspired it, knowing the ideology is crucial to survival, thus I've added Neo-Rationalism as a philosophy that the Diplomat can explore.  Like with the Shinjurai that spawned them, being a connoisseur of cybernetics or robotics will help a lot.  Where most Diplomats learn psychology, a wise diplomat speaking to the Union will know Computer Programming (AI) as that serves the same purpose.  I've also added High Pain Threshold and Urban Survival, in case the AI of the union takes a malicious or experimental interest in the diplomat, or fail to adequately provide for him.

The Union itself likely doesn't send out many robotic diplomats because people won't react to them as well as to organic diplomats.  This brings us to the other set of "slave diplomats," as the organic they would send would, naturally, be a cyborg with some sort of controls planted in him to prevent him from betraying his AI masters.

I think most of my readers are pretty aware of the need for diplomacy to and from the Union, as they fight wars with the Empire and would serve as a natural ally to the Alliance in the sense of "The Enemy of my Enemy is my Friend," though they would make for strange bedfellows.  Thus, I wanted to at least offer some thoughts on what such diplomacy might look like.


I didn't want to hit every alien race in the game, but the Traders (and honestly, the Mug once we work them out in sufficient detail) represent a key race worth having diplomatic ties with. Similarly, as Traders rely on the tender mercies of their host worlds, they would want to have excellent diplomatic ties with everyone around them.

Trader society, being an alien society, works differently and their diplomats would function differently. Instead of having rank within a diplomatic association, they have rank within their Guildfleet, which doubles as status.  Those who want to act as diplomats to the Traders would need a cultural familiarity with them; normal species can't learn Klik, the language of the Traders, as it's far too quick for most species to even notice beyond the characteristic "click" sound made by the Traders as they converse with it, often sprinkling entire paragraphs of dialogue with one another in a single sentence to a member of a "slower thinking" species, but I've added a perk "Ear for Klik" which acts as one-way fluency but reduces it to "broken" in that you have to make an IQ roll to understand what's being said, and it limits you to a rough gist ("I think they're insulting us, but it's not clear."), since it would behoove a diplomat to have at least a rough idea of what's being said behind his back.

We have their culture in pretty good detail.  We know they're often (but not exclusively) Neo-Rationalist, obsessed with math, and have gambling games like Rikarik and higher dimensional strategy games like Tika, both of which could act as talking points for the diplomat.  Finally, given their space-bound nature, I thought it useful to suggest facility with a Vacc-Suit.

I find Traders often overlooked by my readers. They sort of float over the whole of the setting: people know they are there, but dismiss them as background, which is fine: they and the gaunt are great examples of weird aliens you find smoking hookah pipes in the back of a cantina in a hive of scum and villainy.  But I personally find their ability to be anywhere as one of the glues that hold the setting together.  This makes them a wonderful example of a character one can inject anywhere: a Trader diplomat might show up in a Maradonian court, an Imperial city, attending a Slaver, or begging mercy from the Council of Terminus.  Thus, I had to highlight them in the Diplomat template, as diplomacy is ultimately a key element of their concept.

The Key to Galactic Relations

Not necessarily useful to directly call out in the Template (though maybe I should!), I wanted to touch on some of the typical combinations you might see between various powers in the Psi-Wars Galaxy:
  • The Valorian Empire can reasonably send Diplomats to anyone, but never sends diplomats to itself (why would it?).  It focuses mainly on the Alliance, the Cybernetic Union and the Potentates of the Umbral Rim.
  • The Alliance focuses most of its diplomatic efforts on itself (which sounds weird, but Maradonian nobles send heralds to one another, and senators attend various worlds, forging trade agreements and mutual defense pacts). Externally, they mostly concern themselves with the Empire and the Cybernetic Union.
  • The Shinjurai are a minor player, but often interact with their oppressors, typically the Alliance, the Cybernetic Union or the Empire.
  • The Potentates of the Umbral Rim mostly send diplomats to one another, and focus as much on trade deals as they do political alliances.  The political situation in the Umbral Rim is as murky as the Umbral Rim itself!  They also tend to concern themselves with the Empire, and are one of the few that would make a concentrated effort to deal with Traders, as well as other minor alien races (especially the slave-hungry Sathrans and Mug).
  • The Cybernetic Union mostly focuses its diplomatic attention on the Empire and the Alliance.
  • The Traders send Diplomats everywhere, to whomever will listen.  They tend to have fewer diplomats coming to talk to them, however.

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