Friday, September 13, 2019

Psi-Wars Lightning Round: the Rage of Mages

I woke up this morning to a blizzard of questions from what looks like a new Psi-Wars fan.  My community on Discord had already taken to answering him and he seems relatively satisfied, but I wanted to take the opportunity to address some of them here on the blog, because they're good questions, ones that I think other people might have too, so it might be useful to have them here.

Before we begin, I want to add that I'm not the boss of you.  If you see something you don't like in Psi-Wars, change it.  I'm sure Lord Buss understands that, but it's something I want to underline.  I'm just one guy putting together a setting that a lot of people seem to find interesting and useful.  What will follow is not a defense of my choices, but an explanation of my reasoning so  you can decide for yourself if you want to stick with what I did, or branch out in a new direction.

1) If DR costs 5 times less because of the blaster armor divisor, shouldn’t innate attacks have armor modifier (5), instead of just doing more damage?

This is a great example of what I mean by a "question other people are going to want to know the answer to."  It also lets me explore some of the logic chains I went through.

For starters, why is DR 5 times as powerful in Psi-Wars as in vanilla GURPS?  I think most people get this: because the average weapon has an armor divisor of 5 on it.  Thus, DR in Psi-Wars is as protective, point for point, as DR for a TL 8 game within their given contexts.  I should add that this creates a problem for unarmed damage, in that for a ~5 points, you can be effectively invulnerable to punches, but I've tried to handle that more broadly in a few different ways I won't get into here.

The logic then follows: why not just give all innate attacks an armor divisor of 5 or, barring that, why not just let them do 5x damage?  The second we can dispense with pretty quickly: Innate Attack is already underpriced.  The first one is more interesting and the short answer is: I did!  But I noticed something pretty quickly. Once you do that, you undermine every other armor  dividing advantage in the rest of the material.  If everything is armor divisor 5, what do armor penetrating innate attacks look like? Why are maledictions just as expensive?  It could be that the only thing you want to do with these innate attacks is get around armor, but if we're going to increase the value of the DR advantage overall then it would be more broadly useful to increase the damage of innate attacks instead, but 5x is clearly too much. So, if we gave all attacks armor divisor 5 for free, we're adding +150% of "free points" on top of innate attack (that is, a 10 point attack is actually worth 25 points), and we wanted to boost damage to be equivalent, we'd need to triple damage (a 10-point attack is now actually worth 30 points). This means if you're constructing an innate attack,  you can apply an armor divisor (5) on it "for free" and have it still be slightly more powerful than it would be in a standard GURPS context, but if you chose to apply a Malediction or the Lightning armor penetration modifier to it instead, then all the numbers line up.

In short, I did it this way because it's more flexible and better for backwards compatibility.

2) The Lightning ability. As far as I understand, it is almost completely useless. It is far worse than things like TK crush, because it is affected by DR. Against non-metal armor like battleweave you need level 5 to be as effective as a regular blaster pistol (which also has ROF), and it still costs 2 FP. It ignores conductive armor, but this creates a weird situation where the attack is very effective against medium armor, but not light or heavy armor. This is “realistic” based on the effect, but questionable relating to fluff, atmosphere, genre conventions and mechanic utility. It is very good against robots…but Ergokinesis already has a lot of abilities that are good against robots (only), and I thought that Lightning is supposed to be the exception.

A quick clarification on "Surge, Arcing," this one was tricky for me because I think no ultra-tech armor is actually "conductive," which makes lightning pretty useless anyway.  Thus, I've updated it to only be defeated by expensive armors like composites and diamondoid.  A good rule of thumb is that if it defeats plasma and shaped charges, it defeats lightning.  If it doesn't it doesn't.  Battleweave is interesting because it's flexible, and traditionally flexible armors aren't conductive.  How you feel about that depends on you.  If you feel battleweave is more like space chainmail, then leave it; if you feel it's more like space leather, than let it defend.  But in essence the only armors that per the rules will defend against it are Maradonian space knight armor, imperial trooper armor, and some advanced Syntech armors.  Everything else is defeated by it.
In comparison to TK-Crush, let's do a quick fantasy comparison and then a modern comparison.  If we use standard lightning we, first of all, need access to something electrical, which is a problem for fantasy settings (this, by the way, is why we have the 2 fatigue cost; this was inspired by a patreon special from Christopher Rice wherein he discusses using internal energies as opposed to external energies to power Lightning), but we'll ignore it for now.  Standard Lightning costs 12 per level, so let's buy level 2 (2d burn damage).  By contrast, standard TK crush costs 5/level and deals 1 damage per level, so we'll take 5 levels (25 points) for 5 damage.

Against no armor: lightning deals 7 damage while TK crush deals 5 damage. Lightning > TK Crush

Against leather (DR 2) armor: lightning deals 5 damage while TK crush deals 5 damage. TK Crush = Lightning

Against Chainmail (DR 4) armor: Lightning deals 6 damage, while TK crush deals 5 damage.  Lightning > TK Crush

Against Plate (DR 7) armor: Lightning deals 6 damage while TK crush deals 5. Lightning > TK Crush.

Against magical, non-conductive super (DR 10) armor: Lightning deals 0 damage while TK crush deals 5.  TK Crush > Lightning

So at a fantasy level, some of your light armors are okay-ish against lightning, but if you really want to beat it, you need some weird, non-metal armor. So only in specific cases is TK crush better than lighthning.

But what about a modern context? We have two new forms of armor:

Against a ballistic vest (DR 2 vs non cutting, non-piercing attacks): Lightning deals 5 damage, TK Crush deals 5 damage. Lightning = TK Crush

Against a tactical vest (DR 5 vs non-cutting, non-piercing attacks): Lightning deals 2 damage, TK Crush deals 5 damage.  TK Crush > Lighthning.

Againsta  tactical vest w Inserts (DR 28): Lighthing deals 0 damage, TK Crush deals 5 damage. TK Crush > Lightning.

Thus we can see by the modern era, already, that lightning is essentially useless against modern armors.  Let's see where Psi-Wars sits compared to these.  First, Psi-Wars does it a little differently: Lightning is 10/level, needs no electricity and deals 3d per level.  We'll buy two levels (20 points) for 6d burn.  TK Crush is improved to 1d-1 damage, and we take 4 levels this dime for 4d-4.

Agaisnt no armor: Lightning deals 20 damage, TK Crush deals 10. Lightning > TK Crush

Against Battleweave.  This depends.  If you feel flexible "cloth" armor is nonconductive, then it's: Lightning deals 0 damage, TK Crush deals 10 and TK Crush > Lighthning.  If you stick with it precisely as written, then it's Lightning 19 vs TK Crush 10 and Lightning > TK Crush.

Against a carbide clamshell (DR 60) and pretty much all other rigid armors (Redjack Scrapper armor, ARC regular armor, space pirate episteel armor), then it's Lightnign 19 vs TK Crush 10.  Lightning > TK Crush.

Against Imperial light modular armor, it's composite DR 80.  Lightning does 0 and TK Crush does 10.  TK Crush > Lightning.

Against Diamondoid Space Knight armor, it's non-conductive DR 100+.  Lightning does 0 and TK Crush does 10.  TK Crush > Lightning.

From what I can see, in this version, lightning is more forgiving in Psi-Wars than in a modern setting, but less than in a fantasy setting.  If you want it to feel more like fantasy, just update arcing to only be defeated by exceptional armors.  I would suggest retaining Diamondoid as non-conductive.  If you want a little more nuance, give Battleweave 1/2 DR vs lightning (this makes it 10 v 10, which matches the results from Leather in fantasy).  The real question here is "how do I treat Surge, Arcing" and the answer to that is up to you.  I do recommend some level of adjustment, because all UT armors are "non-metallic."

Incidentally, in regards to the "atmosphere and genre conventions" of lightning, are those really what you think they are?  The only time we see force lightning on screen, it spectacularly fails to kill Luke Skywalker for several seconds of continuous attack; in video games it tends to be as lethal force crush but with less utility (such as in Dark Forces Jedi Knight, or Jedi Knight 2) or, as often depicted in cartoons or video game cinematics, a secondary weapon at best and a tool for torture and/or distraction.  If a sith is going to kill you in Star Wars, it'll be with a lightsaber, not force lightning.  Really, lightning feels more like a long-ranged electro-staff than a real "attack."  It weakens you, distracts you, and hurts like the dickens, but once it stops, if you've got a few minutes, you'll recover.

If you want lightning to feel more like that, I'd change it to a fatigue attack with some level of Pain as a Side Effect, and possibly with Agony as a Symptom for when all or most of your fatigue has been wiped out by it.  Then you can quickly incapacitate a target with your lightning but you can also torture them for quite awhile before they die.

3) Why were the names “starhawk” and “typhoon” discarded in action vehicular combat?

The rest of community already answered this, but for the sake of posterity: the Typhoon and Starhawk were real spaceships released in the GURPS Spaceships series (both found in GURPS Spaceships 4).  These were used in earlier iterations to show what happens when you use Off-The-Shelf GURPS components.  Iteration 6 and 7 have been about customizing the Psi-Wars setting, and given that Psi-Wars now largely discards GURPS Spaceships, we can no longer use the original designs and have to build our own.  Having done that, I polled the community if they wanted to keep the old names or give them new names, and the community chose "Valiant" and "Javelin" as the new names.

4) How sanctities work with each other? I know high sanctity for dark communion is low for regular communion, but is it also low for broken communion, or are they unaffected by each other?

If you have high sanctity in one, the rest are Low sanctity.  High Broken Sanctity = low True and Dark sanctity.

"(Okay, t)hen Demon Hunter (sanctity (damper) from justice virtue) should be priced as alternative ability, at 17 points."

Good catch!  You're right, it should be.  You'll never be in a case where there's both high Dark Sanctity and high Broken Sanctity.

5) This is less a question, and more expression of bewilderment, but why the Shinjurai, which are defined both by rational ideology (which values nothing but rationalism) and by the cyber punk genre and its conventions, have monarchy?

The short answer is "Princesses!" and that settings sometimes have weird things, just roll with it.

The long answer is pretty involved, diving into how I think a clarifying an entire culture that hasn't had a lot of attention, but we're on my blog now, and you asked and seemed pretty interested in a detailed answered, so here we go!

First, a few clarifications.  The Shinjurai are not "cyberpunk," or at least, not entirely cyberpunk.  I don't talk about them much, so the rest of you are viewing glimpses of them, sort of like seeing a strange foreigner through slats on a wall, so there's a lot "under the surface" that people don't know, and I'm not sure when or how I'll start talking about them, because they, like the Westerly, are pretty secondary.  It will probably be when I get back in touch with my fashion designer, as I'd like some more pictures before I dive into them in greater depth.

Someone commented that they're more "Cyber" than "punk" and that's true, at least to an extent. You will definitely find some raging gangs in the bad parts of Denjuku, and they definitely have some big, highly advanced corporations lurking in towers of glass, but they're broader than that.  If Westerly mix the "space pioneer spirit" with "primitive/tribal 'barbarians'" and the Maradonians are "Space Fantasy!," then the Shinjurai are the one group that remembers this is a sci-fi setting. 

They tend to mix and match the high weirdness from sci-fi works, and they cover a lot more than Denjuku.  Denjuku is definitely your ecumenopolis dystopia with powerful corporations and oppressed populations and simmering gangs.  It's Metropolis meets Neo-Tokyo.  But we have other worlds, like the Cyber-Rationalists with their constructed god-machines and their cyber-theocrats around Stanis and Terminus, and the "Ixian" clone world of Xen, with its build-to-spec clones with barcodes tattooed onto their paper-white skin.  The Shinjurai are meant to invoke some of the weirdness of the cool sci-fi novel covers or weird fashions of 1960s/1970s sci-fi with a dash of the weirder cyberpunk sci-fi of the 80s.

None of this invalidates a core point you make, which is really why would Neo-Rationalists accept a monarchy?  To understand that, we need to understand Neo-Rationalism a little better.

The first thing to know is that Neo-Rationalism isn't Rationalism.  It's a degenerate faith that has misunderstood its rational roots.  It's not "sciencism," but more of a "psuedo-sciencism" where all your real scientists died ages ago, and people run around with their books and their catechisms and half-remembered truths like talismans against the perils of night.  The reason for this is to explain why they haven't conquered the galaxy, because real scientists would adapt to things like the reality of psychic powers and rapidly advance things like hyperdrives, while in reality the Galaxy has stagnated at a TL 10/11 level for a few thousand years.

How "wrong" you want Neo-Rationalism to be is up to you.  It can be anywhere from "Misguided but with its heart in the right place" (it does, after all, have some real benefits) to "LOL" (as they seem to disbelieve psychic phenomenon that's right in front of their faces).  I think it depends on what you want to focus on.  A templar game will probably depict Neo-Rationalists as woefully misguided, and even true Rationalists as at least a little misguided, more focused on the physical world than the inner, spiritual world that really matters.  In a more Neo-Rationalist focused game, yes, it's true that most Neo-Rationalists have problems, and there's some corruption and elitism at the top of some major institutions, but it really is the best hope for breaking the galaxy out of this dark age its been in since Alexus Rex destroyed the beginnings of a true Golden Age with his crusades (and who better to restore a Rational Golden Age than this plucky group of PC neo-rationlists!).

But we need to make a key point about a critical error in Neo-Rationalism that we see repeated in the real world too, which is that "elitism."  At its heart, Neo-Rationalism believes in the "genius," that some people are just better than other people, that the sort of people who vote for the more scientific-sounding political party, or who watch the Discovery channel or have the letters "PhD" after their name are, on some level, better people than the troglodytes who vote for the more religious-sounding political party, or who watch professional wrestling or who (shudder) went to a trade school.  This is an ancient bias.  You can find it all the way back in Plato, who argues for a superior "aristocracy" to guide the ignorant sheeple of the world.  We see it again during the Enlightenment, which we tend to see now as a flowering of scientific thought, which it was, but we tend to forget it was an era of "Absolute Monarchy" where kings would use their vast resources to patronize all the finest scientists who would get together and tell the king what policies he should enact, "scientifically speaking," and he would do it, ushering in an "enlightened" age that never seemed to come, for some reason.

And this brings to the last fact that isn't really clear, but probably should be, especially as I'll be releasing details on the Shinjurai royalty later this month (and thus I must keep this in mind).  It's also something I probably could have led with, but I think it feels better with all this ado: The Shinjurai royalty are largely ceremonial.  They are more like the British Monarchy or the Japanese Emperor than they are like the Sun King.  This should be obvious if you think about their position in the Alliance, as Duke Grimshaw governs Denjuku, despite the fact that the Shinjurai royal family is right there, wondering if they're a joke to everyone.  The Shinjurai are a conquered people, so obviously the Shinjurai royal family has no real political power.

They do have considerable symbolic power, though.  The Shinjurai have been scattered across all the galaxy, all with their own cultures and ways of doing things, but they can all turn and look to the shining beacon of enlightened rulership and say "They unite us," in a similar way to how the Commonwealth are all united, technically, by the British Monarchy (but totally have their own self-rule).  The Gene-Masters of Xen and the Cyber-Councils of Stanis are self-governing (or were), but they honored the Shinjurai royal family.

I think that even back in the day, they were largely symbolic, though.  At some point in their history, the Shinjurai family took control of the Denjuku colony, but over time, and with the rise of Rationalism, their rule was undermined until they became a constitutional monarchy.  They have a parliament, similar to Japan and to the UK, and the Shinjurai family presides over it, and they go on parades, and they can legally and technically do whatever they want, but really shouldn't and better not try.  They're under constant pressure to represent the best of their people, culturally, so they definitely have the best Neo-Rationalists educations that money can buy.  They are walking incarnations of the Neo-Rationalist ideal: rulers who understand and accept the tenets of Neo-Rationalism, and sit watch, the enlightened aristocrat, over a parliament of the most meritocratic and enlightened advisors/governors.  They are technically in their position by blood, but practically, so they would have you believe, by merit, thanks to their education and dedication to the Neo-Rationalist ideal.

Are there Neo-Ratoinalists who ask the same question that you do?  Yes, I think so.  I think a little hypocrisy and tension is good in a philosophy.  How can the Divine Masks claim to be a united system when it has a collection of highly idiosyncratic cults under its umbrella.  If the Cult of the Mystical Tyrant claims that ethics are a matter of personal responsibility, why is it that they always seem to come down on the side of blatant, selfish hedonism?  How can anyone at all still believe in the Akashic Order after they failed so spectacularly?  How can True Communion, on the one hand, claim to be open and accepting to all, when it clearly places psions and the Keleni in a special place, and has a history of waging crusades agaisnt wrong-think?  I think a good philosophy in a setting needs tensions and imperfections and things people can pick on, and Neo-Rationalism seems to have more than its fair share of schisms.  I can totally see Neo-Rationalists who snort at the very idea of a Shinjurai royalty, while others will write endless apolegetica about why the Shinjurai are crucial to the Neorationalist ideal (and why you should consider all of them on par with the original Rationalist sages).  I think you definitely see disgruntled, rebel movements on Denjuku (though practically, resistance to the Shinjurai means helping the Maradonians, rather than a Neo-Rationalist anarcho-democratic-commune).  So to say that all Neo-Rationlists are fine with the Shinjurai is possibly oversimplifying things, depending on what you're looking for in your game.

6) Will you, at some point in the future, create and publish the stats of characters? By which I mean NPC characters, like Maradonian nobles, Templars, or Dawkins Nigh.

Do you want me to?

If it were entirely up to me, I would have let Psi-Wars lie at Iteration 5 and moved on to a new campaign.  That's not to say that I mind working on Psi-Wars, but that this point I'm more guided by giving you guys a setting that's fun and that you want.  People wanted more Psi-Wars, I'm making more Psi-Wars, and I'm guided by the principle of "the most critical for your campaign first."

Let's say you wanted a deeply Shinjurai inspired game. What would help you the most?
  • More details on the Empire?
  • Detailed Syntech ships and robots?
  • Details on criminal organizations across the Galaxy?
  • A deep dive into Denjuku and its culture, geography?
  • Stats for Dawkins Night and a Shinjurai Princess, Mina Shinjurai?
We could sort those in order of priority, but while we do that, we need to realize that Brent over there wants a Templar game, and Willow wants a political-intrigue/romance game focused on the Maradonian houses and their failing, tragic war against the implacable Empire.  When we take everyone into account, we find that high level, broadly useful details (more on the Empire, details on criminal organizations) tend to help people more than low-level, highly specific details, so I tend to work on those first.  Everyone can use more details on criminal organizations, but only some people can use more details on Denjuku.

That doesn't mean I'll never get to the rest, though practically it may be so, or feel like it.  It's also debatable how well my stats would stack up compared to your stacks.  I would probably stat Dawkins Nigh as a terrifyingly elite anti-psi hunter and a fanatic, a sci-fi witch hunter that would challenge a Templar.  But perhaps someone else would rather see him as a politically motivated blow-hard who preaches anti-psi hate, but folds after any serious opposition.  Or perhaps someone else likes the idea of him being something of a force of unconscious corruption, an unknowing prophet of Broken Communion who is gathering a cult of like-minded people and the puppet of House Tan-Shai and their masters, the Eldoth.

I don't know what your campaign needs, so most campaigns don't need Dawkins Nigh, and those that do need them, most of them will disagree with my stats.  Which doesn't mean they don't have value (a lot of people will think my stats are "almost right" or "an interesting starting point" or will just need some stats for a bad-guy-of-the-week and grab the guy and go).  So, that goes back to my question of "Do you want me to?" Would it be useful to you to have me stat these guys up? Would you prioritize them over other things?  Are there a lot of people who feel the same as you?

And if you can't get everyone on board and with my schedule, I'm unable to get to it on any time scale that's useful to you, I recommend turning to the Psi-Wars discord and asking people for help in stating up your own version. If you make one and you send it to me, I will post it if you want me to, and I'll even comment on it and talk about how I see that particular character, how I might do it differently, and suggest some additional options or tweaks depending on how someone might want to go with it.  Whatever you like.  I try really hard to support my Community when they create something, to fold it into the setting as a whole. So far, it hasn't really panned out except in the case of some worlds, which are definitely part of the setting.  But I will happily look at anything you guys give me: campaign notes, NPCs. new Maradonian houses, new cultures, new races, new worlds, new constellations, new or alternate takes on philosophies, house rules for a more morally focused game, etc.

I said at the beginning that I'm not trying to "defend my choices" so much as "explaining my reasoning," and when I say things like "I'm not going to go into your game and tell you that you're doing it wrong," and that's not some hypothetical moral statement where I'm secretly judging you anyway.  I mean, I probably am, but that shouldn't be relevant.  The point of all of this is to be useful for YOUR game, not to create a "one true canon" that everyone should follow. If you don't like something, change it.  If you want something, add it.  If you want the rest of us to see it, send it to me, or post it on your own blog (I'll link it) or ask to join the wiki and post it there.  I really want Psi-Wars to be collaborative, and as the setting becomes clearer, I expect to see more questions like these, because the better you understand something, the easier it is to have an Opinion about it, and then take it and do your own thing with it.

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