Monday, October 12, 2020

Musings on the Psi-Wars Gun-Fu

 There's a rule I've noticed about the Psi-Wars Community: if you mess with martial arts, you will get feedback.  The community seems to love the martial arts, and investigates the details of the styles with a fine tooth comb, more than anything else except, possibly, Communion.

So I wasn't that surprised to see my inbox pop up with some thoughts and suggestions for more gun-fu and also more force sword forms.  So I thought I'd cobble together the feedback into a single place and discuss it.

Existing Gun Fu

Generally, the Gun Fu I've released has been well-received.
  • Coda Resolute is surprisingly popular. I suspect it's the flavor and the low buy-in cost to be "cool."
  • Undercity Noir is also quite popular. I think it, as well as the Graceful Form, need a bit more work, though.  Acrobatics is always a rather complex topic.
  • Imperial Markmanship hit with a dud as "Fine." This is understandable.  It's meant to be an unglamorous workhorse style.  I originally intended for it to be like Coda Resolute, with only two "levels," but the price proved an insurmountable obstacle.  I think the fact that it raises both rifle and pistol at the same time also really slows progress, which is unfortunate.  I would like to give it a "Mozambique Drill" style trademark move, however, so this style will see a slight retouch.
  • The Way of the Rim was accepted with less fanfare than I expected.  It fits, and it's suitable, and people like it, but I don't think it really surprised people much.  The schtick of aim-then-draw rather than the other way around was uncontroversial.  I think it'll see a lot of use, but not as much buzz as some of the others.
  • Shineido was the big star, which didn't surprise me (that's why I released it last), but the level of feedback and love it got actually managed to exceed my expectations. In fact, a lot of the request from other styles came from Shineido.

I think it's worth unpacking why Shineido generated the excitement that it did.  Of course, everyone loves Gun Kata, and everyone loves the idea of inserting it into a setting with Jedi.  It's the sort of kitchen-sink crazy that every RPGer seems to yearn for.  But I think there's more going on here than that.

The Martial-Arts-As-Power-Ups, in my experience, tends to highlight what a martial art can do.  It's one thing to see a list of appropriate traits, and it's another to see a martial artist in action, especially when there are certain combinations that work especially well together. These Power-Up systems generate way more feedback than the previous martial arts I've done, even though they're based on the same martial arts I already did, precisely because they make what those styles can do more visible.

 Shineido highlighted two things.  First: the power of math!  Thus far, the setting has focused almost exclusively on psychic abilities (and, by extension, Communion).  We have cybernetics and, eventually, bio-mods, but by-and-large, if you wanted to be "cool" you had psychic powers. Neo-Rationalism, instead, focuses on the power of pure genius and cinematic logic to create nigh-supernatural effects, which is an exciting idea, especially as a foil for the "superstitious" psychic powers.  It creates a nice tension. It's always been there, but Shineido makes it more obvious.

Shineido is also an explicity anti-space-knight style.  You use it not just to cool cool in combat, but to duel with a space knight.  The imagery of that is nice, but the idea of creating someone who can defeat a space knight, (The "Psi-Hunters" concept are we referred to them in Iteration 3) is an interesting one people seem interested in exploring further.

New Gun Fu

Are there are any plans for a gun fu style that utilizes psionics similar to psionic force swordsmanship? -KZRK


I haven't seen as many calls for new Gun Fu as I have for force sword forms, but there are definitely some calls. In particular, there's a request for a Psionic Gun-Fu style.

Now, I'm not shy about my love of the film Push, which is definitely a huge inspiration on Psi-Wars, and the moment he suggested it, I immediately thought of the TK Gun Fight from Push.  I think it would do a lot to cement how different Psi-Wars can be from Star-Wars. There are, however, a couple of problems that need to be overcome.

The first problem is that Psionic styles are a nightmare.  Psionic Force Swordsmanship needs another pass, and it was already one of the most difficult ones to design. You have to make a lot of assumptions about what characters are capable of.  For example, if you take EK then while Psionic Force Swordsmanship still has some value for you, but a lot of its moves are locked away.  What psychic power would Psionic Gun Fu use? TK? That's cool for the guns and moving them around, but it won't help you deflect blaster shots.  EK? That'll let you deflect blaster shots and maybe super-power your gun, but it won't let you wave your blaster around in the air in a cool way.  What about something else entirely, like an ESP or Telepathic Gun Fu style?  See, it opens up a can of works, and whatever choice we pick, the psychic power creates a hurdle to overcome: if you don't have one of the powers associated with Psionic Force Swordmanship, the style is blocked off to you; but anyone can learn one of the other styles.  Thus, this is inherently a niche style that most people won't care about and it takes more than the usual amount of work.

The second problem is where do you put it? We haven't hard "Free floating" styles since Iteration 4.  Our styles have been grounded in the cultures that created them: Shineido is associated with Denjuku and the Shinjurai Royal Family.  The Furious Form is associated with the Satemo of the Umbral Rim.  Who would use this psionic gun-fu? It probably wouldn't be the maradonians, as they see the force sword as a badge of honor.  You might see some psychic additions to the Coda Resolute, but aristocrats generally didn't settle their differences with that style.  What about aliens?  Well, we don't really associate the Ranathim or the Keleni with blasters. We might see a "temple maiden" concept for the Keleni, but they'll be closer to commandos than to gunslingers (though it must be said that telepathically linked commandos might be scarier than Combat Geometrics). The Asrathi are associated with Probability Manipulation, and that's worth touching on a bit more in Undercity Noir, but I don't think that's what KZRK had in mind. We have no PK- or EK-using aliens.  So who gets this?

One concept I do want to touch on at some point are non-space-knight, non-sage psychics.  I see Psi-Wars as a bit like Rifts in how it handles psychic powers: sure, there are mystics and knights out there, but there are also "mind melters," rare and unexpected talent erupting somewhere like an X-men, with the Empire trying to register and/or imprison them, and space knights trying to recruit, but powerful "rogue" psychics who lack force sword training or who don't live in temples or don't pretend to be witches should definitely be a part of the setting, and this style might suit them well.  But other than these vague ideas, I'm not sure how to solidify it yet.

New Force Sword Forms

(H)ow about a force swordsmanship style that takes a more scientific approach similar to Shineido or Combat Geometrics? -KZRK

I think it speaks volumes for the popularity of force sword forms that when I introduce gun-fu, people use it as a platform to ask for more force sword forms. But there's more meat here than just "I want more force sword forms."  As we noted above, Shineido highlights that you can gain "cool powers" from math, science and logic in Psi-Wars, and given that people use "cool powers" to upgrade their force sword fighting.


Using math to be a better fencer is definitely not the craziest idea. In fact, we already have a style that does it: La Verdadera Destreza on GURPS Martial Arts page 158.  Of course, the math does nothing, but we could try to introduce some elements.  We could borrow some of the elements from La Verdadera Destreza and mix them with the essential kendo that underlies all force sword forms and toss on some of the Math tricks of Shineido.

But where would we put it in the setting?  The Shinjurai wouldn't use a force sword, and a Maradonian wouldn't use Neo-Rationalism? Where would we find such a character?

Maybe a branch of the imperial knights would work for the scientific force swordsmanship, since the empire is governed by the same philosophies that gave rise to combat geometrics -KZRK
There are actually several factions that would meld force swordsmanship and Neo-Rationalism.  KZRK is correct in pointing out that Imperial Knights might do it.  Another faction that might use it would be House Tan-Shai.  After all, they are neo-rationalist to their core, and lack psychic powers (being anti-psi themselves), but need to be able to win force sword duels, as they've been tangled up in Maradonian culture.

This brings up another concept such a style would likely seek to explore: the Stance Breaker Form. A core element of Shineido is defeating space knights.  This style might do the same, and wuxia is full of stories of a style that's built around defeating the elements of a particular style (or "all styles,"), a "Stance Breaker Form." Those who created this style would have wanted to beat space knights on their own ground, and would have had the data to do it. They would have analyzed all their styles incessantly and sought the weaknesses of each.  This would make the style a bit like the Simple Form in that it seeks to understand all forms, though it would likely focus on Maradonian styles.  I had a similar concept with the Skairosian styles, and I could borrow some of those ideas and use them here, but with more of a mathematical twist.

This puts the style into an interesting niche as a "Dark Mirror" style, which I always like: it's the style you would give to characters who are designed to defeat or mirror the PCs. If you are a Maradonian Space Knight (one of the most popular concepts), then a Tan-Shai space knight is your "Dark mirror" able to exploit the weaknesses of your style and shut down your psychic powers. Imperial Knights would also represent a good "Dark mirror" to the style.

And we even had a good idea what it would look like: the aggressive flexibility of the Simple Form, the anti-Maradonian techniques of the Skairosian forms, the mathematic schtick of Shineido, and echoes of La Verdada Destreza.  I think it could work.

1 comment:

  1. The Psychic Underground - criminal syndicates run by unaffiliated Psis - might develop blaster styles. What about a telepathic Hive Mind combat style? ("[T]elepathically linked commandos might be scarier than Combat Geometrics"....) Have you read The Rook, by Daniel O'Malley?

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