Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Imperial Vehicles: Vanguard-Class Infantry Fighting Vehicle

ST/HP: 80

Hand/SR: +2/4

HT: 11f

Move: 4/70 (+9)

LWt.: 5

Load: 1.2

SM: +4

Occ.: 12S

DR: 500/200*

Range: 100,000

Cost: $4.25M

Loc.: Xt

*The Vanguard IFV has a DR 500 frontal armor; the rest of the armor is DR 200; the open mount on top includes a forward gun shield with DR 200. All armor is composite and EMA (triple DR vs plasma weapons and shaped charge attacks)

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Imperial Vehicles: Vanquisher-Class Hover-Tank

ST/HP: 135

Hand/SR: +2/4

HT: 12x

Move: 4/70 (+9)

LWt.: 14

Load: 0.3

SM: +4

Occ.: 3S

DR: 1400/500*

Range: 100,000

Cost: $20M

Loc.: Tt

*The Vanquisher tank has a DR 1300 frontal armor and turret; the rest of the armor is DR 500, except for the underside and the sub-turret and sensor turret, which are DR 100. All armor is composite and EMA (triple DR vs plasma weapons and shaped charge attacks)

Monday, March 18, 2019

Imperial Ground Vehicles, an Introduction

I'm still hard at work on technology, and we're up to vehicles (I debated tackling robots first, and decided on vehicles as they would get us to a playtest faster, and a detailed look at robots might require more than just some stats).  I weighed where to start with vehicles and finally settled on "a little bit of everything," but with a focus on the Valorian Empire.

The Empire of Psi-Wars is heavily modeled on the Empire of Star Wars because it's readily identifiable and also because the Galactic Empire of Star Wars makes quite a bit of sense (in some ways, anyway).  For these reasons, and that it's so central to the setting, it's seen the most work on its vehicles and technology, so for some of you who've been following Psi-Wars intently, this is more of a review than anything new.

I'm still up in the air as to whether I'll do all the Imperial vehicles in one go, or hit every faction's vehicle sets, but I lean towards each faction at a time. In either case, this week will be dedicated to the ground vehicles of the Empire, of which I currently have four.  Some may look at that number and find it low, but these take time, and I don't want to spend a year designing a hundred vehicles that most players won't use anyway.  We should focus on enough vehicles to get a broader idea of how the faction might work, and we can do some bespoke work for specific campaigns if necessary.

I'll start each section with a quick overview of the logic behind the vehicles and how I see each faction using them, and a quick recap of the sort of soldiers I see each faction fielding in a quick loadout.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

I backed the GURPS DF Monster 2 Kickstarter

I've never backed a kickstarter before (don't have a credit card) and while kickstarters have been shakey, I do believe the "kickstarter then PDF long tail" is the future of PDFs, and it's nice to see SJGames beginning to rev up into that direction, especially since the sense I get from SJGames is that the Munchkin bubble may have burst and their attempts to navigate the dawning era of whatever the 2020s will be for gaming has been expensive and dangerous, so hopefully they'll come out of this ahead.  So I backed the kickstarter. You can back it too if you go through here (assuming you haven't already).

So why am I posting this?  Well, to preen, of course, and to earn your admiration for my good deeds. But I want to make a few points about GURPS Dungeon Fantasy based on some comments I've seen elsewhere, try to explain some of my logic and to give you some context.

I backed the $95 version, which nets me a printed copy of the DF boxed set as well as a printed copy of DF Monsters 2.  If I'm honest, I could care about DF Monsters 2. I'm sure it'll be fine, but I can buy it in PDF eventually.  What really interested me was the reprint of the boxed set of DF, as I really regretted missing that. 

Why DF?

The internet often asks what my favorite dungeon-crawling fantasy RPG is, and I have a few answers, but the deepest and most correct is usually Dungeon Fantasy not just because it's GURPS, but because what I look for in a fantasy game, DF provides in spades. For example, I often complain that fighters in D&D aren't interesting enough ("I hit! I hit again! When I gain a level, I'll be able to hit three times!  So exciting!"), that magic is too focused on combat effects, and this can be said of a lot of the mechanics of the game, that races are too samey and not particularly nuanced, and that I have a hard time really differentiating my character and I feel I lack a good variety of options. Gaining levels feels pretty rote, rather than watching the organic growth of my character. And look, DF addresses all of this out of the box simply because it's GURPS: fighters get to play with techniques and a great host of highly specific combat options that make combat feel visceral; mages get tons and tons of non-combat options (and arguably lack decent combat options, which frankly feels better to me than walking artillery platform), I can build characters however I want, and blend together multiple classes how I want or just build a character from scratch, races have a ton of mechanical nuance, and I can shift the focus of my world however I want.

Having a DF boxed set makes it more of a pick-up game, which is really what I need to show some of the newer players how GURPS works, and GURPS actually works really well for new players, which will shock a lot of people who aren't a fan of GURPS, but it's true.  GURPS is hard to learn to run, but it's not especially hard to learn to play.  What you need most is something to focus on (rather than the deep oceans of "Anything you want!") and DF does that nicely, with a familiar arena. That makes it a great entry way to the rest of the GURPS world.

I've been interested in another game called Numenara for a bit now, ever since I picked up the whole set on Humble Bundle and I was looking at buying a copy of the basic books: Discovery and Destiny. These together came to $120, plus shipping and handling.  D&D 5e, if you want the player's handbook, the DM guide and the Monster manual, comes to $150.  $95 gets me the DF boxed set.  Oh, and Monsters 2.  It's a steal, so much so that I'm worried that SJGames may have undercharged for their product.  They seem to often underestimate the production costs of their products and walk away from successful kickstarters taking a loss, and I hope that doesn't happen this time.  Regardless, if you want a complete dungeon fantasy product, you're not going to do better, bang for buck, than DF unless there's some other dungeon crawling product that I don't know about (Dungeon World maybe?), certainly not at the level of detail and support that GURPS DF offers.

"But I like Science Fiction"

So this was the comment that made me re-evaluate my position in the first place (and seeing the boxed set available finally convinced me to take that last step).  Given that I haven't run Dungeon Fantasy ever, and that I've only played in a couple of games, why should I even bother paying for it, given my focus on Sci-Fi, one that isn't likely to change (not out of a lack of interest: I'd love to do some urban occult stuff too, but because I sense a void in the market that I'm trying to fill), why bother to fork over this kind of money.

Because you shouldn't think of Dungeon Fantasy as Fantasy, but as GURPS.

I'm a big fan of math and literature ("English") and I get frustrated when I see kids who ask things like "Will we ever use this in the real world?" as though unless the world were a series of tests (such as strangers lying in wait at street corners to pounce you with algebra questions), the exercise is useless (this sort of reflexive mindest can leak its way into gaming and it causes problems there too, but that's a post for another time).  In fact, math and language skills are tools.  The same people who ask if anyone will ever actually use algebra in the real world are the same sort of people who recoil from GURPS Vehicles as "too hard," not realizing that engineering a real world vehicle is even harder. The world is a sandbox full of possibilities that are easier to tackle if you have communication and STEM skills (determining the shortest route between two places; accounting and coding complicated things into your spreadsheet; working out why gambling is always a horrible idea, especially lottery tickets; dazzling a lovely lady with wordplay; articulating why people should follow your proposed policy; getting your kids to listen to you, etc).

GURPS is like Math and English: it's not there to solve a specific problem, but is instead a great toolbox to let you build your own solution to whatever gaming problem you have.  And just because it labels a particular product as belonging to one genre doesn't mean it's useless to you for another genre.  Let me list just a handful of books that aren't in the sci-fi genre that apply to Psi-Wars:
  • GURPS Action
  • GURPS Action 2
  • GURPS Action 3
  • GURPS DF 3: The Next Level (especially for its races)
  • GURPS DF 16: Wilderness Adventures
  • GURPS Powers: Divine Favor
  • GURPS Thaumatology
  • GURPS Thaumatology: Magical Styles
  • GURPS Thaumatology: Sorcery
  • GURPS Horror
There are quite a few that are, genre-wise, on the borders of generic enough, or I would start to get repetitive, but all of these have played fairly key roles in the design of Psi-Wars, which is a sci-fi setting.

"But is it really, Mailanka? Isn't it more space fantasy?"

Personally, I dislike the term space fantasy. I don't know why "space opera" isn't good enough anymore, but fine: the structure of DF has informed every campaign framework book that has followed it.  It provides numerous ideas on how to handle specific elements, like henchmen, races, power-ups and load-outs, in compact and useful ways, discarding superficial elements to get what you want.  I got started on this sci-fi kick by working on a GURPS Captain-and-Crew set up that has evolved into all of this, and I got started with that after seeing Dungeon Fantasy.

Yes, the line does eventually begin to get into more specifically pertinent material.  Rather than fantasy templates, you want sci-fi templates, rather than fantasy henchmen, you want sci-fi henchment, and so on, but the innovation begins with DF, which sells, and only after, does it spread to the rest of the frameworks, and even if it never does, all of GURPS is mutally compatible.  This is not The Fantasy Trip they're selling, or Munchkin, but GURPS.  Even if they never produce any more sci-fi than they already have, their DF line would continue to provide plenty of "how to" inspiration for you to build your own sci-fi game from it (and they will continue to build more sci-fi content).

So that's why I backed the kickstarter, even though it seems counter to my interests.  My interests are broader than just space opera and even if they weren't, they're still well served by GURPS continuing with DF.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Psi-Wars Alien Races: Skairos, the Devils of Persephone

Alternate Names: The Devils of Persephone, Time Shadows, Corrupted Sabines, Jotans.
Homeworld: Persephone (?)
Other worlds: Unknown (but most sightings seem to be on other Labyrinthine Worlds)

Akashic mythology describes “the Devils of Persephone” or “the Skairos” as strange monsters found within the caverns beneath Persephone. According to these myths, sharp teeth line their maws and they hunger for humans; their milk-white eyes or the emptiness where eyes should be, can see without seeing, moving through darkness as one moves through light. According to myth, they live in shadows or are crafted of shadow, having inky black skin or the air of unreality to them. Some stories even suggest that one can only perceive them with psionic power. These devils held the secret of the Akashic record and gave it to humanity, showing them the Coming Storm, and giving them the tools necessary to found the Akashic Order.
What are they? Perhaps they’re literally monsters, strange aliens that lurk in the caverns of Persephone to this day. Perhaps they’re a distorted representation of the remnant of a wise and ancient race that lived within the caverns of Persephone and walk among mankind even now, posing as some minor, unimportant race and hiding their true identity. Perhaps they’re a misrepresentation of a genetic bloodline, one especially capable of reading the future, that arose on Persephone and may exist on Persephone still (and might even taint the Sabine bloodline!). Finally, perhaps the Skairos don’t exist at all! Perhaps they’re a metaphor for the dangers of viewing time, or the perils faced on the journey to uncovering this ancient secret. 

The Skairos can be whatever the GM decides they should be; the following offers guidelines for treating them as an alien race.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Psi-Wars Alien Races: the Traders

Homeworld: None (Sterilized during their war with humanity)
Other Worlds: Jubilee Station and the Trader Belt.

The Traders earned their name through commerce, but they earned their place at the galactic center through innovative navigational techniques. Early Traders mastered higher mathematics that allowed them to envision and interact with hyperdimensional space. Using these techniques, they were among the first races to travel to the stars. They soon found other races, even ancient empires, and but rather than swap blaster fire with these new species, the Traders chose to swap trade goods.

When those ancient empires fell, the Traders discovered that the only humanity, a new-comer to the galactic scene, competed with them for dominion over the galactic center. If a few battles had gone differently, if luck had favored the Traders, history may well have gone in a very different direction, but instead, for their foray into empire-building, the Traders found their homeworld destroyed and their race scattered across the galaxy.

Today, Traders ply the stars with their great and vast arks, vast dreadnoughts that house entire cities of Traders within them, including housing, restaurants, hospitals, industry and ship-repair facilities. These great arks collect together into great “Guild fleets,” which used to act as roving industrial centers and corporate headquarters, but with the destruction of their homeworld, these guild fleets have devolved into extended clans, serving to guard and protect the remnants of the Trader people. Traders have only one permanent settlement: Jubilee Station, a huge space station/space colony in the Trader elt that acts as a permanent Trader marketplace, a home for myriad alien cultures, and a point to which all Guild Fleets return every 20 years for their grand Trader Jubilee, where they swap stories, star charts, and even family members, and then set off to explore something new.

Traders blend humanoid features with strange and alien traits to create an alluringly exotic combination that many other aliens find both intriguing and repulsive. They mostly resemble hairless, green-skinned humans with liquid black eyes, and wear tight-fitting skin-suits that underline just how feminine or masculine the more attractive members of the species might be. Beneath and along their supple, dark-green lips lie the tell-tale signs of the “Trader grin:” a thin black line that goes from their mouth down their chin and deep into their cheeks. When a Trader isn’t politely offering another alien a close-mouthed smile, their faces split open to reveal a split pair of mandibles lined with rows of teeth; their unhinged jaws allow the to gulp down slithering, still-living prey, like leather eels. Self-conscious Traders hide this feature behind a face mask or filter mask.

A Trader’s intellect truly sets him apart from other species. While no smarter than other species, they think faster than everyone else. For them, seconds drift by as slowly as minutes do for others. They read a page at a glance, and they speak a language called Klik, which allows them to convey a minute’s worth of conversation in a mere second, and at an exceptionally high pitch that’s barely audible to normal species. Most Traders master Galactic Common at a young age, and even prefer its poetry to the dry logic of Klik, but they’ll sprinkle Klik into their conversations in a series of seemingly unimportant clicks or short, high-pitched, stuttered whines that seem nothing more than an odd affectation to other species but is, in fact, an entire second layer to a conversation mostly incomprehensible to anyone but a fellow Trader.

Traders suffer from frailty. They have delicate physiques and their life aboard starships make them prone to disease. To compensate for this, Traders have mastered the arts of cybernetics and robotics. They often sport spidery and baroque cybernetics, and rather than battle their foes directly, they make heavy use of robotic assistance.

Traders usually prefer to be Diplomats or Smugglers, both of which allow them to bring their superior deal-making skills to the fore. Trader society frowns upon Con Artists, but Traders who choose to go this route tend to be very good. Traders make excellent cyberneticists, and such often end up as Scavengers. Finally, Traders don’t generally engage in war, but they do worry about their own safety, and so some Traders become Security Agents.

Most Traders have the Wanderer background; Traders who grow up on Jubilee Station have the Humble Origins background. Those who run Trader arks or guild fleets have titles and are thus Aristocrats.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Psi-Wars Alien Races: the Gaunt

Other names: Ghouls, Stiffs, Tarvathim, the Vat-Born
Homeworld: Tarvagant (the Umbral Rim)
Other worlds: The Gaunt can be found almost everywhere in the Umbral Rim and wherever aliens can be found in the Galactic Core, but tend to be especially common in Moros, Samsara and Grist.

When the Ranathim first faced the great armies of the Eldoth, they despaired, for they would never be able to gather an army great enough to defeat them, until one of their great science-mystics stole the secret of Thanatokinesis from the Eldoth and created the Dead Art. Using her newly crafted synthetic flesh, the Ranathim were able to forge numerous monstrosities to hurl against the armies of the Eldoth and, eventually, triumph.

One of these monstrous warmachines were the Gaunt, or “Tarvathim” in the Lithian language. This race served as the disposable footsoldiers and servants of the Ranathim. The have a pallid, pasty appearance from their unliving “synthetic flesh,” though older gaunts have a leathery appearance as exposure to various suns toughens the upper layer of their synthetic flesh. They have milky eyes, gaping nostril slits, and their lipless faces expose sharp, jagged, black teeth; similarly black claws extend from their hands at feet. The Gaunts are born via a mass-production process called “Flesh Vats,” and inconsistencies in the creation process leaves numerous discolorations, boils and deformities upon the Gaunt, which do little to inhibit their functionality, but make them a most unpleasant race to look upon.

The Gaunt have fantastic strength and durability, being functionally living “machines.” They can shrug off blows that would kill a human, and their synthetic metabolism makes them virtually immune to metabolic hazards like disease, poison, even vacuum. They do not eat food, but instead, must consume more synthetic flesh or, barring that, the flesh of the dead (preferably the flesh of sapients, as their inherent necrokinetic nature responds better to that than to the flesh of animals, but that will do in a pinch). On the other hand, they lack the originality or ingenuity of natural races and they tend to be slightly clumsy or slow. Their synthetic metabolism works badly with most drugs, requiring them to have uniquely crafted serums for their metabolism. While most diseases find it difficult to harm a Gaunt, they can still infect a Gaunt, and many Gaunts act as unintentional carriers for insidious diseases. They may appear humanoid, but they are not: they cannot breed, they’re born from their vats “fully grown” and they die after a few decades: few Gaunts live more than 40 years. Finally, these were designed to be the servile minions of the Ranathim and, as such, are susceptible to psionic powers.

With the fall of the Ranathim Tyranny, most flesh industries collapsed, but the Gaunts did what they could to collect the last few flesh vats and use those to replace their numbers with old, run-down machinery. They’re a surprisingly common race, and their disgusting features can be found frequenting underworld cantinas or lurking in the bowels of some arcology where only the dead lurk. They tend to take on the culture of whatever civilization they live in, though some remember the old Ranathim ways and speak Lithian or practice the Divine masks (especially Navare, Zathare and, of course, the Dead Art).

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