Wednesday, April 14, 2021

More Kronos Musings: Geography

Now that we know something of its history, what does it look like today? I generally don't like "island worlds" though on some level it's unavoidable. Most games can't handle one fully detailed world (Earth) and even your most far ranging fantasy games rarely escape a single continent. Still, we can add a few more details than just "one city." Nonetheless, let's start with one city.

Monday, April 12, 2021

Wiki Highlight: Psionic Gear

 "Did we ever decide what Psi-Tech was available in Psi-Wars?"
"It varies from tradition to tradition, from world to world."
"Yeah, sure, all technology does that.  But, like, what can my psychic character buy for Undercity Noir?"
"I... uh..."

That's a good question.  What Psi-Tech is available? To be sure, there are highly specific items, such as memory crystals or resonance staves, that relate to a single group or culture.  But broadly speaking, what can people get?

So I sat down to think about this, and I came up with the following psychic tech as fundamental to Psi-Wars:

Psychic Testing Gear: Obviously, you need Zener cards and weird EM sensors that go beep and white noise machines that one can attempt to hear voices in, etc.

Psi-Damper Collars: We need a way to capture rogue psis, so we need Psi-Damper collars.  This one combines the neuronic restraint with the electronic collar for a full suite.  There's also a helmet for that cool, cyberpunk psi-look of a rogue psi in a helmet that covers their eyes to prevent them from using their evil eye on you.

Mind Shields: Obviously, people will want to protect themselves from psychic attack.  Rather than a lame helmet, let's go with a mask. I've also added the mini mind shield, because the idea of someone shielding themselves with a token or a jewel is cool.  I've not included Mind Shield Circuitry: it exists in Psi-Wars, but you get it as part of a pre-built helmet, generally.

Sensory Deprivation Chambers: More of an Akashic thing, but anyone can use them, and it's a signature of Psi-Wars that reminds you that the "magic" of Psi-Wars is closer to cold-war psychic powers than it so the space magic of Star Wars.


This is what it's really about, isn't it? So let's give it its own section.  The headband is the go-to default, but I tend to see the headband as more of a crest however; while it didn't make it into the final art of the Maradonian lady, a crest or halo behind her head was in the art notes.

However, I noticed in the Psi-Tech notes that the rules for the amplifiers is that they halve the cost of extra-effort, which is no doubt why our resident psychic was so insistent on knowing if they're available.  Alas, I don't think I can allow this particular rule, because the rules for Psi-Tech never assumed you were going to be using Godlike Extra Effort, and I think that might break the rules. I can, however, add ER to them, integrating psychotronic batteries into the design.

Of course, if we're going to talk about different traditions, why not several different amplifiers? I've created the default "maradonian crown" added a wild, psychic super-collar/harness that's battery powered, a gauntlet drawn from Pyramid #3/69, and a Ranathim crown.  They have slightly different rules for where the ER comes from, but in all cases, it's about 10 points, or enough for 5 techniques or increasing your godlike extra effort up to 5 times.  I'm not sure how well that'll play out, but we'll see.  The prices are a bit high, but they're based on psychotronic batteries costing $10,000, a headband clocking in at $6000 (or a helmet clocking in at $25,000), and then adjustments either for an inferior product, variant ER regeneration rules, and styling, and then capped about about $25,000 because that's one signature gear point.

All of this together should cover our bases and give players a few things to play with.  You can check them out here.

Friday, April 9, 2021

More Kronos Musings: History

 So, quite some time ago, I announced a playtest, a heist; we did a poll, and Kronos won out.  I expect it did so because it's an interesting, alien world set in the midst of an otherwise human dominated part of space, and that's pretty much all we knew about it at the time.  I believe I've made some musings on it before, but let's do another iterative cycle on it, where I simply walk through some basic logic, and what I need to make it an interesting heist location.

I was originally going to post the whole thing at once, but it turned out to be way too big for me to handle, so here it is in the first chunk.

What is Kronos? Why is Kronos?

So, let's start with why Kronos even ended up in the Psi-Wars atlas.  One of the things that irritates me about a lot of space history is the timelessness of it.  Star Wars is the worst, of course, with Coruscant being a big, urban capital world for basically all of galactic history, at least as far back as the Old Republic.  This would be like deciding that Rome was the capital of the world for all time, when it wasn't even the capital of Rome for the entire history of the Roman empire! Things move, they change, and they get left behind.  I wanted to express that, and to acknowledge the slow shift in power from the alien empires that made up the early history of the Psi-Wars galaxy.  Once upon a time, the power of the galaxy lay centered more towards the "eastern" half of the galactic core, around Kronos, between the Umbral Rim of the Ranathim, and the Arkhaian Spiral of the Eldoth.  Then came the Alexian Crusades and the conquest of the galaxy by humanity, and the center of power shifted to the "West" of the galactic core, closer to the Glorian Rim of humanity, and Sovereign.  This makes Kronos "the old capital."

So, in a sense, Kronos has always been a historical world.  It's had a few name changes, from Chronos (time) to Cronus (the titan, the king of the bygone age) to Kronos (an aptly confusing blend of the two), all meant to represent this notion of Kronos as a world deeply embedded in the history of the setting.  Thus, it's most distinguishing feature is that it featured strongly in, and retains features of, previous eras, making it something of a time capsule world.

But I don't want to go too far in that direction.  We often freeze locations in history based on a preferred narrative perspective.  I think Egypt suffers the most from it: when we discuss Egypt, most people immediately think of the pyramids, mummies, great monuments to bygone eras, the nile, palm trees, etc.  But this was _but one moment in time_ and from a very long time ago, once that was trumpeted wildly in the early 20th century, a moment in time that has set a lot of the tone of pop culture. But Egypt has been many, many things since, from a seat of Greek power to the breadbasket of the Roman empire, to one of the most important regions for Christianity to a seat of power of the Muslim world, home to Saladin and the Ismaili sect that later spawned the Hashashin, to the home of the Mamluks, and I could go on and on. I wanted Kronos to feel like that: it was not some world frozen in a single era, but one that had accumulated history, like layers of dust, over the eons, and you could see all of them every day, such as being in Egypt, with the pyramids at your back, a coptic church before you, and hearing the Islamic call to prayer.

Monday, April 5, 2021

Psi-Wars diseases as Afflictions

 So, awhile back, I introduced an alternate disease system, to make diseases more usable in a more "narrative" game where tracking HP day by day is less interesting.  I've been working on psychic powers, particularly Necrokinesis and Psychic Vampirism and they, plus some Communion powers, make sense as a source of disease.  In classic GURPS, each disease would be made as a bespoke thing, but because my version of disease is generic, in the sense that all trivial diseases work more or less the same way, and all major diseases work the same way, and so on, then it should be possible to apply a generic disease as an affliction.

How, then, would we price it?  There are two possible ways.  First, we can determine what a disease would look like in RAW GURPS and work out its cost (on the theory that my system is an abstraction of the RAW), and we can work out what a literal Affliction using my new rules would look like, and decide which direction we'd like to go.

Saturday, April 3, 2021

Side Effect vs Affliction Part II: Should Psi-Wars make Afflictions Cheaper?

 So, my previous article on Side Effect provoked some interesting discussion.  There's nuance that I missed, and people were kind enough not to call it out directly on the blog (though by all means!), but the broader point still stands: you can build Side-Effects into simple Innate Attacks for what often amounts to a cheaper and better Affliction than the Affliction advantage.  Malediction often does the same too: rather than take a bunch of levels of Affliction, you can take Malediction and take a bunch of levels of Talent or the controlling Attribute (Will, I believe) and get the equivalent to more Affliction.

So what? What am I going to do about it?  See, if we're talking the broader context of GURPS, I'm mostly just tossing it in the general direction of the complaints box for if Kromm ever gets around to a 5th edition.  But with Psi-Wars, I've already adjusted costs.  Sure, I mutter about it and complain mightily about the complexity costs of adjusting everything, but I've done it.  So why not do it again?

The arguments for tend to go along these lines: Ultra-Tech weapons deal pretty hefty damage for cheap, which reduces the utility of buying that damage as an advantage, thus the cost should be lowered.  By the same token, Ultra-Tech weapons inflict afflictions for cheap, which reduces the utility of Afflictions, thus their cost should also be lowered. If you can inflict Agony on someone with a cheap neurolash baton, why should Agony still be full price as an affliction?

The counter-arguments tend to go like this: changing afflictions means people have to know the specifics of your new rules (but that's already true for other elements); you'd have to reprice tons of traits in Psionic Powers (but we already to that!); and you lose compatibility with RAW (but at this point, Iteration 6+ Psi-Wars has the same relationship with GURPS that the DFRPG or other "powered by GURPS" works have, which is that they use those rules, but aren't afraid to adjust them).  However, the most compelling argument against that I can think of is that there are weird edge cases where afflictions can do things that ultra-tech cannot, like resurrect people, give them cool powers, take psychic powers away, etc.  What do you do with those weirdly specific edge cases?  For example, Neutralize seems priced around Affliction, as a broadly capable Affliction that removes whatever power the target has.  If I reprice Affliction, should I reprice Neutralize? Where does it end?

I don't really have a good answer there.  But I would like to explore what a fair price for Affliction would be if I followed the logic of repricing it.

Friday, April 2, 2021

Backer Preview -- The Psion Template Draft

The more I’ve messed with Psi-Wars, the more obvious it is to me that psionics is different from the Force. The Force is closer to magic: A jedi doesn’t use his power, he calls upon the force to perform a task for him. In principle, this means any force user can perform any feat, and we see this often in the films, where a Jedi with no dark-side training will wield the powers of the dark side powered only by their rage. This suggests that “unique” powers should not be possible. We do see unique powers, but they’re never adequately explained, sometimes described as “rare gifts.”

Psi-Wars uses a different approach: people have their psychic power, and this grants access to Communion, which means they have the room for a quirky, unique power as a gateway to the more universal power. While most psionic abilities are fairly similar (TK-Grab is TK-Grab) there should still be room for weird and unique powers (“I kill people in their dreams!”). The more we go down this route, the more the Psis of Psi-Wars look less like Jedi and more like the characters from Push, or the X-men.

This template is an attempt to embrace that character aesthetic. It isn’t the Mystic template: while you can make a fortune teller or a healer with this, the idea is more of a strictly sci-fi feeling psychic character, typically a kid whose strange powers have erupted, or a powerful psychic on the run from the conspiracy, etc. There is some crossover with other psychic templates: some of the innovations with Secrets, Enemies and Licenses should be ported over to Space Knights, and this should be balanced and contrasted with Mystics, and I’m not sure where edge cases, such as Zathare sorcerers should go. However, this is a good start, and we can start exploring the idea now, and solidify it more fully later.

This is a Backer Post for Fellow Travelers ($3+)

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Is Side Effect just Better than Affliction?

As I am wont to do, I've been tinkering with some psychic powers behind the scenes, pondering how best to use them. In particular, I've been thinking about Christopher Rice's Reaving Hand and Mental Stun.  Both of these are handled as Afflictions, but afflictions create an all-or-nothing effect.  Either you succeed and your opponent is stunned, or you don't, and they're not.  Swapping it to an innate attack with a Side Effect creates more of a grey area, where your attack will have some impact, even if it doesn't afflict your target outright.  I did this with the neurolash effect: it now deals about 1d fatigue and has Stun or Pain as a side effect, because this better reflects what we often see in cinematic fights against a neurolash weapon, where the hero heroically resists the effects of a pain whip or a stun baton, but is clearly being weakened by it until at last he succumbs.  With the default Affliction attack, he's fine, fine, fine, fine until he's not. Why not treat powers like that?

But if you do, you run into an unfortunate truth.  Is Side Effect better than Affliction?

A Fatigue Attack that deals 1d damage with a Stunning side effect is 15 points.  An Affliction that stuns the target is 10 points.  If the Fatigue Attack lands, it'll deal an average of 3 fatigue damage and the target will have to roll HT-1 (on average) to resist being stunned.  The Affliction, by contrast, deals no damage, and is a straight HT roll.  The Innate Attack can potentially benefit from Extra Effort in Combat (depending on how you choose to handle that) for +2 damage, and if they're psychic powers, you can use actual Extra Effort for, say, +1 level, which improves the fatigue attack to 2d (average 7 damage and -3 to the HT roll) and the Affliction is improved to HT-1.  If the attacks can be stopped by DR, then it takes 2 DR per +1 to HT for the Innate Attack, but you have the possibility of stopping it outright (2 DR on average will drop the fatigue attack to 1 damage and HT+0 to resist, while 3 DR will on average prevent the side effect completely, no roll at all), while with an Affliction, and this is a little less clear to me, doesn't have that absolute limitation: 2 DR would change it to HT+2 to resist, 3 DR to HT+3, and DR 50 would change it to a relatively meaningless HT+50, though technically you can still screw that up on a critical failure, but I suspect at some point we have to say that it practically goes away, I just don't know where that point is.  So far that's not so bad.  Sure, the Side Effect version is better, but it's more expensive. If you tried to do something foolish like go to Affliction level 2 to match the HT-1, it's 15 vs 20 points, and then the innate attack is obviously better, but I think everyone acknowledges that Affliction should be cheaper when it comes to subsequent levels.  Going with Kromm's proposed 3/additional level reduces it to 15 vs 13, which is fairer.

But then we get into wonky stuff if we push it further. Imagine I make a lethal toxic "ghost" attack that ignores DR.  It deals 1 damage, ignores DR (+300%) and has a Heart Attack as a Side Effect (+350%).  This clocks in at a whopping 8 points. I'm not kidding, that's the price.  1 point of toxic damage that ignores DR, and since it inflicts at least 1 point of damage, the target has to roll HT to resist the side effect (ie Death) at +0. Even if he succeeds, he's still taken 1 point of damage.  By contrast, the same effect for Affliction would clock in at 75 points.  That's an insane difference! In this second case, the target has a straight HT+0 roll to resist, and if they succeed, there's no additional impact.

"Well, that's just point crock, Mailanka, don't do that" 

I actually ran into this problem in a different context.  I wanted to give a lizard man based on the komodo dragon a dangerous, gangrenous bite. It was mostly a flavor thing, so I wanted it to be cheap, so I gave it to him as an Follow-Up Moderate Pain Affliction on its teeth.  This clocked in at 12 points, which is hardly what I think of as "cheap." By contrast, a 1d toxic follow up attack with a moderate side-effect clocked in 7 points, and I could further reduce the toxic damage: 1 point actually makes a lot of sense here, or 1d-2 or something, because the toxic effect is more of a bonus atop the bite, rather than the main star.  This is a totally reasonable thing to want to do.  Why is the Affliction version so expensive?

"It's not Affliction that's broken, it's Side Effect." 

Okay.  Let's imagine a malediction that instantly kills its target if they fail an HT roll.  For the Affliction version, that's Malediction + Heart Attack, which clocks in at about 50 points. A 6d toxic malediction clocks in at 48 points, which is two points cheaper and generally does the same thing: on average it'll inflict 20 damage that will bypass the target's DR, and they'll have to roll HT or die. The innate attack actually requires two rolls: one to resist the malediction and the other to not die, and it's possible it won't deal enough damage (though it's also possible it'll deal so much damage that the target will have to roll twice not to die), while the Affliction will kill you if you fail a single HT roll.  But if you do pass the roll for the Affliction, you're fine.  Say your target has 14 HT, they'll pass almost every time, and you'll need to hit them over and over, and after each failure, nothing bad happens to you. By contrast, the toxic attack will likely drive the surviving target into unconsciousness, and it'll certainly slow them down and likely stun them.  And if you hit them again and again, death is assured unless they have expensive advantages like regeneration and/or sufficient gobs of HP that they can shrug this attack off longer than they could repeated HT rolls.

Affliction usually represents shock to someone's biological systems: a stunning blast of air, an injection of soporific venom, a surge of pain-inducing lightning, etc.  But innate attacks cause these same effects.  Hit someone with enough fatigue damage, and they'll fall asleep too.  Hit them with burning damage, and it'll hurt.  Concuss them with a blast of air for at least half their HP, and they're stunned. This is the default of the damage system and you don't even need side effects to do it! Afflictions do have the benefit of being non lethal. Maybe you don't want your target to be harmed by the attack.  If you're casting a sleep spell, they should just fall asleep, not take damage until forced to sleep, and those who resist it are pretty much unaffected.  But you're paying a pretty high premium for this non-lethality, which discourages you from using it.  Is that what you actually want?

(And let's not dive too deeply into the Side Effect No Wounding rabbit hole.  If you do that, you'll realize you can entirely replace Afflictions at a fraction of the cost)

This is exacerbated in Psi-Wars because Psi-Wars reduces the cost of Innate Attacks to keep them competitive with ultra-tech weapons.  I've toyed with doing the same with Affliction, as the logic of the reduction is to make it cheaper to buy Armor Divisor and thus bypass ultra-tech armor more easily and remain competitive.  But then we run into the other problem with affliction: it's overloaded.  GURPS decided "wouldn't it be cool if" they bundled all of the traits that let one character affect another character into a single advantage.  This means granting someone an advantage is priced and handled the same way as harming them with an affliction.  While technically you could make "Grant Extra Life Advantage" a Side Effect, it's kind of weird to have a power that inflicts toxic damage to resurrect them; not impossible, but it would leave some people scratching their head and wondering what the heck just happened.  But using Afflictions to grant advantages is messy anyway.  In computer programming, I'd say "Look, I get what you're doing, but make that its own function.  It should have a single responsibility."  If we had a Bestow advantage that was priced at a base of 10 points, with +1 point per point of the advantage, then it would be fine. None of this weird "Technically you can roll to resist but you don't have to because this is an odd edge case" as it would be its own advantage.  Then you could reprice Affliction however you wanted (in the very least, the 10 + 3 per additional level, but I suspect you could drop the price further).

I don't know if I'd necessarily change anything for Psi-Wars here, because I actually prefer Side Effects to Afflictions in most cases, and that means Affliction effectively becomes this "Bestow" trait.  But it is one of those things that makes me grit my teeth sometimes.

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