Monday, December 6, 2021

GURPS Action: How Balanced are BAD Guys?

 At the GM’s option, henchmen without character sheets have an effective skill of 10 + absolute value of BAD: 11 at -1, 12 at -2, and so on. As with all BAD things, this is abstract. Actual skill, equipment quality, extra time, and anything else that might matter is all rolled into one handy number. -- GURPS Action 2, page 5

Last time, I looked at BAD.  I meant to look at Mooks too, as that's the real point of this exercise for me, but I took so much wordcount just looking at BAD itself. With that out of the way, let's look at Mooks themselves.

I will note, as I noted last time, that Mooks in Action, don't actually have (Absolute BAD)+10 skill; per page 45-46 of Action 2, they have skill 10-15, which might be completely unrelated to the BAD.  Skill seems to be all that matters: they have a static Dodge of 8, Parry of 8, and ST of 10.  The game largely takes damage out of the equation, and that makes sense: with guns available, characters who get hit tend to get removed from the fight pretty quickly, so we'll largely dispense with weapon other than to note melee vs ranged and focus on chances to hit.  

We'll focus almost entirely on combat capabilities (Action even suggests not using BAD for combat), as that's the point of balance I'm most interested in.  When it comes to things like "I try to Fast-Talk the guards" I'm fine with just applying a BAD penalty.

GURPS Action: How Balanced is BAD?

As an alternative to detailed modifiers, the GM can set a sin- gle difficulty – the Basic Abstract Difficulty (BAD) – that covers all aspects of a particular phase of the adventure. This is simply a penalty from 0 to -10 that replaces detailed situational modifiers. The only other modifiers that apply are those that the PCs bring into the picture: bonuses for equipment, penal- ties for disadvantages, etc. -- GURPS Action 2, page 4

At the GM’s option, henchmen without character sheets have an effective skill of 10 + absolute value of BAD: 11 at -1, 12 at -2, and so on. As with all BAD things, this is abstract. Actual skill, equipment quality, extra time, and anything else that might matter is all rolled into one handy number. -- GURPS Action 2, page 5
I have long taken these words as gospel and applied them to Psi-Wars verbatim.  Should I?  That might seem like an odd question, because the value of BAD, it's simplicity, seems obvious on its face.  You have a single difficulty and you apply to (almost) everything.  What's wrong with it?

Well, nothing specific, but I often find that what I think of as a reasonable bad per what GURPS Action tells me, the PCs will absolutely blow through.  That's not necessarily a problem.  Sometimes, the heroes really do blast past the issues they face like they're nothing. Action heroes are, after all, larger than life.  Even so, knowing you'll pass every check makes the game somewhat tedious and drains all the fun out of a scenario, especially if it happens unintentionally.  Sometimes I find it useful to meditate on these values and what they mean.

This goes double for mooks.  Should we just give mooks absolute BAD +10 for their stats? I will note that if you go to the back of Action 2 and look at the actual stats for Mooks, they don't explicitly follow this. What's a good, base value for a mook? And what sort of challenge levels are we looking for.

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Wiki Highlight: Aliens!

My, I posted a lot less in December than I thought!  Most of my attention has been on the wiki, and I wanted to finish up the basic alien templates, so people have at least something to work with.  There are more aliens! But this gives a pretty good overview of the aliens of Psi-Wars.  I've added:

I've added:

  • The Karkadann, the mutant technologists from the Zero-Template Challenge
  • The Vithanni, the blacklit, aura-clad slaved from the Zero-Template Challenge
  • The Nehudi, the primal, nature-bound natives of the Sylvan Spiral
  • The Sathran, the cannibalistic snake-people from Iteration 5, updated to be more like the Kaa and the Serpent-Lords.
  • The Keverlings, adorable-but-dumb beetle workers of the Umbral Rim, and result of a backer poll.
I've also updated:
  • The Gaunt, to be a little more forgiving on modifiers
  • Slavers, with lots of additional information
You can always find all the details of the aliens of Psi-Wars on a dedicated page here.

Backers can see more of what I've worked on in the backend (Patreon, Subscribestar). 

I don't expect to get more done in December, as it's the holidays and I'll likely be busy, but we'll see where life takes us!

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Generic Space Opera Bestiary: Space Whale

 

You thought I was done! But no, I had a few more I wanted to do. I’ve just been distracted by yet more aliens, and these take longer to write than I expected (most of it in the variations).

One I’ve wanted to do for a long time is the majestic whale. Of course, when we think of whale, we’re probably thinking the shape of the humpback whale, the size of the blue whale, and the ferocity of the sperm whale, but I’m leaning mostly towards the blue whale and other baleen whales. These gentle giants of the deep spark our imagination with their fantastic size and their eerie song. So much so that I think they’re the only sea creatures Paizard has tackled thus far! So I wanted to also take my shot at looking at some generic space whales for Keleni to commune with or for Westerly sailors to hunt.

Friday, November 12, 2021

The Guns of Psi-Wars



I'm pretty sure I've banged on about this before, but I've made an effort to include more alien races in Psi-Wars (there will be a post on that soon) and I've been exploring the alternate tech of alien groups like the Ranathim Tyranny and the Mug Atheocracy, which has emphasized the need to explore guns, and my own research has begun to finally bear some fruit.  As a result I've found myself confronted with the core issues with the Guns of Psi-Wars. I'm sure I've discussed this before, but there's new material before, so I apologize if this comes across as repetitive.

So, let's start with does Psi-Wars need guns? I think it does, and it needs them in the same way that settings it draws inspiration from all have guns too, despite having access to other, better weapon.  Star Wars has projectile rifles despite having blasters; 40k has slug throwers despite having micromissile "bolt" guns; Dune has Maula pistols despite having lasguns. These weapons tend to be either niche weapons meant to get around a particular problem, or they're primitive weapons used by factions that lack access to better weapons.  I particularly want to explore the latter, because the world of clean blasters and elegant, carbide armor is the Valorian Empire and the Galactic Alliance, not the world of post-apocalyptic techno-savages or primitive aliens.  Guns also allow us to deliver warheads down range.  Psi-Wars definitely has guns in a strictly literal sense in the form of grenade launchers, and weapons that fire poison darts certainly fits some factions well.

So, if we have a need for guns, how do we design them, and how do we make them fit? These two questions have plagued me, but I think I finally have some answers.

Friday, November 5, 2021

On the Importance of Factions

 


I've recently dropped a poll for the first of the Westerly Clan (and it might be a mistake, as I seem to have triggered analysis paralysis among my backers, but if you're a backer, go check it out. In the very least, it should offer a lot of ideas for the design of a clan or faction!), and as I worked on this, I found myself reflecting on the importance of factions.

I noticed it in a different context too. I have a problem with Warhammer 40k at the moment. In part, it's because I don't agree with some of the direction Games Workshop has been taking lately, but a lot of it is a drive to explore lesser known works, both to cultivate variety and to support the efforts of less famous creators.  But I've noticed that I keep being drawn back into the gravity of 40k.  I keep thinking of armies I'd like to try, or concepts I'd like to explore.  In particular, I've thought about building a Xenos army from one of the less well-known races (Rak'Gols or Khrave and man, that second name is great) because I think it would be fun to let someone's Space Marine army beat up on one of these groups out of legend and lore.  I noticed that I was trying to fall back into 40k, and reoriented towards one of my newer games: Rogue Stars.  Rogue Stars is a generic minis wargame that will let you design anything, so of course I could design an alien army of any type I wanted. But who cares? It lacks that particular context that gives it its verge and zing.  I would have to create and invent that context and get the other player invested in it before they would enjoy it.

Saturday, October 30, 2021

A Zero-Template Retrospective

 And that's it for my Zero-Template Challenge.  I hope you liked it, but judging from the comments and the responses on my discord, you did.

Let's touch on the specific races.

Karkadann

They seem good, a nice addition, and people were impressed by how much you could do with just a few features.  I think they highlight the core benefit of this challenge: it forces you to think about what makes your race different rather than pre-spending points somewhere (a DX +2 race with Combat Reflexes is probably much less interesting to a player than the Karkadann).  Someone also expressed surprise at the amount of lore; that's a lot easier to do when you have a lot of lore to draw on (world-building tends to snowball after awhile).

So they're in.  I'll work out some additional details.  I don't think they'll remain as a zero-template race, but most of the changes will be to either exaggerate particular elements or to give them a little more obvious physiology.

Vithani

Uh, these were passionately received.  It resulted in a lot of very heated commentary, not against them, not against one another, just the sort of commentary I often see when passions run high.  People really liked this race a lot.  It got comments, it got people planning characters, it got deep discussions about their proper place in the universe, what symbolism they needed to be a part of, etc.

They're definitely going in, and like the Karkadann, they'll get some adjustment... though less than I initially thought!  I will probably price things more fairly (Low Pressure Lungs should give points back, given how rarely it will benefit them, unless they also get some sort of extremely short-term vacuum support, which they might get, I don't know).  I'm rather inclined to at least keep Night-Adapted Vision; I might keep Ultravision too; people weren't too bothered by it, but I feel like it's the sort of thing a GM or PC would forget.  There might be some ways to tone it down, though.

Aura is popular, so we'll keep it.  I may reword their destiny, and give them back Dreamer.

I think the big lesson of the Vithani, other than sexy aliens with good art are popular, is that you can probably get a lot more mileage out of Power-Ups 9 than you think.  If the attributes are reworked for one specific race, it can create a very different sort of experience for that race.  I don't think I'd use it that much in Psi-Wars unless it's for a race that has a very different mode of existence, but it would be fascinating to approach a truly alien species in a more "hard sci-fi" game, especially a race that, say, has a very different form of intelligence. If you're looking for crazy inspiration for how to make a race play in a different way, consider looking though PU9.

The Herne

They got a more positive response than I thought, with a lot of discussion around the feasibility of the seasonal traits. Based on that discussion, I don't think I'll bring the Herne into the game.

First, a sapient race on Arcadius is already iffy.  I want that world to be a bit fey-touched, so people tell stories and they may experience things, but there's little actual concrete evidence of a race, and it might be something like sapient psychic deer or something causing all the commotion. Introducing the Herne would break that.  That's not necessarily a problem, we can discard this idea of a strange world and just replace it with a strange race (and anyway, the Labyrinth is already rather like this), but when you combine it with the second, it becomes clear this is more trouble than it's worth.

The bigger problem is obviously the seasonality.  But why? It's parasitic design, and my choices for fixing it generally amount to removing it, which suggests its a bad idea.  Let me explain.

Someone pointed out that one reason you'd want to play this race is to have a shifting toolbox, which I definitely agree with and was one of the comments that made me go "Aha!"  You want, as a Herne player, to be forced between multiple different modes; like if you have a social or combat mode, and you're in social mode and partaking in a heist, then you want to try to talk your way through. If you suddenly find yourself in combat mode, you'll shift to fighting instead.  An external force controls how you interact, and this is interesting.  But it can be troublesome, and so you might want to have some measure of control, but if you can control it, it ceases to function like a shifting toolbox: if you're in social mode but would rather fight, you just change back to combat mode and fight.  Then the interesting element is removed as just a small, weird speed bump to doing what you want.  If you want to have some player agency in their mode, some ability to influence it, but you don't want them to just flip between two modes, you might give them a variety of modes and let them shift between one or two, but most of their modes are locked out a time.  That gives them the flexibility to shift a little without losing the strange, mercurial nature of the character.

But it gets a lot more complex. The player needs to know a bunch of rules, the GM needs to know a bunch of rules, I need to write a bunch of rules, and what benefit is all of this complexity? The player is constantly bugging the GM to tell him about a season on a remote world and then sighing and telling the players that he cannot do the thing because it's the wrong season.  The rest of the players have no connection to this, and the only reason the GM knows this at all is because ONE SINGLE PLAYER decided to play as the Herne.  I do believe this is that the kids these days call Parasitic Design. So the solution is either to remove it as irrelevant or make it relevant to everyone.

One of my rules at work is "if it hurts, do it more." I think this applies, in a sense, to gameplay.  If it matters at all, then everyone should have an opportunity to interface with it. It should affect everyone's gameplay. It might not affect them directly, and it might not be something they even know about, but they should be able to capitalize on knowledge of it, if they want, without a major investment.  A good example of this is the Deep Engine: it's a secret that only certain sorcerers can directly access.  That said, even if you're not a sorcerer who is in the know, it's also a great source of bad guys, monsters, dungeons, etc.  You can run across Deep Engine Sites, for example, so its existence and knowledge is useful to the GM for more than just that once sorcerer.

So what if the Herne were influenced not by the season of Arcadius, but by the galactic season? In the Great Book of Destiny, I refer to these as Hours, and they would tie into Fortune-Telling, what sort of Destinies people could get, and might be something that other people could hang sorceries or other powers on. The Herne, then, would be tied to something that's useful for the GM to know for reasons other than just the Herne.  

Of course, this also sounds more like something the Vithani should be associated with than a race on Arcadius, and I wanted the third "Master" race of the Umbral Rim to have something akin to this, as this is a great thing to hang an "occulted system" on, if certain modifiers or available spells change based on a mysterious arrangement of stars or other things and you have to learn to read those and see how they interact with other elements of the game.  This third "Master" race was also set at the fringe of the Umbral Rim, which is where the Vithani are, and so we start to see some connections.  I'm not saying the Vithani are the third master race, but they might come from the same region, and a picture starts to emerge of a particular region of the Umbral Rim and its history and relationship with the early Ranathim Tyranny. 

Such a system becomes something integrated into the rest of the game, and greater complexity is much less of a problem, because knowing that complexity is rewarding to more than just the Herne player. But it also ceases to be something I'd associate with the Herne and Arcadius.  We could change it instead to be something more a reaction to the ambient temperature of the world, which starts to borrow on ideas form World-Walking, which is your available options depend on the nature of the world you're on, which is interesting for a world-hopping campaign, but then again the Herne lose their unusual connection to an unusual world.

So either way I see it, while this mechanic might be perfectly fine, I feel like the Herne are the wrong place to put it.  So we'll park it, park the race and see if we can cannibalize the ideas for a different race or set of systems.

The Rejects

The Blue-Skinned Arctic Monkeys saw some positive responses.  Infravision, blue skin and being naturally accustomed to colder weather is interesting enough to make someone stand out.  They're not especially interesting to play, but they're also not just a reorientation of points.  Humans aren't especially interesting to play, and this race is about that interesting. I'll think about this one. Psi-Wars doesn't have a lot of arctic content, but we can also borrow ideas from here for a "hot-blooded" race too.

The Gasping Maga-Pillars had more interest than I expected, but mostly discussions of alternate forms. I think there are some interesting ideas here, but few of them have anything to do with the actual design here and more the ideas they inspire. The Sylvan Spiral Needs Races Badly, but this one isn't it.

The Deep-Song Triton-Men got a laugh.  This one felt more like vented frustration with the challenge than a genuinely interesting race.

The Void-Dancers got more interest than I expected.  I think we can afford to have a vacuum-native race somewhere, but it feels more like a background element unless they have means by which they can interact with the rest of the part in a more face-to-face manner without always being in armor.

That said, always being in armor is actually an interesting racial concept. The Arkhaians sort of do this already, but there's room for more, something like the Breen, the Vorlon or one of the earlier conceptions of the Mandalorians.  As I commented before, I'm trying hard to get people out of their armor, but a race that is always in its armor is distinct, depending on what the armor is like.  It's not something I really touched on much, but a race native to a very different gas mixture might have something like that. I still wouldn't call it a feature, though, but a disadvantage.

The Challenge

I had fun.  It generated a lot of discussion and seemed to inspire a lot.  It also told me there's a lot of hunger for minor races, regardless of their point cost.  A proposed variation on the challenge is a race worth no more than +/- 5 points, with no more than an absolute value of 10 points in traits, advantages, disadvantages etc.  I will note that I often found features to be more sweeping than perks or 5 point traits so you'll still find it a fairly limiting challenge.

It did get me thinking about how much of my racial templates are largely cosmetic features, things like "Horns and fangs and teeth and tails." I wonder if it would be worth a sidebar discussion about removing those traits, or ignoring them, for greater simplicity. It's a rather fine-grained accounting to worry about minor levels of night vision of +1 crushing damage from a headbutt, even though these are certainly advantages.
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