Monday, December 30, 2019

Playtest: The Tall Tales of the Orochi Belt

I've wanted to explore the Action Vehicular combat rules for awhile, and there's no better way to do that than to use the actual rules that we've built up and run a game with them.  Furthermore, actually running a game helps me focus on what I actually need, and what actually matters.  A great deal of material comes from run games.  Finally, I've not put enough time into running games of late, as my family and work have been eating into what time I have, but with luck, I'll manage to schedule enough time to do this.

The Tall Tales of the Orochi Belt will be a (roughly) episodic mini-campaign.  I have three to five arcs planned, all episodic.  They follow in an obvious sequence, more or less, but it should be relatively easy to have players drop in and out as necessary.  The premise will be the liberation of a star system, the Orochi Belt, that features no planets to speak of, and thus all "space" action, ideal for testing out space combat rules.

The first session will be January 4th, and we already have 5 players.  As I get more details (such as who the characters are, other than one Kainian Space Knight and one Asrathi Witch-Cat Pirate), I'll tell more.  In the meantime, enjoy this introductory snippet:

Monday, December 16, 2019

Wiki Showcase: Redjack Robots

The final part of my military doctrine is, of course, robots, as I've previously discussed.  I had three major military-industrial "sets," and this completes the set with Redjack robots. As with ARC, I wanted to focus on "military" robots and these robots tend to stretch that definition a little, as they represent robots that assist in war more than directly fighting (with the exception of the Dredgecat, which is supposed to help at non-combat stuff, but ends up helping a lot in combat).

Redjack seeks to support asteroid miners, belters, colonists and aggressive entrepreneurship (but never space piracy!), as such, their doctrine focuses a lot on self-sufficiency and independence.  Most of their weapons double as tools, most of their vehicles can be customized and optimized for whatever specific task the owner wants, and their robots fit similar roles. Redjack robots learn to take care of themselves so you don't have to.  The downside is that they're (mostly) a bunch of surly cusses, with a few having darling hearts of gold.

You can see Redjack Robots here.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Wiki Showcase: ARC Robots Part 2

I'm on vacation, so you'll have to forgive me for missing my posting schedule.  With the announcement of a coming playtest, I've been busy putting all sorts of things on my wiki, so sometimes I forget to pop onto the blog and give you an update.

I have three ARC robots available to you on the wiki.  I discussed some of the the theory previously, but some commonalities:

  • All ARC robots are attractive in some capacity. These robots are as much fashion accessories as tools, so naturally a noble would want them to look good.
  • All ARC robots can talk.  Similar to their being attractive, ARC robots need to interface with people more than they need to interface with other machines.
  • All ARC robots are humanoid.  Similar to the above issues, ARC robots need to relate to humans, so they need humans to relate to them.  Thus, even when they look odd, they have an identifiable humanoid quality to them.  That said, they're always sculpted and one would never mistake an ARC robot for a human.

Monday, December 9, 2019

WIki Showcase: ARC Robots

Last week I discussed robots in general.  Today, I have two new Wiki posts available for you.  One discusses robots in general (which I probably should have launched last week) and one detailing ARC robots.

I wanted to showcase both because just discussing robots would probably repeat a lot of last week's material. Instead, I wanted to discuss the "rubber-meets-the-road" reality of how I put last week's ideas into practice, and use ARC as an example.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Wiki Showcase: the Fighter Ace

If you're a Disciple or better on Patreon, you already know that I've announced the coming playtest for the Action Vehicular Rules: Tall Tales of the Orochi Belt. I'll detail more as we come closer to the first session. Naturally, to run this playtest, I need to work out the sorts of characters that would use all these fighters we've been builing, and that means working out the Fighter Ace and putting it on the Wiki.

This was actually the first of the new templates I revised for Iteration 7. I started working on it after I finished the Action Vehicular Rules, because it changed a lot of how they functioned, and I wanted to capture that.  That said, it's probably changed the least of the new templates; mostly, I just migrated the advantage/disadvantage choices based on who they worked for to lenses, and updated their techniques to use the new techniques.  I've removed the "Maverick, Wingman, Bomber" distinctions of their techniques as I expect everyone to be adult enough to understand what to do with that, and I've discussed that in their customization notes (this could be expanded, though).  I've integrated their "Power-ups" into the template rather than leave them as distinct, "Fighter Ace only" upgrades (this means they lose their "fighter gizmos," but we can bring that back if people really miss them).  I do intend to create a "cross-class" fighter ace specialization, so people who want to play as space knights who can also fly fighters can do so.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Psi-Wars: Let's Talk Robots

When I set out to do the military doctrine project, I knew I would need to break it down into the following pieces:

  • Weapons
  • Armor
  • Ground Vehicles
  • Space Vehicles
  • Robots
Realistically, I'd also add the resources and machinery that make it all possible.  A factory and the supply line is as much a part of a military doctrine as a rifle or a tank is, and those with superior factories and supply lines win wars just as well as those with superior tanks and rifles.  But given that players don't interact much with these, I figured we could push them into the background a bit (in a sense, the "corporations" providing all of these stand in for the factories and supply lines).

We've completed everything but robots, which represent a unique element to our doctrines.  Robots are fairly new, militarily speaking, though I can say with confidence that we do use robots militarily right now (there's a 21st century sentence if I ever read one), and a lot of time and research goes into perfecting those robots.  We see them more obviously in Star Wars, which has a rather unique take on robots, if I'm honest, as it integrates them directly into the military infrastructure: an R2-unit is a military robot, meant to interface with a fighter (fighters even have socked specifically designed for R2 units). It doesn't fight directly, but it definitely aides in military operations.

I wanted to mimic that in Psi-Wars.  Robots assist people in Psi-Wars like mobile, intelligent tools.  I built the ARC fighters and the Redjack fighters with the assumption of robotic assistance.  Similarly, many ARC vehicles come with med-bays, which suggests a need for a medical robot.  Thus, we can see robots as part of an integrated whole: an ARC-equipped space knight, as one example, is surrounded by tools that assist him in battle, from his force sword to his diamondoid armor to his medivac vehicle that tends to his wounds or his speeder bike that rushes him to the enemy to his fighter or his carrier that brings him to the right system, to his robot that maintains his fighter or assists him in donning his complex armor.

So I wanted to take some time to stop and revisit robots.  I've talked about them already back in Iteration three and looking back on that material, it's pretty good.  Sometimes I look at old material and cringe, but sometimes I look back and go "Oh, I need to remember that" or "Oh, that's actually pretty useful."  This was the same here, so I found myself reusing a lot of material.  Over the next few weeks, I'll touch on some of those topics and expand them.  Today, I'm going to talk about some polling I've done of the community, why I took the route that I did with my design and what some other routes might be, and how I broadly see robots fitting into the integrated Psi-Wars setting.

I wanted to immortalize these words

Every one of these (Star Wars) movies is a particularly hard nut to crack. There’s no source material. We don’t have (Star Wars) comic books. We don’t have 800-page (Star Wars) novels. We don’t have anything other than passionate storytellers who get together and talk about what the next iteration might be.” --Kathleen Kennedy

Monday, November 25, 2019

Should I lower the cost of ST in Psi-Wars?

I don't check Warehouse 23 every week like I used to, but I really should.  The stated reason for killing my beloved Pyramid was that the SJGames team could focus more attention on creating supplements and this has proven true.  I think I'm seeing a supplement a month again, sometimes more.  And not just Dungeon Fantasy stuff as I feared (I don't mind Dungeon Fantasy, I just don't want GURPS to fall away and have DFRPG replace it), but instead, we get all sorts of fun things.

This month, we got Alternate Attributes, which proved a meatier tome than I expected.  Without going into a full review (I just got it and I've only paged through it), the core of it is meditating on the costs of attributes, what they connect with, and how to re-arrange everything.  And I do mean everything.  They break the skills out by broad categories, they offer ideas on how to turn GURPS into a WoD knock-off with three sets of three traits (plus HP equivalents for each), they offer suggestions for raising, and lowering, the costs of all the attributes and various sub-elements.

What caught my eye is that this book finally acknowledges that ST isn't worth as much at higher TLs, which is a point I myself continue to struggle with as I do a lot of sci-fi gaming and often interact with high TLs.  Given that we have full "canon" support to do this now, I pose a question to you, dear reader and fellow fan of Psi-Wars: should we lower the cost of ST in Psi-Wars?

Friday, November 22, 2019

Patreon Poll: Trader Tech 2

Continuing from the poll earlier this week, I have a new set of polls for Trader Tech.  These cover the elements of their military technology that lie outside of the individual.  This includes:

This poll is open to all Patreons of the Companion ($5+) tier.  As usual, please leave a comment as to how you see their doctrine working or what nuance you'd like to add.  I definitely take comments into account.

I know I've not yet released the more detailed robot rules, but hopefully you'll have a sense of what you can do with robots and how they might serve the Traders militarily.  You guys seem very interested in giving the Traders robots, so I hope that particular poll will be useful to you even without worked examples of robots from other cultures.

The Path of the Void

The Path of the Void is the second of the new paths I created.  It focuses on the infinite and the mathematics of higher dimensions and the incomprehensibility of both.  It is also a "space"-focused path, appropriate for a space opera setting like Psi-Wars.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Wiki Showcase: The Path of the Other

The Path of the Other was the last path written for Broken Communion, and the last Path written of the original nine.

Like Death, it changed a great deal over time, as it is the "path of the space monster."  It has several new miracles focused on summoning or controlling space monsters, or interacting with them.  I've also needed to clarify a few things, such as what counts as "the Other."  Previously, this was up to the GM, but if you're using my setting, then obviously we can have some worked examples.  I've also broadened a discussion of the Greater Avatar of the Other: it allows you to shapeshift very rapidly to gain new traits or characteristics, so now I've written a sidebar full of ideas to allow you to rapidly come up with ideas and/or capabilities on the fly if necessary.  If you need more suggestions, check out Mutants in GURPS: After the End 1.

I wrote the Shape of Corruption article to facilitate all forms of Corruption, but especially the Path of the Other.  Obviously characters who become so twisted by Broken Communion so as not to be human would have some connection to the Path of the Other.  Check it out for ideas, but especially for the Gnarlspawn.

You can see the revised path here.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Wiki Showcase: the Path of Madness

The Path of Madness was the second path I wrote for Broken Communion, and the second Path I created for all forms of Communion.  I needed to contrast "Broken Communion as Psychosis" from "Broken Communion as a drive for self-destruction," and so the paths were born.

The Path of Madness changed the least of the Broken Communion Paths. While the rest saw quite some changes to accommodate new elements and concepts, it was pretty set in stone.  I did have an idea of messing with Duplication with the Path of the Nameless Hero, but then I decided that having a twin where you couldn't tell if you were the duplicate or they were was the sort of existential crisis that only the Path of Madness would have, and I added it to the Path.

You can see the revised version here.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Wiki Showcase: the Path of Death

The first path I wrote for Broken Communion and the first Path I conceived of was the Path of Death.  Ultimately, you can credit the Path of Death and the Path of Madness for helping initiate the idea of Paths in the first place, as I realized that Broken Communion could be conceived of as either "Death" Communion, pursuing self-destruction, or "Madness" Communion, in that it represented a broken mind.  Creating a lens through which to see Broken Communion necessitated some form of specialization and thus Paths were born.

The Broken Communion paths changed the most over the course of revising the Paths.  The Path of Death integrated with the idea of "Ghosts of Communion," which became increasingly necessary over time as the idea of "haunted" broken communion spaces became more concrete.  Obviously, if there were "ghosts" in regions of twisted psionic energy, then "death" could command them or interact with them.  As such, it gained a whole mess of new miracles, and that made me ponder new miracles for other Paths.

The Path of Death is the source of at least two Broken Communion cults: the Asrathi death cult and Domen Khemet, the Ranathim Death Cult.  Naturally, a single path can spawn multiple cults (and a cult could potentially span multiple paths).

You can see the revised version of the Path of Death here.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Wiki Showcase: Broken Communion

The last form of Communion to cover is Broken Communion, or "Psychosis Communion," the communion that arises from shared insanity and the attempts by the human mind to comprehend the incomprehensible.

Broken Communion is, perhaps, the most complex of the forms of Communion.  Where True Communion embraces community and selflessness and Dark Communion embraces chaos and selfishness, Broken Communion embodies self-destructiveness, weirdness and mounting horror. It represents psychic powers as unnatural force, a peeling back the skin of the world to show the monsters within.  As such, it festers and writhes in its own self-horror.  Those who use Broken Communion become changed by it, but also change the world; they cannot control what they become, they cannot control what they spawn, and Broken Communion itself controls nothing.  Things happen, sometimes for a reason, sometimes in ways that defy logic.

Broken Communion is a great "go-to" for forbidden powers, power that "costs your soul," or as a rich mine for horrors.  Be sure to check out the additional articles detailing Psychic Diseases, Corruption Metatraits, and the Ghosts of Broken Communion.  You can check it all out here.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Patreon Poll: Trader Tech

Back in the tail end of Iteration 5, as we worked on Alien Races, I invited my patrons (Companions and better) to vote on a new alien race. This resulted in the Traders, a race of clever and highly inventive space-wanderers with their own technological infrastructure.

Originally, I had given them that infrastructure, but with a focus on building all our military technology from scratch, I felt it time to revisit Traders as an exercise in building our own military doctrines and tech.  As with all these polls, the point is to get you thinking about what makes a military doctrine interesting, and what you need to make one happen.  Thus, while this will result in a new set of technology for our Traders, I hope it inspires you, dear Patron, to consider making your own military technology (as I know a few of you are working on races or factions that could benefit from it).

For the first round, we'll focus on personal technology and broad outlines of doctrine.

  • Trader Tech: Military Doctrines, where we ponder if the Traders would even fight and why and against who and what sort of obstacles they might overcome and what sort of goals they might focus on.
  • Trader Tech: Unique Technologies: Once we know how they fight, we might ponder with what they fight.  Not every faction needs unique technologies, but Traders will certainly have some, and we do need to consider what makes a factions blasters and vehicles unique and distinctive from everything else in the galaxy. What makes Trader Tech Trader Tech?
  • Trader Tech: Ground Doctrines: When building personal weapons and armor, for whom are Traders building them?  What sort of roles do they envision using their weapons? How do Traders fight their wars, when it comes to the individual Trader as part of a larger army?
  • Trader Tech: Personal Weaponry: Rather than do line-by-line considerations of specific weapons, let's first consider the broader approaches Traders might take to their weaponry: who do they build them for and with what ultimate aims in mind? If we combine these with the previous polls, we should have a pretty good idea of what sort of blasters they build.
  • Trader Tech: Personal Armor: Traders famously wear "skinsuits," tight, form fitting vacuum suits that keep them alive in case of a breach and protect them from germs and infection from outsiders.  Do they augment them with additional defenses and, if so, what sorts of defenses?
This will be part 1 of a multi-part series, and it's available to all Companion ($5+) Patrons.  Don't forget to leave a comment about how you see the Traders fighting.  I definitely make use of what Patrons talk about and try to integrate that feedback into the final results.

Friday, November 15, 2019

The Path of the Devourer

The Path of the Devourer is a new Dark Communion path and the first of the new paths that I created. It focuses on the primal nature of the Id, creating a connection between the user and the wilderness, helping the Avatar become an apex predator.  It also fixates him on what he wants: he becomes a petty tyrant of his own domain who revels in wealth and food.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Wiki Showcase: the Path of the Rebellious Beast

The first of the Paths I created for Dark Communion, this is the Path of Wrath, rage and raw power.  It serves as the basis for the Divine Mask "Domen Sonostrum," or the Cult of the Lord of Rage, and the Satemo (Space Knight) tradition of the Umbral Rim.  You can find it here.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Wiki Showcase: the Path of the Mystical Tyrant Revisited

The last of the original Paths of Dark Communion that I created was the Path of Mystical Tyrant.  This is likely the most famous Path of Dark Communion, perhaps the most famous Path of all of Communion, given that it serves as the basis of the setting's "Sith," the culists of the Mystical Tyrant.  You can see the revised version here.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Wiki Showcase: The Path of the Beautiful Fool

The second of the three Paths of Dark Communion I originally created, the Beautiful Fool was inspired primarily by the Archetype of the Fortunate Sun from "the Magic of Stories" from Pyramid #3/13 and by the concept of "Anima" and "Animus."  You can check it out here.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Wiki Showcase: Dark Communion revisited

The second form of Communion I wrote back in Iteration 4 was Dark Communion, my stand-in for the "Dark Side" of the Force, and the "Id" gestalt.  This facet of Communion focuses on selfishness, primal urges, and the dissolution of social structures. You can see the updated version of Dark Communion on the wiki here.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Wiki Showcase: the Path of the Nameless Hero

The Nameless Hero is a new path for True Communion, and the last of the three new paths that I made.  It focuses on a community forced to take justice into its own hands, and the sacrifice of identity necessary for that to work.

I considered a few additional paths.  I considered, and discarded, the Wounded Healer when I reread the Bound Princess and realized it was pretty close to the same thing.  I also considered the Mother, as more feminine archetypes would be nice to have and it's a pretty profound trope that would fit, for example, House Elegans.  I also considered the Artificer or the "Lawbringer," the cultural hero who sets up the traditions everyone currently knows, and who is the font from whom artifacts and relics spring, but is punished for his deed: think Prometheus.  I still like this idea, but it needs to be carefully divorced from the Mystical Tyrant (though it tickles me to think of the forger of ancient traditions as ultimately arising from Dark Communion).

Friday, November 8, 2019

Wiki Showcase: the Path of the Righteous Crusader

The Righteous Crusader was the first of the three paths I created for True Communion.  It draws inspiration from the Archetype of the Noble Knight from "the Magic of Stories" from Pyramid #3/13, and the general archetype of the Jedi Knight (perhaps exemplified by Luke Skywalker, arguably best in the Empire Strikes Back).  You can see the revised version here.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Wiki Showcase: the Path of the Exiled Master

The Path of the Exiled Master was the third of the three original paths created for True Communion.  I drew heavy inspiration from the Gentle Fool from "the Magic of Stories" from Pyramid #3/13, but also from the image of the desert ascetic-prophet and the martial arts master atop the mountain. In Star Wars, this role is first occupied by Obiwan Kenobi, then by Yoda. You can see the revised version of the path here.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Wiki Showcase: the Path of the Bound Princess

The second of the original three paths I created for True Communion, the Bound Princess drew inspiration primarily from the Captive Maiden of "the Magic of Stories" from Pyramid #3/13, and, of course, Princess Leia as the Captive Maiden of the original Star Wars.   You can see the revised and updated path here.

Wiki Showcase: Paths Revisited

Part of returning to Communion means looking at the Paths of Communion once again.  I wrote paths originally as a sort of "Prestige Class" for Communion users.  Instead of just being "a mystic" you could decide in what way you were a mystic.  I borrowed heavily from the idea of Avatars from Unknown Armies and "the Magic of Stories" by Kelly Pedersen in Pyramid #3/13: the idea is that you need to attune yourself to this cosmic trope and, in so doing, gain additional power.  This way, you can more clearly define your relationship with Communion: all Communion users, say, might be able to heal, see visions or fight well, but you pick one of these things as your specialty.

Since then, paths have evolved a bit to become the center of cults and perceptions of divinity.  The Divine Masks worships gods as "aspects" of some primal image represented by paths.  Instead of worshiping "Dark Communion" as an entity, they instead give a name to and worship the image of "the Beautiful Fool" or "the Rebellious Beast," because these are more concrete things, and their high priests and priestesses follow these paths, becoming incarnations of that divine image.  The same sort of approach should work for a variety of cults, such as the Asrathi death-cult, or the ancestor worship of Maradonians.  This approach required revisiting how paths interacted with miracles to more clearly define what fell under the purview of a path and what didn't.

Originally I designed three paths, but part of this revision has increased the number of paths per form of Communion to 4, to encourage more variety and to discourage this idea that "these are all the paths that exist," because that's just not true.  As time goes on, I'll add additional paths, or remixed paths, based on different traditions or philosophies.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Wiki Showcase: True Communion

When I created Communion, I divided it into three "types."  True Communion (originally just called "Communion," but one of my readers took to calling it "True Communion" in his game, and I've borrowed the name) represents the Communion of Super-Ego, the drive and impulse towards community, self-denial and judgment; it's that voice in your head that tells you "No" when you want something that you know you shouldn't have.

True Communion works the most like vanilla Divine Favor, though obviously it has shifted to a more psychic flavor to fit the psychic origins of powers in Psi-Wars.  Its self-denial means it requires a Pact limitation that pushes one towards rather traditional conceptions of holiness.  It also helps one connect to others, such as sharing the same language, or psychically contacting someone no matter how far away they are. It also denies others the use of psychic powers or even communion miracles (True Communion "says no.") to those it deems unworthy. It has a conception of worthiness, and helps the user judge that in others, to differentiate the outsider from the insider.

All forms of Communion grant a basic bonus to anyone who has unlocked them, and True Communion grants Meditative Psionics. That is, you can meditate for 8 hours to earn one energy reserve point for psychic powers.  There's no upper limit to how much you can have.  This might not seem like much, but there's no upper limit to how much you can have.  There's some True Communion saint on a swampy planet somewhere with several thousand psychic ER points built up ready to lay the smack down on some mouthy punk who complains that ships are too heavy to lift with your mind.  I did put a limit on how much you can spend, though.  You can waive that if you want a truly epic, one-time feat, of course.

The main updates to True Communion are Auras, Ghost-fighting powers, and some versions of Blessed that boost your IQ.

You can check out the updated form of True Communion here.

Monday, November 4, 2019

Wiki Showcase: Communion

Center by the Babman
I created Communion all the way back in Iteration 4 as my replacement for "the Force."  If Psi-Wars is, in any way, going to invoke Star Wars, it must have mystical space magic.  Not much about Communion has changed since then, but I've added a few more concepts and clarified a few things, especially about Broken Communion (which may well need yet more revision, but we'll see).  You can find it at its new, permanent home here: Communion.

My patrons votes on this as the Psi-Wars topic for October, but the Space Knight ended up taking all our time.  But here it is at last, just a month late.

Friday, November 1, 2019

Blog Roadmap: November 2019

Happy Halloween!

We had a very good month here on Mailanka's musing.  I've managed to beat all previous months for posts except for a very weird June (which I don't count) and the unbeatable cliff of May 2017.  So it's been a good month for views.

What did you read? Mostly the following:

  1. Doubtlessly spurred on by the provocative title, the Psi-Wars Fallacy was the most read blogpost.
  2. I should have done a second one, but alas, time.  Still, the Martial Arts Retrospective came in second. Don't neglect the other four martial arts, though!
  3. A surprising number 3, given that I just posted it, was Robots Revisited.  You guys are going to like November, I can tell you.
  4. Surprising only in that it didn't come in higher was the template a lot of you had been waiting for for a long time (and several of you seem to already have characters for): the Space Knight Template.
  5. And the winner of "Which martial art do you guys want to read up on the most" is clearly Knightly Force Swordsmanship, though, man, all the styles were popular (the next three were the Simple, Swift and Destructive forms)
We added no new Patrons and we lost no Patrons, thus a steady month. EDIT: That's not true, we had one new patron; he just came on really early.  Welcome, Kevin!

Looking Forward

Normally around now I would announce the results of the poll, but I've put that on pause for a few reasons.  First, I promised a Communion revision, and I have it.  It's sitting right here in a great stack of glorious, digital paper, but I need to get it out.  Expect that over the next couple of weeks.

Second, I really need to finish the military technological framework of Psi-Wars, and that includes the oft-forgotten, but extremely important, robots.  They sit in your fighters, they polish your armor, they tend to your wounds.  And people want to play as them, so I need to get them done.

And lastly, I've been putting off a playtest of all these rules for awhile, mostly out of fear that I'll be unable to make the time commitment necessary, but I think I can make it happen.  Disciple Mavrick, and creator of the Orochi Belt, have been quietly working behind the scenes to lay some ground work for additional setting material for the Orochi Belt, and then I'll try to get some story material done.  In December, I've got 4 weeks of vaction (yes, four, not a typo), so I should be able to get some stuff, done, but I need to really focus on this. More details will be forthcoming.

Thank you, as always, for reading the blog, leaving your comments here or on the discord server, and for being a patron!  Hopefully I can get some nice things out for you this month. 

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Robot Design Revisited

Psi-Wars needs robots.  Star Wars has its droids, and cute sidekick robots and ominous kill-bots clutter up Pulp Space Opera.  They tell you that you're in a sci-fi world, and they occupy an interesting niche between tool and character, especially in pulp space opera.  They let us waive the complex technobabble by having a robot do it ("Reverse the polarity of the neutron flow" becomes "No, shut them ALL down!").

We have a few things that we need Psi-Wars robots to do.  They need, of course, to be trusted allies, someone our fighter ace counts on to keep his starfighter in tip-top shape, or someone our noble trusts with his agenda.  People will also want to play as one, because they've already been asking.  In both cases, we need to know the point totals involved.  Finally, people will want to buy robots, like picking up a hireling.  Sure, you can have that trusted Tech-bot fixing your starfighter, but if you don't care about your starfighter all that much and you don't need to be on a first name basis with your robot, won't any robot off the market do? In which case, how much money do you spend on your robot? So, we need to know a price for our robots.  If we're honest, we also need to know the weight and power-consumption of our robots too, at least in broad terms.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Wiki Showcase: the Simple Form as Martial-Art-As-Power-Up

When I held a snap poll for the martial art most people wanted for their own space knight, the Simple Form won not only the Non-Maradonian styles, but proved the most popular style overall, handily winning the poll.  This quite surprised me, as it was the newest of the styles, created in Iteration 6, exclusively for the Templars, who remain the main people who will use it.

With the Simple Form, I wanted to explore two major ideas.  First, if we're going to have people learning multiple styles and integrating them together, I wanted a style that really exploited that.  In that regard, I created Infinite Stance Mastery, which allows the character one "free" 5-point move from any style.  Incidentally, this works much better in the power-up form, because you can just go pluck an existing 5-point move, rather than designing them yourself.  Second, I wanted to reward players for exploring multiple styles.  Originally, I gave them a "Style Mastery" perk, which let them upgrade their Style Familiarity from allowing them to ignore -1 in Deceptive Attack or Feint penalties to a full, outright +1 to defense. I had intended to give them a universal version of this, so they gained it with any style they had style familiarity, but I found myself thinking "They'd literally be better off with Enhanced Parry (Force Sword), or Higher Purpose. Hey! Not a bad idea!"

For the rest of the style, I had a couple of problems.  First, most moves are built on a single trademark move and then whatever techniques required to make it work.  But the Simple Form doesn't really teach techniques other than Feint.  The whole point of its original trademark moves were to codify pretty standard tactics, like the basic attack, or the basic parry.  I see the Simple Form as taking what new players to GURPS typically do ("I attack.  I parry.  I feint. Then I attack with everything I can.") and making them better at it.  So, the only way I could do that in a move was by collecting all of them, and thus First Steps was born.  Then I wanted to make them good at fighting in general.  I pondered what most players generally did in addition to the basic moves (retreats, extra-effort, etc) and made those better in the style. Finally, I rounded it out with a few Judo tricks. One concept I still like, but didn't fully emphasize here, was something similar to the Fell Form's approach to Karate, only with Judo.  Judo can, after all, parry armed attacks, so a character with Judo 20 is as good at defending themselves from Force Sword attacks as someone with Force Sword 20 (technically better, because they gain the +3 retreat bonus even without Chambara rules).  I added the Warding Parry to answer questions as to whether you can parry a force sword with an unarmed skill (from what I can see, it's perfectly permissible, but some people might have some doubts, so, you can do it with a -1).

This is the bit where I explain that this might have drawn loose inspiration from a Star Wars ligthsaber form and then point out which one, but in this case, I was explicitly inspired by Form I, or Shii-Cho, especially their discussion about how most Jedi don't take it seriously, but people who master it tend to be extremely flexible and effective.  Like all other lightsaber forms, you don't really see this in the fiction; even Kit Fisto, who is supposed to be a true master of it, doesn't seem to fight in a particularly distinct way, and doesn't seem especially impressive in any of his video-game outings.  Nonetheless, I wanted to explore the idea of a force sword form that seemed unimpressive at first, something only worthwhile to students, but really profited those who invested deeply in it.

"I guess people really want Wuxia in space." --Nemoricus

The other major inspiration, natural from its description and other inspirations, are Chinese martial arts and the traditions around them.  If the Serene Form is the epitome of Japanese swordsmanship, then the Simple Form is the epitome of Chinese Swordsmanship.  My experience with many Chinese styles is that where Japanese martial arts often focus on perfecting a single move or a single tactic, Chinese martial arts tend to focus on the fighter in a holistic manner.  This is where these "Miyagi"-style traditions of putting a martial artist through lots of training that seems to have nothing to do with fighting comes from.  We get concepts like "Internal martial arts" from this approach: improving the fighter's core, endurance and "chi" and only then teaching them to express it through their "external" martial arts, or their actual combat techniques.  This likely means people will ask if they can use some of these moves with other martial arts precisely because they're so broadly applicable, and I think the idea is valid, though I'm not sure if I'll migrate them to other, non-force sword styles n exactly these forms (the Simple Form needs to maintain some sort of niche, after all).

Given that it's evidently the most popular style, I hope those who came to love it back in Iteration 6 still love it in its Iteration 7 incarnation.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Wiki Showcase: Psionic Force Swordsmanship as Martial Arts-As-Power-Up

In my snap poll to see which Psi-Wars martial arts everyone favored for their personal space knight, the Maelstrom Form (aka, Psionic Force Swordsmanship) came in second for non-Maradonian styles... and second over all.  Because, of course, the most complicated and difficult style had to be (almost) everyone's favorite and couldn't be quietly shuffled away.

A common complaint I hear about Star Wars when it comes to the Force and the Jedi (or the Sith) is that they don't do "enough" with Force while fighting.  Indeed, we see entire discussions online about integrating the Force into combat moves in cool and tricky ways pretty regularly, one of which I, for the life of me, cannot find anymore (edit: Here it is), where someone posted a bunch of pictures about cool tricks and counter-tricks to defeat your opponent in a force-heavy duel.

Psionic Force Swordsmanship was meant to address this.  If you have psychic powers, you expect you might use them to help you fight.  The problem, in Psi-Wars, is that psionic powers aren't the force.  The Force is probably closer to "magic" than as how GURPS handles psychic powers.  That is, in Star Wars, anyone who can use the Force can use all of the Force, there might just be some things they're better at than others.  In Psi-Wars, someone will have one or two powers, but rarely will have all: a Knight of House Grimshaw has Electrokinesis, but doesn't have Psychokinesis, and someone with Psychokinesis may never have Electrokineses.  This means I can't write a single style for all users; I have to write several styles for a variety of possible users.

As a result, you can see Psionic Force Swordsmanship as roughly three styles in one: a psychic vampirism style, a psychokinesis style, and an electrokinesis style.  I could probably explore a Telepathic style (though it would need to differentiate itself from Ishin-Denshen) or a Probability Manipulation style (but Probability Manipulation is considered a "Rare" power in Psi-Wars).  That is to say, we could expand the style, but I have a limited amount of time to work with, and it's complicated enough as it is.  I've tried to bundle the commonalities down and to make all three powers relatively interesting, but feel integrated into a cohesive whole.

This style has existed since Iteration 4, and has seen numerous rewrites, into the broader Maelstrom Form in Iteration 6, and now back into Psionic Force Swordsmanship in Iteration 7.  It's a complex style with lots of moving parts and different ways to interact with it, so if you see mistakes in it, that's why.  It's a fairly defensive, but also ruthless style, one suitable for a dark space knight, and we tend to see it more in the Umbral Rim than in the Glorian Rim (though a member of House Grimshaw who gets ahold of it is pretty cool).

If you're cribbing my material for Star Wars conversions, while I find the description of Form VI (Niman) vague to the point of uselessness, Psionic Force Swordsmanship (specifically, the Resonance Omen Moveset) works more or less how I picture Niman to work, as a fusion of psychic tricks and patient, cautious force swordsmanship.

Ugh, Electrokinesis

"Lightning, as it's written now, is only good for assassination" -- Lord Buss, paraphrased
This style, naturally, made me revisit Electrokinesis, and Lightning has been seeing some pushback, because people have to pick over every piece of Electrokinesis in ways that they don't over other powers (and I'm not sure why that is, other than perhaps people actually take electrokinesis, and it has a lot of crossover with actual gadgets).  As I returned to the "Lightning" powers, I noticed a few things about them.  First, I had originally edited out some elements from the original version that didn't seem to make sense (such as it stunning people) to save points for the fact that you don't draw your power from around you.  After all, we picture Lightning as erupting from the hands of the space knight, not drawn down from nearby power-lines.  But as I explored how Psionic Force Swordsmanship worked, I realized several things.

  • We tend to picture this lightning blast erupting from the hands of the character, and attacking someone relatively close by
  • We want to make this work sort of like a melee weapon, capable of feinting or making rapid strikes
  • We expect our target to survive a hit, but perhaps to be very much not happy that he got hit
  • The character can spend the whole fight doing nothing but lightning blasts
  • We expect lightning to work like it does in GURPS Magic.
This last is especially interesting.  I went back and checked GURPS Magic, and discovered that the original description worked like Lightning in GURPS Magic, so I dutifully went back in and restored those values: longer range, the ability to stun the target, etc.  With the removal of the channeling ability, this made it cost more, and I like the 12-point cost, because it means you can have ~6d for a single, 25-point power-up.  So, I fiddled some more, reducing the damage to 3d-3 per level (to match the Lightning spell), gave it a 2-fatigue cost, and added a wait time to "power-up" the lightning blast. The way you should picture this the character channeling energy, and then zapping a powerful bolt of lightning that strikes a target very far away. This is a sniper shot lightning bolt, not an arc of electricity.  So, yes, you primarily use it to one-shot people.

So, we need to make an arc of electricity.  I called this "Electric Lash" and focused on smaller-scale damage: rather than buying it in big chunks of 3d at a time, you can pick it up for 1d per level. It's a Jet, it costs no fatigue, and it has a maximum (and 1/2D range) of 20 (chosen because that's the same range as TK-Grab in Psi-Wars).  This comes to about 5 points per level.  This is your more Star-Wars-like "casually toss off some electricity at a nearby enemy" sort of power, and it lets you do all sorts of fancy tricks, and this is the power that goes into Psionic Force Swordsmanship.  I've also split the techniques up a bit, so that chain lightning and arc lightning goes to Lightning proper, and Painful lightning and Lightning Blast go to Electric Lash.  I've also given the option for adding Electric Lash to Lightning as an Alternate Attack.

I've also created a TK-Hand, since people seem to like the idea of wielding a force sword with their TK, and the easiest way to handle that is some form of Extra Arm with the Weapon Mount option.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Wiki Showcase: the Serene Form as Martial Arts Power Up.

When I made my Snap Poll for my Patron's preferences for styles, the Serene Form came in third for non-Maradonian forms, though it did well in the Poll overall. I suspect the poll's results might have been misleading, because I know for a fact that several talkative patrons are very fond of the style (and at least one PC has used it), and perhaps if I held the poll today, it might do better.

I believe the Serene Form predates its inclusion as a Templar Form, and that I created it back in Iteration 4.  It has seen quite some updates since, turning it into a beautiful, ceremonial style that focuses on meditation, introspection and connection with communion.  This is because the style was inspired by Iajutsu and Iado, which are deeply tied to meditation in the cinematic tradition, for good reason, as it has a lot less sturm und drang than most fights, and thus artists who wish to depict it often front-load it with a great deal of introspection and anticipation.

Naturally, in Iteration 6, I saw it as a style associated with the Templars, because Iado's introspection and its willingness to draw it only at the last moment lend itself well to pacifism, especially Pacifism (Self-Defense Only), because you can avoid any violence until the last possible moment.  So, naturally, with Tinker Titan Rebel Spy, the Dark Communion-associated Imperial Knight took it.  His reasoning makes sense: Tyrants seek to intimidate, and this is a very intimidating style, one that exerts itself only when it intends to, like passing a sentence.  This actually fits nicely with Iajutsu's bad reputation for "Cross-roads cutting," and so I created the Way of the Void in this incarnation.  The inner peace of the True Communion form could be replaced with an inner emptiness of the Path of Death or the Void and turn it into a style that creates a bond between the user and murderousness itself. I was tempted to make it a three-fold path, but Dark Communion doesn't cultivate the selflessness necessary to really make this style work, so I shifted that idea to the Fell Form, which is known for its reckless rage.  The Imperial Knight's player, however, counters that while it's true that the Paths of the Rebellious Beast, the Beautiful Fool and the Hungry Beast don't cultivate that sort of self-control, the path of the Mystical Tyrant does, especially in its Cult of the Mystical Tyrant form.  It makes sense that Tyrants might use it, and use it form a deeper bond with their Path.  That does make sense; so far, I've justified the connection with Broken Communion using the fascination that the Mystical Tyrant has with Broken Communion, but I'd like to revisit it soon for a "third way."

The style focuses on defensiveness, in defeating your opponent with his own attacks.  This means we need to talk about Reflection, a concept I've been struggling with since I first began Psi-Wars, all the way in Iteration 1, thanks to the Force Buckler.  See, the Force Buckler lets you reflect attacks back to the Attacker with a DX roll.  My initial impulse was that this was "unfair," so I reduced it to an attack that you could make on your turn after being attacked.  Since then, I realized that this ability was basically just the Reflection enhancement to DR on a piece of equipment, which means GURPS totally allows "free attacks" with Reflection.  My my my!  My current thinking is to allow it with both Force Swords and Force Buckler; you can use Precognitive Defense as your roll (making levels higher than 16 useful and interesting), the Force Sword has a penalty to reflect this way, and I've added some new options, first an optional roll for those who dislike the idea of someone reflecting all attacks this way, and a new All-Out Defense option that lets you focus on Reflection for the whole turn, a trick we often see Jedi do.

In general, the style has been a study in Precognitive Defense.  I have a love-hate affair with precognitive parry and block.  First, they're one of those "extra" rolls that happen before all defenses.  For example, if you attack a Chambara Jedi, he might roll Acrobatics to see if he gets a +2, and then Precognitive Defense to see if he gets a +1, and then his actual parry value.  That's THREE ROLLS per attack.  Worse, there's no point in taking it above 16, as it never sees any penalties or bonuses; it works or it doesn't, and that's it.  So I've gone in and tried to simplify some things: we get a no-nuisance rolls option, so once you hit Master you can just assume you succeed at precognitive defense unless you're doing something crazy, and that thing might be precognitive reflection (by handing the DX roll off to Precognitive Defense, we get a reason for crazy high values), precognitive fast-draw (because some people hate waiting a turn before getting stuck in) or for better bonuses to your precognitive defense rolls.  I've also suggested folded Precognitive Defense rolls into Parry Missile rolls for certain situations. All in all, I hope it helps Precognitive Defense a bit.

Also, for those who get confused (the question comes up), Precognitive Defense replaces Precognitive Parry from GURPS Martial Arts, and Precognitive Block from Pyramid #3/9.

I built this style around how Obi-Wan fought in the original trilogy era.  We see it showcased in the Cantina scene, but there's also a pretty good moment with it in Star Wars: Rebels were Obi-Wan faces off against a returned Darth Maul.  Obviously, it primarily draws its inspiration from Iado, just as Obi-Wan himself does.  In principle, though, this style should be similar to Soresu, or Form III, if you just want to toss all of this into a GURPS Star Wars conversion, though Soresu seems more interested in Precognitive Reflection than in fast draws.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Wiki Showcase: Sefelka Sonostra, the Fell Form as Martial Arts Power-Up

When it came to the Non-Maradonian Forms, the Furious Form or the Fell Form came in dead last with zero points, matching the Swift Form in the Snap Poll for martial arts they personally would use as PCs.  Like the Swift Form, I suspect this is because most players see it as a background form: something an NPC would take, rather than themselves.  Where the Swift Form is iconic for the Maradonian Duelist, the Fell Form is iconic of the Ranathim Satemo of the Umbral Rim.

The Fell Form has been with us since Iteration 4 when I first put together martial arts.  Originally, I called it "Rim Force Swordsmanship," as I saw it as the way "Rim Knights" might fight.  Since then, I've given them "the Bastard Form," and when I wrote Domen Sonostrum, the Cult of the Lord of Rage.  Since then, I've increasingly pictured this as a "Ranathim" style, this very distinct form unique to the Umbral Rim.

My original inspiration for the form was, of course, the way Ahsoka Tano fights.  Her reverse grip lightsabers and her acrobatics and her kicks created a very distinct and visually pleasing style.  Like Count Dooku or Yoda, it represented a form you could point to and say "That's a specific way of fighting." Of course, in Star Wars, it actually isn't (she evidently mingles some elements of Shien, or Form V, with Ataru, or Form IV), but I can make it so.

While building the style, though, I found it really profited from certain elements.  I originally considered giving it Brawl (it was, after all, originally a street style) and giving the Destructive Form Karate, but the Destructive Form turned into the "form of being really strong," while the various elements of the Fell Form, from its acrobatics to its stealth, really made it something more DX-based.  Furthermore, a lot of its elements really profited from Karate: reverse grip let the practitioner use force swords in Close Combat at no attack penalty, and less of a defense penalty if they used karate, and if we're going to emphasize close combat strikes to stun and disorient our opponents, then kicks and sweeps make sense.  The net result is a style that turns every aspect of the fighter into a weapon: his feet, his fists, his blades, even his head!  I liked that niche, and an interesting variation on the Fell Form would be to replace the +2 Force Sword in the Master level with +2 Karate.  I'm not sure how many players would go for it, but with the Reverse Grip, it could be lethal!

As it became less of a street style and more "Taijutsu with Force Swords," I began to think of it as an assassin's style, and to more strongly associate it with the Ranathim.  So, naturally, I drew a connection between the association of the style with a "rage cult," and Form VII's (Juyo's) association with anger.  Why not give them a bonus when angry? I patterned it on Passionate Psi which is, itself, patterned on Drunken Fighting (though Drunken Fighting really requires you to accept penalties to everything else; it's not a free +2 to fighting; I've added something similar to Raging Warrior and I will add something similar to Passionate Psi). The result is a very "Sith Assassin" style, which fits the Ranathim nicely.

Finally, I shifted the original "Fell Frenzy" into a secret.  It may or may not be "secret," but All-Out Attacks are usually a bad idea in a force sword duel, so I've couched it in a lot of cautionary notes and given it some special powers that make it a "berserker's art."

If you're cribbing notes for a Star Wars conversion, note that this form might provide ideas for Form V, the Shien variant, Form III (Ataru) and Form VII (Juyo; you're on your own figuring out how to get Raging Warrior to work with the light side and make Vapaad); it doesn't really fit any single, specific Star Wars form.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Martial Arts Power-Ups Retrospective

If you enjoyed my Martial Arts as power-ups series, and you're just now joining us, you can see four more worked examples for Psi-Wars, my Space Opera setting:

Please note that Psi-Wars uses a "Technique Proliferation" optional rule: the costs of techniques are halved.

I wanted to take a moment and address some feedback and thoughts.  This turned into quite a retrospective, so I hope you don't mind long posts.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Wiki Showcase: Knightly Force Swordsmanship

Today is the last of "set 1" of my Psi-Wars Martial Arts As Power-Ups series.  Rounding off the Maradonian, we have the "ancient" style of the "Guardian Form," or "Knightly Force Swordsmanship", which was, in fact, one of the first styles I ever created or, better said, borrowed, as this is ultimately a worked example of Force Sword-and-Buckler from Pyramid #3/9 "Fighting the Future" by Kelly Pedersen.

The "Guardian Form" tied for "First place" among the Maradonian styles, and it didn't surprise me that it did so well. Where the other styles can point for lightsaber forms as as at least passing inspiration, Knightly Force Swordsmanship is a form far more grounded in GURPS.  In GURPS, you need armor to really survive UT combat, so it emphasizes armor.  In GURPS, we have force bucklers, so it has a force buckler.  In GURPS, you can't assume people are going to stand around waiting for you to get into range, so it uses the force buckler and all that armor to protect the character as he moves into place.  Dun Beltaine "used" this style before it even was a style, back in Iteration 1 before we introduced psionics or cool powers, because it let him "be a knight" without the "crutch" of the Force or Chi or something similar.

Thus, Knightly Force Swordsmanship is one of those styles that makes Psi-Wars feel like Psi-Wars.  Sure, we've got high-flying space samurai with psychic powers, but we also have juggernauts with sword and board slamming into soldiers and then cutting them down.  The well-armored space knight is perhaps one of the most important signature images of the setting, as it reminds the reader that, yes, Psi-Wars draws inspiration from Star Wars, but isn't Star Wars.  It also feeds into the mythos and lore of the "Alexian Crusades."

Not everyone likes it, though.  I haven't had the time or focus, and it was someone else's idea, but one of my readers proposed a variation that used force sword and force buckler, but dropped the armor (keeping, perhaps, a battleweave body sleeve).  The idea is that by reducing armor, you reduce costs and encumbrance.  This is especially pertinent if you're not using psychic powers and precognitive defenses, because a force buckler can, in principle, protect you from blaster fire, but only with a Dodge that benefits from the defense bonus of the shield.  A typical character with Medium (-2) encumbrance and a Base Speed of 6 has 7 to 8 Dodge; with the shield, that improves to 10 or 11, which isn't great.  With no encumbrance at all, that jumps to 12 or 13, which is pretty reliable.  If you get hit, you're dead, but you shouldn't get hit.  You could probably get a lot of mileage out of combining the high-flying acrobatics of the Graceful Form with the shield-focus of Knightly Force Swordsmanship.  The Force Saber from the Swift Form also suffers with Encumbrance, so you can toss that on the pile of this "alternative hypothetical style."

If you're looking over my shoulder to steal these for your GURPS Star Wars game, note that despite being named "the Guardian Form," Knightly Force Swordsmanship really has nothing in common with Form III or Soresu.  You'll have to wait for the Serene Form for something similar to that.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Wiki Showcase: The Graceful Form of Force Swordsmanship

Today, I have the third force sword form in my series in Psi-Wars Force Swordsmanship style as Martial Arts Power-Ups.  Of the "Maradonian styles," when I polled my Patrons about which style they'd personally choose, the Graceful Form tied for first. And I can see why: it's probably the most beautiful and romantic of styles.  If you're going to be a Maradonian noble who duels, you'll probably want this one, just for the sheer beauty of the style.  You can check it out here.

I created the Graceful Form to answer several problems.  First, it seems like a logical conclusion for a Force Sword form to go after centuries of peace.  The Swift Form represents the end-point of "Force Sword as dueling weapon," similar to modern fencing compared to real-world swordfighting, while the Graceful Form represents the other endpoint, where it becomes a beautiful "dance," similar to the sort of Wushu you see in films a lot. I also needed a place to put a focus on high mobility. After all, if you're playing a force swordsman, you need to close the distance between yourself and your opponent, and he's armed with the equivalent of an assault carbine.  The Guardian Form represents one answer to that problem; the Graceful Form represents the other: cross ground swiftly!  Star Wars assumes every Jedi will have Flying Leap, but Psi-Wars draws more inspiration from Wuxia and, like GURPS, assumes that you have to learn Flying Leap, and not everyone will as a matter of course.

Naturally, the final product errs on the side of cinematic effectiveness than pure performance (though I've included some rules for that, if you want). The result is a style that tends to outmaneuver its opponents: by getting behind your target, you spoil forward-facing defenses (like Deny Right for the Swift Form, the Defensive Grip of the Destructive Form, and the shield of Knightly Force Swordsmanship).  If you're cribbing my material for a GURPS Star Wars conversion despite my repeated pleadings not to, note that the Graceful Form most resembles Ataru, or Form IV.

I've given it two secrets; one used to be a Patreon special, but the second is entirely new.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Wiki Showcase: the Destructive Form of Force Swordsmanship

Continuing my series on the Psi-Wars force swordmanship styles as Power-Ups, when I put up the snap poll for "What force sword style would you pick for your character," of the classic "Maradonian" styles, the Destructive Form came in third.  As before, this style is written with a house rule that halves the cost of techniques, to encourage technique proliferation.

Personally, the Destructive Form is my favorite style, and if I had to pick one style, that would be it. I designed it based heavily on how Darth Vader fought in the Empire Strikes Back, and in a large way, it's a style heavily informed by the qualities of the force sword itself.  If one has the ability to casually lop off limbs, that may well turn into a major focus for how one fights.  It's also a major aspect of the original Force Swordsmanship of GURPS Martial Arts, and the style that probably looks the most like actual Kenjutsu, with a focus on lines of attack.

If you're a Star Wars fan looking to crib my material, the Destructive Form is probably closest to Form V, or Djem So.

The Destructive Form also features a greater focus on strength than most styles, which is rare for a force sword style, as the force sword doesn't require strength to impact its opponent. To make this work, I've had to monkey around with how Beats work, but it's changes that I made all the way back in Cherry Blossom Rain.  If you use default Beats from GURPS Martial Arts, all they really do is let someone who is extremely strong get a bit of a benefit when feinting, which is nice, but rare in a martial arts game as most people will focus pretty heavily on DX.  Additionally, beats have some interesting side-requirements, like the fact that you need to parry or have been parried, which means that if your opponent can avoid contact with your weapon (feinting and evaluating, for example), he can prevent you from beating his weapon.  Finally, realistically, one expects a beat to work exclusively against a weapon rather than a person (though I violate this concept with a Force Sword Shove, which is meant to simulate something we see often in Star Wars fights where someone unbalances an opponent through contact between force swords), so it's something you can also avoid by having multiple weapons.  Taken together, I felt it fine to let Beat be a contest of ST vs ST, so that Beat-focused characters had a real edge over non-Beat-focused characters similar to the edge that Feint-focused characters have over high ST, low DX characters.  I should state that it's ultimately an idea inspired by Icelander, from the SJGames forums (though I don't think he posts there anymore).

The original Force Swordsmanship from GURPS Martial Arts contains a targeted attack for the neck.  I always liked this idea, but burning weapons don't get a benefit from attacking the neck, while cutting weapons do.  This may well be a 3e holdover, because Force Swords used to inflict cutting damage.  I think there's an argument for letting them do that again, especially as a force sword is a weaponized force screen, but I leave that up to you, dear reader, to decide for yourself.  What I did do is give the players access to a perk that turns that option back on as an optional rule. If you think force swords should always just do that, reduce the cost of that move by 1.

Someone asked me if targeted attacks gain the benefit of a +1 defense if your opponent keeps attacking the same hit location over and over again.  To that I say: "Sure, why not?"  I would go further and say it probably applies to over-use of Trademark Moves too, but in both cases, you should probably be careful.  Players pay points (often a lot of points) to gain access to targeted attacks and trademark moves, and the latter, especially, reward players for thinking ahead and speeding up gameplay by simply rattling off a pre-worked-out move rather than paging through books every time they attack an opponent.  If you start giving your opponents a +1 to their defense because your players have Trademark Moves and Targeted Attacks, then you disincentive your players from buying them.  I think the real intention of that rule is to keep fights from becoming stale and boring.  If your players use the Reaping Stroke over and over again hoping for that one lucky hit, sure, give their opponents a +1 to defense, and start stacking it until the player gets the picture and stops doing the same thing over and over again. But don't do it if a player happens to use it twice in a long fight, IMO.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Wiki Showcase: the Swift Form of Force Swordsmanship

Maradonian Duelist
Art by Kriz Villacis
Owned by Daniel Dover
If you've been following my blog for awhile, you might remember my discussion of Martial Arts as power-ups. That was, in fact, born out of my desire to better explore the force swordsmanship styles of Psi-Wars, which I've been building since Iteration 4.  So, you're likely familiar with the styles I'll lay out over the next few days, but I wanted to explore them as power-up structures. I wanted a player to be able to say "I'm an Adept at the Swift Form" and have it mean something.  These power-ups have also been built into the structure of the Space Knight, but as you upgrade your character, it's nice to have an upgrade path, and I've provided that, for the Swift Form, here.

(One thing to understand before exploring it too much is that I've instituted a house rule in Psi-Wars where all Technique prices are halved. One point buys you +1 to the first level of a Hard technique, and +2 to all subsequent levels of a Hard technique, or all levels of an Average technique, to the listed maximum.  This is to allow for characters to have a greater variety of techniques).

I ran a snap poll months and months ago where I asked my Patrons what Force Sword style they would choose as players.  Of the Maradonian styles, the Swift Form came dead last with zero votes.  I don't believe this is a condemnation of the Swift Form, so much as a preference for players to explroe something else.  The Swift Form is, in many ways, symptomatic of the malaise afflicting Maradonian Space Knights, who have come to focus on courtly dueling over more practical battlefield applications.  Thus, I imagine players might expect to face a duelist using the Swift Form, and expect to dismantle him with their other, more unique styles.

That said, the Swift Form is probably the "best" force sword style, if your focus is actually on fighting with a force sword against a single opponent.  It's ruthlessly focused, great at hitting first (though the Serene style is competitive for the "first hit") and stacks up multiple advantages against a single opponent.  It tends to do well against any style where it can dictate terms.  It struggles a bit to get around the force buckler of Knightly Force Swordsmanship, and can be outmaneuvered by the Graceful form.  The Destructive Form usually just lops the Swift Swordsman's arm off or punches him in the face, but modern Duelists wear an extra heavy gauntlet and a face-mask to prevent these tactics.

If you're a Star Wars fan looking to crib my stuff for your game, the Swift Form is closest to Makashi, or Form II.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Wiki Showcase: the Space Knight

"Where is the stuff on the "REALLY not Jedi, leave me alone Disney lawyers!"?" - Kevin Hudgins

Space Knight by Kriz Villacis,
Owned by Daniel Dover
Ah, the Space Knight. Perhaps the most iconic element of Psi-Wars.  We've had Dun Beltain, our resident space knight, since Iteration 1, and we've added new space knights, such as the dark lord Vesper Tane and the holy warrior Rafari since iteration 3, and they've remained some of the most popular elements since Psi-Wars began. This is unsurprising, as they stand in for our "Jedi," and thus have all the appeal of samurai, wuxia and fantasy paladins.

My Patrons finally asked me to to make this the focus of this month's Template revisions, and I've cautioned them on it, because the Space Knight is tricky to explore.  So, with expectations managed, I've released my current version of the Space Knight.

This is a tricky project, and you need to see it as a work in progress, one that will likely continue for quite some time.  While I wouldn't call the space knight the "central" template to the game, as one can play entire Psi-Wars campaigns without ever touching one, the template is deeply bound up in legends and history, which makes it something profoundly tied into the setting, which means you can't talk about any aspect of the setting without touching on the Space Knight and vice versa.  That means there's a lot to unpack, and that means we can talk about them for a long time, which means we won't be done for a long time, which means you'll have to settle with what we have at the time until I expand on all the things.

For me, one of the key goals of the Space Knight project was variety.  A frustration I had with Star Wars gaming when I was younger was that they were all the same.  This was more true back when it was just the original trilogy (yes, I am that old), because you had essentially three archetypes: the young, idealistic apprentice, the old and bitter teacher, and the former student who had fallen to the Dark Side.  Since then, especially after the prequels, we've seen a greater variety of lightsaber fighting techniques (though these are woefully underrepresented in Star Wars RPGs) and hints of unique powers, but we still find ourselves exploring the same tropes.

I wanted Psi-Wars to be a game where everyone could play as a Space Knight and not feel like they were stepping on one another's toes.  I wanted numerous sorts of space knights, from your "not a Jedi, I swear" to your straight up "I'm a knight, in space" space knights and in between.  As an avid fan of kung fu movies and wuxia stories, I wanted them to explore martial arts and discuss which strategies are best, and why, and to differentiate from one another based on their preferred approaches to combat.  I wanted them to all have unique psionic powers, as well as a unifying set of power in the form of Communion.  And I wanted them to have varying philosophies behind their powers and behind why they fight.

Put all of this together, and we have a lot to talk about.  My patrons have asked me to talk about Communion, and that's all ready to go, it's just a matter of posting it; I've already discussed martial arts in broad outlines, and I'll be slowly releasing those as power-up sets and, given time, I may go more deeply into the Templars and the Cults of the Mystical Tyrant.

One last comment: if you're expecting to play as a Jedi with one of these, understand that these templates were built to balance with Smugglers, Commandos and Diplomats.  They're action characters with a little bit of psionic power, and a few points in Martial Arts. They've actually seen a downgrade since their last iteration, though I've made them better generalists (DX 13 rather than DX 12).  Their best Force Sword skill is 16 (17 in the case of Swift Form users), down from 18, but they have a little more psionic abilities and they can always invest in more martial arts.  If you want to play as the space knight who slings around True Communion like nobody's business and has 100 points in psionic powers and is the master of a force sword form, you're looking at closer to 500 points and, yes, I do have ideas for such a template, but that will need to wait!

Monday, October 7, 2019

The Psi-Wars Fallacy

There's a comment I often get from people who have read a lot of Psi-Wars, especially from the beginning, and it goes something like this:

"I like Psi-Wars, but it's funny.  At the beginning you talked about getting a campaign done with a minimal amount of work, and then you proceed to put years of work into it."

The comment is always given in a light-hearted "I don't mean anything by it" sort of comment, but it reads to me as an attempt by the reader to resolve a tension: either I was selling you goods at the beginning by promising that something would be easier than it was, or I was wrong and setting design is, in fact, hard.

The problem here is a misunderstanding of the underlying meaning of minimal work.  I've been seeing some videos, and I got some time, so I wanted to talk about what I'm trying to show with Psi-Wars, why I do it the way I do, what I think you should be doing with your setting design and how you can avoid some major pitfalls.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Wiki Showcase: Aristocratic Lens - The Shinjurai Royal Family

All this week, I've been showcasing the aristocratic background lenses that came in second.  Today, I can show you what came in first: the Shinjurai Royal Family. You can check them out here.

I was pleasantly surprised to see them top the list, though doubtless Mina Shinjurai (who appeared in Tinker Titan Rebel Spy) and the artwork for the Shinjurai Princess helped feed interest.  To me, most of the other aristocrats are fairly obvious outgrowths of what we already know about the setting: we know there is nobility and maradonian aristocracy, and we know there are imperials, and we know there are Ranathim (who presumably have their own aristocracy), but I don't talk too much about the Shinjurai except to discuss them in passing in Neo-Rationalism, so it was interesting to have a chance to explore this fairly unique element of the setting.

One feedback I got early from the Disciples was "Why so much detail?"  The argument wasn't that it was "too much" (when I came back with even more detail, nobody shot it down), rather, why have the Shinjurai at all?  They're just the royalty of a single planet, on par with the Pelian nobility or some Asrathi lord.  Why go into so much detail?

Well, there's a few reasons.  First, as I discussed in my setting design manifesto, settings should be fractal, and doing at least three of every fractal thing creates a real sense of choice.  And so, humanity has been split into three: the Maradonian branch, who act as "space fantasy" and act as the de facto rulers of the setting, the Westerly branch, who act as the "space Westerns" with their cowboys and their "Native Americans," their asteroid miners and their ancient tribal practices.  Together, we can see "high society" and "barbaric hinterlands."  The Shinjurai represent the "Third way," the "space as science fiction" element of the setting.  The Westerly are too fragmented to offer a single, cohesive aristocracy; if they "ruled the Galaxy," they would do it as a thousand little domains.  The Shinjurai, by contrast, represent a real alternative to the Maradonian way for galaxy-spanning dominion, as they ruled the Galaxy once before Alexus Rex, and the modern Valorian Empire, who at least gives lip service to their philosophies.

The Shinjurai royal family represent one linchpin for this sense of unity.  They are a single thing that all Shinjurai across the Galaxy can point to and say "We believe in that," similar to how Australians, Canadians, and all other members of the British Commonwealth can point to the British Royal Family.  They're a symbol of unity among a disunited people, and a symbol of hope that, perhaps, in the future, they could rise to their former place.

This gives them, to me at least, an interesting tension.  They are, in the eyes of many, the people who should be the most powerful people in the Galaxy, but they are some of the least powerful of all the aristocrats shown thus far.  They don't have secret occult oaths, or the legacy of a millennia of psychic engineering.  They have only tradition and knowledge.  They use their soft power to achieve their ends, while being held hostage by the Maradonian nobility and their own people.  They represent a repudiation of Maradonian aristocracy that, themselves, attend the courts and senates of the Maradonian Alliance.  They are chained kings, or bound princesses, if you will.

I also think it's important to have a "dark horse" in your setting.  A setting should have obvious high-points. In Psi-Wars, that's the Empire vs the Alliance, Templars vs Tyrants.  You know about princesses and space knights and commandos and fighter aces, and that's fine.  A setting should have these.  But there should also be something that rewards the player that digs a little deeper, something that's not actually part of the primary struggle of the setting, but still very interesting.  In Star Wars, this might be the Mandalorians or the Nightsisters; in Warhammer 40k, that might be the Tau. In Psi-Wars, this is exemplified by the Shinjurai, who bring an entirely different vibe with them, but one that still fits in the larger themes of the setting.  So, if you want to play as something a little different in Psi-Wars, the Shinjurai offer an interesting option for it.
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