Thursday, May 21, 2020

Ultra-Tech Quickie: Dynamic Sports Cycle

Another off-hand comment led to another discussion and I thought I'd post it here, as I'm sure someone will want a link back to it at some point, as it seems rather popular.  So, first, the bike and then the discussion.

TL 10 Dynamic Sportscycle

HP 22
Hand/SR +4/3
HT 11
Move: 20/100
LWt 0.3
Load 0.2
SM 0
Occ 1+1
DR 6
Range 300
Cost: $20k
Locations E2W

This TL 10 Sportscycle uses rechargeable power-cells to get a 3 hour endurance and top speed.  It uses dynamic wheel technology for superior grip and it adjusts its aerodynamics to improve handling at high speeds.  It can fold into an SM -1 box, 200 lbs in weight.  Additionally, it has programmable camouflage (allowing it to change color and pattern on command), an inertial compass, a rugged small computer, a small ladar, a small radio, and a small biometric lock.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Into the Labyrinth: Time Shades

Here's a rough draft of my first "monster" for the Labyrinths of Psi-Wars: the Time Shade.  If this gets enough approval, it'll eventually move to the Wiki.


Time Shades

The Labyrinth wends its way through time as well as space, and certain “time-lost” beings within it walk just beyond the dimensional edges “between” timelines. Akashic documents refer to these beings as “in the walls” or “in between.” They represent possibilities, things that could exist, but don’t, and they can only operate within the confines of the unique geometries of the Labyrinth, where the possibilities of alternate timelines have a whisper of more reality than in the rest of the Galaxy.

Time Shadows aren’t actually insubstantial or invisible. Rather, they occupy a space on another “level,” an “upside down” plane of existence which follows its own rules. This alternate reality only exists within the Labyrinth: time shadows cannot leave! Furthermore, while they may seem to pass through walls or others, they cannot pass through the walls or being that exist “on their plane.” As a result, they tend to be constrained by natural labyrinthine caverns or ancient artificial tunnels, but not newer construction. They might ignore an ancient door closed by someone recently, but be unable to pass through a door opened by someone in the real world.

Time Shadows can be anything. The stats below are a convenience measure for a generic shade. But their actual stats should reflect what they would be if they were back in normal, mundane reality. Thus, the stats can be altered to represent a “time-lost” person of any sort.

Shades of Hunger

The primary desire of the Labyrinthine Shade is to exist. The most certain way to do this is to “align the timeline.” If certain events take place, the shade has the option of enforcing a broader reality, changing the past the reflect the events of the present, and inserting themselves into the timeline, thus becoming real. A shade who achieves this loses all ghostly traits and becomes a completely concrete being; they lose all memory of being a shade, or what they did to become real, and instead remember only the details of the newly altered timeline. The specifics of this vary from ghost to ghost. Some examples include:
  • Massacre: the shade is an “only survivor of a massacre.” They can truly manifest only if a party of 10+ people die in the labyrinth at a particular location. If this happens, their physical manifestation will crawl, traumatized and frightened, from the pile of corpses.
  • Archaeological Resurrection: the shade is “a lost king,” who can only manifest if there are sufficient records of him and someone discovers his tomb and releases him, after which, he will only remember the timeline in which he controlled this part of the labyrinth.
  • Marriage: The shade is “the true wife” or “the true husband” of a particular character. They need the character to ceremonially marry them in some way, after which, they will manifest as a real character “and have always been their” partner.
  • I am you”: The shade is some alternate reality version of a character. They must kill that character, and then replace them. After they have killed their target, they will remember always having been that character (others will notice a change in behavior).
Some shades have powers that let them immediately “trade places” with a target, forcing them into this inbetween state and then occupying the real world in their place, or absorbing sufficient temporal energy from victims that they can materialize fully as a concrete being. These tend to require the touch of a manifest ghost, or eye contact with the victim.

Shades of Defeat

Temporal shades have several weaknesses. First, they can only exist and operate from within the Labyrinth. When they near what, in the physical world, would be the entrance of the labyrinth, they see only endless tunnels that continue on into the labyrinth. Second, they’re not actually insubstantial, but simply occupy a different plane, and most operate by the geometry of that plane. The alternate labyrinths generally follow the same layout as the physical labyrinth, but there may be differences, places where a shade cannot go, and places where shades can ignore walls and doors.

Shades are invisible to all visual senses and generally silent, but they give away their presence in a few ways. First, they are not invisible to psychic senses: characters with True Sight can see them, as can characters with Awareness, Mind Scan or Detect Life (though these latter two suffer a -3 penalty). They’ve also visible in reflections, and when they pass through sheer cloth, such as those used to curtain Akashic Temples, the cloth moves as though on a wind.

Time Shades have no unusual invulnerabilities or resistances beyond their intangibility. If struck by a weapon that can strike insubstantial targets, or struck by a weapon while materialized or manifest, they suffer the usual effects of their damage. If something on their same plane attacks them, they’re affected as normal.

Temporal shades are unique in that they only exist as a possibility of a single timeline. As long as that timeline remains possible, they can manipulate the real world in some way. When that timeline becomes impossible, or so improbable as to move the ghost away from the current timeline, it effectively ceases to exist. Examples, based on the above timeline examples,might include:
  • Massacre: the shade expects to be a survivor of a massacre in a particular place. If that place is walled of and people prevented from entering it, then this effectively locks away the ghost.
  • Archaeological Resurrection: if all records of the “lost king” are destroyed, such that the “memory” of the non-existent “lost king” is completely lost, it effectively ceases to be.
  • Marriage: If the character marries another, then this seals their timeline and prevents the shade from entering it.
  • I am you”: The shade probably can’t exist in a timeline where the character has already died. Thus, the death of the character effectively ends the possibility of the alternate version from happening.

“But they’re really ghosts, right?”

Time Shades are technically the echoes of alternate timelines; they’re not the spirits of the departed, nor manifestations of Broken Communion. However, a campaign might be too broad to support the sort of niche abilities necessary to defeat them.

ESP and Anti-Psi should treat ghosts, time shades and hyperdimensional beings as effectively the same as far as True Sight is concerned. In regard to the Powers of Communion, whether or not Time Shades are affected by the Miracles of the Path of Death is up to GM discretion. While not literally the dead, they could fall under the same symbolic umbrella as those of ghosts, and the Path of Death could govern (summon, exorcise, etc) Time Shades just as well as ghosts. If the GM prefers, the Path of Madness might be a better path, but in such a case, the Path of Madness should then gain access to miracles that work as the Ghost-summoning/manipulating miracles of Death, but only on Time Shades.

Necrokinesis abilities do not work on Time Shades.

The GM should decide if the exorcism traditions focused on ghosts (such as the Morathi rites of the Witch Cats, or the exorcisms of Domen Khemet, the Ranathim Death Cult) will work on Time Shades. If so, it’s likely only fair that the exorcism traditions of the Akashic Order also work on ghosts.  As a compromise, consider applying a -2 for ghost-based traditions to exorcise Time Shades, or for the Akashic tradition to exorcise ghosts.

Shades of Hell

Time shades occupy a plane of existence just “sideways” of the physical world. The physics of these “sideways” worlds might vary, which is especially interesting if the shades are “castling” with living targets. GMs can introduce this little bit of extra detail to make Castling more interesting, or to add additional flavor (and weaknesses) to shades. Different shades might be in different “hells,” and would be mutually insubstantial and invisible to one another, only able to interact with one another via manifestations in the physical world.

All “Hells” are suffused with a faint, omnipresent glow that obviates all darkness penalties. This is the source of the shade’s “darkvision.”
  • White Hell: the glow here is a pale white. This parallel is cold, and the closer the labyrinth is to the light of the surface or to the warmth of a flame, the colder it gets, while the deeper and darker in the Labyrinth the ghost is, the warmer. If the ghost is in direct sunlight or within a yard of an open fire, it takes 1 point of fatigue (cold) damage per second. In places with any natural light, the ghost must roll HT or lose fatigue to the cold once per hour. In places of total darkness or “deep” in the labyrinth, the ghost is “warm” enough not roll or lose fatigue. Shades in the white hell manifests its presence as cold spots in the physical world.
  • Red Hell: the glow here is a dull red or violet. This parallel is totally soundless. No sound will carry. The shade cannot speak, nor hear, anything that happens in the physical world or in the parallel. However, specific, loud sounds in the physical world can carry into the Red Hell, shattering the silence with a roaring cacophony of agony. In the presence of temple bells tuned to specific frequencies, the shade must roll HT-5 or suffer Terrible Pain (or Agony if it fails by more than 5) for a number of minutes equal to its margin of failure.
  • Black Hell: the glow here is an inversion of color. This parallel has no walls. In place of the tunnels of the labyrinth, the Black Hell has platforms floating in the void. The shade can “pass through walls” by jumping from one platform to another. If it misses, it will fall until it hits another platform (shades never seem to fall forever, and will always fall on some platform, though typically much deeper in the labyrinth).

Time Shades

Time Shades should use the stats of whatever creature (typically, but not necessarily, a Skairos) they actually are. The stats below are a simple “grab and go” example of a time shade, and not definitive of what all time shades should be.

ST: 10 HP: 20 Speed: 7
DX: 12 Will: 14 Move: 6
IQ: 10-15 Per: 10

HT: 12 FP: 20 SM: +0
Dodge: 10
Parry: NA
DR: 0

Skills: Stealth-14; One of Diplomacy, Intimidation or Savoir-Faire, all at 14.

Traits: Darkvision; Divine Curse (Cannot Leave the Labyrinth); Insubstantial (Not to things on its plane; no vertical movement; ghost air); Invisible (Only to substantial; Affects Machines; Visible Reflections) Supernatural Features (Eyeless; Flickering transparency); Mute (Substantial Only)

Fright Check: +0



Time Shades can have one or more of the following powers. All time shade powers are psionic, and can be prevented with Anti-Psi, as normal.

Castling: The time shade “switches places” with a target. The manifested time shade must touch the target or the target must make eye-contact with the visible shade. If so, the shade can spend 5 fatigue to make a contest of Wills with the target. On a success, the shade materializes as a fully physical being (it loses the Insubstantiability trait and the Invisibility trait) and the target becomes a Time Shade, and follows all the rules for a time shade (including the rules for “Shades of Hell” above). The death of the manifest time shade will generally “bring back” the exiled target, but a successful contest of Exorcism with the shades Will will also generally work to restore the exiled target. At the GM’s discretion, the target might also gain the powers of the ghost for the duration of their Castling exile.

Dark Fate: The Time Shade dooms the character to make changes in the world that will bring the Shade’s desired timeline into being. This requires a touch from the manifested time shade, or eye contact with the visible shade; the shade spends 5 fatigue and rolls a contest of Wills. If the shade wins, the character gains a disadvantageous Destiny to bring about the events necessary for the time shade to fully materialize. This Destiny can be worth -5 to -15; -5 is the most common and most subtle, but at -15, treat it as a variation of Weirdness Magnet, where the character is regularly plagued by weirdness that pushes the character towards the desired set of events (a discarded knife keeps showing up in their inventory, gibbering minions hail the character as their messiah, etc).

Devour: The time shade “steals” the temporal energy of the target. The manifested time shade must touch the target and spend 1 fatigue per 3 dice of burn damage that ignores DR (with no upper limit). This damage is all or nothing. Either the target takes sufficient damage to die in one attack, in which case they simply vanish, or they take 1 point of burn damage from where the ghost touched them. If the target dies, the ghost is able to materialize a fully physical body. For the duration of the effect they are no longer insubstantial or invisible. The GM determines how long this lasts: 1 hour is a good duration, though it might be as short as a minute near the surface of the labyrinth, and days in the deep labyrinth. The shade can extend the time they remain manifest by using their power gain and again.

Illusion of Time: The ghost can manifest visions of its expected timeline or reality, or of the “Hell” that it currently occupies (see Shades of Hell). This can be as subtle as changing the words of a text to as dramatic and totally engrossing all the senses of the target with visions of hell. This requires a contest of Wills between the shade and their target. On a success, the character might roll IQ to “disbelieve” the illusion if they have any cause to disbelieve. While caught up in the illusion, they can suffer “real” damage, but if they realize the reality of it with a successful IQ roll, convert all of this damage to fatigue damage instead. The effect lasts for 1 minute per margin of the Shade’s success, and costs 1 fatigue per minute to maintain.

Manifestation: The time shade can manifest an ectoplasmic presence. This costs 1 fatigue per minute and grants them a “body” with DR 0, HP 1 and Injury Tolerance (Homogenous, No Blood). If destroyed, any “excess” damage applies their own actual HP totals (but still apply the benefits of Injury Tolerance for this attack) and their manifestation is destroyed. This typically Stuns the shade for 1d seconds, after which it might manifest again, but all manifestations after being destroyed thus cost 2 fatigue until at least an hour has passed.

Power of Fear/Friendship: The shade can undermine a target’s defenses by provoking an emotional response of fear or trust. In the case of the former, the ghost must find some way to invoke its intimidation skill against the target (appearing in a terrifying way, pronouncing doom upon the part, or manipulating their environment in a frightening way). In the latter case, the shade must ask the target if they trust it and then reveal a secret to the target (generally the shade’s name), make an agreement, or otherwise assist the target. In both cases, the shade rolls their requisite skill (Intimidation for Fear and one of Diplomacy or Savoir-Faire for trust) and the target resists with Will. If the shade wins, it may apply a bonus equal to its margin of victory to any use of any of its powers against the target once, to a maximum of +5; the ghost may automatically apply the full +5 bonus against a target that has failed a Fright Check against the shade.

Presence: If the manifest shade touches a target, or the target makes eye-contact with the visible shade, then the Time Shade can spend 1 fatigue to roll a Contest of Wills with the target. If the win, they “haunt” the target. They may appear before the target whenever they wish, for free, but nobody else will see them. They may also use their powers on the target at will. The target counts as “the labyrinth” for the purposes of the shade’s traits, and thus they can “ride” the target out of the Labyrinth. Shades often do this if they need something done outside of the Labyrinth. This sort of haunting can be undone with an exorcism: roll the exorcists’ Exorcism skill in a contest with the Shade’s Will.

Probability Alteration: The shade can push probability more in line with their desired timeline. This manifests as a blanket -1 to all rolls that would negate the shades desired outcome. The ghost can only affect one target at a time with this power. More powerful ghosts can also spend 5 fatigue to turn a failure into a critical failure.

Revelation: The shade can reveal themselves without the risks associated with Manifestation. This costs them one fatigue per second. They can attempt to pass themselves off as a living person, but they look transparent in bright light, and they must hide their eyeless appearance. If a power requires them to make eye contact, Revelation can substitute for Manifestation for allowing the target to see the shades’ eyes.

Terror: If the shade is visible, it may spend 1 fatigue to make its gaze terrifying. Anyone who sees its eyes must roll a Fight Check at a penalty determined by the GM (between 0 and -5). Victims who succeed are immune for an hour, and all victims get +1 per Fright Check after the first within 24 hours.

Zap: The shade can damage delicate electronics. The shade must touch the object in question (but an insubstantial touch is sufficient). They spend 1 fatigue and the object rolls its HT or it’s sufficiently damaged to require repairs (which requires, at the very least, a change out of any breakers in the system).

Notes: The powers of a time shade are listed with fatigue costs to give the GM a sense of scale; the GM needn’t actually worry about fatigue totals unless the players face a “boss” time shade. A typical time shade is not much of a challenge to a properly equipped party. Psychic characters will often pick them out fairly easily, and characters who have the ability to attack and destroy intangible targets will easily defeat them. They’re mostly a danger to unsuspecting or unprepared parties while they remain subtle. That said, a Castling or Devouring time shade can be devastating. The GM should allow player characters to use an Impulse Buy point to defeat a Devour attempt, and perhaps use a variation of the Imperial Stormtrooper’s Marksmanship Academy, where characters suddenly find burns materializing on their bodies and realize that they’re under attack before hitting them with the full effect.

Alternatively, hit the party with a legion of time shades. Many time shades manifesting at once represent a great example of a “mook threat” as each manifestation can be easily destroyed, but if paired with Probability Altering shades and Zapping shades, they can bring a party to their knees fairly quickly, enough to let their leader Devour or Castle a target.


Character Trait Notes

Veiled Gaze [1]: The character never makes eye contact unintentionally. By default, the GM should assume the character keeps their gaze away from a target’s eyes unless they explicitly say otherwise. The GM may assess a -1 reaction penalty, though, in circumstances where eye contact is expected.

Standard Operating Procedure (Veiled Sanctuary) [1]: Whenever the character “beds down” or sets up a camp in the labyrinth, they always create windbreaks and leave sheer veils around the camp, so they can see if a time shade has passed into the camp, if at all possible. The GM should be lenient in allowing for such a set-up (for example, if the character lacks the resources, the GM might allow a retroactive scrounging roll to see if the character could have set up something similar). The GM should almost always allow the character at least one Perception check to see if they notice an infiltration by a time shade.

Exorcism (Akashic): This is a specialization of Exorcism specific for Time Shades. Any ordained character may use it, or a character with the Licensed Exorcist perk.

Hidden Lore (Labyrinth) or Hidden Lore (Deep Time): Both can be rolled to know something about Time Shades.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Into the Labyrinth: Musings on the Monsters Within

Last week, I talked about labyrinth and the Skairos.  I've been hard at work writing up the labyrinth as an environment.  But once I had done so, I found myself pondering the dangers of the environment, especially the monsters therein.  These things are all tied together, so I can discuss one element, but it's hard to fully explain without exploring all of it, but we'll have to take this one step at a time.

One of those steps was thinking about the Skairos, which we already did last week, but in particular, the Skairos as Monsters.  What sort of weaknesses do they have and what sort of motivations do they have? If we were playing a monster hunting game and trying to kill one of the Skairos, what would that scenario look like, while remaining true to the lore we've already created.

This creates a bit of a condundrum, though: are the Skairos actually monsters? I find the best metaphor for them to be the fair folk, as they tend to be "dark mirrors" of Maradonian society, just as the fae tended to be "dark mirrors" of medieval European society.  But in another sense, they're also the angels of the Akashic Order: it is from them that the Akashic Order learned to explore deep time and to transcend temporal limits in their Shadow Councils.  But at the same time, during the tumultuous origins of the Akashic Order, the colonists of Persephone were being killed by the things within the Labyrinth.  Indeed, much of the Akashic Order's imagery are things meant to protect the Order from the Skairos.  Their gargoyles at their temples are meant to "ward away" the monsters of the labyrinth, and while the veiled eyes of the Akashic Oracles might serve as a convenient way to allow a Skairos to slip into their midst, it might also act as a form of protection, a way of tricking some things into thinking the Oracle is Skairos, or it could be a way of protecting the oracle from making eye contact with something.

So, what conclusions can we draw from all of this to work out how our sci-fi time-lost race, how you kill them, and why you'd want to.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Musings on Ultra-Tech Gun Damage

Most people who regularly participate in my discord are either $3+ patrons, or non-patrons who just really like Psi-Wars, but I have a few that are only $1 patrons and thus have only a passing interest in Psi-Wars, but mostly strip-mine my material for their own campaigns, which is fine!  That's part of the intent of what I'm doing. But a lot of my material lately has been more "Psi-Wars" specific, and not especially generic at all.

One such poster mentioned "Gauss Guns" as an off-the-cuff example of something more useful to him than what I had been posting (though I hasten to add that it wasn't meant to diminish what I was posting), and that single line got me thinking about something I honestly dread: Psi-Wars needs guns.  There are several reasons for this, but most of them revolve around illustrating a more primitive era, from the 40k-esque Mug to the hunting weapons of Nekotara, to the ancient weapons of the Tyranny, one way you can show that a particular race is ancient is to give them firearms rather than blasters (especially given that firearms are pretty much better than all beam weapons until Blasters show up, which means they can "keep up" nicely).  But this poses another problem, because the point of the Mug is to have extreme ST and to showcase what you can do with it, and part of the idea there is to give them arms and armor that take advantage of their superior ST.  So it's not enough to use the existing weapons, which are built for ST 10, SM +0 humans, because I need guns built for ST 20, SM +1 dragon-people.

So I need to be able to design guns.  And I don't have a system for it.  But my conversion of GURPS Vehicles gave me hope: it looks like most 4e vehicles are just 3e vehicles with some minor tweaks to a couple of formulas that we're largely privvy to, and a few arbitrary values chosen by the designer based on his assumptions for the vehicle.  Could the same be true of guns?

There are a lot of stats for guns.  The following, I think, can be arbitrarily assigned:
  • Malf
  • Acc
  • Bulk
  • Rcl
  • LC
I suspect there's a formula behind Acc, Bulk and Rcl, but I think it's safe enough to make some basic, arbitrary assumptions: Pistols are Acc 2-ish, rifles are Acc 4-ish, and cannons are Acc 6-ish; rcl is generally 2, but it might hit 3 or maybe even 4 for extremely unwieldy weapons.  Guessing at bulk is more involved, and we need to get a sense of the weight and length of the weapon, but we'll come back to that.  But if we know these parameters, we can compare the weapon to existing weapons and make a reasonable guess.

The following are likely derived from formulas:
  • Dmg
  • Range
  • Weight
  • RoF (or at least, from design choices)
  • ST
  • Cost
For guessing at how these formulas work, I'm going to use Ultra-Tech exclusively.  I suspect LT and HT weapons aren't derived from formulas, but from real world stats converted into GURPS.  Thus, the only place where I think we can see a design system in action is Ultra-Tech, and that makes sense, as there are no "real-world" weapons from which the stats can be converted.  And this makes sense: if we want a gun design system it's for arbitrary weapons, like "What does a pistol for an SM +1 dragon-man look like, anyway?"  And I'm going to start with damage, as that's the most important, though we'll quickly see that the variables that matter to damage here will impact the values of other stats elsewhere.

Whenever I post something like this, someone inevitably responds with "But don't you know about X?" Someone somewhere has made a conversion, or worked out some formula and posted it somewhere on the internet.  To that, I say: Bring it.  I can use any help I can get.  I've done quite some research on this topic, and it's something I've been chewing on for a long time, so I may well know about it, but shoot it my direction anyway, or leave it as a comment, so other people can see it.  Every little bit helps, and it's safer to assume I don't know and annoy me with things that I've already seen than it is to assume I do know and then I miss the valuable, secret answer.

So, without further ado, let's look at gun damage.

Friday, May 15, 2020

Into the Labyrinth: Musings on the Skairos

At the same time that I wrote up the Akashic Mysteries, I also wrote up the Skairos, the "Devils of Persephone."  Originally, I had intended them as a sort of "special option," a unique "possible" race meant for mainly my patrons and "insiders," as well as some possible hooks or monsters that they could use in a primarily Akashic game and a nice nod to one of the more creative Star Wars races: the Miraluka.

As with the rest of the Labyrinth, I've found interest in them has grown and, at least in my mind, they're becoming more of a "central" part of Psi-Wars, though I think they're exact nature and motivations should remain a mystery.  As I explore more of this idea of "Psi-Wars as Monster-Hunter game" the more i find myself revisiting works I had previousl created to provide interesting monsters to players, including the monsters of Broken Communion, the Gaunt, and now the Skairos.

(In particular, much of this was inspired by the moment I released the Skairos as a race, and one person commented on how they all had a "Secret," and asked how they kept it. "So, do they wear armor all the time or what?" It's a great question and one I've been pondering ever since.  It's increasingly obvious that the Psi-Wars setting has "secret races" like the Eldoth and the Skairos and whatever pulls the strings of the Scourge.  So, let's dive deeper into this particular race).

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Into the Labyrinth: Musings on Labyrinth Worlds

I've not been as active on my blog lately not because I've been too busy doing other things, but because most of the things I've been working on aren't "ready for primetime."  That said, one of the points of the blog is to let people see "how the sausage gets made," so revealing some of my thoughts and approach to things might not be a bad idea.  It at least shows you things going on behind the scenes and gives you material to chew on and perhaps do something with on your own.

Recently, the Tall Tales group chose to explore a route that brings them the most directly into contact with the Labyrinth and the Skairos.  I've been thinking about them for a long time, which likely is surprising to some, as the Labyrinth is just a foot note in other posts but in my head, it becomes increasingly central to the "mysteries, monsters and conspiracies" of the Glorian Rim.  They are:
  • The source and wellspring of the Akashic Mysteries
  • An initiation trial of House Kain
  • A means of exploring the galaxy without ever getting onto a ship.
  • A source of cool monsters and lost relics.
Thus the labyrinth is likely deserving of more attention than it's getting and, with it, their creators (or, at least, the race most deeply associated with them, the Skairos).

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Backer Post: Bounty Hunter Factions Preview 2: the Saruthim

If you wondered why I've been so quiet, it's been because I've been working on this monstrosity.  I've wanted to give Ranathim "ancient bio-mecha" since I first read about them in Pyramid #3/24 and they've been a feature of the Dead Art since Iteration 6. Inspired further by my noodling about a Witcher/Mandalorian faction in my "How to run an RPG" posts, and the idea to explore Bounty Hunter factions as a part of the Bounty Hunter template release, I finally took the time to see what I could come up with.

It turns out to have a lot of moving parts, not all of which I could finish, but I need to shift gears, so I've wrapped up what I could and delivered it to you, dear Patron.  This one is limited to $5+, like the previous update, not because I'm shafting my Fellow Travelers, but because it's not finished and I want some feedback before I release it to the (relatively) more general public, but expect to see it, uh, soon-ish.

This is available to $5+ backers:

If you have feedback, I'd love to see it!

After Action Report: Tall Tales of the Orochi Belt Part IV - The Storm Comes

Last we left our heroes:
  • Sir Axton Kain, Space Knight of House Kain, who has no heart.
  • Viscontessa Shay Sabine, Space Knight of House Sabine, who sees the future on the petals of dreaming nymph
  • Baron Mallus Grimshaw, Ace Pilot of House Grimshaw, who disapproves.
  • Sir Tyro Pavonis, Ace Pilot of House Sabine, who sees without sight (but was unable to make the session).
  • Walker Lee, Scavenger and War Hero of the Orochi Rebellion, and caretaker of one Jethro Page
  • The Dread Pirate Xerxes, Captain of the Calico and its killer crew, and Asrathi Witchcat, but otherwise not a bad bloke.
They had captured the smuggler station "Port Mongo" after executing its previous owner, Mongo Corpulain, for the crimes of murder, human trafficking and Orochi poaching, and then carefully captured the rest to minimize casualties.  Then, they discovered that an Orochi Swarm descended once more on the damaged, inoperable station.

Monday, May 4, 2020

May the 4th Be With You!

Ahh, it's that one day of the year when us Star Wars geeks get really annoying and think we're cute!  Given the day, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on the current state of Star Wars for myself.

Personally, I'm fascinated by the current era of Star Wars, but for all the wrong reasons.  I like digging into politics and management stories, especially when they fail, and the behind-the-scenes stuff on Lucasfilm lately has read like a disaster investigation, but for management.  It seems the power-struggle is, in fact, still on-going, with some weird (shady?) things going on in the background.

So it should come as no surprise that the Star Wars community is, shall we say, pretty divided over the current state of Star Wars.  One common refrain I hear is "Star Wars is dead to me."  I think that's a mistake.  It's certainly not dead for me. In a lot of ways, Star Wars is more alive for me than it has ever been before.  To my ear, that refrain sounds like when a new edition of an RPG comes out, and you dislike it, so you throw out all your old books.  The old works are still around. Just because you don't like the new stuff doesn't mean the old stuff got retroactively worse.

I will never be the guy who tells you to like something out of brand loyalty.  I think if you didn't like the Last Jedi or Rise of Skywalker or anything that's come from Kathleen Kennedy's Lucasfilm, that's your right, and you should acknowledge your experience.  There is an entire world of interesting space opera and pulp adventures that I can recommend to you instead.  But at the same time, I don't think you should throw the baby out with the bathwater.

I've really enjoyed the Mandalorian.  I've really enjoyed Rebels.  I've really enjoyed Clone Wars, and its latest season (with the exception of one episode which, while fun, you could have missed and not realized you had done so; for the "last season ever," I don't think you have room to waste on a literal filler episode; the fact that you're spending time on money on a wasted episode makes the episodes or moment you didn't do but could have seem all the more galling).  Jedi: Fallen Order is actually really good!  I'm actually increasingly curious about the other Streaming Star Wars offerings.

But for me, what's really jumped out at me hasn't been the galaxy of the future, but the galaxy of long, long ago.  As a kid, I had skipped the EU as bad knock-off of the real thing. This was a mistake.  It's got some great stuff! I've been hunting for "space opera pulp that feels like Star Wars, but isn't the familiar Star Wars" and it turns out what I was looking for was... Star Wars!  A lot of the Old Republic stuff is especially good.  I've gone through the Dawn of the Jedi, the Old Republic Comics (including, especially, the Knight of the Old Republic comic, which is some of the best stuff I've read, even if the art has varied wildly in quality over that series).  I finally sat down and beat KOTOR (I'm still trying to get through KOTOR2, which I suspect I'll enjoy more, but I keep running into technical difficulties) and while Star Wars: the Old Republic is held back by its insistence on copying Warcraft mechanics, the stories in it, and the worlds it shows you, are magnificent.

I think what writing Psi-Wars has helped me do is liberate my mind from the confines of the original trilogy and get a better feel for what Lucas was trying to do in the first place.  When I was a kid, a lot of my friends liked West End Games Star Wars, but for me, back in the early 90s, it was too bound to the trilogy.  All you could be were knock-off characters of the trilogy, and all you could do were knock-off things of the trilogy. The trilogy dominated everything and it was hard to figure out how to be creative.

But now that I've explored what inspired Star Wars to begin with and seen other people dive into new and interesting directions in Star Wars (especially in the Old Republic, the Prequels, Clone Wars and Rebels), and now that I've done it myself with Psi-Wars, I think I could do it with Star Wars.  If I were pressed to run a Star Wars RPG, I could easily whip up an innovative set of star systems with unique cultures and underworlds and exciting new bounty hunters or criminal cartels, and create a totally new Star Wars adventure.  Or I could draw on the broader material of Star Wars.  The ideal would be a synthesis of both: the familiar (to remind you that it's Star Wars) interwoven with the novel (to keep you from being bored). Given a choice, I'd rather run Psi-Wars, but mostly for similar reasons that I prefer DF over D&D: I like how GURPS runs, and I feel like I have more explicit freedom from my players when I'm running "my own thing." But I could do Star Wars, which is something I couldn't really do before.

So I suppose, in the End, I'm pretty okay with the current world of Star Wars. Sure, a lot of stuff is burning down right now, but that's often what it looks like when an era is ending.  The Star Wars community is passionate, which means passions run high, but at the end of the day, you can go to marvel streaming comics and get every Star Wars comic ever released (or close to). You have an unbelievable amount of Star Wars available to you at your fingertips on Disney+.  You have a ton of Star Wars games that go on sale every May the 4th every year. And if you tire of official Star Wars, I can show you dozens of interesting settings and worlds that will scratch that space opera itch.  It's a bumpy ride, but that doesn't mean that there isn't a ton of stuff to enjoy. You just might need to leave the guided tour to find a lot of it.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

"Support your friendly, local gaming store"

Today, SJGames implores us to support our FLGSes. They even have a link that takes you to a GAMA site that lets you find your localest and most friendly gaming store.  I tinkered with it, and for me, it was an exercise in depression.

I grew up in a friendly local gaming shop.  My gaming career would not be what it is today without Debbie's store.  We played games, I learned Necromunda and Warhammer 40k, and between my highschool and her shop, we played Marvel (FASERIP), Rifts, MERP, WoD and, yes, GURPS.  That's where all of this got started.  And when I moved to the Netherlands, I made a point of touring all the game shops, looking for obscure RPGs that others hadn't heard of (yes, I was a gaming hipster back then).  So I hit the gaming shops of Eindhoven, Amsterdam, and everywhere in between, though I noticed the gaming sections seemed to shrink year by year.

Now when I look, I have to expand it out to a 100 mile radius from either my home in Kansas or my home in the Netherlands to find anything, and what I can find, I can count on one hand.  Yes, they're still out there, but they're definitely a dying breed, and I'd have to drive for an hour or two to reach any of them.

 If you haven't been paying attention, or paying attention to the wrong people, you might not know that the comics book industry (especially the stores) are going through a crisis of existential proportions.  I imagine the same forces working against them are working against gaming stores too, so, yeah, if you have a gaming shop, go buy something from them.  I hit up my local comic book (they're technically still a gaming shop, in that they sell board games and D&D) and dumped a bunch of money on them before they shuttered for the quarantine, though they claim that they've diversified enough that they're not struggling nearly as badly as some American shops seem to be.

But I wonder if it's going to make a difference in the long run.  If I look at RPGs, the march away from the FLGS, as much as every gamer will offer effusive lipservice to the idea.  Why do we need FLGses?
  • To buy RPGs, of course (but we have Amazon, DTRPG, Warehouse 23, and increasingly Kickstarter)
  • To have a space to meet other gamers and be introduced to new ideas (but we have facebook groups, forums, discord servers...)
  • To have a space to play RPGs (but we have virtual tabletops and vocal chat that lets us play with people all across the world).
 It's not a trend exclusive to RPG.  Retail in general is dying.  When I first came here, there were three Free Record shops and there were several places where you could buy games.  Now, the only place I can buy CDs are online; DVDs are increasingly only available online, I generally buy music as audio files, I buy all my computer games from digital distribution and even things like PS games tend to only be available in big box stores. Eindhoven's city center went from a bustling, commercial sector to more of a place one walks around and hits up a cafe.  There are major stores that closed down and never re-opened and still sit essentially unused.  Most of the smaller shops that closed down have been replaced with vanity boutiques, or "pop-up" shops, or things like mobile phone repair shops.  The ones that survive tend to be places that offer services more than products, like I take my son and daughter to "Tien Tenen" (Ten toes) to buy his shoes; they're more expensive, but there's staff on hand to give advice about what to get our kids, and the shoes we get tend to last longer and have a generally higher quality than what we get online.  Or they tend to be places with a lot of atmosphere, where you go for the sake of going, like restaurants or nice little shopping places where a couple of ladies can while away the day and then go and get a coffee.

How is a gaming store supposed to survive in such an environment? The 90s and early 2000s were really the heyday of the FLGS, as we were coming out of the stigmatic era of the 80s, the internet was spreading the idea of RPGs around more, but we didn't have things like Amazon or PDFs to compete directly with the retail marketplace, and because of that, there were darwinian pressures on RPGs that whittled their numbers down.  If you were an FLGs, you definitely sold D&D, you probably sold White Wolf, and you might sell GURPS, Palladium, Hero, Call of Cthulhu, other TSR products, MERP, Shadowrun and a handful of others, though by the early 2000s the writing was already on the wall as the number of RPGs began to explode (BESM, 7th Sea, Nobilis, Legend of the Five Rings, Warhammer RPGs) making it harder and harder for a shop to know what to stock.  Nowadays?  Fuggedaboutit. The other day I was tracking the Ennies and I hadn't even heard of half of these RPGs.  I might not be as "plugged in" as I used to be, but the modern RPG industry seems based on the boom and bust of Kickstarter: you start up a campaign, you whip up interest, you get your kickstarter money, you sell all your books, then you fold up shop and go home and perhaps think about creating your next batch of games.  What's even the point of an FLGS participating in that cycle?  By the time they have the product, it's already old hat, been-there-done-that and the hype has rushed on to some other kickstarter campaign. Interest has been spread ocean-flat, with a couple of spikes out there, mostly D&D and Pathfinder (so you can at least sell those) and a handful of games that can maintain more of a presence than "We did a single kickstarter campaign," most of which are die hards who were around in the 90s and early 2000s (Shadowrun, GURPS, 7th Sea, etc) or a few newcomers with some really big names behind them (Gumshoe, Nobilis), but most of these mainly survive online.

So what are we supposed to do?  The thing is, I'd love to have an FLGS to drop my son off at once he hits 12 or so, because I think it's a good experience.  You get surrounded by lots of neat ideas and like-minded-but-sufficiently-different people that it helps you expand your horizons a bit. I can recreate that sort of environment at home, or with the help of things like Minecraft, but the internet is "too big" for a 12 year old, and the house "too small."  So, I'd love to see the FLGS come back in a big way, but I feel like we're building sandcastles against a flood.  The times are changing and we can't turn the clock back on it, as much as I wish we could. 

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Corrosion Confusion

A lot of my recent work has focused on toxic and corrosive things, including slimes and nanoblooms (I've been quiet, but I have been working on things).  As such, I've done a lot of looking at Corrosion, and it's... weird.

As best as I can tell, Corrosion works thus:
  • For every 5 points of basic (rolled) damage, the target's DR is reduced by 1.
  • If a corrosive element continuously affects the same spot of certain materials, such as wood and stone, it treats it as Ablative (this is true of Burning too).
  • If you get hit in the face with Corrosive damage, you take 1.5x damage.
Alright, so far so good.  The examples of "real world" Corrosion are:

  • Acid: this deals 1d-3 if you get splashed with it, and 1d-1 if you're immersed in it.
  • Alkahest: not a "real world" material, but still a standard one from Dungeon Fantasy. It deals 1d on a splash, and 2d-1 if you immerse yourself in it.
  • Nanobots. Devourers deal 1d(2) corrosion and disassemblers deal 1d-2(10) corrosion.
  • Disintegrators (and similar effects) deal whatever damage they feel like.
 So, in principle, we find that most forms of corrosion deal very little damage at all, which makes them of questionable use for me in a space opera game.

Acid deals 1, 1, 1, 1, 2 and 3 points of damage on a splash and will never reduce DR.  It is useless against any armor that its DR 3+, especially if sealed (ie, all Ultra Tech armor worth discussing).  If you swim through acid, it will deal 1, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 damage, which means you have a one-in-six chance of losing one point of DR.

Alkahest is better, dealing 1-6 on a splash (taking off 1 DR on a roll of 5 or 6, or 1/3 the time), while swimming in the stuff inflicts 1-11 damage (6 on average), which means most rolls will take off at least 1 point of DR and possibly 2, which means your armor will be dissolved within seconds.

It's nanobots where it starts to get weird.  Like, what benefit does armor divisor even provide to such low damage totals?  Consider the dreaded disassembler: it will deal 1, 1, 1, 2, 3 and 4, which will never reduce DR, but it will inflict 1 point of damage against DR 9 or less always, 19 or less on a roll of 4+ and 29 or less on a roll of 5+ and and against 39 or less on a roll of 6.  This is TL 11, so a typical opponent might be wearing a monocrys tac suit which is DR 20, so you're looking at 1-2 points of damage at most... but what does that even mean?  Did they chew through the armor? Did it damage the seal? It says only sealed DR will protect against it, so when is it no longer considered sealed?  I've been hunting over books for rules on Sealed and what it takes to break it (After all, we have rules for armor patches) when I came across this little gem:

Sealed: Impervious to penetration by liquids and gases.  This corresponds to the Sealed advantage (p. B82). It prevents all harm from noncorrosive bioweapons, chemicals,  and nano, as well as ordinary rust and waterlogging -UT 171
So, uh, does sealed armor protect against "corrosive nano" like disassemblers or not?  Either it doesn't at all, in which case, why does it say that "only sealed armor protects against it?" Does it protect fully against it unless the seal is broken? If so, at what point is the seal broken? The armor patch rules seem to imply if any damage penetrates it.  We also have armor damage rules, but only in an LT companion, which obviously doesn't cover sealed armor as none existed in LT periods.  Or does it protect until all anti-corrosion DR has been dissolved, in which case, it'll never be penetrated.

Upgraded Corrosion

I wonder if the intent was to make disassembler 'more corrosive" than, say, devourer or acid.  But if that's the case, we should buff the Corrosion effect.

We actually have a version of improved corrosion in Powers: the Weird, and it stems from a post here, which creates some interesting possibilities.  The core recipe is: Corrosion + Corrosion (No Wounding -50%).  Thus:
  1.  Basic Corrosion deals 1-6 damage, and dissolves 1 DR on a roll of 5 or 6
  2. One extra "non-wounding" die of Corrosion (equivalent to a +50% modifier) would double the corrosive effect.  You would lose 1 DR on a roll of 3 or 4, and 2 DR on 5 or 6.
  3. two extra "non-wounded" dice of Corrosion (equivalent to a +100%) modifier would triple the corrosive effect.  You would lose 1 DR on a roll of 2 or 3, and two DR on a 4, and three DR on a 5 or 6.
  4. three extra "non-wounding" dice of Corrosion (equivalent to +150% modifier) would quadruple the corrosive effect.  You would lose 1 DR on a roll of 2, 2 DR on a roll of 3, 3 DR on a roll of 4, 4 DR on a roll of 5-6.
  5. four extra "non-wounding" dice of Corrosion (+200% modifier, the one from the Weird) multiplies corrosion by 5 or, more simply, subtracts 1 DR per point of damage inflicted.
Thus we can get some modifiers here:
  • +50% intensified corrosion means that the corrosion effect subtracts 1 DR per three damage dealt (more or less).
  • +100% intensified corrosion means the corrosion effect subtracts 1 DR per two damage dealt (more or less).
  • +150% intensified corrosion gets difficult to measure and probably best to skip (I think it works out to 2/3 DR removed per damage dealt)
  • +200% works as the version in Powers: the Weird.

But as interesting an idea as that is as an alternative to Armor Divisors for Corrosive Damage, I'm still a little lost on exactly how corrosion is meant to interact with sealed vacc suits, and how armor divisors are meant to work on corrosive damage with sealed armor, and I can't seem to find anything on it.

Alright, fine, let's kill Axton Kain too! Bounty Hunter Design Diary addendum

One of my players complained when the Bounty Hunter series ended, as he had hoped I would explore how to defeat all of them.  This isn't a bad idea, actually, as it informs the sorts of things bounty hunters should be able to do. The primary argument against it is a matter of time: how much of my time is better spent building sample bounty hunters vs building out more of the setting?  This isn't a rhetorical question, as I don't know the answer, but I've had to balance it, and it does directly feed into Tall Tales of the Orochi Belt, even if we're unlikely to see these hunters right away.  So, shall we come up with one last bounty hunter to fight the legendary Axton Kain?

Some of my favorite people are bounty hunters -- Greef Karga, the Mandalorian

This isn't an entirely inappropriate question.  Patrons have already seen the current state of the Bounty Hunter document, but one element I've begun to include are Bounty Hunter Lodges, organized groups of bounty hunters, and one of the three I intend to release is the Exilium, a group of hunters deeply embedded into Maradonian society, who have the diplomatic finesse to operate across several borders, including in Imperial Space, without being questioned or sanctioned.  Thus, this asks the question: how do you hunt a Maradonian?

The Maradonian aristocracy aren't Jedi by any stretch.  In some ways, they're far harder to hunt, and in other ways, far easier.  On the one hand, their mastery of psychic power leaves much to be desired when compared to the psychic mastery of the Jedi and they're not elite force swordsmen.  On the other hand, they are all psychic force swordsmen, who also have armies and international influence networks and vast wealth available exclusively to them.  When you fight a space knight, you're not just fighting him,  you're fighting his house, thus you must move with caution.  Presumably, a nobleman with a bounty on his head has been cast out of his house, and thus can be as easily caught as any aristocratic pretender, but this is not always the case, especially in circumstances where a rival has begun placing bounties on a member of the house.

Of course, Axton is a little different: he's not psychic at all, but cybernetic.  He belongs to a House that skirts the line between legitimate aristocracy and pirate-lord empire.  Where the other aristocrats play at being a space knight, he's trained in the Old Ways and has personally knocked genetically augmented super-soldiers off their feet with the full force of his cybernetic body, single-handedly taken on a dozen men and shrugged off plasma shots to his chest.  He's not an easy mark to take down, and still, someone in the Exilium must be able to take down a member of House Kain.

So how would you do it?

Monday, April 27, 2020

After Action Report: Tall Tales of the Orochi Belt Part III: Into Port Mongo

Last we left our intrepid heroes, they had entered Port Mongo, a heavily damaged smuggler station in the Botanical Asteroids of the Veridian Belt, having chased off their pirate escort and crashed the the ship of the smuggler Wyatt Van Carlo, and discovered that he carried a cargo of pleasure clones.  Once inside the base, the disgustingly overweight Mongo Corpulain, "Commander" of the base, hailed them, expressed his surprise that the Alliance had an interest in his operation and instructed them that he had no intention to surrender.

Our heroes are:

  • Lady Talia Sabine, the NPC space knight commander of Harlequin Squadron
  • Baron Mallus Grimshaw, aristocratic adventurer and fighter ace, known for his paranoia and overweening arrogance.
  • Viscontess Shay Sabine, aristocratic space knight and fighter pilot and the wingman of Talia Sabine.
  • Sir Tyro Pavonis, Aristocratic (and blind!) fighter ace (though not from as prestigious a family as the other two), and wing commander in Harlequin Squadron. He has exceptional psychic vision, but keeps his sensory awareness quiet, preferring to play the role of blindman.
  • Sir Axton Kain, cybernetic space knight and presumptive heir of House Kain, currently in command of a platoon of Alliance Regulars.
  • Walker Lee, native of the Orochi Belt, rebel hero, and scavenger.  He watches over Jethro, a farmboy from St. Borlaug's Star near the Belt.
  • Xerxes, an Asrathi pirate captain of the Calico and a practicing Witch Cat.  He has a full pirate crew, including the fanatical and blood thirsty Asrathi Sylvar Ro, the heavily armed Born Riksen, the Shinjurai engineer with a bad attitude, Winner Chau, and the innocent Asrathi college student who somehow managed to stumble into being a pirate, Persia Purasinga.

The session begins with Baron Mallus Grimshaw regarding the rest of the fighters jetting about on patrol in the space around Port Mongo, securing it from any remnant defenders.  One brings a hand-carried message from the Hierophant, which is unable to directly communicate with them thanks to interference from the botanical asteroids.  The message carrier brings it to Lady Talia Sabine who stands with Sir Axton Kain and his regulars as they keep watch over their prisoners, the smuggler Wyatt van Carlo and his pirate companion, Scipio Vash. Nearby, the farmer boy from St. Borlaug's Star sits with the candy-haired clone-girl, who now wears a donated coat and breaths from a rebreather.  She has introduced herself as Nixi but has few memories (and was likely only recently decanted from the cloning biofabricator).

The messenger drops off the communicator and an image of the Grand Dame, Contessa Styliana Sabine, herself appears.  "My eyes are opened, the prophecies are true," she intones formally, and then continues:

  • The Hierophant is unable to communicate with them directly due to interference from the botanical asteroids and the "morass" between them.  They are coming to them, however, but going is slow thanks to all the asteroids.
  • No other ships arrived; they have the last hyperspatial signatures of them, so a good idea of where they've been scattered across the system.
  • They must control the base.  It is clearly the "mountain fortress" of the prophecy, but they must avoid death where possible.
  • They have detected some movements at the edges of the belt, some corvette-sized signatures that might be additional pirates.  They've sent some fighters to investigate.
  • Talia is in charge.
While the message plays, the Shieldmaiden-pattern robot, Elara, approaches Xerxes and his pirate crew.  They discuss the possible haul from the place, with Born Riksen, heavy set and jovial in his heavy armor, bragging about his knowledge of the sort of operation going on.

"Whatever you do, we have to get to the processing center.  I bet they have a scrimshaw blade and some marentine gems.  They'd be worth a fortune!"

They're interrupted by the arrival of Elara, who invites Xerxes to join Axton, as they have heard he had a vision pertinent to their circumstances. The pirates argue about their deployment; Sylvar Ro bristles at being left behind, his tail lashing as he moves with his reavers to guard the entrance, and Born exaltes at he and his maurauders joining their captain, which only irritates Sylvar further.  And so, Xerxes joins the rest of the group.

They arrive to find Callister Lee and his robot, Nubbins, explaining that they've managed to isolate the hangar bay from the rest of the comm systems and surveillance, so they can talk privately here without Mongo overhearing them.  He then suggests that he and Nubbins watch over Nixi while they repair Axton's Lancer.  Walker, Jethro's guardian, looking askance at his ward's mooning over the clone-girl, readily agrees. 

The group describes their best strategy.
  • Xerxes expresses concern that the dark Asrathi god, Kilrah, has been trying to contact him and may be trying to disrupt the mission. He believes the base to be under a dark influence, and informs them that Kilrah wants him to kill.
  • The group believes it best to keep the pirate and the smuggler alive, but to arrest them and keep them in the brig on Axton's ship.
  • Thanks to one of the Regular's scouting (Lance Highguard), they know there are several different paths they can choose: the industrial section, the habitats, the command bridge high above, or the bowels of the base, likely where engineering is. 
  • They choose to go into the bowels first, to see if they can smoke out Mongo and, perhaps, restart the fusion reactors.
  • Talia decides to stay behind with the majority of the Regulars, to keep the hangar secure and to distract Mongo by "negotiating" with him.
And so begins the "Dungeon Crawl" section of the Tall Tales of the Orochi Belt.  In addition to the space combat, I wanted to see how well the fighter aces handled on the ground.  This is a BAD 1 scenario, so it should be relatively easy and, as we'll see, it will be (especially given that everyone is 300 point characters).  I also wanted to put some extra work into bringing everyone together, which is easier in a ground-combat scenario.  I also want to note that I had all of this planned out before I knew what the PCs were like, so some of it might seem tailored for Xerxes, but it actually wasn't, he just made certain aspects a lot easier!
We did a couple of character things before this started.  First, I talked to Shay's player about her ST, and I agreed to allow her to reduce it to 9, mostly to better reflect her physical stature; this would prove an interesting choice, as it gave her the option to pursue more psychic powers, but the additional frailty of that lost HP would turn out to matter a lot.  We also explored our disadvantages more clearly, and I required a few people to invoke the Ham Clause on some of their more obscure disadvantages.  This included:

  • Shay's Dreaming Nymph addition 
  • Mallus's secret agenda
  • Walker's Superstitions and his secret and obsession (merged into a single -2)
  • Xerxes' Disciplines of Faith (Though I forgot to consider his Asrathi disadvantages).
This helped bring their disadvantages more to the fore, and made them think a bit more about their characters and their disadvantages.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Hey guys, let's fight everyone! Bounty Hunter Design Diary Part III

So, as part of my Bounty Hunter designs, I've been picking on one of my Tall Tales players, Xerxes, because he actually has Bounty Hunters as an enemy, so it's fun to tailor some opponents around him. But realistically one would not expect to see every bounty hunter tailored to their target.  Certainly, if bounty hunters realized that a Witch Cat was their target, those who specialize in hunting Witch Cats would pick up their kits and rush out the door to take down their preferred target.  But that anti-cyborg guy needs to put food on the table too.  Sure, he might not be as good at it as the first guy, but he only needs to get lucky, right?

So, we should have at least one "generic" bounty hunter.  This also makes it useful since you, dear reader, are unlikely to need a bounty hunter who specializes in hunting Witch Cats.  Thus, of the three-ish hunters I've proposed this week, this is the one you're most likely to actually use.

But what to do?  Every hunter needs a schtick, and our first one already melds excess collateral damage with precision planning.  Our second one melds melee excellence with a sympathetic character.  Every hunter should feel different enough that they represent a unique challenge for the PC, so ours should feel different.

Well!  I've been discussing Bounty Hunters with some of my Patrons, and Gentleman Gamer suggested that most bounty hunters are "either bosses or groups of mooks." I corrected him on the latter: you're unlikely to see a group of mooks.  "Why?" he asked.  Well, the real reason is that we expect to see highly competent loners doing these tasks, and that it's hard to pay an entire crew off of the sorts of bounties most people collect.  But that just means its rare, so why not have a bounty hunter with a group of mooks at his disposal?  It offers some unique opportunities: when searching for the character, his posse can canvas an area as a group and when they close in for the kill (er, capture), they can "beat" the target towards the primary hunter, like dogs in a hunt.  Gentleman Gamer went on to muse about drones, robot dogs and Shinjurai hunters, and I'm not going to dismiss any of those as ideas.  There's an entire world of hunters we could be making.  I'm going to focus, for now, on a guy who uses human mooks to help him fight.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Hey Guys, Let's Annoy the Witch Cat: Bounty Hunters Design Diary Part II

Yesterday, in an effort to keep the blog from being empty and giving the impression that I'm not busy behind the scenes, I unveiled some of my thoughts on making an interesting and rather tailored challenge for a character who took Bounty Hunters as an enemy.  The point, of course, is not to single him out for having the temerity to take the Enemy disadvantage, but to use his Enemy disadvantage as a spring board to create some interesting NPCs, because I expect you'll want to feature Bounty Hunters in your campaigns too, and why not have some ready, on-hand ones, even if these are rather specific.

But not every game is D&D, and even D&D doesn't really benefit from making every single encounter as lethal as possible.  Yes, we can treat Bounty Hunters as random Boss encounters, but  we don't have to.  An encounter, especially with something as "random" as a broad and general group of ill-defined enemies, offers us opportunities to explore and reveal some things about the setting.  Not every enemy needs to be lethal.  Some can really suck.  A weak opponent not only reveals something about the world, but makes the game feel less like a mechanical series of ever more difficult encounters and more like a real world to interact with.  And an inept enemy creates an interesting set of choices.  Sure, you could just, you know, kill them, but are you the sort of person who would do that? Or you can leave them alive to threaten you further and eventually they might get lucky.  Or you can try to talk them out of killing you.  But suddenly, you have a more interesting set of choices beyond just "kill or be killed."

So, I propose we introduce a bounty hunter or, actually, a team of bounty hunters that isn't constructed to be a thoroughly dangerous opponent, but an interesting NPC encounter that happens to involve a strong desire to kill you. I want to introduce a "newbie" bounty hunter.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Hey guys, let's kill the Witch Cat

Pardon my silence.  Both of my children were born this month, and there's Easter, and a quarantine, so I've been busy.  I'm also trying to figure out how to handle polls on multiple patron sites without spending $20 a month on the right to get more than a couple of answers, and I'm behind on my art comissions.

But the real reason I've been quiet is that a Patron asked me to work on bounty hunters, and they're up there with Mystics and Space Knights for "You don't know how much work you just asked for." In any case, if you missed it, there's a preview up for Subscribers and Patrons. One of the reasons it's taking so long is that there's a lot of reasonable "factions" and culture-groups that we might associate with bounty hunters and while we've worked out a ton of detail on mystics and space knights (and commandos and officers and etc) under the guise of working on philosophies and factions back in iteration 6, we haven't really touched on bounty hunter or criminal factions yet, which are both things we really need to explore, but we only have so many hours in the day.

Bounty Hunters represent a whole host of interesting puzzles, especially in that they're natural monster hunters (There's even a lens for it: "Hired Gun"). A Bounty Hunter naturally specializes in their preferred prey, and so may have means of disposing of particularly troublesome aliens, robots or space monsters that the average person doesn't have.  That is, after all, why you pay them!  But if we're going to introduce Space Witchers, we need to think about monsters which, against, brings me back to a concept I've been tinkering with but haven't had the time to really explore: Epic Psi-Wars. I've discussed it before, but the idea is that while running Psi-Wars for normal action heroes is fine (and the premise of many of its more procedural inspirations, such as Killjoys and Star Wars films like Rogue One or Han Solo), you can make the case for Psi-Wars-as-Monster-Hunters, also based on its less procedural inspirations (like the Old Republic or Metabarons).  In fact, the Action Genre itself does this, as Monster Hunters Sidekicks points out, as well as the finest action-genre RPG ever written: Nights Black Agents, which clearly illustrates how one migrates from a bog standard action story to a deeper thriller.

Bounty Hunters tend to straddle that line pretty well, especially in a space opera setting.  One session, they're busting some guy out of prison, or taking down a crime  boss.  The next session, they're using their specialized knowledge to kill a space vampire.  This lets them walk between the world of the smuggler and commando, and the world of the space knight and the mystic.  But this also means that in describing Bounty Hunters, I need to describe the things they hunt, and that means tackling some of the monsters of the setting, and that's taking me awhile.  Apologies.

The other thing I've been thinking about, and the real point of this post, is that Bounty Hunters make amazing enemies.  Raymond Chandler famously said that his preferred technique for spicing up a story was to have two guys kick in the door and start shooting up the place whenever the story got stale.  In space opera, the two guys who kick in the door and start shooting the place up are, of course, bounty hunters.  They can reasonably show up at any time, they should always present a unique, flavorful challenge, and once you defeat them, you have to ask the question "Who put the mark on my head, and how do I get rid of it?"

Thus, I've been thinking about Bounty Hunters as a challenge.  I asked one of my friends to see if he could make one, but then I decided that was an unfair challenge, because I wasn't sure how best to make one myself. It's not enough to slap some stats together and have a guy shoot at people.  I mean, it is, but as we'll see from the After Action Report of Tall Tales of the Orochi Belt, even a couple of BAD 1 Henchmen backed by 10 or so BAD 1 Mooks are not a serious challenge to starting PCs. We need more than big numbers: we need to think about what makes a bounty hunter a challenging encounter.  How can they be difficult and interesting to defeat.

We should be able to finish the following sentence: "This bounty hunter always get his man because..." or "This bounty hunter is unstoppable because..."

It just so happens that on of the PCs, Xerxes, an Asrathi Witch Cat, has Bounty Hunters as enemies, so I thought it might be an interesting exercise to explore how a Bounty Hunter might defeat that specific PC and how we can make it an interesting encounter. Come, and let's muse together on how to murder on of my PCs.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Apprentice Consulting Occultist: What is Magic, Really?

I put up a patreon poll every month (when I remember to, anyway) and this time, I introduced no new elements, but brought up a bunch of old ones, and this one overwhelmingly. This will be a consulting occultist post, where I lay out some of my research into the worlds of the murky and the occult, and the most pressing question was: in the real world, in the real, and actual world, what is magic?

I've been slow in writing this post, not because I wasn't sure what to write, but I wasn't sure how to cut it down to something reasonable.  Do you want more research and quotes? Do you want deeper explanations? How long should I make this post?  The answer is, of course, that this is a rabbit hole without end, as can be seen from the occult section of any library, or the fact that Kenneth Hite has been writing about this my entire adult life. So I've chosen to focus on the barest of answers and analysis.  The idea is to give you a feeling for what the real world occult actually is, how it actually works, and how you should try to treat it when researching it yourself.

As for what the truth of the occult actually is\, you already know the answer to that.  It's...

Sunday, March 29, 2020

A Minor Change to my Support Page

A lot of you viewing this blog are Patreons, and I want to thank  you for your support, and I'd like to continue creating content that rewards you for your support, and commissioning the art that will show you the world of Psi-Wars. 

However, not a year goes by when Patreon doesn't step into some controversy and scandal and they increasingly look like an unstable platform to me: they change their terms of use on a whim if they feel like it, they seem arbitrary, and they've somehow not managed to turn a profit the entire time they've been in existence (or so I understand it).  Some of these scandals have actually cost me patrons.  So, it seems foolish to rely exclusively on Patreon for this blog's income.

So, I've branched out.  I still have Patreon, and given its market presence, I don't see it disappearing soon, but if you don't like their approach to things, or just prefer a different platform to Patreon, I now have a SubscribeStar account you can also subscribe to.  You don't have to make the switch if you don't want to, but the option is there for those who do. If you are going to switch, I suggest quitting Patreon now, waiting until a new month begins, and then re-up via SubscribeStar.

I've also had requests to just give a one-time donation.  You can do so now through my If there's a specific special (or specials) you want, get in touch with me and we'll work something out.

Thank you as always for your support.  As stated before, nothing needs to change for you if you don't want it to, These are just new options for those who want them.

So you wanna support my blog?

It's no secret that a lot of bloggers, channels and other content creators rely on donations from people like you to keep going.  The truth is, I don't need a donation from you to keep going, though it makes it easier to justify to my wife, but I can take those donations and plow them right back into my work. The beautiful art you'll see popping up sometimes on this site are courtesy of donations from people like you.  The more donations I get, the more art I can commission and the sooner, and better, I can show this world to you.

In return for your fine donations, I have a collection of Patreon/Subscriber specials available for you here.

I also have a Discord Server, with various tiers available to all Patrons and Subscribers.  If you do want to subscribe, be sure to claim your Discord benefits and join us on the server.

There are three ways you can donate to me.

  • I have a Patreon
  • I have a SubscribeStar Account
  • You can donate directly via a paypal/me link.
If you use the last one, be sure to get in touch with me over any specials you'd like access to, and I'll see if I can send them your way.

Whatever you want to chip in, I really appreciate.  You've helped bring my setting to life.

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