Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Organizing the Psi-Wars Organizations

 So, I paused my grand Umbral Rim rollout to write up some basic corporations, because I've noticed people sometimes ask questions about them and I have those answers and it would be nice if they were on the wiki.  Also notice that despite my best efforts to keep Psi-Wars from devolving into Cyberpunk, it's definitely taking on some elements of that, and that means giant megacorps.  I suspect this is because I "let GURPS be GURPS" and Ultra-Tech + Action skews heavily towards Cyberpunk, and even Star Wars does, once you ditch the movies and go to the EU (which even introduced hackers slicers).

Then I found myself staring at the Patron cost for a Corporation and the rank levels.  And this has been bugging me for awhile.  Way, way back in the day, I argued that Psi-Wars should aim at the 15-point Patron and the 8 Rank structure.  Why? Because this is how Action worked: the Pulling Rank request numbers line up at the 15 point patron level, and GURPS typically settles on an 8 Rank structure by default.  But does this actually make sense?

One of the things I learned from discussing Psi-Wars melee with my community is they tend to like Psi-Wars as full on GURPS Ultra-Tech space opera, where all the numbers are big. People don't wield swords because of a handwave about how it looks on screen, but because they have some sort of crazy, over the top technology that will absolutely destroy you from up close.  They want the aesthetic of space opera, but they want some sort of excuse for it so it has the veneer of plausibility, preferrably in a way that sounds comic-book-awesome.

So ages ago, I whipped up a Patreon special on the scale of the Empire where I muddled through how large the Empire would be. I tend to downplay things from literally millions of stars with trillions of people per star to "just" thousands of stars with millions of people, but you still end up with crazy numbers like multiple fleets of 5-25 multi-billion dollar dreadnoughts, and when I say that, the response is not "Wow, that's unwieldy" but "COOL!"

The question then becomes can Psi-Wars handle more extensive organizations, and should it handle more extensive organizations?

Ugh; Social Traits are the worst when it comes to world building!

Hierarchy: How Big is Big?

A macrosociety may support much larger organizations, allowing up to Rank 12; if so, Rank 11-12 gives +4 to Status. See The Arithmetic of Rank (below) for a more detailed approach. -- GURPS Social Engineering, Page 14

Realistically, the 8-rank system works fine on a planetary scale. If you're the most powerful military commander on Earth, rank 8 is a reasonably high rank.  It covers up to 200,000 soldiers. You can make the case for even larger (one million soldiers at rank 9 and so on), but it's sufficient for my purposes.  This seems to imply that much smaller organizations (the militia of Luxembourg, a municipal police force) might have smaller organizations.

 In Psi-Wars, I had gone with a 6-rank organization for a planet (a house, a criminal cartel, a corporation), an 8-rank organization for a vast, interstellar faction (the Alliance) and 10 for the Empire, as it was by far the biggest. The idea was that the "focused" scale of Psi-Wars, the balance point, was large interstellar organizations, so we just scale everything down to match it.  Does this line up with the Arithmetic of Rank?

Of course not. Now, if you assume that each "level" has 10 individuals, the arithmetic of rank works out okay: planetary cap out at 6, interstellar at 8 and galactic at 10. If you stick with the traditional 5, then you need something more like 8, 10 and 12, which is what Social Engineering suggests.  So the question then is: do you want to preserve the number of ranks, or do you want to preserve the interactions between individuals?

In practice, I think most people will only actually care about the lower levels of rank. People talk about the Emperor and the Grand Admiral and the Imperial Hand, but they interact with captains and lieutenants. What I've noticed in all of my games is that players rarely deal with anything larger than the top planetary ranks, because while the Grand Admiral exists, other than a cameo, he's rarely going to show up on a specific world to interact with characters that didn't explicitly take him as an Enemy or a Patron. In a lot of ways, his rank is irrelevant. What I'm really doing is creating broader, more complex rank tables.

So does higher levels of rank make sense at least from a world-building perspective?  Well, if we peg a basic admiral at rank 8, and argue that he's as powerful as an entire planetary governor by himself, we could put a "Minister of Defense" or a "Fleet Admiral" above him (Rank 9), someone who governs all the fleets in a constellation. And above that, we could put High Minister, who governs an entire part of the galaxy (Rank 10), and above that, we could put the Grand Admiral himself (Rank 11) and the Emperor at Rank 12.  The Emperor, of course, rules over up to 5 different aspects of the Empire, of which the Navy is only one.  The Grand Admiral, then, would govern up to 5 High Ministers, who would handle one of the five major regions of the galaxy, each of whom would command up to 5 fleet admirals who control five major sub-regions in an arm or the galactic core, and each of those would have up to 5 admirals (thus, fleets) at their disposal.    This implies up to 125 fleets in the Empire, which actually scales pretty nicely with what I have in mind.  Realistically a galactic civilization should have much more, but the Psi-Wars galaxy is more space opera than aggressively realistic sci-fi, and "125 fleets of multi-billion dollar dreadnoughts" pushes at the edges of what most readers would find comprehensible; that's a "woah!" number that feels appropriate for a galactic empire.

Rather Patronizing

The problem with this approach is it starts to imply that these organizations exceed the levels discussed in the Patron Advantage.  For example, a 25-point Patron can have (in Psi-Wars numbers) up to $50 billion in assets, $100 billion if we're being generous.  That's less than the cost of a single dreadnought! This implies at least a 30-point Patron, who would have about $500 billion to a trillion, which gets into the regions appropriate for a typical Admiral. If we follow the progression, then ranks 9-10 should be a 35 point Patron, the Grand Admiral a 40-point Patron, and the Emperor himself a 45-point Patron. In fact, a 30-point Patron is listed as having "incalculable" wealth" so suddenly everything flattens out at 30-points: an Admiral, a Minister of Defense, the Grand Admiral and the Emperor are all 30-point Patrons. To some extent, I can understand that: does it really matter how many fleets someone can send your way?  An admiral is already bringing enough firepower to level a continent, which is already more than most PCs care about in a typical adventure 

"Oh no, an SM +3 Space Dragon! Quick, call the Admiral to bring in 5 dreadnoughts to blanket the region in plasma."

"Naw fam, I got a line to the Grand Admiral; we're going to have 25 dreadnoughts blanket the region in plasma!"

At some point, the difference between the levels is academic.

But I would argue that the Emperor himself has even greater degrees of power than this. Not only can he command an admiral to offer fire support, he can also offer considerable knowledge at the secret conspiracies of the galaxy, enact Dark Communion miracles for you, and so on.  Of course, the Patron Advantage actually covers this: it has a +50% modifier for people with extraordinary power and political reach. He doesn't have magic in a setting without magic, but he does have access to a lot of magic and a lot more tools than most other Patrons.  Of course, if you treat him as a 30-point patron with a +50% modifier you get... a 45-point patron, which precisely lines up with what we expect to see in the above extrapolation.

Pulling in the Ranks

Alright, so what about Pulling Rank, aka Assistance Requests? GURPS Social Engineering: Pulling Rank has us covered! We go to the Assistance Roll Table on page 6. If we assume our interstellar organizations are 30-point patrons at a minimum, and we want to keep 5-point ranks, we get Rank 0 characters Pulling Rank on a... -3 or less.  Riiiight.  Contrast this with GURPS Action which lists Rank 0 as a 3 or less.  I rather like the GURPS Action values, because players will already be familiar with it, and it creates a pretty decent spread.

Well, the other option would be to raise the price of Rank. At 8/level, we get back to the normal GURPS Action spread of 3 or less for Rank 0.  Great! So we only have to rework the cost of Rank and mess up every template I've ever written.

Or... what if we lie? What we if we say your 30-point interstellar patron just charges 5 points per rank?  Well, there's a few problems with this. First, the AR rules center on the fact that 3 levels of rank at 5/level comes to 15 points and gives you an AR roll of 9 or less, which is identical to a 15-point Patron with a 9 or less Frequency of Appearance.  If we charge 15 points to access a 9 or less to get help from a 30-point Patron organization, then players are getting quite a discount! Furthermore, everything in Pulling Rank is balanced around this idea, such as how much funding the PC can access, or easy it is to get Cash, etc. If we just ignore those differences, then characters who have 3 levels of Rank in a minor constabulary get the shaft compared to characters who have 3 levels of Rank in the Imperial Navy.

However, I have some counter-arguments to this. First, I've done survey of my organizations, and almost all of them would qualify as 30-point organizations.  The wealth available to a Maradonian House, or a Communion cult or an interstellar corporation all put them at the 30+ range.  All of them. The only exceptions are very small or very informal organizations, such as street gangs or bounty hunter lodges.  So everyone would get a discount. Second, the FoA to Rank conversion is already a little screwed up, because now we can add the Smooth Operator Talent or Complementary Rolls or Reputation as modifiers, so there's some level of Minimal Intervention already worked in.  And this seems to track with my initial impulse on how to handle the difference between Patron and Rank: a Patron is a close, personal relationship who maintains a more active role in the PCs life than an AR request does.

I tend to imagine if a character had 6 levels of Rank in the Imperial Navy, yes, they would be able to call for Naval support on a 12 or less. That means soldiers or fire support or access to files, etc. For the same point cost, one could have the Grand Admiral show up on a 9 or less to help the PC, and I think the first impression most people would have is that's pretty balanced, because the Grand Admiral is not going to just grant fire support or soldiers or access to files. He's going to give you some scotch, listen to your problems, and then solve them. He's only really going to act like what the Rank 6 guy is getting on a 12 or less if he has Minimal Intervention which means the point values line up again.

So maybe lying won't cause a problem. In the case of less balanced organizations (street gangs, etc), we can just lower the point cost if it matters that much.

Do You Even Care about Favors?

As I've been writing organizations, I write pretty extensive treatments on what favors, from Pulling Rank, they can do.  For example, a corporation can offer Entry Access to secret labs or vaults that it controls, but it can only expedite a license.  What I find myself wondering is: "Who cares?"

When someone does Pull Rank, which I think has happened precisely once in all my playtests, it tends to go more like this:

"Hey, I need some mooks. Can I Pull Rank to get them?"

Generally, players just assume if they have high rank they can order people around.  Someone who works for a corporation just assumes they can't call for fire support, and if they ask for troops, it'll be corporate security goons, not full soldiers (but they might try to work out a mercenary contract).  That is to say, these values are pretty intuitive to most GMs and PCs.  I'm not sure what the extensive treatment is doing other than padding word count. I considered switching to something where I discuss the details of Funding or Cash modifiers and how many troops people can request, but GURPS Action didn't really nail these things down, and I'm not sure who's going to bother to look up hard numbers. Does it actually matter if you can have 10, 12 or 15 troopers as the result of an AR to your respective military force? The player asks for troops and succeeds at their roll, and the GM supplies them as they see appropriate, and at most they'll use the rules I write down as a rough guide, and GURPS Action and GURPS Pulling Rank already have some rough numbers of a GM needs them.

So I may greatly simplify those sections.  As a rule, I think I should remove niggling modifiers where none are needed (This seems to be a trend, where I research what X should be according to GURPS, and a lot of times the UT items or huge organizations offer some sort of bonus that requires looking up or memorizing, and is completely unnecessary. It's not actually important if your organization gives you exactly X amount of cash and offers a +1 to those specific rolls, or that a UT lock gives you a +4 to open locks that apply a -4. You just make an AR roll and get the money you need, and you roll Lockpicking and open the lock.

Oh, and if we're expanding our ranks, don't we need to worry about the AR numbers for ranks 9-12? Well, Social Engineering has those numbers, but PCs shouldn't go higher than Rank 5 or so anyway, so the fact that the Emperor can successfully order people around on a 16 or less is pretty irrelevant to most games. But I can list them if people care.

Red in the Ledger

So this implies some editing work, but as I've gone over some, it turns out not to be that bad. A lot of the organizations felt a little squished, and mostly it involved removing and simplifying some content (which is always good) and either coming up with more rank titles or just suggesting that they get rather fuzzy at certain ranks, which is definitely true in many cases (seriously, rank titles are the thing that takes the longest about writing up an organization).  It also gives me an excuse to revisit a few old organizations as we finish rounding out the galaxy's major powers.

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