Friday, March 24, 2017

A Psi-Wars Round-Up

I should pay better attention.

I wrote Psi-Wars for people to use, so when I see people using it, that warms my heart.  I also believe in the Death of the Author, in the sense that I do not believe my way is the only way to run Psi-Wars, or even that it's my own setting (that's why Iteration 5 was a very good stopping point, because it gives GMs the tools they need to write their own material).  Thus, when someone creates new material or goes in a new direction, I feel that adds to Psi-Wars.  It can also highlight weaknesses and things I need to shore up, which makes it good feedback for me as well.

Today, I've got two blogs for you, both of which have been delving into Psi-Wars.  The first is adding lots of optional rules to everyone's favorite mechanic: Communion. The second is actually using Psi-Wars for a campaign. Fun!

Nemoricus' Libris Ludorum

Nemoricus has been working behind the scenes with me quite a lot on Psi-Wars and has turned into a sort of de-facto editor, often browsing my material and then returning with suggestions to tighten the writing or improve the formatting.  We also discuss the direction of the setting, and sometimes he has ideas of his own, which he'll post to his blog, Libris Ludorum.

The bulk of his most recent material has tackled relics, objects imbued with psionic power by Communion.  His posts include:
  • Empowering Artifacts, which is a more detailed discussion on how to work out the power-level of relics
  • Empowering Artifacts in Play, which tackles how to use Named Object-style mechanics to upgrade your items with more power.
  • Balancing Player-Created And Found Relics, which returns to the previous post to discuss how to ensure that there's ultimately no "point-crock" with one or another strategy.
  • Gotta Collect Them All: Relics as Sets, which is my personal favorite. Nemoricus suggests breaking up power across a set of relics, especially high powered relics, so that when players collect a complete set, they whole becomes more than the sum of its parts, similar to Diablo 2's approach with sets.  Going on epic quests to collect lost relics becomes more interesting when you know that a variety of legendary items are fundamentally bound to one another.
Nemoricus has also branched out to tackle Impulse Control in Psi-Wars, which takes an article from Pyramid #3-100 which expands greatly on Power-Ups 5: Impulse Buys.  Nemoricus offers suggestions on how to rewrite templates and use the rules within to make full use of Impulse Control.

Bliss Authority's Octopus Carnival

Bliss Authority was one of my earliest fans, and really understands how and why I chose to create Psi-Wars the way I did, and attempted to do the same with Mekton Zeta, until evidently some disaster resulted in the loss of his project.

Still, undeterred, he pushed for a campaign on RPG.net, and talked Bira (of Octopus Carnival) into running it.  Octopus Carnival has just announced his new Psi-Wars campaign, likely the first: Golko Wants You Dead.  You can find the pitch and character creation on RPG.net here, and the OOC chatter here.

Campaign Commentary

It's not up to me to judge a campaign, but I can offer advice, make observations and definitely accept actual play as feedback.

In post 10, Bliss Authority comments on running it in Fate rather than GURPS.  I'm in a Fate Core campaign at the moment (a political fantasy campaign inspired by Houses of the Blooded) for which I wrote the mechanics, and I have to say I'm pretty impressed by it.  I think you could do a pretty good Psi-Wars in Fate, and I actively weighed doing this blog on Fate rather than GURPS, but I chose GURPS because I'm more involved in that community and more keenly aware of the problems they face.  I also think my mechanics-heavy approach, while totally acceptable in Fate-as-system might not be as well received by the Fate community.

In post 21, it turns out that "Golko" is a slaver alien; clearly, he's going to be inspired by some sort of Hutt.  I actually really really want a race like this.  One of the key elements for the Psi-Wars setting will be a once-proud race steeped in Dark Communion who once ruled a great empire, but now they've been reduced to slavery at the feet of this slaver race. I'll be curious to see where they go with Golko.

In post 46, Bliss Authority comments that 'Average Wealth in this game is also "more money than I will ever need,"' which I find unfortunately true, even after cutting it down to TL 10 wealth levels.  Unless you're fully armed and armored Commandos, you're going to have tons of money.  I'll be curious to see how that plays out, though.

In post 57, Kelly chooses an interesting direction for Lady Maya: Fighter Ace, Aristocrat, Magnate.  I still haven't seen what her title is ("Lady", I suppose), and she has Administrative Rank 4, but I don't see what organization she belongs to.  What I see is a character deeply integrated into the setting, without the setting built around her, and I'm curious how that will work (though I suspect it'll be something that grows over time, provided the group wants to explore her deep connections to the power-structures of the setting).  I'm also curious how well a Fighter Ace does, because they're one template that concerns me because while they're awesome in space combat, not every scenario is space combat.  I'll be curious to see how it goes.

In post 61, Bira (who is the GM) lays out his vision of Communion, namely that True Communion is good, and Dark and Broken Communion is bad.  Now, it's not my place to disagree with the GM of your campaign... so I won't.  His view is totally valid, and one that'll I'll explore more deeply when I get into the philosophy of the actual faith, True Communion.  They argue that Broken Communion represents the chaos of unaware life, and when consciousness has pulled itself together, it achieves Dark Communion, and when it has transcended self, it has achieved True Communion, and they would whole-heartedly agree with Bira.

Bliss Authority holds a different vision, where there's no real moral connotation applied to each. This is also accurate, and intentional on my part.  I wanted to create a framework for philosophy without stamping my own vision of morality.  That's why there's a cycle (Id beats Ego beats Psychosis beats Id) and carefully neutral language, so that you can come in and argue what you want and have enough evidence to back it up.  Nemoricus has said he intends to look at the more dangerous side of True Communion (including its need for people to conform) and the importance of Dark and Broken Communion (the first can shake up stagnant cultures, and the latter is key to understanding those things that fall outside of our usual, every day experiences).  None of this is to say that Bira is wrong, because Bira isn't, but that if you disagree with Bira, you're "right" too.  Your game, your vision, is yours, not mine.

However, in a discussion about the Mystic template, Bira argues that it's fine to replace Communion with Psionic Powers, and that's fine as it goes, but if you're going to do that, I suggest you take a second look at the talents and the skills of Meditation and Philosophy, which the mystic has to use Communion.  They're much less useful without it!  It might be worth revisiting the Mystic and allowing an option for "I'm nothing but psionics" characters that takes all of this into account.

In post 64, lordmcdeath creates a technopathic scavenger with weirdness magnet, which I find funny because I was just thinking about a race that would have exactly those traits.  I'll watch his career with interest.

In post 66, Reality Glitch breaks my heart by expressing frustration at the cost of joining a Psi-Wars game and drops out.  Were it entirely up to me, I'd put all the rules into my Psi-Wars documents, but they're not my rules to publish, so I can't.  And naturally, to make full use of GURPS materials, I've cast my net pretty wide, which means I use a lot of supplements.  That's pretty normal for us old GURPS veterans, but I can absolutely see where it's frustrating for someone just stepping in.  I also agree with a comment he has later where this would probably be a lot easier face to face.  No doubt.  Still, a black mark upon Psi-Wars!  In the ideal world, Reality Glitch would be sitting happy with a character!

In post 73, lordmcdeath has an idea about playing a robot that's pretending to be "just a cyborg."  Does it fit the setting?  Bira decides it does not, and that's that. How do I feel about it?  I've been aware for a while that someone is going to want to play a robot.  One of the elements in the Psi-Wars setting will be the Cybernetic Union, which will absolutely feature some interesting characters and features, and players might want to explore it as more than just an enemy to fight.  I'm not entirely clear on how best to handle this yet, but it's something I want to look into.

Another aspect of the question would be: Can robots pass themselves off as human?  So far, I've not allowed the use of synthetic flesh, so we don't have scenarios where someone who seems to be human turns out not to be.  I've avoided that because Psi-Wars isn't really a cyberpunk exploration of what it means to be human, which is really facilitated by those sorts of games. On the other hand, it would make a ton of sense of the Cybernetic Union to construct synethetic humans as perfect spies.  I'll have to see how it shakes out in the future, but I think lordmcdeath's unasked question of "Is it okay to play a robot?" is one that needs to be more thoroughly supported and discussed by Iteration 6.

In post 94, GaoGaiGar wants to be a pirate!  Do you know what Psi-Wars doesn't have?  A pirate template!  It looks like he's figured out a way to muscle through, but I think this is another black mark.  I've worked out fighter combat in great detail, and dreadnought combat, but not corvette combat, and corvettes are where I expect to see a lot of players focused.  That's the next major step into space combat I want to look at, and part of that will be creating a pirate template, as they tend to operate in a fundamentally different way than Smugglers.

In post 96, Bira discusses the viability of using a giant space monster to do your fighting for you.  Personally, this is something I've also put a lot of thought into.  With the inclusion of ghosts and space monsters in Iteration 5, I've wanted to revise the Path of Death and the Path of the Other (and perhaps the Path of the Bound Princess) to include the ability to summon and interact with space monsters to some degree. I'd also very much like to include a race, like the Navi from Avatar, who run around primarily on space monsters kicking butt, because that's very planetary romance.  The problem is that I think my current iteration of space monsters just aren't good enough for that, and I'll need to find a way to standardize values so that we can buy space monsters as reasonable allies.

That said, a previous comment noted that removing combat abilities I've put under primary and secondary might be a bad idea.  It's not to say that you can't, but indeed, I've carefully built these templates around an action-oriented gameplay model.  A non-combatant will spend a lot of time twiddling their thumbs (especially Mystics who choose not to take Communion).

In post 127, GaoGaiGar wonders about Piloting defaults.  He's right!  But I haven't noted this anywhere in the documents.  Errata!  I've added it to the Iteration 6 version.

And that's it from their first thread.  I hope their campaign takes off, and I've subscribed to their thread.  I find it extremely useful to see how people use my material "in the real world," and I'll use it to hone Psi-Wars.  I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did!

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