Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Patreon Special: Space Ghosts Revisited

Ghost Cvlt by Ramsesmelendez

When I first dove into Communion itself, I wanted to break up the simplistic duality of “good and evil” that Star Wars offered. I don’t necessarily object to “good and evil,” I just find that it can sharply limit the sort of stories GMs might want to tell or what sorts of characters people want to play. I conceived of Broken Communion as the crux of that change, as it introduced something that both “Good” and “Evil” could face off against, (the “Ugly” of “the Good, the Bad and the Ugly”), or something that could redefine “evil.” What’s worse, someone who is selfish but mostly hurts themselves, or a broken person who hurts others without meaning to? I wanted Broken Communion to offer both a terrible evil to fight, and a terrible pain to heal, creating a tension that was neither really evil, nor really good, but still a potential problem.

The core of that “problem” would be in its effects on the psionic characters who interacted with it the most. Those who wielded it would find themselves corrupted by it, and those who entered areas sacred to Broken Communion would find their psychic powers twisted by it. I also suggested that Broken Communion, unlike other forms of Communion, might “create miracles on its own.” In principle, any form of Communion might do this (Miracles “just happen” all the time), but Broken Communion seemed especially prone to doing that.

I left the details up to the GM, but the theme of “haunting” definitely arose from the ideas in Broken Communion and the nature of its miracles. Where True Communion had themes of the holy and sacred and Dark Communion had themes of fantasy-esque “cool evil,” with raging orcs and demonic seductresses and dark wizards, Broken Communion had distinctly horrific imagery. The haunted spaceship, the mass grave, or the terrifying jungle full of stalking, squamous things might all be places steeped in Broken Communion. But I left the details of this up to the GM.

I have found, though, from the feedback of my fans, that many of you don’t really like this “leave the details up to the GM” mentality. It’s rife through GURPS, especially in books that don’t really succeed, while books that make those details much more explicit, including catalog books like GURPS Magic, or campaign frameworks like GURPS Dungeon Fantasy, tend to do really well. In retrospect, this makes sense: if you knew how to do it, you would, and you could ignore any details I give you that you dislike. If you can’t, a vague suggestion is of no help, but a highly detailed discussion of how it might work helps a great deal. Thus, it’s better to favor too much detail over not enough (provided that detail doesn’t become mandatory).

Thus, I came upon the handle of ghosts.


Star Wars already has ghosts, though rarely the spooky sort that bang on windows and drip blood down the walls. Even so, it features plenty of “haunted” stories, though it rarely dives into the mythology as to why these sorts of things occur. It is, perhaps, the “dark side of the force,” or it might be an ancient “force spirit” of a Sith lord. Nonetheless, it has a solid precedent in how Star Wars works.

Even if it didn’t, Star Wars certainly does, as Broken Communion feels like a haunting, and “haunted ships” are a staple of space opera, while “haunted ruins” are a staple of planetary romance, both of which Psi-Wars draws heavily on.

So, about a year ago, in Iteration 5 (6 has been a long iteration!), I wrote of space ghosts. The initial idea was that by treating an area of high Broken Communion sanctity not as a vague energy field of evil, but as a specific haunting with specific powers and specific motivations, you could better tell a story. The Broken Communion that arose from a murder in downtown Denjuku will feel very different from the Broken Communion that one finds on an ancient ship set adrift a century ago after all of its occupants died from a mysterious ailment and every scavenger who boarded the ship also died horribly. By thinking about the Broken Communion in this way, by putting a motivating force, an actor, behind the Broken Communion, one could more easily think of what might occur within the area. At the site of a murder, weird coincidences and visions might reveal the murderer and attempt to take revenge. The abandoned ship might hungrily devour all who come aboard, with a strange mutation of machinery at its heart.

This also meant that rather than being an arcane concern for psionic characters alone, they presented genuine threats to all characters, psionic or not! Instead of “just” presenting a problem for psionic powers, Broken Communion could chuck debris at people or given them harrowing visions until they dealt with the problem. And that meant we needed a means of dealing with the problem, things like exorcism or solving the murder, etc.

Thus, in my article, I noodled over all of this, made some suggestions and then walked away.

Space Ghosts Revisited

So, why come back to it? For a few reasons. First, as I mentioned before, I find that my audience wants specifics, and my article was very short on that. Second, the more I pondered the idea, the more I realized how central it was to a proper treatment of Broken Communion and rather than be a suggestion, it should be worked into the rules themselves. Finally, as I worked on the various philosophies, I realized that most of them discussed or dealt with ghosts in some concrete way: Fringe Rationalism would experiment on them, the Akashic Order literally has time-ghosts and the Divine Masks has the Cult of Death, which increasingly looks focused on dealing with and controlling ghosts. Thus, I needed to make these rules concrete.

First, I wanted to define precisely what I meant. What sort of powers might ghosts have exactly? How powerful would a ghost be? When I talk about different ways of dealing with ghosts, what exactly do I mean? Thus, I created a list of “Sources of Broken Communion” (which took up the majority of my time, if I’m honest) which detailed where these ghosts might come from and how they might behave, and rules for creating ghosts, including power-level suggestions, Will values, and a list of typical powers, plus a few atypical powers.

Second, I wanted to carefully define the precise rules governing ghosts and broken communion. What powers could players use to defeat ghosts? How do exorcisms work? What miracles affect ghosts? In particular, I wanted miracles that allowed the summoning of and the control of ghosts.

Finally, I wanted to at least briefly talk about how various philosophies see ghosts, and I wanted to create some concrete examples of ghosts that you could use as worked examples, inspiration for your own ghosts, or just drop directly into a Psi-Wars game.

The resulting document is Psi-Wars specific, but it borrows heavily from GURPS Horror and GURPS Monster Hunters. I made some assumptions that work best for Psi-Wars, but you could easily reverse engineer this material for a Horror or Monster Hunters game.

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