Saturday, January 20, 2018

Psi-Wars Tinker Titan Rebel Spy Session 3

Player Characters

Knight Commander Evander Rook, Imperial Space Knight
Sherri Grace, Slave-Soldier Bounty Hunter
 Abbot Chance, Imperial Intelligence Handler
Commander Nal Aldru, Imperial Black Ops Fighter Ace
 Lieutenant Kyra Elso, Imperial Black Ops Handler
Commodore Sho-Taro Greaves, Imperial Navy Officer, CO of the Warmain
 Commander Badri Hara, Imperial Navy Officer, XO of the Warmain
Agent Damari Nash, Imperial Intelligence Spy

After hatching a somewhat convoluted plan in session 2, our group of Imperial agents finally made planetfall on Grist. The intention was simply for Nal, Nash, and Grade to drop off a team of investigators to stir up trouble, then make their way to our main objective in Director Thorn's dig site. Perhaps unsurprisingly, that plan started to run into problems even before the group's shuttle landed on the planet.

One Mr. Shin San Sage contacted our shuttle on the way down, claiming that he was a local businessman and that he'd like to show us the "curated" tour of the capital. Nal, being a suspicious sort, directly accused Mr. Sage of setting up a trap. At this point, Sage made it clear that he was not someone we wanted to ignore, and that he did have ties to the criminal element in the city. While we also have reason to suspect that he has ties to a rebellion on Grist, it was enough for Nal to agree to arrange a meeting with him at a later date.

Nal then called up his contacts with the Gaju syndicate to arrange said meeting, and while they were cooperative, they also made it clear that they expected some financial compensation to be forthcoming. Nal demurred on the details of payment for now, but did make it clear that he'd arrange something...once he was back on the Warmain.

At this point, the shuttle made its way down to its designated landing pad in the aptly named Heap. What a mess this place is, with what's likely centuries of construction over older construction over older construction, and with a rather ad hoc approach to maintenance. But smelly and messy as it is, it's also where the Imperial port is, and it's also where a welcoming committee was waiting.

One group consisted of local Imperial security agents and the governor's assistant, Tera Masterton, having an animated discussion that seemed to involve the shuttle and what exactly was to be done about it. The other was a not-quite-regulation Imperial having a lively discussion with his robot.

Seeing the reception, our team made sure that the Shinjurai princess, who Nash had previously snuck onto the shuttle, was properly disguised in case the inspectors decided to come aboard. I somehow doubt that Mina was keen on wearing the battleweave armor and helmet, but she did agree to it.

Our team then debarked to meet with the various people on the landing pad, and after seeing that they brought investigators and not a squad of soldiers, some of the tension went out of the security group. Nal very politely handed off the investigators to their "tour guides", making quite an impression on Ms. Masterton in the process. He then delivered Knight Commander Rook's request that he meet with Governor Voss and Subadmiral Starlane "at their earliest mutual convenience."

The news of a knight commander being in the system caused something of a stir, with Masterton going pale and Kyto Caster, Director of Security,starting to make what where likely urgent communications with his staff. Still, knowing that we were here to talk and not start making arrests/take over the planet seemed to relieve everyone involved, and our investigators went off on their very carefully managed tour. They likely won't find anything too interesting, but they're around to be visible, not necessarily to be effective.

That left the other pair on the dock to address, and the scruffy man turned out to be the very personable and direct Assistant Director Hal Stillwalker and his robot Pawn. He was particularly enthusiastic about meeting Sherri Grace, who wasn't quite as eager about it, and Nal was definitely not impressed. Stillwalker intimated that he knew Director Thorn had asked for help, and that he had made some important discoveries in the wilderness, but that they were matters of some secrecy.

While Nash, never one for operational security, would probably have asked for more information right then and there, particularly by revealing that we had an Imperial Mandate, more cautious minds prevailed, and Stillwalker was placated with assurances that we'd talk to him if anything came up. This was probably for the best, as Stillwalker's grasp of operational security seems to be about as good as Nash's.

With the welcoming committee sorted out, that left the question of how to get out to Director Thorn's camp without drawing attention. After some discussion, including it being pointed out that there was no way to hide the shuttle's departure, it was decided that our team would ascend to space, lose themselves in Grist's orbital debris belt, and then descend to the planet in stealth mode.

Nal, being a good pilot, handily made the necessary rolls. Unfortunately, the timing of his descent coincided with a major sandstorm hitting Director Thorn's camp. While this on its own wouldn't have been much of a problem, a figure in the storm spots the shuttle, and then something strange happens. The shuttle begins to rust and age rapidly, shorting out instruments and making a difficult descent even more challenging. Fortunately, the shuttle holds together, and while it won't go down as the most graceful landing, Nal brings it to the ground in one piece.

And as it so happened, the shuttle landed right where we wanted it to be: in the middle of Director Thorn's camp. Of course, no one told Thorn we were coming, and he was quite surprised to see us, but he wasn't too concerned about who we were at this point, because, oh yeah, an attack was imminent.

Thorn and his security forces were reasonably dug in, with a trench and a few heavy weapons emplacements to anchor it, and our team ran for the cover of the trench. At this point, the Ashwalkers attacked, with sniper fire taking out the gunners of the repeating blaster and the anti-vehicle blaster emplacements.

Despite the poor visibility, Sherri Grace was able to make out some shapes in the distance, and fired off a withering volley of surprisingly accurate shots in their direction. While the sandstorm made the results of that fire uncertain, it's probably safe to say that some targets were hit. Nash and Nal had less luck, and everyone else, not being PCs, were keeping their heads down after the sniper fire.

The snipers then returned fire, and Sherri Grace made a very fancy leaping, spinning dodge to get out of the way. Nal decided to make a run for one of the gun emplacements to provide suppressing fire, but unfortunately, this was when the Ashwalker's flanking force showed up. A bunch of unarmored combatants with vibroblades, one heavy with a Gatling blaster, and one really heavy monster with a giant vibroaxe.

Sherri, who hasn't spotted the flankers just yet, continued to fire on the sniper's position. Nal, thinking quickly, shot out the controls of the repeating blaster to prevent the Ashwalkers from getting to it first and using it against the group. Nash then tries to put down the monster by making some very nice shots to its face, but alas, his holdout blaster proves to be utterly inadequate for the task, and merely draws the monster's attention to him.

Nal failed to dodge the attacks coming his way, but as he's wearing heavy armor, they didn't do so much as tickle him. The impact did knock him down, however, which proved to be less of a problem than it could have been. Sherri dodged some more attacks, and Nash faced one very angry monster with an axe. He not only fails to dodge, but Luck fails him as well. Fortunately, the attack proved to be only a Flesh Wound.

I somewhat lost of track of what happened when after that, but Sherri proved highly effective, putting down more of the attackers, including two that had just realized that the unarmed Princess was hiding in the trench. Nal put down another attacker, and decided not to bother Dodging attacks that clearly couldn't hurt him. Nash, unfortunately, was still facing the monster, and barely survived another attack with an invocation of Flesh Wounds. Then he made a brilliant shot on the giant's hand, utterly destroying it and forcing the creature to go to hand to hand combat. Being a hulking brute, this still would have ended badly for Nash.

The Gatling heavy also managed to get into the trench at this point, and was all set to mow down everyone when Sherri put his weapon out of action. The security troopers recovered at this point, and started pouring fire into the monster, but even that didn't seem to faze the brute. Nal then called for Kyra Elso to take the anti-vehicle weapon, which she did, but not before Nash ended up pinned against the trench wall and soaked in some unpleasant stuff. Fortunately, before the monster could press its advantage, Kyra put it down with a well-placed shot from the heavy weapon.

The Gatling heavy, with his weapon out of action, tried to draw and throw a grenade, but Sherri put a stop to that with a burst of laser fire, and he ended up being blown to bits by his own grenade. With that harrowing fight over, the princess, who is alive but very much shaken, suffered a natural reaction to the violence and mess and, as Mailanka delicately put it, "added to the mess". Nal, being a rather outspoken sort, loudly complained that this is why he didn't want her here to begin with.

Director Thorn, on the other hand, seemed to be utterly unfazed by the battle, merely stating that it was "worse than normal". He then invited the group in to explain just who they were and why they were here. He was informed that we were responding to his request for aid, and the princess was rather disappointed to learn that he had not, in fact, sent out a request for her to meet with him.

The fallout of that revelation would have to wait for next session, though, for Director Thorn had important information for us. He had discovered a Titan, a vast warmachine of alien design, and with the arrival of the Marrowheart in the system, it had begun to stir. With that, the session ended.

Thoughts

Due to our decision to split the party, I had to spend this session sitting on the sidelines, because Rook needed to be in the capital to meet with the Governor and Subadmiral. I'm not particularly bothered by this, because I had a lot of fun watching the sessions unfold.

Nal is probably the most entertaining player we have, and watching him interact with the various NPCs and PCs was good fun. Mailanka also has a pretty diverse cast, and while that means there's lots of people to keep track of, it also keeps things interesting.

Sherri Grace easily wins my vote for MVP in this session. If it weren't for her and her blaster pistols, that fight would have gone badly for the group. Not only were they outnumbered, but they were outmaneuvered. But even with the appalling conditions and long ranges involved, Grace still hit far more often than not, and since most of the opponents were mooks, that was enough to put them down. All in all, some very impressive work.

The group needs to rethink their loadouts. While Nal and Kyra were reasonably well protected and armed, Nash's holdout blaster proved entirely inadequate against an armored foe, and both Nash and Grace probably need to think about investing in heavier armor. Yes, it might be encumbering, but it will help keep them alive.

Speaking of which, Luck and Impulse Point expenditures played a big role in keeping the PCs alive. On no less than four separate occasions, using them meant the difference between life and death for the PCs. This is a testament to just how deadly that fight could have been, and even that wouldn't have been enough if Grace weren't putting down targets as fast as she could spot them.

Communications were a bit of a problem in this session, particularly with keeping track of turn order. A visual turn tracker of some sort would probably have been helpful in understanding who was supposed to go when.

What-If

Two of our player characters, Knight Commander Evander Rook and Commodore Sho-Taro Greaves, didn't make the big fight. How would things have gone differently if they had been there?

For a start, it would have completely changed the numbers game. Between the two of them, they bring no less than fifteen competent troopers with them, and they probably wouldn't have frozen like the security troopers did.

Both Rook and Greaves have Tactics, and so they could have picked up on the enemy plan before the flankers appeared, giving at least a little more time to react.

Rook also has Leadership, and I think Greaves does as well, so they could have rallied the security troopers earlier in the fight, which would have partially offset the Ashwalker numbers.

Looking at what Rook in particular would have brought to the fight, one of his big contributions would have been a ludicrous Intimidate score. If he spent two FP on the long range Aspect technique, he could easily have rolled against 22 to scare off the attackers (base 16, +4 Aspect, +1 armor, +1 force sword). Even without those modifiers, a roll against 16 is pretty good.

Also important is that most of the combatants were melee, and Rook uses a force sword. Anyone who attacked would likely have had their weapon destroyed before being killed in the next attack. Even Umber, the big hulking monster, would likely have had a bad time of things. A destructive Parry would have deprived him of his axe, and Rook's force sword deals a terrifying 8d+24 (5) worth of damage. I don't know how much HP Umber had, but I doubt he'd have lasted long.

All in all, had either or both been in the battle, it would have been a lopsided curbstomp in our favor. As it is, it's a testament to just how effective PCs are that the three who were there managed to turn what should have been a massacre into a narrow victory.

Plans

Next session, we need to find out just what it is that Director Thorn needs to safely remove the Titan from the dig site and bring it back to Sovereign, because then we'll finally have the concrete information we need to make proper plans for accomplishing our mission.

We also need to make sure that Princess Mina Shinjurai isn't too traumatized by her experiences, because she's potentially a very useful ally to have. Oh, and she's an earnest, naive young lady who's a little in over her head. You'd have to be heartless to not feel sorry for her.

Rook and Greaves need to have their meeting with Subadmiral Starlane and Governor Voss, mostly to distract them from our interest in the dig site, but I'm also hoping to come out of there with more information and resources to use. The plan is to convince them that we're here to investigate reports of Cybernetic Union activity on the world, which is a hostile power in this region of space.

It's not entirely misdirection, either. In the short time we've been in the system, we've accrued significant evidence that there's a major rebellion fomenting, and it's not unreasonable to think that the Cybernetic Union is involved. And since this rebellion would cause us problems, we need to investigate it anyway.

I doubt we'll be able to keep our interest secret for long, though. After the last session, I think we need to seriously consider dropping a company of troops and some prefab fortifications on Director Thorn's camp to defend against future attacks. We might be able to recruit some local resources to do so, but we'll have to consider how effective it would be.

I'm also going to try and start developing a network in the capital city, because we need as much information as we can get. Rook can get some contacts among high society without much issue, but unless Nash, Grace, or Nal returns to the capital, the commoners and underworld are more of a problem. Fortunately, Rook does have a lot of money to spend, so hiring agents is not out of the question.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Psi-Wars Playtest Session 1 After-Action Report.

Player Characters

Knight Commander Evander Rook, Imperial Space Knight
Sherri Grace, Slave-Soldier Bounty Hunter
 Abbot Chance, Imperial Intelligence Handler
Captain Nal Aldru, Imperial Black Ops Fighter Ace
 Lieutenant Kyra Elso, Imperial Black Ops Handler
Commodore Sho-Taro Greaves, Imperial Navy Officer, CO of the Warmain
 Commander Badri Hara, Imperial Navy Officer, XO of the Warmain
Agent Damari Nash, Imperial Intelligence Spy

This past Saturday we had our first Psi-Wars playtest session, one that I've been looking forward ever since it was announced back in August. The scenario in brief is that Director Thorn, an archaeologist notable for finding interesting artifacts, discovered something particularly interesting on Grist. For reasons as yet unknown, he appealed directly to the Emperor's Hand for assistance in securing his find and rooting out a potential traitor.

For reasons that also remain unknown, the Emperor's Hand chose to send a Commodore and a Knight Commander as part of his carefully chosen set of agents. However, the high rank of both of these characters illustrates the importance of the mission, as did the choice to assign the Empire-class Dreadnought Warmain to the group.

The session began with a briefing on Grist by the lovely Lieutenant Shao-Chan Sun. The information given was...lacking in detail, and the carefully whitewashed nature of the reports gives the impression that someone, or several someones, are covering up the reality. Officially, the rebellion on Grist has been put down, the population is surly and disrespectful, but under control, and the local governor Gideon Voss and the military commander Subadmiral Shaw Starlane are doing at least a competent job.

Knight Commander Rook, not believing the reports given about the rebellion, had previously investigated the matter using the resources of the Order of Imperial Space Knights. This revealed that there were several potential leaders of the rebellion active on the planet.

The Order also underscored the importance of Director Thorn's work, with potentially mystical pronouncements about how he and his work would be vital in defending against a coming galactic invasion. Rook also received a prophecy of the usual vague sort, but it may prove important.

Nal, our Black Ops commando, received reports that the Cybernetic Union was likely working to foment rebellion and might mount an attack on the planet in the near future. Hardly the "everything's under control" that the local authorities want us to believe.

Of the Alliance, there were no indications that they were active near Grist, which is a long way from their holdings in the Light Arm.

As the briefing concluded, the Warmain exited hyperspace, only to be rocked by an explosion! As the alarm klaxons wailed, it soon became apparent that the explosion was caused by a collision with a fighter of an unknown type, and more of them were attacking a beautifully styled Taj Mahal class yacht. A yacht bearing the markings of the Shinjurai, a people who hail from Alliance space! Clearly, the news that the Alliance was not active near Grist was inaccurate.

Commodore Greaves, being the carefully prepared officer, was quickly able to respond to the situation (he has the Battlestations and Scramble! perks) by launching fighters and locking the yacht in a tractor beam. Nal and his handler Kyri jumped into fighters to join the fray, while Sherri persuaded her own handler to let her "borrow" a fighter as well.

Nal, as a Fighter Ace, performed well, severely damaging the enemy ace's fighter and narrowly evading return fire before destroying him the next turn. More interestingly, Sherri took down two fighters as well, though she was not a dedicated space combat character.

I don't remember what the Warmain's fighters did in this fight, which probably speaks to how insignificant they were, since the unknown fighters broke and fled after their ace went down.

Meanwhile, Rook and Nash made their way to the Warmain's hangar to oversee the boarding operation. The yacht possessed verification codes, but with a pattern that marked them as forgeries. Believing the yacht to potentially be involved in spying, Rook ordered that the crew be taken into custody. The space knight was greeted by a protocol droid, who said the "Princess" would meet him.

Rook and Nash followed the droid to the bridge, where they were indeed greeted by Princess of the Shinjurai. She claimed that she was asked to come to Grist by Director Thorn himself, and that she had a recorded transmission from him to prove it. After letting the terrified crew play the message, Nash spotted it as a forgery. Rook, after both rolling a Very Good reaction from the princess (it helps that he has Aspect) and deescalating the situation into something more conversational, invited the princess on to the Warmain to "continue the conversation". Which is a nicer way of saying interrogation, but appearances matter.

During this, Nal and Sherri were pursuing the fleeing fighters, and discovered that they were attempting to hide in the belt of debris surrounding the planet Grist. Sherri destroyed her quarry, so that was a dead end, but Nal was able to disable another of the fighters. After a bit of trash talking and rolling a 3(!) on Intimidation, he convinced the enemy pilot to reveal everything he knew. Apparently, he was hired for the attack on the yacht, but by whom? The plot thickens!

Still on the bridge, Commodore Greaves fielded a call from Subadmiral Starlane, who wanted to know just what the Warmain was doing showing up unannounced. He also demanded that the yacht and all aboard be turned over to him. Greaves, in response, showed Starlane the Imperial Mandate that gave him and the other PCs operational autonomy, then broke the call.

Now in a conference room aboard the Warmain, Commodore Greaves joined Rook in questioning the Princess, whose name we apparently never learned. However, we did learn that she was an admirer of Director Thorn and the Neo-Rationalist philosophy he espouses. When Thorn apparently asked her to bring an artifact from her family's vaults, the Princess jumped at the chance to meet her idol and followed the course that he gave without question.

Intriguingly, Thorn also asked that she bring an artifact, the Marrowheart, with her. Odds are that it's a power source or control device for something Thorn uncovered, and until we know more, it's going to stay safely locked up in the Warmain's vaults. The director is probably loyal, but letting a scientist as enthusiastic as he is have everything he wants is not a wise course of action.

The session ended there, but with a great deal to follow up on for next time.

Thoughts

The best thing about this session was that it got me excited about what was going to happen next. We've got a mysterious discovery on Grist, a Princess who's potentially the dupe of the traitor in Thorn's group, two major Imperial leaders who surely have secrets to hide, and a Gristian "rebel" pilot to interrogate.

I also had fun listening to Nal's player. He does the mindset of a gruff soldier well, and should prove very entertaining if I make good on my threat to pull him into a formal dinner.

On the downside, the session showed some of the weaknesses of a voice-only game. It's hard to know who's talking, but more than that, it's easy to overlook people who might want to have input or who haven't had a chance to speak. I think that this can be solved by doing a round-robin approach, where each person takes a turn in order to speak.

The space combat part went slow, and I think a large part of that is that no one is fluent with the rules yet. Mailanka, the GM, has examined them thoroughly, but it's clear that more practice, greater streamlining, or both may be needed to have them run smoothly.

For my character, Rook, having to ask what the range is for Aspect is annoying. The ability takes standard range penalties, but since it's often going to be used in non-combat situations, having to know just how far away someone is adds another detail. On the upside, it led to a Very Good reaction from the Princess, and I think that will be very useful going forward.

I was also disappointed that I didn't get a fight when Rook and his troopers boarded the Princess's yacht, but it was still fun to do the whole "We are the Empire and we are in charge" bit.

On that point, the group has a lot of power, in theory. They have the Warmain, which is a dreadnought and the most powerful class in the galaxy, a full regiment of ground troops, two hundred fighters, and two high ranking Imperial officers. They also have an Imperial Mandate that gives them free reign to accomplish their mission and orders everyone to cooperate.

That's the theory. In practice, the local governor and garrison commander could stall us using any number of procedural excuses, and if it came down to it, the subadmiral has more firepower than we do. More importantly, our objectives are to secure Director Thorn's findings and return it and him to Sovereign. We don't yet know what it is he's found, or what help he'll need to move it. Until we have more information, we need to tread lightly.

As far as character creation went, I found it to be a smooth and relatively painless process. In fact, the hardest part for me was learning how to use GCS. Oh, and picking gear. I still don't have a good sense of what equipment I should get, so while Rook has a very nice (and very expensive!) set of armor and a matching force sword, he still has more than half of his $1 million budget to spend. Note: Most characters don't have that much money. Rook is just Very Wealthy.

Everyone seems to have interesting backstories and motivations for their characters, but we didn't get a chance to explore that much this session. Hopefully the next one will allow for more intraparty roleplay.

Also, only one person in a group of five relatively high ranking Imperial PCs had Politics. I think we're all correcting that with our 3 points for the session. Heh.

Plans

For the next session in November, we're going to do what I'm calling Operation Trojan Horse and see if we can lure the person the Princess was supposed to meet into a trap. I don't expect anything to come of this, since they probably know about the battle in space and went into hiding, but maybe we'll get lucky.

After that, I believe an immediate with Director Thorn is in order. We need to know what's going on, find out what the Director needs, and work to secure his findings. From everything we've heard so far, it's probably some large, powerful alien technology that could have major ramifications for the galaxy.

Rook now has two secondary goals. The first is to cultivate the Princess as an asset for the Empire. Since she has a connection to the royal family of Shinjurai, she's a link to a world deep in Alliance space. Since that world is also home to a population who may harbor separatist leanings, they have the potential to change the course of the war against the Alliance. Also, if her relationship with Director Thorn is as good as she believes, the Princess may help keep him happy and cooperative.

A little manipulative, isn't it? Well, Rook serves the Emperor first and foremost, and accomplishing the Emperor's goals is paramount. However, if the Princess is as sincere as Rook believes, he may be able to help her meet her idol, which would be good for her.

Rook's second goal is to see Governor Voss investigated for corruption, and if found guilty of that and collusion with rebels, see him strung up on the appropriate charges. It seems like Voss has been enriching himself at the expense of the people of Grist, and since that threatens the Emperor's order, Rook cannot allow it to stand.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Psi-Wars: Ruminations on the Anti-Psi Space Knight

Continuing my series on the Space Knight, I’m going to delve into what they can do with their psionics, starting with Anti-Psi. For a more general overview of what you can do with Anti-Psi, see the Anti-Psi in Action post over on Mailanka’s Musings.

Starting Off

A Space Knight has a minimum of one level of talent and 20 points in actual abilities. What does that get you with Anti-Psi? As a general rule, this level of investment gets you abilities that only affect yourself, need skin to skin contact to work, or need a god-like extra effort to pull them off at range. Plan accordingly.

Astral Blade 1 gives you an attack against things like Force Ghosts, and against material targets you can drain Psionic Energy Reserves.. The latter ability is the more useful one, especially since it can’t be detected, can’t be taken away from, and directly attacks Energy Reserves. However, this is an extremely weak ability. Immaterial targets are rare, the psis you face may not have energy reserves, and if they have any amount of armor it’s completely negated.

Interruption 1 is the max you’re going to buy with 20 points, which means that it requires skin-to-skin contact with a subject to work. Even with skill 17 and extra effort, you’re still only going to really be able to do this at very short range at best. This isn’t all bad, though, since it gives you a way to break the influence a psi might have on someone, and it’s another avenue of resistance if a psi is trying to use them on you.

Para-Invsibility 3 gives a -3 to a psi’s attempts to detect you and anything near you with psi. This isn’t a lot, but it might make the difference between a psi getting their Danger Sense off or not, and that could make a world of difference in a fight. You’re also harder to see coming, which can be useful. With extra-effort, that goes up to -6, which still won’t guarantee protection, but it will help a lot!

Psionic Shield 10 should be read as “Immunity to Mind Tricks”, among other things. Telepaths are going to have a very hard affecting you, if they can do it at all. With extra-effort, you can extend this protection to everyone standing near you, which can be very useful if you’re going after a Telepath.

Screaming 1 may not seem impressive, but since you can buy up to skill 19, you can do more with it than you might think. On its own, it’s a potent defense against any psionics that would affect you or anything you’re carrying. You can also reliably extend this protection to anyone standing very close to you, and if you’re in melee with a psi, they’re going to have a much harder time using combat abilities. With Tiring Scream, a psi will quickly decide to leave you alone.

Resistant to Psionics +8 is another very potent defence, and is perhaps the most generally useful ability you can get with starting points. No matter what the psi is trying to use on you, it’s going to be very hard for them to make it work.

For Anti-Psi perks, Gaze into the Abyss will likely rattle psis, especially if you have one of the defensive abilities. Hostile Dampening is good for scaring psis and getting information out of them. Nonthreatening helps you get close to your targets, while Personal Awareness helps you notice when someone is trying to affect you. Simple Defense is good for making psis regret trying to affect you, whether or not they succeed, and Tolerance makes it more difficult to affect you with certain abilities.

In short, with one level of Talent, an Anti-Psi Space Knight is mostly focused on defense against psionics. There’s variations in the particular flavor you can get, but it all boils down into how you protect yourself against psi.

With 50-Points

I’m going to preface this by noting that, no matter what abilities you choose, the active ones are almost always resisted. Since any psi worth their salt is going to have good levels of skill and Will in their abilities, figure that you’ve got a 50% chance at best of pulling these off.

Astral Blade 7 is a very minor improvement over the base version. If you’re regularly fighting immaterial threats, it would be useful, but it’s just too narrowly effective to be worth the points otherwise.

Cancellation is a very potent ability, if you can touch the psi. Even with Cancellation 3 [50], you still need to make some contact with the psi. With extra-effort, you can do it at range, and at significant range if you can hit level 5, but the penalty to your skill from both range and extra-effort will make it difficult to affect the psi. If you have Luck, this is a good place to use it! You can also use this as Interruption, so keep that in mind.

Interruption 3 makes you very aggravating for a psi to deal with. If you can recognize that they’re trying to do something, you can try and shut it down, and the range penalties aren’t too bad. You’re going to want to buy as much Will and Talent as you can, though, because it’s all Quick Contests and psis tend to have good skill levels.

Para-Invsibility 10 means that you and anything near you can’t be detected with psi. Period. They can’t see you coming, they can’t find you, and they can’t use anything on you until they can physically see you. The downside is that you need to roll every minute. Try and persuade your GM to let you have No Nuisance Rolls for this.

Psionic Overload 3 lets you use this at range, but arguably, you’re better off just getting Psionic Overload 2 and using the rest to buy up skill, Will, and Talent. This is cheaper than Cancellation, but it’s much less predictable in its effects. The greater likelihood of affecting your target should be weighed against the hazards of uncontrolled psionics. If you have Cancellation, then using this becomes a 5 point upgrade to that ability.

Psionic Shield 25 is ludicrous. Psis won’t be able to affect your mind, but you’re better off buying Psi Static. Still, something like Psionic Shield 10 is pretty good, especially if you put points in Talent, Will, and Skill to be able to use the techniques effectively. Expansion in particular may prove important!

Screaming 3 lets you generate a 2 yard radius around yourself where psis have a much harder time operating. With the extra points, you can even buy up more skill to make it harder still. However, the drawback is that you have to Concentrate to use this ability. You’ll need allies to effectively use this ability.

True Sight lets you see past psionic illusions, but how useful this is seems rather dubious. Psi-Wars psionics include very little in the way of illusions, and so it’s unlikely that this will come up much. Perhaps against certain types of Broken Communion?

Psi Static is the ultimate in personal protection against psionics. They can’t affect you, they can’t see you coming with psionics, and there is nothing they can do about it. This is perhaps the best ability Anti-Psi offers, because it’s guaranteed to work.

Conclusion

The single biggest problem with Anti-Psi abilities is that they’re almost always contested. Any competent psi is going to have good levels of skill and especially Will, and since so many of your abilities work only at close range by default, you can’t really sacrifice skill for range. Screaming is an exception, but you still need to get close and you can’t do anything else while screaming.


Really, if you want to go the Psi-Hunter route, take Resistant to Psi +8 and spend your 50 Power-Up points on something else. Your abilities are too unreliable and limited to do more as a 300 point character.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Psi-Wars: Ruminations on the Basic Space Knight

Jedi are some of the most iconic figures in Star Wars, and fittingly, Psi-Wars has its own variation in the form of Space Knights. However, it would be a mistake to directly compare the two. Where Force wielders in Star Wars are essentially pretty similar, with the major distinction being whether they’re the good guy Jedi or the bad guy Sith, Psi Wars has far more variations. The type of psionics that a Space Knight uses and the 50 point Power-Up lens they choose have a great deal of effect on just what they can do. There’s so much potential variation, in fact, that this is only going to be one in a series of posts on the Space Knight. Today, we’ll look at the traits common to all Space Knights.

Space Knights

The Basic Chassis

All Space Knights come with ST 11, DX 12, IQ 13, HT 11, and Will 15. Thus, like most action heroes, they’re going to be at least passably competent in just about anything they choose to study. The high Will, in particular, is important for many psionic abilities that are based on Will, and is just a little shy of letting most abilities qualify for No Nuisance Rolls with a minimum of point investment. It also means that Intimidation is going to be your best social skill, which is handy for Contests of Will in a duel.

Space Knights also come with Combat Reflexes and Weapon Master (Force Sword). Combat Reflexes is pretty standard for any combat-oriented template, but Weapon Master deserves some further consideration. If you know the relevant skill at DX+2, you get +2 per die to damage with that weapon. Since all Space Knights have this, your standard Force Sword deals a whopping 8d+16 (5) damage! That’s enough to get past up to DR 220 on average. Since the maximum protection personal armor offers is DR 120, anyone you hit is dead. Okay, some people will survive, but typically you’re forcing unconsciousness checks and at least one death check.

As a result, the moment you turn that force sword on, expect to draw everyone’s attention. If you want to survive, invest in good armor or your defensive abilities. Fortunately, depending on which force sword skill package you choose, your parries start at 12 or 13, and your Precognitive Defense starts at 13. Fast-Draw (Force Sword) also helps you get your blade in your hand quickly, which begins at 13 as well.

Speaking of combat skills, depending on whether you fight with one weapon, two weapons, or a weapon and a shield, you’re looking at 16 or 18 in your chosen weapon type (force sword or saber). This isn’t amazing, but you’ll at least threaten hits consistently, and have a bit of skill to spend on fancier tricks. Picking up a force buckler is great for your defenses, while the Dual Weapon Attack package improves your offense. In any case, the net result is that you’re very dangerous at melee range, and even shooting at you is unwise unless you’re trying to deflect a lot of shots at once.

For other skills, you have Meditation-14, Philosophy-13, Stealth-12, a choice of Brawling or Karate, and Wrestling or Judo. Meditation and Philosophy are your mystic skills, Stealth is an everyman skill, and the rest are back-ups for close-in fighting.

In conclusion, the basic space knight is a competent if not outstanding melee fighter with a supremely dangerous weapon, and potential to do well in other areas. Unfortunately, you’re also a very tempting target, so try to avoid putting yourself in situations where you draw a lot of fire.

Advantage Options

With only 20 points to spend, you’re not going to pick up a whole lot here. Improved DX and IQ are both tempting, since either of them applies to a lot of your abilities. IQ in particular is great, since it adds to your psionics and your Precognitive Defense. Devotion is good if you plan to focus on the mystic side of the Space Knight, while Enhanced Dodge and Enhanced Parry may very well save your life in a pitched battle.

Destiny and Luck are handy for getting out of a jam, but they’re limited use and so are really emergency-only abilities. Wealth is another interesting option, since good armor and weapons are expensive, and it’s a lot easier to foot the bill if you have Wealth.

Disadvantage Options

Not much to say here. They’re all about what sort of a knight you are. Are you the heroic, knight in shining armor sort? The wandering beggar knight? Or a bloodthirsty dark knight?

Be careful choosing Vow (Poverty) and Wealth (Struggling or Poor), though. Good armor can save you from the attacks you’re likely to face, and forgoing it means relying on skill.

Skill Options

Between your background lens and the secondary skill options, you actually have a lot of options here. Acrobatics and Climbing are suitable for agile space knights, Armoury if you want to tinker with your weapon, and Literature, Law, History, and Intelligence Analysis for understanding what’s going on. Intimidation deserves particular note for how well it synergizes with your high Will, and again, it’s valuable in Contests of Will. Keep that in mind.

Still, you’re not going to be particularly outstanding at any of these, though your high attributes will give you a decent skill level with anything you choose to take.

Martial Arts

With only six points to spend and one those dedicated to a Style Familiarity, you’re not going to get a lot out of this. Depending on your skill choices, you may have to spend some of those points just for the buy-in for the style. You can get a perk or two, and maybe invest in a style technique. Your choices here are mostly a statement of how you’re going to fight.

More to Come…


By default, your standard space knight is a competent combatant with a smattering of other skills and the beginnings of a distinctive martial style. Where they really get interesting is in their choice of psionic ability and 50 point Power-Up lens. However, each of these needs a post of their own, since there’s so much to think about and choose with each. Stay tuned for most posts on the Space Knight.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Psi-Wars: Ruminations on Fighter Aces

I’ve been working on making a character for Mailanka’s Psi Wars, and I’ve decided to share my thoughts on the character templates as I go through them. Today’s entry is the Fighter Ace, the hot shot pilots of the Psi-Wars universe.

Fighter Ace

Core Activity

Fighter Aces have pretty simple lives. Their job is to be the best starfighter pilots in the galaxy, and wow, do they ever succeed at it. They have a bare minimum of 20 in Piloting (Starships) and Gunner (Beams), which is pretty good. In fact, it’s so good that you can probably forgo spending any more points on it and still do well. If you double down on piloting, get a Higher Purpose, Daredevil, Enhanced Dodge (Vehicular), and more Gunner and Piloting skill, you could easily hit total skills of 23, with a Dodge of 12 before starfighter modifiers. And this is without spending power-up lens points on it.

My suggestion, then, is not to worry about your piloting skills, because you’re a great pilot already, and think about what distinguishes you from other pilots, starting with how you fight. Do you like to push the limits of your starfighter and pull off reckless stunts to gain advantage? Then spend points on the Maverick style. If you like missiles and other heavy ordnance, Bombardier Is your go-to, and buy up your Artillery (Guided Missile) skill.

What if you’re not just a great pilot, but a great pilot who works well with others? Then get Leadership and the Starfighter Academy Training style. In particular, Formation Flier is great because you can extend some of your skill to the rest through ranged feints, while if there’s an ever better pilot in the formation, you can substitute their skill for yours. I kinda wish that it instead let you lead the rest of the formation in stunts without them needing to make their own rolls, though. Wing Commander lets you encourage your wingmates with Leadership at no penalty, which is nice.

Associated Activities

Before I go into the rest of the template, I’d like to talk about what else the template is good at, based on just their core skills. `First off, and most obviously, a hot shot pilot is the party’s designated driver. If it flies or hovers, you can make it go. Whether it’s an aerospace fighter or a hefty tub of a corvette, odds are you’re the best qualified to fly it, whether or not you’ve ever trained on that model.

You’re also good with heavy weapons. This includes vehicle-mounted weapons, of course, but if your Commando buddy is hauling around missile tubes or squad support weapons, you’re a great back-up for using them.

With Navigation (Hyperspace), you’re also respectable at making sure you end up at the right planet, though since you only have 13 by default, I wouldn’t try and get too fancy with your navigation. It’s not on the template, but Hot Shot Pilot also adds to Navigation (Air) and Navigation (Space). Since daring raids through canyons and other difficult terrain are very much in-genre, knowing how to get through them really should be a template option.

Everyman Tasks

For the most part, you’re merely decent with anything that doesn’t involve flying, though DX 14 helps with a lot of these tasks. For weapons, your go-to is the blaster pistol or blaster rifle. Carousing, Intimidation, Fast-Talk, and Sex-Appeal are your options for talking to people. If you want to be good at talking to people, a level of Appearance and Charisma will help out. With Savoir-Faire (Military), you can also work with military personnel, which can be handy if your starfighter needs repairs.

Stealth is on the template, and you’re not half-bad at it with a 14, but when it comes to hand-to-hand combat, your best advice is to just stay out. Karate, Brawling, Judo, and Wrestling aren’t going to do much good with ST 10.

You also have Electronic Operations (EW, Comms, or Sensors) as options. The keyword here is SIGINT. If you’re trying to listen in on radio communications, or you need to talk to someone, or you need to figure out where those strange emissions are coming from, you’re a good stand-by option.

Backgrounds

For Fighter Aces, the additional skills are invaluable. Your template options are rather limited when it comes to out-of-cockpit tasks, but your background will give you more options. Outcast gives you more street level skills, Survivor is great for overland and wilderness adventuring, and Aristocrat provides a gateway to high society.

Wanderer deserves particular note as a Fighter Ace background. Since a Fighter Ace naturally spends a lot of time on spaceships, the skills and traits of this background synergize particularly well with the template.

Power-Ups

Experienced and Heroic are your clear go-tos for Fighter Aces. Experienced lets you become an even better pilot, while Heroic’s Destiny and other improvements are great for all-around competence. I’m going to delve into Experienced more with the Upgrades discussion.

Martial Artist is an interesting option, since it offers Weapon Master and proficiency with a style. With DX 14, you have the potential to be fairly competent, too. Picking up a force sword may be a good idea. Too bad Gunslinger isn’t an option in this Power-Up, or I’d suggest taking Way of the Galaxy to get really good with that blaster pistol of yours!

Magnate also has potential, since with Very Wealthy, you can afford a rather heavily customized starship, and probably more than one! It also gives you more organizational pull, which is helpful for getting back-up in combat and covering your lack of expertise in other areas.

Cybernetic strikes me as rather marginal. Fighter Aces are not physical combatants, and so most of the cybernetics aren’t useful to you. Maybe the bionic eyes and their HUD and Telescopic Vision would be useful, but I’m dubious. You flat-out don’t qualify for Communion, so no fancy miracles for you.

Upgrades

You need the Experienced Power-Up to get any of these at character creation.

At the moment, there are two options for upgrades for Fighter Aces. Your first is the Evasion package. Its rationale is representing the training or experience to survive getting shot down, and you’ll certainly have that. With Navigation and Survival, you’ll have a decent chance of getting back out alive. Lockpicking and more Stealth are great for getting into places you really shouldn’t.

The other is Starfighter Tinkerer. As the name suggests, you’re pretty good at working with your starfighter. If you want to be making custom modifications to your ship, this is definitely something you’ll want to get. It’s also surprisingly useful in other ways. Engineering (Starship) will help you figure out where the important parts of ships are, Mechanic (Starships) is great for hot wiring a new ride, and Armoury (Heavy Weapons) has a great deal of potential. It’s not in the upgrade, but Mailanka agrees that Electronics Repair (Any) is a natural fit.

Summary


Fighter Aces are pilots, and if you left it at that, you’d be right. But with so much skill to start with, it’s easy for them to take their Power-Up and Background points and become respectably competent even when they’re not in the cockpit, at least in a few areas.

Monday, August 28, 2017

An Introduction to Psi-Wars

It is a time of civil war. The Federation, a coalition of noble houses that have ruled the galaxy for centuries, has been overthrown. Impoverished and alienated by increasing use of robotic labor, and incensed by the execution of a populist war hero, the people revolted and overthrew the aristocracy.

The leader of the revolt, a former naval officer, has declared himself Emperor on a promise to bring renewed prosperity to the people. To crack down on dissidents and suppress further rebellions, the Emperor has tightened his grip on the worlds of the Empire, giving agents of Imperial Security broad discretion in maintaining order. Abroad, the Imperial Navy conquers worlds, ostensibly for their own protection, but also to obtain their resources to feed an ever hungrier industrial-military complex.

The remaining noble houses, under the leadership of Duchess Nova Sabine, Duke Bale Grimshaw, Marchessa Anna Elegans, and Archbaron Kento Kain, have regrouped and reorganized themselves into the Alliance. Decrying the Empire’s abuses of power and pledging to bring a return to the golden era of the Federation, the Alliance stands in opposition to the Emperor’s increasingly autocratic rule.

Following a period of rapid Imperial expansion, the war slowed into a stalemate, and an uneasy d├ętente has held for nearly a decade. Now, with Imperial fleets marshaling at the border and fiery rhetoric holding sway in the Senate of the Alliance, a new era of conflict is set to begin.

On the ground, blasters rule the battlefield, while soldiers wear light nanoweave and heavier diamondoid armor to protect themselves. In theskies above, fighters swoop gracefully in intense duels, screening might dreadnoughts as they trade broadsides, the light of laser cannons large and small creating a dazzling display.


The galaxy stands at a crossroads, and the actions of a few brave souls may all that decides whether the future will bring renewed prosperity, brutal tyranny, or utter oblivion. Will you join the Empire in their mission to bring order to the galaxy? Will you join the Alliance as they seek to restore the Federation? Or will you be a free agent, charting your own path through the chaos of this war-torn era?

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Psi-Wars: Ruminations on House Kain

Completing my series on the noble houses of Psi-Wars, today's ruminations are on House Kain, the independent minded rogues with a love of cybernetics and defying tradition.

House Kain

Who are they?

House Kain is the great wild card of the Alliance, with a tradition of proud, willful action and little concern about noble appearances. This goes back as far as the founding of the Federation, for while House Kain was not invited to the first conclave, Kaito Kain showed up anyway, saying that “You’re not going to build an empire around me without me having something to say about it.” No one could truly fault his logic, and since he came with warships, just in case he was rebuffed, they decided to let him have his way.

This set the tone for Kain’s interactions with the rest of the Federation. While they profited off of the trade that the Federation brought to their territory, Kain made it clear that access to this route was at their pleasure. Nor did they particularly care for the niceties of polite Federation society, and while Kain never quite crossed the line into outright war, their relationship with the other noble houses can be described as “rough and tumble”.

Kain’s independent-mindedness served them well when the Emperor led his coup, for they’ve long taken care to ensure the self-sufficiency of their domain. Combined with the power of the alien station in orbit around Caliban, House Kain solidly controls the primary route into Alliance space, and is a major part of the Alliance’s military power. However, the other houses have not forgotten Kain’s strong arming and disdain for their tradition, and the house’s relationship with the rest of the Alliance is tense at best.

How do the common folk see them?

House Kain is viewed with a mix of awe and fear by the people of the Alliance. Awe for their martial prowess and ability to withstand the Empire’s assaults and their willingness to break from noble traditions. Fear, for their brutality in combat and their extensive cybernetic modifications.

The people of Caliban, House Kain’s homeworld, have a more nuanced view that comes of living with them for many generations. There’s a certain pride in the independent mindedness of their overlords, and a desire to see the house leave the Alliance and go its own way, like the days of Lothar Kain before the rise of Alexus.

How are they seen by the nobility in general?

As a rule, the nobility does not like House Kain, who they see as thugs with no sense whatsoever of aristocratic propriety. Unfortunately, they’re also too useful to alienate. Without the military power of House Kain, there’s a very real chance that the Alliance would fall soon after. Some of the noble houses are willing to take that risk, but at the present enough houses view Kain as too useful to lose, and carefully walk the line between giving in to their demands and alienating them entirely.

On the other hand, there’s a certain romanticism to House Kain’s defiance of tradition and traditional authority, and not a few young nobles fantasize about being spirited away by a dashing rogue to have grand adventures through the galaxy. Even among the older and more restrained nobles, there’s a grudging respect for Kain’s insistence on self-reliance and adherence to their own traditions.

What are the strengths of House Kain?

House Kain’s strength is that it is a self-sufficient power, as per very long standing tradition. If they were to be completely cut off from the rest of Alliance space, Kain has the industrial base to build and maintain their own warships, enough agriculture to feed its people, and so on. What they don’t have themselves, Kain will gladly get through their equally long tradition of raiding.

Knowledge of hyperspace routes is another asset of House Kain’s, for while most of the Alliance and the Empire believes that the only good route through the region is the one Caliban is on, there are more than that. Using these byways is treacherous without the navigational data that Kain jealously guards, however, and so the house has unparalleled mobility, allowing it to slip past attacking forces to devastate their supply lines.

The ancient, alien orbital fortress around Caliban is one of House Kain’s great trump cards, for this vast battlemoon is capable of devastating even fleets of dreadnoughts. Consequently, no attacking force has ever managed to reach Caliban’s atmosphere.

What are the weaknesses of House Kain?

The foremost weakness of House Kain is their pride. Their belief in their strength and independence, while well-founded, often leads to a sense of invincibility, that no matter what happens, House Kain will not fall. This leads them to underestimate the sheer power of the Empire, and to dismiss evidence of weakness in their own preparations.

In particular, Kain’s self-sufficiency is not as absolute as they would like to believe. Their industry relies on imports of key materials not found within the space they control, and without it they could be worn down by a long siege. If House Kain were to be cut off from the Alliance by an assault that went around their space, they would eventually fall.

The orbital fortress above Caliban is another potential weakness. It is an ancient, alien relic that not even they fully understand. A concerning possibility is that the Empire will uncover other artifacts from that civilization, ones that give them control over the battlemoon, and turn its power against House Kain right in the heart of their territory.

Would House Kain go rogue?

This is an additional question, but I think it’s an important consideration, given House Kain’s traditional independent mindedness and their ability to protect their own domain. While they may have the threat of secession as leverage, in a larger sense House Kain isn’t likely to break with the Alliance.

The first reason is pragmatic. If House Kain steps back and allows the Empire to defeat the Alliance, they’d end up surrounded by a power with little love for them. This doesn’t greatly concern them, for they believe that they can hold their territory against all comers, but they could still be bottled up in the Caliban system, a prospect House Kain doesn’t care for.

The second is more ideological. Kainians don’t back down from a fight, and the Empire is the biggest challenger they’ve had in a very long time. Win or lose, how could they pass up the glory of such an epic conflict? Even without the Alliance, House Kain would still be harassing the Empire, raiding its shipping, razing outposts, and generally being a major thorn in their side. How could they do otherwise?

That said, if their relationships with the other noble houses broke down and no reconciliation was possible, House Kain would go their own way and not look back.

How can House Kain be the good guys?

House Kain are not good guys in the traditional sense. They’re too willing to get their hands dirty for that, and they don’t think much of the gentle approach. What House Kain does offer, though, is the romanticism of the outlaw and the renegade. They may follow Alliance law in principle, but in practice they do things their own way, and don’t care much about what other people think.

Thus, you see in Kain not just defiance, but the ability to get away with defying tradition and traditional authority.

How can House Kain be the bad guys?

Kainians are brutal, ruthless thugs without compassion for those who oppose them. Their membership in the Alliance is solely a matter of convenience, for it provides a convenient group keeping the Empire from simply making an end run around their worlds.

If the rest of the Alliance is more idealized, they’ll want to be rid of the Kainians, but they’re too essential for their defence. If the Alliance is more cynical, then they tacitly condone or even approve of the brutality, so long as it’s directed towards their common enemies.

Which Communion Paths do they follow?

House Kain’s lack of psionics makes it more difficult for them to follow Communion Paths than other houses, at least consciously. Despite this, House Kain frequently embodies the Rebellious Beast, for they submit to no authority but their own. If their defiance of tradition and authority is channeled toward a cause rather than their own pride, then you may find Righteous Crusaders.

Kain’s heavy use of cybernetics, while acceptable and encouraged by their traditions, nonetheless distances them from humanity, with some falling into the Path of the Other as a result.

What role does House Kain’s cybernetics play?

Since Kain does not have psionics, they rely on cybernetics to augment their capabilities, especially when it comes to defending themselves against the psionics of other nobles. Particularly important is the Psyber Shield implant, since this guards them against mind reading and emotional manipulation by Telepaths, while the improved HT of their cybernetics guards them against Ergokinesis attacks.

More generally, Kainian cybernetics boost the user’s physical capabilities. Most obviously, this lets them use heavier and more equipment, especially in the area of weapons and armor. A Kainian knight in full combat kit is nearly proof against man portable weapons, though squad operated weapons may give him some pause, and that grand force sword will cut through anything in his path.

However, this ignores the utility of other cybernetic implants. In particular, Kainian Eyes improve the user’s vision dramatically, letting them see greater distances and in conditions that would blind anyone else. This is invaluable for scouts, infiltrators, and the odd scoundrel sneaking into noble palaces at night to woo the lord’s daughter. And with Silvertongue for more favorable impressions, he might succeed!


Cybernetics are also prime for individual tinkering and customization, so each individual Kain likely has a few special tricks built into their limbs. Of course, other nobles are well aware of this, and tend to keep visiting Kainians under close (if discrete) observation.