Sunday, February 26, 2017

Review: Psi Wars

Over the years, I have to say that I've spent more time in the Star Wars universe than in any other, watching movies, playing video games, and reading books. Something about the combination of intense action and epic scope, perhaps.

When I learned that there was a Star Wars conversion for GURPS in the works, I was naturally quite excited. But then I began delving into it, and what I discovered was something far more interesting than a mere conversion.

Psi Wars, by Daniel Dover (aka Mailanka), is an ambitious project to take the tropes and conventions of Star Wars, existing GURPS material, and his own experience to build a space opera campaign framework perfect for high action roleplaying and mythic world building. And while it is still a work in progress, it succeeds admirably at these goals.

The core gameplay is based on GURPS Action, adapted for the advanced technology of a Star Wars-like setting, with twelve character templates perfectly suited for the larger than life adventures. But this is just the foundation, and Mailanka quickly expands from that beginning to touch on just about every element of setting design.

To better model the World War II-esque combat of Star Wars space battles, Mailanka revamps the combat system introduced in GURPS Spaceships. Now you can have grand capital ships engaging in stately duels while clouds of fighters swarm around them. Fighter aces square off as bombers dive in to cripple engines and weapons, and officers bark orders from the bridge of their ships, commanding it as if it were an extension of their own body.

On the ground, you have teams of commandos going up against Imperial soldiers using top of the line equipment, while out on the rim you frontier marshals, smugglers, and bounty hunters clashing, where law and order run headlong into the demands of survival. And all of these use combat styles carefully devised or modified for Psi Wars.

Naturally, you'll also find Space Knights, force sword wielding champions of either righteousness or villainy, while Mystics serve as guides in their mysterious ways. But it is here that you find the biggest divergence from Star Wars, for they do not draw on the Force, but psionics drawn from GURPS Psionic Powers. And these abilities are not the sole purview of mysterious, secretive orders, for anyone can unlock the powers of the mind.

No, the true mysterious power of Psi Wars is that of Communion, the gestalt super-consciousness that embodies the wishes, dreams, desires, and fears of sapient life. Those who learn its ways may petition it for miracles, from minor and subtle guidance to the history shaping primordial avatars.

These avatars are linked to another manifestation of Communion, the recurring stories and archetypes known as paths. Whether it be the Righteous Crusader bringing justice to the world on behalf of their community or the transgression of the Mystic Tyrant in search of forbidden power, those who follow the strictures of these paths gain power, for the collective will of sapient life is to see these stories told again and again.

Not only does Psi Wars give you these frameworks for capturing key elements of the Star Wars genre, there's also a wealth of game and setting design notes captured in Mailanka's blog. In my view, these represent the most valuable part of Psi Wars, for it explains the philosophy behind his design, how he adapted GURPS to capture his vision for Psi Wars, and and then lays the groundwork for building your own organizations, worlds, and cultures.

The one drawback of Psi Wars is that, as a third party project, it cannot be used on its own. At a mimimum, you'll need GURPS Basic Set, Ultra-Tech, Action 2Psionic Powers, Divine Favor, and Spaceships to make use of 90% of its material, and there are many references to other books. However, with just the books I listed, you can pick up the Psi Wars Primer and start running it.

Of course, I also have to repeat that Psi Wars is a work in progress, and there are many points for editing to clean up. But as of Iteration 5, it is a solid reference, and Mailanka is not only working diligently on improving it, he is also very receptive to feedback and suggestions. So, go take a look at Psi Wars. It's free, and even if you never play it, you can learn a lot about designing games for GURPS, how to build a space opera setting, and more.

If you like it, consider supporting Mailanka on Patreon. You can get access to behind-the-scenes looks at design notes, early access to Psi Wars material, or even the opportunity to contribute your own ideas to the setting.

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