Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Review: Psi Wars February and Mid-March Patreon

Daniel Dover at Mailanka’s Musings runs a Patreon for those wishing to support the Psi Wars project, and over the past month and a half he’s released quite a bit of material to backers. Like his blog, it shows careful thought and a great deal of skill in roleplaying game design, setting building, and creative writing.

There’s four tiers of support, and since each level gives access to progressively more material, I’m going to cover them in order from lowest to highest.

Dreamers ($1/month)

There’s three posts at this level, covering behind the scenes thoughts on running capital ships, expanding on Communion, and the design of two power-ups for Psi Wars characters.

Rethinking Capital Ships starts with the premise that an Officer should be able to stand on the bridge of a capital ship, and have her abilities make a meaningful difference in the battle. The new rules deliver on this in spades. Building off of his revised system for spaceships, Officers can now use their Leadership and Tactics to bolster the performance of their crews and outmaneuveur and outwit their foes.

You’ll also find rules on how to handle large squadrons of fighters, which is absolutely essential when commanding dreadnoughts, who could easily carry hundreds or even thousands of smallcraft within their cavernous hangars. These rules have yet to make it into a public release, but add quite a bit for these large ships!

Rethinking Communion outlines the design for social engineering campaigns that give bonuses to Legendary reputation, and is interesting as a window into how Mailanka works. The actual rules and the 24 (!) new Communion miracles are included in the Psi Wars Iteration 5 documents as well.

Power-Ups: Conspirator and Magnate introduces two new power-ups, with the first focused on characters who don’t have a direct connection with Communion but are so favored by it that things tend to go along with the story that Communion has for them. With a good reaction roll, this support can take the form of very dramatic Communion Miracles! The second, Magnate, is for those characters who have so much wealth or pull within their organizations that they have access to the biggest and best toys, and influence on a large scale. This is where you’ll find your dreadnought captains and influential senators. Again, what you’re mainly getting here is the design process, since the rules are in Iteration 5.

The discussion of the thought process behind these design choices is quite valuable in and of itself, since it will help understand why they were made and how you can use them in your game.

Fellow Travelers ($3/month)

At this level, you get to see early drafts of Psi Wars material. At the moment, this includes drafts of the Patron-designed Trader alien race, the history of the Psi Wars universe, and an early peek at the Empire!

I’m going to cover the Traders in more detail when I get to the Companion tier, but seeing how Mailanka takes the ideas and votes of his Patrons and weaves them into a cohesive whole is absolutely fascinating. The Traders themselves are pretty neat, walking a line between attractive and unsettling, with an ancient, proud culture that has seen better days.

Psi Wars History 1.1 is an overview of Psi Wars history extending back almost 6000 years. It paints a picture of a deeply cyclic universe, where empires rise, prosper, decline, and then fall either from internal crises or the pressure of external forces. It also gives a glimpse at the major civilizations that now coexist with humanity, which I’m not going to spoil here.

Hot off the presses as I write this is the first draft of the Empire! Here, we have our first look at the force dominating the Psi Wars setting, and while it naturally has echoes of the Star Wars empire, it is very much its own entity. Part 1 provides new options for creating Imperial characters, ranging from simple Citizens to commandos working for the dread Imperial Black Ops.

The history of the Empire is light on details, but this is mostly because the key figure of the Emperor is a current topic for Companions and up to vote on (More on that later!) The structure of the Empire is fascinating, since while there’s a strand of meritocracy and the benefits of technology, the whole system is shot through with corruption, oppression, and fallout from those advances. It’s founded on good ideals, and is actually nice if you’re a member of the privileged classes in the core worlds, but that polish is quickly stripped away once you move out of the public eye.

This is a very long document, and outlines all of the major organizations, capabilities, and philosophies of the Empire. Standard operating procedure for the Imperial war machine, the interplay between the major organizations, and the difference between ideals and reality in the Empire are all laid out in detail. While there’s no way to fully cover an entity as vast as the Empire, this is a very good start and gives you plenty of material to play with.

Companions ($5/month)

This is where the real fun of being a Patron begins, since not only do you get to see Psi Wars as it’s being made, you’re given a voice in the process!

The first round of polls focused on the alien race known as the Traders. Starting from the simple concept of an alien race that used to hold power in the galactic core, but was defeated by humanity and now roams the stars, they quickly evolved through several rounds of polling into a distinct culture and personality. They are now an ancient race, proud of their traditions and valuing honest dealing, with the ability to quickly process information and a talent with robotics that far surpasses the rest of the galaxy.

The reason that this is so fun is that each poll serves as a writing prompt as well, and Patrons (include myself) are enthusiastic about jumping in to offer their own take on the options presented. The fact that Mailanka then takes these ideas and weaves them together with the poll results to create a cohesive whole is impressive, and end results are a delight to read.

For one example, the votes to decide on the social structure of the Traders were fairly evenly split between Family, Trade, and Patchwork. But in the comments, you could see a strong preference for a blend of these ideas, where the Traders were organized into fleets that were nominally familial, each with their own craft, and the occasional meeting to swap ideas and members. Mailanka then took all of that feedback and created the Kin-Fleets, the descendents of old corporate fleets that became refuges for the Traders. Over time, the bonds took on a familial status, with the leader of each fleet being called Grandfather.

It’s just so much fun to watch this process in action, and now we get to do it again, this time with one of the most important figures in the Psi Wars universe: the Emperor himself! Over the next few days, Patrons can vote on his origin, abilities, agenda, and heirs. I’ve already posted some of my own ideas, and I’d love to see what other people want.

Disciples ($7/month)

There’s nothing yet at this tier, but it comes with the right to a place in Mailanka’s game when he runs one, and I’ve been told that there’s plans to let this tier write up signature characters for the setting, which I think will be an absolute blast.


Mailanka has put out a lot of good content on his Patreon, and the opportunities to be a part of the creative process are more fun than I thought they would be. So, if you like Psi Wars and want to support its creation, join in. If you want to add in your own touches to the setting, now’s the time to join in!

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