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.


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.


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.

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