Sunday, June 17, 2018

Adversaries in Space Opera

Art by George Wilson
However much Mankind may come to an accomodation [sic] with many of diverse races it will encounter in universe, there will always be some so starkly 'alien' that no common ground will be found on which to build friendly relations.  Such races are the 'monsters' of the galaxy.
Space Opera presents three intelligent races to be used as opponents for humans and human-aligned races.  Unfortunately, we have not been graced with any Gene Day depictions of these entities.

First, the Bugs (no other name provided) are cribbed from Heinlein's Starship Troopers.  “The Bugs are not individuals,” we learn, “but rather are 'units' in a vast 'hive consciousness.'”  The rules describe Brain Bugs, Workers, and three grades of Warriors.
Highly sensitive psionic Adepts who are able to attune themselves (barely) to the thought frequencies of the Bugs have confirmed that the function of the 'Brain Bugs' is not to lead, but to maintain a psionic link, joining all members/ units in the 'Hive Mind.'  Only the 'Hive Mind' has awareness and intelligence.  Individual units have only instinct to guide them when not in contact with the Hive.  'Brains' act as communicators to express the will of the 'Hive Mind' and to supply the collective consciousness for evaluation and decision.
The psionic 'range' of a Brain Bug seems to be five hundred meters.  Brain Bugs have a 'Body Mass' of 100 kg while Workers and Warriors range from 350 to 700 kg.

Master of Orion was not released until 1993, so we cannot accuse Space Opera of taking “Klackons” from that game.  Space Opera Klackons “are amphibious, crab-like beings with heavily armoured shells and large pincer claws which can be used to manipulate objects or to tear food and enemies apart.”  Large pincer claws would not seem well suited for manufacturing and operating advanced technology, but I'm not going to argue.  “It is possible to conduct trade with Klackons,” the rules state, “using sign language and the pidgin evolved for spoken communication.”  However, Klackons do not exclude sentient beings from their diet and, on occasion, “the Klackon's hunger overcomes the desire to do business.”  We also learn that Klackons are obsessed with the number seven.  Males of the species average 175 kg while females average 125 kg.

Given that the novel is in the public domain, Space Opera unabashedly states that the Mertuns “may be regarded as similar to” the Martians from H. G. Wells' The War of the Worlds.  “The Mertuns are an octopoidal race from low gravity planets and...They also use heavy Tripod Walkers...”  We learn that they “are a totally unemotional race devoted to cold, hard logic.”  Lacking emotion, they are “not overly hostile...[but] neither are they are they a 'friendly' race.”  In terms of government, “Mertuns appear to have not set social organization, but it is a suspected that individual communities function on a pattern not dissimilar to 'Athenian Democracy.'”  Mertun 'Body Mass' ranges from 100 kg to 250 kg.  No mention is made of any susceptibility to common germs.

Section 17.0 is titled 'The Beasts' and is not quite two pages in length.  Understandably, Space Opera does not provide an extensive bestiary.  Instead, we are provided with a chart that provides details on eighteen animal classes.  Said classes are differentiated by approximate body mass.  Class 'O' represents the least massive type at 5 kg.  Mass increases as classes regress to the beginning of the alphabet (e.g., class 'N' is 10 kg, class 'M' is 15 kg, etc.).  This means that beyond class 'A' there are classes 'AA,' 'AAA,' and 'AAAA.'  Evidently, using 'P,' 'Q,' and 'R' was not an option; neither was having 'A' be the least massive class with mass increasing in ascending order.  Each class has a carrying capacity, damage factor, stamina factor, shock characteristic roll, hand-to-hand combat factor, and a range of natural weapon damage.

For unknown reasons, Space Opera spends a paragraph stating the obvious:
...Aquatic species will spend all their time in water (fish, whales, dolphins) and may be gravely threatened when thrown on land.  Amphibious creatures (even animals like otters and alligators) are capable of functioning on land or in the water.  Flyers are capable of flight and tend to be slow and clumsy on the ground.  Finally, there are some triphibians (ducks or geese) which can fly, move on land, or swim...However, large, heavy animals will rarely have any flight abilities.
So, “Aquatic species will spend all their time in water” and “Flyers are capable of flight.”  Good to know.

Additionally, “Animals, particularly carnivores, will have pelts, making it possible to go into the hunting and trapping business.”  Value of pelts is determined by the StarMaster.  An important note is provided:  “animals killed by energy weapon fire have a flat 75% chance of the pelt being ruined (100% with flamers, explosives, etc.)”

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Psionics in Space Opera

Art by Virgil Finlay

In Space Opera, the Law of Conservation of Energy applies to psionics.  For game purposes, this means that some applications of psionics are quite difficult  – if not impossible – without the aid of Psycho-Kinetic Crystals.  In explaining the origin of these crystals, the rules supply more background information about the default setting of Space Opera :
...ForeRunners had developed a very high level Science of Mind, and one of the outgrowths of that science was the Psycho-Kinetic Crystal.  The PK Crystal or StarStone was discovered in the last days of the ForeRunner civilizations, immediately before the Final War which tore the vast interstellar empires apart and brought destruction to scores of thousands of planets.  While the exact operation of the PK Crystal is not presently understood, it is believed to be able to tap the energy fields of a parallel, high-energy universe, perhaps those of tachyon HyperSpace itself.
In physical terms, a StarStone is described as “a luminescent disk about 40mm in diameter and 10mm thick in the center, tapering at the edge to about 1mm thickness.”  In other words, it “has a characteristic lens shape.”  StarStones are inert until “keyed to the mental patterns of any living, sentient creature” of psionic capability.  Once keyed, “the PK Crystal will become starkly antithetical to any other life form which handles it when not in contact with the owner, acting as the most virulent poison possible so long as it is in contact with the uninsulated flesh of the being handling it.”  Should a keyed StarStone be separated from its owner for two to twelve months, it it is possible that it can become keyed to someone else.  This possibility is based on the Psionics characteristic of the prior owner; the higher the characteristic, the less chance there is that the StarStone can be attuned to another.  (The chance is always less than 50%.)  If the previously owned StarStone cannot be so attuned, “it will sublimate away.”

A character with a Psionics characteristic of ten or less is “psionically 'inactive' or 'dead.'”  Such characters cannot “exercise psionic talents” and possess something of a resistance to the casual use of psionics.  Characters with a Psionics score of one “have the capacity for ShuttleThought, their minds thinking on several levels at once in such a fashion that any Telepath attempting to read them receives only a confusing blur of mental images.”

A character with a Psionics characteristic of more than ten is “psionically 'open'” and is an amenable subject for psionics.  Such characters can be 'awakened' to “be able to exercise mental powers.”  Active users of psionic powers are called Adepts.

We learn that, “No character will enter the game psionically 'awakened.'”  However, three paragraphs later, it is explained that some characters “will emerge in the game with active psionic talents.”  This represents one of the annoying things about Space Opera :  misleading phrasing which ought to have been corrected with rudimentary editing.  Anyway, there are three conditions which may cause 'awakening.'  First, when an 'open' character successfully resists a mental attack, there is a chance of 'awakening' based on his or her Psionics characteristic.  Second, if an 'open' character is “exposed to an unsensitized PK Crystal,” there is a possibility of 'awakening' (again derived from the Psionics characteristic).  Failure may subject the character to a coma-inducing shock.  Third, a character with a Psionics score of 18 or 19 may be 'contacted' during his or her pre-game career.  Once per year, there is a chance (ranging from 30% to 85%) of contact.  We are told, “The reason why he was contacted, the persons who contacted him, the motive for their training him mentally -- these and many other questions remain unanswered because none of those so contacted can or will divulge the information.”  Additionally:
'Contacted' Adepts receive a PK Crystal from their mysterious mentors, unlike lower level PC's.  Also, whenever they lose their PK Crystals, a replacement seems to arrive within a reasonably short period of time, again from the same mysterious source.  It is not known why such Adepts have been singled out for such treatment, but it is believed that they have some part to play in the working out of a great plan to restore the ForeRunner levels of civilization and culture.
There are five fields of Psionic ability:  (1) Telepathy, (2) Telekinesis, (3) Teleportation, (4) Clairvoyance, and (5) Telergy (sometimes misspelled 'Telurgy') & Self-Awareness. (Only characters with a Psionics score of 19 can acquire Telergy & Self-Awareness.)  Each field has various powers associated with it; some powers appear in more than one field.  Each power (also called 'talent') is assigned a level between one and ten.  For example, among the twenty-five powers of Telekinesis there are:  Manipulation (level 1), Levitate (level 3), Cryo PSI (level 5), and Psychic Force (level 7).

The number of fields (as well as the highest level of power within a field) that an Adept can learn is based upon the Adept's Psionic characteristic.  For instance, an Adept with a score of 11 is limited to one field with a maximum power level of one; a score of 18 permits three fields with a maximum power level of nine.  Adepts with a Psionics value of 19 can learn all fields to the highest level.  To determine which fields an Adept (with a Psionics score of less than 19) can learn, a d6 is rolled for each field (other than Telergy & Self-Awareness).  The fields having the higher results are the fields the Adept can learn.

“Upon 'psionic awakening,' an Adept acquires the first talent in the appropriate list of talents for his psionic field.”  Other powers/talents must be learned as if they were skills.  (Presumably, this learning is self-taught.)  All powers of a given level must be learned before powers of a subsequent level can be learned.  'Contacted' Adepts start the game with a number of talents equal to the number of career years since the year of contact.  A 'Contacted' Adept learns new powers more quickly than other Adepts because his prior “mental training has already opened up large sections of the mind, and he has been taught how to develop his mental powers more rapidly than other psionics.”

In the vein of StarStones and ShuttleThought, several powers are named by merging two words into one (such as, FarSee, PainStop, SaneMind, and NegaField).
Using psionic powers drains an Adept's Stamina.  A StarStone reduces Stamina cost (as well as enhancing the effects of some powers and permitting the use of others).  The Psychic Force power allows an Adept “to tap the vast Force which can be keyed by a PK Crystal.”  Each day, an Adept with Psychic Force has a chance to increase his or her Stamina (presumably temporarily).  “At level/10,” the rules state, “the stamina boost [of 200%] becomes permanent and need not be rolled.”  (Recall that only Adepts with a Psionics score of 19 can attain tenth level powers.)  'Living Matrix' is a tenth level power available in every psionic field except Telekinesis.
Only a PC who has lived an exemplary life can attain Oneness with the Force.  This PSI status is equivalent to the levels attained by the Lensmen like Kinneson, Worsel, Trigonsee, etc., in 'Doc' Smith's Second Stage Lensmen, and simply is beyond the capacity of personalities that are not so integrated that they become Champions of Civilization and all that it stands for.
A 'Living Matrix' Adept has a beneficial modifier for mental attacks, spends less stamina when performing a successful Mental Attack (or resists a Mental Attack), and can more easily overcome mental domination.  Also, a level ten Telepath has a chance “of momentarily attaining Third Stage development.”  This means the Adept “can exercise any psionic talent he possesses without a PK Crystal but as if he had a PK Crystal.”

With Precognition (a level 5 Clairvoyance power), “The Adept receives a foreshadowing of a scene yet to come, usually up to 24 hours in the future.”  The StarMaster must “commu-nicate by notes” to relay the details of the precognitive vision to the player.  There is a cost of fifty points of Stamina and the Adept must be successful with a Shock characteristic roll “or be rendered unconscious for 1d6 hours.”  The chance of an exact prophecy (presumably rolled by the StarMaster) “is 2% × Intuition plus 1% × Clairvoyance level of the Adept.”  So, an Adept with the maximum score for Intuition and the highest level of training would have a 48% chance.  With an Intuition of 10, the minimum chance would be 25%.  Assuming the Precognition roll is successful, “the StarMaster will be bound to arrange matters in the meantime so that events will occur as prophesied.”  the   The following Designer's Note is offered:
Trying with prophecy of future events can prove difficult unless the StarMaster is prepared to think ahead to later developments in the adventure scenario.  If the StarMaster prefers, he will present 2 to 5 possible alternatives, depending on the complexity of the developing situation.  Some of the details will be vague, but the effect will be to alert the players in general to the possibility that some potentially serious or momentous events are about to transpire, and they will be able to make some preparations to meet the challenge.  Also, if no exact prophecy occurs, a very vague and probably irrelevant 'vision' will occur, or else no precognition at all.  The talent is, after all, rather erratic and undependable.
The Telergy & Self-Awareness field (available only to characters with a Psionic value of 19) allows an Adept “to develop his mind and body to their maximum potentials so that he can become fully attuned to the life principle which is the Force.”  This means that the Adept's characteristics of Strength, Constitution, Agility, Dexterity, Intelligence, Intuition, Leadership, Bravery, Empathy, and Awareness (in that order) can each be increased to the maximum value of 19.  When this course is complete, the Adept's “telergic studies are now finished [and] he is transformed into Transhuman status if he is human or humanoid.”  Also, “All Telergic Adepts will automatically acquire certain powers at a given level of their development,” among which are Heal, PainStop, SensoryBlock, and Revivify.

By the time a Telergic Adept attains maximum Awareness he or she must decide upon a moral disposition.
As he progressed in his psionic development, he came to understand there are two sides of the Force [and]...he must choose to serve the Light or Dark side of the Force, becoming a Champion of the best that Civilization has to offer or a self-serving villain who seeks personal power and self-aggrandizement at the expense of other beings.  There are no other alternatives.  A plain choice between Good and Evil must be made and, once chosen, there is no turning back from the path selected.
Light side Adepts (“like the Jedi Knights of StarWars” [sic])...
...will have before them the task of enacting the roles of almost superhuman Champions of 'humanity' and Civilization...It might be that they are the remnants of a once great Brotherhood suppressed by unscrupulous men who would enslave all races under an iron dictatorship.  Thus they become heroic revolutionaries seeking to overthrow a tyrannical empire.  Whatever the situation, they are men who stand for the Right and Just.
Dark side Adepts (“like the Black Lensmen of the Lensman series or Darth Vader of StarWars” [sic])...
...have before them the task of enacting the roles of the Enemies of 'humanity' and Civilization.  They are the power-hungry, the Destroyers and would-be Dictators, Adepts who have turned the Force to the service of their own personal ambitions.  However, that should not be interpreted to mean that they are given to cruelty for its own sake.  Rather, they are merely 'expedient' in their approach to obstacles.  Those who get in their way are neutralized or disposed of in the most efficient manner available.
An Adept who chooses the Dark side loses 3d6 from his or her Empathy characteristic value and thereafter has a maximum of 11 Empathy.  Recall that Telergic Adepts would have elevated their Empathy score to 19, so a Dark side Adept is throwing all of that effort away.  Also, “Service of the Dark side of the Force prevents the Adept from performing any curative procedures on others...”  In other words, there is a definite downside to choosing the Dark side and no benefit.

Normally, the maximum Psionics characteristic score for player characters is 16.  This means that a significant portion of the psionics rules cannot be used.  The rules state that “those players who wish to use psionics prominantly [sic] in their campaign should” use an optional rule where a roll of 96 - 100 for Psionics allows the player to convert a portion of their career characteristic allocation points to modify the Psionics value.  Specifically, “the rate of ½ profession DM per 1 point added to the psionics roll” would apply.  Humans, feline avatars (i.e., the kitty people who are not technologically inclined), and transhumans (i.e., Vulcans) can add up to fifteen points; other races can add up to ten.  Since a Psionics score of 19 requires 115 points, only humans, feline avatars, and transhumans can possibly can attain that score – and only if they roll 100 for Psionics and add the maximum number of points.  Even if the psionics enabling optional rule is adopted, there is a less than 1% chance that a character can be capable of becoming a Telergic Adept.  Perhaps there could be a psionic career that permits a Psionics modifier, allowing more of an opportunity to access the more advanced psionic abilities.

So, the Light side/Dark side Adepts are limited to characters with a Psionics value of nineteen and the mysterious 'contact' society focuses on characters with a Psionics value of eighteen or nineteen.  Given the rather finite number of people with such a score and the apparent pervasiveness of the 'contact' organization, some amount of coincidence between that organization and the Light side/Dark side Adepts would seem likely.  The rules, however, do not suggest this.