Zen and GURPS and the Art of Blowing up Death Stars

The setup for Luke Skywalker’s Death Star run isn’t complicated. Luke and his rebel pals need to shoot a wee little exhaust port to end the menace of the Death Star. (“That’s no moon; it’s a space-opera stand-in for Smaug and his vulnerable weak spot!”) But the shot is a really tough one with major penalties on the TH roll, and the heroes keep missing as the clock and the stock of rebel pilots run out.

(Even their fancy targeting computers aren’t help enough. No, not even computers with astounding vector graphics technology from that far-flung future known to Jedi prophecy as “the 70s”.)

“Use the Force, Luke! Let go!”

– Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope

That’s when Luke gets his surprise visit from Ghost Ben, and follows the voice in his head telling him to put away the tech and go with his feels. Huh? That makes no sense when viewed from a proper (i.e., gaming) perspective. Sure, a gamer will borrow that “Force” if it does something useful, but how is flat-out refusing an equipment bonus, even a modest one, going to help anything? (Luke is a PC. On sheer principle alone, he’s never going to turn down a freebie bonus!)

That’s where Something Big happened. It may not be obvious to the movie-goer, but Ben just leveled up Luke! Perhaps it was a point in Zen Gunnery skill, a Star Wars campaign-specific skill that works just like Zen Archery or Zen Marksmanship, cutting Size and Speed/Range penalties to a third upon a successful roll. (Assume that, in this campaign, Force Talent is sufficient prerequisite to gain the skill.)

Or even better: Ben chose that moment to power up Luke with Wild Talent. That’s what Luke used to make this one-shot Zen Gunnery roll! (This is probably the better explanation, really; Luke surely pulls tricks in later movies that are best viewed as uses of Wild Talent.) 

Ben’s timely present is just fine within the context of Lucas’ campaign: it’s a part of Luke’s Jedi training that the GM (as Ben) can spend some of Luke’s CP on Force Gifts at dramatically appropriate times. So that’s what happened here, I think. It’s Zen Gunnery that let Luke cut the penalty from, oh, a ridiculous -15, let’s say, to -5. (I’m thinking that -15 is actually a lot worse than the penalty to bulls-eye a womp rat in Beggar’s Canyon, but I wouldn’t go strictly by everything young Luke says. Overconfidence, yes?)

“Luke, you switched off your targeting computer. What’s wrong?”

– Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope

Sure hope Luke has some quarters lined up…

All right. So Zen Gunnery explains how Luke gained a fighting chance, and… Wait. Why also tell Luke to stow the electronics, Ben? I don’t care how much the Zen Gunnery helped; with the fate of the galaxy in the balance, why throw away a perfectly good targeting computer, which we all know yields a solid +2 TH? (Hm? Yes, I play Car Wars; why do you ask?)

Perhaps the answer is this: fancy-pants tech aids are a hindrance to Zen Gunnery. Or should be, anyway. The reasoning is simple: To rely on computers and stuff is to not turn oneself completely over to the Force (or the Zen or the feels or whatever)!

To get that effect, we could rule that Zen Gunnery doesn’t work with artificial aids, i.e., with anything more than just the weapon itself. It’s scopes or the Force; pick one, not both! Although… that sort of “either-or” isn’t much fun, is it. How about this idea instead:

Imagine that any bonus from an artificial aid has its usual effect on Gunnery (or whatever it helps) – but also acts as a penalty on Zen Gunnery. Which, in Luke’s case, was the skill on which the galaxy hung. Luke may have had more Force Talent than a Bantha has sand fleas, but his final roll on that Very Hard skill must have been a tough one all the same. (I can’t say how much penalty he faced from the lack of a full 32 seconds of concentration. His pursuers kindly awarded him that much time after he stashed the computer, but I would have ruled that he has to get within actual firing distance before he can start the Zen timer.)

In short: Ben took Luke aside and, in a bit of out-of-character exposition we didn’t hear, explained that accepting the bird in the hand (a +2 TH for that Battlezone-style display) wasn’t nearly worth risking the loss of the huge bird in the bush (effectively a +10 TH from Zen Gunnery). Especially when Luke’s brand-new (and presumably poor) Zen Gunnery skill could not absorb the suggested -2 penalty for relying on techno aids. To give that critical Zen Gunnery skill its best fighting chance, the computer and its modest bonus had to go.

In space… oddly, you can still hear the booms.

Ben was one with the rules. Thanks to our ghost Jedi crunching the numbers, Luke made his difficult Zen Gunnery roll (maybe burning a use of Luck or making an impulse buy in the process), which let him make his actual Gunnery roll with Size and Speed/Range TH penalty cut to a level the young hero could deal with (presumably with further aid from his weapon’s innate Acc, etc.). Boom went the mini-moon, and it was medals all around (except for poor Chewie, of course).

That’s how I see it, anyway. So. Say we house-rule that artificial gewgaws enhance attacks as always, but equally hinder mystical “one with the weapon” abilities. This forces a character to decide: Try to find the inner eye while hanging on to the crutch of technology, or truly let go of artifice and fully embrace the mystic self thing? It creates a fun choice, something I always like in game rules.

(For players who truly want it both ways, I can imagine a Zen Gunnery technique that buys off the penalties for technological aids. Become one with the gun, and with the targeting scope too.)

“I aim with my eye… I shoot with my mind.”

– Stephen King, The Gunslinger

Which raises the question: Should the above Luke Rule rule apply to Zen Archery and Zen Marksmanship as well? Sure, I say. Use all the sights, scopes, wind gauges, stabilizers, and rangefinders you like (all lovingly detailed in GURPS books), to claim every TH bonus available. At the same time, enjoy the reduced TH penalties offered by Zen Archery/Marksmanship – if, that is, you can stay enlightened and nail the Zen Archery/Marksmanship roll despite penalties for clinging to technology’s artificial trappings. Alternately, lose the techno trappings and let Zen Archery/Marksmanship alone guide your simple yew bow or unadorned Winchester.

Don’t lose sight of real focus, young Padawan, Grasshopper, or Gunslinger. You might shoot truest by setting aside the artifice and aiming with the soul.


  • uE5Xg9p2

    I can’t comment on the rules aspect of things, but I think you hit the nail on the head in using Wild Talent as representing the Force.  In 3e, the trait was called “Harmony with the Tao”, so it obviously fits with George Lucas’ early inspiration by stories of martial arts masters pulling off inexplicable feats.

    • tbone

      Yeah, I remember the old “Harmony with the Tao” name; I think GURPS China was the first appearance of the trait.

      It gets pretty wide use now, as a go-to advantage for Taoist “one with the universe” flow, wizardly insights into spell-casting, scholarly “Oh, I think I remember reading how to do this” inspirations, and more.

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