N18 Manipulate Lumens Build - the most fun you can have with the lights (mostly) on.

HiRezExtensa

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Feb 7, 2022
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For those who don't know, there's a Wyrd ability in the Outcasts book called Manipulate Lumens. If successfully cast, it turns out the lights (Pitch Black rules apply) for the rest of the game. I've seen builds based on this discussed a couple of times, with most of these conversations involving warnings against playing it - that it's anti-fun, negative-player-experience, etc.

This post is the skinny. I did the thing and I'm here to tell the tale. The TLDR is that it was a fun time (for everyone) and there is heaps of counterplay available. If you're thinking about trying it, or have a player that wants to try it, consider giving it a go.

First up, it's worth acknowledging that the build looks like it could be busted, and ultimately not fun for your opponents. I built the gang aware of this, and made sure the other players understood the tech, were ok with me trying it, and were forewarned that they might have to deal with it. I was also ready to ditch the gang and reroll if it did turn out to be a buzzkill. That said, no-one actively adjusted their spending to handle it, and it turned out to be a really good time.

Mostly, it just didn't go off. This is a combination of harder-than-you-think dice, a wide range of counterplay, and plain bad luck. When it did go off, it was entertaining mayhem. Template weapons going off, individuals getting lit up as they revealed themselves by shooting and other shenanigans.

Basically, it's not wildly OP, especially if you don't set out to really min-max it. There are a few reasons for this, but it mostly comes down to the opportunity costs inherent to the build, mechanical barriers, and the counterplay available. For anyone who's interested, I've laid these out below.

Opportunity costs
  • The leader is the heart of an Outcasts gang, and if you roll a Wyrd, you're foregoing skillsets that play into the very good leader statlines.
  • Equipping your guys to take advantage of pitch black is EXPENSIVE. You want photo goggles and gunshrouds for as many people as possible.
  • Gunshrouds can't go on special or heavy weapons - this limits your firepower, or makes your heavy hitters vulnerable.
  • You have to build into it, but random selection means your lynchpin might not even turn up.
Limiting Mechanics
  • It's a double action, so it only takes pinning to stop it from going off.
  • If you use a Champion as your Wyrd (as I did) you'll quickly realise that willpower 8+ isn't a reliable roll.
  • 8+ means you've got a 41% chance of getting it off, and if you fail, they've got a full cycle of activations to land a single hit.
  • Even with goggles, you're limited to a 12" range (i.e. an easy stroll for someone with a flamer).
Counterplay
  • Template weapons ignore Pitch Black targeting restrictions.
  • If you don't have a suppressor, you're targetable after you shoot.
  • Suppressors can't go on special and heavy weapons.
  • As above, pinning shuts it down.
  • Infiltrators are a nightmare. If you don't get priority, you're likely screwed.
  • Various see-in-the-dark options available to other gangs.
    • Cheap goggles for Delaque
    • Drugs for Escher
    • Lumens for Enforcers

As always, YMMV. Have fun out there, Scum.
 
Pitch black can also happen by scenarios or other special effects, even if no-one builds into it and has a way to trigger it. There are several ways to build into pitch black and outcasts are not the only one who can do it. Pitch black is problematic in itself and the problem should increase the more you build into it (and others don't). From a game theory perspective, it seems a gang that can trigger it will always be at a benefit, because you always get to use your invested gear. Other gangs who can't (or won't) will be at a disadvantage, having to choose to buy into pitch black tech to stay on the same level against other gangs who build into this, or ignore that aspect and invest in tech that will be more useful against gangs that doesn't trigger pitch black.

Put it simply, imagine 4 gangs (A-B-C-D) with a percentage reflecting how much they invested in pitch black tech and therefore how strong they are when pitch black is in effect:
  • A: 100% (let's say outcast that build to trigger pitch black)
  • B: 100% (another gang that invest fully and want to stay on an equal standing against A)
  • C: 50% (wants to have some pitch black tech but also invest in other stuff)
  • D: 0% (yolo)
The result?
  • A will always be as strong or stronger than all other gangs.
  • B will have equal strength against A but stronger/weaker against all other gangs (depending on whether pitch black is in effect or not).
  • C will always struggle against A, but be stronger against one of B or C and weaker against the other (depending on whether pitch black is in effect or not).
  • D will always struggle against A, but be stronger/weaker against all other gangs (depending on whether pitch black is in effect or not).
Of course if you have fun regardless, that's great. If you build less into it or trigger pitch black less frequently, then you reduce the problem. I just don't see it as a good game mechanic to promote building into!
 
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I understand what you're saying, and it's a fair assumption to make. I can say from experience that it just isn't born out.

If the ability were to activate automatically at the start of the game then your framing would work.

However, depending on scenario, it can be gated behind:

- Random crew selection
- Priority
- The ability roll itself
- Deny the witch
- Injury (and the psyker is ALWAYS a target)

This means:

- You can't rely on it, but have to build into it.
- When it doesn't go off this puts you at a large disadvantage.
- There is a large range of counter-play available.

Ultimately though, I'm not looking for a theorycrafting argument. I'm just sharing my experience of running a gang like this through a full campaign - exactly because that experience was interestingly different to what people assume.
 
Pitch black can also happen by scenarios or other special effects, even if no-one builds into it and has a way to trigger it. There are several ways to build into pitch black and outcasts are not the only one who can do it. Pitch black is problematic in itself and the problem should increase the more you build into it (and others don't). From a game theory perspective, it seems a gang that can trigger it will always be at a benefit, because you always get to use your invested gear. Other gangs who can't (or won't) will be at a disadvantage, having to choose to buy into pitch black tech to stay on the same level against other gangs who build into this, or ignore that aspect and invest in tech that will be more useful against gangs that doesn't trigger pitch black.

Put it simply, imagine 4 gangs (A-B-C-D) with a percentage reflecting how much they invested in pitch black tech and therefore how strong they are when pitch black is in effect:
  • A: 100% (let's say outcast that build to trigger pitch black)
  • B: 100% (another gang that invest fully and want to stay on an equal standing against A)
  • C: 50% (wants to have some pitch black tech but also invest in other stuff)
  • D: 0% (yolo)
The result?
  • A will always be as strong or stronger than all other gangs.
  • B will have equal strength against A but stronger/weaker against all other gangs (depending on whether pitch black is in effect or not).
  • C will always struggle against A, but be stronger against one of B or C and weaker against the other (depending on whether pitch black is in effect or not).
  • D will always struggle against A, but be stronger/weaker against all other gangs (depending on whether pitch black is in effect or not).
Of course if you have fun regardless, that's great. If you build less into it or trigger pitch black less frequently, then you reduce the problem. I just don't see it as a good game mechanic to promote building into!
Doesn't this pre-suppose that all four gangs are equally good but for the pitch black tech, and ignore that (if we assume starting gangs) Gang D has available extra credits equal to whatever A's credit investment in pitch black is, and potentially additional opportunity available as a result of not having gone pitch black? Now, I can totally see that pitch black might end up negating the extra credits, but a tooled-up infiltrator (or two) capable of reliably taking out the wyrd prior to pitch black starting, for example, would be a pretty valuable investment, even if not built specifically with that in mind...
 
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Doesn't this pre-suppose that all four gangs are equally good but for the pitch black tech, and ignore that (if we assume starting gangs) Gang D has available extra credits equal to whatever A's credit investment in pitch black is, and potentially additional opportunity available as a result of not having gone pitch black? Now, I can totally see that pitch black might end up negating the extra credits, but a tooled-up infiltrator (or two) capable of reliably taking out the wyrd prior to pitch black starting, for example, would be a pretty valuable investment, even if not built specifically with that in mind...

This was exactly my experience. If someone brings infiltrators, you have to win priority or the chance of getting pinned is super high. Even if you do win, it's a sub-50% chance to get the skill off at 8+. You can improve this, but the psyker doesn't level up fast. Because you're using every activation to try to pop the spell (or stand up and hide in cover) they tend not to get much kill XP. This compounds itself because that makes it feel like a poor investment to give them decent weapons.

Other investments like template weapons also cut the advantage, while not being wasted against other gangs. As mentioned, photo goggles force you into flamer range. Conversely, if you want to spec into Pitch Black, you're spending a HUGE amount on goggles and gunshrouds, with a bolter being about the ceiling of your firepower.

Part of the motivation for my post was to share real, live-fire info about this build. Whenever someone brings it up, the response is almost always some version of the above - which is ok as far as it goes, but doesn't account for all kinds of important variables.

IRL, it turned out to be a lot of fun. The threat of the psyker gives games real focus and tension, which was really enjoyable. When it did go off, it wasn't a curb-stomp, and made the game play in entertainingly novel ways. The message is, keep an open mind. Don't be afraid of the dark. The armchair impressions a lot of people have are not reflective of the way this actually plays.
 
Not sure if pinned prevents manipulate lumens . Pitch black is a potentially broken and abusable mechanic, but so is infiltrate! So guess it's an arms race. The key here is you only tap into it (while also giving a heads up to avoid gotchas). I was thinking more in general terms and other gangs can do this more reliably. It's nice that you were able to have a fun experience with it, but even a broken clock is right twice a day. Since you didn't break it completely, perhaps it can be right more than twice per day.
 
Not sure if pinned prevents manipulate lumens . Pitch black is a potentially broken and abusable mechanic, but so is infiltrate! So guess it's an arms race. The key here is you only tap into it (while also giving a heads up to avoid gotchas). I was thinking more in general terms and other gangs can do this more reliably. It's nice that you were able to have a fun experience with it, but even a broken clock is right twice a day. Since you didn't break it completely, perhaps it can be right more than twice per day.
Pinning won't deactivate the effect, but it will prevent the cast. The spell requires a double action, and it takes one action to stand up from being pinned.

I can't find wording that explicitly says you have to be Standing and Active to use Wyrd powers, but it seems like the common sense reading to me.
 
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I think the jury is out on that one. You made a common assumption yes and it arguably makes sense. It could be cool to cast spells from pinned back when they were weaker but with some of the newer more powerful spells it could improve balance to deny it.
 
manipulate lumens is not limited to the outcast gang , which is one of the weakest gangs imo . It Can be taken by any gang with access to wyrd powers mostly, which is where the problem arises This is true of all the new powers ( the few good ones )
 
manipulate lumens is not limited to the outcast gang , which is one of the weakest gangs imo . It Can be taken by any gang with access to wyrd powers mostly, which is where the problem arises This is true of all the new powers ( the few good ones )
Yeah - Delaque would definitely have an advantage given their access to cheap goggles. Venators, with their own sandbox of potential exploits could also be a nightmare. I'd be interested to hear from anyone who has played with or against a non-outcasts build based around the ability.