Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Psionics Without Limit?

I've been thinking a lot about psionics lately. Not sure why really. Perhaps partly because the Dying Sun campaign which I've been running features a lot of psionic characters (it's a kind of Dark Sun / Dune mashup, so that's not surprising). We've been testing out some home-brew psionics rules for Labyrinth Lord which I developed some time last year (photos of booklets here). I guess probably my current musings on psionics are inspired by some post-play analysis of what works and what doesn't work in the rules I came up with.

The rules we're currently using are, I suppose, reasonably close to the old AD&D 2e rules, as far as I remember them. There's a psionicist class (actually two classes in my rules: psychics and adepts), psionicists know a certain number of powers which increases with level, and have a pool of Psionic Strength Points which fuels the use of powers. Psionic attacks work with a combat matrix very similar to the standard attack matrix, comparing the attacker's PSP pool + a d20 roll against the defender's PSP pool. A successful attack deals psionic damage, decreasing the defender's PSPs.

The system's worked out ok so far, but I find myself wanting something a little bit simpler. The main thing I'd like is to simplify (or do away with) the PSP pool. Most (all?) psionics systems I've seen in the past use this kind of point-based mechanic as a differentiating factor between psionics and magic. So one idea I've been mulling over is whether this really adds anything much, and whether it could be fun to make a psionicist class that works with the existing magic-user system of spells / level / day. It works fine for clerics and their divine magic too, right, so why not psionics as well?

But the other day, a completely different idea came to me, and I'm very keen on it: how about a system of psionic powers which can be used without limit, as often as the psionicist wishes? This would be another way to do away with the PSP pool and could lead to a very nicely simplified system.

It would of course require some pretty careful balancing. A class which can, for example, perform a psychic crush (target must save vs death or die due to neural disintegration, in my current rules) without limit would clearly be out of the question. Two ideas I've considered:
  1. Psionic powers of a similar utility level to thief skills or fighter attacks. Both these things can be used by those classes without limit, so a psionicist class with a similar power level could work.
  2. More potent psionic powers, in line with the traditional power level of magic-user spells, say, but with a risk attached, instead of a fixed limit to uses per day.
Either of these options could work out pretty well, I feel, but I'm currently veering more towards the latter. I like the idea of psionics being wild and barely controlled.

An example:

Psionic Blast
The psychic unleashes a wave of psionic energy which disrupts the synaptic flow of targets within a 90 degree cone 40' long. Up to two Hit Dice of targets may be affected per level of the psychic. Psionically capable targets are unaffected but others must save versus spells be stunned for 1d6 rounds.

When unleashing this power, the psychic must save versus spells or suffer a minor side-effect.

Minor Telepathic Side-Effects
This would be a table with at least 20  entries, possibly 30 or more, if enough ideas were forthcoming. Some basic ideas would be things like the following, probably on the scale of about 1d6 rounds:
  1. Optic overload. Vision blotted out.
  2. Psionic blank. Cannot use powers. All defences dropped.
  3. Complete amnesia.
  4. Muscle spasms.
  5. Disruption of the speech centre of the brain. Can only produce nonsense.
  6. Higher brain centres disabled, base instinct takes over.
I envisage that there would also be a table of major side-effects, which would be either more intense or longer lasting. Some powers (psychic crush, for example) would entail a saving throw or roll directly on the major side-effects table. The last entry in the minor table might also say "roll on the major side-effects table".

So that's the current state of my thoughts. A couple of comments:
  • Having the psionicist make a saving throw to avoid a negative side-effect has the effect of allowing higher level characters to use powers more freely (as their save gets better with level), which is desirable.
  • I like the idea of tables of minor and major side-effects, and the risk of more longer lasting effects, but it's not clear at this stage how many powers would directly entail a roll on the major table. If it turns out that it's only one or two, it might be worth rethinking.
Any thoughts?

1 comment:

  1. I like the idea of psychics being able to use their powers at will, it fits the vibe of the class more than a limited PSP pool or x spells/day system. What about you divide the psionic abilities into separate categories/schools, and have those categories improve or give the character the option to improve a certain category when gaining a new level, like Thief skills. So you could have, let's say Psionic attack, psionic defence, psionic manipulation, psionic illusion, that sort of thing. Then every time the character uses a specific ability and fails the % roll, he has to roll on the side effects table.