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?

Friday 11 April 2014

Simple Psionics: Wild Talents and the Psychic Class

The recently published The Complete Vivimancer contains an appendix which describes a simple system of psionic powers. I included these rules because several of the new vivimancer spells in the book grant the ability to use psionic powers, either temporarily or permanently. I didn't want to just assume that everyone using the book already has a set of psionics rules which they use (one of the goals of the book was, after all, that it should be complete in itself, without reference to other rule books), so I wanted to include a simple system which could be used in lieu of a full psionics system, should the referee desire it.

I've used this kind of system in games in the past, and its simplicity and speed at the table has been a pleasure, especially when compared to some of the more esoteric psionics systems which exist (AD& 1e anyone?).

The psionics appendix in The Complete Vivimancer is only referred to by a few spells, but it's the kind of appendix which can easily be used as the basis for a wider system of psionics. Here are some ideas.

Wild Talents
Some characters possess a natural talent for psionics, whether it be due to genetics, happenstance, mutation, or exposure to weird energies. Such characters, known as "wild talents", are not true psionicists, but have the ability to use a single psionic power.

Several methods can be used to determine whether a PC is a psionic wild talent:
  • Sum INT, WIS, and CHA.Roll under this value on d%.
  • Roll under highest mental attribute (INT, WIS, or CHA) on 1d20.
  • For particularly alien or gonzo campaigns: all PCs have a wild talent!

If a character possesses a wild talent, the player should randomly determine which power is known, rolling on the chart in Appendix I. A wild talent may be used once per day.

Option: for really wild wild talents, roll each morning to see which power the character may use that day.

True Psionicists
While wild talents have a knack for the psychic, other characters have trained this innate ability to a much higher degree, making it the focus of their adventuring careers. Here's one such class, statted up for Labyrinth Lord.

The Psychic

Requirements: None
Prime Requisite: INT and CHA
Hit Dice: 1d4
Maximum Level: None

Psychics are characters who have developed psionic abilities which can help them during adventures. Depending on the powers they use and the society they come from, psychics are sometimes known by names such as: seers, clairvoyants, telepaths, empaths, and so on. They are able to learn the full range of psionic powers, and devote most of their time to developing their psychic abilities. Some psychics are naturally gifted, while others may belong to a guild or academy where psionic powers are taught.

Due to their focus on perfecting the mind, psychics have limited combat ability. They use the magic-user saving throw and attack progression charts, and can only use leather armour and simple weapons: club, dagger, dart, hand axe, light crossbow, short sword, sling, quarterstaff.

A psychic with 13 or higher in both prime requisites gains a +5% experience bonus. An INT or CHA of 16 in one prime requisite grants the full 10% bonus. Note that, as psychics have CHA as a prime requisite, they are able to raise that score during character creation via point swapping.

Psionic Powers: A psychic knows a number of psionic powers dependant on his level. The player can choose which powers his character knows. The number of times a psychic's powers may be used each day also depends on his level.

Psychic Burn: In times of desperation, when he has used his psychic powers as many times as is allowed in one day, a psychic can draw from deep psycho-physical reserves in order to activate a psionic power. This is known as psychic burn. It can be performed by a psychic only once per day, and results in the immediate loss of 1d4 hit points. If only a single point of damage is inflicted by the psychic burn, a saving throw versus spells must also be made, with failure indicating that the psychic permanently loses one point of CON or WIS (50% chance of each).

Reaching 9th level: Upon reaching 9th level, a psychic may establish an academy where he teaches his skills to students. The psychic will attract 1d6 apprentices, who are of level 1d4.

Psychic Level Advancement Table
The table lists the experience points required for each level, along with the Hit Dice, known powers and uses per day. Uses per day is global, not per-power. So, for example, a 1st level psychic may know the telekinesis and psionic blast powers. She may choose to use either power once during the day.

  1. 0 XP, 1 HD, 2 known powers, 1 uses per day.
  2. 2,201 XP, 2 HD, 2 known powers, 2 uses per day.
  3. 4,401 XP, 3 HD, 3 known powers, 3 uses per day.
  4. 9,001 XP, 4 HD, 3 known powers, 4 uses per day.
  5. 18,001 XP, 5 HD, 4 known powers, 5 uses per day.
  6. 36,001 XP, 6 HD, 4 known powers, 6 uses per day.
  7. 72,001 XP, 7 HD, 5 known powers, 7 uses per day.
  8. 150,001 XP, 8 HD, 5 known powers, 8 uses per day.
  9. 300,001 XP, 9 HD, 6 known powers, 9 uses per day.
  10. 450,001 XP, +1 hp, 6 known powers, 10 uses per day.
  11. 600,001 XP, +1 hp, 7 known powers, 11 uses per day.
  12. 750,001 XP, +1 hp, 7 known powers, 12 uses per day.
  13. 900,001 XP, +1 hp, 7 known powers, 13 uses per day.
  14. 1,050,001 XP, +1 hp, 8 known powers, 14 uses per day.
  15. 1,200,001 XP, +1 hp, 8 known powers, 15 uses per day.
  16. 1,350,001 XP, +1 hp, 8 known powers, 16 uses per day.
  17. 1,500,001 XP, +1 hp, 9 known powers, 17 uses per day.
  18. 1,650,001 XP, +1 hp, 9 known powers, 18 uses per day.
  19. 1,800,001 XP, +1 hp, 9 known powers, 19 uses per day.
  20. 1,950,001 XP, +1 hp, 10 known powers, 20 uses per day.

Note: I'm going to compile this kind of extra bonus material, along with contributions from others on the subject of vivimantic magic, into a free PDF entitled "From the Vats" -- coming soon! If you have any ideas for a submission, please get in touch!

Tuesday 8 April 2014

The Complete Vivimancer: On Sale Now!

The Complete Vivimancer, my to-date magnum opus of weird magic, is now available for sale at RPGNow!

Currently only the modern PDF format is available. The setup for the print version is going to require a wee bit more time, so bear with me if you seek paper inscribed with vivimantic secrets.

A few facts...

How many spells are in this thing?


If you have Theorems & Thaumaturgy (and you should... it's free!), that's 75 additional spells for the vivimancer class -- more than twice as many unique spells. The old spell list was a bit sparse, especially at high, mid and low levels. The new list is now seriously rounded. See here for the complete spell list.

If you only have the Labyrinth Lord Advanced Edition Companion, that's over 130 additional spells to play with.

Many of the spells taken from the AEC or Th&Th have been newly edited, expanded, clarified and spruced. So even the old is now new!

And what about magic items?


Weird number. It was originally a nice round 40, but then I found some more space and squeezed two more in there.

Previously there were a grand total of 0 vivimantic items in Th&Th, and maybe 2 in the AEC (the wand of polymorphing and the chime of cannibalism are pretty vivimantic).

These are some examples of the sort of weird and wonderful items among those 42: brain leeches, cerebral spider, worm of poison absorption, apparatus of organ transference, brain vat, lens of blinding, blood tree, solvent of androgyny, staff of flesh dissolution.

What's it look like?

Heavily illustrated.

A5 for convenient, hold-in-your-hand (or on your tablet) use at the table.

And speaking of convenience

Remember that this is a complete reference on all matters vivimantic. (I didn't call it the "complete" vivimancer for nothing.) That means that you don't need to look anything up in other rulebooks. All your character's spells are here in one handy tome.

You should probably go to RPGNow and check it out now!

ps. If you're interested in the print version AND the PDF version, I'm going to try to set up some kind of discount so you can buy the PDF now and then cheaply "upgrade" to the print version when it's available. This publishing on RPGNow lark is all new to me, so it might take a bit of fiddling around. I am assured that it is possible though.