Magic Monday: Psionic Combat

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I spent quite a few days looking at the Divlantia system, but I couldn't write up something useful in a week. The system would require quite a bit of work, so it may appear later.

In its place is the completion of a psionic combat system to use with Swords & Wizardry. This system assumes that psionic characters and creatures have a pool of Power Points used to produce psionic powers. When the Power Points are reduced to zero, the psionic creature can no longer use psionic powers or initiate psionic combat. This system also assumes that all psionically aware creatures have a power level. For monsters, the power level is the same as their Challenge Level.

In short, Psionic Combat is resolved in five steps:

  1. Choose attack and defense options.
  2. Determine if the attack was successful.
  3. Determine the adjustment to the attacker's psionic combat roll.
  4. Each side rolls 2d6 and applies adjustments.
  5. The loser sheds a number of power points determined by the winner's level.

paper, rock, scissors...Psionic combat begins when a player or creature attempts to use a psionic power on another psionic. The one initiating combat is considered the attacker, while the other combatant is considered the defender.

When psionic combat begins, each combatant uses their own copy of the Psionic Combat Chart  simultaneously places one or more tokens on the Combat Chart shown on the left. (In testing, coins work best with the attacker marking his/her choices with the "heads" side of the coin and the defender using the "tales side of the coin.) When the choices are revealed, any tokens on the same choice are removed. If there are no tokens left, the psionic attack was successfully blocked and the attacker loses 1d6 points.

If tokens remain, use the chart to determine the adjustment to the attacker's combat roll. Arrows pointing from the attacker's token to the defender's token increase the attacker's roll, arrows pointing towards the attacker's token reduce the attacker's combat roll. White arrows are a +3/-3 adjustment while black arrows are a +1/-1 adjustment.

For example, if the attacker chooses Water and the defender chooses Fire, the attacker gains a +3 adjustment to his roll because a white arrow points toward the defender's token. If the attacker had chosen Wood and the defender chosen Metal, the attacker would have a -3 adjustment to their psionic combat roll.

Once the adjustment is determined, both sides roll and the lowest roll has points deducted from their power points. In other words, even if the attacker rolls the lowest result, the attacker will lose power points.

The amount of power points lost is determined by the power level of the creature with the highest combat roll. At level 1, 1d6 points of damage are done. This increases by 1d6 for every three level thereafter. (2d6 at 4th level, 3d6 at 7th level, etc.)

So let's have a couple of examples. I found that the system is pretty quick, but it takes a bit to get used to it. I found it similar to teaching someone a two player card game.

Erin, a 1st level psionicist with 8 power points is attacking a Brain Mole with 6 power points. The brain mole has a Challenge Level of 1, so its power level is 1.

Erin attacks choosing Fire. The GM (playing the brain mole) also chooses Fire. Since that both chose the same option, Erin loses power points. He rolls a 2, so he now has 6 power points. The brain mole attacks choosing the Water option. Erin (unable to see the brain mole's choice) chooses Wood. Looking at the chart, a black arrow points from the brain mole to Erin, so the brain mole gets a +1 adjustment to its psionic combat roll. Each side rolls 2d6 and the brain mole rolls higher. Since it has a power level of 1, it does 1d6 power point damage. Rolling 1d6 to determine damage, it rolls a 5. Erin is now down to 1 power point.

Deciding not to push his luck, Erin attempts a physical attack with a sling and misses. The brain mole psionically attacks choosing Metal. Erin defends choosing Fire. Looking at the chart, a white arrow points towards the attacking brain mole. His psionic attack roll is adjusted by a -3 penalty. Each side rolls 2d6 with Erin rolling the highest score. Even though Erin did not initiate the psionic attack, he still rolls to do damage to the brain mole because he rolled the highest psionic combat attack roll. Erin rolls a 6 (lucky!) and reduced the brain mole's power points to zero. The brain mole cannot initiate psionic combat until it has 8 hours of rest.

At higher levels, psionic combatants can choose more than one option on the chart. At 7th level, a psionic creature can make two choices on either psionic attack or psionic defense, but not both. This choice is permanent and cannot be switched back and forth. At 13th level, a psionic creature can make two choices on both psionic attacks and psionic defense. At 19th level, a psionic creature can make three choices on either psionic attack or psionic defense. At 26th level, a psionic creature can make three choices on both.

Here's an example where one combatant uses only one token while the only uses two tokens on psionic attacks only.

Zoth, a 6th level psionicist with 48 power points is attacking a Phthisic with 56 power points. The phthisic has a Challenge Level of 7, so it will operate with a power level of 7. It has chosen to use two choices on psionic attacks and not psionic defenses.

Zoth imitates a psionic attack and chooses Wood. The phthsic chooses Fire. Since the phthsic did not initiate the attack, it only makes one choice. Looking at the chart, Zoth gains a +1 adjustment to his attack roll. Zoth rolls high and rolls 2d6 to determine damage. He rolls 8, taking the phthsic down to 48 power points. The phthsic fights back psionically, choosing Metal and Earth. Zoth chooses Water. Looking at the chart, there is a white arrow and a black arrow both pointing at Zoth. This gives the phthsic a +4 adjustment to its psionic combat roll. The phthsic rolls high and uses 3d6 to determine damage. It rolls 10, taking Zoth down to 38 power points.

Zoth attacks choosing Wood. The phthsic also chooses Wood, so the attack is blunted and Zoth rolls 1d6 to determine power point loss. The result is a 2, so he is now down to 36 points. The phthsic attacks choosing Fire and Earth. Zoth chooses Fire. Looking at the chart, the two Fires cancel each other out. With one token left, the phthsic gains no adjustment to its combat roll. Despite choosing Fire, Zoth only partially defends the attack. Psionic combat rolls are made and Zoth rolls higher. He does 6 point of damage to the phthsic, taking it down to 42 points. The battle continues.

If you look at the chart, it is possible for the phthsic to get a -4 penalty to its psionic combat roll, despite using two choices in psionic attacks.

Let me know what you think of the system. Discussion can be had here.

Curse You Google Plus!

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I'm finding that I spend so much time reading on G+ that I am not really posting. When someone asked about the ACKS psionics thing that I was working on, I spent a lot of time writing there instead of here. In fairness, the spreadsheets I need to finish seem to have somehow migrated off my Thumb drive onto my work computer.

Still, the point is, I've spent several hours I don't really have reading on G+. Not a complaint, just an admission of my ADD.

So for the ACKS Psionicist Class, a few things:

  • Point-based system.
  • Magic does not equal psionics. In other words, psionics are not just another form of magic.
  • There are wild talents, but almost 98% of the individuals with a wild talent become a psionicist because...
  • ...there is a game reason to be a psionicist. Mages must have a gift to cast spells - you have it or you don't.
  • Wild talents are treated like proficiencies.
  • No multi-classing with a psionicist.
  • Powers from OD&D and Dragon#24 are included, but there are new powers, too. The choices of power reinforce the assumed campaign premise for their existence, so they may seem a bit odd.
  • What? No psionic blast? How will the phrenic scourge inspire fear the hearts of adventurers? The answer is that it will be really, really nasty.
  • Powers do not have levels like spells. Yes, there are ritual powers.
  • Psionic combat is different.

More Thoughts On the New Setting

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The language of magic is common enough that the upper middle class and idle rich like to impress each other at parties with their so-called knowledge of the secret tongue.

This cause mages to seek out areas of refuge away from anyone speaking magic. Otherwise, they could inadvertently begin casting spells and nobody wants to do that by accident!

In cities, mages organize network of so-called Quiet Areas. These quiet areas are areas safeguarded against anyone that would speak magic, even other mages. If a Quiet Area cannot be found, a good mage always has the ability to use two helpful and relatively inexpensive magic items. The first silences the area around where he is sleeping. The second locks the door. Wholesale manufacture of magical items is rare. These two items are a noted exception - they are created by mages for mages. They are not made available to anyone that does not practice magic.

As a mage increases in power, these magic trinkets and even the Queit Ares tend to become less effective. The growing need to avoid accidental spell casting drives a mage to build a stronghold away from other people.

This is the primary reason why mages, as they get more powerful, have less to do with people and the real world and seek refuge their stronghold. Many even escapes to the various planes that float along the Astral Sea.

Another effect of the common knowledge of the language of magic is that all magic items have a code word to activate. Weaker items usually have easy-to-guess code phrases. Any fighter with experience can usually guess the code phrase for weaker magic items.

In a d20 based system, determine the DC for a mage to get the code word, divide the cost of the item by 100. That provided the DC to beat on a d20. For those using ACKS, a limited ability to guess activation words is included in the Adventuring proficiency.

Since the knowledge of the language of magic does not grant the ability to use magic, a would-be magic user has two options. The most popular option is to join a temple and offer your services as an emissary. Emissaries, often called clerics, are given a measure of power by a deity in exchange for service. This arrangement usually works out well for both deity and cleric. However, due to a large number of potential applicants, clerics do not gain the ability to use divine power right away. A cleric must go through a time of testing to prove their devotion.

There are a number swordsmen and military men in urban areas that left the temple before gaining the ability to use divine power. Their lack of faith makes them a bit resistant to divine magic, including any healing magic.

For those using ACKS, this is a new proficiency called Lack of Faith. It provides a small bonus (+1 or +2) for saving throws against all divine magic. It also forces a character to make a saving throw against healing spells to be healed.

For those that want the ability to wield magic, but do not have the desire (or faith) to join a temple, there is only one option: psionics. The Science of the Mind holds the promise of allowing anyone to harness the power of magic that exists within themselves. In that sense, psionics are nondiscriminatory. The difficulty for the would-be psion is that not all teachers that claim to know the science actually do.

Finding a teacher that can actually imbue psionic power is difficult in urban areas. It is almost impossible in more remote areas. It takes a powerful psion to provide the training and the ability.

For those using ACKS, only a 9th level or greater psion can imbue power. Imbuing the ability is a power a high level psionicist must learn to use. The cost is great and can be done a limited number of times in a psionicist's life.

The drawback to being a psionicists is that it is a one way trip. Once a person becomes a psionicist, he or she can never become something else. No temple, even the most inclusive ones, will ever admit a psionicist as a cleric. Without the ability to use magic, there is no option to become a mage. Psionicists are not trusted by fighting men and will not be trained.

The other cost for learning psionics is tremendous difficulty with the language of magic. Whereas anyone else can learn and speak the language of magic with realtive ease, the act of gaining their power removes this ability. This also prevents them from using their Suggestion power and "placing" magic phrases into a mage's mind while he/she is asleep in order to trigger a spell.

Psionicists are not driven to seclusion by their power. Unlike mages that are born to their power, a psionicist chooses theirs. Their power is not bound to
a certain language or phrase. In fact, many psionicists tend to enjoy people and crowds as they gain power. Instead of building strongholds and castles, they build schools and train others.

The schools are not publicly advertised. Many temples actively seek to destroy such schools. These schools are seen as destroying the faith of the weak-minded. To a cleric, true power comes from a deity, not from within.

Mages tend to see psionicists as second-class spell casters. A common expression is "those that can't do, teach" often used as a pejorative. To a mage, the powers of a psionicist can be either duplicated by magic (ESP, Clairvoyance, Telekinesis) or are not very useful (Postcognition). There are limited battle powers available to a psionic. A mage can easily prevent their thoughts from being read by a psionicist without resorting to magic. (This last statement is often repeated, but not entirely true. The mage chooses to think in the language of magic thereby preventing a psionicist from understanding a mage's thoughts. However, thinking in the language of magic requires a lot of concentration to prevent a spell from being cast by accident.)

The rest of society does not see any difference between the three methods of using magic. To them, having the power is a price too high, even in a world with supernatural creatures.

Clerics always build strongholds near populated areas. More followers = more power.