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By Force of Will

I talked to my great-grandfather and he tells me that the heavens generated by the will of the deities are not nearly as sweet as the wine he shares with his father and the visits from his living descendants.

Anaxiletus - Voluntatis (Of Free Will)

When a sentient creature dies, the soul or spirit separates from the body and traverses the Astral Sea and the Ethereal Mists to make their way to the home of one of the various deities, usually one that was revered in life. Revere is a strong term, the deities will let anyone in that wants to be there.

The deities will say that the Empyrean Ring was created by the force of their will alone. Each plane demonstrates their power to control creation. The deities create these planes for a permanent place to live and to avoid conflict with other deities. For a deity to live in a Material Plane would not only endanger that plane, but upset the others that also need the worship of souls in that plane.

There is an unspoken agreement amongst all the deities that rare visits and occasional avatar visits are okay, but worship is a scarce resource that needs to be shared for their mutual survival. With all the Material Planes floating around the Astral Sea, each deity should have enough souls to thrive. But there is a reason that the bodies of dead deities drift in the Astral Sea, deities can be forgotten and the lack of remembrance will kill them. Once dead, no amount of worship can revive them.

To survive, the deities generate their home planes to provide an eternal place of worship. Again, worship is a loose term that can range from simple acknowledgement to elaborate rituals than span centuries. Any amount of consideration will contribute to the survival of a deity.

The Lands of the Dead

Some souls, though, find a place amongst the Ethereal Mists to call home. Like deities, through shear force of will, a soul can create their own place to be. It is gray, but it will have its own source of light making it brighter than the surrounding mists. Through force of will, solid ground will form and even a structure or two. As there are countless Material Planes floating along the Astral Sea, there are countless demi-planes that dot the Ethereal Mists.

If another soul finds a demi-plane, it will grow to accommodate all the souls on that demi-plane. The will of more sentient creatures makes it brighter. As the souls interact with each other, small landscapes emerge like a small field or a tiny grove of trees. The collective will adds detail and/or substance to the demi-plane. If more souls find a demi-plane and choose to stay, the demi-plane becomes a Land of the Dead.

The easiest the find Lands of the Dead are comprised of generations of related souls. These are bright places that could easily be mistaken for a large city or a kingdom with vast fields, towns, and food bearing plants. In these places, the living will visit or even take up residence. There are many cultures on the Material Planes that revere their ancestors and take periodic trips to visit them.

Not everyone's idea of a good time is endless retirement. Some souls thrive on conquest. For those souls, the Ethereal Mists start out as a fun place, but when materializing anything comes through force of will and no one is truly able to die, their restless souls look elsewhere. These ghosts and spirits have enough will to affect the Material Planes and use that power when they visit. The cost of being of taking a physical form is a small price to pay to have the ability to interact in the Material Plane. Having a physical form, of course, also makes them mortal and susceptible to death all over again.

The demi-planes of the Ethereal Pirates, however, take this to the highest degree. Through force of will, they have become completely corporeal to the point of requiring sleep and food to survive. With their corporeal forms, they can board etherships to seek out plunder and conquest.

The Source of Magic

The Ethereal Mists are the raw material of the universe. Some call it ectoplasm, but most call it Antimber. Antimber doesn't act on its own, but reacts to being acted upon. The Astral Sea is the raw material of thought or Huye. It acts upon the Ethereal Mists to create matter and energy. The Astral Sea also does not act on its own. In the beginning, the Demiurge had its first act of will as the only thing in the universe that could act on its own. It's first act was to set the Astral Sea in motion to begin the Affluviam and thus the generation of the universe.

In the same way, magic is the manipulation of thought and matter to generate an effect. The spellcaster wills something to be and it will be. This can be mending a small tear in a garment, invoking a fiery maelstrom, or granting a wish.

Thoughts Outside the Fiction

I want to talk more about magic before talking about the game implications of the cosmology.
In D&D, people can through study (Wizards), bloodline (Sorcerers), or transaction (Warlocks), use their will to generate magic. Clerics will be a separate post, but they function like Warlocks. It isn't self-contained, though. Spellcasters use something outside of themselves to generate magic triggered by their will. For Warlocks, their will activates power that comes from making a deal with a greater being. There's a direct exchange between the source and the warlock. The Warlock get magical powers and the patron gets a soul, a favor, or something else of value to them. Wizards, though, have less obligations. Instead of a soul, they gain magical powers through study and the necessity of components. Their tether to their source of power is either the spoken word, physical motions, a physical object or a combination of the three. For sorcerers, the power is in their body, a gift from an ancestor. No selling the soul, no wandering all over for obscure ingredients, studying obscure languages, and mastering the hokey-pokey. The power is innate, but is tied to their physical body. Specifically for the purposes of my relex, the power is in their blood.

Going one step further, there is now a rationale for psionics (also a separate post). A psion is their own source of power and it is mental, not physical. Like the soul forming a demi-plane in the Ethereal Mists, everything a psion does in the Material Plane is a pure act of will. No components or blood required. Psions spend only their personal mental energy.

In game, deities have a special hatred for psions. The source of magic for spellcasters can be traced back to them. Warlocks directly receive power, the strongest connection. Sorcerers get their powers from one of the deities through their progeny, so there is still a connection. Wizards are driven to research everything, usually through formulas, incantations, or rituals that the deities themselves invented or revealed to others. Psions, though, have no tie to the deities at all. As such, deities are fearful that they will lose their power and ultimately their lives if sentient species find a way to empower their own magic. The fear is that there will be no need for worship if an individual can be their own source of magic.

Going back to the Lands of the Dead, the intent was to provide something that made sense for the "free and willing" target of a resurrection spell. The assumption I wasn't happy about was that someone wouldn't come back because they were at peace in one of the Outer Planes. That left the only creatures capable of being resurrected were those that were willing to leave the Outer Planes. The most obvious reason would be that they would leave is that the soul is in one of the bad planes.

Admittedly, the question of where the soul when upon death is intentionally vague in D&D. I found, though, that thinking through it offered an opportunity for some great settings. The idea of a soul going to an outer plane is born from Western cultures. Other cultures, though, have a form of afterlife that do not involve deities directly or even at all. D' Jalia / Ancestral Plane from Black Panther comics and movies is not tied to any deity that I am aware of. A couple of adventuring ideas for these Lands of the Dead are:

  • Having a place for family reunions with the dead.
  • investigating ancient mysteries by interviewing someone that was at the scene thousands of years ago.

I am working on game crunch. I am a bottom-up worldbuilder, so I want to know the why of something before I can describe the how. These three posts so far provide the universal whys of the universe making it easier to talk about how some classes work and develop subclasses for them. It also provides fodder for different spells and magic items as well as new creatures to encounter.

Tomorrow I hope to talk about Clerics or Psions.

Magic Monday: Psionic Combat

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!

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.
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