Feb 22, 2010

Psionics - First Thoughts

Something I don't see many people writing about on RPG blogs very often is building on or improving the Psionic system from AD&D. That's probably because, truthfully, it really is a horrible mess.

Thematically I never felt it fit well with the "Magical Medieval Europe" tone we always used for playing Dungeons & Dragons. Lately though, I've been seeing a lot more Sci-Fi, Weird Fantasy, Sword & Planet and even our own Weird West versions of the classic roleplaying game from Wisconsin. I can see Psionics fitting in nicely with many of those - but I really feel the AD&D rules are still virtually unusable as written.

I've heard that they were originally introduced to the game when one of Gary Gygax's players wanted to play a character like Doctor Strange, which is a bit strange considering he's more of a magical character than a Psychic. This also calls into question whether the rules for determining if a character was Psionic (a very low %) in AD&D were honestly used that often, or if instead the "lucky" guy who rolled multiple 18s for their characters at home might also have been the one to show up with a Psionic character as well.

Revisiting the rules I was hoping it might just be a matter of bad layout or explanation, and that the basic system was sound. That wasn't really the case. Some of the idea in the original system are interesting, but as written it wasn't either clear, balanced, fun, efficient, etc.

So here's my first take on a revised Psionic system for any game roughly based on the early editions of D&D. It's written specifically for our Weird West game, but I don't think people would find it hard converting it (switch Stamina for Hit Points, etc).

This is part one, with the second part dealing with the non attack and defence Disciplines.
Psionics
Characters with a suitable background or who encounter a Psionic mentor during the adventure and having an exceptional Intelligence, Wisdom or Charisma can choose to take a level in Psionic instead of a regular level.

Psionic
Psychic, Alien Test Subject, Occult Book Reader
Hit Dice: d4
Armor: Only Light Armor*
Weapons: Roll up to d4 damage for weapons*

* Use best value for characters with levels in multiple classes


Psionic Ability

Psionic Energy: 20 +d4 per Psionic Level
Psionic Attack Dice: d4 at 1st; d6 at 3rd; d8 at 5th; d10 at 7th; d12 at 9th

Psionic Combat
Psionic Blast is the only attack discipline that can be used on non-Psionic targets, and they are considered Undefended unless within 10’ of a Psionic defending with Tower of Iron Will. Unconscious characters and those with some types of insanity may not use Psionic abilities and are immune from Psionic attack.

Each round both Psionic combatants choose an attack and a Defence discipline. All attacks occur simultaneously, and the Psionic Energy for any disciplines is not subtracted until the end of the round.

Roll Psionic Attack Dice vs the Defence Dice for the chosen discipline.

The Defender can spend additional Psionic Energy points to reroll their Defence dice as often as they wish. The Attacker may not reroll their Psionic Attack Dice.

If the Attacker has a higher final dice result, their attack discipline affects the defender. If the attacker has more Psionic Energy than the Defender it is the Major Effect, and if the Defender has more Psionic Energy the Minor Effect is used instead. There is no effect on the Defender if their final roll is higher than the attack roll.
At the end of the round subtract Psionic Energy points for any Disciplines used this round. If a character is reduced below 1 Psionic Energy point, they fall Unconscious (1-4 turns).

Attack Disciplines

Ego Whip 2pt
Minor Effect: Unconscious (1-4 turns) + Lose Random Psionic Discipline
 for (1-8 weeks)
Major Effect: Feebleminded (1-8 weeks)

Id Insinuation 3pt
Minor Effect: Stunned (1-6 rounds)
Major Effect: Dominated (1-8 weeks)

Mind Thrust 1pt
Major Effect: Lose Psionic Discipline (1-10 days)
Minor Effect: Unconscious (1-4 turns) + Lose Psionic Discipline (1-10 days)

Psionic Blast 5pt
Major Effect: Stunned (1-6 rounds)
Minor Effect: Unconscious (1-4 turns)

Psychic Crush 4pt
Effect: Stamina Loss equal to d4 plus one dice step for each point the Attack roll is greater than the Defence roll

Defence Disciplines

Undefended 0pt
Defence: d4 (Can not be re-rolled)

Mind Blank 1pt
Defence: d6 (d8 vs Id Insinuation, d4 vs Ego Whip)

Thought Shield 1pt
Defence: d8  (d10 vs Psychic Crush, d6 vs Id Insinuation)

Metal Barrier 2pt
Defence: d8  (d10 vs Ego Whip, d6 vs Id Insinuation)

Intellect Fortress 3pt
Defence: d10  (d12 vs Mind Thrust, d8 vs Id Insinuation)

Tower of Iron Will 4pt
Defence: d12  (d20 vs Psionic Blast, d10 vs Ego Whip)

Looking forward to hearing what people think!

We have a new player joining our game in 2 weeks, and I'm going to have a couple of pre-generated characters for him to choose from (so I can have the Character card printed in advance). I think I might make one of them a Psionic. :)