Monday 21 October 2013

Psionics Handbook

Print Friendly Version of this pagePrint Get a PDF version of this webpagePDF Reading the psionics handbook for 2nd edition again.

I still like psionics. I like the range of powers. I like blowing things up with your mind and turning your hands into axes. It manages to have a different feel to magic somehow, like all the powers are "abilities" rather than "events.
Like a spell which turns your hands into axes somehow does not seem right to me, while as psionic/mutant ability it works.
It might relate to why I feel kinda cheated when monsters have spells as powers rather than their own abilities.
Can't think of what the distinction, exactly, is. Maybe a spell , to me, once began , is some what out of the hands of the caster.

The idea of casting half a fireball spell or using a fireball spell to make a wall of fire or a ball of light , is somehow not spell casting. (minor cantrips however seem fine to my mind).

Magic is too complicated to make elaborate adjustments on the fly. Like trying to improvise music. You can have prerecorded samples of any complexity but creating new music out of scratch would be limited to the use of a single instrument and a basic refrain.

While supernatural abilities are an extension of your abilities by very definition, if you can create fire  you are not limited to creating a set amount each time, no more than you are limited to walking a set distance each time you use your legs.

Anyway this all extremely fuzzy. As I am writing this I can thing of numerous exceptions and it's just going to degenerate into a bunch of hand waving and ellipsis really.

Short answer "acid secretion" = good psionic ability
 "breath of the black dragon" = terrible psionic ability (3rd edition psionics handbook ugh)

Though the reverse of this should mean I dislike spells that when used give the caster a new open ended ability.
Which , while yes some spells I dislike do this, (fabrication, I think from the rules cyclopedia) , there is more I can think of that I think are cool spells (shape change, unseen servant, pyrotechnics (pass on the name though) . Telekinesis however is a weird one. I don't like the name as spell (I would call it "Witchy Lifting"), but I do like scenes where wizards just smash people with invisible forces.
I seriously do not like "you can lift 2000 coins worth of weight" as the mechanic. That is some bullshit. That is like having a spell saying "you can fight so much better".
I'm cool with stuff being ruled on the fly and having effects being "broad strokes" , (say hide in shadows doesn't need a couple of paragraphs talking about what is plausible to hide in) , the possible implications of telekinesis seem immediately require some crunch guide lines.

Like how fast you can move something, how easy it is to hit something with telekinesis , can you just crush someone with the forces , what about just choking them, can you reach inside there body, does any of that require a to hit roll, what about slowing someone down or tripping someone up, can you snatch missiles out the air, what about gas particles / dust particles/ fluids, or running interference on someone's melee attacks?

Now I'm not saying this needs to be all carefully accounted for, but some rough guidelines definitely .

(say you can apply negative modifiers to peoples actions summing to -4, can't effect anything smaller than you can see, you need to be able to see what you are lifting , can't effect the insides of people, limit on max speed, if something is moving around precise targeting is out)

My preference would be to have the extreme possible applications of telekinesis be covered as different spells. Which is like how psionics handles it. So the ability to to throw a small thing incredible fast is "kinetic bullet", using people as puppets is "body control", and force chokes and slamming people around is weirdly not in there.

Now I'm arguing for a spell to like a psionic ability. Shit this was all meant to be a preamble for the thing I actually wanted to post and it going nowhere and everywhere fast. I'll try and draw it to vague conclusion and move on.

So I guess for telekinesis as a spell, I would prefer, (according to vague poorly articulated , possibly non existent , criteria ), a "clumsy invisible giant" spell that can batter people and lift objects.

Actually "Clumsy invisible giant with poor eyesight" is a pretty excellent way to explain the limitations and possibiltys of the spell.

Okay fuck it I give up. I hate open effect spells with latin names maybe.

Anyway psionics in dungeons and dragons is also terrible when they try and make it general setting with broad mythological resonance. Because there is very little mythological imagery to tap into , and it just turns up some floating crystals and head-bands.

Basically there is room for setting specific supernatural abilities that are simpler  than spells and are more like superhero powers.

MAybe that is the criteria in my head. Spells have their own reality to them (fireballs have this range and this area, light makes this thing glow for this long) while superpowers refer to the broader reality of the setting (you can make fire happen. It acts like fire.)


moving along.

The attack and defense modes are dumb. Their names are dumb, they use up too much time and mechanics and there is a table of modifiers and nobody likes a table of modifiers.
Because  tables of modifiers are dumb.

I have made it all better:

Hertha von Walther in Joyless Street a.k.a. Street of Sorrow (G.W. Pabst, 1925) German title: Die freudlose Gasse
There are 6 powers that are intense focused mental States.  You can use them to protect yourself, as a general aura, or to  attack a specific individual.
(I'm skipping the exact mechanics because the 2nd edition ones were kinda terrible and I'm not sure of any good commonly used substitute systems. If you need something quickly just treat them like spells of levels 1 , 2 or 3 as appropriate )

Attacking someone with a State with a State of your own means you are subject to an attack from their State. I.e attack and defense happen automatically and simultaneously.

Each State is extremely vulnerable to one other State in particular. This means that the user of vulnerable State is automatically effected by the other  dominant State who remains unaffected.

If neither State is particular vulnerable to the other, you both make saving throws as per usual to avoid the effects.

The States:

The Crawling
you let out every horrible thought and memory from the depths of your own psyche. You wear them , unafraid , like verminous armor, and they call out to the minds of others, stirring all that is unwanted in them.

effects: as an aura, sense known weaknesses and fears in others.
as an attack inflicts Catatonic despair.

 Howling crumples before the The Crawling. The animal instincts turn on themselves in blind tearing panic, the enemy perceive to be impossibly from within.

you turn off all that chatter in your head and submerge into bright red instinct and adrenaline overloads, take everything down to a raw animal level.

effects: as an aura, increase a physical stat by one, no use of language skills or higher reasoning.
as an attack: target's survival responses become unreasonably extreme: anger turns to berserk rage, caution becomes panic

Thanatos crumples before Howling. The animal has always faced death.

You focus entirely on absolute certainty of your own destruction and when you accept this, there is nothing to fear

effects: as an aura: immune to fear or other attempts to change emotional state, reflects attempts to intimidate back on the initiator
as an attack: paralyzation
Solipsism crumples before Thanatos. The belief that only you are real means that now you are staring at the absolute end of everything.

It's all just a manifestations of you. You can do anything , because you are everything.

effects: as an aura: unlikely coincidences and luck start coming your way. D.m rolls twice on any random table and takes the one most favorable to you.
(if this seems too much "believe shaping reality" for your tastes, only have it effect tables that could be effected by the characters confidence and audacity )
As an attack: existential self doubt causes any attack or roll to fumble on 1, 2, or 3

Dissolution crumples before Solipsism. Dissolving your identity before someone who is utterly sure of their identity is just doing exactly as they want

The concept of a continuous absolute self is a bad illusion. You dissolve into a myriad.

effects: as an aura: invisibility to mind reading abilities and magics in groups of 3 or more. Near invisibility in crowds, just not noticeable enough to be noticed.
as an attack: confusion as the spell.

Mind Worm crumples before Dissolution. It's just more noise.

Mind Worm
A catchy mantra , phrase , song or loop is repeated over and over and over. It gets into others heads and drives them to distraction.

effects: as an aura, anyone concentrating their attentions on you finds it difficult to concentrate. You get a free reroll on any attempts to bluff, hustle, distract or confuse someone.
as an attack: target once effected needs to make a successful saving throw to under take any action require concentration

The Crawling crumples before Mind Worm. Its inanity derails the introspective spiral driving the Crawling


  1. Harald Wagener writes:
    The blog ate my comment, so here's my attempt at flushing thoughts about psionics rules out of my system:

    I'd do something with D12s because they're rarely used and immediately feel different. You have a psionic well equal to your constitution score; which is the maximum number of combined turns and levels of psionic ability you can churn out with just a roll of a d12 on your level or under (there are ways to make this better on lower levels; like taking your time, eating funny animal parts or plants).

    If you don't make your roll, defenses vs effects just get easier? After rolling once for a power successfully, you keep it going powered from your psionic well (every attempt costs 1 point -- maybe per level you want to be powering your psionics at -- keeping the auras up costs 1 point per round in combat and 1 point per turn out of combat).

    If your psionic well is exhausted, you roll a D20 instead of a D12. You have to roll every round/turn to keep the aura up or to attack.

    If you go against someone with the psionic power beating yours, you roll D20s to defend. Good luck. If your well is exhausted AND you go against someone with the psionic power beating yours, you roll percentile dice.

    If you roll a 20 or higher (yes, even on the percentile die), your mind shuts down for 1d12 hours. Feel free to choose between catatonia, fugue state or hypersensitivity to everything. This is in addition to being beat with a psionic power you're weak against; i.e. their effects still hold true (but it might not matter much).

    Oh, you recover points in your well between adventures; unless your mind shuts down as above. The upside of that is, should you survive, your well is replenished at your base CON score (additional points beyond that will come back between adventures).

    You advance as a Magic-User, but you roll d12/2 (round down) for hitponts.

    You start out with one psionic power (determined by fair die roll on a d12). Each level, you can decide add to your psionic well from the rolled hitpoints at a 1:1 base before your roll (i.e. "I'll add up to 3 points to my well" -- if you roll a 4 at average CON, that gives you one additional hitpoint and 3 additional points in your well. If you roll 2, both points go directly to the well, and no hitpoints are added). Your CON modifier always applies to hitpoints, so if you have CON 7 and roll a 1 and move that to your well, your hitpoints go down by one. Just make sure you don't die.

  2. I love the expression in that photo!