Saturday, September 19, 2020

Psiioniics II: The Diiscussiion


Click the image for a PDF version of the rules

Here are a couple paragraphs of elaboration on the PSIONICS rules from the last post.

This might be a contentious opinion but I think psionics are cool and good, actually. The only issue is that they can't seem to be implemented right. Every "official" psionics system I've played with is a total drag and all the homemade attempts to remedy them never really land with me. Yet, much like classic D&D, the concept is strong enough that people just keep coming back to it. Some alternative rules are pretty good, like the ones in Carcosa, but they all suffer the same problem of just being just another per-day magic-adjacent ability with an ostensibly sci-fi flavor.

I think psionics should be fun and intuitive, because this is a GAME after all, but they should also be incredibly risky and dangerous and bizarre. The way some people feel that magic should be all occult and twisted and potentially disfiguring to those who practice it—I feel the same way about psionics. While the classic TSR-era psionic rules are no doubt inspired by the cold, academic mind powers dreamed up by writers like John Campbell and James Blish, I'm more interested in the violent, messy psionics from the likes of Akira, Scanners, and Ubik. Psionics are high risk and high reward. If you push them too hard, they will push back. But the only way to grow your power is to push yourself right up against the limit.

This system was designed to have a built-in control to prevent players from using their powers excessively, but still allowing for them to actually feel like they possess meaningful abilities. One thing D&D could use more of are attrition mechanics that aren't determined by the number of [spell slots/torches/rations/etc.] a PC has left but instead by the player's knowledge that the more benefits they extract leads to a higher risk that something bad happens to their character. It's like a second psychological mind game players with psionic PCs play on top of the one they're already playing with the rest of the group.

The rules themselves are pretty easy to suit your tastes. If you want them to show up even less frequently than rolling a d100 below your lowest out of INT, WIS, and CHA than you can just do it the way AD&D does it. If you want less flash, you can remove the additional environmental effects from psychic breaks and maybe tone down the two power roll abilities. I definitely had a specific genre flavor in mind when making the powers, but if that's not your thing then the system allows for modification.

The unique dice mechanic is something I'm pretty happy with. It doesn't seem to be too much extra book keeping for the players, and it serves to really emphasize the idea that psionics are weird and different, unlike all the other weird and different things featured in the game. I've already discussed my love for unique resolution mechanics, so just know that this one fits the bill. I would imagine that the power dice mechanic could be refitted for something else pretty easily, but I haven't tried it with anything else yet. Maybe one day I'll make a magic system to rival the GLOG magic dice. (I'm coming for your throne, Arnold).

One final note: In any other psionic system, psionics don't show up nearly as frequently as they ought to. It makes sense that psionics should be rare, but when there's less than, say, a five percent chance for a new PC to be a psion then in practice the rules barely even matter to me. Inevitably, in accordance with the laws of karmic irony, a PC with psionics won't be rolled until at least four months into play, and then they'll die a handful of sessions later after having barely used their powers. It's just the way these things go.

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