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Saturday, August 7, 2010

Problems with Psionics

OK, I can't fight it. I tried to avoid jumping on the psionics bandwagon started on Grognardia. Not because I'm anti-psionics, but because I want to re-work the psi stuff I've already done as part of a unified power/magic effects system -- and I'm just not ready to do that yet.

But I have a couple quick ideas for psionics posts I could do this weekend. This one's the first: my opinions on what's wrong with the original psionics systems in Eldritch Wizardry, as well as its near-relative, the AD&D 1e psionics system. I think a lot of people will agree with at least parts of this, but I've never seen anyone fully articulate this; usually, people just say "the mechanics are clunky and confusing" without going into much detail.

Too many new stats: psionic characters need three new stats: psychic potential, psychic attack strength, and psychic defense strength. Each one is determined separately. There's a fourth stat which is the total of attack and defense strength.

Too many special cases to look up: when determining the new psionic stats, each has a number of modifiers and calculations, none of which are intuitive. You can't just say "oh, anything that sounds like it would affect psionic ability gives a +10". (Well, you could, but that's a significant modification of the rules.)

Too much confusion between stats: In the descriptions of the various disciplines and abilies, it's not always clear whether you are supposed to be using attack or defense points or total psychic strength. In some cases, I even suspect the description refers to the wrong stat.

Too many complications in combat: melee combat is fairly simple: roll initiative, if necessary, then make an attack roll; if successful, roll damage. This basic process is simpler in the LBBs, but even adding different damage dice for different weapons and round-by-round initiative with modifiers by weapon size doesn't complicate it too much. Psychic combat, in contrast, requires a percentile initiative roll, followed by a series of attack/defense exchanges that use one of nine tables to determine how many points to subtract from defense, followed by a different table when one of the combatants is defenseless. If a psychic attacks a non-psychic (possible only in special circumstances,) there's a separate table.

Vague attack modes: Any GM can do a reasonable job describing a melee weapon attack. GMs can also describe fantastic attacks like spells, if they have a decent description of what the attack is supposed to do. But the psychic attacks and defenses aren't described very well; even where the name of a mode suggests what it might be (Ego Whip,) the actual mechanics don't reflect what you'd imagine. You can only really distinguish the attacks by closely examining the "attack on defenseless psychic" table and its footnotes: there seems to be no difference between most of the modes, but Ego Whip doesn't kill or psychically cripple, nor does Id Insinuation, which takes over the victim instead.

Arbitrary feeling: When attacking an opponent psychically, what matters is the attack and defense mode involved and the total psychic strength of the attacker. However, all that these three factors determine is how many points the defender loses on each attack. You could easily swap two columns or two rows with no effect on the bland feel of psychic attack. The attacks on non-psionics are worse: the effect of a failed saving throw is determined by the victim's intelligence, but there's not much rhyme or reason. Low and high intelligence victims are the most susceptible, middle intelligence victims get off rather easy.

I'll be posting a follow-up that tries to solve these problems in the easiest way possible.

1 comment:

  1. Good points all. I'll be curious to see what you come up with.