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Monday, January 21, 2019

Speedy Psionic Combat

A further thought on one specific thing that’s wrong with the OD&D/AD&D psionic combat system: the time it takes to resolve. I’m not complaining about how long it takes, but rather… how long it lasts.

Let me explain: There’s a long-running debate about one-minute melee rounds vs. shorter rounds of six seconds or less. One argument for one-minute rounds, put forward by Michael Mornard (Old Geezer/Gronan from the various forums) is that each round of OD&D combat takes about a minute to resolve, so using one-minute rounds makes combat practically real-time.

Psionic combat is supposed to be fast, over in the blink of an eye. It all happens in the first round before the first physical actions are resolved. I imagine part of the reason for not using die rolls for the psionic combat exchanges was to speed it up relative to melee combat. But the system really isn’t fast enough to reflect that.

If you really want psionic combat to be that quick, it should be a one-and-done system. During character creation, instead of recording a single psionic attack strength and defense strength, record one for each attack and defense mode. When psionic combat begins, the combatants secretly pick which modes to use, then reveal their attack and defense scores and compare. Side A can have an attack score that is higher than, lower than, or tied with Side B’s defense score, and can have a defense score that is higher than, lower than, or tied with Side B’s attack score, for a total of nine outcomes:
  • High/High: Side A exhausted, Side B defeated.
  • High/Tied: Side A dazed, Side B defeated.
  • High/Low: Both sides defeated.
  • Tied/High: Side A exhausted, Side B dazed.
  • Tied/Tied: Both sides dazed.
  • Tied/Low: Side A defeated, Side B dazed.
  • Low/High: Both sides exhausted.
  • Low/Tied: Side A dazed, Side B exhausted.
  • Low/Low: Side A defeated, Side B exhausted.
The idea is that each side will finish in one of three states: mentally exhausted, dazed, or defeated.
  • An exhausted psychic can’t use psionics until they rest, but are able to take other actions, like melee combat.
  • A dazed psychic can’t take any action for at least a round (perhaps there is a die roll based on attack mode?)
  • A defeated psychic takes the full effect of the attack mode used against them.
So, after this quick comparison of scores, one or both psychic combatants stumbles and there is a clear winner. Then, the GM rolls either for the length of time dazed or the exact effect of a successful attack and makes it clear what happened as the melee combat begins.

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  1. The mechanism I use for resolving psionics quickly is related to the grappling mechanism I use. In grappling, characters and monsters each roll their hit dice and sum the results, with the higher score winning. If the attacker wins, the defender is pinned. If the defender wins, the attacker is stunned for the next round.

    For psionics, I adapted this to use a "power pool" (starting at 2d6 for ordinary people). I wrote some of the up here: https://retiredadventurer.blogspot.com/2015/02/psionic-combat-rules.html

  2. I like it! I want to see this as a 9 square grid.

    1. I'd thought about a 9 by 9 grid when writing the post, but doing it right in Markdown would be frustrating. It's the kind of table that needs to be done in LaTeX or a layout program.