Wednesday, January 19, 2011

OD&D Psionics - my take

I don't like psionics. Wait, let me take that back. I don't like the psionics from Supplement 3, or from AD&D or from the web and it boils down to the same thing for me... tl;dr - too many dice/too much paperwork.

Now that's an oversimplification and this is a personal opinion - I like my games lean, mean and many options, few rules. Many of the psionic systems that I've taken the time to really read and grok end up following a similar pattern:
1. Figure out how powerful the psionics are (and in some systems, figure out how much psionics you can do for this level/day/combat.)
2. Figure out the attack/defense
3. Figure out if an attack/effect was successful (usually matching results from #1 and #2, comparing, and making dice rolls for saves and damage.)
4. Track points/power levels.

There are a lot of people who like that type of mini-game, I'm not one of them. Call it thick-skull, maybe I inhaled too many fumes from that "dope" when I was building model airplanes as a kid, but I like my in-game systems quick and easy.

That all being said, I do have a psionics system I do like, and it was written by Gary Gygax in 1975 in the magazine Strategic Review #1. In it, he described the Mind Flayer for the first time and it's Mind Blast power:

Intelligence  Saving Throw at Range   Effect of
of Opponent        1-2" 3-4" 5-6"     Mind Blast

3-4                19   19   17       Death
5-7                17   16   15       Coma, 3 days
8-10               15   14   13       Sleep, 1 hour
11-12              13   12   11       Stun, 3 turns
13-14              11   10   9        Confuse, 5 turns
15-16              9    8    7        Enrage, 7 turns
17                 7    6    5        Feeblemind
18                 5    4    3        Insanity, permanent

Magic users add +1 to their saving throws, and clerics add +2. 
A Helm of Telepathy adds a +4 to saving throws, and when such 
saves are made the attacking Mind Flayer is stunned for 3 

Now admittedly, to my own taste, there's a lot wrong with this chart, such as why someone with 18 INT would suffer insanity if they fail their save versus the 13/14 would just be confused, BUT it's the simplicity of the effect and approach. Attack. Save. Ouch or Haha! So let's expand this just a smidge.

1. Figure out if you have psionics - prereq is a 13+ INT. 1 in d30 gets you the freaky mind! 

I do like Carcosa's system of using INT/WIS/CHA to determine likelihood, so I'll add that a WIS of 16+ and/or CHA of 16+ adds +1, cumulative. A person could have a 3 in 30 if they have high enough stats. 10% chance.

And yes, you can simulate a d30 with a d20+d10 but really... the d30 is so cool, this system will make you run out and buy one. Right? Guys?

2. You have 4 powers - Mind Blast (like the mind flaya' [although I may redo this to do some damage dice and save the effects for a failed save]), ESP (like the spell) and Charm Person (like the spell). You also have Telekinesis (like the spell). You can use the number of powers per day as your level/3 (rounding rules apply). So choose wisely at first level. 

It was my thought that 10th level should be able to use all powers at least once, so I may allow 10th level 4 times since that's the cap on most classes. Maybe not, maybe those freaky high level mages should allow themselves some extra oomph, since we are talking about OD&D here...)

3. To attack, you declare like a spell and let your mind do the talking. The target makes their save based on the chart above. Your powers are limited to 60'. If they save, you are stunned for 3 rounds (in combat use) or 3 turns (non-combat use). If the target fails, the power works (per spell description or Mind Blast - which we would redo the chart)

Now, in accordance to the Alexis TestYourBullshit! rule, I have not tested these because I'm still noodling them. It's my (perhaps incorrect) suspicion that psionics are one of those campaign tilters, just like tossing a +3 Vorpal Sword into a pile 'o treasure, so I tend to tread lightly. Do these seem doable? To me they seem fun.


Reese Laundry said...

Alrighty then, C. I've never seen SR#1, so this is new to me, but I think I like where it could go. Here's my thoughts:

1) You are absolutely right that the 0e/1e have way too many fiddly bits for a "rules-light" game like 0e or S&W. With all the subsystems in 1e, I think they work there - if you want to use them at all. Personally, I like the idea but not the implementation - just like you.

2) Your d30 chance of having psionics at all is great. No % to deal with. Plus I get to actually use that damn die for something.

3) Four simple, discreet powers that could have a lot of in-game uses are nice. Works for me. Have you seen the simple psionic supplemental rules for Xplorers? Very similar if I recall.

4) Mind Blast rocks. Even if you fail the save, I can see the blood trickling form the guy's ears...

5) I don't know that you need a stun backlash effect in most cases. If the guy shakes off the effects, great for him. Your mind wasn't powerful enough to overcome his. I'd leave it at that unless you've targeted another psionic being. Maybe in that case, he could repel your attack and cause some damage by using one of his daily powers - like you do counter-spells.

Please copy this post over to the thread at ODD74 if you didn't already. I'd like to follow the development of this baby...

Michael S/Chgowiz said...

@Reese, thanks for the comments!

The stun backlash is a holdover from the fact that if a Mind Flayer's attack is saved against, the Mind Flayer itself is stunned for 3 rounds. Sauce for the goose, I figure... and I kinda wanted there to be a risk of using these strange/weird powers.

I have not seen X-plorers, although I'm tempted to buy a copy when it's rereleased.

I didn't want to threadjack cooper's nice thread, since his discussion is more of the dissection of the canon OD&D psionics versus alternatives (at least that's the way I'm reading his thread).

Reese Laundry said...

Maybe start your own thread then - I think you've got the kernel of a good little system here.

Anonymous said...

Yes. Question: can you mind blast without line of sight (like, say, through a door)? Could you do that if you also had ESP?

If so, it's a game changer. Right now it's an ingenious and dangerous way around hit dice.

LucidDion said...

I quite like the "insanity on an 18 INT" from Gary's table. If you think about it, someone at genius level is probably more easily pushed over the slippery slope of insanity than someone of average intelligence.

Michael S/Chgowiz said...

@richards - good questions! I'd be tempted to say "yes" to mind blasting as long as the person also had ESP. Remember, though, the most anyone can use psionics in a day is 4 times (10th level) so you'd basically get two "out-of-sight" attacks at maybe 3d6 (I'm going with Carcosa's damage for example) so I'm not sure it's a huge game changer? I don't know...

@Delve Lord - well, I considered that as well. I'm still going back and forth on damage dice versus the brain trauma effect.

Randall said...

I'd want to redo the table, but I like this as a simple psionics system.

I had to greatly rework the 0e psionics system for Microlite75 to get something that actually worked and was simple enough, but I came up with relatively simple rules that allows me to run games set in my Empire of Arn -- which requires 0e like psionics. A system like yours would work great for people who just want a little psi in their games.

Justin said...

I like that simplicity. I get the impression that everyone likes psionics, but the implementation is the problem. The more rules-light the better, I say.

Anonymous said...

Echoing an earlier comment, I really like the simplicity as well.

My one objection is the same as my issue with the original system - it was totally random if you've got It and if you do have It, you're much better off than everyone else.

At the very least, I would make it completely random. There's no reason that an Int 3 half-orc couldn't have achieved some sort of psionic stunt... in fact, that might make it even more fun.

Michael S/Chgowiz said...

@Jared - I think I take it just as randomly as I take someone rolling the right prerequisites for being a ranger or paladin. Luck of the draw. Given the level/3 a day restriction, it should be balanced enough that someone won't become too powerful too soon.

Pros and cons...