Sunday, November 23, 2008

Psionic powers & equipment lists begin taking shape

I've decided on 5 schools of psionic action; telekinesis, ESP, telepathy, mind control, and psionic combat. Right now it looks like I'm going to have 4 players, so that allows each one to specialize in a school (and each to take some skill in the psionic combat skill) and has the added benefit that I won't be doing more work to create and balance a school that won't be used. The 5th form, psionic combat, will have some tones of the B movie "Scanners" (which I think I saw when I was 9) but that combat will only work against other psionic creatures. You can't attack the psionic capacity of someone that isn't psionic. My rationale for this is that you can't cross swords if there's no sword.

I had considered two other schools of psionics; biofeedback and clairvoyance. I discarded the idea for a biofeedback school because I thought it would end up doing double duty as a combat skill (e.g., let me boost my dex before this fight") and I'm trying to keep psionics as the spice in a combat not the main course. I discarded the idea of clairvoyance pretty quickly for its capacity to ruin dramatic tension.

A final touch of flavor was added with the concept what I'm calling "The Red Button". When death for a psion seems inevitable, s/he can press the red button. This taps into a well of psionic energy and sends out an uncontrollable, unpredictable, but powerful and almost certainly life (and character) preserving wave of psionic energy that will affect friend and foe alike. It will take several days after utilization of this emergency action for the psion to recover their psionic powers. Rank and file NPC psions will not have this ability. Maybe one or two NPC psions will have single use of this ability. I thought this would be a fun way for a chracter to preserve their character in a game that is likely to be fairly deadly. I've got an XP system that will recharge "The red button" about once every 5-7 game sessions (we usually game for 10-14 hours). Which I'm hoping will make the use of this emergency button rare enough to make its use fun.

I've also begun working on the equipment lists which I'm trying to keep both interesting and small enough to be manageable. As a GM I don't deal well with increasing levels of crunch complexity. I found that as I added equipment, starting with armor, the system suddenly grew more complex. Here's an example, from the Fudge basic set, I selected Force armor, Composite armor, and Reactive armor. I've included the Force Armor (similar in my rendering of them to Holtzman shields from the Dune series) to preserve the possibility of hand-to-hand combat. The Composite and Reactive armors seemed reasonable given a higher tech level. In trying to make mechanical differences between these armors that will make it so that a player might actually choose one kind of armor over another, I found myself thinking along the lines of GURPS; cutting, piecing, crushing damage. To that I considered adding ammo damage which the force shields would be extremely resistant to. You can see how complexity spirals out of control so quickly.

Then I remembered how on the last session of my GURPS game I was still having to remind players about the difference between those types of damage and the appropriate multipliers to damage. I'm not interested in repeating that experience. So I thought I might make a more simple distinction between hand weapons and tech weapons. Or maybe just different damage scales for those two types of damage (though I don't want high tech weaponry to be too lethal either). Again, the goal is interesting depth to the equipment lists without adding complexity to the mechanic.

I also didn't want the force shield armor to make every combat degenerate into melee. So I added a disruptor weapon. With x hits (I'm thinking 3), this weapon will disable a force shield. However, they are extremely heavy and therefore not portable. I thought this would be a nice way of making the force shields vulnerable (especially when the PCs are attacking the enemy on the enemies turf) but without making them obsolete. The fun thing for me was that this swiftly shifted into an explanation for shielding on the ships. Ship shielding will be just a large force shield which can withstand X hits from enemy disruptor cannons after which more conventional warheads can be used. This may seem like an obvious mechanic to others but I've never run a sci-fi campaign and haven't watched Star Trek in ages so it felt novel to me for a second until Star Trek came to mind.

In the next few days I'm going to:
  • Fill out the details for the psion skill (what can be accomplished at each skill level from terrible-superb.
  • Zero in on a mechanic for armor, damage, and weapons that will satisfy all my many criteria.
  • Continue expanding the equipment lists to include more gadgets for the crunch monkeys.

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