Thursday, June 16, 2016

The True Power of Psi-Wars

Center by the Babman

Retrospective

Over the past four weeks, I've looked at four possible models, and each had something to recommend it, and each had some problems. Naturally, I have to pick and choose, but let's take a quick look at what worked for me.

Psionics fits the sci-fi milieu better than the rest, and its powers are spot on for how the Force works. The only problem is that it's so sci-fi that it tends to break down the more mystical elements of the Force.

Magic is nearly perfect, with low-cost powers, magic items, destiny, the meditation rules and black contracts and aspected mana to create a sense of the “Light vs the Dark.”

Chi creates interesting diversity, encourages an external/internal split that explains combative characters like Luke vs meditative characters like Yoda. It also strips the Light and the Dark of their moral connotations.

Divine Favor explains the more mystical elements as the inherent uncertainty of dealing with a God. Divine Favor means that you must necessarily submit yourself to a higher, mercurial power that does not work with the same consistency as a physical law. This also gives us the ability to have serious narrative oomph, if we want it.


As I said when I began this Iteration, the farther we iterate, the farther we must move from the generic and into the specific. At some point, I'm no longer creating framework, but setting. My intent in the previous four weeks was to show you how one might go about building a framework, and hopefully to inspire your own ideas, if you wanted to build your own “It's totally not Star Wars.” But at some point, I have to choose a framework, stick with it, and go. My point in doing so is not to say that “This is the best,” merely that this was the direction I chose.
Without further ado...

The Big Winner is...




Psionics and Divine Favor.

I have to use Psionics as Psi is right there in the name of Psi-Wars. The powers work the way players would expect, and you get the same diversity that Chi offers. We can keep the costs of powers lower by using God-Like Extra Effort, which puts the emphasis back on fatigue expenditure.

I'll choose powers that I think are appropriate, but I'm going to accept Psi as Psi. This isn't the Force anymore. In particular, I'm going to allow things like psychotronics, anti-psi, genetic engineering of psis, psi-boosting drugs, etc.

However, to keep Psi-Wars mystical, and to give it the sense of grand setting-building, I'm going to include Divine Favor. In this case, rather than representing God, it represents a deeper connection to the global, collective subconscious of all man(alien?)kind. That collective power is effectively divine.

This pervasive psionic force shapes lives (Destiny), empowers objects of mass fascination (enchantment through ages), shapes how psionics works in particular regions (aspected mana) and greatly empowers those who cultivate a deeper connection with it (Divine Favor, meditation, black magic, corruption). And, because I'm a fan of Unknown Armies and I really like the concept of Avatars, and I feel they offer yet-more possibilities for carefully defining one's character, I want to expand divine favor to include “paths” characters can walk, to more explicitly define their relationship with Communion.

Introducting the Psi of Psi-Wars: Communion

All sapient life, all life, has psionic potential. The very act of living and thinking involves extremely low level psionic effect, the very small mind-over-matter that our souls exert on us every day. Only a few people have the capacity to turn that minor psionic potential into something meaningful and powerful, though. Cultivating psionic potential requires a genetic predisposition towards psionics, the training necessary to use your powers, and some connection with the global superconsciousness.

This global super-consciousness represents the combined totality of all thought, will, drive, hope, fear, psychotic break and faithful thought. This willfulness and drive manifests as an energy, shaped by the thoughts of those around it, that reshapes the world in a million small ways (micro-PK/probability manipulation). Psions who cultivate their talent enough can begin to commune with this global super-consciousness, to call upon it when they need it, to let it empower them, or to learn Its will. This super-consciousness has many names. “Global super-consciousness” is a more scientific term, the “Dream-Web” is a more mystical term, but I will use a religious term: Communion.

The psychic energy of people who deeply wish for something can drive someone towards a particular end: If a whole community sees two lovers and think “I hope those kids make it,” that mass desire can influence a million coincidences that bring those two closer together. But the existence of precognition and retrocognition proves that the past and the future can influence the present. Thus, the psychic echo of the past and present can also influence present Communion. If a man in the future slays an entire world, then the psychic echo of that will reverberate back, showing ghastly visions to Espers and cementing this man's path to genocide in the same way it fixes the path of two lovers. This is called Destiny. The powerful swirls of psionic energy around someone can make them exceedingly powerful, even empowering their psionic potential in a feedback loop. It can do this with objects, giving legendary items that bear the weight of the Galaxy's attention almost mystical qualities.

The human (and alien!) mind tends to work, think, flow down predefined paths. Carl Jung called these primordial images, concepts that people intuitively understand and archetypes that they can easily assign to make foreign concepts familiar. Communion works the same way, with predictable whorls and pools of energy that people can learn to exploit.

The part of the mind that bows to cultural will and morality, that extinguishes the self in favor of community, the part of the mind that says no, is the Ego. Much of Communion is, in fact, Ego Communion, but people generally just refer to it as Communion. It demands patience, self-denial and community spirit.

The primal, selfish part of the mind that demands the satiation of hunger, that reacts to danger with fear and anger, that thinks of itself and selfishly puts itself ahead of its community, the part that says yes, is the Id. The parts of Communion that rile with Idic energy are called the Dark Communion. It demands selfishness, ambition, independence, lust, passion, and it rewards it with dangerously addictive power.

Finally, the human mind cannot comprehend and understand everything, and it contains flaws and self-desctructive tendencies, the “Thanatos” drive, madness, and its flawed attempts to understand the terrifying “Other.” This is called Psychosis. When Communion attempts to understand these things, or when atrocity and pain pile up to break the minds of millions, then Communion itself breaks, and becomes Broken Communion.

These three forms of Communion can all be accessed anywhere, but they tend to be particularly strong in certain areas. As characters learn to commune with it, they can start to draw upon its energies to empower themselves, but characters are best served where the part of Communion that they have a strong connection with is, itself, strong (Aspected Mana... or rather, Sanctity).  Places with a strong connection to Broken Communion have twisted psionic energies that can cause problems for those who attempt to use their powers within it.

Certain concepts, so called Primordial Images or Mythic Archetypes resonate innately with the sapient psyche. These primordial images either feed our understanding of the world, giving us a lens through which we can understand what we experience, or they are the culmination of millennia of experience and legend, built up within the collective super-consciousness of all sapient-kind. Individuals can attempt to embody these primordial images by living a life defined by the symbolism associated with them, coming to be defined by them and coming to define them. In this way, they can access even greater power within communion, incarnate wth godlike power, and even change the nature of Communion itself.

The Rules

Over the coming weeks, I'll outline how Psionics and Communion work.

Psionics

Psionic powers work as described in GURPS Psionics, with a few exceptions. First, God-Like Extra Effort is standard. Characters may also purchase Psionic Energy Reserves for [3] per level. Characters may not purchase psionic powers after character creation unless they have the latent psi perk, or an appropriate talent, which “holds the door open” to further psionic expansion.

Not all powers are encouraged. I will not go so far as to say that they are disallowed, because in a vast universe, a GM might find reason to include a particular ability. Thus, each power set has its own “Suggested” abilities and “Discouraged” abilities. By default, a “Discouraged” ability is only allowed if the GM says so, and the player pays a perk for a “Secret Power.”

Suggested Powers

  • Anti-Psi: Required by the psionic modifer, Anti-Psi characters must be present. Anti-Psi and Psi are mutually exclusive: A character with Anti-Psi may not have Psi, and may not have any advantages associated with Communion except Broken Communion.
  • Ergokinesis: The ability to manipulate machines and shoot lightning is both thematically appropriate for a game inspired by Star Wars, and highly useful.
  • ESP: A fundamental ability for the typical Jedi-knockoff.
  • Psychic Healing: A power heavily associated with Ego Communion.
  • Psychic Vampirism: A power heavily associated with Dark or Broken Communion.
  • Psychokinesis: A fundamental ability for a typical Jedi-knockoff.
  • Telepathy: A fundamental ability for a typical Jedi-knockoff.

Discourage Powers

  • Astral Projection: The ability to enter a higher plane is better suited to the religious/spiritual nature of Communion than existing as its own power.
  • Probability Manipulation: The small, coincidental nature of this power is better suited to Communion and applications of Destiny.
  • Teleportation: In addition to not showing up in any Star Wars, teleportation risks bypassing a great deal of adventure, and thus is not generally appropriate for Psi-Wars.  Broken Communion, being weird, has some powers associated with this.
  • Additional Powers: The minor powers from GURPS Psi are generally too niche to be appropriate.

Psi in Action!

Over the next week, I'll discuss Psi and how to use it with Action, but I want to introduce one rule upfront: BAD and Psi

The rules for BAD in Action assume that the heroes aren't fundamentally different than their opposition other than the primary difference of skill. BAD is an abstraction of that skill: Infiltrating a low BAD establishment is easy because they have lax patrols, poor discipline, fall asleep on the job, etc, while infiltrating a high BAD establishment is difficult because they have routine checks, solid procedures in place, alert guards, etc.

Psi creates a problem here because psionic individuals have access to powers and avenues of attack that normal people do not have, and they require unusual and specialized counters. The most alert guard cannot know that someone just used Clairvoyance to spy on a meeting, and requiring all visitors to present an id to a staff-member will not protect you from Suggestion and so on. Even so, organizations and individuals who take precautions against psionic incursion can defeat psionic abilities, but this is not a guaranteed thing.

Psi represents unique rules of play layered over the existing playground. A player who buys into psi should enjoy the perks of that unique playset, but he should struggle with his own challenges as well.

Therefore, BAD does not apply to psi rolls, instead, a separate value, BAD PSI applies. By default, this is half of BAD (as a skilled organization is more likely to be able to deal well with psions than a poorly organized group), but it can vary to whatever number the GM wishes: Some groups might have a high BAD but little or no BAD PSI, while another group (say, a coven of witches) might have almost no BAD, but have extremely high BAD PSI. The GM should try to telegraph these differences if they deviate from the norm.

Communion

Psionic characters may purchase an advantage called Communion, or Dark Communion or Broken Communion, rated between 4 and 16, priced as Divine Favor. This represents their relationship/closeness with their chosen form of Communion.

A single level of any Communion allows the following purchases:
  • Psi Sensitivity (Communion type) [15/level]: This talent improves all Psi powers and allows access to all Psi Powers. It is cumulative with any other psi talents (to a maximum of +4) but is not affected by Psi Amplifiers, and a character who buys it may trade in any Psi talent he has.  The psionic skills of characters with Psi-Sensitivity are affected by Communion Sanctity levels.
  • Legendary Reputation [7/level]: A character who follows a Communion path, or said differently, a character working to embody a primordial image, may pruchase Legendary Reputation, which is purchased as Reputation (Everyone, All the Time, Cosmic, applies to Divine Favor rolls +50%, Divine Path -25%). This reputation represents the fundamental resonance the character has with his primordial archetype, which all galactic sapients (thus, effectively “all people”) recognize intuitively. This resonance with Communion itself also improves ones facility with Communion. However, it has strict limitations for purchase and can be lost if the character deviates too far from his Path.
  • Learned Prayers: Each form of Communion has associated Prayer that the character can learn.

Each form of Communion has its own special rules. Ego Communion allows for Meditative Magic, Dark Communion allows for Black Contracts, and Broken Communion inflicts Corruption.

Each form of communion has its own psionic resonance. A place might be weak or strong in a particular energy, and it affects the appropriate Communion as Sanctity affects Divine Favor. If a character uses Psi Sensitivity, all of his psionic powers are equally affected, based on what form of Communion he uses.

Broken Communion has Twisted psychic energy. All psionic powers powers used in a Twisted psi-field have a -2, and any failure counts as a critical failure. A default critical failure could be 1d6 Corruption points.

Communion in Action!

Communion represents an entirely different frame of mind than most Action scenarios, intentionally so. Because it allows for strong GM control, he should use it to adjust the game in directions he wishes. Thus, I have little discussion of how various powers will interact with Action, as I expect they'll be both self-explanatory, and the GM has the flexibility to adjust them on the fly if necessary.

Communion powers, however, almost never require a roll, and ones petition roll should not be affected by outside forces. Therefore Communion is never affected by BAD. Communion works or it does not, and it doesn't matter how BAD a group is, they can't make petitions harder or penalize Reaction rolls.

The Paths of Communion

Characters who wish to take on the added challenge of embodying a primordial image are said to walk the path of that image. They must very carefully embody its elements and make use of its symoblism, which manifests as -25% (rather than the usual -10%) modifier applied to all of its associated powers. They must furthermore purchase levels of Legendary Reputation or have a Destiny to follow the path, as the path will resonate forward and backwards in time, so someone who will walk the path already has access, often by accident, to some of its powers. Otherwise, these powers work like a specialized, high-power form of Divine Favor, and have the added benefit of improving ones connection with Communion.

Each form of Communion has three sample paths. G.M.s should feel free to define more, and a character whose legend begins to embed itself into Communion may well create new Primordial Images, fundamentally changing how sapient-kind thinks.

Other Traits

Destiny represents a characters weight through time and in Communion. This version of Destiny uses the Impulse Rules/Monster Hunters rules: Every 5 points grants the player a character point that he may spend on appropriate Impulse Buys provided it advances his Destiny. Characters may also take Destiny as a disadvantage. Every -5 points grants the GM a character point he may spend on appropriate Impulse Buys for the character's enemies, provided they are bringing his dark fate about.
In addition to common, narrative destinies chosen by player or GM, standards destiny include
  • Destined to walk the Path of X: This is always a positive Destiny. Every level acts as a level of appropriate Legendary Reputation for the purposes of prerequisites, and its bonus point can only be spent on actions appropriate to his path.
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