Friday, June 29, 2012

Simple Mental Powers

Some caveats:
  • Read this post from me to see where I'm coming from.  Today's post concerns inherited mental powers.
  • If you're looking for something more conservative in how it clarifies and reorganizes D&D's Psionics system check out Mr. Campbell's work here.
  • This is a portion of an unfinished system.  The other parts I'm working on are a tree-based power selection for learned mental powers and a flavorful but simple means to resolve mental combats.
  • I loathe bookkeeping and calculations and have sacrificed options and power potency to avoid it as much as possible.
  • This is a draft that I haven't tried in play yet.  Suggestions, as always, are welcome.
Okay, so here, in 4 steps and 2 pages, is a way to offer your players some new toys/tools.  It is much more likely that players will have powers than in the older systems (someone with one exceptional stat has a 1 in 3 chance), but I figure what's the point in having a cool subsystem if no one gets to use it (do you know how many times I rolled for psionics in 1e and failed?!).

I've tried to limit the powers so that even if a whole party gets them they won't be flinging dragons around and flying about like Glitterboys.

I wasn't sure whether the player-empowering choice of abilities or the fun of randomness was the best approach so I tried to have my cake and eat it too.  Players can sacrifice choice for additional power.  This also offers a way to mitigate really crappy power rank rolls.

I tried organizing the powers by how much of an affect they can make in play, and making those most powerful less common, but this order could be easily changed-- moving Hypnosis up, for example.

Of course, you could tinker with everything here-- like making the units of weight 100s of coins rather than stones-- I think the main innovation I'm trying, is to avoid power point tracking by using the more granular session, game day, hour divisions inspired by 4e's encounter powers.

The briefness of the power descriptions will require some thought from each DM, but I'm hoping this is just enough to make a system while stepping out of the way to let you decide how things run in your game.

Update: Whoops, I made a copy paste error, I originally intended the telekinesis power to allow for moving 1 stone per power rank, which is 1/10 the power listed in the first pdf I posted.  So, if you saw that someone with TK could move half-ton boulders and thought what is he talking about "I tried to limit powers," umm, that's why.

Of course you can make it whatever scale you want but I would suggest something that is easy to remember for your players.


  1. I like this a lot! It later drafts, are you considering adding other abilities?

  2. Wow - like a lot of your stuff, this is impressively simple and workable. I'm going to yoink! this and mix it in with my mostly-house-rules DnD-like.

  3. Two things regarding this:

    1. A response more related to your previous post, so I put it there.

    2. Got kind of long so I turned it into a blog post. Basically, I've been working on my own take on a simplified, ad hoc psionics system for D&D style games, hopefully not too edition dependent. If it seems like such a thing might be of interest you can find it here.

  4. Brilliant insight saying that precognition is more powerful the closer to the present you can predict.

  5. @Christopher: My first aim was to tease out all the psychic-like powers from psionics and leave the Remo-Williams-walking-on-water-stuff for a different system. But it does tame the weirdness of mental powers, no more Expansion and Body Control and such. You could add some of that weirdness back on this base if you wanted.

    Keep in mind, though, that new players might get this in character creation and 8 powers is a lot to choose from already.

    Were there powers you had in mind that you'd like to add?

    @Frotz Self: Thanks so much, I hope it adds to the fun.

    @Peter K: Thanks for the link I'll take a look.

    @Michael: Thank you very much. You can see now why I took that whole "3 Ways to Forsee" side trip, I tried writing a one sentence summary for the precognition power and realized I had no idea how to DM it, and that the old game was almost no help.

  6. i like it.

    i don't know the powerlevel of your games, but some abilities seem quite strong for low-level characters. for less power early on (and a sense of "learning to use one's gift"), but quicker leveling, how about

    rank = lvl (max. the usual d6 rank roll)?

    for multiple powers maybe rank = lvl/#powers (min. 1)

  7. You could do that, and rank=lvl is a nicely simple way to track it.

    I wouldn't want to do that in my game, though, because I think it erases part of the distinction psionic powers have over magic to me. If you get the gift it's like winning the lottery early on and should be a real boon to survival. As you level up the powers become less of an issue in the game, unlike all other forms of magic.

    This kind of power isn't tied to learning, or knowledge or otherworldly power, but just the blood. I know that there's some learning of how to handle powers in the literature, but I'm willing to ignore that here so that the wuxia, fakir powers that are the next component of this are more distinct.

    The system as it stands is also a way that even low level schmucks can be a threat to higher-ups because of their blood, which is interesting to me, and fuel for possible drama as those in power look for anyone with red hair, or six fingers on their left hand or whatever.

  8. Another thing I'm noticing and liking about your set of rules here as I reread them again is how system-agnostic they are. Aside from a couple Attribute and saving throw references, this could be tacked on to any number of other gaming systems without much tinkering.

  9. The only power I can think of that I'd add off the top of my head is some kind of mental blast, like Carcosa's 3dx damage to a single character or the 3.0 mindflayer's cone of psychic energy.

  10. Thanks for the comments.

    @Peter: I hope so, most sci-fi type setting will probably have rules for mental powers, but then these might be easier to use. But you could drop these in to a Gangbusters or Boot Hill game for some fun.

    @Christopher: I plan on psionic blast being an option in mental combat but haven't worked everything out yet. In the mean time, you might replace fire starting with cranium implosion or something, but that would be quite powerful.