Thursday, May 26, 2016

The Secret Magic of Psi Wars

So, we've looked at how we can use the Magic system to imitate the Force of Star Wars, created a few characters and explored the edges of that magic system.  How did we do?

While Psionics obviously captures the intention of the Force better, I'm rather pleased with this implementation.  The powers are exceptionally affordable, appropriately-skill based, the Dark Side feels Dark, the Light Side feels just as powerful (only in a different way) and suitable for what the Light Side should be.  The magic items seem a touch wonky, but Destiny might work exceptionally well for them. But it does have a few problems.

The Magic system relies on active casting: A wizard would intentionally cast Sense Danger or Mage Sense rather than simply knowing, the way a Jedi would.  Jedi typically receive visions or "a bad feeling," or even sufficient warning that they can use a precognitive parry to defend against an attack.  For that matter, precognition in magic is very specific and doesn't match what we see in Star Wars.  The typical scene in Star Wars has a Jedi meditating on the future and receiving visions, and there's no explicit spell to do that in Magic.

Magic is generally wonky and specific, likely stemming from its Fantasy origins.  In addition to active casting, you have arbitrary prerequisites (why is Glitch so much harder than Steal Energy?), and the fact that spells were meant to be cast on others, while a typical Jedi only augments himself.  Finally, many of the spells (especially the enchantments) have a distinctly fantasy feel to them, even if we strictly limit ourselves to just a few spells, such as lightning's ability to cut through metal armor (what armor in Psi-Wars counts as "metal?")

Finally, the typical Jedi can attempt things at "default," such as Rey's struggle to use a Jedi Mind Trick, while the default spell system allows nothing like that.
  • The Magic System relies on active casting, while many of a Jedi's gifts "just happen," such as his awareness of danger, or visions granted to him by the force
  • Precognition, in general, seems lacking in the standard Magic system.
  • Many magic spells can be cast on others as well as on oneself (Jump, for example)
  • Magic generally has some inherent wonkiness that gets inherited by this new system, such as the extreme difficulty of some of the ergokinesis spells.
  • Jedi can generally try stuff "at default" while Magic doesn't allow that.
As usual, we'll look into how best to solve those problems if we want Space Magic to feel more like the Force... or what happens if we discard the need to adhere strictly to the Force and go in our own direction.

Putting the Force back into Space Magic

Active Casting, External Casting, and General Wonkiness

Where necessary, we can go through, spell by spell, and alter them to fit our expected paradigm: Jump can only be cast on the user.  We adjust the prerequisites of some of the spells.  We rewrite Lightning spells to better interact with a TL 11 setting.


Precognition deserves some special attention.  Either we allow characters to take Detect (Magic) (Magic -10%), Danger Sense (Magic -10%) and Precognition (Visions) (Magic -10%), or we create new spells (blocking spell version of Sense Danger?) to allow these sorts of things.  We need new spells, in any case, to allow for future-visions, either a generic version of Divination, or some new spell based on Summon Shade or History.  Finally, we either need to allow Jedi to use Precognitive Parry, or we create a new Blocking spell that does the same thing.

Attempting Spells at Default

We make our Space Magic system a ritual magic system.  The largest headaches with such systems is the need to mess with prerequisites, but we already have to mess with prerequisites. Instead of having a Will + Magery limit, we can just note the penalty we receive to our standard ESP skill and our standard Telepathy skill, and so on.  Our limiting "master skill" isn't ritual magic, of course, but Philosophy.

Studying the Secrets of Space Magic

On the other hand, the system works pretty okay as it is.  The conclusion seems fairly small, but it's asking us to go over each and every spell by hand and fix them to "feel right."  That's a lot of work, which defeats the whole point of Psi-War's "minimal work" philosophy. What if we didn't?  What if we went further with space magic as space magic and just enjoyed that for our Psi-Wars setting.  How might that look?

Space Knights of the Old Alliance

The Magic system's weirdness comes primarily from attempting to take a fantasy system and apply it to a sci-fi setting.  But what if we simply accepted that?  What if we required mages to read the future with active spells, and we had oodles of enchanted items and lost realms and crazy monsters to fight?  We'd essentially have D&D in space with a thin veneer of Star Wars over it... which is almost exactly what Knights of the Old Republic is.

Knights of the Old Republic uses 3e D&D mechanics and concepts to power the mechanics of its setting.  If we run Psi Wars with the default magic system, we risk having a similar feeling, but I don't see how that's a bad thing.  The Old Republic is a wonderful setting, and I plan on cribbing from it anyway.  Our space knights will have fatigue reserves and they'll learn spell-like "powers" that they'll "cast" in search of ancient lightsaber relics in ancient temples while fighting necromantic monsters, but I doubt many people would exactly complain.

In the Grim Dark Future, There is only Psi-Wars!

We could go even further.  What if we accepted the critical table as written?  What if we allowed pyrokinetic space mages to throw fireballs after intoning space latin?  What if critical failures with a space-spell could summon a space-demon?  What if we made Space Magic feel occult and even grabbed things like decanic modifiers and other thaumatological details.

Our setting, full of ancient secrets and force blade-wielding space-knights begins to look a lot like a blend between Star Wars and Warhammer 40k, which isn't much of a stretch, because 40k likes to steal from everything, including Star Wars.  The Dark Side becomes more literally demonics, with Sith-Warlocks summoning Hyperspace Demons to afflict their foes and raising armies of the Hyperspace-twisted dead, while heroic Jedi-Paladins who spent years meditating atop distant mountain tops descend to cast their anti-magic to dispel the hideous monstrosities and cut down their opponents in dramatic, magic-filled duels.

If we borrow some of the elements from the previous Psionic Powers discussion, like "sniffers," power-boosting drugs and genetics, then your legions of genetically engineering psi-soldiers in power-boosting armor begin to look like Space Marines, and your sniffers and anti-mages begin to look like Inquisitors.

It's not a perfect fit, of course, anymore than this is a perfect fit for Star Wars, but the common points between the two serves to inspire an entirely new setting with legions of mage-soldiers trying to find the lost relics of their progenitor while the Chosen One learns at the feet of the greatest Space Wizard of a generation to wield his enchanted force blade to cut down the demonic forces of a dread Space Warlock who conquered his homeworld with her demonic hordes.

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