Thursday, June 2, 2016

The Tao of Psi Wars

Now that we've finished looking through Chi Powers, how do I feel about them as the power-set of choice for Psi-Wars?

Largely, I find that the Cinematic Skills go a long way to representing the Jedi, as a Jedi is mostly just a cinematic swordsman with a few mystical powers added on (such as seeing the future and moving things with his mind).  In that sense, Chi is probably the most conservative take on the Jedi.

Likewise, Daoist philosophy definitely hits all the right notes for the metaphysics of Star Wars.  Here, we can again discuss "balance" and we can talk about the complexity of the force, and we can start to see why a Jedi would need to spend years studying this rather nuanced topic.

The problem is that it's too Daoist. The Force acts more like psionics and good/evil duality wrapped in the trappings of 80's "oriental mysticism," as opposed to genuine Daoist philosophy.

Specifically, the characters that come out of this system, especially with the Elemental Chi Powers, look nothing like Jedi, though they look more like Jedi than they would with generic Chi Powers.  For example, Anakin is clearly a Void-Aspected Jedi, hence his affinity for flying through space and force choking and dark garb, in contrast with the Emperor's affinity for lightning, and Yoda is clearly Life-aspected (hence his ability to adapt to hostile environments and his ability to absorb Dooku's lightning), and so on.  However, the expanded universe, and fan-expectations, have demanded that all Sith/Jedi more or less look the same and exhibit the same powers (With the exception of a few, high-level "signature" powers).  The Chi Powers here tend to encourage diversity and gives a structure to that diversity, while the Force tends to be rather unified: You have the light side (healing, absorption, blah blah) and the dark side (lightning, force choke, force drain, blah blah) and with the exception of one or two characters with a unique trick ("That one guy can do retrocognition!"), most characters can do the same sort of stuff.

Elemental Chi Powers also lack a moral dimension to its Dark Side.  In this model, the Dark Side exists, but is unfairly vilified.  It's not evil, it's just misunderstood.  I happen to like that, but it's debatable how "true to Star Wars" that is.

It also lacks quite a few of the signature moves of Star Wars.  I fussed to make Push sort of a telekinetic attack, but what about a telekinetic pull?  And what about the deep mind reading that Kylo Ren does?

Finally, these powers really require (and reward) substantial investment.  50 points of powers didn't get you much, though it looked a touch better than what Psionics gave you for the same point totals.
  • Too much complexity compared to Star Wars
  • No "Evil" side
  • Lacks signature tricks of Star Wars
  • Expensive

Making Chi more like the Force

General Concerns

The best way to fix most of these problems, especially the expense, the lack of signature tricks and the complexity, is to redefine the Elemental powers.  I tossed a few ideas together and left it at that.  But we could rewrite it to fit things better.

Elemental Powers typically have a way to protect yourself or to increase your ST.  We could instead create a way to affect things telekinetically or to manipulate/read emotions under certain conditions.  In fact, the Elements have emotional connections, so that's not unreasonable.  We could also make the common tricks commonly available ("All elemental powers have some form of psychokinetic manipulation") and make them cheap ("It's like 5 points.")

Like Psionics, Chi Powers have Extra-Effort, but they make that Extra-Effort mandatory.  You can't buy more expensive versions of the powers, you must use Extra Effort!  That also keeps the price down and greatly increases the importance of Meditation, which actually fits pretty nicely.

This solves the complexity problem not by removing it, but pushing it back a bit: Common Space Knights can all move stuff with their mind or read your mind, but masters can absorb energy or create singularities or shoot lightning out of their hands.  This fits Star Wars pretty nicely, where the more powerful a Jedi was, the more unique his powers became.

Evil Chi

The lack of an Evil side is harder... but not impossible!  While it isn't in the book, Weapons of the Gods and Legends of the Wulin both had the concept of "corrupt" Chi, which represents demonic/hellish Chi that slowly taints the world.  We could use the Corruption Mechanics from Horror and/or the Black Magic rules to reflect "free" fatigue that could be used for Extra Effort... at a cost. And we could even apply the Corrupting limitation to some of the powers.  This adds even more complexity: You have internal void, external void, and corrupted void (or perhaps Corruption is the 6th element), but no more than the magic system would have.

Letting the Universe Be

At some point, though, you're just rewriting the Psionics system with a crazy structure around it.  If you want a system where people read minds, levitate objects and see the future, use the system that supports that out of the box.  If you want to use chi, let chi be chi!

I think the Chi Power ideas were pretty cool.  I have a soft spot for Wuxia, and this was the first time I really had a chance to dig into the Elemental Powers, but look at what they can do!  You have dimension after dimension of interesting choices and interactions.  For example, Void can yank air out of the room... but Tech doesn't need to breath.  Unfortunately, the very act of making himself invulnerable to vacuum also makes him vulnerable to Energy's attacks, but if he's studied Internal Life, he can draw strength from Energy attacks!  And so on.

Ponder what strategies you could devise to accomplish certain goals.  A Space Ninja might study Void to learn Shroud of Darkness and Invisibility Art.  Unfortunately, that leaves her vulnerable to Tech and Worlds, neither of which need light to "See."  Given that these are her primary foes, she might study up on Energy, knowing that if it comes to a fight against them, she's better off with some lightning blasts.

So we create a martial art that has Stealth, Invisibility Art, Flying Leap, Innate Attack (Beam), Forceful Chi, Void Talent and Energy Talent.

Of course, knowing that your opponent intends to use Energy and Void to defeat you, you could go ahead with that Tech (since it'll defeat the Darkness) and Life.  Paired together, this makes you able to survive nearly anything and rapidly regenerate your wounds.  

We create a martial art focusing on Inner Balance, Body Control, Mental Strength, Tech Talent and Life Talent.

We could go on and on like this.  You get a rich, baroque universe where each world has its in-depth Space Knight tradition, or likely several, as you'd win wars with a kung-fu version of combined arms.

Ideally, we'd also add something like ancient weapons (Point-based Enchantment through Age from Space Magic), and we'd have to expand our chi power options (more stealth options, more awareness options, more attacks, more defenses) so that we could have a plethora of expressions of particular elements.

We could also build our universe out of the elements.  Wuxia tends to apply Daoism to everything, and there's no reason we couldn't follow suit.  The inner part of the galaxy becomes represented by the internal expression of various elements, while the rim of the galaxy becomes the external representation of various elements.  Sectors, planets, cities all have their own elemental expressions: Imagine a sector dominated by Void and Life?  Now imagine a planet within that sector that is primarily an expression of Life and Energy?  Perhaps the sector is filled with a dark nebula and strange space-lifeforms, and this planet is one beacon of life and light in the otherwise mysterious shadow-sector?  We can use the elements to describe politics and their interaction: Of course the Empire is defeating the old Kingdom: the Empire is currently dominated by Void (Darkness) and the Kingdom was built upon Energy, thus the Empire is the next natural evolution.  In fact, our history itself could be built out of the cycle of elements: We define the origins in darkness (Void) and look at Void associations, and then move to the next era: Worlds being discovered, Life spreading across them, growing in technology, and then reaching an era of light until Darkness sweeps over them again.

We could do more than just have Chi Powers, we could let those Powers define how our setting works, which is actually surprisingly true to Star Wars.

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