Thursday, July 28, 2016

Walking the Paths of Communion

Designing the Paths for Communion was probably the most time consuming element, and probably the single largest addition to the whole set.  For the most part, I've tried to use existing concepts, but Paths are largely new.  They're borrowed from Unknown Armies' avatars and the ideas behind Thamautology's Spiritual Alternate Forms, but they reflect something that I don't think I've seen in GURPS before, and as a result, I was really carving virgin territory here, which means a lot of things can go wrong.

The Design Goals of the Paths

Communion represents an entirely new paradigm and associated mythic imagery.  I can't simply borrow judeo-christian imagery, or daoist imagery, for my Divine Favor.  I'd need to create new imagery to represent, and explain, the ideas behind Id, Ego and Psychosis.  When it comes to explaining a new idea, I often find that it's better to show your players, rather than explain, and Paths represent one such attempt.  By exploring the imagery and themes of various paths, you can better see what overarching communion represents.

For example, the Paths of Communion tend to have milestones that reflect forging a relationship with someone else and then eventual self-sacrifice for the greater good.  The Paths of Id tend to have milestones that have a great deal of collateral damage and self-empowerment, but tend to be meandering and lead to nothing specifically good, and often place the character in danger.  Finally, Broken Communion has Paths with milestones that divorce the character from the world around him and ultimately cause him to self-destruct in such a way that someone else will later be infected with the same problems.  In this way, I hope to show players what these three powersets really represent in the world.

These also act as repositories for "Mandatory modifiers."  A lot of the occult imagery of Thamautology is simply inappropriate for Psi-Wars.  Characters will not invoke decanic imagery or call upon the power of Mars, etc.  However, Star Wars is rife with its own imagery, and we can borrow that for our paths.  In most of the paths, I think you can see the inspiration from the movie, though the new themes mean that I'm required to move quite some distance away from recognizeable archetypes, especially when it comes to translating the Dark Side of the Force into Id and Broken Communion.

The design of the Psi-Wars framework is one of increasing investment.  Communion represents the next step beyond Psionic Powers, and Paths represent the next step beyond Communion.  But Communion tends to remove specialization, so Paths brings it back.  By having unique powers and symbolic modifiers, a character can emphasize his specific role within Communion.

Finally, I wanted to create a relationship dynamic similar to the cycles of Chi.  Unfortunately, this tends to create a rock-scissor-paper that the character cannot get around: If you choose to follow the Path of the Righteous Crusader, then the Avatar of Death is going to kick your butt, and there's nothing you can do about that, while in the Chi Elemental system, you could invest in several forms of Chi, in the same way that a Magic: the Gathering player can have several colors of Mana. I don't forsee this as a major problem, but it's worth noting.


First, the buy-in price.  Is it doable?  Can characters handle it? -25% in necessary disadvantages are fairly steep.

Disciplines of Faith (Ritualism) feels largely symoblic.  As long as the character behaves like his desired path, it works.  I don't state exactly what this means, but I expect each GM will decide for themselves.  At -5, it shouldn't require much.  The fact that players need to make use of existing symbolism and follow Milestones (Even the negative ones) is probably cost enough.

The original -10% comes from the original Communion, thus if a character can handle Communion, they can handle a Path.

Then there's typically another -10% disadvantage.  For Communion paths, these tend to be hard and fast.  For Dark Communion, they're self-control disadvantages, with a minor limitation (based on the rules for using a trademark disadvantage as a limitation) on how often you can say no.  Both of these are typically in keeping with the path and, I would argue, the larger disadvantage, but fitting.

Broken Communion lacks both of the above, but retains its typical -20% corruption.

I don't reference the problems with discarding a prerequisite.  The rules say that your powers stop working immediately, and it takes a week of "repentance" to get back on track.  I'd argue that a week of strictly living in keeping with your path, and a symoblic act (similar to a milestone) will show that you're back on your path.


Each path has five symbols: A color, "regalia" (Stuff the character can wear), tools, locations, and their opposing path.  The intent here is to imitate the mandatory modifiers, creating a new set of modifiers appropriate for the mythology we're creating here.

When it comes to invoking them, bearing these symbols and somehow noting how they're pertinent to the miracle ("As the righteous crusader, I'm using a blue-colored force sword to defeat my opponent, and I'm invoking Communion to help me defeat him, and I'm on a sanctioned battlefield as I do it, therefore I claim a +3!) should be sufficient.  This may seem a bit cheesy, but it's consistent with how mandatory modifiers are actually used.  I fully expect characters will end up carrying them around all the time, defining their characters with them, and that's the intent.

I have a +1 for invoking 3 symbols for a generic miracle, and +3 for invoking three symbols for a path-specific miracle.  The idea here is that following a path gives you an advantage over those who do not.  If you're invoking a generic path, I think I'm alright with mixing symbolism from a variety of paths ("I have a chain, a walking staff, and I wear armor!  That's +1!).  I've limited it to three symbols to prevent too much cheesiness, and to allow for some variety.  After all, if you have no cap, then every Righteous Crusader would have a blue (+1) force sword (+1) while wearing armor (+1) that was grey (+1).  I want a character with a green force sword to not feel punished, because he can get his max +3 in some other way.

The opposing path can also be invoked for the exact same values, but only against someone one a path.  So, if you're on the path of the Righteous Crusader, and I'm wearing all black (Death +1) while wielding a ghostly white (+1) force sword while fighting you on a dead ship (+1), you're at -3 to invoke miracles.  This helps to balance the benefits of a path, but won't make you worse than +0 (unless you refuse to invest in your symbolism).

I don't really know how it should work against generic invocations.  Perhaps if someone tries to use the symbols of a path to invoke a generic miracle, you may invoke an opposing symbol to cancel it out (that is, if you claim your forcesword as part of your three symbols for a +1, I can invoke my dark garb as a counter symbol).

Where symbols are the same (ie force swords), cancel them out.

Let's take a look at the symbolism and what I'm trying to invoke and see if it works.  While we're at it, let's also discuss whether or not we can see players actually taking any of these paths.

Righteous Crusader
The Righteous Crusader evokes the image of the Jedi Knight crossed with justice.  I wanted the Righteous Crusader to be a combat character with the capacity for something inquisitorial about him. Thus, a Righteous crusader might wear heavy armor and wield a blue force sword, or he might be an eye-patch-wearing lawman in a court of law.

The Righteous Crusader is a classic archetype, one that I expect most people will readily recognize and enjoy.  Anyone who would enjoy playing a paladin, or a classic jedi, would enjoy one.

The Bound Princess
This was a tricky concept to work on.  The Captive Maiden obviously invokes images of Slave Leia, and I suppose that's what most people are going to take away from this.  In a sense, Leia is not the wrong image, though I see Amidala more strongly in her. The Bound Princess is not just physically bound, but spiritually, by duty.  Leia wore chains of slavery and bondage (in two out of the three movies), but Amidala was constantly tied up with requirements and obligations.

The symbolism of the Bound Princess is either something royal and regal (A purple force sword, a white dress, a perfect diamond tiara), or marks of servitude (Chains, a prison cell).  What personally makes her interesting is that while she is powerful when unbound (you can get your full +3 without touching on chains), trying to bind her down only makes her stronger.  The interesting contrast is with the Beautiful Fool, whom the Bound Princess opposes, meaning that binding a Beautiful Fool actively destroys her symbolism.  That's a neat effect.

I see the Bound Princess mostly appealing to people who enjoy tragedy and heroic royalty.  All Ego paths involve self-sacrifice, but that element is strongest in the bound princess.  She is perhaps the proudest of the images too, with several milestones and symbols placing her in a point of defiance.  Her powers focus her strongly on a support role, which assists with the concept of leadership, but means she'll never really be a "front-line" sort of character (except if she invokes her greater avatar, in which case, watch out!).

The Exiled Master
The Exiled Master evokes Yoda or Obi-Wan, living in distant places, both wielding a lightsaber of green and/or walking sticks, but it also evokes a remote prophet, which is part of the intent.  The Exiled Master creates an interesting conundrum for any organization which wishes to evoke Communion, as its greatest masters cannot hold positions of power.

I expect the Exiled Master will interest those who like the idea of esoteric knowledge without the ties of society of obligation.  The sort of player who would enjoy the Exiled Master is also the sort of player who would enjoy the Druid.

The Rebellious Beast
Obviously, this path touches on Darth Vader, but veers far astray, because Darth was a slave and a servant, something the Id would revile.  Thus, this also has strong Dragon imagery, and revolutionary imagery.  The Rebellious Beast destroys order.  Red is the color of Darth Vader's light saber, but it's also the color of revolution.  His opposition, the Righteous Crusader, creates an interesting contrast, as the Rebellious Beast is strongest in unsanctioned war, while the Crusader is best in sanctioned war.  As long as the Rebellious Beast can keep their duel unofficial, or even forbidden, he has a chance.

The Rebellious Beast, like the Righteous Crusader, has obvious appeal to those who want to be physically enormously powerful.  I doubt I'd have a hard time selling the path.

The Beautiful Fool
The closest Star Wars connection to the Beautiful Fool is either Lando Calrissian or Oola, the Twi'lek dancer (though she was a Beautiful Fool being destroyed by Jabba the Hut).  This touches on the Id as the satiation of desire and impulse, and its symbolism focuses on passion, hunger and lechery.  The opposition of bondage (the Bound Princess) with the Beautiful Fool means that those who seek to possess the Beautiful Fool will destroy her, and one would imagine that those who walk the path of the Id would want exactly that, highlighting how destructive a society based on the Id would be.

Where the Rebellious Beast is physically powerful, the Beautiful Fool is socially powerful, able to manipulate those around her.  Despite the female pronoun, I expect this character would have the strongest appeal for male characters who want to play the fool or the fortunate son.  Much of her symbolism and milestones were drawn from comedy, and we tend to picture the comical characters as male over female (though usually silly looking, and the Beautiful fool is, of course, Beautiful).

The Mystic Tyrant
Obviously, the Mystic Tyrant trades on the imagery of the Emperor.  The closer to physical power the Mystic Tyrant is, the more powerful his miracles (His opposition, the Exiled Master, means that you can defeat a Mystic Tyrant by dragging him out into the wilderness, and that you can defeat his wealth with the marks of poverty).

The Mystic Tyrant is another archetype with obvious appeal.  Anyone who has wanted to play a dark lord or a necromancer will enjoy his foray into the Path of the Mystic Tyrant.

Death has no Star Wars imagery (though Luke Skywalker evokes at least three symbols of death before killing Jabba the Hutt, and one could argue that all Sith use it, with their name of "Darth").  Here, we evoke the image of the Reaper, of course.  The arcane and powerful imagery of the Mystic Tyrant holds Death at bay, but the dark imagery destroys the Righteous Crusader.  If we make the case that Darth Vader was Death and the Emperor was the Mystic Tyrant, then the Emperor's dominion over Darth Vader makes perfect sense.

I suspect Death to be the most commonly followed Path of Broken Communion.  It appeals to anyone who wants to be badder than badass.  It has self-destructive elements, but it's also the "unkillable" archetype that will certainly destroy everyone around him before going out in a blaze of glory.  His gothic imagery will also appeal to those who enjoy vampiric or necromantic characters.  I would argue that the typical "Sith" image is either the Rebellious Beast, the Mystic Tyrant, or Death.

Madness has no Star Wars parallel (Which is a shame because insanity would make an interesting exploration in such a setting).  Madness has somewhat clownish imagery, which I worry will encourage buffoonery, but there's enough there to create elegance that, in fact, that to look like a mockery of the Bound Princess (an anachronistic but beautiful outfit, a purple blade, restraints), which itself opposes the Beautiful Fool, which opposes Madness.  This also means Madness is best defeated with liberation and medication, which is fitting.

Madness is a tricky path to follow, but I suspect those who will either find the arcane perspective of Madness to be interesting or, more likely, they're the sort of player who enjoy Malkavians.  There's the risk that the Madness path will be silly (they even have the Clown talent), but the tragic nature of the Milestones will take the edge off of that some, I think.

The Other
The Geonosians from the prequels come closest to the Other in Star Wars, but they're obviously not the core inspiration here.  The symbolism here is easy to understand: Make oneself monstrous to gain the power of a monster.  Covering a Bound Princess in monstrousness (sliming her, surrounding her with strange, alien tools, engaging in cannibalism in her presence) defeats her, but the Other is defeated by the symbolism of the Rebellious Beast, meaning that fighting an unsanctioned war, wielding red (which the Other also wields), hiding your face behind a mask or helmet, and remembering a lost cause or fallen empire, are great ways to defeat the other.  Incidentally, Perseus did many of these things to rescue Andromeda, and Padme (A Bound Princess) was bound and sacrificed on Geonosis (the Other), but Anakin (who would later bear the imagery of the Rebellious Beast) rescued her.

The Other likely appeals to those who like the idea of playing a true monsters.  While most of its imagery is drawn from Lovecraftian literature, its shapeshifting nature and hidden taint bears similarities to werewolf lore.  Players who like the idea of being an inhuman thing beneath a human mask will likely enjoy the Other.

New Symbolism
The intent behind the Primordial Images is never to force a player down a pre-written path, but to guide him.  Ideally, he should be able to slowly redirect the global consciousness to see a particular image his way.  That is, a particular character should come to define his archetype, rather than the other way around.  This suggests that players should be allowed to create their own symbolism.  Obviously, this requires making an impact on the global psyche.  Perhaps I should allow a Perk "Legendary Symbolism (Symbol, Path)" that allows that character a unique symbol he can associate with a specific path.  So, someone following the path of the Bound Princess might add as a symbol a mirror, or a ring, or a beautiful spaceship. 


The intent behind milestones is to show how the life of a path might unfold.  A character must fulfill a milestone to gain his next level of Legendary Reputation, and he should not violate a milestone unless he wishes to lose his access to the path (treat it as a violation of his Discipline of Faith (Ritualism)).  Milestones also represent moments of profound importance.  A character may defeat many enemies, but if he defeats an enemy as a part of a milestone, then everything about that moment becomes deeply important to his legend, his story, his destiny.  That enemy was his sworn enemy, and that enemy's name will forever be tied to the hero's.  

In principle, all Milestones should be something with a definable moment of completion, and ideally, it should take no more than a single session to complete.  The set-up could be longer, and it does not need to be explicitly described.  For example, if over the course of a session, while investigating a crime, their witness is kidnapped and the heroes rescue her and defeat her kidnappers and then find out the next bit of the mystery, a Righteous Crusader might rightly point out that this fulfills a milestone, provided the witness becomes a boon companion.  The point is not necessarily to force a character's life down a particular path, but to make certain events stand out as noteworthy.

Some of the events (especially those of Broken Communion) have negative associations with them.  Players do not have to fulfill those, provided they're willing to accept the consequences of a temporary loss of their power.  The idea is to create an ominous destiny and to force the players to choose between their devotion to their path and their own personal desires.  Once a character begins to walk a path, this signals the GM that milestones are free game, which means that sometimes, Communion will throw dreadful things before him.  That's part of following a path.

Quite a few milestones also have positive consequences that the PC has no control over, such as the Bound Princess gaining social position after completing a mundane task, or the Righteous Crusader's Boon Companion. Once the player has fulfilled all obligations required by a milestone, he can petition to make it a milestone, and if the GM agrees, the positive consequence should also come to be.  If this requires point-expenditures (Ally for the Boon Companion, Rank for the Bound Princess's social position), the player must make them.

Some milestones require no action on the part of a player, they simply happen.  A character in the right circumstances may always spend 2 points of Destiny/Impulse Buy or Serendipity to trigger a passive Milestone, at the GM's discretion (thus, a Bound Princess can always trigger a rescue if she ever gets bored of being captured).


Each Path has two talents associated with them, inspired by Powerful Conviction.  I've tried to highlight the themes of a particular Path this way, but how useful are the talents really?

The Righteous Crusader

Born Warleader has Intelligence Analysis, Leadership, and Tactics, all of which are useful in the Psi-Wars framework.  Strategy and Savoir-Faire (Military) are less useful, but have their place.

Truth Seeker has Detect Lies, Intelligence Analysis, Interrogation and Research, all of which have a place in Psi-Wars. Expert Skill (Conspiracy Theory) and Hidden Lore(Conspiracies) are less obviously useful... but show up in the Spy template!

The result is a character who excels at leading others, and in seeking out the truth of what's really going on, making a greater warrior, but also a great inquisitor.

The Bound Princess
Healer is actually on an Action template, thus highly fitting, and while Empath doesn't appear in any template, Empathy (on which it is based), does.

The intent here is to add to the supportive role of the Bound Princess.  She heals wounds both physical and emotional.

The Exiled Master
Devotion has Autohypnosis, Exorcism, Meditation, and Religious Ritual.  Exorcism is obviously useless.  Autohypnosis seems fitting, but it's usefulness is uncertain.  Meditation is very powerful for a psionic master to have, and Religious Ritual is useless.  The intent behind Religious Ritual is to assist you with your Divine Favor rolls, so we can replace it with Philosophy, and we can replace Exoercism with Mental Strength (which fulfills a similar role).

Survivor has First Aid, Knot-Tying, Naturalist, Scrounging, and Survival. Knot-Tying is questionable, but the rest all show up regularly in Action, and having open-ended Survival like that is very, very handy (especially when channeling your lesser avatar).

The intent here is to represent a character who is deeply religious, but tied to the land in some way, supporting his low-status lifestyle

The Rebellious Beast
Tough Guy is actually a talent already in use in Psi-Wars, thus is appropriate.  Natural Athlete is a bit odd, but it assists with all parkour rolls and lifting, emphasizing the primal, physical nature of the Rebellious Beast.

The end result is a character who can walk the darkest of places without fear, and a character who can strike fear in the hearts of his enemies in a very physical way.

The Beautiful Fool
Allure has Dancing, Erotic Art, Makeup, Sex Appeal, and Singing.  Dancing and Singing are largely background skills... but potentially useful.  Sex Appeal is a prime skill.  Makeup is not, but it has applications in Fashion Sense and Disguise.  Erotic Art is... best left to the imagination of the GM, if he wishes to use it.  All in all, not the greatest talent, but it does come with a handy reaction modifier.

Party animal, on the other hand, was custom built, thus perfectly appropriate to Psi-Wars.

The result should be obvious: Someone who is highly desirably, highly tempting, and the sort of person one wants to spend a friday night with.

The Mystic Tyrant
Occultist has Alchemy, Anthropology, Archaeology, Exorcism, Hidden Lore, History, Linguistics, Literature, Occultism, Research, Ritual Magic, and Thaumatology.  Archaeology, History and Literature all help with relics.  Occultism helps understanding Psionics and identifying Relics.  Hidden Lore (Communion) brings all kinds of useful knowledge with it.  Linguistics is potentially helpful, especially when dealing with strange ancient languages (which are symbolically important to the Mystic Tyrant).  Anthropology might be useful, if someone gets clever. Replace Exorcism with Mental Strength, Ritual Magic with Meditation, and Thaumatology with Philosophy. Ignore Alchemy.

Intuitive Statesman is a grab-bag at 10 points, but Leadership, Diplomacy, Politics, Propaganda, Public Speaking, Law and Current Affairs all have their uses, making this barely worth the 10 points it costs.

The two abilities define the split of the Mystic Tyrant: The first granting him his access to ancient lore, and the latter granting him access to political power.

Thanatologist has Exorcism, Expert Skill (Thanatology), Occultism, Professional Skill (Mortician), Religious Ritual, and Theology.  We've already established that Exorcism isn't worth anything, so we'll replace it with Mental Strength.  Expert Skill (Thanatology) and Professional Skill (Mortician) aren't that useful... but flavorful! And a clever player might find a use for them.  Occultism is interesting in that it can tell us a lot about superstition and it should tell us something about psychic phenomenon.  If we think of it as a poor man's Expert Skill (Psionics) with a smattering of Hidden Lore (Communion), it might be worth having around.  Religious Ritual and Theology get folded into Philosophy and Meditation, and we're good to go!

Strangler is primarily a combat talent.  It can stay.

The result is a character who understands death, and can bring it to others.

Craftiness is a standard Action talent and so can stay.

Clown has Acrobatics, Dancing, Fire Eating, Hobby Skill (Juggling),Makeup, Mimicry, Performance, Singing, Sleight of Hand, and Ventriloquism.  Many of these are background skills... but a surprising amount isn't.  Acrobatics, Mimicry and Sleight of Hand all have immediately useful applications.  Makeup, Singing and Dancing are as useful here as they are for the Beautiful Fool.  The rest would require some clever ideas from a player.  Perhaps not worth the ten points... but close.

Clown might seem an odd choice, but in addition to the associations people have with clowns and madness, the skills associated with the clown pair nicely with the stealth/acting of Craftiness.  Madness is a mistress of misdirection, able to seem to be someone else, to seem to be somewhere else, to steal from you, to slip new things into your pocket, and to dazzle you with tricks and illusions.

The Other
Alien Friend is primarily useful for Diplomacy (a funny skill for a monster to have).  The rest mostly pertain to understanding a truly alien race, which is why I gave them this talent. For this to be useful, the players must regularly encounter new monstrosities, but if they do, the Other has a distinct advantage in understanding them.

Stalker was already included once as a talent in Psi-Wars, so it's fine as is.

The combination creates something odd, appropriate for the Other: A master of understanding things that are not like him, but also the ability to vanish into the dark and to hunt.  The result is someone who can "go native" with a monstrous population, living as they do, killing as they do.


The tricky part with powers is that a power applied to a Path is a power not generally available to others.  I've tried to focus on things I felt were distinctly flavorful, or things I didn't imagine everyone might want.  That said, there's some broadly useful powers in here, and nothing prevents the GM from handing them out as general miracles, it's just that people on paths can make specific prayers, or take them as learned prayers, and have a bonus to such petition rolls.

A common trick is Serendipity, but with wishing.  This means once per session, a character can call upon a miracle to make a generic sort of event fall into place.  In such cases, it will happen by chance or luck, not that the Obvious Hand of Communion makes it happen.  For example, if the Rebellious Beast invokes Mayhem, then his next few attacks are going to set off a chain reaction that will cause something to explode or make the room erupt in a fire that never seem to bother him, etc.

Communion has only 3 powers while the rest have 4 because I was more inspired for the latter two than the first one.


Avatars largely split into one of two types.  The lesser avatars focus on the skills of the Path.  They gain fairly mundane advantages and access to the talents and the skills associated with the talents.  The idea here is a subdued and inobvious form of power.  It's also fairly cheap to buy, and has a low prerequisite.  The idea is that this should be within the regular reach of the heroes, if they want it.

The greater avatar requires a 200 point investment in Communion, and costs 50-60 points all on its own, and sucks when you try to invoke it (it will start to kill you). While in that state, you're very hard to kill, compartmentalized mind means you can invoke a psionic power every turn in addition to another action, the fatigue regeneration means you can make a powerful Godlike Extra Effort every few turns, and they typically feature some of the more dramatic powers of the path, usually unbound of any limitations they might have had.

The intent of the greater avatar is for exceedingly dramatic moments largely under the control of the GM.  If he feels it would be fun for a character to go into a greater avatar, he can. The only real problem is that some characters will want to make an avatar a deeper part of their character, and that's virtually impossible with the costs involved.  What the player needs is some way to reliably ask for a particular miracle, which is something I look into later in this iteration as a set of persk.

Greater Avatars are potentially game-breaking, as they turn the game into a super-hero game, so be cautious when introducing them.  An avatar will beat the hell out of most of your named villains, but an avatar is also an extremely dangerous state to be in, as it's possible to ignore injury while you're very tough, but then to end the battle in a very weakened state.  That's the balancing point I've put in place to prevent players who've managed to gain access to high level from using it all the time.

However, given how much control the GM has over Greater Avatars, they seem to be unlikely to cause much trouble.

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