Thursday, August 25, 2016

Martial Arts Analysis: Ishin-Denshin


Psi-Locke, psionic martial artist
Star Wars doesn't feature much in the way of hand-to-hand combat, and it doesn't really feature psionic combat techniques that aren't lightsaber duels. But why should we stick with that? The way I've designed psionic powers means we must necessarily have a somewhat baroque universe full of unique character types... so why not martial arts to match? Christopher Rice (of Ravens and Pennies) gave us three interesting styles, but unfortunately the Way of the Cerulean Blade doesn't work well with conceits of Psi-Wars (a force sword is better, and cheaper, than a psi-sword), and also, it's a style I confess that I find confusing. But that leaves us with two we can look at, so let's start with Ishin-Denshin.

You can find it in Pyramid #3-69, the article Mind and Body.


Ishin-Denshin requires Body Language, Karate, Meditation, Mental Blow and Telerecieve, and may also include Acrobatics, Autohypnosis, Hidden Lore (Psis or Secret Styles), Judo, Mind Block, Physiology, Staff and Tactics. Whew!

Karate seems to be the basis of the style, making it a striking technique, which is worrisome in a setting dominated by heavily armored characters.

Meditation is likely included to give the style an “internal” feeling, but it actually fits very nicely with Psi-Wars, as it trains the artist in Communion.

Body Language expands on the theme of “reading” ones opponent, though I'm not entirely clear on its purpose. Body Language allows you to make judgments “like Empathy” but on anyone you can see, and does not benefit from Empathy or Telerecieve, and Telerecieve essentially eclipses Empathy, but Telerecieve requires concentration to initiate, while Body Language works at a glance. You could use Body Language to pick out a dangerous target and then initiate Telerecieve on him. Still, surprising that it's a core skill, and the description of the style doesn't shed any light on the reasoning behind it.  I have discovered that Body Language used to provide combat benefits in 3e.  Perhaps Christoper is still using some variation of those rules?

The core psychic skills are Mental Blow, which stuns your target, and Telerecieve which allows you to read their mind. The former ability is required at level 2, which means you must touch your target, but it ignores all DR, which helps in dealing with the heavily armored characters: You might not be able to punch a Imperial Shocktrooper to death, but you can sure knock him out! Telerecieve must be at level 3, which means you can read from at least a short distance. The primary intent here seems to be to exploit the bonus against feints and deceptive attacks, and perhaps to gain a +2 to Tactics, both of which are, I must say, a rather modest bonus for such a deep investment in Telerecieve (but on the other hand, Telerecieve isn't actually a combat ability, so an Ishin-Denshin stylist would surely know other tricks he could do with his telepathy than just read an opponent's moves).

The option skills go all over the place. Acrobatics seems in place for the dramatic stylist. Autohypnosis expands on Meditation (Note that Autohypnosis can remove the penalties for being reduced to less than 1/3 your HP/FP, and it can boost your Will, which helps with Extra Effort). Hidden Lore (Psis) isn't pertinent for Psi-Wars, though perhaps the style (already deep into Meditation) might know something about Communion. Judo would be an excellent addition for dealing with heavily armored targets. Mind Block is a natural extension of defeating other Telepaths, including other Ishin-Denshin fighters. Physiology lets you know where, exactly, you can hit for greatest effect, and is useful for pressure point techniques. Staff is a buried lede, as a Staff is a great weapon. Imagine an Ishin-Denshin fighter with a nuerolash staff! Finally, Tactics makes sense in the context of outguessing your opponent, and it takes advantage of the +2 Telerecieve gives you.
Chirrut Imwe from Rogue One

Ishin-Denshin also has Mental Stab, Telesend and Sensory Control as additional Telepathy skills. Mental Stab is discouraged in Psi-Wars, but the other two are fair game. Telesend is especially common.

Cinematic skills include Blind Fighting, Mental Strength, Power Blow, Pressure Points, Pressure Secrets and Sensitivity. Blind Fighting assists in situational awareness and seems fitting for a psychic combatant. Mental Strength has obvious applications in fighting off mental intrusion. Power Blow assists with dealing with heavily armored opponents and bringing unarmed damage up to par with blasters and force swords (though it doesn't succeed in getting us all the way). Pressure Points and Pressure Secrets are perfectly appropriate for a high-precision martial artist, but I'm not sure how appropriate they would be to Psi-Wars. Finally, Sensitivity takes advantage of Telepathy talent, and grants additional bonuses to close-combat attacks and defenses, which suggests that if you get close and stay close to your opponent, you can utterly destroy him.


Aggressive Parry is, here, more about Mental Blow, I think. If someone attacks, you attack back, and if you connect, you can initiate a Mental Blow and floor him. Counterattack also makes a lot of sense when you feel you can rely on your defenses, thanks to your ability to defeat deceptive attacks, and then turn around and strike back. The one-two punch of Aggressive Parry and Counterattack makes for a blindingly fast combatant, as he'll punch your punch to parry, and then counterpunch your punch right in the face. Dramatic. Exotic Hand Strike is a dangerous trick in a well-armored world, but against a soft target, can end a fight very quickly. Finally, Feint provides some interesting opportunities, especially the Telesend Feint (though that requires a perk), though it's not entirely clear to me how that's supposed to work. Perhaps it would be better if it used the rules of a ruse, instead of making a DX-based Telesend roll(?).

For Cinematic Techniques, Hand Catch makes sense for the same reason Aggressive Parry does: Form contact, inflict Mental Blows. Hand-Clap Parry makes less sense for Psi-Wars, but it's likely there to help deal with melee weapons. I wouldn't bother with that in a setting with force swords. Pressure Point Strike fits if we're going to use Pressure Points. Timed Defense allows our preternaturally aware character to defend from any direction, and Whirlwind Attack is dramatic, though I question how appropriate it is to a style that seems so intent on intimate connection with your (singular) opponent.

Despite a mention of the Lasting Mental Blow technique in the flavor text, it's not actually a training option here.  An oversight, perhaps?


Gestalt Familiarity, Synchronize (a telepathy Perk, if you're curious) and Teamwork emphasis the Ishin-Denshin tendency towards telepathic teamwork. Psi Technique Mastery or the Rule of 17 both emphasize overwhelming psionic power. Tactical Reading is a new power that upgrades the Telerecieve bonus to a full +1 to defense! Telepathic Feints lets you use your Telesend to distract people. Psi Strike gives you a one-time damage/attack bonus equal to your Telepathy. Most of the rest are Special Exercises/Skill Adaptions/Rule Exemptions. Note that Warrior Psi, as its a bonus to damage, would apply only to Mental Stab, which is discouraged.


There's a lot of complexity in this style that will take some time to ferret out, but I'm not to worried about the plethora of optional skills, as it allows you to derive new styles or forms. It adds some genuinely unique elements, though I'd like to see some psionic tecniques added to the mix.

One problem this style will face in Psi-Wars is its weakness against well-armored characters, but we can replaced Pressure Points with Breaking Blow, and make use of Judo as well. It's also a very expensive style, as you can see below, that doesn't offer that much for its cost.  This is the price of psionic powers (which are expensive) and the fact that GURPS stacks the deck (realistically!) against unarmed combat.

The greatest difficulty with the style might be selling it to the players. If they expect Star Wars, a staff-wielding telepath isn't Star Wars. But for me, that's a feature rather than a bug.

A Sample Ishin-Denshin practitioner

Assuming DX 14, IQ 13, Will 15 and Combat Reflexes.

Advantages: Telerecieve 3 [42], Mental Blow 2 [20], Telepathy Talent +1 [5], Trained by a Master [30]
Perks: Style Familiarity (Ishin-Denshin) [1], Tactical Reading [1]
Skills: Telerecieve (H) IQ* [2]-13, Mental Blow (H) IQ [2]-13, Karate (H) DX+2 [12]-16, Body Language (A) Per [2]-13, Meditation (A) Will [2]-15, Judo (H) DX [4]-14, Sensitivity (VH) Per-1 [4]-12.
Techniques: Counter Attack (H) Karate-0 [6]-16, Aggressive Parry (H) Karate-Parry +0 [2]-12, Hand Catch Parry (H) Judo Parry-3 [0]-8.

The above character is, in addition to his stats, 130 points. Given 50 points of disadvantages, this character is exactly 250 points already. This mostly boils down to the high investment in psionic abilities.

This character, if he successfully reads his opponent and remains in close combat with him, has a defense of 14 against all attacks. His attacks can be aggressive parries, or even Hand Catch Parries, though he's not as impressive with that. Thus, in a dark alleyway, this character knows what you're thinking and what you're going to do before you do. He'll hammer your attacks and then counter attack to demolish you with deft punches and the occasional Mental Blow.

If I had the points, I'd definitely invest in Power Blow. While it's slow, it doesn't need to be quick. Stun someone for 10 seconds, concentrate, and then unleash a powerful attack that breaks armor and flings your target about like a rag doll.
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