Monday, October 3, 2016

Building Psionic Styles

Thaumatology: Magic Styles
GURPS Thaumatology: Magical Styles is probably my favorite book out of the Thaumatology line (other than the core book itself, of course).  In addition to giving us more perks (I dearly love perks), Magical Styles take the cosmology-building of Magic and turns into the culture-building of specific applications.  We might devise a world of 4 elements, with magical colleges circling those four elements, but then we need to show what practitioners of those magics might be, and suddenly we have the vivid detail of the Fire Dancers of the Black Mountains.  It takes the generic and makes it specific.

I want to do the same for Psi-Wars, and I want it for several reasons.  First, Star Wars emphasizes martial training, and it does so in a classic wuxia tradition of external vs internal.  The hot-headed jedi student wants to learn how to fight with a lightsaber (external arts) and how to blast people with lightning, but the master slows him down and demands patience and teaches him first to medidate and commune with the force (internal arts).  We've spent the last month or so discussing external styles.  Now, we can discuss internal styles.

Moreover, players may well be at a loss as to how to build their characters, how to tie them into this vast and crazy world we're building. The addition of things like Paths helps that, but the players still need to grasp what it all means for them, specifically.  The Jedi Order and the Sith Order do that by providing cultural context. We need to do the same for Psi-Wars.  Perhaps we have an Oracular Order who has oracles who dedicate themselves to reading the future (and blind themselves to the mortal world) while they're guarded by warriors who have mastered Third Eye fighting techniques, and they work together to reshape the future of humanity.  Then, a player has a reason to choose ESP, a direction to take his Space Knight.  Or perhaps we have Death Cultists who worship the Path of Death and see Psychic Vampirism as a sacred communion with the Dead God's power.  Our "Sith" become these Death-Worshippers, cowled men with ghostly, white-bladed force swords who drain the life out of those around them with their terrifying power.  Context.

But to make this work, we need to understand the components and pieces of our styles.  We need skills, perks, techniques and optional traits.  I've already defined most of these in a previous post, but we can always revisit and revise old ideas.  In particular, I lacked techniques, which was fine when we're only worried about what a skill does, but if we want to differentiate one school from another, we need greater definition.  Thus, in this post, I'll define further techniques and perks, either taken from other sources, or adjustments from said other sources to fit psionics and communion, or created whole-cloth to fit our assumptions in Psi-Wars.

Psionic Style Familiarity

Psionic Styles work just like magical styles (you must have all required skills to gain the Psionic Style familiarity), but they must necessarily have slightly different rules:
  • You have Gestalt Familiarity with all members of your school.
  • You gain +2 to "noticing Psi use" from fellow practitioners.
  • You may acquire any non-secret psionic skills and techniques with earned points in play without having to seek instruction.
  • You're acquainted with your school's culture, and may waive -3 for any cultural familiarity penalties for a character with the same perk.
  • You have the equivalent to a Claim to Hospitality with an academy, temple or master, allowing you to have somewhere to stay while you study.


The following skills have been expanded to include some new techniques.


Introspection: Average. Defaults to Meditation; May not exceed Meditation.
This core skill of Meditation works as the basic book describes it: The character may roll meditation to gain moral (rather than practical) insight into what he should be doing.

Introspective Ceremony: Average. Defaults to Meditation-1. May not exceed Meditation+4.
The character has learned to perform a meditative ceremony that allows other characters without meditation to gain the benefits of Introspection, above. Apply an additional -1 per character so assisted. The character may never have a higher effective Introspective Ceremony than his Meditation skill; additional points remove penalties for additional members to the ceremony. Appropriate Performance skills act as a complementary skill.

Penance: Hard. Defaults to Meditation; May not exceed Meditation+4.
The character may attempt to make amends for wrongs he has done. This typically requires 8 hours of meditation and upon success, the character may roll Meditation. On a success, he may either remove one point of corruption (either from Dark or Broken Communion), or attempt to regain Communion after violating one of its sins.

Communion: Hard. Defaults to Meditation; May not exceed Meditation+4.
The character may attempt to gain a deeper connection with Communion. This allows him a +1 to petition rolls or, if done for 8 hours, grants him one point of Meditative Energy Reserves (If he has Communion; he may not use this benefit if he has Dark Communion or Broken Communion).

Deep Trance: Hard. Defaults to Meditation-4; May not exceed Meditation.
The character meditates deeply for one hour and enters a trance. This trance either offers the same bonuses as Autohypnosis or +1 to all Psi skills plus an additional bonus equal to 1/3 of his margin of success, to a maximum of +5. He gains +4 for sensory deprivation, +2 for the Body Discipline perk, and may use Religious Ritual as a complementary roll.

Philosophy (or Theology)

Moral Insight: Average. Defaults to Philosophy; May not exceed Philosophy
Whenever you find yourself in a moral quandry, if you attempt to live to the ideals of your philosophy, you may roll Moral Insight to gain an idea of what you should do, according to your philosophy.

Comparative Philosophy: Hard. Defaults to Philosophy -4. May not exceed Philosophy
You have insights into a specific, related Philosophy. You may roll Comparative Philosophy when attempting to understand this other philosophy, how its adherents might behave, or what arguments to make against it.

Philosophical Argument: Hard. Defaults to Philosophy. May not exceed Philosophy +4.
You may make an argument from the point of your target's philosophy. If successful, gain a +1 complementary bonus on an influence skill, or +3 if the character is Fanatical, or subject to a Code of Honor, a Discipline of Faith or Vow appropriate to the philosophy in question. You may also use this technique to grant yourself a +1 or +3 (if fanatical, or subject to a Code of Honor or Discipline of Faith or Vow) to your Will to resist any influence skill, by making the internal case that such an action would violate your philosophy, or to justify a questionable course of action that you wish to undertake without violating your moral principles.

This technique is not required for obvious violations or fulfillment of a character's philosophy (ie, you do not need to make this roll to resist someone who is trying to convince you to kill Leylana Grey if you have sworn to protect Leylana Grey). This involves making logical connections and leaps that allows one to connect a particular course of action to one's philosophy (“If you believe in protecting all life, and you acknowledge that bots are fundamentally programmed to protect life and, moreover, that treating bots as you would treat living beings acts as an example of compassion to others, which further promotes the sanctity of life, then you should not treat bots with such disdain! Instead, you should help me free them!”). The more tenuous the connection, the greater the penalty. As a general rule, for each “if this then that” connection required applies a -1, and every leap or fallacy requires a -2 to -4. The final roll cannot exceed Philosophy: The primary purpose of this technique is to remove penalties to your logical connections/leaps. You may combine this technique with Comparative Philosophy to make an argument from an opponent's perspective!

Symbolic (Path) Lore: Hard. Defaults to Philosophy. May not exceed Philosophy +4.
Communion interacts with other characters via symbolism and metaphor. Philosophy grants a deeper understanding of that symbolism. Use this technique when attempting to recognize milestones or symbols for a path, or when interpreting an ESP vision or any Communion miracle that calls for a Philosophy roll provided the GM judges that the symbolism of the miracle is sufficiently tied to that path.

Esoteric Medicine

I skipped this skill while dealing with psionic skills because I didn't think of it, nor did I feel it was relevant.  The medicine of Star Wars, and thus Psi-Wars, is supremely advanced, so people wouldn't stoop to using herbal concoctions and such. But as I worked through the styles, I came to realize that the sort of medicine that understands how psionics and communion interact with the body is different from the science of how drugs and scalpels interact with the body.  It also presents a thematically different form of medicine, one that takes place in temples and dark places of power, with incense and herbs, as opposed to clinics and hospitals and sanitoriums under the needle and scalpel of doctors.  Thus, esoteric medicine has a place!

By default, treat Esoteric Medicine as TL 11 physician, but requires different gear and has drawbacks.  See Fantasy Tech 1: Edge of Reality page 31-32 for ideas.  The most likely are probably diet, environmental therapy, herbal medicine and poulticing, but any might apply depending on the tradition (the dark witches of Styxia might prescribe a regimen of bleeding and incense burning instead).  Treat each as an Average technique that default to Esoteric Medicine and can go as high as Esoteric Medicine +4.

Esoteric Medicine can be used to diagnose psionic conditions.  For example, if a victim has fallen pre to a psionic vampire, or has been afflicted by some Broken Communion miracle, Esoteric Medicine can uncover it.  Expert Skill (Psionics) can also do this for Psionics, and Hidden Lore (Communion) can do this for Communion, but Esoteric Medicine can diagnose both.  It can also treat these conditions.  After such a treatment (which takes at least an hour), the target may attempt to resist the effect again, but this time with a complementary bonus from the esoteric physician.  Following a routine regimen of treatments under an esoteric physician's supervision can grant the character +1 to resist the effects of aging, disease or deleterious psionic effects (+1 HT or Will to resist).  This is a perk.

Psionic Perks

Psionic Style Familiarity: Gestalt Familiarity with members of that school only, and +2 to any “detect psi use” associated with that school

Alternate Petition Rules: If the GM uses the standard petition rules but a particular style would be better suited by using the alternate petition rules I proposed, then allow them access to this perk.

(Skill)-Assisting Psi: Gain a +1 to a skill that could potentially be helped by a specific psychic talent (For example, Telepathy Talent assisting Sex-Appeal). This perk is leveled, up to a maximum of your talent (In effect, this perk extends the talent to aid additional skills in accordance with Smooth Talent Cost from Power-Ups 3: Talents p25)

Afflicted Concentration: (Magical Styles 22); Ecstatic Psi is arguably better, but it might prove useful or appropriate for a variety of concepts.

Alien Paths: You may walk a path that isn't part of your form of Communion (Someone with Dark Communion walking the Path of Death, etc). You must still fulfill all the requirements for that particular path (eg the Miracles of Death are still corrupting; the Path of the Righteous Crusader still requires a Code of Honor, etc), but you have full access to that Path's miracles.

Attribute Substitution: Psionic powers come with a default assumption about the source of power (the mind), thus it's inappropriate to shift a psionic power over to DX or ST... but some powers use Per, Will or HT! That sort of substitution might be fine.

Body Discipline: LTC1 16.

Dark Communion Resilience: Gain +1 to resisting the effects of Dark Communion taint. You may purchase this as a leveled trait. This is, in effect, a highly limited form of Energy Reserves (it effectively gives you one free point of energy, but only once per day, and only if you have dark communion, and only if you've used it to gain dark communion taint).

Dark Healer: You may access Psychic Healing despite having the Dark Communion or Broken Communion trait.

Ecstatic Psi: Psionic Powers 19

Frightening Side Effects: Magic Styles 25

Grey Faith: You are equally adept at two forms of Communion (for example, both Dark Communion and Broken Communion).  You may only access the benefits of one form of communion at a time (ie, if you're currently in Id Communion, you may not access any Meditative Energy you have built up, nor will Meditation build up any energy), but you do not lose any benefits you might have built up, and changing from one form to the other is relatively straight-forward, taking a few days of intense meditation that can happen off-screen, rather than major in-game events.  Any character can trade one form of Communion for another, but this perk ensures that you can always do so with a minimum of h

Inner Mastery: Characters may substitute Meditation for Will for Psionic Extra-Effort rolls.

Life Force: Magic allows players the option to spend HP instead of HP, applying the same -1 to skill per HP spent.

Life-Force Burn: Magic Styles: 27

Limited Energy Reserves: Style-specific energy reserves might make sense, but they'd require some style-specific means of gaining it.

Mass Communion: You may increase the bonus for petition rolls to +5 for 100,000 devout worshippers, +6 for a million, +7 for a hundred million worshippers, and +8 for ten billion worshippers.

Mind Games: “Undermining Defenses with Fear” from Thaumatology 227 makes perfect sense for a psychic character: the psychic character is undermining his opponent's will to resist through fear. It also explains why Jedi must not be afraid!

Power Bond: As Spell Bond (Magic Styles 31). You have one psionic power with which you gain +1 to all skill and extra effort rolls, but your psionic signature is at +5 to identify.

Psi Technique Mastery: Pyramid #3-69 page 16.

Psionic Adaption: Pyramid #3-69 page 16.

Psionic Bond: Pyramid #3-69 page 16.

Psionic Focus: For using a specific psionic skill, a specific item can act as a focus, granting +1 to all rolls with that skill using that item.

Psionic Ritual: You have a specific ritual that requires visible gestures and audible incantations. Performing this ritual improves one specific use of a psionic skill that must be defined up-front (the equivalent to a trademark move) grants +1 to that use.

Psionic Style Adaption: As Magical Style Adaption, Thamautalogy: Magic Styles page 27.

Psionic Wand: A specific sort of item counts as “bare skin” for the purposes of the Additional Contact rules (Psionic Powers page 6)

Psychic Duelist: +1 to all Jamming attempts with any power skill listed in your style.

Psychic Symbolism: You may add the symbol bonuses and penalties from a specific Path to the skill rolls of a specific power.

Psycho-Babble: As Thaumatological Double-Speak (Magic Styles 33) but with Expert Skill (Psionics)

Quick Concentration: You have de facto GM permission to use the rules for time spend to reduce their activation time and, furthermore, reduce all such penalties by 2.

Rule of 17: Thaumatological Styles page 29

Saintly Vampire: You may access Psychic Vampirism despite having the Communion trait.

Sanctity Compensation: You may ignore up to -1 in sanctity penalties when attempting to invoke a Communion Miracle. Thus, if you're attempting to use Communion in a Desecrated area, instead of rolling at -5, you roll at -4.
Secret Paths: You have access to a new or secret path.

Secret Power: If a player wants access to a discourged ability, this is how you do it.

Secret Technique: If the GM creates new techniques, this gives players access to it.

Signature Miracle: Gain +1 to Communion Reaction rolls when calling on one specific Specified Miracle (Leveled, to a maximum of +4)

Signature Symbolism: The character has a unique symbol associated with his path, as he slowly diverges from it and creates a new path. A character may have no more levels of Signature Symbolism than his Legendary Reputation, and upon achieving 4 signature symbols, the GM might consider creating a new, unique path for the character, with new milestones and new powers.

Special Exercise (IQ, Will, Per can exceed 20)

Special Exercise (Talent may exceed 4)

Stabilizing Skill: Pyramid #3-29 has an article called “Averting Disaster” where characters can use a Hard skill to keep from suffering a critical failure. The article chooses specific skills for specific powers, but we could apply our own. The perk gives you access to one stabilizing skill per power.

Standard Operating Procedure: Esoteric Exercises: Requires Esoteric Healing 15+.  The character can engage in a series of meditations, exercises or treatments that take at least an hour per day.  As long as he maintains this regimen, he gains +1 HT for either "physical health" (+1 to HT to resist aging rolls and disease) or "spiritual health" (+1 to HT or Will to resist psionic or communion effects that tamper with his health, such as Drain Attribute, Steal Energy or Steal Life).

Standard Operating Procedure: Memory Check: You have two “memory back-ups,” such as a journal or recording devices, etc, in which you regularly record your important memories (what you're doing, what you've seen, etc), and double check your own memories against these backups. If someone manipulates your memory, he must also change your backups or you'll notice the change. This has the drawback that someone who finds both of your back-ups and changes them might convince you that someone has changed your memories.

Symbolism Mastery: You may invoke 4 symbols for +4 to reaction rolls for your path, or +2 to a miracle outside of your path.

Tolerance: Psionic Powers 24

Twisted Energy Compensation: No -2, but you still have the critical problem (but see Stablizing Skills)

Warrior Psi: Pyramid #3-69 page 17.

Willful Psi: +1 to resist any attempts to Jam your power.
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