Thursday, February 9, 2017

Space Ghost! Psionic Space Monsters in Psi-Wars

I've already touched on psionic space monsters this week but I want to address ghosts.  Star Wars definitely features ghosts, as seen above, though they're rarely of the spooky sort found in GURPS Horror.  However, I hadn't bothered with them thus far because without unique skills, the typical action hero can't deal well with ghosts.  This isn't Monster Hunters!

But the more I've dealt with Communion, the more obvious it is to me that ghosts and broken communion go hand-in-hand.  Broken communion seeps into places and haunts them, turning them into monstrous places full of spookiness.  Communion itself not only bears an imprint of all human minds, but it resonates with the powerful legends of people who embody archetypes.  If you find the tomb of an undying Mystic Tyrant, it seems highly appropriate that he would still haunt his tomb, if only because people would expect it to be true, and their expectation will make that true.

But how to do I handle space ghosts when Psi-Wars characters lack any skills necessary to deal with them?

Ghosts in Theory and Practice

What we mean by "ghost" is probably self-explanatory: we're discussing some sort of monster/opponent that faces off against the players, likely a manifestation of psionic energy using psionic powers.  We might envision it as an astral projection, only of a dead person (but if that's true, why not astral projections of the living as well?).

The question, though, is how to handle them.  I can think of three models.  First, we could treat ghosts as just any other physical entity, but a more diaphonous one.  Ghosts are "beings of energy" rather than truly insubstantial creatures.  Second, we could treat them as true ghosts, using rules from GURPS Horror or GURPS MOnster Hunters.  Finally, we could treat them as fundamentally manifestations of Broken Communion: they aren't people, but you see them as people because that's what you expect.

The first most resembles the typical video game model.  Ghosts might just be a space monster with Body of Air and sapience.  You can cut them and you can fire a blaster at them, it's just not particularly effective.  There's no real reason why this should be so, other than to allow Bounty Hunters and Assassins a means of dealing with the supernatural, and to mimic the way video games treat them.

The second is simple and obvious enough: We treat a ghost as a ghost.  Ghosts become psionic entities with insubstantial/spiritual traits.  Players do not defeat them by blasting them, though perhaps characters with damaging psionic powers, like astral sword, but via mystical means.  Characters might use Research, History or Occultism to work out why the ghost is haunting the place and find a way to bring peace to the unruly spirit.  Alternatively, quite a few of the talents I chose for Psi-Wars already includes Exorcism. Why not bring it back as a technique that mystics can bring to bear against ghosts?

Y'all can see me now 'cause you don't see with your eye 
You perceive with your mind That's the inner 
So I'ma stick around with Russ' and be a mentor 
Bust a few rhymes so motherfuckers remember where the thought is
I brought all thisSo you can survive when law is lawless (right here)
Feelings, sensations that you thought was dead
No squealing, remember that it's all in your head
-Clint Eastwood, Gorillaz

The final view is that ghosts don't actually exist, only Broken Communion.  Its energies become dominant because of human pain or suffering, from the present, past or future.  Broken Communion is an unruly thing that can and will create its own miracles, especially when people with Broken Communion roll a bad reaction modified when calling for a miracle, or around characters with Weirdness Magnet. These miracles don't have to be random, they might have themes.

Ghosts? Or just a bad place?
Imagine for a moment that an entire tribe of Nehudi were slaughtered by the empire, and the rest of the Nehudi tribes sung songs about the tragedy of that day. Imagine if the event was so horrific that it imprinted the area forwards and backwards in time with this horrible Twisted Psionic Energy.  Now, your character goes there, and it's steeped in Broken Communion.  Characters critically fail their psionic rolls (remember, a basic failure is enough to trigger that!) or otherwise triggers a broken communion miracle.  The GM chooses to have a vision of a dead nehudi woman pointing to a vision of crucified Nehudi... and then pointing vengefully at the characters.  The PC needs to take a fright check, but has learned something  When the players thoughtless dig up the bones of the Nehudi to get at their artifacts, another broken communion miracle triggers, this time a storm of psychokinesis that flings things around and, again, a vision of the nehudi woman, some sort of shaman.

Are they being haunted by the ghost of the nehudi priestess?  No, the problem is Broken Communion itself.  But it's reacting in a specific theme, with specific symbols, that look like a haunting, and if the players address the symbolism, they'll address the pain of Broken Communion and heal it, thus "putting her to rest," but what they've done is fix Broken Communion.

This might sound like a meaningless distinction, but it means that not all hauntings have ghosts, but all ghosts have haunted places.  You won't find a ghost where there isn't Broken Communion, or someone who is triggering Broken Communion miracles.

The Ghosts of Psi-Wars

The first largely doesn't appeal to me.  It feels too arbitrary and video-gamey.  The second two appeal to me more or less equally.  I think the last is probably the most accurate definition of what's going on, but that the second is a better way of depicting/handling ghosts, rather than relying on miracles.  That is, a ghost might not be real, but even if it isn't, it's a useful model for the GM to use to personify the effects of Broken Communion, and it gives the players a specific target to deal with.

Furthermore, the concern of introducing an element the non-mystical characters are ill-equipped to deal with might be a bad way of depicting the problem.  Broken Communion already exists and it already causes problems for Bounty Hunters and Assassins and Commandos.  If you're a soldier on a ship steeped with Broken Communion, you've got a problem whether or not the GM is using rules for insubstantial ghosts.  You have many of the same problems you would have if dealing with a space knight or a mystic, in fact, which means the same tricks will work.  A commando with a psi-helmet or some other form of anti-psi technology or techniques is largely as well defended against the ghosts of broken communion as he is against space knights or mystics.  Furthermore, by defining a ghost and creating a specific way for it to be put to rest, that gives the less mystical characters a tool for defeating the problem posed by Broken Communion.

Therefore, let us set up some fundamentals.
  • Ghosts are manifestations of Broken Communion
  • Ghosts are fundamentally psionic in nature
  • Ghosts cannot be hurt by mundane weapons
  • Ghosts may be hurt by psionic or anti-psionic attacks
  • Ghosts may be defeated with exorcism
  • Ghosts may be defeated by laying them to rest
  • Cleansing a place of ghosts also (optionally) cleanses a place of Broken Communion.
First, ghosts must be tied to an area steeped in Broken Communion, or a person who has been somehow "cursed" with Broken Communion.  The two are deeply connected on some fundamental level.  This also means the Path of Death should have some miracles that deals with them.

Second, they use psionic powers, and their psionic powers are psionic powers.  They follow all the same rules precisely, where possible (we might use short-hand rules, but what stops a psion stops a ghost).

Third, ghosts are insubstantial, but players have other means of dealing with them.

Fourth, ghosts can be affected by psionic attacks.  Not, of course, TK-crush or lightning, but things that would harm the mind or the astral harm a ghost.  Specifically, I'd like to make a new version of Astral Sword (Psionic Powers page 28) that "dissipates psionic energy."  That is, if used against a psion, it disrupts any psionic energy reserves they might have.  This comes from a touch (thus, C range only) and is an Anti-Psi power.

Astral Blade: The anti-psi has a destructive touch that destroys both insubstantial ghosts and destroys psionic energy reserves.

Statistics: Burning Attack 1d (Anti-Psi, -0%; Insubstantial Only, -30%; Melee Attack, C -30%; No Signature, +20%; Selectivity, +10%; Symptoms, Negated Advantage, Insubstantiality, 1/3 HP, limited by Accessibility, Only to banish astral foes, +200%) [14] + Alternate Fatigue Attack 1d (Anti-Psi, -0%, Psionic Energy Reserves only -0%, Melee Attack, C -30%, No Signature +20%, Selectivity +10%) [2], additional levels add +1 for 5/level.

I had wavered on True Sight (Psionic Powers 25) because it only really assisted people in overcoming characters using Mind-Clouding, but now it has a second, less niche use: You can see ghosts with it.  That means only level 2 is allowed (it's always 21 points).

Exorcism rules are covered perfectly well in Monster Hunters 2 on page 23, confronting curses.  This could be expanded to problems faced by Weirdness Magnet as well as dealing with ghosts or cleansing a place of Broken Communion.  For cleansing a bad place (Broken Communion directly) the "Will" you oppose is generally Absolute BAD +10, or as a basic guideline: places not sacred to Broken Communion generally have no more than Will 10, while places "Holy" to broken Communion have a Will of around 15, and places "Very Holy" to Broken Communion have a Will of around 20.

Characters can use a variety of skills to learn what specifically caused Broken Communion to erupt in the first place.  This can be Area Knowledge, Criminology, Hidden Lore (Communion), History, Intelligence Analysis, Occultism, Philosophy, Psychology or Research.  It amounts to learning what happened (Area Knowledge, Criminology, History or Research), then working out what is symbolically important (Hidden Lore (Communion), Intelligence Analysis, Occultism, Philosophy or Psychology) and then, from those, deriving what needs to be done (usually the same as knowing why they are significant).  Then one only has to perform the acts necessary to put the place to rest.

Ghostly Stats

The easiest way to handle ghosts are to simply borrow the rules from Monster Hunters 3, with the following modifications:
  • Weak ghosts have FP, HP and Will 10 (or so).
  • Normal ghosts have the listed stats
  • Strong ghosts have FP and HP 40 and Will 18 (or so).
Weak ghosts can be found anywhere.  Normal ghosts tend to only be found in places Holy or Very Holy to Broken Communion, and Strong Ghosts tend to only be found in places Very Holy to Broken Communion.  Ghosts always have a story, tied to the place or person they are haunting, and a way to put them to rest.  If a Broken Communion site has a ghost (especially one "equal to its level", ie a normal for a holy site, and strong for a very holy site), putting that ghost to rest usually cleanses Broken Communion. Sites can have multiple ghosts (usually weaker than the "central" ghost), who might provide their own clues to what caused broken communion, or to act as minions for the "boss ghost", etc.

If we want to expand ghosts, we can do so with psionic powers.  Ghosts use the same rules all other psions do (though for simplicity, skip skills) including godlike extra effort.  They do not have access to Broken Communion directly: They are manifestations of it and subject to the whims of its miracles, rather than directing it.

Spirits of Light and Dark

Okay so that covers Broken Communion, what about Ego and Id? The nature of Broken Communion is that it's unruly and doesn't behave as it should.  Communion is something you commune with, it should not be something that reaches out and tries to commune with you.  Ghosts are a sign that something has gone wrong. 

That's not to say that True and Dark Communion cannot have something like spirits.  When communion shows one a vision, it uses appropriate symbolism.  It might use godlike, angelic or demonic symbolism, or it might use images appropriate to the character having the vision, such as a mentor or a father figure.  For that matter, Broken Communion needn't manifest its presence as ghosts of the dead; the same rules will work just fine for symbolic representations of Death, Madness or the Other, strange hallucinations of unnatural gods or twisted "angel" imagery.

The primary purpose of a ghost/spirit in the context of Broken Communion is to present the players with a personification of the local "sanctity" level that they can defeat and thus bring the area "back to normal."  This is necessary because Broken Communion acts against the players, so the players need something to defeat.  True and Dark Communion do not act against players and so do not need a face for the players to metaphorically punch.  That said, if you want to add dark gods or angelic protectors who act as the personification of a site sacred to True or Dark Communion, feel free!
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