Friday, 24 November 2017

Mind Games

UX02: Mind Games was written by Reid San Filippo, with additional material by Jon Carnes, Gilbert Isla, Sean Ellis,  and David Baity. Art is by Claytonian, David Coppoletti, Diogo Nogueira, Matt Hildebrand, and Nate Marcel (who also did the cover). The publisher is Shield of Faith Studios.

Upfront, I have to admit that this is my favorite psionics system to date, certainly for Dungeon Crawl Classics, and perhaps for any game. It is usable and appropriate not only for games where your PCs are crawling under a broken moon, but anywhere psychic powers might "fit".

Alternative psionics systems can be found in Crawljammer #3 and Drongo: Ruins of the Witch Kingdom. The Wizardarium of Calabraxis also includes a nascent prionics system. Likewise, some mutations in Mutant Crawl Classics, Hubris, or The Umerican Survival Guide might be considered psionic. My general view is that these can be mixed and matched - nothing requires that all mind powers work in the same way!

Options are good. But if you have to choose one consistent way to run psionics, my money is on this book. Let's crack it open.

Introduction 

This is a product which grew in the making, from a simple set of rules for Umerican campaigns to a guide which took the whole of Dungeon Crawl Classics into account. In the introduction, Reid San Filippo supplies the design goals for the product. I think that Mind Games reached these goals admirably:


  • Psionics had to capture the old school feeling of the original psionics presented in the 1st and 2nd editions of the first fantasy RPG without being tied to their cryptic complexity.
  • Psionics had to function differently than Wizard and Clerical magics without being any more complex.  
  • Psionics had to be set firmly in DCC’s original Science Fantasy stylings so it would be adaptable to any of the current and future DCC settings available. 
  • Psionics had to be awesome but, not so awesome that it did not [un]balance the other established DCC rules and content.

The Psion character class

Obviously, a psionics system requires a class with the ability to use psionics. In Mind Games, this is the psion. There are a number of options for powers your psion can have, but each discipline must be learned separately, with your level determining the number of powers, and the max tier for those powers. You also gain focus points, which can be used to gain a Focus die for a specific discipline, in a manner similar to the Deed Die or the Luck Die for warriors and thieves.

Psions can use psi burn. This is similar to spellburn or glowburn, but psi burn increases the Focus die, up to a maximum of 5 steps, by taking temporary Intelligence or Personality damage.

Failure can cause Psychic Dissonance, and every failure increases the chance of this occurring, similar to the way Disapproval works for clerics. Moreover, a natural 1 on the Focus die when a roll falls within the Psychic Dissonance range increases that range by 2, rather than 1.

How Psionics Work

This section explains the four disciplines of Psychometabolism, Clairsentience, Psychokinesis, and Telepathy. It explains power tiers (which are essentially like spell level, going from 1 to 4), psionic actions (which sorts how a power can be used). How to use psionics, either through Power Invocation or Psi Assist.

Psychic Duels 

This is not a rehash of the wizard's spell duel system. Instead, the basic outline seems more like the psionic combat rules in the 1st Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Master's Guide, ending in the potential death or concession of the loser. Concession is an interesting mechanic, allowing the victor to force the loser to abide by one command (within certain restrictions).

Psionic duellists may also experience subjugation, which is the effect of a successful attack (or unsuccessful defense, depending upon how you look at it). The result of subjugation depends upon the discipline the attacker is using, the degree of success for the attack, and whether or not the attacker chooses to spend any reserved Advantage.

There is a two page sample duel, between the young psion Vouna and the evil tyrant Lord Mentac, which does a great job of illustrating the concept. In fact, I think that you would do yourself a favor by reading this sample duel both before and after reading the psychic duel rules.

Psychic Dissonance Table 

Unlike clerical Disapproval, dissonance is always resolved with 1d10. However, you add the amount you missed the target DC by, and if the Focus die also came up "1", you roll it, and add the result to the total.

Results range from "A  minor  bout  of  psychogenic  fugue settles  into  the  psion’s  mind  causing  -1  to  all power initiation rolls for 1d4 turns." to "The psion’s entire persona is lost to the universal metaconsciousness for 4d30 days. During this time a completely different persona inhabits the body. They will be of the same character level but of a randomly determined class and alignment. When the psion’s original persona eventually reconnects with their body, it will have to fight the current inhabiting persona for possession of it."

Psionic Powers 

Mind Games has a total of 13 powers for each of four disciplines. The write-ups are similar enough to those from the 1st Edition AD&D Player's Handbook or the 2nd Edition AD&D The Complete Psionics Handbook that conversion to or from those sources should be possible. (I have not actually attempted this yet, but it is the strong impression that I get.)

Powers have an effect for base success, and using a Focus die can increase what is possible.

Psionic items 

Living crystals (including a fair-sized section on living crystal weapons, comparable to the sword magic tables in the core rulebook), psychogenic baubles (ioun stones), brow jewels, and memory tomes are discussed.

Psychic Menagerie 

If the book had not shone before now, it would certainly shine here. The judge is supplied with five psionic creatures to challenge his PCs with. Because of the way psionics works in this system, the PCs need not be psions to enjoy the encounters!

The creatures are:

  • Braingineer: Projected from the distant future of a collapsed timeline,  these  eerie  beings  are  supposedly  the remnants  of  a  highly  evolved  human  society. They appear to be living human brains floating inside  impressively  technological  transparent cylinders  with  many  robotic  limbs  attached  to the  base  of  the  cylinder.  Tiny,  colorful  lights blink randomly at all times on the cylinder bases. 
  • Cerebear: This abomination appears like a grizzly bear with odd colored tufts of hair all over its body but its head is its most horrific feature. The top of its skull, including its ocular cavities and ears, has been replaced with a massive, exposed cerebrum that pulses with an eerie green luminescence.  Orbiting the naked, leathery brain like tiny gruesome satellites are at least a dozen mismatched eyes, each trailing a few inches of dangling optic nerve behind them. 
  • Edacious Encephalon: Floating  just  out  of  phase  with  our  reality,  Edacious  Encephalons  (also  know  as Hungry Brain Devils  stalk intelligent beings in search of tasty emotions. They tend to  be  found  not  in  remote  ruins  but  populated  areas  currently  experiencing  high amounts of turmoil and stress. Settlements on the brink of war, political debates, and grand musical performances are some of their favorite feeding grounds. Should the situation need assistance to reach a palatable emotional state, they will employ psychic whispers to heighten the emotive tempo to levels near madness.
  • Hive Mind: Not all people born with psionic abilities are predisposed to become Psions. Some, like the Crystal Shepherds, have a specialized psychic gift. Unfortunately for Hive Minds this “gift” always comes with a price. From an early age,  a hive mind will begin  to  hear  the  simple  thoughts  of  a  particular  type  of  insect.  Those  that  do not  quickly  go  mad  find  they  can  manipulate  these  thoughts,  eventually  gaining complete control over that type of insect. The price for this is the influence of the multitudes  of  tiny  alien  minds  pulling  away  the  person’s  humanity  and  creating a being that only looks human. This is not to say that hive minds cannot function in human society. In fact, they can be quite social and love the thrill of intrigue as they feed their insatiable desire for control. They are true sociopaths as their moral compass and values are almost completely alien.  
  • Lobstrosityrant: This  dreadful  crustacean  is  a  much  larger  and  more  dangerous  cousin  of  the Lobstrosity (CUaBM issue #1, pg 22). Half again the size of its lesser relatives, its mighty shell is pearlescent white with tinges of every color of the rainbow reflected throughout. 

Great stuff!

Psi-Beast Critical Hit Table

Like everything else in Dungeon Crawl Classics, psychic creatures have critical hits to be feared. In this case, a normal attack has a psionic element.

Get It Here!


2 comments:

  1. Great review! I also love this system. In fact, I threw a cerebear into my adventure, _Killer of Giants_, for the _Umerican Survival Guide_ kickstarter. Seriously LOVE that nasty. Makes owlbears seem about as terrifying as guppies, in comparison.

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    1. I look forward to running that encounter!

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