Friday, September 13, 2013

Psionic Advancement

One thing I did not mention the other day that Jason suggested I should was how will psionics and technology evolve? In the post from last week, I mentioned that sorcery and technology won't really evolve together, because sorcery is so janky. Jason wondered if psionics might evolve with technology since it is stable and whatnot.

Right now, there are crystal types that allow psionics users to channel power points into them to deal additional damage. I forget the name of it in my campaign book, but it is called deep crystal in the 3.5 Edition material. It might have the same name in my campaign book. I'm not sure. Once you reach a point where you are firing cannonballs and bullets made of deep crystal and enhancing them with power points, how much further can you go in terms of weaponry? Each power point adds 2d6 more to damage. So with five power points, you can fire a bullet that hits as hard as a 10th level Wizard casting fireball with no save for half damage. Granted, it relies on an attack roll and only hits one person (depending on weapon type, deep crystal buckshot anyone?), but still. How much of a drop in a bucket are five power points for a character like Donovan? Eran's rifle crits for 8d6 damage, Donovan can do that with four power points and a basic revolver with a deep crystal bullet with a regular attack.

Yes, there are people who are going to combine psionics and technology, but fundamentally, it's not going to be any different than the way it is now, except with more advanced technology. So you'll have your Dragon Scale combat suit, and it will have a +5 bonus to AC from psionic enhancement. There are applications for stuff like boilers and and steam turbines fueled by stable psionic powers that create heat, and as tanks and stuff evolve into use, you can supplant hefty physical armor with psionic force effects and such. With issues of flight, I'm positive there are psionic versions of flight and levitation, so wingless and balloonless airships can be developed. You could, in theory, find psionicists discharging electricity flavored energy bolts into a power grid instead of utilizing coal or whatever fueled generators.

This stuff could all happen, and it'd be awesome, but it won't, at least not in a widespread revolutionize the fields of technology way. Because Elduman.

Let's look at the Elduman. They are ancient and timeless and they think everyone is stupid. The guys know of at least one time where they have intervened to prevent technological advancement in The Known World, and the Elduman just plain don't need technology and don't need/want to combine it with psionics. They clearly don't like the creep of advancing technology in the world around them, so why would they decide to enhance it on a widespread level with their mental powers?

Taking a deeper look, these are a people that have no need of food or water, so there are no farming or animal husbandry industries in The Old Empire. They use crystalline materials reinforced by psionic energies for building materials and for forging weapons and tools and such (when they don't just will them into existence), so blacksmithing and smelting and metallurgy are dead arts in The Old Empire. Psionics allow them to teleport, fly, move fast, etc, so they don't even have a steam lorry or animal drawn cart based automotive industry like Kusseth does. They have no fields of medicine because they can use their psionic powers to will their crystalline organs and bones closed, or to repair injury instantly. When they were suffering attacks from the sea, they didn't build defense posts and mobilize their military, they used psionics to create crystalline mountains to replace their shoreline, then disbanded their navy and dug a hole into the earth that allowed them to get to the mainland if they wanted/needed to. They don't need technology and they don't need to combine it with psionics to make it better. That would just give other nations an advantage they currently don't have.

This doesn't mean that the Elduman of The Old Empire are luddites, or that they have no concept of riding a horse or forging iron and...other stuff...into steel. This doesn't mean they don't understand that if you have a gaping hole in your chest, you should close it and try to keep from leaking your insides all over. They know of these things, have documented their existence and researched how to perform them. But, these are a people that looked at apes playing with fire and said "Neat." and then used the power of their minds to build the pyramids while a handful of them wandered over to the apes, slapped them, and took away fire for a few dozen years. 

Part of the explanation of this view of Elduman requires me to illustrate a divergence in what the game rules show/allow and what is in my head. Now, in my head, everyone that is a true Elduman lives in The Old Empire or Haven and is a Monk 20/Psion 20 with a dash of Gunslinger for those in Haven. Everyone that claims an Elduman heritage and doesn't live in Haven or The Old Empire (and isn't one of the Fallen) is an outcast, barely trained child, or an Elduman descended Uncout. The outcasts are strongly sanctioned against spreading the knowledge of psionics to non-Elduman, because Elduman are secretive and don't want anyone to even remotely come close to their level of expertise. In my head, everyone who is a true Elduman of Haven or The Old Empire is a powerful manifester of psionic might and is just bursting with psionic power and knowledge. Everyone else is basically just the equivalent of a wild talent that is unreliable and has no levels in a psionic class.

The rules don't let me show this really, because I like players to have options the not everyone has in the world in my head. So yeah, it's a game and sometimes it doesn't match what's in my head, I try (and occasionally succeed) to not let it drive me crazy.

One thing that occurred to me while typing all of this was that I've talked about technology advancing, and the ways it would intersect with sorcery and psionics. But how will psionics and magic evolve? As technology evolves, it generally becomes more powerful. What about psionics and sorcery?

One of the big penalties to the advancement of sorcery in Hekinoe is its unreliability. There are experimenter types in The Known World who are testing the field of magic and developing new spells and new ways of utilizing sorcerous power. Sometimes this works and you end up with the Soulless. Other times you end up with a hole in the ground, or in your head, or in reality. The problem with sorcery is that you can't be sure beyond a doubt that it fails because it won't work or because it misfires. Any sorcerer can willingly release his control over sorcery and cause it to misfire, and truly experienced casters (15th+ level) can tell the moment a spell misfires, but not everyone can sense it at all times. Most just understand that the wildly inappropriate effect means their spell misfired. So say you are a sorcerous researcher type trying to create a new spell or new method of enchanting or a more powerful form of casting and it doesn't work. You can't be sure the spell misfired or if you're doing something wrong. Granted, you can assume you did something wrong and prepare based on previous results, but that takes time, and there is a strong possibility you didn't survive the first attempt if it was in fact a misfire, so you may not be given the chance to try again. Maybe this seems like a small thing, but we're talking about forces that might just end up turning your bones to mush when they misfire. I imagine being boneless would make it hard to continue your research. So, magical research will continue to occur, but it isn't suddenly going to ramp up in power with every sorcerer being a demigod capable of dragging the sun out of the sky. One convenient way to handwave the advancement of sorcery is by saying that new spells from recently released sourcebooks is the result of the magical research occurring in the world. 

One of the big things about Elduman is their secretive nature. They don't share. They don't teach. They sit in their desert of crystal sand and stinging razor sharp winds, and act all psionic. They don't teach their fighting styles to outsiders and they keep their psionic knowledge on lockdown and will do so forever. If psionic research is occurring and succeeding in amping up power, the players won't know the specifics. Honestly, from the RP perspective, Donovan could be a really really old Elduman masquerading as a young Elduman so he can keep an eye on the outside world. For all Karrak, Eran, and Karl know, Donovan could be as powerful as Vanden or one of the Great Captains. Hell, he could be one of the seven Great Captains. For all anyone in The Known World knows, psionics are actually as powerful as the Gifts of Keroen Skathos and the Elduman have been playing dumb for 10003 years while doing crazy psionic things like creating alternate dimensions and setting themselves up as gods. There are lots of bits and pieces of secret info about Hekinoe. I'm not saying the last few sentences are part of that secret history, but I'm also not saying they aren't. 

So, in game terms, it's easy to represent advancing technology. You simply put the stuff in the world with the appropriate stats when necessary. How do we represent the advance of sorcery and psionics? Part of that is adding in new powers/spells from sourcebooks and such. On the psionic side, we can say Elduman are secretive all we want, but you can't account for every single Elduman in existence and even Elduman can fail their Will saves against sorcerous or psionic control. So knowledge inevitably spreads.

So as technology creeps along, how will sorcery and psionics do so? An idea I have is speeding up the advancement up the spell levels. So lets say your a level 5th Wizard has a 16 in Intelligence, which gives you a bonus 1st, 2nd, and 3rd level spell per day, but only if your level already allows you to cast spells of those levels. So our Wizard can cast 0, 1st, and 2nd level spells and normally he'd gain access to 3rd level spells at 6th level. This first step I'd take down the road of advancement in sorcery/psionics would be to let Wizards with bonus spells due to high Intelligence access their bonus spells per day 1 level before normal. So this 5th level Wizard has a bonus 3rd level spell he can use, but instead of waiting till 6th level, I let him use the single bonus spell at 5th. Normally, a Wizard gains 2 bonus spells he knows per level to indicate magical research done in his down time, but they have to be from levels he can cast. I think I'd allow this hypothetical Wizard to select a 3rd level spell when he hits 5th level if he wanted, just to continue with the theme. Plus, its no fun if all of a sudden you have the ability to cast third level spells, but now you have to find a fucking library or some shit so you can scribble down fireball or lightning bolt and add it to your spellbook. 

With psionics, I think I'd do something similar. I wouldn't change the power points psionics characters gain per level or increase their allotted number of known powers. I think I'd just slide the point they gain access to a new level of powers down by one, which is the equivalent of what I've done with sorcery in the previous paragraph. It's quick and easy and keeps a certain amount of equality between the two types of supernatural abilities. 

One other thought I have on the sorcery side is to leave the spell level advancement alone, but to add bonus spell levels every few levels or something. Like say you have have 5 of these bonus spell levels lingering around. You could memorize an extra 5th level spell, or five 1st level spells, etc. Or, you could memorize a 9th level spell, but apply a metamagic feat to it that increases the level of the spell. This is normally impossible for arcane casters because there is no spell slot higher than 9th to slide a spell with metamagic on it into. 

So yeah, just a few thoughts on psionics and technology and the advancement of psionics and magic. 

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