Saturday, March 26, 2011

Thought Exercise: A Psionic Fantasy World...

Good Morning, All:

For those that know me, you are likely aware that I feel that psionics does not have a place in my fantasy games. (As an example of how much I feel psionics does not belong in my campaign worlds, the goddess of dreams and the mind is the one that dies to form the Madlands, as opposed to the Shieldmatron in the Hammersong's Legacy campaign setting I published last year.) My position on the subject is that, for me, psionics is much better as a source of special abilities in sci-fi games, while magic fills the same role in fantasy campaigns. However, I can think of one possible situation in which I'd be okay with the concept: what if psionics were the only source of special abilities in the campaign? Any cleric with "divine gifts" is simply a psion working for a religious organizations. Any mage with "arcane powers" is simply a psion with a ritualistic approach to tapping into his own mental abilities. Such a setting would work well using the Traveller rules, the D20 System rules (such as the Third Dawn Campaign Setting by Dreamscarred Press), or my gaming group's current favorite rules system, Savage Worlds.

With the possibly that, like the less powerful wish spell, the wording of the Rite of Worldly Transformation could potentially be perverted, the fact that it could result in a psionic fantasy world came to mind. In order to prepare for that possibility, I thought I would engage in a thought exercise exploring the concept, and since I'm blogging today, you guys get to come along for the ride.

Character concepts are always a big consideration for me when crafting a new setting, and this would be no different. Since we won't have the traditional roles from a D&D-esque game, my thought is to fall back on the three generic class concept first introduced in 3E Unearthed Arcana: warrior, expert and adept. (This is the same concept that was picked up and expanded by the True 20 system by Green Ronin.

The role of warriors in such a setting would not change dramatically. You'd still have knights, soldiers, gladiators, swashbucklers, woodsman, etc., none of which would be impacted by the lack of magic or the presence of psionics. Class concepts that touched on magic (such as the fighting man/magic-user concept behind the sorcerer or the fighting man/cleric concept behind the crusader in Hammersong's Legacy) would have to be changed in light of the presence of psionics (perhaps a warrior/adept concept inspired by the Jedi of Star Wars fame, or the more mystical monk class from 1E and 3E).

Experts would also be unchanged, such as rogues, sages, assassins, and aristocrats, as they are largely uninvolved with magic. Again, multi-class concepts such as seekers (a rogue/cleric) or dungeoneers (the rogue/magic-user class from Hammersong's Legacy) would have to be modified or redesigned, replacing magical power with psionics (and I don't have any examples of this, so I'd likely spend some time coming up with ideas here.)

Adepts, or psions, would be what gives such a setting its more unique flavors. Looking at the classic types of psionic powers defined in roleplaying games, we can see a number of potential roles emerge. Those talented in clairsentience would like fill the same roles as diviners and oracles within the culture of our psionic world. The psychokinetic or telekinetic types serve in much the same manner as force mages, and with some cultural emphasis, I'd probably make them my go-to specialization for a warmage role, as they replace the damage capacity of evokers. Psions specializing in psychoportation or teleportation would probably create a cultural role that promotes high speed movement and transportation. Psychoportive cat burglars are also a good concept for mystical rogue types (hmmm, sounds like my first volunteer for an expert/adept multi-class concept). Telepathic psions would replace enchanters and interrogators in the world. Empathic healers would provide healing and some of the basics previously given by clerics. I'm sure that, depending on the system and the list of powers I made available to psions, I could come up with other specializations, and that's without even considering 3E core classes and prestige classes for additional concepts for potential addition.

The monsters of the setting would lose any obviously magical abilities that did not duplicate psionics, unless a psionic equivalent could be found. (For example, creatures that turn a foe to stone may instead simply paralyze them or stun them into unconsciousness.) This would lend itself well to a subtle shift in flavor that would make for distinctive gaming experiences, and emphasize the new setting. That's always a big plus in my book.

Races would not need to change as much. If they did, I'd be more for limiting them to human and possibly a few psionic races instead of keeping the wide plethora of races available that would be found in a magical fantasy world. Then again, you could always just get rid of the more magical races and replace them with a psionic equivalent.

Okay, by running through this basic thought exercise, I can now envision a fantasy game using psionics instead of magic, and I think I could be happy with that. It has enough diversity to let me players find enjoyment with it, and yet there's enough similarities to previous gaming experiences that the concepts aren't alien to them. That promotes connections and provides springboards for expanding on the gaming experience of the players. I wouldn't have to worry about the typically unbalanced nature of psionics versus magic found under most rules systems, and it's something I could port over into a science fiction campaign if I wanted to use it later.

Yes, This Has Potential,


Stephen said...


I'm with you in general. Psionics belong on non-Fantasy genres because Magic covers all the bases. In RoleMaster (back in the Eighties-Early Nineties) used to split the difference through Mentalism magic, weaker, Psionic-like powers which used the caster as the power source instead of the universe (Essence) or gods (Channeling).

But Psionics fits perfectly in d20 Modern (Firestarer, The Fury, Scanners) and d20 Future (Babylon 5, the Black Hole).

Keep gaming on! I'll send you a more direct e-mail request for something on my site.

NetherWerks said...

Jean Lorrah wrote a very good series of books about clashing Psionics/Magic systems in the early Eighties. The first book is The Savage Empire. You might find some inspirations there. There is also the Deryni series, but I haven't personally read those yet.
A psionic fantasy world can work just fine. Looking forward to where this concept takes you...