Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Mystic Powers Part 2 – The Rule Set

Last time, we talked a little about the source of mystical powers, developed a power modifier to make abilities part of the various mystical powers, and finally talked a bit about power talents. Today, we will continue working through GURPS Powers to develop a framework within which our powers will sit. This framework will describe how the power works, what special tricks it allows for, and any special limitations it may have.

Powers in Action

Just like last time, I will be going through the entire chapter bit by bit looking for possible rules that might be worth including.

Turning Abilities On and Off

Powers, p. 151-156

This section primarily gives further explanation of existing rules regarding turning abilities on an off, so we can skip 99% of this. However, it is worth considering Crippled Abilities (p. 156). Being able to disrupt a person’s chi or energy or whatever is a time honored trope in martial arts, and our mystical powers are at least loosely based on chi/ki/etc. However, we did say that one of the main tenets of mystical abilities is that they always work. Consequently, crippling abilities really doesn’t fit.

Success Rolls for Abilities

Powers, p. 157-161

This section begins by discussing the existing rules for success rolls necessary for certain abilities and different ways to add success rolls to abilities. This is all basic stuff that isn’t really worth mentioning for our current purposes, but the following sections are:

The Roll of Talent. This goes back to how we can make Talent more useful. The gist is that it would be appropriate to add Talent level to skills or rolls where a powers might come into play. I don’t think I will roll this into the individual talent descriptions, but I will include these effects in the write-ups for abilities. That will allow me to roll this in with any other bonuses that an ability might grant. Always try to make your rules read as simply and concisely as possible; it speeds up play.

Multiple Feats. Magic already suffers from this in the form of the -1 per active spell a caster suffers on casting rolls. It’s also fitting for psis to suffer this sort of drawback. Mystical abilities generally require a lot of concentration (hence the hours of daily meditation required by the power modifier!), and it gives a reason for running up Talents as high as possible. If we include passive abilities, though, this will lose some of its teeth and may become unwieldy (“How do we track all of this again?”). I think it’s worth tentatively adding for now; We can always prune it later.

Repeated Attempts. Both martial artists and psis tend to either succeed on the first attempt or generally not succeed at all. Of course, high drama often sees a last-ditch effort finally work, but generally, repeated attempts lead to ultimate failure. Is this how we see mystical powers working? It would fit with the source material that it mimics, but it potentially cuts down on the awesomeness quotient of the powers. I’m on the fence, so until a contrary reason arises, I’m ruling in favor of awesome. Repeated Attempts is out until it’s a problem.

Abilities and Exertion. Hack and slash games are resource management games. PCs have a limited amount of HP, FP, gold, etc., and they have to balance when to spend them and when not to. This makes the many things that can eat up those resources important to the game style and thus worthy of expanded detail. Abilities and Exertion expands the ways in which certain PCs can spend their precious FP, so I’m including it.

Trading Fatigue for Effect. While this does offer another way to spend FP and it would be fitting for this power, it could potentially make it unbalanced against magic and miracles. While yes, spells allow you to spend extra FP for additional effect, spells have a lot of ways they can go wrong: failure on a casting roll, resistance, etc. Mystical powers don’t necessarily have these, although we will have to make a decision on skill rolls for mystical powers later. If we do include those, I can see this being justifiable, and that might be a vote in favor of those rules, too. So for now, this will fall in the “maybe” pile and get pruned depending on what other rules we choose later.

With that said, we should take a look at just how to trade fatigue for effect. As it stands, doing so requires a Will roll based on how much the ability is being boosted, and the attempt costs a flat 1 FP. Since we are only going to include this if abilities require skill rolls to use, this means making two skill rolls for the attempt; this is redundant. So why not do this instead:

Trading Fatigue for Effect costs 1 FP per 5% increase in effect to a maximum of 3 x Power Talent Level. This would effectively cap the most FP spent at 18 and the largest possible increase at +90%. This carries a risk beyond possibly spending the FP for no special boost. Critical failure not only results in the ability failing for that use, but you have to roll against Will or have your entire power burn out for 1d seconds!

Trading Fatigue for Skill. I don’t think this isn’t particularly fitting for mystical powers. You are either good enough or you aren’t. Burning FP doesn’t feel like the right way to influence this, so that’s a nope. Notice, however, that I borrowed heavily from this in the above solution to Trading Fatigue for Effect: The penalty is essentially offset by Trading Fatigue for Skill and capped by Talent.

Using Abilities with Skills

Powers, p. 161-163

I have teased bits from this section a couple of times now, so finally we can look at where I think mystical powers will shine. Here is where they can offer abilities in a way that sets them apart from magic and miracles. I’ll admit I’m still a bit conflicted over the extent to which I want to include skills in mysticism, but it would certainly be fitting. What I may do is replace any existing success rolls for advantages with skill rolls that can be improved directly. Let’s see as we proceed.

Skills Enhancing Abilities. My immediate feeling is that this strays too far into the comic book side of things. Granted, hack-and-slash is often cheesy and light-hearted, so while I think this might be going too much, that’s really not my main concern. Primarily, I worry that this will slow down play while the GM and player hash out what they can do. One way around this would be to call out when an ability can enhance skills, which skills, and how, all within the ability’s description. This has the benefit of allowing an option that other powers don’t offer and keeping the rules as user friendly as possible.

Abilities Enhancing Skills. Just as above, this could be quite unwieldy if not handled well, but I definitely want to include this. The way to do it is to have a paragraph worth of text in the ruleset explaining how the success roll works, and then including a line in each ability entry that lists the skills it can boost and by how much they are boosted. That’s a pretty elegant solution that removes any need for discussion in the middle of play. Just roll and shout and enjoy the results.

Skills for Everyone. On a fundamental level, I think mystical powers should require training to be useful, but I think that this style of game would be hampered more than it is enhanced by making the PC roll for every ability. It also makes mystical powers more like spells built as advantages, which I don’t want. Mysticism should remain distinct from magic. Moreover, mystical powers are supposed to just work. Skill rolls to activate introduce an increased chance of failure. And lastly, some mystical powers – Lifting ST, Reduced Consumption, Recovery, etc. – should always be on. All of this comes together to mean that mystical powers won’t receive their own skills.

Power Techniques. Since there are no power skills, there are no power techniques, either, as a rule. I may break this rule when I get around to making power-ups for mystics, but that is kind of the point of power-ups – to break the rules. That said, even in those instances, power techniques will only apply to advantages that already have associated success rules that sometimes take penalties. For our purposes here, we will say this is not included.

Detecting Abilities

Powers, p. 163-164

This entire section concerns itself with how to detect abilities. There’s nothing here to consider adding to a ruleset so much as guidelines for how to deal with a situation that may arise. Something I do want to note here, since there really isn’t a better place to mention it, is that mystical powers should be subtle. This will likely mean a lot of abilities end up with Low Signature or No Signature.

Superhuman Abilities in Combat

Powers, p. 164-169

This section mostly concerns itself with how to handle various types of attacks. This is largely straight forward with some advice about how to handle some edge cases. Nothing here really belongs in a rule set for a power; it is too broadly applicable and can be referenced if such cases arise. Instead, we will look a few optional rules and special cases.

Collateral Damage. There are plenty of times when explosions and property damage are all that matter, but not here. Hack-and-slash is a combat-oriented style of play, so we should give combat detail. This makes collateral damage quite inappropriate.

Coordinated Attacks. These involve multiple people taking time to communicate their plans – preferably without tipping off the enemy – and favors those with similar powers. There are a few issues here that prevent this from making a good rule for mysticism. First, communicating nonverbally requires magic, telepathy, or gestures. The first takes time to pull off unless planned ahead of time. The last takes even more time and for teammates to look at you instead of who they are fighting. The middle requires mystics to take a telepathy power, which they might not want to do. All of this means that coordinated attacks aren’t fast, and GURPS combat generally lasts around 3 to 5 seconds – about as long as it takes to set up your coordinated attack!

The other issue is more fundamental. Hack-and-slash tends to include niche protection. This means that if you’re a mystic, you’re probably the only mystic in the group. This immediately removes any benefits from using similar powers, so that mitigation factor is just gone, and it isn’t coming back. Together, these mean that coordinated attacks don’t really belong in hack-and-slash as they currently exist in Powers. I may consider creating a power-up at some point based on this, but it won’t be restricted to just one power or source.

Ricochets. The nature of mysticism makes this a dubious choice to include. Mystical powers are subtle, and they don’t hurl projectiles or energy bolts around. They attack opponents through an invisible spiritual connection that doesn’t care about corners or walls or what have you. So the idea of bouncing such attacks off of things just doesn’t fit.

Defending with Powers. I am wary of granting extra active defenses, but there is some good stuff in here. I would be willing to entertain the idea of Power Defenses being an additional option for active defenses, but still maintaining the limit of one active defense per attack without All-Out Defense (Double). This has the advantage of giving more teeth to Power Talents and letting mystics play to their stronger attributes, since DX won’t necessarily be very high.

Looking at the suitability of individual Power Defenses, I’d say that Power Block definitely fits, and Power Dodge may be an option depending on which abilities get included. Power Parries look like their constraints will generally prevent them from working outside of mental battles. No matter what, it is getting included in some form in part, if not in whole.

Resisting Abilities. Most of this is general advice for how the rules in the chapter interact with resisting abilities, but I’d like to take a quick look at Trading Fatigue for Resistance. This optional rule would allow a mystic to trade up to 4 FP for a bonus to contested resistance rolls. This sounds fitting for the trope – a psi or chi master pouring his energy into his defenses against an attack. It also provides something else for mystics to spend a resource on. Let’s add it to our list of rules.

Talent as Resistance. Getting an additional bonus against other mystics using the power specific to your Power Talent is pretty narrow, and it follows the logic behind Power Block, so I don’t see how this will unbalance anything more than Power Block would. I think it’ll go in the keeper list for now. Pruning may see it dropped if it’s too narrow.


Powers, p. 170-174

This section covers a few major tricks people with powers might be able to pull off. Most of these are outside the scope of Magic or Miracles, so we might want to be careful rolling them into mysticism as is. Still, many of these be of some use in some way. Let’s take a look.

Combining Powers. As I mentioned before, a common trope of hack-and-slash is niche protection. This means that you won’t see a bunch of mystics in a party any more than you would see several clerics or a horde of wizards. Combining powers requires that everyone involved draw their powers from the same source; e.g., magic, the same god, nature, etc. This means that a party would need a bunch of mystics for this to be useful to mystics, and as we said above, this runs contrary to common tropes and expectations. Thus, we don’t really have to examine this much more deeply than this.

Temporary Enhancements. This option lets anyone adjust the enhancements on an ability on the fly. This is pretty potent and doesn’t cost any additional points, but it does have its drawbacks – time, a success roll, and FP cost. Again, I like the idea of giving people things to spend FP on, but this would give Mysticism a lot of versatility and require more adjudication during play – something that slows down game play. This suggests to me that a more controlled form of this might be better suited to the game, and I’m eyeing what we already did with Power Techniques. Essentially, if we use a combination of Power Techniques and Temporary Enhancements to create specific power-ups, that gives players predefined options they can spend points on without slowing down the game or vastly expanding what Mysticism might do. Because these will have to be purchased (probably built as a combination of Rules Exemption Perks and techniques), let’s not include them in our ruleset.

Using Abilities at Default. This rule lets a PC use advantages he doesn’t have if they are somehow related to abilities he does have, with several drawbacks. Again, this opens up the adjudication can of worms and greatly expands the versatility of Mysticism. Neither of these are plusses, and since this literally involves building a new ability to offer a use that wouldn’t otherwise be possible, I don’t see why this needs to be anywhere near our ruleset. In fact, I won’t even bother using this to make new power-ups, since power-ups can definitely be advantages that are related to a power. That all makes this pretty out of place and/or redundant for our purposes.

Source-Specific Rules

Powers, p. 174-178

While this section mostly just makes suggestions for which rules befit which sources, it also includes a handful of custom rules that are worth perusing. I’ll specifically mention those that seem of potential use to mystical powers and discuss each.

Chi Imbalance. This requires the chance of crippling a power, and we have already talked about why Mysticism cannot be crippled. As a result, this one really doesn’t fit at all.

Skill Use. This falls in line with Abilities Enhancing Skills (p. 161), and our decision there was to use it but incorporate its benefits into the individual ability descriptions. We will do the same thing here. We won’t substitute Power Blow for extra effort rolls, though, and since Mystical powers cannot be crippled, we don’t need to worry about Body Control or Meditation replacing HT or Will.

Targeting Chi Abilities. At first glance, I didn’t like this, but the more I read it, the more I think it would befit the Soul Mastery power. For that reason, I think including it might be a good idea. Most people won’t have Pressure Secrets to attempt this, but those who do will have a devastating trick they can use against mystics.

Faltering. Thematically, this doesn’t sound bad! Yeah, it references Crippled Abilities, but it replaces them with something that is kind of similar, but fitting. This means, we might want to go back to Skill Use, above, and substitute a Meditation roll for the Will roll here. That also gives Meditation some mechanical utility that it desperately needs in a hack-and-slash game. So I’d say this is in.

Brain vs. Mind. For this one to work, we need to reskin it as “Brain vs. Soul”, but let’s see where that takes us. This means that a mystic’s powers travel with his soul through projection, possession, etc. Since mystical powers come from the soul, brain damage really shouldn’t affect a mystic’s ability to use his powers beyond him remaining alive and conscious. Also, Targeting Chi Abilities, above, already covers a way to attack a mystic’s powers directly. This all seems reasonable, so let’s roll with it.

Summary and Comparison

To summarize, here are the rules options we are employing for Mystical Powers in the format that GURPS Powers does on p. 174-178.

Beneficial Options: Mystics are wise and knowledgeable individuals who can use Skills Enhancing Abilities (p. 162) and Abilities Enhancing Skills (p. 161) to get the most out of their skills. Defending with Powers (p. 167-169) and Talent as Resistance (p. 169) speak to the larger-than-life combat many mystical traditions are known for. Finally, tremendous efforts are integral to the idea of mystics, so it is only fitting to include Trading Fatigue for Effect (p. 160-161) and Trading Fatigue for Resistance (p. 169).

Limiting Options: Multiple Feats (p. 158-159) and Faltering (p. 177) are extremely appropriate given the intense mental focus needed to access and use mystical powers, and Abilities and Exertion (p. 159) represents the physical toll such concentration takes on the body. Mystical powers derive from the soul and not the brain, and Brain vs. Mind (p. 177) represents this well. Similarly, Targeting Chi Abilities (p. 175) allows those with special training to still disrupt a mystic’s connection to the collective soul of the world.

Comparing this write-up to those for Chi Powers and Psionic Powers, we find that it is about on par with Chi Powers in terms of benefits and restrictions. Psionic Powers have access to slightly more versatility in the form of Temporary Enhancements, but overall, they too are about on par. That’s good.

Next, let’s look at the other supernatural abilities in Starfall – Standard Magic and Divine Powers. If we consider what standard magic can do, we find that it is extremely versatile and provides for a form of Trading Fatigue for Effect. Moreover, increased skill results in greater effect and cheaper costs. It does lack the versatility of Temporary Enhancements and Using Abilities at Default, but so does Mysticism. Drawbacks include Mana Levels, being susceptible to anti-magic, Multiple Feats, and essentially Abilities and Exertion. Overall, this feels pretty balanced.

Similarly, Divine Powers have a wide range of abilities, but generally lack flexibility or the ability to boost them via Extra Effort. On the up side, they suffer fewer drawbacks – only Multiple Feats, Repeated Attempts, and a milder form of Fickle. On the surface, this seems fair, but we might end up tweaking our take on Divine Power at a later time. For now, I’m willing to call our Mystical Powers ruleset fair.

Implications for Power Talents

Having now examined all of the optional rules we will include in our Mystical Powers ruleset, we can return our attention to the Power Modifier and Power Talents. The former really isn’t affected by these rules, but the latter with worth a reexamination in this new light.

So just what does a level of Power Talent get you now?
  • +1 to resist other mystical powers.
  • +1 to use your mystical powers.
  • +1 to the cap on spending FP for effect.
  • +1/2 to Power Defenses.
  • +1 to up to five skills for [5/level], ten skills for [10/level], or fifteen skills for [15/level].

How does this stack up against existing talents? Well, usually, you get the included listed +1 to skills based on cost and +1 to reaction rolls from a group of people. The latter two bonuses are not included in the power talent. So let’s consider these benefits.

+1 to the cap on spending FP for effect. This isn’t really that major, since the ability to spend FP is already enabled for mystical powers. I’d call it a feature, at best.

+1 to use your mystical powers. Powers specifically says this sort of benefit can be added to any existing talent without affecting its cost, so I don’t see why I should worry about it.

+1 to resist other mystical powers. This is a relatively narrow bonus, so I don’t mind putting it on par with +1 to reaction rolls.

+1/2 to Power Defenses. This is bonus could result in active defense options like Power Block-14 or Power Dodge-14. That’s not amazing, but it’s not horrible, either. I’m not sure it’s really worth more than +1 to reaction rolls.

Considering all of this, I don’t think it’s really necessary to worry about increasing the price or decreasing the number of skills in a Power Talent at a given cost level. Keeping the cost as is, and including the skill bonuses might be a little cheap, but it should incentivize players to take multiple power talents, and that’s something I’d like to see happen.

Once I’m done working up these rules, I’ll be testing them by making a few characters and seeing what sort of breaks might exist. I suspect that will shake out any issues present in what I just decided for Power Talents. I’d love to get some feedback on this, though!

Next Time...

...we will assign traits to each power. This will mean going back to Choosing Abilities (Powers, p. 9-20), going over the various advantages in GURPS, and also visiting GURPS Power-Ups 2 - Perks to pick out suitable power perks for each power. Once this is finished, we can begin writing up individual abilities for each power, but that will be a thing for future posts.

In the meantime, I'd love to hear your feedback on the process so far. Do you agree with the decisions I've made so far? Did you spot anything I missed? Which power would you like to see abilities for first? Do you think this entire endeavor is silly? Chime in in the comments!

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