Serendipity or coincidence, but today’s PostGygaxian entry has moved me to contribute to the great unwashed Internet hive-mind. Last night, while making pizza, my son asked me what we were going to do after dinner. We’d already agreed to move “No TV Tuesday Night” to Monday night (last night), because Tuesday (today) is Shrove Tuesday and we have a Mardi Gras party to attend.
“What are we going to do after dinner?”
“Well,” thinking as I kneaded pizza dough, “I’ve been thinking about gluing those Templar knights to their horses.”
“What about that campaign we started a while ago,” he rejoined, “the psionic campaign that we were working on.”
“Oh. Sure. We could have a psionic combat.”
“A psionic combat?”
“Sure. We each pick a monster with psionic abilities and have them fight. Just to test the system.”
We agreed and ate, cleaned up, and then got the gear, trundling The Monster Manual, The Fiend Folio, and Monster Manual II from the living room’s gaming shelf. He started searching while I flipped through the DMG and the PH, realizing that I only had the loosest idea of how to run psionic combat. I knew that the attacker’s Attack Mode was compared against the defender’s Defense Mode, and something happens. No dice are cast, unless an attacker selects Psychic Crush, which has a percentage chance to just kill the defender with a massive overload of the defender’s synapses. I knew that, but needed to refresh.
It was a quick read, and only mildly complicated by the different terminology for the same thing. The Players Handbook’s “Psionic Ability” is called “Total Psionic Strength” in the Dungeon Masters Guide, which is unfortunately similar to “total attack strength”, another necessary number that has to be differentiated from the former term. I know the books were written a couple years apart, but couldn’t Mr. Gygax have at least kept a copy of the Players Handbook open while he was hammering away at the DMG? The descriptions of the attacks and defenses are odd, too, and I wondered what they were even doing in a book aimed at the Conan/Fafhrd/Cugel the Clever crowd. “Ego Whip incessantly pounds the defender with feelings of worthlessness and inferiority.” Really? How Hyperborean.
Keeping my thoughts to myself, my son picked an abolith, some Lovecraftian giant fish with tentacles, “because it was right in the front of the book,” and quickly skimming The Fiend Folio I choose a death slaad, a gray-skinned bipedal frog, mostly because it seemed comparable to the abolith. Pencils in hand we selected attack and defense modes, shouting them out – “I use Id Insinuation!”,”I use Mind Blank”, “Your mind had been blank all day!” – cross referenced them, subtracted the cost of using them, subtracted the “damage” that the attack did from the other’s defense, then added the current attack strength to the current defense strength to achieve a new Total Psionic Strength, which should have been called Psionic Ability to keep it all clearer. Then we did it all over again.
One round, then two, no wait, one segment, then two, three, and more. Psionic attacks are quicker than regular attacks; the jury is still out if they are cooler. Even with fewer attack choices the abolith soon had the upper hand, primarily because it had a higher Psionic Ability to start, 250 to the Death Slaad’s 207. Oh, by the way, Psionic Ability is the combination of Attack Strength and Defense Strength. 207 is an odd number, Mr. Gygax. Okay, okay. I’ll stop. Within seven segments the abolith had blasted through the slaad’s defense points and started to hammer away at the slaad’s attack points. At round . . . grrr. segment eight the slaad only had enough points left to make a weak psionic attack, Brainy Nose Pick, which did no damage to the abolith’s defense points. With no defense points or attack points left, the slaad suffered actual damage from the abolith’s Id Insinuation attack, reducing its hit points.
“So, these two things are standing there staring at each other doing this,” my son scrunched up his face and twitched it back and forth, “and then one of them starts taking damage?”
“I guess,” I said.
“What does that look like,” he said.
“I guess they stand there looking at each other, squinching up their faces, and then blood starts shooting out of the slaad’s ears like a geyser until his head explodes.”
“Cool.” You gotta love a twelve-year-old.
Which is exactly what happened, and in segment nine the abolith’s psionic attack against the psionically defenseless death slaad killed it. Was it fun? It is always fun hanging with my son, so sure. Would I regularly enjoy psionic combat? Don’t know. Would I enjoy a second set of psionic combat. Maybe, but there has to be a better way to do it. Hmmm. I doubt there is a point to thinking about updating AD&D’s psionic combat, but most of the things I think about don’t have a point. That’s the beauty of it.
Happy Mardi Gras!