Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Force Powers

In preparation for meeting my old gaming group this coming January, I am once again trying to get some rules refined and grouped for mutual reference. Chief among these projects is the revamping of the Force Powers for the Star Wars D6 system. As the amount of source material for the game grew, so too did the list of powers. In many instances, I simply incorporated these powers as they were introduced, trusting that they had been adequately thought out and play tested for balance. I quickly found out that this was not the case (see my post on Enhanced Coordination for instance). More to the point, I began to notice a trend towards the more and more 'fantastic' Force powers. Creating and controlling gigantic storms that can devour entire starships? Creating illusionary copies of yourself? Generating energy shields around your body? Using the force to translate written text so you can read it? It all...started to just be too much for me. The Force was becoming more and more 'magical' and less and less like the movies. Even though my players really don't make use of any of the above powers, it still irks me a little that they exist.

So that brings me back to my current revamping. I am seriously cutting down on the number of Force Powers, while at the same time adding a few. The major guideline here is to keep the Force as close as possible to what we saw in the movies. There are exceptions to this rule, however, due to my own personal taste. In this post, I'll go through the list of what I'm keeping, and try to point out why I am. I may also point out a few omissions and discuss why it is those powers were excluded.

These were the powers we saw in the movies and that really seem to form the basis of the concept of what a Jedi is. I am ALMOST tempted to limit the powers in the game to just these, but...nah. I do like a little more variety. These core powers are as follows:

Absorb/Dissipate Energy
Shown in the scene where Darth Vader absorbed the energy blasts from Han's shots on Bespin. I've found it to be a pretty balanced power—its difficult to do versus blaster shots, as it should be, but can still be useful versus other thigns (Radiation, sunburn, etc.). It also makes sense based on the 'energy field' explanation of what The Force really is.

Affect Mind
This is a must have power. It's the 'These aren't the droids you're looking for' talent from the movies—used many times. It works well.

A troublesome power from a GM's viewpoint—as is anything that allows a person to see into the future. Luke used it on Dagobah and saw his friends being tortured on Bespin. The whole using it to see the past or present also seems to suggest it could be a form of clairvoyance...which makes it even MORE difficult to handle. But it IS shown in the movies. I tend to treat it more as a story element, giving the players possibly prophetic dreams or visions from time to time.

Force Leap
Many people seem to consider this just an aspect of Telekinesis—and I would agree that this would be the force to propel the Jedi, but it 'feels' better to me to have it in its own skill.

Force Lightning
THE signature Dark Jedi power. A must have for any Sith. And it also makes sense considering the 'energy field' aspect of the Force.

Force Sprint
This one was a surprise to me when I saw it in Episode I. And we never saw it used again in any of the other movies. Still, it makes sense in a toned down version—basically, it's just telekinetically enhanced running.

Life Detection/Life Sense/Sense Force
Each of these are different powers (and remain so in my game) but they all seem to mix together in the movies at various times. Yoda says that through the force you can sense living creatures. Ben and Vader sense eachother on the deathstar. Luke senses the darkness at the tree/cave on Dagobah. All examples of one or the other of these powers.

Lightsaber Combat
One of the most commonly seen powers in the movies—and the absolute CORE of the Jedi's powers.

Again, shown many times in the movies—and another cornerstone of the Jedi power. Also one of the more difficult powers to judge. It is one I am always wrestling with, because I do NOT want it to be turned into what it isn't in the movies. It shouldn't allow Jedi to 'fly' or rip Star Destroyers out of orbit, etc. etc.

Telekinetic Kill
Darth used this power EXTENSIVELY. Again, I could almost see it being just plain 'Telekinesis'. But it is distinct enough in my mind to warrant its own skill (just like Force Leap and Force Sprint)

Telepathy (Projective and Receptive and 'Beast Languages')
This is only shown ONCE in the movies (at the end of ESB) but it has evolved quite a bit in my campaign, to the point where I allow Telepathic folks to conduct conversations rather than just one or two word messages. Yeah, I know this is not what was shown in the movies, but...meh, I enjoy it, so I'm keeping it. At times, it seems the Jedi ARE able to 'read' people as well (or not—as in Yoda's inability to get a good read on just what Palpatine is thinking), so I buy into the receptive (mind reading) aspect of it as well.

These are powers which may be extrapolated from things we see in the movies, but are not implicitly demonstrated or pointed out. These include:

Control Breathing
I never mind powers like this that make sense and are 'useful' but not overpowering. This just lets you hold your breath for extended periods of time. End of story. It is debatable whether or not Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan used this power during their escape from the poison gas during Episode I. Some would say that was 'Detoxify Poison', but.. well, it's a toss-up.

Danger Sense
This one makes sense. Though (like many powers) never explicitly used, who's to say some of the Jedi's "I have a bad feeling about this" stuff wasn't Force based?

Instinctive Astrogation
Another power that may or may not have been shown in the movies—namely in the scene where Luke travels to Dagobah, stating to Artoo that he'd 'like to keep it on manual control for a while'. As X-Wings supposedly do not have navigation computers (according to the RPG) this would seem to support this power's existence. I'm a bit iffy on it, but again, it isn't an unbalancing or completely oddball power, so I'm willing to go with it.

This is a group of powers that are never shown in the movies, but sound plausible based upon the Jedi's 'mind over matter' philosophy and training. If you buy into that, then most of these powers make sense. If not, then you may want to exclude them.

Accelerate Healing
It doesn't miraculously cure injuries—rather, it is just a meditation that helps a body's own systems work better. Works for me.

I include this power in this category because it is essentially a modified use of 'Control Pain'. It is well explained as being able to escape bonds by 'contorting in painful (but physically possible) ways. That right there makes the power plausible for me and not 'magical'.

Control Disease
Again, makes sense if you consider it as focusing the body's natural immune systems—not just 'magically curing' an ailment. Could help explain Yoda's longevity.

Control Pain
The ability of a Jedi to focus on the task at hand, unclouded by other things (like emotion) seems to suggest they may also have the mental discipline to ignore pain. Works for me.

Detoxify Poison
Though I've enjoyed using this in my campaigns, the more I think about it, the less I like it. It's another of the 'body control' powers, but a bit less believable in my book. With control disease, at least, you're using the bodies own systems to fight. With this, it is more vague—are you actually altering the molecular structure of the poison to make it inert? are you creating anti-venoms in your blood? What? It is... iffy, but.. well it's mostly used in my campaign to resist alcohol. Not terribly unbalancing there.

Hibernation Trance
A very 'zen' power—and if you buy into the mind-over-body thing, then it makes sense and doesn't seem too physically implausible.

Remain Conscious
Mind over body, pure and simple. Ignoring injury and pain to keep going. Makes sense.

Remove Fatigue
Mind over body again. Makes sense again.

All of the powers under this category seem to be either related to the above powers or are somewhat plausible in their own right. I allow the use of them in my campaign, but often have to put some restrictions on just how they're interpreted as opposed to the somewhat vague explanation given in the source material.

Dim Other's Senses
Another very iffy power. Some folks point to the whole Ben Kenobi being able to move unseen through the Death Star (despite being old and somewhat clumsy) as multiple uses of this power. I can buy it as a simplified use of 'Affect Mind', but even remains troublesome for me.

The more I think about this power, the less I like it. The idea of being able to go into a trance and empty your mind—becoming more focused and 'zen'...that works. But the whole game mechanic of adding 6 to ANY Force skill roll for a time after its use is...well, it just seems 'cheap' to me, like an extra bonus for no real effort. Sure, at low levels a PC may get 'stuck' in their trance, but at higher levels it is just an almost free bonus. No sir, I don't like it.

Enhance Attribute
In a way, this kind of works into the 'mind over matter' philosophy. Maybe it's just using the Force to physically enhance things: bolstering strength or agility, etc. But again, it seems almost to be a super-power, and I don't much care for that.

Enhance Coordination
I've talked about this power in other posts. I won't elaborate here. It works if you revamp it.

Force Harmony
This lets light-side Force users combine their powers to resist the affects of dark side powers used against them. It makes sense and doesnt' seem unbalanced. All the same, it hasn't been used much by my players. Odd.

Force of Will
I like...and dislike this power. It makes sense to be able to focus your will to resist force powers being used against you, but I am not sure of the game mechanics behind it.

Magnify Senses/Shift Senses
Though I at first loved this power, I am a little more leery of it now from a 'realism' aspect. Just how does this work physically? Does it create a force energy 'lens' in front of your eyes to help better focus them? Does that 'lens' alter in order to allow the user to see into the infared spectrum? Or does it simply 'tune into' the natural energys (sound waves, lightwaves, etc.). If it's the latter, then...maybe I don't feel quite so bad about it.

Merge Senses
As describe, this power involves being able to 'see through the eyes' of an animal. It makes sense as a form of Telepathy, actually. Though it implicitly says it can only be used on animals, I wonder why not on sentients?

This is a cool power. But I'm still not sure I like it. As presented, it seems to be simply a modified use of Farseeing. Still, it can be very unbalancing if not carefully thought through. It seems almost like a 'cheat' way to solve mysteries. But at the same time, if you're very picky about what can be 'read' for impressions of the past, then it can work—by offering hints rather than simply revealing everything.

Predict Natural Disaster/Weather Sense
Meh. Neither seems to be particularly useful. But on the flipside, both seem somewhat plausible and not at all unbalancing. Why not.

Short Term Memory Enhancement
This is an oddball. It really doesn't seem to relate to any other powers—or maybe its just another version of Farseeing. If viewed in that light, I can understand and accept it—using the Force to 'go back in time' in your own mind and relive/review previous events.

Transfer Force
To me, this is at once a very cool and cinematic and also very...'magical' (which I dislike). Essentially, this is a power that lets a Force user give part of their life force to stabilize someone who is dying. It...kind of makes sense if you buy into the 'will to live' metaphysical stuff. It is also another way for players to spend their Force hell, why not.

These are powers that enhance a Jedi's already formidable combat abilities. As such, they are suspect to me. And yet, they have their redeeming qualities and perhaps make sense based upon what we see in the movies.

Combat Sense
This one was a little iffy, as you cannot really point to it being used in the movies. But at the same time, its relatively balanced. It can only be used versus a limited number of foes, and if your opponent is a Force user, they can essentially negate the bonus by using their own Combat Sense.

Force Wave
This is essentially area-effect Telekinesis, used for shoving folks around. I honestly feel this would belong under TK rather than being its own skill, but.. I don't know. Still thinking.

Martial Arts
It seems to make sense that if a Jedi can use the force to enhance his abilities with a lightsaber that the same might be true with hand to hand combat. This was shown in the Clone Wars cartoons in a scene where Mace Window takes on a bunch of battle droids. It works pretty much like lightsaber combat (i.e. add Sense to your attack/defense roll and control to your damage), but it doesn't allow the deflecting/reflecting of ranged attacks. I would, however, allow it to be used to safely parry melee attacks—though perhaps not lightsabers.

Projected Fighting
This is essentially punching people with Telekinesis—i.e. using your brawl skill at range. I hesitate to allow this power, because it almost seems to take the place of Telekinesis. I will have to think on this a lot more.

Melee Combat
Lightsaber combat without the lightsaber. This makes a lot of sense, actually. It would function just like lightsaber combat, only a Force user would wield a conventional melee weapon instead. Again, the ability to parry ranged attacks would be limited (or eliminated).

Many of the Darkside powers listed in the various sourcebooks seem to be just variations of existing powers. Some make more sense than others. Since I do not allow PC Dark Side Force users in my campaign, I don't really have as many issues with these powers, as I know I will not 'abuse' them.

Aura of Fear/Cause Fear/Waves of Darkness
This is just Affect Mind by another name in my book. Only as listed it is an 'area effect' type thing (the Aura anyway). I can see allowing this.

Control Mind
This seems to be a natural extension of Affect Mind. Overall, I like it.

Drain Attributes (Darkside Web)
I can see this as somewhat viable—if explained as leeching energy from someone else.

Drain Life Essence
This is like a large-scale version of the above—feeding off the energies of an entire population of people. The difficulties involved, however, seem to suggest only the biggest bad guys could get much use out of it.

Drain Will
Again, I can see this. Picture a Dark Jedi monologuing prior to a fight—but underneath the words, he is secretly trying to erode his opponent's will to resist. Heh, in fact, it makes the monologuing have a point for Dark Side villains.

Feed on Dark Side
This gives a darksider the a Force point for each Darkside point he goads someone else into using. Fun stuff, and you know...maybe this WAS shown in the movies, in RotJ where the Emperor finally got Luke to try and kill him.

Force Storm
This one is a bit much—even if I did allow it in my campaign. It is so difficult as to preclude it's use by all but the more powerful bad guys. Still, I don't think I'd use it again if given my druthers.

Inflict Pain
If you buy into the fact that a Force user can control pain, I don't see why the opposite can't be true. In fact, the idea of causing pain without physical injury is very insidious. Good stuff.

This power I have a problem with. It is easier and more powerful than either Force Lightning of Telekinetic Kill. I guess it has the restriction that you have to be 'touching' the individual, but that just seems odd in and of itself, since most other powers can be used at any distance with a good enough roll. The more I think about it, the less I like it.

Memory Wipe
Another seeming use of Affect Mind or perhaps Telepathy or both. Not a bad dark side power. Some might argue it could be used for good, but I'm of the opinion that purposefully reshaping another person's mind can open a whole pandora's box of how far do you go.

This is the Dark Sider's version of emptiness—a trance they go into that gives them bonuses for a time afterwards. Unlike emptiness, however, this power has a check and balance. When the Rage bonus subsides, the user actually takes physical injury from it.

Transfer Life
A very creepy power that is balanced by the extreme difficulty involved in using it. It adds a great 'possession' aspect to the powerful Dark Jedi's repertoire.

These are the powers that I flat out despise and think are stupid and 'magicky'.

Force Shield
While I buy into the 'energy field' aspect of the Force, I draw the line at actually being able to generate a force-field around yourself that can defend against all kinds of attacks. Such a thing would completely overtake the whole 'Absorb Disspiate Energy' power and seems to be designed simply to make Jedi even MORE tough in combat.
Reduce Injury
A force power designed simply to facilitate a game mechanic. Just how in the hell would a Jedi 'train' to opt to have his hand chopped off instead of being outright killed. It makes no sense and again seems to be designed to give the Jedi even MORE ability to survive combat. Like they need it.

Resist Stun
This is essentially raising a shield that prevents ANY stun damage from affecting a character. Why? I don't know. I just lump this under 'control pain' and 'remain conscious'—and do not allow the power to be kept up—otherwise, it is just like raising a 'force field'—which I don't like.

Right. Because the Force somehow allows a character to read a language they never saw before- or understand and speak a language they've never heard. I could see this as an aspect of telepathy (in regard to understanding the meaning behind someone's spoken words), but yeah.. not its own skill and certainly not something that is as (relatively) easy to use as this one.

There are some powers that seem to make sense based upon what we've seen Jedi do in the movies, and what we may accept them doing (like the 'zen' powers). But overall, I'm iffy on allowing them, because they make things more 'magicky' than I want.

Cryokinesis and Pyrokinesis
Both of these seem to be a specialty of Telekinesis, whereby you are either exciting or slowing down the activities of molecules in a subject—thereby freezing or heating them up. I can see where it makes sense, but I do not like the idea of fire and ice wielding Jedi :P

This is something I'm just now experimenting with—and I got the idea from the Clone Wars cartoon where an Ithorian Jedi uses a 'sonic blast' to attack his enemies. Based upon the Ithorian's supposedly powerful voice, and the fact he was a Jedi, I can see the logical of having that natural volume 'force amplified'. However, I wouldn't want to see everyone be able to use that power. Likewise, for the Tusken Jedi in my group, I gave him a special Telekinesis power called 'Sandstorm', which allows him to pick up sand/dry dirt/etc. and blanket an area with whipping winds and particulates that obscure vision and cause distraction. I like this idea thus far, but would definitely want to keep it limited—i.e. each person MIGHT have one 'special' power based upon their background or species, but they would not be universal.

Anyway, I'm sure I've left something out. But these are my thoughts thus far as I proceed with the project.

1 comment:

  1. Had a couple of thoughts as I was reading through this. Two in particular I guess I'll comment on:

    1) Translation: If you think of the Force as being 'intelligent' (and they speak of the Will of the Force in the movies), then this power starts to make some sense as the Jedi could call upon the 'old knowledge' of the Force (kinda like a mixture of telepathy and clairvoyance/farseeing) to understand a dead or simply unknown language. If you just consider the Force to be an energy field, then yes, it makes no sense.

    2) Cryokinesis and Pyrokinesis: I agree that not every Jedi shouldn't be running around with these, but I think they would make really cool story element if done right. Perhaps there is a race (or a pair of opposed races?) whose Force Users are naturally pyro- or cryo-kinetic and the players need to find a way to fight these new powers, or possibly aid one race against another, or whatever. The problem I see with it being offered to players, though, is that it would be like telekinesis in that it's more of a power category than one single power. For instance, with Pyrokinesis, you could potentially raise someone's body temperature, very subtly causing them harm (fever which leads to passing out and eventually brain damage), or you could sling a jet of flame at them, or you could cause grenades/Thermal Detonators to potentially explode, or you could maybe heat their weapons to the point where they can't hold onto them anymore, cook food, weld metal, etc. Lots of uses. I think they would almost need to be defined as power categories with defined 'subpowers'. BUT, if they're just a story element for some NPCs, you can avoid all this and just let the NPCs do what's cool. You'd have to give some thought to these things before the adventure, but it would be a lot less trouble than defining them as player-available powers. You might also have to come up with a reasonable explanation of why the players can't learn these powers. Still, I think the players getting involved in a war between pyro- and cryo-kinetics might be a fun story idea that lets the players deal with Force Users that aren't the same old lightsaber-wielding bad guys they're used to.