Sunday, May 6, 2012

Character Generation and Improvement in Psi World

A rare example of reverse-polarity Kirby dots.

Characters in Psi World are largely defined by six attributes: Strength, Agility, Dexterity, Endurance, Intelligence, and Will. Characters with psionics also have Psionic Power as an attribute. The starting values for each attribute range from two to twenty. The rules provide two methods for determining attributes: random and design. With the random method, players roll 2d10 six (or seven) times in order. With the 'design' method, players roll 2d10 six (or seven) times and assign the six (or seven) resulting numbers to the attributes as desired. So, in effect, the methods are 'random' and 'slightly less random.' Would a point allocation option be too onerous, if only for a player character whose attribute profile as rolled indicates a sub-average individual? In the second scenario in the adventure book, player characters as supposed to be “members of the Psionic Protection Agency (PPA).” When creating these characters, “[d]ue to the academics entrance requirements,” attribute values are determined by rolling 1d12+8. (Why not 2d6+8?)

Psi World uses percentile dice to resolve the success of various actions. Percentile 'attribute saving throws' are determined by multiplying the appropriate attribute value by four. There is no attribute saving throw for psionic power.  If a character rolls an attribute saving throw (other than Intelligence) and the unmodified result is less than or equal to half of the value of the attribute at issue, there is a chance to improve said attribute by one point.  The % 'chance of improvement' equals twenty-five minus the current attribute value.  Characters also receive a 'chance of improvement' by training a number of game weeks equal to the attribute's current value.  This method cannot be used to improve Intelligence or Psionic Power.  Attributes cannot be improved past a value of twenty-five and, according to an optional rule, characters with attributes over twenty must spend time practicing those attributes else their value will decline.

Characters receive modifiers based on their attribute values. For instance, 'initiative factor' is the average of Agility and Will. (In a given round, each character adds 1d6 to 'initiative factor' to determine the order of action.) Two modifiers, 'defense bonus' and 'bonus to hit,' mirror one another. Agility and Intelligence contribute to both. The bonus (or penalty) given by Agility is larger than that given by a comparable rating of Intelligence. The average of Dexterity and Intelligence is used to determine the damage bonus for projectile weapons while the average of Strength and Agility is used to determine the damage bonus for 'hand-held' weapons. The average of Will and Endurance is used to establish both 'shock resistance' and 'heal rate.'

What I find especially irksome is the method for determining hit points. The average of Strength and Will is added to Endurance. Half of this sum is the number of d3 rolled to determine base hit points. Base hit points are modified by low or high values of Strength, Will, or Endurance (attributes already present in the initial formula). The end result may not be favorable; according to page 4...

Note that any character with zero or less hit points after modification is considered to have died at birth. Roll a new character, and better luck next time.

How sad is that? Not even in Traveller can your character die at birth. Given that more than one d3 is rolled, the average of the combined total will be two. Why not just have Endurance plus the average of Strength and Will equal base hit points? For variation you could add a d6 or a d10 or something. Say goodbye to pesky stillbirths!

There are five 'tables' of skills: General, Technical, Military, Spacer, and Academic/Advanced. Characters can 'buy' skills from the General table and one other table determined by an 'educational background' roll. (Characters with a 'spacer' background have a “25% chance of one advanced education skill.”) The 'educational background' roll is modified by intelligence; non-psis receive an additional bonus. The skills in a given table are distinct from skills in other tables; however, there are approximations. For instance, First Aid is a General skill, Emergency Medical Technician is a Technical skill, and Nurse and Physician are Academic/ Advanced skills. Computer Programming must be purchased separately for each computer language. The computer languages in Psi World are: UBL (Universal Business Language), PRIMARY (simple beginning language), SILANG (Scientific Language), MILCODE (Military Code Language), and MECHLANG (Machine code, a 'family' of five groups; each group counts as a separate skill). Computer Repair must also be purchased separately for each group. The five Psi World computer groups are: (1) mini-computer and hand computer, (2) Mark I to Mark II, (3) Mark III to Mark IV, (4) Mark V to Mark VI, and (5) “special systems.” The rules do not specify what the different 'Marks' mean.

Player characters receive 4d10 points to acquire skills.  (For every five of these points, the character's starting age increases by one year.)  Skills are either 'non-level' or 'level.'  Non-level skills cost one point each – it is a matter of “either you have it or you don't” (example: Swimming).  For level skills, one point spent equates to a value of ten (example: by spending five points on Streetwise, the character gains 'Streetwise 50').

Through training, a character can learn new skills or improve the value of current skills.  Learning a new skill requires attending classes; the number of necessary classes is based on the skill's 'Level of Difficulty' (measured as 1, 2, or 3).  A LoD 1 skill can be learned in as few as twelve classes while a LoD 3 skill could take as many as eighty classes.  Improving a skill via training requires a number of classes based on the current skill value; the higher the value, the more classes are necessary.  Improvement, however, is not automatic.  After the required number of classes, there is a % chance equal to one hundred plus half of Intelligence minus current skill value.  If successful, a character increases the skill's value by 1, 3, 5, 7, or 10 by rolling 2d6 and consulting a table.  If a skill is successfully used in the course of an adventure, there is a % of improvement equivalent to that gained by training but with a bonus equal to the number of successful uses.

Skills can be 'mastered.'  Every time during an adventure when a character succeeds in a roll associated with a non-level skill, there is a 5% cumulative chance of mastering that skill.  For level skills, when a character achieves a value of 90, he or she can train others in that skill; a skill value of at least 100 allows a chance of “creative research or tackeling [sic] really tough problems.”

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