Saturday, June 30, 2012

Happy Birthday Pat Pulling!

Image appropriated from The Escapist
Suicide isn't funny and it's tragic when a mother outlives her child. This post isn't meant to belittle Patricia Pulling; however, the notion that role-playing games are part of a vast Satanic conspiracy is ludicrous and Pulling's birthday affords your humble host the opportunity to reminisce upon her effect on society and on our hobby.

Birthday Girl *
Pulling's son – Irving ”Bink” Pulling – killed himself in 1982 at the age of 16. Evidently, Bink was a troubled young man; Pulling's attorney said that Bink's “severe emotional distress” was known to school officials.  When tragedy strikes, an attempt to rationalize events is only human.  Pulling felt 'guilty' that she did not realize Bink's predicament (but somehow expected school officials to know) and Bink used Pulling's own gun to kill himself.  Pulling wanted (perhaps psychologically needed) a reason for Bink's death, so she attributed it to D&D.  Bink played D&D at his high school and Pulling maintained that he killed himself because of a “curse.”

Lawsuits that Pulling filed against the school's principal and TSR were dismissed, but Pulling forged ahead with her crusade.  She established BADD (Bothered About Dungeons & Dragons) to disseminate information about the dangers of role-playing games and the insidious pathway to Satanism they provided.  She ”educated” law enforcement organizations and even served as an expert witness in court cases.  This is distressing in that much of Pulling's information was inaccurate or misleading.  The dubious nature of Pulling's assertions was explored in detail by Michael Stackpole in his The Pulling Report.

Eventually, Pulling's influence waned.  Nowadays, D&D and other role-playing games are generally perceived as an innocuous – yet dorky – cultural phenomenon.  Still, the specter of human ignorance occasionally rears its ugly head and when someone who has played Dungeons & Dragons goes off the deep end, D&D is imagined to be a causative factor rather than an incidental one.

The Escapist hosts a BADD published booklet aptly named Dungeons and Dragons.  Whether or not it's a misprint, my favorite part is a quote on page 4, “I can almost see the orcas chasing after me...”

In 1988, Pulling claimed that 8% of the residents of Richmond, Virginia were Satanists.  From that time to when your humble host moved to Richmond, the Satanic population must have declined precipitously; either that or the devil-worshipers around here are remarkably low key.

Had she not passed away in 1997, Pulling would be sixty-four years old today.

*  For the record, I obtained Pulling's picture from some Italian blog.

nota bene:  No Satanists were harmed during the writing of this post.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Interview with Mark Acres

He knows your name.
You don't.

He knows where you are.
You don't.

He knows what you have done, and why you must die.
You don't.

For a gamemaster, the only mystery is what his players are going to do.  He knows everything else he needs to know; it's his world after all.  With Sandman, published by Pacesetter in 1985, things were different.  The identities of the characters as well as the identity of the main antagonist, the Sandman, were unknown.  The gamemaster (known as the Storyteller) and the players were supposed to piece together clues provided among a series of Sandman installments.  A $10,000 prize was offered to the first person who could provide the solution.  Alas, Pacesetter went out of business and only the initial installment (Map of Halaal) was published.

I contacted Mark Acres, one of the designers, and he graciously agreed to an interview via electronic correspondence.  It so happened that during my communications with Acres, Goblinoid Games announced the acquisition of the rights to Sandman.  The game is now available, in PDF form, for less than $6.

So, without further ado, I present the interview.

Thoul's Paradise: The rights to Sandman have been acquired by Goblinoid Games. They have made the game available in electronic format and are considering a reprint and “future expansions.” Are you surprised at the interest in Sandman after 27 years?

Mark Acres: Well, I'd say I'm gratified at the interest in Sandman after 27 years. It was a groundbreaking product in several ways, taking role playing games in the direction of more pure interactive storytelling and away from complex game mechanics. It was also an experiment in role playing in a surreal world made up of seemingly random (but secretly structured) elements of popular culture from the 1930's up until the mid-80's, when Sandman was published. 
           Of all my published works, which include 14 books and more than 80 role playing products, I am personally more proud of Sandman than of anything else I have done. 
           Surprised? Sure - but gratified.

TP: The designer's notes say that you (i.e., Pacesetter) debated as to whether Sandman “qualifies as a role-playing game...or whether it is a close relative, totally new.”  In fact, the term 'role-playing game' does not appear anywhere on the box; instead we see the terms 'Instant Adventure' and 'A Dramatic Entertainment Game.'
           Your target audience was certainly not limited to experienced role-players.  In fact, the whole point was to allow people to partake in the more creative aspects of role-playing with as little as possible of the technical 'baggage' associated with traditional RPGs.  What sort of audience were you aiming for, given the $10,000 contest, the box design, and whatever other marketing efforts you implemented?  Ultimately, were you attempting to bring people into the traditional RPG hobby or were you attempting to establish a distinct Dramatic Entertainment / interactive storytelling game paradigm? 

MA: I can't speak for the entire Pacesetter team back then, but I personally had always thought that role playing would be a much better experience the closer it moved to an interactive story-telling process. After years of listening to debates about the effects of magic spells on THACO and whether or not a 17th level Bard should be able to do so such and such, I realized that the the times players really remembered, really savored, and really cared about, were the key story telling moments - not being right about the time required to swing some arcane medieval weapon. 
           In fact, building on that insight, in my own role as a gamemaster I began to dump tons of rules in favor focusing on the dramatic situation and genuine character development through tough decision making rather than the traditional forms of “advancement.” I didn't tell my players this; I just took over rolling the dice and before long I wasn't even paying attention to what I rolled - I went with the flow of the story at that instant to make it exciting and challenging. 
           I can remember times when I was running a Gangbusters RPG campaign with 30 or more players all playing at the same time - and they all came week after week after week - these were TSR designers and editors - because it was fun. I can remember several saying it was the best role playing experience they ever had. 
           So I think I was very committed to changing the paradigm for this type of entertainment. 
           And it was my hope that a product like Sandman could vastly expand the audience for this type of entertainment. 

TP: The Map of Halaal adventures include easily recognizable elements of movies, literature, mythology, and – as you say – pop culture.  I would think that this allowed inexperienced players to more readily relate to (and interact with) the fictional setting; yet at the same time – as you also say – it was “a surreal world.”  Was there a concern that the more surreal portions of the plot (e.g., The Enchanted Theater in Adventure Three and Dionysus' transformation in Adventure Four) might be off-putting for players, new or experienced? 

MA: An interesting question about the surreal elements being “off-putting.” I believe that at that specific time, surrealism was a strong element in popular culture, especially in film. I know at the time we didn't worry about that question at all. I do know we very much wanted players to have a sense of wonder or even awe in those sections of the adventure- although awe was probably too much to shoot for. 

TP: Sandman is limited to three players at maximum (excluding the Storyteller).  I perceive this is a drawback.  What was the rationale for this limitation?  Did the amount of props and cards necessary for each player preclude more than three players? 

MA: Our data at the time indicated that adult gamers often had trouble coming up with more than four players. We thought a four player story telling game would be ideal. 

TP: One of the ‘new player friendly’ aspects of Sandman is the absence of a character sheet.  In fact, character creation consists of the Storyteller describing the introductory scene.  Representation of a player character (other than in the Storyteller’s notes) is limited to skill cards and, possibly, item cards and props.  With regard to character advancement, characters may gain new skills or improve existing skills.  Since the adventures can be played in any order, isn't there the potential for characters to be 'overpowered' for a given adventure? 

MA: Aha! Great question! Therein lies part of the challenge of the design. To be honest, we never intended for there to be character “death” in the usual sense. I can't remember all the rules right now and don't have a copy handy - but I believe the intention was that the worst that would really happen is that a character would lose some skills and come back sans their accomplishments. After all, given the solution of the mystery, that would be logical. 

TP: When you say, “given the solution of the mystery, that would be logical,” are you suggesting that the 'dead' character enters the waking reality, but may participate in future adventures as a result of resuming sleep and entering a new dream? 

MA: No - not that exactly. Can't say much more without giving it all away. 

TP: If the world is not yet ready for the secret of the Sandman, perhaps you can tell us a little about some of the adventures for the installments that were never published? 

MA: I would love to; however, I am not free to do so. The copyright is now held by Dan Proctor and so both the secret and the unpublished material are legally his to dispose of as he sees fit. 

TP: My last question is hypothetical.  Let's say that – for whatever reason – Sandman had not been published in 1985, but that you had an opportunity to publish it for the first time now, in 2012.  Today's world is different and today's role-playing games are different.  Would you want to release Sandman now?  If so, what – if anything – would you change about the game or the marketing of the game?  Would you offer the same cash prize or would you use that money to promote the game in a different way?

MA: I think if I were doing it today, I wouldn't call it a role playing game, for starters. Instead, I would market it as an interactive story game. I think I'd include much more artwork to go with the adventures, including old movie stills and full color art; perhaps character portraits, and perhaps some kind of board to focus player's attention. I would keep it small - three or four PC's tops, with one storyteller. All in all I'd want to market it as more of a Euro-type game product. And of course marketing is totally different now. No, I wouldn't  use the contest - I'd play up the storytelling element and the references to pop culture as much as possible. Naturally the adventures would be different to account for the changes that have occurred since 1985 - new movies, new technologies, new science, etc.
           Thank you for giving me a chance to share my views on your excellent questions.

TP: Thank you for your insight into this very interesting game.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Solo Adventuring in High Fantasy

In the preface to High Fantasy, Jeffrey Dillow states:
This is not a book of rules. The actual rules consist of only a few pages. What this book is, is an accumulation of medieval weapons, spells, and monsters with clear explanations on how to use them in fantasy adventures.
Actually, the page distribution is as follows.

Dillow also uses the preface to point out the 'giant' solo adventure and its suitability for teaching the reader how to play.  Specifically, Dillow says in the introduction to the adventure, it “was teach beginning players how to work through combat and to give them a basic understanding of how High Fantasy works.”  The adventure, Escape from Queztec'l, was written by Craig Fisher, who also wrote another High Fantasy solitaire adventure, In the Service of Saena Sephar. With Queztec'l, Fisher not only provides a solo adventure and a streamlined version of High Fantasy combat, he also provides some setting background, including a continent map, notes on religion, and creature statistics.  The setting deserves its own post, so I will not dwell further on it here.

Dillow says, “High Fantasy is based on the sound mathematics of the percentile dice.” I don't know why the RPGGeek listing includes “Dice (Primarily d6)” as a game mechanic. Six-sided dice are not mentioned in High Fantasy (at least not in the second edition), doubtless due to their comparatively unsound mathematics.

Anyway, for purposes of playing the solo adventure, the reader controls a character named Xenon.  The picture above suggests that the character's full name is Xenon Swif's'ord and that Xenon could be of either gender based upon the preference of the reader.  For purposes of the adventure, all characters have three attributes:  quickness, offense, and defense.

Essentially, quickness determines initiative.  It also determines movement rate.  It is affected by encumbrance.  For purposes of initiative only, it is also affected by weapon type.

In order for Xenon to hit an adversary in combat, the adversary's defense is subtracted from Xenon's offense; the result is the percentile chance of success.  Assuming Xenon is successful, the combat table is consulted.  The chance of success determines which column to use and another percentile roll determines which row to use.  The combat table provides a number that is subtracted from the adversary's offense and a number that is subtracted from the adversary's defense.  Death occurs if and when defense is reduced to zero.  Combat against Xenon is handled similarly, except that defense damage is divided – as indicated by the combat table – between 'personal' defense and 'armor' defense (if any).

Depending upon the attack, more or less damage may be inflicted.  A 'plus' means moving to a column to the right of the column indicated by the chance of success (more damage) and a 'minus' means moving to the left (less damage).  For instance, a weaponless attack by a human has a -5 damage modification while a Xermoc's claw has a +6 damage modification.

Apparently, “pad[s] of character sheets” as well as percentile dice were available from Fantasy Productions Inc., the company that Dillow created originally to publish High Fantasy. The character sheet graphic in the book is, in effect, a diagram with different sections labeled with numbers associated with the steps a player follows when making a character. For my cherished readers – as well as posterity in general – I have scanned in the so-called character sheet and cleaned it up somewhat, taking out the step labels.  The result appears below.  You can use it as a reference as we continue our exploration of this fine game.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

A Gripping Game of Action Packed Adventure

Your humble host is thrilled to discuss High Fantasy, a game which deserves more attention than it receives. Jeffrey C. Dillow created and playtested High Fantasy through the auspices of the Simulation Conflict Club at Indiana University in the mid-70's. As far as I am concerned, this is the epitome of 'old school' – enthusiasts at the dawn of the hobby crafting what they think a role-playing game should be. Dillow self-published in 1978 and, the following year, the game gained a new cover and was distributed by Twinn-K (apparently a supplier to hobby stores). In 1981, Reston Publishing (a subsidiary of Prentice-Hall) came out with a second edition. (It is a copy of this second edition which your humble host owns.) A few adventures were released; one supplement, Adventures in High Fantasy, even included a wargaming system. By all accounts, the adventures – some solitaire, some multi-participant – were of good quality. Things were looking good: quality material, big-time publisher, and then...and then...nothing.

Was the profit margin not sufficient for Reston?  After getting their toes wet, did they decide to forgo competition with TSR and Random House?  Did Dillow – for whatever reason – decide to retire the game?  It seems that Dillow treated the High Fantasy publications as an extension of his hobby rather than as a career.  What little information I have been able to locate about Dillow comes from 'Tome of Treasures'.  It appears that Dillow himself signed up with that forum last year only to write a single message.  In that post, he mentions that the 1983 CBS television series Wizards and Warriors acknowledges High Fantasy
in “the fine print at the end [credits].”  Thanks to the magic of YouTube, we can view this acknowledgement.

Specifically, it states, “The title 'WIZARDS AND WARRIORS' is used with the agreement of MATTEL, INC. and RESTON PUBLISHING COMPANY, INC.”  I think it's interesting that they use the word 'agreement' instead of 'permission,' but maybe I'm reading too much into it.  While the television series has nothing to do with the High Fantasy role-playing game, this statement is a recognition of Reston's 'right' to the phrase “Wizards and Warriors.”  You see, Reston had compiled two solitaire adventures that had previously been published separately (In the Service of Saena Sephar and Murder in Irliss) and published them under the title Wizards & Warriors.  It even has a Steranko cover!  Not one of his best, but it's delightful in it's own way.

Image appropriated from The Acaeum

I am of the opinion that the name 'High Fantasy' contributed to the game's obscurity.  I mean, more famously, the phrase refers to a genre; people are much more likely to think of the genre instead of associating the term with a product.  The title 'Wizards & Warriors' may have been an attempt at cultivating a viable brand for the product line.  Alas, the product line was discontinued.  Had Reston published a polished third edition with Steranko quality art and a Wizards & Warriors brand, I think it would have a viable fan base thirty years later.  Even so, the game deserves a reprint – if only from a print-on-demand publisher – for the ideas it presents.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

D&DNext Rips Off Atlantasia!

Thanks to Brendan for bringing this to your humble host's attention.  

Wizards of the Coast functionary Bruce Cordell has written here and here about how 5E backgrounds are all awesome and can permit character concepts such as a wizard who is also a spy!  No mention is made of John Holland, whose The Realms of Atlantasia expertly developed that possibility previously.  Given D&DNext's tendency to emulate Holland's design, it seems Mike Mearls is worried about the threat posed by Atlantasia after all.

John Holland's attorneys were not immediately available for comment.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Adventures in Psi World

The introductory adventures in the twenty page The Psi World Adventure book were addressed in an earlier post. Fantasy Games Unlimited also published three adventure/ supplement books for Psi World: The Hammer Shall Strike, Underground Railroad, and Cause for War. Hammer and Railroad are still available, either through RPGNow or directly from FGU. Alas, your humble host neither owns nor has access to Cause for War. As such, he will be unable to comment at length on that product.

The Hammer Shall Strike was written by the creators of Psi World, “Dell Carr & Cheron,” and it sports a cover by the very talented Bill Willingham. Interior sketches were done by William H. Keith Jr., whose artistic talent does not approach Willingham's level. Few artists could compare well against Willingham, but Keith's efforts appear markedly amateurish.  Aside from introducing new psionic talents, Hammer includes two adventures.  In 'Transition,' the player characters search for teenagers who have begun to exhibit psionic powers.  The PCs must reach the teenagers before an opposing group does.  (One scene takes place in a fast food restaurant “owned and operated by Wendy McDonald, a thin redhead...”  Get it?  Hahaha!  Inane adventure module humor.)  In 'The Hammer Shall Strike,' PCs must infiltrate a cult in order to investigate sinister rumors.  Both adventures build upon the setting that the authors introduced in The Psi World Adventure and both adventures accommodate either a psionic or non-psionic party.  The authors provide ample ways to involve various types of player characters.

William Keith is responsible for all of the art in Underground Railroad.  He and his brother, J. Andrew Keith, co-wrote the book (Andrew wrote the fist two adventures in this module while William wrote the third).  The copyright owner is listed as Marischal Adventures; a company established by the Keith brothers.  Both brothers have numerous writing credits – fiction as well as RPG material (especially for GDW).  It is perhaps for the best that William Keith has focused on writing more than illustrating.  William Keith is also responsible for all of the art in Cause for War, but his brother has sole writing credit for that product.

Underground Railroad (and, evidently, Cause for War) takes place in a setting distinct from that which the Carrs established.  (Your humble host is given to understand that Cause for War can act as a continuation of a campaign that begins with Underground Railroad.)   In the Keith brothers setting, psionics came about via the Great Plague:

The origin of the Great Plague is a mystery. Some theorize that it was a bacteriological weapon which was released accidentally and ran out of control; others claim an extra-terrestrial origin, pointing to the fact that the Soviet Mars Mission of 1998 returned only a few weeks before the first cases were reported in Eastern Europe. No one can be certain of the origins of the disease - but none can doubt the effects.

By the time it had run its course, the Great Plague had killed over 40% of the world's population. There was no cure - a person who caught the disease lived or died according to natural resistance, and luck. Most people died. Only a handful who contracted it lived.

Those who did frequently exhibited an unusual side-effect – the development of strong psionic powers...

Anyway, civilization collapsed, persecution against psionics became common, and “large nations gave way to smaller, more loosely structured states.” What used to be the United States now consists of about twenty independent nations.

Like Wikipedia says, the historical Underground Railroad “was a network of secret routes and safe houses.”  Whereas in history,  the Underground Railroad was used by escaping slaves, the underground railroad in this Psi World module is used by psis to escape the fascist regime of the Central States Confederacy (just in case the analogy wasn't obvious before).  They try to escape to the psionic tolerant (but militarily weaker) Free State.  Unlike the Carr setting, there is no provision for the player characters to be anything other than psionic.

The border between the Confederacy and the Free State reaches across what used to be lower Wisconsin.  The psionic underground railroad is situated in the “Hunter's Lake” area of the Confederacy, just south of the Free State border.  So, there's a lake area in southern Wisconsin that represents oppression.  Ah, so there's more than one analogy at work here!  Your humble host supposes that the Keith brothers were attempting to make a statement about a certain Lake Geneva company and its overbearing influence on the role-playing game market in the early years of the hobby.  For the sake of comparison, here are maps of “Hunter's Lake” and Lake Geneva.  Scale is approximate.

Hunter's Lake:

Lake Geneva:
© 2012, Yahoo!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Heroes 1.2

All of the cool kids already know this, but your humble host thinks it's time to spread the word.  David Millward, author of Heroes, is republishing his "role playing game set in the dark ages."  Although he might make available the original version, it is a 1.2 version he definitely intends on releasing.  You can read about it at the official website.

Although the game provides a fictional setting, Heroes is firmly based upon tenth century Europe.  You want historical accuracy?  Heroes has it.  Your humble host is given to understand that Millward has been a teacher – he isn’t some punk who read a couple of Time-Life books and decided to write a role-playing game.  Historically accurate and it's old school; Millward supplies details that modern RPGs might gloss over or intentionally exclude.  Evidently, you can lose experience points by not carousing!

Alas, I must release my inner pedant.  The game is meant to take place (or at least begin) in the year 950 AD [sic].  "AD" means, of course, anno Domini – indicative of the Christian era.  Properly, AD should precede the year, not follow it; thus, the year AD 950.  Yes, I know that some "authorities" say that AD following the year is acceptable.  However, unless and until Fowler’s approves of this deviant practice, I will stand firm in my righteous pedantry.  Thank you for your indulgence in this matter.

Anyway, if you have any interest, please visit the site and contact Millward.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Minor Disciplines in Psi World

This illustration doesn't have anything to do with Minor disciplines,
but neither do any of the remaining illustrations in the rule book.

Compared to the Major disciplines, the Minor disciplines in Psi World are 'minor' in terms of power and versatility; however, I consider them to be more interesting. During character generation (as indicated in this post), a player of a psionic character may forgo a Major discipline in order to either (1) choose two Minor Disciplines or (2) randomly determine 1d2+1 Minor disciplines. The rule book lists eighteen Minor disciplines and – for random determination – a player roles a d20; a result of 19 indicates an “additional roll on the Minor table” and a result of 20 indicates a roll “on the Major table.”

So, if a player chooses to roll on the Major table, there is a 7% chance of also obtaining at least one Minor discipline. With two rolls on the Minor table, there is a 10% of obtaining at least one Major discipline. (This 10% includes the 0.25% chance of getting two Major disciplines by rolling on the Minor table.) The Hammer Shall Strike adventure/supplement includes ten new Minor disciplines. For random determination, one of the suggestions Hammer provides is to number the new Minor disciplines 21 – 30 and roll a d30. Naturally, this reduces the chances of also gaining a Major discipline to about 6.5% (given two rolls).  (I am certain that I have enriched everyone's life by providing this information.  No need to thank me.)

Most of the Minor disciplines are 'powers' that require power points to activate and maintain – Astral Projection, Invisibility, Lie Detector, et al. Some Minor disciplines represent permanent abilities that require the character to reduce his or her PSI attribute score by one-fourth. Among these disciplines are: Direction Sense, Perfect Balance, Photographic Memory, Phonographic Memory, Genius, and Forgotten.  Genius adds:  2d6 to the character's INT attribute, 1d10 to initial number of skill points, and 10% to skill improvement rolls.  The character also gains a 'lightning calculator' ability.  'Forgotten' is my favorite discipline: 
A person will completely forget this Psionic character after an amount of time equal to the time spent with him/her, or after 8 hours of sleep.
That would be a challenge to role-play; it's like a converse Memento.

Other noteworthy Minor disciplines include:  Mind Melder (“Acts as a central channel through which other Psis may combine abilities”), Psi Amplifier (“the ability to double one effect of another's psionic ability”), and Null Psi (“may create an area in which psionic activity cannot be detected” and also “may create an area where all psionic abilities...are negated”).

A character with the Poltergeist discipline can spend five points to have a random effect transpire for 2 - 4 turns.  “If the table gives a result that is impossible, use No. 2, roll again, or whatever you want.”
1.  Knocking/Tapping on walls, furniture, etc.
2.  Objects flying around (usually small)
3.  Windows being broken
4.  Glassware breaking (flying to the floor)
5.  Stones falling from the air (possibility of 1d3 damage)
6.  Lights and other electrical switches toggle off/on
7.  Small fires start (size of a candle flame) & chance of igniting flammables
8.  Random gusts of wind (indoors); Dust devils (outdoors)

Another interesting Minor discipline is Time Shifter:
The psionic may travel in time.  The cost is 5 points per day traveled, plus 5 points per hour stayed.  The past is fixed, and may not be changed.  The future is not fixed, and the psionic must state which of the infinite number of possibilities are being checked...
What happens when a character encounters him or herself and possibly other characters in a scene that's already played out?  Or is the GM supposed to arrange things so something like this doesn't happen?  When traveling to the future, a single possibility is to be chosen.  The example given in the rule book has a character stating, “In exactly 3 minutes I will shoot the guard and wound him.  What happens?”  The trouble here is that there are an infinite number of possibilities that might occur once the guard is wounded.  The guard might defend himself (or herself), bite down on a poison capsule, call for help, run away to the left, run away to the right, play dead, beg for mercy, or even activate his (or her) Null Psi discipline sending the Time Shifter back.  Sure, the Time Shifter talent could be used to help a party succeed in an adventure but, as a game master, I would be tempted to engineer a self-fulfilling prophecy in the same vein as the conclusion of Bradbury's The Illustrated Man.

On the last page of the rule book – an afterthought it seems – there is a boxed section of text detailing a power called 'The Force Shield.' Interestingly, the same text box also appears in Hammer – at the end of the 'New Talents' section. In Hammer, however, The Force Shield is included in the table of contents, distinct from 'New Minor Disciplines.' The title page of Hammer has a summary of the contents which announces “the definition of The Force Shield.”

Basically, The Force Shield allows a psionic character to use power points to cancel “physical damage on a point-for-point basis.” It seems odd that any psionic character could create a Force Shield, but given the way it is presented – and the lack of clarifying information in the rules – it is reasonable to assume that this is the authors' intent.