Thoughts on telepaths

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Thoughts on telepaths

Postby redlaco » Mon Aug 29, 2005 6:27 pm

I just came along that quote from the GURPS FAQ :
http://www.sjgames.com/gurps/faq/FAQ4-1.2-3.html#SS3.1.4 wrote:Doesn't it makes role-playing any psi prohibitive point-wise if one were to run, say, a Babylon 5 campaign?

Because they're far more powerful than everyone else in *game* terms, even if they don't dominate the show in *dramatic* terms. Unfortunately for gamers, even very cool novels, TV shows, and movies make terrible game settings. One of the main reasons for this is that the characters aren't free-willed, but in fact pawns of a few auteurs who have a long- term plan for *everything* in the setting. The heroes *aren't* equally powerful (built on the same points, as it were) -- it's just that the powerful ones are kept in check, and the weak ones made prominent, by a constant series of dramatic devices.

It's what I call the "Spock effect." Spock was the original SF TV show psi. Being a strong, ultra-intelligent, long-lived alien with a secret hand-to-hand combat technique and telepathic powers was balanced by his alienness and placing him in tougher situations (and keeping him out of easy-win situations). In the show, he was just "one of the guys," on an equal footing with the other major players. As a PC in an RPG, he ought to be worth three times as many points as all his mates. His down sides are all "soft" limitations; his up sides are all "hard," easily abused game abilities. The GM can't rely on his player not to use his brains, strength, and special gifts all the time, in ways that don't suit the original concept of the character or "feel" of the TV show, so he must charge what those abilities are worth in the worst-case scenario where the character goes power-mad.

B5 psis are in the same boat. So are Jedi in Star Wars. And so is the "powered" caste in any SF&F setting. In their novel/show/movie, their abilities are carefully circumscribed, worked into the plot, and so on. But in a game, nothing says any of this will be true.
It made me think about how hard it is to implement a good system for telepaths. I mean the system on B5 is OK but it raises a lot of questions as earlier threads demonstrated (see http://www.mongoosepublishing.com/phpBB ... php?t=6593 for example).

Just as it's OK to let NPCs be all-powerful telepaths/technomages/Ancients, most of the times you can't let PCs run them as:
1. It presents no challenge to the player, as whatever you throw at them they can beat it without breaking a sweat.
2. They represent loose cannons who can scrap your campaign with ease.

Of course there are exceptions, like if you have exceptionaly experienced and "wise" players who have matured from the "powergamer mindset". They must be ready to work with the GM, otherwise they can scrap the campaign with a snap of their fingers.

Anyway, just some ramblings on my part, but I wanted to share the GURPS mindset on psionics and B5.
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Postby frobisher » Tue Aug 30, 2005 3:31 pm

Points construction systems for characters rarely work because they are so heavily focussed on "balance"

d20 has this problem as well to a certain extent. Nobody likes the idea that someone is potentially "better than them" when starting out.

Life, is not like that. A 20 year space vetren is not built on the same "points" as a 22 year old college graduate, and neither should they necessarily be first level. "Balance" dictates that you should do that.

The GURPS comment about the "Spock effect" is actually off base, unless you're dealing with GURPS which only seems to be able to think in that way. But then GURPS is a Munchkin Min-Maxer's wet dream of a system ;) It would appear that they also underestimate the guile and cunning of any GM running games in settings such as B5...

Also any decent GM doesn't allow the players to generate any old set of characters for his party. GURPS would have you do that.

Player characters going power mad and acting out of sort..? Sounds like a perfect excuse for a seek and dstroy scenario

Even though it is a points based character building system at its core, the Buffy RPG copes wonderfully well with placing very unbalanced characters in the same group. It accepts the fact that the Slayer is better than the rest of them, it rejoices in it in fact. However, a Slayer needs her scoobies. It's just the way it is.
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Postby ShadowScout » Wed Aug 31, 2005 2:16 pm

Points construction systems for characters rarely work because they are so heavily focussed on "balance"
Funny, I found they worked for me exactly because they were focussed on "balance" - as long as the GM is flexible enough to nudge the balance a bit ehre and there...
:wink:
Life, is not like that. A 20 year space vetren is not built on the same "points" as a 22 year old college graduate, and neither should they necessarily be first level. "Balance" dictates that you should do that.
Well... that's not this easy to say. A 20 year space veteran CAN be built on the same points as a 22 year college graduate - if for example the veteran was a scrawny, clumsy and not very intelligent, but experianced and skilled guy (meaning he saved at the attributes and put inot the skills), while the graduate was a strong, capable induvidual with litte experience (meaning just minimum points in skills and the rest in attributes/advantages). Though the average 20-year veteran will have more points then most graduate students (because he started his career 20 years ago at roughly the same level as the graduate, and then added points through those 20 years, put into skills, maybe raising an attribute here or there -Strength and health are common- and getting some new advantages -like military rank, contacts, etc.)
1st level... well, that depends on the GM's definition of "1st level". Most GM's I encountered in level-systems define "1st level" as the graduate student - he just finished his education and started adventuring. Some define it a bit earlier - 1st level for them is the 18-year old guy who just starts his higher education (or not, and starts working at some job right off, whatever way the player points him).

Frankly, if the GM; is flexible enough, he can ditch "balance" easily, even in point-driven systems. I saw campaigns work where the PC's had different point values all over the board - at least, it worked around 50% of difference (in the case observed, the worst had 130 or so, and the best 200 - the GM awarded more points because he decided the story was worth it, and the character needed the points to be believable. It was a really nice touch of the GM, and one I will fondly remember - the character building went like "tell me your story and I'll tell you if you can play that and how many points you will get")

However, it IS true that GURPS GM's have to keep an eye out for munchkins. Meaning you have to pay attention to the characters people build, and veto the worst cases of power-building (I remember the guy who tried to specialize in a weapon skill once, gaining an "free" bonus to his swordmanship... as I told him though, not in my campaign...)

But the same responsibility falls to the GM for handling "power" PC's. The GM has to make sure a PC who has an unblockable advantage (like Psi, or the force, or whatever) over the other characters either is lacking in other departments, or faces tougher challenges where he will need his allies to prevail. The same goes for players BtW - the GM has to make sure his campaign is equally interesting for a B5-expert who mas every episode memorized and for newcomers to SF and/or B5, without either boring the former or confusing the latter.

In the end however, it's a matter of preferenced and choices. I wouldn't touch the d20 system with robot grapples, and so I must work hard to translate the BG into GURPS. That's my choice. Everyone else can choose as he/she wishes. (and if I found another B5-GM in Austria who liked d20, I would be hard pressed to choose between my dislike for the system and my love for the BG...)
Also any decent GM doesn't allow the players to generate any old set of characters for his party. GURPS would have you do that.
Please explan this comment. I didn't understand what you want to say with it.
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Postby redlaco » Wed Aug 31, 2005 3:14 pm

Thanks Paddy for the comments. I can sense you're not a fan of GURPS...
frobisher wrote:Points construction systems for characters rarely work because they are so heavily focussed on "balance".
Mmmm, I always thought it was the other way around. Class systems usually gives "upgrades" to characters at pre-determined times (levels) and many try to balance the upgrades between the classes. With point-buy systems, you can select a template (with GM approval) and it gives you a pool of points from which to select powers. The templates can be pretty varied in terms of power scales. After that, the way you choose your new skills/talents determine the speed of evolution. The more powerful abilities requires more points, therefore more "experience" to buy.

Which brings me to another advantage to points-based systems. A character's evolution is usually more "granulated" than levels, where you go like : cool! with this new level, suddenly I can do three new abilities since this morning!
frobisher wrote:d20 has this problem as well to a certain extent. Nobody likes the idea that someone is potentially "better than them" when starting out.
Life, is not like that. A 20 year space vetren is not built on the same "points" as a 22 year old college graduate, and neither should they necessarily be first level. "Balance" dictates that you should do that.
Yeah, it can be OK to have different levels of experience, even a model like a mentor and his pupil (the Obi-Wan & Anakin model comes to mind). But to play a Vorlon or a Psi-Corps experiment is overblown IMO. Imagine such a being in league with a Lurker and a Worker... it just doesn't add up! The lesser ones would forever be in the shadow of the all-powerful one :) .
frobisher wrote:The GURPS comment about the "Spock effect" is actually off base, unless you're dealing with GURPS which only seems to be able to think in that way. But then GURPS is a Munchkin Min-Maxer's wet dream of a system ;) It would appear that they also underestimate the guile and cunning of any GM running games in settings such as B5...
In my experience, munchkins min-maxers prefer D&D over GURPS. Of course, any GURPS GM must be very careful at character's creation. To give players "carte blanche" is sure to bring you a lot of grief, especially about psionics. Most of our games excludes psionics in the first place because of its power.
frobisher wrote:Also any decent GM doesn't allow the players to generate any old set of characters for his party. GURPS would have you do that.
??? No, it depends entirely on the GM's approval for both systems.
frobisher wrote:Even though it is a points based character building system at its core, the Buffy RPG copes wonderfully well with placing very unbalanced characters in the same group. It accepts the fact that the Slayer is better than the rest of them, it rejoices in it in fact. However, a Slayer needs her scoobies. It's just the way it is.
See, points systems are not that bad...
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Postby redlaco » Wed Aug 31, 2005 3:26 pm

Well put ShadowScout!
I replied without having seen your post, and found you address the issue more adequately...
ShadowScout wrote:Frankly, if the GM; is flexible enough, he can ditch "balance" easily, even in point-driven systems. I saw campaigns work where the PC's had different point values all over the board - at least, it worked around 50% of difference (in the case observed, the worst had 130 or so, and the best 200 - the GM awarded more points because he decided the story was worth it, and the character needed the points to be believable. It was a really nice touch of the GM, and one I will fondly remember - the character building went like "tell me your story and I'll tell you if you can play that and how many points you will get")
Yeah, that's the greatest strenght of points systems = flexibility.
ShadowScout wrote:In the end however, it's a matter of preferenced and choices. I wouldn't touch the d20 system with robot grapples, and so I must work hard to translate the BG into GURPS. That's my choice. Everyone else can choose as he/she wishes. (and if I found another B5-GM in Austria who liked d20, I would be hard pressed to choose between my dislike for the system and my love for the BG...)
That's my feeling too, although I'm too lazy to make a full-blown conversion. I will go with a heavily house-ruled d20 version.
ShadowScout wrote:
frobisher wrote:Also any decent GM doesn't allow the players to generate any old set of characters for his party. GURPS would have you do that.
Please explain this comment. I didn't understand what you want to say with it.
Me neither I must admit.
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Postby LoneStranger » Wed Aug 31, 2005 7:48 pm

I think what was meant about GURPS creating old characters is that you base the age of the character off of the levels put into skills. D20 has most everyone start in their early 20's for the most part.

Looking at the original comment I would have to say that the guy who wrote that does a lot more with GURPS than with any other system (especially D20). I haven't seen psi classes for D&D but I think they are kinda restrained in most levels beyond psi powers. I know for a fact in Star Wars the Jedi classes get few skill points per level, with Jedi Guardian matching the Soldier for points without the ability to pick feats at will (outside of maybe twice during progression and the usual character level feats). And of course we know how Mongoose handled psi characters for B5. I will say that characters with powers are pretty tough in most games to deal with, especially with an imaginative player running the force user/psi/power wielding character but most systems do what they can to keep the character type in line
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Postby frobisher » Thu Sep 01, 2005 11:26 am

redlaco wrote:
ShadowScout wrote:
frobisher wrote:Also any decent GM doesn't allow the players to generate any old set of characters for his party. GURPS would have you do that.
Please explain this comment. I didn't understand what you want to say with it.
Me neither I must admit.
The clear implication of GURPS is that the checks and balances are in the character building system rather than anywhere else.
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Postby frobisher » Thu Sep 01, 2005 11:45 am

redlaco wrote:Thanks Paddy for the comments. I can sense you're not a fan of GURPS...
Damn straight ;)
redlaco wrote:
frobisher wrote:Points construction systems for characters rarely work because they are so heavily focussed on "balance".
Mmmm, I always thought it was the other way around. Class systems usually gives "upgrades" to characters at pre-determined times (levels) and many try to balance the upgrades between the classes.
I'm not a fan of level based systems either - they're more deeply broken than points based ones IMO. Not a fan of d20 one little bit...

Experience and life-path character generation systems work much better for me (Traveller, FASA Star Trek...), but then I'm more a fan of military setting SF than fantasy.
redlaco wrote:In my experience, munchkins min-maxers prefer D&D over GURPS. Of course, any GURPS GM must be very careful at character's creation. To give players "carte blanche" is sure to bring you a lot of grief, especially about psionics. Most of our games excludes psionics in the first place because of its power.
redlaco wrote:
frobisher wrote:Even though it is a points based character building system at its core, the Buffy RPG copes wonderfully well with placing very unbalanced characters in the same group. It accepts the fact that the Slayer is better than the rest of them, it rejoices in it in fact. However, a Slayer needs her scoobies. It's just the way it is.
See, points systems are not that bad...
The Slayer is built on more points (15 at least rather than 10) than the Scoobies though. Making the Scoobies equal to the Slayer reduces the need for the Slayer to look after them and she just becomes a slaughter machine or they just don't need her (which kinda defeats the idea of the setting...).
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Postby ShadowScout » Thu Sep 01, 2005 1:43 pm

redlaco wrote:With point-buy systems, you can select a template (with GM approval) and it gives you a pool of points from which to select powers.
Actually what I like best about GURPS is that an experienced player doesn't really need a template anymore - he can build his character as he wishes. Of course, templates are a good crutch for those players who do not entirely know what they're doing (either game-system or background-wise... it helps to, say, remind players whose character is supposed to be an experienced spaceer to invest in skills like "Free Fall" and Vacc Suit" - don't laugh, I have seen "experienced spacer" characters who had no idea how to get in their spacesuits, how to check their suit has full batteries and air tank, or how to get to the ship's bridge in zero-g... simply because the players were unaware that these are aquired skills. Even worse was the guy who played a spacer... carrying a large caliber projectile handgun - we had to explain to him that for one "recoil" has a whole new meaning in free fall, and for another that his black-market armor-piercing rounds were really not a good idea aboard a 2088 spaceship...)
LoneStranger wrote:I think what was meant about GURPS creating old characters is that you base the age of the character off of the levels put into skills. D20 has most everyone start in their early 20's for the most part.
Well, that's not true.
Sure, in GURPS you do have this relation between age and skills. Meaning if you want many, many points in skills, you need to be an older character. However... many players take few points in skills, and most of their points in attributes/advantages - mainly because skills are easiest to gain in play (many advantages cannot be bought after character generation, while attributes usually cost double... and skills only cost double if you have no teacher and learn them by "trial and error").
frobisher wrote:
redlaco wrote:
ShadowScout wrote: Please explain this comment. I didn't understand what you want to say with it.
Me neither I must admit.
The clear implication of GURPS is that the checks and balances are in the character building system rather than anywhere else.
...and I still don't really understand what you meant with that comment.

As for checks and balances... sure, any good game system tries to have them in their character building system. And so far, every good system failed in some way - power-building is possible in most game systems I know of, from d20 to GURPS... and as I wrote, after the system the GM is the next line of defense.
frobisher wrote:Experience and life-path character generation systems work much better for me (Traveller, FASA Star Trek...), but then I'm more a fan of military setting SF than fantasy.
Hmmm... I know those, and I disliked some of the constraining effects... though I always thought the idea to start from the story and then do the mechanics of character building is a really good one (and a character in my campaign should better have a piece of BG fluff for every one of his skills and advantages - that's one of the things I don't like about GURPS, it encourages building a set of sdtats instead of a character in bad roleplayers... while other systems at least require a bad roleplayer to think about a story before he digs into game mechanics... I had players who showed up with characters that had no story, sometimes even no name before I reminded them that their character needs to be called something... and half of those who had either were more of an alibi-effore...)
I always say that GURPS is a system more intended for people who know what they're doing...

Of course, a inventive GM can fix that. I went well with "tell me your life story and I as GM will build your character for you" in several campaigns (though that takes a lot of time many players would rather spent playing), while the "every skill, attribute of advantage must be represented in the BG story) also works acceptably (if you add an "and approved by the GM" - especially when it comed to psionics and limitations...)
frobisher wrote:The Slayer is built on more points (15 at least rather than 10) than the Scoobies though. Making the Scoobies equal to the Slayer reduces the need for the Slayer to look after them and she just becomes a slaughter machine or they just don't need her (which kinda defeats the idea of the setting...).
Hmmm... well, if I ran a "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" setting, I would let the players build all characters at 100 points, and then take the slayer (either agreed upon with the players, or chosen by the GM without telling the player at first if the campaign goes this way, which I would prefer) and add some extra advantages and attribute increases (and I for one would not tell the slayer player about it either - just figure them into the game equations until they become obvious during playing)
Anyway, this of course has to be handled carefully by the GM to avoid exactkly this "spock syndrome" that started this discussion. I can attest from experience that it is very, very frustrating for a player when he can't do anything, and has to play sidekick for a "hero" (and in the example, I would after determining the slayer consider other "hidden talents" for the scoobies - like "OK, Anja gets to be the slayer... let's Claudia have some magical aptitude she doesn't know about, Christian can get some extra points in luck and such while I think I'll let Toni find a powerful and point-worth artifact later in the game...") That way everyone gets to have some specialized talent, and while they can't beat up the bad guys like the slayer, their speial talent can help them save the day when it's the solution to the problem (how often does buffy fail and willow fix it all with a spell or ritual? how often is it something they find in giles library that allows someone to hit the villain's weak spot?)

Same thing for other campaigns - sure the Jedi have powers beyong the other PC's ken... but an inventive GM will come up with problems where the Jedi need the other players. Sure the telepath can do things noone else can do... but other characters will be able to do things the teep never had anchance to learn (meaning he had to spend his points for telepathy, and couldn't afford the martial arts or techincal skills the scoundrel had, or the piloting and tactical skills of the soldier, or the diplomatic skills of the ambassador)
And that's why most game systems demand a disadvantage to accompany any advantage. In d20, I think telepaths have a reduced "level-up" bonus then non teeps, and the higher their telepathy power, the less they get to spend on other stuff. And in such a game system, that's hard to overcome. In a point based game system, it usually is the same - he who spends his points on psionics, special advantages or "the force" has less to spend for other stuff... however, if the GM wishes, he can easily give that player more points... however, then he needs to make sure he as GM and fate brings extra challenges to this player to make sure he pays for is points with more danger and the need for better roleplaying.
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Postby LoneStranger » Thu Sep 01, 2005 5:19 pm

Yeah that's pretty much right as far as D20 goes. B5 psionic characters have fewer hit points and skill points with a higher P rating to make up for the fact that they can do so much more with their powers. A P2 will have much more in the way of skill points than a P12. And in Star Wars D20 a Jedi has a choice to be good with the Force, good with regular skills, or ok with both. Also with Star Wars it does cost vitality to use force powers, so the guy who uses the force like a soldier in that system uses a blaster will find himself in a difficult situation once he's down to just wounds and there are still too many enemies up and able to act.

However the idea for a Buffy game (where people get "secret" bonuses that they find through gameplay) is actually a good idea, gives people a way to shine through even if they're not the "main character" of the story.

As far as the age thing in GURPS I mentioned, that's what happened to me in a very short lived GURPS game I was in.
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Postby Barbara » Mon Sep 12, 2005 6:32 am

In Gurps, psi is expensive, you have to pay for your power level ie, telepathy, teleport, telek, clairv, healing, psychic vampirism (don't ask), etc.
He then has to pay for each skill under those categories that he wants and this is as startup. unless you are allowed latent skills.

Since most of the powers are 5pts per level, and each skill is mental/hard/very hard, this quickly becomes very expensive.

For anyone who says Gurps is more balanced, have they fixed the default skills rulles yet, the easiest rules ripoff around .

As for 1. It presents no challenge to the player, as whatever you throw at them they can beat it without breaking a sweat.
2. They represent loose cannons who can scrap your campaign with ease.


1. What level are you playing at and what are you throwing at them that they can beat it without breaking a sweat. Each use of an ability is tiring, and with only 1 hp per level,that doesn't leave much, in case they get shot by whoever they are against.

2. The B5 universe is mostly law-abiding, if they are "loose cannons" throw the law at them. Especially if they are human telepaths.

3. Telepaths come with there own disads built in, depending on species, whether it is Duty (Minbari) , Guild Membership( Centauri), Psi Corp/Sleeper drug (humans). They are not all powerful, they are 1 in 1 thousand, distrusted, disliked and avoided. And most humans anyway, would love anexcuse to dump on one(or beat them up)
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Postby scottmage » Fri Sep 16, 2005 11:49 pm

I agree with Barbara completely.

A GM that allows a Psi (GURPS) / Telepath (B5) to run wild, gets what they deserve. Unless you are running an Akira level Psi game, most Psi characters never dominate the game/show/book without someone to place the character in check.

A Psi character may have an advantage, no more so than a regular character that spent their point differently to have different skills.

How many times did Sheridan frustrate Bester in the series. Or even when Lyta cut loose, it was Sheridan to shut her down.

Sure a Telepath can really KNOW if another character is lying as opposed to another character who has sense motive at a skill level of 15 who is just a really good judge of character.

A GM that allows that is not worth playing with that allows any player to run wild! It ruins it for the rest of the players.

When you check the Wizards of the Coast Page, the same arguments are voiced there...and shot down as well.
http://boards1.wizards.com/showthread.php?t=331253

Supposedly there is an individual that has a thread out there about Time-Stop and being able to take some unbeliveable amout of actions based on using a huge amount of Power Crystals. I asked how he carries that many crystals around, how does he keep track of which ones he has used, etc. Sure you can Munchkin any game...IF the GM allows it. There are too many rules lawyers out there to have the perfect rules set.

I was hoping that Mongoose would be different and allow us to help them fix the breaks in their rules...oh well, maybe the next incarnation of B5 someone will get it right....

I must be a gluton for punishment or I have hope that they will fix it.

I have gotten into Mutants and Masterminds http://mutantsandmasterminds.com/index.php a points based D20 system. You could actually build a character that was a P8 and keep them in line with the show. Maybe Mongoose should buy a copy of the book for 3rd Edition B5 since it is open gaming license as well....
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Postby Barbara » Mon Sep 19, 2005 6:41 am

Sheridan had the advantage of "Touched by a Vorlon", this gave him protection from Telepaths.
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Postby lastbesthope » Mon Sep 19, 2005 3:40 pm

Barbara wrote:Sheridan had the advantage of "Touched by a Vorlon", this gave him protection from Telepaths.
We don't absolutely know that, I'm fairly sure a Vorlon or Lorien could have usurped him.

But he was capable in one instance of not succumbing to Lyta when she was very busy controlling lots of other people, one on one, we don't know.

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Postby Barbara » Tue Sep 20, 2005 7:19 am

But for the below p16's it was working.
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Postby frobisher » Tue Sep 20, 2005 2:40 pm

Barbara wrote:But for the below p16's it was working.
The only thing you can definately say is it was working against Lyta (which is no mean feat in itself...).
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