Posted by: markfender | August 22, 2012

Fading Suns Bootleg – Occult

Now we’re into subsystems, notably the new rules for Psychic Powers and Theurgy.

Psychism
I don’t know why Psychic Powers are now called Psychism but whatever.

This system changed quite a bit, so let’s hit the highlights. Psychic Powers are divided into various types. Each of those types has three levels of effects: Latent, Operant, and Prime. A Psychic gains access to the Latent level by buying the Latent Benefit (3 points). This gives him a passive bonus based on the type of psychic power, usually just a bonus to a certain skill. It’s not entirely clear how you gain access to the Operant powers, but I think it’s just having the Latent ability and then buying ranks in the Psychic Power (2 points per rank in character creation.) This then gives four or five effects of the power in question. These use a different Attribute + Psychic Path to determine the goal number to successfully use the effect. Finally, you can buy the Prime Benefit for a Latent power you already possess to gain access to the superior ability of the Psychic power (3 points). Most powers have no other cost, but some do require Fatigue points to be spent to sustain the powers.

This is all a bit cleaner than previous editions, which used a different skill for every power use and required you to buy every effect separately. So I’m down with the reorganization and how it’s done. Unfortunately, it’s not without its share of problems. For instance, how do you buy these after character creation has ended? There’s no provision for buying Benefits with Experience Points, so it’s seemingly impossible to buy new Latent Powers (or, for that matter, to improve your Latent Powers to Prime). But that’s not the only issue. Buying points in your Psychic Path costs 3 x Current Rating Experience Points to improve it by one. So, if you bought the Latent level but didn’t buy any ranks in character creation, your first rank is free! (3 x Current Rating of 0 is 0). And if your GM somehow figures out the proper costs for gaining Benefits in play, your first rank is free then, too!

Looking at the actual Psychic Powers, we’ve got all the standards from previous versions of Fading Suns. And we’ve still got Urge. Urge is one of those Characteristic Pools I talked about last time. As you do bad stuff, your Urge increases. As your Urge increases new effects are triggered based on the Permanent level you possess. New to this edition are temporary effects as well. These can be triggered by a GM whenever he’s feeling cruel, but they do decrease your Temporary Urge track. These are similar to the effects in previous editions, but personally I find it a little easier to use and account for.

Theurgy
Theurgy has also undergone some changes. For one, they’ve been reorganized by Saint instead of by Sect. I’ve ranted about this before, but it’s still dumb. Luckily, most of these correspond to the powers from previous editions, so if you really hate the new Saint thing (*raises hand*), it’s trivial to cross out the names of the Saint and write in the Sect’s name instead. Rites have to be purchased individually, and cost 5 points per Rite. However, there’s another trick here, as the Experience Point costs care if the Rite belongs to your Patron Saint or not, with an increased cost for non-Patron Saints. Better purchase all those non-Patron Saint powers in character creation. As I mentioned, most of the Rites are similar to previous Rites…except for some reason there’s no Armor of the Pancreator. There’s no way to create an energy shield made purely out of Faith. I note that Psychics still get a power that lets them create an energy shield. All I can conclude from this is that whoever wrote this chapter hates priests.

Theurgy uses Faith + Ritual (Theurgy) for all of its goal rolls. This is the first mention of using a Characteristic Track to determine a goal number. Luckily, the Characteristic rules covered this earlier: we use the Permanent rating for this. Next, we have to choose the mode we’re going to use. This determines how long it will take to cast: Blessings are 1 round, Prayers are 10 rounds and Sermons are 15 minutes. Already we can see that Theurgy takes time, unlike Psychic Powers. There are also ways to add to your goal number with Vestments. You have to have the proper sort of Vestment based on what sort of Rite you’re casting. The list of Vestments don’t match up with how the Rites are organized, so that’s real helpful. I mean, we can make the assumption that a St. Horace Pendant (that aids Rites of Wisdom) would aid Rites of the Patron Saint Horace, since they’re not categorized as Rites of Wisdom, but that might be reading too much into it. There’s also Relics. The rules for Tabernacles don’t follow the regular rules for Faith points, so I don’t really know. A Tabernacle can store Faith Points and aid you in casting Rites, except the rules list it as adding +1 per Faith point spent. Except the regular Faith rules let you spend a point for +2 to a goal number or, even better, spend a Faith point to lower the Threshold by 5 points (more on that in a bit). So, why you’d use a Tabernacle, I have no idea.

Rites also have a Threshold. Yes, that’s right. Another new rule just for this particular subsystem. This determines how many VPs you must accumulate over several turns before the Rite actually works. You can only perform a Rite up to three turns without accumulating the needed number of VPs before it’s considered to have failed. The Thresholds depend on the mode you use to cast the Rite. Blessings require the most with the others decreasing. These Thresholds are very high. Most are around the 10 VP mark, but they can get up into 15 or 20 easily. Dispersal of Darkness, for instance, has a Threshold of 20 for a Blessing. As your standard “turn undead” type power, it would be utterly useless to cast this as a Sermon, since you’re looking at 10 rounds; plenty of time for the undead hordes to wash over you. But 20 VPs is kinda hard to accumulate. Remember, your VPs are equal to half your result on a d20, assuming you rolled under your goal number in the first place. A starting character could max out his goal number as 14 (maybe…more later). Assuming he also has the Edge, we’re looking at the most VPs he could accumulate per turn as 7. Of course, if he rolls his goal number exactly, that opens up the opportunity to roll again and see if he can confirm the critical to gain double that…16 VPs. But let’s ignore that less than 5% chance in this example…the maximum number of VPs he could accumulate per turn (with a 10% chance of doing so) is 7. Over three rounds, he might just barely cast that Rite. But more likely, he’ll fail to accumulate enough VPs. Luckily, there’s one option left to him: he can spend a Faith Point to lower the Threshold by 5, making that particular Rite need 15 VPs. Slightly easier, but still easy enough to miss. Hope you don’t mind being eaten by zombies.

So, yeah, after all of that, it’s pretty obvious to me that whoever wrote this chapter really HATES priests.

But that’s not all. The fact that Rites use Faith as their governing Attribute adds in a whole other level of complications. For instance, Faith costs 8 points per point in character creation, excuse me, I mean character genesis. That’s double what Attributes cost. Added to this is the proviso that, if you want to have a chance at having a Rite actually succeed, you’ve got to spend a Faith point to lower the Threshold. And if you spend enough Faith Points to lower your Temporary Track to 0, your Permanent Track will actually lower by 1. So, Priests actually get worse at using their powers as the game continues. And remember, you cannot increase your Faith with Experience Points…only roleplaying. Everyone else can make sure whatever their character’s schtick is gets better with experience, but not the priest.

Whoever wrote this section REALLY HATES priests.

But the hate isn’t over yet. Just as a thought exercise, I pretended I was building a psychic character. Arbitrarily picking Omen (because that’s what page I was on), I figured out what it would cost to raise Omen’s relevant attribute and Psi Path to the highest starting level (7 and 7, respectively). I added in the costs of Latent and Prime, for a grand total of 34 character points. Making a Theurgist with the same stat levels and the same number of possible powers is way more expensive, though. 59 points, to be exact. As you add Psychic powers, that should normalize somewhat, as they’ll pay more in the long run for the extra Benefits + Path skill than a theurgist will pay for Rites, but parity is a long ways off. And in play, I’m sure we’ll see the psychic be way more effective as his powers cost nothing to cast and use a normal goal roll, while the theurgist has to spend Faith points to even have a chance of succeeding at his Rites and will probably still fail.

Probably the reason this particular slight to theurgy annoys me is that I really like the Hubris mechanic for them. This is their negative Characteristic Pool. It operates just like it used to, but with the inclusion of those temporary powers, just like the newly revamped Urge did above. And it still has the best high level effect (Dead World). So that’s fine. At least something from this section is working as intended.

There’s also Operations, which are basically extended rituals to achieve amazing effects. These require that you know a lot of Rites, cast them subsequently, and then make some other skill rolls. Many of them require up towards 10 Rites, so it’s not a thing for beginning characters, apparently. The final effect of these Operations is equal to the least number of VPs gained on any of these rolls. That seems okay at first glance since the Thresholds for Rites are so high. Except those skill rolls involved won’t be accumulating VPs – they’ll just be a straight die roll with hopefully some VPs. So this whole system doesn’t seem worth it.

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