Sunday, March 19, 2017

Psi Wars: Gotta Collect Them All: Relics as Sets

A common convention in fantasy literature and tabletop games is the idea of items that are part of a set, where the individual pieces may have power in their own right, but the full collection is more potent still. But why would you do this?

One answer lies in the way it lends itself toward a meaningful narrative arc. The desire or need to collect all of the lost regalia of the First Emperor means that the story doesn’t stop with the first piece to be recovered. Instead, there’s more to follow, as the heroes and their rivals race each other to be the first to retrieve the next piece. It also lets the heroes fail occasionally without bringing the tale to a grinding halt, since their rivals may beat them to one piece, but next time will be better!

Taken to an extreme, this sort of collection quest can form the basis of an episodic narrative, where the heroes are trying to find the most recently discovered treasure from the Ancient Starfarer’s lost Ship of Wonders, and perhaps piece together the clues to discover the location of the ancient vessel itself.

Another answer is the way that power grows slowly, a consideration important both for dramatic tension in literature and balance in tabletop RPGs. Instead of immediately gaining access to all the power of the Great Usurper, the treacherous councilor who supplanted the dynasty the First Emperor founded, they instead only gain a fragment of it when they take up the tainted blade he wielded, still burning red with the blood of those he betrayed. For the rest, they need to seek out his scepter, cloak, and mask, each with their own powers.

Given this utility, I would like to propose a few guidelines for creating sets of relics in Psi Wars.

When is a Set a Set?

The first question is what defines a set of relics, and the answer is ultimately “Whatever the GM says it is.” But that’s unsatisfying, and so here are a few questions to ask yourself when considering whether relics are standalone or a set.

  1. Do the relics have a shared story?
  2. Are they better known as part of the collection, or do their individual stories stand out?
  3. Could they reasonably be used together at the same time? Alternatively, are they mutually exclusive, where drawing on the powers of one limits your ability to use the others?

The first question is quite natural, since if the relics don’t share an origin, a wielder, or something else to bind them together, they clearly aren’t a set. The second addresses whether people talk about the Regalia of the First Emperor, or if the First Emperor’s Scepter is something of note in its own right.

The third question is more subtle. A force sword and buckler can clearly be a set, since they’re meant to be used together, especially if their bearer favored that style of combat. The Ten Rings of the Dark Reaches, made as gifts for the queen of a depraved, hedonistic society, might also be a set, even if the power each possesses prevents the others from being used.

Ultimately, these are suggestions, and you’re free to decide what qualifies.

Power Divided

Now that you’ve decided what counts as a relic, you need to decide what fraction of the power of the whole they possess. First, consult my previous posts to determine the point value of the set. Then, take 1/2 of that value, and distribute it evenly among the component relics.

This means that relics of a set are much weaker on their own, but if they’re very old and storied, that can still be a significant amount of power. If you have a 200 point relic, divided among four pieces, they can each have 25 points worth of abilities, enough for a single psionic ability or several levels of Destiny.

Combining Powers

What happens when you start to bring relics together? The number of points that you have for abilities grows, with every piece of the set past one unlocking a number of points equal to the value of a single piece.

There’s several possibilities for how you can use this points and how they interact with existing abilities:

  1. New abilities are unlocked
  2. Existing abilities become stronger
  3. Existing abilities become alternate abilities
  4. Identical abilities add their point value to the total

At its simplest, you can add new abilities with the new points. More levels of Destiny or Higher Purpose, new powers, and so on are all appropriate.

Alternatively, you can improve an existing ability, like adding additional levels to a leveled psionic power (Surge, Psychic Hunches, to name a few).

If individual pieces of a relic set have the same ability, and it doesn’t meaningfully add to itself or has a cap on how many levels it can have, then add the value of extra copies of the ability to the point pool.

The most interesting possibility is that the pieces have abilities that can’t be used simultaneous. If you can only use the Aspect power of the First Emperor’s crown or the Suggestion ability of his scepter, but not both at once, then that’s an example of them being alternate abilities.

To decide how many points can be used on alternate abilities, total the number of points in abilities that are mutually exclusive, add in any amount of additional points, and then take 2/3 of that number. Each piece can have alternate abilities worth a maximum of that value.

This is a quick and dirty way to calculate the maximum value for most small sets of relics (2-6 pieces). For a more exact way, determine the total number of points available for alternate abilities. Then, for a set of relics with N pieces, the maximum number of points each relic can have in its abilities is:

(Total points * 5) / (5 + N - 1)

This reflects the fact that the first set of abilities is full cost, while each subsequent one only costs 1/5 of its regular value.

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