Thursday, August 5, 2010

Psionics, Power Gaming, and Death

I was a pre-teen power gamer.

I admit it. Much to my everlasting shame I was horrible, horrible! I was rampantly abusive! I made life miserable for other players at the table with my grandstanding and diva-like behavior. My character was a one-man wrecking crew…and he wasn’t even a Cavalier or a 3rd Edition Fighter! Just thinking about it makes me feel dirty and guilty...though as a Roman Catholic, guilt and I have a long and semi-healthy relationship.
; )

Not that that my character didn’t DIE many times…as with all our D&D characters back then, he faced the same high mortality rate as any other character. In fact he probably died MORE often than others (probably a half dozen times if not more) due in part to his many solo adventures. Fortunately, we were playing Advanced Dungeons & Dragons where death is simply a minor set-back…my character was wished back to life so many times, it became a bit of a running joke in our gaming group.

[side note to folks wanting to be 1st edition power gamers…getting wished back is definitely the way to go. There’s no loss of Constitution as with Resurrection and as long as you’ve got a little elf blood in you, the extra aging is no big deal]

One of the things that made my character so all-fired powerful was his incredible psionic might. Yes, you know those “un-balanced” psionic powers you’ve read so much about. My character had psionic power for days, man…and the lax rules with regard to game balance (at least by 1st edition rules…we never owned Eldritch Wizardry) truly made him a god-like force in the campaign. It certainly didn’t hurt that he was a bard, and had sky-high attributes (as all 1e bards do), since this is the general determination of psionic ability in AD&D.

Although he had many psionic powers, plus most of the lettered Attack/Defense ranks, only two abilities really jump out in my memory as being his “bread & butter,” and they were really the ones that made him infamous within our campaign: Cell Adjustment and Telekinesis.

Cell Adjustment is basically “self-healing.” Every psionic point you spend (and my character almost certainly had a couple hundred banked) would heal a certain number of hit points. I don’t have my book in front of me, but I’m pretty sure it was a better than 1-to-1 basis (maybe 4 to 1? That sounds right). Since psionic points regenerated extremely fast with rest and “meditation” my character could enjoy extended solo delves relying on no one besides his own badass abilities. As a young fighter, just beginning his adventuring career, it all but ensured he would survive to the higher levels (which he did...boy, did he ever!).

[hmmm…I sure probably stop talking about the character in the 3rd person. After all, it was ME, all me, piloting this monster]

The other ability *I* made great use of was telekinesis. TK as a power is ill-defined in D&D. One can use it to “move things with your mind” like hitting people with big rocks and stuff. Okaaay…what about manipulating smaller things? There’s a maximum weight limit, but no minimum…can you use TK to, say, suck the air out of a person, creating a vacuum crushing your opponent from within? Can you manipulate the tumblers in a lock to open it without setting off traps yourself?

Basically, our campaign was run where, if you could imagine it (and explain it) the sky was the limit within the limits of your powers. There was no attempt at “game balance;” like comic book artists or horror novelists (Stephen King was a great inspiration for us in the 80s) if it sounded possible we’d allow it to happen. No one was interested in “keeping the game balance.” Neither were we attempting to destroy game balance or “break the system.” We (the DMs) thought it would be cool to have a dude in the game with crazy-ass telekinetic powers and there was no attempt at reining him (me) in.

Besides which, he still died. Often. Despite the -8 armor class and the hundreds of hit points and the periapt of protection against poison +4 (another must-have for the power gamer)...despite even the cell adjustment.

I can remember the last (or one of the last) times my guy ended up taking a “dirt nap.” He was solo-ing (again) this time through a classic module I’m sure I’ve mentioned before: Q1: Queen of the Demonweb Pits. He was round about 20th level at the time (bard level…he was maxed in his other classes) and carving up the ranks pretty good with his dual-wielded Hammer of Thunderbolts and Vorpal Shortsword.

[did I mention how ashamed I feel? Sorry folks…but really I HAVE matured since in the last 23 years…honestly!]

I got to Lolth’s “spider ship” and was pounding the opposition with a combination of invisibility, backstabbing, druid spells, and sheer combat firepower (javelins of lightning, etc.). Got to Lolth and had that bitch ON THE RUN…beat her down, forced her to move, found her again, beat her down some more. Eventually, we ended up in her “last stand” room…a chamber with several animated warrior statues that engaged me while the Queen beefed herself with healing and boosts.

It was somewhere around round two or three (I think) that she hit me with a Cone of Cold and I noticed I’d forgotten to use my Cell Adjustment ability during the running fight.

And I died…again.

But of course, tramping on the turf of a demon goddess as I had, you can probably guess that my character didn’t stay dead for long. Lolth herself brought me back to life…only so that she could torture me 24-7 in a kind of Zeus-Prometheus relationship (not that my character received anything so sweet and gentle as a griffon ripping out my liver daily). And no, I was allowed no rest or relaxation to regain (or use) psionic strength.

In fact, there wasn’t much of me that was kept alive, as I recall…a shapeless lump of flesh, deformed and brutalized and cut on, kept alive and animate only by Lolth’s will. Well, that and my ring of regeneration, which she allowed me to keep wearing if I remember correctly (so she wouldn’t have to spend so much energy on healing).

The story of my eventual escape from torment (after several game months) is a post for another time. Suffice is to say that it was NOT my own badass character that freed himself (he was too busy writhing and suffering torment to find his amulet of the planes).

[did I mention I was a poster child for the "munchkin class?"]
; )


  1. I like this story we need more of this kind of play in our adulthood too IMHO... :-)

  2. @ Bard: Well, I'm at least a little relieved to say that most of our games was about more than "JB kicking ass with his power-tripping-psionic-bard dude." Which is probably why this particular "ass-kicking adventure" (and it's less than heroic ending) was all the more memorable.

    I'm sure others have similar stories of rampant abuse...?
    ; )

  3. A W E S O M E ! ! !

    This story, the mental pictures it created, and your word choices had me laughing so much I almost cried. Great job!