As progress continues on Cave of the Goblin King and the Sentia Arena Kickstarter fulfillment, I wanted to take a moment to do a design discussion on a potentially game breaking ability: Telepathy.
Telepathy falls under the same category as Teleportation, Flight, Detect Alignment, Zone of Truth, and many other game breaking abilities. I say “game breaking” not because they are statistically too powerful. They are game breaking because they bypass certain parts of the game experience. Note that this isn’t automatically a bad thing.
Flight bypasses land-based units, traps, and many obstacles such as chasms and rivers. A single ability bypasses what would normally prove to be a complex problem for the party. So we have to be careful about our flight abilities. I’m not saying we have struck a perfect balance right now for flight, but we are very conscious about adding new ways for PCs to fly.
But back to Telepathy. Telepathy bypasses the need of subterfuge and the difficulties discussing plans when there are enemies around, or the party is trying to be sneaky. Message was much like this for a while in our system, until we realized it was less a cell phone as much as it was “We can talk OOC about our plans with no repercussions.” Message(a level 0 spell, no less) now requires you to speak aloud, more akin to a cell phone. But Telepathy is different. Players want mind-to-mind two way communication. Much like flight, it is cool.
Flight is partially balanced by the risks involved. If you are stunned or immobilized while in the air non-magically, you can fall. If you are flying magically and are hit with a dispel magic, you fall. There was nothing inherently risky about telepathy.
So we added a risk. We had a Psionics skill that granted short ranged telepathy and dealt with psionics and breath abilities(like ninja who use the same style “use my mental/physical fortitude to do spectacular things”). We simply added the ability to eavesdrop in on telepathy. If you are trained in Psionics and suspect someone nearby is using telepathy, you can reach out with your mind and attempt to pick up the psychic wavelengths they are talking on.
Here is the full Psionics skill listing as of 2/6 (which can be found in the skill document of Version 0.7)
Your study of psionics or ninjutsu are beyond compare. Study of psionics is rare in most countries that do not practice ninjutsu or psionics.
Telepathy: At three ranks, you gain Telepathy out to 5ft. Distance increases by 5ft for every 3 ranks after that.
Overhear Telepathy: If you discover someone around you is using telepathy to communicate, you can make a Psionics check with the DC shown below to be able to overhear their conversation. Succeeding on this check allows you to hear them speak as if they were speaking audibly.
||Opposing Psionics check
||Monster Will save
Breath: For every four ranks, you gain +1 Breath if you already have Breath.
Identify Technique: As an immediate interrupt, you can make a Psionics check to know what psionic or breath ability is being cast. An DC(8) tells the element or school of the ability, a DC(13) tells the name of the ability, and a DC(18) tells the details of the ability and allows you to counter a technique with a DC(18) Spellcraft check.
Monsters who are psychically trained can likewise attempt to eavesdrop with a Will save(monsters do not have skills and instead use the appropriate save in place of it). Knowing this risk(along with limiting size or duration) can go a long way to tempering the player’s willingness to rely on telepathy to discuss murdering the king in his presence.