Yesterday(the day before?), I worked out a few of the mechanical details I wanted in my game. As I am still brainstorming, I have not cut much out of my game. So now I am going to discuss the long thought process that led up to my first big cut(only, you know, I didn't really cut anything. I know, I know, I tried. Really I did, but...well, you'll see). I had to decide whether or not my setting would have psychic powers/the Force/space magic. And this was a very tough call. A lot of my source material had mystical, or pseudo-mystical, trappings throughout. They were rich and flavorful, and really added a lot of depth to the world.
However, the problem is that in games with those powers it is very difficult to play a group where some have powers and some don't. Space magic gives the players with it far more options in and out of combat. This leads to them being able to solve more problems than a person without them.
This has been a problem in several of the games I have run in the past. In star wars(WEG, D20, and Saga, though less of a problem in saga) the Jedi almost always overshadowed the rest of the player characters. The force(and light sabers...stupid space swords...) made them far more competent than a character of equal experience. This led to my house rule, the party is either all Jedi or no Jedi, no mixed parties. But that sucked the fun out of the game for two of my friends. One wanted to always play the Han Solo part, and one always the Jedi.
The other game that this came up in for me was Aeon Trinity. In it psychics and soldiers fight a desperate battle against the super powered monstrosities from the stars. Only once did I have someone(the Han Solo guy) make a non psychic, but it ruined the game. He just couldn't keep up. Any combat situation he could handle, the rest of the party mopped the floor with it. If I challenged them, then he was dead. Mostly this wasn't a huge problem, as most of my players just naturally gravitated to psychics, but still, it was an issue.
So the question comes down to this. If I allow space magic in my game, then how do I keep it balanced with the no psychic characters? Basically, how do I keep the non magic characters mechanically viable? I could go the D&D 4th route and make very skill set have magic powers, but that kind of feels like cheating. I could just not have any magic powers in my world, but that starts moving away from a lot of what I liked in the source material.
Ok so, originally I went the no magic powers route. Then as I was going along in my analysis, and mulling it over at work I got to thinking that I really would be missing out if I cut the space magic. So I added that back in. I know this was supposed to be an article on narrowing ideas and gaining focus, but...now it isn't...so I cut out the part where I cut the magic and instead present this next bit to explain a little and see if I can't work out a rough idea on how I will mitigate the problems I foresee.
So I have decided to keep magic in my game. I think I have a few ideas to help sort out the issues I have had in the past. Firstly I have a fix for the fluff in the game. Then I have a couple of mechanics ideas that will augment that.
If there are magic powers, then they are either new or have been around for a while. As I think the new powers would lead the game to focus on that too much, I am going to go with magic being around for a long while. So it is a known(if not accepted) aspect of humanity. Now here is where I take my cue from the Deathstalker series of books. In them the psychics are treated as less than human. They are second class citizens at best, and really closer to slaves. I also like how they are handled in the Dune universe. Only a few people have the power, and so they formed into a clandestine and occult society that has it own rules and wants. So I am thinking that for a majority of human space the people with cool powers will be treated as slaves(or indentured or something) and there are also secret societies of magic people who hide out, either on the fringes of human space or secretly walk the very halls of power themselves. This will add a reason in the fluff to keep it on the down low that you haves the kul powerz!!!!1one
Now onto the crunch. In order to avoid making the powers too amazing, I think I will make them hyper specialized. You will have one main power skill(telepathy, clairvoyance, the force, whatever) and then you will be able to pick specialties(though I may call them something different). Each specialty will allow you to use your power skill in place of one facet of another skill. Remember that each skill will have three facets(see last post). What this means is that you can do a lot of very disparate things with your power skill, but it takes more time and focus. Odds are good that getting the skill would be a greater benefit in some ways, as the skill gives you access to all the facets within, rather than just one.