Friday, March 2, 2018

[D&D] Focused Energy Activation Techniques

Characters who have received special training may concentrate and focus their personal energy (ki or qi) and then release it in a sudden burst to achieve a superhuman or spell-like effect. Each such activation technique must be learned separately, and a character may only learn as many different techniques as their wisdom score divided by 3 (rounding down).

Activating a minor technique costs one Joss Factor per use. Characters of 5th level or higher may activate moderate techniques at a cost of two JF per use. Major techniques may only be activated by characters of 11th level or higher and cost three JF per use.

In order to activate a technique the character must either give an emphatic shout (kiai or equivalent) simultaneously with performing the action that activates the technique or must concentrate for 1-3 full rounds before performing the action that activates the technique. Most techniques can be activated by either means, though some will obviously require one method or the other.

Generally speaking a technique cannot be activated multiple times in order to stack its effects, but multiple techniques can be in effect at the same time, and those with durations may be re-activated in order to extend the duration (with each activation requiring that additional JF be spent, naturally).

The ease or difficulty with which characters may locate masters capable of training them in the various techniques, how long the training takes to complete, and the payment in goods or services that the masters will demand in exchange for the training, are all entirely at the discretion of the DM according to the feel desired for his or her individual campaign, though it is recommended in any case that only NPCs be capable of providing training in these techniques.

In the WORLD OF GREYHAWK setting, these techniques are generally only known and taught in the areas of and surrounding the Celestial Empire of Suhfang, far to the west of the Flanaess. The techniques are jealously guarded secrets by the sects who have mastered them, and certainly any outlander barbarian (and note that in Suhfang all outlanders are considered to be barbarians) who traveled to those lands would face great difficulty convincing any master or school of his or her worthiness to be taken on as a pupil and initiated into the mysteries of even a minor technique. Within that realm, individuals who show promise are typically inducted into an organized school or sect as children, based on their family’s caste and status. Each such school retains the knowledge of up to three techniques (one each minor, moderate, and major) that are passed on to the pupils as they reach the appropriate stage in their training.  For example, the legendarily secretive assassin’s guild known as the Hidden Army, in addition to training its members in the mundane skills of the assassin and acrobat classes, is rumored to also teach its most promising initiates the secret energy activation techniques of regulated breathing and water walking, and perhaps even to possess knowledge of the ultimate secret technique of phase shifting

Seeking out knowledge of additional, or different, techniques requires either ingratiating into a rival sect by deception or trickery (which, if discovered, causes both grievous loss of honor to the character’s family and likely expulsion from the character’s own sect) or seeking out a hidden or remote individual master. After locating such a master, a formidable quest in itself, the prospective pupil must convince the master of their worthiness to be taken into service. This likely involves fulfilling a series of difficult tasks or quests as dictated by the master. Once the master has agreed to take on a pupil, several game months of time are required for each technique during which the pupil may perform no other activity than exercise, training, and meditation. At the end of each month of training the character has a cumulative 25% chance of mastering the technique, up to a maximum of 90%. Should the character ever roll a 00 on this check then that character will never be able to master this technique from this master. 

Minor Techniques:

  • Blind Fighting: Upon activating this technique, the character suffers no penalties for operating in darkness, or from blindness, for a duration of one turn.
  • Danger Sense: By means of this technique the character’s senses are heightened for one turn, doubling the character’s normal chance of hearing noise and spotting traps, and halving their chance to be surprised.
  • Graceful Step: By means of this technique the character exhibits perfect balance, including the ability to balance on something as narrow as a tightrope or as light as a single tree-branch, and also gains a +25% bonus to move silently checks (or a +1 bonus to achieve surprise, for non-thieves) for a duration of one turn.
  • Hare’s Speed:  Activating this technique doubles the character’s normal movement rate for a duration of one turn.
  • Power Surge: Activation of this technique allows the character to focus a surge of additional energy into a single action, which can take the form of one extra attack, or maximum damage on a single attack, or an increase in the power of a single spell as if it were cast by a character three levels higher than the character.
  • Protective Aura: Activation of this technique raises an invisible aura around the character which grants a +2 bonus to the character’s armor class, +2 bonus to all saving throws, and +20 additional psionic defense points (if relevant) for a duration of one turn.
  • Quick-draw: Activation of this technique gives the character a sudden burst of speed, giving a +3 bonus to initiative for one round. Note that this applies to any action for that round – including, for instance, initiating spell casting - and not just to drawing a weapon.
  • Regulated Breathing: By means of this technique the character is able to regulate their breathing to allow either holding his or her breath entirely for a one turn + one round per level (thus allowing the character to operate underwater or resist the effects of gasses), or to slow down breathing, heart rate, and body temperature so as to feign death (as the monk ability) for a duration of one turn per level of the character.

Moderate Techniques:

  • Boar's Resilience: By means of this activation the character’s will is so strongly focused that he or she will remain conscious and continue fighting or other activity even after being reduced to a negative hit point total of up to the character’s constitution score (i.e. a character with a 14 constitution may remain active with up to -14 hit points) for up to one turn. At the end of that turn, if the character has not been restored to a positive hit point total, or should the total negative hit point total exceed the character’s constitution score, then he or she will fall unconscious and begin bleeding out per the standard procedure (q.v. DMG p. 82) if the negative total is up to -9, or die immediately should the total equal or exceed -10.
  • Fear-inducing Shout: When this technique is activated by means of a mighty shout, all enemies within 30' radius of the shouting character must make a successful saving throw vs. spells or flee for 1-4 rounds as if affected by a fear wand.
  • Mighty Leaping: Activating this technique allows the character to make one leap for every four levels the character has attained of up to 50' each – forward, backward, or vertical. Each leap takes but a single segment to perform, and the character may use this technique to leap into melee, which is treated as a charge attack, or out of melee, in which case the opponent does not get a parting shot (unless he or she is also capable of leaping and chooses to pursue).
  • Missile Deflection: When this technique is activated the character’s reflexes are sharpened to such a degree that he or she is able to dodge or deflect any missile attack upon a successful saving throw vs. petrification, or may attempt to catch missiles, with a chance of success equal to the character’s dexterity score x3 as a percentage (i.e. 45% for a character with a 15 dexterity) for thrown missiles, or the character’s dexterity score as a percentage for missiles launched by device (i.e. bow, crossbow, or sling). The activation persists for one round per level of the character.
  • Pinpoint Strike: By activating this technique, the character may make a single attack with pinpoint accuracy, so as to ignore an opponent’s armor completely or otherwise to target a precise location. By means of this technique, a character could, for example, snatch out an unwary opponent's eyeball.
  • Resist Elements: Activation of this technique allows the character to function as if under the effect of a resist fire and resist cold spell for a duration of one turn per level of the character, and as if under the effect of the endure cold/endure heat spell for a duration of one hour per level.
  • Water Walking: This technique allows the character to walk upon water at his or her full normal movement rate for a duration of one turn + one round per level.
  • Weapon-breaking Strike: By means of this technique, a single successful hit does not inflict any damage on the opponent but instead requires that individual to succeed in a saving throw vs. petrification or his or her weapon breaks and shatters. Magic weapons add their “plus” value to the saving throw and any weapon of +4 or higher is unbreakable except by a weapon of equal or greater power (i.e. a +5 sword can only be broken by another +5 or better weapon).

Major Techniques:

  • Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique: By means of this technique, the character makes a single open-handed attack with the same effect as the monk’s quivering palm ability.
  • Indomitable Will: When this technique is activated the character’s force of will is strengthened so as to render the character totally immune to all mind-affecting spells and effects, and to all manner of psionic attack, for a duration of one round per level of the character.
  • Levitation: Activation of this technique allows the character to levitate, as per the magic-user spell, simply by willing it so, with a duration of one turn per level of the character. As with all energy activation techniques, this ability is not considered to be magical in nature and is thus not subject to dispel magic, magic resistance, or anti-magic effects.
  • Paralyzing Shout: The force of this great shout causes all enemies within 30' radius of the shouting character to make a saving throw vs. spells or paralyzed and held immobile in place, unable to attack, move, or even speak, for 1-6 rounds.
  • Phase Shift: When this technique is activated, the character becomes ethereal (cf. oil of etherealness) for a duration of one round for every four levels of the character.
  • Whirlwind Attack: When this technique is activated, the character is allowed to make a full round’s worth of melee attacks upon each opponent within a 10' radius of the character.


  1. In case it's not obvious, this represents my attempt to reconceptualize the "Oriental Adventures" classes into a more universally-applicable context - both so that "western" characters can learn those techniques without having to dual-class into an "oriental" class, and so that game worlds don't have to be divided between "western" and "oriental" at all - that fantasy worlds don't need to be limited by real-world historical cultural divides. D&D already freely mashes together all of Europe and the near east, ancient and medieval and early modern, not to mention occasional cameos from the high-tech future, so segregating out Asian-flavored content into its own thing seems like a misguided relic of the past that we shouldn't feel bound by any longer.

    That I realized, when working on this, that the system I had come up with also managed to fill the role of later editions' "feats" (thus the cheeky acronym of the rule's title) was a happy accident. I don't like the way that concept was implemented in the official game, but these sorts of flashy special maneuvers are popular with players so it was nice to find a way of incorporating something close to them into the Gygax-1E paradigm.

    A couple more things:

    1) Joss and Joss Factors are a concept lifted from Gary Gygax's post-TSR game Dangerous Journeys. I adapted it to AD&D in my "AD&D Companion" document which can be downloaded from a link in the "Pages of Interest" list over on the side (or from the previous post I did talking about that document).

    2) Some of these techniques overlap and duplicate spells and psionic disciplines. I'm okay with that. The way I'm picturing things, in an Oerth/Greyhawk context, perhaps different regions approach the supernatural differently: in the Flanaess the focus is on spells, in Suhfang it's on channeled personal energy through ki techniques, in Jahind the focus is primarily on psionics (which they term yoga), and in Gonduria (the continent of Oerth that Gary described as being an analog to Africa) I'm thinking they focus on the summoning and binding of spirits, along the lines of Jack Vance's later-period fantasy works (where instead of the wizard casting a spell, the wizard summons a spirit who performs the magical effect).

    1. Regarding the last bit (spirit summoning and binding as a 4th approach to magic) Guy Fullerton has already done a lot of work in that direction by adapting the magic system from the Stormbringer RPG to AD&D. I'd make some flavor-changes to this before incorporating it wholesale into my games, but it definitely feels like most of the work has already been done:

  2. Its good to have some kind of free "karate" available and this seems like a good idea in a world of "monks". Does the Joss Factor directly correlate to the add on material in your AD&D compilation the AD&D COMPANION: A COLLECTION OF HOUSE RULES & EXPANSIONS (2016)?

    1. It does. All of the stuff from that document has become so internalized to my concept of AD&D that my mind automatically incorporates it when I think of new rulesy stuff and it’s usually only after the fact when somebody asks about it that I’m reminded that not everybody uses Joss and knacks and so on.