Thursday, August 5, 2010

Gygax on "Psionics"

It's pretty well known among old school gamers that Gary Gygax long regretted the inclusion of psionics in AD&D. As I recall, he was considering dropping it entirely from his never-realized Second Edition of the game. Consequently, when he created his Dangerous Journeys multi-genre RPG, Gygax opposed "magickal casting," which were powered by Heka and "psychogenic powers," which were fueled by Vril and noted that users of one who traveled to a universe where the other held sway would find their native abilities translated to the appropriate type. There's some food for thought there.

More amusingly, though, is this passage in Mythus Magick, where Gygax discusses psionics:
The term "Psionics" should be followed by "(sic)" in most works dealing with roleplaying game rules, for it is typically misused. (A good indicator of how well the authors have researched their work, and how little the publisher knows about it, too!). Psionics means "electronically enhanced psychic, or psychogenic, ability." It is as simple as that.
As it turns out, Gary was correct on the term "psionics," the coinage often being attributed to the famed science fiction pioneer John W. Campbell and meaning just what Gygax says it does. However, this passage makes me laugh because, of course, D&D probably played as big a role in spreading this misuse as anything else (first appearing in a book Gygax co-write and being adopted in another for which he has the sole byline). It's also funny because Mythus Magick was published by GDW, a company whose own signature game line, Traveller, though based on classic sci-fi, nevertheless uses "psionics" to mean psychic powers.

7 comments:

  1. I always wondered about that, to be honest. Why Psion instead of psychic? Is it because Psion sounds cooler than Psychic, and doesn't have the "Mrs. Cleo voodoo quack" connotation?

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  2. Psychic actually would probably be better, but I think most people only associate it with clairvoyance or ESP, not with telekinesis or other mental powers which might be a reason to use a term like psionic.

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  3. Ha! To me it's just another example of themish-mash of genres that was the foundational stew of OD&D...who's to say psionics AREN'T supposed to be "electronically enhanced?"
    ; )

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  4. As we do carry a bit of electrical charge within us, maybe those with psionics have more of a battery than most?

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  5. Why Psion instead of psychic?

    In OD&D, the term "psion" never appears so far I can recall. Indeed, Supplment III actually use the term "psychic" to refer to characters with psionic ability.

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  6. My personal bane is people confusing cybernetics (the design and construction of artificial intelligences) with prosthetics (the construction of artificial limbs), ever since that book by Stephen Caidin was made popular by that cheap 70's series featuring a very expensive man (for the time at least).

    Another one is mistaking an android for being a mechanical artificial life form.

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  7. My personal bane is people confusing cybernetics (the design and construction of artificial intelligences) with prosthetics (the construction of artificial limbs), ever since that book by Stephen Caidin was made popular by that cheap 70's series featuring a very expensive man (for the time at least).

    I'll tell you what: I'll make a point of fixing this in the revised edition of Thousand Suns, since it's something I wanted to do originally and then didn't because of popular usage.

    Another one is mistaking an android for being a mechanical artificial life form.

    Indeed!

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