Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Psychic Power and the Telepath Question.

One of the nice things (there are many) about dating a fellow gamer/GM is that you get to have long, late-night design conversations about various and sundry things. Last night, we wound up discussing what I was looking for in terms of The Truth in Yellow, the psychic horror game I am wanting to run. For this game, I am leaning very heavily towards using the Over The Edge system, although I am planning on using the Dawning Star setting. Yes, I know that DS was written for D20 Future, but the sort of game I'm planning to run isn't particularly a shoot 'em-up, while Red Truth is exactly what I'm looking for in terms of psionics for this game in specific*.

Which leads to to psionics in general, which is a special love of mine. I am a sucker for a good psionic system, though I've never yet found anything that works the way I think psionics should, exactly. Which wants to ask, well, what do I want from my brain-suckers, anyway?

*It is important to note that, although I have been maundering about Red Truth et al above, the list below is not something I intend to use in that game; Red Truth doesn't do the things listed below, as written. That said, Red Truth is effing awesome. But one can like more than one thing.

1) Psionics are different from Magic.

In my ideal system, Psi and Magic are fundamentally different, and while certain of the effects can mimic each other, the sources are not t'all the same. The primary example is Sleep. Traditionally, Sleep is considered an effect that works on the mind, whatever the source. So doesn't that make it psionic?

The answer in my proposed system is no. A mental effect is psionic only if the source of the effect is mental, not the target. Hence the difference between a pyrokinetic blast and a mage's fireball, metabolic healing and magical healing, or a telepath knocking out a target and the sleep spell.

I would not include telepathy or read minds as magic effects at all, except perhaps in a very limited, 'send message' kind of way. In these cases, what is happening is not one mind speaking to another, but an effect which simulates sound that only the intended recipient can hear.

The principal difference is that psionic energy comes from the person innately, while magic is pulled from somewhere else. To answer the question Shieldhaven just put to me, how would mages be limited at all? My thought is that the mage is limited in how much energy they can pull, and how they can pull it. Also, magic is something that has to be learned, and anyone cal generally learn it, while psions are born.

2) A Psion's lot is not a happy one.

Being a psi, using your powers, and learning to control your powers isn't easy, and is likely to take a huge chunk out of your ability to do other things. The penalty will vary based on the kind of psionics you're using. Sound risky? Should be risky. Success as a psi is freaking awesome. How to model this for different stories one wants to tell is something of a question. Not every story should or ought to be, "this is how I learned to control my powers, and these are my scars." For games that take place later in the characters' lives, perhaps a list of disadvantages linked to powers would be good, that could either be selected purposefully or randomly, though the latter runs the risk of becoming a gamble to see whether your character even survives creation.

3) Different sorts of Psi are also different.

This will require a lot more thought to cease being nebulous for me, but I think that different kinds of psi should be different skills. Pretty much as follows:

a) Telepathy -- I go into your mind with mine and affect your thoughts. I can change your mind, implant thoughts, or forbid you from thinking of a thing, though I can't make you like it. At the extreme, I can overwhelm your synapses and fry your brain. It's not particularly subtle though. I can sense thinking beings without necessarily seeing them, by 'hearing' their mental energy, if they are not trying to shield it from me, or else I am not trying to block them out. If I'm not careful, you'll wind up destroying my brain, or I'll go nuts and destroy all of yours.

b) Empathy-- I go into your mind with mine and affect your emotions. I can change the actual function of your brain much as drugs or alcohol do, by making you feel one way or another just at the moment, though I can't make you think anything in particular. I'm much more subtle than the telepath, at base. I can sense any creature which is alive and experiences emotions without necessarily seeing them, if they are not trying to shield from me, or else I am not trying to block them out. If I'm not careful, I'll go insane from everyone else's emotions, or I'll wind up driving other people to unpleasant things.

c) Telekinesis-- I move objects with my mind. With effort, I can actually sense objects that I cannot see; the more subtle, the more effort this requires. This is not easy for me. Aw shit, now I'm bleeding.

c.1) Pyrokinesis-- I generate heat energy with my mind. So... um, I set shit on fire. Go me. As for my problems, see the telekinetics.

c.2) Electrokinesis-- I generate electricity with my mind. I blow out streetlamps and can't ever wear watches. I might wipe hard drives too. But... force lightning!

d) Impression Sensitivity (Psychometry) -- I read the psychic impressions of objects. I can tell you who last touched an object, or at least what they are or were like while they were actually in contact with said object. The more information I can get from something, the more overwhelming objects are in general. (some sort of rules about how particular objects hold energy might be useful here).

Another version of Impression Sensitivity works on people at touch-- I 'read' you when you are touching me, and I can tell what you're thinking & feeling, as well as seeing a little bit of your past when I touch you.

e) Metabolics -- I heal people with my mind. I can make you-- and possibly myself-- better, stronger, and faster, with effort. I probably am also an empath though, otherwise I might fuck this up pretty badly, and wind up hurting you or myself, or healing you at a profound cost to myself.

f) Precognition-- I can see the future! I don't like being around other people who can see the future... we mess each other up. Also, this is extremely stressful, and did you know human brains aren't really built for this kind of thing? They're not.

f.1) Clairvoyance-- I can see the here-and-now at a distance! Problem is, I need something to focus on, or else it kind of hits me at random, and blacks out, you know, what I should be paying attention to. Like walking down stairs, or driving.

These are my starting place, I shall go further from there. But the brain, it storms. Storm brain, storm!


  1. If you kill me during character creation, I will demand cheese as the only fair and just recompense.

    Also, I like the list.

  2. As we talked about tonight, I think that quantifying mental things, such as urges and drives, to balance telepathy and empathy is pretty crucial. I think that's part of where I'd want to start if I were creating rules for this.

  3. @Wendy-- I probably wouldn't use the system I'm outlining for Dawning Star, as Red Truth is so much it's own thing. I might wind up writing a new system for Psionic gaming, however.

    @Haven-- you're not wrong, and that's where a bidding system not unlike Nobilis would make a lot of sense. One of the things I am worried about, though, is running out of steam too early. I think the idea of actions that are contested and actions that are not contested will also wind up being pretty important. The main questions it occurs to me to need to answer is how much does anything cost right out of the gate, and how long is it depleted. Anyway, it all merits much more thought than I've given it thusfar.

  4. So I've been thinking about this a bit more, and I think you could make a pretty cool system out of using the strength of conviction as a modifier to skill rolls. So someone could have, say, five goals at 1 and four goals at 2, as well as a separate stack of "how badly I need this short-term thing" (like "killing the motherfucker right in front of me" or whatever). Leadership abilities might temporarily strengthen existing convictions or add new ones, while telepathic and empathic abilities have their difficulties set by those relative strengths.

    The core of my thinking on this comes from Pendragon's sort of shaky Passions system, and is also informed by Shadows of Azathoth's quantified "strength of a memory."

  5. Sort of a priorities/things I care about system? That's not a bad idea. I can see balancing telepathic/empathic/telempathic things with kinetic things (and those poor precogs/metabolics) as about as difficult as balancing ranged and melee combat in other games.

    I also would need to decide how I would allow/disallow having multiple psychic powers. a Telempath is definitely better than either/or, but I think that in a game setting, someone would verily have to be limited to only 2 powers, or... well, potentially, a limited pool of points where each power category had a value, like, okay, I have 10 points, and I can have up to 10 in a given power which represents my potential in it, so if I want more than one of any given power, it limits how far I'm able to go in it, or something like that.

    Though that gets to the point where it would be easier to do with sliders on a computer screen. :P