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Mind Games: Four Psionic Seeds

This article originally appeared in the November 2014 issue.

In all of these scenarios, the PCs are presumed to be Zhodani, unless otherwise noted.


Somewhere deep in the Zhodani Consulate on a relatively low population agricultural world, the agribots have started malfunctioning. The PCs have been brought in to investigate. Perhaps they have relevant skills and have been called from a nearby world or perhaps they’re traders passing through and thought to be external to whatever the problem is and can bring a fresh eye to it. The world is fairly stultified and the tech level can barely support the robots in the first place so any help is appreciated.

Possible directions to take this scenario

  1. It’s purely a mechanical breakdown and it’s relatively easy, if awkward, to fix. The PCs can soon be on their way again with the thanks – and payment – of the world’s inhabitants.
  2. As 1 but the problem is very hard to fix and the PCs may become involved in relief efforts to get sufficient food to the population as supplies start dwindling. (An extra twist might be that the storage of the supplies has gone bad or there’s been some mismanagement and someone is due for re-education.)
  3. The problem relates to psionic switches installed for the convenience of Intendants who supervise the proles who do the actual labour. The proles of course have no idea what the problem is much less how to fix it; the Intendants haven’t yet latched on to the problem but have asked for help. It’s fixable but harder to detect and will need psionic ability amongst the PCs; perhaps microkinesis.
  4. As 3, but the original decision to install the switches was not approved at world government (or perhaps Consulate level) which it should have been. Somewhere, there is an Intendant, or possibly more, due for re-education.
  5. A group of proles have become disenchanted with some particularly harsh ‘intrusion’ by the the noble ruler and have been sabotaging the machines to foment trouble. It would appear that the proles need re-education and this could be a big project to manage if the problem has spread across the entire population.
  6. As 5, but further investigation reveals that in fact it is the noble who is out of line with Zhodani cultural norms. The PCs will have a delicate diplomatic situation on their hands depending on their status.

Lost in the Woods

Deep in a Coreward sector of the Zhodani Consulate, the PCs, who are merchants making (it goes without saying) an honest living, arrive at a small out-of-the-way starport. The only nearby ship in port is a very rare sight: an Imperial Free Trader. The Free Trader captain has reported in to the authorities revealing the ship is on its way to the Zhodani Core expedition corridor of worlds seeking out exotic trading possibilities. The crew are taking a break from their travels with downtime on the world and have managed to get lost in a mountainous region despite equipping themselves with suitable trekking gear before departure.

(Alternatively, the PCs could be a mountain rescue team or a local law enforcement patrol expected to deal with the situation.)

Possible directions to take this scenario

  1. Everything is as stated and the PCs will have rugged wilderness terrain and animal encounters to deal with before finding all, or some of the Imperials alive but seriously lost and unable to find their way out of a deep, hidden valley or cave system. Life Detection could be a very useful Talent here.
  2. Everything is as stated but the PCs will be bringing corpses out of the wild terrain and then have to consider notifying the Imperium and what will happen to the Free Trader left on the concourse. It’s possible that the explorers will only be found because a PC detects the dying embers of the final victim’s last moments.
  3. The crew have managed to find their way to civilization by the skin of their teeth and have just arrived at an out of the way village where they’ve been regaling the locals with tales of the Imperium and the ‘funny ways’ of the strangers. The villagers may now come under a lot of scrutiny and suspicion and may need re-education.
  4. The crew are well off their planned expedition route (posted as required by the local authorities) and are on the track of clues they’ve read into some ancient Zhodani texts. One of the crew fancies herself as something of a Zhodani scholar and believes there are the ruins of an ancient civilization (or an Ancient one) that they’ll be able to find.
  5. As 4, but the scholar has made a fundamental translation error and they are on a wild goose chase. There are no lost ruins to find.
  6. As 4, but the crew have indeed found the ruins of something. Indeed, one of their number seems to have died triggering some surviving gadget or effect that has awakened their latent psionic potential. The remaining crew now all have quite considerable powers. And no experience of controlling them.

I Spy Psis

The PCs need not be Zhodani; option 6 offers the possibility.

Somewhere in District 268 two Zhodani starport workers approach the players’ berth desperate for help. They explain that they’re proles being pursued by Imperial agents who are apparently convinced they are spies for the Consulate using psionic powers to monitor not just ship movements through the area but also ‘true’ motives for movement and general attitudes towards the Zhodani. (This assumes that there are worlds in the subsector with at least a small Zhodani - or other psionically capable - population. The Referee may also wish to determine the attitude of the general population to such communities.)

Possible directions to take this scenario

  1. All is as presented, the proles will pay well in travel vouchers to be discreetly taken off planet. They may have an exciting tale to tell about escaping from the agents just prior to arriving at the berth.
  2. The workers are indeed proles but are on the run from the world’s authorities for ‘mislaying’ some of the cargoes they’ve been handling. Still, their money is good…. Of course, if the Tavrchedl’ catch up with them, they'll be due for re-education as well as any local punishment that might be relevant.
  3. The workers’ anxiety levels are extremely high. They’re not spies but do have some undeclared psionic ability which they fear will be discovered and used as evidence against them. Not that they think the agents will be much concerned about ‘evidence’. Whether the workers chose to tell the PCs about their ability, or whether their abilities are useful in evading capture or for other purposes which might aid the PCs is left for the Referee to determine.
  4. The workers are indeed Zhodani Consulate agents and may or may not use their ‘mind powers’ to influence the PCs. Assuming they get as far as JumpSpace it will be during that week that either they reveal this to the PCs if they believe the PCs are likely to be supportive in helping them, or behave suspiciously enough that the PCs paranoia on the subject begins to grow. Of course, that behaviour might be all in the PCs’ minds.
  5. As 4, but before departure, the Imperial agents attempt to enlist the help of the PCs by asking them to transport the Zhodani to the next world as they’ve been asked, but to keep an eye on their behaviour and/or attempt to provoke them into using powers (which the agents will detail) to collect as evidence. The agents will pay well for this which means the PCs could pick up two fees for the job. But will it be worth the stress and paranoia?
  6. The PCs are the Zhodani being harried by the agents. Whether they’re mere prole workers or are indeed psionically able spies is left to the players or the Referee to determine.

Shields of Salvation

The PCs are Imperials in this scenario.

Somewhere in Imperial space towards the Consulate, or perhaps in an area such as District 268, two Imperial agents – perhaps the agents from ‘I Spy Psis’ – are trying to track down any psi-shields that they can. They’re looking for a particular shipment which they’ll claim are faulty and don’t function leaving Imperial subjects open to nasty Zhodani mind tricks. They’ll say they are looking for serial numbers but in fact have sufficient psionic powers themselves to be able to detect the faulty shields with or without the serial numbers. They’ll either be asking the PCs to help find any on a particular world, or going through their shipping containers if they’ve taken on cargo.

Possible directions to take this scenario

  1. The shields are faulty and don’t operate as intended in shielding psionic Talents. The PCs will get a good bounty for each one they can bring to the attention of the agents.
  2. The shields are faulty, but not quite in the way the agents have admitted. Shields manufactured in the Imperium are expected to be constructed with a ‘back door’ that psionic Imperial agents are able to use to negate their effect should the need arise1. This particular batch of shields don’t have the correct feature but the agents will not be making this fact public.
  3. As 2, but the agents want the PCs to put about the rumour that non-Imperial manufactured shields are the ones that are faulty.
  4. As 2, and the agents want the PCs to help test the shields which have been repaired. They’ll have a tall man helping them who is wearing Zhodani clothes but is in fact their stooge – perhaps a junior agent – without psionic powers. The two agents will be doing the testing.
  5. As 4, but the agents will uncover any dubious activities the PCs may be up to or may have been up to in the recent past. They will use any such information to ‘encourage’ (some might say ‘blackmail’) the PCs into carrying out some mission for them against Zhodani in the vicinity.
  6. The PCs have been interacting with Zhodani and using psionic shields which have the fault of either 1 or 2. They may now wish to revisit their interactions in the light of possibly having been vulnerable to psionic Talents.

1 Thanks to Richard Aiken of the Traveller Mailing List for this idea.