Alternative Psionics for Traveller
This article originally appeared in the January/February 2023 issue.
Editor’s note: These rules are principally by Greg Caires, as used in the “Stranger Things” adventure at TravellerCON/USA 2020. Jeff Zeitlin took the adventure material supplied by Mr Caires and his own recollection of the adventure to flesh out the text of this article and the rules. Primary credit for the creation of these rules must go to Mr Caires. The adventure appeared in the same issue under the title “The Pendente School for Exceptionally Talented Juveniles”.
The standard Traveller rules – in all versions – results in psionics being of such limited use that it is essentially impossible to accomplish much that is useful, and even running an adventure in Zhodani space with psionic characters ends up with psionics not being a major factor. This is principally because PSI is only a single stat with the same range as the other stats, and actually performing psionic activities tends to be expensive (in terms of reducing the PSI stat). The rules presented here do not allow psi to be used in a free-for-all manner, but does make it easier to use psi in an effective way.
The rules presented here are based on the Classic Traveller rules, but the referee should not find it difficult to modify them for other editions.
Instead of allocating psi to a single, separate stat, these rules distribute the effects of using psi across all of a character’s stats except for SOC. Each psionic talent is associated with a particular stat, and using that talent incurs ‘fatigue’ that is charged against the stat, based on range (and in some cases, other aspects of the task such as mass, volume, etc.). Thus, using Telekinesis to lift or throw an object results in temporarily lowering the character’s STR, based on the mass of the object. All task rolls are against a character’s current (modified) stats, not the base value as originally rolled up in character generation.
Talents and Skills
As with the standard Classic Traveller psionics rules, psionic abilities are grouped broadly into “talents”, each of which allows the character to use one or more “skills”. The talents and skills presented in the Pendente School adventure are those that Mr Caires felt would be the most useful for his adventure, and may not exactly match those in the Classic Traveller rules. Nevertheless, the referee should have little trouble adapting the standard skills and talents to these rules (for example, as with the tables later in this article), or developing others that may be more ‘tuned’ to other campaigns/adventures.
Stats and Fatigue
Each talent is ‘based’ on a particular stat. When the talent is used, the character incurs ‘fatigue’, deducting a specified number of points from the stat. To successfully use a talent, the player must roll 2D for strictly less than the character’s current stat value. If the player’s roll fails, the referee may convert it to a successful attempt by rolling the character’s current stat value exactly. Note that the fatigue cost should be applied for the attempt, not for the success.
Example: Visi was generated with a UPP of 879AA4. She has previously used a talent based on STR, and incurred two points of fatigue, deducted from her STR. Her current UPP is 679AA4. If she tries to use a talent based on STR, her player rolls 2D for 5- (strictly less than 6) to succeed. If the roll fails (the player rolled 6+), the referee can convert it to a success by rolling 2D for 6 exactly. Regardless of whether the attempt succeeds, Visi will lose additional STR through fatigue; the amount depends on what the referee rules the task would cost.
Stats may be reduced to zero through the use of psionics and through ordinary wounds in combat. If a character has one stat reduced to zero, the character is incapacitated; if two stats are reduced to zero, the character is unconscious; if three stats are reduced to zero, the character is dead. Note that this includes reducing INT or EDU to zero through fatigue incurred from using INT- or EDU-based psi talents.
The time scale in Mr Caires’s adventure does not allow for recovery other than by using the available psi drug; the rules for recovery presented here are adapted from fatigue rules from several sources.
Characters who are incapacitated or unconscious may recover one point of the zero stats after a half-hour of unconsciousness or first aid, but require uninterrupted sleep or medical treatment beyond first aid to recover more than that. Each hour of uninterrupted sleep will allow the character to recover two points on each stat that is below the original stat value from character generation; each hour of medical treatment beyond first aid will allow the recovery of three points on each stat that is below the original value. First aid does not allow the recovery of any stats; it is adequate to allow the character to be stabilized and moved to where treatment and recovery is possible.
The referee may choose to permit recovery of one point per 30 minutes of uninterrupted sleep, or per 20 minutes of medical treatment, after the first hour of uninterrupted sleep or medical treatment.
Example: Visi (879AA4) has been using psi in combat, and has reduced her UPP to 173AA4. She needs to recover seven points of STR and six of END, so she needs either four hours of uninterrupted sleep, or two hours of medical treatment to completely recover. (If the referee chooses to use the smaller intervals, only three hours and 30 minutes of uninterrupted sleep is required.)
Stats that are elevated above ‘normal’ through the use of “psi drugs” will gradually decay back to the normal value if not ‘spent’ in wounds or fatigue. Each two hours, deduct one point from each stat that is above the ‘normal’ value.
Example: Visi (879AA4) has taken a dose of Boost (roll 1D, 4 points, 2 to STR and 2 to END) in anticipation of needing to use psi, and modified her UPP to A7BAA4 but the situation changed, and she doesn’t need to use psi. Her enhanced STR and END will decay back to their normal values, taking four hours to do so.
Which Psi Talents/Skills Use Which Stats?
As a rule of thumb, the referee should look at the particular task and make the decision based on what stat would be involved if the character were attempting to perform the task without using psi. Tasks that would normally not warrant a stat or skill check if not using psi still will have a cost if done using psi; the referee should invent a reasonable hypothetical task.
Example 1: Visi (879AA4) wants to use telekinesis to grab a heavy ceramic ashtray and throw it at an attacker approximately 3m from her. The referee decides that the ashtray is heavy enough and the attacker close enough that attempting to throw it using telekinesis would incur only one fatigue point charged against her STR. Visi rolls 2D for 7- and succeeds; she is charged 1 STR due to psi fatigue, and her modified UPP is now 779AA4.
Example 2: Visi (879AA4) is approaching a door that is ‘semi-secure’. It cannot be opened from her side; a guard on the other side must visually verify her identity (there is a window in the door) and then push a recessed button on a console to cause the door to slide open. There is presently no guard on the other side. Visi wishes to use telekinesis to push the button; if done without psi, it wouldn’t be a task at all, but the referee decides that the console is visible through the window, and attempting to use telekinesis for this is the equivalent of fine motor skills. The psi fatigue will therefore be charged against Visi’s DEX, only one point. Visi rolls 2D for 6- and fails; the referee rolls 2D but doesn’t roll a 7, and Visi doesn’t push the button – but is still charged one point of psi fatigue against her DEX, and her UPP is modified to 869AA4.
|Table 1: Psionics and UPP Stats Affected
|Talent or Skill
|-1 per range band
|-2 per range band
|Read Surface Thoughts
|-3 per range band
|-4 per range band
|-5 per range band
|-6 per range band
|(automatic, no cost)
|-1 per range band
|-2 per range band
|-2 per range band
|Combined CV and CA
|-3 per range band
|-3 per range band
|Use STR for tasks requiring gross lifting and moving, at –1 STR per weight factor per range band; use DEX for tasks requiring fine manipulation, at –1 DEX per range band.
|Roll vs. EDU. Except where noted, Awareness skills can only be applied to the psion’s self. For “Borrowed” Self-Healing and Heal Other apply END cost before applying healing.
|-1 EDU, plus -1 END per weight factor
|-1 EDU plus -1 END, plus additional -1 END per +1 STR
|-1 EDU plus -1 STR, plus additional -1 STR per +1 END
|-1 EDU plus -1 END, plus -1 STR from the person borrowed from per +1 STR to psion.
|-1 EDU plus -1 STR, plus -1 END from the person borrowed from per +1 END to psion
|Not possible under these rules; see “Borrowed” Self-Healing instead
|-1 EDU, plus -1 END per stat to be healed, plus -1 to each stat of the person borrowed from per +1 to the same stat healed to the psion.
|-1 EDU, plus -2 END per stat healed, plus -1 to each stat of the psion per +1 to the same stat of the person being healed
|-1 END per range band, plus -1 STR per weight factor of any objects carried.
|Teleport Other, Not Self
|-2 STR per range band per weight factor
|Referee’s Discretion by task
Table 1 lists the standard psi talents and skills, and the stat and cost that, in Jeff’s estimation (based mostly on Greg’s tables from the Pendente School adventure), will most likely be involved in any task using the psi talent or skill in question (and therefore should be charged against). Talents are in bold, skills are in normal text, and italics represent modified or new skills associated with the talent above them. Note: There are differences between this table and that in the Pendente School adventure. If you are running the adventure, use the tables provided there.
|Table 2: Range and Weight Table
|Range Bands or Weight Factors
|Weight Equivalent in kg
|Close (less than 1m)
|Very Light (less than 1×STR)
|Moderately Heavy (3-4×STR)
|Very Long (250-500m)
|Distant (0.5-1km, increase by 1 range band for each additional 1km, may not exceed 10 range bands)
|Very Heavy (5-6×STR, increase by 1 weight factor for every additional STR in kg, may not exceed 10 weight factors)
|Use the “range band” or “weight factor” number from Table 2 as the multiplier to the basic cost. That is, if a psi task says “-1 STR per weight factor per range band”, affecting a Light object (weight factor 2) at Medium range (range band 3) will cost 6 STR.
Tasks that involve applying psi at a distance will increase the fatigue costs based on the distance. Similarly, tasks that involve applying force psionically to mass will increase the fatigue costs based on the mass. Table 2 defines the multipliers to the base cost depending on range bands and ‘weight factors’; each multiplier is applied separately and cumulatively (see the note at the bottom of the table)
Example 1: Visi (879AA4) is out exploring with some of her companions, and Simone gets injured as they’re coming back to make a report. Simone’s injuries are severe enough that without the medkit, she is unlikely to survive long enough to get transport from the camp and then back to the camp with Simone. Visi has the Teleportation talent and two doses of Double (see “Standard Psi Drugs” below), but not the Awareness talent. The group foolishly didn’t bring a medkit with them, so Visi agrees to teleport back to the camp (2km away), grab a medkit (10kg), and teleport back. The referee calculates that this will cost a total of -14 END for the distance (7 to the camp and 7 back), and -2 STR for the mass of the medkit (which only needs to be carried one way). Visi knows she can make it to the camp without having to take a dose of Double, so she attempts the teleportation (roll 2D for 8-, she rolls 7) and succeeds. She is now at the camp, and her UPP is modified to 872AA4. She now knows she needs to take a dose of Double to be able to get back to Simone and the others, so she does (roll 2D, she gets 8 points which she applies entirely to END) and her UPP is modified again to 87AAA4. She grabs the medkit and attempts to teleport back to where Simone and the others are waiting (roll 2D for 9-, she rolls 6) and arrives with a modified UPP of 673AA4 and the medkit so that they can treat Simone and get back to the camp.
Example 2: The same situation as in Example 1, but Visi has Awareness instead of Teleportation. Simone’s UPP is normally 644A77, but her injuries have modified her UPP to 044A77. Visi offers to heal Simone enough for the group to be able to get back to the camp under their own power. The healing will cost Visi -1 EDU, -2 END (because she’s healing only Simone’s STR), and she decides that 3 points of STR will be enough to get them back to the camp (so -3 STR). Visi begins the healing attempt (roll 2D for 9-, she gets 8), and Simone is healed to 344A77, while Visi’s UPP is modified to 577A94.
Standard Psi Drugs
Under these rules, psi drugs provide boosts to the player’s choice of stats (except SOC). Players must allocate the points granted at the time the dose is taken. In the Pendente School adventure, Mr Caires put a limit on boosted stats of 18(H). These rules do not impose a specific limit; the referee is strongly advised to impose a limit that fits in with the requirements of the scenario or setting. If a player cannot allocate points provided by psi drugs without exceeding the referee-imposed limit, the excess points are lost.
Boost: A dose of Boost allows the character to distribute 1D points among all stats except SOC. Boost is available as both pill and injection, and carries no risk of addiction.
Double: A dose of Double allows the character to distribute 2D points among all stats except SOC. Double is available as both pill and injection, and carries no risk of addiction.
Special: Special allows the character to distribute 3D points among all stats except SOC. However, elevated stats decay at one point per hour (not per two hours, as with Boost or Double), continuing until the affected stat falls to 1, after which recovery follows the normal rules above. Special is available only as an injection. It presents no risk of addiction, but there is a small chance that each dose will permanently reduce one or more affected stats by 1 (Roll 2D once for each stat that was affected by a particular dose of special, on a roll of 2, the stat is permanently reduced by 1).