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Enhancing Psionics

This article originally appeared in the September/October 2018 issue.

Psionic abilities have long been a theme in science fiction. Traveller has incorporated this gift or skill but it is difficult to obtain and cost prohibitive. Telepathy or mind-reading is the most popular and long lasting psionic ability in science fiction. Traveller incorporates this concept by giving Telepathy as a free skill if the player selects it as the first psionic trait. Likewise, the ability to control others through mind control or telekinesis has to be moderated or it can be abused. This is done in Traveller by making the psionic cost to use some of these skills to be almost out of reach of many players.

Unless a player can convince a referee to allow him or her to roll for psionic strength in character creation, the Traveller rules penalize players who may sometime want to play with mental powers. If a character has spent four terms in service, when psionic potential is rolled the formula used is 2D-4 (DM –1 for each term of service). If a player rolls less than 5, they will never get the chance to have psionic powers (unless you have allowed them to find the Krell brain augmenting device from the movie Forbidden Planet, which in itself could be an adventure). Also, unless the player rolls significantly above average, he/she will only have limited psionic strength. Furthermore, in the standard setting, the ‘laws’ of the Imperium make training these skills a quest in and of themselves. Unless, of course, you can justify the character being a part of the nobility of the Zhodani Consulate.

Borrowing from Strength or Endurance

Characters who gain psionics late in life may not have the ‘power’ to do very much. This could lead to dissatisfaction for the player. While there are drugs available to boost psionic power, they are rare and costly, and probably illegal on most worlds (in the standard setting). One way to fix this would allow the character to ‘borrow’ strength or endurance points to power psionics. This is often demonstrated in television and movies like Firestarter and Stranger Things. When the characters use their powers, they will often start to have nosebleeds or get weak.

Borrowing PSI from END works as follows:

  1. The character must have the Awareness talent. The PSI cost of the check is not applied until the character rests; at that time, the total borrowed STR/END is deducted from the original, unmodified PSI, in addition to any other deductions from PSI as a result of use, and recovered as per the normal rules for recovering PSI. This is, in some ways, the “inverse” of the Awareness skill Enhanced Endurance or Enhanced Strength.
  2. The character decides how much STR or END to borrow. Roll an Average (8+) Awareness (1D seconds, PSI) check; the delayed PSI cost is the number of points borrowed from STR/END. (If the check fails, impose the cost of a failed check (1 PSI) immediately.) This amount is (temporarily) deducted from STR/END and added to PSI. Note that if Psi Drug is taken after borrowing STR/END, the effects of the drug should be determined as though each borrowing attempt, successful or not, was an additional dose of Psi Drug (e.g., if the character has borrowed PSI from STR or END twice within the past week, the PSI drug END check is made at DM –2 in addition to the DM imposed by any actual doses of Psi Drug).
  3. Until the player rests sufficiently to recover the STR/END, any rolls vs PSI are made against the higher PSI—that is, if the character’s PSI is 8 (PSI DM = 0), and the character borrows 1 point of END, all rolls vs “unmodified” PSI are made against PSI 9 (PSI DM = +1).
  4. Until the player rests sufficiently to recover the STR/END, any rolls vs the characteristic borrowed from are made against the lower value—that is, if the character’s END is 6 (END DM = 0), and the character borrows 1 point of END, all rolls vs “unmodified” END are made against END 5 (END DM = –1).
  5. The effect of borrowing is cumulative, and it leaves the user weakened for other combat encounters. If a character borrows more than half of their END, he/she will become fatigued; borrowing half of their STR means taking a Bane on all physical activity. A character must have at least 1 psionic power point left to be able to borrow from STR or END. STR/END borrowed for PSI can be recovered per stun rules, 1 hour of rest; other STR/END loss is recovered per the normal healing rules. Borrowed STR/END is recovered first.

The table below shows the effect of borrowing STR/END for PSI; these effects are separate from any effects of combat or other use of PSI. Note that any effect listed on the table includes the effects of all of the rows above it; similarly with recovery. The effects described are for the total points borrowed from STR and END, combined.

Borrowing STR/END for PSI: Effects
Total STR/END Borrowed Effect Recovery
1 to 2 points No visible effect  
3 to 4 points Nosebleed. Easy Medic check to stop bleeding.
Rest to recover STR/END
5 to 6 points All movement is considered over difficult terrain.
All loads carried treated as 50% more.
Rest to recover movement
7+ points Character must make an Average END check to remain conscious. A character may make an END check every minute to regain consciousness.
SPECIAL EFFECTS: Occur if at any time STR/END is reduced to half of its unmodified value (exclusive of incurred damage).
STR reduced Any physical action receives a Bane  
END reduced Character is fatigued  

Storing PSI

Another option for additional psionic power points is the introduction of Psi Crystals. These could be similar to the Psionic Capacitor in High Guard. They do not use ship’s power to charge, but instead store PSI points from the owner. To prevent them from overpowering the game these crystals could be extremely rare, and only able to be found under the right conditions. For instance, it could be a type of crystal that grows only on heavy gravity worlds with a binary star system. The psion could ‘store’ points in a personal crystal over time, but the crystal must be attuned to the owner and the crystal could never hold more points than the owner naturally possesses. To prevent hoarding, the referee could rule that having more than one crystal on their person at a time causes the crystal to leak power and become ineffective.

Putting PSI points into a Psi Crystal reduces the PSI available to the psion; these points are recovered as per the normal rules. Drawing PSI points out of the Psi Crystal adds the drawn points to the psion’s available PSI, but after being expended, they are not recovered. If the referee feels it necessary to impose a task check, the default check should be an Easy PSI (1 second) check.

Psionic Opposition

Just one player with a high enough psionic power score and the right combination of skills can often overturn a carefully crafted game. The referee must watch to see if the local authorities notice anything out of the ordinary about how a group is operating. The Third Imperium has outlawed psionics and if the player(s) starts openly using their powers, or it is thought they are using their powers, then authorities may investigate. The referee may have to determine if Imperium authorities have some form of psionic police group, maybe one that has to be brought in from off planet. Another option would be to introduce psionic opposition.

These psions would certainly not want authorities conducting a psionic inquisition where they are operating. The players could face threats from individuals or organizations that have a stake in ensuring that the authorities do not become aware of psionic activity.

Coiling: Reading a Computer’s “Mind”

Psionic opposition should have new skills and powers. Information is power; what if a criminal mastermind discovered a new way to uncover information? Instead of using Telepathy to read a person’s mind the villain could ‘read’ the memory banks of a computer. This new skill would be called Coiling (from Coils by Roger Zelazny and Fred Saberhagen).

Telepathy - Coiling

The most commonly known feature of telepathy is the ability to read the thoughts of other individuals.

Coiling is the ability to read the memory of computers and other digital electronic devices. These devices must be powered up to be able to be ‘read’ in this way. If the computer system is running security software the task check is increased accordingly. Having the Electronics (Computers) skill will grant a boon die to the Task check. The Effect of the check determines the clarity of the telepath’s data retrieval.

Check: Average (8+) Telepathy (1D10 seconds, PSI) check
Reach: Long
PSI Cost: 2
No Range Limitation in Jumpspace

Another opponent that could surface is a Zhodani spy network operating in Imperium space. A Zhodani spy would certainly be one of the more powerful psions the party could face. A new skill that the Zhodani may have discovered would involve Jumpspace. What if, like Babylon 5’s hyperspace, in Jumpspace telepathy had no range limitation? This would make the Zhodani spies able to report directly back to their superiors no matter where they were located. A Zhodani spy could certainly summon a hit squad able to block or suppress player psions. Until the ‘specialist’ arrived the spy could keep the party occupied by influencing or hiring a variety of locals to get in the players’ way.

Luck: Taking Advantage of the Advantage

A Psionic Institute secretly operating on the planet would not want an Imperium psionic investigation team to visit the area where they have set up shop. The Institute could utilize a variety of options when engaging the player(s), from simply telling them they are being too blatant to trying to kidnap and remove. The institute may be funding itself through gambling. Especially if a new skill, like Luck, had been developed.

Clairvoyance - Luck

The character can influence the random acts of chance with this ability. This enhanced awareness of probabilities grants the clairvoyant a boon die on all gambling or combat tasks. The Effect of the check determines the number of Task checks that can be attempted while the awareness lasts.

Check: Average (8+) Clairvoyance (1D seconds, PSI) check
Reach: Long
PSI Cost: 2