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Mongoose Traveller Book 4: Psion

This article originally appeared in the September/October 2022 issue.

Book 4: Psion. Lawrence Whittaker.
Mongoose Publishing https://mongoosepublishing.com
96pp., softcover or PDF
US$14.99(P), $16.24(S), $18.24(S+P)
UK£12.42(P), £13.45(S), £15.11(S+P)

While the basic psionics rules from the Mongoose Traveller Core Rulebook (any edition) are adequate for using psionics in the standard Third Imperium setting, they don’t quite handle some of the more ‘out there’ settings from fiction. This book fills that gap, allowing the referee to build a Traveller-compatible toolkit for running anything from psi-corps in the Babylon 5 universe to dramliza power in the Liaden Universe® to the generalized psi of James Schmitz’s Telzey Amberdon or Agent of Vega universes, to even the high-psi of some four-color superhero/supervillain stories, or psionic time travel or dimensional travel.

This book was written for the first edition of Mongoose rules, but – like most Mongoose material – it’s easy to adjust for other ‘Classic-compatible’ versions of Traveller, from Classic itself right through to T5. Although you need the Core Rulebook to explain such things as die-rolling conventions and notation, if you’ve already got a handle on that information, and just want to convert to a preferred system, this volume repeats the basic psionics rules from the Core Rulebook.

I must admit up front that I dislike one aspect of the standard psionics rules for ‘Classic-compatible’ Traveller: As written, it’s too easy for a psion to temporarily exhaust his/her ability to use psionics, even if you’re following this volume’s suggestions for modifying the character’s Psionic Strength characteristic. That discussion, however, is for a future separate article.

Some of the advanced talents seem like they could be treated as variants or advanced powers within existing basic talents. Aura Perception, for example, looks very much like it could be a specific power within the Telepathy talent rather than a separate talent of its own.

The chapter “Doors of Perception” expands on the core rules by introducing the concept that everyone has some sort of psionic ability. In most people, it’s not enough to manifest as full psionic powers – their PSI is functionally zero – but is enough to enable what’s generally called ‘sixth sense’, ‘gut feeling’, or ‘intuition’. This chapter provides a way of determining whether a character might in fact have enough psionic potential to fully manifest as a functioning psion, based on the character’s background and personal history. If the character does have sufficient potential, PSI is rolled normally, and the character may then be trained.

Training is also covered in this chapter; in addition to the classic ‘psionic institute’, training may come from ‘mystical orders’ (such as the Jedi and Sith in the Star Wars universe), mentoring (similar to the way that the central characters in Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land learned the abilities), or self-taught through various means (such as Telzey Amberdon’s development as a functioning psion, though it’s arguable that she got her start through a form of mentoring by the Jontarou crest-cats).

The careers for a psion presented in this volume largely mirror the standard careers, though there is a natural emphasis on the psion acting as a psion during the career. In a campaign setting that does not shun psionics (as the standard Third Imperium does), it can be assumed that a character in a psion career is in fact in the same service as the generic character being developed according to the Core Rulebook – that is, a psionic character in the ‘Psion Navy’ career from this book (for example) is actually a recognized psion serving in the same Navy as a non-psion being generated according to the ‘Navy’ Core Rulebook career. There are some exceptions, generally dealing with situations that simply would not be possible for non-psions (e.g., dedicated psion agents, interdimensional or intertemporal agencies, psionic mystic orders).

There is a significant difference between these careers and the Core Rulebook careers, however: The Core career Mishap tables are all 1D tables and the Events tables are all 2D tables; in this volume, they’re all 2D and D66 tables respectively.

In addition to the expanded/advanced talents and powers made potentially available to all psions, there are a few new skills that pertain only to specific psion careers, and one skill [Science (Psionics)] that any character can potentially earn in campaign settings where psionics are allowed. Range bands for psionic effects are the same as for standard (non-psionic) combat, although some psionic effects can go past “Distant” to “Very Distant” (over 5km), “Continental” (over 500km), and “Planetary” (5,000km to 50,000km).

The chapter on “Psionic Powers” offers the referee the option to create new talents and powers to meet the specific needs of the campaign or setting. No specific examples or rules for doing so are provided, but there is some useful guidance to help avoid abusable results. It also repeats the descriptions of the basic talents and powers, and describes the advanced talents and powers; there is also the quite reasonable caution that not all of the advanced talents and powers are suitable for all campaigns, and the referee should consider carefully which ones to allow.

“Psionic Trauma” addresses the issue that using psionics and having them used against you – whether you’re psionic yourself or not, in the latter case – is a source of stress, and potentially of damage, trauma, and even insanity. Various causative factors, from loss of INT to psi attack to overuse of talents to substance abuse, are discussed, as is recuperation and treatment (and failure to do either). One potential result of psionic trauma may be the development of phobia(s); since the phobia may not be directly connected with the use of psionics, there’s a list (four pages, small print) of phobia names and brief descriptions to choose from.

“Psionic Equipment” lists both technology and drugs that are specifically applied to psionics. Referees are cautioned to look carefully and decide whether any particular item listed fits into the campaign; in any case, there is also a new specialization of Engineer skill (Psi Equipment) that allows the character to understand and repair psionic equipment.

One of the careers offered is ‘Psion Spacefarer’. This career is only useful if spacecraft in the campaign are psi-powered, either in whole or in part; the most notable examples are the Brainships of Anne McCaffrey’s The Ship Who… series, the Organic Mental Core that controls the sleeper ship in Frank Herbert’s Destination: Void, or the psionic mass detector from Larry Niven’s “Known Space” stories. The chapter “Mind Ships” provides guidelines for integrating psionics into ships, and describes equipment that a referee may or may not choose to allow to enable psionic ship functions. This section also includes Time and Dimensional drives which may be used in appropriate campaigns whether or not actual psionic characters are part of the campaign (for example, the cross-line travellers in H. Beam Piper’s “Paratime” stories would require a Dimensional drive if you were to convert it into a Traveller setting).

If you want psionics in your campaign, but the psionics rules in the Core Rulebook and the standard setting are close enough to your needs, you don’t need to purchase this book – but it might make interesting reading anyway. If you feel that the Core Rulebook doesn’t address your needs adequately, this would be a worthwhile purchase.