“Requesting Elegant Solutions – Psionics – Visions, mind-reading, [and] mental combat all seem archetypal and [I’m] not really satisfied with a Vancian system. No point systems.”
I present a brief brainstorm for psionics rules, based the above challenge/request at the end of Telecanter’s Receding Rules collection.
I’m imagining a skill- or other check-based system that almost guarantees success in many cases, but in which any attempt takes time and carries certain risks. The main task of the psion is to “open channels,” whether to a specific target or for general broadcast, with various tasks requiring a certain number of channels in order to operate effectively.
Opening a channel takes a given amount of time – a round in combat, say – that requires complete concentration. If the target is inanimate/passive/accepting of the channel, or there is no specific target, the result is automatic success. If the target resists, some sort of check is called for, depending on the details of your system of choice. If the target is a malevolent spirit, another psion, or a similar power, they may choose to resist as normal, to spend a round concentrating to automatically block the channel, or allow it to happen… because they can use the channel as well to affect the initiator. Time spent opening channels is time spent helpless; the psion can’t even walk, talk, or pay attention to their surroundings.
If unresisted, a psion can immediately close all their open channels. If some other party is trying to keep them open (for a counterattack, for example), closing each channel takes another round of concentration and requires a check (the same as a resisted attempt to open one).
Various special measures or close connections between psion and target may give bonuses or automatic successes on checks, or even free channels. Line of sight would give a mild bonus, physical contact a larger one, kinship a very large one; attempting to link a twin, or one’s own mind and body after they have astrally separated, might give a baseline of free channels open.
A very tentative list of effects and requirements
Effects possible with one channel:
- Sending a brief psychic message
- Reading surface emotions from another’s mind
- Telekinetically moving a small or light object, animal, etc., such as a mouse, pillow, or billiard ball
- Feeling the psychic impression of a place or object
- Producing small manifestations of one’s emotions: sounds, smells, wisps of flame, etc.
With two channels:
- Establishing a two-way conversation with another mind
- Reading surface thoughts from another’s mind
- Telekinetically moving a medium-sized thing such as a dictionary, sword, or cat
- Sensing and “reading” spirits and auras, or dimly sensing the area around a distant target
- Producing greater manifestations: obviously-phantasmal sensory impressions, handfuls of flame, fell winds, feelings of discomfort, etc.
With three channels:
- Reading deeper (non-surface) memories and thoughts from another’s mind
- Telekinetically moving a large/heavy thing such as a full travel suitcase, dog, or person
- Deeper analysis of spirits and auras; reading the psychic/spiritual “history” of an object, clearly sensing the area around a distant target
- Realistic manifestations: phantasmal sensory impressions that cannot necessary be told from real phenomena (as per magical illusions), inflicting pain or emotions on a target, whole-body flame, etc.
…And so on, including “psychic screams” that broadcast over a distance (starting with arm’s reach and increasing geometrically with more channels?), mental domination, astral projection, inflicting direct harm through telekinetic attacks on a person or object, etc. etc.
-For any telekinetic movement, fine control (small moving parts, precise motions, etc.) or high speed doubles the number of required channels; i.e. firing a billiard ball at high enough speed to count as a weapon would require two channels instead of one; making a mechanical cat walk as if wound up would require four instead of two, etc.
-For mental conversations, cross-linking any two open conversations requires an extra channel (so that for N participants, (Nx(N-1))/2 channels are required: 1, 3, 6, 10, 15…). If multiple psions are involved in the group call, any of them can contribute channels to the effort.
Obviously this is a rough sketch that would need to be tweaked and fleshed out. Would any given psion have a limited set of powers? Could they learn more as they progress? Would discovery of new powers come from training with a master, secrets esoterically encoded in books, private experimentation and development, or sponsors from the spirit world? Would individuals have affinities for certain power sets (as in telekinesis only, pyrokinesis only, telepathy only, etc.)?
Would any character have a chance to pick up psychic powers? Would there be a roll involved? Would it be a class progression, with a dedicated class stat to check with and so on? If the latter, the rules presented here would give psions a “delicate artillery” role similar to that of magic-users – the difference being that they are slower but more versatile, with unlimited “uses” per day but more potential backlash if they open a channel to the wrong target or in the wrong psychic environment.