Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Mind Over Dark Matter

Psionics is the magic system for Traveller and many other SF rpgs. Some people try to dress it up differently. Mass Effect called it biotics and invoked dark matter and Element Zero as its components. Spiritualism is big in some steampunk settings. The Jedi had the Force. Whatever you call it it remains a collection of really wild abilities that very few people can do. Note that psionics IS the psionics system in D&D and MAGIC is the magic system.

Many games use psionics to add a taste of the bizarre in an otherwise believable setting. Some people choose to leave them out believing that they hurt the realism of their campaign. Before you add psi to a modern or futuristic setting you should ask yourself some questions.

Psi is very noticeably lacking in any real scientific way in our world. At present there is little or no indication anyone can read minds or move objects and a lot of proof that test subjects are better at cheating on tests than scientists are at catching them. You might ignore this or come up with reasons. Many people who believe in psychic phenomena think the disbelief of the scientists neutralizes a psychic's powers. In this case psi is about as practical as inflatable dartboards. You might want to hang a lampshade on that. Characters with psionics are immensely powerful but get blocked a lot of the time. "I can cloud men's minds but not while they look directly at me!"

No one though doubts that psi is cool. You can read minds or move things with your mind or see far off events in your mind ... you get the idea. You're a wizard. We all want super powers at times. On the face of it psi destroys physics and for that reason alone should be banned from a hard science setting. Of course when your setting has reactionless drives and FTL how hard can its science be?

The old SPI game Starforce hung a lampshade on this. Instead of having separate mechanisms for ftl and psi, psionics actually powered their ftl. This brings up the subject of whether you could (or should) have psioniics using telekinesis move your ship around. I once suggested to a friend who watched those ghost catching shows that ghosts, if they existed, would be a fantastic power source for space craft. Just tell them to get out and push. You don't even need to crack an airlock.

There are some outs for why psi suddenly starts working if you feel the need to explain that. Perhaps something about the Earth or the Solar System dampens psi powers. This effect could vary in intensity over time. Previous accounts of witches and wizards could have been instances of psi manifesting. In this case going offworld or out system allows you to use powers.

Psi could require drugs or a medical procedure to 'awaken.' In this case you might need to go off planet to be awakened and then be able to use your psi powers normally or some planets might be too populated or have too strong a magnetic field and weaken or neutralize your psi. If local conditions interfere with psi then you might have a way to dampen those powers by duplicating the effects artificially giving you some control over those pesky mind readers.

A third possibility that was often alluded to is that psionics is linked to a number of dangerous genetic diseases. People with psionics tended to die young through out history till medicine began to improve their outlook.

In the Icy Shores humans are just starting to develop psionic abilities. Initially only people who left Earth and traveled in deep space developed abilities. This led to a number of techniques that could test and awaken psionics (think drugs, implants, and various feedback techniques.) It is believed that the abilities were stimulated by the reactionless M-drives used or exposure to Jump Space (since both are related) or that something about the Solar System dampens abilities in the untrained.

Psionic powers are looked on with deepening distrust by many. Psionics on starships often report contacting 'something' in the depths between stars. That something, whatever it is, leaves a mark on them in the form of mental instability. Star flight does have its stresses and people on and off Earth all have a share of people going off. It's just more noticeable when the person going on a tear can mentally assault you or squeeze your arteries shut from across a room.

It is possible that some events are exaggerated by the Earth's government to deprive its rebellious colonies of an important factor in future resistance. In any case psionics are being regarded with growing suspicion. People advocating their development have been attacked or jailed and are starting to go into isolation. That's fine because people with the 'gift' can always find others.