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Thinking About: Steaming Up Psionics

Much earlier in the year, I had a conversation with Frn about taking psionic abilities on OtherSpace in more of a steampunkish direction.

I’m not entirely sure how players would feel about it or how such a direction might be made manifest in the game. Normally, this sort of thing might be cause for an in-game workshop. However, I want to make sure as many people can have input as possible. So, I’m setting up this blog post as the initiation of a seminar of sorts right here.

Got thoughts on how we can make psionics interesting and fun? Share them here.

  1. Sandrim
    December 20, 2009 at 2:28 pm

    Pardon if I may ask, but why is this even up for consideration? Psionics aren’t steampunk, and this isn’t a steampunk setting at all, to be honest. What you’re suggesting here seems like just picking up and turning over a big thematic piece… for no real reason whatsoever.

    Now, if someone wanted to see some steampunk, to be honest, it would most likely come from the direction of not a psionic, but a mechanic or engineer, and of these more likely the mechanic, since the engineer would be using more modern and effective technology (say what you will, but I’m pretty sure you can’t steampunk your way into FTL travel. Just doesn’t work like that).

    But psionics are just… psychic.

    • December 20, 2009 at 2:45 pm

      It’s up for consideration because the idea was raised earlier this year and I wanted to get it aired sooner rather than later.

      If you’re opposed, that’s fair. You’ve got your reasons.

  2. Michela
    December 20, 2009 at 2:32 pm

    Not horribly familiar with steam punk other than its gritty and deals heavily in virtual worlds and technologies, neither of which are giving me a direct psi connection. Could someone elaborate a bit?

    In general anything to unneuter psionics a bit would be nice

    • December 20, 2009 at 2:46 pm

      A fair point, Michela. In what way do you think psionics are now neutered?

  3. Michela
    December 20, 2009 at 3:07 pm

    Well, we have a strong anti-psi sentiment prejudice or whatever to the point where Svajone has this anti-psi technology around it and so forth, but this was predicated on the old OS world where ruthless interrogators who could truly mess with your mind. It makes no sense now where those more agressive abilities aren’t present

    to some extent they aren’t even a relevant defensive mechanism anymore when something as innocuous as sleep requires touching someone to use it. It’s been pointed out to me that this is because it kills scenes. you put enemy to sleep. Boom scenes over. Personally I liked Russ’ way of dealing with this where if you failed it backfired and knocked the psi out so it was a powerful skill but there were risks inherent. if more agressive “attack skills” memory minipulation were to return, they sould be limited, measured, require signifigant skiill and have ic consequence but they should be possible

    • December 20, 2009 at 3:11 pm

      Svajone isn’t the only RP location. Comorro certainly doesn’t have this anti-psi sentiment, nor do most worlds. In Hiverspace, only Lotorians are dead-set scared of psionic entities.

    • Sergeytov
      December 20, 2009 at 5:20 pm

      Be careful interpreting a wide sentiment from the Svajone. As a location it gets a lot of attention mostly because of the PC population and the fact Svajone gets a lot of news articles in proportion to just about anywhere else. Furthermore, a great deal of Svajone policy is derived from a small group that has their own ideology, rather than a collective consensus.

    • Arie Taylor
      January 10, 2010 at 1:11 am

      Pretty sure Somnolence/Sleep doesn’t require touch. I could swear that I was told that’s supposed to be changed and just hasn’t been removed from the file yet. In any case, the target only stays asleep a number of rounds equal to the difference in rolls. There’s Psi Attack, in any case, speaking of aggressive attack skills.

      Most of the IC anti-psi sentiment is, indeed, on the part of a handful of Outverser PC’s. They just happen to be fairly vocal about it. ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. Sergeytov
    December 20, 2009 at 3:51 pm

    Maybe I’m a step or two behind, but I don’t even know what ‘steampunk psionics’ means. Until it has an actual definition, it might as well read, “Thinking about changing psionics.”

    Though if we’re talking about fixing things, however, it would be nice if Psionic Negation worked as it canonically should (with a psi negator gift), rather than telepathic/mindspeaker.

    • December 21, 2009 at 4:46 pm

      Re: Psi Negation – this fix is forthcoming. It’s on the very near future to-do list.

  5. Michela
    December 20, 2009 at 3:59 pm

    still the potential of the ‘evil psi” is far less likely in the current skill system. and the perception of psi bbeing acceptable while supported in the new IC environment hasn’t been latched onto by the playerbase. The majority of pcs still come from that world where “evil psi” were present and messed with them. And I’m not against those characters carrying their prejudices with them. However, when it gets to the point where a psi attack another psi simply for using telepathy(granted some players play fast and lose with the reality set down,which i think was the reason psi was dialed back in the first place).someone’s definitely not getting the message that psionics are a way of in hiverspace. Psionics in general should be a bigger part of RP. in general more RP events that focuses on establishing all elements of culture. where things are discovered in ways that are impactful even like the Gankri crouch mouth. My favorite plots are ones with searches and mysteries. Wikis and novels are great ways to learn background but RP is a good way to learn about the worlds around us as well

  6. Michela
    December 20, 2009 at 4:07 pm

    if even if sergeytov can’t figuire it out…we definitely need an explanation:)

    • December 20, 2009 at 4:15 pm

      Since Frn brought it up originally, I expect him to amble along eventually and do just that.

  7. Michela
    December 20, 2009 at 5:39 pm

    Will be interested to hear but from Sandrim’s reaction, I sincerely hope were not actually talking about changing the origin of psionics

    • December 20, 2009 at 7:02 pm

      It’s not really about changing the origin of psionics. More about the sorts of things you’re capable of doing *with* psionics. Even I’m not entirely sure about the breadth and scope of this – that’s why it’s up for discussion.

      I’m not setting anything in stone here. Far from it. I just want to bounce around ideas to make psionics more interesting. The “steam” I’m looking for doesn’t have to be “steampunk.” It just needs to be something with a little more heat, maybe. ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. Sergeytov
    December 20, 2009 at 8:33 pm

    Okay, so ‘steampunk’ in this case means something different than what I’m used to. Probably. I know Frn hasn’t stopped by yet, but I might as well open with something constructive:

    1) What exactly are ‘psionics’ meant to do, especially in terms of what PCs can acquire?

    I remember long ago seeing something about there being ‘five schools’ of psi. Three of them traditionally open to PCs: Telepathic (mind to mind stuff), Psychokinetic (manipulating matter via things like heat and movement), and Psychic (extrasensory perception, some ‘chrono-shifted sight). The other two I’ve heard of (once again, tell me if I’m wrong): Teleportation (moving from Point A to Point B without moving in the intervening space) and Transmutation (changing one object into another). Arguably ‘Negation’ is a ‘sixth school’.

    2) What’s wrong with psionics right now?

    Part of the problem with any alteration of the system is that we’re effectively doing jury-rigs with a core mechanic that probably wasn’t meant to handle it. That aside:

    The easiest answer to ‘what’s wrong?’ is the discrepancy between ‘what should psionics do?’ and ‘what do psionics currently do?’

    For example, the example already mentioned: It’s been well established in canon that telepathy can search memories of a target for information, thus we can argue ‘telepathy should be able to search memories of a target for information.’ Currently the system doesn’t allow for it, thus it’s one of the things ‘wrong.’

    3) What are the ‘non magic’ analogues to psionics? I know Frn (and myself to a lesser extent) have favored psionics emulating non-psi skills. Thus Memory Manipulation could find an analog in the ‘torture’ skill, being resisted by mental discipline rather than resolve.

    I might have more later, but this might be a decent start.

  9. Razorback
    December 21, 2009 at 7:20 am

    I have a tendency to agree with Yev here, at least in this, Psi is established, for Normalspace at least, as being more powerful than the skill system allows at this point. There are logs to support this, and it is actually one of the major reasons why the Parallax was “bad”.

  10. Sergeytov
    December 21, 2009 at 8:41 pm

    I know I’ve posted a few copies of the ‘missing psi’ skills in the past. Most of them had been implemented in some form at the time of this current posting.

    Psi in the past has earned a bad reputation. Let’s not deny that. We can sit around and say ‘the skills have the power to ‘end scenes’ quickly’, sure. Somnolence (which still needs its help file to reflect the fact it no longer needs physical contact, and thus a ‘range limit’, even if it’s line of sight) can knock someone right out. Psi attack can put someone into a coma. Emotion control (and psi suggestion if brought back in some form) can make people do things. Hallucination, mirage, and immobilize can near outright disable a target as well. As the high level wizard saying goes: Guess which save someone has lowest and you can probably drop ’em.

    I empathize. It’s easy to look at these skills and say they should be nerfed.

    Let’s look at ‘mundane’ skills with scene ending/’mind control’ powers. Any combat skill can knock a person flat out for far less risk on the actual attack than Psi Attack. If you succeed a combat roll by 4? Chance are they’re flat on their back, at best, and in need of serious medical attention. Same with Psi Attack. Psi Attack is even worse, though: The attack itself can hurt the attacker if failed.

    Somnolence has the power to temporarily put someone out, sure, but it amounts to roughly 5 seconds per level of success in a combat situation. A stun gun can do about the same thing, for longer durations if successful.

    Emotion Control/Psi Suggestion could ‘make someone do something.’ So can intimidation, torture, and maybe some other socials.

    Immobilize is outright like a ‘ranged grapple’ by definition, which makes it a direct analogue to a mundane skill.

    Hallucination/Mirage are ‘sensory manipulation’, which are normally covered by mundane skills like stealth, legerdemain and disguise, depending on purpose (they are wide ranging).

    And most of those skills can be outright resisted via a indomitable will card, even if the skill rolled is failed, which means one can get two saves against them.

    So as far as ‘psi should be nerfed because it can ruin scenes’, I conclude: So can mundane skills, and if we’re willing to give the mundane skills the benefit of the doubt, here, we should probably be doing similarly to psi.

    One of the other major reasons psi earned a bad reputation was the ‘resist at -2’ rule. Regardless of how I feel about ‘mental discipline’ as a skill, at least it has a base mod of 0, which helps quite a bit. I’ll spare the numbers for the math impaired, but short version: A -2 difference in defense versus attack makes mounting an effective defense a near hopeless proposition.

    One issue I’ve heard when talking about ‘analogues to the mundane’ is: If psi just emulates the mundane in mechanics, what’s the point of psi at all? Let’s explore that.

    The easiest answer (because this post is becoming obscenely long): Psi is more like a ‘toolbox’. It has a lot of abilities in a relatively small skill package, along with abilities that outright can’t be used by mundane abilities (telepathy, empathy, mirage, hallucination, telekinesis make decent examples). While they can mechanically tie to analogues, their use parameters are reasonably different.

    Furthermore, even in more ‘direct analogue’ cases: They do not require special equipment to use, they often work faster, and they leave less of a trail to follow for most people.

    In addition: Psi gains some abilities that normally require a training quirk to otherwise access easily. Danger Sense grants dodging, immobilize, telekinesis and temperature control provide viable direct combat: Both without combat training. This means one can buy psi and a separate school and get the benefits of combat training and that other school. Two for the ‘price’ of one. And I’m okay with that.

  11. Sergeytov
    December 22, 2009 at 7:05 am

    I’ve been mostly talking in ‘general’ terms, so far. So I’ll start with some ‘simple’ specifics.

    Emotion Control – The +sinfo file is a mess. My gut instinct is to suggest it be outright rolled into ‘psionic suggestion’ or something with a wider purpose, especially given it for some reason has tier one status but seems 95% useless given its very narrow purpose.

    Empathy – Half the help file seems to be missing. I’d comment on it, but I’m expecting more. It ends with: “Difference between the telepath’s and the target’s rolls (or Fair):”

    Hallucination – Should probably include a counterskill in the file.

    Immobilize – While I could raise questions as to its cost (it seems a touch cheap for a ranged ability, given that Immobilize is Tier 4 and every ranged skill I can think of is at least Tier 3), the only other mention is the need to define grappling and how it works.

    Metabolism Control – I remember this one being either telepathic or psychokinetic as an ability, rather than telepathic only. A short term ‘feign death’ ability should probably be just a straight roll (at 0) countered by first aid, diagnostics or some other ‘first response’ style skill so the doc types have a chance of figuring it out.

    Mirage – For being the same cost as hallucination, it should probably be able to include ‘extras’ like sound, and should have a modifier setup like hallucination. They’re effectively ‘twin’ skills from different schools that have different counters.

    Precognition – Should probably be clarified if a psychic can try and receive a vision or not.

    Psionic Attack – The bit about being ‘healed by only psionic healing’ is probably a bit of a misnomer, since at least a couple PCs out there can heal such issues via mundane needs.

    Psionic Healing – It’s probably too expensive, for what it does. It’s meant to be the ‘healing skill’ for Psionic Attack/Somnolence. Given that psionic attacks have been defined as ‘chemical’ in the past, pharmacy is probably a decent analogue, which is a Tier Three skill (translation: half price of psionic healing).

    Psionic Negation – Listing this one mostly because the fix is pending, but to acknowledge to those who read only this list that I didn’t forget about it.

    Somnolence – Should probably be given a ‘out of combat’ time too (10 minutes*level or something) so that it’s not just an overpriced combat skill. The touch requirement needs to be removed from the file (As far as I understood, the ‘touching’ part was already removed as a requirement, just not from the file). The ‘healed only by psi heal/somno’ part be altered as well.

    Provided my memory is correct and ‘Teleporation’ is actually a psi school (if it isn’t, I’m surprised no one’s corrected me yet), I figure I might as well provide a couple possibilities for abilities. Truth be told I don’t know what kind of PC race would have this stuff, but I know teleportation has come up in the past year, so I might as well mention something. I’m not investing too much thought in them since I’m on murky ground.

    Combat Teleport – A once per round (or however often it should be restricted to) ‘free action’ style move to move up to 100 feet (or yards, probably want to keep it within the ‘football field’ range at most). Probably countered by observation to attempt to reacquire target. Tier One cost.

    Fade – Since it’s an ability witnessed, and I’ve never heard of it having a ‘place’, Teleportation might as well be as decent as any. In short, it’s the ability to become incorporeal to a degree. Cost depends mostly on what it’d do functionally. If it’s just a ‘dodging’ substitute mechanically, it’d be a Tier Three. If it also allows sitting around and letting someone still use psionic attacks or allows movement through walls, it’s probably more like ‘combat teleport’ and worthy of a Tier One designation. Would probably work a bit like ‘dodge’, except being rolled once per scene and setting a ‘new minimum’ to hit the target (instead of Fair as is normal).

    Long Range Teleport – The ability to move a decent distance from Point A to Point B without touching the intervening space. The main issue with this one is, well, space is big, and screwing up implementation of this one makes me cringe at the thought of mentioning it. If there’s interest and I’m not barking up the wrong tree, it might be worth talking about, but until then, I’ll leave this one as is.

    • December 22, 2009 at 9:27 am

      Theorians had the ability to teleport using psionics, actually. (Centaurans and Castori could teleport too, but they required the aid of technology to do so.)

    • Sergeytov
      December 22, 2009 at 12:30 pm

      I remember the Castori and Centaurans having some technology to do so. If memory serves, they got around most of the major problems that’d have really made teleportation a mess by having anchoring points.

      As a personal level skill, unaided? It’s kind of cringeworthy if only for the reason that, at sufficient ranges, it’s essentially making a FTL jump with only one’s mind. Without trying to get into specifics almost no one cares about with FTL drives: Such drives can probably get away with it due to the vastness of space. Even if a jump is off by, say, 500 miles, relative to space that’s nothing. On a planet? 500 miles, best case scenario, is you end up in the wrong city. Far worse is the possibility of ending up somewhere our teleporting friend can’t survive, such a vacuum.

      There might be something in the concept of anchor points, and it might be worthwhile to define the ‘technology’ side of such things, but my conclusion is unaided personal long range teleport seems like it’d cause far more trouble to implement than it’d be worth.

      At any rate, there’s already a set of 18 psi skills to go through and talk about.

    • January 3, 2010 at 6:06 pm

      Re: Psionic Negation – the fix is in, thanks to Loki:

      “The Psionic negation skill has undergone a slight change. It is now tied to the Psi Negator gift and costs 120 RPP.”

  12. The Aforementioned but Belated Frn
    December 31, 2009 at 11:52 pm

    I have been mostly-without-internet since before christmas, but for certain values of ‘any minute’ now… I’m actually not sure what you mean by that, either.

    We have talked about psionics, but I don’t remember the term ‘steampunk’ ever coming up in regard to that. I /do/ enjoy Steampunk, and I might have said something about that if we were talking about Atlantis, or Halaghi, or… something else, but not Psi. I don’t think. I might be forgetful, here, if it was some time ago.

    What I *have* suggested a couple times is, like Brody and Sergeytov mention, expanding what it’s possible to do with psionics. I didn’t think that would be ‘steampunk’, mostly what I had in mind was the characters who came over to Otherspace from Chia, and whose ‘magic’ abilities (which are now ‘psionic’ abilities) lost a few tricks in the transition. I think it would be fair to consider electrokinesis, teleportation/phasing, and perhaps some form of shapeshifting or conjuration, as potential psionic powers since those are all things that would have been possible on Chia but are not on Otherspace. So that would be one thing.

    I may have also brought up the idea of technology-aided psionics, the idea that psionics is not innately all-powerful but that the really big ‘plot’ stuff like the Kamir was accomplished by the use of artificial boosters or magic focusing crystals or what have you.

    Basically I feel that, whether we’re talking about Psionics, Cybernetics, Kung Fu, or whatever, that players should be free to choose whatever they think is cool or flavorful or thematic for their entire character. Otherspace is a multiplayer game, and everybody is equally deserving of having fun – I don’t think it’s fair to tell one player, who may aspire to being a badass gunfighter or whatever, that he is relegated to second-string because another player has psionics which are better than mundane skills. But conversely I don’t think it’s fair to the player who just thinks telekinesis is cool, that they have to jump through several hoops in race/gfq selection, attribute allocation, and a ton of skill points, and then furthermore face IC discrimination because psionics have this reputation as evil and abusive.

    Basically I feel like psionics should be available at a low level, as neat tricks that a player character can have if they think they are cool, rather than what they are now which is hideously expensive and hard to get so that they’re almost exclusively the province of people who spend a ton of effort and min/maxed their character so that they can kill with their minds.

  13. Rarrisaurus
    January 1, 2010 at 10:24 pm

    what I had in mind was the characters who came over to Otherspace from Chia, and whose โ€˜magicโ€™ abilities (which are now โ€˜psionicโ€™ abilities) lost a few tricks in the transition. I think it would be fair to consider electrokinesis, teleportation/phasing, and perhaps some form of shapeshifting or conjuration, as potential psionic powers since those are all things that would have been possible on Chia but are not on Otherspace.

    For the record, the aforementioned abilities on Chiaroscuro were purely magic and were in no way, shape, or form actually psionic abilities. They weren’t psionic disguised as magic, is the point I’m trying to make.

    (The ‘magic’ part in apostrophes made me think that was the conception!)

    As the magic was tied to Palisade, characters from Chiaroscuro shouldn’t really be able to do anything magical on OtherSpace now – unless the skills stem from OtherSpace itself (for example, if a ChiaPet learned to become a psionic through freak accident or latent ability).

    Admittedly I’m out of loop in regards to OtherSpace these days, and I am in no way attempting to direct policy or say what you can and cannot do: I’m just sharing my wisdom here. ๐Ÿ™‚

    tl;dr – If people were capable of what you’d consider to be psionic skills on Chia, they shouldn’t be able to do the same things on OS, because they were not psionic skills. Chiaroscuro had no psionic abilities at all. What was possible on Chia should not be possible on OS by virtue of having come from Chia.


    They’re a bitch to balance, anyhow. When you revamp, make sure you include EVERY CAVEAT YOU CAN THINK OF (and even some you can’t!) in the +sinfo files. I speak from experience. ๐Ÿ™‚

    – Teh Rar

  14. Rarrisaurus
    January 1, 2010 at 10:28 pm

    Should not be possible in regards to thematic continuity and equally in regards to the original train of logic, that is. (Clarification: GET!)

    I mean, if you want to be all “well fsk that”, then that’s your perogative, is what I’m getting at. :3

    – Rar

  15. Markiel
    January 25, 2010 at 2:23 pm

    Okay.. Very belated. But my opinion here *gasp, duck and cover!* in regards to Psionics:

    Psionic Healing: It should function as an accelerated mechanism, Perhaps by touching the victim’s mind and increasing their ability to heal, not by a huge factor but enough to fix scratches easily, or prevent a life threatening injury to kill a pc.

    Psionic teleportation: I think this should be done with assistance of an object. It doesn’t have to be kamiric, even. It could simply be a specific material that causes Quantum physics to come into play, Such as traveler’s stones. As such, one could be at each major location, and even nonpsionic beings could use it if aided by a psionic for transport.

    Battle teleport: Not a bad idea, this could play on the above concept. You’d still need an item, but it wouldn’t have to be a massive monolith stone.

    Psionic combat: Telekinesis, Psi attack, mirage, hallucination, and somnolence: All good skills, although I find myself seeking more. A few concepts I’d enjoy seeing:
    A form of hand to hand combat that functions the same as brass knuckles, and when in the presence of a negation field, functions as normal combat. This /would/ require the combat training skill beforehand, being as it is physical.
    Airburst/Plasma storm: Given the widespread hatred of temperature control, this is probably unlikely to come into play. But the basic concept I have is a play on fine psychokinetic control. Plasma storm would work by gathering latent energies and suddenly releasing them, giving an aoe effect (requiring perhaps 1 turn to build up) similar to a grenade, basically. Airburst would work by compressing air, then releasing. This would have the same effect as a concussive grenade. Also in regards to plasma storm: you could have a form that doesn’t need preparation beforehand, such as something similar to the sith lightning, just one bolt of plasma instead. Again, the easier and less skill intensive alternative? A plasma rifle. All of the skills I’d like added could simply function just as well with an item. Of course its harder to trace someone who did an airburst or plasma storm than someone who threw a grenade, seeing as it can form seemily in midair.

    I’m heavily in favor of pure combat skills requiring at least combat training, or perhaps another skill requirement, mental discipline at great or higher. After all, most of these skills would require much more focus.

    Alternatively, there /is/ the fact sometimes someone is using psionics a bit much. For this, I offer a variant on damages. Essentially for every four to eight uses, you must pass mental discipline or a relevant skill at fair. The next four to eight uses, you must again roll, this time at -1. Et cetera. If you do not pass fair, you waste that turn and are seized upon by massive headaches, giving the equilivant of a -1 in damage. In this way, someone with high mental discipline can continue further than someone with pretty low mental discipline.

    For tiers? I’d say teleport be tier two, but only if you merge battle and distance. (if including teleport stones)
    For plasma burst and airburst, I’d say put it on the same tier or probably lower with the skills needed to use said items. Seeing as the main argument for telekinesis being tier one is you can do so much with it, the same goes for airburst/plasma storm. Since you can use energy rifle for so many weapons, and throwing for so many things, plasma/airburst should be one tier below since they do one thing.

    Okay.. Long post over. I’ve got other ideas and concepts in my head, but I do hope these are considered and I appreciate feedback.

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