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 Post subject: Psionics in Traveller
PostPosted: Fri Nov 18, 2016 2:44 pm 
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Everyone wants a character that is psionic, but the setting (everywhere, even the Zhos) really ignore the vast implications of actual, real, measurable psionics. Sure there was the Psion book by MGT, but that just gave you more Talents, it didn't really delve into what the SETTING implications would be of true psions.

I want to expand that a bit. I also want to keep this TRAVELLER, or at least Cepheus Engine compatible, so no "magic as psionics" unless we can somehow ground it in (pseudo) science.

I am most interested in the technological and social implications of psionics.

1. Psions are actually pretty rare - although the rulebooks never say it, the implication is that not everyone can be psionic. I think many people play the game as if everyone has the potential (You just need to find someone to test you), but if that were the case, then psionics would NOT be feared - because everyone would have them. Also, tough to keep modern 21st century society if everyone has the potential of psionics and NEVER in the history of the world, did anyone figure it out...

2. Given the rarity, (lets say about 1 per 1000 or so people), then fear makes sense, but not the fact that we haven't discovered it yet in the 21st century. Given MRI's, CT scans, etc. we should have detected the mental patterns that lead to psionics. Also, there have been enough paranormal investigations that SOMEONE should have found something. So, why haven't we?

3. IF psionics are real, and operate on the macroscopic world (like Telekinesis), then there should be a measurable form of energy. If we can measure it, we can manipulate it, generate it and store it using technology.

4. IF we can generate it with technology, then we can build a machine that could duplicate the effects. So, now we can have non-psions with psionic powers via a machine (at higher TL, an implant).

5. SciFi references for psionics:
a) Babylon 5 (TV) where psionics are not discovered until the mid 21st century and humans only have it due to alien intervention.
b) The Instrumentality by Cordwainer Smith (Book series)- Telepathy becomes common after a few millennium; everyone has it.
c) The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester (and others) (Books) - Psions are rare, so a guild is formed. Psions are (mostly) accepted have an important role in society.
d) The Stars My Destination (Book) - Everyone can Jaunt (Teleport) after it was discovered by accident in the 20th century. Later discovered that it can be used to travel in space and time...
e) Star Trek (TV) - Spock was a "Touch Telepath" and Troi was an Empath; also the Energy Barrier at the edge of the galaxy creating god-like powers in some humans.
f) Star Wars (Movies and TV) - The 'Force' many almost magical powers - probably more that would be reasonable in a Traveller game.
g) LOTS of others I am sure

The problem with all these references is that very few of them actually go all the way in exploring the societal implications of actual psionics, nor do they really look hard at the technology that would logically come out of this premise.

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PostPosted: Fri Nov 18, 2016 3:00 pm 
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Current Traveller has a Psi-Helmet at TL12 as well as various drugs starting at TL8.

BUT, it is logical to assume that there would be natural plants that could produce similar effects (likely with side effects) that would be possible perhaps as early as TL1 or TL2.

In the Deryni books by Katherine Kurtz (Fantasy), the magic is similar to psionics and there is a drug that they give to the Deryni called "Merasha" that disorients a psion and prevents them from using their powers. That makes perfect sense to me.

Also, a simple Psi-Booster should be possible, perhaps nothing better than Standard Booster, but still, it should be available at very low tech levels.

If we assume that modern MRI/CT/Brain Scans are BARELY able to detect psionic activity (say it is so weak and so rare that is has been ignored so far), then by TL8 it should be possible to detect it like any other area of brain activity. And at that point the proverbial lid is blown off the whole subject.

So, TL8 is where "normal" psionics is confirmed. As I said above, if you can detect it, it should be relatively simple to build a device to block it. So a Psi-Shield should be possible at TL8 or 9, not at TL12 per the rules. BUT, it is likely very bulky - say equivalent to a full-faced motorcycle helmet... VERY obvious and not very practical at dinner parties or in negotiating sessions.

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PostPosted: Fri Nov 18, 2016 3:03 pm 
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Some other sources:

The Pegasus Series (Books) by Anne McCaffery - powerful psions using "gestalt generators" to move cargo and people over interstellar distances. Use of these generators makes perfect sense and should be used in just about any psionic setting. Size/TL/Cost are unknown from the books, but are implied to be HUGE and Expensive.

The Deryni Books by Katherine Kurtz (Fantasy Books) - While a fantasy book, the powers and "rules" for her magic seem much more like high-functioning Psions.

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PostPosted: Fri Nov 18, 2016 3:39 pm 
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The conundrum of why 21st century society doesn´t discover psionics is fairly easy to solve: Just establish psionics is triggered, in some way, by Jumpspace.

Say that, if a pregnant woman travels aboard a starship that performs a jump, her child, once born, will have psionic potential. Not a guaranteed high PSI score, but a guarantee that it will have a non-zero PSI score.
Any person descended from a person who experienced a jump in utero has a certain chance of having psionic potential - with that chance being higher the more such ancestors they have and the more recent the ancestors are. Maybe roll percentile dice with a target equal to the part of their ancestry that is psionic - i.e. 25% if they have a single psionic grandparent, even if that grandparent was never tested.
Any person who fails that percentile roll, or has no ancestors with psionic potential to begin with, has a guaranteed PSI score of 0.

To keep from proliferating psionics too much, you could establish that "proper" exposure to Jumpspace triggering psionic potential only happened with very early jump drive models which are no longer used due to, perhaps, some danger inherent in their design, once those dangers were understood - perhaps psionic potentially is only one of several possible consequences of exposure, most or all others of which are harmful for the unborn?

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PostPosted: Sun Nov 20, 2016 10:32 pm 
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Sir Chaos wrote:
The conundrum of why 21st-century society doesn´t discover psionics is fairly easy to solve: Just establish psionics is triggered, in some way, by Jumpspace.

This is how Stars Without Number's psychic power work - they are the result of exposure to the "meta-dimensional" energies of "drillspace" and thus appeared only after humans have developed Drill travel. Similarly, Mass Effect has "biotics" (i.e. telekinesis, for the most part) created by exposure to "Element Zero", which was not discovered until humanity discovered the Prothean ruins on Mars in the 21st (or was that 22nd?) century.

Outer Veil had a slightly different approach - humans had psionics all along, but almost always their energy was so weak that it was either undetected or mistaken for other neural activity. Traveller-style psionics come from the use of a Psionic Amplifier - based on reverse-engineered technology of the long-dead alien Ascraeus Civilization. The Psi-Amp greatly amplified these emanations and thus allows the human mind to produce measurable psychic effects.

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PostPosted: Sun Nov 20, 2016 10:51 pm 
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That would work well with the need for Navigators vs. machines in Jumpspace as well. Early Jumps included a relatively high percentage of misjumps, but as the navigators improved (psi potential increased), then the accuracy improved as well.

It would also be interesting, to limit the Navigator skill to the Psi DM... :)

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PostPosted: Tue Nov 22, 2016 3:13 pm 
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I haven't had anyone interested in using psionics in my campaigns in decades. I had an NPC patron of the PCs with the talent, but he kept it hidden from the group and I very rarely had him use it. I've never pushed it as I didn't want my campaign to resemble Scanners or X-Men.

The old CT books did say that everyone had potential, but it was on a scale of 1-12 (2d6). And you needed to get it tested and developed while you were still young. 40-year-old ex-soldiers were too set in their ways to develop their psionic potential. ;)

The impact on Imperial society would be too great were psionics to be more than a very rare occurrence. Look at the Zhodani. The cultural differences between them and the Imperium are huge.

Star Wars had its midi-chlorians in the blood which developed one's potential with the Force. Traveller could have a biological component too. Perhaps someone stumbled upon some kind of retrovirus which caused the mutation. The Zhodani would've deliberately infected the nobility once they realized its power. Do we know where psionics were first discovered? If it's a Marches kind of thing, the proximity to the Zhodani would increase the potential of a common source.

I like the idea of neonatal exposure to jumpspace induced a mutation that led to the creation of psionics. This offers a common explanation for its appearance in all races regardless of location. Maybe the Zhodani figured it out before everyone else and intentionally subjected the embryos of the nobility to it. They embraced it rather than feared it as per the Imperium. And I think the jumpspace exposure idea works well with the Empress Wave and its psionic component.

Navigators with psi-potential? Intriguing.

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PostPosted: Tue Nov 22, 2016 4:31 pm 
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Cyborg IM1 wrote:
It would also be interesting, to limit the Navigator skill to the Psi DM... :)

For game reasons, I suggest that everyone can have Navigation-1, but unless you have a PSI DM of +2 or better, you can't get Navigation-2, and unless you have a PSI DM of +2 or better, you can't get Navigation-3. This way, ordinary non-Psionic PCs can still navigate a starship but will face difficulty performing more complex jumps (such as with unrefined fuel and/or bad maintenance and/or inside a gravity well and/or the finicky unstable Jump-2 drive)...

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PostPosted: Sun Nov 27, 2016 3:14 pm 
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The Bengal Station series by Eric Brown (1st one is Necropath) has cops & customs official who are telepaths scanning the minds of arrivals at a starport, looking for smugglers, criminals, stowaways, etc. And reading the minds of the very recently dead for clues to their murder.

In that setting the psi-talent is genetic, but you need surgery and an implant to be able to use it. The implant has a "pin" which can be taken out to disable it to (a) give the telepath a rest from being bombarded by other people's thoughts and (b) give other people privacy.

The Psi Tech series by Jacey Bedford does what it says on the tin. Like the Eric Brown series those with psi-potential need an implant to actually manifest their talents. However the range of psi talents is greater in Bedford's universe - hyperspace navigator; healer; interstellar distance telepath; guy who can control machine drones; guy who is really good at finding lost or missing people. Everyone is a specialist - no-one can do more than one thing well (though all the telepaths can have seekrit conversations if they are within a short distance of each other). Non psionics can have an implant to receive telepathic communications, but can't do other psi stuff. Non-psis can, of course, switch off their implant so that psis can't read their minds. (Or wake them up with psionic calls in the middle of the night!)

The only organisations which can afford the cost of the implant, the surgery and the years of training to create a working psi-tech are governments and megacorporations. A psi will end up working for a corporation/government for decades to pay off the debt of the surgery and training.

I'm with the people who suggest it has to be a new mutation. Because if it has been around for thousands or millions of years, you have to ask these questions:
1. Is it hereditary? (Usual answer in SF is yes, it's genetic).
2. Is it useful? Particularly in a 'saving your life' way, or a 'making you life easier' way. (Usual answer in SF is yes, yes, yes, hell yes, and yes with bells on!)
3. If it is hereditary and useful, why hasn't natural selection er, naturally selected for it? (Just think of all the ways telepathy or telekinesis would make a caveman's life safer or easier).
4. Why have no animals got it? (Usual answer in SF is pseudo-intellectual, hippy dippy nonsense about only sufficiently 'enlightened' beings being capable of psi powers and/or the old lie about only using 10% of your brain. In the latter case, chimps should STILL be capable of psionics!)

For a planet where everything with a backbone (apart from humans) has telepathy, read C.J. Cherryh's Rider at the Gate. That's an ecosystem where telepathy is part of the everyday bluff and camouflage of predator-prey interactions.


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PostPosted: Sun Nov 27, 2016 5:18 pm 
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strontygirl wrote:
I'm with the people who suggest it has to be a new mutation. Because if it has been around for thousands or millions of years, you have to ask these questions:
1. Is it hereditary? (Usual answer in SF is yes, it's genetic).
2. Is it useful? Particularly in a 'saving your life' way, or a 'making you life easier' way. (Usual answer in SF is yes, yes, yes, hell yes, and yes with bells on!)
3. If it is hereditary and useful, why hasn't natural selection er, naturally selected for it? (Just think of all the ways telepathy or telekinesis would make a caveman's life safer or easier).
4. Why have no animals got it? (Usual answer in SF is pseudo-intellectual, hippy dippy nonsense about only sufficiently 'enlightened' beings being capable of psi powers and/or the old lie about only using 10% of your brain. In the latter case, chimps should STILL be capable of psionics!)

For my "Hard Space" setting:
1. No. It only occurs in children whose mother has passed through Jump Space at least once during their gestation.
2. Standard Traveller psionics - can definitely save your life, especially if you have the rare Teleportation Talent...
3. It is a result of exposure to Jump Space (i.e. gestation in a mother who travels by a Jump-capable starship). No natural selection here.
4. See 3.

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