Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The Other Side of Psi

The Force and Psionic Powers represent things too complex to easily fit into each other.  Here, we'll look at edge cases for both. First, we'll take a look at how to represent "the Dark Side of the Force" with Psionic Powers, then we'll look at some Psionic Powers that aren't a perfect fit in the Force, and we'll end with a discussion of Psi-Tech.

The Dark Side of Psi

"It has been said that anyone who knows the ways of the Force can set her- or himself up as a King on any world where only she or he knows the ways of the Force. Any Jedi could do this. But the Jedi, fools that they are, adhere to a religion in which the Force is used only in the service of others. How shortsighted of them. Is that not why they lost the galaxy to the dark side?"
-Palpatine, The Weakness of Inferiors
The action of Star Wars is driven by the metaphysics of the Light Side vs the Dark Side of the Force.  No discussion of the Force can be complete without it.  But how do we represent the Dark Side with Psi?

Psi Campaigns is rather quiet on the topic of "evil psi," so without digging into Horror, I'm left with few options.  The first approach is taken by most video games, and the movies seem to follow the principle as well: some psi powers are just evil.  Only the sith seem to use lightning blasts, for example, and a jedi who uses them will get a frown from his masters.  We could expand this option set further to include some other psi powers, like Psychic Vampirism, while limiting Psychic Healing to those "on the Light Side."

But why?  What happens if you use psychic vampirism or shoot people with lightning?  How do you declare your allegiance to one side of the other, and how does the dark "tempt" psions?

Psi Campaigns does offer one interesting insight on page 34:

In a way, the only thing that can truly stop a psi from crossing certain lines is the psi himself
Consider the X-men for a moment.  The fundamental argument of the X-men is that people would freak out if they knew people with powers were running around.  I find that logical: If you knew there were people who could do jedi mind tricks, and suddenly a bunch of self-professed psions moved into Washington DC at the invitation of politicians, how would that make you feel?  Or if you saw a news report showing a bank robber stopping bullets with his mind and ripping officers apart before destroying the camera, knowing that anyone could have that power and you didn't, how would you feel?

How, as a psion, would you assure people that this sort of thing would never happen?  You'd profess to a code of conduct (the Code of Honor (Psychic's), GURPS Psis page 6) and stick to it. How do you know a psychic isn't reading your mind right now?  He promised he wouldn't.  How do you know that he won't just rip you apart with his mind?  He promised he wouldn't.  What happens when someone runs around doing so?  Then the ethical psions will do their best to take him down, probably making a grand display of it, and even villifying him, saying that he's not a true psion, but they'll have a different name for him.  Sith, perhaps.  They'll talk about how he fell into the wrong crowd, on the dark side of psi.  They'll do this to put you at ease.  In this model, the Dark Side is not typified by Darth Vader, but by Magneto.  The danger of the Dark Side is that it destroys all possible trust between psions and humans, forcing them into a spiraling conflict where one or the other must come out on top.  Only by hewing to the code can you create peaceful coexistence.

This idea might not be entirely philosophical, though.  Thoughts and emotions drive psychic powers.  If a psychic wants you dead, the very act of wanting you dead could kill you.  As a psion, then, you must carefully police your thoughts.  Embracing lust or love could accidentally mind control the target of your affections (say, a powerful psion who fell in love with an unattainable princess and spent a great deal of time around her, protecting her, might find that his constant romantic attention has twisted her mind so that she's suddenly and inexplicably as in love with him as he was with her.  Outsiders might find it odd, even accuse the character of "poor acting" or "inconsistent writing...").  Embracing anger or hatred might result in your latent PK accidentally choking everyone around you.  In a world with Probability Manipulation/Micro-PK, your anger might be constantly cursing people around you in a subtle way.  Thus, this order of ethical psions might also demand rigid emotional discipline.  A psion must never feel fear or anger or love or have any close connection to another.

We could represent this by placing the Uncontrollable limitation on a variety of powers, especially for fairly inexperienced/untrained psions.  The formative years means that stress (or failing a self-control roll on Bad Temper, Berserk, Lecherousness, etc) could result in your psychic powers acting up on their own, to help you get what you subconsciously desire.

More Powers

GURPS Psionic Powers has loads of powers to look at, some of which might be appropriate for Psi Wars and may or may not be found in Star Wars, depending on how deeply you delve into fan theories and/or the expanded unvierse, including Ergokinesis, Psychic Healing and (perhaps) Psychic Vampirism.


Psionics has a -10% modifier, and half of that modifier assumes the presence of Anti-Psi. Not “Well, I suppose in theory there might be an anti-psi character somewhere out there,” but the real and regular possibility of running to an anti-psi character. Thus, unless we want to fundamentally change how psi works (which goes beyond the intent of Psi Wars), we need to have Anti-Psi.

Cancellation (page 23): This is something I've never seen in Star Wars, but the crippling version seems to have been applied to the Exile in Knights of the Old Republic 2. Level 1 and 2 (20 and 35) points require skin contact, and everything beyond that begins to go out of the range of easy player access, making it more of an NPC trick.

Interrupt (page 23): I can imagine a heroic Psi using this to disrupt telepathic powers or something worse on someone else. Level 1 or 2 aren't too bad, given that you'll often be close to such a character, and only cost 10-20 points.

Para-Invisibility (page 23): “Something hides him from my senses.” The ability to hide from precognition or telepathy seems to be the sort of thing one might find in Star Wars, and certainly fits into Psi Wars (and also, by the way, Dune).

Psionic Shield (page 24): An anti-psi character would almost certainly be harder to read, by virtue of their innate power, than other characters. At 2/level, it's also quite affordable.

True Sight (page 25): Definitely seems the sort of thing available in Psi Wars… but it mostly lets one see through illusions, and other than Mind-Clouding, we currently don't have that many. Stick with level 1 (16 points) unless we decide to add spirits.

Psi Resistance (page 26): Certain characters might be harder to affect, and given the broad impact of this power, it might be superior to Psionic Shield.

Anti-Psi Perks (page 24): Gaze into the Abyss, Simple Defense, Hostile Dampening, Nonthreatening, Personal Awareness and Tolerance all seem particularly appropriate, and the last three might be the sorts of things non-psions might learn.


Ever since Emperor Palpatine electrocuted Luke Skywalker, Electrokinesis has been a stand-by of the Dark Side. But how appropriate is it really for Psi Wars?

Confuse (page 32): Confuse is also a stand-by of many Star Wars games, and is the sort of power that might be quite useful. I recommend at least level 3 for 21 points, though crafty ninja-types can get away with level 2.

Dampen (page 33): I've never seen this power in Star Wars… which is a shame, because a Dark Psion shutting down all the lights before switching on his Awareness and hunting you down in the darkness is a wicked image. However, it gets very expensive very quickly: covering a ten-yard room is 60 points, out of the price range for most PCs.

Lightning (page 33): The classic lightning blast of Star Wars… though this version draws power from something else, so you have to channel electricity through to your target. At 12 points per die, you're better off with a blaster at your side.

Short Circuit (page 34): This might be a superior version to Dampen, but you'll have to pick each specific item and shut it down. Great for defeating robots or turning out the lights. Note that it bypasses armor, and at 11 per die (3 dice is plenty to short out even combat androids, and almost enough to defeat Warbots) it's pretty affordable.

Psychic Vampirism

Psychic vampirism
Psychic vampirism doesn't necessarily feature strongly in Star Wars, though in quite a few games there seems to be elements like “Force Drain” or “Life Drain” that pops up as a dark force power. In any case, it's the sort of thing that feels dark, and thus might suit Psi Wars nicely.

Steal Energy (page 51): The classic “Force Drain” of most video games steals whatever “force energy” you use to power your abilities, which is the same thing Steal Energy does. Level 1-6 are all between 30-50 points, so it's barely affordable for a player character.

Steal Life (page 52): While I don't know of any specific examples of this from Star Wars, it seems a natural extension of Steal Energy. Starting at 25 points, it's surprisingly affordable.

Detect Life (page 52): A further extension of Steal Life and Steal Energy, this allows a Psychic Vampire to find his prey, though at 27 points it's rather pricey.

Vampirism Perks (page 51): Controllable Lifebane is a classic “dark psion” ability. Invigoration has interesting implications. Pleasant Theft and Poison Charm both allow for the “sexy vampire” concept. The Social Vampire is not the sort of thing one might necessarily see… but its presence in a setting would provide interesting insights into how destructive the “dark side” can really be.

Psychic Healing

psychic healing
“Force Healing” doesn't seem to explicitly make its way into the movies, at least not in any form I remember, but it certainly shows up in video games and the extended universe. If Psychic Vampirism is a hallmark of the dark side, Psychic Healing is a hallmark of the light side.

Cure (page 47): The basic “look, I can heal people!” form of Force Healing. At 18 points, it's not too bad for a player character.

Life Extension (page 48): Seemingly a rather common one, at least from the implications of how old a particular force wielder might be. Stick with level 1, and mainly for story-purposes only.

Sleep (page 49): Another power that I don't believe I've seen in the movies, but certainly shows up in games. At 20-40 points, it's pretty affordable, but I'd start at level 2.

Metabolish Control (page 49): A classic “Jedi Ascetic” power.

Regeneration (page 49): Again, more common in the games, though impossible to tell if it exists, in a slower form, in the movies.

Psychic Healing Perks (page 48): Life Support, Natural Doctor, Psychic Surgery and Soothing Touch all seem excellent ways of expressing psionic healing with minimal points and might even be superior representations than Cure, above.


Psionics requires the presence of technology that can hamper it. That's part of the reason it's worth -10% compared to native advantages. We already have the Power Damper collars from UT 108, which is effectively a slightly limited version of the Psi-Impeder from Psi-Tech 17, but I prefer the UT version (as it can be overcome with sufficient Will). The Electro-Psionic Neutralizer might be a thing in Star-Wars, as at least one character (the Exile from Knights of the Old Republic 2) had his power stripped from him. The Null-Field Generator (Psi-Tech 16) might also fit (the Expanded Universe had the Ysalamir, which did much the same thing), though I would personally prefer is these bubbles had a “Will” that the psionicist could “overcome,” similar to the power damper caller. Finally, Psychotronic Para-Stealth (Psi-Tech 17-18) isn't something I've seen in Star Wars, but similar ideas float around in Dune and other space opera settings that feature precognition. The ability to hide yourself from people who can see the future is invaluable.

Unfortunately, that's basically it. Star Wars doesn't feature much technology that improves the Force, as that would make it “too technological” rather than mystical.  In fact, the only reasons I've even included these at all is to fulfill the requirements of the Psi-Modifier. But if we wanted to go our own way, we certainly could!

Speculative Psi-Tech

Psi-Amplifiers (Psi-Tech 12-13) are absolute musts for a psi-heavy space opera. The Dark Psionic Emperor would rule the Galaxy from his Psi-Amplifier Citadel. Psychotronic Batteries (Psi-Tech 14), especially in the form of crystals, could be a phenomenal source of power for our psionic characters. Symbiotic crystals (Psi-Tech 15) were inspired by the Lenses of Lensmen, the Grandfather of Star Wars. Perhaps all the greatest Psionic Space Knights have their own unique symbiotic crystals.

The Psi Scanner and the Psitectors (Psi-Tech 22) might be useful for any psionic order to find new recruits, or for security forces trying to guard against dangerous psions.

PK-Sensitive materials (Psi-Tech 25) offer some interesting options, especially for the psi-order with money. A psychotronic bodyshield makes a great deal of sense in such a setting, though note that I've discarded the idea of PK shield (It's just not worth the points!). But consider allowing a character with unified TK to use his TK on the psychotronic bodyshield to give it 5 DR per level of Unified PK. Finally, the psychokinetic bridge is great for any mystical order that wants to create a “leap of faith” trap/test.

Memory Crystals (Psi-Tech 26) make a surprising amount of sense, even in a Star-Wars-inspired Psi-Wars (why is it that only Jedi seem to use Holocron crystals?) Psionic Mind-Shields (Psi-Tech 29) are a must-have in a universe brimming with telepaths. Senator Palpatine probably hid his true intent from the Jedi with his Sith training, but how would a more mundane conspirator hide his intentions? A Psychic Lock or an Empathic Lock (both Psi-Tech 29) add a great deal of metaphysical weight behind “items of power” (“Only the Jedi Grandmaster can open this door, and each is imprinted with the Psionic Key to do so!”). Telepathic Control Panels (Psi-Tech 30) seem fascinating. I would allow them to grant remove -1 point from multitasking in a ship equipped with them, allowing a single psion to operate a dreadnought like it was a fighter, and to operate all the controls of a fighter at no penalty at all! Finally, the Thought Globe (Psi-Tech 30) just seems the sort of cool thing you'd find in a psionic institute.

Psi-Drugs could add to the enforcement options of a setting, as well as empower legions of psi-troopers. Blocker (Psi-Tech 33) could be taken by spies to resist the mind-reading of psions and Muffler could be used instead of power damper collars to keep psions under control on demand (Psi-tech 34). Brainstorm and Blue Fire (both Psi-Tech 33) become generic/dangerous psychic boosters, while Psi-Boosters become more reliable and targeted boosters (Psi-Tech 34). Catalyst (Psi-Tech 33) becomes a dangerous way in which the chemically-minded can force a latent psi to “wake up.”

The Genetics of Psi (Psi-Tech 35-37) certainly fits into Star Wars, given that the expanded universe featured clones of the Emperor, the Skywalker lineage, and the Sith fretting about the purity of their bloodline. If psi is genetic, then psi can be engineered! I recommend the “It's a mix of both” option to allow for genetic abilities and to allow for player who can grow outside of their genetic engineering.

Finally, Pyramid #3-51 Tech and Toys III has, on page 39, an interesting option in place of the Force Sword: the Psi-Sword. If we use these, the real reason only psis use force swords is that only psis can power force swords, which are a manifestation of their psionic power! A character with 50 points of psionic ability would deal 2d+2 + talent damage by default, and most blades appropriate to Psi-Wars either enjoys an excellent armor divisor or bypasses armor completely. A psychokinetic with a talent of +1 would dead 2d+5(10) cutting damage, for example.

Real, Ultimate Power

In the Empire Strikes Back, Yoda lifts an X-Wing out of the swamp.  Since then, the Expanded Universe has become cluttered with increasingly epic uses of the Force, culminating in the antics of Galen Marek in The Force Unleashed.  How do we emulate that sort of intense power in Psi Wars?

A Starhawk is 30 tons.  You can lift up to 15 times your basic lift, but more than 10 times your basic lift costs 1 fatigue per second ("I can't... it's too big.").  Thus, assuming that Yoda was using 10 times his basic lift, he'd need a BL of 6000, which requires an ST of about 175.  That's 875 points worth of Unified TK! It also means that Yoda could force-choke someone for ~60 damage per second, and that he could jump (assuming Move 4 and no movement) 7.5 million miles (the Moon is only about 200,000 miles, and Mars is 77 million at its closest pass with Earth.  At the speeds measured here, Yoda would take about a minute, soaring in space, to jump from Earth to Mars at their closest approach).  He'd also inflict enough knockback to blow a normal person about 200 yards.

A more modest take on the power would have Yoda take only TK-Grab at 175, but that's still 700 points, and remains implausible.  I have two better solutions.

The first is offered by GURPS Supers on page 30 (and 112): Ultrapower.  In effect, the 50 point advantage allows the character to make "one-off" epic uses of his power provided he makes a Willpower roll and pays all of his remaining fatigue.  Yoda almost certainly has a Will of 20+ and moving a Starhawk would be a "Legendary" feat, and thus apply a -2 to his roll.  Yoda would almost certainly pass it and after 1d6x10 minutes of concentrating, pull off the feat.  The solution works, but it's sort of a brute-force, hand-waving solution, requiring a character to have a 50 point advantage.  If you don't, you can't do this sort of thing, and if you do, you can do it whenever you have the fatigue to do it.

The other solution is found already in Psionic Powers: Extra Effort.  Assume Yoda has a modest level 10 in Telekinetic Control, TK Talent of +4, IQ of 20, Will 25, and TK-Grab skill of IQ+5 (counting his talent).  His Extra-Effort roll (Will-based TK-Grab) would start at skill-30.  He suffers a -1 per +10% of effect, so +200% would apply a -20 to skill, meaning his TK just improved to level 30... which is good, but not good enough!

GURPS Powers has an additional option on page 161: Godlike Extra Effort.  Here, we can multiply our effect by spending additional fatigue.  Assume that Yoda has Energy Reserves (Psi) of 10.  He spends all 10 on this Extra-Effort roll, and thus gains +2000%!  Is power level just increased to 300, which is more than enough to casually lift a Starhawk, though Yoda is kind of a jerk to expect Luke to be able to do the same.  If we want to charge points for Godlike Extra Effort, a perk is generally enough, making it highly affordable.

The Extra-Effort rules creates a "Power Begets Power" scenario, which means a powerful psion is many times more powerful than an inexperienced psion, which does match the exceptional rise to power seen in Star Wars (and fits the comic-book metaphysics of the franchise).  It also means that you have degrees of power.  The master psion described above is surprisingly reasonable (I've personally had campaigns with 500 point samurai PCs with stats like those).  An even more modest character might have Telekinetic Control of 5, a Will of 20, 5 points of Energy Reserves, and IQ+3 Telekinetic Grab skill, giving him a base Extra Effort roll of 23.  He can easily apply a -9 for +90% (skill 14), and then spend 3 of his Psi Reserves for a modest +270% for a total TK of 18, which is enough to pick someone up off the floor while throttling them, or use a TK-Push that blasts someone back nearly 5 yards!  This creates a dynamic situation where even a little bit of power, given sufficient will, skill and energy reserves, can quickly turn into a full-blown Cinematic scenario.

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