Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Psionic Powers in Dogfighting Action!

"The Force guides my controls!"

―Delta-7 pilot

Star Wars often discusses the fact that Jedi made amazing pilots, and during the Clone Wars, they even employed different starfighters than the rest, precisely because of the advantages their force sensitivity gave them. In principle, Psi-Wars should be the same, and we expect Templars and Space Knights to be exceptional pilots. However, while Star Wars offers nebulous reasons for Jedi excellence as pilots (“The force guides them,”) in an RPG, we need more concrete reasons for that excellence. Hence, we need to discuss how psychic powers and offer advantages to a pilot.

I wanted to move away from GURPS Spaceships Combat for a few reasons, but the big one is that it involved “incomprehensible distances.” That is, I certainly didn’t understand how to handle the scale of distances involved, and I notice that when I start talking about remote ranges, people get uncomfortable and talk about it causing problems even though it’s the shortest range of GURPS Space Combat, which highlights the problem. Worse, GURPS doesn’t really operate that well on those ranges. It can, of course, but most material out there assumes more terrestrial, rather than celestial, distances, because that’s the distances in which the average human character operates in.

This definitely applies to psionic powers. This was a topic I intended to visit at some point, and when I finally did, I immediately noticed that the change from Spaceship combat to GURPS Action chase rules immediately made a lot of psychic powers more relevant “for free” precisely because we reduced ranges to something that GURPS Psychic Powers could handle “out of the box.”



Common Concerns

For the most part, you don’t need a point-by-point discussion of every single psionic power. For example, if you want to use Clairvoyance to project your vision into a ship that’s two miles away, that’s ultimately no different than wanting to project your vision into a building that’s two miles away. We can get a sense of how most psychic powers work on the scale of space combat with a few quick comments and general conversions

Range

Most psychic powers operate on one of five range scales: touch, short-range penalties, normal range penalties, long-range penalties and “psychic range.” Touch and short-range penalties (that is, -1 skill/yard) are too “short” to matter on most vehicular scales, whether in space or on the ground, they are ranges that quickly become untenable beyond what GURPS Action calls “Close” range. Normal range penalties are just the standard range penalties for all ranged attacks, which means if you can hit it with a blaster, you can hit it with a psychic power. The one caveat is that most ranged weapons get bonuses from things like size modifier, accuracy and scanner locks, while psychic powers rarely do, thus I suspect we won’t see much use of these sorts of powers at Extreme or farther ranges.

Some powers at very high level operate with the Long-Distance Modifiers found on page B241 (examples include Telereceive at level 5, Dampen with Projection, or TK-Crush). This makes psychic powers extremely effective at the ranges of space combat. If we translate these to the GURPS Action range bands, we get: Everything up to Medium is -1; Long is -1; Extreme is -2; Distant is -4; Beyond Visual is -5; Remote is -6. Obviously, you need to have some means of targeting your opponent at Beyond Visual and Remote, but most psychic powers with long-distance modifiers have options to handle this.

The Psionic Range table mostly covers ESP and the maximum range of things like Clairvoyance or Awarness. These aren’t penalties so much as maximum distances your abilities can affect. These follow a fairly simple progression: You need level 3 to fully access “Close” range, and every range band beyond that requires +2 levels.

  • Close: level 3

  • Short: level 5

  • Medium: Level 7

  • Long: Level 9

  • Extreme: level 11

  • Distant: level 13

  • Beyond Visual: 15

  • Remote: Level 17

Volume

Quite a few powers will project the ability’s effects in a radius around the character; this includes powers like Screaming, Dampen and PK shield or EK shield with the “Expansion” technique. The core question here is “How much volume do I need to apply my power to the entirely of my vehicle?”

The answer, it turns out, involves some complicated geometry calculations, in that we need to convert a yard radius to cubic yards, and then to cubic feet, and then compare these values to SM modifiers to get a reasonable answer.

The actual numbers look thus:

SM

Yard Diameter

4

3

5

3

6

5

7

7

8

10

9

14

10

21

11

30

12

45

13

65

14

96

15

139



So one needs about a three yard radius to “fill an SM +5” vehicle, and all the way up to a 139 yard radius to fill an SM +15 ship. In principle, this assumes a perfect radius, while many of these ships will be unusual shapes, and it also assumes that the ship is the maximum possible volume for a ship of that SM, which will rarely be the case. Furthermore, some Expansion techniques start with a radius of 2 yards, while others start with a radius of 4 yards.

For simplicity, I propose the following rule: any technique or power that affects at least a 2 yard radius will “cover” a vehicle of up to SM +4. Each doubling of the radius will increase the total SM of the vehicle by +2. It’s a bit of a forgiving rule, but should give us the values we want.

Specific Psionic Abilities

I will not discuss all powers, just those most relevant to the Action Chase/Dogfight rules.

Anti-Psi

Anti-Psi needs no special discussion, as most of its interesting abilities either have some option for using them at great distances (Cancellation at level 5) or the ability to expand the ability to defend the full space of a ship (Screaming with Expansion). These are generally sufficient for any uses in a space combat/chase scene.

Electrokinesis

Electrokinesis is obviously the most interesting psychic power for manipulating vehicles and starships. The ability to reach out and directly disable a craft or, more interestingly, directly control a vehicle. Thus, this power requires the largest discussion.

Ultimately, the core benefits of EK are that the psion can disable his opponents’ fighter or even larger craft, or assume a deeper control of his own vehicle, flying it with the same precision that someone else would move their own body.

Remote Control

Obviously, this allows you to directly control a computer aboard a vehicle, and any vehicle with Computerized Controls (which is most of them) allows you to control any aspect of the vehicle that can be computer controlled. This allows direct driving of the vehicle, but is not the same as vehicle possession. Targets of this may, of course, switch off the computer. Assume that all vehicles with computerized controls have a “back-up” electronic control structure, but switching off the vehicle computer results in -1 handling, the removal of all large facility bonuses, the elimination of the targeting software (thus reducing the sensor lock bonus from +5 to +3) and vehicles with Controlled Instability simply cannot fly.

Dampen

This requires sufficient level to “cover” the vehicle, using the Volume rules above. If using Dampen from a distance (and not from within the vehicle), the Project technique is required; note that in most cases, they will use Long Distance modifiers. Characters may specifically target subsystems of the ship, cutting off all power to them. This only provides a benefit if electrical power is needed to run the system (it will, thus, disrupt impulse drives, grav drives and ion thrusters, but not plasma thrusters). If the reactors are targeted, all power in the system is shut down. Targeting a subsystem applies an additional -5 to the Projection technique but reduces the required level necessary to affect the vehicle: treat a subsystem as the SM of the ship -2.

Note that “High Psi” in Pyramid #3/97 includes the “Blanket” technique, which dampens for miles, for when you want to completely power down a dreadnought...

Machine Invisibility

A reader once commented that he included a sort of “machine invisibility” in his Psi-Wars game, and I find this an interesting idea, one that definitely fits here, not just because it allows one to hide from cameras, but because it allows you to shroud your entire ship from an ultrascanner.

It will work like Mind-Clouding except for the need to remove yourself from line of sight; it can only be resisted with Will with sapient machines (aka robots); that is, it affects the machine and not the person using the machine. Finally, it applies to sight, sound and ultra-scanners.

Statistics: Chameleon with Extended (Ultra-scanners), +20%, Machines Only -50%, Electrokinesis -10% [3/level] + Silence (the same) [2/level]

To cover a ship, we need an Expansion technique. This is a little trickier, because we need to conceive of the technique differently. Ultimatley, we need to use the Obscure advantage rather than Chameleon. The net result is that it halves the effectiveness of your level, but allows you to extend it to people around you or to your ship. Treat this as effectively an ECM modifier; it replaces the distortion jammer!

Expansion

Hard

Default: Machine Invisibility -6; May not exceed Machine Invisibility

Expansion is Obscure Sight with the following modifiers: Extended (Ultra-Scanners) +20%, Machines only -50%, Defensive (+50%), Stealth (+100%), Electrokinesis -10%) [4.2/level] + Obscure Sound, Machines only -50%, Defensive (+50%), Stealth (+100%), Electrokinesis -10% (3.8/level); thus it’s 8/level rather than 5/level making it +30% or -6 technique and halves effectiveness.

EK Shield

If you use Expansion to match the size of your ship, treat it like a layer that applies before the force screen. It only works against energy attacks, of course.

Soul of the Machine

Cost: 30 for level 1, 5 points per level thereafter.

I had previous removed Netrunning as a power because it over-emphasizes computers in the setting. However, the idea of an electrokinetic psionically interfacing with their starfighter or corvette is an especially appealing option. This is detailed W.A. Frick’s “One with the Ship” in Pyramid #3/30 starting on page 11.

This is a 30 point power, using the Soul of the Machine skill (IQ/H); sapient ships (those controlled by neural nets) may resist with Will. To activate it, the character must be inside the ship, spend a single turn concentrating and must succeed at their skill roll. On a success, the character gains total control over the vehicle, and gains the following benefits:

  • The Vehicle gains +1 handling

  • The character may make Per-based Electronics Operation (Sensors) rolls to detect targets and may do so freely, rather than as a passenger action.

  • Passenger actions that use ship systems have a -1 multitasking penalty instead of a -3.

  • He adds a bonus equal to his Soul of the Machine level -1 to all skill rolls with the vehicle and its systems, including all attack rolls, all piloting rolls (dodge is only increased by half this value), Electronics Operations (ECM), etc.

ESP

ESP is primarily focused on information gathering, and this remains true when used in conjunction with a starfighter or a dreadnought. Broadly speaking, what an Esper brings to the table in such encounters is intelligence: they can overhear secret plans, or uncover future fleet positions, but they can rarely use their ESP directly in combat, with a few exceptions. The result of those exceptions are that Espers tend to sense attacks before they’re coming, turn off their targeting computers to “trust their feelings” when they make an attack, and to have an uncanny knowledge of the battlefield long before they arrive.

Combat Sense

When Star Wars describes the Jedi as “good pilots,” it most likely refers to their “uncanny reflexes,” which is almost certainly a function of Combat Sense. Combat Sense operates like Danger Sense and Combat Reflexes, which already provides advantages during ambushes, but I see no reason that Combat Sense should not also apply its defensive bonus to vehicular dodge. Enhanced Dodge (Vehicular) may or may not be a distinct advantage, but Combat Sense uses “Defense Bonus” which explicitly adds to all defense rolls. I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to extend that to vehicular dodges too!

Prognostication

This is a good example of a broadly useful ESP ability finding some use in combat. Prognostication does not directly impact chase scenes, as its generally too slow and too vague for moment-by-moment combat advantage, but it does have a direct use in gaining free uses of Foresight, and Foresight can be used to get a free Lucky Break. Thus, a Espers often seem to get lucky but, in reality, the knew what was coming and took advantage of it!

This needs no special rules, as it’s just a natural extension of the Planning and Foresight rules.

Awareness

Awareness is technically a scanning sense, and thus can be used to “lock on” to targets. We could simply create a basic “Tactical Awareness” technique that gives us the tactical enhancement to allow us a +3 to hit. This is a rather situational trait, as the +5 from ultrascanners + targeting computers are superior, but Awareness cannot be jammed or fooled by distortion jammers, nor interfered with by pulsar flares or nebula storms, and a tactical ESM won’t pick up the fact that you’re scanning someone.

The main problem with Awareness is that it’s very short-ranged, all things considered. To make it useful at Beyond Visual, like a standard starfighter’s ultrascanner, you need level 15, which will run you 39 points. Now, most powers “get cool” around 50 points, and this is just one example, but it seems reasonable to make this easier for a few reasons. First, the idea is to hit only “big” targets (SM +3 or larger), first because this is the intent of the ability and, second, because we don’t want to encourage “Sniper Jedi” who get a +3 to hit a target with their sniper rifle thanks to their Awarrness Lock. Thus we can apply a limitation to represent “only large things:” -30% seems fair. The Tactical Enhancement is worth +20%, and we’ll add +50% increased range (×50 range, or really, +5 levels). This means someone with level 10 awareness (29 points) who can normally perceive out to 1000 yards can sense SM+3 craft or vehicles with sufficient precision to target them with a bonus.

Tactical Awareness

Hard

Default: Awareness -5; May not exceed Awareness

The character’s supernatural awareness gains sufficient precision that he gains a +3 to hit them with ranged attacks. This is not compatible with the bonus from a scanning sense lock (it is a scanning-sense lock!), but the bonus cannot be overcome with Electronics Operations (ECM) or defeated by environmental elements that normally prevent a scanning sense lock, nor can it be detected by electronic means (but it can be detected by psychic means as normal). Tactical Awareness can only focus on “large,” (SM +3 or larger) targets; smaller than that and the sense becomes too vague to target with precision. However, tactical awareness increases the range of Awareness by ×50 (or, effectively adds 5 levels for determining maximum range).

Psychokinesis

Psychokinetics are less obviously useful in space battles, despite being the most popular and dramatic power seen in Star Wars. Psi-Wars tends to treat psychokinesis with more subtlety: a psychokinetic uses it to pick a lock or to pull a pin from a grenade more often than he uses it to smash up dreadnoughts. That said, Psychokinetics can do a few interesting things with psychokinesis, often damaging machinery with just a glance, and making his own fighter surprisingly robust simply through sheer will.

TK-Crush

TK-Crush uses long-range modifiers, which means if you’re allowed to target it, you’re allowed to kill it! This may require some means of long-range targeting, such as via Detect Life. Additionally, nothing prevents you from using TK-Crush directly on a fighter.

Rend Machine

Hard

Default: TK-Crush -5; May not exceed TK-Crush

The telekinetic reaches out and crushes the delicate machinery of one specific sub-system within a target machine. This inflicts double damage on a machine, bypasses all DR and the machine resists with HT rather than Will; if used against vehicles with specific subsystems, if the attack deals enough damage to destroy a subsystem, the attacker chooses which subsystem is destroyed.

PK Shield

PK shield operates like TK shield: if you use the Expansion technique to generate enough area coverage to cover your vehicle, you can apply this DR before you apply your force screen DR. This only works against projectiles; this explicitly includes all missiles!

Its also conceivable that a telekinetic might “stave off” damage by holding parts in place. For example, if a habitat has a hole punctured in it, exposing it to vacuum, the TK might “plug” the hole with his telekinetics, or if a tube has burst free of its proper place, he might replace it. We might imagine a Tker flying a starfighter riddled with damage, and when he finally lands and steps out, then and only then does the starfighter collapse under its damage.

The easiest way to handle this is as an alternate technique that changes the DR applied by PK shield (or a different power, like TK-grab, but PK-Shield feels the most intuitive, as it “makes things robust”) into a beneficial Affliction that grants bonus HT to the ship. Every 2 levels of PK shield would grant +1 HT for one minute, with a skill penalty based on the SM of the ship.

However, one might intuitively expect it to look different: to cover an entire dreadnought with such a technique might require enormous power rather than skill, and you might replace the HT roll with the skill roll, thus a skillful character is better at keeping a ship alive. This is a much more complicated design: it requires a variable HT result based on your skill roll, a bonus based on the level of your PK shield to your PK shield skill roll that’s only to compensate for size with some arbitrary nuisance limitation that doesn’t let you use the power unless you completely cover the SM penalties, the reflexive enhancement with a limitation that means the bonus only applies for a single roll and, naturally, a limitation that allows this to apply to only machines and machines you happen to be inside. Whew!

So I’m just going to fudge it and make up a new technique that works this way.

Mechanical Robustness

Hard

Default: PK-Shield -3; May not exceed PK-Shield

When the machine the telekinetic is operating or is within or is touching begins to break down due to gross mechanical destruction, the telekinetic can will it to keep functioning by forcing components to remain in place or even replacing the functionality of lost components. The character may apply this benefit to a machine whose SM does not exceed half of his PK-Shield level; when the vehicle needs to make an HT roll due to gross mechanical damage (that is, to see if it remains functional or is destroyed or if it suffers cumulative wounds, but not to see if an EM disruptor disables it), the character may replace that HT roll with his Mechanical Robustness technique, with a bonus equal to how much the vehicle’s HT exceeds 10, or a penalty equal to how much lower the vehicle’s HT is from 10 (that is add HT -10 to the technique roll).

Telepathy

Telepaths don’t directly manipulate starships or vehicles, and thus have limited utility when it comes to chase scenes or dogfights. The main benefit is that it allows the user to replace electronics with psychic powers, thus a telepath can communicate with wingmen through comm disruptors by connecting mind to mind, rather than comm to comm. Beyond that telepaths can manipulate pilots and enemy crewmen directly. This means telepathic fighter pilots often seem uncannily coordinated with one another and their opponents often become confused or disrupted, or the fighter pilot seems to know what his enemies will do before they do it.

Telerecieve

Telerecieve notes that it grants a +2 to “anything where reading an opponent’s mind could be useful” and cites Tactics as an example. If you can read the enemy tactical officer’s mind, you explicitly gain a +2 to contests against him.

The Synchronize Perk

If everyone in a formation has the Synchronize perk, grant +1 to Tactics rolls for that Formation.

Mental Blow

I’ve vacillated on Mental Blow, but I seem to have allowed it with Ishen Denshin, thus it should be allowed here too. You’ll need a high level to operate at the ranges of space combat, however (typically level 5 is sufficient, as then you have Long Range modifiers). A successful mental blow inflicts a -4 on chase rolls from the target (see “Damage to people” Action 2 page 35), while the Neurological Damage technique effectively disables the target, the same as unconsciousness.

Mind Clouding

In The Return of the Jedi, when their shuttle arrives at Endor, Luke Skywalker closes his eyes and focuses so that people will not look too closely at the ship. This could be any number of things (most likely some variation of Suggestion) but it seems possible that one might “cloak” a vehicle in Mind Clouding, but this requires an Expansion technique. We’ll use the same design process as for Machine Invisibility:

Expansion

Hard

Default: Mind-Clouding -3; May not exceed Mind Clouding

You may expand your Mind-Clouding effect to an area around you with a 2-yard diameter. For every 5 points by which you make your (modified) skill roll, you can double this radius, cumulatively. This replaces the bonus to stealth with a flat -1 to see or hear those within the expanded area per level; this replaces the encumbrance rules of Mind-Clouding and no bonus is gained for remaining still.

Telepathy Sense

This allows the telepath to detect minds and to target them with particular abilities, such as mental blow, telereceive or TK-Crush. Very useful if the telepath seeks to affect targets locked away in a distant spaceship.

Psychic Healing and Psychic Vampirism

Neither of these abilities directly impact piloting skills or chase abilities, beyond the utility of things like using Drain DX on a target. Psychic Vampirism has several “Far” techniques that can be used, and Detect Life offers the option to “target” individuals so sensed, thus most vampires will use these techniques to assist them in space combat, similar to how telepaths operate with Telepathy Sense.

Psi-Tech and Space Combat

The following Psi-Tech might be useful in space combat; they’re not explicitly or generally available, though certain psi-focused civilizations (the Ranathim, the Eldoth and the Alexian secret technology) might use some of the following:

Sensory Deprivation Tank (PT 10): When combined with other psi-tech, this might replace cockpits or control chambers, as it isolates the psi, who gains feedback via the their own powers and controls from directly within the tank. This might work well, for example, for those who want to provide psychic power to the ship, or who navigate through hyperspace.

Psi-Interface Technology (PT 11): A psi-interface allows the user to directly interface with the ship. It might allow the user to act as though they had the Soul of the Machine power. This works especially well with a sensory deprivation tank, above.

Psi-Amplifiers (PT 12): A spaceship offers the user the ability to haul around a spectacularly large amplifier. Corvettes and fighters might carry a Psi-Amplifier throne, while an Alexian throneship might be a Psi-Amplifier Citadel! These might be dedicated to specific functions that the ship needs to perform.

Psychotronic Battery (PT 14): GURPS Spaceships 7 includes the option for psychotronic power systems. Many ancient spaceships might use this approach, granting themselves enormous power provided a psi is willing to pilot it, or is willing to sacrifice themselves to the hungry generator.

Null-Field Generator (PT 16): The Semi-Portable Null Field and the Null-Field Tower are both large enough to cover corvettes and capital ships, stripping an opponent of their ability to target it directly with psychic abilities.

Psychotronic Para-Stealth (PT 17): If psychic techniques for target discovery, such as Tactical Awareness, become common, Psychotronic Para-Stealth can be built directly into ships to hide them from their foes.

Psionic Mind Shield (PT 29): The Telepathic Barrier entry can cover an entire vehicle, shielding all occupants from harmful telepathic intrusions.

Psychic Lock (PT 29): These can be used to secure machines from entry by any but the right person, perhaps checking for some virtue, secret knowledge or mental state. This is likely common among ancient and powerful technology that will only work “for the worthy.”

Telepathic Switches (PT 30): Like Psychic Locks, these can require a psychic for activating the machinery and, with a Telepathic Control Panel, can control all the machine directly with telepathy.

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