Monday, June 20, 2016

Telepathy in Action

Recommended Powers

Suggested Telepathy Powers

  • Aspect: As noted below.
  • Emotion Control: As noted below.
  • Emotion Sense: As noted below
  • Instill Terror has obvious combat applications. For Intimidation attempts, it grants a +4, but this is not cumulative with a show of force, threats, etc.
  • Mental Blow: I had originally disallowed this, but after studying up on Ishin-Desnshin, I noticed that Mental Blow didn't actually do damage.  It's just the telepathic equivalent of Confuse from the Ergokinesis powers. The ability to stun a target with a mental power isn't particularly overwhelming, nor inappropriate.
  • Mental Surgery replaces Brainwashing on page 17. It is brainwashing. You can use it wherever Action rules reference Brainwashing (including Psy-Ops on page 27) Furthermore, it as potential applications for Fooling Polygraphs (page 27), as you can use it to wipe out or rewrite memories, including your own.
  • Mind Clouding has obvious stealth benefits. Successful use of Mind Clouding should also grant a +2 to Shadowing (It's much easier to shadow someone who has no idea that they're being shadowed)
  • Mind Shield: A prime defense against telepathy powers.
  • Mind-Wipe is primarily useful when engaging in Cover-Ups (page 26), but only if used immediately.
  • Mindlink is more of a story element, a deep connection a character has with another character, but a highly suitable one for the genre
  • Protect Power (Telepathy): As neuronic restraints and Anti-Psi are a thing, this power is highly useful.
  • Sensory Control has numerous possible applications, but most clearly with Impersonation (page 27). Use it to replace Disguise.
  • Sleep has clear applications for subduing targets (Live Capture, subdual, page 24).
  • Suggestion 1-4: As noted below
  • Telepathy Sense: A cheaper way to detect fellow (specific) psis. Also gives you a heads up if someone tries to “listen in” on you or on a psychic “conversation” you're having with someone else.
  • Telerecieve: As noted below.
  • Telesend, especially with the omnicast technique, can replace your communication network.

Suggested Power Packages

  • Empath: Read, and manipulate, emotions. 25 points, Psis page 31
  • Mental Guard: Protect your mind, and detect when people try to get in! 25 points, Psis page 31
  • Shadow: Hide yourself from notice. 25 points, Psis page 31
  • Communications Hub: Replace your communication network with Telesend. 50 points, Psis page 32
  • Thought Thief: Master mind-reading. 50 points, Psis page 32

Other Suggested Abilities

  • Hide Signature: Skilled telepaths can hide what they're doing from view.
  • Independent: Pyramid #3-69, page 14
  • Instant Read: Pyramid #3-69, page 14
  • Jam: Telepaths should be able to stop other telepaths, if they can detect what they're doing.
  • Avatar: Just plain cool!
  • I Know What You Mean: Excellent in a campaign that features gobs of languages
  • Intimidation Factor: Useful defensive mechanism
  • Ping: A cheap substitute for Telesend. Consider combining with Avatar!
  • Tactical Reading: A powerful trick for a telepathic spaceknight
  • Auric Squint: Pyramid #3-69, page 6
  • Hilfe!: DF 14, page 14
  • I Feel Them Watching Me: Pyramid #3-69, page 7
  • Ignorable: Pyramid #3-69, page 7
  • Presence: Pyramid #3-69, page 7
  • Psionic Feints (Telesend): Pyramid #3-69, page 16
  • Simple Defense: Psionic Powers page 24

Discouraged Abilities

  • Borrow Skill: Niche protection is tricky enough without the psychic suddenly learning all the skills everyone else has.  On the other hand, Wild Talent does much the same thing, so if you do want to allow it, it won't be too much of a problem.
  • Mental Stab: makes combat more about what the psychic can do with his mind rather than what he can do with his force sword. Psi-Wars is too physical for mental attacks.
  • Mind Swap: Psi-Wars is the sort of space opera that trades strongly on a character's identity and sense of self. This is better left as a one-off story concept that reverts at “the end of the episode.”
  • Suggestion, Level 5: High levels of suggestion become exceedingly powerful and potentially problematic.
  • Telecontrol is a terrifying ability that has the potential to completely remove characters from play unless they have the right defenses (You can just walk people off rooftops with it). It changes the tone of the game too substantially to allow.
  • Telespeak is only an option to replace Telesend or Telerecieve. In Psi-Wars, we'll use the latter rather than the former.

Suggestion: Is there anything it can't do?

The prime telepathy ability, and the most iconic trick from Star Wars: the “Jedi Mind Trick.” The reason for its ubiquity is its power. Why shoot a guard when you can just tell him to drop his weapons and walk away? Why fuss with unlocking a door when you can get the guy on the other side to unlock it for you, etc.

I won't bother to list all of its possible applications, because I expect those are obvious. Instead, I'll focus on how to keep it from overwhelming the rest of your campaign. Psionic Campaigns gets into quite a few of the general considerations on page 29-30.

First, unless Suggestion is at level 5, which is a prohibitive 50 points, characters cannot directly command people to do precisely what they want. Instead, Suggest has a very limited amount of influence: Commands can be no more than a verb, a noun and two modifiers (though exact phrasing can be poetic: “These are not the droids you're looking for” rather than “Ignore these droids”), and the character himself will determine how he reacts to the command. Suggestion 5 gets around this, but we've forbidden it for that very reason: Suggestion 4 is as high as you're allowed to go without a rule exception perk.

Furthermore, attempts to force someone to violate their strongly-held beliefs or put themselves in danger force another check, at “a bonus.” The Suggestion skill suggests +3 for the former and +5 for the latter. I would use that as your guideline, though I would trend towards applying smaller bonuses in most cases (“Shoot yourself in the head” has a +5 at least, but “Fight that dangerous guy” might be a +3). This also means that characters with a Code of Honor or a Sense of Duty have an edge against Suggestion, as it prevents them from doing something that they wouldn't.

Characters resist with Will, just as they resist all other Influence skills. This makes Suggest about on par with Intimidate or Diplomacy, except it has additional utility in that you don't need to be in a particular context to make it work. Note that Extreme Fanaticism, in addition to allowing the character to “recheck” based on the rules above, also grant a +3 to Will! Those crazy fanatical Stormtroopers make a little more sense as opponents for Jedi.

The power itself has some inherent limitations. You must be able to see or touch the target. Range is sharply limited for everything below level 4, and you must communicate your wishes to your target, either via Telesend or vocal command.

Note that Suggestion, out of the box, doesn't require anything like locked gazes, or a gesture, or your opponent repeating what you told him in a droning manner. If you wish to apply those as limitations, a locked gaze is -20%, repeating what you just said is a -5%, and a hand gesture is also -5%.
Finally, Suggestion is yet another telepathic power, meaning it is subject to all the same limitations that all telepathic powers are, such as Mind Shield.

Remember to “let the psychics win.” Suggestion is an expensive power, and thus should be useful, but you have plenty of tools you can use to prevent Suggestion from becoming the only arrow in a space knight's quiver.

Emotion Control

Rather than relying on Influence skills to indirectly elicit the emotion you seek, you can manipulate the target to feel exactly what you want!
  • Manipulation (page 15). Emotion Control cannot directly force people to behave the way you want, but it goes a long way! Gain +2 to any of these rolls with a successful Emotion Control roll.
  • Apply the same +2 to any Intimidation attempt, but treat it as “threats or show of force,” and their combined effect cannot exceed +4.
  • Banter (Page 39): Emotion Control can directly Draw Aggression. You may add a +2 to your Fast-Talk roll or simply replace Fast-Talk with your Emotion Control roll.
  • Encouragement (page 39): Emotion Control can be used directly for Encouragement. You may add +2 to your Leadership roll, or you may simply replace Leadership with Emotion Control.


Aspect is “just” Charisma, and thus works just as one would expect Charisma to work. Even so, we could expand it just a touch to reflect it's sort of “emotion control-lite” nature.  Note that problems could potentially arise from unlimited purchasing of Aspect; limit players to no more than 8 levels of Aspect.
  • Manipulation (page 15). Influence Skills benefit from Charisma if you're using them as Influence skills. Aspect certainly applies there.
  • Encouragement (page 39): Leadership benefits from Charisma, and thus it also benefits from Aspect.
  • Banter (Page 39): The point of Aspect is to draw attention towards yourself. If you have at least Aspect 2, a successful roll on Aspect gives you a +2 to Draw Aggression rolls.


Telerecieve is likely the first thing someone will think of when they think “Telepath” and it proves to be one of the workhorse powers of the Telepathy set.

Once you're in, you're in. Reading minds grants you a +4 to Psychology, Detect Lies and to detect imposters, a +2 to “other things where reading minds might benefit you” and allows you to ignore up to -1 in penalties from deceptive attacks!
Pertinent elements in Action 2 are:
  • Subtlety (page 9-10): Staying in mental contact with your target lets you get an idea of where he's thinking about going, and whether or not he thinks he's being followed. Telerecieve grants a +2 to Shadowing (Man in the Crowd).
  • Interviews (page 16): Knowing what someone is thinking when you ask a question is an enormous boon. If you're already reading your target's mind, the Interrogation skill can guide their thoughts in the direction you want. Telerecieve grants a +4 to Interrogation rolls. It also grants a +4 to the Psychology complementary roll! Of course, you can also just dive into a mind and find out exactly what you want, if you have them bound down.
  • Making Them Talk (page 16): Again, Telereceive will help you interrogate the subject, as above. Good Cop, Bad Cop benefits from the +4 Telerecieve offers to Psychology rolls, and Liar, Liar benefits from the +4 to Detect Lies from Telerecieve.
  • Chases (Page 31): Knowing what your opponent intends to do moments before he does it might benefit you. Allow Telerecieve to eliminate -1 in “Stunt” penalties for the chaser only, like Deceptive Attack penalties, because the character is less surprised when it happens.
  • Banter (Page 39): Telerecieve grants a +4 to Psychology rolls and thus benefit Drawing Aggression and Uttering Threats, if Psychology is the chosen skill.
  • Using Your Head (page 39): If you can read your opponent's mind, you don't have to guess what he's thinking! Telerecieve grants +2 to Tactics rolls, provided you're reading the mind of someone with useful information (Analysis).
  • Standoffs (page 39): If you can read what your opponent intends to do moments before he does it, you have a clear sign when you need to act. Telerecieve grants a +2 to Fast-Draw contests to beat the opponet you are reading.

Telerecieve, Mind Probe and Mysteries

The biggest hassle with Telerecieve is keeping clues under wraps. Your murder mysteries may devolve into the psychic reading the minds of all suspects until he finds the murderer. Psionic Campaigns has great advice regarding this particular problem:

If an investigation is supposed to take up a significant chunk of an adventure, then no NPC who is accessible to the PCs should possess enough information to end the plot with one interrogation.
- Psionic Campaigns, “Controlling Information” page 33.

A good Action adventure plays more like a ball-of-yarn mystery anyway. The heroes take a risk and go after the bad-guys, whereupon they capture someone after the big fight, and then they need to make him talk. He should only know enough to get them to the next big fight. If the players are trying to uncover how to defeat the Empire's super-weapon, the military officer they just captured doesn't know, but he might know something about where they can find one of the architects of the superweapon. If you follow this rule, not only will telerecieve's impact be lessened, but the structure of your adventure will be more satisfying as well.

Telerecieve also has its own unique counter: the Mind Block skill. In a universe full of psions, quite a few characters might cultivate this.

Emotion Sense

Emotion Sense grants a +3 to Detect Lies, Psychology and sensing impostors, meaning much of the advice that applies to Telerecieve applies to Emotion Sense as well.
  • Surveillance and Patrols (page 18). When dealing with Guard Animals, the Animalism technique allows you to use any Influence skill on an animal, making them far easier to deal with.
  • Bodyguard Duty (page 28) doesn't explicitly discuss anything like Empathy in Observation, but I would absolutely allow your Emotion Sense skill to replace Body Language, for sensing the intent of your target.
In general, when it comes to protection work, Emotion Sense is superior to Telerecieve in that Telerecieve requires you to concentrate on a target while Emotion Sense does not. That means that if someone just brushes past you, you might get a free check to notice his anger or his despair, while you'd need to stop and focus on someone if you wanted to read his murderous intent.


The ability to look for a specific mind, or even to look for all nearby minds with Omniscan. It's useful primarily for finding someone and gaining a telepathic “lock” on them so you can use further powers (like Telerecieve or Suggestion). But simply knowing someone's location also provides plenty of benefits.
  • Subtlety (page 9-10): Knowing where someone in particular is, even if he's trying to lose himself in a crowd, means you can track someone without physically seeing him. Telescan grants a +2 to Shadowing (Man in the Crowd).
  • Surveillance and Patrols (page 18). Rather than rely on Observation to find patrols, characters with Telescan (Omniscan) can simply detect where the various minds are, especially as they move about, giving him a picture of the local patrol pattern. This works in reverse, too, for Watches (page 28), as it lets you detect people coming in, though again you must stop and focus and spend fatigue to do so.

General Telepathy Concerns

Defeating Telepathy

In addition to general psionic countermeasures, telepathy has its own, specific countermeasures, often more than other psionic powers. Mind Shield explicitly protects against Telepathic invasion, and the Mind Block skill defeats Telerecieve. GURPS Supers on page 38 lists several Mind-Block techniques (Camouflaged Mind Block, Coded Mind Block, and No-Mind). The Mental Strength skill also provides a measure of protection, but it's rarely worth it to spend more than 4 points in the skill. Finally, simply purchasing more Will goes a long way to defeating Telepathic attempts (And given that Will is useful to Psions for the purposes of Extra-Effort, most Psionic characters will be difficult to influence or read).

Fellow psions can access Telepathy Sense or other psychic senses to better “notice” what you're doing. Once alerted, they can use Telescan to find you (-5 for just learning of you) and then get a lock, and use their powers on you in return. Allow the use of the Jam technique (Psionic Powers page 31) to represent telepaths who are able to kick another telepath out of someone's head.
Anti-Psi characters especially benefit from using Interruption, to protect someone else, Psionic Shield, which is identical to Mind Shield, and True Sight, which will cut right through Mental Clouding and Sensory Control.

Non-psionic characters have a harder time defeating telepathy, or even noticing its use. Noticing that someone is in your head is handled in Psionic Powers, page 12, but this is chancy at best. They can use the Mind Block, to defeat Telerecieve, or Mental Strength or additional Will to overcome most Telepathy powers. Non-psionic characters can rely on a few strategic elements to protect themselves as well. Strongly held beliefs, like Code of Honors, Sense of Duty, or especially Fanaticism, can all provide a bonus for protecting someone from Suggestion. Furthermore, the same informational security that protects organizations from spying also protects them from telepaths: Never let high-value targets get close to strangers, and keep the low-value targets from knowing too much. Make sure as few people as possible have the whole picture. A telepath will definitely chip at your security and slowly piece together the truth, but by then, you should ideally realize that you're under attack.
Technologically, in addition to normal Psi-Tech offers the psycho-optic filter (page 17), which defeats Mind Clouding and Sensory Control, and the psionic mind shield (page 29), which defeats most telepathy powers. For drugs, blocker (page 33) and monobloc (page 34) will protect the user from telepathic intrusion of powers.

Improving Telepathy

Technologically, Trance (Psi-tech 35) is effectively a truth serum in the hands of a skilled telepath. In the hands of a telepath with Mental Surgery, it becomes a brainwashing drug! Window (Psi-Tech 35) also boosts telepathy, but inflicts Supersensitive, which itself has a few potential benefits, especially if you can turn it on or off at will...

Niche Protection

The Telepath most clearly steps on the toes of the Spy, who relies on guile and trickery to gain access to information and who excels at manipulating others. A Telepath can short-circuit all of that, gaining direct access to information as long as he has access to the target, has the ability to mind control his targets to get in and out of places (or to kill targets without getting his hands dirty), and can manipulate people more subtly via Aspect and Emotion Control. The Telepath also steps on the toes of the Diplomat, with his ability to translate, understand others on a deeper level, and manipulate targets for a desired outcome (and not necessarily via brute methods: a telepath with Aspect is a highly effective negotiator!)

However, where the Telepath excels at “humint,” the spy is still a master of electronics (“sigint”), and understands how to put all the pieces of the puzzle together. Moreover, most spy skills are cheaper than the telepath's powers. Thus, a spy can afford to be more broadly competent than a telepath. This means that when the two combine, the spy should let the telepath do his thing while she focuses on the broader picture.

The same applies to a diplomat. A telepath might be a master of manipulation and understanding, but he typically lacks the political insight and the organizational oomph that the Diplomat has. He might persuade a dignitary to sign a document, but a Diplomat has the Law necessary to write the document in the first place. Furthermore, because a psion has more of his points invested in his powers, the diplomat will typically have more points sunk into social advantages that means she can draw upon more assets around her. So, once again, the ideal team-up should have the diplomat pulling on strings to get the right people into the right room so that the telepath can work his magic, and then she can arrange the right agreements that the telepath can persuade said dignitary to sign to.

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