Let's Read “Stars without Number” - Psionics

The book title “Revised Stars without Number: A Science Fiction Role Playing Game by Kevin Crawford” overlaying a star field
A part of my series. Go grab your free copy of SWN and join in.

Opens with game setting, psionic abilities are a congenital curse that unless trained lead to insanity. Nice fluff. Highlights that Non-Player Character (NPC 🔍) psionics could be crazy. Also establishes that not every system or person is welcoming towards psionics.

It further explains that humanity’s past glories were built on insanity psionics, but collapsed during the Scream - a catastrophic event that drove every living psychic mad or killed them outright.

Nice. The game lays out the dangers of psionic usage, and the public’s potential distrust.

Psionic Powers and Techniques

Not everyone can access psionics. If you are Psychic you may gain ranks in each psionic discipline. If you are an Adventurer that is part Psychic, you may only gain ranks in one psionic discipline.

Psionics are a trained skill. Each psionic discipline is a skill and has a baseline technique. As you gain ranks in the discipline, you gain new techniques. And, if interested, you may use your skill points to buy additional techniques.

Psionics are fueled by effort, which look like power points. Effort is calculated as 1 plus highest Wisdom or Constitution modifier plus highest skill rank in a psionic discipline.

Some powers require you to spend effort for the day, others for the scene, and others require no effort at all. Interesting. Committing for the day and none at all seems easy on the book-keeping. The effort for a scene may create some complications in tracking effort.


The push your luck mechanic of Torching looks great. Roll on the torching result table to gain 1 point of effort that lasts until the end of the scene. Does that mean you can’t use this bonus effort for things that require committing effort for the day?

Table 87: Stars without Number Torching
d6 Torching Result
1–- Lose 1 point from your Wisdom score
3–- Lose 1 point from your Constitution score
5 Lose 1 point from an attribute of choice
6 No harm done by this torching

If you burn below 3 Wisdom, you go “Feral”. If you burn below 3 in any other ability, you die or become non-viable. Does that mean any character, regardless of Torching that drops below 3 for any ability score is removed from the game?

Feral psychics become NPCs and may torch with impunity (and without rolling on the chart). They have burned a pathway to unlimited effort, at the cost of sanity. And once “Feral” you can never go back.


First we get an introduction to system strain. How much psionic healing, cybernetic implants, and powerful drugs can a character endure. Did anyone say Shadowrun?

Medic! This discipline is all about healing and physical tissue manipulation. The core technique provides the healing, and from there you can

  • treat poison
  • perform remote healing
  • keep pressing on as their dying
  • regenerate targets
  • burst heal
  • quicken healing
  • shapechange
  • inflict massive damage and cancer
  • boost strength and dexterity and hit points
  • self-resurrect

An interesting set of effects, albeit healing focused. I think I’d add biopsionic weaponry as a level-1 technique. But for now, lets move on.


The how-I-make-my-other-disciplines-stronger discipline. The core technique increases your saves vs. psionics, allows you to detect psionics, gain effort, and unlock a less permanent torching option. An interesting meta-grab bag.

The techniques are:

  • conceal psionic capabilities
  • trace the origins of a psionic power they notice
  • learn to apply biopsionics and telepathy to Virtual Intellegence (VI) and Artificial Intellegince (AI)
  • fail a psionic save, accept the effect, to have an auto-success against the original attacker
  • disrupt ongoing psychic effects
  • queue up a psionic power that can later be triggered quickly
  • connect psychic minds and everyone shares their psychic skills
  • create a static haze that inflicts damage on the target when they use psionics
  • become a psychic tutor
  • inflict saving throw penalties on psychic powers
  • remove the requirement from one technique for committing effort
  • develop an immunity to one psionic discipline, and extend that immunity


Always tricky to do this right. After all, does anyone know what’s going to happen in a game session?

The core technique, oracle, allows the psychic to ask a question and gaze into the future to gain a vision from their vantage point.

Additional techniques are:

  • go first in initiative
  • declare that they brought some gear
  • gain Spidey sense
  • enable a re-roll on a failed hit, save, or skill check
  • force a re-roll against someone attacking the psychic
  • rewind 6 seconds of time
  • force a target to roll with disadvantage until they succeed on a save (that is not disadvantaged)
  • force a seemingly random physical event to happen (eg. pick a roullette number)
  • secure yourself from death
  • declare a prophecy and it comes to pass (some restrictions may apply)


The core technique moves objects with your mind.

Other techniques:

  • wall climb and water walk
  • create equivalent of a vacc suit for you and even your 6 best friends
  • create weapons and armor out of force
  • negate a physical attack
  • grease!
  • move things with your mind without committing effort
  • burn things with your brain
  • create a force construct
  • bash things as though a heavy weapon or ship canon
  • reflect a missed attack at an opponent
  • pick someone to be a puppet
  • fly and bring others with you


The core technique probes a person’s mind, without that person being aware of such probing. Needless to say, nobody likes a telepath.

Other techniques:

  • ease the effort of contacting another mind
  • enable two-way communication via telepathic connection
  • very long distance telepathy
  • force someone to not think about something
  • instill an impulse to take action
  • clobber them with your brain
  • edit their memory
  • link several minds to operate in coordinated concert


The core technique allows teleportation, extending to planetary range at rank 4. They need to have been there or seen it. Nice.

There is a nice segment on teleportation and legal systems. Most systems will summarily execute someone that commits a crime using teleportation.

Other techniques:

  • teleportation requires a move action instead of your main action
  • gain 360 vision; a little odd that this is not precognition
  • teleport self and others
  • perceive a location that you could teleport to
  • know the location of an imprinted object (within range of your teleportation)
  • blur yourself and even dodge an attack
  • teleport in and out disallowing others to respond
  • teleport into places you haven’t seen - even from one spaceship to another
  • teleport people against their will

Teleportation boarding party! Or pop in, drop a bomb, and pop out.


I enjoy the varied psionic powers and the niche of each discipline. The effort mechanic looks simple to understand and straight forward to use. And torching provides a mechanic that cleaves close to the narrative assumptions that psychics can press their powers to a point of pain and nose bleeds.

Psychics have a powerful toolkit, but a limited pool of effort to draw from - the most effort you could have is 9 (1 + 2 for a modifier + 4 for rank + 2 for core metapsionic technique). That is a lot of mind magic, but a clever player will burn through that quite fast.