Let's Read “Traveller: Core Rulebook - Psionics”

Even Mind Powers Abide by Conservation of Matter

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In the previous chapter, we got to learn about some of the common starships of the galaxy. In this chapter, we’ll dive into Psionics.

Third Imperium: Psionics and the Law

Throughout the book, there’s only a little bit about the Third Imperium.

I know that the companies that have published Traveller over the years have extensively built out the Third Imperium. However the Core Rulebook only gently mentions the Third Imperium. I like this; Provide hints of the implied setting, but don’t push it to the foreground. The rules help frame how the campaign world works.

The professions, constraints of FTL 📖 travel and communication, rarity of Psionics, the upcoming Trade chapter, and upcoming World and Universe chapter all work to fill in the implied the Traveller setting.

Burning Wheel’s lifepaths do a similar thing; The character creation process really defines the world.

This section gives a bit of background for the implied setting.

In the Third Imperium setting, learning to harness psionics is a difficult process, made harder by the Imperial ban on psionics. The Psionics Institutes that study mental powers have gone underground, following a disastrous attempt to guide human development centuries ago. In other civilisations, such as the Zhodani Consulate, psionics are an accepted part of the human condition.

Traveller: Core Rulebook p196

For those reading along, I rolled up a Psionic character during an example character build; That post has some perspective on the Psionics chatper as well.

Psionic Strength

The core rulebook basically says testing for psionics is at the Referee’s discretion. When you encounter a situation that would test to see if you have latent Psionic Strength (PSI 📖 ). You roll 2d6 📖 and subtract the number of terms you’ve served. That’s your PSI .

When you use a Psionic power, you temporarily reduce your PSI score; The lower the score, the harder it becomes to invoke Psionic powers. You regain PSI at a rate of one point per hour, starting three hours after last using a talent. I think I prefer the Stars without Number concept of committing effort. In the last decade or so, I’ve seen more and more references to “scenes”. I like this as a unit of time for a game. I think its a bit too granular of a rule to track recovery on a per hour basis. But as noted in past posts, Traveller provides a lot of details around elapsed time.

Psionic Talents

Note: I have moved the Psionic Talents section ahead of the Institute Testing section. In the Traveller Core Rulebook, the rules first introduce the Institute Testing then the Psionic talents.

Each Talent is treated as a skill. Each talent has several powers, all available for use.

The talents are:

Telepathy
Reading minds & communicating
Clairvoyance
Perceiving at a distance
Telekinesis
Mind over matter
Awareness
Control over one's own mind and body
Teleportation
Moving from one point to another instantly

The breakdowns for talents within each Psionic skill is further down the page.

Institute Testing

This section provides guidelines for tracking down an instructor and testing if you have psionic potential. If you have potential then you can train.

Training Psionics is a bit of a press your luck mini-game. To understand, let’s first look at the table.

Table 210: Traveller Psionic Training
Talent Learning DM 📖
Telepathy +4
Clairvoyance +3
Telekinesis +2
Awareness +1
Teleportation +0
Per previous talent acquisition check -1

When you begin training, you pick the talent you want to train. You roll 2d6 and need an 8. You add your PSI score DM , the Learning DM for the talent, and then subtract the past number of attempted acquisitions. Based on the introductory description of Psionic Talents it appears Traveller considers Teleportation and Awareness more powerful in game than the other talents. Or perhaps there is a logical progression of how well talents are understood and discovered. Which may map to the inspirational sources of Psionics for Traveller.

As an apparent kindness, before rolling for training, a Traveller may gain Telepathy. This creates a bit of rules confusion. Does it count as a talent acquisition check? Meaning, when I try for my next talent, I get a DM -1? Or, do I only get to try for one talent?

In my character creation with Psionics example, I assumed that Psioinic training means that I check each talent in the order I choose.

Using Psionic Talents

One persistent frustration in the Traveller: Core Rulebook is the use of male pronouns. I strike those out in my quotes as I expect an RPG 📖 published in to use they/them when describing an unknown character.

First, this is the right thing to do when talking about a singular non-specific human. Second, this is a game that has alien sophonts whose biology and sociology shouldn’t presumptively model a binary gender.

To activate a talent, the Traveller must make a skill check using the appropriate skill (Telepathy, Telekinesis, etc), adding histheir PSI DM, along with any other appropriate DMs. HeThey must also spend the listed number of PSI points if hethey succeeds, or one point if hethey fails. If this cost brings him them below zero PSI, then any excess points are applied as damage. A Traveller with no PSI points cannot attempt to activate a power.

Most abilities can be used at a distance and have a Reach characteristic. This is the distance at which the ability can normally be used. However, a powerful psion can increase the range at which he they uses abilities with greater mental effort.

The Reach of an ability can be increased by one Range Band if twice the Psi Cost is paid, and increased by two Range Bands if the Psi Cost is multiplied by four.

To sum up, there’s no guarantee that you can activate a power. As you attempt to activate more powers in a short time, it gets more difficult. You can also burn more Psi points to increase the range.

On this page, there’s also a Psionic Range table to help with the calculations.

Psionic Talent Details

All abilities within Psionic Talents

I’ll be briefly describing each ability, grouped first by talent, then by the difficulty of the check, and then PSI cost.

Telepathy

The abilities Telepath are:

Shield
Anyone trained in Telepathy is shielded, at no cost, from other telepathy
Life Detection
Sense the presence of other minds.
Mind Link
Two telepaths each create a temporary mental communication connection to each other.
Telempathy
Send an emotional intent to the target, or detect emotions and feelings in a target.
Read Surface Thoughts
Read the surface level thoughts of the target.
Send Thoughts
Send thoughts and messages to the target.
Suggestion
Implant a suggestion in the target; At Effect 6 or more, these suggestions can even push someone to suicidal action.
Probe
Dig deep within a person's mind.
Assault
Mentally attack and inflict damage on a mind

Clairvoyance

The abilities of Clairvoyance are:

Sense
Learn rudimentary sensory information about a specific location within range.
Tactical Awareness
Overcome effects of sensory impairement and even detect hidden foes.
Clairvoyance
View a specific remote point.
Clairaudience
Hear at specific remote point.
Clairsentience
Hear and see at a specific remote point.

Telekinesis

The abilities of Telekinesis are:

Telekinesis
Move things with your mind.
Flight
Briefly fly.
Telekinetic Punch
A direct attack on a physical object.
Microkinesis
Move tiny little things; Perform surgery, pick locks, sabotage a computer, etc.
Pyrokinesis
Burn things with your brain.

Awareness

Suspended Animation
You go into suspended animation; You have no need for food nor water, and only minimal air needs.
Enhanced Strength
You temporarily convert PSI to Str 📖 points.
Enhanced Endurance
You temporarily convert PSI to End 📖 points.
Fortitude
You temporarily convert PSI to armor points.
Inspiration
You can a Boon to any one check in the next minute. (See Boon and Bane section of Skills and Tasks.)
Regeneration
You spent Psi to recover from characteristic damage.

Teleportation

Unlike the other Psionic talents, teleportation has one ability: Teleportation.

This ability outlines the cost for distance and weight of equipment you can teleport. To teleport somewhere you must have a mental image of the target. Teleportation also abides by the conversation of energy and momentum.

Here Traveller gives a brief and quick introduction to the constraints:

On planetary surfaces, teleportation is restricted to jumps of no more than Very Distant ranges. Jumps beyond visual range involve disorientation for a period of 2D –Effect of Teleportation check x 10 seconds.

This restriction results from the law of conservation of momentum; on a rotating planet, two locations will have different rotational speeds and directions. A jump from a point on the Earth’s equator to its antipode would result in a total velocity difference between the Traveller and his surroundings of over 3,300 kilometres per hour.

Changes in altitude (actually all movement to locations of differing gravitational potential) will result in potential energy changes, manifesting themselves as changes in body temperature. A jump of one kilometre straight down will result in a temperature increase of 2.5° {{ abbr “Cel” }}; this is sufficient to cause extreme fever, brain damage, and even death. A jump up will cool the body by the same amount, with equally serious results. To be safe, a jump may not involve an elevation change of more than 400 metres, and multiple jumps should not involve a cumulative elevation change or more than 600 metres in one hour. These problems may be circumvented somewhat through the use of technological devices such as energy compensators, heated suits, and other means. Travellers may feel driven to invent such materials, commission their invention, or seek them out from those who already have them.

Traveller: Core Rulebook p202

While Teleportation in Traveller is space magic, it still conforms to the laws of physics. A nice and perhaps unexpected touch. I’d imagine in some source material that inspired Traveller, an author likely wrote about this convservation. Perhaps a person just learning teleportation receives instruction; Or attempts something that causes them to experience the consequences of those laws of physics.

Psionic Technology

Traveller includes a bit of technology and equipment.

Psi-Drugs
Restore and boost Psi scores.
Inhibitor Drug
Prevent PSI recovery and inflict Bane on all PSI-related checks. (See Boon and Bane section of Skills and Tasks.)
Psionic Shield
A material that blocks out telepahtic powers. Make a helmet or shield your vehicle.
Psionic Interface
Use your PSI DM instead of DEX 📖 DM .
Teleportation Suit
Cheat a bit on the laws of physics for your jumps.

I find the most interesting technology to be the Psionic Shield. Not because of the Magneto like helment, but the shielding of a vehicle. This little bit implies that Psionics are a part of reality out in space. A telepath could wreck havoc if they got within range of a military vessel.

Psion

I went through the Psion careers during an example character creation.

The three career assignments for a Psion are:

Wild Talent
You develop talents without formal training
Adept
You are a scholar of psionic disciplines
Psi-Warrior
You combine combat and psionics.

The careers and assignments of Traveller help craft the assumptive world. I find the named ranks for the Psi-Warrior tell a story. They are Marine, Captain, and Force Commander. In other words, there’s an organized Psionic structure that lurks beneath the surface.

Conclusion

This wraps up the Psionics chapter. I like the presence of Psionics, and especially like that they are not necessarily available for your campaign.

Up next we’ll explore the Trade chapter of Traveller.