Saturday, July 26, 2014

Playing a Psychic in RIFTS, Part 6: Telepaths (and Related Folks)

The Mind Melter (and its Mind Mage counterpart in the fantasy game) are the most powerful psychics in the game, and they are so noted because they are powerful telepaths. In other media, the most obvious examples are Charles Xavier (X-Men) and Kimball Kinneson (Lensman). Other telepaths are not so potent, but often compensate with skill in application to make the most of more modest capability. In any event, telepaths (and similar sensitives) pose a challenge to any RIFTS campaign and this is a known issue with the game.

Playing a telepath means that your man possesses the power to violate the fundamental privacy of any individual entity, and likely the power to resist the same happening to your man. (Not assured, but you're a fool to not take some form of mind shielding if you can.) These powers, as usual, came in early- maybe even in utero. They're part of his perception of the environment around him, and as natural as his mundane senses (the "cocophony of voices" trope is bullshit; we easily learn to tune out background noise, which is what lots of people talking is, so telepaths will easily do the same with mental ones).

He'll reflexively use them by default, regardless of Alignment, and exploit the benefits gained by doing so: appear to be a genius, always able to manipulate social environments with ease, glad-hand anyone not psychic (or a savvy magic-user) with aplomb, and know what to do/say before it's needed. The first time he runs into someone able to block him, it'll be a defining moment in his life and you should note what that moment was (if it's happened before play begins; not guaranteed for the top-tier talents). Because there is no obvious power display for telepathy, telepaths can exist quietly within a community for years- even their entire lives. Their powers allow those with even a modicum of ambition to easily move into whatever position they desire, so long as there is nothing to oppose their doing so. Therefore, the Coalition propaganda against psychics is readily justified; it's also why the Inner Elite are where they are- that's how they got there.

What does this mean? It means that keeping information away from a telepath is nigh-impossible. The powerful ones can rummage through the minds of mundanes at range, with no obvious display of power, and acquire whatever information that they desire while the weaker ones incorporate varying degrees of mundane scamming skills to fill the gap; want passwords, blackmail material, confirmation of your suspicions, etc. well it's easy (if not trivial) to get it as a telepath. GMs need to work with this reality; the Coalition does it with a combination of very strict information control and active searching for unauthorized telepaths (i.e. not the Inner Elite or their approved lapdogs), Psyscape with a culture of shielding minds by default, and so on- with those that cannot or will not taking measures to protect themselves being easy prey for telepathic intrusion. (So most folks are helpless, and only proper nescience or ignorance will save them.)

It's hard to be a Xavier or Kinneson; you really do need to hone your discipline and carefully act upon what you learn. Being a more selfish or evil character is so much easier, but even good telepaths tend towards paternalism with regard to non-psychics; their powers are the norm of their frame of reference, so lacking the ability seems like being infantilized to a certain degree and the good ones act accordingly.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Playing a Psychic in RIFTS, Part 5: Psychokinetics

In the core rulebook for RIFTS, we have the Burster. He is a psychokinetic Master Psychic that specializes in the control of and over fire. As we know from issue #19 of The Rifter, there are other psychokinetic manifestations; while these are all variations of the Burster, that's not relevant. What is relevant is that once you have one form of psychokinesis you're soon to have all of them.

A psychokinetic is a psychic whose powers involve the direct application of will to control and manipulate physical forces- and yes, fire counts. These powers are always at the upper tier of what Psychics are capable of, so they usually manifest early in life (e.g. Firestarter). Due the power involved, unless these youths have some adult guidance on hand (and that guidance isn't useless) those manifestation episodes often produce traumatic episodes which greatly shape the lives and fortunes (and personalities) of the emerging psychics.

Playing a psychokinetic, therefore, should account for that emergence episode; untreated trauma routinely opens the door for psychological damage and related issues which (in Palladium terms) often translate to Selfish and Evil Alignments. A Good-aligned psychokinetic can be counted upon to have the necessary nurturing and support at that critical time, allowing them to mature into a healthy individual without letting their power distort their perspective (as being a psychokinetic, while putting one well above ordinary men, hardly makes one a truly god-like entity).

Because psychokinetics come into their powers so early in life, and their powers are so potent and applicable, psychokinetics are people whose identity builds around their powers. Their self of who and what they are, their worth as individuals, is built upon being a psychokinetic much like a Cyber-Knight's identity is built around being a Cyber-Knight. Losing their very specific quality of being a psychokinetic, which they developed and honed at the cost of developing a mundane skillset, often results in severe loss of self-worth that can escalate into full-on collapse until either the powers are restored or a suitable substitute is found (and that is not easy for someone so potent as a psychokinetic).

So, putting it together, playing this sort of psychic is akin to being one of the more potent X-Men: your life, from the get-go, is about being psychic in a very specific manner. You think in terms of your powers, you identify in terms of your powers, and you've worked with them so much for so long that you don't have much in the way of mundane skills should you lose those powers. Such very narrow, but deep, expression of top-tier psychic powers that focus on the control and manipulation of physical phenomena creates an individual akin to Storm, Magneto, or others like them- regardless of Alignment, they will never see themselves as ordinary people, but instead as something else, and act accordingly.

(Note: While much of this can apply to Mind Melters, their breadth of powers seriously changes how they relate to and perceive their environment, and merits a separate post.)

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Playing a Psychic in RIFTS, Part 4: The Coming Psychic Archetype Series

Psychics, as with magic-users and other power-wielders, fall into a set of archetypes. This is due to the usefulness that these arrangements have compared to other possible arrangements; in short, both game design as well as logical natural selection trends would result in psychics manifesting along predictable patterns because those are the ones that do best over time within the many and various environments wherein psychics exist.

What will come in the next few weeks will be, as with the magic-users, an exploration of these archetypes. I will not be spending posts on entire Occupations, but rather making mention of them as they relate to the archetype of which they are an expression, so (learning from the magic-user series) I expect that this will be a much shorter series that is nonetheless more comprehensive in its scope and no less useful.

I will not arrange them along the minor-major-master array. They will be arranged in terms of notability. More than that strays into spoiler territory. See you next week.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Playing a Psychic in RIFTS, Part 3: Not All Psychics Are Equal

Last week I talked about the importance of getting into your man's head. This week I'm going to expand on that by showing a very basic application of that concept.

RIFTS assumes that there are three grades of psychics: minor, major, and master. Master psychics are those whose powers are strong enough to become Occupations in their own right (Burster, Mind Melter, et al). Major psychics possess notable power in depth or breadth, but not both; many of them blend their powers with a suite of mundane professional skills and acumen and thus become strong through a form of hybrid vigor, as their powers allow them to fill gaps that mundane capability cannot fill (stronger Cyber-Knights, Operators, etc.). Minor psychics use their powers as augmentations to an otherwise ordinary professional training; they lack depth and breadth, but what powers they do possess often allow them to operate better at their professions than would be the case otherwise.

In the lived experience of these characters, how they experience their powers and how they incorporate their powers into the rest of their lives will inevitably result in a very different perception of what their place in the world is and how they relate to it.
  • A minor psychic's few and shallow powers means that they will see psychic abilities, by and large, as an adjunct to everyday life that they are privileged to possess and enjoy. It is unlikely that their powers will allow them to so dominate their surroundings that they cease to see non-psychics as not that different (and certainly capable of beating them, should they wish to be a threat); this is the way that even highly-skilled soldiers and security experts see themselves with regard to others and the world in general, if they are honest with themselves- they have a distinct edge, and that can (and does) make a significant difference, but nothing more, so don't disrespect others lest you find that edge negated when you need it.
  • A major psychic's powers can possess enough breadth or depth to, at the least, put them well past what competent ordinary folk can do with the same training; they have to possess augmentation of some sort to keep up. Major psychics routinely create a very distinct perception of themselves and their place in the world through their hybridization of their powers and their professions; being a grunt with Sixth Sense is just another grunt with a useful trick that can be overwhelmed like any other, but a Cyber-Knight is an elite warrior whose powers--blended with his martial training--put him on par with Crazies, Juicers, and Full Conversion Cyborgs. He's special, a clear step up from the norm, and he knows it.
  • A master psychic is someone whose entire identity stems from their powers. They self-identify as, and perceive life through the status being, a psychic. They see that they are not ordinary folk, and their powers easily put them on par with powerful magicians or highly-augmented soldiers despite no need for formal training or external apparati. God Complexes are not uncommon for a lot of such figures, especially if they did not grow up in a psychic community or come under the mentorship of an equal in psychic ability, and once that takes hold it is often self-reinforcing (and therefore difficult to break); it is a very clear mark of a well-disciplined, well-trained, and mature personality who resists such narsistic and egotistical tendencies in favor of maintaining the true view of individuals as just that regardless of a lack of powers.
Next week, I'll begin breaking down the psychic into a set of archetypes (as I did with magic-users), with these power categories as guidelines.