Brainstorming a “Kitchen Sink“ Sci-Fi campaign

Nobby-W

Far more clumsy and random than a blaster
Psionics: they’re in the setting. They won’t be D&D wizard powerful, but they will be able to do some funky stuff. They will also have some inherent limitations.

1) they’re energy intensive. The caloric intake for psionic PCs will be much higher than average. Many are constantly eating.

2) the types of Psionic disciplines available: telekinetic, telepathic/empathic, transmetabolic (able to alter the way a being’s biochemistry works), transperceptive (including powers related to hyperspace navigation) . I’m open to other suggestions for expanding the categories.

3) which psionics a PC has will be limited. There won’t be mixing and matching of types, each will only be able to manifest a single kind of power. That said, some power types may exist in different forms, and may have a version in different disciplines. For example, a telepath may be able to see or hear through the sensory organs of other creatures, while a transperceptive may simply be able to look into a remote location even if nobody is in it.
My rule of thumb about psionic or similar abilities is that if that they are equivalent in power to mundane things then there should be no balance issues. For example, if a psionic attack is as powerful as a mundane weapon then the equivalent capability can be achieved with an armed NPC. If it's more like the capabilities of a 15th level wizard in D&D then you might have some problems with balance. Something like a Jedi mind trick might be replicated by a character with really good crap artistry skills but an infallible telepathic probe might be too powerful or maybe should come at a cost - perhaps the target can feel the touch of the probe, or maybe it's not always reliable.

If you do psionics then think about mundane countermeasures - mind shield devices (inevitably known as tinfoil hats due to their appearance), devices that detect psionic activity, maybe artificial psionic power amplification, some device that can affect neural functions of psionic characters.

Also, one could look into psionic critters. The Traveller literature has a few of these - look for Beaked Monkeys or Chirpers, for example, or some of the critters in A2: Research Station Gamma. The Telzey Amberdon stories have a few other good ideas for psionic characters (and critters), as does Bester's The Stars, My Destination and The Demolished Man, and James Blish's Jack of Eagles . There was also a British TV series called The Tomorrow People done in the 1970s that featured protagonists with psi powers.

The trope seems to have died a death somewhat in more modern sci-fi, perhaps because one could do it with minimal special effects back in the days before CGI tech became widely available so it's not needed as a plot device now.[1] I suspect the rise of fantasy in the past 40 years or so may also have something to do with it.

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1 - The original 1953 Quatermass TV play coined a lot of tropes about invisible powers, appealing to the humanity in a posessed man and suchlike. They were all designed as workarounds for the limited (nonexistent) TV special effects technology of the day but were profoundly influential on sci-fi for decades. Take a look, for example, at how many tropes Doctor Who lifts from Quatermass.
 
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Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Who built the legacy Gates? Were they built between regional capitals? Very important worlds? Potential (future) colony worlds? Was the network "finished" or just begun or still under construction when the effort stopped?

So, there's an adage in writing - do not specify what you don't need to.

Is the origin of the gates going to be a plot point? Are the PCs supposed to figure things out by knowing the provenance of the gates? If not... then you probably don't need to answer the question.

Sol-like yellow G stars are not that common in the galaxy but M-type red dwarfs are.

For a sense of scale on this - Roughly 75% of stars near Sol are M-type dwarfs. But they are so dim you can't see them with the naked eye.

If the Gatebuilders came from a red-star system, their Gates may not go to anyplace a human would consider a "prime real estate" habitable world.

So, depending how science-accurate you want to be - red dwarfs aren't great candidates for life not just because they are not like us, but specifically because the red dwarf stars typically lash their systems mercilessly with flares and radiation, making atmospheres and complicated chemistry difficult to maintain on the surface of the planet.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
2) Assuming the portals are sentient means they don’t need to be at fixed points in space in order to create and maintain connections.

There are no fixed points in space. The planetary bodies orbit their stars. The stars orbit their galactic nucleii. The galaxies themselves move.

Figuring out the portals are doing it themselves would be a shocking revelation. “They‘re sentient? They have free will? What if they stopped cooperating with us?”

In Space Opera by Catherynne Valente, the wormholes used for transport are living creatures. Not terribly intelligent by human standards, but alive and aware, and the secrets of their nature and maintenence are held by only one species. It has consequences...
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
That was my point earlier. An actual dinosaur killer size asteroid needs a lot of energy to get enough delta-V to accelerate it out of the Asteroid belt or trojan orbits. Lugging something big enough to do that insystem, and then doing the burn isn't going to be subtle. Even a burn to get it into a minimal energy orbit to intersect with your target planet is going to be pretty hard to overlook.

"Burn" is a notion from chemical rocketry. We are talking about technology that can manage FTL. There's no need for a huge flare in visible light, or anything.

And again, your numbers seem to ignore that the rock, taken out of a stable orbit farther out in the system, can simply FALL inwards. It is only when you are moving out of the system that finding delta-v is terribly difficult. Falling inwards... it isn't necessarily convenient, but you can get it. No, it isn't a technique to use on someone when you need them dead this instant. But, if you can wait a decade, you're all set.

If you pick the right rock, you put a solar sail on it - managed so that the sail doesn't reflect back to the target world (which, given the amount of empty space, isn't hard) - just to break it out of its orbit and maneuver it a bit, and wait. It'll take a while, but there's no "burn" - there's a mild increase in infrared radiation if you happen to look right at the sail.

And, if you have artificial gravity on your ships.. just slap some of those generators on a rock, reduce the thing's effective mass, and it then takes next to no energy to get it up to ludicrous speed! The target won't know unless they look directly at it and see that it's gone plaid, by which time it is too late.
 

Eltab

Lord of the Hidden Layer
One of the STARFIRE novels used a dinosaur-killer rock on an enemy world. Simple gravity is not good enough for an intended weapon; the battle was to pulverize / divert the incoming rock on its way down the star's gravity well.

Leave the enemy a few years to deal with your slow-motion attack, and they will make sure it never arrives. If you were going to spend years defending the deorbitting rock against all comers ... why not just lay siege to the inhabited world directly in the first place?
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
One of the STARFIRE novels used a dinosaur-killer rock on an enemy world. Simple gravity is not good enough for an intended weapon; the battle was to pulverize / divert the incoming rock on its way down the star's gravity well.

So, fiction isn't really a great measure of what is apt to happen, as the author has a narrative they are trying to tell, not a physics they are trying to simulate.

Leave the enemy a few years to deal with your slow-motion attack, and they will make sure it never arrives.

That assumes they know about it, which is not assured by any means.

If you were going to spend years defending the deorbitting rock against all comers ... why not just lay siege to the inhabited world directly in the first place?

Your typical seige is the act of surrounding a position, and waiting for your enemy to run out of essential needs - like food and water. If you have a habitable planet, they aren't going to run out of food, water, or air... basically ever.
 

Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
There are no fixed points in space. The planetary bodies orbit their stars. The stars orbit their galactic nucleii. The galaxies themselves move.
I knew that, but I was thinking in terms of the same unanswered question in Stargate. The gates have addresses, after all.

But, as you say, don’t ask questions that don’t need answering. After all, in the Stargate universe, portals get moved (as in, besides merely being moved by being part of a planet in a galaxy in an expanding universe) without losing their connection to the system.

In a sense, those gate addresses are as much proper names as locations in 3 dimensions.
 

Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
My rule of thumb about psionic or similar abilities is that if that they are equivalent in power to mundane things then there should be no balance issues. For example, if a psionic attack is as powerful as a mundane weapon then the equivalent capability can be achieved with an armed NPC. If it's more like the capabilities of a 15th level wizard in D&D then you might have some problems with balance. Something like a Jedi mind trick might be replicated by a character with really good crap artistry skills but an infallible telepathic probe might be too powerful or maybe should come at a cost - perhaps the target can feel the touch of the probe, or maybe it's not always reliable.

If you do psionics then think about mundane countermeasures - mind shield devices (inevitably known as tinfoil hats due to their appearance), devices that detect psionic activity, maybe artificial psionic power amplification, some device that can affect neural functions of psionic characters.

Also, one could look into psionic critters. The Traveller literature has a few of these - look for Beaked Monkeys or Chirpers, for example, or some of the critters in A2: Research Station Gamma. The Telzey Amberdon stories have a few other good ideas for psionic characters (and critters), as does Bester's The Stars, My Destination and The Demolished Man, and James Blish's Jack of Eagles . There was also a British TV series called The Tomorrow People done in the 1970s that featured protagonists with psi powers.

The trope seems to have died a death somewhat in more modern sci-fi, perhaps because one could do it with minimal special effects back in the days before CGI tech became widely available so it's not needed as a plot device now.[1] I suspect the rise of fantasy in the past 40 years or so may also have something to do with it.

____________________________
1 - The original 1953 Quatermass TV play coined a lot of tropes about invisible powers, appealing to the humanity in a posessed man and suchlike. They were all designed as workarounds for the limited (nonexistent) TV special effects technology of the day but were profoundly influential on sci-fi for decades. Take a look, for example, at how many tropes Doctor Who lifts from Quatermass.
I haven’t exactly narrowed down the ways I want to limit Psi beyond its metabolic costs and certain powers risking the mental health of the user.

One of the psionic characters I’ve always liked was Niven’s Gil “The Arm” Hamilton who possesses limited ESP and Telekinesis- he can manifest a Psionic arm, of the same approximate length of the arm he lost. He can sense pressure with it, just like his lost arm, but it is weaker. OTOH, Gil’s arm can reach through walls...though he does so blindly. It would be like groping for something in the dark.

Another point of inspiration was a line from a Sci-Fi show- which one it was, I forget, but I want to say Bab5- in which someone wanted to train tekes to exert fine control at a distance. This would make them perfect assassins by interfering with the cardiopulmonary systems of other beings by invisibility applying pressure. See also Darth Vader.

Clearly, stuff like this won’t necessarily have mundane defenses, and can do things not easily replicated by tech. But also, as is obvious with Gil, the powers have their own inherent limitations. Gil might easily open a locked door in your house or mine today, but he probably couldn’t do likewise with a touchpad unless he already knew the code.
 

Eltab

Lord of the Hidden Layer
I haven’t exactly narrowed down the ways I want to limit Psi beyond its metabolic costs and certain powers risking the mental health of the user.

One of the psionic characters I’ve always liked was Niven’s Gil “The Arm” Hamilton who possesses limited ESP and Telekinesis- he can manifest a Psionic arm, of the same approximate length of the arm he lost. He can sense pressure with it, just like his lost arm, but it is weaker. OTOH, Gil’s arm can reach through walls...though he does so blindly. It would be like groping for something in the dark.

Another point of inspiration was a line from a Sci-Fi show- which one it was, I forget, but I want to say Bab5- in which someone wanted to train tekes to exert fine control at a distance. This would make them perfect assassins by interfering with the cardiopulmonary systems of other beings by invisibility applying pressure. See also Darth Vader.

Clearly, stuff like this won’t necessarily have mundane defenses, and can do things not easily replicated by tech. But also, as is obvious with Gil, the powers have their own inherent limitations. Gil might easily open a locked door in your house or mine today, but he probably couldn’t do likewise with a touchpad unless he already knew the code.
In one story (don't remember the title), Gil tries to reach through a video link to touch a guy in "talking head" pose / framing. The target feels something and bolts back against the far wall. Gil cannot "touch" him over there; it's farther than a human arm can reach.
 

Nobby-W

Far more clumsy and random than a blaster
"Burn" is a notion from chemical rocketry. We are talking about technology that can manage FTL. There's no need for a huge flare in visible light, or anything.
That's wrong to begin with. The term doesn't make any representation about the technology used; you can do a burn with ion thrusters, for example. You're still pulling up straw man arguments and trying to put words in my mouth. I've never stated any assumption of using chemical rockets. A reaction drive is anything that generates thrust by accelerating reaction mass out the back in some way.

Please don't argue semantics, and please don't pull in unstated assumptions. Why would such a large expenditure of energy not be noticed? If the tech exists to hide something, why shouldn't better sensor tech exist as well? It's down to what you want to handwave; we're in the business of designing setting canon. You can decide whether you want it to be possible or not.
And again, your numbers seem to ignore that the rock, taken out of a stable orbit farther out in the system, can simply FALL inwards. It is only when you are moving out of the system that finding delta-v is terribly difficult. Falling inwards... it isn't necessarily convenient, but you can get it. No, it isn't a technique to use on someone when you need them dead this instant. But, if you can wait a decade, you're all set.
That is actually wrong. Orbital mechanics doesn't work like that at all; objects don't just drop out of orbit. You need just as much energy to move something into a lower orbit as higher. 3km/sec delta-V is 3km/sec delta-v no matter which way you want to apply the thrust.
If you pick the right rock, you put a solar sail on it - managed so that the sail doesn't reflect back to the target world (which, given the amount of empty space, isn't hard) - just to break it out of its orbit and maneuver it a bit, and wait. It'll take a while, but there's no "burn" - there's a mild increase in infrared radiation if you happen to look right at the sail.
Still not stating your assumptions. A solar sail isn't going to be small, and it isn't flat, so it reflects light over a more or less conical region. The rock is still in orbit, so the aspect of the sail will of necessity change to keep the thrust - it will sweep the solar system like a lighthouse. It's a very big handwave that something many kilometres across, curved and highly reflective would go unnoticed for years, especially in the case of a setting where this attack is known to be possible.

There are programmes to monitor and keep track of asteroids today by doing regular sweeps of the sky with telescopes and automatically comparing the scans for changes; there's no inherent reason that similar programmes couldn't be implemented in your setting of choice. Even a small asteroid changing course or suddenly disappearing is something we can detect with today's tech. Netpune was discovered by measuring unexpected perturbations in the orbit of Uranus - in 1846. At the very least, if such an attack was considered likely, one could establish a sensor network of satellites in a suitable stellar orbit to pick up the reflections of a solar sail.

Plus, You've still got to lug a major piece of engineering to your rock and deploy it without being noticed in the first place. You've got to manufacture it without being noticed, and if the attack is known to be a possibility then universe+dog will have their spook services keep a weather eye out for signs of folks manufacturing such a big light sail.
And, if you have artificial gravity on your ships.. just slap some of those generators on a rock, reduce the thing's effective mass, and it then takes next to no energy to get it up to ludicrous speed! The target won't know unless they look directly at it and see that it's gone plaid, by which time it is too late.
Again, this is wrong. Weight is not the same thing as mass. A 1kg object might weigh 1kg (9.8N to be specific) on the earth, but the same object has different weights in different gravity. Diddling with gravity doesn't affect the mass or energy needed to accelerate an object. You still need the same amount of thrust to accelerate it relative to its orbit.

It's just he-said, she-said now. If you're in the business of designing setting canon then you need to work out what you want to be possible in your setting and deal with the consequences. If we don't want artificial dinosaur killers in our universe then it's straightforward to handwave them out of existence. I don't need to carry your burden of proof to do that. This argument was stale on the TML 20 years ago and these days its presence in the context of any given sci-fi 'verse is a sign that the designers haven't been thinking through their mcguffinite properly.
 
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Nobby-W

Far more clumsy and random than a blaster
[ . . . ]
Clearly, stuff like this won’t necessarily have mundane defenses, and can do things not easily replicated by tech. But also, as is obvious with Gil, the powers have their own inherent limitations. Gil might easily open a locked door in your house or mine today, but he probably couldn’t do likewise with a touchpad unless he already knew the code.
It's not necessary to have all possible psi-effects matched by technology; it just doesn't introduce balance issues if it does. Once you have capabilities unique to psionics then you have to start applying the munchkin test. Think of the most annoying, entitled powergamer you've ever played with and try to imagine what he might do with a character that had that power.
 

Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
It's not necessary to have all possible psi-effects matched by technology; it just doesn't introduce balance issues if it does. Once you have capabilities unique to psionics then you have to start applying the munchkin test. Think of the most annoying, entitled powergamer you've ever played with and try to imagine what he might do with a character that had that power.
As a reformed munchkin, I get that. But I’m also not a fan of über balance in games, especially RPGs. So while I’m not going to nerf psi in the name of balance, neither will it be given free reign.

Like I said, I need to figure out HOW I want to limit the psionic disciplines.

The first idea was the metabolic energy costs. They’re going to be large. That means that psionic PCs will be hearty eaters, as mentioned. This will translate into limited utility- most psions won’t be able to rely on their powers alone.

This will also mean that those in certain professions may well be consuming pharmaceutically enhanced foods, have cybernetic enhancements or even be hooked into machinery to supply them with the energy they need. Biological Navigators, for instance, will not only be feeding data into their ship’s computer system while on duty, but also into a ship-mounted rapid energy infusion system.

Some limitations I think make senunder consideration:

1) psionic activity can be detected by special sensors, so it’s not 100% undetectable

2) certain psionic effects may take time and concentration to use. Some may also be disrupted by physical contact.

3) Ranges on powers will vary by type. Something like TK or telepathy might have long ranges, but powers that change the way a body functions might be limited to one’s self or touch.

4) certain materials may block psionic energy or inhibit a psion’s biochemistry so as to inhibit the use of their powers

5) situational limitations: a TK assassin would need to know something of their target’s biology in order to affect them. A TK engineer couldn’t repair system he can’t perceive. A telepath might not fully understand the thoughts of an alien race.

Other ideas for limitations are welcome!
 


Eltab

Lord of the Hidden Layer
That assumes they know about it, which is not assured by any means.
If your plan includes the assumption(s) "the enemy is blind and deaf to his surroundings and to our activity; he is too stupid / foolish to think of doing what we are going to do; even if he does notice he won't do anything effective about it" then it is going to go for you like it went for the Japanese at the Battle of Midway. The US did notice, in good time, and took counter-action.

And if I am going to fight somebody with spacefaring capability, the first thing I do is put telescopes with recorders all over everywhere so I can see things that aren't where I expect them to be, or are heading where I don't want them to be.
Starting with one watching the exit from the nearest Stargate(s)

Your typical seige is the act of surrounding a position, and waiting for your enemy to run out of essential needs - like food and water. If you have a habitable planet, they aren't going to run out of food, water, or air... basically ever.
Food water and air don't make a starfaring civilization (necessary but not sufficient). Industrial capacity is needed. Drop washing-machine-sized chunks of nickle-iron asteroids on specific factories and facilities until they cannot build anything that can get off the ground and into orbit. If the enemy is stubborn, rip up his transport networks (target bridges, hit the ocean and push a tsunami into a port) so grain in the fields cannot reach the hungry mouths in cities. The historical example would be 1945 Japan.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
If your plan includes the assumption(s) "the enemy is blind and deaf to his surroundings and to our activity; he is too stupid / foolish to think of doing what we are going to do; even if he does notice he won't do anything effective about it"

No. It assumes that space, as they say, is big. Really big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mindbogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist, but that's just peanuts to space. And watching it all, all the time, is no simple endeavor.

Now, please do recall what I started this with - a question: What prevents this? The answer so far has been, "but the burn!" I've noted how that's insufficient.

So, maybe now your solution is accepting that it is by no means a simple endeavor, but that civilizations take up constant paranoid monitoring of the space around valuable planets.

And that has implications that perhaps Danny hasn't considered. It is expensive, it has its own strengths and vulnerabilities - it says things about how warfare would be conducted.

Which is the point of the discussion.

Food water and air don't make a starfaring civilization (necessary but not sufficient). Industrial capacity is needed. Drop washing-machine-sized chunks of nickle-iron asteroids on specific factories and facilities until they cannot build anything that can get off the ground and into orbit.

So, that's less "siege" and more "assault".

But, it is interesting how you come to basically the same solution I have, but using far more forces and having to pacify the system around the planet first...
 

Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
And that has implications that perhaps Danny hasn't considered. It is expensive, it has its own strengths and vulnerabilities - it says things about how warfare would be conducted.

That’s another part of the:

1) ships have short range hyperspace capability only

And

2) the long range portals are built within asteroids

The first means your civilization’s actual boundaries are protected by voids of space that it would largely be improbable to launch an attack force across. “Space Hannibal” might try it, but it would be a tactic both rare and unlikely to succeed. You still need to monitor your frontiers- there’s always raiders, rebels, the aforementioned expeditionary forces and, of course, the unknown- but you’re not going to be under constant threat of attack.

The second creates choke points that are fairly defensible.

The unspoken wild-card is:

3) the portals, being sentient, might choose to make things more or less difficult for military forces seeking to use them, based on their own motives.
 

MGibster

Legend
It's not necessary to have all possible psi-effects matched by technology; it just doesn't introduce balance issues if it does. Once you have capabilities unique to psionics then you have to start applying the munchkin test. Think of the most annoying, entitled powergamer you've ever played with and try to imagine what he might do with a character that had that power.

I suspect any society with psions present would likely have created institutions to channel their behavior into something beneficial. (Beneficial to whom is a good question though.) I can only assume that such an institution would have a method for dealing with those munchkin characters.
 

Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
I suspect any society with psions present would likely have created institutions to channel their behavior into something beneficial. (Beneficial to whom is a good question though.) I can only assume that such an institution would have a method for dealing with those munchkin characters.
Depends on the society. Some will lionize them. Some will treat them like any other natural gift. Some will enslave them.

...some will mark them for death and hunt them down.
 

Nobby-W

Far more clumsy and random than a blaster
I suspect any society with psions present would likely have created institutions to channel their behavior into something beneficial. (Beneficial to whom is a good question though.) I can only assume that such an institution would have a method for dealing with those munchkin characters.
I was more thinking of designing exploitable loopholes out of the rules so you don't have to use lazy tropes like omnisicent psi-cop services to keep munchkin players in line.

You could certainly have psi cops, or even just ordinary cops with psi shields. A psi spook service or psi branch, or maybe a Jedi-like order could also exist. The best treatment of this I've seen was the Telzey Amberdon stories, where there is a psi spook service that wants the protagonist to join. She's not antagonistic to them, but maintains an arm's-length relationship.

The stories themselves were mostly written in the 1960s or 1970s, so they're a bit dated. They're nothing special but they are passably good space opera. However, they did a a fairly good job of working through the mcguffinite around a character with powerful psionic abilities, perhaps the best I've seen in any sci-fi novel.

I just remembered another series - Chandler's John Grimes stories feature characters with psi abilities working as navigator/comms officer types. It also has one or two story lines about psi-capable critters, something which pops up in the Telzey Amberdon stories a couple of times as well.
 
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Nobby-W

Far more clumsy and random than a blaster
As a reformed munchkin, I get that. But I’m also not a fan of über balance in games, especially RPGs. So while I’m not going to nerf psi in the name of balance, neither will it be given free reign.

Like I said, I need to figure out HOW I want to limit the psionic disciplines.

The first idea was the metabolic energy costs. They’re going to be large. That means that psionic PCs will be hearty eaters, as mentioned. This will translate into limited utility- most psions won’t be able to rely on their powers alone.

This will also mean that those in certain professions may well be consuming pharmaceutically enhanced foods, have cybernetic enhancements or even be hooked into machinery to supply them with the energy they need. Biological Navigators, for instance, will not only be feeding data into their ship’s computer system while on duty, but also into a ship-mounted rapid energy infusion system.

Some limitations I think make senunder consideration:

1) psionic activity can be detected by special sensors, so it’s not 100% undetectable

2) certain psionic effects may take time and concentration to use. Some may also be disrupted by physical contact.

3) Ranges on powers will vary by type. Something like TK or telepathy might have long ranges, but powers that change the way a body functions might be limited to one’s self or touch.

4) certain materials may block psionic energy or inhibit a psion’s biochemistry so as to inhibit the use of their powers

5) situational limitations: a TK assassin would need to know something of their target’s biology in order to affect them. A TK engineer couldn’t repair system he can’t perceive. A telepath might not fully understand the thoughts of an alien race.

Other ideas for limitations are welcome!
Making telepathic capabilities detectable and shieldable is definitely a start. You could also have critters like the Yoli that makes an appearance in Schmitz's Company Planet that can act as a psionic guard. You can make capabilities like reading thoughts not 100% reliable. It might only get stuff like "I really want a kebab right now." A deep-probe capability should be felt by the target or have some other obvious drawback, so it can't just be used casually to get their deepest secrets willy-nilly. That's the biggest loophole you need to plug with telepathy.

A psi attack can be mechanically as powerful as a mundane weapon without being an issue - after all, the effect can be replicated by having a character armed with a weapon. I don't think theres's any need to overly nerf psi attacks, but having them tire the character out or use some limited resource pool is a good idea. This applies to pretty much any psi-attack, whether it's telepathic, telekinetic or some sort of pyrokinetic or energy blast attack.

Buildings or vehicles could be psi shielded. That's certainly a tech that should exist in the setting. That capability should be available to pretty much any NPC faction so you can trot it out from time to time, but it shouldn't be universal and it shouldn't be something too elite.

If you've ever seen The Greatest American Hero, the clairvoyance powers of the suit might make a good start. It gave the protagonist the ability to hold an object and see some imagery about its owner, from the past or present. A 'See through walls' type ability can be replicated with mundane tech like a backscatter imaging system; you could possibly have some sort of psi-jammer device that distorts or reduces the resolution of these abilities.

Mind control is another one you need to be careful with. In the Amberdon-verse it was very powerful and pretty much given against non-psi targets, probably too powerful for a role playing game. Something like the Jedi mind trick from Star Wars is OK, because a similar effect could be achieved by a good forgery or a character with good crap artistry skills. Think of the effects of something like Charm Person from D&D or Befuddle from Runequest.

Space Master used a Rolemaster style spell list system for its psionics, so there are some large lists of psi abilities if you can dig up a PDF of Future Law. You might also look at the Mentalism realm from Spell Law, even if you don't want to use the Rolemaster mechanics.
 

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