|Art by Virgil Finlay
A seven-page section of Zebulon's Guide to Frontier Space is devoted to “the concept of mental powers, often referred to in other role-playing games as psionics.” The Introduction to this section emphasizes the optional nature of these rules. We are told that the referee need not “include these options in his game, and if he does omit them, it will not unbalance the rest of the system.” This leads one to wonder if including the rules will unbalance the rest of the system. In fact, three paragraphs later, we are warned that incorporating the rules “will...require more care in balancing the campaign.” There is an option of limiting mental powers – the Guide refers to them as 'disciplines' – to non-player characters; either “to an NPC race or character type.” Also, “In a future volume of Zebulon's Guide to Frontier Space, some creatures may even have the option to use a mental discipline for communications or attack.” As indicated in the previous post, the publishing of further volumes was a forlorn hope.
There are two types of characters who can use disciplines: Mentalists (characters belonging to the Mentalist profession as opposed to the other professions) and enlightened (characters belonging to one of the usual professions).
During character generation, a Mentalist's Logic ability score can be increased to “between 75 and 90” by decreasing other scores on a one-to-one basis. First, Strength and/or Stamina can be reduced. Once both of these abilities are decreased to a value of thirty, “then the points can be taken from any other ability.” A beginning Mentalist receives three disciplines/levels plus an additional discipline/level for every five points of Logic over seventy. So, a Mentalist with a Logic score of 84 has five disciplines/levels to allocate. This could be five disciplines at one level each, five levels in one discipline, three levels in one discipline and two levels in another, or any other combination. Just like skills, disciplines have levels and Mentalists can purchase new disciplines (or increase the level of an existing discipline) by spending experience points in accordance with the Skill Cost Table. The referee determines how discipline improvements manifest; either training and/or practice is necessary (like skills) or the discipline/level “comes naturally” to the Mentalist.
Beginning characters have twenty experience points to buy skills. Presumably, this also applies to Mentalists and, also presumably, they can use those experience points to acquire or improve both skills and disciplines. Like other professions, Mentalists have a list of skills; however, the list for Mentalists is rather modest. Also, while other professions can purchase skills outside their list at a non-professional skill cost (which is twice the normal cost), Mentalists can only acquire skills from their list and they must pay at the non-professional cost. Characters must pay ten points to join a profession, whereupon they receive an automatic skill that allows them to improve appropriate attributes. Apparently, Mentalists don't pay ten points and there is no equivalent automatic skill. Although we are admonished that “disciplines should never be confused with skills,” the title of the section is “Mentalists: The Optional Skills and Profession.” We are told, “A Mentalist has profession discipline costs and non profession discipline costs.” This is confusing in that there are no non-profession disciplines for Mentalists.
A beginning, non-Mentalist character with a Logic score of 80 or greater can be enlightened. Such a character has one discipline/level for every five points of Logic in excess of 75. During play, should an enlightened character's Logic be improved to a new five-point 'mark', he or she obtains a new discipline/level; no training is required. A discipline/level is retained if the character's Logic score is somehow reduced below the amount required to attain that discipline/level. Enlightened characters may not use experience points for disciplines.
There are forty-one disciplines, twenty of which are asterisked. Enlightened characters can only have asterisked disciplines and Mentalists can acquire/improve them at half cost. An example of an asterisked discipline is Confusion, which can only be used (successfully) twice per day. If the Confusion roll is successful, it affects one target. One might think that a target's Intuition/Logic would increase or decrease the chance of success, but one would be wrong. The actual effect is determined by rolling 1d10 and consulting the Confusion Table:
There are three flavors of telepathy: Aliens, Animals, and Characters. The Animal and Character versions are asterisked, the Alien discipline is not. The description for the Character discipline states, “This discipline allows a character to enter another intelligent being's mind only for the purpose of conversation.” The Alien discipline states, “This discipline allows a character to enter an intelligent alien's mind only for the purpose of conversation.” The distinction between intelligent being and intelligent alien is not readily apparent. The description for Character discipline concludes, “This discipline only allows for telepathic contact with intelligent player or nonplayer characters (including cyborgs),” while the Alien discipline concludes:
If the alien is extremely evil, or has a mind that could be incomprehensible to the character attempting to reach it, the referee might decide that a logic check is in order before any communication is attempted. If the user fails the check, he may be disoriented, stunned, at the alien's mercy, or even mortally wounded, depending on the alien and the referee's discretion.Among the other disciplines are various psionic staples: Telekinesis, Teleportation, Clairvoyance, Pyrokinesis, etc. However, there is no discipline relating to precognition. There is a Timeread discipline that permits a character to look back in time in a given location and an Analysis II discipline that “allows a character to read psychic impressions left on an object by the last person who used it.”
Given that mental powers are optional for Star Frontiers, there is little effort made to integrate them into the setting. There are no items of equipment that interact with disciplines. We learn that the Mentalist profession “is not so much a religion as it is a dedication to a way of doing things” and “Mentalists almost always wear some type of distinctive uniform (usually light blue) or medallion to signify their profession.” Yet the only described organization regarding Mentalists is Star Law Psi-Corp, “a branch of Star Law specifically created for Mentalists.”