Sunday, March 3, 2019

More Mental Powers in Star Frontiers

Art by Steve Ditko

In a comment for last week's post, Down Under reader Konsumterra referenced the Star Frontiers psionics rules as presented in Arēs magazine.  This week we discuss said rules.  Arēs Special Edition 2 was published in Spring 1984, more than a year before the release of Zebulon's Guide to Frontier Space.  By this time, Arēs was published by TSR but had not yet been reduced to a mere section of Dragon.

The two-and-one-half page article, “Frontiers of the Mind,” was written by Jon Mattson, an occasional contributor to Dragon magazine.  Mattson introduces a new ability score:
When characters are generated, each player must roll for an additional ability score, Psionic Ability (PSI), using the same die-rolling procedure as used for any other score.  There are no racial modifiers for this roll, although Human characters can add their 5-point bonus to this score, and it is not “paired” with any other ability.  In every other respect, PSI is treated as a normal attribute.
There is a Psionic Primary Skill Area with each psionic ability represented as a separate skill.  A character can have a maximum number of psionic skills “equal to his PSI score divided by 15 (rounding fractions to the nearest whole number).”  Characters can have expertise (i.e., above Level 4) in a maximum number of psionic skills “equal to their PSI score divided by 25 (dropping fractions).”  In terms of cost, psionic skills are more expensive than Biosocial skills.
As the table suggests,“the experience point cost is doubled for psionic skills when the Psionic PSA is not taken.”  Mattson states, “a character who has not chosen the Psionic PSA cannot learn any of the psionic skills unless his PSI score is 60 or higher.”  However, in the following paragraph he claims, “Characters who do not choose the Psionic PSA may not use any psionic abilities.”

Using a psionic ability requires the character to expend Psionic Energy Points (PEPs).  The number of PEPs a character has “is equal to the average of his PSI and (unwounded) STA scores.”  Recovery occurs “at a rate of 3 per hour of rest, or 1 per hour of activity.”  Successful use of psionic abilities requires concentration.  “Any violent shock,” we read, “has a chance of disrupting a psionic's concentration and ending a talent's use prematurely.”  The psionic can attempt to maintain concentration with a LOG ability check.

Like normal skills, psionic skills have a percentile success chance enhanced by the character's skill level.  Failure means “the character will only lose half as many PEPs as would have been expended had the ability been successfully used (round fractions up).”  Seven psionic skills are presented.
  • Clairvoyance:  The character can view “a person, place, or object” at a number of meters equal to ten multiplied by skill level.  At level four, the character can also hear the target.
  • Energy Manipulation:  “This ability allows the character to channel energy harmlessly away from his body.”  In game terms, this means a reduction in damage caused by “beam weapons” and “kinetic energy.”
  • Mind Contact:  The highest level of this skill represents telepathy.  Level three allows the character to create a psionic shield.  The first level of this ability merely “allows the psionic to Sense the presence of any life forms.”
  • Illusion Creation:  The character can cause a being to perceive an illusion with “visual, auditory, tactile, and olfactory components.”
  • Mind Control:  The “victim” can avoid the effects of control with an ability check based on “the average of his LOG and PER scores, with a penalty equal to twice the level of use of this talent.”
  • Telekinesis:  “This is the ability to move objects merely by thinking about it.”  The description references a table that is supposed to indicate modifiers based on mass; however, the actual table lists intervals of time.  The 'mass' table actually appears in the Teleportation description.
  • Teleportation:  The character can “instantly transport any spot of his choice within his line of sight.”  Contrary to the notion of “line of sight,” there are modifiers for teleporting to locations the character cannot see.
“The referee may of course create new psionic powers,” we are told, “but should in all cases use discretion when doing so.”  Also, “Having too many characters with psionic characters can throw a campaign out of balance completely.”

Mattson states:
The referee should determine how psionic skills are acquired by a character.  It may be necessary for someone to seek out a psionic mentor...or a psionic organization that will train him properly.  Either way, an interesting series of adventures could be set up in which adventuring groups hunt for such sources of information.
Does Mattson mean that beginning characters cannot possess psionic skills?  Perhaps he is referring to skills acquired after character generation (and/or improving beginning skills).

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