The Bazaar #38: Rifts Renaissance (Psionics Redux)
The Psychic Classes are the one segment of the game that fails to garner the attention technology receives; even magic gets defined to a much lesser extent, but the rules and powers receive some much-needed clarifications and updates. Psionics and Psychic Classes not so much. As much of the rules are in RUE, some clarification in WB 12: Psyscape and more recently in Coalition Manhunters, and various tidbits throughout the remainder of the gaming ranges, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that there are powers and clarifications that may be lacking, or buried somewhere not an evidently as we would expect or hope.
Setting Designation (Psionics). Something that foretells another aspect of the Core Rules revision project, the GM’s designation of the setting along certain axes is an important distinction to be made. Generally this is done over the tri-axes (Triax? No pun intended) of Technology-Psionics-Magic (T-P-M); preview of the levels listed below, with some examples. There was a hint at something like this in Conversion Book 1, which talked about the Technology scale of people rifted in from our current, modern reality, into the futuristic post-apocalypse of Rifts Earth (negatives to skills, modifiers, etc).
For psionics, this has a formative impact on both setting and character creation, defining the individual element’s influence in the campaign setting. Classes for each setting are written with the domestic T-P-M in mind. What is important to realize, is that this does not need to remain a constant. If the Players traverse the Megaverse and find themselves in another reality, the new T-P-M is used to demonstrate the effect on the Player Character’s abilities.
Low. Psionics are a rare phenomenon, and the setting’s ambient energy does little to promote the birth of psychics. Even the most powerful psychics Classes generated from Low Settings typically have low to middling I.S.P. and almost never have access to Super-Psionic powers. The rules for Proximity to Power (from Beyond the Supernatural) are in effect for characters generated in this setting level. Coming to a Low Psionic Setting: The effect of psychics coming into this realm from a High or even a Mid-Level setting typically make them incredibly powerful individuals. Most natives to Low Psionic realms will have little to no defense or any ability to sense the use of psionics. That said, psychic classes that find themselves moving from a High to Low Psychic setting experience a strange level of discomfort with the sudden lack of ambient psychic energy, certain negative modifiers applied for prolonged exposure. If they remain for more than 3D4 weeks, they must roll two out of three successful rolls against Insanity, in addition to suffering an immediate reduction in their maximum I.S.P. by half. Setting Application: Beyond the Supernatural, Dead Reign, RECON, Ninja and Superspies
Middle. There are some psychic classes and monsters of repute, but their powers are limited to a certain point. Master Psychics are an extreme rarity, as well as availability of Super Psionics. These characters can make effective heroes or villains alike. Coming to a Middle Psionic Setting. This is easily the most benign transition from a Low or High setting. Psychics from a High setting are still psychic powerhouses, with few to no secondary effects. Those coming from a Low setting find the Proximity to Power rules give them a boost (I.S.P x 4). Those from a High setting see a reduction of their maximum I.S.P. by half. Setting Application: Systems Failure, Nightbane, Splicers, Mechanoids, After the Bomb.
High. Characters are from a world where constant exposure to high levels of P.P.E. have made psionics much more commonplace. Here one can find the differentiation between Master, Major and Minor psychics and how this influences the classes. There are numerous and various classes that employ various psychic powers and abilities, and Super Psionics are relatively common. Coming to a High Psionic Setting: Characters that visit for short durations (less than 3D4 weeks) have no effect. Those that stay longer will begin to find their I.S.P. benefit from the latent powers of the setting. Characters from Middle Psionic settings double their maximum I.S.P. points, while those from the Low Psionic settings are buffeted by the massive increase in their powers – they benefit from the maximum bonus provided by the Proximity to Power (I.S.P. x 10), but must first adapt to the new setting. A table would present some of the initial effects the PC must deal with until their acclimate. Setting Application: Rifts, Chaos Earth, Heroes Unlimited
Psionics Defined. Drawn from WB 12: Psyscape, there are a number of pages of relevant information that would be summarized into a few paragraphs.
Classification. Includes differences between Master, Major and Minor psychics.
Psionic Powers Defined. Specifics on range, duration and area of effect of Psionic Powers (new Keyword).
Psionic Class Abilities Defined. Clarifies Psionic Class Abilities (new Keyword).
Critical Hits. Psionic Powers do not benefit from upgrades to Critical Hits from Hand-to-Hand skills (I mean honestly, where is the correlation). Don’t worry though, psionics can benefit from Critical Hits, they just exist in a different mechanic.
Effects of Ley Lines/Nexus Points. Being close to a Ley Line or Nexus point is a definite advantage for any Practitioner of Magic. In my refresh of the Core Rules, Psychic Classes would also derive some benefits from these phenomena, but not everything is a positive experience.
Critical Hit Modifier. By being within 2 miles (3,2 km) distance, the Psychic’s damage output resulting from a Critical Hit will shift from Vulnerability 1 (Damage x 2) to Vulnerability 2 (Damage x 4); this is in addition to any other Vulnerability effects.
Negative Feedback. Prolonged presence near a ley line or nexus point can begin to have negative effects on the psychic. The constant hum in the background doesn’t begin to have any measurable impact for until after 3D4 weeks (or sooner in some cases), but a table would present these effects in concrete game terms.
Psychic Resonance Zones. In the most extreme cases, regions collect the massive emotional outburst and negativity of death. This pervades, realized by a miasma that blankets an entire area. The effects are palpable to psychics and non-psychics alike, but for the Psionic Class (particularly psychic sensitives and Master Psychics), are much more impactful. Regions like Madhaven, Ley Line Nexus points and other specific regions would have a table to randomize or choose the effects experienced by PCs that dare to enter.
Ignores Armour Rating (A.R.) and Mega Armour Rating (MAR). By leveraging this rule dynamic, one that I presented in the Comabat Redux post, psionic powers gain a native ability that increases their effectiveness. Powers that have direct damage-causing abilities (e.g. psi-sword, pyrokinesis, telekinetic punch) are not negatively influenced if they fail to beat the target’s A.R. or M.A.R. This means psychic Classes benefit from a systematic gain without making wholesale impacts on previous books by forcing changes to powers and their descriptions.
Psionic Power Levels. Much like magic, psychic characters now benefit from an increase to their psychic powers.
Saving Throws. This bonus negatively influences a target’s saving throw (similar to spell strength). And yes, this could mean that a Psychic character of massive power and experience could have near-impunity affecting those around them – until they don’t.
Rate of Increase. Just like Practitioners of Magic, the psychic’s Class would determine the rate of increase for Psionic Power Levels. (e.g. +1 at levels 4, 8 and 12)
Baseline Psionic Power Level (starting characters): Normally Critical Hits only due to a Natural Dice Roll of a 20.
Psionic Power Level Bonus. The character’s Psionic Power Level bonus is used to achieve a Critical Hit. Normally requiring a Natural Dice Roll of 20 to score a Critical Hit, the psychic with a Psionic Power Level of +1 now does so on a Natural Dice Roll of a 19-20. Example: Consider an 8th level Mind Melter with a Psionic Power Level +3. The character’s Mind Bolt power, which could normally inflict up to 2D4 M.D., now benefits from a move to Vulnerability 1 (Damage x 2) on a Natural Dice Roll of 17-20.
Range and Duration. For each increase, the psychic power’s range (unless it’s Self) and duration follow the same multiplication factor as the Vulnerability Table.
+1 Psionic Power Level: Range and duration are x 2.
+2 Psionic Power Level: Range and duration are x 4.
+3 Psionic Power Level. Range and duration are x 10.
+4 Psionic Power Level. Range and duration are x 100.
Note 1: This effects only the Range and Duration parts of the psionic powers, NOT the actual effects the power imbues.
Example 1: Use of Telekinetic Lift by a psychic with a Psionic Power Level +2 would be unaffected for the Range aspect (remains ‘Self’), but the Duration would be increased by the Psionic Power Level factor (in this case x 4).
Example 2: Use of Deaden Senses by a psychic with a Psionic Level +3 would have Range 1,600 ft (488 m) and last 2D6 x 10 minutes (in this case x 10).
Horror Factor. This is mechanic that should see a fair amount of revision, and not nested with psionics. Lots of things can cause a H.F. test; not just the various scary gribblies and monsters encountered. The shock of a fire fight, the terror of facing down a charging of a robot, the sudden rumbling approach of tank treads, all of these have an effect on a person’s psyche. The mechanics for a H.F. test are also revised to have an impact on the Initiative roll, vice a vague ‘lost initiative’ statement. In relation to psionic Classes, for an opponent that initially sees an unarmed PC only carrying an energy rifle, the sudden manifestation of powers is something that gets noticed. Psychics and Practitioners of Magic gain an initial shock value from their mystical abilities as the enemy suddenly spends a moment resizing the threat they are facing off. For beings without a starting H.F., the psychic starts with a Horror Factor 8 plus their Psionic Power Level. This effect only impacts after the first visible manifestation of their power.
Saving Throws. The saving throws are typically buried in the Psionics Section, which is fine as a start point. I would duplicate this information in a single reference table where *all* Saving Throws are listed, along with relevant penalties and bonuses.
Effects of Armour.
Non-Kinetic Effects. Unless the power is specifically tied to a ‘Touch’ requirement, psionic powers can affect and target those wearing environmental body armour (EBA) or power armour. This does not extend to anyone in robots, as the level of technology and amount of armour blocking the target makes it impossible to strike. Note: Bear in mind that most PA pilots are going to be rather hard to target based on psionic power ranges and the speed in which these weapons of war operate.
Kinetic Attacks. Regardless of the power’s description, any kind of kinetic damage caused must be dealt to the EBA/power armour prior to affecting the pilot.
Effects of Psi-Cola (and similar products). Summarized from WB 12: Psyscape (brevity is a thing), a much more condensed entry on how this product affects a psychic.
Rifts Psychic Classes Redux. This Core Rules clean-up and application of the Keywords will require the Classes be re-written, rationalized. The Psychic Classes don’t suffer from the same relative bloat as the Men-at-Arms; this process reduced over 200 O.C.C.s down to 12, with relevant M.O.S. style specializations. The same would need to occur for Psychics. This would allow Keywords to be applied across multiple Classes, developing a more discrete system that manages special rules across a manageable scale, vice the hundreds of entries in Rifts alone. This would leave the Psionic Powers current, and allow revised Classes the opportunity to benefit from defined Keyword applications to their Psionic Powers, as well as Psionic Class Abilities.
I found that Psionics (powers and classes) was the one segment of the rules that seemingly lacked any clear definition for the basis for their powers, effects in terms of game mechanics, and how the various natural and unnatural influences could impact the PC/NPC. There are a number of Keywords and tables of effects that I would apply, allowing a GM much better definition on how a setting or an environment could affect Psionics; not just psionic powers, but also Class-specific powers. The Burster and other ‘telekine’ Classes, Psi-Sensitive Classes (e.g. Dog Boys, Mystics), and other Classes such as the Cyber-Knight and Operator, all seem to fall into the trap of needing house rules to describe their powers. The result of the classes and nominal updates spread out over several publications, we have an entire section of the rules and a series of Classes that need to serious help. I’d like to see them get the same level of definition as technology and magic would benefit through a Core Rules reset. I like to think this starts that process.
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