Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Psychic Powers for Wargames

I'm trying to find motivation for painting my mountains of 15mm sci fi, and I'm currently experimenting with a homebrew d10 skirmish game with Infinity-style mechanics.  A typical modern combat/hard sci fi game (thus using minis I already have heaps of), but with a strong flavour to add a bit of a twist on the rather tired genre. 

Basically it's modern combat (focus on suppression, ranged fire) with renamed magic. Modern pulp, as you were.  I'm simply going to use two magic systems on top of the base mechanics to get two different flavours of game:

A. "Demonworld" - each player is a demon (or god if you prefer) and has a global pool of "demon power" points they can allocate as they wish to soldiers, to enhance their abilities, perform "magic" and even resurrect your (or your opponents') dead troops.  You can stack multiple demon points on a particular model, to further enhance their abilities, but beware - if a "possessed" soldier dies, so do the demon points assigned to him.  Too many eggs and so on.  So the demon points are a finite resource that can be assigned around from turn to turn. For example, if you lose a lot of troops but have cleverly retained your demon points you can resurrect your dead guys and re-use them again. I'm basing the magic system on Biblical miracles. Basically the Rapture happened and Earth was destroyed, but no one informed the people on the sci fi fringe colonies.  Potentially the most interesting project (to me) due to unique (as far as I know) content.

B. "Psy-Force" - a bit more conventional.  In the future, squads of soldiers are lead by psykers.  Rather like Warmachine warcasters, they have a pool of "mana" which they can expend each turn.  I'm anticipating a squad-level game with a few attached psychers. Maybe a master and an apprentice or two each leading a fire team of "normals."   

Anyway, it's the latter more mainstream project I'm interested in help for. The terms "psychic power pool" and "mana" will be used interchangably, as will "spell" and "power."  It's just magic with more scientific labelling, after all. 

Watching Push on Netflix reinterested me in the "psychic-as-magic" element I previously enjoyed in videogames like STALKER and FEAR

Basic Mechanics
I'm thinking casting a psychic power (spell) will fall into say 3 categories.  Spells range in difficulty, but can be "improved" at the cost of a negative modifiers to cast (and extra mana cost).

You can improve the spell by
*Double the range (i.e. 12" force push, not 6")
*Double the area effected (i.e. AoE of 2" diameter instead of single base)
*Double the potency/effect (i.e. Strength 4 pyrokinetic attack not Strength 2)
*Double the duration (i.e. a force field bubble lasts 2 turns not 1)

Since you can modify the spells quite a bit, I'm wanting to limit the powers to about ~20. Even better if I can put them into "schools of magic" or "psychic aptitudes."  If a power is outside your aptitude, you can do it, but at a significant penalty.

Now, I'm trying to think of power that would be useful in combat, and what they might look like. I'm trying to stay within the range of psychic powers, rather than superheroes. I'm thinking the Milkweed Trypych WWW2 books, the FEAR and STALKER PC games, the movie Push.

I've separated them into what I regard as similar abilities, then subdivided them. 

MENTAL POWERS (act in spirit/mental realm)

Remote Viewing - can send a "astral self" token around the battlefield, establishing LoS to otherwise hidden models.
Clairvoyance - can sense enemies through walls/stealth and in particular precisely locate other psychics, as well as detecting the use of remote viewing


Teleportation - can travel anywhere in LoS or where a "marker" has been placed (is this a telekinetic skill?)
Bilocation - can create a double of yourself and the enemy does not know which is the real one (is this a telepathic skill?  Teleportation and bilocation seem to "go" together, and bilocation even links with remote viewing...)


Precognition - see a short distance into the future. Maybe re-roll contested rolls.
Advanced: Can even re-take own (or opponents) complete moves.  
Psychometry - touching a friend or foe (or a dead body?) grants you their stats and natural abilities. 
Advanced: Can retain skills for longer or take on more powerful abilities


Telepathy - can read opponents minds - gains modifiers to reactions or re-rolls to specific opponents.
Advanced: Can mentally attack enemies, forcing them to skip a turn or take a morale test
Master: can possess and control enemies

Illusion - can make enemies fire on non-existent enemies, grant self "stealth" or make self terrifying (maybe simply an Advanced telepathy skill)
Psychic Link - can act simultaneously with linked ally/s (again, maybe a telepathy sub-skill)

Psychic Block - blocks all mental intrusions (maybe a telepathy sub-set AND a skill on its own i.e. some soldiers are "blanks" - an AoE that nullifies all powers within the radius)

TELEKINETIC (act on physical world)

Telekinesis - push, pull, crush.  Perhaps limit it by mass i.e. you can't shove someone heavier than you... conversely it could be used to super-jump, levitate etc.  Also useful for deflecting bullets with a force field bubble.

Pyro/Cyro/Electrokinesis - burn it, zap it or freeze it, baby!  Works by touch but can be upgraded to AoE style fireballs, Sith lightning etc. Probably the most fantasy-esque and I might drop it if it's too unsubtle.

Biokinesis - healing powers. Self healing, healing for friends.  Psychic surgery as you were.
Using it to kill by stopping an opponent's heart might be a bit "OP." Maybe banned by a psychic Geneva Convention?

Teleportation - can travel anywhere in LoS or where a "marker" has been placed- does this belong here or as a mental power - it's almost a crossover with bilocation/remote viewing?

Okay, I've ignored the ones with no direct combat potential (dowsing, scrying, retrocognition, dream reading etc) and I'm trying to avoid "superpowers" in favour of what is more accepted as "mainstream" psychic powers.   There's already a decent selection - around the 15-20 I was aiming for.

Anyway, are there any widespread basic powers I have missed? Any better ways to "rearrange" the categories? 

Remember, I don't want a list of every superhero power ever invented.  When you hear "psychic powers" what do you think of?


  1. I really like the psy-war concept. Reminds me of the integration of Magicians into the fantasy armies in the Eragon book series. Put into a SF setting and you have the classic Zhodani bad guys from Traveller. I remember one guy who was a psy-assassin and would kill enemy leaders and key targets by making them have heat attacks or brain embolisms. That idea makes selective targeting a real option, and perhaps the idea of psy-defensives important.

    What about a power that can temporarily scramble electronics - could be used to shut down and crash an incoming smart missile, or temporarily disable a vehicle or aircraft

    1. Perhaps electrokinesis? But remember, I'm not trying to invent new powers, but keep them in a "tight" collection of the most mainstream, recognized ones.

      For example the walk-through-walls of the guy from Milkweed Trypich or a sonic screamer like in Push - they're just not "common" enough, compared to "ESP" "telepathy" etc - for example didn't the CIA experiment with remote viewing in the Cold War?

      I'm trying to limit the psychic abilities to the most commonly accepted/plausible ones, in order to stop my list of "special rules" ballooning out of control....

    2. Psychics interfering with electronics or other high-tech seems to be a pretty common trope though. (It's often used as the explanation of why they aren't captured on camera very often)

      I don't think I'd allow them to control electronic devices, but if I was designing it I'd probably include an ability similar to the more common EMP weapons in SF.

    3. I think a great concept would be in randomly determining the number, power and abilities of such Psykers. In a campaign context this would be pretty neat, even having some sort of training/development or 'search' for new talent inbetween games.

      Actually, now that I think about it, John Ringo's Pollen cycle of book has this as a sub theme which is pretty interesting. Some of the psykers have the powers you describe and are used to gather intel and provide lose support to SF teams and in boring operations to get through bulkheads, subdue targets etc. Very cool. Check it out.

    4. Thats Poleen Cycle, sorry

    5. I'm thinking Po"S"leen cycle? :-P

      The one with lizards who invade earth to eat us? I gave up after a chapter because of the writing style.. :-/

      If you like "magicians as integrated combat troops" as seen in the Black Company novels, try the Gardens of the Moon books my Stephen Eriksen. He's an author you either like or loathe though*, so borrow from the library first...

      (*He's not a bad writer, but very poor at explaining his world, which he calls "not babying the reader" but I call poor orientation/exposition)

  2. To illustrate your demonworld concept, the paintings by Dan Hernandez could offer further inspiration, where angels as well as demons use the creatures of the earth to fight their battles during the apocalypse. You would need to choose a side though - good or evil, and what troop types match those distinctions.

    His website:

  3. When I think psychic powers I mostly think of the sort of things that would happen before a battle, which suggests a couple of ideas for the pre-game:

    1. Precognition affecting deployment. This could be as simple as the command rolls most games have, or could be expanded into a whole mini-game itself.

    2. Fortunes; chosen by drawing cards, or rolling on a table. For example: Fear the Fire which would give a bonus to flame weapons; The Earth Shall Protect You or a cover bonus in rocky areas; The Trees have Eyes, can't hide in wooded areas. There would be a lot of danger of these unbalancing the game, but if done well they could be highly flavourful.

    There's a couple of ways to handle these:

    You could divide these into curses and boons, and depending on the skill of your fortune-tellers you'd have a chance to apply a curse to your opponent and/or a boon to your team.


    You could make it a mini-game that involves choosing a fortune or group of fortunes and then having some sort of competitive bidding to decide which team each applies to. Possibly this would involve burning "mana" that then can't be used in the main battle.

    One other idea unrelated to the pre-game is mediums. One way you could do this would be to have dead friendly units still count for line of sight (for spotting hidden units and the like) if you make a successful casting.

    1. I like the pre-game effects in particular Tim. Reminds me of the great pre-battle sequences in the Dark Ages game Dux Britanniarum (Too Fat Lardies). All sorts of great things happen before lead goes on the table and which affects morale, sequences etc. This would make a neat SF version of such a thing

  4. Actually, now that I think about this a bit more, wasn't there a piscine section in the TW expansion By Dagger and Talon? How did that address the subject? Did it at least give a good starting point for the above abilities?

    1. p.150 of Tomorrow's War, explains why all units are generic humans
      "We don't want to create and endless cycle of special rules" "baseline humans become weak and have to be given their own special abilities" "all weapons and defences essentially have the same effect" i.e. no whacky aliens.

      Then they devote an entire book to supplementary special rules and abilities.

      In answer to the question, psionics in BD&T were a kind of attack, treated just like a normal one but attacking with and defending with psionic dice. They also could force morale checks with a kind of "suppressive fire" psionic attack. So nothing really different gameplay-wise. Just another way of attacking and defending that's identical to the usual method.

      I seem to be doing a lot of Tomorrow's War bashing, but simply because it is the most popular Vietnam-in-Space game out there (it's popular because it's good) and it serves as a recognizable example.

      Also, the designers are a fantastic family team who interact well with their community. When my copy of By Dagger & Talon was lost in the Queensland floods, they sent me a new one super promptly.