Thoughts on Making Traveller Psi Slightly More Important & Powerful


Banded Mongoose
Psionics in Traveller are a fairly minor feature, however, they can definitely be made more important, such as in the mostly excellent MongTrav 1st ed supplement Book 4: Psion I recently did some thinking about both rules and setting changes needed to make psionics more important, but also not overwhelming. Feedback would be greatly appreciated.

In setting, I'd downplay the Psionics Suppressions a bit, instead of outlawing psionics, they are regulated. So, anyone with psionic powers has the option of either taking suppression drugs, joining some Imperial version of Psi Corps (which would presumably be a bit less nasty than the Babylon 5 version, but still pretty regimented, or being registered, and regularly monitored by local authorities (except for psions travelling under false IDs, and suchlike). Then, use the various appropriate Psion careers, and you are ready to go.

However, I'd also make a few rules tweaks, the most obvious is making psi points a bit more of a scene-level rather than a day-level resource, by saying that psi points start recovering 30 minutes after they are lost (regardless of whether or not the psion is using their powers during this time).

I'd also possibly change the psionics rules a bit so that every psion has at least a touch of telepathy, since that's pretty much the default and defining psi power. Specifically, I'd say that psions (regardless of whether they gain telepathy or not) all automatically get Life Detection (which should likely also include detecting strong emotions), Mind Link (from MongTrav 2nd, mental communication with other psionics), & Shield, and make all of these 0 cost (both Life Detection and Mind Link would then cost 1 Psi Point if the psion wished to use them at Very Distant range). Given that actually having Telepathy gives you the ability to read minds, control other people's emotions & thoughts, and mentally attack people, I don't think this is short changing telepaths.

I'd also likely include this custom psi power I've been playing with:

Cognitive Boost
Cognitive Boost is the psionic talent which allows fine control of one’s own mind. Cognitive Boost powers never have Reach – they are used only on the Traveller himself. Cognitive Boost is not capable of affecting others.

Mathematical Prowess
The Traveller can instantly make a single calculation with perfect accuracy, and this calculation can be exceptionally complex. This calculation can be used to decrypt a single code, perform a single Astrogation check without needing to use a computer, or even to precisely predict what roulette wheel will roll when it is spun or where exactly all the debris from an explosion will land when observing an explosion. The calculation occurs instantly, but the Traveller must possess all of the required information, which for a pair of dice or an explosion requires the ability to observe the spinning roulette wheel and the explosion as it occurs. If there is something anomalous occurring, like a weighted, unfair roulette wheel or an invisible force field blocking part of the explosion, the ability fails to account for this change, but is otherwise accurate.

Check: Difficult (10+) Cognitive Boost* (1D seconds, PSI) check
PSI Cost: 2
* If using this ability to make a skill check like an Astrogation check, use that skill rather than Cognitive Boost to make this check, but ignore any of the normal difficulty modifiers to this check other than those caused by incomplete information.

Mental Speed
The Traveller can speed up her thought processes to many times normal. She cannot move or act any faster, but the world seems to slow down around her even more than when using metabolic accelerator, but this acceleration only applies to the Traveller's thoughts and sensory perceptions. He does not gain any additional actions. Using this ability in combat provides the Traveller with DM+8 to all initiative rolls. In addition, the Traveller can read 20 times as fast as normal or spend time carefully composing a long speech in the time it takes her to walk up on a podium. She also always has time to carefully consider her options, even in the middle of a fast and furious combat and can easily notice someone beginning to draw a hidden weapon. Finally, she doubles all die modifiers for aiming (although the maximum remains DM+6). The Traveller retains this mental speed for a number of minutes equal to the Effect of the Cognitive Boost check (with a minimum of 1). Also, when using this ability, the Traveller can switch between mental speed and normal speed thoughts and perceptions at will.
Check: Average (8+) Cognitive Boost (1D seconds, PSI) check
PSI Cost: 1

Even without rolling or spending Psi Points, the Traveller has an inhumanly good memory which does not fade with time. Anything that Traveller makes even the most rapid and casual effort to remember, like glancing at the license plate of a car driving away, they automatically remember forever. Spending a Magic Point allows the Traveller to go even further, permitting them to remember details they only casually noticed or perhaps even didn't notice at all.

If the Traveller glanced at complex set of blueprints, heard a conversation in an unfamiliar language, or saw someone across the room type in a password on their computer, they could study their memory of this scene in detail. This study could allow them to notice all the details of the blueprint, repeat back everything they heard, or perhaps see what characters the person typed. This detailed recall allows the Traveller to make Perception rolls to examine her memories, and because she can replay the memory repeatedly, these Perception rolls are one difficulty grade easier than normal.
Check: Average (8+) Cognitive Boost (1D x 10 seconds, PSI) check
PSI Cost: 1

Technological Understanding
By spending a few minutes examining a single unfamiliar vehicle, weapon, or device, the Traveller can gain temporary knowledge of how to use this item without penalty, as long as the Traveller possesses the physical capacity to use this device. This power can be used to provide someone with no military training the ability to use and wear battle dress without penalty or even to aim and fire an unknown alien weapon without penalty. The Traveller retains knowledge of how to operate this device for a number minutes equal to the Effect of the Cognitive Boost check x 10, after, all penalties return. The Traveller can only retain knowledge of how to use one unfamiliar device at a time.
Check: Very Difficult (10+) Cognitive Boost (1D minutes, PSI) check
PSI Cost: 3

The Traveller can understand translate any language created by her own species regardless of whether she has ever encountered the language before. This power can also be used to translate alien languages, including those that no one has encountered for tens of thousands of years, but the process is more difficult. In both cases, the Traveller must have access to at least a page of text, at least several minutes of recorded speech, or one or more speakers of the language who are interested in communicating. The Traveller then listens to or reads the language before the player makes the check. The Traveller retains this linguistic understanding lasts a number of hours equal to the Effect of the Cognitive Boost check (with a minimum of 1), after which point the Traveller retains translations of what she has read, said, and heard, but almost no knowledge of the actual language. The Traveller can only retain knowledge of how to speak or read one unfamiliar language at a time.
Check (Translate Same Species Language): Average (8+) Cognitive Boost (1D Minutes, PSI) check
PSI Cost: 1

Check (Translate Alien Language): Difficult (10+) Cognitive Boost (1D x 10 Minutes, PSI) check
PSI Cost: 3
I admit I am a bit curious why you'd want to make psi even more powerful than it already is.

The existence of psi in Traveller is one of those setting-breaking factors if you really consider the implications. The psionic suppressions wouldn't have been enough, even prejudice wouldn't be enough (nor would it last when psionic humans are clearly ubermensch compared to everyone else). If you assume that the rate that PCs can get psi is similar to that of the general population, a significant percentage of the population could have psi - how is the Imperium going to test everyone and every single planet (even assuming that they only consider the hi-pop worlds, there's still quite a few, many will object to such Imperial interference, and many have have low TLs meaning it'll be hugely expensive to screen everyone - I don't think the imperium can afford it). Traveller society should really be more like GATTACA than X-Men or Babylon 5 - the psions on top and everyone else at the bottom, assuming all those brilliant Imperial scientists can't figure (somehow) how psionics work and how to manifest them anyone. Once they figure out that, then Traveller moves beyond the Singularity.

The more powerful you make psionics, the more flimsy it feels that the Imperium isn't like GATTACA or something.
I like it. Psionics is probably the first thing I'd house rule in a custom setting. (Somewhere I have some custom psionic careers, though I've never actually had an opportunity to put them in play.) And I think mentat-type powers are under-represented in rpgs, though in fairness they're harder to pull of in a game session than in a story.

That's not to say I'd use it all as written myself. It's possible they'd make psi more than slightly more powerful.
Classic Traveller included an ability named "Special", which was as difficult to acquire as teleportation (same rolls, that is), but was described as "any ability that doesn't fit into these categories." Your "Cognitive Boost" power resembles Awareness in a lot of ways, but possibly with a hint of Clairvoyance or Precognition (in the case of some aspects of the calculation power) -- enough to count as a Special power.

I'd actually rule out some of your example uses of the power; predicting the debris pattern of an explosion requires a great deal of information that is out of reach of most means of perception. Even for something as simple as the spread of the shrapnel from a hand grenade would require details like the variations in the thickness and microscopic crystal structure of the metal, the exact angle that the trigger lever needs to open to start the detonation timer, any variations in the speed of the detonation timer, and so forth. On top of all that, there are turbulence effects -- chaos -- that make such calculations intractable even with perfect knowledge of initial conditions. In short, if you want to know where to stand so the grenade fragments miss you, precognition is the appropriate power, and even that doesn't let you dodge the shock wave.

There's also the point about granting limited telepathy to all psionics. I wouldn't allow that, except to grant the ability to learn the Shield power -- and even there I'd say that a psionic without telepathy would have a weaker shield than one with it. I'm not sure whether Mongoose psionics make shields variable in strength, but if they're all the same I might say that a non-telepath has to expend at least a small amount of effort to maintain a shield, costing a small penalty to other mental skill rolls made while maintaining a shield.
LOTS of other Psionic powers you could come up with based on mythic history or even just "magic" rumors.

I have added quite a few over the years myself.

I suggest reading the Pegasus books by Ann McCaffery - lots of good ideas there to...
heron61 said:
Psionics in Traveller are a fairly minor feature, however, they can definitely be made more important, such as in the mostly excellent MongTrav 1st ed supplement Book 4: Psion I recently did some thinking about both rules and setting changes needed to make psionics more important, but also not overwhelming. Feedback would be greatly appreciated.

Great ideas. I really like your Mathematical Prowess and Translation talents in particular. Personally I would avoid making psions too powerful. I have one in my campaign and I am very leery that I've given him too great an advantage. Fortunately, he plays the role like someone who is concerned about the Psionic Suppressions and is very subtle with the usage of his abilities.

You could go with these as published, but it'll tilt your campaign heavily. If you don't have the entire group of travellers gifted with psionics, it might not be much fun for everyone else. If you do have everyone play a psion, that will be the general theme of the campaign, which could be pretty fun. As mentioned by Saladman, you could have Dune-like mentats running things or at least being highly influential in society. If you're using the published setting, you could also use Mancerbear's suggestion and do a Zhodani campaign. The Zhodani get short shrift a lot. Almost as if we're only getting the Imperial biased view of them. The Zhodani Consulate would be a rich campaign setting.