Types of Psi | Frequency of Appearance | Public Relations | Psi Drugs |
Psionics is a broad term used to describe supernatural powers that stem purely from the force of mind and will, rather than from the harnessing of divine or arcane energies. While some psis have always existed in the world of MK, it was not until the 1890s that it was proven that psionics is substantively different from magic. However, while psionic abilities do not directly depend on mana in order to function, the overall rise in mana levels over the last 150 years has been mirrored by a sharp rise in the appearance of psi powers. The exact origin of psi powers is unknown, but there is some evidence that they can be triggered by exposure to life-aspected mana. Psionic abilities are also heritable; a psionic parent is much more likely to have children who are psis than is a mundane parent, and two psis having children together will likely have a child whose psionic abilities are stronger than either of theirs.
Psis are almost exclusively a human phenomenon: they are rare among Silvaan and Breed, and completely absent among full-blooded lutins and Elves. Some Plane-touched psis have been reported, but it is often difficult to sort out true psi abilities from the supernatural abilities that come as part of their outsider heritage. Being a recipient of the Curse of Metamor, however, does not appear to affect psi abilities for good or ill, and psis show up in about the same proportions among Cursed individuals as among the un-Cursed. Currently, about 1% of humans have a detectable level of psionic ability. Psis occur with equal frequency in all human races and cultures -- a psi may be any color, shape or size found among humanity.
Psionic abilities are more common among women than men: there are roughly two female psis for every male. The reason for this is unknown, but it is thought that one of the key genes necessary for psionic ability is a dominant allele found on the X-chromosome; thus, women have two chances to inherit the gene, while men only have one. This would also mean that a male psi is only capable of passing on his talent to his daughters, which seems to be borne out in heritability studies conducted by the Psi Collective.
Types of Psionic Abilities
There are several major classifications of psionic abilities, called disciplines. Most psis are only gifted in one of these areas, or have one primary strength and weak abilities in one or two other areas. Psis with strong gifts in two different disciplines are almost unheard of, and often feared by those who know of them. Disciplines are listed in order of increasing rarity.
Telepathy: Powers of mental contact and persuasion. A telepath, or teep, can sense the thoughts and emotions of others, and influence them in return. Most teeps also have a strong talent for lucid dreaming.
Telepathic abilities are enhanced by skin-to-skin contact, and most strong teeps will instantly form a psychic link with anyone they touch, causing a rapid exchange of surface thoughts and feelings between the teep and the subject. Because of this, teeps tend to avoid physical contact with mundanes, who don't have the psychic defenses to shield their thoughts from the bond.
If two or more teeps form a psychic link, they can temporarily form a gestalt, or unified consciousness, with stronger psi abilities than any of the members of the gestalt could manifest individually. Gestalts also allow for very rapid integration of information from each of the contributors, thus allowing teeps to make very rapid, unanimous decisions -- a talent that is essential to the function of the Psi Collective. (Attempts at forming a gestalt with mundanes have invariably ended in failure or outright disaster, as mundanes are unable to extricate their minds from the link after the gestalt is formed; their sense of identity is lost to the gestalt, subsumed within the hive-mind.)
One particularly insidious telepathic skill is the ability to drain energy from a person's emotions, replenishing the psi's own reserves. This is called psychic vampirism, and it is widely denounced by other psis as a perversion of telepathic abilities.
Extra-sensory Perception (ESP): The ability to see, hear, or otherwise perceive things at a distance. This "distance" may be in space, in time, or both. Psis with this ability are called espers. (A mage with the same ability is called a seer.) The ability to see things from far away is called clairvoyance (or peeping); the ability to see the future is called precognition (or precog); and the ability to see past events associated with a place or object is called psychometry (or retro). Most espers do not have all of these abilities, at least not reliably; when they do occur, the "vision" is often spontaneous and not under the esper's control. Like telepathy, precog and retro are enhanced by physical contact with the object (or person) whose future or past is being read.
Some espers are able to perform astral projection, in which the spirit essentially leaves the body and travels somewhere else. This is also called an Out-Of-Body Experience, or OOBE (pronounced OO-bee).Astral projection can also be performed magically by mages and the Lothanasi, but espers are much harder to detect because they do not give off a magical signature in the area they are observing. The Psi Collective uses astral projection for espionage purposes, and to communicate with members of the Collective who are too far away for telepathic contact.
Psychokinesis: Powers that manipulate matter and energy. This may include the ability to move objects (telekinesis, or teek), or control over fire and heat (pyrokinesis), cold (cryokinesis), or electricity (electrokinesis). Some electrokinetics can even learn how to interface with computers and other electronic devices at a distance, though this requires an extraordinary degree of skill. Many telekinetics who have a small amount of ESP ability are able to sense the air molecules around their bodies and freeze them in place, creating "PK shields" that can block knives, fists, and even bullets. Psychokinetics acquire nicknames on the basis of their most prominent powers -- teeks (or tekes), pyros, cryos, and sparkies. Few psychokinetics have much skill in more than one or two of these powers.
Psychic Healing: Some psis are able to channel psychic energy to heal injuries in themselves and others. The process is usually taxing for the psi, as it draws on her own life energy. It has been speculated that the Light-Healing, first taught to the Lothanasi by Akkala and now practiced by many in the healing profession around the world, is either a form of this psionic ability or is closely related to it. If this is the case, then psychic healing may actually be the most common type of psionic ability -- one that usually goes unrecognized as such.
Psychometabolism: Powers that manipulate the psi's own body. This is closely related to psychic healing, but it allows for a greater variety of effects and can only be performed by the psi on himself. Psis with this ability are called egoists. Some egoists are able to enhance their strength, speed, or dexterity, converting mental energy into physical power to perform superhuman feats. Others are able to control their metabolism, greatly slowing heart rate and respiration to enter a kind of regenerative trance. Most egoists have the ability to regenerate their own bodies to a greater degree than mundane humans, slowing the aging process and prolonging life. It is believed that many of the inherent powers manifested by the Lothanasi are either a form of psychometabolism or closely related to it.
Psychoportation: One of the rarest forms of psionic ability, psychoportation is the ability to teleport matter from one place to another. The two known variations of this are autoporting, the ability to teleport one's own body, and exoporting, the ability to teleport other objects. Psis with the former ability are called jumpers; those with the latter ability are called snatchers. Very few individuals have both abilities. Often a psi can only teleport to or from someplace he has been before, though some snatchers are able to 'port objects without even knowing where they come from. Psychoportation is very difficult to control reliably, and many jumpers first manifest their talents by 'porting in their sleep.
Antipsi: Rumors persist among psis of people who are able to not only resist psychic abilities, but actually negate them. Teeps whisper of shadowy figures stalking the Street who can cause their heads to erupt with bursts of psychic static, while psychokinetics tell of PK shields that suddenly failed or levitated objects that fell for no reason. It is unknown whether humans with antipsi abilities actually exist, but such an individual would almost certainly be considered an abomination by the Psi Collective. Some other factions, however, might see them as the perfect secret weapon...
Frequency of Appearance
In spite of the overall increase in their appearance, psi powers are still rarely seen compared with magic. While roughly one in five people have enough natural magical aptitude to require a restraining band, only about one in a hundred have a significant level of psionic ability. Unless a psi is particularly powerful, these abilities will remain latent unless the person actively tries to develop them, so most people who have the potential to be psis never know about it. Those who do have particularly powerful psionic abilities (maybe one in fifty psis, or about 1.2 million people worldwide) usually begin manifesting them in some fashion during puberty, and patience and discipline are required to gain complete control of them. (Interestingly, some second-generation psis are now beginning to appear that display telepathic abilities even from the womb. No one is quite sure what this means, but it may be a sign that whatever force causes the development of psionic abilities is growing stronger.)
Despite the relative rarity of psi powers and the gaps in the scientific understanding of psionics, an impressive array of psi-enhancing drugs and technology have been developed. Many of these grew out of the military and espionage communities (both governmental and industrial), both of whom value psis for their (nearly) undetectable abilities and their immunity to magical defensive wards. Other bits of psi-tech were the result of research into technomagic that later branched out into other directions, and the first psi-drugs were either discovered accidentally or developed to help mages with their spellcasting. Most of these innovations eventually found their way to the Street, where tech-savvy psis reverse-engineered them and co-opted the technology for themselves and their community.
A few of the more common psi-drugs:
This drug, called Mad or Mad John on the Street, was first developed by the Empire's Military Intelligence Directorate (MID) in the 1970s as a means of improving the effectiveness of their psi operatives, most of whom had high skill but relatively little power with their abilities. Mad is a synthetic neurotransmitter that boosts synaptic activity in the parts of the brain associated with psionic talents, leading to an impressive increase in effective power. The drawback is that MD-109 is also a slow-acting neurotoxin, and will kill the user within an hour or so after being injected. An antidote exists, called Peace, which will quickly and safely neutralize any remaining MD-109 in the body; when the MID uses psis for an operation, each dose of Mad is distributed with a corresponding dose of Peace in the same sealed packet. Unfortunately, Mad causes a rush of euphoria and a feeling of invincibility whenever the psi uses his or her abilities, and several agents have been lost on missions when they delayed use of the antidote until it was too late.
Mad is still being produced legally by a couple of drug companies, both for military applications and for use in clinical research into psionics. It is illegal to produce or distribute the drug without an Imperial license, and it may only be legally used under the supervision of a doctor. It is quite popular as a black-market psi-drug, since its effects are more predictable than those of Vortex (see below). Thousands of units of the drug are produced every year in illicit underground laboratories, which the Psi Collective maintains for its own purposes. It costs about 30 marks for a matched dose of Mad and Peace on the black market.
Developed in the early 1990s to assist wizards in mastering difficult spells, Mentat is a semi-alchemical drug that improves abstract thought processes of all types. It is usually distributed in pill form, but more recently a fast-acting inhaler has been developed. Psis value Mentat because, while it does not increase the power of their abilities, it does greatly amplify their effective skill in the use of the power they do have. Thus, a teep using Mentat would not be able to contact another person's mind at any greater range than usual -- but once contact was made, the teep would be able to use her talents in much more subtle and difficult ways, such as planting a subliminal suggestion or accessing the subject's long-term memories.
Mentat is relatively safe; the main drawback is a loss of dexterity and a general absent-mindedness in people who use too large a dose. The drug is legal but expensive -- around 100 marks per dose (and it fetches an even higher price on the Street). It may only be legally acquired with a doctor's prescription, and schools and other testing agencies forbid its use prior to a test, since it improves mundane thought processes as well as psionic skills. The Psi Collective does not have the means yet to manufacture the drug itself, but it is so widely available that acquiring it is usually not a problem.
A product of the same MID operation that created MD-109, Vortex was developed in response to complaints from the Directorate's psychokinetic operatives that MD-109 did not provide a big enough boost to their abilities to be useful. Through a combination of alchemy and cutting-edge biochemical techniques, the MID researchers succeeded in producing a drug that could amplify psi powers up to a hundred-fold.
Unfortunately, Vortex is rife with problems and drawbacks. First, it is extremely addictive -- users can develop a dependency after only two or three doses. Second, while MD-109's toxicity is generally predictable in its effects, Vortex is far more variable: some psis can use it repeatedly without an adverse reaction, but about 5% of users will experience severe seizures, coma or even death within minutes of taking their first dose. Overdoses of Vortex are almost always fatal, as well. Third, while Vortex greatly increases a psi's power, it makes his abilities much harder to control; several psychokinetic operatives have been killed when their telekinesis buried them under tons of concrete, or a rush of pyrokinetic flame burned them alive.
Vortex was only produced for the military for a brief time before the project was shut down as too risky; other labs have since succeeded in synthesizing it, but it is still very expensive and hard to come by. Anyone dealing in Vortex probably has some very powerful backers. The Psi Collective does not produce Vortex or sanction its use, but some members keep one or two doses on hand in case of emergencies. The Street price of Vortex varies depending on availability, usually between 100 and 200 marks per dose.
Psionics are still poorly understood, and no one has yet figured out a way of screening for psionic potential the way that children are tested for magical aptitude; as a result, most powerful psis develop their abilities without formal training or supervision. Psis are regarded with fear by many people, especially mages, since normal magical wards cannot block psionic powers. (Of course, in all fairness, normal psionic defenses cannot block spells, either.) As a result, most psis who discover their powers work hard to keep them a secret. On the Street, however, powerful psis take advantage of the fear they instill in others, playing up their reputation as "spookies" to gain an edge in the never-ending turf wars with rogue mages and other miscreants. Psis tend to stick together for survival, forming a worldwide community as tight and protective of its members as any mages' guild or swoop gang. This community is called the Psi Collective.
Many governments and some megacorps are now in the process of trying to develop defenses against psi, to protect themselves from the very people they once thought would be their secret weapons. Some organizations have taken to hiring psis to protect their interests from other psis, but the Psi Collective deplores such turncoats and often moves to shut them down quickly -- an operation dubbed "Teek the Freak". The Collective will also play "Teek the Freak" with rogue psis that start killing innocents -- the last thing most psis want is for the mundanes to panic and declare war on them. Being so totally outnumbered, that's a war they would quickly lose.