Sunday, April 29, 2012

Transhumanism in Psi-punk

Over on the Fudge RPG Yahoo Group, I was asked about whether or not transhumanism would play a big part in the Psi-punk setting.  The answer isn't cut-and-dry, but I thought it would make an interesting topic for discussion here on the Dev Blog.

First of all, what is transhumanism?  According to our old friend Wikipedia:

"Transhumanism, abbreviated as H+ or h+, is an international intellectual and cultural movement that affirms the possibility and desirability of fundamentally transforming the human condition by developing and making widely available technologies to eliminate aging and to greatly enhance human intellectual, physical, and psychological capacities."
By that definition, it would be easy to say that, by nature, just about any cyberpunk game would focus heavily on transhumanism; after all, what good would a cyberpunk RPG be without  cyberware?  We have, of course, already touched on the topic of cybernetics (for a refresher, read "You Didn't Think We Were Serious?") but isn't it more than that?

One common thematic element, arguably a defining element of the cyberpunk genre is this very topic.  Man vs. Machine; Artificial Intelligence; Cyborgs and Simulacrums.  Whether it's attempting to make sense of the implications of mankind outfitting their own bodies with chrome and microchips or debating the "human rights" of artificial intelligence, you'll find it in cyberpunk.

Psi-punk, however, attempts to do something a little bit different.  Our primary objective with the setting is to explore the implications of what a psychically-charged population would mean to the evolution of mankind.  We step back a bit from the Man vs. Machine dilemma and refocus our attentions on Psychics vs. Non-Psychics.

Psi-punk is set in the year 2096 and psychics have been at large since around 2017, so the world has had almost 80 years to grapple with their existence.  Some normals tried to fight back, and even succeeded for a while, but ultimately the powerful mental elite clawed, fought, and mind controlled their way back to the top.

Cyberware has helped to level the playing field somewhat, but it's available to both psychics and normals alike, so it doesn't make a huge impact on its own.  Instead, one company in particular has developed a technology to recreate nearly any psychic phenomenon, once again giving normals (at least those who can afford it) a way to combat the advantages that psychics  possess.

We go into detail with how certain types of psionic powers have been able to benefit humanity as a whole, how they interact with technology, and much more.  In many cases psychic technology -- dubbed "magic" by its creators -- is applied as to cyberware, weapons, armor, and other gear in much the same way that other forms of electronics are.  Mankind has managed to replicate a wide variety of phenomena not previously known outside of the Fantasy or Science Fiction genres.

We'll see a wide range of examples throughout the book in regards to all of this.  We talk about "ghosting," the ability to project one's essence *into* the 'Net using electrokinesis, as well as the implications that being able to control electricity and temperature might have on the world (can we say "unlimited, free, clean energy"?

In Psi-punk, psionics aren't just an afterthought to the system, present only to add some kind of "magic" subsystem to the game.  Rather, we have built the setting and system from the ground up to fully support a very heavy dose of psychic abilities, and we've focused on how they interact with the world, technology, and people in general.

We hope not to alienate fans of the cyberpunk genre who are interested in the myriad ways of describing transhumanism and the "human condition."  We understand that it's a popular and very interesting philosophical debate and one that no genre does better than cyberpunk.  However, our goal was to create a game that gives people reason to re-think the genre; something different than the norm and something we think you'll really enjoy.

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to start or join the discussion!  We look forward to talking more about the game and revealing more as we progress toward our upcoming Kickstarter launch.  Stay tuned!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Putting the "Psi" in Psi-punk

We've talked a lot about character creation, a little about the history, and a bit about the cyber-gear you can expect to find within the pages of Psi-punk, but what about the origins of the "Psi"?

There are a lot of cyberpunk games nowadays that add psionic powers as an afterthought to try to squeeze in some kind of supernatural magic-like system into their game, but Psi-punk has developed the setting from the ground up to make it a key attribute of the system.  Psionics, and their counterpart known as "magic" (a bit more on that later), were the original focus from day one.

As one might expect, psionics are mental powers that give their users vast amounts of control over certain aspects of the world around them -- but not just the physical world.  Magic, on the other hand, is a name given to special electronic devices that were developed by normal people as a means to combat the ever-increasing influence of those mentals with psychic superiority complexes.

Fundamental Design Differences

Psionics and magic have a lot in common; they produce roughly the same effects, but with varying degrees of difficulty and reliability.  Psionics, being innate powers, utilize the user's own mental strength to determine their success. 

Magic, on the other hand, are electronic devices that can be purchased and used by anyone, but these devices produce less astonishing results and their power level is keyed directly to the individual device.  Devices that produce more powerful results are rare, expensive, and often experimental, but lower-powered magic devices are commonplace.

One of our key design goals right from the beginning of development was to have two classes of power; psionics, representing great but very focused power, and magic, which represents a wide spread of possible powers that are less pronounced.  Anyone who desires can have access to some kind of awesome power, and that's the way this world works -- normal people are doing their best to level the playing field in a world where those with vast power could easily take over.

Meet the Powers

Here are the example powers that are listed within the book.  As with anything else in a Fudge RPG system, players and GMs are encouraged to come up with their own powers, or their own uses for existing powers, but we've dedicated almost 30 pages to getting your creativity started.  Since we can't reproduce the entire chapter here, we'll just list each power with a descriptive paragraph or two.


Key Attribute: Focus or Spirit
Antipsi is a discipline used to still the mind against psionic attacks or nullify existing psionic effects.  Antipsi is most often used in reaction to mental attack, to block a telepath from reading one’s thoughts or a “puppeteer” from controlling them.  Antipsi can also be used to suppress active psionic effects of all kinds, either temporarily or permanently, depending on the relative degree of success.


Key Attribute: Focus
Electrokinesis is the ability to manipulate electrical energy and current with one’s mind.  This potent ability is commonly depicted as a person shooting lightning bolts from his fingertips, but it encompasses more than just the destructive side of electricity.  With this power, characters can not only zap their enemies with bolts of lightning, they can manipulate electrical current and devices which operate electronically, such as computers, alarm systems, electric vehicles, etc.


Key Attribute: Focus or Spirit
ESP represents the ability to sense things outside ones normal range of perception.  This includes the ability to see through objects, hear noises above or below the normal human range of sound, locate objects or people (also known as "scrying") and so forth.


Key Attribute: Spirit
Premonition is a sub-school of ESP that works only passively, meaning that the character does not choose when to activate it.  Instead, the GM makes a secret check against the character’s Spirit attribute.  If the check succeeds, the character gains some piece of information that he otherwise would not have perceived, such as an incoming attack from a shadowed thug, a warning about a nearby danger, or a vision about a terrible upcoming event.  The GM should use his best discretion when determining how much of the story or information he wants to give to the character and use his degree of success as a yardstick for how much the character can truly perceive.


Key Attribute: Spirit
Precognition is the ability to see in to the future.  More often snap shots of events rather than vivid imagery, it can be difficult to tell the future with perfect success because there is no guarantee that it will happen exactly as seen.


Key Attributes: Focus
Psychokinesis, literally “mind movement”, represents the ability to control and manipulate objects with one’s mind.  A variety of abilities fall into this category, including telekinesis (the ability to move objects), cryokinesis and pyrokinesis (the ability to control cold and heat, respectively), photokinesis (the ability to manipulate light) and sonarkinesis (the ability to manipulate sound).


Key Attributes: Focus
Cryokinesis represents the ability to control cold and ice.  Most cryokinetics are capable of using water vapor in the air to form ice out of virtually nothing, though a few require a more dense form of liquid to achieve the same result.


Key Attributes: Focus
Photokinesis is the ability to manipulate light using the power of one’s mind.  This ability seems singularly focused at first, but when one takes a moment to consider its applications it can prove to be quite powerful indeed.


Key Attributes: Focus
Pyrokinesis is the much-beloved (and often feared) ability to set things on fire with one’s mind.  Using this ability in a public place is highly illegal without some special permit or sufficient rank in a police or military organization.  Generally speaking, the more public the place, the higher your rank needs to be to use this ability without alerting authorities.


Key Attributes: Focus
This power represents the ability to produce and manipulate sound.  With this ability, it is possible to create both loud noises and forceful bursts of concentrated sonic energy.  With higher degrees of success you are capable of producing more complex sounds, including the emulation of conversations or even complex musical scores.


Key Attributes: Focus
One of the most widely known and understood psychic abilities, telekinesis refers to the ability to directly control objects with one’s mind.  Through the use of telekinesis people have been able to open doors without raising an arm, lift monumental structures without lifting a finger, and even fly through the air without the aid of technology (or wings).


Key Attribute: Focus or Spirit
This ability allows its user to control the very molecular structure of creatures and objects.  It is a potent ability with far-reaching implications.  Those skilled in psychometabolism, often known as "shapers", can heal themselves and others, change their appearance, transmute solid rock in to sediment, and boost a person's physical abilities.
Because this psionic ability encompasses so many different types of effects, it is actually broken up in to two different powers.  Each of the following powers must be taken individually.

Control Animate Objects

This power grants the shaper control over living creatures.  He can heal, harm, or alter their shape with varying degrees of success.  To use this ability on a creature, the shaper must have physical contact with him or her.  Unwilling targets may oppose the shaper’s focus roll with a body roll to reduce or negate the intended effects.

Control Inanimate Objects

This power functions similar to control animate but instead of working on living creatures it works on non-living matter.   


Key Attribute: Focus
Psychometry is the ability to visualize past events by touching an object and experiencing its history.  All objects have a memory of what has happened to them in the past, including where it has been and who has touched it.  Those with the gift of psychometry may attempt to gather information from the objects they touch.


Key Attributes: Focus or Spirit
Telepathy, like psychokinesis, encompasses a wide variety of different abilities.  Some telepaths can sense imminent danger, others can communicate mentally across vast distances, and still others can impose their will upon other living creatures.  Each telepathy sub-set of abilities, listed below, must be acquired separately.


Key Attributes: Spirit
Empathy is the ability to sense another person’s emotional state and, in some cases, adopt aspects of it.  Empathic characters are able to tune in to other peoples’ emotions, which helps them communicate more effectively and their ability to “absorb” emotions has a variety of applications.   

Mental Communication

Key Attribute: Spirit
Mental Communication represents the ability to send and receive messages telepathically over vast distances.  Using this ability, a character can deliver a message to someone, receive their mental response, or even read the mind of willing (or unwilling) recipients.

Mind Control

Key Attributes: Focus or Persona
As the name implies, mind control is the ability to enforce your will upon another living being.  This ability manifests itself in several different ways.  Mind control can be as simple as implanting a suggestion in someone’s mind or as complex as exerting complete mental dominance over their will.  It can alter memories, deliver damaging mental “shocks” and so forth.

Gifts and Faults

Nearly everything in Psi-punk can be given a Gift or Fault, which can add to or decrease its abilities, respectively.  Psionics and magic items are no different.  Through the use of Gifts and Faults, players can add enhancements to their powers -- such as the ability to use mental communication across great distance, or the cyberpsi ability which allows an electrokinetic to control computers and even project his consciousness directly into The 'Net.

Faults, on the other hand, can help offset the cost of a power by limiting their effectiveness.  Some examples include the psi static Fault attached to the antipsi power, which prevents the psychic from turning off their ability and forces them to negate psionics anywhere within a few feet of him.  Other Faults, such as only works while... and only controls/cannot create... are limiters that can be applied to a variety of powers.

We offer a variety of such Gifts and Faults throughout the Psionics and Magic chapter, but of course you're free to develop your own.


We hope you enjoyed this peek into what makes Psi-punk more than just Cyberpunk.  Feel free to comment, Retweet, Like, or +1 this post as you see fit.  We especially encourage you to leave any feedback you may have, and hope you join us again next time for additional previews and insights into the game.