Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Hacking People Psionically - a.k.a. Soul Jacking

In a recent interview with FutilePosition.com I mentioned (albeit briefly) the concept of "soul jacking." It's the term given to the practice of taking over someone's mind and dictating their actions using psionic powers, and it's highly illegal. But what's cyberpunk game without occasionally being on the wrong side of the law?

The initial inspiration for soul jacking came to me when watching an episode of the 1990's X-Men cartoon. In an early episode featuring Sabertooth, Professor X goes into his mind and is shown trying to physically break down a barrier to get at the villain's memories. That's a little bit of what I imagine soul jacking to be.

Taking over someone's thoughts or gaining access to their memories is a multi-step process (or at least can be with these optional rules). First one must enter the target's mind, then make their way through a variety of surface thoughts and eventually locate the memories they are trying to find. What one does with these memories once they have been uncovered is up to them, but a highly skilled (and rather scary) individual may even possess the power to alter them.

Apart from accessing one's memories, a soul jacker also has the potential to take control of the target's thoughts and actions; it's how the term got its nasty name.

Below is an excerpt from Chapter 6: Hacking Mind, Chip, and Soul. It details everything you might need to know about accessing and controlling one's thoughts. Enjoy!

Hacking People the Psionic Way – Soul Jacking

Soul jacking is the harsh new term for what was once simply known as mind control.  Though highly illegal, soul jacking is a lucrative endeavor that can yield a lot of juicy details about someone or, in some cases, give you complete control over them.  This is the sort of thing that gave rise to tinfoil hats, but as we’ve seen over the last 30 years or so, those don’t work.  To truly shield yourself from being soul jacked, you need either a strong Mind or an expensive piece of antipsi tech.

Mind control is a sub-school of the telepathy psionic power.  In most circles it is viewed as a dangerous ability and those who possess it are often stigmatized.  On the other hand, those very folks who have the gift argue (rightly so) that it isn’t their fault they have it, so why should they be blamed?  It’s a tricky situation to be sure, but the fact remains that probing someone’s mind without their permission is definitely not socially acceptable.

The mind control rules outlined in the Psionics and Magic chapter discuss the basic functions and capabilities of the power.  For those interested in a more cinematic experience though, consider the rules for soul jacking, outlined below.

In order to attempt to steal someone’s thoughts or actions, you first need to have the appropriate power to do so.  This means you need to either possess the mind control power or a magic device capable of emulating it.  Because this is such an illegal action, magic devices are hard to find; Magicorp makes them, but is only allowed to sell them to military and police personnel.  You will need a Rank score with a level equal to the power rating of the device in order to find and use one legally.  Naturally though, you may be able to find one on the black market.

If you do possess the ability, you need to pick your target.  This can be literally any living creature that possesses a brain, but works best on members of your own species.  Attempting to soul jack a creature of a different species imposes a -1 penalty – other creatures’ brains process data differently and it is harder to make sense of the information you acquire.

Making the check is as simple as using the psionic power; roll against the appropriate key attribute and compare your result to the target’s opposed Mind check.  Instead of mind control being an all-or-nothing success (or failure) though, soul jacking may require some additional effort.  Succeeding at your first check simply gets you in the door, so to speak.

After making a successful check, you gain access to the target’s “surface thoughts”.  Surface thoughts represent what the target is thinking right now.  For animals, surface thoughts are just simple, instinctual concepts, such as “food”, “potty”, “play”, and so forth.  More complex creatures, especially humans, may have an infinite range of possible thoughts.

Once you’re in someone’s head, you can choose to try to probe their memories or try to take control of them.  Decide what you’re trying to do, then make the appropriate check using your power’s key attribute.

Probe Memories

When trying to probe someone’s deeper memories, make a mental communication or mind control check after you’ve succeeded at getting into their head.  The higher your degree of success, the further you can probe the target’s memories.  The chart below illustrates the results.

Degree of Success
You can read…
one week of memories.
one month of memories.
one year of memories.
one decade of memories.
one lifetime of memories.
multiple lifetimes of memories.*

 *Assumes creature has had multiple lives through reincarnation, a concept popular among psychics.  Including multiple lives in your campaign may lead to some interesting stories.

Most animals have life spans too short to be represented by higher ladder results, but that makes it all the easier to get a life’s worth of memories from an animal.  Most animal memories remain instinctual, and depending on the creature they may have little useful information.  Some animals, like dogs, remember a scent better than a face, for example, while others have memories approaching those of humans.  Use your best judgment (and some creativity) to determine just how much information you can gather from an animal’s mind.

When reading the mind of a human (or other similarly-intelligent being) you can gather nearly any piece of information you want.  Even the deeper, subconscious memories might be accessible if you can probe far enough back in the character’s lifetime.  You can even get the earliest memories of a person’s childhood dating back to before anything that person might actually be able to remember on their own.

Probing a target’s thoughts can be jarring for the target.  They remember everything that you are detecting as you read it, which can have unforeseen consequences.  For this reason, attempting to read the thoughts of an unaware person can cause them serious confusion and, depending on the memories you are looking for, quite a bit of discomfort.  Any character who becomes distressed from the mind reading may get a second Mind roll to attempt to force you out of their head.

If you have the alter memory gift, in addition to the mind control power, you may alter or erase the target’s memory.  See the mind control entry in the Psionics and Magic chapter for an idea of what sorts of changes you can make based on your degree of success.  To alter a target’s memory, you need to make a separate check.

Finally, if you possess the mind reading gift from the mental communication power, you may use it to read a character’s thoughts just as if you had the mind control gift, though it is limited to reading mind sonly; you must possess the mind control power to use alter memory or to take control of a character’s actions.

Taking Control

Once you’ve defeated a target’s mental resistance and gained access to their surface thoughts, you can use mind control to gain total dominance over them.  Make an opposed mind control check versus the target’s Mind check.  If successful, you can influence the target’s thoughts and actions as follows.

Degree of Success
You can …
implant a minor suggestion in the target’s mind.
charm the target.
charm the target and maintain control.
dominate the target.
dominate the target and maintain control.
dominate the target and maintain control with less effort.
Suggestion: You implant a thought in the target’s mind that causes them to react in some minor way.  For example, you can tell the target to “come here” or convince them that “these are not what you’re looking for.”  The target will interpret this suggestion in the best possible light, though he will not do anything that is completely against his nature.  “Jump off of that bridge” and “shoot your commanding officer” are examples of suggestions that a character will not carry out.

Charm: The target perceives you as a friend.  He considers your words and interprets them in the most favorable manner, but he is still unwilling to do anything that goes against his nature.  You must maintain control of a target’s mind and cannot activate any other psionic powers or become distracted to a point that you would not be able to focus on maintaining control (such as in combat or other stressful situations).

With a Great result you may continue to activate psionic powers while maintaining control.  During stressful situations you must make a Great Focus roll to avoid losing control of the target’s mind.

Dominate: You exhibit complete mental dominance over another character.  They obey your orders to the best of their ability despite their own nature and perceive you in the best possible light.  You must maintain control of a target’s mind and cannot activate any other psionic powers or become distracted to a point that you would not be able to focus on maintaining dominance (such as in combat or other stressful situations).

With a Wonderful result you may continue to activate psionic powers while dominating a target’s mind.  During stressful situations you must make a Great Focus roll to avoid losing control of the target’s mind.  With a Phenomenal result, maintaining control requires a Focus roll of only Mediocre or better.

Note that when controlling the minds of animals and other beings of lesser intelligence, they may be limited by their intelligence when attempting to follow your orders.  Choose appropriate commands and suggestions based on the capabilities of your target, or your attempt may be in vain.
We hope you enjoyed this look into the darker side of psionics. Feel free to discuss anything you've read or any questions you might have in the comments!