Monday, May 22, 2006

Psychic Arts in Fudge

The human mind is a remarkably complex and interconnected system. Given how reliant we are on our minds, it should come as no surprise that people have been trying to work the system. I'll use the term "psychic arts" to refer to techniques that attempt to manipulate the human psyche. In this article, we'll look at how these arts can be used in Fudge.

The human mind is a remarkably complex and interconnected system. Given how reliant we are on our minds, it should come as no surprise that people have been trying to work the system. I'll use the term "psychic arts" to refer to techniques that attempt to manipulate the human psyche. In this article, we'll look at how these arts can be used in Fudge.

Psyche Working

This section is brief overview of psyche working. The information is taken from one of my earlier articles, "A Gamer's Guide to Psychic Arts." Those more interested in system mechanics may want to skip to the next section.

At their core, psychic arts are about altering the subject's mental state and processes. The human mind is in a constant state of change. Each thought, perception, and emotion affects other parts of the mind in an incredibly complex and interconnected system. Psyche working attempts to manipulate this dynamic to trigger certain reactions within the psyche. Perhaps the most common reactions are thought and emotions. In fact, triggering certain thoughts and emotional reactions is often used to persuade others or change their perspective. However, there are other possible effects.

Instead of triggering a conscious reaction, psyche working can start a reaction within the subconscious. This can have some interesting effects, especially since the subconscious can affect the user's body and perceptions. Examples of these reactions include the placebo effect and the power of suggestion. Note that once a suggestion is implanted in the subconscious it can persist for some time.

Alternately, one could use these reactions to change how the subject's mind operates. Each set of changes can be referred to as an altered mental state or trance state. It's often difficult to directly trigger these states. Instead, subjects are often eased into the target state. Earlier reactions are meant to put the subject into a state that makes latter attempts easier. In short, many trancing techniques are designed to trigger a series of reactions that leads to an unusual mental state. These changes are usually temporary. Over time people will naturally revert to their normal mental state. If other psyche reactions are triggered they can also break a given trance state.

Many psyche working techniques target the user. However, some arts try triggering these reactions in others. One example is group trancing efforts. Each participant does something that contributes to the subject's trance state. In many cases, this is as simple as providing proper sensory cues. On a small scale, a practitioner might try to help a client achieve a certain effect. For example, a mentor might help a student enter a trance state or a hypnotist might guide their subject into a hypnotic trance. Alternately, one can use symbols and perceived authority to convince the subconscious. For example, a leader could inspire their followers. An enemy could create psychosomatic effects by cursing someone. On a similar note, a healer could remove these effects by simply convincing the subconscious that the curse has been nullified.

System Mechanics

This system emulates how psyche working seems to operate in our world. While the system is based on mundane effects like personality shifts, it can easily be extended to more supernatural effects.

First, let's imagine psyche working as a way of persuading the subject's mind and body to do certain things. While we could use normal speech to talk to the conscious mind, the subconscious seems to communicate in terms of symbols and emotions. As such, if we want to persuade the subconscious, we'll have to use a slightly different language. Note that anyone can try psyche working. However, this becomes much easier with training.

In game terms, treat each kind of psyche working as it's own skill. To use that skill, the character will have to do certain things. This can range from quiet mediation to elaborate rituals. Once the requirements have been met, roll that skill. The difficulty is based on what kind of effect the user is going for. This can be modified by many factors including the techniques used. For example, ecstatic dance would be a poor choice if the user wanted to slow their metabolism.

If the skill roll succeeds, the user gains a mental shift. As a rule of thumb, each shift is effectively a trait exchange. Guidelines for trading traits can be found in the main Fudge rules. Perhaps the most common trait sold is physical and environmental awareness. As users get deeper into trances, they often become increasing unaware of things outside their focus. A sample list of possible shift and difficulties is provided below. Note that if the user rolls Poor or lower, they may actually suffer from a mental backlash.

Mental Shift Difficulties

Difficulty Target Traits
Superb physical attributes, mental gifts
Great physical skills, mental attributes
Good mental skills, personality attributes
Fair strong emotions
Mediocre weak emotions
Poor confusion, emotional conflict
Terrible mental faults

Note that the character can make repeated use of psyche working to gain additional mental shifts. Each attempt takes a certain amount of time and a low roll can actually undo previous shifts. However, with luck and preparation a practitioner can build up an impressive set of mental shifts. Those wanting to limit the total number of shifts may raise the difficulty of trance rolls based on the current number of shifts the character has. Mundane skills usually increase by 1 step per shift while dedicated trancing skill increase by 1 step per 2 shifts. Alternately, the user's trance skill could be penalized as their physical awareness drops. This is particularly appropriate for those who use external symbols and ritual performances.

Mental shifts persist until the character changes their mind. Note that distractions can force the character to drop mental shifts. Physical threats can be very effective at snapping people from trances. However, the character must be aware of distraction before they react to it.

Effect Types

Psyche effects can be divided into two general categories: Interpersonal and Extrapersonal. Intrapersonal effects work within the bound of the user's mind and body. As such, they as well suited to no magic and low magic games. Interpersonal effects can be run very easily using the above system. The suject can simply swap in any needed attributes or gifts. While a few new traits may be needed (such as a body control skill or gift), most of these effects are already covered by normal character traits.

In contrast, extrapersonal effects are hard to describe without including some kind of external element. As such, this category may include a wide variety of paranormal and supernatural effects. These effects can be handled easily enough by the previous system. The main problem is figuring out what traits are needed to use these effects. If you already have a system for supernormal powers in place, this becomes fairly easy. The psyche worker simply knows how to temporarily unlock dormant abilities. Simply adjust the difficulty for power based traits as needed and your good to go.

For those who don't have a supernormal power system in place, I suggest the following approach. Let the user buy gifts with their mental shifts. Each gift allows the character to roll for certain types of effects. The broader the power group, the lower the default roll usually is. You may also want to let the character buy up appropriate skills with their mental shifts. Each skill may apply to a different factors of the target power. Receptive powers might have awareness and focus factors while projective powers might have energy and focus factors. More powerful skills may have more factors, thus increasing their overall cost.

Character Traits

Attributes: This system does not require any additional attributes. However, having a trait for physical awareness helps when trying to simulate deep trances. Attributes can also be used if a given kind of trance or ability is fairly common in a given game world. For example, a fantasy game might have a second sight attribute.

Skills: The most important skills in this system are trancing skills. Note that gifts can be used to change a normal skill into a trancing skill. For example, the character could pick up an Ecstatic Dancer gift to use their dance skill for mental shifts. Similarly, some mundane skill can be used for mental shifts. For example, a rousing song could be used to create certain mental shifts. However, the difficulty is usually higher than with more focused trancing skills. If supernormal powers are used, then the corresponding skills will also be important.

Gifts and Faults: Gifts provide a good way to portray unusual and talented individuals. For example, a character could have psychic sensitivity. This gift might raise their ESP skills but also make them vulnerable to psychic static and backlash. Others might have the ability to use supernormal power without entering a trance state. The exact set of gifts and faults available will vary widely between settings.


Battle Chant

Edward is a about to lead his troops on a daring raid into enemy territory. He doesn't know much about psyche working, but he wants to boost his mens morale. Edward rolls against his Good Oration skill and gets a Great result. The GM rules that even though Oration isn't a trance skill, the result was good enough to trigger a personality shift. The troop's morale raises from Fair to Great, but they gain the Impulsive fault. Edward could try for a further shift, but the GM rules that the difficulty is increased, so he'd have to roll Superb or better.

Ritual Magic

The castle Magda has been staying in has come under siege. While Magda has little power normally, she is a highly skilled ritualist. After some thought, she designs a ceremony which calls on the spirit of fire. Hopefully, this will give her enough power to scare off the intruders. The ritual is designed to will take an hour and will allow her four trancing attempts. Magda's ceremonial skill is Great and she rolls Legendary, Great, Legendary, and Good. She uses the two Legendary results to buy two levels of specialized magic potential in fire magic. She pays for these levels by taking the faults Obsessive and Burning Fever. She uses the Great result to boost her spellcasting skill to Mediocre at the expense of a point of perception. After all these shifts, the GM rules that the difficulty increase by one, so the remaining Good result can only be used to shift her emotions. Magda now has significant fire magic. However, she must avoid being hit or risks losing control of the shifts. Furthermore, the power is burning her up from the inside (through the fever fault). She'll want to use this power quickly to avoid any lasting damage.

Emergency Meditations

Sara got caught in a rock slide and is pinned beneath the rubble. Fortunately, she was trained at an esper monastery. She starts by trying to calm her mind and slow her metabolism. She rolls her mediation skill of Good at -1 due to the pain. Her first few rolls come out Mediocre and only soothe her thoughts slightly. After a few tries, she gets a lucky break and rolls a Great result. She uses this to increase her pain tolerance and remove the -1 penalty. In return, her physical awareness drops from Good to Fair. She uses a later success to buy the ability to enter a state of suspended animation. This drops her physical awareness down to Poor, but increases her chances of survival significantly. She then score a Legendary result. Even with the difficulty increase from previous effects, this is enough to buy the telepathy power. However, she pays for this by becoming temporarily blind and deaf. A final Great result lets her boost here telepathic range while dropping her physical awareness to terrible. She can now survive for some time and project a telepathic distress call. However, she is also nearly comatose while maintaining these effects.