August 22, 2013
Your Mind Is Mine For The Taking
Whenever I want to make my players cringe when facing off against a new foe, there is only a single word I have to utter: psychic. In games like the Marvel Universe Role-playing Game, Anima: Beyond Fantasy, Rifts, and many others, psychics are people who possess uncanny powers that stem from their minds. Similar to magic in many ways, but usually more subtle and open-ended on what it can be used for. Psychic abilities take many forms. There is pyrokinesis and cryokinesis, which is control over heat and cold, respectively. There is telemetry, which allows someone to glean knowledge from objects and places regarding events that have already happened. Telekinesis is always a fun power, the ability to manipulate the physical world with nothing but the power of your mind. I could go on and on, but these are not what give my players nightmares. No, the power they fear more than any other, what they are really thinking when I say the word “psychic,” is telepathy.
If you are a fan of comic books, and the X-Men series in particular, you are likely very familiar with telepathy, the ability to read minds, project your own thoughts into the minds of others (mental communication), and, of course, mind control. Telepathy is often subtle, invisible to the naked eye, but its effects are incredible. With it, you can know what your opponent is thinking, assault them with mental attacks, or just take over their bodies, turning one of the player characters against the others.
The fear that these abilities instill in players is fantastic for an evil Gamemaster like myself, but using it in game can be very difficult. Mind control is especially worth mentioning, because how you handle a mind-controlled player at the game table will determine how much of a threat such a power is. Do you allow that player to keep playing their character, telling them to attack their allies? If so, there is a risk that the player will hold back, not truly wanting to hurt the other characters. So then do you wrest control of the character from the player? Then the player is just sitting the fight out, likely frustrated and not having any fun.
So how then do you handle this? Well, a friend and fellow Gamemaster of mine came up with a really intuitive method of handling this scenario; when a player gets mind-controlled, he looked at that player and told him “go ahead and play your character as you normally would, only as though you were a bad-guy. If I think you are holding back, then everyone will get less experience at the end of the game.” And that was that. Mind control was suddenly even more terrifying than it was before, as now it not only means that a friend has become a foe, but it also means if your friend does not give it their all to try to beat you, then everyone loses out on the rewards at the end of the game. Add this to the complication of players not trying to kill the mind-controlled character because they know that their actions are not their own, and you have an exciting encounter each and every time.
Like all enemy types, psychics, and telepaths in particular, are not an every-fight sort of bad-guy. They are a “sometimes foe.” Use them too often and players will either grow tired of them for find in-game ways to completely nullify their abilities. Use them sparingly, and you will get some great mileage out of their worth as enemies.
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