Saturday, March 23, 2019

Psychics and Cybernetics for Sci-Fi Into The Odd

There are no classes in Into The Odd. With some newer versions of the rules, there aren't any levels either. Characters get more interesting through experiences, becoming weirder or getting their hands on magic items and wealth they use to fund crazy ideas.

The most obvious way to upgrade a classless and levelless character is to give them better gear. Another is to tie character upgrades to actions they make. That way, a character who's new is in theory the same as one someone's played for dozens of sessions, but the older character will have more and more powerful ways of dealing with things. As it happens, sci-fi has two tropes that fit each of these approaches neatly: psychics and cybernetics.

Robot parts people install to replace or enhance parts of their bodies. As it happens, we already have working ones. In a sci-fi future, however, they're cheaper and more versatile - enough that it's both cost effective and possible at all to upgrade and not just replace.

The main barrier to entry to cybernetics is price. I'm okay with this for two reasons: one, I like the idea of a Warhammer 40K-style setting where the rich and powerful are loaded to the brim with custom cybernetics, and two, wealthy characters are going to be more powerful than poor ones by definition. If the players ever get lost in what they want to do, having them be rewarded for making money ensures they always have that as a goal they can fall back on.

Most cybernetics should cost 5G. This puts them at about the same price range as ship upgrades, so the party has to choose between one upgrade for their ship or two for two members of the crew. Since part of the cost is paying for installation I would let cybernetically-inclined characters make a friend out of a cyberdoctor or install a cybernetic installation room on their ship for a discount of 1G per cybernetic, making them cost 4G. I'd say that's how much it costs for just the cybernetic, if that becomes relevant.

The main drawback for cybernetics is that they cause a character to become more and more distant from reality. This isn't entirely realistic, but more machine = less human is a fairly common sci-fi trope. For each cybernetic a character installs, they lower their CHA by 1, permanently. Uninstalling a cybernetic is costly and leaves the character worse off than before they installed it (I'd say 10G and some injury or stat loss from the removal), but does increase their CHA by 1 to heal the previous loss of humanity.


Airtank: Provides internal air for an hour. You can survive 5 minutes with air in vacuum.

Atmosfilter: Filters toxic air, including inhaled poisons, smoke, and tainted air.

Autodoc: Instantly stabilizes Critical Damage, once. Requires a Medical Kit to recharge.

Cyberears: Greatly enhances hearing sensitivity, clarity, and range.

Cybereyes: Magnifies and clarifies vision and provides fuzzy nightvision.

Cyberlimb: No stronger than an organic limb, but far more durable and free of pain.

Cyberarm - Vladislav Ociacia

Cybervoice: Perfect voice control, near-perfect mimicry, and higher decibel limit.

Headjack: Direct neural interface with computers, required to use most heavy vehicles.

Holdout Cavity: Hides a pistol-size object from almost all inspections and scanners.

Hyperadrenal Gland: Make an instant, free action when you take STR damage while at full STR.

Immunofilter: Filters almost all poisons and diseases, regardless of their source.

Internal Comms: In-brain radio that allows silent transmission/reception of information.

Melee Implant: Retractable melee weapon, from claws to knives to whips. (D6).

Plating: Subdermal armour placed over crucial organs, granting +1 Armour.

Psi-Boost: Enhances psionic ability, granting an extra use per day.

Psi-Crown: Subdermal shield blocks all but the strongest direct psionic effects.

Ranged Implant: Retractable ranged weapon, typically a pistol. (D6).

Synthnerves: Improve reflexes, granting first action whenever order is in question.

Mechadendrite: A single metal limb, of impressive strength and reach and flexibility.

Tech-Priest - by Mike Smith

While psychic powers are distinct from magic, psychics do largely serve the role of a "caster" in sci-fi settings. The plus side about Into The Odd is that any psychic rules are going to be placed on top of the core rules, and not made an inherent part of the game - so it's very, very easy to just say "there are no psychics in my game" and leave it at that.

Balancing magic has always been hard in classless RPGs. You don't want everyone to be a caster (not always, at least), but the balancing act nearly every class-based game does is to simply give the magic-user nothing extra except for their magic, or even penalize them. (I.E. B/X D&D giving them the smallest hit die size.)

But that gives me an idea - why not make learning new powers penalize the character? They don't get strictly better, just weirder, and not every player and character will find the costs worth the rewards.

There are ways to learn psychic powers on your own but they are long, arduous, risky, and unlikely to work. Once someone has learned a power on their own, almost all who come after them will be taught it by them or someone they taught. Learning a power requires a teacher who knows it and a few months of education. Not everyone can learn powers and not everyone who can learns them at the same rate, but for simplicity's sake all PCs can. (They are protagonists, after all.) Getting such an education is easier said than done, requiring either costly tuition fees or convincing a master you're worth teaching.

If the time spent is relevant, have the training PC make a CHA save at the end of each month. Once they pass two saves, they've learned the power they were being taught. Otherwise, assume it takes about three months.

Each time you learn a power you must roll a D6 on the Psychic Drawback Table. If you roll a drawback you already have, gain the next one down the list instead, wrapping back to number 1 if you already have number 6. PCs can never learn more than 6 psychic powers - any NPCs who do are either savants or masters with decades of training. If you roll number 6 as your first drawback, take number 1 instead.

Psychic Drawback Table
1 You can no longer gain Armour points from any source.
2 Your ranged attacks are all Impaired.
3 You no longer enjoy luxuries and only recover CHA damage after a Long Rest.
4 Your STR score is cut in half, permanently.
5 You require an open hand and subtle motions with it to use any of your powers.
6 You gain an extra use of your powers/day, but can never use the power you were taught.

You can use your powers as many times per day as you have powers. "Per day" means between restful sleeps. You can use any combination of them. If you know four powers you could use one of them four times, or each of them one time.

Psychic powers should always work unless the player is really pushing the limit with how they're using them. Some characters are immune to direct psychic effects, such as those wearing Psi-Crowns - if a psychic wears a Psi-Crown, they can't use any of their powers.

The powers below don't have to be the only psychic powers out there, but they're more than enough for a full campaign. Most psychics willing to teach powers will know three or four.

1 Telekinesis
You can move things with your mind, usually up to the weight of a human. You can move many lighter things, or weakly move a heavier thing. You don't have complex control.

2 Telepathy
You can read the emotions of others and probe their thoughts with extended contact. You can also sense the presence of creatures near you.

Reading emotions is subtle. Probing minds is anything but.

3 Empathy
You can alter the emotions of others and even force them to obey brief commands. You cannot use this to make a creature do or feel something they would never do or feel.

4 Clairvoyance
You can sense the presence and locations of things and creatures known to you. This allows you to track nearly anything, nearly anywhere, as it has no known range limit.

5 Biokinesis
You can perform a single feat of superhuman skill, like jumping great distances, lifting heavy objects, or deflecting incoming ranged attacks.

6 Healing
You can transfer your health to another creature, giving them your HP or STR one for one to heal them. You can also cure someone of an illness, injury, or poison by suffering it yourself.

7 Teleportation
You can transport yourself or a willing companion to a location you can see. This travel is instantaneous and without range limit.

8 Pyrokinesis
You can start a fire on an object or creature you can see. You can also control existing fires, putting them out or moving them around.

9 Precognition
You can see glimpses of the future before you make a choice. If opening a door would lead to combat, you would see glimpses of combat, but not of what with.

10 Psychometry
You can touch an object to see glimpses of its past. The most important events in its history – such as murders committed with it – are shown to you in murky visions.

11 Synaesthesia
You can create false images that creatures perceive as real, but don't fool machines. Such illusions can also be used to hide things so long as they remain still and silent.

12 Harming
You can deal D8 AP damage to a creature you can see, ignoring armour and without a range limit. This damage causes heads to explode if it kills.

  • Cost 5G, 4 if you get them installed for free.
  • Reduce your CHA by 1 each time they're installed.
  • Easy to install, hard to remove.

  • Learn up to six psychic powers from teachers.
  • Suffer a drawback for each power learned.
  • Can use them as many times per day as you have powers.

I'm working on a sci-fi supplement for Into The Odd. I've never been great at getting work done, but as slow as it's going I've been working on it far longer than most other projects I try to commit to. Aside from the stuff above, I'm currently writing a table of perks/drawbacks to randomly generate alien PCs, and a big table of Bastionland-style backgrounds.

Here are three, two based on the Cybernetics and Psychic rules from above and another based on the marines from Aliens. You roll a D6 for your starting HP and credits, and depending on what you roll you get different items/quirks.

Enthusiast is an understatement.
You won't be satisfied until you're more metal than flesh.

SPECIAL: You gain D6 HP the first two times you install cybernetics, not from taking damage.
You Get: Smartgun (D4, D8 if linked to your brain with a Headjack), -1 CHA
Names: Chip, Ronaldo, Tsumi, Chromeboy

1hp Hyperadrenal Gland: When you take STR damage while at full STR, you immediately take         an action for free.
2hp Internal Psi-Crown: You cannot be directly targeted by psychic powers.
3hp Cybereyes: You can see much further and clearer, and with fuzzy vision in the dark.
4hp Holdout Cavity: You have a hollow box in your stomach that can hide an object no larger             than a pistol. Only the most invasive scans and investigations find it.
5hp Headjack: Lets you link with computers. Necessary to pilot many forms of heavy machinery         and strictly necessary for piloting mechs.
6hp Cyberarm: No stronger than a "real" arm, but very durable and tireless.

1c  You want full control over what your body is like.
2c  You think of it as the best way to improve yourself and in turn your life.
3c  You always wanted to be a cyborg instead of an organic creature.
4c  You belong to a religion that commands its followers to "upgrade" themselves.
5c  You have minor but constant pain all across your body. Only cybernetics stop it.
6c  You have a single goal you religiously pursue, and cybernetics are part of the plan.

You were taught the ancient and mystic arts of psionicism.
With your master(s) dead, you walk your own path.

SPECIAL: You start with one psychic power and one psychic drawback.
You Get: Staff (D6, Bulky), Psychedelic Drugs
Name: Wei, Durran, Angie, Teth

1hp Precognition: Start with a Deck of Cards.
2hp Telepathy: Start with Rope.
3hp Teleportation: Start with a Gravchute.
4hp Pyrokinesis: Start with a Fire Extinguisher.
5hp Telekinesis: Start with Juggling Clubs.
6hp Healing: Start with a Medical Kit.

1c  You can no longer gain Armour points from any source.
2c  You ranged attacks are all Impaired.
3c  You no longer enjoy luxuries and only recover CHA after a Long Rest.
4c  Your STR score is cut in half, permanently.
5c  You require an open hand and subtle motions with it to use any of your powers.
6c  You can no longer gain Armour points from any source.

You were sent to distant colonies to put down alien infestations and plucky rebels alike.
Now that you're discharged, you have trouble staying frosty.

You Get: Assault Rifle (D8, Bulky), Military Armour (1 Armour)
Sample Names: Anderson, Banerjee, Wong, Silva

1hp Flamer: Start with a Flamethrower (D6, Bulky, Blast).
2hp Gunner: Start with an LMG (D10, Bulky, must be set up before use).
3hp Sniper: Start with Binoculars and a Sniper Rifle (D6, Bulky, very long range).
4hp Grunt: Start with a Grenade (D8, Blast).
5hp Medic: Start with a Medical Kit.
6hp Officer: Start with a Cool Hat and a Sabre (D6).

1c  Bertram's Rest: Uneventful and relatively bloodless. You're not sure why it haunts you.
2c  Thalidae Drop: Your pod got hit on the way down. It's a miracle you survived.
3c  Covan-2a: The enemy was violent, unrelenting, and looked exactly like children.
4c  Alesia-4: It wasn't until after you landed that the civilian presence became known.
5c  Solo Nobre: The Company owns your homeworld now. They paid you well for your aid.
6c  Tannhauser Gate: You were in your lifepod for weeks. You thought they forgot you.

1 comment:

  1. This is awesome! If you ever decide to release a PDF I'd pay for it.