In the world of Shadowrun, magic is a reality. It took people quite a while to accept the reality of the Awakening that brought magic back to the world. In the early days (as described in Awakenings and elsewhere) many people believed that magic was a manifestation of some kind of psychic or psionic ability. It is now known in 2057 that early psionic and parapsychology research merely touched upon the early stirrings of magic in the late 20th Century.
But what if that were not the case? What if instead of psi actually being magic, magic was really psi? Perhaps the Awakening represented a natural mutation or evolutionary step in humankind brought on by the increasing levels of radiation and other mutagens in the environment (2011 saw three or four reactor meltdowns alone). What if the powers of the Awakened are the powers of the Awakened mind?
Powers of the Mind
In the psionic rules for Shadowrun, the Magic attribute is replaced with an attribute called Psi. Psi starts out equal to Essence, rounded down, and is reduced in exactly the same manner as Magic is in the standard Shadowrun rules, by cyberware and injuries. It is a measure of the character’s ability to tap the inner resources of the mind to perform amazing psionic feats. Damage can disrupt the body’s “psychic balance,” making complex psionic feats more difficult and dangerous.
Being a psi requires a B Priority be allocated to the ability during character creation. This grants all of the abilities described below.
Psionic characters have a Mental Pool that is equal to the sum of their Intelligence and Willpower attributes, divided by two, rounded down. Dice from this pool can be added to any psionic feat the character attempts. They also provide the basis for the psi’s Mental Defense (see below).
A psionic who is under attack by hostile psi powers can use their own abilities to attempt to deflect the attack. The psi allocated as many dice as desired from their Mental Pool and rolls them against the Strength of the psionic power being used. Successes on the Mental Defense Test subtract directly from successes gained by the attacker, reducing the effect of the psionic power.
Psychic Senses and Mental Projection
All psionics appear to have a certain sensitivity to other psis and the use of psionic powers. They can use their psychic sense to detect the use of other psi powers and to scan the minds of others to determine if they are psionically gifted or not. The use of psionic senses to scan or analyze a particular subject requires a simple action and imposes a +2 TN penalty on all physical actions carried out by the psi while they are scanning because of the concentration involved.
Psionics are also able to project their minds out of their bodies. Parapsychologists call this an Out of Body Experience (or OOBE, pronounced “oobie”). This mental projection of the psionic’s self is visible only to the psychically sensitive and can travel as the speed of thought, unimpeded by material barriers.
Psionic characters have the potential to develop many different types of psionic powers, similar to the spells used by magicians. These powers are arranged into categories by parapsychologists and others who study and use them. The categories are: ESP, Healing, Psychokinesis and Telepathy.
Each individual psionic power has a Force Rating. This represents how strong the psi’s ability with that power is. Force Ratings are initially purchased from the character’s Resources allocation during character creation, just like spells are for magicians.
Learning and Improving Psionic Powers
During play a Force Rating in a psi ability has a karma cost equal to the rating. Increasing a psi ability has a karma cost equal to the new rating acquired. In order to learn a new psionic ability or improve an existing one, the psionic must engaged in deep meditation in an effort to awaken the abilities of their inner mind. The psi must make a test using Mental Pool dice plus any dice from Parapsychology skill against a Target Number equal to twice the desire Force of the power. The base time to learn the power is the Force in days, divided by the number of successes.
Using Psionic Powers
Using a psionic power is a Complex Action. It requires no movement or gestures on the part of the psi, simply concentration. The psionic must be able to see or touch the subject of the power. The exception is with some ESP and Telepathy powers which have Limited range and are intended to detect unknown targets. In this case, the psi is consider the subject of the power.
Using psi abilities requires a lot of mental energy and can be exhausting to the psionic. Pushing mental powers can be very dangerous, even fatal. Psionics take drain from the use of their powers just like magicians do. Powers with a Force equal to or less than the psionics Psi attribute cause Mental Damage, those with a Force greater than the Psi attribute cause Physical Damage. Severe physical drain can cause cerebral hemorrhages and even death.
Healing abilities mimic most of the Health spells from Shadowrun, especially Heal, Treat, Antidote Toxic, and Increase/Decrease Attribute.
ESP powers mimic various Detection spells, including Clairaudience, Clairvoyance, Foretelling and Combat Sense. Any spells that involve Mind Interaction are actually Telepathy powers.
Telekinetic and some transformation manipulation spells fall under this category, including Levitate, Magic Fingers, Ignite, Poltergeist, Clout, Barrier and Light.
This category includes the Control Manipulations like Control Thoughts, Mob Mind and Influence, all mana Illusion spells and detection spells involving Mind Interaction like Mind Link, Mind Probe and Analyze Truth. It also includes the mana-based combat spells like Manabolt and Sleep.
Other abilities the fit into the four categories above can be designed using the Shadowrun Spell Design system from the Grimoire as a basis.
As psis learn and develop the powers of their mind they learn to tap into deep inner resources that are closed to most people. These psis become increasingly Enlightened as the learn and develop.
Enlightenment is a process similar to Initiation for magicians, where a psionic develops additional power and ability from deep within. Ranks (Grades) of Enlightenment have the same karma cost for psis as for magicians. It is possible for psis to cooperate in groups for the purpose of increasing Enlightenment and they gain the same cost breaks. It is also possible for psis to make use of ordeals to focus their minds on further enlightenment. Out of body experiences (Astral Quests), Meditation and Asceticism are the most commonly used ordeals.
An Enlightened psi learns the advanced techniques of Centering, Cloaking, Neutralization and Psychic Shielding.
Centering works the same as it does for magicians, allowing the psi to clear their mind and focus. Meditation is the most commonly used centering skill for psis. Performance skills are rarely used by them.
Cloaking allows the psionic to conceal their presence from the psychic senses of others. It works like the masking metamagical ability. Depending on how psi and magic interact (see below) psi may or may not be detectable by magicians.
Neutralization allows the psi to disrupt psionic powers being maintained by another psionic. It functions like the Dispelling metamagical talent.
Psychic Shielding is a more powerful form of mental defense. Enlightened psis with shielding and cloaking have almost impenetrable minds. The ability works like the metamagical technique of shielding, providing a +1 TN per Mental Pool die allocated to the Shield in addition to the extra dice.
Psionics do not have analogs of Quickening or Anchoring since their abilities must be sustained actively and cannot be implanted in objects.
Psi and Magic
As can be seen in this article, psi and magic could very easily be considered the same thing with different window-dressing. The differences between the two are all semantics, terminology and point of view. This is the tack taken by Awakenings: psis are just magically gifted individuals who rationalize their abilities in a different way. This means that psi and magic ultimately the same power.
But what if psi and magic were two different things? It is possible that magic relies on the energy of astral space while psi calls solely on the inner resources of the (meta)human mind. If they are two different things, then psi and magic do not directly interact. Spell defense will do nothing to stop a psionic from reading your mind and psychic shielding does not affect a manabolt in the slightest. The physical manifestations of the two powers could still interact, of course. A fire set with pyrokinesis is still just fire and the right elemental spell will extinguish it.
It might or might not be possible for someone to be both a psionic and a magician. Under the first option, there’s really no difference, it’s just a matter of style. In the second case, such a person would be truly exceptional and the object of attention from all sides.
If both psis and magicians co-exist using different sources of power, they would certainly keep each other on their toes and make it doubly difficult to defend against the unique abilities of the Awakened.