All right, so, I've been developing different types of Magic for my flintlock fantasy setting, and I've really wanted to do some sort of Psychic Magic. The issue is making it different from the type of Magic I already have. I could use some feedback on what I'm considering, but I obviously need to establish how Arcane Magic works first so there's no confusion so you guys can give me the feedback I need. First, though, I will point out that one can learn both Arcane and Psionic Magic, but because of how different these work, one will not be able to attain a full mastery of either if one studies both. There are people who have combined the two in some interesting ways, but not in very potent ways, in other words.
With Arcane Magic, Spells are powered using Aethyr, a strange energy that originates in another Plane of the Multiverse called The Source. Aethyr seeps over into the other Planes via a sort of cosmic osmosis, especially in areas around Laylines, though not exclusively through them. Mages absorb Aethyr into their bodies as they sleep and use it to power their Spells. Aethyr can also be stored in gemstones, Elixirs, and other external "batteries." One can tap directly into The Source to get more Aethyr, but this is extremely dangerous, as it's like trying to skim electricity off the surface of a lightning bolt. If you are not very careful and very precise, you'll get way more energy than you can handle and suffer a very horrible and likely very flashy fate. Thus, Mages tend to rely on storing extra Aethyr in gemstones or drinking Elixirs to replenish their own reservoir when they run out of the stuff, only tapping into The Source in the most dire of circumstances.
Arcane Magic, or Thaumaturgy, can perform other fetes which are very wizardly in nature. We're talking fireballs, lightning, flying, conjuring up a temporary rope to use for a few minutes, etc. You can't turn someone into a bunny with Thaumaturgy, however, so it's got its limitations. Thamaturgy is a very "scientific" style of Magic, basically. It can only bend the laws of physics so far. You can do things that aren't otherwise possible, but you're restricted by your knowledge and willpower, the quality of the Focus you're channeling the Aethyr through to help keep it stable, and the amount of Aethyr you have at your disposal. Arcane Magic is very common in my setting, as it is going through a sort of industrial revolution, with mass production of low-level magical devices becoming the norm. Nearly everyone has a device called a Spark Stick, for example, which is a small device about the size and shape of a match which generates a spark. People use these to light candles, ignite kindling in a fireplace, or light their pipes and cigars. This is how much Arcane Magic has become integrated into everyday life in much of my setting.
Psionics, on the other hand, are much less commonly understood. There is some similarity between Psionic Magic and Arcane Magic, but they are very, very different in other ways. While nearly everyone can do a simple form of Psionics in the use of Telepathy, most people assume this is Arcane Magic and have a very limited ability to use it.
My current idea is that, like Thaumaturgy, Psionics uses a strange energy from another Plane of the Multiverse, but they differ from The Source and Aethyr in both form and (for the most part) function. For now, the Plane connected to Psionics will be called the Psionic Plane, but I'm open to (and desperate for) suggestions for alternative names. The same applies to the energy, which we'll call Psi for the time being. Not very original, I know, but if I had this all figured out, I wouldn't be asking you guys for help, would I?
Psi energy only manifests on other Planes when it is being used to affect them in some way. Unlike Aethyr, a Psion (someone proficient with Psionics) doesn't store Psi in his body, nor does he store it in gemstones or things like Elixirs. Instead, a Psion taps into the power of the Psionic Plane when he uses his abilities. He can move Psi to the Plane he's on and use it to accomplish certain fetes, but the energy vanishes after it is used. Also, if the Psion loses his connection to the Psionic Plane for some reason, he is left completely powerless. So, while he doesn't have to worry about running out of juice the way a Mage does or about the Psi going out of control and backfiring on him, a Psion does have to worry about being cut off from his power source.
Also, despite the Psion having a seemingly limitless amount of power at his disposal, using Psi is still physically taxing on both the mind and body of the Psion, so Psionics aren't something you can use indefinitely. The more you do, the more stamina you expend and the less precise your mental focus becomes. A Psion who's been using his abilities for a while is going to be sweating, out of breath, and usually only able to execute his most basic techniques. Psi energy may be safer to use than Aethyr, but you can't use it if you're fatigued and low on calories to burn. (Psions tend to have big appetites but run a bit on the thin side for this reason.)
This is why the most proficient Psions are usually also way more physically fit than Mages are. They have to build up their stamina in order to use their abilities at higher levels and a longer duration. Psionics may be much more "mental" than Arcane Magic, but it's also more closely linked to the body than Arcane Magic is. Both require exertion, and both will cost calories, but Psionics tends to push the body further than Thaumaturgy does. To put it another way, a Mage and a Psion can both make an object levitate with their powers, but the Mage won't burn as much stamina doing it as the Psion will. However, the Mage can't do some of the things a Psion can, and he's screwed if he runs out of Aethyr, so he doesn't have a complete advantage over the Psion.
With Telepathy, the most basic Psionic ability which everyone theoretically can use, one is actually sending out a sort of tendril through the Psionic Plane. This tendril is made of Psi and connects to another person's mind, establishing a link to it. One can then communicate through that link as long as one wants, provided the Psionic tether remains intact. The main limitation is in terms of range. The Psionic Plane has the same dimensions as the Cosmic Plane, the primary physical Plane where most sapient life resides. Thus, your distance from another person on the Cosmic Plane is the same on the Psionic Plane. This means the telepathic tendril your brain sends out to that person is going to be the same length as the shortest distance between you and that person on the Plane you physically occupy. The longer the tether, the harder it becomes to establish the link, especially if you don't know where the other person is and have to feel around for them first. (Some people learn how to send out a telepathic "ping," like a radar pulse, that will help them locate the mind they seek, but such pings can be detected by third parties, so this is risky.)
Once the link is made, you're good and can talk telepathically without much exertion at all, however, the longer the tendril is, the harder it can be for people to establish the link. This is why the vast majority of people can't use Telepathy over a great distance. Many have extremely limited ranges of only a mile at the very most, and some can barely manage anything more than a few city blocks without starting to really strain themselves. Further, unless you have already established a previous connection with someone at close range or have a good understanding of who that person is, locating them telepathically without knowing where they are in relation to you is very difficult. Two strangers in separate places are usually unable to reach each other with Telepathy. The only way you can really contact someone whose mind and location you do not know is by sending out a "ping" that isn't targeted toward a specific individual. This is the equivalent of shouting out loud, however, so everyone in range of the "ping" is going to "hear" you. While this can be an effective way to call for help, it does let any enemies present know you're doing so, which is a problem if you need to be discrete. Such a "ping" will let others narrow down your location, though, which means they can send a mental tendril to you to establish the link.
While most Telepathy only involves spoken communication, where the words are relayed through the Psi tether, it can be used in other ways. Two or more people can use Telepathy to create a "Dreamscape" that exists only in their minds. As the name suggests, a Dreamscape is a place that lets those in it interact in a mental environment as though they were physically present. The appearance you take in a Dreamscape can be controlled to some extent, but most of the time, you just appear as your physical form does at that moment. This is because your physical form gives off a certain resonance on the Psionic Plane which is carried over into the Dreamscape. Your dream body is an "echo" of sorts, so changing its appearance and properties requires effort that most don't care to make unless it's necessary. (And, yes, this means your clothes or lack of them appear on your dream form, so it's important to take your current wardrobe into account before creating a Dreamscape with other people.)
Dreamscapes usually shape themselves based on the environments of those who generate them. Thus, they will be a blend of multiple locations. Some people, especially Psions, learn to make a specific Dreamscape in advance of a telepathic meeting and call it up when they need it. I should note that letting a Dreamscape shape itself requires no effort, but designing it does. Thus, sustaining a customized Dreamscape can strain even an experienced Psion if he does it for too long. Regardless, a Dreamscape functions much like a lucid dream, so all parties present in it can shape it as they like. This makes Dreamscapes rather useful for working on the design of a home or location several people are working on together, though the imaginations of those involved does determine just how much they can do in the Dreamscape.
In "physical" terms, a Dreamscape exists as a bubble on the Psionic Plane, with tendrils linking it to the parties creating it. If one could see the Dreamscape, it would just be a white blob, not a reflection of what it looks like on the "inside." The size of the blob would be determined by how many minds are connected to it. A two-person Dreamscape would probably be the size of a beach ball at most, for example, while a dozen minds would make a Dreamscape the size of a house. A strong enough Psion can detect the presence of a Dreamscape and infiltrate it, but this is difficult and puts him at risk of being attacked by all the other minds present in the mental space. Once all minds have disconnected from the Dreamspace, it ceases to exist on the Psionic Plane.
I think this covers all the relevant aspects of Telepathy and helps to give you a good idea of the basic concepts of Psionics, at least in terms of mental techniques. Let's get into more specifics, now. Psionics can be used to look into other people's minds, but not without them feeling it happen. A Psion can sense emotions without being detected, as emotions give off a sort of resonance in the Psionic Plane centered around each person. This is how Empathic Psions work, in fact. They can pick up what others are feeling if they are within a certain proximity to them. However, probing thoughts requires one of those Psi tendrils to run between the Psion's mind to the mind of the person whose thoughts he want to read. With Telepathy, you only transmit what you choose to transmit, with a little bit of emotion bleeding into the signal. With mind reading, however, you're forcing your way into someone else's private thoughts, which they can feel happening and can resist. Further, the connection can work both ways, so while the Psion looks into your mind, you can look into his and even overpower it, if your willpower is stronger than his.
This is why most experienced Psions actually only use mind reading as a very last resort, and only if they feel certain they can stay in control of the connection. It's just too risky to probe into another person's mind. Novice Psions, conversely, often overestimate their abilities and underestimate the willpower of Non-Psions, usually with disastrous results. There have been more than a few instances where a rookie Psion tried to read someone's mind only to have that person use the link to invade his own mind and dominate it through sheer force of will. The point is, mind reading is not to be undertaken lightly.
A Psion is able to tap into someone's memories as well as their thoughts, but not without the person being aware of it. Plus, the Psion will be experiencing those memories as though they were his own, so if the memories are particularly horrible... Well, you get the idea. Some Psions do work as interrogators, but there are usually laws in place regarding the use of Psionics for law enforcement. Usually, a suspect must volunteer to have his memories examined before it can be done or the suspect must be in possession of information that is of great urgency. Even then, some courts do not admit Psionic probes as evidence.
Psi energy can be used in other ways that affect the mind. A Psion can hit another person's mind with a suggestion of some kind, though only a very simple one, like "look over there" or "you could really go for a beer right now." These compulsions can be resisted, especially if the target realizes it isn't their own mind producing them, so the shorter and more direct they are, the more likely they are to work. A Psion can also mess with other people's emotions to some extent. Making a target panic is one example, as is nudging someone into being more favorably disposed to you. However, because this requires that mental link to be formed, people can always come to realize what's going on, so caution must be exercised. Some people might actually want a Psion to mess with their emotions. In battle, a Psion can keep troops from panicking, give soldiers better focus and clarity of mind as they fight, or boost moral so forces can rally and turn the tide of battle in their favor. I'm thinking that some Psions use music as a medium for these abilities, which means that Bards in my setting are actually a type of Psion, not Arcane Magic users.
Next, a Psion can affect people's perception of their surroundings to a certain extent. A Psion may make a target fail to noticed that he's there even while standing in plain sight, make the target think the person they see is somebody else, or cause a target to forget he saw someone after the person has left their field of vision. (This is done by influencing the short-term memory.) Additionally, a Psion can create illusions of things in a target's mind. This can take the form of making a door appear closed when it is open, concealing an object that is present, or other hallucinations that exist only in the perception of the target. The more simple these are, the more effective they tend to be. A complicated hallucination is going to require more effort and is more likely to be recognized as false, especially if it requires more than one of the senses to be affected at the same time. Further, some people are just more resistant to such misleading Psionic influences than others.
Additionally, a Psion can make someone feel pain when they aren't physically being hurt or suppress pain when they really are. (This is why some Psions work in hospitals, actually. Anesthesia hasn't been developed in my setting, so Psions can switch of the pain centers of a patient's brain while an operation is being performed.) Some Psions prefer to cause more distracting sensations to targets than agonizing ones. This can take the form of itching or tickling feelings that interfere with the target's ability to move or think clearly. Alternatively, a Psion can make a sensation that is already present far more potent than it really is. A paper cut can end up feeling like the most horrible pain a target has experienced. A mild case of indigestion will seem to be appendicitis. The point is that Psions can tamper with senses in a way that leaves a target vulnerable to attacks from allies.
In addition to these things, a Psion can use a mental tether to take control of people's bodies to some extent. A Psion cannot manipulate the automatic nervous system, however, at least not the the point of making someone's heart stop beating. At most, he can stimulate certain reflex actions, like coughing, sneezing, and vomiting, but little beyond this without leaving himself vulnerable to a counterattack from the target. However, a Psion can temporarily paralyze you, take control of one or more limbs, and cause you to lose one or more senses for a limited duration. As always, this can be resisted and leaves the Psion's mind and body exposed, so most of the time, a Psion will only briefly connect to another mind, trigger a coughing fit, make a limb go numb, or render the person blind for the next minute, then sever the connection. If the link lasts too long, the target can tap into it and use it against the Psion.
There are some situations where a Psion can take over a target's body entirely, but this has serious risks. For one, while the Psion is controlling the target's body, the target can take control of the Psion's body unless some steps have been taken to prevent this. Most Psions who use this technique will have their own body restrained first or put it to sleep before they start manipulating the target's body. While doing this, the Psion feels as though he is in the target's body. All the target's senses are his own, meaning he feels all the pain they experience. Further, while he can control the target's body, he doesn't have access to the person's memories, knowledge, or techniques. Thus, if the target is a kung fu master, all the Psion can access is the raw strength of the body, not the fighting moves the target has trained to perform. Some reflexes may kick in on their own, but usually only as the Psion is losing control of the body, not while he's at his most influential.
This is why most Psions actually never bother learning mental puppetry. It's too difficult to manage and way to risky. There's also the fact that a third party can sever the connection by knocking the target unconscious or inflicting sufficient pain that the Psion simply terminates the link. Additionally, a target can still regain control if his or her will is strong enough. It's also not difficult to tell when someone is being controlled by mental puppetry. The eyes of the target sometimes glow, for one thing, and unless the Psion knows how to imitate the mannerisms of the target, it won't be long before people realize something is amiss, even if the eyes aren't glowing noticeably.
This covers all the mental ways Psioncs are used. There are, however, some physical applications. Like Aethyr, Psi energy can affect a physical object. While Thaumaturgy does feature Telekinesis, Psionics has Psychokinesis. These terms are used to differentiate which method is being used to achieve the same thing. Also, Thaumaturgy has Pyromancy while Psionics has Pyrokinesis. Kinetic abilities are the main area where Thaumaturgy and Psionics overlap. The main way they differ here is that Aethyr can be used to conjure up the material being manipulated, such as flames in the case of Pyromancy, while Pyrokinesis cannot. A Pyrokinetic Psion must have a source of fire to manipulate in order to use the technique. This can be achieved by using Psionics to ignite something, mind you, but if there's nothing flammable to set alight, Pyrokinesis won't be attainable. Thus, Psions who specialize in Pyrokinesis are usually going to have something they can use to get at least a small flame going in case they need a source of fire.
Another physical application of Psionics is with Projections. A Projection is a semi-corporeal object or body composed of Psi. In the case of object Projections, a Psion can produce a ghostly imitation of a weapon or tool that behaves in an identical manner. Some Psions create Psi Armor to protect them. Psi Objects usually need to be kept simple in order to use them for anything longer than a minute at a time, however, so something like a pocket watch with all its moving parts is not going to be possible to produce for a few second at most. Psi Objects are as durable as the will of the Psion making them, but sufficient force will break just about every Projection eventually, so they're not invulnerable even if made by a very powerful Psion.
Bodily Projections follow the same principles, but are more elaborate in composition. These Projections look like a ghostly version of the Psion or a creature the Psion has studied and serves as a puppet for the Psion to control. Projections of this type always have a thread the feeds back to the Psion's body, usually to the forehead or one of the hands. The Projection has the same senses that the Psion would have, so from the perspective of the Psion, he is the Projection. He loses all the senses from his own body while using a Projection, and cannot move his body at all, other than standing or sitting in place, so he is quite vulnerable. The Projection can interact with objects the way a physical body would but doesn't take damage the same way. Thus, running a Projection through with a sword won't kill it, though the Psion will still feel as though he's been struck by the blow. The more hits a Projection takes, the more taxed the Psion becomes. If the Projection is destroyed before the Psion terminates the like, he'll be getting a massive headache or migraine. Some Psions are able to have multiple Projections at the same time, but this takes incredible effort and often requires that the Psion focus almost all his training on making Projections.
Due to the requirements of controlling such Projections, there's usually a limit into how far away they can sent out from the Psion making them. For this reason, some Psions prefer to create a Projection which is a giant version of themselves, forming it around their body and moving with it. While this takes great willpower to keep up for an extended period, Psions who have mastered this technique can be a nightmare to face in battle. For one, the size of the Projection makes it formidable, for another, hurting the Projection doesn't actually damage the Psion. Further, the Psion is kept safe inside the Projection, so only the most powerful of attacks will be able to reach him there. Most Projections of this kind are a replica of the Psion using it, but some Psions will put themselves a Projection shaped like an animal large enough to hold them. This requires them to have studied the creature carefully beforehand, of course, so there's a lot of preparation that goes into such techniques. A few Psions will make object-shaped Projections around themselves, like a ball of spikes that rolls over enemies. However, in all cases, it takes tremendous effort to pull this off, so the technique is generally kept in reserve as a trump card.
Next, there's the more mystical, kung fu aspect of Psionics. We're talking Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon kinds of stuff, here. Psions can use Psi to enhance their strength, leap great distances, heighten their reflexes, and slow their falls. Some are able to envelope a fist or foot with Psi Armor to punch through materials that would normally leave them with a broken limb if struck. The kinds of Psions, called "Phrenics," are usually masters of martial arts as well as Psionic techniques, melding the two seamlessly together into a truly formidable style of fighting. However, Phrenic Psions are usually not very adept in other varieties of Psionic techniques due to the rigorous training required to attain their abilities. While it's true that all Psions have to keep themselves in good shape, and most have some martial training, few incorporate Psionics into physical combat, preferring to use Psionics as ranged attacks and physical techniques for close-quarters fighting.
To wrap this up, while Psi cannot be stored in gemstones the way Aethyr can, there are physical materials which respond to Psi in different ways. Psionic crystals can amplify Psionic abilities to various extents, and Psionic metals can give a Psion more focus with his techniques. These reduce the amount of exertion required to use Psionic powers or boost the potency of their techniques by a certain amount, so most Psions will have them in their possession. Alternatively, some materials inhibit or even block Psi energy from passing through them. These substances are often used to block Telepathy, prevent a mind from being probed by a Psion, or restrain a Psion from using his powers.
The two most commonly encountered Psionic devices are Psi Rings, which are either a thin circlet or a ring worn on the finger, and Anti-Psi Rings, which take the same forms. A Psi Ring lets one use Telepathy with anyone who also has a Psi Ring to which you've already made a connection. You have to be on the same Plane as the other person, and there are limits to how far apart you can be on the same Plane, but the Psi Rings let you instantly connect with the other person without having to exert yourself trying to locate their mind. Further, Psi Rings can be "encrypted" so the link is immune to Psionic eavesdroppers. An Anti-Psi Ring is obviously the reverse of this, preventing Psionic tethers from connecting to your mind. There are devices which can function as both, however. These Psionic devices have two modes, one which enhances Telepathy, and one which blocks it. None can do both things simultaneously, however, and there's a limit to the duration which either mode can last.
So, there's my current ideas for how Psionics work in my setting. What I need you guys to do is tell me what you think and help me refine it more. Are there things I'm overlooking? Are Psionics too similar to Arcane Magic? I do know that I don't want Psionics to be something that's purely mental power, which is why I have Psi energy and the Psionic Plane, so it's not something that should be solely generated by the Psion, but is there a different way you think Psi power could be obtained? What are some other applications you think Psionics could have in a setting that's based off the 18th century? While Psi Rings are not impossible to come by, do you think they should be as commonplace as a Spark Stick? If you think Psi Rings are that common, do you think the quality of the Psi Ring is what's limited? That is, does a cheap Psi Ring have a very small number of other Psi Rings to which it can connect? Finally, what would an Anti-Psion look like? Would he just be a Psion who specializes in countering other Psionic abilities, or would he be something else entirely?
I look forward to whatever feedback you guys can offer. Thanks, and God bless you in your creative endeavors!
Author of speculative fiction, husband of a viking queen, and a generally quirky guy. Inspire me with your art!
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