This article originally appeared in Pyramid #15



The questions below are all about the Telepathic psi skill Telecontrol, which allows a psi to "possess" another person and take control of that person's actions. To answer such questions, it is important to first understand exactly what kind of hold the controlling psi has on the victim. Basically, the controlling psi has a degree of control over the target that is equivalent to being able to give a verbal order to the victim and being guaranteed that the victim will follow that order, except that the order is given telepathically and not verbally. Telecontrol is not just physical body control (since the psi can also order the victim to use psi skills), nor is it the transferral of the psi's consciousness to the victim's body (since the psi is awake, in control of his body and able to do other things). Thanks to Chadd VanZanten for the questions:

When a psi (call him Ray) has a person under Telecontrol (call him Steve), does Ray have all of Steve's skills at his disposal? The Basic Set says Ray gets Steve's psi skills if there are any, so what about regular skills like combat skills, etc.?

Ray can essentially order Steve to use any skill or ability that he knows about, and can compel Steve to undertake any task. If Ray orders Steve to shoot his gun, Steve will, and if Steve has a Guns skill, he uses that to resolve the attack. Ray can also order Steve to just do something physical, but if Ray does not have a very good idea of what skills Steve possesses, he may be surprised by how Steve carries out the orders!

Second, can Ray use his own skills through Steve? Example, Ray wants to set a bomb using Steve under Telecontrol. Steve doesn't know Demolitions, Ray does. Let's say Ray can use his own skills through skills - doesn't that mean that Ray's skills would be based on Steve's attributes, at least the physical skills?

Ray can order Steve to carry out precise physical actions with his hands and (if the initial Telereceive roll was made by 5 or more) get feedback on these activities using Steve's senses. In this case, it will be Ray's skill level that is used to resolve the task. This is clumsy, however, and all such skill use is at the usual -4, or at -10 (as if blind) if Ray is working without full sensory feedback from Steve. Moreover, physical skills will use the lower of Ray's or Steve's DX, since if Steve is less dexterous, Ray will be at a disadvantage for sure, but if Steve is more agile and does not know the skill, he still cannot carry out the task at a basic skill level that is better than Ray's.

Obviously, if Ray has sufficiently good Telereceive contact that he can perceive what Steve is perceiving (i.e., the Telereceive roll was made by 5 or more), he can apply his own mental skills to any problem that Steve is faced with and then order an appropriate response. For example, if Steve has to talk his way past a guard, Ray can use his own Fast-Talk skill to cook up a story and then order Steve to tell that to the guard. In the case of social skills, it will be Steve's Appearance or Voice that matters, but Ray's Charisma. Alternatively, Ray could just order Steve to use his own mental skills ("Deal with the guard."), but he has no way of knowing what skills Steve has or what means Steve will use to carry out the task (Steve might just shoot the guard!). In this case, it pays to word the orders carefully.

Next, the Basic psi rules say that the Ray doesn't have access to Steve's memory while Steve is under Ray's telecontrol, and yet Telecontrol is established via Telereceive. Does this mean that once Telecontrol is established, Steve's mind just goes completely blank, being temporarily supplanted with Ray's thoughts?

What this means is that Telecontrol does not substitute for a good Telereceive roll (one that was made by 9+, for example). If the initial Telereceive roll was good enough, Ray will still be able to access Steve's sensory input and short-term memory, but Telecontrol does not let Ray order Steve to "upload" all of his memories and thoughts to him, thus eliminating the need to ever make Telereceive by more than the minimum required for Telecontrol (by 0 to 2). This also implies (as was stated earlier) that Ray has no idea of what skills and abilities Steve possesses beyond what he has heard of or observed himself, unless he has already made a very good Telereceive roll (by 13+) and has access to Steve's long-term memory.

Next. Ray is Telecontrolling Steve and now Ray wants to get up and move around. The Basic rules say that Ray needs to make another skill roll (with a penalty) every minute when doing something besides concentrating. Would it be fair to make Ray roll the skill roll (with penalty) right then? Like right when he starts moving around. Also, what if Ray starts moving around while he has Steve under Telecontrol, and then Ray decides he want to start talking, too. Another penalized skill roll every minute?

The key point here is that Telecontrol is an active ability. To exert Telecontrol, Ray must continuously suppress Steve's resistance to his orders and exert an active controlling influence on Steve's mind. If Ray lets up for even a second, Steve will suddenly realize that he is being controlled. So Ray has a lot on his mind (no pun intended) and thus will be distracted if he tries to do something else. This means that any active task that Ray wants to carry out himself will take a -4 skill penalty, no matter when it is carried out or how often skill rolls are required, unless that action is an essentially reflexive response (like Dodging a thrown object, throwing up a Mind Shield when psionically attacked, etc.).

Next. What about using psi powers through solid material? Like through building walls, from within a subterranean room, etc? Does effectiveness drop off? Like with range? I would say yes, but how to apply it without a materials index - for ever foot of wood -1, for every foot of igneous rock -2 . . . I don't know. Next one. What about psi targets which can't be seen? Say Ray wants to reach out and Telereceive on Steve again. But this time, Steve is hiding somewhere within Ray's range. Can Ray use his Telereceive to find Steve and then start Telereceiving on him? If so, this makes Telereceive and other skills effective people locators. Like a motion tracker only much worse. Help me out here.

Basically, you either have a line of sight to your target or you do not.
For mind-affecting psi powers like Psychic Vampirism or Telepathy, your limit is the lower of either your range on the Telepathy range table (p. PS20) or your line of sight. However, if you can lock onto a mind using Telescan first, then you may use your powers at your full range (but at a -3 skill penalty) even on an unseen foe, regardless of what barriers might be between you and that foe. Unseen by familiar individuals may be affected at -5, as long as they are within your range.

For physical psi powers like Electrokinesis or Psychokinesis, you normally must have a line of sight to your target, but you may attempt to use your skills on a familiar but unseen target at a penalty of -1 for the first yard of range between you and the target and another -1 each time the range doubles, again regardless of what barriers might be between you and that target.

ESP skills are an exception to all of this, in that they are designed to work through barriers and on unseen targets. All that matters is that you have enough Power to reach the target. ESP skills ignore the composition of barriers and, if Power is high enough, the precise thickness as well. Also, if one can perceive someone or something using Clairvoyance first, one effectively has a line of sight to the target for the purposes of other psi powers, which then take only the flat -3 penalty for using remote viewing to see the target.

In the example above, if Ray wanted to use Telepathy on Steve, he would have to either look for Steve's physical presence using Clairvoyance, or else locate Steve's mind using Telescan first. Without a line of sight to Steve and without a mental lock on Steve, Ray cannot use his telepathic skills at all unless Ray knows Steve very well (GM's decision), in which case Ray may use his abilities at -5. Similarly, if Ray wanted to use a Psychokinetic skill on Steve, knew Steve well and knew where Steve was, then he could attempt a skill roll, but with the distance penalties described above.

And that points up another question. Namely, if you can't use psi on targets you can't see, what about using Telecontrol on a person and then walking the person out of your field of view? Can you establish Telecontrol and then maintain control even after the person is out of view?

Once any psi power has established contact, it can be maintained as long as two conditions are met:
(i) the user can continue to make any skill rolls that may be necessary to keep the power "on," and
(ii) the target stays within the range of the user's Power (usually read from the Telepathy range table, but equal to Power or Power 2 yards for some psi skills).

Next - when you are hit in GURPS, you take a penalty on your to-hit rolls equal to the damage you take (unless you have High Pain Threshold). Would this apply to psionics? Say a psi is concentrating and then gets hit. Assuming you treat this like a distraction which requires the psi to make another roll, would it be kosher to apply the damage penalty? Makes sense, you would have a hell of a lot harder time concentrating after being shot in the gut with a shotgun than you would if you had been hit in the arm by an unarmored fist.

Shock from wounds affects any skill roll, mental or physical, made for one full turn after the shock occurred. If that skill is also one that requires a Concentrate maneuver, then a distraction roll (vs. Will-3) is required to keep one's concentration, and any Shock penalty will still apply to the final skill roll. Psi skills are no exception to this rule.
- Dr. Kromm

Article publication date: October 1, 1995

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