Psychic Arcane Background
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Deadlands: Psychic Arcane Background


Note: The following is a rough draft for a new Arcane Background designed for the early 20th century. It has not been playtested, and is included here for the sole purpose of ready availability to friends to look at for criticism and other feedback. (If anyone else happens upon this and has some comments, feel free to drop me a note as well!)

The purpose here is to have a more complicated version of the "medium" or "psychic" archetype than presented in the Deadlands: Back East sourcebook. The psychic described here has powers that are mostly very vague and without obvious "special effects". A Doubting Thomas could be in the same Posse as a Psychic and still be convinced that it's all a sham. This is, I think, keeping with the proper "feel" for this period, rather than having flashy effects that are so blatantly magical. As such, it is not necessarily as potent as certain other Arcane Backgrounds, but keeps a much lower profile.

Despite the similarity in name, "Psychics" are not "Sykers." Rather, they are predecessors of a sort to the "Sykers" that will come later. "Psychics" have been gifted with paranormal abilities related to the mind, often tied with the concept of a "Sixth Sense" or "ESP" (Extra-Sensory Perception).

Unlike most Arcane Backgrounds, Psychics do not train in any sort of discipline, and they do not "learn" their abilities. It is possible for a particular person to not fully realize these abilities until a later point in her life, but the potential was there all along.

In game terms, during character creation ONLY, a hero may purchase Arcane Background: Psychic, and one or more Psychic powers. The Psychic Arcane Background and individual Psychic powers may not be purchased at a later point with Bounty Points. However, individual Psychic powers -- if already purchased at character creation -- may be improved in the same way as Aptitudes, using Bounty Points.

Some care should be taken on which powers to purchase for a given Psychic. Psychics are rare enough, but when they are found, they usually only have one or maybe two powers at most. Player characters might be exceptions to the "rule", but the Marshal has final say on combinations of Psychic powers.

The Unknown

The very nature of Psychic powers is that they are not wholly understood even by those who use them. Rules are listed below for their use, but a Psychic character still leaves the door open -- voluntarily or not -- for other weirdness, at the Marshal's discretion. For instance, if the Psychic were to visit a house -- unbeknownst to the Psychic, haunted by the spirits of former occupants -- she might receive visions or "a feeling of being watched", without exerting any effort to sense things in the area. Likewise, a Psychic may occasionally "pick up" thoughts or emotions -- usually especially strong ones -- inadvertently from others. If the party is going to be paid a visit by a ghost or other spirit, then the Psychic is a prime contender to receive most of the spirit's attentions -- for good or for ill.

This is completely passive, does not involve any Strain, and is wholly subject to the Marshal's whim. In short, if you play a Psychic, you're an easy target for the Marshal's attempts to introduce creepiness into the adventure.


Actively using Psychic powers takes a lot out of a hero. A character with Arcane Background: Psychic has a Strain rating that determines just how much those psychic abilities can be exercised before she needs to recuperate. The character has a number of Strain points equal to her Vigor die type. When these points reach zero, that represents that she has Strained herself too much, and therefore can't use any powers that would cause further Strain.

Many powers have a Strain cost listed next to them. If the character activates this power, but fails to make the required minimum Target Number (TN) on the roll to activate it, no Strain is spent. Otherwise, the appropriate Strain points are immediately deducted. Some powers may have additional rolls required to gain the desired effect -- failing on these additional rolls does not mean that the "Strain" point is gained back. It's just that if the Psychic can't even muster up the required concentration to use the power in the first place, it doesn't put any more strain on her system.

An exception to the rule above is the case of a Botch. In the case of a Botch, whether or not the intended TN was reached, and whether or not the power was still successfully exercised, the Strain points will be spent.

Strain points can be recovered by rest, during which the Psychic does nothing but sleep or meditate. For each full hour that the Psychic is able to rest, one Strain point is recovered. At the Marshal's discretion, a full night's sleep will restore all Strain points, even if, hour-per-hour, that wouldn't normally be enough for the Psychic character to get back to maximum.

If necessary to make a TN roll to activate a power, a Psychic can choose to pump extra Strain into the roll, getting one extra die to roll per additional Strain point spent. Any additional Strain points spent this way to boost the roll are not regained if the total roll is still a failure.


Certain Psychic powers have a difficulty based on Familiarity with the target. In short, the more familiar the Psychic is with the target, the more likely a link can be established ... though other factors may apply as well. Making mental contact with a twin brother who is also Psychic is one thing. Contacting a complete stranger one has never met before -- and who resolutely disbelieves in anything supernatural -- is quite another matter entirely.

The exact effect on the TN is, as ever, ultimately up to the Marshal's discretion. The following are some suggested guidelines:

TNFamiliarity with Target
1Alternate self, clone, twin brother
3Member of immediate family, lifelong friend
5Close friend
7Frequent associate
11Faint familiarity (friend of a friend, etc.)
13Complete stranger
15Alien being or monster
-2Psychic or Syker, not resisting
-2Target is aware of your power, and deliberately receptive
+2Target is a Doubting Thomas (does not apply to Mind-Reading)
+2Target is aware of your power, and deliberately resistant

Situations where the TN is less than 1 indicate that no roll is required to meet the Target Number -- unless the Marshal deems that circumstances are tense enough that you should still roll just to see if you get a Botch.

Psychic Powers

Psychic powers are purchased as Aptitudes, provided that one first has Arcane Background: Psychic. Unless specified otherwise, Psychic powers are treated as Spirit-based Aptitudes, and listed accordingly. Also, please note that Psychic powers are little understood, and never wholly under control of the player. The TN given may be freely modified by the Marshal based on "extenuating circumstances" ... and in any adventure, "extenuating circumstances" are certain to crop up.

Animal Telepathy
Strain: 1
Range: line of sight
Duration: concentration
Effect: self
TN: 3

For all intents and purposes, this is a "speak with animals" power. The Psychic is able to understand the "speech" of animals, and any animals can "understand" the Psychic when she talks back. It does not confer any sort of control over the animal, and the animal is given a pretty good look into the Psychic's intent (The animal gets a +8 to any scrutinize attempts against the Psychic), so "tricking" an animal, even a dumb one, is fairly difficult. The Psychic cannot pry into the mind of an animal. It is up to the Marshal whether any particular Abomination qualifies as an "animal".

Anyone else observing will just see a person talking to an animal.

Strain: 1
Range: varies
Duration: concentration
Effect: self
TN: 3

This power allows the Psychic to "hear" with the mind, beyond the normal range of hearing. First off, this power can simply be used to boost a hearing-based Cognition roll, if it's really important. For each success the Psychic gets on the activation roll, he gets a +2 to any hearing-based Cognition roll, so long as concentration is maintained.

It can also be used to hear things without ears -- through walls, for instance. The difficulty depends on whether the target can be seen, or else just how far away it is. If the target is out of line of sight of the Psychic, the Psychic must know of the location of the desired point to listen from -- such as, "the other side of this wall", or "back in the apartment". The Psychic cannot choose "listen to what Fred is saying," without knowing exactly where Fred is at the moment. Clairaudience is focused on a location, not individuals or objects.

This power gives no additional ability to understand what is being heard, incidentally. (If the target is speaking in German, and the Psychic does not understand German, too bad.) If the target is for any reason concerned about being listened in on (whether by supernatural or other means), she automatically (and possibly subconsciously) makes an opposed Spirit roll against the clairaudience attempt. Anyone else so resisting may roll as well. In this case, the user of clairaudience must get a Raise over the highest resisting roll to hear things clearly. If the Psychic can get a Success, but not a Raise, then at the Marshal's discretion, a few snippets might be picked up, but nothing clear.

The difficulty of hearing things at a distance varies with range as follows:

line of sight5
other side of wall or similar obstacle7
up to 100 ft9
up to 1 mile11
up to 10 miles13

Strain: 1
Range: varies
Duration: concentration
Effect: self
TN: 7

Clairvoyance is the ability to see things at a distance. People with this ability often have to use some sort of focus, such as a crystal ball or a mirror, in order to better "see" things -- Doing so reduces the TN to a base of 3, though it will take at least a minute for the ball to "clear up" while using this power.

This is a highly unpredictable power, as sometimes, if the Psychic wishes to see someone, she may see a vision of that person in the past or in a possible future. This is particularly the case if something particularly traumatic has just happened or is about to happen. Crystal ball visions tend toward the melodramatic.

If the subject is a person, the Psychic must also beat a difficulty based on Familiarity with the subject. This can either be the Psychic's Familiarity with the subject, or, if the Clairvoyance is being used for another person, the Familiarity of that person with the subject.

(example: Madame Xanadu is trying to find out if Ralph Pinchpenny's wife survived a shipwreck, on behalf of Mr. Pinchpenny, who is right there with her as she gives the crystal ball reading. Madame Xanadu has no relationship to Mrs. Pinchpenny, but the TN can instead be based on Ralph's Familiarity with his wife, making things much easier. If Madame Xanadu were trying to do the same thing without Ralph's consent, then she would be doing this based on her own Familiarity with Mrs. Pinchpenny instead.)

If the subject in question doesn't want to be spied on (whether or not the subject is aware of the possibility of supernatural spying), the subject can make an opposed Spirit roll against the Psychic's clairvoyance roll. The Psychic must get at least one Raise to get any sort of clear image. A simple success with no Raise will result in a murky, cloudy image.

If a crystal ball, mirror or other preferred focus is not available, an item belonging to the subject to be studied can also serve as a "focus".

Distance between the Psychic and the subject is mostly immaterial, though it is possible that there can be "interference" from various sources (such as if the subject is in a haunted house, and the local spooks don't care for snoops).

Strain: 1
Range: self
Duration: concentration
Effect: self
TN: 3

This is a staple for Mediums. Basically, the Psychic opens herself up for communication with the spirit world. It does not, however, confer any sort of control over spirits. It's just a supernatural equivalent of opening the window, leaning out and shouting, "Hello out there!" and staying out long enough to see if anyone waves back ... or throws something.

It could well be that nobody answers. The Psychic is far more likely to get results when in a spot where spirits might be hanging out, such as in a haunted house. A Botch on this roll guarantees that the Psychic attracts the attention of a nasty Manitou, and takes 2d6 Wind for her trouble. Some spirits, even if they stay around to chat, may hit the Psychic with 1d6 or 2d6 in Wind, too, due to the rush of emotions and spiritual energies. (A murdered spirit tends to carry around a lot of angst and pent-up anger.)

This is rarely a power that can be used in the middle of combat rounds. Rather, it generally requires the Psychic to get into a meditative state, in a quiet environment. In a pinch, though, (such as in a haunted house, and the local ghosts are throwing tantrums), it can be used in less calm situations, but the TN will be much higher: at least a base TN of 7.

Strain: 1
Range: self / line of sight or touch
Duration: concentration
Effect: self / one target
TN: n/a / Familiarity

A Psychic employing this power gains the number of levels in this power as a bonus to any scrutinize rolls made while concentration is maintained.

Also, on occasion, even when this power is not being actively utilized, Empaths have a tendency to passively pick up strong emotions. At the Marshal's whim, an Empath may occasionally pick up "vibes" of particularly strong emotions -- whether originating from a person ... or something else.

This power may also be used in an alternate fashion to actively "probe" others in the area for emotional auras. It may be used to focus on a specific target, or else a group. In the case of the latter, the "average" TN of the group should be used (Marshal's discretion) and only a general result of the overall feelings of the group will be returned -- not the emotions of individuals. This takes an action to perform. A Botch on this roll will result in the ending of the power, though another Strain point can be spent to bring it up again.

Please note that this power does not read thoughts. An Empath might be able to sense anger in a person, but not to determine what is the cause or the object of that anger, and she may only get vague ideas of just how strong this "anger" is -- not a concise explanation of just what this anger is going to prompt the person to do about it. (Some folks are just angry at the world, after all. Nothing personal.)

Strain: 1
Range: self
Duration: concentration
Effect: self
TN: n/a

While this power is in effect, the Psychic gains the level in this power as a bonus to Cognition-based rolls. The Marshal may occasionally have this character make ESP rolls in the same fashion as Cognition rolls, for the purpose of noticing something that ordinary senses wouldn't pick up -- such as a "supernatural disturbance." However, this is little understood, and far from reliable, often resulting in the character just getting "a feeling", without any useful indication as to just what sort of feeling it might be. (Good? Bad? Who knows? But it's probably something supernatural.)

Strain: varies
Range: self
Duration: permanent
Effect: self
TN: varies

This is one of the most powerful Psychic powers in the area of mind over matter, whereby the Psychic attempts to actually accelerate the natural healing processes of the body by mental stimulation. If the Psychic actually has any levels in medicine, these may be added as a bonus to the roll in this power, reflecting a better knowledge in where to direct these healing forces.

It is important to note that if the Psychic fails to make the minimum TN required to heal any damage, Strain points are still spent with this power. It's an especially exhausting power.

The TN to heal a wound depends on the following chart. Success heals one wound level to a single hit location. Each Raise heals an additional wound level. This isn't potent enough to help Maimed body parts, and it cannot be used to regain lost Wind.

TNStrainWound Severity
31Light Wound
52Heavy Wound
73Serious Wound
94Critical Wound

Strain: 1
Range: line of sight or contact
Duration: Concentration
Effect: one other person
TN: Familiarity

The Psychic can attempt to pick up surface thoughts from an individual. This does not allow probing into memories, or any sort of querying. It only allows the Psychic to "listen in" on whatever is currently going through the subject's mind. Unless the subject is deliberately open to the Psychic's intrusion, the Psychic must not only beat the TN, but a Spirit roll made by the target. If the subject is not aware of the spying, the Psychic needs only to meet the TN and the Spirit roll of the target. If the subject is deliberately resistant to mental probing, then the Psychic must get a Raise over the Spirit roll to keep the link up.

If the target is unaware, and gets a Raise over the Psychic on his Spirit roll, not only is the link broken, but he gets a "feeling of being watched". If he believes in psychic phenomena, he will realize his mind was being probed. If the Psychic Botches on a roll, the target will get a sense that the Psychic is responsible for the intrusion.

Strain: none
Range: self
Duration: indefinite
Effect: self
TN: n/a

The Psychic is resistant to mental probing, including any sort of mental attack. This power can be left "on" continuously, except when the Psychic wishes to drop it, or when the Psychic wishes to use any other power. (The Psychic can't be mentally "blocking" while he's using Psychic powers other than this one. He has to "drop his shields" to do so.)

The Psychic adds his level in this power to the difficulty of any other entity to make direct contact with his mind, as well as any rolls to resist effects. While this power is in effect, this resistance applies regardless of the intent of the entity trying to contact (or attack) the Psychic's mind.

Strain: 1 per round
Range: line of sight (or contact)
Duration: Concentration
Effect: one object
TN: 5

Telekinesis is one of the most spectacular of the Psychic powers, since it's the most obvious demonstration of mind over matter. Given this, it is harder to accomplish when in the presence of skeptics. For every observing Doubting Thomas present, add +2 to the TN. At the Marshal's discretion, this penalty may be averted if there are conditions that would allow Doubting Thomases some way of rationalizing what they see -- e.g., if the room is dimly lit and smoky, and the person doing the trick is dressed up as a stage magician.

The Psychic can move objects as if having a Strength equal to his total dice in this power, up to a maximum Pace equal to the Psychic's Spirit die type. The item still has to be kept within the Psychic's line of sight, or control will be broken and the object dropped.

If the object is being held by someone else -- or is someone else -- then it may not be affected except if the Psychic gets a Raise on her telekinesis roll over the target's Spirit roll. Even then, the target can continue to resist with Spirit rolls each round. This is in addition to any opposed rolls of Strength the target (or someone holding the target) can make to resist the pull of the telekinesis power.

If levitated objects are used to hit someone, they do damage as if wielded by someone with a Strength equal to the Psychic's telekinesis dice, and an attack must be made with an appropriate weapon skill or the Psychic's telekinesis dice, whichever is worse.

Telepathic Projection
Strain: 1
Range: line of sight or contact
Duration: Concentration
Effect: one other person
TN: Familiarity

The Psychic is able to project a single image or a short phrase (less than 15 seconds to say) mentally to another person either in line of sight or physical contact with the Psychic, as a single action. So long as the Psychic can maintain concentration (i.e., not do anything else except perhaps walk about, and not get Stunned or knocked unconscious), the Psychic can keep transmitting thoughts, but doing so requires such concentration that it takes an action per "broadcast".

If the target is another Psychic, employing "Mind-Reading" at the time, there is no TN required to get the message over.

If the Psychic Botches on a roll, then if he still makes the TN requirement to make contact, he does so with the wrong target.

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