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Bag o' Nifties: Tricks for GMs

Biofeedback - The Psionicist's Answer to Body Modification

by Dan Pond
November 1, 2001  

The Problem

In the All Worldz role-playing setting (www.AllWorldz.com), one of the Great Societies (the Preservers) has a strong taboo against altering their bodies, which they regard as sacred. Unfortunately, this can put Preserver player-characters at a disadvantage against characters with magical, biogenic, and cybernetic body modifications. I wanted to even the playing field a little bit by giving the Preservers a way to match many kinds of body mods without defiling their natural forms. Thus was Biofeedback born.

As an aside, it also makes sense in-character that the Preservers would research such techniques. No human being wants to give up rewards for adhering to a belief system that rejects them. This means they must either abandon the belief system (in favor of the rewards) or justify their sacrifice (by devaluing the things they cannot have). Obviously, it's best for the survival of their Society if the Preservers can avoid loosing members to the promise if enhanced strength, longevity, and other "heretical temptations." So, they create a non-heretical alternative that gets them the same rewards without violating their taboo. It's just a smart political move.

The Solution: Biofeedback

Biofeedback is a system of self-focused meditation that grants practitioners psionic control over their own bodies. The applications of this technique are many and varied, from being able to sense the tiniest details of one's physical condition to the powers of levitation and even invulnerability. The magnitude of these effects is limited only by the constraints of your game's tone and setting.

One thing Biofeedback cannot do is alter the body in any artificial way. Healing injuries is possible, since it restores the body to its natural state, but shapeshifting is out of the question. There might be a way to apply the principles of Biofeedback to such an end, but no one who truly adheres to its principles is going to research it. (Certainly not the Preservers!) Biofeedback either enhances the body's normal abilities or prevents outside forces from affecting it.

Biofeedback training involves intense mediation, prolonged sensory deprivation, and some kind of apparatus for feeding information about the body's state back to the trainee. (Hence the name "biofeedback.") This three-pronged approach teaches mystics to focus on their own bodies to the exclusion of other stimuli, while allowing them to bring their involuntary bodily functions under conscious control. It also includes a heavy dose of the-body-is-a-temple philosophy; without the proper mindset, it can be quite difficult to achieve the meditative state necessary to tap Biofeedback powers. (Feel free to decrease the Biofeedback skill ratings of players who habitually abuse or endanger their bodies.)

There are seven widely taught applications of Biofeedback, each described with rules suggestions below. Characters can learn any of them in isolation (as a Trick, Perk, Talent, etc.), but most mystics pursue them all as part of a comprehensive program (ie. a single Skill).

The Inner Eye grants clairvoyant awareness of the body's physical and biological state. With a successful perception-related skill check, a character can diagnose disease, detect drugs and poison, monitor their vital signs, check for bone fractures and other injuries, or learn pretty much anything else about their body's physical condition. (Optionally, this power can be a prerequisite for all of the others.)

The Outer Eye heightens the physical senses, one at a time, to levels that rival any cybernetic surveillance system. Make a concentration-related skill check for each sense you want to enhance. The mystic should now automatically succeed on any normal perception actions using that sense, and make a check as normal for any superhuman perception actions out to their new maximum range/sensitivity (as determined by the GM).

Still the Waters slows and regulates metabolic processes like blood flow, temperature, respiration, etc. Common applications include faking death and holding your breath for extended periods. This power can also reduce damage from blood loss, shock, poison, or disease (if your game has rules for that sort of thing). In any case, a willpower- or stamina-related skill check should suffice, with success indicating that further injury is avoided (or the death trance is entered) for whatever duration the GM feels appropriate.

Inner Strength boosts the body past normal maximum levels of athletic performance. After making a Will-related check to activate one of the three facets of Inner Strength (endurance, reflexes, or strength), the character automatically succeeds at normal actions related to the boosted attribute. They can also attempt superhuman feats (breaking down walls, dodging bullets, etc) via a normal Ability/Skill check. The power lasts as long as the player wants, but the character should start developing stress-related health problems if they keep it going for more than a single scene. (Use your best judgment for when endurance-related uses start having negative side effects.)

Purification allows accelerated healing/recovery of injuries, illness, and even poison. Treat this like any other artificially accelerated healing (cure spells, advanced medicine, etc). It should take a few minutes or hours to accomplish, though. This power should not let a character walk into a hail of bullets and it is not a means to immortality (which is another thing the Preservers have a strong taboo against).

Sever the Chains is the power of levitation; the name refers to the "chains of gravity." It can easily manage a character's clothing and personal gear, but anything much larger will provide enough gravitational force to keep the mystic pinned to the ground. After all, Biofeedback only grants power over one's self. Tackling a levitating mystic is a sure way to bring them down! Levitating one other sentient of about equal mass is reasonable, though GMs should call for a new willpower-related skill check every few minutes to stay in the air. Movement is fairly slow, more like floating than flying, though it can be in any direction.

Sanctity of the Temple can make a mystic impervious to outside forces. It is the most profound statement of mastery over one's body that Biofeedback is capable of. A willpower-related skill check is needed to activate it; this takes a few seconds and cannot be done as a defensive/reflexive action. The effect is as described above: external forces simply have no effect on the mystic. (However, you can certainly demand an extra check in case of extraordinary opposition.) Wind, fire, bullets, wrecking balls... they don't even mess up your hair. However, any character using this power must take a significant penalty to all other actions, physical or otherwise, due to the extreme mental focus required to maintain it.

A Note on Harmless Old Men

Though Biofeedback was created as a way to put Preservers on even footing with cyborgs and mutants, it has the potential for far more amusing applications. For example, since it's a mystical skill, it can takes decades to master and has no obvious manifestations (unlike most cybernetic implants). This means that the most powerful Biofeedback users will be normal-looking, elderly people... just the kind of opponent most players will dismiss as harmless. Then he knocks said characters through a wall and bullets start bouncing off his chest! Hilarity ensues.

Next Time: Running characters who are smarter than you.

All Worldz: A Game of Interdimensional Civilization by ImEG Games

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Bag o' Nifties by Dan Pond