Using Psionics in Fiction: Nosebleeds, Headaches, & Melty Brains

River Tam from Firefly

River Tam from Firefly

With the introduction of Dariana, I added a new type of power source to the human templates.  Basically, I opened the door for psionics to enter Windemere stories.  For those that don’t know what that means, think of Professor X, Jean Grey, and anyone else with mental powers. These don’t work like caster or priest magic, so defenses against those two types will do nothing here.  It still functions off the aura system in some ways, but that depends on the exact powers.  A telepath might not access as much energy as a body enhancer, but both would come in second to a psychokinetic or reality alterer.  There’s a lot that can be done here.  So here’s some tips:

  1. Giving your psionic everything is a mistake.  Even worse if you give them mastery and full power.  For one thing, it makes them unstoppable and unable to be tricked.  A reader will see anything going wrong for this person as odd because of their power.  How do you trick a telepath with no limits?  Can you really beat up a telekinetic that can lift a mountain?  This is an easy power category to lose control in.
  2. Never forget the range and limits.  Line of sight can be useful for the characters, but so can a simple ‘they know each other’.  One trick with psionics are mental tags that they can use to track people.  Yet you should try to put a range on these.  Could be anywhere from the same building to several mile radius.
  3. Side-effects!  Remember that this is a mental thing, which puts strain on the brain and body.  Nose and ear bleeds are the most common to show when things go wrong or are too tough.  Headaches work too.  Basically, things happening above the neck.  Though one that I want to use for a later character is that the more they use their powers, the weaker their grip on reality.
  4. Exhaustion is another thing to factor in.  I put this separately from side-effects because this is something that can (maybe should) happen over time.  The previous section was more about immediate strain.  Exhaustion builds up and can be undone by sleeping or meditation.  The rate of fatigue depends on the powers and uses.  For example, a simple surface scan for a telepath can have an imperceptible amount while rearranging somebody’s memory makes the character need a nap.
  5. Much like with casters and spells, psionics have a risk of backlash.  This is probably more dangerous than a backfiring fireball.  You can dodge or resist a spell even if it’s bouncing back.  When your own mind ‘rubber bands’ on itself, you might not realize it’s about to happen until the world is upside down and you’re tasting the number 9.
  6. One thing that’s common with psionics is that they aren’t common.  In fantasy settings, they get mistaken for casters.  Many are because they use spells to copy the effects.  A true, non-spell psionic should be an oddity that nobody knows much about.  The basics are okay for a learned character to know, but not the details unless they previously admitted to studying them.  In other words, give some mystery to the character in both power and origin.

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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36 Responses to Using Psionics in Fiction: Nosebleeds, Headaches, & Melty Brains

  1. You got me thinking today. Great post.

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  2. I love all the possibilities here. Thanks for the great post! ❤

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  3. L. Marie says:

    Great advice. I especially appreciate numbers 1 and 2 because of issues with X-Men where certain characters seemed unstoppable. I also was unsure of the psionic aspects of the force in Star Wars since the Jedi seemed able to sense other Jedi in peril a whole planet away but couldn’t seem to sense that someone was about to sneak up behind them. The inconsistencies are a bit annoying.

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    • You’re probably think of Jean Grey. One character who did have everything was Nate Grey/Age of Apocalypse Cable, which I think did it well. As powerful as he was, he could burn out really quickly and didn’t always have full control. So quirks and various personalities can temper the high power level. It’s just rare and not easy to do.

      The Jedi are all over the place. Yet, I can see the sensing other Jedi working. The older, more powerful ones could probably do that because they’re more adept at using the Force. Think of how Yoda and Kenobi vanished to ‘join’ the Force. It’s like a Jedi becomes closer to the energy as they gain experience. The power that always confused me was the lightning. Force choke, mental tricks, hyper leaping, sensing others . . . Storm from the X-Men?

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      • L. Marie says:

        Yes. I was thinking of Jean. I was also thinking of an episode in the Genndy Tartakovsky Clone Wars where Yoda sensed through the force that some Jedi were in trouble in a temple on Ilum. So yeah. I never know how far that ability goes. I love the idea of a cost to the use of this ability. Kind of like what happened in Fifth Element when Mr. Shadow contacted Zorg. Zorg’s head started bleeding.

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      • I think we’re at the point where Yoda gets a pass on everything. He’s just there to make sure the story keeps moving.

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  4. L. Marie says:

    Did you watch Babylon V at all? I like what they did with the psychics. They experienced exhaustion after scanning people.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. You make some good points about limiting this gift, I think. It’s never a good idea to make characters invincible. I love Professor X – I liked the torment he suffers as a result of his power. It must be fun to introduce a character into Windemere with a psionic ability 😀

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  6. From what you say, the way we treat Psionics isn’t all that different to the way we should treat magic in general 🙂

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    • Yes and no. There should always be a difference between the two. Think of magic as normally coming from an outside or spiritual force. Psionics come exclusively from an internal and mental force. So the defenses against the former wouldn’t work for the latter and the backlashes would be different.

      I might be splitting hairs here, but I do get frustrated when people treat the two classes the same. At least when it’s noted that they’re supposed to be different. Probably depends on the world though. I go with the uncommon ‘magic is everywhere and accepted’ path instead of the more common ‘magic is rare and feared’ method.

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