And today it’s a little something for Aurora Ward and the Emergence Campaign.
There are really only four basic mechanisms underlying “super powers”
Conventional Technology: The stuff that works under normal, well-understood, physical laws and is subject to all the associated limitations. It respects leverage, entropy, structural limitations, conservation principles, and all the rest. Conventional Technology includes:
- Biological Adaptions: Scales, muscles, visual adaptions, tentacles, DNA… all the adaptions that you can find in ordinary creatures or produce by genetic engineering.
- Neurological Adaptions: Skills (including the martial arts), conscious & subconscious (intuition) thought, knowledge, reflexes, and other forms of data-processing. While not technically “super” powers, the abilities of experts in various fields often seems superhuman to the untrained – and can easily blur into psychic abilities or c’hi powers.
- External Technology: Clubs, cars, cruise missiles, lasers, drugs, and more. Interestingly, external technology can be scaled up almost indefinitely, but the required size scales up faster than the power output. This is, of course, what immediately comes to mind
- Internal Technology: From scraped pieces of cocoanut shell to patch broken skulls on through pacemakers, oxygenating nanites, and symbionts, internal technology covers items which work on the inside of your body. The limitations here are even more stringent than for external technology – but it’s easily concealable and can provide functions that biological adaptions have a very hard time with.
“Super-Technology” relies on the exotic energies channeled into reality by the complex nuclei of group one transuranics. It can pack ten to a hundred time more power into an given device than conventional technology would permit – as well as evade some of the limitations of conventional science. Super Technology can create faster-than-light drives, force fields, anti-gravity, and even moderate-range instantaneous teleportation devices. It can even access some other aspects of the normal universe and alternate probability lines – even if that is a rarely-exploited ability; technological navigation of probability lines is extremely difficult. In general, super technology appears in the same four basic categories as conventional technology; it’s just better – if far more expensive.
Parapsychological Powers operate on the astral – or “mentational” – level of reality. In general, access to versatile parapsychological powers requires at least some level of conscious thought and the ability to handle abstractions as well as a fairly complex neural network (specific abilities can occur in much more primitive neural nets, but it is notable that parapsychological powers are often very weak or almost unnoticeable until the final stages of neural pruning). Given that such powers tend to “run in families” there is fairly obviously a strong genetic component.
Parapsychological powers can access the Imaginal Realms, as well as the “higher sephiroth” – the conceptual planes common to ever-increasing numbers of universes. Unfortunately, the energy levels of the higher sephiroth increase in proportion to the sheaf of contributing universes – and so rise exponentially, and dangerously, as the concepts become more abstract. Thus attempting to tap into the higher sephiroth – or to use them to travel to differing universes by parapsychological means – is extremely hazardous. Perhaps fortunately, the only known ways to tap into the power of the higher sephiroth is to either summon an entity therefrom or to go to them, internalize some of their power with their concept, and return. Either is extremely dangerous; such entities are extremely powerful while a direct link between a material dimension and a higher sephiroth can easily lead to flooding massive areas of the material dimension with insupportable amounts of raw power.
- Psychic Powers operate almost purely on the astral level and involve only personal energies (both physical and magical). While every human (and probably every sapient life form) seems to have some potential for such abilities – experiencing moments of telepathy, clairvoyance, precognition, astral awareness, dream-interaction, and so on – relatively few are capable of actually controlling their abilities.
- C’hi Powers operate by channeling personal energies through astral space – allowing remarkable physical feats, telekinetic manipulations, minor healings, and similar effects. Once again, basic manifestations of this ability – so-called “hysterical strength”, mind-over-body manifestations, and biocontrol – seem to be inherent in sapient life. In virtually all cases, however, such abilities only seem to function in rare flashes, usually occurring only under extreme stress. Bringing such abilities under control typically requires intensive self-discipline and extensive training. This is likely a survival adaption; careless depletion of the bodies personal energies can easily be fatal – so individuals who can do so easily tend not to pass on the trait.
Psionic Abilities tap into external physical energies through astral space employing the exotic properties of group two transuranic nuclei. Unfortunately, using the central nervous system as an energy transfomer is a considerable strain and tends to dump waste energies into the brain; higher end psionic abilities tend to lead to brain damage and/or insanity.
At least on Earth, Psionic Abilities are also known as “Mutant Powers”, thanks in part to their strong genetic component. Unfortunately, those same genetic components mixed at random while their active expression was inhibited by the Rho-Field – leading to a random distribution of psionic potentials in the population, including many self-contradictory combinations. Attempts at artificial, rapid, triggering of psionic abilities often dump excessive amounts of energy into the central nervous system – giving such attempts (intentional or not) a very high casualty rate indeed. Of course, since major trauma – whether physical or psychological – is one of the major triggering mechanisms, it’s often difficult to sort “death from psionic overload” from “death by electrocution” (or whatever).
This is one major reason why there hasn’t been much of an attempt to control triggering devices. People have achieved breakthrough by being struck by lightning, trapped in fires, exposed to odd chemicals and/or radiation, by magic, by receiving really bad news, by entering puberty, by taking drugs, by suffering severe emotional traumas, by a desire to rescue or protect others, by being poisoned, and so on. It’s widely suspected that – if you have the potential – sooner or later SOMETHING is likely to bring it out.
In general, Psionic abilities can be divided into two basic categories:
- Unconscious Psionic Abilities tend to be highly specific; abilities such as “super strength”, being able to regenerate from almost any wound, transforming into some other substance while retaining self-awareness and the ability to function, and similar abilities, all fall into this group. In general, “required secondary powers” fall into this group – as do the abilities of many “super-inventors”, power-armor users, and others who apparently rely on “devices” – which is why many super-“inventions” never spread through the general culture; they will not function in the absence of their creator.
- Conscious Psionic Abilities tend to be considerably more versatile – but in general have a fairly steep learning curve; learning to exploit the ramifications of telekinesis, or weather control, or many other abilities is a complex and dangerous process. The fact that training for more power causes ever-increasing mental disturbances does not help either.
Magic seems to be synonymous with “life energy” or “vital force” – and appears to be a truly fundamental force; universes, in all their near-infinite variety, appear to be manifestations of life-energies endless attempt to express itself. As such, magic defines the laws of a universe, allows such laws to be violated, and defines the barriers between universes. Magic can pretty much go anywhere and do anything – if you can just harness enough of it. That, of course, is the tricky part – and so magical abilities tend to be defined and limited by where you’re getting the power from. Magic use can be either conscious or subconscious, but isn’t as subject to a strict classification scheme as parapsychological powers; many or even most magical effects have both conscious and subconscious components.
- Personal Magic is – obviously enough – powered by the user’s personal life force. While this is a relatively easy and intuitive source of power, personal magic is a strictly limited resource in most cases (occasional extremely powerful spirits do commonly, mostly inhabiting bodies that require a good deal of magic to function under the local laws of physics. Such entities are often virtually immortal – but they also reproduce very, very, slowly, since spirits capable of sustaining such an existence are extremely rare). It’s fairly easy to learn to use a bit of personal magic, and the more power that a spirit has available the easier it is to learn to use. Injured creatures will instinctively use personal magic to maintain their physical lives and heal themselves.
This is why, for example, single shots from basic personal firearms (1-2d6 RKA) are virtually never fatal in themselves for a healthy adult; personal magic is instinctively used for self-defense and survival. This is also why there’s generally little or no scarring, few long-term consequences of injuries, and rapid recovery.
- Ambient Magic is the general “background” of life-force in a universe – the force responsible for the spontaneous appearance of new life forms and a driving force of adaption in existing ones. It can be tapped to perform a wide variety of feats – but the amount of power available in particular times and places is wildly variable. Still, where it is available – and especially where it’s highly concentrated – ambient magic can power abilities
Pocket Dimensions very, VERY, often have high levels of Ambient Magic; While they don’t have enough life-force to expand into full-blown universes, they must still have enough to avoid collapse – which becomes increasingly difficult as they become smaller, an effect which could be likened to “surface tension”. Very small universes require a good deal of internal life-force pressure – and thus often spawn various “living forces”. Pockets with enough life-force to expand undergo “inflation” and grow to full-size universes, filled with life – which can be very very strange and unlikely early in the history of a universe when the concentration of life force is still extremely high.
- Channeling Magic draws magic from inanimate sources elsewhere. While a sizeable portion of the available power goes to sustaining the link, and more is lost due to the lack of active control on the source end, Channeling can support reliable suites of powers – their exact nature more or less limited by the tendencies of the source being tapped. Group three transuranics, with nuclei complex enough to extend into other dimensions, can act as links for Channeling – making items incorporating such “magical materials” far easier to turn into magical devices.
- Invocation Magic draws magic from living sources elsewhere – typically extremely powerful mages operating in high-magic areas, “living forces”, or cosmic entities. It’s considerably more efficient than Channeling since the source can exert active control over the magic – but it’s also considerably more restricted; if you want a living being to lend you it’s power, it’s got to want to do so. Thus invocation magic tends to have weird side effects, strange conditions attached to its use, and other annoyances.
The availability of invocations is why there have been few attempts to control the market in magical devices. It’s often easier to find an invocation than to find a really powerful device – and an invocation is generally a lot harder to take away from someone. Still, quite a few specific devices have been confiscated. That doesn’t make them illegal in themselves, but it does mean that if you acquire one, it’s probably stolen.