Conventional Technology, in all its myriad forms (bio-augmentations, genegrafting, bionics, cybernetics, power armor and so on) is the most common source of “super-powers”. It is also the weakest; obeying conventional physical laws such as the various conservation principles, material strength limitations, leverage, etc. In general, many such devices are eligible for a “-1” “conventional technology” power limitation to represent these problems. In game terms this means a functional physical description, a conventional power supply, abiding by the limits of modern-day real-world technology, and a limited number of active points. Hand-held offensive devices are generally limited to about 30 active points, although modifiers (bulky and clumsy items, items with a very limited number of uses, nuclear items, and extremely unstable devices, each modifier allowing up to about +15 active points) may increase this limit. Defensive items generally run 15-30 active points less. If you want more power, you’ll just have to scale up proportionally.
Examples include Light/Medium/Heavy/Superheavy Pistols (RKA, 1d6/+1/+2/2d6), Sniping Rifles (2d6 AP RKA), Antitank Missiles (4d6 RKA), Bulletproof Vests (5 PD armor), and so on. Most technological items operate on charges or have otherwise reduced End costs. Note that something as simple as a crowbar can make you effectively superhuman where it happens to apply.
“Super” Technology works a lot like the more conventional stuff; it simply takes advantage of the special properties of the Type I* Transuranic elements, which act as energy field “catalysts”. Applications include microfusion systems, super-alloys with incredible physical properties, high temperture superconductors, force fields, FTL, and similar items. Even super technology can’t produce psionic effects, although it can amplify, suppress, or “channel”, them, and it cannot manipulate magical forces at all. Super technology is still limited by natural laws, by the user’s scientific knowledge – and by the supply of Type I Transuranics, which are incredibly rare in nature and require vast amounts of energy to produce artificially.
Super-technology requires vaguely-plausible (rather than realistic) explanations and generally doesn’t have to worry about power-supply problems. On the other hand, it’s still subject to active point limitations, although they’re about 15 (for items using only traces of transuranics) to 30 (for hugely expensive or semi-unique items using lots of transuranics) points higher than the limits for conventional stuff.
* Type II, and Type III, transuranics have been detected, but their exact properties are unknown to earthly scientists at this point. There are indications that Type II transuranics may be involved in psionics – but no definite proof as far as earth-trained scientists are concerned. Most oddly, until very recently, all of these elements were unstable.
Psionic Powers use the living mind to direct, and focus, the transfer of energy through the astral plane. Lower-powered psychics and “C’hi Masters” use only their own personal energies. Others draw on the massed power of other minds – normally resulting in “avatars” of particular ideas – and the most powerful draw on natural energy sources, effectively acting as converters and catalysts. Psionics are subject to natural laws, but the ability to transfer energy and forces from place to place at FTL speeds opens up a lot of possibilities. Secondarily, psionics are limited by the minds, and personal strength, of the user. Psionics, at least beyond mystical “C’hi” and “Psychic” tricks, is a fairly new field on earth, and is widely considered deeply suspect. After all, it often pops up as a natural talent, at random, is difficult to detect, and lets people tamper with your very mind. Attempts to force psionics to “register” – or to otherwise control them – have been unsuccessful as yet but they do enjoy some popular support.
The upper limits of psionic abilities are dependent on the power supply. Personal physical energies are a relatively limited power source. Most “psychics” or “Chi Masters” possess minor talents at best, ranging from 10 (for high-energy, physically obvious abilities, such as force fields) to 30 (for clairvoyance, detection, and similar low-energy demand effects – or for those which may be dangerously draining) active points. Still, they don’t generally need any kind of equipment, or ritual: you think, and things happen.
External energy sources can provide far greater powers – but even psionics doesn’t escape entropy and conversion losses. Using your brain as a power transformer dumps exotic energies into your central nervous system. The more powerful the psionic, the more brain damage (ordinarily manifested as physical and psychological limitations at first, later on as drains and side effects) they tend to inflict on themselves. Local energy sources, such as planetary energy fields, can support powers of up to 60 active points with relatively little risk. Celestial energy fields – drawing on local stars for example – can support powers of up to 90 active points. Cosmological fields can support powers of up to 120 active points, but are extremely dangerous to use. Perhaps worse, people using external power supplies can be cut off from them.
Quite a few of the high-end super-inventors, power-armor users, and other heroic types are actually using low-level psionic abilities to amplify the effects of their weapons and devices, providing a boost of up to +15 active points. Most serious super-strongmen, energy channelers, and narrow-focus superhumans are actually using psionics, even if they don’t think so. In fact, the word “mutant” is – at least in popular culture and for hate groups – essentially synonymous with “external-power psionic”.
Magic is fundamentally spiritual, drawing on the life-force of it’s users to produce effects. While it’s still subject to laws, they’re pretty loose ones. As is well known, humans can learn to tap into their Personal power if they want to – but few have the aptitude and the determination. Ambient Mana varies in availability over time, and with location. It can be quite powerful, but has only recently reached generally usable levels in earth’s vicinity. Invocations call on the powers of powerful mystic beings. Unlike personal magic, which is widely accepted, Invocations are regarded with deep suspicion, and are often confused with Otherworldly Magic – using magic to draw on the alien energies of the Otherworlds, something foolish at best, and usually suicidal, or worse.
Ordinary humans can learn magic, just as they can learn martial arts, or an advanced degree, and with about the same amount of work – five or six years of study and practice will result in about 24 character points – normally 8-12 in “powers”, with the remainder in background knowledges, and a few points in things that came up along the way. While that isn’t much, most human mages apply a lot of limitations and can afford a few specific spells (for traditionalists) or a small multipower (for those in formal study programs). Minor mages are about as common as doctors – in fact, a degree in magical healing is entirely respectable; such adepts are in great demand in emergency rooms. Sadly, common magic draws on the user’s personal energies – a very limited power source.
Personal Magic can support powers of up to around 10 (normal humans), 15 (well-trained humans), 20 (expert humans), 30 (feyblooded and those with minor magical ancestry), 40 (demigods and those with major magical ancestores), 60 (magical beings, young celestial dragons), 70 (major entities), 80 (archdemons, godlings), or even 90 (adult celestial dragons, divine avatars) active points. Those with major talents may be able to push these limits by up to 10 active points or, for youngsters, to “adult” levels (whichever is better). It is possible to upgrade your personal power reserve, but it’s dangerous and usually requires things like merging with a spirit, major necromancy, or infusing yourself with the blood of some deity.
Groups can contribute power – but the process is inefficient. Four well-organized assistants, or a dozen enthusiastic participants, can supply +5 active points. A dozen well-organized and well-trained mystical assistants can provide +10 – as can a great congregation. Values of +15 and even +20 are theoretically possible but would require truly massive support (“The Pope’s Midnight Mass will be televised Christmas Eve, to an estimated audience of 65 million viewers worldwide”) or the aid of powerful, inherently magical, entities. Few groups – unless they have a really talented mage to lead them – can scrape together the 30 active points needed for a summoning. Chains of mages, using “Aid” powers, can scrape up a good deal of power – but the maximum chain length is either 3 or 7 mages (reports vary). Nobody knows why.
Ambient Magic can, at it’s peak, drive powers of up to 80 active points. Unfortunately for would-be archmagi, it’s availability varies; there are particular times and places where it’s strong, other’s where it’s weak – and some when it simply isn’t available. The ambient magic level has been rising steadily since the 1920’s, after being nearly unavailable for several thousand or more years. At the moment it can usually support powers in the 20-40 active point range. Magi who use ambient magic must either accept such random variations in their powers, set up a remote link with one or more power nexi, or learn to carry a reservoir of arcane power with them. Sadly, such “batteries” can only be recharged at appropriate places and/or times of power. Very few people have the ability to draw on ambient magic, and most of them can only do so for a limited set of effects even if they learn the relevant (near-lost) techniques. .
Ambient Magic currently has a base level of 30 points, but varies by +/-10 depending on various factors. Minor, notable, major, or grandiose power nexi still vary, but have base levels of 40, 50, 60, or even 70 active points (add +10 if a relevant focus is in place, such as a stelae, pyramid, or similar megalithic structure). Necromantic rituals and sacrifices can increase the local magic level as well, just like a nexus. Ambient magic does tend to be linked with matter: it’s weak in empty space, stronger near planets, stars, and strongest around (or in) galactic-scale black holes, where it can reach levels of up to 120 points. (That, of course, is why they were built). The Rho-Field suppresses ambient magic by about 40 points.
Invocation Magic draws on the energies of one of the Hundred Realms (usually thru a link with some powerful inhabitant thereof), or of some mighty cosmic being. Their active point limit depends on the being invoked and on how willing it is to help – but can be very high (up to 120 points for a few of the Hundred Realms, up to 150 points for Luathon, Death, and a few other cosmic entities). The problem here is that invocations tend to be pretty rigid (entities grant the powers they grant; you pay the points, you take the package), that they tend to bind those who draw on them to their own purposes, and that you’ve got to contact them in the first place – which means that you’ve got to have a fair amount of power to start with. Throughout most of the last few centuries, it’s also meant seeking out nexus strong enough to support the contact spell. Such magic has been rare historically, but now any fool with the right grimoire can contact powers far beyond his or her control.
Invocations are normally built as multipowers with a “-1” (only usable for a preset, GM-determined list of effects) and a -“.25” (recognized by knowledgeable magi) limitation applied. Some also include a cumulative transformation Side Effect (“-1”) which binds the user to the purposes of his or her patron.
-A few mages tap into particular nexi, or one of the hundred realms, instinctively. They tend to be powerful, but narrowly-focused. Most magic items work the same way, although a few are only foci for ambient magic.