Exploring Hypnotism in the Frontier

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by Tom Verreault

Hypnotism by Player Characters

Surprisingly, in the Star Frontiers game, the hypnosis subskill of the Psycho-Social skill requires no updating to match the current scientific thinking concerning hypnosis even after 30 years. The medical literature on hypnosis continues to identify it as a mental state of focused concentration that allows for suggestion and imaginative focus. It’s been used to block pain, treat some ailments, and treat some addictions.

In the game it automatically succeeds with a willing subject and can be used to gain a +10% bonus to a skill check or an ability check (hyper focus). It can be used to block the penalty for half Stamina (blocking of pain).

Other creative uses might be slowing the metabolism of a subject to slow the damage done by poison till proper medical treatment can be found (half damage from poison but for double the duration). It could be used to compel a character suffering from a disease that automatically ends in death to “not go into the light,” but rather remain in the world of the living (any disease with a “!” at the end of its stats results in death when the disease runs its course).

Natural healing is 1 point per 20 hours rest but hypnotism could be used to put the character into a comatose state for accelerated healing of 5 points per 20 hour period. The number of days the character will remain in a comatose state must be specified at the time of being hypnotized but a stim dose will revive the subject sooner. Hypnotism might also be used to slow the metabolic rates of beings in a life boat to extend the duration of its life support in an emergency situation.

The main limit on using hypnosis is time; it takes 1d10 minutes. If combat erupts suddenly there will be no chance of using it. And since most combats will resolve in less than a minute there simply will not be time to do it during combat.

The other limit is that the rules seem to suggest that the application of hypnotism for a specific effect can only be done once per 20 hours.  For example, hypnotism can block the pain penalty for half stamina (-20 to all activity) which will last for 1d10 hours and cannot be repeated for 20 hours. I would allow for multiple uses of hypnosis like skill check, ability check and a medical use like blocking pain or slowing metabolism but each one can be performed only once per 20 hour GST day in game.

Finally, there should be a wealth of opportunity to use hypnotism in game much like Obi-wan used it to trick the storm troopers in Star Wars: “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for.” However, this sort of thing would be dicey since the target gets an intuition check to resist. This is a double failure point since the character must first pass a skill check to hypnotize then the target gets an INT save to resist.  Of course most mooks in game don’t have full stats that provide an INT score so I recommend that a referee simply uses their STA score or their STA score minus 10 for the INT save.

Hypnotism by the Sathar

There is no skill roll by the sathar to do this, the action is automatic but it must be done outside of combat. The player character gets a logic check to save against it. It clearly is a little different form the hypnotism done by the player characters in that the save for it is based on logic not intuition.

I’ve never been comfortable with sathar hypnotism as it takes away player control of their character. I suppose that loss of player control of their characters is not all that uncommon in RPGs since D&D included lycanthropy and undead conditions where control was loss to the player. 

Carefully handled, sathar hypnotism would result in heightened tension for the players. After one or two incidents of hypnotism they would seek to counter the hypnotism ability of the sathar with shooting first, fast, and furiously to prevent a sathar from talking to them. The likelihood of a sathar actually hypnotizing a player character is low as their appearance should precipitate combat almost immediately. Hypnotism by a sathar is probably only going to happen by referee fiat- carefully crafted situations where the players might not realize they are talking to a sathar.

I would limit such loss of player control of their characters to an inability to attack the sathar or to the automatic performance of a simple action that does not “violate the character’s morals or religion.” Since the opportunity to hypnotize must be crafted by the referee the compulsion to perform a simple action should be well planned and thought out.

An example might be the shutting off of a security device that lets a sathar or its agents penetrate a facility. I would handle this by first rolling the logic save secretly and if the character fails not telling the player about the hypnotism until the compulsion is performed. At that point the player is told of the hypnotism in a sort of flash back. The situation should be that the sathar and or their agents have already benefited from the compulsion so that it cannot be simply undone. The player will now know they have been the victim of a sathar hypnotic manipulation and that they are responsible for what is currently happening, thus allowing them to fix it but not easily.

Finally the setting material intimates that there are 1,000s of sathar agents out there. The act of being an agent goes quite a bit beyond simple hypnotism.  I would propose that the sathar are able to turn non-player characters through hours of torture, sleep deprivation, and hypnotic meddling.  The turned agent has an imprint of the sathar psyche that operates beneath the surface of the host’s conscious mind. In many cases the host will become clinically insane over time. It might be that a character can use the psycho-pathology subskill to free an agent from the imprinted sathar psyche, but the result will be a shattered and borderline personality that talks about voices in his head.