Gameplay Proposals/Psionic warfare
Since aliens are connected together via a psionic link through the XVI, so after enough research into XVI and how it works, humans should be able to tap into the XVI net to counter the effects of XVI.
- 1 How would psionics work?
- 2 Psi modules
- 3 Various types of psionic attacks
- 4 Unsuccessful attempts and risks they carry
- 5 Alien protections against psionics
- 6 PHALANX Base psionic facility
- 7 Policy against psi-attacked aliens
How would psionics work?
When not using psionics actively, uninfected and unimplanted human hosts should be completely immune to psionics -- in other words, no Ethereals or Sectoids taking over PHALANX troops. While this sounds easy, there is a hook attached: after switching from passive psionics into an active attack, the XVI would be able to respond by lashing out at the attacker, reflecting the attacks back at the psionic, or even escalating them to a higher level. A psi-implanted psionicist may be at risk from high ranking aliens (maybe only from Tamans). Furthermore, after noticing that there are human psionicists, the XVI would attempt to protect itself better against them and develop new ways of protection. Of course, psionicists would improve as well, and more powerful ones would be able to attack much more reliably, even achieving a higher level effect with a low level attack. Isolated aliens away from their craft are basically helpless against the attack. When in a tight group, especially when close to their craft, they have an automatic ability of psionic linking, with redundant and more powerful links. All attacks can be made more than once per turn, assuming the attacker has enough TUs.
Soldiers attempting psi must have free hands as they can lose control of them when attempting psionics (of course they may have a weapon holstered). There can be two types of psi modules -- external and implanted. Implanted modules are vastly more powerful, but can be turned on and off by the psionicist only (and the aliens, if they manage to break in -- the psionicist is at potential risk when facing very powerful aliens), and are more susceptible to alien responses. External modules (maybe realised as headgear) can be turned off by other people and are less susceptible to alien attacks, but also less powerful. Both can be used in unison, giving the attacker their combined power, but even after turning off the external module by someone else, the psionicist will still be under alien lashout.
Various types of psionic attacks
I would imagine Psionics to work in at least six possible ways, based on the difficulty of trying the attack and the danger to the user.
While not really an attack, its effect relies on the psionicist's power. Weak attackers might not get any reading, or only get some basic information about the alien. More powerful attackers could be able to gain the number, or even types of aliens on the map. The most powerful ones could create a complete link map, and being able to see the other aliens' exact locations. Because it is not an attack, XVI is completely oblivious to reading links and cannot protect itself against it other than passively. This attack should cost some TUs, and more powerful psionics might have an option to spend more TUs to do a more thorough reading (maybe reserving TUs from the next turn to maintain the link map?).
The most basic attack causes the XVI in the alien to have a degraded connection to the alien hive mind. The alien would become unpredictable and its behavior erratic. It might stand around doing nothing, it might drop the weapon or shoot it at random, it might start acting on its lower urges, it might still be connected to the XVI net, but the link would become weaker and the alien would be driven by suggestions rather than outright direct control, or the link would start breaking so the alien would spend part of its time units on being controlled and another part on doing nothing. The initiator would simply attack the psionic link without establishing any sustained connection, so XVI would have no chance of counterattacking. On the downside, there would be no way on whether the attack succeeded or not, and if it succeeded, what effect did it achieve. On a scale of 0-10, where 0 means absolutely no connection with the XVI network and 10 means a complete connection, it would cause the connection to drop a few points, but with an unknown value (which would be recovered on a per turn basis). This attack should be easy, cost a fixed amount of few TUs, and should carry a concrete loss of alien coordination. Of course it would be detectable by aliens, although without an ability to neither fully pinpoint the cause nor easily or quickly relinking the lost link. More powerful psionics should even be able to cause a link break if the attack is proficient enough.
Basically, if successful, the attack will result in a system shock of varying severity. This will cause its muscles to relax, might lead to a possibility of a cardiac arrest and/or loss of respiration, and the alien will drop to the ground, catatonic. After a few turns, if the link has not been reestablished, the alien may wake up and wander around aimlessly. The initiator attacks the link directly attempting to strain it to the point of breaking, and XVI has a chance of protecting itself (powerful psionicists should rather use degrade link), by bending or redirecting the link. Bending the link causes it to degrade, but not break. When the alien is in a group, redirecting the link causes the link to be rerouted through other aliens, causing the attack to fail outright. Lashing out is possible when the alien is in a group and the attack is too weak -- the attack causes the psionicist to be vulnerable to lashing out. While being more difficult to accomplish than a degrade, a break results in a complete loss of all 10 points on the link scale. A mid-level psionicists should be able to achieve a break even when only able to cause a 4-5 point degrade. The psionicist will lose an amount of TUs proportional to the difficulty of breaking the link (proficient psionicists will lose less).
The objective of this attack is to cause the alien network to be unable to recreate the link to the alien host after the link has already been broken, or attempt to break the link and then blank it. After succeeding, the aliens will not be able to seize control of that host for the entire combat. The attack carries some risk of backlash from the host's XVI when the link to the network has already been lost, and the risks associated with the previous attack if the link has not been broken or weakened yet. TU cost should be proportional to the difficulty (blank cost+break cost if applicable). More powerful psionicists would be able to blank the link easily with a single attack, but less powerful ones would be required to spend some TUs on maintaining the blank, up to the point of losing all TUs if necessary.
This is a more sophisticated attack. It does not attempt to break the link, but rather act as a middle party between the alien and the network. This might cause the alien network to see other aliens as humans, humans as aliens, cause your soldiers and/or civilians to disappear, etc. In the other direction, the alien might be instructed to shoot an enemy, but due to the attack, it would cause the alien to miss, even though the gun would seem to be right on target to the alien network. Grenades instructed to be activated and thrown would not be activated, but completely harmless, or would be activated, but dropped. The initiator would have to tap the psionic link, and inject him- or herself as the middle party either through certain suggestions or outright rerouting. This type of attack attempts to be completely transparent, so chances of detection are low (the initiator can be instructed to not to try breaking in the hard way). But even breaking in the hard way, if done right, can remain undetected. On the flip side, if using suggestions it's not easy to tell whether the attack was successful or not, and whether, for example, the alien missed because of the poisoned link or because of natural reasons. When breaking in the hard way, the psionic is always sure whether the attack succeeded, but XVI can detect that and lash out. This attack is more difficult and should come in three power variants: suggestion, hard way suggestion and hard way direct. The first two require some attention from the attacker (thus requiring more TUs), but if the third is successful, it should cause a complete loss of TUs (direct and complete control of the link is exhausting). If the hard direct way is ultimately unsuccessful, it should cause the unit to lose an amount of TUs proportional to the time spent on breaking into the link.
The objective of this attack is to take over control of the alien. The risks here are the most powerful. After establishing a link, it requires a lot of power to maintain it and less powerful psionicists might even be unable to tell whether they are the controllers or the controlled. Every psionicist may attempt to break contact as necessary, unless XVI has assumed control of the psionicist. XVI will protect itself against mind control, and unlike other attacks, it will get extra attempts with time. This attack is more or less a formality on a blanked or broken link. The difference lies in whether the aliens will be able to regain link to the mind-controlled alien or not. If the alien has been blanked, they will be unable to do so. But if the link has only been broken, the network will slowly regain connection (more powerful psionicists should be able to notice it). A blank can and should be attempted later (by the controlling psionicist or any other). A successful mind control will not cause a catatonic alien to stand up, and the attempt will result in losing TUs regardless. When attempted against a linked or link-degraded alien, it allows the player to take control of the enemy with its full armament (assuming link degradation didn't cause it to drop its weaponry). Its difficulty scales with link quality and is most difficult (but nevertheless possible) when attempted against a full link. It first attempts to break the link, and if it is successful, it will attempt mind control to prevent system shock. This attack requires the controller to lose all of his or her TUs on a successful mind control, but when in control, they get TUs of the controlled alien, and a portion of those TUs may be spent on psionic attacks against other aliens (except mind control, of course) or easier attacks against the controlled host (mind blank can be attempted on the host).
Unsuccessful attempts and risks they carry
Using psionics causes the attacker to enter the same mind level as aliens share, thus exposing him- or herself to identical attacks on part of the aliens. Almost every psionic attack attempt carries a risk of being countered by the aliens. The more powerful the psionicist is, the less affected he or she will be, up to a point where a response is below the psionicist's threshold and thus completely unscucessful.
Basically, a breakout occurs when mind control is unsuccessful or when it is broken later either by the alien network regaining control or by death or unconsciousness of the controlled host. The controller becomes disoriented at the sudden unexpected change of his or her location, and may become distressed. Losing control as a result of the host dying or losing consciousness is similar to waking from a nightmare -- it may or may not cause shock, even up to unconsciousness or insanity.
In psionic mode, the attacker becomes susceptible to psi attacks. When an attempted attack is unsuccessful, the aliens may lash out at the attacker. A lashout will attempt to recreate the effect the attacker has attempted. When the attacker attempted a link break, he or she may become disoriented, up to the point of becoming incoherent for some time, or even losing consciousness (severity will vary from fainting to an outright coma). When the attacker attempted a blank, the host's XVI may cause effects similar to the ones above and an especially dreadful attack, where the XVI in the host attempts to attach itself to the mind of the attacker in lieu of the lost connection to the alien network. This will resemble a successful mind blank, but the psionicist will be unable to break out of the attack, hence losing all TUs every turn and being slowly drawn towards insanity (death of host halts the lashout instantly). When the psionicist attempted a poison, the alien network might lash out by launching suggestions of its own against the attacker (inducing panic, where the psionicist might draw a pistol from the holster and start shooting people around him because he believes they are aliens). If the attacker attempted mind control, he or she might get controlled right back.
A particularly violent lashout, prevalent against weak psionicists attempting to attack a high ranking alien. When a lashout was successful, the XVI might attempt to escalate the attack, attempting a higher level attack (any number of levels higher).
Alien protections against psionics
As humans become more proficient with using psionics, the aliens will attempt to counter it.
A passive way of defence. Since XVI is in the entire bloodstream of a host, protecting against psionics requires overalls. They are on the bulky side and it is impossible to combine them with normal armor (that can be explained away by saying alien armor amplifies psionics), so the aliens are either wearing psionic armor which makes them resistant (not immune!) to psionics, but makes them lose some TUs and all armor-offered protection. Wearing armor makes them even more susceptible to psionics, but helps them in conventional warfare.
The XVI will slowly improve the power of its link, being gradually propagated over a number of aliens, but not all. Its progress might be ever so slightly better than the natural progress of human psionics, making psionics more challenging as time progresses. However, if the link gets too strong, some alien bodies may become overloaded and die. There is a fine line between being able to protect itself and being unable to progress any further. This stronger XVI should cause less experienced psi corps to have problems getting field experience (which might be a necessary requirement to improving).
PHALANX Base psionic facility
The facility should be required to train psionicists. Training them should also require live aliens in the Containment, who are likely to die when used as training tools. During a base attack, a psionic facility should assist defending psionicists against aliens. The facility should be more or less autonomous in attempting to degrade links among aliens.
Policy against psi-attacked aliens
The player should be able to instruct his troops to not shoot mind-controlled aliens unless mind control is lost. The player should also be able to instruct the troops to not use lethal force against aliens that have been disabled (those that dropped their weapons and are now wondering around aimlessly).