Talents and Levels
Worldbuilding in PsyCop
Once upon a time if you told doctors you heard voices,
they’d diagnose you as schizophrenic, put you on heavy drugs,
and lock you away in a cozy state institution
to keep you from hurting yourself or others.
Nowadays they test you first to see if you’re psychic.
That’s the start of the PsyCop series. A lot of worldbuilding is happening in those two sentences! It turned out to be a pretty good premise: psychic abilities exist, and you can be tested for them. Victor Bayne, our protagonist, is a psychic medium. He sees dead people. But there are other abilities as well.
In PsyCop, there are six talents on the records, and seven levels of ability possible in each talent.
Mediumship: communicate with the dead
Empathy: pick up on others’ feelings
Telepathy: pick up on others’ thoughts
Clairvoyance: see across a distance
Precognition: glimpse the future
Telekinesis: move things with your mind
Initially, I had a chart of how each level would manifest in each talent. This was so many years ago, the computer is long gone and I couldn’t even tell you what program I did it in. Eventually, I realized it didn’t exactly matter (except in one particular way, which I’ll go into in a second.)
Psychic ability is a lot like playing the piano. One person might sight-read music flawlessly. Someone else can hear a song once and play it back by ear. Someone else writes gorgeous songs with great hooks. They’re all playing the piano, and they all have ability. But how do you ascribe a simple numeric value to each one? You could try, but the information isn’t very descriptive.
I’ve made a big deal out of Victor Bayne’s mediumship level simply because he’s been hiding it all these years. Initially, when he figured out he was actually seeing dead people and wasn’t just schizophrenic, being a medium was great—it was his ticket out of a mental institution. Unfortunately, soon after he transferred to a psychic training facility, a dead medium warned him that if he was too powerful, he’d run the risk of being permanently silenced so as not to fall into the wrong hands. Thus began his M.O. of minimizing, avoidance and subterfuge.
In the series, there is a numeric system in place. A level 1 has a talent that’s faint and unreliable. Most psychics are level 2. Their talents work, but in a limited way, and are harder to control when they’re tired and stressed. Level 3’s and 4’s are pretty serious. Normal folks are creeped out by them. Level 5’s are rare, 6’s are staggering, and 7’s are a godlike pinnacle of the talent. Vic starts out the series as a known level 5…and that’s with him omitting half the stuff he can actually do.
A theme I often visit in my work is that bureaucracy is big, ponderous, and typically dead wrong. (Here’s where the numeric assessment I mentioned earlier comes in.) The government agencies who set up the six-talent, seven-level system are crippled by their bureaucracy. Throughout the series, Vic finds out that some level 2’s are practically omniscient, and talents exist that don’t fit any of the currently known categories. He also discovers a key element to the PsyCop program was lost to a crappy photocopy!
In the most recent PsyCop installment, Agent Bayne, Vic is paired up with someone who trained with him years ago. Unlike Vic, she did her best to prove her talent, but ended up ramming into a glass ceiling. She’d been categorized as a moderately talented level 4, but it turns out she can give Vic a run for his money. And together, they can venture into some scary post-life territory.