Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Class Struggles: Psionics

I might be splitting this into two parts. I have a lot I want to say, not a lot of time to say it all and one of the books I really wanted to talk about is missing from my shelves.

Obviously one of the reasons I wanted to cover this topic this week was the release of the Basic Psionics Handbook.  It is not the first psionics book out there for old school gaming, but more on that later.

Psionics was always an interesting addition to D&D/AD&D.  Back in my AD&D1 days I loved it. Nearly every character had a psionic wild talent or five.  We used and abused the hell out of the rules in the AD&D Player's Handbook.  I know a lot of people at the time hated them, but my group loved them.  Probability Travel became a big deal when traveling between worlds and being Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy fans, Improbability Travel became a thing too. We even created more powers (including a third tier past Sciences) and built our own psionic classes, The Riddlemaster, Shadowmaster and the Beastmaster.

During this time between AD&D1 and AD&D2 I started playing with a group that was using the OD&D rules and a heavily modded set of psionic rules from Eldritch Wizardry.  We all played Deryni characters.  I have to admit these games really got me to rethink how to structure various psionic powers in a game.  On a side note I just picked up a bunch of the old Deryni books at my Library's recent book sale and looking forward to delving into those again.

When I got to college and then AD&D2 I dropped psionics from my games.  I had decided that magic and psionics just don't mix and should not be part of the same world.  I did pick up The Complete Psionics Handbook for 2e because I really wanted to know how they were going to revamp the psionic powers and of course see the first psionic classes.  While I never used the Psioinc rules when running 2e I enjoyed the book.  I even converted my group's old Riddlemaster to a more balanced Adept class.

D&D 3 came around and again Psionics were not part of the corebook, but seemed to be designed with the core rules in mind a little more.  The first book out was the Psionics Handbook.  Psionics for this version are more akin to spells mechanically than any other version.  This was updated for 3.5 in the Expanded Psionics Handbook and the Complete Psionic.

There is something going on here that I will get to in a bit.

We come up to more modern times and D&D 4.  Player's Handbook 3 and Psionic Power introduce us to yet another psionic system.  Now in this edition the Monk is a psionic based character class, which I like.

The interesting thing here is that between all four major editions of D&D, the psionic systems are all different and for the most part largely incompatible with each other. There are really only a few classes they have in common. Each edition has their fans.  I personally like the AD&D1 system the best, but that is largely because that is the one I used the most.  D&D3 and D&D4 have some great points about them, mostly how well the psionics system fits in with the main game systems.  D&D 3's "Spell like" system appeals to my sense of game design, even if they lack a certain level "differentness" that I like in my psionics.

There is a new psionic class coming out eventually for D&D 5. It is called the Awakened Mystic and it looks really cool to be honest. It's also different.

Which system do you like?  Which classes?

Next week I want to look over some of the classes in detail.


Tim Emrick said...

I've read the rules for 1e & 2e, but aside from one session of an aborted Dark Sun campaign, I never played with psionics until 3e. A friend of mine ran a campaign in a homebrew world where psionics was the secret weapon of the human/demihuman resistance against the empire's ogre magi overlords. None of the PCs started with psionic classes, but once we encountered and got recruited into the resistance, we had access to teachers, so most of us started multiclassing around 5th-6th level. (The campaign concluded around 11th level.)

Tim Emrick said...

In that game, the psionic classes ended up serving a role comparable to prestige classes in other games--you had to work towards discovering and earning them, they required an initiation of sorts, and possessing them marked you as a powerful hero.

JB said...

We played with psionics in our 1E days, any my main character was a major psionic user. It gave him an edge that made him one of the most powerful characters in the campaign (PC or NPC). He was able to nearly solo the module Q1, but was taken down by Lloth in the final encounter after he'd failed to heal himself with cell adjustment (damn ice storm spell)...he ended up limbless and senseless in an Abyssmal prison being tortured on a Prometheus-style scale. Good times.

However, we also made up additional psionic abilities. My buddy played a Drow assassin that was able to masquerade as a magic-user using his psionics. He had pyrokinetic powers that were completely house-ruled. Other characters that had psionics tended to be magic-users (the high intelligence, you know?), so it just gave them some additional "spell-like" power. For us, it was pretty simple. We rarely engaged in actual psionic combat, just made use of the various disciplines.

I've always been a fan of psionics, but often been frustrated by their implementation. I also picked up the Basic Psionics Handbook, but didn't enjoy find much to like (the chakra thing was kind of neat). I hate psionics as a class-based ability, as it ends up feeling like "just another type of spell-user" rather than something interesting and strange. But I'm biased based on my own background.

Fabio Milito Pagliara said...

I still remember a White Dwarf article dedicated to Psionics :)

the "basic psionics handbook" ia a really nice product (bought yesterday after reading your article) and indeed has a 1st/basic edition feel. The 2 new classes are spot on and you feel at home (if you used 1st ed psionics rules). At the time I had a major psi and it was lot of fun and very useful for our party of 3 (specially energy control and telekinesis :))

The Monk in the "BPH" is spot on while different, really a charming addition to my osr library :) (indeed I went to my print-shop and they are printing it :-) )

Unknown said...

I think my favorite implementation of psychic powers with a D&D-like is Paizo's psychic magic. I like the occult theme they associated with them and each class is oozing with flavor, especially the medium and the occultist.

My 2nd choice would probably be the 4e version. I think having Psionic be just another power source was an excellent decision. It kept things simple, fit the structure they already created with the game's rules, and made it easier for GMs to include because they don't have to learn an entirely new set of mechanics to do so.