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D&D 5E How should psionics be handled in 5e?

shadow

First Post
I've been a fan of psionics for a long time and I hope to see psionics make an appearance soon in 5e soon. This leads to a question of how psionics should be handled with the 5e rules. Each previous edition has handled psionics differently. Back in 1st edition they were extra add-ons that characters could get if they were lucky. 2nd edition had the psionicist as a separate character class with unique powers that were distinct from magic in both mechanics and flavor (although could be a little overpowered). 3e psionics were more balanced, but were in many ways were very similar to magic with a slightly different flavor. (I never really played 4e, so I'm not for sure how they were handled in 4e.)

How do I think psionics should be handled in 5e? Well, I think that psionics should be distinct from magic in both terms of flavor and in terms of rules. Psionics should have less direct damage dealing powers than arcane magic and be able to do effects that are unavailable to both arcane and divine spell casters.
Also, rather than having powers grouped by level, there should be power chains with certain powers requiring certain prerequisites. (That will prevent psionics from seeming like just magic with a point system). Finally, psionic combat should be an integral part of the system with psionic attacks and defense separate from other power (so that psionic combat is more than just inflicting damage or status effects on a target).

Overall, I envision the 5e psionicist as a character that has some very powerful and unique powers, but is limited in the overall number of powers.
 

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I've been a fan of psionics for a long time and I hope to see psionics make an appearance soon in 5e soon. This leads to a question of how psionics should be handled with the 5e rules. Each previous edition has handled psionics differently. Back in 1st edition they were extra add-ons that characters could get if they were lucky. 2nd edition had the psionicist as a separate character class with unique powers that were distinct from magic in both mechanics and flavor (although could be a little overpowered). 3e psionics were more balanced, but were in many ways were very similar to magic with a slightly different flavor. (I never really played 4e, so I'm not for sure how they were handled in 4e.)
In 4e, each 'source' was different. Traditional D&D Vancian magic was the 'Arcane' Source, and the Divine, Primal, and Psionic sources were all distinct from it (Shadow and Elemental, not so much, they tended to combine with other sources).

The Psionic source, in addition to being 'powers of the mind,' was associated with the Far Realms, the idea being the awakening of psionic powers was a reaction to the threat of the insanity-inducing Far Realms.

Mechanically, most Psionic classes gained short-rest-recharge 'power points' that augmented at-wills instead of gaining encounter powers. The exception being the Monk, who instead got the 'full discipline' mechanic that linked paired attack & movement powers.


How do I think psionics should be handled in 5e? Well, I think that psionics should be distinct from magic in both terms of flavor and in terms of rules. Psionics should have less direct damage dealing powers than arcane magic and be able to do effects that are unavailable to both arcane and divine spell casters.
There really aren't a lot of effects that are unavailable to both arcane and divine casters.

Also, rather than having powers grouped by level, there should be power chains with certain powers requiring certain prerequisites. (That will prevent psionics from seeming like just magic with a point system).
5e actively avoided the complexity of prerequisites in it's implementation of feats (and made them optional, as well), so I doubt that'd fly.

Finally, psionic combat should be an integral part of the system with psionic attacks and defense separate from other power (so that psionic combat is more than just inflicting damage or status effects on a target).
Also questionable on the grounds of added complexity.


Overall, I envision the 5e psionicist as a character that has some very powerful and unique powers, but is limited in the overall number of powers.


In spite of what I'd like to see, and what I expect many psionic fans would like to see - and even what Mr. Mearls has recently gone on record as 'theoretically' wanting to do, /if/ he were working on psionics (which means he's not working on it) - the simplest, least disruptive way to add psionics would probably be as a Sorcerer sub-class. It leverages existing mechanics, gives the psionic a point system (which it's had in every incarnation, IIRC), and could be differentiated from other sorcerers and archanists with a different spell list, including a few unique new psonic-y spells. That would give the psionic a relatively few (relative to a full neo-vancian caster like wizard or cleric), powerful, possibly unique, abilities.
 

There are two ways they could do Psionics that work, IMO. They could do it as a sub-class or as a class. Either way, Wild Talents can be done with Feats, or very minor ones from Backgrounds.

They could easily make it a sub-class of Sorcerer with some re-theme (similar to the Favored Soul) and call it a day. Many of the Sorcerer's spells fit the psionic concepts pretty well, and everything else that's needed can be added from the Sub-class benefits.

The "best" way would actually be to make a new class, using the warlock as it's base (as Wizard is the base of Sorcerer, and Cleric is the base for Druid). Instead of a single attack cantrip doing the payload (eldritch blast), you could have the 5 attack types as cantrips. Many common psionic abilities would be the equivalent of invocations, as would the defense modes, and powerful psionic abilities would be done with spells. The sub-classes could be the different types of psions, from telepaths to psy-blades. The biggest advantage of this would be an existing framework that already works (mostly) with the multi-class system, so you don't have to reinvent the wheel.
 

Fralex

Explorer
I've tested out the idea of making the psion a sorcerer subclass and it's worked surprisingly well. But I also think it would be cool to have psionic magic work completely differently from spellcasting. My current ideas are something like this:

-Spellcasters expend resources to use their powers, psions treat their powers like extensions of themselves and don't generally cost them anything
-Spellcasters learn a hodgepodge of different powers to use, psions learn one or two good techniques that can be used in a variety of ways

Essentially, I want psionics to feel like using magic the same way a fighter uses a weapon. You don't really run out of energy unless you exert yourself to do something spectacular, and you always do stuff using the same basic tool you've been training with. For instance, a nomad's techniques would all be focused around short-range at-will teleportation powers (yes, there is a way to balance this), whereas a shaper's techniques would be focused around conjuring tools and obstacles out of ectoplasm according to a few general rules. I'm also thinking psionic power is limited mostly by the size of your aura, the area around you that your mind can manipulate. As you level up, your aura grows.
 

Fralex

Explorer
Flavor-wise, I like the idea that psionic power is a trait that just naturally develops as a mental immune system against the madness of the Far Realm. The Gith aren't psychic because living under the mind flayers corrupted and enslaved their minds with aberrant influence; they're psychic because their minds began to fight back and resist the influences of aberrant subjugation, like an immune system developing antibodies to fight a new disease. Psionics is self-defense for your sanity and will.
 

Coffinthrower

First Post
I'd go for a different take: less overall powers, with each power giving an always active bonus (akin to warlock's invocations,) but the ability to concentrate to upgrade the power with additional effects (akin to 3.5 augments.) Throw in the capability to gain exhaustion to channel powers past your limits.

Id call it Incarnum, perfect name for a less sci-fi psionics, and a call back to that 3.5 sourcebook (but to me, I only liked the names Incarnum and Essentia, the rest of the book was awful in regards to how the concept of soul magic was executed.)
 

77IM

Explorer!!!
Supporter
-Spellcasters expend resources to use their powers, psions treat their powers like extensions of themselves and don't generally cost them anything
-Spellcasters learn a hodgepodge of different powers to use, psions learn one or two good techniques that can be used in a variety of ways

THIS.

I never played with psionics in 4E, but conceptually I like the idea that every power had an at-will use (akin to a 5E cantrip) and one or more uses that costs points. Certain uses might only be available at higher levels, and certain powers might only be selectable at higher levels, or might have other powers as prerequisites. I think a shallow prerequisite tree is not too much complexity for players to handle; I'd aim for around 20 powers total, organized into 6 disciplines, each discipline being a subclass of psion. I'd give this class 1 point per level, like ki points or sorcery points; I don't want to be tracking tens or hundreds of points (I already do that with hit points). I'm not sure yet what I'd do with psychic warrior or soulknife or wilder or any of the other 3E/4E classes; my initial thought is that psychic warrior is a half-"caster" class with soulknife, ardent, and battlemind as its 3 subclasses.

Oh, and I made a psion sorcerer subclass too, although I have not yet tried it out in play.
 

The psion and psionics really needs to invoke feelings of past versions of the system. If it doesn't appeal to established psionic fans it's a failure.
That said, there should be optional rules and variants, possibly with alternate names and recharge mechanics.

I'd like to see psionics act like an alternate source of magic. The 2e and 3e versions tried really hard to make the powers different, reinventing the wheel. It's just easier to have them use and cast existing spells.
Divine spellcasters know all the spells on their list, while arcane spellcasters have to learn individual spells. It'd be nice if there was a variation on that to distinguish and separate psionic casting.
 

Leatherhead

Possibly a Idiot.
I never truly loved psionics to begin with. Mostly because it was arbitrarily different from magic in every edition. But what the heck? Lets go full gonzo with this:

For starters: Psionics should have the ability to build your own attack, à la carte style.

Then, allow them to switch psionic defense modes as a bonus action per round. Which are just passive defensive stances that can be maintained separately from concentration. Just make sure they have a tangible defensive benefit against non-psionic attacks.

And finally add lots of crystals, because crystals are psionic, somehow.
 

Minigiant

Legend
Supporter
I'd just have psionics as at-will "powers" that do minor effects and have bigger effects if you put "points" in them. No spell levels. Just a bunch of scaling effects. telepathy, farseeing, and telekinesis cannot be used for attacks until you put points into them. The psion class just gets more points, more "powers" known, and exclusive "powers". A feat can snag you one "power". Want a kinetict, pick mind push, psychic leap, and telekinesis. Want a telepath, pick mind read, telepathy, intellect fortress. Want a soul knife, pick mind blade, speed of thought, and psychic strike.

Simple, similar flavor as the past, and different for "magic".
 


KidSnide

Adventurer
The powers (e.g. spells) are far more important for psionics than the casting mechanics. If you had a solid power list, it would be pretty easy to build a satisfying psion with, say, the sorcerer mechanics.

-KS
 

Fralex

Explorer
THIS.

I never played with psionics in 4E, but conceptually I like the idea that every power had an at-will use (akin to a 5E cantrip) and one or more uses that costs points. Certain uses might only be available at higher levels, and certain powers might only be selectable at higher levels, or might have other powers as prerequisites. I think a shallow prerequisite tree is not too much complexity for players to handle; I'd aim for around 20 powers total, organized into 6 disciplines, each discipline being a subclass of psion. I'd give this class 1 point per level, like ki points or sorcery points; I don't want to be tracking tens or hundreds of points (I already do that with hit points). I'm not sure yet what I'd do with psychic warrior or soulknife or wilder or any of the other 3E/4E classes; my initial thought is that psychic warrior is a half-"caster" class with soulknife, ardent, and battlemind as its 3 subclasses.

Oh, and I made a psion sorcerer subclass too, although I have not yet tried it out in play.

4e did a lot of things very differently from other editions, and not everyone was happy about it, but psionics was one of those things that really NEEDED to be done differently, and I liked what they came up with.
 

steeldragons

Steeliest of the dragons
Epic
Here's what I'm thinking...after a half dozen (at least) "Psionics, in 5e, How/What/Where" threads:

1) Psion/Psychic [full/base] Class.
Has its own mechanic for manifesting powers be this borrowing from Sorcerer or Ki Points, Warlock Invocations, ability checks for sustaining (I wouldn't do it for initiating, but maintaining) powers, recharging on short rests, whatever, and/or any combination thereof that is beyond/not the same as existing "casting" mechanics/no "spell slots".

Opened Mind: A list of low level/power general "psychic combat" [offenses & defenses] and detection [detect sentient mind, detect good/evil, etc...] powers that any/all psychics receive. For example, something akin to "Detect Psionics" or a "Danger Sense" (Something "feels" wrong) would be ok, something like Mage Hand, Detect Thoughts or Clairvoyance would be too specific/belong among the subclass powers.

Proficiencies: Light armor, simple weapons,...set of tools of choice?

Subclasses of the Psion/Psychic Class: Telepath, Telekinetic ["Teke"], Seer [Clairsentience. Separate power lists that the subclass gains access to at this choice point (2nd or 3rd level, as best matches other "full caster" classes).

So there's -at least a start- your 2-3eish major disciplines. To my mind Psychometabolism and Psychoportation can definitely take a back seat (or really go away entirely, afaiac), are already done in a variety of ways in the system and/or belong, more appropriately, to other classes (like Druid Wildshape, DimensionDoor/Teleport spells for mages, etc...). Trying to force them into a Psionic introduction is both cluttering and adding unnecessary complexity. You want to have "See these are MIND powers, /not/ the same as Magic", so make/show them MIND powers. 3 subclass/disciplines of the most common avenues of "psychic powers" is more than sufficient for introducing psionics to 5e.

2) Subclass of Fighter base class: Psychic Warrior. Maybe with powers introduced in a "Domain Spells" kind of way [for everyone who wants to play a Jedi in D&D fantasy.] Roll in "Soulknife" or whatever it was with the "psychic blades" as a higher level feature.

So there's your Psychic Warrior and Soulknife that lots of folks seem to want/think is what Psionics is. And a footprint to follow if you want to do your own "Psionic Existing-Base class."

3) Optional/Variant/Sidebar: Wild Talent Feat
Get whatever the bare minimum of the manifesting mechanic is, be that minimal points or a once per short rest or what have you. Select from a list of powers that you use at whatever the manifesting mechanic allows. Maybe, to borrow the structure used for existing optional feats, choose 2 "General Psychic Powers" and 1 talent/gift from the Telepathy, Telekinetics or Clairvoyance power lists of the lowest "tier/point cost."

There's your 1e, random psionic power on top of any PC of any class.

So I think that works. All this arguing over "no do it this way, no do it that, no its distinct enough for its own class, no it's fine as a sorcerer variant, no it should be a feat"...Just hit it full on, introducing every possible option: full class, subclass to existing class, feat. Done.

No, you're not getting your separate psionic rogue and separate psionic monk right away, but the example/ground work is there, the precedent has been set. "You /can do/ a psionic X class! See? Like they did with the Psychic Warrior."

That's all that's needed for the introduction of Psionics to 5e.

Now, this business about "how do we flavor it/should we change the flavor [since we're being told to do something that has to be branded as 'D&D psionics']" is a whole different question/story. But, since fluff/flavor is stripped/ignored from the 5e system as easily as breathing, I suppose it's really a non-issue.
 
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Fralex

Explorer
Can Wild Talent manifest as one useful power and one random power that's the magical equivalent of a trinket? We could make up a whole table of them, with stuff like "Can hum entire chords instead of just singular notes" or "can conjure an ectoplasmic psi-construct of any hat they have seen before" or "can momentarily make all intelligent creatures within 10 feet, self included, forget their given names for 1 round as an action." Weird, questionably-useful, but fun to play around with stuff. Like a psionic prestidigitation.
 

OB1

Jedi Master
For the campaign I am currently running, I'm using Ki to envoke the psionic feeling and flavor. Ki is drawn from either the positive or negative energy plain through direct mental discipline. Drawing the power from one plane tends to attract the attention of beings who draw power from the other, thereby setting up an eternal conflict between light and dark.

I've added Ki based subclases to Fighters and Thieves as well as several Ki feats that any class can take to get a few minor powers. I'm toying with a wizard or sorcerer like full Ki class that would be more along the lines of a wizard in that their entire focus is on mastering Ki and don't have any direct martial abilities, but not sure if I will need, may only use for NPCs. May also do a Barbarian subclass that uses Ki or flavor current Barbarian powers as Ki/psi in nature (saw that idea in another thread that rage comes from psi and immediately had to steal it)

For me this works, as Ki is an underutalized concept with only the Monk currently using it, whereas arcane and divine power sources are all over the place.
 

Fralex

Explorer
I mentioned this in the other thread, but I'll bring it up here too. I think I've worked out what makes the source of psionics different from other magic.

Exposure to the Far Realm can incite a reaction in some individuals that allows them to use their minds to create supernatural effects as a way of fighting back against the disease trying to infect their mind. But the Far Realm is not where the power comes from.

People have been saying psionics is special partly because the power comes from within. But not in the same way as a sorcerer. I think I know how to make the distinction now.

Psionic power, in essence, is an understanding. A little-known Truth about the nature of reality. It's not really a secret, like the arcane is. It's just some mysterious bit of knowledge that is almost impossible to grasp. When you reach a full understanding of it, you've been "Awakened" and can suddenly manipulate reality as if it were an extension of your body. You have no need to study further to gain more power; there is nothing else you need to learn to use psionics better. From then on, you need only practice your new abilities to make them stronger. Whereas each arcane spell is like its own little secret that must be discovered and studied to use, new psionic techniques are merely different ways to wield the same weapon, and the only obstacle to gaining them is practice.

Nobody can explain this psionic Truth to you; the nature of the Truth is so far beyond conventional wisdom that it is inherently unexplainable to those who are not yet Awakened. There are no words for it. You simply have to come to the Truth on your own. The most a psion can do to help you is try guiding you in the right direction and hope you figure out how to move that way. Exposure to the Far Realm forces a person to face the existence of facts so completely alien to their understanding that they either go insane or painfully Awaken themselves in their mind's desperate attempts to protect itself from the terrible knowledge that is inherently unknowable.

If Sanity is being used as an ability score, I feel like making it the spellcasting ability for psions is especially appropriate. You can have mad wizards, mad priests, but it's really hard for me to imagine anyone with a mastery of psionics being insane. Their minds should be pretty clear and resilient to insanity, because understanding the impossible is where they got their powers in the first place.

So yeah, sorcerers have innate magic because it's infusing their very being, while psions have innate magic because they learned something impossible, and that one piece of knowledge was all they needed to use their powers.
 

Twiggly the Gnome

Adventurer
My first thought on how to handle psionics, is to collapse the 0 - 9 spell system into a small number of discreate powers. Each power has an at will manifestation (cantrip equivalent) and more powerful manifestations (unlocked at specific class level benchmarks) that require the expenditure of a certain number of points. At the DM's discretion, psi points and spell slots can be interchanged by multiclass psion/spellcasters.
 

Nifft

Penguin Herder
From a functional standpoint, what I want to see is:

- Attack Modes & Defense Modes matter; they are unlike spells or other powers. They are at-will, perhaps constant, and have their own rock-paper-scissors thing.

- Integration with core classes. I want a Psionic Monk, with about as much power & flavor as the Elemental Monk. I want a Psionic Sorcerer ("Wilder") who augments arcane magic with mental prowess, burning his own body to power his Wild Surges. I want a Mind Thief (Roguish Archetype) which gets a few Psionic tricks, and a Psychic Warrior (Martial Archetype). It'd be neat if Pyrokinetic were an optional Archetype, too.

- Rangers and Paladins? I dunno. An Illithid Slayer variant for the Ranger might be cool -- and that's the anti-Far Realms flavor which Mearls seems to like. A Psionic Paladin might steal some toys from the 3.5e Divine Mind, or from the 4e Warlord, or both.

- Not sure if Warlock is a good candidate based on the flavor... but the Blade Pact sounds suspiciously like it could be a Soulknife reskin, so I dunno.

- New Core Class or Classes: Psion itself, at least, ought to be a class, with six Disciplines.

- Feats to represent "wild talents" in non-Psionic characters. If your campaign is going for that random 1e feel, they can give us a table to roll for gaining Psionic powers every level, and you get a free Psionic feat if you roll well.

- - -

Specific implementation ideas:

- Attack Modes are like the Psionic version of Cantrips (except not actually Cantrips). They are useful against non-Psions -- they either inflict damage, or impose Disadvantage on something for a turn, or both. Using an Attack Mode is probably a standard action; perhaps you can expend a spell slot (or some power points) to inflict a secondary effect, or to change a single-target power into an area effect.

- Defense Modes are constant. You can have one of them at a time. They're either self-protection or area-protection; the self-protection ones have no downside, while the area ones protect your allies more than you -- and each of them makes you more vulnerable to one single-target Attack Mode. Switching your Defense Mode might be a bonus action. Or, maybe each Defense Mode can switch between single-target and area-protection. That would have nice symmetry.

- If we go with the area-personal switch Defense Modes, then each Defense Mode should be ineffective vs. one Attack Mode, and if you are using the area version, then you get Disadvantage on the save vs. that Attack Mode.

- Not sure if we need Focus as a separate mechanism. Lots of 5e classes seem to have at-will tricks.
 

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