D&D 5E Psionics in a sci-fi D&D

How would you do it?

  • Reskin magic

    Votes: 46 35.1%
  • Totally new system

    Votes: 85 64.9%

cbwjm

Legend
So, the same as the Mystic.
Similar to, but not quite. The mystic expend points from a larger pool when using powers. The psychic from stars without number has only a few points to spend and may end up burning then for the day or commit a couple of points for a long as that power is in use. For example, a powerful telekinetic can fly but once they're done the point of effort they spent comes back and can be used for something else. It creates a different feel to the psychic than just spending points. You also have to learn your techniques rather than just having access to everything in a discipline at a given level.
 

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Pedantic Grognard
Here are the options as I see them:

1) Reskin magic. For example, take the sorcerer chassis, refluff, make thematic subclasses, customize the spell list, and use something like the DMG spell point rules. For another example, take the 3.5 SRD psionics and adapt to 5th edition (which means, not particularly different from the first example).

2) Create a totally new system competitive with magic. Discover it is a hugely broken mess people* don't want to learn. Revise it to be less broken and easier to learn. Discover it's a largely broken mess people still don't want to learn. Revise it to be less broken and easier to learn. Discover it's a moderately broken mess people still don't want to learn. Revise it to be less broken and easier to learn. Discover it's a mildly broken mess. Revise it to be less broken and easier to learn.

In the end, see that because "less broken" consistently moves your design toward emulating the existing magic system (since existing systems are already tested and are the baseline for "broken"), and because "easier to learn" consistently moves your design toward the existing magic system (since people have already learned it), that you have reduplicated the process by which TSR/WotC went from the 2e Complete Psionics Handbook to the 3.5 Expanded Psionics Handbook, and you could have saved a lot of time by just taking option #1 to start with.

*Here read "most DMs". A complicated system that only players of psionicists had to learn would be fine, but if the DM doesn't know the rules, they aren't going to allow them. If you make the DM learn something new and complicated to allow psionics, you've reduced the tables that will use your psionics to the ones with a) players interested in learning and using the new system, and b) DMs willing to invest in learning the system rather than just saying "no psionics". If you were just selling a psionics book, that'd be fine, since your intended market is "fans of a psionics system". If you're going to use psionics as an integral part of your sci-fi D&D, you've radically reduced the appeal of your sci-fi D&D.

3) Make a totally new system, but make it so limited (thus avoiding learning load and breakage points) that it isn't competitive with magic, and accordingly unpopular with all the people who are voting for a totally new system. See Tasha's Cauldron of Everything psionics for an example.
 

Here are the options as I see them:

1) Reskin magic. For example, take the sorcerer chassis, refluff, make thematic subclasses, customize the spell list, and use something like the DMG spell point rules. For another example, take the 3.5 SRD psionics and adapt to 5th edition (which means, not particularly different from the first example).

2) Create a totally new system competitive with magic. Discover it is a hugely broken mess people* don't want to learn. Revise it to be less broken and easier to learn. Discover it's a largely broken mess people still don't want to learn. Revise it to be less broken and easier to learn. Discover it's a moderately broken mess people still don't want to learn. Revise it to be less broken and easier to learn. Discover it's a mildly broken mess. Revise it to be less broken and easier to learn.

In the end, see that because "less broken" consistently moves your design toward emulating the existing magic system (since existing systems are already tested and are the baseline for "broken"), and because "easier to learn" consistently moves your design toward the existing magic system (since people have already learned it), that you have reduplicated the process by which TSR/WotC went from the 2e Complete Psionics Handbook to the 3.5 Expanded Psionics Handbook, and you could have saved a lot of time by just taking option #1 to start with.

*Here read "most DMs". A complicated system that only players of psionicists had to learn would be fine, but if the DM doesn't know the rules, they aren't going to allow them. If you make the DM learn something new and complicated to allow psionics, you've reduced the tables that will use your psionics to the ones with a) players interested in learning and using the new system, and b) DMs willing to invest in learning the system rather than just saying "no psionics". If you were just selling a psionics book, that'd be fine, since your intended market is "fans of a psionics system". If you're going to use psionics as an integral part of your sci-fi D&D, you've radically reduced the appeal of your sci-fi D&D.

3) Make a totally new system, but make it so limited (thus avoiding learning load and breakage points) that it isn't competitive with magic, and accordingly unpopular with all the people who are voting for a totally new system. See Tasha's Cauldron of Everything psionics for an example.
Congratulations! You have successfully logiced your self out of doing anything interesting.
 

Hussar

Legend
We're asking for a nod to scientific plausibility, not a full explanation. I want to believe it could be described scientifically, even if I dont know the details. Your insistence that everything is just made up and it doesn't matter is an insult to that concept, and to fiction as a whole. WHAT you make up, and HOW, matters.
But, you just contradicted yourself.

If the "HOW" matters, and your nod to scientific plausibility does not in any way actually address "HOW", then by your own definition, it's not SF.

So, how am I being insulting to the concept of SF by insisting that your telepathy in a setting be actually given any sort of explanation as to how it works? After all, in Star Trek, there is no explanation for how telepathy works - it just does. Which is perfectly fine, by the way. SF in no way actually HAS to explain the how's, that's something that @Minigiant and apparently you have insisted on.

By your definition, most SF, like Doctor Who, isn't actually SF.
 

Here are the options as I see them:

1) Reskin magic. For example, take the sorcerer chassis, refluff, make thematic subclasses, customize the spell list, and use something like the DMG spell point rules. For another example, take the 3.5 SRD psionics and adapt to 5th edition (which means, not particularly different from the first example).

2) Create a totally new system competitive with magic. Discover it is a hugely broken mess people* don't want to learn. Revise it to be less broken and easier to learn. Discover it's a largely broken mess people still don't want to learn. Revise it to be less broken and easier to learn. Discover it's a moderately broken mess people still don't want to learn. Revise it to be less broken and easier to learn. Discover it's a mildly broken mess. Revise it to be less broken and easier to learn.

In the end, see that because "less broken" consistently moves your design toward emulating the existing magic system (since existing systems are already tested and are the baseline for "broken"), and because "easier to learn" consistently moves your design toward the existing magic system (since people have already learned it), that you have reduplicated the process by which TSR/WotC went from the 2e Complete Psionics Handbook to the 3.5 Expanded Psionics Handbook, and you could have saved a lot of time by just taking option #1 to start with.

*Here read "most DMs". A complicated system that only players of psionicists had to learn would be fine, but if the DM doesn't know the rules, they aren't going to allow them. If you make the DM learn something new and complicated to allow psionics, you've reduced the tables that will use your psionics to the ones with a) players interested in learning and using the new system, and b) DMs willing to invest in learning the system rather than just saying "no psionics". If you were just selling a psionics book, that'd be fine, since your intended market is "fans of a psionics system". If you're going to use psionics as an integral part of your sci-fi D&D, you've radically reduced the appeal of your sci-fi D&D.

3) Make a totally new system, but make it so limited (thus avoiding learning load and breakage points) that it isn't competitive with magic, and accordingly unpopular with all the people who are voting for a totally new system. See Tasha's Cauldron of Everything psionics for an example.
following your rationalisation to its logical conclusion just end with us not making anything and just playing a weak wizard, to seek to do something is important regardless of how likely we are to succeed.
 
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But, you just contradicted yourself.

If the "HOW" matters, and your nod to scientific plausibility does not in any way actually address "HOW", then by your own definition, it's not SF.

So, how am I being insulting to the concept of SF by insisting that your telepathy in a setting be actually given any sort of explanation as to how it works? After all, in Star Trek, there is no explanation for how telepathy works - it just does. Which is perfectly fine, by the way. SF in no way actually HAS to explain the how's, that's something that @Minigiant and apparently you have insisted on.

By your definition, most SF, like Doctor Who, isn't actually SF.
Yeah, people in the setting presumably know how telepathy works, but no attempt is made to explain it to viewers. And that is probably for the best, as any explanation would most likely sound like bollocks. Star Trek is (or used to be) somewhat harder scifi than Doctor Who in a sense that real science was often alluded to in vaguely correctish context. But details still obviously were left blank. When Star Trek technical adviser Michael Okuda was asked "How does the Heisenberg compensator work?" his answer was: "It works very well, thank you." I assume the same is true for telepathy.
 
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cbwjm

Legend
Something else I think about psionics, and I know many will disagree with me, is that I don't think it needs to be as powerful as magic. Instead, the psion class itself has to be roughly on par with the other classes. I don't think you need to have a high level psion running around thinking the equivalent of the wish spell. I'd probably balance the psion against the half casters with psychic effects topping out in power around the same as 5th level spells. So long as it's fun to play and psionics feels different (I know that's a nebulous term) I think it would be a fine addition to the game, whether in a sci-fi setting or regular dnd.

I think this was essentially the power level of the mystic.
 

tetrasodium

Legend
Supporter
Something else I think about psionics, and I know many will disagree with me, is that I don't think it needs to be as powerful as magic. Instead, the psion class itself has to be roughly on par with the other classes. I don't think you need to have a high level psion running around thinking the equivalent of the wish spell. I'd probably balance the psion against the half casters with psychic effects topping out in power around the same as 5th level spells. So long as it's fun to play and psionics feels different (I know that's a nebulous term) I think it would be a fine addition to the game, whether in a sci-fi setting or regular dnd.

I think this was essentially the power level of the mystic.
there is no guarantee that magic will be a thing. Much of this thread has operated on the assumption that magic is still a thing & talked about how psionics exists alongside d&d/levelup magic but very little has even touched on if it's just tech & psionics.
 

Yaarel

Mind Mage
Officially, psionics is magic.

This thread sometimes distinguishes between magic and psionics perhaps because of 1e and 2e.

However, 3e officially uses "transparency".

4e makes arcane, psionic, divine, and primal different power sources.

5e does the same. Psionic, arcane, divine, and apparently in the future primal too, are all officially "magic" power sources.

In 5e, psionics are magic, and specifically a form of "innate spellcasting", but can also appear as non-spell features.
 

Minigiant

Legend
Supporter
But, you just contradicted yourself.

If the "HOW" matters, and your nod to scientific plausibility does not in any way actually address "HOW", then by your own definition, it's not SF.
Yes.

The HOW has to be suggest by a mention of scientific plausibility to be Sci-Fi.

The level of plausibility required is dependent on:
  1. The subgenre of SciFi (Hard Scifi requires more explanation and ties to actual science than Soft Scifi)
  2. The focus of the element (The science of food replicators is less important that the unlimited ammo guns in a Military Scifi)
  3. The impact of the element (The science of terraforming and transportation is important in a story about living on different planets)
So, how am I being insulting to the concept of SF by insisting that your telepathy in a setting be actually given any sort of explanation as to how it works? After all, in Star Trek, there is no explanation for how telepathy works - it just does. Which is perfectly fine, by the way. SF in no way actually HAS to explain the how's, that's something that @Minigiant and apparently you have insisted on.

By your definition, most SF, like Doctor Who, isn't actually SF.
Because there are levels.

That's how Star Wars got kicked out of Sci-fi. The story is all about Jedi using mind powers to reflect blasters and make perfect shots then it takes 20 years to explain any of it via the weakest science excuses.

Whereas Star Trek can get away with "Telepathy is something some members of few races can do" because Telepathy is a minor element of Star Trek. More frequently used items like transporters get more details.


That's the issue of just reskinning spells. D&D spells are little bits of "detailed powerful reality warping". If you reskin in the most basic terms, you are limiting yourself to the solfest sci-fi imaginable. It would be hell to add any plausibility to all the various effect. To get to a medium level of hardness, you've have to cut, rewrite, and create so much than the effort would be the same as creating a new system. And you wouldn't be saving any time in creation nor teaching it.

Reskinning only saves time if you want to use the weakest and softest sci-fi subgenres.
 

But, you just contradicted yourself.

If the "HOW" matters, and your nod to scientific plausibility does not in any way actually address "HOW", then by your own definition, it's not SF.

So, how am I being insulting to the concept of SF by insisting that your telepathy in a setting be actually given any sort of explanation as to how it works? After all, in Star Trek, there is no explanation for how telepathy works - it just does. Which is perfectly fine, by the way. SF in no way actually HAS to explain the how's, that's something that @Minigiant and apparently you have insisted on.

By your definition, most SF, like Doctor Who, isn't actually SF.
Sci fi doesn't have to explain the how, but it does have to indicate that there is a scientific explanation, even if we dont know what it is. In that way, yes Doctor Who is a bit of an outlier, as it generally doesn't even try to explain. I would certainly not define most sci fi as like Doctor Who in that way.

By the way, if you do explain the how, you should probably do so in a way that sounds scientifically plausible if you stretch your brain a bit. That is what I was referring to in my earlier post. You certainly don't have to (as in Doctor Who), but it pretty common in sci fi to do so.
 

Officially, psionics is magic.

This thread sometimes distinguishes between magic and psionics perhaps because of 1e and 2e.

However, 3e officially uses "transparency".

4e makes arcane, psionic, divine, and primal different power sources.

5e does the same. Psionic, arcane, divine, and apparently in the future primal too, are all officially "magic" power sources.

In 5e, psionics are magic, and specifically a form of "innate spellcasting", but can also appear as non-spell features.
Sources of power in 5e are meaningless, descriptors associated with nothing. I'd like to actually put some meaning back, and the psionics rules would be a good place to start.
 


Minigiant

Legend
Supporter
OK.

"In this setting there is a scientific explanation for why psionics work like D&D magic. We just don't know what it is."

Sure
But then your subgenre now Space Opera Fantasy.
Your fighters now have unlimited ammo, 40 AC plate armor of Besker Mettarium Steel, and can leap 30 feet up with no running start.
 


cbwjm

Legend
there is no guarantee that magic will be a thing. Much of this thread has operated on the assumption that magic is still a thing & talked about how psionics exists alongside d&d/levelup magic but very little has even touched on if it's just tech & psionics.
I'm not saying magic will be in the setting, since this is a sci-fi setting psionics might be the sole source of powers. I'm just saying that you don't need to build psionics to be able to do as much as magic, just make sure that the class is similarly balanced against other classes and likely that will include a wizard since if this is a DnD sci-fi setting then presumably the classes are going to be similar to what's in the PHB.
 

OK.

"In this setting there is a scientific explanation for why psionics work like D&D magic. We just don't know what it is."
Just take the Numenera approach.

It's super-advanced technology. Done.

Actually I think it's telling that while Numenera does have the conceit that its magic has an underlying scientific explanation it doesn't rely on psionics to be that explanation. More commonly it waves vaguely at things like nano-technology*

*True it does have psychic powers, and that's one option, but it's limited much more to the more specific realm of psychics, rather than expanded into a catch-all explanation for pseudo-magic. (A recognition I think that it can't work that way any more.)
 
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Hussar

Legend
Yes.

The HOW has to be suggest by a mention of scientific plausibility to be Sci-Fi.

The level of plausibility required is dependent on:
  1. The subgenre of SciFi (Hard Scifi requires more explanation and ties to actual science than Soft Scifi)
  2. The focus of the element (The science of food replicators is less important that the unlimited ammo guns in a Military Scifi)
  3. The impact of the element (The science of terraforming and transportation is important in a story about living on different planets)

Because there are levels.

That's how Star Wars got kicked out of Sci-fi. The story is all about Jedi using mind powers to reflect blasters and make perfect shots then it takes 20 years to explain any of it via the weakest science excuses.

Whereas Star Trek can get away with "Telepathy is something some members of few races can do" because Telepathy is a minor element of Star Trek. More frequently used items like transporters get more details.


That's the issue of just reskinning spells. D&D spells are little bits of "detailed powerful reality warping". If you reskin in the most basic terms, you are limiting yourself to the solfest sci-fi imaginable. It would be hell to add any plausibility to all the various effect. To get to a medium level of hardness, you've have to cut, rewrite, and create so much than the effort would be the same as creating a new system. And you wouldn't be saving any time in creation nor teaching it.

Reskinning only saves time if you want to use the weakest and softest sci-fi subgenres.
Again, I disagree. Star Wars got kicked out of SF because it's thematically fantasy. It's pretty much bog standard fantasy. It's good guys vs bad guys and contains pretty much none of the themes of SF. That's why Star Trek remains firmly SF because it actually IS thematically SF. It's all about the social commentary which is what defines SF vs fantasy.

This notion that SF or Fantasy is defined by tropes really needs to get put to bed. It's not where the line gets drawn. That's why Doctor Who, despite not being remotely science based, and drawing on purely fantasy tropes - an old wizard with a magic wand, good grief, it couldn't get more Dumbledore/Gandalf if the ghost of Richard Harris played the next Doctor - is still solidly SF (and often some of the best SF out there - Torchwood's Children of Earth is probably one of the ten best SF stories ever to be seen on TV).

As far as effects go - what do you have in mind? I mean, fireball as a psionic effect already exists in Firestarter. Various Charm/Command/Dominate effects could be ported over verbatim. A number of the more mind effecting Warlock and Bard spells fit - Crown of Madness, Dissonant Whispers for example.

About the only thing you'd likely have to wall right off is the summoning spells, but, then again, Tasha's summoning spells - with their template approach - actually do fit the notion rather well.

So, specifically, what effects would you need to completely rework in a reskinned spell system? I totally agree you need a curated spell list. Fair enough. And psionics is a broad enough archetype that it could nicely support a new class with a handful of subclasses - tricky to get them all under one umbrella, so it might need a couple of classes, fair enough.

But I'm not seeing how spells cannot be translated.
 

The only way you can really define genre's is by family resemblances and traditions (sequences of influences).

I would agree that Star Wars is probably better understood as fantasy, but there's lots of stuff that is published as science fiction which is just war stories in space, or something of that ilk.

Star Wars, with it's dark lords, and chosen heroes, just seems to fit in many ways into the epic fantasy tradition. It probably has more later influence on fantasy than in Science Fiction.
 

Minigiant

Legend
Supporter
This notion that SF or Fantasy is defined by tropes really needs to get put to bed. It's not where the line gets drawn. That's why Doctor Who, despite not being remotely science based, and drawing on purely fantasy tropes - an old wizard with a magic wand, good grief, it couldn't get more Dumbledore/Gandalf if the ghost of Richard Harris played the next Doctor - is still solidly SF (and often some of the best SF out there - Torchwood's Children of Earth is probably one of the ten best SF stories ever to be seen on TV).
Science fiction is not defined by tropes.

This is its Websters definition:

fiction dealing principally with the impact of actual or imagined science on society or individuals or having a scientific factor as an essential orienting component

You can't have sci-fi without the science. It's in the name. The plausibility and detail of the fictional elements are determined by subgenre and focus.

There's nothing wrong with reskinning spells. My point is that adapting the D&D spells system to an average sci-fi world by injecting science and balancing it with the existing classes would be as much work or possibly more than creating a new system designed for the setting itself.
 

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