D&D General Psionics versus Spellcasting: A Deep-Dive into the Lore Separation Between the Two, and the Rivalry Between Them

Lyxen

Great Old One
Don't like psionics, they sound SciFi. :p

In addition, it makes magic sound as if there are things that, being mental, it can't handle as well as magic, when it's the other way around, magic is infinite, mental magic is just a tiny subpart of it.

Finally, 5e made the right decision for the right reason, everything is magic, and everything works against everything else. Actually the very first serious implementation of psionic from Eldritch Wizardry and later developed in the AD&D PH (and then all over the place in particular in the MM) had the very serious default of being "beside the rest of the game", and creating "shortcuts" in powerful monsters. Despite their power, the archdevils and demon princes were very vulnerable psionically to PCs with powerful abilities. And this is really bad game design.

Which is probably why most of the tables at which I played AD&D at for decades stopped using psionics or never used them, except for Dark Sun as it was a really special case in which it was basically the one type of "magic" allowed to the PCs, and it made sense in the context. But it was really a local thing.

I think people like psionics for very different reasons, but mostly the fact that you rely just on yourself, not an external source of power, so it's somewhat comforting, and the flexibility since psionics are amongst the original users of "power points" which allow you to use powers of any level as much as you want as long as you are paying the cost without having to worry about slots and their levels. I can get this, but what I don't appreciate is when they also want them to be "outside of magic", because that's a kind of cheating edge with the system that forces the DM to create challenges specifically for you, otherwise, it's way to easy to "sidestep" the normal challenges.

Honestly, 5e is generic and flexible enough that it already supports psionics out of the box without any of the troubles above, so that should be it except if Dark Sun is really resurrected properly...
 

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el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
After DECADES of trying to incorporate psionics and magic in the same setting (I am a hardline believe that they should be DIFFERENT - i.e. dispel magic should not effect psionics, but See Invisibility would still reveal psionic invisibility), I have decided that the next time I bring psionics into a D&D campaign, I am going to limit magic to just warlocks and have psionics as their rival in power as a thematic element of the setting (no clerics, no druids, no bards, no wizards, no sorcerers) - not just a thrown in thing.

That said, if I were playing in a game that integrated them I'd be okay with that (though likely would not play a psi of any kind) and maybe that experience would change my mind. 🤷‍♀️

My favorite psionics rules (as borked as they could be) was the 2E Complete Psionicist's Handbook.
 

Silvercat Moonpaw

Adventurer
Science-fiction made me tired of treating psionics/psychic powers as if they weren't magic: somehow these impossible powers were okay, but outright magic was not. Thus, in my settings, they are the same power.

In fact, I prefer psionics' "you don't need to speak or gesture" aspect: D&D just doesn't make those parts of spellcasting interesting enough for me to want to bother. Where possible, I replace pseudo-Vancian casting -- possibly whole classes, possibly just their spellcasting feature -- with psionics or something similar.
 

Yaarel

🇮🇱He-Mage
Psionics is near and dear to my heart.

For me:

Psi is a method of magic.
Psi is the power of ones own mind only.
The psi mind is nonmagical.
But the psi effects are magical.
Magic itself is responsive to a mind.
Psi is innate, without spell components.
Psi is innate, without costly component.
Psi is innate, without spell focus.
Psi is innate, without patron or plane.

Psi can create a magic item, by imbuing a vivid mental thought into a nonmagical item. Sometimes, rituals like carving a word or phrase into the object can focus and reinforce a specific thought. But sometimes a vivid thought can magic an item accidentally without the psi magic item creator even realizing it.
 

The thing about psionics is that is comes from a time when science fiction could sort of (if only by squinting and not thinking about it too closely) present psionics as something that just might possibly plausibly exist.

There was a time where it didn't seem so impossible that people might have some small latent psychic ability, that might over time whether by eugenics or evolution be developed.

Now, I'm not claiming it was ever hard science, and certainly D&D takes even the slightly plausible elements of psi powers and goes beyond it, but it did mean that if you presented a fantasy world that was actually a far future colony that had regressed to something vaguely medieval and had wizards who were really masters of psychic powers, you could sort of present it as slightly more grounded than pure fantasy.

This doesn't work anymore, because we would just read it as pure fantasy.

This doesn't mean that psionics has no place anymore, but it's probably best to see it as a type of magic that is best suited to varieties of fantasy that used to be seen as more science fiction such as planetary romance and sword and planet stories (In many ways these are dead genres, so we're basically doing pastiche or drawing influence). Dark Sun uses psionics because it pulls in a lot of influence from sword and planet.

That's the feel psionics needs to aim for. It if doesn't achieve that sort of vaguely science fiction colour feel then it doesn't really work.
 

Yaarel

🇮🇱He-Mage
The thing about psionics is that is comes from a time when science fiction could sort of (if only by squinting and not thinking about it too closely) present psionics as something that just might possibly plausibly exist.

There was a time where it didn't seem so impossible that people might have some small latent psychic ability, that might over time whether by eugenics or evolution be developed.

Now, I'm not claiming it was ever hard science, and certainly D&D takes even the slightly plausible elements of psi powers and goes beyond it, but it did mean that if you presented a fantasy world that was actually a far future colony that had regressed to something vaguely medieval and had wizards who were really masters of psychic powers, you could sort of present it as slightly more grounded than pure fantasy.

This doesn't work anymore, because we would just read it as pure fantasy.

This doesn't mean that psionics has no place anymore, but it's probably best to see it as a type of magic that is best suited to varieties of fantasy that used to be seen as more science fiction such as planetary romance and sword and planet stories (In many ways these are dead genres, so we're basically doing pastiche or drawing influence). Dark Sun uses psionics because it pulls in a lot of influence from sword and planet.

That's the feel psionics needs to aim for. It if doesn't achieve that sort of vaguely science fiction colour feel then it doesn't really work.
Oppositely, psionics is the most accurate way to characterize the magic of animism and shamanism. Each feature of nature has its own mindful psionically influential presence.
 

Scribe

Legend
I am a hardline believe that they should be DIFFERENT - i.e. dispel magic should not effect psionics, but See Invisibility would still reveal psionic invisibility
I agree with this, I'm not looking for Magic by another name, we already have that several times.

Is there a 5e book that get's Psionic's 'right' in this regard?
 

Yaarel

🇮🇱He-Mage
In D&D so far, I perceive the following power sources:

Astral (aka divine, including Celestial, Fiend, Aberration, Dream). These are immaterial realms of thoughts, languages, paradigms, concepts, and plans.

Ethereal (aka primal, including, Fey, Shade, Elemental). These are realms if immaterial but physical forces, such as telekinesis and gravity, and outofbody remote presence in a ghostlike virtual body.

Arcane is more specifically a protoscientific approach to magic that exploits the mysterious properties that are inherent in normal physical objects, namely material spell components, but also in ritual combinations to catalyze complex interactions, or refine a specific property. Using an agate stone to cure scorpion venom or bat dung to create a fireball are examples of arcane.

Psionic (aka mind, psychic, psi, ki, soul, animism) is the magic of a mind, desire, intention, thought, and will. The psionic approach is innate and individualistic. Even tho the term "psionics" is anachronistic when it actually describes ancient animistic beliefs, about a thought causing an effect, a "wish", I find the term an endearing D&Dism.
 

Rabulias

the Incomparably Shrewd and Clever
The word 'psionics' is a neologism derived from the words "psi-electronics". In any setting without, or before, the development of electronics, it makes no sense to use that word. If you want to have psychic powers in your fantasy setting, go ahead. But don't just throw it in, and learn a a bit about the subject.
While I don't particularly care for psionics in my D&D most of the time (I could see them fitting in the right campaign), I would ask if psionic powers come from the brain, what powers the brain?

I also would say (despite the official etymology) that the term psionic could derive in the same manner as words like psychic, archaic, specific, physic, magnetic, linguistic, centric, etc.
 

Mind of tempest

(he/him)advocate for 5e psionics
The thing about psionics is that is comes from a time when science fiction could sort of (if only by squinting and not thinking about it too closely) present psionics as something that just might possibly plausibly exist.

There was a time where it didn't seem so impossible that people might have some small latent psychic ability, that might over time whether by eugenics or evolution be developed.

Now, I'm not claiming it was ever hard science, and certainly D&D takes even the slightly plausible elements of psi powers and goes beyond it, but it did mean that if you presented a fantasy world that was actually a far future colony that had regressed to something vaguely medieval and had wizards who were really masters of psychic powers, you could sort of present it as slightly more grounded than pure fantasy.

This doesn't work anymore, because we would just read it as pure fantasy.

This doesn't mean that psionics has no place anymore, but it's probably best to see it as a type of magic that is best suited to varieties of fantasy that used to be seen as more science fiction such as planetary romance and sword and planet stories (In many ways these are dead genres, so we're basically doing pastiche or drawing influence). Dark Sun uses psionics because it pulls in a lot of influence from sword and planet.

That's the feel psionics needs to aim for. It if doesn't achieve that sort of vaguely science fiction colour feel then it doesn't really work.
re mind me I must make a setting for those genres
In D&D so far, I perceive the following power sources:

Astral (aka divine, including Celestial, Fiend, Aberration, Dream). These are immaterial realms of thoughts, languages, paradigms, concepts, and plans.

Ethereal (aka primal, including, Fey, Shade, Elemental). These are realms if immaterial but physical forces, such as telekinesis and gravity, and outofbody remote presence in a ghostlike virtual body.

Arcane is more specifically a protoscientific approach to magic that exploits the mysterious properties that are inherent in normal physical objects, namely material spell components, but also in ritual combinations to catalyze complex interactions, or refine a specific property. Using an agate stone to cure scorpion venom or bat dung to create a fireball are examples of arcane.

Psionic (aka mind, psychic, psi, ki, soul, animism) is the magic of a mind, desire, intention, thought, and will. The psionic approach is innate and individualistic. Even tho the term "psionics" is anachronistic when it actually describes ancient animistic beliefs, about a thought causing an effect, a "wish", I find the term an endearing D&Dism.
gifted power of the astral

the Ethereal I have no idea.

the exploits of the arcane

the power with in of psionics
 

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