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

Staffan

Legend
The main problem with psionics in every edition other than possibly 4e is that the game wasn't designed with them in mind (as it were).

The main things I need from psionics are things like telepathy, telekinesis, and sensitivity-type things (which tend to be clairsentience). For them to have a good place in the system, other classes need to have their access to that sort of thing removed or at least weakened, to make room for the psion to have their own niche.
 

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Aldarc

Legend
The main problem with psionics in every edition other than possibly 4e is that the game wasn't designed with them in mind (as it were).

The main things I need from psionics are things like telepathy, telekinesis, and sensitivity-type things (which tend to be clairsentience). For them to have a good place in the system, other classes need to have their access to that sort of thing removed or at least weakened, to make room for the psion to have their own niche.
This. Also, as a result of the positive experiences with Occult Adventures in PF1, PF2 was designed with Occult magic (aka psionics by another name) in mind.

In Starfinder, the psion was put alongside the cleric, druid, and shaman analogues under the Mystic class, which I also found to be a good move. (Wisdom is more appropriate than Intelligence for Psionics. Come fight me.)
 

DEFCON 1

Legend
The reason why I really can't get too worked up about any of it, nor feel like there is anything missing or being held back or being categorized incorrectly is that there really absolutely no rhyme nor reason to how D&D actually puts their magic together anyway.

I mean come on... we keep getting told that Wizards, Sorcerers, and Warlocks all use "arcane" magic. Why? What possible description or explanation of how those three classes gain magical power would make anyone combine them into one category of thing?

And likewise... why do so many people continually insist that Clerics and Druids both use "divine" magic (other than they have just been conditioned to over the past several decades?) What * is * "divine" magic then? Obviously it's not from the gods, because that's not from whom Druids get their magic. And it can't just be "granted" power, because then Warlocks would also use "divine" magic by that categorization (and depending on the granting power, Rangers and Barbarians would fall into that group as well.)

If you go with the "primal" magic idea from 4E... that the planet itself has natural spirits that allow some people access to their power, then your Druids, Rangers, and Barbarians all have somewhere to get their magic from. But then the question is "If everything on the planet has a spirit you can tap into for magical power... then why don't we categorize the power of each individual person as "primal" as well then? They have spirits, don't they? As much spirit as a rock does. So Psionic classes, Monks, Sorcerers... they should all fall into "primal" as well, because what's the difference between the spirit of a tree or rock, and the spirit of an animal / humanoid?"

And this is why this whole discussion with regards to generic Dungeons & Dragons is pointless. Because no one has ever bothered to actually make it make sense. Like so much of the game... the designers just threw in for consumption all the stuff that most people just generically thought of as "D&D-isms" into the game with no real concern for their usage... knowing that any individual DM who really cared was going to just strip the game for parts and rebuild it themselves in the manner they wished for. Which explains to a T why the design of psionics in 5E has never been concerned about things like having or not having material components for psionic abilities. I mean they all know that 99% of all the tables out there playing the game don't use them and don't care about them at all... but they include them in the game because of tradition and for the 1% that do care. And for that 1%, they aren't going to potentially unbalance anything by putting in a psionic system that doesn't use them-- even if all the psionics devotees out there keep demanding that psionics CAN'T have material components. Because from their way of thinking... none of us use them anyway despite their inclusion in the books, so who gives a gosh-darn whether a new book with psionics includes them too?

Whether it's magical power sources, spell components, encumbrance, alignment, stealth rules, metal-averse druids, the reasoning for human/elf and human/orc hybrids (but no others), etc. etc. etc... they are haphazardly in the game because at one point in the past they were added and seemed important to somebody... and so in 5E they just threw it in again with little to no concern. Assuming (quite rightly I might add) that every single DM was going to make the game their own anyway and just pick and choose all the bits they actually wanted.

So getting bent out of shape about how any of this stuff works is I think missing the forest through the trees.
 

Staffan

Legend
This. Also, as a result of the positive experiences with Occult Adventures in PF1, PF2 was designed with Occult magic (aka psionics by another name) in mind.
Sort of. Occult magic in PF2 is no different from other magic – you still need all the same components and stuff. It also rubs me the wrong way to mix tentacles and telekinesis, but PF2's occult magic deals with both. But that's because my concept of psionics was formed in 2e, where psionics had a very "clean" feel to them.

In Starfinder, the psion was put alongside the cleric, druid, and shaman analogues under the Mystic class, which I also found to be a good move. (Wisdom is more appropriate than Intelligence for Psionics. Come fight me.)
No objection there. The 2e psionicist class was primarily Wisdom-based, though you had some powers that were based on Constitution or Intelligence as well. To me, psionics is about willpower which is either Wis or Cha, with Int possibly lending some finesse to the proceedings but not the mental muscle needed.
 

TwoSix

Unserious gamer
The reason why I really can't get too worked up about any of it, nor feel like there is anything missing or being held back or being categorized incorrectly is that there really absolutely no rhyme nor reason to how D&D actually puts their magic together anyway.
Exactly this. There are hundreds of ways to build a coherent cosmology out of D&D's tropes. But D&D has always chosen to put class design first and extract some haphazard cosmology out of it.

This makes sense considering D&D's DIY toolbox ethos, but trying to get all those toys to play nicely together in a single model is an exercise in frustration.
 

Silvercat Moonpaw

Adventurer
Occult magic in PF2 is no different from other magic – you still need all the same components and stuff. It also rubs me the wrong way to mix tentacles and telekinesis, but PF2's occult magic deals with both. But that's because my concept of psionics was formed in 2e, where psionics had a very "clean" feel to them.
Occult magic in Pathfinder is based just as much on late 19th/early 20th century spiritualism and pre-split scifi/fantasy as late 20th century ideas of "science mind power".
 


Wolfram stout

Adventurer
Katherine Kurtz.

Ok, that may not be enough to make a point. For some of us, Psionics in fantasy stem directly from the Deryni Novels by Katherine Kurtz. The Psychic powers are mystical and meditative and don't come across (at least to me) as sciencey nor Sci-fi.

The Deryni Healers and Knights feel closer to Clerics and Paladins than Psi-Monks and Warriors.

Now, I don't know how to blend Psychic powers with the standard D&D magical classes without everything just sort of blending together, but it does not have be sci-fi based.
 

Undrave

Hero
I think the issue of "Why do we need Psionic if we have spells that do the same thing" could be avoided by... simply not letting Spellcasters do the Psionic stuff!

The Wizard is already too wide of a class, so take out the 'Detect Thoughts' and the mind reading and telepathy and sending, limit their telekinesis to powers that can physically conjure a hand to manipulate stuff or power that do simple movement (gusts to push, lightning lure to draw in), and THEN you'd have more room to breath life into a Psion class.

And, of course, make the Monk explicitly Psionic from the start.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
I've never particularly cared for psionics for a few reasons. First, it's just science fiction magic, a way to have magic without actually calling it magic. Why bother? The other thing is that too often it just seemed to be a way of bypassing restrictions, limitations and counters to magic. Can't counterspell that psionic fireball! Woo-hoo, space magic is awesome! That and it always felt tacked on like one of those massive spoilers on an econo box. Doesn't really do anything, cool if you like it but it's just not for me.

I guess I just see anything that is not physically possible in the real world is supernatural. Whether you label it as magic, supernatural, psionics, I don't really care. For me, I just want some justification for it other than "it's cool".
 

The reason why I really can't get too worked up about any of it, nor feel like there is anything missing or being held back or being categorized incorrectly is that there really absolutely no rhyme nor reason to how D&D actually puts their magic together anyway.

I mean come on... we keep getting told that Wizards, Sorcerers, and Warlocks all use "arcane" magic. Why? What possible description or explanation of how those three classes gain magical power would make anyone combine them into one category of thing?

And likewise... why do so many people continually insist that Clerics and Druids both use "divine" magic (other than they have just been conditioned to over the past several decades?) What * is * "divine" magic then? Obviously it's not from the gods, because that's not from whom Druids get their magic. And it can't just be "granted" power, because then Warlocks would also use "divine" magic by that categorization (and depending on the granting power, Rangers and Barbarians would fall into that group as well.)

If you go with the "primal" magic idea from 4E... that the planet itself has natural spirits that allow some people access to their power, then your Druids, Rangers, and Barbarians all have somewhere to get their magic from. But then the question is "If everything on the planet has a spirit you can tap into for magical power... then why don't we categorize the power of each individual person as "primal" as well then? They have spirits, don't they? As much spirit as a rock does. So Psionic classes, Monks, Sorcerers... they should all fall into "primal" as well, because what's the difference between the spirit of a tree or rock, and the spirit of an animal / humanoid?"

And this is why this whole discussion with regards to generic Dungeons & Dragons is pointless. Because no one has ever bothered to actually make it make sense. Like so much of the game... the designers just threw in for consumption all the stuff that most people just generically thought of as "D&D-isms" into the game with no real concern for their usage... knowing that any individual DM who really cared was going to just strip the game for parts and rebuild it themselves in the manner they wished for. Which explains to a T why the design of psionics in 5E has never been concerned about things like having or not having material components for psionic abilities. I mean they all know that 99% of all the tables out there playing the game don't use them and don't care about them at all... but they include them in the game because of tradition and for the 1% that do care. And for that 1%, they aren't going to potentially unbalance anything by putting in a psionic system that doesn't use them-- even if all the psionics devotees out there keep demanding that psionics CAN'T have material components. Because from their way of thinking... none of us use them anyway despite their inclusion in the books, so who gives a gosh-darn whether a new book with psionics includes them too?

Whether it's magical power sources, spell components, encumbrance, alignment, stealth rules, metal-averse druids, the reasoning for human/elf and human/orc hybrids (but no others), etc. etc. etc... they are haphazardly in the game because at one point in the past they were added and seemed important to somebody... and so in 5E they just threw it in again with little to no concern. Assuming (quite rightly I might add) that every single DM was going to make the game their own anyway and just pick and choose all the bits they actually wanted.

So getting bent out of shape about how any of this stuff works is I think missing the forest through the trees.
I would put cleric and warlock together as they are both gifted power.
theurgy (gifted power) is excellent to contrast with arcane magic (harnessed or taken power) maybe have primal and psionic contrast each other as an external verse internal thing?
 

Aldarc

Legend
Katherine Kurtz.

Ok, that may not be enough to make a point. For some of us, Psionics in fantasy stem directly from the Deryni Novels by Katherine Kurtz. The Psychic powers are mystical and meditative and don't come across (at least to me) as sciencey nor Sci-fi.

The Deryni Healers and Knights feel closer to Clerics and Paladins than Psi-Monks and Warriors.

Now, I don't know how to blend Psychic powers with the standard D&D magical classes without everything just sort of blending together, but it does not have be sci-fi based.
What one might call “psionics” in D&D also shows up a lot in romantic fantasy, hence their inclusion as psychic arcana in Blue Rose RPG.
 

Undrave

Hero
I would put cleric and warlock together as they are both gifted power.
theurgy (gifted power) is excellent to contrast with arcane magic (harnessed or taken power) maybe have primal and psionic contrast each other as an external verse internal thing?

Hm... I wonder if it would be possible to create a magic system based on a two-axis system? Like where one of them was 'internal/external'? I wonder the other one would be, however... and your casters could be placed on the created graph.
 

Hm... I wonder if it would be possible to create a magic system based on a two-axis system? Like where one of them was 'internal/external'? I wonder the other one would be, however... and your casters could be placed on the created graph.
sounds possible but I have no idea how to do it, may I ask why you would want one?
 

Undrave

Hero
sounds possible but I have no idea how to do it, may I ask why you would want one?
It was just a random thought I had. I think it would be a good way to start from scratch if you were trying to define 'magic' in a game world. I don't think you could staple it onto 5e, I don't think it would work, but for a new game? Could be interesting. Really help add some interesting differences to where your casters get their magic and the sort of thing they can do with it.
 

Helpful NPC Thom

Adventurer
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.
1637273902527.png
 

Scribe

Hero
It was just a random thought I had. I think it would be a good way to start from scratch if you were trying to define 'magic' in a game world. I don't think you could staple it onto 5e, I don't think it would work, but for a new game? Could be interesting. Really help add some interesting differences to where your casters get their magic and the sort of thing they can do with it.
I break mine out to various types, but also path to mastery/access.

Its not finalized (is anything ever?) but its something I play around with.

ClassTypePath
WizardArcaneLearned (Knowledge of Process)
SorcererArcaneInnate (Knowledge of Self)
WarlockArcaneLore (Knowledge of Others)
 

Yaarel

Mind Mage
re mind me I must make a setting for those genres

gifted power of the astral

the Ethereal I have no idea.

the exploits of the arcane

the power with in of psionics
For me, the Ethereal (including Fey, Shade, and Elememtal) is the "spirit world".

The spirit world has force and can influence and "push" the Material. It is different from the the realm of intellect that is only thoughts and patterns, including the angelic Celestials.
 

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