D&D General What’s The Big Deal About Psionics?

Smackpixi

Adventurer
They’re just different spells. They’re spells, but from a different source and maybe a lil weird, but not really that special. Near as I can tell. I am sure I’m missing something because every time Dark Sun comes up there’s a grip ton of hand wringing about getting Psionics right. It just seems like spells to me. Spells with a different but not much different rule system. Sorcerer, but with unique spells. I don’t get why it’s a big deal and why it’s not just a different spell list. Help me understand. Or confirm, it’s just spells With a new name.
 

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Marandahir

Crown-Forester (he/him)
I don't see why we can't just flavour an Aberrant Mind Sorcerer as a Psionic Wilder, or a Great Old One Warlock as an Alienist Psion.

Psionics is a bigger concept than spells and includes spell-like abilities that are wielded by several Psionic creatures as well as some psionic character options like the Psi Warrior Fighter or Soul Knife Rogue. But I agree: there's functionally no reason to reinvent the wheel, just say you're casting mind sliver psionically.
 

jgsugden

Legend
Psionics should not feel like magic with different fluff.

For me, the lack of psionics in 5E is very disappointing. I run a campaign setting that I built in the 1980s. Psionics play a huge role in that setting, and not having official rules for them has been a thorn in my side. I have the skills to work around the lack of official rules, but if they introduce official rules and they contradict what I've been doing, it will be a hassle to reconcile.

Why are psionics different? That is going to depend upon the campaign, but I can tell you how they've been run in mine and why I can't achieve the result I want by using the aberrant mind sorcerer or refluffling a wizard.

There are 5 types of magic in my setting. Three of them use the magical weave - Nature magic (which flows from the positive energy plane to the negative energy plane which flows to druids and rangers to form their magic), Divine Magic (which is pushed down through the weave to clerics and paladins from a divine power), and Arcane magic (which wizards, bards and sorcerers pull out of the flow of the weave with skill or force of will). Then there is supernatural magic, which covers all magic that exists in the world that does not originate in the weave, and includes curses, the supernatural, and science (like chemical combustion). Finally, there is Psionics, which also does not originate in the weave. Instead, a creature generates the power themself.

Psionics, in my setting, are not bound by the rules of common magic. Dispel Magic, Detect Magic, Counterspell, Antimagic Shell ... these spells do not interact with psionics because those spells interact with and attack the spell weave - and psionics have nothing to do with the spell weave. Psionics do not require spellcasting. They may manifest as ki for a monk, or power manifestations from a psion, or the thinly veiled force rip off I have for my psionic/psychic warriors. Regardless of how they manifest, they are a product of the psionic creature.

They originate, for the most part, from the Far Realm. In my setting, the Far Realm collided with the Known Universe 4,500 years ago. The collision shattered the Known Universe, creating my transitive planes (Shadowfell, Feywild, Ethereal), infecting creatures with chaos (turning Devils into Demons, introducing aberrations, driving Gods mad, creating 'dark heritages' (such as drow, duergar, gith, etc...), and began to introduce to the universe the unique magics of the Far Realm - psionics. They were essentially unknown in the Known Universe, but they were the only magic known in the Far Realm.

Historically, mechanically, Psionics have had distinct mechanics. Psionic power points were the primary mechanics in most editions. In addition, players interested in psionic characters have generally been the type that want to do funky stuff, so we've upgraded them. It has always had to adjust to the erratic way that TSR and WotC handled psionics, but we've always tried to strive to make psionics feel: 1.) Organic (as opposed to crafted), 2.) Dependent upon the inner strength of the Psionic character, and 3.) More 'Super Hero' than 'Wizard'.

We all know what inspiration we see for monks, and the same is true in my game. My psionic/psychic warriors are heavily inspired by the Jedi - players wanted it, and I provided it. Psions are your Super Hero and Horror Story figures, with clairsentience, metacreativity, psychokinesis, psychometabolism, psychoportation, telepathy, and metapsionics being the core of their powers.

I generally modified the systems provided so that psionics worked on a power point system and evoked the feel of comic book psionic battles. Psionic characters had a number of points, and could plug any number of them into a power. However, they rolled an ability check to make their power work, and the higher the power point investment, the harder it was to pull off - and failing could mess you up. However, Psionic PCs regenerated 1 power points by not using their powers, and the rate they recovered them depended upon how far down you were. If you uses a small fraction of them, they recovered fast. If you use all of them, it could take a long time to recover them. I also had a 'rock-paper-scissors' game worked out for the different psionic defenses and attack modes/forms. These were all about psionic battles, but they had a very distinct feel in the game, and tended to be very tense as the monsters and players revealed their defenses and saw how it impacted the environment. If you played the Intellect Fortress against Mind Thrust, the Thrust had an easier time penetrating the defense and being able to impact you - but it was a very effective defense against a Psychic Blast.

In the end, psionics were VERY distinctly different in feel than traditional spellcasters.
 

James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
Basically, psionics, coming from a different, internalized source, more closely resemble 'psychic powers'. Mind control, telepathy, telekinesis, and so on. And yes, magic can totally do these things. But from the early days of D&D, psionics was even more mysterious than magic. It was out of place in a world of wizards and warriors. A strange, hard to comprehend force that had it's own unique rules.

You can say "psionics is just magic" and that's fine. But for fans of psionics and pulp fantasy, that doesn't properly capture the feel of such powers, nor their alien, bizarre nature.
 

Aldarc

Legend
Well this is gonna calm things right down.
Awkward The Simpsons GIF
 





I mean divine magic is 'just spells'. But we have a separate cleric class. Nature magic is 'just spells' but we have a separate druid class.

Psionics has an even bigger excuse to be different as it's not historically used the vancian casting spell slot system, but for some reason it's now just shoved into subclasses.

Even the sorcerer gets its own class, and it's a discount wizard with a feat glued to it.

If it's all 'just spells' why not axe the warlock, sorcerer, druid, bard, and cleric. And make a single 'magic user' class. It's all just the same magic right?
 



Yaarel

Mind Mage
They’re just different spells. They’re spells, but from a different source and maybe a lil weird, but not really that special. Near as I can tell. I am sure I’m missing something because every time Dark Sun comes up there’s a grip ton of hand wringing about getting Psionics right. It just seems like spells to me. Spells with a different but not much different rule system. Sorcerer, but with unique spells. I don’t get why it’s a big deal and why it’s not just a different spell list. Help me understand. Or confirm, it’s just spells With a new name.

According to the 5e designers, psionics is a power source, like arcane and divine are.

Any power source can do an effect that is a spell, do an effect that isnt a spell but is magical, and do an effect that is nonmagical.

In 5e we see examples of psionic spells, such as the "innate spellcasting" of certain subclasses and monsters. We also see psionic class features that are magic but not spells.
 


Yaarel

Mind Mage
For a setting like Forgotten Realms, psionics is magic because it manipulates the "Weave", namely the capacity of magic that exists within all things.

Altho the mind and brain are nonmagical, the Weave itself is psychosensitive and responds to thoughts, emotions, and intentions.

Thus the psionicist interfaces with the Weave directly to produce magical effects.


In my Norsesque setting, the mind itself is animistically the source of the magic power. The visualizations of a mind have force and influence.
 

Yes, it is just magic. If you levitate things with your mind, it is magic. But for some reason some people want a completely separate parallel magic system because they have found a different word for magic. 'Psionics' is just a word Victorians came up when calling things 'magic' became too embarrassing.

In this game channelling power of gods or nature, learning complex magical formula, being born with dragon blood, making pacts with devils and the power of rock 'n roll all use the same basic magic system. It is ludicrous idea that vaguely defined 'psionics' would somehow be more different to all of them than they're from each other.
 


I think that a psi dice / power point system is the minimum needed for a psionics class.

Pity DnD beyond is planning to add the spell points system at some point after the heat death of the universe.
 

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