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

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
So after 58 pages, I’m gonna go with my OP idea, they’re just spells. It’s a thing you can do on your turn. Like whacking someone with an axe, or dropping a fireball. Psionics in 5e are always gonna be just another attack and not weird or special in some other way. It might be greatly themed in some way, but just another POW. Gotcha. So stop pretending Psionics are anything else? I mean I know you won’t, but yawn at this point.
Why would I pretend that psionics with unique mechanics are just like normal spellcasting?
 

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James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
Personally, I love how people who don't like psionics are always happy to drop by to tell you that there's nothing special about them, and wanting them to be anything special is boring. You have to love how reductive "just another attack" "Like whacking someone with an axe or dropping a fireball" actions in the game are described. Like, apparently, the real boring thing here isn't psionics, it's D&D itself!

I mean, everything you do on your turn is just an attack, man! It's not like you could:

Aid an ally.
Drink a potion.
Pick a lock.
Attempt to negotiate with an enemy.
Turn invisible.
Create a bank of fog to flee combat.
Turn a random pile of junk into weapons and armor for an entire village.
Teleport across the multiverse.
Heal a fallen friend.

It's all just attacks, man. Stop pretending otherwise. Yawn.

Well, there's no real point in discussing anything with someone who lacks imagination. It's like, the ability to do anything beyond "swing a sword" has to be magic, and all magic is exactly the same, and can never be anything different or special is so ingrained in some people that it's hard to even call this a "fantasy role-playing game"!

Imagine a class that uses a resource that isn't spell slots to allow for fantastic effects. Maybe it's galvanizing your body to perform superhuman feats. Or rendering an opponent unable to act, stupefied to the point of near-paralysis. Firing bolts of energy from your hands, or warping the elements around you. Allowing you to vanish from sight by controlling nearby shadows. Is there any problem with a class like this? Does it ruin your fantasy that something like that exists, or that people would find it fun?

I sure hope not, since I just described the Monk.
 

Aldarc

Legend
So after 58 pages, I’m gonna go with my OP idea, they’re just spells. It’s a thing you can do on your turn. Like whacking someone with an axe, or dropping a fireball. Psionics in 5e are always gonna be just another attack and not weird or special in some other way. It might be greatly themed in some way, but just another POW. Gotcha. So stop pretending Psionics are anything else? I mean I know you won’t, but yawn at this point.
My issue is not with psionics being "just spells," but, rather, the all-too-common follow-up argument that if/since psionics are just spells that there should not be psionics or a psionic-themed class in the game. This is where I have serious disagreement. I do not want to play a Sorcerer or Wizard in order to play the psychic/psionic archetype. I do not want the baggage of inappropriate spells, spellbooks, and the like on my psion/psychic.
 

Lots of people would rather to follow a different fashion style, to mark their own personality, and because everybody wearing the same clothing would be really boring.

I want to play a psionic because this is different, not like wizards, sorcerers or warlocks. Psionic was a class years before the warlock or the artificer.

Playing the mystic as a sorcerer with a pool of psionic power points? After some time I can accept if the design is right. I support something like the archetypes of pathfinder, variant classes where some class features can replaced with options.

I love the concept of the psionic ardent class because this has got a faboulous storytelling potential as frienemy of the divine spellcasters, with a love-hate relation.

And psionic mystics may set very well in settings based in the different Asian cultures.
 

jgsugden

Legend
So after 58 pages, I’m gonna go with my OP idea, they’re just spells. It’s a thing you can do on your turn. Like whacking someone with an axe, or dropping a fireball. Psionics in 5e are always gonna be just another attack and not weird or special in some other way. It might be greatly themed in some way, but just another POW. Gotcha. So stop pretending Psionics are anything else? I mean I know you won’t, but yawn at this point.
That was ... toxic. Telling people what their opinion must be is out of bounds. You can decide what you believe. But you can't tell others what to think and then deride them if they do not obey your demands.

There have been a lot of threads that explain ways that psionics can be used that do not conform to your limited vision. I have 40 years of experience that runs counter to your belief - and others have provided a lot of other variations on the theme. You can decide that you're incapable of seeing psionics as anything other than spells, but so many people here have demonstrated that there is a lot more to be explored.
 

Minigiant

Legend
Supporter
Like I said well in the beginning of this thread, Psionics as Spells is fine if you are wiling to create dozens of spells for Psionics and at least 1 class with the heavier connection to the mind.

You could do something like this in 5e with a class list or OneD&D with a Psionics list. But WOTC would have to create dozens of spells that they intend only to be used by the psionic classes (and maybe the bard and warlock via secrets/patron)

Psionics is one of those things where you either go very small, really big, or aviod at all costs.
 

Oofta

Legend
For me the source and mechanics are important. All spellcasters except for psions draw power from outside. Bards, wizards, sorcerers and other arcane casters draw magic from the weave and the magic of the world. Druids, paladins, rangers and clerics draw through the weave from divine sources. Psions draw on their own personal power, so while their powers may be similar to spells, they access them a bit differently.

Using an existing class doesn't work for a psion. It can't work for a psion.
TLDR: spells tap into magic that suffuses the world (e.g. the weave in FR), psionics does an end run around reality. So?

Depends on how you define the source. For example Paladins draw upon the power of their oath and conviction. They may be dedicated to a deity, they do not have to be. Let's take a look at the description of magic in the PHB spellcasting chapter: "In casting a spell, a character carefully plucks at the invisible strands of raw magic suffusing the world, pins them in place in a particular pattern, sets them vibrating in a specific way, and then releases them to unleash the desired effect — in most cases, all in the span of seconds."

So you say that psionics doesn't do that. Okay, cool. What power source do they draw on? Because "the mind" does not seem like enough. We don't have psionics in the real world (as far as we know) because of conservation of energy, you can't have events and state changes that spontaneously happen without some source of energy. That energy has to come from somewhere.

But what if we ignore basic Newtonian physics. If someone is (using comic book powers here) picking up a car with their mind and they are not tapping into some external power source then they must somehow altering reality. They've found a loophole, a cheat code to physics. We can add a paragraph somewhere that says psionics breaks the laws of reality so that minimal energy (i.e. the power of the mind) is used for the effects, but that's just a fluff change. The end results always end up looking the same.

Psionics is an interesting concept, being able to break Newtonian physics is something that even spells as defined by D&D doesn't do, spells require tapping into the magic that suffuses the world in order to change things. But the question remains, how do you make it different from spellcasting? Because saying that you reject reality and substitute your own may work for an alien mindset, I just don't see how you differentiate it in practical terms.
 

Aldarc

Legend
TLDR: spells tap into magic that suffuses the world (e.g. the weave in FR), psionics does an end run around reality. So?

Depends on how you define the source. For example Paladins draw upon the power of their oath and conviction. They may be dedicated to a deity, they do not have to be. Let's take a look at the description of magic in the PHB spellcasting chapter: "In casting a spell, a character carefully plucks at the invisible strands of raw magic suffusing the world, pins them in place in a particular pattern, sets them vibrating in a specific way, and then releases them to unleash the desired effect — in most cases, all in the span of seconds."

So you say that psionics doesn't do that. Okay, cool. What power source do they draw on? Because "the mind" does not seem like enough. We don't have psionics in the real world (as far as we know) because of conservation of energy, you can't have events and state changes that spontaneously happen without some source of energy. That energy has to come from somewhere.

But what if we ignore basic Newtonian physics. If someone is (using comic book powers here) picking up a car with their mind and they are not tapping into some external power source then they must somehow altering reality. They've found a loophole, a cheat code to physics. We can add a paragraph somewhere that says psionics breaks the laws of reality so that minimal energy (i.e. the power of the mind) is used for the effects, but that's just a fluff change. The end results always end up looking the same.

Psionics is an interesting concept, being able to break Newtonian physics is something that even spells as defined by D&D doesn't do, spells require tapping into the magic that suffuses the world in order to change things. But the question remains, how do you make it different from spellcasting? Because saying that you reject reality and substitute your own may work for an alien mindset, I just don't see how you differentiate it in practical terms.
There are Divine spells, Arcane spells, and Primal spells. I would definitely be fine with Psionic spells. A big problem with a lot of WotC's attempts at designing psionics in 5e, IMHO, is that it suffers from over-engineering or over-design. It's honestly puzzling to me that WotC has not explored creating a standalone spellcaster (as per the 3e Psion). There are definitely ways that WotC could change how Psionic characters approach spell-casting (e.g., Concentration, not needing VSM spell components for spells on the psionic spell list, etc.).
 


jgsugden

Legend
... What power source do they draw on? Because "the mind" does not seem like enough. We don't have psionics in the real world (as far as we know) because of conservation of energy, you can't have events and state changes that spontaneously happen without some source of energy. That energy has to come from somewhere... Because saying that you reject reality and substitute your own may work for an alien mindset, I just don't see how you differentiate it in practical terms.
Reread parts of this thread. This concern ahas been addressed over and over and over and over and over and over and over.

When psionics has worked well in my games, it is evocative of comic book super heroes. That is extremely different than a wizard, sorcerer or bard.

Mechanically: Your PC has a limited set of powers, and they can decide on how powerfully they want those powers to operate. They can drop a lot into a big bang, or they can use a little power at a time. This gives them the ability to do the dramatic 'impossibly cool' thing by concetrating their remaining power into one big event. While some spellcasters have a limited set of powers, they can typically take very different powers - while the psionic character is tied to a thematic core. They have a narrower 'skill set'.

Lore wise: This is different between campaigns, but in mine there is a huge significance to psionics being "the" power source that does not originate from the spell weave. Arcane casters steal power from the weave. Divine casters are delivered magic through the weave. Nature casters pull magic through the weave from the positive and negative energy planes .... but psions train their souls to be power generators. They are their own power source, and thus their psionic abilities are not impacted by magics that deal with the weave such as dispel magic, detect magic and counterspell.

Further, psionics were unknown before the Far Realm collided with the Known Reality. When this collision took place, Devils were corrupted into Demons; and the Prime Reality shattered and broke off the Shadowfell, Feywild, and Ethereal Plane (three reflective planes that are half Prime Material Plane, half Negative Energy Plane/Positive Energy Plane/Far Realms). At this time, when Aberrations began to force their way into reality, the psionic powers of the Far Realm also began to appear and people began to learn to use them in ways that were previously unknown - from forming the first Monastic Orders to learning how to perform psionic miracles without magic.

If you try to implement that idea by just reskinning a wizard or sorcerer you lose a lot. I've tried it. Many times. It sucks. It feels contrived. It gives you that boring feel that so many people complain about in this thread. The difference between me and those people is that I know you can do more with psionics to make it feel distinct.

Will it have some common concepts with spellcasting? Of course. It will also have things in common with the Battlemaster Fighter like attack rolls and forcing opponents to make saving throws. However, if executed well, it will not feel like a fighter, wizard, sorcerer, bard or any other existing class - in my model, it will feel like a comic book super hero inserted into the game.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
TLDR: spells tap into magic that suffuses the world (e.g. the weave in FR), psionics does an end run around reality. So?

Depends on how you define the source. For example Paladins draw upon the power of their oath and conviction. They may be dedicated to a deity, they do not have to be. Let's take a look at the description of magic in the PHB spellcasting chapter: "In casting a spell, a character carefully plucks at the invisible strands of raw magic suffusing the world, pins them in place in a particular pattern, sets them vibrating in a specific way, and then releases them to unleash the desired effect — in most cases, all in the span of seconds."
Paladins in 5e draw their power from their oaths, but that power still comes from outside, not inside. The oath allows them to draw from outside divine power.
So you say that psionics doesn't do that. Okay, cool. What power source do they draw on? Because "the mind" does not seem like enough. We don't have psionics in the real world (as far as we know) because of conservation of energy, you can't have events and state changes that spontaneously happen without some source of energy. That energy has to come from somewhere.
The mind is a powerful thing, and a psion's mind is more powerful than most. And grows stronger as they gain levels. They draw upon themselves only. In D&D and even in sci-fi, thought can be energy or perhaps converted into energy.
But what if we ignore basic Newtonian physics. If someone is (using comic book powers here) picking up a car with their mind and they are not tapping into some external power source then they must somehow altering reality. They've found a loophole, a cheat code to physics.
Or they are converting their mental energy into other kinds of energy, just like physical(kinetic) energy can be converted into electricity. It doesn't have to be a cheat.

And before you say that the mind doesn't have that kind of energy, I think it would be hubris to think that we humans have detected everything there is to our universe and have nothing left to find out. In fact there have been multiple(though rare) instances of doctors declaring brain death, because we could not detect any brain activity, just to have that person wake up later, sometimes having heard the doctor give the order to take them off of life support. There has to be some energy in the brain that we can't detect yet in order for that to have happened.
Psionics is an interesting concept, being able to break Newtonian physics is something that even spells as defined by D&D doesn't do, spells require tapping into the magic that suffuses the world in order to change things. But the question remains, how do you make it different from spellcasting? Because saying that you reject reality and substitute your own may work for an alien mindset, I just don't see how you differentiate it in practical terms.
3e did a good job of making it mechanically different from divine and arcane magic.
 
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Oofta

Legend
There are Divine spells, Arcane spells, and Primal spells. I would definitely be fine with Psionic spells. A big problem with a lot of WotC's attempts at designing psionics in 5e, IMHO, is that it suffers from over-engineering or over-design. It's honestly puzzling to me that WotC has not explored creating a standalone spellcaster (as per the 3e Psion). There are definitely ways that WotC could change how Psionic characters approach spell-casting (e.g., Concentration, not needing VSM spell components for spells on the psionic spell list, etc.).
But then we have the complaint that psionic powers are just spells with a different label, right? That psionics are just a way to end-run things like counterspell and anti-magic zones? Because that's kind of what's happened in the past. It seems like if you get rid of all the negatives of being a magic user in D&D, you have to come up with different negatives and limitations to balance things out.

You can't just rely on "psionicists are mysterious" because that could be applied to just about any class. In any given setting warlocks could be as rare as hen's teeth, sorcerers could be the first in a thousand years. I get the desire to make it a separate thing, but it really is niche. Honestly? Most people don't care much about lore. Psionics has always been a bit of a niche in the game creating whole new subsystems isn't going to happen anytime soon. Not creating new subsystems doesn't seem to address some of the issues.

In any case, apologies if some of this has already been covered, but I'm not going to go back through a thousand posts. Especially because there have been multiple other threads that already covered all of this. I just think of psionics as being like a reality hacker is a cool concept. You literally cannot create the energy in your brain to levitate a car unless your brain is actually a fusion reactor. E=MC**2 and all that. On the other hand if you've figured out that the car is not "real" but is instead just a construct our brains impose on the inconceivable (to us) truth, you've bypassed Newtonian physics.

We know from quantum physics that the world we perceive isn't quite as simple as Newtonian physics or even Einstein's theories. The idea that what we perceive as reality is just a construct that's evolved as the best way to interact with our environment is one that philosophers and quantum physicists struggle with to this day. It would be cool if we could represent that in game, I'm just not sure we can.
 

Aldarc

Legend
I tried searching the thread and didn't find any reference to it, but for 3.5, Green Ronin published the "The Psychic's Handbook." (The Psychic's Handbook - Green Ronin Publishing | 3rd Era | DriveThruRPG.com). It's psionics based on feats and skills. It certainly has a different feel and mechanics than a spell point system.
This is probably one of my favorite psionic systems or, rather, its similar iteration in Blue Rose RPG and then True 20.

I'm not sure how well it work in the 5e system.

But then we have the complaint that psionic powers are just spells with a different label, right? That psionics are just a way to end-run things like counterspell and anti-magic zones? Because that's kind of what's happened in the past. It seems like if you get rid of all the negatives of being a magic user in D&D, you have to come up with different negatives and limitations to balance things out.
This is how it was in 3.5 (and PF1 with Dreamscarred Press), and that was honestly best version of psionics (IMO) in D&D. Psionics could be counter-spelled and would not work in anti-magic zones. Psionics in 3.X lacked VSM Components, but manifesting their powers did result in "Displays" that made it clear you were using Psionic powers.
 

Minigiant

Legend
Supporter
I still think the key to making Psionics as Spells work is creating new spells and limiting access to any Psionic spells about 2nd level.

Arcane has Telekinesis and Telepathy.
Psionics would need Telekinetic Push, Telekinetic Choke, Telepathic Nudge, Electrokinesis, Pyrokinetic Eruption, Ectoplasmic Lash...
 

Psionic powers use psionic-power-points, there is a special rule about psionic focus, and there was mental-fight. Psionic powers can work in anti-magic fields, and they don't need somatic or verbal components. This means if a psionic infiltrated in a high-society party using telepatic powers to manipulate rich men, nobody could realise.
 

see

Pedantic Grognard
The core issue with psionics is that there are several possible incompatible implementations, and the people who are least satisfied with the current situation are the ones that want the psionics that'd cause WotC the most trouble to implement.

5th edition has already evolved a psionics system largely equivalent to that presented in OD&D and AD&D 1st edition, in terms of role if not remotely in mechanics. The feats and subclass features as of Tasha's are the fairly obvious match for the occasional, mostly-not-character-defining psionic powers in those editions.

The second choice, psionics equivalent to the 3.5 XPH and Dreamscarred Press psionics for PF1 are, in fact, pretty much just spells. A quick way to do it is rename the 5e sorcerer class "psion", use the DMG spell point option for this class, create new subclasses for different flavors of psion, modify the spell list a bit, and replace the spells' verbal components with audio manifestations and somatic components with visual manifestations. People who want this, and would be satisfied with this, but aren't currently happy, do exist. But they aren't the people who make the most noise on the boards about wanting psionics.

The third, a whole new system that doesn't work like spell magic, and is broad and complete enough to support a psionicist "full caster" class, is what was attempted in AD&D 2nd edition (twice, actually). The first problem from a WotC perspective is that making a system as broad and flexible as spell magic is as difficult to balance as the spell magic system, and that effort was huge and took a long time. The second problem is that by adding such a broad and flexible system to the game, you are massively increasing the total complexity of D&D, which will result in massive rejection by people who were near their complexity limits with D&D as-is. The third is that there's no natural niche for psionic effects in the game; to make this new system not completely redundant you'd have to claw back powers already assigned to various forms of magic to create one, which would also cause massive rejection by existing players of magic-users. The fourth is retrofitting such a system to existing settings in a way that feels natural rather than tacked-on -- or else dooming the whole psionics project to being a red-headed stepchild.

In the Level Up Voidrunner's Codex project, the creators have seriously reduced their issue because they have completely tossed the traditional magic system aside for their project. They don't have to worry about corner case interactions with spell magic, because they've tossed out spell magic. They don't have to make sure that spell magic and psionic "full caster" classes are equals, because they've tossed out spell magic. They don't have to worry about the complexity burden of two supernatural powers systems in a game, because they've tossed out spell magic. They don't have to worry in about niche overlaps and protection between psionics and spellcasters, because they've tossed out spell magic. And they don't have to worry about existing customers' reactions, because instead of introducing psionics to an existing game and retrofitting to existing material, they're making a new game. Accordingly, they have a vastly easier task than WotC would in adding a complete psionics system to D&D, both as a matter of game design and as a business managing a fanbase.
 

Micah Sweet

Legend
The core issue with psionics is that there are several possible incompatible implementations, and the people who are least satisfied with the current situation are the ones that want the psionics that'd cause WotC the most trouble to implement.

5th edition has already evolved a psionics system largely equivalent to that presented in OD&D and AD&D 1st edition, in terms of role if not remotely in mechanics. The feats and subclass features as of Tasha's are the fairly obvious match for the occasional, mostly-not-character-defining psionic powers in those editions.

The second choice, psionics equivalent to the 3.5 XPH and Dreamscarred Press psionics for PF1 are, in fact, pretty much just spells. A quick way to do it is rename the 5e sorcerer class "psion", use the DMG spell point option for this class, create new subclasses for different flavors of psion, modify the spell list a bit, and replace the spells' verbal components with audio manifestations and somatic components with visual manifestations. People who want this, and would be satisfied with this, but aren't currently happy, do exist. But they aren't the people who make the most noise on the boards about wanting psionics.

The third, a whole new system that doesn't work like spell magic, and is broad and complete enough to support a psionicist "full caster" class, is what was attempted in AD&D 2nd edition (twice, actually). The first problem from a WotC perspective is that making a system as broad and flexible as spell magic is as difficult to balance as the spell magic system, and that effort was huge and took a long time. The second problem is that by adding such a broad and flexible system to the game, you are massively increasing the total complexity of D&D, which will result in massive rejection by people who were near their complexity limits with D&D as-is. The third is that there's no natural niche for psionic effects in the game; to make this new system not completely redundant you'd have to claw back powers already assigned to various forms of magic to create one, which would also cause massive rejection by existing players of magic-users. The fourth is retrofitting such a system to existing settings in a way that feels natural rather than tacked-on -- or else dooming the whole psionics project to being a red-headed stepchild.

In the Level Up Voidrunner's Codex project, the creators have seriously reduced their issue because they have completely tossed the traditional magic system aside for their project. They don't have to worry about corner case interactions with spell magic, because they've tossed out spell magic. They don't have to make sure that spell magic and psionic "full caster" classes are equals, because they've tossed out spell magic. They don't have to worry about the complexity burden of two supernatural powers systems in a game, because they've tossed out spell magic. They don't have to worry in about niche overlaps and protection between psionics and spellcasters, because they've tossed out spell magic. And they don't have to worry about existing customers' reactions, because instead of introducing psionics to an existing game and retrofitting to existing material, they're making a new game. Accordingly, they have a vastly easier task than WotC would in adding a complete psionics system to D&D, both as a matter of game design and as a business managing a fanbase.
WotC could do the same thing if they wanted to, bu creating a new setting without spell magic and designing psionics for it, putting the burden of using both systems on the players. But they won't.
 

jgsugden

Legend
They're not creating from zero here, folks. Making a balanced psionics system - even one that does not operate like spells do - would/will be based upon the mechanics of D&D. They know what appropriate damage is at a given character level, and they know how to balance abilities. The trickiest part of making a psionic power source work is not the mechanics - it is the lore side of it. They have to find lore that gets wide acceptance in an audience with people that resist psionics, and dozens of cults that each have a different idea of what psionics should be.
 

grimslade

Krampus ate my d20s
Hmm, 60 page thread on psionics I somehow missed. Sorry.
I will just give the Cliff Notes version of why I want psionics.
  • Vancian Spellcasting sucks. I hate it. It doesn't even represent its namesake in fiction.
  • I want a magic system that has its power come from the caster, not the 'weave'
  • A more freeform magic system Not different spell names to pad page count with a different variable tweaked.
  • For the Devs to expand the game design. 5E has had some of the laziest design iterations. "I will give inspiration on a 1 instead of a 20! Brilliant!" The devs are much better designers than this. Stretch yourselves! Stop being so conservative.

Bah, I am not trying to influence opinion. I just want the game to continue to be fresh for my grandchildren's grandchildren.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
But then we have the complaint that psionic powers are just spells with a different label, right? That psionics are just a way to end-run things like counterspell and anti-magic zones? Because that's kind of what's happened in the past. It seems like if you get rid of all the negatives of being a magic user in D&D, you have to come up with different negatives and limitations to balance things out.
3e did that. There were other ways to detect psionics happening. You can also have the result be some sort of magic as well, so it doesn't get around anti-magic zones. Anyone who is claiming that psionics are "just a way to end-run things like counterspell and anti-magic zones" is being disingenuous. There might be the odd person saying that, but by and large our side doesn't have those things as a goal or even desire.
You can't just rely on "psionicists are mysterious" because that could be applied to just about any class. In any given setting warlocks could be as rare as hen's teeth, sorcerers could be the first in a thousand years. I get the desire to make it a separate thing, but it really is niche.
It's no more niche that monks, bards or warlocks.
Psionics has always been a bit of a niche in the game creating whole new subsystems isn't going to happen anytime soon. Not creating new subsystems doesn't seem to address some of the issues.
It was niche in 1e and 2e, true. It was MUCH more prevalent in 3e, and I don't know about 4e.
You literally cannot create the energy in your brain to levitate a car unless your brain is actually a fusion reactor. E=MC**2 and all that. On the other hand if you've figured out that the car is not "real" but is instead just a construct our brains impose on the inconceivable (to us) truth, you've bypassed Newtonian physics.

We know from quantum physics that the world we perceive isn't quite as simple as Newtonian physics or even Einstein's theories. The idea that what we perceive as reality is just a construct that's evolved as the best way to interact with our environment is one that philosophers and quantum physicists struggle with to this day. It would be cool if we could represent that in game, I'm just not sure we can.
You don't need a fancy shmancy scientific explanation. If a table wants it, they can come up with it.
 

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