Unearthed Arcana Why UA Psionics are never going to work in 5e.

Catulle

Hero
What does this mean for Psionics? Of course it's a fantasy concept. It TENDS to show up in fantasy with settings that are otherwise rough analogues to the 1800s-onward toward the future, after the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment in Europe - as others have discussed. It's a form of magic related to disciplines that were at a given time still mysterious while other sciences marched on.

Building out from this thought, Dark Sun goes the other way, where magical sources of power are dead/absent (gods) or bitterly suppressed (arcane), there's a reach for something - anything - else to survive. Which, stood on its head in turn, is of course pretty typical post-apocalypse writing...
 

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Aldarc

Legend
Building out from this thought, Dark Sun goes the other way, where magical sources of power are dead/absent (gods) or bitterly suppressed (arcane), there's a reach for something - anything - else to survive. Which, stood on its head in turn, is of course pretty typical post-apocalypse writing...
In the assumed setting of 4e - let's say the Nentir Vale - psionics are thought to be the universe's auto-immune system response to the creeping cancer of the Far Realms.

In Eberron, psionics are tied to the planes of Xoriat (i.e., madness) and Dal Quor (i.e., dreams).

But I suspect that part of the appeal of psionics is not that people want something better than magic, but, rather, that magic has essentially become internalized and approached by D&D as a science, and so people want some form of magic that actually feels more magical or subtle than what it has become in D&D's Disneyfied magic.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
In the assumed setting of 4e - let's say the Nentir Vale - psionics are thought to be the universe's auto-immune system response to the creeping cancer of the Far Realms.

In Eberron, psionics are tied to the planes of Xoriat (i.e., madness) and Dal Quor (i.e., dreams).

But I suspect that part of the appeal of psionics is not that people want something better than magic, but, rather, that magic has essentially become internalized and approached by D&D as a science, and so people want some form of magic that actually feels more magical or subtle than what it has become in D&D's Disneyfied magic.
Huh. Having psionics be the less understood and science-y version of magic is 180 degrees from what I would expect. Did the whole fantasy vs sci-fi side discussion start because psionics was called more sci-fi than fantasy? Of course, you may be focusing on the more subtle, but that's not be a terribly strong hallmark of psionics in D&D, either, what with energy manipulation being a large component, or body manipulation. Harder to tell who's using it, maybe, but not really more subtle.

I think, fundamentally, psionics is just another power source for magic. We already have arcane and divine, so psionic is just another tag. While arcane and divine magic use the same system, the access to these is gated through different class structures that are different outside the leveraging of the same magic system. It's very unlikely that psionics will get a new magic system all it's own, so it'll have to share the magic system. Given this, what makes a psionist class distinct from the Cleric, Wizard, Sorcerer, or Bard? It cannot be, "they don't use components" alone. What's the thematic bits the make it distinct? Can that distinct core class support the subclasses that you think need to be included to cover the themes necessary to make psionic rich enough?

These are the basic design questions that need to be answered. Honestly, the 'no VSM' bit is too far down in the weeds to deal with until these larger questions get answered. And they need to be answered in a way that facilitiates design, which means they need to be reasonably specific and testable (as in, does this design feature meet the design goal?). Vague statements like 'more subtle' don't provide enough design guidance.

Personally, I'd like to see psionics avoid the full caster approach altogether and instead come at the issue with a core class that focuses on a limited set of powers/spells common to psionists and then building up of class abilities that allow for enchancing and empowering abilties. Subclasses would be where real diversity shows up, with additional powers/spells and additional subclass enhancement options selected to meet the theme.

Something like starting with some basic powers, maybe cantrip level, at will, and then a few 1st level spells that are thematic for psionists (good opportunity to add a new spell or two). Add to this the psi-die, usuable to add to attack damage or skills as in wild talent. Spellcasting requires components (don't panic), but non-expensive material components are replaced with a focus, like a totem or crystal. The focus glows when powers are used.

At second, gain the ability to roll your psi-die to enhance your powers, like removing V,S components (crystal still required), or increasing range/area/targets, or imposing disadvantage on saves... rough ideas, not balanced yet.

At third, gain speciality. You get some new powers that align to your speciality, like scorching ray/burning hands for a pyro-kinetic, thunderwave and shatter for a kinetist, detect thoughts and blindness/deafness for a telepath, etc. Again, need fleshing out, this is rough.

Then, as you level, the core class gets a few more general spell abilties, but at a slower/lower rate than full casters. Most of the new powers come through subclass improvements. The core class does add new ways to enhance/empower these powers, and, crucially, add more psi-die at useful intervals (maybe at proficiency breakpoints). This lets the psionist expend dice on being able to do more enchancements on only a few core powers, giving the flexibility and depth.

The core concept here is really class that uses a limited number of spells, but can enhance them frequently to match the power level of full casters, but in clear specialities. No generalist psionicists. Looking the above over, it needs a lot more fleshing out and a strong balance pass (anything allowing mix and match enhancements needs a careful tuning), but this is a class I'd be interested to see. Not because it's psionics, because I'm at best ambivalent about the concept, but because I think this is an interesting design and a kind of class I'd enjoy seeing in play, regardless of it's flavor. Ultimately, this last bit is the most important thing -- something that offers an interesting new way to interact with the existing ruleset, and not necessarily that it has a specific flavor.
 

Aldarc

Legend
That's nice and all, @Ovinomancer, and it feels like you are talking past me and not to me, but I am largely talking about the meta-textual level. I'm not attempting to talk about a design level with "more subtle." You're right that psionics was called more sci-fi than fantasy, but I do think that, ironically, magic in D&D is treated more as a science than psionics, which often is treated as something that's a mystery for wizards. So it is something of a 180.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
That's nice and all, @Ovinomancer, and it feels like you are talking past me and not to me, but I am largely talking about the meta-textual level. I'm not attempting to talk about a design level with "more subtle." You're right that psionics was called more sci-fi than fantasy, but I do think that, ironically, magic in D&D is treated more as a science than psionics, which often is treated as something that's a mystery for wizards. So it is something of a 180.
I can only speak to my experience, but I don't see the magic as science in D&D. It's very much non-scientific. Do you mean known and widespread and therefore less mysterious? If so, I can agree there. However, the only way psionics fills this role is if it's presented as very rare, or largely unknown. I don't think this applies to settings where it's widespread (like Dark Sun), which it does fill the same niche as being well known as magic does in general 5e. In other settings, maybe, but that's a setting design issue, not a core component of the magic source or the class design. At least, it would appear so to me. Applying 'this is the more mysterious kind of magic' to psionicist class design doesn't seem like it belongs there but rather in the setting material.

Which is why I said I don't think it is a useful design input for the class design.
 

G

Guest 6801328

Guest
Ovinomancer’s comments got me thinking, and I realize I’m not 100% opposed to a Psion class. I just haven’t seen one that genuinely adds to the game, or that doesn’t add in ways that I think are bad.
 

TwoSix

Uncomfortably diegetic
Ovinomancer’s comments got me thinking, and I realize I’m not 100% opposed to a Psion class. I just haven’t seen one that genuinely adds to the game, or that doesn’t add in ways that I think are bad.
Out of curiosity, when you say "add to the game", do you mean at a mechanical level, a narrative/trope level, or both?
 

G

Guest 6801328

Guest
Out of curiosity, when you say "add to the game", do you mean at a mechanical level, a narrative/trope level, or both?

Probably both.

I freely admit that my assessments are entirely subjective.
 

Aldarc

Legend
Applying 'this is the more mysterious kind of magic' to psionicist class design doesn't seem like it belongs there but rather in the setting material.

Which is why I said I don't think it is a useful design input for the class design.
Again, I'm not talking about class design level here.
 

JiffyPopTart

Bree-Yark
I always viewed "magic is a science" as being the default D&D style because Farmer Jim can scrape up enough gold to send his daughter to the "Mage Academy" and she can learn to cast soells.

There is no special something a being in the 5e universe has to have in order to be magical, which is actually a different take than a lot of other settings where "being magical" is just a trait you are born with.
 

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