Content of the article: "Psion Redux"
This is extraordinarily long. Feel free to click the link at the end of the post to jump to the class doc.
Back in early 2013, during the DnDNext playtest, I missed the release of the sorcerer, one of my favorite classes from 3/3.5E. Since, classes were still influx at that time, I decided to homebrew my own sorcerer. I kept spontaneous casting as a base. I constructed spells in thematic groups called spell circles which used spell dice that allowed you to increase or change the effects of any given spell. Ultimately, 5E released, and though I had some issues with the sorcerer, I thought it was decent enough and put mine away. I was a little disappointed psionics, my favorite class, wasn’t included out of the gate in the playtest, but figured it would be added on just as it had been in every edition since 2nd.
5th Edition released to much fanfare in the fall of 2014. As you might have guessed by now, no psion. So, I thought, fine. I’ll homebrew one by reprising my abandoned sorcerer. Using the base, I changed spell dice to augments and went to work coming up with “cool” powers. The concept was met with enthusiasm from my homegroup and random internet people. And, if you dig around on Reddit, you may even find comments discussing it from a few years back.
I didn’t make a ton of progress on my psion because you know, life. In July of 2015, the first iteration of the Mystic was released as Unearthed Arcana. My first thought was that it was similar to my concept. So, I figured I’d wait to see where they took this and once again put mine away.
Mr. Jeremy Crawford was in Dallas a few years ago and we talked through the psion/mystic a bit. We discussed similarities in Mike’s approach to my own, and where the ideas diverged including cutting some legacy features to fit better within 5E. He was glad to hear some of us grognards were receptive to dispensing with a sacred cow or two for the sake of 5E’s philosophy of streamlining. Fast forward to 2020 and we get the word that the psion as a class has been backburnered and most likely axed.
This announcement prompted me to finish what I started. Enter the Psion Redux.
So, what’s your psion about, you may be asking. Or, you may not be. Below, for those who thoroughly enjoy reading, is a bit of Insight into my design.
What was your design goal?
I wanted this to feel like psionics. There needed to be an underlying theme throughout the class. So, when I set out to design a full and proper psion class along with its six subclasses, I had to think about why I, and so many others, enjoyed psionics. The fantasy of psionics is about using your mind, and only your mind, to create fantastical effects and not having to be some codgerly, staff-waving, textbook thumping, gray beard to do so. Kidding. I love wizards.
To that end, I had to answer two questions. What should 5E psionics and psions be? What shouldn’t 5E psionics and psions be?
Thus, in answering those questions, I looked to the history of psionics in D&D from 1E to 5E, as well as drawing on my own experiences playing and DMing psionic characters throughout the years. I am a huge Dark Sun fan, but it was my affection for psionics that led me to Athas’ parched embrace. So, I definitely wanted to pay proper historical homage to the class while giving it a modern spin that embraced 5th Edition design. My take on the psion and psionics shares some familiar elements with the psionicists/psions/mystic and psionics from each edition, while attempting to bring some unique flavor to the table.
Quick aside about the class name. I think Mearls and Co. were onto something with rebranding the Psion as Mystic to shift away from the so-called sci-fi feel, though I’d argue sci-fi is just a fork of fantasy. That said, I personally prefer Psion over Mystic. I know I talked about getting rid of some sacred cows, but I got beef with dropping that name, okay?
Moving on. The thing about psionics is, it wasn’t simply another form of magic when it initially debuted. It felt different. It was different. Did it at times feel overly complex and tacked on? Yep. I mean, percentile dice? What self-respecting player uses percentile dice? But, as the years and editions rolled by, positive changes to the psion were made. 2E greatly expanded psionics and its lore. 3.5E brought psionics more in line with other classes and the game as a whole. Even 4th Edition, as controversial as it was, added something positive to psionics with its at-will only powers. Most iterations of psionics did a good job in defining what it should and shouldn’t be for its respective editions.
My aim was to carry that forward. I’m not sure the Mystic had a definitive slot in the 5E class assemblage and was sort of all over the place. This is my attempt to provide a more coherent niche for psionics in 5th Edition.
Psionics should feel different but familiar, allow you to move through space and time tactically and in a blink, excel at contacting, manipulating, controlling, and destroying the minds of others, utilize sheer force of will to move, restrain, or fling objects and your enemies before you, and hear the lamentations of their women, create things from nothing or reshape the physical world as well as reality, augment physical forms to adapt and become more resilient, or look into the future or past and use that insight to your advantage.
Psionics shouldn’t be just spells by another name, cover the sheer versatility or utility of a wizard (a mistake of past editions), allow you to be a better fighter than a fighter, outskill a rogue or bard, heal better than a cleric, or commune better with nature than a druid. These were mistakes committed by the UA Mystic as well, in my opinion, except the druid part.
So, where do they fit then? Filled quite well to its ardent fans, the role of psionics in D&D has always been as a niche system, even though it crossed over into magic’s territory. “Yeah! Spells and psionics overlap!” you exclaim. Well, of course they do. D&D, like any other TTRPG, has system constraints and you can only do so much within said system. That doesn’t mean you can’t offer something distinct, however. Psionics has always been about the “how” and not necessarily the “what” per se. It was unique in The Way it did things, even though that initially had it standing one foot outside of the existing system.
The 3.5E overhaul changed that, for better or worse. It invited the outsider in and made it feel more a part of the system instead of like a bolt-on class. In order to achieve this in 5E, psionics and the psion ideally need to mesh with the existing primary, non-martial mechanic, and nestle nicely amongst the 13 other 5E classes (re: not stepping on toes like the Mystic) while maintaining its traditionally distinct flavor. A challenge to be sure. So, how do we do that? Let’s just trim some fat off the elephant in the room, shall we?
Gone. That’s right. I banished them to a previous edition’s demiplane. This is one of the legacy bits I talked about getting rid. As much as I love psionics, I’ve never felt an affinity for the power point mechanic, though I know quite a few people did and still do. It’s always felt cumbersome to me. Though they provide a different feel than the way spells have been used throughout the various editions, they:
A) Have far too much accounting attached to them. In 3.5, you could have over 400 power points by level 20 depending on your Intelligence score. That’s ridiculous. Even with the UA Mystic (which uses a version of spell points from the DMG), by the time you hit level 10, you have 64 psi points in addition to everything else you need to track.
B) Power Points/Psi Points needed to be governed by yet another mechanic in Psi Limits (more accounting) to keep psions from being able to use the equivalent of 7th- 9th level spells multiple times per day, thus being vastly superior to any other class.
C) They go against the overall design philosophy of simplicity in 5E.
While those of us who have used psionics in our games for years have adapted to psionic strength/power/psi points and all that entails, I just don’t believe they should have a place in 5E. Can they be used? Sure. But, maybe there’s a better way, or at least a different way.
I can hear some of you now. “Psionics isn’t psionics without psi points.” See. I think there’s a mechanic that accomplishes the overall goal without the unwieldiness of power points… Augments. Should sound familiar to a lot of you. They were introduced in 3.5E, continued into 4E, and sort of exists under the Mystic in 5e Unearthed Arcana. However, even with augments, like a hydra, the power point mechanic always reared its abundantly numbered head. Well, let’s try something different, eh? Let me explain. Wait. There is too much to… nevermind.
Moving to an augmentation-only mechanic still offers the flexibility of power points but keeps the flow of the well-established 5E spell slot mechanic. How? It works thusly. At each character level you gain a number of augmentations which you can expend to alter a power you manifest. Sort of like… gasp …spell slots. As you level, you gain access to higher augmentations (0-5).
“Well, that’s just using spell slots for upcasting,” you say. Yes and no. For the most part, with a few exceptions, upcasting allows you to increase damage, increase duration, and/or Increase the number of targets. Augmentations can allow you to do all of those as well as allowing you to create more powerful effects or different effects within the same power (see powers below).
Ultimately, I feel this implementation of the Augmentation System can be understood by vets and newcomers alike because it’s essentially the way you already play spellcasters in 5E with a twist.
Yes. I went old school with the use of the term “powers”. In the Mystic UA, Wizards decided to go with disciplines. Disciplines to me refer to the theme of a certain set of psionic powers (telekinesis, psychoportation, metacreativity, telepathy, etc.) just as schools refer to the theme of a certain set of spells. This doesn’t seem to be fitting nomenclature for the singular effects themselves.
WotC, and other psion homebrews, have taken the approach that psionics and powers are just different names for magic and spells, or they just use existing spells and call them psionic. That shouldn’t necessarily be the case and isn’t the approach I’ve led with, though I’m not diametrically opposed to it. Even with this version of the psion, where existing spells did what I needed, I used them unchanged or with slight tweaks in a handful of cases. As I said above, there is most definitely overlap with magic and psionics. There always has been. And, that’s okay. Overlap notwithstanding, there is still enough design space for psionics and psions to exist and provide a distinct playstyle from magic and casters. So, what exactly have I done?
ALL POWERS (and talents) ARE AT-WILL.
Okay. Snap out of your 4E flashbacks and read on. I mean, you’ve gotten this far. Every power in the psion’s repertoire starts as basically a cantrip (a tad stronger in some instances). A psion expends augmentations to alter the nature and strength of their at-will powers.
Using my old sorcerer base, I settled on designing powers by theme (similar to the Mystic) with a specific theme grouping like effects together. Imagine a power’s theme like an umbrella. Under the umbrella, each theme is broken down into various effects which support that theme, and the augmentation you would need to expend to achieve that effect.
An example of this would be the Mindfire power (see the class document) under which there are five effects: the At-will effect, Singe, Engulf, Molten Missile, and Conflagration. To achieve one of these effects, you must spend the appropriate augmentation from 0 (no cost) to 4. All of the power effects are different and aren’t simply an increase in damage, duration, or number of targets.
You, of course, have a limit on powers known and number of augmentations you can use per day.
Additionally, I have incorporated a version of 3rd Edition’s psionic displays (Auditory, Material, Mental, Visual). This has two effects. A) It looks and sounds cool and B) it lets others know when psionics are being used, thus leaving them opened to being countered (another issue people had with the class).
Along with class features, the powers of this class hopefully help achieve a lovely psionic flavor.
Class and Subclasses
For now, I have only built the psion and its six subclasses or orders (I liked that name, so I kept it.): The Egoist (psychometabolism), The Nomad (psychoportation), The Savant (Psychokinesis), The Seer (Clairsentience), The Shaper (Metacreativity), and The Telepath (Telepathy). No psychic warriors, wilders, soul knifes, etc. Not yet anyway.
A few notes:
· I’ve not completely settled on nomenclature. For example, I like Orders to refer to a theme of powers. But, Disciplines also work and I’m considering Devotions, which is a callback to a 2E term referencing minor psionic powers. Then there’s, Manifester vs. Psion. For example, manifester level vs. psion level; manifesting ability vs. psionic ability.
· More powers are in the queue. But I figured 15 talents and 73 powers is a good start for now.
· Even though this has undergone lengthy private playtesting, there will still be errors in addition to power and balance issues here and there because… This is a 50-page document with 8 pages devoted to class and subclasses, 2 pages to psionic rules, 35 pages to powers and 4 pages devoted to creatures you can manifest.
Now, some of you are saying, holy psionic attack modes! 50 pages?! Let’s compare that to two of the beefier spellcasters in the game, the cleric and wizard. Breaking them into similar documents, including spells, they come in at 31 pages for the George Burns class and a hefty 55 pages (give or take) for the Hogwarts graduate. My psion is 46 pages without creatures.
So, what am I asking of you, my fellow D&Ders? Playtest. Playtest. Playtest (or read-test). There is a lot of content to chew through and it could most certainly use your feedback to finish getting it into game shape. Maybe, I’ll even try to set up a survey down the road. Either way, have fun.
- Update Psion Redux ver. 1.1
- A feature for the sorcerer
- Short Rest Spell Points instead of Long rest spell slots
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