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D&D 3E
Psionics for Dummies 
14th-Mar-2008 11:58 am
Disney-Bambi Reflection
My D&D group is winding up our Undermountain campaign and one of our other DMs is looking at something new to do when he starts to run. So, he picked up the Eberron books and fell in love with them. Our group is made up mostly of married couples (myself the only exception) and they've been playing since 2nd edition. When I joined the group, I began to, little by little, open them up to new content, such as the Complete Series and the various compendiums. We've stuck to WotC content and the GM has always had veto rights, blah blah blah. ;)

Anyway, one thing none of us have ever done are psionics. When I was learning D&D with my first group, Psionics were always forbidden due to being broken and the one time I glanced at the books (this being in 3.0) it totally confused me, so I let it go. Last weekend, when we were talking about it, my current DM agreed that psionics used to be EXTREMELY overpowered, but theoretically weren't any more. Never the less, this group had no played them either. Now, however, we are stepping into Eberron where... the rules have changed, so to speak. And after reading through all the material given to my by the new DM, I asked him if I could play a psion and he agreed.

I'm really excited about the new character concept, as I'm always interested in playing new things, and I've read through the Expanded Psionics Handbook several times now. I know there are still a lot of things that confuse me, but I won't be able to define any specific questions until I start building and playing the character. For now, I'm curious: for those of you who play with psionics, what is your impression? What's the psion's primary role in the party? What are their largest weaknesses and biggest strengths? I'm just trying to get a feel of the system/class from those of you experienced with it. :)
14th-Mar-2008 05:47 pm (UTC)
I personally can't stand psionics. First and foremost because I don't feel like it has ever fit with the premise of the game. Swords and sorcery and...telekinesis? ESP? Mind powers? Seriously?

Second, just because it's not utterly broken doesn't mean it's not still ridiculous. WotC itself admitted that you can make an entire party of Psions - depending on what builds you use, psions can take powers that enhance combat, stealth, and they have spell-like effects that emulate both arcane and divine powers. Everything else about the game at least takes niche-protection into consideration, even if it crosses them often. If someone has healing powers, they invariably have some sort of divine connection. Psions disregard all of this.

If nothing else (and I'm sure psionic advocates have answers to all of the above), in my experience, people who play psions are almost universally min-maxing dicks. I've known two or three DMs other than myself who use the appearance of the XPH as a warning flag regarding who not to invite back. Something about them just grates on the DMs' nerves. I don't mean to stereotype psion-players, it's just been the general experience of myself and some others.
14th-Mar-2008 07:47 pm (UTC)
Psionics always felt perfectly fine in my games, but that might be because the literature I always liked was more Psionic than Vancian (I originally checked out Psionics in AD&D to mirror stuff from David Eddings). I guess it's just a difference in play style. Though I will say that flavor is mutable, and everyone I know who has tried the 3.5 Power Point system has liked it better than the 3.5 Spell Slot system.

As for your second point... I don't understand. You could just as easily make a party of all Wizards, and it'd be even easier to make a party of all Clerics. Hell a Druid is practically the whole party all by himself. The game quickly breaks down if you strive for niche-protection--which is I think why 4e is pushing it so hard.

And Bards have much better healing options than Psions, without any "divine connection."

As for psionic-users being jerks... you could be right. Though in my experience it doesn't matter if someone likes psionics or not--they can still be a jerk. What's probably a better indicator is that they join the group and want you to introduce a new mechanic/style to the game, rather than having the whole group (or the DM at least) decide to use the system. It's the new people wanting to impose their style onto a working group than that throws the warning flags for me, not that fact that their style includes Psionics.
15th-Mar-2008 08:49 am (UTC)
Heh, I guess I've just managed to avoid all of the psionic-based fantasy stuff out there. Other than some things on Darkover. Good to know.

You could make a party of all Wizards, but they'd still be doing Wizard things and not Barbarian things. Not so with psions.

If Bards have some tiny advantage in the face of everything else, good for them. I've always thought they were pretty underpowered.

And yes, people can be jerks no matter what, and wanting to overhaul your entire game is a really powerful indicator of that. But I still think the XPH is a good (albeit more subtle) indicator of the same.
15th-Mar-2008 03:10 pm (UTC)
How exactly do you have a Psion doing a Barbarian thing where a Wizard could not? I'm have problems thinking of a Power that doesn't have some kind of Arcane/Divine analogue. Whereas something like Tensor's Transformation allows the Wizard to be a fighter.

Not to mention that the Druid simply turns into a bear to do the Barbarian thing--or even a dire badger so that he can rage (taking the Barbarian's shtick directly)! The Cleric can similarly take on pretty much any and every roll.

My point is, the problem you suggested Psions cause to the game (that they ignore niches) is in no way unique to psionics, thus it can't be a problem with the psionics system itself. Many other regular classes, particularly the primary casters, just as often--if not more often--ignore niches.

I'm sorry that I can't let this go. If you're not interested in arguing discussing it, just let me know and I'll drop it :)
15th-Mar-2008 02:40 am (UTC)
The one psion (Psychic warrior) that I've played with was a good person but a bad min-maxer. So it goes. (His dwarf was pretty fucking awesome, though, in a min-maxed sense.)
14th-Mar-2008 06:03 pm (UTC)
When I posted those kinds of questions on the Paizo boards a while ago, this is what the folks over there came up with.

Personally, I don't think that psionics are necessarily out-of-genre. (Katherine Kurtz's Deryni series is a canonical example.) After all, how many spell-casting, undead-repelling priests can you cite from the sword-and-sorcery fantasy ouvre, and nobody suggests that clerics are nonsensical.
14th-Mar-2008 06:23 pm (UTC)
Add in Mercedes Lackey's Valdemar series, which has a divide between mind-magic and true magic*. Or Hajime Kanzaka's Slayers series, which is pretty psionics-free, but mentions that a few mages have telepathy as an inborn ability.

* Disclaimer: Her Vows and Honor trilogy was the first swords and sorcery I read.

I've never had a psion in my D&D games, but I've always wanted to try playing one, since the magic system seems to make a bit more sense to me than the traditional Vancian one. I have seen psionics played in d20 Modern, but the mages tended to outclass them there, in my experience. (Well, except for one player who was both very good at playing the party face and damn creative. But I also enjoyed the mage she played in the previous game.)
14th-Mar-2008 07:16 pm (UTC)
That is extremely helpful, thank you!
15th-Mar-2008 08:55 am (UTC)
You can't think of any historical, fictional, or mythological basis for the presence of holiness driving back evil undead? Seriously?
15th-Mar-2008 06:02 pm (UTC)
The idea makes sense, but I can't think of any specifics, no. I'd love examples, though!

Wait, of course--vampires being repelled by crosses.

I don't know how many of the other undeads have this kind of thing, though.
14th-Mar-2008 07:05 pm (UTC)
Primary role in the party: the psionic handles everything, the rest of the group can feel free to provide refreshments, sleep, or loot bodies after the psionic has killed everything. :)
14th-Mar-2008 07:20 pm (UTC)
Okay, I'm actually leaning towards a diplomatic sort of character concept. Granted, we are a very combat-focused gaming group, but I don't have to do damage to feel useful. I am leaning towards going down the Telepath route and using my powers to offer 'buffs' and 'debuffs' while the rest of the party slices and dices. Is this possible? How hard is it to keep up with DCs and Power Resistance over all (since unlike most damage dealing spells/powers that have 'reflex for half' saves, many of the telepathy-type powers are an all or nothing situation)?
14th-Mar-2008 07:34 pm (UTC)
I am leaning towards going down the Telepath route and using my powers to offer 'buffs' and 'debuffs' while the rest of the party slices and dices.

I'd say that party buffs is an area that Psionics is lacking in. The nature of the power source is that the powers mostly do one of three things:

1) Self-buff
2) Mind-fuck the enemy
3) Manipulate the environment

One "line" of powers that you might enjoy for your purposes, though, are the various "Ectoplasm" ones -- though maybe a bit icky.

Entangling Ectoplasm
Level: Psion/wilder 1
Saving Throw: None
Power Resistance: No

You draw forth a glob of ectoplasmic goo from the Astral Plane and immediately throw it as a ranged touch attack at any creature in range. On a successful hit, the subject is covered in goo and becomes entangled. The goo evaporates at the end of the power’s duration.

Entangle is *really bad*. Ranged touch attacks are *really good*.

15th-Mar-2008 08:52 am (UTC)
Yeah, this is what I mean. If the psion is a one-woman party, why is she adventuring with three others? Everyone should feel like they have a role, and I don't know of anyone who daydreams about making sandwiches.
15th-Mar-2008 03:21 pm (UTC)
The same could be said about any other primary spellcaster, like the Wizard, Cleric, or Druid.
14th-Mar-2008 07:26 pm (UTC)
3.5 Psionics are certainly not overpowered. They are *good*, but far from ridiculous.

My wife, who kindly indulges me by participating in my D&D campaign, is currently playing a Psion. I believe that she truly enjoys the mechanics of the class. She's not interested in min/maxing or learning the subtleties of D&D. However, being a Psion has enabled her to be very effective in combat (Energy Bolt), while still allowing her to pick "cool" powers (such as Catfall).

I only bought the XPH because she showed interest in playing a Kalashtar Psion and I was desperate to encourage her to play. :) I found it *extremely* easy to pick up the rules.

What's the psion's primary role in the party?

Psions (and Shapers?) make great blasters. If they choose to, they can burn a LOT of power points in a single encounter and can appear overwhelming. On the other hand, if a day's adventuring will see many combat encounters, they can easily find out that they've overextended themselves.

Psions can also make due with as few as, say, TWO offensive powers. Crystal Shard and Energy Bolt (for example) will cover a vast set of situations, especially with selectable energy manifestations. As such, they have a greater liberty to pick highly situational powers.

While their powers probably lack the *very powerful* utility spells of a Wizard (Invisibility, for example), they can be an acceptable substitute and serve as the party's general "arcanist" slot.

From what I understand, they can also be very potent Summoners -- but I have no experience with that side of them.

One thing for sure, you REALLY need to use the rules that say that Psionics are just another kind of magic. Dispel/Detect Magic/Psionics should be exactly the same. Ditto for SR/PR. Ditto for any spells that "block Psionics", or things like Globe of Invulnerability.

Hell, I go so far as to say that Spellcraft = Psicraft.


In terms of general power curve, I'd say that a badly-played Psion is more powerful than a badly played Sorcerer/Wizard. However, I think a really well played Wizard can be stronger than a Psion.

But a Psion is probably more fun to play. The flexibility is just awesome.
14th-Mar-2008 07:35 pm (UTC)
Psions fill similar a role to a Sorcerer or Wizard--they can provide artillery, lock-down enemies, and provide a few utility-style spells. Similarly, they are generally rather fragile, and may run out of their per-day abilities without a chance to rest.

Psions are more generally more flexible than Sorcerers (because many powers can have multiple effects, and effectively can be scaled up and down for what "level" they are), but less flexible than Wizards (because Psions can't have every spell, so won't always have a solution to every problem).

There are some other differences in terms of what functionality the Psion can easily fill, but pretty much you could think of them as a Wizard who uses a (in my opinion) MUCH BETTER mechanic for tracking spells.
14th-Mar-2008 08:00 pm (UTC)
I will admit that I like the concept of the power point system A LOT. It just... makes more sense. And I think about all those arcane and divine spells that turn into dead weight after two or three levels, usually due to DCs, but sometimes due to the spell description itself (A lvl 10 wizard using Daze? When is that going to work?) and I really think they've come up with something awesome in the way the augments work.
15th-Mar-2008 08:42 am (UTC)
Just tossing this out there: It "makes more sense" because you're probably used to WoW/Diablo/etc-style gaming that uses a pool of MP to fuel spells. The PP system enables you to toss a single effect out there as many times as you want, at the expense of versatility. To me (and probably not everyone), casting Blast a few dozen times and Lockdown a couple of others just isn't that creative or interesting.

Also, there's plenty of cantrips and 1st-level spells that remain useful all the way up - Read Magic, Light, Identify, etc. are all good utility spells. Sleep puts the kibosh on sentries. Ventriloquism sends the guards running the other way instead of toward you. It takes creative thinking, but that's sort of the point of the game.
15th-Mar-2008 03:21 pm (UTC)
You're probably right. But it might "make more sense" because I'm used to spending currency--I know that I can spend $1 to get something, or $2 to get twice as much of the same thing, or $5 to get something else. And if I have $100, I can use that as I wish. I'm not restricted to only being able to buy 4 $1 items, 4 $5 items, 3 $10 items (and so on), where a $5 item isn't actually worth 5x a $1 item, and you can't usually find the $5 version of the 1$ item.

The concept of "spending units of cost from a pool of resources" is found in a lot of other places than WoW.

And Psions are only as limited in creative thinking as the player running them. How is always casting Blast different than always using Magic Missile? Yes, psions don't have the extreme versatility of the Wizard or the Cleric. But they're just as versatile (if not more so) than the Sorcerer or the Bard. In other words, they fit right into the game, mechanically speaking. The only potential problem with using psionics is a flavor mismatch. But then, flavor is mutable.
15th-Mar-2008 06:27 pm (UTC)
The concept of "spending units of cost from a pool of resources" is found in a lot of other places than WoW.

And not just in real life, either. It is the way things seem to work in so many fantasy/sci fi genre stories, too. I specifically think of Mercedes Lackey where the mages create magic from within them. It takes a large amount of mental/emotinal energy, and when they use it all, they are exhausted until they rest. That just seems to match the power point idea better than the sorcerer mechanics system, at least to me.
15th-Mar-2008 07:58 pm (UTC)
It makes more sense seems to work for the bulk of video game designers. I've seen precious few games that adopt D&D's spell slot system, and I think they're only final Fantasies 1-3 or most D&D-licensed games.
17th-Mar-2008 02:50 pm (UTC)
With the exception of Pool of Radiance II (which was a unique bulk of suck in its own right) and Stormreach (an MMO) every licensed D&D game from Pool or Radiance to NWN 2 have made use of the "Vancian" model of spell casting.

Getting back on topic, I never thought Psionics fit a D&D game in terms of thematics, but that's a subjective judgment. I even tried playing a Psion (the blasty kind for whom CON was a big deal) but it wasn't working for me, I didn't think the rules meshed with with the game well, and it threw the DM (who was running his first 3e campaign after years of 1st and 2nd ed) for a real loop when I started using some of my powers heavily. It occurred to me at the time that my power selection may have been fairly self serving to an almost isolating point, se we retconned him into a Cleric.
17th-Mar-2008 04:20 pm (UTC)
The 3.5 psion is what the 3.5 sorcerer should have been.
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