Mystic, Psionics, and 5E vs AD&D Balance

So, the playtest of the full, 20-level, Mystic came out via Unearthed Arcana last week and it looks pretty decent. I’m not sure I like all of it, but I like most of it and I find the whole package quite workable even if I have some qualms about specific Disciplines and don’t think there are enough Talents.

I also don’t like that there is no “psionic vs. psionic” combat – all psionic attacks work against anyone, and there is seemingly no benefit in being psionic when it comes to resisting psionic attacks or damage.

Part of this is because I want to keep some of the flavor of AD&D psionics, and there are a handful of things which don’t translate well or haven’t been translated at all – and there are some things which I like a great deal and because I never played 3E or 4E or even any 2E Psionics, I never had any exposure to them. I played with a “Psionics as the random extra” straight out of the Player’s Handbook and the Psionicist class out of the Dragon Magazine. I also used the Deryni from the same issue and adapted various races do include an innately psionic component.

Now, you could certainly adapt Feats as a way to grant some access to psionics without having to go full-Mystic or even have to adopt a psionic subclass (which I am sure will appear sooner or later, I’m pretty sure that’s what the Soul Knife is going to end up as). There are the Magic Initiate and Ritual Caster Feats and some analogy would be easy enough to develop.

But I’m also a fan of the “psionics as a rare and random extra” for characters. So my current thought experiment is that there is a percentage chance equal to the total of the character’s modifiers for Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma that the character is psionic. This might be too high, I haven’t checked against the old chances in 1E.

And then a table both for total number and for random Disciplines and Talents – similar to the old 1E method of handling things. I’d probably make Psionic Strength Points a multiplier of level rather than the completely random method used in 1E, perhaps 2x or 3x level, so that it is always lower than an actual Mystic.

5E has attempted (and failed, as usual) to keep characters tightly balanced. The action economy, the mostly nonsense of bounded accuracy, the general increase of hit points, and the overall nerfing of spell-casting (fewer slots, concentration, etc). The problem is that even with spell-casters being nerfed, they still outclass other classes in Tier 3 & 4 play. Some are positively sickening such as the Eldritch Blast Warlock, and the non-caster melee types simply pale in comparison.

As broken as Exalted was (is), this is where it was amazing with it’s Charms, you could play a melee character and it was as bad-ass as a spell-caster (possibly more so in some ways, but that was the nature of the wuxia-inspired system).

So, as an old 1E AD&D DM, I’m much more comfortable with characters of unequal power, and in fact with characters that are fundamentally more powerful than they are in 5E. Heck, I have a campaign world somewhat predicated on it, there’s some wriggle-room, but I really wouldn’t want to depend on a 5E Tier 4 character for the fate of the multiverse…

Pretty much all my house rules continue in the vein of making 5E characters more powerful, especially the spell-casters. We are miles away from the quadratic casters of earlier editions, but I simply have no problems with the idea of high-level casters being significantly more powerful than melee-types.

When I think of high-level spell-casters I’m thinking Gandalf fighting 1v1 with the Balarog (yes, yes, I know that they’re both really angels, but you know what I mean) or Ged fighting multiple dragons by himself, or Elric, or Pug, or even Doctor Strange. These are characters you really can’t replicate any more given the power restrictions of 5E.

D.

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Categories: Campaign Development, Game Design, House Rules | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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