Posts Tagged With: Psionics

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.


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A different or additional resource management for magical items

I’ve been reading the new Dr. Strange comic (which I highly recommend if people like either comics or Dr. Strange) and then saw a splash panel elsewhere of the comic book character Ilyana Rasputin holding the Eye of Agamatto and thought about how many magic items are described as having a cost, or are exhausting to use. Now, currently D&D uses some combination of the X/uses between a Short/Long rest to describe this and that’s certainly a reasonable way to do so, but it also doesn’t capture the sense of “exhausting” that I’m thinking of.

One way to do this is by activations or uses casting Hit Points. The problem with this is that there is also a trope about some magic or magical items needed blood or wounds to be used and for all the talk about Hit Points representing more than physical damage, they are still closely linked to that in most players minds. So again, the flavor is off.

So, how about Exhaustion? There is actually a condition mechanic for this in 5E – my problem with this is that the Exhaustion condition is very debilitating to characters and with six levels of it you simply die. So while this is a valid use of the Exhaustion condition, I would want to save it for the most powerful (or cursed) of artifacts or effects because the penalties are likely to cause many players from using the item or effect in question.

What I had actually thought of was using Hit Dice!

This makes Hit Dice a multi-use resource (always a good thing in my mind) that forces a player to choose between “useful effect now” and “healing later”. It increases as levels go up (so high level characters have more uses, something that I’m a fan of). I also think that Hit Dice as a concept is removed enough from Hit Points in that it can be equated to “endurance” or “exhaustion” as opposed to damage – especially since Hit Dice are regained through Long Rests.

Hit Dice are also generic enough to conceptually valid for Arcane Magic, Divine Magic, and Psionics. The cost can even be scaled if the DM desires so that smaller effect costs 1HD while a large one might cost 5HD or whatever (also neatly creating a minimum level for certain uses). This also opens up the idea that some items might allow (or even require) multiple characters to contribute HD to create an effect (especially for those big and flashy ones).

There is also nothing preventing a DM from using both Hit Dice and Exhaustion for really powerful items – or simply as the limiting factor in low magic campaigns. One could create items that have a Hit Die cost over multiple Long Rests. Something like a 1HD cost each day while a multi-day effect is running, or a 5HD cost that decreases by one after each Rest (or Long Rest).

In any case, I hope someone out there can get some use out of this. I’m certainly going to experiment with it myself!


Categories: Game Design, House Rules, Magic Item | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

Yeah, falling behind… but… Psionics!

Yeah, I have two gamelogs to write up (they are relatively easy sessions to cover so I’m not sure why I haven’t gotten to them yet), plus a couple of other entries that I’ve been tinkering with, plus a big set of posts on languages in my campaign world that I about have ready for posting – but I just wanted to raise my head up for some air as well as point out how nicely done the new psychic rules are for 5e. While far from complete, and with a couple of potential ringers in there that might break a game, I’m pretty happy with how they are written up. Power-wise they are easy to scale up (same as I’m finding with Arcane and Divine casters) and the way that happens already fits into my “established” methods for doing so. I guess I’ll have to start thinking about writing those up as well. Oh, and I now have a request to come up with an animal companion Druid circle. So I guess that is now near the top of my list of things to work on in my spare time. TTFN! D.

Categories: FYI | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Waiting for 5e Content…

I really want the new Princes of the Apocalypse hardcover – not because I particularly care about running the adventure, but because I really want Clerical Domains and Arcane Traditions for the four elements. It’s kind of hard to run certain aspects of my game without them. Can’t really have much to do with the En Khoda Theos Kirk – the worship of the Great Elemental Dragons – for example. The Gensai (mechanically) have also had an important place in my game world, but more as “Dragon-marked” individuals rather than elemental equivalents to Tieflings and Aasimar.

Speaking of Dragonmarked, it was nice to see the Eberron piece for the February edition of Unearthed Arcana. I don’t really care about Dragonmarks, but Warforged and Changelings ended up in my gameworld after some significant “backstory” alteration.

The Warforged are the remnants of the Great Fleet of the Iron Court that fled Avalon and the Mortal Realms at the end of the Mad God’s War. Nobody is quite sure how they were “made” – as in are they essentially creatures that are the end result of having their entire bodies slowly replaced by magitech? Or are the souls “downloaded” into new, magitech bodies? Or are they truly a new form of life that the Iron Court has figured out how to create?

Changelings would be an analog to my “Lilim” from the Shadowlands (and actually long pre-dated Eberron, but it’s an easy touchstone for gamers to analogize to). Gender-shifting, shapeshifting, charismatic and seductive, the Lilim are said to be the most favored of the children of Lilith – though in the Mortal Realms that are called succubi and incubi depending upon their presenting gender. Favored as spies, tantrics, and entertainers the Lilim also make excellent thieves, assassins, and monks.

I expect I’ll get around to writing them up the same as I’ve done with the other races. I still want to do Half-Ogres and Half-Trolls, so now I’ll have to decide which come next!

Now, if they would just do something with Psionics… That is probably the one bit of “gaming mechanics” that I really want an official set of rules around because the potential to build something utterly incompatible is pretty high and I’d like to avoid that.

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

Yup! Psionics were dangerous!

Rick over at Don’t Split the Party has a great post breaking down the dangers of psionics in 1E.

This essentially sums up why I didn’t think that psionics were overpowered – or really that common beyond some very basic abilities.


Categories: Game Design, OSR | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

High Men, Psionics, and Psionicists (1e)

So, James has posted today about the Psionicist over at Grognardia. I’ll add on to say that it is one of the ways that I’ve handled psionics in my game world – and certainly the major way that players have had psionic characters in my game for a while now. Coincidently I’ve been thinking about psionics the last couple of days and came up with a new tweak that I like and that makes more sense to me from both a character development and a game balance perspective.

Personally, I never had a problem with psionics in AD&D, first I was reading Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover series at a young age because my mother loved them and they were sitting in the huge pile of speculative fiction that inhabited our house (along with the rest of the books the bibliophiles that my parents were had collected). The simple fact is that psionics hardly ever came up, what was noticeable was that they were often something that either immediately doomed a character because psionic encounters really, really suck or foretold a long and successful career because certain abilities just made the characters quite powerful. This was a s true of the psionicist as it was of the psychic but actually emphasized the “psionic encounters suck” end of things because the progression was slowed down so much.

You’ll notice that Brother Illya is a “High Man” (aka Deryni aka Dúnadan aka Comyn aka whatever) and is a multi-classed Psionicist/Warrior-Monk (currently 3rd/3rd) while a couple of other characters are listed as “Minor Psychics” and “Psychics”. The “Minor Psychic” is a new category that I essentially invented when I came back to AD&D after running my own rules system to cover those races that I wanted to always have some innate psychic Talent to model certain abilities but without giving them the full range of psionic abilities automatically. High Men only count as roughly about 5-10% of the population and are considered to be the true scions of nobility – paradoxically because having the traces of blood of angels, elves, dragons, whatever running through their veins that grants them the mixed blessing and curse of psychic ability violates the taboo against inter-racial sexuality that the “civilized” races have in my game world.

Psionicists work pretty much as they do in the article, save that they use my attribute of “Talent” instead of the IWC (Intelligent-Wisdom-Charisma Average) to determine Psionic Ability – everything else is the same. High Men are able to multi-class as Psionicists with any other single class, and suffer the same 10% XP penalty per class as non-humans. Also, Psionicists automatically have the Minor Devotions of Rapport and Lights in addition to the other Disciplines gained as a result of advancement. At one point in the very distant past I allowed Psionicists to choose thier Devotions, Sciences, and Arts – but at this point I insist that they roll them like everyone else.

Psychics are pretty much the way psychics are written up into the Players Handbook, with the addition of automatically having the Minor Devotions of Rapport and Lights. I interpret the advancement for multi-class characters to occur as one ability (Minor Devotion or Major Science, all Minor Devotions first) to be added each odd level, the same as for single-class characters, but the multiple classes are added together to determine “level” rather than using the highest level class or some other arcane formula to determine how many abilities had been learned. This would also represent the abilities of “untrained” High Men if someone wanted to play one without multi-classing as a Psionicist. The chance for any non-human to be Psychic is the same as the basic roll from the Players Handbook – with the stipulation that Talent must be 16 or higher. This is limited to those races who even have the potential – Dwarves, Gnomes, Half-Elves, Sh’dai – Elves and Ithians are either Minor Psychics or Psionicists, never half-way. As an odd note, two “human” races are automatically considered Psychic if they do not specialize as Psionicists, the “Old Race” and the “Feyhd”.

One other note, only characters who choose to be multi-class as Healer/Psionicists can start with Cell Adjustment at 1st level, and other Psionicists or Psychics may only take it if they roll high enough to “Select One” on the table – and may only do it with my permission.

(As I write this, I think I’m just also instituting a rule that Psychic characters suffer a 10% XP penalty “as if” they had another character class as a multi-class. That’s another nice bit of balance for the benefits that you get for the abilities. If you are Psionicist, you already get it, and if you are a Minor Psychic the “benefit” is really not much compared to the potential downside for most adventurers.)

Minor Psychics have only the abilities of Rapport and Lights – as given in the Psionicist article. They can use all forms of psychic item, device, or consumable just like a Psychic or Psionicist. They only have one Defense Mode (G- Though Shield) and they only gain one Attack Mode (A – Psionic Blast) at 2nd level. None of this is rolled, either your race is considered “Minorly Psychic” or it isn’t. This is mainly Elves, Half-Elves, Sh’dai, and Ithians. Perhaps strangely, bit Gnomes and Dwarves are not Minor Psychics, their gifts manifest as thier other abilities to detect stonework, etc.

Psychics and Minor Psychics roll for Psionic Ability using the following formula: 1d100, plus one for point of Talent, plus one for each point of Intelligence, Wisdom, Charisma, and Power over twelve. If two of the five attributes are above 15 then the “bonus” points are doubled, if three then they are tripled, if four, quadrupled; and if all five then the bonus points to the d100 roll are quintupled.

Here is the tweak for Psychics and Minor Psychics that I just realized this past weekend made much more sense. Instead of rolling to determine what the Attack and Defense Modes are known, just ruling that Defense Modes are gained at the rate of one for every odd level (and Defense Mode G being the first automatically gained at 1st level) and attack modes are gained at the rate of one for every even level. Psioncists advance as the table in the article.

It’s worth noting that I also consider Illusionists to use “Mentalism” rather than Arcane Magic or Divine Power, along with Oracles (Dragon #53) and Timelords (Dragon #65). This means that “Magic Resistance” doesn’t work against these “spells” (though for certain extra-planar creatures I have ruled that they have equivalent “Mentalism Resistance”). In some ways this might makes things more powerful for Illusionists, but at other times it means that a simple Thought Shield prevents them from doing much of anything worthwhile…




Categories: Game Design, Game Play, House Rules, OSR | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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