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Psionics System Design


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(Before I start, yes I know Kwait_W made a Psionics Unleashed mod several years ago. Having looked at it, I think that Kwiat and I had different goals in mind with how a psionics system should function and feel.)


I am working on a points based Psionics system and I want some feedback on its actual design. I explicitly don't want to replicate how psionics is handled in 3.5 or Pathfinder, because I find it too powerful and because I don't think it sufficiently emphasizes the difference between psionics and magic.



So far I have come up with the following fundamental design points:

  1. Psionic abilities utilizes a point-based casting system.
  2. Psionics is fundamentally different than magic.
  3. Psionics abilities feel unique and thematic.

I think point 1 is pretty self-explanatory. You can use any combination of your psionic abilities until you run out of points for the day.


Point 2 addresses that psionic abilities are not subject to the same issues that magic has. Psionic abilities can be used when silenced, can function normally in dead and wild magic zones, ignore spell resistance, and cannot be dispelled using Dispel Magic. Psionic abilities that require a save would use save vs. wands. Psionic abilities can be used while wearing armor.


Point 3 addresses that psionics should be rare, and feel intentionally weird. Psionic powers are not just arcane spells renamed or prefixed with the word "Psionic"; they are completely different abilities with strange and powerful effects. Furthermore, psionic abilities should feel thematic; constructs, vermin, mindless undead, plants, and oozes can't be phased by being shown glimpses of their future (although they can be damaged if you use telekinesis to throw a large rock at them.)



Lots of rambling about design ideals aside, I am unsure of how specifically I want to implement psionic powers. I have a points system that is working perfectly, as well as an otherwise unused kit flag that I can use to prevent psionic characters from using spells or items that would interfere improperly with their abilities.


There are a couple of different options for several steps of the implementation, and I'd like to get some feedback on which would be thematically acceptable while not being a PITA for users. For the purpose of this discussion, a "power" is a single ability (the equivalent of a spell), while a "discipline" is a group of powers (the thematic equivalent of a school, although most disciplines would only contain 3 to 5 powers).


Some of the decision points include:


1) Usability: Should powers only be usable once the psionicist has reached a specific level, or should a psionicist be able to use any power they know as long as they possess the enough points to pay for it?


2) Acquiring New Powers: Should powers be learned invidually (from a big list) or in groups (e.g. you pick a discipline and learn all of the powers associated with that discipline)?


3) Availability: Should you be able to use any power you know (like a Sorcerer), or should you select a subset of your known powers to use (like a Mage)?


Speaking personally, I think that, ideally, powers would be learned in groups, but you should be able to use any power that you know without having to choose specific ones. I think that not having a level requirement to use certain powers would also help subvert how magic is typically presented, but runs the risk of becoming overpowered if I am not careful with power design.


I'd also like to have Psions be able to dual and multiclass, so I'm eyeing either Mage (if using the spellbook interface) or Fighter (if using the innate menu) as the base class.


Does anyone have any thoughts or opinions on what I've brought up?


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1. For psionics, I like tiers of abilities. Tier I has 5 abilities, which you have to learn 3 of before you can learn a Tier II one.


2. Like GURPS, pick a discipline which is easy to learn from, but still be able to learn outside of that at a greater cost/time/risk/etc.


3. No memorization or planning; all abilities are always available, assuming the "mana pool" is sufficient.


I prefer Psionicists as a standalone class. Maybe proficiency in 1-2 weapons.

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Thanks for the input Fiann!


I'm designing Psionicists as if they are a standalone class, but at the end of the day the engine only supports the classes we're given and it will be using one of them as its hidden base class. The base psionicist ("Psion") would ideally gain proficiency as a Mage, and can pick from staves, daggers, darts, slings, and spears.


Another option is having each Psionicist pick one of several appropriate disciplines as their specialty. Powers within your specialty cost fewer power points and are considered one tier lower in terms of acquiring them.


I guess the question now is should Psionicists be able to dual- / multi-class to Mage. That will determine how I implement their abilities most likely.

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I agree with you about 2. That is, i think it is thematically interesting to have them learn powers in groups. Though, I'm not sure they need to learn all their powers at once. Hmmmm, just spitballing.


Maybe they can select from a list of "disciplines". As they level up, they can choose to either diversify or specialize within a given discipline.


For example, at first level, they might select "pyrokinesis I" which allows them to develop fire based powers. Perhaps they begin knowing a power that conveys resistance to fire and another that does a small amount of fire damage at range. These powers, while they level up in some way such that they are always useful, they don't do anything more unique than just fire damage and resistance. As they level up, they can gain choose a second discipline-- say telekinesis I-- that gives them another pair of powers related to telekinesis, or they can select pyrokinesis II, which gives them access to powers that do more, in some sense ( like create a cone of fire, etc.)


Edit: crossposted with fiann--i started posting hours ago, but got distracted and didn't finish untill now--but it's interesting how similar our ideas are.


Edit2: No, i don't think they should be able to multi with mages.

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some abilities should be similar or identical (but perhaps weaker) to some mind flayer abilities

And/or, change some of the .spl files that mind flayers are already scripted to use, to match some of your new abilities. That way you could have some psionic combat without going crazy messing with AI scripts. (At some point I'm going to get around to doing this with my psionics system.)

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But psionics isn't fundamentally different from magic. (arcane) Magic is just Mystra's version/subset of psionics.



Man, get that 3E bullstuff outta here! ( ;) )


I know that in some versions of the game they more or less merged psionics and magic. But that always struck me as dumb - they already had magic, which could do whatever they needed it to do. They could make all kinds of casting systems - Vancian, semi-Vancian, non-Vancian, not to mention other systems like drawing on life energy (Dark Sun) or getting spells from genies (Al Qadim).


Chucking psionics into that stew and saying "it's psionic magic" 1) adds very little to the concept of magic; and 2) takes a LOT away from the concept of psionics. Overall it seemed like a needlessly destructive move, to me.


I prefer the concept of psionics most thoroughly explored in the Dark Sun setting. Psionics comes from within, it involves meditation and focus and honing your mind's ability to go beyond its normal limits. I mean picking up a plate with your hand is basically a psionic act - you are lifting it with your mind, aided in this case by the muscle and nerves in your arm. Why not lift the plate with only your mind? Of course it is much harder and less efficient, but (in this concept) still possible. In both cases it is really your mind doing the lifting; the only difference is which tool your mind uses to lift it (muscle and nerves, versus telekinesis).


Magic is something you learn from studying, and it involves channeling external energies - in the lore of the Forgotten Realms, for instance, the 'Weave' is a hugely important aspect of the world. In Dark Sun you use life energy. Priests get miraculous power from gods. Etc. Using magic involves mastering a syntax - verbal speech plus sign language plus material structures.


Because magic draws on an external energy source, its effects can be hugely powerful - firestorms, transmutation of matter, power over life and death, etc. Whereas, because psionics comes only from your small, mortal mind, its effects are very limited: mind reading and simple telekinetic pushes, maybe energy redirection but not energy creation, etc.


Here's how I like to think about psionics: you know in Star Wars when Luke is training and Yoda explains the there are no limits, and raises the spaceship out of the swamp? I think of psionics like The Force... if Luke was right in that scene and Yoda was wrong. Whereas, I think of magic like Harry Potter, where you can point your wand and utter some arcane phrases and create all sorts of impossible phenomena.


tl;dr: I think of psionics as your mind doing what it always does, but with extended capabilities. While magic, spells, are a separate thing. If the concept is just "psionics is magic" well, we already have magic. So why then go to the effort to add more of the same?

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tl;dr: I think of psionics as your mind doing what it always does, but with extended capabilities. While magic, spells, are a separate thing. If the concept is just "psionics is magic" well, we already have magic. So why then go to the effort to add more of the same?

I really like this. Psionics ss essentially Descartes solution to the mind body problem. Sure, he said it was the pineal gland, but then what stimulates the pineal gland? Your mind does, silly! Seriously, though, it makes sense in a way. The mind influences the gland ( or whatever) which, though a purely mechanical (or electro chemical) process, stimulates the muscles to move limbs to manipulate the external world. Similarly, you can, in a sense, "read minds" and "predict future events" through a synthetic process of the mind. In the first case, we ' cut out the middle man' and manipulate the external world directly.


Similarly, divine magic is Liebnizian-- your motions themselves do nothing, except please your God ( or beg their mercy, etc); rather your God acts as an intermediary and aligns a part of the world associated with their portfolio with your desire--e.g. if you are casting a creation spell, for example, your God tunes the "creation clock" to be more in line with your will.


Magic is a speech act where one interprets and speaks the "language of the universe" creating, essentially, "something from nothing". Mere mortals can only create marriages and kings using a more mundane language which, while still a creative process, only apply to a specific cultural domain

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But psionics isn't fundamentally different from magic. (arcane) Magic is just Mystra's version/subset of psionics.




great post. yeah psionics to us on earth is also "magic mumbo jumbo" but, on earth we also have people who believe in supernatural phenomena and we don't consider this notion to be identical to magic. we understand that they believe that nature is different from what we believe it is, so to them there is some element of nature that is superimposed to the nature of our understanding, and that's what supernatural means (it's not super duper logical but that's what it is...) - this is "nature+" :blush: ...their "nature" is broader than our nature, or has an "added layer" to it (that's how they often put it, right?). so psionics is a natural, not magical phenomenon, because magic is not supernatural, it is unnatural, it operates outside of nature.

for example such people always say that telekinesis is something we may understand scientifically one day etc etc.

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Right. If you embrace some of the new-age-y pseudoscientific ideas about the mind - we "typically only use 10% of our brain's power," the electrical activity in the brain creates a controllable electromagnetic field, mothers lifting buses to rescuer children, etc. - and then transpose it into a fantasy world like D&D, it works very well. Empathy extended to mind-reading and telepathy. Remote viewing as an extension of viewing. Telekinesis, extraordinary physical feats, etc.


Yeah: pseudoscience made into a D&D system. (Heck, the Complete Psionicist's Handbook credited those 1980s Time-Life "Doors of the Mind" books as an inspirational source!)


In the same vein, and shifting gears a bit: for that reason, one of the things I tried to do in my mod was give psionic powers more modern, science-y sounding names. So while magic spells are called "Horror" or "Spook," the Psion uses "Id Insinuation." Similarly,

- Exaltation ---> Ego Repair

- Hold Person --> Immobilize

- Shield ----> Inertial Barrier

- Shocking Grasp --> Static Discharge

- Haste ----> Metabolic Boost

- Time Stop ---> Stasis Field

- Shadow Clone --> Fission


Point being, one of the things I thought about was to try to create a thematic character in the terminology, so that this new kind of abilities is recognizable, and recognizably different from magic.


Not saying you have to do the same thing, going in a modern science-y direction. Just that it would be cool for the system to have a particular character or theme. Another idea, which 5E seems to be embracing, is a focus on the language of mysticism. There are different ways to go that could all be cool.

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Well, if you say "DISREGARD THIS, I like to think such and such", it's hard to argue with that.

I'm not very well read on 2e/3e/whatevere differences, but I do know that 2e psionics was loathed universally and consequent editions less so. The 2e version was actually "the destructuve move".


Anyhow, in terms of gameplay, wild/dead magic zones wouldn't affect a psion with his own weave, anyway. Probably dispel magic, too. The major point of difference would be ignoring resistance. In the opening post, it's referred to as "spell resistance", I'm not sure whether that means spell immunity or magic resistance.

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I really liked that in 2e, psionics really felt unique, different and interesting. As for 3.x, i thought the expanded psionics handbook was just amazing. But, it did irk me a bit that a lot of the powers looked like magic spells with the word "magic" scratched off and painted over with the word "psionic". I don't want to be too critical as i truly feel that it was one of the best 3.x books

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@Qwerty1234567 Come on man, it was a joke. Don't you see the wink emoji there?


I hardly think 2E psionics were "universally loathed." They were intimately tied to the nature of the Dark Sun campaign setting, which was very popular. The overall system was popular, but the particular mechanics needed fine-tuning and they never quite got it exactly right. But I think the real criticism was that psionics could be disruptive in settings where it was not intimately integrated, and its interactions with magic required a fair amount of house rules.


But those criticisms were about the particular mechanics of the system; and necessarily, this mod will need to use different mechanics. So they are irrelevant to this thread.


And anyway the 3E response to the 2E criticisms were a huge overreaction. Psionic powerss are now just alternate magic spells? "Psionic Fireball!" "Psionic Disintegrate!" "Psionic Haste!" IMHO that's just silly.


More generally, your post said something like "But psionics is X" and, I mean, we're talking about fiction here. Fictional systems of supernatural abilities that have gone through at least 8 or 9 different concepts and iterations. It makes no sense to say "it is this way." Rather, the conversation should be along the lines of "here are ways it has been done; I think this one is cool; hey Aquadrizzt, how are you going to do it?"


Like, I think the pseudoscience thing is cool, but it is only one very particular kind of concept. It would be perfectly reasonable for aquadrizzt to reject it and go a different way. Maybe he wants psionics to be mystical powers derived from the Far Realm that transcend time and space. I don't love that concept, but it's perfectly valid, and it has the advantage of being current 5E canon...

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