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Psionics System Design


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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...


I am, after all, a bit of a sucker for 5E.


To clarify my viewpoint on various editions, 2E isn't that mechanically interesting (speaking from the position of a combat-centric video game), 3E is colossally unbalanced ("in event of spellcasters not already being absurdly overpowered, break glass!"), and 5E is still in its formative stages and thus I don't have a whole lot of source material. The final product will likely be combination of features from all of these, with fluff determined at some point down the line.

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To give an idea of the kind of flavor I'm going for, with respect to Psionics, here is one of the powers I'm planning.


Borrow Time
Psi Cost: 5
You pull your future self into your current time frame for several rounds.
For 18 seconds, your present and future selves can both act independently. After these 18 seconds have expired, future you disappears (because they have returned to their own time frame) and present you disappears for 18 seconds (because you were pulled into past you's present for 3 rounds).
(NOTE: Do not use this power if you have no other party members. Doing so will cause the game to end.)
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For 18 seconds, your present and future selves can both act independently. After these 18 seconds have expired, future you disappears (because they have returned to their own time frame) and present you disappears for 18 seconds (because you were pulled into past you's present for 3 rounds).

(NOTE: Do not use this power if you have no other party members. Doing so will cause the game to end.)

Lol that's actually a cool power to have. But I suppose it can be used on other creatures as well.

As a note, tobex allows to disable gameover on player1 death, so it's possible to allow it with no party members.

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i think psionics should have small, symbolic tie-ins to magic and the divine.

-there should be one mage spell that disrupts psions (50% ability fail...some kind of enchantment or illusion mental distraction but short and high level)

- there should be one cleric spell that grants the caster some psionic powers for a short time (gods can do that)

- there should be one monk ability that protects from direct psionic effects, especially mental ones

- there should be one druid spell that augments elemental psionic abilities (nature synergy bla bla) or alternatively a druid spell that summons an animal with a psionic ability (psionic rattlesnake, something like that lol)

- inquisitor dispel dispels psionic effects (because it is divinely sourced and can do anything); perhaps even cleric dispel, but inq. should have an advantage


- and of course, one psionic ability that does something cool about magic, could be anything really, maybe wiping a random spell from a mage's memory or focusing on a mage to mirror his moves so that you cast whatever he does for a while (you lose control too)

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I disagree about Inquisitors. That stupid Dispel ability is so stupid, it really doesn't need any extra boost.


I love the idea of a telepathic attack that specifically affects spellcasters. I might steal that one. ;)


Stepping back, it's worth talking about engine limitations here. One of the complaints about 2E psionics was that it was too unrelated to magic, such that a reasonably crafty psionicist could destroy any spelkcaster simply because they wouldn't have any defense. (Though I think that is the starkest and least charitable view of 2E psionics... but let's put that aside because it's irrrlevant here.)


In BG, under the hood, every uses the same effect opcodes. So psionic Domination uses precisely the same effect as the magic Domination spells. What this mean is, protection against magical domination will also protect you from psionic domination. Protection against magical fear will protect you from psionic terror. Chaotic Commands will protect against most telepathic attacks, and a psionic defense like Intellect Fortress will protect you against most magical mental attacks.


Furthermore, I'm pretty sure casting failure will affect psionics just like it affects spells. So Deafness and Miscast Magic and Holy Word will affect psions just as they affect spellcasters.


There are only three potential mechanical differences between psionics and magic:


1) What kinds of abilities are appropriate for each system. (Similar to how some kinds of abilities are only appropriate as divine spells but not arcane spells, or vice versa.) My view in my mod is that psionics are different and far more limited than magic. The alternate extreme is Kwiat_W's mod, in which they are the same - he gives you "Psionic Fireball" and "Psionic Cloudkill" etc.


2) Whether psionics are affected by Magic Resistance. I'm perhaps biased, because I hate MR and think it should be violently drowned in a fetid swamp and then fed to alligators. But putting that aside, this is an open question. I'm in the camp of "psionics isn't magic, so MR is irrelevant to psionics." Again Kwiat_W is on the other end of the spectrum.


3) Whether psionics can be dispelled by Dispel Magic/Remove Magic. In my mod, the answer is "no, Dispel Magic only dispels magic." I think this is okay because you can still cast Remove Fear to remove psionic fear, cast Free Action to remove psionic paralysis, etc. Here again Kwiat_W's mod takes the opposite position: in it, Dispel Magic dispels any supernatural effect, regardless whether it is psionic or magic.


There's no right answer here, it just comes down to the creative vision of the modder.

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Kwiat's interpretation of psionics was very much inspired by the 3rd Edition design set. I am going for something a bit more distinct, so I'm making design decisions based on what is thematically appropriate, and then balancing around those.


Going through subtledoctor's list:


1) Psionics are very much different from magic; there will be very, very few sources of AoE damage (or AoE effects in general to be honest). Psionics is about manipulating reality with your mind, not drawing energy from the weave to deal several handfuls of dice in damage. To frame it a different way, think of Psionics not as an artillery character (e.g. Mages) but as a controller (with crowd control, positional management, status effects, and limited damage output).


2) Psionics ignore Magic Resistance. This is not PnP friendly (as far as I can tell from the sourcebooks at my disposal), but it is thematic.


3) Psionics cannot be dispelled by dispel magic effects, but can be removed by things that specifically target statuses (as subtledoctor suggested).


Obviously there will be drawbacks to counterbalance these design elements, but I want them to feel distinct from Mages, even if they are using the Mage spellbook.

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i wrote this before i saw aquadrizzt's post - great!


@subtledoctor (some parts are not irrelevant now)

uhuh i get it... it's a bit disappointing when you put it that way because i naively imagined psionics can be techically separated from magic so that the effects are different and you can't protect normally from psionic panic and also that something like deafness wouldn't affect psions, but yeah, i just wasn't thinking practically


sooo gotta make psions immune to miscast magic and deafness. i'd make them immune to all forms of spell failure and interruption. so not even insect swarm, whack in the head, nothing. because they enter an entranced state where don't feel pain something something yknow


and we're on the same page about concept...a very limited range of "spells", yes, but very reliable, almost foolproof, moderately powered effects.

i'm for a minimal number of abilities. like if it can be a dozen "spells" (i know it can't) that'd be fine with me


in terms of physical stats and weapons, i'd have them be like bards. but primarily, for fighting, i'd let them create spell weapons that work like spiritual hammer (melee at a range)...so no str bonus etc. ...and let them apply different properties to the weapons (one at a time), like debuffs, some subtle effects like cumulative ac / save lowering, % of stat drain etc. something insidious like that.


also there could be ranged spell weapons, like a psionic state/weapon that lets you launch physical bullets via telekinesis. so you get a spell-created "sling" (it should look like glowing hands) with insane apr lol.


i've got other ideas like that, so something original yeah. def not "psionic melf's acid arrow" god forbid

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@bob_veng yeah lots of good points.


I was thinking of having an entire mindblade set of powers that is basically how you describe it (inspired by Soulknife in EPH3.5). When they use their mindblade, they are treated as having fighter thac0 etc etc. Or alternatively have them use the priest/rogue thac0 table but have them determine bonuses from their Int score, using the existing strength table. Damage is intentionally limited but I think they'll have a good amount of unique abilities and utility available.

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Well, the INT governing the thac0 for a class is ideal for them, and doable. But doing it well might be a bit ... hard. Or has the "constant yet floating" stat been resolved in your works. As if the chars INT drops to say 3, their Thac0 should get far worse too instantly(, and not just on level up/loading of save). Yeah, the EE redefines the effects at times, but there's no detected definition of when... as far as I know.


Now then, I am a bit alienated from the topic by the fact that this is a new system again... and there's already a few of the kind, that themselves took a lot of effort into making.

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New stat bonuses are doable in EE 1.4+ thanks to opcode 326... but there's only two ways to make it dynamic/reactive to stat changes: 1) opcode 272 and a repeating .eff, which is slightly buggy and unreliable; or 2) a spell that constantly re-casts itself as infinitum, which is dangerous if a little mistake leads to runaway processes.

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