D&D One Hour Review: Psionic Power

Hey again! So, the other D&D product I was excited for this month, besides the Dark Sun products, was Psionic Power. This product is obviously released in conjunction with Dark Sun since that setting relies so heavily on psionics and DMs and players alike are probably as primed as ever for more material for the power source. In the Dark Sun Campaign Setting it is explained that “All living creatures on Athas have some minor ability to affect the world with their minds. Most folk fail to tap into these abilities, experiencing deja vu or random flashes of insight at best.” Obviously, psionics is different and intrinsic to Athas so “dressing up” magical fantasy elements as psionics is less than ideal. This is why there is a new battlemind build in the Dark Sun Campaign Setting and the wild talent optional system but there could be more.

Before I open this book, then, I have three broad expectations for Psionic Power. First, I want my mostly-psionic Dark Sun party to have a lot of customizability in the psionic classes since they’re limited in their choices. If two players both want to play the same psionic class, I’d like more ways for them to seem different. Secondly, Psionic Power should help with the inclusion of psionics into the world by providing more psionic elements for DMs to throw into a Dark Sun game since the normal magical staples are out. Whether new mechanics or just more thought about what psionics means and looks like,

I want some more fluff to help my worldbuilding. Lastly, for those games that don’t take place in Athas I expect ways in this book for a psionic character in any setting to really prove that they’re psionic, again following the example of other Power books.

Alright, enough preamble. Start the clock!

First of all, sweet cover. I really like William O’Connor and think he does good stuff… Although whose idea was it to have these halo-things around psionic characters? Seriously… Anyways, the ardent chapter starts with something I haven’t heard before, that ardents are the receivers of outside emotions. I like the section on mantles and emotions (whoever said that 4e isn’t appreciative of roleplaying?) and I think it’s a neat idea to have emotions tied to a specific mantle. If I play an ardent, I’m definitely playing up the “influenced by outside emotions” bit: getting a little testier when another PC is angry, growing nervous as the enemy starts to attempt a retreat. Apparently ardents also live on the spur of the moment and don’t have time for planning, which sets them apart from other leaders (notably the warlord). Hmm… also a bit about ardents as perceived by the “greater world.” Not among the reasons I was picking up the book (as discussed above) but useful for someone who wants to bring psionics into Forgotten Realms or a homebrew world. There was a really good Dungeon article about including psionics actually so I appreciate this. The new mantle of impulsiveness build seems to center on being in the middle of the action: the constant benefit gives allies who are hit with opportunity attacks a bonus to damage and the encounter power is triggered when you’re bloodied. Really nice mechanically (the emotion for this mantle, if you haven’t guessed, is impetuous) but this seems like it would run into the same issues as my druid. It’s a non-defender who needs to be on the front lines in many ways but doesn’t have the stones for it. I’m sure there are some tips in the Player Strategy Guide for this but I think this is a build that needs careful planning (which ardents hate!). Partially that would be helped with impetuous ruin, a new at-will which shuts down opportunity attacks. Actually there is also wave of fatigue which slows the target and between the two I think the ardent could start helping out the controller in the party. Some later powers (invitation to defeat which pulls targets, and stolen strength which makes the target roll attacks twice) also increase the ability to dish out conditions. One thing that’s noticeable is the Corona’s Glow sidebar. Remember how I started by complaining about the halo? If a DM wants, he can have that give off dim illumination in four squares. I might start doing that if only because of the cool factor and it won’t affect things too much. Another cool sidebar is about the Court of Sorrows, a group of ardents which gathers near government buildings and projects emotions to affect lawmakers. This is just begging for use by kalashtar in Eberron…

Yikes, too much time on ardents! Briefly the paragon paths: Anarchic Adept which has a chaotic effect on its powers, Awakened Visionary which uses the Far Realms time-space twists against it, Catalyst which is an adaptable warrior, Incandescent Champion which seems like the psionic holy warrior ardents of 3.5e, Phrenic Invader which invades consciousnesses which reminds me of Inception (but with swords), and Siphon which feeds on psychic energy.

Alright, on to battleminds! The chapter art is pretty neat, showing a tiefling battlemind standing against a neogi brood. I love neogi. The intro paints battleminds as psionicists who suddenly erupt with power while under stress and there are some neat character hooks in these paragraphs. Aspects (the battlemind equivalent to fighter stances or warden guardian forms) are also played up as expressions of your innder id, or some such. This isn’t specifically Dark Sun but it harkens back to the specialized psychic combat system from the 2e setting with its harbingers and… guardians? Not sure about those names, I may just be playing too much Arkham Horror… The new build is the harrier battlemind which makes them more mobile (sort of like the tempest fighter or marauder ranger) giving them the ability to counterstrike even outside of melee (the build’s encounter power) and the new at-wills allow for the shrugging-off of slowed or immobile conditions. Not as many “zip over there and hit ’em!” powers as I was expecting but I suppose that’s more of the striker’s bag anyways and it’s a good avenue for stepped-on toes. There’s also blurred step from PHB3 which does some of that action. The sidebars here are not as evocative (here’s how to do defense! here’s a secret order of battleminds!) but the two on the Deathless Champion and the Hidden Mind talk about psionic theory in a very Indian-subcontinent way. I think this would be important for the other type of campaign setting from what the book assumes; the campaign setting like Dark Sun where psionics is firmly established. There are theories about who the vestiges that warlocks call on really are and where invokers fit into the grand cosmic scheme of the planes so why not some thought about the source of a battlemind’s power? I just had an image of a noble battlemind with deep philosophic thoughts on his ancient practice (something like Arjuna but with mind spike) and it fills me with warm fuzzies. I’m skipping through to paragon paths but something that caught my eye was battleminds adapting the practices of other disciplines. Specifically, how does a multiclassed or hybrid battlemind work? Maybe he uses tide of iron in a completely different way from a fighter, with a psionic shield pushing ahead of his physical one. Looks alright to me!

The paragon paths are Blackstone Guardian the champions of the Blackstone Monolith (very Jungian, and also related to harbingers and guardians), the Talaric Ironjack who benefits from a lost codex and gains defensive abilities, and the Unbound Nomad who teleports around and sends enemies across the battlefield too (sounds like it could be adapted for an Orien paragon path for Eberron). There are also the Storm Disciple and Quicksilver Demon but at first glance they don’t really do much for me.

Alright, I’m going to try and fit the monk and the psion into ten minutes because I want to spend time on the Psionic Options at the back of the book. The new monk build, iron soul, sounds a lot like the stone fist build from PHB3. Hmm… Upon reading it, though, it’s the opposite! Instead of shoving foes around you root them in place. Lots of sidebars here on ritual and taboos which brings back some of the mysticism of monks. Too bad I don’t have time to look right now! Ha, there’s even a sidebar on meditation. Who would have thought this ancient practice would be so easy to sum up? Paragon paths are pretty standard, mystical practices, but the Four Winds Master (abilities change depending on the wind you are channeling) and the Soaring Blade (monks with swords!) both seem interesting. Moving right along to the psion, I’m sorry I didn’t save more time for it! The shaper build recreates one of my favorite psion “builds” from 3e and one that a player has been trying to recreate in a converted game I’m running. The two encounter powers look really neat and at first glance the shaper looks to be quite different from the shaman. The daily conjuration powers look mechanically similar to the wizard’s but the ability to adjust them through augmenting and the standard action and opportunity action commands make them more an expression of someone’s concentration than a minion pulled from another plane. I’m just going to skip paragon paths because I want to get to the options chapter and I think they’ll be too good to skim…

Whoa! Well I knew I wouldn’t be disappointed… The first section of Chapter 5 is a full-page treatment of psionics for each published campaign setting: Dark Sun, Eberron, and Forgotten Realms. I’m interested in Forgotten Realms because there has never seemed a good avenue for introducing psionics into that setting. The first way they present here is ancient lore (a mainstay of FR) and the other one is the twisting energies of the Spellplague and the appearance of Returned Abeir. This makes sense and it doesn’t stretch the setting too much so I like it. The Athas section also has some neat ideas, including the realities of a psionic ecology and the reasons for a lack of psionic enchantments. More to read later. The next section covers a number of psionic orders with Backgrounds for characters which is a neat way to introduce mechanical benefits without inventing new mechanics… More backgrounds come later of a more traditional bent (societal, racial) and there’s a neat sidebar about an optional rule for a “language of the mind” which allows telepathy to transcend linguistic boundaries. Interesting, but I’ll have to think on it more. Whoa, and a surprise! There are bloodline feats later in the chapter but rather than being “you are good at force powers” they’re adaptations of previous psionic races! There’s the elan from Expanded Psionic Handbook and the half-daelkyr from Magic of Eberron (though they’re called foulborn). Each bloodline also gets a paragon path and some background options which look neat. A brief pass (less than a minute!) over the feats show some interesting augment feats which add tricks to powers and some epic destinies which bridge the field from a little too iconic (grandmaster of flowers is pretty much any protagonist from a wuxia film) to truly epic (the cosmic soul becomes one with the universe). There are also some superior ki focus items (like the other superior implements in Player’s Handbook 3) which look neat and some other equipment but that’ll have to wait for later because I’m out of time!

Alright, so in retrospect I probably should have started in the back given my expectation of information on including psionics in settings and establishing ways for Dark Sun DMs specifically to include more of the power source into everyday life without overpowered commoners. Still, I saw a lot to support this sort of thing from the superior ki focuses (merchants selling those on the streets would replace magic shops even if you’re using the inherent bonus system) and the philosophic orders could be ported right into Athasian city-states alongside merchant houses. They also provide a new avenue for people to introduce psionics into games already in progress (“You’ve never been to the southern cities and it turns out there they have these weird colleges of ‘sy-ahn-iks’…”). Speaking of, I think the pages on psionics within the published settings are well-thought-out and (through design or happenstance) run the gamut of psionic-heavy setting (Dark Sun) to moderate inclusion (Eberron where psionics come from the faux-Far-East and so are just “uncommon”) to truly lacking (Forgotten Realms where they have never been a part of the setting in a big way). For DMs with their own homebrew settings they should find their worlds in this spectrum.

As far as the other expectation, expanding psionic options so that people in a fully psionic party (like in Dark Sun where PCs are either martial classes, psionic classes, or criminals) can differentiate among themselves, I think this was met also. However, I think that a lot of the new builds inadvertently make it harder for psionicists to be different tactics-wise from non-psionicists. I’m sure they play differently (with power points or full disciplines if for no other reason) but by adding a bravura-warlord-like build to the ardent, a tempest-fighter-like build to the battlemind, and a tome-wizard-like build to the psion the psionic classes are starting to bleed into the purviews of other power sources. I’m not suggesting that these builds are going to be identical in any way and maybe this is a good thing as it makes the psionic classes less unfamiliar to people use to the tactics of other classes. On the other hand, if you’re looking for class builds whose basic class features offer things that other classes can’t do then that’s not the direction they took this (except for the rooting-in-place of the iron soul monk). However, this book is everything I hoped for and it will be great for anyone with psionic players (including my Eberron party), but especially for anyone who is really jazzed about Dark Sun and wants to leap head-first into the world of psionics. I suggest you grab this book, make a pot of tea with your favorite marketed-as-exotic name, and roll up the most different, mental character you can muster.

Photos taken from Psionic Power.