Lately, every time I turn around someone seems to be talking about psionics. This seems especially odd, seeing as how we are four years into 5e’s reign, and Wizards of the Coast have completely stripped psionics out of the game. Apparently, this is the universe’s way of telling me that psionics should be my next topic.
Until recently, psionics wasn’t something that I’d thought about for quite a while. Most people seem to either love it or hate it. Personally, I’ve never really had strong feelings either way. Big surprise here. I don’t use it as written, but I do have my own custom implementation.
As many people have said, psionics just feels too much like science fiction for me. If I were running a Star Wars campaign, I’d be all over it. Psionics seems like it would make a fantastic version of the “Force”. But just because I don’t let my PCs have psionics, that doesn’t mean that monsters shouldn’t use it.
Let’s back up a little bit. I guess I need to start with some definitions
Psionics consists of various attack and defense modes, a psionic strength rating, and powers that duplicate spells. Two combatants trade psionic “blows” until one combatant is dead or combat is halted. There are special tables for psionic attacks against non-psionics. These are generally quite deadly. Since PCs don’t have psionics, this is also the only type of psionic encounter that PCs will be involved in. Therefore, I wanted to make some wholesale changes.
A great many creatures in the Monster Manual have a few spells (maybe a dozen or so) that may be cast, even though the creature is not a spellcaster. Most of these may only be cast once per day.
My Wizard Class
First off, I threw out Vancian magic in favor of a spell point system. Instead of preparing spells, wizards may cast any spell they know and do not forget the spell when it is cast (There are ways that a spell can be “forgotten”, so spell books are still needed, but that’s another topic). Standard spells take one round or less to cast and never require material components. Rituals always take longer to cast and always require material components.
The ability to cast any spell known sounds pretty overpowered, but my spell point system is actually quite limiting. Although wizards have a wider range of spells to choose from, the number of spells they can cast is noticeably reduced.
Creating My Version of Psionics
I knew I wanted my psychics to be innate spellcasters. By this I mean that they have a greater understanding of magic, so much so that they don’t deal with spells so much as they manipulate magical energy into whatever effect they want (limited by their HD). For convenience, let’s continue to call these effects spells. With their greater understanding of magic, they no longer require verbal, somatic, or material components either. Lastly, only standard spells may be cast (no rituals). And all spells are cast at the default level.
To me, it is the various mental attacks that defined psionics. So, what I did was add a number of mental attacks that only psychics could use. There are more powerful attacks for more powerful creatures (with slightly different secondary effects), with the save or die aspects stripped out. In general, they all do varying amounts of psychic damage. All existing spells with psychic damage were changed to something else and all effects that offered resistance to psychic damage were removed (other than basic saving throws). Thus, psychic damage became synonymous with psionic damage (and is now something to be feared).
To be clear, players never have psionics. It is strictly for monsters (and possibly a secret cult of NPCs).
If you are interested in actual psionics, this I an excellent article and the first of a series of four. It is well worth the read.