Thursday, February 27, 2014

More thoughts toward a BX version of psionics...

Triarchy (2005) by Jeroen van Valkenburg

About 1-1/2 years ago, I made a post mentioning that I wanted to try to find a BX psionics solution. Let's face it, OD&D and AD&D psionics is unwieldy, cumbersome, and downright confusing. More importantly, there is nothing about the psionic system in those systems that feels anything at all like normal combat in D&D. But I can't blame Steve Marsh (who is co-credited with Brian Blume for psionics' as it appears in Eldritch Wizardry). In a 2009 interview with Grognardia, Steve lamented, "a character class I designed was taken apart and turned into the psionic powers... I wanted a character class, but the editor decided that the abilities belonged available to everyone, except for elves."

IMO, psionics (for PCs) were most successful in older editions when treated as part of a character class. The Psionicist character class was introduced in Dragon Magazine #7 (in an article by Arthur Collins), and re-worked/re-introduced by Steve Winter in AD&D2's The Complete Psionics Handbook. But regardless of how successful these may or may not have been, they did not address an underlying issue... the system of psionics inherited from AD&D by way of OD&D is simply "unlike" what players expect in D&D — especially BX D&D.

So I've been putting some thoughts against this for the last week, and was thinking, "How do I make this as familiar as possible for BX players who avoid adapting AD&D psionics like the plague because it's so... so... whatever it is." So here's where I've landed (for now)...

Psionics is a class-based ability (like magic), with psionicists getting more abilities with each level gained. Psionicists are human (the same way that in the BX-context MUs and clerics are only human) who use d4s to determine hit points, can't wear any armor or carry a shield, and may use only a dagger (and make their physical attack rolls using the MU attack tables). Most importantly, in keeping with the BX spirit, the minimum WIS and INT scores are 9 (though bonus XPs are rewarded for high Wisdom AND Intelligence scores). WAIT! What's that you say? Psionic characters with Wisdom and Intelligence scores of 9? Yes. That's what I said, and here's why...
The number of Wisdom points a character has directly affects the number of Psionic Energy Points the character gains at each level — e.g., characters with a WIS of 16-17 get twice as many PEPs per level as characters with a WIS of 9-12, and high levels that gives wiser characters a deathly advantage; choosing to be a psionicist with that low of a Wisdom score would just be a VERY poor decision.

The number of Intelligence points a character has directly affects their ability to defend against psionic attacks expressed as Mental Class (or MC). "What's Mental Class?" you ask? Well, it's sort of like Armor Class for the mind (based on the character's INT, with bonuses for psionic users based on level/HD). Which brings us to the major innovation in simplifying this system...
All mental attacks (vs. psionic or non-psionic characters) are made using a single Mental Attack Table (which looks like any other D&D attack table)!!! The various combinations of psionic attack and defense modes simply become modifiers "to hit" on the attack table. Non-psionic characters get a saving throw based on their INT (like OD&D) and psionic characters lose PEPs based on the type of attack/defense and the level of two psionic parties involved.

That's all I've got so far, but I feel good about where it's going.


  1. i made into a spell list then got all spells from other lists that could be psionic then made about 24% new ones - cast like sorcerer in 3.5 with so many points per day per level - its just another spell list and more like exising systems instead of adding new unbalanced mechanics - worked seamlessly. In world refereed to as mind mages or mind magic just a specialist school to most. psions are martial artist version of civilized lands and shaman for those specializing in spirits

    Character Classes and Psionics
    Psionics and Sorcery Mentalist Spell List 1-3
    Psionics and Sorcery Mentalist Spell List 4-5 with Shaman Class
    Psionics and Sorcery Mentalist Spell List 6-7 with Psionicist Class

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    2. My next step was to take the major sciences and minor devotions and treat them as "spells" (pretty much like what you've done). But one of the goals I'm aiming for, is to be able to take a an existing psionic monster from OD&D/AD&D and be able for a BX character/creature to interact with it. That's my reason I'm attempting to preserve the psionic point system, as well as the attack/defense modes as separated "non-spell" abilities.

  2. I spent a long time hemming and hauling over making B/X Psionics work and never quite got literal psionics to work. It's the tone of psychic powers that never feels quite right to me. In the end, I designed a class called the Alienist. They draw upon energy from a demi-plane where unformed thoughts dwell, and channel them into effects that mimic magic spells. Also, their ability to touch this bizarre piece of reality gives them a certain kind of madness that grants special abilities.

    1. I've actually had a chance to exchange a couple of emails with Steve Marsh, who gave me his vision for the original Mystic class prior to its incorporation into the Eldritch Wizardry psionics rules. So what I'm doing currently, is creating a BX mystic class based on that direction (uses only the disciplines, no combat modes; ties the disciplines to different chakras), and I'm separating the combat modes (the combat modes were Gary's invention, but Tim Kask ran with it to create all the combat mode attack tables, etc.). I'm creating a separate system for use of the combat modes, and making them optional to the character class (and, therefore, the game as a whole). It's actually coming along quite nicely. Ironically, the "tone" you speak of seems to have found itself quite naturally for the mystic when I took the combat modes out of the equation. It really becomes obvious that psionics is 2 separate systems that share the same power source (psionic strength points).