There has been an awakening…
I’ve been a huge fan of psionics since I started playing D&D back in 2nd edition. The very first campaign I played in featured psionics quite a bit, using The Complete Psionics Handbook for the rules. The rules in 3.5’s Expanded Psionics Handbook were also some of my favorites. Bruce Cordell’s work was amazing, as was his work in Malhavoc Press’ psionics books. And I would be remiss if I forgot to mention D&D 4e’s Players Handbook 3.
In other words, I’ve been a fan of psionics for quite a while.
Psionics in D&D 5th Edition
I have been following the evolution of psionics in D&D 5e, from the mystic to the recent Unearthed Arcana article showcasing new psionic subclasses for the fighter, rogue, and wizard. I think the most recent take does a lot of things right, such as with the psychic warrior and soulknife subclasses, but the psionics wizard has me torn.
The fan in me thinks that psionics should be an inner power, and thus would fall under the umbrella of the sorcerer. When I think of psionics, I immediately go to Professor X, Jean Grey (Phoenix, thank you), Emma Frost, and Psylocke of the X-Men. I also think of the Jedi from Star Wars. In each case, each of them has an inner power. So the sorcerer makes sense, right?
Here’s the problem. Psionics as a whole really is intelligence-based. This is the magic of the mind. As such, the wizard becomes the primary class. This seems a bit odd at first, but consider that Jean Grey honed her talents at Charles Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters. She had to study and practice in order to hone her abilities. Yes, her talent was innate, but could not the same be said of many wizards, most notably Raistlin Majere?
I would still like to see the option of a psionic sorcerer. While we do have the Aberrant Mind sorcerer, I personally would like something that isn’t so Lovecraftian.
The Larger Picture
Psionics has ever been the red-headed step-bastard child of D&D. It’s either been an add-on, or a totally new subsystem that required the purchase of another book. Either way, the system didn’t integrate as well with existing mechanics.
It’s also about avoiding the creation of a new class just to suit a new set of powers. The psion needs an identity all its own. There can be a whole new psionics handbook just for this new power, but past experience has shown that these sort of niche books do not sell as well. Nor do players and dungeon masters use them.
Wizards of the Coast wants something integrated that more gamers would get use out of.
For those of you who want to make the psionics wizard feel more natural or more in tune with prior editions, there are a few ways that one can enhance their psionics experience.
First, I’d like to think that wizards with the psionics arcane tradition have an awakening. They have studied and unlocked the secrets of the mind.
Second, a psion would not be a psion without Psionic Strength Points (PSPs) or power points. Luckily, 5th edition has you covered. The Dungeon Master’s Guide has rules for spell points on pages 288 – 289.
Third, consider having an organization for your psionic character. Malhavoc Press’ Hyperconscious: Explorations in Psionics has a psionic organization called the Colorless Lodge, which is a guild of psions. The accompanying Colorless Adept prestige class included mechanics for power sharing. Sounds a bit like wizards trading spells, doesn’t it?
Perhaps your character graduated from some sort of school for psionics. GURPS has a Psionics Studies Institute (PSI). This could be a force for good or evil. One could model PSI after Charles Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, or something more nefarious like Babylon 5’s Psi-Corps.
As a side note, in the case of the psychic warrior, perhaps he is part of an ancient order of mystic knights. Jeremy Crawford did say “more Vader”, right?
The recent take on psionics in Unearthed Arcana seems like a breakaway from previous editions. However, Wizards of the Coast has a history in 5th edition of combining concepts to get an even stronger concept.
This recent take on psionics strengthens the archetype, allowing it to be integrated better with the existing D&D game. Give the psionics wizard a chance. With a little ingenuity, gamers can bring back a bit of that classic psionics feel while also taking the concept in new directions.