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    3.0/3.5/d20 - Experiences using the psionics rules, compare
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    Apprentice Greytalker

    Joined: Mar 21, 2007
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    From: two strange quarks short of a graviton....

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    Fri Aug 14, 2020 7:01 am  
    3.0/3.5/d20 - Experiences using the psionics rules, compare

    What experiences or stories do you have running the 3e, 3.5e, and d20 psionics rules found in various source books?

    What about the psionics rules did you find easy to understand, or hard to understand, and why?

    How do the psionics rules of these editions compare with other editions in your experiences? How do you feel about the changes between 3e, 3.5e, and d20?

    What would you constructively change to improve the psionics rules in one or more of these editions?

    (Please note: removing the psionics rules is not a valid answer for the purposes of any of these questions! If you would really prefer to remove the psionics rules, please don't reply at all.)
    Does the walker choose the path, or does the path choose the walker?
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    Fri Aug 14, 2020 2:20 pm  

    I actually liked the 3x version of Psionics. I played a psychic warrior (I think it was called).

    This one had spell slot system that i liked.
    Richard Di Ioia (aka Longetalos)
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    Tue Aug 18, 2020 9:26 am  

    I'll post some of my own thoughts about d20/3x psionics as this is the edition of D&D that I use the most, as I find it has the greatest degree of flexibility in the published material of all the systems TSR/WotC has come up with to date.

    What experiences or stories do you have running the 3e, 3.5e, and d20 psionics rules found in various source books?

    I have used 3.x and psionics extensively over the past nearly two decades. I have found the experience of running psionics to be enjoyable, and have also enjoyed playing psionics in other's campaigns, especially where I could help demonstrate and teach how it can be usefully and enjoyably integrated into traditional fantasy campaigns.

    Psionics in d20/3.x D&D is such a usable system, so much easier than the magic system, and much more balanced and internally logical and coherent compared to all the magic systems, that I have converted all but two of my characters to psionics, swapping out all magically based abilities for psionic analogs instead. The remaining two are unconverted because of in one case the backstory requires it (for a time, in the character's future story this conversion may actually happen), and in the other case, I simply haven't played that character in quite some time, and thus have not gotten around to it.

    Even in magic-heavy worlds, psionics fit nicely and plays nicely. Magic is severely broken in D&D, psionics is much less so, and as such has resulted in positive experiences everywhere I have played them.

    What about the psionics rules did you find easy to understand, or hard to understand, and why?

    In general, the psionic rules are based off of the magic rules. If you understand the magic rules, then you already understand the psionic rules; so there's not too much that needs to be said in this area. There are however four unique psionic rules that bear mentioning: Maximum Power Points Per Power, Augments, Focus, and Displays.

    Maximum Power Points Per Power: I find that most people who have negative opinions about 3.x psionics are actually due to the fact that they missed reading this rule, and thus had a bad experience.

    It is quite simple and it states: you can't spend more power points in a single round on a single power than you have Manifester levels. In other words if you are a 4th level single classed psionic character, you can't spend more than 4 power points on a single power.

    If you somehow manage to manifest two powers in one round you can only spend a max of 4 power points on each one. Once you become 5th level, that goes up to 5 and so forth. If you are a 4th level multi-classed psionic character with 1 level in one class and 3 levels in another class, then your cap is 1 for the first class and 3 for the second class.

    Pretty straight forward, and put a hard universal cap on the power levels of all psionic classes and powers. There are two ways to partly bend this rule: wild surging (based off the wild mage of yore, boost your powers slightly at a risk of failure), Overchanneling (take damage for a boost), and one rather absurd item - Kalashtar implanted shards - which have serious rules issues, but are limited to a single race specifically from Eberron and formed of a material also unique to Eberron.

    Augments: Another elegant solution, unlike magic-users which gets power ups across the board to all their spells every time they level up, with psionic powers you get the basic effect, and (usually) that's it. If you want to get a more powerful effect, you have to pay for it with extra power points. The details are listed in the powers that have augments. Depending on the power, this may or may not increase the DC of the effect. Scales nicely, and much more balanced.

    Focus: This is an unusual mechanic, but is a binary option. It's either on or off. You turn it on by making a Concentration skill check, which takes a certain amount of meditation time. You turn it off by using or 'expending' it. Some psionic feats require you to have the focus on to function, others require you to expend it to make use of the feat. Notable in the latter category are all of the metapsionic feats.

    Unlike metamagic feats which are paid for by memorizing the spell in higher slots (prepared caster) or by taking some extra time to cast the spell (spontaneous caster), and thus are able to stack multiple metamagic feats onto a single spell... in psionics you only have one focus, and thus can only activate one metapsionic feat on a given power at a time.

    There is an option which involves selecting a number of feats in exchange to get the capacity for two focii at once, but that's expensive. Psionics are mostly barred from having more than two metapsionic feats on a single power, pre epic. The only other exception to this is an alternate class feature which allows one to not expend the focus when applying metapsionics to powers from their chosen mantle... which only helps that specific class and only at and after the 10th level of said class and only with a very limited number of powers (max 9).

    This is one of the several reductions in potential power that was introduced to psionics when comparing with magic.

    Displays: In editions long past, psionics was invisible and (unless you were also psionic) untraceable. Other than the visible side effects of obvious things like Telekinesis, Molecular Agitation, or Molecular Bonding, there was no clear indication as to who was the source of any given psionic effect.

    Displays are sensory side effects that appear within a short range of the manifested power. Some obviously paint the manifester as the source of the power's effect (such as glowing eyes, or a shockwave that spreads out from the manifester), while others are less directional, but do make clear that fact that "something is happening here!"

    These side effects can be suppressed with a skill check, especially at higher levels, but it is a nice touch which can be used to customize your character (almost like a visible flourish or signature, well in line with certain personality types), as well as make psionics less 'invisible' until later levels by which point spellcasters have access to similar options to hide their spellcasting.

    Additionally, many powers have sensory effects described within the text of the power itself. Unlike displays, these obvious effects cannot be suppressed, again reducing the "invisibility" of psionic powers in the world in general.

    How do the psionics rules of these editions compare with other editions in your experiences? How do you feel about the changes between 3e, 3.5e, and d20?

    I found that the psionics system was more logically coherent and internally consistent than all the other "special effects" systems (magic, shadow, name, binding, incarnum, chi, legacies, epic) that have been written for D&D.

    Psionics in 3.x had the advantage of ease of understanding since they modeled the basic rules of individual powers after the magic system - this made it much easier to understand, especially for those who either had never used psionics, or had only used the previous editions' versions. Previous versions felt more 'bolted on' to many, psionics were a completely different system that used points instead of spell slots and had different rules from the rest of the game. Thus, this change to the rules framework in third edition was welcome to me, even though I had, and still have, some reservations about whether harmonizing psionics rules so completely with magic really was the best decision.

    The vocabulary used for psionics started off as a point of contention when it was first introduced, originally using 70's pop psychology and parapsychology terminologies that felt out of place in a (specifically) medieval fantasy world for many - after all, how many medieval scholars will invent or stumble across terms such as the ID, or the EGO, or molecules? While I understand this point of view, I don't happen to agree with it personally. Medieval people were not stupid, not even the uneducated ones.

    However, by the 2000's this vocabulary has become somewhat 'baked in' to D&D's version of psionics, so retaining the vocabulary in 3.x actually has the effect of carrying on a tradition, regardless of how said tradition came about.

    In previous editions, psionics often took place at the so-called 'speed of thought' and resulted in psionic combat taking up much of a round or going many times per round faster than other characters. This resulted in feelings of unfairness over time. Psionic combat would also resolve quickly, and potentially lethally, compared to how long it might take to wear down a monster with sword and spells, depending on which spells were known.

    In 3.x this combat issue was resolved. Regardless of my opinions of whether psionics 'should' be like magic or not rules-wise, I welcomed the action economy being placed in the exact same time frame as magic and physical combat. I appreciated further when the psionic combat system of previous editions that was retained in 3.0 was removed in 3.5 and all the psionic combat modes were converted to powers that any psionic being could use, and also that a psionic action used the same amount of time that a magical action or a physical action used. No more speed of thought, crap. And to be honest, unless one is specially trained, most people's speed of thought are not much faster than speech anyway (in most situations, special exceptions exist).

    Previous editions had "invisible" psionics, whereas 3rd edition addressed this at low levels, as previously mentioned.

    I found that running psionics in a D&D game was much smoother, did not detract from the player turns per round, took no longer than other players (with the sole exception being the Astral Construct power, the Metamorphasis power, and the Reality Revision power - which took about as long as the mage-type took to figure out what creature they were going to summon this time, or what creature they were going to polymorph into that time, or the entire party to figure out what to Wish for at any time, so that part was no more or less annoying than every other magic user in the game ever).

    With over 800 unique psionic powers in the game (d20+3.x), there is plenty of room for psionic character to find a niche and specialize within the party, or to become a generalist similar to some magic user types. Furthermore, unlike magic, power boosts in psionics all have to be paid for, maximum points that can be spent on a power are strictly limited in almost every case, and this makes for a much more balanced and accountable system than magic has ever been. Psionics rules still have flaws, however, and while they are objectively better than magic or all the other special effects systems in D&D and d20, there is still room for improvement.

    In d20, the power levels of psionics were strictly limited (cut down to 5th level powers maximum, removing all the 6-9th and epic powers) and some of the complexity and unique rules were also stripped out, making for a blander, low power type of game. Psionics is limited to advanced classes in d20, of which there are only three. This was in line with the setting and theme of the Modern Urban Arcana setting where things exist openly, and the Dark*Matter setting where such things are more hidden in the background. On the plus side, how special effects such as psionics would interact with modern (and futuristic) equipment, persons, and settings was given more thought resulting in a number of useful rules and insights.


    Thus, I have had many positive experiences with psionics in the 3rd edition of D&D, and have helped many others to have positive experiences as well. The psionics rules are not perfect, by any means, but they are a great improvement over all the other special effects systems thus far introduced by TSR or WotC.
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    CF Admin

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    Tue Aug 18, 2020 11:42 am  

    Written before I read nijineko's second post in this thread:

    I'll respond here instead of in one of the other rules forums. First, I love how you posted these questions in tandem with your article nijineko.

    3.xE was the first rule set that I recall featuring fully developed—and integrated with the other rules for—psionics. (I missed most of 2e's Dark Sun.) Although 1e presented an exciting rule set in a PHB appendix, and amongst monsters, the rarity of psionics for PCs meant that my campaigns rarely featured them.

    In contrast, 3.xE (and Pathfinder 1e) presented distinctive psionic classes that seemed adequately balanced with the other classes (although subject to the power creep of most rules later in an edition).

    Ultimately, this thread makes me think how nice it would be for a rule set to feature arcane/divine/chi/psionics/etc. all at once in its initial offering so that they worked well together.

    Related, I would love to learn how folks have featured psionics (in any edition) within the Greyhawk campaign setting.
    Apprentice Greytalker

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    Tue Aug 18, 2020 2:50 pm  

    I'll take a stab at that.

    My default campaign in Greyhawk is relatively heavy into psi compared to others'. While I do not require the characters to be psionic from the beginning, I always specifically point it out as an option, and becoming psionic is something that is eventually possible, based on the character choices. If I am teaching newbies, I do like for my beginning players to experience the entire system, and so actually encourage them to try different characters from various types: arcane, divine, chi, psionic, combat, sneak, and so on.

    I use psionics more or less as presented in the psionics sourcebooks, with minor modifications. I have a very inclusionist viewpoint, much like Gygax did in his early and late days. As such I have decided to find ways to incorporate almost every published official D&D source into Greyhawk in some fashion or another.

    As such, there are psionic orders of knighthood, villainous cabals of evil psionicists, psionic religious orders, psionic guilds, psionic schools, psionic noble houses, and so forth scattered throughout Oerth. In keeping with the published material, they are rare, but not so rare that common people have not heard of them. Most major cities will have some psionic related something associated with it, and psionic populations form a distinct if minority demographic of most countries, typically not more than 1-2% (if that) in a given country or region, with a few exceptions.

    Regarding transparency, I actually use both Psionics are the Same and Psionics are Different rules. As mentioned in my article: Edel in Greyhawk and the Flanaess: An Overview of Psionics, there are "impure" and "pure" psionicists. The so-called impure ones use the Same ruleset, while the so-called pure ones use the Different ruleset, with the added caveat of mild allergies to magic, preventing magic item use.

    This affects things in interesting ways, such as Erudites, of which only the impure ones can make use of the SpellPower ACF, which is not available to the pure types, as well as who can defend against what, and how.

    Also as a side comment, I have restored the original effects of cold iron against arcane based magics as described in several mythologies to my Greyhawk campaign. Cold iron negates all arcane magic entirely, rendering spellcasters unable to cast if worn, blocking purely magical effects (but not the non-magical side effects such as elemental effects or attacks by summoned creatures - unless those attacks are magic too), and suppressing magical items as a successful dispel magic automatically if in physical contact. Psionics are the only way to imbue cold iron with additional abilities, and it can also be used with chi based effects, which I also count as non-magical in nature.
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