Back in December, I wrote about The Dark Sun Mystic. After D&D head gurus Mike Mearls and Jeremy Crawford commented that the Mystic subclass (teased in Unearthed Arcana) needed a major overhaul, I wanted to see if I could fix it myself.
No easy task. After countless hours reading, digesting, concepting, charting, comparing, stat-ing, rolling, tinkering, testing, editing, and graphics work, I am delighted to present:
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If you’re interested in learning more about the class and how I built it, the story of my design process follows.
The Roots: Dark Sun
When I decided to work on a character class using psionics, I figured the best place to start was the origin: Dark Sun. Admittedly, their eminence hinted this was the way that a Mystic rework should be done. I wanted to stay true to form. I ordered a Dark Sun set, rolled up my sleeves, and dug in.
I took a lot of notes. After careful analysis, I was able to identify different fields of psionics which encapsulate the themes of the class. If you read The Dark Sun Mystic article, you can see how I stratified those abilities.
I loved using psionics in 3rd Edition. In retrospect, I’m not crazy about the revamp, because it feels like they tried to force devotions into each ability score. However, there were lessons to take away.
In the 5th Edition Unearthed Arcana treatment (the Mystic), the original devotion concepts were fractured among the different disciplines, though there were good ideas that carried forward the original themes.
Psion Design Philosophy
The problem with the breadth of features available to the psion was not only the power imbalance, but the lack of a thematic cohesion. The new psion needed a refined skillset which preserved the class features comprising its identity.
I decided to start from scratch instead of trying to fix something that the makers admitted was broken. Here were the paradigms I followed:
- Simplify the “broken” psionic system;
- All psions get certain universal powers;
- Robust subclasses to preserve discipline identity.
A “New System of Magic”
“The Mystic in particular introduces a whole new magic system, that right now in it’s current form is frankly kind of bonka-zonks broken.” – Jeremy Crawford
At first, I started with what I knew. I tried building a psionics system that allowed you to pick powers, and expend psi points. Then I thought, why do we need a whole new magic system? Why would we build a whole new system of ‘magic’ for one character class? I am perfectly happy playing character classes without a magic system, whose abilities are just class features.
Thematically, a psion feels closest to a monk for me. So I scrapped what I had and started rebuilding the psion framework around the monk. I adopted class damage progression. At first, I kept psi points and tried to analog them with ki points. In the end, I dumped the point system and threw more familiar ability modifier-dependent restrictions on the class features. For example, “use this a number of times equal to your wisdom modifier.”
Functionally, a psion is like a divine spellcaster, except their brain is their deity. It just feels right for them to know all their powers. For this reason, a psion is going to need a much more robust skill buildout than a monk. We expect them to do a lot of stuff, so we need to preserve the wide variety of abilities that are available to a spellcaster. I accommodated the need for dynamic choices by giving the psion a lot of flexibility in the subclass. Now it feels more like an old-edition wizard, who is more focused on a certain school than picking spells a la carte from a spellbook.
There are just certain powers that feel right for a psion to have. Since psychic attacks and telekinesis are essential to the feel of the class, I made sure they were unlocked for every psion at level 1 and level 2, respectively.
I also like the thought that psions have some innate primordial connection to the elements, and can manipulate them. I folded a bunch of different elemental spells together, put a governor on them, and planted it as a ribbon ability at level 2. I wonder if it was even necessary with the early availability of telekinesis, though I like the flavor. When you get to really high level with Psychoplanar Confluence, you can leverage this elemental connection to alter your psionic attacks and you get a cool high-damage spell that ties into another ability.
Since invading the minds of opponents is essential to being a psion, I felt an ability akin to Hold Person should be given across the class. I did this with Stasis, although in hindsight it may be stepping on the toes of the Telepath subclass.
The Invisible Woman-style barrier is also an iconic psionic power. I reworked Wall of Force as the more interactive Psionic Barrier. Now it can intersect objects and creatures, forcing saving throws or causing damage. You also need to work to sustain it while it takes damage or is subjected to spellcasting.
In order to assign the appropriate power levels to class features, I went through the Player’s Handbook and Xanathar’s Guide to Everything spellbooks and laid out the different types of spells that matched the psionic archetypes I identified.
This gave me a nice base template to see where things stand. This way, I made sure I wasn’t giving a Telepathy analog at level 1 or saving See Invisibility mechanics for a capstone ability.
It also gave me the confidence to deviate from the chart. If I needed to fit a feature in earlier because of the subclass structure, I could adjust the damage, range, or other attributes accordingly.
I realized that I had a problem when I wanted to give Telekinesis to a level 2 psion. I felt like the class needed to have it, but it’s a 5th level spell, which means that spellcasters don’t get it until level 9–yikes!
When making the Telekinetics feature, I fixed the power balance by breaking it down into its constituent parts. Honing your skill allows you to lift heavier objects. Luke couldn’t lift the X-Wing on Dagobah; it was only in the water during The Last Jedi because he didn’t want to leave.
By the time you get to lifting creatures, you’re level 8. Sure, that’s a level before a spellcaster, but Telekinetics is a defining characteristic of the class. It’s acceptable for classes to be better at the stuff they do. I tempered this proficiency by scaling the creature size between 8th and 10th level.
I dropped this ability scaling into various other aspects of the class:
- The psionic attacks–Psychic Strike, Psychic Wave, and Psychic Blast–become available at 1st, 3rd, and 5th level, allowing the psion to shape the ability to affect more opponents. As the psion grows in power, the AoE of Psychic Wave and Psychic Blast also increase.
- The Planefade ability is heavily scaled from a mild defensive tactic to a planewalking rockstar.
- Stasis comes online targeting one creature, like Hold Person. It can be used on multiple opponents with a higher chance of failure, but it sheds this restriction at higher levels.
- Some subclass abilities are scaled to grant earlier access to devotion-defining abilities on a limited scope:
- Egoist’s Enervate and Metabolic Manipulation
- Seer’s Heightened Senses
- Telepath’s Telepathy and Psychic Infiltration
“Nomad” Psychoportation Powers
I vacillated on including psychoportation abilities in the base class. It wasn’t something I wanted to cut off any psion from accessing, just as I imagine most Wizards want Dimension Door and Teleport. I’d have been tempted if the class had enough different powers to stand alone. However, when I got into doing that, it just felt like the Horizon Walker Ranger. That ground has been covered, though it would make a really cool psion.
I decided I would democratize psychoportation with some barriers to entry:
- Progression. To start, I introduced Planefade early mid-tier (6th level) and gave it a nice, soft progression (9/12/15/18). It’s a nice little defensive boost at first, but it becomes really powerful travel and evasion tool at later levels.
- Separate Focus. I also burdened Planefade with some object interaction by having it require a separate focus (tuning fork). This allows the psion access to the power while requiring commitment to use it as a defensive ability. It also allows the DM to tune the ability a little.
DMs running a game with Psions can treat Planefade as an optional rule by limiting the availability of tuning forks. They may not be available in your setting. They may require a difficult quest to obtain (something I plan on adding if the Psion does well). Or they may be ubiquitous. If you don’t think the object interaction is fair, you can give the character a special psionic focus that will serve its purpose.
Subclasses: Mystic Devotions
The Mystic Devotions are very robust subclasses, giving NINE features each! This gave me enough space to build a distinct class identity for each.
Since psions are historically very skilled, each subclass gets a skill proficiency that gives the player the flavor off the bat. It’s also something that’s not terribly overbalanced as to incentivize a one-level dip into Psion.
Since I was also giving out another level 1 ability, so I had to be really careful that those abilities were not so overpowered as to draw other classes into taking a dip. Still, I wanted it to set the tone for the path of the Mystic Devotion. I was able to accomplish this by making the abilities something that are just as likely to be used out of battle.
As the class develops, they gain access to abilities that further define the class. I attempted to have these features interact with existing aspects of the game system (i.e. Hit Dice, Help Action) or to tie them in as bonus actions to supplement what the base class could do.
For some reason, as I went though the design of this character class, it seemed to draw an affinity to geodesic shapes.
This began with the Psionic Barrier. I was trying to simplify the Wall of Force panel interaction when I realized I could dump all the “dome” language by just making it into six panels. I increased the panel size to 15 x 15 feet. This technically bumps the surface area to 1350 sqft from 1000 sqft. However, the Psionic Barrier actually make a shorter “wall” at 90 feet than Wall of Force at 100 feet. You also sacrifice flexibility in the wall. But at least the damn panels fit together. And so we had a cube.
The geodesic shapes came through again when I was trying to jazz up the portal created by the Seer’s Fold Reality ability. Old round portals are so boring. In the vein of folding space, I was thinking of origami. I decided on a rhomboid shape, because I am a huge nerd.
I kept this going with Psionic Blast and the Explosive Earth aspect of Planar Confluence, which manifest their effects in square shapes. Squares help differentiate psionics from the typical round blast AoE spells like Fireball. They are also a lot easier to implement in practice.
When it came time to pick a shape for the focus crystals, platonic polyhedra fit perfectly. Just pick your favorite die. You can already hop on HeroForge to make yourself a fitting mini…
What’s to Come?
Please send me your thoughts and feedback on the Psion class. I would love to hone and improve the balance of the mechanics. If anything can be more clear, let me know, as I erred on the side of simplicity. I will be working to refine and improve the class based on your feedback.
If the class is a success, the next step is to develop the following:
- Psion Character Sheet
- Commissioned Art
- Extra Subclasses
- Recover an ancient Nomad Tuning Fork
- Recover psionic focus from the Elemental Planes
- Psionic Foci
- Origins of Each Type
- More Types
I hope you enjoy the class. I look forward to hearing from you!