Thursday 19 October 2023

Tinkering With Psionics

Just a gentle tap should fix it - oh...
Minor Repair Shop

I started this post (which is not about 1:1 time) intending just to look at psionics from the point of view of the DMG rather than starting at PHB and trying to work out how it all fits together. In the process I re-did the psionic combat table to be more useful, and in the end I decided just to re-write the system, but only slightly.

2. Character Generation

Chance of having Psionics

1% plus 1 for every point of Int, Wis, or Cha over 15. At least one of these three ability scores must be 15 or more.

Psionic Ability

Add INT, WIS, CHA. Multiply by the number of these scores that exceeds 14. Add 1d10 and double the total. The result is the character’s total Psionic Ability.

“Psionic Strength” starts equal to Psionic Ability but is expended in psionic combat and in powering psionic disciplines. This score is not divided into attack and defense and recovers at the rate given on PHB p117, up to a limit of the creature’s Psionic Ability. There is no separation into attack strength and defense strength.

The character above with Int 12, Wis 17, and Cha 18 has a base of 94 plus 1d10. After rolling a 6 for a total of 100, s/he has a psionic ability of 200.


Everyone gets C and F. Others are found below:

Mode Requirement
A Cha 17+
B Int 18+
C Auto
D Wis 15+
E Int, Wis, and Cha 15+
F Auto
G Int 12+
H Wis 16+
I Int 16+
J Cha 18+

So the above character would have modes A,C,D/F,G,H,J.

Psionic Combat

As standard, an attacker can pick any mode to attack with and the defender automatically “picks” the best defense mode available. Area attacks and defenses work as described on PHB p110. Attacking with mode J means the attacker can only defend with mode G.

Psionic combat proceeds segment by segment as usual, although I would suggest that the DM merge this in with whatever else is going on so that a fireball on segment 3 will actually interrupt or even kill psionic combatants before the round is over, for example.

On any given segment a figure may have no more than two modes or disciplines, or combination, running. Disciplines are generally paid for per round but a figure may “scrap” a discipline and replace it on any segment, no refunds given.

Discipline Costs

The costs listed in PHB are doubled. Psionic blast may only be made against a non-psionic if the attacker’s current strength is 200 or more but the cost for it and all other modes remains as printed.


The categories for psionic attacks are doubled in size to 50 points. So: 01 to 50, 51 to 100, 101 to 150, 151 to 200, 201 to 250, and 251+.

For the new categories, here’s a list of the best defenses against each attack in terms of total cost, with best being on the left and worst on the right. Costs are subscripted in the case of attacks. For the defenses against psychic crush the main number is the percentage chance of death and cost is again subscripted.

You can use this table for normal by-the-book psionic combat by reducing the categories back to 25 points each; the costs are the same but it’s much easier to see what’s best against any given attack.

Remember that best available may be limited by remaining points being too low to activate an option when a defender is close to exhaustion, something not noted on the table but important only near the end of a combat.

Up to 50

Attack Mode          
A Psionic Blast20 F 4 H 7 I 9 G 9 J 10
B Mind Thrust4 H 3 G 6 I 8 J 11 F 13
C Ego Whip7 H 3 G 5 I 8 F 9 J 10
D Id Insinuation10 F 2 G 8 I 9 H 11 J 11
E Psychic Crush14 G 0%2 H 0%3 I 0%8 J 0%10 F 2%1

51 to 100

Attack Mode          
A Psionic Blast20 F 7 H 9 J 10 I 10 G 11
B Mind Thrust4 H 4 I 8 G 8 J 12 F 16
C Ego Whip7 H 3 G 6 I 8 J 10 F 13
D Id Insinuation10 F 3 G 10 I 11 H 13 J 13
E Psychic Crush14 I 0%8 J 0%10 H 1%3 G 2%2 F 5%1

101 to 150

Attack Mode          
A Psionic Blast20 F 11 J 11 I 12 H 12 G 14
B Mind Thrust4 H 5 I 10 G 11 J 13 F 19
C Ego Whip7 H 4 G 8 I 9 J 11 F 18
D Id Insinuation10 F 5 G 13 I 15 H 16 J 16
E Psychic Crush14 J 0%10 I 1%8 H 2%3 G 4%2 F 9%1

151 to 200

Attack Mode          
A Psionic Blast20 J 12 I 15 H 16 F 16 G 18
B Mind Thrust4 H 8 I 12 J 15 G 15 F 23
C Ego Whip7 H 6 I 10 G 11 J 13 F 24
D Id Insinuation10 F 8 G 17 J 20 I 20 H 20
E Psychic Crush14 J 2%10 I 3%8 H 5%3 G 7%2 F 14%1

201 to 250

Attack Mode          
A Psionic Blast20 J 14 I 19 H 21 F 22 G 23
B Mind Thrust4 H 12 I 15 J 18 G 20 F 27
C Ego Whip7 H 9 I 12 G 15 J 16 F 31
D Id Insinuation10 F 12 G 22 H 25 J 25 I 26
E Psychic Crush14 J 4%10 I 6%8 H 9%3 G 11%2 F 20%1

251 and up

Attack Mode          
A Psionic Blast20 J 17 I 24 H 27 F 29 G 29
B Mind Thrust4 I 19 H 19 J 22 G 26 F 31
C Ego Whip7 H 13 I 15 G 20 J 20 F 39
D Id Insinuation10 F 17 G 28 J 31 H 31 I 33
E Psychic Crush14 J 7%10 I 10%8 H 14%3 G 16%2 F 27%1

For example, if a fresh intellect devourer (modes C D/F G; 200 points) attacks a mind flayer (A/F G H; 280 points)) with Ego Whip (C), we can quickly see that the best defence option for the flayer is Mental Barrier (H) and the costs are 7 to the attacker and 6 to the defender.

The mind flayer obviously responds with its only attack option - psionic blast (A) to which the devourer’s best option is actually either F or G since they work out at the same cost. This comes to 20 for the attack and 29 defense cost

The totals for the segment are: flayer 20+6=26, and devourer 7+29=36.

At the start of the next segment the mind flayer has 256 points and the intellect devourer has 164.

Note: that I have altered the attack modes for both monsters. In both cases the text contradicts the summary and I have followed the text for various reasons.


Simply use the table in DMG as-is but increase the attacker’s categories to 50 points as above and use the defender’s Psionic Ability (i.e., their original score).

The defender initially uses Psionic Ability to select the column, which is just the normal method. However, any points damage now reduce this Psionic Ability score as well as the target’s hit points, potentially moving the defender left on the table for later attacks. These lost points recover at the same rate as normal hit points but the only standard method for speeding this process is heal, which will restore all but 1-4 points.

A character with a Psionic Ability score of 228 who has exhausted their Psionic Strength points is attacked with ego whip by an entity having a current Psionic Strength of 200. The defender loses 35 hit points and Psionic Ability is reduced to 193. A second attack costs 40, reducing them to 153. A third such attack will allow the attacker to possess them, turning them into a “robot”, assuming that they are still alive.

5. Nothing Surprises Me Anymore

One apparent change from the OD&D system is that psionics are never surprised. They automatically throw up the best defence they can. This change came in after PHB was written and causes some of the text there to be erroneous.

As an optional rule, you could allow surprise but restrict the defender to using Mind Blank (or whatever their cheapest defence mode is).

6. Great Minds Think Alike
Incredible! A Jack Kirby head without a hat!

At the start of psionic combat, and potentially at the start of each round thereafter, a group of psionic beings who are able to physically link together may create a unimind - a psionic creation which engages in combat for the round.

One member is chosen from the group and the unimind has a psionic strength equal to this being plus 20% of each other prion in the group. Its modes are those of that individual plus any one (attack or defense) from each other member. If the points donated by others exceed the psionic strength of the nominated psion then s/he suffers 1hp damage for each point over. This may manifest as nose bleeds, throbing veins, static electricity sparks or anything else the DM feels looks good.

If a character with an ability 150 psionic strength points remaining is boosted by 180 points to create a unimind with a strength of 230; that character will lose 30 hit points.

The individual members can not be psionically attacked, although they may be the targets of disciplines as well as normal attacks and spells.

All psionic combat is carried out by the mind, which may use one attack mode and one defense mode per segment. The individuals may use a discipline but may not their modes independently.

When the mind is dissolved, all strength lost or expended by it is divided equally, with individual odd points distributed to the weakest figures first. Any figure reduced to less than zero psionic strength suffers hit point damage equal to the excess, and retains the negative score until normal point recovery restores them.

Three psionic characters with scores 90, 140, and 172 engage create a unimind centred on the strongest individual. Its psionic strength is 172+24+18=214 and its psionic modes are those of the central figure plus up to two more from the others.

After some psionic combat, the mind has expended 77 points and is reduced to 137. The 78 points are divided by 3, giving 25 and a remainder of 2. Final scores for the three figures are 90-25-1=64, 140-25-1=114, and 172-25=147.

Note that, tactically, the unimind may not always be the best option as it can only make one attack per segment whereas, in this example, the group would be able to make 3 individually.

I’m in Two Minds about Demogorgon

The DMG (p79) says

It is possible to engage in only one psionic activity in addition in defense modes at a time, i.e., a psionic, while defending, could either attack or use a psionic discipline. It is never possible to attack and use a psionic discipline or to use two psionic disciplines simultaneously.

Well, you say “never”, but Demogorgon has all modes and a psionic ability of 150 “per head”. I assume that the Big-D can in fact use two psionic disciplines simultaneously, or attack and defend with one head while performing a psionic discipline with the other. I personally would limit him to using each mode once - if both heads use psionic blast then he simply attacks at a power level of 300 instead of two attacks at 150, and at a cost of 20 rather than 40.

8. Other Options/Thoughts

Open Your Mind

What if psionic-related spells and effects allowed an attracted psionic to attack the caster as if they were a defenceless psionic (assuming they’re not actually psionic)? That might make dealing with demons a bit tougher.

Latent Psionic Ability

Any character with an INT, WIS, or CHA score over 14 has a latent psionic ability. If some magic item increases any of these scores, even one well below this limit, the character may roll again for a chance to develop psionics. If the item’s effect is temporary then any such powers are lost again once the score(s) returns to normal.

Remaining Problems

There’s not enough variety in which modes are good. Really, you want B, G, and H unless you can get the big guns of E and J.

It’s difficult to make multiple-psions work in a good, stereotypical way that evokes book, comic, and film archetypes.

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