Meet the Party: D&D 5th Edition Psionics

A sage who uses his mind as a weapon, and no, that’s not a turn of phrase. A warrior who uses inner focus to make blades break on her skin.  Each Meet the Party article gives you an entire group of ready-to-play adventurers (maybe even some heroes) for your gaming needs for a variety of systems and settings. However, this time we’re doing something special: we’re taking a look at the new Unearthed Arcana: Awakened Mystic article from Wizards of the Coast. It’s time to see how Psionics will work for Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition!

Psionics, which use the power of the mind, are a somewhat controversial addition to D&D, and more or less always have been. Some take issue with the flavor of it, some question why it needs to be different than normal magic, some don’t care for how it might be mechanically executed. If you already don’t care for psionics as a rule then there’s likely not much that I can say to convince you otherwise, and that’s okay! Even the article in question points out that you won’t lose anything by omitting psionics from your game. But if you are interested in adding psionics to your 5th Edition game, whether you’re giving the concept a second chance, have always been a fan, or it’s new to you, there’s an interesting opportunity here.

The Unearthed Arcana articles like Eberron and Waterborne Adventures were very honest about the fact that the contents are “Written in pencil, not ink” and could very well change between the article and a theoretical publication. The Psionics article isn’t just honest about it; it is very obviously a playtest document, taking the Mystic class only to fifth level, having limited options, and stressing that it is a first draft that will be the subject of an upcoming survey. So, basically, this is our chance to get in on the ground floor for 5E psionics. After the success of the D&D Next playtesting, I for one am really glad to see WotC continuing to be aware that they’ve got one hell of a resource in their fans, and that they’re smart enough to use it.

Let’s get down to brass tacks. The article talks a little about the flavor behind psionics in general before getting into the mechanics that the new power source uses, followed by a look at the Mystic class and two different builds for it. First I’ll talk a little bit about the rules and what I think of them, then we’ll take a look at a character from each build, both of which I’ll be sending to 3rd level to get a better feel for them (a Meet the Party D&D tradition).

Psionics, as they stand now, are defined by two things: Disciplines and Psi Points. Disciplines are continuous effects, activated using a bonus action and acting like a Concentration effect. Right away this tells us something. Constitution should probably never be a dump stat, but characters using psionics are probably going to be more eager to improve that modifier than most, since their main shtick is going to be reliant on maintaining Concentration.

Each Discipline has, in addition to its ongoing effect, a number of additional effects that can be activated. That’s where Psi Points come in. Each additional effect has a cost in Points if you want to use it. Some have a variable number of Points required, with more Points meaning a stronger effect and the maximum number of Points you can spend on it determined by your level. The additional effects will generally include details on how long they last, and unlike Disciplines you can have more than one up at a time: activate an effect that lasts an hour and it will overlap with whatever other effects you activate during that time. Your number of Psi Points is determined by your level, and you regain spent Points after a long rest.

The number of Points you have actually warranted a quirked eyebrow from me. You start off with 4 at first level, with the maximum number you can use per effect being 2. As the Mystic is compared to the cleric, in that the class can do very different things depending on what build you pick, this feels to be about the same power level as a starting cleric. Makes sense. As a 5th level Mystic you have 27 Psi Points and can pour 5 into an effect. This also seems reasonable, as you naturally want to be using more effects in between long rests and want to start using the more powerful versions of the variable effects. It’s just the progression that seems strange. You gain 2 Points when you get to second level, 8 at third, only 3 at fourth, and then 10 at fifth to get you to 27. I can’t quite make out the reasoning behind it, but it’s very likely simply a construct to let people adequately playtest the class. I wouldn’t get too attached to specific numbers, here.

Alright, enough about the general rules, let’s meet our two examples.

Dimble Garrick, Rock Gnome Level 3 Mystic

HP: 24    AC: 13

 Str: 8   Con: 14   Dex: 14   Int: 17   Wis: 10   Cha: 12

Racial/Class/Background Features: Darkvision, Gnome Cunning, Artificer’s Lore, Tinker, Psionics, Psionic Order: Order of the Awakened, Strength of Mind, Mind Thrust, Psychic Mind, Object Reading, Background: Sage, Two Extra Languages, Researcher

Disciplines: Conquering Mind, Intellect Fortress

Gear: Spear, Leather Armor, Light Crossbow and 20 Bolts, Scholar’s Pack, Bottle of Black Ink, Quill, Small Knife, Letter from a Dead Colleague Posing a Question You Have Not Been Able To Answer, Common Clothes, Belt Pouch with 10 Gold Pieces

Skill Proficiencies: Medicine, Nature, Arcana, History

Tool Proficiencies: Tinker’s Tools

Saving Throws: Wisdom, Strength of Mind

Alright, hold on, what’s this Strength of Mind thing? Well, the Mystic seems to like being adaptable, what with each Discipline having multiple effects, and this is an extension of that. After every short or long rest the Mystic can choose an ability score, gaining proficiency with that ability’s saving throws. There’s always the chance you choose the wrong one, but the Mystic won’t be worse off than any other class when it comes to that, and might have the perfect defense prepared if forewarned.

Dimble is a classic psion, with his mind being the single most potent weapon at his disposal while also being a useful tool. Mind Thrust grants him a cantrip-level attack that targets Intelligence instead of AC, can deal extra damage by spending Psi Points, and doesn’t get Disadvantage while in melee. That spear really is just there for show. Psychic Mind allows telepathic communication and Object Reading can glean facts from an item or turn one into a spying focus. Conquering Mind’s default effect is advantage on Charisma checks, but its current abilities let Dimble force a target to answer questions or believe lies; at a higher level he can even take control of a target and choose it’s movement and action. Intellect Fortress only has its Concentration effect, but it’s a doozy. It let’s Dimble use a reaction to give an incoming attack Disadvantage; if the attack hits anyways, the attacker takes damage.

How did Dimble Garrick get to be where he was? Perhaps he long aspired to join the ranks of the wizards, devoting his time to poring through scrolls and mixing reagents. Perhaps he became frustrated with his complete lack of progress, losing sleep as he tried to sharpen his mind to cut through the fog that kept him from the arcane secrets of the world. Until, one day, he realized his mind had become so sharp he didn’t need those secrets anyway . . .

The Awakened Mystic’s Disciplines seem to be largely utility-focused at this point; in addition to the majority of Conquering Mind’s effects the unused Third Eye Discipline would grant Dimble a variety of different sight bonuses that will make the rock gnome nearly impossible to sneak up on. Mind Thrust is the only psionic attack in the entire article, rather than something requiring a saving throw, so it will be interesting to see how other attacks will be similar or different to the cantrip-like ability.

Mardred Balderk, Mountain Dwarf Level 3 Mystic

HP: 27    AC: 17

Str: 17   Con: 16   Dex: 13   Int: 10   Wis: 12   Cha: 8

Racial/Class/Background Features: Darkvision, Dwarven Resilience, Dwarven Combat Training, Stonecutting, Dwarven Toughness, Psionics, Psionic Order: Order of the Immortal, Durable Mind, Martial Order, Psionic Regeneration, Background: Soldier, Military Rank

Disciplines: Celerity, Iron Durability

Gear: Mace, Scale Armor, Handaxe, Explorer’s Pack, Insignia of Rank, Trophy from a Fallen Enemy, Deck of Cards, Common Clothes, Belt Pouch, Shield

Skill Proficiencies: Insight, Perception, Athletics, Intimidation

Tool Proficiencies: Smith’s Tools, Three Dragon Ante, Vehicles (Land)

Saving Throws: Wisdom, Strength of Mind

Mardred is a nasty melee fighter who’s hard to get the drop on and quite possibly harder to even harm in the first place. Durable Mind means she’ll never lose Concentration from taking damage, while Martial Order means she’ll have better weapons and a shield to prevent that damage in the first place. Psionic Regeneration then lets her recover hit points when she’s sent below half of her maximum health, healing her just when the enemy thinks they’ve got her. Celerity’s Concentration benefit makes her faster and gives her advantage on Initiative checks; it’s a Discpilne that Mardred is likely to have up while walking around between fights. The Discipline’s currently available extra effects include avoiding surprise, adding to her Initiative roll, and increasing her speed/avoiding opportunity attacks. Celerity’s strongest benefit, currently too expensive for Mardred, grants her an extra action! Iron Durability’s initial effect is to grant Mardred +1 AC and to give her the ability to spend Hit Dice in combat. She can then spend Psi Points as a reaction to give herself even more AC against a given attack; at 5th level she’ll be able to gain Resistance to one of several damage types.

What is the story of Mardred Balderk? A soldier who maintained an astounding level of personal discipline, maybe, one who seemed completely aware of herself and her surroundings. Anyone who interrupted her meditations regretted it immediately; her enemies regretted the results if she completed them. Given half a moment to center herself she always seemed one step ahead of the rest; later, when the blades that managed to reach her started simply bouncing off, people started to wonder . . .

The moment I looked at the Order of the Immortal I got a severe case of déjà vu. This build looks an awful lot like 4th Edition’s Battleminds, psionic warriors of the Defender role who used their focus to augment their own body. This isn’t the first time I think that 5th Edition has done this. You can see a lot of 4th’s Wardens in those 5th Edition Paladins who take the Oath of the Ancients, for example. So, with that gut feeling, I put Mardred on the path of the Battlemind. Despite Intelligence being the main ability score for Psionic Save DCs and Discipline attack rolls, the Discplines Mardred has don’t really require it. Like the Battlemind, the Immortal Mystic focuses on martial combat abilities and loves having a high Constitution score.

One effect of the unused Discipline, Psionic Weapon, does involve a saving throw for the target, so if you like that ability then you might consider an Immortal Mystic with higher Intelligence. There’s also the fact that there are going to be more Disciplines for the build released in the future that may very well change the Immortal’s game plan. But for now, let’s take this heir to the Battlemind out for a spin, shall we?

Of course, the Mystic doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It’s addition to the options available for multiclassing has already raised some interest there. Our own Mr. Draper has already mentioned to me that’s he pondering a Wizard/Awakened Mystic for his next foray, an idea that looks to have promise. Just off the top of my head I could think of a few classes who might appreciate the Immortal Mystic’s extra durability. There may be one more Meet the Party article to focus on those multiclassing ideas, actually, a first for the series. Whether or not I take a look at that, though, I’ll probably be keeping an eye out for the next wave of psionic material to work with.

The Future

There are going to more Disciplines for the Order of the Awakened and the Order of the Immortal, and there will be more Orders like the Knife and the Invisible Hand. The kinks are going to have to be worked out, the limits pushed, and the abilities put to the test.

Will the strength of Dimble Garrick’s awakened mind and Mardred Balderk’s immortal focus be enough to grant them success in their adventuring careers? What will the Psionics of Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition look like in the end? That’s for you (and your dice) to determine!

Originally posted 7/9/15 on the Mad Adventurers Society!

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